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“I FEEL LIKE A DESPISED INSECT”: COMING OF AGE UNDER SURVEILLANCE IN NEW YORK

IN THE SPRING of last year, two New York women were arrested on charges of supporting ISIS, following a joint investigation by the New York Police Department along with federal agencies. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Queens residents Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui “plotted to wreak terror by creating explosive devices.” Central to the disruption of this “terror plot,” authorities boasted, was the work of an undercover police detective, although no concrete plan was ever hatched. Indeed, as The Intercept reported, the unsealed criminal complaint reveals the undercover officer’s role in pushing the two women to turn their controversial political sentiments into something more dangerous. In this sense, the arrests were similar to a number of post-9/11 terrorism prosecutions, half of which have involved the use of informants or undercover agents, according to a 2014report co-authored by Human Rights Watch, which raised concerns over “questionable” and “discriminatory” tactics.

At Brooklyn College, where I teach, news of the arrests prompted a chilling realization among students on campus. Years earlier, this same NYPD officer had come to Brooklyn College, “converted” to Islam, and spent the next four years infiltrating student life. In November, Gothamist broke the story: “Malike Ser” was the cop’s alias; she was known by the nickname “Mel.” There were no links between Mel’s years on campus and the investigation and arrest of Velentzas and Siddiqui (neither of whom went to Brooklyn College or any of the city’s public colleges) — a fact the NYPD has since acknowledged. What remains unclear is what, exactly, Mel was looking for on our campus.

Numerous students and graduates have spoken to me about Mel’s time on campus and the impact it has had on them. They remember seeing her beginning in March 2011 and continuing through into the winter of 2015. She befriended many young Muslim women, among them, those who were particularly political or religious. Students also remember her hovering around those who seemed vulnerable. Mel wormed her way into their friendships, their trips to Coney Island, their picnics and jokes. She even became a bridesmaid in one woman’s wedding. She inquired about their politics and mimicked their religious practices. Claiming she’d been raised in a secular Muslim Turkish family but now wanted to embrace Islam, she recited the Shahada, a declaration of Muslim faith, at the first meeting many students remember her attending and later spent dozens of hours “praying” next to them. She participated in clubs on campus, joined numerous listservs, and invited students to go with her to events around the city.

Among the young women Mel befriended at Brooklyn College was Fatima (not her real name). A gifted political science student and a politically active, devout Muslim, Fatima came to my office in early 2012 following the Associated Press revelations of widespread NYPD spying on Muslims in New York — a tactic that included placing informants in local Muslim student associations, among them, one at Brooklyn College. The NYPD’s reasoning was partly laid out in its 2007 report titled “Radicalization in the West,” which deemed increased religiosity and political activism among Muslim young people as a dangerous sign of radicalization. The NYPD created a special force — identified by the AP as the “Demographics Unit” — to monitor Muslims for such signs of radicalization. The AP revelations confirmed what many young Muslims believed to be true, and brought to the surface pressures they had long felt. Fatima wanted to study the effects of this climate of fear and suspicion on her generation of Muslim students in New York.

In 2012, Fatima undertook a one-year independent study, writing her thesis around the topic. In the midst of that year, she told me that she suspected someone on campus was an informant. An informant at John Jay College had recently come forward admitting to having spied on fellow Muslim students, sending chills through student groups across the New York metro area. Fatima was right to be concerned, yet I was at a loss for words. I worried about students regarding one another with such suspicions, and it didn’t seem there was anything we could do. I did not ask whom she suspected. It would take 2 1/2 years to confirm Fatima’s suspicions of Mel. In a chilling irony, as Fatima worked on her thesis critiquing surveillance, Mel was surveilling her and her friends.

muslim-girls-subway-nyc
Young women in the New York City subway system, Nov. 4, 2013, New York, N.Y. Photo: Ken Stein

IN THE 14 YEARS since 9/11 — and particularly since 2008 when I began writing and speaking out about the civil rights violations occurring in a number of federal terrorism prosecutions (including the case of my former student, Syed Fahad Hashmi) — many Muslim students have come to my office in fear and in tears. They describe feeling constantly suspected by many Americans and by law enforcement. Their sense of security — to feel safe on campus or in their mosque, to build community, and to engage in politics — has been compromised. Islam is a welcoming religion, but now, they tell me, they have to view new community members with suspicion. Particularly the more politically engaged students have found themselves holding back in discussions, sometimes in class and especially outside of class. They worry that things they said could be taken out of context and that criticizing the treatment of Muslims in U.S. society could be grounds for more surveillance. After the AP’s investigation, signs went up in the offices of Muslim student groups across the city exhorting members not to discuss any politics whatsoever in these spaces. Many students stopped being active in the Muslim Student Association network out of fear of informants.

In her thesis, Fatima described how such surveillance changes you. Using Foucault’s theory of the panopticon (where social discipline is so pervasive that one internalizes it) and interviews with dozens of Muslim students throughout New York City, she wrote about the ways such state surveillance produces self-surveillance. She revealed how coming of age in the aftermath of 9/11; Muslim American students have grown up in the glare of suspicion and thus constantly feel they have to watch themselves. They watch how they talk in class, socialize, engage in political activities, participate — or don’t — in their mosque and MSA. And perhaps most significantly, surveillance has altered what young people allow themselves to think about or imagine for themselves.

In the months since the discovery of Mel’s time on campus, students and former students describe feeling even more vulnerable. They report repeated panic attacks, pervasive apprehension, and trouble concentrating. “If you let it, it’s enough to make you feel like you are losing your mind,” one former student observed. “There is no one who will call out the predatory targeting of you and your peers because as soon as you say the word ‘terrorist,’ the conversation is over.” Some feel guilty for not confronting Mel years earlier. And after the initial shock, a blanket of sadness has set in; the relentlessness of surveillance, as Fatima put it, means “you will never belong, my children will never belong.”

