The Pentagon has confirmed that it will go forward with plans made public last month to sail US Navy ships to the contested Spratly Islands, where China is undertaking large construction projects.
The Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer U.S.S. LASSEN (DDG-82) has been deployed to the South China Sea, sending a message to Beijing that China’s recent claims to the territory are not recognized, according to analysts.
China’s claims to both disputed islands as well as islands belonging to other nations, such as Japan’s Senkaku Islands, have become increasingly aggressive.
The Spratlys, claimed variously by Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, in addition to China, have become the site of Chinese man-made island construction projects in what has become known as an “artificial land reclamation” enterprise. The locations of the projects are the subject of longstanding and ongoing claims by the other countries.
“Make no mistake: the United States will fly, sail and be deployed wherever it allowed the international law,” stated US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter two weeks ago.
The US has consistently warned China to restrain itself in the region. Among concerns are those regarding the way in which China enforces its territorial claims.
The operator of Shell Oil Corporation’s two Arctic drilling rigs, deployed in Alaska in 2012, has pleaded guilty to eight felony charges for environmental and health and safety violations during its operation of the rigs. Noble Drilling has agreed to pay $12.2 million dollars in fines and community service payments.
According to the judgement by the US Department of Justice, the vessels Noble Discover and Kulluk were involved in operations that contravened federal law thereby committing a series of environmental and maritime offences. These included “knowingly failing to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book and an accurate International Oil Pollution Prevention certificate,” “knowingly failing to maintain a ballast water record book” and knowingly and willfully failing to notify the U.S. Coast Guard of hazardous conditions aboard the drill ship Noble Discoverer.”
Greenpeace has responded to the news by pointing out that this isn’t the first time the global oil corporation has violated the regulations. In April 2014, the US Coast Guard accused Shell of ignoring safety warnings and moving one of its drilling ships in the Arctic, partly in a bid to evade paying tax. The allegation by the Coast Guard was included in its official report investigating why the Kulluck ran aground in December 2012. The most significant factor, said the report, which has been published by the US Department of Homeland Security, was the “inadequate assessment and management of risks associated with a complex vessel movement during the winter in the unique and challenging operating environment of Alaska.”
“Shell has proven time and again it can’t be trusted to manage its contractors safely” said Greenpeace Arctic campaigner Ian Duff. “That Shell engaged Noble Drilling, a company now guilty of eight felonies, is the clearest indicator yet. Letting Shell back into such a precious and risky environment as the Arctic would be sheer madness, yet that’s what Shell wants to do next summer. Surely now President Obama has to think twice about approving Shell’s next venture in the Arctic, which the government’s own scientists say has a 75 percent chance of causing a large spill.”
Conducting operations in these waters at this time of year involves extreme risks from giant floating icebergs and stormy seas. Furthermore, the Arctic region’s remoteness and extreme climate together with dynamic sea ice exacerbate the risks and consequences of oil spills and complicates cleanup operations in the event of a disaster. According to another report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, oil spill contingency plans generally underestimate the probability and consequence of catastrophic blowouts, particularly with regard to drilling in the Arctic Ocean. An oil well blowout in this region could devastate an ecosystem that is already under stress and cleanup technologies and systems are, as yet, unproven in the Arctic Ocean environment.
Despite these concerns, the company has pressed ahead with plans to conduct exploratory operations in the Arctic in 2015.
One senior US politician has recommended that Shell be punished for its ‘reckless’ behaviour.
A Shell spokesman said the company was still reviewing the report but had already implemented lessons learned from an internal review of its 2012 operations.
Between 1998 and 2012, immigration prisoners incarcerated in federal prisons increased 145 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Thirteen US Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons managed by three private prison corporations house all of America’s 25,000 prisoners convicted of living in the US without proper documentation.
The three corporations, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation (MTC), are contracted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), formed in 2003, has over 45,000 agents and receives more money than all other federal agencies combined. The CBP is a department of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is the largest law enforecment agency in the US. The primary task of the CBP is preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the US. The Customs and Border Patrol feeds the CARs.
