Posts tagged Salon

Yes, please.

I was going to post this the other day, but I had to wait until after Monday, because the author really is perfectly serious about it. Alex Seiz-Wald, at Salon, has recently discovered the chatter in gun-enthusiast and gun-rights circles around the fear of back-door gun-control legislation — by means of restrictions or prohibitions on ammunition sales, if new controls on guns themselves prove not to be politically viable. And so he picks up on some anecdotal Data-less Trend Stories about panic buying of ammunition in response. So, we get this story, from a putatively liberal political commentator:

With gun nuts hoarding bullets, will cops be disarmed?

Gun owners terrified of nonexistent plans to restrict ammo are hoarding bullets. Now police are running out.

. . . And there are plenty of members of Congress making hyperbolic claims about gun control, and a right-wing media eager to heighten and repeat the warnings. Not to mention the NRA, the most powerful voice on guns in the country and the market leader on paranoid gun rhetoric for decades.

But what those rushing to stockpile guns and ammo seem to miss is that their actions have consequences on the people whose job it is to keep us safe.

— Alex Seitz Wald, in Salon (27 March 2013) (emphasis added)

Now I have no really strong convictions about what those rushing to stockpile guns and ammo think about or don’t think about. Maybe if you want to know that, rather than to speculate about the mind of the intra-cultural Other, you could ask some people who are doing that, instead of spending the entire article interviewing self-serving budget-hungry police chiefs. But I do know that many people would be much safer if police were unable to buy any bullets at all. Did police bullets keep Kimani Gray safe? Emma Hernandez? Angel Alvarez and Luis Soto? Alonzo Heyward? Sean Bell? Amadou Diallo? Who seriously believes that keep[ing] us safe is what heavily-armed police do? Who is the us that they have in mind when they think that?

In all seriousness, this is really nothing more than another Data-less Trend Story but if it were true, it would be the best thing I’d heard all year about NRA fans. I don’t even own any guns, and don’t have any plans to get into them, but if the story is true that just makes me wish I had the money to run out and buy up boxes of ammunition right now. Because I have no use for it, but the cops do. And that’s precisely the problem with the cops.

Disarm your local police.

Also.

This is what a police state looks like. (Part 2 of ???)

Show me what a police state looks like…

This is what a police state looks like!

August 30

Protesters here in Minneapolis have been targeted by a series of highly intimidating, sweeping police raids across the city, involving teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets. Last night, members of the St. Paul police department and the Ramsey County sheriff’s department handcuffed, photographed and detained dozens of people meeting at a public venue to plan a demonstration, charging them with no crime other than “fire code violations,” and early this morning, the Sheriff’s department sent teams of officers into at least four Minneapolis area homes where suspected protesters were staying.

. . . In the house that had just been raided, those inside described how a team of roughly 25 officers had barged into their homes with masks and black swat gear, holding large semi-automatic rifles, and ordered them to lie on the floor, where they were handcuffed and ordered not to move. The officers refused to state why they were there and, until the very end, refused to show whether they had a search warrant. They were forced to remain on the floor for 45 minutes while the officers took away the laptops, computers, individual journals, and political materials kept in the house. One of the individuals renting the house, an 18-year-old woman, was extremely shaken as she and others described how the officers were deliberately making intimidating statements such as “Do you have Terminator ready?” as they lay on the floor in handcuffs.

. . . There is clearly an intent on the part of law enforcement authorities here to engage in extreme and highly intimidating raids against those who are planning to protest the Convention.

— Glenn Greenwald, Salon (2008-08-30): Massive police raids on suspected protesters in Minneapolis

August 30

This is Eileen Clancy, one of the founders of I-Witness Video, a NYC-based video collective that’s in St. Paul to document the policing of the protests around this week’s Republican National Convention.

The house where I-Witness Video is staying in St. Paul has been surrounded by police. We have locked all the doors. We have been told that if we leave we will be detained. One of our people who was caught outside is being detained in handcuffs in front of the house. The police say that they are waiting to get a search warrant. More than a dozen police are wielding firearms, including one St. Paul officer with a long gun, which someone told me is an M-16.

