Monday, May 24 Nine Circles of Hell!

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Online “privacy today isn’t what it was a year ago”
PC World
(5/23/10)

Good-Bye to Privacy?

New Yorker Barry Hoggard draws a line in the sand when it comes to online privacy. In May he said farewell to 1251 Facebook friends by deleting his account of four years to protest what he calls the social network’s eroding privacy policies.

“I’m sick of keeping track of my Facebook privacy settings and what boxes I have to check to protect myself,” says Hoggard, a computer programmer. “I don’t have a lot of illusions about online privacy, but Facebook has gone too far,” he says of Facebook’s recent privacy policy changes.

From Facebook to advertisers who may be putting your online identity up for sale to the highest bidder, and to strangers who could track you across town, new ways of using technology and the Internet are making privacy issues a flash point for controversy.

“Privacy today isn’t what it was a year ago,” says (past This is Hell! guest) Jeffrey Chester, director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a nonprofit group that promotes online privacy and free speech. “It wasn’t long ago we were worried about advertisers planting cookies on our PC,” he says. With today’s trends, keeping a handle on your privacy is going to become even harder a year from now, he adds.

What follows are several emerging privacy threats.

BP takes control of Louisiana shore away from local police
Mother Jones
(5/24/10)

“It’s BP’s Oil”

It’s Saturday, May 22nd, a month into the BP spill, and I’ve been trying to get to Elmer’s Island for the past two days. I’ve been stymied at every turn by Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies brought in to supplement the local police force of Grand Isle, a 300-year-old settlement here at the very southern tip of Louisiana. Just seven miles long and so narrow in some spots that you can see from the Gulf side to the inland side, Grand Isle is all new clapboard and vinyl-sided bungalows since Katrina, but still scrappy—population 1,500, octuple that in tourist season. It’s also home to the only route to Elmer’s, a barrier island to the west. I arrived on Thursday with my old University of New Orleans lit prof, John Hazlett; a tandem kayak is strapped to his Toyota Tacoma. At the turn to Elmer’s Island Road, a deputy flags us down. Can’t go to Elmer’s; he’s just “doing what they told me to do.” We continue on to Grand Isle beach, where toddlers splash in the surf. Only after I’ve stepped in a blob of crude do I realize that the sheen on the waves and the blackness covering a little blue heron from the neck down is oil.

The next day, cops drive up and down Grand Isle beach explicitly telling tourists it is still open, just stay out of the water. There are pools of oil on the beach; dolphins crest just offshore …

The blockade to Elmer’s is now four cop cars strong. As we pull up, deputies start bawling us out; all media need to go to the Grand Isle community center, where a “BP Information Center” sign now hangs out front. Grand Isle residents are not amused by the beach closing. Grand Isle residents are not amused by the beach closing. Inside, a couple of Times-Picayune reporters circle BP representative Barbara Martin, who tells them that if they want passage to Elmer they have to get it from another BP flack, Irvin Lipp; Grand Isle beach is closed too, she adds. When we inform the Times-Pic reporters otherwise, she asks Dr. Hazlett if he’s a reporter; he says,  “No.” She says, “Good.” She doesn’t ask me. We tell her that deputies were just yelling at us, and she seems truly upset. For one, she’s married to a Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy. For another, “We don’t need more of a black eye than we already have.”

“But it wasn’t BP that was yelling at us, it was the sheriff’s office,” we say.

“Yeah, I know, but we have…a very strong relationship.”

“What do you mean? You have a lot of sway over the sheriff’s office?”

“Oh yeah.”

“How much?”

“A lot.”

When I tell Barbara I am a reporter, she stalks off and says she’s not talking to me, then comes back and hugs me and says she was just playing. I tell her I don’t understand why I can’t see Elmer’s Island unless I’m escorted by BP. She tells me BP’s in charge because “it’s BP’s oil.”

“But it’s not BP’s land.”

