Behind The Woodshed Blogcaster – May 01, 2016.

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  • The Suicide of Venezuela

    I never expected to witness the slow suicide of a country, a civilization. I suppose nobody does.

    Let me tell you, there’s nothing epic about it. We who have the privilege of travel often look down in satisfaction at the ruins of ancient Greece; the Parthenon lit up in blues and greens. The acropolis. The Colosseum in Rome. We walk through the dusty streets of Timbuktu and gaze in wonder at the old mud mosques as we reflect on when these places had energy and purpose. They are not sad musings, for those of us who are tourists. Time has polished over the disaster. Now all that is left are great old buildings that tell a story of when things were remarkable – not of how they quietly fell away. “There was no reason, not really,” we tell each other as we disembark our air-conditioned buses. “These things just happen. Nothing is forever; and nobody is at fault. It’s just the way of the world,” our plastic wine glass in hand. Time ebbs and flows, slowly wearing away the foundations of a civilization until it collapses in upon itself – at least that’s what we say to comfort ourselves. There’s nothing to do about it. These things can’t be stopped. They just are.

    This is what people will say in a hundred years, a thousand years about Caracas, Venezuela. Or Maracay, or Valencia, or Maracaibo. Those great sweltering South American cities with their malls and super-highways and skyscrapers and colossal stadiums. When the archeologists of the future dredge the waters of the Caribbean and find the remains of sunken boats; putting them on display in futuristic museums to tell of the time when this place had hosted a civilization. Ruins of great malls filled with water and crocodiles – maybe the ancient anaconda will have retaken their valleys; maybe the giant rats that wander the plains will have made their abodes in the once-opulent homes of the oligarchs – covering the tiles and marble with their excrement. “There was nothing that could have been done,” the futuristic tourists will also say. “The country declined – and vanished – it’s the way things go.”

    We tourists are wrong..


  • Cleveland agrees to pay Tamir Rice family $6m over police shooting

    The city of Cleveland, Ohio, has agreed to pay $6m to the family of Tamir Rice to settle a lawsuit over the 12-year-old’s fatal shooting by a police officer.

    The payment will avert a federal civil rights case brought against city authorities by Tamir’s relatives over the death of “a young boy with his entire life ahead of him, full of potential and promise”, their attorneys said on Monday.

    “Although historic in financial terms, no amount of money can adequately compensate for the loss of a life,” said a statement issued by the firm of Jonathan Abady, Earl Ward and Zoe Salzman, their lead counsel. “Nothing will bring Tamir back. His unnecessary and premature death leaves a gaping hole for those who knew and loved him that can never be filled.”

    The details of the settlement were contained in a filing by judge Solomon Oliver to federal court in Cleveland on Monday morning. The city will pay Tamir’s family $3m this year and $3m next year. Tamir’s estate will receive $5.5m, while his mother, Samaria Rice, and his sister, Tajai Rice, will receive $250,000 each directly.

    “There is no admission of wrongdoing,” the court filing states.

    Tamir was shot dead by Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann, who opened fire less than two seconds after arriving at a park where the 12-year-old was playing with a toy gun in November 2014. A 911 caller had reported that he appeared to be wielding a weapon and noted it was “probably fake”, but this caveat was not relayed to the officers by dispatchers.


  • On This Waterfront, Robot Longshoremen Are the New Contenders

    On one end of a dock at America’s busiest port, tractor-trailers haul containers through dense, stop-and-go traffic. Sometimes they collide. Sometimes the drivers must wait, diesel engines idling, as piles are unstacked to find the specific container they need.

    A few hundred yards away, advanced algorithms select the most efficient pathway for autonomous carriers to move containers across the wharf. The four-story-high orange machines cradle their cargo, passing quietly within inches of each other, at speeds as fast as 18 miles an hour, but never touching. Self-driving cranes on tracks stack the containers and then deliver them to waiting trucks and trains with minimal human intervention.


  • The driverless truck is coming, and it’s going to automate millions of jobs

    A convoy of self-driving trucks recently drove across Europe and arrived at the Port of Rotterdam. No technology will automate away more jobs — or drive more economic efficiency — than the driverless truck.

    Shipping a full truckload from L.A. to New York costs around $4,500 today, with labor representing 75 percent of that cost. But those labor savings aren’t the only gains to be had from the adoption of driverless trucks.

    Where drivers are restricted by law from driving more than 11 hours per day without taking an 8-hour break, a driverless truck can drive nearly 24 hours per day. That means the technology would effectively double the output of the U.S. transportation network at 25 percent of the cost.

