Leftist luminaries Jeremy Scahill and Owen Jones attempted to cast aspersions upon Mother Agnes, but instead they have brought discredit not only upon themselves, but upon the conference at which they are to speak in London next Saturday. We should not be surprised at the way all this has turned out.
As I reported previously, Scahill and Jones announced they would not take part in an antiwar conference organized by the Stop the War Coalition should they have to share the same platform with Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross, a Syrian nun who has worked tirelessly to bring about an end to the bloodshed in her country. As yet, no explanation or elaboration has been offered by the pair as justification for their laying down of such an ultimatum. But for her own part, Mother Agnes has taken steps to ensure they will not have to undergo the abhorrent ordeal of appearing with her. She has pulled out of the conference.
In the war in Syria, or more precisely in the way the war has been reported, radically different narratives have been presented, narratives that are, and have been, almost completely counter to one another. In one view, that reported by Western mainstream media, Syrian President Bashar Assad is a brutal, criminal dictator intent on killing his own people, while those fighting to bring his government down are freedom fighters (although following the posting of a video showing one of the freedom fighters eating a human organ, the media shifted slightly and began allowing that “some” of the insurgents were extremists). By contrast, the picture presented by Russian and other foreign media, and on blogs like this one, is that Assad has the support of a sizeable portion of the Syrian people and that the conflict has little or nothing to do with democracy. Instead it is aimed at effecting regime change to the benefit of Gulf oil monarchies as well as the West and Israel. Also in this view, Assad, while not perfect, is not nearly as ogreish and demonic as he is made out to be in the Western media.
It comes down to who has the greater credibility—the Western, and principally US, media, which promoted the war in Iraq on the basis of false claims about weapons of mass destruction, or Russian media outlets like RT, who have no record of peddling lies in an effort to justify wars. You would think that for leftists the choice would be clear. But for some reason, Scahill, a reporter for The Nation, and Jones, who has a column in The Independent, have taken a position that possibly would suggest they accord the Western media the greater credibility—at least insofar as the Syrian war in general, and Mother Agnes in particular, are concerned.
Those favoring US intervention in Syria no doubt had their hopes raised by the August 21 chemical weapons attack. An all out escalation into a regional and possibly even global conflict seemed imminent, but the hopes of warmongers were dashed through some clever statesmanship by Vladimir Putin and also after Mother Agnes released a 50-page report introducing evidence that some of the videos uploaded immediately after the attack had been staged and scripted and suggesting that the attack might have been carried out not by the Syrian government but by the opposition. You can read the full report here. Decide for yourself whether you think it’s credible.
My own take on it all is that through her report, as well as through her presence, her holiness, and her actions—including the evacuation of more than 5,000 people from a besieged town in October—Mother Agnes has considerably undermined the Western narrative on events in Syria. And that obviously has upset a lot of plans and made a lot of people mad.
“Why did the invitation from Stop the War to a nun working to stop war raise objections?” asks William M. Boardman in an article posted Thursday. Boardman goes on to comment, “It’s hard to find any evidence that Mother Agnes has committed anything worse than what others consider thought-crimes and politically incorrect obeservations, some of which are actually correct.”
So was somebody pressuring Scahill and Jones to disassociate themselves from Mother Agnes? Did they think doing so would advance their careers? Did Scahill think it would win him additional appearances on the Rachel Maddow Show or CBS Evening News? Is Jones hoping for more exposure on Sky News and the BBC? I don’t have an answer to these questions. I would note only that intoxication of power is not something leftists are especially immune to any more so than anyone else. The main problem is succumbing to such impulses at the expense of someone making a genuine effort to achieve peace.
When faced with a choice between taking a stand based upon principle and one based upon convenience, the left seems to opt more and more for the latter these days, and it is attitudes such as this that are leading it, much like Western society as a whole, toward self destruction. So what should the organizers of the conference do? Here is my suggestion: Re-extend the invitation to Mother Agnes. Do so publicly. She may decline. But you will at least regain some credibility. Should she accept, all the better. And if Jones and Scahill wish to pull out as a result, even better yet. Their presence at the podium at this point is probably more of a liability than an asset in any event. Proceeding under the present conditions—with Scahill and Jones on the bill and the curtain in effect drawn on any participation by Mother Agnes—will cheapen and devalue the event.
- Owen Jones & Mother Agnes. A lesson on conciliatory “leftists”. (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- ‘Investigative Journalist’ Scahill Takes Swipe at Mother Agnes (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- On Owen Jones and the Stop The War Coalition (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Open Letter to the Stop the War Coalition (pulsemedia.org)
Inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee
Internet surveillance by British and US spying agencies has posed a threat to online freedom and the future of democracy, British inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee has warned.
Berners-Lee said some governments are jeopardized by how the Internet and social media help exposing wrongdoings across the planet, adding that the “growing tide of surveillance and censorship now threatens the future of democracy”.
He also said that whistleblowers who have leaked secret surveillance by US National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s eavesdropping agency the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) deserve praise and need to be protected.
Berners-Lee’s comments come after classified documents, leaked by US whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in June, showed the NSA and its British counterpart the GCHQ had been eavesdropping on millions of American and European phone records and the Internet data.
“Countries owe a lot to whistleblowers – there’s a series of whistleblowers who have been involved. Snowden is the latest. Because there was no way we could have had that conversation without them,” he said at the launch of a new index showing web freedoms around the world.
“At the end of the end day when systems for checks and balances break down we have to rely on the whistleblowers – I think we must protect them and respect them,” he added.
