In the USA....The world must hear from Edward Snowden again
The White House and its media allies are gradually undermining the NSA whistleblower. The cause of liberty needs his advocacy
guardian.co.uk, Monday 8 July 2013 15.20 BST
In the case of Edward Snowden and the secret surveillance abuses that he has exposed, it's us against them. But who is "us" and who is "them?"
This started out as a story of government spying programs exposed by a daring whistleblower, akin to the famous Pentagon Papers of 1971. This clearly pitted "us", the citizens and residents of the United States, against "them", an abusive, unaccountable government violating our rights and our constitution in secret. The citizens of other countries who had their rights violated by NSA spying, such as in Europe and, now we learn, Brazil, also became part of that "us".
But over the last few weeks powerful media outlets, mirroring the efforts of the US government, have shifted the narrative to more convenient terrain. "Us" now means "America", led by our national security state, which – if possibly overzealous sometimes – is trying to protect "us". "Them" is our adversaries – terrorists, of course, but also any government that is independent enough to be branded as "anti-American". And Edward Snowden – the "fugitive leaker" at best, or "traitorous spy" at worst – has, in some unexplained manner, helped "them", and seems to be getting help from "them" (in this case, governments that are "anti-American"; that is, independent of Washington).
Never mind that even Russia didn't want to get involved in the whole thing, and insisted that Snowden could only stay there if he would "cease his work aimed at damaging our American partners", the cold war rhetoric is too irresistible for journalists steeped in its patriotic fervor. Like Mike Meyers' Austin Powers, who woke up after a decades' long nap and didn't know that the cold war was over, they are ready to do battle with America's "enemies".
One of the most influential human rights organizations in the world, Amnesty International, didn't buy this media narrative. Last Tuesday, it accused the US government of "gross violations of [Snowden's] human rights", for trying to block him from applying for political asylum. Amnesty declared:
"It appears he is being charged by the US government primarily for revealing its – and other governments' – unlawful actions that violate human rights …
"No one should be charged under any law for disclosing information of human rights violations … Snowden is a whistleblower. He has disclosed issues of enormous public interest in the US and around the world."
The leading media outlets virtually ignored this voice and the legal issues that it raised.
The media can often determine what most people think on most issues, if given enough time and insufficient opposition. So, it is not surprising that the number of people who think that Snowden "did the right thing" has fallen over the past few weeks.
At this point, there is only one person who can turn this around: that is Edward Snowden himself. He has recorded only one interview, the one with Glenn Greenwald in which he took responsibility for the disclosures. It was a brilliant interview: he was crystal clear – morally, politically, and rhetorically.
"I'm no different from anybody else. I don't have special skills. I'm just another guy who sits there day to day in the office, watches what's happening and goes, 'This is something that's not our place to decide, the public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.'"
The sincerity of his appeal convinced millions that he was "us" – and that the people who now want to put him behind bars for life are "them".
It is understandable why he hasn't given any media interviews since then. He didn't expose these programs, despite some ridiculous punditry to the contrary*, to promote himself. He wants the focus to be on the crimes committed in secret by government, not on him. But sometimes, there is no avoiding center stage.
*Click to read: http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2013/06/29/glenn-greenwalds-speech-to-the-socialism-conference-with-transcript/
Snowden is the only person right now who can reach hundreds of millions of people with a truthful message. The media is currently hungry for his words; they are eager to ignore most of the other truth-tellers, like Amnesty International; or to disparage them. They have demonized Julian Assange, who has yet to be even charged with a single crime, not even a misdemeanor. They will eventually destroy Snowden if he does not forcefully speak out and defend himself.
This has practical, as well as political, consequences. On Friday, Venezuela and Nicaragua offered asylum to Snowden, followed by Bolivia on Saturday. And there are an unknown number of other countries – including Ecuador – that would almost certainly grant him asylum if he showed up there. There are a number of ways for him to fly to these places without passing over any country that takes orders from Washington. But will the US government violate international law again, and risk innocent lives, by trying to force down a plane in international air space?
This decision may depend on the Obama team's forecast of how the media would portray such a crime. If Snowden explains to the world why his actions were a legitimate and eminently justifiable exposure of government criminality, the White House may think twice about further illegal and possibly forceful efforts to block Snowden's right to political asylum.
The Obama team did not comment on the offers of asylum. This was very smart, since it was a safe bet that the media would respond for them, framing the issue not as one of independent governments exercising their right and obligation to offer political asylum to a whistleblower, but rather "them" trying to poke a finger in the eye of the United States.
But there are millions of Americans, and many more throughout the world, who can see through this crusty cold war retread. Snowden can reach many millions more with the truth. He needs to speak – not only to save himself, but also future whistleblowers whom the Obama administration wants to silence by punishing him. What is at stake is the whole cause of human rights, especially the right to asylum. The citizens of the world need to see that triumph over the intimidation from those who believe that raw power is all that counts.
July 6, 2013In Secret, Court Vastly Broadens Powers of N.S.A.
