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

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“The Super Bowl Of Disasters”: Disaster Capitalists Profiting From Crisis In Post-Earthquake Haiti

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2012 at 3:27 pm

US taxpayers are underwriting sweatshop expansion in Haiti. Here, textile workers protest for better rights and working conditions. Photo: Ansel Herz.

Oldspeak:”Many a corporation, lobbyist, and consultant has seen Haiti’s losses as their gain, leveraging humanitarianism for profit. Plenty of the $1.1 billion in disaster aid has gone not to desperate Haitians but to inside-the-Beltway contractors. Often the very same corporations have wrested financial and political gain from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the countries hit by the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans after the ensuing flood of 2005, and lots of other places.” Disaster capitalism is being practiced all around the world. Review the 4 steps of the Disaster Capitalism and Cycle and consider the implications.  Haiti is at step 2.  The United States is at step 3.

The Disaster Capitalism Cycle

1. The shock of war, torture, disaster, or political upheaval distracts or deconstructs the popular identity, precluding or minimizing protest against free market reform and privatisation, which are usually unwanted by the masses.

2. First World interests, multinational capitalist firms, and a cooperative and corrupt elite benefit the most from these changes, while for the general population wages drop, the cost of living increases, and social services like welfare and healthcare decrease.

3. The privatisation of important sectors, from mining to healthcare to homeland security, takes away citizen power and control over policy making in these areas, as the government limits its own power through the free market legislation and de-regulation. It becomes difficult to undo these reforms.

4. A feedback loop of international scale emerges, the wealthy and powerful becoming more so. Certain sectors and private hands have an interest in maintaining instability, as they learn to profit more and more from war and disaster – as the cycle returns to step 1.

By Deepa Panchang, Beverly Bell and Tory Field, Other Worlds Are Possible:

As Americans were gearing up for last week’s Super Bowl championship, Haiti’s president Michel Martelly was on a plane to the World Economic Forum to recruit players interested in what one businessman dubbed “the Super Bowl of Disasters” – Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.[1] The Irish-owned cell phone company Digicel footed his trip there, and hosted a regional business tour complete with a gala ball before his return to a country still reeling from crisis conditions in housing, jobs, and basic rights.[2]

Haiti’s status as prime-time jostling space for prospective investors is not new. Many a corporation, lobbyist, and consultant has seen Haiti’s losses as their gain, leveraging humanitarianism for profit. Plenty of the $1.1 billion in disaster aid has gone not to desperate Haitians but to inside-the-Beltway contractors. Often the very same corporations have wrested financial and political gain from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the countries hit by the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans after the ensuing flood of 2005, and lots of other places. The same deals have been cut over Haiti in the past, too, particularly during periods of political instability.

The earthquake has provided a fresh wave of opportunity. In the first year after the earthquake, the US government awarded more than 1,500 contracts worth $267 million. All went to US firms except 20, worth $4.3 million, which went to Haitian businesses.[3] Among the American corporations that received contracts, we’ve seen everything: many millions going to companies that had had previous contracts cancelled for bad practices, that had paid out as much as eight-figure settlements for violence happening under their watch, that had been investigated by Congress for gaming the system, or that had been the subject of federal reports accusing wastage of funds.[4] We’ve seen corporate executives and members of Congress going through a revolving door and leveraging both sides for contracts. We’ve seen public funds given without any competition or transparency, quite a few to friends of the Clintons and other well-placed insiders.

Local labor and production, which are critical elements in economic recovery, have been trumped for American business profits. According to federal procurement data, among contracts which provide products (as opposed to services), 77% were for products manufactured in the US. They don’t list which, if any, of the remaining 23% involve any Haitian materials or labor.[5]

Two months after the earthquake, companies gathered in a luxury hotel in Miami for a “Haiti Summit” to discuss post-earthquake contracting possibilities. The meeting was sponsored by the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), but these were no peaceniks. Their members are predominantly private mercenary companies that enforce ‘security’ in war and disaster zones for the US government because, unlike elected entities, they can completely avoid public scrutiny and accountability. They included such companies as Triple Canopy, which took over Blackwater’s contract in Iraq.[6] One of the corporate representatives at the Summit described the outlook: “Their infrastructure is pretty much destroyed, communications are destroyed, there’s a lot of opportunities there for companies, particularly US countries [sic] because of the close proximity.”[7] The Summit was apparently worthwhile, as US government paid out more than $10 million to the industry for “guard services,” and almost $20,000 for riot shields and suits.[8]

Below are a few examples of post-earthquake contracts and grants, selected to show just some of the problems at play. They offer a small glimpse into a much larger, secretive world of disaster deals. We’re grateful to our investigative journalist colleagues who, alongside us, have kept heavy on the scent of these corporations and brought buried information to light.

^^^^^^

“American corporations and their stakeholders must understand how helping Haiti over the long term also helps them,” said the non-profit CHF International in its March 2010 board report. “By contributing to Haiti’s reconstruction in a lasting, meaningful way, companies will be helping to build a new, more vibrant Caribbean market for their own goods and services.”[9]

CHF’s involvement demonstrates how even non-profits can drive development that props up American business interests on the backs of poor Haitians. What CHF refers to as “helping Haiti” has meant using US tax dollars to underwrite textile sweatshops, making it easier and more profitable to score the cheapest source of labor in the hemisphere. In 2006, USAID gave CHF a $104 million, 4-year contract to help “existing industries to increase their capacity, efficiency and reach new markets,” primarily through the export textile industry. The money subsidized CHF’s creation of infrastructure such as roads around industrial areas and training of factory workers on skills such as “how to work in a formal work environment.”[10] Bolstered by additional USAID funding, this project continued after the earthquake.

CHF’s post-earthquake USAID contract, for $20.9 million, went to clean-up projects, including cash-for-work.[11] Cash-for-work meant camp residents engaging in hired-hand projects such as digging drainage ditches and clearing debris, for a period of a few weeks. The scheme has come under fire by camp residents and human rights groups, with even a USAID evaluation raising some serious critiques.[12] The jobs are unpredictable, workers have said, and while the short duration can palliate personal crisis for the moment, the program quickly returns the worker’s family to its desperate state. Those hired are paid officially at the unlivable minimum daily wage of 200 gourdes, or US$5, though unofficially they often earn less. A Haiti Grassroots Watch exposé found, furthermore, that cash-for-work hiring is often based on corruption, with many workers having to pay a ‘kickback,’ negotiate sex (in the case of women) for a job, or affiliate with political parties or candidates.[13] USAID also noted that cash-for-work programs it funded increased risks of “serious and avoidable” accidents on the job “by failing to develop and enforce consistent workplace safety rules and accident procedures.”[14]

CHF’s projects, based on factory jobs and cash-for-work, have given neither livable incomes to employees nor offered development opportunities to the nation. Meanwhile, CHF has gained humanitarian clout and an influx of funding, and its garment industry partners sit happily with the perks.

^^^^^^

Using tried-and-true strategies of political manipulation, some corporations have been able to edge their way into post-earthquake contracts despite histories of fraud and corruption.

AshBritt Environmental, for instance, has a record of disaster response elsewhere that spells trouble for Haiti. The company had received $900 million in contracts for Hurricane Katrina clean-up, after hiring lobbyists formerly involved in state government.[15] An MSNBC investigation later brought to light complaints by local contractors, a mayor, and local legislators that the company’s work was too slow, that it overcharged, and that it was not hiring local contractors.[16] The extent of “layer cake” contracting was so extreme that in one case, AshBritt was paid $23 per cubic yard of debris removed but subcontracted through three middleman companies so that the company that actually removed the rubble received $3 per cubic yard.[17]) Even a 2006 federal report accused the company of wasting money in this subcontractor layering after Katrina.[18]

Given its experience, AshBritt wasted no time unleashing its skills in lobbying and political pressure to get in on the Haiti game. Early in 2010, the company paid $90,000 to a lobbying firm to pressure the government for Haiti contracts, according to disclosure records described in the press.[19] In a prime instance of revolving door between public and private sectors, one of the lobbyists working on the case was the former chief of staff for Senator John Kerry.[20] Kerry, in turn, was the senator who co-sponsored the legislation for Haiti relief funding.

With influential people circulating between the givers and receivers of funds, AshBritt was confident enough about future contracts that it spent an initial $25 million setting up for anticipated operations in Haiti with a soccer field-sized base camp and services to house future project managers.[21] In July 2010, AshBritt won a $500,000 US government contract for debris removal, the first of what the company anticipated would be many contracts to come their way.[22] Continuing the revolving door trend, another lobbyist for the firm was the former USAID Mission Director in Iraq, Lewis Lucke, who was paid $30,000 per month to help win contracts via a partnership venture AshBritt set up.[23] Lucke claimed he “played an integral role” in obtaining three contracts for the company, including $10 million from the World Bank and about $10 million more from the Haitian government (one of the first major government contracts for debris removal).[24] As of this writing, not even the company’s website contains an update on what work it has or has not completed in Haiti.

