Category Archives: National

FBI’s abuse of the surveillance state is the real scandal needing investigation

via Guardian:

General John Allen

 

General John Allen, the US’s leading military commander in Afghanistan, is being investigated over his ‘communications’ with Jill Kelley. Photograph: Jalil Rezayee/EPA

The Petraeus scandal is receiving intense media scrutiny obviously due to its salacious aspects, leaving one, as always, to fantasize about what a stellar press corps we would have if they devoted a tiny fraction of this energy to dissecting non-sex political scandals (this unintentionally amusing New York Times headline from this morning – “Concern Grows Over Top Military Officers’ Ethics” – illustrates that point: with all the crimes committed by the US military over the last decade and long before, it’s only adultery that causes “concern” over their “ethics”). Nonetheless, several of the emerging revelations are genuinely valuable, particularly those involving the conduct of the FBI and the reach of the US surveillance state.

As is now widely reported, the FBI investigation began when Jill Kelley – a Tampa socialite friendly with Petraeus (and apparently very friendly with Gen. John Allen, the four-star U.S. commander of the war in Afghanistan) – received a half-dozen or so anonymous emails that she found vaguely threatening. She then informed a friend of hers who was an FBI agent, and a major FBI investigation was then launched that set out to determine the identity of the anonymous emailer.

That is the first disturbing fact: it appears that the FBI not only devoted substantial resources, but also engaged in highly invasive surveillance, for no reason other than to do a personal favor for a friend of one of its agents, to find out who was very mildly harassing her by email. The emails Kelley received were, as the Daily Beast reports, quite banal and clearly not an event that warranted an FBI investigation:

“The emails that Jill Kelley showed an FBI friend near the start of last summer were not jealous lover warnings like ‘stay away from my man’, a knowledgeable source tells The Daily Beast. . . .

“‘More like, ‘Who do you think you are? . . .You parade around the base . . . You need to take it down a notch,'” according to the source, who was until recently at the highest levels of the intelligence community and prefers not to be identified by name.

“The source reports that the emails did make one reference to Gen. David Petraeus, but it was oblique and offered no manifest suggestion of a personal relationship or even that he was central to the sender’s spite. . . .

“When the FBI friend showed the emails to the cyber squad in the Tampa field office, her fellow agents noted the absence of any overt threats.

“No, ‘I’ll kill you’ or ‘I’ll burn your house down,” the source says. ‘It doesn’t seem really that bad.’

“The squad was not even sure the case was worth pursuing, the source says.

“‘What does this mean? There’s no threat there. This is against the law?’ the agents asked themselves by the source’s account.

“At most the messages were harassing. The cyber squad had to consult the statute books in its effort to determine whether there was adequate legal cause to open a case.

“‘It was a close call,’ the source says.

“What tipped it may have been Kelley’s friendship with the agent.”

That this deeply personal motive was what spawned the FBI investigation is bolstered by the fact that the initial investigating agent “was barred from taking part in the case over the summer due to superiors’ concerns that he was personally involved in the case” – indeed, “supervisors soon became concerned that the initial agent might have grown obsessed with the matter” – and was found to have “allegedly sent shirtless photos” to Kelley, and “is now under investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, the internal-affairs arm of the FBI”.

[The New York Times this morning reports that the FBI claims the emails contained references to parts of Petraeus’ schedule that were not publicly disclosed, though as Marcy Wheeler documents, the way the investigation proceeded strongly suggests that at least the initial impetus behind it was a desire to settle personal scores.]

What is most striking is how sweeping, probing and invasive the FBI’s investigation then became, all without any evidence of any actual crime – or the need for any search warrant:

“Because the sender’s account had been registered anonymously, investigators had to use forensic techniques – including a check of what other e-mail accounts had been accessed from the same computer address – to identify who was writing the e-mails.

“Eventually they identified Ms. Broadwell as a prime suspect and obtained access to her regular e-mail account. In its in-box, they discovered intimate and sexually explicit e-mails from another account that also was not immediately identifiable. Investigators eventually ascertained that it belonged to Mr. Petraeus and studied the possibility that someone had hacked into Mr. Petraeus’s account or was posing as him to send the explicit messages.”

So all based on a handful of rather unremarkable emails sent to a woman fortunate enough to have a friend at the FBI, the FBI traced all of Broadwell’s physical locations, learned of all the accounts she uses, ended up reading all of her emails, investigated the identity of her anonymous lover (who turned out to be Petraeus), and then possibly read his emails as well. They dug around in all of this without any evidence of any real crime – at most, they had a case of “cyber-harassment” more benign than what regularly appears in my email inbox and that of countless of other people – and, in large part, without the need for any warrant from a court.

But that isn’t all the FBI learned. It was revealed this morning that they also discovered “alleged inappropriate communication” to Kelley from Gen. Allen, who is not only the top commander in Afghanistan but was also just nominated by President Obama to be the Commander of US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe (a nomination now “on hold”). Here, according to Reuters, is what the snooping FBI agents obtained about that [emphasis added]:

“The U.S. official said the FBI uncovered between 20,000 and 30,000 pages of communications – mostly emails spanning from 2010 to 2012 – between Allen and Jill Kelley . . . .

“Asked whether there was concern about the disclosure of classified information, the official said, on condition of anonymity: ‘We are concerned about inappropriate communications. We are not going to speculate as to what is contained in these documents.'”

So not only did the FBI – again, all without any real evidence of a crime – trace the locations and identity of Broadwell and Petreaus, and read through Broadwell’s emails (and possibly Petraeus’), but they also got their hands on and read through 20,000-30,000 pages of emails between Gen. Allen and Kelley.

This is a surveillance state run amok. It also highlights how any remnants of internet anonymity have been all but obliterated by the union between the state and technology companies.

But, as unwarranted and invasive as this all is, there is some sweet justice in having the stars of America’s national security state destroyed by the very surveillance system which they implemented and over which they preside. As Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation put it this morning: “Who knew the key to stopping the Surveillance State was to just wait until it got so big that it ate itself?”

