Sunday, June 26, 2011

And the winner is . . . Jon Huntsman

June 26, 2011, 3:00 p.m.

Jon Huntsman . . . Better than "Least Worst Republican"

Every four years about this time I begin taking a look at the Republican field of presidential candidates.

There are two reasons why I'd probably never end up voting for any of them, and at least one reason why I engage in this exercise anyway.

Although I've become increasingly non-partisan over the years, and increasingly willing to give serious consideration to thoughtful ideas from anywhere on the political spectrum, my political activity, such as it has been, has been based in the Democratic Party. I've been registered as a Democrat, a Precinct Co-Chair for the Democrats, a member of the Party's county central committee, ran for Congress in a Democratic primary, and received three presidential appointments from Democratic presidents.

Secondly, no matter how wonderful a presidential candidate of either party might be, he or she brings with them a cast of thousands to which at least some deference must be paid. (Although, as President Obama has shown the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party that got him the nomination and much of the election, it need not be all that much deference.) I'm not thrilled with the national and Iowa leadership of either party. But given what the Republicans have shown me in the House of Representatives in Washington, and Des Moines, I think I'd rather have the Democratic Party's gang of party members, contributors, political consultants, staffers, lobbyists and elected officials than theirs.

So why do I bother evaluating the Republican candidates for president?

Because, given our system, the president is virtually guaranteed to be either a Democrat or Republican. One of them is going to win, and govern us for better or worse. That's why I'm not interested in promoting the Republican candidate least likely to win. I'm interested in promoting the Republican candidate who, if she or he wins, will do the best job. ("Promoting" may be a bit strong; I'm not going to contribute money to, or time to "campaigning" for, Huntsman. But every American's water cooler, and family dinner table, conversations contribute something to the national dialogue first reflected in public opinion polls, and ultimately in election results. So do blog entries, comments on call-in radio programs, letters to the editor in newspapers, and the other ways we express ourselves.)
The one thing that does unite Democrats and Republicans every election year is their fear and hatred of third parties. Third parties have been the source of many of the most progressive legislative solutions to our nation's challenges, such as child labor laws, wages and hours legislation, and Social Security. Everyone, even the two major parties, would be aided by innovative approaches such as instant runoff election, and fusion tickets. The two parties unite in stopping such innovations, because they would also showcase the popular support the third parties would have. The two parties tightly control the presidential debates, setting the bar to entry so high as to almost always eliminate popular third party candidates from their primary means of reaching the American voters with their message. The net result is that business, the wealthy -- the plutocracy -- continue to control both parties with campaign contributions. As New York's Boss Tweed used to say, "I don't care who does the electing, just so long as I do the nominating." They are the ones who are doing the nominating for both parties.
Whatever the reasons for, and consequences of, our two party system, the fact is that every American, including especially those who don't even bother to vote in the general election, has a stake the candidates offered us every four years for the presidency.

This year my first Republican favorite was Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. (See, and Mitch Daniels, That was when, like roughly a third of Republicans still today, I'd never heard of Huntsman. Once Daniels made it clear he was not running, I started looking elsewhere.

Iowans are used to not only meeting, but conversing with, the presidential candidates -- and more than once -- before (literally) standing with their choice at the precinct caucus. Given that Huntsman has chosen to skip Iowa -- a publicized, if only temporary, disastrous choice of Hillary Clinton in 2007-08 -- I will probably never have the opportunity to talk with him.

Nor have I done all the research on Huntsman I will have done by the time the caucuses are held. So you have access to the same information I do from the Internet.

(Ambassador Huntsman in Beijing, riding his bike to meetings rather than taking the long, black limo. Photo credit: Huntsman Web page.)

Here are some obvious sources:

There are at least three steps into his personal Web site, That link opens on "the daily video." (Today it shows him at a quick-draw shooting range. Given his positions on "God, guns and gays," it's about his only opportunity to rally some Republican support.) Click "skip" and you're on the U.S. map of his Facebook followers: That gives you the choice to "Connect with Facebook" or "Sign up without Facebook." Scroll to the very bottom and you can click on "Skip Sign Up." Click on that (the URL will change from day to day) and you've reached what amounts to the opening Web page.

The Web resources are certainly up to today's voters' technological expectations. He has the "daily videos," a daily Twitter comment, Facebook discussions, blog, speeches, press Web page, background information about his positions on issues and career. (Wikipedia offers a summary: "Jon Huntsman, Jr.,"

We don't really have a training program, or conventional career track, for presidents, similar to that in parliamentary systems (i.e., member, minister, prime minister). The closest we come is former governors (e.g., Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush). Goodness knows, time as a governor -- managing multiple departments, balancing budgets, partisanship and special interests -- is helpful. But the presidency requires so much more -- an understanding of diverse cultures and the resulting international relations, creating and overseeing the world's largest (and most expensive) military (with bases in 150 countries and multiple wars), personal familiarity with the inner workings of the House and Senate, federal-state relations, the life and role of cabinet officers. The list goes on.

Governor Bill Richardson had the most thorough resume among the Democratic Party candidates in 2007-08, but in the end the significance of his experience (e.g., member of Congress; governor; UN Ambassador; cabinet officer) never registered with the voters.

Among the electorate are some who seem to be judging candidates more on their race and religion, appearance and hair style, whether they'd be a good person to drink beer with, or their position on gay marriage, than on their relevant knowledge, experience, record of accomplishment, and ability to govern our nation. Thus, Huntsman's qualifications may be of no more relevance than were those of Richardson.

Jon Huntsman (he's a "Jr.," and there's now a Jon III) came from great wealth. But it seems to have inspired a life more focused on public service than that of a playboy (though he's kept his high school keyboarding talent) -- in the spirit of the Rockefeller and Kennedy children. Huntsman started early, from Eagle Scout, to his two-year missionary tour in Taiwan, to working for Senator Orin Hatch, and then President Reagan, by the time he was 22. At 32 he had already held three presidential appointments: Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Trade Development Bureau of the Commerce Department; Deputy Assistant Secretary of commerce for East Asia and the Pacific; and U.S. ambassador to Singapore (the youngest head of a U.S. diplomatic mission in a century).

His knowledge of China (including fluency in Mandarin) is a major asset for any U.S. president in the 21st Century.

And his comment that "I can't say I am overly religious. I get satisfaction from many different types of religions and philosophies," obviously appeals to the Unitarian in me -- given that the Unitarians provide extra points, rather than excommunication, for visiting other churches. Statement quoted in, Kirk Johnson, "Two G.O.P. Hopefuls Divide the Voters in Deep-Pocketed Utah," New York Times, June 26, 2011, p. 17.

He has had substantive experience running the family business, including its international expansion. There are reasons why the Pew Center on the States ranked Utah as the best-managed state in the nation, and why he was re-elected in 2008 with 78% of the vote (including -- understandably, it's not now on his Web site -- 36% of those registered as Democrats).

Clearly, his major hurdle will be getting the support of his Party's ultra-conservatives and religious right. (Business, the wealthy, and professionals who are Republicans should flock to him.)

If the Republicans were smart enough to give him the nomination, and the economy continues to stagnate or worse, he could very well win the election against Obama. But, as Matt Bai notes in today's [June 26] New York Times Magazine ("'Is It Always Like This?'", p. MM36) "Of those [Republican voters] who said they had heard of him, 36 percent said there was no chance he'd win their vote." (If you're interested in Huntsman, that piece also has some insightful information you'll want to know about one of Huntsman's top political advisers, John Weaver.)

Bai asserts that "Huntsman believes in the science of climate change, and he favors civil unions for gay couples and leniency for the children of illegal immigrants." I would support other things he's done, and positions he's taken (though of course not all), but I'm especially attracted to Bai's report that Huntsman "refused, bizarrely, to describe himself as a conservative. Huntsman said he didn’t like political labels, but if he had to pick one, he considered himself a 'pragmatic problem-solver.'" It's the ideologues who seem to be creating the roadblocks to progress in Washington (and Des Moines). We could do with more "pragmatic problem-solvers."

Clearly, as a conservative, Huntsman shares Huckabee's feeling that "he's just not angry about it."

There has already been a lot written by others about Huntsman. There will be much more. It will inevitably at least revise some of the particulars in my judgments about Huntsman. But based on what I now know, and the current field of Reublican candidates for their Party's presidential nomination, he's this Democrat's favorite Republican for 2011 and 2012.

