Category Archives: politics

Today, we fight back against mass surveillance

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

But whatever our differences may have been in the past, we strongly agree that the dragnet collection of millions of Americans’ phone records every day — whether they have any connection at all to terrorism — goes far beyond what Congress envisioned or intended to authorize. 
More important, we agree it must stop.
 – Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.)  & Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.), Co-sponsors of the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R.3361, S. 1599),  The Case for NSA Reform

If I did the code right, you should be seeing a big old banner at the bottom of this page, encouraging you to contact your representatives in government and demand an end to the NSA’s unconstitutional mass surveillance.

From EFF:

Since June, ongoing revelations about the NSA’s activities have shown us the expanding scope of government surveillance. Today is the day people around the world are demanding an end to mass spying.

A broad coalition of organizations, companies, and individuals are loudly voicing their stance against unwarranted mass spying—over 6,000 websites have joined together today to demand reform. EFF stands by millions of users—represented by groups like Demand Progress, ACLU, PEN, and Access as well as companies like Google, Twitter, Mozilla, and reddit—to reform governmental collection of innocent users’ information.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the Internet as a political force make waves in Washington. From our defeat of the Internet censorship bill SOPA to our battles over CISPA, TPP, and patent reform, history has shown that we can activate our networks to beat back legislation that threatens our ability to connect, as well as champion bills that will further our rights online.

We can win this. We can stop mass spying. With public opinion polls on our side, unprecedented pressure from presidential panels and oversight boards, and millions of people speaking out around the world, we’ve got a chance now to change surveillance policy for good.

Last year, we were presented with a new opportunity—an opportunity in the form of leaks that showed us the truth about deeply invasive surveillance programs around the world. This is the year we make good on that opportunity. Let’s ensure that sacrifices made by whistleblowers and risks taken by brave journalists were not done in vain.

Join us in fighting back. We’ve laid out below how you can speak out against mass spying.

Calling Congress takes just five minutes and is the most effective action you can take right now to let your elected officials know that mass surveillance must end.

Here’s what you should say:

I’d like Senator/Representative __ to support and co-sponsor H.R. 3361/S. 1599, the USA Freedom Act. I would also like you to oppose S. 1631, the so-called FISA Improvements Act. Moreover, I’d like you to work to prevent the NSA from undermining encryption standards and to protect the privacy rights of non-Americans.

Outside the US? Take action now.

Mass spying affects all of us worldwide. Demand an end to mass surveillance by signing the 13 Principles petition.

Please, take a few minutes and make a phone call. I’m sure that you, like me, feel cynical and disempowered (especially here in California, where our completely corrupt and useless senator Dianne Feinstein has become one of the NSA’s most vocal and ardent defenders, even though she’s supposed to be providing “oversight” in the senate), but this is not a fight that we’re going to win by sitting down and shutting up. Quoting EFF again: “We can win this. We can stop mass spying. With public opinion polls on our side, unprecedented pressure from presidential panels and oversight boards, and millions of people speaking out around the world, we’ve got a chance now to change surveillance policy for good.”

I encourage you to read more at the Reddit blog, where they’ve put together a comprehensive and easy to understand rundown of what’s at stake, and what we know about NSA spying. Talk to your friends and your family, and let’s do whatever we can to restore our fundamental rights to privacy.

 

Guest Blog by Stephen Toulouse: Starting a Conversation, Video Games and Violence

This guest post is by Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse. He made a comedy album you can get on Bandcamp (cheapest option), iTunes or Amazon and wrote a book called A Microsoft Life. He blogs at Stepto.com.

Warning: Serious post is serious. I know right?  Should be totally non-controversial.

Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi stated what a lot of us already know and research has shown: That video games don’t instill violent behavior.

Video games are an easy scapegoat for the results of real world violence. Before video games became so realistic, violent films were the scapegoat. Our American culture is unique in its embrace of violence. The entertainment industry is consistent in its reaction to these events, wrapping freedom of artistic expression in the first amendment as the gun industry wraps itself in the second amendment.

I’ve been a gamer all my life and in the industry for the past six or seven years and I think someone needs to say it: As an industry we need to stop turtling up when these terrible events happen and stop insisting that any discussion omit the impact of violent entertainment or culture on those in whom violence may be already present. We need to be part of the conversation and we should not be afraid of where it leads.

Let me tell you a story about why.

