Monthly Archives: September 2016

Undermining Democracy, Corporations Pouring Millions into Local Ballot Fights

Public Citizen finds total corporate spending on just eight local measures has topped $139 million

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-29-2016

According to Public Citizen, the corporate-backed campaigns have an average of 10-to-1 financial advantage over their mostly grassroots opponents(Photo: Jason Hargrove/cc/flickr)

According to Public Citizen, the corporate-backed campaigns have an average of 10-to-1 financial advantage over their mostly grassroots opponents(Photo: Jason Hargrove/cc/flickr)

This election cycle, corporate donors are not just beefing up the war chests of their most-favored politicians. According to a new study, industry is flexing its Supreme Court- approved political power to dominate local democracy, as well.

In the study, Big Business Ballot Bullies (pdf), Public Citizen examined eight state-level ballot initiatives and referenda that have seen an outsized amount of political spending. According to the research, published Wednesday, the corporate-backed campaigns have an average of 10-to-1 financial advantage over their mostly grassroots opponents, with total corporate spending in those races topping $139 million. Continue reading

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Climate change, racism, and black lives

Of course climate change is about race.

By Roger Hallam. Published 9-27-2016 by openDemocracy

Black Lives Matter protest against St. Paul police brutality. Photo: Fibonacci Blue [CC BY 2.0,] via Wikimedia Commons

Black Lives Matter protest against St. Paul police brutality. Photo: Fibonacci Blue [CC BY 2.0,] via Wikimedia Commons

This month marked a historic shift in the way climate change is communicated. Black Lives Matter (BLMUK) blocked City Airport in London to highlight that the climate crisis is a racist crisis. With half a million plus views on YouTube and interviews on BBC, the action has led to a torment of indignation, rage, mixed with the usual blatant racist abuse on the YouTube and Guardian comments threads. Even “progressive left” voices seem to have deemed that mixing climate and race is inappropriate, confusing, and counterproductive. I want to argue the exact opposite.

First it is necessary be clear about the science on climate change. Most people including many left activists seem to still subscribe to the notion that climate change is some vague threat that is going to happen at some point in the distant future. As one well regarded young activist friend put it “at least I will be dead by then”. Continue reading

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After Spending Billions to Arm Saudis, US Accuses Russia of ‘Barbarism’

By James Holbrooks. Published 9-27-2016 by Underground Reporter

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Aleppo — On Tuesday — as the World Health Organization (WHO) was calling for humanitarian routes to be established in eastern Aleppo — sources on the ground in the war-torn city told Reuters that the Syrian military is mobilizing for a new ground offensive:

“Pro-Syrian government forces were mobilizing on Tuesday for a ground attack in Aleppo after attacking on four fronts in their largest assault since launching a campaign to retake the whole city last week, a senior rebel official said.

“Separately, an Iraqi militia commander fighting in support of the government told Reuters a large army force, spearheaded by an elite unit known as the Nimr, or Tiger Forces, had started to move in armored vehicles and tanks for an attack on rebel-held districts of eastern Aleppo.” Continue reading

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Critical Flint Aid Held Hostage as Congressional Showdown Looms

“Have Congressional Republicans forgotten about Flint? Or maybe it’s that they just don’t really care.”

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-26-2016

"The people of Flint deserved assistance more than a year ago, and they require assistance now, without further delay." (Photo: Jake May/MLive)

“The people of Flint deserved assistance more than a year ago, and they require assistance now, without further delay.” (Photo: Jake May/MLive)

Even as Flint residents continue to struggle to provide clean drinking water for their families, Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate appear to be thumbing their noses at the Michigan city, excluding Flint assistance from a must-pass spending bill ahead of (yet another) congressional recess.