We are suffering a preemptive video arrest. For those that don’t know, I-Witness Video was remarkably successful in exposing police misconduct and outright perjury by police during the 2004 RNC. Out of 1800 arrests, at least 400 were overturned based solely on video evidence which contradicted sworn statements which were fabricated by police officers. It seems that the house arrest we are now under and the possible threat of the seizure of our computers and video cameras is a result of the 2004 success.

— Eileen Clancy, I-Witness Video Blog (2008-08-30): i-witness video emergency press statement from the RNC

August 30

The work of the I-Witness Video collective was interrupted this past Saturday, August 30, 2008, when St. Paul police detained 7 members of the group (along with an assortment of other individuals) for several hours. The NYC-based video collective is in St. Paul to document the policing of the protests at the Republican National Convention.

The incident began in the late morning when an FBI agent and a Wisconsin Deputy Sheriff showed up on the doorstep of the house in which members were staying (on Igelhart St.), interrupting a collective planning meeting. The officers left after a short conversation with members through a locked front door. Two hours later, around 30 police surrounded the house. Two people who left the house were detained in handcuffs; several others, who were inside, were told that if they left, they would be also be detained. Around the same time, three other I-Witness Video members who had left the house on bikes and two others who were riding in a car across town were also detained by police.

Two hours later, after the search warrant arrived, police at the Igelhart Street house stormed in, pointing an automatic handgun at the people inside. They handcuffed all the individuals inside, collected their personal information, and corralled them in the back garden. While police held the media activists and their friends there, members of the media, who had gathered in an adjoining backyard, interviewed I-Witness Video member Eileen Clancy from behind a fence. After completing their search, the police finally uncuffed everyone and departed. Within about two hours, the other I-Witness Video groups–who had been detained on bikes and in a car, all of whom also had their identifications verified and had undergone searches of various kinds–were also released.

During the raids, members of I-Witness Video managed to send out several email and text messages to supporters, legal support, and press. In response, hundreds of people called the office of the St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

Among those individuals detained was Democracy Now! producer Elizabeth Press, who had her camera with her throughout the incident. This morning, Democracy Now! ran a news segment on the many preemptive raids that police have launched against activists in St. Paul this month, including the raid that I-Witness Video suffered on Saturday.

This was a clear effort to intimidate and undermine the work of I-Witness Video–a group that was remarkably successful in exposing police misconduct and outright perjury by police during the 2004 RNC. Out of 1800 arrests made that week, at least 400 were overturned based solely on video evidence which contradicted sworn statements by police officers.

— Rachel Mattson, I-Witness Video Blog (2008-09-01): I-Witness Video Members Detained En Masse by St.Paul, Minnesota Police in Advance of the 2008 Republican National Convention

September 3

At about 2:45 this past afternoon (Sept. 3), police wielding batons and a battering ram entered the professional office building on Selby Avenue in St. Paul where I-Witness Video is renting work space.

Geneva Finn, an attorney with the National Lawyer’s Guild went to head off the police. After the police left, she made this statement at an impromptu press conference on the street:

A few minutes ago, one of our legal observers called me to the door. I saw the St. Paul police unloading a bunch of equipment from their cars and they saw me at the door. They saw me at the door, they motioned me forward. I came forward to their cars. They told me that they had reports that somebody was holding somebody hostage in the building, that there had been a kidnapping. They told me that somebody, an undercover had told them, that the anarchists were holding people hostage in our building.

I work for the NLG [National Lawyers Guild] here, we have, we’re working at one of our lawyer’s offices, I said, “Is it in our law office?” They said “No, it’s upstairs.” They then came into the building with me, I showed them what was going on upstairs. They did a pull-up on the frame of I-Witness’ door, looked in, saw that there was people in there, nobody was being held hostage. I then asked the police to leave, since no one was obviously being held hostage here, and they refused. Eventually their head sergeant came here, and decided that they could leave the building.

Anarchists taking hostages? Kidnapping?

This is extraordinary, folks. The St. Paul police came after us with unfounded allegations that we were engaged in criminal behavior. This harassment has interfered with our ability to do the work of documenting the policing of protests that we have come to St. Paul to do. They were able to put pressure on the landlord to do something that they could not force under the law. We were informed that, as a result of all of the commotion, our landlord wanted us to leave the premises immediately.

We packed up our belongings as quickly as possible and were welcomed at the offices of Free Speech TV in St. Paul, for which we are deeply grateful.