Students report carrying mental Rolodexes, worrying about which friends, loved ones, or romantic interests might be an informant or a cop. “I created an ever-growing list of possible spies, which included everyone from classmates, professors, neighbors, friends, and even family members,” another former student wrote to me, describing her constant anxiety that it was only a “matter of days” before she too might be imprisoned on false terror charges. “The revelation of ‘Mel,’” another explained, “makes it difficult for me to trust anyone. … How can I meet new people, grow within my community and career, when the only thing I can think about is, Could someone within my close circle of trust be an informant?”

The NYPD refused to comment for Gothamist’s first piece; following the attention the article received, however, the department confirmed it had sent an undercover officer to Brooklyn College but denied charges of blanket surveillance. As Gothamist reported in its follow-up article, the NYPD claimed the “investigation” began in the spring of 2011, lasted “for most of a year,” and was closed in early 2012. No arrests were ever made. But, according to Gothamist, interviews with Brooklyn College students resoundingly contradicted the NYPD’s story, as Mel had continued cultivating friendships, attending events, and being present at meetings on campus throughout 2014. Notably, when students of color sought to form a unity coalition to bring together members from a variety of groups on campus (including black, Hispanic, and Muslim groups, as well as Students for Justice in Palestine), Mel attended their fledgling meetings in the spring and fall of 2014. Indeed, Fatima confided her suspicions to me well into the fall of 2012, long past the point when the NYPD claims to have closed its investigation.

Women whose mouths are taped in protest listen to speakers outside the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Feb. 1, 2011, Santa Ana, Calif. Photo: Jebb Harris/The Orange County Register/Zumapress.com

ON JANUARY 7, 2016, just days after Gothamist published a story contrasting the NYPD’s claims with the experiences of Brooklyn College students, a historic settlement was announced in two cases against the police department: Handschu v. Special Services Division and Raza v. City of New York. The resolution of the lawsuits, which had been filed in the wake of the AP revelations, was conditioned on a number of terms, including the appointment of a civilian lawyer with national security clearance to monitor the NYPD’s counterterrorism unit; the removal of the 2007 “Radicalization” report from the NYPD website; and the requirement that investigations not exceed three years and be based upon an “allegation or information that is articulable and factual” (although “such allegation or information need not have been verified as true or accurate”).

The settlement is an important development, but there is a danger in seeing the problem as resolved. While much of the coverage of widespread NYPD surveillance portrays it as occurring until the AP’s discovery in late 2011, Mel’s four years on campus largely took place in the wake of those revelations. In the settlement, the NYPD admitted no wrongdoing. In fact, speaking to reporters last month, Police Commissioner William Bratton took pains to reassure the public that the lawyer who will oversee the department’s counterterrorism activities “is not a monitor” and will work on a committee “controlled by the police department.” Nothing in the settlement would necessarily prevent what Mel did at Brooklyn College or give students a way to hold the NYPD accountable for abusing their rights or misleading the public about the extent of her activities on campus. Lengthy undercover “investigations” remain institutionalized through the agreement. While race, religion, or ethnicity cannot drive an official investigation, ideology still can — as it has over the past 15 years. Muslim students who become more religious or more political (who hold “Salafi” or “pro-Palestinian” or “radical” views) will likely remain potent targets for covert investigations.

As tempting as it is to focus on Mel herself, these tactics are not renegade actions. They are consistent with the NYPD’s and the FBI’s approach to Muslim communities after 9/11. They reveal how an “investigation” becomes a perch from which to spy on a community for years, how politically active and religiously conservative students become targets, and how efforts to form coalitions between students of color become suspect. Such political targeting has a long history —from attempts to root out “communists” on campus in the 1950s to the surveillance and disruption of Black Power and antiwar organizing on campus in the 1960s and 1970s (including the use of informants to sow distrust within those groups). Each time, we have come to see such tactics as excessive and degrading of civil rights. Yet here we are again.

Today, a deeper accountability is required. This kind of policing toward Muslim Americans exists because the public has countenanced it. Our tax dollars fund it. In many ways, Americans have acquiesced to the idea that “our safety” requires vigilance, which means more monitoring, more investigations, more preemptive prosecution. While many people have decried the indiscriminate surveillance of Muslim communities, there remains a widespread willingness to see certain kinds of ideas as dangerous. Armed with our fears, we allow this aggressive law enforcement, rarely having to look the consequences or these young people in the eye when we do.

For those coming of age under the glare of constant surveillance, the consequences are deeply destructive. “I desperately want to feel that I belong in this society and place that I call ‘home,’” a former student wrote to me, “but instead I feel like a despised insect, an intruder in someone else’s home.” Similar to the fundamental questions the young people of Black Lives Matter have raised before the nation, these young women wonder whose safety and security counts in American society. As Fatima wrote to me after finding out Mel’s true identity: “Whose safety is actually being prioritized when the invasive nature of the NYPD’s surveillance apparatus is criminalizing an entire faith-based community?”

Top photo: Youth board a school bus at the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center in Staten Island, N.Y., May 2007.
Subway photo: “untitled-23” by Ken Stein used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

CONTACT THE AUTHOR:

Jeanne Theoharis

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Senate Approves Permanent Ban on Taxing Internet Access

DALLAS, Feb. 15, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 (H.R. 644), which faltered at the end of last year, passed overwhelmingly in the Senate on Thursday, February 11th, in a 75-20 vote.  While dealing primarily with tougher enforcement of duties on foreign goods, contained in the last section under “Miscellaneous Provisions,” the Act provides for a permanent ban on state and local taxation of Internet access.

