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Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan
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Member since: Thu Sep 25, 2003, 02:04 PM
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Journal Archives

F.B.I. Tool to Identify Extremists Is Criticized


The F.B.I. is about to introduce an interactive program it developed for teachers and students, aimed at training them to prevent young people from being drawn into violent extremism. But Muslim, Arab and other religious and civil rights leaders who were invited to preview the program have raised strong objections, saying it focuses almost entirely on Islamic extremism, which they say has not been a factor in the epidemic of school shootings and attacks in the United States...



FBI planes gathered days of video, electronic surveillance over Baltimore by Sean Gallaghe


ACLU obtained FBI records of high-definition video and "other electronic surveillance."

The FBI flew a Cessna 182T, similar to this plane, and another aircraft over Baltimore for over 36 hours following the riots in the city, gathering video and other electronic intelligence, according to records obtained by the ACLU through a FOIA request.

The American Civil Liberties Union has obtained documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations that detail the surveillance flights made by FBI-operated aircraft over Baltimore last May. The flights included both high-resolution optical and infrared surveillance and at least two electronic surveillance flights, though the exact nature of the sensors used on the electronic surveillance flights was redacted from the documents.

The collection of records, which includes flight logs, evidence logs, and an FBI memorandum justifying the flights, was obtained by the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act filing on May 6. The aircraft, which were registered to FBI front companies that are used to conceal the identity of the aircraft flown by the FBI's Special Flight Operations branch, flew day and night missions over the areas where protests were taking place in Baltimore—areas where riots broke out the previous week after the death of Freddy Grey in police custody.

The records show that the FBI not only provided live video intelligence to the Baltimore police, but also collected and saved high-resolution video footage of hundreds of people participating in protests on the streets of Baltimore—footage that may be used in the future to build profiles on those people. The records offer a look inside the FBI's secret surveillance operations that span the country, carrying not just cameras but electronic sensors such as "dirt boxes" that can track cell phones on the ground and potentially intercept calls.

In the electronic memorandum filed by the FBI, accompanying evidence records from the surveillance, FBI officials described their reasoning for the aerial surveillance:

Social Media streaming and intelligence has indicated that large scale demonstrations and protests are being scheduled for Baltimore and the surrounding areas. The potential for large scale violence and riots throughout the week presents a significant challenge for the Baltimore Police Department for airborne surveillance and observation. Baltimore will request the assistance of the FBI's Critical Incident Response Group and Washington Field Office in the matter of airborne surveillance to assist the Baltimore Police Department. Baltimore has continued to evaluate threat streams, intelligence, canvass sources and follow all actionable leads.


How the GOP Bought, Rigged, Stole and Lynched the 2014 Election by Bob Fitrakis, Harvey Wasserman


Since the Bush-Cheney-Rove theft of the 2000 election in Florida, the right of millions of American citizens to vote and have that vote counted has been under constant assault.

In 2014, that systematic disenfranchisement may well have delivered the US Senate to the Republican Party. If nothing significant is done about it by 2016, we can expect the GOP to take the White House and much more.

The primary victims of this GOP-led purge have been young, elderly, poor and citizens of color who tend to vote Democratic. The denial of their votes has changed the face of our government, and is deepening corporate control of our lives and planet.

There’s no doubt the Democrats have alienated their core constituency and given millions of their former supporters little reason to vote. Perpetual war, blank checks for mega-banks, stiffing the working poor while giving away the planet to the rich—these are all part of the malaise. Our political landscape is currently defined by corporate personhood and its gutting of the Democratic Party.

Part of that is the destruction of our electoral rights, and the refusal of the Democrats to even face the issue, let alone do something about it. Our voting system is, to put it mildly, bought and rigged, further feeding the deadening sense of public futility and frustration.

As the GOP moves toward total control of our governance—the media, the internet, the Supreme Court, the Congress, local government and, in 2016, the presidency—our future depends on knowing the nuts and bolts of how the destruction of our democracy proceeds, and what we can do to stop it.

In this year’s takeover of the US Senate and many statehouses, barely more than a third of the eligible citizenry was credited with having voted. Official vote counts gave the GOP a consistent “bonus” of about 5% over pre-election polls. In the US Senate race in North Carolina and the Governor’s race in Florida, that margin clearly gave the Republicans their victories, and probably did the same in many other close races.