In his interview with The Guardian earlier this month, Berners-Lee described the spying activities by the US and UK spying agencies as “dysfunctional and unaccountable.”
The inventor of the World Wide Web slammed the US and British governments for weakening online security and said their spying activities have contradicted all efforts to stop cybercrime and cyber warfare.
Why Healthcare.gov Sucks? Because They Hired Political Cronies, Not Internet Native Companies To Build It
There’s been plenty of talk lately about just how screwed up the launch of Healthcare.gov has been. While any massively large-scale internet launch is likely to suffer some problems, the level of disaster on this particular project has been quite impressive. This has led some to wonder why this happened, especially given the reputation of President Obama’s “web-savvy” campaign team. The answers aren’t too hard to figure out, of course. First off, the campaign team is quite different from the team implementing this — which was handled by the Department of Health and Human Services. But, more importantly: it appears that the federal government basically handed this project over to the same crew of giant government contractors, who have a long history of screwed up giant IT projects, and almost no sense of the “internet native” world.
The Sunlight Foundation (link above) figured out the list of contractors who worked on the site, and noted that the big ones not only are well-known DC power-player insiders, but they’re also big on the lobbying and political contributions side of things. You’ve got companies like… Booz Allen Hamilton, famous for promoting cyberwar hype and employing Ed Snowden. There’s defense contracting giant Northrup Grumman. Then there’s SAIC — which I can’t believe can still get government business. This is the same firm that famously was given a $380 million contract to revamp the FBI system, on which it went $220 million over budget, and then saw the entire system scrapped after it (literally) brought some users to tears, and the FBI realized it was useless in fighting terrorism. SAIC is also the company that NYC Mayor Bloomberg demanded return $600 million after a city computer project (budgeted at $68 million) actually cost $740 million. SAIC has a long list of similar spectacular failures on government IT projects.
As you look down the list put together by the Sunlight Foundation, it’s all companies like this: giant monstrosities which are simply tied in closely with the government. All the large consulting firms are listed: Accenture, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, McKinsey. What’s missing? Basically any company with even the slightest smidgen of experience building and maintaining large-scale, public-facing web-based apps. The list has no “internet native” companies.
Many, many years ago, I worked for an e-commerce startup here in Silicon Valley, and I ended up (sort of by default) in charge of trying to open up the government market for what we were doing. It involved meeting with a slew of all-too-slick, ex-politician, ex-military “consultants” with no technical knowledge whatsoever, who, for $15k to $25k/month retainers plus a (large) cut of any deal, would drink hard liquor and promise to “connect” us with big companies with government connections, and then help us sneak past the government bidding process to get no-bid contracts. It was an eye-opening experience that highlighted for me that getting government contracts in the tech world was very much about who you knew, rather than any actual knowledge, skills or experience. While this was quite a long time ago, it would appear that little has changed.
The UN has apparently been considering a proposal pushed by Brazil and Germany, to clarify that basic offline rights to privacy should apply to online information and activities as well. The proposal is targeted at attempts by governments — mainly the US — to ignore privacy issues in spying on people around the globe. Not surprisingly, the US is (quietly) working hard to stop this plan. Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy has the scoop, noting that publicly, the US is pretending to support this in some form:
But privately, American diplomats are pushing hard to kill a provision of the Brazilian and German draft which states that “extraterritorial surveillance” and mass interception of communications, personal information, and metadata may constitute a violation of human rights. The United States and its allies, according to diplomats, outside observers, and documents, contend that the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not apply to foreign espionage.
In recent days, the United States circulated to its allies a confidential paper highlighting American objectives in the negotiations, “Right to Privacy in the Digital Age — U.S. Redlines.” It calls for changing the Brazilian and German text so “that references to privacy rights are referring explicitly to States’ obligations under ICCPR and remove suggestion that such obligations apply extraterritorially.” In other words: America wants to make sure it preserves the right to spy overseas.
The U.S. paper also calls on governments to promote amendments that would weaken Brazil’s and Germany’s contention that some “highly intrusive” acts of online espionage may constitute a violation of freedom of expression. Instead, the United States wants to limit the focus to illegal surveillance — which the American government claims it never, ever does. Collecting information on tens of millions of people around the world is perfectly acceptable, the Obama administration has repeatedly said. It’s authorized by U.S. statute, overseen by Congress, and approved by American courts.
While none of this creates any binding requirements, it does put tremendous pressure on countries to comply — and could lead to more specific language in various treaties and other agreements as well. It also allows other countries to stand firmly on the moral high ground that the US pretends to stand on, in order to scold the US for its activities.
The US, of course, likes to pretend that it needs to violate everyone’s privacy to catch a few bad guys. There is little reason to suggest this is true. Nothing in the proposal appears to stop legitimate law enforcement, espionage and surveillance efforts, targeted at actual people involved in criminal or terrorist activity. The issue is scooping up everyone’s data “just because.” That’s not what US negotiators are saying, obviously. Instead, they argue they need to scoop up everyone’s data to make the world safer by going after “international terrorists.”
The US’s stance here is fairly obvious. It wants to pretend to retain the moral high ground on this issue, and the way to do that is to try to stop the rest of the world from pointing out that it’s been on the low road for quite some time. But trying to redraw the map doesn’t change the reality.
Obamacare is unraveling, not because the administration is particularly incompetent or unlucky, and certainly not as a result of the Republicans’ unrelenting hostility to the Obama health insurance plan. Indeed, ever since the bill’s passage in early 2010, the GOP’s holy war against Obamacare has served to solidify reflexive Democratic support for what has always been a Republican-inspired bill.
