A Japanese legend bids farewell with a subtle, meditative epic about war, guilt and art

Miyazaki’s haunting farewell:

A dreamer who made warplanes

Miyazaki's haunting farewell: A dreamer who made warplanes
THE WIND RISES. © 2013 Nibariki – GNDHDDTK (Credit: Studio Ghibli)

Human beings have always dreamed of flight, the legendary Italian aeronautical engineer Gianni Caproni tells his young Japanese protégé in Hayao Miyazaki’s elegiac and subtle farewell to filmmaking, “The Wind Rises.” But the dream is cursed: Flying machines will inevitably be used, Caproni says, to wage war and slaughter the innocent. Still, he says, he’d rather live in a world with pyramids. The metaphor is not explained, but like so much else in “The Wind Rises,” its meaning lies just below the surface: Every human endeavor on a large scale is compromised, and no one’s hands are clean. The greatest wonders of the ancient world were built by slaves, to honor tyrants.

Caproni’s soliloquy on the nature of dreams itself occurs in one of several haunting dream sequences in the film, one that finds Caproni (voiced by Stanley Tucci in the English-language version) and young Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) surveying the world from the uppermost wing of a huge and fanciful triplane. Some people may wish to describe “The Wind Rises” as a restrained or realistic work because it takes place in a recognizable facsimile of 20th-century Japan, rather than a fairy tale landscape or the mythological past, as in “Spirited Away” or “Princess Mononoke” or “My Neighbor Totoro.” But not me. This Oscar-nominated animated film, which Miyazaki has said will be his last as a director, is a work of immense mystery and strangeness, loaded with unforgettable images, spectacular sweeps of color and nested, hidden meanings. It feels to me like a meditative epic about Japan’s traumatic journey into modernity, and a complicated allegory about the innocence, arrogance and culpability of artists. It’s one of the most beautiful animated films ever made, and something close to a masterpiece.

There’s a certain amount of controversy surrounding “The Wind Rises,” which is based in large part on the life story of the real Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the notorious but magnificent Mitsubishi Zero, the lightweight and highly maneuverable fighter plane that enabled many Japanese victories early in World War II (including, of course, the attack on Pearl Harbor). Honestly, though, most of the controversy has come from right-wingers in Japan, who have accused Miyazaki of being insufficiently patriotic for depicting Horikoshi as a man plagued by doubts and apocalyptic premonitions. I’m not quite sure how anyone in the West could see this movie and believe that Miyazaki (a well-known pacifist) is trying to whitewash Japanese war crimes or duck the question of individual guilt. Arguably the question of individual guilt is the movie’s primary subject, or one of them. While Caproni — who also built planes for a fascist government — assures Horikoshi in one of their dream-meetings that airplanes are not instruments of war or ways of making money but “beautiful dreams,” the film’s constant thrum of death-haunted subtext suggests that Miyazaki does not find this sufficient.

While the phantasmagorical encounters between Caproni and Horikoshi (as far as I know they never met in life) are central to understanding this film, and feature its most breathtaking animated landscapes, they aren’t the only aspects of the story that feel like dreams. Miyazaki takes us back and forth between the bucolic, agrarian Japan into which young Jiro is born and the more urbanized and modern landscape his work gradually makes possible, or at least symbolizes. When Jiro goes to work at Mitsubishi in the late 1920s, teams of oxen are still required to haul aircraft prototypes to the airfield, and Japanese engineers have a reputation as second-rate copycats. When Jiro is sent to Germany in the ’30s to study at the Junkers factory, he doesn’t understand the nature of the society he sees there, or the character of the partnership between his own country and that one. He prefers to focus on the strains of Schubert’s “Winterreise” coming from an open window, and not on the boy being chased through the streets for unclear reasons.

While Miyazaki is the most famous of all Japanese animators, and his art and craft are on full display here, he may not get enough credit as an ingenious storyteller, who builds a narrative through hints and inferences and echoes. Jiro’s dreamlike voyage to Germany is echoed later by an encounter with a German tourist in Japan (voiced perfectly by Werner Herzog in the English version), who politely makes clear that Jiro is ignoring the consequences of his work — a brutal invasion of China, a puppet regime in Manchuria — and predicts that both their nations will be destroyed. As a young man, Jiro performs a life-altering act of kindness during the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, one of history’s worst natural disasters, which is unmistakably presented here as a premonitory vision of the destruction that will be visited upon Japan in 1945. Indeed, a deeper parallel may be at work, in that Jiro’s willful naiveté resembles that of the physicists who split the atom — they knew what that discovery would lead to, but also believed it was important in its own terms.

Indeed, I suspect there’s a note of covert artistic autobiography in “The Wind Rises,” whose title refers to a famous line by French poet Paul Valéry, contemplating a graveyard by the sea: “Le vent se lève! … il faut tenter de vivre!” (“The wind is rising! We must try to live!”) I don’t mean that Miyazaki fears his art has been perverted to evil purposes, or anything as blunt as that. It’s more that Miyazaki too has pursued his dreams without thought of consequence, himself fueling a change in the world around him that he doesn’t quite understand. He gives us Jiro as a pure-hearted genius by day, full of love and innocence, and a dark dreamer at night, sending his airplanes out by the thousands to destroy and be destroyed. On the one hand: “Isn’t this lovely?” On the other: “Watch out for what lies below.” Those are the messages Miyazaki has sent us all along, and this tender, ambiguous fable makes the perfect farewell.

“The Wind Rises” is now playing nationwide.


Glasshole nation: Tech’s culture war takes another ugly turn

BLOGGER COMMENT:  I wouldn’t wear GGs if I got them for free.  But then, I don’t own a smart phone.  I can affirm this right now:  I will not interact with anyone, friend or foe, who is wearing these recording devices.  Period.  If they become ubiquitous, as some believe, then i am comfortable that some blessed tech person will create truly disruptive technologies that will kill these big data devices around my personal space.  I’ll carry that device.



A viral video showing a violent response to Google Glass reveals the deep schisms wrought by new technology



Glasshole nation: Tech's culture war takes another ugly turn
(Credit: martin-matthews via iStock)


Molotov’s is the kind of San Francisco dive bar where you are guaranteed a hostile response if you break the house rules about who’s next at the pool table. As a reviewer noted on Google+, the bar “can be intimidating if you aren’t rocking your punk rock cred.” It’s a place to “bring your dog, order a two dollar PBR, and get your grime on.”

Media feeding frenzies do not ordinarily ensue when a fight breaks out and a purse gets stolen at a punk rock bar on the lower Haight. But throw a woman wearing Google Glass into the middle of the scuffle, a woman who later reports on Facebook that she was the victim of a “hate crime,” and faster than you can sing the chorus to “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” an entire city will be foaming with bile. The woman in question, Sarah Slocum, a social media consultant from San Mateo and self-described “glasshead,” instantly became the new face of the tech culture wars.

Most people who have experienced real oppression will likely scoff at the notion that having your $1,500 Google Glass ripped off your face outside of a dive bar at 2 in the morning constitutes a hate crime. But that doesn’t mean Slocum deserved having her phone and purse stolen, or all the over-the-top negative sentiment that has been showered upon her ever since. Drunk people do inappropriate things in bars every night. That doesn’t make them evil.

But what about Google Glass? That’s where this story gains some heft. Google Glass is a fascinating device because it simultaneously appears to foreshadow our cyborg future while also symbolizing — and enacting! — our growing anxieties about the present. The ubiquitous surveillance state? Google Glass plugs right into it. Technologically driven income inequality? What could be more potent than this expensive new tribal marker for the tech elite?

The people who don their cyborg head-dresses and manage not to grasp how off-putting they may be to the lumpen proletariat are betraying a revealing lack of self-awareness — so much so that Google recently felt it had to publish a list of “Dos and Don’ts” for Glass users. What more do we need for proof that Google Glass is

the antithesis of punk rock?

The details of what exactly went down last Friday night at Molotov’s are rapidly taking on a Rashomon-like inconsistency. Slocum says she was attacked — “flicked” at with wet bar towels, to be more specific — and that her Google Glass was ripped from her face by a “hater.” Another eyewitness claims a friend of Slocum’s threw the first punch.

Again, typical stuff for the wee hours in a punk rock bar. But here’s what we do know: Sarah Slocum wore Google Glass into Molotov’s. Some patrons of the bar expressed discomfort at the possibility that Slocum might be recording them using Glass. Slocum herself acknowledges that “after being verbally accosted ” by one woman, she turned on Glass’ video recording function, apparently operating under the extremely dubious assumption that taking such action would result in more restrained behavior.

That was dumb. Farhad Manjoo, newly crowned tech pundit for the New York Times, captured the stupidity at the heart of this story in one pithy tweet:

So maybe the story should end here.  It is one of the odd byproducts of our hyper-networked society that every instance of inappropriate behavior is immediately transmitted everywhere and becomes the gist of a culture-wide aneurysm. Let’s all learn from Slocum’s example: There are some places and times when it is inappropriate to wear a video-camera on your face.

If Google Glass-like technology is ever going to become acceptable in civilized society, a proper etiquette for its use will have to evolve. In his account of a year wearing Google Glass, “I, Glasshole,” Wired journalist Mat Honan wrote about all the times he didn’t wear his Glass.

My Glass experiences have left me a little wary of wearables because I’m never sure where they’re welcome. I’m not wearing my $1,500 face computer on public transit where there’s a good chance it might be yanked from my face. I won’t wear it out to dinner, because it seems as rude as holding a phone in my hand during a meal. I won’t wear it to a bar. I won’t wear it to a movie. I can’t wear it to the playground or my kid’s school because sometimes it scares children.

Honan believes that eventually, as prices drop and the technology becomes less obtrusive (Google Contacts!) and people become more generally comfortable with state-of-the-art cybertech, wearable technology will become as ubiquitous as smartphones are now. It’s a possibility that can’t be ruled out. If the steady bubble of incidents involving Google Glass can in large part be attributed to Glass users simply not getting that there are situations where it comes off as rude and invasive to be wearing a video camera on your face, maybe they’ll eventually grow up.

But the problems with Glass go deeper than etiquette. As stupid and juvenile as so much of the “tech hate” is in the Bay Area now, there is no denying that, as a society, we are reassessing how we think about technology, and becoming more suspicious of it in the process.

The emergence of the ubiquitous surveillance state is exhibit A in this reevaluation. We know now that the original “Don’t be evil” Google is one of the primary architects of a new order in which vast reserves of data are collected every day about all of us. This data has enabled both the NSA and advertisers to track our every movement in extraordinary detail. How hard is it to understand the symbolism of Google Glass in the context of this sea change? If we’re already nervous about our email and our texts being scooped by spooks, the last thing we want to see after we’ve been pounding PBR for a few hours is someone staring at us with technology on their face that could be transmitting a live feed of us to just about anywhere.

The increasingly obvious negative economic and cultural consequences of technological progress are exhibit B: During the 10-second video clip recorded by Slocum, one bar patron can be heard saying: “You are ruining this city.”