In 2012, the three corporations took in a total of $4 billion in revenue. GEO and CCA executives made around $19 million that year.
Illegal immigrants are pursued by the DHS. Since 2009, illegal immigrants have been placed in US prisons in numbers greater than convicts for “violent, weapons and property offenses combined,” according to an ACLU report.
According to a CCA executive who was quoted by the ACLU, “Let me just make a brief comment on Operation Streamline…. Before this initiative was put in place, only a small percentage of [il]legal persons crossing the U.S.-Mexico border were prosecuted….We are now experiencing significant numbers to further be in place in custody as a result of Operation Streamline…We believe that the Federal Bureau of Prisons…will continue to provide a meaningful opportunity for the industry for the foreseeable future.”
Recently, a letter penned by a dying Iraq War veteran has been garnering publicity. The letter, written by Thomas Young and addressed to Former US President George W. Bush and Former US Vice President Dick Cheney, criticizes the former American leaders for their role in the 2003-2011 Iraq War.
The letter was written as Young resided in hospice care. The 33-year-old Young was paralyzed in 2004 in Iraq.
The letter, Young wrote, was authored on behalf of the 4,500 dead Iraq war soldiers and Marines and the hundreds of thousands of veterans wounded in that war, as well as their families, and criticizes the “hallowness of character,” “cowardice” and “selfishness” of Bush and Cheney, who themselves, Young writes, dodged the Vietnam draft (Cheney) and went AWOL from a National Guard unit (Bush).
Young said he wrote the letter not because he thought Bush and Cheney would “grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power,” but because Young wanted before his death to “make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done.”
“You may evade justice,” Young wrote, “but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.”
Young pointed out that preemptive war–such as the Iraq War–is “illegal under international law,” and stated that he did not sign up to fight in a war like the war in Iraq. Young considered that the war “obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East,” “installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government,” and “left Iran as the dominant force in the region.” Young wrote that the war was, on “every level—moral, strategic, military and economic,” a failure, and blamed Bush and Cheney for starting the war.
Young, who wrote that he and other soldiers were used, betrayed and abandoned, “would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks [sic] in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.”
Young called on Bush and Cheney to find the moral courage to face what they had done and apologize to the American and Iraqi publics before they themselves died.
To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From: Thomas Young
I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.
I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.
I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.
Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.
I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.
I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.
I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.
My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.
The US Consul General in St Petersberg, Bruce Turner, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who served in Russia and Afghanistan as Director of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement affairs, has published a collection of poems in anticipation of the end of his work in Russia.
Turner regretfully admitted that it was hard to leave Russia.
The collection of 65 poems, “In Petersburg in Black and White,” is inspired by life in the northern capital during the three years of Turner’s residence. “The Consul General often accompanied blog entries with his own poems, and they entered into the collection,” said representatives of the embassy.
In addition to writing of his experience of Petersberg, the poems also describe Kaliningrad, Sestrorezk, Ladoga lake, and Karelia. There is a poem called “Gagarin” and one called “Aurora.”
On Kaliningrad, in a poem titled “The Croquet Pitch,” Turner writes, “Whether the city of Kaliningrad or what once was Koenigsberg should truly be part of Russia/ or returned to Prussia involves so much more than the addition of a letter for European history…”
The collection begins with “Just Arrived” and ends with “Farewell.”
The arrival is described,
“in a city once renowned for spying,
during the weekend we spent hours
wandering the st. petersburg streets
and ventured deep into the beating
heart of russia’s former imperial
lairs seeking to uncover some of
its secrets in the late october air-
and wherever we walked we were
pleased that no one stopped to turn
or stare or appeared at all to care
in what direction our footsteps were
dropping or what with our gesture
we might be intending, with no one
contending there was anything at all
odd or postured, and we for our parts
never pretending that we were seeing
any places on a dare or were vying
to tease the fabled paranoid bear.”
And at the close, Turner writes, “In leaving this land behind … we will remain most wistful about the Russian language and those whose chatter without any risk mingles in it easily, along with gracious hosts who lingered with us a moment or two and always ensured we felt welcomed, deceived us at times into believing we might one day even become one of them but in any event bequeathing to us memories that have bonded within us to be retained with fondness until all longing is gone, beyond us.”
