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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

4 Out of 5 Americans Struggling With Joblessness or Poverty

The AP is out with a big analysis today about how the American economy is increasingly delivering security and prosperity to only a tiny fraction of the population:
Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream…
Hardship is particularly on the rise among whites, based on several measures. Pessimism among that racial group about their families’ economic futures has climbed to the highest point since at least 1987. In the most recent AP-GfK poll, 63 percent of whites called the economy “poor.”
And here’s their working definition:
The gauge defines “economic insecurity” as a year or more of periodic joblessness, reliance on government aid such as food stamps or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. Measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent.
Probably the most striking finding here is just how many poor whites are out there:
Sometimes termed “the invisible poor” by demographers, lower-income whites are generally dispersed in suburbs as well as small rural towns, where more than 60 percent of the poor are white. Concentrated in Appalachia in the East, they are also numerous in the industrial Midwest and spread across America’s heartland, from Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma up through the Great Plains.
More than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation’s destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks.
It’s probably fair to say also that poor whites are overwhelmingly Republican, and in large part due to an overhang of racial resentment. After all, the New Deal coalition between poor Southern whites and rich urban liberals was built on racist oppression.

This is why I despair of analysis like Matt Yglesias’ or Sean Trende’s making the case the Republicans can keep winning with white voters alone (though NB that Trende doesn’t argue that this means the GOP doesn’t have to change). Because that does not bode well for our future.

I lived in South Africa for a time, where voting breaks down almost entirely by race. To a first approximation, blacks vote for the African National Congress, whites and Coloureds (the non-offensive term adopted by mixed-race people) vote for the Democratic Alliance. The upshot is that because blacks make up about 77 percent of the population the ANC has won every election with over 60% of the vote. (An outcome, I should add, that is the predicable outcome of the Apartheid state’s vicious racist terrorism.)

But the lack of political competition has been disastrous. Especially during the tenure of Thabo Mbeki, the whole South African government was shot through with corruption and rank incompetence, culminating in the 2008 power crisis. Single party states, outside of a few possible exceptions like Singapore, are a recipe for failure.

Gary Younge’s point is well-taken that poor whites’ party preferences probably just reflects the values that people have, and the fact that Democrats have become the party of Wall Street as much as the party of social insurance. But it would be a real tragedy if we ended up in an America where voting was determined by racial resentment, where each party just totted up the demographic totals of their loyal categories, and policy mattered only on the margins.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Lack of transparency undermines our democracy

 by Julian Assange
July 25, 2013

The federal parliament has received enormous attention in the past year not because of the eloquence of its debates but because the behavior in its chambers and in its back rooms has been so Machiavellian that the world has looked on in amazement.

What has been even more disappointing has been the stealth with which our elected representatives have worked together (often across party lines) to pass laws without proper public consultation. In the past month alone Labor and the Coalition have come under fire for agreeing to remove several federal departments from the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.

Commentators argue that Australians are sick of the childish and bullying behavior in Canberra but I think what Australians are really tired of is the way in which government in all its forms operates behind closed doors.

Whether it is superannuation entitlements for politicians or decisions about who should be prime minister, the doors in Canberra remain closed to the scrutiny of the average Australian.

The results are distrust and skepticism that anything enacted by the federal parliament is genuinely motivated by the wellbeing of all Australians.

According to classic notions of parliamentary government, the legislature imposes accountability on the executive government through legislation and inquiry. The original purpose of a parliamentary system is not only to represent voters but to ensure that the government is held to account for its actions between elections. This sort of accountability has been embarrassingly absent in Australian politics for years.

There is an implied assumption that all MPs should act in the interests of their electorate, but that doesn't mean they do. The WikiLeaks Party will demand that the policies and legislation debated in the two houses will be the same debate that goes on elsewhere in the building.

One of the first actions of the WikiLeaks Party in the Senate would be to insist that there be full disclosure of the asylum-seeker arrangements with the Papua New Guinea government that Kevin Rudd announced last Friday, including host arrangements; the provision of resources and details of adequate medical and psycho-social health resources and personnel; the construct of the refugee claims review process and of subsequent judicial review; and of the conditions of resettlement for those whose applications are successful.

