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Spam and Spying

A talk with Hope yesterday about The Lives of Others reminded me, too, about a recent Slashdot story about National Security Letters, and today there was a post about no-fly-list equivalents for banking and commerce. Oh, and spam.

Toward the beginning of The Lives of Others Wiesler notices that Dreymann's neighbor botices what they (the Stasi) are doing, and so knocks on her door, confronts her, and tells her that if she says anything, her son will lose his medical school position. And by just uttering these lines Wiesler makes her into a liar by omission at the least, for when she encounters Dreymann she cannot say what she feels, what she knows. She cannot discuss, cannot follow her conscience, etc.

Drug Spam
recent drug spam ... USA licensed pharmacy?

A note and aside regarding the spam: they say “The USA Licensed Pharmacy”—the? Definite article, an exclusionary term that indicates only one? Not a or one of the? At least they use pretty pictures. And this “USA Licensed Pharmacy?”—gifted with a Hong Kong url that is just a way to host the image and count image/email views/clicks and forward people to “Canadian Heath&Care Mall” via a few redirects ...

They have an “anti-spam policy” and as anyone with two brain cells to rub together can tell you, if you need such a policy or to publicize such a policy on your site, it's because you are a spammer.

And what is wrong with the people of this country? Why are so many of them on the same damned meds? One has to wonder ... how many of the diseases treated by the drugs advertised, while real diseases (something I do not dispute, lest crazy drugged up soccer moms on three types of anti-depressents start pounding on my door ... oh, and: Restless Leg Syndrome ...), are not genetic in nature or caused by a bacteria or virus, but, rather, environmental and/or lifestyle related. See, for example, so many lung cancer and heart disease problems: smokers and fat fat people. Quit smoking and and don't eat so much red meat, butter, and Twinkies™ The question is simple: I wonder how many of these drugs are merely treating symptoms for “diseases” that people could “cure” by changing the way they live, but which they won't do because they're addicted to 1) harmful lifestyles, 2) the high of these drugs and 3) being irresponsible victims and patients and sick people—pity me!

MS-NBC reports about “[o]rdinary customers flagged as terrorists” and discusses a list of “specially designated nationals” (SDN) used to block the transactions of terrorists and drug dealers, a practice that goes back before 9/11, but now such a list is used more extensively/broadly, has been greatly expanded (regarding the number of names on it and the circumstances in which it is applied), and—boy, who didn't see this coming?—it has quite a few false positives. The SDN list itself is available online from the U.S. Treasury, so go see if your name is on there. Oh, that's right, if you've got a Western/European family name (some hispanics don't count, though), you likely won't find yourself on this list as a false positive. And we also know that no bad guy (gal) would use a fake name, which isnn't on this list, to conduct his (her) business. After all, those, 9/11 folks, they just came into the U.S. wearing signs screaming “I'm a terrorist ... put me on a watchlist.” As usual, all these lists are good for is catching the least important, least intelligent criminals who don't take even the most modest of safety/security precautions and who, thus, can be caught without such police-state measures, and, of course, they're good at creating a police-state that treats regular citizens as potential criminals at all times.

Which brings me back to those wonderful National Security Letters that the FBI has been abusing. Back in the 90s right-wing nutjobs and even more moderate conservatives referred to the FBI under Clinton as jack-booted thugs (which they were, mind you, but that's because they're the FBI—the same FBI run by Hoover, the same FBI that has never cared about civil liberties—, not because they were under Clinton at the time); now you don't hear those same conservatives ranting about the FBI now that Bush is (still) in power, yet clearly the abuses have only gotten worse. Before it was the FBI and ATF taking town organized crime and separatists with weapons stashes; you know, the type who actually launched domestic terrorist attacks (OK City), killed abortion doctors, and the like. Now it's just about anybody, reasonable grounds for doing so no longer required.

The scary part about these NSLs comes from a recent Washington Post story (March 23, 2007) by an anonymous contributer. I'll quote the first paragraph:

The Justice Department's inspector general revealed on March 9 that the FBI has been systematically abusing one of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act: the expanded power to issue “national security letters.” It no doubt surprised most Americans to learn that between 2003 and 2005 the FBI issued more than 140,000 specific demands under this provision—demands issued without a showing of probable cause or prior judicial approval—to obtain potentially sensitive information about U.S. citizens and residents. It did not, however, come as any surprise to me.

Receiving such a letter put the author of the piece under a gag order, and he was not able to talk to anyone (but his lawyer) about it, and, as he points out, even though the letter is no longer relevant and the FBI is no longer pursuing a case, they have not lifted the gag order. That this is an obscene case of prior restraint of speech is obvious to all but the most deluded, who somehow value The State as an ideal. 140,000 specific demands. You know, there is something really, really wrong with your country if you need that many secret, specific demands to fight “terrorism.” If you need the death penalty to punish or deter when all but the most barbaric of developing nations have given it up. If you have the highest incarceration rate in the world. If whole ethnic and gender groups (specifically black males) are disenfranchised because of felony convictions for drug use, the same thing for which politicians and rich people (yes, you, Mr. Coke-using President) get off without punishment at all.

And so when friends and colleagues go off to watch The Lives of Others at Westgate or similar cinemas across the country, I wonder if they, too, will see in the movie less a document of times past than a distorted fun-house mirror.

The GDR (DDR) didn't say publicly “Hey, we're a repressive police state!”—the official rhetoric domestically and internationally was one of freedom, equality, and utopia. Sounds rather familiar to me.

—March 27 2007