Middle of the road, traditional – and solid – defense of a Free Press

No comment. I’m not interested in changing this part of our Constitution – even if the TeaPublicans, neo-cons, Trumpkins and other proto-fascists appear to be headed in that direction. Truth-telling is still a good defense.

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Public outcry over USDA removal of animal welfare documents precedes lawsuits

❝ The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a statement this morning regarding the removal of animal welfare reports from its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website…

Lies and bullshit. When you click through to the article you’ll find exactly what you expect. The 2016 date is correct only because that’s when the USDA bureaucrats owned by puppy mill lobbyists made their most recent try at hiding licensing and inspection info. Before this one. And turned down by Obama.

❝ This morning, Speaking of Research, an international organization that supports the use of animals in scientific labs, also weighed in on the issue. In a blog post, the organization says it has “considerable concerns about the wealth of information that has been removed from the USDA website in the last week.” The post continues, “When information is hidden … the public wonders what is being hidden and why, and researchers must devote even more resources to combatting the public perception that they are not transparent.” The group has uploaded some of USDA’s past reports on its website.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) today put USDA on notice that it intends to use legal tools to force the agency to restore tens of thousands of documents on animal welfare that it removed from its website on Friday.

❝ In this letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, the animal welfare organization reminded the government that under the terms of a 2009 legal settlement with HSUS, USDA had agreed to make public some of the records it has now scrubbed from its public database. HSUS, its lawyers write, “is exercising its rights under [the 2009 settlement] and intends to take further action unless USDA agrees to reconsider this bizarre reversal of the agency’s longstanding policy” of making inspection records and others publicly available.

The animal organization’s letter notes that under the terms of the 2009 settlement, the two parties, HSUS and USDA, now have 30 days to settle their differences. After that, HSUS can ask the court to reopen the lawsuit.

You can look at this coverup as the latest in Trumpublicans unwillingness to allow transparency. Licensing and inspection records are requisite in most publically-funded agencies. In this case, there are state and city agencies that require the access previously available by a click to update their own records on animal care, animal sales.

Trump, like most of today’s Republicans, feels profit takes priority over transparency, honesty, common decency.

The ACLU got $24 million in donations this weekend — response to their courage!


Anthony Romero, ACLU head, on the streets, in the courts, all weekend

❝ In the weeks after the Nov. 8 election, when Donald Trump secured a surprise victory to become president of the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union received so much money in online donations — more than $15 million — that an official with the 100-year-old organization called the flood “unprecedented in our history.”…

…then Trump spent his first week as president signing executive orders and making good on some of his campaign promises, spurring massive protests across the country and the world — about women’s rights, the environment and what Trump calls his “extreme vetting” of travelers to the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim nations…

❝ This weekend alone, the civil liberties group received more than $24 million in online donations from 356,306 people, a spokesman told The Washington Post early Monday morning, a total that supersedes its annual online donations by six times.

In an interview with CNN, the ACLU had a one-word reaction: “Wow.”

Having lived through a couple of attempts to bring fascism to power in the United States, I’m encouraged. Groups like the ACLU are usually a front-row target of lard-brained right-wingers like Trump and Bannon. Civil liberties – and their defenders – are an automatic target of creeps who front themselves as “strong leaders” and other code words for wannabe dictators.

Early days of McCarthyism,there were beaucoup folks with good intentions, civic understanding – and no guts – who would donate “cash only” to an organization of constitutional lawyers willing to fight for preservation of American standards. That folks have more courage – and greater willingness to drop their hard-earned buck$ on the barrel-head to support the fight for freedom is more than encouraging. It bodes well for the continuing battle.

Pic of the day


Click to enlargeAndrew Kelly/Reuters

Iraqi immigrant Hameed Darweesh walks out of JFK with Congressman Jerrold Nadler (L) and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (R) after being released

The whole world is watching. Trump’s official bigotry is halted for a brief while. The Republican Party’s acceptance of official bigotry is halted for a brief while. Congress’ acceptance of official bigotry on behalf of the United States of America – is halted for a brief while.

Creeps like Trump love science — when used for mass surveillance

❝ Nearly every drug you snort, inject, smoke, butt-plug, vaporize or freebase eventually ends up back in the water supply via your excrement. The fish love it—well, maybe not the ones mutating from it. But apparently crabs and trout aren’t the only ones sifting through your waste.

Across the globe, researchers at wastewater treatment plants are testing for psychoactive substances passed by drug users through their feces and urine. The data can be incredibly valuable, letting scientists and law enforcement quickly track drug use trends and identify new substances on the market. It can also measure the impact of drug policy strategies, even highlight which days of the week drug use spikes (cocaine on the weekends, anyone?).

