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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Variously: Suing infiltrators, FBI vs. Occupy, ANOTHER News Corp scandal, and more "cliff" notes

David Gregory: Why is it so hard for me to care? Yet this is the Big Thing that everyone is now supposed to be yapping about. So the guy showed a gun magazine on camera. Big deal.

Yet another News Corp scandal: This one is new to me. Murdoch's baby is being sued by -- get this -- the folks who make Dial soap. It's all about those coupons that come spilling out of your daily newspaper, especially on Sunday.

Bet you never thought much about how all that stuff got in there, did you? There are only a few firms handling such promotions, and they also handle in-store promotions. The coupons are damned near the only thing keeping some newspapers afloat these days. According to the suit, News Corp used underhanded tactics -- including hacking into competitors' servers -- to get exclusive contracts from advertisers.
The lengthy complaint begins: "In two distinct relevant markets the multifaceted and pervasive exclusionary strategies of defendants ('News') over twenty years have violated the antitrust laws of the United States. News has suppressed competitive promotion of a massive number of consumer goods in forty thousand retail stores, and scores of newspapers nationwide, to acquire and maintain two unlawful monopolies and earn large monopoly profits at the expense of its purchasers.

"Its unlawful purposes could not be more transparent. For example, in a sales meeting Paul Carlucci, then News America Inc.'s Chief Operating Officer, Paul Carlucci, illustrated News' desire for the ultimate in competitive suppression with a video from 'The Untouchables,' in which Al Capone serves as a sales role model as he cudgels a competitive enemy to death with a baseball bat. Mr. Carlucci has been equally blunt with the press as to News' exclusionary purposes, vowing to 'destroy' his competitors as a 'man who has to have it all.'
When you combine this lawsuit with what I consider the greatest of the Murdoch scandals -- destroying competitors in the world of Pay TV by distributing illegal hacked smart cards -- it really does seem as though News Corp is little more than a massive criminal enterprise. Where does Murdoch find these sociopaths who work for him?

Ruth Marcus, in the Washington Post, extolls the benefits of Chained CPI. That's the plan to make Social Security checks smaller. Ruth asks: "Why not squeeze another $220 billion out of Granny? She's being paid too much as it is!"

Foreclosing on banks:
Here's an interesting tale of role reversal. When a bank forecloses on a home or condo, it becomes responsible for all of the homeowner's association fees. The banks simply haven't paid, so now the associations are putting leins on properties owned by the banks.

The cliff: Count me among those who predict (cautiously) that there will be no deal. Over we go!

This is one of those stories where polls count for a lot. Right now, Obama has the polls on his side:
Despite the growing pessimism, Americans also increasingly approve of how some political leaders are handling negotiations. Approval of Obama’s approach to the cliff has jumped from 48 percent to 54 percent, the approval for Democratic leaders in Congress has spiked from 34 percent to 45 percent, and even Boehner — whose inability to pass the so-called “Plan B” was considered a major setback — saw his approval tick up a single point, to 26 percent. The approval for Republican leaders in Congress dropped 3 points to 26 percent.

Other polls have consistently shown Republicans receiving most of the blame if the country falls off the fiscal cliff.
Those polls could shift. But Obama may have prevented such a shift by hoisting the "Chained CPI" flag. I despise the idea of reducing benefits, but I can see how, from a strategic standpoint, Obama might have aided his bargaining position by telling the nation that he is willing to compromise on basic principles.

Now that the Republicans have rejected even their own ludicrous Plan B, everyone sees that Obama is willing to screw over his base while the Republicans aren't willing to budge even one eighth of an inch. Since the public has come to favor compromise over ideological inflexibility, things look good for Obama and bad for the GOP.

Can spies be sued? From Earth First to Occupy Wall Street to Crazy Carl's Conspiracy Club, lots of organizations worry about government infiltrators. Now a court has ruled that the spooks can be sued.
A federal appeals court involving antiwar activists who were secretly infiltrated by US military spies has ruled in favor of the activists, marking the first time a court has endorsed the people’s ability to sue the military for violating their First and Fourth Amendment rights.

“Declassified documents obtained by Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance,”reports Democracy Now, “revealed a man everyone knew as ‘John Jacob’ was in fact John Towery,” who was assigned by the government to spy on the Washington state-based antiwar groups.

Towery was dispatched from a “fusion center,” or intelligence center, as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s post-9/11 anti-terrorism surveillance powers.

In October, the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee reviewed more than 600 reports that had come out of these so-called fusion centers and found the giant bureaucracy surrounding the program produced almost nothing that had to do with countering terrorist threats.

