February 3, 2012
New York Magazine
By Joe Coscarelli
“Doesn’t the US have freedom of religion? Apparently not.” –KTRN
Details of the NYPD’s widespread surveillance of local Muslim communities after 9/11 are now widely known thanks to an ongoing Associated Press investigation of the secretive programs, and the material just keeps mounting. The latest info comes from a confidential NYPD intelligence report, which can be viewed here, entitled, “US-Iran Conflict: The Threat to New York City.” Recommendations include, “Expand and focus intelligence collections at Shi’a mosques,” but as noted by NBC New York, none of the dozen mosques listed in New York and nearby states “has been linked to terrorism, either in the document or publicly by federal agencies.”
The NYPD is prohibited under its own guidelines and city law from basing its investigations on religion. Under FBI guidelines, which the NYPD says it follows, many of the recommendations in the police document would be prohibited.
The report, drawn largely from information available in newspapers or sites like Wikipedia, was prepared for Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. It was written at a time of great tension between the U.S. and Iran. That tension over Iran’s nuclear ambition has increased again recently.
August 5, 2010
My Way News
By: Michael R. Blood
Nevada U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle sees her campaign as a battle to stop Democrats in Washington who want to expand entitlement programs and “make government our God.”
In an interview with a Christian radio network, Angle describes her effort to oust Majority Leader Harry Reid as a religious calling in “a war of ideology, it’s a war of thoughts and of faith.”
Reid, President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have pushed “entitlement programs built to make government our God,” says Angle, who has called for privatizing Social Security and Medicare for younger workers.
“What’s happening in this country is a violation of the First Commandment,” Angle told Trunews in the April interview, which is posted on the network’s website.
“We have become a country entrenched in idolatry, and that idolatry is the dependency upon our government. We’re supposed to depend upon God for our protection and our provision and for our daily bread, not for our government,” she said.
Reid’s campaign said in a statement Wednesday that Angle’s statements are “frightening.” Since Angle won the GOP nomination in June, Reid’s campaign has depicted the tea party favorite in TV ads as an extremist who would gut federal programs and turn her back on those in need.
“The fact that Sharron Angle believes she’s on a religious crusade to eliminate critical programs like Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance that help hundreds of thousands of Nevadans in need is both dangerous and extreme,” the statement said.
Angle’s campaign pointed out that Reid, too, has spoken about the relationship between politics and his Mormon religion. In a speech at Brigham Young University in 2007, he said, “My faith and political beliefs are deeply intertwined. I am a Democrat because I am a Mormon, not in spite of it.”
Angle spokesman Jarrod Agen said in a statement that “people are frustrated because, like Sharron, they understand Washington has become a giant, unseen, omnipotent force whose presence is felt in all our lives whether we like it or not.”
Angle, a Southern Baptist, has called herself a faith-based politician and prays daily. Among her positions, she opposes abortion in all circumstances, including rape and incest.
In the Trunews interview, she talked widely and with candor unusual for a politician about her religious views and how they relate to her life as a politician.
“In this political walk that I’m walking – and I think it is a calling that God has on my life – I have watched Him walk with me through politics and help me to see the pitfalls of the political machinery, the seduction of the party and even those outside the party, the lobbyists, all of that,” Angle told the network.
“The Lord shows me daily where he wants me to walk,” she said.
Asked why she would enter a race to challenge the most powerful Democrat in the Senate, Angle said, “We’re at war in this country, for our freedom, our culture, for our liberty, our Constitution.”
Angle, who has called for dissolving some federal agencies and shifting their powers to states, including the Department of Education, warned of growing dependency on Washington.
“We know that once we have a majority that are dependent upon the government, we will lose our freedom,” Angle said. “That’s the next stage. Our Founders warned against this.”
“I know people are very frightened about what’s going on in this country,” she added.
The campaigns have previously tangled over statements Angle made on the separation of church and state.
In a June interview on Nevada’s KVBC’s news interview program “Face to Face with Jon Ralston,” Angle was asked about minutes from a 1995 legislative hearing in which she reportedly said the doctrine of church-state separation is unconstitutional. Asked on the program if the separation of church and state arises out of the Constitution, Angle answered “no.” She said Thomas Jefferson is often misquoted and that he wanted to protect churches from being taken over by a state religion. The drafters of the Constitution “didn’t mean that we couldn’t bring our values to the political forum,” she said.
