"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

FBI Quietly Releases Plans For ‘Social Media Application’ To Continuously Monitor Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Flickr & Other Social Networks Worldwide

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Oldspeak:’ Social networks are about connecting people with other people – if one person is the target of police monitoring, there will be a dragnet effect in which dozens, even hundreds, of innocent users also come under surveillance. It is not necessarily the case that the more information law enforcement officers have, the safer we will be.’ -Gus Hosein, Privacy International  Following the lead of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, & The Pentagon, the FBI will be monitoring all social networks for ‘bad actors’ & ‘emerging threats’, and locating them via Google and Yahoo Maps. The power of social networking to foment and facilitate protest and dissent has been demonstrated the world over. Tools are being created to dilute, counteract & co-opt that power. Left unanswered, who will be designated as a ‘bad actor’ or ‘threat’, in the minds of people who are trained to view protestors and dissenters as low-level terrorists. It will be interesting to see as more and more freedoms are eliminated, and more and more people are viewed as “domestic terrorists” for protesting unconstitutional laws, who will be labeled “terrorists” or “enemy combatants” in the future. Intellectutals? Journalists? Activists? Bloggers? You?

Related Stories:

FBI’s Counterterrorism Operations Scrutinizing Political Activists

Spying on U.S Citizens — Uncle Sam turns his multi-billion dollar espionage network on U.S Citizens

By Common Dreams:

The FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center (SOIC) posted a ‘Request for Information (RFI)’ online last week seeking companies to build a social network monitoring system for the FBI. The 12-page document (.pdf) spells out what the bureau wants from such a system and invites potential contractors to reply by February 10, 2012.

It says the application should provide information about possible domestic and global threats superimposed onto maps “using mash-up technology”.

It says the application should collect “open source” information and have the ability to:

  • Provide an automated search and scrape capability of social networks including Facebook and Twitter.
  • Allow users to create new keyword searches.
  • Display different levels of threats as alerts on maps, possibly using color coding to distinguish priority. Google Maps 3D and Yahoo Maps are listed among the “preferred” mapping options.
  • Plot a wide range of domestic and global terror data.
  • Immediately translate foreign language tweets into English.

It notes that agents need to “locate bad actors…and analyze their movements, vulnerabilities, limitations, and possible adverse actions”. It also states that the bureau will use social media to create “pattern-of-life matrices” — presumably logs of targets’ daily routines — that will aid law enforcement in planning operations.

* * *

New Scientist magazine reports today:

“These tools that mine open source data and presumably store it for a very long time, do away with that kind of privacy. I worry about the effect of that on free speech in the US” — Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier FoundationThe US Federal Bureau of Investigation has quietly released details of plans to continuously monitor the global output of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, offering a rare glimpse into an activity that the FBI and other government agencies are reluctant to discuss publicly. The plans show that the bureau believes it can use information pulled from social media sites to better respond to crises, and maybe even to foresee them. [...]

The use of the term “publicly available” suggests that Facebook and Twitter may be able to exempt themselves from the monitoring by making their posts private. But the desire of the US government to watch everyone may still have an unwelcome impact, warns Jennifer Lynch at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based advocacy group.

Lynch says that many people post to social media in the expectation that only their friends and followers are reading, which gives them “the sense of freedom to say what they want without worrying too much about recourse,” says Lynch. “But these tools that mine open source data and presumably store it for a very long time, do away with that kind of privacy. I worry about the effect of that on free speech in the US”.

* * *

The BBC reports:

“Social networks are about connecting people with other people – if one person is the target of police monitoring, there will be a dragnet effect in which dozens, even hundreds, of innocent users also come under surveillance” — Gus Hosein, Privacy InternationalThe FBI issued the request three weeks after the US Department of Homeland Security released a separate report into the privacy implications of monitoring social media websites.

It justified the principle of using information that users have provided and not opted to make private.

“Information posted to social media websites is publicly accessible and voluntarily generated. Thus the opportunity not to provide information exists prior to the informational post by the user,” it says.[...]

The London-based campaign group, Privacy International, said it was worried about the consequences of such activities.

“Social networks are about connecting people with other people – if one person is the target of police monitoring, there will be a dragnet effect in which dozens, even hundreds, of innocent users also come under surveillance,” said Gus Hosein, the group’s executive director.

“It is not necessarily the case that the more information law enforcement officers have, the safer we will be.

“Police may well find themselves overwhelmed by a flood of personal information, information that is precious to those it concerns but useless for the purposes of crime prevention.”

* * *

The Fierce Government website reports on ‘refining raw social media into intelligence gold':

The notion that the future can be predicted by trends expressed in collective social media output is one that has gained increased currency in academic writing. A January analysis (.pdf) published by the Rand Corp. of tweets using the #IranElection hashtag during 2009 and early 2010 found a correlation between appearance of swear words and protests. The study also found a shift that indicated the protest movement was losing momentum when swearing shifted from curses at the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to curses at an opposition figure.

A March 2011 paper published in the Journal of Computational Science (abstract) also posited that movements of the Dow Jones Industrial Average could be predicted to an accuracy of 86.7 percent by changes of national mood reflected in Tweets. According to The Economist, British hedge fund Derwent Capital Markets has licensed the algorithm to guide the investments of a $41 million fund.

Police, Occupy Protestors Clash In Oakland: 400 Arrests, Tear Gas, Flash-Bang Grenades Used

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Oldspeak:” In a police state, heavily armored & militarized storm troopers systematically and repeatedly violate their own crowd control guidelines & respond to dissent and protest with disproportionate, excessive and unauthorized levels of violence to ‘pacify’ largely peaceful and unarmed protestors.

Related Video:

Occupy Oakland video: Police use flashbangs & tear-gas against protesters

By Joshua Holland @ Alter Net:

Downtown Oakland turned ugly once again on Saturday, as Occupy activists attempting to squat in a long-abandoned city building were met by lines of heavily armored riot police. Police officials said that 400 arrests followed – a number that may represent as much as 30 percent of everyone who participated in the day’s actions, according to police estimates of the crowd’s size.

Occupy Oakland organizers said some protesters were hospitalized, but the exact number of injuries is unknown as if this writing. According to organizers, four journalists were swept up by police, including AlterNet contributor Susie Cagle and Mother Jones correspondent Gavin Aronsen. Cagle was reportedly cited and released; organizers say Aronsen was jailed overnight (update: Aronsen tells us that he was released last night).

It was, once again, a tale of two protests. Accounts in the corporate media relied primarily on police statements to paint protesters as wild animals running amok in the city, while those following the day’s events via a small group of “citizen-journalists” broadcasting raw, unedited footage from their cell-phones and flip-cams got a wildly divergent view of exactly how things escalated.

A livestream offered by Occupy Oakland’s Mark Mason and Chris Krakauer showed protesters approaching the Henry Kaiser Convention Center in the early afternoon, where they were greeted by skirmish lines of police clad in riot gear. At one point, Mason, narrating as he moved through the crowd, could be heard saying, “uh-oh, some people are throwing things at the cops,” before moving away from the front-lines. Later, an Occupier visiting from Los Angeles told Mason of confronting one of the protesters who had thrown an object at police. “That’s just stupid, you know,” said the young woman. “And she threw it from the middle of the crowd, which just puts people in the front in danger.”

Police declared the protest an unlawful assembly, and soon afterward, a series of explosions could be heard on the livestream as police deployed either teargas canisters or “flash-bang” grenades to disperse the crowd. This appears to be a violation of the Oakland Police Department’s (OPD) own crowd-control guidelines, which were drawn up as part of a settlement of a 2003 suit filed by the National Lawyers Guild and the ACLU of Northern California after a case in which OPD used an abundance of violence against peaceful protesters demonstrating against the invasion of Iraq.

The guidelines state that less-lethal munitions “may never be used indiscriminately against a crowd or group of persons, even if some members of the crowd or group are violent or disruptive.”

“Bean-bag” shotgun rounds and/or rubber-coated steel bullets were also used by police, according to official reports. But OPD may only use less-lethal projectiles against an individual who poses an imminent threat and, even then, the guidelines prohibit their use except when such an “individual can be targeted without endangering other crowd members or bystanders.”

The Associated Press quoted City Administrator Deanna Santana saying that police “responded” to object being thrown “by deploying smoke, tear gas and bean bag rounds.” “These demonstrators stated their intention was to provoke officers and engage in illegal activity and that’s exactly what has occurred today.”

But OPD’s large-scale use of force against the mostly peaceful crowd visibly escalated the tension. “There are fucking kids here!” one activist could be heard shouting on Mark Mason’s livestream. “What’s wrong with you fucking people?” It was soon after the explosions that protesters began chanting “fuck the pigs!”

Soon after this initial confrontation, the Occupiers retreated back to Frank Ogawa Plaza, which served as the location for their encampment – a tent city that Oakland officials cleared twice last fall. One organizer complimented the majority of activists for remaining peaceful throughout the clash. “Today was the most disciplined I’ve ever seen Occupy Oakland,” he said.

The Occupiers, after regrouping, then set off for a second march. Their intended destination was unclear, as police immediately began “herding” protesters – in Mason’s words – towards a small plaza at the intersection of 19th and Rashida Muhammad Street, where they attempted to “kettle” several hundred protesters. It’s unclear why the attempt failed, but protesters evaded the trap and continued on until they reached Broadway and 23rd street, where OPD succeeded in boxing them in. Several protesters ran through the Downtown YMCA building seeking to escape arrest, according to live-streamer Spencer Mills. It was here that the majority of arrests took place.

Mills said that no dispersal order was given at the location; police told him that several had been issued along the route. But the OPD manual states that, “If after a crowd disperses pursuant to a declaration of unlawful assembly and subsequently participants assemble at a different geographic location where the participants are engaged in non-violent and lawful First Amendment activity, such an assembly cannot be dispersed unless it has been determined that it is an unlawful assembly and the required official declaration has been adequately given.”

Protesters, including peaceful protesters, weren’t given an opportunity to disperse. OPD’s crowd control manual states that an order to disperse, “shall also specify adequate egress or escape routes. Whenever possible, a minimum of two escape/egress routes shall be identified and announced.”

While the main body of protesters were being “herded” by OPD and eventually kettled at 23rd street, a smaller group broke into City Hall, where “they burned flags, broke an electrical box and damaged several art structures,” according to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan speaking at a press conference. Quan, blaming a small “very radical, violent” splinter group for the mayhem, called on the Occupy movement to “stop using Oakland as its playground.”

“People in the community and people in the Occupy movement have to stop making excuses for this behavior,” she said.

But Michael Davis, a visitor from Occupy Cincinnati, told the Associated Press that a day of action which began peacefully escalated when police began using “flash bangs, tear gas, smoke grenades and bean bags,” in apparent violation of OPD policy.

The chronology is important to get right. By definition, protesters feel angry and aggrieved, and when force is applied indiscriminately on a crowd – and not directed at a handful of people seeking confrontation – it ratchets up the tension to a point where more confrontations become almost inevitable.

We’ve seen that sequence of events unfold repeatedly in Oakland. In November, AlterNet spoke with Linda Lye, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, about a suit the group had filed attempting to compel OPD to follow its own crowd control policies. “Crowds of protesters are heterogenous,” she said. “They simply cannot deploy these weapons against a whole group of people because a few of them throw some objects.”

