Archive | July 4th, 2014

Advocates to Sec. Kerry: Don’t Jeopardize Successful Food Security Program in El Salvador

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Leading international development, environmental, trade and food sovereignty organizations join House Democrats in defending family farmers in El Salvador, highlight abiding concerns with U.S. trade policy

Fifty organizations sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry calling on the U.S. government to maintain respect for the government of El Salvador’s procurement of seeds for a successful food security program.

In April, the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador indicated that it would withhold the final approval of a $277 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact until the Salvadoran government addressed legislation that enabled the government to source seeds from small-scale producers, including local co-operatives. Though the U.S. Embassy recently announced its “satisfaction with the government’s expressed commitment to carry out future purchases of corn and bean seeds in a transparent competitive manner that respects both Salvadoran law and DR-CAFTA,” advocates remain concerned by the U.S.’ attempt to influence El Salvador’s domestic policy.

According to Stephanie Burgos, Senior Policy Advisor at Oxfam America, “El Salvador’s seed program is an important component of its national food security plan, enabling the government to procure better quality seeds for a lower price, which has improved farmers’ livelihoods. It is unacceptable that the U.S. government would undermine this initiative by using the MCC as a trade enforcement mechanism for CAFTA, whose provisions can undermine national development.”

The U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance raised a similar critique, stating, “Food sovereignty and farmers’ control over their seeds are fundamental to community and national sovereignty. ​Development aid should be used to support, rather than undermine, real sustainable development based on local control. Agriculture should be controlled by the people and removed from CAFTA, the WTO and all trade agreements.”

The letter echoes concerns from Salvadoran family farmer organizations that the U.S. government was leveraging the MCC compact in order promote transnational corporate interests.

“I suspect this is development policy by Monsanto. The U.S. shouldn’t put corporate profits over proven programs to alleviate hunger. We’ve already seen the influence the biotech industry wields when it comes to U.S. seed policy. Secretary Kerry must ensure that El Salvador is able to continue its successful program,” said Darcey O’Callaghan, international policy director at Food & Water Watch.

Earlier this week, Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Mike Honda (D-CA) were joined by 14 other House Democrats in sending a letter to Secretary Kerry, stating that “elimination of support for small-scale farmers to improve their livelihoods through domestic seed production has no place as a condition for signing the MCC compact with El Salvador.”

The debate has emerged at a moment when Congressional leaders, including Senator Menéndez (D-NJ) and Representative Engel (D-NY), have called on the Obama Administration to address economic development as one of the root causes of the refugee crisis in Central America.

“By supporting the development of local productive capacity, the Salvadoran government is attempting to create conditions that will allow families to stay together and live with dignity. It would be a shame for the Obama Administration to jeopardize one of El Salvador’s best tools for reducing rural poverty in order to satisfy corporate interests,” said Alexis Stoumbelis, Executive Director at the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador.

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In Iraq and Syria: U.S. Backing “Both Sides of Same Conflict”

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Interviews Available

RAED JARRAR, jarrar.raed@gmail.com@raedjarrar

Available for a very limited number of interviews, Jarrar is an Iraqi-born Arab-American architect, blogger and political advocate (bio below). He said today: “Last week, the Obama administration requested hundreds of millions of dollars to support Syrian armed opposition groups, and other hundreds of millions to support the Iraqi government.

“Mainstream news coverage has overlooked the contradiction that U.S. aid is destined for opposing sides of the same conflict. In Syria, the Obama administration is arming opposition groups who support its anti-regime position — and in Iraq, the administration is taking a pro-regime position, funding and training the Iraqi government and its forces.

“Syrian, and now Iranian, jet fighters have been bombing targets in Iraq that have most likely been identified by U.S. intelligence.

“Sending more U.S. weapons and military personnel to Iraq is only complicating an already messy conflict.”

See a recent interview with Jarrar on “Moyers & Company”: “An Iraqi Perspective: How America’s Destruction of Iraqi Society Led to Today’s Chaos,” which provides a brief bio of Jarrar: “He was born and raised in Baghdad. He lived there on and off under Saddam Hussein’s rule, and he experienced America’s ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign from the receiving end.

