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Friday, January 29, 2010

The Most Dangerous Man in America

Unjustifiable Homicide

Daniel Elsberg and Howard Zinn, who passed away this week, were both inspired by the late, great investigative reporter George Seldes who in turn was inspired by Upton Sinclair's book about the corruption of the US news media "The Brasscheck."

Rick Goldsmith and I created the web site for the film "Tell the Truth and Run" his Academy Award nominated film about George Seldes back in the mid-1990s when web sites were rare things

Rick Goldsmith, who made this film with Judith Ehrlich, is a good friend and this is bound to be a great film. The topic couldn't be more timely. Come on out and support it.

Co-winner of this years Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board of Review (and one of their Five Best Documentaries of the Year), Winner of the Special Jury Award at IDFA, and in contention for the years Best Documentary Oscar, The Most Dangerous Man in America tells the story of Daniel Ellsberg, a high-level Pentagon official and Vietnam War strategist, who in 1971 concluded that the war is based on decades of lies and leaks 7,000 pages of top secret documents to The New York Times, making headlines around the world.

A riveting story of how this one mans profound change of heart created a landmark struggle involving Americas newspapers, its president and Supreme Court. With Daniel Ellsberg, Patricia Ellsberg, Tony Russo, Howard Zinn, Hedrick Smith, John Dean, and, from the secret White House tapes, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, who called Ellsberg the most dangerous man in America.

Opening Dates in Theaters (through February)

January 29, 2010 at New York's Cinema Village

February 12, 2010 at E Street Cinema in DC

February 12, 2010 at Kendall Square Cinema in Boston

February 12, 2010 at Los Angeles' Laemmle Theatres

February 12, 2010 at Edwards Westpark 8, Irvine

February 19, 2010 at Landmark San Francisco

February 19, 2010 at Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley

February 19, 2010 Toronto's Bloor Cinema

NOTE: For more dates in March, April, May and beyond, visit the web site! The site also notes which events will feature filmmaker appearances.

Visit the Most Dangerous Man Site:

Monday, January 25, 2010

This Week in Crazy 

Clarence Thomas

The Supreme Court judge brings insanity to the campaign finance decision.

By Andrew Leonard
This Week in Crazy
Jan 22, 2010

In his remarkably undistinguished 20-year stint as a Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas has rarely called attention to himself for original jurisprudential thinking. But if Thomas had had his way with Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, in which the court decided this week to remove critically important limits on campaign financing, an already horrible decision would have been made far, far worse. Crazy worse.

Thomas went along with the majority in agreeing that corporations and unions can once more be permitted to spend freely on political issues, thus driving a stake through the heart of the democratic process in the United States. But he dissented in part, because he didn't think the ruling went far enough. Specifically, he argued that the court was wrong to continue requiring that the sponsors of political advertising disclose who paid for them.

That's right. Thomas came out against the principle of transparency, and for the right of corporations to spend millions of dollars to influence public policy without having to tell anyone what they were up to. It's hard to imagine a less democratic stance.

Thomas did have his reasons, however. He blamed the gays. In the heated war over Proposition 8 in California, he wrote, any individual who contributed as little as $100 in favor of the ban on same-sex marriage was required to disclose his or her name and address to the public, and thus opened themselves up to harassment.

Some opponents of Proposition 8 compiled this information and created Web sites with maps showing the locations of homes or businesses of Proposition 8 supporters. Many supporters (or their customers) suffered property damage, or threats of physical violence or death, as a result. ...

I cannot endorse a view of the First Amendment that subjects citizens of this Nation to death threats, ruined careers, damaged or defaced property, or pre-emptive and threatening warning letters as the price for engaging in "core political speech, the 'primary object of First Amendment protection.'"

To be fair, writing at the Sunlight Foundation blog, Daniel Schuman notes that there is some precedent for challenging disclosure by individuals when there is the potential for harassment.

It stems from attempts by the KKK to get membership lists of NAACP contributors during the civil rights era so that the Klan could attack the organization's supporters. With firebombs. But that's a far cry from disclosing corporate donors.... Also, unlike in the civil rights era, criminal behavior such as that engaged in by the Klan will be prosecuted by the state, and likely can be deterred.

To recap: In order to protect Californian opponents of gay marriage from harassment, which is best handled by legal prosecution, Thomas wanted to let corporations spend as much as they want on influencing public policy without ever having to identify themselves. I'll outsource the kicker to Adam Bonin, writing at DailyKos.

Too often, Justice Thomas gets accused of being an unthinking automatic second vote for whatever Justice Scalia says. Untrue. He's his own unique sphere of wrongness, and not even Scalia, Alito, Kennedy or the Chief Justice were willing to follow him on this one.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kennedy takes on the Coal Baron in Mountain Duel

University debate personifies America's deep political and environmental divides

by Suzanne Goldenberg
US environment correspondent
January 22, 2010

It was an event billed as the smackdown between the baddest coal baron around and the environmental heir to the liberal Kennedy legacy, live on stage and in the heart of Appalachia mine country. Stage right, appropriately, was Don Blankenship, chairman of Massey Energy, a meaty impassive presence, his Kentucky drawl never picking up speed or volume. On the left, Robert F Kennedy Jr, who has spent his life defending waterways, making lawyerly argument out of staccato bursts of statistics.

The pairing at the University of Charleston was the perfect personification of America's deep divides: Republican versus Democrat; old industry v new, global warming denier v impassioned advocate for climate change laws.

The battle in Thursday night's debate was over mountaintop removal mining, which blows the tops off mountains to get at thin seams of coal and of which Blankenship is the most notorious promoter. "This is the worst environmental crime that ever happened in our history," began Kennedy. "It is a crime, it is a sin, and it is a moral obligation to stop this from happening."

Companies such as Blankenship's are detonating the explosive equivalent of a Hiroshima every week, Kennedy said. They are ruthlessly anti-union and no longer provide jobs: 90,000 were shed in West Virginia over the past 50 years. Worse, Kennedy revealed, Massey's own records show 12,000 violations of pollution regulations last year. It paid $20m (£12.4m) in environmental fines in 2006.

