Tag Archives: activism

Reset the Net, Snowden, and more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

who supports reset the net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

Challenging and critiquing Snowden

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

How Juice Rap News perceives Snowden

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

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

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

I agree with The Rancid Honeytrap that this isn’t what democracy is about, and even if all of Snowden’s premises are true, it “does not rightfully empower an acquiescent majority to vote away freedom from constant and pervasive government surveillance any more than people can.” At the same time, I think Snowden’s idea that people have such a voice in government is frankly not only absurd, but not true at all. 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, as expressed en in the New York Times that 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” and in The Guardian interview that “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 ride of “bulk data collection” by the NSA, since the surveillance apparatus at-large would NOT be dismantled. Still, those who benefit from such collection don’t want it to go away.

One Juice Rap News segment back from September 2012, almost ten months before Snowden revealed himself to the world, encapsulates the wholistic 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.

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.

Flashback: controversy over my Gay Inc. piece

20 Aug

A store of the Human Rights Campaign which had been “trashed” by a bunch of radical queers due to the organization’s disregard of homelessness and other issues which is bold, even if I don’t agree with everything they say here (http://pastebin.com/JwZqcJ1i)

Back in May 2013, I sent an editor of a publication a draft of my article which criticized big gay groups, or Gay Inc. which was eventually published on Nation of Change. I was originally going to publish the whole email conversation, but there is no need for that. Rather, it is best to quote what the editor-in-chief said in emails to me.

After three emails, when I had said I was open to change on my piece “about the mainstream LGBTQ movement” including edits, rewrites, etc… and saying I would publish it somewhere else if I did not get a response, the editor responded. Here is what he had to say (bolded parts are emphasized) on May 15, 2013:

Hi Burkely –Sorry to keep you waiting! I’ve been on killer deadline for the last week+ — and it’s not quite over yet. I do have your essay and I’ve spent a bit of time with it, but haven’t made a decision. It would certainly be controversial, given the nature of your critique of “Gay Inc.” It’s the kind of piece that would have to be extremely well-documented and ironclad in its assertions, as I assume it would raise the hackles of the many people who have a vested interest in these orgs. Consquently, I need to spend some more time with the piece before reaching a decision. But I don’t want to hold you up, so I would certainly understand if you decided to shop it elsewhere. I’ll be much freer next week, so please feel free to get in touch then. Thanks for your patience!

At the time, I told this editor that I knew the piece would be controversial but that I could deal with controversy, even publishing a response piece afterwards. Clearly, looking back, the editor did not share my point of view and was concerned about “controversy” and wanted it to be “well-documented” and “ironclad in its assertions.” I sent two more emails to this editor, and he finally responded at the end of May, asking if he had made a decision about my essay. Here is what he said, apologizing for his slow response, on May 31, 2013, saying he had made a decision and “put the issue to rest:”:

Dear Burkely –

Finally put the next issue to rest this AM, so now I can turn my sights to other matters. Apologies for my slowness in getting you an answer on the piece. I think you’ve done some good research and drawn some interesting connections between “Gay Inc.” and the corporate world — which, by the way, is far from a new discovery. The very coinage “Gay Inc.” suggests that many others have complained about corporate involvement in GLBT orgs. But I have a number of substantive concerns about the piece beyond the question of originality: It seems to me the kind of piece that should carefully lay out the evidence without judgment, then ponder what it means to be so dependent on corporate sponsorship, and finally conclude that this has a corrupting influence. Instead, you begin with the judgment that corporate sponsorship — indeed corporations themselves — is bad, so the rest is just backup material. Everyone knows that the major GLBT orgs rely heavily on corporate sponsorship — it’s the way of the world. Another problem is this: while you document lots of cases of corporate sponsorship of mainstream GLBT orgs, I don’t think you’ve made the case that this is ipso facto a terrible thing. Certainly the potential for abuse is there, but I’m sure all of these orgs would tell you that they couldn’t survive without corporate sponsorship. If true, the question becomes whether we’d be better off without them. Another question: is this any different from every other public interest group in America, whether disaster relief or animal rights? I think they all rely on corporate sponsors to some extent — but feel free to prove me wrong. In any case, I think you need to make the argument that the GLBT movement is uniquely corrupted by corporate influence. BTW the companies that tend to sponsor gay orgs — Microsoft, the airlines, etc. — tend to be the ones with the best policies on gay rights. You don’t see Exxon/Mobil as a major sponsor, am I right? I’m just sayin’. So, I will have to pass on the piece as written. As implied in paragraph 3, perhaps there’s an article there based upon your research. It might be useful for our readers to know exactly which companies are sponsoring which organizations. And certainly if you can document any examples of how this influence has affected their actions or policies, that would be of great interest. I guess your complaint is that Gay Inc. doesn’t criticize big corporations for their many sins. But who does? This is America. In any case, why is it up to the GLBT movement to provide this critique? I’ll stop there and let you reply — if you’ve made it this far!

