Archives for category: Justice

It was Ghandi who said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” By this standard, America has a long way to go. People without financial, intellectual or emotional resources do not fare well in this country. And animals, who cannot speak for themselves, are abused with appalling frequency.

Buster’s Law dates from 1999, when a teenager soaked a Schenectady house cat named Buster in kerosene and burned him alive. The law elevated animal abuse to a felony offense, punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Both punishments seem far too lenient for someone who would deliberately inflict such suffering. Still, making animal abuse a felony does represent a step forward.

Now State Assembly Members Didi Barrett (D–106) and Jim Tedisco (R–112) are leading an effort to create a registry of convicted animal abusers under Buster’s Law. The statewide registry would be available to law enforcement, district attorney’s offices, humane societies and animal welfare and rescue organizations. Convicted animal abusers on the registry would be legally prohibited from keeping pets. In addition, animal abusers would have to undergo a mandatory psychiatric evaluation and register annually until a court declares they are “fit” to care for animals, based on psychiatric test results.


Photo: didibarrett.com.

This addition to Buster’s Law should be of some help in reducing animal abuse in our state. It would do nothing to address the crimes of factory farming—which continue to reflect poorly on our country’s lack of empathy for “lesser” creatures—but it would at least make it less likely for a truly sick person to be able to kill or torture household pets repeatedly. And that is definitely worth pursuing.

Today, February 11, is The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance. I’ll leave it to you to visit the link and contact your elected officials (Congressman Gibson will likely be receptive). Many people and organizations are behind this first drive to pass the USA Freedom Act and implement other reforms to reign in NSA spying.

What I’d like to do in this post is give you a brief outline of how to do a better job of protecting your privacy online.

First, a word of warning: there is currently no foolproof way to guarantee your privacy, online or anywhere else. But a lot of talented people are working to change that, and I think we can look forward to better privacy safeguards down the road. I hope we can, anyway.

The Fundamentals

It makes a difference which operating system you use. Windows is far and away the most vulnerable, but both Microsoft and Apple have likely cooperated with the NSA despite their official denials. I’d trust OS X over Windows, but the open source Linux is safer than either.

I’m sure most of you aren’t going to switch to Linux to gain increased privacy online—there are a fair number of technical hurdles involved for ordinary users. That being the case, you need to pay attention to the software you use.

Open source software is safer than proprietary software. This is true for the simple reason that anyone can view the code. Therefore, you should use open source apps whenever possible.

Internet Browsing Software

Firefox is the only major open source browser. It is safer than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Google’s Chrome or Apple’s Safari. It is safer still if you use the HTTPS Everywhere extension, which encrypts connections to many sites. Still, even with Firefox, your browsing isn’t truly safe.

For genuinely safe browsing, use the Tor Browser Bundle. Tor software hides your location and prevents anyone from seeing your web travels or logging your web searches. The browser itself is based on an enhanced version of Firefox. The Tor Browser Bundle is easy to install, easy to use and available for all platforms. Even today, it should protect your browsing from the NSA.

Email Software

Currently, email—like chat or any social network—is pretty much a lost cause. It’s not safe, period. If you want to have minimal protection, then use the open source Thunderbird (from Mozilla, like Firefox) in conjunction with GnuPG encryption (Thunderbird has a plugin to enable this). But real security is down the road a ways, in the form of projects like Dark Mail.

The Cloud

Like Dropbox? So do I—but it and every other cloud storage provider has been targeted by the NSA. A safer alternative may be BitTorrent Sync, currently in beta. Because this service doesn’t store your files on a company-controlled server (or any server, for that matter), your data should theoretically be safer.

Bear in mind, though, that the NSA has succeeded in shipping computers from name-brand manufacturers with secret radio transmitters inside. These machines are compromised even if they never connect to the Internet. And if the NSA should decide to target you through a back door built into Windows or OS X to install a keylogger on your machine, there’s absolutely nothing that can help you. That’s how bad the situation currently is, and why we need serious reforms.