And see Stanley Fish's comparable conclusions the next day, "Handicapping Huntsman," Opinionator/New York Times, June 27, 2011, 8:30 p.m.

# # #

Here, for the record, are the results of my analysis four years ago:

In 2008 my choice from among the Republicans was Mike Huckabee. "It's Huckabee; My Republican Pick: Governor Mike Huckabee," July 24, 2007.

Needless to say, I didn't pick him for his positions on the issues or his religious convictions. We would have disagreed about virtually everything -- up to and including evolution and the origins of the universe. What I liked was his experience (and record) as a governor, what seemed to be a kind of basic decency, and a sense of humor.

What first caught my ear was his rejoinder to being questioned about his conservative credentials. He responded something like, "Oh, I'm a conservative all right, I'm just not angry about it."

Asked if he was "pro-life," he responded something along these lines: "Of course, I believe in right to life. I just don't think the right to life stops at the end of the birth canal. I think a right to life has to include a right to nutrition, housing, health care and education."

When I first met him he expressed the same thought in another context: national security. National security, he said, requires a nation's ability to provide its citizens food and fuel, a better educational system and health care for all Americans. It was reminiscent of one of Dennis Kucinich' chants about "weapons of mass destruction": "poverty is a weapon of mass destruction," "lack of health care is a weapon of mass destruction." At worst, Huckabee's comment demonstrated a comprehension of how social programs have to be packaged to be sold; at best, it provided a clue as to what he'd really like to see government do.

He said we need both a global perspective and a focus on our internal needs, using as an analogy the way he inspects a plane before he boards: "I'm not just interested in the left wing or the right wing; I'd kind of like for both of them to be there."

My feelings about Huckabee were similar to my feelings about the last Pope. John Paul was Catholic. I was not. We disagreed about a number of issues -- including the role of women in the church, contraception, and the propriety of government mandated laws prohibiting abortion. But he was just about the only world leader then speaking out on issues of war, peace and poverty. It seemed to me you had to give him credit for that.

There was a soft side to Huckabee. He met people easily. He came across as friendly, comfortable, relaxed and genuine -- as well as often genuinely funny.

He told of being asked if he was "one of those narrow minded Baptists who thinks only Baptists are going to heaven." He replied, "No. I'm even more narrow minded than that. I even know a good many Baptists who aren't going to heaven."

He can use self-deprecating humor: "I'm leading in New Hampshire," he said. "The biggest percentage favors 'None of the above.' And that's me; I'm 'none of the above.'" At another point he referred to feeling like "a fireplug in a neighborhood of dogs" -- though, alas, I can't now remember the context.

So that was some of what led me to Huckabee four years ago -- while working to get Obama nominated and elected.

# # #

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cyber Warfare, Hacking, and You

June 17, 2011, 12:06 p.m.; with added critique June 18, 2011, 8:30 a.m., and June 19, 2011, 9:15 p.m.

[NOTE, June 18: Since posting this blog entry, I requested and received a critique from someone with more inside knowledge than I possess. (She/he wishes to remain unidentified.) Excerpts from her/his comments have now been embedded throughout the blog entry -- within brackets, quotes, and in this font.

It might have been less embarrassing to simply revise what I had written, but I have almost always been more interested in letting curiosity propel inquiry wherever it may lead than in being "proven right." Besides, it's both more honest and also more interesting reading to share with you both my text and the critique as written.]

A Primer

The hacker community -- Lulz Security and Anonymous, among others -- have had a good couple of weeks.
["Your first error is in referring to 'the hacking community.' There isn't one. Non-hackers tend to view hackers as a community due to the fact we have shared technical skills and some grossly similar social features. The reality is that if the 'hacking community' exists, it's an anarchist mob that's defined by temporary alliances, shifting loyalties, cults of personality and people whose fads have briefly aligned. Enduring long-term associations and friendships do exist, but they're much more rare than people think. We generally do not socialize very much outside our circles. Our few social mavens are rare birds, and prized for their abilities to make magic happen just by putting the right people together and standing well clear of the result.

"The 'hacking community,' to the extent it exists at all, is more a pool of diverse skills, philosophies and capabilities, which self-organizes in response to events. Consider the Iranian protests of a few months ago: there were contingents of pro-democracy hackers who were putting together anonymous relays to help get a trickle of uncensored communications into/from Iran, there were contingents of pro-regime hackers who were trying to shut down the pro-democracy types, and there were even jackasses who were exploiting the entire thing for juvenile sophomoric jokes ('the lulz'). Take any significant, serious event in the world and the 'hacking community' will within hours develop at least three or four responses to it, many of which are in open conflict with the others."]
Their targets have ranged from PBS and Sony, to Citibank and Lockhead, Google, the IMF, CIA, FBI, White House and U.S. Senate.

It has not been without cost. Sunday [June 12] Turkish police detained 32 members of the Anonymous cyberactivism collective on suspicion of planning attacks on a number of websites, after Anonymous took down the Website of Turkey's Directorate of Telecommunications. And Spanish authorities arrested three of the Anons group two days earlier on suspicion on organizing the cyber attacks against Sony, banks and governments.
["Second, the Turkish police didn't arrest 32 members of the Anonymous collective. There is no collective. It isn't as if these people carry membership cards and hang out in a clubhouse. Even the most hardcore Anonymouser wouldn't consider herself to be a 'member of Anonymous' or a 'part of Anonymous'. She might say that she /is/ Anonymous, which means she has adopted their political platform and is an autonomous agent spontaneously organizing with other like-minded people to perform acts.

"The hacking community, as it were, is *radically decentralized* -- decentralized to such a degree that most people can't imagine it functions at all. (And hackers grit our teeth and mumble, 'well, now that you mention it, it really *doesn't*.') It would be more accurate to say the Turks arrested 32 people who they allege have acted in concert under the banner of Anonymous -- but in the same breath you should say there is no guarantee these 32 people represented the beliefs of Anonymous as a whole, *because there is no such whole*.

"Compare to, e.g., if you said the Turkish police arrested 32 people from the freedom of religion collective. There really is no 'freedom of religion collective': freedom of religion is a philosophy which has many adherents, most practitioners of which want to murder the others who are believing in the wrong god and using their freedom poorly.

"And that's exactly what Anonymous is. Anonymous is a philosophical banner beneath which different people self-organize to perform acts in accordance with the ideals of Anonymous (to the extent it has any, and the jury's still out on that). What are the ideals of Anonymous? Well, Anonymous has been in a constant state of civil war in order to determine just that...
[[My source subsequently [June 19] provided me with additional evidence of his/her judgment that "the hacker 'community' [is caught up in] fractious, internecine conflict, cults of personality, fads, etc. Case in point. LulzSec and Anomyous are, as near as I can tell, identical in philosophy, goals and methods, and yet they're still engaged in a hatefest." She/he cites Matthew Lynley, "Hit the deck: LulzSec and Anonymous start trading blows," Venture Beat, June 15, 2011 ("Hacker group LulzSec has begun publicly attacking hacker group Anonymous, an action that could lead to a civil war of sorts between the two hacker groups that have similar origins.").]]
"The associations within a freedom-of-religion-collective would be rather permanent: people rarely wake up one day and decide, 'today I think I'll be a Buddhist.' The associations within Anonymous are in a constant state of flux as internal power battles play out."]
The Internet has grown faster than Kudzu; in fact, it is the largest and fastest growing anything in the history of the world -- and there's nobody in charge. If a part of the backbone goes down, the traffic routes itself around it and follows another path. That was a deliberate part of the Defense Department's plan in creating the Internet's predecessors: it wanted a communications system that could not be knocked out with a single bomb on "headquarters."
["Third, the DoD did not plan for the internet to survive nuclear strikes. Urban myth. The DoD didn't want the internet at all. The DoD was, through the Advanced Research Projects Agency, funding a lot of different scientists in a lot of different places. These scientists said, 'hey, can we spend some of our research grants to build a better way for us to collaborate?' ARPA said yes. In those days communication channels were unreliable and expensive, so ARPA's scientists developed a network that could work even if large parts of it went down. The rest, as they say, is history. The DoD has never trusted the internet to handle national-defense data: rather than trust the internet, DoD much prefers to trust MILNET (its own version of the internet)."]
Whether the global hacking community deliberately modeled its organizational structure and governance on that of the Internet, or did so as a matter of necessity, it is equally resilient. Whatever may happen to the 32 in Turkey and the three in Spain, the organizations and the hacking by their members will continue.

