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Eye 1

Echoing the IRS targeting scandal: FCC to send snooping monitors into newsrooms

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© tomfernandez28.com
The IRS targeting scandal is of course multi-faceted, but one of its key elements was the use of comprehensive IRS questionnaires to determine everything from tea-party donor and member lists to the actions and activities of family members and even identifying "persons or entities with which you maintain a close relationship." In other words, the Obama administration IRS was abusing its regulatory authority to essentially discern the inner workings of an entire political and cultural movement.

Last week, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai disclosed the existence of the FCC's new "Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs," a study that would send FCC researchers (monitors?) into newsrooms across the nation to determine, among other things, whether news organizations are meeting citizens "actual" as opposed to "perceived" information needs. As designed, the study empowers researchers to not only ask a series of questions of news staff, it also provides (in pages 10 and 11) advice for gaining access to employees even when broadcasters and their Human Resources refuse to provide confidential employee information. The Obama administration FCC is abusing its regulatory authority by attempting to discern the inner workings of American newsrooms.

Bizarro Earth

Drinking water intakes closed after oil spill shuts down 65 miles of Mississippi River

© Unknown
An oil spill has shut down a 65-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Public drinking water intakes were shut down in St. Charles Parish as a precaution, officials said, and the Port of New Orleans was also closed.

Officials assured the public that drinking water "remains safe" in St. Charles Parish, and officials in St. James Parish said intake valves there were protected within hours of the incident.

The spill came from a barge carrying light crude that was struck Saturday afternoon by a tugboat near Vacherie, reported the Baton Rouge Advocate.

Coast Guard officials said they were unsure how much oil had spilled, but they stressed that only a sheen of oil had been reported on the river's surface.

The Coast Guard is working with Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality and ES&H, an environmental cleanup company, to clean up the spill.

They were also deploying booms to prevent the oil from spreading and using planes and helicopters to see where the oil has gone, the newspaper reported.

Eye 1

Minority report in action: Chicago's new police computer predicts crimes, but is it racist?

Chicago police say its computers can tell who will be a violent criminal, but critics say it's nothing more than racial profiling
© Dylan C. Lathrop
When the Chicago Police Department sent one of its commanders to Robert McDaniel's home last summer, the 22-year-old high school dropout was surprised. Though he lived in a neighborhood well-known for bloodshed on its streets, he hadn't committed a crime or interacted with a police officer recently. And he didn't have a violent criminal record, nor any gun violations. In August, he incredulously told the Chicago Tribune, "I haven't done nothing that the next kid growing up hadn't done." Yet, there stood the female police commander at his front door with a stern message: if you commit any crimes, there will be major consequences. We're watching you.

What McDaniel didn't know was that he had been placed on the city's "heat list" - an index of the roughly 400 people in the city of Chicago supposedly most likely to be involved in violent crime. Inspired by a Yale sociologist's studies and compiled using an algorithm created by an engineer at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the heat list is just one example of the experiments the CPD is conducting as it attempts to push policing into the 21st century.

Predictive analytical systems have been tested by police departments all over the country for years now, but there's perhaps no urban police force that's further along - or better funded - than the CPD in its quest to predict crime before it happens. As Commander Jonathan Lewin, who's in charge of information technology for the CPD, told The Verge: "This [program] will become a national best practice. This will inform police departments around the country and around the world on how best to utilize predictive policing to solve problems. This is about saving lives."

But the jury's still out about whether Chicago's heat list and its other predictive policing experiments are worth the invasions of privacy they might cause and the unfair profiling they could blatantly encourage. As Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Verge: "My fear is that these programs are creating an environment where police can show up at anyone's door at any time for any reason."

Attention

Americans rising up against government

© Rainier Ehrhardt, AP
A protester holds a “Don't Tread on Me” flag during last month’s protest outside the statehouse in Columbia, S.C.

America's ruling class has been experiencing more pushback than usual lately. It just might be a harbinger of things to come.

First, in response to widespread protests last week, the Department of Homeland Security canceled plans to build a nationwide license plate database. Many local police departments already use license-plate readers that track every car as it passes traffic signals or pole-mounted cameras. Specially equipped police cars even track cars parked on the street or even in driveways.

The DHS put out a bid request for a system that would have gone national, letting the federal government track millions of people's comings and goings just as it tracks data about every phone call we make. But the proposal was suddenly withdrawn last week, with the unconvincing explanation that it was all a mistake. I'm inclined to agree with TechDirt's Tim Cushing, who wrote: "The most plausible explanation is that someone up top at the DHS or ICE suddenly realized that publicly calling for bids on a nationwide surveillance system while nationwide surveillance systems are being hotly debated was ... a horrible idea."

Bacon

Divorced from reality: UK butcher forced to stop displaying meat and game because 'townies' object

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Before the protests: A typical display at the butcher's, with pigs' heads among the meat and game on show
For more than 100 years, butchers in the market town of Sudbury have proudly displayed their meats in their shop windows.

But now one has been forced to stop hanging game such as pheasants, partridges and rabbits in his shopfront after a vicious campaign, blamed on 'townies' who have recently moved in.

Staff at JBS Family Butchers, which has sawdust on the floor and takes great pride in its link to local suppliers and the countryside way of life, spent hours every week perfecting their window displays featuring meat and game.