Yesterday’s long-awaited speech by President Obama on government spying and citizens’ privacy rights was largely anticlimactic. Most observers expected superficial, cosmetic “fixes”, and that is precisely what the president delivered. The NSA will basically continue to scoop up whatever it wants, whenever it wants, with very little oversight.

Don’t give up hope, though—Obama’s compromised stance on national security vs. privacy rights is unlikely to be the last word.

As Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, put it: “Now it’s up to the courts, Congress, and the public to ensure that real reform happens, including stopping all bulk surveillance—not just telephone records collection.”


NSA: Eyes and Ears Everywhere. Graphic: Wikipedia.

Some groups were more critical still. Steven Hawkins, the executive director of Amnesty International, said Obama’s remarks would be remembered as “music on the Titanic”. Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, added that the government “is engaging in a textbook example of an ‘unreasonable search’ that violates the constitution”.

There’s already action in the works to go further toward genuine reform. The USA Freedom Act sounds uncomfortably like the Patriot Act, and in fact it was co-launched by one of the Patriot Act’s authors, Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, together with Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Sensenbrenner has had grave second thoughts about the way the Patriot Act turned out, and the USA Freedom Act is intended to counter some of the earlier bill’s worst effects. 120 congressmen have already signed on, including our local Congressman Chris Gibson.

There are other powerful forces lined up against NSA overreach as well. One is the Reform Government Surveillance group founded by some of technology’s biggest companies, including Apple, Google and Microsoft. They want to undue the damage that NSA spying revelations have done to American business interests abroad, which has been substantial.

The NSA also has powerful allies, though, and true reform will not be easy. But I believe we can go much further than the president suggested yesterday. I work in the technology sector, and I’ll outline some personal steps you can take to protect your individual privacy in a future post.

The new year is nearly upon us—what to expect is anyone’s guess, but what we should strive for is increasingly clear. Broadly, we need more equality, greater justice and a more peaceful, sustainable world. Here is an excellent outline of some of the specifics, courtesy of Senator Bernie Sanders from neighboring Vermont.

Dear Thomas,

I want to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very happy new year. I also want to express my gratitude to you for the political support that you have given to me, and for all of your efforts in trying to move our country and the world in the direction of peace, justice and environmental sanity.

As we survey our country at the end of 2013 I don’t have to tell you that the problems facing us are monumental, that the Congress is dysfunctional and that more and more people (especially the young) are, understandably, giving up on the political process. The people are hurting. They look to Washington for help. Nothing is happening.

  • The middle class continues to decline with median family income some $5,000 less than it was in 1999.
  • More Americans, 46.5 million, are now living in poverty than at any time in our nation’s history. Child poverty, at 21.8 percent, is the highest of any major country.
  • Real unemployment is not 7 percent. If one includes those who have given up looking for work and those who want full-time work but are employed part-time, real unemployment is 13.2 percent — and youth unemployment is much higher than that.
  • Most of the new jobs that are being created are part-time work at low wages, but the minimum wage remains at the starvation level of $7.25 per hour.
  • Millions of college students are leaving school deeply in debt, while many others have given up on their dream of a higher education because of the cost.
  • Meanwhile, as tens of millions of Americans struggle to survive economically, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well and corporate profits are at an all-time high. In fact, wealth and income inequality today is greater than at any time since just before the Great Depression. One family, the Walton family with its Wal-Mart fortune, now owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans. In recent years, 95 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.
  • The scientific community has been very clear: Global warming is real, it is already causing massive problems and, if we don’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet we leave to our kids and grandchildren will be less and less habitable.

Clearly, if we are going to save the middle class and protect our planet, we need to change the political dynamics of the nation. We can no longer allow the billionaires and their think tanks or the corporate media to set the agenda. We need to educate, organize and mobilize the working families of our country to stand up for their rights. We need to make government work for all the people, not just the 1 percent.

