Congress considers repeal of indefinite detention and torture

Barely two months after President Obama authorized the indefinite detention of Americas, two members of US Congress are asking fellow lawmakers to approve a bill that will repeal a controversial provision of the NDAA.
US President Barack Obama inked the National Defense Authorization Act on New Year’s Eve, essentially allowing the American Armed Forces to indefinitely detain any suspected terrorist, including Americans, without ever bringing them to trial. Though President Obama has spoken out against the act — the very same one he signed — the legislation is currently in effect and allows the US government to grossly strip away rights otherwise guaranteed by the country’s Constitution.
The federal government has already gone to the NDAA to support the continued detention of alleged foreign terrorists, but two members of Congress, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington and Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, are asking other lawmakers in the House and Senate to sign their name on a bill that will make sure anyone — American or not — will be given a fair trial.
“The goal here is to have clarity, first of all, on how these people are handled in the US, and second of all, to reassert the primacy and the importance of our civil justice system,” Smith says of the proposed bill. “It is our contention that our civil justice system absolutely protects us from the threat in this case.”
In addition to holding a position within the US House of Representatives, Congressman Smith is also the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. Both him and Senator Udall proposed their own solutions to the detainment provisions before Congress on Thursday this week.
Although he signed the NDAA into law, President Obama has opposed the own legislation that his administration helped create. Since being authorized last year though, some lawmakers have proposed solutions of their own even before Smith and Udall offered their alternative. Elected officials in the states of Virginia, Washington and Utah have already drafted legislation of their own that reverses the indefinite detention provision, Section 1021 of the NDAA, in their own state. Additionally, Texas congressman and presidential hopeful Ron Paul has offered a bill on his own that would negate the controversial conditions within the act. As none of these laws have yet to be approved, though, Smith and Udall hope that the federal government will give in to increased pressure and pull the plug on their own provision.

Obama signs anti-protest Bill

Only days after clearing Congress, US President Barack Obama signed his name to H.R. 347 on Thursday, officially making it a federal offense to cause a disturbance at certain political events — essentially criminalizing protest in the States.
RT broke the news last month that H.R. 347, the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011, had overwhelmingly passed the US House of Representatives after only three lawmakers voted against it. On Thursday this week, President Obama inked his name to the legislation and authorized the government to start enforcing a law that has many Americans concerned over how the bill could bury the rights to assemble and protest as guaranteed in the US Constitution.
Under H.R. 347, which has more commonly been labeled the Trespass Bill by Congress, knowingly entering a restricted area that is under the jurisdiction of Secret Service protection can garner an arrest. The law is actually only a slight change to earlier legislation that made it an offense to knowingly and willfully commit such a crime. Under the Trespass Bill’s latest language chance, however, someone could end up in law enforcement custody for entering an area that they don’t realize is Secret Service protected and “engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct” or “impede[s] or disrupt[s] the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions.”
The Secret Service serves as the police that protects not just current and former American presidents, but are also dispatched to monitor special events of national significance, a category with a broad cast of qualifiers. In the past, sporting events, state funerals, inaugural addresses and NATO and G-8 Summits have been designated as such by the US Department of Homeland Security, the division that decides when and where the Secret Service are needed outside of their normal coverage.
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund tells the International Business Times that the Trespass Bill in its current form “means it’s easier to prosecute under ‘knowingly,’” instead of both knowingly and willfully, “which is an issue because someone could knowingly enter a restricted but not necessarily realize they are committing a crime.” Speaking with IB Times, Verheyden-Hilliard tries to lay to rest claims that the Constitution will be crippled by the Trespass Bill, but acknowledges that it does indeed allow law enforcement to have added incentive to arrest protesters who could be causing a disturbance.
“[HR 347] has been described as a death knell for the First Amendment, but that isn’t supported by the facts,” Verheyden-Hilliard adds. “This has always been a bad law.”

