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Thread: USA under presidency of a know-nothing, neo-fascist, racist, sexist, mobbed-up narcissist!!

  1. #881

    Default So much for an 'opposition'....Congress [with a FEW exceptions] is against the People.



    The #Resistance Folds: Unites With Trump And Deep State To Protect Warrantless Surveillance

    by Colin Kalmbacher | 2:52 pm, January 11th, 2018




    President Donald Trump confused some people about warrantless surveillance this morning. But Democrats and Republicans in Congress got the real message loud and clear.
    First, at 4:33 a.m. Trump tweeted out what appeared to be a semi-coherent criticism of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”). He wrote:
    “House votes on controversial FISA ACT today.” This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?
    Trump’s question mark was appropriate. Maybe FISA was used to obtain authority for still-unproven Trump Tower surveillance. Maybe not. We may never know because FISA Court (“FISC”) proceedings are wholly secretive exercises conducted with absolutely no meaningful oversight. But this tweet from Trump was odd, because he appeared to be taking the side of an issue the GOP is firmly opposed to.
    Then, at 6:14 a.m. Trump reversed himself by endorsing FISA renewal while making an irrelevant comment possibly intended to deflect. He wrote, “With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!
    Aside from the irrelevant “unmasking” comment, the immediately above-mentioned tweet is inaccurate. Today’s vote was not “about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land.” Rather, today’s vote was about Section 702 of FISA–which largely concerns unconstitutional surveillance of Americans.
    The law was initially passed to retroactively legalize the crimes of the George W. Bush administration after they were revealed publicly. Section 702 was then reauthorized, solidified and became part of the bi-partisan consensus by Barack Obama and his Democratic Party super-majorities in Congress in 2009.
    Deep state aficionados and other nat-sec-brained ghouls who despise the U.S. Constitution’s protections on individual liberty are big fans of Section 702. They argue, without credibility, that the focus of Section 702 is on foreigners. This is not really true and not particularly germane: the U.S. Constitution protects everyone on American soil or under U.S. jurisdiction–the enumerated rights are not supposed to be limited to Americans alone. The Century Foundation explains why Section 702 is so controversial now:
    Section 702 is important because it allows intelligence agencies to intercept electronic communications on U.S. territory for foreign intelligence purposes without prior approval of a court—a practice that had been outlawed for decades. Under that legal authority, the NSA scoops up international communications as they pass through large internet switches in the United States, and the FBI, on NSA’s behalf, collects email, chats, photos, documents, and other electronic data stored by U.S. companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft…Section 702 allows intelligence agencies to choose their targets without disclosing or defending them in court. The FISC approves a set of rules and procedures once a year and the government promises to follow them. But the government does not have to tell a judge who it is spying on or why.
    Even the above description undersells the truth about Section 702. In effect, the provision is used to unconstitutionally conduct mass surveillance on American citizens. It can be stated, without hyperbole, that Section 702 has all-but erased the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Edward Snowdennoted the extent to which the National Security Agency (“NSA”) illegally uses Section 702 to intrude upon Americans’ privacy and trample the Bill of Rights:
    All of your private communications, all of your transactions, all of your associations, who you talk to, who you love, what you buy, what you read, all of these things can be seized and then held by the government and then searched later for any reason, hardly without any justification, without any reason, without any real oversight, without any real accountability for those who do wrong.
    The Fourth Amendment is, at heart, a prohibition against general warrants. Only particularized warrants are permissible and must be based “upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly [describe] the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Section 702, in theory, is supposed to prohibit the collection of Americans’ data and communications. But let’s leave hearts and theories out of this entirely.
    In practice, Section 702 is a vulgarly legalistic validation of general warrants. Most of Section 702 surveillanceactually conducted has nothing to do with foreigners or terrorists of any sort–the vast majority of allegedly unintentional targets are regular internet users in the United States–by a measure of nearly 10 to one, according to a 2014 report by The Washington Post.
    As The Intercept has noted, U.S. law enforcement agencies use unconstitutionally-obtained Section 702 evidence against everyday criminal defendants. This evidence is gathered in secret–and it remains secret. According to the law, defendants are supposed to be notified when secretive, warrantless surveillance data is used against them–but America doesn’t really have the rule of law.
    In practice, defendants are usually kept in the dark about the secret data used against them–data that is collected in violation of the Fourth Amendment in the first place. But who cares about breaking the law in question–Section 702–when the law itself flagrantly sidesteps the Fourth Amendment?
    There was an amendment that would have closed the so-called “loophole” used to unconstitutionally surveil American citizens. (The loophole being: the NSA does the surveilling and then shares it with the FBI after the fact. In plain language we might call this a “conspiracy.”) It’s called the USA RIGHTS Act. That amendment to the FISA renewal bill would have made it illegal for the government to use surveillance tools against Americans without a warrant. According to Senator Ron Wyden, one of the Act’s Democratic co-authors in the Senate:
    The bill reforms Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to end warrantless backdoor searches of Americans’ calls, emails, texts and other communications that are routinely swept up under a program designed to spy on foreign targets.
    The USA RIGHTS Act failed today. That failure occurred, in large part, due to the votes of House Democrats.
    Included among them were Hashtag Resistance heroes-cum-hucksters like Adam Schiff, Nancy Pelosi, Joaquin Castro and Democratic Senate candidate for Arizona in 2018, Kyrsten Sinema. Pelosi and Paul Ryan even took to the House floor to urge a vote against the USA RIGHTS Act. These faux resisters were cheered on in their support for Section 702 by none other than James Comey.
    In sum, 65 Democrats joined 191 Republicans by voting to reauthorize Section 702. Donald Trump may have started out the day being confused–and confusing–but the deep state consensus and B.S. #Resistance cleared things up for him fairly fairly quickly.


    If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” - Frederick Douglass
    "Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
    "Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn

  2. #882

    Default The Sad Truth - The Distopian Future For the USA

    If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” - Frederick Douglass
    "Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
    "Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn

  3. #883

    Default Starting to get at Trump's real crimes.....

    IMO, the ONLY thing good in the Trump 'plan' was a better relationship with Russia - a desirable thing, but one that the MIC+++++++ fears will hurt their profits and wars and control through external enemies. However, as I have long stated in this thread, his desire for a better relationship with Russia was for all the wrong reasons. There are good reasons to do so, but Trump shares none of them. His reason is that he has long been involved with Russian and FSU oligarchs and banking - and with them in money laundering. They have been his only real source of loans in recent decades and he seems to use as collateral his buildings' units for sale to be used for money laundering and turning a blind eye. A recent investigation by Al Jazeera has taken this a step further and identified a few names involved with Trump and one another. I believe this is why Trump fears any investigation into his finances. It is not about Russia and the election really, it is about Trump and dirty money that just happens to come from sources and persons in or from the FSU. This is also why he didn't show his tax returns. Sadly, the Democrats and others are twisting it in order to keep Russia as a permanent enemy. Does Russia and the FSU states have corrupt persons and institutions - you bet they do! - just as one can find in any country, including UK and US bigtime. That is not the point. If Trump is guilty of huge financial crimes, the nation states of the persons he is involved with really doesn't much matter, and will surely include a large number of people from a huge number of countries...as this very good mini-investigation demonstrates. The second video is the better by far, but the first sets the stage.