Like any discerning gun user, I was noodling over whether I wanted to switch from my SCAR-H to my new Magpul PDW-R. There were important considerations here: stopping power, range, fire rate, recoil, whether I wanted to switch to NATO 5.56 rounds from the larger 7.62’s. I had to think about the number of rounds per magazine, number of magazines I could carry, and whether or not it was a good weapon for close encounter firefights as well as longer range ones. I was hardly going to be an asset in a situation where a gunman surprised me and my friends unless I had the optimal tool for the job!

I’m 40 years old, never owned a firearm, and I’ve never touched an assault rifle. So why do I know so much about assault weapons? Video games. I was choosing the above weapons as my loadouts for Battlefield 3. I have an incredible education and wealth of knowledge about such weapons due to games like Battlefield 3 or Call of Duty. It is an education I would not otherwise have. Likewise I have an education in single or squad combat tactics, understand enfilade and defilade, trigger discipline, conservation of ammo, and suppressing fire.

In short, I have a basic level of combat training that a hundred years ago would only be available to those in the military. (Note that I’m not saying these video game skills would make me an effective combat soldier in the actual terror of a firefight. I’m saying if you wanted to train me to be a soldier, I’m already part way there) Now granted, I could also learn a lot of this from movies, Youtube videos, or books or the Internet in general. But to actually practice the execution of those concepts is easiest through games.

Worse than that, I’ve virtually massacred dozens of innocent people as a mass shooter in a Russian airport in the Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 mission “No Russian”, an emotionally wrenching mission that I can say I did not enjoy playing but I understand its place in the narrative.

Now, I’m not about to snap. I feel pretty strongly confident about that! But let’s say I began to deteriorate over months, obtain guns and then commit a terrible crime.

Is it unreasonable to ask the question of whether or not I was impacted by entertainment, or made a more effective killer because of it?

I don’t know if the answer is “yes” or “no” to the latter question, but I believe it is not unreasonable to ask it. And yet my industry tends to react with howls of outrage when it’s brought up. To be fair, it’s often brought up alongside the trigger question of “Do video games in and of themselves cause violence?” However the defensive reaction to even the idea that money should be spent looking into this has been as consistent as is the NRA’s opposition to having gun control be a part of the discussion. We (myself included) roll our eyes at having to have this argument again.

I thought a lot about myself when I was choosing those weapons in Battlefield 3. I realized that I contained a lot of knowledge uniquely specific to the killing of other human beings when I was weighing those options in the game, and it bothered me deeply. I do not believe the concept that these games are “murder simulators” (paintball would be more effective at that, video game levels and physics are meticulously designed for fun factor and aren’t terribly realistic). But the idea I had all that knowledge in my head bothered me.

So I think that we as an industry need to be a part of this conversation much more than we are right now, or we can’t expect those we think will have a bigger impact to be a part of it either. I was proud to see Electronic Arts and Activision and other companies talk to Vice President Biden on the issue. I think the reaction so far to the latest round of violence has been far less defensive than before. I also saw a lot of opinion pieces and forums posts stating it’s a waste of money to study it. I still saw some of the old defensiveness.

I think the industry should be leading the discussion, given the success of games centered on combat violence involving guns, especially real life weaponry.

To be clear I know tons of responsible gun owners, I think the problem of violence in our society is complex and multifaceted. There are no easy answers here. And perhaps I’m not seeing the measured voices of reason in the industry who want to take a look at this, or hey maybe I just have this whole thing wrong. I’d love to know what you guys think in the comments.

*One side point, I play and enjoy Battlefield games and Call of Duty games. I’ve assisted in making them and other “shooter” games better during their development. I’m not suggesting they are bad or a threat to society or anything like that. They are used here simply to illustrate a point: that video games can be very powerful educators as well as entertainment. It’s worth looking at what they are educating us on and any impact that might have.

BREAKING: JOHN SCALZI EMBROILED IN SCANDAL!

BREAKING NEWS!!

Today on Twitter, noted Science Fiction Author and Cat-Bacon-Taper John Scalzi declared:

 

 

A group of concerned cats immediately replied with this political action message:

Then, in a desperate attempt to deflect attention from his cat bacon taping, Scalzi accused beloved science fiction, television, film, stage, theater, internet, radio, and teenage-fever-dream star Wil Wheaton of being behind the whole thing. Wheaton, who everyone loves for reasons, denied the scandalous allegation. Scalzi then produced an obviously fake “receipt”:

But Mister Scalzi can not produce the LONG FORM RECEIPT! He continues to dodge the tough questions, and instead of responding to a simple and reasonable request, he produced this:

And now, as the real questions begin to swirl around Mister Scalzi, his allies in the Bacon Taping Media have produced this vicious attack ad:

Some say that John Scalzi is wrong on bacon, wrong on tape, and wrong on cats.

