Tag : liberty

A fine example of investigative journalism in the East Bay Express reviews internal communications and other public records from city staffers and Oakland PD bureaucrats discussing the Domain Awareness Center, a citywide surveillance hub that’s currently under construction in Oakland. Oakland is a city with a decades-long problem with gang violence and street violence, and the DAC is being touted as the solution to this serious problem.

Internal documents tell another story. Though the City of Oakland’s public-facing DAC message is all about crime fighting and anti-terror surveillance, the internal message is very different. City bureaucrats and law enforcement are excited about DAC because it will help them fight protests. Analysis of the internal documents found almost no mentions of “crime,” “rape,” “killings” — but city officials frequently and at length discussed the way the DAC could be used to thwart street protests, future Occupy movements, and trade union activity including strikes:

Other records echo this political mission. In meeting minutes from a January 2012 meeting of the San Francisco Maritime Exchange’s Northern California Maritime Area Security Committee, Domingo and Mike O’Brien, director of security for the Port of Oakland, described the DAC system as a tool that would help control labor strikes and community protests that threaten to slow business at the port. Following security reports from the US Border Patrol and the FBI, Domingo told the committee that Oakland law enforcement was “hoping that things would quiet down with the Occupy movement in the new year,” according to the official minutes. Domingo thanked the Maritime Exchange for its support of Oakland’s port security grant projects, which includes the DAC.

O’Brien went further, explaining that the port’s Emergency Operations Center (which now feeds into the DAC) “made use of seventy new security cameras” to track the protesters, and added that the system will ensure that “future actions [do] not scare labor away.”

Dan Siegel, a longtime civil and workers’ rights attorney in Oakland, said the city staffers’ focus on political unrest, even at the port, is disturbing. “There’s a huge difference in protecting the port from potential acts of terrorism than from spying on port workers and others who may have political or economic conflicts with port management and the companies that operate the terminals,” said Siegel. “What we see taking place is a complete blurring of that line where port security now includes tracking Occupy, longshore workers, and now recently the Port Truckers Association.”

During construction of the first phase of the DAC, from roughly August 2012 to October 2013, city staffers repeatedly referred to political protests as a major reason for building the system. Emails to and from Lieutenant Christopher Shannon, Captain David Downing, and Lieutenant Nishant Joshi of OPD and Ahsan Baig, Oakland’s technical project leader on the DAC, show that OPD staffers were in the surveillance center during the Trayvon Martin protests this year, and that they may have been monitoring marches in Oakland. In the same chain of emails, Shannon asked if the Emergency Operations Center and the DAC control room’s layout had “changed much since May Day,” referring to yet another large political rally in Oakland when the DAC appears to have been used by OPD to monitor demonstrations.

The Real Purpose of Oakland’s Surveillance Center   [Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston/East Bay Express]

All scientific outputs should be judged on content regardless of whether the author is male or female, says Laura Waters.

Celebrating my 10th anniversary as an academic scientist I find myself as committed as ever to being the best researcher and lecturer I can be. Yet a big part of me is also keen to be waiting at 3:15pm to meet my son as he rushes out the school gates eager to tell me about his day. Is it possible to do both of these things successfully? Can you be a devoted mum, a dedicated scientist and get promoted? That not only depends on you, but also on the people that surround you.

To make it as an academic scientist requires years of training, an incredibly thick skin and long hours. To make it as a mum requires patience, compassion and equally long hours. To do both however, requires an organised mind and a continual ‘plan B’.

I’m a scientist but not a feminist. Yes, we could do with more women choosing a career in science and yes, we need more women at the higher levels of management but that doesn’t make me a feminist: I’m an ‘equalist’. I believe that all scientific outputs should be judged on their content rather than on the fact the author was a female or male scientist. Regardless of gender, ethnicity or any other factor, what matters most is achieving the results by having the best person for the job – male or female.

Where we tend to fall down is ensuring women actively choose to stay in science and climb the promotional ladder. It’s a tough climb and if you throw in being a parent alongside this it can make it impossible. I would never say that women have it harder than men, or vice versa – many friends would be considered ‘unconventional’ where the mother is the major wage earner and the father stays at home. However, having witnessed several accomplished female friends commit career suicide (especially in academia) in favour of a family, I know it does happen.