“The crowd control policy represents OPD’s view of best practices,” Lye continued. “Generally, the issue with excessive force cases is whether the force applied was reasonable under the circumstances, and law enforcement will often argue, ‘well, we needed to apply the force in a given circumstance because it was necessary to achieve our legitimate law enforcement goals.’ Here, when OPD is systematically violating specific provisions in its own crowd control policy, there can be no argument that they need to do this, because the guidelines already represent what OPD thinks is reasonable in these circumstances.”

The lawsuit filed by ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild is pending. In the meantime, relations between the community, police and city officials, and the Occupiers continue to be strained by the police violence and protester vandalism that have plagued so many actions over the past six months in Oakland.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

 

 

The Truth Behind The Coming “Regime Change” In Syria

In Uncategorized on January 28, 2012 at 7:35 pm

 Oldspeak:” Just as was done ahead of the Invasion of Libya. ‘The U.S. seems to be arming small paramilitary groups loyal to U.S. interests in Syria. This strategy of using a proxy army to undermine an anti-U.S. government has a grisly past. Coincidentally, ‘U.S. media and government are fanatically giving the impression that, in Syria, the native population would like foreign militarily intervention to overthrow their authoritarian president, Bashar Assad.  But facts are stubborn things.’ -Shamus Cooke. It’s obvious to anyone paying attention that the U.S. is using the same script used for Libya, Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and numerous other candidates for “regime change”, right in line with its plans of invading 7 countries in 5 years. We already know thanks to wikileaks that the U.S. has secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, so it seems everything is going according to plan. When will the American people let their govt know they have no desire to support the insatiable warmongering lust for expansion of american empire that will only benefit a few oligarchs? “War Is Peace” “Ignorance Is Strength”

Related Stories:

Ten days after 9/11 the U.S. government had already decided to attack Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan & Iran.

Syrian opposition accuses UN of ‘moment of shame’ over resolution

By Shamus Cooke @ Veracity Voice:

After meeting again to decide Syria’s fate, the Arab League again decided to extend its “monitoring mission” in Syria. However, some Arab League nations under U.S. diplomatic control are clamoring for blood. These countries — virtual sock puppets of U.S. foreign policy — want to declare the Arab League monitoring mission “a failure,” so that military intervention — in the form of a no fly zone — can be used for regime change.

The United States appears to be using a strategy in Syria that it has perfected over the years, having succeeded most recently in Libya: arming small paramilitary groups loyal to U.S. interests that claim to speak for the native population; these militants then attack the targeted government the U.S. would like to see overthrown —including terrorist bombings — and when the attacked government defends itself, the U.S. cries “genocide” or “mass murder,” while calling for foreign military intervention.

This is the strategy that the U.S. is using to channel the Arab Spring into the bloody dead end of foreign military intervention.

For example, the U.S. media and government are fanatically giving the impression that, in Syria, the native population would like foreign militarily intervention to overthrow their authoritarian president, Bashar Assad.  But facts are stubborn things.

After spinning these lies, The New York Times was forced to admit, in several articles, that there have been massive rallies in Syria in support of the Syrian government. These rallies are larger than any pro-government demonstration that the U.S. government could hope to organize for itself. The New York Times reports:

“The turnout [at least tens of thousands — see picture in link] in Sabaa Bahrat Square in Damascus, the [Syrian] capital, once again underlined the degree of backing that Mr. Assad and his leadership still enjoy among many Syrians, nearly seven months into the popular uprising. That support is especially pronounced in cities like Damascus and Aleppo, the country’s two largest.” (January 13, 2012).

The New York Times is forced to admit that the two largest cities — in a small country — support the government (or at least oppose foreign military intervention).

This was further confirmed by a poll funded by the anti-Syrian Qatar Foundation, preformed by the Doha Debates:

“According to the latest opinion poll commissioned by The Doha Debates, Syrians are more supportive of their president with 55% not wanting him to resign.” (January 2, 2012).

If people in Syria do not want foreign intervention — a likely reason that so many attended pro-Assad demonstrations — what about the so-called Free Syrian Army, which the United States has given immense credibility to and which claims to speak for the Syrian people?

The Free Syrian Army — like its Libyan counterpart — appears to be yet another Made-in-the-USA militant group, by route of its ally Turkey, a fact alluded to by the pro U.S.-establishment magazine, Foreign Affairs:

“Why does the Syrian [government] military not rocket their [Free Syrian Army] position or launch a large-scale assault? The FSA fighters are positioned about a mile from the Turkish border, near enough to escape across if the situation turned dire.”

The article also quotes a Free Syrian Army member who states: “Every [Free Syrian Army] group in Turkey has its own job,” Sayeed said. “[The Turks] gave us our freedom to move.” (December 8, 2011).

The article also mentions that the Free Syrian Army is calling for a “no fly zone” over certain regions of Syria, which would destroy the Syrian government military; the possible starting locations of this no fly zone are on the Syrian borders of either Turkey, Jordan, or Iraq — all three are either strong U.S. allies or client states.

A “no fly zone” is the new euphemism that means the U.S. and its European military junior partners in NATO will intervene to use their advanced fighter jets to destroy the Syrian military, as happened in Libya. In Libya the no fly zone evolved into a “no drive zone” and eventually a “no survival” zone for anything resembling the Libyan military — or anybody who armed himself in defense of the Libyan government.

As in Syria, Libya’s largest city, Tripoli, never had large anti-government demonstrations. The anti-Libyan government/pro-U.S. paramilitary group that attacked Libyan forces was so tiny that it took months to take power after 10,000 NATO bombing sorties (bombing missions) that destroyed large portions of Libya’s infrastructure, as documented by the independent Human Rights Investigations.

It’s totally unimaginable that any large section of Syrian society would invite a NATO-backed no fly zone, i.e. war, into Syria. The examples of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya are too glaring for any Middle Eastern nation not to notice. For the Free Syrian Army to demand a NATO invasion of Syria is enough to label the FSA a U.S. puppet group striving for political power, deserving to be condemned.

This strategy of using a proxy army to undermine an anti-U.S. government has a grisly past. This strategy is celebrated in the book Charlie Wilson’s War, which tells the true story of the U.S. government sending weapons and cash to Islamic extremists to wage a terrorist campaign against the Afghan government, which was an ally of the Soviet Union at the time. The attacks eventually led to the Afghan government asking for Soviet military re-enforcements, whose presence in Afghanistan created a degree of popular support for the extremists who eventually became known as the Taliban.

The same scenario also played itself out in Kosovo, where the tiny, U.S.-backed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) began a terrorist campaign against the government of Yugoslavia, intending to separate Kosovo into an independent nation. When the Yugoslav government attempted to defend itself from the KLA — while imitating its violent tactics — the U.S. and other western governments labeled it genocide, and invaded Yugoslavia, calling it a “humanitarian invasion.”  To this day the U.S. is one of few nations that recognizes Kosovo as an independent nation while Kosovo faithfully serves the interests of the United States.

The same proxy war strategy — by the U.S. and other European powers — played a crucial role in numerous wars throughout Africa, which culminated in the massive Congo War that killed over five million people, as French journalist Gerard Prunier describes in his book, Africa’s World War.

In Syria history is repeating itself, and some non-U.S. allies are very aware of it. The New York Times reports:

“[Russia's Foreign Minister] said that foreign governments [the U.S., Turkey, etc.] were arming ‘militants and extremists’ in Syria.”The Foreign minister also gave an accurate description of U.S. foreign policy towards Iran:

“Mr. Lavrov offered a similarly grave message about the possibility of a military strike against Iran, which he said would be a “catastrophe.” He said sanctions now being proposed against Tehran were “intended to have a smothering effect on the Iranian economy and the Iranian population, probably in the hopes of provoking discontent.” (January 19, 2012).

Most ominously, the Russian Foreign Minister said that U.S. foreign policy in Syria and Iran could lead to a “very big war,” i.e., a war that becomes regional or even international in scope, as other powers intervene to uphold their interests in the region.

Russia has offered a way to avoid war in Syria and is pursuing it through the UN Security Council; it is the same path being pursued by the pro-U.S. government in Yemen: maintaining the current government in power until elections are called. Unfortunately, Yemen is an ally of the U.S. and Syria is not — the U.S. and its allies are blocking the same approach in Syria in order to pursue war.

The Syrian government opposition bloc inside of Syria, the National Coordination Committee, opposes foreign military intervention. A leader of the NCC is Hassan Abdul Azim, who wisely states;

“We refuse on principle any type of military foreign intervention because it threatens the freedom of our country,” (January 19, 2012).

This is very likely the prevailing opinion inside of Syria, since the threat of no fly zones will result in the same mass bombings experienced by the citizens of Tripoli in Libya. The fake Syrian opposition outside of the country, The Syrian National Council, is yet another U.S. puppet — now allied with the Free Syrian Army —begging for a military invasion of Syria in order to “liberate” it.  Of course the western media tells only the perspective of the pro-U.S. Syrian National Council.

The U.S. has proven on multiple occasions that military solutions solve nothing, having torn asunder the social fabric of Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya. The working people of Syria and Iran do not desire “help” from the U.S. government and its allies to prevent bloodshed. The working people of these countries could liberate themselves from their authoritarian governments, as did the Tunisians and Egyptians, which is precisely the point: the U.S. is intervening militarily to re-gain control over a region that slipped out of its hands during the Arab Spring. This military approach serves to push the working people of the targeted country into the hands of their government while creating a humanitarian catastrophe for the invaded nation. The working people of the United States have no interest in aggressive war and have a responsibility to learn about U.S. government propaganda so that they can demand its end in the streets.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/13/world/middleeast/syrians-rally-in-support-of-assad.html
http://www.thedohadebates.com/news/item/index.asp?n=14312
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/12/08/syria_free_army_rebels?page=0,3
http://humanrightsinvestigations.org/tag/nato-bombing/
http://www.smh.com.au/world/russia-warns-west-it-risks-war-over-syria-iran-20120119-1q8ei.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/19/world/europe/russia-warns-against-support-for-arab-uprisings.html?_r=3&ref=world
http://rt.com/news/syria-protests-russia-dialogue-149/


Shamus Cooke is a regular columnist for Veracity Voice

He can be reached at shamuscook@yahoo.com

Obama’s Faux Populism Sounds Like Bill Clinton’s Faux Populism

In Uncategorized on January 26, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘I’ll admit it: Listening to Barack Obama, I am ready to enlist in his campaign against the feed-the-rich Republicans … until I recall that I once responded in the same way to Bill Clinton’s faux populism. And then I get angry because betrayal by the “good guys” for whom I have ended up voting has become the norm.’ A Corporatist Democrat recycling the same high-flown but ultimately hollow rhetoric of corporate democrat of the past. A brilliant deconstruction of Obama’s faux populist oratory. Obama has mastered the essential political skill of words not matching deeds to devastating effect for many of us. America’s decline began under a Republican, and is currently being shepherded along by a Democrat. Party ‘in power’ changes periodically but the status quo never does. When will people wake up to the reality that their political class has been co-opted via a financial coup d’etat engineered by agents of the transnational corporate network? How many well-paying jobs have to be replaced with poverty wage jobs? How many inalienable rights have to be abrogated? How many small businesses have to be driven out of business? How many people have to be rendered homeless?  How much of our environment has to be destroyed before we see that our social and economic systems are unsustainable and on the brink of collapse?

Related Story

Staring At Empty Pages

By Robert Sheer @ Truthdig:

I’ll admit it: Listening to Barack Obama, I am ready to enlist in his campaign against the feed-the-rich Republicans … until I recall that I once responded in the same way to Bill Clinton’s faux populism. And then I get angry because betrayal by the “good guys” for whom I have ended up voting has become the norm.

