Saturday, February 18, 2012

Obama DOJ Tries to Insulate Warrantless Wiretapping Law

Friday, February 17, 2012 by Common Dreams
ACLU Argues Dragnet Surveillance of Americans Is Unconstitutional

The government today asked the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court ruling that allowed the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the constitutionality of a law that gives the government unprecedented authority to monitor international emails and phone calls by Americans, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

At issue is an appeals court ruling that allowed the ACLU’s case to move forward. It rebuffed Obama administration arguments that the case should be dismissed because the ACLU’s clients cannot prove their communications will be collected under the law, known as the FISA Amendments Act. The ACLU said it was disappointed by today’s request.

“The appeals court correctly ruled that our plaintiffs have standing to challenge this sweeping surveillance law, and it’s disappointing that the administration is challenging that ruling,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. “It’s crucial that the government’s surveillance activities be subject to constitutional limits, but the administration’s argument would effectively insulate the most intrusive surveillance programs from judicial review. The Supreme Court should leave the appeals court’s ruling in place and allow our constitutional challenge to proceed.”

The ACLU filed the lawsuit in July 2008 on behalf of a broad group of attorneys and human rights, labor, legal and media organizations whose work requires them to engage in sensitive telephone and email communications with people outside the U.S. such as colleagues, clients, sources, foreign officials and victims of human rights abuses. The coalition includes Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, The Nation, the Service Employees International Union and journalists Chris Hedges and Naomi Klein. The Justice Department claims that the plaintiffs should not be able to sue without first showing that they have, in fact, been monitored under the program – information that the government refuses to provide.

In March 2011, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs do, in fact, have the right to challenge the constitutionality of the law. In September, the full Second Circuit rejected the government’s request for reconsideration of that ruling.

“The FISA Amendments Act is the most sweeping surveillance statute ever enacted by Congress. It allows dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international communications with none of the safeguards that the Constitution requires. This kind of law should not be shielded from judicial scrutiny,” said Alex Abdo, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project.

Little is known about how the FISA Amendments Act has been used. In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU, the government revealed that every six-month review of the Act had identified “compliance incidents,” suggesting either an inability or an unwillingness to properly safeguard Americans’ privacy rights. The government has withheld the details of those “compliance incidents,” however, including statistics relating to abuses of the Act.

The Act is scheduled to sunset in December 2012. The ACLU is calling for amendments that would limit surveillance to suspected terrorists and criminals, require the government to be more transparent about how the law is being used and place stronger restrictions on the retention and dissemination of information that is collected.

Attorneys on the lawsuit challenging the FISA Amendments Act are Jaffer and Abdo of the ACLU; Christopher Dunn and Melissa Goodman of the New York Civil Liberties Union; and Charles S. Sims, Theodore K. Cheng and Matthew J. Morris of Proskauer Rose LLP.


More information on the ACLU’s lawsuit challenging the law:

More information on the ACLU’s FOIA lawsuit:

Citizens United Revisited? Buckle Up, Chief Justice Roberts

Saturday, February 18, 2012 by Common Dreams
by Josh Silver

On Friday night, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Montana Supreme Court's December, 2011 decision upholding the state's century-old ban on corporate political spending. The implications of this are huge, as it paves the way for a potential re-opening of the disastrous Citizens United decision that has spawned billionaire-sponsored super PACs. And if that happens, Chief Justice John Roberts better buckle up for a grassroots mobilization unlike any the court has seen in years.

Friday's decision was in response to a request by the American Tradition Partnership (ATP) to reverse the Montana ruling. ATP -- a conservative group that that says it fights "the radical environmentalist agenda" -- has six weeks to formally ask the Supreme Court to review the case. If they don't, the Montana ban on corporate spending will stand.

Since the Citizens United ruling over two years ago, millions of dollars have flowed from the super-rich and corporations to elect or defeat candidates. A handful of billionaires have manipulated election outcomes in a matter of days, buying vicious ads through super PACs that candidates pretend are independent from their own campaigns -- while their former colleagues and pals run those PACs. As Ari Berman wrote in The Huffington Post: some 196 individual donors have provided nearly 80 percent of the money raised by super PACs in 2011 by giving $100,000 or more each. Secret donors using 501C4's have purchased 40 percent of total GOP primary ads with no disclosure of who is signing the checks.

The Supreme Court justified Citizens United by ruling that super PACs do not allow corruption or the appearance of corruption.

Webster's dictionary defines corruption: "Impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle, inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery); a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct."

If our current campaign finance system isn't corrupt, what is? A handful of billionaires can decide who the next president will be. If our Supreme Court doesn't find that corrupt, or at least creating the appearance of corruption, then they are using a very different dictionary than the rest of America; one shape-shifted solely to consolidate power into the hands of the super-rich, the rest of us be damned.

From Occupy on the left to the Tea Party on the right, conservatives and liberals agree that crony capitalism is out of control, and is central to our nations myriad problems: banking, energy, jobs, health care... you name it. The people are mad as hell, and they're not going to take it any more.

And if the court takes up Citizens United again, you can be sure the American people won't sit quietly with their hands folded while the high court deliberates. They're going to shake the bars of the prison that our democracy has become, and demand a ruling that protects ordinary people, not plutocrats.

Mortgage Settlement 'Whitewash': US Taxpayers Will Pay for Big Bank Settlement

Friday, February 17, 2012 by Common Dreams
Mortgage Deal or Not, Abusive Foreclosures Continue

UPDATE: Reports in the Financial Times and elsewhere say that US taxpayers may be on the hook to bail out big banks -- again.

Neil Barofsky, the former special inspector-general of the TARP, said this morning that the recently approved mortgage deal between the nation's largest banks was "supposed to be a settlement for this remarkable fraud that the banks and the servicers have created across the country" is, in fact, a "political whitewash" because instead of the banks facing punitive action it "is actually going to involve money flowing from the taxpayer into the banks." And, straight to the point, he said, "We're bailing them out again!"

Barofsky, appearing on Marketplace radio this morning in an interview with Adrien Hill, said of the deal:
It's kind of crazy when you think about it. This mortgage settlement is supposed to be a settlement for this remarkable fraud that the banks and the servicers have created across the country -- lying on affidavits, forging affidavits during foreclosures, all sorts of different abuses. And the idea behind the settlement, at least this is what we were told during the press conference, is was this was going to bring accountability. It was going to punish the servicers. It was going to be punitive and make them pay for this remarkable misconduct that occurred. And now we're finding out that this so-called penalty is actually going to involve money flowing from the taxpayer into the banks. We're bailing them out again!

When asked what this revealed about the "true intent" of the mortgage settlement, Barofsky replied:
Well I think what it does is it shows that the true intent of the settlement may differ from that which we were told during all the various press conferences. And instead of really, at the heart of this, being about accountability and punishment it seems like frankly a political whitewash during an election year. So it makes the Department of Justice look good. It makes the attorneys general look good. The banks are happy because they are going to get all the credit for this settlement while receiving money from the taxpayers. Really the only big losers are the taxpayers and, of course, the homeowners.

* * *

According to CBS News:
A clause in the provisional agreement allows the banks to use the government's Home Affordable Modification Plan, or HAMP, to cover the principal reductions. Neil Barofsky, the former special inspector-general of the TARP, described the clause as "scandalous." Says Barofsky: "It turns the notion that this is about justice and accountability on its head."