I’ve been lucky at the University of Huddersfield  to have been able to gradually increase my hours back up to full time this year. That isn’t to say it has been easy though. To keep my research group going has meant many late nights working on the laptop after bedtime songs are sung.

To be a successful scientist in academia (children or no children, male or female) you really must love your job, and self motivation is essential. Just as important for me though is having a partner who supports me and a work environment that can be flexible.

Far more could still be done in universities to help encourage women to stay and succeed, some have childcare on campus, some have flexible working hours policies, yet lots of the women I know are still ‘choosing’ between a career and parenting rather than trying to do both, so clearly more support is needed.

There’s no doubt that more men still occupy senior roles in academia and industry, but there are initiatives in place to redress this imbalance. The Athena Swan scheme is one such example of a programme helping universities externally recognise their achievements and internally devise plans for their shortfalls. Even so, there is still far from equal gender representation in academia, especially in subjects such as chemistry and engineering. I am fully devoted to promoting science to women as a great career choice and I honestly believe we need more women at all levels in science, but that is because I am an ‘equalist’, not a feminist.

Laura Waters is a senior lecturer in pharmaceutical science at the University of Huddersfield – follow her on Twitter @DrLauraWaters

Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward handled two sexual assault complaints in four years as an Air Force wing commander. Both times, she recalls, the accusers recanted, ending the investigations. Both times, General Woodward assumed the assaults never took place.

She sees things differently today. While overseeing the Air Force’s investigation of sexual abuses at Lackland Air Force Base last year, she learned that victims often withdrew complaints because they blamed themselves, were ashamed or feared no one would believe them.

“I didn’t know enough to try and at least look into it and help,” she said. “You sit there and go, ‘Could I have made a difference?’ ”

The general is getting her chance to make a difference now. Last month, the Air Force named her to run a significantly expanded office in charge of its sexual assault prevention and response policies.

Among her main goals, the general said in an interview, will be to encourage more airmen and women to not only report sexual assault but also pursue prosecution. Providing good care for victims will help in that pursuit, she said, but so will improving the way cases are handled, from initial reports through investigations and prosecutions.

“How a person is treated in that first report can determine how she is going to handle it up the chain,” the general said. “And even how her recovery goes.”

General Woodward’s hiring represents not just an expansion of the sexual assault office, but also a significant elevation of its importance, as her predecessor was a lieutenant colonel. The move comes as the entire military is under fierce Congressional pressure to reduce sexual assault, fueled partly by a recent report estimating that 26,000 assaults took place in the military last year, up from 19,000 two years before.

Though its rate of sexual assault is not significantly different from the rest of the military, the Air Force has had a run of particularly bad publicity. Last year, a series of courts-martial at Lackland revealed widespread sexual misbehavior involving instructors and recruits in training programs. This year, two Air Force generals have come under fire for their handling of sexual assault cases: one for reversing a conviction, the other for granting clemency to a convicted officer.

But perhaps most embarrassing, General Woodward’s predecessor as director of the sexual assault response unit, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, was arrested in May on a sexual battery charge. The police said he groped a woman he did not know in a parking lot near the Pentagon.

Just a few weeks after that arrest, General Woodward, then chief of safety for the Air Force, received a call from Gen. Larry O. Spencer, the vice chief of staff, asking her to lead an expanded sexual assault office. After she demurred, he called back the next day, a Friday, to ask again. When she finally agreed to take the job, General Spencer told her she would start on Monday.

In an interview, General Spencer denied that the Air Force had rushed to expand the office because of Colonel Krusinski’s arrest. But he acknowledged shortcomings in the Air Force’s efforts to fight sexual assault. “Whatever we were doing obviously did not solve the problem,” he said.

Putting the office under a two-star general who reports directly to him is just part of a broader campaign, General Spencer said. “I am on a rampage to stamp out sexual assault,” he said. “We’re pursuing this with as much vigor as anything I’ve ever seen.”

