The deception of Sen. Warren’s “populism”

19 Dec

Over five months ago, I wrote a critique of US Senator Elizabeth Warren, continuing my long line of critiques of her views. [1] This article continues that critique by starting with a speech, that Lambert Strether says “That’s the stuff to give the troops!“, in opposition to a provision repealing elements of financial “reform” passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2010. By now, Obama has supported this provision by signing the bill which included this provision, a bill that prevented another government shutdown but gave huge subsidies to big banks and big oil companies along with more money for the war machine and cutting money to the IRS which already can’t collect tens of billions (if not in the hundreds) of dollars in taxes.

Here some excerpts from Senator Warren’s speech about Citigroup, which criticizes them for their influence in Washington [2]:

“…Today, I’m coming to the floor not to talk about Democrats or Republicans, but about a third group that also wields tremendous power in Washington: Citigroup. Mr. President, in recent years, many Wall Street institutions have exerted extraordinary influence in Washington’s corridors of power, but Citigroup has risen above the others. Its grip over economic policymaking in the executive branch is unprecedented…That’s a lot of powerful people, all from one bank. But they aren’t Citigroup’s only source of power. Over the years, the company has spent millions of dollars on lobbying Congress and funding the political campaigns of its friends in the House and the Senate. Citigroup has also spent millions trying to influence the political process in ways that are far more subtle—and hidden from public view…Citigroup has a lot of money, it spends a lot of money, and it uses that money to grow and consolidate a lot of power. And it pays off. Consider a couple facts…Washington already works really well for the billionaires and big corporations and the lawyers and lobbyists. But what about the families who lost their homes or their jobs or their retirement savings the last time Citi bet big on derivatives and lost? What about the families who are living paycheck to paycheck and saw their tax dollars go to bail Citi out just six years ago? We were sent here to fight for those families, and it’s time – it’s past time – for Washington to start working for them.”

This sentiment is no doubt correct in that Citigroup does have a lot of power in Washington. As Dick Durbin admitted years ago, “the banks…the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill…frankly own the place.” But, Warren’s description of Citigroup is interesting, for one because her description of a “group that also wields tremendous power in Washington,” has exerted “extraordinary influence in Washington’s corridors of power,” has a “grip over economic policymaking in the executive branch,” has spent “millions of dollars on lobbying Congress and funding the political campaigns of its friends in the House and the Senate” and has “spent millions trying to influence the political process in ways that are…hidden from public view” sounds like the Israeli imperial lobby.

An article in The New Yorker earlier this year, regardless of its problematic framing of the Israeli imperial lobby which excluded groups like J Street, framing them as “good,” describes AIPAC in a similar way as Warren described Citigroup. It is important to remember that AIPAC does NOT have the same amount of influence as Citigroup nor is it as powerful, but this comparison is still a good one. Here’s some major quotes from the New Yorker article about AIPAC:

The influence of AIPAC no doubt helped them, like Citigroup’s money, “grow and consolidate a lot of power.”But, how has Warren been pro-Israel? Well,  she already has her first foreign trip planned as a trip to Israel where she met with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom who has trying “to undermine any American deal with Iran” an she ran away “from a reporter at Netroots [in] July…when he sought to ask her about all the civilians dying,” as noted by Mondoweiss. That’s not all. In late August, Warren responded to a constituent who criticized her support for the Iron Dome program. In her response, she declared that “[W]hen Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself,” which that Ben Rosenfeld called “pure Washington sophistry,” saying that her idea of defending Israel was “massively bombing Palestinian civilian infrastructure with the certain knowledge that thousands of innocents would suffer,” and challenging Warren to stand near one of the places under  Israeli bombardment and proclaim the same thing.

A further article in Mondoweiss elaborated her full views on the Gaza war, n which she said that killing civilians is the last thing that Israel wants and much more:

“I think the vote [for the Iron Dome] was right, and I’ll tell you why I think the vote was right. America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of the world where there aren’t many liberal democracies and democracies that are controlled by the rule of law. And we very much need an ally in that part of the world…

when Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself.”

With “progressive” politicians like Bernie Sanders, Al Franken, Elizabeth Warren, and others, giving support to the inhumane and likely genocidal bombing of Gaza this summer, it is no doubt that people came out and criticized them for their support for “Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity,” support which some have said means that they are “elbow deep in the blood of Gazan children.” Still, some could say that there has been some progress, since Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders both didn’t sign an AIPAC letter which warns Palestinian delegates to not make “negative” moves in the UN, and that Gaza should be demilitarized.

Still, her support for the causes of the Israeli imperial lobby is not all that is problematic. It is best to reprint a section of the speech excerpted earlier in this article:

“Washington already works really well for the billionaires and big corporations and the lawyers and lobbyists. But what about the families who lost their homes or their jobs or their retirement savings the last time Citi bet big on derivatives and lost? What about the families who are living paycheck to paycheck and saw their tax dollars go to bail Citi out just six years ago? We were sent here to fight for those families, and it’s time – it’s past time – for Washington to start working for them.”

Many Americans would likely agree with these views as they are not really that controversial. But, it is important to ask: will Elizabeth Warren really help Washington work for struggling families that are homeless or have two jobs rather than “billionaires….big corporations…lawyers and lobbyists”? In my view, the answer is no. As Yves Smith put it in November 2011, Warren is “not the Great Progressive Hope” since she “came to a strongly liberal view on a comparatively narrow set of issues…based on intensive research” but that “she does not have that depth of expertise on many…other topics she opines on” and that she has “surrounded herself with mainstream Democratic advisors.” Smith also warned that Warren would be “more centrist than most of her enthusiasts anticipate.” In another article Smith expanded, on Warren’s views, saying that Warren isn’t a “dogmatic leftie” at all:

“Her position, which sounds dogmatic leftie to those lacking historical perspective, would have been dead center circa the early to mid 1980s, a Javits/Rockefeller Republican or a pretty tame Democrat of that era. But she has arrived at her views not out of ideology but out of pragmatism and rock solid knowledge of the terrain…And well advised or not, Warren may not be as liberal as her fans like to believe. But even if she fails to be the Great Liberal Hope, she is an influential counterweight on the most pressing battleground, that of the rearchitecting of our political and economic structures to assure and extend rent extraction by the top 1% (indeed, the top 0.1%).”

This view seems to echo to some degree, if not completely, those that say, convincingly, that Barack Obama and many other Democrats are now ‘Rockefeller Republicans,’ or moderate Republicans. Perhaps Warren has made strong public statements by opposing Wall Streeters like Treasury nominee Antonio Weiss from getting into power and attacking the neoliberal think thank, Third Way. However, there is something that rightly makes one question how serious her populist creed of attacking Wall Street’s abuses goes: her investments in American big business. This was pointed out in a Mother Jones article last year that strangely turns her investment portfolio into something positive declaring that “Now you, too, can invest like a populist defender of the public interest” while also saying that:

Here’s a list of Warren’s biggest investments…$250,000-$500,000 in a variable annuity that invests mostly in common stocks of a diversified set of companies, such as Apple, Exxon, PepsiCo, and Wells Fargo…$100,000-$250,000 in a variable annuity that invests in stocks of foreign and domestic companies, with a focus on companies that are “shareholder-oriented.” Some examples: Nestle, BNP Paribas, Royal Dutch Shell, Johnson & Johnson, and Toyota…$100,000-$250,000 in a mutual fund that invests in various types of real estate around the country. $50,000-$100,000 in a mutual fund that invests in US companies like Visa, Goldman Sachs, NewsCorp, Monsanto, and eBay…$1,000-$15,000 in a variable annuity that invests in the same things, as well as corporate bonds, including those of GE, Comcast, and AT&T.”

This isn’t all. Warren’s plan for the CFPB (Consumer Finance Protection Bureau), an organization originally thought of by consumer advocate Ralph Nader and then defeated thanks to pressure by the business community in the 1970s, was wholly pro-business. This was noted in a short, but important New Yorker article in 2011, saying that the CFPB would restore confidence in the financial industry:

“Warren may also be the most hated person in Washington. The banking lobby sees her as its nemesis, congressional Republicans are openly hostile to her, and conservatives decry her as the exemplary “totalitarian liberal.”…Warren is far from the anti-capitalist radical that her critics (and some of her supporters) suppose. Indeed, an empowered C.F.P.B. could actually be a boon to business. The core principle of Warren’s work is also a cornerstone of economic theory: well-informed consumers make for vigorous competition and efficient markets. That idea is embodied in the design of the new agency, which focuses on improving the information that consumers get from banks and other financial institutions, so that they can do the kind of comparison shopping that makes the markets for other consumer products work so well. As things stand, many Americans are ill informed about financial products. The typical mortgage or credit-card agreement features page after page of legalese—what bankers call “mice type”—in which the numbers that really matter are obscured by a welter of irrelevant data. There’s plenty of misinformation, too: surveys find that a sizable percentage of mortgage borrowers believe that their lenders are legally obliged to offer them the best possible rate. Since borrowers are often unaware of how much they’re actually paying and why, the market for financial products doesn’t work as well as most markets do. And the consequences of this are not trivial. The housing bubble was a collective frenzy, but it was made much worse by the fact that millions of borrowers were making poorly informed decisions about the debt they were taking on. If people had known more, they might well have borrowed less…History suggests that business doesn’t always know what’s good for it. And, at a time when Americans profoundly distrust the financial industry, a Warren-led C.F.P.B. could turn out to be the friend that the banks never knew they needed.”

Recently, all of this has become even more relevant since many have been pushing for Elizabeth Warren to run for President. One writer, the senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, Andrew Levine wrote that Elizabeth Warren is simply “a conventional Democrat” with a populist vaneer, noting that she has not

“had a bad word to say about the Obama administration’s latest uptick in bellicosity: its plans to revive America’s lost war in Iraq and to expand it into Syria, and its decision to spread yet more murder and mayhem in Afghanistan. Neither has she objected to Obama’s not-so-secret wars in other historically Muslim regions of Asia and Africa, or to his efforts to restart a Cold War with Russia. Though the evidence is sparse, all the signs suggest that Warren is a “liberal interventionist” in the Susan Rice…That would put her in the same moral and intellectual space as Hillary Clinton. On the domestic scene, it is different…Warren, to her credit, has spoken out against the banksters and corporate moguls who have done, and are still doing, so much harm to so many people. Hillary Clinton is their best friend forever. One can only wonder, though, how long it will be before Warren too cozies up to Wall Street.”

If Warren does end up cozing up to Wall Street, then it would put to rest those that call her a “splendid radical,” a powerful voice “for progressive reform” or a person who has a “comprehensive knowledge of how Wall Street firms like Citigroup maintain their stranglehold on the levers of power in Washington.”

Considering that this doesn’t happen, which is definitely possible, then it still doesn’t change the fact that Warren is not a “credible peace candidate.” Readers may wonder why this is the case. Well, for one, some say that is a “well-spoken politician who knows what she has to do to further her career” which includes “dancing to the tunes her financers play…and…doing nothing to annoy or displease the nation’s major power brokers.” But, this doesn’t include the specifics. Instead, it is best to focus on her support for economic sanctions against Iran, her support for Obama’s “kill list” (a.k.a. his drone program), and her views on Israel (described earlier). While she has been Senator, Warren has, like Bernie Sanders engaged in “quiet support” of the bombing of Iraq (and Syria) saying that going after ISIS should be a number 1 priority even as she declares that “we can’t be dragged into another Middle East war.”

Then there are those who say that Warren isn’t that progressive and that she serves as a guise to make the Democratic Party look good. I think there is  merit to these claims. Asher Platts wrote that “Elizabeth Warren isn’t actually that progressive,” arguing that even if Warren “were to win support of publicly elected delegates,” the DNC has super-delegates which wouldn’t support her. Platts also asked people to “stop making demands on a power structure that is incapable of delivering them” and to join the Green Party, “run for office and take power away from those who want it for themselves, and help build a truly democratic society where power is shared by the people.” Elizabeth Schulte made an interesting and different argument. She wrote that Warren’s “tough talk sounds good to a lot of people,” but that “all the good speeches in the world can’t make up for the actual record of the party Warren belongs to,” noting that like “other liberal figures before her, Warren’s main impact is to put a populist façade on a Democratic Party that stands for preserving corporate power.” Schute also notes that Warren in numerous votes in the Senate “took the side of business over working people, including a vote to repeal a core element of the Obama administration’s health care law…[and voting] with Republicans in support of repealing or reducing the estate tax.”  Schute’s article ended with a stinging rebuke of Warren:

“She isn’t a challenger; she’s a conciliator. She doesn’t want to raise expectations, but lower them. She won’t bring progressive issues to the Democratic Party table–her role is to tell us to be happy for the scraps we’re offered.”

Lance Selfa and Guy Miller made similar arguments to Schute. Selfa wrote that politicians like de Blasio and Warren haven’t “made any noise about pursuing a “progressive agenda” outside the Democratic Party,” so they can be “relied on as loyal soldiers in the end,” meaning that they serve an important role in Democratic Party politics. Selfa argued that Jesse Jackson in the 1980s and Dennis Kucinich in the 2000s had similar roles to Warren, while also asking: if this is all that the “liberal resurgence” amounts to, can we really speak of a liberal resurgence at all? Guy Miller made a similar argument, and he imagined how Warren would thank her supporters in a presidential campaign for their “tireless, valiant effort,” and she would say that its “time to get behind Hillary,” meaning that the “country can get back to business as usual.”

Beyond these arguments, what I’ve written so far does question Warren declaring a constitutional amendment would “reverse the damage inflicted on our country” by Citizens United that there are “times when action is required to defend our great democracy against those who would see it perverted into one more rigged game where the rich and the powerful always win.” Warren’s progressivism is questionable considering what this article has already discussed. But, is even more in question when one reads Warren’s speech to the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce in October 2013 (bolded is my emphasis)

 “Massachusetts is one of the best places in the country to live…perhaps more than anything, what drives the Massachusetts economy–and the American economy–is innovation. Innovation makes us soar. .And government-supported research is a critical first step in generating that innovation…Government provides patient capital, the kind that can wait for long-term results. That’s why government support for basic research is essential…NIH also drives economic growth in the United States. Studies have shown that increasing public investment in basic biomedical research directly increases the number of new drugs on the market. Breakthroughs in research create jobs and profits, which in turn generate more tax revenues for the government…Up-front support for biomedical research can also directly reduce government spending by lowering health care costs…Federal investments in medical research are not keeping pace with the innovative capacity of our researchers…there is more at stake than just economics and global competitiveness…We are running out of time. If we continue on our current path, we will soon lose a whole generation of young scientists—lose them to other countries, or lose them to science altogether. I feel the urgency of this moment. We need solutions and we need them now…We need to reduce our deficits, and that means making smart choices on spending. Right now, our country spends billions in the wrong places. Every year, we give away billions of federal dollars to giant oil and gas companies. Every year, we give away billions of dollars in subsidies to giant agribusinesses. Every year, we give away billions of dollars in tax shelters for wealthy individuals. We need to align our spending with high value investments, and we need to align our spending with our values. That means investing in innovation…For more than two hundred years Americans have defined ourselves in part by our inventiveness–by our search for knowledge, our willingness to experiment, and our commitment to discovery…even if the battle is uphill, I intend to fight for big investments in research and innovation. I hope you will be part of this fight.”

