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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.

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

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

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

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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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13. Public financing is the answer?…really?

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

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15. Political speech restrictions suppress some views?

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

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17. He opposes corporate personhood…

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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.

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.

What are global energy markets anyway?

26 Aug

 

Obama june 19
 
Words politicians, especially people such as presidents say can sometimes be deceptive and have a hidden meaning that viewers may not understand. On June 19th, at the beginning of this summer, President Obama said that not only are “humanitarian reasons” and the destabilization of the region not supposed “national security interests,” but that the U.S. government is “committed to protecting, obviously issues like energy and global energy markets continues to be important.” At the time, I kept wondering…what does this term “global energy markets” really mean?
 
I looked into it further and found administration officials had mentioned it far back as 2009:

2009 U.S.-EU Summit Declaration [November 3, 2009]: “The Energy Council will study diversification of energy sources, such as through increased use of liquefied natural gas (LNG), solar power, wind power and biofuels, and the use of nuclear power. It will discuss how to effectively promote global energy security on the basis of transparent, stable and non-discriminatory global energy markets and diversified energy sources. Diverse supplies and sources, as well as enhanced energy efficiency and transparent markets, are the surest route to energy security. The Council will foster energy policy cooperation, bilaterally and with third countries, aimed at improving energy security, enhancing energy efficiency, and deepening research, development, demonstration and deployment of sustainable and clean energy technologies.”

Former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in March 2011: “And let me just flag a couple areas where we think there’s particular potential.  One is in the area of energy, broadly defined.  Brazil is going to become a major player in the global energy markets with its recent discovery of offshore oil.  It’s already a partner and a leader in the renewables area, and we have a deep relationship with them on biofuels, on wind, on solar, on a number of other issues.”

Former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in June 2012:  “Let me just add one more thing.  We will be talking more about energy this afternoon, but the G8 leaders agreed to a statement on global energy markets, and we’ll be making this available to you right after this briefing, but let me just read it to you: “There have been increasing disruptions in the supply of oil to the global market over the past several months, which poses substantial risk to global economic growth.  In response, major producers have increased their output while drawing prudently on excess capacity.  Looking ahead to the likelihood of further disruptions in oil sales and the expected increased demand over the coming months, we are monitoring the situation closely and stand ready to call upon the International Energy Agency to take appropriate action to ensure that the market is fully and timely supplied.” And obviously that’s a — it’s a key statement, it’s an unusual statement.”

Obama at G8 summit in May 2012: “Leaders agreed to join a new U.S.-led coalition to address climate change, in part by reducing short-lived pollutants.  And in the face of increasing disruptions in the supply of oil, we agreed that we must closely monitor global energy markets.”

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL in June 2012: “we deliberately set about implementing these sanctions in a way that would have the maximum impact on Iran. And so that of course includes working to get major oil importers of Iranian oil to take steps to reduce or in some instances to stop their import of Iranian oil. That’s both something that allows us to broaden the impact in terms of the number of countries that are again taking action to reduce imports from Iran. But also it allows us to phase in these sanctions in a way that has minimal impact on global energy markets because we don’t want to — we want to take steps to ensure that the — they’re phased in a way that doesn’t drive up the price of oil, which would again ultimately end up benefiting the Iranians, because as more of their oil is taken off the market, they would of course have revenue from the oil that they do continue to sell.”

FACT SHEET: President Obama’s Blueprint for a Clean and Secure Energy Future: “We are working with the International Energy Agency (IEA) and others to ensure that our international institutions and processes reflect changes in global energy markets.”

Former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon: “Global energy markets are part of a deeply interdependent world economy.  The United States continues to have an enduring interest in stable supplies of energy and the free flow of commerce everywhere.”

Fact sheet on U.S.-China relations: “Vice President Joe Biden discussed with President Xi and senior Chinese officials ways to strengthen U.S.-China cooperation to benefit the citizens of both of our countries and address global challenges.  They decided to expand U.S.-China cooperation in addressing climate change, enhancing transparency and resilience in global energy markets, and ensuring safe and well-regulated bilateral trade in food and pharmaceuticals.”

Joint fact sheet on US-China relations: “Building on the climate accord announced by the two Presidents at Sunnylands, and the S&ED in July 2013, the United States and China affirm the importance of deepening cooperation to address climate change, reduce local air pollution, transition to a low carbon energy economy, and strengthen the resilience of global energy markets.”

 

 I looked into other websites to find if there was an answer to what global energy markets are all about. BP, the multinational oil company, or “Beyond Business“, writes about global energy markets, yet they don’t really define it, they just declare: “Energy is a topic that is hotly debated around the world—in the halls of government and corporate boardrooms; on the TV and around kitchen tables. It is often said that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts!” Chatham House does a better job at defining the term itself. They write on their description of an event about global energy markets, that “Global energy markets are changing. Demand for energy resources is increasingly led by growth economies in Asia, unconventional oil and gas production continues to rewrite market forecasts and new production frontiers are emerging.” So, this makes it seem that the term applies to energy markets for oil & natural gas in places such as Asia. This is confirmed by the fact that OPEC wants to be part of the discussion for these said markets, specifically in regards to oil and a Financial Post article about US oil producers. The International Energy Agency notes that such markets would also include those for coal and maybe alternative energies like wind & solar and maybe biofuels as well. Overall, the term global energy markets seem to apply to ALL fossil fuels and definitely renewables. Still, there is no one site that defines the term “global energy markets.”
 
Investopedia on their website writes that “the energy market influences almost everything that we do.” PJM adds that “energy markets are used to coordinate the continuous buying, selling, and delivery of electricity” and Adam Jones of The Energy Collective write that in energy markets, “electricity is like any other commodity, bought wholesale and resold to consumers at retail prices.” In this way, every single type of energy under the Sun can be sold and bought on the market. That is the definition of a global energy market.
 
I end with a speech with by the CEO of one of the most evil corporations in the world, ExxonMobil, professing that they need to drill more and screw up the world more (until the earth becomes a fiery hell of course):
“North America’s new supplies of natural gas are coming at a time when the energy industry’s technologies are opening new opportunities for the global transport of natural gas to the rest of the world…We must embrace the free flow of energy, capital, and human talent across oceans and borders.We will strengthen energy security for all nations.  And we will build new bridges of trade and progress between countries and continents.”

 

 

Does Elizabeth Warren really care about the average American?

