Category Archives: Public service

Blood on the Newsroom Floor: Some costs


In Mexico, there’s real blood on newsroom floors as journalists fall victim to cartel hit squads.

For investigative reporter Marcela Turati of Proceso news magazine and co-founder of Periodistas de a Pie, a journalism association, Turati has seen scores of colleagues slain for practicing their craft.

In her 22 June keynote speech to the 34th annual conclave of Investigative Reporters and Editors in San Antonio, she described the plight of journalists south of the border and called on colleagues to the north to dig into the role played by U.S. institutions and organizations in nurturing the violence.

But she is also acutely aware of the massive downsizings of U.S. news media, most notably papers in states bordering her own country.

From the JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog of the Knight Center for Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, where you can read her fill remarks:

I recognize that great efforts have been made by some American journalists. Many top U.S. newspapers covered the violence in Juárez, in fact almost all the newspapers of the world eventually sent someone there. There are subjects that came to light thanks to the work of U.S. investigative reporters or correspondents, such as operation Fast and Furious, which makes us so indignant. Or the publication of the databases with up to 25 thousand names of people who disappeared under the last government.

But as time passes, all this death, all these massacres, all these mass graves, all these bodies, all these missing people, stop being so newsworthy. As Lise Olsen wrote in a book: on the U.S. side, “reporters who are informed and experienced in Mexico and the border have been dropped in all border states, largely for economic reasons, but the violence has had an impact too.”

Every major newspaper in the region has eliminated bureaus and cut coverage. In California, the largest border region newspaper, the San Diego Union, had a five-person border team in the late 1990’s. Only one person remained to cover Tijuana in 2012. The Los Angeles Times has a single border reporter, though he works with a team of two in Mexico City. The Arizona Republic has lost border staff too. In Texas, The Dallas Morning News formerly deployed five people to Mexico City–one remains. The Houston Chronicle and The Express-News (…) located only 150 to 300 miles from Mexico by car, once had three border reporters and two in Mexico City. Only one of those jobs remained in 2013.

Many large and small U.S. newspapers no longer allow reporters to cross the border to cover any story. Both national U.S. and Mexico City-based media companies have reduced binational coverage. Many times, reporters like you, ask us: how can we help you?  We could say: raising funds, offering asylum, raising awareness. But what we ask from IRE members is that you do your work here. That you investigate trafficking networks in your own country. That you share this problem, which is mutual.

It isn’t only gun trafficking that adds to the death toll in our country. It’s corrupt U.S. government officials, U.S. drug dealers and gangs, and U.S. dirty businessmen and money launderers. Because some cartel leaders and hit men are U.S. citizens. Many others live and own property here.

Read the rest.

Quote of the day: Why Brazilians protest


From an interview of João Pedro Stedile, national coordinator of the Movement of Landless Rural Workers [MST], by Nilton Viana of the Committee for the Cancellation of the Third World Debt:

There have been many opinions as to why these protests occurred. I agree with the analysis of Professor Erminia Maricato, who is one of our best specialists in urban issues and has worked in the Ministry of Cities under Olivio Dutra. She defends the thesis that there is an urban crisis in Brazil’s cities, a result of the current stage of financial capitalism. Due to an enormous amount of housing speculation, rent and land prices have increased 150% in the last three years. Without any government control, financial capital has promoted the sales of cars in order to send profits overseas and transformed our traffic into chaos. And in the last 10 years there has been no investment in public transport. The housing program “My home, my life” has driven the poor out to the periphery of the cities, where there is no infrastructure.

All this has generated a structural crisis where for people, large cities have becoming a living hell where they lose three or four hours a day in transit, which they could instead be using to spend with their family, studying or participating in cultural activities. Added to this is the poor quality of public services, especially health and education, from the primary and secondary level, where children leave without being able to write. And university education has become a business, where of 70% of university students’ diplomas are sold on credit.

