TOP STORY: Drone Free or Die Trying
Overcoming the Surveillance State
The US is at the dawn of “a new era in police surveillance,” the Associated Press revealed casually last week. In a Chicago-based story about the growing use of drones and other sophisticated, unmanned aircraft for aerial surveillance, it noted that the Congressional Research Service considers their future use "bound only by human ingenuity."
This isn’t science fiction, although the threat of an emerging Surveillance State does figure in my forthcoming novel, Dons of Time. As I learned while researching, drones already fly pretty freely in US airspace. Law enforcement groups use them for search and rescue operations, for security along the border (mainly the one with Mexico so far), for weather research and scientific data collection. In fact, last year Congress authorized the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to open the nation’s airspace to widespread drone flights by 2015.
The FAA estimates that more than 7,000 civilian drones could be surfing the sky by 2020.
As Bill of Rights Defense Committee Executive Director Shahid Buttar explains, "Because the legal landscape governing drones is essentially barren, law enforcement agencies around the country are currently making policy to suit their interests. But we live in a constitutional Republic, meaning that We the People hold the opportunity — and responsibility — to petition our local representatives for legal protections that Congress is too timid to provide.”
In Seattle, the police department purchased two drones through a federal grant, but opted not to use them after protests in February. A bill barring Virginia law enforcement from using drones for two years passed the General Assembly months ago, but awaits a response from the governor. The National Conference of State Legislatures has heard about more than 70 bills in around 40 states that address the use of drones.
The Defense Committee’s legislative models are designed to satisfy diverse interests. One creates a drone-free zone, while another establishes strict requirements limiting their use by law enforcement agencies and other public officials. The model regulating drone use (rather than outlawing it) allows them to be used with a judicially issued warrant or for limited non-law enforcement purposes like fire detection, hazardous material response, search & rescue, and natural disasters.
Beyond constitutional concerns, proposed legislation also addresses some safety issues. According to Buttar, many of the drones currently available to law enforcement have limited flying time, can’t be flown in bad weather, must be flown in sight of an operator, and can only be used during daylight hours, “making them ill-suited to search and rescue missions and best suited for pervasive surveillance.”
On the other hand, AP points to some of the attractions driving the rush to drone use. Unmanned aircraft vary widely in size and capability. They can be as small as a bird or look like a children's remote-controlled toy, and yet can be equipped with high-powered cameras, microphones, heat sensors, facial recognition technology or license plate readers. Similar technology has been used by the US military and CIA to track down Al-Qaida operatives abroad.
Law enforcement likes drones because they’re relatively cheap; they reportedly keep down the price by cutting fuel and maintenance costs, as well as reducing manpower. Look at it this way: A police helicopter can cost from $500,000 to $3 million, and about $400 an hour to fly. It's snooping on the cheap for those with the means of surveillance.
To learn more, contact Shahid Buttar, (202) 316-9229, or Nadia Kayyali, a legal fellow, (510) 207-1040, firstname.lastname@example.org. Model legislation is available online.
THIS WEEK ON REBEL NEWS: overcoming the surveillance state, tax resistance strategies, musical “workercide,” too big to jail banks, an Iranian TV blackout, the Gitmo hunger strike, studying conspiracies for credit, America’s mini-monarchs, things smart people say, and Vermont’s media convergence. Here are highlights:
Tax Day Resistance: No $ for Missiles
Speaking of drones -- and following up on last week’s discussion of military spending and withholding taxes -- here’s a suggestion from the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC): Refuse to Pay for Cruise Missiles and Drone Strikes
How to do that, you may ask? On April 15 people across the country will be explaining the various strategies in leaflets, marches, street theater, various acts of civil disobedience, and pickets outside post offices, IRS offices, federal buildings and other public spaces, all of them calling attention to the effects of military spending. A list of US Tax Day events with links to international actions is available at NWTRCC (very catchy).
April 15 is also the third annual Global Day of Action on Military Spending. In the evening, in Berkeley, for instance, members of Northern California War Tax Resistance and the People's Life Fund will present grants of resisted war taxes totaling at least $20,000 to local social service, peace, and justice organizations. That event and others from Maine to Kentucky to Washington are posted online.