At the end of 2015 as part of a separate omnibus spending bill, Congress extended, yet again, a temporary moratorium on new taxes to Internet access. The temporary moratorium has been repeatedly extended since its creation in 1998, always with similar extensions of the grandfather clause protecting those states that taxed Internet access prior to the start of the ban. 1

In its latest and possibly final form, the moratorium permanently bans the imposition of any new state and local taxes on Internet access and gives those currently grandfathered states ( Hawaii, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin) until June 30, 2020, to phase out such taxes. The legislation is currently awaiting President Obama’s signature.

1 The Internet Tax Nondiscrimination Act (P.L. 107-75), enacted in 2001, was the first extension of ITFA. In 2004, the Internet Tax Nondiscrimination Act (ITNA; P.L. 108-435) extended the Internet tax moratorium through November 1, 2007. The Internet Tax Freedom Act Amendments Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-108) extended the Internet tax moratorium and the original grandfather clause through November 1, 2014. As part of a continuing appropriations resolution (P.L. 113-164) enacted in 2014, the Internet tax moratorium and the grandfather clause protections were extended through December 11, 2014. The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 (P.L. 113-235) extended the Internet tax moratorium and the grandfather clause protections through October 1, 2015. In the 114th Congress, ITFA was extended through December 11, 2015, as part of the 2016 Continuing Appropriation Act (P.L. 114-53). The passage of H.R. 2029, the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2016, extended the moratorium until October 2016.

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One Nation, Under Sedation: Medicare Paid for Nearly 40 Million Tranquilizer Prescriptions in 2013

This story was co-published with the Boston Globe, the Miami Herald and Health News Florida.

In 2012, Medicare’s massive prescription drug program didn’t spend a penny on popular tranquilizers such as Valium, Xanax and Ativan.

The following year, it doled out more than $377 million for the drugs.

The Doctors and Drugs in Medicare Part D

Our Prescriber Checkup tool has been updated with 2013 data from Medicare, including controlled substance prescribing for each provider. Explore the app

(Jeff Larson, Jennifer LaFleur, Charles Ornstein, Tracy Weber and Lena Groeger, ProPublica)

While it might appear that an epidemic of anxiety swept the nation’s Medicare enrollees, the spike actually reflects a failed policy initiative by Congress.

More than a decade ago, when lawmakers created Medicare’s drug program, called Part D, they decided not to pay for anti-anxiety medications. Some of these drugs, known as benzodiazepines, had been linked to abuse and an increased risk of falls and fractures among the elderly, who make up most of the Medicare population.

But doctors didn’t stop prescribing the drugs to Medicare enrollees. Patients just found other ways to pay for them. When Congress later reversed the payment policy under pressure from patient groups and medical societies, it swiftly became clear that a huge swath of Medicare’s patients were already using the drugs despite the lack of coverage.

In 2013, the year Medicare started covering benzodiazepines, it paid for nearly 40 million prescriptions, a ProPublica analysis of recently released federal data shows. Generic versions of the drugs — alprazolam (which goes by the trade name of Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan) and clonazepam (Klonopin) — were among the top 32 most-prescribed medications in Medicare Part D that year.

And it appears these were not new prescriptions.

IMS Health, a healthcare analytics company that tracks drug sales nationwide, logged only a tiny increase in all benzodiazepine prescriptions, including those covered by Medicare, from 2012 to 2013. That probably means Medicare paid mostly for refills of existing prescriptions, said Michael Kleinrock, director of research for the IMS Institute.

That millions of seniors are taking Xanax, Ativan and other tranquilizers represents a very real safety concern, said Dr. Brent Forester, a geriatric psychiatrist at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.

The drugs are popular because they are fast-acting — working quickly, for example, to quell debilitating panic attacks. But they can be habit-forming and disorienting and their effects last longer in older patients. For that reason, the American Geriatrics Society discourages their use in seniors for agitation, insomnia or delirium. The group says they may be appropriate to treat seizure disorders, severe anxiety, withdrawal and in end-of-life care.

Forester said he and others who specialize in geriatric psychiatry don’t use benzodiazepines as a “first-, second- or third-line treatment because we see more of the downside than the good side.”

Some geriatric psychiatrists worry that doctors may have turned to the drugs in place of antipsychotic medications to sedate patients with conditions such as dementia. In the past several years, Medicare has pushed to reduce the use of antipsychotics, particularly in nursing homes, because of strong warnings about their risks.

In 2013, Medicare covered more prescriptions for benzodiazepines than for antipsychotics.

“At the end of the day,” Forester said, “in terms of risk, the risk with benzodiazepines seems so much worse to me … There’s significant danger and there’s no spotlight.”

A spokeswoman at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services declined to answer questions about Medicare’s suddenly soaring tab for benzodiazepines.

Some doctors who ranked among Medicare’s top prescribers of the drugs said any risks were outweighed by their benefits.

Fall River, Mass., psychiatrist Claude Curran wrote more than 11,700 prescriptions for benzodiazepines (including refills) in 2013, ranking him behind only four other doctors, all from Puerto Rico. He said the drugs worked well for his patients, many of whom are trying to kick addictions to narcotics but struggle with anxiety and depression.

“First of all, they’re reliable,” he said. “Second of all, they’re cheap because they’re all generic … They tickle the brain in the same way alcohol does.”

Without benzodiazepines, he added, patients in recovery often need higher doses of methadone, which carries significant risks of its own. “Anyone who’s ever had a panic attack is sympathetic to the use of the benzos,” Curran said. “Anyone who has never had a panic attack doesn’t understand it.”

Medicare Part D Totals by the Numbers, 2013

35.1MBeneficiaries with Part D Claims
1.4BPrescriptions (Including Refills)
$103.4BRetail Price of All Prescriptions
1.3MNumber of Prescribers
39Average Prescriptions Per Beneficiary
$75.52Average Retail Price of a Prescription
47%Portion of Claims to Patients Receiving Low-Income Subsidy
10.4Average Prescriptions Per Patient, Per Provider*

Notes: Counts include initial prescriptions and refills dispensed. Retail price includes patients’ out-of-pocket costs but does not reflect drug maker rebates. Average prescriptions per patient, per provider has been adjusted to give more weight to doctors who treat more patients. (The unadjusted average is 5.7).

