NorCal couple ensnared in ‘dark Web’ drug site case

NorCal couple ensnared in ‘dark Web’ drug site case
By Kale Williams
Nov 20 2014
<http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/NorCal-couple-ensnared-in-dark-Web-drug-site-5907946.php>

A Northern California couple was indicted on federal drug charges on Thursday stemming from the investigation into the Silk Road 2.0 “dark Web” drug market, Department of Justice officials said.

David and Teri Schell, 54 and 59, respectively, were charged with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana and possession with intent to distribute the drug. The couple is accused of growing hundreds of marijuana plants in their home and shipping packages of processed pot in the mail, prosecutors said. 

Law enforcement officials say they began to suspect the couple after discovering an Internet Protocol address was accessing the Silk Road 2.0 site; they traced it back to the couple’s home in Durham, a small town about 10 miles south of Chico.

Officials began surveilling the couple and found they were sending packages out of a UPS store in Chico through a P.O. box registered to Teri Schell and two fake businesses, “Outdoor Living ENT” and “A Touch of Class.”

On Oct. 21, agents intercepted nine packages that David Schell had sent through the U.S. mail system, according to prosecutors. A drug-sniffing dog alerted agents to the presence of pot in the packages and, after obtaining a search warrant for them, they were discovered to contain 139 grams of marijuana and 12 grams of what prosecutors called “marijuana wax,” a highly potent THC extract made from pot leaves, officials said.

Agents from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided the couple’s home Nov. 6, the same day the Silk Road 2.0 website was shut down.

There they found 482 marijuana plants, more than $12,000 in cash, “marijuana wax,” pot seeds and shipping materials likely used to ship the drug, prosecutors said.

David Schell mailed more than 100 packages, both within the U.S. and overseas, between January and September of this year, using a variety of return addresses, prosecutors said.

Both Teri and David Schell are out of custody but are scheduled for arraignment Wednesday in Sacramento. Teri Schell, reached at home Thursday evening, declined to comment.

If convicted, they could each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine, prosecutors said.

Congress is Irrelevant On Mass Surveillance. Here’s What Matters Instead.

CONGRESS IS IRRELEVANT ON MASS SURVEILLANCE. HERE’S WHAT MATTERS INSTEAD.
By GLENN GREENWALD
Nov 19 2014
<https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/11/19/irrelevance-u-s-congress-stopping-nsas-mass-surveillance/>

The “USA Freedom Act”—which its proponents were heralding as “NSA reform” despite its suffocatingly narrow scope—died in the august U.S. Senatelast night when it attracted only 58 of the 60 votes needed to close debate and move on to an up-or-down vote. All Democratic and independent senators except one (Bill Nelson of Florida) voted in favor of the bill, as did three tea-party GOP Senators (Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Dean Heller). One GOP Senator, Rand Paul, voted against it on the ground that it did not go nearly far enough in reining in the NSA. On Monday, the White House had issued a statement“strongly supporting” the bill.

The “debate” among the Senators that preceded the vote was darkly funny and deeply boring, in equal measure. The black humor was due to the way one GOP senator after the next—led by ranking intelligence committee member Saxby Chambliss of Georgia (pictured above)—stood up and literally screeched about 9/11 and ISIS over and over and over, and then sat down as though they had made a point. Their scary script had been unveiled earlier that morning by a Wall Street Journal op-ed by former Bush Attorney General Mike Mukasey and former CIA and NSA Director Mike Hayden warning that NSA reform would make the terrorists kill you; it appeared under this Onion-like headline:

So the pro-NSA Republican senators were actually arguing that if the NSA were no longer allowed to bulk-collect the communication records of Americans inside the U.S., then ISIS would kill you and your kids. But because they were speaking in an empty chamber and only to their warped and insulated D.C. circles and sycophantic aides, there was nobody there to cackle contemptuously or tell them how self-evidently moronic it all was. So they kept their Serious Faces on like they were doing The Nation’s Serious Business, even though what was coming out of their mouths sounded like the demented ramblings of a paranoid End is Nigh cult.