But this was too many facts for Blankenship. "It's a bunch of rhetoric and untruths," he returned. "This industry is what made this country great. If we forget that, we are going to have to learn to speak Chinese." Or accept early deaths, he argued, noting that expectancy in Angola is 39 years.

Or, as he suggested later in a digression on poverty in India, go through life with the indignity of not having a toilet. Or, maybe just roll over and give in to the terrorists. "The truth of the matter is that were it not for coal we wouldn't have the freedom to sit up here and ­discuss this," Blankenship said.

The views – and debating styles – were a stark vision of the separate ­political realities in America.

In 2004, he personally spent $3 million on attack ads on a judge's election.The Obama administration and its supporters – and not least Kennedy himself – got a painful message from that other reality this week. The Senate seat left by the death of his uncle Ted Kennedy was filled by Scott Brown, the first Republican in more than 50 years to represent Massachusetts in the Senate. The election takes away the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority, making it even harder for Obama to deliver on his campaign pledges to tackle global warming.

And that suits Blankenship just fine. "When you criticise what we do as an industry, you are criticising the people that are teaching your Sunday school, that are coaching your little league," Blankenship said, folksily. Worryingly for Kennedy, it got the loudest applause.

Kennedy, rallying, argued that the future was green: "If we don't switch to renewables right now we are going to be buying green technology from the Chinese for the next 100 years, the same way we have been buying oil from the Saudis for the last 100 years."

But Blankenship was still looking to the past. "Coal is what made the industrial revolution possible. If windmills were the thing to do, if solar panels were, it would happen naturally."

Oh, and global warming was a hoax, he finished. "Anyone who says they know what the temperature of earth is going to be in 2020 or 2030 needs to be put in an asylum because they don't. This whole thing is designed to transfer wealth from the US to other countries."

The university made sure the 1,000-strong audience was evenly split. On television afterwards, environmentalists said they were sure Kennedy won. The miners gave it to Blankenship: Kennedy just had too many facts from all over the place, said one.

The debate changed few minds. Ed Welch, the university president and moderator, summed it up neatly: "I don't think there is a need for an altar call to recognise any conversions."


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why Counter-Terrorism Is in Shambles

By Ray McGovern and Coleen Rowley
January 5, 2010

Editor’s Note: A blogger with the PBS’ NewsHour asked former CIA analyst Ray McGovern to respond to three questions regarding recent events involving the CIA, FBI, and the intelligence community in general.

A couple of other individuals were asked identical questions, queries that are typical of what radio/TV and blogger interviewers think to be the right ones. So there is merit in trying to answer them directly, such as they are, and then broadening the response to address the core problems confronting U.S. counter-terror strategies.

After drafting his answers, McGovern asked former FBI attorney/special agent Coleen Rowley, a colleague in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, to review his response and add her own comments at the end. The resulting Q and A is below:

Question #1 – What lapses in the American counter terrorism apparatus made the Christmas Day bombing plot possible? Is it inevitable that certain plots will succeed?

The short answer to the second sentence is: Yes, it is inevitable that “certain plots will succeed.”

A more helpful answer would address the question as to how we might best minimize their prospects for success. And to do this, sorry to say, there is no getting around the necessity to address the root causes of terrorism or, in the vernacular, “why they hate us.”

If we don’t go beyond self-exculpatory sloganeering in attempting to answer that key question, any “counter terrorism apparatus” is doomed to failure. Honest appraisals would tread on delicate territory, but any intelligence agency worth its salt must be willing/able to address it.

Delicate? Take, for example, what Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the “mastermind” of 9/11, said was his main motive. Here’s what the 9/11 Commission Report wrote on page 147. You will not find it reported in the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM):

“By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed…from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”

This is not the entire picture, of course. Other key factors include the post-Gulf War stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, widely seen as defiling the holy sites of Islam.

Add Washington’s propping up of dictatorial, repressive regimes in order to secure continuing access to oil and natural gas — widely (and accurately) seen as one of the main reasons for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not to mention the Pentagon’s insatiable thirst for additional permanent (sorry, the term is now “enduring”) military bases in that part of the world.

The writers of the 9/11 Commission Report made a stab at puncturing the myth about “why they hate us” (and actually succeeded in giving the lie to familiar bromides like “they” hate us for our democracy, our freedoms, our way of life, and so forth). See, for example, pp 374-376 of the Commission Report.

But, you may object, I am not answering the first question posed above; I am, rather, fighting the problem.

Not true. I am trying to address the right question…trying to deal with causes, not just symptoms and consequences. The first question, as posed, deals in a familiar way with symptoms of the core problem but not the core itself, and thus tends to obscure the essence of “why they hate us.”

There are over 1.2 BILLION Muslims in the world, many of whom watch nightly TV coverage of the violence resulting from U.S. military and political support for Israel (including, for example, Washington’s acquiescence in the brutal Israeli attacks on civilians in Gaza one year ago) and from U.S. actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.

And what is the puerile approach taken by not only the politicians but also by the clueless amateurs who now lead the intelligence community: No problem, they say. Technology permits us to build a database of one billion names….easy!

Right. And how to find needles in that haystack. Easy? A database of “only” 550,000 names did not prevent the Abdulmutallab caper, did it?

Can the prevailing vacuum-up-everything-and-follow-every-lead attitude be chalked up to pure adolescent-type inexperience, innocence, incompetence? Not pure — not by a long shot. One has to ask Cui Bono? Who profits?

It is so painfully obvious. Here, in microcosm, is an example of what Eisenhower warned of when he coined “military-industrial complex.” Cui bono? Think the contractors who create marvelous databases — and the mindset of: the-more-contractors-and-databases-the-merrier.

Think also of snake-oil salesmen like former Justice Department and Homeland Security guru Michael Chertoff, who could not resist the temptation over the past several days to keep hawking on TV the full-body scanners marketed by one of the Chertoff Group’s clients.

2 – Has the new intelligence bureaucracy created after the Sept. 11th attacks functioned correctly? How could it be improved, or was it a good idea to create it?