Reid’s campaign said Angle’s remarks showed she believed church-state separation is unconstitutional. Angle’s campaign said Reid was “figuring out ways to twist a larger historical statement Angle was making about the origins of separation of church and state.”
Meanwhile, Angle released a new TV ad faulting Reid for the state’s troubled economy. Nevada leads the nation in unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies.
The ad points out property values have plummeted on Reid’s watch. “The only thing he’s delivered for Nevada is hardship,” a narrator says.
August 5, 2010
By: Declan McCullagh
For the last few years, federal agencies have defended body scanning by insisting that all images will be discarded as soon as they’re viewed. The Transportation Security Administration claimed last summer, for instance, that “scanned images cannot be stored or recorded.”
Now it turns out that some police agencies are storing the controversial images after all. The U.S. Marshals Service admitted this week that it had surreptitiously saved tens of thousands of images recorded with a millimeter wave system at the security checkpoint of a single Florida courthouse.
This follows an earlier disclosure (PDF) by the TSA that it requires all airport body scanners it purchases to be able to store and transmit images for “testing, training, and evaluation purposes.” The agency says, however, that those capabilities are not normally activated when the devices are installed at airports.
Body scanners penetrate clothing to provide a highly detailed image so accurate that critics have likened it to a virtual strip search. Technologies vary, with millimeter wave systems capturing fuzzier images, and backscatter X-ray machines able to show precise anatomical detail. The U.S. government likes the idea because body scanners can detect concealed weapons better than traditional magnetometers.
This privacy debate, which has been simmering since the days of the Bush administration, came to a boil two weeks ago when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that scanners would soon appear at virtually every major airport. The updated list includes airports in New York City, Dallas, Washington, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, and Philadelphia.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, has filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to grant an immediate injunction pulling the plug on TSA’s body scanning program. In a separate lawsuit, EPIC obtained a letter (PDF) from the Marshals Service, part of the Justice Department, and released it on Tuesday afternoon.
These “devices are designed and deployed in a way that allows the images to be routinely stored and recorded, which is exactly what the Marshals Service is doing,” EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg told CNET. “We think it’s significant.”
William Bordley, an associate general counsel with the Marshals Service, acknowledged in the letter that “approximately 35,314 images…have been stored on the Brijot Gen2 machine” used in the Orlando, Fla. federal courthouse. In addition, Bordley wrote, a Millivision machine was tested in the Washington, D.C. federal courthouse but it was sent back to the manufacturer, which now apparently possesses the image database.
The Gen 2 machine, manufactured by Brijot of Lake Mary, Fla., uses a millimeter wave radiometer and accompanying video camera to store up to 40,000 images and records. Brijot boasts that it can even be operated remotely: “The Gen 2 detection engine capability eliminates the need for constant user observation and local operation for effective monitoring. Using our APIs, instantly connect to your units from a remote location via the Brijot Client interface.”
This trickle of disclosures about the true capabilities of body scanners–and how they’re being used in practice–is probably what alarms privacy advocates more than anything else.
A 70-page document (PDF) showing the TSA’s procurement specifications, classified as “sensitive security information,” says that in some modes the scanner must “allow exporting of image data in real time” and provide a mechanism for “high-speed transfer of image data” over the network. (It also says that image filters will “protect the identity, modesty, and privacy of the passenger.”)
“TSA is not being straightforward with the public about the capabilities of these devices,” Rotenberg said. “This is the Department of Homeland Security subjecting every U.S. traveler to an intrusive search that can be recorded without any suspicion–I think it’s outrageous.” EPIC’s lawsuit says that the TSA should have announced formal regulations, and argues that the body scanners violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits “unreasonable” searches.
TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz told CNET on Wednesday that the agency’s scanners are delivered to airports with the image recording functions turned off. “We’re not recording them,” she said. “I’m reiterating that to the public. We are not ever activating those capabilities at the airport.”
The TSA maintains that body scanning is perfectly constitutional: “The program is designed to respect individual sensibilities regarding privacy, modesty and personal autonomy to the maximum extent possible, while still performing its crucial function of protecting all members of the public from potentially catastrophic events.”
