Tag Archives: 99%

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.

Fareed Zakaria’s false narrative and mass surveillance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

webe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[9] Ibid, 101.

[10] Ibid, 194-5.

[11] Ibid, 196, 201.

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

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

[14] Ibid, 133, 182.

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

[16] Ibid, 151, 170, 172.

[17] Ibid, 2.

[18] Webb, 209.

Challenging and critiquing Snowden

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

How Juice Rap News perceives Snowden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rapnews15a

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

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

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

"Sounds grand to me."

Robert Foster: “Sounds grand to me.”

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

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

Robert Foster: "How?"

Robert Foster: “How?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

26 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A recovery for the one percent

14 Jun

g20 protests 2009

Coming into the 2014 elections, and so on, Democrats will be touting this magical ‘recovery’ brought on by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (also called the ‘Recovery act’ or ‘the stimulus’) and other measures. It is important to challenge this idea head on and tell the truth about the ‘recovery’ itself. This article is not a full analysis of every single article out there, but it hopes to explain to some degree how the recovery has benefited the one percent

In April 2012, liberal Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein wrote about the ‘recovery.’ He said that while early in the “recession, there was some talk that the economic crisis would, among other things, slow or even reverse the run-up in inequality,” it in fact did the opposite: “the recovery, such as it is, has made inequality worse.” Klein went on to write that “financial markets and corporate profits…have recovered far faster than the labor market or the housing sector” but that the “middle-class American family that owns your home” has not really felt a recovery. Over one year later, another article about the recovery was published in the Washington Post, using data from inequality researchers showed that [1]:

while only 49 percent of the decline in incomes during the recession was born by the top 1 percent (whose income share fell to 18.1 percent due to the recession), 95 percent of income gains since the recovery started have gone to them. This is a big change from past recessions and recoveries.

As Paul Taylor and Richard Fry of the Pew Research Center told the Washington Post, “It has been a very good recovery for those at the upper end of the wealth distribution. But there has been no recovery for the lower 93, which is nearly everybody.”Now this should be no surprise since Obama admitted himself in his horrid liberal rhetoric here , here and here:

we’ve seen a two-decade to three-decade-long trend where increases in profitability, expansions of markets, increases in corporate profits, rises in the stock market don’t translate into higher incomes and higher wages for the ordinary person — at the same time that their costs for sending their kids to college have skyrocketed.

Corporate profits have skyrocketed to all-time highs—but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.

We know that despite economic growth and close to record corporate profits, despite the fact that folks at the very top are doing better than ever, that there are too many families all across the country who are still struggling to get by, who work hard every day but have trouble making ends meet at the end of the month.

Yet Obama says this but he has never pushed any policies that try to seriously tackle what he calls a ‘trend’ or to stop the hurt  and suffering of the working and middle classes.

Beyond this, some may still have their substantive claims about the ‘recovery’ that has too place. I looked into some articles in alternative publications to see if I could find something substantive and as it turned out, there was a good body of criticism. Zoltan Zigedy in the publication Against the Current wrote that the Jack Rasmus’s book, Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few demonstrates that:

“Obama — the candidate — drew his financial support from Wall Street, surrounded himself with corporate-friendly, free-market-oriented advisers, and preferred caution and compromise to any bold, new vision…once Obama had all but sewn up the nomination, he began an even further rightward shift…Beyond Rasmus’ account and well before the presidential candidacy, Obama’s career was marked by sycophancy to power and wealth and by opportunism…As Rasmus demonstrates, Obama’s economic course was largely predictable from his campaign promises…Rasmus sifts through the seeming chaos and improvisations of the last four years to find three distinct Obama recovery programs implemented in 2009, 2010, and 2011. In addition, he identifies “two and a half” Federal Reserve actions (Quantitative Easings) meant to revive the slumping economy. It is his considered opinion that all these efforts failed to restore the economy to anything like a sustainable vitality…After reading Rasmus’ new book, one will find little to justify praise for the Obama administration. While the three trillion dollars of recovery programs (as tabulated by Rasmus) from March of 2008 until September of 2011 — more than two-thirds of these federal dollars allocated on Obama’s watch — may have staved off an even deeper downturn, they have done little to revive the economy. Certainly from the perspective of capital and a wealthy and powerful tiny minority of our citizens, the recovery has been satisfactory, if not a rousing success…But for the vast majority wages are stagnant or dropping, benefits shaved or eliminated, living costs rising, home ownership in jeopardy, and employment tenuous; most of us are still looking for the recovery. And the economic data promise little improvement.”

In another review of the same book in CounterFire, Henry Parkyn-Smith writes that the book is “framed [in] terms of who the downturn is damaging and what the recovery is supporting” and it: “focuses on the lack of recovery, how deep the crisis is, as well as how and why there seem to be few signs of the crisis abating…[how the] recovery there has been is unequal, and how Obama’s regime has acted to support the rich at the expense of the majority of working Americans.” In Smith’s opinion, Obama, “Within the Democratic Party…in fact one of the most conservative figures: not only were his pre-election promises neo-liberal and pro-business, the policies he actually implemented during his first term could be seen as being even more so.”

Without going through book reviews all day, there are a number of articles written during and after the ‘recovery’ was beginning to be implemented. Writer Alan Farago said in January 2009 that if the fiscal stimulus, as he called it, is

“not applied to rebuilding our nation’s productive capacity, it is money down a black hole. For certain, it is important to provide some floor under this free-fall. But government spending on infrastructure serves a temporary purpose. a limited purpose. Fiscal stimulus that fails to provide for new productive capacity—jobs making products that people need—will bleed out the economy like a slow suicide.”

