Thursday, February 21, 2008

Welcome to the police state?

I must admit even I missed this news - blame my girlfriend and a new job.
And I do feel stupid, as this is probably the most important Senate bill passed this year...

Senate granted retroactive immunity to telecom companies - read the story in talkingpointsmemo. Which means two things:

1) The Bill of Rights is now a non binding document
2) We Americans have no privacy from government wiretapping without a warrant, effectively making us somewhat less than free.

The way the US government listens is is not exactly clear to people. It is not somebody at the other end of the line listening in - that happens, but only if it is a high value target. No, what is happening and will continue to happen is that computer software programs listen in and scan the internet for "danger" words, such as bomb, al Kaida, murder, and others. in English, Arabic, French and other languages. These software programs alert the NSA that such and such has said a combination of "danger" words and that somebody should look into it - investigate. As in personally listen in to the phone and computer records of a person.

These software programs scan EVERY SINGLE phone call made to and from the US, scan every single unencrypted email to and from the USA.
Every single one. (And yes it is for real, and yes, it is very easy to do with the powerful computers we have now and the software written for them).

Now, people act all surprised that this telecom immunity bill passed - but why? In America, we have the same party split into a far right, almost fascist wing (republicans) and centre right (democrats).

There is no left wing in the USA, no communists, no liberal party, not even social democrats.

Simply a pro big business party and an incredibly anti citizen, pro world corporations party.

One blog which I very much like made it a point to show how the US TV "news" shows covered this momentous news of telecom immunity. And the main thing is... they didn't (shock?). They instead concentrated on "awww kittens are cute" stories which play so well with Americans who still watch TV for their "news". Yes, "aww kittens"... or "aww, puppies" in the case of ABC.

Mediabloodhound article:

And how did our three major broadcast networks - ABC, CBS and NBC - treat this story on their nightly news programs?

They didn't. If you are unfortunate enough to still get your daily news wrap-up from these woefully inadequate sources, you wouldn't know that yesterday America took a big jackbooted step closer to a full-on police state.

Now, we're right in the middle of an historic campaign season, so these networks can't be faulted for allocating hefty chunks of time to that. But here are just a few of the non-campaign-related stories they deemed more newsworthy than one of the most important pieces of legislation of our time:

ABC World News with Charles Gibson

"Rent-a-Pet" - Description from website: "If you don't want to commit long-term to a pet, you can rent a dog for a day."

Think that's embarrassing? Here's how Gibson introduced the story: "This is a big night for dogs. A beagle by the name of Uno has a chance to make history by being the first of its breed to ever win best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, always a very popular event. But for those who don't own or necessarily want a champion, there's a company that's come up with the idea of renting dogs, one day at a time. One more concession these days to people who can't commit. Is this a good idea? Who would rent a pup? Is it fair to the dog?" Has Charles Gibson lost his mind? Am I watching the last story of a local newscast? Is this The Daily Show? (Please note: this wasn't even the final story of the night.)

"Swimming with Walruses" - Description from website: "Ice swimmers in the Russian Winter." Gibson begins, "A follow-up to a story we did a couple of months ago, when we ran some pictures of men jumping into the Moscow River. At the time, we didn't know a lot about them. Only that they chose to swim in sub-zero temperatures. And we chose to watch them from afar. But we remained intrigued, and so we sent our Moscow correspondent Clarissa Ward out in the cold to investigate." OK, so let's get this straight: in addition to this story trumping the historic telecom amnesty vote, it's a follow-up to a non-story World News had already presented two months ago. And so important did Gibson and team ABC deem it, they dispatched their Moscow correspondent; at a time when foreign news desks are being slashed every day, it's heartening to know that ABC is putting their resources to good use. I guess this Russian story was too fluffy for their Moscow office.

"HGH Goes Mainstream" - Description from website: "The use of growth hormones is a problem in America, and not just among athletes." Obviously this is only "news" because of the current Roger Clemens case. Out of more than 300 million Americans, this report cites that roughly 30,000 of them are currently using HGH by prescription. It's not approved for prescription for cosmetic purposes. But it's unclear from the report how many of those 30,000 Americans are taking HGH for specific medical conditions, for which it is approved through prescription, as the report also notes. It's the kind of sensational story that could've been aired any day this week, or even next week, or possibly next month.

CBS Evening News with Katie Couric

"The Fed Who Infiltrated the Mob" - Description from website: "In an exclusive interview with CBS News, Armen Keteyian speaks with undercover FBI agent Jack Garcia, who infiltrated New York's notorious Gambino crime family, taking down its bosses in 2005." A terribly pressing story, indeed.

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams

"A Guide to Genetic Tests" (second installment of the three-part series "Who We Are: The Truth About DNA, where chief medical correspondent Robert Bazell explores the role DNA plays in history, health, and the legal system") - Description from website for last night's report: "Tests that examine your risk of developing a disease are widely marketed, but doctors often don't know what to tell patients after they receive their results — and many doctors disapprove of the tests altogether." No argument here on the general worthiness of this report, but rather on the timing. There's nothing urgent about it. Had NBC aired this segment of the series on the following night, it wouldn't have mattered. Most people wouldn't have noticed. And if NBC feared they would, Williams could've easily slipped in a programming note that the segment was bumped one night in order to bring viewers news of the day's major breaking story.

Of course, the clear winner of the evening is ABC World News and Charlie Gibson, with their impressive hat trick of worthless stories.

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Anonymous said...

"And what about the German minority in Poland?"

I would say they are doing fine. I've never heard about some organized hatred against them.

When it comes to Basks we have similar group of Silesians. They are non-violent and very quiet group of lobbyist. It looks like a movement based on nostalgia and pipedreams. Yeah, it is hated by nationalists, but no one is surprised by that. ;-)

On the other hand, while they consider themself Silesians, they also consider themself Polish. So, even if there's "east-side/west-side" type of arguments and "your district sucks, mine rules". Nothing big.

We had good run in Poland in terms of getting things done without looking who you are. Both wars did huge damage to that.

City I live in and love (but it's tough love), Łódź, was build up by Polish, Russian, German and Jewish people.

Łódź, back in old-gold days

Anonymous said...

Damn, did I put my post under wrong text. Sure I did. Meh! Sorry.

To stay on-topic, this Teleco deal is slap in face of all Americans. How do you put up with something like that, I have no idea.

It rapes everything I consider good in USA. Take your country out of the hands of these people.

I find it sad on personal level, too. I'm working with my partners, based in Texas, and despite having a invitation, I will not go to USA now.

Not with my record (a libertarian/anarchist movement participant, Free Software advocate and so on), not with chances of privacy invasion (coping my laptop's disk and MP3 player on border? NO WAY). I'm afraid to go to the country that says that torturing is OK as long is good cause (who set what's good cause?) and can held you in prison just by putting 'terrorist' label on you. No lawyers, no court.

So, please, do something about it. Don't you think it stupid if someone who contributes (a little, but still) to your economy is scared to even pay a visit and talk over glass of vine with people he work daily with?

Anonymous said...

Sadly, this is one of only around a dozen articles addressing the consequences of this bill I've read in the last week.

The concerns are totally justified.