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON — In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation’s surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks, officials say.
The rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions.
The 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, was once mostly focused on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders. But since major changes in legislation and greater judicial oversight of intelligence operations were instituted six years ago, it has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come, the officials said.
Last month, a former National Security Agency contractor, Edward J. Snowden, leaked a classified order from the FISA court, which authorized the collection of all phone-tracing data from Verizon business customers. But the court’s still-secret decisions go far beyond any single surveillance order, the officials said.
“We’ve seen a growing body of law from the court,” a former intelligence official said. “What you have is a common law that develops where the court is issuing orders involving particular types of surveillance, particular types of targets.”
In one of the court’s most important decisions, the judges have expanded the use in terrorism cases of a legal principle known as the “special needs” doctrine and carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a warrant for searches and seizures, the officials said.
The special needs doctrine was originally established in 1989 by the Supreme Court in a ruling allowing the drug testing of railway workers, finding that a minimal intrusion on privacy was justified by the government’s need to combat an overriding public danger. Applying that concept more broadly, the FISA judges have ruled that the N.S.A.’s collection and examination of Americans’ communications data to track possible terrorists does not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment, the officials said.
That legal interpretation is significant, several outside legal experts said, because it uses a relatively narrow area of the law — used to justify airport screenings, for instance, or drunken-driving checkpoints — and applies it much more broadly, in secret, to the wholesale collection of communications in pursuit of terrorism suspects. “It seems like a legal stretch,” William C. Banks, a national security law expert at Syracuse University, said in response to a description of the decision. “It’s another way of tilting the scales toward the government in its access to all this data.”
While President Obama and his intelligence advisers have spoken of the surveillance programs leaked by Mr. Snowden mainly in terms of combating terrorism, the court has also interpreted the law in ways that extend into other national security concerns. In one recent case, for instance, intelligence officials were able to get access to an e-mail attachment sent within the United States because they said they were worried that the e-mail contained a schematic drawing or a diagram possibly connected to Iran’s nuclear program.
In the past, that probably would have required a court warrant because the suspicious e-mail involved American communications. In this case, however, a little-noticed provision in a 2008 law, expanding the definition of “foreign intelligence” to include “weapons of mass destruction,” was used to justify access to the message.
The court’s use of that language has allowed intelligence officials to get wider access to data and communications that they believe may be linked to nuclear proliferation, the officials said. They added that other secret findings had eased access to data on espionage, cyberattacks and other possible threats connected to foreign intelligence.
“The definition of ‘foreign intelligence’ is very broad,” another former intelligence official said in an interview. “An espionage target, a nuclear proliferation target, that all falls within FISA, and the court has signed off on that.”
The official, like a half-dozen other current and former national security officials, discussed the court’s rulings and the general trends they have established on the condition of anonymity because they are classified. Judges on the FISA court refused to comment on the scope and volume of their decisions.
Unlike the Supreme Court, the FISA court hears from only one side in the case — the government — and its findings are almost never made public. A Court of Review is empaneled to hear appeals, but that is known to have happened only a handful of times in the court’s history, and no case has ever been taken to the Supreme Court. In fact, it is not clear in all circumstances whether Internet and phone companies that are turning over the reams of data even have the right to appear before the FISA court.
Created by Congress in 1978 as a check against wiretapping abuses by the government, the court meets in a secure, nondescript room in the federal courthouse in Washington. All of the current 11 judges, who serve seven-year terms, were appointed to the special court by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and 10 of them were nominated to the bench by Republican presidents. Most hail from districts outside the capital and come in rotating shifts to hear surveillance applications; a single judge signs most surveillance orders, which totaled nearly 1,800 last year. None of the requests from the intelligence agencies was denied, according to the court.
Beyond broader legal rulings, the judges have had to resolve questions about newer types of technology, like video conferencing, and how and when the government can get access to them, the officials said.
The judges have also had to intervene repeatedly when private Internet and phone companies, which provide much of the data to the N.S.A., have raised concerns that the government is overreaching in its demands for records or when the government itself reports that it has inadvertently collected more data than was authorized, the officials said. In such cases, the court has repeatedly ordered the N.S.A. to destroy the Internet or phone data that was improperly collected, the officials said.
The officials said one central concept connects a number of the court’s opinions. The judges have concluded that the mere collection of enormous volumes of “metadata” — facts like the time of phone calls and the numbers dialed, but not the content of conversations — does not violate the Fourth Amendment, as long as the government establishes a valid reason under national security regulations before taking the next step of actually examining the contents of an American’s communications.
This concept is rooted partly in the “special needs” provision the court has embraced. “The basic idea is that it’s O.K. to create this huge pond of data,” a third official said, “but you have to establish a reason to stick your pole in the water and start fishing.”
Under the new procedures passed by Congress in 2008 in the FISA Amendments Act, even the collection of metadata must be considered “relevant” to a terrorism investigation or other intelligence activities.