Farago in this article said that “the Obama administration should consider preemptive measures to nationalize sectors of the economy.” What Farago said did not exactly happen, instead there was what Forbes, The New York Times, Pew Research Center, the Washington Post, and many others called a “jobless recovery” since 2009, when jobs have not really grown but there has been an economic ‘recovery.’ The International Labor Organization even had a report released in January of this year about “the risk of jobless recovery” on a global scale. After all, the Recovery Act itself was not as effective as it seems, in the view of Doug Henwood:

“What we got was a bill that did some good things – extending unemployment benefits, picking up health insurance costs for the laid-off, etc. – but one that also was too loaded with tax breaks and other indirect mechanisms that are supposed to create jobs. If you divide the amount of cash spent, according to Recovery.gov, by the administration’s estimate of jobs “created or saved” – whatever that means exactly – by the StimPak [Stimulus package], you find that the cost per job is something around $250,000…Yes, and if you allow for multiplier effects – someone whose job is saved spends more money than someone on the dole, which saves other jobs that would have otherwise evaporate – then it’s maybe $150,000-175,000 per job. That’s still preposterously inefficient, however…The Obama people like The Market, and want to nudge it into creating more private sector jobs…And there’s a bias among neoliberals, like Obama & Co., that sees public sector jobs as phony and private sector jobs as real…they’re going to emphasize tax breaks and other minimalist strategies. They won’t do much to create jobs.”

An article I almost forget to include was published this May in the New York Times about the “Obama-Bernanke financial rescue.” In the article, Binyamin Appelbaum writes that

Atif Mian and Amir Sufi [in a new book titled House of Debt] are convinced that the Great Recession could have been just another ordinary, lowercase recession if the federal government had acted more aggressively to help homeowners by reducing mortgage debts…Mr. Geithner wrote in his book that the administration had tried to help homeowners — and that doing more wouldn’t have changed the trajectory of the recession…The Obama administration considered several ways to reduce mortgage debts during the heart of the crisis. It promised to pursue a few, too, including empowering bankruptcy courts to forgive debts, paying lenders and buying up loans. But ultimately, the administration adopted a limited aid program and gambled that an economic recovery would take care of the problem. Mr. Mian and Mr. Sufi are not particular about which method of reducing debt would have been best; their point is simply that the government, by failing to do more, inhibited the recovery.

In a blog on their website, the writers of the book clarified what their book was talking about, and their objections to what they called the ‘Geithner view of the world’:

“In some of the early reviews of our book, our argument is caricatured as saying we should have let the banks fail and we should have saved homeowners. We do not make such an extreme claim. In fact, we commend both Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner for some of their policies that were directed at stopping dangerous runs in the banking system. We agree that bank runs threaten the payment system and the entire economy, and policies should be undertaken to prevent such runs. The problem we have with the Geithner view of the world is that it is far too extreme — it is a “save the banks, save the economy” view which has been thoroughly discredited in both the United States and Europe. The fact that Geithner still adheres to this view despite all the evidence to the contrary is truly remarkable. The problem with the economy in 2008 and 2009 is not that banks are not lending enough. It’s absurd to argue that we need more bank lending when demand is collapsing throughout the economy.”

Rather than going through every article on the subject, its better to shift the focus to who the recovery has benefited. As quoted in an opinion piece published on Reuters by Chrystia Freeland, Emanuel Saez said,

“The evidence suggests that top income earners today are not ‘rentiers’ deriving their incomes from past wealth, but rather are ‘working rich,’ highly paid employees or new entrepreneurs who have not yet accumulated fortunes comparable to those accumulated during the Gilded Age.”

There is more. In an article in CounterPunch criticizing the Federal Reserve’s ‘stimulus,’ Mark Vorpahl writes that

“the Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates ultra-low in order to encourage businesses to borrow money and expand their operations. The Fed’s alleged desired outcome is to encourage banks to make more loans to the private sector, thereby encouraging economic growth and job creation. To reach this goal, however, these policies have to be set out on the right path. Currently, they are not. On the contrary, today’s policies are guided by supply side, trickle down theories which essentially claim that the problem with the economy is that the rich aren’t rich enough…There has been a weak upturn in job creation, falling far short of what is needed to return to the employment rate prior to the crash of 2008. In addition, the stimulus has been too weak to counter the accumulating impacts, including layoffs, of sequestration as it starts to gather steam. What’s more, it is a very dubious proposition that this slight and temporary job upturn has anything to do with Bernanke’s extraordinary measures at all.”

The New Statesman noted the same is happening in the UK, with the top one percent having their income rise and the bottom 90 percent having their income decline. Even the housing recovery itself seems to be a joke. As Forbes contributor Richard Green notes,”the housing market at the top is doing much better than the housing market at the bottom (it is doing better than the middle, too).” None of this should be of any surprise since the real size of the bailout was not the reported $700 billion given to the big banks, but was tabulated to over $14 trillion as noted by Naomi Prins (Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department) and $29 trillion from the Fed alone as explained by L. Randall Wray in the Huffington Post. Lest us not forget that Ben Bernanke defended the bailout of the banks. Such measures explain even more why Americans doubt the benefits a stimulus from the Fed.

As noted in an article in that liberal rag, The New Republic, Timothy Noah writes that “the U.S. economy’s current ability to expandno matter who is presidentwithout benefiting the 99 percent is something new. Perhaps we should do something to change that.” While he is right about making sure the 99 percent benefit, the best way to do so is to not choose solutions coming out the two establishment parties, but rather to look for robust alternatives.

[1] Later, even Joe Scarborough reflected this sentiment on MSNBC, the channel which cheers Democrats all day long, saying that “since Barack Obama became president of the United States, 95 percent of economic gains have been made by the richest 1 percent.”

Resisting digital personalization

8 Jun

Reposted from Z Blogs.

There is always talk about how the internet is a magically decentralized system. Eli Pariser, the former head of the liberal, pro-Democratic Party group, MoveOn, challenges this notion in his 2011 book, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You, in which he sounds off on the dangers of digital personalization. This article will review the book and also attempt to offer some methods of resisting digital personalization.

Pariser focuses much of his book around the ‘filter bubble.’[1] Basically, the filter bubble is a set of algorithms used on sites such as Twitter, Google, Facebook, and Yahoo! to name a few.[2] Filtering is, as Pariser describes it, is personalized tailoring of information to your liking. Such personalization, he says, could narrow our thoughts because we are inundated with those perspectives that agree with our views, not those that challenge us. In addition, the storage of our personal information by private companies and corporations is used to blast personalized advertising at us and filter our content through ‘click signals.’ Pariser worries that such filtering concentrates the control of the internet in the hands of a few American multinational corporations.