August 5, 2010
As the acute phase of the Gulf oil spill transitions to a chronic phase, marked by long-term challenges to the public health, environment and economy, researchers at Columbia Univ.’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) interviewed more than 1,200 adults living within 10 miles of the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The survey, conducted by telephone in July, after the Deepwater Horizon well was capped, found evidence of significant and potentially lasting impact of the disaster on the physical health, mental health and economic fortunes of residents and their children.
The findings have implications for health and economic policies going forward.
Among the key survey findings:
• More than 40 percent of adults living within ten miles of the coast say they have experienced direct exposure to the oil spill or clean-up effort. Within this group, nearly 40 percent reported physical symptoms of skin irritations and respiratory problems.
• More than one-third of parents report their children have experienced either physical symptoms or mental health distress as a consequence of the oil spill.
•One in five households report a drop in income since the oil spill, and 8 percent report job loss. These losses were most likely to hit those who were already economically vulnerable: households with incomes under $25,000 a year.
•More than one-quarter (26.6 percent) of coastal residents say they thought they might have to move away from the Gulf Coast. Among those earning less then $25,000, the figure was 36.3 percent. Children whose parents think they may move are almost three times more likely to have mental health distress than are children whose parents do not expect to move.
•More than 70 percent of parents report children spending less time swimming, boating and playing in the sand; 21 percent say their kids are spending less overall time playing outdoors.
•Coastal residents had more favorable assessments and trust in their local and state officials and in the U.S. Coast Guard than they did in BP or other Federal agencies.
•Slightly over half of all coastal residents felt that BP’s response was “poor,” and 41.3 percent say that the President’s response to the oil spill was also poor.
“Over the last few days we are seeing an effort by officials who are suggesting that, as the oil is less visible on the surface, the ‘crisis is over.’ Clearly, this is far from the case,” says Irwin Redlener, director of the NCPD.
“As shown by our survey, done after the well was capped, there is a significant and persistent public health crisis underscored by the large number of children with medical and psychological problems related to the oil disaster. These concerns will need to be assessed and managed in these coastal communities where there are few or no pediatricians and vastly insufficient mental health professional capacity.”
The survey found a dramatic relationship between economic vulnerability and health effects. Adults with household incomes under $25,000 were by far the most likely to report physical and mental health effects for themselves and also among their children.
“Much the way Hurricane Katrina had its greatest effect on those with the least, the oil spill is also having a greater impact on those coastal residents who are ‘economically vulnerable,’ says David Abramson, director of Research at NCDP. “In an area still recovering from the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, the oil spill represents a significant test of a population’s resiliency.”
The National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia’s Mailman School, which designed the survey, intends to follow a cohort of at least 1,000 children and adults in the region to determine the continuing health and mental health consequences of the oil spill.
Meanwhile the Children’s Health Fund will bring badly needed mobile pediatric care to the region shortly.
Source: Columbia Univ.’s Mailman School of Public Health
July 29, 2010
By: Dunstan Prial
So much for transparency.
Under a little-noticed provision of the recently passed financial-reform legislation, the Securities and Exchange Commission no longer has to comply with virtually all requests for information releases from the public, including those filed under the Freedom of Information Act.
The law, signed last week by President Obama, exempts the SEC from disclosing records or information derived from “surveillance, risk assessments, or other regulatory and oversight activities.” Given that the SEC is a regulatory body, the provision covers almost every action by the agency, lawyers say. Congress and federal agencies can request information, but the public cannot.
That argument comes despite the President saying that one of the cornerstones of the sweeping new legislation was more transparent financial markets. Indeed, in touting the new law, Obama specifically said it would “increase transparency in financial dealings.”
The SEC cited the new law Tuesday in a FOIA action brought by FOX Business Network. Steven Mintz, founding partner of law firm Mintz & Gold LLC in New York, lamented what he described as “the backroom deal that was cut between Congress and the SEC to keep the SEC’s failures secret. The only losers here are the American public.”
If the SEC’s interpretation stands, Mintz, who represents FOX Business Network, predicted “the next time there is a Bernie Madoff failure the American public will not be able to obtain the SEC documents that describe the failure,” referring to the shamed broker whose Ponzi scheme cost investors billions.