But with this research comes some ethical entanglements. Testing waste could help anticipate the sharp rise in carfentanil or fentanyl overdoses, for example, by detecting the drug in sewage. But the same strategies can be used to stigmatize against certain populations, and as we’ve seen with the War on Drugs in the US, this could have lasting consequences for those communities.

❝ The ability to work upstream to find individual drug users is available to law enforcement, if they choose—for now, such a narrow focus is too costly to be worth it…

In the meantime, it has been suggested police use wastewater data to “guide decisions at strategic and/or operational levels” or “assess the market share held by criminal groups.”

Mr. Holier-than-thou has made it clear he doesn’t approve of legalizing cannabis. His soon-to-be Attorney General is even more backwards prattling 1930’s monologues about weed as a gateway drug. So, keep on eye on what new official government vehicles show up at your local sewer plant. They may be testing for more than coliform bacteria.

Brits’ new Surveillance Law will be a global model – for repression

Civil rights advocates are up in arms over a sweeping new digital surveillance law in the United Kingdom, and not just because they say it intrudes on the privacy of people in the U.K. Some worry that the law sets an example other democratic nations will be tempted to follow.

The legislation…is called the Investigatory Powers Act (or, by its critics, the “Snooper’s Charter”). It enshrines broad new authority for U.K. law enforcement and intelligence agencies to conduct online surveillance, hack into devices deemed relevant to investigations, and make technology companies provide access to data about their users — even by forcing them to change the design of products. It also gives investigators the authority to use these powers in “bulk,” meaning they can access large data sets that may include information about people not relevant to investigations. They can even hack into devices owned by people who are not suspects in a crime.

…The most high-profile fight is over a new authority for the government to compel Internet service providers to retain “Internet connection records”—including websites visited or mobile apps used, the times they were accessed, and the duration of use — for up to 12 months for all their customers. Investigators won’t need a warrant from a judge to access this data. “There is no state in the Western democratic world that has anything similar,” says Eric King…former deputy director of Don’t Spy on Us, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations that advocates for surveillance reform…

Brazil and Australia have also recently instituted data retention laws. The U.S. has not, but the U.S. Department of Justice has advocated for mandatory data retention before, as have members of Congress. After the Snowden revelations, President Obama issued a policy directive limiting bulk data collection by the federal government itself. But Donald Trump could rescind that or work with Congress to require Internet service providers to retain data so investigators could access it later—a step that would be modeled on the U.K. legislation. “If the Trump administration wants to expand its surveillance powers, or seek sanction for more aggressive use of its existing powers, it could unfortunately point to the U.K.’s new law as precedent,” says Camilla Graham Wood, Privacy International’s legal officer.

RTFA for a peek at the brave new world brought to us in part by fools who vote for phonies like Donald Trump. That doesn’t exempt the chickenshit Establishment of Democrats and Republicans who roll over and stick all four feet into the air every time some surveillance pimp prattles about fear.

“Robots? We don’t serve their kind here!”

❝ For the time being, robots don’t need civil rights — they have a hard enough time walking, let alone marching — but the European Union doesn’t expect that to be the case forever. The European Parliament’s committee on legal affairs is considering a draft report, written by Luxembourg member Mady Delvaux, that would give legal status to “electronic persons.”

❝ Delvaux’s report explores the growing prevalence of autonomous machines in our daily lives, as well as who should be responsible for their actions. It’s not intended to be a science-fiction thought experiment…but rather an outline of what the European Commission should establish: what robots are, legally; the ethics of building them; and the liability of the companies that do so.

“Robots are not humans, and will never be humans,” Delvaux said. But she is recommending that they have a degree of personhood — much in the same way that corporations are legally regarded as persons — so that companies can be held accountable for the machines they create, and whatever actions those machines take on their own.

Robots can donate to Super-PACs!

❝ Delvaux’s report does suggest that the more autonomy a machine has, the more blame should fall with it over its human operators. But robots are generally only as smart as the data they learn from. It might be difficult to determine what a robot is responsible for, and what was because of its programming — a sort of robot version of the “nature versus nurture” argument.

Nice to see that some political beings, public political forums, have the foresight to consider potential problems before they arise. Of course, that can be taken to extremes.

But, in the United States? We’re lucky if Congress considers, say, flood protection before rising waters reach the top step.

Use of contraception did more to reduce abortions than restrictive laws – of course

❝ US women are having abortions at the lowest rate on record since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion, according to a new report. In fact, contrary to popular opinion, the abortion rate has been steadily declining for decades.