The boredom of this spectacle was simply due to the fact that this has been seen so many times before—in fact, every time in the post-9/11 era that the U.S. Congress pretends publicly to debate some kind of foreign policy or civil liberties bill. Just enough members stand up to scream “9/11″ and “terrorism” over and over until the bill vesting new powers is passed or the bill protecting civil liberties is defeated.

Eight years ago, when this tawdry ritual was still a bit surprising to me, I live-blogged the 2006 debate over passage of the Military Commissions Act, which, with bipartisan support, literally abolished habeas corpus rights established by the Magna Carta by sanctioning detention without charges or trial. (My favorite episode there was when GOP Sen. Arlen Specter warned that “what the bill seeks to do is set back basic rights by some nine hundred years,” and then voted in favor of its enactment.) In my state of naive disbelief, as one senator after the next thundered about the “message we are sending” to “the terrorists,” I wrote: “The quality of the ‘debate’ on the Senate floor is so shockingly (though appropriately) low and devoid of substance that it is hard to watch.”

So watching last night’s Senate debate was like watching a repeat of some hideously shallow TV show. The only new aspect was that the aging Al Qaeda villain has been rather ruthlessly replaced by the show’s producers with the younger, sleeker ISIS model. Showing no gratitude at all for the years of value it provided these senators, they ignored the veteran terror group almost completely in favor of its new replacement. And they proceeded to save a domestic surveillance program clearly unpopular among those they pretend to represent.

There is a real question about whether the defeat of this bill is good, bad, or irrelevant. To begin with, it sought to change only one small sliver of NSA mass surveillance (domestic bulk collection of phone records under section 215 of the Patriot Act) while leaving completely unchanged the primary means of NSA mass surveillance, which takes place under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, based on the lovely and quintessentially American theory that all that matters are the privacy rights of Americans (and not the 95 percent of the planet called “non-Americans”).

There were some mildly positive provisions in the USA Freedom Act: the placement of “public advocates” at the FISA court to contest the claims of the government; the prohibition on the NSA holding Americans’ phone records, requiring instead that they obtain FISA court approval before seeking specific records from the telecoms (which already hold those records for at least 18 months); and reducing the agency’s “contact chaining” analysis from three hops to two. One could reasonably argue (as the ACLU and EFF did) that, though woefully inadequate, the bill was a net-positive as a first step toward real reform, but one could also reasonably argue, as Marcy Wheeler has with characteristic insight, that the bill is so larded with ambiguities and fundamental inadequacies that it would forestall better options and advocates for real reform should thus root for its defeat.

[snip]

Where is your head as you’re reading this?

[Note:  This item comes from friend Janos Gereben.  DLH]

From: janosG <janosg@gmail.com>
Subject: Where is your head as you’re reading this?
Date: November 19, 2014 at 22:40:27 EST

NBC Nightly News caught up tonight – <http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/what-texting-does-your-spine-n252191> –  with the well-known and generally ignored posture correction, described here at elsewhere (NBC has video only):

As you cradle your smartphone or lean into your laptop to read this, what’s your posture like? Even if you aren’t doing it right now, how much of your day is spent with your neck lurched forward, shoulders slumped and chest collapsed? All that time in “smartphone slump” not only makes you look and feel stressed, it can cause persistent pain.

Although slouching might seem like a lazy posture, it actually takes a lot of dysfunctional muscular effort. Because evolved humans aren’t designed to hold an upper-body slump, many of your neck, chest and back muscles are recruited out of their primary positions to pull your head and shoulders forward. This causes a chain reaction of other muscles throughout your body picking up the slack and doing jobs they weren’t designed for in order to hold and move your skeleton in a slouch.

Understandably, those chains of overworked, out-of-place muscles cause a lot of problems, from neck and back aches to migraines, limited range of motion, decreased strength, increased risk of injury and more.