“Have Congressional Republicans forgotten about Flint?” The Flint Journal wrote in an editorial on Monday. “Or maybe it’s that they just don’t really care.” Continue reading

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UN Experts to United States: Stop DAPL Now

“The tribe was denied access to information and excluded from consultations,” says UN special rapporteur

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-25-2016

"Environmental assessments failed to disclose the presence and proximity of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation," stated UN expert Victoria Tauli-Corpuz. (Photo: John Duffy/flickr/cc)

“Environmental assessments failed to disclose the presence and proximity of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation,” stated UN expert Victoria Tauli-Corpuz. (Photo: John Duffy/flickr/cc)

Backing up the Standing Rock Sioux and its allies, a United Nations expert has called on the United States to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Echoing pipeline opponents’ concerns, the statement from the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, cited the pipeline’s threats to drinking water and sacred sites. She also admonished the U.S. for failing to protect protesters’ rights and failing to properly consult with communities affected by the fossil fuel infrastructure. Continue reading

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Feds: We can read all your email, and you’ll never know

Clark D. Cunningham, Georgia State University

Fear of hackers reading private emails in cloud-based systems like Microsoft Outlook, Gmail or Yahoo has recently sent regular people and public officials scrambling to delete entire accounts full of messages dating back years. What we don’t expect is our own government to hack our email – but it’s happening. Federal court cases going on right now are revealing that federal officials can read all your email without your knowledge.

As a scholar and lawyer who started researching and writing about the history and meaning of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution more than 30 years ago, I immediately saw how the FBI versus Apple controversy earlier this year was bringing the founders’ fight for liberty into the 21st century. My study of that legal battle caused me to dig into the federal government’s actual practices for getting email from cloud accounts and cellphones, causing me to worry that our basic liberties are threatened.

A new type of government search

The federal government is getting access to the contents of entire email accounts by using an ancient procedure – the search warrant – with a new, sinister twist: secret court proceedings.

The earliest search warrants had a very limited purpose – authorizing entry to private premises to find and recover stolen goods. During the era of the American Revolution, British authorities abused this power to conduct dragnet searches of colonial homes and to seize people’s private papers looking for evidence of political resistance.

To prevent the new federal government from engaging in that sort of tyranny, special controls over search warrants were written into the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. But these constitutional provisions are failing to protect our personal documents if they are stored in the cloud or on our smartphones.

Fortunately, the government’s efforts are finally being made public, thanks to legal battles taken up by Apple, Microsoft and other major companies. But the feds are fighting back, using even more subversive legal tactics.

Searching in secret

To get these warrants in the first place, the feds are using the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, passed in 1986 – long before widespread use of cloud-based email and smartphones. That law allows the government to use a warrant to get electronic communications from the company providing the service – rather than the true owner of the email account, the person who uses it.

And the government then usually asks that the warrant be “sealed,” which means it won’t appear in public court records and will be hidden from you. Even worse, the law lets the government get what is called a “gag order,” a court ruling preventing the company from telling you it got a warrant for your email.

You might never know that the government has been reading all of your email – or you might find out when you get charged with a crime based on your messages.

Microsoft steps up

Much was written about Apple’s successful fight earlier this year to prevent the FBI from forcing the company to break the iPhone’s security system.

But relatively little notice has come to a similar Microsoft effort on behalf of customers that began in April 2016. The company’s suit argued that search warrants delivered to Microsoft for customers’ emails are violating regular people’s constitutional rights. (It also argued that being gagged violates Microsoft’s own First Amendment rights.)

Microsoft’s suit, filed in Seattle, says that over the course of 20 months in 2015 and 2016, it received more than 3,000 gag orders – and that more than two-thirds of the gag orders were effectively permanent, because they did not include end dates. Court documents supporting Microsoft describe thousands more gag orders issued against Google, Yahoo, Twitter and other companies. Remarkably, three former chief federal prosecutors, who collectively had authority for the Seattle region for every year from 1989 to 2009, and the retired head of the FBI’s Seattle office have also joined forces to support Microsoft’s position.

The feds get everything

This search warrant clearly spells out who the government thinks controls email accounts – the provider, not the user. U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

It’s very difficult to get a copy of one of these search warrants, thanks to orders sealing files and gagging companies. But in another Microsoft lawsuit against the government a redacted warrant was made part of the court record. It shows how the government asks for – and receives – the power to look at all of a person’s email.

On the first page of the warrant, the cloud-based email account is clearly treated as “premises” controlled by Microsoft, not by the email account’s owner:

“An application by a federal law enforcement officer or an attorney for the government requests the search of the following … property located in the Western District of Washington, the premises known and described as the email account [REDACTED]@MSN.COM, which is controlled by Microsoft Corporation.”

