Category: Politics

Japan’s new secrecy law focuses on journalists and free speech

“Abe colour” is an expression occasionally used in Japan’s domestic media. It means those government policies that reflect Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s personal views, and the term relates to his hawkish security policies. Critics claim the secrecy bill passed into law in December 2013 is said to be one such example of “Abe colour”, and it will go into effect this December.

Proper safeguards and oversight bodies were supposed to be included, but critics say that this secrecy law is still far from adequate.

One of the strongest critics of the new law comes from the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, which has asked the government to completely reconsider the law. Yoichi Eto, its representative, told Al Jazeera that “this law simply provides new powers to the government officials. It says that they are authorised to do this or that. But it has nothing to say at all about what officials must not do…

The new Japanese secrecy law also specifically targets journalists. While there is language in the text that supposedly guarantees “normal” journalistic practice, it also says that reporters and others who utilise “inappropriate means” to learn a special secret may be subject to prosecution and up to five years in prison.

What exactly constitutes “inappropriate means” to gather the news? The law is silent on this point, suggesting once again that the government and police will decide for themselves what the law mandates, once they are faced with a specific case.

Japan’s freelance investigative journalists are at particular risk, as the government may not even recognise their status as being part of a legitimate news media…

Yu Terasawa, recently cited by Reporters Without Borders as one of the world’s “100 Information Heroes” – the only person in Japan given such an honor – sees the main purpose of the law as preventing the media from revealing embarrassing information to the public. “The present government has an unusually large number of things that it wants to hide,” Terasawa said.

“This includes issues surrounding the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant as well as, looking forward, possible conflicts with China, Russia, or North Korea…”

Even in the absence of the new secrecy law, the Japanese government’s actual operations are often guarded from public view. Almost every major study of Japan’s mainstream media notes its tendency to shy away from investigative political reporting and to “reveal” to the Japanese public that information simply handed to them by the public relations officials of the various ministries and other government agencies.

As Morton Halperin, former Director of Policy Planning at the US State Department, observed, “It is hard to imagine a country that less needs a secrecy law than Japan.”

I think it’s just another brick in the wall of militarism put in place by the stonemason in the White House. Obama works at what he thinks is his main task – propping up imperial America around the globe. He thinks Japan is a fitting junior partner. After all – they already have experience as part of an Axis.

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Operator of failing nuclear dump gets $1.9 million bonus


Visitors to Carlsbad, New Mexico, in proper summer attire

The contractor that operates the federal government’s underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico received a $1.9 million bonus just five days after an underground truck fire closed the facility.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday that the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Nuclear Waste Partnership the funds based on an “excellent” job performance in maintaining the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad.

Some observers say last February’s fire and the radiation leak that followed nine days later show the contractor failed at its job.

Initial probes by federal regulators into both incidents identified a host of management and safety shortcomings.

The Department of Energy says it is not considering revising or terminating its contract with Nuclear Waste Partnership.

The company has a contract to operate the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant through 2017.

Consistency is the leading mental illness in our government. Time in office, time on the job is considered praiseworthy and a sign of qualification by the Senators and Congress-critters that dole out taxpayer dollars like so many blue ribbons at a hog-calling contest. Quality of work is meaningless.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Project was run badly enough that the chief executive at the site was fired as a result of the equipment fire and, separately, the radiation leak.

There are nations with an honorable civil service, competent, dedicated bureaucrats. The United States just doesn’t happen to be one of them.

Thanks, Mike

Snowden addresses HOPE Conference


Barton Gellman/Getty Images/AP

Edward Snowden, the former U.S. spy agency contractor who leaked details of major U.S. surveillance programs, called on supporters at a hacking conference to spur development of easy-to-use technologies to subvert government surveillance programs around the globe.

Snowden, who addressed conference attendees on Saturday via video link from Moscow, said he intends to devote much of his time to promoting such technologies, including ones that allow people to communicate anonymously and encrypt their messages…

At the HOPE hacking conference, several talks detailed approaches for thwarting government surveillance, including a system known as SecureDrop that is designed to allow people to anonymously leak documents to journalists.