5 Aug

The title of this article may be a shock to those supporters of Senator Elizabeth Warren. There is no doubt that she has engaged in some good initiatives like pushing for: transparency on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, calling out the too-big-to-fail banks, speaking out on student loan debt, and so on. But, one should not put that much trust in her. As I have written about on this blog numerous times and elsewhere, it is important to be critical of Elizabeth Warren, who I consider a capitalist reformer and not being as populist as it may seem from the surface. [1]

Recently, conservative media have been up and arms, saying that Warren is a hypocrite for supporting the Export-Import Bank, which has been nicknamed the ‘Boeing Bank’ or the ‘corporate welfare bank.’ Here is a sampling of the headlines from those media sites:

Elizabeth Warren’s, ahem, ‘Crony Capitalism.’ | RedState

Crony Corporatist: Elizabeth Warren and the Export-Import Bank| Lew Rockwell

Elizabeth Warren, Hypocrite, Supports Ex-Im Bank | againstcronycapitalism.org

Oh, look, phony populist Elizabeth Warren backs the Export-Import Bank’s brand of corporate welfare | unitedliberty.org

Elizabeth Warren Is Overrated: Why the progressive favorite is a downer| The Federalist

Elizabeth Warren, Hypocrite, Supports Ex-Im Bank| Reason.com

Elizabeth Warren Backs Corporate Welfare Bank| Town Hall

Now, what did Warren really say? What is the real story? Well, the quotes from Warren comes from an exchange reported on by Bloomberg News. Here’s that story, with bolded emphasis from me:

Every so often, the political spectrum in Washington bends to the point that erstwhile opponents find themselves walking in lockstep.

Last year, one of the House’s most outspoken Democrats, Arizona’s Raul Grijalva, agreed with Tea Party favorite Justin Amash on an amendment that would have restricted the National Security Agency’s spying powers. Tea Party groups and peaceniks both opposed U.S. intervention in Syria.

This week, Democrats such as Colorado’s Jared Polis teamed with Kentucky’s Thomas Massie and fellow libertarians to approve a House amendment that would let U.S. banks accept cash from marijuana businesses in states where pot is legal.

Could the dynamic repeat itself on the question of whether to renew the U.S. Export-Import Bank? Heritage Action of America thinks so.

The Tea Party-aligned group sent a letter today to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat known for taking populist stands against corporate America, inviting her to speak about  ending the lender “and the political favoritism it engenders.”

“We, like you, are frustrated with a political economy that benefits well-connected elites at the expense of all Americans,” Heritage Action Chief Executive Officer Michael Needham wrote. “Your presence will send a clear signal that you are going to fight the most pressing example of corporate welfare and cronyism pending before Congress right now.”

Alas, it doesn’t sound like the former Harvard law professor will be lecturing to Heritage audiences any time soon.

“Senator Warren believes that the Export-Import Bank helps create American jobs and spur economic growth, but recognizes that there is room for improvement in the bank’s operations,” Warren spokesman Lacey Rose tells us in an e-mail. “She looks forward to reviewing re-authorization legislation if and when it is introduced.”

This means that she supports the Export-Import Bank. While the Washington Examiner is a conservative publication, a recent article by one of their writers, Timothy B. Carney, makes a good point about her support of this bank:

“Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren loves to shoot barbs at Wall Street. She also enjoys forcing taxpayers to absorb Wall Street’s risks while the banks pocket the profits…The Export-Import Bank puts taxpayer money behind the loans Citibank and Goldman Sachs make to foreign companies and foreign governments buying U.S. goods. President Obama is a huge champion of Ex-Im. Wall Street LOVES Ex-Im. Conservative Republicans oppose Ex-Im. Elizabeth Warren apparently sides with Wall Street. At Ex-Im’s annual conference, one Wall Streeter described Ex-Im’s loan guarantees to me as “free money.” Is Elizabeth Warren really fine with free money to Wall Street?

Apparently according to her campaign rhetoric, Warren is not fine with free money to Wall Street, but seemingly she picks and chooses her battles with Wall Street, which is troubling. The letter that Heritage Action, part of the Heritage Foundation, they posted it on their website and it seems to channel conservative populism. After Warren responded, they had a response that seems to attack crony capitalism and other top Democrats for supporting the bank (important parts are bolded):

“…Warren’s response is not quite what you would expect from someone who claims to be working “on the side of American families.” Especially when the corporate-welfare machine she is in support of “guarantees ‘free money,’ allowing [banks] to be more aggressive in financing exports because taxpayers serve as the backstop if a deal fails.” Warren is not the first on the so-called populist left to support the Export-Import Bank. Others [sic]  liberal leaders in favor of reauthorization include former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senator Chuck Schumer. In response to her decision, Heritage Action has made sure that all of the followers of the self proclaimed “enemy of greedy corporations” see her position when it comes to actually fighting against corporate welfare…The expiration of the Export-Import Bank’s charter is approaching quickly.  What can you do? Share this page with your friends and neighbors an spread the message about ending the Export-Import Bank and the culture of cronyism in Washington.”

They even created an ad criticizing for her support of the bank. Now, her support of this bank is only one issue of many. Recently, a reporter tried to ask Warren her view on Israel’s invasion of Gaza and she literally ran away:

Later on, she did not even let out peep (and neither did other ‘progressives’ like Bernie Sanders) when $225 million in new funding for Israel’s Iron Dome system was approved by unanimous consent (also see here). Hence, there is no record of a vote.This is not very surprising considering, in the words of Jeff Klein, she was persuaded to sponsor Senate Res. 65, which mandated “a new round of sanctions against Iran and promising to support Israel if it should choose to launch a unilateral war” in May 2013, joining the “unanimous vote in favor of the bill.” Furthermore, Kelin wrote that her vote, she he possible rationalized pragmatically means that her senate seat “is worth the price of a vote for AIPAC.”

This isn’t all. She has also been ok with a number of corporate-friendly nominations of the Obama administration, as she voted for:

      1. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who previously was the president of the Wal-Mart Foundation, was president of the Global Development Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and was an aide to neoliberal Treasury Secretary Robert Robin for two years, for Secretary of Health and Human Services (see here)
      2. Sharon Y. Bowen, who was previously a partner at the corporate law firm, Latham & Wilkins, with her practice including “corporate, finance and securities transactions for large global corporations and financial institutions” for the commissioner of the CFTC [Commodity Futures Trading Commission] (see here)
      3. Stanley Fischer, who worked at the World Bank from 1988 to 1990 and the IMF from 1994 to 2001, after which he served as the Vice Chairman of Citigroup (2002-2005) for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors (see here)
      4. Robert A. “Bob” McDonald, was was a former CEO of Proctor & Gamble, for Secretary of Veterans Affairs, replacing Eric Shiniski who had worked for Honeywell International before he was Secretary (see here)
      5. Wanda Felton, who formerly worked for investment firms and was a director at Credit Suisse First Boston, to be First Vice President of the Export-Import Bank of the United States (see here)
      6. Catherine Ann Novelli, who was formerly a partner for Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP “where she assisted Fortune 100 clients on issues involving international trade and investment,” to be the United States Alternate Governor of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (see here)
      7. Richard Stengel, who wrote for Time magazine and was its managing editor for years, to be an Under Secretary of State (see here)
      8. Max Baucus, a corporate-friendly senator who pushed through Obamacare, supported fast track, had a high business-friendly voting record as ranked by the US Chamber of Commerce, voted for the Iraq war, opposed single-payer healthcare, and voted for the Bush tax cuts in 2001, to be ambassador to China (see here)
      9. Mel Watt, a corporate-friendly senator as I noted here, to be the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (see here)