    And the savings become even more significant when you account for fuel efficiency gains. The optimal cruising speed from a fuel efficiency standpoint is around 45 miles per hour, whereas truckers who are paid by the mile drive much faster. Further fuel efficiencies will be had as the self-driving fleets adopt platooning technologies, like those from Peloton Technology, allowing trucks to draft behind one another in highway trains.

  • Thousands of Germans rally against trade deals on eve of Obama’s visit

    Thousands of opponents of a proposed transatlantic trade deal poured onto German streets today on the eve of a visit by US President Barack Obama.

    Obama’s trip — to open an industrial technology fair in the northern city of Hanover and hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders — was intended to lend momentum to flagging efforts to see the world’s biggest trade pact finalised this year.

    In an interview with German newspaper Bild ahead of the visit, Obama underscored his belief that the deal will strengthen trade and create jobs.

    But the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has run into major opposition, not least in Europe’s top economy Germany, where its foes have raised the spectre of eroding ecological and labour market standards and condemned secrecy shrouding the talks.

    A loose coalition of trade unions, environmentalists and consumer protection groups gathered a crowd of about 16,000 in front of Hanover’s opera house ahead of a march through the city centre expected to draw around 50,000.

    Amid a heavy police presence, one banner reading “Don’t give TTIP a chance” featured the image of a bull tagged “privatisation” and a cow branded “democracy”.

    A mock coffin lay on the ground emblazoned with the words “Democracy killed by money” and “Here lies democracy”.

    “We are not demonstrating against Obama but against TTIP,” said the head of one campaign group, Campact, Christoph Bautz.

    “TTIP is deeply un-American and anti-European because it endangers our shared value: democracy.”

  • Survey shows plunging public support for TTIP in U.S. and Germany

    Support for the transatlantic trade deal known as TTIP has fallen sharply in Germany and the United States, a survey showed on Thursday, days before Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama meet to try to breathe new life into the pact.
    The survey, conducted by YouGov for the Bertelsmann Foundation, showed that only 17 percent of Germans believe the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a good thing, down from 55 percent two years ago.
    In the United States, only 18 percent support the deal compared to 53 percent in 2014. Nearly half of U.S. respondents said they did not know enough about the agreement to voice an opinion.
    TTIP is expected to be at the top of the agenda when Merkel hosts Obama at a trade show in Hanover on Sunday and Monday.
    Ahead of that meeting, German officials said they remained optimistic that a broad “political agreement” between Brussels and Washington could be clinched before Obama leaves office in January. The hope is that TTIP could then be finalised with Obama’s successor.

  • MEP Luke Flanagan’s visit to the viewing room for TTIP: A farce

    Do NOT scroll past! WATCH! This EU model may give a glimpse into the type of “Global Democratic Governance” that awaits everyone in the wings.

    Also, consider the amount of other peoples’ monies that must have been appropriated to build such a sprawling, enclosed complex.

    European Parliament MEP Luke Flanagan takes us on an amazing journey down an outrageous rabbit-hole of “democratic privilege.”

    “Excuse the quality of the video at times, as it gets a little foggy! Appropriate really for an agreement that is foggy when it comes keeping its contents from the general public. As you will see the process is a farce. Please share.”


SnowJob Snowden’s Chilling Affect

  • Snowden’s Surveillance Leaks Made People Less Likely to Read About Surveillance

    A new Oxford University study has published empirical evidence showing that government mass surveillance programs like those exposed by Edward Snowden make us significantly less likely to read about surveillance and other national security-related topics online.

    The study looks at Wikipedia traffic before and after Snowden’s surveillance revelations to offer some new insight into the phenomenon of “chilling effects,” which privacy advocates frequently cite as a damaging consequence of unchecked government surveillance. What it found is that traffic on “privacy-sensitive” articles dropped significantly following what author Jon Penney describes as an “exogenous shock” caused by revelations of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs and the resulting media coverage.

    The articles were chosen based on keywords from a list of terms flagged by the Department of Homeland Security, used for monitoring social media for terrorism and “suspicious” activity. For example, Wikipedia articles containing the 48 terrorism-related terms the DHS identified—including “al-Qaeda,” “carbomb” and “Taliban”—saw their traffic drop by 20 percent.

    The results also mirror a similar MIT study from last year which found that users were less likely to run Google searches containing privacy and national security-related terms that might make them suspicious in the eyes of the government.