“After the invasion, Jarrar founded an NGO that did reconstruction work in Iraq. He worked as the country director for the first door-to-door survey of Iraqi civilian casualties conducted after the invasion.

“When the situation in Baghdad became unbearable, Jarrar emigrated to the U.S. and became a writer and peace activist. He translated the controversial Iraq oil law proposed by the Bush administration in 2007, and has consulted with several international humanitarian groups.”

Also see Jarrar’s interview on “Democracy Now!” “As Obama Considers Drone Strikes in Iraq, Could U.S. Military Action Worsen Sectarian Conflict?

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Can Tony Blair Mess Up Egypt Even Worse? (Hint: Yes)

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Former British Prime Minister Zionist Tony Blair. (Photo: flickr / cc / CAP)Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has agreed to advise the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Blair maintains that he will not be paid to do so, but critics suggest that he will have an opportunity to engage in influence-peddling with British firms investing in Egypt. Blair is rumored to make $30 million a year from consulting and business deals.

That a former prime minister of a major European democracy should publicly associate himself with the regime of al-Sisi is shameful. Al-Sisi has ordered a brutal crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins that left over a thousand dead and went on to have some 20,000 Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters arrested. Dozens of major Muslim Brotherhood figures have been arbitrarily condemned to death, often without much in the way of formal court proceedings (presentation of evidence, ability to face one’s accuser, etc.). The government has also turned on the progressive youth movements that demanded a recall election last year this time, jailing dozens of prominent youth leaders for daring to engage in unauthorized protests. But unauthorized protests were precisely what allowed al-Sisi to come to power.

One of the attractions for Blair in working with the United Arab Emirates and al-Sisi is apparently that the latter two have turned against the Muslim Brotherhood. Blair is a profound Islamophobe and hates the Muslim religious Right, even though he has been perfectly happy to shill for the Christian religious Right. Al-Sisi has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist organization” despite the group’s decades of peaceful organizing and avoidance of violence. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also lobbied the UK government to investigate the Brotherhood in Britain as a terrorist group.

Since Blair was so good at railroading Iraq on false charges of having weapons of mass destruction, he no doubt has been hired in part to do a similar number on the Brotherhood. (The Muslim Brotherhood and I don’t share values, but they are not terrorists and there are no grounds to exclude them from a legitimate role in a democratic society. If the Morsi group committed crimes while in office, they should be tried, but you can’t inflict collective punishment on the whole organization).

The Muslim Brotherhood has many flaws, from a Liberal point of view, but it actually provided far more freedom of conscience and pluralism when in power in Egypt in 2012-2013 than does the government of Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah doesn’t dislike the religious Right. He *is* the religious Right.

So Blair has a big problem with the Brotherhood but none whatsoever with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is far more dictatorial and controlling on religious grounds than was President Muhammad Morsi. It all depends on how pliant you are toward the business and financial centers in the City, apparently.

Blair is highly selective in his outrage. In 2007 he notoriously took BP executives along on a trip to see Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. Blair praised the mercurial Brother Leader, saying that “There is nothing I’ve ever agreed with him that should be done that hasn’t been done.” Gaddafi was behind the blowing up of a civilian aircraft over Britain and had helped train the more violent elements of the Irish Republican Army, but all that was suddenly forgiven because Gaddafi would help fight “terrorism” (which is to say, Libyans who were insufficiently obedient) and would offer BP bids worth, ultimately, some $18 billion.

Egypt has electricity shortages and desperately needs to move quickly to solar and wind energy and away from hydrocarbons. But al-Sisi is now being advised by someone close to BP. Is Blair capable under these circumstances of advising al-Sisi impartially that Egypt should move rapidly to green energy?

Egypt’s tourism industry has been deeply damaged by the bombings and insecurity caused by al-Sisi’s marginalization of some 20% of the electorate. Al-Sisi should lighten up. If Brotherhood members were allowed back into the political process, that would make them less likely to be radicalized. Otherwise, getting the tourism industry going again will be an uphill battle. There were bombings this week at the presidential palace in commemoration of the anniversary of the 2013 “revocouption” (or popular protests plus military coup) against Morsi by al-Sisi.