    JANUARY 13, 2018 | CLAIRE WANG


    EXPOSING THE DIRTY DEEDS OF UKRAINIAN OLIGARCHS

    Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (left) shaking hands with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in April 2011. Photo credit: Premier of Russia / Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)
    With money looted from the state and stashed in tax havens abroad, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych bought the largest log cabin in the world — a $2 billion “monument to corruption,” according to an investigation by Al Jazeera.
    Through dozens of contracts and court filings, Al Jazeera reporters mapped the circuitous route Yanukovych took to funnel $1.5 billion worth of assets to offshore businesses. A sprawling 95-page secret court document revealed that Investment Capital Ukraine (ICU), a Kiev-based financial group, facilitated the purchase of stolen government bonds on behalf of eight Cypriot shell companies — all tied to Yanukovych.
    Three Ukrainian oligarchs traded $160 million worth of assets held in one of these corporations, Quickpace Limited. According to an unsigned contract, oil tycoon Alexander Onischenko and real estate mogul Pavel Fuchs — who has had dealings with President Donald Trump — bought the company for just $30 million. A Ukrainian judge suspected the assets were proceeds from criminal activities and froze them before the pair could make a staggering profit.
    The seller, billionaire Serhiy Kurchenko, is known among Ukrainian investigators as Yanukovych’s “family wallet.”
    Before he was toppled in the course of the Ukrainian revolution in 2014, Yanukovych and his cronies pumped illicit assets into Ukraine-based companies and then transferred them to offshore accounts. From there, the funds were redirected to a slew of shell companies in Cyprus, Belize, the British Virgin Islands, the UK and other countries.
    Elaborate money laundering schemes have been a main focus of WhoWhatWhy’s reporting. One of our most-read stories of 2017 was an expose of Trump’s business dealings with developer Felix Sater and the Bayrock Group, a real estate firm with ties to the Russian mob. More recently we took a close look at Deutsche Bank, a banking colossus tainted by charges of money laundering.
    Watch the videos below to learn more about the staggering corruption that bedevils impoverished Ukraine — and often benefits Western partners.



    If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” - Frederick Douglass
    "Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
    "Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn

  4. Default

    I gather Trumps ancestors came from a very small town & were microcephalic.
    [SIZE=1]Martin Luther King - "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
    Albert Camus - "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion".
    Douglas MacArthur — "Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword obviously never encountered automatic weapons."
    Albert Camus - "Nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear."[/SIZE]

  5. #885

    Default My, do I ever love Chris Hedges!.....

    You Don’t Need a Telescope to Find a ‘Shithole Country'

    by Chris Hedges


    A poster depicting the 1930s revolutionary and namesake of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which was one of the main participants in the El Salvador war of the 1980s and '90s. (@martixos)

    I covered the war in El Salvador for five years. It was a peasant uprising by the dispossessed against the 14 ruling families and the handful of American corporations that ran El Salvador as if it was a plantation. Half of the population was landless. Laborers worked as serfs in the coffee plantations, the sugar cane fields and the cotton fields in appalling poverty. Attempts to organize and protest peacefully to combat the huge social inequality were met with violence, including fire from machine guns mounted on the tops of buildings in downtown San Salvador that rained down bullets indiscriminately on crowds of demonstrators. Peasant, labor, church and university leaders were kidnapped by death squads, brutally tortured and murdered, their mutilated bodies often left on roadsides for public view. When I arrived, the death squads were killing between 700 and 1,000 people a month.
    An insurgent army arose, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (known by the Spanish-language abbreviation FMLN), named for the leader of a peasant uprising in 1932 that was crushed through the slaughter of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, many of them killed in summary executions. The FMLN seized huge parts of the country from the corrupt and demoralized military. In the fall of 1983, the rebels, supplied with weapons from the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, were on the verge of capturing the country’s second largest city. I did not, at first, travel with the army. It was too dangerous. It was far safer to go into combat with the FMLN. Without outside intervention, the rebels would have seized control of El Salvador within months and ousted the oligarchs.
    But, far to the north, was a shithole country ruled by a former B-list movie actor who had starred in “Bedtime for Bonzo” and who was in the early stages of dementia. This shithole country, which saw the world in black and white, communist and capitalist, was determined to thwart the aspirations of the poor and the landless. It would not permit the profits of its companies, such as United Fruit, or the power of the pliant oligarch class that did its bidding in El Salvador, to be impeded. It had disdain for the aspirations of the poor, especially the poor of Latin American or Africa, the wretched of the earth, as writer Frantz Fanon called them, people who in the eyes of those who ruled the shithole country should toil in misery all their lives for the oligarchs and the big American companies allied with them. Let the poor, brown and black people go hungry, watch their children die of sickness or be murdered. Power and wealth, those who ruled this shithole country believed, was theirs by divine right. They, as the lords of shithole-dom, were endowed with special attributes. God blessed shithole countries.

    The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda understood how those who ruled the shithole country looked at the wretched of the earth. He wrote:
    When the trumpet sounded, it was
    all prepared on the earth,
    the Jehovah parceled out the earth
    to Coca Cola, Inc., Anaconda,
    Ford Motors, and other entities:
    The Fruit Company, Inc.
    reserved for itself the most succulent,
    the central coast of my land,
    the delicate waist of America.
    It rechristened its territories
    as the ‘Banana Republics’
    and over the sleeping dead,
    over the restless heroes,
    who brought about the greatness, the liberty and the flags,
    it established the comic opera:
    Abolished independencies,
    presented crowns of Caesar,
    unsheathed envy, attracted
    the dictatorship of flies. …
    The dictatorship of flies had its downside. It elevated the imbecilic and the inept, men whose main attributes were brutality, mendacity and thievery. They were uniformly unpleasant creatures. Anastasio “Tachito” Somoza in Nicaragua. The Duvaliers in Haiti. Augusto Pinochet in Chile. Efraín Ríos Montt in Guatemala. These flies did the bidding of the shithole country. They would murder their own people without compunction and, for hefty bribes, would allow the corporations to exploit and pillage. Yes, they had their eccentricities. The depraved often do. Gen. Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, who came to power in a military coup, led the government in El Salvador that carried out the 1932 massacres known as La Matanza. The general, a recluse who rarely appeared in public, was a believer in the occult and held séances in the presidential residence. He was one of the models for Gabriel García Márquez’s portrait of a Latin American tyrant in “The Autumn of the Patriarch.” Martínez styled himself after the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. He barred all immigration by Arabs, Hindus, Chinese and blacks. He once announced: “It is good that children go barefoot. That way they can better receive the beneficial effluvia of the planet, the vibrations of the earth. Plants and animals don’t use shoes.” And he said it was a greater crime to kill an ant than a human being “because a man who dies is reincarnated while an ant dies forever.” His solution to a measles epidemic was to order the streetlights wrapped in cellophane to purify the air. He believed that colored water could cure most illnesses.
    How surprised the leaders of the shithole country would be if they knew about the poets, the writers and the artists, the intellectuals and the men and women of great moral probity, such as the Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who in 1980 was assassinated with a bullet shipped down to the killers from the shithole country. The leaders of the shithole country do not see the people of Latin America or Africa as fully human. But then they are not great readers, especially of poetry by the lesser breeds of the earth. They have not heard the truth of the Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton, who wrote:
    Take care, you’re worth your weight in gold.
    Because in capitalism only the owners
    of gold are worth their weight in gold.
    The shithole country poured $1 million a day in aid and weapons into the land. They sent down their most ruthless killers, including Félix Rodríguez, the CIA agent and Bay of Pigs veteran who had overseen the hunt for Che Guevara in Bolivia, presided over his execution and proudly wore the wristwatch he had taken from the martyred revolutionary’s body. At night you could see the killers sent to El Salvador by the shithole country, usually with their Vietnamese wives, sitting around the pool at the Sheraton Hotel. They had perfected the dark arts of infiltrating, torturing, interrogating, disappearing and murdering through practice on the people of Vietnam during the war there. They could teach you how to strangle someone with piano wire so there would be no noise as the victim choked to death. They brought many such skills with them to Central America. They directed the death squads to wipe out the resistance leaders, priests and nuns working in poor communities, teachers, journalists, labor organizers, student leaders, professors and intellectuals who denounced the barbarity. They trained and equipped new soldiers for the oligarchs. They formed mercenary units with hundreds of soldiers recruited from countries such as Honduras, Venezuela and Chile. They called these military units, which were secret, Unilaterally Controlled Latino Assets. They sent them to fight the FMLN because the Salvadoran military was so unreliable. They provided fleets of helicopters to hunt the insurgents by air. It was an orgy of militarism. By the time the shithole country was done, it had spent $4 billion to crush the uprising. And while it was orchestrating the bloodbath in El Salvador it provided $1 billion to the thugs and killers known as the Contras in Nicaragua, where 50,000 people were murdered. It also quietly assisted the killers of Guatemala, where 200,000 were slain. The poor peasants did not stand a chance. Mass graves dotted the Central American isthmus, a testament to their work.

