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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Letters from the Internet Censorship Front

Well, the Battle for the Internet is now officially in full swing.

In an earlier post on this blog, we reported how two bills in the United States Congress, (now officially regarded as SOPA in the House of Representatives, and PIPA in the Senate), had been proposed in order to reign in the offenders of internet piracy, and how the passage of either bill threatens due process in terms of the legal proceedings necessary to that end.  We also mentioned how the Federal Government wasn't necessarily waiting for passage of the bill before getting a head start in siezing domain names. The bills themselves have still yet to be voted on, but let there be no doubt that some web-based companies aren't waiting for passage of the bill, either, before making their voice heard in opposition to them.  And because so much more internet traffic is directed through these companies than through Federal sites, their voices speak many decibels higher.

Yesterday, Wikipedia went completely dark, while Google and other well-known sites included prominent links to sites providing for users a media allowing for dissent to be heard by those in power.  We're sure most of you, dear readers, are aware of this, as we're sure that if you happen upon this blog, you are no doubt familiar with Wikipedia and Google.

What is pleasantly surprising, is that apparently the voices of the internet are being heard.  Some prominent senators, including PIPA's co-sponsor Marco Rubio, have renounced their support of the bill, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is now calling for the bill to be shelved.  Even in tonight's Republican Presidential debate in South Carolina, every candidate on stage stated opposition to the legislation.

Nonetheless, the Feds remain dedicated to stopping internet piracy, and so, just as Wikipedia was powering back up, they were shutting down the mega-popular, New Zealand-based Megaupload, carrying out a federal grand jury indictment processed earlier this month, with all the intention of extradicting and prosecuting those associated with the filesharing site.  Subsequently, and currently, however, hackers associated with the group, Anonymous, are retaliating, declaring openly that they are taking down websites at the Department of Justice, Universal Music Group, the U.S. Copyright Office, and EMI, just to mention a few.

The War for a free internet is now on.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Excercising Our Freedom of Speech

Forgive us, if tonight we opine.

We about spit out our coffee this morning, after reading an article that reported the following:

"Under the National Operations Center (NOC)’s Media Monitoring Initiative that came out of DHS headquarters in November, Washington has the written permission to retain data on users of social media and online networking platforms.

Specifically, the DHS announced the NCO and its Office of Operations Coordination and Planning (OPS) can collect personal information from news anchors, journalists, reporters or anyone who may use 'traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed.'"

This applies to us bloggers.  In fact, it applies to this very blog.  It even applies to this very post.  Yes, the Feds are now authorized to spy on all media operations.  Not even Brian Williams is immune.  Heck, not even government officials making public statements are immune.

Ladies and gentlemen, Big Brother is now official.  Does this not yet confirm that we now live in a police state?

Historians, especially this historian, is not wont to opine on current events, as opinions themselves are neither history, nor history-making.  But anyone with even a minor understanding of the United States Constitution can see this as an infringment of the first amendment, which states, "Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."  This is not to say that we bloggers are about to be rounded up "for the sake of national security."  But it does provide all the information the Feds would need in order to accomplish such an end.  It also puts bona fide journalists, public officials, and otherwise innocent bloggers in a state of fear for saying anything that may be considered a potential threat to national security, all in the name of the "war on terror".  Hence, though our opinions here may not be history-making, this news most certainly is.

Although the United States is increasingly becoming a police state, this American blogger, for one, refuses to live in a state of fear.  Thus, now aware that the government has free access to our identity, and at risk of being classified and possibly arrested as "terrorists", we in this office hereby, and publicly, defy and refute all government efforts to limit our freedom of speech.  We have nothing to hide.  We are not terrorists.  Our conscience is clear, and our honor, our dignity, our integrity are intact.  We shall continue to report historical events such as this one, come hell or high water.  Come and get us.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Predictions from a Historian

One of our favorite tag lines here has always been George Santayana's oft-quoted, "those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it."  Yet, the older we get, the more we realize how easily people forget the past, (if they ever really understood it all) and so, how often history repeats itself.  This is why there are repeating patterns to all of human history.  The details might be different, but the underlying motives are no less different now than they were at any another point in history--success; glory; honor; ego.  That said, one of the very reasons we who study history look to our past, is so that we might be better able to glimpse our future. 

We now find ourselves at the beginning of a new year, many of us looking out at its prospects with a heavy heart.  Generally, and globally speaking, those prospects for a happy and prosperous 2012 do not bode well, and certainly no better than the history of 2011 would inform us:  currently, Europe is on the verge of an economic meltdown; economically significant countries in Europe, as well as the United States are mired in such increasing debt as to put them on the verge of veritable bankruptcy; wars and the threat of more wars continue in the middle east; and politicians have become ever more disconnected to the plight of the average citizen, while they grow ever wealthier in the process.  Seriously--does anyone really think 2012 will be any better than 2011?

Though of course, no one can predict the future with any accuracy, given how human history tends to repeat patterns, and given the situation we all find ourselves in, after a fairly bleak 2011, we can nonetheless prognosticate a few things.