The collection was posted as a pdf. on the domain of the US State Department. Turner has no plans to publish the collection as a book at current time.
In addition to Russian, Turner is fluent in German and Grench, and he holds an MA and PHD in German literature.
Turner served in St Petersberg–the site of the original U.S. Mission to Russia, established in 1780–since 2011. Before that, he was stationed in Afghanistan as the head of international drug trafficing, and previously, Turner served as Director of the European and Eurasian Bureau’s Office of Security and Political Affairs in the State Department, where he was responsible for NATO, the OSCE, NATO-Russia relations, and conventional arms control. He also had served in Paris, Moscow, Vienna at the U.S. Mission to the OSCE, Brussels at the U.S. Mission to NATO, and Ankara, Turkey. Turner also has worked in Washington, where he was involved in North Korean, German and Turkish affairs.
A new bill has passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee with bipartisan support. The USICA bill, if it passes into law–it is expected to be taken up by the full House as early as this summer and the Senate is working on a similar bill–will abolish the current USIB Act, and the current bipartisan board in charge of international communications for US media, as well as the IBB, will be replaced with a new CEO vested with the authorities currently entrusted to the groups.
The bill was explained for members and committees of Congress in a report published recently by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which was written by Matthew Weed. Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), who is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the legislation was essential in the face of negative and inaccurate information increasingly disseminated about the United States abroad, referring to “countries like Russia” and their information campaigns.
The United States International Communications Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4490) was introduced April 28 by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward Royce with co-sponsors, and the Committee voted in favor of the bill April 30.
The bill states that the BBG “operates poorly under a flawed structure, that the BBG’s internal operations and personnel
decision making have deficiencies, and that U.S. international broadcasters lack clearly defined missions.” The flaw of the “international broadcasters” leads, the bill finds, to “duplicative services and a lack of focus on the ‘public diplomacy’ and ‘surrogate’ missions of the broadcasters.”
The bill has several central provisions. One provision is the creation of a US International Communications Agency (USICA). If the bill is enacted, the current USIB Act would be repealed in its entirety (although HR4490 includes several provisions similar to those in USIB), and effectively abolish the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). A new agency–USICA–would be established.
There would also be a new board, which would presumably mirror the BBG’s structure. But the USICA Board would only have an advisory role in the new agency. The authority over communications–which is now vested in the bipartisan BBG board of nine governors–would instead be vested in a new USICA Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The CEO would also have the authorities currently vested in the IBB. The board would retain the power to appoint and remove the CEO.
The current system under the BBG is a presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed board, with the Secretary of State serving as the ninth member ex officio. The BBG oversees the IBB, VOA, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB and Radio/TV Marti), Radio Free Europe/Radio Libety (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN).
The bill also provides that US international broadcasting “is alligned with ‘broad’ US foreign policy interests, and reduce overlap in broadcast services.” The bill will do this by requiring the USICA and a new grantee surrogate “Freedom News Network” (FNN) to meet regularly and “coordinate with the US Department of State to share relevant information.”
The USICA would answer and report to Congress, including on matters such as “the size of the workforce, the structure of the organization, contracting methods and practices, and language services performance.”
Modern US international broadcasting is said to have begun during World War II. Since 1994 (United States International Broadcasting Act; USIB Act), all US international communications have been handled by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) within the United States Information Agency (USIA). Members of Congress have frequently expressed interest in oversight over the BBG and its individual broadcasters, according to the congressional report. In 1998, Congress passed legislation establishing the BBG as an independent entity within the executive branch at the same time that it incorporated USIA’s functions into the State Department.
Bill HR4490 and the wider issue of increased congressional power over US broadcasting is expected to receive increased congressional attention during the second session of the 114th Congress, which began January 3.