— Eileen Clancy, I-Witness Video Blog (2008-09-04): St. Paul Police use bogus “hostage” claim to seek entry to I-Witness Video office

While reporting from a protest at the Republican National Convention, Utne Reader intern Chelsey Perkins captured footage of police launching gas canisters at protesters and chasing them down the banks of the Mississippi river in St. Paul. . . .

Having seen protesters and police clash in the distance, Perkins asked an officer how to get away from the conflict zone. She was directed toward a river walk with a large group of people including both protesters and bystanders. The police followed closely behind, until multiple groups of officers on bikes, horses, and on foot surrounded and detained everyone in the area.

Once surrounded, Perkins was told to get on the ground with her hands on her head. Some of the people were placed in plastic cuffs, and a large bullhorn announced that everyone in the area was under arrest. Members of the media were eventually told to leave, because the area was deemed a “crime scene.” Perkins tried to explain that she was a member of the media, but without credentials, she was unable to leave.

After some 45 minutes of being detained, Perkins was told that she was no longer under suspicion and could leave if she wanted. When she agreed, she was surrounded by a group of police who escorted her away from the area.

— Bennett Gordon, Utne Blogs (2008-09-01): RNC: Police Tear Gas and Arrest Protesters

Before the protests, police from several different government agencies repeatedly used hyperviolent paramilitary SWAT assaults in order to harass, intimidate and disrupt protest groups even though there was absolutely no evidence, other than wild speculation, that anyone posed a threat of violence against the cops sent to serve the warrants, and even though no crime had yet been committed. The cops attacked not only protest groups but also journalists. Then, once the demonstrations had begun, heavily-armed riot cops repeatedly surrounded nonviolent protests, attacked them with batons, ordered them to disperse and then blocked off all possible routes of exit, and fired tear-gas cannisters into crowds of retreating protesters and bystanders.

Remember that so-called electoral democracy — in fact, nothing more than an imperial elective oligarchy — never means that we (meaning you and I and our neighbors) are respected as sovereign individuals or left alone to manage our own affairs. What it means is that a highly organized, heavily armed elite insists on the privilege of “representing” us, ruling over us, and ordering us around, on the excuse that, once every several years, we are given some minimal opportunity to select which of two tightly regimented political parties will take control of the ruling apparatus. It is, in other words, not freedom, but rather a Party State, in which we are given only the choice of which of two bureaucratic political parties might control our lives and livelihoods, with their authority supposedly justified by the ritual of elections and the mandate of popular sovereignty. And if the people (again, meaning you and I and our neighbors) should dare to think that we might challenge the authority of the regime supposedly “representing” us, you’ll find that it’s the people that go out the window, not the rigged electoral system or the parties’ grasp on the authority supposedly derived from those people.

More to come.

What’s to muddy?

According to Salon, some Democratic Party media flacks are wringing their hands over ads from MoveOn, the Media Fund, and others. The fear? No centralized command-and-control. Thus, they worry, Liberal group ads may muddy Kerry message:

Liberal interest groups are running television ads meant to hurt President Bush and, in effect, help Democratic rival John Kerry. But some media strategists say such efforts could backfire by muddying Kerry’s message of the moment with the electorate.

Interest groups can’t legally coordinate advertising with political campaigns. That means their ads could address different issues than Kerry’s commercials, be nastier than his advisers prefer, clutter the airwaves, stray from obvious themes — the economy and national security — or politicize issues Kerry would rather leave alone.

[N.B.: issues Kerry would rather leave alone is short for the warEd.]

If I were Kerry’s folks, I’d be up nights worrying about this, said Bill Carrick, a veteran Democratic media consultant.

Personally, if I were Kerry’s folks, I’d be up nights worrying about the logically prior question: doesn’t Kerry need to have a message before anyone could count as muddying it?