This speech from what I  understand sounds deeply neoliberal and buys into the ideas of deficit hawks who claim that the US government doesn’t “have enough money” despite the fact huge amounts of money are spent on the war machine, subsidizing mega-corporations and financing foreign dictatorships. This is very dangerous, and question the perception of her as a fighter for Main Street that is working to combat the horrible influence of Wall Street. There are a number of other positions she has which are problematic. One is her view of the recently released and heavily redacted Senate torture report as “deeply troubling,” tweeting that “transparency is the first step toward accountability — we must always live up to our moral values.” Considering that the torture was illegal, in violation of domestic and international law, and was completely inhumane and completely outrageous, her statement is absurd as it almost understates the torture practiced by the United States since 9/11. Then there’s her article opposing the Kinder Morgan pipeline, in which she writes that “we have an obligation wherever possible to focus our investments on the clean technologies of the future — not the dirty fuels of the past — and to minimize the environmental impact of all our energy infrastructure projects. We can do better — and we should.” While there is no doubt that opposing the pipeline is good, just focusing on mere “investments” on clean technologies, which some say include nuclear power, hydro power and natural gas, is too limited and ignores the importance of having a renewable energy economy.

This isn’t all. In the past Warren has said that John Kerry was “her friend,” and that when US airplane lands anywhere in the world, she’ll be proud that Kerry is representing the US. This fits with her seeming endorsement of American exceptionalism. I could go on and on. [4] It seems obvious to me that Warren, despite branding herself as a populist, is part of the Democratic establishment. This was proven recently when Warren tweeted that Harry Reid asked her “to join the caucus leadership as Strategic Policy Advisor.” In the end, maybe its best to adopt James Weinstein’s definition of liberalism, which is rejected by liberals, which means “stabilizing the system in the interests of big business.” [5]

Notes
[1] See here, here, here, here, and here.
[2] The speech has also been archived here.
[3] This speech has also been archived here.
[4] See a tweet about why Warren refused to endorse OWS and said they were lawbreakers, an article asking why Warren isn’t taking student debt head on and Warren seeming to be concerned about cybersecurity.
[5] For this quote, see Chapter 13 of Zinn’s A People’s History which can be read here, or on page 352 of the 2003 edition of the book.

Responding to critics of my article about Snowden

22 Nov

I recently wrote an article criticizing Snowden’s push for reformist policies. Whether you support him or not, it is clear that Snowden calls for reform of surveillance programs. This is undeniable. This article aims to answer some criticisms I saw on reddit:

Criticism 1:

Not a very good deconstruction. Starts going into using terms like “elitist” and “privilege”. End of the article accuses him of being a “reformist”.

Wanting to post the Inigio Montoya meme in response to this blog entry.

One last little bit, the critic in the blog post pulled this quote to showcase Snowden’s elitism:

The issue is too abstract for average people who have too many things going on in their lives.

I would say to that blog author, get on public transit, or go down to a suburban supermarket, and ask people who Edward Snowden is, or if they know anything about the “Five Eyes”. From my perspective after several public conversations, Snowden was being optimistic, not elitist.

There is no doubt that I use terms like “elitist” and “privilege” in the article. Let me explain first, the idea of privilege as I see it. His white skin color and male gender no doubt also makes his ideas palatable to the public. Imagine if Snowden was a poor black woman. The credibility of Snowden would then be immediately questioned and there would undoubtedly be racist remarks thrown around.  The form of respect that Snowden can get by being a certain race and gender, along with the ability to just walk away from a job in order to engage in whistleblowing is, I would argue, a form of privilege. Even though he is currently in Russia thanks to the US government, which I would argue is undeniable, his proposal of self-sacrifice I would say is a privileged act, because not everyone that is a whistleblower can engage in such a sacrifice. Imagine a worker who has long hours, is barely making ends meet and works a second job.  There is the possibility that someone in that position could be a whistleblower, but there is the possibility that they could lose their job because of it, causing their family to go into turmoil. That is what I fundamentally mean by privilege. Snowden had a cushy job, which he left behind, before he went to Hong Kong. Not every person has an opportunity as Snowden did, to leave their job and whistleblow, especially if their family is depending on their income to live.

This critic then brings up the point that I falsely identified Snowden as elitist, saying that I should “get on public transit, or go down to a suburban supermarket, and ask people who Edward Snowden is, or if they know anything about the “Five Eyes”.” This critic then writes that “from my perspective after several public conversations, Snowden was being optimistic, not elitist.”Before going any further, what did Snowden say? Well, here’s the quote I used in the original article:

“…I said there are two tracks of reform…the political and the technical. I don’t believe the political will to be successful…The issue is too abstract for average people who have too many things going on in their lives. And we do not live in a revolutionary time. People are not prepared to contest power. We have system of education that is really a sort of euphemism for indoctrination. It’s not designed to create critical thinkers. We have a media that goes along with government intended to provoke a certain emotional response.”

I described this at the time as “almost a bit elitist.” I said that because he is basically saying, in the bolded section, that mass surveillance is too abstract for the ordinary person. While I think undebatable that mass surveillance is definitely complex, and average people do have a lot going on in their lives, it seems that ordinary people can understand it. That was why I said he was being possibly, a bit elitist, since he is almost saying that ordinary people can’t understand mass surveillance. I do not believe that is true. Onto the rest of his quote. I think Snowden is right with his criticism of the education system and the mass media, but I disagree with his idea that we do not “live in revolutionary time” and that “people are not prepared to contest power.” Activists and advocates fighting on the ground, especially eco-radicals and those who are part of the occupy movement would no doubt scoff at this notion.

Criticism #2:

As soon as someone starts talking about the difference between a democracy and a republic they have lost me. Must be a US thing.

There’s a lot of words in that article. Pity hardly any of them contributed anything much to any kind of coherent argument.

Well, not surprisingly, I disagree with the last two sentences that say it wasn’t a “coherent argument.” One must remember that the article was a response to an interview, not just a straight article, so that is why one could argue it wasn’t “coherent” which I would disagree with. Onto the more pertinent claim: the idea that there is a difference between a democracy and republic. One could definitely argue that there are democratic elements of the US government which would comprise the US congress (House and Senate) and the Presidency because both are voted into power. However, there are some anti-democratic elements like the US Supreme Court, the court system at-large, and the Electoral College. All of these elements are in theory accountable to the public, but in reality, they are not. This is why I feel that the US is a representative republic, mainly with the evidence being representation in the two houses of Congress. I know that many use the term “democracy” to describe the United States. My conception of democracy is not through government, but control of something by the populace, like community-owned banks, co-ops, industrial/economic democracy, collectives, and so on. Even if you did consider the US and other Western states to be democracies, then one would have to first define what they mean by democracy and then say these states are indirect/elite democracies (i.e. the Athenian city-state) rather than direct democracies, which is in my view the truest form of democracy.

That’s really all I have to say.

Questioning Snowden’s reformism

11 Nov

Edward Snowden (middle) interviewed by the editor of The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel (right) and contributing editor to The Nation, Stephen F. Cohen (left).

As I promised in my previous article for this blog, this article will focus on Edward Snowden’s recent interview for The Nation which can be read here. Specifically, this article will question Snowden’s emphasis on reformism as a solution to countering government surveillance and focus on a number of other issues he brought up in the interview.

Moving beyond Snowden has to say about the US-government-imposed exile in Russia, he first told The Nation about his concern about the “bigger picture”:

“…that the post-World War II, post-Cold War directions of societies were either broadly authoritarian or [broadly] liberal or libertarian. The authoritarian one believed that an individual’s rights were basically provided by governments and were provided by states. The other society–ours–tended to believe that a large portion of our rights were inherent and couldn’t be abrogated by governments, even as this seemed necessary.”

Snowden then went on to ask a number of open-ended questions about societies becoming more “liberal” or “authoritarian.” While what Snowden says sounds nice, I don’t necessarily agree with the underlying narrative. Rather than labeling societies “liberal,” “authoritarian,” or “libertarian,” its probably better to recognize the the recognition of individual rights was a struggle by people from numerous social movements over the years against governments and corporations. Its not like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 or the Civil Rights Act of 1963 came out of nowhere. They came as a result of struggle and determined effort.

Not long after Snowden makes this point about different types of societies, he deems the United States as a “representative democracy”:

“We [the United States] are a representative democracy. But how did we get there? We got there through direct action. And that’s enshrined in our Constitution and our values.”

Firstly, I’ve always cringed at the term “representative democracy” as I feel it is completely inaccurate since the United States is a representative republic, not a democracy. Secondly, and more importantly, this type of analysis misses the fact that some people engaged in direct action, especially the disenfranchised and disempowered, to fight in the revolution and engage in social movements that created the original fabric of the United States as we know it today, during the Revolutionary War. However, there were others that did not participate, and those people are mainly the wealthy elite despite the fact that some of them were in the Continental Army structure. Beyond the Revolutionary War, those in the poor and middle classes were those who continued to create the social fabric of the United States, the rich lording over them, but not engaging in direct action per say. To say that the creation of a representative republic was enshrined in the Constitution is correct, but it misses the historical context.

This quote leads to Snowden’s argument about the “right of revolution” and civil disobedience:

“We [as Americans] have the right to revolution. Revolution does not always have to be [about] weapons and warfare; its also about the principles that we hold to be representative of the kind of world we want to live in. A given order may at any given time fail to represent those values, even work against those values. I think that’s the dynamic we’re seeing today. We have these traditional political parties that are less and less responsive to the needs to ordinary people, so people are in search of their own values. If the government or the parties won’t address our needs, we will. It’s about direct action, even civil disobedience…They [the state] put us in “free speech zones”; they say that you can only do it at this time, and in this way, and [that] you can’t interrupt the functioning of the government. They limit the impact that civil disobedience can achieve. We have to remember that civil disobedience must be disobedience if it’s to be effective. If we simply follow the rules that a state imposes upon us when that state is acting contrary to the public interest, we not actually improving anything. We’re not changing anything.”

This all sounds nice and great, despite it being couched in traditional conservatism, perhaps, but what is Snowden’s example of this working?…it turns out to be an unexpected answer: Occupy Wall Street, saying it was the last time that civil disobedience brought about “change”:

“I believe strongly that Occupy Wall Street had such limits because local authorities were able to enforce…an image of what proper civil disobedience is…the individuals who were loader, more disruptive and, in many ways, more effective at drawing attention to their concerns were immediately castigated by [the] authorities. They were cordoned off, pepper sprayed, thrown in jail…[Occupy] had an impact on consciousness [but] it was not effective in realizing change…but getting inequality out there into the consciousness was important.”

Firstly, I think its great that Occupy was used an example of civil disobedience, but I feel it is false to say it was the last time that civil disobedience brought about “change.” To give one pertinent example, think about the eco-activists working to stop pipelines across the US. Were they not successful? Are they not an example of civil disobedience working? Lest us remember what someone told me in response to my article about the climate march about civil disobedience, specifically in reference to arrests and blockades

“From personal experience, I can tell you that arrests and blockades are merely tactics, not a strategy. There has to be an overall strategy that hits the bosses in the pocketbooks and threatens a political shift. The latter is much harder to organize, require much more time and effort. It requires a lot more people, and we have to find them. Where better to find them when 400,000 show up in the same place at the same time?”

Anyway, there is no need to address Snowden’s declaration that the internet is the equivalent of “electronic telepathy,” that a “deep state” exists, or even that the revelations about surveillance are fundamentally about “liberty.” Firstly there is Snowden’s idea of “noble” self-sacrifice:

“…I’ve said this from the beginning: it’s not about me. I don’t care if I get clemency. I don’t care what happens to me. I don’t care if I end up in jail or Guantanamo or whatever, kicked out of a plane with two gunshots in the face. I did what I did because I believe it is the right thing to do, and I will continue to do that.”

While I think its wonderful that someone would engage in such self-sacrifice, it seems that engaging in this sacrifice shows that he has a level of privilege. Some people have such a poor state of affairs, especially people of color in the United States (and worldwide), that self-sacrifice for them might not be worth it since it may hurt their family’s future or their future. Snowden, is not one of those people who has such a poor state of affairs, despite the US-government-imposed exile in Russia.

What Snowden says about social movements and political action is very pessimistic and disturbing in a number of ways, as he says that now is not the time for revolution. First he says the following, which is almost a bit elitist (see the bolded part)

“…I said there are two tracks of reform…the political and the technical. I don’t believe the political will to be successful…The issue is too abstract for average people who have too many things going on in their lives. And we do not live in a revolutionary time. People are not prepared to contest power. We have system of education that is really a sort of euphemism for indoctrination. It’s not designed to create critical thinkers. We have a media that goes along with government intended to provoke a certain emotional response.”

Later in the interview, he outlines a non-confrontational way of confronting “great powers” and saying (again) that people are not ready for revolution:

“I don’t want to directly confront great powers [mega-corporations?], which we cannot defeat on their own terms. They have more money, more clout, more airtime. We cannot be effective without a mass movement, and the American people are too comfortable to adapt to a mass movement…As tensions increase, people will become more willing to engage in protest. But that moment is not now.”

What type of revolution does Snowden really want? Well, it seems that he supports encryption, saying it is a civic responsibility and duty, but more importantly, the idea of “technical reform,” but he admits that these reforms have to be uniform everywhere:

“Of course I want to see political reform in the United States. But we could pass the best surveillance reforms, the best privacy protections in the world, in the United States, and it would have zero impact internationally…But if someone creates a reformed system today–technical standards must be identical around the world for them to function together.”

This is also reflected in his statement that we wants the system “changed,” not overthrown:

“Sometimes misunderstood is that I didn’t stand up to overthrow the system. What I wanted to do was give society the information it needed to decide if it wanted to change the system.”

Once again, how does “society” get to decide it wants to “change” the system if they aren’t in the policy-making apparatus. As for overthrow, well, in a sense, society can decide that, but it is usually only a small part of society that makes such an overthrow possible.

On a completely different topic, Snowden interestingly argues that calling someone a whistleblower or hero “otherizes” them:

“As for labeling someone a whistleblower, I think it does to them–it does to all of us–a disservice, because it “otherizes” us. Using the language of heroism, calling Daniel Ellsburg a hero, and calling other people who made great sacrifices heroes–even though what they have done is heroic–is to distinguish them from the civic duty they performed, and excuses the rest of us from the same civic duty to speak out when we see something wrong…We have to speak out or we are party to that bad action.”

Near the end of the article, Snowden laughs at the idea that he is a celebrity. Here’s the exchange from the interview:

The Nation: Speaking of films, we understand that in addition to Laura Poitras’s documentary Citizenfour, a couple of others will be made about you.

Snowden: Anything to get people talking about the issues is great. I’m not a movie guy. I don’t know all this stuff that comes with celebrity. I don’t know who the actors will be and stuff like that. But anybody who wants to talk about the issues—that’s great.

The Nation: You already are a celebrity.

Snowden: People say that, but I’ve only had to sign autographs for “civ-libs” types. And I autograph court orders.

The Nation: Maybe, but you need a strategy of how you’re going to use your celebrity, for better or worse. You own it. You can’t get rid of it.

Snowden: [laughs] Well, that’s kind of damning!

The Nation: And you don’t know what lies ahead. Fortune sometimes turns very suddenly, 
unexpectedly.

Snowden: Then let’s hope the surprises are good ones.

Finally, in the last paragraph of the interview, Snowden expands on his “personal politics,” further explaining his “personal philosophy,” showing that he is not a radical for sure (bolding is my emphasis):

“As for my personal politics, some people seem to think I’m some kind of archlibertarian, a hyper-conservative. But when it comes to social policies, I believe women have the right to make their own choices, and inequality is a really important issue. As a technologist, I see the trends, and I see that automation inevitably is going to mean fewer and fewer jobs. And if we do not find a way to provide a basic income for people who have no work, or no meaningful work, we’re going to have social unrest that could get people killed. When we have increasing production—year after year after year—some of that needs to be reinvested in society. It doesn’t need to be consistently concentrated in these venture-capital funds and things like that. I’m not a communist, a socialist or a radical. But these issues have to be 
addressed.”

