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Judge on Suspicionless Laptop Searches & Seizures: Better Off Leaving Devices at Home

7:00 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

A federal judge on Friday heard a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) against the government’s assertion that it has the authority to search, seize and copy laptops, cell phones, cameras and other devices of people at America’s borders even if there is no suspicion of wrongdoing.

Specifically, the hearing was on whether the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit against laptop search policies at the border was legitimate.

District Judge Edward Korman weakly defended a person’s right to not be subjected to unreasonable searches or seizures, suggesting, according to Reuters, “Travelers who want to keep U.S. border agents from seeing sensitive documents on their laptops and cell phones may be better off leaving those devices at home.”

He added, “There are lots of burdens people are subject to in order to protect their security and the security of others.” And, “It may become impossible to conduct such searches if you’re going to set up evidentiary standards.”

Not only does this indicate contempt for the notion of privacy but it also shows an appalling acceptance of warrantless searches of people’s personal property.

The government’s attorney, Marcia Sowles, argued, “Border searches are reasonable by nature, because you’re protecting the borders.” In essence, whatever rights you think you have do not exist at America’s borders.

After maintaining that carrying confidential documents on personal devices was “risky business,” after citing TSA pat-down searches in airports to further justify his deference to power, Judge Korman did not rule on the motion to dismiss.

The case, filed in 2010, deals specifically with an incident that happened on May 1, 2010. Twenty-six year old US-French dual citizen Pascal Abidor, then a graduate student in Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, boarded an Amtrak train to New York City to visit family. He didn’t realize that he would be refused the right to keep the contents of his electronic devices private and was carrying his laptop, digital camera, two cell phones and an external hard drive.

As the ACLU lawsuit describes, at 11 am, the train reached the inspection point at the border of Quebec and New York. US Customs and Border Protection(CBP) Officer Tulip boarded the train. Abidor gave the officer “his customs declaration and US passport,” explained why he was living in Canada, answered the officer’s question when asked where he had traveled last year (Jordan and Lebanon) and showed his French passport to the officer.

Abidor’s cooperation wasn’t good enough. Officer Tulip directed Abidor to go to “the café car of the train for further inspection.”

In the café car, the officer removed Abidor’s laptop from his bag, turned it on and began to browse the contents. He was asked about personal pictures and images of Hamas and Hezbollah rallies he had for research purposes, as he was writing a paper on the modern history of Shiites in Lebanon for his Ph. D degree.

A few more questions were asked of him before he was patted down by a male officer, who had him put his hands against the wall and then proceeded to apply “a strong amount of pressure to his groin and genitals in various angles.” He was put in handcuffs and carried off the train and put in a detention cell for further questioning.

Abidor was detained for three hours. An FBI agent (also with the CBP) asked him to further explain why he was interested in the modern history of Shiites in Lebanon. Meanwhile, “officers from CBP and/or other government agencies searched through various files on his laptop” and looked at an iMovie Project of his entitled, “My Great Movie” and an Adobe PDF document that contained “citations for his dissertation.”

He was released five hours after being detained at the border. His laptop was not returned. He was not allowed to take his external hard drive with him. The sole copies of his academic work, which he had worked on throughout the past years, were in the possession of government agents. When he told officers he would be traveling to the UK and France to do more research and needed access to the devices, they didn’t care. So, Abidor left, “frightened, disturbed and severely upset” and spent the next ten days struggling to sleep, experiencing panic attacks from the state of anxiety he had plunged into as a result of this incident.

A key reason for opposing any justification for this new claimed government authority to search and seize property without suspicion is that people like Abidor will likely spend the rest of their lives being stopped and harassed at airports. On July 8, 2010, after returning from his research trip in the UK and France, Abidor was pulled aside and asked about what happened last time he was stopped by a CBP officer at the Newark airport. He was asked how he paid for traveling, about his girlfriend, whether he was a Muslim and what languages he spoke, all information that he should not be asked to give unless it can help with a criminal investigation.

This is what has happened with Jacob Appelbaum, who works on the Tor Project and was a volunteer for WikiLeaks. Appelbaum now sends messages on Twitter ahead of his travel to let people know he is looking forward to more harassment.

It’s also what has happened with David House, co-founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network. In November 2010, Department of Homeland Security agents stopped House at O’Hare International airport as he was returning from Mexico.

The agents asked House about his political activities and beliefs. His laptop computer, camera and a USB drive were all seized. The ACLU came to House’s defense, sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security and managed to get House his seized laptop, camera and USB drive returned to him but not until the government authorities had seven weeks to browse through, copy and share whatever they wanted to from the devices with anyone in any agency in government.

As blogger Glenn Greenwald has said, “Without any form of judicial oversight or search warrant,” authorities literally go through and do this routinely. “It’s a form of pure harassment.”

Attorney for the ACLU, Catherine Crump, represented Abidor in court arguing, “lawyers, journalists and other professionals often carry ‘their whole lives’ on their laptops” and the unreasonable searches and seizures can “violate protected professional information, such as the names of news sources or notes from attorney-client meetings.”

I spoke with Crump at a Netroots Nation 2011 conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota in June and this is what she had to say about the government’s new claimed authority to seize laptops:

FBI Documents Show US Citizens Targeted for Interest in US Foreign Policy

9:12 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Antiwar and international solidarity activists, subjects of a federal grand jury investigation that alleges they may have provided “material support for terrorism,” uncovered documents on FBI guidelines and investigation practices left behind in an activist’s home that was raided in September of last year. The documents illuminate how the FBI has conducted surveillance of the activists being targeted in the investigation and further prove the grand jury is being used as a tool to go after political groups.

On September 24 of last year, the home of Lindon Gawboy and Mick Kelly, an activist who helped to organize a mass demonstration outside the Republican National Convention in 2008, was raided and subpoenaed. Gawboy was awoken by FBI pounding on her door. She came to the door and asked for a search warrant. The FBI ignored her request for a warrant and proceeded to use a battering ram, which took the door off its hinges and shattered a nearby fish tank.