^^^^^^

Like AshBritt, CH2M Hill, a large engineering and construction firm, should have raised warning signals as a company to be hired on the taxpayer dollar. A government database that monitors federal contracts reveals a track record of corruption, listing nine instances of misconduct for the company since 1995.[25] In one case, the company was paid $4.1 million for a contract in Iraq though no work was actually completed. [26] On the Gulf Coast, a US government investigation of $45 million paid to CH2M and the three other companies in no-bid contracts for Katrina response was declared wasteful spending. [27] CH2M was also accused in a congressional investigation in 1992 of misusing money during its cleanup of toxic waste sites in the U.S. More than two million dollars of this contract were allegedly used for “unallowable and questionable costs,” such as $11,379 for a Christmas party and $2750 for specialty chocolates.[28] The company is listed in the top 50 of U.S.-based contractors and has been a major player in wartime contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.[29]

The track record was nothing that some strategic lobbying efforts couldn’t mitigate, however. The lobbyist who headed up CH2M Hill’s efforts to win contracts in Haiti was Larry LaRocco, a former congressman from Idaho who now runs his own lobbying firm.[30] And unsurprisingly, the company spent half a million dollars in political contributions in 2010. [31] Thus equipped with politicians in its pocket, CH2M was well-positioned to compete in the latest contract game. It received its first post-earthquake contract just days after the disaster, and was given a joint contract with KBR Global Service (itself notorious due to its Iraq and Afghanistan activities) for facilities operations support at the end of 2010.[32]

^^^^^^

In the case of a few other contracts that we know to be operating in Haiti, we’ve spent hour after hour on the scent. We’ve scoured internet resources, news articles, and company websites to track companies we know received post-earthquake contracts in Haiti. Nothing. Not even a mention, sometimes, in the 100-plus-page 2010 annual reports.

What we have been unable to uncover is at least as alarming as what we have learned about some of the firms receiving millions from the US government, and what they have done with those millions. We wonder whether the US government has had any more knowledge or oversight of the corporate actions than have the corporation’s investors. As for the American people, they have no way to know how their money has been spent or what has been done in their names. The lack of transparency has also given a green light to profiteers to neglect standards, quality, and honesty.

There is one group for whom the secrecy, foul play, taking of power that should never be taken, giving away of what should never be given away, matters most of all: Haitians, the ones whose country is being treated like a Monopoly game. They alone will have to live with the long-term outcome of what foreign companies build, demolish, restructure, or steal in their country.

Copyleft Other Worlds. You may reprint this article in whole or in part.  Please credit any text or original research you use to Deepa Panchang, Beverly Bell, and Tory Field, Other Worlds.


[1] Mike Clary, “Broward Rivals Battle for Work in Post-Quake Haiti,” Sun-Sentinel.com, July 14, 2010.
[2] Paul Cullen, “Attracting trade now focus for Haiti’s president,” The Irish Times, http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2012/0130/1224310943929.html
[3] Alex Dupuy, “One Year after the Earthquake, Foreign Help is Actually Hurting Haiti,” Washington Post, January 7, 2011.
[4] Emma Perez-Trevino, “Beating Death Lawsuit Ends in Settlement,” The Brownsville Herald online, January 7, 2010, http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/articles/rosa-107144-settlement-beating…. Martha Brannigan and Jacqueline Charles, “U.S. Firms Want Part in Haiti Cleanup,” Miami Herald, February 9, 2010.
[5] “Haiti Earthquake Report,” Federal Procurement Data System, data updated as of 9/15/2011, https://www.fpds.gov/downloads/top_requests/Haiti_Earthquake_Report.xls.
[6] See, for example, Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (New York: Nation Books, 2007); Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Picador, 2007); Jeremy Scahill, “US Mercenaries Set Sights on Haiti,” TheNation.com, February 1, 2010; and Anthony Fenton, “Private Contractors ‘Like Vultures Coming to Grab the Loot,” IPSNews.net, February 19, 2010.
[7] “Al Jazeera Reports on the Haiti ‘Summit’ for Private Contractors,” YouTube video, 3:32, Al Jazeera reporting, posted by “WebofDem,” May 6, 2010, http://youtu.be/kkNCdy0GXyc.
[8] “Haiti Earthquake Report,” Federal Procurement Data System, data updated as of 9/15/2011, https://www.fpds.gov/downloads/top_requests/Haiti_Earthquake_Report.xls.
[9] Jane Madden, “Corporations Must Consider Haiti’s Long Term Needs,” Philanthropy News Digest online, March 10, 2010, http://foundationcenter.org/pnd/commentary/co_item.jhtml?id=287300002.
[10] “New USAID-Funded Haiti Apparel Center to Provide Training to Thousands of Haitians in the Garment Industry,” press release by USAID, August 11, 2010, http://www.usaid.gov/press/releases/2010/pr100811_1.html.
[11] USAID, Haiti Earthquake: Fact Sheet #48, April 2, 2010,
http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/humanitarian_assistance/disaster_assistance/countries/haiti/template/fs_sr/fy2010/haiti_eq_fs48_04-02-2010.pdf.
[12]Center for Economic and Policy Research, “USAID/OTI’s Politicized, Problematic, Cash-for-Work Programs,” December 21, 2010, http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/cepr-blog/usaidotis-politicized-problematic-cash-for-work-programs; Antèn Ouvriye, Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review: Labor Rights (Transnational Legal Clinic, University of Pennsylvania Law School, 2011), http://ijdh.org/archives/17948; and Office of Inspector General, Audit of USAID’s Cash-for-Work Activities in Haiti (San Salvador: September 24, 2010), http://www.usaid.gov/oig/public/fy10rpts/1-521-10-009-p.pdf.
[13] Haiti Grassroots Watch, “Is Cash-for-work Working?”, http://www.ayitikaleje.org/Dossier2Story2. Haiti Grassroots Watch, “Cash for Work – At What Cost,” http://www.ayitikaleje.org/haiti-grassroots-watch-engli/2011/7/18/cash-for-work-at-what-cost.html.
[14] Office of Inspector General, Audit of USAID’s Cash-for-Work Activities in Haiti, September 24, 2010, http://www.usaid.gov/oig/public/fy10rpts/1-521-10-009-p.pdf.
[15] Jordon Flaherty, “One year after Haiti earthquake, corporations profit while people suffer,” Monthly Review Magazine, January 12, 2010. “It’s who you know,” CorpWatch, August 16th, 2006, http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14008
[16] Mike Brunker, “Dust flies over Katrina’s debris,” MSNBC, January 29, 20006, http://risingfromruin.msnbc.com/2006/01/fighting_over_t.html
[17] Rita King, “Layers and Layers,” CorpWatch, August 16, 2006, http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14011.
[18] Martha Brannigan and Jacqueline Charles, “U.S. Firms Want Part in Haiti Cleanup,” Miami Herald, February 9, 2010.
[19] Kevin Bogardus, “Haiti’s recovery aided by U.S. lobbyists,” The Hill, October 11, 2010.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ben Fox, “Masters of disaster: Foreign firms set up shop in Haiti and wait for construction boom,” Associated Press, June 7, 2010.
[22] Mike Clary, “Broward rivals battle for work in post-quake Haiti,” Sun Sentinel, July 14, 2010, http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2010-07-14/news/fl-haiti-recovery-rivals-20100714_1_ashbritt-post-earthquake-haiti-debris.
[23] Ben Fox, “Ex-US official sues contractor in Haiti for fees,” Associated Press, December 31, 2010.
[24] Mark Weisbrot, “Haiti and the international aid scam,” The Guardian, April 22, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/apr/22/haiti-aid.
[25] Project on Government Oversight, http://www.contractormisconduct.org/
[26] Matt Kelley, “Canceled Iraq contracts cost U.S. $600 million,” USA Today, November, 17, 2008.
[27] Center for Economic and Policy Research, “Impatient to Profit from Disaster,” October 14, 2010, http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/relief-and-reconstruction-watch/impatient-to-profit-from-disaster
[28] Keith Schneider, “Company Accused of Bilking U.S. on Waste Sites,” New York Times, March 20,1992.
[29] Top 400 Contractors Sourcebook cited on http://newsroom.ch2mhill.com/pr/ch2m/industry-rankings.aspx. Statement of Mr. Fred M. Brune, President, Government Facilities and Infrastructure Business Group, CH2M Hill Constructors, Inc. before the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, July 26, 2010, http://www.wartimecontracting.gov/…/hearing2010-07-26_testimony_Brune_(CH2M%20Hill).pdf.
[30] Kevin Bogardus, “Haiti’s recovery aided by U.S. lobbyists,” The Hill, October 11, 2010. http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/123565-haitis-recovery-aided-by-lobbyists
[31] CH2M Hill Expenditures, Center for Responsive Politics, http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/expenditures.php?cycle=2010&cmte=C00143305
[32] “Haiti Earthquake Report,” Federal Procurement Data System, data updated as of 9/15/2011, https://www.fpds.gov/downloads/top_requests/Haiti_Earthquake_Report.xls.

