Monday, March 27, 2017

Warrantless Searches Of U.S. Citizens Under Scrutiny

Escalating concerns about customs officials demanding access to travelers’ cellphones, tablets and laptops have prompted a leading free speech watchdog to take the government to court, to disclose its rules for digital privacy at the border.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has filed a freedom of information lawsuit seeking to obtain the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) rules for “suspicionless” searches of mobile devices from US citizens and non-citizens alike.  The lawsuit seeks internal DHS directives for compelling travelers to surrender their devices; data establishing the frequency with which they occur;  procedures on what is done with the information stored on those devices, particularly when the devices belong to first amendment-protected professionals such as journalists; and any privacy or anti-discrimination assessment DHS has performed to audit its policies.

Concern about the device searches pre-date the Trump administration. DHS first began permitting warrantless searches of U.S. citizens at the border back in 2009.  The searches intensified toward the end of Obama’s tenure (fewer than 5,000 searches in 2015, growing to 25,000 in 2016).

The Trump administration’s focus on border security has intensified the trend. After the White House introduced executive orders cracking down on immigration and foreign travel, particularly among Hispanics and Muslims, DHS conducted 5,000 device searches in February alone.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Islamaphobia or Big Brother Run Amok?

The Georgia Department of Public Health has refused to issue an infant a birth certificate with the last name the couple chose for their daughter: Allah.   State officials say the child's name — ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah — does not fit the naming conventions set up by state law. They say that ZalyKha's last name should either be Handy (mother's last name), Walk (father's last name) or a combination of the two.

The ACLU of Georgia has filed suit on behalf of the baby's parents, who say they can't get a Social Security number for their daughter because they don't have a birth certificate. They also anticipate problems with access to health care, schools and travel. Already, they said, they had to cancel a trip to Mexico.  "We have to make sure that the state isn't overstepping their boundaries," Walk said. "It is just plainly unfair and a violation of our rights."

ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Andrea Young said the state's decision is an example of government overreach and a violation of the First and 14th amendments. In addition, Handy and Walk have a three-year-old son who was given a birth certificate for his name, Masterful Allah, with no problem.  

Carlton F.W. Larson, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, has written extensively about parental rights to name their children.  "Naming your child is an expressive action," Larson said. "And the idea that you get to name your child, and not the state, is a fundamental right. The state would need to have a compelling reason for rejecting a name, and I don't see it. I would hope that (Handy and Walk) would win this case."

Friday, March 24, 2017


In a devastating setback for the baby president, Trump told Paul Ryan to pull his Obamacare Repeal bill, saying that he would now move onto other things and blaming everyone else in the world but himself.  In the end, wonderboy Ryan just couldn't deliver the votes.  Over 60 times previously, House Republicans passed bills to repeal Obamacare-- but when the chips were down they failed miserably.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Trump had issued an ultimatum to the House, demanding a vote on what he had identified as a top legislative priority ― and threatening to move on to other legislative items if they refused.  Trump’s demand was an audacious act of political brinkmanship, designed to rattle and win over dissident Republican lawmakers who were objecting to the bill. But the gambit failed, and it failed spectacularly.

Despite their repeated claims that Obamacare was a disaster and was spiralling out of control, both Trump and Ryan indicated they were now ready to move on from health care to other issues.  The nation's health care couldn't have been so catastrophic, I guess.  Even in defeat, the two GOP leaders were singing from different sheets of music-- Ryan saying they would focus next on immigration, and Trump saying they would next move to tax reform.  Get your act together, boys!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Male GOP Decide On Women's Health Care

Mike Pence tweeted a photo of a group of Republicans discussing whether the Trumpcare bill should mandate that health insurance plans provide essential benefits, including maternity services.  As one would expect, the reaction was immediate.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Discovery That Hate Groups Are Profiting From Google Leads To Boycott

At least four major U.S. firms have pulled millions of dollars in advertising from Google’s platform after it was revealed that their ads were appearing next to extremist content.

An investigation by the Times found major brands were appearing next to YouTube videos promoting extremist views - generating revenues for the creators. 
The initial investigation led more than 250 British brands to pull their advertising.

Despite Google’s efforts to contain the controversy, it appears to have now caught the attention of the U.S. advertising industry - creating a huge problem for Google as it seeks to reassure brands their ad spend is not funding hate groups.

The Times is reporting that AT&T and Verizon, as well as car rental company Enterprise and pharmaceutical giant GSK, have withdrawn all non-search advertising.

The company has apologized and promised better tools for advertisers.

According to The Times, Verizon’s advertisements were appearing along side videos made by Wagdi Ghoneim, an Egyptian cleric who had been banned from the U.S. over extremism, and Hanif Qureshi, whose teachings inspired the assassination of a Pakistani politician.

“We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate,” AT&T said in a statement.  "Until Google can ensure this won’t happen again, we are removing our ads from Google’s non-search platforms.”

In response to the latest boycott, Google said: “We’ve begun an extensive review of our advertising policies and have made a public commitment to put in place changes that give brands more control over where their ads appear.”

Monday, March 20, 2017

Muslim Electronics Ban

Now Trump is banning electronics from select Muslim countries (as if Muslim travelers themselves weren't enough).  Two questions:

1.  If the threat of explosive devices in laptops is so great, why aren't they being banned on all incoming flights?

2.  Aren't x-ray detectors in airports worldwide supposed to be able to detect explosives?

Or is Trump really attempting to benefit U.S. airlines (whose flights aren't affected by the ban) by driving customers away from foreign carriers?


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