There are many reasons why the animosity  captured by those five words is unjustified, especially when it is brought to be bear indiscriminately on anyone who happens to be employed in the tech sector. Tech culture is as deep a part of the San Francisco Bay Area as the Gold Rush and the Summer of Love and the gay rights movement. There are thousands of people in the tech sector who contribute to its culture and vibrant economy.

At the same time, in San Francisco right now, art galleries are closing, nonprofits are being forced out of their offices, and seniors are being evicted from their homes. And if you happen to be losing your home, or even just your favorite gay Latino bar, you really don’t want to hear how tech workers are feeling demonized. Their victim-hood is low on your list of priorities.

Change is constant in any big, dynamic city, but the rate of change in the San Francisco Bay Area right now is so fast as to be palpably destabilizing. And what is happening locally also connects to a deeper unease, a growing sense that our increasingly sophisticated technologies are automating people out of their jobs and putting downward pressure on wages.

In that context, the emergence of thousands of Google “Explorers” as an obvious tech elite avant-garde is bound to be perceived as irritating by those who feel threatened by recent change. The people who are benefiting most from the new economy are separating themselves from the rest with silicon circuitry on their heads. As Mat Honan wrote, “Glass is a class divide on your face.” That kind of conspicuous consumption is bound to inspire conspicuous resentment.

It could well be that as Moore’s law kicks in and prices fall and the technology becomes less obtrusive, and as we all educate ourselves on how and when flaunting our cyborg tech is appropriate, we’ll arrive at some new equilibrium. The current paroxysms about tech culture are rife with contradictions. This morning I was looking through reviews of Molotov’s on Yelp. Not surprisingly, there are a handful of new reviews posted since the Glass incident, more or less split evenly between people trashing the bar as a seedy hole full of ignorant Glass haters and as a righteous center of resistance to the new tech overlords. But I was struck by the realization that the vast majority of those involved in the conversation about what happened at Molotov’s last Friday night were probably using a mobile, Wi-Fi-connected device to communicate, something that would have seemed like sheer fantasy just a decade or two ago. Who’s to say that the version of this conversation we are having 10 years from now won’t be conducted via ubiquitous augmented reality devices like Google Glass?

Maybe next time around we’ll be hating on the freaks who are implanting new tech directly into their skulls. Which, come to think of it, sounds pretty punk rock.


Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.



Neocons and the Ukraine Coup



Exclusive: American neocons helped destabilize Ukraine and engineer the overthrow of its elected government, a “regime change” on Russia’s western border. But the coup – and the neo-Nazi militias at the forefront – also reveal divisions within the Obama administration, reports Robert Parry.


By Robert Parry


More than five years into his presidency, Barack Obama has failed to take full control over his foreign policy, allowing a bureaucracy shaped by long years of Republican control and spurred on by a neocon-dominated U.S. news media to frustrate many of his efforts to redirect America’s approach to the world in a more peaceful direction.


But Obama deserves a big dose of the blame for this predicament because he did little to neutralize the government holdovers and indeed played into their hands with his initial appointments to head the State and Defense departments, Hillary Clinton, a neocon-leaning Democrat, and Robert Gates, a Republican cold warrior, respectively.


Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland.

Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland.


Even now, key U.S. diplomats are more attuned to hard-line positions than to promoting peace. The latest example is Ukraine where U.S. diplomats, including Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, are celebrating the overthrow of an elected pro-Russian government.


Occurring during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the coup in Ukraine dealt an embarrassing black eye to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had offended neocon sensibilities by quietly cooperating with Obama to reduce tensions over Iran and Syria, where the neocons favored military options.


Over the past several weeks, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was undercut by a destabilization campaign encouraged by Nuland and Pyatt and then deposed in a coup spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias. Even after Yanukovych and the political opposition agreed to an orderly transition toward early elections, right-wing armed patrols shattered the agreement and took strategic positions around Kiev.


Despite these ominous signs, Ambassador Pyatt hailed the coup as “a day for the history books.” Most of the mainstream U.S. news media also sided with the coup, with commentators praising the overthrow of an elected government as “reform.” But a few dissonant reports have pierced the happy talk by noting that the armed militias are part of the Pravy Sektor, a right-wing nationalist group which is often compared to the Nazis.


Thus, the Ukrainian coup could become the latest neocon-initiated “regime change” that ousted a target government but failed to take into account who would fill the void.


Some of these same American neocons pushed for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, not realizing that removing Saddam Hussein would touch off a sectarian conflict and lead to a pro-Iranian Shiite regime. Similarly, U.S. military intervention in Libya in 2011 eliminated Muammar Gaddafi but also empowered Islamic extremists who later murdered the U.S. ambassador and spread unrest beyond Libya’s borders to nearby Mali.


One might trace this neocons’ blindness to consequences back to Afghanistan in the 1980s when the Reagan administration supported Islamic militants, including Osama bin Laden, in a war against Soviet troops, only to have Muslim extremists take control of Afghanistan and provide a base for al-Qaeda to plot the 9/11 attacks against the United States.


Regarding Ukraine, today’s State Department bureaucracy seems to be continuing the same anti-Moscow geopolitical strategy set during those Reagan-Bush years.


Robert Gates described the approach in his new memoir, Duty, explaining the view of President George H.W. Bush’s Defense Secretary Dick Cheney: “When the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, Dick wanted to see the dismantlement not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world.”


Vice President Cheney and the neocons pursued a similar strategy during George W. Bush’s presidency, expanding NATO aggressively to the east and backing anti-Russian regimes in the region including the hard-line Georgian government, which provoked a military confrontation with Moscow in 2008, ironically, during the Summer Olympics in China.


Obama’s Strategy


As President, Obama has sought a more cooperative relationship with Russia’s Putin and, generally, a less belligerent approach toward adversarial countries. Obama has been supported by an inner circle at the White House with analytical assistance from some elements of the U.S. intelligence community.


But the neocon momentum at the State Department and from other parts of the U.S. government has continued in the direction set by George W. Bush’s neocon administration and by neocon-lite Democrats who surrounded Secretary of State Clinton during Obama’s first term.


The two competing currents of geopolitical thinking – a less combative one from the White House and a more aggressive one from the foreign policy bureaucracy – have often worked at cross-purposes. But Obama, with only a few exceptions, has been unwilling to confront the hardliners or even fully articulate his foreign policy vision publicly.


For instance, Obama succumbed to the insistence of Gates, Clinton and Gen. David Petraeus to escalate the war in Afghanistan in 2009, though the President reportedly felt trapped into the decision which he soon regretted. In 2010, Obama backed away from a Brazilian-Turkish-brokered deal with Iran to curtail its nuclear program after Clinton denounced the arrangement and pushed for economic sanctions and confrontation as favored by the neocons and Israel.


Just last summer, Obama – only at the last second – reversed a course charted by the State Department favoring a military intervention in Syria over disputed U.S. claims that the Syrian government had launched a chemical weapons attack on civilians. Putin helped arrange a way out for Obama by getting the Syrian government to agree to surrender its chemical weapons. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Showdown for War or Peace.”]

Stirring Up Trouble


Now, you have Assistant Secretary of State Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, acting as a leading instigator in the Ukrainian unrest, explicitly seeking to pry the country out of the Russian orbit. Last December, she reminded Ukrainian business leaders that, to help Ukraine achieve “its European aspirations, we have invested more than $5 billion.” She said the U.S. goal was to take “Ukraine into the future that it deserves.”


The Kagan family includes other important neocons, such as Frederick Kagan, who was a principal architect of the Iraq and Afghan “surge” strategies. In Duty, Gates writes that “an important way station in my ‘pilgrim’s progress’ from skepticism to support of more troops [in Afghanistan] was an essay by the historian Fred Kagan, who sent me a prepublication draft.


“I knew and respected Kagan. He had been a prominent proponent of the surge in Iraq, and we had talked from time to time about both wars, including one long evening conversation on the veranda of one of Saddam’s palaces in Baghdad.”


Now, another member of the Kagan family, albeit an in-law, has been orchestrating the escalation of tensions in Ukraine with an eye toward one more “regime change.”


As for Nuland’s sidekick, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Pyatt previously served as a U.S. diplomat in Vienna involved in bringing the International Atomic Energy Agency into a line with U.S. and Israeli hostility toward Iran. A July 9, 2009, cable from Pyatt, which was released by Pvt. Bradley Manning, revealed Pyatt to be the middleman who coordinated strategy with the U.S.-installed IAEA director-general  Yukiya Amano.


Pyatt reported that Amano offered to cooperate with the U.S. and Israel on Iran, including having private meetings with Israeli officials, supporting U.S. sanctions, and agreeing to IAEA personnel changes favored by the United States. According to the cable, Pyatt promised strong U.S. backing for Amano and Amano asked for more U.S. money. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “America’s Debt to Bradley Manning.”]

It was Ambassador Pyatt who was on the other end of Nuland’s infamous Jan. 28 phone call in which she discussed how to manipulate Ukraine’s tensions and who to elevate into the country’s leadership. According to the conversation, which was intercepted and made public, Nuland ruled out one opposition figure, Vitali Klitschko, a popular former boxer, because he lacked experience.


Nuland also favored the UN as mediator over the European Union, at which point in the conversation she exclaimed, “Fuck the E.U.” to which Pyatt responded, “Oh, exactly …”


Ultimately, the Ukrainian unrest – over a policy debate whether Ukraine should move toward entering the European Union – led to a violent showdown in which neo-fascist storm troopers battled police, leaving scores dead. To ease the crisis, President Yanukovych agreed to a power-sharing government and to accelerated elections. But no sooner was that agreement signed then the hard-right faction threw it out and pressed for power in an apparent coup.


Again, the American neocons had performed the role of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, unleashing forces and creating chaos that soon was spinning out of control. But this latest “regime change,” which humiliated President Putin, could also do long-term damage to U.S.-Russian cooperation vital to resolving other crises, with Iran and Syria, two more countries where the neocons are also eager for confrontation.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

This Movement Needs You

Popular Resistance Newsletter

There is something for everyone to do in this movement for social, economic and environmental justice. Here are four opportunities. We hope that if you are not already plugged in, that you may find ideas here. This movement needs everyone and that includes you!

We’re very excited to announce our latest project, CreativeResistance.org, a showcase for activist art. It is designed to spur your creativity and encourage you to  incorporate art into your work in educating and organizing people. We’ve covered activist arts on Popular Resistance, but with CreativeResistance.org the many artists involved in the movement have a place to share work, find each other and inspire everyone.

1stopOne of the amazing things about the impact of art is that it hits people at a deeper level than facts and expert opinions.  It reaches the heart and emotion; it creates unpredictable reactions as Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock describes and new ways of seeing the reality around us. Art can be transformative in ways other tools can’t.  As Tatiana Makovkin, one of the people responsible for CreativeResistance.org says, “The nonverbal emotional messages embedded in symbols, color, melody and rhythm, are intuitively received. Creativity is outside of control and ‘dangerous.’ The act of creating is subversive.”

You don’t have to be an artist to use CreativeResistance.org in your activism.  The page is searchable by issue so if you are working on a specific issue – healthcare, corporate power, fracking, youth, racism and so much more – you can find great art specific to that issue.  You can incorporate what you find into your writing, into memes for social media, protests or in whatever way you communicate. Art can sharpen your message and turn a protest into a spectacle action that can’t be ignored as the People’s Puppets of Occupy Wall Street and so many others have done.