Necessary Illusions – Thought Control in a ‘Democratic’ Society: Facebook, Reddit, Digg Censor “Controversial” Content

In Uncategorized on February 23, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘Big Brother is Watching You‘. “Facebook pays low-wage foreign workers to delete certain content based upon a censorship list. For example, Facebook deletes accounts created by Palestinian resistance groups.” ‘Downvote’ bots, Chinese style ‘content censors’. ‘Persona Management Software’ Government-controlled armies of  ‘Virtual People’  hundreds of fake profiles controlled by a few real people. “Fake people manipulating and,in some cases, even manufacturing the appearance of public opinion.” Edward Bernays would be too pleased to see the awesome system his early machinations have spawned. An omnipresent, surreptitious, propaganda, censorship, thought control and consent manufacturing system. And that system has been operating for close to 100 years, getting ever more sophisticated and insidiously ingrained in American life. “Ignorance Is Strength” “Freedom Is Slavery”

By Washington’s Blog:

Facebook pays low-wage foreign workers to delete certain content based upon a censorship list. For example, Facebook deletes accounts created by Palestinian resistance groups.

Digg was caught censoring stories which were controversial or too critical of the government. See this and this.

Now, even social media site Reddit – which helped launch the anti-Sopa Internet blackout and publicize GoDaddy’s slimy Sopa support – is doing the same thing.

As just one example, posts from this website are being censored by Reddit. Specifically, a friend of this site who has submitted stories to Reddit has received the following messages of rejection from a Reddit moderator named davidreiss666:

from davidreiss666 via /r/worldnews/

WashingtonBlog is not something we consider a good source for r/Worldnews.

 

from davidreiss666 via /r/worldnews/

Please submit that story from an alternate domain. Thank you.

 

And another moderator named Maxion:

from Maxion via /r/worldnews/

I am sorry but this submission is not appropriate for this subreddit.

There are certainly also more open-minded moderators at Reddit. But a couple of censors can squash discussion on entire topics.

Why Are They Censoring?

Why are they censoring?

Well, censorship is rampant in America … and social media has grown so big that it has become a target as well.

In addition, as I pointed out last year [for ease of reading, we'll skip indentation]:

Wired reported on Friday:

The Pentagon is looking to build a tool to sniff out social media propaganda campaigns and spit some counter-spin right back at it.

On Thursday, Defense Department extreme technology arm Darpa unveiled its Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program. It’s an attempt to get better at both detecting and conducting propaganda campaigns on social media. SMISC has two goals. First, the program needs to help the military better understand what’s going on in social media in real time — particularly in areas where troops are deployed. Second, Darpa wants SMISC to help the military play the social media propaganda game itself.

This is more than just checking the trending topics on Twitter. The Defense Department wants to deeply grok social media dynamics. So SMISC algorithms will be aimed at discovering and tracking the “formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes)” on social media, according to Darpa’s announcement.

***

SMISC needs to be able to seek out “persuasion campaign structures and influence operations” developing across the social sphere. SMISC is supposed to quickly flag rumors and emerging themes on social media, figure out who’s behind it and what. Moreover, Darpa wants SMISC to be able to actually figure out whether this is a random product of the hivemind or a propaganda operation by an adversary nation or group.

Of course, SMISC won’t be content to just to hang back and monitor social media trends in strategic locations. It’s about building a better spin machine for Uncle Sam, too. Once SMISC’s latches on to an influence operation being launched, it’s supposed to help out in “countermessaging.”

***

SMISC is yet another example of how the military is becoming very interested in what’s going on in the social media sphere.

Indeed, as I wrote in February:

I noted in 2009, in an article entitled “Does The Government Manipulate Social Media?”:

The U.S. government long ago announced its intention to “fight the net”.

As revealed by an official Pentagon report signed by Rumsfeld called “Information Operations Roadmap”:

The roadmap [contains an] acknowledgement that information put out as part of the military’s psychological operations, or Psyops, is finding its way onto the computer and television screens of ordinary Americans.

“Information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and Psyops, is increasingly consumed by our domestic audience,” it reads.

“Psyops messages will often be replayed by the news media for much larger audiences, including the American public,” it goes on.

***

“Strategy should be based on the premise that the Department [of Defense] will ‘fight the net’ as it would an enemy weapons system”.

Indeed, the Pentagon publicly announced years ago that it was considering using “black propaganda” – in other words, knowing lies.

CENTCOM announced in 2008 that a team of employees would be “[engaging] bloggers who are posting inaccurate or untrue information, as well as bloggers who are posting incomplete information.”

The Air Force is now also engaging bloggers. Indeed, an Air Force spokesman said:

“We obviously have many more concerns regarding cyberspace than a typical Social Media user,” Capt. Faggard says. “I am concerned with how insurgents or potential enemies can use Social Media to their advantage. It’s our role to provide a clear and accurate, completely truthful and transparent picture for any audience.”

In other words, the government is targeting “social media”, including popular user-ranked news sites.

In addition, when you look at what the Israeli lobby has done with Megaphone software to automatically vote stories questioning Israel down and to send pro-Israel letters to politicians and media (see this, this and this), you can start to see how the U.S. military – an even larger and better-funded organization – could substantially influence voting on social news sites with very little effort.

Moreover,the military has outsourced many projects to private contractors. For example, in Iraq, much of the fighting has been outsourced to Blackwater. And governmental intelligence functions have largely been outsourced to private companies.

It is therefore not impossible that the government is hiring cheap labor to downvote stories on the social media sites which question the government, and to post pro-government comments.

(other governments and large companies “astroturf” online as well. See this, this and this.)

I pointed out the same month:

Government propagandists, their hired private contractors and useful idiots are creating “downvote bots” or scripts to bury stories which question the government.

***

One free, simple scripting program to create automatic downvotes of certain topics or news posters is called “Greasemonkey”, which is commonly used on large social news sites such as Reddit.

For example, there are some 2,480 hits … for the google search site:reddit.com greasemonkey downvote. This is some 2,480 times that Reddit users are publicly admitting to using greasemonkey (see also this).

Propaganda agents obviously aren’t going to publicly brag about what they are doing, and you can bet that their use of downvote bots is much greater. Moreover, they probably have more sophisticated software than Greasemonkey.

Today, Raw Story reports that the Air Force ordered software to manage army of fake virtual people:

Internet users would be well advised to ask another question entirely: Are my “friends” even real people?

In the continuing saga of data security firm HBGary, a new caveat has come to light: not only did they plot to help destroy secrets outlet WikiLeaks and discredit progressive bloggers, they also crafted detailed proposals for software that manages online “personas,” allowing a single human to assume the identities of as many fake people as they’d like.

The revelation was among those contained in the company’s emails, which were dumped onto bittorrent networks after hackers with cyber protest group “Anonymous” broke into their systems.

In another document unearthed by “Anonymous,” one of HBGary’s employees also mentioned gaming geolocation services to make it appear as though selected fake persons were at actual events.

“There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas,” it said.

Government involvement

Eerie as that may be, more perplexing, however, is a federal contract from the 6th Contracting Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, located south of Tampa, Florida, that solicits providers of “persona management software.”

While there are certainly legitimate applications for such software, such as managing multiple “official” social media accounts from a single input, the more nefarious potential is clear.

Unfortunately, the Air Force’s contract description doesn’t help dispel their suspicions either. As the text explains, the software would require licenses for 50 users with 10 personas each, for a total of 500. These personas would have to be “replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent.”

It continues, noting the need for secure virtual private networks that randomize the operator’s Internet protocol (IP) address, making it impossible to detect that it’s a single person orchestrating all these posts. Another entry calls for static IP address management for each persona, making it appear as though each fake person was consistently accessing from the same computer each time.

The contract also sought methods to anonymously establish virtual private servers with private hosting firms in specific geographic locations. This would allow that server’s “geosite” to be integrated with their social media profiles, effectively gaming geolocation services.

The Air Force added that the “place of performance” for the contract would be at MacDill Air Force Base, along with Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad. The contract was offered on June 22, 2010.

It was not clear exactly what the Air Force was doing with this software, or even if it had been procured.

Manufacturing consent

Though many questions remain about how the military would apply such technology, the reasonable fear should be perfectly clear. “Persona management software” can be used to manipulate public opinion on key information, such as news reports. An unlimited number of virtual “people” could be marshaled by only a few real individuals, empowering them to create the illusion of consensus.

***

That’s precisely what got DailyKos blogger Happy Rockefeller in a snit: the potential for military-run armies of fake people manipulating and, in some cases, even manufacturing the appearance of public opinion.

“I don’t know about you, but it matters to me what fellow progressives think,” the blogger wrote. “I consider all views. And if there appears to be a consensus that some reporter isn’t credible, for example, or some candidate for congress in another state can’t be trusted, I won’t base my entire judgment on it, but it carries some weight.

“That’s me. I believe there are many people though who will base their judgment on rumors and mob attacks. And for those people, a fake mob can be really effective.”

***

“Team Themis” [tasked by the Chamber of Commerce to come up with strategies for responding to progressive bloggers and others] also included a proposal to use malware hacks against progressive organizations, and the submission of fake documents in an effort to discredit established groups.

HBGary was also behind a plot by Bank of America to destroy WikiLeaks’ technology platform, other emails revealed. The company was humiliated by members of “Anonymous” after CEO Aaron Barr bragged that he’d “infiltrated” the group.

And see this, this, this, this.