His views on economic policies such as than increasing employment, reinvesting production, reducing inequality seem to make him as a moderate who wants the system preserved, worrying about social unrest. I don’t know why, but this reminds me a bit of Aristotle really wanting to preserve the existing system.

I know that this article did not cover a good amount of the interview, but hopefully this article shows that Snowden is clearly a reformist, which provides more room to question what he believes and stands for. That is all.

Are GMOs really safe?

9 Nov

Editors note: I wrote this post up earlier this year and never got around the publishing it, but I think now that it is time. Hopefully, it provides some good resources on the subject of GMOs.

Apparently, there are people online who think that GMOs are safe. But, you know the internet, you can’t trust everything you read. One redditor has insinuated a ‘conspiracy’ by those who are ‘anti-GMO,’ saying that is a spread of ‘propaganda’ which another redditor explained claimed was fueled by “manipulation” of information that adds fuel to the fire for “Pro-GM debaters” who fight “back against what they see as propaganda and poor information polluting reddit.” On Facebook, one user named Jeremy Rawley has tried to ‘correct’ those who are critical of GMOs with some ominous picture [link dead] from scientific ‘centers of authority’ saying they ‘support’ GMOs along with going across the internet to ‘correct’ people. [1] On twitter, I ran into such a person who was a university student, and they said I was spreading ‘anti-gmo propaganda,’ which is a bit absurd. On Wikipedia, this pro-GMO sentiment has spread as well, with one page in particular claiming that “while there is concern among the public that eating genetically modified food may be harmful, there is broad scientific consensus that food on the market derived from these crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food…No reports of ill effects have been documented in the human population from genetically modified food” which was later repeated in the article later on, despite a request for comment on these claims which was denied, and a long intensive page on this, where a Wikipedia user investigated the issue thoroughly. In this article, I hope to set the record straight on these issues without making wild or outrageous claims.[2]

To be clear, I’m not a scientist, but rather just a concerned citizen who is skeptical of Monsanto, a company that was one of the creators of DDT and Agent Orange.

Is there a scientific consensus on GMOs?[3]

First, this post by HistoryDay01 explains this topic in depth, now onto other sources:

“Although compositional changes can be detected readily in food, and the power of profiling techniques is rapidly increasing our ability to identify compositional differences between GE food products and their conventional counterparts, methods for determining the biological relevance of these changes and predicting unintended adverse health effects are understudied. As discussed in this report, further advances in analytical technologies and their interpretation are needed to address these limitations.”- Page 177 of the National Research Council report, “Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects.”

” Much experience has been gained in the safety assessment of the first generation of foods derived through modern biotechnology, and those countries that have conducted assessments are confident that those GM foods they have approved are as safe as other foods. Nevertheless, some have raised concerns about the adequacy of existing test methods. For example, more standardised procedures to establish substantial equivalence are needed, as well as improved methods to assess the allergenicity of proteins new to the diet (together with their digestibility and toxicity) taking regional differences in diet into account. In this respect the Task Force has recognised the need for capacity-building to assess the safety of novel foods as a priority activity. This is the reason why work continues internationally on the development of Consensus Documents on individual crop species. Food and feed safety assessors should address these issues. In this context it is important to note that the concept of substantial equivalence is beingaddressed in a number of international fora and will need to be kept under review.”- Page 4 of the OECD report titled ‘REPORT OF THE TASK FORCE FOR THE SAFETY OF NOVEL FOODS AND FEEDS‘, while on page 27 of this same report, which is item 127, says “However, there is still no consensus on resistant proteins [which are genetically modified] being a significantly different risk if none of the other toxicity tests yields adverse results.”

The response of the Center for Responsible Genetics, which does NOT take an anti-GMO or pro-GMO position, to a pro-GMO statement by the AAAS: “The Council for Responsible Genetics is in fundamental disagreement with the recent statement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in which it offered assurances that genetically modified foods (GMOS) are safe and that therefore labeling of foods containing GM ingredients is unnecessary. The AAAS leadership did not reach this decision, a response to Proposition 37 in California, by a vote of its membership. We are deeply concerned that a scientific body such as the AAAS would take such an action without giving a complete review of the science behind its statement. As scientists, they should know that citing a few studies in favor of their position can no longer be considered a compelling argument. Indeed, the AAAS Board did not conduct a thorough analysis of the literature, nor did they include studies that could cast doubt upon their conclusions. The truth is we do not know conclusively what the long-term effects of growing and consuming GM crops will be. There have been very few systematic and independent animal studies testing the safety of GM crops. Since 1992 the FDA policy considers the insertion of foreign genes into the plant genomes of crops as the equivalent of hybrid crops-crosses within the same species-and therefore exempt from the regulations on food additives. Yet we know enough to have valid concerns.The plant genome is not like a Lego set; it is more like an ecosystem. You simply cannot predict the safety of gene inserts unless you do the testing. Most GM food studies have been generated by industry and it is the industry itself with sole access to so much of the data. There is little funding of independent studies on the effects of GM foods, and those few scientists who have engaged in such studies and reported concerns are discounted. Their concerns cannot be resolved without serious and independent scientific study.  We are particularly concerned that at a time when conflicts of interest have become a major concern in science that the AAAS Board would not openly divulge that some in the AAAS leadership appear to have longstanding ties to the biotech industry. Since these ties have not been transparently disclosed, it is unclear whether there could also be ties to industrial concerns that might influence decision making of the AAAS leadership. Surely any reader of their position is entitled to such facts in considering their position. We advocate for full disclosure of all such ties by AAAS leaders. The fact that no deaths have been attributed to GM crops does not mean they are safe. We do not see deaths associated with bisphenol A (BPA) and yet there are hundreds of studies pointing to risks. Risks that consumers have carefully considered when choosing whether or not to buy products containing BPA. The Council for Responsible Genetics has supported GM food labeling for three decades. It is an integral part of our Genetic Bill of Rights. We further support an active move toward a comprehensive and independent risk assessment for GM foods; not the untenable default state that GMOS are safe. The public interest is not served when industry supported studies and government cooperation with industry are cited as proof of product safety. Before we reach any conclusions with regard to GM foods, they must be studied. That’s a basic scientific principle that the AAAS Board appears to have circumvented with their statement. In the meantime, consumers have the right to know which foods have GM ingredients before they choose what to feed themselves and their families.

The World Health Organization, on a page pro-GMO advocates cite all the time since it says GMO foods on the market are safe possibly not recognizing those tests could have been corrupted by corporate power, says “Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods…On issues such as labeling and traceability of GM foods as a way to address consumer concerns, there is no consensus to date” and much more”

“The period around the turn of the twenty-first century was punctuated by the release of a succession of weighty reports by major international organisations and august scientific institutions, which encouraged the development and commercialisation of genetically modified (GM, transgenic) crops to improve developing-country agriculture (FAO 2004; IFAD 2001; IFPRI 1999; Nuffield Council on Bioethics 1999; Royal Society of London et al. 2000; UNDP 2001). Although they were sprinkled with qualifications about careful safety assessment and socio-economic factors, these documents nevertheless appeared to represent an emerging scientific and policy consensus that GM crop technology would be ‘pro-poor’. That optimistic consensus depended on a number of key, unacknowledged and often questionable assumptions about the ways in which the technology would be developed and its likely impacts on poverty, hunger and the livelihoods of the poor (Levidow 2001; Scoones 2002a, 2007).”- Donald Glover, as noted here

“We feel compelled to issue this statement because the claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist. The claim that it does exist is misleading and misrepresents the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of opinion among scientists on this issue.”- As noted by European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility in a response to claims about ‘scientific consensus’ on GMOs which was also mentioned in an article on EcoWatch, Food Processing (which noted than over 200 scientists had signed this statement), and this article in the GMO Journal.

“As a medical research scientist, I disagree that there is any such consensus, and there is no evidence that any genetically modified product is safe. There is no required safety testing, no epidemiological study relating consumption to health.”- DAVID SCHUBERT, a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies as noted in a letter to the New York Times

“Jairam Ramesh said he had taken note of “tremendous opposition” from state governments within India, broad public resistance and the lack of a scientific consensus. “This would be the first GM vegetable crop anywhere in the world so I have been very sensitive and I have arrived at this decision which is responsible to science and responsible to society,” he said tonight.”- From an article in The Guardian

Are GMOs safe to eat?

On page 11 of the same report I cited earlier by the National Research Council says that their research indicates “a potential for adverse reactions to novel substances or increased levels of naturally occurring compounds in GM food.”

A report that was cited in favor of GMOs (it is really pro-GMO in general as it makes out GMOs to be super-wonderful) says on page 6 that “there is little documented evidence that GM crops are potentially toxic” but they later say on page 7 that “tests are not performed to formally assess any risk posed by inhalation of pollens and dusts” (not for ‘conventional foods’ either, which throws the first claim into question, then there’s page 10 which says: “it is difficult to evaluate the effect of GM crops, or probably more importantly the regime required to grow them, on surrounding wildlife, particularly when considering long-term effects.”

Even a FAO report [4]which says there is a ‘scientific consensus’ on GMOs, which is false, says in the paragraph RIGHT AFTER that: “The lack of evidence of negative effects, however, does not mean that new transgenic foods are without riskScientists acknowledge that not enough is known about the long-term effects of transgenic (and most traditional) foods. It will be difficult to detect long-term effects because of many confounding factors such as the underlying genetic variability in foods and problems in assessing the impacts of whole foods. Furthermore, newer, more complex genetically transformed foods may be more difficult to assess and may increase the possibility of unintended effects. New profiling or “fingerprinting” tools may be useful in testing whole foods for unintended changes in composition (ICSU)…The main food safety concerns associated with transgenic products and foods derived from them relate to the possibility of increased allergens, toxins or other harmful compounds; horizontal gene transfer particularly of antibiotic-resistant genes; and other unintended effects.”

The hazards of GMOs to biodiversity and human and animal health are now acknowledged by sources within the UK and US Governments. Particularly serious consequences are associated with the potential for horizontal gene transfer. These include the spread of antibiotic resistance marker genes that would render infectious diseases untreatable, the generation of new viruses and bacteria that cause diseases, and harmful mutations which may lead to cancer” and so on as noted in a letter signed by 828 scientists from 84 countries
“However, several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system. There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation as defined by Hill’s Criteria in the areas of strength of association, consistency, specificity, biological gradient, and biological plausibility…Specificity of the association of GM foods and specific disease processes is also supported. Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation, including upregulation of cytokines associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation...Also, because of the mounting data, it is biologically plausible for Genetically Modified Foods to cause adverse health effects in humans…Therefore, because GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health and are without benefit, the AAEM believes that it is imperative to adopt the precautionary principle…GM foods have not been properly tested for human consumption, and because there is ample evidence of probable harm.”- American Academy of Environmental Medicine as noted here

“Although the WHO declares that the GM products that are currently on the international market have all gone through risk assessment by national authorities, the risk assessment of GM foods in general, and crops in particular for human nutrition and health, has not been systematically performed as indicated in the scientific literature…Evaluations for each GM crop or trait have been conducted using different feeding periods, animal models, and parameters. The most common result is that GM and conventional sources induce similar nutritional performance and growth in animals. However, adverse microscopic and molecular effects of some GM foods in different organs or tissues have been reported to a certain extent”- In an article titled ‘A literature review on the safety assessment of genetically modified plants’ by José L. Domingo and Jordi Giné Bordonaba in Environment International

“With our current state of knowledge, however, there is no way of predicting either the modifications or their biological effect [of GMOs]…Therefore, a toxin that is harmless to humans when made in bacteria could be modified by plant cells in many ways, some of which might be harmful. My second concern is the potential for the introduction of a foreign gene to either evoke the synthesis of toxic, carcinogenic, teratogenic, or allergenic compounds, or downregulate the synthesis of a beneficial plant molecule…Third, the introduction of genes for all or part of a new enzymatic pathway into plants could lead to the synthesis of unexpected or even totally novel products through an interaction with endogenous pathways. Some of these products could be toxic…Given that GM plants will sometimes produce different amounts of proteins, and perhaps totally new proteins, as compared with the parental species, what are the possible results? A worst-case scenario would be that an introduced bacterial toxin is modified to make it toxic to humans. Prompt toxicity might be rapidly detected once the product entered the marketplace if it caused a unique disease, and if the food were labeled for traceability, as were the GM batches of tryptophan. However, cancer or other common diseases with delayed onset would take decades to detect, and might never be traced to their cause.”- David Schubert, a professor at the Salk Institute, as noted here

“Burgeoning growth of the organic food sector demonstrates that some consumers make choices based on sustainability, including potential health effects on farmworkers and the environment due to intense chemical use…Importantly, despite their widespread use, the human and wildlife toxicity of herbicides has not been well studied. Evidence suggests that at least some may induce detrimental health effects even at low exposure levels. Importantly, recent molecular studies suggest that glyphosate-based herbicides can impair retinoic acid signaling, producing teratogenic effects. Thus, the finding of human effects consistent with impaired retinoic signaling in agricultural areas with heavy RoundUp use raises concern about the potential health effects of heavy herbicide usage. Although these studies do not prove that RoundUp/glyphosate creates unwarranted human risks, they raise significant concerns. Labeling GMO products would allow consumers to make choices based on these concerns.”- Patricia Hunt of Washington State University and 20 other scientists in Environmental Health News

“Consequently, changing the context in which a gene operates can change the way the gene works. And changing how even one gene works can have a ‘butterfly effect’ on the entire organism. Critically, epigenetics and epigenetic inheritance explain that these unintended consequences can be passed on to future generations and may not manifest themselves until triggered by external environmental factors. In the context of GM foods, a genetic modification changes the biochemical cross-talk between genes, creating genetic material that has never existed before in nature. This novel genetic material can create unintended health risks, as seen with the case of the GM peas that contained a novel and unexpected allergenic protein and primed test mice to react to other allergens.6 The bottom line is that the scientific acceptance of the existence of the networked gene establishes that the FDA’s presumption that GM plant food is bioequivalent to traditional plant food is no longer scientifically supportable and that a new system for GM plant food regulation is required…Putting this new understanding of the highly contextual nature of genes together with epigenetic studies which demonstrate the myriad ways that the environment can activate or silence certain genes (allowing for billions of possible outcomes), it is easy to see how the new model of gene function challenges the simplistic assumption engendered by the Central Dogma which underlies the FDA’s regulatory scheme. In fact, the hybrid mRNA discovery and the case of the GM peas do more than just challenge the presumption of bioequivalence; they provides direct evidence that the transferred genes and the products of their expression are not bioequivalent to their counter parts in the original organism. The ENCODE project demonstrated that eighty percent of the products of expression of a transferred gene are new. These mRNA hybrids, the product of the coupling of junk DNA from the donee, and the transferred gene from the donor, have never before existed in nature. Thus, the FDA can no longer claim that the donor product and the donee product are bioequivalent. Because they are not bioequivalent, the FDA will be hard pressed to continue in its position that common experience with the donor product can be used as proxy, or indirect, evidence that the donee product is equally safe.“- as noted by Katherine Van Tassel in the Boston University Journal of Science & Technology Law

The recent 106 page report  titled ‘Agriculture at the Crossroads‘ (this is a synthesis report, read about the ‘International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development’ here) says, in an argument that seems to be balanced possibly toward GMOs, on page 51: “Other products of modern biotechnology, for example GMOs made from plants that are part of the human food supply but developed for animal feed or to produce pharmaceuticals that would be unsafe as food, might threaten human health [Global Chapters 3, 6]. Moreover, the larger the scale of bio/nanotechnology or product distribution, the more challenging containment of harm can become [Global Chapter 6].” Now, going to ‘Global Chapter 3′

Golden Rice

http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/imaginary-organisms/

Industry dominate reports on GMOs?

