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Meet the Whistleblower Responsible for the Massive NSA Leak

June 9, 2013  | ...

Meet the Whistleblower Responsible for the Massive NSA Leak

June 9, 2013  | ...

‘More young whistleblowers 2.0 to seek justice through maximum exposure’

<!--Annie Machon-->Annie Machon is a former intel­li­gence officer for the UK's MI5, who resigned in 1996 to blow the whistle. She is now a...

Manning 2.0? Former NSA consultant behind massive US surveillance leak

The source behind the leak of the top-secret NSA surveillance program — one of the most significant leaks in US history — has been...

Source of NSA leaks casts off mask

Edward Snowden, a former technical worker for the CIA, identifies himself as the source of a series of leaks about US phone and internet...

Obama Defends Mass Surveillance; Internet Firms Deny Playing Part

"Nobody is listening to the content of people's phone calls," President Obama said Friday as he sought to allay concern arising from news reports...

Revealed: Secret Government Map Catalogues Spy Reports by Country

A screenshot of Boundless Informant: The color scheme ranges from green (least subjected to surveillance) through yellow and orange to red (most surveillance). (Image...

Let the People Know — Put Full Texts of Government Contracts Online

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/let_the_people_know_put_full_texts_of_government_contracts_online_20130609/ Posted on Jun 9, 2013 ...

The Chilcot Inquiry. The British Government’s Role in the War on Iraq. Margaret Aldred...

Introductory Note The Chilcot Inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot was launched in 2009 by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, with the mandate to inquire into role...

Alex Jones Storms BBC, Confronts Bilderberg Member

Radio host takes over live broadcast Paul Joseph WatsonInfowars.comJune 9, 2013 Alex Jones confronted...

The NSA’s “Boundless Informant” Collects 3 Billion Intelligence Pieces From US Computer Networks In...

zerohedge.comJune 9, 2013 There’s one reason why the administration, James Clapper and the NSA should just...

Truthdigger of the Week: Anonymous NSA Leaker

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/truthdigger_of_the_week_anonymous_nsa_leaker_20130608/ Posted on Jun 8, 2013 ...

Revealed: Secret Government Map Catalogues Spy Reports by Country

A screenshot of Boundless Informant: The color scheme ranges from green (least subjected to surveillance) through yellow and orange to red (most surveillance). (Image...

Obama Defends Mass Surveillance; Internet Firms Deny Playing Part

"Nobody is listening to the content of people's phone calls," President Obama said June 7 as he sought to allay concern arising from news...

Obama’s Crown Jewels

Would you buy a used car from this man? If the maker happens to be Constitution Motors, model “Rule of Law,” with accessories including...

'Reprehensible, Reckless, Illegal': Washington Officials Slam Heroic NSA Surveillance Leaker

"Reprehensible." "Reckless." "Illegal." The NSA's PRISM program, which accesses the systems of internet giants like Facebook and Google to obtain user data, was...

“Big Brother Obama” Systematic Spying on Americans: Unconstitutional US Data-Mining

On June 5, London’s Guardianreported part of it. “NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily,” it headlined.On June 6, a follow-up...

Emails expose UK Tory chairman deception

Chairman of British Conservative Party Grant Shapps has tried to silence emails that showed he Å“misled MPs” when he was housing minister. New embarassing revelations...

Obama defends massive spying on Americans

  8 June 2013 ...

'Reprehensible, Reckless, Illegal': Washington Officials Slam NSA Surveillance Leaker

"Reprehensible." "Reckless." "Illegal." The NSA's PRISM program, which accesses the systems of internet giants like Facebook and Google to obtain user data, was...

NSA telephone, Internet spying data shared with British Intelligence

Data covertly collected by the US National Security Agency (NSA) from American telecom and Internet firms has been shared with its British counterpart, media...

Senators slam EPA for leaking farmers’ personal data to environmentalists

dailycaller.comJune 7, 2013 A bipartisan group of senators is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to...

The EU-India FTA: Access All Areas, But Only For Corporate Plunder


Photo by Claude Renault
Global Research and Countercurrents 7/6/2013, The 4th Media 8/6/2013, Deccan Herald 12/6/2013 and State Times 18/6/2013

The EU-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is something that could fundamentally restructure Indian society and impact the lives of hundreds of millions of Indians. It is being negotiated ‘on the behalf of the public’ in secret by politicians and bureaucrats on both sides. Negotiations began in 2007covering a wide range of areas, including various goods, products and services, as well as investment rules, government procurement; and intellectual property rights. After 16 rounds of talks, the issues are still being fine tuned.


Much of the negotiations are being conducted beyond the gaze of the public and the realms of public accountability. And demands for public scrutiny have been dealt a blow by a recent ruling.
Following a lawsuit by lobby watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), the EU’s General Court in Luxembourg concluded that the European Commission (EC) did not violate EU rules when withholding information about the EU-India free trade talks from the public, even though it had already shared the information with corporate lobby groups. CEO warns that this decision risks deepening the secrecy around EU trade negotiations and legitimises the EC’s practice of granting corporate lobby groups privileged access to its policy-making, at the expense of the wider public interest.
The lawsuit was a last resort for CEO after the EC refused to fully release documents related to the EU’s ongoing trade negotiations with India, including meeting reports, emails and a letter, which it had sent to industry groups including the European employers’ federation Business Europe, one of the most powerful corporate lobby groups in Brussels. The EC claimed that the censored information was ‘sensitive’ as it concerned EU priorities and strategies in the negotiations and argued that public disclosure would undermine the EU’s international relations.

CEO argued that the information, which the EC had already shared with the business world at large, could not suddenly become confidential when a public interest group asked for it. The group accused the EC of manifest discrimination in favour of corporate lobby groups and violating the EU’s access to information rules.

CEO trade campaigner Pia Eberhardt said that there is a big risk that the EC will see the court ruling as a green light to continue to develop its trade policy behind closed doors, together with, and for, a tiny elite of corporate lobby groups. She added that the result is a trade policy that caters for big business needs, but works against the interests of the bulk of the population in the EU and other parts of the world.

The judgement comes as the EU and India are reportedly sorting out their remaining differences, in order to ink their final proposal for a free trade deal before elections in the EU and in India in 2014.

Both in India and the EU, trade unions, farmers’ groups, patients’ organisations and other civil society groups have repeatedly raised concerns about the potentially devastating impacts of the agreement, particularly on access to medicines and the livelihoods of Indian farmers and street traders (1).

CEO believes that the court ruling has potentially serious implications for other trade policies, such as the upcoming free trade negotiations between the EU and the US. In a press release from CEO, Pia Eberhardt states:

“Citizens and Parliamentarians are increasingly worried about the risks that the EU’s corporate trade agenda poses to food safety, digital rights and environmental protection. Trade negotiations should be conducted in an open and democratically-accountable way, and it is high time that the Commission stops handing over the negotiating agenda to multinational companies. It is disappointing that the court ruling seems to point in exactly the opposite direction."
Such secrecy deepens the suspicion that the EU-India FTA has little to do with any notion pertaining to the ‘public interest’ and essentially represents the demands of big business and results from their strategic hegemony over government bureaucracies and politicians. 

With Western economies in crisis, India represents potential rich pickings for powerful transnational corporations. And the vultures are sweeping. In his January editorial piece in Kisan Ki Awaaz (National Magazine of the Farmer’s Voice), farmers’ leader Krishan Bir Chaudhary argues that India’s thousands of years old civilisation is being plundered. Industrial developments built with public money and strategic assets, such as energy sources, ports, airports and seeds and infrastructure support for agriculture are under threat. This view is apparently supported by Kavaljit Singh of the Madhyam research institute who argues that measures on investment could see the Indian government sued by multinational companies for billions of dollars in private arbitration panels outside of Indian courts if national laws, policies, court decisions or other actions are perceived to interfere with their investments. 

Indeed, corporations have been granted the exclusive right to sue states (states cannot sue corporations) at secretive international tribunals for action deemed to unfairly affect investors’ profits (2). It’s a one way street.

What we are seeing with the EU-India FTA (as is the case with India’s nuclear energy sector and the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (3) (4)) is democracy being sidelined for the blind pursuit of an unaccountable corporate driven agenda.

Notes





Obama administration 'took Bush's warrantless surveillance to another level'

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The EU-India Free Trade Agreement, Corporate Driven Neocolonial Plunder

The EU-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is something that could fundamentally restructure Indian society and impact the lives of hundreds of millions of Indians....

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Let the People Know

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NSA Whistleblowers: "All U.S. Citizens" Are Targeted by Surveillance Program, Not Just Verizon Customers

A leaked top-secret order has revealed the Obama administration is conducting a massive domestic surveillance program by collecting telephone records of millions of Verizon Business customers.

Critics Blast Military Trial of WikiLeaks Whistleblower Manning

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FSB and FBI urge ‘active and aggressive’ action in tackling terror threats online

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DHS defends suspicionless searches of laptops and cell phones

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Day Three at the Manning Trial

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Critics Blast Military Trial of WikiLeaks Whistleblower Manning

After a global outcry about his prosecution and alleged torture, whistleblower Bradley Manning (shown), an Army intelligence officer accused of “aiding the enemy” by...

The REAL Reason Housing Prices Have Skyrocketed. How Another Housing Bubble Was Blown …...

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‘Beyond Orwellian’: Outrage Follows Revelations of Vast Domestic Spying Program

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Anti-Syrian Blame Game Escalates: Who is Behind Killings of Civilians?

Since early 2011, ongoing blame game strategy holds Syria responsible for Western-enlisted death squad crimes. In August 2011, the Human Rights Council (HRC) appointed a...

International Gathering Calls for UN Troops to Leave Haiti

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Speedy pace brings first week of Manning trial to an early end

The first week of WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning’s military trial wrapped up Wednesday, recessing until next week when the court-martial of the Army private...

New York Shines Light on ‘Dark Money’ Donors

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Studies in Intelligence: New Articles from The CIA’s In-House Journal

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Mau Mau victims seek UK compensation

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"FrackNation": Koch Industries and the Ties That Bind

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Manning Trial, Day Two: Power Points and Chat Logs

Witnesses in Bradley Manning’s trial yesterday testified about the hardware retrieved from Manning’s workstation and housing unit in Iraq, the process for examining forensics...

The Prosecution and Persecution of Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning’s trial finally got its start on Monday, June 3rd (after a mere four years of pre-trial detention). Transcripts from the first day of...

Second day of Manning trial focuses on hacker who turned him in

The Colombian-American computer hacker who turned Army Private Bradley Manning in to authorities surprised courtroom spectators Tuesday when he took the stand during day...

US discloses Israel’s top-secret military base outraging Tel-Aviv

The US government has inadvertently revealed the details of a top-secret Israeli missile base in published bid requests, leaving military officials in Tel-Aviv in...

"FrackNation": Koch Industries and the Ties That Bind

Part one of the DeSmogBlog investigation of "FrackNation" - a film made in response to "Gasland 2" - honed in on the past track records and...

Congress gives Holder one more day to answer allegations of perjury

The United States Department of Justice has responded to allegations that Attorney General Eric Holder lied to Congress, but lawmakers on Capitol Hill aren’t...

Obama’s top appointees use secret email accounts — AP

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Justice Dept. moves to end Fla. lawsuit, citing national security

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‘Apple is not alone’: 18 top American companies avoid $92 billion in taxes

Apple isn’t the only big name company taking advantage of offshore tax loopholes, according to a new study. American Express, Dell, Microsoft, Nike, and...

Bradley Manning Court-Martial: Secrecy and Injustice on Trial

America honors its worst. It persecutes its best. Manning is heroic. He risked great personal harm. He did so to reveal vital truths. Washington...

The “Cloudy” Skies Corporations Want to Sell You

It’s the nature of the shallow, consumer-driven, dream-drunken culture our society tries to impose on us that we popularly adopt terms without knowing what...

Bradley Manning’s court martial begins

  By ...

Give Manning a Plea Deal

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/give_manning_a_plea_deal_20130603/ Posted on Jun 3, 2013 ...

Manning court martial trial starts Monday

Michael DoyleMcClatchy NewspapersJune 3, 2013 Amid secrecy and spectacle, the long-awaited court-martial trial of WikiLeaks linchpin...

Bradley Manning Trail Begins: A 'Danger Zone' for Civil Liberties

Bradley Manning supporters in Fort Meade on Sunday. (Photo: Steve Rhodes/cc/flickr)Developing...The trial of 25-year-old army Pfc. Bradley Manning begins on Monday, "the latest and...

Bradley Manning on Trial

It is time to pull out the stops. Yes, efforts have been made, some commendable, some noisily admirable, and the protesters have gathered constantly...

Bradley Manning on Trial

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Protests against Manning's trial persist

Protesters outside the gates of US military intelligence base Fort Meade hold signs in support of whistleblower US Army soldier Bradley Manning on June...

America’s War and Syria’s Right to Defend itself against Foreign Aggression

Seventeenth century philosopher/political theorist/jurist Hugo Grotius perhaps helped inspire international law. In 1625, his “On The Law of War and Peace” said “Most Men...

America’s War and Syria’s Right to Defend itself against Foreign Aggression

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Worldwide protests ahead of Bradley Manning's Monday trial

Demonstrations are taking place all over the world in support of Bradley Manning, the US army private Whistleblower who leaked intelligence to WikiLeaks. ...

Worldwide protests ahead of Bradley Manning's Monday trial

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Truthdigger of the Week: Jeremy Hammond

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Worldwide protests ahead of Bradley Manning's Monday trial

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“We Steal Secrets” The New Movie About Wikileaks Infuriates Wikileaks

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It's Time to Fire Eric Holder

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It's Time to Fire Eric Holder

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Offshore wealth reaches $8.5tn despite pressure on tax havens

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Offshore wealth reaches $8.5tn despite pressure on tax havens

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US Attorney General Eric Holder Personally Approved Obama’s Secret Effort to Seize Email and...

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Fracking “Shock Doctrine” Unveiled

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Poll: Scandals hit Obama approval rating

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Eric Holder perjured himself in lie about AP — DOJ intimidation scheme

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AP chief tells staff 'thousands and thousands' of calls obtained by DOJ

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AP chief tells staff 'thousands and thousands' of calls obtained by DOJ

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Attorney General Holder under investigation on perjury suspicions

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Obama’s “Fast and Furious” Gun-running Scandal Grows

As if there were not already enough scandals plaguing the Obama administration, the federal “Fast and Furious” operation that armed Mexican drug cartels is...

Texas Bans Drone Surveillance

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Obama’s “Fast and Furious” Gun-running Scandal Grows

As if there were not already enough scandals plaguing the Obama administration, the federal “Fast and Furious” operation that armed Mexican drug cartels is...

Six Facts Lost in the IRS Scandal

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Monsanto Controls both the White House and the US Congress

This incisive article by Josh Sager published one month before the November 2012 presidential Elections carefully documents how Monsanto has cornered the US political...

6 Key Facts That Have Been Lost in the IRS Scandal

May 25, 2013  | ...

Mass. Senate Race: Gomez Name-Calls After Markey Attack Ad

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Mass. Senate Race: Gomez Name-Calls After Markey Attack Ad

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Rogue President Obama: Defending the Indefensible

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A Government Against Liberty

Let's say you're like most people and believe the federal government has become too large, too wasteful, too crooked, and too intrusive. Now imagine...

A Government Against Liberty

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Major Retailers Sue Visa and MasterCard Over Swipe Fees

Seventeen major retailers, including Macy’s, Target, and Kohl’s, filed an anti-trust suit yesterday in New York City to protest Visa and MasterCard’s lack of...

I Lost My Sweetheart to Polyamory

May 24, 2013  | ...

Major Retailers Sue Visa and MasterCard Over Swipe Fees

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Groups Slam Environmental Defense Fund for Fracking "Greenwash"

Environmental groups and activists slammed the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) this week for partnering with a coalition of Big Energy companies and pro-fracking groups,...

SOAS serves as MI6 training ground

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The Resurrection of Ben Bernanke

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Woolrich London Killing: Terrorism or False Flag?

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Holder OK’d search warrant for Fox News reporter’s private emails, official says

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Top Six Facts Lost in the IRS Scandal

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Officials Draft Secret Bill to Keep Sandy Hook Records Under Wraps

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US admits drones killed 4 Americans

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Investigative journalists threatened with felony for exposing security flaw

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Investigative journalists threatened with felony for exposing security flaw

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Billionaires Unchained: America is a Democracy of the Wealthy

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Real American Boy: How Our Byzantine Immigration System and Failed Economy May Have Made...

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/real_american_boy_how_our_byzantine_immigration_system_and_failed_economy_m/ Posted on May 20, 2013 ...

It’s News, Not Espionage

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/its_news_not_espionage_20130521/ Posted on May 20, 2013 ...

The Bigger Story Behind the AP Spying Scandal

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The US Government Might Be the Biggest Hacker in the World

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US weakens fracking rules

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Italian ‘Tango Down’ operation arrests 4 Anonymous hackers

A crackdown on hacker group Anonymous has seen the arrests of four suspected hacktivists in Italy, report local police. The four are thought to...

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http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_false_god_of_narrative_20130516/ Posted on May 16, 2013 ...

The New Pay-As-You-Go Landscape of American ‘Democracy’

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Jerry Brown: California’s Mystery Man

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/jerry_brown_californias_mystery_man_20130515/ Posted on May 15, 2013 ...

Spies “R” Us: Institutionalized Spying on Americans

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IRS Scandal Is Much Ado About Small Stuff While Karl Rove Gets Off Scott...

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Crackdown on Whistleblowers – The Protection Of Money & Power

The Obama administration’s extraordinary secrecy and pursuit of leakers is usually viewed through the lens of the First Amendent: does a free press conflict with the imperatives of national security?

Digital Grab: Corporate Power Has Seized the Internet

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Energy Nominee Ernest Moniz Criticized for Backing Fracking and Nuclear Power; Ties to BP,...

Think the world needs an alternative to corporate media? Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and keep independent journalism strong.

President Obama’s pick to become the nation’s next secretary of energy is drawing criticism for his deep ties to the fossil fuel, fracking and nuclear industries. MIT nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz has served on advisory boards for oil giant BP and General Electric, and was a trustee of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, a Saudi Aramco-backed nonprofit organization. In 2011, Moniz was the chief author of an influential study for MIT on the future of natural gas. According to a new report by the Public Accountability Initiative, Moniz failed to disclose that he had taken a lucrative position at a pro-drilling firm called ICF International just days before a key natural gas "fracking" study was released. Reaction to his nomination has split the environmental community. Advocacy groups such as Public Citizen and Food & Water Watch are campaigning against Moniz’s nomination, but the Natural Resources Defense Council has praised his work on advancing clean energy based on efficiency and renewable power. We speak to Kevin Connor of the Public Accountability Initiative and ProPublica reporter Justin Elliott, who have both authored investigations into Moniz’s ties to industry.

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama’s pick to become the nation’s next energy secretary is drawing criticism for his deep ties to the fossil fuel, fracking and nuclear industry. Obama nominated MIT Professor Ernest Moniz last month to replace outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I could not be more grateful to Steve for the incredible contribution that he’s made to this country. And now that he’s decided to leave Washington for sunny California, I’m proud to nominate another brilliant scientist to take his place, Mr. Ernie Moniz. So, there’s Ernie right there.

Now, the good news is that Ernie already knows his way around the Department of Energy. He is a physicist by training, but he also served as undersecretary of energy under President Clinton. Since then, he has directed MIT’s Energy Initiative, which brings together prominent thinkers and energy companies to develop the technologies that can lead us to more energy independence and also to new jobs. Most importantly, Ernie knows that we can produce more energy and grow our economy while still taking care of our air, our water and our climate.

AMY GOODMAN: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Ernest Moniz’s nomination as energy secretary on April 9th. Reactions to his nomination has split the environmental community. Advocacy groups such as Public Citizen and Food & Water Watch are campaigning against his nomination, but the Natural Resources Defense Council has praised his work on advancing clean energy based on efficiency and renewable power.

Much of the criticism of Moniz centers on his extensive ties to industry. He has served on advisory boards for oil giant BP and General Electric and was a trustee of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, a Saudi Aramco-backed nonprofit organization. In 2011, Moniz was the chief author of an influential study for MIT on the future of natural gas. According to a new report by the Public Accountability Initiative, Moniz failed to disclose that he had taken a lucrative position at a pro-drilling firm called ICF International just days before the study was released.

We’re joined now by two guests. In New York, Justin Elliott, a reporter at ProPublica, he recently wrote a piece called "Drilling Deeper: The Wealth of Business Connections for Obama’s Energy Pick." And in Los Angeles, we’re joined by Kevin Connor, director of the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit watchdog group which recently published a report called "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet? How MIT’s Influential Study of Fracking Was Authored, Funded, and Released by Oil and Gas Industry Insiders." We invited MIT to join us on the show or send a comment to read on air, but we did not receive a response.

Kevin Connor, Justin Elliott, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Justin, let’s begin with you. Talk about Ernest Moniz’ record.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right, well, I mean, and to some extent, this is kind of the classic revolving door situation. As President Obama mentioned when he nominated him to be energy secretary earlier this month, Moniz was an undersecretary in the department in President Clinton’s second term. After, he went back to MIT, but he also took a number of positions on boards of large energy companies or advisory councils, as you mentioned, that includes BP. It included a uranium enrichment company called USEC.

And I think there’s sort of two reasons why this is important. One is, some of these companies do business with the Energy Department and seek contracts and loan guarantees from the department. The other is, people in the environmental community think that this may inform how Ernest Moniz sets research priorities, so people are concerned that he’s—that he’s going to call for research on fossil fuels to the detriment of research on renewables, for example.

AMY GOODMAN: BP. Talk about his relationship with BP.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Well, there’s kind of two prongs on that front. One is, personally, Moniz did a six-year stint—paid, although BP won’t tell me how much—on BP’s science advisory council. It’s not really clear what he did. They don’t—BP doesn’t have to reveal much about it in their public SEC filings. At the same time, BP is one of the main funders of the MIT Energy Initiative. I think they have given—given or pledged a total of $50 million over the past few years. So he’s clearly—he’s clearly close to that company.

AMY GOODMAN: And how typical is this for a university professor?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Well, I think, in the science—in sciences and, in particular, in sort of the energy secretary, it’s increasingly—it’s increasingly common. I mean, Steven Chu, the outgoing energy secretary, who’s also an academic, actually also had close ties to BP. BP had given a bunch of money to Steven Chu’s lab at the University of California, Berkeley, and Chu picked a BP executive to be one of his undersecretaries. And Chu was later involved in the government’s response to the Gulf oil spill. So, I mean, I think this is—this is certainly common if you’re going to be picking an academic who’s involved in energy, and particularly fossil fuel research.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to comments of the executive director the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC. Earlier this month, Peter Lehner posted on the NRDC blog a "To-Do List for the New Energy Secretary." In it, he wrote, quote, "As a scientist, Moniz is obviously a firm believer in the power of clean energy technology. [MIT’s Energy Initiative] projects under his tenure included windows that generate electricity, batteries built by viruses, and a biofuel made from yeast. But he also believes that technology must be complemented by policy in order to effect real change. As he said at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2006, in order to address global warming, we must 'have the will to take more than baby steps.'" NRDC is supporting Moniz’s nomination.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right, Amy, and it’s completely true. Moniz has spoken in favor of renewable energy. I mean, I think the best way to sort of interpret his nomination is that he fits in with what Obama has called his "all-of-the-above" energy policy, which is to embrace things like fracking, continued use of oil, nuclear energy, but also develop wind and solar. And I think that that’s where Ernest Moniz is on energy policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to our guest in Los Angeles, Kevin Connor, and what you found in your report. Talk about the report that you did that looks at—well, the title of the report is "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet? How MIT’s Influential Study of Fracking Was Authored, Funded, and Released by Oil and Gas Industry Insiders."

KEVIN CONNOR: Sure. Moniz’s nomination prompted us at the Public Accountability Initiative to take a closer look at an influential study that MIT did on "The Future of Natural Gas," as it was called, in 2011. It was issued by the Energy Initiative, which Moniz was the director of. And it gave a very pro-gas—put a very pro-gas spin on fracking and shale gas extraction, said that natural gas was a bridge or will be a bridge to a low-carbon future, said that the environmental impacts related to fracking are challenging but manageable, and also endorsed natural gas exports, which is a very industry-friendly position to take.

It immediately, you know, prompted some criticism from people who pointed to the fact that the report was actually industry-funded, much like the initiative itself. But it was extremely influential. It was designed to influence policymakers. Moniz testified before Congress on the report. It had immediate impact, as well. And it came at a critical time for the industry, which was facing significant questions about the safety of fracking, the relative environmental impacts of fracking. And we took a closer look at the study and found that beyond just the industry funding of the study, there were significant conflicts of interest that went undisclosed in the report itself and in presentations of the report, and those involved Moniz and several other key authors of the study. So, as it turns out, it was not only just funded by industry, it was also authored by industry representatives.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Connor, I wanted to turn to a 2011 press conference at the MIT Energy Initiative, where Ernest Moniz introduced the study now under contention, "The Future of Natural Gas." In his opening remarks, Professor Moniz emphasized the report’s independent of its sponsors and advisers.

ERNEST MONIZ: I do want to emphasize a disclaimer, if you like, that while their advice was absolutely critical, they are not responsible for the recommendations and the findings. We have not asked for endorsement. We asked for their advice; we received it. But the results, then, are our responsibility.

AMY GOODMAN: Later in the presentation, co-chair Anthony Meggs introduces the MIT report’s findings, saying environmental impacts associated with fracking are, quote, "challenging but manageable." However, Meggs failed to disclose he had joined the gas company Talisman Energy prior to the release of the study.

ANTHONY MEGGS: ... messages are very simple. First of all, there’s a lot of gas in the world, at very modest cost. As you will see, gas is still, globally speaking, a very young industry with a bright future ahead of it. Secondly, and perhaps obviously at this stage, although not so obvious when we started three years ago, shale gas is transformative for the economy of the United States, North America, for the gas industry, in particular, and potentially on a global scale. Thirdly, the environmental impacts of shale development, widely discussed and hotly debated, are—and we use these words carefully—challenging but manageable.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Connor, your response?

KEVIN CONNOR: It’s absolutely outrageous for the Energy Initiative, for Moniz and MIT to pretend this is independent of industry, well, first of all, given the fact that the sponsors of the report are all, you know, industry organizations and companies like Chesapeake Energy. Moniz was attempting to say that it was somehow insulated from the influence of these gas companies, when in fact authors of the study, such as Moniz and Meggs, were—had industry positions at the time.

Meggs’s quote there is particularly insidious, the fact that he is saying that fracking is safe for the environment, when he had actually joined Talisman Energy, a gas company, one of the most active frackers in the Marcellus Shale, a month before the study was released. So he is speaking to a roomful of journalists there, presenting a report designed to influence policy, and not disclosing that he is on the industry payroll. That is perhaps the last person in that room who should be presenting that finding or having anything to do with authoring that kind of report. And yet MIT and Moniz thought it was appropriate to put that spokesperson forward. So, it just goes to the fact that MIT was really sort of presenting an industry brochure here with a lot of pro-gas, industry advocacy talking points, and not revealing that there were significant conflicts of interest here.

AMY GOODMAN: Justin Elliott, would you like to weigh in?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Yeah, I mean, one thing to note is, Ernest Moniz is getting a confirmation hearing next month, and as part of that, he has to release a personal financial disclosure, and also, at some point later, he’ll have to—an ethics agreement will become public. So we should actually learn more about his current and recent involvement in these companies and possibly also stock holdings and that sort of thing, so it should be interesting. I think this story isn’t over yet.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and come back to this discussion. Our guests are Justin Elliott—he’s a reporter with ProPublica—and Kevin Connor, who has put out a report on—from the Public Accountability Project called "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet? How MIT’s Influential Study of Fracking Was Authored, Funded, and Released by Oil and Gas Industry Insiders." This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: In October of 2009, Obama’s energy secretary nominee, Ernest Moniz, introduced Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, before he delivered a speech at the MIT Energy Initiative. This took place six months before the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

ERNEST MONIZ: Tony, I think it’s fair to say, without getting into great details, faced a significant number of challenges at that time of transition and is, these days, getting quite good press, I might say, in terms of having the company operating well, producing and maintaining, I think, its stance, taken quite early, in terms of recognizing the need and acting on the need to address climate risk mitigation, for example, with its diversified portfolio. We are very pleased to have BP here as a member of the Energy Initiative—in fact, the founding—founding member of the MIT Energy Initiative. And in fact, as President Hockfield said just a few minutes ago to Tony, that that confidence shown in where we were going here at MIT, in terms of our focus on energy and environment, was very, very important, and we really appreciate that early support and the continuing relationship. In fact, many of you may know that besides the Energy Initiative, BP has a major presence in terms of a Projects Academy and Operations Academy with the Sloan School of Engineering. And in fact, I just heard, again, in the discussion a few moments ago, that 300 of BP’s 500 senior executives have, one way or another, interacted with MIT, so it’s really quite a substantial relationship.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s energy secretary nominee Ernest Moniz speaking in October 2009, praising BP CEO Tony Hayward six months before the BP oil spill. Justin Elliott of ProPublica?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: I mean, one of the things that surprised me, actually, as I was researching this story, is the extent to which the MIT Energy Initiative is working with industry. I mean, it’s well known that they and other energy research projects get industry funding. But if you look at their annual reports and even their website, they say, if you give us money as a company, we will help you achieve specific business goals. So, I mean, in a lot of the coverage of Moniz, he has been presented as an academic, which he is, but in some ways I think the traditional categories are sort of failing us—sort of academic versus business executive. I mean, this really is a part of—I mean, it’s not formally part of BP, but they’re working as essentially a subcontractor for BP. So I think that’s really—and again, I mean, President Obama specifically praised Ernest Moniz’s ties with business when he introduced him. So, I mean, it’s up for interpretation whether or not these ties are a good thing, but I think that’s really the proper way to see his background and who he is.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Connor, I wanted to ask you about the broader issue of what some call
"frackademia," gas-industry-funded academic research. In February of 2012, a year ago, University of Texas Professor Charles Groat published a study that suggested fracking did not lead to groundwater contamination. However, the study did not disclose Groat’s seat on the board of major Texas fracker Plains Exploration and Production Company, for which he was reportedly given $400,000 in 2011. That’s more than double his university salary. I want to go to a clip of Professor Groat explaining his study’s finding.

CHARLES GROAT: The immediate concern with shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing was that fracturing at several thousand feet below the surface would put chemicals into groundwater that people drank that would be very bad for your health, and so people were very much opposed to hydraulic fracturing from that point of view. So, an important part of our study was to determine whether or not there is any direct, verified evidence that hydraulic fracturing itself was producing contaminated waters that ended up in that process in groundwater. Our preliminary finding is we have found no demonstrated evidence that that—demonstration that that has happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Connor, your response?

KEVIN CONNOR: Well, as you noted, Groat, when he was saying this, had a serious stake in a gas company called PXP, $1.6 million stake, made several hundred thousand dollars a year, over $400,000 a year in 2011, and was going before the public and saying fracking is safe, without disclosing any of these related interests. I mean, there’s some question as to whether someone with that sort of stake in the industry should be working on this at all, but at the very least it should be disclosed to the public, to journalists.

And because Groat didn’t disclose it, it resulted in a lot of blowback in Texas. The journalists were very concerned that Groat had not highlighted this for them when the report was released, and it resulted in quite a bit of media coverage. The University of Texas ended up commissioning an external review of the study, which concluded that the study should actually be retracted and noted that Groat’s conflict of interest was quite serious and should have been disclosed. So, the sorts of transgressions that we see at MIT have actually resulted in real accountability at other universities. Groat actually retired as a result of this episode. And the director of the Energy Institute at Texas, which is sort of an analog to MIT’s Energy Initiative—the director actually resigned in the wake of this external review. So there have been real consequences. There has been real pushback against this trend at other universities. And there’s some question as to whether that will happen with MIT.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, going back to Moniz, because you’re talking about Groat here, not to be confused with the energy secretary nominee of President Obama, talk about what he makes at MIT, both as a university professor but also his outside funding.

KEVIN CONNOR: I’m actually not sure of his salary at MIT. I don’t believe it’s publicly disclosed there, though it will be released in his financial disclosures. But as a board member at ICF International, which is an oil and gas—well, it’s a consulting firm with a significant energy practice and significant oil and gas ties—he’s made over $300,000 in the past two years since joining the board. This is a position where he attends several meetings a year. It’s certainly not a full-time position, and yet he’s making over $150,000 a year in stock and cash compensation. So these are not insignificant financial ties he has.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Justin Elliott, Ernest Moniz is a nuclear physicist. Can you talk about the significance of that for energy policy, if he were to become the next energy secretary?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Sure. I mean, actually, the Department of Energy, the majority of its budget goes to maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, and also they’re in charge of cleanup of old nuclear waste. He’s been a strong and public supporter of nuclear power. And that’s actually the area where some of these business ties get into areas of potential conflicts. As I mentioned earlier, he was previously on an advisory council of a uranium enrichment company called USEC, one of the—one of the largest, and they’ve been seeking a $2 billion loan guarantee from the Energy Department to build a centrifuge plant in Ohio. That’s been on hold for a few years while they look into it further. So, it will be interesting to see whether Moniz has to recuse himself from that or whether it gets mentioned in any of the congressional hearings, but that’s certainly one of the big areas the Energy Department is active in.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Moniz wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2011, "It would be a mistake, however, to let Fukushima cause governments to abandon nuclear power and its benefits." He wrote, "Electricity generation emits more carbon dioxide in the United States than does transportation or industry, and nuclear power is the largest source of carbon-free electricity in the country."

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right. And again, I mean, I think this is in keeping with President Obama’s, quote, "all-of-the-above," unquote, energy policy. I mean, this is—this is Obama nominating someone as energy secretary who is in keeping with the administration’s stated policy.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama has long been pro-nuclear power—in fact, is the one who is restarting nuclear power plants after, what, some 40 years of the last one being built.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right. And I think the only reason that effort has stalled is the price of natural gas, because of fracking, going down so low that nuclear power plants have become less economically feasible than they were five years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Final comments, Kevin Connor, as you release your report, director of Public Accountability Initiative, the report that you did called "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet?" has MIT responded? And were you able to speak with Professor Moniz?

KEVIN CONNOR: I did call the Energy Initiative but was not able to speak with Dr. Moniz. And the Energy Initiative did actually respond, through a spokesperson, with a statement that didn’t really speak to questions I had raised about how the conflicts of interest surrounding the report were managed and disclosed. One critical conflict of interest I didn’t note earlier was that one of the study authors, John Deutch, was on the board of Cheniere Energy, a liquefied natural gas company, LNG export company. That wasn’t disclosed in the study. The study actually endorsed natural gas exports. He has a $1.6 million stake in that company. MIT Energy Initiative—

AMY GOODMAN: Central Intelligence Agency?

KEVIN CONNOR: —basically had no response, just said that the authors aren’t biased, which is hard to believe, given these connections.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin, John Deutch, the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency?

KEVIN CONNOR: Exactly. Former director of the CIA was actually a study author here and is on the board of the only company in the U.S. to receive permits to export LNG from the lower 48 states. And again, this study endorsed LNG exports on fairly—a fairly thin basis of evidence and didn’t disclose this connection, which is really, again, quite outrageous.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to leave it there; of course, we’ll continue to follow the nominee. The confirmation hearings will take place on April 9th. Justin Elliott, ProPublica reporter, and Kevin Connor, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Justin wrote "Drilling Deeper," looking at "The Wealth of Business Connections for Obama’s Energy Pick." And Kevin Connor wrote the study, "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet? How MIT’s Influential Study of Fracking Was Authored, Funded, and Released by Oil and Gas Industry Insiders." We will link to it at democracynow.org.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. And when we come back, we’ll be joined by a well-known anchor here in New York, Cheryl Wills, who in this month of Women’s History Month—and we’ve just come out of African-American History Month—we’ll talk about what she found about her family. She wrote the book, Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale. Stay with us.

Byting back: UK govt to share hack data with businesses to fight cyber-crime

Published time: March 27, 2013 10:39
AFP Photo/Fred Dufour

The UK is opening a cyber-crime center to fight the “astonishing” number of hack attacks on Britain. The initiative follows an EU plan that forces companies to disclose hacked data, potentially damaging reputations and share prices.

The new initiative will combine information from government communications headquarters GCHQ, MI5, the police and various businesses. The idea behind the body is to orchestrate quicker responses to cyber-attacks that hit UK companies.

The so-called Cyber Security Information Sharing Partnership will share information between governments and businesses to gather a more complete picture of the attacks being carried out on computer systems in the UK.

Currently, 160 companies are involved in the initiative, from the fields of finance, defense, energy, telecommunications and pharmaceuticals.

UK companies have previously voiced concerns over releasing data on cyber-attacks, fearing that such information would damage their credibility and share prices if it were disseminated publically.  

“The government is understandably wary about divulging information to outsiders about cyber threats which has been derived from secret sources and agencies,” cyber-security expert Nigel Inkster told the Financial Times.

However, the UK government has insisted that the statistics paint a clear picture of the growing threat and the need to act. Last year, MI5 head Jonathan Evans called the cyber-threat to Britain “astonishing,” and said that one anonymous

UK company had lost over $1 billion in an act of intellectual property theft.

And the year previous, cyber-security specialist BAE Systems Detica estimated that British companies lost around $40 billion a year in revenues through hacking attacks.

At first glance, it appears the UK is following a recent EU draft bill that seeks to force companies to declare when they fall victim to a cyber-attack. However, the UK initiative differs by giving businesses the choice of whether to participate.

David Garfield, managing director of cyber security at BAE Systems Detica, told the Financial Times that the EU measure could end up being counterproductive: “The real effect of a system of compulsory disclosure might ultimately be to encourage companies to turn a blind eye to attacks, pretending they have not seen them.”

The European Commission’s ‘Open, Safe and Secure Cyberspace’ plan would be a massive operation involving 42,000 companies dealing with banking, transport, energy, health, the Internet and public administrations. 

The companies would be required to immediately inform EU authorities in the event of a hack attack, “to share early warnings on risks and incidents through a secure infrastructure, cooperate and organize regular peer reviews.”

UK officials have voiced concerns over the bill, saying they would be uncomfortable with a law making it mandatory for companies to disclose data on attacks.

Partier Beware: 9 Ploys to Exploit Spring Breakers

The financial headache is worse than the hangover.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

March 25, 2013  |  

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The beer-soaked blur of spring break is a rite of passage, and at least since the 1980s, when MTV dropped in on the party, it’s been corporate America’s bootylicious wet dream . With the potent mix of inebriated young people and cultural pressure to have the most off-the-chain experience, there’s big money to be made and beaucoup merchandise to be moved. And if the kids aren’t careful, a financial headache worse than the hangover will follow them home.

1. Scam season: There are as many scams engineered to rip off spring breakers and their families as there are beaches in sunny Florida . Popular frauds include the “grandparent scam,” where grandpa gets a call from someone saying that young Johnnie has landed in a Mexican jail and needs bail money wired immediately. Also ubiquitous are fly-by-night operations that offer the trip of a lifetime, and then split with the money. Various hidden cost hustles get students to pay a low rate for a hotel room but upon arrival they find that various fees like “season rate” charges and gratuities have been tacked on. Students who post their whereabouts on Twitter and Facebook may also wake to find that burglars have been assiduously following social media.

2. The big swipe: Credit card companies encourage students to rack up charges during spring break, advertising their wares with pictures of attractive tanned bodies lounging under palm trees. When they aren’t conjuring fantasy, they’re marketing products with “safety first” admonitions that cards are ever so much less dangerous than carrying cash. Until the bill comes, of course. Forbes magazine offers a handy list of the “ Best Credit Cards For Spring Break Road Trips,” which praises the Discover More Card for its APR teaser and a transfer fee of 3 percent. Chase is applauded for offering rebates for big spenders, while Bank of America lets students link the card to savings or checking account so they “can top off the tank and load up on snacks.” Not to mention debt. 

3. Predator’s paradise: Of all the shady characters who have enriched themselves at the expense of spring breakers, Joe Francis, the founder of the "Girls Gone Wild" empire, deserves top billing in the Slimeball Hall of Fame. Francis discovered that exploiting and humiliating young women in sleazy videos was the road to riches, and set about haunting spring break locales and luring barely legal (and sometimes not) women into baring their breasts and performing suggestive acts. Francis has battled the courts over consent issues, and recently filed for bankruptcy, noting in the disclosure that his company, like American Airlines and General Motors, just needed a little restructuring. Greed, apparently, conquers all.

4. Billion-dollar party: Hotels, cruises, jam-packed restaurants, spray-tanning sessions, all-inclusives and rivers of booze. Between Florida and Texas alone, college students blow an estimated $1 billion on spring break. The travel industry estimates that over than 1.5 million students take part in the annual bacchanalia. That’s a boatload lot of wallets, and plenty of ways to empty them.

5. Marketing mayhem: The marketing frenzy surrounding the spring break has achieved scientific precision, deftly adjusting to evolving trends.  This year, savvy marketing departments are pushing computer-related items, video games, movies and TV shows, along with a mind-blowing cornucopia of other youth-oriented consumer products. The site Boozinggear.com purveys must-have accoutrements such as the “Double Down Beer Bong” and the “Bouncing Boobs Red Can Cooler Set.” The app industry intensifies the party experience with everything from Beach TV, which streams the party in Panama City Beach, to Happy Hour Finder, which guides you to the nearest tiki bar.

Five Great Online Tools for Mining Public Records

This post first appeared on the Project On Government Oversight blog.

Thanks to our open records laws, you can find a treasure trove of information on the Web — everything from details about publically traded companies to where stimulus funds are going. You can even submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests online.

Take some time this week to educate yourself about the information and data available from government websites. Below are five great online tools that you can use to help hold government accountable.

FOIA Online

FOIA Online allows anyone to submit a Freedom of Information Act request online, track their request, and search past FOIA requests. Currently the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Commerce, Federal Labor Regulations Authority, Merit System Protections Board, and the National Archives and Records Administration use FOIA Online.

One of the great things about FOIA Online is that you do not have to be registered to submit or search FOIA requests. This makes it incredibly easy for anyone to begin research into what is going on in different agencies and departments of the U.S. government.

Recovery.gov

Recovery.gov was established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, commonly known as the “Stimulus,” and is managed by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. It shows the distribution of all Recovery funds and how each agency is spending the money. Agencies involved must submit weekly financial reports that describe how the funds allotted to them are being distributed, and those who received contracts, grants, and loan awards of Recovery funds must submit similar reports four times per year.

Recovery.gov not only allows the public to view, research, and review the information, but it offers the ability to report suspected fraud, waste or abuse that relates to the Stimulus.

The Consumer Complaint Database

The Consumer Complaint Database displays information from consumer credit card complaints that are reported to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The data allows people to gain insight on other users’ experiences with different credit card companies. The website has also been designed so web developers can pull data and other information to create other online tools.

SEC’s Electronic Data-Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval System (EDGAR)

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires that all publically traded domestic companies file necessary forms on EDGAR. Its purpose is to increase efficiency and fairness of the securities market by speeding up the analysis of the required forms.

EDGAR also allows the public to view statements of income, cash flow, shareholder equity, and operations. This leads to safer, more reliable investments, as well as giving the public the ability to research earnings of specific companies.

Ethics.gov

Ethics.gov put records and data from throughout the federal government into one place. It contains Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) records, Lobbying Disclosure Reports, Federal Election Commission (FEC) candidates and contributions, Office of Government Ethics (OGE) travel reports, and White House visitors.

It allows people to review information on candidates and campaign financing. You can see who has been visiting the White House and review payments to lobbyists and see what issues they’ve worked on.

New ‘Voluntary Standards’ Don’t Make Fracking Safe

In the debate over our energy future, I keep coming back to the question of whether or not fracking can be done safely. There is no question that once out of the ground, natural gas burns cleaner than coal but the actual process of fracking to date has documented evidence of water contamination, increased risk of earthquakes in areas not prone to earthquakes, and mysterious health problems in fracking communities. Adding to this, fracking results in significant methane release and because methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, there is no net climate benefit to using natural gas that is extracted by fracking.

But, could fracking be regulated and made safe? A new collaboration between environmentalists and oil and gas companies is attempting to set higher performance standards for fracking in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. The Center for Sustainable Shale Development lists Chevron, Shell, and the Environmental Defense Fund among the 11 partners that have been brought together. So far, the group has released an initial set of 15 performance standards that reduce gas well flaring, develop groundwater protection plans, implement no-leak valves and piping, and recycles 90 percent of the wastewater. There are also some disclosure requirements for the fracking fluids, but still allows for a “trade secret” exclusion that only requires the relevant chemical family name be disclosed.

These standards go beyond what is currently required, but that says more about the lack of adequate regulations than the work of the Center. The Center will certify companies meet their performance standards but there is no requirement that a fracking company must be certified before it can operate in a state. Environmental and community groups have criticized the collaboration because ultimately, natural gas is still a fossil fuel and continued reliance on it will do nothing to stop the climate crisis. In addition, Sandy Buchanan, the director of Ohio Citizen Action said, "This deal in no way represents the interests or agreement of the people being harmed by fracking in Ohio."

While the Center’s efforts are better than nothing, they don’t really change whether fracking can be done safely. What happens to fracking operators that aren’t certified or who violate a performance standard? They would possibly get rebuked by the Center, which has no legal or regulatory enforcement power. This is, in fact, the definition of greenwashing. Oil and gas companies can claim to abide by these higher standards but there is no guarantee or repercussions if they don’t comply.