Thirty years ago President Ronald Reagan set off a military buildup. This motivated thousands of taxpayers to resume the civil disobedience begun during the Vietnam War by refusing to pay taxes to buy those weapons, which led to the 1982 formation of NWTRCC. That year Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle risked censure and withheld half his income tax to protest nuclear weapons, calling on others to do the same.
On March 30, 1983, an ad placed in a Massachusetts weekly began, “We refuse to pay taxes for the violence of war preparations and other military expenditures including present military involvement in other countries. Over half of the federal income taxes are used for military expenses.” Many of the 120 signers still refuse today and protest on tax day, joined by new people protesting taxes for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the “war on terror.”
Massachusetts residents Randy Kehler and Betsy Corner signed the 1983 ad. Despite a house seizure and other actions by the IRS, they still believe that, with the federal government running up huge deficits by spending trillions on weapons and war -- at the expense of its own people (especially soldiers) and those in other countries – “citizens should say 'No!' and re-direct their federal tax money to local projects that meet genuine human needs.”
The spike in military spending since 2001 surpasses the Reagan years. Today we fund even more expensive systems, new nuclear weapons plants, and assassinations by unmanned drones, along with soaring interest payments on the national debt and burgeoning health care costs for thousands of wounded veterans. For more email email@example.com, or visit www.nwtrcc.org - Ruth Benn, Coordinator.
Setting Workercide to Music
(a new tune from Dave Lippman)
RUN UP TO WAR: The Iranian TV Blackout
The US and its Western partners have banned Iranian TV from North America and various European countries. Heard about it? Not very likely – unless you’re on the mailing list for PressTV, a 24-hour English-Language Iranian news channel.
PressTV claims that the Iranian film channel, iFilm, as well as Iranian radio stations, have also been banned from Western eyes and ears. In February all such media were removed from the Galaxy 19 satellite platform serving the US and Canada. In December the Spanish satellite company, Hispasat, terminated the broadcast of Iranian Spanish-language channel Hispan TV.
A Lexis-Nexis search indicates that not one English-language print newspaper, broadcast station, or news agency in the world reported on the PressTV news story after it appeared February 8. One Internet newspaper, Digital Journal, ran the story on February 10.
The use of sanctions to prevent foreign media from saying things Washington doesn’t want said can be viewed as an improvement. Compared to what? On October 8, 2001, the second day of the US bombing of Afghanistan, the transmitters for the Taliban government’s Radio Shari were bombed. Shortly after that the US bombed 20 regional radio sites. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended this by saying: “Naturally, they cannot be considered to be free media outlets. They are mouthpieces of the Taliban and those harboring terrorists.”
And in Yugoslavia, during the 78-day bombing in 1999, state-owned Radio Television Serbia (RTS) was targeted because it was broadcasting things the US and NATO consider propaganda, including the extent of civilian casualties the bombing was causing. So, look on the bright side: it's blackout, not bombs.
Collective Despair: The Gitmo Hunger Strike
From a New York Times editorial - The hunger strike that has spread since early February among the 166 detainees still at Guantánamo Bay is again exposing the lawlessness of the system that marooned them there. The government claims that around 40 detainees are taking part. Lawyers for detainees report that their clients say around 130 detainees in one part of the prison have taken part.
The number matters less than the nature of the protest, however: this is a collective act of despair. Prisoners on the hunger strike say that they would rather die than remain in the purgatory of indefinite detention. Only three prisoners now at Guantánamo have been found guilty of any crime, yet the others also are locked away, with dwindling hope of ever being released.
… Congress outrageously has limited the president’s options in releasing them, through a statute that makes it very difficult to use federal money to transfer Guantánamo prisoners anywhere. Fifty-six of those approved for release are Yemenis. The government, however, has said it will not release them to Yemen for the “foreseeable future,” apparently because they might fall under the influence of people antagonistic to the United States. That false logic would mean that no Yemenis could ever travel to this country, but that is not the case.
Conspiracy for Credit: Welcome to SOC 497
If you happen to be on the West Coast this summer, you might sit in on a new course at Sonoma State University. It’s SOCI 497, also known as “Sociology of Conspiracies,” an upper division class on the history and cultural understandings of conspiracies by elites and the powerful in society.