Some people say that John Scalzi is WRONG FOR THE INTERNET.

 

DIS MESSUG WAZ PAY FER BY DA KATZ.

we like tuna

broke the bonds and loosed the chains

Pauly:

If more Americans read books every night instead of watching TV, we’d live in a more productive society. If more Americans watched the news and read real newspapers and magazines, instead of crappy programs like American Idol, then I’m confident that George Bush would not be our president. But heck, that’s what our leaders really want deep down… a mindless, uneducated populous that will work 40 hours a week so they can earn enough money to buy things to keep them distracted from the evil deeds that our leaders and suits in Fortune 500 companies are conducting everyday under your noses.

Amen. It’s interesting to think of turning off the television and being less of a consumer as an act of rebellion, but I think Pauly has a valid point, at the very least worthy of consideration if not action. I know how happy and free I feel after cleaning a bunch of needless stuff out my house (and life) recently, and since I’m not completely overwhelmed by stuff that is ultimately not that important, I feel like I can address various mental and spiritual aspects of my life that need attention, now that I’m not constantly battling with a huge pile of material bullshit on a daily basis.

I’ve been making an effort to turn off the TV, walk away from the Internets, turn on the radio, and read lots of books. It’s nothing heady — I just finished Monster Island, and I’m in the first third of Cell — but I agree with Pauly. Reading activates and nourishes a different part of my brain than watching TV, even if it’s not Hemmingway or Feynman or something weighty. It also makes me want to write more, which is something I sorely need.

I’ve also made an effort over the last few weeks to unplug, and get out of the house every day, even if it’s just out into my yard, or my patio garden. Anne and I have been getting out of the house and walking like crazy, in preparation for the marathon this weekend (you can still sponsor our team here), and though we’re down to the “easy” six mile walks this week (we’re just tuning up to walk a half marathon, instead of running a full one, remember), it’s still great to get out of the house and breathe deeply for a couple of hours every morning. All the flowers in our neighborhood are in bloom, too, so it’s almost like walking through the best flower shop in the world, but it’s also filled with birds and those really friendly people who get up early to walk during the week.

My soul still needs nourishment, and my life is still out of Balance, but I’m getting closer to finding it. I think all this physical pain in my hip and up my back and on my shoulders is a physical manifestation of my current disarray, and I’m glad my body finally forced me into tuning up my diet and getting more exercise, both physical and psychic.

The Axis of Just as Evil

This made me laugh out loud. It’s allegedly written by John Cleese, but it turns out that it originally came from Satirewire.

Continue reading The Axis of Just as Evil

Voice and Fist

Yesterday, I marched through Hollywood with my mom, her friend, and about 100,000 other people. We raised our fists and joined our voice to millions of other voices around the world. We sent a clear message to the Bush administration: This is just the beginning. We will stop your war machine. Your policies endanger America, and enrage the world.
I hope you are paying attention, Mr. Bush. The masses are speaking — the world is speaking — and we are rebuking you, your plutocracy, and everything you represent. Your time is over, Mr. Bush. The Supreme Court can not silence the voice of the world, as it silenced the voice of the American people. It is time for you to fade into history.
I hope that those who politically oppose Mr. Bush are also paying attention. There is a minority, on the cusp of becoming a majority, who are anxiously awaiting your leadership. Rise to the challenge, and give us representation in our government. Greens? Libertarians? Democrats? Who will represent the people? This is your moment. Do not squander it.
Peace.
UPDATE: Thank you, Senator Byrd.
UPDATE: I understand the visceral reactions that come when reading a post like this. If you’d like to comment or discuss, you are welcome to go to the Soapbox.

11.11.02

Today is Veteran’s day, and I’ve been trying to think of a way to thank and honor those men and women who have ensured that I can sit here, safe and warm in my house, and proclaim, “George W. Bush is a Jerkass.”
Well, I have a friend, and she and her husband are both veterans. She wrote the following, and reprinting it here is the best tribute to Veterans, and the best way of saying thank you that I can think of.