A little refresher on the HAMP plan: Banks receive payments from the government when they negotiate with underwater homeowners to avoid default. The taxpayer reimbursement is used to help cover the banks' costs to write down principal balances and keep homeowners in their homes. Last month, the Treasury department announced it was tripling the incentive payments to owners of mortgages who agree to reduce loan balances. The timing of the settlement is therefore perfect.

As the FT notes, "by reducing those balances under HAMP, investors -- including the banks who agreed the settlement -- now will receive cash payments of up to 63 cents on the dollar for every dollar of loan principal forgiven. They also will receive additional funds when borrowers keep current on their restructured mortgages."

* * *

Settlement or No, 'Abusive' and 'Illegal' Foreclosures Continue

A $25 billion settlement agreement between the nation's largest banks, states, and millions of homeowners who were victims of bad lending practices and fraudulent foreclosures has yet to be fully realized, but a new study from California indicates that many of the same 'illegal' foreclosure practices are still occurring at alarming rates.

Reuters reports:

A report this week showing rampant foreclosure abuse in San Francisco reflects similar levels of lender fraud and faulty documentation across the United States, say experts and officials who have done studies in other parts of the country.

The audit of almost 400 foreclosures in San Francisco found that 84 percent of them appeared to be illegal, according to the study released by the California city on Wednesday.

"The audit in San Francisco is the most detailed and comprehensive that has been done - but it's likely those numbers are comparable nationally," Diane Thompson, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, told Reuters.

Across the country from California, Jeff Thingpen, register of deeds in Guildford County, North Carolina, examined 6,100 mortgage documents last year, from loan notes to foreclosure paperwork.

Of those documents, created between January 2008 and December 2010, 4,500 showed signature irregularities, a telltale sign of the illegal practice of "robosigning" documents.

The report also makes the familiar point that one of the major problems throughout the foreclosure crisis has been how murky it has become to know who owns the loans on the home being foreclosed upon:
One of the major problems that has emerged in the foreclosure crisis is that it is far from clear that many lenders foreclosing on properties actually own the loans and have the right to take action against them.

In many cases during the housing bubble that burst in 2008, original mortgages were repackaged and sold to so many investors that it is now unclear who actually holds the loans. [The study] could only find the current owners of the mortgages [...] in 287 out of 473 cases.

In the San Francisco study, which studied properties subject to foreclosure sales between January 2009 to November 2011, 45 per cent were sold to entities improperly claiming to be the owner of the loan.

"It is not impossible that there are homeowners who are alleged to have defaulted on loans to which they never fully agreed to and, further, are being foreclosed upon by lenders that might not even own such loans," the report stated.

* * *

All of this might be less shocking if it wasn't right on the heals of the mortgage settlement which, as Yves Smith explains at Naked Capitalism on Thursday, is a canard when it comes to bank accountability. The whole point of the settlement -- even the threat of investigations -- has been to make sure the banks change their practices. She writes:
The whole purpose of a settlement is that a party pays damages to rid themselves of liability, and the amount they pay (and “pay” can include the cost of reforming their conduct) is less than what they expect to suffer if they were sued and lost the case (otherwise, it would make more sense for them to fight). 
But in the topsy-turvy world of cream for the banks, crumbs for the rest of us, we have, in the words of Scott Simon, head of the mortgage business at bond fund manager Pimco, in an interview with MoneyNews, lots of victims paying for banks’ misdeeds: 
“A lot of the principal reductions would have happened on their loans anyway, and they’re using other people’s money to pay for a ton of this. Pension funds, 401(k)s and mutual funds are going to pick up a lot of the load… 
“Think about this, you tell your kid, ‘You did something bad, I’m going to fine you $10, but if you can steal $22 from your mom, you can pay me with that.’”

Revisiting the Second Great Depression

I still think another depression is firmly in our government's greedy little hands.--jef

And Other Fairy Tales

As President Obama’s re-election campaign heats up, there are several new accounts of his track record finding their way into print. One item for which he is undeservedly given credit is saving the country from a second Great Depression.

The political elites believe in the salvation from the second Great Depression myth with the same fervency as little kids believe in Santa Claus. And, it has just as much grounding in reality.

While the Obama Administration, working alongside Ben Bernanke at the Fed, deserves credit for preventing a financial meltdown, a second Great Depression was never in the cards. The first Great Depression was brought about not only from misguided policies at the onset of the financial crisis, but also from an inadequate policy response.

The spending associated with World War II ultimately got us out of the depression. There is nothing magical about spending on war; spending of the same magnitude on road, schools, hospitals or anything else also would have lifted out the economy out of the depression at any point after the initial collapse in 1929-1930.

The problem was the lack of the political will to spend in these areas, whereas there was plenty of political support for fighting the war after the attack at Pearl Harbor. The lesson from this period is that the United States could have gotten out of the Great Depression any time it was prepared to spend the money to do so. This means that a financial meltdown could not have possibly condemned us to a decade of double-digit unemployment, since that would require a decade of ongoing policy failures after the original collapse.

All this should be obvious to anyone familiar with the history of the depression, however, we don’t have to go back 70 years for lessons on recovering from financial crises; we just have to look to the south. In December of 2001 Argentina broke the link between its currency and the dollar and defaulted on its debt. The result was a financial meltdown that was certainly at least as severe as the worst-case scenarios that the United States might have faced in the dire days after the collapse of Lehman.

Following this default, Argentina’s economy went into a freefall for roughly three months. Banks were insolvent, families and businesses could not get access to their savings, and normal business-dealing became almost impossible.

However, by the second quarter of 2002, the government had largely pasted things together to the point that the economy had stabilized. It began growing rapidly in the third quarter of 2002 and continued to grow rapidly until the world recession slowed the economy in 2008. By the middle of 2003, it had recovered all the ground it had lost in the initial crisis after the default.

Based on the experience of Argentina, we can say that in the case of a full meltdown, we might have seen three months of freefall (even worse that we actually experienced from September of 2008 to April of 2009), followed by three months of stability and then a return to growth six months out. Of course it’s possible that our policy crew of Ben Bernanke, Larry Summers, and Timothy Geithner may not be as competent as the team in Argentina, but even if we double the time periods, we get six months of freefall and three years to get back to pre-crisis levels of output. That’s bad news for sure, but quite a bit short of anything that could merit the title of a “Great Depression.”

The attack on the second Great Depression myth is not simply an exercise in semantics. The Obama Administration and the political establishment more generally want the public to be grateful that we managed to avoid a second Great Depression. People should realize that this claim is sort of like keeping our kids safe from tiger attacks. It’s true that almost no kids in the United States are ever attacked by tigers, but we don’t typically give out political praise for this fact, since there is no reason to expect our kids to be attacked by tigers.

In the same vein, we all should be very happy we aren’t in the middle of a second Great Depression; however, there was never any good reason for us to fear a second Great Depression. What we most had to fear was a prolonged period of weak growth and high unemployment. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we are seeing. The only question is how long it will drag on.

Once Again: Panetta Says Iran Is NOT Developing Nuclear Weapons

Worth repeating for those who remain clueless...

Though Iran is enriching uranium, Panetta explained, they have not demonstrated any intention of building a bomb
by John Glaser
February 16, 2012

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday that Iran is enriching uranium in a peaceful nuclear program but that Tehran has not decided to develop an atomic bomb.