    Perhaps even more alarmingly, the study seems to show a long-term drop in article views on these topics that lasts well past the initial shock of Snowden’s revelations, suggesting that people’s’ calculations about what to read on Wikipedia may have been permanently affected.

    “It means that the NSA/PRISM surveillance revelations, covered by media in June 2013, are associated in the findings not only with a sudden chilling effect but also a longer term, possibly even permanent, decrease in web traffic to the Wikipedia pages studied. This indicates a possible chill,” writes Penney.

  • ‘Chilling Effect’ of Mass Surveillance Is Silencing Dissent Online, Study Says

    Americans now realize that the intelligence community monitors and archives all sorts of online behaviors of both foreign nationals and US citizens.

    But did you know that the very fact that you know this could have subliminally stopped you from speaking out online on issues you care about?

    Now research suggests that widespread awareness of such mass surveillance could undermine democracy by making citizens fearful of voicing dissenting opinions in public.

    A paper published last week in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, the flagship peer-reviewed journal of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), found that “the government’s online surveillance programs may threaten the disclosure of minority views and contribute to the reinforcement of majority opinion.” The NSA’s “ability to surreptitiously monitor the online activities of US citizens may make online opinion climates especially chilly” and “can contribute to the silencing of minority views that provide the bedrock of democratic discourse,” the researcher found.

  • Oregon intelligence cop spied on director of state civil rights office for tweeting Black Lives Matter

    What do you get when you add up the following?

    • Lack of racial diversity among police intelligence employees.
    • Failure to train police intelligence employees on federal and state law.
    • Ignorance of Black cultural iconography.
    • Fear of (Black) dissent.
    • Inadequate oversight at police fusion centers.
    • A culture of impunity regarding police surveillance of First Amendment protected activity.

    In Oregon, these toxic ingredients combined to produce racist, illegal surveillance of a government employee’s First Amendment protected speech. Specifically, a police intelligence officer assigned to the local “fusion center” compiled a report on the Director of the state Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division’s tweets, warning his superiors that the civil rights Director’s commentary about police violence against Black Americans constituted threats to law enforcement. The memo describing these tweets was ultimately passed to the Attorney General, who immediately called for its author to be put on leave and commissioned an independent investigation. The results of that investigation were published in an April 6, 2016 report. The remarkable document shines a light into a place most Americans don’t have access to, but which has an outsized influence in 21st century American life: the shadowy local surveillance infrastructure established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

    Police say they need more money, power, and fancy technologies—and information sharing hubs like fusion centers—to keep us safe from growing threats including domestic and international terrorism. But the April 2016 report on the Oregon incident adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that instead of protecting us, fusion centers and the post-9/11 model they represent threaten the very liberties the police claim to defend.

    Conflating #blacklivesmatter with violent threats to law enforcement

    The Oregon controversy started, as so many police controversies do, with a new surveillance toy. In September 2015, employees at the Oregon DOJ’s Criminal Justice Division’s TITAN Fusion Center were offered a free demonstration of social media monitoring software called Digital Stakeout. According to the April 2016 report, the TITAN Fusion Center is the state’s “focal point for receiving, analyzing, gathering, and sharing threat-related information in order to better detect, prevent, investigate, and respond to criminal and terrorist activity.” The Digital Stakeout software “takes user specified keywords and searches multiple open source social media sites, and returns results that can be pinpointed to a geographic area specified by the user.” After the in-house demonstration, officers and analysts at the fusion center were given the opportunity to use the software on a free, trial basis.

    One particular post caught the fusion center employee’s eye. To the surveillance agent, the tweet looked like a threat to law enforcement officers. It was an image depicting a person in cross-hairs, along with the words “consider yourselves…WARNED!”

    The fusion center employee (whose name is redacted throughout the report) became alarmed. He notified his superior, Special Agent in Charge David Kirby, that a Civil Rights division employee had made threats against law enforcement. Kirby notified Chief Counsel Darin Tweedt, who recommended to Deputy Attorney General Fred Boss that the fusion center agent prepare a report on the suspicious tweets. Boss concurred. The agent then produced the following memo.

    Later, after he had been removed from his position, the agent told the independent investigator that he would sometimes conduct searches based on “what’s hot in the news.” Both federal and Oregon state law prohibit police officers from collecting intelligence information unless it pertains to a particular crime, or suspicion of specific criminal activity. Despite this, the agent told the investigator that he used the “#blacklivesmatter” search term because

    There were a lot of protests and law enforcement assaults that were going on throughout the country and the hashtag itself was being used by many different persons that were organizing riots and looting and threats against law enforcement and just social disobedience in general.