The creation of the post of Director of National Intelligence, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the 170,000-person Department of Homeland Security was the mother of all misguided panaceas.

Bear in mind that the general election of 2004 was just months away when the 9/11 report was published, and lawmakers and administration functionaries desperately needed to be seen to be DOING SOMETHING. And, as is almost always the case in such circumstances, they made things considerably worse.

The 9/11 Commissioners had been fretting over the fact that, in their words, “No one was in charge of coordination among intelligence agencies.” That was true, but only because George Tenet preferred to cavort with foreign potentates and thugs, than to do the job of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).

It was not a systemic problem, but one of personal irresponsibility. Ignoring that, a new systemic “solution” was sought, and implemented, where none was needed. By statute, the Director of Central Intelligence was responsible precisely for coordinating the work of the entire intelligence community, as the principal intelligence adviser to the President (National Security Act of 1947).

This, indeed, was the main reason why Truman created the Central Intelligence Agency and put the DCI in charge not only of the CIA but gave the DCI wider — and equally important intelligence community-wide responsibilities.

The idea was to prevent another Pearl Harbor, where bits and pieces of intelligence lay around with the code-breakers, the Navy, the Army Air Corps, the FBI, Embassy Tokyo, the people monitoring Radio Tokyo, etc., etc. with no central place where analysts could be in receipt of and consider all the evidence.

It was abundantly clear to Truman that, had there been such a place in 1941, adequate forewarning of the Japanese attack would have been a no-brainer.

As for the situation obtaining in the Washington bureaucracies in 2004, this personal vignette, I believe, speaks volumes:

On the day the 9/11 Commission Report was issued BBC-TV had scheduled me for comment on it, minutes after its release, at the BBC bureau in Washington. I drove home the amazing point that NO ONE, NO ONE, NOT ONE SOLITARY SOUL WAS BEING HELD ACCOUNTABLE!

As I left the TV studio for the outer room, in walked 9/11 Commissioners Jamie Gorelick and former Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Washington, to present their own commentary to BBC viewers. Gorelick went right into the studio; I took advantage of being one-on-one with Sen. Gorton.

“Sen. Gorton,” I asked, “I don’t quite understand all this talk alleging that ‘No one is in charge of the intelligence community.’ You are surely aware that, by act of Congress, there is such a person, and right now that happens to be Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet.”

The avuncular Gorton tiptoed up to me, put his right hand around my shoulder, and with a conspiratorial whisper said, “Yes, Ray, of course I know that. We all know that. But George would not take charge; he would not do what he was supposed to.”

True, this was hardly news to me, but coming from a 9/11 Commissioner? I was about to respond with something like, “So you need to create another layer, a superstructure over existing arrangements, to address that problem?”

But, as it happened, just then the BBC studio door opened, Gorelick emerged, and Horton went in. Gorelick was too busy to answer the question I had posed to Horton.

The new Director of National Intelligence?

This post, created by the post-9/11 “reforms,” was/is totally unnecessary — and counterproductive — as was entirely predictable. As my former CIA colleague Mel Goodman has written, the DNI superstructure has actually been very destructive of good intelligence … in more ways than I have space to go into here.

The fact that no National Intelligence Estimate has been completed on Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, is unconscionable. Were the generals and admirals afraid that CIA analysts might come up with politically incorrect judgments?

The National Counterterrorism Center?

Also unnecessary; a benighted idea. The recent attempt by Mr. Abdulmutallab to bring down a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight speaks volumes about the NCTC’s effectiveness and the kind of leadership exercised by John Brennan — a clone of George Tenet.

We are told that Brennan is supposed to coordinate things at the National Security Council ... or is Director of National Intelligence Admiral Blair supposed to do that? …. or Panetta? ... or Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security? ... or maybe the FBI? ……… ugh.

Can you tolerate still more?

This just in. None other than John Brennan is to lead a full and thorough investigation into how the people under his general aegis screwed up regarding the Abdulmutallab affair. I do not often quote Ollie North, but “Is this a great country, or what!”

As for the Department of Homeland Security… just look, if you will, at what has happened to the Secret Service, not to mention FEMA and Katrina. Double ugh.

3 – What one reform would you recommend that might improve information sharing among agencies working to prevent terrorist attacks?


More “reform” is the last thing we need. Sorry, but we DO have to look back.

The most effective step would be to release the CIA Inspector General report on intelligence community performance prior to 9/11. That investigation was run by, and its report was prepared by an honest man, it turns out.

It was immediately suppressed by then-Acting DCI John McLaughlin — another Tenet clone — and McLaughin’s successors as director, Porter Goss, Michael Hayden, and now Leon Panetta.

Accountability is key. If there is no accountability, there is total freedom to screw up, and screw up royally, without any thought of possible personal consequences.

Not only is it certain that we will face more terrorist attacks, but the keystone-cops nature of recent intelligence operations …. whether in using cell phones in planning kidnappings in Italy, or in allowing suicide bombers access to CIA bases in Taliban-infested eastern Afghanistan …. will continue. Not to mention the screw-up in the case of Abdulmutallab.

Sadly, instead of accountability, there is likely to be misguided — and counterproductive — vengeance. After all, the word in Langley is “seven of ours” have now been killed. Anonymous intelligence officials are already warning openly about payback!

Wasn’t that the base human instinct, the revenge factor played on so deftly by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to “justify” invading Afghanistan — and then Iraq — after 9/11.

From Coleen Rowley:

Launching PR “wars” on terrorism, drugs, crime, poverty, etc. misleads the average person into believing that these ills can be totally conquered or eliminated. In reality, even if the experts were so enlightened/lucky as to make no mistakes and do everything right, it’s only possible to reduce the frequency of such adverse things.

It IS possible to make terrorist plots less likely to succeed but NOT possible to prevent them all.

It is much harder for the counter-terrorist experts to prevent terrorist plots when, under the law of unintended consequences, U.S. foreign policy contributes to a marked increase in the number of potential terrorists — as it undoubtedly has.

The level of terrorism in the world has increased dramatically since 9/11. So a starting place would be to find out where we are now, as compared to 2001.