It is usually the case that abuses of state power become a source for concern and opposition only when they begin to subsume the elites who are responsible for those abuses. Recall how former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman – one of the most outspoken defenders of the illegal Bush National Security Agency (NSA) warrantless eavesdropping program –suddenly began sounding like an irate, life-long ACLU privacy activistwhen it was revealed that the NSA had eavesdropped on her private communications with a suspected Israeli agent over alleged attempts to intervene on behalf of AIPAC officials accused of espionage. Overnight, one of the Surveillance State’s chief assets, the former ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, transformed into a vocal privacy proponent because now it was her activities, rather than those of powerless citizens, which were invaded.

With the private, intimate activities of America’s most revered military and intelligence officials being smeared all over newspapers and televisions for no good reason, perhaps similar conversions are possible. Put another way, having the career of the beloved CIA Director and the commanding general in Afghanistan instantly destroyed due to highly invasive and unwarranted electronic surveillance is almost enough to make one believe not only that there is a god, but that he is an ardent civil libertarian.

The US operates a sprawling, unaccountable Surveillance State that – in violent breach of the core guarantees of the Fourth Amendment – monitors and records virtually everything even the most law-abiding citizens do. Just to get a flavor for how pervasive it is, recall that the Washington Post, in its 2010 three-part “Top Secret America” series,reported: “Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications.”

Equally vivid is this 2007 chart from Privacy International, a group that monitors the surveillance policies of nations around the world. Each color represents the level of the nation’s privacy and surveillance policies, with black being the most invasive and abusive (“Endemic Surveillance Societies”) and blue being the least (“Consistently upholds human rights standards”):

surveillanceAnd the Obama administration has spent the last four years aggressively seeking to expand that Surveillance State, including by agitating for Congressional action to amend the Patriot Act to include Internet and browsing data among the records obtainable by the FBI without court approval and demanding legislation requiring that all Internet communications contain a government “backdoor” of surveillance.

Based on what is known, what is most disturbing about the whole Petraeus scandal is not the sexual activities that it revealed, but the wildly out-of-control government surveillance powers which enabled these revelations. What requires investigation here is not Petraeus and Allen and their various sexual partners but the FBI and the whole sprawling, unaccountable surveillance system that has been built.

Related notes

(1) One of the claims made over the last week was that Broadwell, in public comments about the Benghazi attack, referenced non-public information – including that the CIA was holding prisoners in Benghazi and that this motivated the attack – suggesting that someone gave her classified information. About those claims, a national security reporter for Fox reported:

“that a well-placed Washington source confirms that Libyan militiamen were being held at the CIA annex and may have been a possible reason for the attack. Multiple intelligence sources, she also reported, said ‘there were more than just Libyan militia members who were held and interrogated by CIA contractors at the CIA annex in the days prior to the attack. Other prisoners from additional countries in Africa and the Middle East were brought to this location.'”

Though the CIA denies that “the agency is still in the detention business”, it certainly should be investigated to determine whether the CIA is maintaining off-the-books detention facilities in Libya.

(2) I’ve long noted that Michael Hastings is one of the nation’s best and most valuable journalists; to see why that is so, please watch the amazing 8-minute clip from last night’s Piers Morgan Show on CNN embedded below, when he appeared with two Petraeus-defending military officials (via the Atlantic’s Adam Clark Estes). When you’re done watching that, contrast that with the remarkably candid confession this week from Wired’s national security reporter Spencer Ackerman on how he, along with so many other journalists, hypnotically joined what he aptly calls the “Cult of David Petraeus”.

(3) I gave a 40-minute speech this summer on the Surveillance State and the reasons it is so destructive, which can be viewed on the video below; Alternet transcribed the speech here:

Google Says Governments Are Trying To Spy On Citizens Now More Than Ever

via Business Insider: 

 

Government surveillance of citizens’ online lives is rising sharply around the world, according to Google’s latest report on requests to remove content and hand over user data to official agencies.

Spying Binoculars

In the first six months of this year, authorities worldwide made 20,939 requests for access to personal data from Google users, including search results, access to Gmail accounts and removal of YouTube videos. Requests have risen steeply from a low of 12,539 in the last six months of 2009, when Google first published its Transparency Report.

Authorities made 1,791 requests for Google to remove 17,746 pieces of content in the first half of 2012, almost twice as many as the 949 requests made in the same period last year, and up from 1,048 requests made in the last six months of 2011.

“This is the sixth time we’ve released this data, and one trend has become clear: government surveillance is on the rise,” Google said in a blog post.

One of the sharpest rises came in requests from Turkey, which held an election on 12 June 2011. Google reported a 1,013% rise in requests from Turkish authorities in the latest reporting period, including 148 requests to remove 426 YouTube videos, Blogger blogs, one Google document and one search result. The contested items allegedly criticised Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (the first president of Turkey), the government or “national identity and values”. Google restricted Turkish users from accessing 63% of the YouTube videos. It did not remove the other content.

The US accounted for the most requests, as it has consistently since the report was launched. US authorities asked for private details of Google users on 7,969 occasions, up from 6,321 in the last reporting period. The number is more than a third of the 20,938 requests for users’ details worldwide. Google fully or partially complied with 90% of those requests.

Over the six months, Google was asked to remove seven YouTube videos that criticised local and state agencies, police and other public officials. It did not comply with these requests.

US figures represent a larger share of the requests for a variety of reasons. Google has a larger number of US users, the US authorities are more familiar with working with Google and foreign countries sometimes make requests for information through US agencies. Those queries are logged as US requests, as Google is not told where the query originated from.

Europe now accounts for five of the top 10 countries making requests for user data. France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK are all in the top 10 in terms of numbers of requests. The number of requests for content removal in the UK shot up 98% and 60% in Spain. In the UK, local police authorities unsuccessfully pressed for Google to remove links to sites that accused the police of obscuring crime and racism. The UK is currently considering a bill that would require internet and phone companies to track and store every citizen’s web and mobile phone use, including social networking sites, without retaining their content, for 12 months.

France and Germany, two countries that have pressed hard for more privacy online, made the most requests out of any European countries in this reporting period. Google complied with fewer than half of all requests in both countries.

The top three reasons cited by governments for the removal of content are defamation, privacy and security. Google also reported that it has received a number of falsified court documents calling on them to remove content.

