Thursday, January 12, 2012

Guantanamo Bay: Ten Years With No End In Sight

It's been ten years since the infamous military prison, Guantanamo Bay, was opened under the Bush administration and while Obama campaigned in 2008 on the promise he would close the facility within one year; the end is nowhere in sight. 

The anniversary sparked numerous protests around the world including  a three-day hunger strike by the prisoners. In Washington, human-rights groups marched down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Supreme Court. Many protesters wore orange jumpsuits and black hoods, an image that has become synonymous with the prison.

Legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Baher Azmy, said “I know President Obama reiterated his pledge to close Guantanamo, but it’s not clear why we should believe him."

In March of 2011, Obama singed an executive order The Washington Post said "will create a formal system of indefinite detention for those held at the U.S. military camp" and "all but cements Guantanamo Bay's continuing role in the U.S. counter terrorism policy."

Since 2002, 779 suspected terrorists have been held at the military prison and about 600 have been released, most under the Bush administration, with no charges after years of detainment. 

At least 15 minors have been detained, the youngest being 13 at the time of his arrest. The U.S. government admits that 92 percent of those imprisoned were not al-Quaida fighters  and of the 8 deaths, 6 are suspected to have been suicide. 

The American Civil Liberties Union found that "Prisoners were subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions, extreme temperatures and prolonged isolation" and called it a "perverse laboratory" for severe interrogation methods. 

The National Defense Authorization Act has barred the transfer of prisoners for at least a year and places new restrictions on the transfer to foreign countries. Gitmo currently holds 171 prisoners while 89 have been approved for transfer but remain and only 6 have been convicted by a military commission

Ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, said “Between restrictions on transferring detainees to the U.S. and restrictions on transferring them to foreign countries, you’ve got a situation in Guantanamo where once you put people there, there’s nowhere you can send them.”

After threatening to veto the bill, Obama signed the NDAA on New Year's Eve which allows indefinite detainment of American citizens suspected of terrorist activity without trial and requires it of non-citizens. 

Congress is now considering passing the Enemy Expatriation Act which gives the U.S. government the authority to strip anyone suspected of "hostilities against the United States" of their citizenship. 

If passed,  the government can accuse anyone they see fit of being hostile to the United States, strip them of their citizenship and use NDAA to indefinitely detain them; without convicting the accused in a court of law.

The executive director of the National Security Network, Heather Hurlburt, said "Here we are, 10 years after Guantanamo opened, with Osama bin Laden dead, and we see Congress coming anew with this effort to re-militarize the struggle against terrorism."

There have been no steps made towards closing Guantanamo, which spends $150 million on detention operations per year and $70 million on the 89 prisoners that have been cleared for transfer, while the governments authority to indefinitely imprison anyone they wish has been increased. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

NDAA And How The Obama Administration Betrayed America

While on vacation in Hawaii on New Years Eve, Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. Effectively authorizing a colossal $662 billion in military spending and superseding American citizens right to a trial and jury. 

This bill is usually used to designate a budget for the U.S. Department of Defense and has been passed for a consecutive 49 years running. However, this year it has been altered to reinforce the governments authority to indefinitely detain any U.S. citizen suspected of terrorism without a trial.

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, said "President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in U.S. law." 

While there is no single definition for terrorism in the U.S., the State Department defines it as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience." Some may think this does not effect them personally because they could never be suspected of terrorism, but they're wrong. 

You can be suspected of terrorist involvement for anything from having a weeks worth of food storage, paying cash at a hotel, owning a gun, having missing fingers or even for buying a flashlight. 

The Patriot Act already gives the government the right to spy on American citizens; now NDAA gives them the right to detain us permanently and without trial, for any reason they assume to be terrorist activity. Both of these are in direct contradiction with our Constitutional rights as American citizens.

Barack Obama lied when he promised to close Guantanamo Bay, bring home our troops within 16 months, bring an end to the Bush tax cuts and when he promised to veto NDAA.  

After Signing the bill he swore to oppose, Obama had this to say:  "I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation." 

I guess we'll just have to take his word for it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Stop Online Piracy Act Explained

As it stands, our government can only take down domestic sites and only if they intend on going to trial. They must show probable cause the site was used for criminal activity. Protect IP and SOPA would allow sites to be taken down indefinitely, without even the intention of a hearing or a trial. Even with the governments current system, they have improperly barred legitimate sites. The idea of handing the DOJ this kind of power is truly alarming.  