Instead, the government spy networks snooped on political activists and infiltrated groups that were peacefully exercising their constitutional rights to free speech.
Yes! The DoD and Homeland Security have no damned business spooking around the war protesters.

There have been a number of articles about Towery over the past few years: See here and here. He exemplifies a point I've tried to explain to political paranoids for decades now: The infiltrator is never the guy who pisses you off by telling you that your inane little theories are all wet. He's the ingratiating guy who always says: "Yup, that's right. You're a freakin' genius, amigo." There's even a "Who is John Towery?" website, no longer updated.
Much of his time was spent befriending anarchists or those whose views had anarchist characteristics. People who knew John Jacob described him as kind, generous, and friendly. He came to meetings and quickly became a trusted individual, leading to him becoming the administrator of the PMR mailing list which gave him access to the name and email address of almost every person in the organization. The information he collected was given to and used by various government bodies including The US Army, The Olympia Police Department, the Tacoma Police Department, The Federal Bureau of Investigation, The Washington State Patrol, and the Washington Joint Analytical Center. After his outing, he admitted to spying on these groups and passing on information to these agencies. This information collection on US citizens and groups engaged in 1st Amendment protected activities was clearly illegal under a number of statues and violated the rights and civil liberties of those involved.
Why was this spying illegal?

Under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, it is illegal for the US Army or other military forces to collect information on US Civillians. Furthermore, had John worked for another agency, such as the Olympia Police Department or the FBI it would have been illegal to do what he had done. Groups such as Students for a Democratic Society and Olympia Port Militarization Resistance are engaged in 1st Amendment protected activity and various state and federal laws including the constitution prevent surveillance and disruption of such groups. Furthermore, since various agencies acted on information that they should have reasonably known were obtained illegally, they were also in violation of the law.
I can understand infiltration of groups that have demonstrated a potential for violence, but there's no reason to harass peaceniks.

On a very related note, here's Marcy Wheeler on new evidence of FBI surveillance of Occupy Wall Street.
Even the first pages of the actual documents show how FBI repeatedly acknowledged that Occupy “does not openly condone the use of violence.” But then it notes that Occupy trained for civil disobedience and its response, and from that the FBI concludes “that violence and/or illegal activity is expected by event organizers.” The FBI ascribes the violence that organizers correctly expected from cops to the organizers themselves, and used the intent to engage in civil disobedience as the means to use First Amendment activity as a predicate for investigation.
The FBI also claims that an Occupy-affiliated web site advocated the use of billy clubs and tasers. Oh really? If any Occupy-friendly site had ever made such a suggestion, the Breitbart crew would have screamed until their throats bled.

So where did the FBI get that nutty idea? They won't say. They redacted their own damned footnotes!
Allow me to explain the first one to you: The reason its a big deal (in firearms circles, at least) is that it basically shows the byzantine mix of laws and nonsensical patchwork of regulations easily makes criminals out of the innocent, which is exactly what the gun enthusiasts are saying about most proposed restrictions.

There's a certain amount of smug satisifaction that the "liberal elite" (et al) is getting caught up it, as well. That's to be expected, its every bit as delightful as the family values guys get caught soliciting gay sex in a bathroom, really.

Just to add to "adm.fookbar":

The DC restriction imposes strict liability for possession of a high-capacity magazine. In other words, that aluminum or polymer box is so inherently dangerous that having one constitutes a crime in and of itself - no element of "intent" is required. It doesn't matter whether one collects such boxes as a hobby, views them as helpful to home defense, intends to rob a liquor store, or intends to exhibit them on air to boost one's sagging ratings. If David Gregory were a black teenager, he'd be in jail now (as Glenn Reynolds has pointed out). The fact that he wears a thousand dollar suit doesn't exempt him. Under DC law he committed a crime just by holding it in his hand. Failure to prosecute him is selective enforcement.

Sauce for the goose, Joseph.
"The infiltrator is never the guy who pisses you off by telling you that your inane little theories are all wet. He's the ingratiating guy who always says: 'Yup, that's right. You're a freakin' genius, amigo.'"
Seems that Richard Aoki was a perfect example of this. I've seen so many remarks about what a nice and agreeable fellow he was. Even now, a lot of people seem to be in denial about his role as an informant and apparent provocateur.

A silly little observation....If you ever watched "To Tell The Truth" - only the truthteller would (on occasion) contradict panelists asking questions (e.g. stating that the premise of a question was wrong). Imposters would always go along with all the questions, fabricating agreeable responses.
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