“The information we disclose is only an isolated sliver showing how governments interact with the internet, since for the most part we don’t know what requests are made of other technology or telecommunications companies. But we’re heartened that in the past year, more companies like DropboxLinkedIn, Sonic.net and Twitter have begun to share their statistics, too. Our hope is that over time, more data will bolster public debate about how we can best keep the internet free and open,” Google said in its blog post.

From January to June 2012, the following countries made the most requests for user data:

• United States (7,969)
• India (2,319)
• Brazil (1,566)
• France (1,546)
• Germany (1,533)

From January to June 2012, the following countries made the most requests to remove content:

• Turkey (501)
• United States (273)
• Germany (247)
• Brazil (191)
• United Kingdom (97)

Libertarian Marc Victor, Targeted in Arizona Senate Race by Wealthy Super PAC

via Phoenix New Times:
11-01-2012  •  New Times 

By Matthew Hendley Wed., Oct. 31 2012 at 11:23 AM
Categories: Election 2012
Thumbnail image for marcjvictor.jpg
Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Marc Victor.

One of the biggest “Super PACs” in the nation is focusing part of its cash on the U.S. Senate Race that will undoubtedly be won by Democrat Richard Carmona or Republican Jeff Flake.

However, the Ending Spending Fund — which has spent $9 million in races this year, the 10th-most of any Super PAC in the nation — is targeting Libertarian candidate Marc Victor.

See also:
Attorney Helps Client Beat 83-pound Weed Charge, Announces Run for U.S. Senate
Democrat Rich Carmona Races Toward the U.S. Senate
Richard Carmona Promises AZ Dems a U.S. Senate Seat

The Super PAC is run by former TD Ameritrade CEO Joe Ricketts, and it has dropped several million dollars thus far in the presidential race.

This ad from the Super PAC featuring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indirectly targets Carmona, but it tells people directly: don’t vote for Victor.

“Every morning, Harry Reid wakes up, eats his breakfast, and says a little prayer that Libertarians will vote for Marc Victor,” the ad we found on Facebook says. “Harry is desperate to keep the Senate. And, polling at less than 5%, he knows that a vote for Marc Victor is really a vote for Richard Carmona.”

harry-reid-ad.jpg

Politico said earlier this month that it appeared Victor could play the role of spoiler in the race. Although there are more than 20,000 registered Libertarians in Arizona, 2010 Libertarian Senate candidate David Nolan landed more than 80,000 votes — nearly 5 percent — while Senator John McCain was reelected by a healthy margin.

Is it plausible that Victor could be a spoiler? Sure. Does he care? No.

“I don’t care what people do with their votes,” Victor tells New Times. “I’m just promoting freedom.”

If the people trying to get Flake elected think he can steal some of the Libertarian vote, Victor’s not buyin’ it.

“Jeff Flake is pretending to be a Libertarian, pretending to be for freedom and free markets,” he says.

“He can’t even come out against the drug war,” Victor continues. “For me, that’s the easiest thing to come out against.”

Victor says it seems like Flake’s campaign wanted him to withdraw from the race, and he would — “if it were in the interests of freedom.”

“If Jeff Flake says he’ll end the drug war, I’ll withdraw,” he says.

Since that’s incredibly unlikely to happen, it looks like Victor’s still going to campaign for votes until Tuesday.

“Flake’s a guy who’s been in [Congress for] 12 years,” Victor says. “Instead of bashing me and bashing Carmona, why doesn’t he talk about the things that he’s done in the last 12 years?”

For a case in point, the Flake ad featuring Cristina Beato accusing Carmona of knocking on her door at night — an ad Victor jokingly says he’s seen “50,000 times.”

“If I was ever running for reelection after 12 years, I wouldn’t be talking about knocking on people’s door,” Victor says. “Isn’t that the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard?”

Greece Suppresses Free Expression

tyranny


Written by 
Stephen Lendman
Date: November 3, 2012
Subject: Police State

 

tyranny

 

Ordinary Greeks face deepening Depression conditions. At a time vital help is needed, force-fed austerity is policy. Corrupt governance mandates it. Severe repression targets resisters. Now they’ve got another woe. Press freedom isn’t tolerated.

A previous article explained. Whistleblower/journalist Costas Vaxevanis faces charges of violating state privacy laws. He’ll be tried for truth-telling. More on that below.

Greece is bankrupt. Vital social services are vanishing. Ordinary people face extraordinary hardships. Corrupt governance makes things harder by punishing them. Human deprivation is more than many can bear.

At the same time, privileged Greeks manage fine and then some. When billions of dollars in aid is needed to keep the economy from collapsing, their wealth is hidden safely offshore in tax havens.

Much of it is questionable. Behind every great fortune lies a great crime. Greeks aren’t exceptions to the rule. Hiding wealth automatically makes it suspect.

Tax avoidance compounds other potential criminality. Government officials ignore it. Doing so makes them complicit. What have they got to hide? Answers needed aren’t forthcoming.

Vaxevanis learned what’s going on and exposed it. Privacy laws weren’t violated. No personal data was revealed. Allegations of criminality weren’t made.

Vaxevanis did what’s expected from all journalists – his job. He justifiably called for an investigation. Doing so got him arrested and bogusly charged with violating state privacy laws.

Revealing potential tax cheats is essential. Doing it in a country reeling from debt problems takes on greater urgency. If convicted, Vaxevanis faces up to two years in prison and a 30,000 euro fine.

Democracy’s birthplace tramples on principles it once embraced. Police state repression, corruption, and indifference to human need replaced it.

In charging Vaxevanis, government officials targeted press freedom. Destroying free expression endangers all other rights. They’re vanishing in Greece, other European countries, America and Israel.

Call it Western civilization’s darkest hour. Disturbing as things are now, expect much worse ahead. Vaxevanis and others like him represent a shot across the bow. Anyone can be arrested for any reason or none at all. That’s how police states operate.

Vaxevanis has supporters. On October 31, Russia Today (rt.com) headlined “Show-stopper: Greek journalists go on strike, alleging state censorship,” saying:

For months, intermittent strikes and street protests challenged austerity harshness. Now “(t)he embattled Greek government faces another strike – this time from journalists.”