Yes, betrayal, because if Obama meant what he said in Tuesday’s State of the Union address about holding the financial industry responsible for its scams, why did he appoint the old Clinton crowd that had legalized those scams to the top economic posts in his administration? Why did he hire Timothy Geithner, who has turned the Treasury Department into a concierge service for Wall Street tycoons?

Why hasn’t he pushed for a restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act, which Clinton’s deregulation reversed? Does the president really believe that the Dodd-Frank slap-on-the-wrist sellout represents “new rules to hold Wall Street accountable, so a crisis like this never happens again”? Can he name one single too-big-to-fail banking monstrosity that has been reduced in size on his watch instead of encouraged to grow ever larger by Treasury and Fed bailouts and interest-free money?

When Obama declared Tuesday evening “no American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas,” wasn’t he aware that Jeffrey Immelt, the man he appointed to head his jobs council, is the most egregious offender? Immelt, the CEO of GE, heads a company with most of its workers employed in foreign countries, a corporation that makes 82 percent of its profit abroad and has paid no U.S. taxes in the past three years.

It was also a bit bizarre for Obama to celebrate Steve Jobs as a model entrepreneur when the manufacturing jobs that the late Apple CEO created are in the same China that elsewhere in his speech the president sought to scapegoat for America’s problems. Apple, in its latest report on the subject, takes pride in attempting to limit the company’s overseas suppliers to a maximum workweek of 60 hours for their horribly exploited employees. Isn’t it weird to be chauvinistically China baiting when that country carries much of our debt?

 

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I’m also getting tired of the exhortations to improve the nation’s schools, certainly a worthy endeavor, but this economic crisis is the result not of high school dropouts as Obama suggested, but rather the corruption of the best and brightest graduates of our elite academies. As Obama well knows from his own trajectory in the meritocracy, which took him from one of the most privileged schools in otherwise educationally depressed Hawaii to Harvard Law, the folks who concocted the mathematical formulas and wrote the laws justifying fraudulent collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps were his overachieving professors and classmates.

If he doesn’t know that, he should check out the record of Lawrence Summers, the man he picked to guide his economic program and who had been rewarded with the presidency of Harvard after having engineered Clinton’s deregulatory deal with Wall Street.

That is the real legacy of the Clinton years, and it is no surprise that GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich has been campaigning on his rightful share of it. The international trade agreements that exported good U.S. jobs, the radical financial deregulation that unleashed Wall Street greed, and the free market zealotry of then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, who was reappointed by Clinton, were all part of a deal Clinton made with Gingrich, House speaker at that time.

As Gingrich put it in the first Republican debate in South Carolina: “As speaker … working with President Bill Clinton, we passed a very Reagan-like program, less regulation, lower taxes.” Even the 15 percent tax break that Mitt Romney exploited for his carryover private equity income was a result of the unholy Clinton-Gingrich alliance. Both principals of that alliance were pimps for the financial industry, and that includes Freddie Mac, the for-profit stock-traded housing agency that Clinton coddled while it stoked the Ponzi scheme in housing and that rewarded the former speaker with $1.6 million to $1.8 million in consulting fees.

There were, finally, some bold words in Obama’s speech about helping beleaguered homeowners, but they ring hollow given this administration’s efforts to broker a sweetheart deal between the leading banks and the state attorneys general that would see the banks fined only a pittance for their responsibility in the mortgage meltdown. Obama could have had success demanding mortgage relief if he had made that a condition for bailing out the banks. Now the banksters know he’s firing blanks, and they are placing their bets on their more reliable Republican allies to prevent any significant demand for helping homeowners with their underwater mortgages.

Of course, Romney, Obama’s most likely opponent in the general election, will never challenge the Wall Street hold on Washington, since he is the personification of the vulture capitalism that is the true cause of America’s decline. Obama should shine in comparison with his Republican challenger, but there is little in his State of the Union speech to suggest he will chart a much-needed new course in his second term.

 

Western Justice And The Refusal To Provide Transparency

In Uncategorized on January 25, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Anwar Awlaki and Barack Obama

Oldspeak:”In totalitarian states, government sanctioned extrajudicial killing passes with barely a stir. “On Saturday in Somalia, the U.S. fired missiles from a drone and killed the 27-year-old Lebanon-born, ex-British citizen Bilal el-Berjawi. His wife had given birth 24 hours earlier and the speculation is that the U.S. located him when his wife called to give him the news.” This is how the U.S. does business now. Judge, jury and executioner, while refusing to reveal alleged evidence justifying ‘targeted assassination’ of ‘terrorists’. Charging people with terrorism and making it impossible for them to contest charges, because doing so could precipitate their deaths. This policy, this assassination program, perfectly illustrates the barbarically low value Americans place on the lives of “others”. This policy purports that a 27 year old man, who just had a baby, is incapable of change. Once labeled a terrorist, this man has can never be anything else, and he must be utterly destroyed, expeditiously.  This policy allows to go unexamined, the conditions that exist in the globalized scarcity/austerity/cruelty dominated world that drive desperate and disenfranchised people to turn to terrorism to force their participation in the world community. Ten years ago, a neocon Bush Ambassador to Israel said “The United States government is very clearly on the record as against targeted assassinations. They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that.” 9/11 was the moment we went to the dark side, as illustrated in a scene out of the 1999 film the “The Siege” God help us if we don’t find our way back.

By Glenn Grunwald @ Salon:

On Saturday in Somalia, the U.S. fired missiles from a drone and killed the 27-year-old Lebanon-born, ex-British citizen Bilal el-Berjawi. His wife had given birth 24 hours earlier and the speculation is that the U.S. located him when his wife called to give him the news. Roughly one year ago, El-Berjawi was stripped of his British citizenship, obtained when his family moved to that country when he was an infant, through the use of a 2006 British anti-Terrorism law — passed after the London subway bombing — that the current government is using with increasing frequency to strip alleged Terrorists with dual nationality of their British citizenship (while providing no explanation for that act). El-Berjawi’s family vehemently denies that he is involved with Terrorism, but he was never able to appeal the decree against him for this reason:

Berjawi is understood to have sought to appeal against the order, but lawyers representing his family were unable to take instructions from him amid concerns that any telephone contact could precipitate a drone attack.

Obviously, those concerns were valid. So first the U.S. tries to assassinate people, then it causes legal rulings against them to be issued because the individuals, fearing for their life, are unable to defend themselves. Meanwhile, no explanation or evidence is provided for either the adverse government act or the assassination: it is simply secretly decreed and thus shall it be.

Exactly the same thing happened with U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki. When the ACLU and CCR, representing Awlaki’s father, sued President Obama asking a federal court to enjoin the President from killing his American son without a trial, the Obama DOJ insisted (and the court ultimately accepted) that Awlaki himself must sue on his own behalf. Obviously, that was impossible given that the Obama administration was admittedly trying to kill him and surely would have done so the minute he stuck his head up to contact lawyers (indeed, the U.S. tried to kill him each time they thought they had located him, and then finally succeeded). So again in the Awlaki case: the U.S. targets someone for death, and then their inability to defend themselves is used as a weapon to deny their legal rights.

The refusal to provide transparency is also the same. Ever since Awlaki was assassinated, the Obama administration has steadfastly refused to disclose not only any evidence to justify the accusations of Terrorism against him, but also the legal theories it is using to assert the power to target U.S. citizens for death with no charges. A secret legal memo authorizing the Awlaki assassination, authored by Obama lawyers David Baron and Marty Lederman, remains secret. During the Bush years, Democratic lawyers vehemently decried the Bush DOJ’s refusal to release even OLC legal memoranda as tyrannical “secret law.” One of the lawyers most vocal during the Bush years about the evils of “secret law,” Dawn Johnsen (the never-confirmed Obama appointee to be chief of the OLC) told me back in October: “I absolutely do not support the concealment of OLC’s Awlaki memo . . . .The Obama administration should release either any existing OLC memo explaining why it believes it has the authority for the targeted killings or a comparably detailed legal analysis of its claimed authorities.”

Daily Beast report today says that the Obama administration “is finally going to break its silence” on the Awlaki killing, but here’s what they will and will not disclose:

In the coming weeks, according to four participants in the debate, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. is planning to make a major address on the administration’s national-security record. Embedded in the speech will be a carefully worded but firm defense of its right to target U.S. citizens. . . .

An early draft of Holder’s speech identified Awlaki by name, but in a concession to concerns from the intelligence community, all references to the al Qaeda leader were removed. As currently written, the speech makes no overt mention of the Awlaki operation, and reveals none of the intelligence the administration relied on in carrying out his killing. 

In other words, they’re going to dispatch Eric Holder to assert that the U.S. Government has the power to target U.S. citizens for assassination by-CIA-drone, but will not even describe a single piece of evidence to justify the claim that Awlaki was guilty of anything. In fact, they will not even mention his name. As Marcy Wheeler said today:

This is simply an asinine compromise. We all know the Administration killed Awlaki. We all know the Administration used a drone strike to do so. . . .

The problem–the problem that strikes at the very heart of democratic accountability–is that the Administration plans to keep secret the details that would prove (or not) that Awlaki was what the Administration happily claims he is under the veil of anonymity, all while claiming that precisely that information is a state secret.

The Administration seems to be planning on making a big speech on counterterrorism–hey! it’s another opportunity to brag again about offing Osama bin Laden!–without revealing precisely those details necessary to distinguish this killing, and this country, from that of an unaccountable dictator.

The CIA seems to have dictated to our democratically elected President that he can’t provide the kind of transparency necessary to remain a democracy. We can kill you–they appear to be planning to say–and we’ll never have to prove that doing so was just. You’ll just have to trust us!

That, of course, is the heart and soul of this administration’s mentality when it comes to such matters, and why not? Between Republicans who always cheer on the killing of Muslims with or without any explanation or transparency, and Democrats who do so when their leader is the assassin, there is little political pressure to explain themselves. If anything, this planned “disclosure” makes the problem worse, since we will now have the spectacle of Eric Holder, wallowing in pomp and legal self-righteousness, finally defending the power that Obama already has seized — to assassinate U.S. citizens in secret and with no checks — but concealing what is most needed: evidence that Awlaki was what the U.S. Government claims he is. That simply serves to reinforce the message this Government repeatedly sends: as Marcy puts it, “We can kill you and we’ll never have to prove that doing so was just. You’ll just have to trust us!”The Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen added: “The US legal opinion on Awlaki is one thing, but it rests on assumptions made by the intelligence community, which won’t be revealed.”

This no longer seems radical to many — it has become normalized — because it’s been going on for so long now and, more important, it is now fully bipartisan consensus. But to see how extreme this all really is, to understand what a radical departure it is, just consider what George Bush’s neocon Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, told the Israelis in 2001, as flagged by this Guardian Op-Ed by Mary Ellen O’Connell comparing Obama’s assassinations to Bush’s torture program:

The United States government is very clearly on the record as against targeted assassinations. They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that.

What George Bush’s Ambassador condemned to the Israelis’ face just a decade ago as something the nation was steadfastly against has now become a staple of government policy: aimed even at its own citizens, and carried out with complete secrecy. And those who spent years mocking the notion that “9/11 Changed Everything” will have no choice but to invoke that propagandistic mantra in order to defend this: what else is there to say?

