Monday, June 17, 2013

The Smiths: Best ... I

Bikini Kill: Reject All American

Thomas Drake - Snowden saw what I saw: surveillance criminally subverting the constitution

Snowden saw what I saw: surveillance criminally subverting the constitution
by Thomas Drake

So we refused to be part of the NSA's dark blanket. That is why whistleblowers pay the price for being the backstop of democracy

The Guardian

What Edward Snowden has done is an amazingly brave and courageous act of civil disobedience.

Like me, he became discomforted by what he was exposed to and what he saw: the industrial-scale systematic surveillance that is scooping up vast amounts of information not only around the world but in the United States, in direct violation of the fourth amendment of the US constitution.

The NSA programs that Snowden has revealed are nothing new: they date back to the days and weeks after 9/11. I had direct exposure to similar programs, such as Stellar Wind, in 2001. In the first week of October, I had an extraordinary conversation with NSA's lead attorney. When I pressed hard about the unconstitutionality of Stellar Wind, he said:

"The White House has approved the program; it's all legal. NSA is the executive agent."

It was made clear to me that the original intent of government was to gain access to all the information it could without regard for constitutional safeguards. "You don't understand," I was told. "We just need the data."

In the first week of October 2001, President Bush had signed an extraordinary order authorizing blanket dragnet electronic surveillance: Stellar Wind was a highly secret program that, without warrant or any approval from the Fisa court, gave the NSA access to all phone records from the major telephone companies, including US-to-US calls. It correlates precisely with the Verizon order revealed by Snowden; and based on what we know, you have to assume that there are standing orders for the other major telephone companies.

It is technically true that the order applies only to meta-data. The problem is that in the digital space, metadata becomes the index for content. And content is gold for determining intent.

This executive fiat of 2001 violated not just the fourth amendment, but also Fisa rules at the time, which made it a felony – carrying a penalty of $10,000 and five years in prison for each and every instance. The supposed oversight, combined with enabling legislation – the Fisa court, the congressional committees – is all a kabuki dance, predicated on the national security claim that we need to find a threat. The reality is, they just want it all, period.

So I was there at the very nascent stages, when the government – wilfully and in deepest secrecy – subverted the constitution. All you need to know about so-called oversight is that the NSA was already in violation of the Patriot Act by the time it was signed into law.

When I was in the US air force, flying an RC-135 in the latter years of the cold war, I was a German-Russian crypto-linguist. We called ourselves the "vacuum-cleaner of the sky" because our capability to gather information was enormous at the time. But it was always outward-facing; we could not collect on US targets because that was against the law. To the US government today, however, we are all foreigners.

I became an expert on East Germany, which was then the ultimate surveillance state. Their secret police were monstrously efficient: they had a huge paper-based system that held information on virtually everyone in the country – a population of about 16-17 million. The Stasi's motto was "to know everything".

So none of this is new to me. The difference between what the Bush administration was doing in 2001, right after 9/11, and what the Obama administration is doing today is that the system is now under the cover and color of law. Yet, what Snowden has revealed is still the tip of the iceberg.

General Michael Hayden, who was head of the NSA when I worked there, and then director of the CIA, said, "We need to own the net." And that is what they're implementing here. They have this extraordinary system: in effect, a 24/7 panopticon on a vast scale that it is gazing at you with an all-seeing eye.

I lived with that dirty knowledge for years. Before 9/11, the prime directive at the NSA was that you don't spy on Americans without a warrant; to do so was against the law – and, in particular, was a criminal violation of Fisa. My concern was that we were more than an accessory; this was a crime and we were subverting the constitution.

I differed as a whistleblower to Snowden only in this respect: in accordance with the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, I took my concerns up within the chain of command, to the very highest levels at the NSA, and then to Congress and the Department of Defense. I understand why Snowden has taken his course of action, because he's been following this for years: he's seen what's happened to other whistleblowers like me.

By following protocol, you get flagged – just for raising issues. You're identified as someone they don't like, someone not to be trusted. I was exposed early on because I was a material witness for two 9/11 congressional investigations. In closed testimony, I told them everything I knew – about Stellar Wind, billions of dollars in fraud, waste and abuse, and the critical intelligence, which the NSA had but did not disclose to other agencies, preventing vital action against known threats. If that intelligence had been shared, it may very well have prevented 9/11.

But as I found out later, none of the material evidence I disclosed went into the official record. It became a state secret even to give information of this kind to the 9/11 investigation.

I reached a point in early 2006 when I decided I would contact a reporter. I had the same level of security clearance as Snowden. If you look at the indictment from 2010, you can see that I was accused of causing "exceptionally grave damage to US national security". Despite allegations that I had tippy-top-secret documents, In fact, I had no classified information in my possession, and I disclosed none to the Baltimore Sun journalist during 2006 and 2007. But I got hammered: in November 2007, I was raided by a dozen armed FBI agents, when I was served with a search warrant. The nightmare had only just begun, including extensive physical and electronic surveillance.

To Read the Rest

Friday, June 14, 2013

Iain Banks (1954-2013)

Iain Banks: A science fiction star first and foremost
by Ken MacLeod
The Guardian

Iain M Banks led the 'British boom' of 1990s science fiction on the strength of a simple virtue: optimism. His mentor Ken MacLeod remembers a boundless creative mind whose place in SF is assured

Use of Weapons was, arguably, the first novel Iain Banks ever wrote. He had of course written a great deal before it: at least half a million unpublished, unpublishable, but hilarious words. With Use of Weapons (drafted in 1974 but not published until 1990, under his science-fiction-writing name Iain M Banks) he hit his stride and invented the Culture.

This was a galaxy-spanning utopia whose name was chosen for its self-deprecating modesty, rather than something grandiose like the Federation or the Empire. (In that first draft written in 1974, its denizens' equally wry name for themselves was "the aliens", a usage later thankfully dropped.) The Culture was created out of artistic necessity: Iain already had a character in mind – a mercenary, a flawed hero – and thought it would be interesting to send such a character into battle in the service of a genuinely good society, which the Culture was.

In thinking through what such a good society might be like, Iain did more than he knew at the time. He was the first to write a utopia that most of its readers would actually like to live in. Not all his readers considered the Culture feasible, but there were few who did not find it desirable. He later laid out the logic of it in some detail, arguing that the conditions of large-scale space habitation would – given a lick of luck in its vulnerable early stages – make a stateless socialism of abundance the obvious (and free) choice of the many. Charmingly enough, he also took the opportunity to give his starships an entire imagined system of physics in which faster-than-light travel was possible. A multiverse in continuous creation, a perpetual outpouring of energy at the heart of things, was for him a happy and hopeful notion, and one that he at least affected to take seriously as a possibility. It is easy, and right, to see in it a reflection of his own boundless creative exuberance.

Iain's science-fiction writing came out of a complex engagement with the field as he encountered it in the 1970s, as well as with mainstream literature and the classics. A formative influence was the SF criticism of John Clute and M John Harrison, whose essays and reviews were, for Iain and for me, always the highlight of every issue of the paperback series of New Worlds. We read them so assiduously and delightedly that we burned entire paragraphs into memory, and could each cause the other to collapse in laughter with an allusion. Clute and Harrison took a scalpel to the flaws of the science fiction we loved, and we loved them for it. Literary merits aside, and generalising unfairly, the field as Iain found it presented a dilemma: American SF was optimistic about the human future, but deeply conservative in its politics; British SF was more thoughtful and experimental, but too often depressive.

Iain broke out of that dichotomy with all the panache of the spaceship exploding from inside another spaceship on the cover of Consider Phlebas, the first of his SF novels to be published, by writing of an expansive, optimistic possible future rooted in the same materialist and evolutionary view of life that had in the past been seen only as a dark background to cosmically futile strivings. With that he raised the bar, he raised the game, and above all he raised the serotonin level of British SF. The magazine Interzone was already a proving ground for new writers, and within a few years what became known as "the British Boom" of the 1990s in SF was underway, with Iain's work one of its main engines.

In the ostensibly mainstream novels that followed his initial success with The Wasp Factory, Iain had smuggled truck-loads of science fiction past the border-guards of the "literary" establishment, in the overtly fantastic strands – disguised as dream sequences or delusions – embedded in Walking on Glass and The Bridge. He found himself invited to science fiction conventions, and embraced by the world of SF fandom, hitherto a closed book to him. It was an embrace he returned warmly and at once. (His cry of "These are my people!" is recorded in a TV documentary.) He was likewise overjoyed to meet his own literary heroes, including Harrison and Clute, with whom he formed lasting friendships (it's to the credit of both critics that friendship never blunted their scalpels, and to Iain's that their dissections never dimmed his affection).

A source of enduring irritation to him – and to his indefatigable literary agent Mic Cheetham, who became a beloved friend – was the tendency of some critics who admired his mainstream work to treat his SF as a potboiling sideline best passed over in silence, like some embarrassing and disreputable, but otherwise harmless quirk. Iain always insisted that he brought the same imagination to bear on his mainstream works as he did on his SF, and that conversely he lavished the same craft and care on his SF as he did on his literary fiction. The only difference, he said, was in the setting and scale. He likened writing literary fiction to playing a piano, and writing SF to playing a vast church organ. Squandering the "unlimited effects budget" of his imagination on the vast scale of SF was always, by a small edge, the greater joy.

To Read the Rest

More comments:

Charles Stross: "Fuck every cause that ends in murder and children crying" — Iain Banks, 1954-2013 (Goodreads)

Caroline Davies: Tributes pour in for Iain Banks, 'one of Scotland's literary greats' (The Guardian)

John Mullan: Iain Banks obituary (The Guardian)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Yuezhi Zhao -- The Struggle for Socialism in China: The Bo Xilai Saga and Beyond

The Struggle for Socialism in China: The Bo Xilai Saga and Beyond
by Yuezhi Zhao
Monthly Review


If Mao Zedong Thought once served as the hegemonic ideology of China’s pursuit of socialism in the twentieth century, two of Deng Xiaoping’s slogans, “letting some people get rich first” and “development is ironclad truth,” have served as the most powerful ideological justifications for China’s post-Mao developmental path. Given that this path has transformed China from one of the most egalitarian societies in the world under Mao to one of the most unequal in the contemporary world, it is not surprising then that few have taken the CCP’s claim of building “socialism with Chinese characteristics” seriously. However, for many Chinese, the lived experiences of socialism—both positive and negative—are real, and so are the contemporary contradictions between rhetoric and reality. Despite Deng’s “no debate” decree—that is, there should be no debate about whether the post-Mao reforms are capitalistic or socialist—overt and covert struggles over the direction of China’s reform path, its internal contradictions, and variegated social conflicts have compelled the CCP leadership to continue to claim the mantra of socialism on the one hand, while attempting to readjust China’s developmental path on the other.

As early as 2003, the CCP had modified Deng’s development doctrine to promote the so-called “scientific concept of development”—that is, a more people-centric, and socially and ecologically sustainable developmental path. By October 2007, the CCP’s 17th National Congress had officially committed itself to “accelerate the transformation of the mode of economic development.” The global financial crisis that erupted in 2008 has not only injected new energy to calls for “socialist renewal” as the only viable alternative to further capitalistic reintegration, but also compelled the leadership to intensify its rhetoric about shifting Chinese development away from a GDP-driven and exported-oriented model. However, a powerful hegemonic bloc of transnational capital, domestic coastal export industries, and pro-capitalist state officials—as well as neoliberal media, intellectual leaders, and their middle class followers—continues to block any substantial efforts at reorienting the Chinese developmental path.

It is within this context that Chongqing, under Bo’s leadership, must be understood as a place that made substantial efforts to pursue a more socially sustainable developmental path. Previously a municipality of Sichuan province, Chongqing gained provincial jurisdiction status in 1997. With a huge rural population (70 percent of 32 million in 2010) and a rugged geography in China’s southwest interior, Chongqing is a microcosm of China. It not only faces some of the country’s most profound socioeconomic challenges but also manifests all the pitfalls of neoliberal capitalist reintegration, including a criminalized economy. In late 2007, Bo, who had gained local governance experience first in the city of Dalian and then in Liaoning province prior to becoming China’s Minister of Commerce in 2003, was sent to lead Chongqing as its party secretary.

Chongqing still prides itself as China’s wartime capital and a center of global anti-fascist struggles between 1937 and 1946. It was turned “red” by literally soaking in the blood of Communist martyrs in the fierce struggles between the Communists and the Nationalists around the time of the PRC’s founding in 1949. Later, Chongqing was built into one of China’s Cold War–era major inland military-industrial bases. This cultivated a strong working class, who had been on the forefront of anti-privatization struggles until the mid–2000s. As China’s newly established metropolis during the reform era, Chongqing shouldered some of the heaviest social dislocations burdening China’s post-Mao development and modernization, with not only the resettlements of Three Gorges Dam migrants but also the care of the elderly and the children left behind in depressed rural villages by migrant workers moving to the coastal regions. Partly because of this, since 1997 the central authorities have given Chongqing more leeway to experiment with integrating urban and rural development. Bo, an ambitious, charismatic, and strong-willed “red princeling” (he is the son of a revolutionary leader) who had a significant power base among China’s political and military elites, was trying to reclaim China’s revolutionary legacies to win popular support in a bid to return to Beijing for a higher political office. This particular configuration of socio-historical, geopolitical, as well as biographical forces gave rise to the Chongqing Model.4

The model’s cornerstones were an enlarged public sector and a focus on social welfare.5 As an August 8, 2012 Foreign Policy article put it, it was “a daring experiment in using state policy and state resources to advance the interests of ordinary people, while maintaining the role of the party and state.”6 Specifically, the local state significantly enlarged its role in the economy through the creation of eight major investment firms that operated as marketized entities but served the purpose of equitable development. Similarly, a state investment firm, rather than private capital, took control of the massive “poor assets” of more than 1,160 state-owned enterprises from the Mao era, restructured them, and developed them into viable businesses. As a result, Chongqing’s state-owned assets grew exponentially. Chongqing took aggressive steps in bridging the urban-rural gap, enabling as many as 3.22 million rural migrants to settle in the city with urban citizenship entitlements in employment, retirement pensions, public rental housing, children’s education, and health care. Beginning in 2009, under a program known as 10 Points on People’s Livelihood, Chongqing spent more than half of all government expenditures on improving public welfare, particularly the livelihoods of workers and farmers.

In these ways, Chongqing put into practice the CCP’s slogan of pursuing people-centered development. In fact, there was nothing radical in these policies—if they were measured against official rhetoric. The effort to strengthen the public sector, for example, remains consistent with China’s constitutional commitment to build a “socialist” system based on the primacy of public ownership. Rather than oppose capitalist reintegration, Chongqing aggressively courted global capital. For example, in a plan to build Chongqing into Asia’s largest manufacturing center for notebook computers, transnational corporations from HP to Acer were attracted to establish operations there. Bo’s leadership even lured the super-exploitative IT manufacturer Foxconn to relocate 200,000 of its 500,000 Shenzhen jobs to Chongqing.7 However, there was a key difference. In Shenzhen, Foxconn was allowed to disembed itself from society by forcing workers to live in factory-supplied, military-barrack-style dorms. In contrast, Chongqing provided cheap public rental housing to Foxconn workers. This allowed it to break away from the “global labor arbitrage” pattern and re-embed transnational capital in society.8 Meanwhile, in an effort to solve the employment problem, Chongqing implemented a massive microenterprise program to support rural migrants and university graduates to establish businesses in the urban areas. In short, as Philip Huang observed, the Chongqing Model attempted to find a way that allows the complementary growth of state, transnational, and domestic private sectors in a mixed economy.9


To Read the Entire Essay

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Democracy Now -- Digital Blackwater: How the NSA Gives Private Contractors Control of the Surveillance State

Digital Blackwater: How the NSA Gives Private Contractors Control of the Surveillance State
Democracy Now

As the Justice Department prepares to file charges against Booz Allen Hamilton employee Edward Snowden for leaking classified documents about the National Security Agency, the role of private intelligence firms has entered the national spotlight. Despite being on the job as a contract worker inside the NSA’s Hawaii office for less than three months, Snowden claimed he had power to spy on almost anyone in the country. “I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge, to even the president, if I had a personal email," Snowden told The Guardian newspaper. Over the past decade, the U.S. intelligence community has relied increasingly on the technical expertise of private firms such as Booz Allen, SAIC, the Boeing subsidiary Narus and Northrop Grumman. About 70 percent of the national intelligence budget is now spent on the private sector. Former NSA Director Michael V. Hayden has described these firms as a quote "digital Blackwater." We speak to Tim Shorrock, author of the book "Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Outsourced Intelligence."

To Watch the Episode

Ai Weiwei -- NSA surveillance: The US is behaving like China (The Guardian)

"A Massive Surveillance State": Glenn Greenwald Exposes Covert NSA Program Collecting Calls, Emails (Democracy Now)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras -- Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations

Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations
by Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras
The Guardian

The 29-year-old source behind the biggest intelligence leak in the NSA's history explains his motives, his uncertain future and why he never intended on hiding in the shadows.

The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he said.

Snowden will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world's most secretive organisations – the NSA.

In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."

Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. "I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing."

He does not fear the consequences of going public, he said, only that doing so will distract attention from the issues raised by his disclosures. "I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me."

Despite these fears, he remained hopeful his outing will not divert attention from the substance of his disclosures. "I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in." He added: "My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them."

He has had "a very comfortable life" that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. "I'm willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building."

'I am not afraid, because this is the choice I've made'

Three weeks ago, Snowden made final preparations that resulted in last week's series of blockbuster news stories. At the NSA office in Hawaii where he was working, he copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose.

He then advised his NSA supervisor that he needed to be away from work for "a couple of weeks" in order to receive treatment for epilepsy, a condition he learned he suffers from after a series of seizures last year.

As he packed his bags, he told his girlfriend that he had to be away for a few weeks, though he said he was vague about the reason. "That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world."

On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because "they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent", and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.

In the three weeks since he arrived, he has been ensconced in a hotel room. "I've left the room maybe a total of three times during my entire stay," he said. It is a plush hotel and, what with eating meals in his room too, he has run up big bills.

He is deeply worried about being spied on. He lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping. He puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them.

Though that may sound like paranoia to some, Snowden has good reason for such fears. He worked in the US intelligence world for almost a decade. He knows that the biggest and most secretive surveillance organisation in America, the NSA, along with the most powerful government on the planet, is looking for him.

Since the disclosures began to emerge, he has watched television and monitored the internet, hearing all the threats and vows of prosecution emanating from Washington.

And he knows only too well the sophisticated technology available to them and how easy it will be for them to find him. The NSA police and other law enforcement officers have twice visited his home in Hawaii and already contacted his girlfriend, though he believes that may have been prompted by his absence from work, and not because of suspicions of any connection to the leaks.

"All my options are bad," he said. The US could begin extradition proceedings against him, a potentially problematic, lengthy and unpredictable course for Washington. Or the Chinese government might whisk him away for questioning, viewing him as a useful source of information. Or he might end up being grabbed and bundled into a plane bound for US territory.

To Read the Rest of the Interview and to Watch a Video from the Interview

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David Bromwich: Stay Out of Syria!

Stay Out of Syria!
by David Bromwich
The New York Review of Books

After the troubling revelations of the May 8 Senate hearing on Benghazi, much remains unclear about the attack that killed four Americans last September. Were the killers aiming to prove the incompetence of American power? Or was the assault directed more specifically against CIA operations? How did the White House, the State Department, and the CIA all agree to say so early and wrongly that the attack could have been the spontaneous action of a crowd infuriated by an anti-Muslim video? Why did the administration delete from its talking points the mention of five similar attacks in Libya, and the fact that al-Qaeda-linked forces were known to be active in the vicinity?

One thing is clear. The Benghazi killings were an indirect but predictable consequence of the NATO intervention that overthrew Muammar Qaddafi. Disorder was a necessary condition of the attack. The “light footprint” of NATO was never going to be sufficient to contain the forces the war released. With the death of Qaddafi and the instability of NATO’s interim arrangements, his troops and weapons moved southward in Africa; and the evacuation of US State Department workers in Mali in January and the attack on international workers in Algeria are now widely understood to have been another fruit of the NATO action in Libya. For Americans, of course, Libya is almost forgotten, but for North Africa and the watching Arab world, it remains a vivid and disturbing memory: seven months of air attacks, with thousands of sorties, 7,700 bombs dropped or missiles launched, and uncounted civilian casualties.

The deepening violence of the Syrian civil war is also in some measure a consequence of Libya: Qaddafi’s disbanded army and unguarded weapons moved southward in Africa, but they also moved eastward to Asia. The state terror of the most “surgical” air war leaves in its wake many thousands of stateless terrorists. As Nancy Youssef pointed out in a penetrating survey on March 14 in the McClatchy newspapers (“Middle East in Turmoil 10 Years After Iraq Invasion”): “The most effective anti-Assad rebel military faction [in Syria], the Nusra Front,” is itself “a branch of al Qaida in Iraq, the same radical Islamist group that the US fought in that country and that the current Iraqi government also is battling.”

The recent past is still with us, if we take the time to look. This is the background against which one must assess the judgment of those persons—well placed in the media and the foreign policy elite—who have lately urged another violent intervention by the US in Arab lands. Three days before the Benghazi hearings, on May 5, Bill Keller published a double-length Op-Ed in The New York Times. His column was entitled “Syria Is Not Iraq,” and its moral was adequately conveyed in Keller’s final words: “Getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq.”

Let us pause to remember Iraq before we follow Keller’s invitation to get over it. Almost 4,500 Americans died in Iraq, and 32,000 came home wounded. Of the numbers of Iraqi dead that would be living had the Americans not bombed, invaded, and occupied their country, reliable estimates are harder to come by, but in 2008 The New England Journal of Medicine estimated a total of 151,000 violent deaths by June 2006; and the seven years that followed have added many thousands more.

At the time of the Iraq invasion, Keller was an Op-Ed columnist and senior writer at the Times. In 2002–2003, when his newspaper’s slanted coverage of Iraq played a significant part in leading the country into war, Keller believed the Times stories based on forged or dubious evidence circulated by the Bush administration, and threw his considerable journalistic energy into support of the war. Looking back, in his May 5 Op-Ed, he speaks euphemistically of “our ill-fated adventure in Iraq”; his own part in it he calls “a humbling error of judgment” that for a time “left me gun-shy.”

But Syria is not Iraq, he says, and he now recommends the deployment of American military might against Syria. Keller’s pressing fear is that by inaction, the US may surrender its role as international leader: “Prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy.” By means of violent intervention, he believes, the tragedy can be made smaller; and he deplores the reticence of President Obama as the evasion of “a president looking for excuses to stand pat.”

There follow, in Keller’s piece, a series of elaborate distinctions intended to show that Syria presents a more soluble problem than Iraq. “In Iraq our invasion unleashed a sectarian war” whereas “in Syria, [sectarian war] is already well under way.” We ought to intervene, then, because things are already bad. The underlying assumption is that American action could not make things worse. “This time,” Keller continues, “we have allies waiting for us to step up and lead.” We did have allies, and much the same allies, in Libya, but in the thirteen hundred words of this column the word “Libya” does not occur.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Sunday, June 09, 2013

June Issue of North of Center

New issue's trickling out. In it, McClanahan continues "Hatchling of the Chickasaw"; Connors-Manke reveals a familiar Castro; Flores covers legislative bong-haters, O'Dowd a revolution, and Mayer a small urban creek; Montgomery celebrates Holler art; Cooper turns his discerning eye upon feather flags; Jensen goes so apocalyptic we had to borrow him from Yes! Magazine; and Minter and Epling continue to graphically entertain with their art. Enjoy.

To Check out the Latest Issue and Website of Lexington's Independent Newspaper North of Center

Friday, June 07, 2013

The New York Times: Journalist Glenn Greenwald, With Focus on Surveillance, Is at Center of a Debate

[MB: Glenn Greenwald is a constitutional/civil rights lawyer and is one of the most important critics of our rising surveillance/security state. To check out his work as a journalist reporting on civil rights and security issues visit this archive of resources: Glenn Greenwald: Constitutional/Civil Rights Lawyer and Journalist. The NYTs article below should be read with attention to the framing language used to minimize Greenwald's important journalistic work: the reporters try to emphasize he is simply a "blogger" instead of a journalist/columnist working for the UK Guardian, they never mention the fact that he argued cases before the Supreme Court, they label him as obsessive, and try to put doubt on his reporting because he is so trusted as a lawyer he is allowed to work without editors. In the article the authors do the reader the favor of linking to the two Greenwald columns -- click on them to see what is causing the controversy. I will also post them on Dialogic as I revisit them.]

Blogger, With Focus on Surveillance, Is at Center of a Debate
By Noam Cohen and Leslie Kaufman
The New York Times


After writing intensely, even obsessively, for years about government surveillance and the prosecution of journalists, Glenn Greenwald has suddenly put himself directly at the intersection of those two issues, and perhaps in the cross hairs of federal prosecutors.

Late Wednesday, Mr. Greenwald, a lawyer and longtime blogger, published an article in the British newspaper The Guardian about the existence of a top-secret court order allowing the National Security Agency to monitor millions of telephone logs. The article, which included a link to the order, is expected to attract an investigation from the Justice Department, which has aggressively pursued leakers.

On Thursday night, he followed up with an article written with a Guardian reporter, Ewen MacAskill, that exposed an N.S.A. program, Prism, that has gathered information from the nation’s largest Internet companies going back nearly six years.

“The N.S.A. is kind of the crown jewel in government secrecy. I expect them to react even more extremely,” Mr. Greenwald said in a telephone interview. He said that he had been advised by lawyer friends that “he should be worried,” but he had decided that “what I am doing is exactly what the Constitution is about and I am not worried about it.”

Being at the center of a debate is a comfortable place for Mr. Greenwald, 46, who came to mainstream journalism through his own blog, which he started in 2005. Before that he was a lawyer, including working 18 months at the high-powered New York firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, where he represented large corporate clients.

“I approach my journalism as a litigator,” he said. “People say things, you assume they are lying, and dig for documents to prove it.”

Mr. Greenwald’s writings at The Guardian — and before that, for Salon and on his own blog — can resemble a legal brief, with a list of points, extended arguments and detailed references and links. As Andrew Sullivan, a frequent sparring partner and sometime ally, put it, “once you get into a debate with him, it can be hard to get the last word.”

While Mr. Greenwald notes that he often conducts interviews and breaks news in his columns, he describes himself as an activist and an advocate. But with this leak about the extremely confidential legal apparatus supporting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, he has lifted the veil on some of the government’s most closely held secrets.

The leak, he said, came from “a reader of mine” who was comfortable working with him. The source, Mr. Greenwald said, “knew the views that I had and had an expectation of how I would display them.”

Mr. Greenwald’s experience as a journalist is unusual, not because of his clear opinions but because he has rarely had to report to an editor. He began his blog Unclaimed Territory in 2005 after the news of warrantless surveillance under the Bush administration. When his blog was picked up by Salon, said Kerry Lauerman, the magazine’s departing editor in chief, Salon agreed that Mr. Greenwald would have direct access to their computer system so that he could publish his blog posts himself without an editor seeing them first if he so chose.

“It basically is unheard of, but I never lost a moment of sleep over it,” Mr. Lauerman said. “He is incredibly scrupulous in the way a lawyer would be — really, really careful.”

The same independence has carried over at The Guardian, though Mr. Greenwald said that for an article like the one about the N.S.A. letter he agreed that the paper should be able to edit it. Because he has often argued in defense of Bradley Manning, the army private who was charged as the WikiLeaks source, he said he considered publishing the story on his own, and not for The Guardian, to assert that the protections owed a journalist should not require the imprimatur of an established publisher.

Mr. Greenwald said he has had to get up to speed in the security precautions that are expected from a reporter covering national security matters, including installing encrypted instant chat and e-mail programs.

“I am borderline illiterate on these matters, but I had somebody who is really well-regarded actually come and physically do my whole computer,” he said.

That computer is in Brazil, where Mr. Greenwald spends most of his time and lives with his partner, who cannot emigrate to the United States because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages as a basis for residency applications.

Mr. Greenwald grew up in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., feeling like an odd figure. “I do think political posture is driven by your personality, your relationship with authority, how comfortable are you in your life,” he said. “When you grow up gay, you are not part of the system, it forces you to evaluate: ‘Is it me, or is the system bad?’ ”

By the time Mr. Greenwald was studying law at New York University, “he was always passionate about constitutional issues and issues of equal justice and equal treatment,” said Jennifer Bailey, now an immigration lawyer with a nonprofit organization in Maine, who shared a tiny apartment with Mr. Greenwald in the early 1990s.

She emphasized that his passion did not translate into partisanship. “He is not a categorizeable guy,” Ms. Bailey said. “He was not someone who played party politics. He was very deep into the issues and how it must come out. He was tireless and relentless about pursuing this. Nobody worked longer hours.”


To Read the Entire Article

More Resources:

Yves Smith: NYT Gives Damning-With-Faintest-Praise-Possible Profile of Glenn Greenwald After Surveillance Scoops (Naked Capitalism)

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy: P. W. Singer

#3: P. W. Singer
The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy

P.W. Singer, author of Wired for War, joins us this week to talk about the subject of robots in the military and the intersection between video games and war.

To Listen to the Episode

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Frontline: The Card Game

[MB: 2nd in a series: first one was The Secret History of the Credit Card]

The Card Game

Investigating the massive consumer loan industry and what's ahead for customers and banks -- a FRONTLINE-New York Times co-production.

As credit card companies face rising public anger, new regulation from Washington and staggering new rates of default and bankruptcy, FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman investigates the future of the massive consumer loan industry and its impact on a fragile national economy.

In The Card Game, a follow-up to the Secret History of the Credit Card and a joint project with The New York Times, Bergman and the Times talk to industry insiders, lobbyists, politicians and consumer advocates as they square off over attempts to reform the way the industry has done business for decades.

"The card issuers could do anything they want," Robert McKinley, CEO of, tells FRONTLINE of the industry's unchecked power over consumers. "They could change your interest rate. They could impose an annual fee. They could close your account." High interest rates along with more and more penalty fees drove up profits for the industry, Bergman finds, as the banks followed the lead of an aggressive upstart: Providian Bank. In an exclusive interview with FRONTLINE, former Providian CEO Shailesh Mehta tells Bergman how his company successfully targeted vulnerable low-income customers whom Providian called "the unbanked."

"They're lower-income people-bad credits, bankrupts, young credits, no credits," Mehta says. Providian also innovated by offering "free" credit cards that carried heavy hidden fees. "I used to use the word 'penalty pricing' or 'stealth pricing,'" Mehta tells FRONTLINE. "When people make the buying decision, they don't look at the penalty fees because they never believe they'll be late. They never believe they'll be over limit, right? ... Our business took off. ... We were making a billion dollars a year."

It took the economic collapse in the fall of 2008 to set the stage for potentially historic change in the consumer credit business. President Obama and his team pushed through a credit card reform bill in May, and they're now looking to establish a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency. But the banking and financial services industries contribute huge amounts of money to Congress -- and the jury is still out on whether the new regulations can pass. "It's a step in the right direction, but it's a modest step," says Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren. "It's a set of very discrete new laws. And the credit industry instantly set to work on how they could run around them. By itself, that set of rules won't change the game."

"It's hard for them to get a bill through the U.S. Senate when the industry is pouring money into Washington," says Martin Eakes of the Center for Responsible Lending of the banks' political clout. "As Sen. [Dick] Durbin from Chicago recently said, 'the banks, even as unpopular as they are right now in this crisis, still own this place.'"
To Watch the Documentary and Access More Resources

Cory Doctorow: Kafka, meet Orwell - peek behind the scenes of the modern surveillance state; Journeyman Pictures: Naked Citizens

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing provides an introduction to the documentary Naked Citizens in "Kafka, meet Orwell: peek behind the scenes of the modern surveillance state"

Julian Assange: The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil’

The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil’
by Julian Assange
The New York Times

“THE New Digital Age” is a startlingly clear and provocative blueprint for technocratic imperialism, from two of its leading witch doctors, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, who construct a new idiom for United States global power in the 21st century. This idiom reflects the ever closer union between the State Department and Silicon Valley, as personified by Mr. Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and Mr. Cohen, a former adviser to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton who is now director of Google Ideas.

The authors met in occupied Baghdad in 2009, when the book was conceived. Strolling among the ruins, the two became excited that consumer technology was transforming a society flattened by United States military occupation. They decided the tech industry could be a powerful agent of American foreign policy.

The book proselytizes the role of technology in reshaping the world’s people and nations into likenesses of the world’s dominant superpower, whether they want to be reshaped or not. The prose is terse, the argument confident and the wisdom — banal. But this isn’t a book designed to be read. It is a major declaration designed to foster alliances.

“The New Digital Age” is, beyond anything else, an attempt by Google to position itself as America’s geopolitical visionary — the one company that can answer the question “Where should America go?” It is not surprising that a respectable cast of the world’s most famous warmongers has been trotted out to give its stamp of approval to this enticement to Western soft power. The acknowledgments give pride of place to Henry Kissinger, who along with Tony Blair and the former C.I.A. director Michael Hayden provided advance praise for the book.

In the book the authors happily take up the white geek’s burden. A liberal sprinkling of convenient, hypothetical dark-skinned worthies appear: Congolese fisherwomen, graphic designers in Botswana, anticorruption activists in San Salvador and illiterate Masai cattle herders in the Serengeti are all obediently summoned to demonstrate the progressive properties of Google phones jacked into the informational supply chain of the Western empire.

The authors offer an expertly banalized version of tomorrow’s world: the gadgetry of decades hence is predicted to be much like what we have right now — only cooler. “Progress” is driven by the inexorable spread of American consumer technology over the surface of the earth. Already, every day, another million or so Google-run mobile devices are activated. Google will interpose itself, and hence the United States government, between the communications of every human being not in China (naughty China). Commodities just become more marvelous; young, urban professionals sleep, work and shop with greater ease and comfort; democracy is insidiously subverted by technologies of surveillance, and control is enthusiastically rebranded as “participation”; and our present world order of systematized domination, intimidation and oppression continues, unmentioned, unafflicted or only faintly perturbed.

The authors are sour about the Egyptian triumph of 2011. They dismiss the Egyptian youth witheringly, claiming that “the mix of activism and arrogance in young people is universal.” Digitally inspired mobs mean revolutions will be “easier to start” but “harder to finish.” Because of the absence of strong leaders, the result, or so Mr. Kissinger tells the authors, will be coalition governments that descend into autocracies. They say there will be “no more springs” (but China is on the ropes).

To Read the Rest

Monday, June 03, 2013

The Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street

Kevin Gosztola and Chase Madar -- Bradley Manning Trial: After 3 Years, Army Whistleblower Begins Court Martial Shrouded in Secrecy

Bradley Manning Trial: After 3 Years, Army Whistleblower Begins Court Martial Shrouded in Secrecy
Democracy Now

More than three years after he was arrested, Army whistleblower Bradley Manning goes on trial today accused of being behind the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history. Manning faces life in prison for disclosing a trove of U.S. cables and government documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. On Saturday, hundreds of Manning supporters rallied outside the barracks at Fort Meade, Maryland, where the trial will be held. We’re joined by two guests: Firedoglake reporter Kevin Gosztola, who is at Ft. Meade covering the trial; and attorney Chase Madar, author of "The Passion of Bradley Manning."

To Watch the Episode

"Almost Gone (The Ballad of Bradley Manning)" by Graham Nash and James Raymond

Even the Rain (Spain/Mexico/France: Icíar Bollaín, 2010)

"As a teacher, I'm not interested in just reproducing class after class of graduates who will get out, become successful, and take their obedient places in the slots that society has prepared for them. What we must do--whether we teach or write or make films--is educate a new generation to do this very modest thing: change the world. (15)"

---Zinn, Howard. "Stories Hollywood Never Tells." The Sun #343 (July 2004): 12-15.

Even the Rain (Spain/Mexico/France: Icíar Bollaín, 2010: 103 mins)

"2000 Cochabamba protests." Wikipedia (No Date)

Finnegan, William. "Leasing the Rain: The world is running out of fresh water, and the fight to control it has begun."

González, Jika. "Blurring the Past and Present." The Mantle (March 1, 2011)

Goodman, Amy. "Cochabamba, the Water Wars and Climate Change." Democracy Now (April 21, 2010)

Graeber, David. "Age of the Great Capitalist Empires (1450-1971 AD)." Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Brooklyn, NY: Melvillehouse, 2011: 307-360. [Professor has a copy]

"Howard Zinn: Historian/Playwright/Political Science." Dialogic (Ongoing archive of resources) [A quote by Howard Zinn is featured at the beginning of Even the Rain]

Kruse, Tom. "Images of the Cochabamba Water War." (February - April, 2000)

Land and Freedom (UK/Spain/Germany/Italy: Ken Loach, 1995: 109 mins)[Even the Rain director Iciar Bollain acts in this film]

"Leasing the Rain." Frontline: World (June 2002)

Lester, Toby. "1507: The Name America Appears on a Map." A New Literary History of America. ed. Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press, 2009: 1-5.[Your professor can get a copy]

Mann, Charles. "1491." The Atlantic (March 2002)

Olivera, Marcela. "The Cochabamba Water Wars: On the Tenth Anniversary of the Popular Uprising Against Bechtel and the Privatization of the City’s Water Supply." Democracy Now (April 19, 2010)

Olivera, Oscar. "Bechtel’s Privatization of Rainwater and Why Evo Morales Should Remember the Ongoing Struggle Over Water." Democracy Now (October 5, 2010)

Schultz, Jim. "The Cochabamba Water War and its Aftermath." Democracy Center (April 6, 2009)

---. " The Cochabamba Water Revolt, Ten Years Later: A decade after the streets of Cochabamba exploded in what became known as the Water Revolt, the people of Bolivia’s third largest city filled the streets once again to commemorate the anniversary of a grassroots victory that has become known around the world." Yes! (April 20, 2010)

---. "World Bank Forced Water Privatization On Cochabamba." Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Reposted on Common Dreams: July 15, 2000)

Sitrin, Marina. "Ruptures in imagination: Horizontalism, autogestion and affective politics in Argentina." Policy & Practice #5 (Autumn 2007)

Stone, Alan A. "Hello Columbus: Even the Rain." Boston Review (May/June 2001)

Various Authors. "Essay 1: Columbus/Even the Rain." Otherness Revisited (This is the blog of the MA course Theory and Criticism 2011/2012 of the Literary Studies Department, University of Amsterdam.)

Walsh, David. "Even the Rain and the need for dealing with complexity." World Socialist Web Site (October 2010)

"Water Privatization Case Study: Cochabamba, Bolivia." Public Citizen (No Date)

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Ireland/UK/Germany/Italy/Spain/France/Belgium/Switzerland: Ken Loach, 2006: 127 mins)[Screenplay by Paul Laverty the screenwriter for Even the Rain]

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Common Sense #219: Security Uber Alles

#219 - Security Uber Alles
Common Sense with Dan Carlin

Can a population ever have enough protection in the modern, violent 21st century world? Dan discusses the War on Terror and contends that its akin to an Enabling Act that legitimizes any level of security.

To Listen to the Episode

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Turkish Spring?: An Archive of Resources on the 2013 Protests

[MB: ongoing archive]

Turkey Protests Continue as Government Apologizes for Police Response (June 6th)

Mass protests are continuing in Turkey, despite a government apology for the police crackdown. In a bid to defuse public outrage that has sparked fiery demonstrations nationwide, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc expressed regret for the initial police response to protesters opposing the demolition of a pubic park. But he defended the use of force against protesters he accused of rioting.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc: "The use of excessive force shown against the people who initially started this protest with the motive of protecting the environment was wrong. And it was unfair. So I apologize to those citizens, I can definitely say that. But I do not think we need to apologize to those who create destruction of public property in the streets and who try to prevent the freedom of the people in the streets."
Hours after Arinc’s statement, clashes continued across Turkey overnight between protesters and police. Thousands remain at the protests’ epicenter, Istanbul’s Taksim Square. Source: Democracy Now Headline

June 5 Images from the Turkish Protests (Flickr: activstills)

Heartwarming Images from the Turkish Protests (Imgur archive)

Global Voices: Citizen Media Reporting from Turkey

Jay Cassano: The Right to the City Movement and the Turkish Summer (Jadaliyya)

Turkish Democracy Needs You! (in 45 languages!)

A Turkish Spring? Over 1,000 Injured as Anti-Government Protests Spread Outside of Istanbul (Democracy Now)

#occupygezi [Tumblr archive of images from the protests in Turkey]

Tarihinde Yayımlandı: What is Happenning in Istanbul? (İnsanlik Hali)

Steven Argue: Turkey, Casualties Mount as Corporate Media Blackout Continues (IndyBay)

Corey Doctorow -- Turkish Spring: Taksim Gezi Park protests in Istanbul (Boing Boing)

40,000 Turkish men and women march across the Bosphorus Bridge (from Asia to Europe) to join the protesters under police attack in occupied Gezi Park in Istanbul!

Erdoğan: End the crackdown now! (Petition)

Jacob Chamberlin - Will Growing Turkey Protests Set Off 'Summer of Discontent'?: Park occupation, police crackdown spawn widespread protests (Common Dreams)

Neil Young: Greatest Hits