Drain the swamp?

In February, Trump ordered major federal agencies to set up deregulation teams, to fulfill a campaign promise to cut red tape for businesses, including major players in the production of pesticides.

Pesticide lobbyists find welcome mat at USDA under Trump

by Robert Faturechi, ProPublica, and Danielle Ivory, The New York Times

At a private meeting in September, congressional aides asked Rebeckah Adcock, a top official at the Department of Agriculture, to reveal the identities of the people serving on the deregulation team she leads at the agency.

Teams like Adcock’s, created under an executive order by President Trump, had been taking heat from Democratic lawmakers over their secrecy. What little was publicly known suggested that some of the groups’ members had deep ties to the industries being regulated.

Adcock, a former pesticide industry executive, brushed off the request, according to House aides familiar with the exchange, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. Making the names public, they recalled her saying, would trigger a deluge of lobbyists.

In fact, interviews and visitor logs at the Agriculture Department showed that Adcock had already been meeting with lobbyists, including those from her former employer, the pesticide industry’s main trade group, CropLife America, and its members. CropLife pushes the agenda of pesticide makers in Washington, including easing rules related to safety standards and clean water.

Adcock, who left the trade group in April, maintained contact with her former industry allies despite a signed ethics agreement promising to avoid for one year issues involving CropLife as well as matters that she had lobbied about in the two years before joining the government.

In one meeting, Adcock discussed issues banned by the ethics agreement with an executive who had been her lobbying partner weeks earlier at CropLife, according to the accounts of participants and the visitor logs, obtained through a public records request by The New York Times and ProPublica.

Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the USDA who also spoke on behalf of Adcock, said she had not violated her ethics agreement by meeting with her former industry allies. He also denied that Adcock had discussed issues related to her previous lobbying at the meeting, or that she had suggested that her deregulation team would be swamped by lobbyists if names of its members were released.

“The career ethics officers at USDA agree that this is not a violation of the ethics agreement that Rebeckah Adcock signed,” said Murtaugh, citing a 2009 memo by the Office of Government Ethics.

Others dispute that interpretation of the memo; the ethics office declined to say whether the memo applied to the meeting, citing its policy not to discuss individual cases.

Adcock was scheduled to appear Tuesday before subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is tracking Trump’s deregulation effort. In announcing the hearing, the committee, led by Republicans, applauded the deregulation teams for making an “unprecedented reduction in the federal regulatory footprint.”

Republican members of the committee declined to comment about Adcock’s activities. Representative Elijah E. Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, said that if Adcock had violated her ethics agreement, it contributed “to a troubling pattern of President Trump’s failure to ‘drain the swamp.”

In February, Trump ordered major federal agencies to set up the deregulation teams, to fulfill a campaign promise to cut red tape for businesses. Corporations and industry groups quickly hired lawyers, lobbyists and economists to help them influence the process with billions of dollars at stake. The regulations under review cover a range of subjects, including the cleanliness of drinking water and the safety of highways.

The Trump administration has declined to make public the names of many members of the teams. It has also generally not provided records related to the teams’ calendars and correspondence.

A joint investigation published in July by The Times and ProPublica found that the teams included former employees of industry-financed organizations that oppose environmental regulations; lawyers who have represented companies in cases against federal regulators; and staff members of so-called political dark-money groups. Some are reviewing rules that their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit personally if certain regulations are undone. In all, the two news organizations have identified 112 current and former team members, including 41 with potential conflicts.

At the meeting on Capitol Hill in September, Adcock lamented the scrutiny that her team was under, a House aide familiar with the exchange said. Adcock cited, in particular, public records requests for calendars and emails.

The Times and ProPublica asked for those records this year and have received only a few. Most other federal agencies have been similarly unresponsive. The visitor logs that have been obtained are often handwritten sign-in sheets. They appear to show only a fraction of meetings, and many are illegible. It is not known from the logs, for example, if Adcock or her team had met with environmental or science groups in addition to the industry representatives.

In response to questions from reporters about possible conflicts of interest, agency officials across the government have said the deregulation teams are abiding by strict ethical standards, including rules that bar them from working on issues directly affecting recent employers.

Records received through a Freedom of Information Act request show that Adcock entered such an agreement on April 26, pledging that she would “not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which I know CropLife America is a party or represents a party” for a year.

But in May, Kellie Bray, a lobbyist for CropLife, arrived for a meeting with Adcock, according to the visitor logs.

The two knew each other well. From 2010 to early this year, Adcock and Bray lobbied together for CropLife, which represents Syngenta and Monsanto, among other pesticide makers.

Disclosure records show that during those years the two advocated for the industry’s agenda at agencies, including the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency, and in Congress. They pushed CropLife’s interests on bills and regulations relating to the impact of pesticides on water and human health.

Adcock’s departure from CropLife left the trade association short a seasoned lobbyist, but gave it a valuable contact in the top ranks of the USDA.

Bray said in an interview that in May, Adcock had met with her and the Southern Crop Production Association, a CropLife affiliate. Bray said she had sat in on the meeting but hadn’t talked.