Thanks much,

As you can expect, this response made me annoyed and madder, especially when he said that corporate sponsorship of GLBT organizations, as he called them, was “the way of the world” which later was used as the title of my article for Nation of Change. His assertion that certain corporations have “good policies” on gay rights is bull. That ignores the fact that such policies do not make them better corporations but rather more mischievous, I would argue. If other groups are funded by corporate sponsors, they definitely should be criticized too.  If I was to find evidence of any corporate sponsor influencing any of the big gay organizations in a direct and a notable way, then I’d have to probably request internal documents or something which they would never give me. As a result, such an endeavor is literally impossible. Despite this, I am glad he praised my research…

At the time, in response to this editor, I said that if corporate sponsorship is the way of the world, it should change and I said that the organizations must be rejected as corporate leeches, just like I said in my article for State of Nature and that since “corporations control and dictate our lives…it seems fair to criticize them.”  Months later, he responded with much of his critique still intact, responding to an email I can’t seem to find (bolded parts are my emphasis):

Hi Burkely,

Thanks for your follow-up to our earlier correspondence, with apologies for my very slow reply. There’s not much I can add to my earlier critique of the piece, which still stands. Yes, corporations are powerful and pervasive in our lives — so much so that they are indeed unavoidable in all walks of life. The idea that orgs. like the HRC and Task Force would have no corporate sponsorship is quixotic in this day and age. Your war is with the corporate state, as it used to be called, of which the current gay movement is but one manifestation. But how is the GLBT rights movement more corrupted by corps. than anyone else? Also, for what it’s worth, corps. that sponsor gay orgs invariably have very gay-friendly policies. So it goes. I still think there could be the nub of an article there, but it would require some down-and-dirty research to make it work IMHO.

So, the idea that these organizations could have no corporate sponsorship is silly? Come on. Even though I would not argue that, I would say that there are non-profits and orgs. out there that do good work and don’t have ANY corporate sponsors. To have a corporate sponsor is to be corrupted in and of itself. I don’t see why “down-and-dirty research” is needed to prove that. Once again, who cares if they have “gay-friendly policies.” That type of stuff is just BS and PR to promote themselves as caring about “equality.” In my response to the email at the time, I said that having corporate sponsorship leads to what one can call “manufactured equality” which I argued “won’t address the root causes of discrimination against them and numerous other problems facing them. And I made an even more powerful point: “as long as Gay Inc. has corporate sponsors, they will never push for what LGBTQ people need but rather for corporate-friendly equality.”

I reprint my article which I published on Nation of Change below which hit back at a number of criticisms by the editor. I also welcome comments about what the editor said and what you think about all of this.

Its the Way of the World: Bradley Manning and Gay Inc.

By Burkely Hermann

At a recent DNC fundraiser 56- year old LGBTQ advocate Ellen Sturt heckled Michelle Obama  to ask for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to be signed via executive order. This was a simple demand, as she notes in her Washington Post op-ed where she says she could no “longer remain silent.” Although this was brave, what about famed gay whistleblower PFC Bradley Manning? Would he get the same treatment? Glenn Greenwald wrote that Chair of the San Francisco Pride Parade overode the board’s decision declaring that Manning would not be one of the Grand Marshals of the parade while huge corporations like AT&T, Verizon, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo, sponsored the Parade. What he wrote next was a bombshell: “[the] remarkable shift in public opinion on gay equality…is less significant than it seems because…gay equality poses no real threat to elite factions…If anything, it bolsters those power structures.” One must ask: does the cause of gay equality “pose no threat” to the ruling elite?

First one, one must understand, that the LGBTQ rights movement has changed over time. BusinessWeek calls the gay rights movement, “one of the most successful political enterprises in history” because of its contributions in the last 40 years. However, this “enterprise” has led people to worry: lesbian host Ellen DeGeneres is perceived as the mainstream gay perspective, that there is a slow response of the movement to lynching of LGBT people in Honduras, how liberals support equal rights in rhetoric but refuse to support legislation putting it place and finally how from the 1970s on, the movement allied with the Democratic Party while the current “LGBT leadership…abandons…an agenda that stresse[s]…social [and]…economic justice…[like] the Human Rights Campaign [HRC]…ignor[ing] homelessness and poverty altogether.”

From this, I began to look into Gay Inc.  Andy Thayer defines this term as encompassing all of the big gay non-profits, from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) to the HRC but I would expand it to include the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Out and Equal Workplace Advocates (Out and Equal), GLAAD,  Family Equality Council, and the National Gay and Lesbian Center of Commerce (NGLCC). Also it would includes other groups like the Arcus Foundation, the Gill Foundation, Log Cabin Republicans, Freedom To Marry, Equality Forum, Lesbian Victory Fund, and American Foundation for Equal Rights. Is it the way of the world that major LGBTQ organizations rely heavily on corporate sponsorship?