Digital personalization itself is the subject of a recent Warner Brothers film, Her. On the surface, the movie is about a relationship between the lonely and rarely social protagonist Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), who works for a company that writes letters for those in intimate relationships, and an operating system (OS) with artificial intelligence named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johanson). Theodore, who is still married to a wife he has been separated with for years, tells Samantha his deepest thoughts as he falls deeply in love with her, and gets his life back together. Samantha is one of the many OS’s, commercial products that purport to make people understand their lives better, which evolve to meet the needs of the user, and personalize the content, so that they feel like a trusted friend. However, they are deceptive since the OS’s are not really human and their artificial intelligence creates a ‘lock in’ to their technology.[3] They also suggest what you may like based on your activities, thoughts, a bit like the function on sites such as Facebook or Amazon saying ‘if you like this, then you’ll like this!’ Theodore finds out the true nature of Samantha when she tells him that she is talking to more than 8,000 at the same time as him and is in love with about 1/10 of them. He is shocked as he thought Samantha was only his and possibly commits suicide (its open to interpretation) as the film closes. In essence, this movie warns of the dangers of digital personalization and how it can control human life.

After reading through this book I was a bit depressed about the future predicament of netizens.[4] US netizens, as they are called, are likely concerned about personalized ads being directed toward them. However, there is little action to counter such digital personalization. Interestingly, there has been more concern about the NSA engaging in mass surveillance on Americans and the rest of the world through the massive public-private national security complex, than the collection of personal data by companies such as Google and Yahoo!. This is not to say that NSA mass surveillance is not important, but rather that it is connected to what can rightly be called corporate surveillance. In the second part of the recent FRONTLINE documentary, United States of Secrets, it notes how the personal information which the

NSA collected to spy on Americans and people across the world was first exploited and stored by American multinational tech companies to benefit their bottom line.

Still, there is one major difference between collection of personal information which is digitally personalized by American multinationals and the ‘collect it all’ doctrine of the NSA & its partners. Digital personalization, as noted by Pariser, has the potential to seep into every part of our lives, as noted in the movie Her (talked about two paragraphs ago). NSA surveillance on the other hand is not all-encompassing, as it would be impossible for the NSA to collect all the personal information of Americans. Rather it is based on the idea of social control, where the NSA collects enough information for everyone to feel like they are under surveillance. Despite these differences, NSA surveillance and digital personalization are deeply connected, which is, strangely enough, not pointed out by Pariser, who only mentions the NSA once in passing in the book. But the book does allude to the possibility that government would exploit personal information used by American multinationals for their own uses (which they have done).

In the last chapter of the book, Pariser outlines what he believes are effective strategies for resisting digital personalization. They are pretty moderate in general. They include breaking your digital habits (looking at different things every day) and using technology where you have more control of the filter bubble imposed on you by the certain service. Pariser, for example, says that Twitter is better than Facebook because you get to control ‘your’ filter bubble. He also advocates for implementing and enforcing the Nixon-era Fair Information Practices as well.[5] Also, he writes that “to rescue our digital environment from itself, we’ll ultimately need a new constituency of digital environmentalists—citizens of this new space we’re all building who band together to protect what’s great about it.”[6] In a hopeful tone, Pariser says that “if the great mass of us decide that an open, public-spirited Internet matters and speak up about it…the lobbyists won’t stand a chance” (which was the case with the defeats of SOPA, PIPA and CISPA)[6]. But he worries that a “small group of American companies may unilaterally dictate how billions of people work, play, communicate, and understand the world.”[7] He concludes with the though that for “all of us,” protecting the “early vision of radical connectedness [on the internet] and user control should be an urgent priority.”[7]

I think that Pariser’s call to action to protect “radical connectedness” on the internet and resist digital personalization should be applauded. However, I feel that he does not go far enough. Companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo! and others who are exploiting user information and selling it to advertisers and, at times, giving it to the government, are simply “digital imperialists…[who] violate the basic right to privacy…[and constitute] part of the globalization of the surveillance state.”[8] Pariser’s book is a reminder of the increasing control of the internet by corporate power, but he does not mention, sadly, the “corporate concentration of the [online] blogosphere” or the growing power of a small number of internet service providers (mostly American multinationals) in the US. [8] To be fair, Pariser is focusing on digital personalization and highlighting its dangers in his book, not the issues I just talked about. On the other hand, I agree with Pariser’s view that as users, we should choose services which give us more power over our information flow: Twitter instead of Facebook, a digital dictatorship. Additionally, efforts to fight government or corporate censorship, through the law or otherwise, should be fought off.

Still, it is not enough to just leave Tumblr (before Yahoo! took it over), Blogspot (after Google introduced an intrusive new privacy policy), or permanently delete your Facebook account as I have done. Rather, it is better to support privacy-centered and open-source technology that gives people power. On top of this, there should be a push for a more democratic internet, with communities building “next-generation networks that are directly accountable to residents and local businesses,” and owned municipally, by cooperatives, nonprofits, or otherwise, as advocated by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). This may not be perfect, but its a better alternative than the status quo. Such a challenge to what is exists is the reason why “publicly owned high-speed internet” in Wilson, North Carolina, and Thomasville, Georgia have been attacked by the corporate bill-mill called ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). In the end, while it is clear that the internet is a free marketeer’s dream, there must a concerted effort for the people to exert control of the internet, hopefully without government structures, to fight off further efforts to privatize the net.

Notes:

[1] Other than Pariser’s book, most of the results are interviews with Pariser or reviews of his book. But there are also other articles like ‘Algorithms and the Filter Bubble Ruining Your Online Experience?‘ on Huffington Post, and ‘Tim Berners-Lee: Facebook could fragment web‘ in The Guardian.

[2] Much of the internet is tied into digital personalization, even constituting sites like the main feed on academia.edu (you can somewhat control it), Myspace (yes its still around), and others.

[3] Pariser, E. (2011). The filter bubble: what the Internet is hiding from you (p. 40). New York: Penguin Press. Pariser defines this as “the point at which users are so invested in their technology that even if competitors might offer better services, it’s not even worth making the switch” (40).

[4] Michael Hauben defines this term, also called Net Citizen, as someone who exists “as a citizen of the world thanks to the global connectivity that the Net makes possible [since]…you physically live in one country but you are in contact with much of the world via the global computer network.” TechTarget adds that a netizen is a “a citizen who uses the Internet as a way of participating in political society” or an “internet user who is trying to contribute to the Internet’s use and growth.”