***

Postscript: Gaming social media is only one propaganda technique employed by the government:

  • The New York Times discusses in a matter-of-fact way the use of mainstream writers by the CIA to spread messages
  • A 4-part BBC documentary called the “Century of the Self” shows that an American – Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays – created the modern field of manipulation of public perceptions, and the U.S. government has extensively used his techniques
  • The Independent discusses allegations of American propaganda
  • And one of the premier writers on journalism says the U.S. has used widespread propaganda

Artist Sent To Jail Over A Pillow

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Oldspeak:” While the individuals who conspired in the theft of TRILLIONS and crashed the global economic system roam free. Welcome to the Twilight Zone.The relentless and unyielding enclosure, comodificaiton and undue regulation of the commons, of creativity, of artistic expression, continues unabated. ““If they charge me, then for the rest of my life, it will be in my record as a misdemeanor that I tried to sell a pillow.” -See One, Artist. Our corporate overseers will not rest until they are able to extract profit from everything we do, see, say, make, wear, eat, smell, feel, etc, etc etc etc… “Profit Is Paramount”  This is what overcriminaliztion looks like. “Overcriminalization” describes the trend in America to use the criminal law to “solve” every problem, punish every mistake (instead of making proper use of civil penalties), and coerce Americans into conforming their behavior to satisfy social engineering objectives. Criminal law is supposed to be used to redress only that conduct which society thinks deserving of the greatest punishment and moral sanction. As a result of rampant overcriminalization, trivial conduct is now often punished as a crime.  Many criminal laws make it possible for the government to convict a person even if he acted without criminal intent (i.e., mens rea). Sentences have skyrocketed, particularly at the federal level.

Related Story:

After Creating 452 New Crimes In A 7 Year Period, Congress Looks At Laws That Criminalize Non-Criminal Behavior

By Bucky Turco @ Animal New York:

“If they charge me, then for the rest of my life, it will be in my record as a misdemeanor that I tried to sell a pillow.”

SEE ONE–also known as “Jamel”–an artist who sells his work on the street, is going to criminal court next week… over a painted pillow. The 31-year-old Brooklyn man was arrested in July for offering the decorative item for sale without a vendor’s license, one of three he had displayed on his sidewalk table on Prince Street in Soho alongside canvasses with similar designs. But it was the $35 pillows that “two football player-like dudes”–who turned out to be undercover NYPD officers–were interested in.

“They asked if I have a tax ID to sell my artwork, which I did,” said Jamel. “They told me the tax ID is cool for all my art, but didn’t cover the three pillows I made, even though I painted them.” Crafts such as pillows, now matter how custom and ornate, aren’t covered in the guidelines established after a key ruling against the city in 2001.

Jamel was placed in handcuffs and hauled away to a jail cell where he sat for nine hours. “They told me NYC only considers something that is a flat surface and painted on a piece of art. Since I wrapped raw canvas around a pillow form instead of stretcher bars they said it’s now a product, not art,” said Jamel. “I hand painted on raw canvas then mailed it to Long Island for my mom to sew together.” (That’s not only art, that’s collaboration!)

Jamel was eventually released on his own recognizance. Unable to afford a lawyer, the artist was assigned a public defender and proclaimed his innocence. He’s been to court three times; next week he’ll find out if the case goes to trial. “The prosecution is taking me to trial for the pillows unless I pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and take one day [of] community service and a misdemeanor charge on my record for a year.” [UPDATE: The NYPD didn’t hit him with the disorderly conduct charge, the DA did.]

When asked about the merits of the case by email, the NYPD told ANIMAL that, “[Jamel] did not have a Consumer Affairs license to sell the pillows.” Which is true. And absurd.

Robert Lederman, an artist and president of vending watchdog group, A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics), is responsible for winning a landmark ruling against the city in 2001 that legally established their right to sell art work in the streets without a permit (read the guidelines here).

According to Lederman, who has been arrested 44 times and never convicted, “If the artwork is on something that has a functional purpose, then the city can still require a vending license.” If an artist paints an image on a canvas and then does the same to a t-shirts, garbage cans, TVs, or other “purely functional items,” such as a pillow, it is illegal to sell without a proper permit.

There is one workaround. Lederman says that those same goods are protected under a free speech provision if they contain a political reference, whether it be a slogan, message, or logo. For argument’s sake, had Jamel painted “Free Palestine” on one side of the pillow, selling it without a vendor’s license would have been perfectly lawful. “The ruling doesn’t mention a list of items. It’s purely up to the judge” explained Lederman. “Which of course opens it up to a tremendous amount of variety in rulings.”

Why Is the ACLU Helping The Richest Americans Buy Our Elections?

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Oldspeak: “Plutocrats come in Red and Blue. Elephantine and Asinine. You can bet your ass Newt Gingrich isn’t the only Presidential candidate with a Billionaire benefactor. Obama has them too, the difference is he’s not being called to account for it, he’s openly talked of raising ONE BILLION dollars to finance his reelection campaign. I ask you What’s democratic about that?  How does someone with the means to raise that sum of money represent the interests of all Americans? He doesn’t.  He represent the interests of his benefactors. As long as unlimited monetary donations from multinational corporations, foreign investors and god knows who else with millions to ‘contribute’ is allowed, plutocracy will be order of the day in the U.S. of A.  Need we any more evidence that the 2 party system has failed, and it hopelessly corrupted with money, greed, and cronyism? ‘The ACLU thrives on being attacked and sees itself as the last legal line of defense against state censorship. But an honest look in a mirror may reveal that its anti-censorship absolutism is helping the wealthy to eclipse and suppress—if not silence—political speech of millions of ordinary Americans.’ -Steven Rosenfeld

By Steven Rosenfeld @ Alter Net:

The American Civil Liberties Union has earned its reputation as the nation’s foremost legal opponent of government censorship and defender of First Amendment political speech. But increasingly, this national organization with 500,000 members and a $70 million annual budget has another legacy—helping the wealthiest Americans and institutions spend unlimited sums on elections.

This complex legacy follows a nearly four-decade history of filing briefs in the Supreme Court and lower federal courts, virtually all of them arguing that the door to censorship, via regulation of core political speech, must never be opened. But various forces in the courts, the political world, and inside the ACLU are converging that may prompt the ACLU’s national board to reexamine its hardened stance in a more nuanced light, just as it moderated its policy on public financing of elections soon after the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling.

The pressure went up considerably on Friday, as two U.S. Supreme Court Justices said the Court should reopen Citizens United, as they suspended a Montana Supreme Court ruling that upheld the state’s century-old ban on corporate electioneering. Unlike the ACLU’s national office, which urged the Court to remove restrictions on independent—or non-candidate related—electioneering, the Montana ACLU argued this wasn’t about censorship at all, but preventing corruption and ensuring Montanans’ voices could be heard in elections.

“Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,’” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with Justice Stephen Breyer joining. A hearing “will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidate’s allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”

Two phrases in the justices’ statement may have particular resonance for the ACLU’s national board—the “experience elsewhere” and “corruption or the appearance of corruption,” which suggest constitutional issues apart from censorship. In Citizens United, the ACLU had argued that independent expenditures were the kind of “speech that lies at the heart of the First Amendment” and must not be censored.

According to Burt Neuborne, the ACLU’s former national legal director and now legal director at the Brennan Center for Justice, only one perspective matters to an organization that has weathered criticism for decades for defending unpopular people and causes: whether new facts from current events and recent changes in law demand a reevaluation of their position. As the two justices suggest, the 2012 presidential campaign, in combination with the Court majority’s recent aggressive deregulation of campaign financing, may be that spark.

The presidential campaign has seen what’s left of the nation’s campaign finance laws flouted in a striking way that cannot have gone unnoticed within the ACLU; it has revealed that critical rulings in Citizens United (and the D.C. Circuit Court in a ruling that followed, SpeechNow.org) were at best politically naïve constructions. This is because 2012’s electoral landscape is presenting free speech issues that are not about state censorship—but what American democracy should look like and how big money functions in it.

The ACLU was not responsible for the Supreme Court’s decision to expand Citizens United from a narrow case to one remaking big portions of campaign finance law. But like many times before, it urged deregulation of electioneering—which the Court’s majority did for independent expenditures. Just weeks later, an appeals court in SpeechNow.org drew on this ruling, allowing individuals and corporations to make unlimited contributions to political committees, so long as those groups only make independent expenditures and do not coordinate with candidates. That is how today’s super PACs emerged.

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court made a series of remarkable assertions. It declared that independent expenditures could not corrupt candidates, as they would be truly independent and operate apart from the candidates. But neither the Supreme Court nor the Speechnow.org court said how to avoid coordination, assuming the problem away. Everyone on the Court but Justice Clarence Thomas held that disclosure of spending was permissible, not recognizing that current disclosure rules allow donors to operate in the dark behind innocuous stage names. Like coordination, corruption was also dumbed down. Invoking the long-established doctrine that the only legitimate reason for regulating campaign funds is curbing quid pro quo corruption or the appearance of it, the majority watered this concept down saying a lot about what corruption was not, namely access, influence and ingratiation of candidates, but next to nothing about what quid pro quo corruption was, apart from buying votes. Against this backdrop, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, made the startling assertion that limitless independent expenditures in elections could not possibly cause the public to lose faith in our democracy.