What's going on is serious enough that, without getting into the jargon and details of hacking techniques, each of us needs to have at least some basic understanding of what's happening. And that understanding requires that we recognize the enormous variation in the sophistication of hackers' techniques, their motives, and the consequences of their actions.

Let's consider these variations in turn.

Sophistication of techniques.

It helps to begin with the variations in sophistication of those doing mischief in what the cyberati refer to as the "brick and mortar" world in which the rest of us live. Consider the range. A burglar may see three days of newspapers in a driveway with no cars in sight, try each of the exterior doors, find one that opens (or a key under the door mat), walk in and walk out with the new HD wall screen TV. A company's bookkeeper or accountant may design accounts and transactions that can cover for years their embezzlement of thousands of dollars. Art thieves may figure out how to disable, or otherwise get around, heat sensors, motion detectors, and video cameras, to make off with a multi-million-dollar painting. Or our military may design fighter planes that fly with no pilots, send video recordings thousands of miles back to control centers, and fire missiles at designated targets.

Just as there is unsophisticated brick-and-mortar crime, there is also unsophisticated virtual world, electronic crime. It doesn't require much sophistication to find a credit card in the parking lot of a big box store, pick it up, and use it to make some purchases there. It doesn't require much more to get into a computer network if an employee's user name and password are displayed on a Post-It note stuck to the monitor's screen. Information that ought to have been encrypted, and kept behind more than one firewall, may have been inadvertently left on a public Web site or made equally vulnerable. In fact, an awful lot of what's characterized as "hacking" involves little more than asking -- a current, or former, employee may provide the necessary information, perhaps even one who designed the security system. The credit card information may be obtained from a receipt found in a dumpster. A hidden camera may record users' ATM pin number key strokes.

A Google search for "denial of service attack tools" (software) produces nearly a million hits. Some of what Lulz Sec and Anonymous members have been doing involve denial of service attacks. They send so many requests to a Web site that its servers slow down or stop, preventing legitimate users from gaining access. Such attacks are a nuisance, a big nuisance, but they need not do any harm to infrastructure or physical property, and do not provide the attacker access to the contents of the site, or its network. It's something experienced teenagers can do, if so inclined.

Similarly, while designing malicious software programs may require some sophistication, getting them onto a computer inside a secure location may involve little more than putting them on a thumb drive, leaving it in the building's parking lot, and hoping some employee will find it, put it in their computer to see what's on it, and thereby unwittingly load the hidden software onto the institution's "secure" computer network.

At the other extreme, what has been described as "the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed," a complex computer program called "Stuxnet," is suspected to have been the creation of some of the most brilliant computer programmers in the West. It was specifically designed to attack the centrifuges in Iran's weapons grade uranium facility, causing them to spin at speeds ultimately producing their self-destruction. This destruction, under the watchful eyes of Iran's trained scientists, was made possible by the program's additional ability to simultaneously take over the recording and reporting facilities, which continued to display to the facility's guardians that everything was operating normally when it was not.

This is the kind of sophisticated attack that could be waged by an enemy against our infrastructure, such as the electric grid -- turning off the traffic, as well as the house, lights, shutting down air traffic control, the stock market, banks and financial transactions, turning off the natural gas and gasoline pipelines, and filing stations' gas pumps, and so forth. Except, of course, such a strike would be far, far easier than what the Stuxnet was designed to do -- and accomplished.
["Fourth, under 'Sophistication of techniques,' you should also put 'velocity' of techniques. If a particular criminal offense nets you only $0.001 per attempt it's clearly more worthwhile to you to flip burgers at McDonald's. If you can do a million attempts per second, though, you're now raking in $1000 /per second/ and you're going to be sipping mai-tais on a beach somewhere. Network crime doesn't have to be particularly efficient or effective, because the network allows you to do so damn much of it.

"Velocity -- the ability to scale up your efforts -- is a big deal. One real mark of sophistication is velocity. A well-designed computer virus can infect 95% of all susceptible computers on the internet in about fifteen minutes. Quite often, by the time you know you're under attack it's too late and you've already lost. Against an unsophisticated teenager, reactive security measures work pretty well. Against a sophisticated operator, reactive security measures are pretty much useless."]
Could it happen? It could, according to the Director of the CIA, soon to be Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, who told Congress last week, "The next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack that cripples our power systems, our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our governmental systems."


The motives of hackers vary as much as the sophistication of their methods.

Some attacks, like Stuxnet, appear to be acts against one nation by another -- in that case literally, the history shows, an alternative to dropping bunker buster bombs on the facility (an option considered and rejected).

The Defense Department has recently declared that when a cyber attack on U.S. infrastructure, or defense installations, can be traced to another nation's government, it will be considered an act of war justifying our response with conventional military weaponry.
["Fifth, under 'Motives'" you're misquoting DoD badly. DoD has never said cyberattack *will* be considered an act of war. DoD has said that *depending on the consequences, it could be considered* an act of war. This is a pretty sensible policy. Your other points are quite accurate, though.

[[NJ: For more on the content, context, and challenges of this DOD declaration, see David E. Sanger and Elisabeth Bumiller, "Pentagon to Consider Cyberattacks Acts of War," New York Times, June 1, 2011, p. A10.]]

"Further, under 'Motives' you declare the hack of PBS was a protest about how they handled a Wikileaks story. The question becomes, why are you taking felons at their word for why they're committing their offenses? I suspect the real motive was because PBS is high profile and gets noticed -- the motive the attackers gave is just a rationalization and/or public-relations theory. 'We're engaged in political protest!' goes over in the public eye a lot better than 'we did it all for the lulz!'"]
There are a number of problems with this declaration. (1) Since our government is engaged in cyber attacks on other countries, presumably those countries could rationally justify dropping bombs on the United States. (2) It is often very difficult to know where cyber attacks are coming from. (3) Many involve multiple global operatives. For example, the computer theft of $10 million from banks was run out of 49 cities on multiple continents. (4) When a single country can be identified beyond a reasonable doubt, it's still not clear who is behind the attack: that country's government, its organized crime operatives, or just its precocious teenagers. If our government cannot know, let alone control, everything our mafia and teenage cyber gangs are up to, it's neither reasonable nor fair to expect that other countries are able to control what their criminals and teens do. (5) Indeed, a country ("country A") intent on harming another ("country B") could fairly easily construct a cyber attack on the U.S. in such a way as to make it appear that the attack on the U.S. came from country B, thereby causing the U.S. to launch a retaliatory attack on country B rather than country A. There are many potential examples, such as Pakistan and India, Israel and Palestine, North Korea and South Korea.

Shy of the devastation brought on by cyber warriors are the individuals engaged in serious, organized crime -- mass scale identity and credit card theft and resale, or movements of money (including that of banks and their clients).

Then there are those who do a little of the former, but are mostly just up to devilment -- a form of electronic vandalism. For example, the hack of PBS was a protest against a Frontline program about Wikileaks.

For those just beginning hacking -- eight of the Turkish 32 were minors -- hacking is often little more than a challenge, a hobby, and a way to earn the respect of one's hacking contemporaries and elders.

(Of course, there are also the white hats: those who are hired by the hacked company to try to break in, to test the adequacy of the company's security measures.)


The consequences can vary from unsuccessful and unnoticed attempts at unauthorized entry, to little more than a minor nuisance (denial of service attacks), to taking over personal computers and using them to circulate harmful viruses or other malware, loss of national security secrets, or closing down vital infrastructure (such as the electric power grid).

Any unauthorized impact on a computer is something we need to know about and try to prevent. All are, not incidentally, already illegal. But in our efforts at prevention and enforcement it's important for us to be able to distinguish between that which could bring down our country's infrastructure, and that which is kids' play.
["Sixth, under 'Consequences': it is not strictly speaking necessarily illegal for someone to attempt to exceed their granted authority to a system (although a naive reading of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act could make one think otherwise). C.f. the Lori Drew case, where Drew was accused of violating CFAA because she violated a website's terms of service. The government's rationale was the ToS was the grant of authority, she violated the ToS, therefore she exceeded her authority and violated CFAA. The judge in the case threw out Drew's conviction."]
Obviously, if the computer systems of governments and major corporations are vulnerable, so are yours and mine. What can we do to protect ourselves?


