The War Comes Home

Harper EI house calls

900ftJesus has some important questions for the Privacy Commissioner re: the new Harpercon plan to randomly audit EI clients for *gasp* fraud, via taxpayer-subsidized bureaucratic fishing expeditions (House calls? REALLY?):

What information are federal employees told to gather through house visits?

How is this information gathered? (silent observation, questions, questioning and/or observing people other than the client at the home?

What information is included on any reports given to HRDC?

What is the format of this information?

To what use is this information put? How is the information applied?

What privacy rating is assigned to this information?

Who has access to this information?

Where, how, and for how long is this information stored?

What training have employees who gather the information, and employees who have access to it received in privacy issues and security issues?

What information is given to the clients prior to a visit and during a visit concerning information that will be gathered?

What privacy considerations are specifically given to non-EI claimants sharing the home being visited?

Make no mistake: the Harper government is trying to do to EI recipients what its ideological predecessors, the Harris Reformatories, did to welfare recipients in Ontario in the 90s: demonize based on demonstrative appeals to self-aggrandizing Ford Nation assumptions about freeloaders (who, btw, were not, in fact, committing fraud willy-nilly back in the day, unless one contorts meaning into Gordian knots). Of course, EI != welfare. As 900ftJesus notes, “EI recipients are clients [emph. mine]. They have paid their insurance premiums and are clients, making insurance claims.”

Which is of course the overall point of the egregious Harpercon house call exercise: to dramatically shift Canadian perceptions on how we frame and view EI, until the lines between client and recipient (ie, leech) have been sufficiently blurred.

Happy 30th Anniversary, Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms

According to Louise Arbour, Canada’s internationally renowned & universally lauded Charter of Rights & Freedoms (HBD, eh?) “has transformed a country obsessed with the federal-provincial division of powers and enabled it to address its diversity in a substantive, principled way.”

Gee.

No wonder Harpercon insurrectionists can’t stand the fucking thing.

Why I’m Not Jumping On Board The Google+ Bandwagon

by matttbastard

Jillian C. York on why the current corporate backlash against online pseudonymity is misguided:

There are myriad reasons why an individual may feel safer identifying under a name other than their birth name. Teenagers who identify as members of the LGBT community, for example, are regularly harassed online and may prefer to identify online using a pseudonym. Individuals whose spouses or partners work for the government or are well known often wish to conceal aspects of their own lifestyle and may feel more comfortable operating under a different name online. Survivors of domestic abuse who need not to be found by their abusers may wish to alter their name in whole or in part. And anyone with unpopular or dissenting political opinions may choose not to risk their livelihood by identifying with a pseudonym.

As Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens put forth in deciding McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission,

Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation—and their ideas from suppression—at the hand of an intolerant society. The right to remain anonymous may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct. But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse.

Just as using “real” names can have real consequences, mandating the use of “real” names can too, excluding from the conversation anyone who fears retribution for sharing their views. While one added value of requiring real names might be increased “civility” of the conversation, it is most certainly to the detriment of diversity.

This.  I’d also point out that there’s a complete disregard/willful indifference on the part of FB & Google muckety-mucks to the fact that many (cough) have established pseudonymous online personas — or have published/performed under pen/stage names — with a greater public profile than what might officially appear on one’s birth certificate. Any social media service that would prevent Sam Clemons  from IDing as ‘Mark Twain’ can suck my left one.

G20 Aftermath Shakes Canadian Democracy: Public Inquiry NOW.

(Originally posted at Comments From Left Field)

At this past weekend’s G20 Summit, Toronto the Good was transformed into Toronto the Garrisoned.

Almost from the moment the summit began, 25,000 mostly-peaceful protesters faced a riot gear clad phalanx of security forces19,000 police officers in total, almost 20 times the number of Canadian troops currently serving in Kandahar. Yet it was a small  group of agitators determined to make a statement through senseless violence who (in concert with officials eager to delegitimize peaceful assembly and popular dissent) got to drive the media narrative.

Initially.