Needless to say, his prediction has not been borne out by events. Recent nationwide polling has found 55 percent of Americans oppose the decision, and bigger numbers believe that their voices are diminished compared to big donors and lobbyists. It is not hard to see why the public is upset and discouraged. Presidential candidates’ former campaign staffers are managing the supposedly independent committees, mocking that supposed independence. By uniformly taking the low road, they complement the official campaign’s positive messaging showing further coordination. The top donors use the fiction of independence to ignore federal contribution limits and write million-dollar checks, including to political non-profits that do not disclose their names. To suggest that an individual or corporation writing six- or seven-figure checks to back candidates or parties does not expect payback is naïve, former political consultants say. Meanwhile, a voluminous record discussing independent expenditures, coordination and corruption was before the Court during its deliberations. Citing this record, Justice John Paul Stevens in his Citizens United dissent wondered how the majority could be so indifferent.

“On numerous occasions we have recognized Congress’ legitimate interest in preventing the money that is being spent from exerting an ‘undue influence on an officeholder’s judgment’ and from creating ‘the appearance of such influence,’” he wrote. “Corruption operates along a spectrum, and the majority’s apparent belief that quid pro quo arrangements can be neatly demarcated from other improper influences does not accord with the theory or reality of politics.”

These developments raise specific First Amendment issues that are not about state censorship of political speech, but about corruption and distortions of the democratic process. These issues have been noted not only on editorial pages and parodied on late-night TV, but from within the ACLU itself. The Montana ACLU affiliate weighed in before the recent Montana Supreme Court decision, taking the opposite view of the national ACLU office. And New Mexico’s ACLU chapter did not interfere this month as that state’s legislature passed a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

Moreover, in recent weeks, a respected Second Circuit judge took issue with Citizens United in a concurring opinion in a case involving New York City’s public financing system. “All is not well with this law, and I believe it appropriate to state in a judicial opinion why I think this is so,” wrote Guido Calabresi, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and former Yale Law School dean, in comments to late 2011 ruling. Calabresi’s remarks address the majority’s contention in Citizens United—which echoes the national ACLU’s view—that unfettered political speech regardless of the speaker is paramount. He began by quoting Luke 21:1-4.

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Like Luke, Calabresi noted that the wealthy will drown out the political speech of poorer people by virtue of spending more to send a message—having a larger megaphone. Additionally, he said that such domination of the airwaves also “obscures the depth of each speaker’s views,” as one cannot tell if the voice being eclipsed is whispering, crying or yelling—conveying the intensity of their opinions. “And that is a problem of profound First Amendment significance.”

“There is perhaps no greater a distortive influence on the intensity of expression than wealth differences,” he wrote. “The wider the economic disparities in a democratic society, the more difficult it becomes to convey, with financial donations, the intensity of an ordinary citizen’s political beliefs. People who care a little, if they are rich, still give a lot. People who care a lot must, if they are poor, give only a little. Jesus’ comment about the rich donors and the poor widow says it all.”

In other words, in 2012, when supposedly independent super PACs and political non-profits are raising millions from wealthy individuals and corporations whose actions are coordinated in all but name only with the candidates, and disclosure by those political entities is untimely or non-existent, the nation is facing serious First Amendment issues that do not neatly fit the ACLU’s anti-censorship line.

Convincing the ACLU

The ACLU is a nationwide organization with independent affiliates in every state and Washington, DC, and a headquarters and national legal department in New York. Its board of directors has representatives from every state and from its 500,000 members. As such, it is one of the most powerful legal advocacy organizations in the country.

For decades, people inside and outside the ACLU have tried to get its board to moderate its campaign finance views. Since 1970, it has taken up the issue two dozen times. The key question, according to Neuborne, its former national legal director, is whether today’s rising calls to restrict the wealthiest Americans and institutions from spending unlimited money ‘independent’ of campaigns is just today’s version of censoring society’s latest villain, as the federal government once tried to do with Communists, Nazis, gays, minorities and pornographers—or is something constitutionally different going on in today’s deregulated campaign finance environment?

One of the ACLU board’s long-held assumptions, which was affirmed in the Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling, is that candidates and independent groups who spend their own money in elections constitute a form of free speech that must not be regulated. In Buckley, the Court held that a new congressional law’s limits on campaign spending by office seekers and independent groups were unconstitutional. It ruled, however, that campaign contribution limits were constitutionally permissible in the interest of preventing corruption or its appearance with candidates, an interest that candidate and independent expenditures did not prevent. Buckley’s framework has led to today’s billionaires writing million-dollar checks to the supposedly independent super PACs and political non-profits, and in turn, voters in 2012’s early presidential contests hearing their views dominate the airwaves and debate.

The ACLU includes Buckley on its list of its most important 20th-century victories. Moreover, in the 36 years since that case, with few exceptions, the Court and the ACLU board both have treated spending money in elections as the purest form of protected constitutional speech there is—not conduct that can be regulated. That is a key legal distinction. Other areas of First Amendment law are not this clear-cut and all kinds of speech are regulated without seeing censorship issues. That raises the question of why should political speech in elections be so black and white, or can it be balanced with other democratic interests?

The ACLU’s assertion that political messaging is pure speech whose regulation amounts to censorship infuriates not just state and federal judges but many democracy advocates, particularly those who believe big money distorts the process and acts to suppress the speech of people of lesser means.

“It’s not speech itself and it never has been,” said John Bonifaz, co-founder and director of Free Speech for People. “It is conduct not speech, and any regulation of spending of campaign money in elections is the regulation of the manner of speech, to ensure that anyone who has a 1000-megawatt bullhorn is not able to drown out anybody else’s speech.”

A series of former top national ACLU officials have tried to get the national board to change its position. In fairness, the board did change its policy in April 2010 after Citizens Unitedsaying that spending limits were permissible for candidates that took public financing. And its board, noting this was unprecedented in ACLU history, agreed that “reasonable” contribution limits were acceptable, although that has been settled law since Buckley. But these changes re-enforced laws established decades earlier. And on the key holdings in Citizens United, the board did not budge.

“You can be furious at guys like that, especially when they win,” said Neuborne, who now believes the ACLU national policy is on the wrong side of history and the Constitution. He went before the board to make that case after Citizens United came out, debating Floyd Abrams, a famous First Amendment attorney whose legal career has spanned defending the New York Times to shielding major tobacco companies from federal health regulations.

“Their trumping legal argument is that you have to make an overwhelming showing of need before they will sit still for censorship. And they say your overwhelming showing of need is that rich people have too much power in the society, and they are distorting the democratic process. Their argument is, ‘Look, there are a lot of rich people and a lot of them disagree. So if the rich people cancel each other out, what’s the big deal? All they do is fund democracy. People get more speech and the rich folks pay for it.”

That’s not all the ACLU’s board says, said Neuborne. “Second thing they say [is that] if you think that rich folk’s speech is skewed, you have to show me facts to demonstrate that. You just can’t tell me it’s a problem. Show me which election it has happened in. Show me where one side blew out the other side to the point where the other side wasn’t able to make its case to the electorate. You know what, I can’t make that showing. The closest it happened interestingly was Florida, when Romney outspent Gingrich five to one. I think it demonstrably changed the outcome of the election. But you cannot argue that national elections are shifted that way, because in national elections that parties are relatively equally balanced in terms of money.”

Indeed, 2012 is turning into exactly that kind of political arms race. While most of the early independent spending has been in the Republican presidential race, the Democrats are quickly falling in line. The Obama re-election campaign has said it would refer donors to a super-PAC run by a top ex-Obama campaign staffer—another instance of admitting that these PACs were anything but “independent” of the campaigns, the concern that Justice Kennedy turned a blind eye to Citizens United. In liberal circles, Credo Mobile, a phone company that has raised millions for progressive causes, said it too would form a super-PAC for the 2012 election. So has ActBlue, which has a traditional PAC that can donate to candidates and an independent super-PAC.

Neuborne knows American elections do not benefit from this spiral—which only elevates the role of wealthier participants at the expense of Americans of more modest means. The question is how to convince the ACLU board. It may have debated its response to Citizens United too soon, he said, noting that Abrams argued the organization would look foolish after siding with the Court majority in the case and winning—only to reverse its position. That, however, was a political argument, not a constitutional one. Neuborne said 40 percent or more of the board believe it is time to take a more nuanced view.

“Where the ACLU goes off the rails is that it forgets at some point that spending massive amounts of money ceases to be analogous to just pure speech and becomes an exercise in power,” Neuborne said. “I think that the ACLU is forgetting that the First Amendment is democracy’s friend, not democracy’s enemy.  And when it demonstrably hurts democracy there has to be something wrong with a policy that just digs in and says, ‘Sorry, the First Amendment made us do it.’”

The ACLU’s national press office declined to comment or make any attorneys available for this article. Calls and emails to ACLU litigators, current and former, who litigated many of its political speech cases before the Court also were not returned.

However, Neuborne is hardly alone in his analysis of how First Amendment fundamentalism can fray the fabric of political speech and democracy. Supreme Court Justices, starting with Byron White’s dissent at the start of the Court’s modern deregulatory regime in Buckley, and John Paul Stevens, whose 2010 dissent in Citizens United, catalogued the dangers of unregulated big money in elections.

“While it is true that we have not always spoken about corruption in a clear or consistent voice, the approach taken by the majority cannot be right, in my judgment, “Stevens wrote. “It disregards our constitutional history and the fundamental demands of a democratic society.”