Under the Migration Act 1958, Australia retains an obligation to Australia-bound asylum-seekers it may "transfer" to PNG. Considering PNG's developing country status, the Australian government must disclose how it will assist PNG to financially support resettled refugees.

WikiLeaks Party's core values of transparency, accountability and justice are the template against which we will examine any important issues for Australians: tax reform, asylum-seekers, climate-change policy and more. We will not accept legislation or government policy that is based on inaccurate, poorly disclosed or inadequate information. In this way our positions will always reflect fairness, good government policy and practice, and protecting the interests of all Australians.

True parliamentary democracy is a system that facilitates the obligation to dissent.

The WikiLeaks Party recognizes the need to scrutinize government activity and to defend the legislature against the executive government. We will stand as a constant reminder to MPs and senators that the proper function of the Senate is to be independent of the government of the day, something that has been forgotten in Canberra. The vigour of this scrutiny can be maintained only if the government does not hold a majority in the Senate.

The WikiLeaks Party is a party of investigation and oversight, at one with the Senate's constitutional ideals. WLP senators will act as agents of independent oversight precisely because we are not a party of government, of factional deals, of big business or of the environmental lobby.

Our senators will seek to ensure that all legislation reflects the WLP values: transparency, accountability and justice.

Putting the WLP in the Senate is the same as putting Australia's best investigative journalists in the Senate. That is what the dishonest Canberra establishment fears most.

Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks Party, is a federal Senate candidate for Victoria. 

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Refuse to let politicians use social issues to exploit us economically

Where the Hell Is the Outrage?

By Richard (RJ) Eskow
Campaign for America’s Future
July 11, 2013

From the first breath of life to the last, our lives are being stolen out from under us. From infant care and early education to Social Security and Medicare, the dominant economic ideology is demanding more lifelong sacrifices from the vulnerable to appease the gods of wealth.

Middle-class wages are stagnant. Unemployment is stalled at record levels. College education is leading to debt servitude and job insecurity. Millions of unemployed Americans have essentially been abandoned by their government.  Poverty is soaring. Bankers break the law with impunity, are bailed out, and go on breaking the law, richer than they were before.

And yet, bizarrely, the only Americans who seem to be seething with anger are the beneficiaries of this economic injustice — the wealthiest and most privileged among us.  But those who are suffering seem strangely passive.

As long as they stay that way, there will be no movement to repair these injustices. And the more these injustices are allowed to persist, the harder it will be to end them.

Where the hell is the outrage? And how can we start some?

John and Paul

Paul Krugman ruminated about inflation-free unemployment the other day, and he was feeling pretty grim. Krugman is frustrated that clear prescriptions for this kind of economy — prescriptions born in John Maynard Keynes’ day — aren’t being followed. What John proposed then, Paul’s proposing now.

But he’s not optimistic.  “We can probably have high unemployment and stable prices in Europe and America for a very long time,” writes Krugman, “and all the wise heads will insist that it’s all structural, and nothing can be done until the public accepts drastic cuts in the safety net.

One source for Krugman’s pessimism is the extensive political science research showing that “the level of unemployment matters hardly at all for elections; all that matters is the rate of change in the months leading up to the election.”

Krugman concludes that “high unemployment could become accepted as the new normal,” and worries that we’ll come to accept “a more or less permanent depression” as the norm — adding that “we could suffer endless, gratuitous suffering, yet the political and policy elite would feel no need to change its ways.”

Quiet in the streets

He’s right. A number of studies have linked political participation with economic conditions, typically with results like those Krugman describes.  But that doesn’t explain why Brazilians took to the streets in such large numbers recently.

A majority of Brazilians believe that their economy’s improving, according to a recent Pew survey. 59 percent of Brazilians rate their economy positively and 74 percent say their personal financial situation is good.  By contrast, the same organization’s most recent U.S. polling showed that only 46 percent of Americans said they believe the economy’s getting better, while 50 percent think it’s getting worse.

The polling says that Brazilian political unrest is driven by a divergence in goals and priorities between political leaders and the population, triggered by poor public services, bus fare increases, and the cost of hosting the World Cup.

A similar divergence of priorities exists in this country.  Washington’s been focused on deficit reduction, while the public wants more job creation and economic growth.  But Americans are quiescent.