State television ones began work stoppages. At issue is challenging government censorship. Greece faces two scandals back-to-back.

“One concerns presenters Marilena Katsimi and Costas Arvanitis.” National Broadcaster ERT suspended them indefinitely. They host a popular current affairs program.

Suspension followed their criticism of right wing interior minister Nikos Dendias. At issue was evidence of his involvement in torturing 15 anti-fascist activists. More on that below.

Katsimi and Arvanitis were suspended for “violat(ing) basic journalistic ethics” and making “unacceptable insinuations (that) didn’t give Dendias a chance to respond.”

In other words, they did their job. Katsimi called accusations against her an attempt to suppress free discussion of political issues on air. At a time of economic crisis, officials want dissent suppressed. She added:

“Everywhere in media people are being fired, but at ERT they are hiring. The government wants people who agree with their position, and they want to hire their friends.”

Arvanitis told the New Statesman:

“The decision made today by the News Department Manager of ERT, is clearly political in nature and based on false excuses that expose the management of the station politically and journalistically.”

“Our answer will be the unanimous decision of journalists and technicians through our unions (to strike till the decision is recalled). This is not the first time the show comes under scrutiny.”

“Top ministers both from Papademos’s government (2011-2012) and the one under Papandreou (2009-2011) targeted the show for axing.”

“The reduction of our airtime from 4 to 2 hours this season, should serve as an indication, especially as it was announced on the station’s twitter account after a direct intervention from the manager of the PM’s office Giorgos Mouroutis, while the leader of the opposition Alexis Tsipras was on air, interviewed in the studio.”

On October 9, the London Guardian reported fascist crackdowns in Greece. It headlined “Greek anti-fascist protesters ‘tortured by police’ after Golden Dawn clash,” saying:

They faced Guantanamo-style treatment. Two dozen others were “arrested after demonstrating in support of their fellow anti-fascists the next day….”

They said they were stripped naked and beaten. Some said they were burned. They described treatment amounting to torture. Greece’s Attica General Police Directorate (GADA) stands accused.

It’s the nation’s Scotland Yard equivalent. It’s more like Hitler’s Gestapo. They collude with Golden Dawn fascists. They’re a neo-Nazi Greek political organization.

They’re racist, xenophobic, and violent. They use Nazi symbolism. Eighteen of their members serve in parliament. Police turn a blind eye to their attacks. Reports say their encourage it.

Based on how police treat street protesters, denying press freedom shouldn’t surprise. Others are targeted like Vaxevanis. Weeks earlier, Golden Dawn extremists got interior minister Dendias to arrest the creator a Facebook group.

At issue was satirizing a noted monk named Elder Paisios (1924 – 1994). Charges included “malicious blasphemy and religious hubris.” Speaking, writing, or broadcasting freely in Greece puts everyone at risk. That’s how police states work.

RT said ERT workers walked out in protest. They said they’ll organize 24-hour rolling strikes until both presenters are reinstated. Perhaps they’ll be suspended, arrested and tortured. Fascism replaced democracy in Greece. It’s spreading dangerously across Europe, in America and Israel.

On October 30, London’s Guardian published Vaxevanis’ op-ed headlined “Greece gave birth to democracy. Now it has been cast out by a powerful elite,” saying:

“An exclusive club of powerful people engages in illegal practices, then pushes through necessary laws to legalize these practices, granting itself an amnesty, and in the end, there are no media to uncover what really happened.”

Earlier, Reuters and other press reports discussed scandals involving Greek banks, he said. Greek media suppressed it.

“For the past two years, the issue of naming people who are assumed to hold bank accounts in Switzerland has poisoned political life in Greece, with political and financial blackmail taking place in the dark rooms of corrupt power.”

At a time suffering Greeks go “through dumpsters for food,” privileged members of society hide their wealth in tax havens. Vaxevanis deserves praise for exposing them. Instead he may be fined and imprisoned.

Free expression in America and across Europe is threatened. On August 7, the London Guardian headlined “Spain’s cowardly purge of the journalists who ask difficult questions,” saying:

“The dismissal of journalists at Spain’s state-funded broadcaster RTVE shows how (prime minister) Mariano Rajoy’s government” silences critics.

RTVE’s “casualty list….reads like a competition for the most popular journalist in the country.” State-controlled media want critics removed. RTVE purges aren’t new. Suppressing truth happened earlier.

Now it’s worse because of high unemployment and force-fed austerity during hard times. “Spain has always struggled with impartiality and objectivity. Impartiality – never taking sides – is neither possible nor desirable in journalism.”

“Politicians in Spain are not used to being contradicted, or even pressed to answer a question. They expect the interviewer to nod sheepishly while they deliver their speech, and most do.”

“The newly jobless represented a new trend in Spanish political journalism: they asked real questions to our political leaders. That’s why they were popular. And that’s why the government, increasingly, is not.”

Much the same is true across Europe. Governments increasingly are hard-right and repressive. Policies instituted mandate austerity when vital aid is needed.

Protesters are beaten and arrested. Journalists reporting accurately are fired. Dissent isn’t tolerated. Democracy is more illusory than real. Hard-right neoliberalism replaced it. Repression goes hand-in-hand with it.

Challengers and truth-tellers aren’t tolerated. Freedom is endangered. What ordinary people value most is vanishing. Saving what’s too important to lose won’t happen without committed resistance. Key is mobilizing and sustaining it.

A Final Comment

On November 1, RT reported on television journalist Spiros Karatzaferis’ arrest. He threatened “to expose damaging information about (Greece’s) economy.”

The hacker group Anonymous sent what it “claimed to prove that the Greek deficit….was fraudulent.”

“Karatzaferis told the Greek Reporter that he was arrested not for possessing the information, but on an unrelated case dealing with libel, after he accused judges of trying to form a para-state outside the government.”

Freelance Greek journalist told RT:

“There is tension between government and journalists. Many people are saying the finance minister should be arrested and not the journalist who revealed the truth.”