The truth is, the Affordable Health Care Act is coming undone because of its own, tortured internal logic. At root, it is a fraud on the public: a scheme to subsidize and more deeply embed a private insurance system that can only make profits by denying sick and vulnerable people health care, and playing different demographics of Americans against each other. As every other industrialized country in the world has already learned, it is impossible to build a genuine, universal healthcare system on a cut-throat capitalist foundation. Private insurers make money by betting against the health interests of their customers. Obama served his corporate masters by conspiring to make tens of millions more Americans into customers of private insurers. He tried to dress up one of the greatest corporate subsidies in history as if it were a solemn national mission, a rebirth of the social compact between the American people. But of course, Obamacare is no such thing; it is a racket to prop up private insurers with public money, while allowing the profiteers to continue to run the show.
You can’t hide a truth that big. The Obamacare website has suffered from terminal complexity because white collar crime is usually quite complex. The web site attempts to reconcile the profit margins and various products of a universe of private insurance corporations, while at the same time pretending to serve the health needs of the people at an affordable cost. Obamacare claims to be in the business of serving both the public and corporate stockholders. But that’s mission impossible. If Obamacare is based on making profits for private corporations – if that is what keeps the system going – then the public’s health care needs will always be an afterthought. And, that will be obvious in the way that the website is organized as a sales platform that matches federal subsidies with corporate products, rather than matching people with the medical resources they need to survive and thrive.
Website complexity and failures aside, Obamacare can never become part of a national social compact, something of which all Americans can be proud. That’s because, by definition, corporate insurance schemes divide people into “winners” and “losers” – although, of course, the big winner is always the corporation. Young, healthy people know they are the fatted calves of the insurance business, and they are avoiding Obamacare like the plague. If this were really a national health care program, like Medicare for All, then most young people would join in the national health care mission. But this is just Obama working a scam for the insurance companies, and young folks know it. Anybody who manages to get access to the web site knows it.
The fatal flaw in Obamacare can’t be fixed. The best thing that could happen would be a quick and total collapse. Large majorities of Americans still support Medicare for All, but Obamacare stands in the way of a real national health plan – just as the Republican right-wingers that invented Obamacare back in 1989 intended.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
- That Popping Noise? The Obamacare Bubble! (correntewire.com)
Following the news that Mother Agnes Miriam, a nun who heads the Musalaha (reconciliation) initiative in Syria, was due to speak at the Stop The War conference in London, two journalists also due to speak at the event, Jeremy Scahill and Owen Jones, decided to withdraw participation unless Mother Agnes was removed from the speaking list. At the time of writing, neither “journalist” has offered to explain their act of public censure and decision to bolster Zionist-led smear campaigns; aside from a few tweets expressing their “concern” over sharing a platform with an evil Assad-supporting nun. It seems baseless conspiracy theories are more than acceptable in the higher echelons of “professional” journalism, as long as the target of said conspiracy is a supporter of an enemy state of the west and Israel.
The justification for this blatant act of censorship came in the form of a crass campaign of smear and character assassination. One primarily led by outright Israeli/Neo-Conservative propagandist-extraordinaire Michael D. Weiss, a former Director of a now defunct Zionist pressure group called Just Journalism, whose stated goals included focusing on “how Israel and Middle East issues are reported in the UK media.” Weiss, also a former fellow at the Neo-Conservative war-lobby “think-tank” the Henry Jackson Society, is now a lead rebel advocate pimping his “expertise” at Saudi Arabia/Hariri propaganda outlet NOW Lebanon – all whilst writing up US military intervention proposals for the Syrian opposition. It is also no coincidence that Mr. Weiss was a lead proponent of the fairy-tale narratives of one Liz OBagy, an utter fraud sanitizing the image of the rebels on behalf of a US State Department funded rebel lobbying group and the equally hawkish Neo-Conservative PR outlet The Institute for the Study of War. Needless to say, Weiss, and his cabal of pro-rebel Hariri propagandists and Zionist apologists are more than pleased at Jones and Scahill’s somewhat orchestrated decision to pressure Stop the War into dropping Mother Agnes.
Mother Agnes, according to the plethora of pro-rebel US and Zionist media accounts, is an evil “Assad apologist”. As a result of Agnes’ support of the Syrian government and calls for peaceful reconciliation, the Al Qaeda apologists rife within western and Israeli media took it upon themselves to instigate a campaign of hatred-filled smear and baseless accusation.
Since the onset of the Syrian conflict, Mother Agnes has made efforts to combat the skewed narratives emerging from corrupt western, Israeli, and Gulf Oil and Gas media – not least regarding the controversial issue of the alleged chemical weapons attacks in Ghouta, Damascus. Contrary to the smears, Agnes doesn’t deny people died during the incident, nor offer a complete alternative narrative. Her questions surrounding the event are entirely focused on the many inconsistencies and inaccuracies within the “official narrative” and the dubious YouTube videos touted as impartial evidence. It seems the CIA were also less than convinced of the US governments “assessment”; so much so that a mass resignation was threatened if their name was attached to John Kerry’s dodgy dossier. Furthermore, a considerable open source collaborative effort to determine the perpetrator of the alleged chemical weapons attack has drawn the logical, and somewhat scientific conclusion that only the rebels could have been responsible. In addition, the much politicised UN report that attempted to point the finger at the Syrian army has also come under much scrutiny from highly qualified avenues for its poor methodologies and misleading conclusions. Regardless of all the above, the fact Mother Agnes actually resides in Syria, is the head of an organisation that has mediated between warring factions and enabled the safe evacuation of civilians, and consistently calls for peaceful reconciliation and dialogue, doesn’t count for much in the eyes of rabid western pundits eager to demonize anyone that dare question, or offer a counter narrative to their fabrication-laden fantasies on Syria.