This weekend, with Veteran’s Day coming up, a friend asked me “What are some things about people serving in the US military that you think we civilians under-appreciate or don’t understand?”
It was a tough question. On Veteran’s Day, it’s not only about those who have died, but those who have served and sacrificed and come away forever changed.
The military is really a separate culture within American culture. When we’d talk about “civilians,” it was almost like talking about a different species. How can someone understand, truly understand “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die” without living in that culture?
Before joining the military, I’d hear on the news “40 US troops were killed in today’s bombing of such-and-such” and think, “Gee, that’s sad.” But you know, in a way, it was just numbers. After joining the military, the word “troops” took on a whole new meaning. “Troops” meant me. My husband. My friends. My brothers and sisters. It meant loving, caring, intelligent, funny human beings were dead or injured.
When CNN would report, “The US has deployed several thousand troops to somewhere,” it meant that mothers were being sent away from their children. Sons were being sent away from their parents. Families and friends and lovers were being separated, never knowing if they’d ever see each other again.
Some of them WOULD never see each other again. Would never be able to get
that one last hug, a last kiss, hear a word of kindness or forgiveness. Yet these troops went willingly into that uncertainty.
When you hear “troops,” when any civilian hears “troops,” what does it mean to you? It’s such a sanitized word.
Another thing I wonder if civilians understand is this: service is often boring. Really boring. Running preventive maintenance checks on vehicles and equipment in the hot North Carolina sun at Fort Bragg. Sitting in a tent in a field in Korea in 10-degree weather waiting for aircraft to land. Driving through the desert in Saudi Arabia where everything looks the same on your way to your camp. Sitting in a foxhole in Panama in the rain, watching. Constantly going over common task training: how to treat a sucking chest wound. How to get your protective mask on as quickly as possible. How to disassemble and reassemble your M-16. Over and over.
Preparing, trying to stay prepared.
How boring is it? Someone sent a box of romance novels to my old unit when they were in Saudi. The guys in the unit snapped ‘em up to read faster than the women did.
No one talks much about the sitting around part.
The “troops” are people. They do wacky things too. Some of the guys in Saudi were going through magazine ads, writing to every company they could find saying, “We’re in the Persian Gulf. Could you send us a sample of X?” Some companies sent samples — and a few of the tents got their own pink lawn flamingoes and artificial raccoons.
There’s also some adrenalin rushes like when you get caught in an Anti-American riot in Seoul or run into an area marked with signs for chemical attack in the Saudi desert. Or get shot at.
Or have to shoot back.
In the back of your mind is this: you could die. You could lose an arm or a leg. You could die in a training accident. You try to keep this very, very far back in your mind.
But I think it’s always there.
Probably most importantly, and most difficult, is you have to trust in the chain of command that they will not use you poorly. You’ve taken an oath of service to your country, and you must trust that the orders you receive will allow you to be of service in some positive manner. I hear people say all the time, “If I were in the military, I would never have gone to Saudi” or “I would never have done those kinds of things they did in Vietnam/WWII/etc.” Truth is, maybe they wouldn’t — but they probably would.
Or they wouldn’t be in the military.
Because that trust is essential, even with the training we have in the Uniform Code of Military Justice and what constitutes an “illegal order.” You go where you’re deployed. You bomb the targets you’re supposed to bomb. You place the Claymore mines “front towards enemy” and you trust, you hope, it’s for a greater good.
You must live with it if, later, you find that there was little to no positive effect from your actions. Think of finding a baby bird and putting it back into its nest, after which the mother rejects it and it dies. You were trying to help, but nothing good came of it. Now imagine being involved in a military action where, at the end, nothing of significance has changed.
Military service changes you forever, even if you serve only a 4-year term in peacetime. You’ll never get those years back. Never.
And through all this, you know that civilians don’t much care about you. Not really. Oh, perhaps they’ll come out on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, maybe lay out some flowers, wear a ribbon, but most will just see it as a day off from work.
Still we serve. We serve because the Constitution of the United States promises something good and true. We serve so that opposing viewpoints can take the stage, or the microphone, and protest actions they feel are unjust. We serve for ourselves, for our families, for our future. We serve for a variety of reasons, some selfish and some pure, in the hopes that something positive will come of it. On Veteran’s Day, I would wish that everyone would remember and think of the men and women who have served in the past and who serve today, and honor their humanity. The laughter, the tears, the love, the pride in a new baby, the intelligence, insight, and humor that is part of all of us. I wish people would take one moment to think of that girl in a tent somewhere in the desert, or that
guy in a foxhole in the jungle, and understand that it could be your daughter, your son, your wife, your husband.
Instead, I fear that when they hear “25 troops were killed in some foreign country today,” they won’t bat an eye.
It was just “troops.”
Of all it means to be a veteran, perhaps that may be the hardest thing of
all.

Marching off to war.