The court has indicated that while individual pieces of data may not appear “relevant” to a terrorism investigation, the total picture that the bits of data create may in fact be relevant, according to the officials with knowledge of the decisions.
Geoffrey R. Stone, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, said he was troubled by the idea that the court is creating a significant body of law without hearing from anyone outside the government, forgoing the adversarial system that is a staple of the American justice system. “That whole notion is missing in this process,” he said.
The FISA judges have bristled at criticism that they are a rubber stamp for the government, occasionally speaking out to say they apply rigor in their scrutiny of government requests. Most of the surveillance operations involve the N.S.A., an eavesdropping behemoth that has listening posts around the world. Its role in gathering intelligence within the United States has grown enormously since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Soon after, President George W. Bush, under a secret wiretapping program that circumvented the FISA court, authorized the N.S.A. to collect metadata and in some cases listen in on foreign calls to or from the United States. After a heated debate, the essential elements of the Bush program were put into law by Congress in 2007, but with greater involvement by the FISA court.
Even before the leaks by Mr. Snowden, members of Congress and civil liberties advocates had been pressing for declassifying and publicly releasing court decisions, perhaps in summary form.
Reggie B. Walton, the FISA court’s presiding judge, wrote in March that he recognized the “potential benefit of better informing the public” about the court’s decisions. But, he said, there are “serious obstacles” to doing so because of the potential for misunderstanding caused by omitting classified details.
Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the N.S.A. director, was noncommital when he was pressed at a Senate hearing in June to put out some version of the court’s decisions.
While he pledged to try to make more decisions public, he said, “I don’t want to jeopardize the security of Americans by making a mistake in saying, ‘Yes, we’re going to do all that.’ ”
*************Supreme Court asked to suspend NSA and FBI’s blanket collection of phone data
By Dan Roberts, The Guardian
Monday, July 8, 2013 20:39 EDT
The US supreme court will be asked to suspend the blanket collection of US telephone records by the FBI under an emergency petition due to be filed on Monday by civil rights campaigners at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic).
This new legal challenge to the power of government agencies to spy on Americans follows the publication last month by the Guardian of a secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordering Verizon to hand over metadata from its phone records.
Previous attempts to appeal against the rulings of these courts have floundered due to a lack of public information about who might be caught up in the surveillance net, but the disclosure of specific orders by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has opened the door to a flurry of new challenges. It comes as a similar legal challenge was filed in Britain on Monday.
The latest from Epic asks the supreme court to rule that the NSA and FBI have stretched the law governing state intrusion to such a point that checks and balances put in by lawmakers have become meaningless.
Under section 1861 of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa), authorities seeking such records from phone companies must show “that there are reasonable grounds to to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation”.
But lawyers acting for Epic argue that the sweeping nature of Fisa court orders revealed by Snowden make a mockery of this “relevancy” clause.
“It is simply not possible that every phone record in the possession of a telecommunications firm could be relevant to an authorized investigation,” says a copy of the petition seen by the Guardian.
“Such an interpretation of Section 1861 would render meaningless the qualifying phrases contained in the provision and eviscerate the purpose of the Act.”
The petition seeks a “writ of mandamus” to immediately overturn the order of the lower court, presided on in secret by judge Roger Vinson, or alternatively a “writ of certiorari” to allow supreme court justices to review the decision.
Epic lawyers also argue the original order is unconstitutional because it gives too much power to federal agencies, which could be abused to interfere in other areas of government.
“Because the NSA sweeps up judicial and congressional communications, it inappropriately arrogates exceptional power to the executive branch,” says the petition.
A number of other legal challenges have been launched since Snowden’s leaks began to be reported by the Guardian and Washington Post last month.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit with a Federal court in New York which accused the US government of a process that was “akin to snatching every American’s address book”.
It claimed the NSA’s acquisition of phone records of millions of Verizon users violates the first and fourth amendments, which guarantee citizens’ right to association, speech and to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.
And on Capitol Hill, a group of US senators have introduced a bill aimed at forcing the US federal government to disclose the opinions of the FISA court that determines the scope of the eavesdropping on Americans’ phone records and internet communications.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
************Big Box Retailers Grab Big Data – What You Need to Know When You Shop
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Jul. 8th, 2013
Checkout? No, data grab.
I was in Meijer the other day to do my weekly grocery shopping. Meijer is a Michigan-based big-box retailer, whose stores were the country’s first supercenters. For those who have not been to a Meijer, therefore, it is similar in concept to Arkansas-based Wal-Mart or Minnesota-based Target. The cashier saw me glancing at a brochure at the checkout and volunteered information about their mPerks program (mperks.meijer.com).
This is the newest way to use coupons. No longer does the consumer have to go through the laborious process of clipping them; simply bring in your cell phone and redeem them. Sounds great, doesn’t it? All the convenience modern technology has to offer. And though that was one piece of information the cashier did not volunteer, all the surveillance.
