So Much for State’s Rights
A federal judge has told the people of Vermont that a solemn contract between them and the reactor owner Entergy need not be honored. The fight will almost certainly now go to the US Supreme Court. At stake is not only the future of atomic power, but the legitimacy of all deals signed between corporations and the public.
Chief Justice John Roberts’ conservative court will soon decide whether a private corporation can sign what should be an enforceable contract with a public entity and then flat-out ignore it.
In 2003 Entergy made a deal with the state of Vermont. The Louisiana-based nuke speculator said that if it could buy and operate the decrepit Vermont Yankee reactor under certain terms and conditions, the company would then agree to shut it down if the state denied it a permit to continue. The drop dead date: March 21, 2012.
In the interim, VY has been found leaking radioactive tritium and much more into the ground and the nearby Connecticut River. Under oath, in public testimony, the company had denied that the pipes that leaked even existed.
One of Yankee’s cooling towers has also collapsed… just plain crumbled. One of Yankee’s siblings—Fukushima One—has melted and exploded (VY is one of some two dozen Fukushima clones licensed in the US).
In the face of these events, the legislature, in partnership with Vermont’s governor, voted 26-4 to deny Entergy a permit to continue. But the company is determined to continue reaping huge profits on a 35-year-old reactor — long since amortized at public expense — with very cheap overhead based on slipshod operating techniques where safety always comes second. Along the way Entergy has also tried to stick Vermont Yankee into an underfunded corporate shell aimed at shielding it from all economic liabilities. To allow VY to continue fissioning, Judge J. Garvin Murtha latched onto Entergy’s argument that the state legislature committed the horrible sin of actually discussing safety issues. These, by federal law, are reserved for Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He chose to ignore the serious breach of contract issues involved.
As Deb Katz of the Citizens Awareness Network puts it: “Entergy’s lawyers cherry-picked legislators’ questions about safety” from a previous debate relating to nuclear waste. “Judge Murtha supported the corporation over the will of the people.”
The surreal nature of telling a state it can’t vote to shut a reactor because it dared to consider the public health dates to the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. To paint a happy face on the atomic Bomb, Congress essentially exempted the nuclear power industry from public accountability. It gave the Atomic Energy Commission sole power to both regulate and promote its “too cheap to meter” technology. Some 67 years later, Judge Murtha says the legislature’s encroachment on the province of safety means Entergy can violate its solemn legal agreement with the people of Vermont.
In practical terms, this could mean that any corporation can bust any public trust on even the flimsiest pretext. Let the corporate lawyers find some pale excuse and the company can skirt its contractual obligations. In the hands of the supremely corporatist Roberts Court, this case could join Citizens United in a devastating one-two punch for the unrestrained power of the private corporation. It would also put the reactor industry even further beyond control of the people it irradiates.
Thankfully, the judge did not entirely rule out the possibility of the state taking some kind of action. Vermont’s Public Service Board still has the right to deny Entergy an extension. Perhaps the commissioners will ban the word “safety” from all proceedings. If they do say VY must be shut, Entergy’s legal team will certainly [seek] even newer, more creative ways to appeal. Vermonters will stage a shutdown rally March 21. Local activism against the reactor continues to escalate. No US reactor has been ordered and completed since 1973. Shutting Vermont Yankee or any other of the 104 American reactors now licensed might well open the floodgates to shutting the rest of them, as Germany is now doing.
Karl Grossman has suggested Vermont use eminent domain to shut VY, as New York did 20 years ago to bury the $7 billion Shoreham reactor, which was stopped from going into commercial operation.
However it happens, the people of Vermont are in a race against time to prevent another Fukushima in their back yard—which is also all of ours.
“When this rogue corporation is again rejected,” says Katz, “the will of the people and democracy will be upheld. Lets commit to doing whatever we can to at last make a nuclear corporation keep its word.”
Harvey Wasserman, a co-founder of Musicians United for Safe Energy, is editing the nukefree.org web site.
A mathematics professor at the California State University at Northridge is the target of an attack campaign by various pro-Israel lobby groups and individuals because he maintains a website that supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and for his outspoken criticism of Israeli policies.
Recently, Dr. David Klein has come under fire for organizing in opposition to the 23-campus-wide California State University (CSU) system’s resumption of a study abroad program in Israel, which was discontinued in 2002 because of a US State Department warning on travel to the region during the second Palestinian intifada.
In an open letter delivered to to CSU Chancellor Charles Reed last month, Klein — along with the signatures of more than 80 CSU faculty and staff members, and dozens of students statewide — urged the CSU administration to not reinstate the study abroad program.
In addition to an explanation of the historic injuring and killing of US citizens — including university students — by Israeli soldiers during unarmed protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the letter states that CSU students interested in this study abroad program “could face discriminatory treatment, based on race and ethnicity” (“An open letter to CSU Chancellor Charles Reed regarding the CSU-Israel study abroad program”).
It is well-known that at border crossings and the airport, Israel discriminates against — as well as regularly detains and deports — US citizens with Middle Eastern ancestry, or Arabic or Muslim names.
