Category Archives: History

How a British company enabled mass spying


When it comes to sheer quantities of information hoovered up from the global data stream, the U.S. National Security Agency is a piker compared to Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters [GCHQ], as Edward Snowden’s leaks conclusively demonstrate.

In these videos from Britain’s Channel 4 News, the extent and scope of Britain’s monitoring is revealed, focusing on the island nation’s role as the central hub for the world’s network of data cables [a fact that is leading the BRICs nations to announce plans to develop their own cable system independent of the GCHQ-monitored cables].

As noted in a text story Channel 4 News posted online:

One of the UK’s largest communications firms had a leading role in creating the surveillance system exposed by Edward Snowden, it can be revealed.

Cable and Wireless even went as far as providing traffic from a rival foreign communications company, handing information sent by millions of internet users worldwide over to spies.

The firm, which was bought by Vodafone in July 2012, was part of a programme called Mastering the Internet, under which British spies used private companies to help them gather and store swathes of internet traffic; a quarter of which passes through the UK. Top secret documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by Channel 4 News show that GCHQ developed what it called “partnerships” with private companies under codenames. Cable and Wireless was called Gerontic.

Under the moniker, the company carried out tests on equipment used to carry out the surveillance, it came up with suggestions on how the spies could go about tapping its network, and even had a GCHQ employee working full-time within the company.

And a 2011 document reveals that Cable and Wireless went further. The company rented space on a cable owned by Indian telecoms company Reliance Communications that stretched from Asia across the Middle East and landed in Porthcurno in Cornwall. Reliance’s transatlantic cable lands in Sennen Cove six miles to the north. And the two cables come together at nearby Skewjack Farm. Documents show that in 2011, this allowed Britain’s spies to access all traffic from Reliance’s main cable and send it to the GCHQ base up the coast in Bude.

Top secret documents from GCHQ show it was this access point, codenamed Nigella and run by Cable and Wireless, that allowed Britain’s spies to gather the private communications of millions of internet users worldwide.

The first video examines the program itself and how it works.

From Channel 4 News:

Spy cable revealed: How telecoms firm worked with GCHQ

Program notes:

An unprecedented grab of personal data: this programme reveals that a communications firm not only handed over its own information to GCHQ, but also allowed access to the internet traffic of another telecoms company.

The second video features an aborted debate between a German member of parliament — Green Party legislator Konstanin von Notz — and former GCHQ Director Sir David Omand, a debate that ends abruptly when Omand storms out during questions over the controversy that erupted after it was revealed that the German provider serving the German government — including Chancellor Angela Merkel — was providing GCHQ access to its cables:

Sir David Omand walks out of live interview

Program notes:

Sir David Omand was debating German Green MP Konstantin von Notz, who is part of an inquiry into allegations that Angela Merkel’s conversations were intercepted by the NSA, on Channel 4 News’ main story.

InSecurityWatch: War, terror, spooks, hacks


We begin with the Guardian:

Ferguson protesters and police clash as grand jury decision nears

  • Police charge at demonstrators in freezing temperatures as Ferguson awaits decision on whether officer will be charged

Police in riot gear clashed with a small group of protesters in a sub-freezing Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday night, as tensions grew over a coming announcement on whether a white officer will be charged for killing an unarmed black 18-year-old.

About 50 officers wearing riot helmets and carrying batons and shields repeatedly charged at demonstrators, who were gathered outside the Ferguson police headquarters to demand the indictment of officer Darren Wilson, who shot dead Michael Brown on 9 August.

In the most serious confrontation since a grand jury decision on Wilson became imminent in mid-November, protesters sounded sirens, shouted abuse at police and revived chants of “hands up – don’t shoot” from the nights of unrest in the St Louis suburb after Brown’s death.

And elsewhere, from the Washington Post:

Fear of deadly ‘religious war’ between Jews and Muslims raised after synagogue attack

Israelis and Palestinians expressed fear Wednesday that their decades-old conflict was moving beyond the traditional nationalist struggle between two peoples fighting for their homelands and spiraling into a raw and far-reaching religious confrontation between Jews and Muslims.

The threat — perhaps more accurately the dread — of an incipient but deadly “religious war” was expressed by Muslim clerics, Christian leaders and Jewish Israelis one day after a pair of Palestinian assailants, wielding meat cleavers and a gun, killed five Israelis, including a prominent American Israeli rabbi, in a Jerusalem synagogue.

“All of us are scared that there will be a religious war, that extremists from both sides will start fighting each other,” said Oded Wiener, an Israeli Jew from the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land.

More from the Associated Press:

Israeli mayor’s ban on Arab workers ignites uproar

The mayor of a southern Israeli city sparked a national uproar Thursday by barring Israeli Arab construction workers from jobs in local preschools, citing security concerns after a rash of attacks by Palestinian assailants elsewhere in the country.