The agents raiding Gawboy and Kelly’s home emptied file cabinets and desks and stacked files around the apartments. They set up and went through individual documents taking files away that were of interest to them. At some point during this process, an agent’s papers on the investigation became mixed in with Kelly’s files. And, presumably by chance, Gawboy found the revealed documents just weeks ago.

The documents show the investigation was “predicated on the activities of Meredith Aby and Jessica Rae Sundin in support of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a U.S. State Department designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO), to include their travel to FARC controlled territory.” Bruce Nestor, an attorney advising individuals that have been issued subpoenas in this investigation, explains “predicate” is a word that typically connotes “what’s necessary to begin an investigation into protected First Amendment activity.”

Current FBI guidelines, according to Nestor, actually do not require a predicate to begin a preliminary question. This means the FBI can send agents and law enforcement officers into public meetings undercover to gather publicly available information and store that information about activists in perpetuity.

Sundin, a founding member of the Twin Cities-based Anti-War Committee, says she traveled to Colombia to witness peace talks between the FARC and the Colombia government. She flew into Colombia on an airplane owned by the Colombia military. Sundin was interested in what it would take to end a decades-long conflict in a country that is the biggest recipient of US military aid in Latin America.

“What I find disturbing about the line of questions is its attempt to stir up a kind of 1950s Red Scare within the antiwar movement,” declares Sundin. In particular, the questions indicate the FBI was interested in information on the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

“It’s true some of us are socialists, but that’s not against the law. A lot of us have grievances with capitalism,” explains Sundin. “The government has no right to dictate to the antiwar movement who can and cannot be in our movement.”
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US Dept of Treasury Freezes Activist’s Bank Accounts

10:15 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

*Scroll down for audio interview

Update – 3:10 PM New York Time

Here is the press release just out. It indicates that this is actually much more sinister than was thought initially. The Department of Treasury is actually behind the freezing of funds.

On Friday, May 6, the U.S. government froze the bank accounts of Hatem Abudayyeh and his wife, Naima. It appears that this is being done by the Department of Treasury (Office of Foreign Assets Control).

Hatem Abudayyeh is one of 23 activists from Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois subpoenaed to a federal grand jury in Chicago, and his home was raided by the FBI in September of last year. Neither Hatem Abudayyeh nor Naima Abudayyeh have been charged with any crime. One of the bank accounts frozen was exclusively in Naima Abudayyeh’s name.

Joe Iosbaker of the National Committee to Stop FBI Repression said, “We are appalled at the government’s attempt to restrict the family’s access to its finances. Not only does the government’s action seriously disrupt the lives of the Abudayyehs and their five-year-old daughter, but it represents an attack on Chicago’s Arab community and activist community and the fundamental rights of Americans to freedom of speech.”

Joe added, “Apparently OFAC can block your assets pending an investigation on charges of “material support for a foreign terrorist organization” without a hearing. It’s a bit like a chapter out of George Orwell, they don’t need any evidence to freeze your assets and thus far they won’t even acknowledge that they are the source of the freeze. In the case of these activists, assets means money for food and rent.”

Bill Chambers, of the Chicago Committee Against Political Repression said “The persecution of the Abudayyeh family is another example of the criminalization of Palestinians, their supporters, and their movement for justice and liberation. The government’s attempt to conflate the anti-war and human rights movements with terrorism is a cynical attempt to capitalize on the current political climate in order to silence Palestinians and other people of conscience who exercise their First Amendment rights in a manner which does not conform to the administration’s foreign policy agenda in the Middle East.”

The National Committee to Stop FBI repression is urging activists around the country to take action by calling, The Office of Foreign Assets Control a division of the U.S. Dept of Treasury, Phone numbers 202-622-1649 or 202-622-2420. Demand that they unfreeze the bank accounts of the Abudayyeh family and stop repression against Palestinian, anti-war and international solidarity activists.”

***Original Story including audio interview with Joe Iosbaker appears below.***

Right before Mother’s Day weekend, the US government froze the bank accounts of Hatem Abudayyeh, a long-time Palestinian solidarity activist and organizer, and his wife, Naima. Abudayyeh is one of twenty-three activists from the Midwest in the US, who has been the subject of an FBI Grand Jury investigation since September of last year.

Hatem and Naima Abudayyeh have both been charged with no crimes. Naima Abudayyeh has not been subpoenaed and is not the subject of an investigation.
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At US Chamber of Commerce, US Government Strategy for “Identity Ecosystems” in Cyberspace Unveiled

12:54 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC), which some believe could establish and require Internet users to have ID on the Internet, was unveiled today at the US Chamber of Commerce. NSTIC aims to establish “identity ecosystems,” what the National Institute for Standards in Technology describes as a “a user-centric online environment, a set of technologies, policies, and agreed upon standards that securely supports transactions ranging from anonymous to fully authenticated and from low to high value.”

Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke delivered the following remarks:

“I’m optimistic that NSTIC will jump-start a range of private-sector initiatives to enhance the security of online transactions. This strategy will leverage the power and imagination of entrepreneurs in the private sector to find uniquely American solutions. Other countries have chosen to rely on government-led initiatives to essentially create national ID cards. We don’t think that’s a good model, despite what you might have read on blogs frequented by the conspiracy theory set. To the contrary, we expect the private sector to lead the way in fulfilling the goals of NSTIC. Having a single issuer of identities creates unacceptable privacy and civil liberties issues. We also want to spur innovation, not limit it. And we want to set a floor for privacy protection that is higher than what we see today, without placing a ceiling on the potential of American innovators to make additional improvements over time. “

What might this mean for the Internet as citizens of the world know it today? As the US government, in cooperation with the private sector, works to preserve cyber infrastructure or networks that it considers to be “strategic national assets,” how might this protection of assets fundamentally alter key characteristics of the Internet, which many have grown to appreciate? In the age of WikiLeaks and Anonymous, in an era where the US government has been unable to prevent the Chinese government and military from stealing usernames and passwords for State Department computers, it seems that this strategic plan could transform the Internet into a realm that requires you to prove your identity with an approved and issued identification card every time you move in to a new website.

