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TrapWire: Welcome to the Police State, Where You Must Fear Your Freedoms

By: TheCallUp Friday August 10, 2012 2:08 pm

Originally published at AlterPolitics

Since September 11, 2001, discerning Americans have watched in dismay as their government has stripped away their most basic freedoms, and continues to mutate into something resembling a police state.

Mobile phone chat

You're being watched (Photo: Wonderlane / Flickr)

Sweeping cell phone surveillance is used by all levels of law enforcement. The NY Times recently revealed that an astounding 1.3 million law enforcement demands were made to cell phone carriers last year alone.

The telecom and technology sectors record and store Americans’ text messages, emails, the data they store online, social site user info, internet activity, and cell phone subscriber whereabouts (via cellular GPS technology), and hand this data over to government agencies with alarming regularity.

Private citizens used to be deemed ‘off-limits’ to law enforcement surveillance, unless a judge could be convinced to grant a warrant. This was precisely what separated the United States from the despotic nations of the world.

But now, all 315 million Americans are subject to warrant-less, Orwellian-style surveillance. The amount of data being collected daily on normal Americans trumps what might have been captured on made members of the Gambino or Genovese crime families just two decades ago. But unlike those notorious Mafiosi of yesteryear, Americans today are not legally protected from overreaching law enforcement, due to the kinds of data now being collected.

Two weeks ago, former NSA Technical Director William Binney shocked attendants at the DefCon hacker conference when he made this revelation:

[T]he NSA was indeed collecting e-mails, Twitter writings, internet searches and other data belonging to Americans and indexing it.

“Unfortunately, once the software takes in data, it will build profiles on everyone in that data,” he said. “You can simply call it up by the attributes of anyone you want and it’s in place for people to look at.”

He said the NSA began building its data collection system to spy on Americans prior to 9/11, and then used the terrorist attacks that occurred that year as the excuse to launch the data collection project.

“It started in February 2001 when they started asking telecoms for data,” Binney said. “That to me tells me that the real plan was to spy on Americans from the beginning.” [...]

“The reason I left the NSA was because they started spying on everybody in the country. That’s the reason I left,” said Binney, who resigned from the agency in late 2001.

Now, WikiLeaks and the Anonymous hacktivist collective, have released new information garnered from the Stratfor email hacking of last December, that sheds light on a new secret TrapWire surveillance system. TrapWire was created by a N. Virginia company called Abraxas, whose employee roster “reads like a who’s who of agents once with the Pentagon, CIA and other government entities.”

 

Would A Nuclear Iran Bring Stability To The Middle East?

By: TheCallUp Tuesday July 10, 2012 12:19 pm

Originally published at AlterPolitics

Kenneth Waltz, from the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, recently wrote a piece in Foreign Affairs entitled “Why Iran Should Get The Bomb,” in which he contends that “power begs to be balanced” — that Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear bomb would actually restore stability to the Middle East.

Waltz’s is a viewpoint largely excluded from mainstream media discourse. The beltway establishment point-of-view merely bounces between that of the far-Right: “We should bomb Iran now” vs. that of the Obama Admin: “We should give sanctions more time, but military options remain on the table.”

Of course, ALL the U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies recently revealed there is NO EVIDENCE that Iran is even pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

But since the mainstream media and our politicians routinely obscure this thorny fact, and for the sake of this discussion, let us move even beyond this point to a hypothetical worst case scenario. Let us assume that Iran is working towards developing a nuclear arms program.

The important question we should be focused on is: “Is Iran a rational actor that will act in ways that maximize its own strategic interests?” Only by answering this question can we realistically asses how a worst-case scenario — a nuclear Iran — would likely, if at all, harm vital U.S. interests, or threaten Israel’s existence.

Most of our ‘serious’ beltway political punditry speak as if it is a foregone conclusion that Iran is an irrational actor, who would gladly act in ways that would ensure its own nuclear-self-destruction (thereby annihilating its 74 million citizens), just as long as Israel were destroyed in the process.

Such a flimsy, unsupported attempt at fear-mongering, and yet it remains the bipartisan consensus in the nation’s Capitol (courtesy of AIPAC). Americans are being led to believe that they should assume enormous risks to their own vital national interests, including the certain death of more U.S. troops, increased terrorism against Americans abroad and possibly at home, the jack-hammering of our already bleak economy into a depression (as oil-prices would soar to levels never before seen); all of which would ultimately put the financial solvency of our nation in serious jeopardy.

Such serious risks attached to this policy of bombing Iran, yet, few mainstream media pundits or politicians have the courage to call into question whether a nuclear Iran actually even poses a threat at all.