[*My* head floats above the rest of me...:)]

UK police spied on reporters for years, docs show

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

UK police spied on reporters for years, docs show 
By RAPHAEL SATTER
Nov 20 2014
<http://bigstory.ap.org/article/b2d13c2bfa544e4dbd705237627d6a70/uk-police-spied-reporters-years-docs-show>

LONDON (AP) — In January, freelance video journalist Jason Parkinson returned home from vacation to find a brown paper envelope in his mailbox. He opened it to find nine years of his life laid out in shocking detail.

Twelve pages of police intelligence logs noted which protests he covered, who he spoke to and what he wore — all the way down to the color of his boots. It was, he said, proof of something he’d long suspected: The police were watching him.

“Finally,” he thought as he leafed through documents over a strong black coffee, “we’ve got them.”

Parkinson’s documents, obtained through a public records request, are the basis of a lawsuit being filed by the National Union of Journalists against London’s Metropolitan Police and Britain’s Home Office. The lawsuit, announced late Thursday, along with a recent series of revelations about the seizure of reporters’ phone records, is pulling back the curtain on how British police have spent years tracking the movements of the country’s news media.

“This is another extremely worrying example of the police monitoring journalists who are undertaking their proper duties,” said Paul Lashmar, who heads the journalism department at Britain’s Brunel University.

The Metropolitan Police and the Home Office both declined comment late Thursday.

Parkinson, three photographers, an investigative journalist and a newspaper reporter are filing the lawsuit after obtaining their surveillance records. Parkinson, a 44-year-old freelancer who has covered hundreds of protests — some of them for The Associated Press — said he and his colleagues long suspected that the police were monitoring them.

“Police officers we’d never even met before knew our names and seemed to know a hell of a lot about us,” he said.

Several journalists told AP the records police kept on them were sometimes startling, sometimes funny and occasionally wrong.

One intelligence report showed that police spotted Parkinson cycling near his then-home in northwest London and carried detailed information about him and his then-partner. Jules Mattsson, a 21-year-old journalist with the Times of London, says another record carried a mention of a family member’s medical history, something he says made him so upset he called the police to demand an explanation.

[snip]

Canadian Mother Gives Birth While On Vacation In The U.S., Faces $1 Million Hospital Bill

[Note:  This item comes from friend Bob Frankston.  DLH]

Canadian Mother Gives Birth While On Vacation In The U.S., Faces $1 Million Hospital Bill
By TARA CULP-RESSLER
Nov 19 2014
<http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/11/19/3594075/canadian-childbirth-bill/>

Jennifer Huculak, who lives in the Canadian province Saskatchewan, was six months pregnant when she flew to Hawaii to go on a vacation with her husband. But two days into her 2013 trip, her water unexpectedly broke; she spent the next six weeks on bed rest, and her daughter was delivered prematurely via an emergency C-section.

A year later, the Huculaks and their daughter are healthy and back at home. But they’re now facing medical bills that total $950,000 for the hospital care they received in the United States last fall. “It makes you sick to your stomach,” Huculak told CTV News. “Who can pay a million-dollar medical bill? Who can afford that?”

Although the couple purchased travel insurance from Blue Cross before their vacation, the insurance company says that Huculak’s previous pregnancy complications — she had a bladder infection when she was four months pregnant — amounted to a pre-existing condition, so her medical expenses won’t be covered. Blue Cross also maintains that the Huculaks’ plan expired while they were still in Hawaii. 

Jennifer Huculak told CBC News that she’s frustrated with Blue Cross because she thought she did everything right. She had approval from her doctor to travel, and after her water broke, she tried to figure out how to return to Canada. But she couldn’t find a medical evacuation company that was willing to transport her home in her condition. 

It’s not entirely uncommon for visitors to the U.S. to accrue big medical bills if they suffer from a health condition while they’re here. Travel insurance isn’t currently subject to all of the regulations under the Affordable Care Act — and the health reform law doesn’t apply to people who aren’t U.S. residents — so there can be confusion about how exactly these plans will work in practice. Other Canadian travelers have been stuck with hefty bills after unexpectedly suffering from kidney failure and struggling with high blood pressure while in the United States.

