Monthly Archives: December 2007

Surveillance footage gets a starring role

 

Associated Press | Dec 30, 2007

By Jake Coyle

NEW YORK — Adam Rifkin was walking down an aisle at Target when something hit him: at that moment, he was the star of his own movie — albeit a boring one.

“Every aisle I would walk down, there were multiple cameras on me,” the 41-year-old director said in a recent interview. “The filmmaker in me started to piece together the various shots. I thought to myself, ‘If I could obtain this footage and cut this together, this could be a scene.”‘

Rifkin’s curiosity has led to “Look.” It’s a film shot entirely from the perspective of surveillance cameras. For the low-budget movie — intentionally cast without stars — Rifkin placed his cameras wherever surveillance cameras already were or would likely be: above ATMs, around high school grounds, in department store changing rooms (yes, it’s legal in some states).

The film follows several characters across a handful of days as they move in and out of the purview of surveillance cameras. The obvious question is: How do our lives change if we’re being constantly watched?

“Look” suggests the cameras that increasingly blanket society are both a blessing and a curse. Rifkin’s cameras catch people cheating on their spouses, criminals murdering a police officer and attractive women farting in elevators. Sometimes the video evidence brings about justice; other times, it tells only a fractured version of the truth.

“To me, it’s such a complex issue,” says Rifkin. “I believe that in many instances these cameras provide a valuable service. They help deter crime or they help solve crime. I also think conversely that in many, many instances, they’re a complete invasion of privacy.”

It’s an issue that lawmakers, police departments and civil liberty advocates are increasingly wrestling with. Better technology and the pressing threat of terrorism have made video surveillance a popular tool, particularly in cities.

London has been at the forefront of video surveillance and is widely considered the most camera-covered city in the world, with an estimated 4 million cameras doting its streets. Their closed-circuit television found a world stage in 2005 when it helped identify the bombers of the July 2005 terrorist attacks.

It was a lesson taken to heart by the Department of Homeland Security and American police departments. The area below 14th Street in Manhattan — an area considered one of the most likely terrorists targets — reportedly has more than 4,200 cameras.

Other cities have also increased surveillance, including Chicago, Washington and Philadelphia.

And that still doesn’t account for the large amount of business and personal cameras stationed (often secretly) in offices or outside homes. Also to be factored in: cell phone cameras and nanny-cams.

Just in recent months, the news has been littered with stories where surveillance cameras played a key role. In October, very clear photos were captured in a Cleveland high school of a student gunman who wounded two teachers and two students before killing himself. Hotel video surveillance has even had an impact in the O.J. Simpson case of alleged kidnapping and armed robbery of sports memorabilia dealers in Las Vegas.

The American Civil Liberties Union, believing the country is headed toward a “genuine surveillance society,” has recently posted a symbolic clock reading “23:54” on its Web site — six minutes before the midnight of total watchfulness.

“Policies to protect individual privacy are desperately, desperately needed,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Video surveillance can be overused and its potential benefits inflated.”

Debates about privacy recently have centered on the National Security Agency’s warrant-less monitoring of phone calls, and on companies like Yahoo Inc. that have handed over personal information to foreign governments.

While such instances have produced cries of “Big Brother,” the issue of video surveillance has often passed without debate. Polls have shown the majority of Americans support the use of video surveillance.

But civil liberty and advocacy groups like the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Democracy & Technology and the Cato Institute say video surveillance is an urgent matter. Privacy advocates argue there’s little regulation or oversight in the recording and archiving of video shot by the government or by companies.

Lieberman cited that during the Republican National Convention in 2004, an NYPD surveillance helicopter shot nearly four minutes of footage of a “romantic tryst” on a building roof — video that later ended up online. (In February, a federal judge ruled that the NYPD must cease routine videotaping of people at public gatherings unless there’s reason to suspect unlawful activity.)

“Even in public, I think people have legitimate privacy claims when they move about,” said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at Cato.

“The thing to do is to strike some balances,” said Harper. “Soon enough, they’ll have the ability with optical character recognition and facial recognition to really provide extensive tracking of people in cars and things like that.”

It’s unlikely territory for Rifkin, who previously wrote and directed 1994’s Charlie Sheen car chase flick, “The Chase,” and co-wrote this year’s “Underdog” for Disney.

“I would say to anybody, go out on any given day and just start looking around for the cameras,” said Rifkin. “And you will be shocked at how many of them there are and how often you’re being watched.”