Unlike the 1976 Buckley decision, which slowly transformed America’s campaign finance landscape over many years, the impact from Citizen United has come in barely two years. The Court’s majority in Citizens United did not anticipate these consequences. It puts those who argued with the majority—such as the ACLU’s national office—in an awkward place, because as new facts have emerged, so have nuanced political speech issues that cannot be adequately answered by saying censorship is the most important First Amendment issue.

And Citizens United may be headed back to the Supreme Court. On Friday, the Court issued a stay in a suit challenging Montana’s 1912 ban on corporate campaigning. The Court could overrule Montana without a hearing—citing the supremacy of the nation’s highest court over state courts. Or it could hold a hearing to re-evaluate parts of it in light of new facts and public perceptions.

Should the Court hear the Montana case, the ACLU board may be pushed to re-evaluate its policy. Whether it will remains to be seen. The ACLU thrives on being attacked and sees itself as the last legal line of defense against state censorship. But an honest look in a mirror may reveal that its anti-censorship absolutism is helping the wealthy to eclipse and suppress—if not silence—political speech of millions of ordinary Americans.

Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/154184/

Pentagon Working With FAA To Open U.S. Airspace To Combat Drones

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Oldspeak:”The FAA is working on proposed rules for integrating these drones, which are being eyed by law enforcement and private business to provide aerial surveillance.” Yes because, law enforcement  and ‘private businesses’ need “Global Hawks”, “Reapers”, and “Predator” drones to perpetually surveil anything, anyone and anywhere they like. The Pentagon gets paid to rent out its front-line, state of the art, military-grade surveillance and targeted assassination drones to local law enforcement and private corporations.  When you understand that the national crime rate is at its lowest rate since the 1970s, and at the same time America locks up more of its citizens than any nation on earth, you have to wonder: WHY? Why does the Corporatocracy get to surveil us with combat drones when ever they want for as long as they want, without our knowledge?  There has been no act of congress or provision in the constitution made for this. Thus it is blatant violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, yet it passes as with barely a stir in corporate media. Meanwhile propaganda campaigns have succeeded in normalizing and generating favorable opinions of drone strike on American citizens. When you consider the fact that nearly 80% of Americans “think the use of targeted killing against American citizens abroad who are suspected of terrorism is justified.” You see how frighteningly effective propaganda is with asserting control over the public mind. One only has to be SUSPECTED of terrorism, no substantiated evidence need be provided. Suspicion suffices. O_0 80% of Americans have been lulled into meekly relinquishing their civil liberties: due process, trial by jury, freedom of speech, right to petition, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. All as a result of a concentrated and relentless campaign of fear of the current “Emmanuel Goldstein”; “Muslim Extremists/Terrorists”. That fear is also being directed at “Domestic Extremists/Terrorists” as well.  Basically, we’re supposed to accept as true everyone that doesn’t assent to a “Western Style” Globo-imperialistic Cultural, Political, and Economic, and Environmental Hegemony based-system, is ostensibly a threat. And as we’ve seen with Daniel Manning, Julian Assange, Anwar Al-Alaki, and countless other ‘undesirables’ you’ve probably never heard of, the corporocrats have a myriad of ways to eliminate threats, up to and including summary execution. These drones continue to kill untold numbers of rarely mentioned civilians in a number of foreign countries around the world prosecuting the bogus “War On Terror”. What is there really to keep them from being turned on civilians in this country? The Ministry of Truth is in rare form.” “Ignorance Is Strength.” “War Is Peace.” “Freedom Is Slavery.”

The Terminator: The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug…

15 years late, but no less precient….

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Unmanned Drones Fly Through Congress To Patrol U.S. Skies

America’s Secret Empire Of Drone Bases: Its Full Extent Revealed For The First Time

U.S. Conducts Targeted Killings With Predator Drones In Somalia

Obama Activates Robot Army: U.S. Flying Armed Predator Drones Over Libya

Obama’s Predator joke—no laughing matter: Faisal Shahzad witnessed drone strikes in Pakistan

The Terminator: The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

By W.J. Hennigan @ Los Angeles Times

With a growing fleet of combat drones in its arsenal, the Pentagon is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to open U.S. airspace to its robotic aircraft.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, the military says the drones that it has spent the last decade accruing need to return to the United States. When the nation first went to war after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the military had around 50 drones. Now it owns nearly 7,500.

These flying robots need to be shipped home at some point, and the military then hopes to station them at various military bases and use them for many purposes. But the FAA doesn’t allow drones in national airspace without a special certificate.

These aircraft would be used to help train and retrain the pilots who fly the drones remotely, but they also are likely to find new roles at home in emergencies, helping firefighters see hot spots during wildfires or possibly even dropping water to combat the blaze.

At a recent conference about robotic technology in Washington, D.C., a number of military members spoke about the importance of integrating drones along with manned aircraft.

“The stuff from Afghanistan is going to come back,” Steve Pennington, the Air Force’s director of ranges, bases and airspace, said at the conference. The Department of Defense “doesn’t want a segregated environment. We want a fully integrated environment.”

That means the Pentagon wants the same rules for drones as any other military aircraft in the U.S. today.

Robotic technology was the focus of the Assn. for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s annual program review conference in Washington last week. For three days, a crowd made up of more than 500 military contractors, military personnel and industry insiders packed the Omni Shoreham Hotel to listen to the foremost experts on robots in the air, on the ground and in the sea.

Once the stuff of science-fiction novels, robotic technology now plays a major role day-to-day life. Automated machines help farmers gather crops. Robotic submarines scour the ocean floor for signs of oil beds. Flying drones have become crucial in hunting suspected terrorists in the Middle East.

Drones such as the jet-powered, high-flying RQ-4 Global Hawk made by Northrop Grumman Corp. have also been successful in providing aerial coverage of recent catastrophic events like the tsunami in Japan and earthquake in Haiti.

The FAA has said that remotely piloted aircraft aren’t allowed in national airspace on a wide scale because they don’t have an adequate “detect, sense and avoid” technology to prevent midair collisions.

The FAA does allow exceptions. Unarmed Predator drones are used to patrol the nation’s borders through special certifications. The FAA said it issued 313 such certificates last year.

The vast majority of the military’s drones are small — similar to hobby aircraft. The FAA is working on proposed rules for integrating these drones, which are being eyed by law enforcement and private business to provide aerial surveillance. The FAA expects to release the proposal on small drones this spring.

But the Pentagon is concerned about flying hundreds of larger drones, including Global Hawks as well as MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers, both made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in Poway.

And last week Congress approved legislation that requires the FAA to have a plan to integrate drones of all kinds into national airspace on a wide scale by 2015.

The Army will conduct a demonstration this summer at its Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, testing ground-based radars and other sense-and-avoid technology, Mary Ottman, deputy product director with the Army, said at the conference.

These first steps are crucial, said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who co-chairs a bipartisan drone caucus with Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita). Officially known as the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, the panel was formed in 2009 to inform members of Congress on the far-reaching applications of drone technology.

McKeon also said he was in favor of moving along the process of integrating drones into civil airspace. This came before he was abruptly interrupted by an anti-drone female protester during a speech.

“These drones are playing God,” she said, carrying a banner that read “Stop Killer Drones.” She was part of a group that wants the end of drone strikes.

Within seconds, hotel security personnel surrounded the woman. She was carried out chanting, “Stop killer drones.”

McKeon, who stood silent throughout the brief protest, went on with his speech.

william.hennigan@latimes.com

Repulsive Progressive Hypocrisy

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Oldspeak:” A core plank in the Democratic critique of the Bush/Cheney civil liberties assault was the notion that the President could do whatever he wants, in secret and with no checks, to anyone he accuses without trial of being a Terrorist – even including eavesdropping on their communications or detaining them without due process. But President Obama has not only done the same thing, but has gone much farther than mere eavesdropping or detention: he has asserted the power even to kill citizens without due process. As Bush’s own CIA and NSA chief Michael Hayden said this week about the Awlaki assassination: “We needed a court order to eavesdrop on him but we didn’t need a court order to kill him. Isn’t that something?” That is indeed “something,” as is the fact that Bush’s mere due-process-free eavesdropping on and detention of American citizens caused such liberal outrage, while Obama’s due-process-free execution of them has not. Beyond that, Obama has used drones to kill Muslim children and innocent adults by the hundreds. He has refused to disclose his legal arguments for why he can do this or to justify the attacks in any way. He has even had rescuers and funeral mourners deliberately targeted. As Hayden said: ”Right now, there isn’t a government on the planet that agrees with our legal rationale for these operations, except for Afghanistan and maybe Israel.” But that is all perfectly fine with most American liberals now that their Party’s Leader is doing it… it’s so remarkable to see these authoritarian follower traits manifest so vibrantly in the very same political movement — sophisticated, independent-minded, reality-based progressives — that believes it is above that, and that only primitive conservatives are plagued by such follower-mindlessness.” -Glenn Grunwald  Blue sheep are more like Red Sheep than they like to think. The “Left” vs “Right” dialectic narrows the range of ‘acceptable’ thought and sets the stage for a perpetual and fruitless blame game that distracts most sheep from the men behind the barn preparing to shear them all. Many Blue sheep don’t seem to grasp that Obama is nothing more than a smarter, glitzier, more articulate, but no less  amenable salesman for a corprocratic agenda than his predecessor Bush. The Hegelian Principle in effect. And it’s brutally effective.