The Center’s new standards are not a game changer. They do not change the fact that natural gas is a finite resource. They do not make fracking safer because they are not enforceable. If anything, they provide cover for oil and gas interests that want to derail the transition to a clean economy powered by renewable energy.

The fact remains that we will have to transition to a renewable energy economy and the longer we wait, the harder and more expensive it will be. Instead of putting all these focus and energy into a dead-end fossil fuel, we should be investing that focus and energy into building out a renewable energy economy.

How Noam Chomsky Is Discussed

One very common tactic for enforcing political orthodoxies is to malign the character, "style" and even mental health of those who challenge them. The most extreme version of this was an old Soviet favorite: to declare political dissidents mentally ill and put them in hospitals. In the US, those who take even the tiniest steps outside of political convention are instantly decreed "crazy", as happened to the 2002 anti-war version of Howard Dean and the current iteration of Ron Paul (in most cases, what is actually "crazy" are the political orthodoxies this tactic seeks to shield from challenge).Noam Chomsky, delivering the Edward W. Said lecture in London on 18 March 2013. (Photograph: guardian.co.uk)

This method is applied with particular aggression to those who engage in any meaningful dissent against the society's most powerful factions and their institutions. Nixon White House officials sought to steal the files from Daniel Ellsberg's psychoanalyst's office precisely because they knew they could best discredit his disclosures with irrelevant attacks on his psyche. Identically, the New York Times and partisan Obama supporters have led the way in depicting both Bradley Manning and Julian Assange as mentally unstable outcasts with serious personality deficiencies. The lesson is clear: only someone plagued by mental afflictions would take such extreme steps to subvert the power of the US government.

A subtler version of this technique is to attack the so-called "style" of the critic as a means of impugning, really avoiding, the substance of the critique. Although Paul Krugman is comfortably within mainstream political thought as a loyal Democrat and a New York Times columnist, his relentless attacks against the austerity mindset is threatening to many. As a result, he is barraged with endless, substance-free complaints about his "tone": he is too abrasive, he does not treat opponents with respect, he demonizes those who disagree with him, etc. The complaints are usually devoid of specifics to prevent meaningful refutation: one typical example: "[Krugman] often cloaks his claims in professional authority, overstates them, omits arguments that undermine his case, and is a bit of a bully"). All of that enables the substance of the critique to be avoided in lieu of alleged personality flaws.

Nobody has been subjected to these vapid discrediting techniques more than Noam Chomsky. The book on which I'm currently working explores how establishment media systems restrict the range of acceptable debate in US political discourse, and I'm using Chomsky's treatment by (and ultimate exclusion from) establishment US media outlets as a window for understanding how that works. As a result, I've read a huge quantity of media discussions about Chomsky over the past year. And what is so striking is that virtually every mainstream profile or discussion of him at some point inevitably recites the same set of personality and stylistic attacks designed to malign his advocacy without having to do the work to engage the substance of his claims. Notably, these attacks come most frequently and viciously from establishment liberal venues, such as when the American Prospect's 2005 foreign policy issue compared him to Dick Cheney on its cover (a cover he had framed and now proudly hangs on his office wall).

Last week, Chomsky was in London to give the annual Edward W. Said lecture, and as always happens when he speaks, the large auditorium was filled to the brim, having sold out shortly after it was announced. The Guardian's Aida Edemariam interviewed him in London and produced an article, published Saturday morning, that features virtually all of those standard stylistic and personality critiques:

"When he starts speaking, it is in a monotone that makes no particular rhetorical claim on the audience's attention; in fact, it's almost soporific . . . . Within five minutes many of the hallmarks of Chomsky's political writing, and speaking, are displayed: his anger, his extraordinary range of reference and experience . . . . . Fact upon fact upon fact, but also a withering, sweeping sarcasm – the atrocities are 'tolerated politely by Europe as usual'. Harsh, vivid phrases – the 'hideously charred corpses of murdered infants'; bodies 'writhing in agony' – unspool until they become almost a form of punctuation.

"You could argue that the latter is necessary, simply a description of atrocities that must be reported, but it is also a method that has diminishing returns. The facts speak for themselves; the adjectives and the sarcasm have the counterintuitive effect of cheapening them, of imposing on the world a disappointingly crude and simplistic argument. 'The sentences,' wrote Larissa MacFarquhar in a brilliant New Yorker profile of Chomsky 10 years ago, 'are accusations of guilt, but not from a position of innocence or hope for something better: Chomsky's sarcasm is the scowl of a fallen world, the sneer of hell's veteran to its appalled naifs' – and thus, in an odd way, static and ungenerative. . . .

"But he answers questions warmly, and seriously, if not always directly – a surprise, in a way, from someone who has earned a reputation for brutality of argument, and a need to win at all costs. 'There really is an alpha-male dominance psychology at work there,' a colleague once said of him. 'He has some of the primate dominance moves. The staring down. The withering tone of voice." Students have been known to visit him in pairs, so that one can defend the other. . . .

"Chomsky, the son of Hebrew teachers who emigrated from Ukraine and Russia at the turn of the last century, began as a Zionist – but the sort of Zionist who wanted a socialist state in which Jews and Arabs worked together as equals. Since then he has been accused of antisemitism (due to defending the right to free speech of a French professor who espoused such views, some 35 years ago), and been called, by the Nation, 'America's most prominent self-hating Jew'. These days he argues tirelessly for the rights of Palestinians. . . . . Does he think that in all these years of talking and arguing and writing, he has ever changed one specific thing?"

So to recap: Chomsky is a sarcastic, angry, soporific, scowling, sneering self-hating Jew, devoid of hope and speaking from hell, whose alpha-male brutality drives him to win at all costs, and who imposes on the world disappointingly crude and simplistic arguments to the point where he is so inconsequential that one wonders whether he has ever changed even a single thing in his 60 years of political work.

Edemariam includes several other passages more balanced and even complimentary. She notes his academic accolades ("One study of the most frequently cited academic sources of all time found that he ranked eighth, just below Plato and Freud"), his mastery of facts, his willingness to speak to hostile audiences, his touching life-long relationship with his now-deceased wife, and his remarkable commitment, even at the age of 84, to personally answering emails from people around the world whom he does not know (when I spoke at a college near Rochester two weeks ago, one of the students, a college senior studying to be a high school social studies teacher, gushed as he told me that he had emailed Chomsky and quickly received a very generous personal reply). She also includes Chomsky's answer to her question about whether he has ever changed anything: a characteristically humble explanation that no one person - not even Martin Luther King - can or ever has by themselves changed anything.

But the entire piece is infused with these standard personality caricatures that offer the reader an easy means of mocking, deriding and scorning Chomsky without having to confront a single fact he presents. And that's the point: as this 9-minute Guardian excerpt about Iran and the Middle East from Chomsky's London speech demonstrates, he rationally but aggressively debunks destructive mainstream falsehoods that huge numbers of people are taught to tacitly embrace. But all of that can be, and is, ignored in favor of hating his "style", ridiculing his personality, and smearing him with horrible slurs ("self-hating Jew").

What's particularly strange about this set of personality and style attacks is what little relationship they bear to reality. Far from being some sort of brutal, domineering, and angry "alpha-male" savage, Chomsky - no matter your views of him - is one of the most soft-spoken and unfailingly civil and polite political advocates on the planet. It's true that his critiques of those who wield power and influence can be withering - that's the central function of an effective critic or just a human being with a conscience - but one would be hard-pressed to find someone as prominent as he who is as steadfastly polite and considerate and eager to listen when it comes to interacting with those who are powerless and voiceless. His humanism is legion. And far from being devoid of hope, it's almost impossible to find an establishment critic more passionate and animated when talking about the ability of people to join together to create real social and political change.

Then there's Edemariam's statement, offered with no citation, that Chomsky has been called "America's most prominent self-hating Jew" by the left-wing Nation magazine. This claim, though often repeated and obviously very serious, is inaccurate.

The Nation article which she seems to be referencing is not available online except by subscription. But what is freely available online is a 1993 article on Chomsky from the Chicago Tribune that makes clear that this did not come from the Nation itself, but from a single writer who, more importantly, was not himself calling Chomsky a "self-hating" Jew but was simply noting that this is how he is often attacked ("one critic observed that Chomsky has 'acquired the reputation as America's most prominent self-hating Jew.'"). In 2010, the scholarly website 3 Quarks Daily noted an article on Chomsky from The Telegraph that also claimed without citation that "the Left-wing Nation magazine, meanwhile, called him 'America's most prominent self-hating Jew'". Inquiries in the comment section for the source citation for this quote prompted this reply:

"I know this is a few years old, but the citation for the 'most prominent self-hating Jew' quote is: Morton, Brian. 'Chomsky Then and Now.' Nation 246, no. 18 (May 7, 1988): 646-652.

"With access to a full-text archive of The Nation, it took me only a few minutes to locate this. The full quote in context is 'If Chomsky has acquired the reputation of being America's most prominent self-hating Jew, this is because, in the United States, discussion about the Middle East has until recently taken place within very narrow bounds.'

"As you can see the point was quite the opposite of how it was presented. The Nation often includes different perspectives so attributing one reviewer's comment to 'The Nation' as a whole would be dishonest anyway.

"Regardless of that however, the reviewer was actually making the point that Chomsky's views only seem far out because the spectrum is so limited. . . . .This is just another example of the kind of lazy, dishonest way in which Chomsky's views are generally reported."

Having myself retrieved a full copy of Morton's 1988 article, I can say with certainty that that comment is indeed 100% accurate. It is wildly inaccurate to claim that the Nation labelled Chomsky a "self-hating Jew":

morton chomsky

The oft-repeated claim that Chomsky has "been called, by the Nation,
'America's most prominent self-hating Jew'" is simply false. If anything, that Nation article, written by someone not on the Nation staff, debunked that accusation, and certainly did not embrace it.

But the strangest attack on Chomsky is the insinuation that he has changed nothing. Aside from the metrics demonstrating that he has more reach and influence than virtually any public intellectual on the planet, some of which Edemariam cites, I'd say that there is no living political writer who has more radically changed how more people think in more parts of the world about political issues than he. If you accept the premise (as I do) that the key to political change is to convince people of pervasive injustice and the need to act, then it's virtually laughable to depict him as inconsequential. Washington power-brokers and their media courtiers do not discuss him, and he does not make frequent (or any) appearances on US cable news outlets, but outside of those narrow and insular corridors - meaning around the world - few if any political thinkers are as well-known, influential or admired (to its credit, the Guardian, like some US liberal outlets, does periodically publish Chomsky's essays).

Like any person with a significant political platform, Chomsky is fair game for all sorts of criticisms. Like anyone else, he should be subjected to intense critical and adversarial scrutiny. Even admirers should listen to his (and everyone else's) pronouncements with a critical ear. Like anyone who makes prolific political arguments over the course of many years, he's made mistakes.

But what is at play here is this destructive dynamic that the more one dissents from political orthodoxies, the more personalized, style-focused and substance-free the attacks become. That's because once someone become sufficiently critical of establishment pieties, the goal is not merely to dispute their claims but to silence them. That's accomplished by demonizing the person to the extent that huge numbers of people decide that nothing they say should even be considered, let alone accepted. It's a sorry and anti-intellectual tactic, to be sure, but a brutally effective one.

Robert Reich on Lessons Learned From Watergate

At the National Press Club, the citizen’s lobby Common Cause held a conference commemorating the 40th anniversary of Watergate. Kicking off the conference was economist Robert Reich, former secretary of labor under President Clinton. In this audio exclusive at the event, Moyers & Company senior writer Michael Winship talks with Reich about the ways in which Washington has changed since Watergate, and how the influence of money continues to corrupt politics and exacerbate income inequality in America.

At the conference, Reich said that despite the crisis, America’s response to Watergate was, in many respects, “a huge success… Watergate should be considered a moment when government showed its resilience.” In the wake of wrongdoing by the president and those closest to him, Reich argued, the rest of the government and the American people rose to the occasion in the way our democracy’s founders would have hoped. There was campaign finance reform, increased transparency and limits placed on presidential power but, he added, in recent years, much of what was accomplished post-Watergate has come undone.

Also listen to Michael Winship’s conversation with Russ Feingold at the same conference.


TRANSCRIPT

Michael Winship: We are talking with Robert Reich. And I first wanted to start by asking you where you were during the Watergate crisis 40 years ago. What were you doing?

Robert Reich: Well, at the beginning of the Watergate crisis I was in law school. One of my law school professors wanted me to come to Washington with him. He had been made solicitor general, and he wanted me to be assistant solicitor general and I accepted the offer. His name was Robert Bork. And then, after I accepted and before I came to Washington, he fired Archibald Cox, which made my life very difficult.

Michael Winship: As part of the Saturday Night Massacre —

Robert Reich: Exactly. And I thought, now, do I really want to come down to Washington and argue Supreme Court cases for the man who fired Archibald Cox? And to make a long story very short, I actually did spend about two years briefing and arguing Supreme Court cases in the Ford administration. That was my first job.

Michael Winship: What were you thinking as all this unrolled, as you saw these events, from break in to cover up to the hearings and —

Robert Reich: I thought at the time that it was the best and worst in America, that Nixon and Haldeman and others around him represented the most venal characteristics of American politics, that John Mitchell and others had no respect for the constitution. But at the same time, I saw John Sirica, the House Judiciary Committee, people who overcame partisanship and rose to the occasion, with honor and courage and integrity. And it seemed to me that the best of America would inevitably trump the worst of America.

Michael Winship: You said in many respects it was a huge success.

Robert Reich: It was. Watergate, contrary to the way history has viewed it, showed the strength of American institutions — not just our political institutions, but our judiciary, and also our media.

Michael Winship: And also, I think you also said that it was a great show of accountability.

Robert Reich: The people who had perpetrated these crimes — and I don’t mean just the burglaries; I mean the cover up, the attempts to essentially undermine the integrity of our entire democratic process — were brought to justice: Ehrlichman, Haldeman, many of those who participated in the cover up, and then ultimately Richard Nixon, who had to resign. Now, it’s still very controversial with regard to President Ford’s pardon, and we can debate that. But the point, and the important point, was that justice was done, accountability was served. People did not get away with it.

Michael Winship: I don’t mean this at all facetiously: Are there aspects of the Nixon presidency that you miss today?

Robert Reich: Well, I don’t miss the personality of Richard Nixon, or the values that I understand were Richard Nixon’s values in terms of what governing is all about. Certainly, you know, the Nixon administration did have some foreign policy successes. I think the opening to China was an extraordinary achievement. I think the Environmental Protection Act and the willingness to really make some headway on the environment was important. But the Nixon administration did leave an undeniable stain on the presidency.

Michael Winship: Were the American people better off? You mentioned some statistics in your opening remarks today.

Robert Reich: Well, the economy was, in many ways, a more equitable economy in those years. The top 1 percent of Americans by income took home about 9 to 10 percent of total income. Today the top 1 percent takes home more than 20 percent. The top 1 percent had about 25 – 30 percent of the nation’s total wealth. Today the top 1 percent has 35 – 40 percent of the nation’s total wealth. So, undeniably, we have gone into — we’ve become a much more — a nation of much more concentrated wealth and income, and also power. Because, don’t forget, income and wealth are correlated with political power. As the great Justice Louis Brandeis once said, we can have a democracy or we can have great wealth concentrated in very few hands, but we can’t have both.

Michael Winship: So what happened? I know in this new documentary that you’re very involved with, Inequality For All, you talk about how in the seventies everything changed, so everything changed just after we went through this crisis in American politics. What changed, what happened?

Robert Reich: Many things changed simultaneously. For one thing, many of the technologies that had been developed in the second world war became commercially viable. Satellite communication technologies, cargo ships, container ships, all of that allowed the production process to be parceled out around the world to where everything could be done most cheaply. But, more to the point, we also had a political system that was less willing or able to respond to these changes, a political system that was willing to allow or encourage the demise of unions, that didn’t pay attention to the stagnation of the median wage, even as productivity continued to surge ahead, a political system that did not want to or wasn’t able to make the investments in education and research and development that needed to be made in order to allow the middle class to continue to prosper. And also, a political system that became obsessed with taxes and taxes on the rich, and thereby, because the rich began to have so much more influence in the political system, began to reduce marginal income taxes and make it impossible for the nation to continue the kind of investments we’d been making in the fifties and sixties, in everything from infrastructure all the way through higher education. So add all of these things up, and we saw a corrosion of our democratic political capacities to respond to structural changes in the economy starting in the late 1970s.

Michael Winship: How do we get that back, what do we do?

Robert Reich: Well, that’s probably the biggest and most important question that I certainly struggle with, and I think many others also struggle with. I think we can’t do it from Washington itself. You know, rarely do you have the capacity in Washington to do anything that the public is not ready to do. In fact, the converse is true. The only time good things happen in Washington is when a majority or a very large number of the public, and people who envision and understand what needs to be done, are mobilized and organized and energized to put pressure on Washington to make sure those things are done. And so we need — I mean I don’t know whether you want to call it a new progressive movement, or a revived Democratic party — I don’t even feel comfortable putting it in such partisan terms, because we used to have liberal Republicans: Nelson Rockefeller, Mark Hatfield, Jacob Javits, many who understood the challenge of widening the circle of prosperity and providing equal opportunity. Well, we need that kind of courage today. We need that kind of political movement today.

Michael Winship: Even during the most rancorous time, during the Watergate crisis, there was still talk between the two parties, there was still a spirit of compromise, a spirit of being able to work together, and that’s totally vanished.

Robert Reich: It’s completely gone. It’s completely gone. I first came to Washington as an intern for Robert Kennedy in 1967. I was back in the 1970s, both in the Ford and in the Carter administration, and then I was again here in the Clinton administration, and I was an advisor in early stages of the Obama administration, and I’ve seen a remarkable steady decline in comity, in collaboration, in civility in this city. Partly, I think it’s because the Republican party has been taken over by a bunch of right wing fanatics. I don’t want to mince words here. I think that’s exactly what’s happened. I think the Democrats and Republicans have forgotten why they’re here and what the public wants them to do. Many Democrats also — I won’t say that they’ve been taken over by left wing fanatics. That’s not the case. But I think many politicians are most interested in their own chances of reelection rather than what is good for the country. And I know that even my students, my best students, who I would want and hope would go into politics, they are eager to go into public service, but they look at politics as essentially corrupt and dirty. Now, to me, that’s dangerous. If we don’t embrace and honor and get involved in politics, we cede democracy to those who are representing the worst or special interests, rather than the public interest.

Michael Winship: That’s another thing, you and I spoke a couple of years ago informally about how Washington, because we both were here in the seventies and here now, today, how money changed this city, I mean physically and philosophically how money has altered Washington.

Robert Reich: It’s a completely different city from what it was in the sixties and early seventies. In fact, Pennsylvania Avenue was kind of seedy. I remember, when I was at the Federal Trade Commission, lobbyists who would want to take me out to lunch — well, I said no to most of them, but if I wanted to be halfway civil I took them across the street to a place called Barney’s, a hamburger joint that was infested by cockroaches, and I never saw them again. Now you can’t find a cockroach on Pennsylvania Avenue, or in any restaurant. They’re all expensive, thick napkins and tableware. You know, this is a city that has gone from, I won’t say rags to riches, but from seediness to great wealth. The counties surrounding Washington are among the wealthiest counties in the nation. Corporations, including Wall Street, have poured a fortune into Washington, in terms of public relations professionals, lobbyists, people who will do the bidding of big corporations, and Wall Street and the rich. And as a result, the process of governing has been subverted in a very profound way.

Michael Winship: And what about campaign finance reform? We seem to — in the years after Watergate, we saw public financing in campaigns, we saw the creation of the Federal Election Commission, and now what’s happened? What happened to that?

Robert Reich: Well, it’s not a dead letter. I think people are still very interested and committed to campaign finance reform. But with Citizens United against the Federal Election Commission, that dreadful 2010 decision by a majority of the Supreme Court, we have opened the floodgates — or they have opened the floodgates — to big money in politics. The reforms that were started just before Watergate, and Watergate then encouraged even more of, in terms of the Federal Election Campaign Act reforms, have been all but eviscerated. We need to reverse Citizens United. We need to revive public financing of presidential and other elections. We need to really create a groundswell of public demands for these and for full disclosure of who is, or what institutions are providing money in our campaigns. This is one area that I have to be completely candid with you, I’m very disappointed with the Obama administration. The president has talked about campaign finance reform, but he did not take public financing in 2008. Again in 2012 he refused it. He set up his own super PAC, and now he’s set up an organization that is taking unlimited amounts of money and providing interviews and access to the administration and to the president as a quid pro quo. Well, some people say to me the administration has to fight fire with fire, and I understand that pragmatic view. But if you don’t take a stand somewhere it is impossible to stand anywhere, with regard to campaign finance reform.

Michael Winship: With media consolidation, and cutbacks in manpower, in money and time dedicated to investigative reporting, could the kind of coverage that Watergate got still take place today? Are we still capable of that kind of reporting?

Robert Reich: We’re capable of that kind of reporting, I believe. There’s still a lot of eager young journalists who would like to do investigative reporting, and who are willing to do it on a shoestring. My bigger concern is that we don’t have neutral arbiters any longer of news and information, such that the public will trust them. We have a very bifurcated system of information now. The right listens to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. The left has their own tribunes. But people now can very easily tune in to the voices and the people they already agree with, who confirm their every suspicion and their values. So without the neutral arbiters, without the Walter Cronkites or the great newspapers that used to be basically trusted, without what we used to call the establishment “mainstream press,” we run the danger of not being able to get word out to Americans about what’s happening.

Michael Winship: And also, I think attention is so fragmented now, there are so many — when we were living through Watergate you only had the three networks and public television and a couple of other stations, and now there are so many different sources of information, but not enough analysis.

Robert Reich: There’s less analysis. There’s more partisan information, more selective partisan information. There’s less trust, in every institution in our society. Not only Congress and the president, but the media and the judiciary. And without that trust, the public, it seems to me, is put in a very precarious situation in terms of the whole system of governance. What are you left with? You’re left with big corporations and Wall Street and billionaires, and why should anybody trust that they are going to act in the public interest? And this all comes at a time when the challenges that we face, whether they be climate change or nuclear proliferation or poverty, both at home and abroad, or any number of things, the challenges are so large and getting larger that unless we have some set of structures that people believe in and trust to act for all of us — and we used to call that government — then we’re powerless, in a way that I think should disturb all of us.

Michael Winship: A lot of people feel that Watergate was the beginning of the erosion of that trust, but you don’t necessarily feel that way.

Robert Reich: No. I think Watergate, if properly understood, should have been a monument to how powerful, resilient and honorable our system can be under great stress. Unfortunately, the cover up and the plot by President Nixon, and Ehrlichman and Haldeman and Mitchell and others, have overwhelmed the public’s memory of all of the strengths, and the strength of the institutions that counteracted Nixon and really reestablished the primacy of law.

Michael Winship: And finally, can you tell us about the documentary — you have this new documentary that’s coming out in the fall.

Robert Reich: Yes, it’s called Inequality for All. It will be coming out I believe the first week of September. I was very proud to be associated with it. I suppose you could say it’s sort of like An Inconvenient Truth for the economy, and I play the Al Gore character. The ultimate — perhaps this is a bit of a grandiose goal, but the ultimate goal is that it changes and kind of reframes public debate about the economy.

Michael Winship: Well, we all look forward to seeing it.

Robert Reich: Good.

Michael Winship: Thank you very much.

Windows open: Microsoft reveals tens of thousands of users data disclosed

Published time: March 22, 2013 14:01
AFP Photo / Robyn Beck

Microsoft received 75,378 government requests in 2012 to disclose user information, a report reveals. The company joins the likes of Google, which handed over troves of user data to governments last year, raising concerns over privacy violations.

The software giant claims the requests come from the FBI and as such the disclosure of the information can be justified.

Microsoft revealed in its transparency report it had disclosed data pertaining to 137,424 user accounts at the behest of world governments. Microsoft maintains that actual “customer content” was released in only 2.1 per cent of cases.

However, names, email addresses, user names and locations, which the company classifies as ‘non-content’, were released in 79.8 per cent of cases.

Most of the requests to reveal user information over the past year originated in the US, UK, Turkey, Germany and France.

“However, we only disclose data in 46 countries where we have the ability to validate the lawfulness of the request,” said a company spokesperson.

"In recent months, there has been broadening public interest in how often law enforcement agencies request customer data from technology companies and how our industry responds to these requests," Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said.

Stressing the company’s commitment to transparency, he added that Microsoft was following suit with companies like Google and Twitter, which had “made important and helpful contributions to this discussion by publishing some of their data.”

Google was first off the mark and has published a transparency report three years running, detailing the quantity of information handed over to government agencies. It also claimed to have received request letters from the FBI as part of terrorism investigations.

Last week a judge in the US ruled that the use of such letters went against the American constitution because it bypasses the rights of the individual involved. However, the judge allowed the measures to remain in place pending appeal.

Microsoft has come in the firing line before for its surveillance practices regarding popular telephony tool Skype, which the company acquired in 2011. Earlier this year a group of 44 privacy and free expression groups wrote an open letter to Microsoft, urging them to publish a transparency report on how exactly the company uses private information in government surveillance.

“We believe that this data is vital to help us help Skype’s most vulnerable users, who rely on your software for the privacy of their communications and, in some cases, their lives,” read the letter.

Eva Galperin from the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Forbes she was “a little suspicious of the language” used in the transparency report regarding Skype and is concerned that Skype may have provided the government with a backdoor to eavesdrop on conversations without consulting Microsoft.

“This doesn’t exclude the possibility that Microsoft used cryptographic means to undermine a users’ security and allow law enforcement to perform their own wiretap,” Galperin told Forbes magazine.

Privatization Limits Access to Public Information

Companies looking to take control of public services are winning government contracts for a wide array of services ranging from state prisons to local water systems to public schools, and often without much public oversight.

Private contractors are circumventing open records and sunshine laws as state and local governments push to privatize public services. For example, for-profit prison contractors are escaping scrutiny about prison conditions, financial information about government services that was once public such as management salaries and employee wage rates becomes “proprietary information” exempt from disclosure and even the names of corporations bidding to take control of public services are kept from the public. In Allentown, Pennsylania, the Mayor refused to release the identities of potential contractors that responded to his proposal to privatize the water system.

A 2012 report by In the Public Interest, demonstrates the real world consequences of privatization on government transparency. Recent examples show that some states are taking steps to strengthen their open records laws, while others are failing to protect public information.

For example:

In both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the governors’ efforts to privatize the states’ lottery systems have been rushed, top-down approaches occurring outside of the public’s view. In Pennsylvania, Governor Corbett went so far as to award the operations contract to the sole bidder, Camelot Global Services, without full input from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and the General Assembly. Ultimately, the proposal was rejected by the state’s attorney general.

As companies continue to evade transparency laws, demands for transparency are increasing. Recent court rulings across the country have ruled in favor of increased transparency of government contracting.

For example:

The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled that the for-profit prison giant, Corrections Corporation of America, must make public certain documents that they previously refused to disclose, including reports and audits in which they had been found in violation of their contracts and lawsuit settlements where the company had to pay damages.

The Florida circuit court ruled that Aramark, the company that took control of housekeeping and maintenance services at the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee, must divulge information regarding the number of formerly public employees that were offered positions with the company following the privatization effort.

Stronger open records laws and more transparency would render these court cases unnecessary.

Several states are taking action to protect access to information and public input in the contracting process. Virginia recently passed a bill that requires contractors engaging in public-private partnerships for transportation services to make their proposals readily available to the public. New Mexico legislators are advancing legislation that would require large government contractors to disclose their political contributions and post them on the state’s Sunshine Portal.

Federal and state-based open records and sunshine laws are essential accountability protections and help ensure that public services operate in our best interests. The more we privatize, the less we know and the less control we have over our public services. Stronger open records laws are the right step towards maintaining that control.

New York Times Hypocrisy

NYT's attempts to set the record straight are duplicitous. They come too late to matter. On May 26, 2004, Times editors headlined "The Times and Iraq," saying...

Drilling Deeper: The Wealth of Business Connections for Obama’s Energy Pick

When President Obama nominated Ernest Moniz to be energy secretary earlier this month, he hailed the nuclear physicist as a "brilliant scientist" who, among his many talents, had effectively brought together "prominent thinkers and energy companies" in the continuing effort to figure out a safe and economically sound energy future for the country.

Ernest Moniz (Getty Images) Indeed, Moniz's collaborative work 2013 best captured in the industry-backed research program he oversaw at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2013 is well known. So, too, is his support for Obama's "all of the above" energy strategy 2013 one that embraces, fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable energy sources.

But beyond his job in academia, Moniz has also spent the last decade serving on a range of boards and advisory councils for energy industry heavyweights, including some that do business with the Department of Energy. That includes a six-year paid stint on BP's Technology Advisory Council as well as similar positions at a uranium enrichment company and a pair of energy investment firms.

Such industry ties aren't uncommon for cabinet nominees, and Obama specifically praised Moniz for understanding both environmental and economic issues.

Still, Moniz's work for energy companies since he served in President Clinton's Energy Department has irked some environmentalists.

"His connections to the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries threaten to undermine the focus we need to see on renewables and energy efficiency," said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

Slocum pointed out that Moniz, if confirmed, will set research and investment priorities, including at the department's network of national laboratories.

The Energy Department hands out billions of dollars in contracts and loan guarantees as it pushes energy research and development and administers the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile and cleanup efforts. (On fracking, probably the highest-profile energy issue of the moment, the Environmental Protection Agency has jurisdiction.)

Reaction to Moniz's nomination has been mixed among environmental groups, ranging from support (Natural Resources Defense Council) to concerned acceptance (Sierra Club) to outright opposition (Food and Water Watch).

What criticism there has been has focused on his support for nuclear power and for natural gas extracted through fracking as a "bridge fuel" to transition away from coal.

Here's what we know about Moniz's recent involvement with the energy industry:

  • He was on BP's Technology Advisory Council between 2005 and 2011, a position for which he received a stipend, according to BP. Spokesman Matt Hartwig said the company does not disclose details of such payments. (A 2012 BP financial report disclosed that one council member received about $6,200.) The council "provides feedback and advice to BP's executive management as to the company's approach to research and technology," according to the company. BP has also provided $50 million in funding to Moniz's MIT Energy Initiative. Moniz talked about that relationship while delivering a warm introduction before a 2009 speech at MIT by BP's then-CEO Tony Hayward.
  • From 2002 to 2004, Moniz sat on the strategic advisory council of USEC, a public company that provides enriched uranium to nuclear power plants. A company spokesman said Moniz was paid for his role on the nine-member council, but declined to say how much. USEC, which has been seeking a $2 billion loan guarantee from the Energy Department for a centrifuge plant in Ohio, has applauded Moniz's nomination.
  • He's on the board of ICF International, a Fairfax, Virginia-based company which does energy and environmental consulting. It has received Energy Department contracts as part of what one executive called a "longstanding relationship with the Department of Energy." As a board member, Moniz got $158,000 in cash and stock in 2011, according to the company's most recent annual report.
  • He is on the strategic advisory council of NGP Energy Technology Partners, a private equity firm that invests in both alternative energy and fossil fuel companies. The Washington, D.C.-based firm declined to comment.
  • He is on the board of advisers of another private equity firm, the Angeleno Group,which says it provides "growth capital for next generation clean energy and natural resources companies." The Los Angeles-based firm didn't respond to requests for comment.    
  • He is a trustee of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC), a Saudi Aramco-backed nonprofit organization. The organization did not respond to requests for comment.
  • He was on the board of directors of the Electric Power Research Institute from 2007 to 2011, following a stint on the group's advisory council that began in 2002. A nonprofit utility consortium, the organization does research for the industry with an annual budget of over $300 million. The group paid Moniz $8,000 between 2009 and 2011, according to its most recent tax returns.
  • Since 2006, Moniz has been on the board of General Electric's "

A spokesperson for the MIT Energy Initiative said Moniz is not giving interviews, and the White House didn't respond to requests for comment.

Moniz's nomination has not encountered resistance from the Senate, where the Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Moniz April 9.

As part of the nomination process, Moniz has to fill out a financial disclosure that will become public, along with an ethics agreement on how he will avoid any conflicts of interest.

If confirmed Moniz won't be the first energy secretary who has been close to industry.

Steven Chu, the outgoing energy secretary, received scrutiny over his ties to BP. The company had chosen the lab Chu headed at the University of California, Berkeley, to lead a $500 million energy research project. BP's chief scientist at the time of the grant, Steven Koonin, became Chu's undersecretary for science.

When the Energy Department became involved in the government's response to the 2010 Gulf oil spill, Koonin recused himself.  Critics who thought the administration was too soft on the company pointed to Chu's ties to BP. But no evidence emerged that Chu had played any role going to bat for BP within the administration.

© Copyright 2013 Pro Publica Inc.

8 Ways Obama Is As Bad — Or Worse — Than Bush On Civil...

Despite a rare court victory on Friday, Obama's legacy is dismal.

Photo Credit: WhiteHouse.gov

March 18, 2013  |  

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Civil libertarians won a rare court victory against the Obama Administration’s ‘War on Terror’ on Friday when a U.S. District Court blocked the FBI from ordering telecom companies to turn over their customer’s data, such as e-mails and other records, and blocked FBI gag orders on this domestic spying program.

“In today's ruling, the court held that the gag order provisions of the statute violate the First Amendment and that the review procedures violate separation of powers,” Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyers, who brought the suit, said. “Because those provisions were not separable from the rest of the statute, the court declared the entire statute unconstitutional.”

This is the second time in recent months that civil libertarians have won a court victory over the Obama administration, although it is all but certain that it will appeal and seek to suspend the ruling. Last fall, a federal court suspended a section of a major defense bill that gave the government permission to arrest people who were suspected of speaking with alleged terrorists, which included several journalists who sued. However, another federal court reinstated that provision pending appeal.

“What is appears to illustrate is there are probably duel U.S. Pakistani nationals or maybe U.S. Afghan nationals who are being detained in military facilities and denied due process,” said Chris Hedges, an ex-foreign correspondent who sued.

What these developments underscore is that the Obama Administration barely differs from the George W. Bush Administration when it comes to the ‘War on Terrorism.’ While the Obama Administration has not continued specific tactics used by his predecessor, such as CIA black sites and specific torture techniques known as “enhanced interrogation,” it has gone further than Bush in other areas, such as with targeted assassinations using drones, and expanding the domestic national security state.

“There are the two War on Terror presidents,” wrote Glenn Greenwald recently. “ George Bush seized on the 9/11 attack to usher in radical new surveillance and detention powers in the PATRIOT ACT, spied for years on the communications of US citizens without the warrants required by law, and claimed the power to indefinitely imprison even US citizens without charges in military brigs.

“His successor, Barack Obama, went further by claiming the power not merely to detain citizens without judicial review but to assassinate them (about which the New York Times said: ‘It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing’). He has waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, dusting off [Woodrew] Wilson’s Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute more then double the number of whistleblowers than all prior presidents combined. And he has draped his actions with at least as much secrecy, if not more so, than any president in US history.”

Let’s go through these and other areas that, as the National Journal said, should result in an “F” for Obama when historians assess his civil liberties record.

This February, BillMoyers.com published a list of eight contrasting the Obama and Bush Administrations on civil liberties. On six of the eight areas, Obama expanded or codified his predecessor’s policies:

1. Patriot Act is renewed on May 27, 2011: “Obama signs a renewal of several of the Patriot Act’s most controversial segments, including the use of ‘ roving wiretaps,’ the government’s expanded access to business records, and the ‘lone wolf’ provision, which allows surveillance of individuals not affiliated with any known terrorist organization. 

2. Wiretaps and Data Collections: “On December 30, 2012, Obama signs a five-year extension of the FISA Amendments Act. Provisions for more oversight and public disclosure failed to pass Congress.” (This is the law that the Electronic Frontier Foundation challenged and won a U.S. District Court injunction against last week. The administration has 90 days to appeal.)

Washington Post Anti-Bolivarian Propaganda

Western media scoundrels waged war on Chavez. They did so throughout his tenure. Managed news misinformation substituted for truth and full disclosure. Chavez is gone. Misreporting continues. Post editors march in lockstep with other media scoundrels.

Turkey Targets Press Freedom

No country imprisons more journalists than Turkey. Ragip Zarakolu understands well. He's a prominent human rights activist/publisher. He's a former Nobel Peace Prize nominee. He's been maliciously targeted for years.

The Threat of the Imperial Presidency

President Obama prepares to board Air Force 1. (AP Photo)Civil libertarians, human rights advocates and peace advocates should insist on a renewed congressional assertion of its power under the Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, to take part in declaring war. Among the many reasons for this reassertion is that social movements typically have greater influence over elected congressional representatives than over the more remote and secretive executive branch.

Historically, American presidents have “encroached on Congress’s war making responsibilities, leaving the legislative branch increasingly irrelevent,” according to an analysis by Bennett Ramberg, a former State Department analyst in the first Bush administration.

Recent hearings by the Senate Intelligence Committee on CIA director John Brennan’s authority and the House Judiciary Committee into drones are at least momentary signs that Congress may be ready to reclaim some of its powers. Statements by President Obama literally asking Congress to write “new legal architecture” to “rein in” his presidency and those of his successors, are clear indications that the growth of an Imperial Presidency may be limited. The bipartisan vote of nearly 300 House members against the administration’s launching of the six-month 2011 Libyan war is the most concrete example of legislative unease.

As Congress considers its options, it is crucial that the public be included in a rightful role. The public sends its sons and daughters to risk their lives in war, pays the taxes that fund those wars and accepts the burden of debt, the paring back of social programs and restrictions on civil liberties in the name of war. The public has a right to know, obtained through public debate and public elections, the rationale, the costs and the predicted outcomes of any military venture. James Madison, cited by Ramberg, gave the reason centuries ago: “Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things be proper or safe judges, whether a war ought to be commenced, continued or concluded.”

Section 4(b) of the War Powers Resolution mandates that “the President shall provide such other information as the Congress may request in the fulfillment of its constitutional responsibilities with respect to committing the Nation to war and to the use of United States Armed Forces abroad.” Yet only insistent congressional pressure has forced the Obama administration to disclose some of its internal legal memoranda concerning drones, apparently in exchange for senate approval of Brennan’s nomination. It continues to resist the spirit of Section 4(b).

Hopefully, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) will take up the reform of war-making powers as a major priority. Already, one of the CPC’s co-chairs, Representative Keith Ellison, has expressed the need to reform and reverse the administration’s secret drone war. In the Senate, strong leadership on transparency has come from Senator Ron Wyden. Libertarian Republican senator Rand Paul is demanding to know whether the White House will unleash drone strikes on American citizens. Longtime activist groups like Code Pink suddenly are finding themselves in the center of a national conversation.

Three senators who voted for Brennan’s confirmation—Wyden, Mark Udall and Susan Collins—also issued a call on March 5 “to bring the American people into this debate and for Congress to consider ways to ensure that the president’s sweeping authorities are subject to appropriate limitations, oversight and safeguards.”

By most accounts, this fuss over the Imperial Rresidency wasn’t supposed to be happening. The drone wars were supposed to be cheap for the taxpayer, erase American military casualties and hammer the terrorists into peace negotiations. The assassination of Osama bin Ladin was supposed to be the turning point. But even with the wars being low-intensity and low-visibility, the “secrets” have remained in the public eye, especially the drone war.

From a peace movement perspective, pressure from anywhere for any steps that will complicate and eventually choke off the unfettered use of drones will be an improvement over the status quo.

From a peace movement perspective, pressure from anywhere for any steps that will complicate and eventually choke off the unfettered use of drones will be an improvement over the status quo. For some, like Ramberg, a reform of the 1973 War Powers Act is overdue. That resolution, which passed during an uproar against the Nixon presidency, actually conceded war-making power to the president for a two-month period before requiring congressional authorization. The original 1973 Senate version of the war-powers bill, before it was watered down, required congressional authorization except in the case of armed attack on the US or the necessity of immediate citizen evacuation. No president has ever signed the war powers legislation, on the grounds that it encroaches on the executive branch, although most presidents have voluntarily abided by its requirements.

Ramberg lists the US military actions undertaken after the War Powers Resolution “with minimal or no congressional consultation,” as: Mayaguez (1975), Iran hostage rescue action (1980), El Salvador (1981), Lebanon (1982), Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), Panama (1989), Iraq (May 1991, 1993), Somalia (1993) Bosnia (1993-95), Haiti (1993, 2004) and Kosovo (1999), leaving out Sudan (1998) and the dubious authorizations for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The immediate issue ripe for attention is the drone policy, conducted especially in Pakistan by the CIA in utter secrecy, but also spreading through Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Mali.

Drone attacks clearly are acts of war as defined by the War Powers Resolution, although the WPR was written mainly to contain the deployment of American ground forces. The drone war rests more squarely on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the underlying legal rationale for the “global war on terrorism.”

The challenge of reform, as opposed to emergency tinkering, will require prolonged efforts to amend and clarify both the WPR and AUMF. Allowing any president a sixty-day period before seeking congressional authorization, as the WPR does, makes no sense in drone warfare. Instead, the president should be required to seek congressional permission if he wishes to target a clearly definable “enemy,” and be required to issue public guidelines, including necessary disclosure, governing the use of force he contemplates. That means:

First, Congress should establish a special inspector general, like the SIGUR created for Iraq and Afghanistan, to define, monitor and determine civilian casualties (“collateral damage”) from drone strikes. Currently that information is collected by the CIA, which has a conflict of interest, not to mention a curtain of secrecy.

Second, Congress will need to draft guidelines sharply narrowing—or even banning—the use of “signature strikes,” which permit drone attacks against targets profiled according to identity, such as young males of military age (which could be civilians, participants in a wedding or funeral, etc.).

The open window for “reining in” the president’s executive powers could close at any time.

Third, Congress or the courts will have to restore the open-ended concept of “imminent threat” to its traditional meaning, as an immediate operational threat aimed at American citizens, US territory or facilities. Under the elastic formulation employed by Brennan and others, the simple fact of ill-defined jihadists holding meetings anywhere on the planet is an “imminent threat” justifying military action. And according to the CIA interpretation, the threat is a “continuous” one, carrying over from war to war. But if every “potential” threat is defined as “imminent,” and all the threats are continuous, the CIA, Special Forces and American military will be spread thin indeed from the jungles of the Philippines to the ghettos of Britain.

The 2001 AUMF was written to justify the unofficial military doctrine of the “long war,” developed by counterinsurgency advisers to General David Petraeus and the State Department, like David Kilcullen, who project a conflict of fifty- to eighty-years’ duration against ill-defined Muslim fundamentalists. The designated targets of the AUMF are “Al Qaeda” and “associated” terrorist groups. That overly broad definition authorizes a global war in the shadows against forces whose actual links to Al Qaeda are difficult to discern and who may or may not be threats against the United States. If targeted by the United States, however, the likelihood of their becoming threats will only increase.

A recent example in a long list of these targets is Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the 40-year-old Algerian who may or may not have been killed last week in Chad. Belmokhtar allegedly carried out the January attack on an Algerian gas plant in which thirty-seven foreign hostages died. He did so in retaliation against France’s military intervention in its former colony of Mali, and against Algeria’s siding with Western counterterrorism policies. Otherwise, Belmokhtar was nicknamed the “Marlboro Man” because of his decades-long involvement in smuggling cigarettes. Ten years ago he led one faction of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, before breaking away to form his own force in the Sahel.

The question is whether the 2001 AUMF was written to cover a regional warlord like the “Marlboro Man” whose history is “smuggling, kidnapping and fighting for decades in the Sahel,” or whether it is being used as a blanket authorization for official kill lists and CIA drone assassins everywhere.

Finally, Congress should commission an independent body to evaluate whether the war on terrorism, including the drone attacks, has made Americans “safer.” The rise of the drones—as well as cyber-warfare—has a lulling effect on public opinion since American group operations are ending and casualties are down. But the 9/11 attacks took place unexpectedly as a result of burning grievances in the Muslim world. The official metrics of safety (e.g., how many jihadist “leaders” have been killed, whether insurgent attacks are up or down) ignore the incendiary hatred and desire for revenge building in Muslim communities suffering from remote drone attacks. A few empirical studies have shown a direct correlation between the rise of suicide bombers and US/Western occupation of Muslim lands, but the mass illusion of safety from terrorism tends to persist. A national conversation, including the forgotten ways in which we are made less safe by the war on terrorism, is sorely needed.

In perspective, the effort to prevent the restoration of an Imperial Presidency is long and politically difficult, something like reversing the mass incarceration policies and police buildups that followed the neoconservatives’ “war on gangs” campaign of the early 1990s, which the Clinton administration adopted. Many liberals in general, and Democrats in particular, cringe at being labeled “soft on crime” (or “soft on terrorism”). Some on the left, on the other hand, seem to think that the threat of terrorism is manufactured. However, if another attack should occur against the United States, the danger that a second Patriot Act will pass is real. Current US policies inadvertently provoke that possibility, with the drone strikes the equivalent of attacking a hornet’s nest. Therefore, the open window for “reining in” the president’s executive powers could close at any time. Hearings to reform of the 2001 AUMF and the 1973 WPR could not be more urgent.

© 2013 The Nation

Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden is a former state senator and leader of 1960's peace, justice and environmental movements. He currently teaches at PitzerCollege in Los Angeles. His books include The Port Huron Statement [new edition], Street Wars and The Zapatista Reader.