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1967 Drama Demonstrates the Psychology of Fascism in Action

Since this movie The Wave was based on a real experiment at a high school in 1967, you can just ignore those who glibly claim that “it can’t happen here”. Unfortunately, it can happen here and it IS happening here. The proof is in the fact that I can’t even talk like this in public without the people around me getting very disturbed and hostile. And if I were to walk up to a group of shoppers at the mall suggesting that we live in a fascist dictatorship, that our rights are being stripped, that private property is under threat, that 9/11 was an inside job, that the war is a total fraud, that global warming is a hoax designed to “unite the world” and that our leaders on both sides are murdering terrorist gangsters who have defrauded Americans of trillions and are pushing us by stealth into a North-American Union and on to global government, someone is bound to come try to shut me up while others will be afraid to say anything lest they be attacked themselves.

Therefore, we live in a Stasi-like self-policing climate of fear and paranoia where anyone who dares to criticize the government is seen as a dangerous “conspiracy theorist” or even as a terrorist to be reported to the fascist authorities at Homeland Security. And those who question climate change are labeled as “global warming deniers”, dangerous people who believe that the sun is warming the solar system. We are the ones who will refuse to get sterilized or maintain one-child families. We are the ones who will refuse to take the chip implant and the neurotoxic injections. We are the sane ones, the ones with any sense left in our heads, yet are believed to be crazy fanatics who are a threat to world order. That is how brainwashed and warped people have become.

So group-think has taken hold in America. We are no longer a land of individualists. We have been transformed into a bunch of robotic goons ready to do whatever the government tells us “for our safety”. And this is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany, and in fact it is happening all over the world, by design. And the liberals, socialists and “progressives” out there who know Bush and the neocons are bad, think themselves to be the very antithesis of fascism, yet they are just as vulnerable to it as anyone else. The Right is controlled through the War on Terror paradigm, but the Left is controlled through the Global Warming paradigm, two false paradigms with the same ulterior motive, to use chaos and fear to unite the world under a global fascist dictatorship.

So as you watch this movie, keep in mind that anyone, of any political persuasion, can be whipped up into a fascist mindset, even though he sees it as something wonderful and fantastic. Hitler put it best:

“Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.”

PW

. . .

The Wave – 46 min

1981 – Based on the real experience of a high school class in Palo Alto, CA in April 1967, whose teacher wanted to explain the rise of the Nazi party to his students.

Creeping Fascism: History’s Lessons

Consortium News | Dec 27, 2007

by Ray McGovern

“There are few things as odd as the calm, superior indifference with which I and those like me watched the beginnings of the Nazi revolution in Germany, as if from a box at the theater. … Perhaps the only comparably odd thing is the way that now, years later….”

These are the words of Sebastian Haffner (pen name for Raimund Pretzel), who as a young lawyer in Berlin during the 1930s experienced the Nazi takeover and wrote a first-hand account. His children found the manuscript when he died in 1999 and published it the following year as “Geschichte eines Deutschen” (The Story of a German).

The book became an immediate bestseller and has been translated into 20 languages—in English as “Defying Hitler.”

I recently learned from his daughter Sarah, an artist in Berlin, that today is the 100th anniversary of Haffner’s birth. She had seen an earlier article in which I quoted her father and e-mailed to ask me to “write some more about the book and the comparison to Bush’s America. … This is almost unbelievable.”

More about Haffner below. Let’s set the stage first by recapping some of what has been going on that may have resonance for readers familiar with the Nazi ascendancy, noting how “odd” it is that the frontal attack on our Constitutional rights is met with such “calm, superior indifference.”

Goebbels Would be Proud

It has been two years since top New York Times officials decided to let the rest of us in on the fact that the George W. Bush administration had been eavesdropping on American citizens without the court warrants required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978.

The Times had learned of this well before the election in 2004 and acquiesced to White House entreaties to suppress the damaging information.

In late fall 2005 when Times correspondent James Risen’s book, “State of War: the Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,” revealing the warrantless eavesdropping was being printed, Times publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., recognized that he could procrastinate no longer.

It would simply be too embarrassing to have Risen’s book on the street, with Sulzberger and his associates pretending that this explosive eavesdropping story did not fit Adolph Ochs’s trademark criterion: All The News That’s Fit To Print.

(The Times’ own ombudsman, Public Editor Byron Calame, branded the newspaper’s explanation for the long delay in publishing this story “woefully inadequate.”)

When Sulzberger told his friends in the White House that he could no longer hold off on publishing in the newspaper, he was summoned to the Oval Office for a counseling session with the president on Dec. 5, 2005. Bush tried in vain to talk him out of putting the story in the Times.

The truth would out; part of it, at least.