“I facilitated the introduction,” she said. “That is all.”

After the meeting, the Southern Crop Production Association, which represents pesticide manufacturers, formulators and distributors across the South, said on its website that “Rebeckah has an exceptional understanding regarding the many issues facing agriculture due, in large part, to her previous position with CLA,” using the acronym for CropLife America.

Among the topics discussed, according to the trade group’s website, were the tests that pesticides must undergo to prove they are safe and rules governing their use near water sources. The trade group did not respond to requests for comment. Bray confirmed that the group had discussed regulations about the use of pesticides near water.

Discussing policy related to the impact of pesticides on water is deemed off limits under Adcock’s ethics agreement. Murtaugh, the USDA spokesman, said Adcock disputed that she had discussed any off-limits subject.

“If any participant declared concern regarding any issue precluded by Adcock’s agreement, she politely and firmly instructed them it was not a matter she could discuss or assist with,” he said.

He also said Adcock had instructed Bray not to participate in the meeting and did not recall her being in the room.

Murtaugh said a provision in the memorandum from the Office of Government Ethics allowed an appointee like Adcock to attend meetings with a former employer or client so long as five or more other stakeholders participated. In the May meeting, he said, four of the Southern Crop Production Association representatives were affiliated with individual companies: Syngenta, Albaugh, Triangle Chemical and Crop Production Services.

However, three of those companies are also members of the CropLife trade group, Adcock’s former employer. And they were attending in their capacity as the executive committee of the Southern Crop Production Association, according to the association’s website, not as individual company executives.

Walter M. Shaub Jr., who headed the Office of Government Ethics under President Barack Obama and during the early months of the Trump administration, said the provision cited by the USDA did not apply to the ethics regulation in Adcock’s agreement. Even if it did apply, he said, the meeting lacked a necessary diversity because the participants were all affiliated with one trade group. He also said it was irrelevant that Bray hadn’t spoken.

“If she brought them there, signed into the sign-in log, attended the meeting that she may or may not have set up, it definitely counts as a meeting with her,” said Shaub, who has been critical of the Trump administration.

Before Adcock worked at CropLife, she served as a lobbyist for the farming industry at the American Farm Bureau Federation. Among its donors is Farm Credit, a lending institution. In July, Adcock met with a delegation from Farm Credit, according to a participant.

One of the executives who attended — Jeremy Brown, president of Broadview Agriculture, a Texas cotton producer — said in an interview that he knew Adcock from the Farm Bureau. For those who did not know her, Adcock explained her past lobbying on behalf of the farming industry, and she asked for recommendations on regulatory changes, he said.

“Any time you have people already familiar with the industry, it helps,” Brown said. “They can hopefully get their feet on the ground and get the work in.”

He said he had pushed Adcock to get cottonseed reclassified as an oil seed crop so cotton producers could be eligible again for certain government subsidies if revenue dropped. He also discussed what he termed overreach on clean-water rules.

“She was taking notes, being really receptive,” Brown said.

Another highlight, he said, was the access the group enjoyed. Never before had he attended a meeting in the private gathering room just outside the office of the secretary of agriculture.

“I’ve been to the USDA a couple other times,” Brown said, “and this was the first time I’ve been able to go to what they call the Cage.” §

Robert Faturechi is a reporter at ProPublica covering money in politics. Danielle Ivory is a New York Times reporter covering the intersection of business and government, including contracts and regulation.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for its newsletter. This story was co-published with The New York Times, and is published here with permission.

Stop the malignant use of US military

U.S. Army Rangers, assigned to 2nd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment, prepare for extraction during Task Force Training on Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif. Rangers constantly train to maintain their tactical proficiency. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock/Not Reviewed)

Last month, Secretary of Defense James Mattis warned that if Congress doesn’t “remove the defense caps,” he said, “then we’re questioning whether or not America has the ability to survive.” This claim that insufficient increases in Pentagon spending threatens American security is flatly wrong. The real and present danger to our national security is the unecessary use of U.S. military power abroad.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis

There are two key ways the faulty use of combat power abroad continues to deteriorate our security. The first is the purpose for which the military is used. The preamble to the Constitution explains that the military is intended to “provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Further, it decrees that Congress alone has the power to declare war. Today, Congress has fully ceded its responsibilities; the Executive branch has assumed virtually sole discretion for the deployment of the military.

The second and more troubling misuse of the military are the missions they are given to execute. For decades, the armed forces have been routinely employed, not for the “common defense,” but for the benefit of other nations or for purposes with no apparent connection to the security of our country.

The armed forces should only be used to defend American vital national interests—our territorial integrity and prosperity—and only committed when genuine diplomatic efforts have been fully exhausted.

Congress and the American people should debate and decide whether there is a legitimate threat to our vital interests, if the crisis is solvable by military means with clear and attainable objectives, if the resources to succeed are affordable, and if we have a sound strategy to achieve the desired political end state to safely extricate ourselves within a reasonable period of time.