Related Video:

By Glenn Grunwald @ Salon:

During the Bush years, Guantanamo was the core symbol of right-wing radicalism and what was back then referred to as the “assault on American values and the shredding of our Constitution”: so much so then when Barack Obama ran for President, he featured these issues not as a secondary but as a central plank in his campaign. But now that there is a Democrat in office presiding over Guantanamo and these other polices — rather than a big, bad, scary Republican — all of that has changed, as a new Washington Post/ABC News poll today demonstrates:

The sharpest edges of President Obama’s counterterrorism policy, including the use of drone aircraft to kill suspected terrorists abroad and keeping open the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have broad public support, including from the left wing of the Democratic Party.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that Obama, who campaigned on a pledge to close the brig at Guantanamo Bay and to change national security policies he criticized as inconsistent with U.S. law and values, has little to fear politically for failing to live up to all of those promises.

The survey shows that 70 percent of respondents approve of Obama’s decision to keep open the prison at Guantanamo Bay. . . . The poll shows that 53 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats — and 67 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats — support keeping Guantanamo Bay open, even though it emerged as a symbol of the post-Sept. 11 national security policies of George W. Bush, which many liberals bitterly opposed.

Repulsive liberal hypocrisy extends far beyond the issue of Guantanamo. A core plank in the Democratic critique of the Bush/Cheney civil liberties assault was the notion that the President could do whatever he wants, in secret and with no checks, to anyone he accuses without trial of being a Terrorist – even including eavesdropping on their communications or detaining them without due process. But President Obama has not only done the same thing, but has gone much farther than mere eavesdropping or detention: he has asserted the power even to kill citizens without due process. As Bush’s own CIA and NSA chief Michael Hayden said this week about the Awlaki assassination: “We needed a court order to eavesdrop on him but we didn’t need a court order to kill him. Isn’t that something?” That is indeed “something,” as is the fact that Bush’s mere due-process-free eavesdropping on and detention of American citizens caused such liberal outrage, while Obama’s due-process-free execution of them has not.

Beyond that, Obama has used drones to kill Muslim children and innocent adults by the hundreds. He has refused to disclose his legal arguments for why he can do this or to justify the attacks in any way. He has even had rescuers and funeral mourners deliberately targeted. As Hayden said: ”Right now, there isn’t a government on the planet that agrees with our legal rationale for these operations, except for Afghanistan and maybe Israel.” But that is all perfectly fine with most American liberals now that their Party’s Leader is doing it:

Fully 77 percent of liberal Democrats endorse the use of drones, meaning that Obama is unlikely to suffer any political consequences as a result of his policy in this election year. Support for drone strikes against suspected terrorists stays high, dropping only somewhat when respondents are asked specifically about targeting American citizens living overseas, as was the case with Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni American killed in September in a drone strike in northern Yemen.

The Post‘s Greg Sargent obtained the breakdown on these questions and wrote today:

The number of those who approve of the drone strikes drops nearly 20 percent when respondents are told that the targets are American citizens. But that 65 percent is still a very big number, given that these policies really should be controversial.

And get this: Depressingly, Democrats approve of the drone strikes on American citizens by 58-33, and even liberals approve of them, 55-35. Those numbers were provided to me by the Post polling team.

It’s hard to imagine that Dems and liberals would approve of such policies in quite these numbers if they had been authored by George W. Bush.

Indeed: is there even a single liberal pundit, blogger or commentator who would have defended George Bush and Dick Cheney if they (rather than Obama) had been secretly targeting American citizens for execution without due process, or slaughtering children, rescuers and funeral attendees with drones, or continuing indefinite detention even a full decade after 9/11? Please. How any of these people can even look in the mirror, behold the oozing, limitless intellectual dishonesty, and not want to smash what they see is truly mystifying to me.

One of the very first non-FISA posts I ever wrote that received substantial attention was this one from January, 2006, entitled “Do Bush Followers have an Ideology”? It examined the way in which the Bush-supporting Right was more like an “authoritarian cult” rather than a political movement because its adherents had no real, fixed political beliefs; instead, I argued, their only animating “principle” was loyalty to their leader, and they would support anything he did no matter how at odds it was with their prior ostensible beliefs. That post was linked to and praised by dozens and dozens of liberal blogs: can you believe what authoritarian followers these conservatives are?, they scoffed in unison. Here was the crux of my argument:

Whether one is a “liberal” — or, for that matter, a “conservative” — is now no longer a function of one’s actual political views, but is a function purely of one’s personal loyalty to George Bush. . . .

People who self-identify as “conservatives” and have always been considered to be conservatives become liberal heathens the moment they dissent, even on the most non-ideological grounds, from a Bush decree. That’s because “conservatism” is now a term used to describe personal loyalty to the leader (just as “liberal” is used to describe disloyalty to that leader), and no longer refers to a set of beliefs about government.

That “conservatism” has come to mean “loyalty to George Bush” is particularly ironic given how truly un-conservative the Administration is. . . . And in that regard, people like Michelle Malkin, John Hinderaker, Jonah Goldberg and Hugh Hewitt are not conservatives. They are authoritarian cultists. Their allegiance is not to any principles of government but to strong authority through a single leader.

As this post demonstrates, long before Barack Obama achieved any significance on the political scene, I considered blind leader loyalty one of the worst toxins in our political culture: it’s the very antithesis of what a healthy political system requires (and what a healthy mind would produce). One of the reasons I’ve written so much about the complete reversal of progressives on these issues (from pretending to be horrified by them when done under Bush to tolerating them or even supporting them when done by Obama) is precisely because it’s so remarkable to see these authoritarian follower traits manifest so vibrantly in the very same political movement — sophisticated, independent-minded, reality-based progressives — that believes it is above that, and that only primitive conservatives are plagued by such follower-mindlessness.

The Democratic Party owes a sincere apology to George Bush, Dick Cheney and company for enthusiastically embracing many of the very Terrorism policies which caused them to hurl such vehement invective at the GOP for all those years. And progressives who support the views of the majority as expressed by this poll should never be listened to again the next time they want to pretend to oppose civilian slaughter and civil liberties assaults when perpetrated by the next Republican President (it should be noted that roughly 35% of liberals, a non-trivial amount, say they oppose these Obama policies).

One final point: I’ve often made the case that one of the most consequential aspects of the Obama legacy is that he has transformed what was once known as “right-wing shredding of the Constitution” into bipartisan consensus, and this is exactly what I mean. When one of the two major parties supports a certain policy and the other party pretends to oppose it — as happened with these radical War on Terror policies during the Bush years — then public opinion is divisive on the question, sharply split. But once the policy becomes the hallmark of both political parties, then public opinion becomes robust in support of it. That’s because people assume that if both political parties support a certain policy that it must be wise, and because policies that enjoy the status of bipartisan consensus are removed from the realm of mainstream challenge. That’s what Barack Obama has done to these Bush/Cheney policies: he has, as Jack Goldsmith predicted he would back in 2009, shielded and entrenched them as standard U.S. policy for at least a generation, and (by leading his supporters to embrace these policies as their own) has done so with far more success than any GOP President ever could have dreamed of achieving.

 

UPDATE: The Advocacy Center for Equality and Democracy documents how much public opinion has changed on these issues under (and as a result of) the Obama presidency: “under the leadership of a President who campaigned with the promise to close the facility, . . . support for the detention center may be at its highest level ever.”

 

UPDATE II [Thurs.]: Here is what Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason, had to say about all of this:

[I]t is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.

It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.

As is true for so many things, Paine grasped the crux of the matter and expressed it as well as it can be expressed.

As The Plutonomy Powers Ahead, The Realonomy Remains In Recession

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Oldspeak:‘In a Plutonomy “the rich absorb a disproportionate chunk of the economy and have a massive impact on reported aggregate numbers.” In other words, official economic statistics no longer represent the experience of the economy as a whole. More and more, they represent only the experiences of the very rich...the Realonomy has been in recession since 1999. Even at the very top of the Realonomy, people have experienced flat or declining incomes over the past 12 years…The Realonomy won’t start growing again until America addresses its runaway inequality. We need fairer taxes, higher minimum wages, and more – not less – government spending…That may all sound counterintuitive in a recession, but that’s only because we’ve gotten so used to the politics of Plutonomy. Growth isn’t enough.’ -Salvatore Babones. Not only is Growth not enough, it’s unsustainable. Infinite growth in simply IMPOSSIBLE on a planet with finite resources. The current empire in decline, the U.S. of A. one of the biggest debtor nations on the planet has not come to terms with the fact that it is indeed an empire in decline, and is generating more debt than wealth, while drawing down assets faster than they can replenish them, thus accelerating the rate of decline. “The ‘culture of debt’ has become a global issue, and it is not just financial, but defines how every society and economy now interacts with respect to their fundamental economic, human and natural assets.” -Edward B. Barbier We can’t continue down this unsustainable path indefinitely. The music will stop and the party will end. Then what? That’s what we need to be asking ourselves. Then what?

By Salvatore Babones @ Truthout:

America’s longest recession since World War II officially ended in June 2009. Since then, the economy has expanded by almost 6 percent (adjusted for inflation). All of the losses of 2007-2009 have been erased.

American economic output is now at an all-time high. So why doesn’t it feel that way?

Back in October 2005, three Citigroup stock analysts heralded the arrival of a new kind of economic system in the United States. They called it the “Plutonomy,” the economy of the rich.