The vast majority of Curran’s Medicare patients were younger than 65 and qualified for coverage based on a disability. Disabled patients made up about a quarter of Part D’s 35 million enrollees in 2013, but used benzodiazepines disproportionately, accounting for about half of all prescriptions.

Miami psychiatrist Rigoberto Rodriguez also ranked high among Medicare prescribers of benzodiazepines, writing 9,900 prescriptions in 2013, but most of his patients were seniors. Many, he said, are Cuban immigrants who experienced traumas that left them with lingering anxiety, and they have been taking the drugs for years.

Rodriguez readily acknowledged the risks of the drugs for elderly users — recently, researchers found that the longer a person took benzodiazepines, the higher his or her risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. The drugs’ labels say they are generally for short-term use but many patients take them for years.

Rodriguez said he has been working to reduce his benzodiazepine prescriptions in light of emerging research. He expects that when Medicare releases data for 2014 and 2015, his totals will be lower.

Prescribing Benzodiazepines and Narcotics

Below are the states with the most doctors who prescribed at least 1,000 prescriptions of both benzodiazepines and narcotics. Experts say combining the two increase the risk of overdoses.

State # of Doctors
FL 158
AL 136
KY 102
TN 84
TX 71
GA 71
NC 60
CA 49
OH 49
VA 45

(Charles Ornstein and Ryann Grochowski Jones, ProPublica)

“This is fresh information coming out in the last couple years … telling us that benzos are probably not good and you should try to avoid them,” Rodriguez said. “I totally agree with that.”

Roberto Hernando, another Miami psychiatrist who wrote high numbers of benzodiazepine prescriptions in 2013, said he intends to review his prescribing after a reporter told him his totals.

“Some people may need it; some people may not,” he said. “You’re bringing to my attention something that I wasn’t even aware of.”

When Congress created Medicare’s drug program in 2003, there wasn’t much discussion about whether it should cover benzodiazepines.

They were on a larger list of drugs excluded for coverage, along with barbiturates, fertility drugs, and drugs for weight loss and cosmetic purposes. The list mirrored one from a law years earlier allowing states to voluntarily exclude certain drugs from Medicaid programs for the poor. (Medicare now also pays for barbiturates.)

Andrew Sperling, director of federal legislative advocacy for National Alliance on Mental Illness, said it’s unclear why Congress made the exclusions mandatory for Medicare when they had only been voluntary for Medicaid. He believes it was a drafting error.

IMS Health data suggests that while the Medicare ban was in effect, seniors and disabled patients paid for benzodiazepines in other ways. Many paid out of pocket for the relatively inexpensive drugs, which can cost less than $10 for a 30-day supply. Some, particularly those with disabilities, qualified for state Medicaid programs, which continued to cover the drugs even though they didn’t have to. Another set of patients chose Medicare Advantage plans that offered the drugs as an added benefit.

Dr. Michael Ong, an associate professor at UCLA, co-authored a 2012 paper concluding that many patients continued using benzodiazepines after Congress banned coverage in Medicare Part D and that some turned to more powerful psychiatric drugs.

Most-Prescribed Benzodiazepines

Below are the most-prescribed benzodiazepines in 2013 in Medicare’s prescription drug program.

Drug name More popularly known as # of Claims
Alprazolam Xanax 12,545,978
Lorazepam Ativan 9,720,014
Clonazepam Klonopin 8,923,315
Diazepam Valium 3,990,078
Temazepam Restoril 3,184,787

(Charles Ornstein and Ryann Grochowski Jones, ProPublica)

“Just mandating something and saying we’re not going to pay for the benzodiazepines is probably not the right type of policy solution to change the behaviors of both the providers who are providing these medications and also the patients who are using them,” Ong said.

A worrisome aspect of the newly released data is that some doctors appear to be prescribing benzodiazepines and narcotic painkillers to the same patients, increasing the risk of misuse and overdose. The drugs, paired together, can depress breathing.

ProPublica found that this pattern was most common in southeastern states, which struggle with opioid abuse and overdoses. In 2013, 158 doctors in Florida wrote at least 1,000 prescriptions each for opioids and for benzodiazepines, tops in the nation. Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee also had unusually high numbers of doctors who often prescribed both narcotics and benzodiazepines. The data does not indicate if the prescriptions were given to the same patients, although that prospect worries experts.

Dr. Leonard J. Paulozzi, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, co-authored an analysis showing that benzodiazepines were involved in about 30 percent of the fatal narcotic overdoses that occurred nationwide in 2010.

“It increases the possibility of overdoses,” he said.

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Apple Won’t Help The FBI, and Here’s Why You Should Care

n a first-of-its-kind ruling, a U.S. magistrate has ordered Apple to assist the government in unlocking the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. The FBI is seeking information that may be on Farook’s employer-issued phone as it investigates the Dec. 2 shootings that left 14 people dead.

Tashfeen Malik (left) and Syed Farook died in a gunbattle with police after the couple attacked a gathering of Farook's colleagues, killing 14.

Last Dec. 2 in San Bernardino, 14 people were killed by Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who subsequently were killed by police. They had an Apple iPhone 5C, and the FBI wants to know what’s on that phone.

The phone is locked by a passcode, and if you enter the wrong code 10 times, the phone will be wiped. The FBI asked Apple for help — it’s not just an encryption problem but a design problem; the security is baked into the design of the hardware and the software. The company refused to help, so the FBI is using a 1789 law called the All Writs Act, which basically lets a judge issue “all writs necessary” to do something that might not be covered by existing laws, to force Apple to help the agency bust the passcode on the phone.