1. The war against Iran (which we have already intimated is covertly underway) will escalate, and likely become more visible.  The circumstances that will signal its official commencement is anyone's guess, but rest assured that whatever that particular event may be, all participants will blame the other side for initiating hostilities.

2. Crude oil will likely reach $200 per barrel.  Because of the escalating tensions in the middle East, average gasoline prices in the U.S. will increase to at least $5.00 per gallon.

3. The U.S. Presidential election will be, for most people, and once again, a choice between the lesser of two evils.  Seems the only Republican candidate who has any significant support is Dr. Ron Paul, but no one seems to think he can win, and the Republican establishment is sure to make sure he won't.  Hence, the Republican electorate will only nominate someone they think can beat Barack Obama.

4. Whether the economy gets better or worse, the Federal Reserve will print more money.  As the dollar is continually devalued, retail prices for goods and services will continue to increase, as "Helicopter Ben" Bernanke follows through on the anti-deflation doctrine he established before being confirmed as the U.S. Fed Head.

5. Civil liberties in the United States will continue to erode through continued Congressional legislation geared to combat the presumedly perpetual "war on terror".  Nations must always have an enemy, and even if the enemy is tactic, it serves the powers-that-be to maintain that enemy in order to strengthen their power.  Just read Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Never have we in this office hoped more that we were wrong in our prognostications.  And, perhaps, we go out on a limb just in making them.  We certainly want not to extinguish all hope for a better year.  But, in light of the current events now facing us, and in light of the history of western thinking, we consider it more beneficial to inform the public of impending maladies, than to elicit a false sense of hope through an irrational positivity.

Whatever happens, we nonetheless harbor the wish that everyone can make the best of it, and have a truly prosperous new year.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Out with the Old

This office knows of no one personally who can say that the year 2011 was a good year.  Average salaries are down.  People are still unemployed, while folks continued to endure the "Great Recession".  Houses were foreclosed on.  Many Americans lost faith in their government, if they didn't outright overthrow it in various places around the world.  Iran wants to make nukes, while no one else will let them.

If we can arrive at a single descriptive word for 2011, it would be, "bleak".

But, say what we might about the year now almost ended, historically, it was year of endings of eras:

--American troops are finally out of Iraq.  For better or for worse, Operation Iraqi Freedom is over.
--Osama Bin Laden is finally dead.  Or, so the Feds tell us.  We can now declare the "war on terror" over.  Or, no, wait ...
--Libya's Mohamar Khaddafi is dead.  Not that anyone will miss him, but after forty years, forgive us if we assumed it was bound to happen, eventually.
--Joe Paterno resigned as the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions.  For those who don't follow college football, just trust us, this is a massive surprise.  The man was an icon.  Was.
--The Space Shuttle program is no more.  So, no more getting up at all hours to see it launch from Florida or touch down in the California desert.
--Jerry Lewis is no longer the main celebrity benefactor of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and no longer hosts their annual telethon.  For those of us who grew up watching that thing at 3 o'clock in the morning when we couldn't sleep, THAT is the end of an era.
--Steve Jobs is no more.  Last call for gratitude--thanks again, Steve.  I don't know what I'd do without my iPhone.  Or, my desktop, for that matter.
--The Oprah Winfrey Show is no more.  But never fear, Oprah lovers--she now has her OWN network.  (Pardon the pun, Oprah, but we just can't help it when you lay it in our lap).

And so ends the year 2011, as these eras are now safely tucked away into the annals of history.

Monday, December 26, 2011

So Much for the Bill of Rights

Every year since 1963, the United States Congress has taken it upon itself to specify the budget and expenditures of the U.S. Department of Defense, for the upcoming year, in what is known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  On December 15th, after much heated debate, Congress passed the bill for the 48th time, authorizing budget and expenditures for the year 2012.  On the 23rd, President Barack Obama signed it into law.

In this latest bill, however, there's a bit of a catch.

Under the section on "Counterterrorism" (Subtitle D), the law authorizes the "detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force."  The AUMF, enacted in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, authorized the President "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occured on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by nations, organizations or persons."  This language is further clarified in the NDAA for 2012 to include, more specifically, "al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerant act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces."

The reason why this, what is now being called the "indefinite detention" clause, was so hotly contested by Constitutionalist representatives in Congress, is that it makes no allowance for American citizens.  An amendment to exclude U.S. citizens from indefinite detention was proposed by California Senator Dianne Feinstein, but was rejected by Senate vote.  A later amendment that passed, clarifies that "nothing in the NDAA is intended to alter the government's current legal authority to detain prisoners captured in the war on terror," according to Politico.  Such authority, under the AUMF, includes the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens.

Under Congress' typically vague language, what this means is that not only can just about anyone, under current law, be considered a terrorist, but that anyone suspected of "belligerant acts" can now be legally arrested and detained, without trial, until the "war on terrorism" has ended.  No "war" has ever been officially or legally declared on "terrorism", yet its belligerants, even if they by American citizens, shall now be treated as prisoners of war.  By definition, this law puts all U.S. citizens under martial law, as it disregards the Bill of Rights, from which we have long had the impression that U.S. citizens were "innocent until proven guilty".

