Social Issues

    Social Issues – Have you ever had that creepy feeling that someone is watching you as you sit alone and update your social media status from your smart phone about how high gas prices are, how you have the flu, the latest reports on the nutter from North Korea, your vacation in San Diego, how unreliable the Metro is, or even the incident at the club the night before that turned into a total disaster? Well, if you have, your feelings are probably justified because some of these words are on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) “ping” list.

    The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a privacy watchdog group, has released a copy of the DHS manual that lists “hundreds of key words” and “search terms used to detect possible terrorism, unfolding natural disasters and public health threats.” EPIC obtained the manual after it successfully “filed a Freedom of Information Act request and then sued to obtain the release of the documents.”

    Though the 39-page “Analyst’s Desktop Binder” includes words that should raise alarms, such as shooting, militia, hostage — (you get the picture, I’m already on the radar for being a reporter and using those words constantly), it also includes innocuous words like the eight I put in the first paragraph. Just in case you missed them: smart, gas, flu, North Korea, San Diego, Metro, incident, and disaster.

    In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, EPIC stated, “these terms and others are ‘broad, vague and ambiguous’ and include vast amounts of First Amendment protected speech that is entirely unrelated to the Department of Homeland Security mission to protect the public against terrorism and disasters.”

    Although some contend that DHS monitors social media looking for comments that “reflect adversely on the federal government,” Mary Ellen Callahan, the chief privacy officer for the Department of Homeland Security, and Richard Chavez, director for the National Operations Center, “testified that the released documents were outdated and that social media was monitored strictly to provide situational awareness and not to police disparaging opinions about the federal government.” (did you catch that “strictly to” there?)

    According to the Huffington Post who spoke with a “senior Homeland Security official, on the condition of anonymity” the manual “‘is a starting point, not the endgame’ in maintaining situational awareness of natural and man-made threats,” and that the instructions in the manual that direct analysts to “‘identify media reports that reflect adversely on the DHS and response activities,’ was not aimed at silencing criticism but at spotting and addressing problems.’”

    “To ensure clarity, as part of … routine compliance review, DHS will review the language contained in all materials to clearly and accurately convey the parameters and intention of the program,” agency spokesman Matthew Chandler told HuffPost.

    Still, there are several words on the list that raise an eyebrow or two when looking at the manual, and even though the agency has said that the material “is in need of updating,” to clarify some of the vague terms, one has to wonder if EPIC is right in its assessment of the manual, especially in light of all the SOPA, ACTA, and PIPA activity going on, not to mention the FBI’s proposed social network monitoring system.

    Read the “Analyst Desktop Binder here.

    Watch as Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence questions witnesses at a hearing entitled: “DHS Monitoring of Social Networking and Media: Enhancing Intelligence Gathering and Ensuring Privacy.”

    Read more at Huffington Post.


    Human Rights

    Human Rights – Mona Eltahawy, a New York based blogger, award-winning columnist, feminist activist, and public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues, was arrested, beaten, and sexually assaulted by police in Cairo Wednesday. Twelve-hours after her arrest, her friends, family, and thousands of her Twitter followers got the simple message, “I AM FREE.”

    The prominent Egyptian-American who carries dual citizenship was filming the protests in Tahrir square with an award-winning American filmmaker and journalist, Jehane Nojaim, who was also arrested.

    After her release and following hours of questioning, Eltahway said that her “right hand and left arm were broken on Wednesday night by riot police who dragged her by the hair and groped her between the legs.”

    Eltahway said she had been held “for several hours being questioned by the Interior Ministry and Military Intelligence officials before being released” and that they “acted like animals.”

    “I think when they realised I had dual citizenship they were aware they had to be more careful,” she said. “Eventually they apologized for the police behaviour and sent me home in a taxi.”