As far as Iran’s true strategic concerns, as they relate to its alleged nuclear ambitions, I’ll leave it to neocon Eli Lake (writer for the Daily Beast/Newsweek) to explain. Lake recently slipped up in a Bloggingheads debate with The Atlantic’s Robert Wright, when Wright suggested that perhaps Iran no longer even wants to be a nuclear power.

To make the point that Iran is still intent on pursuing WMDs, Lake ADMITTED that Iran is a rational actor that obviously wants nuclear power as a deterrent, so that it won’t end up getting bombed like Iraq:

WRIGHT (on Iran building the bomb): … Maybe they did seven years ago, and maybe they don’t want to now…

LAKE: I find it hard to believe. Iranians look around and they see what happened to Qadhafi after he gave up his nuclear program. They look around and they see that Saddam was invaded when he didn’t have one. And they look around and they see that North Korea, you know, does horrendous things and is not, generally — there’s very little that’s really done against them. And they think to themselves.

And they look at Pakistan — that was harboring Osama bid Laden, it appears — you know, the number one enemy of America — and it’s still, you know, we make efforts to try to pretend that they’re allies. And [Iran] says, “what do the countries we don’t want to be like not have, and what do the countries we’d like to be treated like do have?”

WRIGHT: Okay, so if I understand you correctly, you are saying that Iran has a rational reason to pursue a nuclear weapon that has nothing to do with wanting to annihilate Israel.

LAKE: Well, …[ long pause. Doh!!!! ]… before we get into the annihilation of Israel ….

WRIGHT (screams): Eli!!!!! …

Yesterday, PBS’s Judy Woodruff invited two distinguished guests with deeply dissenting opinions onto her program to debate the merits of Waltz’s assertion that a nuclear Iran would bring stability to the Middle East. They include University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer and former George W. Bush-appointee at the Pentagon (and former PNAC member), Dov Zakheim.

Here are a few key points made by Mearsheimer worth pondering:

  • We have nearly three-quarters of a century of empirical evidence showing that a nuclear balance between opposing nations ultimately leads to a deterrence of war, not more war.
  • Israel (and the United States) has a well-documented history of aggressive military escalations in the region against non-nuclear countries, and do so with complete impunity. A nuclear Iran would help to balance Israeli hegemony in the region, thereby helping to deter aggressive military actions.
  • Nuclear proliferation by other countries in the region (like Saudi Arabia & Turkey) would be unlikely since the U.S. would just extend its nuclear umbrella to cover its allies in the region exactly as it did for Germany and Japan during the Cold War.

WATCH the debate:

Debate Transcript

A Sitting NY Supreme Court Judge With Cancer Makes A Plea For Medical Marijuana

By: TheCallUp Wednesday May 16, 2012 8:33 pm

New York voters want to legalize Medical Marijuana (photo: Coaster420/wikimedia)

After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, New York Supreme Court Justice Gustin L. Reichbach found himself immersed in a world of pain and misery, brought on by months of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

He’s spent 40 years in the law — over two decades as a judge — and thus never could have imagined that he would one day find himself turning to marijuana to quell his unbearable suffering, as he explains in his NY Times Op Ed:

Nausea and pain are constant companions. One struggles to eat enough to stave off the dramatic weight loss that is part of this disease. Eating, one of the great pleasures of life, has now become a daily battle, with each forkful a small victory. Every drug prescribed to treat one problem leads to one or two more drugs to offset its side effects. Pain medication leads to loss of appetite and constipation. Anti-nausea medication raises glucose levels, a serious problem for me with my pancreas so compromised. Sleep, which might bring respite from the miseries of the day, becomes increasingly elusive.

Inhaled marijuana is the only medicine that gives me some relief from nausea, stimulates my appetite, and makes it easier to fall asleep. The oral synthetic substitute, Marinol, prescribed by my doctors, was useless. Rather than watch the agony of my suffering, friends have chosen, at some personal risk, to provide the substance. I find a few puffs of marijuana before dinner gives me ammunition in the battle to eat. A few more puffs at bedtime permits desperately needed sleep.

This is not a law-and-order issue; it is a medical and a human rights issue. Being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, I am receiving the absolute gold standard of medical care. But doctors cannot be expected to do what the law prohibits, even when they know it is in the best interests of their patients. When palliative care is understood as a fundamental human and medical right, marijuana for medical use should be beyond controversy.

Isn’t it about time politicians began to ask themselves, “would I allow my own family member to suffer needlessly like this?”

Originally published at AlterPolitics

Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein: U.S. policy to Israel, Palestine must change

By: TheCallUp Tuesday May 15, 2012 8:26 pm

Originally published at AlterPolitics

Dr. Jill Stein, the prospective Green Party presidential nominee, just released a policy statement regarding Israel / Palestine on her website (which follows below).