Few have the courage to speak out about this publically, but as Doctor, Congressman, and Presidential candidate Ron Paul explains, "the Bill of Rights has no exceptions for really bad people or terrorists or even non-citizens. It is a key check on government power against any person. That is not a weakness in our legal system, it is the very strength of our legal system. The NDAA attempts to justify abridging the Bill of Rights on the theory that rights are suspended in a time of war, and the entire United States is a battlefield in the war on terror. This is a very dangerous development, indeed. Beware."

Note that none of these laws mean that American citizens will inevitably suffer the consequences of the martial law established by them.  But, the point is that they could, as now it's all perfectly legal.  That's where the root of the issue lies.  That's what the Bill of Right was even for--to protect this stuff from happening.  But, these laws on "terrorism" effectively render the Bill of Rights null and void.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Are We Already at War with Iran?

Last weekend, Iran declared that they had shot down a U.S. RQ-170 surveillance drone in the eastern part of the country.  Repudiating this charge, U.S. officials claim that the drone had crash-landed after mechanical difficulties caused its operators to lose control of it.  In any event, its now in the hands of the Iranians, who now have at their disposal some the United States top secrets.  "Its bad," said one official, "they'll have everything."

Of course, it is no secret that the United States regularly conducts covert operations on, around, and in territories considered a threat to its interests.  In fact, it's the very reason the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was even established.  Of course, back in 1947, the threat was the Soviet Union, but through the years, the CIA has been used for all sorts of covert operations designed to monitor, subvert, and sometimes even eliminate what the Federal government considers threats to the country's national security.  Though highly secretive, there is little doubt now that the Agency is being utilized to monitor activities in Iran, and since the Feds have made no secret of their opposition to Iran's reported efforts to advance their nuclear weapons capabilities, it wouldn't be surprising if such monitoring were attempts to gather intelligence that would assist in neutralizing such capability.

The downed-drone incident also follows on the heels of a series of explosive mishaps at Iranian nuclear facilities that some officials claim, on the condition of anonymity, are evidence of covert sabotage.  Such claims are substantiated by the continuing "accidents" at Iranian nuclear facilities, reportedly brought about by a computer worm (a sort of virus) called Stuxnet, which affects roughly 58 percent of all the computers in Iran, many of which are utilized in their nuclear refining operations.

Needless to say, this series of events has raised Iran's ire to such a point as to lead its General Mohammed Al Jaafari to raise the operational readiness of the country's military forces.  Now, as we already reported two weeks ago, Israel has not ruled out possible military force against Iran; and just today, Saudi Arabia's former intelligence chief has called for Saudi leadership to consider nuclear armament in order to counter threats from both Iran as well as Isreal.  Add to that the United States' continued covert operations, and one can't help but wonder if we're not already at war with Iran.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Kissing the Free Internet Goodbye?

Two bills currently await a vote the Congress of the United States--one, Senate Bill S968, called the "Protect Internet Piracy Act" ; and the other, House Bill HR3261, called the "Stop Online Piracy Act".  (Some may find it rather curious that they're called "acts", as logically, until a bill is voted into law, it's only a "bill".)  Though two different bills, they share similarities in both their intent and their language (sometimes known as "legalese").  Ostensibly, both these bills propose to regulate internet piracy, and clamp down on "rogue sites".  But, latent within vague language typical for Congressional legislation these days, lies the possible seeds of the ultimate destruction of what we've taken for granted as the freedom of the internet.

As summarized by Wikipedia, the House bill "would allow the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as copyright holders to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.  Depending on who requests the court orders, the actions could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as PayPal from doing business with the infringing website; barring search engines from linking to such sites and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites.  The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyright content a felony.  The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement."

The reader here, may want to read the above again, if he doesn't quite appreciate the full import of this bill, for it signifies the end of the freedom of the internet as we know it.

To be sure, the Feds haven't been waiting around for this bill to pass, as this morning, the they seized 150 domain names for selling counterfeit products, bringing the total domain names seized in the past year to 350.  Though, if the Feds seizing 350 domain names isn't enough to spark fear in the hearts of internet lovers, the passage of either of the two Congressional bills surely will, for it will then involve not only copyright holders (seeking court orders), but also ISPs (seeking to limit their liability for providing service to any site they deem infringing on intellectual property laws).  Passage of either of these bills means the Feds will again, subtly pit big corporations against small businesses.  The issuance of court orders will, as they usually do, set up enforcement with a "shoot now and ask questions later" scenario, and thus chip another chunk out of the block that is due process.

This office can find no individual who supports either of these bills, yet the House bill, currently in committee, appears to be on a fast track, as the New York Post reports that "sources familiar with the legislation said it could come to a vote before Christmas."

If you like the internet, and want to keep it free, you may want to inform your government that you oppose this bill.  Otherwise, we all might be kissing our free internet goodbye.