Apple is having none of it. The company designed the software on the phone to make it impossible for anyone — even Apple itself — to get inside a phone without the passcode. This design sets the company apart from competitors who want to know everything and mine everybody’s data. Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke at a conference last fall and is quoted in Fast Company:

Privacy is a key value of our company. We think it will become increasingly important to more and more people over time as they realize that intimate parts of their lives are in the open and being used for all kinds of things… What we’ve said is that one of the key tenets that we feel very strongly about is that you can’t have a backdoor in the software, Because you can’t have a backdoor that’s only for the good guys. Any backdoor is something the bad guys can exploit.

Now that the FBI has called in the judge, Cook has taken a loud and public stance in fighting the writs. In a long public letter, he writes about the government demands:

Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.

He calls it a dangerous precedent:

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data.The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge. Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

anti-apple

Apple may well lose some business over this. Many people are claiming that the company is “building phones for terrorists.”

mims

Others, like Chris Mims of the Wall Street Journal, see a strong, principled position that takes real guts.

richie

And others note that Apple is an international company and that if this backdoor was built in for the FBI, where does it stop? If the security is baked into the hardware and the software, it’s very difficult for anyone in any country to get into it without Apple’s assistance — and the company is very loudly refusing to give that help.

Opinions about this are all over the map. Donald Trump wonders “To think that Apple won’t allow us to get into her cellphone? Who do they think they are?” Yet the American Enterprise Institute, not exactly a hotbed of left-wingers, says Apple is right to fight encryption court order as Congress dithers.

It will be interesting to see whether Apple loses customers because of this or gains them. Some are calling this Cook’s defining moment, while others are accusing him of supporting terrorists. But it’s such an important issue and one has to ask, what’s reasonable and right?

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

This is indeed a defining moment, not just for Americans but for people around the world. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, “Once this master key is created, governments around the world will surely demand that Apple undermine the security of their citizens as well.” Indeed, this is much bigger than the question of what’s on the phone belonging to two dead terrorists; it’s about the right to privacy of people everywhere, in democracies and dictatorships alike.

And right now the technology doesn’t exist to do it. Apple would have to write a new operating system. It will be interesting to see if the company can be forced to do that. There are people all over the world, with fewer protections and rights than Americans have, who are probably praying that won’t happen.

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New Medical Marijuana Tax In California

Times are changing for California as marijuana legalization progresses throughout the country with new rules and regulations being implemented statewide.

Calif. has been the pot capital of America for a while now but new regulations are being implemented including a 15 percent tax on medical marijuana.

SFGate reports:

California would levy a new 15 percent tax on medical marijuana sales to enforce new regulations and pay for state programs, rehabilitation and parks under a bill introduced Wednesday.

The Marijuana Value Tax Act could bring the state more than $100 million in new revenue. The tax was anticipated after the state passed historic regulations last year that require state and local licenses for medical marijuana businesses under the new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulations.

 “Now that there is a long overdue regulatory framework put into place, it’s time to help fund the areas that are most affected by the cultivation — those communities that have long been paying the price of the negative effects of cultivation brought on by the ‘bad actors’ who destroy the environment and bring in crime,” state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who authored SB987 and parts of last year’s marijuana regulations, said in a statement.

California became the first state in the nation to allow for medicinal use of marijuana two decades ago. Until last year’s regulations were signed into law, the billion-dollar industry remained largely unregulated.

The Board of Equalization said it anticipates medical marijuana sales to increase with the new laws. In 2014, the state took in $50 million in sales taxes from 1,623 dispensaries that registered with the Board of Equalization and filed taxes.

Marijuana taxes could eventually be higher than 15 percent if the bill becomes law. As with sales taxes, cities and counties would be able to enact their own local taxes or fees on top of the state’s 15 percent tax.

Under SB987, 30 percent of revenue from the new tax would go to the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, which would then award grants to local agencies — such as cities and law enforcement — that provide oversight on the cultivation, processing, manufacturing, distribution and sale of marijuana.

Another 30 percent of the new tax would go to the state’s general fund, and 20 percent would go to state parks to help alleviate a $1 billion deferred maintenance backlog. The state Natural Resources Agency would get 10 percent of the marijuana tax to restore public and private lands and waterways damaged by marijuana grows. The final 10 percent would go to counties for drug and alcohol treatment programs.

“I won’t say it’s not excessive — it is excessive, but it really provides a budget for the state to make it a legitimate industry like alcohol, tobacco or even gambling,” said Eddie Miller, chief strategy officer of GreenRush.com, a San Mateo online platform that connects patients with local medical marijuana dispensaries. “These are the steps necessary to have a quality industry and a safe industry for the consumer.”

The tax mirrors what is being proposed in one of several ballot initiatives aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults. Proponents of recreational marijuana are collecting signatures for initiatives they hope to put on the November ballot.

The tax bill needs support from two-thirds of lawmakers in the Assembly and state Senate in order to pass, meaning Republicans leery of new taxes would have to sign on. Last year’s marijuana regulations earned bipartisan support.

Former Republican state Sen. George Runner, who is now vice chair of the Board of Equalization, has called on the Legislature to create an excise tax on medical marijuana sales.

“I’m the first to admit that government is too bloated and that Californians are overtaxed,” Runner said in a statement last year. “But the fundamental question here is who should pay the steep costs of marijuana-related activities that include trespass on public lands, water theft and unregulated use of pesticides.”

Melody Gutierrez is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: mgutierrez@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @MelodyGutierrez

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(Video) You Are Under Arrest!! For Unpaid Student Loans. Here Comes S.W.A.T.!

Houston, TX – In what could be a story straight out of the Onion, but sadly played out in reality, a Texas man was arrested by seven heavily armed U.S. Marshals for failing to pay an almost 30-year-old student loan debt.