Frontrunning: March 12

  • Cardinals head to conclave to elect pope for troubled Church (Reuters)
  • Hyperinflation 'Unthinkable' Even With Bold Easing: Abe (Nikkei)
  • Ryan Plan Revives '12 Election Issues (WSJ)
  • Republicans to unveil $4.6tn of cuts (FT) - Obama set to dismiss Ryan plan to balance budget within decade
  • Italy 1-yr debt costs highest since Dec after downgrade (Reuters)
  • CIA Ramps Up Role in Iraq (WSJ)
  • Hollande Hostility Fuels Charm Offensive to Show He’s No Sarkozy (BBG)
  • SEC testing customized punishments (Reuters)
  • Judge Cans Soda Ban  (WSJ)
  • Hungary Lawmakers Rebuff EU, U.S. (WSJ)
  • Even Berlusconi Can’t Slow Bulls Boosting Euro View (BBG) - luckily the consensus is never wrong
  • Funding for Lending ‘put on steroids’ (FT)
  • Investigators Narrow Focus in Dreamliner Probe (WSJ)
  • With new group, Obama team seeks answer to Karl Rove (Reuters)
  • Boston Booms as Workers Say No to Suburbs (BBG)

Overnight Media Digest

WSJ

* Illinois settled Securities and Exchange Commission civil-fraud charges that the state misled municipal-bond investors by failing to adequately disclose the risks of its underfunded pension system.

* Lawmakers grilling Mary Jo White, President Barack Obama's nominee for chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, on Tuesday will have to weigh two seemingly contradictory versions of the attorney.

* U.S. aviation safety investigators examining Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner increasingly are focusing on manufacturing or design problems with the batteries as possible causes of overheating rather than on other parts of the jet's electrical system, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said on Monday.

* Starr International Co, run by the former chief executive of American International Group Inc, won the right to pursue as a class action its case against the U.S. government, alleging that elements of AIG's financial-crisis bailout package were unconstitutional.

* A crisis of confidence in the nuclear-power industry has trickled down to Namibia, where uranium accounts for 12 percent of exports. But uranium prices are down 70 percent over the past six years.

* General Motors Co is in the process of changing advertising agencies of its Cadillac brand. Advertising and marketing work to support Cadillac, valued at about $250 million, will be moved to longtime Michigan advertising agency Campbell Ewald, according to three people briefed on the matter.

* The monopoly powers of Mexico's telephone giant, América Móvil SAB de CV and leading broadcaster Grupo Televisa SAB, are coming under fire with a broad set of new laws that aim to open up the telecommunications and television businesses to competition.

* Many small U.S. banks are feeling a financial pinch from the government's efforts to punish executives and directors of banks that collapsed during the height of the financial crisis.

* KKR & Co LP is considering teaming with other private equity firms to pursue biotech firm Life Technologies Corp, according to people familiar with the matter, in the latest sign that buyout shops are still willing to form "clubs" if they covet a large target.

* VeriFone Systems Inc Chief Executive Douglas Bergeron is stepping down after a dozen years at the helm of the card-payment systems maker. The company said it will hire an executive-search firm to find a successor, with Chairman Richard McGinn serving as CEO on an interim basis.

FT

Dell Inc has agreed to give Carl Icahn a closer look at its books less than a week after the activist investor joined a growing chorus of opposition to founder Michael Dell's plan to take the world's No. 3 personal computer maker private.

Private equity firms are looking to buy the UK property business of Germany's second-biggest lender, Commerzbank AG, in a potential 5 billion pound ($7.45 billion) deal.

UK lender LLoyds Banking Group plans to sell 20 percent of its stake in wealth manager St James's Place

Alibaba Group has chosen Jonathan Lu, its Chief Data Officer who has more than a decade of experience in executive roles, to lead China's largest e-commerce company as it prepares to launch an initial public offering.

Italy's central bank has told some of the country's biggest banks to increase their bad loan provisions by an estimated 21 billion euros ($27.33 billion) amid deepening of a nearly two-year old recession.

Billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson is exploring moving to Puerto Rico from New York to lower his tax bill.

Richard Joseph, a former futures trader, was convicted of six counts of insider trading, leaking information from the print room at JPMorgan Cazenove. Joseph placed spread bets with CMC Markets ahead of a series of deals in 2007 and 2008.

Mexico is looking to overhaul its telecom industry by introducing sweeping proposals that will increase competition and limit the control of telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim and broadcasting giant Televisa.

NYT

* For the second time in history, federal regulators have accused an American state of securities fraud, finding that Illinois misled investors about the condition of its public pension system from 2005 to 2009.

* A state court judge invalidated New York City's new restrictions on sweetened beverages on Monday, a day before they were set to take effect, saying the rules were "arbitrary and capricious."

* Britain, unlike other economic powers, is responding to the financial crisis by creating two new agencies, one to oversee institutions and another to watch for market abuses.

* In advance of a summit meeting of European Union leaders on Thursday in Brussels, the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, called on the bloc's 17 members to stay the course on austerity.

* Intrade, the online betting site, announced late on Sunday that it had halted trading and frozen customer accounts after the discovery of potential financial irregularities.

* Oppenheimer & Co will pay nearly $3 million to settle accusations by federal and state regulators that it misled investors about the performance of one of its private equity funds, in a case that signals stepped-up scrutiny of the buyout industry and how it values its holdings.

* Dell Inc has agreed to open its books to the activist investor Carl Icahn, signaling a possible truce on one front in the battle over the computer maker's proposed $24.4 billion buyout.

* In prepared testimony for her nomination hearing, Mary Jo White placed a premium on unearthing financial fraud, as she works to deflect concerns from lawmakers who question her ability to regulate banks she recently defended.

* British authorities have opened an investigation into Hewlett-Packard Co's claims that it was duped when it bought the business software maker Autonomy, according to regulatory documents filed on Monday.

Canada

THE GLOBE AND MAIL

* Ottawa and the Northwest Territories have reached a deal to hand the territory province-like power over its land, a move aimed at empowering local leaders to unlock more of their resource riches.

* Less than a third of the almost 300,000 members and supporters who signed up to choose the Liberal party's next leader have so far registered to vote, prompting front-runner Justin Trudeau's camp to complain about a host of technical glitches and request a one-week extension on registration.

* The federal government is facing questions over the legitimacy of its centerpiece for aboriginal education reform. Manitoba chiefs rejected the Harper government's vision for aboriginal education on Monday, claiming Ottawa is trying to "bypass" first nations chiefs and shirk its treaty responsibilities.

Reports in the business section:

* Chrysler Canada is jumping back into leasing for the first time since 2008, raising the competitive stakes another notch in an auto market already awash with financing and leasing incentives.

* AT&T Inc will begin selling BlackBerry's new BlackBerry Z10 smartphone next week, marking the smartphone's debut in a crucial U.S. market that has largely shunned the company's devices in recent years.

* Molson Coors Brewing Co's Canadian arm sold far less Miller Genuine Draft beer in the country over the past three years than the targets called for under its agreement with Miller Brewing Co. That under-performance - spelled out in court filings - is at the crux of a dispute that has erupted between the two companies, as Miller tries to cancel its Canadian licensing agreement with Molson.

NATIONAL POST

* The federal government, which has come under fire over tougher employment insurance (EI) rules, is sweetening benefits for parents. It says it will allow individuals receiving parental benefits through EI to qualify for sickness benefits as well, starting March 24.

* The latest annual report on federal ad spending shows Ottawa shelled out C$78.5 million ($76.5 million) in 2011-12 telling Canadians about everything from the switch to digital TV and the War of 1812, to elder abuse and anti-drug messaging. The Harper government spent C$21 million on major advertising campaigns under its Economic Action Plan brand.

* Despite activist claims that the city's homeless are dying due to a lack of shelter space, there is no shelter bed shortage in Toronto, according to an internal report prepared for city council.

FINANCIAL POST

* After years of growth, economists say the real estate boom is over and predict Canadian housing prices to flatline over the next decade. A TD Economics study, Long-Run Rate of Return for Canadian Home Prices, predicts a "string of lackluster performances" over the next few years.

* Alamos Gold Inc is going on the offensive in the takeover battle for Aurizon Mines Ltd, asking a securities regulator to reject both a break fee and poison pill that it believes are highly irregular.

* Travel tour operator Transat AT Inc said it has managed to wrest concessions from its flight attendants as the company continues its campaign to be more cost competitive. The bulk of the expected C$9 million in annual savings will come from Transat lowering the amount of flight attendants on its Airbus A330s to 10 from 11, and the move will also support a potential shift to a fleet of Boeing Co's 737s.

China

SECURITIES TIMES

-- Huatai Securities said on Tuesday its board of directors had sanctioned the issuance of no more than 10 billion yuan of corporate bonds on the Shanghai Stock Exchange to supplement operating funds.

-- The Shanghai securities regulator said five foreign banks, including Standard Chartered, have applied for licences to distribute mutual fund products in China.

CHINA SECURITIES JOURNAL

-- The Shanghai stock exchange is looking to invest more in regional stock exchanges to support smaller firms in China, its director general said on Monday.

CHINA DAILY

-- China's first special envoy for Asian affairs will have a focus on Myanmar, the Foreign Ministry said on Monday. There has been tension between China and its southern neighbour over conflict in Myanmar, close to the Chinese border.

-- Roughly one in ten of the 5,000 proposals submitted to China's top political advisory body since March 3 are related to environmental issues, said Lu Fuhe, a top national political advisor.

SHANGHAI DAILY

-- French firm Carrefour, the world's number two retailer, has implemented a system to allow shoppers to trace the origin of fruit and vegetables in their Chinese stores in Shanghai, a reflection of the recent pressure in China over food safety.

CHINA BUSINESS NEWS

-- The number of dead pigs found in the Huangpu River, one of Shanghai's key water sources, is now estimated to have increased to 2,800.

Fly On The Wall 7:00 AM Market Snapshot

ANALYST RESEARCH

Upgrades

Axiall (AXLL) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Citigroup
Dick's Sporting (DKS) upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform at BMO Capital
Dick's Sporting (DKS) upgraded to Conviction Buy from Buy at Goldman
Intercontinental Hotels (IHG) upgraded to Neutral from Sell at UBS
Mosaic (MOS) upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform at BMO Capital
Sherwin-Williams (SHW) upgraded to Neutral from Underperform at Credit Suisse
Vantiv (VNTV) upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform at Raymond James
Vitamin Shoppe (VSI) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Goldman

Downgrades

CVS Caremark (CVS) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Goldman
EverBank Financial (EVER) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Sterne Agee
RadioShack (RSH) downgraded to Sell from Neutral at Goldman
Red Hat (RHT) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup

Initiations

Fifth & Pacific (FNP) initiated with a Buy at Brean Capital
Rush Enterprises (RUSHA) initiated with a Market Perform at BMO Capital
TJX (TJX) initiated with an Overweight at Barclays
Wabash (WNC) initiated with an Outperform at BMO Capital
WABCO (WBC) initiated with an Outperform at BMO Capital
Xoom (XOOM) initiated with an Outperform at RW Baird
Xoom (XOOM) initiated with an Overweight at Barclays

HOT STOCKS

SEC charged Illinois for misleading pension disclosures
Treasury Department sold $489.9M of GM (GM) common stock in February
HP (HPQ) disclosed U.K Serious Fraud Office opened investigation related to Autonomy
KKR (KKR) has considered teaming to bid for Life Technologies (LIFE), and Thermo Fisher (TMO) and Danaher (DHR) also weigh bids for Life, valued at $12.5B with debt, DJ reports
Diamond Foods (DMND) sees second half sales down more than first half
Rio Tinto (RIO) slowed Guinea iron ore investment, to cut staff, Reuters reports
Said Guinea iron ore project not frozen, to work with government on funding, Bloomberg reports
Hill International (HIL) sees FY13 consulting fee revenue $500M-$520M
Cadence Design (CDNS) acquired Tensilica for $380M in cash
Pall Corp (PLL) signed 30 year agreement to supply Embraer (ERJ) with KC-390 manifolds
MRC Global (MRC), NAWAH entered into alliance to open distribution facility in Iraq
Lakeland Industries (LAKE) reported $11.5M goodwill impairment charge in Brazil

EARNINGS

Companies that beat consensus earnings expectations last night and today include:
Costco (COST), BioScrip (BIOS), Stewart Enterprises (STEI), XenoPort (XNPT), Heckmann (HEK)

Companies that missed consensus earnings expectations include:
Stage Stores (SSI), FuelCell (FCEL), Chiquita Brands (CQB), Hill International (HIL), Casey's General Stores (CASY), Urban Outfitters (URBN)

Companies that matched consensus earnings expectations include:
Douglas Dynamics (PLOW), Flow International (FLOW), Manitex (MNTX)

NEWSPAPERS/WEBSITES

  • Multinationals (GE, HPQ, CAT, HON) have been increasing their footprint in Asia for years as they have moved from selling into the region to also investing here. But the transformation is gaining critical mass as Western companies' market-share leads in Asia over cash-flush local competitors narrow, forcing Western firms to invest more, tailor their products and transfer top executives to Asia, the Wall Street Journal reports
  • Rising fuel prices have GM (GM) and Chrysler Group (FIATY) taking another look at selling smaller pickup trucks—vehicles that the Detroit Three automakers (F) abandoned in the U.S. amid weak demand. Both see the vehicles helping them to hit higher fuel-economy targets and to regain market share from Toyota (TM), the current top-selling small hauler., the Wall Street Journal reports
  • Two groups of AIG (AIG) shareholders won class-action status from a federal judge on in a $25B lawsuit by former CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg over alleged losses caused by the U.S. government's bailout of the insurer, Reuters reports
  • As the jobs market showing signs of healing, economists think they know what's next for monetary policy: the Fed will at some point reduce its monthly bond purchases, and soon after, end them altogether. But perhaps they shouldn't be so sure, Reuters reports
  • Shares of companies that own and operate their truck fleets (WERN, KNX, SWFT, HTLD) are outperforming those that act as brokers for trucking services, driven by stronger U.S. freight activity, Bloomberg reports
  • The Treasury Department, exiting its ownership stake in GM (GM), accelerated its sell- down of the automaker in February, saying it received $489.9M in proceeds from the sale of common shares, Bloomberg reports

SYNDICATE

Emeritus (ESC) announces 7.97M share secondary offering by holders
Government Properties (GOV) 9.95M share Spot Secondary priced at $25.20
HeartWare (HTWR) announces public offering of 1.5M shares of common stock
Lexington Realty (LXP) files to sell 15M shares of common stock
Salesforce.com (CRM) announces proposed $1B offering of convertible senior notes
Sapiens (SPNS) files to sell $40M of common stock, 6M shares for holders
Sun Communities (SUI) announces 4.5M share common stock offering
U.S. Silica (SLCA) announces 8.5M share secondary offering by stockholder
Yandex (YNDX) announces 24.25M Class A ordinary shares offering by holders

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China’s “Hogwash” Getting Worse As Floating Dead Pigs Rise To 3300, Pig Virus Found

When we first reported on China's "hogwash" yesterday, the number of floating pigs in Shanghai's water supplying Huangpu River was a "modest" 1200. It has since tripled to 3300. From SCMP: "The agriculture and environmental protection departments in S...

The NYT and Obama Officials Collaborate to Prosecute Awlaki After He’s Executed

The New York Times and the Obama administration have created a disturbing collaborative pattern that asserted itself again on Sunday with the paper's long article purporting to describe the events leading up to the execution by the CIA of US citizen A...

The Privatization of War: Mercenaries, Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC)

The Privatization of War: Mercenaries, Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC)

Private military and security companies (PMSC) are the modern reincarnation of a long lineage of private providers of physical force: corsairs, privateers and mercenaries. Mercenaries, which had practically disappeared during the XIXth and XXth centuries, reappeared in the 1960’s during the decolonization period operating mainly in Africa and Asia. Under the United Nations a convention was adopted which outlaws and criminalizes their activities. Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions also contains a definition of mercenary.

These non-state entities of the XXIst century operate in extremely blurred situations where the frontiers are difficult to separate. The new security industry of private companies moves large quantities of weapons and military equipment. It provides services for military operations recruiting former militaries as civilians to carry out passive or defensive security.

However, these individuals cannot be considered as civilians, given that they often carry and use weapons, interrogate prisoners, load bombs, drive military trucks and fulfill other essential military functions. Those who are armed can easily switch from a passive/defensive to an active/offensive role and can commit human rights violations and even destabilize governments. They cannot be considered soldiers or supporting militias under international humanitarian law either, since they are not part of the army or in the chain of command, and often belong to a large number of different nationalities.

PMSC personnel cannot usually be considered to be mercenaries for the definition of mercenaries as stipulated in the international conventions dealing with this issue does not generally apply to the personnel of PMSCs which are legally operating in foreign countries under contracts of legally registered companies.

Private military and security companies operate in a legal vacuum: they pose a threat to civilians and to international human rights law. The UN Human Rights Council has entrusted the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries, principally, with the mandate: “To monitor and study the effects of the activities of private companies offering military assistance, consultancy and security services on the international market on the enjoyment of human Rights (…) and to prepare draft international basic principles that encourage respect for human rights on the part of those companies in their activities”.

During the past five years, the Working Group has been studying emerging issues, manifestations and trends regarding private military and security companies.  In our reports we have informed the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly about these issues. Of particular importance are the reports of the Working Group to the last session of the Human Rights Council, held in September 2010, on the Mission to the United States of America  (20 July to 3 August 2009), Document A/HRC/15/25/Add.3; on the Mission to Afghanistan (4-9 April 2009), Document A/HRC/15/25/Add.2, and the general report of the Working Group containing the Draft of a possible Convention on Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) for consideration and action by the Human Rights Council, Document A/HRC/15/25.

In the course of our research, since 2006, we have collected ample information which indicate the negative impact of the activities of “private contractors”, “private soldiers” or “guns for hire”, whatever denomination we may choose to name the individuals employed by private military and security companies as civilians but in general heavily armed. In the cluster of human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by employees of these companies, which the Working Group has examined one can find: summary executions, acts of torture, cases of arbitrary detention; of trafficking of persons; serious health damages caused by their activities; as well as attempts against the right of self-determination. It also appears that PMSCs, in their search for profit, neglect security and do not provide their employees with their basic rights, and often put their staff in situations of danger and vulnerability.

Summary executions

On 16 September 2007 in Baghdad, employees of the US-based firm Blackwater[1] were involved in a shooting incident in Nisoor Square in which 17 civilians were killed and more than 20 other persons were wounded including women and children. Local eyewitness accounts indicate the use of arms from vehicles and rocket fire from a helicopter belonging to this company.

There are also concerns over the activities and approach of PMSC personnel, their convoys of armored vehicles and their conduct in traffic, in particular their use of lethal force. This particular incident was not the first of its kind, neither the first involving Blackwater.

According to a congressional report on the behaviour of Xe/Blackwater in Iraq, Xe/Blackwater guards were found to have been involved in nearly 200 escalation-of-force incidents that involved the firing of shots since 2005. Despite the terms of the contracts which provided that the company could engage only in defensive use of force, the company reported that in over 80 per cent of the shooting incidents, its forces fired the first shots.

In Najaf in April 2004 and on several other occasions, employees of this company took part in direct hostilities, as well as in May 2007, where another incident involving the same company reportedly occurred involving guards belonging to the company and forces belonging to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior allegedly exchanged gunfire in a sector of Baghdad.

Also in central Baghdad the shooting of employees of the PMSC, Unity Resources Group (URG)[2], protecting a convoy, left two Armenian women, Genevia Antranick and Mary Awanis dead on 9 October 2007 when their car came too close to a protected convoy. The family of Genevia Antranick was offered no compensation and has begun court proceedings against URG in the United States.

This company was also involved in the shooting of 72-year-old Australian Kays Juma. Professor Juma was shot in March 2006 as he approached an intersection being blockaded for a convoy URG was protecting. Professor Juma, a 25-year resident of Baghdad who drove through the city every day, allegedly sped up his vehicle as he approached the guards and did not heed warnings to stop, including hand signals, flares, warning shots into the body of his car and floodlights. The incident occurred at 10am[3].

Torture

Two United States-based corporations, CACI and L-3 Services (formerly Titan Corporation), were involved in the torture of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib. CACI and L-3 Services, contracted by the Government of the United States, were responsible for interrogation and translation services, respectively, at Abu Ghraib prison and other facilities in Iraq.

Seventy two Iraqi citizens who were formerly detained at military prisons in Iraq, have sued L-3 Services, Inc. (“L-3”), a military private contractor which provided civilian translators for United States military forces in Iraq and Adel Nakhla, a former employee of L-3 who served as one of its translators there under the Alien Tort Statute. They allege having been tortured and physically and mentally abused during their detention and that they should be held liable in damages for their actions. The plaintiffs assert 20 causes of action, among which: torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; assault and battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress[4].

Arbitrary detention 

A number of reports indicate that private security guards have played central roles in some of the most sensitive activities of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) such as the arbitrary detention and clandestine raids against alleged insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan[5] and the involvement in CIA rendition flights[6] as well as joint covert operations[7]. Employees of PMSC would have been involved in the taking of detainees, from “pick up points” (such as Tuzla, Islamabad or Skopje) transporting them in rendition flights and delivering them to drop off points (such as Cairo, Rabat, Bucharest, Amman or Guantanamo) as well as in the construction, equipping and staffing of CIA’s “black sites”.

Within this context, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in May 2007 against Jeppesen DataPlan Inc. (a subsidiary company of Boeing) on behalf of five persons who were kidnapped by the CIA disappearing in overseas prisons kept by USA secret services. Jeppesen would have participated in the rendition by providing flight planning and logistical support. The five persons were tortured during their arbitrary detention[8].

Health

The 2009 annual report of DynCorp International refers to four lawsuits concerning the spraying of narcotic plant crops along the Colombian border adjacent to Ecuador on behalf of 3 Ecuadorian Providences and 3266 plaintiffs[9].

From 1991, the United States Department of State contracted the private company DynCorp to supply services for this air-spraying program against narcotics in the Andean region. In accordance with the subscribed contract of 30 January 1998, DynCorp provides the essential logistics to the anti-drug Office of activities of Colombia, in conformity with three main objectives: eradication of cultivations of illicit drugs, training of the army and of personnel of the country, and dismantling of illicit drug laboratories and illicit drug-trafficking networks.

An NGO report indicated the consequences of the spraying carried out within the Plan Colombia had on persons living in the frontier region[10].  One third of the 47 women in the study exposed to the spraying showed cells with some genetic damage. The study established the relationship of the air fumigations of the Plan Colombia with damages in the genetic material. The study demonstrates that when the population is subjected to fumigations “the risk of cellular damage can increase and that, once permanent, the cases of cancerous mutations and important embryonic alterations are increased that prompt among other possibilities the rise in abortions in the area.

This example is particularly important given that Plan Colombia has served as the model for the arrangements that the United States would apply later to Iraq and Afghanistan. Plan Colombia provides immunity to the employees of the PMSC contracted (DynCorp) the same as Order 14 of the Coalition Provisional Authority did in Iraq.

Self-determination

The 2004 attempted coup d’état, which was perpetrated in Equatorial Guinea is a clear example of the link between the phenomenon of mercenaries and PMSCs as a means of violating the sovereignty of States. In this particular case, the mercenaries involved were mostly former directors and personnel of Executive Outcomes, a PMSC that had become famous for its operations in Angola and Sierra Leone. The team of mercenaries also included security guards who were still employed by PMSCs as was the case of two employees of the company Meteoric Tactical Systems providing security to diplomats of Western Embassies in Baghdad-among which to the Ambassador of Switzerland. It also included a security guard who had previously worked for the PMSC “Steele Foundation” and had given protection to President Aristide of Haiti and conducted him to the plane who took him to exile[11].

Trafficking in persons

In 2005, 105 Chileans were providing/or undergoing military training in the former army base of Lepaterique in Honduras. The instruction consisted in anti‐guerrilla tactics such as possible ambushes and deactivation of explosives and mortars how to avoid them. The Chileans had entered Honduras as tourists and were illegally in Honduras. They used high‐caliber weapons such as M‐16 rifles or light machine guns. They had been contracted by a subsidiary of Triple Canopy.

They were part of a group, which included also 189 Hondurans recruited and trained in Honduras. Triple Canopy had been awarded a contract by the United States Department of State. The strong contingent left the country by air from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, in several groups with a stopover in Iceland. Then reached the Middle East and were smuggled into Iraq[12].

The majority of the Chileans and Hondurans were engaged as security guards at fixed facilities in Iraq. They had been contracted by Your Solutions Honduras SRL, a local agent of Your Solutions Incorporated, registered in Illinois, United States of America, which in turn had been subcontracted by Triple Canopy, based in Chicago, United States of America. Some of the Chileans are presently working in Baghdad providing security to the Embassy of Australia under a contract by Unity Resources Group (URG).

Human rights violations committed by PMSC to their employees

PMSC often put the contracted private guards in situations of danger and vulnerability, such as the ‘private contractors’ of Blackwater, killed in Fallujah in 2004 allegedly due to the lack of the necessary safety means that Blackwater was supposed to provide in order to carry out the mission.

It should not be forgotten that this incident changed dramatically the course of the war and the occupation by the United States in Iraq. It may be considered as the turning point in the occupation of Iraq. This led to an abortive US operation to recapture control of the city and a successful recapture operation in the city in November 2004, called Operation Phantom Fury, which resulted in the death of over 1,350 insurgent fighters. Approximately 95 America troops were killed, and 560 wounded.

The U.S. military first denied that it has use white phosphorus as an anti-personnel weapon in Fallujah, but later retracted that denial, and admitted to using the incendiary in the city as an offensive weapon. Reports following the events of November 2004 have alleged war crimes, and a massacre by U.S. personnel, including indiscriminate violence against civilians and children.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallujah – cite_note-17 This point of view is presented in the 2005 documentary film, “Fallujah, the Hidden Massacre”. In 2010, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a leading medical journal, published a study, which shows that the rates of cancer, infant mortality and leukemia exceed those reported in Hiroshima and Nagasaki[13].

The over 300 000 classified military documents made public by Wikileaks show that the “Use of Contractors Added to War’s Chaos in Iraq”, as has been widely reported by the international media recently.

The United States has relied and continues to rely heavily on private military and security contractors in conducting its military operations. The United States used private security contractors to conduct narcotics intervention operations in Colombia in the 1990s and recently signed a supplemental agreement that authorizes it to deploy troops and contractors in seven Colombian military bases. During the conflict in the Balkans, the United States used a private security contractor to train Croat troops to conduct operations against Serbian troops. Nowadays, it is in the context of its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular that the State is massively contracting out security functions to private firms.

In 2009, the Department of Defense employed 218,000 private contractors (all types) while there were 195,000 uniformed personnel. According to the figures, about 8 per cent of these contractors are armed security contractors, i.e. about 20,000 armed guards. If one includes other theatres of operations, the figure rises to 242,657, with 54,387 United States citizens, 94,260 third country nationals and 94,010 host-country nationals.

The State Department relies on about 2,000 private security contractors to provide United States personnel and facilities with personal protective and guard services in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and Pakistan, and aviation services in Iraq. The contracts for protective services were awarded in 2005 to three PMSCs, namely, Triple Canopy, DynCorp International and the U.S. Training Center, part of the Xe (then Blackwater) group of companies. These three companies still hold the State Department protective services contracts today.

Lack of transparency

The information accessible to the public on the scope and type of contracts between the Government of the United States and PMSCs is scarce and opaque. The lack of transparency is particularly significant when companies subcontract to others. Often, the contracts with PMSCs are not disclosed to the public despite extensive freedom of information rules in the United States, either because they contain confidential commercial information or on the argument that non-disclosure is in the interest of national defense or foreign policy. The situation is particularly opaque when United States intelligence agencies contract PMSCs.

Lack of accountability

Despite the fact of their involvement in grave human rights violations, not a single PMSC or employee of these companies has been sanctioned.

In the course of litigation, several recurring legal arguments have been used in the defense of PMSCs and their personnel, including the Government contractor defense, the political question doctrine and derivative immunity arguments. PMSCs are using the Government contractor defense to argue that they were operating under the exclusive control of the Government of the United States when the alleged acts were committed and therefore cannot be held liable for their actions.

It looks as if when the acts are committed by agents of the government they are considered human rights violations but when these same acts are perpetrated by PMSC it is “business as usual”.

The human rights violation perpetrated by private military and security companies are indications of the threat posed to the foundations of democracy itself by the privatization of inherently public functions such as the monopoly of the legitimate use of force. In this connection I cannot help but to refer to the final speech of President Eisenhower.

In 1961, President Eisenhower warned the American public opinion against the growing danger of a military industrial complex stating: “(…) we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together”.

Fifty years later, on 8 September 2001, Donald Rumsfeld in his speech in the Department of Defence warned the militaries of the Pentagon against “an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America (…) Let’s make no mistake: The modernization of the Department of Defense is (…) a matter of life and death, ultimately, every American’s. (…) The adversary. (…) It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy. (…)That’s why we’re here today challenging us all to wage an all-out campaign to shift Pentagon’s resources from bureaucracy to the battlefield, from tail to the tooth. We know the adversary. We know the threat. And with the same firmness of purpose that any effort against a determined adversary demands, we must get at it and stay at it. Some might ask, how in the world could the Secretary of Defense attack the Pentagon in front of its people? To them I reply, I have no desire to attack the Pentagon; I want to liberate it. We need to save it from itself.”

Rumsfeld should have said the shift from the Pentagon’s resources from bureaucracy to the private sector. Indeed, that shift had been accelerated by the Bush Administration: the number of persons employed by contract which had been outsourced (privatized) by the Pentagon was already four times more than at the Department of Defense.

It is not anymore a military industrial complex but as Noam Chomsky has indicated “it’s just the industrial system operating under one or another pretext”.

The articles of the Washington Post “Top Secret America: A hidden world, growing beyond control”, by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin (19 July 2010) show the extent that “The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work”.

The investigation’s findings include that some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States; and that an estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances. A number of private military and security companies are among the security and intelligence agencies mentioned in the report of the Washington Post.

The Working Group received information from several sources that up to 70 per cent of the budget of United States intelligence is spent on contractors. These contracts are classified and very little information is available to the public on the nature of the activities carried out by these contractors.

The privatization of war has created a structural dynamic, which responds to a commercial logic of the industry.

A short look at the careers of the current managers of BAE Systems, as well as on their address-books, confirms we are not any longer dealing with a normal corporation, but with a cartel uniting high tech weaponry (BAE Systems, United Defence Industries, Lockheed Martin), with speculative financiers (Lazard Frères, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank), together with raw material cartels (British Petroleum, Shell Oil) with on the ground, private military and security companies[14].

The majority of the private military and security companies has been created or are managed by former militaries or ex-policemen for whom it is big business. Just to give an example MPRI (Military Professional Resources Incorporation) was created by four former generals of the United States Army when they were due for retirement[15]. The same is true for Blackwater and its affiliate companies or subsidiaries, which employ former directors of the C.I.A.[16]. Social Scientists refer to this phenomenon as the Rotating Door Syndrome.

The use of security contractors is expected to grow as American forces shrink. A July report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a panel established by Congress, estimated that the State Department alone would need more than double the number of contractors it had protecting the American Embassy and consulates in Iraq.

“Without contractors: (1) the military engagement would have had to be smaller–a strategically problematic alternative; (2) the United States would have had to deploy its finite number of active personnel for even longer tours of duty -a politically dicey and short-sighted option; (3) the United States would have had to consider a civilian draft or boost retention and recruitment by raising military pay significantly–two politically untenable options; or (4) the need for greater commitments from other nations would have arisen and with it, the United States would have had to make more concessions to build and sustain a truly multinational effort. Thus, the tangible differences in the type of war waged, the effect on military personnel, and the need for coalition partners are greatly magnified when the government has the option to supplement its troops with contractors”[17].

The military cannot do without them. There are more contractors over all than actual members of the military serving in the worsening war in Afghanistan.

CONCLUSIONS OF THE SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE impact of Private Security Contracting on U.S. Goals in Afghanistan[18]

Conclusion I: The proliferation of private security personnel in Afghanistan is inconsistent with the counterinsurgency strategy. In May 2010 the U.S. Central Command’s Armed Contractor Oversight Directorate reported that there were more than 26,000 private security contractor personnel operating in Afghanistan. Many of those private security personnel are associated with armed groups that operate outside government control.

Conclusion 2: Afghan warlords and strongmen operating as force providers to private security contractors have acted against U.S. and Afghan government interests. Warlords and strongmen associated with U.S.-funded security contractors have been linked to anti Coalition activities, murder, bribery, and kidnapping. The Committee’s examination of the U.S. funded security contract with ArmorGroup at Shindand Airbase in Afghanistan revealed that ArmorGroup relied on a series of warlords to provide armed men to act as security, guards at the Airbase.

Open-ended intergovernmental working group established by the HR Council

Because of their impact in the enjoyment of human rights the Working Group on mercenaries in its 2010 reports to the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly has recommended a legally binding instrument regulating and monitoring their activities at the national and international level.

The motion to create an open ended intergovernmental working group has been the object of lengthy negotiations, in the Human Rights Council, led by South Africa in order to accommodate the concerns of the Western Group, but primarily those of the United States and the United Kingdom and of a lot a pressure exerted in the capitals of African countries supporting the draft resolution. The text of the resolution was weakened in order to pass the resolution by consensus. But even so the position of the Western States has been a “fin de non recevoir”.

The resolution was adopted by a majority of 32 in favour, 12 against and 3 abstentions. Among the supporters of this initiative are four out of the five members of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa) in addition to the African Group, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab Group.

The adoption of this resolution opens an interesting process in the UN Human Rights Council where civil society can participate in the elaboration of an international framework on the regulation, monitoring and oversight of the activities of private military and security companies.  The new open ended intergovernmental working group will be the forum for all stakeholders to receive inputs, not only the draft text of a possible convention and the elements elaborated by the UN Working Group on mercenaries but also of other initiatives such as the proposal submitted to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Montreux Document and the international code of conduct being elaborated under the Swiss Initiative.

However, the negative vote of the delegations of the Western Group indicates that the interests of the new staggering security industry – its annual market revenue is estimated to be over USD one hundred billion – have been quite well defended as was the case in a number of other occasions. It also shows that Western governments will be absent from the start in a full in-depth discussion of the issues raised by the activities of PMSC.

We urge all States to support the process initiated by the Council by designating their representatives to the new open-ended intergovernmental working group, which will hold its first session in 2011, and to continue a process of discussions regarding a legally binding instrument.

The participation of the UK and USA main exporters of these activities (it is estimated at 70% the industry of security in these two countries) as well as other Western countries where the new industry is expanding is of particular importance.

The Working Group also urges the United States Government to implement the recommendations we made, in particular, to:

support the Congress Stop Outsourcing Security (SOS) Act, which clearly defines the functions which are inherently governmental and that cannot be outsourced to the private sector;

rescind immunity to contractors carrying out activities in other countries under bilateral agreements;

carry out prompt and effective investigation of human rights violations committed by PMSCs and prosecute alleged perpetrators;

ensure that the oversight of private military and security contractors is not outsourced to PMSCs;
establish a specific system of federal licensing of PMSCs for their activities abroad;

set up a vetting procedure for awarding contracts to PMSCs;

ensure that United States criminal jurisdiction applies to private military and security companies contracted by the Government to carry out activities abroad; and

respond to pending communications from the Working Group.

The United Nations Human Rights Council, under the Universal Periodic Review, initiated a review in November 2010 in Geneva, focussing on the human rights record of the United States. The above article is an edited version of the presentation given by Jose L. Gomez del Prado in Geneva on 3 November 2010 at a parallel meeting at the UN Palais des Nations on that occasion.

Notes

[1] Blackwater Worldwide abandoned its tarnished brand name in order to shake its reputation battered by its criticized work in Iraq, renaming its family of two-dozen businesses under the name Xe’, see Mike Baker, ‘Blackwater dumps tarnished brand name’, AP News Break, 13 February 2009.

[2] URG, an Australian private military and security company, uses a number of ex military Chileans to provide security to the Australian Embassy in Baghdad. Recently one of those “private guards” shot himself, ABC News, reported by La Tercera, Chile, 16 September 2010.

[3]J.Mendes & S Mitchell, “Who is Unity Resources Group?”, ABC News Australia, 16 September 2010.

[4] Case 8:08-cv-01696-PJM, Document 103, Filed 07/29/10. Defendants have filed Motions to Dismiss on a number of grounds. They argue, among others, that the suit must be dismissed in its entirety because they are immune under the laws of war, because the suit raises non-justiciable political questions, and because they possess derivative sovereign immunity. They seek dismissal of the state law claims on the basis of government contractor immunity, premised on the notion that Plaintiffs cannot proceed on state law claims, which arise out of combatant activities of the military. The United States District Court for the district of Maryland Greenbelt Division has decided to proceed with the case against L-3 Services, Inc. It has not accepted the motions to dismiss allowing the case to go forward.

[5] Mission to the United States of America, Report of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, United Nations document, A/HRC/15/25/Add.3, paragraphs 22.

[6] James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, “Blackwater guards tied to secret C.I.A. raids ”, New York Times, 10

December 2009.

[7] Adam Ciralsky, “Tycoon, contractor, soldier, spy”, Vanity Fair, January 2010. See also Claim No. HQ08X02800 in the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Binyam Mohamed v. Jeppesen UK Ltd, report of James Gavin Simpson, 26 May 2009.

[8]ACLU Press Release, UN Report Underscores Lack of Accountability and Oversight for Military and Security Contractors, New York, 14 September 2010.

[9] The reports also indicates that the Revenues of DynCorp for 2006 were of USD 1 966 993 and for 2009 USD 3 101 093

[10] Mission to Ecuador, Report of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, United Nations document, A/HRC/4/42/Add.2

[11] A number of the persons involved in the attempted coup were arrested in Zimbabwe, other in Equatorial Guinea itself the place where the coup was intended to take place to overthrow the government and put another in its place in order to get the rich resources in oil. In 2004 and 2008 the trials took place in Equatorial Guinea of those arrested in connection with this coup attempt, including of the British citizen Simon Mann and the South African Nick du Toit. The President of Equatorial Guinea pardoned all foreigners linked to this coup attempt in November 2009 by. A number of reports indicated that trials failed to comply with international human rights standards and that some of the accused had been subjected to torture and ill-treatment. The government of Equatorial Guinea has three ongoing trials in the United Kingdom, Spain and Lebanon against the persons who were behind the attempted coup.
[12] Report of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, Mission to Honduras, United Nations document A/HRC/4/42/Add.1.
[13] Wikipedia
[14] Mercenaries without borders by Karel Vereycken,  Friday Sep 21st, 2007
[15] Among which General Carl E. Vuono, Chief of the Army during the Gulf War and the invasion of Panama; General Crosbie E. Saint, former Commander in Chief of the  USA Army in Europe and General Ron Griffith. The President of MPRI is General Bantant J. Craddock.

[16] Such as Cofer Black, former Chief of the Counter Terrorism Center; Enrique Prado, former Chief of Operations and Rof Richter, second in command of the Clandestine Services of the Company
[17] Article published in the Spring 2010 issue of the University of Chicago Law Review, titled “Privatization’s Pretensions” by Jon D. Michaels, Acting Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law
[18] INQUIRY INTO THE ROLE AND OVERSIGHT OF PRIVATE SECURITY CONTRACTORS IN AFGHANISTAN, R E P O R T TOGETHER WITH ADDITIONAL VIEWS OF THE COMMITTEE ON ARMED SERVICES UNITED STATES SENATE, 28 September 2010

How Private Prisons Game the Immigration System

Thirty years ago in January, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), now the biggest operator of private prisons in the world, opened its first prison, a federal immigrant detention center in Houston, Texas. Three Decades of Service to America, a page on the company’s website, features a video interview with the company’s founders looking back on that first contract. “We saw this big ol’ sign, ‘Olympic Motel,’ made an offer to lease the motel for four months,” recalls Don Hutto, who chuckles with fellow co-founder Tom Beasley, the former chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, as they remember hastily converting the building and staffing it with family members. The night of Super Bowl Sunday, “we got our first day’s pay for eighty-seven undocumented aliens,” says Hutto, who even fingerprinted the inmates himself.



Three years after the company’s first contract in 1983, according to Southern Changes magazine, the company spent some $100,000 lobbying the state of Tennessee to secure a correctional facility privatization bill, which helped propel the business to financial success. Last year, the company brought in $1.7 billion in revenues, about a quarter of which came from contracts with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and federal Bureau of Prisons to incarcerate non-citizens in the United States.

For a company that began and later thrived by imprisoning immigrants, the federal immigration policy overhaul expected this year presents both opportunities and challenges.

On the one hand, a pathway to citizenship and legal reforms sought by advocates could reduce the number of immigrants detained by CCA and its competitors in the private prison industry. “Private prison corporations have an enormous stake in immigration reform,” says Bob Libal, a prison reform advocate with Grassroots Leadership. “A reform that provides a timely pathway to citizenship without further criminalizing migration would be a huge hit to the industry,” he says.

On the other hand, Libal observed that a bill with increased security measures “could be very profitable” for the industry. Legislators and the Obama administration could adopt a plan that mirrors Republican proposals for an “enforcement first” approach, which include increased police powers, new mandatory detention and sentencing laws, further militarization of the border and proposals for more prisons and detention officers.

Damon Hininger, the chief executive of CCA, sounded anoptimistic note when asked about the impact of reform on an investor call earlier this month, noting, “There’s always going to be a demand for beds.”

In recognition of the profits at stake, the prison companies have invested in key legislators leading the reform process—although the companies are coy about their purpose, denying that they are attempting to influence Congress’s deliberations.

Their lobbying efforts are nothing new. CCA and other large private prison companies have forged ties with political insiders by spending huge sums on lobbying firms, campaign contributions and grants to friendly think tanks. An analysis by the Associated Press last year found that the three major private prison corporations—CCA, the Geo Group, the industry’s largest two companies, along with a smaller company, the Utah-based Management and Training Corporation—spent roughly $45 million over the past decade to influence state and federal government.

The private prison industry has cultivated support from Republican leaders on immigration policy, from Senator Marco Rubio, the “face of comprehensive immigration reform,” to the right edge of the House Republican caucus, a review by The Nation has found.

Unlike other stakeholders involved in today’s process, prison companies have stayed away from the headlines, and have told reporters that they are not planning to engage.

Pablo Paez, a vice president for corporate relations with the Geo Group, e-mailed The Nation to say that his company “has never directly or indirectly lobbied to influence immigration policy.” Correction Corporation’s spokesperson, Steve Owen, echoed that position, telling The Nation that his company does not lobby on any “sentencing or detention enforcement legislation” and “will not take a position on or advocate for or against any specific immigration reform legislation nor will our government relations team on our behalf.” Management and Training Corp. did not respond to a request for comment.

Regulatory filings and lobbying documents, however, undercut the industry’s claims of neutrality.

CCA, in a 2011 SEC filing, warned investors that “any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”

Last year, disclosures with the Senate show that the company tapped one of its lobbying firms to begin monitoring immigration policy issues.

“Immigration reform laws which are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state and local level also could materially adversely impact us,” notes the Geo Group’s 2011 annual report, which specifically cited the “relaxation of criminal or immigration enforcement efforts.”

Both companies may be wary of engaging publicly on immigration reform this year given the backlash over their involvement with recent anti-immigrant laws in the states. In 2010, Arizona enacted SB1070, a measure that centers on a requirement that local police to arrest and charge anyone found without proper immigration documentation. The bill, developed in consultation with private prison lobbyists through a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, spawned copycat laws in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Utah and South Carolina.

Asked on an investor call about the effects of the Arizona law shortly after its passage, Wayne Calabrese, then the chief operating officer of the Geo Group, said, “I think people understand there is still a relatively low threshold of tolerance for people coming across the border and those laws not being enforced.… And that to me at least suggests there’s going to be enhanced opportunities for what we do.”

The association with the wave of state-level enforcement laws—prison companies hired local lobbyists and donated generously to many of the state lawmakers behind the Arizona effort in particular—generated unwanted attention on the industry. It also set off nationwide protests, including a demonstration at the Nashville, Tennessee, headquarters of CCA.

* * *

The private prison industry grew quickly thanks in no small part to its close ties to politicians and its ability to take advantage of right-wing trends, starting with the privatization wave in the eighties and on to the politics of crime, terrorism and immigration.

The money spent on influencing lawmakers has coincided with a sharp increase in immigrant detention and deportation. Immigrant detention costs taxpayers about $2 billion a year, and private prisons are increasingly tapped by the federal government to house the over 400,000 undocumented immigrants detained annually, a number that has more than doubled over the last decade. In 2012 alone, the two publicly traded prison companies, CCA and Geo Group, took in over $441.9 million in federal contracts to house so-called “criminal aliens” for the federal Bureau of Prisons. That year, the two companies combined netted $296.9 million in revenues from ICE contracts. These figures could grow or shrink depending on the details of the immigration reform overhaul debated in the coming months.

As immigration talks began formally in January with the so-called “Gang of Eight” negotiations in the Senate, legislators close to the industry were quick to promote policies that are in line with what critics call “the business of detention.”

Texas Senator John Cornyn, the number-two Senate Republican, was one of the first high-profile lawmakers to throw cold water on talks to create a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, calling such an idea a non-starter. Cornyn said that enforcement would be his foremost priority. We have to do “everything we can to secure our southwestern border,” Cornyn declared.

Cornyn’s idea of “robust” border security was made clear in an amendment he offered during debate over a supplemental spending bill three years ago. Cornyn’s amendment called for $3 billion to be spent on a mix of drones, border security guards and funding for 3,300 beds for immigrant detention over two years, as well as 500 additional detention officers. In 2005, Cornyn’s immigration reform legislation called for 10,000 new ICE detention beds.

Last August, federal government officials confirmed that the cost to taxpayers to detain an immigrant is approximately $164 a day. Cornyn’s approach would balloon the roughly $18 billion spent already on federal immigration enforcement measures.