Top U.S. military and intelligence officials gave separate testimonies in congressional hearings on Thursday regarding Iran, and while they all reiterated the consensus that Iran’s nuclear program is purely civilian in nature, they also kept up the tough talk, hoping to satisfy hawks eager to preemptively strike Iran.

Panetta explained emphatically that any move from Iran to develop nuclear weapons is a "red line" for the U.S. "We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon," he said. "That is the red line that would concern us and that would ensure that the international community, hopefully together, would respond."

"But the intelligence does not show that they have made the decision to proceed with developing a nuclear weapon," Panetta added. This has been a bit of an inconvenient truth for Washington as they continue to heap crippling economic sanctions on Iran supposedly out of suspicion of their nuclear program. They have also continued to support Israel – and refuse to criticize it – even while Tel Aviv has supported terrorist operations against Iranian nuclear scientists.

Iran, on the defensive, has made announcements about new, domestically-made centrifuges were installed at the main uranium enrichment site at Natanz, branding that and other such developments as some nuclear "milestone." But U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday the announcement was "hyped" for a domestic audience.

"Our view on this is that it’s not terribly new and it’s not terribly impressive," she said.

Panetta also reiterated the oft-repeated euphemism for potential military attack against Iran, "we do keep all options on the table." This helped lend legitimacy for political opportunists in the GOP to fear-monger about an imminent Iranian nuclear bomb, as House Speaker John Boehner did.

FBI WARNING: People Paying With Cash Are Potential Terrorists

Some wars are just not ever meant to be won...

There's only money in it if it lasts and lasts.

That's how they fill privatized prisons with non-violent offenders...make that money!
And banks like Wells Fargo can launder money for drug cartels...make that money!
It's how the CIA is able to fund the covert shit we'll never know about...make that money!

It's why illegal drugs--which kill fewer people per year than even FOOD does--will never be legalized--not even marijuana, even though it is actually beneficial to your health: it prevents/treats cancer by shrinking tumors (Google it...or look down the right side of this blog in the word collage and click on "cannabis" for a list of several articles from legitimate medical authorities touting all the medical benefits of cannabis), it's a very potent anti-oxidant, it relieves pain, nausea, treats glaucoma, eases chemotherapy symptoms. 

Legal drugs like alcohol (75,000 US deaths, 2.5 million world wide deaths each year) and tobacco ( 443,000 US deaths6 million world wide deaths per year) and prescription drugs (100,000 to 200,000 US deaths per year) will continue to remain legal and earn their "pushers" billions of dollars. Medical malpractice (which includes incorrectly prescribing drugs) kills 1,000,000 people per year in the US and the food we eat kills: 30,000 people from obesity each year; 72,000 from diabetes each year; 600,000 from heart disease each year. The total number from those evil illegal drugs on which we wage war is 17,000 US deaths each year. And the number of deaths per year attributed to marijuana has been 0 for half a century. 

Is this war on drugs--which itself costs law enforcement billions of dollars and the US and Mexico over 1 million deaths per year--really in our best interests? As with every tragic criminal endeavor, if you follow the money, you will reveal what really motivates such a purposefully futile endeavor as the drug war fail. The failure of prohibition has destroyed hundreds of millions of more lives than it has or will ever save. 

The US political system has been broken for over a century. Our once democratic republic is nothing more than a fascist oligarchy in which the aristocracy (top 1%) chooses its own members--none of whom have any capability to govern--from whom we think we pick those who pretend to represent our (the 99%) interests, when the only interests they preserve are their own. The robber barons are more devious and stronger and richer than ever, and impose upon us a fake morality based on nothing and tell us that in the land of the free, we are not free to make our own decisions regarding our health and well-being, so that when we get caught stepping out of their arbitrarily drawn lines, we'll end up in their privatized prison system, where we lose what remained of our constitutional rights but still remain a source of profit for them.

Corruption reigns supreme in every single layer/level of government, from local school boards and neighborhood associations to the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government. It's disgusting and pitiful. And we the people are now inmates in a police state, subject to: indefinite detention without a trial; surrender of assets and property; torture; and execution if we wind up on the radar of the US Gestapo--the FBI, DHS, NSA, TSA, DEA and any other "acronymed" branch of the military enforcing the sinister will of the police state.

Poor America - P a n o r a m a [B B C]

Americans have absolutely no idea what is going on in the dark corners of America, and when people find out the truth it can come as quite a shock.  Many not believe some of the things Americans are doing just to survive.  Some families are living in sewers and drain tunnels, some families are living in tents, some families are living in their cars, some families will make ketchup soup for dinner tonight and some families are even eating rats.

Homeless shelters in America are so overloaded that they are actually sending people out to live in the woods.  There are close to 50 million Americans that are living below the poverty line, and that number rises more every single day.  America was once known as the greatest nation on earth, but now there is decay and economic despair almost everywhere you look. As the economy continues to decline, the suffering  is going to get worse, and that is a very frightening thing.

How to Use the Internet in Stealth Mode

Kyle Gonzales | International Man
February 16, 2012

“For the first time ever, it will become technologically and financially feasible for authoritarian governments to record nearly everything that is said or done within their borders - every phone conversation, electronic message, social media interaction, the movements of nearly every person and vehicle, and video from every street corner.”This was from the opening paragraph of a Brookings Institution report (PDF).
Does that send chills up your spine? If so, don’t read the rest of this article: you might not touch your computer for a week.

As I discussed in the case for e-mail diversification, planting your electronic flag is certainly an important part of the “online privacy equation”, as it gets the storage and routing of your e-mail messages out of jurisdictions which are not respectful of your privacy.

However, there are additional concerns that you should be worried about.

Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the western world are required by law to track nearly everything you do online. While the US government has been trying to hide their electronic wiretapping program as a state secret, the EU made theirs public by passing the Data Retention Directive of 2006. Article 5, under “Categories of data to be retained”, lists the gory details of what is tracked. This is required for home phones, mobile phones, Internet telephony and e-mail. And depending on the country, this information will be kept for 6 months to 2 YEARS.

Under the Data Retention Directive, here is what is being tracked in every e-mail sent:
  • Your name and address
  • The name and address of everyone you send e-mail to
  • The time and date you logged on and off of your Internet service, along with your IP address and username
  • The time and date you sent your e-mail
  • Your computer’s operating system, hardware, and other identifying information
Other EU countries are taking electronic surveillance even further. Denmark, for instance, passed a law in 2007 tracking all Internet access, not just e-mail and VoIP calls. And Sweden, while delaying implementation of the Data Retention Directive, passed a law in 2008 to record all Internet and phone communications which cross their borders.

Forget about authoritarian governments, "democratically" (s)elected ones are tracking your every move online.

So how do you gain some manner of privacy in this environment?

By creating your own private network across the Internet.

How to make the Internet your own private network

A virtual private network (VPN) allows users to access private networks (like the corporate network of your employer) by creating an encrypted “tunnel” across the Internet between the user’s computer and the private network. The encryption ensures that any information shared between the user and the private network is kept safe from prying eyes. It is similar to the encryption between a secure website and your web browser, except it protects all the traffic sent over that network (including things like e-mail, instant messaging, and Skype) and not just web traffic.