This bill gives the Department of Justice the right to extinguish a domain by convincing a judge it's "primarily dedicated to infringement." The judge is not required to hear the defense of the websites operator. 

Currently, any domestic website that has infringing content has to take it down at the request of the copyright holder. If SOPA and Protect IP pass, copyright holders could go to the web hosting companies and demand they take down the entire site. First Amendment counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, Michael MacLeod-Ball said "The way the bill is set up, if a site has infringing content on it ... their default reaction is going to be to take down the whole site."

This could lead to content screening by hosting companies and prematurely taking down legitimate sites. Deputy Director of the Future of Music Coalition, Casey Rae-Hunter said "It would be a very tragic thing if in the name of protecting artists, we saw the most important platform of our time become the province of just a few companies deciding what is and isn't legitimate expression."

The government would use tampering of the domestic Domain Name System, to shut down these sites. In a letter to congress, 108 law professors said "The Internet's Domain Name System ("DNS") is a foundational building block upon which the Internet has been built and on which its continued functioning critically depends. The Act will have potentially catastrophic consequences for the stability and security of the DNS."

While it's gotten little attention in mainstream media, almost 1,000 registered lobbyists are officially pushing for SOPA. Including the parent companies of Fox News, Fox Business, MSNBC and CNBC. Pointing out support of the bill, Fred Wilson says "Either they don't understand the basic fundamentals of the Internet, or they're just doing this to get the MPAA and the [Recording Industry Association of America] off their backs."

These organizations have castigated internet piracy for years. The RIAA even sued an American 12-year old girl, for piracy, because she downloaded children's music on her parents' computer.

The Motion Picture Association of America ("MPAA") organized the website Creative America, whose goal is to depict SOPA and Protect IP as a job creator. Former Senator Dodd, who is now chairman of the MPAA, said "Behind Hollywood's red-carpet image lays a blue-collar reality. Most of those 2.2 million jobs are held by middle income families and small-business owners, men and women whose names will never appear on a theater marquee, but whose efforts are critical." This number takes credit for 1.6 million catering companies, florists, hardware stores and other industries that do not rely solely on working with Hollywood.

Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and presenter of Protect IP, Pat Leahy's two largest campaign contributors are Disney and Time Warner; according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Senator Al Franken, who has called net neutrality "the most important free speech issue of our time," is a co-sponsor of the bill. Along with Franken, all 22 Democratic Senate co-sponsors have voted to preserve net neutrality in the past.

Public Knowledge co-founder Gigi B. Sohn said "Hollywood is really putting the screws to just about everybody they do business with. Netflix, the Writers Guild -- they're all coming to me and saying, 'Can't you say something good about this? "

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who share's his state with Disney World and Universal Studios, is a co-sponsor. House co-sponsors Elton Gallegy, Mary Bono Mack and Denniss Ross all have significant Hollywood presence in their districts. Another noteworthy fact is that co-sponsors  Steve Chabot, Mike Enzi, Lindsay Graham and Lee Terry receive large percentages of their campaign donations from drug and pharmaceutical companies.

SOPA would prohibit importation of "mislabeled" prescription drugs; a broad provision that would block all Canadian drugs. At the same time, pharmaceutical companies are campaigning to blurr lines between accredited Canadian online pharmacies and the real problem of bogus internet-acquired drugs.

John Clark, the Chief Security Officer of Pfizer pharmaceutical company, says "The major threat to patients in the U.S., however, is the Internet and the many professional-looking websites that promise safe, FDA-approved, branded medicines from countries such as Canada or the U.K."

They funnel cash into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who organized The Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy. The Coalition started and produces videos that link dangerous counterfeit drugs with all Canadian imported drugs.

"Somebody could end up dead. It could be a child next time. It could be your friend, it could be anybody. And they just don't care. They are just after the money. And it has to be stopped." Said a narrator in one video after a friend buys prescription drugs from Canada and dies.

Although purchasing drugs from Canada is illegal, technically, the Food and Drug Administration informally allows it and many states have implemented official Canadian drug importation regimes; under the condition that it's by prescription and for personal use only. Even AARP recommends using the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, to legitimize online pharmacies and save money on prescriptions.