With Congress on the sidelines, the Trump Administration and its two predecessors have egregiously failed on all three points. There is little wonder, then, that the use of the military has not enhanced American security or prosperity.

Presently, the Trump Administration publicly employs the military on active combat missions of one type or another in Niger, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Djibouti, and Nigeria (there are also scores of classified combat missions for Special Operations Forces about which the public knows nothing). Most of these missions have no relation to U.S. national security whatsoever; others have thread-bare associations at best.

These operations consume tens of billions of dollars each year, cost the lives of U.S. service personnel, and divert resources and manpower away from preparation to defend against potential threats which could pose a legitimate threat to U.S. security.

Moreover, even in operations that were tactically successful, we sometimes have perversely inflicted strategic defeats on U.S. interests. For example, the famed Iraqi surge of 2007 did result in a dramatic decrease in U.S. casualties, but enabled then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to systematically purge his army of rival Sunni officers. That led in 2014 to his army disintegrating in the face of ISIS attacks.

In restoring Iraqi sovereignty over ISIS, Baghdad enlisted the use of U.S. air power, ground controllers, and Iranian-backed militias––including the actual use of Iranian troops in Iraq. Iranian military advisors and troops also helped Baghdad crush recent Kurdish attempts at independence ––after the U.S. military helped the Kurds defeat ISIS in Mosul. Iranian influence over Iraq is today pervasive. None of that would have been possible without U.S. military operations since 2003.

The time has come for a major overhaul of American foreign and defense policies. We must abandon nation-building and meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. Our national security objectives in the Middle East can be more effectively accomplished via active and robust intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance efforts.

American affairs abroad should be redirected away from an obsessive attempt to solve problems using lethal combat power and instead focus on expanding U.S. economic opportunity and beneficial trade policies. Core functions of the U.S. government are to defend our population and facilitate a healthy economy. Misusing the military is counter to both objectives. §

Daniel Davis, a former Army lieutenant colonel with four combat deployments, is a defense expert at Defense Priorities, the Washington think tank. Follow him @DanielLDavis1. This article is published with permission from Breaking Defense.

It’s not just O’Reilly and Weinstein

Sexual violence is a ‘global pandemic’

by  and 

The recent exposure of widespread sexual predation in the American media industry, from Harvey Weinstein to Bill O’Reilly, has elicited shock and sparked debate on violence against women in the United States.

Sexual harassment isn’t the exclusive domain of show biz big shots. It remains alarmingly prevalent nationwide, even as other crimes are generally decreasing nationwide.

In the U.S., a 2006 study found that 27 percent of college women reported some form of forced sexual contact – ranging from kissing to anal intercourse – after enrolling in school. This sexual violence is heavily underreported, with just 20 percent of female student victims reporting the crime to law enforcement.

Nor is sexual harassment limited to the United States. The U.N. has called gender-based violence a “global pandemic.” As experts in emergency medicine and legal research at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, we believe it’s important to acknowledge that this issue transcends national borders and class boundaries to touch the lives of roughly 33 percent of all women worldwide.

A world of trouble

According to World Health Organization estimates, one in three women worldwide will experience either physical or sexual violence in her lifetime, many of them before the age of 15.

In fact, for many rural women, their first sexual encounter will be a forced one. Some 17 percent of women in rural Tanzania, 21 percent in Ghana, 24 percent in Peru, 30 percent in Bangladesh and 40 percent in South Africa report that their first sexual experience was nonconsensual.

Intimate partner violence is also pervasive globally. In one World Health Organization study, 22 to 25 percent of women surveyed in cities in England, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Zimbabwe reported that a boyfriend or husband had committed some form of sexual violence against them. Globally, up to 55 percent of women murdered are killed by their partners.

Violence against women takes many forms, ranging from psychological abuse to the kind of sexual predation, sexual assault and rape allegedly committed by Harvey Weinstein. Honor killings, physical attacks, female infanticide, genital cutting, trafficking, forced marriages and sexual harassment at work and school are also considered gender-based violence.

Rates range from country to country – from 15 percent in Japan to 71 percent in Ethiopia – but violence is, in effect, a ubiquitous female experience.

Sexual violence is committed at particularly high rates in crisis settingslike war zones, refugee camps and disaster zones.

In these places, even humanitarian workers are not immune. Dyan Mazurana and her colleagues at Tufts University found that many female development-aid staffers in places such as South Sudan, Afghanistan and Haiti had experienced disturbing rates of sexual assault, often perpetrated by their own colleagues.

Explaining sexual violence

So what’s driving this pervasive phenomenon? Research reveals that there are multiple causes of sexual violence, among them gender inequality and power differentials between men and women.

For example, sexual violence occurs more frequently in cultures where violence is widely accepted and where beliefs about family honor, sexual purity and male sexual entitlement are strongly held.

Even in many countries that rank well on gender equality, including in the United States, weak legal sanctions against perpetrators of sexual violence can encourage and effectively condone such behavior.