The proposal was condemned as racist by Israeli leaders, but it reflected the tense mood in the country and deepened longstanding divisions between the nation’s Jewish majority and Arab minority. An opinion poll showed solid public support for the measure.

Israel has been on edge following a wave of Palestinian attacks that has killed 11 people over the past month, including five this week in a bloody assault on a Jerusalem synagogue. Most of the attacks have occurred in Jerusalem — whose population is roughly one-third Palestinian — with deadly stabbings in Tel Aviv and the West Bank as well.

From The Hill, a hint of things to come:

Pentagon, in reversal, won’t wait for Congress to deploy Iraq troops

The Pentagon said Thursday that it would begin deploying 1,500 new troops to Iraq “in the next weeks” without first securing funding from Congress, reversing previous comments.

“We can deploy troops to the theater, but — so that — that process can and will continue,” said Defense Department press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.
Kirby also said Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, has also moved about 50 U.S. forces within Iraq to Anbar Province to get a “jump start” on expanding the advise-and-assist mission, as well as starting to train Iraqi forces in their fight against Islamic militants.

“But it doesn’t mean that we still don’t need the authorization in terms of the resources that will go with the much more robust program that we’re trying to get done,” Kirby said. “He can start it and he is.”

The origins of the specie, via the McClatchy Foreign Staff:

Islamic State reportedly buying silver, gold as it prepares to issue currency

The Islamic State is accumulating gold, silver and copper in markets throughout northern and western Iraq, dealers report, in an apparent effort to stockpile enough precious metal to follow through on a pledge to mint its own currency.

On Nov. 11, the Islamic State’s Beit al Mal, an ancient Islamic term akin to “Department of Treasury,” announced that the group would reintroduce the dinar currency of the Umayyad Caliphate, which ruled an empire that stretched from modern Iran to Spain for much of the seventh and eighth centuries. The announcement – which included images of three types of coins in gold, copper and silver – drew skepticism from experts, who doubted that the Islamic State could arrange a system to mint and issue a modern currency.

But interviews with dealers in precious metals indicate that the Islamic State has begun the complex process of issuing the currency, a reminder that as the best-financed non-state actor in history – with a revenue stream from oil sales and aggressive taxation – it’s been able to install bureaucratic controls over the large swath of territory it’s claimed in Iraq and Syria.

From the Guardian, commitment:

French Isis fighters filmed burning passports and calling for terror at home

  • Emergence of video showing four men comes as France reels from the identification of two of its nationals partaking in a mass beheading in Syria

A film released by Islamic State (Isis) shows jihadi fighters burning French passports and calling on others to bring terror to the streets of the European country.

Released by one of Isis’s main media outlets, Al Hayat, the video shows four men who purport to be from France, including three who deliver messages in French to camera.

Burning what appear to be several French passports in a campfire, a masked man can be heard saying: “We disbelieve in you and your passports, and if you come here we will fight you.”

The Guardian brings it on home:

Three men planned Isis-inspired public beheading, court hears

  • Nadir Ali Sayed, Yousaf Shah Syed and Haseeb Hamayoon charged over alleged plot to decapitate member of public with knives

Three men were preparing a terrorist plot to behead a member of the public, inspired by the propaganda of Islamic State militants, a court has heard .

The men were arrested a fortnight ago, shortly before Remembrance Sunday, and were preparing to carry out an imminent plan to decapitate a person with knives, Westminster magistrates court was told on Thursday.

Nadir Ali Sayed, 21, from Hounslow, west London, Yousaf Shah Syed, 19, from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and Haseeb Hamayoon, 27, from Hayes, west London, are accused of planning acts of terrorism.

And the McClatchy Washington Bureau covers death from afar:

Use of drones against Islamic State changes the meaning of warfare

In America’s war against the Islamic State, many of those fighting sit in a dark, cold room and stare at computer screens for 12 hours at a stretch.

There are dozens of them, men and women, each wearing camouflage, looking for suspected Iraqi and Syrian jihadists scurrying across the screen. If something changes on the screen – a group of dark figures crossing a street, a string of vehicles racing down a road – they pass the information to another pilot, who might decide to open fire with a Hellfire missile or an electronically guided bomb.

The greatest combat hazard they face is from the Red Bull and other sugary drinks they devour to stay awake; their unit has the worst rate of cavities in the Air Force.

“I would rather be deployed,” said Capt. Jennifer, a reservist and intelligence analyst whose full name the Air Force withheld for security reasons. “My daughter calls me because she is sick and I have to pick her up from school. When I am deployed forward I am deployed. I don’t have to worry about the day-to-day.”

