Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The hubris of empire and the courage of whistle-blowers

In The Six Pathways of Destiny, I write about critics, spies and whistle-blowers exemplifying a blending of the path of the warrior-reformer and the path of the signaling-communicator. “In social organizations and communities it is the role of the critic and reformer to identify weaknesses of corruption and degeneration and thereby seek to bring about reforms to correct them.” Laws to protect whistle-blowers of corruption and theft in business corporations have been passed in recent times – but the potential for them to lose their livelihood or their liberty is still high in most countries. The stakes – and the risks – are astronomically higher in cases where the whistle-blower exposes corruption and malfeasance in the government of the military-industrial complex itself. In the 1960s, the country and the world were riveted by Daniel Ellsberg’s exposure of the Pentagon Papers for which he faced and survived the risk of spending the rest of his life in prison.

Currently, the revelations of Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have been casting a startling and bracing bright light on the globally pervasive nakedness of information imperialism. All three of these reformer-warriors were highly trained and skilled initiates in the secret world of digital information management – and all three came to the point of being appalled at the endemic violations of human rights and privacy that they witnessed.

Julian Assange has managed to find personal refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been living for a year, while the network of digital allies he developed continues with its periodic exposures. Bradley Manning was arrested, held under torturous conditions in a military prison for over a year and is now facing a possible life-sentence for his revelations. He has not yet been sentenced. A campaign to award him the Nobel Peace Prize has generated several hundred thousand signatures, while mainstream American politicians and commentators denounce him as a “traitor.” 

Edward Snowden, after entrusting his story and encrypted information download to two courageous independent journalists – Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras – ended up in the Moscow airport, stripped of his US passport, was unable to fly to any of the three Central American countries that offered him refuge because of fear of being arrested in mid-flight  – a fear that turned out to be justified when a plane flying from Mosow carrying the Bolivian head of state was intercepted by anonymous authorities in Vienna who searched the plane for no apparent reason. After living in the Moscow international airport lounge for two weeks, Snowden was granted provisional asylum in Russia, despite strenuous pleading and attempted pressure for extradition by US authorities from the President on down. Reminding his American counterparts that the US and Russia do not have an extradition treaty, Russian president Vladimir Putin, clearly relishing the opportunity to score diplomatic points, remarked with sardonic humor  “Ask yourself a question: should people like that (human rights activists like Assange and Snowden) be extradited so that they can can put them in prison? I prefer not to deal with such issues. It’s like shearing a piglet: a lot squealing and little wool.”

The NY Times Sunday Magazine,  August 18, 2013 published a story by Peter Maas, entitled How Laura Poitras helped expose what the American government does in the name of security. In the course of reporting his profile of Laura Poitras, Peter Maass conducted an encrypted question-and-answer session, for which Poitras served as intermediary, with Edward J.  Snowden. now living somewhere in Russia. The interview was accompanied in the magazine by a photo of a crowd of people in Brazil holding masks of Edward Snowden at hearing on the NSA surveillance programs, which have sparked outrage around the world.

Below are selections from that conversation, providing fascinating insight into the enormous courage and fierce intelligence which these whistle-blowers are demonstrating. Both Greenwald and Poitras now have chosen to live outside the US (Greenwald in Brazil, Poitras in Berlin) to protect their person and their journalistic writings from seizure.