Attorneys with the Electronic Frontier Foundation answered questions about pending litigation with the NSA, including efforts to stop collection of phone records that were disclosed through Snowden’s leaks.

Snowden is seen as a hero by a large segment of the community of hackers attending the HOPE conference [and the nation and the world], which includes computer experts, anti-surveillance activists, artists and other types of hackers.

HOPE in this case stands for Hackers On Planet Earth.

And if you think every kind of government snoop wasn’t doing their best to photogrqph, record and trace everyone at the conference – you’re still living in cloud cuckoo-land — watching Father Knows Best on TV.

Nutball neo-Confederate talk grows louder


a_v_d via Shutterstock/Salon)

A Saturday ago at the annual conference of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal accused President Obama and other Democrats of waging a war against religious liberty and all but openly threatened a violent revolution…“I can sense right now a rebellion brewing amongst these United States,” Jindal said, “where people are ready for a hostile takeover of Washington, D.C., to preserve the American Dream for our children and grandchildren.”

Of course, Jindal’s speech didn’t come out of nowhere. Jindal is notorious as a weather vane, not a leader. So this is a clear sign of the need to take threats of right-wing violence seriously — and to look to its justifications as formulated on the Christian right…

“Something has changed in recent years,” Frederick Clarkson notes, as “disturbing claims are appearing more frequently, more prominently, and in ways that suggest that they are expressions of deeply held beliefs more than provocative political hyperbole.” He also cites “powerful indications in the writings of some Christian right leaders that elements of their movement have lost confidence in the bright political vision of the United States as the once and future Christian Nation — and that they are desperately seeking alternatives.”

Perhaps most ominously, there is a growing convergence of theocratic and neo-Confederate thinking, Clarkson finds…

At least some of the historic culture warriors of the Christian Right seem to be considering an ostensibly unlikely coalition with the Neo-Confederate movement. The coalition would lead their followers in religious and political directions in which violence is as likely as the outcomes are uncertain…

In short, if you think that secession talk has been crazy since President Obama took office, it could get significantly worse. The sort of standoff we saw at the Cliven Bundy ranch could pale in comparison to what a religiously motivated group — certain that God is on their side — might do…

Father C. John McCloskey, a 61-year-old priest in the reactionary Opus Dei order, predicted in 2001, and again in 2012, that conservative Catholics and evangelicals would need to band together in a civil war of secession. The “secession of the ‘Culture of Life’ states,” he predicted, would emphasize “the fundamental issues of the sanctity of marriage, the rights of parents, and the sacredness of human life,” and that the secession would precipitate “a short and bloody civil war” that would break the country into what he calls “the Regional States of America.”

RTFA for more of this collective theocratic silliness. Just in case you think idjits won’t be moved to violence.

Then, just for giggles at the so-called mainstream of the Southern Right, check out these folks who still call themselves Republicans. A poll, released Tuesday, finds that 37 percent of those who supported Chris McDaniel, the Tea Party gasbag in the Mississippi Republican primary runoff would support the Confederate states if there were a second Civil War. Just 38 percent would back the United States, and 25 percent were unsure.

Yup. They’re still out there in the dark somewhere.

Thanks, Mike

Republican makes AIDS, “Gay Agenda” demented campaign issues

As far as hot button issues are concerned, the Republican primary race for governor has been a snooze, with the four candidates steering clear of controversy like gay marriage. But that’s not the case in a couple of legislative primary contests…

In house district 30B in Wright County, Kevin Kasel is challenging Eric Lucero, who won the party’s endorsement, in part, by criticizing incumbent David FitzSimmons’ vote for same sex marriage.

Then there’s Carver County’s house district 47A, where Waconia Mayor Jim Nash is facing off against Norwood Young America businessman Bob Frey, a race in which “sodomy” has become one of the campaign issues…

…When questioned about his position on social issues, Frey added that it “does certainly need to be addressed for what it is. It’s not about the gay agenda but about the science and the financial impact of that agenda. It’s more about sodomy than about pigeonholing a lifestyle.”

