March 10th, 2012
CNN / By Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a comedian. He has appeared on Comedy Central's "Axis of Evil" special, ABC's "The View" and HLN's "The Joy Behar Show." He is co-executive producer of the annual New York Arab-American Comedy Festival and co-director of the documentary, "The Muslims Are Coming!" Follow him on Twitter.
(CNN) -- There were once seven words you couldn't say on television, as the late comedy icon George Carlin famously lampooned 40 years ago.
Now it appears there are more than 500 words you shouldn't say on Twitter or Facebook unless you want to be flagged by the Department of Homeland Security. There is a surveillance program the agency quietly began in February 2011 to monitor social media, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Documents obtained only after the privacy organization filed a lawsuit to enforce its Freedom of Information Act request reveal that anything you post on social-media websites such as Twitter and Facebook could come under review by the Department of Homeland Security, or at least by General Dynamics, the military defense contractor hired to implement the surveillance program.
Like the probes in the movie "The Matrix," they are looking for "Items of Interest," which in this case are words on a watch list that are considered "bad."
So what words are of interest to them? Are they like the seven words that Carlin joked about not being able to say on television because they "... will infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the country from winning the war." (By the way, if Carlin tweeted these words today, he would get noticed because the word "infection" is part of the watch list.)
No, Carlin's joke dealt with curse words, which are actually now heard nightly on cable TV. In contrast, the Department of Homeland Security is concerned with a broader range of words that you can say on television, or anywhere, usually without a problem. However, if you tweet or post these specific words on social-media websites, then you'll catch the attention of the security agency.
The watch list includes hundreds of words and phrases that have been organized into certain categories: domestic security, HAZMAT, health concern, Southwest border violence, federal agencies, terrorism, weather/disaster/emergency, cybersecurity and Infrastructure security.
Two questions jump out regarding this surveillance program. How effective is it? And more importantly, is this an invasion of our privacy?
The effectiveness question is hard to answer. When you look at all the words on the watch list, it's hard to believe that any terrorist or criminal would tweet or post them unless they wanted to get caught.
For example, the watch list contains words such as dirty bomb, hostage, al Qaeda and ammonium nitrate. What terrorist in his right mind would tweet, "Looking for ammonium nitrate, please direct message me if you have leads?"
There are also terms under the category "Southwest border violence" that seem ridiculous, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, meth lab and drug war. If a drug dealer mentioned on his Facebook wall, "Great deal today on heroin and methamphetamine, and it's all organically made in my own meth lab," I would hope that people would turn that person in -- or at the very least, not "like" his post.
But it's the long list of innocent words on the watch list that raises more concerns.
Words such as subway, delays, infection, San Diego, cloud, pork, wave and Mexico are monitored. If you posted on Twitter, "I'm going on vacation to San Diego, hope no clouds because want to catch some waves," your tweet would be considered suspicious because you used three words on the watch list.
In the event that your Facebook or Twitter post is flagged, a further investigation could be triggered, and information could be shared with other government agencies.
As a former attorney, I am fully aware that you have little grounds to claim that your postings on Facebook and Twitter have an expectation of privacy. Social media is almost the equivalent of speaking loudly at a crowded party -- people beyond your intended recipients will hear your words.
However, putting the legality issues aside, we should be concerned the government is engaged in the wholesale monitoring of our social-media streams. This program is akin to the Chinese government's monitoring of the Internet. Our government must not emulate an authoritarian regime.
We should reject the notion that tweeting words included in the watch list, such as San Diego or clouds, justifies monitoring our activities on social-media platforms. If we don't object now to the unfettered surveillance of our social-media communications, the next step could be the government's reading of our direct messages on Facebook and Twitter. Following that, the reading of our personal e-mails would not be far behind.
Since 9/11, we have far too often willingly forfeited privacy in the name of security, be it the Patriot Act, the New York Police Department's spying of Muslim Americans, body-scanning machines, intrusive pat-downs at airports and who knows what else is out there that we have yet to find out about. If it were not for the Electronic Privacy Information Center's lawsuit, we would be unaware of the details of this latest program.
Benjamin Franklin famously warned us, "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."