A number of service providers are taking this to the next level. They allow users to connect to their networks via a VPN “tunnel”, then access the Internet through their private network.

How does this give you more privacy?

  • Over your regular ISP network, all of your traffic is being monitored. The ISP can see what sites you are connecting to, who your e-mail provider is, what chat services you are using, and so forth. When you enable your VPN “tunnel” to access the Internet, the only thing your ISP can see is your connection to your VPN service provider, not anything else. (Your connection to the VPN service provider is highly encrypted, so your ISP cannot see what is happening “inside” the tunnel.)

  • A VPN also provides protection when using unencrypted “free Wifi” networks that you may use at coffee shops and airports while traveling. It is much easier than people expect for hackers to break into these networks and steal your usernames and passwords. But if you are using your VPN “tunnel” to access the Internet, hackers will not be able to see where you are going online, and all of your information will be protected. Also, most Internet sites and services you connect to are monitoring your connections to their servers.

  • Google, for instance, records the IP address with every search you make in their search engine. Most websites also record the IP address of your computer when you browse their web pages. Chat networks, e-mail providers, all record the IP addresses of those who are accessing their network. When your Internet connections pass through the provider’s network, these sites will not see your computer’s IP address. Instead, it will only see your VPN service provider’s address. Many times, this IP address will even be in a different country from your own!

    So, by using a VPN, your Internet Service Provider cannot track where you are going (other than seeing you connect your VPN), and remote services like Google, Amazon or whatever do not know where you are coming from.

    An interesting side benefit: some VPN providers let you choose the country from which websites will think you’re visiting from.

    How is this useful?

    Well, let’s say you’re an international traveler who is also a Hulu addict. You are in a location where Hulu has yet to negotiate viewing rights (e.g. Canada). So you fire up your VPN and choose to have your traffic appear as if it’s coming from a computer in the USA. Voila! Now you can watch recent US-based TV shows on Hulu through your VPN connection in whatever far off land you may find yourself in.

    Not all VPN providers are created equally

    For those less interested in Internet entertainment and more interested in privacy, we should discuss different aspects of VPN providers that differentiate them from each other…
    • As discussed in my last article about how the US Patriot Act affects people in other jurisdictions, it is important that your VPN provider is not located within the US or be owned by a US company. While you might gain protection from hackers sniffing traffic at a coffee shop, the US government could still access your information as it transits your US-based VPN provider’s network.
    • An “anonymous proxy” is not the same as a VPN. Most anonymous proxies provide privacy for web browsing only. A proper VPN service will provide privacy for ALL of your Internet traffic, including Operating System updates, VoIP calls, chat networks, and other non-web traffic.
    • Some VPN providers are focused on allowing you to choose your own “exit point” (where your traffic appears to be coming from) while others are focused on mixing and “anonymizing” your traffic within their networks to provide the highest levels of privacy. While having a VPN is better than no VPN, you often have to make a decision between convenience and privacy.
    Next steps

    Start investigating what other international travelers and privacy-inclined individuals are using for their VPN services. Find out what their primary needs were and how their chosen VPN service “scratched their itch”.

    ‘Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol’ Gets Enough Signatures for CO Ballot

    By Stephen C. Webster - RAW Story
    Friday, February 17, 2012

    The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said Friday morning that it had turned in more than enough valid petition signatures to get their initiative on the ballot later this year.

    The activists said they had submitted 12,000 additional signatures, on top of the 163,000 submitted earlier this year. The additional signatures were required after the Secretary of State said that a random sampling of entries found less than 50 percent were valid.

    In order to secure a spot on the Colorado statewide ballot, initiatives must carry at least 86,105 valid signatures. Out of the 163,000 signatures initially turned in, only 83,696 were declared valid, forcing the campaigners to carry out an extended effort.

    If Colorado voters opt to legalize marijuana in November, the law won’t exactly change: the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause guarantees that states cannot overrule the federal government.

    Still, the proposed initiative calls for the law to allow adults over 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants at home. It would also establish a regulatory framework for the sales of marijuana at storefronts, but gives local governments the opportunity to deny permits for commercial activity related to marijuana.

    Campaigners and health experts insist that while it has many drawbacks, using marijuana is actually safer than using alcohol, and causes fewer health effects than smoking tobacco. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency insists that legalizing marijuana “will come at the expense of our children and public safety.” But that agency is a fraud. When drugs are legalized, it will cease to exist.

    California voters turned down a similar initiative in 2010 by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent. A Gallup poll published in Oct. 2011 found that, for the first time ever, more than half of Americans favor legalization, marking a dramatic turnaround from just 15 years ago when more than 70 percent of Americans favored continuing prohibition.

    The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol did not respond to a request for comment.

    Moochers Against Welfare

    By PAUL KRUGMAN - New York Times
    Published: February 16, 2012
    First, Atlas shrugged. Then he scratched his head in puzzlement.

    Modern Republicans are very, very conservative; you might even (if you were Mitt Romney) say, severely conservative. Political scientists who use Congressional votes to measure such things find that the current GOP majority is the most conservative since 1879, which is as far back as their estimates go.

    And what these severe conservatives hate, above all, is reliance on government programs. Rick Santorum declares that President Obama is getting America hooked on “the narcotic of dependency.” Mr. Romney warns that government programs “foster passivity and sloth.” Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, requires that staffers read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, in which heroic capitalists struggle against the “moochers” trying to steal their totally deserved wealth, a struggle the heroes win by withdrawing their productive effort and giving interminable speeches.

    Many readers of The Times were, therefore, surprised to learn, from an excellent article published last weekend, that the regions of America most hooked on Mr. Santorum’s narcotic — the regions in which government programs account for the largest share of personal income — are precisely the regions electing those severe conservatives. Wasn’t Red America supposed to be the land of traditional values, where people don’t eat Thai food and don’t rely on handouts?

    The article made its case with maps showing the distribution of dependency, but you get the same story from a more formal comparison. Aaron Carroll of Indiana University tells us that in 2010, residents of the 10 states Gallup ranks as “most conservative” received 21.2 percent of their income in government transfers, while the number for the 10 most liberal states was only 17.1 percent.

    Now, there’s no mystery about red-state reliance on government programs. These states are relatively poor, which means both that people have fewer sources of income other than safety-net programs and that more of them qualify for “means-tested” programs such as Medicaid.

    By the way, the same logic explains why there has been a jump in dependency since 2008. Contrary to what Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney suggest, Mr. Obama has not radically expanded the safety net. Rather, the dire state of the economy has reduced incomes and made more people eligible for benefits, especially unemployment benefits. Basically, the safety net is the same, but more people are falling into it.

    But why do regions that rely on the safety net elect politicians who want to tear it down? I’ve seen three main explanations.

    First, there is Thomas Frank’s thesis in his book What’s the Matter With Kansas?: working-class Americans are induced to vote against their own interests by the GOP’s exploitation of social issues. And it’s true that, for example, Americans who regularly attend church are much more likely to vote Republican, at any given level of income, than those who don’t.

    Still, as Columbia University’s Andrew Gelman points out, the really striking red-blue voting divide is among the affluent: High-income residents of red states are overwhelmingly Republican; high-income residents of blue states only mildly more Republican than their poorer neighbors. Like Mr. Frank, Mr. Gelman invokes social issues, but in the opposite direction. Affluent voters in the Northeast tend to be social liberals who would benefit from tax cuts but are repelled by things like the GOP’s war on contraception.