The GOP’s Jim Crow disenfranchisement campaign has outright robbed millions of citizens of their right to vote. It’s deliberately created an air of confusion and doubt that’s further suppressed the turnout.

Greg Palast, for example, has reported extensively on the Kansas-based “cross-check” technique, used in 28 states, where Republican secretaries of state denied voting rights based on arbitrary judgements that allowed them to eliminate several million potential Democratic voters. (Greg will discuss this on the Solartopia Show at prn.fm Tuesday, 11/11, 5pm EST; the show will be archived for later listening).

Deliberate (and often illegal) disinformation campaigns, destruction of voter registration forms, outright intimidation, repressive photo ID requirements and other suppression techniques made things worse. It’s by design, not accident, that America’s voter turnout is ranked 120th among all nations.

In evaluating the actual vote count, manipulation of untrackable electronic voting machines must also be accounted for.

Over the years, Bev Harris, Brad Friedman, Jon Simon, Richard Charney and many others have added vital research leading to the inevitable conclusion that the 2014 election—like 2000 and 2004—was essentially bought, rigged, stolen and lynched.

We do not believe the Republican Party legitimately won the US Senate or many of the statehouses they’ve been granted, any more than George W. Bush should have been handed the White House in 2000 and 2004.

Unless we finally face the core issues of election protection, history could repeat itself in 2016 as both tragedy and farce.

Because the dust is still settling, many of the specifics about 2014 remain hidden. In the coming weeks we’ll present as much of the evidence as we can gather.

In the meantime, we welcome President Obama’s new statements supporting net neutrality. There’s no more important foundation for what shreds of democracy remain to us than the ability to freely communicate. Handing control of the internet to mega-corporations, as proposed by the current (Democratic) head of the Federal Communications Commission, would be catastrophic. As with reclaiming our elections, our future on this planet demands an open global highway for unfettered communication. We must do everything we can to preserve and expand it.

We also congratulate US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for proposing that election day become a national holiday. After the 2004 debacle, we proposed a four-day election holiday to cover the first Saturday, Sunday, Monday & Tuesday in November. (The Constitution requires that voting happen the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November). This four-day stretch would help enshrine access to our election process as the sacred ritual it should be.

We also propose universal automatic voter registration, universal hand-counted paper ballots, abolition of the Electoral College, and a massive reform of the role of money in politics.

We hope Sen. Sanders’ initial proposal opens the door to a bottom-up remake of our electoral system. Without it, our democracy is nothing more than a hollow shell.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore how that shell was cracked yet again in 2014.

All indicators are that it could be definitively crushed in two years if we don’t act now.

To be continued....
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

NASA Adds to Evidence of Mysterious Ancient Earthworks


One of the enormous earthwork configurations photographed from space is known as the Ushtogaysky Square, named after the nearest village in Kazakhstan. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA

The Bestamskoe Ring is among the so-called Steppe Geoglyphs in Kazakhstan — at least 260 earthwork shapes made up of mounds, trenches and ramparts, the oldest estimated at 8,000 years old, recognizable only from the air. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA

The earthworks, including the Turgai Swastika, were spotted on Google Earth in 2007 by Dmitriy Dey, a Kazakh archaeology enthusiast. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA

Researchers are hoping to marshal support for investigating the earthen mounds that make up figures like this one, the Big Ashutastinsky Cross. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA

In March 2007, Mr. Dey was at home watching a program, “Pyramids, Mummies and Tombs,” on the Discovery Channel. “There are pyramids all over the earth,” he recalled thinking. “In Kazakhstan, there should be pyramids, too.”

Soon, he was searching Google Earth images of Kostanay and environs.

There were no pyramids. But, he said, about 200 miles to the south he saw something as intriguing — a giant square, more than 900 feet on each side, made up of dots, crisscrossed by a dotted X.

At first Mr. Dey thought it might be a leftover Soviet installation, perhaps one of Nikita S. Khrushchev’s experiments to cultivate virgin land for bread production. But the next day, Mr. Dey saw a second gigantic figure, the three-legged, swastikalike form with curlicue tips, about 300 feet in diameter.