But bills for childbirth are particularly exorbitant. Giving birth in the United States costs more than anywhere else in the world, even when the procedure doesn’t involve the serious complications that Jennifer Huculak experienced. The price tag for this type of care varies widely — by up to tens of thousands of dollars — depending on which hospital you decide to go to. But the cost fluctuations are seemingly random, since high prices for childbirth services don’t correlate with a higher quality of care for American mothers.

Ironically, the Huculaks hail from the Canadian province that was the first region of their country to implement universal, publicly-funded health care. They say they’re now trying to decide if they should fight Blue Cross over their bill or declare bankruptcy.

The Program Big Oil’s PR Firm Uses to ‘Convert Average Citizens’

The Program Big Oil’s PR Firm Uses to ‘Convert Average Citizens’
By Brian Merchant
Nov 18 2014
<http://motherboard.vice.com/read/a-top-pr-firm-promised-big-oil-software-that-can-convert-average-citizens>

The ​CEO of the world’s largest PR firm has a policy when it comes to campaigns that focus on the environment. “We do not work with astroturf groups and we have never created a website for a client with the intent to deny climate change,” Richard Edelman wrote in a blog post in August. That may actually turn out to be true. Technically. 

Edelman may not work with astroturf groups. Instead, it appears to prefer to build them itself, from the ground up, using sophisticated proprietary software platform designed to “convert” advocates and then “track” their behavior.

New documents obtained by Greenpeace and shared with Motherboard illustrate the extensive, meticulous planning that has gone into at least one of Edelman’s proposed astroturf campaigns, aimed at helping TransCanada mobilize “grassroots” support for its effort to build a new pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta to Quebec. 

Astroturfing is the increasingly popular tactic wherein corporations sponsor front groups or manufacture the appearance of grassroots support to simulate a genuine social movement that is rallying for goals in line with their profit motive. In the past, astroturf efforts have used paid actors, company employees, and media-heavy websites. But the program Edelman pitches in its own reports goes even deeper.

The new papers detail an in-depth proposal—part sales pitch, part action plan—put together by Edelman’s Calgary office, suggesting that TransCanada combat environmental groups by mounting one such manufactured “grassroots advocacy” campaign. Those environmentalists are ​currently organizing to oppose the Energy East pipeline, which TransCanada hopes will be an alternative to the long-delayed Keystone XL, on the grounds that it will disastrously boost carbon emissions and increase the likelihood of a major oil spill.

Edelman’s plan is specifically designed to “[a]dd layers of difficulty for our opponents, distracting them from their mission and causing them to redirect their resources,” according to the documents. It stresses developing “supportive third parties, who can in turn put the pressure on, especially when TransCanada can’t.” In other words, the goal would be to attack environmentalists head on with supporters recruited by, but not necessarily directly affiliated with, Edelman and TransCanada.

In one document titled “Digital Grassroots Advocacy Implementation Plan” and dated May 20th, 2014, Edelman explain that its “Grassroots Mobilization Program”—an astroturfing campaign by any other name—should begin with an “action center website.” The document also suggests using a “technologically distinct subdomain” like action.energyeastpipeline.com. Come November, that very site is live, and it is run by TransCanada.

This shows that Edelman and TransCanada are indeed working on executing at least some version of the plan outlined in the documents. 

When reached for comment, an Edelman spokesperson would only reply, “We do not talk about the work we do for clients.” (Mr. Edelman has ceased returning my requests for comment since I published an unflattering reportabout his contradictory policy towards clients that deny climate change.) A spokesman for TransCanada confirmed to both the New York Times and the Huffington Post that “we have moved forward with implementing certain components of the strategy,” though it denied embracing the third party elements.

“We have every reason to believe they’re doing this,” Greenpeace research director Mark Floegal told me. “They’ve at least got a pre-contract if not a full contract.”

[snip]