    Finally, Cornell University’s Suzanne Mettler points out that many beneficiaries of government programs seem confused about their own place in the system. She tells us that 44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of those on Medicare say that they “have not used a government program.”

    Presumably, then, voters imagine that pledges to slash government spending mean cutting programs for the idle poor, not things they themselves count on. And this is a confusion politicians deliberately encourage. For example, when Mr. Romney responded to the new Obama budget, he condemned Mr. Obama for not taking on entitlement spending — and, in the very next breath, attacked him for cutting Medicare.

    The truth, of course, is that the vast bulk of entitlement spending goes to the elderly, the disabled, and working families, so any significant cuts would have to fall largely on people who believe that they don’t use any government program.

    The message I take from all this is that pundits who describe America as a fundamentally conservative country are wrong. Yes, voters sent some severe conservatives to Washington. But those voters would be both shocked and angry if such politicians actually imposed their small-government agenda.

    Former First Lady, Laura Bush, Reveals She is Pro-Choice and Supports Gay Marriage

    Existing Drug Becomes Cheap Cancer Cure In Canada

    University of Alberta scientists do understand the cause of cancer. The dying off of old cells to be replaced by new cells is a normal part of our cellular life-cycle and keeps us well. It seems that in cancerous cells, our body has forgotten how to tell the aged cells how to die off and be replaced by healthy new cells.

    This process is governed by the mitochondria and is known as "cell death" or "apoptosis". In a cancer cell, the mitochondria has lost the ability to direct the cell to die off - the sick cell becomes "immortal", spreading and making the person increasingly unwell.

    Trials using  dichloroacetate (DCA) have proven this compound can reactivate the mitochondria restoring the cell's original function of "apoptosis" enabling shrinkage in tumor size and mass. Testimonials have shown reversal in illness, remission, clean health tests, increased health and vitality. Favourable results (scientifically measurable) have been accomplished within days (less than a week) of starting treatment with DCA.

    "Dr. Evangelos Michelakis, a professor at the University of Alberta Department of Medicine, has shown that DCA causes regression in several cancers, including lung, breast, and brain tumors."

    It sounds too good to be true: a cheap and simple drug that kills almost all cancers by switching off their immortality. The drug, dichloroacetate (DCA), has already been used for years to treat rare metabolic disorders and so is known to be relatively safe.

    It also has no patent, meaning it could be manufactured for a fraction of the cost of newly developed drugs.

    Evangelos Michelakis of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and his colleagues tested DCA on human cells cultured outside the body and found that it killed lung, breast and brain cancer cells, but not healthy cells. Tumours in rats deliberately infected with human cancer also shrank drastically when they were fed DCA-laced water for several weeks.

    DCA attacks a unique feature of cancer cells: the fact that they make their energy throughout the main body of the cell, rather than in distinct organelles called mitochondria. This process, called glycolysis, is inefficient and uses up vast amounts of sugar.

    Until now it had been assumed that cancer cells used glycolysis because their mitochondria were irreparably damaged. However, Michelakiss experiments prove this is not the case, because DCA reawakened the mitochondria in cancer cells. The cells then withered and died (Cancer Cell).

    Michelakis suggests that the switch to glycolysis as an energy source occurs when cells in the middle of an abnormal but benign lump dont get enough oxygen for their mitochondria to work properly (see diagram). In order to survive, they switch off their mitochondria and start producing energy through glycolysis.

    Crucially, though, mitochondria do another job in cells: they activate apoptosis, the process by which abnormal cells self-destruct. When cells switch mitochondria off, they become immortal, outliving other cells in the tumour and so becoming dominant. Once reawakened by DCA, mitochondria reactivate apoptosis and order the abnormal cells to die.

    The results are intriguing because they point to a critical role that mitochondria play:  they impart a unique trait to cancer cells that can be exploited for cancer therapy, says Dario Altieri, director of the University of Massachusetts Cancer Center in Worcester.

    The phenomenon might also explain how secondary cancers form. Glycolysis generates lactic acid, which can break down the collagen matrix holding cells together. This means abnormal cells can be released and float to other parts of the body, where they seed new tumours.

    DCA can cause pain, numbness and gait disturbances in some patients, but this may be a price worth paying if it turns out to be effective against all cancers. The next step is to run clinical trials of DCA in people with cancer. These may have to be funded by charities, universities and governments: pharmaceutical companies are unlikely to pay because they cant make money on unpatented medicines. The pay-off is that if DCA does work, it will be easy to manufacture and dirt cheap.

    Friday, February 17, 2012

    FEMA Solicits Firms to Monitor Media Coverage of Their Activities

    Friday, February 17, 2012
    Activist Post

    FEMA still seems to be smarting from the media accurately reporting their disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina, and the increased exposure of their intended use for so-called "FEMA Camps."

    This week they announced that they are seeking public relations and media monitoring help from private contractors.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) opened bidding for "commercial media broadcast monitoring service" on a February 15th post on the government's Federal Business Opportunities website.

    FEMA is seeking media monitoring firms who will be responsible for rapidly monitoring, archiving, and measuring all news and transcripts related to their activities 24/7. They are expected to be able to evaluate the "publicity value" of media coverage and possess "editing capabilities."

    Other responsibilities include the distribution of live and pre-recorded materials to the broadcast news, independent media and on the Internet, and "to monitor the effectiveness of public affairs messaging."

    Below is the full text of FEMA's Statement of Work: Division of Public Affairs Broadcast Media Monitoring Service:
    Purpose: The purpose of this Statement of Work is to establish a service agreement subscription with a commercial broadcast media monitoring service. FEMA is looking to select the best option for the modernizing and standardizing the media efforts for Joint Field Office (JFO) TV news monitoring and FEMA headquarters broadcast operations.

    Background: The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Office of External Affairs is responsible for the effective dissemination of accurate information to the public concerning FEMA’s programs, missions and goals for emergency management. FEMA External Affairs provides primary support to the FEMA Administration, Deputy Administrator and FMEA senior leadership, with primary responsibility for the communication of agency goals, objectives and accomplishments. In addition, the Office is responsible got the preparation and distribution of critical response and recovery information to state and local officials, agency stakeholders and general public. 
    This on-going requirement has FEMA External Affairs staff deployed to Joint Field Offices (JFO), who continually monitor local broadcast media news reposts as they relate to agency operations in the field. In additional, requirements are needed at the FEMA Headquarters to update and standardize a method for capturing local broadcast news from a JFO, as well as, nationally broadcast news and cable outlets. 
    Within the Office of External Affairs, the Public Affairs Division is responsible for the monitoring, archiving, and measurement of media representation, which includes broadcast TV, radios, and cable news media. The broadcast media are relied upon to deliver disaster information in a reliable, efficient and expeditions manner. Both live and pre-recorded materials are distributed to the broadcast news and independent production media via satellite transmission, the internet and other delivery services. To monitor the effectiveness of public affairs messaging, and respond to critical events, FEMA requires the ability to monitor and retrieve clips and transcripts from network and local television affiliates in a rapid manner upon demand 24/7 through an on-line distribution service. 
    Scope of Work: The contractor shall provide at least 11 accessible accounts or individual passwords to access the service (with a potential surge capacity of 40 if needed during extremely high disaster activity). The service shall provide unlimited online access to clips from all U.S. television networks and major Nielson markets 24/7. The service shall provide a means to download an unlimited number of clips and transcripts for internal FEMA distribution to key individuals upon demand. The service shall provide media statistics including the audience exposure and publicity value. The service shall have a means of delivering clips or notification of clips via email to key individuals as assigned by FEMA. 
    The service shall allow for unlimited digital clips, unlimited keyword searches, permanent archive, and editing capabilities. It would be preferable not to need to purchase additional equipment or software. 
    Contract Period: The performance period for the subscription is one year from the date of the subscription initiation with three (3) annual options for renewal.