U.S. voter turnout is extremely low when compared to other developed nations, even though we rank among the highest in terms of income inequality. And other forms of political expression are also under-used. The Occupy movement was originally very popular, for example, but most people were easily persuaded to abandon it and return to a state of quiet desperation.


Wealth inequity and other economic injustices are the product of deliberate policy choices — in taxation, Social Security, health care, financial regulation, education, and a number of other policy areas.  So why aren’t Americans taking action?

The “change” theories Krugman mentioned don’t tell the whole story. For one thing, it’s not true that the lives of the majority are frozen in an ugly stasis. Conditions continue to become objectively worse for the great majority of Americans. But these ongoing changes — in actual wages, in employment, in social mobility and wealth equity — have received very little media attention or meaningful political debate.

It’s not that things aren’t changing. It’s that people don’t know they’re changing. And without that knowledge the public becomes a canary in a coalmine, only aware of its declining oxygen supply when it keels over and dies.

It’s an almost classic state of alienation, in which people may be acutely aware of their own increasing difficulties (although sometimes they can be numb to that as well) but experience them in a state of isolation. That turns the anger inward, leading to crippling reactions like guilt and despair. And repeated individual failures — failures made increasingly likely in a skewed system — lead to a sense of learned helplessness.

The Radical Rich

Interestingly, the “change = political pressure” theory helps explain the rage of the “radical rich” who — despite their almost unprecedented lives of wealth and privilege — are articulating an anger which seems at first to be inexplicable. But they, unlike the vast majority, are experiencing perceptible (if minor) changes.

No current policy proposals would substantially affect their historic levels of wealth and privilege. But some Democratic policies would slightly discommode the ultra-wealthy, and conservative forces have been shrewd enough to trumpet that fact far and wide in a tone of barely suppressed hysteria.
The wealthy have already seen a cultural change, as the Occupy movement led to previously-unheard public criticisms of their riches and political influence. That helps explain today’s seemingly paradoxical political situation, in which the beleaguered majority accepts the injustices heaped upon them while coddled and ultra-wealthy Americans erupt in fury.

The Alienators

The media has failed to tell the story of our broken economy. The two-party system is failing, too, as corporate forces complete their corruption of the GOP and seize an ever-increasing chunk of the Democratic Party.

That’s one of the reasons why voter turnout may not be the best indicator of political awareness. Even pronounced financial hardship won’t result in increased turnout or participation in electoral politics if neither party is clearly articulating the majority’s needs or actively fighting for its interests.
Many politicians and pundits have also embraced the “structural unemployment” argument which says people have the wrong skills for the economy of today and tomorrow. But they told us the same thing in the 1960s, the 1970s …

In fact, they’ve said it for the last 50 years.

And yet technology jobs were down in last week’s jobs report. “Structural unemployment” is another way of telling you it’s your fault if you don’t have a job. It’s a lie.

The Exploiters Within

Even worse, decades of “Pimp My Ride”/”Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” acculturation have idealized the wealthy and have left the majority with a subliminal message: If you’re struggling economically, it’s your fault.

The leftist Brazilian educator Paolo Freire spoke of “internalizing the oppressor consciousness”: internalizing the values of those who colonize, rule, and exploit you, accepting their distorted, Matrix-like view of the world as an objective reality.

This can lead to agony, as well as continued exploitation. When I first began writing about illegal foreclosures in 2009 and 2010 — before bank fraud became common knowledge — I began receiving dozens of emails from bank victims saying, in essence, “I thought it was my fault” and “I thought I was the only one.” Some of them had contemplated suicide, which is the tragic end point of an “oppressor consciousness” within.  (I published some of those emails, with permission, in a piece called “Letters From Foreclosure Hell.”)

Books and films like The Pursuit of Happyness have delivered the message that anyone who’s struggling economically hasn’t been brave enough, bold enough, or smart enough, while movements like the Tea Party have mocked underwater homeowners and other victims of Wall Street fraud and predation.  (That movement was born in a “spontaneous” demonstration at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange led by financial snake-oil salesman Rick Santelli, in which pampered and taxpayer-rescued traders mocked Wall Street homeowner/victims as “Losers! Losers!”)

The last two Democratic Presidents have tried to have it both ways, exalting, deregulating, and pampering the wealthy while speaking the language of justice. That has weakened the Democratic “brand” and undermined public confidence in government, while failing to resolve our underlying economic problems. The rhetoric of “consensus” and “compromise” contributed to the decades-long rise in inequality.