    Dalton wrote:
    The dead are more insolent than ever.
    It used to be easy:
    we gave them a starched collar a flower
    we placed their names on an honor roll:
    the length and breath of our land
    the illustrious shades of yesteryear
    the monstrous statue.
    The cadaver signed on memory’s dotted line
    joined the rank and file once more
    and marched to the beat of our worn out music
    But what are you gonna do
    the dead
    just ain’t what they used to be.
    These days they get ironic
    ask questions.
    Seems to me they’re starting to figure out
    that they are the majority.
    The leaders of the shithole country would oversee the murder of 80,000 people and 8,000 disappeared in El Salvador. Intelligence officials from the shithole country were, it appears, complicit in the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Romero, organized by a former Salvadoran army officer named Roberto D’Aubuisson—known affectionately as “Blowtorch Bob”—who was one of the shithole country’s favorite killers. The shithole country protected those who ordered the murder and rape of four American churchwomen in December 1980. They protected the officers of the Atlacatl Brigade—which in 1981 had massacred more than 700 civilians in El Mozote—when in 1989 they gunned down six Spanish Jesuit priests, one of whom was the rector of the University of Central America, plus their housekeeper and her teenage daughter, on the university campus. The Salvadoran officers who oversaw these massacres, and countless others, had been selected and trained in the shithole country’s U.S. Army School of the Americas. The war would destroy much of the infrastructure. El Salvador never recovered. It is awash in weapons. It experiences a murder every one and a half hours. Let the blood flow, the leaders of the shithole country said. The blood of brown and black people does not matter.

    A shithole country depends on your perspective.
    If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” - Frederick Douglass
    "Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
    "Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn

  6. #886

    Default The constant march toward fascism under Trump [and others]

    Thought Police for the 21st Century by Chris Hedges



    Mr. Fish / Truthdig
    DETROIT—The abolition of net neutrality and the use of algorithms by Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter to divert readers and viewers from progressive, left-wing and anti-war sites, along with demonizing as foreign agents the journalists who expose the crimes of corporate capitalism and imperialism, have given the corporate state the power to destroy freedom of speech. Any state that accrues this kind of power will use it. And for that reason I traveled last week to Detroit to join David North, the chairperson of the international editorial board of the World Socialist Web Site, in a live-stream event calling for the formation of a broad front to block an escalating censorship while we still have a voice.
    “The future of humanity is the struggle between humans that control machines and machines that control humans,” Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, said in a statement issued in support of the event. “Between the democratization of communication and usurpation of communication by artificial intelligence. While the Internet has brought about a revolution in people’s ability to educate themselves and others, the resulting democratic phenomena has shaken existing establishments to their core. Google, Facebook and their Chinese equivalents, who are socially, logistically and financially integrated with existing elites, have moved to re-establish discourse control. This is not simply a corrective action. Undetectable mass social influence powered by artificial intelligence is an existential threat to humanity. While still in its infancy, the trends are clear and of a geometric nature. The phenomena differs in traditional attempts to shape cultural and political phenomena by operating at scale, speed and increasingly at a subtlety that eclipses human capacities.”
    In late April and early May the World Socialist Web Site, which identifies itself as a Trotskyite group that focuses on the crimes of capitalism, the plight of the working class and imperialism, began to see a steep decline in readership. The decline persisted into June. Search traffic to the World Socialist Web Site has been reduced by 75 percent overall. And the site is not alone. AlterNet’s search traffic is down 71 percent, Consortium News’ traffic is down 72 percent. And the situation appears to be growing worse.
    The reductions coincided with the introduction of algorithms imposed by Google to fight “fake news.” Google said the algorithms are designed to elevate “more authoritative content” and marginalize “blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information.” It soon became apparent, however, that in the name of combating “fake news,” Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are censoring left-wing, progressive and anti-war sites. The 150 most popular search terms that brought readers to the World Socialist Web Site, including “socialism,” “Russian Revolution” and “inequality,” today elicit little or no traffic.

    Monika Bickert, head of global policy management at Facebook, told the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in a hearing Wednesday that Facebook employs a security team of 10,000—7,500 of whom “assess potentially violating content”—and that “by the end of 2018 we will more than double” it to over 20,000. Social media companies are intertwined with and often work for U.S. intelligence agencies. This army of censors is our Thought Police.
    The group, Bickert said, includes “a dedicated counterterrorism team” of “former intelligence and law-enforcement officials and prosecutors who worked in the area of counterterrorism.” She testified that artificial intelligence automatically flags questionable content. Facebook, she said, does not “wait for these … bad actors to upload content to Facebook before placing it into our detection systems.” The “propaganda” that Facebook blocks, she said, “is content that we identify ourselves before anybody” else can see it. Facebook, she said, along with over a dozen other social media companies has created a blacklist of 50,000 “unique digital fingerprints” that can prevent content from being posted.
    “We believe that a key part of combating extremism is preventing recruitment by disrupting the underlying ideologies that drive people to commit acts of violence,” she told the committee. “That’s why we support a variety of counterspeech efforts.”
    “Counterspeech” is a word that could have been lifted from the pages of George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”






    If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” - Frederick Douglass
    "Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
    "Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn

  7. #887

    Default Big Brother Is Listening Even More Closely Now!




    FINDING YOUR VOICE

    Forget About Siri and Alexa — When It Comes to Voice Identification, the “NSA Reigns Supreme”







    46






    Illustration: Brandon Blommaert for The Intercept


    Ava Kofman

    January 19 2018, 4:31 p.m.


    AT THE HEIGHT of the Cold War, during the winter of 1980, FBI agents recorded a phone call in which a man arranged a secret meeting with the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C. On the day of his appointment, however, agents were unable to catch sight of the man entering the embassy. At the time, they had no way to put a name to the caller from just the sound of his voice, so the spy remained anonymous. Over the next five years, he sold details about several secret U.S. programs to the USSR.
    It wasn’t until 1985 that the FBI, thanks to intelligence provided by a Russian defector, was able to establish the caller as Ronald Pelton, a former analyst at the National Security Agency. The next year, Pelton was convicted of espionage.
    Today, FBI and NSA agents would have identified Pelton within seconds of his first call to the Soviets. A classified NSA memo from January 2006 describes NSA analysts using a “technology that identifies people by the sound of their voices” to successfully match old audio files of Pelton to one another. “Had such technologies been available twenty years ago,” the memo stated, “early detection and apprehension could have been possible, reducing the considerable damage Pelton did to national security.”
    These and other classified documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveal that the NSA has developed technology not just to record and transcribe private conversations but to automatically identify the speakers.
    Americans most regularly encounter this technology, known as speaker recognition, or speaker identification, when they wake up Amazon’s Alexa or call their bank. But a decade before voice commands like “Hello Siri” and “OK Google” became common household phrases, the NSA was using speaker recognition to monitor terrorists, politicians, drug lords, spies, and even agency employees.
    The technology works by analyzing the physical and behavioral features that make each person’s voice distinctive, such as the pitch, shape of the mouth, and length of the larynx. An algorithm then creates a dynamic computer model of the individual’s vocal characteristics. This is what’s popularly referred to as a “voiceprint.” The entire process — capturing a few spoken words, turning those words into a voiceprint, and comparing that representation to other “voiceprints” already stored in the database — can happen almost instantaneously. Although the NSA is known to rely on finger and face prints to identify targets, voiceprints, according to a 2008 agency document, are “where NSA reigns supreme.”
    It’s not difficult to see why. By intercepting and recording millions of overseas telephone conversations, video teleconferences, and internet calls — in addition to capturing, with or without warrants, the domestic conversations of Americans — the NSA has built an unrivaled collection of distinct voices. Documents from the Snowden archive reveal that analysts fed some of these recordings to speaker recognition algorithms that could connect individuals to their past utterances, even when they had used unknown phone numbers, secret code words, or multiple languages.
    As early as Operation Iraqi Freedom, analysts were usingspeaker recognition to verify that audio which “appeared to be of deposed leader Saddam Hussein was indeed his, contrary to prevalent beliefs.” Memos further show that NSA analysts created voiceprints for Osama bin Laden, whose voice was “unmistakable and remarkably consistent across several transmissions;” for Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s current leader; and for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then the group’s third in command. They used Zarqawi’s voiceprint to identify him as the speaker in audio files posted online.
    The classified documents, dating from 2004 to 2012, show the NSA refining increasingly sophisticated iterations of its speaker recognition technology. They confirm the uses of speaker recognition in counterterrorism operations and overseas drug busts. And they suggest that the agency planned to deploy the technology not just to retroactively identify spies like Pelton but to prevent whistleblowers like Snowden.
    A man uses his smart phone leaning on a public phone booth in New York on March 4, 2015.
    Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