If , as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis asserted in 1928, people have “the right to be let alone” (Everett-Church, 2009), consumers should question the degree to which retailers agree with him; they should be thinking very carefully about what rights they might be surrendering when they enter a retailer’s brick and mortar establishment, use its mobile applications like mPerks, or visit that chain’s website.
Retailers stress customer service: Sears, in its mission statement, speaks of trust (Sears mission statement, n.d.); Walmart speaks of saving their customers money and making their lives better (Walmart mission statement, n.d.); and Target speaks of “exceptional guest experiences” (Target mission statement, n.d.). Meijer stresses “core values” which begin with customers “meeting their needs and exceeding their expectations” (Meijer Core Values, n.d.). One wonders how many customers have the expectation of being surveilled?
Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the degree to which their private information has become a commodity; they would not be wrong to assume that retailers feel the one right consumers absolutely do not have once inside a store or on a website, is the right to be “let alone.”
Consumers might think their buying habits were their own affair as well: Who’s business is it but theirs what they buy, and where? (Kabay & Takacs, 2009). But profiling is not just for criminals, and most consumers likely fail to realize that retailers engage in widespread profiling of their customers (Kabay & Takacs, 2009).
Privacy laws agree with Justice Brandeis and assert that people have some control over information about ourselves (Judy et al, 2009) but we live in the Information Age and information is an increasingly valuable commodity. One business writer used another name for our era: “the era of Big Data” (Matthews, 2012). It is hardly surprising then that consumers find themselves part of a big box “data grab” (Hill, 2012).
Add to this competitive and technologically enhanced environment that in the United States the private sector has generally regulated itself (Judy et al, 2009), and you have a recipe for disaster: Whatever nice things a company’s mission statement might say about customers it must be remembered that corporate entities answers solely to stockholders who want to make a profit.
In their 2010 report, the Federal Trade Commission (2010), found that some companies use consumer information in an “irresponsible or even reckless manner” (p. i). The result is that the old Roman expression, caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”) has more relevance than ever.
The Data Grab and its Consequences: Gathering Data from Brick and Mortar Stores
The moment they walk into a Walmart or a Meijer store, customers are greeted. And shopping is likely to become more intrusive, not less. Every shopper is likely aware of price scanners and even phones that can be picked up by a customer to request assistance in a department, but retailers are always seeking to be more proactive in their approach.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sought public feedback on the subject of facial recognition software as far back as 2011 (Federal Trade Commission, 2011) and a letter from several members of congress to the FTC in January 2012, expressed concerns that some companies were already employing it unbeknownst to consumers (Barton et al, 2012).
In their report, the Federal Trade Commission (2012) concluded that while the potential for abuse is very real, the relative newness of the technology offers the opportunity to ensure that as the industry grows it does so in a way that benefits both business and consumer (p. 21).
Some retailers now routinely ask customers for their zip codes when they make a purchase. With mPerks you must enter your telephone number to use your virtual coupons. While a zip code is no doubt helpful information for a retailer and no great threat to a consumer, it still represents a degree of intrusion. Some customers decline to volunteer even this much information.
Consumers have to expect to give out more or less personal information depending on what they are buying. If they are purchasing alcohol, for example, they will be required by law to provide proof of age in the form of a valid ID or drivers license. The same might apply to certain pharmacy transactions (e.g. pseudoephedrine), or when purchasing a hunting or fishing license.
Gathering Data from Mobile Apps
Use of mobile devices only serves to expose consumers to more information gathering, not less, and retailers are helpful in providing Wi-Fi for “savvy” (or unwary?) customers (Albright, 2011). Mobile apps like mPerks are a special concern and their use has prompted calls for federal regulation (Johnson, 2013).
These retailers’ apps can now tell customers where to find what they are looking for, down to the aisle number; they can also potentially tell the retailer where the customer is (Yu, 2012). Walmart’s mobile and digital head calls this bringing the online store to the store, a tactic not to be despised because about 1 in 5 sales are lost due to the inability of the shopper to find the item they’re searching for (Yu, 2012).
These apps may allow consumers to shop more efficiently in a brick and mortar environment, but they also allow the retailer to track the consumer much more efficiently. Just as consumers value the commodities provided by retailers, retailers value the commodity provided by consumers: information (Himma, 2006).
Gathering Data from Websites
As a society, we have not yet arrived at the point portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Minority Report where, upon walking into a retailer, big billboards greet consumers by name and in a voice impossible to ignore tells them what they need to buy next, but thanks to facial recognition software, a family walking into a car dealer, for example, could see monitors suddenly flash ads for minivans (Plant, 2012). The underlying technology exists already in the form of online behavioral (OBA) or interest-based advertising (IBA) (Federal Trade Commission, 2009; Understanding online advertising, n.d.).
This predictive technology allows retailers to populate their websites (or in-store monitors) with customer-specific, or targeted ads; in other words, ads for products tailored to their interest based on data previously gathered about their likes and buying habits (Understanding online advertising, n.d.).