President George W. Bush, in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, used the climate to fundamentally transform security. The “global war on terror” was launched and the Bush Administration led a conditioning and recalibration of the way citizens in the country thought of civil liberties. This made possible a warrantless wiretapping program, which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) considers to be “part of a broad pattern of the executive branch using “national security” as an excuse for encroaching on the privacy and free speech rights of Americans without adequate oversight.”

The memory of a horrific tragedy allowed for the metamorphosis of society into a suspect society. Born were two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Other countries became zones for launching unmanned aircraft or drone strikes. And, citizens saw the US government detain and imprison indefinitely terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Baghram Air Force Base and other prisons denying them due process and in many cases subjecting them to harsh interrogations or torture.

All of these developments have, for the most part, become something US citizens have found a way to justify. In a society where citizens are told “if they see something, say something,” they believe the escalation of security, the detention, the strikes, and all the expansions of the deep state, which controls and operates the national security apparatuses in the US, is allowable. The civil liberties one has are not to be given up except in cases where one might be in danger and then, in that case, it is okay. So, in the past months, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expanded the scope of its security forcing travelers to go through body scanners that might pose a risk to travelers’ health because of radiation or be subject to a pat-down procedure that if witnessed in public by a police officer would likely lead to the arrest of the person doing the pat-down.

Now, the connecting of systems in more and more ways, the increased complexity that has come as a result of innovation and the reality that, without cyber-connectivity, the economy of the United States could grind to a halt and its national security could be breached has pushed the US government in the past years to work in concert with the private sector to begin to bring order to a networked public sphere that many value because it does not require you to authenticate your identity and does not require you to be inspected before moving along to your destination.
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Security Contractor HBGary Tries to Protect US from Anonymous, WikiLeaks

3:03 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

We Are Anonymous by OperationPaperStorm

HBGary Federal, provider of classified cybersecurity services to the Department of Defense, Intelligence Community and other US government agencies, has opted over the past months to go to war with the group of WikiLeaks supporters known as Anonymous. The Tech Herald reported today on HBGary Federal and two other data intelligence firms “strategic plan” for an attack against WikiLeaks.

The company is considered to be “a leading provider of best-in-class threat intelligence solutions for government agencies and Fortune 500 organizations.” It provides “enhanced threat intelligence” so “the federal government can better protect our national cyber infrastructure.”

Almost a year ago, the company received an extension to their contract with the US Department of Homeland Security to “conduct a series of hands-on memory forensics and malware analysis training events with local, state, and federal law enforcement officials around the country.” A company contracted by the government to help out with cybersecurity initiatives for the United States is spending company time and resources and possibly even taxpayer money going after individuals who support WikiLeaks and spend lots of time in a chat room talking about what they can do to defend freedom of expression. The CEO of this cybersecurity service company is targeting a group that poses no threat to the government infrastructures it is supposed to be protecting from real cyber criminals.

Along with Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies, which both have worked to help the government in some capacity, HBGary developed a proposal called “The WikiLeaks Threat.” They requested that the law firm Hunton and Williams meet with Bank of America. The law firm held a meeting on December 3, and they began to plan against WikiLeaks. According to Tech Herald, Hunton and Williams would “act as outside council on retainer,” Palantir would “take care of network and insider threat investigations” and Berico Technologies and HBGary would “analyze WikiLeaks” to find if “WikiLeaks was hosting data in certain countries and make prosecution easier.” CEO Aaron Barr also led an infiltration into Anonymous, hoping to unearth identification information that could unveil who these people are that are operating in support of WikiLeaks.

HBGary and Palantir are partners. Palantir Technologies has been sought by the CIA, DHS and FBI to help government analysts “integrate unstructured open source information with data from various agency databases to analyze them for outstanding correlations and connections in an attempt to mitigate the burden of rummaging around through the immense amount of information available to them.” Either Palantir Technologies found the time to stop serving government and work with Hunton and Williams to help Bank of America stop WikiLeaks from releasing documents that might impact Bank of America operations, or, possibly the US government had given tacit approval to Palantir to participate in this operation.

Berico Technologies worked with the National Security Agency (NSA) to invent technology that “made finding roadside-bomb makers easier and helped stanch the number of casualties from improvised explosive.” They also decided to participate in this initiative or, again, possibly someone in the US government suggested private corporations begin to go after WikiLeaks.

The three security service companies proposed the following tactics for going after WikiLeaks: “Create concern over the security of the infrastructure. Create exposure stories. If the process is believed to not be secure they are done. Cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters. This would kill the project. Since the servers are now in Sweden and France putting a team together to get access is more straightforward.” Part of their plan involves turning Salon’s Glenn Greenwald against WikiLeaks.

HBGary counts as an advisor Andy Purdy, who was a member of the White House staff team that helped to draft the U.S. National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace in 2003. He joined the Department of Homeland Security and served on “the tiger team that helped to form the National Cyber Security Division (NCSD) and the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT).” He worked for three and a half years and spent the last two heading the NCSD and US-CERT as a “Cyber Czar.” With HBGary he is involved in an Anonymous style hacktivist attack.

For fiscal year 2011, the federal budget for homeland security will provide “$364 million to the Department of Homeland Security to support the operations of the National Cyber Security Division which protects Federal systems as well as continuing efforts under the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative to protect our information networks from the threat of attacks or disruptions.” Should companies engaged in this kind of conduct be allowed to take government money to fund their company’s operations, which are supposed to protect government cyber infrastructure?

HBGary’s infiltration led to the company “getting pwned.” Anonymous figured out what was going on and seized HBGary’s domain, temporarily posting this image—a letter with an opening line that reads “claims of ‘infiltrating’ Anonymous amuse us, and so do your attempts at using Anonymous as a means to garner press attention for yourself.”