The Solution to Spam Pollution

A few things have recently come together for me. First, Andrew Leonard recently penned an interesting column on spam-blocking technology for Salon; then Jennifer Lee wrote another interesting article for The New York Times. Finally, I made use of a brief free trial of McAfee’s SpamKiller software. I’ve also just been doing a lot of thinking lately about what needs to be done to seriously address the rising tide of spam that is flooding most everyone’s inbox. Spam e-mail has been getting worse over the past several years, and it’s been getting worse at an accelerating pace. If we don’t want Internet communications to become simply worthless from being drowned by spam e-mail, then we have to rethink our basic model for e-mail so that spammers can no longer take advantage of the system’s architecture to overwhelm legitimate messages with their crap. Lee’s article shows a good grasp of the problem and why anti-spam legislation won’t do much to solve it. Leonard’s has a good grasp on the overall technological shift needed to address the problem, but he doesn’t push the envelope nearly enough in the kind of framework that needs to be accomplished.

Leonard’s article describes the development of SpamAssasin, an open source spam blocker being adopted and improved by many system administrators. Leonard points out that the collaborative effort between legions of dedicated spam-fighters can greatly improve the ability of the software to identify spam messages. As Leonard puts it, The only way to stem the flood of unwanted e-mail may be to harness a million eyeballs and an army of open-source hackers. There’s an intuitive reason why this should be the case. Obviously, by harnessing the efforts of thousands of administrators who ferociously hate spam, it will get a big boost in productive energy. But that’s not all.

The basic problem is this: under the present e-mail architecture, the spam market works. It works phenomenally well, and especially well for the seedier side of online industries, in particular pornography and sex-related products, which can’t advertise through conventional media (other than other porn outlets) and don’t have any financial interest in maintaining a reputation as a friendly corporate citizen. The reasons are inherent features of the e-mail architecture:

  • It costs nearly nothing to send spam: once you have an Internet connection set up (which you’ll need for your product’s website, anyway), it costs virtually nothing to send out scads and scads of spam e-mail. Labor costs can be reduced to nill by feeding addresses from a web crawler into an automated spamming program. This is a fundamental reversal from direct mail and telemarketing, where a fixed cost for contacting a person is borne by the advertiser.

  • Lots of people see it: If you send out a spam message to a huge group of people, then most of the people you send it to will see it. In part, this is because e-mail is a durable medium, like direct mail or fax, and unlike the telephone, so if you send a message while the user is away, they still get it. It’s also due to the relatively primitive state of message sorting and spam filtering–users have very little control over the order and priority with which messages appear in their inboxes, so to get to the mesages they want, they generally have to wade through, or at least scan over, any spam that they get.

  • It’s hard to track offenders. Many comparisons have been drawn between spam e-mail and the junk faxes whose rising costs spurred a federal law against them in 1991. The two are alike in that advertisers get a basically free contact, while victims are stuck with the primary costs (in paper, bandwidth, time, what have you) of the interactions. However, there is a crucial difference: junk faxes can easily be tracked to their perpetrator through phone company records. Offenders can be blocked and identified for legal action. Spam e-mails, on the other hand, are generally very difficult to track to their originators. Headers can easily be forged, server relays can be found to use, one-time-only addresses created with free services, work can be farmed out to mule computer users, who are paid a small amount to send out a huge volume of messages, and then take the fall if they get caught. The anonymity of e-mail and its reliance on the honor system for identifying senders makes spam very difficult to flag and filter.

When we look at all these factors, we begin to see that we need a comprehensive solution which will work to address these structural holes. We cannot rely on anti-spam legislation, since spammers will merely relocate to different states or different countries, and use the anonymity of the communication to further shield themselves. Spam is only going to get worse until we have mass deployment of an easy-to-learn, easy-to-use, agile framework which harnesses both human intelligence and high-quality, flexible technological solutions to make legitimate email easier to access and identifies and deals with spam.

Unfortunately, most anti-spam solutions fail, because they are focused narrow-mindedly on a single goal–the goal of accumulating as many heuristic rules as possible to identify and kill spam (this is reflected in the names–McAfee’s SpamKiller, SpamAssasin, and so on. The most common and most maddening manifestation of this is scorched-earth spam programs such as SpamKiller, which works entirely by accumulating thousands and thousands of rules to try to identify common patterns in the way that spam messages are written or addressed. These do indeed catch a lot of spam, but they also slam perfectly legitimate e-mail. For example, my decision to uninstall SpamKiller was finalized when I saw it was trashing legitimate e-mails because a filter (one of thousands, which took lots of scrolling to find) was killing messages because they contained the word rape. Now, look, folks, I’m pretty much physically nauseated by some of the spam ads I’ve received for rape-fetish pornography sites. But I’m an anti-rape activist, and I receive tons of perfectly legitimate e-mail with the word rape in it. SpamKiller’s approach to spam is like trying to kill a swarm of mosquitoes with a cluster bomb, and plenty of perfectly innocent messages were getting clobbered.