They explained that in a Plutonomy “the rich absorb a disproportionate chunk of the economy and have a massive impact on reported aggregate numbers.” In other words, official economic statistics no longer represent the experience of the economy as a whole. More and more, they represent only the experiences of the very rich.

Official economic statistics show that US national income per capita grew a cumulative 10 percent between 1999 and 2011 (adjusted for inflation). In aggregate, we generate 10 percent more per person than we did 12 years ago. Where did that 10 percent growth go?

Up in the stratosphere of the American Plutonomy, the IRS reports that incomes among the top 400 American taxpayers increased 107 percent between 1999 and 2007 (adjusted for inflation). Top 400 incomes declined in 2008, but by most accounts they have now bounced back to pre-recession levels.

For people who just make it into the top 1 percent, the gains have been much more modest. Their real incomes have risen about 12 percent since 1999, depending how you count. By some estimates, the increase has been closer to 6 percent. In other words, people at the 99th percentile of the US income distribution – people making upwards of $360,000 per year – have just about kept pace with economic growth in the economy as a whole.

Since 1999, no group below the top 1 percent has even kept pace. They are the “other 99 percent.” They live in the “Realonomy.”

In the Realonomy, people make most of their money from wages, not investments. In the Realonomy, people have to worry about retirement planning and health insurance. In the Realonomy, people can’t afford to lose their jobs.

While the Plutonomy continues to grow by leaps and bounds, the Realonomy has been in recession since 1999. Even at the very top of the Realonomy, people have experienced flat or declining incomes over the past 12 years. For example, families at the 95th percentile of America’s income distribution have experienced, on average, a 1.2 percent decline in real income (income adjusted for inflation) since 1999.

Further down the ladder, the situation gets worse and worse. For families at the 80th percentile, incomes are down 1.3 percent; at the 60th percentile, down 4.4 percent; at the 40th percentile, down 7.1 percent; at the 20th percentile, down 10.5 percent.

Nor does education provide an insurance policy. Among college graduates with full-time, year-round jobs, real incomes are down 3.6 percent over the past 12 years.

On the other hand, those without college degrees or full-time jobs have fared even worse.

The simple fact is that the Realonomy has been stagnant or in recession since 1999. The Realonomy hit bottom in 2009-2010, but it still hasn’t bounced back. Only the Plutonomy is growing, not the Realonomy.

The Realonomy won’t start growing again until America addresses its runaway inequality. We need fairer taxes, higher minimum wages, and more – not less – government spending.

That may all sound counterintuitive in a recession, but that’s only because we’ve gotten so used to the politics of Plutonomy. Growth isn’t enough.

We have growth. The top of the top 1 percent is growing like crazy. It’s government’s job to redirect some of that growth to the other 99 percent.

 

Why Major Newspapers & Corporations Run Fake Job Ads To Avoid Hiring American Workers

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Oldspeak: Behold! The fruits of globalization! “Instead of being about talent, H-1B visa is about importing cheap labor. There’s an insidious way that the high-tech industry denies jobs to US citizens. It’s called the H-1B visa, which allows America’s technological firms – and other specialized employers – to bring in foreign employees, frequently at a lower wage package than might be paid to an individual with the same qualifications who is an American citizen. There are many arguments against the program, primarily the allegation that there is generally no actual shortage of US citizens with high-tech skills for the work done by H-1B visa holders. After the H-1B workers are sent back to their native nations, there are reports that they are rehired by US companies abroad to start offshore high-tech offices that move more US jobs overseas. In short, the H-1B visa could be seen as an outsourcing training program at the expense of highly skilled US professionals.” I wonder if Obama’s “Jobs Czar” GM CEO Jeffery Immelt is aware of this stealth job outsourcing sector of the economy. As CEO of a an American multinational corporation that employs 82% of its workforce outside the U.S., I would surmise, probably so. “Ignorance is Strength” “Profit Is Paramount”

Related Video

Immigration Attorneys Teach Corporations How To  Avoid Hiring Qualified Americans.

By Smoke & Mirrors:

Every Sunday, major newspapers, websites and corporations run fake job ads. Why? The goal is to prove that no qualified Americans are available, so that green cards can be secured for H1B workers (“highly-skilled” foreign workers from “high tech” to architects to nurses and Kindergarten teachers).

The claim is H-1B is a remedy for “labor shortages” and as a means of hiring “the best and the brightest” from around the world. The reality is it’s all about cheap labor.

The fundamental reason for the H1B Visa program, created in 1990, is to substitute cheap, imported, supposedly “skilled” (equivalent to American high school degree)  labor for more expensive American labor. The employer, who reaps a ton of tax advantages, doesn’t have to pay medical benefits, overtime, social security, etc., can also force the departing US worker to train their foreign replacement.  The problem is not lack of enforcement or fraud. Instead, the problem is gaping loopholes in the law.

Congress has allowed the expansion of importation under all VISA programs. 125,000 work authorized visas per month. This includes green cards, L-1, H1-b, H2-b etc  and the state hands out about 320K J-1 student work visas yearly.

Body Shops:

According to Civil Defense Attorney James Otto, who poses the question: “Whether the U.S. should allow the replacement of U.S. workers with foreigners imported under the several visa programs and should Government hire foreigners in stead of U.S workers?”, there are eight main body shops which bring in foreign workers to take American jobs. One body shop, Infosys, faces a lawsuit by former employee Jack Palmer over charges that it abused US visa programs. Per the Economic Times of India “The Infosys charges illustrate the growing conflict between the desires of multinational corporations to source cheaply (even if “cheap” has been mismeasured by not not being adjusted for risk) and what actions need to take place at a country level to make sure these very same multinationals have decent market for their goods.”

On December 7, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, through the U.S. Embassy in India, announced that the State Department has authorized the U.S embassy to allow the admission of a limitless number of foreign workers into the U.S. to take jobs that millions of unemployed Americans could and would do.

The practical implications of the State Department’s conduct is that every U.S employer can now hire as many foreign workers as they desire to replace all American workers.

So even jobs that require face to face work are not safe from “outsourcing” because of “importing”.

Of course, this is no more the fault of the imported foreign nationals than it is the fault of the workers employed in sweatshops overseas.  The corporations treat them horrendously.  While displacing American workers, the goal is to reduce the salary level to a point where they can get qualified professional American workers at the same cheap price. Just one more government policy that result in We the People suffering in order that corporate profits soar.

Hi-Tech US Corporations Deny Skilled American Workers Jobs Through Abuse of Visa Loophole

By Mark Karlin @ BuzzFlash:

A short time ago, BuzzFlash at Truthout ran a commentary on how US global corporations don’t give a hoot about increasing jobs in America.

In it, we included a section about how Silicon Valley high-tech companies, particularly Apple, use overseas contractors to manufacture their latest technological consumer products. It has been documented that some of these contractors create such harsh conditions and pay such low wages that workers have been driven to suicide, as The New York Times and other publications have detailed.

 

In a two-part Times expose, an Apple executive claimed: “We [Apple] don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.” That was in response to Apple shipping so many potential US jobs overseas to these slave-wage sweatshops; e.g., “90 percent of the parts of an iPhone are made outside the U.S.”

But there’s another insidious way that the high-tech industry denies jobs to US citizens. It’s called the H-1B visa, which allows America’s technological firms – and other specialized employers – to bring in foreign employees, frequently at a lower wage package than might be paid to an individual with the same qualifications who is an American citizen. There are many arguments against the program, primarily the allegation that there is generally no actual shortage of US citizens with high-tech skills for the work done by H-1B visa holders.

President Obama appeared blindsided by a question on a Google Plus interactive town hall the other day from a woman whose husband had been laid off by Texas Instruments:

Jennifer Wedel was the second to question Obama, and the four-minute exchange was among the most memorable of the 50-minute online event.

“My question to you is to why does the government continue to issue and extend H-1B visas when there are tons of Americans just like my husband with no job?” she asked.

Obama offered that industry leaders have told him that there aren’t enough of certain kinds of high-tech engineers in America to meet their needs. Jennifer Wedel interrupted him to explain that that answer didn’t match what her husband is seeing out in the real world.

“Jennifer, can I ask what kind of engineer your husband is?”

“He’s a semiconductor engineer,” she told the president, who seemed genuinely surprised.

“If you send me your husband’s resume, I’d be interested in finding out exactly what’s happening right there,” he told her. “The word we’re getting is somebody in that high-tech field, that kind of engineer, should be able to find something right away. And the H-1B should be reserved only for those companies who say they cannot find somebody in that particular field.”

Of course, the high-tech companies are telling the White House and Congress that they can’t find US citizens for the H-1B jobs, but many critics argue that many high-tech companies hire H-1B workers without even offering the positions to Americans. On top of that, after the H-1B workers are sent back to their native nations, there are reports that they are rehired by US companies abroad to start offshore high-tech offices that move more US jobs overseas. In short, the H-1B visa could be seen as an outsourcing training program at the expense of highly skilled US professionals.

It was nice of the president of the United States to offer his personal job placement services to Jennifer Wedel’s husband, but it’s a bit disturbing that the White House appears to have fallen for the Silicon Valley canard.

When it comes to the H-1B visa, it’s the same old story: follow the profits.

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