She could have or could have not voted for Maria Contreras-Sweet for SBA Administrator, who formerly served on Well Point, which defrauded black Florida voters in 2000, and the board of Blue Cross Blue Shield in California because it was a voice vote.Warren just happened to not vote for Janet Yellen, who has a pro-business record supporting business-friendly measures like Quantitative Easing and supports continuing to fork over tax dollars to the big banks, for chairman of the Federal Reserve. If that’s not enough, Warren also voted for a bill which imposed sanctions on Russia, or any person that is complicit in violence or corruption in Ukraine, and guaranteed economic assistance to Ukraine. For more, read the bill itself. Then there was Warren’s vote for Jeh Johnson (for Secretary of the DHS) who was not only a big donor to Obama in the past, but “an unapologetic supporter and enabler of President Obama’s policy of drone warfare,” saying that its fine if US citizens are targeted by drone strikes. Oh yeah, and Johnson was outspoken in saying that Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning should be criminally prosecuted.

The positions of Warren don’t get any better. While she, along with Tom Coburn, have a “bipartisan proposal…to increase transparency around settlements reached by federal enforcement agencies,” there is nothing I can find of her rejecting the recent settlement and calling for prosecutions of those responsible. In March 2013, in the news section of Warren’s website was an article talking about an event “attended by about 200 Massachusetts small businesses at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center” which featured “25 government agencies and prime contractors – including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Transportation…Raytheon, BAE Systems and Booz Allen Hamilton” so that businesses “had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with agency representatives and contractors to learn about possible contracts in the region.” To me, this sounds like she supports the production of “some jobs” by the military-industrial-complex, the permanent war economy, not even questioning this at all. Warren seemed to promote this in the month preceeding it as noted here, here, and here. The biggest news I found was a national security speech she made in February of this year. In that speech, as reprinted in the Huffington Post, part of which I’ll quote below (I bolded a number of important parts):

…It’s been thirteen years since the events of September 11, 2001…For thirteen years, we have lived through the repercussions of that terrible day. Now, the first chapter in our nation’s post-9/11 history is coming to an end. We are out of Iraq and the drawdown in Afghanistan is underway. We are ending two wars, but this does not mean that we will withdraw from the world beyond our shores, or pretend that there are no threats to our safety and security. As we start a new chapter, we still live in an unstable and unpredictable world: a world with terrorists plotting to cause catastrophic destruction, a world with dictators and tyrants, a world with threats in cyberspace and from new technologies. We know that we must remain vigilant and engaged abroad, taking steps to defend our allies and to protect our people. But as these two wars come to an end, we also have an opportunity to think about what we can learn from the last decade of conflict. There are many questions worth asking about how to make sure our actions advance our national interests…Today, I want to focus on a related question about how we advance our national interests – a question that is discussed less often than many of the others, but one that I think deserves our attention. How should we think about civilian casualties and their effect on our strategic decisions?…

Civilian casualties are an inevitable and unavoidable consequence of war, and modern conflict has made it more difficult to know who is innocent. We can’t always distinguish between civilians and combatants..Seriously addressing the issue of civilian casualties is essential to upholding our values at home and advancing our interests overseas. Our military is the most professional and honorable fighting force in the world, and I know first-hand how creative and tough our armed forces are...We take pride in the way that our servicemembers conduct themselves, but some people assume that when the shooting starts, military law, domestic law, and international law are left behind. The reality is the opposite. Law is an integral part of American warfare. Our soldiers learn basic legal principles as part of their training.

Military lawyers are embedded into our fighting units, working alongside commanders to evaluate the legality of even the most sensitive decisions. We follow the law because our national values – and our national interests – demand it…the laws of war require us to consider not just expediency, but also humanity…General Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of our armed forces in Afghanistan, described this lesson a few years ago…McChrystal describes this dynamic with insurgents, but the same dynamic is at work with the collateral deaths of innocent civilians – and the same dynamic can apply during all kinds of military operations – Special Forces missions, counterterrorism operations, and efforts to train security forces. Over the past decade, in Iraq and in Afghanistan, military commanders increasingly tried to address this problem… The military increased its efforts to educate and train our soldiers and Marines on civilian protection. And leaders in the military started tracking the number of civilian casualties, so they could learn from the statistics and identify ways to lower civilian casualty rates…

As the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan progressed, our military leaders increasingly took seriously the costs of civilian casualties in military engagements, and they learned how important it is to prevent civilian casualties. But now it is time for the next question: when our country considers military interventions abroad – and especially when leaders publicly debate the costs and benefits of using force – do we factor in this same lesson? Do we fully consider the costs of civilian casualties?…Many policymakers in Washington seem hesitant to…acknowledge the reality that military commanders deal with every day, the reality that civilian casualties affect U.S. interests abroad. And when we debate the costs and benefits of intervention – when we discuss potential military action around the world – the talk about collateral damage and civilian casualties too often seems quiet. The failure to make civilian casualties a full and robust part of our national conversation over the use of force is dangerous…Our decision-making suffers – and our ability to effectively advance our interests suffers – when we do not grapple fully and honestly with all of the costs and benefits, all the risks, all the intended and unintended consequences of military action.

When our country considers military intervention, we must be hard-headed and clear-eyed…Unintended consequences can have a profound impact. Whatever our righteous intentions, the world does not hold us blameless when civilians die…We must begin by establishing training programs that directly address civilian casualties. The military has begun to put together educational and training materials based on experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq…Next, we need to improve our efforts to track civilian casualties during any military engagement…While secrecy – particularly as it relates to operational plans – is necessary in some cases, tracking casualties and making those data publicly available will help us make the best decisions here at home and demonstrate to the world that America takes civilian casualties seriously…Our enemies will do all that they can to shake our confidence and the confidence of the Afghan people. In turn, we must continue to demonstrate our resolve to the enemy. We will do so through our relentless pursuit of the Taliban and others who mean Afghanistan harm, through our compassion for the Afghan people, and through the example we provide to our Afghan partners…Our military leaders recognize that our moral values need not conflict with our strategy. As we reflect on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and as we prepare for the future use of military force, we must remember this as well.

