Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 15, 2014

Mon Sep. 15, 2014 11:49 AM EDT

A US Marine carries a round back to his gun in Hawaii for a fire mission. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Victor A. Mancilla)

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Unredacted Court Docs Reveal Yahoo's Name and Other Top-Secret Stuff

| Fri Sep. 12, 2014 5:59 PM EDT

Yahoo has just released 1,500 pages of previously classified documents relating to its legal challenge to the government's warrantless wiretapping program. Yahoo lost the case in 2008 and was ordered to cooperate with National Security Agency or face a $250,000 fine for every day that it withheld its customers' data. The ruling in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was released to the public only in heavily redacted form, became a legal precedent for the warrantless wiretapping program that was later revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Today, based on a successful appeal by Yahoo, a slightly less redacted version of that court ruling finally became public.

Below, I've posted the more lightly redacted version released today as well as the redacted version of the ruling released in 2008. A side-by-side reading of the two documents may offer some insight into how the government has sought to cover up the true nature of its surveillance activities, or it might just be an example of how little has changed.

The new version of the ruling is notable for what it doesn't disclose: Key evidence presented by the government. A block of text that had previously been removed from the ruling still does not fully explain why warrantless searches are necessary to thwart terrorists:

Scanning the 1,500 pages of newly unsealed documents will take a while. Here are few examples of new information contained in the partially unredacted ruling:

  • The name of the plaintiff (Yahoo) and its law firm
  • A footnote defining the term "surveillance" to mean "acquisitions of foreign intelligence information." But part of the definition of the term still remains redacted.
  • The date when the government moved to force Yahoo to comply with the order (November 21, 2007)
  • A mention of "linking procedures" (defined as "procedures that link [redacted] targets.") as a one of the safeguards against unreasonable searches

You can help us out by pointing out any other interesting tidbits in the comments; we'll note additional highlights here if we find anything worth noting.

The slightly less redacted ruling released today:

 

 

 

The original redacted court ruling:

 

 

 

The Great State Of California Will Not Be Split Into Six Mediocre States

| Fri Sep. 12, 2014 5:55 PM EDT

One day a lemming will fly. That day is not today:

Backers of a much-publicized initiative to split California into six separate states failed to collect enough valid signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2016 ballot. the secretary of state's office said Friday.

Supporters of the Six Californias measure sponsored by Tim Draper, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, turned in more than 1.13 million signatures. But a statewide sampling showed that only 752,685 of them were from voters registered in California, short of the 807,615 needed to qualify for the ballot, the secretary of state said.

Happy Friday!

See for Yourself Just How Damn Complicated the Middle East Has Become

| Fri Sep. 12, 2014 1:49 PM EDT
mid east relationship chart
David McCandless/The Information Is Beautiful Project

Behold, the Middle East! If we could just understand what all the strong countries, the falling-apart countries, the unrecognized-countries, the "non-state actors", and the outside powers all thought of each other, we might be able to chart a clear way forward, right? Don't get your hopes up, although the latest project by British data visionary David McCandless is a really valiant effort to make sense of it all nonetheless.

McCandless' charted 38 regional players— from Afghanistan to Yemen, Al Qaeda to the European Union— and connected each to its major friends and enemies. The result is a tangled ball that illustrates the enormously complicated relationships in the region. (You can parse each actor's relationships on the full, interactive version on McCandless' site, Information Is Beautiful, which you should really check out.) 

McCandless calls this work an "ongoing, evolving diagram," so it may be missing a few connections (Russia's close, getting closer relationship with Iraq, for instance). If you have more ideas, he welcomes input at the email address posted on his site.

Pennsylvania Teenager Simulates Oral Sex With Jesus Statue, Faces 2 Years in Prison

| Fri Sep. 12, 2014 1:39 PM EDT

Teenagers are prone to dumb, tasteless pranks, but one 14-year-old is facing prison time for his latest stunt. The teen, from Everett, Pennsylvania, hopped on top of a statue of a kneeling Jesus—in front of an organization called "Love in the Name of Christ"—and simulated oral sex with the statue's face. Naturally, he posted the pictures to Facebook, which made their way to authorities.

Officials in Bedford County charged the teen (whose name hasn't been released) with desecration of a venerated object, invoking a 1972 Pennsylvania statute that criminalizes "defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise physically mistreating in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action." You'd think an appropriate punishment for a kid violating this seldom-invoked law might be picking up trash or, at worst, paying a fine. If convicted, he faces much worse: two years in juvenile detention.

Truth Wins Out, a LGBT advocacy nonprofit, has argued that the law is unconstitutional because it violates the establishment clause—"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"—and free speech rights—"Congress shall make no law abridging the right to hump a statue of Jesus."

Pennsylvania is not the only state with a "venerated objects" law—many states have some version of it, but most define "desecration" as vandalizing or otherwise physically harming an object of civic or religious significance. Alabama, Tennessee, and Oregon have laws like Pennsylvania's, which can be interpreted to punish individuals—like this bold, dumb teenager—who simply decide to do something offensive.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 12, 2014

Fri Sep. 12, 2014 10:29 AM EDT

Nathan Mitchell, an aviation machinist airman of the US Navy, performs maintenance on a helicopter. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Oscar Albert Moreno Jr.)