As Paolo Friere said:  “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

Action Plan

So what do we do?

1. Expand our avenues of political expression: First, we need to remind ourselves that electoral politics is not the only productive avenue for political activism -that we need strong and independent voices and movements.

2. Refuse to let politicians use social issues to exploit us economically: We also need to reject the exploitation and manipulation of progressive values by corporatist politicians who use social issues like gay marriage and reproductive rights exactly the way Republicans do — to manipulate their own base into ignoring their own economic interests. Politicians who don’t take a stand on economic issues should be rejected, up and down the ticket.

3. Explain what is changing — and contrast what is with what should be: We need to do a better job of explaining what’s happening, so that we can make people aware of the harmful changes taking place all around them. And it’s not just about “change”: It’s also about contrast - between economic conditions as they are, and conditions as they should be and could be, if we can find the political will.

4. Expand the vocabulary of the possible: The “learned helplessness” outlook says “the rich and powerful always win; we don’t stand a chance.” History tells us otherwise.  From the American Revolution to the breaking up of the railroads, from Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting to FDR’s New Deal, from Ike’s Social Security and labor union expansion to LBJ’s Great Society victories, we need to remind ourselves of what we’ve accomplished under similar conditions.

5. Tell stories: And we need to tell stories — human stories. That’s why Tuesday night’s Bill Moyers special on PBS is so important. “Two American Families” tells the story of a white family and an African-American family in Milwaukee over two decades. Their stories bring home, in a personal way, the agony that has accompanied the destruction of middle-class jobs — a destruction that only happened because politicians made conscious policy decisions.

To explain, to provoke, to inspire, to tell stories is to begin the process of political change. As Paolo Friere said, “To speak a true word is to transform the world.” 


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Do you remember your history, the Prism revelations should not surprise you, Trapwire was just a taste of what is now coming.

Stratfor emails reveal secret, widespread TrapWire surveillance system
August 11, 2012

Former senior intelligence officials have created a detailed surveillance system more accurate than modern facial recognition technology — and have installed it across the US under the radar of most Americans, according to emails hacked by Anonymous.

