Archives for category: Terrorism

Andrew Cuomo, thwarted in his desire to avoid a Democratic primary next month and still smarting from criticism over his questionable handling of endemic state corruption, decided to take his first trip outside the country as governor.

He went to Israel, to voice his support for that country’s “right to defend itself.”

Cuomo Meets Netanyahu
Tough guys: Cuomo Meets Netanyahu. Photo: Rina Castelnuovo for NY Times.

As the New York Times pointed out, Cuomo is just one of a number of U.S. politicians hastening to score political points back home by traveling to Israel to show support. Israel may increasingly be a pariah on the world stage, but a majority of Americans continue to support the country regardless of how many war crimes it commits.

Did I say “war crimes?” Indeed I did. Indiscriminate slaughter of civilians qualifies, and Israel has done nothing but ratchet up its disproportionate use of force as the years go by. Yes, the country has a right to defend itself. But killing 1,900 Palestinians, nearly half of those civilians, while losing 60 soldiers (and 3 civilians) is not defense—it is a powerful, lopsided and unjustified offense. And the enormous number of Palestinian deaths is only part of Israel’s savagery; the widespread destruction of homes, property and facilities will cripple life in Gaza for a long time to come. Life that Israel’s “peacetime” policies already render exceedingly hard.

To say Israel’s actions can be blamed on Hamas (as Cuomo and Hillary Clinton have done) is to excuse the inexcusable. If Hamas has militants and equipment within a civilian population—a civilian population packed into a small sliver of land— does Israel then have the moral right to obliterate that civilian population? The U.N. and most of Europe do not think so, but America apparently still does.

You’re ever the diplomat, Andy.

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.

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.

It’s been nearly a month since my last post, and I’ll admit to a certain ennui regarding local politics. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Nationally, though, political events have been hugely and historically significant, from the government’s illegal spying on virtually all its citizens to the rollback of the core of the Voting Rights Act to another step forward for gay rights. The country’s political culture is in turmoil, and more polarized than ever.

The revelations of Edward Snowden have brought strange alliances together, though. I find myself in agreement with many libertarians concerning the dangers and illegality of government spying, along with a number of other progressives.

All of this is by way of a lead-in to our upcoming holiday of national independence. In many ways, the U.S. is still a good place to live—for some of us, at least. What will you be celebrating this Fourth of July? Or will you be celebrating at all?

The following story is true.

A few years years back, I was walking two large dogs on a rural road in Greene County, not far from my home. They were newly arrived rescue dogs, and they were alarmed by vehicles on the road—the breed is trained to guard, and they saw the vehicles as threats. Whenever one would come by, the animals would pull and lunge. Since they each weighed 120 pounds or so, controlling them was something of an effort.

A red pickup truck went by, going uphill. The dogs behaved predictably, and I struggled to get them back into walking mode. Two minutes later, the same vehicle returned, going downhill. This pissed me off, and I gave its driver the finger. He backed up to ask “what my problem was,” and a “conversation” ensued.

I pointed out that he had traversed the same space twice within a couple of minutes, and asked him if this was part of his entertainment routine, driving back and forth on a country road. He replied that he had gone to see a friend, who wasn’t home. I asked if he had ever tried using a telephone. And so on and so forth.

Now this was a big guy, but with the curious, high-pitched, whiny voice that many of Greene County’s “native” men seem to possess. He did not seem like the sharpest knife in the drawer. I asked him if he had a rifle in his truck, just to see if he conformed to the stereotype. “Yes I do,” he said proudly. “And if you don’t like hunting, why don’t you go back where you came from?” He pointed out that his “daddy” and his “daddy’s daddy” had been hunters.

Several days later, I was walking the dogs again, this time with my wife, when this guy—let’s call him Joe Moron—came by again. This time he feinted toward my wife and her dog with his pickup. We followed him to a neighbor’s house, this particular neighbor being another proud Greene County native. Further words ensued. When my wife noted that he had come close to hitting one of our dogs with his truck, Mr. Moron noted that “next time I will.” I told him that if he ever hurt my wife or one of our dogs, I would kill him. This was both a rhetorical commonplace and not; I was very angry. What I envisioned at the moment was a fistfight in which I left him bloody on the ground, even though he had 50 pounds on me and was a good 20 years younger.

“Oh, I’ll remember that,” was his response.

Fast forward a week or so. We’re out with the dogs again, about 25 feet from the entrance to our driveway, when we find two dead coyotes. They had been shot and dumped there, a crude and savage message. The following week, another pair of coyotes turned up dead on an adjacent road, where the original dog-walking incident took place. My wife and I found this upsetting, of course, but not really alarming, as we didn’t believe Moron had the personal daring or the intellectual wherewithal to actually harm us or our dogs.

We did feel bad for the coyotes, though. Four of them were needlessly shot, simply to make some redneck’s inchoate “point”. Another neighbor, a sensitive, intelligent woman (and a non-native), was terribly upset, and she put up a sign accusing the coyotes’ killer of moral depravity and cowardice. She was right, of course.