The US State Department’s travel warning explicitly states that Palestinian-American dual citizens — persons who were born in the West Bank or Gaza Strip and have become naturalized US citizens — “are considered by the Israeli government to retain their Palestinian nationality, and Israeli authorities will view them as Palestinians.”
The travel warning adds, “Palestinian-Americans whom the Government of Israel considers residents of the West Bank or Gaza may face certain travel restrictions. These individuals are subject to restrictions on movement between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and within the West Bank and Gaza that are imposed by the Israeli government on all Palestinians” (Israel, the West Bank and Gaza: Country-specific information).
However, despite the open letter, the inherent discrimination within the Israeli study abroad program itself, and enormous statewide budget cuts that have eviscerated educational resources, the CSU administration announced in mid-December that it was “pleased to announce the re-opening of its program in Israel starting Fall 2012” (“Israel: Overview”).
The program will be hosted at the University of Haifa, making it nearly impossible for Palestinian CSU students who were born in the West Bank or Gaza to attend.
Already four CSU students are currently enrolled for the 2012-2013 school year, according to the Daily 49er, the campus newspaper of CSU-Long Beach (“Israel program back after safety concerns,” 23 January 2012).
Continuation of a disturbing trend on US campuses
Klein, a longtime human rights activist, told The Electronic Intifada that he worked with popular solidarity committees in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s, and also confronted Ku Klux Klansmen in rural Louisiana. But it was Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-09 that spiked his interest in Palestinian rights. Klein began a website on his own CSU-Northridge faculty page to bring attention to what was happening in Palestine, and it has since become an in-depth resource for the growing, international Palestinian-led BDS movement.
In addition to hosting the website, Klein also joined the organizing committee of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and is a faculty advisor for the local Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at CSU-Northridge.
Since beginning his Palestine solidarity and BDS activism work, Klein has faced aggressive slander and threats by anti-Palestinian individuals and Israeli lobby groups who have called him and his website “anti-Semitic” (“Sample hate mail, opposition, and expressions of racism in response to the open letter to CSU Chancellor Reed and this website”).
Some of the most vicious attacks levelled against him personally, he said, include those by two faculty members at the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz and UC Los Angeles who have founded the Amcha Initiative, a project which aims “to inform the Jewish community about the efforts made by Jewish students and faculty to combat anti-Jewish bigotry on California campuses.”
The two professors boast on the Amcha website that they have launched the “Investigative Taskforce on Campus Antisemitism” and have filed complaints with the UC system claiming “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish discourse and behavior in classrooms, [and] at university-sponsored events” (About us).
However, just recently, a California court and a University of California official disagreed with these types of claims. In late December, the court dismissed a lawsuit brought by students at UC Berkeley who claimed that they faced anti-Semitism on campus. The court determined the plaintiffs could not provide evidence to support their allegations.
Following on the heels of the lawsuit dismissal, a major announcement was made last week by University of California President Mark Yudof — an ardent supporter of Israeli policy — who, as Ali Abunimah reported for The Electronic Intifada, denied claims that Jewish students on UC campuses “face a climate of hostility that amounts to a violation of their civil rights, due to Palestine solidarity activism.”
Referring to two civil rights complaints at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz — where Amcha’s members have alleged that Jewish students face “intellectual and emotional harassment and intimidation” as a result of classroom discussions and on-campus events — Yudof stated: “These cases have to be carefully crafted with a fact pattern that is compelling. I don’t think in either of these cases these fact patterns exist” (College leaders balance Israel and speech,” The Forward, 17 January 2012).
Despite their inability to prove that a frightening culture of anti-Semitism exists on UC and CSU campuses, members of anti-Palestinian groups such as Campus Watch, Amcha and the nationwide academic watchdog group euphemistically called Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) have not relented in their mission to conflate anti-Semitism with Palestine solidarity activism or academic discussions on Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.
“The larger issue for the pro-Israel groups is that they don’t want to allow the criticism of Israel to be public if they can stop it,” Klein explained. “On a level playing field, in a debate or in a situation where all facts can be aired, they would lose. So the only way to win is to silence debate.”
Open debate: “breaking the rules” of academic freedom?
Dr. Lisa Rofel, a cultural anthropology professor at UC Santa Cruz, told The Electronic Intifada that she was subjected to harassment by Amcha and SPME after organizing on-campus events related to Palestine and critical analysis of Zionism. A member of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Rofel said that she was brought up on charges three times by Israel lobby groups who claimed that she “broke the rules of academic freedom by talking about politics on campus.”
Rofel said that the chancellor’s lawyer on campus disagreed with the claims, so she was then brought up on the same charges to the university’s committee on academic freedom, who told the Israel lobbyists that they had no case and to stop harassing her.
“They were then very unhappy,” Rofel said. “Then, someone who’s a big supporter of Israel went to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and managed to get anti-Semitism [categorized] as a racial discrimination.”
“It’s very disturbing to me to define Jewish identity as a racial identity, because that’s what Hitler did,” Rofel added. “But you have to define it this way to claim anti-Semitism, and the whole point is that they’re trying to bring up a charge of anti-Semitic discrimination on campus with the Department of Education against those of us who put on these events, and against the university administration who didn’t do anything to stop it.”