Then Sunday’s massive security overreach washed away talk of Saturday’s anarchic orgy in a digital wave of damning, as-it-happened social media coverage, culminating in a rainy, 5 hour “kettling” of over 300 people at Queen and Spadina after a peaceful march turned into a tense standoff. Many of the detained were bystanders who had either joined out of curiosity or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. “It’s not Canadian”, said CP24 host Stephen Ledrew, after innumerable images of cold, drenched Torontonians penned in by riot police had been broadcast, not knowing why they were being held, nor when they would be released.

Some were so desperate for resolution they actually begged to be arrested.

And that’s not to mention numerous clashes between trigger-happy, heavy-handed security officials and members of the news media, many of whom ended up being asked to leave protest areas, detained and, in some particularly disturbing instances, brazenly assaulted in a disgusting circumvention of our grand tradition of a vibrant free press.

By now we’ve all seen now-ubiquitous footage of obsidian-adorned “anarchists” hurling bricks and torching cop cars. Light the flame and the moths will swarm (and, apparently, loot). So why the hell did the brain trust in the PMO decide that the best way to showcase the GTA on a global scale was to hold a big, capitalist photo-op in the downtown core of a major, world-class metropolis, an event almost certain to attract scores of provocateurs?

It was an inexplicable decision that was, to quote Toronto Star publisher John Cruickshank, “bewilderingly stupid”.

TVO’s Steve Paikin and Sun Media columnist Greg Weston have said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s secret late-night legislation that granted G20 security forces sweeping detention powers is as bad or worse than the infamous War Measures Act — and resulted in more arrests than the October Crisis (at least 900 at last report). Clearly, a public inquiry (or inquiries) is only way to resolve still-lingering questions about the G20: why Toronto was picked as host site, how the estimated $1B in costs was actually spent and, most ominously, just what exactly was contained in provincial legislation granting extra-judicial powers to smirking security officials (that so-called ‘five metre rule’? Bunk.) Reports from detainees of misogynistic, homophobic and racist treatment by law enforcement officials should also be thoroughly addressed and charges laid if allegations of police misconduct can be corroborated.

If our elected leaders can waste almost one and a half billion bucks of taxpayer coin on an international photo-op and a fake lake they can pony up some quid to determine why their precious G20 summit resulted in a monumental clusterfuck.

(Photo:  Jonas Naimark, Flickr)

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‘A Place of Jarring Juxtapositions’

by matttbastard

Toronto Star national security reporter Michelle Shephard, who, over the course of her career, has visited the detention facility at sunny Guantanamo Bay, Cuba fifteen times, gives an essential summation today of what she calls “a place of jarring juxtapositions”:

Suicides of the detainees became “asymmetric warfare” and force-feeding prisoners on hunger strikes was “assisted feeding.” Captives did not have “interrogations” but had “reservations.” And signs posted on the road to the camps listed the “Value of the Week” as “Pride” or “Respect” even as Washington debated the definition of torture.

[...]Journalists have been the public’s eyes and ears at the base for the last seven years and the ever-changing rules have at times hampered our efforts to tell the whole story.

Security regulations surrounding photos and videos were perhaps the most confounding.

Last week, censors erased a photographer’s shots of the tents at “Camp Justice” where journalists reside because there were more than three tents in the frame. A television reporter’s clip was deleted because the shot showed her talking with an orange barricade in the background. No one could explain why that was a problem.

Tight shots of razor wire were okay, except if it surrounded the courthouse, even if the courthouse wasn’t shown. I tried to point out that I didn’t think Al Qaeda would be surprised that razor wire was being used as security.

Detainees couldn’t be interviewed or identified in photographs because of the Geneva Conventions, Pentagon spokespeople and military commanders told us.

The international treaties state that prisoners of war must “at all times be protected … against insult and public curiosity.” The PoWs should be afforded “respect for their persons and their honour.”

But the Bush administration created this offshore prison in an effort to sidestep those same Geneva Conventions. U.S. President George W. Bush, who left office last week, famously stated that only the “spirit of” the Geneva Conventions would be respected at Guantanamo.

Our military escorts would correct us if we referred to captives as prisoners because these were not “prisoners of war” but “detainees.”

And if the reason for censoring photos was to protect a captive’s right to privacy and honour, then the Pentagon violated its own rules when it released Guantanamo’s most famous picture. The photo, taken in 2002, showing shackled prisoners in orange jumpsuits kneeling in the hot Cuban sun while dogs and soldiers bark at them, was actually taken by a U.S. sailor.