For those who have longed to hear a U.S. Presidential candidate bravely step up with a Middle East policy platform grounded in international law, human rights, and equality and justice for ALL, her statement will not disappoint:

United States policy regarding Israel and Palestine must be revised to make international law, peace and human rights for all people, no matter their religion or nationality, the central priorities. While the U.S. government sometimes voices support for this principle in name, in practice U.S policy towards Palestine and Israel has violated this principle more often than not.

In particular, the United States has encouraged the worst tendencies of the Israeli government as it pursues policies of occupation, apartheid, assassination, illegal settlements, blockades, building of nuclear bombs, indefinite detention, collective punishment, and defiance of international law. Instead of allying with the courageous proponents of peace within Israel and Palestine, our government has rewarded consistent abusers of human rights. There is no peace or justice or democracy at the end of such a path. We must reset U.S. policy regarding Israel and Palestine, as part of a broader revision of U.S. policy towards the Middle East.

On taking office, I will put all parties on notice – including the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, and the Hamas administration in Gaza – that future U.S. support will depend on respect for human rights and compliance with international law. All three administrations will also be held responsible for preventing attacks by non-state actors on civilians or military personnel of any nationality. The parties will be given 60 days to each demonstrate unilateral material progress towards these ends.

Material progress will be understood to include but not be limited to an end to the discriminatory apartheid policies within the state of Israel, the removal of the Separation Wall, a ban on assassination, movement toward denuclearization, the release of all political prisoners and journalists from Israeli and Palestinian prisons, disarmament of non-state militias, and recognition of the right of self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Failure by any party to demonstrate sufficient material progress will result in the end of U.S. military and economic aid to that party. Should the end of U.S. aid fail to cause a party to redirect its policies and to take steps resulting in sufficient material progress within an additional 60 days, I will direct my State Department to initiate diplomacy intended to isolate and pressure the offending party, including the use of economic sanctions and targeted boycott. In this way, U.S. policy will begin to become consistent with its practices regarding other violators of human rights and international law in the region.

Consistency in U.S. policy regarding human rights and international law will begin, but not end, with Palestine and Israel. I will apply this same approach to other nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen, among others. I will also ensure that the United States begins to honor its obligations to protect human rights, and will expect that the world community will hold us to the same account we hold others.

Finally, as President I will put the full weight of the United States behind the establishment of a Palestine and Israel Truth and Reconciliation Commission as the vehicle for shifting from an era of human rights violations to one based on trust and bringing all parties together to seek solutions. Any stakeholder who enters into this process must pledge to work for a solution that respects the rights of all involved. This will bring America’s Middle East policy into alignment with American values. I understand that in the end, a dedicated commitment to justice will further American interests in the region much better than the current policies of supporting abuses and violence by one side against the other. And I believe that this is in the best interests of all people living in Israel and Palestine.

Why Is Louisiana The Prison Capital Of The World? Police Profit By Keeping Private Prisons Full

By: TheCallUp Tuesday May 15, 2012 1:33 pm

Originally published at AlterPolitics

Most private prison entrepreneurs are rural sheriffs. From the collection of Dave Connor.

The $182 million private prison industry in Louisiana thrives from a system rife with conflicts of interest, not unlike the kinds found in the most corrupt third world countries. According to a scathing article this Sunday in The New Orleans Times-Picayune, the very people entrusted to enforce the law in the state have deep financial ties to the for-profit prisons, which house a majority of all Louisiana inmates.

The article states that “most prison entrepreneurs happen to be rural sheriffs,” and the “prison business model is built on head counts.”

In the early nineties, prison overcrowding had become such a massive problem for the state, that the cash-strapped government decided to forego building new state prisons, and instead encouraged sheriffs to pay for private prison construction. In return, they would, of course, enjoy a cut of all future profits. “The financial incentives were so sweet, and the corrections jobs so sought after, that new prisons sprouted up all over rural Louisiana.”

Two decades later, this now-entrenched private prison system has helped to double Louisiana’s prison population. In fact, the state wins the distinction of imprisoning more of its residents than any other legal jurisdiction on the planet.

Despite Louisiana having the highest murder rate in the country, it surprisingly “has a much lower percentage of people incarcerated for violent offenses [when compared to the national average], and a much higher percentage behind bars for drug offenses [when compared to the national average] …”

Why, you ask? Because violent criminals (murderers, rapists, armed robbers, etc) get sent to state prisons, whereas the non-violent offenders are housed at private ‘for-profit’ prisons. The sheriffs therefore have a financial incentive to find and charge non-violent offenders.

The Year Of The Co-op: New Survey Reveals Americans View Co-ops More Favorably Than For-Profit Businesses

By: TheCallUp Friday May 11, 2012 8:51 am

Originally published at AlterPolitics

A co-op in Austin, Texas. Photo by woods at night.