“A major conflict is imminent in science. On the one side are scientists, universities and corporations who have invested nearly 25 years and tens of billions of dollars in the genetic engineering of organisms (transgenics), mostly bacteria and plants, for food, pharmaceutical, and industrial uses. On the other side is a flood of evidence that food plant transgenics – not bacterial or pharmaceutical plant transgenics – is fatally flawed and has been resting on a theoretical foundation that has crumbled away as the science of genetics reinvents itself. Adding to this side is a worldwide grass-roots movement opposed to genetically engineered foods.”- Don Lotter writing in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

“The assumption is that a global scientific consensus has formed around the value of patent-protected transgenic crops, analogous to the general agreement around human-induced climate change. Yet that is clearly false…Thus, whereas the IPCC revealed broad agreement among the global scientific community around climate change, the IAASTD—arguably the “IPCC of agriculture”—showed deep ambivalence among scientists over transgenic crops. The real question becomes: How can serious publications like Seed claim that skepticism toward GMOs reflects a “scientific flip-flop”? To be sure, the illusion of a broad consensus holds sway in the United States, and the IAASTD has clearly failed to correct it. The US media greeted its release with near-complete silence—in stark contrast to its reception in the European media…Ultimately, scientific responses to the advent of climate change and the rise of GMOs make a poor comparison. The consensus around climate change developed in spite of a multi-decade campaign by some of the globe’s most powerful and lucrative industries—the petroleum and coal giants—to protect markets worth hundreds of billions of dollars. The consensus around GMOs—or at least the specter of one—arose through the lobbying and support of an industry desperate to protect its own multibillion-dollar investments. I predict this bought-and-paid-for consensus will prove short-lived.”- Tom Philpott of Grist.org, who makes some good points

“Any scientist working at those institutions with agreements is now free to experiment. The catch is that the companies require the universities to sign a further legal agreement, showing that they understand they can’t let researchers pirate the seeds or plant them after the experiment is over…Want to guess where Monsanto stands in this? Monsanto has a blanket agreement allowing research at all universities in the United States. And actually, when Shields et al. made their complaint, Monsanto claimed it already had many of these agreements in place allowing independent research…There was one problem still, he said: Scientists can’t work with seeds before they come on the market. That hampers his ability to make recommendations about which seeds work best under different conditions, or to test for unwanted effects.”- Nathanael Johnson over at Grist.

“Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. That is because agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers…For a decade their user agreements have explicitly forbidden the use of the seeds for any independent research. Under the threat of litigation, scientists cannot test a seed to explore the different conditions under which it thrives or fails. They cannot compare seeds from one company against those from another company. And perhaps most important, they cannot examine whether the genetically modified crops lead to unintended environmental side effects. Research on genetically modified seeds is still published, of course. But only studies that the seed companies have approved ever see the light of a peer-reviewed journal. In a number of cases, experiments that had the implicit go-ahead from the seed company were later blocked from publication because the results were not flattering…Although we appreciate the need to protect the intellectual property rights that have spurred the investments into research and development that have led to agritech’s successes, we also believe food safety and environmental protection depend on making plant products available to regular scientific scrutiny. Agricultural technology companies should therefore immediately remove the restriction on research from their end-user agreements.”- The Scientific American editors

“It’s no secret that the seed industry has the power to shape the information available on biotech crops, referred to variously as genetically engineered or genetically modified (GM) crops. Commercial entities developed nearly all of the crops on the US market, and their ownership of the proprietary technology allows them to decide who studies the crops and how…Company control starts with a simple grower’s contract. Anyone wishing to buy transgenic seeds has to sign what’s called a technology stewardship agreement that says, among many things, that the buyer cannot conduct research on the seed, nor give it to someone else for research. This means scientists can’t simply buy seeds for their studies, and farmers can’t slip them some on the side. Instead, scientists must get permission from the seed companies or risk a lawsuit…Seed companies can refuse a research request for any reason, and they get fairly inventive…How often these kinds of rejections are happening is unclear. Some may be isolated instances; others result from company policies…The idea of having to get permission from companies to do studies is a deterrent in itself…Requesting permission from the companies can be daunting. The requester usually has to describe in detail the design of the experiment—information scientists may not want to divulge. Some researchers object to revealing their hypotheses because it provides companies with a head start in preparing a rebuttal. Once the company and the scientist agree on the design, they must negotiate the terms of the research agreement. Negotiations tend to break down when companies want to limit or control publication of the study…Most major seed companies seem to have made an effort to enable scientists to do such agronomic research…The companies say they have to keep tabs on public sector research because they want to make sure the studies are done with good stewardship practices and in accordance with regulations.”- Emily Waltz in Nature Biotechnology magazine

This relates to safety, and also corporate control: “Biotech companies have successfully claimed GRAS status for all of their new GM proteins (and by extension, the GM crops that contain them). FDA has yet to revoke an industry GRAS determination and require food additive testing of any transgenic crop… FDA never sees the methodological details of the company’s research, which is essential to identify unintentional mistakes, errors in data interpretation, or intentional deception…Contrary to popular belief, then, FDA has not formally approved a single GM crop as safe for human consumption. Instead, at the end of the consultation, FDA merely issues a short note summarizing the review process and a letter that conveys the crop developer’s assurances that the GM crop is substantially equivalent to its conventional counterpart. Under this voluntary system, FDA cannot fulfill its role of reviewing GM foods for the presence of toxins or allergens, alterations in nutritional content, or unintended effects of genetic engineering.” as noted in a summary by William Freese, with the full report here.

Governments on board with GMOs and corrupt the science?

“When those with a vested interest attempt to sow unreasonable doubt around inconvenient results, or when governments exploit political opportunities by picking and choosing from scientific evidence, they jeopardize public confidence in scientific methods and institutions, and also put their own citizenry at risk. Safety testing, science-based regulation, and the scientific process itself, depend crucially on widespread trust in a body of scientists devoted to the public interest and professional integrity” as noted in Independent Science News.

“We specifically argue that the current approach to declare statistically significant differences between genetically modified organisms and its parents as ‘biologically irrelevant’ based on additional reference controls lacks scientific rigor and legal justification in the European Union (EU) system”- part of a paper published by Environmental Studies Europe which was by Hartmut Meyer and Angelika Hilbeck about the Serlani study

“Beginning in the 1980s, the US regulatory response to biotechnology moved toward guidelines, which documents a departure from the command control regulations of the 1970s. This was a response to a pro-market, anti-regulatory shift in the political culture of government. As part of this shift, a new ideology of ‘junk science’ created a false dichotomy between ‘good science’ and ‘bad science’ to derail any attempts to use the weight of circumstantial evidence and precautionary approaches to regulate biotechnology. No new laws were passed in the United States for genetically modified organisms. Instead, laws passed to regulate chemicals were stretched to apply to GMOs. This resulted in some unusual adaptations oflanguage, such as designating a ubiquitous non-GM soil organism (Pseudomonas) a pesticide. This microbe, which resides on the leaf surfaces of plants, possesses a protein that can act as an ice-nucleating particle for super-cooled water when the temperature reaches a few degrees below freezing. When the gene that codes for this protein is excised (‘ice minus’), it no longer can serve as a nucleating site for frost formation. If the natural organism (‘ice plus’) facilitates ice formation below freezing temperatures thereby causing damage to the plant then it can be designated a pest; its GM variant (‘ice minus’) can then be thought of as a pesticide since it protects the plant from frost damage.”- Sheldon Krimsky as noted in Science as Culture

Also see these articles in The Atlantic and CounterPunch.

Then there’s this in the New York Times in 2007:

“The $73.5 billion global biotech business may soon have to grapple with a discovery that calls into question the scientific principles on which it was founded. Last month, a consortium of scientists published findings that challenge the traditional view of how genes function. The exhaustive four-year effort was organized by the United States National Human Genome Research Institute and carried out by 35 groups from 80 organizations around the world. To their surprise, researchers found that the human genome might not be a “tidy collection of independent genes” after all, with each sequence of DNA linked to a single function, such as a predisposition to diabetes or heart disease. Instead, genes appear to operate in a complex network, and interact and overlap with one another and with other components in ways not yet fully understood. According to the institute, these findings will challenge scientists “to rethink some long-held views about what genes are and what they do.”…While no one has yet challenged the legal basis for gene patents, the biotech industry itself has long since acknowledged the science behind the question…Even more important than patent laws are safety issues raised by the consortium’s findings. Evidence of a networked genome shatters the scientific basis for virtually every official risk assessment of today’s commercial biotech products, from genetically engineered crops to pharmaceuticals.”

That is all.

[1] It would not be surprising if more users were not doing this as well

[2] As to be clear, Pamela Ronald’s article in Genetics is not reliable, as explained here.

[3] Numerous people have claimed this, even a scientists WHO SUPPORTS GMO LABELING Ramez Nadaam has argued this point, which is absurdist. Also there are reports like this one which claim to be impartial…but for a study that supposedly shows scientific consensus, and an article about it on the site of a conservative news source says “overall, the scientific literature was heavily in favor of GM agriculture.” This report says itself that it is an overview of data on GMOs in the past ten years, but GMOs were originally introduced in the 1990s, which is not included in this analysis. Anyway, since one has to pay for the report, I can’t read it, but the abstract says in a sort of pro-GMO fashion:

The technology to produce genetically engineered (GE) plants is celebrating its 30th anniversary and one of the major achievements has been the development of GE crops. The safety of GE crops is crucial for their adoption and has been the object of intense research work often ignored in the public debate. We have reviewed the scientific literature on GE crop safety during the last 10 years, built a classified and manageable list of scientific papers, and analyzed the distribution and composition of the published literature. We selected original research papers, reviews, relevant opinions and reports addressing all the major issues that emerged in the debate on GE crops, trying to catch the scientific consensus that has matured since GE plants became widely cultivated worldwide. The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of GE crops; however, the debate is still intense. An improvement in the efficacy of scientific communication could have a significant impact on the future of agricultural GE. Our collection of scientific records is available to researchers, communicators and teachers at all levels to help create an informed, balanced public perception on the important issue of GE use in agriculture.
So, even this is saying that there is still a debate on this issue and it doesn’t assert that there is a consensus on GMOs. Anyway, at least this isn’t as bad as the statement by Consumer Freedom. Oh boy. The same with this propaganda by General Mills.

[4] Consumers International has said that this FAO report is bias in and of itself TOWARD GMOs even though it does say there are some concerns expressed.

Fareed Zakaria’s false narrative and mass surveillance

6 Nov
A screenshot from Juice Rap News's rap about Australia's mass surveillance law, the G20, etc...

A screenshot from Juice Rap News’s recent rap about Australia’s new mass surveillance law, the G20, and much more.

Recently, Fareed Zakaria, a managing editor of Foreign Affairs recently wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post which pushed a false narrative. This article aims to criticize Zakaria’s column since mass surveillance seems to be the talk of many activists, concerned citizens, and pissed-off Americans these days.*

One of Zakaria’s main points is that whistleblower Edward Snowden should face trial in the US. He says this again and again, couched in supposedly pro-Snowden rhetoric:

“He [Snowden] comes off [as]…intelligent and well-intentioned. I say this as someone who believes that Snowden broke the law and should be accountable but also that he performed a public service that lacks proper democratic oversight and judicial checks. There is a way to reconcile these positions: a trial…The Obama administration should make clear that Snowden would get an open, civilian trial in the United States…It would be the trial of the century, shining a spotlight on something that has been hidden deep in the shadows for too long. And that is what Snowden says he wanted from the start.”

Beyond this ridiculous, absurd, and flowery language is Zakaria’s claim that what Snowden revealed had “limited consequences,” with very little that was “morally scandalous” and his strange argument that US hacking on Chinese computer systems is ok (what?). Oh yeah, and add in Zakaria’s construction of a straw man, guessing what Snowden would argue if he was part of the trial. He even found some anonymous legal scholars who said that “Snowden could get a fair trail” and David Pozen of Columbia University to claim that since Snowden’s case is “so highly publicized already…that the basic fact of the disclosures is old news, as is much of content, some of which is not declassified.”

There is one main problem with Zakaria’s piece: there is NO talk of calling government officials, mainly in the NSA, to trial. They are the ones who should be sitting in a prison, not Snowden. As Snowden himself said in a recent interview with The Nation (which I will analyze in depth in a later article):

“…Richard Nixon got kicked out of Washington for tapping one hotel suite. Today we’re tapping [phone lines and reading emails of] every American citizen in the country, and no one has been put on trial for it or even investigated. We don’t even have an inquiry into it.”

The tapping of phones, reading emails and storing information of Americans, and people all across the world is no doubt violating some law or another beyond the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, which is obviously being violated. You might ask: what has the NSA, and government at large, done that would result in government officials going to jail? Well, let me tell you of the NSA’s misdeeds, some pertinent examples of mass surveillance, and more [1]:

  1. The DOJ was wiretapping the cloakroom of the House of Representatives
  2. The NSA tried to wiretap an unknown member of Congress
  3. The NSA is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon due to a a routine renewal of surveillance by the FISA court
  4. The NSA had set up a program called PRISM to collect data from tech giants including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Skype, YouTube, and Apple, all of whom, are all participating in top secret spying program
  5. The NSA has developed a powerful tool for recording and analyzing where its intelligence comes from called Boundless Informant
  6. Such wide NSA surveillance might, as David Seaman noted, allow for the government to blackmail, shame, or discredit any activist or journalist who threatens status quo which follows Thomas Drake’s claim that we are all “persons of interest” for the government
  7. The NSA repeatedly from 1999 to 2007 kept trying to access the data of private companies with only Qwest refusing access
  8. The NSA is monitoring credit card transaction as part of its supposed effort to target possible terrorists
  9. The NSA is building the country’s biggest spy center to store our information
  10. In March 2013 alone, the NSA collected 97 billion pieces of data from worldwide networks!
  11. The NSA is getting an “electronic copy” of detail records of all Verizon phone calls within the US and between the US and abroad.
  12. The NSA wants to collect, know, process, and sniff “all” (or as much info. as they can get) in part by partnering with intelligence agencies in other countries; the idea of “collecting it all” seems to be a big goal of the NSA
  13. The NSA has processed, as of December 2012, more than a trillion pieces of metadata
  14. The NSA has “strategic partnerships” with companies such as: At&T, Verizon, Motorola, Qwest, Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, HP, EDS, Oracle, and Qualcomm
  15. The PRISM program and the “collection of communications on fiber cables and infrastructure” are completely interlinked.
  16. The FBI and CIA can select info. from PRISM if they wish at any time
  17. The NSA shares data with Canada’s equivalent (of the NSA) called the Communications Security Establishment (CSE)
  18. The US has signal intelligence partners such as coalitions like NATO and countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom
  19. Signal Intelligence is exchanged with Israel, which includes private data of Americans, is driven mainly by their interests
  20. Parts of the NSA focus on “trade activities” of countries such as Mexico, Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Spain, Brazil, and Mexico, because of their “importance to U.S. economic, trade, and defense concerns,” with reports from these divisions informing diplomats at specific summits who were informing President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
  21. Spying on leaders such as Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff (and key advisors) and Mexico’s Peno Nieto
  22. The NSA spied on UN Security Council members (such as Brazil, France, Japan, and Mexico), with the US’s UN members saying that thanks to this spying their real position on sanctioning Iran
  23. The NSA places implants into devices such as servers and routers in order to spy on their internet use and computer use, without detection
  24. The NSA is having a challenge at storing, ingesting and processing all the data they receive
  25. The NSA can spy on anyone’s email they want, they just need to name a certain query and a specific justification
  26. The NSA can access a broad range of data on Facebook thanks to the FBI
  27. A claim in a leaked NSA document that there is “nothing to worry about” if you “accidentally” target a person living in the US
  28. The “NSA now has the capability to store all content from all communications, both phone and computer” and in the view of NSA whistleblower Russ Tice
  29. In January of 2014, the US army in January of this year, deployed two surveillance blimps “called aerostats, for three years of testing over Maryland” which “will have a surveillance range of over 300 miles.”
  30. NSA and FBI are spying “on Muslim leaders, particularly Muslim leaders who were lawyers, civil rights leaders, and academics.” Also see here.
  31. Plans by the NSA and US government at-large to use spying to benefit US corporations
  32. The NSA’s secret “Google-like” search engine, IREACH, where they share “more than 850 billion records about phone calls, emails, cellphone locations, and internet chats” with more than a dozen U.S. govt. agencies
  33. The NSA is partnering with Saudi Arabia’s brutal state police, is a partner with the Israeli intelligence service on every act of military aggression and gives Turkey info. about the PKK even as Turkey is a key target of US spying
  34. The possibility that the NSA or any govt. agency could hack into your computer if you watch a funny cat video
  35. The terrorist screening database of 680,000 people, with almost half not even classified as terrorists, and the CIA, DIA, NSA and FBI being the top people who nominate people to the list.
  36. A program where “huge volumes of private emails, phone calls, and internet chats are being intercepted by the National Security Agency with the secret cooperation of more foreign governments than previously known.”
  37. Germany serving as the NSA’s biggest listening post in Europe
  38. The NSA “secretly intercepting, recording, and archiving the audio of virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.”
  39. The NSA and GCHQ having a list of 122 leaders, including Angela Merkel, who are being spied on
  40. The NSA tracking “down the private email and Facebook accounts of system administrators (or sys admins, as they are often called), before hacking their computers to gain access to the networks they control”
  41. Governments and government agencies regularly tapping into private license-plate tracking databases even if casts many as suspects
  42. The NSA infects millions of computers with malware, even making fake facebook pages and servers at certain times. Also see here.
  43. The CIA searched US senate computers. Also see here.
  44. The NSA has an advice columnist who complains about being spied on…what?
  45. For years, the “DOJ had utilized warrantless electronic surveillance to identify suspects…[and] no criminal defendant had received such notice.”
  46. The GCHQ and NSA “targeted WikiLeaks and other activist groups with tactics ranging from covert surveillance to prosecution.”
  47. The NSA “is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes,” which interestingly is centered on a focus on the metadata in one’s phone or cell-phone tracking
  48. NSA can use US data without a warrant, according to a revealed FISA court order
  49. The NSA collected email records in bulk for two years of Obama’s presidency and continues to do so up until the present
  50. The NSA, along with other intelligence services like the CIA and FBI, are “spying on the European Union mission in New York and its embassy in Washington,” along with “38 embassies and missions” which are considered targets, which include “traditional ideological adversaries…snsitive Middle Eastern countries…EU missions and the French, Italian and Greek embassies, as well as a number of other American allies, including Japan, Mexico, South Korea, India and Turkey.”
  51.  Microsoft and the NSA are collaborating over user data, allowing user’s data to be intercepted and stored by the NSA
  52. The NSA paid the GCHQ to continue spying
  53. The NSA somehow has “secret backdoor permission to search databases for individual Americans’ communications”
  54. The NSA “paid millions of dollars to cover the costs of major internet companies involved in the Prism surveillance program” such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo! This falls in line with what the NSA general counsel said: that big tech companies like Yahoo and Google provided ‘full assistance’ in legally mandated collection of data
  55. The NSA and GCHQ worked to “unlock encryption used to protect emails, banking and medical records” while the NSA itself has tried to crack the encryption of Tor, but that they haven’t been fully successful.
  56. The NSA shares raw intelligence data including personal info. of Americans with Israel
  57. The NSA spied on the Indian embassy and the UN. This falls in line with US diplomats spying on the top officials of the United Nations as revealed by Wikileaks cables.
  58. The US monitored Angela Merkel and numerous other phones of world leaders, and not surprisingly they won’t let Merkel see HER OWN NSA file
  59. Snowden claims that the NSA caused the Syrian internet blackout in 2012 accidently in an attempt to infiltrate it
  60. The NSA recruits people at hacker conventions but has recently, and justifiably, taken a lot of flack
  61. When the NSA “intercepted the online accounts of legally targeted foreigners over a four-year period it also collected the conversations of nine times as many ordinary internet users” many of whom are US citizens
  62. The NSA “searched through its data troves of emails and other communications data for 198 “identifiers” of Americans’ information in 2013 alone.”
  63. Vodafone “revealed the existence of secret wires that allow government agencies to listen to all conversations on its networks, saying they are widely used in some of the 29 countries in which it operates in Europe and beyond,” likely some of those agencies are the NSA, CIA and FBI.
  64. Top NSA officials “wrestled for weeks with how to respond to an unprecedented surge in open records requests from members of the public in the wake of the first mass surveillance revelations” from documents provided by Snowden
  65. Ironically, US secretary of State John Kerry claimed that the US “obtained intercepted phone calls that prove Moscow is deliberately trying to destabilise eastern Ukraine”
  66. Snowden claims that the NSA spied on Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch
  67. The NSA “created ‘back doors’ into…Huawei[‘s] networks.” This is what Fareed Zakaria supports for some stupid reason
  68. The GCHQ collected Yahoo! webcam images and then fed them to the NSA
  69. The NSA spied on rival states during the 2009 climate summit according to Snowden
  70. The NSA and GCHQ have been “been developing capabilities to take advantage of “leaky” smartphone apps, such as the wildly popular Angry Birds game, that transmit users’ private information across the internet.”
  71. The increase in mass surveillance could be because of a “need” to brunt climate activism
  72. The NSA has a tool to hack into iPhones by using a backdoor
  73. U.S. tax dollars are being used to monitor “Americans who voice dissent against the extraordinary influence that some of the world’s most powerful corporations have on our elected officials”
  74. The FBI has used drones to monitor citizens on US soil. This isn’t a surprise as tar sands drones seem to be coming soon
  75. Rice Tice has said that the the US engaged in “illegal use of space-based satellites and systems to spy on U.S. citizens”
  76. Not only is the FBI engaging in intimidation to some degree, but it is also clear that “state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies are systematically monitoring First Amendment activities…in the name of safety and security in a post-9/11 age.”
  77. According to a New York Times article, all U.S. mail is being scanned and put into a database which is called Mail Isolation Control and Tracking. Funny enough, Gizmodo contemplated it three years earlier, asking if people could imagine if the Postal Service scanned and emailed all your letters
  78. The FBI conducts its own signals intelligence as part of the Data Intercept Technology Unit (DITU) which feeds data to the NSA, possibly doing even more surveillance than even the NSA
  79. There’s the Magic Lantern program developed by FBI to log keystrokes and there’s the  Computer and Internet Protocol Address Verifier, another FBI surveillance program
  80. Finally there’s DCSNet which is the FBI’s “sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device”

These crimes by the NSA especially, are now anomaly, since, as Kirk Wiebe said

webe

I could simply say that NSA officials should go on trial and be put in jail. Snowden has alluded to this. I could even say that the NSA should be abolished, just like the CIA, as I have previously advocated for. However, the mass surveillance apparatus is more expansive than just the NSA, or just the CIA. After all, corporate and government surveillance are intertwined, which is in part because after 9/11 the US intelligence community “found itself in control of a huge amount of money, contracting with domestic and foreign companies to build and proliferate tools needed to spy on the world” which led to what some call a “surveillance-industrial complex.”[2] Hence, there is more to worry about than what some claim to be a “surveillance state” since it is MUCH more complex and intricate than that. It is important to also recognize a valid point by Zaid Jilani:

“Government can be an incredibly positive force when it is transparent, accountable and empowering. When it is not those things, not only should we oppose it, but we should be proud that there are people on the Right who are willing to join with us in that cause—they’re helping us actually increase faith in the positive aspects of the public sector by addressing its abuses. Not only can we advocate for rolling back the national security state and implementing positive government programs like Medicare for All and a national living wage, but if we are to win over the American public, it may very well be necessary to do both.”

And please, do NOT claim as this article says that because of mass surveillance, “Equality has finally come to the shores of America in the form of surveillance. We are all in the same boat now and when the lights go out, we are all black.” That is not only insensitive to blacks, but it is bypassing the reality of racial domination and oppression in the United States. There is no doubt that the US is a surveillance society (I’ll agree with the ACLU on this one). But, that term in and of itself is too mild. It is best to call the US what cryptohippie calls an electronic police state, which they define as follows [4]:

“An electronic police state is quiet, even unseen. All of its legal actions are supported by abundant evidence. It looks pristine. An electronic police state is characterized by…State use of electronic technologies to record, organize, search and distribute forensic evidence against its citizens…In an Electronic Police State, every surveillance camera recording, every email you send, every Internet site you surf, every post you make, every check you write, every credit card swipe, every cell phone ping…are all criminal evidence , and they are held in searchable databases, for a long, long time. Whoever holds this evidence can make you look very, very bad whenever they care enough to do so. You can be prosecuted whenever they feel like it – the evidence is already in their database.”

It is more likely that this type of state exists in the US than a police state as traditionally defined, despite what others have to say about it. [5]

It is important to remember that the Snowden revelations are NOT the first time that people have been concerned about the mass surveillance apparatus. As Eli Pariser predicted in his 2007 book, The Filter Bubble, “by 2014, they [the NSA] anticipate dealing with so much data they’ve invented new units of measurement just to describe it.” [6] Pariser wasn’t the only one. Maureen Webb wrote about global surveillance, mainly by the US in the wake of 9/11. In a book released the same year, 2007, Webb wrote that the NSA’s electric bill was $21 million a year (likely much higher now), shreds 40,000 documents a day, and that governments were using individual private information they collected to “assess and preemptively eliminate the [supposed] risk that any of us might pose to the state” which she says requires that “everyone be evaluated as a potential suspect.” [7]  She also wrote about RFID chips used in DHS (Dept. of ‘Homeland Security”) visas which could be accessed by the US government and private companies. [8] In the book, Webb also warned that there will be the creation of a “global identity system predicated on the avoidance of risk” meaning that if one isn’t registered or has no “personal profile” then they will amount to, essentially, a “non-person,” making them a “risk to the state.” [9] Interestingly, in part of the book, Webb writes about the connection between corporations and the state on surveillance, calling it the ‘corporate-security complex’ [10]:

“…the new symbiotic relationship that is developing between an immense security/intelligence establishment and an ambitious information technology industry [can be called the]…corporate-security complex [which] is an aggressive drive of the project for globalized, mass registration and surveillance.”

Later Webb expands on this writing that billions of dollars, euros and other currencies flow into this complex and makes a bold and dark statement about a surveillance society, which almost echoes some wary-of-government themes, writing that [11]:

“In a surveillance society…[the] government need not represent the people; the ruling class [or elite] is above the law; the people and individuals are answerable to the state; their rights and protections are subordinated to the state’s interest; and the executive branch of government usurps the constitutional power of the other branches of government.”

Webb also writes in her book that global surveillance is not efficient, that it does not help catch terrorists, that it doesn’t address the causes of terrorism, that racial profiling is endemic to mass surveillance, and that global insecurity is exacerbated by such surveillance. [12] Still, Webb’s alternative to this is reformist and does not involve dismantling the “immense security/intelligence establishment” she is concerned about.

Dana Priest and William Arkin have a similar reformist aim, only to expose information in the name of transparency, but they have a few interesting things to say about the establishment that Webb is clearly concerned about, such as [13]:

  • the government spending $10 billion a year to keep “secrets secret”
  • the creation of a “national security bureaucracy” which has run amok
  • Obama continuing the expansion of this establishment or bureaucracy, which they call ‘Top Secret America,’ despite supposed signs to the contrary
  • a “culture of spending” to stop supposed terrorist attacks, which resulted in a huge bureaucracy, which has major problems
  • the NSA ingesting 1.7 billion pieces of intercepted communications every day, including telephone calls, radio signals, cell phone conversations, emails, texts and more.

Arkin and Priest also write about the connection between corporations, and the US government on surveillance, noting that the NSA hires private firms to come up with much of its “technology and innovations,” and a federal-state-corporate partnership that “has produced a vast domestic intelligence apparatus that collects, stores, and analyzes information about tens of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents.” [14]

Finally, there is a older book by Mark Monmonier, written in 2002, which is also reformist in nature, is also about surveillance. There is one good thing that Monmonier does: define specific terms. He writes that surveillance is, in his view, about “monitoring to control human behavior” while data surveillance is, in quoting computer scientist Roger Clarke who coined the term, as  “the systematic use of personal data systems in the investigation of [people’s] actions or communications.”[15] However, Monmonier also echoes Snowden and others who are part of the corporate front, a supposed social justice campaign, called Reset the Net. At one point he writes that “data warehouses,” private companies like Axicom, which collect “detailed information on individual households” and rent that information to “retailers, insurers, and…detective agencies” is really Big Brother, not the government, while at another point he criticizes those who say that “Big Brother is almost everywhere,” and in the last sentence of the book, he declares: “for some of us, Big Business is a worse threat than Big Brother.” [16] Not only does this contradict his statement earlier in the book that “Big Brother is doing most of the watching…but corporations, local governments, and other Little Brothers are quickly getting involved” but it is completely absurd.[17] Why can’t someone be concerned about corporate surveillance, state surveillance and big business all at the same time?

While I know that this article did not come up with a way to dismantle and counter the corporate-state surveillance apparatus, that is not what this article was about. Still, I feel obliged to give some suggestions for what is a way forward. First, and foremost, I’d say making the connections between corporate and state forces on surveillance and the terror complex is clear. Then, there can be debate about what is the approach to counter and dismantle this nexis. I must be clear: working with the corporate sector in order to counter this surveillance is wholly counterproductive and it makes you a simple pawn of big business, whether you like that or not. I don’t think anyone wants that. Secondly, I think that reforming the NSA in any way, shape or form is a waste of energy. Instead, those who care about state surveillance should push for the NSA, CIA and FBI to be abolished for starters, with those who committed crimes, perhaps top NSA officials, going on trial. I would say that Snowden should go on trial, but based on the treatment Chelsea Manning got, I do not think that Snowden will get a fair trail in the US. I just don’t see it as possible.

Beyond my proposed ideas is the fact that Maureen Webb is right when she writes that “democratic societies are gradually becoming surveillance societies–or worse…authoritarian police states.” [18] I’ll end with this: what happens now, in regards of the massive America surveillance apparatus, is up to us.

Notes:

*While other countries and populations, including many countries in Latin America and Europe, are also concerned and angry about this surveillance, I write this from my perspective as a person who lives in the United States.

[1]The sources for this information come from a widely circulated article for Global Research which I have since criticized on this blog for faulty framing there is an accurate description of the mass surveillance by the US government, documents used in Glenn Greenwald’s new book shown in a 108 page PDF, and numerous other sources (here, here, here, here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

[2] See here and here. Also see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, herehere, here, here, and here for other articles on the subject

[3] See here, here, here for commentaries using the term “surveillance state.”

[4] Wendy McElroy of the libertarian Independent Institute uses this term as well, writing that:

“The modern surveillance state is referred to as an electronic police state because it uses technology to monitor people in order to detect and punish dissent. The authorities exert social control through spying, harsh law enforcement, and by regulating “privileges” such as the ability to travel. But all of this starts with surveillance…State surveillance has become more secretive and increasingly exempt from both oversight and accountability [since the end of the Cold War] Fusion centers now reach into private databases such as Accurate, Choice Point, Lexis-Nexus, Locate Plus, insurance claims, and credit reports. They access millions of government files like DMV records…The foregoing is a description of electronic totalitarianism. If its creation is invisible to many people, then it manifests yet another characteristic of a police state: People do not believe their freedom is gone until there is a knock on the door—one that comes in the middle of the night.”