Cyberwar, via the Washington Post:

Foreign powers steal data on critical U.S. infrastructure, NSA chief says

Several foreign countries, including China, have infiltrated the computers of critical industries in the United States to steal information that could be used in the planning of a destructive attack, the director of the National Security Agency said Thursday.

That was one of the cyberthreats outlined at a congressional hearing by Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who also said he expects criminal gangs may become proxies for nations carrying out attacks on other nations.

“There are multiple nation states that have the capability and have been on the [industrial] systems,” he said before the House Intelligence Committee.

From the New York Times, gee, what a surprise:

N.S.A. Phone Data Collection Could Go On, Even if a Law Expires

A little-known provision of the Patriot Act, overlooked by lawmakers and administration officials alike, appears to give President Obama a possible way to keep the National Security Agency’s bulk phone records program going indefinitely — even if Congress allows the law on which it is based to expire next year.

Senate Republicans on Tuesday night used a filibuster to block consideration of a bill to end and replace the N.S.A. phone records program. The debate about what may happen next has played out based on a widely held premise: that the legal basis for the program, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, will expire on June 1, so if Congress remains gridlocked, the program will automatically shut down.

“I believe that if we do not pass this bill, the metadata program is at risk because the 215 program sunsets next year,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said in Tuesday night’s debate. But that premise may be incorrect. If the summer arrives and the program is facing a shutdown, Mr. Obama could invoke the provision to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to keep it going.

From the Associated Press via the Japan Times, notable:

Years before the Snowden revelations, senior NSA codebreaker objected to mass surveillance program

Years before Edward Snowden sparked a public outcry with the disclosure that the National Security Agency had been secretly collecting American telephone records, some NSA executives voiced strong objections to the program, current and former intelligence officials say. The program exceeded the agency’s mandate to focus on foreign spying and would do little to stop terror plots, the executives argued.

The 2009 dissent, led by a senior NSA official and embraced by others at the agency, prompted the Obama administration to consider, but ultimately abandon, a plan to stop gathering the records.

The secret internal debate has not been previously reported. The Senate on Tuesday rejected an administration proposal that would have curbed the program and left the records in the hands of telephone companies rather than the government. That would be an arrangement similar to the one the administration quietly rejected in 2009.

The now-retired NSA official, a longtime code-breaker who rose to top management, had just learned in 2009 about the top-secret program that was created shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the U.S. He says he argued to then-NSA Director Keith Alexander that storing the calling records of nearly every American fundamentally changed the character of the agency, which is supposed to eavesdrop on foreigners, not Americans.

From the Washington Post, piping down:

Utah legislature considers shutting off NSA’s water

A Utah state legislative committee will consider a bill that could eventually cut off millions of gallons of water for a major National Security Agency facility south of Salt Lake City as a protest against the mass collection of Americans’ data.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Marc Roberts (R), would prohibit any municipality from providing “material support or assistance in any form to any federal data collection and surveillance agency.”

That’s a barely veiled reference to the Utah Data Center, a massive collection facility operated by the NSA in Bluffdale, a small suburb of Salt Lake City. The facility, completed last year at a cost of about $1.7 billion, houses super computers that require 65 megawatts of power, enough to power about 33,000 homes, according to the Associated Press.

Homeland Security News Wire sounds an alarm:

NSA director: China and “one or two” other nations can damage U.S. critical infrastructure

Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. Cyber Command, told lawmakers yesterday that China and “one or two” other countries are capable of mounting cyberattacks which would paralyze the U.S electric grid and other critical infrastructure systems across the country.

A cyberattacks of such scope has been discussed in the past – it was even dubbed a “cyber Pearl Harbor” – but Rogers was the first high official to confirm that such a crippling attack on the United States was not a mere speculation.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Rogers, speaking at a hearing of the House intelligence committee, said U.S. adversaries are conducting electronic “reconnaissance” on a regular basis so that they will be well-positioned to damage and disrupt the industrial control systems which run chemical facilities, nuclear power plants, water treatment facilities, dams, and much more.

On a similar note and interesting time, from Sky News:

NATO’s Cyber War Games Amid Surge In Attacks

  • NATO faces cyber attacks almost daily, data shows, as Sky News gains access to the organisation’s biggest ever security exercise

NATO’s computer servers are detecting 200 million suspicious cyber events every single day, the alliance has revealed.

On average the military organisation is the victim of five major cyber attacks each week and that has increased “significantly” since Russian aggression in Ukraine started. The figures were published as NATO carried out its biggest ever cyber security exercise involving hundreds of computer analysts.

The three-day event, taking in 28 nations, was held on a former Soviet base in the city of Tartu, close to the Russian border.