On October 31, 2011, the United Nations proclaimed 2012 to be “The International Year of Cooperatives (IYC).” The world body uses this annual designation to help bring attention to what it believes are some of the world’s most critical issues. On its IYC website, it praises the cooperative model for its contributions towards ending world poverty, and encourages more groups to embrace this “alternative means of doing business.”

Co-ops benefit communities around the globe by offering employees a living wage with favorable working conditions, and by promoting social integration and sound environmental policies.

Co-ops have recently enjoyed something of a resurgence in the U.S. as its economy has continued to sputter. Worker pay has remained on the decline for decades, and a corporate hijacking of U.S. democracy has left the public distrustful of the 1% who appear to be living large off the pain, suffering and disempowerment of the 99%.

‘Social injustice’ has become the buzzword to define America’s new economic reality.

In just the last few years, Americans have watched in horror as laissez faire Capitalism wreaked havoc, with impunity, on their communities. From Wall Street corruption bringing the entire financial system to its knees, and those responsible profiting from the calamity they engineered, to BP & Halliburton’s gross negligence resulting in 200 million gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf, and creating a catastrophe so severe that two full years later the sea life there can only be described as “horribly mutated creatures.”

Confidential Memo Outlines Right-Wing Coordinated Propaganda Campaign To Crush Wind Power Energy

By: TheCallUp Thursday May 10, 2012 5:04 am

Originally published at AlterPolitics

The Guardian recently obtained a confidential strategy plan co-written by John Droz, a senior fellow at conservative think tank American Tradition Institute (ATI), to spearhead a national propaganda campaign against wind farms as a green energy alternative to fossil-fuels.

Wind Power. Photo by Luis Alves.

Photo by Luis Alves.

One of their primary objectives is to “cause subversion” in the message of the wind power industry “so that it effectively becomes so bad no one wants to admit in public they are for it (much like wind has done to coal, by turning green to black and clean to dirty).”

They plan to join forces with the fossil-fuel industries (including oil and coal), as well as with right-wing think tanks (including ALEC and Americans for Prosperity — both funded by the billionaire Koch brothers) to procure financing and to counter findings by the wind industry. Experts will be selected to provide testimony to government agencies, as will key people who are capable of interfacing with the media.

They plan to utilize the tea party, anti-tax groups, business organizations, property rights advocates, and they recommend creating “controversy to spark ideas” and to “get people talking.” The memo states “public opinion must begin to change in what should appear as a ‘groundswell’ among grass roots.” And this appearance of a ‘groundswell’ will “reach the elected officials and policy-makers” in such a way as to compel them to abort their wind power initiative.

It is reminiscent of the national health care reform debates, when the Tea Party stormed Town Hall meetings — shouting, interrupting, threatening — giving the appearance of a serious ‘groundswell’ of opposition to government intervention into health care. Of course, poll numbers, did not substantiate the impression the Tea Partiers and right-wing media left on our intrepid Democratic politicians. A majority of Americans (including the highly coveted Independent voters) were polled as being very much in favor of a public option.

The strategy memo goes further into how they would have hands-on coordination with the tea party and other groups:

FDA Considers Permitting Popular Prescriptions To Be Sold Over-The-Counter

By: TheCallUp Monday May 7, 2012 7:49 pm

Originally published at AlterPolitics

In an effort to make medications more easily available to Americans, the FDA may allow prescription drugs which combat chronic illnesses, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, asthma, and migraine headaches, to be purchased over-the-counter (OTC).

Photo by e-Magineart.com

The FDA outlined the rationale behind its proposal:

Getting medicines into the hands of consumers has become troublesome over the last few years. Research shows that for a variety of reasons, 20 percent of patients with prescriptions do not get them filled. In addition, the time or cost required visiting a doctor to receive a prescription or refill often stops patients.

The Food and Drug Administration thinks that some of these doctor visits can be eliminated. It is exploring ways to make drugs for common conditions available as nonprescription products. Under this paradigm, the agency would approve drugs — that would otherwise require a prescription — for over-the-counter (OTC) distribution, if certain conditions are followed.

The agency is presently in an exploratory phase, encouraging input from all stakeholders, including doctors, pharmaceuticals, insurers, pharmacists, and patients.

It should come as no surprise that the move has pitted two powerful interest groups against one another: BigPharma, who stands to gain direct access to millions of consumers, and doctors, who stand to lose a lot of office visits, and their corresponding fees, for writing prescriptions and their refills.

Pharmaceutical companies have long complained that the restrictions placed upon them in getting their medications into the hands of those who need them is more cumbersome in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world.