[5] An example of someone who uses the term police state is Michael Rattner.

[6] Pariser, Eli. 2007. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You. New York: Penguin Press, 11.

[7] Webb, Maureen. 2007. Illusions of Security: Global Surveillance and Democracy in the Post-9/11 World. San Francisco: City Lights, 48, 71-72.

[8] Ibid, 84-85. I know conspiracy theorists will be giddy about me mentioning the word RFID chips, as many think it is part of some government conspiracy, but they can just wipe the grins right off their faces.

[9] Ibid, 101.

[10] Ibid, 194-5.

[11] Ibid, 196, 201.

[12] Ibid, 235, 239-240, 243.

[13] Priest, Dana & Arkin, William M. 2011. Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State. New York: Little Brown & Company, 24, 51, 77, 156, 277

[14] Ibid, 133, 182.

[15] Monmonier, Mark. 2002. Spying With Maps: Surveillance Technologies and the Future of Privacy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2, 152.

[16] Ibid, 151, 170, 172.

[17] Ibid, 2.

[18] Webb, 209.

There are numerous countries where being gay is a crime. Which ones does the US govt. support?

29 Oct

Recently, I saw this tweet in response to MediaRoots about countries where being gay or homosexual is a crime:

I decided to accept this challenge and work to find out which of these countries has US support.

The first two charts relate to the five countries that have the death penalty for homosexuals (Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen). Info comes from numerous sources. [1]

Number of US troops stationed in the said state

chart1

Foreign Assistance and Foreign military financing (FMF) in said state

chart2

Next, I looked into all the countries were being homosexual is illegal, including those where the death penalty can be applied. I used the same sources as used for the above two charts.[1]

US troops stationed in said countries

chart3

Foreign Assistance and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to said countries [2]

chart 4

Finally, I looked at who were in “bilateral partnerships” with the US government. [3]

chart 5

From this data, it is hard to get a clear correlation between which countries have on the books laws where being gay is a crime and US support. The only countries where is this correlation could be made strongly would be Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Kuwait,, and Afghanistan. I think the US support for certain countries is dependent on geopolitical aims and other factors, meaning that they do and don’t always line up with these abusers of human rights. While it is hard to come with with such a correlation, it is clear from this data that the US government doesn’t give a damn about human rights…if we thought they ever did. Even under Jimmy Carter they didn’t care. As Howard Zinn wrote in A People’s History of the United States,

“…Carter, despite a few gestures toward black people and the poor, despite talk of “human rights” abroad, remained within the historic political boundaries of the American system, protecting corporate wealth and power, maintaining a huge military machine that drained the national wealth, allying the United States with right-wing tyrannies abroad…Carter’s job as President, from the point of view of the Establishment, was to halt the rushing disappointment of the American people with the government…Under Carter, the United States continued to support, all over the world, regimes that engaged in imprisonment of dissenters, torture, and mass murder.”

I’ll end with what current National Security Adviser Susan Rice revealingly, usually those in power don’t say stuff as she did, said in December 2013 and let you come to your own conclusions about the data I have presented:

Notes

[1] Sources: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/16/countries-where-being-gay-is-a-crime, http://interestingblogger.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/maps-of-discrimination-and-support-worldwide/, the most recent data from the DMDC for ‘Active Duty Military Personnel by Service by Region/Country’, data from foreignassistance.gov (http://www.foreignassistance.gov/web/RGAIntro.aspx for example) and the numbers used here mean “obligations,” not planned or spent aid, and http://www.state.gov/t/pm/ppa/sat/c14560.htm, and http://interestingblogger.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/who-are-the-us-allies-anyway/. Note:  Malawi is not included because “enforcement of law suspended,” Lebanon not included because the law was “ruled invalid in one court”, Dominica not included because the leader of the country said the anti-gay law wouldn’t be enforced, Palestine/Gaza Strip not included because it isn’t a country per say.

[2] For chart 4:

*Likely a good amount of this money is to overthrow the Syrian govt.

[1] Yemen

[2] Senegal

[3] India

[4] Burma

[5] Namibia

[6] Swaziland

[7] Botswana

[8] Lesotho

[9] Sri Lanka

[10] Jamaica

[11] Bahrain

[12] Guinea

[13] Mauritania

[14] Barbados

[15] Oman

[16] Uzbekistan

[17] Libya

[18] Uzbekistan

[19] Saudi Arabia

[20] Guyana

[21] Turkmenistan

[22] Papua New Guinea

[23] Sierra Leone

[24] Algeria

[25] Togo

[26] Belize

[27] Tonga

[28] Gambia

[29] Ghana

[30] Samoa

[31] Trinidad & Tobago

[32] Maldives

[33] Mauritus

[34] Solomon Islands

[35] Malaysia

[36] Comoros

Some numbers may be rounded. Some numbers are the most recent available. Not included on here is Morocco, Seychelles, Kiribati, and Iran as money is in the negative. Additionally, Kuwait, St. Kitts & Nevis, Grenada, UAE, Bhutan, Tuvalu, Nauru, St Vincent & the Grenadines, and Brunei are not included, as they received zero dollars.

[3] For chart 5:

- YES [Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, Comoros, Nigeria, Seychelles, Tanzania, Qatar, Yemen, UAE, India]

- NO [Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritus, Mozambique, Senegal, Namibia, Sudan, Bangladesh, Guyana, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Oman, Iran, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Bhutan, Brunei, Maldives, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago, Cook Islands, Kirbati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu

- also http://interestingblogger.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/who-are-the-us-allies-anyway/ is a main source for this info., along with some info. from foreignassistance.gov

Criticizing Glenn Greenwald

29 Oct

Before I pen an article about the surveillance apparatus, I think its time to challenge and critique Glenn Greenwald, just as I did for Snowden’s push for reform.

I start back in 2010, with the Citizens United decision, which Greenwald supported. I even made a graphic (a bit exaggerated mind you) about this last year:

tumblr_mm19xow3D71qcts6yo1_1280This graphic comes from an article I wrote which focuses on “fake socialists,” people like Bernie Sanders, Lawrence O’Donnell and others. At the time I wrote that while Greenwald “never comes out says he loves Citizens United, he supports its underlying reasoning” and that it is ok that money is considered (political) speech. I said and still believe that this is troubling, describing that Greenwald is a homosexual, politically independent, “not ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ while criticizing the two-party system…not voting at all, advocating for drug decriminalization, opposing capital punishment” and much more. Noam Chomsky, as indicated by the graphic said in an interview with Truthout that “…there are some civil libertarians like Glenn Greenwald who more or less supported it on free speech grounds. I don’t agree with it, but I can see the argument.”

Here are some highlights of what Greenwald wrote about Citizens United, titled ‘What the Supreme Court got right: It’s best for the government to stay out of the business of restricting political advocacy‘. Saying right now, I don’t agree with his position at all. I feel that money is not political speech. I thought I’d turn it into some pictures, as it might be easier to understand rather than just having a bunch of quoted sections.

1. Greenwald says that 1st amendment is relevant in this case

greenwald1

2. Greenwald says that even if the court ruling has bad outcomes…who cares! (what?)

greenwald2

3. Greenwald: Only the Constitution is something the Sup court should consider, no consideration if the actions produce good results… huh?

greenwald3

4. Greenwald: Even if restricting speech has good results, then it shouldn’t be done

greenwald4

5. Greenwald says that I don’t see how Citizens United could make things that much worse, the system is already messed up as it exists

greenwald5

6.  So, corporate money strengthens incumbents but not the two parties…huh? That’s not true, both are strengthened by corporate money.

greenwald6

7. If something magically violates the Constitution it should be removed…but who decides if it is “sufficiently repugnant”?

greenwald7

8. Free speech “burdened by campaign finance laws” is under-stated? Greenwald thinks so.

greenwald8

9. Greenwald is a free speech absolutist…so would he support the Hobby Lobby decision?

greenwald9

10. Greenwald says that campaign laws are ineffective and that small non-profits are hurt by them

greenwald10

11. Campaign finance laws are like gun control laws…what?

greenwald11

12. Are current efforts really restricting “political speech”?

greenwald12

13. Public financing is the answer?…really?

greenwald13

14. If Citizens United leads to public financing then it will have a “positive outcome”…what??

greenwald14

15. Political speech restrictions suppress some views?

greenwald15

16. Hmm. Is it really “constitutionally mandated”? and what is “political advocacy”?

greenwald16

17. He opposes corporate personhood…

greenwald17

Rather than continuing on and quoting more from this article, I think its best to continue on, and move to other views that Greenwald has. What you think about what Greenwald writes in regards to Citizens United is up to you. I do think a comment by Randy Shields, about Greenwald supporting a decision that overturned a law banning videos showing kittens being crushed to death for sexual satisification, is appropriate here:

“The inspiration for this piece was a tweet of Salon’s Glenn Greenwald where he defended the court’s decision. Screw you, Glenn Greenwald, and your lofty liberal white bread apologetics, which don’t mean shit in the real world of “crush” videos and capitalism.”

Greenwald’s view is not surprising since he has gone to conferences of the CATO Institute and Socialism conferences, as noted on his twitter:

This isn’t the only critique of Greenwald. Socialist Worker writer Kolponashokti-r Doinyo was critical of Greenwald standing beside two conservatives and not challenging them:

“…Glenn Greenwald took part in a college speaking tour sponsored by the Future of Freedom Foundation (FFF) and Young Americans for Liberty (a mouthpiece for Republican presidential contender Ron Paul) in early February…The idea behind the coming together of a libertarian (Hornberger), a conservative (Fein) and a liberal (Greenwald) was for this diverse set of speakers to speak out against the NDAA…All three panelists shared the belief that there are certain core principles which citizens should fight for irrespective of their professed political and ideological beliefs…The libertarian analysis put forth by Hornberger posits that the problem with breaching civil liberties and the core problem of the NDAA is ultimately that this represents big government…while words like “empire” and “imperialism” were thrown around to describe the U.S., there was no connection made between U.S. imperialism and the economics of capitalism…While Greenwald’s critique of Barack Obama for undermining civil liberties was correct, his decision to choose a platform provided by right-wing libertarians should be a matter of concern to people on the left. At the forum, he never raised any points of political difference that he might have with the libertarians, giving the impression that civil liberties issues trump all other political and social questions. In fact, he went so far as to say that the only person challenging the narrow political spectrum of the two-party system currently is Ron Paul, effectively showing support for him before the Republican primaries…For someone like Greenwald to speak on a platform provided by a right-wing libertarian organization connected to Ron Paul–and to speak highly of Paul without even hinting at political differences–while solely concentrating on the question of civil liberties does not reflect the political perspicacity that followers of his blog at Salon.com might expect.”

There are a number other critiques out there. Chris Floyd notes that Greenwald fits in with Ominyar’s reformism, unlike Douglas Valentine who says he’ll give Greenwald and others a “free pass” for working with a multi-billionaire (bolded is my emphasis)

“I’m sure the writers hired by Omidyar’s quarter of a billion dollars will produce work of value, dig up some useful facts. So does the Times, so does the now oligarch-owned Washington Post, so do Murdoch’s papers on occasion. But I don’t think Omidyar’s enterprise has been set up to challenge the status quo or pose the “threat” to the system that its hero-worshippers are looking for. Indeed, even Greenwald calls only for “reforms” of the system, for “real oversight” of the National Security State by legislators — the same legislators bought, sold, cowed and dominated by Big Money. I honestly don’t think that the powers-that-be feel threatened by an enterprise set up by one of their number that confines itself to calls for “reform” from “within” — especially when its sole owner continues to cooperate with the Koch Brothers, hard-right ideologues like Hernando de Soto and indeed with the National Security State itself in subversive adventures overseas. Omidyar’s goals are limited: to protect the privacy of the individual from government. This is a noble, worthy aim. But based on his own actions, he is perfectly content for that privacy-protected individual to advance a punishing neo-liberal agenda on the rest of the world, and at home, in collusion with the National Security State if need be. Whether Greenwald, Scahill, Taibbi, Wheeler and the rest are equally content with this agenda is something we will find out in the months to come.”

Bill Blunden had his own unique criticism, which is relevant here. He wrote that encryption is nice, but not the answer:

“…Glenn, does this mean that addressing mass surveillance, and the mass subversion which enables it, will entail tackling the related problem of corporate state capture? Or, as Sheldon Wolin refers to it, the specter of inverted totalitarianism?…Glenn mentioned that the average person may feel powerless against the government, but they could turn to strong cryptography as a way to regain privacy. He also acknowledged that while hi-tech companies don’t care one jot about your privacy they do, however, care about their bottom lines. By seeking out other companies that offer more secure services the public could apply market pressure which would send hoards of angry hi-tech executives to the White House…Encryption may be a good thing, but it’s hardly a panacea. Specifically, mass subversion trumps strong cryptography every time…Finally, I don’t think society should have to rely on hi-tech billionaires to support our interests in the halls of Washington. Corporate pressure is not the solution. Corporate pressure is the problem…the fossil fuel industry, the defense industry with its appendages in hi-tech, and the plutocrats of Wall Street are largely directing the U.S. government. Our elected leaders are their proxies. The NSA’s surveillance machine is but a small part of a much large private sector data aggregation machine. Both systems exist to further the aims of the economic elite.”

 

 

Ken Klippenson of White Rose Reader had a unique critique, writing:

“It’s also puzzling that one of the journalists whom Snowden contacted about the leak, Glenn Greenwald, did not advise Snowden to forgo Hong Kong in favor of Latin America. Greenwald is a former civil rights litigator turned journalist who writes helpfully and knowledgeably about civil liberties: he can’t plausibly claim ignorance about the fact that Hong Kong typically cooperates with U.S. extradition requests. Having by his own account corresponded with Snowden “since February”, this would’ve given Greenwald plenty of time to research the likelihood that Hong Kong would grant Snowden political asylum. Greenwald even notes that he was “working with” Snowden “long before anyone spoke to Bart Gellman,” the only other journalist with whom Snowden corresponded. So Greenwald was not short on time to research potential safe havens for Snowden. Snowden even informed Greenwald of his intentions to flee the country: as Greenwald recalled, “He sort of said, ‘My plan is, at some point, go somewhere far away, and I want you to come there and interview me.’” Then would’ve been a good time to exercise some journalistic ethics and see to it that his source would be going to a safe place. Having failed that, he complied with Snowden’s request to publish his name. Now Snowden is in a country that’s likely to extradite him, and he can’t fly somewhere else because the world knows who and where he is.”

There are other critiques as well, like those that criticize him for misstating the charges against Chelsea Manning, and Israel Shamir’s articles (see here and here) about The Guardian, Snowden, and him getting to Moscow.

There is probably more to criticize, but this is all I am going to write for now. Further critique is for another day.

Reset the Net, Snowden, and more

28 Oct
Person playing as Snowden in the YouTube video, 'NSA Blurred Lines'

Person playing as Snowden in the YouTube video, ‘NSA Blurred Lines’

Over a month ago, I challenged and critiqued of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s call for surveillance reform. I wrote that while I am glad he had revealed, “the extent of the massive surveillance state run by elements of the U.S. government, there is definitely an area for critique and criticism,” that whistleblowers “hold very reformist thoughts” and that “the system…could afford getting ride of “bulk data collection” by the NSA, since the surveillance apparatus at-large would NOT be dismantled. Still, those who benefit from such collection don’t want it to go away.” This post is meant as an extension of that critique to Reset the Net and mass surveillance in general.