Cornyn received $24,750 from private prison political action committees and their registered lobbyists in the last cycle. The political action committees of CCA and the Geo Group bet on a GOP-led Congress this year, and over the course of the past two years collectively gave over $380,000 to Republican candidates and committees, nearly six times the amount given to Democrats. The bulk of the money went to the National Republican Campaign Committee and other Republican leadership committees.

CCA’s PAC cut checks to hardliners like Representatives Lamar Smith and Jim Sensenbrenner, senior Republican lawmakers on the pivotal House Judiciary Committee who sponsored harsh enforcement-only legislation the last time Congress attempted immigration reform. As Seth Freed Wessler of Colorlines reported, House Judiciary Committee members have already hinted that they will again demand that “mandatory detention and deportation of anyone the government labeled a member of a gang, even if they’ve never been convicted of a crime” as a requisite for reform this year. Critics say such measures amount to racial profiling and sending young men of color to prison simply for whom they associate with in school or where they live.

The Geo Group’s PAC also gave $50,000 to the Mitt Romney Victory Fund, to support a presidential candidate who campaigned against “amnesty” and pledged to induce the undocumented to “self-deport.”

To Cornyn’s left within the GOP are Senators John McCain of Arizona and Rubio of Florida, both members of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight.” Although neither has dismissed a pathway to citizenship like their colleague Cornyn, McCain also seeks a strong set of enforcement proposals before any legalization system is put into place.

According to a source close to the reform discussions who spoke with The Nation, McCain has been adamant that any reform overhaul include a law that enshrines the so-called “Operation Streamline” program that enforces criminal penalties for every undocumented immigrant caught entering the country from the southern border. The program, initiated in 2005 by the George W. Bush administration, has continued to be enforced by the Obama administration, and is the main reason the number of immigrants in the criminal justice system has surged in recent years.

Before these guidelines, most undocumented immigrants were sent to civil deportation proceedings. Now, any undocumented immigrant arrested at the border automatically faces criminal charges, with six months in jail for their first illegal entry into the country, and up to twenty years for their second arrest for illegal entry following deportation. This policy, the Detention Watch Network notes in a 2011 report, has played a significant role in fueling the spike in incarcerations for migrant communities. The federal Bureau of Prisons has largely outsourced these types of criminal incarcerations to the Geo Group and CCA.

Currently, Operation Streamline exists as agency policy, not statute. McCain’s attempt to codify the “zero tolerance” rules as a condition for immigration reform would amount to a coup for the private prison companies, which currently manage thirteen detention centers for the BOP. An amendment previously sponsored by McCain in 2010 called for $200 million to the Department of Justice to expand Operation Streamline.

McCain, the Columbia Journalism Review reported, has collected over $30,000 in campaign contributions from CCA.

Rubio, a Cuban-American with broad support among conservative activists and a regular voice in Spanish-language media, is perceived as the politician most likely to set the parameters for reform. He has been featured in national media as the de facto leader for his party in finding a middle ground with Democrats and President Obama on a pathway for citizenship.

Rubio, however, has indicated that he would favor a system that forces currently undocumented immigrants in America to wait more than twenty years before applying for citizenship, while immediately enacting a set of enforcement measures. What this means is that for some 11 million undocumented immigrants a work permit or provisional documentation would be awarded only after they pay back taxes and a penalty fee, pass background checks that may include minor offenses and meet other yet-to-be-determined requirements. This approach, though hailed as a shift away from the GOP’s nativist positions of recent years, could leave millions of people in legal limbo as law enforcement is charged with a greater mandate to arrest those without documentation.

Rubio has his own ties to private prisons. In his bid for the US Senate in 2010, the Geo Group, which is based in Boca Raton, gave $33,500 to political action committees supporting his candidacy, and the company’s chief executive personally donated $4,800.

In 2011, Rubio co-sponsored another McCain bill to steer taxpayer funds to Operation Streamline.

Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, director of the Enlace Institute, says he believes that “Rubio’s positioning on reform is linked to his ties to the private prison industry.” Cervantes-Gautschi, who organized a divestment campaign against private prisons, noted, “Rubio’s guideline would produce more opportunities” for those seeking to profit from immigrant detention.

To fully appreciate the scope of industry’s potential influence over Rubio, one must look beyond mere campaign contributions to the man guiding the senator’s every move in the immigration reform process.

Cesar Conda, Rubio’s chief of staff and reportedly the architect of the senator’s immigration reform outreach, maintains financial ties to the Geo Group’s main lobbying firm, Navigators Global, a company he cofounded in 2003. Although Conda left the business in 2011 to lead Rubio’s staff, financial disclosure forms show that Conda has received up to $100,000 from a “stock buy-out agreement” of his ownership units from the firm, an arrangement a Rubio spokesperson said “is being paid out over time.”

Conda did not respond to a request for comment. Since 2011, the Geo Group has paid Conda’s former firm $220,000 for lobbying services.

Payments to current and former congressional insiders are a big part of how the private prison lobby wields influence.

The two largest for-profit prison corporations currently retain six outside lobbying firms and forty federal lobbyists, most of whom are former staffers to powerful politicians. Some are former lawmakers. Former Republican Representative Jim McCrery of Louisiana, who regularly antagonized any legislation he viewed as too friendly to immigrants while in office, is now at a firm called Capitol Counsel as a lobbyist for Geo Care, a Geo Group healthcare subsidiary; Vic Fazio, a former Democratic Representative from Northern California and former chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is a lobbyist for CCA through his law firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

In 2008, former Senator Dennis DeConcini, a Democrat from Arizona, joined Correction Corporation’s board of directors.

The industry’s hired guns have helped win political victories large and small.

In 2008, a bill called the Private Prison Information Act, which would require for-profit prisons to comply with most public record requests relating to the their operation of federal prisons, gained bipartisan backing and appeared poised to pass out of a House subcommittee.

Calls for more transparency have followed the private prison industry as news reports and lawsuits have revealed a striking pattern of violence, sexual abuse, inadequate staffing, medical neglect and death in facilities across the country. Investigations by the American Civil Liberties Union found multiple immigrant deaths at facilities managed by CCA. Grassroots Leadership has documented several instances of sexual abuse and mysterious deaths at immigrant detention centers managed by the Geo Group.

Alarmed that the bill was gaining momentum, CCA dispatched several executives along with Fazio to meet with the sponsor of the legislation, Representative Tim Holden of Pennsylvania. A consultant who worked to pass the bill told The Nation that Fazio pressured Holden to drop support for the measure. The consultant recalled being invited by Holden’s staff for a meeting about the bill, and his surprise to find Fazio in the congressman’s office when he arrived for the meeting. Fazio and other CCA officials, the consultant said, took control of the meeting and berated advocates of the legislation.

In the end, Holden did not bother showing up to the hearing about his own bill and it died in committee. Holden, who lost his seat last year in the Democratic primary, could not be reached for comment.

In 2006,CCA paid the law firm Akin Gump, along with Fazio, $200,000 to lobby on “immigration reform legislation” as Congress made its last attempt at a federal overhaul. In May of 2006, John Ferguson, then the CEO of the company, told investors that immigration reform could produce “significant expansion of border enforcement efforts, which should result in a substantial increase in the population of illegal detainees.” One financial analyst associated with the company that year predicted the immigrant detention “market” was worth $250 million over twelve to eighteen months due to Bush’s enforcement actions.

The dynamics of immigration reform during that period can be viewed as massive victory for the private prisons. The Bush administration attempted to placate its right-wing base by enacting a series of policies to militarize the border and send more immigrants to jail, through new criminal procedures and increased ICE raids. The bipartisan attempt to create a pathway for citizenship was scuttled by right-wing lawmakers, many of whom are reprising that role this year. Senator Cornyn, who played an important role in opposing a comprehensive approach to reform in 2006, has even more influence this year given his position as ranking member on the Senate subcommittee that deals with immigration.

Five days after making his enforcement first position on reform clear at a conference hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation in January, Cornyn was back in DC celebrating his birthday with a fundraiser co-hosted by CCA lobbyist Rob Chamberlin.

A fundraiser announcement posted by the Sunlight Foundation shows Chamberlin among several hosts of Cornyn’s party at Hill Country BBQ, a Texas-style restaurant near Pennsylvania Avenue. Over the last year, Chamberlin’s firm, McBee Strategic, made more money than any other firm in Washington, DC, on behalf of a private prison interest.

“Who’s asking for more prisons?” asks Roberto Lovato, a co-founder of Presente.org. “There’s no polls that show that Latinos, immigrants, average citizens want more prisons or the enforcement-first mentality, so that shows that these politicians are listening to the prison lobbyists, not voters.”

Truthdigger of the Week: Bradley Manning

Truthdigger of the Week: Bradley Manning

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Posted on Mar 2, 2013
AP/Patrick Semansky

“I believe[d] that the public release of these cables would not damage the United States,” Manning said.

By Alexander Reed Kelly

Thanks to last week’s Truthdigger of the Week, journalist Alexa O’Brien, the public has access to a complete rushed transcript of the statement Pfc. Bradley Manning made to a federal judge Thursday when he pleaded guilty to illegally obtaining state secrets that he subsequently passed to WikiLeaks as well as pleading not guilty to “aiding the enemy.”

Manning’s statement consists of facts describing his military training, the nature of his work as an intelligence analyst, his discovery of WikiLeaks and the “unauthorized storage and disclosure[s]” of a host of sensitive documents that he made over time. It stands as one of the few occasions the public has heard from Manning since his arrest in May 2010.

Manning was recognized for his aptitude as an intelligence analyst. Thus, he had access to troves of sensitive information. It was his job to pore over this data, much of which would be seen by only a handful of people. Apart perhaps from a few of his fellow analysts, the view of U.S. activities in Iraq and Afghanistan that he came to possess was highly detailed and more complete than virtually any other soldier’s, including likely many of his superiors. Seen all at once, he had a bird’s eye view of the wars, and what he saw “disturbed” him.

In his statement he describes being snowed in at his aunt’s house during a blizzard while on leave in Maryland in late January 2010. It was there that he first deliberated over what to do with copies of records he had made of so-called SigActs (reports of events the military believed were worth relating during the course of war).

“I began to think about what I knew and the information I still had in my possession,” Manning said. “For me, the SigActs represented the on the ground reality of both the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“I felt that we were risking so much for people that seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and anger on both sides. I began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in year after year. The SigActs documented this in great detail and provide a context of what we were seeing on the ground.”

Manning said he believed that if the public had access to those records, they would “spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as … it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.” He “believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the affected environment every day.”

Upon resolving to publish the documents, he attempted to contact mainstream newspapers. He spoke briefly with a reporter at The Washington Post, but she didn’t seem to take him seriously. The New York Times ignored him outright, never responding to a voice mail that included his Skype phone number and personal email address. Discouraged by the papers’ lack of interest, he contacted WikiLeaks, which he encountered during the course of reading about world events, which had become a “fascination” for him.

In his message to WikiLeaks, he included a simple note explaining the contents of the file:

“It’s already been sanitized of any source identifying information. You might need to sit on this information—perhaps 90 to 100 days to figure out how best to release such a large amount of data and to protect its source. This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of twenty-first century asymmetric warfare. Have a good day.”

In the weeks that followed, Manning provided WikiLeaks with more documents. They included State Department cables showing U.S. officials’ candid lack of interest in helping Iceland during its financial crisis; footage of killings of Iraqi civilians and Reuters journalists from an Apache helicopter (which came to be known as the “Collateral Murder” video); and other examples of his government’s lack of concern for human life. All of it “upset” him, he said, and all of it went to WikiLeaks.

As the Iceland example makes clear, Manning’s interest was not limited to America’s wrongdoing in war. “The more I read, the more I was fascinated with the way that we dealt with other nations and organizations,” Manning told the judge this week. “I also began to think the documented backdoor deals and seemingly criminal activity that [sic] didn’t seem characteristic of the de facto leader of the free world.

“The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that this was the type of information that should become public,” he continued. “I once read a [sic] and used a quote on open diplomacy written after the First World War and how the world would be a better place if states would avoid making secret pacts and deals with and against each other.”

Manning’s statement was written to be heard by a justice system that is bent on making an example out of him. He is compelled to express himself in a way that keeps him in the best of possible graces with the courts and the American public. Even so, there are moments, such as above, when the rigidity he relies upon in reporting the facts of his actions dissolves away, and he speaks in the naked and young language of hopes and ideals. Military training did not drill Manning’s identity and humane values out of him. Those values could cost him his life, if the trial that is due to begin in June results in a sentence of life in prison or even death.

For being incorrigibly himself and allowing his conscience to be his guide, we honor Bradley Manning once again as our Truthdigger of the Week. Read his statement here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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Kim Dotcom loses court battle in US extradition case

Published time: March 01, 2013 12:03

Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom. (AFP Photo / Michael Bradley)

The US has won a court appeal in its battle to extradite embattled Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom: A New Zealand court overturned a ruling forcing the US to grant Dotcom access to key evidence against him before his extradition hearing in August.

The court ruled that such an expansive disclosure of evidence would slow down the legal process, and that a summary of the US case would suffice for Dotcom. The court also stated that the purpose of the hearing is not to determine guilt or innocence, but for the US to show that it has a valid case against Dotcom.

“Even though courts play a vital part in the process, extradition is very much a government to government process,” the court ruled. “It is for the requesting state to decide what information it wishes to put before the requested state in support of its request.”

Dotcom's lawyer William Akel questioned the ruling: "How can you determine whether or not there has been compliance with candor and good faith if you don't know what documents are being relied on to support the case?" Reuters quoted Akel as saying on Radio New Zealand.

Another attorney on the case, Paul Davison, said they plan to appeal the ruling to New Zealand's Supreme Court, which will then decide whether it will take up the case. Dotcom needs access to the evidence to prove that the US has no real case, Davison explained.

Dotcom confirmed the intention to appeal on his twitter account.

Previously the lower courts had ruled twice in favor of Dotcom’s access to all material the US was basing its case on.

The extradition hearing has not yet started, as the investigation is still ongoing. The hearing has already been postponed from March to August, and could face more delays if Dotcom is granted his appeal.

Dotcom, who made a fortune from his file-sharing service Megaupload, was arrested by New Zealand police after over 70 uniformed officers raided his home in January of last year in cooperation with a federal investigation launched by the US Department of Justice. Dotcom is wanted in the US on criminal charges for facilitating copyright fraud on a massive scale.

Actors in police costume mock-arrest Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, as he launches his new file sharing site 'Mega' in Auckland January 20, 2013. (Reuters / Nigel Marple)

He has maintained his innocence, saying his site simply provided storage for content and he cannot be held responsible for those who used the service to illegally download songs or movies. Dotcom has also claimed he is the victim of a smear campaign.

“What I have learned since being dragged into this case is a lot about privacy abuses, about the government spying on people,” Dotcom said in an interview with RT. “They are not spying on individuals based on a warrant anymore. They just spy on everybody permanently all the time.”

Dotcom is currently free on bail; in January, on the anniversary of his arrest, he launched a new file-sharing site dubbed ‘Mega.’

Mega allows users to upload large files to be shared online. The main difference from Megaupload is that Mega relies on extensive encryption to protect customers’ privacy.

It’s Time for MoveOn to Move and Stop Blocking Change

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (RMBS) task force received ample attention from news and activist organizations alike following its dramatic announcement at last year’s State of the Union Address. The task force was supposed to investigate and prosecute Wall Street fraud that led to the housing bubble and the eventual collapse of the broader economy. FDL alum David Dayen’s recent piece in Salon reminds us that, one year later, the “new” task force has essentially amounted to what the “old” task force always was: “a conduit for press releases about investigative actions already in progress.”

Firedoglake was among a few groups that met the news of the taskforce with skepticism, but others like MoveOn.org, Rebuild the American Dream and the Courage Campaign were ebullient in their praise of the president and NY attorney general alike. My inbox was flooded with emails like this one, calling on me to thank the President, and get ready for the Wall Street prosecutions to come rolling in.

One month after being tapped to chair the task force, Schneiderman and his fellow ‘Justice Democrat’ California Attorney General Kamala Harris dropped their longstanding objections to a rather pathetic nationwide foreclosure fraud settlement that not only allowed some of the biggest criminals involved to walk upon payment of a relatively paltry settlement, but as FDL contributor Cynthia Kouril wrote at the time, “The court system will be permanently corrupted by forged and perjurious documents… This settlement is an incredible breach of the social contract between the government and the governed.” Months went by without mention of or word from the taskforce. The New York Daily News began to wonder aloud in April of that year whether the taskforce would actually do anything at all, and David Dayen repeatedly wrote at FDL News of the complete lack of information that had yet to surface on the taskforce.

The public – or rather, those who knew about this disturbing trend – was outraged at Schneiderman’s inaction, but the biggest outside champions of the taskforce were nowhere to be found. There were no emails from MoveOn calling on their millions of members to urge Schneiderman and the President to act. Really, how could they? They had already declared victory at the formation of the taskforce, and so all leverage was lost. This lack of public pressure from the groups most influential with administration officials may have contributed to the fact that the RMBS task force still does not have its own offices, phone lines or staff.

To this day, it seems these Beltway liberals are incapable of understanding the nature of our predicament. The Nation Magazine’s editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, for one, defended these groups’ efforts in the Washington Post, writing, “Dayen blames groups like the Campaign for a Fair Settlement, the New Bottom Line, Move On and the Campaign for America’s Future (disclosure: I’m on its board) for buying in to the plot. In reality, though, these organizations have been pressuring the Obama administration for months to clean house at Justice, devote real resources to the task force and make it a top priority inside the White House.”

But David’s response gets at the heart of what I would like to address in this post (emphasis mine):

…I’m sure the Administration trembles at the pressuring from the groups that sent out glowing press releases a year ago about the “real leadership” shown by the President in announcing a task force that, by this own admission, carried no guarantee of resources or prioritization.

Look, nobody likes having to admit they’ve been duped. But I reject the assertion that there are only two courses of action here, that “we can either fight to see that this investigation is real or we can take our ball and go home.” That fight over the investigation is doomed. What would be useful is to examine the role of these DC progressive groups, who continue to build coalitions aimed at “pressuring” the White House and who continue to fail in spectacular fashion.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time MoveOn and the establishment liberals have fallen silent when they were needed most.

At the onset of the Occupy movement, many people were very uncomfortable with the speed with which groups like MoveOn.org, Democracy for America and others latched on to the “99%” messaging and began using it to further their own goals. DFA sold 99% bumper stickers. MoveOn held protests at Romney fundraisers, branding them “Hobnobs with the 1%” while quietly letting the President hobnob in Manhattan just weeks before.

Throughout the winter of 2011, local governments managed to find rare bipartisan consensus in mutual hatred of the Occupy encampments in their communities. Crackdowns began across the country at an alarming rate. Examples include:

  • Charlotte City Council has proposed an ordinance that “makes camping on public property a “public nuisance” and would prohibit “noxious substances,” padlocks and other camping equipment that city officials fear could impede traffic and create public safety issues.” (Convenient, since the DNC was hosted last fall.)
  • City officials in Bloomington posted an eviction notice for Occupy Bloomington after three arrests during a downtown march. Gov. Mitch Daniels also introduced new ‘security rules’ for the Statehouse, including allowing no more than 3,000 people to be inside the statehouse at any one time, “no protest signs larger than 2’ X 2’, no signs on sticks, no obscenity, no engaging in lewd acts contrary to state law, no Coke cans. Also no gambling.”
  • Occupy Eugene actually inspired the city to build a wrought iron fence around the home of a city council member who voted to forbid fires at the encampment. Councilman Poling says “his family is unnerved and some neighbors appalled, such as a family with two small children out looking at Christmas lights who saw five masked women demonstrating topless in front of his house.” Poling then went so far as to equate the topless protesters with the 1994 drive-by shooting at a Eugene synagogue by white supremacists, and demanded the city pay for redecorating his home. All Occupy Eugene asked for was to build a homeless shelter in the city.

But suddenly, at the moment Occupy could have really used their enthusiasm to rally to the movement’s defense, MoveOn, DFA and the others disappeared. As crackdowns intensified, Firedoglake and others called on our activists to lobby their local governments and speak out against the crackdowns, and show up at encampments in solidarity. We sent supplies and livestreamed on our front pages, doing everything we could reasonably do with the time afforded to us to protect the Occupy camps, but it wasn’t enough.

In a President’s first term, one might reasonably argue that these groups should avoid advocacy that could possibly ‘hurt’ their candidate’s chances at winning an election. While I don’t personally agree with this strategy, others are entitled to their own and I respect that. If MoveOn doesn’t feel it can safely navigate the space between supporting Occupy and the President at the same time, it may choose sides as it pleases.

But we are in the President’s second term. Giving the announcement of the RMBS working group a standing ovation — while completely hyperbolic — makes some sense 1 year out from Obama’s re-election. But now that he’s back in office (and assuming MoveOn’s protestations against Wall Street crimes are sincere) wouldn’t one expect to hear calls for action from Schneiderman and the administration, given their total failure thus far?

There is a troubling pattern to the efforts of some of the most visible, well-known advocacy groups on the left that seem, time and time again, to actually empower our opponents rather than empower our movement. When MoveOn and DFA failed to rally to the side of Occupy when they needed them most, they gave a pass to local governments to crack down and devastated the veracity of the movement itself at a time when it could have really dealt a blow to Wall Street. When the MoveOn coalition failed to follow through on their calls for justice for Wall Street crimes after the formation of the RMBS working group, it gave the public the false impression of progress while allowing Wall Street criminals to continue about their business.

The pattern goes something like this:

1. MoveOn comes out swinging at Wall Street, latches on to the emotions of the moment and pulls everyone into a big ‘progressive’ campaign with a coalition made of groups either affiliated with MoveOn or with other (Veal Pen) groups with close ties to the administration.

2. Then there is a moment of mass potential. Whether it’s the crackdowns at the height of the Occupy movement or the announcement of the RMBS working group, this moment attracts substantial press and public attention.

3. The next step should be to leverage the energy of that moment to continue to push for real change in the face of adversity: defend Occupy, or use your considerably large base of activists to urge the government to prosecute Wall Street criminals. But instead, MoveOn et al declare victory in the boldest terms and recede into the background. The coalition is not effectively activated. Everyone feels accomplished, and they should because they just managed to further cement the status quo.

4. Our opponents on Wall Street and in government seize on these opportunities as any shrewd actor would, recognizing that the public’s leverage has been squandered. With the campaign over, they can proceed apace with their agenda. Occupy camps were destroyed and MoveOn was nowhere to be found. Eric Schneiderman didn’t even so much as get a separate phone line for the RMBS working group, and continues to spoil what little remaining chances are left for Wall Street prosecution, and MoveOn is nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile, settlements with Wall Street criminals abound and Americans suffer. Aside from the recent lawsuit announced against S&P, which seems promising for now, not a single Wall Street executive has been jailed for their role in the financial crisis. The least MoveOn and their partners could do is send out an email.

IAEA Report: Iran’s Nuclear Program is Peaceful

It's no surprise. It's been that way for years. Iran's legally entitled to enrich uranium. Dozens of other countries do the same thing. Tehran alone is criticized. Managed news misinformation begets more of it. Washington, Israel, and European partner collaborators repeat it ad nauseam.

The Moral Decoding of 9-11: Beyond the U.S. Criminal State, The Grand Plan for...

911

We are bring to the consideration of our readers this incisive and carefully formulated analysis by Canada’s renowned philosopher Professor John McMurtry. 

The complete text published by the Journal of 9/11 Studies can be downloaded in pdf

*          *          *

I was sceptical of the 9-11 event from the first time I saw it on television. It was on every major network within minutes. All the guilty partieswere declared before any evidencewas shown.The first questions of any criminal investigation were erased.  Who had the most compelling motives for the event? Who had the means to turn two central iconic buildings in New York into a pile of steel and a cloud of dust in seconds?[i]

Other questions soon arose in the aftermath. Why was all the evidence at the crime scenes removed or confiscated?

Who was behind the continuous false information and non-stop repetition of “foreign/Arab terrorists”when no proof of guilt existed? Who was blocking all independent inquiry?

Even 11 years on these questions are still not answered.

But those immediately named guilty without any forensic proof certainly fitted the need for a plausible Enemy now that the “threat of the Soviet Union” and “communist world rule” were dead.  How else could the billion-dollar-a-day military be justified with no peace dividend amidst a corporately hollowed-out U.S. economy entering its long-term slide?While all the media and most of the people asserted the official 9-11 conspiracy theory as given fact, not all did.

A Bay Street broker with whom I was improbably discussing the event in Cuba had no problem recognising the value meaning. When I asked what he thought about the official conspiracy theory, he was frank:

“You can call it what you want, but America needs a war to pull the people together and expand into new resource rich areas. That what it has always done from Mexico on. And that is what it needs now”.  When I wondered why none in the know said so, he smirked: “It would be impolite”, adding, “It affects the entire future prosperity of America and the West”. And all the deaths? “It had to be done –far less than it could have been”. The 19 Arabs with box-cutters reducing the World Trade Center buildings to powder in a few seconds?He shrugged.

Thus everyone since 9-11 is prohibited nail-clippers on planes to confirm the absurd – including 15 of the 19alleged hijackers being from Saudi Arabia and several apparently still alive after crashing the planes into the buildings.[ii]As for the diabolical mastermind Osama bin Laden, he is never linked by credible evidence to the crime and never claims responsibility for the strike since the videos of him are fakes. “Ground Zero” is a double entendre. All doubts are erased apriori.

Decoding the U.S. Theater of Wars and the Moral Driver Behind

One already knew that suspension of belief is the first act of fiction, and that instant culture rules the U.S. One already knew that monster technical events are America’s stock in trade. And one already knew the long history of false U.S. pretexts for war – so well established that a young strategic thinker a decade after 9-11 advises the right-wing Washington Policy Institute on how to create a crisis by deadly planned incident to make war on Iran – “it is the traditional way of getting into war for what is best in America’s interests”.[iii]

One further knew from past research that the U.S.’s strategic leadership since 1945 had been Nazi-based in information and connections and the dominant Central-European figures articulating it ever after across Democrat and Republican lineshave a common cause. For over 40 years, Henry Kissinger as Republican and Zbigniew Brzezinski as Democrat have been protégés of David Rockefeller, selected as Trilateral Commission and Bilderberg Group leaders, and capable of any mass-homicidal plan to advance “U.S. interests”. The banker-and-oil imperial line through David Rockefeller as paradigm case goes back to the Nazi period to John Foster Dulles (an in-law) and his brother Allen Dulles (OSS and then CIA Director), who Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg called “traitors” for their support of the Nazi regime.  The Rockefeller Foundation funded and developed German eugenics programs in the pre-war years, Standard Oil supplied oil in collaboration with I.G. Farben, and so on.[iv]

The supreme moral goal and strategic methods governing U.S. covert-state performance have not only have been very similar in moral principle, but have deeply connected Rockefeller protégés Kissinger and Brzezinski, and more deeply still the theoretical godfather of U.S. covert state policy, Leo Strauss, who was funded out of Germany by David Rockefeller from the start.

The inner logic of covert and not-so-covert U.S. corporate world rule since 1945unified under Wall Street financial management and transnational corporate treaties for unhindered control of commodities and money capital flows across all borders is undeniable if seldom tracked. This architecture of the grand plan for a New World Order is evident in both strategic policy and global political and armed action over decades that have seen the objectives increasingly fulfilled with constructed deadly crises as pretexts for war the standard technique.[v]Behind them as first post-Nazi historical turn lies the 1947 National Security Act (NSA) which created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)and explicitly licensesdestruction of life, truth and other societies as institutional methods.

The CIA is charged with designing, planning and executing “propaganda, economic war, direct preventive action, sabotage, anti-sabotage, destruction, subversion against hostile States, assistance to clandestine liberation movements, guerrilla murders, assistance to indigenous groups opposed to the enemy countries of the free world”. The linkage back to Nazi methods and world-rule goal as the highest moral objective is not just one of corresponding ultimate principles and strategic policy formation. It relied on Nazi SS intelligence sources and means from the beginning of the covert terror state.[vi]

There is no heinous means that is not assumed as the highest morality by this long-standing covert institutional formation linking to the presidential office.It is an explicitly secret system involving at least the Defense Department and the CIA, the former with many more operatives and offices.

The Special Activities Division (SAD) to carry out NSA criminal operations, for example, also confers the highest honors awarded in recognition of distinguished valor and excellence – as did the earlier SS prototype in Germany. What people find difficult to recognise is that these actions, whether by the SAD or other system operations,are conceived as the highest duty, however life-system destructive and mass murderous they are. All participants are super patriots in their own view, as were the Nazis. Contradiction between declared and actual values, however, is a central mode of the covert system. For example, what can be considered a high duty in the perpetual U.S.“war on drugs”, the most morally obligatory commitment of the U.S. state,is at the same time a war against and with other drug operations to transport illegal hard drugs into the U.S. itself.[vii]

We might see here a parallel between foreign mass murder and domestic mass murder in 9-11, with both regarded as high patriotism in this supreme morality. In the background of America’s Reichstag Fire and likewise disclosing the unlimited geo-strategic action that can be operationalized as necessary and good, the post-1945 U.S. control of international sea-lanes made the covert U.S. state the world’s dominant narcotics controller so as to fund secret criminal war actions from South-East Asia to Latin America, entailing the addiction of its own peoples.[viii]This woeful method has been long known by experts, but came to be public knowledge in the Reagan-state funding of the death-squad Contras of Nicaragua as “the moral equal of our Founding Fathers” (a tribute he is said to have given later to the drug-running warlords and jihadists of Afghanistan).

These moral contradictions seem insane, but this is so only if one does not comprehend the underlying supreme morality of which they are all expressions.

Even U.S.-sponsored death squads torturing and killing tens of thousands of poor people across Latin America before 2000 and their return as direct covert U.S.-state method from Iraq to Syria after 9-11 – called “the Salvador option”[ix] – is regarded as necessary and obligatory to “defend the Free World and our way of life”. They entail ever more total U.S. world rule and self-maximizing position by strategic deduction from the supreme morality’s first premises.

The covert nature of the mass-murderous operationalization is never from moral embarrassment. It is solely to ensure effectiveness of execution against “soft” and “uninformed” public opinion, to terrorize people in situ from continued resistance, and to annihilate its leadership and community agency all the way down. Throughout the deciding moments of execution of the underlying supreme value program, global corporate money demand multiplication is always the ultimate value driver -as may be tested by seeking any covert U.S. action or overt war which is not so regulated beneath saturating propaganda of lawful intentions of peace and freedom.

These lines of underlying moral institution, policy, strategic plan, and massive life destruction at every level are indisputable facts of the covert and official faces of the U.S. state, but are typically not connected to the September 11, 2001 attack. Since most people cannot believe their own government or the “leader of the free world” could execute such a sabotage action as “9-11” in which thousands of American themselves died, these behavioral reminders forge the unifying meaning.

Worse still occurred in the last “war”before 9-11. In the background providing graphic example of how the covert U.S. state apparatus is structured to attack and murder U.S. citizens themselves to strategically maximize implementation of its supreme value program of transnational corporate money sequences over all barriers, there is the now known Operation Northwoods. Very familiar to the 9-11 truth movement, but unpublicized since its release under freedom of information laws, this Department of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff plan proposed that the CIA and other operatives covert operatives “undertake a range of atrocities” to be blamed on Cuba to provide pretext for invasion.

“Innocent civilians were to be shot on American streets; boats carrying refugees fleeing Cuba were to be sunk on the high seas; a wave of violent terrorism was to be launched in Washington DC, Miami and elsewhere. People would be framed for bombings they did commit; planes would be hijacked”.[x]

All would be blamed on Castro the Communist in place of bin Laden the Islamicist, and invasion of desired resistant territory would be achieved as a triumph of American freedom and interests over its enemies.

 Operation Northwoods was not, however, okayed by President Kennedy – perhaps another reason for his assassination and replacement by more pliant presidents to represent “America’s interests” in accord with the supreme morality. Underneath the stolen election of George Bush Jr.in contrast – whose family made its money, in part, by serving the covert financial requirements of the Nazi regime before and during the 1939-45 War – was a domestic and foreign administration which would push further than any in the past to advance “U.S. interests”to full-spectrum world rule. Its project included reversing the Roosevelt New Deal and the social state within the U.S. itself – “an anomaly” as Bush Jr. expressed the historical perspective and ethic at work.

This plan was more explicit in the published Project for the New American Century formed from 1997 on. It even supplied the need for a 9-11 event in its 2000 version, the year that Bush Jr. was elected and the year before 9-11. To indicate the “non-partisan” nature of the planning, Democrat National security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski had already hinted at the usefulness of a 9-11-style domestic attack to move policy forward in his 1998 book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives.[xi]

The Moral Compass of 9-11

As a moral philosopher with social value systems as my primary object of analysis, my first thoughts in understanding “9-11” were of the system motives,known methods, and objective interests driving the event which could coherently explain it.Whatever the immediate hold of the official conspiracy theory on the public mind,a rational explanation is required which is consistent with the suppressed facts and the organising geo-strategic plan on both sides of the event.

For over a decade before 9-11, there were three U.S.-propelled global trends that almost never come into the understanding of 9-11 itself. 9-11 truth seekers themselves have focused on the foreground technics and the transparent motive for oil. But these are undergirded by deeper sea-shifts of geopolitical and economic wars of seizure and destruction by other name against which the world’s people were rising. To compel books of analysis into one unifying frame, transnational corporate-rights treaties from NAFTA to the Maastracht Treaty to the WTO overrode all other rights across borders;the private “financialization”stripping of social sectors and welfare states had advanced across the world; and the totalizing movement of the system across all former “cold war” and cultural borders was “the new world order” in formation. Together these vast shifts towards transnational money-sequence rule of all reversed centuries of democratic evolution. And every step of the supreme value program was life blind at every step of its global operationalization.[xii]

Yet states and cultures were so sweepingly re-set into unaccountable transnational corporate and bank rule that few recognised the absolutist value program being imposed on the world.  Fewer still recognised all was unfolding according to plan.

What has been least appreciated about the long-term strategic plan unfolding on both sides of what was immediately called “9-11” – CallEmergency!–is that supreme banker and global money director David Rockefeller had summarized “the plan” to fellow money-party elites across borders at the Bildersberg meeting in Baden Baden Germany in June 1991 -exactly at the same time that the Soviet Union and its resistant barriers fell.[xiii] Bear in mind that Rockefeller among other initiatives appointed both Kissinger and Brzezinski for the lead in both the supranational Bilderberg and Trilateral strategic bodies of which he was the lead patron, not to mention financed the unemployed academic Leo Strauss out of Germany to be the godfather  “philosopher” of the “new world order”. Rockefeller speaks very precisely to his fellow “elite of the elite” of the Western world where only Americans and Europe are invited and reportage excluded:

“A supranational sovereignty of an intellectual elite and bankers is surely preferable to the national auto-determination practiced in past centuries”, Rockefeller said.[xiv]

Observe the foundational new concepts in place of responsible government and democratic accountability. They are now consigned to “past centuries”. A “supranational sovereignty”has replaced them and is morally“preferable”. Rockefeller is not exaggerating. By 1991 a “supranational sovereignty” had already developed in the form of transnational treaties conferring override rights of “profit opportunity” on transnational corporations and private bank rule of government finances across borders – procedurally trumping any elected legislatures and their laws which are inconsistent with their thousands of treaty articles, even when the system eventually leads to world depression as now.[xv] The source of the legitimacy of governments, ultimate sovereignty, has now passed as preferable to “an intellectual elite and bankers”: more exactly, academic strategy servants and transnational money sequences overriding all human and planetary life requirements a-priori by the supreme moral goal.

Ask which function of the world’s people and means of life is not now in debt to Wall Street and the private global banking system it leads. Ask which means of life from food and water to autos and pension cheques is not thus ultimately controlled, or which commodity is not under oligopolist corporate sway. The “surely preferable” objective was already achieved by 1991 or in advanced global institutional motion. Now supreme over all else so that all else is now accountable to it, and it is not accountable to anything above it, “the plan”seemed all but accomplished by Rockefeller’s own considered words.

But what if people resist the new world rule with no life coordinate or constraint at any level of its execution? We may recall that during the death-squad rule of the Argentina generals at this time in which civilians were murdered and tortured in the thousands, National Security Adviser Kissinger congratulated the junta on their “very good results – - The quicker you succeed the better.”Kissinger also heartily approved of the earlier massacres and torture in Chile.

The resistance was in this way pre-empted long before the Soviet Union fell, and after 1990 had no block in the Middle East and Central Asia either. “The plan” has been very long term. Kissinger the geo-executer was originally appointed to high office by Rockefeller (to lead the Council on Foreign Relations back in 1954), and – to give a sense of the long-range trajectory of the plan design –was,incredibly,the U.S. administration’s first choice for an “independent 9-11 Commission”. The obviously not-independent Kissinger was still not a problem for “the free press” and official discourse. But when he was required to disclose his business connections, he withdrew to stay covert in his ongoing backroom capacities and enrichment.

The 9-11 sacrifice is better understood within the deep-structural context of the unfolding plan. Thus David Rockefeller gave special thanks to media like “the New York Times, Washington Post, Time Magazine and other great publications whose directors have attended our meetings and respected their promises of discretion” in co-operating with the plan. Rockefeller was again precise:

This plan for the world would have been impossible for us to develop if we had been subjected to the light of publicity during those years. [xvi]

The plan’s next decisive steps were in fact already in motion as Rockefeller expressed gratitude for the media black-out. A new strategic manifesto from the Pentagon was in preparation entitled “Defense Planning Guidance on Post-Cold- War Strategy,” completed on February 18, 1992.[xvii]Prepared under the supervision of Paul Wolfowitz, then the Pentagon’s Undersecretary for Policy, it was disclosed in March of 1992 by the New York Times.After the first invasion of Iraq, it became known as the Project for the New American Century, publicly released from 1997 to 2000 prior to 9-11.

Again we may note the long arc of planning control, crisis and war as required. Item 6 of the strategic plan defined the agenda in general terms: “In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, our overall objective is to remain the predominant power in the region and preserve U.S. and western access to the region’s oil.”

Oil-rich Iraq had in fact been invaded – not only to privatize its peerlessly high-quality surface oilfields but to destroy its region-leading socialist infrastructure.Iraq became accessible for invasion as the arms-bankrupted Soviet Union was in collapse. We may observe that the covertly genocidal destruction of Iraq bridged Republican and Democrat administrations over three changes of government – disclosing how the covert state operates as a moral constant across party fronts.

The actions confirm and express the one supreme moral goal identified above. They bridge from Saddam himself as CIA-payroll killer and war proxy against Iran to recapture lost Iran oilfields dating from 1980 to 1988 to the fall of the USSR in 1991 as the axis of the long-term strategic plan of global turnaround to “America’s century” still to come before and after 9-11.But between 1990 and 2003 Saddam was transmuted from former ally to aggressor against Kuwait in an invasion given an official green light from the U.S. government, to “mushroom cloud”threat with invented “weapons of mass destruction”.

In fact, National Security Adviser Wolfowitz explained after the invasion found nothing of the kind: “[We had] virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil.”

Observe how the invasion is conceived as obligatory for a reason that expresses the supreme value goal. Observe that it occurs less than two years after 9-11, which gave the open-cheque justification for the bombing and occupation which allowed the expropriation of Iraq’s society’s oil resources.

The problem was not the evil Saddam or the “weapons of mass destruction”, the standard reverse projection.[xviii]The problem was the Iraqi people themselves and their developed oil-funded social life infrastructure between the supreme oil-fields and their U.S. corporate control and privatization. 9-11 was,thus, first the justification for invading Afghanistan – to clear the way for pipelines into the former Soviet republics from the Caspian Sea region– pipelines that prompted the U.S. representative to predictively warn the Taliban:“Either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs.”[xix]9-11 was then the necessary basis of justification for the bombing of Baghdad for the unifying supreme objective.

In fact,seldom published in the corporate media keeping the glare of publicity away from the supreme moral objective, the publicly owned and managed oil revenues of Iraq had been invested since the 1950’s in Iraq’s advanced social infrastructure, leading the Middle East with free higher education, high health standards, and near universal livelihood security. The world’s oldest civilisation was robust in organisational capacities long before the CIA-asset Saddam was installed.

Despite his murdering his way to the top in this function, even Saddam could not destroy the system because socialist government had been achieved decades earlier by a powerful oil-workers’ union base and a population glad to have all education free, an efficient low-cost foods delivery system, and the most advanced public healthcare system in the Middle East. So there was not only the “sea of oil” as a motive to assert U.S. control in the new “supranational sovereignty” of the world. Just as important in this ultimate moral cause, what the U.S. covert state always seeks to destroy by any means, isa successful social infrastructure without private big oil, bankers and transnational corporations free to control it towards higher profit opportunities.

Unravelling the Supreme Moral Doctrine behind the U.S. Covert State

The genocide of Iraq, as the long-opposing “evil empire” was in free-fall, is the most important strategic anchoring prior to “9-11”. Covert strategic policy to forward the supreme goal is by now self-evident, but the inner moral logic is assumed not penetrated.  The most influential of Rockefeller’s protégés in this regard is the “philosopher king” of the U.S. covert state, Leo Strauss. While he never worked in a philosophy department or has any training in logic, his concept of “natural right” fits exactly to the “supranational sovereignty” of private money-sequence rule of the world – what “the intellectual elite” Rockefeller refers to invoke as “moral anchor”, “right” and “justice”.

The moral thought system is not unlike that of Mein Kampf without the racist rant, camouflaged everywhere in practice by the method of big lies – “noble lies” as Strauss exalts them.[xx] The innermost value driver is a perpetual war of dispossession of the weaker for the private transnational money-capital multiplication of the rich.

Nothing in this doctrine is too mendacious, greed-crazed and murderous if it fulfills the plan of this limitless private-capital rule as ultimate moral ground and compass. In Strauss’s canonical teaching of U.S. national security advisers and intellectual following, the ruling moral absolute is expressed by the core master idea behind the “supranational sovereignty” of an “intellectual elite and bankers”:

“limitless capital accumulation – — the highest right and moral duty”.[xxi]

This is the ethical absolute of the covert U.S. state and its strategic decision structure. And there is no internal limit within this moral universe to life means seizure from poorer societies and resource looting for the supreme goal.  It is the natural and absolute Good.

To justify its meaning, the Straussian canon adopts a potted reading of Western moral and political philosophy from Plato through Hobbes, Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx and Weber. This impresses American political operatives of the faith, but Strauss is a failed philosopher turned down by Paul Tillich for his post-doctoral Habilitation and only saved from academic ruin in Germany by Rockefeller grant money. While not taken seriously as philosophy anywhere else, it is worth decoding its talmudic involution for the borrowed ideas that drive its covert state disciples and neo-fascist public “intellectuals” in America.

The ultimately organising idea is to commend all forms of conquering and limitlessly expanding private capital as “natural right and law” with genocidal subjugations justified in glowing moral terms. For example, “noble lies” is the moral category for limitless mendacity. One may wonder how educated people can be so bent out of moral shape. So I now concisely provide what cannot be found elsewhere: the inner logic of the supreme doctrine as perversions of great thinkers.

Its framework of meaning and value helps us to understand why the 9-11 event could easily follow for the managers of the covert U.S. state and its Straussian planners as not at all anomalous or evil within their moral logic. 9-11 follows as a maximally rational and unique tool to achieve the objectives in fact achieved by 9-11, and the geo-strategic cabal behind it is servilely linked from the beginning to the dominant private transnational corporate and banking interests exemplified by David Rockefeller.

To understand this brutal moral universe and its connection to 9-11, the 9-11 wars and a globalizing police state, we need to understand the deformations of its basic organising ideas. Plato’s idea of “the noble lie” means, in fact, a myth or parable to communicate an underlying truth about the triadic human soul of reason, spirit and appetite which, Plato argues, should be reflected in the construction of the ideal state (in which the rulers are communist in their common property to keep them uncorrupted and true).

But through the prism of U.S. global money-party rule a la Strauss this idea becomes the principle of lying to the public to keep the vulgar herd – the people themselves – ignorant and obedient. The philosophies of Hobbes and Hegel are also grist for this mill. Hobbes argues that “man is moved by a restless desire for power after power that ceaseth only in death”, but this brute desire in the “State of Nature” is tamed by “the covenant of peace” ordered by the internal sovereign as absolute.

Via Strauss and the U.S. covert state this becomes right is might and the ultimate “natural right” is limitless private capital power and empire with no end of totalization across the peoples and lands of the world. Hegel too suits a fascist-capitalist reading since he argues “the State is the march of God  through the world”, and war itself is history’s test of which State is a higher realisation of “the absolute Idea”. But Hegel still envisaged a “universal state”to supersede the competitive private-property division of capitalism in the “universalization of right and law on earth”.

Once again U.S. private money-capital power with no bound, the supreme moral goal in the Rockefeller-Strauss doctrine, is opposite to the classical philosophy it invokes. Once more dialectical development of reason to more coherently inclusive conception and life is reversed into one-way private money capital sequences maximized to rule the world with the U.S. military as its instrument of force and terror.

However it conceals its meaning, all positions come down to this underlying value code – as may be tested on whatever transnational money-sequence demand, right or war is launched next. 9-11 construction in such a moral world does not violate this value code. It expresses it in self-maximizing strategic turn to achieve the ultimate goal.