Before the year was out, Mr. Dey had found eight more squares, circles and crosses. By 2012, there were 19. Now his log lists 260, including some odd mounds with two drooping lines called “whiskers” or “mustaches.”

Before setting out to look for the figures on the ground, Mr. Dey asked Kazakh archaeologists whether they knew of such things. The answer was no. In August 2007, he led Dr. Logvin and others to the largest figure, now called the Ushtogaysky Square, named after the nearest village.

“It was very, very hard to understand from the ground,” he recalled. “The lines are going to the horizon. You can’t figure out what the figure is.”

When they dug into one of the mounds, they found nothing. “It was not a cenotaph, where there are belongings,” he said. But nearby they found artifacts of a Neolithic settlement 6,000 to 10,000 years old, including spear points.

Now, Mr. Dey said, “the plan is to construct a base for operations.”

“We cannot dig up all the mounds. That would be counterproductive,” he said. “We need modern technologies, like they have in the West.”

Dr. LaPorte said he, Mr. Dey and their colleagues were also looking into using drones, as the Culture Ministry in Peru has been doing to map and protect ancient sites.

But time is an enemy, Mr. Dey said. One figure, called the Koga Cross, was substantially destroyed by road builders this year. And that, he said, “was after we notified officials.”


Hillary Clinton’s Failed Libya ‘Doctrine’ ROBERT PERRY


From the Archive: As the long-running Benghazi investigation returns to center stage with another round of Hillary Clinton’s testimony, the former Secretary of State’s larger failure remains obscured – how she once envisioned the bloody Libyan “regime change” as the start of a “Clinton Doctrine,” as Robert Parry reported last July.

By Robert Parry (Originally published on July 1, 2015)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fancied the violent 2011 “regime change” in Libya such a triumph that her aides discussed labeling it the start of a “Clinton Doctrine,” according to released emails that urged her to claim credit when longtime Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was deposed. And Clinton did celebrate when Gaddafi was captured and murdered. “We came; we saw; he died,” Clinton exulted in a TV interview after receiving word of Gaddafi’s death on Oct. 20, 2011, though it is not clear how much she knew about the grisly details, such as Gaddafi being sodomized with a knife before his execution.

Since then, the cascading Libyan chaos has turned the “regime change” from a positive notch on Clinton’s belt and into a black mark on her record. That violence has included the terrorist slaying of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. diplomatic personnel in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, and jihadist killings across northern Africa, including the Islamic State’s decapitation of a group of Coptic Christians last February.

It turns out that Gaddafi’s warning about the need to crush Islamic terrorism in Libya’s east was well-founded although the Obama administration cited it as the pretext to justify its “humanitarian intervention” against Gaddafi. The vacuum created by the U.S.-led destruction of Gaddafi and his army drew in even more terrorists and extremists, forcing the United States and Western nations to abandon their embassies in Tripoli a year ago.

One could argue that those who devised and implemented the disastrous Libyan “regime change” – the likes of Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power – should be almost disqualified from playing any future role in U.S. foreign policy. Instead, Clinton is the Democratic frontrunner to succeed Barack Obama as President and Power was promoted from Obama’s White House staff to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations — where she is at the center of other dangerous U.S. initiatives in seeking “regime change” in Syria and pulling off “regime change” in Ukraine.

Hillary Clinton Indicates She is Open to Raising the Retirement Age


At a forum in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton stood by her support for the death penalty, which made headlines. But her remarks about Social Security that day didn’t get as much attention.

She offered a lot of the same rhetoric many Democrats are now saying, that we need to look at how the poorest Social Security recipients are faring and think about how to shore up payments there. But she also left the door open to raising the retirement age if there were a way to exclude people who are not working labor-intensive jobs, while at the same time not fully endorsing simply raising the tax cap, which would ensure the system is fully funded going forward.

Question: You mentioned something very interesting: enhancing Social Security. So can you tell us how you might strengthen Social Security?

Clinton: Yes, you know, I think there are three parts to what we have to do with Social Security, and the first is we really have to defend Social Security from the continuing efforts by some to privatize it, which I have been studying and opposing for a long time because the numbers just don’t work out. And in the Bush administration when I was in the Senate I was one of the leaders in the fight against the plan to privatize and it is something that I, number one, will focus on: we are not going to privatize Social Security.