Reset the Net is an anti-surveillance “campaign” created after the revelations of government surveillance. Snowden made it seem that the campaign would be opposing all types of surveillance, government and corporate, saying that we need to take our privacy “back”[1]:

“Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the US Congress fails to do the same…[encryption is] the first effective step that everyone can take to end mass surveillance…don’t ask for your privacy. Take it back.”

In the same article, Tiffiniy Cheng, spokesperson for Fight for the Future, which coordinated Reset the Net basically undermined the idea that all types of surveillance, corporate and by the state, would be opposed:

“Now, they’ve got a rebellion on their hands as tech companies and internet users work together to directly intervene in mass surveillance and block the NSA and its kind from the web.”

I’m not sure how something is a “rebellion” if corporations and internet users are working together. That sounds more like a way for the companies to reassure customers and their users that they care about privacy. As Microsoft’s General Counsel Brad Smith said,

“It’s of course important for companies to do the things under our own control, and what we have under our own control is our own technology practices. I don’t know that anyone believes that will be sufficient to allay everyone’s concerns. There is a need for reform of government practices, but those will take longer.”

This makes me concerned about this campaign. There is another problem: the campaign’s main goal is to push for “mass adoption of encryption is a tool to fight mass surveillance” even though, as Bill Blunden notes, “strong encryption doesn’t translate into cyber security…if the minions of the Deep State want your data they’ll get it” and he argues that “to seek refuge in strong encryption is to escape into denial. Bolstering security and protecting our civil liberties will require the public to mobilize and generate the political impetus to take on the Deep State.” Despite this, the EFF, the Tor Project, ACLU of Massachusetts (and likely the whole organization) Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism, Natasha Leonard of Vice and New Inquiry, Glenn Greenwald (I would believe so) [2] and many others who care about government surveillance support this campaign.

Using their website, I found who supports Reset the Net:

who supports reset the net

According to their list of supporters, which compromises of fifty-six non-profit, public and private organizations, thirteen are for-profit companies (approx. 23%), twenty are non profits (including the three orgs. that back Democrats) (approx. 36 %), three are political parties, and four are mostly alternative media. The rest, sixteen organizations, are considered other, as I could not figure how I should categorize them. Think what you want about these supporters, but this doesn’t look too good to me.

I’m not the only one that critiques this campaign. Ashlin Lee and Peta Cook of the University of Tasmania wrote that Reset the Net falls short:

“A year on from Edward Snowden’s revelations around state sponsored mass surveillance programs, some of the major players in the online and technological world (including Google, Mozilla, Twitter and Reddit) have launched the Reset the Net campaign. The program aims to increase people’s awareness and uptake of privacy and security tools so they can better resist surveillance, particularly that conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA). While the campaign is laudable in its efforts to raise the issue of surveillance, there are some glaring oversights present…Encryption makes any collected data more difficult (but not impossible) for authorities to interpret and act upon…While these are positive achievements, they merely address some of the more visible consequences and implications of surveillance, and fail to address what are perhaps the most worrying aspects of contemporary surveillance...The Reset the Net project acts to reinforce the idea that surveillance is primarily conducted by state authorities, with the NSA as the primary antagonist for this story…But the reality is that the NSA is only one actor in the surveillance dramaGoogle is just one of many private companies conducting surveillance today, with supermarkets, insurance companies and many Fortune 1000 companies all monitoring customers on a daily basis. This leads to the next issue with Reset the Net, and most counter-surveillance activities today: they don’t address the incredible amounts of data already circulating in surveillance databases. Surveillance today is not just about seeing into the lives of the present – it’s about cataloguing and using the past (and present) to understand the future…The focus on internet surveillance ignores that surveillance is not just on the internet, but everywhere…From smartphones to drones, there are many possibilities for invasive surveillance today…Internet surveillance is only one aspect of contemporary surveillance. The Reset the Net project paradoxically represents a small positive step in resisting and counteracting warrantless and illegal surveillance, while ignoring the bigger picture.”

Yasha Levine had a similar critique on PandoDaily, which often shills for the tech industry (but didn’t in this article), writing that Reset the Net avoids Google’s snooping:

“The virtual direct action campaign [Reset the Net] was organized by Fight for the Future, a group that organized the online anti-SOPA initiative back in 2012…See, despite all its highfalutin’ rhetoric, Reset the Net is deeply flawed. The reason: the campaign is not against online surveillance, just government surveillance. It has nothing to say or critique about the massive for-profit dragnet operations run by telecoms and Silicon Valley megacorps that target every woman, man and child in the United States and beyond. Reset the Net doesn’t mention private sector surveillance at all, acting instead as if it simply does not exist…how can these companies — which themselves stay in business by spying on us on line — help to defeat surveillance? By offering encryption apps — even if the encryption is only between our computers and smartphones, and their football field-sized server farms.To Reset the Net, Silicon Valley is our friend…Silicon Valley runs on surveillance…Google runs the largest private surveillance operation in the history of mankind…And if that wasn’t enough surveillance for you, then there’s the uncomfortable ties between Google and the US military-surveillance complex…Over the years, Google’s worked to enhance the surveillance capabilities of the biggest intel agencies in the world…Reset the Net is outraged by our government’s capability to wantonly vacuum up our personal info, and yet it unconditionally trusts powerful Surveillance Valley megacorps when they do the same thing on an even greater scale as a normal part of doing business.”

An article along the same lines was by Bill Blunden, who argued that Reset the Net doesn’t care about corporate spying:

“…Another subtle manipulation that’s being employed is to frame the narrative so that focus is placed entirely on government surveillance. This is the same caveat that haunts surveillance reform efforts like “Reset the Net”…In contrast to the inflated fanfare about disrupting terrorist plots…the global surveillance apparatus is essentially being driven by powerful corporate interests….This is the elephant standing in the corner that no one…wants to talk about. Roughly 70 percent of the intelligence budget…goes to the private sector…most of what we think of as government surveillance actually transpires in the private sector…The NSA is a mere appendage of a much larger private sector data aggregation panopticon that rakes in $200 billion every year…Google has extensive long-standing connections with the defense industry…Google has exerted a lot of effort into creating the impression of revolt. But Google hasn’t switched sides….More susceptible members of the audience who believe this storyline will continue to use Google services. This will reinforce the bottom line and subsequently reassure investors. Google will do what it’s always done: follow its fiduciary responsibility to generate profits. The public be damned!”

In the second part of PBS’s Frontline documentary, United States of Secrets, brought up this topic as well, talking about how corporations were integral to the surveillance apparatus:

TIM WU, Author, The Master Switch: There was shock and disbelief and horror. A lot of people I know, Silicon Valley-type people, just felt, “It can’t be right. It’s not possible. Google, Facebook, these guys are collaborating. It’s not just what they would do.”

NARRATOR: The big Internet companies had different priorities. At the same time the government was expanding its intelligence gathering, the companies were trying to find out as much as possible about their users, amassing huge data troves. The NSA was watching.

CHRIS HOOFNAGLE, UC Berkeley Law School: These companies are in a very difficult spot because the types of activities they engage in is very similar to surveillance. It is surveillance, just for advertising, rather than for law enforcement. The private sector is where the whole game is.

CHRIS HOOFNAGLE: My friends at the FBI say that they love Facebook. They love it. It is a fantastic tool to see who one communicates and associates with, what they’re interested in, et cetera.

NARRATOR: Today, all the big Internet companies use advanced tracking technology, and the NSA has carefully studied their methods. For them, commercial tracking is an opportunity.

JULIA ANGWIN: The NSA sees all this data that’s flowing to these advertisers, and they’re thinking, “Look at all this data about people’s behavior that’s just flying out there to hundreds of different parties, and oftentimes not encrypted.” And so they can just snatch it.

ASHKAN SOLTANI: Because Google’s using a tracking cookie, the NSA can sit back and see all that stuff go by. They can monitor all of that activity, all those cookies, and use it in order to track your browsing history or inject malware into your computer. And if they sent you malware, it would take over your computer and essentially let them access all your data, all your keystrokes, all your passwords, et cetera.

BARTON GELLMAN: So where we are now is in a place where we’re living behind one-way mirrors. Corporate America and law enforcement and national security state know so much about us, and we know so little about them. We know so little about what they’re doing, how they’re doing it. And we can’t actually hold our government accountable because we truly don’t know what it’s doing.

The same topic came up in a Q & A session about Silicon Valley, the NSA and more which was one of the online components of the documentary:

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai: “That definitely plays a role in all this. We rely so much on these tech companies — Google, Facebook and company — that we basically create a few one stop shops for the NSA to go get our data.”

Martin Smith: “The fundamental problem is that in exchange for free services, our personal data is mined for advertising purposes. The government therefore gets easy access.”

Ashkan Soltani: “…the incentives aren’t really there for companies to invest in security. Most companies compete on new features and extra storage, not on the security of their cloud services. As a result, the NSA (and foreign governments too) can take advantage of weaknesses in companies’ services in order to collect data on billions of users…as long as cloud providers insist on having access to the raw (cleartext) data, then that data is available to the government under a law known as the ‘3rd party doctrine’.”

There is one final webpage on the documentary’s site that I feel is worth sharing. It is about National Security Letters or NSLs that the US government uses to compel certain private companies and individuals to give them information, and prohibits those companies and individuals from speaking about these these letters. There seems to be one exception to this:

“Ten years later, Nick Merrill still can’t discuss the details of the data request that came hand delivered to him from the FBI. If he could, Merrill says, people would be shocked by the implications for their online privacy…The request came by way of a National Security Letter, or NSL. The letters are not well known, but since 9/11 they’ve helped to dramatically expand the government’s ability to collect information about Americans directly from phone companies and Internet providers. Any FBI office can issue an NSL, without a court’s review and with a gag order…Merrill was not even sure he could discuss the letter with his attorney, but unconvinced the order was legal, he chose to challenge it on constitutional grounds. The decision set Merrill apart.”

For those Reset the Net supporters who know the underlying truth that corporations are integral to surveillance system, and still support the campaign are being foolish. There is no doubt that the interests of those against government surveillance will overlap with the companies that want to act like they care about privacy (they don’t).  I understand why ordinary people are participating in this campaign as many are pissed off and for good reason, but I will not be signing any petitions, or participating in any actions by Reset the Net or others following their example. Some seem to think that working with the companies is a good idea and I disagree. Even though these companies have a good amount of clout, that doesn’t mean that people should be working with them. This effort, Reset the Net, is no rebellion, rather it is an anti-NSA surveillance effort serving as a front for corporations that participate (and profit from) government mass surveillance. As Eli Pariser wrote, powerful cloud giants, like Google and Amazon, have “a vested interest in keeping the government entities happy.” [3] This effort is in a sense a way of keeping the government entities happy, as it distracts from the corporate-state nexis on surveillance, but in another sense it is also about defending their bottom line, their profit margins, protecting their consumer base.

One must ask if Reset the Net is even a social movement. Noel Sturgeon, a feminist scholar and political scientist, defines a social movements as

“contestants in hegemonic power relations, through which change is produced by numerous kinds of “action” including…the deployment of symbolic resources, shifts in identity reconstruction, and the production of popular and scholarly knowledge–as well as direct action, civil disobedience, strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, lobbying, and offer more traditionally recognized forms of political action.” [4]

There is no way that Reset the Net fits these characteristics of a social movement. It does not deploy symbolic resources, it does not shift construction of identity and it does not product popular and scholarly knowledge.What are social movements are efforts such as fighting the Keystone XL pipeline (on the ground), AIDS activism in the 1980s and 1990s, and the fights for feminism, gay liberation and black liberation, among many others.

While this article does not hint at what should be done or an explanation of the corporate-state nexis on surveillance, there will be a further article on this topic in the future, along with another article looking into groups like the EFF and Fight the Future. That is all.

Notes

[1] In a post on the Reset the Net tumblr blog, he showed that this was not the case, with the full quote which was partially used in The Guardian article:

“Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the US Congress fails to do the same. That’s why I’m asking you to join me on June 5th for Reset the Net, when people and companies all over the world will come together to implement the technological solutions that can put an end to the mass surveillance programs of any government. …We have the technology, and adopting encryption is the first effective step that everyone can take to end mass surveillance. That’s why I am excited for Reset the Net — it will mark the moment when we turn political expression into practical action, and protect ourselves on a large scale.”

[2] According to an article in Firedoglake by Kevin Gosztola summarizing Glenn Greenwald’s speech to the Socialism 2013 Conference, he “…expanded the discussion into how private companies are working in concert with the federal government. He characterized this coopeation as “a full-scale merger between the federal government and industry” where the two are “equally important parts” of the surveillance state,” however from this account it seems he focused a lot on government surveillance and very little on corporate surveillance which is tied into government surveillance. What was his solution? Subverting the “radical transparency” of the surveillance state, groups like Anonymous, organizations like WikiLeaks, wanting “holes to be blown in the wall of secrecy” and endorsing “the use of technology that protects the identity of users.” The last endorsement sounds a lot like Reset the Net.

[3] Pariser, Eli. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You. 146. The Penguin Press: New York, 2007. One of the best examples of keeping these entities them happy is Google and the CIA both investing in a company called Recorded Future, “which focuses on using data collection to predict future real world events.”

[4] The quote used here was reprinted in Karen J. Warren’s Ecofeminist Philosophy: A Western Perspective on What It Is and Why It Matters, but originally comes from Strugeon’s book, Ecofeminist Natures: Race, Gender, Feminist Theory, and Political Action.

Challenging and critiquing Snowden

27 Sep
How Juice Rap News perceives Snowden (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aiZjD0_mTA)

How Juice Rap News perceives Snowden

I recently read a post criticizing, mainly, the reformist ideas of NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, by the always provocative wordpress blog, The Rancid Honeytrap. You might say off the bat, well that’s some guy sitting in his basement typing away on some computer and he doesn’t need to be listened to. I disagree. The post brought up a number of valid critiques of Snowden’s belief in surveillance reform. While I am glad that Snowden has showed, thanks to journalists who have written about the top secret or secret documents that he obtained, the extent of the massive surveillance state run by elements of the U.S. government, there is definitely an area for critique and criticism This article/post is an attempt to continue that critique, but in my own words.

At the beginning of blogpost, The Rancid Honeytrap quotes Snowden in a recent interview saying some surveillance is ok, especially if the “people say they want it”, claiming that

“…we can have people in every country make that decision because that’s what democracy is about. That’s what self-government is about…[not] making these decisions behind closed doors, without public debate, without public consent. That decision, belongs exclusively to the people of that country…I think it’s wrong of any politician, to take away the people’s seat at the table of government”

I agree with The Rancid Honeytrap that this isn’t what democracy is about, and even if all of Snowden’s premises are true, it “does not rightfully empower an acquiescent majority to vote away freedom from constant and pervasive government surveillance any more than people can.” At the same time, I think Snowden’s idea that people have such a voice in government is frankly not only absurd, but not true at all. [1] As an April 2014 study by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin L. Page of Northwestern University  concluded,

“economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence…Our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts”

Noam Chomsky noted something very similar to this back in August of last year, saying that:

“… In the work that’s essentially the gold standard in the field, it’s concluded that for roughly 70% of the population – the lower 70% on the wealth/income scale – they have no influence on policy whatsoever. They’re effectively disenfranchised. As you move up the wealth/income ladder, you get a little bit more influence on policy. When you get to the top, which is maybe a tenth of one percent, people essentially get what they want, i.e. they determine the policy. So the proper term for that is not democracy; it’s plutocracy.”