This year, the Air Force created the new position of special victims counsel to help sexual assault victims navigate the legal process. It has also begun requiring that all sex crime cases be reported up the chain of command to general officers to increase oversight. It will soon begin an online campaign to educate airmen on sexual assault, and this fall it will require wing commanders and general officers to attend a sexual assault conference.

General Spencer said that vigorous prosecution of perpetrators would be crucial to curbing the problem, likening the Air Force effort to the campaign to reduce drunken driving two decades ago. Though General Woodward’s office does not oversee investigators or prosecutors, she said she hoped to influence them through training and education programs.

General Woodward, 53, has the authority to hire a staff of 31, eight times as many as who worked in the small branch that Colonel Krusinski directed. Fourteen people have joined so far, including someone with a Ph.D. in social work, an analyst who will crunch statistics and a criminal investigator to provide guidance on how cases are handled.

The newest hire, Master Sgt. Heidi Huff, who volunteers as a victims’ advocate at Andrews Air Force Base, said she hoped the office would succeed in encouraging more people to report assaults.

“From my experience, that’s the toughest part — victims blaming themselves,” said Sergeant Huff, whose full-time job is as a flight attendant. “It makes me cry to think about it.”

Her experience is particularly relevant: in the 1990s, she said, she was sexually assaulted by a service member. Though she reported the attack, the perpetrator was not prosecuted, she said.

The newness of the unit, located on the fifth floor of the Pentagon, is palpable on the empty white walls of General Woodward’s office. Photographs she intends to hang sit on the floor awaiting hooks.

Among them is a picture that underscores her Air Force pedigree, showing her with President George W. Bush, with whom she became friendly when she commanded the 89th Airlift Wing, which operates Air Force One.

A pilot who has flown C-130 cargo planes and C-135 refueling tankers, the general has also commanded a wing at MacDill Air Force Base and the 17th Air Force in Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where she directed the NATO air campaign over Libya in 2011.

Her résumé will undoubtedly give her valuable credibility as she tries to influence the commanders who must carry out the policies her office develops. But there is also a sense of humility among her and her staff about the task ahead. “It sounds trite, I know, but we’re building the airplane as we fly it,” she said.

Describing her initial hesitation about taking the job, General Woodward said she expressed concerns to General Spencer about not having the answers for such a complex problem.

“He said that no one does, but that I needed to go out and find them,” she said. “I hope I can do that.”

This Tumblr that went up recently called We Are Not Trayvon Martin is an interesting experiment, a way to talk about the role of race and privilege in this case, and how some of us have the privilege—which should be a right!—of being at least safe from would-be vigilantes deciding to murder us for crimes we’re committing only in their heads. A lot of us out here are angry and upset about George Zimmerman being able to chase down and murder an unarmed young man, and get away with it because he was able to convince a jury that the young man—gasp!—had the temerity to fight back. Anti-racists, I think, have long understood that the cops are a real threat to young black men who can be randomly treated like criminals on the thinnest of excuses, but the possibility that any random white (or white-appearing, anyway) person can, if you’re black, just chase you down and detain you arbitrarily or they now have the legal right to take your life? That’s a cold bath of WTF. This tweet captures exactly what is bothering me so much:


I’ve been thinking about it a lot, because as a woman, being followed by creepy dudes who clearly have bad intentions in their cars while I’m out walking and minding my own business is something I’ve experienced probably a dozen times in my life. Unsurprisingly, Rachel Jeantel—who was on the phone with Martin when Zimmerman began to follow him—had the threat of rape pop into her head and made a crack about it to Martin before telling him to run. A lot of scary things go through your head when this happens to you: You worry that if he catches up to you, he’ll overpower you. You worry that you won’t be able to fight him off. You worry about how violent he intends to get with you.

But you know what I never worried about? That if I defended myself, he would have an excuse to shoot me dead and that cops would shrug it off and not bother to contact my family.

I never worried that if he caught up with me, any hitting or kicking to get away would be used as evidence that he was in his rights to murder me.