US “reneging on a commitment and a promise that we made to families”
The New York Times
(5/23/10)

Cuts to Child Care Subsidy Thwart More Job Seekers

Despite a substantial increase in federal support for subsidized child care, which has enabled some states to stave off cuts, others have trimmed support, and most have failed to keep pace with rising demand, according to poverty experts and federal officials.

That has left swelling numbers of low-income families struggling to reconcile the demands of work and parenting, just as they confront one of the toughest job markets in decades.

The cuts to subsidized child care challenge the central tenet of the welfare overhaul adopted in 1996, which imposed a five-year lifetime limit on cash assistance. Under the change, low-income parents were forced to give up welfare checks and instead seek paychecks, while being promised support — not least, subsidized child care — that would enable them to work.

Now, in this moment of painful budget cuts, with Arizona and more than a dozen other states placing children eligible for subsidized child care on waiting lists, only two kinds of families are reliably securing aid: those under the supervision of child protective services — which looks after abuse and neglect cases — and those receiving cash assistance …

As the American social safety net absorbs its greatest challenge since the Great Depression, state budget cuts are weakening crucial components. Subsidized child care — financed by federal and state governments — is a conspicuous example.

When President Clinton signed into law the changes he declared would “end welfare as we know it,” he vowed that those losing government checks would gain enough support to enable their transition to the workplace.

“We will protect the guarantees of health care, nutrition and child care, all of which are critical to helping families move from welfare to work,” Mr. Clinton pledged in a radio address that year.

Now, with the jobless rate hovering near double digits and 6.7 million people unemployed for six months or longer, some states are rolling back child care.

“We’re really reneging on a commitment and a promise that we made to families,” said Patty Siegel, executive director of the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network, an advocacy organization. “You can’t expect a family with young children to get on their feet and get jobs without child care” …

“To say that we are in a difficult environment in terms of state budgets would be the understatement of the century,” said Sharon Parrott, an adviser to Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, which administers federal grants to states for child care. “It’s just not possible for the federal government to fill the entire hole, but the Recovery Act has provided critical help.”

Even some architects of the mid-1990s welfare overhaul now assert that low-income families are being denied resources required to enable them to work.

“We’re going the wrong way,” said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who was a Republican Congressional aide and was instrumental in shaping welfare changes. “The direction public policy should move is to provide more of these mothers with subsidies. To tell people that the only way they can get day care is to go on welfare defeats the purpose of the whole thing.”

NATO, US forces expand eastward to within miles of Russia
Eurasia Review
(5/21/10)

U.S. And NATO Accelerate Military Build-Up In Black Sea Region

In the post-Cold War era and especially since 2001 the Pentagon has been steadily shifting emphasis, and moving troops and equipment, from bases in Germany and Italy to Eastern Europe in its drive to the east and the south.

That process was preceded and augmented by the absorption of former Eastern Bloc nations into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization beginning in 1999. In one of the first nations in that category, Poland, the initial contingent of what will be over 100 U.S. troops arrived in the town of Morag this week, as near as 35 miles from Russian territory, as part of a Status of Forces Agreement between Washington and the host country ratified this February.

Also in February, the governments of the Black Sea nations of Romania and Bulgaria confirmed plans for the U.S. to deploy a land-based version of Standard Missile-3 anti-ballistic interceptors on their territory.

The U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Italy, has deployed warships to the Black Sea with an increased frequency over the past few years, visiting and conducting joint drills with the navies of Bulgaria, Romania and Georgia.

Last autumn it was revealed that the Pentagon planned to spend $110 million dollars to upgrade and modernize a base in Bulgaria and another in Romania, two of seven such newly-acquired installations in the two nations.

The air, naval and infantry bases in Bulgaria and Romania have been employed for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and, although not publicly acknowledged, doubtlessly for arming Georgia before, during and since its five-day war with Russia in August of 2008 …

The establishment of U.S. and NATO naval, air and infantry bases and interceptor missile installations in Black Sea nations is the prototype for expansive and permanent military build-ups in Eastern Europe and into former Soviet space, which is being replicated in the Baltic Sea region. An imaginary Iranian threat is the subterfuge employed to justify the presence of U.S. and NATO warplanes, warships, troops, mechanized and airborne units, missile batteries, training centers and radar facilities in the Black Sea and Baltic Sea regions.