    Always Listening

    CIVIL LIBERTIES EXPERTS are worried that these and other expanding uses of speaker recognition imperil the right to privacy. “This creates a new intelligence capability and a new capability for abuse,” explained Timothy Edgar, a former White House adviser to the Director of National Intelligence. “Our voice is traveling across all sorts of communication channels where we’re not there. In an age of mass surveillance, this kind of capability has profound implications for all of our privacy.”
    Edgar and other experts pointed to the relatively stable nature of the human voice, which is far more difficult to change or disguise than a name, address, password, phone number, or PIN. This makes it “far easier” to track people, according to Jamie Williams, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “As soon as you can identify someone’s voice,” she said, “you can immediately find them whenever they’re having a conversation, assuming you are recording or listening to it.”
    The voice is a unique and readily accessible biometric: Unlike DNA, it can be collected passively and from a great distance, without a subject’s knowledge or consent. Accuracy varies considerably depending on how closely the conditions of the collected voice match those of previous recordings. But in controlled settings — with low background noise, a familiar acoustic environment, and good signal quality — the technology can use a few spoken sentences to precisely match individuals. And the more samples of a given voice that are fed into the computer’s model, the stronger and more “mature” that model becomes.
    In commercial settings, speaker recognition is most popularly associated with screening fraud at call centers, talking to voice assistants like Siri, and verifying passwords for personal banking. And its uses are growing. According to Tractica, a market research firm, revenue from the voice biometrics industry is poised to reach nearly $5 billion a year by 2024, with applications expanding to border checkpoints, health care, credit card payments, and wearable devices.
    A major concern of civil libertarians is the potential to chill speech. Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, noted how the NSA’s speaker recognition technology could hypothetically be used to track journalists, unmask sources, and discourage anonymous tips. While people handling sensitive materials know they should encrypt their phone calls, Timm pointed to the many avenues — from televisions to headphones to internet-enabled devices — through which voices might be surreptitiously recorded. “There are microphones all around us all the time. We all carry around a microphone 24 hours a day, in the form of our cellphones,” Timm said. “And we know that there are ways for the government to hack into phones and computers to turn those devices on.”
    “Despite the many [legislative] changes that have happened since the Snowden revelations,” he continued, “the American people only have a partial understanding of the tools the government can use to conduct surveillance on millions of people worldwide. It’s important that this type of information be debated in the public sphere.” But debate is difficult, he noted, if the public lacks a meaningful sense of the technology’s uses — let alone its existence.
    A former defense intelligence official, who spoke to The Intercept on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss classified material, believes the technology’s low profile is not an accident. “The government avoids discussing this technology because it raises serious questions they would prefer not to answer,” the official said. “This is a critical piece of what has happened to us and our rights since 9/11.” For the technology to work, the official noted, “you don’t need to do anything else but open your mouth.”
    These advocates fear that without any public discussion or oversight of the government’s secret collection of our speech patterns, we may be entering a world in which more and more voices fall silent.
    The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) building is seen October 9, 2012 in Boulder, Colorado.
    Photo: Dana Romanoff/Getty Images

    The New Voice Tools

    WHILE AMERICANS have been aware since 2013 of the NSA’s bulk collection of domestic and overseas phone data, the process by which that raw data is converted into meaningful intelligence has remained largely classified. In 2015, The Intercept reported that the NSA had built a suite of “human language technologies” to make sense of the extraordinary amount of audio the government was collecting. By developing programs to automatically translate speech into text — what analysts called “Google for voice” — the agency could use keywords and “selectors” to search, read, and index recordings that would have otherwise required an infinite number of human listeners to listen to them.
    Speaker recognition emerged alongside these speech-to-text programs as an additional technique to help analysts sort through the countless hours of intercepts streaming in from war zones. Much of its growth and reliability can be traced to the NSA and Department of Defense’s investments. Before the digital era, speaker recognition was primarily practiced as a forensic science. During World War II, human analysts compared visual printouts of vocal frequencies from the radio. According to Harry Hollien, author of “Forensic Voice Identification,” these “visible speech” machines, known as spectrograms, were even used to disprove a rumor that Adolf Hitler had been assassinated and replaced by a double.
    “Voiceprints were something you could look at,” explained James Wayman, a leading voice recognition expert who chairs federal efforts to recommend standards for forensic speaker recognition. He pointed out that the term “voiceprint,” though widely used by commercial vendors, can be misleading, since it implies that the information captured is physical, rather than behavioral. “What you have now is an equation built into a software program that spits out numbers,” he said.
    Those equations have evolved from simple averages to dynamic algorithmic models. Since 1996, the NSA has funded the National Institute of Standards and TechnologySpeech Group to cultivate and test what it calls the “most dominant and promising algorithmic approach to the problems facing speaker recognition.” Participants testing their systems with NIST include leading biometric companies and academics, some of whom receive funding from the NSA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
    The NSA’s silence around its speaker recognition program makes it difficult to determine its current powers. But given the close ties between NSA-funded academic research and private corporations, a good approximation of the NSA’s capabilities can be gleaned from what other countries are doing — and what vendors are selling them.
    For instance, Nuance, an industry leader, advertises to governments, military, and intelligence services “a country-wide voice biometric system, capable of rapidly and accurately identifying and segmenting individuals within systems comprising millions of voiceprints.” In 2014, the Associated Press reported that Nuance’s technology had been used by Turkey’s largest mobile phone company to collect voice data from approximately 10 million customers.
    In October, Human Rights Watch reported that the Chinese government has been building a national database of voiceprints so that it could automatically identify people talking on the phone. The government is aiming to link the voice biometrics of tens of thousands of people to their identity number, ethnicity, and home address. According to HRW, the vendor that manufactures China’s voice software has even patented a system to pinpoint audio files for “monitoring public opinion.”
    In November, a major international speaker recognition effort funded by the European Union passed its final test, according to an Interpol press release. More than 100 intelligence analysts, researchers, and law enforcement agents from over 50 countries — among them, Interpol, the U.K.’s Metropolitan Police Service, and the Portuguese Polícia Judiciária — attended the demonstration, in which researchers proved that their program could identify “unknown speakers talking in different languages … through social media or lawfully intercepted audios.”
    NSA documents reviewed by The Intercept outline the contours of a similarly expansive system — one that, in the years following 9/11, grew to allow “language analysts to sift through hundreds of hours of voice cuts in a matter of seconds and selects items of potential interest based on keywords or speaker voice recognition.”
    A Sahwa member speaks on his mobile phone close to a checkpoint in central Baghdad on November 22, 2008.
    Photo: Ali Yussef/AFP/Getty Images