    Later, via Twitter, she released several disturbing tweets of her experience:

    • 5 or 6 surrounded me, groped and prodded by breasts, grabbed my genital area and I lost count how many hands tried to get into my trousers.
    • They are dogs and their bosses are dogs. Fuck the Egyptian police.
    • Besides beating me, the dogs of CSF subjected me to the worst sexual assault ever
    • Yes sexual assault. I’m so used to saying harassment but those fuckings assaulted me.
    • The past 12 hrs were painful and surreal but I know I got off much much easier than so many other Egyptians.
    • God knows what wuld’ve happened if I wasn’t dual citizen (tho they brought up detained US students) & that I wrote/appeared various media.
    • The whole time I was thinking about article I would write; just you fuckers wait.

    This is yet another disturbing example of the brutality happening globally. And yet, people are not backing down.

    Speedy recovery Eltahway, we can’t wait to read your article.

    Read more at Global PostMSNBC, and Jezebel.

    Follow her on Twitter.



    Occupy Wall Street is showing no signs of simmering down as the movement is creating some crafty new approaches to capture the attention of the multi-billion dollar financial institutions. OccupytheBoardroom.org, a new site developed by the protestors, enables the OWS movement to send messages directly to figures like chief executive of Goldman Sachs and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon.

    Even with the 7000 emails that have been sent to the top dogs, the movement is taking it a step further as they plan to print their messages out and deliver them to the executives the old-fashioned way. The authors include people who have been most affected by the recession—students (in debt from student loans), foreclosure victims and the uninsured who were unable to pay off hospital bills.

    Among these people is a Marine Corp veteran who served in the Middle East, he writes to Bank of America executive, Joe L Price, “You may think that this is ok but it is not ok… as a patriot of the original founding fathers beliefs, you are unpatriotic and I was willing to lay my life down for people such as yourself. Tell me, what sacrifice are you willing to make for me?” The veteran had earlier explained that his debt was due to his son’s hospital stay—an overwhelming bill that he could not pay off.

    Thousands of different protestors with horrifyingly similar stories are using the site to convey their own personal tribulations to the institutions, they feel, are responsible. The website is a collaborative effort of OWS and New York Communities for Change (NYCC). Oliver Leirer of NYCC comments on the site, “The letters touched on four key issues: foreclosure, unemployment, anger at rising fees and corruption and collusion between Wall Street executives and our elected officials.” With the Occupy movement utilizing technologies like OccupytheBoardroom.org, the protestors are stopping at nothing to have their voices heard.

    Read more at Guardian.


    Celebrity Charities

    Celebrity Charities – Nearly 7 years after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, some are still working on rebuilding the once thriving city. Make It Right, a foundation started by the sexiness that is Brad Pitt, works to build homes in the lower 9th ward of New Orleans where more than 4,000 homes were destroyed in the aftermath of Katrina. The foundation’s goal is to build 150 affordable, high-quality homes; they are currently half way to reaching this goal.

    On March 10th, “A Night to Make It Right,” one of the largest-scale fundraising events in New Orleans’ history, will be hosted by Brad Pitt and Ellen DeGeneres.

    “I’m so happy I can be a part of this incredible foundation…Brad Pitt is amazing – not only for what he started, but also because, who else can make a hard hat look like a jaunty fall fashion accessory?” DeGeneres told Look to the Stars. DeGeneres and her fans have raised more than $1.6 for the foundation.

    The event will be a star-studded night with performances by Rihanna, Sheryl Crow, Seal, and The Neville Brothers. There will also be appearances by Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Spike Lee, Blake Lively, Djimon Hounsou, Josh Brolin. We’re sure Pitt’s right-hand woman Angelina Jolie will also be there and maybe even the rest of the Pitt-Jolie clan.

    Being hosted at the newly redesigned Hyatt Regency New Orleans, the hotel kicked off the fundraising efforts with a $300,000 donation.

    “Through our partnership with Make It Right, we continue to solidify our commitment to the city of New Orleans,” Michael Smith, General Manager of the Hyatt Regency New Orleans told Look to the Stars.

    To read more visit Look to the Stars.