The problem here is that most people who work on spam-blocking software and most of those who purchase it are basically in the frame of mind of trying to get rid of a source of long-term and maddening irritation. Programs tend to be reactively focused on axing spam by any means necessary, rather than proactively focused on improving the e-mail user’s experience. But if we keep our mind on what users need and want, rather than what gives us the temporary satisfaction of the kill, then we should begin to see a bit more clearly what needs to be done.

To reduce the effectiveness of spam, first spam management software needs to be widespread, usable, and respectful of user’s legitimate e-mail. With millions of users employing software that lets them take control of their own inboxes, users will be able to stay on top of their legitimate e-mail and sidestep the spam. Information for identifying spam should come from automated reports that millions of users submit: when a spam slips through, the recipient presses one button in the mail client and it is registered as a spam message so that no-one else receives it (SpamAssassin uses Vipul’s Razor, a system which does just this, but it needs to be integrated into easy to use clients, not just arcane Unix mail filters).

Second, we need to plug the anonymity hole through use of double-key authentication and encryption of e-mail. E-mail clients could prioritize messages which can be verified as coming from a valid address, and also messages which are encrypted for the recipient’s eyes only. Spammers who want their messages seen would have to separately acquire a public key for, and encrypt the message for every intended recipient. For millions of e-mail addresses, that’s an awful lot of extra processor time, network bandwidth, and human labor that the spammer has to pay for. Furthermore, the spammer’s PGP signature or signatures can be blacklisted as quickly as the spams start going out.

Finally, system administrators at big ISPs need to get responsible. One of the biggest conduits for spam open relays, poorly configured mail servers which allow anyone on the Internet to send e-mail through the server by forging headers to pose as a machine on the server’s network. System administrators need to get serious about ensuring that connections are only accepted from authenticated users or legitimate machines on the ISP’s own subnet. And when spam is being sent by a user, they need to be quick about axing that user’s account.

What you can do now:

You can do some things now, both short-term and long-term, to keep yourself from being overwhelmed and work towards an Internet not being drowned in spam.

  • Use shield accounts for online commerce. A lot of high-end spamhouses harvest addresses by buying them from merchants such as Amazon.com. For online interactions which won’t be anything other than perfunctory receipts, it’s good to maintain a shield account (say, diespammersdie@hotmail.com or somesuch) as the address through which you interact with online stores.

  • Download and use PGP. You can get PGP — a great security program which will let you securely sign messages (so that the recipient can verify your identity) and/or encrypt messages (so that only the recipient can read them). The Windows version of PGP automates the process of creating and using PGP keys, and has plugins for popular Windows e-mail clients which let you use simple pushbuttons for its functions. PGP will make your e-mail more secure, and also help build an Internet environment where spammers can no longer hide behind forged headers to conceal their identities.

  • Look for solid anti-spam software that suits you. If you can find spam management software which suits your needs, grab it! If you’re willing to geek around a lot, SpamAssasin looks very good. Better yet, Deersoft is in the process of developing SpamAssassin Pro, a commercial product for Windows based on the SpamAssassin engine and integrated with your mail client. Unfortunately, most spam management software I’ve tried (e.g., SpamKiller) is crap.

  • More tips: Jennifer Lee’s article is accompanied by some tips for avoiding spam, some of which I agree with, and others of which I don’t. Unfortunately, the present spam-heavy environment is encouraging a lot of people to take up measures which cut down spam at the expense of breaking human usability of the e-mail system. Lee suggests using complex e-mail addresses, which do thwart spammers who use dictionary searches on mail services, but which also makes it hard for your friends to remember your e-mail address. She also suggests removing your e-mail from any online directories in which it may be included, which will again thwart spammers but also keep people from being able to reach you. I totally disagree with this method of spam filtering. Again, it amounts to protecting your inbox at the cost of shredding real people’s ability to contact you. Nevertheless, some of her suggestions (such as disposable forwarding accounts for use on Usenet and bulletin boards) are solid.