SOPA & PIPA Shelved But Is ACTA Unstoppable? Little Known International Censorship Treaty Crafted In Secret Without Public Debate

In Uncategorized on January 24, 2012 at 11:13 am

Oldspeak:ACTA IS A THREAT TO FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND OPEN ACCESS TO KNOWLEDGE.  It contains global IP provisions as restrictive or worse than anything contained in SOPA and PIPA. It goes much further than the internet, cracking down on generic drugs and making food patents even more radical than they are by enforcing a global standard on seed patents that threatens local farmers and food independence across the developed world. The treaty has been secretly negotiated behind the scenes, with unelected bureaucrats working closely with entertainment industry lobbyists to craft the provisions in the treaty. We’ve already signed on to the treaty. All it needs now is Senate ratification.” -E.D. Cain “…after the successes of the Internet in enabling revolutions to start and proceed, there is a raw political desire to curb the power of the web. This isn’t based on money, but on fear.” -Sue Gee The technotronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.” Zbigniew Brzezinski, U.S. Secretary Of State (1977-1981) The scientific elite are relentlessly working to assert more and more control over access and dissemination of information. A free and open internet must be closed and restricted to achieve those ends. The people will need to stay informed and vigilant against these dire threats to our freedoms.

By E.D. Cain @ Forbes Magazine:

When sites like Wikipedia and Reddit banded together for a major blackout January 18th, the impact was felt all the way to Washington D.C. The blackout had lawmakers running from the controversial anti-piracy legislation, SOPA and PIPA, which critics said threatened freedom of speech online.

Unfortunately for free-speech advocates, censorship is still a serious threat.

Few people have heard of ACTA, or the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, but the provisions in the agreement are just as pernicious as anything we saw in SOPA. Worse, the agreement spans virtually all of the countries in the developed world, including all of the EU, the United States, Switzerland and Japan.

Many of these countries have already signed or ratified it, and the cogs are still turning. The treaty has been secretly negotiated behind the scenes, with unelected bureaucrats working closely with entertainment industry lobbyists to craft the provisions in the treaty. The Bush administration started the process, but the Obama administration has aggressively pursued it.

Indeed, we’ve already signed on to the treaty. All it needs now is Senate ratification. The time to stop the treaty is now, and we may need a second global internet blackout to call attention to it.

Here’s a quick video primer:

ACTA bypasses the sovereign laws of participating nations, forcing ISP’s across the globe to adopt these draconian measures.

Worse, it goes much further than the internet, cracking down on generic drugs and making food patents even more radical than they are by enforcing a global standard on seed patents that threatens local farmers and food independence across the developed world.

Despite ACTA’s secrecy, criticism of the agreement has been widespread. Countries like India and Brazil have been vocal opponents of the agreement, claiming that it will do a great deal of harm to emerging economies.

I’ll have more on the agreement as it emerges. But to briefly sum up, ACTA contains global IP provisions as restrictive or worse than anything contained in SOPA and PIPA.

  • ACTA spans virtually all of the developed world, threatening the freedom of the internet as well as access to medication and food. The threat is every bit as real for those countries not involved in the process as the signatories themselves.
  • ACTA has already been signed by many countries including the US, but requires ratification in the EU parliament and the US Senate.
  • The entire monstrosity has been negotiated behind closed doors and kept secret from the public. Technocrats, beholden to the deep pockets of the entertainment lobby, have masked the agreement behind the misnomer of “anti-counterfeiting” when in fact it goes much, much further.

If you thought SOPA would break the internet, ACTA is much worse. And it could become law across the global economy without so much as a murmur of opposition.

Worse still, it’s not alone. Even more restrictive provisions exist in another trade agreement currently being hammered out by various nations.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, there are “other plurilateral agreements, such as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), which contains a chapter on IP enforcement that would have state signatories adopt even more restrictive copyright measures than ACTA. Similarly, negotiations over TPP are also held in secret and with little oversight by the public or civil society. These initiatives, negotiated without participation from civil society or the public, are an affront to a democratic world order. EFF will remain vigilant against these international initiatives that threaten to choke off creativity, innovation, and free speech, and will stand with EDRi, FFII, La Quadrature du Net and our other EU fellow traveller organizations in their campaign to defeat ACTA in the European Parliament in January.”

The global economy needs to be seen as separate from those nations which comprise the global community of states. Civil society and a free global economy are not the same thing as the bogeyman so often referred to simply as “globalism.”

The free flow of goods and information is as much threatened by the global state apparatus as it is assisted by it, and industries with a vested interested in maintaining the status quo through draconian protectionist measures are now threatening the last frontier of the truly free economy.

By threatening the internet and free speech, the entertainment industry threatens its own existence. But with only short-term profits in mind, this will not deter them.

Yes, our lawmakers fled from SOPA and PIPA when push came to shove, but they have ACTA to fall back on. Notably, few of them are speaking out against this even more dangerous treaty. Not surprisingly one of the lone voices of dissent is Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) who has spoken out against the treaty.

“It may be possible for the U.S. to implement ACTA or any other trade agreement, once validly entered, without legislation if the agreement requires no change in U.S. law,” he wrote. “But regardless of whether the agreement requires changes in U.S. law … the executive branch lacks constitutional authority to enter a binding international agreement covering issues delegated by the Constitution to Congress’ authority, absent congressional approval.”

Even absent US participation, however, we should all be worried about the implications of this and other trade agreements on the global economy, the ripple effects of which would reach all of us regardless of geographical location.

Remember, when one of these bills or trade agreements falls, another rises up to take its place. ACTA has been in the works for several years. SOPA almost passed into law unopposed. The threat to civil society isn’t going away.

If you care about freedom of speech, or if you have participated in SOPA protests, please help spread the word about ACTA. You can sign a petition to stop it here.

By Sue Gee @ I-Programmer

Last Wednesday’s blackout by Wikipedia, Reddit and other sites raised awareness of PIPA and SOPA but there’s another threat to the open Internet, ACTA and has already been signed in US and elsewhere.

There has been jubilation about the fact that both the PIPA and SOPA bills that were being debated by the US Congress have stopped being an immediate menace.

Yes the action taken by Wikipedia had the desired effect, as did the signatures of the citizens who petitioned President Obama. However, in reality we should view the outcome as a temporary setback for the supporters of this legislation.

They will no doubt try again and we just have to hope that the next proposed legislation is less draconian.

The lasting achievement of the Internet Strike was that it alerted ordinary Internet users to the idea that there are freedoms we currently take for granted that could be blocked with widespread adverse affects.

But while many more people now know about SOPA and PIPA, how many have heard of ACTA – which by having the status of an international trade agreement rather than one country’s law has been introduced without the level of debate accorded to proposed legislation?

According to La Quadrature du Net, a French advocacy group that promotes the rights and freedoms of citizens on the Internet:

ACTA is one more offensive against the sharing of culture on the Internet. ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) is an agreement secretly negotiated by a small “club” of like-minded countries (39 countries, including the 27 of the European Union, the United States, Japan, etc). Negotiated instead of being democratically debated, ACTA bypasses parliaments and international organizations to dictate a repressive logic dictated by the entertainment industries.

La Quadrature says ACTA aims at imposing new criminal sanctions and online censorship in the name of copyright.

The US, Canada and many other countries have already signed the ACTA agreement and it was recently adopted by the European Union but it has yet to be debated by the European Parliament and so there is still a short window for protest against ACTA to prevent it being enacted.

Watch the video below to discover why we need to say No to ACTA and refer to La Quadrature’s Wiki to discover how to take action against it.

At this time the Internet is under more threat from sources that are alien to it, or worse fear it, than at any other. However, we are not good at spotting legislative controls that could harm what we do. Partly because it is a different technology and we don’t know the jargon, but mainly because stealth works in the favor of any party trying to pass restrictive legislature.

In the past most of the attempts to control the Internet have come from commercial interests, and piracy was its main target. Now, after the successes of the Internet in enabling revolutions to start and proceed, there is a raw political desire to curb the power of the web. This isn’t based on money, but on fear.

The big problem is that, even when we do notice, the ethos of the web works against us. The web should be open, information should be free and, even when Wikipediawent dark to protest against a bill that would clearly damage the Internet, manyWikipedians thought it was a bad thing for the most noble enterprise, an encyclopedia, to get embroiled in politics.

We desperately need a less idealistic view of the web, one that can defend its freedoms while minimizing the evil within.

 

For more information please visit:

EFF’s International Issue Page on ACTA: https://www.eff.org/issues/acta

European Digital Rights’ (EDRi) coverage here: www.edri.org/stopacta

La Quadrature du Net’s coverage here: http://www.laquadrature.net/en/acta

Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure’s (FFII) blog on ACTA http://acta.ffii.org/

Twitter hash tags: #ACTA

Twitter accounts:

@StopActaNow

@ffii

@EDRi_org

@laquadrature

“Internet Censorship Affects Everybody”: The Global Struggle For Online Freedom

In Uncategorized on January 18, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Oldspeak: The reason why these issues are so important for ordinary Americans and really go beyond just sort of a nerdy, geeky technical issue is that in today’s society, we, as citizens, increasingly depend on internet services and platforms, mobile services and platforms, not only for our personal lives and our businesses and our jobs, but also for our political discourse and political activism, getting involved with politics. And so, it’s very important that people who are exercising power, whether they’re corporate or whether they’re government, that are exercising power over what we can see, over what we can access, over what we can publish and transmit through these digital spaces, need to be held accountable, and we need to make sure that power is not being abused in these digital spaces and platforms that we depend on. And so, that’s why this SOPA and PIPA legislation and the fight over it is so important, is who are you empowering to decide what people can and cannot see and do on the internet, and how do you make sure that that power is not going to be abused in ways that could have political consequences. And we’ve actually seen how existing copyright law has sometimes been abused by different actors who want to prevent critics from speaking out.” -Rebecca MacKinnon Chinese style internet censorship is coming to America. It may not happen now, but you can bet this won’t be the last effort to do so.

Related Stories:

Understand Today’s Internet Strike: SOPA, PIPA And A Free Internet

Wikipedia, Reddit to Shut Down Sites Wednesday to Protest Proposed Stop Online Piracy Act

Censorship, Capitalism & “Personalization” The Filter Bubble: What The Internet Is Hiding From You

Internet Censorship Bills Up For Vote Dec 5th – “Stop Online Piracy Act” & “Protect IP” Garner Enthusiastic Bi-Partisan Support In Congress

By Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by Rebecca MacKinnon in Washington, D.C., author of Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Rebecca, the internet has been touted as such a tremendous liberating force. When we look at the events of this past year, the uprisings throughout the Middle East, part of the discussion of how that moment came is because of the internet, because of social media. And yet you talk about, more often than not, the internet is being used to spy on, to crack down on—spy on people, crack down on civil liberties. Talk about what you have found and how this relates to the legislation that we’re seeing now being developed in Washington.

REBECCA MacKINNON: Well, thanks very much, Amy, for having me on here today.

And just to connect my book to the issues that you were just discussing in the previous segment about the Protect IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act, I think the reason why this—these issues are so important for ordinary Americans and really go beyond just sort of a nerdy, geeky technical issue is that in today’s society, we, as citizens, increasingly depend on internet services and platforms, mobile services and platforms, not only for our personal lives and our businesses and our jobs, but also for our political discourse and political activism, getting involved with politics. And so, it’s very important that people who are exercising power, whether they’re corporate or whether they’re government, that are exercising power over what we can see, over what we can access, over what we can publish and transmit through these digital spaces, need to be held accountable, and we need to make sure that power is not being abused in these digital spaces and platforms that we depend on. And so, that’s why this SOPA and PIPA legislation and the fight over it is so important, is who are you empowering to decide what people can and cannot see and do on the internet, and how do you make sure that that power is not going to be abused in ways that could have political consequences. And we’ve actually seen how existing copyright law has sometimes been abused by different actors who want to prevent critics from speaking out.