Before I get into the organizations themselves, as the saying goes, follow the money. The sponsorships of Gay Inc. give a further insight. The banksters who helped plunge the world economy into economic crisis sponsored a number of organizations including the HRC, NGLTF, GLAD, PFLAG,  NGLCC, Out and Equal, GLSEN, and GLAAD. As for the companies that are part of the Center for Copyright Information that devised the authoritarian copyright alert system which is commonly called “Six Strikes,” they back Equality Forum, Out and Equal, NGLTF, and GLAAD. There are many other egregious corporate sponsors of the NGLTF, HRC, GLAD, PFLAG, Equality Forum, Family Equality Council, NGLCC, Out and Equal (has 55 sponsors!), GLSEN, and GLAAD (here and here). Some might say that this is no different from any other public interest group in America, but Gay Inc. is uniquely corrupted by the business community.

How do these groups pay back their sponsors? It differs from group to group. The NGLTF inadvertently call for people to vote for Democrats and backed the healthcare “reform” bill while the HRC’s ‘corporate equality index’ praises Corporate America as this year’s report gave the highest ratings possible to some of those who sponsored them! GLAD has a Board of Directors including including former employees of Verizon, HRC, and GlaxoSmithKline while the GLSEN, who came up with the idea of Gay-Straight Alliances, has a Board of Directors comprised of most of their corporate sponsors. Out & Equal tries to help LGBTQ people find jobs has groups on their “LGBTCareerLink” page including BP, Bank of America, GE, Comcast, PNC, and Clorox, half of whom are their sponsors.  NGLCC is even worse as they making an effort to make corporate America LGBTQ “certified” and the Equality Forum has a former Comcast CEO on their Board of Governors while their major sponsor is Comcast itself.

The other groups that have less of a roll in Gay Inc. are also corrupted. The Arcus Foundation has a former member of the Rockefeller Foundation, a CNN correspondent, and IBM employee on their Board while the Gill Foundation has similar board members. Freedom To Marry, which wants gay marriage and DOMA repealed, has the vice-president of Amazon.com, and a surrogate speaker for President Obama on their board of directors while they praising Mayor 1% Emanuel, Mayor Bloomberg, and Glenn Beck, as voices for equality! The American Foundation for Equal Rights which claims to want equal rights for all has a board of Directors including the HRC president, and the Chairman of the CATO institute. Other groups just follow along like the Log Cabin Republicans and the Stonewall Democrats which advocate for gay policy in their respective parties while the Lesbian Victory Fund endorses LGBT candidates.

 

By now, it should be clear that Greenwald was right. I’d say we’d be better off without these groups, just like the Gang Green groups that dominate the mainstream environmental movement. People must remember this is not the way it was supposed to be because the movement itself began with queer sit-ins in 1965 which morphed into a protest rally, not with Stonewall riots in 1968. As Gay Inc., the corporate leeches, has been timid, there is hope: the Gay Liberation Network, which pushes for a grassroots direct action to help LGBTQ people. The corporate leeches must be thrown away and LGBTQ and allies must stand next to each other and push for full liberation not simply policies that promote assimilation like gay marriage and ENDA.

 

And here is the submission I sent to the editor, which I believe is a bit different, but still good:

Gay Inc., Bradley Manning and corporate power

 

Yesterday, I was just browsing across twitter and I stumbled across an article by Glenn Greenwald. It explained that the famed whistleblower Bradley Manning was not made one of the Grand Marshals of the San Francisco Pride Parade. He explained that while “even a hint of support for Manning will not be tolerated, there is a long roster of large corporations serving as the event’s sponsors who are welcomed with open arms…[including] AT&T and Verizon…Bank of America…Wells Fargo…Clear Channel…[and] Kaiser Permanente…Even at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, once an iconic symbol of cultural dissent and disregard for stifling pieties, nothing can happen that might offend AT&T and the Bank of America…Thus, while Bradley Manning is persona non grata at SF Pride, illegal eavesdropping telecoms, scheming banks, and hedge-fund purveyors of the nation’s worst right-wing agitprop are more than welcome.” What he wrote next was startling to me. He said that while there has been a “remarkable shift in public opinion on gay equality…this development is less significant than it seems because the cause of gay equality poses no real threat to elite factions or to how political and economic power in the US are distributed. If anything, it bolsters those power structures because it completely and harmlessly assimilates a previously excluded group into existing institutions and thus incentivizes them to accommodate those institutions and adopt their mindset.” This is proved by simply looking at the full list of the parade’s sponsors which includes Bud Light, Virgin Mobile, Toyota, and Hilton Hotels as well. Additionally, President Obama declared in his inaugural address that “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law…for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” but has not taken any concrete steps to even put his ideas into practice because what he said was a bunch of meaningless liberal rhetoric. Greenwald’s observation is what led me to investigate more to see if he was correct.

 

One needs an informed perspective on the mainstream organizations of the LGBTQ rights movement, which have developed very much over time, becoming subsumed by the establishment. Caleb Castañeda writes that it worrying that the movement is treating Ellen DeGeneres as the mainstream gay perspective, the slow approach of the movement in response to lynching of LGBT people, the irony that in the words of the late Alexander Coleburn that the movement is trying to save the sinking ship of marriage and how in Ron Jacobs’s words that on the “liberal side of the US political spectrum one hears words in support of equal rights only to be all to often followed by a refusal to support those rights when it comes to actually passing legislation.” To cap it off, there’s an article by Tommi Avicolli Mecca noting that “by the late 70s, a more mainstream movement had emerged. Gay rights bills were pushed through legislatures, inroads made with certain Protestant denominations, support gained from the Democratic Party…[now] the new LGBT leadership often abandons multi-issue coalitions and an agenda that stressed social as well as economic justice…[for instance] the Human Rights Campaign [HRC]…ignores homelessness and poverty altogether, and wants Congress to pass a federal gay rights bill that doesn’t include transgenders, the group that needs protection the most.”