The unrealistic expectation of “winning” a “war” against terrorism — that is, preventing all terrorist acts — merely opens the door to crazy “destroy-the-village-to-save-it” kind of actions that result in squaring the error. Such actions radicalize greater and greater numbers of people and create still more “terrorists.”

Fear-based expectations also open the door to:

(1) Reckless “pre-emptive” actions based on mere guesswork, hunches, or prior agendas;

(2) A penchant for fusing agencies, creating multi-agency “centers,” and re-naming bureaucracies — all without much thought to finding out what went awry, who was responsible, holding people accountable, and fixing problems; and

(3) A surge in the fast growing “Surveillance-Security Complex,” a highly lucrative business now rivaling the Military Industrial Complex itself.

“Total Information Awareness”-type programs are a sales trick that brings dividends only to the contractor/creators. Projects involving billions of pieces of private communications and other data that are vacuumed up and put into newly created, massive databases of individuals are a fool’s errand.

No matter how sophisticated or exotic, they are not likely to succeed in helping find needles in haystacks that are constantly fed more hay. Not this decade, anyway.

Keystone Cops and Barney Fife responses are not funny in real life. One only laughs at such travesty for psychological release. The reality is that, in real life, these truly counter-productive responses — creatures of arrogance, ignorance, and excessive fear — are no laughing matter.

No meaningful fixes are possible without accountability for mistakes or wrongdoing.

Equally important, those witnessing innocent mistakes and worse problems must be able to avail themselves of some kind of job protection, should they summon enough courage to blow the whistle. Sadly, no “whistleblower protection” now exists.

Thus there is no antidote to the secrecy and job-jeopardy regularly invoked to muzzle employees who witness fraud, waste, abuse, and illegal acts. In recent years, these have included heinous behavior like torture, kidnapping, and illegal eavesdropping, as well as untold amounts of misfeasance and other malfeasance that create serious threats and risks to public safety.

Ray McGovern and Coleen Rowley are members of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Rowley, a FBI special agent for almost 24 years, was legal counsel to the FBI Field Office in Minneapolis from 1990 to 2003. She came to national attention in June 2002, when she testified before Congress about serious lapses before 9/11 that helped account for the failure to prevent the attacks. She now writes and speaks on ethical decision-making and on balancing civil liberties with the need for effective investigation.

McGovern, a former Army infantry/intelligence officer, and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, now works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his CIA career he served under nine Directors of Central Intelligence and in all four of the CIA’s chief directorates.


Friday, January 15, 2010

We should be better prepared to deal with such disasters

The Haiti quake underlines the need for a new global relief agency

The Independent UK
Jan. 15, 2010

Haiti is no stranger to natural disasters. But even this benighted land has never experienced a catastrophe on the scale of this week's massive earthquake. The scenes in the Caribbean nation are of colossal devastation and widespread death.

In the aftermath of every earthquake, there is an understandable public fixation on the task of pulling survivors out of the rubble. And that effort is certainly of huge importance, requiring heavy lifting equipment, rescue teams and sniffer dogs.

But just as important – perhaps even more so as the days go by – is the need to provide food, water, shelter, medicine and surgery for those who have survived the quake. Sanitation is of paramount importance. Unless the dead are buried promptly, disease will spread, pushing up the death toll even further. It is estimated that a third of the Haitian population – some three million people – need assistance. And, realistically, they will need it for many months to come.

What this disaster has underlined is our reliance on the efforts of charities and the ad hoc response of governments around the world when it comes to responding to these natural calamities in poor and isolated countries. The likes of Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the International Red Cross have, as usual, done an impressive job in responding to the Haitian quake. Luckily, several agencies already had offices and staff in the country when the tremor struck.

And the international governmental response has been prompt too. Nations around the world – including our own – have despatched rescue teams and supplies to the disaster zone. The US, literally, sent the marines yesterday. Global institutions have swung into action too. The World Food Programme plans to supply 15,000 tonnes of food to the survivors. And the World Health Organisation has sent specialists to help clear the streets of corpses.

But co-ordination is inevitably imperfect when so many different parties come together. The response to Haiti's tragedy reinforces the need for a permanent global relief agency, with the infrastructure, bureaucracy and funding in place to respond immediately to natural disasters around the world. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs tries its best, but it is essentially reliant on aid pledges from governments for funding.

Every time one of these disasters hits, it is forced to appeal for funds. The UN's Central Emergency Response Fund was established in the wake of the 2004 Asian tsunami to solve this problem. But it has not received the funding that it was promised. As we have seen, when disaster strikes, the collection tin still needs to come out.
A new global relief agency would not supplant the existing patchwork of charities and non-governmental organisations. But the work of these organisations would certainly be more effective if they were guided by an overseeing mind.

The world is full of chaotic governments and failed states, unable to provide for their people at the best of times, and doubly helpless in the wake of natural disaster. And this is likely to be a century in which such disasters are more frequent. Scientists predict an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events such as hurricanes and flooding as the climate grows warmer.

Natural disasters provoke feelings of horror and helplessness in us all. Such emotions are inevitable in the face of the sort of carnage on display in Haiti. But though horrified and helpless, we can make ourselves better prepared.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Great Google Coverup?

Is the search giant’s China firestorm a smokescreen for a far larger problem? Douglas Rushkoff on how your entire life, as stored on Google’s servers, may now be there for the taking.

by Douglas Rushkoff
The Daily Beast
Jan. 13, 2010

Google's actions just don't add up. In response to what they say they suspect was a Chinese government-supported cyberattack, including hacking into the Gmail accounts of human-rights activists, the search giant says it has had a change of heart about censoring Google results on behalf of the Chinese regime and may instead leave the country. Which logically makes about as much logical sense as invading Iraq in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks. And probably hides just as much real information about what the heck is actually going on.

If accepted at face value, Google's argument now—in a reversal of a policy it put in place five years ago—is that it wants to be a staunch defender of "free speech on the Web." Instead of cooperating with the Chinese government's repression of its people, Google now demands that China let it be Google—the relatively totally open corporate-owned index to the Web.

But then why the sudden wake up call? 