The online data gathered comes from what are known as cookies, and among that disturbing quantity of data is knowledge of the consumer’s whereabouts. It is not without reason that in 2009 the FTC published a staff report to address privacy concerns with regards this new technology (Federal Trade Commission, 2009).
Beacons allow companies to track “exact Internet usage and surfing patterns” (Judy et al, 2009, p. 69-15) and since they can be present even in advertisements, these big box retailers will know if a consumer visited other websites that have, for example, Walmart ads present.
It is reasonable to assume that most people would probably decline having Walmart place a tracking device of plastic or metal on their person (for the record, there is no evidence Walmart does this), and they should at least be aware of what they are surrendering when they submit to placement of a tracking device composed of data. Privacy threats are a genuine concern, both for corporations and consumers and questions of “how much is enough?” are more relevant than ever.
If you don’t agree, they say, don’t shop at Meijer. It’s as simple as that. What was all that great stuff they said about customers in their core values again?
The bottom line is that consumers should enjoy a reasonable expectation that their private information remains their property unless and until they consent to give it to, or share it with, another.
A Question of Consent
Unfortunately for retailers, what they might be (and are) doing to siphon more information from consumers is bigger news than the steps they might be (and are) taking to safeguard that information. For example, Business Insider marked New Year 2013 with a piece entitled “12 sneaky ways that big retailers track your every move” (Lutz & McConnell, 2013) and it hardly speaks well of retailers that the Harvard Business Review a year earlier could speak of retailers “fighting” customers’ anonymity (Plant, 2012).
Consumers want their anonymity intact and protected, not fought. The Harvard Business Review cites the example given above of a family presented with minivan ads as a form of “soft surveillance” but retailers need to understand that consumers might see it not as soft but as underhanded, and indeed, retail executives are warned that they need to know “how invasive the company can be” in a particular location, and how such efforts might “affect its relationship with customers” (Plant 2012).
Recommendations for a Better Consumer Environment
Consumers want to know and retailers ought to be more forthcoming about data gathering. Transparency is at least as valuable a commodity in post-Bush America as information and a display of open-handedness is more likely to attract customers than drive them away. The FTC’s 2010 staff report urges companies to address transparency concerns, stressing the importance of detailing changes to privacy policies rather than simply updating them (Federal Trade Commission, 2010).
Retailers would do well to begin their privacy policies with a solemn guarantee of what they will not do to infringe upon the privacy rights of consumers, rather than with a discussion of what information will be collected. Consumers want to know, for example, that they will not be followed by “trackers” who will follow them as they shop, be subject to use of facial recognition software, or to use mobile apps to track their movement through stores and malls (Lutz & McConnell, 2013). The same concerns apply to browsing history.
Many of these technologies are not discussed in the existing privacy policies of Meijer, Walmart, Target, and Sears. But failure to address them is no assurance that they are not currently being, or will not in the future, be employed. A clear-cut, unequivocal rejection will serve better than silence; consumers know these technologies are out there and so they should be discussed. Each concern should be addressed in detail, removing the need for uncertainty and fear at the outset.
Sears ran afoul of the FTC in 2009 when it was found to have provided insufficient information in a disclosure to consumers voluntarily participating in a study (Yan, 2010). It is with good reason that Part IV of the FTC’s 2009 staff letter provided principles for self-regulation (Federal Trade Commission, 2009). The FTC’s first point related to the need for transparency and called for not only a clear statement of intent by retailers but an opportunity for consumers to not simply opt out of OBA but to decide whether they wish to participate in the first place (Federal Trade Commission, 2009). It should not be assumed that failure to say “no” represents consent.
Mobile apps could also be made more consumer friendly and less privacy intrusive. The Federal Trade Commission (2013) observed that operating system providers currently offer app developers “substantial amounts” of user data (pp. i-ii). The FTC recommended that users be given the opportunity to grant their affirmative express consent and to have knowledge of the types of data apps they have downloaded access. It was also recommended that apps have a Do Not Track (DNT) mechanism, which would allow users to prevent tracking by, say, Walmart or their third party affiliates (Federal Trade Commission, 2013).
The FTC urged expeditious adaption of their recommendations (Federal Trade Commission, 2013). For our purposes here, this also means that if they are not now engaging in such tracking, all three companies examined, Walmart, Sears, and Target, should assure consumers via their privacy policies of that fact and make a full disclosure of their mobile apps’ capabilities.
Retailers will benefit from actively cultivating trust more than by simply promising it and the FTC’s repeated calls for transparency are well-noted. There are certainly consumers who will consent to share information when it is asked for if there are benefits to doing so (Kooser, n.d.). Customer loyalty programs like Meijer’s mPerks demonstrate this: In exchange for discounts and special offers, a retailer gains useful insight into a consumer’s buying habits. Requesting, rather than requiring, consumers to share data would provide retailers with useful information about consumers while reducing privacy concerns and the risk of lawsuits and/or regulatory penalties.