    Why You Should Eat Brightly Colored Fruits and Vegetables


    (Be sure to watch the video in which Terry Wahls explains how eating a Paleo diet rich in leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, and brightly colored produce (plus meat and seaweed and fish and offal) coincided with a regression in her rapidly-progressing MS. Then, read the previous two installments on leafy greens and crucifers to get completely caught up.)

    You know how those deep red beets sliced in half to show off the insides, those taut blueberries, those purple and violet mottled, oddly-shaped heirloom tomatoes lightly dusted with soil, and those glistening blackberries sitting in your periphery pop out and draw your gaze as you make your way through the farmers’ market? That’s not just clever product placement. It’s actually because of the pretty colors. It’s innate. It’s by “design.” Mother nature, you see, is a masterful visual merchandiser who comes up with all these lovely colors so that plants can reproduce. But wait – how does color help plants reproduce?

    Simple. Plants tend to be stationary. Except for the ents, they are, quite literally, rooted in place. A tomato plant can’t walk, can’t kneel and lovingly place its firstborn into a shallow womb dug into the soft, fertile earth. That would be awesome to see, but it’s not gonna happen. What does happen is that colorful plants catch the eye of hungry organisms who eat the fruit, swallow the seed, and poop it out someplace else, thus giving it a chance to take hold, germinate, and develop into a full-blown adult plant. In order to disseminate their progeny across the land, many plants must therefore manufacture pigments – colorful compounds that draw the eye and signal “food source” to mobile, hungry organisms. Being mobile, hungry organisms ourselves, we are also attracted to colorful fruits and vegetables.

    And for good reason. See, mother nature is also thrifty. It’s rare that she manufactures a compound with only one use – she likes her creations to multitask – and plant pigments are no different. They serve multiple roles in plants in addition to attracting animals, such as protecting it from UV damage, dampening the effects of excess light, enabling photosynthesis, and even acting as endogenous antioxidants (plants can’t really sip red wine and pop supplements, after all). Luckily, it appears that we can leverage many of these pigments for our own gain by eating brightly colored fruits and vegetables.

    Which is why both Terry Wahls and I recommend eating a wide variety of them. There are hundreds of different bioactive plant pigments, each with unique effects. Rather than isolate just one or two, by eating a variety of colorful plants we ensure consumption of a wide range of potentially health-promoting plant pigments.

    I could end this post now with the basic advice to “eat colorful foods and lots of them.” This would cut down on reading time, ingratiate myself to vegan and vegetarian readers, and still manage to convey an effective, actionable message. But alas, I know you guys like the gritty details. It’s not enough (for most of you) to read someone tell you that eating blueberries and purple sweet potatoes is healthy. Sometimes you want to vividly imagine those anthocyanins sliding down your gullet, preventing the oxidation of omega-3 fatty acids in your gut, and interacting with your body at the cellular level to produce beneficial antioxidant and/or hormetic effects. Sometimes you want to know what you’re putting inside your body on a deeper level. If that’s you, keep on reading. If it’s not, just go out, eat some colorful produce, and you’ll be fine.

    When I put this post together, I struggled with formatting. Should I cover each individual pigment? With dozens of them out there, that would be a large undertaking. Should I cover each plant? Plants contain multiple pigments, so it could get confusing rather quickly. Should I cover each color? That’s confusing, because there’s a lot of overlapping and combinations of different pigments into different colors. I decided to break them up into pigment categories.

    Anthocyanins and Other Flavonoids

    Since I already mentioned anthocyanins, let’s start there. Anthocyanins are flavonoids, the most common type of polyphenol. Pretty much any fruit, vegetable, or flower with a significant amount of purple or blue gets that color from anthocyanins. Even some reds can be anthocyanin-based. The deeper the color, the more anthocyanins. We’re talking:Blueberries – Anthocyanin-rich blueberry juice improved cognitive function and memory in aging adult humans.

    Raspberries (black and red) – Raspberry juice shows anti-atherosclerotic effects in hyperlipidemic rodents, and although human studies are lacking, there is a strong basis for considering them a healthful food.

    Blackberries – Perhaps my favorite berry, blackberries are rich in flavonoid pigments with in vivo evidence of protection against neurological degeneration and bone loss.

    Purple sweet potatoes – Tons of references in my sweet potato post (that’s my post about sweet potatoes, not my sweet post about potatoes). Same goes for regular purple potatoes.

    Eggplants – Nasunin, a potent eggplant anthocyanin that is strongly absorbed in the GI tract, displays antioxidant effects. Make sure to eat the peel, though.

    Cherries – Although (again) human studies are lacking, the considerable anthocyanin content of cherries suggests that their efficacy in animal models may well carry over to us.

    Cranberries – Cranberry juice, whose anthocyanins are bioavailable in humans after drinking, improved vascular function in heart disease patients.

    Purple tomatoes – In addition to carotenoids (more on those below), purple tomatoes also contain significant levels of anthocyanins.

    Purple carrots – Same goes for purple carrots.

    There are even vegetables that have feet (roots?) both in the colorful camp and the sulfur-rich or leafy-green camps. Like:

    Red leaf lettuce – Leafy green and colorful.

    Radicchio – Leafy green and colorful.

    Red cabbage – Sulfur-rich and colorful (with 36 different anthocyanins).

    Purple cauliflower – Sulfur-rich and colorful.

    Purple kale – Leafy green, sulfur-rich, and colorful.

    I could go on, but I won’t. The point is that any plant with these colors is going to contain these compounds, because these compounds literally are the colors. That means I’ve missed the vast majority of anthocyanin sources, but it also means that you’ll have an easy time finding them out there in the world. Eat up (but rinse your mouth out after; they stain) and go for blues, reds, and purples.

    Oh, yeah. There are a couple other relevant flavonoids. Anthocyanins get the most press, but there are other foods with potentially beneficial health effects due to flavonoid content.

    Turmeric – Contains curcumin, which gives the spice its distinctive, persistent yellow color. I’ve written an entire piece on the health benefits of turmeric, and curcumin is responsible for the lion’s share of them.

    Apples and onions – A light yellow pigment, quercetin is found in apples and onions (except for white onions). Red and yellow onions are high in quercetin (PDF), while most of the quercetin in apples resides in the skin.


    Carotenoids are pigments that provide the orange, yellow, and red colors found in foods like carrots (get it?), sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, bell peppers, squash, watermelon and tomatoes. You’ve got beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, gamma-carotene, and beta-zeacarotene, which can be partially converted to retinol, the active (animal) form of vitamin A. You’ve also got lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin, which cannot be converted to vitamin A.