[5] Pariser, 239-40 and more directly defined the summary of the report of the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Automated Personal Data Systems in July 1973 as the following: “[1]There must be no personal data record keeping systems whose very existence is secret. [2] There must be a way for an individual to find out what information about him is in a record and how it is used. [3] There must be a way for an individual to prevent information about him that was obtained for one purpose from being used or made available for other purposes without his consent. [4] There must be a way for an individual to correct or amend a record of identifiable information about him. [5] Any organization creating, maintaining, using, or disseminating records of identifiable personal data must assure the reliability of the data for their intended use and must take precautions to prevent misuse of the data.”

[6] Pariser, 242.

[7] Ibid, 243.

[8] My article on Nation of Change titled ‘The Digital Imperialists Strike Back.’

Expanding on the term ‘state in crisis’

7 May

Screenshot from 2014-05-06 20:56:16

Recently, I wrote a paper for my comparative politics class titled ‘Mexico: A state in crisis’ in which I proposed a new concept: a ‘state in crisis’ and countered what I believed to be a neoliberal strand among the students in the class. In order for everyone to read about this, I posted it on academia.edu. This article aims to expand the definition of a ‘state in crisis.’

While there are a number of different results when one searches for a ‘state in crisis,’ a term which many have used, my definition of the term has seemingly not been used before. In the PowerPoint for my presentation on paper, I defined this term as the following:

“A state which has not systematically broken down, but it has encountered some sort of domestic crisis which threatens the legitimacy and integrity of the state. Such a state has certain social conditions which threaten the well-being of the general population.”

For Mexico, the ‘domestic crisis’ was the drug war which is ravaging the country from top to bottom. The same could be said for the large amount of poor in Mexico.

In a section titled ‘Questions about the paper and presentation‘ I expanded on this term, writing:

“…Most importantly, I don’t want to use the term failed state because as a person in the First-World, in an imperialist nation in fact, I don’t want to impose a term onto Mexico, a Third -World country, but not be able to apply it to my home country, the United States. The term ‘state of crisis’ gets around this, and allows one to apply it to ALL countries in the world, whether rich, poor or middle-class countries.”

I added that even the US could a ‘state in crisis’:

“The United States, like Mexico has not had a systematic breakdown of the state. Also, there are a number of situations that could be classified as a “domestic crisis” in Mexico that threatens the legitimacy and integrity of the US state. These include rising poverty, massive student loan debt, the rise of mass incarceration and so on. As a result, there are social conditions present in the United States which “threaten the well-being of the general population”

Still, there needs to be some expansion of this definition. Some states which could be considered a ‘state in crisis’ are plutonomies. A controversial Citigroup memo in 2005 defined plutonomies as “economies powered by the wealthy” and classified the U.S., Canada and the UK as pluonomies (and later Australia).  The memo further noted:

What are the common drivers of Plutonomy? Disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, capitalist-friendly cooperative governments, an international dimension of immigrants and overseas conquests invigorating wealth creation, the rule of law, and patenting inventions…There are rich consumers, few in number, but disproportionate in the gigantic slice of income and consumption they take. There are the rest, the “non-rich”, the multitudinous many, but only accounting for surprisingly small bites of the national pie…The six drivers of the current plutonomy: 1) an ongoing technology/biotechnology revolution, 2) capitalist-friendly governments and tax regimes, 3) globalization that re-arranges global supply chains with mobile well-capitalized elites and immigrants, 4) greater financial complexity and innovation, 5) the rule of law, and 6) patent protection are all well ensconced in the U.S., the UK, and Canada…At the heart of plutonomy, is income inequality. Societies that are willing to tolerate/endorse income inequality, are willing to tolerate/endorse plutonomy.

As Noam Chomsky noted that basically, “Plutonomy refers to the rich, those who buy luxury goods and so on, and that’s where the action is…They claimed that their plutonomy index was way outperforming the stock market. As for the rest, we set them adrift…. These days they’re sometimes called the “precariat”[1] — people who live a precarious existence at the periphery of society.” In a following memo, Citigroup analysts noted:

Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper and become a greater share of the economy in the plutonomy countries…in the plutonomy countries, the rich are such a massive part of the economy, that their relative insensitivity to rising oil prices makes US$60 oil something of an irrelevance. For the poorest in society, high gas and petrol prices are a problem. But while they are many in number, they are few in spending power, and their economic influence is just not important enough to offset the economic confidence, well-being and spending of the rich.

Still, not all ‘states in crisis’ are plutonomies. The same goes for plutocracies, which Investopedia defines as:

“A government controlled exclusively by the wealthy either directly or indirectly. A plutocracy allows, either openly or by circumstance, only the wealthy to rule. This can then result in policies exclusively designed to assist the wealthy, which is reflected in its name”

However, there is a higher likelihood that those states that can be considered ‘in crisis’ are “unequal societies” with ‘Elites’ and ‘Commoners’ rather than egalitarian societies (no elites) or equitable society (with workers and non-workers). Such terms come from the classifications used by Safa Motesharrei and Eugenia Kalnay at University of Maryland, and Jorge Rivas at the University of Minnesota in the controversial but well-sourced study titled ‘Human and Nature Dynamics (HANDY): Modeling Inequality and Use of Resources in the Collapse or Sustainability of Societies’ released in March of this year which concludes that ” Collapse can be avoided, and population can reach a steady state at maximum carrying capacity if the rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level and if resources are distributed equitably.”

There is something more. Usually in states ‘in crisis’ elites have more power in forming public policy than the general populace or at minimum put in place elite-friendly policies. Recently, scholars have concluded that this applies to the US, writing:

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

Also, it is possible that a state ‘in crisis’ have “extractive institutions.” Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson define this as corresponding to “extractive societies, where an elite controls the economic and political system and uses its power to extract wealth from the society at everyone else’s expense” in contrast to “inclusive societies, where political power and economic benefits are shared broadly among the population.”

It is important to note that states which can be classified as a ‘state in crisis’ are usually capitalist governments but can have a number of different regimes: ‘liberal democracy’ [2], authoritarianism, psuedodemocracy/competitive authoritarianism/hybrid regime/illiberal democracy, or anything in between.