Blair himself is said to have sold out to billionaire press lord Rupert Murdoch. That model, of saying you are for workers while you actually serve the 1%, was actually developed by the british governeent.

With his Neoliberal biases (urging privatization of public companies and goods) and his hatred of political Islam, Blair will reinforce the worst instincts of the current government. As he showed in his dalliance with Gaddafi, he is less interested in human rights than in profits for British firms. And that is likely the same trade-off he will make in Cairo.

Meanwhile, Ahmad Maher of April 6 and Manienoor El Masry of the Revolutionary Socialists languish in Gen. Sisi’s jails. Does Blair care about these youth leaders of the 2011 revolution, or are they now just inconvenient.

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US Confirms Years-Long “Secret” Military Presence in Somalia

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Troops have been on the ground since 2007

– Nadia Prupis

(Photo: Expert Infantry/Flickr/Creative Commons)

U.S. “unnamed officials” confirmed to Reuters on Thursday that over a hundred military troops have been operating covertly in Somalia since 2007.

The mission, according to the government’s narrative, is to help Somalia fend off attacks from the al-Qaeda linked terrorist group al Shabab, which has been fighting the country’s UN-backed government for years.

The confirmation, however, was received skeptically by some who have monitored U.S. military operations in Somalia in recent years. As independent journalist Marcy Wheeler tweeted in response to the reporting:

The CIA has been known to operate on the ground in the country for years and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that drone strikes and other covert operations by the U.S. have killed dozens of Somali citizens, although it says the numbers may be higher than reported.

Not long after September 11, the military also set up camp in a base in Djibouti, and has used its proximity to the Horn of Africa to conduct drone missions in Somali and neighboring countries. The drone strikes are part of the U.S. global war on terror that critics have calledendless and borderless.

It is unclear how strong of an effect the years-long mission has had. In addition to recent high-profile attacks in Kenya, al Shabab also claimed responsibility for an assault on two Somali members of parliament Thursday morning. Armed gunmen opened fire on a vehicle, killing veteran MP Mohamed Mohamud and injuring MP Abdullah Ahmed. The group also killed and injured four MPs in April.

Earlier this year, the U.S. announced that it had sent a small group of trainers and advisers to Somalia in October 2013 to help coordinate the country’s fight against al Shabab. The January announcement was seen as the first time the U.S. had sent personnel to Somalia since 1993, when two military helicopters were shot down and 18 American troops were killed in the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident.

But now it appears that the U.S. has been secretly operating in Somalia for years, with 120 troops having entered the country “around 2007,” according to the defense official who spoke to Reuters.

Plans for the mission include a stronger military engagement and new funds and training for the Somali National Army. The U.S. has long helped fund the SNA and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a regional peacekeeping group launched in part to fight al Shabab.

The State Department’s Wendy Sherman mentioned in June that a “small contingent of U.S. military personnel” had been in Somalia for several years, but did not provide details on the nature of their involvement.

The U.S. troops are joined also by military forces from the European Union, who entered Somalia late last year.

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Corporations Making a Killing As Billions Are Poured Into Border Enforcement ”VIDEO”

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Todd Miller discusses how defense contractors look to cash in on President Obama’s expected $2 billion proposal in additional funding for border security

Todd Miller is author of Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security. He has researched and written about U.S.-Mexican border issues for more than 15 years. He has worked on both sides of the border for BorderLinks in Tucson, Arizona, and Witness for Peace in Oaxaca, Mexico. Between Tucson and the Buffalo/Niagara Falls region of New York State where he grew up, he has spent the majority of his life close to the U.S. international boundary, south and north. his work has appeared in the New York Times, Tom Dispatch, Mother Jones, The Nation, CounterPunch, Upside Down World, The Providence Journal, Guernica, Al Jazeera English, NACLA Report on the Americas, and Common Dreams, among other places. he writes on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas and its blog “Border Wars”.