In the end, it all comes down to the consumer and what the consumer is willing to tolerate in terms of intrusion into their privacy. But first the consumer must be aware of the existence and then the extent of this intrusion. Only then will informed choices be possible, and only then can retailers be informed by the people they claim to serve, what will and will not be tolerated in a free and open society.
***************Obama should review force-feeding at Guantanamo: judge
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 9, 2013 7:27 EDT
A US judge Monday rejected a legal bid by a Guantanamo detainee to have his force-feeding blocked, but urged President Barack Obama to review the issue to see if the controversial practice should end.
Authorities at the military prison at the US naval base in southeastern Cuba say they are force-feeding 44 inmates out of an estimated 120 prisoners who are on hunger strike.
US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that laws passed by Congress prevent her from intervening in aspects of detention at Guantanamo.
“Even though this court is obligated to dismiss the application for lack of jurisdiction, and therefore lacks any authority to rule on petitioner’s request, there is an individual who does have the authority to address the issue.”
Kessler cited the president’s speech of May 23, in which he referred to the force-feeding of terror suspects on hunger strike.
“Is that who we are?” Obama asked in his speech. “Is that the America we want to leave to our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that.”
Kessler in her ruling also cited the US Constitution enshrining the president’s status as commander of all US military forces.
“It would seem to follow, therefore, that the president of the United States, as commander-in-chief, has the authority — and power — to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay,” she said.
A motion filed by rights watchdog Reprieve on behalf of four detainees demands the immediate cessation of force-feeding, decrying it as “torture.”
Kessler said main petitioner Jihad Dhiab sought rapid review of the application because he feared that force-feeding during the day would interfere with his fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins on July 8.
The case is nearly identical to one in 2009 which was also rejected by the same court.
But in the current application, said Kessler, Dhiab laid out in detail “what appears to be a consensus that force-feeding of prisoners violates Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.”
**********The Washington Post Is Now Publishing Republican Press Releases As News
By: Sarah Jones
Jul. 8th, 2013
Is the Washington Post publishing Republican press releases as news now, without factchecking?
Monday evening, Jenna Johnson published a blog post on the student loan crisis that read eerily like the statement John Boehner’s office put out today. It opened in a similar fashion, “House Republican leaders gathered with dozens of well-dressed college students on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Monday afternoon to blast Senate Democrats for not yet passing a student loan bill, allowing the interest rate on one type of federal loan to double last week.”
No, it wasn’t plagiarized; it just managed to follow Boehner’s narrative and pass it off as news, with a bit of extra detail thrown in for substance. Boehner’s press release today read:
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Republican leaders joined college students from across the nation today in a rally at the U.S. Capitol urging Senate Democrats to follow the House’s lead and take action on student loan interest rates, which doubled one week ago.
Then we got Boehner’s statements, which translate into the entire arc of the WaPo article.
“You know, Republicans have acted to stop student loan interest rates from doubling and to make college more affordable for students across the country, including these students that are right here behind me. The White House and Senate Democrats have let these students down. And frankly, I think they deserve better. It’s time for the president to lead, it’s time for him to bring Senate Democrat leaders together and develop a solution.
“The House has done its job, it’s time for the Senate and the White House to do its job. And if you look at what the House passed, it’s very close to what the president offered in his own budget earlier this year.
From the Post:
The Republican-led House passed a bill in late May that establishes a variable interest rate for Stafford loans that’s tied to the government’s cost of borrowing, a concept that President Obama has supported. For the coming school year, that would likely mean a rate of less than 5 percent. In future years, the rate could go as high as 8.5 percent.
Also, there were the usual tells of a Republican talking: “Democrat-led Senate” instead of “Democratic-led Senate”, and then the writer informs us inaccurately that President Obama supported the concept behind the House Republicans’ student loan bill. That, of course, is not true, because while there was some cross over, there were huge differences that caused Obama to threaten to veto the House bill, but Boehner suggests the same thing in his press release.
And then Ms. Johnson informs us that Boehner blasted the President for not doing enough to make Senate Democrats pass something. Where was the “other side” on that? No quotes from Democrats. No fact checking. No “balance” with even presenting the alternative argument. Oh, Republican spin world, how pretty things are in your teeny tiny corner of the propaganda world!
On May 31, President Obama stood up for students when he threatened to VETO the House Republicans’ attempt to stick students with paying down the deficit through the variable rate Ms. Johnson tells us Obama supported. So, Obama supported it except when he threatened to veto it on May 31.
He explained that while he’s glad House Republicans did something, their plan is not smart or fair, “I’m glad that they took action, but their bill does not meet that test. It fails to lock in low rates for students next year. The House bill isn’t smart, and it’s not fair. I’m glad that the House is paying attention to it, but they didn’t do it in the right way.” The President is saying that it’s not fair to force students to pay down the deficit, especially when Republicans won’t even close tax loopholes for the wealthy.
So that’s a big fat public NO to Obama supporting the House plan.