So can cultural acceptance. Weinstein’s sexual predatory behavior was longstanding and well-known within the film industry, yet he was allowed to continue his abuse with impunity – until women began speaking up.

Likewise, Fox News renewed Bill O’Reilly’s contract even after he and the company had made at least six multi-million-dollar settlements with women who filed sexual harassment claims against him. Awareness of a problem is one thing; taking action is quite another.

Men with lower educational levels, or who have been exposed to maltreatment or family violence as children, are more likely to commit sexual violence themselves.

That’s because violence begets violence, a relationship that’s abundantly clear in the kinds of conflict zones where we work. Mass rape has long been used as a weapon of war, and has been well-documented during conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia and South Sudan.

Among the most salient cases are the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides. According to the U.N.‘s High Commissioner for Refugees, up to 500,000 Rwandan women were systematically raped in 1994 as part of an ethnic cleansing strategy, while tens of thousands of Bosnian women and girls were systematically raped between 1992 and 1995.

Source: UNWOMEN.ORG

Psychological trauma

Wherever and however it happens, violence against women and girls poses a major public health problem for women and their communities.

Some 42 percent of women who experience intimate partner violence reported an injury – including bruises, abrasions, cuts, punctures, broken bones and injuries to the ears and eyes – as a consequence of that abuse. Women who suffer violence are also 1.5 times more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea, twice as likely to experience depression and drinking problems and twice as likely to have an abortion.

Violence against women is also closely associated with suicide and self-harm.

If there’s any silver lining to the Weinstein and O’Reilly scandals, it’s that in coming out against these high-profile men, dozens of women have helped to highlight not just the prevalence of sexual violence in the United States but also the societal norms that silence women and allow abusers to go unchecked.

Humanitarian organizations from the World Health Organization to the U.N. to the U.S. Agency for International Development have recognized that gender-based violence is not just a women’s issue. Addressing it requires working with men and boys, too, to counter the cultures of toxic masculinity that encourage or tolerate sexual violence.

After all, women’s rights are human rights, so sexual violence is everyone’s problem to solve.

The fact is, societies with high rates of sexual violence are also more likely to be violent and unstable. Research shows that the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated. §

, emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, director of external programs STRATUS Center for Medical Simulation, core faculty Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Harvard University.

, Researcher in international law and humanitarian response, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), Harvard University.

This article originally appeared in and is published here with permission from The Conversation.

An anarchist takes on Big Pharma

Teaching patients how to make their own meds

Dr. Michael Laufer of Four Thieves Vinegar demonstrates the “Epi-Pencil” in his office in Brawner Hall at Menlo College.

Credit: Biz Herman for STAT News.

by CHARLES PILLER @cpiller

MENLO PARK, Calif. — The anarchist grew animated as he explained his plan to subvert a pillar of global capitalism by teaching the poor to make their own medicines — pharmaceutical industry patents be damned.

Then he took another sip from a flute of Taittinger Champagne.

Swaggering, charismatic, and complex, Michael Laufer has become a fixture in the growing biohacker movement ever since he published plans last year for a do-it-yourself EpiPencil — a $35 alternative to the pricey EpiPen.

It’s not clear whether anyone has actually ever used a homemade EpiPencil to prevent anaphylactic shock. But that seems almost an afterthought to Laufer’s bigger goal — trying to build a DIY movement to attack high pharma pricing and empower patients.

“To deny someone access to a lifesaving medication is murder. And an act of theft to prevent an act of murder is morally acceptable.” —Michael Laufer

The de facto leader behind the leaderless collective Four Thieves Vinegar, Laufer is now on to his next project: He’s developing a desktop lab and a recipe book meant to equip patients to cook up a range of medicines, including a homemade version of the expensive hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, on their kitchen counters.

Health professionals have strenuously warned against DIY pharmaceuticals, but Laufer sees his work as a moral crusade against the patent laws and market forces that let drug companies price vital remedies out of reach for many patients.

“To deny someone access to a lifesaving medication is murder,” he said. And “an act of theft [of intellectual property] to prevent an act of murder is morally acceptable.”

Trump’s anti-immigrant America

In 1927, Massachusetts executed two Italians—Sacco & Vanzetti—to global protests that still resound today

File 20170829 6715 o9z06n
Bartolomeo Vanzetti (left), handcuffed to Nicola Sacco, 1923. Boston Public Library

 

by Moshik Temkin, Harvard University

Ninety years ago, on Aug. 23, 1927, two Italian immigrants were executed.

The deaths of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in the Charlestown Prison in Massachusetts marked the end of a raucous seven-year legal and political battle that captivated people across the United States and the world.

According to many who lived through it, no other event since the outbreak of the Civil War had so starkly divided American opinion. Writer Edmund Wilson believed that it “revealed the whole anatomy of American life, with all its classes, professions, and points of view, and raised every fundamental question of our political and social system.” And arguably, no other event until the Vietnam War evoked as much anti-American sentiment on the global stage.