We are a great country, a country rooted in the values of liberty and justice, compassion and community. We cannot turn a blind eye to the rest of the world – pretending that dangerous dictators pose no threat to us or that atrocities committed outside our borders don’t matter. But when we consider whether using force is in our national interest, we also should not – we cannot – turn a blind eye to the impact of unintended civilian casualties. The decision to use military force is one of the most important any country can make. If we openly consider all the costs and benefits, all the intended and unintended consequences, we will make better decisions – decisions that will live up to our nation’s core values, advance our national interests, and preserve our role as a moral leader in the world.”

Clearly, Warren is showing that she supports the imperialistic, militaristic foreign policy, echoing what Obama says. However, I commend her on considering the “intended and unintended consequences of military action” (esp. with civilian casualties) with the latter constituting a word she strangely does not use, but is used by many critiquing the American empire: blowback. At the same time, it disturbing that he argument is nationalistic and almost uber-patriotic as she holds up the US as a paragon of virtue (it is not) and she defends the military as professional (and other BS), not recognizing they are one thing, and one thing only: an army of trained, cold-blooded killers. This does not mean that no one in the army has a conscience, but rather that such a conscience, that makes one question their actions, is suppressed by the internal mechanizations of the military itself.

There is one more aspect I’ll cover in this article, and that is Warren’s bill titled Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act introduced in 2013, with a companion bill in the House of Representatives introduced by Rep. John F. Tierney. Ellen Brown, in a June 2013 article for CounterPunch writes about the bill, noting that:

“…Students are considered risky investments because they don’t own valuable assets against which the debt can be collected. But this argument overlooks the fact that these young trainees are assets themselves. They represent an investment in “human capital” that can pay for itself many times over, if properly supported and developed.  This was demonstrated in the 1940s with the G.I. Bill, which provided free technical training and educational support for nearly 16 million returning servicemen, along with government-subsidized loans and unemployment benefits…Investing in our young people has worked before and can work again; and if Congress orders the Fed to fund this investment in our collective futures by “quantitative easing,” it need cost the taxpayers nothing at all. The Japanese have finally seen the light and are using their QE tool as economic stimulus rather than just to keep their banks afloat. We need to do the same.”

Still, I find it worrisome that Warren’s bill is based around the idea of Quantitative Easing, a program, that helps big banks. Additionally, the proposal seems to help students but not get them out of their horrible predicament, only making their horrible predicament just a little bit better. I think its also worth remembering that she falsely and absurdly said that the Tea Party are anarchists (they aren’t) in a October 2013 post (which was seemingly a senate speech) titled ‘We are not a country of anarchists':

If you watch the anarchist tirades coming from extremist Republicans in the House, you’d think they believe that the government that governs best is a government that doesn’t exist at all. But behind all the slogans of the Tea Party – and all the thinly veiled calls for anarchy in Washington – is a reality: The American people don’t want a future without government…In fact, whenever the anarchists make any headway in their quest and cause damage to our government, the opposite happens…Government is real, and it has three basic functions:Provide for the national defense. [and] Put rules in place rules, like traffic lights and bank regulations, that are fair and transparent. [and] Build the things together that none of us can build alone – roads, schools, power grids – the things that give everyone a chance to succeed. These things did not appear by magic. In each instance, we made a choice as a people to come together…We are alive, we are healthier, we are stronger because of government. Alive, healthier, stronger because of what we did together. We are not a country of anarchists. We are not a country of pessimists and ideologues…We are not that nation. We have never been that nation. And we never will be that nation. The political minority in the House that condemns government and begged for this shutdown has its day. But like all the reckless and extremist factions that have come before it, its day will pass – and the government will get back to the work we have chosen to do together.

 

Now, while it is worthy to condemn the shutdown, to connect anarchism with the Tea Party is utterly absurd and idiotic. As wrote a great critique of this use of the term  ‘anarchist’ (also by Harry Reid) in a wonderful Washington Post opinion piece:

“Real anarchist communities operate according to radically democratic principles. They theorize, and even organize, with egalitarian political and social visions in mind. Unlike tea party obstinacy, anarchism promotes cooperative forms of decision-making—not only in political life, but in social and economic institutions as well. Co-op book and grocery stores, community gardens, employee-owned businesses, land trusts and cooperative housing projects, as well as grassroots relief efforts like Occupy Sandy, are just a few examples of anarchist praxis at work in our society. Anarchism is not lawless, but it does involve a critique of the state. Anarchists encourage us to place a burden of proof on existing authority structures, and push us to limit, or even dismantle, the power of institutions, regulations and individuals whose authority proves to be illegitimate. The tea party is trying to diffuse the power of centralized government, but, paradoxically, they’re using big corporate heads and political figures within centralized government to get there…Despite their anti-authoritarianism, some of today’s anarchists concede that states can serve socially important functions like ensuring sound infrastructure, basic consumer protections and comprehensive social welfare (though they believe such services are better executed with decentralized communities)…So if the tea party is not anarchist, what is? It’s closer to what we’ve seen with pro-democracy movements around the world...Anarchists believe, ultimately, in the power of people, not the people in power. The truth is, our top political and economic institutions are not really structured as representative bodies. The idea of representation is being used today to legitimize the vast decision-making powers of a ruling elite, of which tea party politicians are a part, who exercise an inordinate level of influence in our political and social system…If anarchists had indeed taken over Congress, then the American people might be invited to collectively decide our fate, rather than entrust it to representatives of a powerful few…Anarchism seeks to diffuse power based on hubris, superiority and the conceited pursuit of wealth, and re-root it in democratic principles and egalitarian ethics. Given our current situation, that doesn’t sound like such a bad thing.

A post on Daily Kos had a different but interesting critique, arguing that “anarchism and conservatism are fundamentally at odds with each other,” while Nathan Goodman of the Center for a Stateless Society writes that “…the “shutdown” has kept intact most of the state violence that anarchists oppose, including militarism, police violence, crony capitalist patent monopolies, mass incarceration, mass surveillance and deportations…State regulations, in contrast, are often used by big business as a way to restrict competition, consolidate power, and dodge accountability. This is a pervasive problem called regulatory capture.”