When international furor erupted, the Pentagon quickly labelled the photos “For Official Use Only” in an attempt to prevent further distribution. But it was too late.

The entire article is a must-read, if only to counter revisionist attempts to distort the legacy of Guantanamo, such as this unfortunately (if tellingly) titled op-ed from Sunday’s Washington Post, ‘When Gitmo Was (Relatively) Good,’ in which writer Karen J. Greenberg tries to construct a ‘One Good German’ counternarrative lauding “small initial efforts at decency” on the part of detention officials.

Purported good intentions aside, Guantanamo was an immediately tainted effort once the decision was made to, according to Greenberg, “act in a manner “consistent with” the conventions (as the mantra went) but not to feel bound by them [emphasis added].”  As soon as the US untied itself from binding international law, specifically and deliberately design a detention facility in order to sidestep regulation and oversight,  the entire enterprise was doomed to debasement, no mater how hard officials initially tried to voluntarily (key word) “go with the Geneva Conventions,” as Staff Sgt. Anthony Gallegos, quoted by Greenberg, put it.

Keep that statement–“not to feel bound by them“–in mind as the new administration ties itself in knots trying to untangle the legal and moral mess left behind by the previous–and, as GOP leaders like John Boehner continue to peddle the Club Gitmo myth,  also remember Shephard’s stark recounting of Guantanamo’s true legacy.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

The Damage Done

by matttbastard

Apparently The Dark Side was only the iceberg’s tip:

“President Obama’s plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials — barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees — discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.

Let’s pause for a moment to let that sink in: “there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.”

Ok, moving on:

Instead, they found that information on individual prisoners is “scattered throughout the executive branch,” a senior administration official said. The executive order Obama signed Thursday orders the prison closed within one year, and a Cabinet-level panel named to review each case separately will have to spend its initial weeks and perhaps months scouring the corners of the federal government in search of relevant material.

Several former Bush administration officials agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner. They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, and that the Bush administration’s focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority.

Rewind my selekta: “[T]he Bush administration’s focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosectutions a far lower priorty

A far lower priorty.

Of course, DeYoung and Finn wouldn’t be “objective” if they didn’t (falsely) balance things out with the requisite mealy-mouthed partisan broadsides from–wait for it, kiddies–some unnamed former Bush administration assbaskets who nostalgically break out their by-now-rusty bullshit shovels:

But other former officials took issue with the criticism and suggested that the new team has begun to appreciate the complexity and dangers of the issue and is looking for excuses.

After promising quick solutions, one former senior official said, the Obama administration is now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor. Unless political appointees decide to overrule the recommendations of the career bureaucrats handling the issue under both administrations, he predicted, the new review will reach the same conclusion as the last: that most of the detainees can be neither released nor easily tried in this country.

“All but about 60 who have been approved for release,” assuming countries can be found to accept them, “are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” said the former official who, like others, insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters about such matters. He acknowledged that he relied on Pentagon assurances that the files were comprehensive and in order rather than reading them himself.”

Well, isn’t that cute!  He never read the (um, non-existent files) that the Pentagon claimed are comprehensive (and are, um, non-existent),  yet somehow still remains completely confident that all Gitmo detainees (apart from the 60 designated for release–oopsie!) are lawfully detained and cannot ever be released, because, um, well, because — hey, look! A Wookie from the planet Kashyyyk!

It does not. make. sense.

Ok, say what you want about the Nazis, but at least they had the *ahem* decency to keep oh-so-impeccable records on their detainees; would that the former administration have shown similar consideration.

Hilzoy (h/t) lays it out on the table:

It takes, well, a special kind of administration to detain people for years on end without bothering to assemble case files on them. I’m just glad they’re finally gone.

Yes, gone, but their tainted legacy, unfortunately, festers, like black mold spreading contamination throughout the structure of US and international law.

Steve Benen puts these latest revelations in context:

The previous administration a) tortured detainees, making it harder to prosecute dangerous terrorists; b) released bad guys while detaining good guys; and c) neglected to keep comprehensive files on possible terrorists who’ve been in U.S. custody for several years. As if the fiasco at Gitmo weren’t hard enough to clean up.