Sociologist Panagiotis Sotiris added:

“If we combine government attacks and the fact that major media outlets in Greece are run by big corporations you have a problem when it concerns information. They want to create a set atmosphere that there must be things that should not be made public.”

Journalist Electeros Typos said Greece “used to have a free press. Governments are (now) trying to manipulate the media. Some people see it as a message to the media to stop criticizing the government.”

Unions said they’ll join striking journalists. Don’t expect real involvement that’s needed. Earlier union promises across Europe proved hollow.

Walking out for a few days accomplishes nothing. Only sustained general strike action can work. In May 1968 in France, it almost worked. Even then, unions backed corporate and government power, not their rank and file members.

Workers, students and others acted largely on their own. It was the biggest working class eruption since the 1930s. At its peak, 10 million strong joined students and other protesters.

Sustained strike action was initiated. Factories, universities, and offices throughout the country were occupied. For weeks, France was paralyzed. The de Gaulle government nearly fell.

Activism continued under the slogan, “Be realistic, demand the impossible!” Things could have gone either way. Capitalism was on trial. Transitioning to socialism was possible.

Ordinary people had a chance to have things their way. Revolutionary change was possible. It didn’t happen because corrupt union bosses united against rank and file members.

At the same time, energy waned. What might have been didn’t happen. Modest concessions were gained. They weren’t enough to matter. They’re long gone now.

Remember France 1968. Sustained general strike action works. Key is not yielding short of achieving demands and maintaining energy to keep them if gained.

A better world is possible, but only if committed people fight for it. It’s high they tried again now. And not just in Greece!

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

His new book is titled “How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War”

http://www.claritypress.com/Lendman.html

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour

New York state asks Washington to cover all storm costs

New York state asks Washington to cover all storm costs

via Yahoo:

 

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New York state on Wednesday asked the U.S. federal government to pay all the costs of cleaning up and repairing damage from massive storm Sandy that tore through the Northeast this week and crippled New York City.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said he is asking fellow Democrat, President Barack Obama, to pay 100 percent of the estimated $6 billion bill, at a time that state and local government budgets remain constrained by a weak economic recovery.

That would be a significant change from last year when the federal government covered about 75 percent of the $1.2 billion cost paid by New York to clean up after storm Irene hit the region.

The two U.S. senators from neighboring New Jersey, the other state hit hardest by the storm, also asked that the federal government cover more than the usual share of the cost, given the size of the disaster and the financially strapped local coffers.

“Recent storms in New Jersey have already placed a significant burden on our state and local governments, which have been forced to pay for disaster response and will need federal assistance for recovery from Hurricane Sandy,” Senator Frank Lautenberg and Senator Robert Menendez, both Democrats, wrote in a letter to Obama.

“While we understand the federal share is typically 75 percent of these total costs, the unprecedented and extraordinary extent of damage Hurricane Sandy has caused to our state merits an adjustment to this cost-share to 90 to 100 percent federal coverage,” the two senators said.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, did not reply to request of comments.

Obama and Christie toured storm-stricken parts of New Jersey on Wednesday, taking in scenes of flooded roads from the air and telling residents they were moving quickly to get them help.

‘WE CAN’T PRINT MONEY’

New York top finance official, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, said Washington should foot the bill, because of lingering financial pressures on state and local governments from the 2007-09 recession.

“I think the focus will have to be on Washington, for obvious reasons,” DiNapoli told Reuters in an interview.

“They have greater resources. They can print money; we can’t do that here. And given the fact this is not just a New York disaster, it’s really a national disaster, it’s probably for the federal government to step up and play a significant role.”

“The problem is the state is limited in its resource capacity. We just put out the mid-year report a week or two ago and it really showed tax revenues are down,” DiNapoli said.

Most U.S. states must balance their budgets, unlike the federal government, and it is up to Obama to decide if federal funds can cover all the costs.

“The president has the discretion to go higher. Seventy-five percent is a floor not a ceiling,” said Matt Mayer, a former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security.

If Obama accepts covering all the costs, this would be announced by Federal Emergency management Agency, Mayer said.

Former President George W. Bush allowed 100 percent reimbursement of costs in some states after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Mayer, who worked at DHS during Bush’s presidency, told Reuters.

Cuomo said in a letter to Obama that “initial estimates project up to $6 billion in lost economic revenue in the greater metropolitan area and the state” due to disruption to business in the world’s financial hub.

Cuomo added that “the significant impact from Hurricane Sandy plainly warrants providing this assistance.”

The state, he said, was still battling multi-building fires, tunnel closures, and power outages at hospitals and other vital facilities. Plus there are destroyed homes and people needing shelter.

“Moreover, the cost to restore the complex electrically driven subway and rail transportation systems after total inundation from saltwater flooding will place a tremendous financial burden on New York state,” Cuomo said in the letter.

In New York alone nearly 2 million homes and businesses are still without power.

Cuomo said federal support is key to making sure state and local governments can respond effectively to the disaster.

New York state is rated AA by Standard and Poor’s and Aa2 by Moody’s and its outstanding debt is the second highest among states, after California.

2 Investigators: Chicago Schools Flunk Food Inspections

via CBS:

 

(Photo by Jana Birchum/Getty Images)

CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Public Schools are constantly being scrutinized for improving test scores and academic standards.

But who’s watching to make sure the school’s kitchens and lunchrooms are being kept up to safety standards?

CBS 2’s Pam Zekman reports.

Since 2011, 244 of Chicago’s 681 schools failed at least one inspection, according to a review of city health department inspections by the 2 Investigators. That’s 35 percent with at least one failed inspection.

The Anton Dvorak Elementary School had the worst record. Since 2011, Dvorak has failed city health inspections six times for reasons such as no hot water in bathroom sinks, food kept at unsafe temperatures and more than 200 rodent droppings found in food service areas.

Food safety expert Kantha Shelke reviewed the city health inspection reports.

“Rodent infestation, in addition to soiling and destroying property, also spreads disease, some of which can be painful and fatal,” she says.

At Cameron Elementary, inspectors found a mice dropping infestation in the main kitchen, with “more than 600 scattered” droppings.

“You could get sick here and end up in the hospital,” says Johnny Olivo, the father of a Cameron student. “That’s crazy.”