Glitches

There were some embarrassing glitches. For example, unfortunately for National Security Agency Director Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, the White House neglected to tell him that the cat would soon be out of the bag.

So on Dec. 6, Alexander spoke from the old talking points in assuring visiting House intelligence committee member Rush Holt, D-New Jersey, that the NSA did not eavesdrop on Americans without a court order.

Still possessed of the quaint notion that generals and other senior officials are not supposed to lie to congressional oversight committees, Holt wrote a blistering letter to Gen. Alexander after the Times, on Dec. 16, front-paged a feature by Risen and Eric Lichtblau, “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts.”

But House Intelligence Committee chair Pete Hoekstra, R-Michigan, apparently found Holt’s scruples benighted; Hoekstra did nothing to hold Alexander accountable for misleading Holt, his most experienced committee member, who had served as an intelligence analyst at the State Department.

What followed struck me as bizarre. The day after the Dec. 16 Times feature article, the president of the United States publicly admitted to a demonstrably impeachable offense.

Authorizing illegal electronic surveillance was a key provision of the second article of impeachment against President Richard Nixon. On July 27, 1974, this and two other articles of impeachment were approved by bipartisan votes in the House Judiciary Committee.

Bush Takes Frontal Approach

Far from expressing regret, the president bragged about having authorized the surveillance “more than 30 times since the September the 11th attacks,” and said he would continue to do so. The president also said:

“Leaders in Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this authorization and the activities conducted under it.”

On Dec. 19, 2005, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and then-NSA Director Michael Hayden held a press conference to answer questions about the as yet unnamed surveillance program.

Gonzales was asked why the White House decided to flout FISA rather than attempt to amend it, choosing instead a “backdoor approach.” He answered:

“We have had discussions with Congress…as to whether or not FISA could be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible.”

Hmm. Impossible? It strains credulity that a program of the limited scope described would be unable to win ready approval from a Congress that had just passed the “Patriot Act” in record time.

James Risen has made the following quip about the prevailing mood: “In October 2001, you could have set up guillotines on the public streets of America.”

It was not difficult to infer that the surveillance program must have been of such scope and intrusiveness that, even amid highly stoked fear, it didn’t have a prayer for passage.

It turns out we didn’t know the half of it.

What To Call These Activities

“Illegal Surveillance Program” didn’t seem quite right for White House purposes, and the PR machine was unusually slow off the blocks.

It took six weeks to settle on “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” with FOX News leading the way followed by the president himself. This labeling would dovetail nicely with the president’s rhetoric on Dec. 17:

“In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. … The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after September 11 helped address that problem…” [Emphasis added]

And Gen. Michael Hayden, who headed NSA from 1999 to 2005, was of course on the same page, dissembling as convincingly as the president. At his May 2006 confirmation hearings to become CIA director, he told of his soul-searching when, as director of NSA, he was asked to eavesdrop on Americans without a court warrant.

“I had to make this personal decision in early October 2001,” said Hayden. “It was a personal decision. … I could not not do this.”

Like so much else, it was all because of 9/11. But we now know…

It Started Seven Months Before 9/11.

How many times have you heard it? The mantra “after 9/11 everything changed” has given absolution to all manner of sin.

We are understandably reluctant to believe the worst of our leaders, and this tends to make us negligent. After all, we learned from former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill that drastic changes were made in U.S. foreign policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue and toward Iraq at the first National Security Council meeting on Jan. 30, 2001.

Should we not have anticipated far-reaching changes at home as well?

Reporting by the Rocky Mountain News and court documents and testimony on a case involving Qwest strongly suggest that in February 2001 Hayden saluted smartly when the Bush administration instructed NSA to suborn AT&T, Verizon, and Qwest to spy illegally on you, me, and other Americans.

Bear in mind that this would have had nothing to do with terrorism, which did not really appear on the new administration’s radar screen until a week before 9/11, despite the pleading of Clinton aides that the issue deserved extremely high priority.

So this until-recently-unknown pre-9/11 facet of the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” was not related to Osama bin Laden or to whomever he and his associates might be speaking. It had to do with us.

We know that the Democrats briefed on the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, (the one with the longest tenure on the House Intelligence Committee), Rep. Jane Harman, D-California, and former and current chairmen of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham, D-Florida, and Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, respectively.

May one interpret their lack of public comment on the news that the snooping began well before 9/11 as a sign they were co-opted and then sworn to secrecy?

It is an important question. Were the appropriate leaders in Congress informed that within days of George W. Bush’s first inauguration the NSA electronic vacuum cleaner began to suck up information on you and me, despite the FISA law and the Fourth Amendment?