This isn’t all. There is the fact that Warren ran as a hawkish politician, against another hawkish politician Scott Brown, by advocating for Iranian sanctions,  leaving Afghanistan only once ‘the puppet government is secured,” continuing drone strikes and “clandestine wars” to continue the war on terror, continuing to fund Israel with US tax money which allows it  “to continue its slaughter of Gazans and others.” Oh, and let not forget the thousands of dollars she has in checking and savings accounts at Bank of America, or her thousands of dollars in TIAA-CREF funds, as according to her financial disclosures in early 2014. If that’s not enough, she already received $38,575 from Google, $19,500 from National Amusements (owns Viacom), $18,400 from Microsoft Corp, $18,000 from Goldman Sachs, $17,700 from Bain Capital, $16,000 from Time Warner, $14,825 from IBM, and $13,050 from Walt Disney Co., and $12,575 from Rayethon in individual contributions in 2014 alone. I know that individual contributions on their own does not indicate a company supports a certain candidate, rather only certain people in that company. Looking at her contributors during her whole legislative career shows a number of universities and liberal political groups have given her money. For her PAC money, she’d received $22,000 in 2013-2014 and most of it is either labor groups or single-issue groups. But there are some business groups as well, centering around Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance, the National Assn of Realtors and Camp, Dresser & McKee.  There is more to Warren’s record, more than one could pick away, but I’m done for now since this is all I can say at this time.

Notes

[1] See my articles ‘The truth about Elizabeth Warren‘ , ‘An update about the capitalist reformer Elizabeth Warren‘, ‘Elizabeth Warren is not a savior’, ‘Elizabeth Warren is a fraud‘, part of this article and a following one I wrote responding to comments,

Franklin Pierce’s expansionism?

1 Aug

In a blog post on the old Interesting Blogger in June 2011, I questioned whether the United States was isolationist in its foreign policy. At one point, I quoted Franklin Pierce to show the expansionist and interventionist impulses of the United States. At the time, I wrote:

To most people, they believe that America began to start intervening in the affairs of other countries in the Cold War. Students of history would say U.S. interventions are false in the beginning of the 1900s. Both ideas are false, as confirmed by the fateful words of President Franklin Pierce in 1853, “our attitude as a nation [is to] render the acquisition of certain possessions not within our jurisdiction eminently important for our protection…[They] should…be obtained…in a manner entirely consistent with the strictest observance of national faith…no act within the legitimate scope of my constitutional control will be tolerated.”…I had no idea it stretched back that far and was shocked when I found out the truth. A Congressional Research report confirmed that what Mr. Pierce had stated was correct.

After that point, I quoted from a Congressional Research Service report detailing all the U.S. interventions since 1798. Earlier this year, I broke down that report, detailing meticulously where U.S. troops have intervened. I first included this map:

Then, I said this:

Franklin Pierce continued the intervention frenzy, beginning a short period where the US intervened in China numerous times. He interestingly set the tone for the rhetoric later used to justify the American empire, saying that “acquisitions of certain possessions [countries] not in our jurisdiction” were important for US. This was proved since he had US armed forces entered the countries of Panama, Uruguay, and Nicaragua, continuing the Monroe Doctrine, while also sending troops to the Samoa Islands as well.

I come back to this topic wondering what the basis for Fillmore’s words were, in many years before the American empire expanded beyond the bounds of the North American continent. This article is a continuation of what I wrote over three years ago, and looking at the topic with fresh eyes.

On March 4, 1853, Franklin Pierce gave his inaugural address .(also published on pages 243- 245 of the Congressional Globe) He talked about expansionism numerous times in his speech, almost saying the US had a ‘god-given’ right to the continent:

“Whether the elements of inherent force in the Republic have kept pace with its unparalleled progression in territory, population, and wealth has been the subject of earnest thought and discussion on both sides of the ocean…The apprehension of dangers from extended territory, multiplied States,accumulated wealth, and augmented population has proved to be unfounded…this vast increase of people and territory has notonly shown itself compatible with the harmonious action of the States and Federal Government in their respective constitutional spheres, but has afforded an additional guaranty of the strength and integrity of both…With an experience thus suggestive and cheering, the policy of my Administrationwill not be controlled by any timid forebodings of evil from expansion. Indeed, it is not to be disguised that our attitude as a nation and our position on the globe render the acquisition of certain possessions not within our jurisdiction eminently important for our protection, if notin the future essential for the preservation of the rights of commerce and the peace of the world. Should they be obtained, it will be through no grasping spirit, but with a view to obvious national interest and security,and in a manner entirely consistent with the strictest observance of national faith. We have nothing in our history or position to invite aggression;we have everything to beckon us to the cultivation of relations of peace and amity with all nations. Purposes, therefore, at once just and pacific will be significantly marked in the conduct of our foreign affairs…I intend that my Administration shall leave no blot upon our fair record, and trust I may safely give the assurance that no act within the legitimate scope of my constitutional control will be tolerated on the part of any portion of our citizens which can not challenge a ready justification before the tribunal of the civilized world…if your past is limited,your future is boundless. Its obligations throng the unexplored pathway of advancement, and will be limitless as duration. Hence a sound and comprehensive policy should embrace not less the distant future than the urgent present…the vast interests of commerce are common to all mankind, and the advantages of trade and international intercourse must always present a noble field for the moral influence of a great people…on every soil where our enterprise may rightfully seek the protection of our flag American citizenship is an inviolable panoply for the security of American rights…The rights, security,and repose of this Confederacy reject the idea of interference or colonization on this side of the ocean by any foreign power beyond present jurisdiction as utterly inadmissible [referring to the Monroe Doctrine]…I believe that involuntary servitude [slavery], as it exists indifferent States of this Confederacy, is recognized by the Constitution.I believe that it stands like any other admitted right, and that the States where it exists are entitled to efficient remedies to enforce the constitutional provisions.”

Pierce clearly showed his pro-slavery and expansionist views in this speech. Historian Paul Calcore wrote in his book, The Causes of the Civil War wrote that Pierce “clearly outlined his position on territorial expansion in this speech.” (pp. 198). M. Karen Walker  wrote something a bit different, saying that Pierce “illustrated the layering of meanings then associated with America as a land” and that the “directional force of Pierce’s words are outward from America’s shores to extraterritorial claims.” (Edwards, J.A. and Weiss, D. (2011). The Rhetoric of American Exceptionalism: Critical Essays (p. 35)). Others said that the section in the speech about acquiring “certain possessions” was “generally recognized as a veiled announcement of a resolve to make a fresh bid for Cuba and, if possible, the Hawaiian Islands.” (American Crisis Diplomacy: The Quest for Collective Security, 1918-1952, pp. 603). Lars Schoultz said the same thing, writing that Cuba was “the obvious but unspoken target” and that Pierce used “national security to justify his policy.” (Beneath the United States: A History of U. S. Policy Toward Latin America, pp. 52). Marion Mills Miller followed this, writing that Pierce was referring to “the desirability of annexing Cuba” in the speech (Great Debates in American History: Foreign relations, part 2, pp. 73). Yet, Pierce rejected the treaty with Hawaii, because it made Hawaii a state, not a territory controlled directly by the U.S. government (Lowe, E. T.L., Race Over Empire: Racism and U.S. Imperialism, 1865-1900 (pp. 99).