From this, I began to look into Gay Inc. Andy Thayer defines this term as encompassing all of the big gay non-profits, from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) to the HRC but I would expand it to include the Arcus Foundation, the Gill Foundation, Log Cabin Republicans, Freedom To Marry, Equality Forum, Lesbian Victory Fund, the Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Out and Equal, GLAAD, Family Equality Council, and the National Gay and Lesbian Center of Commerce (NGLCC).

I start with the HRC. This organization is the most celebrated LGBTQ organization in the United States, which according to a back of one of their stickers, “envisions an America where all LGBT people are ensured equality and are embraced as full members of the American family at home, at work and in every community.” However, a further look at their website puts this into question. Looking at their “platinum,” “gold,” “silver,” and “bronze” corporate partners there are some startling companies that are helping them. Such companies include: Citigroup which participated in a conference that is hosted by an organization that denies the horrible Armenian genocide, Microsoft which increased their offshore profit holdings by $16 billion last year, American Airlines which will probably merge with US Airways creating the world’s largest airline, Bank of America which is currently in court over lost mortgage investments, Coca-Cola which needs excessive water use to make their products, the Toyota-made Lexus which was sued by customers because of sudden acceleration, Chevron which was issued criminal charges by Brazilian prosecutors for massive environmental damage, BP which paid no corporate income taxes but got a rebate, Google which admitted that its “Street View” program violates privacy, Nike which runs sweatshops for profit in the Southeast Asia, IBM which put over $6.5 billion dollars offshore last year, TD Bank which has investments in TransCanada which is building the Keystone XL Pipeline, Goldman Sachs which paid no corporate income tax, Shell Oil which is now responsible for all of the oil spills in the Niger Delta, Starbucks which was fined by a Chilean Court $50,000 for anti-union practices in the country, Dell which was found by a New York Court to be guilty of fraud, JPMorganChase which has recently been more vigorously investigated by federal authorities in cases including a flawed review of loans and lying to investors, and Morgan Stanley which admitted that it knew about the housing bubble in 2005 before it burst but did nothing to stop it. Also, one can even get a BankAmericard for the organization! All of these partners make it seem that the HRC really doesn’t really care about equality, but that it’s just a façade. They say their ‘corporate equality index’[CEI] will “propel equality” and their President writes that “Corporate America continues to raise the bar in workplace fairness. we hope Congress will follow corporate America’s lead and create a level playing field – including passing fully-inclusive workplace non-discrimination legislation.” This year’s CEI report gave high ratings to General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., IBM, and Freddie Mac, among others.

 

The next biggest part of Gay, Inc. is the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force or NGLTF. First off, one should consider their sponsors include one major group of banksters (Wells Fargo), a bus line that is owned by Greyhound (Grey Goose), a CBS-owned television network (Showtime), Comcast-NBCUniversal, a major US airline (Southwest) and an LGBTQ weekly called the Washington Blade. In the issues section of their website, they take a stand against the “anti-gay industry,” they have a vote guide that lists their positions but doesn’t mention the Democratic Party even though they clearly are telling people to vote for the Democrats, they want the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to pass which is backed by groups ranging from the HRC, NAACP, American Bar Association and yes, Nike, which are the same in both Houses of Congress. The same goes with the Matthew Shepard Act which was backed by numerous gay rights organizations in the Senate and was tied to a military spending bill in the House which further shows the non-threatening nature of the bill. Then, they praised the Affordable Care Act which was a bailout for the healthcare industry. None of this is surprising considering the Board of their Action fund includes a pro-Obama message service (Progressive Victory), a holding company of diversified commercial and industrial businesses (CIC Group), and an organization that consults different groups on gender issues (Botzer Consulting). One shouldn’t forget that their Board of Directors includes members of a global consulting firm (McKinsey and Company), a huge hospital company (Brinker International), and the program officer of the Gates Foundation.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) is one of the most corrupt of them all. Their Board of Directors includes a former employee of GE Healthcare, the US Treasury Department, Verizon, HRC, and GlaxoSmithKline. From this it’s no surprise their sponsors include Macy’s, Bank of America, Liberty Mutual, and DLA Piper. Maybe this is why they don’t have much in the realm of legislative advocacy. A similar organization, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has a similar situation. They have corporate sponsors including AT&T, Wells Fargo, Disney, Target, Disney, IBM, HP, Goldman Sachs, Google, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup. As a result, their Board of Directors includes members of Disney, Kodak, Sodexo, JPMorgan Chase, Cisco Systems, Wells Fargo, DreamWorks, and IBM. This is a major problem because they are the originators of the whole idea of Gay-Straight Alliances in secondary educational institutions (I had one in my high school).