The Washington Post covers considerately:

CIA Director John Brennan considering sweeping organizational changes

CIA Director John Brennan is considering sweeping organizational changes that could include breaking up the separate spying and analysis divisions that have been in place for decades to create hybrid units focused on individual regions and threats to U.S. security, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said.

The proposal would essentially replicate the structure of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and other similar entities in the agency — an idea that reflects the CTC’s expanded role and influence since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

U.S. officials emphasized that the proposal is in its preliminary stages, and could still be scaled back or even discarded. Already the idea has encountered opposition from current and former officials who have voiced concern that it would be too disruptive and might jeopardize critical capabilities and expertise.

And from the London Telegraph, an ominous development in Old Blighty:

Theresa May to give MI5 and police power to force terror suspects to move

  • Terror suspects will be forced to move towns and leave their associates behind under plans to revive relocation powers

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is to give police and the security services the power to force terror suspects to move to towns far away from their homes as she restores a key element of control orders.

The ability to relocate suspects to other areas was abandoned when control orders were replaced by the weaker terrorism prevention and investigation measures (Tpims) following a series of court rulings.

The Conservatives said that they wanted to re-introduce them earlier this year amid growing concerns about British jihadists returning from Syria and Iraq, but were met with opposition from the Liberal Democrats.

After the jump, British cops snooping on the press, a very curious California prosecution, curious customers of American spyware makers, allegations of security cam hacking by the Russians, Cuban slams cyberwar attacks, an Assange appeal denied, Gitmo detainees get gone, automotivation for cyberterror, a Colombian kidnap resolution mooted, Chilean justice long delayed, China and Russia strengthen military ties, signs of a split in the Hong Kong Occupy movement, a momentary Great Firewall loosening, Tokyo and Washington play war games, and a critical take on Greenwald’s technomyopia. . . Continue reading

Farewell Mike Nichols, a uniquely American artist


Mike Nichols is gone. Comedian, writer, actor, writer, playwright, director, and producer, he left an indelible mark on the American performing arts.

From his obituary in today’s New York Times:

Mike Nichols, one of America’s most celebrated directors, whose long, protean résumé of critic- and crowd-pleasing work earned him adulation both on Broadway and in Hollywood, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 83.

His death was announced by James Goldston, the president of ABC News. Mr. Nichols was married to the ABC broadcaster Diane Sawyer. A network spokeswoman said the cause was cardiac arrest, giving no other details.

Dryly urbane, Mr. Nichols had a gift for communicating with actors and a keen comic timing, which he honed early in his career as half of the popular sketch-comedy team Nichols and May. An immigrant whose work was marked by trenchant perceptions of American culture, he achieved — in films like “The Graduate,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Carnal Knowledge” and in comedies and dramas on stage — what Orson Welles and Elia Kazan but few if any other directors have: popular and artistic success in both film and theater.

An almost ritual prize-winner, he was one of only a dozen or so people to have won an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy and a Grammy.

But it is for his earliest success as partner with Elaine May in one of America’s greatest ever comic duos that we will forever remember him fondly.

So with that, here’s a repost of an offering from 22 January 2013:

Mike Nichols & Elaine May: Comedy that stings

For a kid growing up in small town Kansas in the 1950s, television ushered in a new world, full of both terrors and delights.

As a member of the very first wave of what became the Baby Boom, we arrived before the boob tube’s presence became ubiquitous, and when Dad brought home a pair of boxes, one cubical and the other long and narrow, our world paradigm shifted dramatically.

The cube contained a black and white television set, and the oblong box an antenna kit.

Dad cobbled the antenna together inside attic of our two-story home, running the lead down through to wall to the living room two floors down.

Our neighbors, a reclusive elderly couple, had been forced to put up a tall steel tower reaching up about 50 feet before they could grab a decent signal, but somehow Dad’s inspiration worked, and we had television that night.

Our life was never the same.

The fears came through the endless news stories about nuclear bomb tests and the latest Cold-and-growing-hotter War confrontations.

The delights came in the form of brilliant and mostly Jewish comedians, offering a view of the world that zeroed in on the same insanely macabre contradictions we had just begun to discover at the ripe old age of six.

Sid Caesar and his troupe were the reigning stars [how could they not be, with a crew of writers that included the likes of Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, and Carl Reiner]. The show’s cast was legendary. And to top it all off, they did it every week live in prime time.

From Your Show of Shows, Caesar appears with Carl Reiner and Howard Morris [“Uncle Goopy”] in a parody of one of television’s earliest hits, This is Your Life, where an unsuspecting audience member was plucked from obscurity and bombarded with people from her past. In this parody, the show takes the unexpected turn every kid secretly hoped would happen.

“This is Your Story”:

While Caesar and his crew painted in a broad brush with roots in vaudeville and the Catskills, two other comics brought a rapier wit and an edgier, more cerebral nightclub tone. And their targets were typically institutions, and they targeted their most corrosive effects.