1seaAnd, as Tatiana says “Art breeds more art, and cross-pollination erupts in a volcano of inspiration.” We’d love to see a growing positive spiral of art in the movement for social and economic justice because we know it will increase the impact of our actions.

We also know that an art spiral will result in people coming together to make art.  We’ve watched the beauty of monthly Art Builds in Seattle organized by our colleagues at the Backbone Campaign and others. Communities come together to make art that shows the vision of the future they want – a clean energy environment, everyone with access to healthcare, an end to war and poverty.  When people make art together – neighbor to neighbor, parent with child – it creates community bonding and deep commitment to our work. Imagine community art builds across the country.

Please get involved, let people in your community know about Creative Resistance and urge artists to submit art. The site includes music, visual art, poetry, performance art, animation, puppets and protest signs.

1boafireWe also want to make sure you check out the relaunch of our economic democracy website, ItsOurEconomy.US. The site provides fact-based analysis of the current economy and its shortcomings; and describes the potential of economic democracy, a new economy where people work together to solve community problems, wealth is shared equitably and people have greater control over their economic lives.

Economic democracy is sweeping the nation with increasing worker and consumer cooperatives, land trusts being put in place to provide affordable housing, new forms of money as people rethink how money is created and used and new decentralized sustainable energy systems as the country breaks the choke-hold of the carbon-nuclear economy.

It is an exciting time to understand the potential for a new economy based on democratic and human rights principles. We hope that ItsOurEconomy.US helps all of us to understand the potential for an economy that serves all of us and what economic democracy will look like.

Cecily McMillan 2So much of what we do is about justice.  So many of the current systems related to finance, healthcare, jobs, prisons, global trade, elections and more produce unjust results. But, injustice also comes at the personal level.  In recent weeks Popular Resistance has highlighted the case of Cecily McMillan, a New York occupy activist who was knocked unconscious by New York police and suffered seizures after she reacted to one of them brutally grabbing her breast from behind.  We’ve highlighted the case because Cecily is now facing felony assault charges and a potential 7 year prison sentence, even though she was the one who was assaulted.

It is an absurd case that brings shame to the NYPD and we have been urging the New York district attorney to drop the charges.  Many of you have joined us in emailing and tweeting District Attorney Cyrus Vance.  If you haven’t, you can do so here.  I hope you will share this page with everyone you know so we can continue to flood the DA with messages of support for Cecily. He needs to know people are watching how he pursues this prosecution.

There was some potential good news in Cecily’s case this week.  Her lawyer, Martin Stolar who has handled many cases involving protests in New York City, filed a motion for the personnel file of the police officer involved. This is a motion that is usually routinely denied, but this week we learned that Cecily’s case has been postponed and instead there will be a hearing on this motion on March 19.  The motion in this case is more serious because we already know about some unethical and abusive behavior by the police officer that undermines his credibility.  His credibility is important because he is the sole witness to what occurred, of course, he is a witness because he is the one who abusively grabbed Cecily’s breast from behind.

We want to urge people to take action to help Cecily and get these unjust charges dismissed.  Here’s what you can do:

–         Tell NY District Attorney To Drop The Charges Against Cecily

–         Visit the Justice for Cecily campaign website

–         And, sign this Avaaz petition

1cecilymFinally, here is a meme you can copy and share throughout your social networks. When you do, tell people to visit: http://www.popularresistance.org/drop-the-charges-against-cecily/ and urge them to join you in taking action for justice.

Finally, today is the one year mark for John Kiriakou’s 30 month term in prison.  John is the only person in government to go to prison for the illegal U.S. torture program.  He was imprisoned because he was the first to acknowledge the use of waterboarding by U.S. officials in illegal torture interrogations.

Prison officials have been mistreating him, punishing him for talking to the media and reneging on a deal to send him to a halfway house.  When he talks to the media he comes back to find his cell has been torn apart by guards. His cellmate’s areas are also turned into a mess, and one cellmate suspects they are trying to turn the inmates against John with these actions.  Now there are threats of “diesel therapy,” that is when an inmate is moved from prison to prison so no-one can contact him or provide support.

John Kiriakou, John HundleyJohn needs our help.  On this page we provide you with a model letter to send to the Bureau of Prisons protesting John’s mistreatment.  And, we also provide John’s address so you can write to him.

We so appreciate the whistleblowers that risk their lives and freedom to get the truth out.  This week Chelsea Manning received the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence given out by retired US intelligence officials.  In response she put forward this acceptance statement that describes how the security state is undermining the Constitution. Another whistleblower, who won the award last year, Edward Snowden announced that Manning was this year’s winner in this video statement in which he criticized the increasing number of secret documents.

We also don’t want to forget whistleblowers Jerry Hammond whose ten year sentence feeds the flame of revolt; and Barrett Brown who is a journalist facing life in prison for reporting on Hammond’s released Stratfor documents. Finally, remember that Julian 1racismAssange has been living in the Embassy of Ecuador in London since August 16, 2012 to avoid charges that he fears could result in him being extradited to the United States to face espionage and other charges.  We find ourselves regularly referring to documents published by Wikileaks in a great deal of our work.  Wikileaks has produced more real news than all the corporate media in the United States combined.

There is so much to do at this moment in time. Our tasks include educating ourselves and others about what is happening and why, protesting and stopping injustice where we see it and creating alternative systems to meet our needs that are based on the values of the new world we are creating. Together we are making a difference.

Thank you for being part of Popular Resistance.

Does It Matter That the Venezuelan Opposition Is Funded by the US?

BLOGGER COMMENT:  The US has never been able to tolerate alternative economic systems in the Americas. We would rather, for example, support a fascist General Pinochet than a socialist Allende. In Venezuela we support return of corporate control to the oil business. With us, the US, it’s always about the money, not the people.

By Ray Downs

Protesters march against the government in Caracas, Venezuela, on February 15. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

In the summer of 2007, the vehemently pro–Hugo Chávez journalist and lawyer Eva Golinger got on Venezuelan state TV and, with the help of a flow chart hand-drawn on flimsy poster board, called out several fellow journalists who had allegedly accepted US funding to help bring down the country’s famously left-wing, anti-American president.

“These journalists are destabalizing agents,” Golinger said, and explained that that they had participated in programs paid for by the US that were designed to promote a pro-American agenda, the goal of which was to create anti-socialist sentiment in Venezuela.

The accusation didn’t cause the kind of uproar Golinger was hoping for. The journalists were briefly investigated by a government committee, but that prompted an immediate public outcry—in fact, many Chavistas rejected such McCarthy-like tactics, claiming they made them look bad.

The incident did cause the US Embassy in Caracas some concern, however. In a cable released by Wikileaks titled “IV Participants and USAID Partners Outed, Again” that describes Golinger’s TV appearance and the aftermath, an embassy official wrote that people were becoming wary of getting involved with any enterprise funded by the US. “It is particularly hard to persuade Chávez supporters to participate in a program they perceived as potentially career-ending,” the official wrote. In other words, though Golinger embarrassed herself with her shit-stirring, the US was really trying to bring down Chávez by funneling money to his opponents.

Since then, the US has continued its longstanding practice of funding programs that it often claims are aimed at promoting fair elections and human rights, but also strengthen Venezuelan opposition groups—and this money may be influencing the ongoing protests that have helped put the country in a political crisis.

These programs have several names and objectives. Some have clearly benevolent goals; one is targeted at discouraging violence against women, for instance. But other US efforts in Venezuela are unabashedly political, such as a 2004 USAID program that, according to a Wikileaks cable, would spend $450,000 to “provide training to political parties on the design, planning, and execution of electoral campaigns.” The program would also create “campaign training schools” that would recruit campaign managers and emphasize “the development of viable campaign strategies and effectively communicating party platforms to voters.”

Interestingly, it’s illegal for a US political party or candidate to accept funding from any “foreign national,” which includes individuals, corporations, and governments. Venezuela passed a similar law in 2010, but this is easily circumvented by channeling the money through NGOs.

It’s difficult to determine exactly how much money the US has spent on these political programs in Venezuela since Chávez was first elected in 1998, but some estimates put the figure around $50 to $60 million. This year alone, President Obama earmarked $5 million to “support political competition-building efforts” in Venezuela.

It’s understandable, then, that some critics of Venezuela’s opposition have argued that the protests are in part due to US meddling.

“There’s absolutely some organic movement against the government. There are concerns about crime and other things,” said Roberto Lovato, a journalist who has covered the drug war and social movements in Latin America. “But if you don’t factor in the millions of dollars that’s been spent on destabilizing the government and prop up opposition leaders, it’s not the whole story.”

Lovato added that this top-down funding of a protest movement is similar to how the American Tea Party claims to be a grassroots mobilization of everyday people but is largely bankrolled by a few wealthy individuals, such as the billionaire Koch brothers.

Although there are disagreements about the root causes for the high crime, goods shortages, and political repression that’s fueling the demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro, nobody is denying the pain Venezuelans are suffering as a result. But there are undoubtedly a lot of international interests at stake here, and both wealthy people in Venezuela and multinational corporations would be happy to see, for instance, the privatization of the country’s oil industry.

“This is not necessarily a case of the US being a puppet-master and telling the opposition what to do, but the US government does want to remove the Maduro government from power just like they wanted to do with Chávez,” said George Ciccariello-Maher, a professor at Drexel University and author of a book about Chávez. “You also have a lot of rich businessmen in Venezuela who have put money behind the opposition. But their interest is not only political—they want to get their hands on that oil money.”

There’s no question that many of Maduro’s opponents are wealthy and come from elite families that have significant ties to corporate interests and have long opposed the Chavista government. One example is jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López, who comes from a wealthy Venezuelan family, was educated at Harvard, is cousins with the owner of the largest food company in Venezuela, and whose mother is the vice president of corporate affairs at the Cisneros Group, the largest media conglomerate in Latin America. (Billionaire Gustavo Cisneros, the company’s founder, is a fierce critic of Chavismo who is also close to the US government; a Wikileaks cable from 2004 describes a meeting he had with the US ambassador to discuss ways to eventually remove Chávez from power.)

So yes, the opposition is made up of political parties that have received extensive US funding and is led by the well-connected López. Does that mean the protests aren’t about helping the poor and instead only serve the interests of the US and wealthy Venezuelans?

One of the directors of Lopez’s political party, Voluntad Popular (“Popular Will”), is Juan Andrés Mejía, a 27-year-old activist who has been working with Lopez since 2009 and is now pursuing a master’s at Harvard. He admits that the bulk of the opposition protesters are from the middle and upper classes and are led by Venezuela’s elite, but he claims that support among the poor is growing.

“What Chávez did right was give the poor a voice. Before 1999, they didn’t have that,” Mejía said, referring to the year Chávez came to power. “But the opposition leaders today don’t agree with the [pre-Chávez government], so that won’t change. And it’s true that a lot of the poor still support the government, but that is changing because the current government’s policies are causing problems for everyone.”

As for the US funding, Mejía thinks it shouldn’t matter.