The Israel lobby’s threats and intimidation tactics against other US professors have worked — and some academics have been punished for holding open discussions on Israeli policies. Dr. Terri Ginsberg, who was denied tenure at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 2008, has been subjected to academic censorship efforts by Israeli lobby groups and has been subsequently blacklisted for other faculty positions. She is now embroiled in legal proceedings in her ongoing fight against censorship and intimidation.
In an interview with The Electronic Intifada in December, Ginsberg said that NCSU admitted that it openly suppressed a speech of hers which was “critical of Zionism and supportive of the Palestine liberation struggle” and that the university “chose not to interview or hire” her for a tenure-track position because of her scholarship on Palestine and the Middle East.
In reference to Ginsberg’s ongoing struggle, Rofel said she feels that the administration at UC Santa Cruz isn’t as susceptible to Israeli lobby attacks, and she feels generally supported.
“[The university] has protected me in terms of not finding me guilty of any charges related to violations of academic freedom,” Rofel said. “And I feel very lucky to be on this campus, because [what happened to Ginsberg] would not happen here.”
An imperative time for universities to support faculty, students
Back at CSU-Northridge, Klein said that like Rofel, his university’s administration has been protective of him and has supported his activism under the banner of academic freedom. He added that there has not yet been any indication that his website nor tenured position are in jeopardy.
However, even after the CSU system reinstated the Israel study abroad program last month, Klein said the attacks on him by outside lobby groups and individuals have not quelled, and the demands to take down his website are still unrelenting.
Klein told The Electronic Intifada that he believes there is “a great deal of coordination” among various Zionist and Israeli lobby groups, but it is Amcha’s targeted attacks in particular that have been most troublesome.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and Leila Beckwith, the founding members of Amcha, “have been beating the drums the hardest, demanding that the university take down my website,” Klein said.
“And now, since the university has supported my website as an expression of academic freedom, now they’re attacking the university administration,” he added. “The acting president, Harry Hellenbrand, is a signer of the open letter [against the reinstatement of the Israel study abroad program], and they’re attacking him for that, and they’re going to the chancellor.”
US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) organizing committee members Sunaina Maira, professor of Asian American studies at UC Davis, and Nada Elia, professor of Global and Gender Studies at Antioch University in Seattle, told The Electronic Intifada by email that the attempts to censor Klein run against the very idea of academic freedom and open discussion in university classrooms. Maira said that the viciousness of the attacks on Klein “betray a desperation to shut down free and honest debate and to exceptionalize the case of Israel.”
“Professor Klein is a courageous and conscientious scholar who has chosen not to remain silent in the face of egregious violations of international law and overt racial discrimination in Israel,” Maira added.
“As a principled Jewish American scholar, he has worked with students and colleagues to oppose a program that would legitimize an illegal occupation and discriminatory policies, which the Brand Israel campaign would like the world to ignore, in the face of growing global condemnation and international outrage,” she said.
Elia said that the Israeli lobby’s attempts to excoriate the cultural and academic boycott movement against Israeli institutions and describe it as an effort that violates, not protects, academic freedom should be carefully examined.
“We should be very clear about the fact that the Palestinian call for boycotting Israeli institutions which are complicit in the occupation is not a violation of academic freedom — it is a means to an end, a strategy to achieve the academic freedom that currently does not exist in Israel and Palestine, and is seriously jeopardized in the US,” she stated.
As of press time, more than 860 persons have signed on to a public petition (penned by his colleagues at USACBI) demanding that the California State University system — and, specifically, CSU Chancellor Reed — defend David Klein and not capitulate to the lobby’s demands that his website be taken down, nor should he be subjected to academic punishment (“Sign petition in support of Dr. David Klein and academic freedom here”).
Along with public support, Klein said he’s optimistic about the support from within the university itself. “So far, the administration is standing with me,” he explained. “Hopefully it’ll be representative of a paradigm shift.”
Klein said that now, more than ever, is an imperative time for universities to stand by their faculty and students. Indeed, addition to the attacks on academics like Terri Ginsberg and Norman Finkelstein, ten Muslim students at UC Irvine last fall were charged and convicted by the Orange County District Attorney’s office with disrupting a public meeting for their protest of the Israeli ambassador’s speech on campus.
“[It sets] an important precedent,” Klein said, referring to his case. “It’s a precedent for a faculty member to be able to post criticisms of Israel and Israeli policy on a website. So if the current situation stands and I’m allowed to continue to do that, it immediately opens doors for other faculty in the 23 other state university systems. But it would also have positive effects for the other university systems as well.”
While well-funded Israel lobby groups attempt — and fail — to prove that a pandemic of anti-Semitism exists on college campuses, student activism in support of Palestinian rights continues to strengthen.
Groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine — with growing chapters across California and the rest of the US — are more determined than ever to press forward with divestment initiatives and creative protests against Israeli apartheid policies.
“I can’t put my finger on it but I feel that worldwide, there’s a shift in the last couple of years where there’s a greater opening to criticize Israel and the policies that Israel imposes on the Palestinian people,” Klein said.