Criticism by privacy advocates has caused the U.S. Homeland Security Department (DHS) to review its proposal for private companies to provide the government with a U.S.-wide database of licence plate tracking information. The concerns raised by privacy advocates include the gratuitous nature of the privacy intrusion, the lack of regulations and safeguards regarding the data collection, and the lack of measures that would provide for audits of the system.
The data collection proposal by the DHS was made public Feb. 12 on the government website, Federal Business Opportunities. The website, also known as Fed Biz Ops, is a public access service on which all Federal Procurement Opportunities over $25,000 are available to view. The DHS’s solicitation was for a private company to collect, store, and provide license plate data on a national scale. The data collection, similar to the NSA’s bulk telephony data collection, would constantly track and forever store the movements of vehicles across America. Like telephone metadata, location data can often tell more than content data about behavior and activities. Jennifer Lynch, attorney at Electronic Frontier Foundation, explained that this type of data can tell who a person associates with, what religion they practice, and what doctors they visit, among other information.
One concern raised by privacy advocates is that a program such as the one proposed would track the behavior and activities of non-criminal citizens. Privacy advocates consider this an imposition and do not believe the imposition has justification in its benefits to law enforcement. Another concern is that the proposed program had no specific regulations or safeguards. There was no telling low long records would be kept or what government agencies besides the DHS would have access to the records. Relatedly, the method of use for the system included anonymous, alias, and full identity use, which caused privacy advocates concern because there would be no way to audit the use of the database and so no way to know which information requests were legitimate or hold accountable unidentifiable abusers of the system.
Mike German, a former F.B.I. special agent and current fellow at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, speaking on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, stated that there should be “strict public guidelines” about what information is collected, who has access to that information, and for what purposes the information is allowed to be used. German also commented on government claims that the information was necessary to help solve serious crimes, saying that the information is often used for very low-level crimes.
The plan proposed by the DHS was for a commercial enterprise to collect and store license plate data (rather than the government creating its own database). The targets of the plan, according the DHS, were fugitives and undocumented immigrants. The system would have allowed officers of the law, once those officers had an investigative lead, to query the database with plate numbers to determine where and when the vehicle traveled. The plan included a smartphone ap so that information records would be available around-the-clock and from any location.
Currently, several large private companies are already providing license plate data to businesses and law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement agencies have used these services to recover abducted children, solve murders, and track down automobiles for repossession. License plate databanks also reduce surveillance man-hours and improve the safety of law enforcement officers, according the U.S. immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
The U.S.-wide license plate data collection program proposal was cancelled by the Department of Homeland Security the week after it was submitted. No official reason was provided for why the proposal was made or why it was withdrawn. Gillian Christensen, a spokesperson for ICE, announced that the proposal had been made “without the awareness of the ICE leadership.”
Senator Anthony Cannella of California has announced new amendments for January to the current anti-revenge-porn laws of that state, legislation currently framed under the blanket cyberbullying category. The amendments will broaden the criminalization of revenge-porn, applying it to self-shot images, so that anyone distributing revenge-porn will be liable. Cannella intends to present the amendments to the upcoming session
Under the current law (bill SB 225), passed in October 2, 2013, distributing sexually explicit photos taken of SOMEONE ELSE with the intent to cause harm or humiliate is illegal (misdemeanor). Currently there is no legal protection for people who take pictures of themselves when those pictures wind up online. There is no protection for people who give photos of themselves to others and later regret it, as those photos are the legal property of the recipient. There’s no legislation against posting any explicit photos if the subject is over 18 years old. Currently, most revenge-porn is not illegal.
Currently, an estimated 80 percent of revenge-porn victims take the pictures themselves, according to Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.
The SB 225 California law–a law brought by Cannella–was the first revenge-porn specific law in the U.S. Critics have argued against the perceived loopholes in the law. Notable among these “loopholes” are that the poster must be proven to have intended to cause serious emotional distress and the victim must be proven to have suffered such distress.
Sen. Anthony Cannella announced the amendments to the current revenge-porn law and proposed further amendments. Cannella wants to remove the loopholes as well: the burden of proving intent to cause emotional distress and that the victim actually suffered. This amendment is sometimes called the “Selfie Amendment.” This was left out of the original bill because, it was reasoned, self-shots implied consent. If Cannella’s amendments pass, it would be illegal to knowingly distribute explicit images of a person who has not consented to such distribution.