Before we talk about 2014, let me ask you a favor. Do you know of friends, family or co-workers who might be interested in receiving our email newsletters and updates? If you do, please forward this email and encourage them to sign-up for occasional updates. They can sign-up for our emails by clicking here.

When Congress reconvenes for the 2014 session, here are a few of the issues that I will be focusing on.

WEALTH AND INCOME INEQUALITY: A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much while so many have so little. It is simply not acceptable that the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the financial wealth of the nation, while the bottom 60 percent owns all of 2.3 percent. We need to establish a progressive tax system which asks the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes, and which ends the outrageous loopholes that enable one out of four corporations to pay nothing in federal income taxes.

JOBS: We need to make significant investments in our crumbling infrastructure, in energy efficiency and sustainable energy, in early childhood education and in affordable housing. When we do that, we not only improve the quality of life in our country and combat global warming, we also create millions of decent paying new jobs.

WAGES: We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We should pass the legislation which will soon be on the Senate floor which increases the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, but we must raise that minimum wage even higher in the coming years. We also need to expand our efforts at worker-ownership. Employees will not be sending their jobs to China or Vietnam when they own the places in which they work.

RETIREMENT SECURITY: At a time when only one in five workers in the private sector has a defined benefit pension plan; half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings; and two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for more than half of their income we must expand Social Security and make sure that every American can retire with dignity.

WALL STREET: During the financial crisis, huge Wall Street banks received more than $700 billion in financial aid from the Treasury Department and more than $16 trillion from the Federal Reserve because they were “too big to fail.” Yet today, the largest banks in this country are much bigger than they were before taxpayers bailed them out. It is time to break up these behemoths before they cause another global economic collapse.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM: We are not living in a real democracy when large corporations and a handful of billionaire families can spend unlimited sums of money to elect or defeat candidates. We must expand our efforts to overturn the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision and move this country to public funding of elections.

SOCIAL JUSTICE: While we have made progress in recent years in expanding the rights of minorities, women and gays, these advances are under constant attack from the right wing. If the United States is to become the non-discriminatory society we want it to be, we must fight to protect the rights of all Americans.

CIVIL LIBERTIES: Frankly, the National Security Agency (NSA) and some of the other intelligence agencies are out of control. We cannot talk about America as a “free country” when the government is collecting information on virtually every phone call we make, when they are intercepting our emails and monitoring the websites we visit. Clearly, we need to protect this country from terrorism, but we must do it in a way that does not undermine our constitutional rights.

WAR AND PEACE: With a large deficit and an enormous amount of unmet needs, it is absurd that the United States continues to spend almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. The U.S. must be a leader in the world in nuclear disarmament and efforts toward peace, not in the sale of weapons of destruction.

Let me conclude by once again wishing you a happy and healthy new year — and by asking you to share this email with friends, family and co-workers. They can sign-up for our occasional emails by clicking here.

This is a tough and historical moment in American history. Despair is not an option. Let us stand together as brothers and sisters and fight for the America our people deserve.

Thank you for your continued support.

Sincerely,

Senator Bernie Sanders

To the Senator’s worthy agenda, I would only add this:

GUN VIOLENCE: It’s time we treated gun violence as the public health menace it is. That means real legislative reform and much tougher regulation. This is one of the most, if not the most, politically difficult fights that rational Americans face today, but it is increasingly urgent.

Here’s to a better world in 2014. Happy New Year, everyone.

As I wrote earlier today, it has been one year since the atrocity at Newtown. Since then, some 1,000 people have lost their lives to guns in America every month. It’s time for New York State to stop participating in this insanity.

That’s why BlueInGreene created a petition to The New York State House, The New York State Senate, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, which says:

“Divest New York State’s pension funding from companies that invest in or profit from the gun industry.”

Please click here to sign the petition.

Thank you.

In the immediate aftermath of the Newtown murders, one year ago today, it seemed as if the horror of the crime finally broke through Americans’ collective rationalizations regarding gun violence. But only for a moment.