And that’s what just happened at Hirsch Metro High School. Mice got into some nachos and several students actually got sick eating rodent droppings.

“They said it was rat droppings, mouse droppings in the nachos,” says Johnese James, a Hirsch student. “My stomach was hurting, I threw up and I had diarrhea.”

Hirsch was cited just last year for its rodent problem.

After kids got sick this month, workers were hired to patch holes around the outside of the building that vermin used to access the school. The kitchen was shut down and six kitchen workers were sent home and may face disciplinary action.

But Leslie Fowler, who was appointed executive director of Nutritional Support Services for CPS two months ago, is not happy about what happened.

“Quite frankly, it was a failure at all levels,” she says.

Hirsh now has a new principal and new kitchen staff.

Other schools that failed inspections include Farragut Academy, where inspectors said there were too many droppings too count; Songhai Learning Academy, where a live snake was found stuck to glue paper in the kitchen; and Ariel Academy, where inspectors heard “gnawing sounds” in the wall.

“Makes you wonder if you are talking about a Chicago public school or a Chicago public zoo,” Shelke says.

Fowler, the new school-lunch boss for CPS, met CBS 2 at Brian Piccolo Elementary School, which had failed two previous inspections. It was spotless for the visit.

Like other schools, Zekman pointed out, health inspectors had found rodent droppings all over the kitchen area, many in plain sight on the ledge of a steam table and inside a food warmer which kitchen staff must have seen.

Fowler says she will improve school lunches system-wide by making sure proper procedures are followed, implementing changes that will prevent future lapses and increasing oversight.

Her message to staff: “Don’t let me find out that a student is harmed at your hands. This is unacceptable. Not on my watch.”

All of the schools in this report eventually passed inspections, including most recently Hirsh, where the kitchen is now open and the staff replaced.

Christie: Jersey Shore Icons Destroyed

via The Daily Beast: 

 

Christie: Jersey Shore Icons Destroyed

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got a little nostalgic at a Tuesday press conference describing the devastation that took place along the Garden State’s coast. He talked about the roller coaster and log flume he used to ride as a child vacationing at the shore and the piers and boardwalks where he took his children. “For those of us who are my age, it will not be the same. Many of the iconic things are gone, washed into the ocean,” Christie said. Taking stock of the disaster, Christie said he was grateful that the loss of life had been minimized—the latest count stands at six dead—and roughly 1,000 had been rescued from the flooding.

The New York Times:

 

Aerial View of New Jersey Devastation

Visibly exhausted and somewhat breathless from a tour of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey took a few minutes on Tuesday evening to take stock of what was lost and mourn what he said could not be replaced.

The vacation spots and haunts of his youth along the Jersey Shore were gone, he said. The roller-coaster and the log flume and the little kiosk that sold sausage and peppers were washed away. The piers and boardwalks where he took his children on vacation and where he was recorded shouting down a critic, ice cream cone in hand, were now buried in muck.

“We’ll rebuild it,” he said in an evening news conference. “But for those of us who are my age, it will not be the same. Many of the iconic things are gone, washed into the ocean.”

Thankfully, Mr. Christie said, the loss of life was minimal. At least six people died in the storm, he said, killed primarily by falling trees. About 1,000 people had been rescued from flooded regions, and 4,500 people remained in shelters, he said.

Thousands remained without potable water, and as many as 2.6 million people had no power, he said. But by Tuesday evening electricity had been restored at Newark Liberty International Airport, and the Garden State Parkway had reopened — with tolls reinstated.

The governor would not venture to guess what the cost of recovery would be: “We’ll be talking about numbers with a ‘B,’ ” he said. But he said federal money and private insurance would ensure that the burdens on the state budget would be minimal.

“Today was a day of sorrow, and we need to feel that,” Mr. Christie said. “But as long as sorrow does not replace resilience, we’ll be fine.”

 

Presidential election hits $2B fundraising mark

via Yahoo: 

 

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures as he speaks at a campaign rally at Worthington Steel, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012, in Worthington, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The 2012 presidential campaign passed the $2 billion mark in fundraising Thursday, fueled by an outpouring of cash from both ordinary citizens and the wealthiest Americans hoping to influence the selection of the country’s next leader.

The eye-popping figure puts the election on track to be the costliest in modern U.S. history. It comes amid a campaign finance system vastly altered by the proliferation of outside groups and “super” political committees that are bankrolling a barrage of TV ads in battleground states.

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romneyhave brought in about $1.7 billion so far this election, according tofundraising reports submitted Thursday night.

Added to that: nearly $300 million in donations involving super PACs since early 2011, as well as tens of millions more in donations to nonprofit groups that run election-related ads but don’t have to disclose their donors.

Obama, the Democratic Party and related fundraising committees raised a combined $88.8 million for the first 15 days of October, reports showed, while Romney’s fundraising apparatus reaped $111.8 million during the same period.

The largest of those were two pro-Romney groups. American Crossroads, a Republican-leaning super PAC with ties to former President George W. Bush’s longtime political counselor Karl Rove, reported raising at least $79.6 million through Oct. 15. Restore Our Future, founded by former Romney aides, reported pulling in $130.6 million so far. And Priorities USA, a pro-Obama group founded by two former aides to the president, reported $62.8 million in contributions.

Added to that: nearly $300 million in donations involving super PACs since early 2011, as well as tens of millions more in donations to nonprofit groups — often affiliated with super PACs — that run election-related ads but don’t have to disclose their donors.

Presidential candidates in 2008 raised more than $1.8 billion in inflation-adjusted figures. This time, new factors have contributed to the escalation in the campaign money chase.

This year marked the first time that both major party candidates opted out from the public financing system established to set limits on how much a presidential candidate can raise and spend. Both Obama and Romney would have been eligible for about $100 million in taxpayer money to support their campaigns through the general election, but both gambled — correctly — that they could raise and spend far more.

In 2008, Obama became the first presidential contender to refuse all public financing while his Republican rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain, accepted the government funds. The lopsided result — Obama outspent McCain by more than 2-to-1 in the general election — effectively ended public funding as an option for serious candidates.