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News Organizations Battle Pennsylvania Over Secret Source of Its Execution Drugs

| Thu Sep. 11, 2014 1:59 PM EDT
A lethal injection chamber at the State Penitentiary in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and four news organizations filed an emergency legal motion on Thursday, demanding that Pennsylvania reveal the source of its execution drugs.

Later this month, the state is scheduled to put 57-year-old Hubert Michael to death for raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl in 1993. While the execution has been stayed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the ACLU fears the hold could be lifted at any time, opening the way for the first execution in Pennsylvania in more than 15 years.

Since 2011, when the European Union banned the export of drugs for use in executions, Pennsylvania and other death penalty states have been forced to rely on untested drug combinations and loosely regulated compounding pharmacies, and most have become secretive about the sources and contents of their lethal injection drugs. Death row inmates around the country have sued to block their executions on the grounds that withholding this information is unconstitutional. Untested or poorly prepared drug cocktails could, they argue, create a level of suffering that violates the Eight Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. So far, they've met with little success. Clayton Lockett, who lost his bid to force the state of Oklahoma to reveal the source and purity of the drugs used to put him to death, writhed and moaned in apparent agony after being injected with a secretly acquired drug combinations in April.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 11, 2014

Thu Sep. 11, 2014 10:50 AM EDT

The 2014 Tripler Fisher House 8k Hero and Remembrance Run, Walk or Roll on Ford Island memorializes more than 7,000 US service members who died since the September 11th attacks on this day in 2001. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Diana Quinlan)

The New York Times Just Issued the Best Correction You'll Read All Week

| Thu Sep. 11, 2014 10:47 AM EDT
Former President Dick Cheney

On Tuesday, the New York Times ran the following correction on a story about Dick Cheney telling House Republicans to "embrace a strong military and reject a rising isolationism in his party":

Correction: September 9, 2014

An earlier version of a summary with this article misstated the former title of Dick Cheney. He was vice president, not president.

This is funny because many people believe that Cheney wielded an unprecedented level of influence over former President George W. Bush.

Does the Web Seem Way Slow Today? It May Be Soon If You Don't Get in the FCC's Face

| Wed Sep. 10, 2014 6:14 PM EDT

No, the internet isn't actually broken today. Those spinning wheels of death you may have seen on Netflix, Tumblr, Reddit, Mozilla, and hundreds of other sites are part of Internet Slowdown Day, an effort to show what might happen if the internet actually did get broken by the bureaucrats at the Federal Communication Commission. The FCC will soon vote on a proposal to essentially eliminate net neutrality, the policy that forces internet providers such as Comcast and AT&T to treat all internet traffic the same. Here are five things you should know about what's happening today:

The Participating websites aren't actually slower: Not even Netflix is crazy enough to make a political statement by throttling itself. The spinning page-load symbols on participating sites are just widgets (see below), which anyone can download here. Some activists are also replacing their social media profile pics with images like this:

In this sense, Internet Slowdown Day is very similar to the SOPA blackout of 2012, when people and major sites across the internet blackened their logos and profile pictures to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have given the federal government wide latitude to enforce copyright law. SOPA showed that when major internet companies team up with grassroots activists, politicians tend to listen.

The real story is who is not participating: Although Google claims to support net neutrality, it's conspicuously silent about Internet Slowdown Day. Last year, Wired's Ryan Singel noted that the terms of service for Google Fiber, the company's relatively new ISP division, included some of the same provisions that Google had long decried as hostile to an open internet. By prohibiting customers from attaching "servers" to its network, Google Fiber was contradicting the principle of treating all packets of information equally, prompting Singel to accuse the search giant of a "flip-flop" on net neutrality. It's not that simple, of course, but tech companies such as Google clearly have much less to gain from net neutrality now that they're multibillion-dollar behemoths. Even if they don't take on the role of actual ISPs, large tech firms can easily afford to pay cable companies for faster service, creating a competitive firewall between their services and those offered by leaner startups.

In america, every day is already an internet slowdown day: Pushing internet traffic into "slow" lanes might be more tolerable if those lanes were still really fast in absolute terms. Sadly, however, the United States ranks a pathetic 25th among nations for download speeds:

This show is bigger than the superbowl: The net neutrality debate has generated a record 1,477,301 public comments to the FCC, the commission said today. As Politico notes, that breaks the previous record of 1.4 million complaints generated by Janet Jackson's 2004 wardrobe malfunction. The number of comments to the FCC will likely continue to grow as Internet Slowdown Day encourages visitors to voice their objections.

the fcc is not your friend: There's no question that the FCC is facing a public backlash against its plan to gut net neutrality. The question is whether the outrage will be sufficient to change its course. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is a major Obama bundler and former head of two major industry groups that staunchly oppose net neutrality. He's likely to side with the cable industry unless essentially forced to do otherwise. All of which is to say that the bar is incredibly high for Internet Slowdown Day. Until "net neutrality" becomes a household term, don't count on Washington to care about it.