Edward Snowden Speaks to Peter Maass of the New York Times


Peter Maass: Why did you seek out Laura and Glenn, rather than journalists from major American news outlets (N.Y.T., W.P., W.S.J. etc.)? In particular, why Laura, a documentary filmmaker?
Edward Snowden: After 9/11, many of the most important news outlets in America abdicated their role as a check to power — the journalistic responsibility to challenge the excesses of government — for fear of being seen as unpatriotic and punished in the market during a period of heightened nationalism. From a business perspective, this was the obvious strategy, but what benefited the institutions ended up costing the public dearly. The major outlets are still only beginning to recover from this cold period.
Laura and Glenn are among the few who reported fearlessly on controversial topics throughout this period, even in the face of withering personal criticism, and resulted in Laura specifically becoming targeted by the very programs involved in the recent disclosures. She had demonstrated the courage, personal experience and skill needed to handle what is probably the most dangerous assignment any journalist can be given — reporting on the secret misdeeds of the most powerful government in the world — making her an obvious choice.
P.M.: Was there a moment during your contact with Laura when you realized you could trust her? What was that moment, what caused it?
E.S.: We came to a point in the verification and vetting process where I discovered Laura was more suspicious of me than I was of her, and I’m famously paranoid. The combination of her experience and her exacting focus on detail and process gave her a natural talent for security, and that’s a refreshing trait to discover in someone who is likely to come under intense scrutiny in the future, as normally one would have to work very hard to get them to take the risks seriously. With that putting me at ease, it became easier to open up without fearing the invested trust would be mishandled.
P.M.: Were you surprised that Glenn did not respond to your requests and instructions for encrypted communication?
E.S.: Yes and no. I know journalists are busy and had assumed being taken seriously would be a challenge, especially given the paucity of detail I could initially offer. At the same time, this is 2013, and he’s a journalist who regularly reported on the concentration and excess of state power. I was surprised to realize that there were people in news organizations who didn’t recognize any unencrypted message sent over the Internet is being delivered to every intelligence service in the world. In the wake of this year’s disclosures, it should be clear that unencrypted journalist-source communication is unforgivably reckless.
P.M.: When you first met Laura and Glenn in Hong Kong, what was your initial reaction? Were you surprised by anything in the way they worked and interacted with you?
E.S.: I think they were annoyed that I was younger than they expected, and I was annoyed they had arrived too early, which complicated the initial verification. As soon as we were behind close doors, however, I think everyone was reassured by the obsessive attention to precaution and bona fides. I was particularly impressed by Glenn’s ability to operate without sleep for days at a time.
P.M.: Laura started filming you from nearly the start. Were you surprised by that? Why or why not?
E.S.: Definitely surprised. As one might imagine, normally spies allergically avoid contact with reporters or media, so I was a virgin source — everything was a surprise. Had I intended to skulk away anonymously, I think it would have been far harder to work with Laura, but we all knew what was at stake. The weight of the situation actually made it easier to focus on what was in the public interest rather than our own. I think we all knew there was no going back once she turned that camera on, and the ultimate outcome would be decided by the world.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Brilliant short satirical video on the official conspiracy theory of 9/11

Dennis Kucinich calls on Congress to disempower the Federal Reserve

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), a longtime advocate for reform of the Federal Reserve (like fellow Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX)),  sharply criticized the Federal Reserve today after Bloomberg News reported that the Federal Reserve secretly committed nearly $8 trillion in support to American and international financial institutions during the 2008 bailout. See Kucinich address HERE.
Before going to the floor of the House of Representatives to call upon Congress to reclaim its Constitution primacy over monetary policy,  Kucinich recorded a video for his website HERE.
“The Federal Reserve extended extraordinary support to financial institutions that crashed the economy with reckless speculation, and on that support many of the firms made billions in profit and paid obscene bonuses. The Fed asked for nothing from these firms in return and that is because the Federal Reserve works first and foremost for the welfare of private financial institutions, not the American economy.
“The message that emerges from these revelations for Americans who have lost their jobs, lost their homes, or watched their retirement nest eggs disappear is that we have unlimited resources available for the banks, but nothing for the American people,” Kucinich stated.
The Bloomberg report is the result of a court-ordered release of over 29,000 pages of Federal Reserve documents and records of more than 21,000 transactions. Through direct lending, loan guarantees and enhanced lending limits, the Federal Reserve supported national and international financial firms with as much as $7.77 trillion as of March 2009. The $7.77 trillion provided dwarfs the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) cap mandated by Congress.  
Congressman Kucinich introduced legislation that would impose transparency on the Federal Reserve. The National Emergency Employment Defense (NEED) Act, HR 2990, would incorporate the Federal Reserve within the United States Treasury. The bill would establish fiscal integrity, reassert Congressional sovereignty and allow the federal government to correct crippling national deficiencies in infrastructure repairs and education nationwide by spending money into circulation without increasing the national debt or causing inflation. Learn more about the NEED Act here.