Secondly, I am concerned about those people on Social Security who are most vulnerable in terms of what their monthly payout is. That is primarily divorced, widowed, single women who either never worked themselves or worked only a little, so they have either just their own earnings to depend on or they had a spouse who also was a low-wage worker, and the first and most important task I think is to make sure that we get the monthly payment for the poorest Social Security recipients up. So that would be the first thing I would look at.

Thirdly, we do have to consider ways to make sure that the funding of Social Security does maintain the system. I think we have a number of options; this would be something that I would look at, I would not favor raising the retirement age. And I don’t favor it because it might be fine for somebody like me, but the vast majority of working people who have worked hard and have had a difficult, maybe last couple of decades trying to continue to work, it would be very challenging for them. If there were a way to do it that would not penalize or punish laborers and factory workers and long-distance truck drivers and people who really are ready for retirement at a much earlier age, I would consider it. But I have yet to find any recommendation that I would think would be suitable.

And I want to look at raising the cap. I think that’s something we should look at how we do it, because I don’t want it to be an extra burden on middle-class families and in some parts of the country, there’s a different level of income that defines middle class. So what do we skip and what level do we start at? And we have to consider that. So those are my three priorities in looking at Social Security.

To be clear, Clinton is not outright endorsing a clear hike in the retirement age like many of the Republicans are. But while she also seems to be open to raising the tax cap, she is not giving a figure or specific plan yet, and is making the suggestion that raising payroll taxes on families that earn over $100,000 would be an “extra burden” to those people, when actually the increase would be fairly modest.

Opening the door to any hike in the retirement age or offering opposition to simply eliminating the tax cap would put her out of step with most Americans on this issue, according to polls.


The Caliph at the Gates of Vienna By Pepe Escobar WWIII ANYONE?



Third Way panics over Bernie Sanders and the new American mainstream


Remember Third Way, the Wall-Street-run front group of supposed "Democrats?" Fresh off panicking over Elizabeth Warren, they're now panicking over Bernie Sanders.

"You would be back to 1972 if Bernie were nominated," warned Bill Daley, President Barack Obama's former chief of staff and a Third Way board member, referencing the blowout Richard Nixon win that year. "It was not a happy time for Democrats. The guy has been a socialist his whole life and now decides he is a Democrat and therefore the Democratic Party has got to move to that extreme? I think it is a recipe for disaster."

I love these assholes talking about the "extremes" inhabited by the likes of Sanders and Warren. What exactly is in Sanders' bucket of issues that is so far out of touch with America? Granted, he's hostile to Daley's friends on Wall Street, but that's actually popular. In fact, I'd be hard-pressed to find anything in his portfolio that is out-of-touch with the American mainstream.

There's a reason that Clinton has moved in his direction this past year instead of in the other direction. And where she doesn't quite go as far left as Sanders does, well, that's where her biggest liabilities emerge.

In its presentation, Third Way argued that a focus on issues like a $15 minimum wage, expanding Social Security benefits and advocating for single-payer health care all create the political dynamics that make Democrats electorally vulnerable.

Holy shit, those fuckers are delusional. Raising the minimum wage is overwhelmingly popular, even at $15. And who the fuck do they think is going to lose an election by advocating for greater Social Security benefits? And single payer? Popular! It's funny that the issues that supposedly doom Sanders are all issues supported by a majority of the American people, whether you want to slap the scaaaary "socialist" label on them or not.

Fact is, Sanders is well within the Democratic Party mainstream, which is well within the American mainstream. If you are against health care for all, against a minimum wage hike, and against a robust social net, then there's a word for you, and it's not "Democrat." So fuck off, Daley—this isn't your friends' party anymore.

The astronomer and the witch – how Kepler saved his mother from the stake


... 400 years ago, when her son was at the very height of his scientific career, Katharina Kepler was accused of witchcraft. It is because of this that it has become commonplace in Anglo-American writing to depict Kepler’s mother as a difficult, bizarre and half-crazed old crone. But what is the real story?