“As long as it’s not illegal, if another country wants to help us make elections more transparent and help strengthen a political party, I don’t see what’s wrong with that,” he said. “Besides, the Chavistas have Cubans and Russians on their side.”

And although Voluntad Popular is often said to be the most right-wing and capitalistic of Venezuela’s opposition parties, Mejia balks at the description. All they want to do is open up the markets in Venezuela, which will help the poor, he says.

“Private investment is essential to foster the Venezuelan economy,” he said, “but we do not think that private investment will, on its own, be sufficient to make people progress.”

Opposition parties like Voluntad Popular want a drastically different economic model than what Venezuela currently has. But Mejía told me that they don’t want to completely eradicate the socialist element from Venezuelan government. Mejía says they’d still use oil money to provide social programs for the poor as the current government does, but they’d also look at doing something similar to what Norway has done with its oil profits and invest in stocks to create a government-run pension fund for the people.

But however things turn out in Venezuela, there’s no question that the socialist government has been weakened and corporate have interests received a boost—which, fairly clearly, has been the point of the US’s funding programs all along.


Interview with Paul Mattick: more business as usual

by Global Uprisings on February 27, 2014

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“You can either try to do your best as an individual, or you’ll have to somehow, together with others, fundamentally alter the existing social system.”

Global Uprisings interview series:

I: Mariam Kirollos — Fighting Sexual Assault in Egypt
II: Paul Mason — The Economics of Revolt
III. Paul Mattick — More Business as Usual

The following interview was conducted in December 2013 at Paul Mattick’s home in Brooklyn, NY. Paul Mattick Jr. (born 1944) is a Marxist theorist and philosopher. His latest book is Business as Usual: The Economic Crisis and the Failure of Capitalism (2011, PM Press). Brandon Jourdan is an independent filmmaker and media activist responsible, together with Marianne Maeckelbergh, for the Global Uprising documentary series.

This is the third in a series of interviews conducted with participants from the Global Uprisings conference, which took place during the weekend of November 15-17, 2013.


Brandon Jourdan (Global Uprisings): So looking now at this period of time since we last talked, there was this dominant narrative in the U.S. that the U.S. is in a period of recovery, really starting in 2009…

Paul Mattick: Yes, June 2009, [that’s] when the recovery officially began.

Brandon Jourdan: But that recovery has been fairly weak, I mean, unemployment may have went down, or at least unemployment statistics went down. But the crisis actually seems to have, quite a bit, intensified.

Paul Mattick: Yes.

Brandon Jourdan: Where are we at right now?—in regards to the political and economic situation… on a macro level? Is this crisis really over?

Paul Mattick: My guess was—I don’t like to dignify these things with the name of science or knowledge—but my guess was in 2008 that what we experienced then was the beginning of what would be a very long and deep depression, and I have the impression that that guess was correct. What’s very striking to me is that despite the fact that officially the crisis was to be over—was supposed to be over—and recovery was supposed to have begun by the summer of 2009, by now the consensus, even among normal orthodox economists, has shifted to a much more pessimistic position.

So, for example, Lawrence Summers, who was originally supposed to become the next head of the Federal Reserve, and who’s probably the most important and famous non-ultra-right-wing economist in the United States, produced a paper [in November] in which he said, “we are probably now in a period of long-term or semi-permanent stagnation”—which was a very radical thing for somebody like that to say. Of course, they don’t know much more than I do about what’s going on. They’re also just guessing, and extrapolating from the trends, and also they really don’t have an analytical point of view or theory which would allow them to do much better than guess. But I find it quite interesting and striking that—the extent to which the more realistic economists, the economists who are actually involved with policy, and are paying some attention to the numbers and to what the policy choices facing governments are, are rather pessimistic, and I find that interesting because—of course, I like it because it confirms my own view.

So I would have to say yes, I think we are in a continuing crisis which is not becoming less serious. For example, in the United States, there has been some decline in the unemployment numbers, but that is largely—as is openly admitted when this is discussed—due to the fact that more and more people are dropping out of the labor force. So as the labor force becomes smaller, the unemployment number goes—the percentage—goes down. But, to me, the most striking and fascinating information about the American economy is the rolling tide of bankruptcies: cities in California, Detroit—Philadelphia is on the verge of bankruptcy; and the bankruptcies are largely provoked, although not only provoked, by the inability of one major municipality after another to pay the pensions which they have promised to city workers and state workers. So there simply is not the money available even for the keeping of old promises to the population, much less to deal with the toll which is being exacted now by the continuing decline of the private capitalist economy.

Brandon Jourdan: At the same time, the social results of the crisis are still ongoing. We have, you know—now, I live in the Netherlands—but the Dutch king came out two months ago and said that they’re “ending the social welfare state” … which was ironic, because he’s getting millions of—

Paul Mattick: Not for him, necessarily—right.

Brandon Jourdan: So, the social effects are far from over.

Paul Mattick: No. The social effects are very far from over. That they are continuing to press the weakest countries: Greece, Portugal, Spain—and you can see in the United States, where the same processes are going on with the ongoing attempt to cancel—in fact, by law—the emergency extension of unemployment insurance has not been renewed. So, you know, even the most simple response to the crisis, which is to give people who are unemployed a little extra money for a few months, they are trying to stop [it]. So yes, I say that not only is the crisis ongoing, but the austerity policies, which have been put in place by all governments at this point, are being expanded.

One of the few exceptions was China, where you had an enormous expansion of credit to sort of create a construction bubble throughout the country and this has got out of control, and is now sort of coming to end, and as far as I can tell there is a great deal of anxiety internationally about the effects of this—the coming contraction in China due to the limitation of government spending, which of course was unable to solve the fundamental problem, which is due to the fact that the Chinese economy is basically an export economy, and dependent on the economy in other countries for its own continued progress.

Brandon Jourdan: What would something like the crisis in China mean for the global economy?

Paul Mattick: Well, probably in itself not very much, but it will mean a lot for the Chinese population which already has a rather high level of social conflict. And … Chinese projects do import a certain amount of machine tools and other materials from the external world—from Europe, from Germany—and also, they import a lot of energy from other parts of the world, and China is very dependent on energy exports in the form of oil and coal.

So a decline in the Chinese economy would have a certain dampening effect, but I think it’s not fundamental—the fundamental engines of the world economy remain the United States and Western Europe. And until those areas of the world emerge from the crisis, there will be no general upturn in the world economy as a whole.

Brandon Jourdan: You spoke quite a bit about this in your presentation [at the Global Uprisings conference]—how this crisis differs from other ones, in regards to sovereign debt, and debt in general—private and public debt. Can you tell me just a little bit about that?

Paul Mattick: To put it very briefly, there was the Great Depression of the 1930s, [which] really marked a turning point in the history of capitalism, as has been recognized by almost all commentators in one fashion or another. Not only was it an extremely deep depression which affected very large numbers of people all over the world, and which lasted for a very long time, and not only did the attempt to resolve it give rise to a World War which included the killing of 50 or 60 or possibly even 70 million people, but also—and this is part of the story of that war—it was felt by the major capitalist powers that the social upheavals occasioned by this very long period of depression and mass unemployment required government intervention into the economy on a hitherto unknown scale.

Governments had always, of course, supported capitalists by helping subsidize the building of railroads, and various kinds of schemes. But the actual intervention of the government as a major economic player—as an employer, as a supplier of funds to private industry—had not occurred on such a scale before the mid- to late 1930s. And of course the high point of this process was the Second World War itself, during which, for example, in the United States, about 50% of all economic activity was financed by the government: mainly work production. It was the war, and the government spending for war, which ended unemployment in Germany and in the United States, and curiously enough, after the war, it turned out not to be possible to completely retire the position of the government as an economic actor as had been planned. Governments were still very worried that the end of the war would bring a return of depression conditions, and so they were ready to maintain state activity. And they did—of course not on the same level as during the war.

But the role of the government in economic affairs never went back to the pre-Depression condition, and instead of returning after the Depression to another period of free enterprise, what we had was instead what came to be called the mixed economy of about 65% private capitalism and 35% state activity, and what is very significant is that they have not been able to retire—to get rid of the state’s role in the economy. And any attempt to do so had produced an immediate rise in unemployment—even today, when under the name of austerity, every government in the world is obsessed with limiting the growth of government debt, and limiting government spending. They are actually not really able to decrease the activity of the government in the economies of the major capitalist countries. They are trying to make a kind of compromise, which involves taking it out of the hide of weaker countries, like the European peripheral countries and of course the rest of the world—so that the austerity is being applied unevenly. But they are stuck, in a way—they’re somehow caught between the fear of really eliminating the role of the government, and at the same time being afraid that it might become even larger, which would threaten the continued existence of capitalism as a private free enterprise system.

Brandon Jourdan: So, all these more Keynesian left people who say, “What we need now is a ‘New New Deal’”—they are ignoring this kind of fact.

Paul Mattick: They’re ignoring this. David Harvey for example says, “We need a ‘New New Deal’”, but he doesn’t explain where the money is supposed to come from, because governments don’t have any money. They have to borrow it, they have to tax it, or they can just print it—which is another way of borrowing it or taxing it.

So, the governments themselves—which is to say, the various business interests that are represented by political figures in governments—understand that it would be very dangerous to return completely to a pure capitalist system. But at the same time, they don’t see the possibility of a “New New Deal.” I don’t even think that people would be against it. Don’t forget that Keynesianism was the official policy in the late 1950s and 1960s. By the end of the 1950s Keynesianism had triumphed. There was the famous remark of President Nixon himself, saying “We are all Keynesians now”. So Keynesianism was the official doctrine. It is no longer. The Keynesian economists and the left Keynesians should ask themselves: “Why is this policy, which was the official orthodoxy of every capitalist country in the world, no longer the acceptable policy?”

And, you can either explain it in terms of the kind of meanness or unpleasantness of politicians, or you have to explain it in terms of some deeper rationality which expresses the functioning of the system and an inherent limit to the expansion of the state finance and state-run section of the economy, if the private capitalist system is to continue. What strikes me as so interesting about this is that it’s the end of the enthusiasm for Keynesianism or the end of sort of free-flowing Keynesianism, and the turn to austerity is a kind of recognition of the inherent limits of the present moment of capitalist growth—that they can see on the one hand that it is the limit of growth which calls for Keynesian methods. But the limit of growth also means that you can’t apply them, because the money simply is not there; and a further expansion of government spending would mean really undermining what remains of capitalism.

Brandon Jourdan: And at the same point, there is this kind of failure of Keynesianism, but there is also this other element of the left which focuses on neoliberalism from the 1970s up until the present. But in this crisis, what is interesting is that [governments] are just kind of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks—I mean, there has been anywhere from a cut to certain social spending to, say, the nationalization of banks in, say, Greece and the Netherlands, to some sort of financial stimuluses.

Paul Mattick: Well, first of all, the people who run things themselves don’t really know what to do. They don’t really understand how their system operates, and they don’t know what to do. They have various recipes from the past, and then there are different national traditions: for example, in Europe, there is more social welfare spending; in the United States there is less—and the United States still doesn’t have a serious public health care system which every normal European country now has.