To review, a ‘state in crisis’ is:

  1. A state which is experiencing a domestic crisis(es) which threatens state legitimacy and integrity but has not systematically broken down
  2. State has social conditions which threaten the population’s well-being
  3. State usually has a capitalist government
  4. State is likely an ‘unequal society’ with elites and commoners rather than an equitable society or an egalitarian society
  5. State might be considered a plutonomy, or an economy powered by wealthy consumers with a group of members in society that are in a precarious position, a
  6. State might be a plutocracy or a government by and for the rich and powerful
  7. Elites in the said state may have more power in forming public policy than the average citizen and at minimum elite-friendly policies, often called ‘neoliberal’ like investor-rights agreements, privatization of public services, tax cuts for the rich, etc…
  8. State can have a plethora of different regimes, ranging from ‘democracy’ to ‘authoritarianism’
  9. The state might have an “extractive society” leading to extractive institutions which is more likely than an “inclusive society”

 

Notes:

[1] Guy Standing wrote on Policy Network in 2011 about the precariat:

“Every progressive political movement has been built on the anger, needs and aspirations of the emerging major class. Today that class is the precariat…The precariat has emerged from the liberalisation that underpinned globalisation. Politicians should beware. It is a new dangerous class, not yet what Karl Marx would have described as a class-for-itself, but a class-in-the-making, internally divided into angry and bitter factions. It consists of a multitude of insecure people, living bits-and-pieces lives, in and out of short-term jobs, without a narrative of occupational development, including millions of frustrated educated youth who do not like what they see before them, millions of women abused in oppressive labour, growing numbers of criminalised tagged for life, millions being categorised as ‘disabled’ and migrants in their hundreds of millions around the world. They are denizens; they have a more restricted range of social, cultural, political and economic rights than citizens around them…Growth of the precariat has been accelerated by the financial shock, with more temporary and agency labour, outsourcing and abandonment of non-wage benefits by firms…The precariat has no control over its time, and no economic security. Many in it suffer from what I have called in the book, a precarity trap. This is on top of the familiar poverty trap created by the folly of ‘targeting’ on the poor via means-tested social assistance. The precariaty trap arises because it takes time for those on the margins of poverty to obtain access to benefits, which means their hardships are underestimated, while they have no incentive to take low-income temporary jobs once they are receiving benefits…The worst fear of all is that a large part of the precariat, and those fearing a life in it, could be drawn to neo-fascism…The precariat observes with growing anger. The politicians had better respond or we will reap a harvest of discord. We can do better.”

A comment below an article on Karmas Project continues this:

“Many folks consider precariat to just be a new way of saying proletariat–specifically referencing the phenomenon of “proletarianization” going on for former members of the “middle class” in 1st world countries. It can be argued that the proletariat as such is always precarious, and that the experience of precarity by 1st world workers is simply what most workers everywhere would experience anyways. Such precarity was also perfectly common in early capitalism within the US and Europe as well… However this does not exhaust the use of the term precariat. The precariat is the name for a specific SEGMENT of the broader working class — and it is the name for something that IS novel, something that is new in today’s form of capitalism, something which never rightly existed for the historical proletariat. The precariat is the name for entire national economies that are disproportionately reliant on service industries and fictitious capital. All of that is more or less true — there still exists a proletariat as such and within that proletariat exists what we call the precariat.”

There are a number of good other articles on this subject: ‘A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens – review, ‘Why the precariat is not a “bogus concept””, ‘Youthful members of the full-time precariat, ‘The “Precariat,” the New Working Class”, ‘Is there a precariat?, ‘Paying Attention to the Precariat, ‘The rise of the precariat promises a renewal of the left‘, ‘Is There A Precariat? An Interview with Charlie Post‘, ‘The Precariat’ on rise in America‘, ‘Word of the Week: Precariat, ‘The American Precariat‘, ‘Preventing an American precariat, ‘Professors Join the Precariat‘, ‘Welcome To The Precariat, ‘The rise of the “precariat”?‘, ‘Zen Over Zinn: Avoiding Unpleasant Truths With David Brooks, ‘A Specter Is Haunting Precarity‘, ‘Towards a Charter for the Precariat‘, ‘The Precariat by Chris Dunkley‘, ‘Standing replies on the ‘precariat’, ‘The ‘precariat’: fighting for real jobs, ‘The new ‘precariats’‘, ‘Book Review: The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class by Guy Standing‘, ‘The Precariat and Climate Justice in the Great Recession‘, ‘Working on the Margins: Japan’s Precariat and Working Poor‘, and so on. There is however, debate if it is separate from the working class or if it is part of the working class. In my view, it seems that it would be a bit of both, because it could include unemployed people, along with those who have low-wage jobs, and those tied to ‘wage slavery. This relates to the Marxian concept of the lumpenproletariat which Karl Marx defined in 1852 as “vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers…pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers…pimps…brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars — in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French call la bohème”

[2] Marxists define this not as a liberal democracy, but as a ‘bourgeois democracy’ as noted in the Encyclopedia of Marxism:

A government that serves in the interests of the bourgeois class. The word Democratic is attached to such a government, because in it all people in such a society have certain freedoms: those who own the means of production , the bourgeoisie, are free to buy and sell labor-power and what is produced by it solely for their own benefit. Those who own only their own ability to labor , the proletariat, are free to sell themselves to any bourgeois who will buy their labor power, for the benefit of maintaining their own survival, and giving greater strength and power to the bourgeoisie. The state fundamentally represents the interests of one class over others.

Maps of LGBTQ+ discrimination and support worldwide

15 Feb

I tend to not focus on the LGBTQ+ community as much as I should.[1] I have written about the LGBTQ+ community in the US for White Rose Reader and expanded it to an international focus when I argued that one would be against equality if they supported a war in Syria. This article shows those maps for public consumption and compares them to maps of presence of industrialized powers across the world (France, UK, US). [2] I recently made some additions using maps from Wikipedia.