Every few seconds, data picked up at surveillance points in major cities and landmarks across the United States are recorded digitally on the spot, then encrypted and instantaneously delivered to a fortified central database center at an undisclosed location to be aggregated with other intelligence. It’s part of a program called TrapWire and it's the brainchild of the Abraxas, a Northern Virginia company staffed with elite from America’s intelligence community. The employee roster at Arbaxas reads like a who’s who of agents once with the Pentagon, CIA and other government entities according to their public LinkedIn profiles, and the corporation's ties are assumed to go deeper than even documented.
The details on Abraxas and, to an even greater extent TrapWire, are scarce, however, and not without reason. For a program touted as a tool to thwart terrorism and monitor activity meant to be under wraps, its understandable that Abraxas would want the program’s public presence to be relatively limited. But thanks to last year’s hack of the Strategic Forecasting intelligence agency, or Stratfor, all of that is quickly changing.
Hacktivists aligned with the loose-knit Anonymous collective took credit for hacking Stratfor on Christmas Eve, 2011, in turn collecting what they claimed to be more than five million emails from within the company. WikiLeaks began releasing those emails as the Global Intelligence Files (GIF) earlier this year and, of those, several discussing the implementing of TrapWire in public spaces across the country were circulated on the Web this week after security researcher Justin Ferguson brought attention to the matter. At the same time, however, WikiLeaks was relentlessly assaulted by a barrage of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, crippling the whistleblower site and its mirrors, significantly cutting short the number of people who would otherwise have unfettered access to the emails.
On Wednesday, an administrator for the WikiLeaks Twitter account wrote that the site suspected that the motivation for the attacks could be that particularly sensitive Stratfor emails were about to be exposed. A hacker group called AntiLeaks soon after took credit for the assaults on WikiLeaks and mirrors of their content, equating the offensive as a protest against editor Julian Assange, “the head of a new breed of terrorist.” As those Stratfor files on TrapWire make their rounds online, though, talk of terrorism is only just beginning.
Mr. Ferguson and others have mirrored what are believed to be most recently-released Global Intelligence Files on external sites, but the original documents uploaded to WikiLeaks have been at times unavailable this week due to the continuing DDoS attacks. Late Thursday and early Friday this week, the GIF mirrors continues to go offline due to what is presumably more DDoS assaults. Australian activist Asher Wolf wrote on Twitter that the DDoS attacks flooding the servers of WikiLeaks supporter sites were reported to be dropping upwards of 40 gigabits of traffic per second. On Friday, WikiLeaks tweetedthat their own site was sustaining attacks of 10 Gb/second, adding, "Whoever is running it controls thousands of machines or is able to simulate them."
According to a press release (pdf) dated June 6, 2012, TrapWire is “designed to provide a simple yet powerful means of collecting and recording suspicious activity reports.” A system of interconnected nodes spot anything considered suspect and then input it into the system to be "analyzed and compared with data entered from other areas within a network for the purpose of identifying patterns of behavior that are indicative of pre-attack planning.”
In a 2009 email included in the Anonymous leak, Stratfor Vice President for Intelligence Fred Burton is alleged to write, “TrapWire is a technology solution predicated upon behavior patterns in red zones to identify surveillance. It helps you connect the dots over time and distance.” Burton formerly served with the US Diplomatic Security Service, and Abraxas’ staff includes other security experts with experience in and out of the Armed Forces.
What is believed to be a partnering agreement included in the Stratfor files from August 13, 2009 indicates that they signed a contract with Abraxas to provide them with analysis and reports of their TrapWire system (pdf).
“Suspicious activity reports from all facilities on the TrapWire network are aggregated in a central database and run through a rules engine that searches for patterns indicative of terrorist surveillance operations and other attack preparations,” Crime and Justice International magazine explains in a 2006 article on the program, one of the few publically circulated on the Abraxas product (pdf). “Any patterns detected – links among individuals, vehicles or activities – will be reported back to each affected facility. This information can also be shared with law enforcement organizations, enabling them to begin investigations into the suspected surveillance cell.”
In a 2005 interview with The Entrepreneur Center, Abraxas founder Richard “Hollis” Helms said his signature product “can collect information about people and vehicles that is more accurate than facial recognition, draw patterns, and do threat assessments of areas that may be under observation from terrorists.

He calls it “a proprietary technology designed to protect critical national infrastructure from a terrorist attack by detecting the pre-attack activities of the terrorist and enabling law enforcement to investigate and engage the terrorist long before an attack is executed,” and that, “The beauty of it is that we can protect an infinite number of facilities just as efficiently as we can one and we push information out to local law authorities automatically.”
An internal email from early 2011 included in the Global Intelligence Files has Stratfor’s Burton allegedlysaying the program can be used to “[walk] back and track the suspects from the get go w/facial recognition software.”
Since its inception, TrapWire has been implemented in most major American cities at selected high value targets (HVTs) and has appeared abroad as well. 

The iWatch monitoring system adopted by the Los Angeles Police Department (pdf) works in conjunction with TrapWire, as does the District of Columbia and the "See Something, Say Something" program conducted by law enforcement in New York City, which had 500 surveillance cameras linked to the system in 2010. Private properties including Las Vegas, Nevada casinos have subscribed to the system. The State of Texas reportedlyspent half a million dollars with an additional annual licensing fee of $150,000 to employ TrapWire, and the Pentagon and other military facilities have allegedly signed on as well.
In one email from 2010 leaked by Anonymous, Stratfor’s Fred Burton allegedly writes, “God Bless America. Now they have EVERY major HVT in CONUS, the UK, Canada, Vegas, Los Angeles, NYC as clients.” Files on reveal that the US Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense together awarded Abraxas and TrapWire more than one million dollars in only the past eleven months.
News of the widespread and largely secretive installation of TrapWire comes amidst a federal witch-hunt to crack down on leaks escaping Washington and at attempt to prosecute whistleblowers. Thomas Drake, a former agent with the NSA, has recently spoken openly about the government’s Trailblazer Project that was used to monitor private communication, and was charged under the Espionage Act for coming forth. Separately, former NSA tech director William Binney and others once with the agency have made claims in recent weeks that the feds have dossiers on every American, an allegation NSA Chief Keith Alexander dismissed during a speech at Def-Con last month in Vegas.