But coming back to the Arab Spring, my book is not about whether the good guys or the bad guys are winning on the internet. The internet is empowering everybody. It’s empowering Democrats. It’s empowering dictators. It’s empowering criminals. It’s empowering people who are doing really wonderful and creative things. But the issue really is how do we ensure that the internet evolves in a manner that remains consistent with our democratic values and that continues to support people’s ability to use these technologies for dissent and political organizing. And while the internet was part of the story in the Arab Spring in terms of how people were able to organize, it’s not so clear to what extent it’s going to be part of the story in terms of building stable democracies in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, where the dictators did fall, let alone in a number of other countries.

In Tunisia, for instance, there is a big argument going on, now that they’ve had their set of democratic elections to the Constitutional Assembly, and they’re trying to write their constitution and figure out how to set up a new democracy. And Tunisia, under Ben Ali, was actually one of the most sophisticated Arab countries when it came to censoring and surveillance on the internet. And quite a number of the people who have been democratically elected in Tunisia are calling for a resumption of censorship and surveillance for national security reasons, to maintain public morals and public order. And there’s a huge debate going on about what is the role of censorship and surveillance in a democracy, and how do you make sure that power is not abused.

And they turn and look at the United States, they look at Europe, and censorship laws are proliferating around the democratic world. And there’s not sufficient discussion and consideration for how these laws are going to be abused. And we’ve seen, actually, in Europe, with a number of efforts to censor both copyright infringement as well as child pornography and so on, that a lot of this internet blocking that happens, even in democracies, oftentimes exercises mission creep, so things that weren’t originally intended to be blocked end up getting blocked when the systems are in place. It’s really difficult to make sure that the censorship does not spread beyond its original intent. It’s very hard to control. So, this is one of the issues.

It’s not that the internet isn’t empowering. It’s not that the internet can’t help the good guys—it certainly does. But we’re at a critical point, I think, in history, where the internet is not some force of nature. How it evolves and how it can be used and who it empowers really depends on all of us taking responsibility for making sure it evolves in a direction that’s compatible with democracy, and that it doesn’t empower the most powerful incumbent governments or the most powerful corporations to decide what we can and cannot see and do with our technology.

AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca MacKinnon, talk about the phenomenon, Control 2.0.

REBECCA MacKINNON: Right. So, Control 2.0 is what I refer to in terms of how authoritarian governments are evolving in the internet age. And so, one example I use is China. And China, in many ways, is exhibit A for how an authoritarian state survives the internet. And how do they do that? They have not cut off their population from the internet. In fact, the internet is expanding rapidly in China. They now have over 500 million internet users. And the Chinese government recognizes that being connected to the global internet is really important for its economy, for its education, for its culture, for innovation. Yet, at the same time, they have worked out a way to filter and censor the content overseas that they feel their citizens should not be accessing.

And what’s even more insidious, actually, is the way in which the state uses the private sector to conduct most of its censorship and surveillance. So, actually, what we know as the Great Firewall of China that blocks Twitter and Facebook, that’s only one part of Chinese internet censorship. Actually, most Chinese internet users are using Chinese-language websites that are run by Chinese companies based in China, and those companies are all held responsible for everything their users are doing. And so, they have to hire entire departments of people to monitor their users at the police’s behest and also to not just block, but delete content that the Chinese government believes infringes Chinese law. And, of course, when—in a country where crime is defined very broadly to include political and religious dissent, that involves a great deal of censorship. And it’s being conducted, to a great degree, not by government agents, but by private corporations who are complying with these demands in order to make a profit in China.

AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca, talk about specifics, like Facebook, Facebook—changes in Facebook features and privacy settings, exposing identities of protesters to police in Egypt, in Iran. Talk about Google. Talk about Apple removing politically controversial apps.

REBECCA MacKINNON: Right. So, for instance, with Facebook, Facebook has its own kind of type of governance, which is why I call private internet companies the “sovereigns of cyberspace.” And so, Facebook has a rule where it requires that its users need to use their real name, their real identity. And while some people violate that rule, that makes them vulnerable to having their account shut down if they are discovered. And so, the reason they do this is that they want people to be accountable for their speech and prevent bullying and so on. And that may make sense in the context of a Western democracy, assuming that you’re not vulnerable in your workplace or anything like that, which is even a question, but it means that you have to be—as an Egyptian activist or as an activist in Syria and so on, you’re more exposed, because you have to be on Facebook using your real name.

And actually, a group of prominent activists in Egypt who were using Facebook to organize an anti-torture movement were doing so, before the regime fell, under fake names, and actually, at a critical point where they were trying to organize a major protest, their Facebook group went down, because they were in violation of the terms of service. And they actually had to find somebody in the U.S. to take over their Facebook page so that they could continue to operate.

And you also have a lot of cases of people in Iran. There have been a number of reports of people being tortured for their Facebook passwords and so on. And the fact that Iranian users are, in most cases, using their real names makes them a great deal more vulnerable.

And as you know, here in the United States, Facebook recently was subject to a fine and had to reach a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission because of the changes in its privacy settings that had been sudden at the end of 2009. People had made assumptions about whether their friends could be seen or not publicly. Suddenly those settings changed, and it exposed a lot of people in ways that, in some cases, were very dangerous.

But also, let’s take some other companies and some of the issues that users face. Apple, in its App Store, it has different versions of its App Store in different parts of the world. And their Chinese App Store censors applications that the Chinese government believes to be controversial. So, for instance, the Dalai Lama app in the Apple Store is not available in China. But Apple employees are also making a lot of other judgments about what content is and isn’t appropriate, that goes according to standards that are much more narrow than our First Amendment rights. So, for instance, an American political cartoonist, Mark Fiore, had an app in which he was making fun of a range of politicians, including President Obama, and Apple App Store nannies decided to censor that app, because they considered it to be too controversial, even though that speech was clearly protected under the First Amendment. So you have companies making these judgments that go well beyond sort of our judicial and constitutional process.

You also have Amazon, for instance, dropping WikiLeaks, even though it had not been accused, let alone, convicted, of any crime, simply because a number of American politicians objected to WikiLeaks. And so, there is this issue of: are companies, in the way in which they operate their services, considering the free expression rights and privacy rights of their users sufficiently to ensure that we’re able to have robust dissent, that people can speak truth to power in a manner that may be making current government officials very, very uncomfortable, but which is clearly protected both under our Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca—

REBECCA MacKINNON: Should we be expecting companies to push back a bit more?

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the newly released government documents that reveal the Department of Homeland Security hired the military contractor General Dynamics to monitor postings of U.S. citizens on dozens of websites. The sites monitored included Facebook and Twitter, as well as several news sites, including the New York TimesWiredThe Huffington Post. General Dynamics was asked to collect reports that dealt with government agencies, including CIA, FEMA, ICE. Your thoughts?

REBECCA MacKINNON: Well, this is exactly the kind of issue that we need to deal with in a democracy. Now, if they have been hired to monitor postings that citizens are putting on a public website, I think that’s a reminder that our public information is public and that it’s being mined and watched by all kinds of people. But it’s also an example of why privacy settings are so important and why—why it’s important that people should be able to be anonymous if they want to be on the internet, if they fear consequences or if they fear misuse of the way in which they’re carrying out political discussions that could be used against them in different ways.

And there’s also a real issue, I think, in the way in which our laws are evolving when it comes to government access to information stored on corporate servers, that is supposed to be private, that we are not intending to be seen in public, which is that, according to the PATRIOT Act and a range of other law that has been passed in recent years, it’s much easier for government agencies to access your email, to access information about your postings on Twitter, even if they’re anonymous, than it is for government agents to come into your home and search your personal effects. To do that, they need a warrant. There is very clear restriction on the government’s ability to read your mail. Yet, according to current law, if your email is older than 180 days old, the government can access your email, if it’s stored on Gmail or Yahoo! or Hotmail, without any kind of warrant or court order. So, there’s a real erosion of our Fourth Amendment rights, really, to protection from unreasonable search and seizure. And this is going on, I think, to a great degree without a lot people realizing the extent to which our privacy rights are being eroded.

AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca, we have 30 seconds, but the significance of Wednesday, of tomorrow, of Wikipedia and many other websites going dark in protest of the legislation here in the United States? What do you think is the most important issue people should take away from what’s happening and also from your book, Consent of the Networked?

REBECCA MacKINNON: Well, I think the action tomorrow really demonstrates that internet censorship affects everybody, it’s not just affecting people in China, that this is an issue that we all need to be concerned about, and it can happen in democracies as well as in dictatorships.

And the core message of my book is that if we want democracy to survive in the internet age, we really need to work to make sure that the internet evolves in a manner that is compatible with democracy, and that means exercising our power not only as consumers and internet users and investors, but also as voters, to make sure that our digital lives contain the same kind of protections of our rights that we expect in physical space.

AMY GOODMAN: Rebecca MacKinnon, I want to thank you very much for being with us, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, co-founder of Global Voices Online. Her new book is called Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom.

William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” Added To List Of Books Banned In Arizona Public Schools

In Uncategorized on January 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Oldspeak:William Shakespeare’s The Tempest is among a list of banned books in the state of Arizona by a resolution aimed at curbing resentment, government overthrow and ethnic distinction and separation in any district or charter school’s curriculum. The books will be cleared from all classrooms, boxed up and sent to the Textbook Depository for storage.” You read it right. Books are being banned in “The Land of The Free And The Home of the Brave”. When books are digitized, (go get your shiny new kindle!) censorship like this will pass with barely a whisper. We are  witnessing the birth of totalitarian ‘democracy‘ in the U.S. of A. We are being denied access to the tools of revolution. Not guns or bombs but, holistic education, critical thought, knowledge of non-whitewashed history & the ability to dissent. Don’t have the energy to go into the obviously racist overtones of this misguided law to eliminate “Ethnic Studies”. “Ignorance Is Strength”

Related Story:

Shakespeare work axed in Arizona schools as law bans ‘ethnic studies’

By Jeff Biggers @ Salon:

As part of the state-mandated termination of its ethnic studies  program, the Tucson Unified School District released an initial list of books to be banned from its schools today.  According to district spokesperson Cara Rene, the books “will be cleared from all classrooms, boxed up and sent to the Textbook Depository for storage.”

Facing a multimillion-dollar penalty in state funds, the governing board of Tucson’s largest school district officially ended the 13-year-old program on Tuesday in an attempt to come into compliance with the controversial state ban on the teaching of ethnic studies.

The list of removed books includes the 20-year-old textbook “Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years,” which features an essay by Tucson author Leslie Silko.  Recipient of a Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award and a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, Silko has been an outspoken supporter of the ethnic studies program.

“By ordering teachers to remove ‘Rethinking Columbus,’ the Tucson school district has shown tremendous disrespect for teachers and students,” said the book’s editor Bill Bigelow. “This is a book that has sold over 300,000 copies and is used in school districts from Anchorage to Atlanta, and from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. It offers teaching strategies and readings that teachers can use to help students think about the perspectives that are too often silenced in the traditional curriculum.”

Another notable text removed from Tucson’s classrooms is Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.” In a meeting this week, administrators informed Mexican-American studies teachers to stay away from any units where “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes,” including the teaching of Shakespeare’s classic in Mexican-American literature courses.