So, also, in some places you can nationalize banks; in the United States, you sort of nationalize the banks—I mean, the banks are basically functioning with government money, they just they don’t call it “nationalizing the banks,” and actually what you have is a kind of—you know—banks taking over the government. But it’s sort of the same thing, and it’s the same people. And you know, it sounds very exciting if you say “oh, well, the government is nationalizing the banks,” but the government and the banks are basically just the same people. So whether you call it a “bank bailout” or a “nationalization of the bank,” the essential thing is that the banks were not able to function, and they had to be rescued by public money.

And then, there are simply local differences that play out in the different political forms and structures through which this was accomplished. But essentially, whether it’s the Netherlands or the United States or Argentina, the process is the same: namely that collective funds have to be used to rescue the financial system which was no longer able to function on its own.

Brandon Jourdan: In some countries, there’s been a legitimation crisis—but, it has been kind of shallow. For instance, in Greece in 2011: at that point, it seemed like every element of society was sick of not just politicians. There was also a frustration with union leadership, frustration with capitalism in general in a more advanced way, I think, than some other countries I’ve been in. There was also similar developments in Spain. But now, there’s sort of, I think, this desire for a sort of social peace—a sort of burnout, like “oh, we haven’t accomplished anything.” What do you think about all these developments? Now there are these kind of “calls” for new political parties, which—whether they liked it or not, are basically a repeat of some of the social democratic parties (SYRIZA, etc). I mean, is it even possible at this period of time to really—for states to both give to the population and create growth? And when does it come a point where we actually have to say, “Well, it’s kind of fucked up that the economy has to grow 3% every year for this to be a functioning economy”?—despite whatever is happening with the environment, which you also have written quite a bit—that, despite what types of exploitation, makes it have this type of growth?

Paul Mattick: Well, you’re raising quite a few questions—which is normal, because they’re all very connected to each other [laughs]. So if I can take them apart a little bit, the first thing which you notice that struck me as very true and very important, namely—one interesting feature of the last, has been the general disgust with politicians, and with politics, with business as usual. And you can see that this is a reaction to the crisis, and to the inability of the politicians to do anything about it. So then, you know, the official story was first of all that capitalism was supposed to be good for everybody. It was supposed to keep growing, and the rising tide would lift all boats. But then if there were any problems, then the government was supposed to step in and take care of those problems.

First, capitalism did not keep growing, and the government has been unable to take care of the problems. So people suddenly discover that the economy is maybe not so great as a social system, and that the politicians cannot be trusted and are just a bunch of crooks—which in their hearts everybody always knew. I mean, anybody who pays any attention to politics knows, as the eternal folklore of modern politics has always held, that politicians are crooks—but people don’t mind it as long as they are getting something out of it. But when they no longer get something out of it, then they get angry at the politicians. On the other hand, since the various social movements that developed in response to this economic downturn have been unable to change anything fundamental in social, political, and economic reality, there are no forces in power which are in a position to act other than the various people who are striving for political positions.

The problem is that there are people who make a living as politicians, and there is nothing else for them to do but continue playing the role of political figures, and making promises, and having strategies and plans, and making coalitions, and when possible even accomplishing this or that, or putting somebody in jail from an earlier regime. So, the political charade goes on. And since there is no alternative that seems to make a difference, there is always a certain percentage of the population which will become interested in it. Sometimes it can operate on an extremely cynical level, like in the United States where you have this peculiar phenomenon of the ultra-reactionary Tea Party people, who are all financed by big business and Wall Street, and who are really only preoccupied with imposing austerity and cutting taxes for the wealthy—and really no other interest whatsoever—but who nonetheless can get some befuddled right-wing yokels to vote for them on the illusion that they are somehow representing the people against Washington and Wall Street.

So you can have a revival of social democratic ideals, but I think a true revival of social democracy is not possible, any more than a true revival of fascism would be a possibility, because both of those require the possibility of government spending, of Keynesianism—and that seems to me at the moment just not to be in the cards. There is no social power that has any force behind it which is interested in further expanding the role of government. The thing that is called neoliberalism—which is not as it claimed to be, a movement for the freeing of markets, because it is entirely dependent or largely dependent on the use of government forces and means to control and manipulate the economy nationally and internationally—but what it did represent was an attempt to utilize the governments to funnel social wealth to smaller and smaller portions of the population: to the largest corporations, to break down the social welfare systems, to ensure that the money at the disposal of the state gets circulated more completely to the top layers of society.

So this remains the dominant structure in politics and in economics, and I think it is extremely unlikely that any political forces able to fight that are going to arise. Because in order to do that, you would have to mobilize—actually mobilize people to take direct action. And I think there is today no political structure, no political organizations, which are interested in mobilizing the kind of energy which has appeared in the global uprisings of the last five years. It would be extremely dangerous to do so. No one is going to do that.

Brandon Jourdan: So when you hear these right-wingers … There’s this kind of rhetoric, that is sort of a joke, about big government, and getting rid of it, [but] actually the government hasn’t gone away (in the crisis)—

Paul Mattick: Oh no, it’s bigger than ever. It’s more directly now devoted to serving the interests of major multinational corporations. That’s more—it always was the major function of governments. But now, that’s sort of—almost their only function.

Brandon Jourdan: That, and policing.

Paul Mattick: And policing, which is the same thing, because—that’s to say, because you must control the population. You need a certain amount of social order. And you know, they’re very open about it. If you read OECD discussions on this question, they will say: “We cannot completely get rid of social welfare measures” because that would threaten what they call “social cohesion” or social peace, meaning: people will riot in the streets. So, they understand that the price of a certain kind of social order, of political passivity in the population is that you don’t let very large numbers of people starve to death in the streets. So they will maintain, as long as possible, a certain level of social welfare spending — although they try to contract it and, you know, make people retire later and make their pensions lower, and so on … But that’s what it’s about. So that … is the other side of policing. Those are the two sides of maintaining social consensus, social order, and social cohesion.

Brandon Jourdan: What do you think of the movements of the last few years? There’s been certainly a show of numbers … lesser here actually than, say, Europe or North Africa—but still, pretty widespread protests, occupations, proliferation of certain general assembly-type organizations—even some factory occupations. The real impact [of these movements]is that they have brought people together, they felt a temporary sense of power—only to be kind of crushed and rolled right over. What do you think about all this and what do you think that it really takes to kind of end such a globalized system like the one we’re living in?

Paul Mattick: Well, it will take much more action, much more serious, and much more long-lasting action. As you said earlier when we were talking, a one-day general strike is a symbolic occasion, and a very exciting one, and [it’s] always nice to see them happen. But to change a society you need a strike that goes on for a month, or a year, because it’s only under such conditions that new issues arise such as “how do we maintain the flow of food?”, “how do we maintain the flow of electricity and gasoline and gas?”, “how do we maintain the operation of public services?”—that means that the strikers then have to begin to reconstruct the social system on their own. And then you come to the point of actually facing the existing society with the attempt to construct new modes of social organization.

So, it’s very exciting, and it’s not just the people who are in those events who feel excited and empowered and free temporarily, but even just reading about them or thinking about them or hearing about them is very exciting and wonderful. But it remains true that none of these events actually threatens the basis of the existing social system, which is the division between the people who own the materials and means for producing and distributing goods, and people who have to work for them in order to earn the money to buy back a certain portion of their product. And unless that division—the division between the ownership and control of social wealth, and the activity of producing more social wealth—unless that division between those two groups of people is overcome, society will remain what it is.

And to the extent that it remains the society that exists, we will be faced—at least for the immediate future—with a continuing depression, with government-imposed austerity, and private enterprise-imposed austerity. So people will have to go much farther than seemed to them reasonable to go, in order to get beyond the existing situation. And that means encountering very high levels of violence from the state, as well as going against all of the training that people experience as they grow up, and which they learn to take for granted—the existing social system is natural and normal—and even to distrust attempts to change it. So people have to undergo an internal change in order to be able to confront the existing social system. And it’s that which I think is so important about these experiments and demonstrations and uprisings of the last year(s)—is that these are the beginning of people get[ting] the idea: “Oh, well, we don’t just have to put up with things as they are.” But they will have to go much farther in order to actually change something.

You can—if you just take one little example, like Egypt—you can, if you demonstrate enough, and you are willing to put up with enough people being killed, you can get rid of Mubarak. But then there’s the army. You know, fighting the army is another thing, because the army is willing to sacrifice Mubarak to restore [order]—they don’t care about him. It’s the army that actually runs Egypt, that owns the economy. And, so, then there’s a battle between a few families which are allied with Mubarak and the other families which are running the economy with the army, and they can let him go. But the next step, if you want it to go farther in Egypt, then you would actually have to take that ownership of the economic system away from the army. But then you have to fight the army—that’s not just going to Tahrir Square and demonstrating for a month. Then you have to be ready to fight the army, and you may not even be able to do that if you’re just Egyptians. You know, maybe that’s something which can only happen in the context of a much larger social upheaval, not just in the Middle East, but in Europe. It would provide a context in which the Egyptian population would be able to oppose the military forces that are running Egypt.

Brandon Jourdan: [Switching topics] Your father was very critical of the state capitalist economies that were developed under the guise of socialism in the 20th century, and was active in Germany, was a revolutionary, and there were these revolutionary explosions that happened around this period of time, before the end of World War One, and you think that any of these movements, now they could look back at these movements and see both inspiring ideas, but also lessons in history that should be learned—

Paul Mattick: Yeah—you know, I was thinking before, that one of the problems—for me, the big problem in thinking about radical change is that on one hand it’s so obvious: you can see the existing system is so irrational, so dangerous, so harmful. And, it would be so easy to change it from a technical point of view—not from a military point of view or, the problem of actually overthrowing it is a very complex and difficult one. But if you just think, “Oh yeah”, you could sort of begin to reorganize it in a more rational way, rather—it doesn’t take a great deal of thought to think how you would at least begin to do that. But on the other hand, if you look at the history of capitalism, there is almost no revolution—you know, there is almost no socialist history. I always think that labor history is one of the most depressing fields of study because it’s a story of endless defeats and endless lost opportunities and endless mistakes and endless delusions. And that’s why there are these sort of little beacons, like [flares], like, people still talk about the Paris Commune: an uprising of one city that lasted for a month.

Why do people still talk about, why do people still think about the Paris Commune in the 21st century? Because it’s one of the very few examples that there is of some kind of—for however short a moment—of the actual attempt to create a different social system. So in this rather miserable history, the period right after the First World War—in fact, the period that ended the First World War—is really an outstanding moment, because it demonstrated a number of very important things, particularly the German revolution. First of all, it showed that revolutions are quite independent of prior organizations of the traditional political sort—that the role of the major left-wing political party was, if anything, an entirely counterrevolutionary one. And the other side of this is that it showed that people have an enormous capacity to organize themselves and to spring into action, if they feel that on one hand their backs are to something that they experience as a wall, and secondly if they can see a way forward.