That’s because I’m a white woman, and if a man chased me down and shot me dead, a few scratches on his face would probably be seen as evidence that he was really determined to hurt or kill me, not that he was acting in “self-defense”.  I have the privilege of people using their basic common sense when it comes to what’s going on when creepy guys start following me. Even sexists have to admit that creepy guys stalking women are up to no good. With that in mind, if anyone ever started to chase me with the intention to restrain me against my will (which is, uh, kidnapping) or do bodily harm to me, I can give into the instinct to protect myself by fighting back without worrying that he now has the “right” to kill me.

I’ve seen a lot of conservatives arguing that Martin should have just surrendered if he didn’t want to die. Surrendered, i.e. allowed someone to arbitrarily just hold him there under threat of violence if he tries to leave (which, again, is kidnapping) because, well, he wanted to. That any random white or white-appearing dude has the apparent right to just randomly tell a young black man that he is no longer allowed to move freely, on pain of death. This is bananas. They wouldn’t say that for a white woman, and they sure as hell wouldn’t say that for a white guy.

I don’t know what else to say about this. I just wish that more people could perform the basic act of putting themselves in Trayvon’s shoes and realizing that Zimmerman just got away with, functionally, offering him the choice between surrender to a crazy man with unclear but definitely dark intentions or death. In the year 2013, in America. And somehow we’ve decided that’s legal.

By Amanda Marcotte at RawStory

Texas just passed one of the strictest abortion laws in the country.

The state’s Senate adopted a bill close to midnight on Friday that bans abortions after 20 weeks and will force the closure of all but a handful of the clinics that perform them.

The law’s 20-week ban is based on the idea that a fetus feels pain after that time. That not only flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which says abortions are permissible until a fetus is viable outside the womb, typically around 24 weeks, but it’s disputed by many doctors.

Sen. Wendy Davis and a bevy of protesters successfully filibustered the bill last month, but Republican Gov. Rick Perry called another special session so Republican lawmakers could vote on the bill again.

This time they won. And women’s rights organizations say there will be some dire consequences.

Perry and other Republicans have said the law is necessary to protect innocent lives. But organizations like Planned Parenthood counter the law will harm women. And not just women seeking abortions.

Low-income and minority women are disproportionately more likely to lack health insurance, and many rely on healthcare clinics that also perform abortions for things like STD testing and cancer screenings.

The problem is, with the bill’s requirements that abortion-performing clinics have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and meet the same standards as surgical centers, many of those clinics will be forced to close.

Many simply cannot afford to make the changes, like widening hallways and setting up waiting rooms. While they could stop performing abortions to avoid the changes, Kathryn Hearns, a Planned Parenthood worker in Hidalgo County, told ABC News-Univision earlier this month that abortions are a vital part of what they offer.

She fears more women will go to Mexico for illegal and often unsafe abortions. Women in rural areas will be particularly disadvantaged, since the only clinics that currently meet the strict standards are in urban areas.

As Bloomberg News noted, some women who aren’t near an abortion clinic or are too poor to afford one already turn to black market abortion-inducing pills at flea markets. Opponents of the bill worry that number could now increase.

Republican Sen. Glenn Hegar, the bill’s author, said on the Senate floor Friday that it was not his intention for women to travel to Mexico or a flea market for an abortion.

“Any situation like that is deplorable and that is what we do not want to have,” he said. “This legislation is not doing that because they’re already doing that.”

Women’s rights organizations immediately decried the ruling and the way in which it was passed during a special session.

People entering the Capitol reported that state troopers stationed at the entrance confiscated tampons, maxi pads and other things that could be used as projectiles. Registered guns, on the other hand, were allowed.

Opponents have vowed to take the new law to court, where it may not stand up. Courts have already blocked restrictive laws in states like Georgia and Arizona. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have challenged laws in others. But restrictive laws remain in place where they have not been challenged, often in direct contradiction to Roe v. Wade.

While Texas does skew more conservative than much of the nation when it comes to abortions, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, just 38 percent of Texans want to make abortion laws stricter. But they also bristle at the idea of restricting abortion access severely.