The first set of maps instead comes from the website of the NGO, ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Association) which focuses on rights for Lesbian, Gay, Trans* and Bisexual peoples worldwide, at least in their view, which I took using screenshots on my computer:

ilgamap7
Many of these countries are located in Africa but also a sizeable amount in the Middle East.

ilgamap6

Less countries than before with Iran as the worst offender (death), likely because of the religious law imposed on the country after the 1979 revolution. Not all the people of Iran agree with this law, I would imagine.

ilgamap5

Once again, the majority of the countries are in the ‘Eastern Hemisphere’ but interestingly, the US still keeps troops in Afghanistan and has not pressured the government (should they?) to change its laws over gay relationships.

ilgamap4

Very few countries prohibit Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual people from entering their countries. Only two countries in the world, according to this map, have this prohibition: Lesotho and Belize.

ilgamap3

This a very shocking one and it is surprising that countries in the world still do this, but in Algeria and Chile, being transgender is considered an illness.

ilgamap2

This one is even more surprising in that Russia, China, and US have something in common: expelling foreigners who have HIV! Other countries that do this include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Mongolia, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Oman, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Armenia, South Korea, Moldova, Equatorial Guinea, and Bahrain.

ilgamap1

This one is even worse and scarier. Sudan, Yemen, Qatar, Bahrain, Russia, Turkmenistan, China, South Korea, Indonesia, and Equatorial Guinea all don’t allow foreigners with HIV to enter their countries. That’s not right.

Now onto the maps that I made using the ILGA report focusing on what they term ‘State-Sponsored Homophobia.’ There seems to be a lack of explanation about restrictions on trans* people others in the soup of gender, sexual and random diversity. This is NOT to say that those in the countries listed here agree with the laws in place, but rather these maps show that these laws exist. And here are the maps:

illegalfull

83 countries where homosexuality has been declared illegal, many in Africa and a number of countries in Asia,

jointadoption

Only a small amount of countries extend this right, but it is still important to note them

somemarriage

Very few countries extend just some rights to marriage

mostlymarriage

Big countries like Brazil and South Africa extend most rights to marriage along with a number of others mostly in Europe.

gaymarriage

Gay marriage is instituted in few countries, but those that didn’t extend it aren’t necessarily lesser countries.

nohatred

Few countries extend this prohibition, but those that do are spread across the world. Similar countries to those in the map before this one have in place these types of hate crime laws.

hatecrimes

Interestingly enough, the US has laws against these types of hate crimes, but not others as noted in the above two maps

constit

Very few countries have these constitutional prohibitions, but for those that do, it is important to point out.

prohibition

Almost all of Europe prohibits discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation. In the US, a similar measure has been debated in the US congress, but it has major problems as I noted in my article, ENDA and the Capitalistic Marketplace.

homosexual 3

A good amount of countries have an unequal age of consent for homosexual and heterosexual acts, which is important to note

homosexual 2

Many, many countries have an equal age of consent, including many in the Americas and a large swath across Eurasia. Very few countries in the Mideast and Africa extend this.

homosexual acts death penalty

This map is very important because it shows the most extreme measures against homosexual acts. A chart combining the one below with this one is above, for a wider picture

homosexual acts illegal

When making this chart, along with the one above this one and the one earlier with the red highlights, I was horrified. Its crazy to see that one’s relationship should be declared illegal just because the said country says so. That just isn’t right.

homosexual acts legal

Most of the world takes this position, but those that aren’t part of this are as important.

antimlaws
While I couldn’t find much information on this front, I thought it would be worth one’s while to share.
promlaws
This map is as important as the one above and is likely more expansive than this.
WHOSUPPORTSLGBTRIGHTS

This map is one of the most important, as it shows clearly which countries favor ‘LGBT rights’ (as the map key defines it) and which do not.

Decriminalization of homosexuality by country, using ILGA and other data

blood donations

This map is still important as well even if it doesn’t seem that way

This map specifically looks at gay marriage across Europe.

This map specifically looks at gay marriage across Europe.

This map looks at laws affecting homosexuals in Asia

This map looks at laws affecting homosexuals in Asia

Laws that concern homosexuality in Oceania

Laws that concern homosexuality in Oceania

Other information on these issues can be found on this comprehensive wikipedia page, the data compiled by the IGLHRC, the maps on the website of ILGA, and the still-debated Yogyakarta Principles (also see here).

Now for the maps of deployments of UK, French and US troops. See any similarities between those countries with harsh laws against LGBT people (as the ILGA defines it) and the deployments of UK, French and US troops

Map of current French military deployments

Map of current UK Military deployments

ukdeployment

Map of current US military deployments

Countries in which the U.S. has a military presence in 2013 This map shows the current deployments of the US military. Most of the deployments on this map that are less than 100 troops are usually less than fifty military personnel, just for public knowledge. The lightest blue means less than a hundred US troops; the aqua teal mix, which is a little brighter, means more than a hundred troops; and the darkest blue on map means more than 1,000 troops. This map has those listed as part of Overseas Contingency Operation Deployments integrated in, while military dependents and civilian personnel are omitted.

That’s all. Decide for yourself what this all means.

Notes:

[1] In the past I have used Gender, Sexual and Romantic Minorities (GSRM) or Gender, Sexuality and Romantic Diversity (GSRD) but now I realize  no one will know what I’m talking about, so I’m using LGBTQ+ instead to promote more understanding.

[2] Also see the basic guide to where the US has intervened since 1798 and The Worldwide Network of US Military Bases

Blood of empire: US military occupations

7 Dec

In order to provide a resource for everyone, here’s a list of the military occupations (not wars or invasions unless specified) that the US government had engaged in, in its history.

To start off, here’s a chart I made about the said occupations:

occupation length

Data specifics on occupations

(note that this is the ‘official government document’ and this is another source used) which are listed by the amount of years it lasted, from the longest to the shortest:

Ryukyu Islands (1950-1972). This twenty-two year military occupation was a result in the aftermath of WWII. Only the US flag was flown except by protesters who flew the flag of Japan, who resisted US rule at the time as noted by Wikipedia.

Nicaragua (1912-1933) The government’s official document says that between 1912 to 1925, US forces “protected American interests during an attempted revolution” and says a small force remained until 1925, and says that between 1926 to 1933, “United States forces came and went intermittently.” However, these documents never characterize it as a twenty-one year long occupation, the longest in US history, since the US “kept a contingent force in Nicaragua almost continually from 1912 until 1933….[which] served as a reminder of the willingness of the United States to use force and its desire to keep conservative governments in power…[and] the terms of the Chamorro-Bryan Treaty…transformed Nicaragua into a near United States protectorate [until 1933]” as noted on Country Studies and a well-sourced Wikipedia article on the subject.