The self-described “leftist” UK political commentator Owen Jones, has written virtually nothing on the Syrian conflict. His understanding of events is largely based on the dominant narratives portrayed in western media. No doubt, like any self-respecting petty bourgeois leftist of London, Jones gets his information from the wests supposed liberal establishment newspapers, who in recent years have stood proudly alongside right-wing media in cheerleading for disastrous western-led wars of aggression. The conflict in Syria has been no exception, the Guardian’s totally skewed coverage, that lends more from Whitehall/CIA/Mossad talking points than it does reality, has been well documented and debunked. Accordingly, Jones’ ideas on Syria fall in line with this narrative: yes, the “Islamist rebels” are BAD guys (meaning there are some GOOD moderate guys that nobody can find yet, or, in Owen’s case even name), but Assad is a dictator, a war criminal, “barbarous”, “he needs to go”. Any reflection on cause and effect; the long and relevant historical context of US-led subversion and instigation of terrorist insurgencies in the name of “revolution”; or the underlying geopolitical dynamics that helped to create and exacerbate the extremist-led insurgency is far too much nuance for Jones’ simplistic binary narratives: Assad is BAD, and anyone that supports the Syrian government or refuses to support its ouster through coercion or violence is also BAD, by definition. And what then, do Jones’ simplistic definitions mean for the millions of Syrians that still support their President and government? Well, like the nun, they are obviously evil and severely misguided. I mean, what would they know? Living in Syria and all. This stance of vulgar superiority is indicative of the vast undercurrent of western bourgeois Orientalism which still oozes from the pores of western media and its decrepit “journalists” when their stance on “others” threatens to detriment their self-imposed “credibility”.
The informative blog Interventions Watch, explores Jones’ apparent moral confusion further:
Jones is a member and supporter of the Labour party, and thinks other lefties should be as well. As is hardly a secret, Labour is a party that plays host to plenty of major war criminals and apologists for those war criminals, but that apparently isn’t enough for him to want to part ways with them. Indeed, he has in the past quite happily appeared on platforms with John Prescott, who was deputy Prime Minister at the time of the aggression against Iraq – not just an apologist for war crimes then, but an active participant in them.
Yet this predicament seems completely lost on Jones. In one instance, he is a paid-up member of a UK political party that played a lead role in no less than genocide; in an act of military and economic aggression on Iraq totally against International Law, not to mention morality. He sits beside these politicians and pleads with leftist thinkers to join them and “change them from within”. A million or so Iraqi lives can be forgotten, there’s a few good eggs in this elitist manifestation of conciliatory Mensheviks, join us! But when it comes to possibly sharing a stage with a nun from Syria who happens to support her government & army in its fight against a foreign-funded, foreign instigated, foreign-led, and extremist dominated terrorist insurgency, Jones wont be part of it.
This bourgeois trait of selective free-speech through groupthink coercion is indicative of just how corrupt the western media system truly is. Supposed “leftist” anti-war commentators now feel they are an authority to dictate and pressure who should be able to participate in public events, and wilfully swallow the smears of Zionist propagandists rather than do their own research, or, heaven forbid, judge people on the content of what they are actually saying.
Evidently, Jones’ moral outrage is selective at best, one could convincingly argue its nothing more than careerist popularism – with a dash of orientalist superiority for good measure. Sure, sit next to war-criminals of “our” variety, you wont get smeared with the dreaded “apologist” brush in the elitist media you participate and benefit from – hell, most of their “barbarous” crimes are long forgotten, so not much to worry about. But sit next to a nun that supports a current enemy of the west? Forget it.
Stop the War have just released a statement confirming that Mother Agnes has “withdrawn” from the conference. Cheers to Zionist apologists of the apartheid state, propagandists of an Al Qaeda insurgency in Syria, and Owen Jones.
On Friday, we wrote about Jeremy Hammond’s 10-year prison sentence, mentioning that the judge had required part of Hammond’s statement be redacted from any reports as his discussion of the list of targets he was asked to hack by FBI informant Sabu (Hector Xavier Monsegur) was considered classified. Of course, it will come as little surprise that the unredacted/uncensored text of his original statement is alleged to have leaked soon after the sentencing. Someone posted it to Pastebin. While it’s entirely possible that this is fake, there are at least some indications that it’s accurate.
Sabu also supplied lists of targets that were vulnerable to “zero day exploits” used to break into systems, including a powerful remote root vulnerability effecting the popular Plesk software. At his request, these websites were broken into, their emails and databases were uploaded to Sabu’s FBI server, and the password information and the location of root backdoors were supplied. These intrusions took place in January/February of 2012 and affected over 2000 domains, including numerous foreign government websites in Brazil, Turkey, Syria, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Nigeria, Iran, Slovenia, Greece, Pakistan, and others. A few of the compromised websites that I recollect include the official website of the Governor of Puerto Rico, the Internal Affairs Division of the Military Police of Brazil, the Official Website of the Crown Prince of Kuwait, the Tax Department of Turkey, the Iranian Academic Center for Education and Cultural Research, the Polish Embassy in the UK, and the Ministry of Electricity of Iraq.
Sabu also infiltrated a group of hackers that had access to hundreds of Syrian systems including government institutions, banks, and ISPs. He logged several relevant IRC channels persistently asking for live access to mail systems and bank transfer details. The FBI took advantage of hackers who wanted to help support the Syrian people against the Assad regime, who instead unwittingly provided the U.S. government access to Syrian systems, undoubtedly supplying useful intelligence to the military and their buildup for war.