In a section called the "private right of action," the bill gives corporations the power to embargo sites they consider dedicated to infringement and dictate who payment processors and search engines do business with.

Shortly after the bill dropped, 9 tech giants including AOL, Facebook, Google and Twitter, wrote a letter to lawmakers asking them to reject it. The Financial Services Roundtable, which represents the largest banks in the nation, and JP Morgan Chase are asking congress to cast out the bill.

With many corporate sponsors opposing the bill; only Google was invited to the hearing of the Judiciary Committee. At the same time, the FTC is looking into their business practices, the IRS is investigating their tax maneuvering,  the Department of Justice is investigating their obtainment of Motorola Mobility and they recently settled with the DOJ for $500 million; on the charges they accepted ads from online pharmacies who shipped drugs to Americans without prescriptions.

In October, Yahoo publicly withdrew from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of it's ongoing support of the bill. It's rumored that Google may also withdraw from the Chamber but that could be complicated for the company. Google saves $1 billion a year, in taxes, by stashing money in Ireland and the Netherlands but only if they don't bring it back to America. Leaving the Chamber would expose the companies lobbying efforts; like those to allow companies to bring offshore funds back to America at little or no tax.

Powerful companies could have a lot to gain and lose on both sides of this issue and it has certainly amassed plenty of campaign dollars. With an election year coming up, no one will want to support an issue that divides voters and the bill is not likely to come to a vote before the end of next year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Book Burning In Cairo

It pains me to hear that the richest library in Cairo has been decimated by fire. Many experts feel the threat of foreign intervention, under guise of protecting historical sites, is high. The 213 year old Scientific Center was the oldest in Egypt and held over 200,000 rare and irreplaceable maps, manuscripts and books.

Egyptian restorer salvaging burnt and damaged books.

This is a travesty that will never be fully mended while rich historical information is, once again, lost forever.

The library was established in 1798 by Napoleon Bonaparte during the French invasion and named L'Institut d'EgypteThe original manuscript of the "Description de L'Egypte" (Description of Egypt) was destroyed in the blaze along with "irreplaceable maps and historical manuscripts preserved by many generations since the building of the Scientific Center in August 1798 during the French Campaign" says, recently military appointed, Prime Minister Ganzouri.

What's left of ancient document, "Le Description de L'Egypte"

Several Egyptian archaeologists suspect a conspiracy to destroy maps and evidence of Egypt's borders. Professor of archeology Ayman Hassan al-Dashan argues that the military council is either an accomplice to the arson or is incapable of distinguishing protesters from saboteurs.

While the military didn't lift a finger to arrest those involved or attempt to save the building; they took minute by minute photos to capture the chaos.

The firemen arrived very late; enabling time for the fire to engulf the entire building along with all it's irreplaceable collections. Experts warn similar acts of sabotage and the inability to control them will make foreign intervention a likely reality. Ganzouri labeled the tragedy "arson committed by the protesters who portrayed no patriotism in protecting the symbols of the historical civilization of this nation."

 It seems this has all been an effort to demonize protesters, undermine the state and bring about foreign occupation.

At least 10 people were killed although the death toll is still uncertain. Ganzouri denies the use of live ammunition by his forces while 6 of those dead were killed by gunfire. The devastation of these crimes and the events that follow will go down in history. Violence against Arab Spring protesters by military and riot control continues to rise along with the death toll.

Monday, December 19, 2011

American Voters Are Under Attack

The 1% are doing their best to suppress voting rights for low income, minority, student and elderly Americans while nearly half of us are living in poverty. In the last year, Republicans in 23 states have tried to pass restrictive voting laws; many have succeeded.

The Advancement Project determined “States where restrictive laws have already passed represent 63 percent of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency.”

These restrictions include same-day registration, early voting, Sunday voting and even ex-felon voting bans. This is a direct attack on our civil rights. Other attacks in recent years include deceptive practices and voter intimidation.

 Many Eastern states, including here in New York City, use off-duty police officers for ballot security to intimidate voters in minority communities. In Philadelphia, robocalls told voters they would be arrested at the polls if they had any unpaid traffic tickets or were behind on child support payments.There were fliers in Virginia stating Democrats must vote on Wednesday and Republicans on Tuesday.