In this scenario, it's because Google realizes it is in bed with the bad guys. It has supported the actions of a regime that eventually turned on its online facilitator, Google. So Google is saying it is fine with repressive regimes as long as they don't repress Google without the company's knowledge.

No, that's even too stupid for a corporate communications department to imply. Which, to me, means there's more going on.

The first and most likely possibility is that Google is attempting to create a distraction. From what?

From the fact that some Chinese hackers broke into their servers and gained access to what was supposed to be secure private and corporate data. Get it? That means none of our stuff on Google's servers is safe.

Now this would be a big deal—especially for those of us who have already bought into Google's halcyon promise of a secure, always on, and always accessible "cloud" in which to do our computing. The company's bid to lure us out of our locally run Microsoft Office suites and off our closed corporate mail servers loses more than a bit of its luster. The cloud is still really just a bunch of servers, owned by someone or something, whose decisions and competence must be trusted.

This applies to everything from Google Docs to Gmail: 
Putting our data out there really means putting it "out there." For the first time, many of us Google converts feel like the cloud, where Google wants us to organize our personal and professional digital lives, is less secure than that encrypted hard drive under the desk.

So what is Google to do? Make sure that people don't believe that a few hackers could have accomplished such a feat. (And in case you didn't know, China has a few hundred thousand hackers for every one of ours. They gather outside their universities at lunch to discuss which corporate or government computer to try to break into, simply for the challenge.)

Instead of letting our minds even go there, Google blames the government. At least the Chinese government sounds big and scary and qualified enough to break into a few corporate servers—and surely they wouldn't be interested in any of America's companies or users. If they did, well, that would be real war. If it's true, at least it's something we can get our heads around and go to the United Nations and complain about.

But Google says it has some genuine reasons for believing that the Chinese government was involved in these attacks, and the international investigation now under way will reveal whether that evidence is legitimate, soon enough. So the biggest question becomes, why does Google believe its partner in repression—the Chinese government—is behind this violation of Chinese activists' and others' online privacy?

Sadly, I suspect it is because Google's collaboration with Chinese efforts to slow the Internet's democratizing effects may go deeper than limiting Web searches for “Dalai Lama” and “Tiananmen Square Massacre.”

Google publicly and famously surrendered the integrity of its searches to Chinese repression in order to do business there, and never provided a good enough rationale for breaking its pledge to do no evil. We have no way of knowing what the company surrendered technologically in its efforts to break into the fastest growing Internet market in the world. If the deal involved giving the Chinese government some level of access to the Chinese activity occurring on Google—as a way of verifying that their censorship deal was being adhered to—then perhaps this access could have been exploited, leading to the security breach.

So it's not that Google's cloud computing technology is so easily hackable, it's that Google's misguided partnership with a repressive regime is so easily exploitable. My concern—for Google and for us—is that the reason they know it's the Chinese government behind these attacks is because Google may have inadvertently given them the key.

Google rejects that possibility, claiming that they are just one of "over 20" companies that have been attacked by the Chinese. Of course, most of those companies aren't the Chinese government's online partners, like Google is. Lumping in the surveillance of specific Chinese activists using Gmail within China with the breach of a data center in Texas seems disingenuous. Meanwhile, cybersecurity experts are suggesting that by locating the servers for Chinese Gmail accounts in China, in buildings over which they had little control, Google made the servers vulnerable to physical wiretaps by the Chinese secret service, who could have gained access to the cables leading into and out of the facility. No matter how well scrambled, the packets can still be reassembled. That's not too reassuring, either. (Google did not respond to my request for comment yesterday.)

At least a conspiracy theory, in which Google willingly gave the Chinese authority over its clients' communications, offers the comfort of there being some human agency in all this. Just as we prefer to find out that a single pilot was drunk than that there's a problem with every plane in the sky, it is easier to contend with the notion that Google's young executives made a stupid decision by engaging with dictators than to consider the alternative: that the cloud being entrusted with an increasing amount of our banking, business, and everything else, is the for the taking.

Douglas Rushkoff, a professor of media studies at The New School University and producer and correspondent for the PBS Frontline Digital Nation project, is the author of numerous books, including Cyberia, ScreenAgers, Media Virus, and, most recently, Life Inc., released this month by Random House.


Saturday, January 09, 2010

Mumbai succumbs to a New Underworld
The Water Mafia

by Anuj Chopra
The National
South Asia
January 9,2010

MUMBAI - As night envelops Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, in the Indian city of Mumbai, two dozen dwellers sidle out of their shanties clutching steel ewers and plastic cans. They hurriedly clamber over a wrought iron railing fence, race across a tangle of railway tracks, braving speeding local trains, and crowd around a spigot in a desolate patch on the other side.

Soon the place is burbling with a feverish scramble for water. Amid fist fights and verbal blows, they take turns to fill their containers from the gushing spigot. Then they run back to empty them with relatives waiting on the other side of the railing, and sprint back for a refill.

Sitting on a concrete platform a short distance away, chewing tobacco, is Ravi Anna, recognised as a local goon who controls the spigot. He offers slum dwellers without water connections a chance to collect drinking water between 7pm and 10pm every day – for a fee.

To an outsider, the arrangement might sound entrepreneurial, except that this water is not his to sell. The spigot draws from a water tank belonging to the Indian Railways.

Such pilfering of water, rampant across this coastal metropolis which dreams of transforming itself into the “Shanghai of India”, has gone on for decades. But it is particularly menacing now as Mumbai struggles to slake the thirst of its ever-growing population.

The demand for water from Mumbai’s 12.5 million people is estimated at 4,550 million litres a day, but the city is only able to provide 2,900m litres.

Mumbai has received 30 per cent less rainfall compared to the previous year, depleting its water resources. Grim days lie ahead as civic authorities warn that the city’s major water reservoirs have only 71 billion litres of water, barely enough to last 200 days.

Water supply to homes has been cut by 15 per cent and across commercial establishments by 30 per cent. And the city is bracing itself for more cuts.