The laws being considered touch upon the First Amendment–the freedom of speech–which currently protects pornography, and so the laws must be written carefully so as not to violate constitutional rights.
A key argument against such laws is that making it a crime to distribute private images with the intent to harass or annoy might end up in charges against a person who leaks information that the public needs to know or has an interest in, because it was sent with a malicious intent, such as the case of ex-congressman Anthony Weiner, who denied sharing lewd photos of himself, which denial was later proved a lie.
Cannella’s announcement comes after Christopher Kevin Bollaert, creator of a revenge porn website called ugotposted.com, was arrested and charged December 11 in Sand Diego. Bollaert was charged with 31 felonies, including extortion and conspiracy, but most of the charges were for identity theft. There were also allegations of “child pornography.” Bollaert started the website in December 2012. He faced up to 22 years in prison.
Bollaert’s site was set up so that posters could include the victim’s personal information: phone number, location, and Facebook. Bollaert later put up a second site called changemyreputation.com, catering to victims who wanted their images removed from his site. The ugotposted.com site was taken down as a result of the criminal investigation.
The Guardian reported that Bollaert responded to these victims by offering to remove their images for 300-350 dollars (extortion). The site’s PayPal account showed payments in the tens of thousands of dollars.
At least two victims have said that they were under 18 (child pornography).
Bollaert has also been charged in civil suits in Illinois, Ohio and Michigan. Since Bollaert did not respond to the lawsuits, the judge entered default judgements, ordering Bollaert to pay three hundred thousand dollars to a Michigan woman and the same amount to an internet company Bollaert used to display nude photos. Bollaert has ignored these charges.
Bolleart’s trial, if it succeeds, may be the first major revenge porn prosecution.
Bollaert’s partner in the website, Eric Chanson, was also named in the lawsuit. Chanson attests that the two businessmen always removed user content with a subpoena and cooperated fully with authorities when contacted.
Some legal scholars doubt the case against Bollaert. The current California revenge-porn law does not apply to Bolleart’s case. The current law is not designed to apply to a site operator. Identity theft is a questionable charge because the site operator isn’t pretending to be or passing himself off as the people in the pictures.
Currently, only California and New Jersey have any law applicable to revenge porn. New Jersey’s law is not targeted at revenge-porn at all; in New Jersey it is illegal to distribute graphic images of a person without consent. Other states considering are legislation, such as Florida, Wisconsin, Maryland, New York, and Rhode Island. In the absence of such laws, victims are left to pursue civil litigation, commonly torts like invasion of privacy, stalking, or harassment. These charges are usually struck down immediately because sites are immunized from liability for user-generated content by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Anti-revenge-porn advocates are pushing for federal level legislation.
Other people interested in stopping revenge-porn, such as Amanda Levendowski, NYU Law student, are looking at how copyright law might be able to combat the problem. Since around 80 percent of revenge-porn victims took the pictures of themselves, they own copyright to those images, which copyright is infringed whenever initial, interim, and subsequent copies and displays of those self-shot images are made.
If successful, the new amendments to the California law targeting revenge-porn would be introduced to the state legislature and take effect in January 2014.
The U.S. has a special relationship with South Sudan, being responsible in large part for the creation of South Sudan in 2011. Last Friday a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing was held in Washington about South Sudan, specifically about civil unrest and ethnic cleansing in the country.
The Senate engaged in dialogue with two panels. First the current U.S. Envoy to South Sudan was interviewed, led by Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Second a panel of experts on South Sudan was interviewed.
What follows in this article is a summary of the Committee hearing. Senators took turns asking questions of the panels. Senators sometimes made statements themselves. The article refers to all senators and panel-members as “the U.S.” for sake of convenience. Obviously, it does not represent the views of any particular member involved, but is a shorthand of how the U.S. views South Sudan.
What is South Sudan, in America?