Friedrich Nietzsche may provide the best fodder for the doctrine when he advises that “life is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of what is alien and weaker, imposing of one’s own forms, and at its mildest exploitation” in his superman vision of “beyond good and evil”. For philosophical Nietzscheans, this is code for the inner meaning of the angst of artistic creation. But this meaning is predictably lost on the U.S. covert-state school seeking the “supranational sovereignty” of “limitless capital accumulation” as the supreme good with the “intellectual elite” as servants to it. Karl Marx’s link of capitalism’s success to productive force development is the ultimate equivocation upon which this ruling doctrine depends – making no distinction between productive capital providing life goods and unproductive money sequencing hollowing out the world by money-capital multiplication. Marx, it must be acknowledged, did not made the distinction himself since this mutation of capital came a century after his death.[xxii]

Finally Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism does not ground this doctrine of “limitless capital accumulation as the highest right and duty” with the state to serve it, as Strauss again torturously suggests. In fact, Weber deplores any such perversion of public authority. His capitalist model is a young Benjamin Franklin speaking of money saved and invested as like having “a breeding sow”, not a transnational money-sequence juggernaut of eco-genocidal expansion.  Revealingly, Benjamin Franklin and “the protestant ethic” in general were most concerned about non-waste, which Strauss explicitly excludes from the meaning of “limitless capital accumulation”. For Leo Strauss and his U.S. “national security” disciples, the capitalist may waste as much as he wants by “natural right”.

Further, in complete inversion of source, the greed worship of the U.S. state, its patrons and its academy disciples reverses the model of the “spirit of capitalism” exemplified by Benjamin Franklin in proprietary claim on knowledge and inventions. He,in fact,refused to patent his famous Franklin Stove because he believed that no innovation or new knowledge from which other people could benefit should be denied them – just as he himself had benefitted from the community of knowledge and science as the distinguishing feature of being a civilised human being.

In short, it is important to recognise how twisted the covertly ruling doctrine is. No element of it is life coherent or true to the classical thinkers in which it costumes itself. In the end, only the transnational U.S. money party has any place in its rights and obligations, and any sacrifice of other life to its supreme goal is legitimate – linking back to the Nazi-U.S. corporate axis that nearly destroyed the civilised world once before.[xxiii]

Money-Capital Power UeberAlles: How Economic Rationality Leads the Plan

The U.S. culture of money-sequence “rationality” is the underlying intellectual and moral disorder which leads to “limitless money capital accumulation” as the supreme moral goal. In formal terms, the equation of rationality to atomic self-maximization is assumed a-prioriacross domains. With globalizing Wall-Street-led “financialization”, this “rationality” becomes equated to private money-sequence multiplication across all borders as theultimate Good. This is the innermost mutation of value logic and goal, the moral DNA, from which the cancerous world system develops on both sides of 9-11.[xxiv]

This first principle itself is,in fact,built into formal economics, decision and game theory, and strategic science, as I explain step by step in “Behind Global System Collapse: The Life-Blind Structure of Economic Rationality.”[xxv] It is axiomatic but unexamined, life-blindly absolutist but not recognised as morally problematic. To make a long story short, competitive self-maximization in the market is assumed to produce “the best of possible worlds” by mathematical proof. “Pareto efficiency” is believed to demonstrate this by private money exchanges between self-maximizing atoms apriori stripped of all life properties, relations, society, conditions of choice, and all natural and civil life support systems. Pareto himself recognised outside this formula what has since been covered up.

Not only is the formula consistent with most having remaining impoverished by the “optimum” of “no-one worse off”, what none who cite “Pareto efficiency” as a standard academic mantra ever acknowledge or even recognise. Pareto himself is in no doubt of the implication. As the fascist party he belongs to rules Italy and Rockefeller creates the Council of Foreign Relations, he asserts with approval: “Very moral civilized peoplehave destroyed and continue to destroy, without the least scruple, savage or barbarian peoples”.[xxvi]We glimpse here at the roots the supreme morality built into “economic science” itself.

Yet, as demonstrated in “Behind Global System Collapse”, even the most liberal canons of America, including John Rawls’ classic A Theory of Justice, are grounded in the same meta principle.[xxvii] Rationality and value are equated to self-maximizing gain with no limit within game-theoretic interactions as the sole limiting framework of “limitless money capital acquisition”. The generic equation defines, indeed, the dominant intellectual and economic mind-set of America and the global system in action since 1980. The cabal internal to U.S. national security strategic planning follows the moral logic to its most radical conclusions with no constraints by life or law.

The one absolute moral meaning is the spread of U.S. economic, military and political power as good for all, or, more exactly in Straussian language, limitless private transnational money-capital expansion as the highest right and moral duty. Only what is consistent with or serves this supreme morality, it follows, deserves to exist. This is the alpha and omega of the covert doctrine and state, and careful reading can find no disconfirmation beneath the rhetoric of “noble lies”.

The Iraq Paradigm:  Genocide Strategy From 1990 On

The Iraq line of the geostrategic plan from 1990 to 2001 and after is a paradigmatic articulation of the covertly ruling moral logic. It launches into the theatre of war as direct war attack when U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, is instructed to green-light Saddam’s already known plan to invade Kuwait in 1990: “The US. has no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait”, she advises. To formalize the lie as official and traditional, she reports: “Secretary Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America”.[xxviii]

The dispute was, in fact, over Kuwait’s drawing out oil from reserves underlying Iraq as enabled by the colonial split of the oil-rich Kuwait province from Iraq – the classic divide-and-rule policy holding also in the division of oil-rich Kurdistan among four manufactured states. Saddam had good reason to trust the U.S., not only by the long-term official promise of neutrality but as blood-mix ally when he waged a U.S.-supported war of aggression against Iran – which still remains the target. Note the big lie to provoke the supreme crime of war has remained without any glare of publicity that might derail the plan.

When Saddam did exactly as planned by invading Kuwait, Bush Sr. raved about the Nazi-like aggression against a weaker country in the reverse projection that always defines the covert U.S. state before, through and after 9-11. So in the same name of “preventing aggression” U.S. “defense” forces invaded Iraq to destroy any life capacity it had to defend itself – always the strategy since the defeat in Vietnam. The genocide began by the massacre of many tens of thousands of fleeing soldiers. Recall the weeping young woman, the Kuwait ambassador’s daughter, planted next to baby incubators falsely claiming the monster Saddam had murdered the babies. This reverse projection was soon to be made real thousands of times over inside the victim society of Iraq.

Reverse projection of evil is the meta law of U.S. psy-ops propaganda in the deadly conflicts and wars it covertly starts. This is the supreme moral program in action as “noble lies”. In this case, the air-bombing after surrender continued from U.S. and “special ally” Britain as “sanctions of Iraq” to “prevent aggression” – again the reverse projection. In fact the bombs continually fell on the water and electricity infrastructures of the defenceless people and against all lines of repair to restore either – “the line in the sand against Iraq aggression”. We might bear in mind that Wolfowitz was Undersecretary of Defense under Secretary Cheney at this time, their positions not unlike those at the time of 9-11.

Air-bombing, as Bertrand Russell long ago pointed out, is inherently fascist in erasing the killed and maimed from sight while ensuring impunity for the bombers of defenceless people.  But all such mass murder is only collateral damage to the supreme moral goal as “natural right and law”.  The air bombing of Iraq’s water and electricity supplies dressed in one big lie after another continued in slow mass-murderous destruction of the people and their social life infrastructures years on end.

Denis Halliday, United Nations Humanitarian Co-ordinator for the mission finally called it “genocide” (Wikipedia calls it “the Persian Gulf War”) when he resigned in 1998 to protest against “the crimes against humanity”. But no-one knew until the U.S. Department of Defense Intelligence got out that the first sweep of Iraq was planned down to the mass killing of the infants and children. September 11 in 2001 is better understood in this wider context of strategic planning by the covert U.S. terror state. For years the non-stop bombing of the people’s central life-water support system deliberately engineered mass dying from diseases of children in the hundreds of thousands.

What was predicted by Harvard Medical School researchers from the continuous civilian infrastructure bombing by the U.S. military – the deaths of over 500,000 children- was verified by the counts scientifically taken at the risk of researchers as the bombing continued month after month with NATO support.[xxix]

Full-spectrum corporate money-sequencing through Iraq under the Comprehensive Privatization Program would only be enabled by “9-11”down the road. But first the bases of advanced social life organization needed to be destroyed. The later-leaked U.S. Defense Intelligence document entitled “Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities” expresses the moral DNA at work. I cite the key lines of U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency reports because they reveal the character of the supreme moral goal and its strategic planning.“With no domestic sources of water treatment replacement or chemicals like chlorine”and “laden with biological pollutants and bacteria”, the leaked Defense Intelligence Agency report says (italics added), “epidemics of such diseases as cholera, hepatitis, and typhoid” will “probably take six months before the [drinking and sewage water] system is fully degraded”.

The document continues, Conditions are favorable for communicable disease outbreaks [by the one-way air bombing] with the “most likely diseases during next sixty-ninety days of diarrheal diseases (particularly children) acute respiratory diseases (colds and influenza); typhoid; hepatitis (particularly children); measles, diphtheria, and pertussis (particularly children); meningitis including meningococcal (particularly children), cholera”. “Medical Problems in Iraq”, dated March 15, 1991, reports that the “water is less than 5 percent of the original supply – - diarrhea is four times above normal levels – - Conditions in Baghdad remain favorable for disease outbreaks”. The fifth document in June reports “almost all medicines in critically short supply” and “Gastroenteritis killing children – - in the south, 80 percent of the deaths are children”.[xxx]

In short, no limit to covert U.S. planning of indiscriminate mass murder for the supreme goal exists. The number who died in 9-11 suddenly pales in comparison. In all cases, it lets “those inimical to U.S. interests” know that there is no limit to how far the covert terror state will go for the supreme moral code not yet decoded. Combined with wars of aggression before and after 9-11, raining fire and explosions on civilians from the air so that no defense or escape can be made, saturating the fields of public meaning with big lies civilly dangerous to unmask, and bringing vast enrichment and new powers to transnational corporate conglomerates and their past and present CEO’s of the acting U.S. state – all become clear in their ultimate meaning once decoded. As the Democrat U.S. Secretary of State responded to the question of the 500,000 killed children, “we think the price was worth it”. No price is too much to pay for fulfilment of the transcendent project of the global U.S. state and its private capital rule as “the Free World”. “Those inimical to our interests” are those who oppose or are in the way of it, and thus “hate our freedom”.

The  Strategic Logic of Value through 9-11

By 2000 it was very clear to the U.S. strategic planners that the opening up of the Middle East and Central Asia after the fall of the Soviet Union had to be further pursued before it was too late.The great regret for the planning personnel of the coming Bush Jr. administration such as Paul Wolfowitz was that Iraq had not been taken over on the first invasion. The need for “full spectrum dominance” across the Middle East and Central Asia was thus the essential argument of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), with the prescription that no other “regional power”was able to contest this dominance.

The PNAC more explicitly recognised the strategic necessity for what Zbigniew Brzezinski had already called for in 1998 in The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives – namely,“the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat” to ensure public support for “the United States, as the sole and, indeed, the first truly global power”. The now once untouchable Central Asia, formerly of the USSR, was thus targeted as essential not only for its vast oil reserves, but to complete rule of the “first truly global power”.

The Project for the New American Century was more explicit than Brzezinski in 2000, the year before 9-11. As former Defence Minister of Canada, Paul Hellyer, lucidly puts it in a recent address (italics added): “The authors of this American ‘Mein Kampf’ [the PNAC] for conquest recognized the difficulty of persuading sophisticated Americans to accept such a gigantic change in policy. So they wrote the following (subsequently removed from the record):  ‘Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary changes, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.’”[xxxi]

Excepting the Vietnam War ending in military defeat – but vastly enriched armaments and connected private bank and corporate interests – the hitherto favoured strategic-plan mode had been local death squads along with pervasive American media propaganda against the victims as “communists” and “sponsored by the USSR”. But once there was no remotely equal opponent in mass-kill capacities and transnational trade treaties now bound governments within corporate-rights law as overriding domestic laws and policies, anything became permissible. The plan for the “supranational sovereignty” of “limitless capital accumulation” in “full-spectrum power”required only 9-11 to derail world-wide peace, environmental and anti-corporate globalization movements growing into uncontrollable civilian capacity across borders and continents.

People were waking up to the one-way destruction of life systems at all levels. Iraq was not alone in the genocidal clearance of formersocialist infrastructures uniting peoples across ethnic lines. A far more democratic Yugoslavia was set up and destroyed by financial means in the same year by the 1991 U.S. Foreign Operations Appropriations Law after the 1980’s multiplication of public interest rates to over 20percent primedevoured social life support structures across the world.

This was the unseen financialization base of a global war against public and worker economic and political powers that was reaping a cumulative global civilian reaction of opposition to “the plan”. 9-11 ensured against the fightback of financially dispossessed peoples with the signature reverse operation – diversion to an external “terrorist threat” that stood in the way of more sweeping transnational corporate wars on more peoples being dispossessed. Civil war in Yugoslavia long targeted by Reagan’s secret National Security Directive 133 as early as 1984 was predicted and occurred after the underlying employment and welfare structure of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia collapsed under deliberate financial destabilization. (The villain of the piece, Slobodan Milosevic, was himself a major banker).

In oil-rich Somalia, two-thirds of its territory had been leased out to four transnational oil companies by 1993 – a condition of lost grounds of life for Somalians behind the primeval civil war ever since. These are merely expressions of the underlying logic of value and the plan for its supranational rule beneath the lights of publicity as “discretion”. The examples are myriad from Latin America to South-East Asia to sub-Sahara Africa and the Middle East to Israel and Canada today. But a descriptive law of the supreme moral goal holds across all diverse instances of its expression.

Strategic planning for the destruction of social life infrastructures of peoples for private money capital gain without limit is the ultimate value program throughout from the U.S. to China.

The people of the U.S. are not exempt from their own system of covert state rule, although democratic heroism here joins with the larger world against it. This is the ultimate moral struggle on earth today. The moral politics of the disorder are the enforcement of the descriptive law.  This is the ruling meta program, and it is carcinogenic by its nature. The supreme motive force it multiplies by is privately self-maximizing money possession (individual and corporate)seeking to be limitlessly more.More = Better. Less = Militant Demand for More.

The “9-11” event is the epicentre of the supreme moral objective seated in Wall Street. Itis best understood as an ultimate strategic maximizer of theitalicizedformula. Exactly expressed, its ultimatelyregulating axiology is private money inputs through all life to maximally more private money outputs in ad infinitum progression: Money àLife as Meansà More Money or, formally, $àLasMà$1,2,3,4— N.

At the highest level of anchoring moral meaning, this private money-demand rule seeks to beabsolute and total across borders with no quarter. “Full spectrum dominance” is its military method. Yet what distinguishes it from theNazirule it connects with as prior transnational corporate partner in war making is that in the U.S. private money demand multiplication at the top is the only organising value meaning. 97% of its money command is produced by private bank notes of others’ debt to the private bank system centred in Wall Street. Yet despite this very narrow centre of control,almost no global territory or field of life is outside its rule and strategic plan.

The “Trans-Pacific Partnership” is but its latest expression – focusing on private knowledge-patent money sequencing to rule out generic pharmaceuticals and other life-and-death knowledge commons from which higher profits cannot be made. The one underlying common principle throughout all phases is transnational corporate and bank money sequencing to more. Its converse is to overrideall life requirements at all levels, and strategically planned crises and wars are the advancing lines of control and enforcement.

What is not recognized through all the genocidal wars,ecocidal results, collapsing social life support systems and falling wages, however,is that this ruling value sequence rationally leads to9-11” as maximal strategic payoff progression.“Absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event”, the Project for the New American Century declared before 9-11,

“ – - the U.S risks the loss of a global security order that is uniquely friendly to American principles and prosperity”.

Decoded, this meant in theory and practice more transnational private money sequence progression to ever more control over all still-uncontrolled assets for more and richer returns without limit of take or life destruction. But these are unspeakable lines of value meaning, and that is likely why, for example, Wikipedia keeps altering the entry of my name with conspiracy theory attributions and smears to ensure that such deep-structural diagnosis does not gain currency. That is how this system works, and analysis will provide more variations of this gagging method on 9-11 ahead.

The strategic necessity of the 9-11 event for “global security order”can even be asserted by the principal architects of the administration under which it happened, and those who observe this can be dismissed as “conspiracy theorists”. Reverse projection is, as always, the essential psychological operation. The documented but shouted-down logistics included V-P Cheney having control of the air-de

POGO Sticks It to the SEC

In our last episode of that ongoing Washington soap opera, “As the Door Revolves,” we introduced you to former federal prosecutor Mary Jo White, pursuer of drug lords and terrorists, who left government to become a hot shot Wall Street lawyer defending such corporate giants as JPMorgan Chase, UBS, General Electric and Microsoft. Oh yes — and former Goldman Sachs board member Rajat Gupta, currently appealing his insider trading conviction.

The New York Times reports that White and her husband, who’s also a corporate litigator, have a net worth of at least $16 million and investments that might be valued as high as $35 million. Now, courtesy of President Obama, Mary Jo White’s been named to head the SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission — the very agency that regulates her clients and everyone else doing business in the stock market.

But as they say on late night TV, wait — there’s more! Join us for our latest episode of “As the Door Revolves” in which the door spins even faster between the SEC and big business. According to a major new report from the nonpartisan watchdog POGO – the Project on Government Oversight — hundreds of the agency’s former employees have done or are doing business with the SEC on behalf of the corporations the agency is supposed to regulate.

Imagine — hundreds with an intimate knowledge of how the place works advocating for their clients with friends at the SEC — colleagues who themselves may be looking for a big payoff when they, too, leave government. From 2001 through 2010, 419 SEC alumni filed nearly 2,000 disclosure forms saying they would be representing companies or individuals coming before the commission. And that’s only the “tip of the iceberg,” POGO says, “Because former SEC employees are required to file them only during the first two years after they leave the agency.” In other words, after that first couple of years there are no official records kept so we can’t know how vast the problem is or even how far back it goes.

However, POGO writes, “Former employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission routinely help corporations try to influence S.E.C. rule-making, counter the agency’s investigations of suspected wrongdoing, soften the blow of S.E.C. enforcement actions, block shareholder proposals and win exemptions from federal law.”

No wonder the SEC has granted special waivers to business on some 350 occasions that, according to the report, “softened the blow of enforcement actions.” What’s more, a year ago, The New York Times reported that “Close to half of the waivers went to repeat offenders — Wall Street firms that had settled previous fraud charges by agreeing never again to violate the very laws that the SEC was now saying that they had broken.” The plot thickens, or in this case, sickens.

POGO also notes that in three instances — from 2008-2012 — when there were cases against UBS, the Swiss investment bank retained ex-SEC attorneys to argue on its behalf and was, in the words of the Times, “granted relief.” And when Obama’s first SEC chair, Mary Schapiro, pushed for reform of the $2.6 trillion money markets business, it was lobbied against by at least half a dozen former SEC staffers, and opposed by the two Republicans on the commission and one Democrat, Luis Aguilar, who used to be an executive vice president with the money management firm Invesco. The POGO report says that shortly after “Invesco sent a team to meet with Aguilar at the SEC and tell him why tightening rules for money market funds was a bad idea,” he came out against Schapiro’s plan, Coincidence? Aguilar told POGO there’s no connection. Sure.

When George W. Bush was president and named Chris Cox to run the SEC, we screamed like bloody murder, because Cox had been a partner at a huge global law firm whose client list included Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs. Now Obama’s pushing his choices through that same revolving door. It’s called “regulatory capture” — the takeover of government agencies by the very corporations they’re supposed to keep an eye on, to protect everyone’s investments and pensions against abuses of private power.

What’s next? Stay tuned. In the next few weeks, Mary Jo White will sit for her confirmation hearing and doubtless will be asked all about this by a committee stacked with politicians whose big donors include… the financial industry. You can read the complete POGO report here. Forward it to your own Member of Congress, then open your window and scream.

Big Corporations Put Up Seed Funding for GOP Dark Money Group

Big Corporations Put Up Seed Funding for GOP Dark Money Group

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Posted on Feb 17, 2013
Flickr/TomaBw

By Justin Elliott, ProPublica

This report originally ran on ProPublica.

Some of the nation’s biggest corporations donated more than a million dollars to launch a Republican nonprofit that went on to play a key role in recent political fights.

Like the nonprofit groups that poured money into last year’s elections, the decade-old State Government Leadership Foundation has been able to keep the identities of its funders secret. Until now.

A records request by ProPublica to the IRS turned up a list of the original funders of the group: Exxon, Pfizer, Time Warner, and other corporations put up at least 85 percent of the $1.3 million the foundation raised in the first year and a half of its existence, starting in 2003.

The donor list is stamped “not for public disclosure,” and was submitted to the IRS as part of the foundation’s application for recognition of tax-exempt status. If approved, such applications are public records.

The foundation and other similar nonprofits are allowed to take anonymous and unlimited donations from individuals or corporations. That’s because they are classified as “social welfare” nonprofits, which are supposed to benefit the community at large, and not just one group or political party.

Last year, we reported how the State Government Leadership Foundation paid for Republican redistricting consultants to draw new congressional district maps in North Carolina. The resulting gerrymander helped flip the state’s congressional delegation to Republicans.

In recent years, the foundation has also funded TV ads targeting Democrats during the 2011 Wisconsin showdown over collective bargaining rights; attacking President Obama in Virginia over his energy policy; and accusing teachers unions of “destroying our children’s future.”

The foundation also gave $1.25 million in 2011 to the Indiana Opportunity Fund, a state-level nonprofit that ran anti-union ads featuring Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. (That group was founded by attorney Jim Bopp, who has long fought against campaign finance regulation.)

The foundation’s single-biggest early donor was the now-defunct mortgage lender Ameriquest, which gave more than $260,000. (We contacted a number of the companies on the list; they did not respond to requests for comment.) Corporate trade associations including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Edison Electric Institute, and the American Tort Reform Association also pitched in, each giving between $50,000 and $100,000.

The foundation’s affiliated organization, the Republican State Leadership Committee, focuses on winning state-level elections for the GOP and also gets corporate money, including from tobacco and insurance giants.  As an explicitly political organization, the committee has to disclose its donors.

By contrast, the recent funders of the foundation, which took in $2.5 million in 2011 including a single donation of $1 million, are still secret.

The foundation applied for IRS recognition as a social welfare group in late 2003 but was initially rejected. The IRS concluded the foundation was “a partisan organization” that “operated primarily for the benefit of a select group” – the GOP. Social welfare groups, the IRS’ rejection letter noted, must promote the “general welfare of the whole community” — not a particular group.

The foundation’s lawyers from the firm Arent Fox fired back in an appeal, arguing that the foundation was not a partisan outfit.

The foundation, according to the 2005 appeal, “was created to promote public debate” about issues including pharmaceuticals, securities regulation, and asbestos litigation.

“It may be useful to describe what the SGLF is not,” the appeal says. “The SGLF:

• Is not affiliated with the Republican Party in any way;

• Does not meet with or coordinate its activities with the Republican Party;

• Does not make contributions to, or accept contributions from, the Republican Party;

• Does not participate in political campaigns, elections or publish electioneering messages on behalf of any candidate or party;

• Does not invite Representatives of the Republican Party to speak at its events, and

• Does not participate in the Republican Party platform, does not recruit or train Republican candidates, does not fundraise for Republican candidates, and does not coordinate its issue selection or policy positions with the Republican Party.

In 2007, more than three years after the foundation’s application, the IRS ultimately recognized it as a tax-exempt social welfare group.

But the group’s protestations that it has nothing to do with the GOP seems at odds with its recent activities. Besides running ads attacking Democrats, the foundation was involved in redistricting in several states to, as the foundation put it in a letter to Republican legislators, draw “legislative lines that we will have to defend in 2012 and beyond.”

Foundation spokesperson Jill Bader told ProPublica that since its creation the foundation’s “activities have evolved in some ways from those that were originally contemplated and conducted by the organization.”

Bader continued: “SGLF’s present activities are in strict compliance with the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code and all future SGLF activities will be in strict compliance as well.”


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Is This Where The Secret JP Morgan London Gold Vault Is Located?

In a world defined by "financial innovation", where $1 of hard collateral can spawn over $1000 in repoed and rehypothecated liabilities (and assets), where "shadow banking" is far more important than traditional bank liabilities (and to this date remains completely misunderstood), and where every month the central and commercial banks force create over $100 billion in credit money (which end consumers refuse to absorb and which therefore ends up in the stock market), the concept of a "hard asset" is an increasingly redundant anachronism. Yet while the Federal Reserve has emerged as the bastion of the New Normal's financial innovation front in which the concept of money is backed by absolutely nothing other than the Dollar's increasingly fleeting reserve status, when it comes to the definition of "Old Normal" money - gold - it still is the domain of the first and original central bank: London.

At first blush, most would not associate London with the hard asset mecca of the world: in fact, when it comes to some of the most spectacular hyper-levered "New Normal" cataclysms in recent years: AIG, Lehman, MF Global, JPMorgan's London Whale, all of them originated in London. Yet for the most part these events occurred precisely because of the mindboggling leverage already employed by the London financial system. Recall that the UK has some 600% in financial debt/GDP - an unprecedented amount compared to any other developed world nation. Yet, paradoxically, the fact that there is so much financial leverage implies that there must be an abundance of hard assets at the bottom of the London Exter Pyramid. After all, financial counterparties, especially in this day and age, may be insolvent but they are not idiots, and all will demand at least some paper representation that there is a trace of hard collateral at the bottom of the latest financial Frankenstein CDO, SPV, CLO, CPDO, RMBS or [insert any other modern financial "asset" acronym]. And keep in mind we are talking private sector gold: Gordon Brown's epic blunder of dumping the sovereign UK gold at rock bottom prices hardly needs a mention.

Which is why in order to spawn such a gargantuan amount of financial debt, London, which for centuries was the financial capital of the world and which sequestered the bulk of the world's real, tangible wealth until the ascendancy of the US in the 20th century, London's commercial vaults, are literally full of gold (as much as it may pale in comparison with the total notional amount of liabilities it has created).

After all it is the London Billion Market Association. Not New York, Zurich or Singapore.

Why is London such an integral part of the gold financial world? We'll let none other than JPMorgan explain:

The characteristics of the London market uniquely support the use of gold as collateral by ensuring:

  • Quality and liquidity: “London Good Delivery” sets the standard for gold quality. Rigorous specifications as to size and purity ensure that each London ood Delivery gold bar meets pre-set standards with little to no variation between one bar and the next. This consistency ensures that counterparties will receive gold of an expected quality (99.5% fine), which allows the metal to be easily transferred between members of the London Bullion Market. Ultimately, this facilitates trading and market liquidity—both desirable attributes for collateral.
  • Flexibility: The London gold market uses both unallocated and allocated gold. In layman’s terms, allocated gold specifically identifies each gold bar with a specific owner. Allocated gold is essentially held in separate accounts; it cannot be pooled with gold from others to satisfy obligations. In contrast, unallocated gold is held in a general pool by the bullion dealer and the customer has a general entitlement to the metal, but not to a specific gold bar. The LMBA states that unallocated gold “is the most convenient, cheapest and most commonly used method of holding the metal.”

    In practical terms, unallocated gold is comparable to putting dollars, pounds or euros into the bank. Once deposited, the money becomes fungible—you can withdraw the same amount of money you put in, but you will not receive back the same exact bills that you deposited. The use of unallocated gold allows for amounts smaller than a gold bar to be used as collateral between counterparties—a significant benefit to a collateral program given that a London Good Delivery bar weighs 438.9 ounces, and gold is currently trading for over US$1,700 per ounce.

  • Transparency: Readily available price information promotes market transparency and aids in daily mark-to-market and margin calculations. Gold is priced by the market twice daily (morning and afternoon) and widely reported by both the financial press and data vendors. Use of a predictable daily price fix point allows counterparties to mitigate their daily exposure and set haircuts to manage ongoing price fluctuations. The afternoon U.S. Dollar London old Fix is viewed by market participants as the appropriate way to mark gold given daily price fluctuations and increasing values.
  • Ease of transfer: The London Bullion Market clears daily using paper transfers that evidence the unallocated gold held between members. This allows them to simply and efficiently settle mutual trades and transfers to/from third parties while mitigating the costs and risks associated with physical movement of bullion. The use of paper transfers and unallocated gold facilitate easy transfers between counterparties when needed.

And speaking of JP Morgan, incidentally the subject of this post, what do we know about their London-based gold vault services? Once again, in their words:

J.P. Morgan recently integrated its gold vaulting service in London with its tri-party collateral agency service.

  • J.P. Morgan operates one of the two largest commercial gold vaults in London (one of only six in the City) and is a member of the London gold clearing system.
  • J.P. Morgan is also one of the few truly global providers of collateral management services. As collateral agent, J.P. Morgan works with two parties that have an established collateralized lending or financing arrangement.

Who is the other largest commercial gold vault in London? Why HSBC of course: the bank which has recently been embroiled in virtually every scandal involving global money laundering, also happens to be the custodian for such massive (supposedly) physical gold repositories as those of the SPDR Gold GLD ETF. The HSBC gold vault is also known as "Gold's secret hiding place" as CNBC penned it, when Bob Pisani was allowed to take a look deep inside the vault's bowels but only after he was theatrically blindfolded (a visit which we commented on at the time).

Yet Pisani's blindfold, while theatrical, was premeditated: the number of people who know where the HSBC vault is located is a handful, because the last thing commercial gold vaults, and certainly their customers, would want to deal with is a Simon Gruber-type Die Hard 2-style goldjacking.

Amusingly it was none other than the Bundesbank who in November invoked the ghost of the fictional New York Fed gold heist when a member of its executive board told NY Fed's Bill Dudley that  "you can be assured that we are confident that our gold is in safe hands with you. The days in which Hollywood Germans such as Gerd Fröbe, better known as Goldfinger, and East German terrorist Simon Gruber, masterminded gold heists in US vaults are long gone. Nobody can seriously imagine scenarios like these, which are reminiscent of a James Bond movie with Goldfinger playing the role of a US Fed accounting clerk." This happened two months before the Bundesbank diametrically (and embarrassingly) flip-flopped and decided to, all pinky swears to the contrary, begin repatriating its gold from the New York Fed (and Paris) after all. But not London (at least not yet). It also perhaps means that the days of Simon Gruber may not be "long gone", especially if the whereabouts of vaults containing billions worth of gold bullion were known to the public.

And just like the SPDR would want nothing less than to have the address of the HSBC gold vault made public (the same goes for HSBC of course), so those other ETF providers who use JPM's London gold vault as a custodian, such as Blackrock's iShares IAU ETF, or ETF Securities, would want nothing less than to have the location of JPM's vault exposed.

Needless to say, the actual addresses of "LBMA Vault" provided by the LBMA in its Annex 2 for "The Good Delivery Rules for Gold and Silver Bars" lists the headquarters office of the vaulting firm, and certainly not the actual address, because it would have been somewhat disingenuous to blindfold Pisani just to deliver him toe 8 Canada Square, or the HSBC head office in London, the address provided by the LBMA as vaulting address of HSBC. And certainly the address given for the JPM vault at 125 London Wall, aka Alban Gate, which was the firm's headquarters until its move to 25 Bank Street in 2012, is the last place even one bar of gold would be found.

Which is why we were quite stunned to find, in the deep recesses of the internet (and hosted by the Indonesian stock exchange of all place), a trade ticket from May 26, 2011, issued by the Perth Mint of Australia to Avocet Gold Mining (a West African gold miner), in which the Mint confirms its purchase of 2,126 ounces of gold at a price of $1,526 for a total transaction price of $3.246 million.

What is notable about the trade ticket is the additional information provided for the account clearer, in this case, none other than JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, London, as well as the number of the Gold Account held by said clearer: "No. 01380" but what is by far the most interesting, is that the actual physical address of the JPMorgan facility is provided: 60 Victoria Embankment, London.

Ladies and gentlemen: we may just have uncovered the actual location of the ultra-secretive JPMorgan gold vault in the city of London.

Where is 60 Victoria Embankment, London? See below:

The building's southern/river face is the glorious facade of the City of London School which occupied this location from 1879 until 1986 (and which is currently situated just east of here along the Blackfriars Underpass, next to the Millennium Bridge).

As the map above shows, it is a rather sizable building, located just off the Thames river and steps away from the Blackfriars Bridge, whose official designation until recently was Morgan Guaranty Trust Company of New York, Ltd, a remnant from the firm's merger with Guaranty Trust Company in 1959 (recall that JPM was called Morgan Guaranty Trust until 1989).

A cursory media search about the otherwise very nondescript looking building at 60 Victoria reveals that it had been fully leased by JP Morgan as long ago as 1991. What is more interesting, is that the property had previously been bundled as part of a high-profile commercial mortgage-backed securities, or CMBS, deal called White Tower 2006-3. The deal consolidated properties formerly owned by one-time London real estate mogul, Simon Halabi, one of the financial crisis most notable falls from Grace, who had an estimated net worth of $4.3 billion in 2007, and in April 2010 was declared bankrupt, and whose current whereabouts have since been unknown.

White Tower 2006-3, most infamous for being the first CMBS deal to be placed in liquidation after the start of the currency crisis, held a variety of properties near and dear to JPMorgan's heart, first and foremost 60 Victoria Embankment, the 420,000 sq ft of office buildings fully let to JP Morgan Chase; but notably Alban Gate, the 382,000 sq ft office property located on London Wall
in the heart of the City and fully let to JP Morgan Chase. The latter also was JPM's UK headquarters until last year.

What happened next is interesting: in July 2010 Carlyle bought the bulk of the "White Tower" asset portfolio from the defunct CMBS, paying some £173 million for the 60 Victoria Embankment location. Three very short months later, none other than long-time 60 Victoria resident JPMorgan bought the very same building from Carlyle for a whopping £350 million: a transaction which doubled Carlyle's money in an unprecedented three months! At the time the now former CEO of JPM's investment bank Jes Staley (and who currently works for BlueMountain - the same fund that made a killing by squeezing none other than JPMorgan's London Whale traders), said, "These properties are long-term investments and represent our continued commitment to London as one of the world's most important financial centres." Frank Bisignano, chief administrative officer, added: "These properties are among the most attractive pieces of real estate in London. These buildings ensure that our employees will have the necessary technology, infrastructure and amenities to take our businesses forward." Curiously, JPM showed zero love for its Alban Gate location, which it promptly departed to go to its new Canary Wharf HQ, and Carlyle was forced to pull the sale of this property a year later as it did not get enough satisfactory bids.

A pressing question remains: why did JPM, a long-time tenant of 60 Victoria not submit its own bid for the location it knew it would end up purchasing outright in a few months from Carlyle anyway? Why overpay by £177 million in exchange for merely having one more middleman do a three-month transaction? We hope to find out.

Yet what is very clear is that there was something of far greater value to JPM at the 60 Victoria location than at its old headquarters.

What that "thing" may be, and what is the missing puzzle piece in this story, comes from a very peculiar article written nearly four years ago in an Abu Dhabi/Arab Emirates website titled TheNational, titled "Mystery gold cargo linked to Saad, Gosaibi feud", which described just that - the fate of a series of very peculiar gold shipments, the key of which once again involved the two main abovementioned players: Perth Mint and 60 Victoria Embankment.

We repost the entire story below, while highlighting the key parts:

The Qantas freighter QF71 that took off from Perth Airport on November 3 last year bound for London would not have attracted any special attention, despite the fact that it was carrying 1.2 tonnes of gold bullion, then worth about US$28 million (Dh102.8m).

Perth, in Western Australia, is home to Australia's Gold Corporation Mint, where bullion is processed and turned into standard 12.5kg bricks. From there, the ingots are shipped daily around the globe to vaults in America, Europe and Asia, evidence of the world's apparently insatiable appetite for the precious metal. But what made this shipment unusual was that it was the first of 15 such cargoes, of varying quantities and values, which over the next seven months were eventually unloaded mainly in London. Smaller amounts were also delivered to Dubai and Zurich.

The total value of the bullion exported in these operations approached $430m at current market prices, and it weighed 10.4 tonnes. The other distinguishing factor was the identity of the recipients, or "consignees" as they are known. According to documentation seen by The National, they were all companies associated with the al Gosaibi family of Saudi Arabia. The al Gosaibis have since fallen out spectacularly with their partner, Maan al Sanea of Saad Group, in the biggest corporate scandal to hit the Middle East, leaving about 120 banks worldwide with debts estimated at up to $22 billion and a decreasing likelihood of getting their money back.

In a global hunt for assets to offset their losses, the banks have looked into every corner of the Al Gosaibi trading empire and the Saad Group controlled by Mr al Sanea. A small army of lawyers, forensic accountants and corporate investigators has been hired to track down assets over which the banks believe they have claim. They have turned up property, financial investments, relatively small amounts of cash and other baubles of the wealthy, such as aircraft leases. There was even a private zoo. But the most curious discovery so far is the Gosaibi gold.

Perhaps the most remarkable fact about the shipments is that although there are detailed and specific records of them having taken place, neither party in the al Gosaibi-al Sanea confrontation seems to lay any claim to their ownership. Each side denies it was responsible for the shipments. Despite being regularly ranked among the world's billionaires, neither the family's controlling partnership, Ahmad Hamad Al Gosaibi and Brothers, nor Mr Al Sanea's Saad Group has any previous known involvement in the bullion business.

The first shipment took place just as the world appeared on the verge of financial meltdown last November. They continued until May, when the crisis in the two Saudi families exploded into the public domain after they failed to make repayments on loans associated with their banking businesses in Bahrain. The shipments reached a peak in late February and early March, just as tensions within the al Gosaibi family intensified after the death of Sulaiman, the family patriarch and chairman, on February 22.

One shipping document shows that, the following day, "a shipment of 21,500 fine ounces of large 12.5kg gold bars, minimum 99.5 per cent purity" was sent from AGR Matthey, a well known Australian bullion dealer, from Perth Airport via Singapore to London's Heathrow. From there, the bullion was moved to the vaults of Standard Bank of South Africa, located in the London offices of JPMorgan Chase at 60 Victoria Embankment, Blackfriars, London.

The shipment was marked "London good delivery", meaning it met the internationally recognised standards for bullion delivery and could be deposited alongside bullion of the same quality. The Standard Bank account in which it was deposited was in the name of Al Gosaibi Trading Services, one of the companies owned by the al Gosaibi family. But financing such a transaction - the gold was worth about $20m - is a complicated process.

The usual procedure is for the consignee to arrange a letter of credit with the supplier, which is then guaranteed by a bank. In this case, the letter of credit bears the reference number "Awal 157". Awal is the Bahraini bank owned by Mr al Sanea, but which is now in the administration of the Bahrain Central Bank. Ten of the 15 shipping documents bear the Awal reference, while the rest have reference to "TIBC", The International Banking Corporation, the al Gosaibis' Bahraini bank which is similarly in administration.

It is common practice in the trade finance business for those letters of credit to be separately financed by a third party, such as an international bank. This is what happened with the Gosaibi gold. The amounts paid for the bullion were drawn down from lending facilities with these global banks but those borrowings have not been repaid, banking sources say. International banks, so far frozen out of the settlement process in Saudi Arabia or offered derisory amounts by the feuding families, are keen to track down the location and ownership of this bullion, to seize and offset against debts owed them. While most of the bullion ended up in London, two shipments went to other locations.

Also on February 23, some 629kg of "London good delivery" were shipped from Perth on Singapore Airlines flight SQ226/SQ490 to Dubai International Airport. The shipment was delivered to the Brinks Global Services facilities at the Dubai Airport Free Zone, marked for the attention of: "Malcolm Clingham, for account of Al Gosaibi Trading Services Ltd." Again, the financing reference was "Awal 158". Attempts to reach Mr Clingham were unsuccessful. An employee of Brinks in Dubai said he left the company about four months ago.

The other non-London shipment took place on April 29, when 689kg of gold left Perth on Singapore Airlines flight SQ226/SQ346 to Zurich in Switzerland. The shipment was marked for delivery to: "UBS AG Zurich, for account Standard Bank PLC." Although no named consignee account was mentioned on the shipping document, the financing reference was "TIBC 438". The final shipment to arrive in London took place on May 6, when 722kg was placed on a Delta Airlines flight DL94 in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the US. This was marked for the Al Gosaibi Trading Services account at Standard Bank at the JPMorgan Chase building in London. The financing reference was "Awal 177".

So while there is plenty of evidence that the gold shipments took place, there is huge uncertainty about who initiated them, who owns the bullion, and even where the gold is now. The company named as the bullion account holder, Al Gosaibi Trading Services (ATS), is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bahrain-based Al Gosaibi Investment Holdings (AIH), based in Bahrain which is in turn owned by three family members. But the management control of ATS and AIH is in dispute.

In a legal filing in New York, John D Potter, a former general manager of Al Gosaibi Investment Holdings, declared that: "Mr al Sanea exercised complete control over the operations and activities of AIH, to the exclusion or virtual exclusion of the other directors and the shareholders." Lawyers for Mr al Sanea, the London firm of Harbottle & Lewis, declined to comment on the gold shipments. But sources close to the Kuwait-born financier have denied he was involved in the transactions.

Creditor banks, which asked to remain anonymous, have told The National that their inquiries to Standard Bank in London have not so far produced any positive indication of ownership of the bullion, or even confirmation that it is still in Standard's vaults. Through its South African head office, a spokesman for Standard Bank said: "Our executives in London are adamant they cannot comment - not even off the record - as this would be a breach of client confidentiality."

Whoever ends up owning the gold from Perth will at least have made some money out of the Saudi confrontation, which has affected the kingdom's economy and stock market, and ravaged the balance sheets of regional and international banks. The gold price has risen by nearly 50 per cent over the past year. The shipment last November, worth some $28m when QF71 took off from Perth, is now valued at $42m - wherever it might be.

Courtesy of TheNational, we now know that one of the key features of the building at 60 Victoria is that it houses at least the vault of the Standard Bank of South Africa: in other words, somewhere deep underground, there is, indeed, a major gold vault. We also know, that after leasing this location for nearly two decades, JPMorgan decided to take the plunge and bought it outright in 2010, in a transaction that as shown above was a scramble to park cash and to procure the property for sale. In other words, JPM now has sole custodial possession of all the vaulting services offered under its 60 Victoria Embankment address.

So is this where the legendary JPMorgan London vault is located? Certainly nothing short of Blythe Masters admitting on live TV that yes, this is where one of the two largest commercial gold vaults in the UK is located, and as JPM admitted previously, only one of only six commercial vaults in all of London, there will be speculation and one can't be certain.

However, a quick cursory virtual trip around this building using Google's Street View feature shows that this building, barricaded on every side by a dense forest of bollards, is as protected from outside interest (especially of the automotive kind) as any modern day fortress.

The building's entrance on John Carpenter street, just north of Victoria's embankment - bollards everywhere:

The building's reinforced back/delivery entrance: corner of Kingscote and Tudor: barriers, a reinforced gate with a screen on top of it, and even more bollards which surround the entire building and prevent the parking of any cars in proximity to the building:

And finally, not one, but two rows of bollards, cordoning off a 60 foot area in the street on both sides. South view:

And north view:

Needless to say, no car, or any other potential threat, can enter that ~60 foot space from either side.

Is that where, dozens of feet underground, the world's most secretive commercial gold vault is located? Just below what was once the main campus of the City of London School for boys.

h/t Ro

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Punishing Anti-Nuke Protesters

A twisted part of modern America is that harsh punishments are given to people who stand for truth and justice, while torturers and war criminals go free. That’s the case for Bradley Manning who released secrets and anti-nuclear protesters who tied “crime scene” tape to a nuke site, as John LaForge says.

Risking your personal freedom for a worthy cause is as American as apple pie. But nonviolently putting your life at risk in defense of others is so rare that the actor is sometimes dismissed as crazy.

Some people think the Transform Now Plowshares activists were crazy for sneaking into a nuclear weapons factory — the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee — in order to make a direct, unequivocal and crystal clear demand for an end to the expensive, poisonous, criminal and delusional self-destructiveness of building nuclear bombs.

Of course Sr. Megan Rice, 82; Michael Walli, 63; and Greg Boertji-Obed, 57, are anything but crazy, even if they and could have been shot and killed for daring to snip through the flimsy chain-link fences that surround Y-12, and then walk up to its new storage fortress for bomb-grade uranium. That’s what they did in the wee hours of July 28, after decades of conscientious peace and anti-poverty work prepared them for what would likely be the most dangerous protest of their lives.

At the wall they strung “crime scene” tape because dirty bomb conspiracies are criminal enterprises. They spray-painted disarmament messages, poured blood and hoisted banners. Not a single guard responded. Wackenhut, the contracted security company, was so discredited — and later humiliated by disclosures of its own internal corruption — that its contract was cancelled, heads rolled, a new agency was hired, and over $15 million was spent trying to reestablish some semblance of a defended nuclear weapons complex.

In January, President and CEO of Wackenhut (also called G4S Gov’t Solutions) Paul Donahue told the Knoxville  News Sentinel, “The enemy of today is not just organized Nation States, but vandals, activists and protesters looking not necessarily to harm material, or people, but clearly seeking to embarrass.”

All three are out of jail on conditional release preparing for trial — set for May 7 — on three felony charges that together carry a maximum of 35 years on prison. Yes, 35 years for trespassing, spray painting and embarrassing.

But as the News Sentinel reported on Feb. 3, the bold intervenors know “that great change never comes easy.” Boertji-Obed told the paper, “People in other countries are frequently killed because of their struggle for justice.”

The three were back in federal court on Feb. 7 for a motion hearing before U.S. Magistrate Richard Shirley. They argued against the prosecuting U.S. Attorney’s attempt to exclude any testimony about, get this, “nuclear weapons,” or “international law,” or the defendants’ intention to practice crime prevention at Y-12.