I wrote a book about how and why the case of Sacco and Vanzetti evolved from an obscure local criminal trial to a national and international scandal. I refer to it in the book as the transition from a “case” to an “affair.”

What can it tell us about our politics today?

The most famous prisoners in the world

At first, Sacco and Vanzetti were two anonymous immigrants on trial for an act of banditry. Sacco was a skilled shoe factory worker and family man with two small children. Vanzetti was a fish monger. But local authorities charged them of being part of a stickup gang that on April 15, 1920 shot and killed a factory paymaster and his guard in Braintree, Massachusetts, stealing approximately $15,700. One reporter sent to cover their trial wrote to his editor, using a derogatory term for Italians, that there was “no story…just a couple of wops in a jam.”

But fairly soon, it emerged that the two men were not anyone’s idea of typical bandits. Rather, they were active in Italian anarchist circles who believed that capitalism and states were oppressive and should be overthrown by revolution—and, if necessary, a violent one. At the time, most Americans lived in horror of anarchists and other “reds,” as left-wing radicals of all sorts were known, and anti-immigration sentiment (especially against Italians) was at its peak. Not surprisingly, their trial took on a decidedly political character.

The evidence against them was mostly circumstantial, relying heavily on what the authorities called “consciousness of guilt.” The prosecution made their political radicalism an issue, as if that helped prove them guilty of robbery and murder. And, given that opening, the defendants were not shy about expressing their radical ideas in court, which did not help them with the jury. Many people who came to Sacco and Vanzetti’s defense argued that they were innocent men being railroaded not for anything they did, but for who they were and what they believed in.

Sacco and Vanzetti forcefully protested their innocence from the moment they were arrested until the minute they were electrocuted. They gradually convinced large numbers of people. As their case dragged on, they gained the advocacy and support of public figures, legal experts, intellectuals, political leaders and ordinary people. Their supporters included law professor Felix Frankfurter, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, car magnate Henry Ford, British author H.G. Wells and even Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

The judge in their case, Webster Thayer, was openly biased against them. Among other things, he had originally lobbied to be assigned the case to make sure that Sacco and Vanzetti “got what they deserved.” During the trial, Thayer braggingly asked a member of his social club if he had seen “what I did to those anarchistic bastards the other day?”

After Thayer sentenced them to death in April 1927—but not before the pair made stirring speeches in the courtroom proclaiming their innocence—the case created a genuine diplomatic crisis for the United States. Heads of state in Europe and elsewhere appealed to U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and Massachusetts Gov. Alvan Fuller to try to prevent the executions—in vain. Governments in Argentina, France, Britain, Brazil and elsewhere were forced to deal with angry demonstrations, major riots and attacks on American travelers, companies and embassies.

Why did Sacco and Vanzetti become, as the New Republic magazine put it, “the two most famous prisoners in the world”?

Demonstrators in London protest the conviction of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, 1921. Public domain

It was partly because of the global and geopolitical context. In the wake of World War I, the United States became a global power for the first time. At the same time, Western European nations suffered crisis and decline, and became indebted to American banks and reliant on American power. In that decade, the United States also closed its doors to immigrants who most desperately needed to migrate, especially those from poverty-stricken areas like Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as Mexico.

There have been many debates over the years over whether Sacco and Vanzetti were indeed guilty of the crime for which they were punished. Numerous authors have forcefully argued both sides. But this debate, which is impossible to resolve decades after the fact, misses the point of why Sacco and Vanzetti attained, after their deaths, totemic status.

As I describe in my book, Sacco and Vanzetti came to be seen as symbols of an America that had turned its back on foreigners, abandoned its principles of justice, and failed to pay heed to what Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, called “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” Their trial was so flawed, the politicization of their case so egregious, the executions so horrifying, that it was a travesty of justice irrespective of guilt or innocence.

From Sacco-Vanzetti to the Trump era

Ninety years after the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, the affair presents us with many connections to the present. For many people in 1927 and after, the two men were victims of a deep-seated fear of immigrants. For others, they were criminals and terrorists who benefited from a worldwide campaign led by people who despised America and its institutions.

Today, the United States is engaged in a bitter struggle between these same two views, with the xenophobic forces currently in political power, especially in the White House.

But it is important to keep in mind that today’s America would be socially, culturally and demographically unrecognizable to Americans in 1927. The United States is a much more multicultural and diverse society nowadays than it was when Sacco and Vanzetti were alive. And it will become even more so.

The ConversationAt the same time, recent events have made life in America frightening for immigrants and minorities. The factors in American society that brought about the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti never completely went away. In the current, toxic political environment, those who care about equality and justice must remain vigilant. §

Moshik Temkin Is Associate Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ownership & the ‘internet of things’

A step back to the feudalism of the Middle Ages?

File 20170831 22397 1vtyfmc
Is this our relationship to tech companies now? Queen Mary Master

 

by Joshua A.T. Fairfield, Washington and Lee University

Internet-enabled devices are so common, and so vulnerable, that hackers recently broke into a casino through its fish tank. The tank had internet-connected sensors measuring its temperature and cleanliness. The hackers got into the fish tank’s sensors and then to the computer used to control them, and from there to other parts of the casino’s network. The intruders were able to copy 10 gigabytes of data to somewhere in Finland.