In its do-or-die bid to conserve water, the federal government announced last month that no water connection would be provided to new high-rise buildings until 2012, fuelling concerns among real estate developers over the future of upcoming construction projects worth US$250 billion (Dh918bn). It is also promoting water rationing across the city’s teeming slums, through water meters that make a fixed quota available for a fee.

Mumbai’s water deficit is evoking angry reactions from its citizens. Last month, more than 5,000 protesters gathered outside the offices of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the civic authority responsible for water supply, but were beaten back with batons by the police. One protester died in the clashes and a dozen others were injured.

Experts say such conflict over water is expected to rise around the world, emblematic of how climate change makes water supply less predictable as droughts and flash flooding become increasingly common.

“With the government blaming the rain gods, people are nearing the end of their patience and it won’t be long before they take the law into their own hands,” said N Raghuram, the editor of DNA, a daily newspaper.

To contain its water woes, the government is in the process of setting up three new water reservoirs to augment supply. It is also mulling over setting up a desalination plant to convert seawater into drinking water.

But these measures do not address the widespread pilfering, which claims one-fifth of the city’s water supply.

A water mafia operating commercial water tankers are believed to be creating an artificial scarcity in some suburbs to boost their business in connivance with some BMC officials.

In a recent sting operation conducted by a private news channel, journalists posing as potential buyers of water from a wedding party discovered private tankers queuing at a BMC pumping station to fill water that should have been pumped to the city’s denizens.

“It’s uncertain if the world would end as in Roland Emmerich’s 2012, but that water supply in Mumbai will come to naught if random pilferage isn’t stemmed, is a certainty,” said Mr Raghuram. “By simple arithmetic, if pilferage were to be checked, there would be no need for a water cut.”

The BMC says it has stepped up its pace of raiding areas where water theft is rampant

Anil Diggikar, the BMC’s additional commissioner, says since last month it has arrested 104 people, disconnected 742 illegal water connections and seized 327 booster pumps used to illegally siphon water from pipelines.

But stopping the theft is easier said than done.

In Dharavi, there is no one to police the pipelines, which are fissured in places and used by children to bathe, by bootleggers to make arrack and local leather factories for their business.

But there is no option but to filch water, says Khemissa Bano, a 40-year-old mother of two who lives in a tiny shack within whiffing distance of an open, litter-strewn sewer.

She cannot afford to get a tap connection in her shack or to buy water.

“What else can I do,” she said. “You can survive without food for a few days, but can you without water?”


Monday, January 04, 2010

The real Avatar story: Indigenous people fight to save their forest homes from corporate exploitation

by Jeremy Hance
December 22, 2009

Spoiler Alert: article reveals end of the film Avatar.

In James Cameron's newest film Avatar an alien tribe on a distant planet fights to save their forest home from human invaders bent on mining the planet. The mining company has brought in ex-marines for 'security' and will stop at nothing, not even genocide, to secure profits for its shareholders. While Cameron's film takes place on a planet sporting six-legged rhinos and massive flying lizards, the struggle between corporations and indigenous people is hardly science fiction.

For decades real indigenous tribes around the world have faced off with corporations—mining, logging, oil and gas—determined to exploit their land. These corporations, much like the company in the film, usually have support from the government and access to 'security forces', sometimes in the form of ex-military or state police. Yet unlike the film, in which the indigenous group triumphs over the corporate and military invaders, the real-life stories of indigenous tribes rarely end justly: from Peru to Malaysia to Ecuador their struggles continue.

Spears versus guns

Kayapo shaman in Brazil

In Avatar the indigenous tribe, called the Na'vi, use poison-tipped arrows to defend themselves against the guns, gas, and explosions used by the human invaders. Art imitates life: in June of this year, violence erupted in Peru as heavily-armed police clashed with indigenous protestors, some carried spears, others were unarmed.

The indigenous tribes were protesting nearly 100 new rules pushed through the Peruvian government—led by President Alan Garcia—that made it easier for foreign companies to exploit oil, gas, timber, and minerals on indigenous land. The violent skirmish that followed led to the deaths of 23 police officers and at least 10 indigenous people—with indigenous groups saying the government went to great lengths to hide/dispose of bodies to make it appear that fewer natives were killed. Bodies were allegedly dumped in rivers.

What is known is that 82 protesters suffered gunshot wounds and 120 in total were injured in the melee. Protesters say tear gas was used; in addition some say machine guns—shown in photos—were fired at them.

Peruvian security forces killing indigenous protesters in Peru. Photo © 2009 Marijke Deleu

Just weeks after the bloody incident, Texas-based Hunt Oil, with full support of the Peruvian government, moved into the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve with helicopters and large machinery for seismic testing. A scene not unlike Avatar, which shows a corporation entering indigenous territory with gun ships. The seismic testing alone involves 300 miles of testing trails, over 12,000 explosive charges, and 100 helicopter land pads in the middle of a largely-untouched and unknown region of the Amazonian rainforest. The reserve, which was created to protect native peoples' homes, may soon be turned into a land of oil scars. Indigenous groups say they were never properly consulted by Hunt Oil for use of their land.

Many of the rules put forth by the government that led to the protest have since been determined unconstitutional, while Garcia has rescinded two rules. Still Garcia says—as evidenced from Hunt Oil—that he plans to move forward with controversial oil and gas development on tribal lands in the Amazon.

Photos of an uncontacted tribe in the Terra Indigena Kampa e Isolados do Envira, Acre state, Brazil, near the border with Peru, caused a stir when they were released by Survival International, an NGO, in May 2008. The indigenous group is said to be threatened by oil exploration in the area. © Gleison Miranda/FUNAI.

Areas of the region slated for development are also home to uncontacted Amazonian tribes. Garcia has repeatedly called into question the existence of any such tribes, though aerial photos recently showed uncontacted natives armed with spears near the area in question. The leases under protest are a part of the Free Trade Agreement signed by both the United States and Canada.

In the film the Na'vi are dismissed as "blue monkeys" and "savages" by the corporate administrator. Both the corporation and their hired soldiers view the Na'vi as less than human.