The prosecutor’s motion “in limine,” or gag order, would, if granted, keep the jury from hearing a word about the outlaw status of the nuclear warheads. As with previous anti-nuclear cases, the defendants contend that binding U.S. treaties and military service manuals make nuclear weapons illegal because H-bombs can only produce uncontrollable, indiscriminate, toxic mass destruction using radioactive firestorms.

Considering the sociopathic turpitude of preparing the use of such devices, all Sr. Rice, Boertji-Obed and Walli are guilty of, they contend, is an attempt at citizen’s arrest. Of course, the government doesn’t want the jury to hear what the law says about planning and preparing massacres.

For his part, Magistrate Shirley said he wouldn’t exactly limit the discussions of the defendants’ intentions. But Shirley only presides over pretrial hearings. The trial itself will be run by a federal judge who will rule on the motion “in limine,” choose the jury instructions, and decide on questions of “contempt” in the event that forbidden words are uttered by lawyers, defendants or observers.

It’s a testament to the dominance of the H-bomb culture, that one of its judges can forbid defendants in a criminal case from explaining the basis for their actions, while wielding the power to impose 35 years in prison for nothing more than embarrassing that culture. The nuclear war system isn’t called “overkill” for nothing.

Big Corporations Put Up Seed Funding for Republican Dark Money Group


Just a sample of the State Government Leadership Foundation's work.

By Justin Elliott, ProPublica

Some of the nation's biggest corporations donated more than a million dollars to launch a Republican nonprofit that went on to play a key role in recent political fights.

Like the nonprofit groups that poured money into last year's elections, the decade-old State Government Leadership Foundation has been able to keep the identities of its funders secret. Until now.

A records request by ProPublica to the IRS turned up a list of the original funders of the group: Exxon, Pfizer, Time Warner, and other corporations put up at least 85 percent of the $1.3 million the foundation raised in the first year and a half of its existence, starting in 2003.

The donor list is stamped "not for public disclosure," and was submitted to the IRS as part of the foundation's application for recognition of tax-exempt status. If approved, such applications are public records.

The foundation and other similar nonprofits are allowed to take anonymous and unlimited donations from individuals or corporations. That's because they are classified as "social welfare" nonprofits, which are supposed to benefit the community at large, and not just one group or political party.

Last year, we reported how the State Government Leadership Foundation paid for Republican redistricting consultants to draw new congressional district maps in North Carolina. The resulting gerrymander helped flip the state's congressional delegation to Republicans.

In recent years, the foundation has also funded TV ads targeting Democrats during the 2011 Wisconsin showdown over collective bargaining rights; attacking President Obama in Virginia over his energy policy; and accusing teachers unions of "destroying our children's future."

The foundation also gave $1.25 million in 2011 to the Indiana Opportunity Fund, a state-level nonprofit that ran anti-union ads featuring Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. (That group was founded by attorney Jim Bopp, who has long fought against campaign finance regulation.)

The foundation's single-biggest early donor was the now-defunct mortgage lender Ameriquest, which gave more than $260,000. (We contacted a number of the companies on the list; they did not respond to requests for comment.) Corporate trade associations including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Edison Electric Institute, and the American Tort Reform Association also pitched in, each giving between $50,000 and $100,000.

The foundation's affiliated organization, the Republican State Leadership Committee, focuses on winning state-level elections for the GOP and also gets corporate money, including from tobacco and insurance giants.  As an explicitly political organization, the committee has to disclose its donors.

By contrast, the recent funders of the foundation, which took in $2.5 million in 2011 including a single donation of $1 million, are still secret.

The foundation applied for IRS recognition as a social welfare group in late 2003 but was initially rejected. The IRS concluded the foundation was "a partisan organization" that "operated primarily for the benefit of a select group" – the GOP. Social welfare groups, the IRS' rejection letter noted, must promote the "general welfare of the whole community" — not a particular group.

The foundation's lawyers from the firm Arent Fox fired back in an appeal, arguing that the foundation was not a partisan outfit.

The foundation, according to the 2005 appeal, "was created to promote public debate" about issues including pharmaceuticals, securities regulation, and asbestos litigation.

"It may be useful to describe what the SGLF is not," the appeal says. "The SGLF:

• Is not affiliated with the Republican Party in any way;

• Does not meet with or coordinate its activities with the Republican Party;

• Does not make contributions to, or accept contributions from, the Republican Party;

• Does not participate in political campaigns, elections or publish electioneering messages on behalf of any candidate or party;

• Does not invite Representatives of the Republican Party to speak at its events, and

• Does not participate in the Republican Party platform, does not recruit or train Republican candidates, does not fundraise for Republican candidates, and does not coordinate its issue selection or policy positions with the Republican Party.

In 2007, more than three years after the foundation's application, the IRS ultimately recognized it as a tax-exempt social welfare group.

But the group's protestations that it has nothing to do with the GOP seems at odds with its recent activities. Besides running ads attacking Democrats, the foundation was involved in redistricting in several states to, as the foundation put it in a letter to Republican legislators, draw "legislative lines that we will have to defend in 2012 and beyond."

Foundation spokesperson Jill Bader told ProPublica that since its creation the foundation's "activities have evolved in some ways from those that were originally contemplated and conducted by the organization."

Bader continued: "SGLF's present activities are in strict compliance with the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code and all future SGLF activities will be in strict compliance as well."

NRA Working to Elect Pro-Gun Judges and Prosecutors

WASHINGTON - February 14 - Today, as the gun control debate continues on the national stage, the Center for American Progress released “NRA Working to Elect Pro-Gun Judges and Prosecutors,” which traces the millions of dollars that the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, or LEAA, has spent in state races—with the help of the National Rifle Association—to elect candidates that grant broad rights to gun owners and curtail the rights of criminal defendants. This analysis also details the LEAA’s NRA-funded efforts to keep cities and counties from adopting gun-control reforms to keep their communities safer.

Founded and heavily funded by the National Rifle Association, the LEAA operates at the state and local level opposing common-sense gun reforms such as background checks, bans on assault weapons, and measures to keep guns out of the hands of people on the federal government’s “Terrorist Watchlist.” While the LEAA’s refusal to disclose the source of its funding makes it difficult to ascertain the full extent to which the NRA has supported the organization, the NRA’s tax documents reveal that it gave at least $2 million to the organization between 2000 and 2010. Previous media reports indicate that the NRA donated $500,000 annually to the organization from 1995 to 2002, which would total more than $5 million.

By funding the LEAA, the NRA has helped purchase ads supporting pro-gun candidates for state supreme courts and state attorneys general. The judges and prosecutors elected with the aid of LEAA funding have carried out their duties in accord with the values of the LEAA and the NRA. Some examples include:

  • Former Republican Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore was elected with the aid of the LEAA, and his campaigns have also received $11,000 directly from the NRA and its employees. Upon taking office in 2002, Kilgore moved to limit the reach of the “Uniform Machine Gun Act,” which prohibits “aggressive” use of a machine gun. Kilgore also issued a ruling that the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation had no power to ban concealed handguns in state parks.
  • Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette of Michigan was elected in 2010 after the LEAA ran ads attacking his opponent. In 2011 he granted gun owners in his state the right to use silencers if licensed by the federal government. The press release from Schuette’s office on the topic quoted an NRA spokesperson describing silencers as “useful safety devices.”
  • Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, also a Republican, was first elected in 2002, after the LEAA ran ads attacking his opponent. In November 2012 he issued an opinion stating that employers could not enact policies that prohibited employees from keeping concealed weapons in their vehicles.
  • The Mississippi Supreme Court—with three judges elected after millions in ads paid for by the LEAA—ruled in September 2012 that a local Wal-Mart store was not liable for knowingly selling ammunition to a “straw purchaser” later used in a murder.

Since the LEAA was launched with NRA funding in 1991, restrictions on political spending by corporations and independent spending groups have been struck down by federal courts in cases such as Citizens United. The NRA has been a vocal opponent of proposed legislation to shed some light on the opaque funding of independent spenders. Without more effective disclosure rules, elections for judicial and prosecutorial offices can expect more attack ads from anonymous donors intent on shaping our state justice systems.

Read the full analysis here.

Related resources:

To speak with CAP experts on this topic, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.481.8181 or cdipasquale@americanprogress.org.

The Center for American Progress is a think tank dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action. We combine bold policy ideas with a modern communications platform to help shape the national debate, expose the hollowness of conservative governing philosophy, and challenge the media to cover the issues that truly matter.

NRA Working to Elect Pro-Gun Judges and Prosecutors

WASHINGTON - February 14 - Today, as the gun control debate continues on the national stage, the Center for American Progress released “NRA Working to Elect Pro-Gun Judges and Prosecutors,” which traces the millions of dollars that the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, or LEAA, has spent in state races—with the help of the National Rifle Association—to elect candidates that grant broad rights to gun owners and curtail the rights of criminal defendants. This analysis also details the LEAA’s NRA-funded efforts to keep cities and counties from adopting gun-control reforms to keep their communities safer.

Founded and heavily funded by the National Rifle Association, the LEAA operates at the state and local level opposing common-sense gun reforms such as background checks, bans on assault weapons, and measures to keep guns out of the hands of people on the federal government’s “Terrorist Watchlist.” While the LEAA’s refusal to disclose the source of its funding makes it difficult to ascertain the full extent to which the NRA has supported the organization, the NRA’s tax documents reveal that it gave at least $2 million to the organization between 2000 and 2010. Previous media reports indicate that the NRA donated $500,000 annually to the organization from 1995 to 2002, which would total more than $5 million.

By funding the LEAA, the NRA has helped purchase ads supporting pro-gun candidates for state supreme courts and state attorneys general. The judges and prosecutors elected with the aid of LEAA funding have carried out their duties in accord with the values of the LEAA and the NRA. Some examples include:

  • Former Republican Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore was elected with the aid of the LEAA, and his campaigns have also received $11,000 directly from the NRA and its employees. Upon taking office in 2002, Kilgore moved to limit the reach of the “Uniform Machine Gun Act,” which prohibits “aggressive” use of a machine gun. Kilgore also issued a ruling that the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation had no power to ban concealed handguns in state parks.
  • Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette of Michigan was elected in 2010 after the LEAA ran ads attacking his opponent. In 2011 he granted gun owners in his state the right to use silencers if licensed by the federal government. The press release from Schuette’s office on the topic quoted an NRA spokesperson describing silencers as “useful safety devices.”
  • Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, also a Republican, was first elected in 2002, after the LEAA ran ads attacking his opponent. In November 2012 he issued an opinion stating that employers could not enact policies that prohibited employees from keeping concealed weapons in their vehicles.
  • The Mississippi Supreme Court—with three judges elected after millions in ads paid for by the LEAA—ruled in September 2012 that a local Wal-Mart store was not liable for knowingly selling ammunition to a “straw purchaser” later used in a murder.

Since the LEAA was launched with NRA funding in 1991, restrictions on political spending by corporations and independent spending groups have been struck down by federal courts in cases such as Citizens United. The NRA has been a vocal opponent of proposed legislation to shed some light on the opaque funding of independent spenders. Without more effective disclosure rules, elections for judicial and prosecutorial offices can expect more attack ads from anonymous donors intent on shaping our state justice systems.

Read the full analysis here.

Related resources:

To speak with CAP experts on this topic, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.481.8181 or cdipasquale@americanprogress.org.

The Center for American Progress is a think tank dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action. We combine bold policy ideas with a modern communications platform to help shape the national debate, expose the hollowness of conservative governing philosophy, and challenge the media to cover the issues that truly matter.

Dire Warnings About New Regulations Don’t Come to Pass

WASHINGTON - February 14 - The results of regulations to protect consumers not only tend to discredit industry’s dire predictions but often show that the safeguards benefit businesses, a Public Citizen report released today shows.

The report, “Regulation Issue: Industry’s Complaints about New Rules,” compares the business lobby’s predictions to the results of five significant regulatory policies. The safeguards ranged from San Francisco’s paid sick leave law to smokefree workplace policies. To say that industry’s warnings look foolish in retrospect is an understatement.

“Business groups always predict that proposed regulations will cause the sky to fall, but they’re never right,” said Adam Crowther, researcher with Public Citizen. “Given industry’s track record as forecasters, policy-makers would be wise to greet their new claims with extreme skepticism.”

The research is particularly timely this week, which marks two years since the passage of the Office of Management and Budget’s deadline to finish its work on a proposed rule to protect workers from deadly exposure to silica. Many suspect industry pressure is to blame.

The cases Public Citizen examined include:

• San Francisco’s paid sick leave policy. Under this ordinance, businesses were required to give sick leave to their employees. The San Francisco Republican Party said the law amounted to “a job-killing attack” on the city’s economic engine. But employment in San Francisco subsequently increased and the number of businesses grew.

• The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. This law gave workers the right to take unpaid leave to recover from an illness, or care for a sick or newborn child. U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) predicted that if the measure passed, “the light of freedom will grow dimmer.” In fact, the act had virtually no impact on the vast majority of businesses covered by the bill, government data show.

• Unleaded gasoline. Leaded gasoline once was a serious public health menace. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1973 issued rules reducing the amount of lead in gasoline, then banned it entirely in 1986. Industry groups said this move would jeopardize 43 million jobs in the petrochemical industry. In reality, the industry has flourished for decades, and reduction in atmospheric lead has been credited with enormous public health benefits. Further, the reduction of lead in the environment has been linked to improved public health.

• Smokefree workplace laws. Since the early 1990s, jurisdications encompassing more than 200 million people have banned smoking in bars and restaurants. Secondhand smoke has been shown to cause lung cancer and heart disease. The tobacco industry warned that smoking bans would reduce bar and restaurant profits by as much as 30 percent. Instead, profits increased after the laws were enacted. A document unearthed during litigation against the tobacco industry revealed that a Philip Morris executive admitted that “our dire predictions in the past rarely came true.”

• The CARD Act. Passed in 2009, this law protects consumers from unfair credit card company policies by regulating interest rates and fees, and mandating better disclosure. The American Bankers Association predicted that it would hurt consumers and small businesses. But survey data indicates that now even businesses praise the legislation.

Read the report here.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

CISPA, the Privacy-Invading Cybersecurity Spying Bill, is Back in Congress

It's official: The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act was reintroduced in the House of Representatives yesterday. CISPA is the contentious bill civil liberties advocates fought last year, which would provide a poorly-defined "cybersecurity" exception to existing privacy law. CISPA offers broad immunities to companies who choose to share data with government agencies (including the private communications of users) in the name of cybersecurity. It also creates avenues for companies to share data with any (Photo: Kai-Huei Yau/ Tri-City Herald)federal agencies, including military intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA).

EFF is adamantly opposed to CISPA. Will you join us in calling on Congress to stop this and any other privacy-invasive cybersecurity legislation?

As others have noted, “CISPA is deeply flawed. Under a broad cybersecurity umbrella, it permits companies to share user communications directly with the super secret NSA and permits the NSA to use that information for non-cybersecurity reasons. This risks turning the cybersecurity program into a back door intelligence surveillance program run by a military entity with little transparency or public accountability.”  

Last year, CISPA passed the House with a few handful of amendments that tried to fix some of its vague language. But the amendments didn't address many of the significant civil liberties concerns. Those remaining problems were reintroduced in today's version of CISPA. Here's a brief overview of the issues:

Companies have new rights to monitor user actions and share data—including potentially sensitive user data—with the government without a warrant.

First, CISPA would still give businesses the power to use "cybersecurity systems" to obtain any "cybersecurity threat information" (CTI)—which could include personal communications—about a perceived threat to their networks or systems.  The only limitation is that the company must act for a "cybersecurity purpose," which is vaguely defined to include such things as "safeguarding" networks.

CISPA overrides existing privacy law, and grants broad immunities to participating companies.

At the same time, CISPA would also create a broad immunity from legal liability for monitoring, acquiring, or sharing CTI, so long as the entity acted “in good faith.”  Our concern from day one has been that these combined power and immunity provisions would override existing privacy laws like the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act. 

Worse, the law provides immunity “for decisions made based on” CTI. A rogue or misguided company could easily make bad "decisions" that would do a lot more harm than good, and should not be immunized.  

CISPA also raises major transparency and accountability issues.

Information provided to the federal government under CISPA would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other state laws that could otherwise require disclosure (unless some law other than CISPA already requires its provision to the government).  

Users probably won't know if their private data is compromised under CISPA, and will have little recourse. 

CISPA's authors argue that the bill contains limitations on how the federal government can use and disclose information by permitting lawsuits against the government. But if a company sends information about a user that is not cyberthreat information, the government agency does not notify the user, only the company. 

CISPA is a dangerous bill

These are just a couple of reasons of why CISPA is a dangerous bill and why President Obama threatened to veto the bill last year. CISPA essentially equates greater cybersecurity with greater surveillance and  information sharing. But many of our cybersecurity problems arise from software vulnerabilities and human failings, issues CISPA fails to address. For instance, the recent series of hackssuffered by New York Timeswere suspected to be from spearphishing and victims downloading malicious software masked as email attachments—the types of issues that CISPA doesn't deal with.

We were heartened to hear that President Obama's new Executive Order on cybersecurity will encourage government agencies to more readily share cybersecurity information with companies, and may even reduce unnecessary secrecy around cybersecurity information. Let's use the momentum from the Executive Order to turn a new leaf in the cybersecurity debate, beginning a broader public dialogue about cybersecurity that doesn’t assume that surveillance is the right solution.

Please join EFF in opposing CISPA by contacting Congress today.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Mark M. Jaycox

Mark M. Jaycox is a Policy Analyst and Legislative Assistant for EFF.

Beating Up on Iran Continues

irans-president-mahmoud-ahmadinejad-
It's continued for decades. Iran's a prime target of choice. Washington deplores independent governments. It wants pro-Western ones replacing them. It doesn't care if they're democratic, despotic or anything in between. Subservience to Washington alone matters.

Escalating Pressure on Iran

target-iran

Secretary of State John Kerry’s clear where he stands. He laid down markers. He demands Iran comply with Washington’s demands. Left unsaid is what follows otherwise.

On February 26, nuclear talks will resume. P5+1 countries (Washington, Britain, Germany, China and Russia) will meet Iranian negotiators. They’ll do so in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Targeting Iran’s peaceful nuclear program is red herring cover for regime change. Good faith negotiations aren’t possible. Washington obstructs them. So does Israel behind the scenes.

Kerry disingenuously says:

“The international community is ready to respond if Iran comes prepared to talk real substance and to address the concerns, which could not be more clear, about their nuclear program.”

“It’s disturbing,” he added. “And so my plea to the Iranians – or my statement – is a clear statement. We are prepared to let diplomacy be the victor in this confrontation over their nuclear program.”

“The president has made it clear. He is prepared to talk about a peaceful nuclear program.”

“Iran has a choice. They have to prove to the world that it is peaceful and we are prepared to sit reasonably and negotiate how they can do that. Or they can chose to be more isolated.”

“The president has made it clear that his preference is to have a diplomatic solution. But if he cannot get there, he is prepared to do whatever is necessary to make certain that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon.”

Kerry, Obama, other US officials, and Israeli ones want Iran to prove a negative. They demand unconditional surrender. Conflict resolution won’t follow because both countries obstruct it. War preparations continue.

Anything in 2013 is possible. Obama talks peace. At the same time, he plans war. That’s how rogue leaders operate. Obama replicates the worst of them.

Iran sought normalized relations for decades. Washington and Israel categorically spurn them. Iran can’t have them without good faith partners.

Washington and Israel oppose peace, justice, and equitable conflict resolution. Heavy-handed pressure bullies other countries to go along. At issue is unchallenged regional dominance.

War is an option of choice. Harsh sanctions increase pressure. Imposing them violates international law. Washington and Israel spurn it with impunity.

They commit crimes of war, against humanity, and genocide. Rule of law principles don’t matter. Nor do body counts and unspeakable human misery inflicted.

Ahead of late February talks, Washington imposed new sanctions. Doing so reveals its duplicitous agenda. America’s all take and no give. Ultimatums substitute for good faith relations.

Iranian broadcasting and director were blacklisted. Its iFilm was removed from the Galaxy 19 satellite platform. So was Press TV. It provides 24-hour English language programming.

Real news and information are featured. Washington wants them suppressed. It’s not the first time Press TV was targeted. European satellite provider Eutelsat blocked it.

So did Spanish satellite company Hispasat. They cited EU pressure for doing so. Washington’s long arm applied pressure. So did Israel’s.

New sanctions also target Iran’s Communications Regulatory Authority and Electronic Industries. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said they’re “designed to put pressure on the nation and to create a gap between the (Iranian) nation and government.”

“In the remaining time (ahead of elections), they want to create tension, crisis, and instability in the country by imposing great pressure.”

Internal opposition forces are supported. It’s done ahead of June 2013 elections.

Washington did so in 2009. It tried manipulating green revolutionary fervor. Post-election, tensions and instability were stoked. Unrest was fomented.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon showed which side he backs. He falsely accused Iran of “arrests, threats and use of force.”

The mainstream media claimed electoral fraud. Obama said the world was “appalled and outraged” by Iran’s attempt to crush dissent. He claimed America didn’t interfere in Iran’s affairs. He lied. Expect more of the same this June.

Iran asserts its state sovereignty rights. It has every right to do so. It’s not about to roll over for Washington, Israel, or its Lobby. It urges good faith negotiations. It won’t engage any other way.

Iman Khamenei rejects direct US talks. Why bother without a good faith partner.

“I am not a diplomat,” he said. “I am a revolutionary and speak frankly, honestly, and firmly. An offer of talks makes sense only when the side (making the offer) shows its goodwill.”

“Negotiation is meaningful when the two sides talk with goodwill, under equal conditions and without seeking to deceive each other. Therefore, ‘negotiation for the sake of negotiation’, ‘tactical negotiation’ and negotiation offer in order to sell a superpower’s gesture to the world is a deceptive move.”

“You (the Americans) point the gun at Iran and say either negotiations or we pull the trigger! You should know that pressure and negotiations do not go together, and the (Iranian) nation will not be intimidated by such things.”

“We, of course, understand their (the Americans’) need for negotiations, because the Middle East policy of the Americans has failed, and in order to compensate for this failure, they need to play a trump card.”

“Negotiation with the United States does not solve any problem because they have not fulfilled any of their promises in the past 60 years.”

On February 8, Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal responded. It headlined “The Ayatollah Always Says No.”

“Joe Biden won’t forget it the next time the US tries to reach out diplomatically to Iran.”

It hasn’t done so in good faith since 1979. Expect nothing different now.

The Journal claims otherwise. America offers good faith bilateral talks, it says. It never has and doesn’t now. Khamenei knows Washington’s velvet glove is cast iron inside.

It’s hardline and belligerent. It’s all take and no give. Journal editors point fingers the wrong way. “The Ayatollah quashed” previous deals, they said. Past US efforts ended in failure.

“Why does the Ayatollah keep saying no?” Journal editors say “get ready for this shocker….Iran really wants a bomb.” Saying so belies annual US intelligence assessments.

Journal editors leave inconvenient facts unmentioned. Vilifying propaganda substitutes for truth and full disclosure. The mainstream media prioritize it.

They do so to misinform, manipulate public sentiment, and manufacture consent for war. They convince people to support what they should abhor. They persuade them to hate alleged enemies. Most often they should admire and respect them.

Propaganda glorifies war in the name of peace. Managed news misinformation repeats ad nauseam. Big lies repeated often enough get people to believe them.

Invasions and occupations are called liberating struggles. Plunder is called economic development. Exploitation and imperial control are called democracy.

Might justifies right. Nations are destroyed to free them. Code language conceals real motives. Policy involves ravaging the world one country at a time or in multiples. Nations are destroyed for their own good. Monied interests alone benefit.

Political speech masks policies. News is carefully filtered. Fiction substitutes for fact. Free and open societies aren’t tolerated.

Dissent is marginalized and suppressed. Imperial wars are called liberating ones. Human rights are violated for our own good. Patriotism means going along with what harms us.

Terrorism is what they do, not us. Reasons why imperial wars are waged are suppressed. Wealth and power alone matter. Sacrificing human lives and freedoms are small prices to pay. Humanity is at risk but who cares.

The mainstream media aid and abet state crimes. Where it ends, who knows. Money power won’t sustain a ravaged planet. Militarism and perpetual wars assure it.

Peace is spurned to wage them. Big Lies conceal it. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Suppressing it is policy. Rule of law principles are spurned. Unchallenged dominance alone matters.

The mainstream media endorse imperial lawlessness. They lie. They’re complicit in crimes of war, against humanity, and genocide.

They manufacture threats. They stoke fear. They convince people that Washington’s wars are justified because they say so.

Millions die to further America’s imperium. Journal editors and other mainstream media have blood on their hands.

Rogue states and the maintream media never say they’re sorry. America claims might justifies right.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanII.html

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour

Good News: Obama Recommits to Clean Energy. Terrible News: Obama Recommits to Dirty Energy

President Barack Obama disembarks from Air Force One at Asheville Regional Airport in Asheville, N.C., Feb. 13, 2013. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times) President Barack Obama disembarks from Air Force One at Asheville Regional Airport in Asheville, N.C., Feb. 13, 2013. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times) In his State of the Union speech last night, President Obama offered strong support on behalf of major new investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. In doing so, he echoed points he made in his inaugural address last month. This is all excellent news. Obama has of course been very strong on the environment in the past. In particular, the 2009 economic stimulus program—the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—included $90 billion in funds for new investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, a level of support that was orders of magnitude beyond anything that had been done previously in the U.S. Moreover, to a large extent, these investments have produced major gains toward a green economy that we desperately need. (Full disclosure: I worked as a consultant to the Department of Energy on implementing some of this program).

Nevertheless, when the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in 2010 and throughout the 2012 presidential campaign, Obama turned mute on the question of energy and environmental policy. Republicans kept pounding on the point that committing on the environment would be bad for jobs: that you could invest in green energy, or you could be committed on jobs, but you couldn’t do both. Obama and his advisors apparently had become intimidated by this false claim of a massive jobs-versus-the-environment trade-off. As my co-workers and I have shown many times, including here, investing in the green economy is good for jobs. Here are the facts, which we have developed straight from U.S. government statistical sources. On average, you produce roughly 17 jobs per $1 million in spending on the green economy, but only 5 jobs per $1 million by spending to maintain our existing fossil fuel economy.

It is great that Obama is now recommitting his administration to move us back onto a green economy agenda. The fact is, we really have no choice in pushing very hard to build the green economy now, if we take the mountains of evidence from climate science seriously. More specifically, at the least, by 2030, we need to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. by roughly 40 percent relative to where we are today. This will require a massive effort in both energy efficiency and clean renewable energy investments. But there is a realistic path for getting there, which will also generate millions of good jobs and expand economic opportunities in all areas of the country. (Another full disclosure: My co-workers and I have a book-length study coming out on this very soon, expanding and deepening the material we have produced for the past several years, which is summarized briefly in Back to Full Employment. Stay tuned). If we choose to ignore the facts here, we are simply playing Russian roulette with the environment.

All of which makes it especially dispiriting—or let’s just say totally unacceptable—that Obama also came out strongly in his speech last night in favor of further support for expanding the production and consumption of natural gas and oil. Here is what he said: “The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. And that’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. That’s got to be part of an all-of-the-above plan.”

Let’s get serious here: Natural gas is not a clean fuel. Yes, emissions are only half as bad as with coal, and it is also modestly cleaner than oil. But that isn’t good enough. If we allow our natural gas production to expand significantly—or even to stay where it is today—there is no way we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by anything close by the 40 percent that is necessary by 2030, and by 80 percent as of 2050. Obama did mention accelerating investments in technologies to burn natural gas with a lot fewer emissions. But these technologies are not close to being workable, and they would require hundreds of billions of dollars to get there, maybe.

On top of this, when Obama is referring to expanding natural gas production, he is talking about fracking—the technology of extracting natural gas from near-surface level deposits of shale rock through hydraulic fracturing. We know that this technology is extremely damaging to the environment, causing serious levels of water contamination. Why, therefore, would we want to expand fracking and burning dirty natural gas? The hard truth is that there is no way that this becomes a path toward ecological sanity.

In fact, investing in energy efficiency and renewables is the only realistic option before us. It is ecologically sound, it is affordable, and it will also be a major engine of job creation into the future. It is time for Obama, and for all policymakers of all stripes, to accept reality: there is just no way to split the difference between clean energy and dirty energy if we care about controlling climate change.

Escalating Pressure on Iran

Secretary of State John Kerry's clear where he stands. He laid down markers. He demands Iran comply with Washington's demands. Left unsaid is what follows otherwise. On February 26, nuclear talks will resume. P5+1 countries (Washington, Britain, Germany, China and Russia) will meet Iranian negotiators. They'll do so in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Britain loses 450 drones in battlefield

Nearly 450 British assassination drones have crashed, broken down, or been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last five years, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) has disclosed.

The figure highlights the UK military’s huge reliance on technology, and particularly its deployment of unmanned aircrafts that on one hand minimizes risks to frontline troops and on the other, maximizes threats to civilian population of the target country.

The disclosure by the MoD raised concerns among campaigners about the reliability of using drones, as they say the smaller drones, which are more prone to crashes, are similar to those already being flown in UK airspace.

Chris Cole from watchdog website Drone Wars UK said: "The drone industry constantly talks up the supposed economic benefits of unmanned drones, but it is the civil liberties and safety implications that need real attention.”

“Without a significant improvement in reliability and safety, legislators should remain extremely skeptical about plans to open UK airspace to drones”, added Chris Cole.

Britain has spent more than £2 billion over the last five years, developing its unethical assassination drones, according to British media reports.

The deployment of such drones by the U.S. and its allies has led to killings of at least hundreds of innocent civilians, including many women and children, in the Middle East and South Asian regions.

MOS/MOL/HE

Italy’s Ex-Intelligence Chief Given 10-year Sentence for Role in CIA Kidnapping

A US State Department official on Monday "expressed concern" about what he called "a 'climate of impunity' over abuses by police and security forces" - in Egypt. The official, Michael Posner, warned that failure to investigate Egyptian state agents responsible for "cruel treatment of those in their custody" - including torture - creates "a lack of meaningful accountability for these actions". Last week, I wrote that "I've become somewhat of a connoisseur of US government statements that are so drowning in obvious, glaring irony that the officials uttering them simply must have been mischievously cackling to themselves when they created them," and this American denunciation of Egypt's "climate of impunity" almost certainly goes to the top of the list.Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was kidnapped in 2003 by the CIA from the streets Milan and sent to Egypt. (Photograph: EPA)

After all, Michael Posner works for the very same administration that not only refused to prosecute or even investigate US officials who tortured, kidnapped and illegally eavesdropped, but actively shielded them all from all forms of accountability: criminal, civil or investigative. Indeed, Posner works for the very same State Department that actively impeded efforts by countries whose citizens were subjected to those abuses - such as Spain and Germany - to investigate them. Being lectured by the US State Department about a "culture of impunity" is like being lectured by David Cameron about supporting Arab dictators.

To see just how extreme the US "culture of impunity" is, consider the extraordinary 2003 kidnapping by the CIA of the Muslim cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (Abu Omar), from the streets of Milan. Nasr, who in 2001 had been granted asylum by Italy from persecution in Egypt, was abducted by the CIA and then shipped back to Egypt where he was imprisoned for four years without charges and, he says, brutally tortured by America's long-standing ally, the Mubarak regime.

Der Spiegel described just what a standard kidnapping it was: Nasr "was seized in broad daylight on the open street, pushed into a white van, taken to the Aviano military airport and then flown to Egypt via the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany". Yesterday, an Italian appellate court sentenced the country's former intelligence chief, Niccolò Pollari, to ten years in prison "for complicity" in that kidnapping:

The appeals court, in Milan, sentenced the former chief, Niccolò Pollari, to 10 years and his former deputy Marco Mancini to nine years for their role in the kidnapping of the cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr . . . . Three Italian secret service officials were also sentenced to six years each.

Mr. Nasr was kidnapped under the practice of 'extraordinary rendition', in which people suspected of being Islamic militants were abducted in one country and then transferred to another, often one where torture was common.

While Mr. Nasr was initially charged with membership in an illegal organization, the charges were ultimately dropped. He has since been released.

In other words, not only did the CIA kidnap Nasr and deliberately send him to an allied regime notorious for torture - a serious crime no matter who he was - but, as it turns out, he was guilty of absolutely nothing. What made him a kidnapping target was that, according to the New York Times, his "anti-American speeches and calls to jihad were resonating with young Muslim men who were attending his Islamic center".

Despite being convicted of no crime (other than criticizing US aggression), he was imprisoned in Egypt without charges for four years until a Cairo court found his detention unfounded and ordered him released. Upon release, he said "he had been reduced to a 'human wreck' by torture he had undergone in a Cairo jail". Nasr detailed the truly horrific kidnapping and torture he endured in a 2008 interview with Peter Bergen for Mother Jones, who used Italian court documents to write a comprehensive report on the case:


"A little before noon on February 17, 2003, Abu Omar was headed to his mosque, incongruously located inside a garage. He strolled down Via Guerzoni, a quiet street mostly empty of businesses and lined with high, view-blocking walls. A red Fiat pulled up beside him and a man jumped out, shouting 'Polizia! Polizia!' Abu Omar produced his ID. 'Suddenly I was lifted in the air,' he recalled. He was dragged into a white van and beaten, he said, by wordless men wearing balaclavas. After trussing him with restraints and blindfolding him, they sped away.

"Hours later, when the van stopped, Abu Omar heard airplane noise. His clothes were cut off and something was stuffed in his anus, likely a tranquilizing suppository. His head was entirely covered in tape with only small holes for his mouth and nose, and he was placed on a plane. Hours later he was hustled off the jet. He heard someone speaking Arabic in a familiar cadence; in the distance, a muezzin was calling the dawn prayer. After more than a decade in exile, he was back in Egypt. . . .

"Spreading his arms in a crucifixion position, he demonstrates how he was tied to a metal door as shocks were administered to his nipples and genitals. His legs tremble as he describes how he was twice raped. He mentions, almost casually, the hearing loss in his left ear from the beatings, and how he still wakes up at night screaming, takes tranquilizers, finds it hard to concentrate, and has unspecified 'problems with my wife at home.' He is, in short, a broken man."

Yesterday's 10-year sentence was based on a 2010 finding by an Italian judge that "the Italian secret service was most likely aware of, 'and perhaps complicit in,' the operation". In 2009, an Italian criminal court found 23 individual CIA agents (including the Milan station chief, Robert Lady) guilty of kidnapping and other crimes, but was forced to try them in abstentia because the US (first under Bush and then Obama) pressured the Italian government to suppress extradition requests issued by Italian courts to compel those CIA agents to travel to Italy to stand trial.

This entire case reveals vital facts about the culture of impunity for high-level officials that prevails in the US even when they commit the most egregious crimes:

First, it is completely inconceivable that anything like what just happened in Italy could happen in the US. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the highest-level US officials had systematically committed felonies under the War on Terror rubric, both political parties, bolstered by a virtual consensus of the DC press, united to block all forms of accountability. A sacred rule in US political culture is that high-level state officials are to be shielded from all accountability, let alone criminal punishment, for how they abuse power.

In sum, US officials are not subject to the rule of law but reside above it. Neither party's establishment nor their Adversarial Press Corps would ever tolerate the CIA Director being prosecuted for his crimes the way Italy's just was. The defense offered to the press by Lady, the CIA's Milan station chief - I was just following orders - is exactly what resonates in US elite circles as an excuse for all crimes: if the US government does it, then it is, by definition, shielded from legal punishment.

Second, both Bush and Obama officials continuously attempted to apply coercive pressure on Italian magistrates to obstruct this investigation, and when that failed, applied the same pressure to the Berlusconi and Prodi governments. Indeed, numerous diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks detail those efforts, and the Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi of L'Espresso described that campaign of obstruction in her book "Dossier WikiLeaks. Segreti Italiani."

One 2006 cable describes a meeting between US Ambassador Ronald Spogli and Italy's new Undersecretary to the Prime Minister Enrico Letta in which the US made not-so-subtle threats about the need of the Italian government to suppress extradition requests for the CIA agents:

In the context of keeping our excellent bilateral relationship on sound footing, the Ambassador explained to Letta that nothing would damage relations faster or more seriously than a decision by the GOI to forward warrants for arrests of the alleged CIA agents named in connection with the Abu Omar case. This was absolutely critical. Letta took note of this and suggested the Ambassador discuss the matter personally with Justice Minister Mastella, who Letta suggested should be invited to Washington for an early meeting with the Attorney General.

A 2007 cable describes plotting between the US and Italian governments to thwart the judicial investigation. They agreed that the US should "send something in writing to [the Italian justice official] explaining that the US would not act on extradition requests in the Abu Omar case if tendered", which "could be used pre-emptively by the GOI to fend off action by Italian magistrates to seek the extradition of the implicated Americans". In response, "the [US] Ambassador agreed that we should work to avoid having extradition requests forwarded."

A 2010 cable details a meeting between Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Berlusconi in which Gates "asked Berlusconi for his assistance in affirming US jurisdiction" over one of the high-level CIA defendants." A 2011 cable noted that "Justice Minister Mastella has so far kept the lid on recurring judicial demands to extradite presumed CIA officers allegedly involved in a rendition of Muslim cleric Abu Omar."

This US pressure campaign succeeded in quashing the efforts of the Italian judiciary to hold these CIA agents criminally accountable for their crimes in Italy. Indeed, as Maurizi told me yesterday, "five different Italian ministers of Justice refused to forward extradition requests for CIA agents." After Italy's highest court upheld the convictions of the CIA agents last September, the Guardian noted: "successive Italian governments denied all knowledge of the case and consistently ruled out extradition."

Under serious pressure from two successive US administrations, the Italian justice ministers simply refused to forward their own courts' extradition demands. The Italian courts were thus left to imprison their own officials for the ancillary role they played in the kidnapping because the US government, as usual, draped its own officials with a full-scale shield of immunity.

Third, what allowed this accountability in Italy is exactly what the US so tragically lacks: a brave and independent judiciary willing to perform its core ostensible function of applying the law equally to everyone, including those who wield the greatest power. Indeed, a 2005 US diplomatic cable complained that "Italian magistrates [prosecutors] are fiercely independent and are not answerable to any government authority/entity, including the Minister of Justice" and that "consequently, it is nearly impossible to prevent them from undertaking action in Italy that they wish to carry out."

This prosecution was possible in the first instance only because a single Italian magistrate, Armando Spataro, insisted on pursuing it despite all sorts of attacks against him. This 2009 Der Spiegel article reports that, as a result of his pursuit of the case, "his communications were monitored, the Italian intelligence service placed him under observation and there were even investigations into whether he had betrayed state secrets. The government tried again and again to silence him." But the magistrates ignored those repressive efforts, eventually even seizing Lady's retirement villa in Italy to cover court costs.

Numerous cables show Italian officials, especially Berlusconi himself, attacking the Italian magistrates and assuring the US that Italian courts would eventually stop them. One 2005 US cable celebrates that Minister of Justice Roberto Castelli "took the unusual step of publicly criticizing a member of Italy's highly independent magistracy" over this case, specifically that he "called Armando Spataro a "militant'. meaning a communist" (ironically, Spataro previously "faced accusations of right-wing bias when he led prosecutions of the Red Brigade terrorist organization in the late 1970's and 1980's".) That public denunciation of the magistrate happened, recounted the US cable, after he "presented Castelli with requests for the provisional arrest in contemplation of extradition for 22 Americans involved in the alleged rendition of Egyptian Imam Abu Omar from Milan."

Assuring Washington that the prosecution of the CIA agents was politically motivated and would be stopped, this US cable claimed:


"In the 1960s and 1970s Italian communists made a concerted effort to 'infiltrate' the judiciary; today, many Italian judges are considered to be sympathetic to the left and some have made decisions that undermine our shared security objectives. . . .

"Berlusconi's government certainly believes that judicial treatment of the Abu Omar case is an example of a politically motivated action directed, not at the US, but at Berlusconi in an further attempt to embarrass the Prime Minister. Castelli's very public criticism of Spataro is a sign he is willing to risk criticizing the judiciary in order to avoid precipitous action in this case."

The 2010 cable describing the meeting between Gates and Berlusconi describes how "Berlusconi gave an extended rant about the Italian judicial system - which frequently targets him since it is 'dominated
by leftists' as the public prosecutor level." Moreover, "Berlusconi predicted that the 'courts will come down in our favor' upon appeal, noting that higher-level appellate courts are significantly less politicized than local courts."

But that did not happen. Indeed, the opposite happened: Italian appellate courts were even more aggressive and steadfast in demanding accountability than the lower courts. Just two weeks ago, an Italian appellate court vacated the acquittals of three CIA agents whom a lower court had protected on the ground of diplomatic immunity and then sentenced one of them - former CIA Rome station chief Jeffrey Castelli - to seven years in prison. Last September, it was Italy's highest court that upheld the convictions of the 23 CIA agents. And yesterday's 10-year sentence for Italy's ex-intelligence chief was also imposed by an appeals court.

So what Berlucsoni predicted never happened. Italian courts exercised great independence and courage in applying the law to both the American and Italian kidnappers without regard to their power and position.

The contrast with the US federal judiciary is stark. American federal judges have proven themselves indescribably servile to the US government. It is impossible to imagine American federal judges - except in the most aberrational and quickly-overturned instances - defying the wishes of the US government when it comes to claims of national security and secrecy.

Indeed, not a single victim of the abuses of the US War on Terror - not one - has even been allowed by the US federal judiciary to have a day in court, let alone obtain accountability for what was done to them. Federal judges have obediently slammed the courthouse doors shut in the faces of War on Terror victims even when everyone recognizes that the victims were treated savagely and were guilty of nothing. Indeed, US courts have refused even to hear cases brought by rendition (kidnapping) victims. Instead, US federal judges, over and over, have meekly submitted to the decrees of US national security state officials that the mandates of secrecy and national security shield them from any form of judicial review even when they kidnap and torture innocent people.

An independent judiciary, willing to apply the law even to the most powerful political officials, is a prerequisite to a healthy political system that functions under the rule of law. As this case vividly demonstrates, Italy has that and the US does not. Of all the US institutions that have shamefully abdicated their duties in the post-9/11 era, the federal judiciary is at the top of that list. That is why even the former head of Italy's intelligence service faces criminal punishment for kidnapping an innocent person while such accountability is inconceivable in the US. It is why the "rule of law" is a ludicrous joke when it comes to US elites.

We also see here, yet again, how monumentally important leaks are. Almost everything we know about the conduct of the US government in this case comes from diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks and allegedly disclosed by Bradley Manning. It is remarkable how often major media outlets rely on WikiLeaks documents to report to their readers what is happening in the world. For exactly that reason, it is no mystery why the US government is so eager to punish so severely those responsible for leaks generally and these disclosures specifically: precisely because nothing sheds light on their bad acts the way whistleblowing does.

President Obama — Get Tough on Corporate Welfare

Ask anti-government ideologues about "welfare" and they are likely to tell you all about an increasingly large group of Americans who are dependent on government handouts. They might refer to the portion of the population who Mitt Romney famously call...

San Onofre: Did Edison submit false information to NRC?

WASHINGTON - February 12 - Southern California Edison, operator of the San Onofre nuclear reactors, appears to have submitted false information to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Friends of the Earth charged today. The nuclear watchdog again demanded the release of a suppressed report that two senior members of Congress say shows that Edison had prior knowledge of potential design flaws in replacement steam generators that failed after less than two years of service.

In a letter to the NRC’s Petition Review Board, Friends of the Earth said the report, as described by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.), contradicts Edison’s declarations to the Commission last month. The utility claimed it had no prior knowledge of deficiencies in the design of the generators until they failed in January 2012.

Details of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries report were released last week by Sen. Boxer, Chairwoman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. She did not release the report, but in a letter to the NRC she and Rep. Markey said Mitsubishi told Edison of potential problems with the new generators, but modifications to correct the design flaws were not adopted, as Edison wanted to avoid triggering an NRC license amendment process. This would have required a more thorough and public review of the replacement program.

Friends of the Earth also demanded that the Petition Review Board must consider the document in proceedings currently underway. The NRC Petition Review Board, in response to a petition from Friends of the Earth, is determining whether Edison improperly failed to apply for a license amendment before installing replacement steam generators of a radically different design than was permitted under the reactors’ operating license.

“The Mitsubishi document appears to confirm our case before the Petition Review Board,” said Kendra Ulrich, nuclear campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “Edison made radical design changes while representing the steam generators as a like for like exchange and then actively chose not to address critical safety issues in order to avoid the license amendment process. Now it appears it also submitted information that is patently false. The Mitsubishi report must be released immediately. The public has a right to know what Edison knew and when it knew it.”

Pressure is mounting daily for release of the document. On Friday, the NRC confirmed that it has opened an official investigation into the replacement steam generator case. Still, the Commission maintains that the Mitsubishi report is proprietary.

“In fact, it won’t even be on the agenda for the public meeting the NRC is holding tonight to discuss the experimental restart proposal. Open disclosure and discussion of this document is critical to the public’s understanding of this controversial restart plan -- this is the same corporate actor that apparently gambled on safety in the past, and they are asking the NRC to allow them to do so again,” said Ulrich.

In an editorial Sunday, The Los Angeles Times rebuked the NRC for not releasing information the public needs, and noted that the Mitsubishi report could not only be decisive in the NRC’s proceedings but in the investigation of Edison by the California Public Utilities Board. The Times said:

Release the report so that ratepayers, who are paying the tab for the purchase of the steam generators, and the public, whose safety depends on responsible operation of the plant, can determine the truth… The NRC should make the document public, and soon. It might provide an important description of how Edison makes its safety decisions, and it could become a key aspect of the Public Utility Commission's inquiry into whether ratepayers should be forced to continue paying for the steam generators… What the public is entitled to is information about who knew what and when.