Some states, including New York, passed laws intended to curtail the violence. Insane protests sprang up at once, as the right frothed and spewed over the trampling of their God-given freedoms. Many more states passed laws relaxing gun controls.

A number of well-meaning groups were formed to address the “problem” (such an inadequate word, in the context) of gun violence in America. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s finest legacy, is the best known. That group recently partnered with another group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America to produce the message shown below. It is the centerpiece of the groups’ plans to “gather at over 50 events in more than 35 states to honor the victims of the tragedy in Newtown.”

As for the residents of Newtown itself, they’ve told the media to stay away. Joe Nocera, writing in today’s New York Times, highlights some of the reasons why.

In the 12 months since Newtown, anywhere from 11,484 to 33,373 people have died from guns in America, depending on who’s counting.

It’s hard to be optimistic.

Bradley Manning’s sentence of 35 years for disclosure of damaging classified U.S. government information is not a punishment that fits his crime. For one thing, it is far greater than the punishment meted out to any other leaker in recent history. For another, the military judge found Manning innocent of the most serious charge against him, “aiding the enemy”. Finally, many of the documents Manning disclosed to WikiLeaks, which has been curiously silent on his sentencing, would have automatically been declassified in 25 years—why should his sentence exceed that time frame?

Bradley Manning
Bradley Manning photo: the Guardian

Set aside the extenuating circumstances—we know that Manning was emotionally disturbed and wrestling with gender/identity issues (the Army knew as well, but did nothing about it). Even given his erratic behavior and state of mind, most rational people who have followed his case conclude that Manning’s motivations were good; that he really felt the American people should be aware of some of the things the government had kept secret (the murder of civilians and journalists, for example). Manning displayed none of the discrimination and finesse of Edward Snowden, who selectively culled damning information of illegal U.S. spying on its own citizens, selectively released it, and managed (so far) to elude the sort of clumsy, disproportionate punishment Manning has received.

The simple fact is, the American people DID deserve to know about the secrets Manning uncovered, just as they deserved to learn what the N.S.A. has been up to, courtesy of Edward Snowden. Both men arguably acted in the best interests of their country. Neither deserves prison time.

It’s said that Manning plans to ask President Obama for a pardon next week. That is very unlikely to happen. But even if Obama does not pardon Manning, history will.

Tonight the House of Representatives votes on a measure to block the NSA from gathering the phone records of innocent Americans. This could be an important step forward for restoring citizens’ protections under the Fourth Amendment, and would be an important landmark in privacy rights. Our U.S. Representative, Chris Gibson, has indicated he is against the NSA’s indiscriminate gathering of phone records. Please call his office—the number is 202-225-5614—and urge him to follow through by voting against the NSA’s blanket phone surveillance.

It’s not often that I or other progressives can find common ground with our conservative Congressman Chris Gibson. I feel he and other “gun rights” supporters have distorted the Second Amendment beyond recognition, for one thing. But on the Fourth Amendment, Congressman Gibson has it exactly right, and he deserves a salute for that.

Gibson has been vocal in criticizing the almost daily revelations of U.S. government spying on its own citizens, generally focused on the National Security Agency. He and 19 other members of Congress recently sent a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller and NSA Director General Keith Alexander, essentially asking them to explain what the hell is going on. The letter has not received a response.

Congressman Gibson is co-sponsoring legislation which would limit the ability of the federal government to collect information on Americans who are not under investigation. The proposed law, known as the LIBERT-E Act, would also require opinions from the FISA courts to be made public. This would be an important step forward. Kudos to Chris Gibson for standing up for our Fourth Amendment rights.

A quick postscript on Edward Snowden
: patriotism works both ways. If, as Congressman Gibson believes, the U.S. government is subverting the Fourth Amendment with its NSA spying programs and if that is in fact a dangerous and wrong thing to do, it then follows that the person who revealed the NSA’s nefarious activity has done a good thing. I’d like to see our Congressman voice his support for Mr. Snowden, as Senator Rand Paul has done. Most of the GOP takes this response instead.

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