Lisa Rofel of UC Santa Cruz said that although she’s less optimistic than her colleague about a general paradigm shift, she knows that it’s important to analyze the reasons why Israel lobby groups are spending so much time and effort attempting to censor discussion.
She told The Electronic Intifada: “The activities of people who are trying to silence us are very worrisome, because they’re so anti-democratic, so rigid. If they’re so convinced about the rightness of their position, then they shouldn’t worry about open debate.”
Nora Barrows-Friedman is an award-winning independent journalist, and is a staff writer and editor for The Electronic Intifada.
- UK Labour Party student officials face backlash over free tour of Israel, settlements (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Zionist fabrications, smears intensify ahead of Penn BDS conference (alethonews.wordpress.com)
In a meeting on Monday between U.S. State Department and Israeli officials, the U.S. officials promised to extend loan guarantees to Israel for the next three years. The $3.8 billion in loan backing is in addition to the $3 billion a year in aid given to Israel by the U.S. government.
Israel is the only recipient of U.S. foreign aid and loans that is not considered a ‘developing’ nation, with an annual GDP of $235 billion ($29,800 per capita). In contrast, the next biggest recipient of U.S. aid, Egypt, receives less than half of the amount given to Israel and has a GDP of $6,200 per capita. Every other recipient of US aid has a GDP that is below that of Egypt.
The U.S. Congress recently approved a guaranteed $30 billion in aid to Israel over the next 10 years. This aid, unlike assistance provided by the U.S. government to other countries, has no requirements, and is provided without stipulation as to how it should be used.
Reporter Richard Curtiss, with the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, pointed out in an article on U.S. loan guarantees to Israel that these loans, made by international financial institutions and backed by the U.S. Treasury, are not actually required to be repaid.
Curtiss writes, “Most U.S. loans to Israel are forgiven, and many were made with the explicit understanding that they would be forgiven before Israel was required to repay them. By disguising as loans what in fact were grants, cooperating members of Congress exempted Israel from the U.S. oversight that would have accompanied grants.”
He continues, “On other loans, Israel was expected to pay the interest and eventually to begin repaying the principal. But the so-called Cranston Amendment, which has been attached by Congress to every foreign aid appropriation since 1983, provides that economic aid to Israel will never dip below the amount Israel is required to pay on its outstanding loans. In short, whether U.S. aid is extended as grants or loans to Israel, it never returns to the Treasury.”
The announcement by the State Department officials on Monday included a promise that the loan guarantees would soon be approved by the U.S. Congress.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry official told reporters with the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, “We consider the loan guarantees as preparation for a rainy day”.
The U.S. Congress has received criticism in recent months for its continued aid to Israel, at a time when social programs around the US are being cut due to federal budget cuts, and states have been forced to spend down their own ‘rainy day’ funds to avoid excessive deficit spending during the ongoing economic recession in the U.S.
- Pentagon asks for extra $100 million to Israel for Iran defense (and Congress doubles the tip) (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- The State of the Union ~~~ What It Means to Palestine (desertpeace.wordpress.com)
President Barack Obama released a statement on January 23, 2012 praising the EU’s recent decision to embargo Iranian oil. The statement reads in full:
I applaud today’s actions by our partners in the European Union to impose additional sanctions on Iran in response to the regime’s continuing failure to fulfill its international obligations regarding its nuclear program. These sanctions demonstrate once more the unity of the international community in addressing the serious threat presented by Iran’s nuclear program. The United States will continue to impose new sanctions to increase the pressure on Iran. On December 31, I signed into law a new set of sanctions targeting Iran’s Central Bank and its oil revenues. Today, the Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Bank Tejerat for its facilitation of proliferation, and we will continue to increase the pressure unless Iran acts to change course and comply with its international obligations.
The United States and the EU combined account for only about 10% of world’s population. How arrogant it is for Barack Obama to claim this represents the “unity of the international community,” especially when the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) represents over 55% of the world’s population and has repeatedly acknowledged its support for Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program under IAEA safeguards?
On November 18, 2011, after the leaking of the latest IAEA report on the Iranian nuclear program and hysterical alarmism that followed, the NAM released an 18-point statement outlining its reaction, and objections, to the report.
NAM, which is comprised of 120 UN member states plus a number of observers, “expressed its deep dissatisfaction and concern about ‘selective submission of the IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano report to some member states and called it against the principle of equality of all countries.”
Furthermore, NAM specifically noted the terms of the NPT when it “reaffirm[ed] the basic and inalienable right of all states to the development, research, production and use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes, without any discrimination and in conformity with their respective legal obligations. Therefore, nothing should be interpreted in a way as inhibiting or restricting the right of states to develop atomic energy for peaceful purposes. States’ choices and decisions, including those of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear technology and its fuel cycle policies must be respected.”
It also “emphasize[d] the fundamental distinction between the legal obligations of states in accordance with their respective safeguards agreements, as opposed to any confidence building measures undertaken voluntarily and that do not constitute a legal safeguards obligation.”