    “Dramatic” Results

    A PARTIAL HISTORY of the NSA’s development of speaker recognition technology can be reconstructed from nearly a decade’s worth of internal newsletters from the Signals Intelligence Directorate, or SID. By turns boastful and terse, the SIDtoday memos detail the transformation of voice recognition from a shaky forensic science conducted by human examiners into an automated algorithmic program drawing on massive troves of voice data. In particular, the memos highlight the ways in which U.S. analysts worked closely alongside British counterparts at the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, to process bulk voice recordings from counterterrorism efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. GCHQ, which declined to answer detailed questions for this article, praised its systems in internal newsletters for “playing an important part in our relationship with NSA.”
    While it can occasionally be difficult to distinguish between SIDtoday’s anticipatory announcements and the technology’s actual capabilities, it’s clear that the NSA has been using automated speaker recognition technology to locate and label “voice messages where a speaker of interest is talking” since at least 2003. Anytime a voice was intercepted, a SIDtoday memo explains, voice recognition technology could model and compare it to others in order to answer the question: “Is that the terrorist we’ve been following? Is that Usama bin Laden?”
    But the NSA’s system did far more than answer yes-or-no questions. In a series of newsletters from 2006 that spotlight a program called Voice in Real Time, or Voice RT, the agency describes its ability to automatically identify not just the speaker in a voice intercept, but also their language, gender, and dialect. Analysts could sort intercepts by these categories, search them for keywords in real time, and set up automatic alerts to notify them when incoming intercepts met certain flagged criteria. An NSA PowerPoint further confirms that the Voice RT program turned its “ingestion” of Iraqi voice data into voiceprints.
    The NSA memos provided by Snowden do not indicate how widely Voice RT was deployed at the time, but minutes from the GCHQ’s Voice/Fax User Group do. Notes from British agents provide a detailed account of how the NSA’s speaker recognition program was deployed against foreign targets. When its Voice/Fax User Group met with NSA agents in the fall of 2007, members described seeing an active Voice RT system providing NSA’s linguists and analysts with speaker and language identification, speech-to-text transcription, and phonetic search abilities. “Essentially,” the minutes say of Voice RT, “it’s a one stop shop. … [A] massive effort has been extended to improve deployability of the system.” By 2010, the NSA’s Voice RT program could process recordings in more than 25 foreign languages. And it did: In Afghanistan, the NSA paired voice analytics with mapping software to locate cell-tower clusters where Arabic was spoken — a technique that appeared to lead them to discover new Al Qaeda training camps.
    The GCHQ, for its part, used a program called Broad Oak, among others, to identify targets based on their voices. The U.K. government set up speaker recognition systems in the Middle East against Saudi, Pakistani, Georgian, and Iraqi leaders, among others. “Seriously though,” GCHQ minutes advise, “if you believe we can help you with identifying your target of interest amongst the deluge of traffic that you have to wade through, feel free to approach us and we will happily discuss your requirements and hopefully offer a swift and accurate solution.”
    It was not an empty offer. Minutes from 2009 boast of GCHQ agents outperforming their NSA counterparts when targeting Adil Abdul Mahdi, one of the vice presidents of Iraq at the time. “Since we have been consistently reporting on him [the vice president] faster than they, NSA have dropped their involvement. … This good performance has enhanced our reputation at NSA.” And a 2010 GCHQ research summaryshows both agencies collaborating to conduct joint experiments with their voice analytics programs.
    But the development of speaker recognition tools was not always seamless. In its early stages, the technology was nowhere near as powerful or effective as it is today. The former defense intelligence official recalls that while analysts were able to play voice samples at their workstations, searching for an important sample was a challenge, since the audio was not indexed. In a 2006 letter to the editor published in SIDtoday, one analyst complains of the introduction of the voice tools being “plagued by crashes” and compares their initial speed to “molasses in January in Juneau.”
    By the next year, however, it was clear that speaker recognition had significantly matured. A memo celebrating the NSA’s special collection for then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s New York City trip for the United Nations General Assembly provides a detailed study of the technology in action. After obtaining legal authorization, analysts configured a special system to target the phones of as many of the 143 Iranian delegates as possible. On all of this incoming traffic, they ran speech activity detection algorithms to avoid having analysts listen to dead air; keyword searches to uncover “the passing of email addresses and discussion of prominent individuals;” and speaker recognition to successfully locate the conversations of “people of significant interest, including the Iranian foreign minister.”
    In an announcement for a new NSA audio-forensics lab that opened in Georgia that year, the agency notes plans to make these speech technologies available to more analysts across the agency. And a SIDtoday memo from the following year reported system upgrades that would allow analysts to “find new voice cuts for a target that match the target’s past recordings.”
    When targets developed strategies to evade speaker recognition technologies, the tools evolved in response. In 2007, analysts noticed that the frequencies of the intercepts of two targets they had identified as Al Qaeda associates were out of normal human ranges. Over the next several years, analysts picked up on other targets modulating their voices in Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, “most likely to avoid identification by intelligence agencies.” Some of the audio cuts they observed twisted the speaker’s vocal pitches so that they sounded like “a character from Alvin and the Chipmunks.” This led analysts to speculate that AQAP members involved in the December 2009 bombing attempt in Detroit had escaped government recognition by masking their voices on new phone numbers.
    By 2010, agency technologists had developed a solution for “unmasking” these modulated voices. Called HLT Lite, the new software searched through recordings for modified or anomalous voices. According to SIDtoday, the program found at least 80 examples of modified voice in Yemen after scanning over 1 million pieces of audio. This reportedly led agents to uncover persons of interest speaking on several new phone numbers.
    As these systems’ technical capabilities expanded, so too did their purview. A newsletter from September 2010 details“dramatic” results from an upgraded voice identification system in Mexico City — improvements that the site’s chief compared to “a cadre of extra scanners.” Analysts were able to isolate and detect a conversation pertaining to a bomb threat by searching across audio intercepts for the word “bomba.”
    Voice recognition systems could also be readily reconfigured for uses beyond their original functions. GCHQ minutes from October 2008 describe how a system set up for “a network of high level individuals involved with the Afghan narcotics trade” was later “put to imaginative use.” To identify further targets, analysts ran the system “against a whole zip code that brings in a large amount of traffic.”
    Network equipment in a server room.
    Photo: Vladimir Trefilov/Sputnik/AP

    From the Battlefield to the Agency

    THE NSA SOON realized that its ability to process voice recordings could be used to identify employees within the NSA itself. As the January 2006 memo that discussed Ronald Pelton’s audio explained, “Voice matching technologies are being applied to the emerging Insider Threat initiative, an attempt to catch the ‘spy among us.’”
    The Insider Threat initiative, which closely monitors the lives of government employees, was publicly launched by the Obama administration, following the leaks of U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning. But this document seems to indicate that the initiative was well under way before Obama’s 2011 executive order.
    It’s not surprising that the NSA might turn the same biometric technologies used to detect external threats onto dissenters within its ranks, according to Freedom of the Press Foundation’s Trevor Timm. “We’ve seen example after example in the last 15 years of law enforcement taking invasive anti-terror tools — whether it’s location tracking or face recognition or this technology used to identify people’s voices — and using them for all sorts of other criminal investigations.”
    Timm noted that in the last several years, whistleblowers, sources, and journalists have taken greater security precautions to avoid exposing themselves. But that “if reporters are using telephone numbers not associated with their identity, and the government is scanning their phone calls via a warrant or otherwise, the technology could also be used to potentially stifle journalism.”
    For Timothy Edgar, who worked as the intelligence community’s first deputy for civil liberties, these risks “come down to the question: Are they looking for valid targets or doing something abusive, like trying to monitor journalists or whistleblowers?”
    In some respects, Edgar said, speaker recognition may help to protect an individual’s privacy. The technology allows analysts to select and filter calls so that they can home in on a person of interest’s voice and screen out those of others. A 2010 SIDtoday memo emphasizes how the technology can reduce the volume of calls agents need to listen to by ensuring that “the speaker is a Chinese leader and not a guy from the doughnut shop.”
    This level of precision is “actually one of the justifications the NSA gave for bulk collection of metadata in the first place,” Edgar explained. “One of the ways its program was defended was that it didn’t collect everything; instead, it collected information through selectors.”
    At the same time, the very goal of identifying specific individuals from large patterns of data often justifies the need to keep collecting more of it. While speaker recognition can help analysts narrow down the calls they listen to, the technology would seem to encourage them to sweep up an ever-greater number of calls, since its purpose is to find every instantiation of a target’s voice, no matter what number it’s attached to. Or as the Pelton memo puts it, the technology gives analysts the ability to “know that voice anywhere.”
    While these documents indicate that the agency sought to apply the technology to its employees, the documents reviewed by The Intercept do not explicitly indicate whether the agency has created voiceprints from the conversations of ordinary U.S. citizens.
    The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA, gives the agency broad latitude to collect audio transmitted over foreign servers, foreign infrastructure, or from Americans communicating with foreigners. Because of this mandate, Edgar calls it “very conceivable” that voiceprints are being made from overseas calls. “It would surprise me if they weren’t deriving whatever intelligence they can from that data. It’s kind of their job.”
    Experts strongly disagree, however, about whether the NSA would claim the legal authority to make voiceprints from the calls of American citizens on American soil, whose voices might be deliberately or accidentally swept up without a warrant. Part of this disagreement stems from the inadequacy of surveillance law, which has failed to keep pace with advances in digital technologies, like speaker and speech recognition.
    While the U.S. has developed strict laws to prohibit recording the content of calls on U.S. soil without a warrant, no federal statues govern the harvesting and processing of voice data.
    In part, this comes down to whether voiceprints count as content, which the government would need a warrant to obtain, or whether the NSA views voiceprints as metadata — that is, information about the content that is less subject to legal protection. The law is largely silent on this question, leading some experts to speculate that the NSA is exploiting this legal gray zone.
    In response to a detailed list of questions, the NSA provided the following response: “In accordance with longstanding policy, NSA will neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of the purported U.S. government information referenced in the article.”
    Illustration: Brandon Blommaert for The Intercept