The Fourth Amendment requires that a search warrant must “particularly describe the things to be seized” and there must be “probable cause” based on sworn testimony that those particular things are evidence of a crime. But this warrant orders Microsoft to turn over “the contents of all e-mails stored in the account, including copies of e-mails sent from the account.” From the day the account was opened to the date of the warrant, everything must be handed over to the feds.

The warrant orders Microsoft to turn over every email in an account – including every sent message. U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

Reading all of it

In warrants like this, the government is deliberately not limiting itself to the constitutionally required “particular description” of the messages it’s looking for. To get away with this, it tells judges that incriminating emails can be hard to find – maybe even hidden with misleading names, dates and file attachments – so their computer forensic experts need access to the whole data base to work their magic.

If the government were serious about obeying the Constitution, when it asks for an entire email account, at least it would write into the warrant limits on its forensic analysis so only emails that are evidence of a crime could be viewed. But this Microsoft warrant says an unspecified “variety of techniques may be employed to search the seized emails,“ including “email by email review.”

The right to read every email. U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

As I explain in a forthcoming paper, there is good reason to suspect this type of warrant is the government’s usual approach, not an exception.

Former federal computer-crimes prosecutor Paul Ohm says almost every federal computer search warrant lacks the required particularity. Another former prosecutor, Orin Kerr, who wrote the first edition of the federal manual on searching computers, agrees: “Everything can be seized. Everything can be searched.” Even some federal judges are calling attention to the problem, putting into print their objections to signing such warrants – but unfortunately most judges seem all too willing to go along.

What happens next

If Microsoft wins, then citizens will have the chance to see these search warrants and challenge the ways they violate the Constitution. But the government has come up with a clever – and sinister – argument for throwing the case out of court before it even gets started.

The government has asked the judge in the case to rule that Microsoft has no legal right to raise the Constitutional rights of its customers. Anticipating this move, the American Civil Liberties Union asked to join the lawsuit, saying it uses Outlook and wants notice if Microsoft were served with a warrant for its email.

The government’s response? The ACLU has no right to sue because it can’t prove that there has been or will be a search warrant for its email. Of course the point of the lawsuit is to protect citizens who can’t prove they are subject to a search warrant because of the secrecy of the whole process. The government’s position is that no one in America has the legal right to challenge the way prosecutors are using this law.

Far from the only risk

The government is taking a similar approch to smartphone data.

For example, in the case of U.S. v. Ravelo, pending in Newark, New Jersey, the government used a search warrant to download the entire contents of a lawyer’s personal cellphone – more than 90,000 items including text messages, emails, contact lists and photos. When the phone’s owner complained to a judge, the government argued it could look at everything (except for privileged lawyer-client communications) before the court even issued a ruling.

The federal prosecutor for New Jersey, Paul Fishman, has gone even farther, telling the judge that once the government has cloned the cellphone it gets to keep the copies it has of all 90,000 items even if the judge rules that the cellphone search violated the Constitution.

Where does this all leave us now? The judge in Ravelo is expected to issue a preliminary ruling on the feds’ arguments sometime in October. The government will be filing a final brief on its motion to dismiss the Microsoft case September 23. All Americans should be watching carefully to what happens next in these cases – the government may be already watching you without your knowledge.

The Conversation

Clark D. Cunningham, W. Lee Burge Chair in Law & Ethics; Director, National Institute for Teaching Ethics & Professionalism, Georgia State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Safe with ‘Oligarchs and Imperialists’ in US, Brazil’s New President Admits Coup Plot

Ousted President Dilma Rousseff wouldn’t enact austerity roadmap, so “a process was established which culminated with me being installed as president of the republic,” Temer says

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-23-2016

Newly-installed Brazilian President Michel Temer speaking this week. (Photo: Agência Brasil Fotografias/flickr/cc)

Newly-installed Brazilian President Michel Temer speaking this week. (Photo: Agência Brasil Fotografias/flickr/cc)

Proponents of her ouster argued that former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was targeted and ultimately booted from office for budgetary wrongdoing or, ironically, corruption.