Even though Anonymous is known to have hacked into companies like PayPal and Visa, does HBGary or any other cybersecurity service have any business mounting operations to infiltrate or target anyone linked to Anonymous? Unless HBGary is working for the FBI, it does not seem as though they should be allowed to engage in such activity.

The president of HBGary, Penny Leavy, says, “Today’s sophisticated cybercriminals require a sophisticated approach to network security.” That may be true. But, one might ask Leavy, “Do today’s sophisticated cyber activists require amateur cyber snoops?”

*Post originally appeared at

Shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and Death of Others: Violence Has No Place in a Democracy

11:55 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Palin’s “hit list” which was circulated in 2010 “targeted” congress people like Giffords. by Alyce Santoro

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head Saturday. While meeting with constituents, an assailant, who has now been identified as Jared Lee Loughner, fired shots killing six people and wounding 13 others. One killed was a 9-year-old child.

With the presence of the Internet and the existence of Twitter and Facebook, it did not take long for many Americans to suggest certain rhetoric and symbolism used by figures like Sarah Palin and Giffords’ former Republican opponent Jesse Kelly could be connected to the violence. Palin had circulated a “hit list” of political targets, which included Giffords. A map had been circulated and, where the congresswomen to be “targeted” were located, targeting crosshairs were placed. And, Kelly in June 2010 had organized an event where supporters could shoot assault rifles with Kelly. A promotional advertisement for the event said, “Get on Target for Victory in November Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.”

In March 2010, Giffords shared her belief that Palin’s rhetoric could have “consequences.” The list she appeared on and Palin’s use of “reload” and “take aim” led her to say, “The thing is, the way that she has it depicted — the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district — when people do that, they’ve got to realize that there’s consequences for that action.”

Lest one think that liberals and avid watchers of MSNBC are the only ones suggesting Palin and others might have played a role in creating a climate that could produce violence in Arizona, Sheriff Dupnik during a press conference said without hesitation, “But, again when you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that come out of certain mouths about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, I think Arizona has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

“There’s reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue. And, I think people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol,” added Sheriff Dupnik.

There are questions to be addressed and raised, many which Keith Olbermann in his “Special Comment” on the shootings on Saturday at least partially illuminated. Olbermann declared, “We need to put the guns down. Just as importantly, we need to put the gun metaphors away and permanently.” He suggested that “left, right, middle -” politicians and citizens -” sane and insane” must end their acceptance of “‘targeting’ of political opponents and putting bullseyes over their faces” and end “the dangerous blurring between political rallies and gun shows.” And, in conclusion, he clearly stated, “Violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our Democracy, and I apologize for and repudiate any act or any thing in my past that may have even inadvertently encouraged violence. Because for whatever else each of us may be, we all are Americans.”

Olbermann took responsibility for saying something that could have led to violence in the same way that Palin’s rhetoric could have played a role in escalating the climate of violence in Arizona. He apologized to Hillary Clinton for uttering such a remark. And, he urged other talk radio personalities and pundits like Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck to take this opportunity to apologize for possibly feeding into a climate where someone might find it permissible to act out violently.

There is clear indication that the “far-right” in this country, or whatever you want to call them, have escalated their rhetoric to the point where individuals are feeling like there is nothing else they can do but arm themselves and defend their country from people who might “forsake” this country’s traditions, this country’s so-called history of freedom and liberty. Individuals have been taking drastic violent action against abortion doctors like Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in 2009. They have been acting out violently against Muslims, whom they believe to hate America for its freedom. And, they have joined outfits like the Minutemen on the Mexican border to help border patrol and shoot down “illegals,” who they see crossing the border.

The GOP has consciously been using hate speech to win votes and move citizens to act in a manner that can serve their interests. They are experts at waging a culture war and unfortunately the Democrats are expert at laying low and letting the GOP and talk radio pundits say whatever they please as if it might have no impact, as if Americans could not possibly take what is being said seriously.

As indicated in this situation, as indicated with Dr. Tiller’s assassination, as indicated in instances of violence against Muslims after 9/11, or as demonstrated by the Oklahoma City bombing, all it takes is a few unstable or completely rational people and violence can take place. The violence does not take place in a vacuum. People do not just commit violence to commit violence (usually). They commit violence out of desperation, they commit violence out of fear, they commit violence in defense of beliefs, and they commit violence because they feel threatened and think it is time to act in order to save their selves or in some cases the country they love dearly.

Olbermann is righteous when he says, “violence has no place” in a democracy. But, of course, that presumes America is a functioning democracy. For people in this country, primarily, democracy works for moneyed interests, for the top 1%, for those who enjoy concentrated wealth that has been redistributed to the top from the bottom over the past decades. It works for those who are able to influence power and make decisions and launch wars, which many poor people go off to fight thinking what they are doing is practical and the only way to have a future in America. It works for people who are not struggling to make ends meets. It works for people who aren’t suffering from mental issues like post-traumatic stress disorder. But, rarely do Americans admit that government is less responsive to lower classes and minorities and more responsive to corporations and the rich.

It is easy to say that violence should be condemned. But, there must be some level of empathy for the fact that there are policies in this country pushing Americans to the brink. That is what Ted Rall, who recently wrote The Anti-American Manifesto, sought to communicate. And, while I do not believe he should have appeared on television and Dylan Ratigan should not have advocated for violence, the objective situation in America that Rall and Ratigan laid out in a segment that aired in 2010 makes it hard to ignore the fact that the failure of politics, the rigged nature of the system, is producing unstable American people who take violent action because they believe they have no choice.

It is easy to characterize Loughner as unstable and irrational. It is less easy to entirely dismiss Joseph Stack, who flew an airplane into an IRS building in Texas in 2010.