Are They All Complicit?

And are Democratic leaders about to cave in and grant retroactive immunity to those telecommunications corporations—AT&T and Verizon—which made millions by winking at the law and the Constitution?

(Qwest, to its credit, heeded the advice of its general counsel who said that what NSA wanted done was clearly illegal.)

What’s going on here? Have congressional leaders no sense for what is at stake?

Lately the adjective “spineless” has come into vogue in describing congressional Democrats—no offense to invertebrates.

Nazis and Their Enablers

You don’t have to be a Nazi. You can just be, well, a sheep.

In his journal, Sebastian Haffner decries what he calls the “sheepish submissiveness” with which the German people reacted to a 9/11-like event, the burning of the German Parliament (Reichstag) on Feb. 27, 1933.

Haffner finds it quite telling that none of his acquaintances “saw anything out of the ordinary in the fact that, from then on, one’s telephone would be tapped, one’s letters opened, and one’s desk might be broken into.”

But it is for the cowardly politicians that Haffner reserves his most vehement condemnation. Do you see any contemporary parallels here?

In the elections of March 4, 1933, shortly after the Reichstag fire, the Nazi party garnered only 44 percent of the vote. Only the “cowardly treachery” of the Social Democrats and other parties to whom 56 percent of the German people had entrusted their votes made it possible for the Nazis to seize full power. Haffner adds:

“It is in the final analysis only that betrayal that explains the almost inexplicable fact that a great nation, which cannot have consisted entirely of cowards, fell into ignominy without a fight.”

The Social Democratic leaders betrayed their followers—“for the most part decent, unimportant individuals.” In May, the party leaders sang the Nazi anthem; in June the Social Democratic party was dissolved.

The middle-class Catholic party Zentrum folded in less than a month, and in the end supplied the votes necessary for the two-thirds majority that “legalized” Hitler’s dictatorship.

As for the right-wing conservatives and German nationalists: “Oh God,” writes Haffner, “what an infinitely dishonorable and cowardly spectacle their leaders made in 1933 and continued to make afterward. … They went along with everything: the terror, the persecution of Jews. … They were not even bothered when their own party was banned and their own members arrested.”

In sum: “There was not a single example of energetic defense, of courage or principle. There was only panic, flight, and desertion. In March 1933, millions were ready to fight the Nazis. Overnight they found themselves without leaders. … At the moment of truth, when other nations rise spontaneously to the occasion, the Germans collectively and limply collapsed. They yielded and capitulated, and suffered a nervous breakdown. … The result is today the nightmare of the rest of the world.”

This is what can happen when virtually all are intimidated.

Our Founding Fathers were not oblivious to this; thus, James Madison:

“I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. … The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.”

We cannot say we weren’t warned.

. . .

Related 

The Wave – 46 min

1981 – Based on the real experience of a high school class in Palo Alto, CA in April 1967, whose teacher wanted to explain the rise of the Nazi party to his students.

Housing Bust Worst Since 1929

Washington Times | Dec 26, 2007

by Patrice Hill

This year’s housing bust is shaping up to be one of historic proportions. Sales and construction have sunk to levels not seen since the 1990 savings and loan crisis, while foreclosures and price drops are the largest since the Great Depression — and expected to get worse next year.

Many parallels can be seen with earlier housing debacles. Each episode had some combination of easy money, loose lending, greed and fraud that turned a housing boom into a speculative bubble. But few housing bubbles have ended so badly as the one today, when the nation is confronting the prospect of mass foreclosures and family dislocations.

John Stumpf, president of Wells Fargo & Co., the second-largest U.S. mortgage lender and a survivor of the housing busts of the 20th century, blames today’s crisis on unscrupulous lending practices, which joined in a toxic mix with outright greed and extraordinarily low interest rates to send house prices soaring 90 percent between 2000 and 2006. When the bubble burst, house prices collapsed by 5 percent to 20 percent in cities nationwide.

“We have not seen a nationwide decline in housing like this since the Great Depression,” Mr. Stumpf told investors in New York last month as major banks and securities firms reported an accumulated $80 billion of losses on their portfolios of mortgage investments and widely cut back on lending as a result.

Now the country faces a vicious cycle: As house prices fall, homeowners lose equity in their homes, which makes it more difficult or impossible for them to sell or refinance. Many are not able to refinance their adjustable-rate loans when the starter interest rates expire and reset to reflect higher market rates, and so they are faced with sharply higher mortgage payments they cannot afford to pay.