“This will not prevent abortions,” wrote one woman on the comment section of the Texas Tribune’s livestream of the Senate’s debate, “it will only prevent safe abortions.”

Using the successful formula established by groups like Mothers Against Drunk  Driving, mothers groups are revving up messaging, lobbying and events to keep  the issue of gun control in the national spotlight.

And they’ve got a secret weapon — bringing their cute kids along to lobby  members of Congress.

“When you go to Capitol Hill and walk the marble halls, there  are very few children around,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director  and CEO of MomsRising, which boasts more than 1.2 million members. “When we do  come through with children, people do stop and listen and I think that’s  important because kids are seldom there.”

Next week, members of MomsRising will go to Capitol Hill with their children  dressed in cow costumes to deliver small cow toys to Senators with the message  that they should not be “cowed” by the gun lobby and to get “moo-ving” on gun  policy. Last February, they roamed the halls of the Hill with a children’s  choir. For the July 4th holiday, another group called Moms Demand Action for Gun  Sense in America is marching in parades across the country.

“We have found that most politicians do listen when moms and children speak,  and that they do take time out to hear the stories and to look at the messages,”  Rowe-Finkbeiner said.

But it’s not just cute kids in cow costumes. These mothers groups are  planning to have some serious political influence on the 2014 midterm elections,  creating PACs, registering themselves as 501(c)4 organizations and running ads  on the local level.

“We’re going to be a force to be reckoned with in the 2014 midterms, moms are  so engaged in this they’re just not going away,” said Shannon Watts, founder of  Moms Demand Action, a group formed after December’s Newtown, Conn. shootings  that killed 20 first graders and six adults.

Moms Demand Action has teamed up with Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against  Illegal Guns Action Fund, placing an ad on the homepage of Thursday’s USA Today  website, calling for signatures to a petition to “declare your independence from  gun violence.” More than 85,000 people have signed the petition as of  Thursday.

“We believe that by 2014 it will be impossible to avoid our presence,” Watts  said, adding that their six-month-old group has more than 100,000 members across  the country. “If you aren’t willing to speak with us or aren’t willing to hear  from us, I think it will really impact their chances at election or  re-election.”

And it’s not just politicians they’re after. Corporations will soon be seeing  elevated campaigns against them for their gun-friendly policies. Watts said Moms  Demand Action will be launching a social media and lobbying campaign against  Starbucks. The company has no policy against customers who enter their stores  with concealed weapons in states that allow concealed carry permits, but on the  other hand started prohibiting smoking within 25 feet of their stores last  month.

While Watts said they are not planning to promote a boycott of Starbucks, her  group has sent tens of thousands of letters to the company and are embarking on  a social media campaign asking moms to take a photo of themselves with a  non-Starbucks coffee and the tag “I want my coffee with gun sense.”

Whether all these efforts will be fruitful against the big money of the gun  lobby is yet to be seen. The families of the Sandy Hook school shooting became a  lobbying force on Capitol Hill ahead of the April gun  control vote — but the bipartisan measure still failed.

But, these mothers say they will never give up. And echoing a sentiment of  the Sandy Hook families, they say they know it will likely be a slow  process.

“It has taken us decades to get here, it’s not going to be done overnight,”  Watts said. “We are not ever going to stand down until there is real, permanent  change.”

In a change that many feel is a shocking change, the Supreme Court has determined that it is now legal for law enforcement to take DNA swabs from people who have been arrested for “serious crimes.” Twenty eight states and the federal government had been taking DNA samples for some time, but it took an appeal of a rape conviction based on a DNA swabs for the Supreme Court to make this 5-4 ruling.

Maryland v. King

In the case of Maryland v. King, Alonzo King was arrested in 2009 on first and second degree assault charges in Wicomico County, Maryland. Mr. King was taken to booking where a cheek swab was taken to collect his DNA. The sample was allowed as evidence due to the Maryland DNA Collection Act. Police discovered that Mr. King’s DNA matched and unsolved rape from 2003, and he was subsequently charged with that crime and convicted for the 2003 rape. Mr. King appealed on the basis that when the police took the DNA swab it was in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. In this case, the Supreme Court found that DNA testing improves police investigative practices. Taking these DNA samples is legal in relation to people charged with violent crimes, including first-degree assault. With this decision, it is not only possible for police to confiscate personal property such as your your driver’s license and business credit cards, but also your DNA.