Other banned books include “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by famed Brazilian educator Paolo Freire and “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos” by Rodolfo Acuña, two books often singled out by Arizona state superintendent of public instruction John Huppenthal, who campaigned in 2010 on the promise to “stop la raza.”  Huppenthal, who once lectured state educators that he based his own school principles for children on corporate management schemes of the Fortune 500, compared Mexican-American studies to Hitler Jugend indoctrination last fall.

An independent audit of Tucson’s ethnic studies program commissioned by Huppenthal last summer actually praised “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos,” a 40-year-old textbook now in its seventh edition.  According to the  audit: “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos is an unbiased, factual textbook designed to accommodate the growing number of Mexican-American or Chicano History Courses. The auditing team refuted a number of allegations about the book, saying, ‘quotes have been taken out of context.’”

Freire’s work on  pedagogy has been translated into numerous languages, and is taught at universities around the United States.

In a school district founded by a Mexican-American in which more than 60 percent of the students come from Mexican-American backgrounds, the administration also removed every textbook dealing with Mexican-American history, including “Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement” by Arturo Rosales, which features a biography of longtime Tucson educator Salomon Baldenegro.  Other books removed from the school include “500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures,” by Elizabeth Martinez and the textbook “Critical Race Theory” by scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic.

“The only other time a book of mine was banned was in 1986, when the apartheid government in South Africa banned ‘Strangers in Their Own Country,’ a curriculum I’d written that included a speech by then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela,” said Bigelow, who serves as curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools magazine, and co-directs the online Zinn Education Project. ”We know what the South African regime was afraid of. What is the Tucson school district afraid of?”

Jeff Biggers, the author most recently of “Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland,” is currently at work on a new book on Arizona politics and history.   More Jeff Biggers

 

Report: Poverty In America Likely To Get Worse; 46 Million ‘Living’ Below Poverty Line

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘Poverty in America is remarkably widespread, the number of people living in poverty is increasing and is expected to increase further, despite the recoveryMillions of Americans will be forced into poverty in the coming years even as the US hauls itself out of the longest and deepest recession since the second world war’ Dr King would be appalled.

By Chris McGreal @ U.K. Guardian:

Millions of Americans will be forced into poverty in the coming years even as the US hauls itself out of the longest and deepest recession since the second world war.

A study from Indiana University, released on Wednesday, says the number of Americans living below the poverty line surged by 27% since the beginning of what it calls the “Great Recession” in 2006, driving 10 million more people into poverty.

The report warns that the numbers will continue to rise, because although the recession is technically over, its continued impact on cuts to welfare budgets and the quality of new, often poorly paid, jobs can be expected to force many more people in to poverty. It is also difficult for those already under water to get back up again.

“Poverty in America is remarkably widespread,” concludes the study, At Risk: America’s Poor During and After the Great Recession. “The number of people living in poverty is increasing and is expected to increase further, despite the recovery.”

The white paper, drafted by the university’s school of public and environmental affairs, which is among the best ranked schools of its kind in the US, says that six years ago, 36.5 million Americans fell below the poverty line. By 2010, the number of people living in poverty rose to 46.2 million and continued to grow over the past year.

“The Great Recession has left behind the largest number of long-term unemployed people since records were first kept in 1948. More than 4 million Americans report that they have been unemployed for more than 12 months,” said the report.

John Graham, dean of the school and one of the authors of the report, said that the numbers of “new poor” will continue to rise.

“One of the big surprises is that poverty in the United States is likely to continue to increase even as the economic recovery unfolds,” said Graham. “The unique feature of the great recession is not just the high rate of unemployment, but the long duration of unemployment that millions of Americans have experienced. [For] a lot of these long-term unemployed, the job that they had won’t exist when they go back in to the labour market.”

Graham said that many of those who once held well-paid jobs will be forced to settle for lower paying work, trapping some in a permanent cycle of poverty.

“As a consequence they will be poor or near poor for a substantial period of time,” he said.

The latest census data shows that nearly one in two of the US’s 300 million citizens are now officially classified as having a low income or living in poverty. One in five families earns less than $15,000 (£9,600) a year.

The Indiana University study says that the numbers of people falling into poverty is also likely to grow because of severe cuts to state and federal welfare budgets.

“The states by their constitutions all have to have a balanced budget each year. A lot of states are already in the process of cutting back their safety net programmes at the same time that poverty is increasing,” said Graham. “Their needs are going up but the programmes are receiving less support. It’s going to continue because the revenues of state governments are not increasing as rapidly as is needed and the federal government will be under a lot of pressure because of its large deficit to decrease funding given to the states.”

The report warns that the situation is likely to become even worse if the long-term unemployed lose their jobless benefits. Congress extended them for two months at the end of the year, but it is unlikely they will be continued indefinitely.

Among the most severely affected states are Florida, Nevada and Arizona, which have been particularly badly hit by the housing foreclosure crisis, and Michigan and Ohio, which have seen the collapse of traditional manufacturing.

Minorities are among the hardest hit. More than one in four African Americans and Hispanics is officially recorded as living in poverty. About one in 10 white Americans fall below the poverty line.

“We can expect to find that the most vulnerable parts of our society are the ones who will recover most slowly from a deep recession like this. More have gone in to poverty and they’ll be slower coming out of it,” said Graham. “If you look at the educational levels and skill levels of African Americans and Hispanics, they are more vulnerable as the job market tightens. They don’t have either the extra edge in education or skills that white Americans do.”

The report says that the situation would have been much worse had it not been for the Obama administration’s 2009 federal stimulus package, which increased child health insurance for poorer families, and cut taxes for low income workers.

Still, the study says that although unemployment is officially falling, that may not be the whole story. Some workers give up looking for jobs and are no longer counted in the unemployment rate.

“Although the official rate of unemployment is declining, much of this apparent progress is attributable to the fact that many adults are giving up on the search for a job,” it said.

The report argues that a better measure of how well an economy is creating employment is the “jobs-to-people ratio”. It says that in a healthy economy the range is between 0.60 and 0.70. The US fell within that range until it fell to 0.582 at the end of 2009. It had risen only to 0.585 in November 2011.

“These data suggest that the reported progress in reducing the rate of unemployment may not be as encouraging as we think since increasing numbers of the unemployed may simply be giving up on the search for a job,” the report said.

How Private For-Profit Online Learning Corporations, Wall Street & “Education Philanthropists” Bought America’s Pubic Schools

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Oldspeak:” The hostile take over of Public Education is full swing. Your kids education is the next “bubble”. Children’s education is being viewed as a cash cow to be milked dry by wall street investment bankers and computer magnates via their “Educational Philanthropies”.  America’s Public School system is being outsourced to private profit-driven “education” corporations, with the financial backing of wall street titans like Goldman Sachs & Merrill Lynch, and computer titans Microsoft & Dell. In a trend that is great for business and terrible for children, teachers are being replaced with computers.  And in this age of austerity, with dwindling educations budgets,  less money to pay high-quality and well-trained flesh and blood teachers, teacher  are being fired and ‘e-learning’ is being held up as a viable option for the existential task of  effectively educating our children. Nevermind the fact that the “education” provided by cyberschool companies is nowhere near as effective as that provided in traditional schools with people. And much like what was done during the sub-prime morgage lending bubble, poor people and communities are being exploited. Subsidies slated for free public education are being diverted to private, for-profit “education”. High-powered lobbyists are being employed to push “education reform” legislation that is in benfits everyone but children. Left unasked are other important questions – Where will children learn their social skills? Their respect for elders and authority figures? How to work and play well with others?  Social Atomization is being institutionalized. Divide and conquer has gone digital.. “Profit Is Paramount” “Ignorance Is Strength”

Related Story:

Why Is Public Education Being Outsourced to Online Charter Schools?

By Lee Fang @ The Nation:

If the national movement to “reform” public education through vouchers, charters and privatization has a laboratory, it is Florida. It was one of the first states to undertake a program of “virtual schools”—charters operated online, with teachers instructing students over the Internet—as well as one of the first to use vouchers to channel taxpayer money to charter schools run by for-profits.

But as recently as last year, the radical change envisioned by school reformers still seemed far off, even there. With some of the movement’s cherished ideas on the table, Florida Republicans, once known for championing extreme education laws, seemed to recoil from the fight. SB 2262, a bill to allow the creation of private virtual charters, vastly expanding the Florida Virtual School program, languished and died in committee. Charlie Crist, then the Republican governor, vetoed a bill to eliminate teacher tenure. The move, seen as a political offering to the teachers unions, disheartened privatization reform advocates. At one point, the GOP’s budget proposal even suggested a cut for state aid going to virtual school programs.

Lamenting this series of defeats, Patricia Levesque, a top adviser to former Governor Jeb Bush, spoke to fellow reformers at a retreat in October 2010. Levesque noted that reform efforts had failed because the opposition had time to organize. Next year, Levesque advised, reformers should “spread” the unions thin “by playing offense” with decoy legislation. Levesque said she planned to sponsor a series of statewide reforms, like allowing taxpayer dollars to go to religious schools by overturning the so-called Blaine Amendment, “even if it doesn’t pass…to keep them busy on that front.” She also advised paycheck protection, a unionbusting scheme, as well as a state-provided insurance program to encourage teachers to leave the union and a transparency law to force teachers unions to show additional information to the public. Needling the labor unions with all these bills, Levesque said, allows certain charter bills to fly “under the radar.”

If Levesque’s blunt advice sounds like that of a veteran lobbyist, that’s because she is one. Levesque runs a Tallahassee-based firm called Meridian Strategies LLC, which lobbies on behalf of a number of education-technology companies. She is a leader of a coalition of government officials, academics and virtual school sector companies pushing new education laws that could benefit them.

But Levesque wasn’t delivering her hardball advice to her lobbying clients. She was giving it to a group of education philanthropists at a conference sponsored by notable charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. Indeed, Levesque serves at the helm of two education charities, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national organization, and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a state-specific nonprofit, both of which are chaired by Jeb Bush. A press release from her national group says that it fights to “advance policies that will create a high quality digital learning environment.”

Despite the clear conflict of interest between her lobbying clients and her philanthropic goals, Levesque and her team have led a quiet but astonishing national transformation. Lobbyists like Levesque have made 2011 the year of virtual education reform, at last achieving sweeping legislative success by combining the financial firepower of their corporate clients with the seeming legitimacy of privatization-minded school-reform think tanks and foundations. Thanks to this synergistic pairing, policies designed to boost the bottom lines of education-technology companies are cast as mere attempts to improve education through technological enhancements, prompting little public debate or opposition. In addition to Florida, twelve states have expanded virtual school programs or online course requirements this year. This legislative juggernaut has coincided with a gold rush of investors clamoring to get a piece of the K-12 education market. It’s big business, and getting bigger: One study estimated that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion.

In Florida, only fourteen months after Crist handed a major victory to teachers unions, a new governor, Rick Scott, signed a radical bill that could have the effect of replacing hundreds of teachers with computer avatars. Scott, a favorite of the Tea Party, appointed Levesque as one of his education advisers. His education law expanded the Florida Virtual School to grades K-5, authorized the spending of public funds on new for-profit virtual schools and created a requirement that all high school students take at least one online course before graduation.

“I’ve never seen it like this in ten years,” remarked Ron Packard, CEO of virtual education powerhouse K12 Inc., on a conference call in February. “It’s almost like someone flipped a switch overnight and so many states now are considering either allowing us to open private virtual schools” or lifting the cap on the number of students who can use vouchers to attend K12 Inc.’s schools. Listening to a K12 Inc. investor call, one could mistake it for a presidential campaign strategy session, as excited analysts read down a list of states and predict future victories.