    That reasoning fails to meet the legal standard of what justifies police intelligence collection. Likewise, it would be illegal for a police officer to collect intelligence information on people who use the hashtag “NASCAR” simply because some people who use that hashtag have committed crimes. There is nothing criminal about the Black Lives Matter hashtag, just as there is nothing criminal about NASCAR.

    Other disturbing comments the agent made to the investigator are indicative of an often latent but historically persistent hostility many police intelligence officers harbor towards dissent and dissidents broadly speaking. “Anytime there’s a riot or any kind of social disobedience there’s always an underlying threat to law enforcement and the public,” he said.

    But the memo he produced for his superiors didn’t concern the #blacklivesmatter tag generally, or the millions of people around the world who have tweeted it over the past few years. It focused squarely on the speech of Mr. Johnson, the Civil Rights director for the Oregon Attorney General’s office.

    The agent told the investigator that, upon seeing this tweet, he looked at the other pictures Mr. Johnson had tweeted. He was alarmed by “all this hate stuff and especially anti-law enforcement stuff since he worked with us,” the agent said. Take a look at the tweets the agent was talking about on pages 47-73 of this document. You’ll find mostly cartoons depicting police violence against Black Americans or other expressions of white supremacy. It’s hard to see how anyone could see Mr. Johnson’s tweets as “hateful,” but that’s irrelevant. The cop’s job is not to determine who is mean or hateful, and to spy on them. Rather, it is to determine who may be involved in illegal activity, or who has committed crimes.

    The agent’s own biases spill out in the rest of the interview with the investigator. He says Mr. Johnson’s twitter page contained images of law enforcement being “complete jerks,” and that his colleague’s posts made “all white people appear to be racist.” As the investigator wrote, the agent “felt that Mr. Johnson’s posts showed a lot of hate.”

    Notably, the agent didn’t think that his search of Mr. Johnson’s tweet violated department policy or the law. The investigator put it like this: “[REDACTED] believes the search complied with [federal law] because he felt he was not collecting or maintaining information, merely searching for it using open source terms that anyone could use. [REDACTED] does not believe any search terms are off limits ‘because you can search for anything you want, but if you start to collect it and maintain it then you have to have a reason.’” Furthermore, he thought the search was appropriate because “it was a hot topic at the time that was causing riots and people getting injured and killed and public destruction.” The agent told the investigator that he thought the search was no different from his search on Volksfront, a white supremacist group, because “#blacklivesmatter is simply a hashtag used by a wide assortment of people to do a wide assortment of things, one of which is to promote violence,” the investigator wrote.

    The agent wasn’t alone among his colleagues in assuming that he could legally conduct surveillance against people using the #blacklivesmatter hashtag. A research analyst who has worked with the Oregon police since 2006 told the investigator that “although…she had heard of #blacklivesmatter being used in the context of ‘blacks being killed by police,’ she did not feel someone in Mr. Johnson’s position should be tweeting such messages.’” She herself had conducted online searches for information about animal rights activists, she told the investigator. Another colleague, an analyst employed since 1999 and assigned to the fusion center since 2011, told the investigator she too had conducted searches on the Animal Liberation Front. She also said that prior to the dustup with her colleague and learning how the “Attorney General feels about that,” she wouldn’t have known not to search twitter using the #blacklivesmatter hashtag. A third analyst, employed by the Oregon DOJ for the last ten years, said that her colleague conducted the search because people “that were calling for the massacre of police officers and white people” had tweeted the #blacklivesmatter hashtag in the past. When she viewed Mr. Johnson’s twitter posts, she “felt the posts were very derogatory toward law enforcement,” the investigator wrote.

    Even more alarming was what DOJ Chief Counsel Darin Tweedt told the investigator. The investigator wrote that in Tweedt’s view, “onducting a search to gather information on #blacklivesmatter based on information [REDACTED] heard in the news may be appropriate even in the absence of a criminal investigation.”

    In the conclusion to her report, the investigator wrote that the agent’s search “was not in compliance with the statutes, regulations and departmental rules applicable to CJD employees.” The search, she wrote, “was not tied to a criminal investigation and there were no reasonable grounds to believe there was an existing threat in the Salem area at the time he conducted his search.”

    “Mr. Johnson had not made any threats, and rather appears to have been expressing his dissatisfaction with incidents of police shootings of or biased behavior toward African Americans. Rather than depicting threats to the police, the majority of the law enforcement related posts by Mr. Johnson appear to be satirical cartoon images depicting threats from the police toward African Americans,” she wrote.


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