NSA

Je Suis . . . Ironic


Charlie HebdoEd. note: Please help – see the note below and pass this along so that we make the kind of difference that needs to be made. America thanks you.

Reading time – 47 seconds  .  .  . 

The irreverent Charlie Hebdo satirists, both cartoonists and journalists, have, in the face of profound, bottomless grief led the way for the rest of the world in a breathtaking way. Their new magazine cover shows the Prophet Muhammad weeping as he holds a sign that reads, “Je Suis Charlie”. What makes the cover breathtaking is that above the Prophet they have written, “TOUT EST PARDONNE”. Roughly translated, they are telling their attackers, the murderers of their colleagues, the violent, religion despoiling Islamist terrorists, “We forgive you.”

Could you possibly do that were you in their place? Can you do it from your place now?

There is an odd twist to this, courtesy of Anonymous, the worldwide hacker group that has hacked into nearly everything, including the NSA. This band of iconoclasts, this buster of world order has now pledged to hunt down Islamist radicals. In a stunning video they tell the extremists, “We are tracking you down. We will find you and not leave you any rest.” They vow to shut down every violent extremist Twitter feed, propaganda video and more. They announce boldly, “We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”

Unlike Anonymous, Charlie Hebdo forgives. My guess, though, is that the staff members won’t forget, and that’s as it should be.

And here is the irony: How pleasingly odd it is that the members of this hacker organization Anonymous, who have compromised our National Security Agency, are now on our side in the hunt for Islamist terrorists. Their agenda is their own and this portion of their agenda is in pitch perfect concert with freedom loving people everywhere, even those running the NSA. Perhaps now “Nous Sommes Anonymous.”

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA


Copyright 2021 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

When They Pry . . .


ConstitutionReading time – 89 seconds

Amendment I – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

 

But the Supreme Court ruled that the city of Greece, NY may conduct Christian prayers during their meetings. That sounds a lot like establishing a religion.

And George W. Bush and the Republican National Committee set up “free speech zones” during their convention in 2004, making for lots of areas where there was complete abridgment of freedom of speech and the people were not being allowed to peaceably assemble. At the same time reporters were getting clubbed by police in Minneapolis, which made freedom of the press not so free.

Amendment II – A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The most curious interpretation of that belongs to the NRA and other Second Amendment thumpers. They conveniently ignore the first 13 words and focuse solely on keeping and bearing arms and not the reason for arms ownership.

When that amendment was passed there was national security concern that there might be a second British invasion, and they weren’t thinking about The Beatles. There was neither a standing American army nor the means to finance one, so citizens had to be able to leap into service in a Militia on a moment’s notice and be ready to fight; hence, the right to “keep and bear arms.” It was never about private citizens protecting themselves from the United States government. And today we have a Militia – our National Guard and standing army – so there is no national security need for the people to “keep and bear arms.”

Amendment IV – The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Is this really confusing to the NSA?

Amendment VI – In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him, to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence [sic].

We are still holding over 100 men at Guantanamo, none of whom has ever been formally accused of a crime. None has had a day in court. All have been there for years. So much for a “speedy” trial.

Amendment VIII – Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

What part of “cruel and unusual punishment” did George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and John Yoo, DOJ “Torture Memo” author, not understand about water boarding? Our own laws call water boarding torture, as do the Geneva Conventions.

I’m traveling around the country delivering Money, Politics & Democracy presentations because there are big money influencers and big political forces who have and want to continue to shred the Constitution. Well, they can have it to shred when they pry my cold, dead hands from the tattered remnants of it.

Are you with me?

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA


Copyright 2021 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Slogans


WizardAt the National Speakers Association convention earlier this year, Bruce Terkel delivered a powerful keynote presentation on marketing.  During that speech he explained that President Obama’s 2008 slogan “Yes we can” was the second best marketing slogan ever.  It is positive, it is inclusive and it is enabling.  Sadly, Republicans utilize a different slogan strategy.

Tom Coburn (R–OK), Ted Kruz (R-AZ), Michele Bachmann (R-Mars) and a bunch more Republicans want President Obama impeached.  They offer no high crimes or misdemeanors of which they think he is guilty.  They just want the sentence carried out without bothering with an indictment or conviction.  Their slogan seems to be, “Say anything to marginalize him.”

Paul Ryan continues to promote his Republican budget – only it isn’t a budget.  It is a plan to privatize nearly all of government.  This is just another example of Republicans putting lipstick on a pig and telling us it isn’t a pig, like the original Patriot Act that actually was unpatriotic and like Operation Iraqi Freedom that didn’t free the Iraqis but did chain us to perpetual war.  Their sleight-of-hand slogan is, “Fooling you with a lying label.”