Mike Nichols and Elaine May were simply brilliant, both witty and masters of the secrets of timing. It’s not surprising both went on to direct. While Caesar brought the pure catharsis of the belly laugh, Nichols and May left you thinking after the laughter had subsided.

Here they tackle a subject brought to the national attention by East Bay writer Jessica Mitford in her searing 1963 expose of the American funeral industry, The American Way of Death. The venue is The Tonight Show, then hosted by Jack Paar.

“The $65 Funeral”:

And here’s a subject near and dear to our own heart of late.

“At the Hospital”:

Finally, Nichols and May bite the hands that feed them in this wonderful little sketch they presented at the 1959 Emmy awards:

And now for something completely different. . .


And that would be the Theremin, the instrument you play by keeping your goshdarn hands off it!

Invented in 1928 by Lev Sergeyevich Termen [Westernized to Léon Theremin], a largely self-taught Russian electrical engineer and inventor, the theremin is played by moving your hands closer and farther away from two antennae, one regulating frequency and the other amplitude or volume.

Here, from a Soviet film, is a performance the inventor himself via vlogger slonikyouth:

Leon Theremin playing his own instrument

We first because aware of the instrument though its presence in the sound tracks of the science fiction films and space operas we loved as a kid. In those pre-digital synthesizer days, only the theremin could produce those otherworldly sounds so appropriate to otherworldly films.

Here’s a thermin-scored clip from a 1951 film we loved, The Day the Earth Stood Still:

And here’s the composer of that score in a 1956 appearance on the Johnny Carson Show [not the Tonight Show, but an earlier talk show Carson hosted], via theremin artist Peter Pringle:

Johnny Carson Plays THEREMIN

Program notes:

This is an appearance that thereminist Dr. Samuel Hoffman made on the JOHNNY CARSON SHOW in 1956. The 1929 RCA theremin you see in this clip is currently in my collection.

And here’s Pringle himself, playing a theremin featuring a truly magnificent [speaker that we’d just love so have for ourselves]:

Mozart Theremin Concerto

Program notes:

This is the main theme from the “andante” movement of Mozart’s piano concerto #21 in C major (K. 467). The theme was used in the soundtrack of the 1967 Swedish film, ELVIRA MADIGAN, and since then it has been called “The Elvira Madigan Concerto”.

This is a theremin transcription of the theme played on the Moog Ethervox.

Here’s another latter-day theremin artist, Randy George, in a dimly lit performance of a work by Claude Debussy:

Clair de Lune – Randy George, theremin

Program notes:

Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy. Randy George, theremin.

For a higher quality viewing and listening of this video, I made a download available. I remastered the audio and video in March 2013 and compressed a higher resolution mp4. download it here (106MB): http://bit.ly/cdlRGM

My Facebook Page:
http://www.facebook.com/randygeorgemusic

If you are new to the theremin, please discover it in more depth. It is the most fascinating musical instrument in the world (when played as it was originally intended).

The theremin entered my life seven years ago. It has been a tremendously challenging journey, but it is immensely rewarding. The theremin is absolutely deceptively difficult to play with musical precision and finesse.

Clara Rockmore introduced the theremin to the world as a serious musical instrument. Over the course of recent music history, this expressive voice was forgotten.

I feel it’s definitely time to reconnect with the roots of the instrument. With these classical theremin videos, I hope to light the way back home.

Finally, to take things to an absurd extreme, from Japanese vloogger mandarinelectron, a mass performance by nearly 300 folks who play theremin bulk to look like those nesting Russian matryoshka dolls:

“Symphony No.9, Boogie” by Matryomin ensemble “Da”

Program notes:

Recorded at auditorium of Jiyugakuen Myonichikan in Tokyo on 22 Jan. 2011.

MexicoWatch: Protests, hubris, anger, & threats


We start with an infuriating story from teleSUR, infuriating because uniformed armed thugs hauling students off a bus with threats is exactly what led to the disappearance of those 43 students:

Mexican Soldiers Intimidate, Threaten Students Outside Iguala

The army troops stopped a bus and threatened students from the Vicente Guerrero Teacher Training School.

At a checkpoint south of Iguala in the southern violent state of Guerrero, members of the 27th Infantry Battalion of the Mexican Army on Tuesday ordered the bus driver to stop and told the Teloloapan students to get off.

The soldiers lined the students up facing the bus, where they searched them and made insulting, humiliating remarks, especially to the young girls. They threatened the entire group, around 30 students in all, for more than an hour.

The troops specifically  warned the students that they’d better stop making trouble about the disappeared Ayotzinapa students, and then took pictures of each person. Afterward, they ordered them to go back to their school without causing any problems in Iguala.