The Department of Homeland Security's surveillance program -- and our acceptance of programs like it -- is just another step in the direction that Franklin so wisely cautioned us to guard against.
March 10th, 2012
The Wall Street Journal / By YUKA HAYASHI
TOKYO—A year after a powerful earthquake and tsunami ravaged Japan's northeast and set off the world's worst nuclear accident in a quarter century, many Japanese will spend Sunday solemnly mourning the tragedy. Others will join street rallies to try to shape the country's future following a year of turmoil and soul searching.
In the disaster-hit Tohoku region and in cities across Japan, memorial services, concerts and community gatherings will be held throughout the day to mark the first anniversary of the triple disasters.
A national minute of silence will be observed at 2:46 p.m., exactly one year after the magnitude-9.0 tremor hit Tohoku and triggered the area's worst tsunami in centuries. Nearly 19,000 people died or went missing—mostly victims of the giant waves that washed away scores of communities along the coast, as seen in horrific television images that shocked the world.
It will also be a day to witness newly emerged activism in a nation known for political indifference. Anti-nuclear demonstrations are planned in major cities, including one in Tokyo that will feature a human chain to surround the parliament building. Organizers are also gathering petitions to oppose the restarting of nuclear reactors shut down since the multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
"It is important to pray for the victims of the March 11 disaster. But prayers alone won't change the country," said Miyako Maekita, the organizer of the event, who expects a turnout of up to 40,000. "People outside Japan say Japanese people never get angry. We do."
After a full year, the disaster's impact is still felt acutely, not just in the affected areas but throughout Japan. In Tohoku, nearly 350,000 people remain displaced from their homes, with many living in cramped temporary housing, some jobless, some without hope, as they face an uncertain future.
The Fukushima accident has severely contaminated surrounding towns within and beyond a 20-kilometer (12.4 mile) exclusion zone around the nuclear plant, forcing tens of thousands of residents to relocate. The government is set to review the various evacuation zones at the end of March, and declare some areas uninhabitable for decades.
By forcing the closure of other nuclear reactors, the disaster has also sharply reduced Japan's energy supply capabilities. That has sent households and corporations alike into extreme energy-saving mode, a trend that could weigh on the nation's economy for years to come.
Tokyo is spending Y20.9 trillion ($258 billion)—about the size of the annual gross domestic product of Portugal—to rebuild the northeast. The spending further bloats Japan's government debts, already the worst in the world, fueling concerns about their sustainability.
Still, for most Japanese, Sunday will be a day for remembering those who died and sober reflection on what has been lost.
In the city of Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture where 2,000 people were killed, the city and the prefecture will hold a joint two-hour ceremony. The event at an elementary school located near the devastated city center is expected to be attended by some 2,400 families of victims. In the neighboring prefecture of Miyagi, officials will set up special altars throughout the affected areas where residents—many of them elderly—can offer flowers.
In Tokyo, the government has invited more than 1,000 guests to attend a ceremony at the National Theater of Japan. Leading proceedings will be Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who is expected to spend the day in Tokyo. Mr. Noda, who was finance minister at the time of the disaster, was promoted to the premiership in September after his predecessor, Naoto Kan, lost popular support amid criticism over the government's handling of disaster relief and the nuclear accident.
But attention may focus on another attendee. Emperor Akihito is recovering from heart bypass surgery three weeks ago. He made a dramatic appearance on television soon after the accident to reassure the nation. Together with his wife, Empress Michiko, he has made frequent visits to the affected areas during the past year, often being spotted talking to victims on his knees on the floors of evacuation shelters.
The symbolism of the convalescing emperor's efforts to attend the ceremony will not be lost on a nation striving to get back on its feet.
—Mitsuru Obe and Miho Inada contributed to this article.
March 10th, 2012
By Barry Secrest
Matthew burst onto the political scene meaningfully in 2009, as a result of the Statists taking over the Federal Government completely. Becoming a predominant leader of the Charlotte Tea Party, Matthew has remained in the public eye espousing the Tea Party and constitutional values that most Americans still believe in, to this day.