Appearing on Democracy Now! in May of 2010, MIT professor Noam Chomsky explained:

“Stack decided then that he couldn’t trust big business and would strike out on his own, only to discover that he couldn’t trust a government that cared nothing about people like him, but only about the rich and privileged. And he couldn’t trust a legal system, which–in his words, in which “there are two ‘interpretations’ for every law, one for the very rich and one for the rest of us,” a government that leaves us with “the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies [that] are murdering tens of thousands of people a year,” with care rationed by wealth, not need, all in a social order in which “a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities…and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours.”

Chomsky suggested that Stack was likely another individual pushed to insanity by what could be called “institutional crimes of state capitalism.” He went on to consider Stack’s suicide bombing of an IRS Building in a global context.

The painful reality is that the political class bears responsibility. The GOP, which uses racist, homophobic, and bigoted rhetoric in speeches to constituents, bears responsibility. They plant the seeds of violence when they, for example, condone “crazy right wing myths” like Obama aims to create a master race through population control, he’s created his own version of Hitler Youth, and Obama wants to take our guns away are all able to rise to the top. The Democrats also need to hold themselves responsible, too: their spinelessness and inability to muster the courage to face hate and hysteria and speak out leads to scenarios where racism, bigotry, and vitriolic hate produce violence.

Recall that on the campaign trail in 2008, President Obama had many chances to address the death threats, hate speech, and racist attacks that were being fired at him. He did not, and in fact, chose during the third presidential debate to downplay McCain-Palin’s whipping up of hate and racism on the campaign trail.

In the same debate, he also repeated a criticism of Democratic Representative John Lewis who, as Obama described, “made a statement that he was troubled with what he was hearing at some of the rallies that [Palin] was holding, in which all the Republican reports indicated were shouting, when my name came up, things like “terrorist” and “kill him,” and that you’re running mate didn’t mention, didn’t stop, didn’t say “Hold on a second, that’s kind of out of line.”

The Democrats, collectively, have let the GOP and its Tea Party shock troops dismiss reports by agencies like the Department of Homeland Security which have warned ” law enforcement officials of a spike in homegrown “rightwing extremism” fueled in part by “antigovernment’ sentiments.”

That is not to say that there is a need for more authoritarianism or totalitarianism by government agencies that administer security in this country. That is not to say that there should be more suppression of dissent or a suppression of free speech. But, when agencies do their homework and discern that there is a threat, as they are tasked with doing, it should be unacceptable to Americans that a political class dismisses the value and integrity of such reports, that fundamental action is not taken.

Antigovernment individuals are out there. What does it mean to be “antigovernment”? What does it mean to have “antigovernment” sentiments? Why do people act? That answer is the most uncomfortable answer in all this. That answer provides illumination for why a 9-year-old girl is now dead. That answer must be pondered for it is the only way that we can prevent acts of domestic terror from happening in this country.

Left and Right Finding Common Ground on New TSA Procedures?

12:03 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The TSA’s escalation of security at airports has further cemented the reality that airports are Fourth Amendment-free zones. Should citizens tolerate this? by

Featuring Interviews with Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead and Pilot Michael Roberts, Who are Suing Homeland Security

The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) new procedures for airport security, which include the body scanners (referred to as “porno-scanners” my citizens groups opposed to the machines) and “pat-down” or grope of passengers, continue to infuriate Americans. Stories of TSA agents violating people as they pass through security checkpoints are being amplified, which means the percentage of people who do get the “pat-down” are making certain they register complaints with civil liberties groups, TSA, their congressmen or by posting their experience to websites on the Internet.

Some of the latest news in regards to TSA involves four New York City councilors backing legislation “that would ban the TSA’s full-body scanners from airports inside New York City.” New Jersey state legislature is “considering a resolution on the TSA to stop using the body scanners.” And, in Florida, the CEO of the Sanford Airport Authority, Larry Dale, has been authorized by his board to hire a private screening firm instead of TSA employees.

A recent Senate Commerce committee hearing on Wednesday provided opportunity for senators to express the frustration and outrage of their constituents to TSA Administrator John Pistole. But, for the most part, the Democratic Senators like Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va), Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) all took the opportunity to express gratitude toward Pistole and Homeland Security. And, any questions focused in on the semantics of the implementation of the new security protocol with little attention placed on the possibility of this violating the Fourth Amendment.

The most notable expression of American outrage came from Republicans like Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.), “I’m frankly bothered by the level of these pat-downs. I’ve seen them firsthand in airports in Florida. I wouldn’t want my wife to be touched in the way that these folks are being touched. I wouldn’t want to be touched that way. And I think that we have to be focused on safety but there’s a balance.” Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) highlighted how Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano was being terribly insensitive to travelers when she said if Americans don’t like the new procedures “there are other ways to travel.” And, Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) rightfully asked why, despite his Senate I.D. card, TSA would make him go through the body scanner and then receive a pat-down.

GOP lawmakers in the House have been the ones taking the lead on this issue. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) introduced the American Traveler Dignity Act to “remove legal immunity from federal employees who subject an individual to any physical contact, x-rays, or aids in the creation of any part of a individual’s body as a condition to travel in an aircraft.” The law would prohibit pat-downs that are tantamount to sexual assault. And, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) singled out former DHS secretary Michael Chertoff’s connection to companies that have received contracts from the government for these machines and said, “T]he populace is giving up more rights in the name of alleged security. These body scanners are a violation of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures …There must be a better way to have security at airports than taking pornographic photographs of our citizens, including children, and then giving apparent kickbacks to political hacks.”

Citizen groups and civil liberties advocates have been receiving attention because of how this is likely a violation of the Fourth Amendment. And, one particular individual, Isaac Yeffet, former head of security for El Al and now an aviation security consultant in New York, is receiving much attention because Israel does not use body scanners, pat-downs or even require people to take their shoes off. Israel, instead, has highly-trained engage in passenger profiling and do behavioral and psychological analysis of all passengers through interviews to determine whether a person is a threat or not. [See end of article for video of his appearance on "Countdown" with Keith Olbermann.]