Non-Invasive Method

DNA swab of saliva taken from senior man

Maryland argued that the DNA swabs were reasonable because of the non-invasive method of extracting the DNA. The cotton swab, as Maryland argued, on a suspect’s cheek is just as non-invasive as making someone blow through a breathalyzer or giving their finger prints for analysis. An attorney for the federal government, in support of the Maryland law, argued that people under arrest are no longer free citizens who have their full Fourth Amendment rights. They can be subjected to strip searches and medical screenings when they are put in jail.

Will the DNA Be Used for More?

In a somewhat surprising dissent, Associate Justice Anton Scalia stated that the current limitation of taking DNA from those arrested for violent crimes would not last. Associate Justice Scalia, who is ordinarily in support of governmental power, stated that part of the problem with taking DNA is that whether a person is arrested rightly or wrongly, their DNA will be entered into a national database. He stated that it is not a large step away from taking DNA for any kind of arrest, and that it is possible that someday the TSA will take DNA from travelers to ensure that flights are safe, and eventually, a school may take DNA from students as they enroll in school. Whether his examples are hyperbole or whether he believes law enforcement is headed down a slippery slope was not entirely clear.

Identify Criminals

Associate Justice Kennedy, when speaking for the majority, stated that using DNA to identify suspects of previous crimes is not different than using photographs of unidentified suspects or matching tattoos of gang members. Associate Justice Kennedy stated that DNA is another tool to help identify people who have left traces of themselves at crime scenes.

Serious Crimes

An attorney for the government stated that the reason law enforcement was only interested in taking DNA from more serious crimes was that criminals were more likely to leave DNA behind after committing a violent crime compared to crimes like shoplifting. Law enforcement is more likely to find DNA linking suspects to prior violent offenses when taking DNA from those arrested for violent offenses.

Now that taking DNA of those arrested for violent crimes is the law of the land, it remains to be seen if the scope of DNA tests will spread to those arrested for less serious crimes. It is also unclear if taking DNA for less serious offenses will be at odds with the current Supreme Court decision.

After the initial surge of web traffic to alternative news websites following The Guardian breaking the NSA spying story, traffic has slowed considerably despite the continued interest in the NSA story as well as other alternative headlines.

This dramatic drop in traffic may be due to broad censorship by the Department of Defense on “millions of computers”. What began as a rumor that the military brass was ordering soldiers not to view news about the whistleblower revelations that the NSA is spying on all Americans has swelled into a confirmed military-wide censorship campaign using a high-tech computer filtering system.

military blackout
The US News and World Report is reporting that the DoD is blocking access to all articles related to the NSA scandal from all DoD computers. The filter reportedly effects millions of computers and potentially thousands of alternative news websites.

According to U.S. News: “The Department of Defense is blocking online access to news reports about classified National Security Agency documents made public by Edward Snowden. The blackout affects all of the department’s computers and is part of a department-wide directive.”

“Any website that runs information that the Department of Defense still considers classified” is affected, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart told U.S. News in a phone interview.

According to Pickart, news websites that re-report information first published by The Guardian or other primary sources are also affected. ”If that particular website runs an article that our filters determine has classified information… the particular content on that website will remain inaccessible,” he said. Pickart said the blackout affects “millions” of computers on “all Department of Defense networks and systems.”

This is perhaps one of the most shocking displays of blatant censorship in the history of the United States. The idea that classified information should still be treated as “off limits” to regular military personnel after its broad release to the public makes no sense.

Unless, of course, they don’t want soldiers learning the truth about what their government is doing for fear that they may recognize who the true enemies of the Constitution are.

Or this may simply be a beta test of the government’s technical capability to filter Internet traffic away from certain news stories and the websites that carry them.

In either case, this should be a huge story in itself.  Draconian Internet censorship has finally arrived in a big way.

via Activitst Post