Comment: That people are so afraid of death, and choose to totally deny the birth/death cycle of the living system, is a sign of the times indeed. For a much more in-depth discussion on this fundamental issue, we recommend reading:
The Vegetarian Myth


Che Guevara

Hysteria in Spain: woman is convicted of inciting terror over Twitter

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Alba González Camacho, 21, posted messages calling for politicians to be killed.
The line between youthful rebelliousness and something more dangerous is not always clear. But in her angry musings on Twitter, Alba González Camacho, 21, who describes herself as a "very normal girl," sailed across it. After she posted messages calling for a far-left terrorist organization to return to arms and kill politicians, Spain's national court convicted her of inciting terrorism using a social media network.

It was the first verdict of its kind involving Twitter posts in Spain, and the case has touched on issues of where precisely the cultural, political and legal red lines lie in a country that not long ago lived under both the grip of Fascist dictatorship and the threat of leftist terrorism.

The case is also one of a recent handful that have pushed social media into courtrooms worldwide and raised issues of the limits of speech in the ether of the Internet. In January, two people received prison sentences in Britain for posting threatening messages against a feminist campaigner. The same month, a federal judge in the United States sentenced a man to 16 months in prison for threatening on Twitter to kill President Obama.

Headphones

Hacking trial: Rebekah Brooks acquitted on 1 of 5 charges

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© Sang Tan/AP
Former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks moved from the defendants' dock to the witness stand Thursday, arguing her innocence of phone-hacking charges in public for the first time.

Almost four months into a court case that has put Britain's tabloids on trial, Brooks began her defense, claiming that while editor she had never even heard of the private investigator who has admitted prolifically hacking phones on behalf of her underlings.

Brooks, the former chief executive of Murdoch's British newspaper unit, spoke in a quiet and occasionally hesitant voice and gestured frequently with long-fingered hands as she began what is expected to be weeks of testimony.

She said that, as editor of a Sunday tabloid with a staff of 170, she had not known that phone hacking was taking place.

"It's impossible for an editor to know every source of every story," Brooks said.

She said the News of the World's investigations unit, depicted by prosecutors as a hotbed of illegal activity, used subterfuge and "investigative tools ... but always with a very good public interest."

Heart - Black

Corrupt 'Kids for Cash' judge sentenced - ruined more than 2,000 lives

© Bill Tarutis for the Times Leader
Sandy Fonzo of Wilkes-Barre screams at former Judge Mark Ciavarella saying that he was responsible for her son's suicide on the steps of the federal courthouse in Scranton in 2011.
Hillary Transue, 14, created a fake, humorous Myspace page about her school's vice principal.

Justin Bodnar, 12, cursed at another student's mother.

Ed Kenzakoski, 17, did nothing at all.

It didn't matter.

As we see in the documentary Kids for Cash, which opens Friday, all three Luzerne County, Pa. teens met the same fate for their minor infractions.

They were hauled into court with their parents, sometimes ­after being persuaded - coerced, according to at least one parent - by police to waive their right to ­legal counsel.

They were brought before Judge Mark A. Ciavarella and, without warning or the chance to offer a defense, found themselves pronounced guilty, shackled and sentenced to months of detention in a cockroach-infested jail.

They were trapped in the juvenile justice system for years, robbing most of them of their entire high-school experience.

Folder

IRS leaked erroneous tax records to derail my Senate bid - Christine O'Donnell

© Associated Press
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell's confidential tax documents were leaked to the press.
Whether Democrat or Republican, do you really want your private tax information leaked with impunity?

On March 9, 2010, around 10 a.m., I announced my plans to run for senate representing Delaware.

Later that same day, my office received a call from a reporter asking about my taxes.

It's since come out, after a halting and unenthusiastic investigation, that a Delaware Department of Revenue employee named David Smith accessed my records that day at approximately 2 p.m. - out of curiosity, he says.

That these records ended up in the hands of the press is just a coincidence, the IRS claims.

To add insult to injury, the tax records given to the reporters weren't even accurate. I had never fallen behind on my taxes, and a supposed tax lien was on a house I no longer owned.

The lien was highly publicized and used as political ammunition by my political opponents. The IRS later withdrew the lien and blamed it on a computer glitch but, at that point, the damage - and the invasion of my privacy - was done.

I wasn't the only one preyed upon by the IRS, of course. The agency admits to targeting conservative nonprofits, asking them for membership lists and other data not required while delaying their tax-exempt status. And opponents of President Obama have been subjected to audits soon after criticizing the administration.

What we all have in common: no answers.

Handcuffs

Craigslist killing suspect's dad: She's a liar

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© WNEP
The father of a Pennsylvania woman who with her newlywed husband is charged with killing a man she met through Craigslist said he would support his daughter's execution if she is found guilty and even hold the hand of the victim's widow.

Sonny Dean also told The Daily Item newspaper on Wednesday that he believes his 19-year-old daughter, Miranda Barbour, may have been involved in one other murder besides the Nov. 11 fatal stabbing of Troy LaFerrara, 42, in Sunbury.

But he cast further doubt on Barbour's claim in a prison interview that she had killed more than 20 other people. Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini said earlier this week that investigators have so far been unable to substantiate her claim.

Police said LaFerrara met Barbour through her Craigslist ad, which offered companionship in exchange for money.

Investigators allege the young woman stabbed LaFerrara, of Port Trevorton, about 20 times in her parked car as her husband, Elytte Barbour, held a cord tight against LaFerrara's neck from the back seat and then dumped his body in an alley.