The dilemma has sent defaults and foreclosures to historic levels — with potentially millions more in train in the next two years as more than $1 trillion in mortgages reset nationwide. As homes are sold under pressure, prices drop further and cast a pall over entire neighborhoods, driving down the value of homes of even creditworthy Americans and undermining their biggest source of wealth and security.

State and local governments also have been hit hard by the declining revenues from property taxes and real-estate transactions, and the housing slump is dragging down the manufacturing and construction sectors. The whole mess threatens to sink the broader economy the longer it wreaks havoc on consumer confidence and spending power.

While Americans have grappled with ballooning mortgages and adjustable interest rates in the past, the epidemic of resetting loans today is unprecedented and is the result of a bewildering array of mortgage options for consumers that banks and securities firms developed and mass marketed for the first time this decade.

Consumers often were given the option of not paying principal on their loans and even deferring some interest. Many seemed unaware of the consequences of postponing their obligations and chose to make only minimal payments during the first few months or years, backloading their loans so that the payments increased sharply and even doubled after the interest rates reset.

The complexity of the loans was exceeded only by the complicated schemes banks developed to package the loans and market them to sophisticated investors, which involved setting up off-balance-sheet investment vehicles and slicing mortgage securities into segments that supposedly allocated the risk of default away from top-rated tiers to junk-rated bottom tiers. Mr. Stumpf, a 30-year industry veteran, said even he was surprised when he read newspaper articles about what some banks were doing.

Wells Fargo avoided the riskiest practices and, as a result, is not suffering the major losses that are crippling top lenders such as Countrywide and Citigroup, though it, too, made some unwise investments in home-equity loans, Mr. Stumpf said.

“It’s interesting that the industry has invented new ways to lose money when the old ways seemed to work just fine,” he joked.

Easy money

While the unprecedented wave of creative and sometimes questionable loans was a key cause of the housing bubble and ensuing bust, lenders were aided greatly by the lenient policies set by the Federal Reserve from 2000 to 2004, economists say.

The housing boom started in the wake of the technology-stock bubble that burst in 2000, which ushered in the 2001 recession and prompted the Fed to dramatically cut interest rates.

Housing was just beginning to emerge from a long slumber in the 1990s, as it took much of the decade to recover slowly from the preceding housing bust of 1990-91. As the economy slumped and financial markets sank in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Fed accelerated its rate cuts, adding fuel to the budding housing boom.

By mid-2003, the Fed had driven interest rates to the lowest in a generation, with rates on 30-year fixed-rate loans falling to a 40-year low, around 5 percent. The even lower short-term rates set by the Fed drastically cut rates on adjustable-rate mortgages as well as borrowing costs for banks and Wall Street firms, enabling them to invent an array of new mortgage products with irresistibly low starter rates, which appealed to home buyers.

While the Fed’s actions under former Chairman Alan Greenspan were applauded at the time, many economists now blame the central bank for nurturing the housing bubble.

“The Fed played an important role” by encouraging people to shift resources to real estate speculation, said Michael D. Larson, analyst with Weiss Research. “The Fed replaced one bubble, mostly confined to the technology sector, with another, far-larger bubble, encompassing most of the housing market.”

Mr. Greenspan forcefully rejects such accusations. He contends the housing bubble and credit bubble that accompanied it were worldwide phenomena. Moreover, he maintains the only way the Fed could have stopped the bubble was to have raised interest rates sharply, which would have not only deflated the bubble, but brought down the economy with it.

Mr. Larson also blames global investors — including many international banks and hedge funds — for misjudging the risks of the securities. And Wall Street firms, by setting minimal standards on the loans and then securitizing them for sale to distant investors, also “removed, minimized and postponed the consequences of poor lending decisions,” he said.

Global investors were thirsty for the high returns on subprime and exotic mortgages that were packaged as “collateralized debt obligations,” and they trusted the high ratings assigned to most of the debt by Wall Street ratings agencies Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s Corp.

The global market “stressed quantity over quality” on loans, making it “easier and more profitable” for mortgage brokers and banks to convince consumers to take inappropriate loans, Mr. Larson said.

Loose lending

With their low introductory monthly payments and easy terms, the loans were easy to sell to the public. In many ways, mortgage brokers followed the playbook of auto dealers, who swamped their showrooms with people on car-buying binges in 2002 and 2003 by advertising zero-interest loans on their cars.

As they did with the car loans, many borrowers who acquired subprime and exotic mortgages with low starter rates rarely looked at the loan’s overall costs or terms other than the initial monthly payments that were loudly trumpeted in ads and brochures.