In Peru, President Alan Garcia has called indigenous people "confused savages", "barbaric", "second-class citizens", "criminals", and "ignorant". He has even compared tribal groups to the nation's infamous terrorists, the Shining Path.

There is no end in sight in the struggle between the indigenous people of Peru and government-sanctioned corporate power.

Decades of oppression in Borneo: violence, rape, murder

In March 2006, the bulldozers belonging to Interhill, a Malaysian logging company, reached Ba Abang, a Penan village in the Middle Baram region.

Since the late 1980s, Interhill has been cutting down rainforests in a 55,000 hectare timber concession in Sarawak's Middle Baram region. Photos and captions by the Bruno Manser Fund

Across the world, another people are fighting to save their homes from corporate exploitation. The Penan people of Malaysian Borneo have suffered greatly from industrial loggers entering their ancestral home: not only has the tribe lost forest land and important tribal sites, including burial grounds, to bulldozers and chainsaws, but the Penan people have faced violence, rape, and even alleged murder.

The struggle began when industrial logging first appeared in the area in the 1980s and today shows no sign of abatement or resolution. In fact, a new threat has risen in recent decades as logged forests are swiftly turned into industrial oil palm plantations, excluding any chance of the natural forest returning after logging or of natives receiving their land back.

The Penan—some of whom live as nomadic hunter-gatherers in the forest—have fought corporate loggers through lawsuits and road barricades. In turn they faced violence from Malaysian police and security forces hired by powerful logging companies. Some even fear for their lives. In 2008 longtime Penan chief, Kelesau Naan, was allegedly murdered for his long activism against logging on tribal lands. When his body was finally found—after two months—it was discovered that several of his bones were broken, leading the Penan to believe he was murdered for his opposition to the destruction of his tribe's traditional lands. Prior to this, two Penan activists disappeared mysteriously in the 1990s and Swiss-activist, Bruno Manser, who fought long and hard for Penan rights, vanished in the region in 2000.

Recently, Penan girls have come forward to say that they were raped, beaten, and sexually abused by logging employees. A 110-page report released this year by the Malaysian Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development has documented their stories, while a government team investigating the matter stated that at least eight allegations of rape or sexual abuse were "certainly true". Girls as young as ten were assaulted and raped, some becoming pregnant. The Penan girls, who receive rides to-and-from school by loggers, have said that it was common to be sexually abused during these rides. Yet a probe by the police into the matter went nowhere due to lack of evidence.

Former regional Penan chief of the Upper Baram region, James Laloh Keso (center). Photo courtesy of the Bruno Manser Fund.

Just this month the rapes were dismissed by government official, James Masing, the Sarawak Minister for Land Development. The Minister told the BBC that in regards to the rapes the "Penan are very good story tellers. They change their stories, and when they feel like it."

Most recently, the Penan people have tried a new strategy to preserve their dwindling home. Seventeen tribes of the Penan declared a 'peace park' covering 163,000 hectares of their ancestral home in order to bring light to their situation and pressure the government to halt plans for logging in the area. The government refused to recognize the status of the peace park and logging is slated to continue.

Few indigenous people have faced more tragedy, despair, and humiliation over the past thirty years than the Penan.

The curse of oil

A battle of a different kind is ongoing in Ecuador. Oil giant Chevron is currently in a $27 billion lawsuit with Ecuadorian indigenous tribes for environmental damage caused by Texaco, a company acquired by Chevron in 2001. In court Texaco has admitted to dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic waste inside Ecuador's rainforest from 1964-1990. A court expert found contamination at every one of Texaco's former well sites, estimating oil damages 30 times larger than the infamous Exxon-Valdez spill and spanning an area the size of Rhode Island.

The case, known to some as the 'Amazon Chernobyl', involves 30,000 indigenous Ecuadorian plaintiffs. The toxic spill impacted six indigenous tribes, one of which has vanished entirely. The court has found that over 1,400 people have suffered untimely deaths from cancer due to contamination from the oil spill.

Despite these facts, Chevron has gone to great lengths to avoid reparations for environmental damage. In 2008 it was revealed that Chevron hired key political players, including former Senate majority leader Trent Lott and John McCain fund-raiser Wayne Berman to lobby United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab, members of Congress, and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte to threaten suspending US trade preferences with Ecuador until the lawsuit was dropped. But the corporation's attempt to use US political power to disenfranchise 30,000 indigenous people failed.

Then this September Chevron released a video that it said proved Ecuadorian officials, including the presiding judge, were taking bribes on the case. However, the video turned out to be a fake: the business man in the video is in fact a convicted drug felon and another person in the video is an Ecuadorian contractor who has received payments from Chevron. Both the bribe and the bribers in the video were faked and others appearing in the video say the footage was heavily edited. Chevron denies that they were in any way involved in making the video.

The lawsuit has been ongoing since 2003 and a ruling has not yet been made. But Chevron has stated publically that even if it loses the case it won't pay any damages.

"We're not paying and we're going to fight this for years if not decades into the future," according to Chevron spokesman Don Campbell.

This year a documentary Crude detailing the struggle by indigenous people to hold Chevron accountable was released in theatres. Chevron's responded with a PR campaign to disparage the film-maker and the indigenous victims [Editor's note: Chevron's PR efforts included posting comments on articles].

No happy Hollywood ending

Oil and gas blocks in the western Amazon. Solid yellow indicates blocks already leased out to companies. Hashed yellow indicates proposed blocks or blocks still in the negotiation phase. Protected areas shown are those considered strictly protected by the IUCN (categories I to III). Image courtesy of PLoS ONE

While the film Avatar ends with the indigenous aliens securing their home from corporate and military invaders, in reality that outcome is rare. Often these conflicts drag on for decades with the indigenous tribes, despite best efforts, tragically losing their home bit-by-bit. Forests are decimated, biodiversity lost, carbon released into the atmosphere, and the tribe is slowly weakened and destroyed from without, their culture and traditions attacked at the same time as their territory is knocked down.

Despite the repeated unjustness, rarely do these stories reach the mainstream media in the industrial world.

Companies act with impunity, devastating forests and homes in part to feed the insatiable appetites of developed and emerging economies for furniture, oil palm, gas, and crude oil.