There is probably little or nothing we can do to protect ourselves from the kind of sophisticated attack that could be imagined and implemented by hackers with the skills of those able to create something like the Stuxnet worm. Fortunately, such individuals are few and far between and those that exist are not likely to waste their professional time trying to read our Microsoft Word documents.
["Seventh, under 'Self-defense.' When you say there is little to nothing regular people can do to defend themselves against serious attackers, you're being both too optimistic and too pessimistic. A very important concept is *target specificity*. If a highly trained cyberwarfare operator with a few years of dirty tricks experience decides to target you, and you specifically, then there is literally nothing you can do about it -- not even unplugging your PC will work, since so many of the vital records in your life exist on computer systems beyond your control. At the same time, though, if you are not a specific target, there's a lot you can do. Keep a well-honed sense of skepticism. Check with your OS vendor regularly for security updates. Don't open random things people send you in email. Browse the Web with Firefox or Google, and not Internet Explorer. Etc., etc. There's not much you can do about a bullet with your name on it, but there's a /lot/ you can do about all the hot lead flying around addressed 'To Whom It May Concern.'"]
But there are a good many basic and obvious things we can do to protect ourselves from the electronic devilment, vandalism, and theft to which we may be vulnerable. Use common sense (and a locking cable) to prevent theft of the entire laptop. Create more complex passwords than "password." Don't write user names and passwords on paper kept within easy access from the laptop. Use encryption for documents that warrant it. Get good quality virus protection software and keep it up to date. If you have a home Wi-Fi signal others could access, make it a locked, password protected signal.

And while we're at it, recall the observation that every hard drive will, someday, crash; we just don't know when. So make regular backups (or offloads) of any documents you care about onto an external hard drive (or two; one stored somewhere away from home or office). That way, if the laptop self-destructs from an attack, is lost or stolen, or is otherwise destroyed (or the time comes for your hard drive to crash) you will at least have retained the computer's contents -- which may be much more valuable to you than the computer itself.

I will close with one final observation regarding the extent to which we, and our friends, are our own worst enemies when it comes to protecting our privacy and identity. Most of the privacy and identity we have "lost" we have willingly given away in exchange for what we've perceived as benefits.

The credit card company knows what cities and stores we have been in, at what hour of what days, what we purchased and what we paid. The bank has all our loan and checking account records (legally considered their records, not ours). It knows where and when we've visited ATM machines, and how much cash we withdrew. Our cell phone carrier knows where we've been, and when, whom we've called, and how long we've talked. The airlines know where we've flown and when. Some have as well our Social Security numbers, birthday, address and phone numbers.

They haven't hacked or otherwise stolen this information from us. We've voluntarily given it to them. We believe that the use of checks, credit cards, ATMs, cell phones and airlines is well worth the loss of privacy.

What we may not be aware of is that the Supreme Court says once we voluntarily give information about ourselves to third parties, (a) we no longer have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" with regard to that information, and (b) the third parties are free to hand it over to law enforcement, or others, without letting us know they have done so. And the government has not violated our Fourth Amendment rights to be protected from governmental "search or seizure" if it was third parties, rather than the government, that obtained the information in the first place and simply handed it over to the government when asked.

Walt Kelly, the creator of the comic strip character Pogo, once had him say, in the context of environmental issues, “We have found the enemy, and he is us.” So it is with our loss of privacy. Much of the problem is not that George Orwell’s 1984 Big Brother is watching us (and digging through our trash, as the FBI is now permitted to do without a warrant).

The problem is that we and our Facebook friends are the “enemy,” watching us, recording us, photographing and videoing us, writing and commenting about us, circulating all of the above, and filing it all away, in public (on Facebook; and on Facebook’s servers forever), where Big Brother can come and just download it all. The government can then include and save it with all the other databases that include records and information about us (school, medical, military, vehicle and criminal, credit card, bank, real estate, etc.). It can then “data mine” all of this information to its black heart’s content. Facebook's latest invasion -- face recognition, plus "tagging" of individuals in photos -- added to the rest, now makes potentially available to the FBI, CIA and NSA everything a criminal record would contain but our fingerprints. (And with fingerprint ID gaining in popularity for check cashing and door opening, they may soon have that as well.)

If none of this bothers you, if it's worth the services you get in return, fine. No problem. Just make sure it's really what you want.

It is a whole new jumbled jungle of two worlds out there. One is a virtual world of blue smoke, reflective mirrors, electrons and no parachutes. The other is a world of crumbling brick and mortar. Both offer wonderful opportunities from which we benefit. Both also present risks which we ignore at our peril.

Have a nice day.

# # #

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

David Baldus

June 15, 2011, 8:30 a.m.


A great and decent man has died; scholar, researcher, teacher, colleague and friend, David Baldus. He and his wife, Joyce Carman, were special friends of Mary and me. And the memories I like to recall at this time are not just of our conversations in his office or mine, or when waiting for the coffee to brew in the faculty lounge, but of our times together each summer on their pontoon boat on the Coralville Reservoir.

But his life was also such as to be memorialized in the pages of everything from the New York Times, immediately below, to his university's paper, The Daily Iowan, below that.

[Hopefully, both papers will recognize this reproduction of their stories as Fair Use. If not, their emailed requests that their stories be removed from this blog entry will be promptly honored.]

David C. Baldus, 75, Dies; Studied Race and the Law
Adam Liptak
New York Times
June 15, 2011, p. B13

David C. Baldus, whose pioneering research on race and the death penalty came within a vote of persuading the Supreme Court to make fundamental changes in the capital justice system, died on Monday at his home in Iowa City. He was 75. [Photo credit: Tom Langdon, University of Iowa.]

The cause was complications of colon cancer, his wife, Joyce C. Carman, said.

Professor Baldus’s work was at the center of a 1987 Supreme Court decision, McCleskey v. Kemp, which ruled that even solid statistical evidence of racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty did not offend the Constitution. The 5-to-4 ruling closed off what had seemed to opponents of the death penalty a promising line of attack.

The Supreme Court had reinstated the death penalty in 1976 in Gregg v. Georgia after a four-year moratorium. Georgia and other states had in the meantime enacted provisions meant to address discrimination in capital punishment.

“It seemed to us that Gregg had indulged the assumption that race had been flushed out of the system,” said John C. Boger, who argued the McCleskey case for the defendant and who is now dean of the University of North Carolina School of Law.

Professor Baldus, a longtime faculty member at the University of Iowa College of Law, and two colleagues, Charles Pulaski and George Woodworth, set out to test that assumption. Their study examined more than 2,000 murders in Georgia, controlling for some 230 variables.

The study’s findings have often been misunderstood. They did not show that blacks were significantly more likely to be sentenced to death than whites. What the study found was that people accused of killing white victims were four times as likely to be sentenced to death as those accused of killing black victims. In other words, a death sentence often hinged not on the race of the defendant but on the race of the victim.

Professor Baldus’s work was meticulous, said Anthony G. Amsterdam, a law professor at New York University and an authority on the death penalty. “Dave had a unique genius for digging into masses of messy factual information and discovering crucial human forces at work behind the purportedly impersonal administration of criminal law,” Professor Amsterdam said.

The study was presented to the Supreme Court by lawyers for Warren McCleskey, a black man sentenced to die for killing a white police officer. “David was really the whole foundation of the case,” Dean Boger said.

But Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., writing for the majority, said individual criminal cases cannot be decided on the basis of social science research, however sound.

“In light of the safeguards designed to minimize racial bias in the process, the fundamental value of jury trial in our criminal justice system, and the benefits that discretion provides to criminal defendants,” Justice Powell wrote, “we hold that the Baldus study does not demonstrate a constitutionally significant risk of racial bias affecting the Georgia capital sentencing process.”

In 1991, after he retired, Justice Powell was asked whether there was any vote he would have liked to change.

“Yes,” he told his biographer, John C. Jeffries Jr. “McCleskey v. Kemp.”

Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired last year and who was one of the dissenters, wrote about the case in December in The New York Review of Books.

“That the murder of black victims is treated as less culpable than the murder of white victims provides a haunting reminder of once-prevalent Southern lynchings,” Justice Stevens wrote.