As a result of Pierce’s expansionist rhetoric, it is no surprise that The United States Magazine and Democratic Review (for short, the Democratic Review), published by John L. O’Sullivan who had coined the words ‘manifest destiny’ in 1845, claiming that is “by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us,” would endorse Pierce’s speech. The article titled ‘The Inaugural,’ (pp. 368-381) the Democratic Review, likely by the editor (O’Sullivan), was such an endorsement:

“The fourth of 1853…was the commencement…of a new era in the history in the United States. The democracy resumed their empire, and destinies of the country have…passed under their hands…The Southern States having been “compromised” out of their share of the territory, partly purchased in blood…and had every reason to apprehend, that they will in like manner be compromised out of all share in future acquisition…because they see in an extension of territory, only an extension of that power…should circumstances…require the government of the United States to take possession, or receive annexation of any territory…it will be opposed by that section [the South?] from motives so strong as to overcome all other considerations except that of the general safety of the country…it will thus be seen that abolition has…great influence on our domestic…[and] foreign policy…[the] faculty of expansion…is…the destiny of the United States, because it has an unoccupied world for its sphere of action [and] would continue to be…the great instrument not only of our power but our happiness and freedom…we deeply regret that abolition has thrown almost inseparable obstacles in the way of the great faculty of expansion…we have…a clear explicit pledge that the President will studiously refrain from all intervention in…Europe…[and] resist any such intervention on the part of those powers [in Europe]…at renewing the old system of colonization…we cordially wish him a long life of happiness and honor.”

The endorsement which also included a bit about the acquisition of Cuba as well was not the only response to this speech, by a Pierce, a general who had served in the expansionist Mexican-American war. Such expansionist views by Pierce makes sense when taking into context that during his administration, for one, he bought “a strip of land along Mexico,”  for $10 million dollars (later called the Gadsden Purchase) in order to create a “transcontinental railroad through Southern states and territories,” which was part of a broader plan to “expand the Southern empire.” (Jordan, B.M. (2003) Triumphant Mourner: The Tragic Dimension of Franklin Pierce (pp.88)).

For years, since the presidency of expansionist and southerner James K. Polk in the mid-1840s, attempts to purchase or take Cuba from the Spanish had been rebuffed even though it was supported by individuals such as John C. Calhoun and John D. O’Sullivan. In 1853, when Pierce took office, he was committed to annexing Cuba. In 1854, after the so-called Black Warrior incident where Cuban officials seized the cargo, the crew and the ship itself, a few American diplomats went to France to meet with the US’s Minister to France and James Buchanan. The report of their proceedings became what was known as the  Ostend Manifesto, which was eventually leaked to the press, and damaged the foreign relations of the Pierce Administration for years to come. Here is some of that manifesto by James Buchanan, J.Y. Mason and Pierre Soule written in October 1854:

We have arrived at the conclusion, and are thoroughly convinced, that an immediate and earnest effort ought to be made by the government of the United States to purchase Cuba from Spain at any price for which it can be obtained…We firmly believe that, in the progress of human events, the time has arrived when the vital interests of Spain are as seriously involved in the sale, as those of the United States in the purchase of the island, and that the transaction will prove equally honorable to both nations…The United States ought, if practicable, to purchase Cuba with as little delay as possible…Cuba is as necessary to the North American republic as any of its present members, and that it belongs naturally to that great family of states of which the Union is the providential nursery.From its locality it commands the mouth of the Mississippi and the immense and annually increasing trade which must seek this avenue to the ocean…Indeed the Union can never enjoy repose, nor possess reliable security, as long as Cuba is not embraced within its boundaries. Its immediate acquisition by our government is of paramount importance, and we cannot doubt but that it is a consummation devoutly wished for by its inhabitants…The system of immigration and labor, lately organized within its limits, and the tyranny and oppression which characterize its immediate rulers, threaten an insurrection at every moment which may result in direful consequences to the American people…Extreme oppression, it s now admitted, justifies any people in endeavoring to relieve themselves from the yoke of their oppressors…should the Cubans themselves rise n revolt against the oppression which they suffer, no human power could prevent the citizens of the United States and liberal-minded men of other countries from rushing to their assistance…It is certain that, should the Cubans themselves organize an insurrection against the Spanish government, and should other independent nations come to the aid of Spain in the contest, no human power could, in our opinion, prevent the people and the government of the United States from taking part in such a civil war, in support of their neighbors and friends…does Cuba, in the possession of Spain, seriously endanger our internal peace and the existence of our cherished Union? Should this question be answered in the affirmative, then, by every law, human and divine, we shall be justified in wresting it from Spain, if we possess the power…We should, however, be recreant to our duty, be unworthy of our gallant forefathers, and commit base treason against our posterity, should we permit Cuba to be Africanized and become a second St. Domingo, with all its attendant horrors to the white race, and suffer the flames to extend to our own neighboring shores, seriously to endanger our actually to consume the fair fabric of our Union…But this course cannot, with due regard to their own dignity as an independent nation, continue; and our recommendations, now submitted, are dictated by the firm belief that the cession of Cuba to the United States, with stipulations as beneficial to Spain as those suggested, is the only effective mode of settling all past differences, and of the securing the two countries against future collisions.

Basically this manifesto says the US has a right to Cuba, which was crushed when this manifesto which has likely racial undertones (i.e. “permit Cuba to be Africanized”), was leaked.  Eventually, the US was control Cuba after the Spanish-American War of  1898. But what came of Pierce’s expansionism? In his second annual message in 1854 (pp. 279 of this book) Pierce talked about a “naval expedition…[with] the purpose of establishing relations with the Empire of Japan” that he said had been “aptly and skillfully conducted.” The expedition he was talking about was also called the ‘Perry Expedition’ and people’s historian Howard Zinn in A People’s History of the United States described it as “the use of warships to force Japan to open its ports to the United States.” In the CRS document, Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2014, it describes further three visits by US warships in 1854 as making a “a naval demonstration, landing marines twice, and secur[ing]…a coaling concession from the ruler of Naha on Okinawa” in order to “secure facilities for commerce.” Seemingly ‘democratic nationalist,’ Michael Lind wrote in 2006 about ideas territorial expansion expanding beyond Pierce, noting that “while territorial expansion did not violate America’s democratic republican principles, imperial conquest did. For this reason, purchase was the preferred method of obtaining foreign territory.” (The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life (17 pages into Chapter 4: Averting a Balance of Power in North America: Power Politics and American Expansionism). I’m not sure I completely agree with this considering the Mexican-American War from 1846-1848, but I understand his point.