OK—what is the point of this rambling anecdote, you may ask?

Simply this: many people own guns who shouldn’t. Stupid people. Uneducated people. Violent people. People not fully in control of their thoughts or emotions. A right-wing Supreme Court has decreed it is their right to do so. But New York State has recently taken steps to disagree with that catastrophic decision, and to restore some balance to the questions of gun ownership and gun control.

The state didn’t go far enough, in my opinion. But at least it’s a start.

Mitt Romney, throughout the primary season, was viewed as the stable (if unexciting) Republican candidate. Now, after his ill-considered and inaccurate remarks on the crisis in Libya, that judgment seems premature.

On September 11, a day that was supposed to be free of political campaigning, Romney simply could not restrain himself. That evening, upon learning that an American official had been killed in Libya, Romney lurched into attack mode, claiming that Obama had apologized for “hurting religious feelings” and had sympathized with and tried to appease Islamic extremists. Romney was reacting to a statement that had been issued by the American embassy in Cairo.

Romney went on to accuse the president of “sympathizing with those who waged the attacks.” In doing so, he demonstrated a craven willingness to score political points at any cost, even in the face of a serious foreign policy crisis. He also demonstrated an alarming lack of judgment, considering that the embassy statement he condemned was issued several hours before any violence occurred. He got the chronology wrong, but charged ahead anyway.

This is the antithesis of presidential leadership. In times of crisis, it’s the president’s job to get the facts straight, rally the American people and articulate our shared values to chart a path forward, based on real-world considerations. Instead, Romney misread the facts, lied about the president’s motivation and actions, and attempted to score cheap partisan points with his base.

Sadly, Romney’s unstable performance in the face of this overseas crisis was only the latest in a long string of amateurish, misguided or bungled foreign policy pronouncements:

• He says our #1 geopolitical foe is Russia. Not Islamic terrorists, but Russia. He might as well have said “Soviet Union”—the world has changed a great deal since the Cold War ended, but Romney’s international outlook has not kept pace.
• A senior Romney advisor was quoted as saying “real Americans” don’t care about foreign policy.
• In his convention acceptance speech, Romney forgot to note we have troops serving in Afghanistan.
• When touring overseas as a presidential candidate, Romney’s most striking headlines were garnered by insulting the British, in claiming they weren’t ready to host the Olympics.

Romney’s erroneous remarks have been roundly and deservedly condemned. Andrew Sullivan, writing in the Daily Beast, says this episode shows Romney and his advisors are “unfit for government”. Joan Walsh, in Salon, wrote this: “Mitt Romney, flushed and shifty-eyed, stepped to a podium Wednesday morning with a chance to disavow the despicable late-night attack his campaign launched on President Obama. Instead he intensified it, and that’s why he’ll never be president.”

On Wednesday morning, instead of reconsidering, Romney renewed his attack on Obama, as Ms. Walsh notes above. “The statement that came from the administration was a statement akin to an apology,” he said.

In Britain, where the successful Summer Olympics recently concluded, the Guardian wrote: “Many senior Republicans greeted the renewed attack with horror, briefing reporters that Romney had made a catastrophic error of judgment that could have fatal consequences for his election campaign.”

When President Obama finally took time to respond to Romney’s misguided attacks, he said “You know, Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later.”

“I think most Americans, Democrats or Republicans, understand that there are times when we set politics aside, and one of those is when we’ve got a direct threat to American personnel overseas,” Obama said.

That is leadership. President Obama has it. Mitt Romney falls disastrously short.

Julian Schreibman held another “meet & greet” this past Sunday, at the Brik Gallery on Main Street in Catskill. It was an apt setting—Main Street had rebounded and was doing fairly well prior to the financial crisis; now it is a collection of largely empty storefronts where businesses, restaurants and galleries used to be (including Brik). This made Main Street an ideal setting for the recent, innovative “Wall Street to Main Street” exhibition put on by the Greene County Council on the Arts in collaboration with the artistic wing of Occupy Wall Street. Many of the window displays from that recently concluded exhibition remain, as the photo below demonstrates.

The Writing's on the Wall (or Window)
The Writing’s on the Wall (or Window)
Photo: John P. O’Grady

Mr. Schreibman spoke movingly, as though inspired by the reduced state of the street outside. He railed against America’s growing economic inequality, and vowed to do everything he could to address it. He also:

  • Spoke in favor of the DREAM Act
  • Firmly renounced fracking as bad for New York
  • Emphatically renounced policies of torture and rendition in America’s endless wars (this, in reply to an inquiry about his CIA background, which had nothing to do with field activities)
  • Explained how grateful he was for the help he received in getting a good (Yale) education, and described his belief that every American should be entitled to a chance at the same opportunities he had
  • Denounced our current Republican Congressman for voting against the interests of the 19th District
  • Announced strong support for new policies to stimulate economic growth in our region, including support for family farms and a strategic rural broadband initiative

It was another strong performance by a candidate whose appeal only continues to grow.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 60 other followers