In what is directly applicable to the current acts of murder and sabotage, as well as the rounds of illegal sanctions on the Iran (which by now surely add up the collective punishment of all Iranians – winning the hearts and minds, as always!), NAM also “reaffirm[ed] the inviolability of peaceful nuclear activities and that any attack or threat of attack against peaceful nuclear facilities -operational or under construction -poses a serious danger to human beings and the environment, and constitutes a grave violation of international law, of the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations, and of regulations of the IAEA. NAM recognizes the need for a comprehensive multilaterally negotiated instrument prohibiting attacks, or threat of attacks on nuclear facilities devoted to peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”
It should be remembered that Natanz, the enrichment directed by the murdered Professor Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan and which was the target of international industrial sabotage via the Stuxnet virus, is under full IAEA safeguards and 24-hour surveillance, and has been subject to numerous surprise inspections. For nearly a decade, the IAEA has consistently confirmed that no nuclear material at Natanz (and elsewhere in Iran, for that matter) has ever been diverted to non-peaceful purposes.
Perhaps most importantly, NAM expressed doubt over the dubious and unauthenticated nature of the “alleged studies” accusations present in IAEA reports. It stated:
“While noting the D[irector] G[eneral]’s concern regarding the issue of possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program, NAM also notes that Iran has still not received the documents relating to the ‘alleged studies’. In this context, NAM fully supports the previous requests of the Director General to those Members States that have provided the Secretariat information related to the ‘alleged studies’ to agree that the Agency provides all related documents to Iran. NAM expresses once again its concerns on the creation of obstacles in this regard, which hinder the Agency’s verification process.”
Oh, how alone, how isolated, Iran is in affirming its own inalienable national rights!
In his statement today, Obama declares, “The United States will continue to impose new sanctions to increase the pressure on Iran.”
How does such a brazen promise comport with his March 20, 2009 Nowruz announcement, cynically titled “A New Year, A New Beginning,” that his “administration is now committed to diplomacy” which “will not be advanced by threats”? Oh right, that claim was made a mere nine days after he extended unilateral sanctions on Iran due to Iran supposedly posing what he called “a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”
Considering the constant fear-mongering about Iran, it is no surprise that, according to a new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, nearly 30% of the American public now believes Iran “represents the greatest danger to the United States,” a jump from 12% a year ago.
Among those who are aware of the recent tensions between the U.S. and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program and disputes in the Persian Gulf, a majority say that it is more important to take a firm stand against Iranian actions (54%) than to avoid a military conflict with Iran (39%). More than seven-in-ten Republicans (72%) say taking a firm stand is more important, as do a smaller majority (52%) of independents.
Democrats are more evenly split: 45% say taking a firm stand, 47% say avoiding a military conflict. This reflects a division of opinion within Democrats; while 52% of conservative and moderate Democrats say taking a firm stand is more important, that falls to 36% among liberal Democrats.
- Nuclear experts reject IAEA Iran report (alethonews.wordpress.com)
This January 28 marks International Privacy Day, the day that the first legally binding international privacy treaty was opened for signature to Member States in January 28, 1981. Different countries around the world are celebrating this day with their own events. This year, we are honoring the day by calling attention to recent privacy threats around the world and describing a few of the available tools that allow individuals to protect their privacy and anonymity.
Today, we are calling on governments to repeal mandatory data retention schemes. Mandatory data retention harms individuals’ anonymity, which is crucial for whistle-blowers, investigators, journalists, and for political speech. It creates huge potential for abuse and should be rejected as a serious infringement on the rights and freedoms of all individuals.
It has been six years since the highly controversial Data Retention Directive (DRD) was adopted in the European Union. Conceived in the EU and steamrolled by powerful U.S. and U.K. government lobbies, this mass-surveillance law compels EU-based Internet service providers to collect and retain traffic data revealing who communicates with whom by email, phone, and SMS, including the duration of the communication and the locations of the users. This data is often made available to law enforcement. Europeans have widely criticized the DRD, and year after year, it has inspired some of the largest-ever street protests against excessive surveillance.
The European Commission has begun mounting a defense for this highly controversial mass-surveillance scheme, though they have thus far been unable to show that the DRD is necessary or proportionate. For the DRD to be legal in the EU, any limitation to the right to privacy mustbe “necessary” to achieve an objective of general interest and “proportionate” to the desired aim. This requirement is important to ensure that the government does not adopt severe measures to address a problem that could be otherwise solved in a way that is less harmful to civil liberties. But the Commission has been arguing that all uses of retained data illustrate that the Directive is “valuable.” This doesn’t meet the legal standard. Instead, the Commission should provide evidence that in the absence of a mandatory data retention law, traffic data crucial to the investigation of “serious crime” would not have been available to law enforcement.