I mean, it’s quite remarkable that as soon as the movement began with the first mutiny of sailors in Kiel in 1918, it spread so rapidly that within something like two weeks there were ten thousand workers’ and soldiers’ councils throughout the entire country. They had overthrown the government, they were essentially running the localities, they were beginning to organize a new political and economic structure. Having spent years fighting for the success of the Social Democratic Party, they then voted themselves out of control of society and handed it over to the party who returned to society social life as normal. And that was a very terrible defeat. But what’s very striking about that period was the capacity of people to create completely new forms of organization, which were actually quite capable of organizing social, political, and economic life on the scale of a whole country. So that’s a really important lesson which I think is yet to be digested, and one thing that has made it very hard to digest was the simultaneous revolution in Russia, which was quickly taken over and liquidated by the victory of the Bolshevik Party which then became, with the crushing of the revolutionary movement in Western Europe, kind of the dominant voice of anti-capitalism.

And that then became sort of the—because Russia actually existed, there actually was an apparently communist system, a non-capitalist system functioning somewhere—that became then the beacon that everyone who was opposed to capitalism looked to, and that has distracted people for, you know, 80 years from really absorbing and utilizing the actual lessons of the revolutionary upheaval after the First World War. But if we now go back to that, now that—you know, now that communism is dead and buried—it may be possible to go back and look again at that history, and draw some lessons from it. Again, we live in a very different world, so you can’t copy it. You could not reproduce those events today and you can’t reproduce exactly those forms of organization, but what you can see is the enormous capacity of people to create a new structure of social organization that was really quite capable of toppling a well-founded regime, of bringing the war to the end, and of altering daily life—you know, practically from one week to the next in extremely fundamental ways.

Brandon Jourdan: The one thing that strikes me about these little uprisings, you know—when we were doing our project we decided to call it “uprisings,” we weren’t going to call it “revolutions” or anything like that—people can actually shift their ideas and ways of thinking pretty fast.

Paul Mattick: Yes.

Brandon Jourdan: I mean, of course they don’t create new social relationships immediately. There is no sort of externality to capitalism—there’s not really like a real autonomous zone. It can be autonomous and independent yet subservient to the laws of capital. When they want to push it aside, unless you become something big. Can you talk a little bit more about that—the ability of people to transcend? And you talked a little bit about this in your book: about that people can persevere in pretty harsh situations and people can kind of create different forms of life when they’re forced in the position to.

Paul Mattick: Well, again, you know, we don’t have that much experience of it. But I think the main thing you said is really important, which is: it is amazing how rapidly people can change. You know, I remember this even from relatively unimportant examples of this, but thinking of going to a, say, a meeting at a college around 1970 when the American students’ strike against the expansion of the Vietnam war into Cambodia was going on. And a discussion would start in the morning with one or two people saying: “Oh, maybe we should join the strike”—and two hours later, everybody would be involved in it. And it would be quite striking that the discussion would get more and more radical, and people would then begin thinking of things that they could do, and be rushing out to start making projects.

So I think it’s absolutely true that people are ready to—people are able to change very quickly, and it’s probably because people have a lot of resources for creative thought and feeling which are stifled and not utilized in the existing social system. This is something which is always argued, particularly by anarchists who talk about the revolutionary process. And in my experience with that situation, it seems to be true. The other main class of experiences that bear on this are the ones that Rebecca Solnit talks about in her book A Paradise Built in Hell, which is the response of people to natural disasters, where again, typically, you know, so-called “regular people”—which just means whoever happens to be living there—very often respond to disasters by starting to take care of other people, and creating help centers, and cooking food, and building buildings, and people always experience these events as exciting and fulfilling—the best times they ever had in their lives.

So it’s clear that the existing social life is one which is stunting, which does not fulfill some aspect of human personality, which wants to live socially and do things together with other people—and that people will respond to emergency situations in which normal life simply can’t go on, whether because there was an earthquake or a fire or a war which is just hammering them to death—and that in these situations they are able to very quickly start behaving in new ways. And something which is noted by people over and over in every kind of revolutionary or uprising situation, as well as in sort of normal economic or natural disasters, [is] the capacity of people to begin to reconstruct. But then, there always comes the moment where you come up against the limits of the existing social system. For example, one of the interesting features of people’s response to disasters is that authorities immediately begin trying to dismantle all of these self-help organizations. And of course, in more politically radical situations, in situations of uprising or revolutionary moments, of course the authorities are quite seriously involved in trying to prevent the generalization of attempts to create new modes of social life. Human history is not a very cheerful affair—but one of the reasons that I think it would be wrong to just give up or be completely depressed is what does seem to be the capacity of people to engage in a very active and spontaneous way in constructing new modes of social activity.

Brandon Jourdan: So, when you did your talks, and also in your books, you actually use the metaphor of the scissors, of the two blades. There’s one—there’s the constant economic crisis. The other thing is climate change. This was something not really talked so much about at the [Global Uprisings] conference until you sort of injected it. There were a couple of other people that wanted to talk more about this. Do you think that capitalism has any idea of what to do with climate change? I mean, you had—a few years ago, for instance—just a personal anecdote. I went to the COP15, the climate change conference in Copenhagen, and I remember doing a talk then about the sort of green capitalist menace that some of us were convinced, wholeheartedly, that this might be the way that they try to get out of the crisis—to create economic growth. And the fucked up limits of it—all the greenwashing campaigns and all the bullshit that was—sorry, I’m using all these strong words, but it’s just my feelings about it … it just seemed incompatible that any type of positive environmentalism could come from capitalism. And it seems doomed—

Paul Mattick: Yeah, I agree with that. They know what to do. They have to stop burning fossil fuels. They can’t do it. You know, they set limits, they have meetings, they have the Kyoto protocols, they, you know, and—they’re still struggling, and they haven’t even managed in the United States to have a, you know, a carbon taxing system or one of those cap and trade systems where you pay for the right to pollute—something which is already known to be completely ineffective because it has been tried in Europe. So, what they’re struggling for is something that they already know can’t possibly work. So of course they know what to do: they would have to stop burning coal, they would have to stop burning oil, they would have to go solar, they would have to completely change consumption patterns, they would have to completely retool the whole industrial system. They cannot do it, because somebody would have to pay for all that. There are trillions of dollars invested in planting equipment which are premised on this particular regime of energy. And you’re not going to be able to force those people to lose all that money. You would have to have some kind of enormous battle between capitalist entities, and at the moment, there’s no one who can see a way to make money with what are still very underdeveloped technologies.

So there was an article in The New York Times the other day that now the big oil companies are beginning to say: “Okay, we will eventually—they will force us to buy permits to pollute.” So they’re now putting that in their growth prospectuses; they’re putting that in their plans, so presumably that will mean that they will then charge more for energy. And they’re trying to figure out ways to deal with the fact that, politically, the governments will have to do something, and the thing that they will probably do, because it is the least harmful, is to have some kind of a carbon tax or have some kind of cap and trade system of pollution permits—which is already having very bad effects now because people are selling those pollution permits and the system is now [leading] to an increase in pollutants because of the international trade and the permits to pollute. But they see that’s the future.

So no, I don’t think that this is a—I’m sorry, because I think that this is a very serious and terrible problem from the point of view of the human race—but I do not see that they have the slightest chance of dealing with it fast enough, because this is now out there. The problem is that the time scale is actually rather short in which they would have to act, and it is very, very difficult for capitalism which is very disorganized, and which is very competitive, to get itself under control, so to speak, and try to deal with a problem like this. So I actually think that the ecological problems will simply become more and more serious, and this will also put enormous pressure on people in terms of simply the experience of daily life.

Brandon Jourdan: And the thing that capitalists tend to do—is that they offer these really bad solutions, like, oh, natural gas—

Paul Mattick: Then they poison the water supply everywhere and—earthquakes and—yeah. Of course, it’s not because natural gas burns cleaner; the real reason they do it is, there actually is natural gas and they have found a cheap way to get it out which will be paid for by somebody else over the next 50 years, and right now, because the price of oil is relatively high, and the price of coal is even higher than it was, it turns out that gas is cheaper. So now they can make more money with gas. That’s all it is.

Brandon Jourdan: And there’s always these short-term solutions.

Paul Mattick: They have only short-term solutions. They cannot think in a long term way because the money has to be made in the short term.

Brandon Jourdan: I can’t really remember—oh, so there was, really, one kind of fun moment for me at the conference was in the Q&A, when you were asked: “What do we have to do?”—and so I’m just going to ask you that again.

Paul Mattick: The question was what would I like to see happen—and my answer was the abolition of wage-labor and the destruction of the state, which is of course a kind of a flippant answer. But what I mean to say is that I really think there is no solution to these problems, but one which is as fundamental as that. Now it seems like a weirdly old-fashioned thing to say, but that might just be because of my age, maybe now for many younger people it isn’t old-fashioned anymore: to say, “You really have to get rid of capitalism. Capitalism cannot deal with these problems.” Even if capitalism manages to grow again, I do not think that the economy will be able to grow at a rate which will make possible high enough employment levels to sort of afford lives to people that workers got used to in the developed countries in the 1950s and 60s and even 70s. So I think from the economic point of view, the medium- and long-term perspectives are very bleak, and I think from the ecological point of view, the medium- and long-term perspectives are catastrophic, and there simply is no possibility to get out of this without actually changing the social system.

And that means that you must end the ownership and control of the productive system on which human life depends by that minority of humans who control it, and for whom everybody else has to work if they are lucky enough to be able to do so. There is no way out of it. So that’s why, when somebody said at the conference “But what, short of that, could you do?”, the only thing that I could think of to say was: then you have to try to get a job, because other than that you have to survive as well as you can. Those are the choices: either on an individual basis or on a national basis or a group basis, you know, if you are white people, or men, or Europeans, or Northern Europeans, you can try—maybe you can do better than some other group. Or as a particular individual, you might be able to live better than another individual. So you can try to do as best as you can for yourself as an individual, or you have to somehow, together with other people, fundamentally alter the existing social system. And by alter, I mean really destroy it and create a new system: a system of a radically different type, which would be based on the collective democratic control of the interaction of human beings with nature—that the economists call “production”, but which you could also call the “daily life.”

Brandon Jourdan: But I think there is kind of a period of time that is exciting. Within these insurrections or uprisings or protests there have not been real clear examples of a new world, but there’s sort of like a—I think it was a term in the Spanish Civil War—a kind of “revolutionary gymnastics”, which you kind of go through these real social explosions, you develop new ideas…

Paul Mattick: Well, you know, it doesn’t look like they’re going to just sort of peter out—and that’s because nothing is really changing. So people get tired—you know, it’s very interesting, if you look at a country like France, you had a few years ago a lot of energy, and high school strikes, and unemployment demonstrations, and high school teachers were fighting when they were cutting schools, and parents were occupying the schools because they were firing teachers. So then that all just sort of—you know, then people felt “Oh god! Nothing—we’re not getting anywhere.” Then it just sort of dies down. But in the meantime, of course, now things are gradually getting even worse. So it seems to me quite expectable that in the future these things will break out again.

So, it’s possible that if this continues, then people will, through these experiences, both learn of their unwilling discovery, of their own unwillingness simply to put up with the shit, discover their ability to make some kind of effort to protest, and discover the limits of protest, and then people will be faced with the choice: either we have to go farther, we have to go very far in a very radical direction, or we just have to give up. Once people are beginning to act, it’s harder for them to just give up.