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Bombings Continue as I$raHell Troops Mass on Gaza Border

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Leaders speak of calming tensions, but violence continues as tensions burn

– Jon Queally

A Palestinian argues with Israeli border police in Jerusalem on Wednesday, July 2, 2014. (Photo: AP)As tensions rise and violence continues between Israeli military forces and Palestinians, a buildup on the border of the Gaza Strip on Thursday is creating worry that a large scale bombardment or military operation of the sealed-off enclave may soon occur.

Israel has launched dozens of airstrikes into Gaza this week as street-level skirmishes in the occupied West Bank have followed the murder of both Israeli and Palestinian teenagers and other civilians in recent weeks.

Outlets report a surge in IDF forces moving to the border region on Thursday amid continuing airstrikes.

Ma’an news agency reports on those wounded inside Gaza following the latest round of bombing:

Eleven Palestinians were injured overnight Wednesday as Israel attacked 15 targets in the Gaza Strip, medics said.

Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said 11 Palestinians were hospitalized following multiple airstrikes, including a 17-year-old boy who sustained shrapnel wounds near Gaza City.

Another airstrike targeted a Hamas training base west of Gaza City, with an elderly woman and teenage girl sustaining injuries in the northern Gaza Strip.

According to the New York Times:

The escalating tit-for-tat clashes in the south come against the backdrop of heightened tensions in Jerusalem, where the burned body of a 16-year-old Palestinian, Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, was found in a Jerusalem forest on Wednesday. Muhammad had been forced into a vehicle near his East Jerusalem home about an hour before his body was discovered, and the police are investigating whether he was killed in retaliation for the death of three Israeli teenagers who were buried on Tuesday after being kidnapped in the occupied West Bank last month.

Khaled Meshal, the political leader of Hamas, said in an interview published Wednesday that the organization was also not interested in an escalation. But a Gaza-based Hamas leader said on Thursday that the group was having trouble convincing other militants to hold their fire.

“In general, there was an agreement to calm the situation,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of internal politics. “We are communicating with the factions to stop them from firing rockets, but the justification is always, ‘Look at what the Israelis are doing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.’”

The Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has placed the blame for the recent violence squarely on Hamas and ordered aggressive military action in both the occupied territories and Gaza. As Vox.com reported on Wednesday:

Netanyahu’s government is launching attacks against Hamas, which Netanyahu insists is collectively responsible for a kidnapping that appears to have been conducted by rogue members. This makes it far more likely that full-on conflict will resume between Israel and Hamas, a dynamic that Netanyahu seems to prefer, because it favors Israel’s overwhelming military strength and marginalizes Hamas politically. The last round of Israel-Hamas violence, in November 2012, killed dozens of civilians, almost all of them Palestinian.

Amnesty International on Wednesday condemned what is widely seen as the Israeli government’s policy of ‘collective punishment’ during these recent developments. The human rights group said in a statement: “Justice will not be served by Israel seeking revenge by imposing collective punishment, or committing other violations of Palestinians’ rights.”

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Revealed: ‘Collect It All’ NSA Targets Those Seeking Web Privacy

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‘Merely visiting privacy-related websites is enough for a user’s IP address to be logged into an NSA database,’ says new report.

– Jon Queally

(Image: via Boing Boing)Internet users who use online privacy tools or read certain websites may themselves become targets of NSA surveillance, according to a new investigation by public broadcasting outlets in Germany published on Thursday.

Citing documents that refer to “deep packet inspection” rules used by the NSA for its so-called “XKeyscore” program to determine what targets are selected for surveillance and how, the investigation (versions: German | English) reveals that people who seek out or use online privacy tools—including things like TOR, a network tool that provides digital anonymity and minimizes exposure to possible surveillance—may be targeted simply for making those efforts.

Other platforms targeted by the program include the LINUX open source operating system as well as privacy and encryption services such as HotSpotShield, FreeNet, Centurian, FreeProxies.org, MegaProxy, privacy.li and an anonymous email service called MixMinion. According to the reporting, the NSA characterized those who would use such services as “extremists,” which sparked spirited outrage on social media as the story broke.