Click here to read the Friends of the Earth letter to the NRC Petition Review Board.

Click here for the Friends of the Earth Petitions case.

The NRC public meeting is being held at 6 p.m., Tuesday, February 12, at Capo Beach Church, Capistrano Beach, and is accessible via a live webcast at: http://video.nrc.gov.

San Onofre: Did Edison submit false information to NRC?

WASHINGTON - February 12 - Southern California Edison, operator of the San Onofre nuclear reactors, appears to have submitted false information to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Friends of the Earth charged today. The nuclear watchdog again demanded the release of a suppressed report that two senior members of Congress say shows that Edison had prior knowledge of potential design flaws in replacement steam generators that failed after less than two years of service.

In a letter to the NRC’s Petition Review Board, Friends of the Earth said the report, as described by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.), contradicts Edison’s declarations to the Commission last month. The utility claimed it had no prior knowledge of deficiencies in the design of the generators until they failed in January 2012.

Details of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries report were released last week by Sen. Boxer, Chairwoman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. She did not release the report, but in a letter to the NRC she and Rep. Markey said Mitsubishi told Edison of potential problems with the new generators, but modifications to correct the design flaws were not adopted, as Edison wanted to avoid triggering an NRC license amendment process. This would have required a more thorough and public review of the replacement program.

Friends of the Earth also demanded that the Petition Review Board must consider the document in proceedings currently underway. The NRC Petition Review Board, in response to a petition from Friends of the Earth, is determining whether Edison improperly failed to apply for a license amendment before installing replacement steam generators of a radically different design than was permitted under the reactors’ operating license.

“The Mitsubishi document appears to confirm our case before the Petition Review Board,” said Kendra Ulrich, nuclear campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “Edison made radical design changes while representing the steam generators as a like for like exchange and then actively chose not to address critical safety issues in order to avoid the license amendment process. Now it appears it also submitted information that is patently false. The Mitsubishi report must be released immediately. The public has a right to know what Edison knew and when it knew it.”

Pressure is mounting daily for release of the document. On Friday, the NRC confirmed that it has opened an official investigation into the replacement steam generator case. Still, the Commission maintains that the Mitsubishi report is proprietary.

“In fact, it won’t even be on the agenda for the public meeting the NRC is holding tonight to discuss the experimental restart proposal. Open disclosure and discussion of this document is critical to the public’s understanding of this controversial restart plan -- this is the same corporate actor that apparently gambled on safety in the past, and they are asking the NRC to allow them to do so again,” said Ulrich.

In an editorial Sunday, The Los Angeles Times rebuked the NRC for not releasing information the public needs, and noted that the Mitsubishi report could not only be decisive in the NRC’s proceedings but in the investigation of Edison by the California Public Utilities Board. The Times said:

Release the report so that ratepayers, who are paying the tab for the purchase of the steam generators, and the public, whose safety depends on responsible operation of the plant, can determine the truth… The NRC should make the document public, and soon. It might provide an important description of how Edison makes its safety decisions, and it could become a key aspect of the Public Utility Commission's inquiry into whether ratepayers should be forced to continue paying for the steam generators… What the public is entitled to is information about who knew what and when.

Click here to read the Friends of the Earth letter to the NRC Petition Review Board.

Click here for the Friends of the Earth Petitions case.

The NRC public meeting is being held at 6 p.m., Tuesday, February 12, at Capo Beach Church, Capistrano Beach, and is accessible via a live webcast at: http://video.nrc.gov.

January’s Scoundrel of the Month: Sen. Mitch McConnell

WASHINGTON - February 12 - Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) can’t filibuster this vote: After thwarting a far-reaching proposal to reform Senate rules, and then bragging about it, the minority leader is your choice for January’s Scoundrel of the Month.

“Time and again, Sen. McConnell has put the politics of the moment ahead of the public interest with his constant obstruction of Senate business,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan.  “With his unprecedented abuse of the filibuster, Sen. McConnell is the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with Washington.”

In January, a group of reform-minded senators floated a proposal to curtail the abuse of the “silent filibuster.”  Ultimately, the Senate adopted a watered-down rules reform package, which members from both parties hailed as a bipartisan triumph.  Nevertheless, within hours Sen. McConnell’s reelection campaign sent an email to supporters boasting “We Beat the Liberals,” and promising Sen. McConnell would continue to routinely obstruct Senate proceedings.

The minority leader has long demonstrated he is shameless when it comes to frustrating the will of the majority.  Over his long tenure as the Senate’s obstructionist-in-chief, Sen. McConnell has prevented the Senate from passing measures he previously supported, like campaign finance disclosure measures, and in one absurd case, even filibustered his own bill.

Nominations are already being accepted for February’s Scoundrel of the Month.  People, entities, and agencies are all eligible.  Submit your choices by February 22.  Voting will begin the following week.

January’s Scoundrel of the Month: Sen. Mitch McConnell

WASHINGTON - February 12 - Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) can’t filibuster this vote: After thwarting a far-reaching proposal to reform Senate rules, and then bragging about it, the minority leader is your choice for January’s Scoundrel of the Month.

“Time and again, Sen. McConnell has put the politics of the moment ahead of the public interest with his constant obstruction of Senate business,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan.  “With his unprecedented abuse of the filibuster, Sen. McConnell is the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with Washington.”

In January, a group of reform-minded senators floated a proposal to curtail the abuse of the “silent filibuster.”  Ultimately, the Senate adopted a watered-down rules reform package, which members from both parties hailed as a bipartisan triumph.  Nevertheless, within hours Sen. McConnell’s reelection campaign sent an email to supporters boasting “We Beat the Liberals,” and promising Sen. McConnell would continue to routinely obstruct Senate proceedings.

The minority leader has long demonstrated he is shameless when it comes to frustrating the will of the majority.  Over his long tenure as the Senate’s obstructionist-in-chief, Sen. McConnell has prevented the Senate from passing measures he previously supported, like campaign finance disclosure measures, and in one absurd case, even filibustered his own bill.

Nominations are already being accepted for February’s Scoundrel of the Month.  People, entities, and agencies are all eligible.  Submit your choices by February 22.  Voting will begin the following week.

UN’s Water Agenda at Risk of Being Hijacked by Big Business

UNITED NATIONS - Amidst growing new threats of potential conflicts over fast-dwindling water resources in the world’s arid regions, the United Nations will commemorate 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation (IYWC.

But Maude Barlow, chairperson, Council of Canadians and a former senior advisor on water to the president of the U.N. General Assembly in 2008-2009, warns the U.N.’s water agenda is in danger of being hijacked by big business and water conglomerates.

“We don’t need the United Nations to promote private sector participation under the guise of greater ‘cooperation’ when these same companies force their way into communities and make huge profits from the basic right to water and sanitation,” Barlow told IPS.

At this time of scarcity and financial crisis, she said, “We need the United Nations to ensure that governments are fulfilling their obligations to provide basic services rather than relinquishing to transnational corporations.”

The Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which has been designated the lead U.N. agency, formally launched IYWC at a ceremony in the French capital Monday.

“We don’t need the United Nations to promote private sector participation under the guise of greater ‘cooperation’ when these same companies force their way into communities and make huge profits from the basic right to water and sanitation.” - Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians

In New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned of the new pressures on water, including growing populations and climate change. One-third of the world’s 7.1 billion people already live in countries with moderate to high water stress, he said.

“Competition is growing between farmers and herders; industry and agriculture; town and country,” Ban said. Upstream and downstream, and across borders, “We need to cooperate for the benefit of all now and in the future… Let us harness the best technologies and share the best practices to get more crop per drop.”

Back in December 2010, the 193-member General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring 2013 as the IYWC, following a proposal by Tajikistan.

The 2013 World Water Day, which will take place on Mar. 22, will be dedicated to water cooperation.

Barlow told IPS big water corporations have gained influence in almost every agency working at the United Nations.

The CEO Water Mandate, a public-private sector initiative launched by the United Nations in July 2007 and designed to assist companies in the development, implementation and disclosure of water sustainability policies and practices, puts corporations such as Nestle, Coca Cola, Suez and Veolia directly into a position of influence over global water policy and presents a clear conflict of interest, she said.

“For-profit private companies cannot uphold the public interest if it conflicts with their bottom line,” said Barlow, who is also founder of the Blue Planet Project.

Even the World Water Development Report is now advised by an industry group on “business, trade, finance and involvement of the private sector,” she added.

Tom Slaymaker, senior policy analyst on governance at the London-based WaterAid, told IPS the United Nations recognised the “human right to water and sanitation” back in 2010.

“But today over 780 million lack improved water supplies and 2.5 billion lack basic sanitation facilities,” he added.

The 2013 International Year of Water Cooperation will be a critical year for the United Nations to reflect on why universal access has not yet been achieved, he said.

Slaymaker said it’s also time to reflect on the kind of political leadership and new forms of partnership that are required to accelerate progress towards universal access as part of the emerging post-2015 development framework of the United Nations.

According to the United Nations, the primary objective of IYWC is to raise awareness, both on the potential for increased cooperation, and on the challenges facing water management in light of the increase in demand for water access, allocation and services.

Since the General Assembly recognised the human right to water and sanitation, a number of countries, including Mexico, Kenya, Bolivia, The Dominican Republic, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Ecuador, El Salvador, The Netherlands, Belgium, the UK and France, have either adopted laws recognising the right to water or amended their constitutions to do so.

The Vatican recently recognised the human right to water and added that “water is not a commercial product but rather a common good that belongs to everyone.”

And last June, all 193 member states signed the Rio+20 Declaration which includes the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation as a universal right.

Specifically zeroing on the role of the private sector, Barlow told IPS that corporations are among those pledging their support for IYWC.

Aguas de Barcelona, the water company at the heart of a fierce debate in Spain over control of drinking water, is participating, she pointed out.

So are “corporations who fought us on the right to water are now scrambling to claim it in their own image”.

She quoted Nestle as saying that 1.5 percent of the world’s water should be put aside for the poor and rest should be put on the open market.

If Nestle gets its way, she argued, there will one day be a water cartel similar to big oil, making life and death decisions about who gets water and under what circumstances every day.

“But at least we have this recognised and acknowledged right that no one should be allowed to appropriate water for personal gain while others die from an inability to pay for water,” she said.

With time, “we will build consensus around the right to water and the understanding that water is a common heritage and a public trust.”

© 2013 IPS North America

UN’s Water Agenda at Risk of Being Hijacked by Big Business

UNITED NATIONS - Amidst growing new threats of potential conflicts over fast-dwindling water resources in the world’s arid regions, the United Nations will commemorate 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation (IYWC.

But Maude Barlow, chairperson, Council of Canadians and a former senior advisor on water to the president of the U.N. General Assembly in 2008-2009, warns the U.N.’s water agenda is in danger of being hijacked by big business and water conglomerates.

“We don’t need the United Nations to promote private sector participation under the guise of greater ‘cooperation’ when these same companies force their way into communities and make huge profits from the basic right to water and sanitation,” Barlow told IPS.

At this time of scarcity and financial crisis, she said, “We need the United Nations to ensure that governments are fulfilling their obligations to provide basic services rather than relinquishing to transnational corporations.”

The Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which has been designated the lead U.N. agency, formally launched IYWC at a ceremony in the French capital Monday.

“We don’t need the United Nations to promote private sector participation under the guise of greater ‘cooperation’ when these same companies force their way into communities and make huge profits from the basic right to water and sanitation.” - Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians

In New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned of the new pressures on water, including growing populations and climate change. One-third of the world’s 7.1 billion people already live in countries with moderate to high water stress, he said.

“Competition is growing between farmers and herders; industry and agriculture; town and country,” Ban said. Upstream and downstream, and across borders, “We need to cooperate for the benefit of all now and in the future… Let us harness the best technologies and share the best practices to get more crop per drop.”

Back in December 2010, the 193-member General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring 2013 as the IYWC, following a proposal by Tajikistan.

The 2013 World Water Day, which will take place on Mar. 22, will be dedicated to water cooperation.

Barlow told IPS big water corporations have gained influence in almost every agency working at the United Nations.

The CEO Water Mandate, a public-private sector initiative launched by the United Nations in July 2007 and designed to assist companies in the development, implementation and disclosure of water sustainability policies and practices, puts corporations such as Nestle, Coca Cola, Suez and Veolia directly into a position of influence over global water policy and presents a clear conflict of interest, she said.

“For-profit private companies cannot uphold the public interest if it conflicts with their bottom line,” said Barlow, who is also founder of the Blue Planet Project.

Even the World Water Development Report is now advised by an industry group on “business, trade, finance and involvement of the private sector,” she added.

Tom Slaymaker, senior policy analyst on governance at the London-based WaterAid, told IPS the United Nations recognised the “human right to water and sanitation” back in 2010.

“But today over 780 million lack improved water supplies and 2.5 billion lack basic sanitation facilities,” he added.

The 2013 International Year of Water Cooperation will be a critical year for the United Nations to reflect on why universal access has not yet been achieved, he said.

Slaymaker said it’s also time to reflect on the kind of political leadership and new forms of partnership that are required to accelerate progress towards universal access as part of the emerging post-2015 development framework of the United Nations.

According to the United Nations, the primary objective of IYWC is to raise awareness, both on the potential for increased cooperation, and on the challenges facing water management in light of the increase in demand for water access, allocation and services.

Since the General Assembly recognised the human right to water and sanitation, a number of countries, including Mexico, Kenya, Bolivia, The Dominican Republic, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Ecuador, El Salvador, The Netherlands, Belgium, the UK and France, have either adopted laws recognising the right to water or amended their constitutions to do so.

The Vatican recently recognised the human right to water and added that “water is not a commercial product but rather a common good that belongs to everyone.”

And last June, all 193 member states signed the Rio+20 Declaration which includes the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation as a universal right.

Specifically zeroing on the role of the private sector, Barlow told IPS that corporations are among those pledging their support for IYWC.

Aguas de Barcelona, the water company at the heart of a fierce debate in Spain over control of drinking water, is participating, she pointed out.

So are “corporations who fought us on the right to water are now scrambling to claim it in their own image”.

She quoted Nestle as saying that 1.5 percent of the world’s water should be put aside for the poor and rest should be put on the open market.

If Nestle gets its way, she argued, there will one day be a water cartel similar to big oil, making life and death decisions about who gets water and under what circumstances every day.

“But at least we have this recognised and acknowledged right that no one should be allowed to appropriate water for personal gain while others die from an inability to pay for water,” she said.

With time, “we will build consensus around the right to water and the understanding that water is a common heritage and a public trust.”

© 2013 IPS North America

Has Obama Kept His Open-Government Pledge?

Has Obama Kept His Open-Government Pledge?

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Posted on Feb 11, 2013
The White House/Pete Souza

By Jennifer LaFleur, ProPublica

This article first appeared on ProPublica.

After eight years of tightened access to government records under the Bush administration, open-government advocates were hopeful when Barack Obama promised greater transparency.

Four years later, did the president keep his promise?

“It’s a mixed bag,” said Patrice McDermott, executive director of OpenTheGovernment.org, a consortium of right-to-know groups. “I think they’ve made progress, but a whole lot more remains to be done.”

The Obama administration set the bar high. In his first inaugural address, Obama said that “those of us who manage the public’s dollars” will “do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

The next day, the president issued two memos. In one on the Freedom of Information Act, he wrote that FOIA “should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.”

A second memo addressed transparency: “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.” And that “openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.”

But transparency was not defined in detail, said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). “People were left to imagine whatever they wanted to be the content of those statements. Inevitably, disappointment soon followed.”

Next came more memos and directives, including a memo from Attorney General Eric Holder encouraging federal agencies to release discretionary information and a White House directive outlining an open-government to-do list for agencies.

Among the assigned tasks:

  • Make data available online
  • Create an open-government website
  • Create a FOIA point person within the agency
  • Devise a plan on how the agency will become transparent

In early 2010, ProPublica tracked how well agencies followed up. Some agencies missed key deadlines. Others did not complete all tasks.

Two months ago, the National Security Archive found that “66 of 99 federal agencies” never updated their FOIA regulations even though Holder ordered them to make changes in a March 19, 2009, memorandum.

“It takes somebody beating up on the chief FOIA officer and the head of the agency to make sure the message is being heeded all through the agency, ” McDermott said. “And they haven’t done that.”

But all has not been dark and cloudy. The secrecy veil is beginning to lift in some areas.

Last year, the White House released its visitor logs, and Obama signed legislation that provided greater protection for government whistleblowers.

Citizens can get more information about government spending than they could have previously through websites such as Recovery.gov and USASpending.gov.

The administration also created Data.gov as a repository of federal data. A December 2009 White House memo directed agencies to make “high-value” data sets available on the site. Although Data.gov was criticized for its lack of usability and the selection of data, it now has more than 350,000 data sets from agencies.

Another website, FOIA.gov, tracks data about how agencies respond to FOIA requests for records and provides tools to help citizens make requests and track for information.

“We know more today than ever before about intelligence spending,” Aftergood said, citing bright spots. “And we know more today than before about the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.” (Estimates put the U.S. stockpile at just more than 5,000 in 2012, according to an FAS report.)

Some basics also have changed. Many agencies employ simple, yet helpful practices such as communicating with FOIA requesters and giving them ways to check the status of their requests. Some agencies have posted contact information for their FOIA offices and other personnel on their websites.

Still, many requesters say they continue to face delays and costly processing fees. Although government data show that agency FOIA backlogs are significantly lower than in 2008, the figures for 2011 show an increase from the two prior years. An analysis by Bloomberg News last fall found that 19 out of 20 cabinet-level agencies failed to properly fulfill FOIA requests.

“Other areas are like duck feet paddling beneath the surface,” McDermott said. “You may not see them, but they are moving.”

In fiscal year 2011, agencies processed 8 percent more FOIA requests even though the number of incoming requests went up. And now, more than 40 years since the passage of FOIA, government employees who process requests have an actual job category — “government information specialist.”

Obama’s second inaugural address contained no mention of transparency, however, and no memos or directives have called for a more open government. That leaves some to wonder if the commitment to transparency continues.

According to White House spokesman Eric Schultz, it does. “While creating a more open government requires sustained effort,” he said, “our continued efforts seek to promote accountability, provide people with useful information and harness the dispersed knowledge of the American people.”

“Reducing secrecy and improving transparency are still compelling ideas that are good for reducing costs, improving efficiency and engaging the public in a constructive way,” Aftergood said. “Those of us who do advocacy in that area shouldn’t be disappointed. We should get to work.”

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Generalissima Clinton Expanding the Empire

hilary

Hillary Clinton has completed her four-year tenure as Secretary of State to the accolades of both Democratic and Republican Congressional champions of the budget-busting “military-industrial complex,” that President Eisenhower warned about in his farewell address. Behind the public relations sheen, the photo-opportunities with groups of poor people in the developing world, an ever more militarized State Department operated under Clinton’s leadership.

A militarized State Department is more than a repudiation of the Department’s basic charter of 1789, for the then-named Department of Foreign Affairs, which envisioned diplomacy as its mission. Secretary Clinton reveled in tough, belligerent talk and action on her many trips to more than a hundred countries. She would warn or threaten “consequences” on a regular basis. She supported soldiers in Afghanistan, the use of secret Special Forces in other places and “force projection” in East Asia to contain China. She aggressively supported or attacked resistance movements in dictatorships, depending on whether a regime played to Washington’s tune.

Because Defense Secretary Robert Gates was openly cool to the drum beats for war on Libya, Clinton took over and choreographed the NATO ouster of the dictator, Muammar al-Gaddafi, long after he had given up his mass destruction weaponry and was working to re-kindle relations with the U.S. government and global energy corporations. Libya is now in a disastrous warlord state-of-chaos. Many fleeing fighters have moved into Mali, making that vast country into another battlefield drawing U.S. involvement. Blowback!

Time and again, Hillary Clinton’s belligerence exceeded that of Obama’s Secretaries of Defense. From her seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee to her tenure at the State Department, Hillary Clinton sought to prove that she could be just as tough as the militaristic civilian men whose circle she entered. Throughout her four years it was Generalissima Clinton, expanding the American Empire at large.

Here is some of what the candid camera of history will show about her record:

1. A Yale Law School graduate, she shared with President Obama, a former Harvard Law Review President, a shocking disregard for the law and separation of powers be it the Constitution, federal statues or international treaties. Her legal advisor, former Yale Law Dean Harold Koh, provided cover for her and Obama’s “drone ranger” (to use Bill Moyer’s words), John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism advisor. Brennan gave the president weekly opportunities (White House aides called decision day “Terror Tuesdays”) to become secret prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner. Imagine thousands of push-button deaths and injuries of internal resisters and civilian bystanders in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere who presented no threat to the U.S.

The war on Libya, which Clinton spearheaded for Obama, was conducted without a Congressional Declaration of War, without even a War Resolution or a Congressional authorization or appropriation. She and her boss outdid Cheney and Bush on that score.

2. Although touting “diplomacy” as a priority, Clinton made little attempt to bring the United States into the community of nations by signing or ratifying international treaties already having as signatories over a hundred nations. As a former senator with bi-partisan support, Clinton didn’t use much of her capital on climate change agreements.

Human Rights Watch reports that chief among the unratified treaties are “international conventions relating to children, women, persons with disabilities, torture, enforced disappearance, and the use of anti-personal landmines and cluster munitions.” The last two treaties are designed to save thousands of lives and limbs of the children and their parents who are major victims of these concealed, atrocious weapons. Clinton has not gone to bat against the advocates for those “blowback” explosives that the Pentagon still uses.

When the Senate recently failed to ratify the treaty on disabilities, Clinton, with former senator and injured veteran, Robert Dole on her side, still didn’t make the maximum effort of which she is capable.

3. Secretary Clinton had problems heralding accurate whistleblowers. A 24-year-Foreign Service Officer, Peter Van Buren spent a year in Iraq running two State Department Reconstruction Teams. He exposed State Department waste and mismanagement along with the Pentagon’s “reconstruction” efforts using corporate contractors. Unlistened to, Van Buren, true to his civil service oath of office, went public. Clinton fired him. (wemeantwell.com.)

4. Possibly the most revealing of Clinton’s character was ordering U.S. officials to spy on top UN diplomats, including those from our ally, the United Kingdom. Shockingly, she even ordered her emissaries to obtain DNA data, iris scans (known as biometric data) and fingerprints along with credit card and frequent flier numbers.

The disclosure of secret State Department cables proved this to be a clear violation of the 1946 UN convention. Clinton included in this crude boomeranging personal espionage, the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon and his top officials all around the world. As befits these lawless times, there were no Congressional hearings, no accountabilities, and no resignation by the self-styled civil libertarian Secretary of State, not even a public apology.

5. Clinton led a dangerous expansion of the Department’s mission in Iraq. As reported in the Wall Street Journal on December 10, 2011, “In place of the military, the State Department will assume a new role of unprecedented scale, overseeing a massive diplomatic mission through a network of fortified, self-sufficient installations.”

To call this a diplomatic mission is a stretch. The State Department has hired thousands of private security contractors for armed details and transportation of personnel. Simply guarding the huge U.S. embassy in Iraq and its personnel costs more than $650 million a year – larger than the entire budget of the Occupational Health and Safety Agency (OSHA), which is responsible for reducing the yearly loss of about 58,000 lives in workplace-related traumas and sickness.

Another State Department undertaking is to improve the training and capability of Iraq’s police and armed forces. Countless active and retired Foreign Service officers believe expanded militarization of the State Department both sidelines them, their experience and knowledge, in favor of contractors and military people, and endangers them overseas.

Blurring the distinction between the Pentagon and the State Department in words and deeds seriously compromises Americans engaged in development and diplomatic endeavors. When people in the developing countries see Americans working to advance public health or clean drinking water systems within their countries, they now wonder if these are front activities for spying or undercover penetrations. Violent actions, fueled by this suspicion, are already jeopardizing public health efforts on the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Clinton’s successor, former Senator and war veteran, John Kerry, says he wants to emphasize peace, human rights, and anti-poverty endeavors. He doesn’t have to prove his machismo should he strive to de-militarize the State Department and promote peaceful, deliberative missions in the world, from which true security flows.

I Am Not a Camel … but I Do Have Epilepsy

Maya Schenwar during a recent hospital visit. (Photo: Maya Schenwar)On a warm, breezy afternoon in early September 2004, I was leaning back on my elbows on a grassy hill in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, eating a cheese sandwich off a plastic tray, chattin...

Google Moves to Destroy Online Anonymity … Unintentionally Helping Authoritarian Governments

Google Inc: "Don't Be Evil"

Governments Move to Destroy Online Anonymity

Some of the world’s leading social critics and political critics have used pen names.

As Tyler Durden of Zero Hedge points out (edited slightly for readability):

Though often maligned (typically by those frustrated by an inability to engage in ad hominem attacks), anonymous speech has a long and storied history in the United States. Used by the likes of Mark Twain (aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens) to criticize common ignorance, and perhaps most famously by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay (aka publius) to write the Federalist Papers, we think ourselves in good company in using one or another nom de plume.

Particularly in light of an emerging trend against vocalizing public dissent in the United States, we believe in the critical importance of anonymity and its role in dissident speech.

Like the Economist magazine, we also believe that keeping authorship anonymous moves the focus of discussion to the content of speech and away from the speaker – as it should be. We believe not only that you should be comfortable with anonymous speech in such an environment, but that you should be suspicious of any speech that isn’t.

But governments – especially authoritarian governments – hate anonymity.

A soon-to-be-released book by Google executive Eric Schmidt -  called “The New Digital Age” – describes the desire of authoritarian governments to destroy anonymity.  The Wall Street Journal provides an excerpt:

Some governments will consider it too risky to have thousands of anonymous, untraceable and unverified citizens — “hidden people”; they’ll want to know who is associated with each online account, and will require verification at a state level, in order to exert control over the virtual world.

Last December, China started requiring all web users to register using their real names.

But the U.S. is quickly moving in the same direction.  As Gene Howington reported last year:

Do you have a right to anonymous political free speech?

According to the Supreme Court, you do. According to the Department of Homeland Security, you don’t. They’ve hired General Dynamics to track U.S. citizens exercising this critical civil right.

The history of anonymous political free speech in America dates back to our founding. The seminal essays found in “The Federalist Papers” were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay under the nom de plume of “Publius” although this was not confirmed until a list of authorship complied by Hamilton was posthumously released to the public. As previously discussed on this blog, the right to anonymous political free speech has been addressed by the Supreme Court. Most notably in the cases of Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60 (1960) and McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 514 U.S. 334 (1995). In Talley, Justice Hugo Black writing for the majority said that, “Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all.” In McIntyre, Justice John Paul Stevens writing for the majority said that, “Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. [… ] an author’s decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.” That seems clear enough in defining that citizens do have a Constitutionally protected right to anonymous political free speech.

The full DHS policy statement regarding its activities can be viewed in the DHS Privacy Compliance Review of the NOC Media Monitoring Initiative (November 15, 2011), but rt.com’s summary spells out the basics:

“Under the National Operations Center (NOC)’s Media Monitoring Initiative that came out of DHS headquarters in November, Washington has the written permission to retain data on users of social media and online networking platforms.

Specifically, the DHS announced the NCO and its Office of Operations Coordination and Planning (OPS) can collect personal information from news anchors, journalists, reporters or anyone who may use “traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s own definition of personal identifiable information, or PII, such data could consist of any intellect “that permits the identity of an individual to be directly or indirectly inferred, including any information which is linked or linkable to that individual.” Previously established guidelines within the administration say that data could only be collected under authorization set forth by written code, but the new provisions in the NOC’s write-up means that any reporter, whether someone along the lines of Walter Cronkite or a budding blogger, can be victimized by the agency.

Also included in the roster of those subjected to the spying are government officials, domestic or not, who make public statements, private sector employees that do the same and “persons known to have been involved in major crimes of Homeland Security interest,” which to itself opens up the possibilities even wider.

The department says that they will only scour publically-made info available while retaining data, but it doesn’t help but raise suspicion as to why the government is going out of their way to spend time, money and resources on watching over those that helped bring news to the masses.” – rt.com

This question about the right to anonymous political free speech is also asked over the background of the Electronic Privacy Information Center filing a FOIA request against the DHS to find out the details of the agency’s social network monitoring program.

***

As part of recent disclosures related to the EPIC suit, it is revealed that the DHS has hired and instructed General Dynamics to monitor political dissent and the dissenters. The range of websites listed as being monitored is quite impressive. Notably, jonathanturley.org is not on this list [Howington's essay is a guest blog on constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley's website], but equally of note is that this list is by the DHS’ own admission “representative” and not “comprehensive”.

***

Some of the more high profile and highly trafficked sites being monitored include the comments sections of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report, Wired, and ABC News. In addition, social networking sites Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are being monitored. For the first time, the public not only has an idea who the DHS is pursuing with their surveillance and where, but what they are looking for as well. General Dynamics contract requires them to “[identify] media reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government, DHS, or prevent, protect, respond government activities.” The DHS also instructed General Dynamics to generate “reports on DHS, Components, and other Federal Agencies: positive and negative reports on FEMA, CIA, CBP, ICE, etc. as well as organizations outside the DHS.” In other words, the DHS wants to know who you are if you say anything critical about the government.

Anybody thinking of the name “Goebbels” at this point is not out of line.

Indeed, valuing online privacy could even get you labeled as a potential terrorist.

Google Moving to Help Destroy Anonymity

Google’s motto is “Do No Evil“.   And Google notes in a patent application:

When users reveal their identities on the internet, it leaves them more vulnerable to stalking, identity theft and harassment.

So you might assume that Google is fighting to protect anonymity on the web.

But Schmidt’s new book reveals that Google will support the destruction of anonymity (via Wall Street Journal):

Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.

Search Engine Journal explains:

[Passages from Schmidt's book] confirm what many industry writers have been passionately clattering away about for months now.  Google+ is an identity verification network.  As the network continues to grow, content associated with a verified identity will rise to the top of Google search rankings.

(Google+ is now the world’s second most popular social network.)

In other words, Schmidt acknowledges (in the first quote above) that authoritarians want to destroy anonymity … and Google will help them do so.

We are not saying that Google likes authoritarians. (Potential ties between Google and the government are beyond the scope of this essay.)   However, Google will do business with anyone … and will cowtow to authoritarians they happen to do business with.

Google is doing this to make money.  Remember, Google gathers information across all of its platforms, and personalizes search engine results based upon what you’ve looked for in past searches.

After all, Google is primary an advertising company … not a search company. See this, this, this and this.

As the Daily Mail reported last year:

A former Google executive has lambasted his ex-employer … claiming that the search company has been turned into an ‘ad company’ obsessed with harvesting people’s private information.

James Whittaker, a current Partner Development Manager at Microsoft and ex-Engineering Director at Google, posted the 1328-word attack on Google on his Microsoft blog this week.

‘Perhaps Google is right,’ writes Whittaker, ‘Perhaps the future lies in learning as much about people’s personal lives as possible.

‘The Google I was passionate about was a technology company. The Google I left was an advertising company.’

***

The move comes in the wake of Google’s controversial new ‘privacy policy’, which allowed the search giant to ‘pool’ information from 60 separate services including Gmail, Google Search and Android phones, to create ‘personalised’ advertising.

The bottom line is that anonymity reduces Google’s ability to monetize personal information and sell it to its advertisers.  So Google is on a campaign to destroy anonymity … and unintentionally helping tyrants in the process.

As INeedHits laments:

We knew a day would come when privacy was a thing of the past, but Schmidt clearly spells out that day is sooner than we had expected.

Google Moves to Destroy Online Anonymity … Helping Authoritarian Governments In the Process

Governments Move to Destroy Online Anonymity

Gene Howington reported last year:

The history of anonymous political free speech in America dates back to our founding. The seminal essays found in “The Federalist Papers” were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay under the nom de plume of “Publius” although this was not confirmed until a list of authorship complied by Hamilton was posthumously released to the public. As previously discussed on this blog, the right to anonymous political free speech has been addressed by the Supreme Court. Most notably in the cases of Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60 (1960) and McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 514 U.S. 334 (1995). In Talley, Justice Hugo Black writing for the majority said that, “Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all.” In McIntyre, Justice John Paul Stevens writing for the majority said that, “Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. [… ] an author’s decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.” That seems clear enough in defining that citizens do have a Constitutionally protected right to anonymous political free speech.

Tyler Durden of Zero Hedge points out (with slight editing):

Though often maligned (typically by those frustrated by an inability to engage in ad hominem attacks), anonymous speech has a long and storied history in the United States. Used by the likes of Mark Twain (aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens) to criticize common ignorance, and perhaps most famously by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay (aka publius) to write the Federalist Papers, we think ourselves in good company in using one or another nom de plume.

Particularly in light of an emerging trend against vocalizing public dissent in the United States, we believe in the critical importance of anonymity and its role in dissident speech.

Like the Economist magazine, we also believe that keeping authorship anonymous moves the focus of discussion to the content of speech and away from the speaker – as it should be. We believe not only that you should be comfortable with anonymous speech in such an environment, but that you should be suspicious of any speech that isn’t.

But governments – especially authoritarian governments – hate anonymity.

A soon-to-be-released book by Google executive Eric Schmidt -  called “The New Digital Age” – describes the desire of authoritarian governments to destroy anonymity.  The Wall Street Journal provides an excerpt:

Some governments will consider it too risky to have thousands of anonymous, untraceable and unverified citizens — “hidden people”; they’ll want to know who is associated with each online account, and will require verification at a state level, in order to exert control over the virtual world.

Last December, China started requiring all web users to register using their real names.

But the U.S. is quickly moving in the same direction.  Gene Howington explains:

Do you have a right to anonymous political free speech?

According to the Supreme Court, you do. According to the Department of Homeland Security, you don’t. They’ve hired General Dynamics to track U.S. citizens exercising this critical civil right.

***

The full DHS policy statement regarding its activities can be viewed in the DHS Privacy Compliance Review of the NOC Media Monitoring Initiative (November 15, 2011), but rt.com’s summary spells out the basics:

“Under the National Operations Center (NOC)’s Media Monitoring Initiative that came out of DHS headquarters in November, Washington has the written permission to retain data on users of social media and online networking platforms.

Specifically, the DHS announced the NCO and its Office of Operations Coordination and Planning (OPS) can collect personal information from news anchors, journalists, reporters or anyone who may use “traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s own definition of personal identifiable information, or PII, such data could consist of any intellect “that permits the identity of an individual to be directly or indirectly inferred, including any information which is linked or linkable to that individual.” Previously established guidelines within the administration say that data could only be collected under authorization set forth by written code, but the new provisions in the NOC’s write-up means that any reporter, whether someone along the lines of Walter Cronkite or a budding blogger, can be victimized by the agency.

Also included in the roster of those subjected to the spying are government officials, domestic or not, who make public statements, private sector employees that do the same and “persons known to have been involved in major crimes of Homeland Security interest,” which to itself opens up the possibilities even wider.

The department says that they will only scour publically-made info available while retaining data, but it doesn’t help but raise suspicion as to why the government is going out of their way to spend time, money and resources on watching over those that helped bring news to the masses.” – rt.com

This question about the right to anonymous political free speech is also asked over the background of the Electronic Privacy Information Center filing a FOIA request against the DHS to find out the details of the agency’s social network monitoring program.

***

As part of recent disclosures related to the EPIC suit, it is revealed that the DHS has hired and instructed General Dynamics to monitor political dissent and the dissenters. The range of websites listed as being monitored is quite impressive. Notably, jonathanturley.org is not on this list [Howington's essay is a guest blog on constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley's website], but equally of note is that this list is by the DHS’ own admission “representative” and not “comprehensive”.

***

Some of the more high profile and highly trafficked sites being monitored include the comments sections of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report, Wired, and ABC News. In addition, social networking sites Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are being monitored. For the first time, the public not only has an idea who the DHS is pursuing with their surveillance and where, but what they are looking for as well. General Dynamics contract requires them to “[identify] media reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government, DHS, or prevent, protect, respond government activities.” The DHS also instructed General Dynamics to generate “reports on DHS, Components, and other Federal Agencies: positive and negative reports on FEMA, CIA, CBP, ICE, etc. as well as organizations outside the DHS.” In other words, the DHS wants to know who you are if you say anything critical about the government.

Anybody thinking of the name “Goebbels” at this point is not out of line.

Indeed, valuing online privacy could even get you labeled as a potential terrorist.

Google Moving to Help Destroy Anonymity

Google’s motto is “Do No Evil“.   And Google notes in a patent application:

When users reveal their identities on the internet, it leaves them more vulnerable to stalking, identity theft and harassment.

So you might assume that Google is fighting to protect anonymity on the web.

But Schmidt’s new book reveals that Google will support the destruction of anonymity (via Wall Street Journal):

Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.

Search Engine Journal explains:

[Passages from Schmidt's book] confirm what many industry writers have been passionately clattering away about for months now.  Google+ is an identity verification network.  As the network continues to grow, content associated with a verified identity will rise to the top of Google search rankings.

(Google+ is now the world’s second most popular social network.)

In other words, Schmidt acknowledges (in the first quote above) that authoritarians want to destroy anonymity … and Google will help them do so.

We are not saying that Google likes authoritarians. True, there are potential ties between Google and the government.  For example, the head of DARPA now works for Google, and Internet powerhouse Vint Cerf has worked at both institutions.  Wired reports:

Long before it reportedly enlisted the help of the National Security Agency to secure its networks, Google sold equipment to the secret signals-intelligence group. In-Q-Tel [the CIA's investment arm] backed the mapping firm Keyhole, which was bought by Google in 2004 — and then became the backbone for Google Earth.

And a former high-level CIA officer alleges that the CIA funded Google with seed money.

However, the focus of this essay is on Google’s profit motive.  Specifically, Google will do business with anyone … and will cowtow to authoritarians they happen to do business with.

Google is doing this to make money.  Remember, Google gathers information across all of its platforms, and personalizes search engine results based upon what you’ve looked for in past searches.

After all, Google is primary an advertising company … not a search company. See this, this, this and this.

As the Daily Mail reported last year:

A former Google executive has lambasted his ex-employer … claiming that the search company has been turned into an ‘ad company’ obsessed with harvesting people’s private information.

James Whittaker, a current Partner Development Manager at Microsoft and ex-Engineering Director at Google, posted the 1328-word attack on Google on his Microsoft blog this week.

‘Perhaps Google is right,’ writes Whittaker, ‘Perhaps the future lies in learning as much about people’s personal lives as possible.

‘The Google I was passionate about was a technology company. The Google I left was an advertising company.’

***

The move comes in the wake of Google’s controversial new ‘privacy policy’, which allowed the search giant to ‘pool’ information from 60 separate services including Gmail, Google Search and Android phones, to create ‘personalised’ advertising.

The bottom line is that anonymity reduces Google’s ability to monetize personal information and sell it to its advertisers.  So Google is on a campaign to destroy anonymity … and unintentionally helping tyrants in the process.

As INeedHits laments:

We knew a day would come when privacy was a thing of the past, but Schmidt clearly spells out that day is sooner than we had expected.

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How A Previously Secret Collateral Transformation With The Bank Of Italy Prevented Monte Paschi’s...

The endless Italian bailout story that keeps on giving, has just given some more. It turns out Italy's insolvent Banca dei Monte Paschi, which has been in the headlines for the past month due to its role as political leverage against the frontrunning Bersani bloc, and which has been bailed out openly so many times in the past 4 years we have lost track, and whose cesspool of a balance sheet disclose one after another previously secret derivative deal on an almost daily basis, can now add a previously unannounced bailout by the Bank of Italy to its list of recent historical escapades.

WSJ reports that in the summer of 2011, when Europe was as it tends to do in recent years, imploding and head of the ECB was still Jean-Claude Trichet, and before Goldman was set to control the troika of key world central banks (via NY Fed's Dudley, ECB's Draghi and BOE's Carney), and more importantly when the ECB was being accused of not being a credible lender of last resort, it was the Bank of Italy that secretly bailed out Italy's third largest lender with a €2 billion loan. From WSJ:

The €2 billion ($2.7 billion) emergency liquidity loan the Bank of Italy extended to troubled lender Monte dei Paschi di Siena in 2011 was a "classic" central-bank move, although it didn't appear on the European Central Bank's balance sheet and no other Italian bank entered a similar deal, a senior Bank of Italy official said Saturday.

"The Bank of Italy acted on its own" said Fabrizio Saccomanni, the deputy governor of Italy's central bank, when asked about the at-the-time undisclosed securities lending transaction with MPS.

The Bank of Italy, having found itself in the middle of the BMPS derivatives scandal and particularly its lack of oversight and disclosure under former head Mario Draghi, is in full damage control scramble.

Italy's central bank arranged the loan in October 2011 because MPS was running short of liquidity and had largely exhausted its ability to keep borrowing from the ECB. The loan was aimed at staving off a liquidity crisis at a key Italian bank at a delicate moment in the country's economic history.

The loan wasn't disclosed at the time by either the Italian central bank of MPS. In a conference call shortly after receiving the emergency loan, MPS executives described the bank's liquidity position as sound.

Mr. Saccomanni said that, with its loan to MPS, the Bank of Italy—which was led at the time of the loan by current ECB President Mario Draghi—didn't violate any rules. The loan was "utterly normal central bank behavior," he said. He added, however, that no other Italian bank was party to such an arrangement.

Then again, the Bank of Italy said there would be no more secret derivative losses to emerge at BMPS a few weeks ago when the firs two of BMPS' previously unknown balance sheet Easter eggs were reported (while also lying at the time it had no idea of BMPS' balance sheet horrors). This was followed promptly by revelations of two more (for now) such arrangements, one of which with US Bank of New York which "allowed the Italian bank to mislead authorities and smoothed through its acquisition of rival Antonveneta, according to a report by the financial police in Italy."

Therefore one can be excused for believing absolutely nothing that any European banker, whether they have worked at Goldman previously or not, has said.

What is troubling about the Bank of Italy loan, which only took place because the ECB had in fact been a perfectly qualified lender of last resort, only Monte Paschi had no more eligible collateral against which to receive cash from Europe's central bank, is that it was forced to seek a domestic bailout from the BoI as a true lender of last resort against the most worthless collateral the Siena bank could find. "Under the deal, MPS swapped loans and mortgages for some €2 billion of mainly Italian government bonds."

BMP then proceeded to use the Italian bonds with the ECB and to get Euros in exchange, in effect engaging in precisely the kind of collateral transformation alchemy we described previously in painful detail in "Modern Market Alchemy Explained: Converting Junk Debt Into Supersafe Treasurys Out Of Thin Air", only instead of converting Junk into "money good" Treasurys, Monte Paschi used the Bank of Italy as an collateral transformation intermediary converting just as worthless impaired loans and mortgages in the first step, and then using the repo proceeds, Italian bonds, as collateral with the ECB, and thus once again evading nationalization.

What the above episode highlights is the fundamental distinction in collateral transformation processes between the US and Europe: while the US has the $35-40 trillion shadow banking system as a conduit for preliminary junk-to-hunk "alchemy", in Europe it is the regional central banks that serve the role of a decentralized shadow bank (which Europe does not have). The only problem is that while the US shadow banking system is largely a private sector construct, in Europe it is the taxpayers who will be fully impaired when the real value of the worthless rehypothecated collateral is exposed.

Yet one major similarity is that just like in the US, where as we explained collateral transformation takes place entirely off the books, in Europe this step too was completely secret.  "The loan wasn't disclosed at the time by either the Italian central bank of MPS." At least in the US whenever the Fed provides direct bailout funding via the Discount Window or through excess reserves, it keeps a track of how much (if not who the beneficiary is of course) and discloses this publicly every week. Not so in Europe, and where it gets even worse is that in a conference call shortly after receiving the emergency loan, "MPS executives described the bank's liquidity position as sound." What they didn't describe is why their liquidity position was sound: because the bank had just engaged in a collateral transformation with the Italian people, who were handed off risk that not even the ECB wanted to touch!

Of course, had the conference call participants known the truth, it is very likely that BMPS would have been long since nationalized.

Yet the worst part of this whole story, is the Bank of Italy's painfully sad attempt at justification of its actions: First - the bold faced lie that only BMPS was engaging in such "shadow" transformations, which will be true until some other bank is revealed to have engaged in an identical junks-for-hunks repo with the Bank of Italy. And second, the BoI's childish explanation that because others in Europe do it, it's fine:

"Anyone can do it," Mr. Saccomanni said, adding that similar transactions have been carried out by other national central banks in the euro area. Some central banks, such as those of Greece and Ireland, have used their own balance sheets for such lending to domestic banks, under the Emergency Liquidity Assistance, a special dispensation from ECB protocols.

Yes, of course others can do it: the point is that all of them disclose it. The weekly updated balance of Greek and Irish ELA loans has been widely used as an indicator of liquidity and funding pressures in Europe.

What Italy did is engage in an identical operation with an insolvent bank, but undisclosed. That the head of the Italian central bank is so naive, gullible or plain stupid, to not realize the difference, is precisely why, as we reported a few hours ago, the Fed has now injected a record amount of dollars into foreign, i.e., European, banks in the last month.

Because if "other national banks in the euro area" do it, the implication of course is that they do so undisclosed. Which also means that nobody has any clue just how insolvent Europe truly is, but one does know that the situation now is as dire as it has always been. Otherwise Monte Paschi would not be set to receive yet another bailout in the form of a €3.9 billion state bond to raise it capital for "regulatory requirement" purposes. And the Fed would not have to use all the reserve proceeds created from QEternity to fund European banks.

Our advice to all depositors, who we can only hope can be counted on one hand, in Monte Paschi - take your money to a safe bank, and since in Italy that is an oxymoron, it is probably wisest to just park what money one may have in the local Banca dei Materassi.