The man, Paul Aker, 48, said he was caught off-guard by the heavily armed agents that showed up at his home to arrest him for failing to pay the nearly 3-decades old debt.

“They grabbed me, they threw me down,” Aker told the Daily News on Tuesday. “Local PD is just standing there.”

According to a report by the NY Daily News:

He said he noticied a suspicious truck in front of his house on Thursday morning, and when someone approached, he ran back into the house. Later that morning, a bunch of armed Marshals with combat weapons showed up at his door.

“I say, ‘What is this all about?’” Aker told The News. “They say, ‘Shut up, you know what this is all about.’ I don’t have a clue.”

When Aker continued to ask, they continued to say “you know what this is all about,” he said.

Eventually he was told it was about a 30-year-old student loan.

“You could have sent me a letter. You could have called me,” Aker said.

The U.S. Marshals said later in court that they had the firepower because Aker had a gun, but he disputes that.

“But you were already at my door,” he said. “It was because they knew I was a registered gun owner.

“It’s out of control. Out of control,” he continued. What if they had seen a gun on me? They would have shot me for 1,500 bucks.”

Aker’s arrest for a 30-year-old, $1,500 dollar debt is disturbing enough; but taken in concert with the fact that simply being an owner of a firearm, a protected right under the U.S. Constitution, was reason enough for agents to arrive in combat gear and with fully automatic weapons raises the ominous specter of the police state rising.

After being arrested, Aker was held at the federal building in downtown Houston, before being brought to a courtroom, where a “prosecutor,” judge and county clerk were present, according to the NY Daily News. Aker said the alleged “prosecutor” was really a collection lawyer.

“Then I get a lecture (from the judge) about the United States and stealing from the government,” Aker said.

According to the NY Daily News:

Aker told The News that he was ordered to pay $5,700 for the loan, including interest. However, Aker was also ordered to pay for the cost of the morning arrest — nearly $1,300. If he didn’t pay that amount by March 1, he said, he was told he would be arrested again.

Aker was shaken by the entire ordeal and is working to secure legal representation. He claims that during the whole process he was never read his rights.

“I am still shaken,” Aker said. “I had to go to work yesterday, and it was hard to drive to work, for the fear of someone coming. I am looking out the window and I have things to do today, and I am still afraid to go outside.”

The average student loan debt for a 2015 graduate was approximately $35,000, according to the Wall Street Journal. The criminalization of those who can’t afford to repay a student loan may become a more common phenomena, with a report by Fox 26 claiming that U.S. Marshals have plans to serve up to 1,500 warrants on people who have failed to repay their student loans.

Texas Rep. Gene Green (D) sees a problem with using U.S. Marshals to act as muscle to collect these loans for debt collectors and lawyers.

“There’s bound to be a better way to collect on a student loan debt that is so old,” Green told Fox 26.

According to a report by Fox 26:

Congressman Gene Green says the federal government is now using private debt collectors to go after those who owe student loans.

Green says as a result, those attorneys and debt collectors are getting judgements in federal court and asking judges to use the US Marshals Service to arrest those who have failed to pay their federal student loans.

Our reliable source with the US Marshal in Houston say Aker isn’t the first and won’t be the last.

They have to serve anywhere from 1200 to 1500 warrants to people who have failed to pay their federal student loans.

It is extremely worrisome that armed agents of the state are being used to bully people into paying delinquent student loan debt. There has to be a more intelligent manner in which to attempt to reconcile these debts than to send heavily armed men to arrest those either unwilling or more than likely unable to pay.

It speaks to the nature of the state itself that the default position is virtually always one of coercive force rather than to intellectually assess the means that will most likely provide the desired result – a reconciled debt.

When all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.


Jay Syrmopoulos is a political analyst, free thinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay’s work has been published on Ben Swann’s Truth in Media, Truth-Out, Raw Story, MintPress News, as well as many other sites. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.

Read more at http://thefreethoughtproject.com/heavily-armed-u-s-marshals-arrest-man-30-y-o-unpaid-student-loan-1500-arrests-planned/#KoEBqYDhvEKFf574.99

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GOP Candidates Compete Over Who Will Commit Most War Crimes Once Elected

At a rally in New Hampshire on Monday night, Donald Trump was criticizing Ted Cruz for having insufficiently endorsed torture — Cruz had said two nights earlier that he would bring back waterboarding, but not “in any sort of widespread use” — when someone in the audience yelled out that Cruz was a “pussy.” Trump, in faux outrage, reprimanded the supporter, repeating the allegation for the assembled crowd: “She said he’s a pussy. That’s terrible. Terrible.”

The spectacle of one Republican presidential candidate being identified by another as a “pussy” for failing to sufficiently endorse an archetypal form of torture exemplifies the moral state of the current race for the GOP nomination.

The Republican candidates have seemingly been competing with one another over who would commit the gravest war crimes if elected. In recent months, one candidate or another has promised to waterboard, do a “helluva lot worse than waterboarding,” repopulate Guantánamo, engage in wars of aggressionkill families of suspected terrorists, and “carpet bomb” Middle Eastern countries until we find out if “sand can glow in the dark.”

The over-the-top bombast plays well in front of self-selected Republican audiences — the crowd responded to the description of Cruz Monday night with full-throated chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” But such promises of future criminality from potential presidential nominees have outraged many legal experts.

“Torture, indiscriminate killing of civilians, and indefinite detention are clear violations of international and domestic law,” says Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.