Iran does not border either of the two seas and has neither the ability nor any reason to threaten nations that do.

Recent news reports from both sides of the Atlantic speak of a warming of relations between Russia and the United States, between Russia and NATO. If so, Russian political leaders won’t have to extend their hands far to clasp those of their alleged Western friends and allies. They need merely reach across their southwestern and northwestern borders on the Black and Baltic Seas.

Israeli settlers call Palestinian boycott “economic terrorism”
IPS News
(5/20/10)

Palestinian Economic Boycott Hits Israeli Settlers

Israeli settlers are beginning to feel the bite of an economic boycott campaign launched by the Palestinian Authority (PA) against goods produced in the illegal Israeli settlements dotting the occupied West Bank.

“This is economic terrorism,” complained the Yesha Council (YC), an umbrella organisation of municipal councils of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Several international companies have already boycotted illegal settler goods or produce, often sold overseas under false ‘Made in Israel’ labels.

PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad launched an official campaign called House-to-House to rid Palestinian homes and stores of the goods on Tuesday.

This followed PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ new law on Monday banning settlement products in PA-controlled areas.

Abbas’ new law states that anyone who deals in goods produced in the settlements will be imprisoned for 2-5 years and fined up to 15,000 US dollars. Those who import settlement products into the Palestinian territories are threatened with three to six years, fines of up to 3,000 dollars and confiscation of licenses and vehicles.

Syrian President Assad says Obama is failing on Mideast peace
Haaretz
(5/24/10)

Syria: Obama has failed in peace efforts and lost influence in Mideast

Syrian President Bashar Assad said Monday that the United States has lost its influence in the Middle East due to its failure to contribute to regional peace, in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

U.S. President Barack Obama “raised hopes” in the region, said Assad, but has failed to accomplish any significant peace maneuvers.

Assad’s comments came just before Obama was to meet with Lebanon Prime Minister Sa’ad al-Hariri to raise Washington’s concerns about Syria arming Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

The Syrian leader met on Sunday with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Damascus earlier Sunday and urged the West to “break its silence” in the face of Israeli “aggression” in the Middle East.

During their talks, Assad denounced “the ongoing Israeli threats to ignite wars and undermine the stability in the region.”

“The region has changed and the West’s policy in the area is no longer acceptable, keeping silent over Israeli violations is no longer acceptable,” Assad told Kouchner, according to Syria’s official news agency SANA.

“If the West wants security and stability to be established in the Middle East, [it] must start to play an effective role to contain Israel and put an end to its extremist policies,” Assad said.

War on Terror’s “signature wound” is a new brain disease
USA TODAY
(5/23/10)

Two wars produce unique and puzzling brain injuries

What has been called the “signature wound” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan— the mild brain damage troops suffer from a roadside bomb — might be so unique in its destruction that it could be a newly discovered disease, scientists say.

“Most of us in this room would concur that this (blast-induced brain injury) disease … perhaps does require a separate category,” Army Col. Geoffrey Ling, a neurologist, told a roomful of colleagues at a brain-injury convention this year. “It may actually have some unique features to it, which makes it a very interesting new disease.”

Among the new findings: The blast wave causes a more dispersed pattern of brain-cell damage and keeps those cells inflamed for a longer period than occurs with a traditional blow-to-head concussion, according to research posted recently by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. The center’s duties include coordinating traumatic brain injury (TBI) research and clinical care.

Army field studies have shown that more than 10% of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered at least one concussion or brain injury, the vast majority of those from exposure to a homemade bomb or improvised explosive device. Five percent to 15% of mild TBI patients develop lasting problems with concentration, short-term memory, fatigue and chronic headaches.

Court denies Bagram detainees same rights as their Guantanamo counterparts
The Associated Press
(5/21/10)

Appeals court rules against Bagram detainees

Detainees at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan cannot use U.S. courts to challenge their imprisonment the way detainees in Guantanamo Bay have, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The United States is holding the detainees at the military prison on Afghan territory through a cooperative arrangement with Afghanistan, three appeals court judges said in a unanimous decision turning aside the request of a Tunisian and two Yemeni prisoners.