South Sudan is the world’s youngest nation, having been formed finally in 2011. South Sudan is still a somewhat fragile democracy, but had been–before December 15–a success story in America.
America has been South Sudan’s strongest international champion. In Washington, South Sudan has a powerful and interested constituency. America has invested hundreds of millions in aid to South Sudan. The U.S. has invested a total of possibly around $12 billion in South Sudan. America’s most recent aid portfolio was $350 million. The U.S. has now added $50 million to the $350 million.
U.S. diplomat for Africa Thomas-Greenfield explained why South Sudan matters to the U.S. this way:
“For 30 years the United States has been supporting the people of South Sudan, even before South Sudan became an entity, supporting their right to exist, their right to freedom of religion, and their fight against the government of Sudan. We birthed this nation and there are Americans from all walks of life … who are concerned about what is happening.”
U.S. presence in South Sudan
The U.S. in South Sudan is currently working very closely with the UN, NGOs and international partners, both at the Juba level and in Nairobi. The U.S. has been seen by both sides of the conflict as an honest broker between the two. The U.S. has also been accused by both sides of aiding the other.
The UN in South Sudan
The UN mission in South Sudan was not there to deal with civil violence. Violence broke out suddenly in mid December. The violence was something new to the peacekeepers, who hadn’t before thought of aggressive peacekeeping as their mission. The UN operation was largely concerned with statebuilding. The current UN mission is divided into separate categories, such as government capacity building, standing up of new institutions, etc.
Does statebuildling represent leverage in situations like the current conflict? Does the aid and assistance given represent leverage the U.S. can use? Is it effective at all, or just on the margins, or not at all? The U.S. did not provide a clear answer to this.
The UN, in order to meet the new challenges of South Sudan, will have to organize, provide and train for a different role: aggressive peace-keeping. The mission will have to protect civilians. UN compounds will have to be secured against rebel encroachment. Protected areas will have to be patrolled. A ceasefire–when it comes–will have to be monitored and reported. It will take the UN mission a while to adjust to this very different type of mission.
Challenges to providing aid in South Sudan
Security challenges in South Sudan are the main–almost the only–obstruction to distributing aid, but logistical challenges also exist. For example, the White Nile is a highway for supplies, but all barges on the White Nile have been commandeered and can’t move relief supplies. There are few roads in South Sudan. The rainy season is upcoming (May). Now–the dry season–is the time when provisions need to be pre-positioned around the country for the coming year.
Status of current U.S. aid in South Sudan
U.S. aid is being altered by the rebel outbreak. U.S. aid had gone to the South Sudanese government. Therefore, the U.S. can’t implement this aid right now. The U.S. has considered that if violence continues the U.S. should suspend support. The U.S. committee was not certain how much U.S. aid would run to South Sudan if a new government was instituted in the event of a successful coup.
Current U.S. aid measures taking place
The U.S. has begun to fund additional flights for the UN to distribute aid, but this is expensive because it is not an organized distribution mission based on most effective and economical means. The flights are emergency, immediate, individual missions. Aid cannot be moved to an optimal degree nor as quickly using this type of method.
Thomas-Greenfield stated that the reports of mass graves has not been confirmed, and that confirmation would be the job of UN workers who would go out into the field to find out.
Refugees in South Sudan
The outflow of refugees into neighboring countries takes the problems of South Sudan into those other countries, who–given their recent histories–know well what will be the impact of refugees on their economies and societies.
The region is one that already has significant displacement of persons, and there are already pressures of dealing with such significant displacement of persons.
Uganda’s activity in South Sudan
Uganda came in at the request of South Sudan. Ugandan military has has been tasked with protecting infrastructure at the airport, on Juba road, and protecting Ugandan citizens. Uganda is prepared to aid militarily in South Sudan.
China and what China will do regarding the South Sudan crisis
China went further than it ever has in just making a statement that the sides should cease hostilities. China’s interests are actually much deeper than the U.S. or any other country regarding national security. China will therefore act, America believes, but not publicly. The U.S. seeks ways to engage China in supporting stability in South Sudan. The U.S. seeks to find common ground with China so that they can together support peace efforts in South Sudan. One expert suggestion at the committee had to do with reforming the TROIKA plus China (and India) for leverage, due to the major oil investment of China and India in South Sudan.