Good for Business; Kids Not So Much

While most education reform advocates cloak their goals in the rhetoric of “putting children first,” the conceit was less evident at a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, earlier this year.

Standing at the lectern of Arizona State University’s SkySong conference center in April, investment banker Michael Moe exuded confidence as he kicked off his second annual confab of education startup companies and venture capitalists. A press packet cited reports that rapid changes in education could unlock “immense potential for entrepreneurs.” “This education issue,” Moe declared, “there’s not a bigger problem or bigger opportunity in my estimation.”

Moe has worked for almost fifteen years at converting the K-12 education system into a cash cow for Wall Street. A veteran of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, he now leads an investment group that specializes in raising money for businesses looking to tap into more than $1 trillion in taxpayer money spent annually on primary education. His consortium of wealth management and consulting firms, called Global Silicon Valley Partners, helped K12 Inc. go public and has advised a number of other education companies in finding capital.

Moe’s conference marked a watershed moment in school privatization. His first “Education Innovation Summit,” held last year, attracted about 370 people and fifty-five presenting companies. This year, his conference hosted more than 560 people and 100 companies, and featured luminaries like former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty and former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, now an education executive at News Corporation, a recent high-powered entrant into the for-profit education field. Klein is just one of many former school officials to cash out. Fenty now consults for Rosetta Stone, a language company seeking to expand into the growing K-12 market.

As Moe ticked through the various reasons education is the next big “undercapitalized” sector of the economy, like healthcare in the 1990s, he also read through a list of notable venture investment firms that recently completed deals relating to the education-technology sector, including Sequoia and Benchmark Capital. Kleiner Perkins, a major venture capital firm and one of the first to back Amazon.com and Google, is now investing in education technology, Moe noted.

The press release for Moe’s education summit promised attendees a chance to meet a set of experts who have “cracked the code” in overcoming “systemic resistance to change.” Fenty, still recovering from his loss in the DC Democratic primary, urged attendees to stand up to the teachers union “bully.” Jonathan Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA, likened the conflict to war, according to a summary posted on the conference website. “There’s an air game,” said Hage, “but there’s also a ground game going on.” “Investors are going to have to support” candidates and “push back against the pushback.” Carlos Watson, a former cable news host now working as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs specializing in for-profit education, guided a conversation dedicated simply to the politics of reform.

Sponsors of the event ranged from various education reform groups funded by hedge-fund managers, like the nonprofit Education Reform Now, to ABS Capital, a private equity firm with a stake in education-technology companies like Teachscape. At smaller breakout sessions, education enterprises made their pitches to potential investors.

Another sponsor, a group called School Choice Week, was launched last year as a public relations gimmick to take advantage of the opportunity for rapid education reforms. Although it is billed as a network of students and parents, School Choice Week is one of the many corporate-funded tactics to press virtual school reforms. The first School Choice Week campaign push earlier this year featured highly produced press packets, sample letters to the editor, a sign in Times Square and rallies for virtual and charter schools organized with help from the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. The blitz got positive press coverage, providing “grassroots” cover for newly elected politicians who made school privatization their first priority.

A combination of factors has made this year what Moe calls an “inflection point” in the march toward public school privatization. For one thing, recession-induced fiscal crises and austerity have pressured states to cut spending. In some cases, as in Florida, where educating students at the Florida Virtual School costs nearly $2,500 less than at traditional schools, such reform has been sold as a budget fix. At the same time, the privatization push has gone hand in hand with the ratcheting up of attacks on teachers unions by partisan groups, like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity, seeking to weaken the union-backed Democrats in the 2012 election. All of this has set the stage for education industry lobbyists to achieve an unprecedented expansion in for-profit elementary through high school education.

From Idaho to Indiana to Florida, recently passed laws will radically reshape the face of education in America, shifting the responsibility of teaching generations of Americans to online education businesses, many of which have poor or nonexistent track records. The rush to privatize education will also turn tens of thousands of students into guinea pigs in a national experiment in virtual learning—a relatively new idea that allows for-profit companies to administer public schools completely online, with no brick-and-mortar classrooms or traditional teachers.

* * *

Like many “education entrepreneurs,” Moe remains a player in the education reform movement, pushing policies that have the potential to benefit his clients. In addition to advising prominent politicians like Senator John McCain, Moe is a board member of the Center for Education Reform, a pro-privatization think tank that issues policy papers and ads to influence the debate. Earlier this year, the group dropped $70,000 on an ad campaign in Pennsylvania comparing those who oppose a new measure to expand vouchers to segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, who blocked African-American children from entering white schools.

Moe isn’t the only member of the Center for Education Reform with a profound conflict of interest. CER president Jeanne Allen doubles as the head of TAC Public Affairs, a government relations firm that has represented several top education for-profits. Allen, whose clients have included Kaplan Education and Charter Schools USA, served as transition adviser to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett on education reform.

Corbett, a Republican who rode the Tea Party election wave in 2010, supports a major voucher expansion that is working its way through the state legislature. The expansion would be a windfall for companies like K12 Inc., which currently operates one Pennsylvania school under the limited charter law on the books. According to disclosures reported in Business Week, Pennsylvania’s Agora Cyber Charter School—K12 Inc.’s online school, which allows students to take all their courses at home using a computer—generated $31.6 million for K12 Inc. in the past academic year.

Thirteen other states have enacted laws to expand or initiate so-called school choice programs this year. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has pushed the hardest, enacting a law that removes the cap on the number of charter schools in his state, authorizes all universities to register charters and expands an existing voucher program in the state for students to attend private and charter schools (in some cases managed by for-profit companies). Critics note that Daniels’s law allows public money to flow to religious institutions as well. Twenty-seven other states, in addition to Pennsylvania, have voucher expansion laws pending. And states like Florida are embracing tech-friendly education reform to require that students take online courses to graduate. In Idaho this November, the state board of education approved a controversial plan to require at least two online courses for graduation.

“We think that’s so important because every student, regardless of what they do after high school, they’ll be learning online,” said Tom Vander Ark, a prominent online education advocate, on a recently distributed video urging the adoption of online course requirements. Vander Ark, a former executive director of education at the influential Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, now lobbies all over the country for the online course requirement. Like Moe, he keeps one foot in the philanthropic world and another in business. He sits on the board of advisors of Democrats for Education Reform and is partner to an education-tech venture capital company, Learn Capital. Learn Capital counts AdvancePath Academics, which offers online coursework for students at risk of dropping out, as part of its investment portfolio. When Vander Ark touts online course requirements, it is difficult to discern whether he is selling a product that could benefit his investments or genuinely believes in the virtue of the idea.

To be sure, some online programs have potential and are necessary in areas where traditional resources aren’t available. For instance, online AP classes serve rural communities without access to qualified teachers, and there are promising efforts to create programs that adapt to the needs of students with special learning requirements. But by and large, there is no evidence that these technological innovations merit the public resources flowing their way. Indeed, many such programs appear to be failing the students they serve.

A recent study of virtual schools in Pennsylvania conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University revealed that students in online schools performed significantly worse than their traditional counterparts. Another study, from the University of Colorado in December 2010, found that only 30 percent of virtual schools run by for-profit organizations met the minimum progress standards outlined by No Child Left Behind, compared with 54.9 percent of brick-and-mortar schools. For White Hat Management, the politically connected Ohio for-profit operating both traditional and virtual charter schools, the success rate under NCLB was a mere 2 percent, while for schools run by K12 Inc., it was 25 percent. A major review by the Education Department found that policy reforms embracing online courses “lack scientific evidence” of their effectiveness.

“Why are our legislators rushing to jump off the cliff of cyber charter schools when the best available evidence produced by independent analysts show that such schools will be unsuccessful?” asked Ed Fuller, an education researcher at Pennsylvania State University, on his blog.

The frenzy to privatize America’s K-12 education system, under the banner of high-tech progress and cost-saving efficiency, speaks to the stunning success of a public relations and lobbying campaign by industry, particularly tech companies. Because of their campaign spending, education-tech interests are major players in elections. In 2010, K12 Inc. spent lavishly in key races across the country, including a last-minute donation of $25,000 to Idahoans for Choice in Education, a political action committee supporting Tom Luna, a self-styled Tea Party school superintendent running for re-election. Since 2004, K12 Inc. alone has spent nearly $500,000 in state-level direct campaign contributions, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. David Brennan, Chairman of White Hat Management, became the second-biggest Ohio GOP donor, with more than $4.2 million in contributions in the past decade.

The Alliance for School Choice, a national education reform group, set up PACs in several states to elect state lawmakers. According to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, American Federation for Children spent $500,000 in media in the lead-up to Wisconsin’s recall elections. AFC shares leaders, donors, and a street address with ASC. Bill Oberndorf, one of the main donors to the group, had been associated with Voyager Learning, an online education company, for years. A few months ago, Cambium Learning, the parent company of Voyager, paid Oberndorf’s investment firm $4.9 million to buy back Oberndorf’s stock. Cambium currently offers a fleet of supplemental education tools for school districts. With the recent acquisition of Class.com, a smaller online learning business, the company announced its entry into the virtual charter school and online course market.

Allies of the Right

Lobbyists for virtual school companies have also embedded themselves in the conservative infrastructure. The International Association for Online Learning (iNACOL), the trade association for EdisonLearning, Connections Academy, K12 Inc., American Virtual Academy, Apex Learning and other leading virtual education companies, is a case in point. A former Bush appointee at the Education Department, iNACOL president Susan Patrick traverses right-leaning think tanks spreading the gospel of virtual schools. In the past year, she has addressed the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a group dedicated to setting up laissez-faire nonprofits all over the world, as well as the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Two pivotal conservative organizations have helped Patrick in her campaigns for virtual schools: the American Legislative Exchange Council and the State Policy Network. SPN nurtures and establishes state-based policy and communication nonprofits with a right-wing bent. ALEC, the thirty-eight-year-old conservative nonprofit, similarly coordinates a fifty-state strategy for right-wing policy. Special task forces composed of corporate lobbyists and state lawmakers write “template” legislation [see John Nichols, “ALEC Exposed,” August 1/8]. Since 2005, ALEC has offered a template law called “The Virtual Public Schools Act” to introduce online education. Mickey Revenaugh, an executive at virtual-school powerhouse Connections Learning, co-chairs the education policy–writing department of ALEC.

At SPN’s annual conference in Cleveland last year, held two months before the midterm elections, the think tank network adopted a new push for education reform, specifically embracing online technology and expanding vouchers. Patrick opened the event and led a session about virtual schools with Anthony Kim, president of the virtual-school business Education Elements.

SPN has faced accusations before that it is little more than a coin-operated front for corporations. For instance, SPN and its affiliates receive money from polluters, including infamous petrochemical giant Koch Industries, allegedly in exchange for aggressive promotion of climate denial theories. But SPN’s conference had less to do with policy than with tactics. Kyle Olson, a Republican operative infamous in Michigan and other states for his confrontational attacks on unionized teachers, gave a presentation on labor reform in K-12 education. Stanford Swim, heir to a Utah-based investment fortune and head of a traditional-values foundation, ran a workshop at the conference on creating viral videos to advance the cause. He said policy papers wouldn’t work. Tell your scholars, “Sorry, this isn’t a white paper,” Swim advised. “You gotta go there,” he continued, “and it’s because that’s where the audience is.” “If it’s vulgar, so what?” he added.