And the accompanying video report:

Mexican Students intimidated and photographed by army yesterday

Program notes:

Yesterday in the Mexican state of Guerrero, a busload of students returning from a protest in solidarity with the Ayotinapa 43 (teaching college students who were kidnapped in late September by corrupt authorities in Iguala) was stopped by the army, who forced the students out of the bus, intimidated them, and told them to stop protesting, before photographing them and sending then back on their way. Also yesterday, parents of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students recurred to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, with whom they signed a contract. The OAS has pledged to help protect the families from danger, and to help continue the search for their children.

And then there’s strange silence of the media and public temper north of the border via the Chicago Tribune:

Americans ignore the mass murder of students that is roiling Mexico

The violent disappearance of 43 students from a rural teachers college in Guerrero state has caused a political earthquake the likes of which Mexico has not seen in generations — perhaps even since the revolution of 1910.

That makes it all the more baffling how little attention most people in the U.S. have paid to the unfolding tragedy. To understand the historical significance — and the moral and political gravity — of what is occurring, think of 9/11, of Sandy Hook, of the day JFK was assassinated. Mexico is a nation in shock — horrified, pained, bewildered.

These emotions have been swelling since late September, but have become overpowering since Nov. 10. That’s when Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam held a news conference to detail the federal government’s investigation into the students’ disappearance, a probe that relies heavily on witness testimony from men who allegedly participated in their murders.

Next, via teleSUR, a notable cancellation:

Protests for Ayotzinapa Cancel Mexico’s Official Revolution Parade

Mexico’s Interior Minister announced the cancellation of Thursday’s parade celebrating Mexico’s 1910 revolution, as a mass strike for the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa will occur on the same day

The traditional official celebrations and military parade organized to commemorate Mexico’s 1910 revolution will be moved from the Zocalo square to a military installation in the Polanco neighborhood of the Mexican Capital this Thursday, announced Mexico’s Interior Minister, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong on Wednesday evening.

“November 20 is a date that we Mexicans celebrate the beginning of our revolution. This time, it was decided that the celebration will not be accompanied by the traditional festivities and parade,” said the minister.

“The Interior Ministry reports that the commemoration of November 20 will consist of a decorations ceremony and promotions of active military personnel from the Defense Ministry and Navy, which will be held in the Base Marte,” he added.

Bringing it home, via the Latin American Herald Tribune:

Teachers Take Over Judicial Branch HQ in Mexico Protest Over Disappeared

Teachers in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero on Tuesday took over the state judicial branch headquarters and held workers there for four hours as part of protests associated with the disappearance of 43 teaching students.

About 500 members of Guerrero’s state education workers coordinator, or CETEG, took over the Judicial Complex, which houses the offices of the state supreme court in Chilpancingo, the state capital.

The teachers demanded the release of “political prisoners” and the annulment of arrest warrants that, CETEG said, have been issued for their members for recent violent acts that were part of the protests over the students’ disappearance.

And from teleSUR English, national strike coming:

Mexico: national student strike planned in solidarity with Ayotzinapa

Program notes:

In Mexico, public universities and teacher training colleges across the country are organizing for a 24-hour strike to take place on Thursday November 20 to demand the safe return of the 43 missing students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college who were kidnapped on September 26.

From Reuters, presidential arrogance at its worst:

Mexico president sees anti-government motive in massacre protests

Grappling with outrage over violence and impunity after the apparent massacre of 43 trainee teachers, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Tuesday accused unspecified groups of seeking to destabilize his government.

Protest marches over the crime, which the government has blamed on corrupt police in league with a drug gang and city officials, have overshadowed Pena Nieto’s efforts to boost years of sub-par economic growth via a raft of economic reforms.

“Structural reforms and big changes have … without doubt affected interests of those who have much and of others who oppose our nation-building project,” Pena Nieto said.

“We have seen violent movements which hide behind the grief (over the missing students) to stage protests, the aim of which at times is unclear,” he added. “They seem to obey interests to generate instability, to foment social unrest.”

Solidarity in Southern California from the Los Angeles Times:

Missing Mexico students: ‘We want them alive,’ L.A. activists chant

Standing in front of photos of 43 missing students in the Mexican state of Guerrero, activists and community members gathered across the street from the Consulate General of Mexico in Los Angeles on Wednesday chanting: “Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos.”

“They were taken alive, we want them alive.”

Immigrant and human rights groups called on people to stand in solidarity with Mexico and the students who went missing in Iguala, Guerrero, on Sept. 26, and are presumed to likely be dead.

And a reminder, via Vice News:

There Are More than 43 Missing People in Guerrero and Mexico’s Military May Have a Role

There are more than 43 families looking for their missing sons and daughters in Guerrero, Mexico. The Pita family is one of them.