David Christopher Baldus was born in Wheeling, W.Va., on June 23, 1935. He was educated at Dartmouth College, the University of Pittsburgh and Yale Law School. He joined the University of Iowa College of Law faculty in 1969.

Professor Baldus wrote two books, “Statistical Proof of Discrimination” and “Equal Justice and the Death Penalty.”

Professor Baldus’s first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, he is survived by a sister, Sue Gittins of Port Charlotte, Fla.; two daughters from his first marriage, Katherine Baldus and Helen Baldus, both of Brooklyn; and four stepchildren, Jeffrey Carman of Paducah, Ky., Craig Carman of Iowa City, and Kate Robinson and Glen Carman, both of Chicago.

In a 1995 speech on what he called “the death penalty dialogue between law and social science,” Professor Baldus considered what had led the Supreme Court to allow executions to proceed in the face of his study.

“Perhaps most important, in my estimation,” he said, “is that race-of-victim discrimination does not raise the same sort of moral concerns as race-of-defendant discrimination — even though, from a constitutional standpoint, discrimination on the basis of any racial aspect of the case is illegitimat”

# # #

UI law prof Baldus passes away at 75
Brittany Trevick
The Daily Iowan
June 14, 2011, p. A1

David Baldus wasn’t afraid to break the rules.

On a hiking trip to Canada with his wife, the two of them entered a trail not recommended for groups of fewer than six because of bears.

Instead of turning back, they continued on and shouted to scare off the bears.

“He was walking in front and shouting parts of Shakespeare,” said his wife, Joyce Carman. “The little parts that he loved so much.”

Baldus, a Joseph B. Tye Professor in the University of Iowa College of Law, died Monday morning after a 15-monthlong battle with cancer. He was 75.

He was a nationally renown scholar and lawyer, whose empirical work analyzed race discrimination in the United States, especially with concerns to the death penalty.

“His empirical work related to race and the death penalty was of really singular importance,” said UI law Professor Gerald Wetlaufer. “We’ll miss him a lot.”

Baldus was born in Wheeling, W.V. in 1935. He received a B.A. from Dartmouth College in 1957. He loved traveling, sailing, and opera music, Carman said.

Baldus leaves behind two daughters, four stepchildren and eight grandchildren.

Daughter Katherine had planned to be married this weekend.

“He had hoped to be well enough to go to this wedding,” Carman said. “Truly one of his goals was to get to his daughter Katherine.”

Baldus came to Iowa in 1969 from a private practice in Pittsburgh. In 1976, he met Carman after friends set them up on a blind date. Four years later, they were married.

“[David] had a witty sense of humor … a lot of people didn’t see it, but when they did, it was quite effective,” Carman said.

During his time at the UI, Baldus published two books and many articles about race discrimination and the death penalty.

He was considered an expert in death-penalty law and litigation, said Eric Andersen, an associate dean of the UI law school and a close friend of Baldus’. He was continually asked to be an expert witness and was consulted in the world of law practice.

Baldus made an impact, not only in the academic world but also in his personal life.

“He has an infectious personality, he had a lively mind, and he had the ability to subordinate his own ego in order to get other people to work on a project constructively,” said Charles Pulaski, a longtime friend who cowrote several studies with Baldus.

And those close to Baldus said he left an impression not only in the courtroom but to those close to him.

“He is a great loss to those who knew him personally because he was an incredibly decent man, a wonderful colleague, a good friend and a giant of an intellectual leader,” said Arthur Bonfield, a UI law-school associate dean.

A funeral will be held at Lensing Funeral Home in Iowa City in July.

# # #

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Is America a 'Dictatorship'?

June 9, 2011, 7:30 a.m.

Of Course Not; But Trends Bear Watching

How would you react if you saw the headline, "10 Indications The United States is a Dictatorship"?

Yeah. Me, too. Must be some wacko conspiratorial theorist. Maybe it's the latest in the arsenal of those who devote their lives to trashing President Obama.

Until I read it.

Using the word "dictatorship" was probably a mistake. For starters, so much of life in America is the antithesis of living under a dictatorship, whatever that word means to you, that it doesn't seem accurate. Moreover, "dictatorship" is a judgmental, more than a descriptive, word. It's so tightly packed with emotionalism that it's not a very useful part of the vocabulary of civil, two-way conversations.

But the article itself is primarily descriptive, rather than an emotional attack. And it doesn't seem to be grounded in either partisanship or the well springs of some unyielding ideology along the continuum of political opinion.

The substance of the piece is in its lengthy examples and analysis, not the mere subject headings of the "10 indications." But they will give you some idea of what's covered:

1. Rule by force, not by law.

2. Crushing peaceful protest.

3. Checkpoints.

4. Citizen spy networks.

5. Executive orders.

6. Control of regulatory agencies.

7. President declares war unilaterally.

8. Torture.

9. Forced labor camps (gulags).

10. Control over all communications (propaganda).

Read it and judge for yourself. (It is reproduced here, below.) Many of the facts cited have been noted before by editorial writers, academics and politicians, and members of a range of organizations from the ACLU to the Tea Party.

But bringing them all together creates the realization that this is one of those cases where it's really true that "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts."

Anyway, having read the article, when I came upon the following two stories they took on a little greater significance than they might otherwise have done.

A Stockton, California, resident had his door broken in during the early morning hours by a small platoon of armed law enforcement officers from, get this, the U.S. Department of Education! Did you know the Department of Education had its own SWAT teams? Well, apparently it does. So he and his kids spent six hours in a police car in their underwear until it became abundantly clear that this man, who had no criminal record, least of all any that had anything to do with the DOE, was not who they were looking for. They wanted his estranged wife, who, being estranged, obviously was not there. What they wanted her for is not clear. Originally it was reported that she had an unpaid obligation of about $100 on her student loan. The Department spokesperson now swears it was something much more serious -- but refuses to say what it is.

You know, when I was a kid, you might get a swat on the knuckles with a ruler from an educator, but they would never send a whole SWAT team after you in the middle of the night.

Here are a couple of my sources: Elizabeth Flock, "Education Department S.W.A.T. team raids California home," Blog Post, National, Washington Post, June 8, 2011.

C. Johnson and Leigh Paynter, "Questions Surround Feds' Raid of Stockton Home," News10 Stockton, June 8, 2011 ("A federal education official Wednesday morning offered little information as to why federal agents raided a Stockton man's home Tuesday. The resident, Kenneth Wright, does not have a criminal record and he had no reason to believe why what he thought was a S.W.A.T team would be breaking down his door at 6 in the morning. 'I look out of my window and I see 15 police officers,' Wright said. As Wright came downstairs in his boxer shorts, he said the officers barged through his front door. Wright said an officer grabbed him by the neck and led him outside on his front lawn. 'He had his knee on my back and I had no idea why they were there,' Wright said. According to Wright, officers also woke his three young children, ages 3, 7, and 11, and put them in a Stockton police patrol car with him. Officers then searched his house. 'They put me in handcuffs in that hot patrol car for six hours, traumatizing my kids,' Wright said. As it turned out, the person law enforcement was looking for - Wright's estranged wife - was not there.")

Then there was a story involving another public figure who used far less physical violence, but whose behavior was equally offensive in its own way in terms of the violence he did to the democratic process and representative government. (See, by contrast, "This is What Democracy Looks Like," June 3, 2011.)

After students representing each of Iowa’s state Universities testified before the Senate Education Appropriation Committee today to oppose severe budget cuts for higher education, Senator Shawn Hamerlinck of Dixon, ranking Republican on the committee, responded to the students’ testimony by telling them to “go home.”

Hamerlinck stated, “I do not like it when students actually come here and lobby me for funds. That’s just my opinion. I want to wish you guys the best. I want you to go home and graduate. But this political fear, leave the circus to us OK? Go home and enjoy yourselves. I want to thank you for joining us and though I have to concede, your time speaking before us is kind of a tad intense. It’s probably a pretty new experience. You probably prepared for it for days and you sat there in front of us trying to make sure your remarks were just right, and that’s a good thing. But actually spending your time worrying about what we’re doing up here, I don’t want you to do that. Go back home. Thanks guys.”
"Republican message to students: Shut up! (Video)," Iowa Senate Democrats, June 8, 2011. And see, William Petroski, "'Go home,' senator tells student leaders," Des Moines Register, June 7, 2011.