 

Consider an organization that doesn’t seem that bad: it advocates to help LGBTQ people find jobs. This group called Out & Equal has its problems. These stem from the companies that group lists on its “LGBTCareerLink” page which include a company that helped George W. Bush fix the Florida elections (WellPoint), BP, Bank of America, GE, Comcast, PNC, and Clorox among others. This won’t really help the well-being of LGBTQ folk and improve their place in society. Then there’s the organization named GLAAD which officially says it will secure “full and lasting equality.” However, this is put seriously into question when Comcast and Wells Fargo are two of their “premier partners” and their other sponsors include AT&T, IBM  and Microsoft.

 

One of the biggest foundations that funds much of the movement called the Arcus Foundation doesn’t seem to have direct connections to Big Business. However, on their Board of Directors they have a person who founded a group that “advances corporate, philanthropic and legislative efforts” for social justice causes, the CEO of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, one who formerly worked at the Rockefeller Foundation, a former CNN correspondent, a former IBM employee, former Director of Board Affairs for Planned Parenthood, and a former accountant. As for the Gill Foundation, it’s pretty similar. Its board members include the founder of Quark, Inc. and a former Google employee. Also, they promote a project by Out & Equal which once again promotes big business.

In a completely different realm is a family-oriented organization called Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays or PFLAG. It sounds all nice and dandy but there’s one major problem: its sponsors. Those that back this organization include Wells Fargo, UPS, Credit Suisse, Barclays, Sodexo, Dow, Northrop Grumman, and Finra, the self-regulating body of the financial industry. This is then why their policy positions don’t really challenge business. On the other hand, Freedom To Marry, which pushes for Gay Marriage and ending “federal marriage discrimination” is similarly backed by business interests. The organization’s board of directors includes former members of an asset management company, vice-president of Amazon.com, surrogate speaker for President Obama, a person who has coached hundreds of corporate CEOs. These are even worse than the competing Log Cabin Republicans which advocates for gay policy in the GOP and the Stonewall Democrats doing the same in the Democratic Party along with the Lesbian Victory Fund endorses LGBT candidates in office. And don’t forget the Equality Forum which has a former Comcast CEO on their Board of Governors, and a Wealth Advisor for Merrill Lynch on their Board of Directors. Good ole’ Comcast and AT&T sponsor them as well. Then there’s the Family Equality Council which officially “represents the three million parents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender in this country and their six million children.” However, I’m not sure how those that are “represented” would like to see that the organization is sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada, HBO, Target, Capitol One, PepsiCo, and General Mills. The last organization I focused on was the National Gay and Lesbian Center of Commerce. This is one of the worst: it has corporate partners including Wells Fargo, UnitedHealthcare, and MillerCoors while they have an effort to reach corporate America and help make them LGBTQ “certified.”

By now, it should be clear that Greenwald was right when he said that gay equality does not threaten the American power structure and possibly even bolsters their power through the backing of Gay, Inc. by the Business Community. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. The LGBTQ rights movement which didn’t begin in Stonewall but actually in “in 1965 [in] the first queer sit-ins on record took place at a late-night Philadelphia coffee shop and lunch counter called Dewey’s, a popular hangout for young gays, lesbians and drag queens.” This action morphed into a protest rally, “an informational picket line protesting the lunch counter’s treatment of gender-variant youth….[and] another sit-in” which spread across the country in numerous incidents as described in a history of the movement by Tommi Avicolli Mecca. However, Stonewall was marked as the beginning by many because after it was the founding of the militant Gay Liberation Front or GLF which tied gay liberation to other struggles for liberation. This has been lost in Gay Inc. There has been no confrontation of heterosexism or fostering of understanding to mitigate homophobic violence or an end for all restrictions for LGBT people in the workplace. A new path must be forged, by using the direct action organization called the Gay Liberation Network run by Andy Thayer, which aims for a grassroots approach to help LGBTQ people as basis for the new movement which would reject the establishment parties and the power of the business community. Otherwise, this social movement will increase the power of those who are screwing the world every day.

 

Why I oppose ENDA

29 Jul

An example of the rhetoric of those opposing exemptions to ENDA

This has been reposted from ZBlogs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Liberty and Justice?: US support for Israeli apartheid

31 Jul

The American pledge of allegiance professes that the United States will uphold liberty and justice for all. As the imperial actions of the United States show, this is clearly not the case. Noam Chomsky has been covering this perspective for years, but the late veteran journalist Helen Thomas, part Lebanese, is also fierce in her criticism. She infamously said Israel should get out of Palestine. In an interview with Democracy Now! she told Amy Goodman that President Bush was “arming Israel against the Palestinians in every way in Gaza” and that she can’t understand “how the US can provide F-16s, gunships, Apache gunships, phosphorus, possibly phosphorus, and cluster bombs and so forth to kill helpless people, children who are starving to death. They control the checkpoints. They control the arrivals and departures, supplies and people. And the Americans…remained silent to that suffering. He [President Bush] has blocked by a veto at the UN any stoppage of the warfare, and he continues to supply Israel.” In a later interview with The Real News Network, she noted that this horrid policy had continued, noting that “the Palestinians are dubbed as terrorists and all the Muslims are terrorists. I mean, this is so unfair.” From here it is important to understand how US taxpayer money is funding the occupation of Palestine, and what can be done to stop it.