While Avatar is a fun, showy film that many may view as simple sci-fi entertainment, the film clearly alludes to struggles and injustices that one doesn't need to travel across the galaxy to see, but are occurring right here on planet Earth.

Some notable organizations working with indigenous groups to secure their rights: Amazon Watch, Bruno Manser Fonds, Amazon Conservation Team, and Survival International


Use of Potentially Harmful Chemicals kept Secret Under Law

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 4, 2010; A01

Of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States -- from flame retardants in furniture to household cleaners -- nearly 20 percent are secret, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, their names and physical properties guarded from consumers and virtually all public officials under a little-known federal provision.

The policy was designed 33 years ago to protect trade secrets in a highly competitive industry. But critics -- including the Obama administration -- say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to.

At a time of increasing public demand for more information about chemical exposure, pressure is building on lawmakers to make it more difficult for manufacturers to cloak their products in secrecy. Congress is set to rewrite chemical regulations this year for the first time in a generation.

Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, manufacturers must report to the federal government new chemicals they intend to market. But the law exempts from public disclosure any information that could harm their bottom line.

Government officials, scientists and environmental groups say that manufacturers have exploited weaknesses in the law to claim secrecy for an ever-increasing number of chemicals. In the past several years, 95 percent of the notices for new chemicals sent to the government requested some secrecy, according to the Government Accountability Office. About 700 chemicals are introduced annually.

Some companies have successfully argued that the federal government should not only keep the names of their chemicals secret but also hide from public view the identities and addresses of the manufacturers.

"Even acknowledging what chemical is used or what is made at what facility could convey important information to competitors, and they can start to put the pieces together," said Mike Walls, vice president of the American Chemistry Council.

Although a number of the roughly 17,000 secret chemicals may be harmless, manufacturers have reported in mandatory notices to the government that many pose a "substantial risk" to public health or the environment. In March, for example, more than half of the 65 "substantial risk" reports filed with the Environmental Protection Agency involved secret chemicals.

"You have thousands of chemicals that potentially present risks to health and the environment," said Richard Wiles, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that documented the extent of the secret chemicals through public-records requests from the EPA. "It's impossible to run an effective regulatory program when so many of these chemicals are secret."

Of the secret chemicals, 151 are made in quantities of more than 1 million tons a year and 10 are used specifically in children's products, according to the EPA.

The identities of the chemicals are known to a handful of EPA employees who are legally barred from sharing that information with other federal officials, state health and environmental regulators, foreign governments, emergency responders and the public.

Last year, a Colorado nurse fell seriously ill after treating a worker involved at a chemical spill at a gas-drilling site. The man, who later recovered, appeared at a Durango hospital complaining of dizziness and nausea. His work boots were damp; he reeked of chemicals, the nurse said.

Two days later, the nurse, Cathy Behr, was fighting for her life. Her liver was failing and her lungs were filling with fluid. Behr said her doctors diagnosed chemical poisoning and called the manufacturer, Weatherford International, to find out what she might have been exposed to.

Weatherford provided safety information, including hazards, for the chemical, known as ZetaFlow. But because ZetaFlow has confidential status, the information did not include all of its ingredients.

Mark Stanley, group vice president for Weatherford's pumping and chemical services, said in a statement that the company made public all the information legally required.

"It is always in our company's best interest to provide information to the best of our ability," he said.

Behr said the full ingredient list should be released. "I'd really like to know what went wrong," said Behr, 57, who recovered but said she still has respiratory problems. "As citizens in a democracy, we ought to know what's happening around us."

The White House and environmental groups want Congress to force manufacturers to prove that a substance should be kept confidential. They also want federal officials to be able to share confidential information with state regulators and health officials, who carry out much of the EPA's work across the country.

Walls, of the American Chemistry Council, says manufacturers agree that federal officials should be able to share information with state regulators. Industry is also willing to discuss shifting the burden of proof for secrecy claims to the chemical makers, he said. The EPA must allow a claim unless it can prove within 90 days that disclosure would not harm business.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is trying to reduce secrecy.

A week after he arrived at the agency in July, Steve Owens, assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, ended confidentiality protection for 530 chemicals. In those cases, manufacturers had claimed secrecy for chemicals they had promoted by name on their Web sites or detailed in trade journals.

"People who were submitting information to the EPA saw that you can claim that virtually anything is confidential and get away with it," Owens said.

The handful of EPA officials privy to the identity of the chemicals do not have other information that could help them assess the risk, said Lynn Goldman, a former EPA official and a pediatrician and epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"Maybe they don't know there's been a water quality problem in New Jersey where the plant is located, or that the workers in the plant have had health problems," she said. "It just makes sense that the more people who are looking at it, they're better able to put one and one together and recognize problems."

Independent researchers, who often provide data to policymakers and regulators, also have been unable to study the secret chemicals.

Duke University chemist Heather Stapleton, who researches flame retardants, tried for months to identify a substance she had found in dust samples taken from homes in Boston.

Then, while attending a scientific conference, she happened to see the structure of a chemical she recognized as her mystery compound.

The substance is a chemical in "Firemaster 550," a product made by Chemtura Corp. for use in furniture and other products as a substitute for a flame retardant the company had quit making in 2004 because of health concerns.

Stapleton found that Firemaster 550 contains an ingredient similar in structure to a chemical -- Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP -- that Congress banned last year from children's products because it has been linked to reproductive problems and other health effects.

Chemtura, which claimed confidentiality for Firemaster 550, supplied the EPA with standard toxicity studies. The EPA has asked for additional data, which it is studying.

"My concern is we're using chemicals and we have no idea what the long-term effects might be or whether or not they're harmful," said Susan Klosterhaus, an environmental scientist at the San Francisco Estuary Institute who has published a journal article on the substance with Stapleton.

Chemtura officials said in a written statement that even though Firemaster 550 contains an ingredient structurally similar to DEHP does not mean it poses similar health risks.

They said the company strongly supports keeping sensitive business information out of public view. "This is essential for ensuring the long-term competitiveness of U.S. industry," the officials said in the statement.

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.