Since the conference, SPN’s state affiliates have taken a lead role in pushing virtual schools. Several of its state-based affiliates, like the Buckeye Institute in Ohio, set up websites claiming that unions—the only real opposition to ending collective bargaining and the expansion of charter school reforms—led to overpaid teachers and budget deficits. In Wisconsin, the MacIver Institute’s “news crew” laid the groundwork for Governor Walker’s assault on collective bargaining by creating news reports denouncing protesters and promoting the governor. In March, while busting the teachers unions in his state, Walker lifted the cap on virtual schools and removed the program’s income requirements.

State Representative Robin Vos, the Wisconsin state chair for ALEC, sponsored the bill codifying Walker’s radical expansion of online, for-profit schools. Vos’s bill not only lifts the cap but also makes new, for-profit virtual charters easier to establish. As the Center for Media and Democracy, a Madison-based liberal watchdog, notes, the bill closely resembles legislative templates put forward by ALEC.

Although SPN’s unique contribution to the debate has been clever web videos and online smear sites, the group’s affiliates have also continued the traditional approach of policy papers. In Washington State, the Freedom Foundation published “Online Learning 101: A Guide to Virtual Public Education in Washington”; Nebraska’s Platte Institute released “The Vital Need for Virtual Schools in Nebraska”; and the Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based SPN affiliate, equipped lawmakers with a guide called “Thinking Outside the Building: Online Education.” SPN think tanks in Maine, Maryland and other states have pressed virtual school reforms. Patrick visited SPN state groups and gave pep talks about how to sell the issue to lawmakers.

Meanwhile, ALEC has continued to slip laws written by education-tech lobbyists onto the books. In Tennessee, Republican State Representative Harry Brooks didn’t even bother changing the name of ALEC’s Virtual Public Schools Act before introducing it as his own legislation. Asked by the Knoxville News Sentinel’s Tom Humphrey where he got the idea for the bill, Brooks readily admitted that a K12 Inc. lobbyist helped him draft it. Governor Bill Haslam signed Brooks’s bill into law in May. The statute allows parents to apply nearly every dollar the state typically spends per pupil, almost $6,000 in most areas, to virtual charter schools, as long as they are authorized by the state.

SPN’s fall 2010 conference featured the man perhaps happiest with the explosion in virtual education: Jeb Bush. “I have a confession to make,” he said with grin. “I am a real policy geek, and this is like the epicenter of geekdom.” Bush shared his experiences initiating some of the nation’s first for-profit and virtual charter school reforms as the governor of Florida, acknowledging his policy ideas came from some in the room. (The local SPN affiliate in Tallahassee is the James Madison Institute.)

Bush: Man Behind the Virtual Curtain

Jeb Bush campaigned vigorously in 2010 to expand such reforms, with tremendous success. About a month after the election, he unveiled his road map for implementing a far-reaching ten-point agenda for virtual schools and online coursework. Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, a Democrat, has barnstormed the country to encourage lawmakers to adopt Bush’s plan, which calls for the permanent financing of education-technology reforms, among other changes. In one promotional video, Wise says it is “not only about the content” of the online courses but the “process” of students becoming acquainted with learning on the Internet.

The key pillar of Bush’s plan is to make sure virtual education isn’t just a new option for taxpayer money but a requirement. And several states, like Florida, have already adopted online course requirements. As Idaho Republicans faced a public referendum on their online course requirement rule last summer, Bush arrived in the state to show his support. “Implemented right, you’re going to see rising student achievement,” said Bush, praising Idaho Governor Butch Otter and school superintendent Tom Luna, who was elected with campaign donations from the online-education industry. Bush also claimed that making high school students take online classes would “put Idaho on the map” as a “digital revolution takes hold.” Bush was in Michigan in June to testify for Governor Rick Snyder’s suite of education reform ideas, which include uncapped expansion of virtual schools, and he was back in the state in July to continue to press for reforms.

In August, at ALEC’s annual conference in New Orleans, the education task force officially adopted Bush’s ten elements agenda. Mickey Revenaugh, the virtual school executive overseeing the committee, presided over the vote endorsing the measure. But when does Bush’s advocacy, typically reported in the press as the work of a former governor with education experience advising the new crop of Republicans, cross the threshold into corporate lobbying?

The nonprofit behind this digital push, Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, is funded by online learning companies: K12 Inc., Pearson (which recently bought Connections Education), Apex Learning (a for-profit online education company launched by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), Microsoft and McGraw-Hill Education among others. The advisory board for Bush’s ten digital elements agenda reads like a Who’s Who of education-technology executives, reformers, bureaucrats and lobbyists, including Michael Stanton, senior vice president for corporate affairs at Blackboard; Karen Cator, director of technology for the Education Department; Jaime Casap, a Google executive in charge of business development for the company’s K-12 division; Shafeen Charania, who until recently served as marketing director of Microsoft’s education products department; and Bob Moore, a Dell executive in charge of “facilitating growth” of the computer company’s K-12 education practice.

Like other digital reform advocates, the Bush nonprofit is also supported by Microsoft founder Bill Gates’s foundation. The fact that a nonprofit that receives funding from both the Gates Foundation and Microsoft pressures states to adopt for-profit education reforms may raise red flags with some in the philanthropy community, as Microsoft, too, has moved into the education field. The company has tapped into the K-12 privatization expansion by supplying a range of products, from traditional Windows programs to servers and online coursework platforms. It also contracts with Florida Virtual School to provide cloud computer solutions. Similarly, Dell is seeking new opportunities in the K-12 market for its range of desktop products, while the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the charitable nonprofit founded by Dell’s CEO, promotes neoliberal education reforms.

Through Bush, education-technology companies have found a shortcut to encourage states to adopt e-learning reforms. Take his yearly National Summit on Education Reform, sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

At the most recent summit, held in San Francisco in mid-October, a group of more than 200 state legislators and state education department officials huddled in a ballroom over education-technology strategy. Rich Crandall, a state senator from Arizona, said to hearty applause that he had developed a local think tank to support the virtual school reforms he helped usher into law. Toward the end of the discussion, Vander Ark, acting as an emcee, walked around the room acknowledging lawmakers who had recently passed pro–education tech laws this year. He handed the microphone to Kelli Stargel, a state representative from Florida, who stood up and boasted of creating “virtual charter schools, so we can have innovation in our state.”

Throughout the day, lawmakers mingled with education-technology lobbyists from leading firms, like Apex Learning and K12 Inc. Some of the distance learning reforms were taught in breakout sessions, like one called “Don’t Let a Financial Crisis Go to Waste,” an hourlong event that encouraged lawmakers to use virtual schools as a budget-cutting measure. Mandy Clark, a staffer with Bush’s foundation, walked around handing out business cards, offering to e-mail sample legislation to legislators.

The lobbying was evident to anyone there. But for some of those present, Bush didn’t go far enough. David Byer, a senior manager with Apple in charge of developing education business for the company, groaned and leaned over to another attendee sitting at the edge of the room after a lunch session. “You have this many people together, why can’t you say, ‘Here are the ten elements, here are some sample bills’?” said Byer to David Stevenson, who nodded in agreement. Stevenson is a vice president of News Corporation’s education subsidiary, Wireless Generation, an education-technology firm that specializes in assessment tools. It was just a year ago that News Corp. announced its intention to enter the for-profit K-12 education industry, which Rupert Murdoch called “a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”

As attendees stood up to leave the hall, the phalanx of lobbyists surrounding the room converged, buttonholing legislators and school officials. On a floor above the main hall, an expo center had been set up, with companies like McGraw-Hill, Connections Academy, K12 Inc., proud sponsors of the event, providing information on how to work with politicians to make education technology a reality.

Patricia Levesque, a Bush staffer speaking at the summit and the former governor’s right hand when it comes to education reform, does not draw a direct salary from Bush’s nonprofit despite the fact that she is listed as its executive director, and tax disclosures show that she spends about fifty hours a week at the organization. Instead, her lobbying firm, Meridian Strategies, supplies her income. The Foundation for Florida’s Future, another Bush nonprofit, contracts with Meridian, as do online technology companies like IQ-ity Innovation, which paid her up to $20,000 for lobbying services at the beginning of this year. The unorthodox arrangement allows donors to Bush’s group to avoid registering actual lobbyists while using operatives like Levesque to influence legislators and governors on education technology.

Levesque’s contract with IQ-ity raises questions about Bush’s foundation work. As Mother Jones recently reported, the founder of IQ-ity, William Lager, also founded an education company with a poor track record. Lager’s other education firm, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, is the largest provider of virtual schools in Ohio. ECOT schools have consistently underperformed; though the company serves more than 10,000 children, its graduation rate has never broken 40 percent. The company was fined for billing the state to serve more than 2,000 students in one month, when only seven children logged on during the same time period. Nevertheless, after Levesque spent at least two years as a registered lobbyist for Lager’s firm, Bush traveled to Ohio to give the commencement speech for ECOT. “ECOT proves a glimpse into what’s possible,” Bush said with pride, “by harnessing the power of technology.”

* * *

Levesque is no ordinary lobbyist. She is credited with encouraging the type of bare-knuckle politics now common in the wider education-reform movement. In an audio file obtained by The Nation, she and infamous anti-union consultant Richard Berman outlined a strategy in October 2010 for sweeping the nation with education reforms. The two spoke at the Philanthropy Roundtable, a get-together of major right-wing foundations. Lori Fey, a representative of the Michael Dell Foundation, moderated the panel discussion.

Rather than “intellectualize ourselves into the [education reform] debate…is there a way that we can get into it at an emotional level?” Berman asked. “Emotions will stay with people longer than concepts.” He then answered his own question: “We need to hit on fear and anger. Because fear and anger stays with people longer. And how you get the fear and anger is by reframing the problem.” Berman’s glossy ads, which have run in Washington, DC, and New Jersey, portray teachers unions as schoolyard bullies. One spot even seems to compare teachers to child abusers. Although Berman does not reveal his donors, he made clear in his talk that the foundations in the room were supporting his campaign.

Levesque ended the strategy discussion with a larger strategic question. She pointed to the example of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donating $100 million to Newark schools. She then asked the crowd to imagine instead raising $100 million for political races where we “could sway a couple of seats to have more education reform.” “Just shifting a little bit of your focus,” she added, noting that new politicians could have a greater impact.

Levesque’s ask has become reality. According to author Steven Brill, ex–DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee’s new group, StudentsFirst, raised $100 million within a few months of Levesque’s remarks. Rhee’s donors include Rupert Murdoch, philanthropist Eli Broad and Home Depot founder Ken Langone. Rhee’s group has pledged to spend more than $1 billion to bring for-profit schools, including virtual education, to the entire country by electing reform-friendly candidates and hiring top-notch state lobbyists.

A day before he opened his education reform conference to the media recently, Bush hosted another education meeting. This event, a private affair in the Palace Hotel, was a reconvening of investors and strategists to plan the next leg of the privatization campaign. Michael Moe, Susan Patrick, Tom Vander Ark and other major players were invited. I waited outside the event, trying to get what information I could. I asked Mayor Fenty how I could get in. “Just crash in, come on in,” he laughed, adding, “so what company are you with?” When he learned that I was a reporter, he shook his head. “Oh, nah, you’re not welcome, then.”

An invitation had billed the exclusive gathering as a chance for “philanthropists and venture capitalists” to figure out how to “leverage each other’s strengths”—a concise way to describe how for-profit virtual school companies are using philanthropy as a Trojan horse.

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