Of course, on Friday, TSA announced pilots would be exempt from some airport checks. From the standpoint of those waging a campaign to call attention to how TSA is violating the Fourth Amendment, this is a nice way of diminishing the pressure on the agency to get rid of the new security pat-downs and body scanners. The pilots unions had been one reason why the story was receiving so much attention. Now, it’s virtually guaranteed that after the Thanksgiving holiday media coverage of public outrage and what this means for civil liberties in America will subside.

John Whitehead, President of Rutherford Institute and Pilot Michael Roberts

Thank you for allowing me to take more than six hundred words to set up and share with you parts of my interviews with John Whitehead and Michael Roberts. I want to make a point about how progressives or liberal leaders appear to be missing in action. There are a few theories that I have as to why silence pervades the Democratic Party and many liberal organizations that normally would have opposed this if this had been the Bush Administration. But, first, some remarks from individuals who are taking steps to defend American civil liberties from state-sponsored molestation.

Whitehead is a lawyer who “engages in lawsuits where people’s civil liberties are violated. You know, basically primary bill of rights issues.” He is a key attorney behind a Fourth Amendment lawsuit that has been filed by the Institute against Janet Napolitano, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and John Pistole, administrator of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), “on behalf of two airline pilots who refused to submit to airport security screening which relies on advanced imaging technology that exposes intimate details of a person’s body to government agents.”

The Institute is representing Roberts and Ann Poe, veterans of the commercial airline industry, who refused to go through the Whole Body Imaging (WBI) scanners and also refused to be subjected to the enhanced, full-body pat- or rub-down. They insisted the procedures were a violation to their privacy and, since experiencing incidents on Oct. 15, 2010, and Nov. 4, 2010, respectively, both have refused to go to work until they are allowed to do their job without having their civil liberties violated.

Whitehead’s justification for the lawsuit is as follows: “Based on the Fourth Amendment before you strip search or do full-body search on American citizens you have to apply the Fourth Amendment, which requires that there be some reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot, that whoever you’re patting down somehow are [likely to be] engaging in criminal activity. That’s what the Fourth Amendment requires.”

Unlike most Americans and government officials, Whitehead does not believe one has to give up his rights or civil liberties to fly. He understands that Americans find this to be true and he explains that he thinks Americans have “become very compliant” and notes that there are very few people like Roberts or Poe, who are willing to stand up and fight back.

Roberts, who has been running and receiving feedback from pilots, TSA workers and travelers, seconds this idea that Americans are too compliant and says that, while his colleagues and other travelers agree with what he is doing but say they can’t stand up because “they have to travel for work” or they’ve “got a family to feed.” He says they “hate what’s happening” and “absolutely do not agree with it.” But, the way it works, the ability to travel or put food on the table, is being held over their heads and it makes people who want to act out afraid of fighting back.

This, Roberts contends, is “terrorism.” It’s the definition of terrorism, which Roberts characterizes as “coercion by fear.” The government is using “psychological stress and manipulation to make people comply with their abusive demands.”

Whitehead notes how the Department of Homeland Security has become this large and ominous organization spread out all over the United States. He seems to agree with my suggestion that one of the biggest challenges facing civil liberties attorneys is convincing government that concerns over civil liberties supersede the possibility that hundreds of thousands of dollars will be wasted if government just decides to do away with the machines they have recently purchased.

Roberts’ reaction is different. He immediately asks, “Whose money did they spend to buy those machines?” He notes that this is Recovery Act money, which makes it taxpayer money. And, so, we have every right to fight in resistance and should hesitate at the thought that the government might successfully minimize civil liberties protections in this country.

He sums it up like this: The purchase of these machines by the government is corruption of the highest degree. But, even worse, it’s corruption that now is “undermining the very fabric of our society, our whole concept of a free and just society.”

Both of these individuals recently appeared on “The Sean Hannity Show.” (They actually had a bit of trouble with Sean Hannity who didn’t think TSA wasn’t really trained for the kind of security this country needs, which they’re not. They can’t do psychological or behavior analysis of travelers that could really prevent attacks.)

They, lawmakers, and Yeffet are pushing for more common sense security in this country. They are disputing this idea that has become conventional wisdom–the idea that no one has a “right” to fly in an airplane, it is a privilege and individual rights are secondary to the rights of society.

That notion, although it has been used in history, has never been allowed to stand. Citizens through political leaders have always risen up to challenge the idea that rights or civil liberties can be subverted to keep people “safe.”

Roberts and Whitehead are also directly challenging the corporate welfare by government that has led this country into this mess. A select group of companies (L-3, Rapiscan, and Smiths Detection) have received contracts that are backed by stimulus money. The government has chosen to, instead of investing in jobs, stimulate the economy through scanners that will likely pose health risks to frequent travelers in the short term and passengers in the long term.

Progressives or liberals typically abhor corporate welfare. They have gone after the Bush Administration for violating the rule of law when detaining, interrogating and imprisoning terror suspects. And, they have fought against warrantless wiretapping and other actions sanctioned by the PATRIOT Act and its expansions.

There should be no hesitation. The Democratic Party could repair their image here and gain the support of a number of outraged Americans by taking on the TSA and choosing to support a movement toward a less invasive and more intelligence-based set of security procedures for airports. But, what they will or won’t do is of no consequence: Americans should consider it their obligation to stand up against what government is doing to Americans in airports.

Both Roberts and Whitehead (as I will show later when I publish both their interviews in full) think the private sector is the answer to the problem. The government monopoly on security should be broken. Left-leaning Americans might not like the idea of corporations running security anymore than having DHS handle it and choose to be reluctant and not make common cause with libertarians or conservatives opposing the TSA.

My suggestion is that citizens not let a fear of what might happen after they get airport security to stop violating Fourth Amendment rights get in the way of cooperating and organizing with people they might not normally cooperate or organize with. This is a grand transpartisan opportunity for progressives to gain some credibility and, because two political ideologies often pitted against each other can clearly admit this is wrong, achieve a key victory for citizens over corporate influence in government.

Let’s slay the beast before we worry about what to do in the wake of the beast’s death. This is a mess and a gross violation of American civil liberties that should end now.