Students have been told they would not be permitted to vote; if the address doesn't match on their ID and voting registration. In Florida, 4,000 students found their party registration and address had been changed. We have 10,000+ voting systems with different types of poll machines.

Many of these atrocities go unpunished because deceptive practices are not illegal.

We need to wake up to what is happening in our country. These Restrictions are portrayed as a way to combat widespread voter fraud while even 100 years ago we knew it to be a tactic of suppressing votes.The DOJ only found 9 cases of voter fraud last year. GOP lawmaker admits they have no evidence these laws are needed, in Pennsylvania, and they're pushing the bill through anyway. You're 39 times more likely to be struck by lightening than you are to commit this kind of fraud.

The American Civil Liberties Union says "Multiple studies have found that almost all cases of in-person voter 'fraud' are the result of a voter making an honest mistake."

The Brennan Center says 21 million eligible voters do not have a current photo ID. Congressman John Lewis said "a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, [and] minority and low income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process."

Voter turnout has nearly doubled in young people and minorities, in recent years, while the 2010 census reveals a 10% increase in African American and Latino eligible voters. Now in 2011, we are seeing a coordinated attack on voting rights targeting those demographics.

States that have already worked voter ID requirements into their laws:
  • Alabama
  • South Carolina
  • Kansas
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin

On December 10, 2011 thousands marched in New York City to shine a light on billionaire financiers David and Charles Koch. These 'old money' brothers have financed the push for ID laws to further their own agendas. The march started at the offices of Koch Industries and ended at the United Nations.
    One protester, named Brenda Williams, said in an interview with Democracy Now "I come from the State of South Carolina. We are currently fighting the voter ID bill at the level of the Justice Department, mainly because over a quarter of a million people in our state alone will be disenfranchised based on the fact that South Carolina is demanding that all citizens have a government-issued photo identification card before the vote. "

    These laws are not designed by the people, for the people. They are designed by big business, for big business and it is our responsibility not to lay down and let it happen.

    Sunday, December 18, 2011

    U.S. Declares End To The War In Iraq

    The United States military and President Obama announced the official end to the war in Iraq while an estimated 16,000+ private contractors will remain as diplomats in Baghdad. They'll head the biggest United States Embassy in the world; right in the capital of Iraq.

    Defense Secretary Leon Panetta held a flag lowering ceremony in Baghdad and Obama gave a speech to returning troops at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The Iraqi media was denied access to the ceremony in Baghdad completely and very few of it's people were permitted attendance. Both painted the picture of a just cause, a stable Iraq and a reliable government; elected by it's people. In reality, Iraq has the most corrupt government in the world and listening to both figures turned my stomach.

    Panetta: "The mission of an Iraq that could finally govern and secure itself has become real."

    Obama states; at the end of his speech "Unlike the old empires, we don't make these sacrifices for territory or for resources. We do it because it's right."

    The Iraqi constitution permits provincial autonomy, raising longtime sectarian tensions, while The Islamic Republic of Iran holds the power. They are already divided by race and the threat of religious division is high. The backbone of their constitution is the Islamic Sharia while these ancient religious rules were not in place before the war.

    This has led to oppressed Sunni seeking a complete split from the central government and the women are legally worth half a man. 

    There could be as many as 2 million widows in Iraq; it's impossible to take accurate counts because of internal displacement. After twenty years of ongoing war and sanctions, there is an entire generation of illiterate people with no schooling. The people are 99% poor and 1% rich. The cities are in shambles with none of the major buildings rebuilt. The roads are torn up and unsuitable to drive on. The health care system has been destroyed. Women in Fallujah can't bear children without birth defects.

    American soldiers and the Iraqi people are suffering from unknown diseases because of chemical weapons used by the U.S. military. 

    British Petroleum and other major oil companies are operating in Iraq's green zone while the people are not informed of the terms. They hire foreign workers while Iraqi workers are treated poorly and paid significantly less. The country has huge electricity issues with far reaching effects. To say we've made their lives better is a detestable fiction.

    Arab Spring protests in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Jordan, Libya and Yemen, just to name a few, are fighting back against the mass corruption. Here in New York we have Occupy Wall St, that has sparked an international Occupy Movement, with people from all walks of life and corners of the earth. We have a global awakening that history has never seen but we did not go to war "because it's right".