After this, Chomsky goes on to define the US as a “Really Existing Capitalist Democracy” where  the public is supposed to” lend their weight every few years, to a choice among the responsible men” but they are meant to be spectators and not participants.Hey, why not add good ‘ole Chris Hedges into the mix, who has his problems as The Rancid Honeytrap and others like OLAASM know well. In his book, Empire of Illusion, Hedges writes that the idea of consent of the governed is an empty one (142-3):

“The words consent of the governed have become an empty phrase…Our nation has been hijacked by oligarchs, corporations, and a narrow, selfish, political, and economic elite, a small moneyed group that governs, and often steals, on behalf of moneyed interests…The government…provides little more than technical expertise for elites and corporations…It has become the greatest illusion in a culture of illusions. It perpetuates a power and democratic ethic it does not possess. It seeks to perpetuate prosperity by borrowing trillions of dollars it can never repay…corporate power…holds the government hostage.”

Add to this the controversial but well-sourced study titled ‘Human and Nature Dynamics (HANDY): Modeling Inequality and Use of Resources in the Collapse or Sustainability of Societies’ which not only talked about how collapse of human civilization, in their view can be avoided if “the rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level and if resources are distributed equitably” (1) but that “the scenarios most closely reflecting the reality of our world today” (20) are what they consider, elite-commoner societies:

“the economic stratication of society into Elites and Masses (or “Commoners”)…accumulated surplus [or wealth] is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels…Elites “prey” on the production of wealth by Commoners.” [2, 5]

Keeping what Martin Gilens and Benjamin L. Page’s study, Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges and the HANDY study said, it is incorrect to say that people have a “seat at the table of government” or can even make decisions in a supposed democracy. They can’t, especially in the U.S. The same can apply to countries like Australia, which like Canada and the UK, in the words of a leaked 2005 Citigroup memo, is a plutonomy (while also being a plutocracy or a government controlled directly or indirectly by the rich) which refers to the habits of rich consumers, rather than “the rest, the “non-rich”, the multitudinous many” which is driven by a number of factors:

“Disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, capitalist-friendly cooperative governments, an international dimension of immigrants and overseas conquests invigorating wealth creation, the rule of law, and patenting inventions…six drivers of the current plutonomy: 1) an ongoing technology/biotechnology revolution, 2) capitalist-friendly governments and tax regimes, 3) globalization that re-arranges global supply chains with mobile well-capitalized elites and immigrants, 4) greater financial complexity and innovation, 5) the rule of law, and 6) patent protection”

This memo also notes that “at the heart of plutonomy, is income inequality. Societies that are willing to tolerate/endorse income inequality, are willing to tolerate/endorse plutonomy.” Such societies, like Australia and the U.S., are what I once called states in crisis, or those states that “elites have more power in forming public policy than the general populace or at minimum put in place elite-friendly policies.”

Such ideas also invalidate Snowden’s philosophy, if you could call it that, which is as follows [2]:

  • as “long as there’s broad support amongst a people, it can be argued there’s a level of legitimacy even to the most invasive and morally wrong program, as it was an informed and willing decision”
  • “the public needs to decide whether these policies are right or wrong.”

The people don’t have an ability to decide if policies are right or wrong because they aren’t part of the policy-making apparatus, and their views are easily brushed aside by elites in the U.S., and likely in other countries as well. Additionally, Snowden’s trust in the thoughts of the public also forgets the fact that public opinion polls can be manipulated as the GCHQ did, deceptive, or limit “people’s sense of wider possibilities,” which limits the scope of public debate.

To some extent, The Rancid Honeytrap says that Snowden’s idea that we can “register our consent” is absurd:

“…Let’s allow for argument’s sake that it’s entirely fine for people to waive their own rights and those of their dissenting neighbors. By what means does Snowden propose we register our consent? Do we get to vote on this? Or is our consent inferred from not toppling the government when it predictably makes things worse instead of better?”

The Rancid Honeytrap writes toward the end of their piece that whistleblowers themselves  are the “kind of people who get into the sort of deep, dark places from which whistles customarily get blown. Places that are uniquely attractive to patriots, ultra-conformists, imperialists and sociopaths” and that while he appreciates “their service to the truth, but with all due respect, these are not my kind of people.” It is definitely true that whistleblowers, whether Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, or Daniel Ellsberg, hold very reformist thoughts.

At one point, in the words of The Rancid Honeytrap, he rightly points out that Snowden still “insists he’s still working for it [the NSA]…[and] his only beef with the country’s gigantic security apparatus is bulk data collection conducted by that single agency.”  These reformist beliefs of Snowden are deeply problematic, as the system itself could afford getting rid of “bulk data collection” by the NSA, since the surveillance apparatus at-large would NOT be dismantled. Still, those who benefit from such collection don’t want it to go away.

One Juice Rap News segment back from September 2012, almost ten months before Snowden revealed himself to the world, encapsulates the holistic nature of the mass surveillance of the surveillance state, which has a 1984-ish vibe when the host, Robert Foster talks to General Baxter, who represents the state/military establishment/intelligence establishment all in one:

rapnews15a

Robert Foster: “Explain why the state is spying on us?”

"My fellow Oceanians, we've always been at war with Eurasia, or is it East Asia? Either way its war and we need a vision to wage it. But now the proles are connecting online passing these illusionary divisions of race, religion, and nationality."

General Baxter: “My fellow Oceanians, we’ve always been at war with Eurasia, or is it East Asia? Either way its war and we need division to wage it! But now the proles are connecting online passing these illusionary divisions of race, religion, and nationality!”

"Sounds grand to me."

Robert Foster: “Sounds grand to me.”

"Its a catastrophe. Centuries of hard work being undone, profits are vanishing, and its due to the internet. Its empowering humanity. We need to get this snafu under control rapidly."

General Baxter: “Its a catastrophe! Centuries of hard work being undone, profits are vanishing, and its due to the internet! Its empowering humanity! We need to get this snafu under control rapidly.”

Robert Foster: "How?"

Robert Foster: “How?”

General Baxter: "Behold the latest weapon in the war of terror. Our greatest invention since 9/11. Guaranteed to keep us free and safe forever. I give you the surveillance state ladies and generals."

General Baxter: “Behold the latest weapon in the war of terror. Our greatest invention since 9/11. Guaranteed to keep us free and safe forever…I give you the surveillance state ladies and generals!”

General Baxter: "Our secret wires log your case dial. Monitor every single number on your speed dial. Rewind to your position with facial recognition and pinpoint you within 0.3 of a mile!"

General Baxter: “Our secret wires log your case dial. Monitor every single number on your speed dial. Rewind to your position with facial recognition and pinpoint you within 0.3 of a mile!”

General Baxter: "We've put eyes everywhere without consulting you, keeping you safe whether or not you want us to. Soon, they'll be no freedoms left for threatening. Then we'll have won the war! Take that terrorism!"

General Baxter: “We’ve put eyes everywhere without consulting you, keeping you safe whether or not you want us to. Soon, they’ll be no freedoms left for threatening. Then we’ll have won the war! Take that terrorism!”

While there is good criticism in the rest of The Rancid Honeytrap‘s post, my take on it will have to wait for another article, another time, another day. Sorry to say.

Notes:

[1] While I say this, I am not saying that people do have have the ability to influence or push government to make certain decisions. However, I am saying that in general, the government, I’m mainly talking about the U.S. government but this could be applied to other governments, doesn’t really care what ordinary people think. They care what the people with the deep pockets say and think. That’s who they, in general, listen to. That is the current state of affairs.

[2] This was expressed in articles in the New York Times and The Guardian. Obviously, Snowden has more thoughts than this, but these are some of his major reformist views.

Questioning the US Institute of Peace: does it really care about peace?

26 Sep

At the end of July, Little Sis, a project of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), published a short article criticizing Stephen Hadley. They write that Hadley has “made a career of promoting, overseeing, and profiting from war,” as he was already responsible as a White House official during the Bush Administration “for inserting faulty intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities…in Bush’s State of the Union in 2003.” They also noted that Hadley has, since he left public office, “co-founded an international consulting firm and joined the board of weapons manufacturer Raytheon” and more importantly, he serves as the chair of the US Institute of Peace (USIP)’s board of directors, while also authoring Washington Post op-eds about the crisis’s in Syria, Gaza, and Ukraine when he could personally profit from them. GAP then writes that the agenda of the USIP can then “be described as Orwellian” since he chairs the organization which was interestingly enough established during the Reagan era in 1984. Still, I’d argue that one can’t negatively portray an institution like the USIP just by looking at one person. So, this article will continue the analysis of GAP to question the federally-funded institution itself: does it really serve the interests of peace?

It is important to look further into the USIP, starting with those that run it. There were a number of specifics not noted in the article by GAP was that Hadley was formerly the director of the Bessmer Group up to 2009, which “operates as a bank holding company for Bessemer Trust.” The trust says that it has one goal and one goal only: “preserving and enhancing our clients’ wealth” through a use of credit investments, currencies, hedge funds and more. The international consulting firm mentioned in passing in GAP’s article, at which Hadley is a principal, is called the RiceHadleyGates Team. This firm also includes former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and a former “Special Assistant to Under Secretary for Political Affairs” at the State Department named Anja Manuel. This firm is assisting a Silicon Valley-based company where British war criminal and former Prime Minister Tony Blair is a “special adviser” and advises, according to The New York , “companies about doing business in emerging markets like the Middle East, China, Brazil, India and Turkey.” Hadley also sits on the international advisory council member of APCO worldwide, another consulting firm. Finally, he is a member of the Atlantic Council which is, in the words of Allen Ruff, an “elite foreign policy NGO” that is dedicated to moving forward the “national interest” of the US and continuing “Cold War supremacy within the ‘Atlantic community’ and beyond.” Then, he is a member of Aspen Institute Homeland Security Group as well, which includes has people such as NYPD Commissioner Bill “broken windows” Bratton and Michael Chertoff, among others.

Some of the other board members make one question the institution as well. John Kerry, a corporatist Senator and now Secretary of State, and Chuck Hagel, who formerly served on Chevron’s board of directors and is now Secretary of Defense, serve as board members. One board member, J. Robinson West, was even the chairman and founder of PFC Energy which advised big oil companies, helped lease off the outer continental shelf for oil drilling during the Reagan years and is currently a member of the National Petroleum Council which focuses on advising, informing and recommending measures to the Energy Secretary on “any matter relating to oil and natural gas, or to the oil and gas industries” which is “submitted to it or approved by the Secretary.” Other board members make one lift their eyebrow, including: a member of the board of directors of the right-wing legal organization called the Center for Individual Rights; the director of the Atlantic Council; the president of the National Defense University; a senior fellow at the libertarian Hoover Institution; and the president of Quality Care Consultants. Some board members seem to not be corporate or tied to the foreign policy and military establishments like one who heads a civil and human rights group and another that is the former executive director of the National Council on Independent Living. In the past, Harriet Zimmermann, who was a member of AIPAC and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was even a member of the USIP’s board. If this isn’t enough, USIP has eight-six experts working at places ranging from the centrist Brookings institution to the World Bank and the Rockefeller Foundation.

The Institution has an interesting history. It was spurred by grassroots pressure initially and then it came to engage in projects that some may be disturbed by and goes against the ideas those who pushed for it, peace activists, in the first place. After all, David Petraeus called them “a great asset in developing stronger unity of effort between civilian and military elements of government” in Afghanistan. They helped convene the Iraq Study Group in 2006, which came out with a final report that urged an immediate pull-out from Iraq and a surge in Afghanistan. So much for peace as this suggestion means that war would decline in one country and increased in another. To echoe what Howard Beale said in Network about the “truth” from television, “this is mass madness you maniacs!” Then, there was the Genocide Prevention Task Force, convened by USIP and other groups, which was co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeline “the price was worth it” Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen who has played a big role in US military actions in Kosovo and Iraq in the 1990s. The 174-page report from this task force, which had thirty-five recommendations for lawmakers and other public officials, echoed the ideas of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), stating in part that: “states have a basic responsibility to protect their citizens from genocide and mass atrocities…As an element of this expression of resolve, the United States should also reaffirm its support for the principle of the “responsibil­ity to protect.” What this report did not note is that R2P has been used to justify the interventions in the Ivory Coast and Libya in 2011 along with one in the Central African Republic in 2013. Binoy Kampmark wrote in 2008 that this report, which was from a task force chaired “by key players in the Clinton administration,” pairs well with “interventionist rhetoric Obama has, at times, articulated” and through his foreign policy advisers, while the “priorities given to genocide prevention may yet again be minimized.”

USIP had other initiatives such as one that purportedly was aimed at preventing electoral violence in the two Sudans, where the US has an oil interest and is competing with China, but had no similar program in another other region of the world. Then there is the publication of something called “The Iran Primer” which claims to offer a “comprehensive but concise overview of Iran’s politics, economy, military, foreign policy, and nuclear program” which is edited by Robin B. Wright who is a scholar who works at The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a group where the Vice Chairman of Morgan Stanley is the chair of its board of Trustees, which is filled with a number of business-friendly folks. A number of others write for the publication, including a director of a part of the Brookings Institution and a Carnegie Endowment’s policy analyst.

Sara Diamond in the July/August 1990 issue of Z Magazine brought another critique to the USIP: that is it close with the intelligence establishment. Diamond writes that the Institute has become “a stomping ground for professional war-makers” and has become “a funding conduit and clearinghouse for research on problems inherent to U.S. strategies of ‘low intensity conflict.’ She later writes that the USIP’s board in 1984 looked like a bunch of “right-wing ideologues from academia and the Pentagon” since, as she concludes, by law, “the USIP is an arm of the U.S. intelligence apparatus…[and] intersects heavily with the intelligence establishment.” That isn’t all. Diamond writes that the Institute has a congressionally approved board of directors, its first president worked with the State Department to disseminate anti-Contra propaganda and at the time, of the article’s writing, three of the board members presided over the seemingly defunct “U.S. Global Strategy Council which was a “shadowy clique of military intelligence strategists headed by former CIA deputy director Ray Cline.” Furthermore, Diamond noted that most of the USIP’s grant projects “through early 1990 reveals undeniable favoritism toward researchers committed to Cold War paradigms.” And the article continues on.

The problems with USIP don’t stop here. According to an archived page on USIP’s website, former fellows of the institution include Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute, Ray Jennings and Albert Cevallos of USAID, Richard Joseph of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Dana Priest of the Washington Post, and the failed Vice Presidential candidate Bill Richardson. Lest us forget that the US government’s official position on Syria was “sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace to negotiate disputes among selected elements of the Syrian Opposition,” according to Professor Richard Rubenstein in CounterPunch. On the problems with USIP, Associate Professor Thomas N. Nagy added that “Dr. Waromonger” Daniel Pipes who is a premier warmonger, an obvious Islamaphobe, a supporter of the Vietnam War, a strong supporter of Israel who opposes a Palestinian state, and advocate of U.S. military attack on Iran to stop its nuclear program, was nominated to the board of USIP by President George W. Bush. This nomination was blocked by rightly angry Democratic senators, but Bush used his authority to appoint Pipes through a recess appointment (he served for two years) while Pipes was endorsed by the Anti-Defamation League, the Zionist Organization of America, a number of senators and other small groups.

While one cannot deny that USIP engages in good work from time to time, it is clear that this federal institution is mired by connections the foreign policy and military establishments, the intelligence community and the corporate sector. These connections make clear that USIP is not promoting peace. After all, that isn’t their mission; rather it is, according to their website, a push to “increase the nation’s capacity to manage international conflict without violence.” This weak statement doesn’t even say, or even allude, that wars should be ended or scaling down of violence worldwide. If USIP doesn’t start demanding real peace, which would require a push to cut war spending worldwide, especially in the US, and rethinking war economies, then it may be time to question if it is really needed anymore.

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