Frey then explained his view: “When you have egg and sperm that meet in conception, there’s an enzyme in the front that burns through the egg. The enzyme burns through so the DNA can enter the egg. If the sperm is deposited anally, it’s the enzyme that causes the immune system to fail. That’s why the term is AIDS – acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.”

(This explanation of AIDS has no scientific validity, but it may strike a familiar chord: It is essentially the same one given by Bob’s son, Mike Frey, in testimony given before the House Civil Law Committee last year during the debate over gay marriage.)

Like a lot of nutballs who rely on junk science for part of their ideology, Frey is on record stating that the fossil record proves that dinosaurs have always lived alongside man…in the course of his campaign to have the teaching of evolution removed from school curricula, he also claims the Sun is shrinking at a rate of five feet an hour.

Thanks, Mike

US court overturns Obama’s decision that wind farm is a security risk

wind-farms-US

A US Federal Court has overturned a ruling backing President Barack Obama’s decision to block a Chinese-owned company’s from building four 10MW projects in Oregon.

The US Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia reversed the decision made in October by the Federal District Court, which said Obama followed correct procedure in refusing Ralls Co. permission to build the Oregon projects and forcing the company to sell them.

Ralls Co., which is owned by Chinese firm Sany Electric, sued the US government in 2012 after Obama’s decision. It was the first time since 1990 a US president blocked a foreign business deal.

The president ruled, in 2012, the location of the four projects near the Naval Weapons Systems Training Facility in the US northwest posed a threat to national security

Now, the Federal Court of Appeals has backed Ralls Corp and ordered the company be provided with the evidence the President used to block the application.

The lizard brains in Washington were afraid that airspace used for training naval aviators might somehow be compromised by wind generators producing carbon-free electricity.

Will our nation ever weary of hypocrites and paranoids in charge of our destiny? Populists on the Left and Right wail and whine about foreign investment in the United States as an appropriate alternative to American corporations offshoring jobs whenever and wherever they can save a couple of pennies on the dollar. But, when foreign investors happen to be the wrong political color, when folks roll ashore carrying dollars from the profits they made from your friendly neighborhood capitalist – the Cold War is somehow more appealing to the blivets sitting in air-conditioned DC offices. And, yes, there are other wind farms in the same area also operated by foreigners: one Danish company and another German.

There aren’t a whole boatload of elected officials dedicated to helping us out. Cripes, we can’t even get the leadpants brigade in Congress to ante up the geedus to repair our roads and bridges. But, we’re supposed to trust their history of dedication to job security when they disapprove of clean air from a project owned by the “wrong kind” of furriner.

The FCC loses a half-million online comments on their crap net neutrality proposal

The FCC somehow publicly lost public comments on a petition they were mandated to create. It might not matter, anyway. Telecoms are outlobbying net neutrality advocates 3:1. That’s all that matters in all of American government. But due to one provision, the FCC was at least forced to talk about it.

In April, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed a new rule that would allow for corporations to discriminate against certain kinds of speech on the web. By rule, the commission put the proposal up for public comment.

Yesterday, the FCC’s website somehow lost public access to signatures and public comments for a petition to stop it.

Today, the commission said it was vowing to give those people a chance to file again.

…The spokeswoman also politely asked everyone to “please be assured that the commission … is committed to making sure that everyone trying to submit comments will have their views entered into the record.”

The record — if they can keep the website up and running — will show that almost all of the comments are against the new rules, which shouldn’t be a surprise. As former FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell pointed out today, consumers stand to gain nothing by having increased FCC oversight of the internet.

On the other end of the influence game, telecoms lobbying for the new rules are outspending their opponents 3 to 1. So you know they stand to gain something.

So, the FCC gets to take sides. Who do you think they will side with? Corporations and their paid lobbyists? That is the official lobbyists in addition to the political hacks who build their careers on donations from special business interests.

Or will they come down on the side of you and me?

Don’t hold your breath too long.