Mass arrests at Occupy Education protest at California State Capitol

A lengthy standoff between protesters and police in and outside of the California State Capitol Building ended with nearly 70 demonstrators arrested late Monday during an Occupy rally in Sacramento.
A mass protest was waged all day Monday at the headquarters of the California State government, branded under the campaign “Occupy Education.” Demonstrators aligned with the OWS movement, many in particular with the Occupy Sacramento offshoot, were meeting to protest the increasing cost of tuition at state schools.
“We want to show the state government that we care about our education, and we’re not going to leave until they make it a priority,” student Sam Resnick tells the Associated Press in explaining his participation.
For a student finishing the fifth year of schoolwork at a California State University, the cost of tuition today costs nearly double what it was for their first semester. Even for students enrolled in state schools, tuition at Ivy League institutes are often more affordable and classes available on the West Coast are quickly being cut. In the last decade, state tuition for California students has been raised by more than 300 percent.
Crowds of demonstrators including Resnick chanted pleas of “They say cut back, we say fight back” during the hours-long standoff.
The California Highway Patrol reports a total of 68 arrests from Monday, one of the largest tallies spawning from a single protest since winter weather and law enforcement action signaled a plateau in the movement months after demonstrations began in New York’s Zuccotti Park in September 2011; since then, the OWS movement has spread internationally. Students from other California schools, including UC Berkley and Riverside, traveled upwards of hundreds of miles to Sacramento for the protest on Monday.
California Governor Jerry Brown responded to the protests with a written statement, offering sympathy for demonstrators demanding changes in the education system. “The students today are reflecting the frustrations of millions of Californians who have seen their public schools and universities eroded year after year,” wrote Brown, a Democrat. “That’s why it’s imperative that we get more tax revenue this November.”

Congress Approved H.R. 347 Could Make Most Forms of Protest Illegal

Posted by Good German on March 6, 2012

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” —President John F. Kennedy

Tim McCown reports on the Examiner:

On Ron Paul’s website it was duly noted that H.R. 347 could make the First Amendment illegal. No one is really covering this bill and the major media call it non-controversial. The innocent sounding bill titled The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 was passed Tuesday with only three dissenting votes including Ron Paul, and passed unanimously in the Senate. This bill dubbed the Anti-Occupy law was passed without one single Democrat speaking up for the First Amendment.

Once this Bill is signed into law some including Ron Paul believe it will make it a felony to exercise your first Amendment rights of Free Speech. Several of those commenting opined that the nearly unanimous vote proves that despite all the posturing both parties stand shoulder to shoulder in their defense of the greed and entitlement of the 1% from the rest of us. When you couple this with the indefinite detention of Americans in the National Defense Authorization Act it is clear that Obama is part of a ruling corporate oligarchy and is surely no Progressive.

Read more here.

Senator asks FTC to investigate Apple, Google over user data uploading

By Jacqui Cheng | Published about 12 hours ago

The Federal Trade Commission is once again being asked to investigate Apple and Google, this time over the ability of third parties to gather and upload photos and address book contacts without the user’s consent. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) is urging the FTC to look into the two companies’ privacy policies and behaviors when it comes to private user information.

Schumer cited several recent mainstream reports in his request to the FTC—reports that highlighted how third-party developers on both iOS and Android can access and upload an entire photo library or contact list to a remote server without the user’s knowledge or consent. Many apps do ask for permission for some level of access, but they often don’t make it clear that the information might then be uploaded—potentially over an insecure connection and placed on a potentially insecure server, at that. Users are often led to believe that their data is merely being used locally (and temporarily) by the apps in question.

“These uses go well beyond what a reasonable user understands himself to be consenting to when he allows an app to access data on the phone for purposes of the app’s functionality,” Schumer said in his letter. “[S]martphone makers should be required to put in place safety measures to ensure third party applications are not able to violate a user’s personal privacy by stealing photographs or data that the user did not consciously decide to make public.”

The Senator’s inquiry comes just weeks after two US House members sent a joint letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook over essentially the same topic, demanding to know where Apple’s iOS app developer policies stand when it comes to privacy. The same day, Apple issued a statement saying that it planned to issue a software update soon that “will require explicit user approval” for apps to access contact data, and a source later claimed the same fix would apply to photos. With an Apple media event looming this week and the possibility of a public release of iOS 5.1, those updates may end up on users’ phones sooner than later.

Google, for its part, is maintaining its current stance on allowing access to information stored on Android devices, but says it’s considering adding something that would require user permission first.

Goodbye, First Amendment: ‘Trespass Bill’ will make protest illegal

The House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday that outlaws protests in instances where some government officials are nearby, whether or not you even know it.

The US House of Representatives voted 388-to-3 in favor of H.R. 347 late Monday, a bill which is being dubbed the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. In the bill, Congress officially makes it illegal to trespass on the grounds of the White House, which, on the surface, seems not just harmless and necessary, but somewhat shocking that such a rule isn’t already on the books. The wording in the bill, however, extends to allow the government to go after much more than tourists that transverse the wrought iron White House fence.

Under the act, the government is also given the power to bring charges against Americans engaged in political protest anywhere in the country.