Cruz not only called for the reinstitution of waterboarding during Saturday’s presidential debate, but actually justified the practice using language reminiscent of the infamous 2002 “Bybee Memo,” authored by disgraced former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo. The Texas senator, who had previously said that “torture is wrong, unambiguously, period, the end,” was asked if waterboarding qualified as torture, and responded: “Well, under the definition of torture, no, it’s not. Under the law, torture is excruciating pain that is equivalent to losing organs and systems, so under the definition of torture, it is not. It is enhanced interrogation, it is vigorous interrogation, but it does not meet the generally recognized definition of torture.”

But Yoo’s definition is absolutely not “the law.” His torture memos, written for Vice President Dick Cheney to provide legal cover for clearly illegal acts, were later rescinded and repudiated by the Bush administration itself, for being barbaric, legally unsupported, and unreasonable. “This question regarding whether waterboarding is torture? It’s not arguable,” says Pardiss Kebriaei, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Trump, at the same debate, said, “I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a helluva lot worse than waterboarding.”

Trump has vociferously argued in favor of the utility of torture, despite the fact that interrogation experts are nearly unanimous that, moral considerations aside, it’s no good for extracting truthful information; it’s best for revenge, false confessions, and propaganda. “Don’t kid yourself, folks. It works, OK? It works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work,” Trump said in November. But, he added, “If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing.”

Says Kebriaei: “Ted Cruz and Donald Trump can choose to opt in or out of both international and American understandings of what constitutes torture, but that doesn’t change the legal status of waterboarding as torture.”

Another frequent Republican presidential talking point, embraced most vocally by Cruz, is the need to “carpet bomb” territories under the control of ISIS. These territories happen to be home to millions of civilians with no connection to ISIS, other than having the misfortune to live under the group’s control. Nonetheless, Cruz has pledged to “carpet-bomb them into oblivion,” stating that “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out!”

Cruz has further claimed that his carpet-bombing would actually be restrained. “When I say saturation carpet bombing, that is not indiscriminate,” Cruz said during the most recent debate. “It’s targeted at infrastructure. It’s targeted at communications. It’s targeted at bombing all of the roads and bridges going in and out of Raqqa. It’s using overwhelming air power.”

But when asked if he would like to expand the rules of engagement that currently serve as a restraint to bombing civilians, Cruz responded: “Absolutely, yes.”

Experts say that carpet-bombing is by definition a war crime because it lacks individual targets. “One must always distinguish civilians and civilian objects from combatants and military objects and never target that which is civilian,” says Widney Brown of Physicians for Human Rights. “Depriving civilians of energy, attacking communications infrastructure, roads and bridges … such a bombing plan is a form of collective punishment against civilians and it is unlawful.”

Under Rule 7 of the International Committee for the Red Cross guidelines for the laws of war, “parties [to] conflict must at all times distinguish between civilian objects and military objectives. Attacks may only be directed against military objectives. Attacks must not be directed against civilian objects.”

Meanwhile, Marco Rubio has promised voters that he would start sending new prisoners to the facility at Guantánamo Bay at a time when the Obama administration is trying to close it. In the January 14 debate, Rubio said of members of ISIS, “If we capture any of them alive, they are getting a one-way ticket to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and we are going to find out everything they know.”

At Saturday’s debate, Rubio left the clear impression that the only reason he was not specifying what kind of torture he supported was that “we should not be discussing in a widespread way the exact tactics that we’re going to use because that allows terrorists to know to practice how to evade us.”

Hope Metcalfe, an international law expert at Yale Law School, warns that any of these policies would be a “disaster, on both legal and policy fronts.”

“The United States is bound by international treaties prohibiting practices that result in physical and psychological harm to detainees, which is why the Bush administration had no choice but to reverse course when the Yoo memo became public,” Metcalfe says. “Prior attempts to evade settled law on torture were met with universal disdain, because arguments in its favor are morally corrupt and legally indefensible. ”

But the ACLU’s Shamsi argues that the current positions of the candidates are a reflection of the U.S.’s unsettled moral climate related to national security. “Policies like these would be harder for politicians to embrace today if the Obama administration had provided meaningful torture accountability, and if it weren’t carrying out unlawful drone strikes or holding Guantánamo prisoners indefinitely,” she says.

The debate is also alarming American allies, particularly in Europe, says Scott Horton, an international human rights lawyer. “How could somebody who talks like this be the leader of the Atlantic alliance? It’s not possible. It’s disqualifying. And nobody in the United States seems to get that,” he says.

Horton says that mainstream U.S. media are barely covering the outrageous comments being made by the candidates. “They are so obsessed with the horserace,” he laments. To write about issues like torture — and put outrageous comments in their proper context — “you actually have to know facts, which is so hard,” Horton says. “Just talking about the latest opinion polls, that’s so easy.”

Additional reporting: Alex Emmon, Zaid Jilani, and Jenna McLaughlin

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IRS Grants Nonprofit Status to ‘Dark Money’ Group

Donors to the nonprofit group Crossroads GPS, founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, no longer have to worry about their identities being disclosed. After a five-year wait, the IRS has approved the organization’s application for tax-exempt status.

Crossroads had been the most active of the nonprofits that are funneling cash into politics — often called dark money because the original source of the funds may be kept secret if the organizations have social welfare as their primary purpose. During the 2012 cycle, Crossroads reported spending almost twice as much on political ads as the next-most-active nonprofit, Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

So far, during the 2016 cycle, the Rove group seems to be dormant. It has not filed any reports with the Federal Election Commission since January 2015 and has not reported any TV ad spending with the Federal Communications Commission. During the 2012 campaign, the group didn’t start spending on TV ads until July, after Mitt Romney had locked up the GOP nomination.

The IRS decision on Crossroads came in November but was first reported today by the Center for Responsive Politics. Unless new facts arise or circumstances change, the past, present and future donors to the Rove group can now feel assured that they will remain anonymous. That gives Crossroads a leg up over other dark money groups that lack IRS approval and could be vulnerable to having that status challenged by the federal government at any time.