Other countries in South Sudan
The U.S. seeks to put collective pressure on South Sudan’s leaders during key point moments, when there needs to be a push.
Currently, South Sudan is staffed with peacekeepers from Bengal, Kenya, Nigeria, and is expecting Guineans.
South Sudanese oil
Most of the oil pumping in South Sudan has ceased, according to Thomas-Greenfield, leaving South Sudan without much to fall back on. This statement contradicts somewhat the South Sudanese government’s statements that oil production has fallen 45 000 barrels per day to 200 000 due to Unity State fighting–that is to say Upper Nile State is still producing 200 000 bpd.
The U.S. decided that South Sudan would need to have a more dynamic relationship regarding its economy. South Sudan should not just have oil production. The U.S. noted that the second largest revenue source in South Sudan was a brewery.
Droughts and floods in South Sudan
Climate change creates a threat multiplier in South Sudan because draughts and floods create negative consequences for agriculture and food security. The overwhelming majority of South Sudanese depend on agriculture. Poverty is also linked to this situation. Floods and droughts create a negative feedback loop wherein civilians fight for smaller and smaller amounts of natural resources, making it more difficult to solve the original problem. Any disruption in agricultural production–whether flood, drought, or civil violence–rolls back any progress and gains previously made. Steps must be taken to reduce the long-term impact of climate change in South Sudan. Greater resilience to floods and droughts must be created. There must be greater management of risk.
Machar and Kiir
No evidence was seen by the U.S. that the outbreak was a coup attempt by Machar. Thomas-Greenfield stated that the outbreak had been “the consequence of a huge political rift” in South Sudan.
The U.S. noted that Machar split from the SPLA in the 90s and had massacred Dinka. The U.S. also noted that party dissenters do not favor Machar; rather, party dissenters criticize the ways policy institution dissolvements have taken place during Kiir’s presidency.
The U.S. stated that Kiir must accept his burden as president and play his role more effectively. The U.S. sees Kiir, though, “for all his faults” as “the democratically elected President, and you have to build on that.” The U.S. remembered Kiir’s past. Kiir had been proud of and admired for creating unity among all the groups in the run-up to the formation of South Sudan. This was one of the reasons Kiir was highly supported. Kiir has changed direction since then. Kiir now sees all critics as enemies. Kiir’s original contribution is being lost.
Dinka and Nuer tribes
The tribal question was of interest to the U.S. 30-35 percent of South Sudan is Dinka, although that group contains many subgroups. Nuer is the second largest ethnic group. There are 65 ethnic groups in South Sudan. There was reference to the problem of possible all-out tribal war as being “a numbers thing,” and in which the U.S. should “forget the mandate.”
Accountability for humanitarian crimes
The U.S. stated that those actors who are guilty of violence should not be part of a new government. Charles Taylor and Liberia were remembered. The U.S. wants to see an example set that war criminals will be tried in the international court.
U.S. selling arms to South Sudan
In January 2012 Obama added South Sudan to the U.S. list of countries eligible to buy weapons from the U.S., although the EU maintained an arms embargo on South Sudan. The U.S. authorized $9 million in weapons sales to South Sudan, and $3 million were actually shipped to South Sudan.
Possible new restrictions on weapons sales to South Sudan
In light of the fact that there is a risk that the weapons will be used to commit atrocities, the U.S. is considering suspending or limiting weapons sales to South Sudan. There was a call for a review of U.S. arms exports in general, which weapons were used to commit human rights violations. A statement was made that the U.S. has the responsibility for longterm harm if the U.S. does sell weapons.
The video of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington Friday:
Two opposite court judgements have been handed down regarding the NSA surveillance program in 10 days by two US district judges in two states.
On December 27, US District Judge William Pauley in New York ruled in ACLU v. James R. Clapper that the NSA’s metadata program is lawful under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The ACLU sought a preliminary injunction against the Government’s program, but this was denied.