With the 2012 election so tight, both Obama and Romney have spent considerable time at high-dollar fundraising events courting wealthy donors. Romney last month lamented the time spent fundraising rather than speaking to larger groups of voters, saying that “fundraising is a part of politics when your opponent decides not to live by the federal spending limits.”

Both Obama and Romney have raised considerable cash from small donors, too, especially the president. His campaign has reported that more than 4 million donors have contributed.

Obama spokesman Adam Fetcher acknowledged Thursday that Romney and his supportive super PACs were outspending the president on the airwaves. He said the Obama campaign was making efforts to expand its donor base as it headed into the remaining days before the election.

Federal election regulators have raised the limit on individual contributions to candidates, which means campaigns can solicit more money from donors than they have in the past. Individual donors can now give a total of $5,000 in the primary and general elections to a candidate, compared to just $2,000 in 2000.

Michael Toner, a Republican campaign finance lawyer and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said the close race between Obama and Romney and the sharply polarized electorate have also played a role in accelerating the dash for dollars.

“I don’t know any campaign manager who thinks they have too much money. In this political 50-50 environment you can’t ever have enough,” Toner said. “Every last million could make the difference in who is elected.”

But the emergence of super PACs and other outside groups, emboldened partly by the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court in 2010, has done more than anything else to reshape the contours of presidential campaign fundraising. A handful of federal court cases have broadly eased campaign finance regulations, allowing donors to give unlimited sums. That kind of money has largely been funneled to super PACs, which can raise and spend money on behalf of candidates as long as they don’t coordinate expenditures or strategy with the campaign.

“The distinctive factor in this election is the outside money being spent and the corrupting money financing it,” said Fred Wertheimer, a longtime campaign finance reform advocate. “It’s a symbol of the disastrous campaign finance system we have and the undue influence relatively few well-financed individuals and interest groups now have over government decisions.

Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is the top super PAC donor this year. Adelson, a billionaire, has contributed more than $40 million to Republican super PACs, including those backing Romney and former candidate and House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The 25 Coolest New Businesses In Chicago

via Business Insider: 

 

 

With its burgeoning restaurant scene and its vibrant startup culture, Chicago is one of the best places in the country to start a business. 

We spoke to friends and colleagues and polled readers to bring you the coolest and most innovative new businesses in the Windy City.

The winners, listed in alphabetical order, have all opened since (or just before) Fall 2011 and include a donut shop run by an alum of one of Chicago’s best restaurants, a personal shopping service, an Argentinian empanada shop and a startup that’s changing how the service industry hires.

Thanks to our readers who took the time to send us nominations. Abby Rogers and Rob Wile contributed to the list. 

 

Au Cheval

800 West Randolph Street

What it is: European-inspired diner food.

Why it’s cool: Au Cheval’s not your typical diner, with dishes like a fried homemade bologna sandwich, duck heart hash and a pork porterhouse. They also have an excellent burger.

This diner has more than 30 international beers on tap.

bethie b.

bethie b.

bethie b.

Online

What it is: The one-year-old company buys and sells recycled interiors, furnishings, and art. Their specialty, however, is pillows—hand-painted and custom-made.

Why it’s cool: The founders of bethie b. are Meg Goldberg and Beth Barron, a mother and daughter “pillow-creating design team” with an eye for the unique, creative and custom made.

CakeStyle

CakeStyle

CakeStyle

4 East Ohio, Studio 12

What it is: A personal shopping service founded in November 2011 that strives to give women more free time.

Why it’s cool: The CakeStylists work with clients’ different budgets, work dress codes, and preferred designers. You can also buy CakeStyle as a gift for friends and family.

 

Citizen Made

Citizen Made

Citizen Made

3717 North Ravenswood Avenue

What it is: A custom sales software company that helps Chicago-based online businesses build their online stores by making it easier for their customers to personalize, visualize, buy and share products in different colors, styles, and designs.

Why it’s cool: Citizen Made gives its primarily local and small business clients the option for their customers to share their purchases through social media in order to increase brand awareness.

Do Rite Donuts

Do Rite Donuts

Do-Rite Donuts

50 West Randolph Street

What it is: High-end donuts and coffee.

Why it’s cool: One of the chefs is an alum of L2O, one of Chicago’s most renowned fine dining restaurants. The donuts, ranging from classics like Boston Creme Pie to more arcane flavors like Banofee Pie and Candied Maple Bacon, are so popular that the owners are reportedly contemplating a second location.

Daily specials like S’more donuts and rum glazed pineapple fritters make each visit a bit different. There are vegan and gluten-free options available every day.

EL Ideas

2419 West 14th Street

What it is: A micro-restaurant named one of the best in Chicago.

Why it’s cool: EL has only one seating a night at a communal table. Dining here is an interactive experience, with each of the dishes explained by the chef and his small staff. If the idea of eating with 16 or so strangers makes you nervous, the food might convince you otherwise.

Recent inventive dishes include “cherries” (pictured; which are made from sea grapes, katsuobushi and umeboshi) and “French Fries and Ice Cream” (potato with leeks and vanilla).

Emporium

1366 North Milwaukee Avenue

What it is: A combination bar and arcade.

Why it’s cool: Rather than a lonely Deer Hunter machine at the back of bar, Emporium has a huge variety of classic arcade games from The Simpsons to Galaga, as well as a variety of pinball machines. There are more than 20 craft beers on tap.

The games are next to convenient shelves to hold your drink during particularly competitive gaming sessions.

5411 Empanadas

2850 North Clark Street and a roaming truck 

What it is: Argentinian-style empanadas on the go and in a new storefront.

Why it’s cool: After several years running a successful food truck, 5411 Empanadas recently opened its first storefront. Named for the dialing code for Buenos Aires, they offer classic Argentinian-style empanadas.

However, flavors like ratatouille and banana nutella are anything but classic.

Flowers For Dreams

Flowers For Dreams

Flowers for Dreams

Online, in Chicago and Boston

What it is: A florist company founded in March 2012 that donates a backpack full of school supplies to a student in need for every bouquet purchased.