All of this happened under the control and supervision of the FBI and can be easily confirmed by chat logs the government provided to us pursuant to the government’s discovery obligations in the case against me. However, the full extent of the FBI’s abuses remains hidden. Because I pled guilty, I do not have access to many documents that might have been provided to me in advance of trial, such as Sabu’s communications with the FBI. In addition, the majority of the documents provided to me are under a “protective order” which insulates this material from public scrutiny. As government transparency is an issue at the heart of my case, I ask that this evidence be made public. I believe the documents will show that the government’s actions go way beyond catching hackers and stopping computer crimes.
Again, while Hammond is responsible for actually carrying out the activity of breaking into these sites, it still seems incredibly questionable that the targets may have been suggested by the FBI, which then basically got to take advantage of Hammond’s activities, and then when that wasn’t useful any more, to throw him in jail for a decade.
Indonesia is recalling its ambassador to Australia over allegations that Canberra listened in on phone conversations of the Indonesian president.
Indonesia said the ambassador was being called to Jakarta for “consultations”.
The move by Jakarta comes as the Australian Department of Defence and the Defence Signals Directorate, or DSD, (now known as the Australian Signals Directorate), has been accused of monitoring the phone calls of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife Kristiani Herawati, as well as eight other high-ranking officials, including the vice president, Boediono.
The latest leak, provided in May 2013 by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, was released jointly by The Guardian newspaper and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday, and will likely aggravate another diplomatic firestorm between Canberra and Jakarta.
The top secret material from the DSD is in the form of a slide presentation, dated November 2009, and divulges information on the monitoring of mobile phones just as 3G technology was being introduced in Asia.
In one of the presentations, entitled Indonesian President Voice Events, a graphic of calls is given on Yudhoyono’s Nokia handset over a 15-day period in August 2009. The data provides CDRs – call data records – which record the numbers called, the duration of communications, and whether the transmission was a voice call or SMS.
The Australian spy agency “appears to have expanded its operations to include the calls of those who had been in touch with the president,” the report indicated. Another slide, entitled Way Forward, gives the simple command: “Must have content,” perhaps a reference to encrypted material.
Attached to the bottom of each slide in the 2009 presentation is the DSD slogan: “Reveal their secrets – protect our own.”
Also named in the surveillance slides are Dino Patti Djalal, then-foreign affairs spokesman for the president, who recently resigned as Indonesia’s ambassador to the US and is seeking the candidacy in next year’s presidential election for Yudhoyono’s Democratic party, and Hatta Rajasa, current minister for economic affairs and potential presidential candidate for the National Mandate party. Hatta served at the time of the surveillance as minister for transport; his daughter is the wife of the president’s youngest son.
Other high-level officials on the list of “IA Leadership Targets” are: Jusuf Kalla, the former vice-president who ran as the Golkar party presidential candidate in 2009; Sri Mulyani Indrawati, then a reforming finance minister and since 2010 one of the managing directors of the World Bank Group; Andi Mallarangeng, who was at the time the president’s spokesman, and later minister for youth and sports; Sofyan Djalil, who served until October 2009 as minister for state-owned enterprises; Widodo Adi Sucipto, a former head of the Indonesian military who served until October 2009 as security minister.
Another slide, entitled DSD Way Forward, acknowledges that the Australian spy agency’s must “capitalise on UKUSA and industry capability”, apparently a reference to assistance from telecom and internet companies, the same method that the NSA used to collect data on millions of individuals around the planet.
News of Australia’s high-level snooping on the Indonesian president and his top aides is certain to provoke a harsh response from Jakarta, especially considering this is not Australia’s first breach of trust between the Pacific Rim countries.
Tensions between Canberra and Jakarta began in October when top secret files revealed by the German newspaper Der Spiegel and published by Fairfax newspapers showed that Australian diplomatic posts across Asia were being used to intercept communications.
Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian foreign minister, issued a harsh response and threatened to review bilateral initiatives on issues important to Australia, including people smuggling and terrorism.
During a visit last week to the Australian city of Perth, Vice president Boediono – not yet privy to information that his own Blackberry device had been compromised by Australian spy agencies – briefly mentioned the long-standing spying controversy.
“I think we must look forward to come to some arrangement which guarantees that intelligence information from each side is not used against the other,” he said. “There must be a system.”
Yudhoyono is the latest in a growing list of global leaders who have had their personal communications listened to by the American intelligence service.
It has recently been reported that the leaders of Germany, Brazil and Mexico have been listened to by the so-called Five Eyes, the collective name for the intelligence agencies of the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, who share information.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in late October demanded a personal explanation from US President Barack Obama as to why the NSA had tapped her mobile phone. The White House attempted to reassure the chancellor that her phone was “not currently being tapped and will not be in the future”.
It will be interesting at this point to see if the diplomatic backlash in wake of the recent wave of revelations will curb the Five Eyes’ surveillance program, or if it will just go deeper underground.
The Guardian then reported that the DSD worked together with the NSA to stage a massive surveillance operation in Indonesia during a UN climate change conference in Bali in 2007.
On Monday a spokesman for Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: “Consistent with the long-standing practice of Australian governments, and in the interest of national security, we do not comment on intelligence matters.”
A UK spy agency infiltrated international hotel booking systems for some three years, tracing high profile officials and wiretapping their suites, new leaks reveal. GCHQ’s top secret ‘Royal Concierge’ program tracked 350 hotels across the globe.
Germany’s Der Spiegel has published yet another episode of scandalous revelations from the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, currently enjoying temporary asylum in Moscow.