Opt-Out Day is on November 24th, the day before Thanksgiving. If one doesn’t have to travel this holiday, don’t. If one has to travel, they should refuse the scanners. When they are forced into being groped by TSA, they should remind them they do not wish to be sexually manhandled. And then, they should share their experience with other Americans by sending a description of what they went through to TSA, civil liberties groups and citizen campaigns that are keeping a close-watch on this police state expansion that has been unfolding.

Senate Hearing with TSA Chief: “Have You Experienced the Law Enforcement-Style Pat-Down?”

6:27 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Head of TSA, John Pistole, goes before a Senate Committee to discuss new changes to airport security, asserts that he will listen to concerns but nothing will likely change.

Head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), John Pistole, went before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, to deliver a statement and answer questions on new security initiatives–the full-body scanners (“porno-scanners”) and pat-downs (“grope-a-dopes”). The Committee, which is responsible for oversight of the TSA, attempted to address criticism from civil liberties groups, pilot and flight attendant unions, and passengers.

The hearing with Pistole opened with a statement from the Chairman of the Committee, Sen. Jay D. Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), who has in his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), received nearly half a million dollars in campaign donations from the air transport industry. He attempted to talk about balancing the need to protect the public with citizens’ rights to privacy but talked very little about whether the new procedures violated the Fourth Amendment or not.

Instead, Sen. Rockefeller mostly expressed his conviction that the “threats are very real and extremely ongoing and evolving every day and something hasn’t happened because the intelligence has been so good and that won’t always be the case. So, we’ve had kind of a lucky run here.” This meant normal Fourth Amendment protections might not be able to be afforded. And, why the U.S. could not expect intelligence to always be good was not explained. This seemed to be Sen. Rockefeller’s way of scaring anyone in the “traveling public” that dared to doubt the decisions behind adding the new procedures.

Sen. Rockefeller expressed great frustration, as he seemed to urge Pistole to have TSA be more totalitarian in their security.

“I don’t like going out to Dulles Airport, walking onto an airplane. Not a pat-down, they don’t even look at me,” remarked Sen. Rockefeller.

Surely, each senator or congressman could probably get themselves a personal TSA agent to meet them at the gate every time they fly out. Like at a gentleman’s club, they probably could get a favorite girl (or guy depending on whether the senator or congressman is suppressing homosexuality or not). They could run their hand up and down in a non-threatening but authoritative fashion and make sure the senators have peace of mind when traveling to their destination. If that’s what Sen. Rockefeller would like to see happen, the Ministry of Love, I mean, Department of Homeland Security could probably do that.

A round of opening statements took place after Rockefeller completed his statement in defense of government violating your civil liberties (he even slipped in a jab at Democrats who didn’t like “the FISA” because they said it violated privacy).

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) was particularly interesting because she used her opening statement to treat the many outraged constituents who have been calling her as petulant, unreasonable and unrealistic people:

“I want to say a few words on passenger screening at my own risk given the calls that have been coming into my office on these screenings. I appreciate the steps forward that you made. I have been a fan of the AIT [Advanced Imaging Technology]. I think it’s going to show things that you didn’t know about before.”

She seemed to suggest that perhaps dangerous objects or non-metallic explosives have gotten through prior to now and the escalation would now ensure those objects and explosives didn’t get through. That just sounded like more conjuring of fear with no basis in reality at all. Plus, in March, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report that said, “It remains unclear whether the AIT would have detected the weapon used in the December 2009 incident based on the preliminary information GAO has received.”

The most awkward and revealing exchange took place when Sen. Byron Dorgan, who in his career, according to CRP, has received over $300,000 from the air transport industry, asked Pistole to explain the pat-down checks:

SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Pat-down checks. There’s reason for people to be concerned and to express that concern publicly. You explain precisely why it is necessary for us to have Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT). Have you been subjected to the law enforcement-style pat-down implemented nationally?

JOHN PISTOLE: I insisted that I receive that pat-down before I ordered that it be deployed nationwide. Also, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Loot, and other senior members of Homeland Security received that pat-down to see–not see, experience–so they would know what that involved before we rolled that out.

DORGAN: And your impression?

PISTOLE: It was thorough.

DORGAN: I understand. But, your impression beyond the fact that it was thorough?

PISTOLE: Well, the whole purpose is…

DORGAN: Did it make you uncomfortable? I mean, what was your impression personally?

PISTOLE: Yeah, yeah. It was more invasive than what I was used to. Of course, what is in my mind from almost 27 years with the FBI and all my counterterrorism work since 9/11 is what are the plot that are out there? And, how are we informed by the latest intelligence? And what do we have to do to assure the American people that we are being thorough? So, the answer is it is clearly more invasive. The purpose of that is to obviously detect those types of devices that we had not seen before, for example, last Christmas. I am very sensitive and concerned about people’s privacy concerns. And, I want to work through that as best we can. The bottom line is, we need to provide for the best possible security. [emphasis added]

Again, in March the GAO indicated they were uncertain “porno-scanners” would have detected the condom bomb the underwear bomber set off. But, more importantly, the premise of this exchange is frightening because of what it attempts to establish. Sen. Dorgan, no matter his intention, is somehow under the impression if the top officials in Homeland Security understood what the new procedures feel like to passengers then passengers would be less angry. They’d be more willing to accept the procedures and not criticize them as violations of privacy.

One might remember how news personalities like Mancow or writers like Christopher Hitchens elected to be waterboarded to see if it was “torture.” Political leaders were telling political leaders that didn’t believe waterboarding was torture to go get waterboarded. News personality Rick Sanchez had someone test a taser on him. The reactions somehow were meant to illuminate whether society was reasonable or not to react the way it was reacting to waterboarding or tasers. The public has cooled down overwhelmingly when it comes to tasers and waterboarding remains justifiable to many. And now, in this case, senators, representatives and top ranking Homeland Security officials are testing the demeaning procedure known as a “pat-down” on their selves to prove they can take it and the assumption is, if they can handle it, the public can too.