At least this "representative" said aloud what most fear even to whisper. Most have the political savvy to sit silently and listen respectfully to their constituents. (As my father used to say of the requirements to be a university president, "One needs gray hair so as to look wise, and hemorrhoids so as to look concerned.") Successful politicians also know how to look concerned. Some actually do care, they do want to hear from us, they are concerned, and often respond to our wishes. But all too many -- from local school board members to members of Congress -- are none of the above. As the bumper sticker put it, "The Majority is Not Silent, the Government is Deaf."

Whether overtly expressed, as Hamerlinck did, or communicated with silence followed by intransigence, a government cannot be both democratic and deaf.

So, is America a dictatorship? I don't think so. Not yet. Do I agree with everything in the article reproduced below? Of course not. But it does identify some troubling trends worth watching -- and protesting. Here is "10 Indications The United States Is A Dictatorship."

"10 Indications The United States Is A Dictatorship," Activist Post, May 16, 2011.

For a people to be free, they must first be honest with themselves, their government, and the world at large. History is filled with stories of free nations that fell under the spell cast by their governments who exploited the threat of terror.

In fact, numerous presidents in American history already have used various specific threats to sidestep their Constitutional restraints. Today we are entering a nebulous world where our "enemy" cannot be defined, has no particular allegiance to one country, and is able to adopt new leaders at will. Rather than encourage a sense of resilience and independence in its citizens, America has chosen to amplify the terror threat in order to concentrate power in the hands of the State. The very first signpost on this historically familiar road to tyranny is an atmosphere of hate, suspicion, and vindictiveness. It first begins as an outwardly directed aggression and then rather abruptly turns inward upon itself.

The good news is that freedom is won and lost in our hearts and minds. It is for this reason that we must state the obvious: we have clearly passed through the first "atmospheric" stage of approaching dictatorship, and have now entered the second -- the open behavior of a dictatorship in the United States.

It will never be announced on the evening news, and it is not likely to continue under an authoritarian leader in the mold of a Stalin, Hitler, or Mao. Likewise, it is not to say that Barack Obama is the first dictator of The United States, but rather is part of a continued expansion of executive power that is now so great that by all measures America can no longer be called a Land of the Free ruled by We the People. We stand no chance of reversing this forced march by false democracy until we understand where we are headed, who is leading us there, and for what purpose.

1. Rule by force, not by law: This is where it all begins; when the legal framework that serves to define a country and its behavior is dismantled and intimidation tactics take over. In the most extreme case, drone bombings and assassinations have begun of non-citizens, as well as U.S. citizens, leading only to a debate over whether U.S. citizens should be stripped of citizenship before assassination. Governmental assassinations are in complete opposition to the laws of America and all international laws and agreements. In the last week we have also seen the official elimination of the 4th Amendment in Indiana, which is a clear precedent-setting ruling to say that the State now believes that it owns the property and person of its citizens. As a result, the militarized police have been granted unlimited access, which will only cause an escalation in cases of police brutality and misconduct. This is yet another addition to the precedent set by TSA groping and sexual harassment in airports, Child Protective Services kidnapping children of activists in pro-liberty causes, public school surveillance, and the lawless detention of activists who videotape the police. All areas of society are now ruled top-down through state legislation adopted to justify federal grants that have installed a police state apparatus in America. And these federal agencies such as the TSA actually believe they rule supreme over the states. We now live in a country where CIA abductions, overseas detention, torture and assassinations can be carried out against anyone without due process and without recourse if later cleared; in fact, the Supreme Court has just ended the legal debate by refusing to even consider appeals. Consequently, an atmosphere has been created where the government is permitted to break countless laws, like warrantless GPS tracking of activists by the FBI, while average citizens are guilty of pre-crimes. The increase in executive power under the aegis of National Security is our greatest threat and has led to all that follows.

2. Crushing peaceful protest: Despite the current mission to defend protesters living in dictatorships overseas, when George Bush brought "free speech zones" to America it effectively spelled the end of peaceful, lawful street protest. Now the full force of brutality and surveillance has been unleashed upon the very people intent in stopping it through peaceful means. It is as sure a sign as any about totalitarian intentions, when anti-war activists have become one of the targets. The activist is beginning to equal terrorist in the all-seeing eye of the State, and any street gathering is a sure sign to let loose all of the riot weapons that were formerly used against insurgents on foreign battlefields. One look at the G20 protest in Pittsburgh, a recent Illinois University event, and the ongoing travesty of the torture and incarceration of Bradley Manning, and we can begin to see through the propaganda of White House officials when they talk about terrible dictators in other nations crushing dissent.

3. Checkpoints: The slow acclimation of the populace to military-style checkpoints began first as border control operations up to 100 miles inland in what the ACLU calls the Constitution Free Zone. However, this has rather quickly morphed into local traffic stops across the country for "unsavory" characters such as those targeted by the Amber Alert system and DUI checkpoints. Though apparently well meaning, we are now far beyond even loosely suspected criminal activity, as VIPR teams have been introduced to take over public transportation and events. The TSA tyranny has hit the streets of America, now forming a de facto internal passport system straight out of the totalitarian playbook. The expanding checkpoint system dovetails with new initiatives such as the No Ride List proposal of Chuck Shumer, building upon the No Fly List already in place. These no-travel lists are extrajudicial, secret, and form a guilty-until-proven innocent framework that subverts freedom instead of protecting it. Incidentally, this element of constant suspicion is exactly what leads to a citizen spy network.

4. Citizen spy network: Dictatorships know how difficult it is to rule over large populations with only the relatively small numbers of military and police. Despite the lessons of terror created by citizen surveillance that the East German Stasi files left us to examine, just such a network has been openly introduced to present-day America -- and now it's even more high-tech and populated. Secret black budget projects organized through the NSA like Perfect Citizen is just one among many. Our head of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano -- in partnership with retailer Wal-Mart -- kicked off the See Something, Say Something program, which goes beyond the already high-tech surveillance apparatus of the NSA and turns each of us into an unpaid employee of the police state. Similarly, the web of cameras and data mining is far too massive for even the well-funded NSA, but with gadgets at our disposal we can now download apps to enable spying on our neighbors. Most dangerous of all, though, is new legislation introduced by Peter King that enshrines Janet Napolitano's program and would provide immunity for accusers "acting in good faith" while reporting suspicious activities. This is guaranteed to lead to false arrests and disappearances, just as it has on every occasion throughout history when a society's fear becomes self-directed.

5. Executive Orders: This is means by which a dictator can come to power in the United States, despite a framework of checks and balances. Any time a country has centralized its power to the executive branch by erasing the checks and balances of separate legislative and judicial bodies, the result has been dictatorship. And this normally happens when national security is “threatened.” The Constitution is clear, however: only the legislature (Congress) can make laws. Yet, the use of Executive Orders has increased, beginning with President Clinton who came under fire for his abuse of this power, becoming one of only two presidents (the other was Truman’s E.O. 12954) to have an Executive Order struck down by the courts. His successors seem only to have been encouraged. Clinton issued 14, George W. issued over 60, and Obama is at 26 with many more to be expected if he wins a second term. Among the most egregious of Obama's orders is the ability to hold detainees indefinitely even after a court has found them not guilty. Executive Orders also form the basis for control over regulatory agencies, which then impose the directives. While it seems multi-layered with potential checks and balances, all directives can now be issued top-down in dictatorial fashion.

6. Control of regulatory agencies: This is the more insidious and, ultimately, dangerous tactic used by dictatorships. Dictatorship through regulation invades every facet of society without relying only upon overt violence. As mentioned above, only the legislature can make laws. However, the legislature has created “regulatory bodies” which make de facto laws through “violations” that rob us of freedom. There is no clearer example at the moment than the FDA, which has brought in near-total food control. The FDA is working in concert with a global agenda being foisted upon us through the Codex Alimentarius commission in Europe which essentially renders anything healthy as toxic, and all that is toxic as healthy. Regulatory agencies in the United States have engendered a system where the corporate-government revolving door leads to corruption and consolidation -- not free markets. The current regulations are opposed to the principles of freedom and independence, and favor only those in positions to make money from more control; so more control and less freedom is what we can expect under these federal directives controlling the states.