    A “Full Arsenal” Approach

    ON THURSDAY THE Senate voted to extend Section 702 of FISA, which gives the NSA the power to spy, without a warrant, on Americans who are communicating with foreign targets. This reauthorization, which followed similar actionin the House last week, has confirmed the views of critics who see the NSA taking an increasingly assertive — and ambiguous — interpretation of its legal powers.
    Andrew Clement, a computer scientist and expert in surveillance studies, has been mapping the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping activities since before Snowden’s disclosures. He strongly believes the agency would not be restrained in their uses of speaker recognition on U.S. citizens. The agency has often chosen to classify all of the information collected up until the point that a human analyst listens to it or reads it as metadata, he explained. “That’s just a huge loophole,” he said. “It appears that anything they can derive algorithmically from content they would classify simply as metadata.”
    As an analogy to how the NSA might justify creating voiceprints, Clement pointed to the ways in which the agency has treated phone numbers and email addresses. The XKeyscore program, which Snowden revealed in 2013, allowed agents to pull email addresses — which they classified as metadata — out of the body of intercepted emails. Agents also conducted full-text searches for keywords, which they likewise classified as context rather than content.
    Edgar, on the other hand, says he would be taken aback if the government was making an argument that our voices count as metadata. “You could try to argue that the characteristics of a voice are different than what a person is saying,” Edgar said, “But in order to do voice recognition, you still have to collect the content of a domestic call and analyze it in order to extract the voice.”
    It is not publicly known how many domestic communication records the NSA has collected, sampled, or retained. But the EFF’s Jamie Williams pointed out that the NSA would not necessarily have to collect recordings of Americans to make American voiceprints, since private corporations constantly record us. Their sources of audio are only growing. Cars, thermostats, fridges, lightbulbs, and even trash cans have been turning into “intelligent” (that is, internet-equipped) listening devices. The consumer research group Gartner has predicted that a third of our interactions with technology this year will take place through conversations with voice-based systems. Both Google’s and Amazon’s “smart speakers” have recently introduced speaker recognition systems that distinguish between the voices of family members. “Once the companies have it,” Williams said, “law enforcement, in theory, will be able to get it, so long as they have a valid legal process.”
    The former government official noted that raw voice data could be stored with private companies and accessed by the NSA through secret agreements, like the Fairview program, the agency’s partnership with AT&T. Despite congressional attempts to reign in the NSA’s collection of domestic phone records, the agency has long sought access to the raw data we proffer to corporate databases. (Partnerships with Verizon and AT&T, infiltration of Xbox gaming systems, and surreptitious collection of the online metadata of millions of internet users are just a few recent examples.) “The telecommunications companies hold the data. There’s nothing to prevent them from running an algorithm,” the former official said.
    Clement wonders whether the NSA’s ability to identify a voice might even be more important to them than the ability to listen to what it’s saying. “It allows them to connect you to other instances of yourself and to identify your relationship to other people,” he said.
    This appears to be the NSA’s eventual goal. At a 2010 conference — described as an “unprecedented opportunity to understand how the NSA is bringing all its creative energies to bear on tracking an individual” — top directors spoke about how to take a “whole life” strategy to their targets. They described the need to integrate biometric data, like voiceprints, with biographic information, like social networks and personal history. In the agency’s own words, “It is all about locating, tracking, and maintaining continuity on individuals across space and time. It’s not just the traditional communications we’re after — It’s taking a ‘full arsenal’ approach.”
    Documents published with this article:








    If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” - Frederick Douglass
    "Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
    "Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn

  8. #888

    Default Trump Agencies Play Dirty...no surprise there.

    Net neutrality comment fraud will be investigated by government

    Democrats requested investigation after millions of people were impersonated.

    JON BRODKIN - 1/24/2018, 5:31 PM
    Enlarge / Rally organizers carry away props following a protest outside the Federal Communication Commission building against the end of net neutrality rules on December 14, 2017 in Washington, DC.
    Getty Images | Chip Somodevilla
    65
    The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) will investigate the use of impersonation in public comments on the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality repeal.
    Congressional Democrats requested the investigation last month, and the GAO has granted the request.
    While the investigation request was spurred by widespread fraud in the FCC's net neutrality repeal docket, Democrats asked the GAO to also "examine whether this shady practice extends to other agency rulemaking processes." The GAO will do just that, having told Democrats in a letterthat it will "review the extent and pervasiveness of fraud and the misuse of American identities during federal rulemaking processes."
    The investigation was requested by nine Democrats led by Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ).




    Energy Commerce Dems
    @EnergyCommerce



    NEWS: GAO has accepted 10 Democrats’ request for an investigation of the pervasiveness of fraudulent comments made during a federal rule making process.




    GAO investigations do not happen quickly. "At the current time we anticipate that staff with the required skills will be available to initiate an engagement in about five months," the office said.
    FURTHER READING

    Net neutrality is bad? 1 million PornHub employees can’t be wrong. Oh, wait

    The GAO provides independent, nonpartisan audits and investigations for Congress.
    The GAO previously agreed to investigate DDoS attacks that allegedly targeted the FCC comment system, also in response to a request by Democratic lawmakers. The Democrats charged that Chairman Ajit Pai's FCC did not provide enough evidence that the attacks actually happened, and they asked the GAO to find out what evidence the FCC used to make its determination. Democrats also asked the GAO to examine whether the FCC is prepared to prevent future attacks.
    The DDoS investigation should happen sooner than the new one on comment fraud because the GAO accepted that request in October.
    Millions were impersonated

    The FCC's net neutrality repeal received more than 22 million comments, but millions were apparently submitted by bots and falsely attributed to real Americans (including some dead ones) who didn't actually submit comments. Various analyses confirmed the widespread spam and fraud; one analysis found that 98.5 percent of unique comments opposed the repeal plan.
    FURTHER READING

    98.5% of unique net neutrality comments oppose Ajit Pai’s anti-Title II plan

    The FCC's comment system makes no attempt to verify submitters' identities, and allows bulk uploads so that groups collecting signatures for letters and petitions can get them on the docket easily. It was like that even before Pai took over as chair, but the fraud became far more pervasive in the proceeding that led to the repeal of net neutrality rules. Pai's FCC did not remove any fraudulent comments from the record.
    Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called for a delay in the net neutrality repeal vote because of the fraud, but the Republican majority pushed the vote through as scheduled last month.
    New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been investigating the comment fraud and says the FCC has stonewalled the investigation by refusing to provide evidence. Schneiderman is also leading a lawsuit to reverse the FCC's net neutrality repeal, and the comment fraud could play a role in the case.
    "We understand that the FCC's rulemaking process requires it to address all comments it receives, regardless of who submits them," Congressional Democrats said in their letterrequesting a GAO investigation. "However, we do not believe any outside parties should be permitted to generate any comments to any federal governmental entity using information it knows to be false, such as the identities of those submitting the comments."
    If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” - Frederick Douglass
    "Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
    "Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn

  9. #889

    Default Making America Christian Again......

