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May 25, 2011

Doctors now trying to use copyright law to prevent bad comments online

Yglesias -- Caregivers Using Copyright Law To Shield Themselves From Public Criticism From Patients
When I walked into the offices of Dr. Ken Cirka, I was looking for cleaner teeth, not material for an Ars Technica story. I needed a new dentist, and Yelp says Dr. Cirka is one of the best in the Philadelphia area. The receptionist handed me a clipboard with forms to fill out. After the usual patient information form, there was a “mutual privacy agreement” that asked me to transfer ownership of any public commentary I might write in the future to Dr. Cirka. Surprised and a little outraged by this, I got into a lengthy discussion with Dr. Cirka’s office manager that ended in me refusing to sign and her showing me the door.

May 16, 2011

Inside Obama's war on whistleblowers

A great read. Charges Against the N.S.A.’s Thomas Drake : The New Yorker
On June 13th, a fifty-four-year-old former government employee named Thomas Drake is scheduled to appear in a courtroom in Baltimore, where he will face some of the gravest charges that can be brought against an American citizen. A former senior executive at the National Security Agency, the government’s electronic-espionage service, he is accused, in essence, of being an enemy of the state. According to a ten-count indictment delivered against him in April, 2010, Drake violated the Espionage Act—the 1917 statute that was used to convict Aldrich Ames, the C.I.A. officer who, in the eighties and nineties, sold U.S. intelligence to the K.G.B., enabling the Kremlin to assassinate informants. In 2007, the indictment says, Drake willfully retained top-secret defense documents that he had sworn an oath to protect, sneaking them out of the intelligence agency’s headquarters, at Fort Meade, Maryland, and taking them home, for the purpose of “unauthorized disclosure.” The aim of this scheme, the indictment says, was to leak government secrets to an unnamed newspaper reporter, who is identifiable as Siobhan Gorman, of the Baltimore Sun. Gorman wrote a prize-winning series of articles for the Sun about financial waste, bureaucratic dysfunction, and dubious legal practices in N.S.A. counterterrorism programs. Drake is also charged with obstructing justice and lying to federal law-enforcement agents. If he is convicted on all counts, he could receive a prison term of thirty-five years. The government argues that Drake recklessly endangered the lives of American servicemen. “This is not an issue of benign documents,” William M. Welch II, the senior litigation counsel who is prosecuting the case, argued at a hearing in March, 2010. The N.S.A., he went on, collects “intelligence for the soldier in the field. So when individuals go out and they harm that ability, our intelligence goes dark and our soldier in the field gets harmed.” Top officials at the Justice Department describe such leak prosecutions as almost obligatory. Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General who supervises the department’s criminal division, told me, “You don’t get to break the law and disclose classified information just because you want to.” He added, “Politics should play no role in it whatsoever.” . . .

May 11, 2011

China declares war on jasmine

Some dissidents in China have called for a "Jasmine Revolution" like Tunisia's. In response, China has banned the word "Jasmine" and has begun to crack down on actual jasmine plants. Jasmine Becomes Contraband in China - NYTimes.com
Beginning in February, when anonymous calls for a Chinese “Jasmine Revolution” began circulating on the Internet, the Chinese characters for jasmine have been intermittently blocked in text messages while videos of President Hu Jintao singing “Mo Li Hua,” a Qing dynasty paean to the flower, have been plucked from the Web. Local officials, fearful of the flower’s destabilizing potency, canceled this summer’s China International Jasmine Cultural Festival, said Wu Guangyan, manager of the Guangxi Jasmine Development and Investment Company. Even if Chinese cities have been free from any whiff of revolutionary turmoil, the war on jasmine has not been without casualties, most notably the ever-expanding list of democracy advocates, bloggers and other would-be troublemakers who have been pre-emptively detained by public security agents. They include the artist provocateur Ai Weiwei, who remains in police custody after being seized at Beijing’s international airport last month. Less well known are the tribulations endured by the tawny-skinned men and women who grow ornamental jasmine here in Daxing, a district on the rural fringe of the capital. They say prices have collapsed since March, when the police issued an open-ended jasmine ban at a number of retail and wholesale flower markets around Beijing. Zhen Weizhong, 47, who tends 2,000 jasmine plants on about an acre of rented land here, said the knee-high potted variety was wholesaling at about 75 cents, one-third last year’s price. “Even if I could sell them, I would lose money on every plant,” he said, glancing forlornly at a mound of unsold bushes whose blossoms were beginning to fade. Asked if he knew about the so-called Jasmine Revolution and whether it had played a role in collapsing demand, Mr. Zhen shrugged. “I don’t know anything about politics,” he said. “I don’t have time to watch television.” . . .