7. President declares war unilaterally: Despite the parade of lies that led to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it pales in comparison with the new war in Libya and other interventions and sanctions throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Through Executive Orders, outlined above, the President can declare war so long as there is a resolution passed by Congress. This has been dispensed with through Obama's illegal wars, and it appears that Congress could go even further by ceding its power completely to the president. The disregard for Congressional approval is already dictatorial, but if this last step is taken we will effectively be living in a permanent state of war tantamount to WWIII that will be controlled at the sole discretion of the current and future presidents. This unilateral power to drag nations into war without checks and balances is a hallmark of dictatorships where entire countries are swept along purely by the ideology of their leader. As Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell have stated, "We have a dictatorship when it comes to foreign policy." With the latest development, it is actually a dictatorship when it comes to domestic policy as well, since America's espionage network has turned inward, and this new presidential power would not be limited to overseas actions.

8. Torture: Torture has long been a tactic used by America. In fact it runs the leading school on its methods. The School of the Americas (now called WHINSEC) has been responsible for training Latin American dictators and their thugs on how to intimidate the local population and rule with an iron fist. However, the torture debate has hit mainstream media in a serious discussion about its effectiveness, especially following the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Aside from the despicable morals involved, torture doesn't work for intelligence gathering, according to experts. Furthermore, the legalization of torture was what really brought the dreaded Russian secret police out into the open. When such a declaration is made, it is literally a recruiting strategy to find the criminals and sadists who would love to be part of such a system. Torture is not normal work for normal people; it is the work of psychopaths such as Dick Cheney who loves the tactic of waterboarding so much that he has stated it should be brought back and used more widely. No nation that uses torture to obtain confessions can be called legitimate. It is only used as a tool of intimidation and oppression by totalitarian regimes.

9. Forced labor camps (gulags): This is when we know that a totalitarian society has arrived in full and our society is run completely by coercion. As Naomi Wolf has illustrated, "With its jails in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, of course, Guantánamo in Cuba, where detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial and without access to the due process of the law, America certainly has its gulag now." Additionally, a silent gulag has already been created inside America, starting with the nation's prisoners who are increasingly locked up within a for-profit prison-industrial system that makes money both on the construction of prisons as well as the cheap labor force. The Defense Department itself pays prisoners 23 cents per hour to build its weapons systems, which is clearly a type of slave labor. One might immediately argue that there is a huge difference between real prisoners and innocent people swept off the streets as they were in Stalinist Russia, for example, or in modern day North Korea and China. That is to presume, however, that everyone in prison is guilty; and, if they are, that the crimes which have sent them there really constitute offenses worthy of prison sentences. America has the world's largest prison population and the highest incarceration rate precisely because nearly everything is a jail-time crime, and there is money to be made by the growing corporate prison system. The War on Drugs alone has led to a disproportionate number of inmates for non-violent offenses among the already 2.4 million in jail and the 5 million on probation. With the economy imploding, even debtors prisons have made a comeback. Although FEMA camps are still relegated to fringe conspiracy theory, we should be wary of the potential endgame for such a proven system of oppression. Through Continuity of Government, national emergency directives would openly suspend the Constitution and could possibly lead once again to internment camps in America.

10. Control over all communications (propaganda): Once the physical framework of dictatorial control has been set up, then the justification for its continued presence can commence. The type of high-tech control grid now put into place in The United States to this point has only been explored in works of fiction such as 1984, which has led Paul Craig Roberts to draw a correct parallel. A public emergency announcement system has in fact been in place since the '50s, whereby the president can interrupt television and radio to deliver critical messages. However, this has been recently expanded even beyond the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as the FCC voted to mandate (PDF) "the first-ever Presidential alert to be aired across the United States on the Nation’s Emergency Alert System (EAS).” Now, with the arrival of the trackable smartphone that can be hijacked to bring government messages (emergency or not) we find ourselves "willing" participants in a scenario reaching far beyond 1984. Using the bin Laden assassination and the threat of guaranteed reprisal, the government has announced that the president will break into these private networks to carry PLAN government messages and warnings; and there is no opt-out. This is slated to go even further, as Infowars has reported: "All smart devices have federally-mandated control and kill switches added. This will give the government total control over incoming information to all smart phones regardless of manufacturer. These policies dovetail with the roll out of Smart Meters and the new Google controlled smart homes which will send messages over the power-lines to your appliances to control power consumption or simply cut the power. In addition, new 'green' lighting systems are being installed in government buildings which send and receive data through controlled pulses of light. And now the Pentagon wants the authority to run it all." At the same time, we have seen the buildup in rhetoric leading toward Internet control. As always, an unsavory element of society (pirating) has been used as one of the pretexts to introduce government control over private industry, while cybersecurity lays claim to total control over the infrastructure for national emergencies. Ideologically, Obama advisor, Cass Sunstein, has proposed a fairness doctrine for the Internet that would enable a government overlay on private websites that would offer counter opinions to anti-establishment content. We are approaching a situation worse than China, where both mental intrusion via propaganda and physical intrusion via systems control are merging. It is not comforting to know, also, that the president made a shocking claim recently that he can censor unclassified documents. There is clearly a concerted effort to take over all forms of information, permitting the government to alter it or censor it before consumption by its citizens. In any other country we would call this a dictatorship.

It would appear that the United States should be a called a dictatorship based on the above criteria. Once the atmosphere is established, average participants need not be part of a conspiracy, as they tend to unquestioningly go with the flow. However, we must acknowledge that the U.S. is in a vastly different position than totalitarian regimes of the past, as well as her contemporaries. America has a history that is built upon the foundation of resistance to dictators. This memory needs to be invoked by following the protections outlined in our founding documents, particularly the power of the states to resist Federal tyranny. The protections therein can be restored once we have the courage to admit how much freedom we have lost, then refuse to succumb to a fear-based perception of reality. Only then will Liberty, Love and Peace prevail!
# # #

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Republicans Converting America Into Pakistan

June 5, 2011, 12:05 p.m.

And the Democrats Aren't That Much Better

A week ago, I was writing about the rising share of costs born by college students, "Paying for College; Allocating Costs, Setting the Price," May 30, 2011, and commenting on Robert Reich's column, Robert Reich, "How Our Prosperity Became Stagnation," Des Moines Register, May 29, 2011, p. OP1.

That blog entry concluded, "Had we been hell-bent on deliberately evolving into a third world country's population, with a statistically insignificant percentage of super-wealthy at one extreme, and 90 percent or more struggling just to get by, we would have adopted almost precisely the policies we have. That's not to say that it was deliberate. Others can explore the conspiracy theories. But that is the result."

This morning [Sunday, June 5], the New York Times's Nicholas Kristof elaborated on that theme in such a powerful and well written way that I'm going to reproduce more excerpts from his column than I would usually reproduce. Nicholas Kristof, "Our Fantasy Nation?" New York Times June 5, 2011, p. WK9. (If he, or anyone at the Times, objects to this Fair Use of the material, simply email me and I'll remove it from this blog. If they do not object, I will recommend my readers subscribe to the Times, as I do, by going to this site.)

With Tea Party conservatives and many Republicans balking at raising the debt ceiling, let me offer them an example of a nation that lives up to their ideals.

It has among the lowest tax burdens of any major country: fewer than 2 percent of the people pay any taxes. Government is limited, so that burdensome regulations never kill jobs.

This society embraces traditional religious values and a conservative sensibility. Nobody minds school prayer, same-sex marriage isn’t imaginable, and criminals are never coddled.

The budget priority is a strong military, the nation’s most respected institution. When generals decide on a policy for, say, Afghanistan, politicians defer to them. Citizens are deeply patriotic, and nobody burns flags.

So what is this Republican Eden, this Utopia? Why, it’s Pakistan. . . .

[A]s America has become more unequal, as we cut off government lifelines to the neediest Americans, as half of states plan to cut spending on higher education this year, let’s be clear about our direction — and about the turnaround that a Republican budget victory would represent. . . .

[D]eveloping countries, from Congo to Colombia [are] characterized by minimal taxes, high levels of inequality, free-wheeling businesses and high military expenditures. Any of that ring a bell?

In Latin American, African or Asian countries, I sometimes see shiny tanks and fighter aircraft — but schools that have trouble paying teachers. Sound familiar? And the upshot is societies that are quasi-feudal, stratified by social class, held back by a limited sense of common purpose. . . .