“The new provision applies to information obtained through examinations or derived from that information,” said SEC spokesman John Nester. “We are expanding our examination program’s surveillance and risk assessment efforts in order to provide more sophisticated and effective Wall Street oversight. The success of these efforts depends on our ability to obtain documents and other information from brokers, investment advisers and other registrants. The new legislation makes certain that we can obtain documents from registrants for risk assessment and surveillance under similar conditions that already exist by law for our examinations. Because registrants insist on confidential treatment of their documents, this new provision also removes an opportunity for brokers, investment advisers and other registrants to refuse to cooperate with our examination document requests.”
Criticism of the provision has been swift. “It allows the SEC to block the public’s access to virtually all SEC records,” said Gary Aguirre, a former SEC staff attorney-turned-whistleblower who had accused the agency of thwarting an investigation into hedge fund Pequot Asset Management in 2005. “It permits the SEC to promulgate its own rules and regulations regarding the disclosure of records without getting the approval of the Office of Management and Budget, which typically applies to all federal agencies.”
Aguirre used FOIA requests in his own lawsuit against the SEC, which the SEC settled this year by paying him $755,000. Aguirre, who was fired in September 2005, argued that supervisors at the SEC stymied an investigation of Pequot – a charge that prompted an investigation by the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees.
The SEC closed the case in 2006, but would re-open it three years later. This year, Pequot and its founder, Arthur Samberg, were forced to pay $28 million to settle insider-trading charges related to shares of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). The settlement with Aguirre came shortly later.
“From November 2008 through January 2009, I relied heavily on records obtained from the SEC through FOIA in communications to the FBI, Senate investigators, and the SEC in arguing the SEC had botched its initial investigation of Pequot’s trading in Microsoft securities and thus the SEC should reopen it, which it did,” Aguirre said. “The new legislation closes access to such records, even when the investigation is closed.
“It is hard to imagine how the bill could be more counterproductive,” Aguirre added.
FOX Business Network sued the SEC in March 2009 over its failure to produce documents related to its failed investigations into alleged investment frauds being perpetrated by Madoff and R. Allen Stanford. Following the Madoff and Stanford arrests it, was revealed that the SEC conducted investigations into both men prior to their arrests but failed to uncover their alleged frauds.
FOX Business made its initial request to the SEC in February 2009 seeking any information related to the agency’s response to complaints, tips and inquiries or any potential violations of the securities law or wrongdoing by Stanford.
FOX Business has also filed lawsuits against the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve over their failure to respond to FOIA requests regarding use of the bailout funds and the Fed’s extended loan facilities. In February, the Federal Court in New York sided with FOX Business and ordered the Treasury to comply with its requests.
Last year, the network won a legal victory to force the release of documents related to New York University’s lawsuit against Madoff feeder Ezra Merkin.
FOX Business’ FOIA requests have so far led the SEC to release several important and damaging documents:
•FOX Business used the FOIA to obtain a 2005 survey that the SEC in Fort Worth was sending to Stanford investors. The survey showed that the SEC had suspicions about Stanford several years prior to the collapse of his $7 billion empire.
•FOX Business used the FOIA to obtain copies of emails between Federal Reserve lawyers, AIG and staff at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in which it was revealed the Fed staffers knew that bailing out AIG would result in bonuses being paid.
Recently, TARP Congressional Oversight Panel chair Elizabeth Warren told FOX Business that the network’s Freedom of Information Act efforts played a “very important part” of the panel’s investigation into AIG.
Warren told the network the government “crossed a line” with the AIG bailout.
“FOX News and the congressional oversight panel has pushed, pushed, pushed, for transparency, give us the documents, let us look at everything. Your Freedom of Information Act suit, which ultimately produced 250,000 pages of documentation, was a very important part of our report. We were able to rely on the documents that you pried out for a significant part of our being able to put this report together,” Warren said.
The SEC first made its intention to block further FOIA requests known on Tuesday. FOX Business was preparing for another round of “skirmishes” with the SEC, according to Mintz, when the agency called and said it intended to use Section 929I of the 2000-page legislation to refuse FBN’s ongoing requests for information.
Mintz said the network will challenge the SEC’s interpretation of the law.
“I believe this is subject to challenge,” he said. “The contours will have to be figured out by a court.”