Kepler certainly must rank as one of the most influential scientists to come from a disadvantaged background. Whereas Galileo’s father was a noted scholar of music, Kepler’s was a soldier who kept running away from the family. His parents argued and the only brother close to him in age suffered from epilepsy. This made it difficult for the brother to attend school or learn a trade. Johannes Kepler, by contrast, soon emerged as an extremely talented boy. He was picked up by one of the most advanced Lutheran scholarship systems in Germany at the time and lived in boarding schools. He once fought against a boy who insulted his father, and was in his teens when the father disappeared for good. Kepler wrote bleak little characterisations of his parents and paternal family around the time that he finished university. He also wrote about himself as a flawed young man, obsessively interested in fame, worried about money, unable to communicate his ideas in a straightforward way. These pieces of writing have principally served as evidence who want to depict Kepler and his family as horrendous, even murderous. Yet these writings need to be put into context. Kepler wrote them very early in his life, and he did so in order to analyse his horoscopes. The whole convention of astrology was to point to character problems, rather than to laud lovely people. Kepler was a deeply Christian man, and one of his most impressive characteristics is how optimistic he soon began to feel about the world he lived in, against his odds and despite looming war. He built his own family and deeply cared about his wife and children. Kepler was confident about the importance of his discoveries and productive, even though he was never offered a university position.

Then came the accusation against his mother. The proceedings which led to a criminal trial lasted six years. The Imperial mathematician formally took over his mother’s legal defence. No other public intellectual figure would have ever involved themselves in a similar role, but Kepler put his whole existence on hold, stored up his books, papers and instruments in boxes, moved his family to southern Germany and spent nearly a year trying to get his mother out of prison. Local records for the small town in which Katharina Kepler lived are abundant. There is no evidence that she was brought up by an aunt who was burnt for witchcraft – this was one of the charges which her enemies invented. There is no evidence either that she made a living from healing – she simply mixed herbal drinks for herself and sometimes offered her help to others, like anyone else. A woman in her late 70s, Katharina Kepler withstood a trial and final imprisonment, during which she was chained to the floor for more than a year.

Kepler’s defence was a rhetorical masterpiece. He was able to dismantle the inconsistencies in the prosecution case, and show that the “magical” illnesses for which they blamed his mother could be explained using medical knowledge and common sense. In the autumn of 1621, Katharina was finally set free...

FBI Agents Accused Of Torturing U.S. Citizen Abroad Can't Be Sued



Federal agents who illegally detain, interrogate and torture American citizens abroad can't be held accountable for violating the Constitution. A divided federal appeals court on Friday tossed the lawsuit of a U.S. citizen who claimed the FBI trampled his rights for four months across three African countries while he was traveling overseas. In so many words, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the man, Amir Meshal, couldn't sue the federal government for such violations, and punted the issue to someone else.

"If people like Meshal are to have recourse to damages for alleged constitutional violations committed during a terrorism investigation occurring abroad, either Congress or the Supreme Court must specify the scope of the remedy," Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote for the 2-to-1 court.

Meshal's case had drawn support from a number of law professors, along with present and former United Nations special rapporteurs on torture, who had hoped the court would help clarify when the U.S. can be made to answer for abuses abroad. At issue in the case was a 1971 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Bivens v. Six Unknown Unnamed Agents, which found for the first time that the Constitution allows citizens to hold liable federal officials who violate their rights -- even if Congress hadn't expressly passed a law to that effect. In subsequent decisions, however, Bivens liability has been greatly narrowed by the Supreme Court, and even more by lower courts interpreting those decisions. In Friday's ruling, the D.C. Circuit recognized the current legal landscape and noted it simply couldn't be extended to the "unconventional context" of Meshal's case -- a criminal investigation occurring abroad focused on alleged terrorist activity. This meant that his claims had to be dismissed.

"To our knowledge," Rogers wrote, "no court has previously extended Bivens to cases involving either the extraterritorial application of constitutional protections or in the national security domain, let alone a case implicating both -- another signal that this context is a novel one."

Indeed, all of this may very well be too new for judges to grapple with. And one of Rogers' main rationales for rejecting Meshal's suit is that courts are ill-equipped to dabble in the "sensitivities" of national security and foreign policy matters, where the political branches of government occupy the field.

Courts are "generally not suited to second-guess executive officials operating in foreign justice systems," the judge wrote.

But the court's recounting of Meshal's story seemed to offer its own counterargument. As told by the court, Meshal's case painted a picture of government overreach and egregious constitutional violations -- allegations that Rogers herself acknowledged were "quite troubling."

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