There is not much else that can be said on this topic, other than the fact that expansionist tendencies were somewhat hampered by the Civil War and resumed full force in the waning days of one of America’s bloodiest domestic conflicts, with the US engaging in genocide against the American Indians pushing the remaining ones to tiny bits of land called ‘reservations,’ then looking to places abroad to conquer (Philippines, Guam, Puerto Ric0, etc…) in order to satisfy corporate profit.

Why I oppose ENDA

29 Jul

An example of the rhetoric of those opposing exemptions to ENDA

This has been reposted from ZBlogs.

There has been a recent ruse over ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. As Katie McDonough noted in Salon, after the recent Hobby Lobby decision “progressive and LGBTQ groups one-by-one withdrew their support from the measure” including groups like the “National Gay and Lesbian Task Force [NGLTF], the Transgender Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union.” What was their reason for not supporting the bill? The measure’s “gaping exemptions for religious organizations” specifically, making the bill, in their view, worthless. At worst, some said that this exemption locked in discrimination for millions as argued by groups like the Center for Inquiry in their statement withdrawing support of ENDA. Even 100 religious leaders sent a letter to President Obama telling him to remove a religious exemption from an ENDA-like executive order (Obama has since signed the executive order). On the religious exemption in ENDA alone, one of my friends, who is trans*, told me that she did not want to participate in lobbying for the law, after I had sent her an article about groups dropping their support since I thought she’d be interested in the subject.

One group remained a strong supporter of ENDA: the Human Rights Campaign or HRC, the biggest Gay Inc. organ, with Fred Sainz, as noted in the liberal gay publication The Advocate, saying that they support ENDA “because it will provide essential workplace protections to millions of LGBT people.”Other groups such as Freedom to Work and the National Center for Transgender Equality still support the bill, as do weird allies: Republican backers like the gay conservative group Log Cabin Republicans and the American Unity Fund. Even gay conservative Andrew Sullivan, who has some reservations about the law, supports it. In contrast, Matt Barber, who has previously claimed that homosexuals openly ridicule Christianity and engaged in fearmongering by falsely claiming that a House bill on HIV/AIDs prevention paid for gender-reassignment surgery, absurdly claimed that ENDA was “the crown jewel of homofascism” and that left-leaning groups were mad since it did not “outlaw” Christianity.

It is strange that the religious exemption in the law is being brought up as an issue now. Back in April of last year, if not earlier, the ACLU, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and others criticized the law’s religious exemption but they did not withdraw their support for the bill. If the Hobby Lobby decision had never happened, it is a likely that these groups would still be supporting the bill, despite their ‘reservations.’ Lest us forget that even though the Democratic Party theoretically supports ENDA, but they “have allowed it to languish on paper for a decade without ever hitting the floor of Congress,” as noted by Sherry Wolf in CounterPunch. More importantly, as Wolf noted in the same article, then-President Bill Clinton “held a closed-door meeting in 1997 with advocates of ENDA” which she said had “been chiseled away at to include notable exemptions for small businesses, the armed forces and religious organizations.”

In my critique of ENDA, in an article I wrote for Dissident Voice last November, I said I was uneasy with a section that showed that the law applied “to a great majority of the workforce, but only to a sliver of the overall businesses.” I further noted that volunteers are not covered by the law, that “those fired for gender ID or sexual orientation before the act is enacted will not benefit from the legal repercussions of the law” and a section of the law I still find utterly chilling, since it “allows employers to continue (or begin) to set ‘dress or grooming standards’ of employees.” In this article, I also went through all of the corporate sponsors of the bill, most of whom were part of the so-called “Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness,” ranging from Intel to Microsoft to Chevron, showing that the corporate sector believes that the lesbians and gays (mainly) constitute a new “marketplace to sell goods and services.” I concluded the article saying that ENDA reinforces “the capitalistic status quo by not challenging corporate power or the power elite in any serious way” and I warned that the “the corporate sector is going full-speed ahead” as they try to rapidly turn the whole community of gender, sexual and radical diversity “into a market so they can get millions of dollars in profits.” Looking back, my argument was a moderate one which didn’t even oppose ENDA, but I still agree with most of what I wrote, other than the multiple uses of the term GSRM, which I’ve since learned is not a positive term.

Most supporters of the law do not realize the obvious reality that surrounds the law itself. The business community wants to tap a new market, while using it boost their profits with policies of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusiveness’ that follow the law’s enactment and subsequent implementation. Still, the law itself, as I noted in the previous paragraph, has deep problems. People like Robyn Pennacchia of Death and Taxes magazine say that ENDA should be passed because it is “geared towards protecting the rights of American citizens” but not with any of the religious exemptions, because it is an “exercise in futility.” Even if there was no religious exemption in the law, there would still be the section allowing “an employer from requiring an employee, during the employee’s hours at work, to adhere to reasonable dress or grooming standards,” or another defining one’s sexual orientation as “homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality,” rather than using an open definition like that of the American Psychological Association. A pro-ENDA article, in Gay Star News, interestingly enough, notes that the law “bars significant remedies available under the Civil Rights Act in cases of race or sex discrimination” and doesn’t allow LGBT plaintiffs to “file disparate impact claims seeking to show that an employer’s policy has disproportionately negative consequences on [their] community.” Any sort of program that mimics affirmative action for gays, lesbians, trans* people, bisexuals and others, is also not required under the law which declares that

“nothing…shall be construed or interpreted to require or permit…any covered entity to grant preferential treatment to any individual or to any group because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity…[or] the adoption or implementation by a covered entity of a quota on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Georgetown University law student Noah Baron brought this up in an article published last month in the Huffington Post, and went even further. He argued that the law was awful before the Hobby Lobby decision, noting that it “prohibits both public and private employers from making use of most affirmative action programs” but only when it is “applied to LGBT people” and it “may roll back significant progress made in protecting transgender Americans from employment discrimination.” Baron later called ENDA “a token, but ultimately simply another reminder that LGBT persons are regarded as less-that,” while noting that the Title VII protection that has been won by transgender people could be lost with ENDA’s passing. In the final sentence of his article, he remarked that ENDA “would achieve” something that is deeply disconcerting: the “enshrining into federal law anti-LGBT bias as an officially more-acceptable form of bigotry.”

There is something disturbing that is getting little coverage: how restrictions put in place by President George W. Bush which allow “faith-based hiring” would not be affected by the law or by Obama’s executive order. Additionally, the law basically institutionalizes discrimination not only through the religious exemption, but it also does so through “dress and grooming standards” which infringes on the freedom of expression of individuals especially those such as trans* or queer people, who are not as accepted by society than others, could be forced to groom or dress a certain way that would be harmful to their well-being. Why are groups not putting up a fuss about that? Why just this religious exemption? And why now?