Despite the European Commission’s efforts to preserve the Directive as-is, a leaked letter confirms that the Commission has been scrambling to conjure evidence for the “need” of a DRD scheme in the European Union. It also underscores the fact that there is no system of oversight that would allow citizens to monitor the impact of the proposed program on their privacy rights. Perhaps the most disquieting detail that has been confirmed by the letter is that service providers have already been storing instant messages, chats, uploads, and downloads. This type of data collection falls outside the scope of the DRD. Moreover, the letter indicates that “unnamed” players seek to broaden the uses of the DRD to include prosecution of copyright infringement including “illegally downloading.” Since this is not a serious crime, this legally falls outside the scope of the DRD.
In response to this leak, EDRI stated, “The leaked document however shows that the Commission can neither prove necessity nor proportionality of the Data Retention Directive – but still wants to keep the Directive.” The leaked letter also disclosed that the EU Commission is evaluating the possibility of amending the Directive. The Commission has commissioned a study into data preservation in the EU and around the world. According to the letter, this exercise is to be completed by May 2012.
Ending Data Retention: Constitutional Challenges
Constitutional courts have begun weighing in on the legality of this mass-surveillance scheme. In a decision celebrated by privacy advocates, the Czech Constitutional Court declared in March 2011 that the Czech data retention law was unconstitutional. Earlier this month, the same Court dealt another blow to data retention by annulling part of the Criminal Procedure Code, which would have enabled law enforcement access to data stored voluntarily by operators. Most importantly, the Czech Court used compelling language in articulating the importance of the protection of traffic data. The Court stated that the collection of traffic data and communication data warranted identical legal safeguards since both have the same “intensity of interference”.
We couldn’t agree more. Sensitive data of this nature demands stronger protection, not an all-access pass. Individuals should not have to worry whether one sort of private information has less protection than another.
I believe that both decisions will help ensure that new legislation enforces the same restrictions as exist for use of wiretap. These include strong privacy safeguards for government access to citizen’s data, the obligation to inform individuals about the use of their data, and so on.
Several other courts in EU member states have also ruled on the illegality of data retention laws. Earlier in 2009, the Romanian constitutional Court rejected the imposition of an ongoing, sweeping traffic data retention program. The Court rightly emphasized that mandatory data retention overturns the presumption of innocence in a way that treats all Romanians like potential suspects. Despite this court decision, a new draft data retention bill was introduced in the Parliament, but the Senate finally rejected it at the end of 2011.
In March 2010, the German Court declared unconstitutional the German mandatory data retention law. The Court ordered the deletion of the collected data and affirmed that data retention could “cause a diffusely threatening feeling of being under observation that can diminish an unprejudiced perception of one’s basic rights in many areas.” The lawsuit was brought on by 34,000 citizens through the initiative of AK Vorrat, the German working group against data retention.
Over in Ireland, the Court is referring to the European Court of Justice the case challenging the legality of the DRD, thanks to the complaint brought by Digital Rights Ireland. The Irish Court acknowledged the importance of defining “the legitimate legal limits of surveillance techniques used by governments”, and rightly emphasized that “without sufficient legal safeguards the potential for abuse and unwarranted invasion of privacy is obvious”. The Courtsin Cyprus and Bulgaria have also declared their mandatory data retention laws unconstitutional.
The DRD compels EU member countries to implement the Directive into national law. Fortunately, many member states have not yet done so. The Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Romania, and Sweden have not adopted this piece of legislation, despite pressure from the European Commission to do so. In Austria, the data protection law will take effect in April 2012. AK Vorrat Austria plans to use all legal means to challenge the legality of the DRD. They have also handed over a petition to the Austrian Parliament asking the government to fight against the DRD at the EU level and to review all existing anti-terror legislation. (If you are Austrian, sign the petition today at zeichnemit.at.) In Slovakia, the NGO European Information Society Institute is opposing the Slovakian data retention implementation law.
Meanwhile, civil society groups are resisting and campaigning against this oppressive data retention law. EDRI, along with EFF and AK Vorrat, has fought to repeal the DRD in favor of targeted collection of traffic data. EDRI has previously reported that Deutsche Telekom, a German telco, illegally used telecommunications traffic and location data to spy on roughly 60 individuals including journalists, managers, and union leaders. They also reported that two major intelligence agencies in Poland used retained traffic and subscriber data to illegally disclose journalistic sources without any judicial oversight. These are only a few examples in which data retention policies have directly threatened individuals’ expression and privacy rights.
The DRD is a threat to Internet privacy and anonymity, and has been proven to violate the privacy rights of 500 million Europeans. EFF, together with EDRI, will keep fighting to repeal the DRD in favor of targeted collection of traffic data.
Mandatory Data Retention in the United States
Two bills introduced in the U.S. Congress in 2009 would have required all Internet providers and operators of WiFi access points to keep records on Internet users for at least two years to assist police investigations. Neither bill became law. Some legislators and law enforcement officials continue to argue, however, that mandatory data retention is necessary to investigate online child pornography and other Internet crimes. In January 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing that discussed whether Congress should pass legislation that would force ISPs and telecom providers to log Internet user traffic data. In May 2011, H.R. 1981, which would require retention of such traffic data, was introduced in the House of Representatives. This bill is still alive and continues to be a threat to the privacy and anonymity of all Americans. EFF has joined civil liberties and consumer organizations in publicly opposing H.R. 1981. Please join EFF, and help us defeat this bill before it is made law. Contact your Representative now.