❝ The new report comes from a massive census of US abortion providers taken every three years by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research organization that supports legal abortion. It’s surprisingly difficult to get accurate data on abortion in the US…but Guttmacher’s census is the most comprehensive available on the subject…

❝ The abortion ratio — the proportion of abortions to live births — is also down to historic lows. In 1995, the abortion ratio was about 26 abortions for every 100 live births; in 2014, it was 18.8…

The abortion rate mostly fell because more women used birth control, and used more reliable methods…

But abortion rates in the US have been falling even faster than usual since 2008 — 3 or 4 percent per year instead of about 2. And while Guttmacher researchers Rachel Jones and Jenna Jerman caution that more research is needed to fully understand the link between abortion access and abortion rates, better contraception appears to be the main reason.

RTFA for a reasoned discussion about conclusions drawn by pro-choice scientists relying on data vs anti-abortion rights ideologues whose belief systems ignore credible data.

Sound familiar?

Are Trump’s tariff threats constitutional? Of course not.

❝ Among the first steps being floated by the incoming Trump administration is a 5 to 10 percent tariff on imports, implemented through an executive order. It’s the sort of shoot-first, ask-questions-later action that President-elect Donald J. Trump promised during the campaign. It’s also unconstitutional.

That’s because the path to imposing tariffs — along with taxes and other revenue-generating measures — clearly begins with Congress, and in particular the House, through the Origination Clause. When presidents have raised (or lowered) tariffs in the past, they have tended to do so using explicit, if sometimes wide-ranging, authority from Congress.

❝ The founders thought about this issue a lot: After all, taxes, as every grade schooler knows, fueled the colonies’ push for independence. So they wrote the Constitution, and its Origination Clause, to give the taxing power to the part of government that is closest to the people, thereby protecting against arbitrary and onerous taxation…

❝ True, tariffs are no longer used to raise money, but to protect domestic industries, and to punish foreign ones. But they unquestionably still produce revenue. And while tariffs on imports are aimed at foreigners, they affect domestic industries that use or compete with imports; they can also have an enormous impact on the overall economy by raising consumer prices. Allowing the executive to circumvent the House to enact otherwise unfavorable tax policies that affect Americans is what the clause is designed to avoid — that those furthest removed from the people have the ability to tax them…

❝ Of course, Mr. Trump doesn’t have to act unilaterally; he has Republican majorities in both chambers that are eager to work with him. One option would be to push for a border adjustment tax, a proposal already being floated in the House as part of comprehensive tax reform, which would forbid tax deductions for imports and exempt exports from taxes.

A border adjustment tax is a far better option than tariffs. It would eliminate incentives in the current tax system to manufacture abroad, and to shift income abroad. Unlike a tariff, it aims to be trade neutral, with any changes in consumer pricing of imports and exports being offset by a rise in the dollar. And with strong support in the House, it could be enacted in full compliance with the Origination Clause, lending it legitimacy that a unilateral tariff would lack.

It won’t be difficult to find a few Representatives or Senators to oppose a move hampering any significant portion of the US economy. Waving the Free Trade flag won’t be needed. Just a phone call from any of the sectors of American business with profit centers both inside and outside our national boundaries. A phone call to a segment of the all-encompassing clot of politicians housed in Congress. The global economy was a done deal decades ago.

And that doesn’t begin to include those corporations directly filing lawsuits. Like, um, any major retailer.

Coppers are cheerfully expanding their drone fleets

❝ Speaking at the Drone World Expo…a panel of four law enforcement officers resoundingly approved their use and likely near-term expansion of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles.

“I really feel that small UAVs are a cost-effective way of enhancing public safety,” Cmdr. Tom Madigan, of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, told an assembled group of mostly fellow deputies and officers. “I hope in the near future we will be able to deploy these out of a patrol car or a fire truck.”

As one of the largest law enforcement agencies in Northern California, with a fleet of six drones that are often loaned out and used on behalf of other public safety agencies from Monterey County to the Oregon border, the ACSO has been busy.

❝ “As of last week, we have deployed 70 real world missions in the last year,” he said. “We have quickly become one of the most active UAV units in the nation, and we’re easily the biggest.”…

❝ For his part, Alan Frazier, a deputy sheriff at the Grand Forks County department, said that with 32 sworn officers serving a largely rural county, having inexpensive drones was a godsend, given that “in our wildest dreams we will never be able to have [conventional] air support.” (His department, in a county with a population of about 66,000, now has a fleet of five drones.)

❝ The Peace Garden State has become one of the nation’s hubs for the drone industry, with a federally approved drone testing facility, a military drone base, and an active drone studies program at the University of North Dakota. There is even a regular university committee that meets to discuss drone privacy issues.

So, now you have to decide if the cute little buzzer watching over your peaceful demonstration for voting rights or maybe clean water belongs to the local coppers, a newspaper, or some creepy basement-dweller trying for YouTube stardom.

We’ve have plenty of the last for years. Decide how you want to deal with record-keeping of your life from 30 feet overhead. Maybe try to sort out what should be legal, ethical.