I don’t support the resolution that congress just passed. I don’t support the Bush administration’s obsession with Oil^H^H^HIraq, and I think it gives way too much power to the president.
So I wrote my senators (my US Rep is a hardline Republican so I didn’t bother) and I asked them to please oppose the vote.
Boxer voted no, Feinstein voted yes.
I was very upset with Feinstein’s yes vote…but after reading this from her, I am absolutely apoplectic.

“I serve as the senior senator from California, representing 35 million people. That is a formidable task. People have weighed in by the tens of thousands. If I were just to cast a representative vote based on those who have voiced their opinions with my office — and with no other factors — I would have to vote against this resolution

Yeah.
If she’d, oh, respected the wishes of her constituents, and *gasp* represented> us, she’d have to vote no.
If she’d listened to those pesky voters who put her into office so that she’d carry out our wishes in this silly representative republic we have here.
But there are these mysterious “other factors” that she speaks of, right? Maybe she knows something that we don’t, because she refers to herself as

“…a member of the Intelligence Committee, as someone who has read and discussed and studied the history of Iraq…

Well, that’s pretty compelling stuff, isn’t it? I know that after a year of nebulous warnings I’ve certainly learned to be afraid of my own shadow and turn to my big government to protect me…maybe she’s onto something there, and we shouldn’t mobilze the entire state to throw her out for failing to cast a representative vote based on those who have voiced their opinions with her office.
But there’s this other guy, you see, who ]co-chairs the same committee, and who is privy to the same information. His name is Senator Bob Graham, and he’s a Florida Democrat who disagrees with Feinstein:

Iraq is ”the wrong target” in the war on terrorism, Graham said in an impassioned speech moments before the Senate early Friday gave President Bush sweeping powers to attack Iraq. The Senate overwhelmingly approved the resolution, 77-23, with Graham among the “nays.”
”I predict we will live to regret this day,” declared Graham, who is co-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and privy to a gamut of classified information on global terrorism. Graham said it would be ”irresponsible” to go to war with Iraq before confronting more imminent terrorist threats to the United States.

Surely he can’t be serious! Isn’t he privy to the same information that Feinstein has? Maybe he’s paying more attention to the report from the CIA:

Then there is the awkward matter of the CIA report on Iraq released last week, which concluded that U.N. inspections actually worked before they were halted in 1998, leaving Saddam’s military and his chemical-weapons program weaker than they were in the 1980s.
In other words, the head of American intelligence and a top military man don’t think Saddam is planning terrorist attacks against the U.S. now, but might if he was convinced we were coming in after his head. And the CIA says that Saddam’s military machine poses less of a threat to the U.S. than it did a decade ago.

Boy, it sure seems that anyone who doesn’t have something to gain politically is telling us all that the war against Iraq is at best unnecessary, and at worst A Very Bad Idea(tm).
Dianne Feinstein may not be “against us” by the Bush administration’s definition, but she’s certainly against the wishes of her constituents, and is therefore unfit to represent us in the future.
I’ll be thinking about this in November 2006.
—-
Sources:

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2002/10/11/senate_iraq/print.html

http://www.miami.com/mld/miami/4266351.htm

http://www.salon.com/news/col/scheer/2002/10/09/cia/print.html

http://www.salon.com/politics/feature/2002/10/10/intelligence/print.html

FYI

Overview of Changes to Legal Rights
By The Associated Press

September 5, 2002, 11:44 AM EDT
Some of the fundamental changes to Americans’ legal rights by the Bush administration and the USA Patriot Act following the terror attacks:

  • FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION: Government may monitor religious and political
    institutions without suspecting criminal activity to assist terror investigation.
  • FREEDOM OF INFORMATION: Government has closed once-public immigration hearings, has secretly detained hundreds of people without charges, and has encouraged bureaucrats to resist public records requests.
  • FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Government may prosecute librarians or keepers of any other records if they tell anyone that the government subpoenaed information
    related to a terror investigation.
  • RIGHT TO LEGAL REPRESENTATION: Government may monitor federal prison
    jailhouse conversations between attorneys and clients, and deny lawyers to
    Americans accused of crimes.
  • FREEDOM FROM UNREASONABLE SEARCHES: Government may search and seize Americans’ papers and effects without probable cause to assist terror
    investigation.
  • RIGHT TO A SPEEDY AND PUBLIC TRIAL: Government may jail Americans
    indefinitely without a trial.
  • RIGHT TO LIBERTY: Americans may be jailed without being charged or being
    able to confront witnesses against them.


Source:Newsday