By gazing into this fish tank, we can see the problem with “internet of things” devices: We don’t really control them. And it’s not always clear who does – though often software designers and advertisers are involved.

In my recent book, “Owned: Property, Privacy and the New Digital Serfdom,” I discuss what it means that our environment is seeded with more sensors than ever before. Our fish tanks, smart televisions, internet-enabled home thermostats, Fitbits and smartphones constantly gather information about us and our environment. That information is valuable not just for us but for people who want to sell us things. They ensure that internet-enabled devices are programmed to be quite eager to share information.

Take, for example, Roomba, the adorable robotic vacuum cleaner. Since 2015, the high-end models have created maps of its users’ homes, to more efficiently navigate through them while cleaning. But as Reuters and Gizmodo reported recently, Roomba’s manufacturer, iRobot, may plan to share those maps of the layouts of people’s private homes with its commercial partners.

Security and privacy breaches are built in

Like the Roomba, other smart devices can be programmed to share our private information with advertisers over back-channels of which we are not aware. In a case even more intimate than the Roomba business plan, a smartphone-controllable erotic massage device, called WeVibe, gathered information about how often, with what settings and at what times of day it was used. The WeVibe app sent that data back to its manufacturer – which agreed to pay a multi-million-dollar legal settlement when customers found out and objected to the invasion of privacy.

Those back-channels are also a serious security weakness. The computer manufacturer Lenovo, for instance, used to sell its computers with a program called “Superfish” preinstalled. The program was intended to allow Lenovo – or companies that paid it – to secretly insert targeted advertisements into the results of users’ web searches. The way it did so was downright dangerous: It hijacked web browsers’ traffic without the user’s knowledge – including web communications users thought were securely encrypted, like connections to banks and online stores for financial transactions.

The underlying problem is ownership

One key reason we don’t control our devices is that the companies that make them seem to think – and definitely act like – they still own them, even after we’ve bought them. A person may purchase a nice-looking box full of electronics that can function as a smartphone, the corporate argument goes, but they buy a license only to use the software inside. The companies say they still own the software, and because they own it, they can control it. It’s as if a car dealer sold a car, but claimed ownership of the motor.

This sort of arrangement is destroying the concept of basic property ownership. John Deere has already told farmers that they don’t really own their tractors but just license the software – so they can’t fix their own farm equipment or even take it to an independent repair shop. The farmers are objecting, but maybe some people are willing to let things slide when it comes to smartphones, which are often bought on a payment installment plan and traded in as soon as possible.

How long will it be before we realize they’re trying to apply the same rules to our smart homes, smart televisions in our living rooms and bedrooms, smart toilets and internet-enabled cars?

A return to feudalism?

The issue of who gets to control property has a long history. In the feudal system of medieval Europe, the king owned almost everything, and everyone else’s property rights depended on their relationship with the king. Peasants lived on land granted by the king to a local lord, and workers didn’t always even own the tools they used for farming or other trades like carpentry and blacksmithing.

Over the centuries, Western economies and legal systems evolved into our modern commercial arrangement: People and private companies often buy and sell items themselves and own land, tools and other objects outright. Apart from a few basic government rules like environmental protection and public health, ownership comes with no trailing strings attached.

This system means that a car company can’t stop me from painting my car a shocking shade of pink or from getting the oil changed at whatever repair shop I choose. I can even try to modify or fix my car myself. The same is true for my television, my farm equipment and my refrigerator.

Yet the expansion of the internet of things seems to be bringing us back to something like that old feudal model, where people didn’t own the items they used every day. In this 21st-century version, companies are using intellectual property law – intended to protect ideas – to control physical objects consumers think they own.

Intellectual property control

My phone is a Samsung Galaxy. Google controls the operating system and the Google Apps that make an Android smartphone work well. Google licenses them to Samsung, which makes its own modification to the Android interface, and sublicenses the right to use my own phone to me – or at least that is the argument that Google and Samsung make. Samsung cuts deals with lots of software providers which want to take my data for their own use.

But this model is flawed, in my view. We need the right to fix our own property. We need the right to kick invasive advertisers out of our devices. We need the ability to shut down the information back-channels to advertisers, not merely because we don’t love being spied on, but because those back doors are security risks, as the stories of Superfish and the hacked fish tank show. If we don’t have the right to control our own property, we don’t really own it. We are just digital peasants, using the things that we have bought and paid for at the whim of our digital lord.

Even though things look grim right now, there is hope. These problems quickly become public relations nightmares for the companies involved. And there is serious bipartisan support for right-to-repair bills that restore some powers of ownership to consumers.