    Animal Rights

    Leonardo DiCaprio will serve as the global ambassador for the International Fund For Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) Animal Action campaign to shut down the international ivory trade and save the elephants.

    IFAW, founded in 1969, has projects in more than 40 countries and helps to save animals in crisis around the world. “IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats.”

    The Animal Action campaign highlights a different animal and conservation each year and this year’s theme is “‘Elephants, Never Forget,’ and focuses on the crisis that elephants face 20 years after the international ivory trade ban was put in place.”

    “The ivory trade fuels conflict and strife,” said DiCaprio. “Elephants are killed by poachers so their tusks can be traded for weapons and drugs by international criminal organizations before becoming trinkets and jewelry for consumers. Authorities in 85 countries have seized almost 400 tons of ivory on the black market since the 1989 ivory trade ban.”

    Due to the lackadaisical enforcement of the ban several species are facing the prospect of extinction in several African countries, and “the number of elephants in the wild has declined by a staggering 50 percent” over the course of the last century due to poaching by international syndicates.

    “Many people around the world still have no idea that elephants are killed for their ivory tusks, and that’s why public education is so important,” DiCaprio added. “There were 1.3 million elephants in 1979; rampant poaching and other factors have reduced that by more than half, to an estimated 500,000.”

    “We are honored to have Leonardo’s support for our Animal Action campaign to stem the ivory trade,” said IFAW President and CEO Fred O’Regan. “With his help, we hope to create a groundswell for elephant protection that can’t be ignored.”

    Read more at Look to the Stars.

  • American Muslims

    Social Issues

    Social Issues – All-American retailer Lowe’s has decided to pull advertising from American Muslim, a TLC reality show, after receiving complaints from several conservative and/or Christian organizations.

    The show depicts American Muslims serving in typically American careers, including a police officer and a high school football coach.

    One organization, the conservative Florida Family Association, said in a statement it had sent three emails alerts that called on their disciples to email advertisers on the show and tell them to not support the possible increase in tolerance.

    “All-American Muslim is propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values,” it said.

    On its web site, the Association posted an email from a Lowe’s representative saying: “While we continue to advertise on various cable networks, including TLC, there are certain programs that do not meet Lowe’s advertising guidelines, including the show you brought to our attention. Lowe’s will no longer be advertising on that program.”

    While Lowe’s confirmed it had pulled the ad in a Tweet (of course), it claimed it “did not pull [the] ads based solely on the complaints or emails of any one group.”

    Read more at Gawker.


    Human Rights

    Authorities permanently closed a Haitian orphanage on Friday due to children living in unsanitary conditions.

    After accusations by a group of U.S. Christian organizations stating that Maccene Hypolitte, The Son of God orphanage director “of neglect, physical abuse and human trafficking,” Hypolitte was arrested in July on suspicion of involvement in child trafficking. Though he has been jailed “pending a judicial investigation” he has not yet been charged.

    After investigations, Haitian officials sealed off the orphanage and the “46 children who lived there were loaded into a UNICEF bus and taken to new homes.”

    Maria Andree Hypolite, the director’s wife, who has been running the orphanage with their daughter, since his incarceration, stated that “the poor conditions of the orphanage, including dirty mattresses on the floor, holes in the concrete walls and the smell of urine, were proof that the family was not involved in any criminal activity.”

    Diem Pierre of the Institute of Welfare and Research stated that the children looked “as though they hadn’t eaten” and “looked malnourished.”

    Seth Barnes, executive director of Adventures in Missions, based in Gainesville, Ga, stated that after a visit to the orphanage last year to “check on donations of clothes and other goods and to see if the children needed any help” they knew there was a problem.

    Barnes stated “they found that donated clothes had gone missing and donated food disappeared from storerooms even as the children appeared to be going hungry.” He added that some children “simply vanished without any records or adequate explanation from the staff at the orphanage.”

    The missionaries are relieved to see that the Haitian officials acted on their report and shut the orphanage down.

    Read more at Hosted AP.

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