    Don’t rely on carotenoids to fulfill your vitamin A requirements. Liver and egg yolks are much better, more reliable sources. Besides, beta-carotene supplementation doesn’t seem to work very well. In several studies, it has appeared to increase the risk of lung and prostate cancer, and a 2007 Cochrane review found that beta-carotene supplements were associated with an increase in general mortality. “Supplementation” of alpha-carotene, via carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables, however, appears to have the opposite relationship. Huh, food’s good for you… who knew?

    Get carotenes through orange vegetables and fruits, like squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, and bell peppers.

    The other carotenoids – the ones that don’t convert to vitamin A, like lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin – appear to be helpful. Both lutein and zeaxanthin accumulate in the retinas of our eyes, where they seem to play major roles. The more lutein and zeaxanthin you eat, the more it accumulates in your retina (although this is most pronounced in patients with low baseline pigment levels). Low dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin are associated with elevated incidences of age-related macular degeneration, and a similar relationship was found for cataracts.

    Get lutein and zeaxanthin through spinach, kale (what doesn’t kale have?), dandelion greens, chard, collards, romaine lettuce, paprika, and turnip greens.

    Lycopene does some cool stuff, too. It reduces lipid peroxidation in people with heart disease, as well as protects the skin against UV-related damage from the sun. There’s also a lot of research into the effect of lycopene intake on cancer, particularly prostate cancer.

    The best sources of lycopene are cooked tomato products, like tomato paste or sauce, especially cooked with fat (but not sunflower oil!), but lower levels can be attained through raw tomatoes, pink grapefruit, pink guava, and watermelon. The absolute best source, however, is gac, a Vietnamese fruit that beats tomatoes by 70-fold. It also contains high levels of other carotenoids, all of which are bound by long chain fats, making them even more bioavailable. Anyone every try gac?


    Although betalain pigments are described as “deep red” and “purple” and sound similar to the anthocyanin family, they are not the same. They look different (just compare a beet to a strawberry – not quite the same). In fact, betalains and anthocyanins have never been found in the same plant; they appear to be mutually exclusive. Besides the beet (where “betalain” gets its name), rhubarb, and the stems of chard, there aren’t very many sources of readily edible betalains. I suppose you could throw together a floral salad of bougainvillea, amaranth, and purple cacti, but for the most part, you’re going to get your betalains from beets.

    All beets contain all betalains, just in different ratios. In purple or red beets, betacyanins predominate. In yellow beets, betaxanthins predominate.

    Possible benefits of betalains include:

    Inhibition of lipid peroxidation.

    A beet extract rich in betacyanins showed cytotoxic effects on human prostate and breast cancer lines.

    Betacyanins from red beets protected gamma-irradiated mice.

    Well, I hope that’s enough to convince you to include more color in your diet. As you can see, not all of the benefits of plant pigments are “proven,” but they’re probably all quite safe in the amounts you’ll find in foods. So go ahead and eat up a wide variety. If they do turn out to be helpful, you’ll have hedged your bet quite nicely.

    Copyright enforcement and the Internet: we just haven't tried hard enough?

    By Timothy B. Lee - Ars Technica

    On Tuesday, Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum suggested that we don't have effective copyright enforcement on the Internet because we just haven't tried hard enough:
    Something that's good enough to provide a measure of IP protection that works for the vast majority of non-supermen and isn't too unwieldy. Is that really any more unlikely than the invention of the internet itself? I'm not sure why. 
    This is not something you want to believe if, ideologically, you're opposed to IP protection because you think that digital content is fundamentally different from meatspace content on the grounds that making a digital copy of something doesn't reduce anyone else's ability to use their copy. But neither does copying a book. That's never been the point of IP law. It's always been about the income stream an author can get from selling copies of his or her work, and that's exactly the same in the digital world as it is in the physical world. The arguments in favor of IP protection are much the same in both domains.

    You might not want to hear that, but just because you don't want to hear it doesn't mean it's not true. The truth is that IP protection in the digital world might very well be possible. We won't know until we try, making a whole lot of mistakes along the way. If you want to argue that IP protection is a bad idea, then fine. Make the argument. But don't pretend that your preferences are also technological certitudes. They aren't.
    The phrase that jumped out at me was "we won't know until we try." Among people who don't pay close attention to technology issues, there seems to be a widespread impression that the copyright debate pits those who think we should enforce copyright against those who are ideologically opposed to copyright protection. But the reality is that we've been "trying" to crack down on illicit file sharing for at least two decades, granting copyright holders stronger and stronger enforcement powers and devoting more and more taxpayer dollars to the effort.

    This might not be obvious to those who only write about these issues on occasion. So in the interest of a better-informed debate, here's a partial list of significant US anti-piracy efforts made over the last couple of decades:

    • 1992: Congress passed the Audio Home Recording Act, which mandated that digital audio devices have copy protection baked into them, and it also imposed a tax on blank media to offset harms from digital piracy.
    • 1997: Congress passed the No Electronic Theft (NET) Act, which jacked up statutory damages for copyright infringement.
    • 1997: The recording industry tried to sue the first MP3 players out of existence. Fortunately, courts argued that "space shifting" is a fair use. (This was a sequel to Hollywood's effort to have the VCR declared illegal on copyright grounds in the early 1980s.)
    • 1998: Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which effectively gave Hollywood the power to control the design of entertainment devices; all that was needed was to link new technologies with particular DRM schemes. Manufacturers couldn't crack the DRM, thanks to the new law, so they had to take out a license for its use, complete with a whole set of unrelated conditions. This is why, for example, most DVD players will refuse to fast-forward through commercials in a DVD if the publisher sets the "don't allow fast-forwarding" flag. Hollywood has used its rights under the DMCA to create a licensing regime for DVD players that allows it to micro-manage the design of DVD players, and consumer electronics firms that try to create a DVD player without Hollywood's permission are subject to civil and criminal penalties.
    • 2000: The recording industry forced out of business. was one of the first "cloud music" services. It wasn't a file-sharing site. Rather, it allowed users to listen to their own music collections while on the road. The decision probably delayed the emergence of cloud music services like Google Music and Amazon Cloud Player by a decade.
    • 2004: Hollywood sued Kaleidescape for creating a "DVD jukebox" product that allowed users to rip DVDs and stream them to various devices around their household. That litigation is ongoing, and likely prevented the emergence of similar products.
    • 2005: content companies shut down the file-sharing service Grokster and several of its competitors after a lengthy court battle.
    • 2008: Congress passed the PRO-IP Act, which gives the government the power to seize US-based domain names after a one-sided ex parte legal process similar to the one used to seize the property of drug dealers. The PRO-IP Act also jacks up the penalties for other copyright offenses, and it created a new "IP Czar" position in the executive branch.
    • 2010: The federal government began seizing domains of accused pirate sites using the powers granted by PRO-IP. The program has resulted in several dubious seizures and a couple of outright errors, though has also taken down sites like NinjaVideo in advance of prosecution and later guilty pleas from its principals. 
    • 2011: The US government sought the extradition of a British college student for operating a "link site." Neither he nor his servers were located in the United States during the time he ran the site, and it's not clear if he violated British law.
    • 2012: The United States raided and shut down Megaupload, a file-hosting site that hosted a lot of infringing content and was one of the most heavily trafficked sites in the world. The principals of the site were arrested and at least their CEO has been denied bail.
    This is a partial list, focusing on the most significant anti-piracy efforts undertaken in recent years. To be clear, my point isn't that all of these policies are bad. I think the case against Napster and Grokster was pretty strong (and said so at the time in the case of Grokster). The US version of the "graduated response" system seems fairly reasonable to me, and I haven't always found locker and link sites' legal arguments persuasive.