Felix and Guadalupe Pita’s son, Lenin Vladimir Pita, was 17 when he disappeared on March 1, 2010. He went missing in Iguala, the same city where 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School vanished eight weeks ago.

“Talking about my son breaks my heart,” Felix Pita, a weather-worn man with greying hair and a gravelly voice, told VICE News. “If they could take my son, they can take more. I have been told that they kidnap them and make them work or they sell them to hitmen.”

On a related note, via teleSUR:

Dozen Mexican Mayors under Investigation for Drug Links

The Iguala mayor who was arrested for allegedly masterminding the forced disappearances of 43 students in September is among a dozen Mexican mayors currently under investigation for corruption

Twelve mayors have been investigated between January and July of this year for alleged links to criminal groups, Mexican federal intelligence sources told the Milenio newspaper Monday.

The investigation describes the mayors as “objects of special attention,” and their daily activities are being monitored.

The 12 mayors include four from the ruling center-right Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and eight from the center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), including the mayor of Iguala Jose Luis Abarca.

And a video report from Deutsche Welle:

Mexico – The state and the drug cartels

Program notes:

The disappearance of 43 students in Mexico is symptomatic of much larger problems in the country: widespread corruption and drug-related violence. Many people feel their government can’t protect them.

From Reuters, oh, the poor baby:

Mexico’s first lady says will sell house at center of scandal

Mexico’s first lady said on Tuesday she would give up a house at the center of a scandal that created a potential conflict of interest between President Enrique Pena Nieto and a company bidding for a lucrative rail contract.

The Mexican government this month abruptly cancelled a $3.75-billion high speed rail contract awarded to a consortium led by China Railway Construction Corp Ltd that featured a Mexican company known as Grupo Higa.

It then emerged that a subsidiary of Grupo Higa owned a luxury house that Pena Nieto’s wife Angelica Rivera was in the process of acquiring, raising questions about the tender.

In a televised statement, Rivera, who was one of Mexico’s most popular soap actresses before marrying Pena Nieto in 2010, said she had paid off about 14.3 million pesos ($1.05 million) of the value of the house and would sell her stake to settle any outstanding questions about the matter.

Next, via teleSUR, filling in the memory hole:

Mexican Museum to House Ayotzinapa Exhibition

The Museum of Memory’s objective is to highlight crimes against humanity perpetrated by authoritarian groups and governments

The Mexican Museum of Memory and Tolerance will hold a 2015 exhibition about the murders, executions, disappearances and the impunity afflicting Mexico. It will feature the tragic events of the 43 missing students in Ayotzinapa.

The museum, which opened in 2010, seeks to preserve the historical memory of the most shocking crimes against humanity. It houses exhibitions about the Nazi holocaust, the genocides in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and massacres in Guatemala, among others.

According to its director, Shanon Zaga, 2015 will be the year the museum will focus on the crimes against humanity undertaken in Mexico itself.

Exhibitions will range from the 1968 Tlatelolco student massacre, to the the mass murder of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez in past decades. Most pressingly, one of the exhibits will focus on the recent events of the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa.

And to close, via CCTV America, corporate angst:

Protests over missing students affect private investment in Mexico

Program notes:

Mexico’s sputtering economy is facing more challenges following recent demonstrations over to the fate of 43 college students missing and presumed killed in a September mass abduction in Guerreo state, in the southern part of the country. CCTV America’s Franc Contreras reported this story from Mexico City.

Protests challenge California, British tuition hikes


The desideratum of the neoliberal regimes governing on both sides of the Atlantic can be summed up simply: It is the abolition of any barriers toi the infinite accumulation of wealth by that the very apex of an increasingly rigid and increasingly steep class hierarchy.

Two graphics drawn on the work of Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez and colleagues sum up the reality:

First, the hyperconcentration of wealth by the American elite, via VoxEU:

BLOG wealth

Second, evidence that a parallel process is at work in Europe as well, most notably the U.K., via the London School of Economics:

Print

One major factor in this process of hyperaccumulation is the deconstruction of progressive income tax and the replacement of lost revenues by regressive taxation that penalizes the porr and, increasingly, middle classes.

And one major initiative has been the replacement of student tuition and fees to replace lost tax revenues, with the result that student costs are soaring at rates far higher than inflation, forcing the young to mortgage their futures through student loans, debts that in the U.S. can’t be forgiven in bankruptcy court, effectively insuring a form of debt servitude.

Just how bad has the increase been? Well, here’s what is looks like for the University of Califonia, via the Committee on Student Fees:

BLOG UC tuition

But it doesn’t stop there.