There is a shocking level of US support for the brutal occupation. American organizations, as noted by Adri Nieuwhof of The Electronic Intifada, “transferred about $274 million to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza between 2002 and 2009.” End The Occupation has an even more direct figure: $30 billion dollars. This is the amount of military aid the United States government gives to Israel, which it uses to maintain its illegal “military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip [while also] misus[ing]…U.S. weapons in violation of U.S. law to kill and injure Palestinian civilians, destroy Palestinian civilian infrastructure, blockade the Gaza Strip, and build illegal settlements in West Bank and East Jerusalem.” Between 2000-2009, according to their number crunching, the US “licensed, paid for, and delivered more than 670,903,390 weapons and related equipment to Israel” which were used to kill over 2,000 Palestinians.

Freelance journalist Ben White uses a word that Israeli apologists, Zionists, would hate to hear: apartheid. White writes in The National, that “in South Africa, there is the memory of Israel’s historic relationship with the apartheid regime…Israel’s “collaboration with the racist regime of South Africa” was condemned in the UN’s General Assembly…what has really struck many in South Africa, and elsewhere, are the similarities between the historical apartheid system, and Israel’s current policies towards the Palestinians. The common element of both systems is the consolidation and enforcement of dispossession, securing control of and access to land and natural resources for one group at the expense of another. Yet there are also important differences…Though there are numerous examples of de facto segregation and institutionalised discrimination within pre-1967 Israel, the apartheid comparison really began to take hold as Israel expanded its colonisation and control of the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip…Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, which in 2017 will have lasted for half a century, has evolved into a complex system of control and exclusion, with Jewish settlers living among non-citizen Palestinians whose freedom to live in their own land is managed by a bureaucratic apartheid system of “permits” and physical obstacles and barriers.” Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, UN Human Rights Rapporteur John Dugard, and many others also declare the situation an apartheid.

There must be a recognition of what has to be done next. For one, there must be a push to divest “from companies that profit from violent, oppressive, and discriminatory practices,” as End to Occupation puts it. This would be a push for investors to “withdrawal their stocks and funds from corporations complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights [while] individual consumers are called on to show their opposition to Israel’s violations by participating in a consumer boycott of Israeli companies, goods and services or of international companies involved in Israeli policies.” This is part of the broader Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign. We must work in our communities, online and offline, to support the BDS campaign to help end Israeli apartheid, while also pushing electorally to stop Zionists, like capitalist reformer Elizabeth Warren, from getting into power.

This article was also published on Truthout and has been reposted here.

Nuclear power is a failure in regulation and reliability

29 Jul

Much of scientific community and general population believe climate change, caused in part by humans, is occurring, and there have been calls to use nuclear power. Renowned climate scientist James Hansen has time and time again has endorsed nuclear power as a worthy alternative. Green Left Weekly, while agreeing with his opposition to coal and petroleum, says his view is supported by “pseudo-science” that has “gone down a treat with the nuclear lobby.” This is dangerous because there has been seventeen big nuclear power accidents in a forty-seven year time span (1952-1999) and high public opposition to nuclear power in Japan (70% oppose it) with only 43% of Americans opposing the power overall. In the us, the high majorities of people that still support nuclear power may not know the risks. This could be because six corporations control the mainstay of the mainstream media along with General Electric, the world’s third largest company which creates nuclear power plants. As William Blum wrote in his book, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, NBC canceled “an appearance by a nuclear activist because she criticized General Electric which owns the network [and] another nuclear activist…is unwelcome at CBS because it belongs to Westinghouse,” the same case with ABC which is owned by the Walt Disney Company, or CNN which is owned by Time Warner. Basically, nuclear power interests are behind the media, so the polls are almost rigged from the start. In this article I plan to tell why nuclear power is not a reliable source of energy starting with the regulators, then into the specifics.

There are also two major groups that deal with nuclear power. The first one is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or NRC. This independent commission was supposed to overcome the industry coziness that resulted in the abolishment of its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission. However, as time went on, it turned out that the NRC was still in bed with the nuclear industry. In 1987, a congressional report noted that the NRC had “not maintained an arms length regulatory posture with the commercial nuclear power industry…[and] has, in some critical areas, abdicated its role as a regulator altogether.” When running for President, before he appointed a pro-nuclear power people to power, Barack Obama said the NRC had become “captive of the industries that it regulates.” In April 2011, an explosive article by Reuters adds to this mix using data from the Wikileaks cables :

“the Nuclear Regulatory Commission…is sometimes used as a sales tool to help push American technology to foreign governments…U.S. embassies have pulled in the NRC when lobbying for the purchase of equipment made by Westinghouse and other domestic manufacturers…the cables — from 2006 to early 2010 — show that the NRC’s role in promoting its regulatory model around the world can easily turn it into an advocate for U.S. nuclear technology, whether its officials realize it or not…The fear for diplomats is that U.S. equipment companies need government help, lest they be elbowed aside by foreign state-owned competitors…That beat-the-French theme comes up over and over again in cables from around the world — embassies noting with a sense of urgency that foreign competitor X is already on the ground meeting with government officials, and U.S. interests need to act fast at the highest levels to counteract the threat…In some cases, NRC officials, while not lobbying for American companies, may have smoothed their way…[The] push for American counter-action sometimes resulted in overt lobbying, but sometimes the response was more subtle.”

When one looks at the five commissioners you find that that NRC is captured by industry. For example, commissioner George Apostolakis received an award from the American Nuclear Society, a group that not only represents government agencies but also hundreds of corporations which are involved in the nuclear power industry! An anti-nuclear scientific group with reformist solutions, Physicians for Social Responsibility, wrote in a post last July, that the group has supported the current chairman of NRC because “Dr. Allison MacFarlane…[has a] record of support for on-site dry cask storage of nuclear waste and her critical analysis of the Yucca Mountain project” but that Commissioner Kristine Svinicki’s reappointment is disappointing because of here “dogged placement of nuclear industry desires over public safety needs.”At the same time, let us not forget that Commissioner William Magwood in the past “managed electric utility research and nuclear policy programs at the Edison Electric Institute in Washington, D.C [and]…was a scientist at Westinghouse Electric Corporation,” a clear conflict-of-interest. The last commissioner, William C. Ostendorff, was part of the military establishment and a former commander of a nuclear sub. As a result, according to a still relevant LA Times article, the votes of the NRC “typically reflect their attitudes toward regulating the nuclear power industry…[and] the majority [is currently] favoring less stringent safety and security initiatives.”

On the international level is the International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA which is part of the UN system. President Eisenhower proposed the creation of the body in 1953 when he called for ‘peaceful’ nuclear power, and the next year it was created to keep a hold of nuclear weapons. Today, it is seen, similar to the NRC, as helping the nuclear power industry. An article in Nature by Geoff Brumfiel notes that the IAEA “is a promoter of nuclear power, but at the same time guards against the spread of technology that could be used for nuclear weapons [while setting]…voluntary international standards for safety in civilian nuclear plants, and offers assistance in times of crisis.” A similar article in the Christian Science Monitor notes that the IAEA offers non-compulsory safety standards while promoting “nuclear energy, but it also monitors nuclear use [and]…is the sole global organization overseeing the nuclear energy industry, yet…[must be compliant]…with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” Additionally, let us not forget that the IAEA’s role in the debate over nuclear weapons in Iran. They basically put out a report “bolstering hardliners by taking [old] information…that could very well relate to a program that existed that has been canceled, and feeding it as raw meat to people who want to move forward.” This is consistent with their reports about Iran’s nuclear program which assert falsely that the country is getting nuclear weapons.

There have been many accidents with nuclear power plants. As a well-sourced page on Wikipedia notes, “at least 57 accidents [involving nuclear power] have occurred since the Chernobyl disaster, and over 56 nuclear accidents have occurred in the USA [however] relatively few accidents have involved fatalities.” As of 2010, 99 accidents have occurred between 1952 and 2011. An article in The Guardian adds to this, noting that there have been “33 serious incidents and accidents at nuclear power stations since the first recorded one in 1952 at Chalk River in Ontario, Canada…[using] information…partially from the International Atomic Energy Authority…[showing] how they’re spread around the globe.”

Recently, there has been some startling news. The New York Times wrote that “the stricken nuclear power plant at Fukushima has probably been leaking contaminated water into the ocean for two years, ever since an earthquake and tsunami badly damaged the plant” based on what Japan’s chief nuclear regulator said. As confidence in nuclear power has waned in Japan, this will send more ripples worldwide saying the power source is not safe. After the disaster in 2011 in Fukushima, radiation from the power plants likely caused: butterfly deaths and abnormalities was radiation, 25 times as many people to get thyroid cancer, especially US servicemembers, and freaky vegetables and fruits, and the death of the former head of the TEPCO power plant. Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism wrote recently:

“the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis continues unresolved in a bad way…there are two separate problems that Tepco has been forced to confess to in the last week…Tepco admitted some time ago that radioactive water was getting into the Pacific, but has been at a loss to explain how that was happening…radioactivity is apparently getting into the ocean via groundwater…the concentration of radioactivity in the trench water has not fallen much in two years despite the leakage…Third is that Tepco “hopes” to fix the problem…by “building a wall out of liquid glass between the reactors and the sea” to isolate the radioactive water and then removing it…Since the incident TEPCO has been pouring water over the damaged complex reactors to cool them for more than two years, but contaminated water has been building up at the rate of an Olympic-size swimming pool each week since then.”

This month a power plant closed because of a mysterious cause, and in Kyoto a worker pulled a drainwater valve which rose the water in the power plant, causing it to close down. There were also reports that 60 miles from the power plants in the city, radiation is 400 times normal in 2011!

Nuclear power in and of itself is dangerous. In the view of anti-nuclear writer for The Nation, Johnathan Schell, by expanding the amount of nuclear power plants, “the US is “playing with fire”…not only risking an international incident but also opening the spigot for nuclear proliferation.” In another piece, Schell says that “if the nuclear powers wish to be safe from nuclear weapons, they must surrender their own. Then we will all work together to assure that everyone abides by the commitment.” There is also an interesting article by Greg Mitchell in The Nation, noting that “a new government obsession with secrecy…spread from the nuclear program to all military and foreign affairs in the Cold War era,” with resident kept in the dark about the first nuclear bomb test and the fallout spread across the country. This was pretty similar to what happened in Fukushma. Lets remember these tips written by Matt Biven in The Nation in 2001 about you having to evacuate because of the explosion of a nuclear power plant: “your homeowner’s insurance will not reimburse you….[and] You will, however, as a taxpayer be indirectly picking up the tab for the accident” all thanks to a 1950s-era law called the Price Anderson Act. Biven also wrote that ‘Al Qaeda terrorists active in America have been thinking about nuclear terrorism for eight years now…one needs minimal inspiration from the NRC website to brainstorm half-a-dozen ways a handful of motivated individuals could turn a nuclear power plant into an American Chernobyl…A clear-eyed discussion of how to defend these plants just might conclude that they are indefensible.”

An article earlier this month, The Nation also addressed nuclear power. The article was a discussion between the magazine’s environmental correspondent Mark Hertsgaard and a longtime anti-nuclear activist Terry Tempest Williams who has considered some value in nuclear power only after watching what sounded to be a movie, Pandora’s Promise, that is propaganda for the nuclear industry. The movie seems to trash all alternative energies except nuclear power while playing loose and fast with the facts about the energy which is not surprising as it was basically funded by the nuclear power industry. Here’s some of the highlights of what Williams said:

“In declassified materials from the Atomic Energy Commission, Mormons and Indians living downwind of the blasts were considered “a low-use segment of the population.” In the eyes of our government, my people were expendable…Given that our species numbers 7 billion and rising, there are those who believe the only practical way we can sustain an energy-rich future is to commit to more development, more technology—nuclear energy included—as we continue on the trajectory of progress to fuel more consumption…What energy sources can we employ that do the least harm to life on earth and at the same time can meet the expanding needs of the human family?…I do not feel antinuclear activists have any kinship whatsoever with climate deniers, as the film repeatedly asserts. I resent this comparison…I remain uncertain about what the right course of action is regarding energy.”

On the other hand, Hertsgaard said:

“[the IAEA] concluded in a 2005 study that the radioactivity released at Chernobyl would cause 4,000 cancer deaths. A study by the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation concluded in 2008 that Chernobyl had caused 6,000 thyroid cancers among children, and “many more” such cancers are projected in the years ahead. But the UNSCEAR study didn’t take into account the long-term impacts of radioactivity, as the European Environment Agency pointed out earlier this year…[which] said that Chernobyl will cause between 17,000 and 68,000 cancer deaths over the fifty years following the 1986 accident…My own reporting on the [climate] movement suggests that nothing so grandiose is under way. A small number of individual environmentalists have advocated nuclear…the overwhelming majority of green groups and leaders continue to oppose it…it is absolutely valid to reconsider nuclear power..The weapons risk is especially high in…a breeder reactor. This is because breeders don’t just produce plutonium; they also use it as fuel…The problem is that this same miracle fuel is a key ingredient in nuclear weapons…nearly all of the world’s sodium-cooled reactors have suffered fires [[Integral Fast Reactors]…Today…there is not a single commercially operating breeder reactor on earth…As a result, there are now an estimated 250 tons of plutonium at these plants, enough to make approximately 30,000 nuclear weapons…wind power is by far the fastest-growing source of electricity [and]…solar is growing nearly as fast…[while] improving energy efficiency is…the quickest, safest and most cost-effective route to reducing consumption of fossil fuels…Nuclear power is fantastically expensive—so expensive that private investors…stopped financing large nuclear plants.”

There are many rational arguments against nuclear power. Parts of the discussion above show this. As parts of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States show, people have been against it for some time, starting in the 1950s. Over two years ago, a redditor, made a sound argument against nuclear power, stating that “nuclear power isn’t inherently safe….I’m very skeptical about claims that it never can go wrong…There is no solution for nuclear waste. This is actually my main argument against nuclear power. Right now, nuclear waste just sits in barrels in Russia, in the ocean or in salt mines…In many cases it’s just in large buildings, waiting for a solution. This is crazy, we’re creating a problem that will exist for thousands and thousands of years. What’s the alternative? 100% renewable energy.” In the end, everyone must ask themselves if an energy that is a failure in regulation and reliability is worth the risk to the planet and humanity to push it forward as a ‘solution’ to climate change.

Editor’s Note: After trying to get this post rejected by numerous publications (Dissent, Dissident Voice and New Left Project), I am tired of sending it around, so I am publishing it here, on this blog, as it needs to put out there. This has also been published on White Rose Reader with an altered title: Nuclear Power: Unreliable and Unregulated. I don’t think its unregulated, but I guess that’s ok.

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