The jurisdiction of the U.S. courts does not extend to foreigners held at Bagram in the Afghan theater of war, added the judges, who said a U.S. district judge should have thrown out the detainees’ petitions.

“While we cannot say that extending our constitutional protections to the detainees would be in any way disruptive of that relationship” with the Afghan government, “neither can we say with certainty what the reaction of the Afghan government would be,” said the opinion written by Judge David Sentelle.

The petitions to the U.S. court system by the three men sought the same right to challenge their indefinite detention that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, won in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Is attorney jailed for 14 months without charges a martyr or a pest?
CNN
(5/24/10)

Ex-lawyer jailed 14 months, but not charged with a crime

Once a dapper Beverly Hills attorney known for his bow tie, Richard Fine has been held in solitary confinement at Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail for 14 months, even though he’s never been charged with a crime.

Fine, a 70-year- old taxpayer’s advocate who once worked for the Department of Justice, is being held for contempt of court.

Superior Court Judge David Yaffe found Fine in contempt after he refused to turn over financial documents and answer questions when ordered to pay an opposing party’s attorney’s fees, according to court documents.

Fine says his contempt order masks the real reason why he’s in jail. He claims he’s a political prisoner.

“I ended up here because I did the one thing no other lawyer in California is willing to do. I took on the corruption of the courts,” Fine said in a jailhouse interview with CNN.

More details on the Special Investigations Unit’s blog

For the last decade, Fine has filed appeal after appeal against Los Angeles County’s Superior Court judges. He says the judges each accept what he calls yearly “bribes” from the county worth $57,000. That’s on top of a $178,789 annual salary, paid by the state. The county calls the extra payments “supplemental benefits” — a way to attract and retain quality judges in a high-cost city.

While the practice of paying supplemental benefits is common in California, most high-cost cities elsewhere don’t hand out these kinds of benefits. Judges in Miami, Chicago and Boston receive no extra county dollars.

Judges in Los Angeles County not only have the highest state salaries in the nation, they also get tens of thousands of dollars in county benefits. These payments, Fine says, mean judges are unlikely to rule against the county when it is involved in a lawsuit.

In the last two fiscal years, Los Angeles County won all but one of the nine trials that went before a judge, according to Steven Estabrook, the county’s litigation cost manager.

“The reason I’m here is the retaliation of the judges,” Fine says. “They figured they’re going to throw me in jail and that way they feel that they can stop me.”

Fine’s decade-long crusade against the judges eventually led to his disbarment last year. Joe Carlucci was the lead prosecutor for the California State Bar. Carlucci says whenever Fine lost a case, he would appeal and argue the judges were corrupt.

“What he ultimately did was to delay proceedings, to level false accusations against judges,” Carlucci says. “All of those lawsuits were found to have been frivolous and meritless” …

The technical term is “coercive confinement” — jail-time until a person follows a judge’s order.

“He’s probably done more time than most burglars, robbers and dope dealers,” says Sterling Norris of the public-interest group Judicial Watch.

Norris says Fine’s confinement has gone on too long.

Norris won a case in 2008 that found county payments to judges unconstitutional. The California Legislature swiftly passed a bill that enabled counties to continue paying the extra benefits.

“I think it’s a lack of judicial integrity to say enough is enough,” Norris says. “We’ve got a man, 70-year-old attorney, in jail for over a year on coercive confinement and that is way beyond the pale. No matter what else he may have done, that is improper.”

Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, calls the length of Fine’s contempt confinement an “anomaly.”

Fine’s jail cell could be used for a more violent offender, Whitmore added. In fact, Los Angeles County’s jails have in recent months released hundreds of inmates before their terms were up due to budget constraints.

Fine took his pencil-and-paper fight from solitary confinement to the U.S Supreme Court, which ruled Monday it would not hear the case. The court offered no explanation.

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Monday, May 24
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