A Marine, having served his country and still doing so, we believe that Matthew is the right man for the job in Charlotte and would love to see him go further into both state politics and perhaps even beyond. Charlotte is, in fact, in dour need of a Conservative brand of leadership, that has been increasingly lacking over the last several years.
Matthew has our full support, and we must add that he has no idea we are even writing this information piece in support of him, it should be noted. But we hope you will support him as well. Below is more info from Matthew's website , and here's how you can help.
Welcome! Thank you for dropping by my page to learn a little more about me, my campaign, and how you can get involved to make a difference. This is a crucial year for Mecklenburg County Republicans. This year we are electing three new At Large Commissioners, and the District 5 seat will be filled by a new face, too. What does this mean for us in District 5? It means we will need a Commissioner with leadership. Someone willing to make the tough call. Someone who makes pragmatic decisions, and will bring integrity and transparency to government. I believe I am such a person. Please take a few minutes to look around this website, and feel free to contact me with any questions. Lastly, I’d like to ask for your vote in the May 8th Primary for Mecklenburg County Commission District 5.
Thank you and God bless!
NC Civitas on Matthew:
Frustrated with the 2009 bailouts and the direction in which the country was headed, Charlotte native Matthew Ridenhour decided it was time to get involved. Despite frequently writing letters and making calls to representatives, he felt there was much more to be done.
“It seemed I was just one small voice,” Ridenhour said.
It was CNBC host Rick Santelli’s explosive on-air speech assailing massive government bailouts and lack of personal responsibility that prompted Ridenhour to organize an April 15, 2009 Tea Party rally in Charlotte, North Carolina. In what he calls “one of the most exciting days of my life,” over 2,500 people converged on City Hall in downtown Charlotte to protest the bailouts, high taxes, and big government policies. The group remains active and has held rallies to draw attention to the importance of free market principles and fiscally conservative economic policies.
Having served the last 10 years in the US Marine Corps Reserve and completed two tours in Iraq, Ridenhour is no stranger to public service and hard work. He has appeared on numerous local talk radio and television stations to share the Tea Party’s perspective on various topics. And though not visible on the political scene until two years ago, he grew up in a politically aware family which he credits for his passion and enthusiasm in the Tea Party movement today.
“We would watch the Nightly News with Dan Rather, 60 Minutes and Crossfire, so politics was always a topic of discussion. My mother often listened to Rush Limbaugh, so during the summers I would catch a good number of his shows,” said Ridenhour. “I think the Tea Party movement was a wake-up call for me saying, ‘If I don’t get involved now, there may not be much left for me to fight for later.’”
It is this concern that motivates him to keep people engaged and informed. Moving into 2012, Ridenhour says educating citizens will become a primary goal for the Tea Party in Charlotte. Using social media such as Facebook and Twitter, Ridenhour hopes to foster open dialogue and information sharing with Tea Party members, particularly to impact the upcoming local elections. The group will focus on finding candidates to run for local offices, mobilize members to help with campaigns, and share the Tea Party platform in the Charlotte community.
“If we don’t educate people on economics, monetary policy, and fiscally conservative values, then we’re really not making a lasting impression,” he explained. “This year is going to set the stage for what we can accomplish next year.”
March 10th, 2012
Phoenix's FOX 10 reporter Andrea Robinson was in the middle of an on-air report when an unexplained, bright white explosion appeared in the distance behind her.
The strange blast was caught on tape and aired live during Robinson's report. At first, news station employees thought the explosion was a transformer. But when FOX 10 checked with local utility providers APS and Salt River Project, they were told no transformers had blown in the area.
While the source of the explosion remains a mystery, it comes just before the 15th anniversary of one of the most-famous UFO sightings in recent history. On March 13, 1997, a cluster of glowing orbs moving in a V-shaped formation was spotted in the skies above Phoenix. That incident was also caught on film. The origin of the light formation has since been endlessly analyzed and debated.
Arizona is also home to Travis Walton, who famously claimed to have been abducted by a UFO in 1975. Walton has written a number of books on the subject, and his story was turned into the 1993 film "Fire in the Sky."
And while Phoenix officials remain stumped by the strange light explosion, FOX 10 has reached out to the public asking for assistance in explaining exactly what was caught on film.
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March 10th, 2012