43 Republican Senators vote against access to birth control

Welcome to 1965. That was when the Supreme Court ruling in Griswold vs Connecticut legalized the sale and public access to contraceptive devices. The pharmacist at the Orange pharmacy just 5 blocks from my apartment in New Haven was arrested for publicly displaying and selling condoms.

Today’s conservative-dominated Supreme Court probably would have upheld the law and his arrest. Today’s Republicans demonstrate once again their War on Women is more important than separation of Church and State, more important than women having the individual liberty to make choices about reproduction. Welcome to 1865.


Estelle Griswold

Today, Senate Republicans filibustered a bill that would have walked back the recent Supreme Court hearing in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and made sure that contraception was treated no differently from other medications in company insurance policies. The bill, promoted by Washington senator Patty Murray and Colorado senator Mark Udall and called the Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act, would have ensured that for-profit companies that provide health insurance to employees could not deny coverage of specific medications, including birth control. It exempted houses of worship and religiously affiliated nonprofits.

Nonetheless, the bill failed. Only three Republicans crossed party lines to vote for it: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and Mark Kirk of Illinois.

The bill’s defeat isn’t a surprise, but it is indicative of how extreme positions from the long-standing wars over abortion have crept into territory the American public more or less agrees on. Overwhelming majorities of Americans think birth control is morally acceptable, and two-thirds support mandated contraception coverage in health insurance plans. A majority thinks for-profit companies should have to cover contraception even if the company owners have religious objections.

But a bill solidifying those values while maintaining rights for religious groups was just shot down…

Numerous studies show that affordable, accessible contraception significantly lowers abortion rates. When women around the world are able to plan their families, they live longer, their children are healthier, they have fewer abortions, their families make more money and even their local and national economies improve. And family planning doesn’t just reduce abortion rates — it reduces infant mortality rates too.

So why do Republicans want to make it harder and more expensive to get? Because this isn’t about abortion at all. It’s about female sexuality and a conservative hostility toward it. Contraception doesn’t just have social, medical, and economic benefits; it allows women to have sex for pleasure. There are a lot of folks who find that threatening and unpleasant…

…The point of insurance is to help offset health care costs. If employers didn’t have to cover vaccinations or the setting of broken bones or brain surgery, people would still have the legal ability to get to those things, but many people wouldn’t be able to, because the cost would make them inaccessible. The same is true for birth control.

Americans understand that. It’s too bad conservatives in the Senate don’t.

‘Nuff said. Conservative creeps want to turn this country back into the sort of theocratic, bigoted, old-white-male-dominated nation exemplified by today’s Republican Party.

The War on Women is central to that ideology.

Hypocrite-of-the-week screams about unvaccinated migrants – opposes mandatory vaccination


Har!

Last week, Rep. Phil Gingrey wrote a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with a dire warning: Some of the child refugees streaming across the southern border into the United States might carry deadly diseases. “Reports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning,” Gingrey wrote. “Many of the children who are coming across the border also lack basic vaccinations such as those to prevent chicken pox or measles.”

Gingrey’s analysis carried an aura of credibility among conservatives, because, as Judicial Watch noted, the congressman is “also [a] medical doctor.” But his two-page letter is filled with false charges—there’s no evidence that migrants carry Ebola or that they’re less likely to be vaccinated—from an inconvenient messenger: The congressman has himself pushed legislation to discourage some kinds of mandatory vaccinations in the United States.

According to the World Health Organization, Ebola virus has only ever affected humans in sub-Saharan Africa. (It has been found in China and the Philippines, but has never caused an illness, let alone a fatality)…Gingrey’s misdiagnoses aren’t confined to Ebola. As the Texas Observer points out, when it comes to measles, children in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are more likely to be vaccinated than children in the United States. None of those countries have recorded an outbreak of measles in 24 years. Kids in Marin County are more at risk.

And in 2007, he wrote an amendment that would allow parents to block their children from receiving HPV vaccines, which are designed to combat cervical cancer.

Nothing new about today’s Republicans being as ethically corrupt as they are economically ignorant, socially and politically bigoted. Some – obviously including Congress-slime Gingrey – ignore conflicts between their record and their lies.