The ConversationRecent years have seen progress in reclaiming ownership from would-be digital barons. What is important is that we recognize and reject what these companies are trying to do, buy accordingly, vigorously exercise our rights to use, repair and modify our smart property, and support efforts to strengthen those rights. The idea of property is still powerful in our cultural imagination, and it won’t die easily. That gives us a window of opportunity. I hope we will take it. §

Joshua A.T. Fairfield is Professor of Law, at Washington and Lee University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

My First Job

Movie house Usher: Death Wish in Tustin Theater

“Steve, we’ve gotta a problem down here!”

by Stacey Warde

I got my first job as an usher at an independent movie house, the Tustin Theater, in 1974. I was 16, feeling the invincibility of my teenage years, learning to scrap and wrestle with other high schoolers, the rough and tumble of sports play. I thought I was pretty tough but never pretended to be anything more than a high school kid with ambitions of one day getting a “real” job and becoming a man. Having a job, my dad would say, was one way to prove your worth. Protecting and providing for your family, as well as holding down a good job, were about the best a man could hope for, he said. Do those things, and I’d be ok.

My ushering duties entailed taking tickets from moviegoers, checking inside the movie theater to make sure customers found their seats, scooping up cigarette butts out of the sand-filled ashtrays outside the theater doors, and making sure there were no hazardous spills or other troublesome issues like kids throwing popcorn at the screen.

My uniform, like my duties, was simple: black pants, white shirt, skimpy black bow-tie, sports coat and flashlight. My boss, Steve, a good-natured man who loved his job, encouraged me to watch the films we showed. We offered popular titles that year such as Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Benji, Death Wish, and The Longest Yard. I’d watched them all, sometimes more than once, popping inside the theater to rewatch favorite humorous or dramatic scenes and taking delight in listening to the audience guffaw or gasp. I earned about $1.25 an hour.

Sometimes, depending on which movie was showing, the line outside the box office would go clear around the block. It could get pretty hectic. Whenever the line to get inside wasn’t moving quickly, the crowd would turn restless. My job on these busy nights was to support the box office attendant and make sure the line kept moving, so customers wouldn’t get impatient.

One particular busy night, the line snaked its way to the box office, where a recent hire, a young, quiet Southern gal, Miss Charlotte, “Char” for short, deftly worked the steady flow of moviegoers, taking money and dispensing tickets. Together, we were moving things along. “There’s plenty of room inside folks, not to worry!” I’d shout after taking someone’s ticket, hoping to allay fears of getting turned away.

Char was a bit older, 20-something with fine features, fuller and more womanly than the gals my age. I thought she was pretty in her grown-up Southern blonde poofy hairstyle, makeup and drawl, which some employees teased her for. I wanted to flirt with her but seldom did because she was married to a Marine who had just transferred to the area. I’d met him a few times when he came to get her at the end of her shift. He seemed high-strung and not very friendly. I could tell she was afraid of him. Nonetheless, she would smile, even if she wouldn’t talk to me.

We were showing the movie “Death Wish,” where Charles Bronson plays the role of a vigilante after his daughter is raped and his wife murdered. The movie shocked me, even as a teen curious about the “real” world. The rape scene left an unpleasant imprint on me. I couldn’t shake it, or get it out of my mind. How could anyone be so brutal? Why would anyone ever commit such an atrocious crime? I knew little of these absurdities, growing up in the relative safety of suburban Orange County, where I had been schooled in fair play and treating women with respect, and knew nothing of a death wish. This movie shocked me.

I had never actually witnessed, and knew little of, the type of real violence I’d heard about on rough city streets, or seen in TV coverage of the Vietnam War. Still, if I was to encounter aggression toward myself or any other person, I reasoned, I wanted to be like Paul Kersey, the architect turned vigilante that Bronson portrayed, bold in the face of threats, ready to do justice on the street, and to protect the harmless and innocent from thugs.

I’d been roughed up a few times in fights with kids my own age over the years, bullied by older ruffians, but never faced any real threats to life and limb. Nonetheless, I wanted to give a good accounting of myself if ever such a threat was made. So far, I’d shown promise in my scuffles with friends and bullies but lost at least half as many—if not more—battles than I’d won.

Once, a couple of Marines harassed me on the back side of the local grocery located at the far end of the lot from the theater. I was riding my bicycle home from a high school wrestling workout when a bright yellow muscle-car screeched around the corner of the Market Basket and barely missed hitting me. I automatically threw up my middle finger, out of fear as much as anger at the close call. The car whipped back around and screeched to a stop in front of my bicycle so that I couldn’t pass. Two Marines jumped out and wanted to know, did I have a message for them?

“Yeah, fuck you!” I blared. “You almost hit me!”

They moved toward me and I was certain they would pummel me until another car passing slowly our way distracted them, the driver peering over at us, as if to see what was going on, which allowed me to jump on my bike and escape. “You guys better get outta here before the MPs come and take you away,” I yelled. The military police, I’d learned over the years, were quick to respond to reports of misbehaving Marines. I pedaled home as fast as I could, shaken and breathless. It wasn’t my bravest moment; yet my adrenaline had spiked and I felt something like madness or bravery growing inside of me.