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Debating a Court to Vet Drone Strikes

Predator drone encircled(Photo: drsmith7383; Edited: JR / TO)Washington - Since 1978, a secret court in Washington has approved national security eavesdropping on American soil — operations that for decades had been conducted based on presidential authority alone.

Now, in response to broad dissatisfaction with the hidden bureaucracy directing lethal drone strikes, there is an interest in applying the model of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court — created by Congress so that surveillance had to be justified to a federal judge — to the targeted killing of suspected terrorists, or at least of American suspects.

“We’ve gone from people scoffing at this to it becoming a fit subject for polite conversation,” said Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas. He said court approval for adding names to a counterterrorism kill list — at least for American citizens abroad — “is no longer beyond the realm of political possibility.”

A drone court would face constitutional, political and practical obstacles, and might well prove unworkable, according to several legal scholars and terrorism experts. But with the war in Afghanistan winding down, Al Qaeda fragmenting into hard-to-read offshoots and the 2001 terrorist attacks receding into the past, they said, it is time to consider how to forge a new, trustworthy and transparent system to govern lethal counterterrorism operations.

“People in Washington need to wake up and realize the legal foundations are crumbling by the day,” Mr. Chesney said. That realization seemed evident at Thursday’s confirmation hearing for John O. Brennan as C.I.A. director, which became a raucous forum for complaints about the expansion of counterterrorist strikes and the procedures for deciding who should die.

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, was one of those who complained that he could not get the administration to even list the countries where lethal strikes had been carried out. Among Republicans, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said he thought that killing had become a dubious substitute for capture. A program that began in the shadows was dragged for the first time into the spotlight of Congressional debate.

Today, with Al Qaeda’s core in Pakistan hugely diminished and Osama bin Laden dead, the terrorist threat is far more diffuse than it was a decade ago. Most drone-fired missiles now kill not high-level terrorists plotting to attack the United States, but a mixed bag of midlevel militants and foot soldiers whose focus is often more on the Pakistani or Yemeni authorities than on the United States. And since a September 2011 drone strike deliberately killed an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who had joined Al Qaeda in Yemen, the legal and moral rationale for such strikes has been hotly debated.

Even if they are glad Mr. Awlaki is dead, many Americans are uneasy that a president can use secret evidence to label a citizen a terrorist and order his execution without a trial or judge’s ruling. Hence the idea of court oversight for targeted killing, which on Thursday, unexpectedly, got serious discussion from senators and Mr. Brennan.

First, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who is chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she would review proposals for establishing such a court. Her remark got a strong second from Senator Angus King of Maine, an independent.

“Having the executive being the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner all in one is very contrary to the traditions and the laws of this country,” he said.

Mr. Brennan then made a striking disclosure: The Obama administration had held internal talks on the feasibility of such a court. “I think it’s certainly worthy of discussion,” Mr. Brennan said. “What’s that appropriate balance between the executive, legislative and judicial branch responsibilities in this area?”

An administration official who spoke of the White House deliberations on the condition of anonymity said President Obama had asked his security and legal advisers a year ago “to see how you could have an independent review” of planned strikes. “That includes possible judicial review.”

“People on the national security staff and the legal side took a hard look at it, and the discussions are still going on,” the official said. “There are a lot of complexities. You’d need legislation and probably a new judicial body.”

The FISA court was created by Congress in 1978 after revelations of widespread eavesdropping on Americans by the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation convinced Congress that the executive branch had proved incapable of properly policing itself.

Eleven judges from around the country sit on the court, but one is on duty at a time, hearing cases in a special high-security courtroom added to Washington’s federal courthouse in 2009. In 2011, according to the most recent statistics, the court approved 1,745 orders for electronic surveillance or physical searches, rejecting none outright but altering 30.

A drone court would have the same appeal, bringing in an independent arbiter. But it is likely there would be serious limitations to its jurisdiction. Most experts say judges do not have the alacrity or expertise to rule on a frantic call from the C.I.A. every time a terrorism suspect is in its sights. A better approach would be to have the court rule on whether the government had enough evidence against a suspect to place him on the kill list.

But if the court’s jurisdiction extended to every foreign terrorism suspect, even some proponents believe, it might infringe on the president’s constitutional role as commander in chief. Senator King, for instance, said he thought the court would pass constitutional muster only if it were limited to cases involving American citizens.

With such limits, however, a drone court would not address many of the most pressing concerns, including decisions on which foreign militants should be targeted; how to avoid civilian deaths; and how to provide more public information about strike rules and procedures.

“In terms of the politics and the optics, aren’t you in the same position that you are now?” said William C. Banks, a national security law expert at Syracuse University. “It’s still secret. The target wouldn’t be represented. It’s a mechanism that wouldn’t satisfy critics or advance the due process cause much.”

Indeed, Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security project, said that a drone court would be a step backward, and that extradition and criminal prosecution of suspected terrorists was a better answer. “I strongly agree that judicial review is crucial,” she said. “But judicial review in a new secret court is both unnecessary and un-American.”

Nor are judges clamoring to take up the challenge. At an American Bar Association meeting in November, a retired FISA judge, James Robertson, rejected the idea that judges should approve “death warrants.”

“My answer is, that’s not the business of judges,” Mr. Robertson said, “to decide without an adversary party to sign a death warrant for somebody.”

Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting.

Bring Dark Money to Account

Think the election season ended on Nov. 6, 2012? Think again.

The shadowy super PACs and front groups that polluted the airwaves with political ads last year are already raising millions from corporations and billionaires to batter television viewers with a new wave of ads.

(Photo: David Goldman/AP)Earlier this week, Karl Rove's super PAC American Crossroads attacked actress and political activist Ashley Judd, who is contemplating a Senate run in Kentucky. And former Obama campaign hands are lining up dark-money donors to support a public relations push for implementation of health care reforms.

The thought of having to endure another round of shady and dishonest political ads might make you queasy. But relief could be closer than you think.

A long-dormant rule within the 1996 Telecommunications Act gives the Federal Communications Commission the authority to mandate disclosure of the funders behind political ads.

According to the rule, political ads must "fully and fairly disclose the true identity of the person or persons, or corporation, committee, association or other unincorporated group, or other entity" paying for them.

In 2011, communications law expert Andrew Schwartzman petitioned the FCC to enforce this disclosure requirement. As the disclosure rule is on the books, the FCC already has the authority to act, argued Schwartzman, who now serves as a legal adviser to Free Press.

In a Nation op-ed on Thursday, Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps added petrol to the fire. Copps wrote that all the agency needs is a modest update of the rules. "Using the normal FCC notice-and-comment process," Copps wrote, "this needn't take longer than 90 days."

But the FCC has ignored Schwartzman's petition and Copps' call for action.

For many Washington insiders, toxic ads are just part of the political landscape. They're the engine that powers an influence industry that has enriched legions of political consultants and media buyers -- to the tune of more than $3 billion in political ad buys in 2012 alone.

The will to confront campaign finance issues, expose the dark money behind political ads and enforce the rules won't come from inside D.C. but from people like you and me.

The type of disclosure Schwartzman and Copps call for would require identification of ads' principal funders within the actual ads. For example, it would let viewers know that an ad from a group that calls itself Concerned Taxpayers of America is merely the creation of two multi-millionaires -- the owner of a Maryland concrete company and a New York hedge-fund manager.

While such a requirement may not solve our nation's crippling campaign finance problems, that kind of transparency would force many of the worst actors under the lights. And that could give many Americans the information they need to decide whether a political message is true, and the messenger credible.

The FCC hasn't enforced this rule in nearly 20 years. It's time for the agency to act.

© 2013 Free Press

Timothy Karr

Timothy Karr serves as the Campaign Director for Free Press, the Free Press Action Fund and SavetheInternet.com. Karr also critiques, analyzes and reports on media and media policy in his popular blog, MediaCitizen.

Bring Dark Money to Account

Think the election season ended on Nov. 6, 2012? Think again.

The shadowy super PACs and front groups that polluted the airwaves with political ads last year are already raising millions from corporations and billionaires to batter television viewers with a new wave of ads.

(Photo: David Goldman/AP)Earlier this week, Karl Rove's super PAC American Crossroads attacked actress and political activist Ashley Judd, who is contemplating a Senate run in Kentucky. And former Obama campaign hands are lining up dark-money donors to support a public relations push for implementation of health care reforms.

The thought of having to endure another round of shady and dishonest political ads might make you queasy. But relief could be closer than you think.

A long-dormant rule within the 1996 Telecommunications Act gives the Federal Communications Commission the authority to mandate disclosure of the funders behind political ads.

According to the rule, political ads must "fully and fairly disclose the true identity of the person or persons, or corporation, committee, association or other unincorporated group, or other entity" paying for them.

In 2011, communications law expert Andrew Schwartzman petitioned the FCC to enforce this disclosure requirement. As the disclosure rule is on the books, the FCC already has the authority to act, argued Schwartzman, who now serves as a legal adviser to Free Press.

In a Nation op-ed on Thursday, Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps added petrol to the fire. Copps wrote that all the agency needs is a modest update of the rules. "Using the normal FCC notice-and-comment process," Copps wrote, "this needn't take longer than 90 days."

But the FCC has ignored Schwartzman's petition and Copps' call for action.

For many Washington insiders, toxic ads are just part of the political landscape. They're the engine that powers an influence industry that has enriched legions of political consultants and media buyers -- to the tune of more than $3 billion in political ad buys in 2012 alone.

The will to confront campaign finance issues, expose the dark money behind political ads and enforce the rules won't come from inside D.C. but from people like you and me.

The type of disclosure Schwartzman and Copps call for would require identification of ads' principal funders within the actual ads. For example, it would let viewers know that an ad from a group that calls itself Concerned Taxpayers of America is merely the creation of two multi-millionaires -- the owner of a Maryland concrete company and a New York hedge-fund manager.

While such a requirement may not solve our nation's crippling campaign finance problems, that kind of transparency would force many of the worst actors under the lights. And that could give many Americans the information they need to decide whether a political message is true, and the messenger credible.

The FCC hasn't enforced this rule in nearly 20 years. It's time for the agency to act.

© 2013 Free Press

Timothy Karr

Timothy Karr serves as the Campaign Director for Free Press, the Free Press Action Fund and SavetheInternet.com. Karr also critiques, analyzes and reports on media and media policy in his popular blog, MediaCitizen.

The Global Water Grab: Meet the “New Water Barons”

water1

Writing in National Geographic in December 2012 about “small-scale irrigation techniques with simple buckets, affordable pumps, drip lines, and other equipment” that “are enabling farm families to weather dry seasons, raise yields, diversify their crops, and lift themselves out of poverty” water expert Sandra Postel of the Global Water Policy Project cautioned against reckless land and water-related investments in Africa. “[U]nless African governments and foreign interests lend support to these farmer-driven initiatives, rather than undermine them through land and water deals that benefit large-scale, commercial schemes, the best opportunity in decades for societal advancement in the region will be squandered.”

That same month, the online publication Market Oracle reported that “[t]he new ‘water barons’—the Wall Street banks and elitist multibillionaires—are buying up water all over the world at unprecedented pace.” The report reveals two phenomena that have been gathering speed, and that could potentially lead to profit accumulation at the cost of communities and commons —the expansion of market instruments beyond the water supply and sanitation to other areas of water governance, and the increasingly prominent role of financial institutions.

In several instances this has meant that the government itself has set up public corporations that run like a business, contracting out water supply and sanitation operations to those with expertise, or entering into public–private–partnerships, often with water multinationals. This happened recently in Nagpur and New Delhi, India. In most rural areas, ensuring a clean drinking water supply and sanitation continues to be a challenge. For-profit companies such as Sarvajal have begun setting up pre-paid water kiosks (or water ATMs) that would dispense units of water upon the insertion of a pre-paid card. It is no surprise that these are popular among people who otherwise have no access to clean drinking water.

With climate change, however, the water crisis is no longer perceived as confined to developing countries or even primarily a concern related to water supply and sanitation. Fresh water commons are becoming degraded and depleted in both developed and developing countries. In the United States, diversion of water for expanded commodity crop production, biofuels and gas hydro-fracking is compounding the crisis in rural areas. In areas ranging from the Ogallala aquifer to the Great Lakes in North America, water has been referred to as liquid gold. Billionaires such as T. Boone Pickens have been buying up land overlying the Ogallala aquifer, acquiring water rights; companies such as Dow Chemicals, with a long history of water pollution, are investing in the business of water purification, making pollution itself a cash-cow.

But chemical companies are not alone: GE and its competitor Siemens have extensive portfolios that include an array of water technologies to serve the needs of industrial customers, municipal water suppliers or governments. (In the last year and a half two Minnesota based companies have become large players in this business—Ecolab, by acquiring Nalco and Pentair by merging with Tyco‘s Flow Control unit—both now belonging to S&P’s 500.)

The financial industry has also zeroed in on water. In the summer of 2011, Citigroup issued a report on water investments. The much quoted statement by Willem Buiter (chief economist at Citigroup) gives an inkling of Citigroup’s conclusion: “Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.” Once again, several others had already seen water as an important investment opportunity, including GE’s Energy Financial ServicesGoldman Sachs and several asset management firms that are involved investing in farmland in Asia, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe.

Given these recent trends, initiatives that track the water use of companies or map information regarding water related risks could be double edged. Some examples include the ‘water disclosure project’ and the ‘water-mapping project’. Both are initiated by non-profits/ think-tanks, the former by UK-based Carbon Disclosure Project and the latter by the US-based World Resources Institute. While distinct, they are linked by their shared constituency: global investors concerned about water-related risks. These initiatives could help companies identify and reduce their water footprint, or could lead to company investments that follow water and grab it.

The Carbon Disclosure Project’s water disclosure project seeks to help businesses and institutional investors understand the risks and opportunities associated with water scarcity and other water-related issues. According to its most recent report, issued on behalf of 470 investors with assets of $50 trillion USD, over half the respondents to their survey have experienced water-related challenges in the preceding five years, translating into disruptions in operations, increases in expenses and other detrimental impacts.

Aqueduct Alliance and its water mapping project, which aims to provide companies with an unprecedented level of detail on global water risks, seems at one level a direct response to the findings of the global water disclosure reports by CDP. General Electric, Goldman Sachs and the Washington-based think tank World Resources Institute are the founding members of the Aqueduct Alliance. All of them identify water-related risks as detrimental to profitability, continued economic growth and environmental sustainability. The water maps, with their unprecedented level of detail and resolution, seek to combine advanced hydrological data with geographically specific indicators that capture social, economic, and governance factors. But this initiative has given rise to concerns that such information gives companies and investors unprecedented details of water-related information in some of the world’s largest river basins.

Many of these investors, described as the “new water barons” in Jo-Shing Yang’s article ”Profiting from Your Thirst as Global Elite Rush to Control Water Worldwide,” are the same ones who have profited from speculating on agricultural contracts and contributing to the food crisis of the past few years. The food crisis and recent droughts have confirmed that controlling the source of food—the land and the water that flows under or by it—are equally or even more important.

closer look at the land-related investments in Africa, for example, show that land grabbing is not simply an investment, but also an attempt to capture the water underneath. At the recent annual Global AgInvesting Conference (with well over 370 participants), the asset management groups and global farm businesses showcased their plans, including purchases of vast tracts of lands in varying locations around the globe. With tools such as water maps, such investors are further advantaged. The global rush for land grabbing, as well as the resistance to it, shows that all stake-holders—pension funds, Wall Street or nation-states on the one hand or the people who currently use these lands and waters, and their advocates on the other—are well aware of the life-and-death nature of land (and water) grabbing, especially in the case of developing countries.

National and international regulatory mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that basic resources such as land, water and the means for accessing fresh water do not become merely the means for profit accumulation for the wealthy, but are governed in a way that ensures the basic livelihood of those most dependent on it. The last session of the Committee on World Food Security  (a United Nations mechanism set up to address the food crisis) was a good starting point, and has set in motion a series of consultations on principles for agricultural investments. Civil Society Organizations are tracking the various ways in which regulations may develop in national contexts: simply facilitate land grabbing, mitigate negative impacts and maximize opportunities or block (or roll-back) land grabbing altogether. Ultimately, any policy approaches must prioritize local communities’ access to food and water: Any water-related investments needs to be about allaying their livelihood risks and enhancing their ability to realize their rights, whether it is in developing countries or developed countries.

Your Newspaper Works for the State

Your Newspaper Works for the State

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Posted on Feb 8, 2013
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Major papers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post have complied with requests from the Bush and Obama administrations to conceal sometimes-illegal acts performed by the government in the name of national security, writes Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian.

Since those deeds include The New York Times’ withholding during the 2004 campaign season of knowledge of the Bush administration’s illegal warrantless eavesdropping program—a concealment that helped Bush get re-elected—we should not assume that such acts and their subsequent cover-ups are in the public interest.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post revealed that two years ago, the Obama administration established a drone base in Saudi Arabia from which it has targeted and killed people in Yemen, including U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman. But the Post admitted that it and a number of other U.S. media outlets had long known about the base but had cooperated to keep it secret from the U.S. public:

“The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the specific location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia,” the paper wrote.

“The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.”

That “other news organization” was The New York Times.

“[N]one of these facts—once they were finally reported—ultimately resulted in any harm,” Greenwald writes. “Instead, it has everything to do with obeying government dictates; shielding high-level government officials from embarrassing revelations; protecting even the most extreme government deceit and illegality; and keeping the domestic population of the US (their readers) ignorant of the vital acts in which their own government is engaged.”

Dr. Jack Lule, a professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University, suggested in an article on the censorship that “the real reason [the government wanted to hide the existence of the base was] that the administration did not want to embarrass the Saudis—and for the US news media to be complicit in that is craven.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Glenn Greenwaled at The Guardian:

There are, of course, instances where newspapers can validly opt to conceal facts that they learn. That’s when the harm that comes from disclosure plainly outweighs the public interest in learning of them (the classic case is when, in a war, a newspaper learns of imminent troop movements: there is no value in reporting that but ample harm from doing so). But none of these instances comes close to meeting that test. Instead, media outlets overwhelmingly abide by government dictates as to what they should conceal. As Greensdale wrote: “most often, they oblige governments by acceding to requests not to publish sensitive information that might jeopardise operations.”

As all of these examples demonstrate, extreme levels of subservience to US government authority is embedded in the ethos of the establishment American media. They see themselves not as watchdogs over the state but as loyal agents of it.

… The entity that is designed to be, and endlessly praises itself for being, a check on US government power is, in fact, its most loyal servant. There are significant exceptions: Dana Priest did disclose the CIA black sites network over the agency’s vehement objections, while the NYT is now suing the government to compel the release of classified documents relating to Obama’s assassination program. But time and again, one finds the US media acting to help suppress the newsworthy secrets of the US government rather than report on them. Its collaborative “informal” agreement to hide the US drone base in Saudi Arabia is just the latest in a long line of such behavior.

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Brennan’s Obscene Testimony at Confirmation Hearing

John Brennan tried to elude his questioners at his confirmation hearing as CIA director.

On one question after another, he excreted octopus ink to dodge or obfuscate.

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said, "Every American has the right to know when their government believes it's allowed to kill them.”

Brennan tried to reassure Wyden that the government is “very disciplined and very judicious” in the way it makes these selections. He also said that the Obama Administration has not stretched to the “outer limits” of its justifications, which was not exactly reassuring.

After a welcome disruption by members of CodePink who denounced him and got ejected from the hearing, Brennan said that there is a “misimpression” and a “misunderstanding” about “the care we take” and--he added obscenely--“the agony we go through” in deciding who to kill. (Compare his “agony” to the agony of the families of the innocent people he’s killed with his drones.)

“We only take such actions as a last resort to save lives when there's no other alternative,” he said.

Well, then, what about his drone killing of 16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, the son of Anwar Al-Awlaki? Was that really a last resort to save lives? Unfortunatley, I didn’t hear a Senator ask that question.

Nor was Brennan reassuring on full disclosure, responding with classic doublespeak: “We need to optimize transparency and at the same time optimize secrecy.”

Brennan also spewed out misinformation about the CIA’s history of torture and paramilitary operations, saying that after 9/11, the agency got involved in activities that were “an aberration from its traditional role.”

Actually, those activities were not an aberration at all but fully in keeping with what the CIA did in Vietnam and Laos in the 1960s and early 1970s, and what it did in El Salvador and Guatemala in the late 1970s and 1980s, just to name a few examples.

While he denounced and renounced waterboarding, he refused to call it torture.

And he confirmed that “foreign partners” were holding most of the people the U.S. has under interrogation today, and that the CIA is involved in those interrogations, sometimes directly. “The CIA should be able to lend its full expertise,” he said.

That “full expertise” includes all sorts of techniques that are banned by the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

© 2013 The Progressive

Matthew Rothschild

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.

“Adam Lanza may have not acted Alone”. Other “Potential Suspects” in Sandy Hook Massacre?

Sandy_Hook_Elementary_School

by Ralph Lopez

Connecticut State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky has argued that unsealing warrants in the Sandy Hook case might “seriously jeopardize” the investigation by disclosing information known only to other “potential suspects.”

Sedensky said that unsealing the warrants would also:

“”identify persons cooperating with the investigation, thus possibly jeopardizing their personal safety and well-being.” “

The statement by the CT prosecutor’s office is the first indication from state authorities that Adam Lanza may have not acted alone. The statement was made in support of a motion to continue the seal on the results of five search warrants for 90 more days.

CT State Police Public Affairs Officer Lt. Paul Vance said in an official press release on December 16th that:

“The male subject identified as the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been identified as ADAM LANZA DOB: 04/22/92; he resided at 36 Yogananda Street. His cause of death was gunshot wound and his death is ruled a suicide.”

However, neither Vance nor the CT Attorney General’s office have ever ruled out the possible presence of other suspects. The New Haven Register reports Vance as having said: “Whenever you conduct an investigation you don’t speculate as to where it’s going to take you, as I said, we’re going to look at every single thing, every piece of material and we’ll take it from there.”

The CT State Attorney General’s Office is handling the investigation of the mass shooting, in which 20 children and 8 adults died last December 14th.

The motion to extend the seal on the records for 90 days was granted by Superior Court Judge John Blawie, who wrote in his decision that:

“”The court finds that due to the nature and circumstances of this case and the ongoing investigation, the state’s interest in continuing nondisclosure substantially outweighs any right to public disclosure at this time,”"

The warrants were for searches, on different dates, of the Lanza home, and of Adam Lanza’s mother’s two cars. One of the cars, a 2010 black Honda Civic, was the vehicle which Lanza allegedly drove to the crime scene. The other, a 2009 silver BMW, was parked in the garage attached to the Lanza home. The court motion seals the affidavits stating what was found upon execution of the warrants for another 90 days, until late March.

Little else is known about what the authorities may be referring to in support of the motion to seal the affidavits for another 90 days beyond the normal statutory allowance of 14 days. Lt. Vance did say in a press conference on December 15, 2012, somewhat apologetically for not being able to answer all of the reporters’ questions, that there were “some cards that we’re holding close to our vest.”
State’s Attorney Sedensky wrote in the motion that:

““No arrests have been made and none are currently anticipated, but have not been ruled out.”” Sedensky said:

“”There is information in the search warrant affidavits that is not known to the general public”"

An image of the key passages in the court motion is below. The entire document has been uploaded at Scribd by the New Haven Register, the venerable New England newspaper associated with the home of Yale University.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/342829#ixzz2KJ4Vd8pA

New York Times Misinformation on Syria

New York Times building
Managed news misinformation reflects official Times policy. It's standard practice. It's longstanding. Truth is verboten. It's systematically avoided. Readers are betrayed. They're lied to daily.

Drone Memo Puts Brennan on Spot

President Obama is finally giving the congressional Intelligence Committees a look at a Justice Department legal opinion justifying the killing of Americans in senior al-Qaeda positions plotting attacks on the U.S. The disclosure comes as the Senate considers John Brennan to be CIA director, notes Ray McGovern.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearing on John Brennan’s nomination to be CIA director presents a rare public opportunity for Congress to insist that the White House publicly defend whatever legal reasoning has been adduced to justify the killing of alleged American terrorists working with al-Qaeda on plots to attack the United States.

Brennan, from his position as President Barack Obama’s adviser on counterterrorism, is widely (and correctly) seen as the promoter and implementer of policies that ignore a citizen’s traditional constitutional protections, which require some form of judicial procedure before the government can take life or property, a structure of due process that has been thoroughly trampled since 9/11 and the “war on terror.”

The question before the Senate Intelligence Committee is whether the members will demand serious answers regarding the rationale for these extrajudicial killings and whether those answers can be squared somehow with the U.S. Constitution.

Will Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, D-California, allow the public curtain to be lifted on the key legal issues involved in the killings as well as on narrower operational aspects? Recent congressional practice – especially since 9/11 – has been to acquiesce to even the most blatant CIA evasions and to halt the rare truthful briefing by declaring, in effect, “OK, that’s enough; I don’t need to know any more.”

With very few exceptions, congressional overseers have transitioned into congressional overlookers. This goes in spades when the word “terrorism” is raised; members face an unwelcome dilemma between choosing to remain unwitting (and, thus, have plausible denial) on the one hand or to acquire complicit knowledge on the other. A high-profile public hearing like the one on Brennan’s nomination makes it more difficult than usual to maintain the desired ambiguity.

I am reminded of the lame lament by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who — after an unusually long tenure on the House Intelligence Committee — complained that she had been lied to by the CIA about torture. But CIA’s Office of Congressional Affairs quickly dug out memoranda of conversations with Pelosi alleging that she had been let in on the dirty secret. The California Democrat suddenly fell silent.

If further proof of congressional obsequiousness were needed, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, has openly described Congress’ abnegation of responsibility, noting last year, with uncommon candor: “Who wants to be the congressman or senator holding the hearing as to whether the President should be aggressively going after terrorists? Nobody. And that’s why Congress has been AWOL in this whole area.”

Graham does not sit on the Intelligence Committee, but this attitude is widely shared. And, as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he does oversee/overlook lethal operations by the Joint Special Operations Command.

Hiding Behind Secrecy

Congress has shown little interest in grappling with nettlesome constitutional issues, like the secret legal opinions that seek to justify “targeted killings” of suspected terrorists, including Americans, by stretching presidential war powers to far corners of the world, distant from any active battlefield, wherever someone might be plotting some threat to the American homeland. The evidence, like the legal justification, remains secret.

Only on the eve of Brennan’s confirmation hearing did Obama finally order the detailed 2010 legal memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to be shared with the Intelligence Committees. The memo justified the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who became a leader of al-Qaeda in Yemen and allegedly participated in operational planning for terrorist attacks on the United States. Awlaki was killed in a CIA drone strike in September 2011.

Until Obama’s announcement, the administration had not even openly acknowledged the existence of the documents. It also remains unclear how publicly the legal memo will be discussed during Brennan’s confirmation hearing on Thursday.

If Feinstein takes the discussion behind the closed doors of an executive session, Americans will be deprived of a chance to learn who is “authorized” to kill suspected terrorists, with what kind of “due process,” and for what “suspected” activity. Hearing these details may be troubling but at least the explanation would finally be out in the open where citizens can make informed judgments.

In my view, it would be shameful for Feinstein and her committee colleagues to shirk their duty again by evading the need for public debate. There is ample evidence that John Brennan (a mediocre analyst at CIA before he ingratiated himself with CIA Director George Tenet) is not up to the job substantively. Nowhere is this clearer than when, as chief of counterterrorism, he has been asked to address the issue of what motivates terrorists.

At a press conference on Jan. 7, 2010, two weeks after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to down an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day, President Obama criticized the intelligence failures that contributed to the near catastrophe. He then turned the stage over to the official where the counterterrorist buck was supposed to stop – John Brennan.

It took the questioning of then 89-year old veteran correspondent Helen Thomas to show how little Brennan knows – or is willing to admit – about what leads terrorists to do what they do. As her catatonic White House press colleagues took their customary dictation and asked their predictable questions, Thomas posed an adult query that spotlighted the futility of government plans to counter terrorism with more high-tech gizmos and intrusions on the liberties and privacy of the traveling public.

Thomas asked why Abdulmutallab did what he did: “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”

Brennan: “Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents… They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”

Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”

Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”

Thomas: “Why?”

Brennan: “I think this is a — long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”

Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”

Leading off that press conference, President Obama had not done any better than Brennan in getting to what motivates terrorists. Before relinquishing the podium to Brennan, Obama had said:

“It is clear that al Qaeda increasingly seeks to recruit individuals without known terrorist affiliations … to do their bidding. … And that’s why we must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al Qaeda offers nothing except a bankrupt vision of misery and death … while the United States stands with those who seek justice and progress. … That’s the vision that is far more powerful than the hatred of these violent extremists.”

But why it is so hard for Muslims to “get” that message? Why can’t they end their preoccupation with dodging U.S. missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia long enough to reflect on how we are only trying to save them from terrorists while simultaneously demonstrating our commitment to “justice and progress?”

Slow Learner But Some Progress

In a major speech on April 30, 2012 on drones and killing, Brennan did share one profound insight: “Countries typically don’t want foreign soldiers in their cities and towns.” His answer to that? “The precision of targeted [drone] strikes.”

Did Brennan really mean to suggest that local populations are more accepting of unmanned drones buzzing overhead and firing missiles at the push of a button by a “pilot” halfway around the world?

Brennan is on a first-name basis with some of the leaders of Yemen. Have they not told him that the number of al-Qaeda members and sympathizers has more than tripled under the impact of three years of U.S. airstrikes initially disingenuously disguised as conducted by the Yemeni armed forces?

One can only hope that some senator on the Senate Intelligence Committee will show the mettle of Helen Thomas and ask real questions about the counterproductive results stemming from the tactics favored by Brennan in countering terrorism.

Brainwashing and Obama’s War Propaganda: Pentagon Gearing Up to Fight the ‘PR War’

pentagon (2)

How much money does it cost to get populations to think a certain way? Answer: it requires a blank cheque. But can Americans really afford it?g and

Chief among the pitfalls of managing any global empire – persuading the natives overseas that Rome will in fact bring prosperity and open new markets for them, and bring advanced Roman culture. In those days, it can be argued that indeed, Roman civilization had something to offer back then. But it’s unclear today what exactly the Anglo-American Empire has to offer the world at large, aside from taking control of regional markets and resources – and of course, exporting their number one product in the 21st century – war.

In previous years, the Pentagon was tasked with defending the nation from real and potential state actors overseas, but under the new Obama collective, the military arm will continue to focus on ‘managing reality’ – by any means necessary, including (in their own words):

“…persuasive and coercive means to assist and support joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational partners to protect and reassure populations and isolate and defeat enemies.”

The tradecraft here is otherwise known as ‘propaganda’, or federally-funded mass-brainwashing to be more precise.

Americans might bother asking in the run-up to the next Obama budget… “Does represent it value for money?”

In a country which is actually bankrupt on paper, Americans can only guess how much this futile operation will ultimately cost them, and ultimately add to the US government’s already bloated budget deficit. Cracks are already beginning to appear in the Federal machine  at home this week, with a draft memo being circulated by the White House:

“Based on guidance to federal agencies from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), says the administration may “have to consider placing employees on temporary furlough, or taking other personnel actions, should sequestration occur.”

‘Austerity at home’ we are told, but there seems to be plenty of money available for experimental military propaganda psychological operations overseas, and also at home too.

According to the masterminds at the Pentagon the PR managers at the Washington Post:

“As part of planning for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld decided to place reporters with military units. With “embedding,”many reporters who had never been in the military service shared time with troops and essentially became part of the outfit they covered. It mostly worked to the Pentagon’s benefit.

That lesson is key to the new manual’s approach. The best way to keep Americans informed, it says, is “through the actions and words of individual soldiers.” And the best way to do that is through army units that “embed media personnel into the lowest tactical levels, ensuring their safety and security.” There is to be “a culture of engagement in which soldiers and leaders confidently and comfortably engage the  media – as well as other audiences,” the manual says.

Embedded reporting was probably the single most negative developments in modern press history. The main target of this opaque effort was not populations overseas, however, it was the American people themselves. What’s more incredible though, is that there are still many who believe that the illegal war and occupation of Iraq was some sort of resounding success. Of course, all this while Bradley Manning sits rotting a military prison cell for allegedly leaking information which the world already knew.

Likewise, Nazi propaganda chief Goebbels probably thought he was doing really well with his state information arm – for a while at least, until it collapsed under the weight of its own self-regarding nature.

Herein lies the ultimate problem with constructing such an iron bubble, who we are told, manages to burn through trillions of US dollars, and cannot even properly account for it….

The U.S. Army has embraced what civilians would call public relations as a key part of military operations for the 21st-century battlefield.

“Combat power is the total means of destructive, constructive and information capabilities that a military unit or formation can apply at a given time,” according to a new Army field manual released publicly last month.

Added to the traditional war elements — among them movement and maneuver, intelligence and firing against an enemy — is the new “Inform

and Influence Activities” (IIA). As the manual states, IIA “is critical to understanding, visualizing, describing, directing, assessing, and leading operations toward attaining the desired end state.”

I’ve written before about the military moving into PR. But this manual shows just how serious the Army has become about it. There’s now a member of a commander’s staff with a G-7 pay level whose job is for “planning, integration and synchronization of designated information-related capabilities,” the manual says.

Listed on the Web site of the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea is its assistant chief of staff, G-7, who is “responsible for planning, coordinating and synchronizing Information Engagements activities of Public Affairs, Military Information Support Operations, Combat Camera and Defense Support to Public Diplomacy to amplify the strong Korean-American alliance during armistice, combat and stability operations.”

The G-7 for the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga., “assesses how effectively the information themes and messages are reflected in operations . . . assesses the effectiveness of the media . . . [and] assesses how the information themes and messages impact various audiences of interest and populations in and outside the AO [area of operations].”

Two years ago, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Cashen Jr., commander of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, wrote in Military Review magazine that Army doctrine would adopt words as a major war element, saying it “was validated in the crucible of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

With bureaucratic-speak, he described IIA activities as employing “cooperative, persuasive and coercive means to assist and support joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational partners to protect and reassure populations and isolate and defeat enemies.”

Translated: Under the “inform” element, commanders will be responsible for keeping not only their own troops aware of what is going on and why, but also U.S. audiences “to the fullest extent possible,” the manual states. Commanders abroad will be required to inform their foreign audiences, balancing disclosure with protecting operations.

The “influence” part is limited to foreign populations, where, according to the manual, the goal is to get them to “support U.S. objectives or to persuade those audiences to stop supporting the adversary or enemy”…

US Media Yet Again Conceals Newsworthy Government Secrets

The US media, over the last decade (at least), has repeatedly acted to conceal newsworthy information it obtains about the actions of the US government. In each instance, the self-proclaimed adversarial press corps conceals these facts at the behest of the US government, based on patently absurd claims that reporting them will harm US national security. In each instance, what this media concealment actually accomplishes is enabling the dissemination of significant government falsehoods without challenge, and permitting the continuation of government deceit and even illegality.The Washington Post this week admitted it was part of an "informal arrangement" to conceal from its readers a US drone base in Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Alamy

One of the most notorious examples was in mid-2004 when the New York Times discovered - thanks to a courageous DOJ whistleblower - that the Bush administration was eavesdropping on the electronic communications of Americans without the warrants required by the criminal law. But after George Bush summoned to the Oval Office the paper's publisher (Arthur Sulzberger) and executive editor (Bill Keller) and directed them to conceal what they had learned, the NYT complied by sitting on the story for a-year-and-a-half: until late December, 2005, long after Bush had been safely re-elected. The "national security" excuse for this concealment was patently ludicrous from the start: everyone knew the US government was trying to eavesdrop on al-Qaida communications and this story merely revealed that they were doing so illegally (without warrants) rather than legally (with warrants). By concealing the story for so long, the New York Times helped the Bush administration illegally spy on Americans.

The Washington Post's Dana Priest, in a superb act of journalism, reported in 2005 that the CIA was maintaining a network of secret "black sites" where detainees were interrogated and abused beyond the monitoring scrutiny of human rights groups and even Congress. But the Post purposely concealed the identity of the countries serving as the locale of those secret prisons in order to enable the plainly illegal program to continue without bothersome disruptions: "the Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior US officials."

In 2011, the New York Times along with numerous other US media outlets learned that the American arrested in Pakistan for having shot and killed two Pakistanis, Raymond Davis, was not - as President Obama falsely claimed - "our diplomat", but was a CIA agent and former Blackwater contractor. Not only did the NYT conceal this fact, but it repeatedly and uncritically printed claims from Obama and other officials about Davis' status which it knew to be false. It was only once the Guardian published the facts about Davis - that he was a CIA agent - did the Times tell the truth to its readers, admitting that the disclosure "pulled back the curtain on a web of covert American operations inside Pakistan, part of a secret war run by the CIA".

The NYT, as usual, justified its concealment of this obviously newsworthy information as coming "at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk". But as the Guardian's Deputy Editor Ian Katz noted, "Davis [was] already widely assumed in Pakistan to have links to US intelligence" and "disclosing his CIA role would [therefore not] expose him to increased risk".

And now, yet again, the US media has been caught working together to conceal obviously newsworthy government secrets. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that two years ago, the Obama administration established a base in Saudi Arabia from which it deploys drones to kill numerous people in Yemen. including US citizen Anwar Awlaki and, two weeks, later his 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman. The US base was built after the US launched a December, 2009 cruise missile/cluster-bomb attack that slaughtered dozens of Yemeni women and children.

But the Post admitted that it - along with multiple other US media outlets - had long known about the Saudi Arabia drone base but had acted in unison to conceal it from the US public:

"The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the specific location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network's most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.

"The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year."

The "other news organization" which the Post references is the New York Times. The NYT - in a very good article yesterday on the role played by CIA nominee John Brennan in US drones strikes in Yemen - reported that Brennan "work[ed] closely with neighboring Saudi Arabia to gain approval for a secret CIA drone base there that is used for American strikes". As the paper's Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, explained, the NYT was one of the papers which "had withheld the location of that base at the request of the CIA", but had decided now to report it. That was why the Post did so.

The existence of this drone base in Saudi Arabia is significantly newsworthy in multiple ways. The US drone program is drenched with extreme secrecy. The assassination of Awlaki is one of the most radical acts the US government has undertaken in the last decade at least. The intense cooperation between the US and the incomparably despotic Saudi regime is of vital significance. As Sullivan, the NYT's Public Editor, put it in defending the NYT's disclosure (and implicitly questioning the prior media conspiracy of silence):

"Given the government's undue secrecy about the drone program, which it has never officially acknowledged the existence of, and that program's great significance to America's foreign policy, its national security, and its influence on the tumultuous Middle East, The Times ought to be reporting as much and as aggressively as possible on it."

As usual, the excuses for concealing this information are frivolous. Indeed, as the Guardian's Roy Greenslade noted, "the location of several drone bases was published as long ago as September last year on at least one news website, as this item on the North America Inter Press Service illustrates." Gawker's Adrian Chen documents numerous other instances where the base had been publicly disclosed and writes:


"In the case of the Saudi drone base, the Times and the Post weren't protecting a state secret: They were helping the CIA bury an inconvenient story. . . . The fact that the drone base was already reported renders the rationale behind the months-long blackout a farce."

In an article on the controversy over this self-censorship, the Guardian this morning quotes Dr Jack Lule, a professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University:


"The decision not to publish is a shameful one. The national security standard has to be very high, perhaps imminent danger. The fact that we are even having a conversation about whether it was a national security issue should have sent alarm bells off to the editors. I think the real reason was that the administration did not want to embarrass the Saudis – and for the US news media to be complicit in that is craven."

The same dynamic drives most of these acts of US media self-censorship. It has nothing to do with legitimate claims of national security. Indeed, none of these facts - once they were finally reported - ultimately resulted in any harm. Instead, it has everything to do with obeying government dictates; shielding high-level government officials from embarrassing revelations; protecting even the most extreme government deceit and illegality; and keeping the domestic population of the US (their readers) ignorant of the vital acts in which their own government is engaged.

There are, of course, instances where newspapers can validly opt to conceal facts that they learn. That's when the harm that comes from disclosure plainly outweighs the public interest in learning of them (the classic case is when, in a war, a newspaper learns of imminent troop movements: there is no value in reporting that but ample harm from doing so). But none of these instances comes close to meeting that test. Instead, media outlets overwhelmingly abide by government dictates as to what they should conceal. As Greensdale wrote: "most often, they oblige governments by acceding to requests not to publish sensitive information that might jeopardise operations."

As all of these examples demonstrate, extreme levels of subservience to US government authority is embedded in the ethos of the establishment American media. They see themselves not as watchdogs over the state but as loyal agents of it.

Recall the extraordinary 2009 BBC debate over WikiLeaks in which former NYT executive editor Bill Keller proudly praised himself for concealing information the Obama administration told him to conceal, prompting this incredulous reply from the BBC host: "Just to be clear, Bill Keller, are you saying that you sort of go to the government in advance and say: 'What about this, that and the other, is it all right to do this and all right to do that,' and you get clearance, then?" Keller's admission also prompted this response from former British diplomat Carne Ross, who was also on the program: "It's extraordinary that the New York Times is clearing what it says about this with the US Government."

After the Guardian published the truth about Raymond Davis, former Bush DOJ laywer Jack Goldsmith, in 2011, defended the New York Times' concealment of it by hailing what he called "the patriotism of the American press". He quoted former Bush CIA and NSA chief Gen. Michael Hayden as saying that "American journalists display 'a willingness to work with us' . . . but with the foreign press 'it's very, very difficult'". Goldsmith said that while foreign media outlets will more readily report on secret US government acts (he named The Guardian, Al Jazeera and WikiLeaks), US national security journalists with whom he spoke justified their eagerness to cooperate with the US government by "expressly ascrib[ing] this attitude to 'patriotism' or 'jingoism' or to being American citizens or working for American publications."

That is the key truth. The entity that is designed to be, and endlessly praises itself for being, a check on US government power is, in fact, its most loyal servant. There are significant exceptions: Dana Priest did disclose the CIA black sites network over the agency's vehement objections, while the NYT is now suing the government to compel the release of classified documents relating to Obama's assassination program. But time and again, one finds the US media acting to help suppress the newsworthy secrets of the US government rather than report on them. Its collaborative "informal" agreement to hide the US drone base in Saudi Arabia is just the latest in a long line of such behavior.

© 2013 the Guardian

Glenn Greenwald

Brennan denies civilian toll by drones

White House 'Counterterrorism' Advisor John Brennan, nominated by President Barack Obama to lead the CIA spy agency

US president’s counterterrorism advisor and nominee to lead the CIA spy agency John Brennan tells a Senate panel that the civilian casualties inflicted by American assassination drone strikes have been “exceedingly rare,” despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

In written responses to 40 pre-hearing questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Brennan will face on Thursday for his confirmation hearing to become the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), he has described the civilian toll left behind by the terror drone operations, which he reportedly directs, as “exceedingly rare,” reiterating his denial of widely reported high human losses caused by the US bid, The Los Angeles Times reports Thursday.

The report further cites former US officials as saying that “for a time,” the nation’s intelligence community “considered every military-age male killed in a CIA (assassination) drone strike to have been a militant.”


Brennan, according to the report, refused to elaborate on how American authorities figured out that a militant is “associated” with the shadowy al-Qaeda terrorist group and whether the threat he posses is so “imminent” to warrant his assassination by a drone strike.

The widely regarded “architect” of the Obama administration’s targeted-killing policy further claimed, without elaboration, that designating a person as a “militant” was determined by “intelligence professionals” on a “case-by-case basis.”

Meanwhile, US lawmakers are expected to press for more detailed responses from Brennan during his confirmation hearing, though they might be hindered by the fact that the CIA use of assassination drones for its targeted killing operations is considered “top secret,” even though it is widely discussed and debated.

As keeper of the so-called kill list of targets, the daily adds, “Brennan has coordinated both the Pentagon and CIA efforts from the White House, running high-level meetings about potential lethal strikes.”

In his written answers to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Brennan has explained that he had been interviewed “in connection with an investigation by the US attorney's office in Maryland of possible unauthorized disclosures of information to reporters about cyber attacks against Iran, an apparent reference to stories that described US cyber espionage against Iran's nuclear enrichment program,” the daily further reports.


The report also adds that Obama has bowed to Congressional pressure on Wednesday and agreed to allow the Senate and the House intelligence committees to review classified legal memos, justifying an assassination drone strike against an American citizen in Yemen in 2011.

MFB/MFB

K Street’s Deceptive Dive

K Street’s Deceptive Dive

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Posted on Feb 5, 2013
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According to figures reported under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, money spent to influence politicians decreased in 2011 and 2012. So did the total number of registered lobbyists. Does that mean the business is on the decline?

Not at all. An article in Roll Call, a news source for Capitol Hill, says an increasing amount of the work done to influence government is taking place in the shadows, out of the view of public disclosures. “And with a president who has further stigmatized registered lobbyists, K Streeters and some of their clients have made a practice of keeping their work just under the limits of the lobby laws,” Roll Call finds.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Roll Call:

In some cases, lobbyists have remained on the job, even with the same firms, but have deregistered, keeping their clients and their work secret. One prominent example is Steve Ricchetti, who stayed with his Ricchetti Inc., although no longer as a registered lobbyist, before joining the Obama administration last year. Lobbyists, of course, can’t work for the executive branch — President Barack Obama banned them — unless granted a waiver.

… More than the economy, more than the partisan gridlock on the Hill, Thurber asserted, it’s the lack of enforcement of lobbying laws and the resulting move to keep more lobbying work out of public view that is depressing the LDA tallies. K Street players don’t trigger the lobby law until they make more than one contact with government officials and spend at least 20 percent of their time on lobbying activities for compensation.

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