Loans with introductory rates as low as 1 percent made the obligations of owning expensive houses appear to be easy or manageable and had the effect of driving up home prices as buyers armed with such loans surged into the market and bid up prices.

Home sellers found they were able to raise prices by thousands of dollars from one sale to the next with seemingly no resistance. Even the highest-priced homes at the height of the boom in 2005 and 2006 sold quickly, sometimes within minutes with multiple bids.

The new-found wealth for homeowners was just as intoxicating as the easy-money loans that transformed millions of former renters, even those with shaky credit ratings, into proud homeowners. Consumers didn’t need to sell their homes to cash in on the double-digit gains in their home values; they used home-equity loans and cash-out refinancings instead.

Many people used their homes like ATMs, refinancing once or twice a year to take out equity and using the cash to buy cars, go on vacations and make down payments on second homes or investment properties. By 2005, nearly every homeowner in America had refinanced at least once.

The cash-outs, which typically extracted $20,000 to $30,000 from home equity, were an elixir for both consumers and the economy, enabling homeowners to supplement stagnant incomes while stimulating consumer spending, the biggest source of economic growth.

Loans came not only with minimal payments but often required no down payments or income documentation, enticing millions of people to jump into the market for second homes and investment properties. Coastal resorts and Sun Belt cities like Miami and Las Vegas became lucrative profit centers for “flippers” who weren’t interested in owning properties but only wanted to make quick profits buying and selling them.

Cable television offered 24-hour housing channels and TV shows demonstrating how anyone could become a “flipper,” putting down as little as $5,000 on a condominium and then reselling at a profit before construction was even finished.

Full Story

Personal Space Invaders: The top science-and-tech privacy threats of 2007

Slate | Dec. 27, 2007

By William Saletan

It’s been another big year for scientific and technological encroachments on individual privacy. For good or ill, governments and businesses are finding new ways to enter what used to be considered personal space. Here are this year’s top 10 highlights.

1. Surveillance cameras. They’re everywhere. Britain has more than 4 million; France has more than 300,000 and is aiming for 1 million; China is building a network of 200,000. New York City wants a few hundred more to enforce traffic fees. Responding to civil libertarian complaints, New York’s mayor points out that the city’s cameras are nothing compared with the thousands of private security cameras already infesting Manhattan. Meanwhile, the technology is becoming more sophisticated. China’s cameras “will soon be guided by software … to recognize automatically the faces of police suspects and detect unusual activity.” France plans to do some of its surveillance through aerial drones. Britain is installing loudspeakers in its cameras so operators can scold you for littering, fighting, or vandalism.

2. The war on smoking. Tobacco prohibition is moving steadily indoors. Propelled by evidence of harm from passive smoke, Arkansas, Louisiana, and local governments from Maine to New York have banned smoking in cars when minors are present. The original argument for such bans was that kids, unlike adults, can’t get out of the car. Lately, however, banners have added the argument that smoking distracts the driver. This argument doesn’t require any kids in the car, and indeed, the high court of New Delhi, India, has banned smoking while driving, period. Vermont, Germany, and Ireland have considered similar crackdowns. Meanwhile, smoking has been banned in thousands of apartment complexes, based on arguments that 1) smoke bleeds into neighboring units no matter what you do, 2) it’s bad for your neighbors’ health, and 3) smokers’ apartments cost more to clean after they move out. Now the movement is invading smokers’ bodies: Doctors are promoting a “pulse cooximeter” that attaches to your finger and measures the percentage of carbon monoxide in your blood. Proposed uses include “screening smoking status in [high schools] and the workplace.” (Related: Human Nature’s critique of the war on smoking.)

3. The war on junk food. On the heels of New York’s trans-fat ban, Los Angeles cut a deal with local restaurants to eliminate trans fats in 18 months. Los Angeles also considered a two-year ban on new fast-food restaurants in parts of the city, as Berkeley and other jurisdictions have done. Malaysia considered a ban on fast-food ads and a “sin tax” on fast food, and San Francisco’s mayor has just proposed a fee on sellers of sugary drinks. Proponents of regulation compare junk food to cigarettes: an unhealthy, deliberately addictive product systematically marketed to people in neighborhoods with few other food options. Opponents reply that people buy fast food because it’s tasty, affordable, and convenient. Increasingly, the debate turns on the argument that unhealthy food raises medical expenses for everyone, thereby trumping appeals to personal choice. However, new research suggests that the most common replacement for trans fats—”interesterified fats”—may be just as unhealthy. (Related: The unfolding battle plan against junk food.)