Boehner’s statement today suggesting that the President can’t lead:
“Listen, the failure to lead on student loans is part of the president’s larger issue, and that is the failure to lead on the biggest issues facing our country: jobs and the economy. Every American deserves better than this new normal of slow economic growth, not enough jobs, and no increase in wages.”
Ms. Johnson writes, “Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) criticized Obama for not pushing the Democrat-led Senate to take action before July 1. Stafford loans have annual borrowing limits and account for only a portion of all student loan debt, which currently totals more than $1 trillion.” Well, okay, but Obama’s May 31 speech is but one of many times Obama used the bully pulpit to try to get this historically lazy Congress to do SOMETHING for the people of this country, specifically to pass a student loan bill that would continue allowing students and their families to have some assurance that their rates would not spike in the future to unsustainable levels.
Obama can’t be blamed by rational people for Boehner’s record setting failure of a House of Representatives, but it’s sweet that he has such advocates in the political world.
Ms. Johnson then repeated Boehner’s criticism, noting that other Republicans joined in (shocking!). And she closed with this, “The hashtag again came to life, with both parties using it to push their ideas for finding funds to continue a lower interest rate.” Um, no, actually, Republicans have argued that we can’t afford to subsidize low student loan rates. That is the premise behind their argument, though not one they share with the public readily, I’ll grant.
Just in case it’s not clear yet, on July 1, Speaker Boehner issued a statement claiming inaccurately, “Republicans have passed common-sense legislation mirroring the president’s plan to stop student loans from doubling and make college more affordable.” Mirroring? You mean, if only the President had been willing to stick students with the higher rates of the GOP plan that he said he would VETO.
On June 28th, the Speaker’s office was desperately trying to establish the narrative that the House’s bill was bipartisan (as if — nothing bipartisan comes out of the House unless Pelosi gets it done for Boehner), “But rather than take up a bipartisan solution supported by President Obama and House Republicans, Senate Democrats are going to go ahead and let student loan interest rates double on Monday.”
Ironically, it was the Washington Post (in a link that now goes to page not found, but it was reported here) that pointed out that the Republican plan would cause the interest rate on a Stafford Loan to double, “Students who max out their subsidized Stafford loans over four years would pay $8,331 in interest payments under the Republican bill, and $3,450 if rates were kept at 3.4 percent. If rates were allowed to double in July, that amount would be $7,284 over the typical 10-year window to repay the maximum $19,000.”
The Republican version is variable rate scheme where a student’s loan rate would be reset every year in order to enable the banks to make a profit off of students and force students to pay down the deficit of their elders.
The Post’s own earlier reporting confirms my take on things, “The proposal cleared the GOP-led House on a largely party-line vote of 221 to 198, but it faces opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate and a veto threat from President Obama.” Yes, see, it wasn’t bipartisan, Obama did not support it, and he did threaten to veto it.
That same WaPo article noted that while there were some similarities, a key difference between Obama’s and the House Republicans’ plans is that under Obama’s plan, rates “would be fixed after students take out a loan. The Republican bill would let rates for individual loans float.” You can see what damage floating rates could do.
You might expect a writer to at least do a cursory search before passing a press release off as fact, but we got the entire inaccurate GOP narrative neatly painted for us and passed off as news. Buyer beware, because while not all press releases are full of lies, Speaker Boehner’s are by necessity inaccurate and misleading.
***********Busted: Republicans’ State Mandated Ultrasounds Are Vaginal Probes, Not Choices
By: Sarah Jones
Jul. 8th, 2013
You may have heard defenders of Republicans, who are claiming the right to rape women with the authority of the state via their many ultrasound laws currently sweeping the nation via the state level, explain that some of these laws do not mandate a vaginal probe, and therefore are not rape.
After all, it would be politically costly, even for rape-denying Republicans, to not only legalize rape, but to mandate it. They found this out when they tried to mandate vaginal ultrasounds in Virginia.
You see, rape is defined by the Justice Department and FBI (for reporting/statistical purposes – note that state by state definitions of rape vary) as, “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
So Republicans took out the word vaginal and replaced it with language that mostly only women who have had vaginal ultrasounds understand to mean vaginal ultrasound, and we all know Republicans aren’t interested in listening to women’s experiences (“mob rule”) as they pass these unprecedented invasions against women across the country. Republican Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) can’t stop trying to shame and hush state Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) on the issue of women’s healthcare.
The language of Wisconsin Senate bill is an example of how they imbed the transvaginal probe while claiming you have a choice, “An ultrasound on the pregnant woman using whichever transducer the woman chooses; provide a simultaneous oral explanation during the ultrasound including the number of unborn children and presence and location of the unborn child; display the ultrasound images so that the pregnant woman may view them; provide a medical description of the ultrasound images including the dimensions of the unborn child and a description of any viewable external features and internal organs of the unborn child; and provide a means for the pregnant woman to visualize any fetal heartbeat, in a quality consistent with current medical practice, and a simultaneous oral explanation of the visual display of the heartbeat in a manner understandable to a layperson (ultrasound requirements).”