Michael Moore on next steps for the OWS movement

(These passages extracted from his newsletters)
The national conversation has been irreversibly changed. Now everyone is talking about how the 1% are getting away with all the money while the 99% struggle to make ends meet. People are no longer paralyzed by despair or apathy. Most know that now is the time to reclaim our country from the bankers, the lobbyists -- and their gofers: the members of the United States Congress and the 50 state legislatures. … 
The winter gives us an amazing opportunity to expand our actions against the captains of capitalism who have occupied our homes with their fraudulent mortgage system which has tossed millions of families out onto the curb; a cruel health care system that has told 50 million Americans "if you can't afford a doctor, go F yourself"; a student loan system that sends 22-year-olds into an immediate "debtors' prison" of working lousy jobs for which they didn't go to school but now have to take because they're in hock for tens of thousands of dollars for the next two decades; and a jobs market that keeps 25 million Americans un- or under-employed -- and much of the rest of the workers forced to accept wage cuts, health care reductions and zero job security. 

But we in the Occupy Movement reject this version of the "American Dream." Instead, I suggest we shift our focus for this winter to the following actions:
1. Occupy Our Homes. Sorry, banks, a roof over one's head is a human right, and you will no longer occupy our homes through foreclosure and eviction because well, you see, they are our homes, not yours. You may hold the mortgage; you don't hold the right to throw us or our neighbors out into the cold. With almost one in three home mortgages currently in foreclosure, nearing foreclosure or "underwater," the Occupy Movement must form local "Occupy Strike Forces" to create human shields when the banks come to throw people out of their homes. If the foreclosure has already happened, then we must help families move back into their foreclosed homes -- literally (see this clip from my last film to watch how a home re-occupation is accomplished). Beginning today, Take Back the Land, plus many other citizens' organizations nationwide, are kicking off Occupy Our Homes. please remember the words of Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur of Toledo (in the film 'Capitalism: A Love Story'): “Do not leave your homes if the bank forecloses on you! Let them take you to court and then YOU ask the judge to make them produce a copy of your mortgage. They can't. If they can't produce the mortgage, they can't evict you.”

2. Occupy Your College. In nearly every other democracy on the planet, students go to college for free or almost free. Why do those countries do that? Because they know that for their society to advance, they must have an educated population. Without that, productivity, innovation and an informed electorate is stunted and everyone suffers as a result. This has to end. Students should spend this winter doing what they are already doing on dozens of campuses -- holding sit-ins, occupying the student loan office, nonviolently disrupting the university regents meetings, and pitching their tents on the administration's lawn. Young people -- we, the '60s generation, promised to create a better world for you. We got halfway there -- now you have to complete the job. Do not stop until these wars are ended, the Pentagon budget is cut in half, and the rich are forced to pay their taxes. And demand that that money go to your education.

3. Occupy Your Job. Let's spend the winter organizing workplaces into unions. OR, if you already have a union, demand that your leaders get off their ass and get aggressive like our grandparents did. For chrissakes, surely you know we would not have a middle class if it weren't for the strikes of the 1930s-1950s?! In three weeks we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the workers in my hometown of Flint, Michigan taking over and occupying the General Motors factories for 44 days in the dead of winter. Their actions ignited a labor movement that lifted tens of millions out of poverty and into the middle class. It's time to do it again. (According to the Census Bureau and the New York Times, 100 million Americans either live in or near poverty. Disgraceful. Greed has destroyed the core fabric of our communities. Enough!) Here are two good unions to get your fellow workers to sign up and join: UE and SEIU. The CWA are also good. Here's how to get a quick primer in organizing your place of employment (don't forget to be careful while you do this!).