Why it’s cool: The company’s flowers are sourced organically, grown sustainably, and delivered locally in and around Boston and Chicago. After their first six months of operating, Flowers for Dreams had donated 1,750 backpacks in Chicago, and 525 in Boston after the first three months, according to an email from one of the co-founders.

Furnishly

Furnishly

Furnishly

Online and at various area retailers

What it is: A curated online marketplace for local and vintage furniture.

Why it’s cool: Anyone who’s had a bad experience with Craigslist can see where the idea came from.

Furnishly makes the process of finding and buying great furniture from individuals and a variety of partner stores easier and more reliable.


Goosefoot

2656 West Lawrence Avenue

What it is: Contemporary American prix-fixe restaurant.  

Why it’s cool: Named the year’s best new restaurant by Chicago Magazine, Goosefoot is named for the genus of plants that include beets and swiss chard. The food often looks more like art than something to eat.

The dishes are described simply with the ingredients that make them up, like the “angus beef/cauliflower/goosefoot/trumpet royale/shallot jus” that appeared on a recent menu.

Independence

Independence

Independence

47 East Oak Street

What it is: A new men’s boutique in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.

Why it’s cool: Everything sold at the store is made in the USA.

Some of the brands include Engineered Garments, Post Overalls, Gitman Vintage and featured footware from local company Oak Street Bootmakers.

 


JoJo & Sofia

JoJo & Sofia

Jojo & Sofia

Online

What it is: A company that makes handmade, vintage-style accessories—tie clips, cuff links, etc.—mainly for men, but also vintage and steam punk-style jewelry for women.

Why it’s cool: Sarah Sebastian, founder of JoJo & Sofia, named the business after her two grandmothers. Aww!!

Madame Zuzu’s

Madame Zuzu's

Richard Shay//Madame Zuzu’s

582 Roger Williams Ave. in Highland Park

What it is: Madame Zuzu’s is a 1930s-style Chinese tea house which opened in mid-September 2012.

Why it’s cool: Zuzu’s was started by Billy Corgan, frontman of the Smashing Pumpkins. Patrons who visited the tea house for its grand opening on September 13th wer

e able to meet Corgan and hear him play some acoustic sets.

MentorMob

MentorMob

MentorMob

Online

What it is: An education startup that curates online learning.

Why it’s cool: MentorMob allows users to create online “learning playlists” for a variety of subjects and skills you can learn like new languages, instruments, or school subjects. Anyone who browses MentorMob looking to learn something new will be able to see the best demos and how-tos on the internet, and “bypass all the junk.”

Proper Suit

Online

What it is: A bespoke suit service that recently arrived in Chicago.

Why it’s cool: Already a hit in Silicon Valley, Proper Suit takes the hassle and pretentiousness out of great custom-made suits.

Once you’ve been measured by one of the company’s tailors, all you need to do is send a photo or explanation of what you’re looking for and the team will get to work.

Rentalutions

Rentalutions

Rentalutions

222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza, Suite 1212

What it is: Rentalutions is an online property management platform that helps landlords manage their properties. It was founded in Chicago in April 2012.

Why it’s cool: The founders created Rentalutions to bring more landlords into the digital age. Landlords can manage their property rentals online and run background and credit checks on tenants with this program.

Shiftgig

Online

What it is: An online hiring and job search engine for the service industry in Chicago.

Why it’s cool: Shiftgig makes it easier for applicants to find service industry jobs—from sommeliers and pastry chefs to general managers—and for Chicago-based companies to find the right employees.

It’s almost like a social network or dating site for the industry, giving applicants a “fit score” for different opportunities and offering more “gigs” as they make their profile more complete.     

Slurping Turtle

Slurping Turtle

Slurping Turtle

116 West Hubbard Street

What it is: A restaurant that serves delicate Japanese comfort food.

Why it’s cool: Slurping Turtle offers delicious, comforting dishes like noodles and grilled meats. The owner, Takashi Yagihashi, won “fan favorite” on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters.

SpotHero

Online

What it is: An app that allows people to find and reserve parking spots in Chicago.

Why it’s cool: Parking in Chicago can be, well, difficult. SpotHero allows users to view rates, get deals and reserve spots wherever they might be headed in Chicago. Users can just flash their phone at a partner garage and park.

The app also takes some of the agita out of parking at giant events.

Tavernita

151 West Erie Street

What it is: A new, popular Spanish/Latin small plates restaurant that’s made for sharing.

Why it’s cool: Tavernita offers really great deals to its customers, including $1 shucked oysters on Wednesdays from 5 to 7pm, and special educational nights for wine and Spanish food.

The Barrelhouse Flat

2624 North Lincoln Avenue

What it is: Craft cocktail bar.

Why it’s cool: The recently opened spot has more than fifty classic and original cocktails and a kitchen run by a Charlie Trotter’s alum that’s open until four in the morning.

Dishes include pig face poutine and a popcorn and cotton candy of the day. House cocktails like “Taking Care Of Fizzness” are listed with their inventor on the menu.

The Drinkingbird

The Drinkingbird

The Drinkingbird

2201 North Clybourn Avenue 

What it is: A ’60s inspired retro cocktail bar in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Why it’s cool: Classic drinks, bowls of punch, “swanky decor,” and great snacks make this recently opened bar a favorite for people frequenting the nearby Webster Place movie theater.

The bar also hosts fun ’60s-inspired events like card night, complete with retro-styled decks.

The Hotel Lincoln

The Hotel Lincoln

Hotel Lincoln

1816 North Clark Street

What it is: Like the North Side neighborhood its located in, The Hotel Lincoln is “historic yet fresh, fun though eccentric, active but relaxed.”

Why it’s cool: The Hotel Lincoln is close to the Lincoln Park Zoo, Green City Market and Second City, the comedy club that produced actors like John Belushi, Tina Fey and Steve Carrell.

The Ivy Boutique Hotel

The Ivy Boutique Hotel

Ivy Boutique Hotel

233 East Ontario Street

What it is: The Ivy is a boutique hotel that is centrally located, close to great shopping, restaurants and the Miracle Mile.

Why it’s cool: The hotel’s rooms are designed with soothing earth tone hues and are decorated with fine art by local artists.