Netflix to pay Comcast to prioritize content


By Gabriel Black
28 February 2014

On February 23, Netflix, the US DVD-by-mail and video-streaming service, announced that it had agreed to pay Internet service provider (ISP) Comcast an undisclosed sum to create a direct link between their respective networks, thereby giving priority access to Netflix content over other websites and services. The transaction is a blow to net neutrality, the concept that ISPs should treat all data on the Internet equally, and sets a precedent for ISPs playing a more aggressive role in filtering Internet content.

The agreement comes only a month after the federal appeals court annulled a law prohibiting ISPs from selectively blocking or slowing down specific Internet traffic, and just a few weeks after Comcast announced that it was purchasing Time-Warner, giving it control of roughly 40 percent of the US’s broadband cable market.

While the plan’s details are still emerging, the deal essentially allows Comcast customers a more direct link to Comcast’s own servers when they are watching Netflix videos. This direct connection allows Netflix watchers, on Comcast Internet, a data highway bypassing third-party servers that usually stand in the way.

Though a core net neutrality law was stricken last month, Comcast promised, as part of its takeover of NBC Universal in 2011, to abide by net neutrality rules through 2018. This would mean that Comcast cannot discriminate the traffic it receives, speeding up some over others, at least for the next five years. While the deal with Netflix will preferentially speed up Netflix traffic, Comcast argues that this is not traffic discrimination.

The Washington Post reports that “officially, Comcast’s deal with Netflix is about interconnection, not traffic discrimination…but it’s hard to see a practical difference between this deal and the kind of tiered access that network neutrality advocates have long feared.” In the words of the Post, “Comcast’s deal with Netflix makes network neutrality obsolete.”

The principle of net neutrality asserts that the Internet is a “common carriage,” a legal concept that protects the right of the public to access basic services and infrastructure. “Common carriage” laws prevent companies that operate railroads, airplanes, telecommunication networks, and other essential services from giving privileged access to certain customers.

Netflix has grown tremendously in the past few years. The site accounts for 31.2% of all downstream traffic on the Internet. According to Netflix, from October 2013 to January 2014, Netflix users using Comcast saw a slowdown of 27% in their viewing speeds. Viewers using Verizon broadband saw a slowdown of about 18% during the same period.

In the months leading up to the agreement, Comcast reportedly called for Netflix to pay money to Comcast to speed up Netflix viewing for Comcast customers.

Kevin Webach, a former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) counsel, told the Economist, “One danger is that the deal is bad for big online-content providers like Netflix by forcing them to pay more. Another is that it’s actually good for Netflix and bad for the smaller innovators who don’t have leverage to enter into these agreements.”

Now that Netflix has agreed to Comcast’s demands, paying to have a direct server link, other companies could begin to do the same. The company is expected to reach a similar agreement with AT&T and Verizon in the coming months.

This trend of companies paying ISPs for preferential treatment and closer access to their servers will further enable the giant telecommunication companies, Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T, to consolidate their stranglehold over the flow of information. Smaller companies that do not pay for their own direct connection could have slower service.

Netflix is expected to grow even more in the coming years. The speed and quality of its video feed are considered to be an essential aspect of this growth, especially as new, higher-resolution Internet TVs become available.

It is within this context of having its business threatened by slow speeds that, according to Consumerist.com, “Comcast will allow the streaming video company to continue growing.” In other words, if Netflix did not pay Comcast money to speed up viewing, its business would be threatened.

The deal further underscores the immense power that Comcast-NBC Universal has. With its proposed acquisition of Time-Warner, Comcast will own roughly 38% of all cable television within the United States. The corporation is the largest mass media and communications company in the world, controlling everything from the physical infrastructure of the Internet to the content produced for the web and television. It should be noted that these companies have been complicit in the massive NSA spying program revealed by Edward Snowden.

Comcast, and for that matter, US Internet companies in general, lag far behind their international competition. According to Susan Crawford, a media law professor, interviewed on National Public Radio, metropolises like Seoul and Stockholm charge roughly $25 a month for Internet connections that are “100 times faster than the very fastest connection available in the United States.”

Crawford continues: “[Cable Companies] are extracting enormous rents, enormous profits, from what Americans perceive to be a basic service.” She charges that these rents are possible because of the powerful monopolies existing in the US market with no serious competition.

A smaller company, Cogent, which handles Netflix Internet traffic, is also being threatened by Verizon. Currently, data requests are dropped every day between Cogent and Verizon, resulting in the slowdown of video services. Verizon is arguing that Cogent needs to pay money, in a data exchange that is traditionally free, because Cogent is transferring more data to Verizon than it is receiving from it.

Cogent argues that the reason why video services have slowed down is because Verizon refuses to upgrade its network infrastructure. According to arstechnica.com, Cogent also “points out that Verizon offers its own streaming video services, such as Redbox Instant, and thus has an incentive to harm Netflix traffic.”

Your Cell Phone Is More Incriminating Than You Think



February 24, 2014 // 04:05 PM EST

Image: Alex Segre/Flickr


I have some beef with the “nothing to hide” response to the conversation about online privacy that Edward Snowden started when he blew the whistle on the NSA. Admittedly, I haven’t ditched my Gmail account or iPhone in favor of an encrypted messaging service or anything, and yeah, that’s partly because I’m not plotting any illegal schemes over email. But we can’t predict what will happen in the future, and increasingly, we can’t erase the digital record of what happened in the past.

These days, that record is more thorough and robust than ever before, thanks to the ubiquity of mobile phones. The way we communicate over the phone is often more candid, personal, and truthful than on a computer, and we’re sending texts and snapping photos with the gadgets glued to our sides around the clock. As GigaOm’s Jeff John Roberts pointed out today, in a court of law, the cell phone is the new smoking gun.


Roberts reminds us that even when you “delete” content on your phone, it doesn’t actually disappear. It’s stored on the device’s hard drive, for one, probably also backed up on your computer, or in the cloud, or possibly in the records kept by your phone company. There are steps to take to permanently wipe out all that data, but few people bother to take them.


Until there is something to hide. At that point—in the unhappy case you find yourself lawyering up and facing criminal charges—trying to delete data off your phone is not just futile, it’s potentially illegal; it can be seen as tampering with evidence. Instead, suspects are required to hand over devices for lawyers and mobile forensics experts to scan through looking for incriminating bits of information.


Now you may be thinking, alright, but I’d never be in that situation because I’m an upstanding citizen that obeys the law. Okay, but have you ever been arrested? Might there be a chance you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time someday right when the cops show up? Is that, like, totally outside the realm of possibility?


I ask because in most US states, police are free to search through your cell phone, without a warrant, as soon as they make an arrest—just like they can dig through your pockets to look for any signs of law-breaking. And if there’s reasonable suspicion that evidence of a crime is sitting in your phone, cops are at liberty to scan through your personal data even if they’re just pulling you over and no arrest has been made.


This is something privacy advocates are fighting against. The Supreme Court has been asked to hear two cases on whether warrantless cell phone searches violate Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Other states, most recently Massachusetts and New Jersey, are passing laws to require that police obtain a warrant before tracking a suspect’s cell phone location data.


So maybe you recently texted a buddy a picture about your shady drunken shenanigans last weekend, and now you’re thinking twice about having that particular communication floating in the internet ether. Or maybe you’re a perfect angel. Regardless, it’s the principle of the thing that’s the point: Ignoring the potential, unforeseen ramifications of the trove of permanent data we’re sending into cyberspace is shortsighted.


Mobile phones are just one example—there are also social media platforms, web browsers, computer hard drives, and cloud storage all amassing a pile of messages, images, and digitized records documenting your actions. And wiping your records is harder than you might expect.


Considering this, it’s no surprise to see the rise of ephemeral and anonymous messaging over the last six months or so. However, even this trend isn’t a privacy panacea. Some of the “self-destructing” data apps, most notably SnapChat, don’t actually delete the content.


Others, like ephemeral data apps created from The Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde and Silent Circle, which make a point not to store content on devices or on the company servers, lest law enforcement comes knocking, have yet to break out of cypherpunk circles. And my guess is they won’t—not until enough people who thought they had nothing to hide wind up getting thrown in jail, or slapped with hefty fines, because someone dug up an old text message.




The Five Commandments of Barack Obama

How “Thou Shalt Not” Became “Thou Shalt”

By Karen J. Greenberg

In January 2009, Barack Obama entered the Oval Office projecting idealism and proud to be the constitutional law professor devoted to turning democratic principles into action.  In his first weeks in office, in a series of executive orders and public statements, the new president broadcast for all to hear the five commandments by which life in his new world of national security would be lived.

Thou shalt not torture.

Thou shalt not keep Guantanamo open.

Thou shalt not keep secrets unnecessarily.

Thou shalt not wage war without limits.

Thou shalt not live above the law.

Five years later, the question is: How have he and his administration lived up to these self-proclaimed commandments?

Let’s consider them one by one:

1. Thou Shalt Not Torture.

Here, the president has fared best at living up to his own standards and ending a shameful practice encouraged and supported by the previous administration. On his first day in office, he ordered an end to the practice of torture, or as the Bush administration euphemistically called it, “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs), by agents of the U.S. government. In the president’s words, “effective immediately” individuals in U.S. custody “shall not be subjected to any interrogation technique or approach, or any treatment related to interrogation, that is not authorized by and listed in [the] Army Field Manual.”

No questioning of future terror suspects would henceforth be done without using standard, legal forms of interrogation codified in the American criminal and military justice systems. This meant, among other things, shutting down the network of secret prison facilities, or “black sites,” the Bush administration had established globally from Poland to Thailand, where the CIA had infamously tortured its captives in the Global War on Terror.  With that in mind, Obama ordered the CIA to “close as expeditiously as possible any detention facilities that it currently operates and… not operate any such detention facility in the future.”

The practice of officially sponsored torture, which had, in fact, begun to fall into disuse in the last years of the Bush administration, was now to come to a full stop.  Admittedly, there are still some issues that warrant attention. The continued force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo is a case in point, but state-sponsored torture, justified by law, is now, as before the Bush years, illegal in America.

The commandment banning torture has, it seems, lasted into the sixth year of Obama’s presidency — and so much for the good news.

2.  Thou Shalt Not Keep Guantanamo Open.

On his first day in office, President Obama also pledged to close the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention facility, home at the time to 245 detainees, within a year. The task proved politically impossible. So today, the president stands pledged once again to close it within a year.  As he said in his State of the Union Address last month, “this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.” And it’s possible that, this time, he might actually do so.

In June 2013, the president appointed former Clinton White House lawyer Cliff Sloan as special envoy in charge of closing Guantanamo. After a long period in which the administration seemed stymied, in part by Congress, in its efforts to send detainees approved for release home or to a third country, Sloan has overseen the transfer from the island prison of 11 of them.  He is now reportedly working to transfer the less than 80 remaining individuals the Pentagon has cleared.