The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans already have a greater net worth than the bottom 90 percent, based on Federal Reserve data. Yet two-thirds of the proposed Republican budget cuts would harm low- and moderate-income families, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

For a country that prides itself on social mobility, where higher education has been a traditional escalator to a better life, cutbacks in access to college are a scandal. G. Jeremiah Ryan, the president of Bergen Community College in New Jersey, tells me that when the college was set up in 1965, two-thirds of the cost of running it was supposed to be covered by state and local governments, and one-third by students. The reality today, Dr. Ryan says, is that students bear 78 percent of the cost.

In fairness to Pakistan and Congo, wealthy people in such countries manage to live surprisingly comfortably. Instead of financing education with taxes, these feudal elites send their children to elite private schools. Instead of financing a reliable police force, they hire bodyguards. Instead of supporting a modern health care system for their nation, they fly to hospitals in London.

You can tell the extreme cases by the hum of diesel generators at night. Instead of paying taxes for a reliable electrical grid, each wealthy family installs its own powerful generator to run the lights and air-conditioning. It’s noisy and stinks, but at least you don’t have to pay for the poor.

I’ve always made fun of these countries, but now I see echoes of that pattern of privatization of public services in America. Police budgets are being cut, but the wealthy take refuge in gated communities with private security guards. Their children are spared the impact of budget cuts at public schools and state universities because they attend private institutions.

Mass transit is underfinanced; after all, Mercedes-Benzes and private jets are much more practical, no? And maybe the most striking push for reversal of historical trends is the Republican plan to dismantle Medicare as a universal health care program for the elderly.

There’s even an echo of the electrical generator problem. More and more affluent homes in the suburbs are buying electrical generators to use when the power fails.

So in this season’s political debates, let’s remember that we’re arguing not only over debt ceilings and budgets, but about larger questions of our vision for our country. Do we really aspire to take a step in the direction of a low-tax laissez-faire Eden Pakistan?

Nicholas Kristof, "Our Fantasy Nation?" New York Times June 5, 2011, p. WK9.

So long as we continue to ride in the back seat and say nothing to the driver, we can't really complain about where we're headed or our destination once we get there.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

This is What Democracy Looks Like

June 3, 2011, 9:30 a.m.

Local Media Win 11-Foot Pole Award
(for stories they wouldn't want to touch with a 10-foot pole)

So far as I can tell, this is the only place you're going to learn about a major civic protest on the Iowa City Ped Mall yesterday -- blocks from the offices of local media. [Correction 10:50 a.m.: Although I have still seen nothing in hard copy print, it has been brought to my attention that the Daily Iowan, which is only published online at this time -- and thus a kind of a fellow blogger -- did post a story last evening: Ian Schmit, "Activists, union protest Wells Fargo," Online Daily Iowan, June 2, 2011.]

Here's the unutilized news release, along with some iPhone photos I took of the events:

David Goodner, Iowa CCI. 515.282.0484. david [at] iowacci [dot] org
Jim Jacobson, SEIU. 319.341.0112. jim [dot] jacobson [at] seiuiowa [dot] org

Teachers, Nurses, & Seniors Confront Wells Fargo Over Corporate Tax Evasion

SEIU and Iowa CCI members launch “Fight for a Fair Economy – Make Wall Street Pay” campaign with a direct action street protest outside a Wells Fargo branch in downtown Iowa City

Iowa City --

Teachers, nurses, and seniors with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) marched to a Wells Fargo branch in downtown Iowa City today and demanded the big bank pay its fair share of federal taxes as well as disclose its corporate tax returns to prove Wells Fargo pays its fair share of Iowa state taxes.

The group chanted “I-O-W-A/It’s Time to Make Wells Fargo Pay” and “Hey! You! Millionaires! Pay Your Fair Share!” and left the bank after reading a letter addressed to Iowa/Illinois Regional President Scott Johnson over a bullhorn.

The community/union coalition released their evidence against Wells Fargo in a white paper titled “Does Wells Fargo Pay Its Fair Share of Iowa Taxes? A Fight for a Fair Economy – Make Wall Street Pay Report.”

Coalition members also delivered a copy of the white paper to Representative Dave Loebsack’s office.

“Wells Fargo foreclosed on our communities, took $50 billion in bailouts and tax breaks, and owes more than $20 billion in unpaid federal taxes,” Bryson Dean, a retired senior and Iowa CCI member, and Sara Collmann, a Head Start Teacher with SEIU, said in a joint statement. “Wells Fargo needs to start paying its fair share of taxes.”

“We don’t have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem. The money to create good jobs and an economy that works for everybody isn’t in Grandma’s Social Security or Medicare account, it’s not in the lunchboxes of schoolchildren, and it’s not in the back pockets of nurses and teachers. The money is on Wall Street. It’s time to fight for a fair economy and make Wall Street pay.”

Iowa CCI and SEIU members said the state of Iowa can raise more than $100 million in new revenue every year – and the federal government can raise more than $150 billion – by cracking down on corporate tax dodgers, closing corporate tax loopholes, and making big-moneyed corporations pay their fair share.

Amanda Devecka-Rinear, a Make Wall Street Pay organizer with National People’s Action, will deliver a keynote address at an Iowa CCI meeting on Thursday, June 9, at 6:30pm in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library.

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Because Congress Member Loebsack's office could not hold all the protesters, most of the crowd of near-100 constituents remained in the hall. But young children, often overlooked by our elected representatives as a result of children's notorious record of non-voting, could nonetheless peek in through a window to see "what democracy looks like," as they had earlier listened to the grown ups shouting, "This is what democracy looks like."

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

HyVee Joins War on Readers

June 1, 2011, 7:30 a.m.

HyVee's Opening is Newspape's Closing

As if the print newspaper industry didn't have enough problems attracting readers (and thus advertisers) these days, Gannett persists in its effort to drive away the few aging, loyal readers who remain. How? By continuing to use half-pages of newsprint that create a newspaper that is physically impossible to hold and read.

It's not that readers object to advertising. We know it's a necessary source of revenue for the paper, and that it might even help to keep rates to subscribers from going yet even higher. Indeed, there are some readers who even look for the ads rather than immediately pitch them into the recycle bin.

What they are understandably objecting to is this relatively new practice of slicing off a half of the first page of the newspaper, making it physically impossible to hold and read the paper without having it fall apart (since the half-page on top of the front page is now connected to the full page of newsprint that is the back page of the paper).

Something like this could only have been designed by newspaper employees in the advertising department who do not actually read their own paper. They sell, look at, and design the ads, but have never tried to hold the entire paper once so constructed.

Today's Press-Citizen is not the first salvo in Gannett's war on its readers. It is the fourth time we've had to bring this marketing and advertising disaster to the attention of the company's executives -- always to be ignored. The analogies to a company deliberately alienating the very customers its profits depend upon in order to gain very short term sales are hard to find -- aside from the tobacco industry's deliberately killing off its customer base and then searching for "replacement smokers" among our children. Perhaps "killing the goose that laid the golden eggs," or the boss who would "steal the bass drum from his own brass band," or the Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax, come close.

Here are the earlier efforts:

"Newspapers' Zucchini; Gannett Modifies Half-Page Newsprint Ads But Outraged Readers' Protest Continues," April 18, 2011;

"Abusive Advertising; It's Time to Strike Back," April 6, 2011; and

"A Half-Page Newspaper Not Better Than None; Disintegrating Paper Contributing to Disintegrating Industry," September 20, 2010.

Because it is the advertisers who actually make this assault possible, and have the power to stop it, as you'll see from the earlier blogs linked above, we've now moved beyond appeals to management and have taken to identifying the advertisers -- for such use as readers may wish to make of this information. Today's offenders have now been added to the following list of Gannett's "Abusive Advertisers":

The Abusive Advertisers of the Press-Citizen and Des Moines Register
June 1, 2011

Waterfront HyVee

Thomas L. Cardella Associates ("call center")

April 6 and 17, 2011

Stanley Steemer

Lenoch & Cilek/Ace

Emma Goldman Clinic

(and, given even advertisers lack of interest in this abuse,)

Press-Citizen Media

(which was left no option but to buy most of the space from itself)

Des Moines Register

(front section)

Vision 4 Less (back section)

Let us continue to hope this list will shrink, rather than expand, over time.

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