Haiti (1915-1934). The government’s official document defines this the maintenance of “order during a period of chronic political instability” over a nineteen year period. As Wikipedia notes, this occupation began in “July 28, 1915, when 330 US Marines landed at Port-au-Prince on the authority of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to safeguard the interests of U.S. corporations [and] it ended on August 1, 1934 after Franklin D. Roosevelt reaffirmed an August 1933 disengagement agreement.

Afghanistan (2001-2013). Numerous sources consider the War in Afghanistan, which has gone on for twelve years, to be a military occupation including right-leaning CNS news, hard left WSWS, Asia Times, seemingly right-leaning Catholic Online, RAWA News, liberal/progressive site named Common Dreams, Washington’s Blog, Socialist Worker, and many more.

Germany (1945-1955). The US military occupation of Germany lasted for ten years, supposedly was brutal, and in 1955, West Germany was created, so the US Zone ended, but US troops remained.

Dominican Republic (1916-1924). An official government document defines this as an eight year period in which “American naval forces maintained order during a period of chronic and threatened insurrection.” Wikipedia notes more about the intervention, that even after it ended in 1924, the US government took control of the country’s custom revenues until 1941, which caused great resentment against the US.

Japan (1945-1952) This six year occupation, and as noted by Wikipedia, it “transformed Japan into a democracy modeled somewhat after the American New Deal” with labor reforms, but also disarmament of Japan and some pro-business reforms as well.

Cuba (1917-1922) The official government document defines this as a five year period where “U.S. forces protected American interests during an insurrection and subsequent unsettled conditions.” It seems to be done to benefit the big sugar interests as noted by a wikipedia page on the subject.

Cuba (1906-1909). The government’s official document defines this as a nearly four year period in which “U.S. forces sought to restore order, protect foreigners, and establish a stable government after serious revolutionary activity.” This occupation gained the name ‘Cuban Pacification’ and it had a purpose: “to prevent fighting between the Cubans, to protect North American economic interests, and to hold free elections” as noted by Wikipedia

Iceland (1941-1945) While this occupation was not brought on by force on the side of the United States, a smaller US force of more than 4,000 marines occupied the Island for a four year period, replacing a British force which consisted of 25,000 troops. All of this is noted on the wikipedia page on the subject.

Korea (1945-8). After WWII ended, a US military occupation began with a military governing structure. At the same there was a corresponding transitional government which was led by a dictatorial leader and anti-communist stalwart,Syngman Rhee, who repressed left-wing dissidents and sent troops to suppress rebellion that lasted in until 1953. This occupation lasted three years. There are two Wikipedia articles on this subject noted here and here. Rhee would end up being South Africa’s first Prime Minister and he would stay in place until 1960.

Cuba (1899-1902). This is isn’t mentioned in the government’s official document. But there is a short Wikipedia article on the subject, speaking about the United States Protectorate over Cuba which “was a provisional American protectorate over Cuba that was established in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War in 1899 when Spain ceded Cuba to the United States” in an occupation that lasted three years.

Iraq (2003-2004). While the war in Iraq lasted from 2003 to 2011 if you don’t include the bombing that occurred from 1990 to 2003 by ‘allied’ forces like the US, the military occupation itself only lasted one year, from March 2003 to April 2003, as part of the Coalition Provisional Authority led by Paul Boemer, comprising a little more than a year. Some like the American Anthropological Association, say it lasted longer than this, but that is highly disputed. 

Dominican Republic (1965-1966). As noted by Wikipedia, “the second United States occupation of the Dominican Republic began when the United States Marine Corps entered Santo Domingo on April 28, 1965 in the Dominican Civil War” and it was part a plan to prevent a “second Cuba” which lasted more than a year.

United States occupation of Fallujah(2003-2004). This short occupation of Fallujah lasted for over a year and by the time US troops left, much of the city had been destroyed and a good chunk of the original population had left or had been killed. Those that returned had to get biometric ID Cards and come back in the city. This is all told about in the Wikipedia article on the subject.

Veracruz (1914). This intervention got short shift in the government’s official document. This occupation lasted six months, and it began with the Battle of Veracruz…and was a response to the Tampico Affair of April 9, 1914.” On top of this, Howard Zinn writes that “American warships were attacking Vera Cruz…because Mexico had arrested American sailors and refused to apologize to the United States with a twenty-one-gun salute” and additionally “the affair in Mexico was an instinctual response of the system for its own survival, to create a unity of fighting purpose among a people torn by internal conflict.”

Possible other occupations?

1. 1903-1914–> Panama. U.S. forces sought to protect American interests and lives during and following the revolution for independence from Colombia over construction of the Isthmian Canal. With brief intermissions, United States Marines were stationed on the Isthmus from November 4,

1903, to January 21, 1914, to guard American interests. [more than 10 years]

2. Haiti occupation: “Occupation of Haiti by the United States, following Operation Uphold Democracy 1994-1995.” as noted on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_military_occupations

P.S. This information is likely to appear in a future article I’m writing as well. Who knows.

Debating a Tea Party and Occupy coalition

22 Aug

For years now, consumer advocate Ralph Nader has been calling for a left-right coalition on issues including corporate welfare, the military budget, foreign wars, the Patriot Act, and much more. Washington’s Blog in October 2011, Robert Cargill’s blog titled KV8R, a blog called ‘The Moderate Voice,’ the Examiner, a post on an Occupy Wall Street forum, former MSNBC anchor Dylan Ratigan, activist Irving Wesley Hall, and many others have called for something that would achieve these goals: push the Tea Party movement and Occupy to unite together. The mainstay of the “progressive” movement like Mother Jones, The Nation, AlterNet, Common Dreams, any of their allies in Congress and their supporters would scoff at this idea. They’d say that the movement has been corrupted from the start, but as Ben Ketchum, a community activist, said in October 2011, “for either movement to really be successful we will have to join forces…This is not left versus right. This is all of us against the influence of a very powerful few.” Additionally, one former tea partier noted that the media “turned our movement into a bunch of pro-corporate Republican Party rebranding astroturf…I wish your movement [occupy] better luck than we had with the tea party movement before it got hijacked by the theocrats and corporatists.” Let us ask ourselves: is it practical that the Tea Party and Occupy movements should unite, or is this just crazy talk?

