Arresting journalists, preventing protest

Journalist Amy Goodman, along with two other members of her crew, were roughed up and arrested at the Republican National Convention despite clearly displaying their press credentials.  Other journalists hoping to provide media coverage of the convention and the protests around it were pre-emptively arrested before it even began.  And of course, many other people attempting to protest peacefully at both major-party conventions were rounded up, assaulted, arrested and more.  For anyone who still had some shred of hope that the media have the ability (let alone the interest) to cover actions and speech that dissent from the mainstream, these incidents may not leave you with much hope left.

Here's an interview PBS did with Goodman about her arrest, including video from the scene: Continue reading "Arresting journalists, preventing protest"

Steve Alten's The Shell Game

The Shell Game by Steve Alten If you read political thrillers or action novels for their ability to transport you away from the concerns of current events into a fantasy that seems realistic but is purely fictional, then Steve Alten's book The Shell Game is probably not for you. And I wouldn't blame you; most folks probably don't want anxieties about their real lives and the future of our society to be a central part of the escapist action and adventure reading that we do on the beach. But after I heard that the book takes on the realities of peak oil, government corruption, American foreign policy and the political futures of today's Presidential candidates, and weaves them all into a 466 page novel, I couldn't help but be intrigued by it. Here's my review, some spoilers if you read on.
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Three Questions to Ask When You Vote

IMG_1306.JPGTomorrow is Election Day here in Richmond, and in the name of helping us move toward a voting process where the vote you cast can actually be verified, I'll suggest these three questions to ask when you visit your friendly local computerized voting center. You may not get the answers you want, but the people who oversee the process will not know that changes are desired unless they hear from you:

  • Can I please have a paper record of my vote? The answer will likely be "no." In Indiana, there is no way for you to have a written record of your vote. The state would like you to trust that it has properly received and counted your vote in its computer system. If there were a need for a recount, the state would use the computer record of your vote, not a paper trail that humans can look at. But hey, who ever heard of an election that was close, or one where a recount really mattered?
  • Can you please show me a copy of the software source code that powers these voting machines? The answer is probably "no" again. The software that runs on the voting machines we use was developed by for-profit corporations, and the contract that your lawmakers typically make with them is that the source code won't have to be available for the public to see. We just have to trust that they haven't made any mistakes that might affect vote counts, or worse, any intentional changes that might alter the outcome of the election. But hey, who ever heard of someone trying to change the outcome of an election for their own benefit?
  • Can you please provide me with a copy of the testing procedures to insure that my voting machine has not been altered or compromised? Many officials will provide you with a copy of the procedures if you ask in advance, and sometimes copies may be available onsite at the voting center. You may be charged a reasonable per-page copying fee. If you can't get your verbal request fulfilled, submit your request in writing, which creates a legal duty for your public officials to produce the documents. Once you have them, you can decide if they're sufficient for you to trust the democratic process to the integrity of the machines and the companies that make them. But hey, who ever heard of a government-managed process that wasn't totally comprehensive and in the full interest of its citizens?

You can learn more about verified voting at and their page on Wayne County's voting equipment. If you'd like to take further action on this issue, there's a Citizens Tool Kit available that includes notes on how to raise awareness and make change in your community.

Security strategy improvement lessons from 28 Weeks Later

As you're coming out of the movie 28 Weeks Later, you might be tempted to discuss the horrors of the events in the movie, the acting, the overwhelmingly and unnecessarily bloody gore, or the architecture in the London skyline. But I think we can all agree that the movie was, above all, a lesson in military and security strategy and a warning to future operations planners (especially those dealing with infectious viral outbreaks that turn people into flesh-eating zombies).

I know it will seem pretty far fetched and hard to picture in real life, but here are some of the salient events in the plot (spoiler alert!):
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Everything you need to know about Cops

For the last several weeks I have been participating in a broad stroke study of law enforcement practices on city streets across America. I have done ride-alongs with police officers from coast to coast - Portland, Oregon to Austin, Texas to Cincinnati, Ohio to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These ride-alongs are usually in the form of 22 minute segments during which I am transported to the ride-along locations using a technology called "Court Television." As the ride-alongs start to blur together and the study comes to a close, I thought I would share some of the conclusions that have come out of the experience, in no particular order:
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Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward

I generally avoid national bestselling political books that are just consolidated accounts of the political soap operas that go on in our nation's capital, designed to make more buzz and more money for the journalists or whistle-blowers or former aides that happened to keep really good notes during the experience. But once in a while there are some pretty compelling publications that appear in that genre, and I can't help but dive in. Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack certainly emerges as an example of a page-turner for anyone interested in national politics, the executive branch's decision making process, and especially how the U.S. ended up invading Iraq.
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