But fresh comments by new, unelected president Michel Temer himself back up claims that her impeachment was politically motivated, specifically, that Rousseff wouldn’t enact the austerity-promoting, welfare-slashing economic platform Temer unveiled from his party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), in October when he was vice president. Continue reading

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Study Confirms Tar Sands Poisoning Air in First Nations Community

The air quality has ‘been a cause for concern for the people of this community since 1966,’ says Fort McKay First Nation chief

By Nika Knight, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-22-2016

The toxins discovered in the air include "hydrogen sulphide and carcinogens like benzene," writes the Canadian Press. "Ozone and sulphur dioxide were 'frequently' above long-term health thresholds." (Photo: Kris Krüg/flickr/cc

The toxins discovered in the air include “hydrogen sulphide and carcinogens like benzene,” writes the Canadian Press. “Ozone and sulphur dioxide were ‘frequently’ above long-term health thresholds.” (Photo: Kris Krüg/flickr/cc

Confirming what a First Nations community surrounded by tar sands development has claimed for decades, new research says the reserve in northern Alberta is suffering from air pollution that is sometimes “at levels above what is recommended for human health.”

That’s according to Alberta’s chief health minister, Karen Grimsrud, as reported by theCanadian Press.

The provincial health ministry, industry regulator (which is industry-funded), and the Fort McKay First Nation all cooperated on a study released Thursday that finally confirmed what those in Fort McKay had long asserted: air pollution from nearby tar sands mining and refining has been sickening members of their community. Continue reading

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The Solidarity Grows: Over 1,200 Historians, Archaeologists, Museum Directors Denounce DAPL

“The significance of the cultural artifacts along the pipeline’s proposed route is simply too great to sacrifice for a fossil fuel pipeline that would threaten not only these artifacts, but also land, water, tribal sovereignty, and the climate.”

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-21-2016

"What the Standing Rock Sioux are going through is just one example of a systemic and historical truth around how extractive and polluting infrastructure is forced upon Native communities," said James Powell, former president and director of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum and former president of the Franklin Museum of Science. (Photo: John Duffy/flickr/cc)

“What the Standing Rock Sioux are going through is just one example of a systemic and historical truth around how extractive and polluting infrastructure is forced upon Native communities,” said James Powell, former president and director of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum and former president of the Franklin Museum of Science. (Photo: John Duffy/flickr/cc)

Standing with the Standing Rock Sioux, over 1,200 museum directors, archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians—people “familiar with the long history of desecration of Indigenous People’s artifacts and remains worldwide”—have written to the Obama administration to denounce “further irreparable losses” that would accompany completion of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

Spearheaded by The Natural History Museum, the letter, sent this week to President Barack Obama, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the Army Corps of Engineers, notes the destruction caused earlier this month by the company behind the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, when it razed recently discovered burial sites, prayer sites, and other artifacts. Continue reading

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Thai Court Conviction of Activist Sends Shockwaves Through Global Human Rights Community

British activist Andy Hall was accused of criminal defamation by a company for his work exposing the abuse of migrant workers at their pineapple processing plant

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-20-2016

"Andy Hall has spent years working to protect the rights of marginalized workers in Thailand. He should be commended for his efforts, not fined and sentenced," said Malaysian Parliament member and Asian Parliamentarians for Human Rights chairperson Charles Santiago. (Photo via UN Human Rights- Asia/Facebook)

“Andy Hall has spent years working to protect the rights of marginalized workers in Thailand. He should be commended for his efforts, not fined and sentenced,” said Malaysian Parliament member and Asian Parliamentarians for Human Rights chairperson Charles Santiago. (Photo via UN Human Rights- Asia/Facebook)

Setting a chilling precedent for human rights defenders worldwide, a British activist on Tuesday was convicted of criminal defamation and cyber crimes by a Thai court for his work exposing the abuse of migrant workers at a pineapple processing plant.

Andy Hall, with the Migrant Worker Rights Network, had contributed to the 2013 report Cheap Has a High Price (pdf) by Finnwatch, a Finnish civil society organization, that outlined allegations of serious human rights violations by Natural Fruit Company Ltd. Continue reading

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