The U.S. war in Afghanistan is testing so much futuristic detect and destroy weaponry that it can be called the most advanced all-seeing invasion in military history. From blanket satellite surveillance to soldiers’ infra-red vision to the remotely guided photographing, killer drones to the latest fused ground-based imagery and electronic signal intercepts, the age of robotic land, sea, and air weaponry is at hand.
U.S. and NATO soldiers and contractors greatly outnumber the Taliban, whose sandals and weapons are from the past century. Still, with the most sophisticated arsenals ever deployed, why are U.S. generals saying that less than 30,000 Taliban fighters, for almost a decade, have fought the U.S. led forces to a draw?
Perhaps one answer can be drawn from a ceremony that could be happening in various places in that tormented country. That is, a Jirga of elders awarding a young fighter the Jirga medal of honor for courage on the battlefield, which often happens to be their village or valley.
The chief elder rose to address a wide circle of villagers. “Today we are presenting our beloved Mursi with the revered Jirga medal of honor for courage beyond the call of duty in rescuing seven of his brother defenders from almost certain destruction. The invaders had surrounded our young brothers at night in the great Helmand gully with their snipers, grenade-launchers and helicopter gunships.
It looked like the end. Until Mursi started a very smoky fire and diverted the enemy with a firebomb that startled several donkeys into braying loudly. In the few seconds absorbed by diverting the foreigners who directed their firepower in that direction, Mursi led his brothers, two of them wounded, through a large rock crevice and down an incline that was hidden from view and into a cave covered with bush. For some reason, the occupiers’ night vision equipment was not working, thanks be to Allah.
The next morning, the enemy had gone away, probably to start another deadly attack elsewhere on our people. Before the Jirga awards you this ancient symbol of resistance, Mursi, in the form of a sculptured shield made of a rare wood, will you say a few words to your tribe?”
Mursi, a thin as a rail twenty year old youth, rose.
“I accept this great honor on behalf of my brothers who escaped with their lives that terrible night in Helmand. I was very scared. The enemy has everything and we have nothing. They have planes, helicopters, artillery, many soldiers with equipment that resists bullets, sees in the dark and provides them with food, water and medicine. We only have our old rifles, some grenades and explosives. They can see us all the way from America on screens sitting in cool rooms where they can press buttons and wipe us out without our seeing or hearing anything coming at us. We are all so terrified. Especially the children.
We wonder why they are doing this to us? We never threatened them. They threaten everyone with their bases, ships, planes and missiles. I hear that the foreign soldiers ask themselves why are they here, what are they doing here and for what? But they are paid well to be here, destroying our country year after year, though they boast about building some bridges and digging some water wells. No thank you.”
“Go back to your families, you will never win because we are fighting to repel you invaders from our ancient tribal lands, our homes,. Fighting to expel the invaders is stronger and more righteous than your weapons and all your military wealth. Even if many of us lose our lives, we will prevail one day. For we will have heaven and they will have hell.”
A long knowing silence followed. A rooster crowed in the distance. The chief elder then slowly handed the medal to their brave hero.
Can the most militarily powerful country in the world, many of whose people and soldiers are opposed or have serious doubts about why we are continuing to pursue these senseless undeclared wars of aggression that create more hatred and enemies, look with empathy at what those people, whom we are pummeling, are going through? Will the Pentagon, which doesn’t estimate civilian casualties, let its officials speak publically about the millions of such casualties–deceased, injured and sick–that have afflicted innocent Iraqis, Afghanis and Pakistanis?
Will our current crop of political candidates for Congress and the Presidency ever reflect on the wise words of our past Generals–Dwight Eisenhower, George Marshall and earlier Smedley Butler–about the folly and gore, not the glory of war?
The eighteenth century words of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, ring so true. He wrote:
And would some Power the small gift give us.
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us…
Last Thursday’s demonstration, in New York’s Harlem, against President Obama’s foreign and domestic policies was a great success, with about 400 protesters massed across the street from an Obama fundraiser at the Apollo Theater. But, you would not know that from reading the Daily Kos or In These Times, or from watching Democracy Now! That’s because these outfits represent the left flank of Obama’s apologists and protectors, whose self-assigned job is to perpetuate the fantasy that the First Black President is not a servant of Wall Street and the Pentagon. These publications and programs are also in thrall to another fantasy: that they have some kind of entree or influence with the Obama administration, when in fact, this White House is an annex of finance capital.
Nellie Bailey, the veteran Harlem organizer and member of Occupy Harlem, has already set the record straight: that this was a Black-led demonstration called for by Occupy Harlem, which enlisted the support of the larger Occupy Movement, Stop Stop-and-Frisk, MoveOn, the Black Is Back Coalition, and other progressive organizations. The turnout was larger than even the organizers had hoped, and heavily Black and Latino. But Democracy Now!, whose politics has undergone a palpable turn to the right during Obama’s time in office, told its audience that only about 100 people protested, when in reality, the MoveOn section of the demonstration alone approached that number. In this sense, Democracy Now! is worse than the police at reporting demonstrations it doesn’t support.