I wrote here recently that the Republicans got nuthin’ because they propose nothing that will benefit America or Americans, other than the billionaires to whom they are indentured.  They lambasted President Obama at every opportunity regarding a budget.  Then Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Tanning Salon) presented the 2010 Republican budget that had no numbers in the entire document other than page numbers.  (Accounting note: If there are no numbers, it can’t be a budget.)  On the infrequent occasions that congress does manage to pass legislation to make things better, like the Dodd-Frank bill, Republicans immediately start the process to dismantle it piece by piece.  This slogan is obvious:  “Whatever it is, we’re against it even if we used to be for it.”

The House did pass a farm bill.  It gives Big Agri-Business multi-billions of dollars.  That same bill eliminates support for food stamps.  One in six American children lives in poverty – it is double that number for people of color – and The House intends to take the food out of the mouths of those kids.  The slogan: “Starvation makes children more self-reliant.”

Two of three poling places in North Carolina are being closed, leaving local college students with obstacles nearly impossible to overcome in order to vote.  A pregnant woman in Kansas, victim of a brutal rape, cannot do anything about it.  The school teachers in Wisconsin, who have sacrificed pay over and over in exchange for the promise of an adequate pension when they retire, are now having their pensions stolen from them.  None of that is an accident.

The Republicans are so bereft of offerings that they are putting the majority of their effort into stopping Americans from voting in order to win elections and cram through legislation to produce results like the examples above.  If they can’t stop people from voting, they use district gerrymandering to make votes inconsequential.  For example, Texas is 45% white but the Republican controlled state legislature has ensured that 70% of the districts are white Republican, thus marginalizing people of color.

Perhaps this kind of Constitutional blasphemy has not permeated your world yet.  Just understand this:  it will.  Right now they are coming after people of color, poor people, first time voters, the elderly and the infirmed.  After that it will be another group, then another, because a power hungry minority will never have enough control to satisfy themselves. Look to history and you will see the repeated story of incremental loss of rights concurrent with the rise of totalitarianism.  That is what voter suppression accomplishes, so “Coup by disenfranchisement” is the Republican slogan.

“You know, I would have at least some respect for the Republicans who pass these laws if they would just come clean and admit they are trying to keep everyone but old white guys from voting like it used to be in the good old days.  But instead, they make up stuff.”

Gaylard French of Waxahachie, TX
The Dallas Morning News
Letters to the Editor, August 18, 2013

We can sit back and pretend that our country is not being stolen from us, but sooner or later we’re going to have a very bad day.  The Republican slogan for that is, to quote Dick Cheney, “So?”

Bruce Terkel was asked the obvious question by a member of the audience at the close of his keynote to the National Speakers Association convention.  “If ‘Yes we can’ is the second best marketing slogan ever, what is the best one?”  Terkel didn’t miss a beat, replying, “See your doctor for an erection lasting longer than four hours.”

Are we that easy to manipulate – with just a slogan?


Copyright 2021 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Morale, Knees and Common Elements


Obese Airline PassengerI was on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to San Diego and somewhere over the Rockies I just couldn’t sit any longer, so I took a stroll to the galley at the back of the plane.  Half-squats, twisting and tugging this way and that restored circulation, and I felt considerably better.

This happened about a year after the first United Airlines bankruptcy filing, so after my physical contortions I struck up a conversation with a flight attendant.  I asked about morale, now that all the employees had taken a 20% blow to their wallets.  She rolled her eyes and said, “Not good.”

She continued, telling me that the CEO had just taken a multimillion dollar bonus, while none of the employees had received back pay, nor restoration of pay rates, both of which had been promised.  That pretty much killed any “we’re in this together” spirit.  Employee give-a-damn level was down here, she reported, with an ankle level gesture and a glare that could laser cut her CEO’s investment statements.

I travel quiet a bit, delivering workshops and keynote presentations all over the United States and Canada, so I have the opportunity for lots of, shall we say, airplane adventures.  Some are influenced by airline employees whom I encounter directly, like that flight attendant.  Some of those adventures are influenced by airline employees whom I will never meet but whose work products affect me on every flight.

For example, when I cannot get a preferred seat as a perk of my frequent flyer status, I sit in aluminum tube steerage.  I’m not a big guy, but I do want half of the elbow rests and 100% of my seat width.  Both of those are compromised when a 370 pound seatmate shows up.  Fully 15% of my seat back is occupied by his shoulder and the armrest has disappeared into a sea of flesh.  I have lots of stories about trips with interesting seatmates.  They encompass all the senses and are not uniformly pleasant.

It is well known that we Americans are an overweight bunch.  So, while the FAA standard human being weighs 170 pounds, that number is exactly that – a standard – meaning some people weigh lots more than that.  The seat designers know that, but they engineer the seating in their planes as though we all weigh 170 pounds, which gets me buried by my over-sized seatmate.  The designers also engineer leg room as though we were all no taller than 5’8″, which makes my greatest fear of flying that the guy sitting in front of me will recline his seat back and smash my knees.  Memo to commercial airliner design people: Some of us are taller than your standard and some of us are wider and that impacts lots of people.