    But the broader point is clear: every item on this list has imposed costs on third parties. Technologies with clear non-infringing uses have been pushed out of the market. Innocent parties have had their websites shut down. A woman was arrested for filming a birthday party that happened to occur in a movie theater. Angel investor Paul Graham has said he avoids funding music-related startups because the record labels are "effectively a rogue state with nuclear weapons." And most of these enforcement efforts costs taxpayer money.

    Individually, none of these things might be worth getting upset over. But in the aggregate, they reflect a disproportionate focus on the interests of a handful of large companies. It's hard to think of a single example during this twenty-year period of copyright restrictions being repealed, relaxed, or any in any meaningful way liberalized. Reform proposals like the orphan works bill have languished.

    Drum suggests that opposition to further increases in copyright enforcement comes from people who are "ideologically opposed to IP protection." But most of us are not anti-copyright; we just think enough is enough, and that the menu of enforcement tools Congress has already given to copyright holders is more than sufficient. We're tired of the constantly increasing copyright enforcement efforts because most of the costs of the "mistakes along the way" fall on innocent consumers, innovators, and taxpayers.

    Spy Tech Companies & Their Authoritarian Customers, Part I: FinFisher And Amesys

    FEBRUARY 16, 2012 | BY TREVOR TIMM - Electronic Frontier Foundation

    Last week, EFF gave its recommendations to EU parliament on what steps to take to combat a growing and dangerous civil liberties concern: Western companies marketing and selling mass surveillance technology to authoritarian regimes. This technology has been linked to harassment, arrests, and even torture of journalists, human rights advocates, and democratic activists in many Middle East countries over the past year.

    EFF recommended parliament approach the problem through a “know your customer” program whereby companies would investigate purchasers of surveillance technology and would refrain from doing business with a government or its agents if the sale would be used to assist in human rights abuses. This program would be voluntary for companies and encouraged via incentives but could, if necessary, become a formal requirement. As we’ve seen, transparency can be a powerful tool. The industry is notoriously secretive and a little sunlight can help spur protests and force companies to change their business practices.

    Privacy International recently released a mapping of companies and countries that have attended the notorious I.S.S. World trade shows, where this technology is bought and sold. But their investigation is far from over and you can go here to help them file Freedom of Information requests, write to your representative, or dig though government spending reports.

    In the first part of a new series, EFF will take a look at what we know about some of the worst offenders located in Europe and the United States. 

    Part I will highlight two companies, United Kingdom based FinFisher and France based Amesys:

    FinFisher, unit of Gamma International—based in the UK
    Gamma International
    and its subsidiary FinFisher first made headlines after the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt last year, when activists found the company’s records in an abandoned state security building, along with troves of surveillance files. The documents on Gamma and FinFisher showed how they provided Mubarak with a five-month trial of their sophisticated spying technology, most notably FinSpy, which can wiretap encrypted Skype phone calls and instant messages—a service once mistakenly trusted by activists for secure communications.

    The Wall Street Journal has since reported about FinFisher’s techniques and its technology’s dangerous capabilities. It works much the same way online criminals steal banking and credit card information. Authorities can covertly install malicious malware on a user’s computer without their knowledge by tricking the user into downloading fake updates to programs like iTunes and Adobe Flash. Once installed, they can see everything the user can. The FinFisher products can even remotely turn on the user’s webcam or microphone in a cell phone without the user’s knowledge.

    FinFisher doesn’t pretend to market their products for solely lawful use. In 2007, they bragged that they use and incorporate “black hat (illegal and malicious) hacking techniques to allow intelligence services to acquire information that would be very difficult to obtain legally,”according to a report by OWNI.

    Gamma or FinFisher, of course, won’t comment on any of these facts that have come to light over the past year. They hid behind claims of client confidentiality, telling the Wall Street Journal that they “cannot otherwise comment upon its confidential business transactions or the nature of the products it offers." But of course you can’t use claims of confidentiality to hide illegal behavior in the US or the UK. Investigators, especially in the UK and wherever these companies have sufficient contacts to establish jurisdiction, should require them to come clean about their potentially illegal business practices and uphold human rights privacy standards in the tools they offer and the customers to whom they sell.

    Amesys, unit of Bull SA—based in France
    When trade restrictions on Libya were eased in the early 2000s, Libya’s leader, Muammar Qaddafi, began to capitalize on the change by bringing in Western technology companies to surveil Libya's citizens’ Internet use under the guise of stopping terrorism. Instead, and to no one’s surprise, the technology was “deployed against dissidents, human-rights campaigners, journalists or everyday enemies of the state,” as the Wall Street Journal documented after seeing Qaddafi’s abandoned Internet monitoring center in Tripoli.

    The main company tasked assisting Libya with all its surveillance needs was a unit of the French company Bull SA, known as Amesys. With Amesys’ monitoring centers, Libyan authorities could read emails, get passwords, read instant message conversations, and map connections among criminals, or in many cases, journalists or dissidents. OWNI graphically mapped out just how massive the surveillance system was. Documents released by WikiLeaks in November revealed that Amesys gear was even allowing Libya to spy on dissidents and opposition figures living in the United Kingdom. And as AFP reported, Qaddafi’s “regime [had previously] been accused of sending agents to harass and even kill opposition figures in exile.”

    Despite the ease in trade restrictions, it was no secret Libya had a long history of human rights abuses and Amesys should have known who they were helping. The head of Libyan intelligence, the notorious Abdullah Senussi, was convicted in absentia in France of the Lockerbie terrorist bombing in 1989 that killed 170 people. Yet the former head of Amesys and current CEO of Bull, Philippe Vannier, was seen in Tripoli meeting with the same Abdullah Senussi in 2007, according to the Wall Street Journal.

    Abdullah Senussi has since been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity for his role in the violent crackdown against Libyan citizens this past year.

    The Amesys case highlights a problem with many of these companies—they are doing business with human rights violators that may have relations with the US or EU. As Amesys rightly points out, Libya was an “ally” of the west when their contract was signed and boasted of warm relations with France until NATO decided to take sides with the rebel forces late last year. "All Amesys activities strictly adhere to the statutory and regulatory requirements of both European and French international conventions," a spokeswoman said in Amesys’ defense. But this doesn’t excuse their behavior. EFF's know your customer standards address this problem by creating a framework in which companies study non-partisan human rights reports and not just the legal restrictions against the West’s perceived enemies.

    "We are fully prepared to answer any questions which the legal authorities may ask us," the spokesman for Amesys also said. Authorities should take them up on their offer. In France, human rights groups have filed court documents asking for an investigation into Amesys for “possible violations of export rules and complicity in torture.” EFF encourages the French authorities to conduct a full investigation.

    But Gamma and Amesys are far from the only transgressors. There are dozens of companies in both the US and EU that have been supplying this gear to authoritarian regimes as well, and EFF will soon highlight more of these companies until Congress and the EU countries act to prevent more of this dangerous technology from falling into the wrong hands.