Daily Kos, which often behaves like an arm of the administration, published the rantings of someone calling himself Brooklyn Bad Boy, who admits he isn’t a “fan of street protests” but goes ballistic over the effrontery of protesting Obama. He claims the demonstrators ignore the pro-banker policies of Republican candidates. But then, the Brooklyn Bad Boy doesn’t show up at too many demonstrations, by his own admission, so how would he know? No matter, his pro-Obama stance qualifies for space on Daily Kos.
Allison Kilkenny’s In These Times article was the most insidious example of a hit-piece. She offered no crowd estimate, but made reference to a “handful” of Occupy Wall Street activists, thus belittling the turnout. Much worse, Kilkenny highlighted the uninvited presence of a few Lyndon LaRouche supporters in order to tar the whole demonstration – as if Occupy Harlem can dictate who shows up on the street. Then Kilkenny – a white woman – argues that white people from Occupy Wall Street should have stayed away from Harlem, on the grounds that their presence did not take “into account the city’s tense race relations” and the fierce gentrification of the neighborhood – gentrification fueled by Wall Street bankers.
As Occupy Harlem’s Nellie Bailey writes, Kilkenny is talking like old school southern white racists, accusing whites in Occupy Wall Street of being “outside agitators.” Kilkenny doesn’t think Black progressives have the right to ask white and Latino progressives to attend Black-led demonstrations in Black neighborhoods. She wants a segregated Occupy Wall Street movement, in which Blacks that oppose Obama’s corporate policies would get no meaningful solidarity from whites in the movement. Or, maybe she’ll just say anything to avoid confronting the corporate president.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
US President Barack Obama satisfied Jewish supporters in his State of the Union address on Tuesday his with his administration’s determination to “prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and will take no options off the table to achieve that goal”.
“A peaceful resolution of the Iran nuclear dispute is still possible if Iran changes course and meets international obligations,” Obama said in a speech largely devoted to the US economy.
He addressed Syrian President Bashar Assad saying Assad would discover that “forces of change cannot be reversed.”
The US President voiced his commitment to the Zionist entity’s security something that would soothes his Jewish supporters.
“Our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security has meant the closest cooperation between our countries in history,” Obama stated.
Obama’s Israel commitment lauded
U.S. Jewish democrats on Wednesday praised Obama’s address, saying that it was an endorsement of ‘Jewish Values’.
In a statement released by the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) in response to his speech, the NJDC said that the “iron-clad” commitment to Israeli security, and the guarantee that the Obama administration was determined to prevent Iran from obtaining ‘nuclear weapons’ expressed in the address, “speak volumes” about Obama’s record as President.
“On two foreign policy issues of special concern to the American Jewish community, Israel and Iran, President Obama’s words tonight speak volumes,” the statement said.
Overall, they said, his speech reflected “the policy concerns of the vast majority of American Jews. We thank and congratulate the President for this positive, proactive approach to addressing those concerns in tonight’s State of the Union Address.”
- Obama: ‘No options off the table’ on Iran (thejc.com)
Check out this Middle East Institute publication, “Revolution and Political Transformation in the Middle East,” featuring “The Power of Strategic Nonviolent Action in Arab Revolutions” by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict’s Stephen Zunes; and “People Power: The Real Force Behind the ‘Bad Year for Bad Guys’” co-authored by Srdja Popovic, leader of the National Endowment for Democracy-backed Otpor movement that overthrew Milosevic.
Timed to coincide with the six-month anniversary of the resignation of Mubarak, the Introduction reads:
The first volume of this series, “Agents of Change,” focuses on the groups and individuals who have led the popular uprisings throughout the region. Nine scholars, journalists, and activists remind us of the history behind these movements, demonstrate the effectiveness and importance of nonviolent struggle, explore the use of social media and other tools of mobilization, and investigate the characteristics and motivations of the players in the activist and rebel movements in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.
The Middle East Institute’s Board of Governors includes such noted advocates of nonviolent anti-imperial revolution as Anthony C. Zinni, former Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM); Richard A. Clarke, former chief counterterrorism adviser on the National Security Council; and William H. Webster, the only American to serve as both Director of Central Intelligence and Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In “The Power of Strategic Nonviolent Action in Arab Revolutions,” Prof. Zunes parenthetically reveals his uncanny powers of prediction:
(Indeed, my visits to Egypt and meetings with pro-democracy activists led me to predict in an article posted on the Foreign Policy in Focus web site in early December that “Egypt could very well be where the next unarmed popular pro-democracy insurrection takes place of the kind that brought down Marcos in the Philippines, Milosevic in Serbia and scores of other autocratic regimes in recent decades.”6)
It might be worth keeping an eye on his Institute for Policy Studies-affiliated FPIF column (regularly republished by the supposedly “non-interventionist” Antiwar.com) to see where Zunes “predicts” the next “unarmed popular pro-democracy insurrection” is likely to spontaneously occur.
- Antiwar.com: Helping to do today what was done covertly 45 years ago by the CIA (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- The Revolution Business (alethonews.wordpress.com)