And in order to completely mitigate the rot that, over the past 8 years, has almost completely eaten away at the rule of law in the US, Sylvia/M believes that the Obama administration must subcontract the restoration of  justice to the Hague:

If Obama really wants to restore our standing in the international community and to reinstate the rule of law here in the United States, now is the time to bind ourselves to the Rome Statute, submit to international justice, and start cleaning up the deeply entrenched messes our previous partisan warhawk regime has wrought.  The damage is growing too deep and too great for our national court systems to fix alone.

At the very least, this latest postscript from The Dark Side further underscores how vital it is for the Obama administration to hold accountable those who, whether deliberately or by virture of willful indifference, chose–chose–to napalm all progress Western Civilization has made since the Magna Carta was signed.

Torching our value system, in order to save it.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

To 2015 — And Beyond!

by matttbastard

“I’ve never looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘What a good guy he is.’”

Making every Democrat and progressive who gives a shit about effective Congressional leadership wince, Harry Reid has informed The Politico that he isn’t going anywhere, and dares Republicans to bring it on (so to speak) in 2010. Yes, because nothing says “heckuva job” like once again guiding Congress to historically low approval ratings in 2008–shit, if Reid were the CEO of a Fortune 500 company he’d…er, well, he’d likely be handed a hefty multi-million dollar bonus and a contract extension. Anyway, despite all that pesky dissatisfaction being expressed by the ungrateful masses, Reid confidently likens his role over the past 8 years to “a point on a spear going against George Bush,” claiming “[t]hat’s what I had to do to protect the United States Senate and the country.”

Right, well, if that’s the case, the Dems better think about sharpening that mofo, because apparently it can’t pierce tissue paper, as Glenn Greenwald tartly notes:

Not even the most cynical political observer would have believed that it was the ascension of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi that would be the necessary catalyst for satisfying Bush’s most audacious demands, concerning his most brazenly illegal actions. If anything, hopes were high that Democratic control of Congress would entail a legislative halt to warrantless eavesdropping or, at the very least, some meaningful investigation and disclosure — what we once charmingly called “oversight” — regarding what Bush’s domestic spying had really entailed. After all, the NSA program was the purified embodiment of the most radical attributes of a radical regime — pure lawlessness, absolute secrecy, a Stasi-like fixation on domestic surveillance. It was widely assumed, even among embittered cynics, that the new Democratic leadership in Congress would not use their newfound control to protect and endorse these abuses.

Yet in July 2008, there stood Pelosi and Reid, leading their caucuses as they stamped their imprimatur of approval on Bush’s spying programs. The so-called FISA Amendments Act of 2008 passed with virtually unanimous GOP and substantial Democratic support, including the entire top level of the House Democratic leadership. It legalized vast new categories of warrantless eavesdropping and endowed telecoms with full immunity for prior surveillance lawbreaking. Most important, it ensured a permanent and harmless end to what appeared to be the devastating scandal that exploded in 2005 when the New York Times revealed to the country that the Bush administration was spying on Americans illegally, without warrants of any kind.

With passage of the Act, Democrats delivered to the Bush administration everything it wanted — and more. GOP Sen. Kit Bond actually taunted the Democrats in the Times for giving away the store: “I think the White House got a better deal than they even had hoped to get.”

[...]

The FISA fight was the destructive template that drove virtually every other civil liberties battle of the last year. Time and again, Democrats failed to deliver on a single promise. They failed to overcome a GOP filibuster in the Senate to restore habeas corpus, which had been partially abolished in 2006 as a result of the Military Commissions Act that passed with substantial Democratic support and wholesale Democratic passivity. Notably, while Senate Democrats, when in the minority, never even considered a filibuster to block the Military Commissions Act, it was simply assumed that the GOP, when it was in the minority, would filibuster in order to prevent passage of the Habeas Restoration Act. And filibuster they did.

Apparently Reid and his fellow travellers in the legislative branch never paid much heed to the old adage re: bringing knives to gun fights. The principle also holds true for spears, I’m sure. Especially dull spears, with roses and sweet, sweet candy tied to the tip (sour overtures to lame ducks aside).

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers