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What should you consider when looking for the best web hosting plan? Important factors include disk space, data transfer, and programming language support. Make sure you get the plan that fits with your requirements.
In early 2010, Google started using page load speeds as one of the factors in how they determine a website's ranking, making fast, reliable hosting more important than ever. It used to be that the time it took for your website to load only affected one thing: whether potential customers stayed, or left.
Video: Trump’s DOJ Demands Personal Info On 1.3M Visitors to “DisruptJ20” Inauguration Protest Website
Activists from Russia's unregistered Pirate Party said their new hosting site will block visitors from IP addresses belonging to government agencies and other state bodies, and vowed to create a “blacklist” of persons known for pro-copyright stances.
The Pirate Party announced the initiative in a press release; in it, they claimed that there is no such thing as illegal information, but there is information that some state officials or corporate executives want to hide or restrict.
The activists also argued that the deteriorating state of freedom of information in Russia demanded immediate action, and announced a plan to “clean the web of parasites.” This includes the blocking of all IP addresses associated with state agencies and pro-copyright organizations, especially Russia's Safe Internet League.
The main idea behind the project is that if potential opponents of the freedom of information cannot access sites that are hosted by pirates, they will not have the legal justification to demand their closure.
The new hosting will offer services to anyone except those that the Pirate Party considers cyber-criminals – those who use it for spamming, phishing, carding and child pornography. The party vowed to ban such accounts without warning.
The party also asked those who share their views – or simply want to get even with their bosses at work – to report the IP addresses of the abovementioned users, and to identify IPs that are used by civil servants.
The idea is a controversial one, primarily due to the fact that according to new Russian laws, state consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor can block websites containing banned information at any level, including the provider’s, allowing site owners to contest the ban in court.
Authorities could therefore completely block the pirate hosting and its owners would be culpable, and required to disclose information on their website in court.
The Pirate Party openly declared that their project was a response to an initiative launched by the Safe Internet League, which requires providers in Central Russia's Kostroma region to allow access only to websites handpicked by the league’s experts. Users who want to browse beyond these limits would have to apply for permission.
The pirate hosting allows its users to get an anonymous server, virtual or dedicated. The service also reportedly includes legal support against copyright claims and if the need arises, protection against DDOS attacks or other hacker activities.
The hosting is a paid service with an as-yet-unannounced price structure. All revenues will be used for Pirate Party fundraising, the statement said.
This is not the first anti-copyright project by Russia's Pirate Party. In November, the group launched the RosKomSvoboda ('Russian Freedom Committee') service, which collects data on various sites blocked by the recently launched state register and suggests ways to bypass the restrictions and access the banned sites.
The Pirate Party has attempted to officially register with the Russian Justice Ministry after party registration rules were eased in 2012, but their application was turned down. Authorities said the name of the organization was the reason for the rejection, explaining that sea piracy is a criminal offense in Russia and therefore cannot be promoted.
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Designing a website may seem like a daunting task at first. With seemingly so much to do, it can be hard to figure out where to begin. With web design, as with a lot in life, it can be beneficial to create a checklist of everything you will need. That way, you can clearly see all that is required to design a website.
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The suit seeks to prosecute the owners of Texxxan.com and hosting company GoDaddy -- and end a despicable trend.
January 23, 2013 |
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In what is likely the first case of its kind, 23 women have joined a class-action lawsuit against the “revenge porn” website Texxxan.com.
Not sure what revenge porn is? Congratulations, you’re a good person.
Revenge porn is what you get when jilted exes and one-time hookups submit photos and videos of their sexual exploits for public consumption. While some of the material on these sites has been stolen by strangers off of phones and computers, all of it has one big thing in common: The women in these photos and videos didn’t consent to share them.
Hollie Toups, a 32-year-old resident of Beaumont, Texas, is one of those women. In addition to signing on to the lawsuit, she publicly came forward to discuss her experience with revenge porn in an effort to encourage other women to do the same.
As she told BetaBeat:
“I live in an extremely small town and the website was flooded with people that I knew,” Ms. Toups said. “Those of us on there go to the grocery store and everybody recognizes you. Not everybody says something, but you get a lot of like, ‘Hey, do I know you?’ or, ‘I recognize you from somewhere.’ But then you also get people that will just come out and say it.”
In addition to Texxxan.com, lawyers have also named Web hosting company GoDaddy.com in the suit:
“GoDaddy is profiting off of it,” said John S. Morgan, Ms. Toups’ lawyer. “The reality of it is at some level this issue of revenge porn has to become a public discussion and a legislative discussion and it raises issues of corporate responsibility. Why would an organization like GoDaddy want to give its name to this type of website?”
After discovering her photos on Texxxan.com, Toups contacted the site owner and asked him to remove them. “They replied and said they would be happy to remove the pictures for me if I would enter my credit card information,” she told BetaBeat. “I went from being depressed and embarrassed to being really pissed off.”
This kind of extortion is common with revenge porn sites, but Toups struggled to find a lawyer willing to represent her. After much searching, John S. Morgan, an attorney in Southeast Texas, agreed to help Toups build her case.
Many proprietors of revenge porn websites claim they are protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states that websites are not liable for content submitted by users. Morgan argues that because these sites advertise their content as being posted without the subject’s consent, they aren’t protected by this law.
But it isn’t just the website that Morgan is after; he intends to sue all those who signed up for a subscription on Texxxan.com, paying a monthly fee to get access to more personal information of the women in the photos.
Toups is optimistic that justice will be served through the suit, but is also glad to be talking openly about a problem so many women face in secret:
“I’ve been trying to figure out why this happened,” Ms. Toups said. “Maybe it happened to me so I could help someone. Several of the girls that I’ve been in contact with have been suicidal and I feel like if I had reached them sooner they would not even have attempted that. I’m one of the older ones–most of them are younger–so I felt somebody has to start it. And I knew that once I did even the ones who were scared would end up coming out.”
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In the world of internet business, when it comes to our various organizations, we are defined by the likes of our website. The way we choose to present the face of our organization on the internet is the way we will be perceived by all of our potential clients. Nothing is more important than how we create and market that image.
America is being suffocated to death by red tape. You are about to read about an 11-year-old girl in Illinois that had her cupcake business brutally shut down by government bureaucrats. Her name is Chloe Stirling and her crime was doing something that we used to applaud young people in America for doing. Instead of [...]
You are about to read some of the most shocking quotes that Barack Obama has ever uttered in public. A few of these have been widely circulated, but most of them are very obscure. Even though he claims to be a Christian, throughout his political career Obama has repeatedly attacked traditional Biblical Christianity and [...]
Dr. Ian Jenkins of Arian Cymru (Money Wales) has written two excellent articles on why Wales should have its own bank and how that might be accomplished. The shorter article is reprinted below, and the longer, more technical article is linked here.
Dr. Jenkins is hosting an event in Cardiff on September 26th titled “Banking and Economic Regeneration Wales,” at which Marc Armstrong, executive director of the Public Banking Institute, will be speaking, along with Ann Pettifor of the New Economics Foundation and several Welsh leaders. As Dr. Jensen states:
This is in an issue on which Wales could provide leadership on an EU-wide level, a matter in which a small nation could make a big difference.
That is also true for Ireland and Scotland, where interest in public banking is growing. I will be speaking on that subject at a series of seminars in Ireland on October 12th-15th (details here), and I spoke late last year in Scotland on the same subject (see my earlier article here).
Here is Dr. Jenkins’ perceptive piece, which applies as well to Ireland and Scotland.
Public Banking for Wales: Escaping the Extractive Model
The economic history of the past 30 years has been, by and large, that of an uncontrolled expansion of the financial sector at the direct expense of the so called ‘real’ economy’ of manufacturing and production. This expansion has been brought about by the hegemony of the free-market doctrines, based principally on fundamentally ideological beliefs in deregulation and privatisation, which have become known as ‘neo-Liberal’ or ‘neo-Classical’ economics.
As former US bank regulator William K. Black put it, ‘In the world we live in, finance has become the dog instead of the tail […] They have become a parasite’. The private banks have established themselves in this position through the control of the primary mechanism by which money is created within our system: the issuing of credit. In this paper I will aim to briefly outline how this credit function could be redirected from speculation and bubble creation, which constitute the dominant directions of credit issuance under private banking, towards more stable and sustainable areas which would serve the public interest instead of those of shareholders and bank CEOs. This is not a theoretical method, but rather one which throughout the post-WW II period saw the German Landesbanken facilitate the growth of the mittelstand sector of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs), as well as in the present day constituting the means by which the state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND) contributes significantly to North Dakota being the only US State to run a budget surplus throughout the post-2008 crisis.
In order for a productive economy to exist there must be adequate streams of affordable credit and it is the absence of such constructive investment which, I would submit, has been a vital contributing factor to the decline of the Welsh economy, and indeed that of the UK, in the past 30 years. Before continuing with this analysis it is worth briefly examining the current banking system and the effect of its operations on the real economy, in Wales as elsewhere.
Banking Now: The Extractive Model of Credit Creation
‘What is money and where does it come from?’ are, remarkably, questions rarely asked in mainstream economics and even less so by members of the public; yet the answers to these two questions hold one of the keys to understanding the (mal)functioning of our economic system and for devising a new, more democratic direction. As the great American economist G.K. Galbraith observed in his fascinating study of the history of banking Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went, ‘The study of money, above all other fields in economics, is the one in which complexity is used to disguise truth or to evade truth, not to reveal it’ (Galbraith: 1975, p.1), stating later in the same text that, ‘The process by which banks create money is so simple that the mind is repelled’ (Galbraith: 1975, p.18). So what is money? The instinctive answer to this question for most people is that money is the physical notes and coins produced by the government; they may even go on to say that this money is produced at the Royal Mint at Llantrisant, ironically making this physical money one of an increasingly diminishing range of Welsh exports. Yet physical money of this sort, in the form of notes and coins, only accounts for approximately 3% of money in circulation. This version of money is indeed the product of government, as under the Bank Charter Act 1844 the power to create banknotes (and coins) became the exclusive preserve of the Bank of England, a power exercised in agreement with Westminster. Since the so-called ‘Nixon shock’ of 1971 ended the existing Bretton Woods system of international financial exchange by unilaterally cancelling the direct convertibility of the United States dollar to gold the banknotes of the Bank of England/UK government have been essentially what is known as a ‘fiat’ or ‘soft’ currency; that is, a monetary unit which is not backed by any ‘hard’ commodity such as gold and, consequently, is limited in quantity only by the inflationary consequences of overproduction.
So what accounts for the other 97% of money in circulation? To answer this question it is necessary to understand the nature of credit issuance through fractional reserve banking, which is neatly encapsulated by the Statement of Martin Wolf that, ‘The essence of the contemporary monetary system is the creation of money, out of nothing, by private banks’ often foolish lending’ (Wolf: 2010)[i]. This process is profoundly counter-intuitive to most members of the public who would assume that banks lend the deposits they receive, but this is not the case at all: the money issued through the process of creating a loan is created out of nothing, subject only to the rules for capital reserves contained in the Basel Accords. Two publications produced by the Bank of England make the current mechanism of money creation clear:
By far the largest role in creating broad money is played by the banking sector [...] When banks make loans they create additional deposits for those that have borrowed the money. (Bank of England: 2007, p.377)
The second publication, a transcript of speech in 2007 by Paul Tucker the Executive Director (Markets) for the Bank of England and a Member of the Monetary Policy Committee also states that:
Subject only but crucially to confidence in their soundness, banks extend credit by simply increasing the borrowing customer’s current account […] That is, banks extend credit by creating money.
The current system is a product of the fact that the Bank Charter Act 1844 prohibited banks from printing banknotes, but did not prohibit the issuing of money by ledger entry through the making of loans: with the advent of electronic systems in the past thirty years this facility to ‘print money’ by making entries into borrowers accounts with the stroke of a keypad has expanded significantly. Currently, then, there is a system in place whereby the power of money creation is largely in the hands of private corporations who are able to make sizeable profits through the levying of interest for their performance of this function. This system also leaves the private banks with the decision as to which sectors of the economy should be afforded lines of credit, and in the past thirty years this has moved increasingly away from the productive ‘real economy’ and towards speculation and bubble creation: with the results we now experience. Part of the deposit base of private banks is the income of local and national government and this leads to a situation wherein private corporations use public money as a deposit base for speculation and lending for speculation (See Fig.1).
Source: The Public Banking Institute (http://publicbankinginstitute.org/background.htm)
The Idea of a State Bank: Re-investment of Interest from Productive Credit Provision
The best current example of a functioning state bank is that of the Bank of North Dakota (BND) in the United States. The way in which the bank functions is best described in its own words:
The deposit base of BND is unique. Its primary deposit base is the State of North Dakota. All state funds and funds of state institutions are deposited with Bank of North Dakota, as required by law. Other deposits are accepted from any source, private citizens to the U.S. government.
This framework provides the state of North Dakota with what is most needed for a local economy to thrive: affordable (and available) credit for SMEs and resources for the improvement of infrastructure. Under the state banking model the benefit derived from the interest accrued in the credit-issuing process is returned to the state and can be re-invested or spent in accordance with the public interest, instead of being paid to shareholders in dividends or given away in absurd bonuses to bankers who merely carry out a largely mechanical function, however subject to mystification and obfuscation: with myopic incompetence in many cases in the last thirty years (See Fig.2).
Source: The Public Banking Institute (http://publicbankinginstitute.org/background.htm)
In the case of North Dakota this has resulted in the state being the only US state to run a budget surplus throughout the financial crisis post-2008 and this must make their model at least worth considering in a Welsh context.
The Report of the Silk Commission 2012
In Part 1 of its remit The Silk Commission was asked to consider the National Assembly for Wales’s current financial powers in relation to taxation and borrowing and its report was produced in November 2012. The commission concluded that the Welsh Assembly government should be granted borrowing powers, basing this conclusion partly on ‘international evidence’ drawn from a single World Bank publication from 1999: making this ‘evidence’ neither ideologically neutral, being the product of an organisation which is the éminence grise of global neo-liberalism, nor current, with many of its conclusions being weighed and found wanting by the post-2008 financial crisis. The findings of the commission contains no consideration whatsoever of the role of banks in money creation through credit issuance, and the attendant problems of misallocation of investment, and no investigation of the success of public banking in the international context, for instance in the BRIC economies, or of the potential role of public banking in Wales. For this reason I feel that it is important that these issues be brought into the debate on the Welsh economy, as to ignore it would be to exclude a potentially democratising and sustainable banking system from the national conversation and would merely make any granting of borrowing powers to the Welsh Assembly Government nothing more than a new stream of income for the private banking system. If all that ‘responsibility’ means in the fiscal context is for Wales as a political unit to submit itself to the ‘discipline’ of the bond markets, then this is indeed a very sorry direction in which the politicians of the Welsh Assembly are taking both their current constituents, and those yet to be born.
There is a widely perceived need for change to the economic system today and especially for reform of the way in which banking operates, with the majority of the population feeling, rightly, that there is ‘something wrong’ with the way in which the economy, and particularly banking, currently functions. I believe that a public bank, properly instituted with all due diligence and care for regulation and democratic supervision, can provide one of the possible directions of sustainable change which is so needed in Wales and beyond. The model suggested by the Welsh Conservatives, as it stands, would be no substitute for a real public bank: a bank which would recoup its profits, gleaned from interest on productive loans to the real economy, for the good of the people of Wales. A true Welsh public bank would be in a position to reinvest its profits in socially beneficial areas like education, infrastructure and the health service, instead of funding bonuses and maximising shareholder dividends for a privileged few in the increasingly rarefied world of finance.
Ahmad, J (1999) ‘Decentralising borrowing powers’ World Bank
Berry, S., Harrison, R., Thomas, R., de Weymarn, I. (2007) ‘Interpreting movements in Broad Money’, Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin 2007 Q3, p. 377. Available at http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/ quarterlybulletin/qb070302.pdf
The Bank of North Dakota: http://banknd.nd.gov/about_BND/index.html
Brown, Ellen, Web of Debt (Baton Rouge: Third Millenium Press, 2012); The Public Bank Solution (Baton Rouge: Third Millenium Press, 2013).
Commission on Devolution in Wales (Silk Commission) (2012) ‘Empowerment and Responsibility: Financial Powers to Strengthen Wales’ (full report at: http://commissionondevolutioninwales.independent.gov.uk/)
Tucker, P. (2008). ‘Money and Credit: Banking and the macro-economy’, speech given at the monetary policy and markets conference, 13 December 2007, Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin 2008, Q1, pp. 96–106. Available at: http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/speeches/2007/speech331.pdf
Welsh Conservatives, A Vision for Welsh Investment (January 2013) Available at: http://yourvoiceintheassembly.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Invest-Wales-FINAL.pdf
Wolf, Martin, ‘The Fed is right to turn on the tap’, The Financial Times, 9/3/2010
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NB: Hassan Rouhani, a reform-minded moderate cleric and former nuclear negotiator under President Khatami, will be Iran's new president. There is talk in Washington of direct US-Iran talks in light of Rouhani coming to power. Rouhani campaigned on a platform of trying to “normalize” relations with the West, and he even made statements like, “It is good to have centrifuges running, provided people's lives and livelihoods are also running." Given Rouhani’s stance, did the Iranian public treat these elections as a public referendum on the nuclear issue? And how did Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei interpret the results?
KZ: To be honest with you, I should confess that the June 14 presidential elections in Iran was firstly an examination for the current of extremist rightists who believed that the country's affairs could be managed through maintaining hostility and animosity with the Western world, prolonging the nuclear controversy and relying on skimpy business and trade with Russia and China. The candidate of this stream, Mr. Saeed Jalili, simply attracted an insignificant minority of the votes, 11.37%. I'm not saying that succumbing to the irrational demands of the world powers is a solution to Iran's problems, but the political parties and streams supporting Mr. Jalili, who was supposedly Dr. Rouhani's main contender, but came third in the final vote, irresistibly believed that the nuclear standoff with the West was not something significant and crucial for the future of the country. This is while Dr. Rouhani and his massive supporters had astutely come to the conclusion that the nuclear issue was the country's main concern and the Achilles heel that was paralyzing the country's economy, political structure and international stature.
As a result, Dr. Rouhani based his campaign slogans on his foreign policy priorities which included the normalization of relations with the West in general, and the United States in particular, interaction with the outside world, improving Iran's ties with its neighboring countries and finally bringing the controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program to an end. As you precisely mentioned, the recent elections in Iran have been a public referendum on the nuclear issue. Even the most ordinary Iranian citizen had recognized that the staggering inflation, unusual supply of money in the society, the skyrocketing increase in the price of consumer goods, housing and automobiles, the unprecedented devaluation of Iran's currency, Rial, and the annoying unemployment of the educated youth all stemmed from mismanagement in Iran's nuclear program. According to some critics of President Ahmadinejad's foreign policy, if nuclear energy is our inalienable right, which unquestionably is, then cheap and inexpensive foodstuff, medicine and medical services, safe and secure transportation, a renewed aviation fleet, high-speed internet connection, employment, housing, free education and proper income are our inalienable rights, as well. As for the Supreme Leader, he doesn't seem to be dissatisfied with the results, but of course his favorite president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is leaving the office, and after all, Dr. Hassan Rouhani is a reformist, and Ayatollah Khamenei has been traditionally unfriendly with the reform-minded politicians, unlike the late founder of Islamic Revolution Imam Khomeini.
KZ: Well, as you may have noted, President Rouhani implied during his first press conference on June 17 that the age of suspending uranium enrichment has passed. He says this because Rouhani is not alone in making decisions about Iran's nuclear program. We have the parliament's (Majlis) influential Foreign Policy and National Security Committee which is consisted of a number of conservative lawmakers mostly opposed to the reformist movements in Iran who boldly and resolutely resist the decisions of the president if they wish, the state TV which is supervised by the representative of the Supreme Leader and has a great impact on the course of political developments in the country, and above all, the Supreme Leader himself, who has the final say on the most of foreign policy issues, particularly the nuclear issue and the possible direct negotiations with the United States.
So, suspending the enrichment of uranium which is seen as an unforgivable crime in Iran, cannot be put on agenda. However, everything depends on the craftsmanship of President Rouhani who has demonstrated that as a diplomat, he is able to handle the affairs in such a way that all the disputes can be settled in a short period of time. He may give certain concession to the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, UK and the U.S.) which neither the Supreme Leader nor the parliament hardliners can criticize or deny. For example, he may accept a temporary suspension of uranium enrichment in return for the freezing of the banking and gold sanctions. As the next step, he may put forward the offer that Iran can ship a certain amount of its low-enriched uranium (LED) to France or Russia and receive fuel rods for using in Tehran Research Reactor.
This step can be reciprocated by the lifting of EU's oil embargo against Iran. Finally, Iran can promise to suspend its 20% enrichment of uranium, and continue enriching uranium to the extent of 3.5%, as it was doing before 2003. This can be a promising and serious sign that Iran is determined to resolve the nuclear standoff. And as a reward, the United States and European Union can lift all the sanctions and move toward the full normalization of relations with Iran and settle the remaining disputes on such cases as human rights, Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the U.S. support for the anti-Iran terrorist cult MKO. In this path, both parties should learn to forget about the past grievances and only contemplate on the future. Such an approach would guarantee Iran's rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to have a peaceful nuclear program, and will alleviate the concerns of the international community regarding the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear activities.
KZ: The electoral process in Iran had not been frequently challenged and questioned by the Western powers prior to the 2009 presidential election which was marred with the allegations of vote-rigging. It was surely an irretrievable damage to Iran's public image in the world; however, we should scientifically investigate and figure out whether the reelection of President Ahmadinejad was fraudulent or not. At any rate, this was the only election in the Islamic Republic's history which was labeled with vote-rigging, and I cannot say for sure if the allegations leveled by the West are true. Of course we had several parliamentary and presidential elections in which the reformists came to power; so it's not the case that those who are elected are necessarily the hand-picked choices of the Supreme Leader.
At least in the 2013 election, it was demonstrated that those who undermine Iran's electoral process have been thinking wrongfully. A reformist president was elected who certainly was not the favorite choice of the Supreme Leader. The portrayal of Iran's presidential elections by the Western mainstream media resembles their general depiction of the Iranian society, their attitude toward the cultural, social and political developments in Iran and their viewpoint toward the Iranian lifestyle. They cannot detach themselves from the cliches which they have been parroting about Iran. This lopsided, impartial and biased portrayal of Iran has caused millions of American and European citizens to think of Iran as a retarded, uncivilized, deserted and miserable country with people who are not familiar with the representations of the modern civilization. Of course they don't allow their audience to know that Iran is a country which had once stood atop the peaks of human civilization, science, literature and "decent" way of living...
KZ: Well, it's wrong to evaluate the performance of politicians in black and white. Like every other president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has had remarkable contributions to his society, and of course pitfalls and shortcomings which deteriorated the lives of the Iranians across the country. However, I think for the majority of Iranians, especially those who live in the urban areas, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's tenure will be remembered as a period of economic hardships, political tensions and social restrictions as manifested in the closure of newspapers, cultural associations like the House of Cinema and the Association of Iranian Journalists.
Ahmadinejad, as the second non-cleric president of Iran's history, could have left a memorable legacy for the Iranian people, but by selecting incompetent managers, disallowing the journalists and experts to critique and evaluate his performance, taking up an aggressive and confrontational foreign policy and attending to the issues which were not relevant to him, tarnished his own reputation. But please don't forget that once he was in power, I always supported him and his administration against the spates of attacks being unleashed on him by the Western media, but now that he is leaving office, it's time to talk about the tough 8 years we had with him more transparently. Let's bear this in mind, that criticizing Ahmadinejad is not equivalent to being opposed to the Iranian government or the Islamic system. We all stand by our country and defend it against the ill-wished, ill-mannered enemies, but now, we want a peaceful and constructive interaction with the world instead of enmity and hostility.
KZ: Unquestionably, the Islamic Revolution of 1979 was a turning point in the course of Iran's contemporary history. It brought to an end frequent years of Iranian government's subservience and obedient to the United States. The revolution emerged out of several years of civil protests against the tyrannical government of Mohammad Reza Shah. The Pahlavi dynasty had blatantly denied the Iranian citizens their basic political, social and economic rights. The whole country was kept in a constant state of underdevelopment and backwardness, the equal distribution of wealth was not on the government's agenda and the economic situation of the country was really deplorable. Although the foreign diplomacy of Iran was vivacious thanks to the strong relationships the court had with the White House, people were usually dissatisfied with their living conditions. The government was unable to meet the people's demands and provide them with the facilities they needed for a moderate life.
Following the revolution, the number of universities, schools, hospitals, roads, sports stadiums, housing units, department stores, cinemas, theaters, public libraries, factories, power plants and other infrastructures needed for the development of the country increased significantly and a new movement began for the renovation of the country's infrastructures. You may not believe, but prior to the 1979 revolution, people in tens of major cities and thousands of villages in Iran didn't have access to electricity, drinking water, fossil fuels and safe roads. It was the revolution that swayed the government officials to think of new solutions for improving the people's livelihoods and enhancing the infrastructures.
Imam Khomeini, the late founder of Islamic Revolution, was a reform-minded spiritual leader, and this is why certain extremist insiders at the top of the Iran's political echelon are afraid of his thoughts and his approach toward the way of managing the country's affairs. You see that two of the close allies of Imam Khomeini, namely Mirhossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi were unexpectedly put under house arrest after they protested the results of the 2009 presidential elections. Their only crime was that they run against the incumbent President Ahmadinejd, otherwise, I don't see any reason for their unwarranted imprisonment. Albeit it should be added that the United States and its European allies also irreparably betrayed the reform movement by explicitly supporting Mousavi and Karroubi in the 2009 election and calling them opposition leaders, and this gave the hardliners in Iran an excuse to stigmatize them and deprive them of their political rights and somehow exclude them from the political scene.
So, back to business, I think Imam Khomeini founded a new political system which was supposed to respond to the people's material and worldly needs while helping them realize religious and moral sublimity and remaining committed to the principles of morality and ethics. This system of government revived the lost and forgotten human values which the secular world had consigned to oblivion and even sometimes opposed. This is the main reason for the Western powers' opposition to the Islamic Republic. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran began championing the cause of the oppressed Muslim nations, especially the people of Palestine who had been subject to Israeli occupation for decades. The Islamic Republic was predicated on resisting hypocrisy and double standards; something pervasive and ubiquitous in the Western powers' behavior. These standards cannot be tolerated and even condoned by the Western powers whose major policies are always blended with portions of hypocrisy and duplicity. This is why the Islamic Republic has so many adversaries in the world, even among the Islamic states of the Middle East. Of course the recent election has changed the international and domestic attitudes toward Iran. The new government will surely receive a more popular support from the Iranian people, and it will help the government in the nuclear negotiations to have the upper hand. The election has also signaled Iranian people's craving for moderation and rationality, instead of extremism and radicalism.
KZ: Undisputably, the Iranian government is right if it's dubious toward the United States and its presumed efforts to reach out to Iran. Iran has always expressed willingness to hold talks with the United States on equal footings and based on mutual respect. But the point is that whenever some rational elements in the power structure of the two countries decided to facilitate the talks, the United States killed the chances of a fruitful and beneficial negotiation by imposing sanctions. Look at the recent sanctions bill which the House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed, by a vote of 400 to 20. The new Iranian president, as I'm answering to your questions, has not sworn in yet. But the U.S. lawmakers have imposed a new round of sanctions on Iran. What's the logic and rationale behind this new round of sanctions? How do the U.S. Congressmen justify the new oil embargo while the new Iranian president hasn't ever had the chance to sit on his chair in the presidential palace and issue the first presidential decree, which is the appointment of his ministers? So you see that radicalism and fanaticism have always harmed Iran and the United States. Of course the new round of sanctions, if approved by the Senate and signed into law by the president, will deliver a lethal blow to President Rouhani's call for moderation and interaction with the West.
It is for sure that certain U.S. administrations, especially the Reagan and Carter administrations, and the George W. Bush's administration, had intentions for implementing the policy of regime change in Iran. Supporting, financing and aiding the terrorist cult Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO) which has killed some 40,000 Iranians since the 1979 revolution is one of the signs indicating that the U.S. government, at certain junctures of time, pursued a policy of regime change in Iran. But there are indications that President Obama has changed this policy and that Washington has come to its senses and realized that the age of revolutions in Iran is over.
KZ: Well, if AIPAC successfully convinces the U.S. Congress and government to ratify this bill, I can say for sure that there will never ever be a single speck of chance for a peaceful solution to the controversy over Iran's nuclear program. The Zionists will extinguish all the possible ways of reconciliation between Iran and the United States to the detriment of Washington. It's the United States which will lose a probable ally, and it is Europe which will be deprived of a lucrative market for free trade and business. By the way; let me clarify something. At this juncture, the Iranian people feel sympathetically toward the American people and their culture and civilization. But by pursuing the Zionist agenda, the Americans will even lose the minimal support they enjoy here in Iran.
KZ: There are several challenges ahead of President Rouhani and his team. First of all, he should sweep away the legacy of extremism that has been left in Iran's public sphere. He should bring back morality to the Iranian society. In these 8 years, the conservative media have been relentlessly attacking the reformists and their supporters, calling them seditious, mobsters and criminal. This approach should change and the conservative media should learn that there's a limit to the toleration of their destructive approach. I have always criticized these media for repeatedly insulting the reformist leaders and millions of people supporting them, saying that such media talk of their political opponents as if they are criminal Zionists massacring the defenseless people of Palestine in the Occupied Territories and the Gaza Strip!
Accordingly, we need to address the concerns of the cultural activists, authors, journalists, musicians, movie-makers and other artists who need greater freedoms, a better environment for creating rich and exalted artworks and participating in political activities without any restrictions. Secondly, the concern Rouhani and his cabinet should address is the nation's economic woes. The country is currently facing an astounding hyperinflation, unprecedented cut in the export of oil and petrochemical products, citizens' decreased purchasing power, etc. And finally, we have the foreign policy challenges. We need to settle our unnecessary disputes with not only the Western powers, but the Arab world, our neighbors and finally the United States. We need to find a viable solution for the nuclear controversy, which will surely solve many of the nations' problems.
KZ: Of course the appointment of Dr. Zarif as Iran's new foreign minister marks a significant change in Iran's foreign policy. Zarif is a reform-minded, moderate diplomat, like Rouhani himself, and he can certainly make effective contributions to a negotiated solution for Iran's nuclear deadlock. But please note that the change in Iran's foreign policy has already started, even before President Rouhani takes office. Officials from more than 40 countries are slated to attend his inauguration ceremony. Isn't this a major breakthrough for him, while he hasn't yet sworn in as the president? So, it sounds like the world is embracing Dr. Rouhani as a new president who has come to power with a slogan of moderation and constructive interaction with the world. Of course the change which I expect is that we will not be hearing adventurous statements by the foreign ministry officials, we will not find our president being left with an empty hall while addressing the UN General Assembly, we will not find our president being booed in the Columbia University and we will not find our president being called a hawk by those who are the real hawks of our world today. Iran will be hosting dignitaries from all around the world, especially given that it has assumed the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement, but I'm sure that the whole world, including the European nations, will come to reconcile their differences with us.
Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at [email protected].
The papal conclave is not the only news out of Italy involving men closely gathered in a room.
March 12, 2013 |
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Today, Catholic Cardinals will assemble at the Sistine Chapel to elect the next Pope. But that’s not the only news out of Italy involving men closely gathered in a room. It turns out the Holy See purchased 20 shares of an apartment building housing Europe’s largest gay sauna.
The mega-spa Europa Multiclub boasts of king Turkish baths, Finnish saunas, waterfalls, whirlpools and many other amenities. It’s website describes a “comfortable world … created by males and for males only.” So, the College of Cardinals has at least one thing in common with its gay buildingmate.
Senior Cardinal Ivan Dias lives in a 12-room apartment one floor above the club, known for hosting “bear nights,” in which “a hairy, overweight pastor of souls, is free to the music of his clergyman, remaining in a thong, because he wants to expose body and soul,” the Independent says. Dias probably won’t be in attendance, given his public attacks against the LGBT community. The Indian cardinal believes gays and lesbians can be cured of their “unnatural tendencies” through the “sacrament of penance.”
The Vatican reportedly paid €20 million ($26,020,000) for its share of the Rome apartment block in 2008. The Independent reports the Church avoided paying taxes on the properties, listing them as part of the Holy City, thanks to the previous Berlusconi administration.
At time of publication, the Vatican has yet to comment on the gay sauna next door to 18 church-owned properties.
Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.
Published time: March 12, 2013 11:35
Russian antimonopoly officials have launched an inquiry into Google for allegedly violating correspondence privacy in their advertising, Russian media reported. Google denied the charges, claiming that e-mails are reviewed by a computer, not a human.
Google’s webmail service Gmail will be investigated by Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) for alleged unfair business practices and violating laws concerning the privacy of email correspondences, Izvestia daily revealed on Tuesday. The investigation was launched after multiple appeals by Russian citizens who were targeted by contextual advertising generated by Google’s web service engine, FAS representatives said.
Contextually targeted advertising is nothing new – initially, this technology used keywords that users had entered into the search engine. Google’s search engine advertising (SEA) now reads users’ emails automatically to fish out valuable information on what exactly the person is currently preoccupied with, or searching for.
Google’s office in Moscow did not deny that Gmail analyses its users’ emails: “It is the advertisement that enables us to provide services for free. We constantly work to make the ads safe, relevant and unobtrusive,” Google spokesperson Alla Zabrovskaya said. “Surely, there is nobody reading your mails or your account to pick up ads for you. It is automatic assessment algorithm similar to spam filtration that chooses ads.”
Gmail violates Russian law?
Google’s ‘mind-reading’ capabilities could violate Russian laws concerning the secrecy of private correspondence. Article 138 of Russia’s Criminal Code promises fines or corrective labor for “violation of secrecy of correspondence, telephone conversations, postal, telegraph, or other messages of citizens.” The use of “special technical means for secret collection of information” implies a maximum $10,000 fine, or up to four month behind bars.
In this case, a license agreement between Gmail and its clients cannot serve as an excuse for such practices, as long as the emails are a part of a Russian citizen’s private life, explained Sergey Kopylov, head of the legal department at Russia’s Internet Technical Center.
According to the Russian Civil Code, a license agreement is kind of contract; as long as a contract does not obey existing legislation, it must be considered void without any legal consequences, Kopylov told Izvestia.
Google vs Microsoft
Russia is hardly the first to suspect that Google is spying on those who use its services. In 2010, many users expressed frustration at how Google placed ads around their personal communications in Gmail. Since then, the company has further mastered this advertising technique.
Google’s rivals couldn’t miss the opportunity to turn the controversial innovation against the Internet giant. In November 2012, Microsoft accused Google Shopping of delivering search results based not on relevance, but according to the amount the web stores pay to promote their goods. As an alternative, Microsoft proposed its own Bing Shopping search engine, a partner of eBay-owned Shopping.com.
On February 6, 2013, Microsoft launched an aggressive anti-Google marketing campaign with the website Scroogled.com, which lashes out at Google’s questionable business practices. “Think Google respects your privacy? Think again,” Scroogled.com says, pointing out that “Google goes through every Gmail that's sent or received, looking for keywords so they can target Gmail users with paid ads.”
Microsoft’s campaign is part of its efforts to promote its own Outlook email service, which Microsoft maintains does not violate users’ privacy. Microsoft has also asked users to sign a petition to stop Google from going through personal emails to sell ads. The company’s counter-campaign came after the web giant announced its Gmail service reached 425 million active monthly users in June 2012, surpassing Hotmail to become the world’s largest email service.
‘Using Gmail is your own choice’
Russia’s leading web companies that own mail services prefer to keep a safe distance from anything that could be construed as inspecting personal emails.
Russian internet giant Yandex believes that such privacy intrusion only irritates clients. And Mail.ru Group President Aleksey Katkov told Izvestia that his company does not use information from personal correspondences “for a number of reasons… We believe that kind of targeting [clients] is less effective than our own technologies,” Katkov said.
Russian MP Ilya Kostunov, an IT security expert, does not doubt that Google has violated correspondence secrecy laws: “Well, Internet companies do collect information about the users – but they do not read personal e-mails. I’m going to address to FAS so that they clear out if this is deceptive trade practice infringing the interests of Russian internet companies.”
Kostunov told Izvestia he is preparing legislation requiring civil servants to use only government webmail services for official correspondence, instead of using privately owned addresses registered at Gmail, Yandex or Mail.ru.
“I’d like to see inviolability of correspondence guaranteed by the state instead of Google,” he told Izvestia.
Kaspersky Lab Co-Founder and Director General of InfoWatch Natalya Kasperskaya also does not doubt that Google has broken the law, but explained that using Gmail is voluntary: “[Google’s Gmail] is free for anybody. Don’t like it – don’t use it. But if you do use it – be ready to be targeted with context ads. Your personal data is going to be combined with data from other Google services and analyzed. [Google Maps] will suggest your whereabouts. The photos of you and your relatives will be found at Picasa [Google’s photo hosting]. Your friends and acquaintances will be tracked via Google+ [social network], your preferences can be tracked by your web inquiries. The number of your credit card will be known when you pay on Android market. The more Google services you use – the less privacy you have left.”
Quantitative easing (QE) is supposed to stimulate the economy by adding money to the money supply, increasing demand. But so far, it hasn’t been working. Why not? Because as practiced for the last two decades, QE does not actually increase the circulating money supply. It merely cleans up the toxic balance sheets of banks. A real “helicopter drop” that puts money into the pockets of consumers and businesses has not yet been tried. Why not? Another good question . . . .
When Ben Bernanke gave his famous helicopter money speech to the Japanese in 2002, he was not yet chairman of the Federal Reserve. He said then that the government could easily reverse a deflation, just by printing money and dropping it from helicopters. “The U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent),” he said, “that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost.” Later in the speech he discussed “a money-financed tax cut,” which he said was “essentially equivalent to Milton Friedman’s famous ‘helicopter drop’ of money.” Deflation could be cured, said Professor Friedman, simply by dropping money from helicopters.
It seemed logical enough. If the money supply were insufficient for the needs of trade, the solution was to add money to it. Most of the circulating money supply consists of “bank credit” created by banks when they make loans. When old loans are paid off faster than new loans are taken out (as is happening today), the money supply shrinks. The purpose of QE is to reverse this contraction.
But if debt deflation is so easy to fix, then why have the Fed’s massive attempts to pull this maneuver off failed to revive the economy? And why is Japan still suffering from deflation after 20 years of quantitative easing?
On a technical level, the answer has to do with where the money goes. The widespread belief that QE is flooding the economy with money is a myth. Virtually all of the money it creates simply sits in the reserve accounts of banks.
That is the technical answer, but the motive behind it may be something deeper . . . .
An Asset Swap Is Not a Helicopter Drop
As QE is practiced today, the money created on a computer screen never makes it into the real, producing economy. It goes directly into bank reserve accounts, and it stays there. Except for the small amount of “vault cash” available for withdrawal from commercial banks, bank reserves do not leave the doors of the central bank.
According to Peter Stella, former head of the Central Banking and Monetary and Foreign Exchange Operations Divisions at the International Monetary Fund:
[B]anks do not lend “reserves”. . . . Whether commercial banks let the reserves they have acquired through QE sit “idle” or lend them out in the internet bank market 10,000 times in one day among themselves, the aggregate reserves at the central bank at the end of that day will be the same.
This point is also stressed in Modern Monetary Theory. As explained by Prof. Scott Fullwiler:
Banks can’t “do” anything with all the extra reserve balances. Loans create deposits—reserve balances don’t finance lending or add any “fuel” to the economy. Banks don’t lend reserve balances except in the federal funds market, and in that case the Fed always provides sufficient quantities to keep the federal funds rate at its . . . interest rate target.
Reserves are used simply to clear checks between banks. They move from one reserve account to another, but the total money in bank reserve accounts remains unchanged. Banks can lend their reserves to each other, but they cannot lend them to us.
QE as currently practiced is simply an asset swap. The central bank swaps newly-created dollars for toxic assets clogging the balance sheets of commercial banks. This ploy keeps the banks from going bankrupt, but it does nothing for the balance sheets of federal or local governments, consumers, or businesses.
Central Bank Ignorance or Intentional Sabotage?
Another Look at the Japanese Experience
That brings us to the motive. Twenty years is a long time to repeat a policy that isn’t working.
UK Professor Richard Werner invented the term quantitative easing when he was advising the Japanese in the 1990s. He says he had something quite different in mind from the current practice. He intended for QE to increase the credit available to the real economy. Today, he says:
[A]ll QE is doing is to help banks increase the liquidity of their portfolios by getting rid of longer-dated slightly less liquid assets and raising cash. . . . Reserve expansion is a standard monetarist policy and required no new label.
Werner contends that the Bank of Japan (BOJ) intentionally sabotaged his proposal, adopting his language but not his policy; and other central banks have taken the same approach since.
In his book Princes of the Yen (2003), Werner maintains that in the 1990s, the BOJ consistently foiled government attempts at creating a recovery. As summarized in a review of the book:
The post-war disappearance of the military triggered a power struggle between the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Japan for control over the economy. While the Ministry strove to maintain the controlled economic system that created Japan’s post-war economic miracle, the central bank plotted to break free from the Ministry by reverting to the free markets of the 1920s.
. . . They reckoned that the wartime economic system and the vast legal powers of the Ministry of Finance could only be overthrown if there was a large crisis – one that would be blamed on the ministry. While observers assumed that all policy-makers have been trying their best to kick-start Japan’s economy over the past decade, the surprising truth is that one key institution did not try hard at all.
Werner contends that the Bank of Japan not only blocked the recovery but actually created the bubble that precipitated the downturn:
[T]hose central bankers who were in charge of the policies that prolonged the recession were the very same people who were responsible for the creation of the bubble. . . . [They] ordered the banks to expand their lending aggressively during the 1980s. In 1989, [they] suddenly tightened their credit controls, thus bringing down the house of cards that they had built up before. . . .
With banks paralysed by bad debts, the central bank held the key to a recovery: only it could step in and create more credit. It failed to do so, and hence the recession continued for years. Thanks to the long recession, the Ministry of Finance was broken up and lost its powers. The Bank of Japan became independent and its power has now become legal.
In the US, too, the central bank holds the key to recovery. Only it can create more credit for the broad economy. But reversing recession has taken a backseat to resuscitating zombie banks, maintaining the feudal dominion of a private financial oligarchy.
In Japan, interestingly, all that may be changing with the election of a new administration. As reported in a January 2013 article in Business Week:
Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party swept back into power in mid-December by promising a high-octane mix of monetary and fiscal policies to pull Japan out of its two-decade run of economic misery. To get there, Prime Minister Abe is threatening a hostile takeover of the Bank of Japan, the nation’s central bank. The terms of surrender may go something like this: Unless the BOJ agrees to a 2 percent inflation target and expands its current government bond-buying operation, the ruling LDP might push a new central bank charter through the Japanese Diet. That charter would greatly diminish the BOJ’s independence to set monetary policy and allow the prime minister to sack its governor.
From Bankers’ Bank to Government Bank
Making the central bank serve the interests of the government and the people is not a new idea. Prof. Tim Canova points out that central banks have only recently been declared independent of government:
[I]ndependence has really come to mean a central bank that has been captured by Wall Street interests, very large banking interests. It might be independent of the politicians, but it doesn’t mean it is a neutral arbiter. During the Great Depression and coming out of it, the Fed took its cues from Congress. Throughout the entire 1940s, the Federal Reserve as a practical matter was not independent. It took its marching orders from the White House and the Treasury—and it was the most successful decade in American economic history.
To free the central bank from Wall Street capture, Congress or the president could follow the lead of Shinzo Abe and threaten a hostile takeover of the Fed unless it directs its credit firehose into the real economy. The unlimited, near-zero-interest credit line made available to banks needs to be made available to federal and local governments.
When a similar suggestion was made to Ben Bernanke in January 2011, however, he said he lacked the authority to comply. If that was what Congress wanted, he said, it would have to change the Federal Reserve Act.
And that is what may need to be done—rewrite the Federal Reserve Act to serve the interests of the economy and the people.
Webster Tarpley observes that the Fed advanced $27 trillion to financial institutions through the TAF (Term Asset Facility), the TALF (Term Asset-backed Securities Loan Facility), and similar facilities. He proposes an Infrastructure Facility extending credit on the same terms to state and local governments. It might offer to buy $3 trillion in 100-year, zero-coupon bonds, the minimum currently needed to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. The collateral backing these bonds would be sounder than the commercial paper of zombie banks, since it would consist of the roads, bridges, and other tangible infrastructure built with the loans. If the bond issuers defaulted, the Fed would get the infrastructure.
Quantitative easing as practiced today is not designed to serve the real economy. It is designed to serve bankers who create money as debt and rent it out for a fee. The money power needs to be restored to the people and the government, but we need an executive and legislature willing to stand up to the banks. A popular movement could give them the backbone. In the meantime, states could set up their own banks, which could leverage the state’s massive capital and revenue base into credit for the local economy.
Ellen Brown is an attorney and president of the Public Banking Institute. In Web of Debt, her latest of eleven books, she shows how a private, privileged banking oligarchy has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Her websites are http://WebofDebt.com, http://EllenBrown.com, and http://PublicBankingInstitute.org. The Public Banking Institute is hosting a conference June 2-4, 2013, in San Rafael, CA; details here.
(Photo: Center for Strategic & International Studies / Flickr)There was a scarcely noted but classic moment in the Senate hearings on the nomination of John Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism “tsar,” to become the next CIA director. When Senator Carl Levin pressed him repeatedly on whether waterboarding was torture, he ended his reply this way: “I have a personal opinion that waterboarding is reprehensible and should not be done. And again, I am not a lawyer, senator, and I can't address that question.”
How modern, how twenty-first-century American! How we’ve evolved since the dark days of Medieval Europe when waterboarding fell into a category known to all as “the water torture”! Brennan even cited Attorney General Eric Holder as one lawyer who had described waterboarding as “torture,” but he himself begged off. According to the man who was deputy executive director of the CIA and director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center in the years of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and knew much about them, the only people equipped to recognize torture definitively as “torture” are lawyers. This might be more worrisome, if we weren’t a “nation of lawyers” (though it also means that plummeting law school application rates could, in the future, create a torture-definition crisis).
To look on the positive side, Brennan’s position should be seen as a distinct step forward from that of the Justice Department officials under the Bush administration who wrote the infamous “torture memos” and essentially left the definition of “torture” to the future testimony of the torturer. (“[I]f a defendant [interrogator] has a good faith belief that his actions will not result in prolonged mental harm, he lacks the mental state necessary for his actions to constitute torture.”)
And keep in mind that Brennan has good company for his position. Recently, the Open Society Institute published the most comprehensive investigation yet of the offshore system of injustice that George W. Bush and his top officials set up to kidnap “terror suspects,” imprison them without charges or end, and torture and abuse them, or “render” them to other countries willing to do the same. It turns out that 54 nations (other than the U.S.) took part in setting up, aiding, and maintaining this American global gulag. It’s a roster of dishonor worth noting: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.
Remarkably, according to the Open Society report, just one of those states evidently had a lawyer on hand who could actually recognize torture, even if well after the fact. “Canada,” its authors write, “is the only country to issue an apology to an extraordinary rendition victim, Maher Arar, who was extraordinarily rendered to, and tortured in, Syria.”
Given this, Greg Grandin, TomDispatch regular and author of Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Lost Jungle City, explores a geographical miracle: of those 54 countries, only two, the U.S. and Canada, came from the Western Hemisphere! Tom
The Latin American Exception: How a Washington Global Torture Gulag Was Turned Into the Only Gulag-Free Zone on Earth
By Greg Grandin
The map tells the story. To illustrate a damning new report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detentions and Extraordinary Rendition,” recently published by the Open Society Institute, the Washington Post put together an equally damning graphic: it’s soaked in red, as if with blood, showing that in the years after 9/11, the CIA turned just about the whole world into a gulag archipelago.
Back in the early twentieth century, a similar red-hued map was used to indicate the global reach of the British Empire, on which, it was said, the sun never set. It seems that, between 9/11 and the day George W. Bush left the White House, CIA-brokered torture never saw a sunset either.
All told, of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54 participated in various ways in this American torture system, hosting CIA “black site” prisons, allowing their airspace and airports to be used for secret flights, providing intelligence, kidnapping foreign nationals or their own citizens and handing them over to U.S. agents to be “rendered” to third-party countries like Egypt and Syria. The hallmark of this network, Open Society writes, has been torture. Its report documents the names of 136 individuals swept up in what it says is an ongoing operation, though its authors make clear that the total number, implicitly far higher, “will remain unknown” because of the “extraordinary level of government secrecy associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition.”
No region escapes the stain. Not North America, home to the global gulag’s command center. Not Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. Not even social-democratic Scandinavia. Sweden turned over at least two people to the CIA, who were then rendered to Egypt, where they were subject to electric shocks, among other abuses. No region, that is, except Latin America.
What’s most striking about the Post’s map is that no part of its wine-dark horror touches Latin America; that is, not one country in what used to be called Washington’s “backyard” participated in rendition or Washington-directed or supported torture and abuse of “terror suspects.” Not even Colombia, which throughout the last two decades was as close to a U.S.-client state as existed in the area. It’s true that a fleck of red should show up on Cuba, but that would only underscore the point: Teddy Roosevelt took Guantánamo Bay Naval Base for the U.S. in 1903 “in perpetuity.”
Two, Three, Many CIAs
How did Latin America come to be territorio libre in this new dystopian world of black sites and midnight flights, the Zion of this militarist matrix (as fans of the Wachowskis' movies might put it)? After all, it was in Latin America that an earlier generation of U.S. and U.S.-backed counterinsurgents put into place a prototype of Washington’s twenty-first century Global War on Terror.
Even before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, before Che Guevara urged revolutionaries to create “two, three, many Vietnams,” Washington had already set about establishing two, three, many centralized intelligence agencies in Latin America. As Michael McClintock shows in his indispensable book Instruments of Statecraft, in late 1954, a few months after the CIA’s infamous coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected government, the National Security Council first recommended strengthening “the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries."
In the region, this meant three things. First, CIA agents and other U.S. officials set to work “professionalizing” the security forces of individual countries like Guatemala, Colombia, and Uruguay; that is, turning brutal but often clumsy and corrupt local intelligence apparatuses into efficient, “centralized,” still brutal agencies, capable of gathering information, analyzing it, and storing it. Most importantly, they were to coordinate different branches of each country’s security forces -- the police, military, and paramilitary squads -- to act on that information, often lethally and always ruthlessly.
Second, the U.S. greatly expanded the writ of these far more efficient and effective agencies, making it clear that their portfolio included not just national defense but international offense. They were to be the vanguard of a global war for “freedom” and of an anticommunist reign of terror in the hemisphere. Third, our men in Montevideo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Asunción, La Paz, Lima, Quito, San Salvador, Guatemala City, and Managua were to help synchronize the workings of individual national security forces.
The result was state terror on a nearly continent-wide scale. In the 1970s and 1980s, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Operation Condor, which linked together the intelligence services of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile, was the most infamous of Latin America’s transnational terror consortiums, reaching out to commit mayhem as far away as Washington D.C., Paris, and Rome. The U.S. had earlier helped put in place similar operations elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere, especially in Central America in the 1960s.
By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans had been tortured, killed, disappeared, or imprisoned without trial, thanks in significant part to U.S. organizational skills and support. Latin America was, by then, Washington’s backyard gulag. Three of the region’s current presidents -- Uruguay’s José Mujica, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega -- were victims of this reign of terror.
When the Cold War ended, human rights groups began the herculean task of dismantling the deeply embedded, continent-wide network of intelligence operatives, secret prisons, and torture techniques -- and of pushing militaries throughout the region out of governments and back into their barracks. In the 1990s, Washington not only didn’t stand in the way of this process, but actually lent a hand in depoliticizing Latin America’s armed forces. Many believed that, with the Soviet Union dispatched, Washington could now project its power in its own “backyard” through softer means like international trade agreements and other forms of economic leverage. Then 9/11 happened.
“Oh My Goodness”
In late November 2002, just as the basic outlines of the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition programs were coming into shape elsewhere in the world, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flew 5,000 miles to Santiago, Chile, to attend a hemispheric meeting of defense ministers. "Needless to say,” Rumsfeld nonetheless said, “I would not be going all this distance if I did not think this was extremely important." Indeed.
This was after the invasion of Afghanistan but before the invasion of Iraq and Rumsfeld was riding high, as well as dropping the phrase “September 11th” every chance he got. Maybe he didn’t know of the special significance that date had in Latin America, but 29 years earlier on the first 9/11, a CIA-backed coup by General Pinochet and his military led to the death of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende. Or did he, in fact, know just what it meant and was that the point? After all, a new global fight for freedom, a proclaimed Global War on Terror, was underway and Rumsfeld had arrived to round up recruits.
There, in Santiago, the city out of which Pinochet had run Operation Condor, Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials tried to sell what they were now terming the “integration” of “various specialized capabilities into larger regional capabilities” -- an insipid way of describing the kidnapping, torturing, and death-dealing already underway elsewhere. “Events around the world before and after September 11th suggest the advantages,” Rumsfeld said, of nations working together to confront the terror threat.
“Oh my goodness,” Rumsfeld told a Chilean reporter, “the kinds of threats we face are global.” Latin America was at peace, he admitted, but he had a warning for its leaders: they shouldn’t lull themselves into believing that the continent was safe from the clouds gathering elsewhere. Dangers exist, “old threats, such as drugs, organized crime, illegal arms trafficking, hostage taking, piracy, and money laundering; new threats, such as cyber-crime; and unknown threats, which can emerge without warning.”
“These new threats,” he added ominously, “must be countered with new capabilities.” Thanks to the Open Society report, we can see exactly what Rumsfeld meant by those “new capabilities.”
A few weeks prior to Rumsfeld’s arrival in Santiago, for example, the U.S., acting on false information supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, detained Maher Arar, who holds dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship, at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and then handed him over to a “Special Removal Unit.” He was flown first to Jordan, where he was beaten, and then to Syria, a country in a time zone five hours ahead of Chile, where he was turned over to local torturers. On November 18th, when Rumsfeld was giving his noon speech in Santiago, it was five in the afternoon in Arar’s “grave-like” cell in a Syrian prison, where he would spend the next year being abused.
Ghairat Baheer was captured in Pakistan about three weeks before Rumsfeld’s Chile trip, and thrown into a CIA-run prison in Afghanistan called the Salt Pit. As the secretary of defense praised Latin America’s return to the rule of law after the dark days of the Cold War, Baheer may well have been in the middle of one of his torture sessions, “hung naked for hours on end.”
Taken a month before Rumsfeld’s visit to Santiago, the Saudi national Abd al Rahim al Nashiri was transported to the Salt Pit, after which he was transferred “to another black site in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was waterboarded.” After that, he was passed on to Poland, Morocco, Guantánamo, Romania, and back to Guantánamo, where he remains. Along the way, he was subjected to a “mock execution with a power drill as he stood naked and hooded,” had U.S. interrogators rack a “semi-automatic handgun close to his head as he sat shackled before them.” His interrogators also “threatened to bring in his mother and sexually abuse her in front of him.”
Likewise a month before the Santiago meeting, the Yemini Bashi Nasir Ali Al Marwalah was flown to Camp X-Ray in Cuba, where he remains to this day.
Less than two weeks after Rumsfeld swore that the U.S. and Latin America shared “common values,” Mullah Habibullah, an Afghan national, died “after severe mistreatment” in CIA custody at something called the “Bagram Collection Point.” A U.S. military investigation “concluded that the use of stress positions and sleep deprivation combined with other mistreatment... caused, or were direct contributing factors in, his death.”
Two days after the secretary’s Santiago speech, a CIA case officer in the Salt Pit had Gul Rahma stripped naked and chained to a concrete floor without blankets. Rahma froze to death.
And so the Open Society report goes... on and on and on.
Rumsfeld left Santiago without firm commitments. Some of the region’s militaries were tempted by the supposed opportunities offered by the secretary’s vision of fusing crime fighting into an ideological campaign against radical Islam, a unified war in which all was to be subordinated to U.S. command. As political scientist Brian Loveman has noted, around the time of Rumsfeld’s Santiago visit, the head of the Argentine army picked up Washington’s latest set of themes, insisting that “defense must be treated as an integral matter,” without a false divide separating internal and external security.
But history was not on Rumsfeld’s side. His trip to Santiago coincided with Argentina’s epic financial meltdown, among the worst in recorded history. It signaled a broader collapse of the economic model -- think of it as Reaganism on steroids -- that Washington had been promoting in Latin America since the late Cold War years. Soon, a new generation of leftists would be in power across much of the continent, committed to the idea of national sovereignty and limiting Washington’s influence in the region in a way that their predecessors hadn’t been.
Hugo Chávez was already president of Venezuela. Just a month before Rumsfeld’s Santiago trip, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the presidency of Brazil. A few months later, in early 2003, Argentines elected Néstor Kirchner, who shortly thereafter ended his country’s joint military exercises with the U.S. In the years that followed, the U.S. experienced one setback after another. In 2008, for instance, Ecuador evicted the U.S. military from Manta Air Base.
In that same period, the Bush administration’s rush to invade Iraq, an act most Latin American countries opposed, helped squander whatever was left of the post-9/11 goodwill the U.S. had in the region. Iraq seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of the continent’s new leaders: that what Rumsfeld was trying to peddle as an international “peacekeeping” force would be little more than a bid to use Latin American soldiers as Gurkhas in a revived unilateral imperial war.
Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show the degree to which Brazil rebuffed efforts to paint the region red on Washington’s new global gulag map.
A May 2005 U.S. State Department cable, for instance, reveals that Lula’s government refused “multiple requests” by Washington to take in released Guantánamo prisoners, particularly a group of about 15 Uighurs the U.S. had been holding since 2002, who could not be sent back to China.
“[Brazil’s] position regarding this issue has not changed since 2003 and will likely not change in the foreseeable future,” the cable said. It went on to report that Lula’s government considered the whole system Washington had set up at Guantánamo (and around the world) to be a mockery of international law. “All attempts to discuss this issue” with Brazilian officials, the cable concluded, “were flatly refused or accepted begrudgingly.”
In addition, Brazil refused to cooperate with the Bush administration’s efforts to create a Western Hemisphere-wide version of the Patriot Act. It stonewalled, for example, about agreeing to revise its legal code in a way that would lower the standard of evidence needed to prove conspiracy, while widening the definition of what criminal conspiracy entailed.
Lula stalled for years on the initiative, but it seems that the State Department didn’t realize he was doing so until April 2008, when one of its diplomats wrote a memo calling Brazil’s supposed interest in reforming its legal code to suit Washington a “smokescreen.” The Brazilian government, another Wikileaked cable complained, was afraid that a more expansive definition of terrorism would be used to target “members of what they consider to be legitimate social movements fighting for a more just society.” Apparently, there was no way to “write an anti-terrorism legislation that excludes the actions” of Lula’s left-wing social base.
One U.S. diplomat complained that this “mindset” -- that is, a mindset that actually valued civil liberties -- “presents serious challenges to our efforts to enhance counterterrorism cooperation or promote passage of anti-terrorism legislation.” In addition, the Brazilian government worried that the legislation would be used to go after Arab-Brazilians, of which there are many. One can imagine that if Brazil and the rest of Latin America had signed up to participate in Washington’s rendition program, Open Society would have a lot more Middle Eastern-sounding names to add to its list.
Finally, cable after Wikileaked cable revealed that Brazil repeatedly brushed off efforts by Washington to isolate Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, which would have been a necessary step if the U.S. was going to marshal South America into its counterterrorism posse.
In February 2008, for example, U.S. ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobell met with Lula’s Minister of Defense Nelson Jobin to complain about Chávez. Jobim told Sobell that Brazil shared his “concern about the possibility of Venezuela exporting instability.” But instead of “isolating Venezuela,” which might only “lead to further posturing,” Jobim instead indicated that his government “supports [the] creation of a ‘South American Defense Council’ to bring Chavez into the mainstream.”
There was only one catch here: that South American Defense Council was Chávez’s idea in the first place! It was part of his effort, in partnership with Lula, to create independent institutions parallel to those controlled by Washington. The memo concluded with the U.S. ambassador noting how curious it was that Brazil would use Chavez’s “idea for defense cooperation” as part of a “supposed containment strategy” of Chávez.
Monkey-Wrenching the Perfect Machine of Perpetual War
Unable to put in place its post-9/11 counterterrorism framework in all of Latin America, the Bush administration retrenched. It attempted instead to build a “perfect machine of perpetual war” in a corridor running from Colombia through Central America to Mexico. The process of militarizing that more limited region, often under the guise of fighting “the drug wars,” has, if anything, escalated in the Obama years. Central America has, in fact, become the only place Southcom -- the Pentagon command that covers Central and South America -- can operate more or less at will. A look at this other map, put together by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, makes the region look like one big landing strip for U.S. drones and drug-interdiction flights.
Washington does continue to push and probe further south, trying yet again to establish a firmer military foothold in the region and rope it into what is now a less ideological and more technocratic crusade, but one still global in its aspirations. U.S. military strategists, for instance, would very much like to have an airstrip in French Guyana or the part of Brazil that bulges out into the Atlantic. The Pentagon would use it as a stepping stone to its increasing presence in Africa, coordinating the work of Southcom with the newest global command, Africom.
But for now, South America has thrown a monkey wrench into the machine. Returning to that Washington Post map, it’s worth memorializing the simple fact that, in one part of the world, in this century at least, the sun never rose on US-choreographed torture.
On Nov. 14, 2012, tens of thousands of students flooded the streets of Montreal to express opposition to the proposed tuition hikes. Iain Brannigan, one of approximately 65,000 participants, often took part in the city’s frequent, massive student protests — but this day was uniquely exciting for him. As the University of Ottawa international-development student marched to the tune of “À qui la rue?” (Whose streets? ) “À nous la rue!” (Our streets!), he knew that the words were being chanted simultaneously — in a dozen different languages — by students around the globe.
It was the first day of the week-long Global Education Strike, during which thousands of students refused to attend school in Quebec, France and Belgium, while thousands more participated in solidarity demonstrations in Thailand, England, Indonesia, Italy and California. Only some of Brannigan’s comrades knew about the synchronicity, but he was well aware of it. For four years he had been a user of the little-known, unglamorous website where the global demonstration had been coordinated: ism-global.net, better known as the International Student Movement.
For all students, everywhere
The website has served as a communication platform since 2008, where activists have coordinated eight international actions. The International Student Movement has active members in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Balkans, and functions as a rich reservoir of multimedia news on the ever-expanding global student movement. Although the International Student Movement is explicitly a platform for autonomous coordination and not an organization itself, most of its users have united around a joint statement that lays out the community’s shared values.
“[We] have been protesting against the increasing commercialization and privatization of public education, and fighting for free and emancipatory education,” it explains. “We strive for structures based on direct participation and nonhierarchical organization through collective discussion and action.”
If the International Student Movement as a collective has an agenda of its own, it is to help students in many different places realize that they are part of the same struggle. It’s an idea that is already in the minds of many student leaders: that their protest is not only to reclaim their own education from profit-seeking institutions, but also to reshape the community of students that they are fighting for — all students, everywhere.
A history of tech-roots organizing
The International Student Movement is riding a wave of global education protests. In 2010, British students struck back against austerity measures. In 2011, Chilean students frightened university administrators around the world by sparring with security forces in protest of neoliberal education policies. In 2012, Quebec universities organized the largest student strike in the country’s history: a successful six-month protest, including a 300,000-person demonstration, which halted proposed tuition hikes. Over the last few years, less-recognized student movements in Russia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Croatia, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Italy and Swaziland have helped fill in a now finely-pixelated picture of an emerging anti-austerity global student movement. And while the website wasn’t central in the organization of all of these actions, its developers hope that the site will increasingly help connect these national efforts, allowing more people to see how social ills from New York City to Athens share conspicuously similar symptoms.
One architect of the tech-roots machine was Mo Schmidt, the International Student Movement’s founder and one of its administrators. He was a graduate student in Sociology and Economics at the University of Marburg in Germany in 2008 before so-called global grassroots activism really entered public consciousness. (This happened around 2009 when Bill McKibben’s 350.org orchestrated the “world’s most widespread day of political action” in the lead up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.)The International Student Movement is also part of a technological shift in the way protest movements are organized and quantified. Since the late 2000s, tech-savvy activists have recognized that such methods of coordination like convergences could be updated to keep decision-making local but make the impact global: pairing technology and grassroots organizing to construct a (rather buggy) global tech-roots machine. For example, the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance is fusing the local-global connection, while groups like Take the Square and the trending #GlobalNoisemovement are flexing global power — the latter turning local pot-banging protests into an international symphony. Of course, part of the impetus for this shift comes from the increasing globalization of the corporate-political world itself and the growing recognition that, to disable this global machine, activists are going to have to update their toolkits.
Schmidt was fed up with what he described as the “commercialization of education.” So he put out a call, focusing exclusively on “groups that work on an autonomous level, not attached to any political parties or labor unions.” With the help of a large, global, education-related mailing list that he gained access to, Schmidt found other students and educators who wanted an independent voice, including a web-savvy Irish elementary school teacher. The energy snowballed, and the dispersed group held its first action on Nov. 5, 2008, with participation around Europe and the United States, as well as in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A site for and by activists
For such a potentially powerful tool, ism-global.net is not as dazzling as one might expect. In mid-September, when I logged onto one of the International Student Movement’s weekly “global chats,” I was underwhelmed. The site was designed with a rudimentary dichromatic frame populated by links to organizations (the many “friends of ISM”) on one side and a Twitter feed on the other, followed by a long list of multimedia blog posts by someone named Mo. It struck me as a typical site for and by activists: functional and requiring some patience. But after a while, I did learn to navigate (and appreciate) this sprawling resource.
In the chat room, “moMarburg” (who I later learned was Mo Schmidt), laid out the agenda:
<moMarburg> so far we have the following agenda proposal: TOP1: round of introduction TOP2: local/regional news and updates TOP3: Q&As on the Global Education Strike TOP4: video project TOP5: communication TOP6 : global noise (Oct.13) TOP7: open space
Next, the international introductions began:
<snowhat-qc> Elias from quebec, student at laval university
<uecse[MOR]> we’re nabil belkabir, basma bakri, kenza benmoussa and anas hmam, Rabat (Morocco)
<Mexico> Teacher and student, Mexican global link
<Peter_Vienna> Hi, i’m Peter, studying in Vienna, soon Berlin.
<SM> I am from West Bengal (India) and I have been long connected with you vis gmail
<flort> Hi i am Flor and i am a student in Albania
<timus3> kk – Tim, UK student (Bristol). Anything else?
Although it was a small group using a relatively bare-bones structure, the content was powerful. I heard stories not reported elsewhere about the resurgent Moroccan education movement and Mexico’s #YoSoy132 — for which opposing censorship is central to the struggle — from students on the ground.
At one point, a user asked for further instructions on how to participate in the Global Education Strike, but Schmidt explained that there was no central authority for the action. This point — that the ISM has a decentralized and non-hierarchical structure — is paramount for him.
“A certain vision and political ideology are reflected in the structure itself,” he explained. “There are no mechanisms on the ISM that would justify one person having a different status than another person.”
The emphasis on decentralized control, autonomy and horizontality resembles the prefigurative anarchic ethos of movements like Occupy Wall Street and Spain’s 15M movement, and Schmidt noted similar challenges.
“To many activists, the concept of actually being a platform and not an organization is rather new,” he said. “They are used to having to work in organizations with hierarchical structures.”
So far, consensus-based decision-making over the platform has been tricky — yet ultimately effective. In 2009, for example, when users decided that a joint statement was useful, it was circulated for a full 10 months for feedback. Finally, it was accepted by 100 groups in 40 countries with no rejections. With the anonymity of the Internet, accountability is also complicated, and the International Student Movement has had some difficulty finding administrative volunteers to keep the site running. The open-access platform also leaves campaigns vulnerable to disruption, but, at least so far, divisive voices have been drowned out naturally when they are too one-sided.
Despite the need for troubleshooting, the International Student Movement has had some real wins.
In Croatia in 2009, assemblies and occupations that were coordinated locally as part of an International Student Movement week of action kicked off a student movement that included the occupation of 20 universities in eight cities. Activists in Croatia used the slogan “one world, one struggle,” which was christened over the International Student Movement site (and now student activists frequently send news and photos to #1world1struggle).
The International Student Movement has also made global student solidarity more feasible. In Swaziland in April of 2011, Maxwell Dlamini and others in the Swaziland National Union of Students were imprisoned and tortured because of their involvement in protests inspired by the Egyptian uprising. This prompted a solidarity campaign, which made international headlines, coordinated through the platform.
The International Student Movement has also provided a network, information and sometimes even an inspirational boost for individual users. Brannigan, the University of Ottawa activist, met students around Canada at an ISM-North America convergence in November of 2011 just before the first mass mobilization in Montreal for the Maple Spring.
When Brannigan went to Germany as part of an international research program, he met with Mo Schmidt and other activists.“Thanks to these links,” he wrote in an email, “our student union was able to play a big role … in support and solidarity throughout the Maple Spring,” which included sending an Ottawa contingent to Quebec’s mass November 22 demonstration.
The platform provided a similar pathway into the student movement for Lindsay Curtis, a master’s student at Sacramento State University who is currently serving in the Peace Corps. She went from feeling apathetic to being an activist in 2010 while witnessing the attack on public education at UC Riverside during her undergraduate studies.
“I discovered ISM later that year,” she said. “That’s when I realized there were other people, worldwide, who cared about change just as much as I did. That’s when I swung into high gear and knew being an activist would always be my main job.”
Later, when Curtis visited Greece during the Syntagma Square occupation in 2011, she used ism-global.net to get minute-by-minute updates and to contact student activists in Greece to meet and discuss the occupation.
Questions for a new era
The International Student Movement may be rather basic and inaccessible to those who aren’t already active student leaders, but this four-year-old experiment is forcing users to think critically about the forthcoming era of tech-roots activism. It raises questions about the role of corporate-owned social media in grassroots activism, the challenges of horizontal structures and the strategies necessary for building power in the face of globalized, market-based educational institutions.
For active members of the International Student Movement, part of the answer to the question of building power lies in fostering local-global synchronicity. Over the course of November 23, Schmidt counted 150 University of Marburg students who were occupying the university senate’s monthly meeting and hosting a “strike-café” on the state of education in Germany. That same night, Schmidt scrolled through the 124 photos of Global Education Strike activities from around the globe that he had compiled into a Facebook album.
Which was the more important achievement? To Schmidt, it was the relationship between the two.
“People focus a lot on governments as the root of the problem: parties and individual politicians. But by connecting and creating an identity with a struggle on a global and not just a local level, you get away from that,” he explained. “You focus on the structures on a global level that are causing the problems on the local level. To me, it’s directly connected to the economic system, and by connecting globally we make those structures visible in some way.”
While it’s tempting to get excited about the potential of global connectivity — tech-enabled pan-studentism! Millennials of the world unite! — it’s important to remember the barriers to a universal identity. The Internet diminishes the importance of geographic proximity and increases the importance of affinity, but the global student identity still raises big questions about community; should students from Marburg identify first as Germans, students or something else?
This newfound freedom to choose one’s associations may both haunt and liberate millennials as the generation stumbles its way forward into the tech-roots era.
On Saturday, I wrote about the numerous New York City officials (including multiple members of the US House of Representatives) who have predictably signed onto the Alan-Derwshowitz-led attack on academic freedom at Brooklyn College. This group of Israel advocates and elected officials is demanding that the college's Political Science department rescind its sponsorship of an event featuring two advocates of the BDS movement aimed at stopping Israeli occupation and settlements.In 1999, then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani threatened to cut off funds for the Brooklyn Museum unless it withdrew art exhibits he found "offensive". Photograph: AP Photo/Gino Domenico
The threat to academic freedom posed by this growing lynch mob is obvious: if universities are permitted to hold only those events which do not offend state officials and "pro-Israel" fanatics such as Alan Dershowitz, then "academic freedom" is illusory. But on Sunday, that threat significantly intensified, as a ranking member of the New York City Council explicitly threatened to cut off funding for the college if his extortionate demands regarding this event are not met. From a letter to BC President Karen Gould, issued by Council Assistant Majority Leader Lew Fidler and signed by nine other members of the City Council (the full letter is embedded here):
"Among this City's diversity - and the student body of Brooklyn College - there are a significant number of people who would, and do, find this event to be offensive. . . .
"A significant portion of the funding for CUNY schools comes directly from the tax dollars of the people of the State and City of New York. Every year, we legislators are asked for additional funding to support programs and initiatives at these schools and we fight hard to secure those funds. Every one of those dollars given to CUNY, and Brooklyn College, means one less dollar going to some other worthy purpose. We do not believe this program is what the taxpayers of our City — many of who would feel targeted and demonized by this program — want their tax money to be spent on.
"We believe in the principle of academic freedom. However, we also believe in the principle of not supporting schools whose programs we, and our constituents, find to be odious and wrong."
These officials are expressly stating that no college or university is permitted to hold events that contain views that are "offensive" or which these officials "find to be odious and wrong" without having their funding terminated. How can anyone not be seriously alarmed by this? These threats are infinitely more destructive than any single academic event could ever possibly be.
Few people in New York had trouble understanding this threat when it was posed by a loathed GOP Mayor. Indeed, this current controversy is a replica of the most extreme efforts by official authoritarians to suppress ideas they dislike. In particular, New York City liberals and others vehemently objected when conservative Mayor Rudy Giuliani threatened to cut off city funding for art museums that exhibited works of art which Giuliani found offensive.
Here is what then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani said back in 1999 when he threatened, as the New York Times put it, "to cut off all city subsidies to the Brooklyn Museum of Art unless it cancels next week's opening of a British art exhibition that features, among other works, a shark suspended in a tank of formaldehyde, a bust of a man made from his own frozen blood and a portrait of the Virgin Mary stained with a clump of elephant dung":
"You don't have a right to government subsidy for desecrating somebody else's religion. And therefore we will do everything that we can to remove funding for the Brooklyn Museum until the director comes to his senses and realizes that if you are a government-subsidized enterprise, then you can't do things that desecrate the most personal and deeply held views of people in society. I mean, this is an outrageous thing to do."
The modern-day successors to Giuliani are the New York City officials now threatening the funding of Brooklyn College for exactly the same reasons and based on exactly the same rationale. Back then, liberals were furious at the GOP Mayor's bullying tactics, correctly arguing that his threat to terminate funding was a serious threat to basic freedoms; as First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams put it at the time:
"Punishing the Brooklyn Museum by seeking to remove its funding because the Mayor disapproves of what he perceives is the message of its art is at war with the First Amendment. The Mayor has every right to denounce the exhibition. He should understand, however, that the First Amendment limits what he can do to retaliate against art of which he disapproves."
After the Museum refused to withdraw the "offensive" exhibits and Giuliani made good on his threats, a federal judge ultimately ruled that the New York mayor "violated the First Amendment when he cut city financing and began eviction proceedings against the Brooklyn Museum of Art for mounting an exhibition that the mayor deemed offensive and sacrilegious." The judge, Nina Gershon of the US District Court in Brooklyn, wrote in her ruling ordering Giuliani to end his official attacks on the museum [emphasis added]:
"There is no federal constitutional issue more grave than the effort by government officials to censor works of expression and to threaten the vitality of a major cultural institution as punishment for failing to abide by governmental demands for orthodoxy."
The applicability of that rationale to the current controversy is obvious. Regardless of your views of BDS or Israel, the last thing anyone should want is for state officials to be able to dictate what academic events can and cannot be held on campuses. It's odious and threatening for exactly the same reason Giuliani's bullying tactics were. Some academics, such as Scott Lemieux and Kieran Healy have spoken out in defense of BC's academic freedom, but nowhere near as many as should given the threats this campaign poses to their own academic freedom. As is so often the case, when the issue is Israel, many advocates fall strangely mute.
At least back then, Giuliani was honest: he wanted to cut off funds to museums exhibiting art that he personally found offensive to his religion. By contrast, what's so noxious about the campaign aimed at BC is the glaring pretense of it all. As corrupted and dangerous as the stated "principle" is - that colleges should have their public funding terminated if they sponsor events with offensive ideas - this would never be applied consistently. Indeed, it's inconceivable to imagine this level of official mobilization on any issue other than Israel. This is about using the power of the state to suppress criticisms of and activism against the Israeli government in academia - and nothing else.
To see how true that is, just imagine if the BC Political Science department had sponsored an equally one-sided event on the BDS movement, but invited only BDS opponents and hard-core Israel defenders. Does anyone think that even a single one of these cowardly, dishonest political officials would have uttered a peep of protest on the ground that colleges shouldn't sponsor one-sided events concerning controversial issues or which air views that people in the City and the student body find "offensive"? Please. To ask the question is to mock it.
Indeed, as I noted on Saturday, Alan Dershowitz himself - who offends large numbers of people - has spoken without opposition at this very same Brooklyn College at the invitation of the Political Science department and not one of these city officials spoke out against that or threatened the college's funding over it. Beyond that, when a controversy erupted last year at the University of Pennsylvania over a pro-BDS event sponsored by students, that university's Political Science department (which had pointedly refused to sponsor the pro-BDS event) formally sponsored an event for Dershowitz to speak without any opposition, and nobody raised these fabricated, disingenuous concerns over the need to only hold "balanced" events and for academic departments to avoid "controversial" stances. That includes Dershowitz, who claimed to me on Friday that he "would oppose a pro Israel event being sponsored by a department" but - needless to say - never objected, at least not publicly, when the UPenn Political Science department did exactly that by inviting him to speak about Israel without opposition.
Plainly, this entire controversy has only one "principle" and one purpose: to threaten, intimidate and bully professors, school administrators and academic institutions out of any involvement in criticisms of Israel. The claim that this is driven by the belief that colleges should avoid taking positions on controversial issues is a ridiculous joke. Yesterday, the besieged BC College President Gould wrote a letter to the school's Hillel organization about the controversy, and in it, she stated:
"You have asked that I state unequivocally the college's position on the BDS movement, and I have no hesitation in doing so. As president of Brooklyn College, I can assure you that our college does not endorse the BDS movement nor support its call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, nor do I personally."
Do you think a single New York City official or Dershowitz or anyone else will object to her official opposition to BDS on behalf of herself and the college, by claiming that this makes BC students who support BDS feel unwelcome and that university officials shouldn't take sides in controversial political disputes? Of course not, because those "principles" are pure pretext. Nobody believes or cares about the notion that colleges and professors, in general, should avoid controversial issues or refrain from sponsoring one-sided academic events (which they do constantly: here's an article on a speech I gave last year at UPenn, speaking alone, expressing many controversial views, at an event formally sponsored by the school's Religious Studies Department; here's an article where I did the same at an event sponsored by the University of Missouri Law School last year). As Political Science Professor Scott Lemieux put it, this campaign poses "threats to academic freedom, based on 'principles' nobody believes."
This is about only one controversial issue (Israel) and about suppressing only one side of that issue (criticisms of and activism against Israeli occupation and settlements). Just as it is extraordinary that a nominated Defense Secretary in the US has to take repeated vows of fealty to Israel and spend most of his confirmation hearing discussing not the US but that foreign country, it is truly extraordinary to watch "liberal" officials in the largest city in the US expressly threaten the funding of a college for the crime of holding an event that is critical of Israel (MSNBC's Chris Hayes, who admires - and has previously had on his show - several of the New York members of Congress who have joined this Dershowitz-led campaign, yesterday lambasted their conduct aimed at BC as "outrageous and genuinely chilling").
BC students and groups are (and should be) free to host as many anti-BDS events as they want and invite all the speakers in the world who support Israeli occupations and settlement expansions, despite how uncomfortable that might make Palestinian and Muslim students (and the BC PoliSci Department has made clear they would likely sponsor such events if asked). That's what free speech and academic freedom are about: the right to freely air and advocate for any and all viewpoints, even ones that "offend" people. Few things threaten those critical values more than elected officials threatening to punish colleges for hosting such events. But that's exactly what is taking place right now in New York.
© 2012 The Guardian
Aaron Swartz’ passing becomes even more tragic if we do not recognize what he spent his life fighting for, and realize that no matter where we think we stand on the issue of Internet freedom, the interests driving the debate from Wall Street and Washington, do not have any of our best interests in mind.
In your standard dictatorship, activists are brought out back and shot.
In the United States’ crypto-dictatorship, activists are bullied by the state until they go bankrupt, are buried under a mountain of legal woes, are publicly discredited or humiliated, or as in the case of activist and Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz, made to crack under the constant pressure, and commit suicide.
While superficially the United States may seem more progressive, a dead activist bullied to death for his political views, is a dead activist – whether it was a bullet in the back of the head by SS officers, or a mountain of litigation dumped upon someone by the US Department of Justice.
We are All Aaron Swartz.
Aaron Swartz protesting SOPA (image right)
Swartz was an active opponent of the media industry’s various assaults on Internet freedom and sharing, including the scandalous SOPA/PIPA and ACTA bills. He was the director of Demand Progress, which pursued the following campaigns:
The big business lobbyists who are behind the Internet Blacklist Bill are already making the sequel. The “Ten Strikes” bill would make it a felony to stream copyrighted content — like music in the background of a Youtube video, movies and TV shows — more than ten times.
2. Oppose Protect-IP We knew that members of Congress and their business allies were gearing up to pass a revised Internet Blacklist Bill — which more than 325,000 Demand Progress members helped block last winter — but we never expected it to be this atrocious. Last year’s bill has been renamed the “PROTECT IP” Act and it is far worse than its predecessor.
The new PROTECT-IP Act retains the censorship components from COICA, but adds a new one: It bans people from having serious conversations about the blacklisted sites. Under the new bill, anyone “referring or linking” to a blacklisted site is prohibited from doing so and can be served with a blacklist order forcing them to stop.
3. Bin Laden Is Dead. Will The Patriot Act Live On?The Patriot Act was enacted as a supposedly temporary measure in the wake of 9-11. With Bin Laden’s passing, the era of the Patriot Act, of spying on Americans who aren’t suspected of crimes, of heavy-handed abuse of our dearly held civil liberties, must come to an end.We need to act now to make sure we win this fight. Tens of thousands of Demand Progress members have already urged Congress to fix the Patriot Act. Will you ask Congress and the President to return us to the legal norms that existed before 9-11 and start respecting our civil liberties?
4. Tell Facebook: Stop Censoring Political SpeechA range of Facebook users, from political dissidents to technology bloggers, are reporting the sudden blocking of their pages. Facebook provided no prior warning, nor was there a clear process established to restore access to the blocked pages.
Will you fight back?
Investigators discovered that Goldman traders bragged about selling “shitty” deals to clients and the mega-bank bet against the same financial products it was selling to investors. And they’ve lied about it all the way to the bank.
Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and small-time homeowners are in jail for mortgage fraud, but no CEOs have been prosecuted for their roles in the financial crisis. It’s time to change that.
Americans are in more debt than ever before, and the banks are going to new extremes to squeeze us for every last penny: If you can’t pay up, they’ll try to get you locked up.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are out of control. They’ve been seizing domain names without due process: they shut down 84,000 sites by accident last month, arrested a man for linking to other websites, and government officials think ICE and DHS are claiming powers that would even threaten sites like Facebook.
Are our leaders better than Egypt’s? Across the globe, governments know that the Internet is increasingly the lifeblood of democracy — that’s why Egypt’s oppressive regime just shut down the Internet there.
But even as American politicians condemn Egypt for doing so, they’re pushing legislation to give our government the power to do the exact same thing here at home! The so-called ‘Kill Switch’ would let the president turn off our Internet — without a court even having to approve the decision.
Join over 40,000 in fighting it. Add your name!
The most noxious parts of the USA PATRIOT Act are about to expire — but Congress wants to extend them again. These provisions let the government spy on people without naming them in a warrant, and secretly access your library and bank records under a gag order prohibiting anyone from letting you know.
Join over 60,000 in opposing extension. Add your name!
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke just announced that he’s developing virtual ID cards for Internet users — and they could pose a severe threat to our privacy! The program’s called the “National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace” and the draft proposal indicates that we’d be forced to use the IDs for any online transactions with the government, and for online interactions with businesses that use them.
Over 30,000 have told Gary Locke to back off. Add your name!
Crimes committed by the big banks helped crash our economy — and WikiLeaks is saying that a whistle-blower has sent them enough evidence to take down Bank of America. So now the big banks are fighting back by trying to get the government to muzzle future whistle-blowers.
Tell the SEC not to listen to them. Add your name!
Politicians are leading the charge to outlaw WikiLeaks and undermine freedom of the press. First Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) successfully pressured Amazon.com to stop hosting the WikiLeaks website and now, as Julian Assange has been arrested in the UK, he’s introduced a new bill changing the law to make WikiLeaks illegal.
More than 30,000 have signed our petition to stop him. Add your name!
Across the country, TSA is replacing airport metal detectors with scanners that take nude photos of you — violating your rights, zapping you with X-rays that could cause cancer, and slowing down the lines. And if you opt-out, they feel up your “sensitive regions.”
Lawmakers in New Jersey and Idaho are trying to stop them. Let’s get a similar bill introduced in every state! Contact your lawmaker!
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are out of control. They’ve been seizing domain names without due process: they shut down 84,000 sites by accident last month, arrested a man for linking to other websites, and government officials think ICE and DHS are claiming powers that would even threaten sites like Facebook.
Over 300,000 signers! Add your name!
PLUS: Download our new flyer for our Stop The Internet Blacklist campaign and start a grassroots movement in your area!
Clearly, Demand Progress is not just another faux-NGO working in tandem with special interests under the guise of “human rights,” “freedom,” and “democracy” to peddle further exploitation and expansion of the powers that be – but rather identified these special interests by name, and exposed both their agenda and the means by which they attempt to achieve it. Swartz’ death is a tragic one, and compounded by the dismissive, almost celebratory atmosphere across the corporate-media of the passing of a man they labeled a suspected criminal.
Swartz was targeted by the US Department of Justice, MIT, and their corporate-financier sponsors because he was a prominent and particularly effective voice against real creeping oppression. He was a pragmatic, technical individual and proposed solutions that short-circuited the typical and ineffectual political infighting that drives most disingenuous or misguided causes.We all stand the potential of being targeted like Swartz if we allow these monopolies to continue dictating the destiny of human progress. We are all Aaron Swartz – and must realize his targeting and subsequent suicide is the manifestation of the real danger these insidious monopolies pose to us.
Sharing is Not a Crime.
Technologically empowered openness and generosity across the corporate-financier dominated Western World is no more a real offense than was being Jewish inside Nazi Germany. But like Nazi Germany, anything can be “outlawed” if it suits political and economic special interest. Are we truly “criminals” for not respecting laws born of special interests, detached from the will and best interests of the people? No, we most certainly aren’t.
Swartz allegedly downloaded scholarly files from an open and unsecured academic archive (and here). The original files are still very much intact and at the disposal of the organization that maintains the archives. Nothing was stolen, yet Swartz was accused of “theft,” facing 30 years in prison and a 1 million dollar fine – this in a nation where rapists and murders can spend less time in prison, and elected representatives involved in willfully selling wars based on patently false pretenses walk free without even the faintest prospect of facing justice.
Swartz’ crusade against the corporate-financier interests attempting to monopolize and control communication and technology is surely why he was targeted by the federal government, academia, and their corporate-financier sponsors. It is no different than an activist being brought out back of a kangaroo court in a third-world dictatorship, and shot. The silence from so-called “human rights” advocates over the treatment, and now death of Aaron Swartz is deafening – exposing them yet again as another cog in the machine.
It is time to fight back – and time to fight back without the help of these disingenuous NGOs and their purposefully futile tactics of solely protesting and petitioning. Pragmatic, technical solutions must also be explored and deployed at the grassroots to shatter these corporate-financier monopolies at the very source of their power – that is – our daily patronage and dependence on their goods and services.
An alternative to the networks, media, services, and even hardware must be devised and deployed across our local communities. Laws born of special interests and flying in the face of the people’s best interests must be exposed, condemned, and entirely ignored. Taking away a human being’s freedom because they copied and shared a file is unconscionable – as unconscionable as imprisoning a human being because of their political, religious, or racial background. We would ignore laws imposed upon our society singling out blacks or Jews, but not laws criminalizing sharing solely for the benefit of corporate special interests?
In December 2012′s “Decentralizing Telecom,” a plan for establishing a second Internet, locally built and maintained, and connected with neighboring networks to run parallel to the existing Internet – but be free of large telecom monopolies – was proposed.
Also published in December of 2012, was “Sharing is Not a Crime: A Battle Plan to Fight Back,” which illustrated the importance of shifting entirely away from proprietary business models and instead, both using and producing open source hardware, software, news, and entertainment.
Establishing local, and eventually national and even international parallel networks is possible, but will take time. Turning toward open source software can begin today, with a visit to OSalt.com and exploring alternatives that are already being used by millions today.
A bridge between where we are now and a truly free Internet made by the people, for the people, and entirely maintained in a decentralized, local manner, is what are called “Pirate Boxes.” David Darts, an artist, designer, and coder, describes a Pirate Box as:
PirateBox is a self-contained mobile communication and file sharing device. Simply turn it on to transform any space into a free and open communications and file sharing network.
Share (and chat!) Freely Inspired by pirate radio and the free culture movements, PirateBox utilizes Free, Libre and Open Source software (FLOSS) to create mobile wireless communications and file sharing networks where users can anonymously chat and share images, video, audio, documents, and other digital content.
Private and Secure PirateBox is designed to be private and secure. No logins are required and no user data is logged. Users remain completely anonymous – the system is purposely not connected to the Internet in order to subvert tracking and preserve user privacy.
Easy to Use Using the PirateBox is easy. Simply turn it on and transform any space into a free communication and file sharing network. Users within range of the device can join the PirateBox open wireless network from any wifi-enabled device and begin chatting and sharing files immediately.
Under David’s FAQ’s regarding Pirate Boxes, a particularly useful question is answered:
Can I make my own PirateBox?
Absolutely! The PirateBox is registered under the GNU GPLv3. You can run it on an existing device or can be built as a stand-alone device for as little as US$35. For detailed instructions, visit the PirateBox DIY page.
For the media-industry to stop the spread of local hardware solutions like Pirate Boxes, they would have to literally be in every single community, inside every single person’s house, to prevent people from taking legally purchased or freely available media, and sharing it – akin to publishers policing the entire population to prevent readers from lending their friends and family their copy of a particular book.
The basic principles and experience one gets from building and using a Pirate Box can allow them to tackle larger mesh networks and eventually, decentralize telecom. By encouraging local meetings where PirateBoxes are used, the foundation for new local organizations and institutions can be laid.
New Paradigms Require New Institutions – Join or Start a Hackerspace
Not everyone possesses the knowledge and skills necessary to create local networks or develop alternatives to the goods and services we currently depend on corporate-financier monopolies for. Even those that do, cannot, by themselves, effectively research, develop, and deploy such alternatives. By pooling our resources together in common spaces called “hackerspaces,” we can. Hackerspaces are not just for technically talented individuals, but a place where anyone with the inclination to learn can come and participate.
Hackerspaces can be organized under a wide range of templates – including clubs where dues are paid, spaces that earn income through providing courses or services to the community, and many others. It will be in hackerspaces, and local institutions like them, that a truly people-driven paradigm shift takes place – one of pragmatism and progress, not endlessly broken political promises from elected officials.
People can visit Hackerspaces.org to see the closest organization near them where they can join in. Conversely, for those who either don’t have a hackerspace nearby to join, or simply want to start their own, see, “How to Start a Hackerspace,” for more information on where to begin.
Aaron Swartz’ passing becomes even more tragic if we do not recognize what he spent his life fighting for, and realize that no matter where we think we stand on the issue of Internet freedom, the interests driving the debate from Wall Street and Washington, do not have any of our best interests in mind.
We are all Aaron Swartz – to reclaim the battle cry abused so flagrantly by the West’s faux-democratic “awakening” in the Arab World and beyond. And we must all become active opponents of this agenda to usurp our ability to determine our own destiny. Aaron Swartz was an exceptional proponent of Internet freedom and openness – but by all of us joining the ranks of this cause, we exponentially complicate the system’s ability to target and destroy any one of us. If your cause is just, and your means constructive and pragmatic, there isn’t just “safety” in numbers, there is invincibility.
Is temporarily slowing down a website a legal form of protest? Current US law says it isn’t, but hacktivists want the White House to make changes that would force the government to reconsider their witch-hunt against alleged computer criminals.
In the latest WhiteHouse.gov petition to go viral, the Obama administration is asked to make a method of momentarily crippling a website comparable to real word demonstrations, essentially allowing for a whole new legal form of online protest.
“With the advance in internet technology comes new grounds for protesting,” writes ‘Dylan K’ of Eagle, Wisconsin.
Dylan’s petition, uploaded this week to the White House’s We the People page, is the most recent of these electronic pleas on the website to generate national headlines. A series of petitions in late 2012 demanding the peaceful secession of certain states from the US garnered nearly one million signatures from across the country, and just this week the Obama administration was prompted to respond to one popular request to depot CNN host Piers Morgan over his outspoken anti-gun views. That call for action, advocated by Second Amendment proponents and firearm owners concerned over a possible rifle ban, eventually accumulated around 110,000 electronic signatures.
When the White House responded to the petition to deport Morgan this week, press secretary Jay Carney said Americans shouldn’t let “arguments over the Constitution’s Second Amendment violate the spirit of its First.”
Those rallying for new computer laws say that current legislation limits those very constitutional rights, though, and that one electronic form of action should be covered under the First Amendment — the provision that provides for the freedom of speech, protest and assembly.
In the latest instance, the White House is asked to evaluate a federal rule that currently makes it unlawful to engage in distributed denial-or-service, or DDoS, attacks — a harmless but effective way of flooding a website’s server with so much traffic that it can’t properly render pages for legitimate users.
Performed by both seasoned hackers and novice computer users alike, DDoS-ing a website essentially makes certain pages completely unavailable for minutes, hours or days. Unlike real world protests, though, demonstrators don’t even have to leave the house to protest. Instead, humongous streams of information can be sent to servers with a single mouse click, only for that data to become so cumbersome that the websites targeted can’t properly function.
Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a DDoS assault is highly illegal. For those familiar with the method, though, they say it’s simply a matter of voicing an opinion in an online format and should be allowed.
“Distributed denial-of-service is not any form of hacking in any way,” states the petition. “It is the equivalent of repeatedly hitting the refresh button on a webpage.”
Overloading a targeted website with too much traffic, says Dylan K, is “no different than any ‘occupy’ protest.” According to him and the roughly 1,100 cosigners, there is much common ground between the two. “Instead of a group of people standing outside a building to occupy the area, they are having their computer occupy a website to slow (or deny) service of that particular website for a short time,” he says.
For companies that are hit with DDoS assaults, though, they sing a different song. In 2006, controversial radio host Hal Turner had his website taken offline after members of the then-infant hacktivist movement Anonymous used denial-of-service attacks to shut down his site to visitors. Turner said the bandwidth overflow cost him thousands of dollars in fees from his hosting company.
When Turner tried to sue those he blamed for the DDoS attack, a federal judge for the United States District Court in New Jersey eventually dismissed his claim. Other “hackers,” however, haven’t been so lucky.
When PayPal, Visa and MasterCard announced in 2010 that it would no longer accept funds for the website WikiLeaks, Anonymous and others responded with a DDoS attack on the payment service providers. The following summer, the US Department of Justice filed an indictment against 14 Americans they accused of participating in shutting down PayPal.
That same year, a homeless hacker using the alias “Commander X” was charged with waging a DDoS attack on the official government website of Santa Cruz, California because he opposed the city’s policy that outlawed sleeping in public space. X could have been sentenced to serious time for committing a felony, but he escaped the United States, allegedly seeking refuge in Canada where he is reported to be in hiding today.
“For a 30-minute online protest I’m facing 15 years in a penitentiary,” he told the National Post last year while on the run. According to an interview he gave last month with Ars Technica, he also participated in OpPayBack — the Anonymous-led assault PayPal and others over their WikiLeaks blockage.
California attorney Jay Leiderman has represented X, and has gone on the record to compare DDoS attacks with real life sit-ins.
“A DDoS is a protest, it’s a digital sit it. It is no different than physically occupying a space. It’s not a crime, it’s speech,” he told Talking Points Memo in 2011. “They are the equivalent of occupying the Woolworth's lunch counter during the civil rights movement," The Atlantic quoted him saying last year.
Speaking specifically of the operation against the companies that cut funding to WikiLeaks, the lawyer said online action is equivalent to peaceful protest.
“Take PayPal for example, just like Woolworth's, people went to PayPal and said, I want to give a donation to WikiLeaks. In Woolworth's they said, all I want to do is buy lunch, pay for my lunch, and then I'll leave. People said I want to give a donation to WikiLeaks, I'll take up my bandwidth to do that, then I'll leave, you'll make money, I'll feel fulfilled, everyone's fulfilled,” he said. “PayPal will take donations for the Ku Klux Klan, other racists and questionable organizations, but they won't process donations for WikiLeaks. All the PayPal protesters did was take up some bandwidth. In that sense, DDoS is absolutely speech, it should absolutely be recognized as such, protected as such, and the law should be changed.”
Leiderman added that he considers the use of DDoS not to be an “attack” in some circumstances, but actually legitimate protest.
“[T]he law should be narrowly drawn and what needs to be excised from that are the legitimate protests,” he said. “It's really easy to tell legitimate protests, I think, and we should be broadly defining legitimate protests,” he said.
New York attorney Stanley Cohen, who is representing one of the accused “PayPal 14” hackers responsible for the Anonymous-led operation, agrees.
“When Obama orders supporters to inundate the switchboards of Congress, that’s good politics, when a bunch of kids decide to send a political message with roots going back to the civil rights movement and the revolution, it’s something else,” Cohen told TPM in 2011. “Barack Obama urged people to shutdown the switchboard, he’s not indicted.”
“It’s not identity theft, not money or property, pure and simple case of an electronic sit in, at best,” he said.
So far over 1,100 people agree on WhiteHouse.gov, and hope the Obama administration will get their point. Until then, though, Commander X and others face upwards of a decade in prison apiece for violating a clause in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that makes it unlawful to “knowingly cause the transmission of a program, information code or command, and as a result of such conduct, intentionally causes damages without authorization to a protected computer.”
With attorneys like Leiderman and Cohen arguing that the damages in questions aren’t quite criminal, the White House may have to respond to the latest WhiteHouse.gov petition. The Obama administration is mandated to respond if it can garner 25,000 signatures in the next month. Until then, though, proponents of DDoS as free speech can cite what Jay Carney said when petitioners rallied for the deportation of Piers Morgan for his call to ban assault weapons.
“The Constitution not only guarantees an individual right to bear arms, but also enshrines the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press – fundamental principles that are essential to our democracy,” said Carney.
Meanwhile, exercising constitutional rights by way of overloading web servers isn’t being accepted as such by the government. That doesn’t mean that Anonymous or other so-called ‘hacktivists’ will change their ways: just last month, members of the hive-mind computer collective waged a DDoS attack on the website of the Westboro Baptist Church after the religious group announced plans to picket the funerals of mass shooting victims in Newtown, Connecticut. Anonymous waged a similar wave of attacks on the Church of Scientology in 2008, the result of which landed a number of Anons in prison for violating federal law.
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