As part of its investigation, the researchers examined a piece of computer code found on a server maintained by Sebastian Hahn, a German  student of computer science who manages a node on the TOR network. The discovery showed not only that Hahn was a target of NSA surveillance, but also the previously unknown lengths the agency has gone in targeting users of such tools.

Examination of the XKeyscore rules contained in the code (now published for the first time)goes beyond previous reporting by the Guardian newspaper about the program and, according to the English version of the new reporting, “provides a window into the actual instructions given to NSA computers” conducting the surveillance.

“The top secret source code published here,” the report continues, “indicates that the NSA is making a concerted effort to combat any and all anonymous spaces that remain on the internet. Merely visiting privacy-related websites is enough for a user’s IP address to be logged into an NSA database.”

When asked for his reaction to the findings, Roger Dingledine, an MIT alumnus who spearheads the TOR project, told the investigative team:

“We’ve been thinking of state surveillance for years because of our work in places where journalists are threatened. Tor’s anonymity is based on distributed trust, so observing traffic at one place in the Tor network, even a directory authority, isn’t enough to break it. Tor has gone mainstream in the past few years, and its wide diversity of users – from civic-minded individuals and ordinary consumers to activists, law enforcement, and companies – is part of its security. Just learning that somebody visited the Tor or Tails website doesn’t tell you whether that person is a journalist source, someone concerned that her Internet Service Provider will learn about her health conditions, or just someone irked that cat videos are blocked in her location. Trying to make a list of Tor’s millions of daily users certainly counts as wide scale collection. Their attack on the bridge address distribution service shows their “collect all the things” mentality – it’s worth emphasizing that we designed bridges for users in countries like China and Iran, and here we are finding out about attacks by our own country. Does reading the contents of those mails violate the wiretap act? Now I understand how the Google engineers felt when they learned about the attacks on their infrastructure.”

On Thursday, as news of the story spread around the world, Hahn himself answered questions about the new developments surrounding XKeyscore and his role in the investigation.

Asked how it felt to be in the company of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a target of NSA surveillance, Hahn responded: “It is a different level of surveillance, thus I dislike this comparison. Every German citizen is subject of surveillance on a daily basis, without anyone mentioning it. My personal case might be good for headlines; the whole dimension and the missing protection measures, especially for less technical experienced people is the real scandal. I am shocked how easily innocent people can get into the focus of surveillance. Intelligence agency [sic] take that for granted.”

As the German public broadcaster Das Erste summarizes, the investigation into the code and the NSA targeting it represents revealed: “Merely searching the web for the privacy-enhancing software tools outlined in the XKeyscore rules causes the NSA to mark and track the IP address of the person doing the search. Not only are German privacy software users tracked, but the source code shows that privacy software users worldwide are tracked by the NSA.”

Cory Doctorow, writing for Boing Boing in a piece aptly titled, ‘If you read Boing Boing, the NSA considers you a target for deep surveillance,’ says the reporting contains several key revelations. He writes:

I have known that this story was coming for some time now, having learned about its broad contours under embargo from a trusted source. Since then, I’ve discussed it in confidence with some of the technical experts who have worked on the full set of Snowden docs, and they were as shocked as I was.

One expert suggested that the NSA’s intention here was to separate the sheep from the goats — to split the entire population of the Internet into “people who have the technical know-how to be private” and “people who don’t” and then capture all the communications from the first group.

In addition, and not for the first time, the source of leak has the potential to be an explosive development all its own. According to Doctorow:

Another expert said that s/he believed that this leak may come from a second source, not Edward Snowden, as s/he had not seen this in the original Snowden docs; and had seen other revelations that also appeared independent of the Snowden materials. If that’s true, it’s big news, as Snowden was the first person to ever leak docs from the NSA. The existence of a potential second source means that Snowden may have inspired some of his former colleagues to take a long, hard look at the agency’s cavalier attitude to the law and decency.

And technology expert and privacy advocate Bruce Shreier agreed, writing: “I do not believe that this came from the Snowden documents […] I think there’s a second leaker out there.”