4. Occupy Your Bank. This is an easy one. Just leave them. Move your checking and your credit card to a nonprofit credit union. It's safe and the decisions made there aren't based on greed. And if a bank tries to evict your neighbor, Occupy the local branch with 20 other people and call the press. Post it on the internet.

5. Occupy the Insurance Companies. It's time to not only stand up for the 50 million without health insurance but to also issue a single, simple demand: The elimination of for-profit, privately-controlled health insurance companies. It is nothing short of barbaric to allow businesses to make a profit off people when they get sick. We don't allow anyone to make a profit when we need the fire department or the police. The same should be true for when you need to see a doctor or stay in the hospital. It's long overdue for us to Occupy the insurance company offices, the pharmaceutical companies' headquarters and the for-profit hospitals until the White House and Congress pass the true single-payer universal health care bill they failed to pass in 2010. This is what is needed.

Monday, May 23, 2011

350.org – a global grassroots movement to slow down greenhouse gases

Here’s a 15-min. video of Bill McKibben, in front of 10,000 young climate leaders, laying out an inspiring vision for our movement and  an impassioned call to action.watch this video.
And here are some key points from the 350.org website:
  • So, what is global warming and what’s the problem anyway?
The science is clear: global warming is happening faster than ever and humans are responsible. Global warming is caused by releasing what are called greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The most common greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide. Many of the activities we do every day like turn the lights on, cook food, or heat or cool our homes rely on the combustion of fossil fuels like coal and oil, which emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases when burned. This is a major problem because global warming destabilizes the delicate balance that makes life on this planet possible. Just a few degrees in temperature can completely change the world as we know it, and threaten the lives of millions of people around the world.
  • And what does this 350 number even mean?
350 is the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide—measured in “Parts Per Million” in our atmosphere. 350 PPM—it’s the number humanity needs to get back to as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change.
  • If we’re already past 350, are we all doomed?
No. We’re like the patient that goes to the doctor and learns he’s overweight, or his cholesterol is too high. He doesn’t die immediately—but until he changes his lifestyle and gets back down to the safe zone, he’s at more risk for heart attack or stroke. The planet is in its danger zone because we’ve poured too much carbon into the atmosphere, and we’re starting to see signs of real trouble: melting ice caps, rapidly spreading drought. We need to scramble back as quickly as we can to safety.
  • How do we create the political change to steer towards 350?
This year, we can create a grassroots movement connected by the web and active all over the world.  We will focus on the systemic barriers to climate solutions, changing political dynamics whenever possible.  At the same time, we’ll get to work implementing real climate solutions in our communities, demonstrating the benefits of moving to a clean energy economy. If this global movement succeeds, we can get the world on track to get back to 350 and back to climate safety. It won’t be easy, that’s why we need all the help we can get.

Friday, May 6, 2011

What would it cost to restore the world environment and meet social goals. And guess who has the money?

Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (Substantially Revised)Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute (www.earth-policy.org) put together the following very revealing cost comparisons, as part of his Plan B, budget. Published in the excellent quarterly journal Pop!ulation Press (www.populationpress.org).

Additional annual expenditures needed to meet social goals and restore the Earth.

PLAN B BUDGET: Additional Annual Expenditures Needed to Meet Social Goals and Restore the Earth

Basic Social Goals

Goal Funding (billion dollars)

Universal primary education


Eradication of adult illiteracy


School lunch programs


Aid to women, infants


Reproductive health & family planning


Universal basic health care




Earth Restoration Goals

Goal Funding (billion dollars)

Planting trees


Protecting topsoil on cropland


Restoring rangelands


Restoring fisheries


Stabilizing water tables


Protecting biological diversity






U.S. Military Budget


Plan B budget as share of this


World Military Budget


Plan B budget as share of this


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Child musical prodigy joyfully play-conducts Beethoven symphony

For a totally upbeat explosion of joy and laughter and music, watch this five minute video.