Here’s the blurb: “We will ask the question: do elites and the powerful make plans and take actions that may harm others or democracy? We will study the theories “State Crime Crimes Against Democracy” (SCAD) and “Power Elite Theory.” We will explore how people in the US have long held conspiracy theories going back to the Revolutionary War. We will take a look at contemporary efforts by elites to use media to discredit research regarding the origins of 20th century wars, political assassinations, 9/11, and US election fraud. We will focus on solid academic research for discussion and challenge those whose explanations go beyond available evidence.”
The texts include Conspiracy Theory, by Lance deHaven Smith, University of Texas Press, 2013; 9/11 and American Empire, Intellectuals Speak Out, David Ray Griffin and Peter Dale Scott, Olive Branch Press, 2007; and a Course Reader. The classes will feature guest lectures, films and discussions with Instructor Peter Phillips. Four credits for a fee of $1280. Campus housing is available.
From Sam Smith – If Hillary Clinton wins the White House for two terms, we will have had 28 of America’s most recent 64 years – or 44% - in which the occupants of the White House were immediate relatives of other presidents. If the Kennedy bothers hadn’t been assassinated, we might have added another 16 years to the total, or two thirds of all the period’s presidencies.
There are several distant parallels in the previous 170 years, but only the Adams’ were as close as the Kennedys, Bushes, and Clintons. The Roosevelts were 5th cousins and of different parties. Benjamin Harrison was William Henry Harrison’s grandson and James Madison and Zachary Taylor were second cousins. Only in the case of the Adams could one say that the presidency was inherited.
And all that was before we passed a constitutional amendment limiting a presidency to two terms. We just forgot to keep it out of the family.
VERMONT: MEDIA CONVERGENCE
WRIF Brings Transmedia to White River
The 2013 White River Indie Festival, running April 26-28 in -- you guessed it -- unique and colorful White River Junction, will feature hands-on "transmedia" workshops and presentations, examining the intersection of filmmaking, writing and web design for interactive and user-generated storytelling. As a result they’re calling this year's venture "iWRIF," and also the "Transmedia" storytelling festival. Check out www.wrif.org for the full schedule of events.
Beside seven feature films, WRIF and The Vermont Movie are bringing back last year's smash hit: The Local Filmmaker's Brunch, where local films will be served up with breakfast treats for a fun and celebratory morning. Looking to win some cash? Yeah, cash! Participate in the 48-Hour FILM SLAM and you could win up to 1,000 bucks! Sign up at: http://catv8.org/film-slam/
VIFF Sinks Global Roots in Burlington
On the west coast of the state, the Vermont International Film Festival is meanwhile launching a new monthly series of exciting films originating from the mother countries of many of the state’s New American communities. Part of VTIFF’s mission is to work with and for the community. The six films in the 2013 Global Roots Series reflect the richness and diversity of the population: From Serbia, Nepal, Iraq, China, Mexico and Rwanda. Starting April 14, and every second Sunday of the month through September at North End Studios – at 294 N. Winooski Ave, Burlington.
NOTE: Films not suitable for small children. Screenings are FREE! (Donations accepted) Sponsored by Old Spokes Home and by Anonymous, Reid & Jane Grayson, Marcia Hemley, Joe & Susan Hasazi, Sherrill Musty, Sultana Group H.
Sunday, April 14, 5 pm: THE PARADE (PARADA)
Director: Srdjan Dargojecvic; Croatia-Macedonia-Serbia-Slovenia | Comedy | 115 min | 2011
Sunday, May 12, 5 pm: HIGHWAY
Director: Deepak Rauniyar; Nepal | Drama | 80 min | 2012
Sounds great. Wish I didn't have a conflict that first Sunday. Personally, I'll be listening to my friend Robin Lloyd, who just returned from the World Social Forum in Tunisia. Sunday, April 14, from 3 – 5 pm, at Burlington Friends Meeting, 173 N. Prospect, Burlington. Hear Medea Benjamin (Code Pink), Robin Lloyd (Toward Freedom and WILPF), Elizabeth Jesdale and Autumn Martinez (U.E., The Workers Center and Global Grassroots Justice). Tunisian tea and refreshments will be served. ALSO...Medea Benjamin will be speaking at 7 pm Monday, April 15 at the UU Church in Burlington on DRONES. Plans for a march up Church St. starting at 6:30 from City Hall.