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Lawsuits Launched to Protect Free Speech on College Campuses

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Nonprofit’s new project brings civil liberties lawsuits against four public universities.

– Deirdre Fulton

A free speech sign at George Mason University. (photo: flickr / cc / DCjohn)A Philadelphia-based nonprofit devoted to defending free speech and civil liberties on college campuses filed four lawsuits on Tuesday and announced the launch of its Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, “a national effort to eliminate unconstitutional speech codes through targeted First Amendment lawsuits.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), founded in 1999 by University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors and Boston civil liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate,brought lawsuits against Citrus College in California, Iowa State University, Chicago State University, and Ohio University. The suits allege that administrations violated student and faculty rights through unconstitutional speech codes that infringe on free expression.

“These violations are ironic because college campuses have been uniquely recognized as the quintessential ‘marketplace of ideas’ upon which the concept of the First Amendment is based,” said Robert Corn-Revere, the attorney hired to represent the students and faculty in these cases.

While FIRE and other organizations have successfully challenged several speech codes in court over the years, restrictive rules on campus speech have still “flourished,” Corn-Reveretold the Chronicle of Higher Education.

At Citrus College, FIRE is challenging three unconstitutional policies, including the establishment of a tiny free speech zone and a requirement that all student groups request permission two weeks in advance of an expressive activity; the “cumbersome bureaucratic approval process” is tantamount to “unconstitutional prior restraint,” the lawsuit reads.

At Iowa State, censorship of a T-shirt is the central issue — specifically, the rejection of T-shirt designs proposed by the NORML ISU chapter. Citing a policy that prohibits student groups from associating the ISU name with promotion of “dangerous, illegal or unhealthy products, actions or behaviors” and “drugs and drug paraphernalia,” the administration refused to allow even a T-shirt that read: NORML ISU Supports Legalizing Marijuana. “In doing so, the Defendants confused political advocacy with illegal conduct and, in the process, suppressed speech protected by the First Amendment,” according to the lawsuit.

The Chicago State lawsuit alleges that “CSU hastily adopted a far-reaching cyberbullying policy to silence its critics,” including professors Phillip Beverly and Robert Bionaz, who write a blog that exposes what they and other faculty members perceive as administrative corruption. The administration claims their Faculty Voice blog violates the cyberbullying policy, which prohibits “intentional and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and electronic devices”

And a T-shirt was also the catalyst for the Ohio University suit, which challenges what FIRE describes as “OU’s vague and overly broad speech codes.”

“By imposing a real cost for violating First Amendment rights, the Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project intends to reset the incentives that currently push colleges towards censoring student and faculty speech,” a press release reads. “Lawsuits will be filed against public colleges maintaining unconstitutional speech codes in each federal circuit. After each victory by ruling or settlement, FIRE will target another school in the same circuit—sending a message that unless public colleges obey the law, they will be sued.”

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Flawed Oversight Board Report Endorses NSA’s General Warrants

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(Image: flickr / cc / AK Rockefeller)The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) issued a legally flawed and factually incomplete report late Tuesday that endorses Section 702 surveillance.  Hiding behind the “complexity” of the technology, it gives short shrift to the very serious privacy concerns that the surveillance has rightly raised for millions of Americans. The board also deferred considering whether the surveillance infringed the privacy of many millions more foreigners abroad.

The board skips over the essential privacy problem with the 702 “upstream” program: that the government has access to or is acquiring nearly all communications that travel over the Internet. The board focuses only on the government’s methods for searching and filtering out unwanted information. This ignores the fact that the government is collecting and searching through the content of millions of emails, social networking posts, and other Internet communications, steps that occur before the PCLOB analysis starts.  This content collection is the centerpiece of EFF’s Jewel v. NSA case, a lawsuit battling government spying filed back in 2008.

The board’s constitutional analysis is also flawed.  The Fourth Amendment requires a warrant for searching the content of communication. Under Section 702, the government searches through content without a warrant. Nevertheless, PLCOB’s analysis incorrectly assumes that no warrant is required. The report simply says that it “takes no position” on an exception to the warrant requirement when the government seeks foreign intelligence. The Supreme Court has never found this exception.