Under current law, White House trespassers are prosecuted under a local ordinance, a Washington, DC legislation that can bring misdemeanor charges for anyone trying to get close to the president without authorization. Under H.R. 347, a federal law will formally be applied to such instances, but will also allow the government to bring charges to protesters, demonstrators and activists at political events and other outings across America.

The new legislation allows prosecutors to charge anyone who enters a building without permission or with the intent to disrupt a government function with a federal offense if Secret Service is on the scene, but the law stretches to include not just the president’s palatial Pennsylvania Avenue home. Under the law, any building or grounds where the president is visiting — even temporarily — is covered, as is any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.”

It’s not just the president who would be spared from protesters, either.

Covered under the bill is any person protected by the Secret Service. Although such protection isn’t extended to just everybody, making it a federal offense to even accidently disrupt an event attended by a person with such status essentially crushes whatever currently remains of the right to assemble and peacefully protest.

Hours after the act passed, presidential candidate Rick Santorum was granted Secret Service protection. For the American protester, this indeed means that glitter-bombing the former Pennsylvania senator is officially a very big no-no, but it doesn’t stop with just him. Santorum’s coverage under the Secret Service began on Tuesday, but fellow GOP hopeful Mitt Romney has already been receiving such security. A campaign aide who asked not to be identified confirmed last week to CBS News that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has sought Secret Service protection as well. Even former contender Herman Cain received the armed protection treatment when he was still in the running for the Republican Party nod.

In the text of the act, the law is allowed to be used against anyone who knowingly enters or remains in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so, but those grounds are considered any area where someone — rather it’s President Obama, Senator Santorum or Governor Romney — will be temporarily visiting, whether or not the public is even made aware. Entering such a facility is thus outlawed, as is disrupting the orderly conduct of “official functions,” engaging in disorderly conduct “within such proximity to” the event or acting violent to anyone, anywhere near the premises. Under that verbiage, that means a peaceful protest outside a candidate’s concession speech would be a federal offense, but those occurrences covered as special event of national significance don’t just stop there, either. And neither does the list of covered persons that receive protection.

Disgraced Judge Said He Was Targeted for Investigation After Ruling Against Halliburton

Monday 27 February 2012
by: Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report

Samuel Kent, the disgraced former Texas federal judge who resigned in 2009 after receiving a 33-month sentence for lying to investigators and sexual abusing two employees, told a senior analyst for the private intelligence firm Stratfor that he believes the Justice Department may have targeted him after he ruled against Halliburton in a “heavy case,” according to an email leaked by WikiLeaks.

In an email to her colleagues, Stratfor senior Eurasia analystLauren Goodrich describes a conversation she had with Kentover lunch in 2009. Here’s a look at part of the email:

For those who haven’t followed this, [Kent] was found guilty on perjury & sexual misconduct. Yes, he slept with those two women, but it was consensual. Actually, they were old affairs and long over.

What Sam said was that “isn’t is strange that the Justice Department begins sniffing around for dirt to throw at me just weeks after I ruled a heavy case against Halliburton. Then a small set of affairs turn into an untrue situation and then spun up into an unprecedented case against a Federal Judge.”

Of course, I told him he was nuts to rule anything against Halliburton.

I also told him that this sounds like a John Grisham plotline.

The Justice Department launched a criminal investigation on Kent in 2007 after a case worker accused him of sexual assault. In 2009, Kent pled guilty to lying to investigators and, as part of the plea agreement, acknowledged that he had non-consensual sexual contact with two female employees. Congress impeached Kent, but President Obama later accepted his resignation.

The email is included in WikiLeaks latest document dump – a trove of internal emails from the global geo-political analysis firm Stratfor, an intelligence agency hired by big corporations and government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security. Other emails reveal that Stratfor has kept tabs on anti-corporate activists groups for corporations such as Coca-Cola and Dow Chemical.

It remains unclear as to what case Kent was referring. In November 2007, Kent was the presiding judge over a lawsuit filed by the US government against Halliburton and other companies over nuclear waste contamination, but the case was later assigned to another judge, according to

Wired magazine has confirmed that the hacktivist collectiveAnonymous took the emails from Stratfor and handed the emails over to WikiLeaks, which the Anonymous has defendedin the past.

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Obama Calls Upon Congress To Pass ‘Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights’



The White House on Thursday released a report outlining the Obama Administration’s goals for protecting consumer privacy as more and more of our personal lives end up online.

“Never has privacy been more important than today, in the age of the Internet, the World Wide Web and smart phones,” President Obama wrote in a statement at the beginning of the report.