What this all seems to suggest is if people cannot get in line and get with the program and cooperate, they’re overreacting and, in some cases, may need to be dealt with for obstructing law and order (e.g. John Tyner whom TSA threatened with a civil suit and an $11,000 fine). It suggests that in some cases the people who have the most influence on public debate can decide whether the Fourth Amendment matters or doesn’t matter.

But, perhaps, the final part of Dorgan’s questioning is what said the most about the unfolding conflict between the public and the TSA:

DORGAN: And my understanding is that the October change went from using the back of a hand gliding across a person to a different approach. You might describe that–

PISTOLE: The back of the hand is still used in some aspects. I would prefer not to go into, um, specific details of in an open hearing simply because I don’t want to give a road map to say that’s exactly what the technique is and so how can we defeat that. We’ve just seen the ingenuity, creativity of al Qaeda particularly in the Arabian Peninsula with these last three attacks. I’d be happy to go into great detail in a private hearing. Honestly, any member who has not experienced that pat-down who would like to do that–I wouldn’t offer it but an experienced qualified security officer would be glad to do that.

Initially upon watching this exchange, it would seem that Pistole turned bashful when asked this question and didn’t like that the details he was being asked to provide might sound obscene (after all, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic reported from a Baltimore Airport TSA informed him the new procedure requires searching up and down a person’s thigh and between their legs until they meet “resistance”). Describing the nature of the pat-down would likely sound like sexual assault. Of course, in this case the senators understood the context of the sexual assault was security so, if meant to keep Americans safe, it could ultimately be acceptable.

Really, Pistole did what every authoritarian does when he or she is confronted with the bizarre notion that he or she must explain or justify the reasons for certain actions, policies, procedures, etc: Pistole suggested that information must remain classified.

Had this been a casual conversation perhaps in a café or bar setting, someone would have looked Pistole in the face and called him out for being fucking ridiculous. The “road map” he alluded to is no secret. It is engraved in every American’s mind that has just experienced this procedure for the first time in the past month. It has been described multiple times on blogs and in the news so if terrorists could really memorize how a TSA agent was going to grope them and develop a strategy to outsmart the agent so he or she could get through the security checkpoint the reality is this country would have probably been attacked by now. If the terrorist is part of a far-reaching network of individuals that hates us for our freedom, the moment the transition to new procedures began he or she would have hit America.

The content of the hearing only affirmed what Goldberg pointed out: “The pat-down, while more effective than previous pat-downs, will not stop dedicated and clever terrorists from smuggling on board small weapons or explosives.” Why? Because if TSA, in the pat-down, does not plan to cavity search all assholes and vaginas there will still be a risk posed to air travel.

And, if the aim of TSA is to humiliate passengers so that they use the porno-scanners, as Goldberg also suggested, then the public really has to be concerned about being conditioned to accept going through a machine that will likely pose risks because of radiation. Frequent travelers will surely begin to come down with cancer.

Cancer might be worth it to some who are not just afraid of flying but also flying and dying in midair or flying and dying as one collides into the ground or a building. But, shouldn’t one get to know exactly what Homeland Security is doing and whether the machines actually can prevent incidents like the one that touched off this escalation in security? I mean, if you’re going to get cancer to keep the greatest country on the third rock from the sun safe, doesn’t one get to know that this isn’t all just part of some government kickback to people like Michael Chertoff, who allegedly was looking for a contract for some scanning machines and exploited the shock of an incident in order to get a contract and do some profiteering?

No, because Pistole and others don’t want the terrorists to be able to use their creativity and ingenuity to get around the machines. That in authoritarian speak means the public doesn’t have a right to know because the agency in charge doesn’t want the public to know what it knows because the public might further question the agency about its knowledge. (Donald Rumsfeld might say here, “Known knowns will remain known unknowns to a public that just doesn’t have to know the knowns that we know are not unknown unknowns.”)

That means until WikiLeaks leaks a bunch of TSA reports on homeland security Americans will be expected to trust that giving up one’s Fourth Amendment rights is required in order to survive in this post-9/11 world of terror. They will be expected to submit to a security regiment that really just gives off the illusion of security because, in reality, nothing can ever be 100% safe.

He Tried to Blow Up the Plane with a Condom Bomb & Why Getting Hysterical About Airport Security is Wrong

5:30 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Flickr photo byrofl indy

Sheer hysteria or the illusion of hysteria dominates the conversation in the media right now.

The public is being subject to fear that those in power hope will trickle-down and influence Americans as they continue to grapple with the thought that a bomber carried explosives in his underwear on to an airplane.

Americans continue to be fed moving images of a political freak show starring Republicans who if you didn’t know better would lead you to think they were drawing from a secret admiration of Vlad the Impaler as they suggest what should be done to the underwear bomber, chide Obama for what measures he has taken similar to Bush that weren’t as draconian as the party wishes they would have been, and fan the flames of fear that the terrorist industrial-complex wish to keep alive so they can sell more body scanners to airports around the nation and the world.

Americans continue to be fed less than satisfying details on the future as Democrats and Obama push an expansion of detection procedures and terror watch lists as a pragmatic way forward or a compromise between the insanity, which will put greenbacks in the pockets of security industry lobbyists who constantly go in and out of the revolving door of Congress, and the unpleasant sanity of wholly rejecting the homeland security complex (a complex which must bring joy and delight to members of al Qaeda cells all over the world).

The tip of the iceberg is that Americans in airports are now becoming engulfed in situations that make them feel like they are in an Indian marketplace after a school shooting. Except, it doesn’t take them long to figure out that there really wasn’t any shooting at all. Nobody died. The reason why everything has been brought to a standstill really is unexplainable.

Americans do not stop to think of how security corporations are pleased that the political climate of hysteria is being replenished.

But, the climate isn’t just hysterical. It’s satirical. It’s a farce of epic proportions. Read the rest of this entry →