Crossroads GPS, also known as Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, was created after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling helped pave the way for unlimited corporate and union spending on elections, super PACs and hundreds of millions of dollars in anonymous money.

As ProPublica previously reported, in the group’s 2010 application for nonprofit status, it told the IRS that while it planned to spend money on elections, “any such activity will be limited in amount, and will not constitute the organization’s primary purpose.” A copy of the Crossroads application was sent from the IRS to ProPublica in late 2012, although under the agency’s rules it isn’t permitted to release applications from groups that haven’t yet earned tax-exempt status.

Critics had argued that Crossroads was spending so much on politics it should be treated instead as a political committee that’s required to disclose its donors. In 2013, the IRS became engulfed in a scandal over allegations that it gave more scrutiny to nonprofit applications from conservative groups. One top IRS official, Lois Lerner, was accused of singling out Crossroads and pushing for its application to be denied.

Marcus Owens, the former director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division, said that based on what has surfaced about Crossroads’ political activity in support of a single political party, he was surprised the group was granted a status reserved for organizations supporting the general public good.

“Operating for the benefit of one particular candidate or party, it’s hard to say that’s not private benefit,” he said.

Owens said he could envision corporations now being allowed to outsource various business functions to tax-exempt nonprofits. “Undertaking the marketing of General Motors, for example. Why not? If it’s OK to market the principles of a particular party or candidate, why leave it at that?” Owens asked.

Republicans aren’t the only ones benefitting from nonprofits that are allowed to keep their donors anonymous. During the 2014 cycle, non-disclosing groups with a conservative viewpoint spent almost $125 million, and those with a liberal viewpoint spent almost $35 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The biggest liberal spender was union-backed Patriot Majority USA.

In a statement, the president of Crossroads GPS, Steven Law said that the organization takes compliance seriously, so it was not surprised by the IRS approval.

“What we were surprised by was how long it took and how people outside the IRS improperly tried to influence and politicize the process, not just against us but against many other law-abiding advocacy groups,” Law said.

Related Stories: For more of ProPublica’s coverage of politics and lobbying, check out our ongoing series, The Breakdown.

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Painting the White House Green

This article was excerpted from Newsweek’s Special Edition, Weed 2016: The Beginning of the End for Pot Prohibition. For the past four years, the cannabis legalization movement has sprouted from 420-friendly states such as California and Alaska to take over headlines and ballots in even more conservative swing states such as Missouri and Ohio. Given the… Continue reading Painting the White House Green

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The CIA Has Been Lying to Its Own Employees for Decades

Derrick Broze
February 11, 2016

 (ANTIMEDIA) United States — A new report has revealed that for years top officials with the Central Intelligence Agency have intentionally deceived some of their employees by circulating memos with false information, a practice known as “eyewash.”

Interviews of current and ex-CIA officials conducted by The Washington Post detail how the tactic is an important but apparently infrequent security tool that helps protect important secrets by inserting fake communications into routine cable traffic. The actual, accurate information is then communicated on separate channels.

The Post writes:

“Senate investigators uncovered apparent cases of eyewashing as part of a multi-year probe of the CIA’s interrogation program, according to officials who said that the Senate Intelligence Committee found glaring inconsistencies in CIA communications about classified operations, including drone strikes.

“At least two eyewashing cases are cited in the classified version of the committee’s final report, according to officials who have reviewed the document. In one instance, leaders at CIA headquarters sent a cable to the agency’s station in Pakistan saying operators there were not authorized to pursue a potentially lethal operation against the alleged al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Zubaida. But a second set of instructions sent to a smaller circle of recipients told them to disregard the other message and that the mission could proceed.”

The Post says that references to eyewash date back to the 19th century in books on spying, as well as more recent Hollywood movies such as “Argo”. One official who has seen the Senate report said, “The people in the outer levels who didn’t have insider access were being lied to. They were being intentionally deceived.”

Five former “high-ranking CIA officials” said they have never heard of eyewash nor had they seen it used in internal communications. Fred Hitz, a former CIA inspector general, told the Post that someone might make a decision based on false information and said the tactic was equivalent to “playing with fire.” Other officials interview by the Post said the program has a significant potential for abuse.

Another government official who claims to have seen the practice said that in his career of more than two decades he had “only seen maybe five or six” eyewash cables. So far, the CIA has refused to comment on theWashington Post story.

Federal laws exist which make it illegal for a government employee to lie or falsify statements in an official record. Somehow, the CIA has managed to become so far above the law that they are able to lie to their own employees and compartmentalize it in such a fashion that the left hand never knows what the right hand is doing.

Which leads me back to my original question – 

Every informed person already knows the U.S. government lies to, steals from, and monitors the people of this land. Maybe some of the readers believed this was a practice that ended once you worked on the inside of government. Perhaps you thought the lies are just a necessary part of politics in American life but had some faith in government, believing that it could not truly operate behind a wall of secrecy.

However, now that our knowledge is broadened we have a deeper understanding of the situation. The U.S. government is full of liars and crooks. Yes, there are a few people who believe they can change things from the inside, but they are misguided. Changing presidents or “representatives” will not eliminate the Deep State, the hidden power elite which work within the various bureaucracies of government. This is not conspiracy.

The State exists only to serve its own ends and this includes creating programs like “eyewash” which allow individuals to hide their true intentions and further confuse the population. There are literally thousands of government employees in positions of power who will never be elected or decided by the people. These unknown servants of the State make decisions that affect government policies and thus your life.

If we are to create change in ways that benefit the individual and the community at large we must first recognize that government is no friend of a free, happy, and virtuous life. Shake off the chains of the CIA, the FBI, the DEA, the IRS, the NSA, and all other government pawns and claim your freedom.


This article (The CIA Has Been Lying to Its Own Employees for Decades) is a free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Derrick Broze and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email edits@theantimedia.org.