The report calls upon Congress to pass a “Consumer Privacy of Bill of Rights,” going on to outline just what the White House wants to see in such legislation — 7 tenets, to be specific: Individual control, transparency, respect for context, security, access and accuracy, focused collection and accountability.

As for who should enforce the bill, the report is abundantly clear that the Administration wants to “strengthen” the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and give it the primary responsibility, and power, to watch the companies watching us.

The report also calls upon industry leaders to implement their own practices in line with the “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights,” saying that the FTC will be watching, and that the agency will not hesitate to take action against companies found to be violating consumer privacy.

The FTC has notably already been doing this, going after high-profile targets Google andFacebook in recent years, finding both companies to have failed to give consumers adequate tools to protect privacy, and making each one agree to a similar settlement to undergo 20 years of privacy audits.

Indeed, although Google and Facebook aren’t named specifically in the report, it’s likely they are high on the White House’s list for companies that should be leading the way on this new policy.

Obama Offers to Cut Corporate Tax Rate to 28%

Published: February 22, 2012

WASHINGTON — President Obama will ask Congress to scrub the corporate tax code of dozens of loopholes and subsidies to reduce the top rate to 28 percent, down from 35 percent, while giving preferences to manufacturers that would set their maximum effective rate at 25 percent, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary.

Mr. Obama also would establish a minimum tax on multinational corporations’ foreign earnings, the official said, to discourage “accounting games to shift profits abroad” or actual relocation of production overseas.

With the framework for changes that the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, will outline on Wednesday, Mr. Obama will enter an election-year debate with Republicans in Congress and in the presidential race who seek even lower taxes for businesses. But an overhaul of the corporate code is unlikely this year, given that political backdrop and the complexity of an undertaking that would generate a lobbying frenzy as businesses vie to defend old tax breaks or win new ones.

The announcement comes two days before Mitt Romney, a Republican candidate for president, is expected to expand on his economic platform in Detroit.

The administration plan to revamp a corporate code that is widely derided as inefficient and anticompetitive has been in the works at Treasury for two years, and is a priority of Mr. Geithner. Yet he has been preoccupied with crisis management, and is unlikely to see the project through since he plans to leave office after this year.

The proposed overhaul “will help level the playing field for businesses and allow the government to collect needed revenue while promoting economic growth,” Mr. Geithner told a Congressional committee last week, without details.

Republicans and business groups complain that the 35 percent corporate tax rate is among the highest in the world, leaving American companies at a competitive disadvantage. They typically seek a 25 percent rate, with many of them saying that the current tax breaks should be kept in place as well.

Nonpartisan tax analysts consistently find that corporations here on average pay just slightly more than their competitors in other developed countries after exploiting the many tax breaks and loopholes. Recent news accounts have highlighted the low effective ratespaid by companies like Google, Boeing and General Electric.

One analysis concluded that 115 of the 500 companies in the Standard and Poor’s stock index paid a total corporate tax rate — federal and otherwise — of less than 20 percent over a five-year period. A study by the Government Accountability Office in 2008 found that 55 percent of American companies paid no federal income taxes during at least one year in a seven-year period it studied.

ACTA is part of a multi-decade, worldwide copyright campaign

By  | Published about 12 hours ago

ACTA is part of a multi-decade, worldwide copyright campaign

The World Intellectual Property Organization is a relatively representative body. Which might be why the US has been avoiding it.

Last week, we observed that major content companies have enjoyed a steady drumbeat of victories in Congress and the courts over the last two decades. The lobbying and litigation campaigns that produced these results have a counterpart in the executive branch. At the urging of major copyright holders, the Obama administration has been working to export restrictive American copyright laws abroad. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is just the most visible component of this ambitious and long-running project.

Ars Technica recently talked to Michael Geist, a legal scholar at the University of Ottawa, about this effort. He told us that rather than making their arguments at the World Intellectual Property Organization, where they would be subject to serious public scrutiny, the US and other supporters of more restrictive copyright law have increasingly focused on pushing their agenda in alternative venues, such as pending trade deals, where negotiations are secret and critics are excluded.

The growing opposition to ACTA in Europe suggests this strategy of secrecy may have backfired. But the US is not giving up. It has already begun work on its next secret agreement, ealled the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Geist told Ars that restoring balance to copyright law will require reformers to be as determined as their opponents have been. He said that donating to public interest groups that focus on international copyright issues is the best way to make sure that the public interest is well-represented.

[read more]