PCLOB findings rely heavily on the existence of government procedures. But, as Chief Justice Roberts recently noted: “the Founders did not fight a revolution to gain the right to government agency protocols.” Justice Roberts’ thoughts are on point when it comes to NSA spying—mass collection is a general warrant that cannot be cured by government’s procedures.

The PCLOB’s proposed reforms for Section 702 are an anemic set of recommendations that will do little to stop excessive surveillance.  For example, rather than rein in government communications searches, the PCLOB simply asks the NSA to study the issue.

The PCLOB report provides the public with much needed information about how the 702 program works. But the legal analysis is incorrect and the report fails to offer effective reforms. The government’s collection and search of Americans’ communications without a warrant or individually approved court order is barred by the Constitution and must be stopped. We look forward to continuing such arguments in Jewel v. NSA, our ongoing case against the NSA’s mass spying programs.

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Does Capitalism Inevitably Produce Inequalities?

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Protesters involved with Occupy San Francisco in October of 2011. (Photo: flickr / cc / Glenn Halog)In a recent New York Times op-ed article, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz theorized that capitalism does not inevitably produce inequalities in wealth. Instead, he argued, today’s inequalities result from policy decisions made by politicians on all sorts of matters that affect people’s income: the tax structure that favors the rich, the bailout of the banks during the Great Recession, subsidies for rich farmers, cutting of food stamps, etc. In fact, he concluded, today there are no “truly fundamental laws of capitalism.” Thanks to democracy, people can steer the economy in a variety of directions and no single outcome is inevitable.
In their 2010 book, “Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer – and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class,” Yale Professor Jacob Hacker and U.C. Berkeley Professor Paul Pierson would seem to add additional support to Stiglitz’s conclusion. As reported by Bob Herbert in The New York Times, they argued that “the economic struggles of the middle and working classes in the U.S. since the late-1970s were not primarily the result of globalization and technological changes but rather a long series of policy changes in government that overwhelmingly favored the rich.”
Although there is certainly significant substance to Stiglitz’s argument – policy decisions can have profound impacts on economic outcomes – nevertheless capitalism is far more responsible for economic inequality because of its inherent nature and its extended reach in the area of policy decisions than Stiglitz is willing to concede.
To begin with, in capitalist society it is much easier to make money if you already have money, and much more difficult if you are poor. So, for example, a rich person can buy up a number of foreclosed houses and rent them out to desperate tenants at ridiculously high rates. Then, each time rent is paid, the landlord becomes richer and the tenant becomes poorer, and inequalities in wealth grow.
More importantly, at the very heart of capitalism lies an incentive that leads to the increase of inequalities. Capitalism is based on the principle of competition, and businesses must compete with one another in order to survive. Each company, therefore, strives to maximize its profits in order to achieve a competitive advantage. For example, they can use extra profits to offset lowering the price of their product, undersell their opponents, and push them out of the market.
But in order to maximize profits, businesses must keep productive costs to a minimum. And a major portion of productive costs includes labor. Consequently, as a general rule, in order for a business to survive, it must push labor costs to a minimum. And that is why, of course, so many businesses migrate from the U.S. and relocate in countries like China, Viet Nam, Mexico, and Bangladesh where wages are a mere pittance.
This inherent tendency to maximize profits while minimizing the cost of labor directly results in growing inequalities. Stiglitz himself mentions that C.E.O’s today “enjoy incomes that are on average 295 times that of the typical worker, a much higher ratio than in the past.” In fact, in 1970, the ratio was roughly 40 times. C.E.O.s who succeed in suppressing wages are routinely rewarded for their efforts. Hence, not only is there an incentive to keep wages low for the survival of the business, there is a personal incentive in play as well.
While Stiglitz is correct in arguing that politicians can influence economic outcomes by policy decisions, what he fails to acknowledge is that these policy decisions themselves are heavily influenced by the economic relations established by capitalism. There is no firewall between the economy and politics. Those who have acquired money from the economic sector can then put this money to work in the political sector by lobbying and showering politicians with campaign contributions. Although politicians religiously deny that these contributions have any influence on their decisions, it is inconceivable that businesses – always obsessed with their “bottom line” – would continue these contributions without a “return on their investment.”