4. The war on salt. In December, the FDA held a hearing to consider regulating salt as a food additive instead of the current policy of declaring it “generally recognized as safe.” Possible outcomes of this effort include “federal limits on the salt content of processed foods.” Proponents of regulation argue that Americans eat about 50 percent more sodium than the recommended limit and that by cutting back, we can save lives and lower health-care costs. They add that we can also reduce obesity, since people drink soda or beer with salty food. Their clincher argument is that this isn’t really a freedom issue, since producers package salt into your food instead of letting you choose your own level. The food industry replies that it’s already lowering salt content voluntarily and that consumers don’t buy products advertised as low-salt. (Related: This looks like a replay of the early campaigns to restrict fat and sugar.)

5. Pedestrian cell-phone use. Many states and cities have restricted phone use while driving. This year, a New York legislator took the next step: proposing to ban use of cell phones, iPods, and BlackBerrys while crossing the street. The bill declared that: 1) it would be a crime to “enter and cross a crosswalk while engaging in the use of an electronic device” and 2) “a user of an electronic device who holds such device to, or in the immediate proximity of his or her ear, is presumed to be engaging in the use of said device.” The proposed fine was $100. Proponents argue that such legislation will protect drivers as well as pedestrians, and that “it is impossible to be fully aware of one’s own surroundings when occupied in using an electronic device.” Critics, in turn, ask why, in that case, it should be legal to engage in other distractions, such as walking while reading a newspaper, or operating your car stereo (or, dare we say, your police radio) while driving. (Disclaimer: Human Nature is an incorrigible reader-while-walking.)

6. Naked body scanners. In February, the U.S. government began screening airline passengers with a scanner that sees through clothing. The scanner uses low-energy X-rays to generate an image of your body outline and any items you’re carrying, including liquid and plastic explosives, which evade metal detectors. This was followed in October by plans for a new scanner that does the same thing with virtually no radiation. The government insists the scans are no big deal because 1) you won’t be scanned unless you’re selected for extra screening, 2) the scans don’t really show your naughty bits, 3) they blur your face so nobody can link your identity to the image, 4) the viewing machine is separated from the screening area, so the viewing officer can’t see who you are, and 5) a virtual search is less invasive than the current alternative: a manual pat-down. Human Nature’s advice: Let them see you naked, as long as they can’t see your face. (Related: The bomb-hiding arms race between terrorists and airport screeners.)

7. Phone-surveillance ads. If you thought terrorist-hunters were the people most interested in your phone conversations, think again. A company has begun tailoring ads to monitored phone calls. The offer: Advertisers subsidize your (Internet-based) calls by paying for ads on your computer screen during the conversation. The catch: The ads you get are determined by voice-recognition software that monitors your conversation and shows you products related to it. The company argues that 1) the software ignores naughty words, 2) it doesn’t keep records of what you said, and 3) it’s no different from Google’s practice of scanning your e-mail box and tailoring ads to the topics it finds there. Civil libertarians worry that tech-industry intrusions have become so common that we’ve lost our expectation of privacy. Businesses agree—and cite that as a reason to plow ahead.

8. Human chip implants. Radio-frequency identification chips were initially implanted in consumer goods and animals for commercial tracking. Now they’re coming to humans. The FDA has approved a chip for people to encode your medical history so doctors can call it up if you can’t speak. A company has required some of its workers to accept chip implants. Several Mexican officials were chip-implanted for access to restricted premises. In China, the government is requiring chip-implanted identity cards that show your religion and “reproductive history” (to facilitate enforcement of the country’s one-child policy). All told, at least 2,000 people have been implanted. Implant proponents argue that if you let people wear the chips externally, on ID cards or badges, they can be transferred, thereby thwarting surveillance. The electronics industry is opposing further regulation of chip implants, on the grounds that “subcutaneous chips are highly useful” in people with Alzheimer’s or diabetes. However, at least three states now ban obligatory implantation of chips in people.

9. Mind-reading. Scientists in Germany reported this year that they’ve used pattern recognition software to predict, from functional magnetic resonance imaging of people’s brains, whether each person had secretly decided to add or subtract two numbers he was looking at. The computer correctly predicted the decision 71 percent of the time. The advertised application of this technology is computers that can discern and execute your will when you want them to—for example, if you’re paralyzed or don’t want to use a mouse. But civil libertarians worry that the next application will be mental surveillance. (Related: Welcome to the era of full-mental nudity.)