Constantly on the move, top officials and diplomats prefer to stay in high-end establishments and boutique hotels with premier service standards. And since the number of high-class hotels in the world is finite, British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) came up with the idea of turning them into a huge net to fish for secrets in high-tech style.
After the ‘Royal Concierge’ program underwent testing in 2010, it was readied and put into action.
Documents unearthed by Snowden reveal that over a three-year period GCHQ had an automatic system for singling out people of interest, who made reservations in about 350 upscale hotels worldwide.
Field operatives then allegedly wiretapped the phone and network cables inside the targeted suite, and were potentially able to check into the next door suite in order to eavesdrop the target at the scene.
‘Royal Concierge’ in operation
According to documents seen by Der Spiegel, when a top official or a diplomat makes a reservation using his working e-mail address (or his secretary does) with a governmental domain like .gov, GCHQ gets a notification and decides whether it needs to take ‘action’ or not.
Once a foreign diplomat is booked into a hotel, putting him under the microscope becomes a purely technical objective. Der Spiegel lists an impressive array of spying techniques and capabilities “that seem to exhaust the creative potential of modern spying”. No details, however, are provided.
On occasions, when a guest of special interest checks in, a crack intelligence unit can be deployed who have ‘specialist technologies’ for spying at their disposal. GCHQ may also put into action codename ‘Humint’ [Human Intelligence], for close scrutiny of the target, an operation that could also include field agents working in the vicinity.
Der Spiegel also highlights the speculation that ‘Royal Concierge’ could possibly manipulate hotel choices through the booking programs and also bug hired cars.
Der Spiegel has not provided information about whether ‘Royal Concierge’ has been spying on Britain’s major allies, or if the targets of the GCHQ hotel surveillance had any connections to Al-Qaeda.
Remarkably, the report comes right after British intelligence chiefs made assurances that their actions were conducted within the framework of the war on terror. At a November-7th hearing by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee in London, GCHQ head, Sir Ian Lobban, acknowledged that Edward Snowden’s leaks would make GCHQ’s work “far harder” for years to come.
Time to end the failed experiment with rigged corporate trade and put in place fair trade for the people and planet before profits
Momentum is growing in the campaign to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Yesterday, the TPP was dealt two blows. Each could be lethal but the TPP, and its Atlantic counterpart, called TAFTA, are not dead yet. It is time for the movement of movements that formed to oppose the TPP to stand in solidarity, defeat these agreements and end the era of rigged corporate trade.
Yesterday’s first blow came from Wikileaks, showing once again that when government works in secret with big corporations, exposure by whistle blowers is critical to changing the corrupt direction of government and the economy. Wikileaks published the full text of the intellectual property chapter; the leaked document included the positions of all the parties. It will take time for all the corporate rigging in this lengthy document to be understood, but already it is evident that Internet freedom will be curtailed, access to health care will become more expensive and access to information will be undermined.
This is not the first leak of TPP text. Previous leaks are consistent with the Wikileaks leak – enhanced corporate power that puts profits before the needs of the people and the protection of the planet. The Wikileaks release shows that the United States is by far the most aggressive advocate for trans-national corporate interests, often isolated in pushing for harmful policies.
The second blow came from members of the U.S. House of Representatives. In recent days, several letters were sent to President Obama opposing Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority. Fast Track undermines Congress’ responsibility under the Commerce Clause to regulate trade between nations by allowing the president to sign the agreement before Congress even sees it. The letters made public on November 13th demonstrate broad bi-partisan opposition to Fast Track with 179 Members signing at least one of the three letters.
A letter spearheaded by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) garnered the support of three-quarters of House Democrats with 151 Members telling President Obama they oppose Fast Track, writing:
We will oppose ‘Fast Track’ Trade Promotion Authority or any other mechanism delegating Congress’ constitutional authority over trade policy that continues to exclude us from having a meaningful role in the formative stages of trade agreements and throughout negotiating and approval processes.
Important leaders of the Democratic Party signed the letter including 18 out of 21 Ranking Members who would chair committees if the Democrats were in the majority. This means that to pursue Fast Track authority, President Obama will need to challenge three-quarters of his own party.
But, that is not all. In another letter, organized by Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and signed by 12 of the 16 Democratic Party members of the Ways and Means Committee, which is primarily responsible for Fast Track legislation, members expressed opposition to Fast Track unless it was radically different from previous grants of authority. The letter says it “cannot just be an extension of earlier trade promotion authorities. Any new proposed TPA must . . . ensure Congress plays a more meaningful role in the negotiating process.”
And, the opposition is bi-partisan. Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) drafted a letter signed by 23 Republicans. The Republican letter emphasized that Congress has the “exclusive authority to set the terms of trade.” Further, “The Founders established this clear check and balance to prevent the president from unilaterally negotiating with foreign nations and imposing trade policies that Congress would deem to be against the national interest.” They write that they refuse to “cede our constitutional authority to the executive” through Fast Track.
These are just the latest problems in the quest for Fast Track, indeed a bill has yet to be introduced. The previous US Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, said in 2012: “We’ve got to have it.” He wanted the authority by the end of 2012. In April, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) promised Obama Fast Track by June of 2013. The broad bi-partisan opposition announced this week shows that winning Fast Track has very little support in Congress. In fact, the letters may be the death knell for such legislation.
The Wikileaks documents show there is a lot of division among the negotiating nations with important disagreements on key aspects of the text. Without Fast Track to guarantee passage of the TPP, these nations will be even less likely to agree to demands by the U.S. Further, Asian countries are negotiating their own competing agreement, which does not include the United States but, unlike the TPP, does include China.