There is another deeper problem with ENDA, which could easily be called the Ensuring National Discrimination Act. It could be an example of how efforts to make “social injury” illegal “powerfully legitimizes law and the state as appropriate protectors against injury and casts injured individuals as needing such protection by such protectors,” as argued by political theorist and political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Wendy Brown, in the introduction to her book, States of Injury (see page 27). If applied to ENDA, the “injured individuals” would be people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer, etc… and the mechanisms of enforcing the anti-discrimination measures would be the legitimization of the state. In the instance of ENDA, it is hard to apply this idea completely since the law has many exemptions and leaves out the power of the state in many instances, giving individuals more leeway at times.

Some folks in the vast community of gender, sexual and radical diversity will be angry and enraged at this article, saying that there must be non-discrimination measures that protect their community. I agree that such measures can be useful and can help. Stopping discrimination of people of any sexual orientation, color or creed is a laudable goal. However, ENDA as it currently stands, is a bill that institutionalizes discrimination, even without the religious exemption, whether supporters of the law will admit it or not. The nature of ENDA and the corporate support behind it, which is connected to an exploitation of ‘new’ market of ‘wanting’ consumers, is why I cannot lend my support to this legislation. There are a number of questions you could ask of the legislation (What will the law do about homelessness and poverty? What will it do to address the harassment of trans* individuals by police? What will it do to stop the criminalization of young trans* and queer people?) and the answer is always: NOTHING. In the end, it is best to remember what Linda Zerilli, a professor at the University of Chicago, writes in her book, Feminism and the Abyss of Freedom (page 122), something that supporters and their allies pushing ENDA often forget, but should not be forgotten: “rights are not things to be distributed from above, but a demand for something more made from below.”

Dictators, celebrities, and musicians: a sad but not surprising story

24 Jul

This was originally posted on Z Blogs and has been reprinted here.

Recently, I was researching for an article looking at all the dictatorships in the world (which will soon be published) and I found something that made me interested. This was the conflation of dictators, celebrities and musicians. Some groups have been holding musicians and celebrities accountable for entertaining dictators like the Human Rights Foundation. This article will highlight which countries celebrities and musicians performed at as to show that such people are accepting blood money whether they agree or not.

First off, its important to look at which musicians and celebrities performed in which dictatorial countries. Here’s a list of the top three people who entertained dictators:

  1. Jennifer Lopez (J-Lo) [Turkmenistan, Belarus, Azerbaijan, and Chechnya]
  2. (the Late) Michael Jackson [Bahrain and Brunei]
  3. Mariah Carey [Libya (pre-2011) and Angola]

There are more dictator-entertainers as I’ll call them, including: Julio Iglesias (Equatorial Guinea), Dennis Rodman (North Korea), Erykah Badu (Swaziland), Kanye West (Kazakhstan) and Sting (Uzbekistan).

And here’s a map where all the dictator-entertainers entertained…

That’s not all… Breaking this down further one can see that Libya (pre-2011), Chechnya, and then-named Zaire (now DRC) brought in the most celebrities and musicians to entertain them.

What does this all mean? Well it means that all of these people took blood money. There are some who have given their money back, but there is really no excuse for performing for a dictator (and maybe their family). These people, as Human Rights Foundation, noted about Jennifer Lopez, have “the right to earn a living performing for the dictator of [their] choice and his circle of cronies.” Yet, such a right means they are greedy, just wanting more money in their pockets even if it comes with the people who are oppressed smeared all over it, as they DO NOT have to perform for dictatorships. These musicians and celebrities must be held accountable for their actions in whatever form they take. For me, I’ll be boycotting all these people and never again listening to their music.

P.S.  And please, if you have anything to add, that would be great.

 

Sources for info. presented here:

  1. http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/07/13-pop-stars-who-sang-for-dictators.html
  2. http://humanrightsfoundation.org/news/jennifer-lopez-celebrates-turkmenistans-dictator-00177
  3. https://web.archive.org/web/20121016072534/http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/equatorialguinea/9610021/Julio-Iglesias-criticised-for-peforming-at-Equatorial-Guinea-concert.html
  4. http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2011/02/23/stars-who-hang-with-dictators.html#b68b880c-3800-4782-af0b-dc21cea9be88
  5. http://www.thedailybeast.com/content/dailybeast/cheats/2013/06/29/j-lo-headlines-dictator-s-birthday-party.html
  6. http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2011/02/23/stars-who-hang-with-dictators.html
  7. http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/12993#.U9A9oqbJWb4
  8. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alejandro-tarre/what-celebrities-should-k_b_5297618.html
  9. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/8371731/Divas-and-despots-the-stars-who-sing-for-dictators.html
  10. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/07/02/hey_jlo_thanks_for_serenading_that_dictator
  11. http://theblot.com/celebs-who-took-money-from-dictators-775289
  12. http://mariodiazbalart.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/another-american-celebrity-used-as-propaganda-by-brutal-dictatorship
  13. http://www.triplepundit.com/2013/07/jennifer-lopez-turkmenistan/
  14. http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/celebrities-who-perform-for-tyrants/2013/07/03/ff05f478-e271-11e2-aef3-339619eab080_gallery.html
  15. http://www.usatoday.com/picture-gallery/life/music/2013/12/20/stars-who-played-for-dictators/4142991/
  16. http://www.bet.com/news/music/2013/07/16/jennifer-lopez-made-over-10-million-performing-for-dictators.html
  17. https://web.archive.org/web/20130716161554/http://humanrightsfoundation.org/Jennifer-Lopez-HRF-uncovers-more-paid-performances-for-dictators-ignorance-greed-12-07-2013.php
  18. http://www.rferl.org/media/photogallery/25097621.html
  19. http://theweek.com/article/index/249053/kanye-west-and-4-other-pop-stars-who-performed-for-dictators
  20. http://www.eonline.com/photos/3855/celebrities-and-dictators/144759
  21. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/06/stars-dance-tyrants-tunes
  22. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/04/celebrities-who-entertain-dictators
  23. http://money.msn.com/now/post–performing-for-dictators-jlo-keeps-the-tradition-alive
  24. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/10/entertainment/la-et-music-dictators-20110311
  25. http://radaronline.com/photos/celebrities-dictators-jennifer-lopez-kim-kardashian-dennis-rodman/photo/664063/
  26. http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/10/24/celebrities-chummy-with-dictators-risk-damaging-their-brand/
  27. http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity-life/mariah-carey-performs-private-gig-for-angola-dictator/story-fnk822dn-1226787123934
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