On December 16, US District Judge Richard L. Leon in DC ruled in Klayman v. Obama that the NSA program was “likely unconstitutional.” Leon found against the NSA’s metadata program and granted a preliminary injunction, but stayed the ruling to allow for appeals.
James R. Clapper was filed June 11 by the American Civil Liberties Union against the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. Days earlier, Edward Snowden’s leaks were published by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, revealing the NSA’s telephone data collection program, which records in dragnet the numbers and duration of calls Americans dial, but not the content of those calls.
Pauley cited several reasons for his decision.
Pauly framed the NSA program within a group of counter-measures the government had effected in order to combat the threat posed by a new enemy: terror networks. The September 11 terrorist attacks, Pauly reasoned, might have been prevented if the metadata program had been in place at that time.
Pauly stated that the “blunt tool”–the metadata program–works only because it collects everything.
Pauly found that, putting aside the public and government discussion and litigation taking place in the wake of the unauthorized disclosures of Edward Snowden, the question Pauly was tasked to deal with in James R. Clapper was specifically whether the bulk telephony program is lawful. Pauly found that it was lawful, but noted explicitly that “the question of whether that program should be conducted is for the other two coordinate branches of Government to decide,” referring to the legislative and executive branches of government.
Pauly concluded by quoting Justice Jackson: “the Bill of Rights is not a suicide-pact,” observing that the Forth Amendment right against search and seizure is “fundamental, but not absolute.” Pauly framed the question of government surveillance in terms of reasonableness. Pauly cited the voluntary giving of information more personal than telephony metadata by most Americans to various trans-national corporations. There was no evidence that the government had used any of its collected data for any purpose other than investigating terrorist attacks – violations, Pauly said, stemmed from human error and the complex nature of the information tool – and that the metadata program was subject to responsible oversight and monitoring. Pauly reiterated his concern over the “cost of missing such a [useful piece of information against a terrorist plan]” that could be horrific, referring to the 9/11 attacks.
Pauley dismissed the ACLU’s complaint and denied the ACLU’s motion for injunction.
The ACLU commented after Pauley’s decision, complaining that the decision misinterpreted relevant statutes and understated the privacy implications of the NSA program. The ACLU also complained that Pauley’s ruling relied on and misapplied the precedent of Smith v. Maryland (1979), which is the precedent referred to in cases where third-party disclosures are at issue.
Smith v. Maryland continued a tradition in U.S. law that “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.” In Smith, the Supreme Court found that no warrant is required to obtain information from phone companies for metadata those companies hold as business records. FISA has also upheld this ruling in secret, one-sided courts conducted since 2006.
Klayman v. Obama, ruled on by Judge Leon on December 16, had an opposite result. Leon called the NSA program “almost Orwellian” and said that the program probably violated the Fourth Amendment. Leon observed that James Madison would be “aghast” at the program.
Leon stated that the government had not shown any case where the program actually stopped an immanent terrorist attack. This function is the primary rationale for the program that Leon found to probably infringe on Americans’ constitutional rights.
Leon noted Smith v. Maryland, but found that the meaning of telephone use had changed substantially since the 1979 case–beyond what could even be conceived at that date–and so should not be relied on in the trial.
Leon warned the government that he was providing six months for the government to prepare for eventual defeat if the appeals Leon expected the government to make did not succeed.
Klayman was brought by a conservative lawyer, Larry Klayman and the father of a soldier killed in 2011 in Afghanistan, Charles Strange.
Law Professor at George Washington University, Orin Kerr, commented on the two rulings, calling them “dream rulings” for each interested party respectively, “Point and counterpoint” of the issue. Kerr explained that both opinions were material for the appeals courts to take up.
President Obama has voiced his intention to state publicly in January what reforms to the NSA program he supports. Obama’s personally appointed review panel recommended last week that the NSA should conduct significant reforms and no longer store the metadata in question.
From here, the losing parties of the two trials on NSA surveillance will proceed to appeals courts; the ACLU said that it intended to appeal James R. Clapper and the government is expected to appeal Klayman in the upcoming months.