Latin American countries are also speaking out against the TPP. Earlier this year, Rodrigo Contreras, Chile’s lead TPP negotiator quit to warn people of the dangers of the TPP – highlighting how big financial institutions will dominate their governments and how the TPP “will become a threat for our countries: It will restrict our development options in health and education, in biological and cultural diversity, and in the design of public policies and the transformation of our economies. It will also generate pressures from increasingly active social movements, who are not willing to grant a pass to governments that accept an outcome of the TPP negotiations that limits possibilities to increase the prosperity and well-being of our countries.” And, recently the Parliament of Peru passed a resolution “requesting that the government open a ‘public, political, and technical debate’ on the binding rules being negotiated in the TPP.”
In the United States, cities and counties are beginning to pass TPP Free Zones, saying they will not obey the TPP if it becomes law. These local governments are concerned with provisions that would not allow them to give preference to buying local, buying U.S. made goods or other provisions that undermine their sovereignty.
In addition to opposition in the U.S. government and foreign governments, a mass citizen uprising is developing against the TPP. There have been large protests in many of the countries involved in the negotiations as well as in the United States. The night before the Wikileaks documents were released, 13 cities did visibility protests opposing the TPP in light shows. In September we joined with activists in Washington, DC in a series of protests, including covering the office building of the US Trade Representative in banners to expose their secret trade agreement. Protests are scheduled for Salt Lake City, UT on November 19th where lead negotiators from 12 countries will hold meetings. A global day of protest is planned for December 3 against not only the TPP but also the WTO and all toxic trade agreements.
The TPP is running into resistance in Congress, local governments and among Pacific nations in Asia and Latin America; and by people who oppose the agreement all over the world. This is part of a growing movement of movements – all of the movements impacted by corporate trade; e.g. labor, environmental, Internet freedom, health care, food sovereignty, immigrants’ rights, banking regulation – are joining together to defeat it.
The people are winning. Fourteen trade agreements have been stopped in the last 14 years and as Tom Donohue of the US Chamber of Commerce wrote this week “the WTO has not concluded a single new multilateral trade agreement since it was created in 1995.” Mass protest against rigged corporate trade agreements can end the experiment in trade that puts profits ahead of the people and planet.
We are on the verge of defeating Fast Track. It is important that we keep the pressure on Congress. Neither the TPP nor TAFTA will become law if people learn what is in them and Congress fulfills its constitutional responsibility to review their impact. Denying the President Fast Track is the essential step to defeat both of these agreements.
Once we defeat Fast Track and prevent TPP and TAFTA from becoming law, we need to remain in solidarity and work to transform trade so it becomes “fair” trade that puts the necessities of the people and the protection of the planet first. The people will have firmly established that they will not tolerate rigged corporate trade deals. If corporations want to see trade between nations, they need a new approach – transparent, participatory and fair – with new goals of serving the people and planet.
To get involved in the campaign to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership visit Flush the TPP.
Kevin Zeese, JD and Margaret Flowers, MD co-host Clearing the FOG on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC, co-direct Its Our Economy and are organizers of the Occupation of Washington, DC.Their twitters are @KBZeese and MFlowers8.
Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), the strongest tropical typhoon ever recorded, has resulted in devastating consequences for the Philippines. The natural disaster took the lives of more than 10,000 people.
An estimated 615,000 residents have been displaced. Up to 4.3 million people have been affected, according to government sources.
The tragedy has become a talking point at Warsaw Climate Change Conference under UN auspices. The plight of Typhoon Haiyan has casually been assigned without evidence to the impacts of global warming.
While there is no scientific evidence that the super typhoon was the consequence of global warming, opening statements at the Warsaw summit hinted in no uncertain terms to a verified casual relationship. The executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), Christiana Figueres, stated (without evidence) that the typhoon was part of the “sobering reality” of global warming.
In turn, the Philippines’ UN representative at the Climate Change talks, Yeb Sano, stated in his address at the opening session that “Typhoons such as Yolanda (Haiyan) and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action. Warsaw must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change.”
In a bitter irony, the tragedy in the Philippines has contributed to reinforcing a consensus which indirectly feeds the pockets of corporations lobbying for a new deal on carbon trade. ‘Cap-and-trade’ is a multibillion dollar bonanza which is supported by the global warming consensus.
According to UNFCC executive director Christiana Figueres, “We must clarify finance that enables the entire world to move towards low-carbon development…We must launch the construction of a mechanism that helps vulnerable populations to respond to the unanticipated effects of climate change.”
Known and documented, cap-and-trade markets are manipulated. What is at stake is the trade in carbon derivatives which is controlled by powerful financial institutions including JP Morgan Chase. In 2008, Simon Linnett, executive vice-chairman of Rothschild, acknowledged the nature of this multibillion dollar business.
“As a banker, I also welcome the fact that the cap-and-trade system is becoming the dominant methodology for CO2 control. Unlike taxation, or plain regulation, cap-and-trade offers the greatest scope for private sector involvement and innovation,” he said, as quoted by The Telegraph.
Cap-and-trade packaged into derivative products feeds on the global warming consensus. Without it, this multibillion dollar trade would fall flat.
The humanitarian crisis in the Philippines bears no relationship to global warming. The social impacts of Typhoon Haiyan are aggravated due to the lack of infrastructure and social services, not to mention the absence of a coherent housing policy. Those most affected by the typhoon are living in poverty in make-shift homes.
A reduction of CO2 emissions – as suggested by Yeb Sano in his address at the Warsaw summit – will not resolve the plight of an impoverished population.