From the Associated Press:

Tuition hike tentatively approved in California

A proposed tuition hike was tentatively approved Wednesday by a committee of the University of California governing board.

The committee voted 7-2 to approve the plan recommended by UC President Janet Napolitano that would raise tuition in each of the next five years.

The proposed tuition hikes still must be reviewed by the full Board of Regents on Thursday.

Napolitano said the increases are needed to protect the quality of education in the face of insufficient state funding.

Before the meeting, students made their feelings known as the Los Angeles Times reports:

UC tuition hike: Shoving, anger among protesters, police

Student protesters and university police tussled outside a UC San Francisco meeting hall early Wednesday where the regents for the 10-campus system were about to debate a proposed tuition hike.

About 100 protesters tried to block entrances into the building as regents and other UC officials tried to enter. Some of the officials were jostled as they wedged their way through the yelling crowd. Pushing matches between police and protesters erupted at several entrances and at metal barricades.

There was one arrested in an incident that led to the shattering of a glass door in the building’s rear, UC police said. No one appeared to be seriously injured in the protest.

A video report on the protest from Sacramento Bee:

UC students standoff with CFO Nathan Brostrom

Program notes:

University of California students protested a proposed tuition hike outside the Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco on Nov. 19, 2014.

The Bee also covered a Tuesday protest in nearby Davis, home of another University of California campus:

UC Davis tuition protest

Program notes:

Hundreds of students at UC Davis marched Tuesday to protest proposed tuition hikes.

And from ABC 10 News in San Diego, a report on a protest at the UC campus there:

UCSD students protest proposed tuition hike

Program notes:

UC San Diego students staged a sit-in Tuesday to protest a tuition hike proposal — an action mirrored at other University of California campuses.

And just as the wealth concentration process is going on in the U.K., so is the ceaseless rise in unviserity tuition, so that at the same time studentds were taking to the streets in California, their counterparts were doing the same in London.

From the Guardian:

Student protest over tuition fees ends in scuffles with police

  • Organisers say 10,000 joined march, which saw NUS offices daubed with paint after it refused to back protest

Organisers said the demonstration against tuition fees and wider cuts to education was the biggest mobilisation of students since 2010 when demonstrators occupied Tory party offices at Millbank.

Wednesday’s protest saw the National Union of Students (NUS) headquarters in London daubed with paint after it decided not to back the demonstration due to “an unacceptable level of risk” to its members. That provoked anger among those who took part in the march. “We did not organise what happened at the NUS but we do know students are very angry about being let down by the NUS,” said Beth Redmond from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, one of the groups that organised the demonstration. “When you see the numbers here today, they are in danger of becoming an irrelevance.”

Organisers claimed that up to 10,000 protesters took part in the march with university students joining those from further education colleges and sixth forms.

The protest passed off peacefully until demonstrators arrived at Parliament Square. A breakaway group of several hundred, including many who were wearing masks, pulled down fences blocking off the square, provoking minor scuffles with the police.

A video report for the Press Association:

Two arrested in mass student protest

Program notes:

Two protesters have been arrested after protesters on a student demonstration charged the headquarters of the Tory party in central London. Thousands of students marched through central London in protest against tuition fees and debt.

We agree with the students. Tax those who can afford it, and save the most precious resource any community has, its future, embodied in the students of today.

Branded Women: One literal, one metaphorical


Two documentaries from newspapers on opposites shores of the Atlantic Ocean focus on the forced identification of women exploited for financial gain.

The first video, from the Guardian, focuses on the shattering power of literal branding, albeit with a skin-piercing needle rather than red hot iron once used on slaves and criminals.

From Guardian Docs:

Survivors Ink: Erasing the marks of sex trafficking

Program notes:

Rebranded: how Survivors Ink is erasing the marks of the US sex trafficking industry.

Pimp-led prostitution is one of the most violent and prolific forms of trafficking found in the US, with hundreds of thousands of women sold annually for commercial gain. Many are branded with tattoos by their traffickers as a sign of ownership and control. After experiencing such an ordeal in Columbus, Ohio, Jennifer Kempton founded Survivors Ink, a grassroots project that helps formerly trafficked women to cover up their branding with their own symbols of hope and recovery. Kempton explains how she left years of abuse and drug addiction behind and is helping others to do likewise.

The second video, from the New York Times, focuses on the power of media to brand a human being, constraining identity to inflame and entice, creating a frenzy that depends on an externally imposed identity, a brand, complete with catch phrases and slogans.

The focus is an Australian media frenzy and criminally inept persecution and prosecution of a a grieving mother:

‘Dingo’s Got My Baby’: Trial by Media | Retro Report

Program notes:

In 1982, an Australian mother was convicted of murdering her baby daughter. She was later exonerated, but soon fell victim to a joke that distracted the world from the real story.