Here is the connection between flight attendants’ low morale, portly seatmates and the knee crushing machine: These conditions continue because we tolerate them.  The flight attendants continue to work for less and the flying public continues to reward the airlines for stuffing us into insufficient space.  That is to say, corporate management does what it does because it can.

It is exactly the same with our government and our politics.  The NSA is snooping on you and will continue to do so because you allow it.  Congress acts as though confrontation and stagnation were virtues.  They do that because we tolerate their behavior by electing those who create the confrontation and stagnation.  The NRA strong-arms congress and everything is voted as they like and not as you like.  That happens because we elected the fools who would do that and we will continue to get exactly the same kinds of results as long as we tolerate it.

“The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity,” advises Harlan Ellison.  We have to be smarter than the people who do the things we don’t want them to do and strong enough to stop tolerating their behavior.


Copyright 2021 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Frog Boil


Boiling FrogThe news was broken by Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian and also by The Washington Post that FISA court Judge Roger Vincent approved a warrant drafted by the National Security Agency (NSA) to require Verizon to turn over all of its records of calls made to and from the US and any foreign telephone.  It was done under the provisions of FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  

FISA was designed to enable the gathering of – guess what – foreign intelligence.  It works in secret and is accountable to nobody, so we have no way to know if its actions are justified or appropriate and its provisions and restrictions are not well understood by the public.  Not surprisingly, our government has a way of stretching the meaning of the act to suit its purposes.  Here is an example of that stretching.

In addition to Verizon’s domestic-to-foreign calls being reported, the NSA also requires Verizon to turn over its records for all completely domestic calls.  Remember that part about FISA being about gathering foreign intelligence?  How a call from a domestically registered phone to another domestically registered phone is foreign is an unholy stretch, but that is what our government is doing.  And it gets worse.

The Washington Post broke the story that the NSA has a surveillance program called PRISM.  It is a another lovely piece of FISA stretch that delivers to the NSA all of the records of all the big online servers, like Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and more.

With the Verizon intelligence grab the NSA knows every call you’ve made and all the  calls made to you, the duration of the calls and the number your phone was connected to, the location of both phones and all of the records are delivered to the NSA daily.  With the PRISM program, the NSA can dig into anything you’ve ever done online, including your used-to-be-private emails and web surfing history. 

As reported in The New York Times, “James R, Clapper, Jr., director of national intelligence, “.  .  .  the government ‘does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers’ of telephone and Internet providers, saying that information is turned over only under court order, when there is a ‘documented, foreign intelligence purpose for acquisition’ of the data.”

Sounds reassuring.  And not confidently believable, if there is anything substantive to what whistle blowers Edward Snowden and William Binney have said.

These kinds of “data mining and harvesting” were supposed to be do-able only as part of a specific investigation that the NSA was conducting, not as a “grab the entire universe of information” fishing expedition.  Further, the warrant that is required for the NSA to dig its tentacles into you was supposed to be authorized by a FISA court judge using a very hairy eyeball, but nearly ever warrant requested has been allowed.

You may have committed no crime nor even have known anyone who has, but the NSA has all of your records, phone, emails and web surfing history, and is looking at them, even though you are not part of an ongoing investigation.  Honest person that you are, you are being snooped and groped.  Every day.

Let’s see – is there more?  Well, we’re killing people overseas with drones and we have a most strange way of quantifying the effect of these machines.  We identify the people we kill in various categories, including al Qaeda, militant, civilian and unknown.  Strangely, we’ve killed thousands classified as unknown yet our government has claimed that there were very few civilian casualties.  If we don’t know the identity of the people we killed, how can we know they weren’t civilians?

And, by the way, surveillance drones are already flying inside the U.S.

This is just the most recent few outrageous things our government is doing under the cover label of national security.  What is disturbing is that these kinds of government power grabs, this taking control of our privacy, our freedom and our lives is exactly what we used to abhor about the Soviet Union.  That government robbed its people of their freedom and millions of Soviets were killed by the state.  Indeed, our rendition programs are functionally identical to the Soviets sending their people to die in labor camps in Siberia.  Put any face, label or justification on it that you like; stealing your freedom is stealing your freedom.

It is said that if a live frog is suddenly thrown into a pot of boiling water that it will thrash violently and do everything it can to get out of the pot.  On the other hand, if a frog is thrown into cool water and then the heat is turned up so that the water warms gradually, the frog will swim about calmly until it is boiled dead.  That is to say, slow change doesn’t seem to get the frog’s attention, and then suddenly it is too late.

We’re a lot like that frog.  Our government has incrementally changed at a pace that doesn’t seem to get our attention, but we are gradually losing the America you believe in, as we plunge headlong into totalitarianism.

“Americans are living in a totalitarian state.  They just haven’t figured it out yet.”  Russian immigrant.


Copyright 2021 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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