Legislation

Are African elephants an endangered species?  Like so many questions, the answer depends on who’s giving it. Villagers in northern Uganda whose food the animals devour would likely call them an endangerment — or worse. “[After] I found the elephants eating my crops in the garden, I started banging an empty jerry can to scare them but one of the big elephants charged at me. I was lucky because I ran in between the trees and the elephant stopped. I gave up my garden of millet and rice,” said Mateo Ojok. He’s one of the “internally displaced persons (IDPs) … struggling to resettle because persistent elephant incursions into their fields are threatening their livelihoods, and sometimes, their lives.” Mr. Ojok added, “[Life in] this place is a struggle between the elephants and human beings. The elephants are giving us a hard time, they are really aggressive.”

So aggressive, in fact that “the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates … the annual cost of elephant raids to crops in Africa” at “US$60 in Uganda … per affected farmer.” That’s a sizable chunk of wealth in a country where the “gross national income per capita” for 2009 was $511.9 in “current US [dollars].”

The narrative continues over smartphone privacy issues involving the data logging program Carrier IQ, which was recently found to be installed on about 150 million handsets worldwide, including many popular Android, iOS, Nokia, and Blackberry devices. Controversy over the invasive software stemmed from allegations that Carrier IQ has the ability to record an array of device information, including keystrokes, text messages, web browsing, and user location, all without the user’s knowledge or expressed consent.

Uproar over the smartphone "spyware" emerged in late November when Trevor Eckhart posted on his blog two videos unraveling how the Carrier IQ program he discovered on an HTC smartphone was able to track virtually every function on the phone. Following Eckhart’s purported revelation, several cellphone providers, including Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T, admitted they have used the program on their phones for performance-tracking purposes.

In turn, the software developer and several cellphone providers have been issued a class action lawsuit for violating the Federal Wiretap Act, the Stored Electronic Communications Act, and the Federal Computer Fraud Abuse Act. The filing alleged that the companies committed an "unprecedented breach in the digital privacy rights of 150 million cell phone users" and that the defendants deliberately pre-installed the Carrier IQ software into their products, without any form of consumer disclosure.

As Americans become increasingly opposed to the intrusive and unconstitutional searching techniques of the Transportation Security Administration — including recent allegations by several women that they were strip-searched by airport security — two New York lawmakers on Sunday proposed the creation of "passenger advocates" at airports. However, their solution is highly controversial. The two men — U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris — have stated that such a position should be created by the TSA itself, which critics point out would virtually undermine its purpose of passenger advocacy.

 

Opponents of the Transportation Security Administration’s invasive pat-downs of airline passengers may be on the verge of obtaining a new weapon for their fight. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is considering changing its definition of rape in a way that could criminalize TSA agents’ groping of passengers’ private parts.

According to the New York Daily News, an FBI panel recommended that the agency change its current definition of rape — “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will” — which was adopted in 1929, to a much broader definition: “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

The proposed definition, which awaits approval by FBI Director Robert Mueller, was praised by both law-enforcement personnel and feminist activists. Police believe it will make it easier to report the number of rapes accurately because the FBI’s criteria will now “more closely match the ones that police departments around the country already use,” reports the Daily News. Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which spearheaded the effort to have the definition changed, hailed the news as “a great victory.”

A recent poll reveals that approximately half of Americans are interested in seeing the Transportation Security Administration do away with X-ray body scanners. The survey, conducted by the media group ProPublica, shows that 46 percent of Americans do not believe that the risks associated with the machines outweigh the purported benefits of the machines.


 

It was reported in Tuesday’s Washington Times, among other places, that surveillance technology has taken yet another turn, this time bringing military-grade, high-tech surveillance tools originally intended for intelligence-gathering to the marketplace, enabling even relatively unsophisticated users to snoop on friends, neighbors, significant-others — and political opponents.

 

The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks began releasing documents last week related to what it calls the “mass surveillance industry,” a little-known but expansive underworld of contractors offering tools for governments — from brutal dictatorships to more moderate Western states — to monitor citizens and hunt down dissidents. Furious activists reacted to the revelations by calling for stricter controls and measures to hold the firms accountable as “accomplices” to mass murder. 

The information released so far covers over 150 companies spanning more than two dozen nations. The documents highlight the nature and growth of a multi-billion-dollar industry that, in addition to supplying espionage assistance to the most murderous regimes on earth, has been quietly turned against citizens in supposedly “free” countries as well.

“Who here has an iPhone? Who here has a Blackberry? Who here uses Gmail? Well you are all screwed,” WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange told a press conference in London announcing the new project. “The reality is intelligence contractors are selling right now, to countries across the world, mass surveillance systems for all of those products."

Now the government-goons who molest little kids while claiming without a single blush that pedophilia is “proper procedure” are strip-searching grannies with the same excuse — even as they deny inflicting any such wickedness.

The latest brutality to catch the corporate media’s attention features an 84-year-old woman who divides her time between New York’s Long Island and Florida. Lenore Zimmerman wears a defibrillator, uses a walker and wheelchair, weighs less than 110 pounds and stands under 5 feet tall. She also boasts a nose for nonsense: “I really look like a terrorist,” she sarcastically told New York’s Daily News.

 

Here’s a headline the world’s 400 million-plus users of smartphones don’t want to read: “Your smartphone is probably spying on you.”  The popular blog Talking Points Memo (TPM) has done yeoman’s work in keeping on top of this shocking story.
 

An 84-year-old grandmother in a wheelchair abused by Transportation Security Administration screeners at John F. Kennedy airport plans to sue the TSA, complaining of injuries and extreme humiliation suffered during a strip search. Homeland Security spokesmen, however, said “proper procedures were followed” and later claimed that the victim’s clothes were not fully removed.

In a phone interview with The New American, the traumatized 103-pound woman, Lenore Zimmerman, warned that America was in “deep trouble” if manhandling frail grandmothers was what “security” had come to. But she plans to seek justice and has already contacted an attorney.

“They stopped me to pat me down and I said ‘I can’t go through the machine because I have a defibrillator’,” Zimmerman explained, clearly distraught at the recollection. “So they patted me down and then they escorted me to a private room and strip-searched me.”

Zimmerman, utterly humiliated, demanded to know why she was being molested, asking the screeners for an explanation. “They’re off their rocker,” she said of the people running TSA, noting that there was no justification for conducting a strip search. “They’re nuts!”

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