    'Make America Christian Again'


    The Rev. Jerry Falwell, center, with Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan and Macel Falwell, wife of the religious leader, in 1980. Falwell persuaded many fundamentalist Christians to vote for Reagan, who won in a landslide and started the conservative "Reagan Revolution." (Charles Harrity / AP)
    Editor’s note: Mel White was the ghostwriter of Jerry Falwell’s autobiography, “Strength for the Journey.”
    On Nov. 9, 2016, at 2:30 a.m., thousands of Donald Trump supporters screamed with delight as their president-elect walked onto the Hilton Midtown ballroom stage followed by his family and closest friends. One of those “closest friends” was Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, the oldest son of its founder, Jerry Falwell Sr. It isn’t all that hard to imagine the ghost of Jerry Falwell Sr. standing in the shadows near his son enjoying that frenzied moment. Although Jerry Sr. died almost 10 years before “evangelical” voters helped give Trump the presidency, the elder Falwell knew, more than any other person, living or dead, that he was responsible for the rebirth of fundamentalism that helped divide our nation, elect a president and undermine all that is good about our democracy.
    Falwell was not an evil man, but like so many fundamentalists, his determination to “Make America Christian Again” caused him to do evil on a grand scale. For example, he raised tens of millions of dollars to support his various ministries by terrorizing his supporters with visions of a growing army of homosexuals recruiting and molesting their children, destroying their marriages, corrupting traditional family values, undermining the church, weakening the military, threatening the nation and even ending Western civilization as we know it. Now that fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell have their man in the White House, they are making these threats again.
    On a recent broadcast of Linda Harvey’s “Mission: America” talk show, she talked about the importance of working to “re-horrify” society about the sin of homosexuality. “People are becoming so comfortable with this,” she said, “even people on our side. We need to re-horrify them.” Unfortunately, our nation’s re-horrifyer-in-chief is no longer a Baptist preacher from Lynchburg, Va. Those who would “Make America Christian Again”—and in the process silence LGBTQ Americans, deny us our rights and drive us back into our closets—have powerful positions in the White House, Congress and courts. They call themselves “evangelicals”—but who are they really and why should we fear them?

    1. Jerry Falwell Sr. was not an evangelical.
    The day after the 2016 election, headlines read: “Evangelical Voters Elect Trump.” But Trump voters, for the most part, were not evangelicals. They were fundamentalist Christians (as in fundamentalist Muslims, Hindus or Jews). The word evangelical means “good news” that “God so loved the world.” Evangelicals proclaim the grace of God, that God loves us all unconditionally. Falwell proclaimed the judgement of God, that God can love us only when we meet certain standards, standards set by him and his fellow fundamentalists.
    Those standards, “The Five Fundamentals of the Christian Faith,” were compiled officially (1910–1915) to protect the Christian churches from the growing influence of liberalism. The most dangerous of the five is the first fundamental: Biblical inerrancy. For fundamentalists, every word in the Bible was dictated by God and must be taken literally, that is “literally” as they understand it. Actually, Falwell and his fundamentalist friends are selective literalists. They pick and choose the biblical texts that support their prejudice and ignore the rest.
    I experienced the consequence of that belief when I was debating a fundamentalist Christian pastor on a radio station in Seattle. My challenge asked if I’d read Leviticus 20:13: “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
    As an out gay man, I knew its meaning all too well, so I asked this fundamentalist Christian what it meant to him. “It means you should be killed,” he said. I swallowed hard and asked, “Who should kill us, you church people?” “No,” he replied, “that’s the government’s job. That’s why we need to elect more good men of God into government.”
    I’m sure this same pastor is thrilled by the election of Vice President Mike Pence, a real fundamentalist Christian who believes that every word in the Bible is true and should be obeyed.
    [Pence, who helped Donald Trump win the evangelical vote in the 2016 presidential election and received a warm reception on a recent trip to Israel, poses a unique threat to democracy as he shapes U.S. policy in a number of areas.]
    2. Fundamentalist mentality is rigid, intolerant and dogmatic.
    When a fundamentalist takes the Bible literally, there is very little room for dialogue or debate. Fundamentalists think they know the truth—all of it—and they are determined to force their truth on the rest of us, even if it means placing biblical law above the U.S. Constitution and denying LGBTQ people the constitutional rights guaranteed all Americans regardless of religious or political beliefs.
    Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, defines fundamentalism “as the attempt to impose a single truth on a plural world.” In Karen Armstrong’s bestselling book, “The Battle for God,” she defines fundamentalism as “militant piety” with “no time for democracy, pluralism, religious tolerance, peacekeeping, free speech, or the separation of church and state.”
    In “Armageddon and the Environment,” an editorial from 2004, Bill Moyers tells how the fundamentalists have “come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the oval office and in Congress.” For the first time in our history, he says “ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.”
    3. Fundamentalists believe the U.S. is a Christian nation blessed and protected by God.
    Although Falwell and his fundamentalist colleagues believed that our country is blessed by God and protected by God’s hand, they also believe that God’s blessing and protection can be withdrawn. The Hebrew Testament has endless texts warning the people of Israel that God will “remove his hand of blessing and protection” if they continue to disobey God’s laws. Judges 10:13 says: “You have forsaken me and served other gods, therefore I will deliver you no more.”
    In the mid-1970s, Falwell’s preaching began to reflect his fears for the nation. He was certain that if the people of the United States continued their sinful ways, God’s blessings would be lost and God’s hand of protection be withdrawn. Just two days after the horrors of 9/11, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell Sr. were discussing why it happened.
    FALWELL: I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way; all of them who try to secularize America. … I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’
    ROBERTSON: I totally concur, and the problem is we’ve adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government, and so we’re responsible as a free society for what the top people do, and the top people, of course, is the court system.
    Many Americans laughed when they heard these words, but Falwell and Roberson understood the tragedy through the eyes of the Jewish prophets: God will bless America when we do not sin, but when we sin, as Falwell explained later, “God was just giving us what we deserve.”4. Fundamentalists ignore Jesus’ moral standards.
    Falwell’s Moral Majority, a political organization he founded in 1979 that mobilized the Christian right with the Republican Party, was never moral as Jesus defined morality. When asked what is the great commandment, Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:34-40).
    In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes it one step further. “You have heard it said, ‘Thou shalt love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say unto you, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven’ ” (Matthew 5:43-45).
    Fundamentalists must know that love is at the heart of Jesus’ life and ministry, but for a variety of illegitimate reasons, they just can’t love LGBTQ people. And they’re too busy exploiting homophobia to “Make America Christian Again” to explore the mountains of scientific, psychological, historical, pastoral, personal and even Biblical evidence that homosexual orientation is just another mystery of creation. The hostile climate in which the suffering and death of my sisters and brothers takes place is created in large part because fundamentalists refuse to hear the truth.
    5. Fundamentalists turn prejudice into moral standards.
    During that 9/11 interview Jerry Falwell named the sinners whose words and actions led to 9/11: “Pagans (non-believers), abortionists, feminists, gay and lesbian activists, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all those trying to secularize America.” Long before 9/11, Falwell had convinced millions of fundamentalist Christians that the sins most offensive to God were homosexuality and abortion. Consequently, to save the nation from God’s wrath those two sins must not be legitimized, accepted officially or legally approved.
    That’s why Falwell Sr. convinced fundamentalist Christians to vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Falwell Jr. convinced fundamentalist Christians to vote for Trump in 2016. The individual moral reputations of these two men didn’t matter. Fundamentalists were convinced that Reagan and Trump would do what was needed to end the homosexual and abortion threats, the greatest threats of all, to maintain God’s hand of blessing and protection on our nation and “make American Christian again.” How ironic that these Biblical literalists ignore the words of Jesus and the Jewish prophets when deciding what is sin and what is not.
    The prophet Ezekiel describes why God removed his hand of protection (and rained down fire and brimstone) on the great Middle Eastern city of Sodom. “Behold, this was the sin of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness … neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: Therefore, I took them away as I saw good” (Ezekiel 16:49-50).
    Homosexuality was not Sodom’s sin. LGBTQ activists are not Sodomites. In his first year in office, Trump proved to be the real Sodomite by closing our borders to refugees, by his racist, sexist and xenophobic words and actions, by eliminating programs that help care for the poor, feed the hungry, house the homeless, by refusing health insurance and medical care to the sick and dying. Need I go on?
    6. Fundamentalists will use anyone to reach their goals.
    In 1979, Jerry Falwell asked his friend Francis Schaeffer: How can Christians save America when there are not enough fundamentalists to do it alone?Schaeffer introduced Falwell to the principle of “co-belligerency.” In past centuries God had used sinful believers (King David the adulterer and murderer) and even non-believing pagans (Cyrus, the Babylonian king who rebuilt the temple) to accomplish God’s will. Falwell realized he could recruit millions of sinners and pagans by finding a cause they had in common. Ending gay rights and reversing Roe v. Wade was a perfect goal to recruit co-belligerents. The allies Falwell recruited didn’t need to share his religious beliefs. They had only to share his prejudice.
    Falwell’s co-founders of the Moral Majority—especially Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie—were mass mailing experts. To test Falwell’s intuition, they surveyed American voters precinct by precinct, county by county, state by state to see what co-belligerency issues worked best at fundraising and, invariably, the so-called “gay threat” and abortion topped the list.
    7. Fundamentalists lie.
    I learned from my fundamentalist clients that telling lies was perfectly all right when one is “called to save the nation.” When I was young, they called the practice “evangelistically speaking.” It was common to exaggerate the size of a crowd, or the number of people “saved,” or the amount of money that was “needed” desperately. At least in those days, they knew they were lying—but “for a good cause.”
    Jerry Falwell and his fundamentalist allies lied about the homosexual threat so long and so often that they ended up believing their lies. Unfortunately, to raise enough funds and recruit enough people, the threat had to increase with every new appeal.
    Hyperbole is a favorite fundamentalist pastime. Falwell’s lies were the biggest and the scariest of all. For example, “[Homosexuals are] brute beasts,” Falwell warned, “… part of a vile and satanic system [that] will be utterly annihilated, and there will be a celebration in heaven.” Because his cause was “righteous,” Falwell felt no guilt or shame when he lied about LGBTQ people to fund his university, his TV ministry and his Moral Majority. He didn’t realize that an end cannot justify a lie when the lie gives gay bashers and bullies a license to kill us and LGBTQ people a license to kill ourselves.
    I’ve heard so many people condemn Trump for lying or Fox News for lying about him. In fact, truth is not at the heart of fundamentalist Christianity. Fundamentalists lie to win because winning is everything. Over the centuries, the followers of Christ told the truth even when telling it led to dishonor and death.
    8. Fundamentalism is a threat to our nation.
    When will Americans realize that fundamentalist Christianity is a threat, and not just to LGBTQ Americans, but to all Americans who refuse to support their so-called “absolute family values” or join them in making this “a Christian nation again”? Like a mutating virus, fundamentalism infects and sickens evangelical Christianity on a regular basis. Whether or not our American democracy survives this illness, develops at least a temporary immunity and grows strong and healthy again is a decision every one of us must make. On a daily basis. We can watch in silence as fundamentalist Christians continue to reshape church and state in their own idolatrous image, or we can choose to resist before the fundamentalists do what they have promised: turn our democracy into a theocracy ruled entirely by “righteous men.” It is a struggle we dare not lose. Falwell Sr. may be dead, but the ghost of Jerry Falwell haunts us still.
    If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” - Frederick Douglass
    "Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
    "Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn

  10. #890

    Default More Wolves For The Henhouse....



    Trump IRS Nominee Built Career Helping the Rich Avoid Taxes

    In TYT Investigates by TYT InvestigatesJanuary 26, 20180 Comments
    Photo of Charles Rettig via taxlitigator.com.
    By Michael Tracey
    President Trump’s reported nominee for commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service is a longtime tax lawyer who has helped a range of affluent individuals shield their wealth from the prying hands of government, according to court documents and press accounts.
    Based in Beverly Hills, Charles “Chuck” Rettig has represented a bevy of rich clients in disputes with tax collectors, with a special emphasis on offshore account holders who may run afoul of U.S. law.
    Conservative consternation about the IRS reached a fever pitch during the Obama administration, with House Republicans initiating impeachment proceedings against then-commissioner John Koskinen over allegations that conservative advocacy groups were improperly targeted for tax audits. President Obama declared that he would view any such targeting as “outrageous,” and the Treasury Department’s inspector general later found that progressive-leaning groups were also subject to intensive scrutiny.
    Praised by colleagues as a pioneer of the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, which the IRS offers to tax evaders who wish to preemptively apprise authorities of their noncompliance and receive reduced penalties as a result, Rettig has hailed the program as a sound economic decision even for the most egregiously delinquent clients. “Participating taxpayers receive the ability to use the previously undisclosed funds in any manner they desire,” he wrote in 2012. “Many have benefitted by repatriating foreign funds with limited earning potential into a depressed U.S. economy with a suffering real estate market and numerous business opportunities.” Rettig is also known for writing a Forbes.com column in defense of President Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns.
    Rettig has characterized tax scofflaws as well-intentioned citizens who want to hand over their fair share, but simply lack the necessary knowledge. “There are a lot of wannabe taxpayers, who just don’t know how to get back into the system,” he said in 2004. “When you provide some incentive for people to come forward, you find a tremendous number of folks step up to the plate.”
    But in 2005, Rettig publicly defended a tax sheltering practice called the S Corporation Charitable Contribution Strategy, in which a firm donates shares to a tax-exempt entity, and then buys them back several years later, in order to maximize capital gains, which are taxed at much lower rates than the shares would have been initially.
    “The SC2 transaction is not the poster child for abusive tax shelters that the government would portray,” Rettig told the Los Angeles Times. “The tax result may be highly objectionable to the IRS. But as a technical matter, many knowledgeable practitioners are convinced it will be upheld in litigation.” Rettig said at the time that he represented clients utilizing the practice, but did not specify who. KPMG, the accounting firm which developed SC2, was later subject to a wide-ranging tax-fraud indictment for its tax-sheltering practices; three people were ultimately convicted, while charges against 13 were dismissed. The SC2 strategy was banned by the IRS in April 2004.
    One of Rettig’s current clients is Gregg Ritchie, an investor who once headed a tax avoidance working group at KPMG, and is now involved in a dispute with the IRS. In a 1998 letter which later became public, Ritchie—who was tasked with selling tax-shelter strategies to wealthy individuals—recommended that the firm “make the business/strategic decision not to register” with the IRS, as the fees KPMG stood to earn from its tax-sheltering practice would comfortably dwarf fines it might receive. Ritchie was indicted in 2005 for conspiring to defraud the IRS; the government claimed KPMG’s scheme resulted in the loss of at least $11 billion in tax revenue. Charges against Ritchie were ultimately dismissed due to prosecutorial misconduct. The nature of Ritchie’s current dispute with the IRS, for which Rettig is providing counsel, could not be immediately ascertained—but Rettig’s past comments indicate that he has been amenable to the tax-avoidance tactics Ritchie once employed. (Rettig did not represent Ritchie in the earlier criminal case.) The current tax dispute had been scheduled for trial in November 2017 but was delayed, and is still pending.
    Another recent Rettig client is Joseph Wender, a vintner and senior consultant at Goldman Sachs, whose claim to fameover the course of his career is having facilitated big bank mergers in the ‘90s involving Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Chase—all of which hastened the consolidation of the banking industry, which later came to be seen as a precursor to the 2008 financial crisis. Rettig represented Wender in a dispute with the acting IRS commissioner in 2017. Details of Wender’s complaint were not immediately available.
    Rettig has also represented corporate clients with tax woes. CVB Financial Corp., which retained Rettig’s services in 2017, sought relief for penalties it said it had incurred after its acquisition of San Joaquin Bank in 2009. The bank had failed in the wake of the financial crisis, in large part due to real estate loans that went bust. The IRS calculated that CVB had underasessed its income from the acquisition, and levied additional taxes. CVB then claimed this additional levying resulted in their overpayment of $370,070, and demanded a refund. After entering mediation proceedings, CVB withdrew the complaint.
    “The IRS must balance service to the taxpayer community with an appropriate degree of enforcement of our nation’s tax laws,” Rettig wrote in a 2013 Forbes.com column. In 2006, Rettig delivered a lecture entitled: “Minimizing Exposure to Scrutiny in Your Client’s Wealth Transfer Strategies – Views From the Tax Court and the IRS.” Given how he has frequently taken legal positions at odds with IRS policy, it remains to be seen which interests he intends on “servicing” as IRS commissioner.
    If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” - Frederick Douglass
    "Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
    "Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn

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