Hint: In order to achieve most of that with the “quality consistent with current medical practice”, a transvaginal ultrasound must be used. Oh, but they didn’t SAY vaginal probe. Republicans learned after the Virginia debacle. They found a new way to mandate vaginal ultrasounds without saying it.
There are two main types of fetal ultrasound exams, per the Mayo Clinic. The vaginal ultrasound is used in early pregnancies because the uterus and fallopian tubes are closer to the vagina than to the abdominal wall at that time. To wit:
Transvaginal ultrasound. With this type of fetal ultrasound, a wand-like transducer is placed in your vagina to send out sound waves and gather the reflections. Transvaginal ultrasounds are used most often during early pregnancy, when the uterus and fallopian tubes are closer to the vagina than to the abdominal surface.
Transabdominal ultrasound. A transabdominal fetal ultrasound is done by moving a transducer — a small plastic device that sends and receives sound waves — over your abdomen. This type of fetal ultrasound helps your health care provider determine your baby’s gestational age and evaluate your baby’s growth and development. The exam usually takes about 20 minutes.
As Think Progress explained in February, many of the laws mandate that the women must see the fetus, and therefore, since most abortions happen at an early stage, it mandates a vaginal probe. Others mandate hearing the fetal heartbeat, and the transvaginal probe is the medically preferred ultrasound to hear the fetal heartbeat.
Hike your feet up into some stirrups so you can get a transducer so large it requires lubricant shoved up your vagina until it hits and applies enough pressure against your cervix to read the uterus, ovaries, etc. This version of rape is now mandated by many states, courtesy of “small government” Republicans, only they’re not calling it rape. They’re calling it an option that’s “beneficial” to your health.
In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet knew that the names of things do not change what they are:
O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
So, too, a state mandated and unnecessary transvaginal probe by any other name is as invasive as a rape as defined by the DOJ, because it is what it is no matter what they call it.
We will refer to Republican ultrasound laws as mandated vaginal ultrasounds, because that is what they are. And Republican mandated ultrasound laws are state authorized rape. No sweet smelling lies can make this outrageous assault upon the bodies of women any less egregious, no matter what they call it.
*********Paul Ryan Reveals That Everything He Said About Medicare in 2012 Was A Total Lie
By: Sarah Jones
Jul. 8th, 2013
The fact that House Republicans are holding Medicare as a hostage over raising the debt ceiling (which is their job, as it represents money they already spent) should erase the media’s confusion about just which party is coming for Medicare. Republicans are making a move to give the insurance companies the key to the treasury so they can raid it on whim.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is working with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) among other conservatives to draft the debt ceiling “options” menu. Jason Easley referred to this House plan as the Stupid Linings Playbook, because they outline several very unpopular plans, which they will be forcing just in time for the next election. It’s as if they want to make 2014 about Medicare and Social Security, even though they already lost those fights very clearly in 2012.
Ryan and House Republicans presented the option to privatize Medicare as the Big Idea for the President. While it may be hard to stomach being lectured to by the party and often individuals who voted for Bush’s unfunded Medicare Part D, but now want to pretend they are the fiscal grown ups, the truth is that these folks are only fooling their base. And how hard is that? Sadly not hard at all.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, we were treated to epic lies about Medicare from Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney, who were pretending that they had no intentions to change the program. They couldn’t defend their own plans, so instead they borrowed lies from the Koch brothers about Obama’s healthcare reform law, also known as ObamaCare.
The Ryan plan would not even offer traditional Medicare except to those now 55 and older; in fact, Paul Ryan and House Republicans voted to drop traditional Medicare altogether, except for those now 55 and older. Ryan and Romney claimed they were “saving” Medicare by privatizing it, while Obama had destroyed it with ObamaCare.
Ryan claimed ObamaCare “weakens Medicare for today’s seniors and puts it at risk for the next generation. First, it funnels $716 billion out of Medicare to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for. Second, it puts 15 unelected bureaucrats in charge of Medicare’s future.”
Reality? According to PolitiFact this was “Mostly False” and highly misleading, “Ryan’s comments are highly misleading. Neither Obama nor his health care law literally cut funding from the Medicare program’s budget. Still, the number has a slight basis in fact… So, yes, Obama’s law did find $716 billion in spending reductions. They were mainly aimed at insurance companies and hospitals, not beneficiaries.”
For these lies Ryan won many mostly false ratings, but the media was still “confused”. Even PolitiFact had a tough time with the idea that privatizing Medicare would actually be ending it as we know it. Back then, PolitiFact rated the claim that Republicans were privatizing Medicare as “mostly true”.
However, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Ryan plan suggested that a voucher system would shift costs from the taxpayers to seniors (“seniors would end up paying almost twice as much out of their own pockets — or more than $12,510 a year, the CBO estimates. Altogether, the total cost of insurance would be higher”) and