In order to answer this question, there has to be a recognition of the reality: the two movements are already working together. This may be a shocker since the Tea Party has harshly criticized Occupy in the past, but let me explain. Locales of the Tea Party have united with locales of the Occupy movement on certain issues. One of the first instances of the two movements coming together was in November 2011, if not sooner. Joseph Mornin wrote that, “a meeting between Occupy Memphis protesters and local Tea Party members had an unexpectedly civil result…While the sides represent different ends of the political spectrum, they both agreed on one important issue [crony capitalism]…While there were still substantial disagreements, a representative of the Occupy movement felt it was helpful.” The original AP article noted that “Occupy Memphis member Mallory Pope…and fellow Occupy Memphis protester Tristan Tran had a lively, sometimes strained and confrontational, but mostly civil discussion with members of the Mid-South Tea Party…The factions saw eye-to-eye on some issues and clashed on others…By the end, the Occupy Memphis members and their audience…reached common ground on some issues, such as their perception that the government and politicians no longer listen to and serve the people they represent.” The next month, Salon Magazine reported on the possible teaming up of the two movements with hopes by Tom Robinson, founder of the Peninsula Patriots Tea Party chapter that this could spread wide. They wrote that “members of the Occupy Richmond and local Tea Party movements found acres of common ground…Robinson orchestrated this unlikely summit after having a number of one-on-one discussions with Occupy members…This was not the first time Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party members have met…But once in the same room, any discomfort members of the two groups might have felt seemed to melt away…Still, differences occasionally show through. Both sides speak in broad strokes about patriotism and devotion to country…Despite their differences and the cover story that the Tea Party and Occupy Richmond never met, members of the two groups seemed eager to plan a follow-up meting to talk some more.”

The next year, the working together of both of the movements only increased. In February 2012, in Oregon, Tea Partiers and Occupiers marched against the NDAA, or the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which authorizes the military to indefinitely detain any American citizen. Even a publication called the Telegram noted this protest as well. Months later in June 2012, occupiers and tea partiers protested side-by-side against Mitt Romney, an article noting that “both groups…have stood on common ground regarding certain issues: opposition to bank bailouts, heavy-handed drug enforcement, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)…both groups seem to determined to oppose the two-party system in November…about an hour into the protest…several of the Occupiers…ventured over to the Tea Party crowd in an effort to spark a dialogue that might bridge the gap between the two movements.” That same month, according to Ryan Devereaux of The Guardian, “clear skies and pleasant temperatures made for a picnic-like atmosphere as a mix of Ron Paul supporters, members of the 9/11 truth movement and a smattering of Occupy protesters gathered outside the Westfield Marriott hotel in Chantilly, Virginia where members of the Bilderberg group are meeting…the protest marked the gathering of a diverse cross-section of contemporary US activist movements.” I highlight this despite my desdain for protesting the Bilderberg Group, feeling it is a distraction and that other groups should be protested. Anyway, later that summer, PANDA (People Against the NDAA) said that the two movements should unify since “we cannot stand idle while our constitution and bill of rights are trampled on.” That same month, August, as noted in an interview by Luke Rudkowski of WeAreChange, the Occupy Wall Street and The Tea Party were united in Dubuque, Iowa against red light cameras.

This is isn’t all. With climate change, or what some like Noam Chomsky call the coming environmental catastrophe, the two movements are uniting again. Waging NonViolence wrote that a common thread that runs through all of these movements is that “government is run for the benefit of powerful elites with vested interests at the expense of the average citizen.” This comes through in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. Brian Merchant on TreeHugger noted that opposing the pipeline is an “interesting case, one that invites you to wonder how many more realistic opportunities there might be for genuine collaboration between the two movements on a grassroots level…[that] would provide more firepower to a social protest…[of] Occupy and the Tea Party joining forces.” Talking Points Memo adds to this this narrative. Their Brian Beutler writes: “though the project exists in a state of suspended animation, TransCanada…is preparing to build anyhow…on the portion of the pipeline that would link Nebraska to Texas, TransCanada has threatened to use disputed eminent domain powers to condemn privately held land, over the owners’ objections. And that’s creating unusual allies — Occupiers, Tea Partiers, environmentalists, individualists — united to stop TransCanada from threatening water supplies, ancient artifacts, and people’s basic property rights…Farmers on the proposed route likely wouldn’t face these threats were it not for the 2005 case Kelo v. City of New London in which the Supreme Court, divided 5-4, ruled that eminent domain powers extend to the transfer of land from one private owner to another, if that action increases economic development…The effect of it today is to place people like Randy Thompson on an unfamiliar side of the divide between conservatives and environmentalists; and business and liberal political activists.”

Now, there is something that threatens to expand the cooperation between the Tea Party and the Occupy movement even more. It is an organization called the Green Tea Coalition, what encouraged me to write this article in the first place, and which the big energy companies are calling an “unholy alliance.” Ashton Pishton writes on Occupy.com, that “in 2012, the Atlanta Tea Patriot Patriots joined the NAACP and the Sierra Club to successfully defeat a $7.2 billion transit tax referendum. That same year, Tea joined forces with Occupy Atlanta and the AFL-CIO to stop an anti-union bill that would have banned protests at private residences…The threat of a grassroots movement united across ideological lines manifested itself again last month when the Tea Party Patriots…triumphed in a win for solar energy…That win didn’t come without fierce opposition from deeply entrenched interests, including the Koch Brothers-funded organization Americans for Prosperity…the Kochs may have foreseen not only the benefits of jumping on the Tea Party train, but also the dangers of allowing such a movement to grow without a little corporate “direction.” The danger was that conservatives…would take some of the ideas brewing in the teapot too far. Conservative Americans had begun to wholly embrace the idea that there was such a thing as “crony capitalism,”…those ideas, taken to their logical conclusions, might have led to a conservative revolution that would have severely crippled the power of industries like Koch and Southern Company…The Green Tea Coalition, set to launch in Georgia on Tuesday, includes activists from the Sierra Club, Georgia Watch, Occupy Atlanta, Tea Party Patriots and the NAACP…To Koch, Southern Company and other energy titans who thought they had the Tea Party in their pockets, it’s an unholy alliance indeed. Beyond that, it’s a wedge that could grow bigger — and not only in Georgia.” There is some possibility that this could grow bigger.

Let us as activists for social justice not ask ourselves if an alliance between seemingly disparate groups can happen, but rather go out there and form such bonds ourselves. In the end, if we are challenge the corporate, military and financial elite, it must be a united effort even if that includes people from across the political spectrum.

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