But there’s a catch.  No matter how many prisoners Sloan succeeds in releasing, President Obama has made it clear that he only means to close Guantanamo in the most technical sense possible — by emptying the current facility in one fashion or another. He is, it turns out, quite prepared to keep the Guantanamo system of indefinite detention itself intact and has no intention of releasing all the detainees. Those who can’t be tried — due, it is claimed, to lack of evidence — will nonetheless be kept indefinitely somewhere. Fewer than 50 prisoners remain behind bars without charges or trial until — as the formula goes — the authorities determine that they no longer pose a risk to American national security.  Although the population is indeed dwindling (Gitmo currently holds 155 detainees), the most basic aspect of the system, the strikingly un-American claim that suspects in Washington’s war on terror can be held forever and a day without charges or trial, will remain in place.

In other words, when it comes to his second commandment, the president will be able to follow it only by redefining what closure means.

3. Thou Shalt Not Keep Secrets.

The first issue that Obama singled out as key to his presidency on his initial day in office was the necessity of establishing a sunshine administration. Early on, he tied his wagon to ending the excessive secrecy of the Bush administration and putting more information in the public arena. Bush-era policies of secrecy had been crucial to the establishment of torture practices, warrantless wiretapping, and other governmental excesses and patently illegal activities. Obama’s self-professed aim was to restore trust between the people and their government by pledging himself to “transparency” — that is, the open sharing of government information and its acts with the citizenry.

Transparency, he emphasized, “promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use.” Towards that end, the president made a first gesture to seal his good intentions: he released a number of previously classified documents from the Bush years on torture policy.

And there, as it happened, the sunshine ended and the shadows crept in again.  In the five years that followed, little of note occurred in the name of transparency and much, including a war against whistleblowers of every sort, was pursued in the name of secrecy. In those years, in fact, the Obama administration offered secrecy (and its spread) a remarkable embrace. The president also sent a chill through the government itself by prosecuting seven individuals who saw themselves as whistleblowers, far more than all other presidents combined. And it launched an international manhunt to capture Edward Snowden, after he turned over to various journalists secret National Security Agency files documenting its global surveillance methods. At one point, the administration even arranged to have the Bolivian president’s plane forced down over Europe on the (mistaken) assumption that Snowden was aboard.

After the drumbeat of Snowden’s revelations had been going on for months, government officials, including the president, continued to insist that the NSA’s massive, secret, warrantless surveillance techniques were crucial to American safety. (This was denied in no uncertain terms by a panel of five prominent national security experts Obama appointed to examine the secret documents and propose reforms for the NSA surveillance programs.) Spokespeople for the administration continued to insist as well that the exposure of these secret NSA policies represented harm to the nation’s security of the most primal sort. (For this claim, too, there has still been no proof.)

Before Snowden’s revelations about the gathering of the phone metadata of American citizens, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper evidently had no hesitation in lying to a congressional committee on the subject.  In their wake, he claimed that they were the “most massive and most damaging theft of intelligence information in our history.”  Certainly, they were the most embarrassing for officials like Clapper.

By 2014, it couldn’t have been clearer that secrecy, not transparency, had become this government’s mantra (accompanied by vague claims of national security), just as in the Bush years. One clear example of this unabashed embrace of secrecy came to light last month when that presidentially appointed panel weighed in on reforming the NSA.  While constructive reforms were indeed suggested, the idea that a secret court — the FISA court — could be the final arbiter of who can legally be surveilled was not challenged. Instead, the reforms suggested and accepted by Obama were clearly aimed at strengthening the court. No one seemed to raise the question: Isn’t a secret court anathema to democracy?

Nor, of course, has secrecy been limited to the NSA.  It’s been a hallmark of the Obama years and, for instance, continues to hamper the military commissions at Guantanamo. Their hands are tied (so to speak) by the CIA’s obsessive anxieties that still-classified material might come out in court — either the outdated information al-Qaeda figures detained for more than a decade once knew or evidence of how brutally they were tortured. Perhaps the most striking example of government secrecy today, however, is the drone program.  There, the president continues to insist that the Justice Department documents offering “legal” authorization and justification for White House-ordered drone assassinations of suspects, including American citizens, remain classified, even as administration officials leak information on the program that they think will make them look justified.

On the commandment against secrecy, then, the president has decidedly and defiantly moved from a shall-not to a shall.

4. Thou Shalt Not Wage War Without Limits.

At the outset of Obama’s presidency, the administration called into question the notion of a borderless battlefield, aka the globe. He also threw into the trash heap of history the Bush administration’s term “Global War on Terror,” or GWOT as it came to be known acronymically.

This January, in his State of the Union address, the president stated his continued aversion to the notion that Washington should pursue an unlimited war. He was speaking by now not just about the geography of the boundless battlefield, but of the very idea of warfare without an endpoint. “America,” he counseled, “must move off a permanent war footing.” Months earlier, in speaking about the use of drone warfare, the president had noted his commitment to pulling back on the use of force. “So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the [Authorization for the Use of Military Force’s] mandate.”

Despite the president’s insistence on placing limits on war, however, his own brand of warfare has helped lay the basis for a permanent state of American global warfare via “low footprint” drone campaigns and special forces operations aimed at an ever morphing enemy usually identified as some form of al-Qaeda. According to Senator Lindsey Graham, the Obama administration has already killed 4,700 individuals in numerous countries, including Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.  It has killed four U.S. citizens in the process and is reportedly considering killing a fifth.  The president has successfully embedded the process of drone killings in the executive branch in such a way that any future president will inherit them, along with the White House “kill list” and its “terror Tuesday” meetings.  Unbounded global war is now part of what it means to be president.

On the commandment against waging limitless war, then, the president has visibly failed to comply with his own mandate.

5.  Thou Shalt Not Live Above the Law

At the outset of his presidency, Obama seemed to hold the concept of accountability in high regard. Following the spirit of his intention to ban torture, his attorney general, Eric Holder, opened an investigation into the torture policies of the Bush years.  He even appointed a special prosecutor to look into CIA interrogation abuses. Two years later, though, all but two of the cases were dropped without prosecution.  In 2012, the final two cases, both involving the deaths of detainees, were dropped as well on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence “to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Nor was there any appetite inside the administration for prosecuting the Bush-era Justice Department lawyers who had drafted the “torture memos” providing the bogus justifications for applying torture techniques such as waterboarding in the first place.

Not punishing those who created and applied the policy was clearly a signal that no acts committed as part of the war on terror and under the rubric of national security would ever be prosecuted. This was, in its own way, an invitation to some future presidency to revive the torture program. Nor have its defenders been silenced. If torture had been considered truly illegal, and people had been held accountable, then perhaps assurances against its recurrence would be believable. Instead, each and every time they are given the chance, leading figures from the Bush administration defend the practice.

In former CIA Director Michael Hayden’s words, “the fact is it did work.” Marc Thiessen, former speechwriter for President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, has underscored this message: “Dick Cheney is right. The CIA interrogation program did produce valuable intelligence that stopped attacks and saved lives.”

While the case against the torturers was dropped, a potentially shocking and exhaustive analysis of CIA documents on the “enhanced interrogation program,” a 6,000 page report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is still tangled up in administration secrecy rules and regulations (see Commandment 2), despite innumerable requests for its release. Supposedly the report claims that the torture program did not work or fulfill any of the claims of its supporters.

In other words, the absence of accountability for one of the most egregious crimes committed in the name of the American people persists.  And from drone killings to NSA surveillance policies, the Obama administration has continued to support those in the government who are perfectly ready to live above the law and extrajudicially.

On this commandment, then, the president has once again failed to meet his own standards.

Five years later, Obama’s commandants need a rewrite.  Here’s what they should now look like and, barring surprises in the next three years, these, as written, will both be the virtual law of the land and constitute the Obama legacy.

Thou shalt not torture (but thou shalt leave the door open to the future use of torture).

Thou shalt detain forever.

Thou shalt live by limitless secrecy.

Thou shalt wage war everywhere and forever.

Thou shalt not punish those who have done bad things in the name of the national security state.

Karen J. Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, is the author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First One-Hundred Days, as well as of numerous articles on national security policy after 9/11, and a TomDispatch regular.  Kevin Garnett, legal research fellow at the center, contributed research to this article.

Copyright 2014 Karen J. Greenberg


Snowden documents show US, UK spy agencies infiltrate online groups

By Nick Barrickman
27 February 2014

British and US intelligence agencies are systematically employing deceptive tactics to monitor, manipulate and subvert the activities of individuals in various online activist organizations who have never been charged with crimes, according to a report on Glenn Greenwald’s website, the Intercept.

The report is based on a 50-page presentation by the British spy agency GCHQ to the NSA and other agencies, entitled “The Art of Deception: Training for a New Generation of Online Covert Operations.” The document expands on details of methods used by GCHQ and its previously secret unit, the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), reported in previous leaks from Snowden.

Greenwald notes that JTRIG is engaged in “online covert action” (OCA) against individuals and groups in an effort “to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets,” as well as “to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable.”

The aim of these operations, as with the basic mission of the NSA and its partners, is not to combat “terrorism,” but to target anyone considered a threat to the internal and geopolitical interests of the British and American ruling class.

Greenwald notes that the targets “extend far beyond the customary roster of normal spycraft: hostile nations and their leaders, military agencies, and intelligence services.” They are primarily directed against “people suspected (but not charged or convicted) of ordinary crimes or, more broadly still, ‘hacktivism,’ meaning those who use online protest activity for political ends.”

One slide, headlined “Disruption Operation Playbook” lists a number of tactics, including “infiltration operation,” “ruse operation,” “false flag operation” and “false rescue operation.” Another, under the headline “Discredit a target,” lists suggestions including “set up a honey-trap,” “change their photos on social networking sites,” “write a blog purporting to be one of their victims” and “email/text their colleagues, neighbours, friends etc.”

“Claims that government agencies are infiltrating online communities and engaging in false flag operations to discredit targets are often dismissed as conspiracy theories, but these documents leave no doubt they are doing precisely that,” Greenwald writes.

Also discussed in the document is the infiltration of online groups with the intent to undermine and disrupt them. The use of a “Human Science Operations Cell, devoted to online human intelligence and strategic influence and disruption,” is intended to disrupt groups through the manipulation of ideological differences, competition, personal power, and other such conflicts.

As a member of the “Five Eyes” alliance with other English-speaking countries, the GCHQ has developed its methods in close collaboration with intelligence counterparts in the US and elsewhere. Covert actions are implemented with the assistance of local authorities, the report notes.

The report comes on the heels of another detailing a “dirty tricks” campaign used by JTRIG to lure targets into compromising situations via the promise of sexual acts, also known as “honey traps.”

The methods employed by JTRIG echo the campaign used to attack and discredit organizations such as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is currently seeking refuge from British and US authorities in the embassy of Ecuador in Britain. Members of the Swedish parliament leveled claims of rape against Assange in an attempt to discredit him as well as his organization, with the ultimate goal of silencing the whistleblower.

The report exposes the phony efforts of the Obama administration to enact so-called “reforms” of the NSA. Greenwald mentions Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, previously the head of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, as an early advocate of covert online activity to target activist groups. Sunstein was later appointed by Obama to a NSA review panel that proposed minor, cosmetic reforms aimed at ensuring that the agencies illegal activities continued.


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