Marines were an integral part of life in Orange County then. I grew up under the shadow of war and the military. The Marine Corps Air Station just outside of Tustin was host to helicopter crews and squadrons. Not far down the road, fighter jets flew in and out of Marine Corps Air Station El Toro on the southern skirt of the Irvine Ranch. You could hear the roar of their engines miles away. As a boy, I knew that many of those pilots would soon be flying over the jungles of Vietnam. The war ended miserably for Americans, with 58,000 dead. But that did little to diminish the Marine Corps pride. These were fighting men, not to be messed with. Now, after a humiliating defeat in Southeast Asia, with no one to really fight anymore, they seemed to like taking it out on civilians: mouthy teenagers, barflys, girlfriends, wives….

Char rarely spoke, unless she absolutely needed help. Tonight, she was holding her own, keeping the line moving and the crowd from growing restless.

“Not to worry, folks! There’s plenty of room inside!” I shouted, hoping she’d at least glance over in appreciation of my efforts to help move the line.

Suddenly, there was a commotion. An angry Marine started pushing his way through the line. “Hey, buddy, watch it!” someone shouted.

Char’s husband cut through the line and burst through the door where I was standing and started for the box office. “Sir, you’re gonna have to wait a minute. We’re really busy right now.”

“Stay out of it, buster,” he ordered, staring me down, sizing me up. Just as suddenly he turned and bolted to go inside the box office. No one but staff was allowed in there.

“Sir, you’re not supposed to be in there,” I shouted, taking another ticket. He grabbed Char by her upper arm, spun her around, away from a shocked paying patron, and began pulling her out of the box office, and dragged her toward the door, leaving the line in a lurch at the window, customers staring aghast as he hauled her away.

“Come on!” he ordered, as they passed by me. “You’re going home!” She followed him without protest as he roughly moved her through the crowd, pulling her along by her arm. I hesitated, couldn’t say anything, knew that I had to keep the line moving, wanted to stop the Marine in his tracks and knew I couldn’t, and now the box office was empty and people standing in line were starting to panic and get impatient.

“The movie’s gonna start pretty soon,” someone shouted, “is someone gonna take our money?”

“That’s what ya gotta do with women these days,” said another, a burly older man, also waiting in line to get his ticket. “You gotta show them who’s boss, or they get the wrong ideas.”

“Steve!” I shouted up toward the manager’s office. “Steve, we’ve gotta problem down here!” I wanted to leave my station and do something but feared Char’s husband, duty bound to keep the crowd under control, all while Char was being treated roughly, and dragged across the parking lot, off to who-knows-what. “Steve!”

He came running down to the box office, keys and change jangling in his pants pockets, his eye glasses askew on his head. “What’s going on? Where’s Char?”

“Her husband came and got her,” I said. “He dragged her out of here.”

Steve went inside the box office, picked up the phone and called the MPs; at the same time, he began taking money from moviegoers and dispensing tickets through the window. He gave Char’s address to the MPs and hung up the phone. He looked over my way. “Not the best night for family squabbles,” he complained.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t feel comfortable trying to stop him,” I said, moving the line. “First set of doors to your left sir. Plenty of seats,” I said, waving ticket holders inside.

“You did the right thing. Let’ keep this line moving,” Steve said.

Char’s husband got picked up by the military police. She never came back to work. I never heard what became of them, whether he was charged with assault, whether they stayed together, but realized I wasn’t ready avenge anyone the way Paul Kersey did in the movie, Death Wish. I was better off just doing my job, leaving the death wish to others more brave.

Barely two years later, though, in the spring of my senior year, 1976, the nation’s bicentennial, my father handed me brochures advertising the various branches of the U.S. military: Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force.

“If you think I’m going to join the military,” I said, “you’re crazy.” I handed the brochures back to him. Yet, despite having a job, my prospects were dim. I had no future as an usher, or even as a movie house manager. I hadn’t excelled academically and wasn’t much interested in going to college. My parents were preparing to move to Illinois and I had no intention of going with them. I’d be graduating soon. My options seemed limited.

Before long, I met with an Army recruiter and talked about job possibilities. I had no interest in being a Marine. I’d seen enough of that. At 17, I was most intrigued with the role of Army Rangers. They were elite, strong, fearless, well-trained, ready to face death for love of country, to protect the harmless and innocent,  just as any Marine would, perhaps better. By April, with my parents required consent because I was not yet 18, I signed with assurances that I’d be getting some of the best training the military had to offer, and was assigned to the 2nd Ranger, 75th Infantry Battalion.

I’d go active, report for duty, two days after my 18th birthday, still not experienced in the world, to begin a more demanding kind of job, facing down threats from international thugs. America had lost its taste for war. Vietnam shattered us all. Still, there was the Soviet Threat, and we had to be prepared to stop it anywhere in the world. As it turned out, President Jimmy Carter didn’t send troops into combat while I was an active soldier. As far as I know, he’s the only modern day president who didn’t have a death wish of his own, needlessly committing troops to battlegrounds where they didn’t belong. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.