10. Manipulating sexual orientation. Research indicates that 7 percent to 10 percent of rams are gay and that brain biology is involved. The livestock industry wants to use this knowledge to identify gay or asexual rams, “thus eliminating their use for general breeding purposes.” Critics worry that it will eventually be used to identify gay human fetuses, possibly leading parents to abort them or alter their orientation through hormone treatment in the womb. Some conservative Christian leaders have already endorsed the idea of fetal alteration. Subsequent research in worms and fruit flies has shown that drugs can “turn homosexual behavior on and off in a period of hours.” The scientist behind the fruit-fly experiment predicts that we’ll eventually learn to do the same in humans. (Related: Gay sheep and the biology of homosexuality.)

Fox News Excludes Anti-War Ron Paul from Presidential Debate

Fox news eliminating debate participation of only anti-war Presidential candidate

Gambling 911 | Dec 30, 2007

Fox News has excluded Ron Paul from participating in the last debate the weekend before the primary election begins.  The debated occurs on January 6, less than one day after two back to back Republican and Democratic debates are being held at the same location sponsored by ABC News, WMUR-TV and Facebook.

Ron Paul supporters will be holding rallies, writing letters to the editor, boycotting all sponsors, calling Fox news and in an additional move there is even talk of contacting all shareholders of the company that owns Fox news (I will let you look that up yourself) and is advising everyone to sell sell sell and for those of you not able to sell, buy short.  I am not offering any advice, I am only reporting what I have seen in print.

Ron Paul himself, a man who rarely gets upset over all of these decisions to oust him from events, stated “They are scared of me and don’t want my message to get out, but it will,”  he continued “They are propagandists for this war and I challenge them on the notion that they are conservative.”

As I have been saying for months, the mainstream media is not to be trusted and this is further proof of it.  This is a Presidential election for goodness sake, not an election for scout master.  Fox News is  heavy handedly affecting the outcome of the election of the President of the Free World.  The simple act of excluding Ron Paul will have a huge impact on the election.  New Hampshire, although it has lost half of its delegates due to holding their primaries too soon, is still the first primary in the nation (Iowa holds the first caucus) and thus has a huge effect on who people will determine is an electable candidate.

I have never subscribed to the “who is most popular” method of picking a candidate, I prefer to choose based on substance, but there are many who still believe that it is wasting a vote to vote for the man you want to win if you think he could lose and instead choose a lesser candidate with more of a chance.  Nonsense.  All you get by voting for the lesser of two evils is evil.   You do not get a prize for voting for the man who turned out to be the winner.  If you want the war to end, then Ron Paul is the only Republican who is willing to take that stance and the only man who voted against the war in the first place.  One of the reasons our economy is falling so rapidly along with the dollar is because of our government’s war spending.

Those of you that are fine with Fox news choosing who are viable candidates, sit back and enjoy the propaganda.  If there are any folks left with a little gumption, Ron Paul’s staff is planning a rally that will take place at the same time as the 90 minute (ummm, debate?) will air on television.  The Fox “debate” will be taped at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, NH.   It is hard to call it a debate when they have limited participation to only candidates who agree about the war and nearly every other neo-con un-conservative position.  They cannot even claim that they are doing this by who is doing better in the polls because Ron Paul is polling higher than some of those invited.  Fox is blatantly attempting to affect the outcome of this political election.  (Is that legal under FCC rules?)

Of course Fox news if free to eliminate any candidate they want.  They are (or should be) a free market enterprise and Ron Paul would whole-heartedly agree. However, that does not mean that the market won’t respond.  How that market will respond, well, I guess we will have to wait and see.

For me, I hope the market response is to tell Fox that their brand of propaganda (dishonestly described as news) isn’t selling.

Ron Paul: Fox News is ‘scared of me’

Boston Globe | Dec 29, 2007

By James Pindell

PLAISTOW, N.H. — Ron Paul said the decision to exclude him from a debate on Fox News Sunday the weekend before the New Hampshire Primary is proof that the network “is scared” of him.

“They are scared of me and don’t want my message to get out, but it will,” Paul said in an interview at a diner here. “They are propagandists for this war and I challenge them on the notion that they are conservative.”

Paul’s staff said they are beginning to plan a rally that will take place at the same time the 90-minute debate will air on television. It will be taped at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown.

“They will not win this skirmish,” he promised.

The Fox debate occurs less than 24 hours after two back to back Republican and Democratic debates on the same campus sponsored by ABC News, WMUR-TV and the social networking website Facebook.

Paul, the Republican Texas Congressman, was wrapping up his final day of campaigning in New Hampshire until the Iowa Caucuses on Thursday.

He spent much of the day campaigning at diners in Manchester and Plaistow and downtown walks in Derry and Exeter.

. . .

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Fox News Excludes Ron Paul from Presidential Debate