In the Philippines, the social impacts of natural disasters are invariably exacerbated by a macro-economic policy framework imposed by Manila’s external creditors.
What is at stake is the deadly thrust of neoliberal economic reforms. For more than 25 years – since the demise of the Marcos dictatorship – the International Monetary Fund’s “economic medicine” under the helm of the Washington Consensus has prevailed, largely serving the interests of financial institutions and corporations in mining and agribusiness.
The government of Philippine President Benigno Aquino has embarked upon a renewed wave of austerity measures which involves sweeping privatization and the curtailment of social programs. In turn, a large chunk of the state budget has been redirected to the military, which is collaborating with the Pentagon under Obama’s “Asia Pivot.” This program – which serves the interests of Washington at the expense of the Philippines population – also includes a $1.7 billion purchase of advanced weapons systems.
Now we have had a few days to reflect on the terrible events of last week, we can start to piece together some of the facts.
First of all, as it is the thing that really matters above all, fatalities. The good news, if it can be termed that, is that the death toll is likely to be around 2000 to 2500, according to the Philippine President. This is much less than the 10,000 originally feared to have died.
As far as the storm itself was concerned, the official statistics from the Philippine Met Agency, PAGASA, remain the same as those issued at the time. The table below compares these with the original satellite estimates put out by the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre, JTWC, and that were subsequently used by the media around the world to claim that Yolanda was the “strongest storm ever”.
|Sustained Wind Speed mph||147||195|
One of the nation’s leading banks wants Congress to amend federal law adopted in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis so it and other Wall Street institutions can go back to gambling with risky investments and have taxpayers cover the losses again if they bet wrong.
Under the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 (pdf), banks can no longer use monies backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to invest in high-risk derivatives, such as “swaps.” This prohibition was adopted because derivatives crippled numerous key players on Wall Street five years ago, including Countrywide Mortgages, Bear Stearns, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual, Wachovia and others.
One of those “others” was Citigroup, which had to be bailed out by the federal government to the tune of $45 billion. A Citigroup lobbyist, though, was primarily responsible for authoring the Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act, which was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives two weeks ago.
The bill would wipe out Section 716 (pdf) of Dodd-Frank that requires banks to use a non-bank entity for trading commodity, energy and other swaps. In other words, if the legislation becomes law, financial institutions could return to conducting high-risk trading with funds that are backed by the FDIC (i.e. the taxpayer).
Dennis Anderson, who’s running for Congress from Illinois, says “to propose an easing of the controls on such behavior is irresponsible.”
“The behavior of these large banks and financial institutions cost all of us in loss of value in our retirement accounts, in lowered property values and, most importantly, in the general and deep recession that followed the failure of their gambling,” Anderson wrote at Daily Kos. “The idea of ‘too big to fail’ is still with us, and has grown even more threatening as these institutions have continued to grow.”
Citigroup was responsible for recommendations made in 70 lines of the 85-line bill, according to Eric Lipton and Ben Protess of The New York Times. In fact, reported the writers, a couple key paragraphs in the bill had been copied word for word from Citigroup’s submitted draft, which it had developed in conjunction with other Wall Street banks.
The legislation cleared the House on a 292-122 vote that saw 70 Democrats join all but three Republicans. Republicans voting against the measure were Representatives John Duncan of Tennessee, Walter Jones of North Carolina and Thomas Massie of Kentucky.
One of the Democrats supporting the change was Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, the second-ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. She told The Hill that the bill would “protect safety and soundness,” per Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
“Even Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke opposed Section 716 as written, stating that the way it forces these activities out of insured depository institutions ‘would weaken both the financial stability and strong regulation of the derivatives activities,’” she said.
Bernanke has supported certain changes to the law, but never backed the Citigroup bill, according to the Times.
The White House said it opposes the bill, noting that the law is still being implemented by regulators. Legislation to amend it is “premature and could be disruptive and harmful to the implementation of these reforms,” it added.
Only about 40% of the rules required by the law have been implemented to date. Whether the Citigroup bill passes or not, such attempted legislation has “a chilling effect on regulators,” according to the Times.
“After inflicting so much pain and suffering on the American people, now is not the time to let the largest banks back into the casino,” Representative Maxine Waters (D-California) said in a statement.
Why are so many other Democrats supporting a bill that the Obama administration opposes? House aides interviewed by the Times theorized that “Republicans have enough votes to pass it themselves, so vulnerable House Democrats might as well join them, and collect industry money for their campaigns,” wrote Lipton and Protess.
Indeed, lawmakers who currently support bills advocated by big banks have, this month, received double the amount of donations from Wall Street firms as those who opposed such bills, according to MapLight, a nonprofit group that analyzes campaign financial records.
Additionally, Wall Street has, in the past few weeks, hosted special fundraisers for the bills’ co-sponsors.
A Democrat who supports the industry bills and is a top cash recipient of Wall Street—Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut, who was once a Goldman Sachs banker—confessed that the “system” has “problems.” “It’s appalling, it’s disgusting, it’s wasteful and it opens the possibility of conflicts of interest and corruption,” he told the Times. “It’s unfortunately the world we live in.”
To Learn More:
Heard about the Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act (H.R.992 – 113th Congress)? (by Dennis Anderson, Daily Kos)
House Votes for Bipartisan Change to Dodd-Frank on Bank Swaps (by Pete Kasperowicz, The Hill)
House, Set to Vote on 2 Bills, Is Seen as an Ally of Wall St. (by Eric Lipton and Ben Protess, New York Times)
Banks’ Lobbyists Help in Drafting Financial Bills (by Eric Lipton and Ben Protess, New York Times)