Study after study has confirmed the influence of money on political decisions. The San Francisco Chronicle reported, for example: “In a state with nearly 38 million people, few have more influence than the top 100 donors to California campaigns – a powerful club that has contributed overwhelmingly to Democrats and spent $1.25 billion to influence voters over the past dozen years. These big spenders represent a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of individuals and groups that donated to California campaigns from 2001 through 2011. But they supplied about one-third of the $3.67 billion given to state campaigns during that time, campaign records show. With a few exceptions, these campaign elites have gotten their money’s worth, according to California Watch’s analysis of campaign data from state finance records and the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics, which tracks the influence of campaign money on state elections.”
Even beyond campaign contributions, political decisions are not crafted in a vacuum, remote from capitalism. Capitalism is a way of life, and for that reason it generates its own peculiar culture and world view that envelopes every other social sphere, a culture that includes competition, individualism, materialism in the form of consumerism, operating in one’s self-interest without consideration for the needs of others, and so on. This culture infects everyone to one degree or another; it is like an ether that all those in its proximity inhale. It encourages people to evaluate one another according to their degree of wealth and power. It rewards those who doggedly pursue their narrow self-interests at the expense of others.
The culture of capitalism, because of its hyper individualism, also produces an extraordinarily narrow vision of the world. Viewing the world from an isolated standpoint, individuals tend to assume that they are self-made persons, not the products of their surrounding culture and social relations. So the rich assume that their wealth has been acquired through their personal talents alone, while they see those mired in poverty as lacking the ambition and willingness to work hard. People are unable to see the complexities underlying human behavior because of the atomization of social life. But the disciplines of psychology, sociology, and anthropology all concur that individuals are overwhelmingly a product of their social environment to their very core.
In 1947, for example, the American Anthropological Association argued in its Statement on Human Rights: “If we begin, as we must, with the individual, we find that from the moment of his birth not only his behavior, but his very thought, his hopes, aspirations, the moral values which direct his action and justify and give meaning to his life in his own eyes and those of his fellow, are shaped by the body of custom of the group of which he becomes a member.”
It is in this more subtle way that capitalism induces growing income inequalities. Because of their intensely competitive environment, politicians are more vulnerable to this capitalist culture than most. Capitalist culture engenders a mindset among politicians that leads them to craft public policies in favor of the good people, the rich and powerful, and turn their backs on the poor or punish them with mass incarceration.  They think it entirely natural to accept money from the wealthy in order to fund their re-election campaigns. And the more the inequalities in wealth grow, the more this mindset blinds politicians to the destructive implications of these “natural” decisions.
In 2011, Stiglitz wrote a compelling article, “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%,” in which he argued forcefully that large inequalities in wealth are in no one’s interest. But since then the politicians have continued to accept campaign contributions from the rich, socialize with them, and do their bidding. They ritually denounce the shamelessly low taxes on the 1%, but have done nothing to alter them. The culture of capitalism trumps logical arguments, and thus the inequalities in wealth continue to expand. Capitalism has an iron grip on the political process.
Stiglitz concluded his article with this prophetic statement: “The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.”
While Stiglitz’s arguments have had no impact on growing inequalities, thanks to the power of capitalism, nevertheless capitalism gets credit for producing the one force that can put a stop to these destructive trends: the working class. As Karl Marx argued, capitalism produces its own “gravediggers.” In the 1930s workers massively organized unions and fought militant battles to defend their right to unionize and their right to fair compensation. These unions, which Stiglitz fails to mention, played a decisive role in reining in inequalities and unleashing a period in which the ranks of “the middle class” grew.
As Marx noted in his “Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” “The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.”
Stiglitz’s criticisms of growing inequality will have little impact on policy decisions until they are embraced by the masses, the working class, those that capitalism cruelly exploits and who are so easily dismissed by politicians and academics. At that point the working class will finally stand up and collectively declare enough is enough.

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