Fifteen years of neoliberalism plus the last 10 years of a government of class conciliation has transformed politics into a hostage of capital’s interests. Parties became old in their way of functioning and have been transformed into mere acronyms that mainly bring together opportunists interested in winning public posts or fighting over public resources for their own interests.

Leave pot laws to states, mayors tell Obama


Here, in full, the resolution approved unanimously by the  U.S. Conference of Mayors during their 81st Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, which ended yesterday.

Included among the eighteen sponsors who signed the resolution presented to the conference were five mayors from the San Francisco Bay Area, those of the chief elected officials of Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, Santa Clara, and San Leandro.

The resolution:

IN SUPPORT OF STATES SETTING THEIR OWN MARIJUANA POLICIES WITHOUT FEDERAL INTERFERENCE

WHEREAS, the United States Conference of Mayors has long advocated for a fair and effective criminal justice system; and

WHEREAS, despite the prohibition of marijuana and the 22 million marijuana arrests that have occurred in the U.S. since 1965, including 757,969 marijuana arrests in 2011 alone, federal studies estimate that 42 percent of Americans have used marijuana, including over 18 million people who admit to having used it within the past month; and

WHEREAS, enforcing the costly and ineffective prohibition on marijuana drains limited resources that could be better spent on programs that more effectively serve the public and keep our cities safe from serious and violent crime; and

WHEREAS, the impact of these costs are felt particularly strongly on the local level due to the fact that 97 percent of marijuana arrests are conducted by municipal or state law enforcement; and

WHEREAS, the illegal market for marijuana is dominated by organized crime: The U.S. Department of Justice reports that Mexican cartels operate drug distribution networks in more than 1,000 U.S. cities and that “marijuana distribution in the United States remains [their] single largest source of revenue,” while drug policy and law enforcement officials, including former White House drug czar John Walters and former Arizona attorney general Terry Goddard, have estimated that cartels make as much as 60 percent of their profits from marijuana alone; and

WHEREAS, rates of marijuana sales and use are similar across racial and ethnic groups, but people of color are arrested, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated at higher rates and for longer periods of time; and

WHEREAS, during the 2012 election, Colorado and Washington State voters strongly approved measures to tax and regulate adult use of marijuana, while 18 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana for medical purposes and 16 states do not treat possession of small amounts of marijuana as a criminal offense; and

WHEREAS, several other states are considering reforms that will allow them to more effectively and responsibly control marijuana use and sales among adults in their jurisdictions in a way that reduces costs and crime and improves public health and safety; and

WHEREAS, federal law prohibits the use of marijuana for any reason, and federal agencies have regularly interfered with the operation of state medical marijuana laws – despite President Obama’s comments that such actions are “not a good use of our resources” and his administration’s pledge not “to circumvent state laws on this issue”; and

WHEREAS, a recent Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Americans believe that states should be able to reform their marijuana policies without federal interference; and

WHEREAS, the United States Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution at its 75th Annual Meeting declaring the war on drugs a failure and calling for a health-centered reorientation of drug policy that gives “cities, counties and states the flexibility they need to find the most effective way to deal with drugs, save taxpayer dollars and keep their communities safe;” and

WHEREAS, the United States Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution at its 78th Annual Meeting recognizing that, for many people, medical marijuana is the safest and most effective medicine to treat their conditions, including returning veterans suffering from PTSD, chronic pain or other service-related injuries and illnesses; and

WHEREAS, the United States Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution at its 80th Annual Meeting noting that the growing state-federal conflict on marijuana policies “frustrates our citizens, costs cities significant time and resources to address, and prevents the establishment of a regulated and safe system to supply patients” who may need medical marijuana; and urging the federal government to reclassify marijuana “so qualifying patients who follow state law may obtain the medication they need through the traditional and safe method of physician prescribing and pharmacy dispensing;”

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the United States Conference of Mayors reaffirms its support of fair and effective criminal justice and drug policies and reiterates its previous call for the reclassification of marijuana under federal law; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the United States Conference of Mayors recognizes that its members have differing views on how to treat marijuana in their cities, and believes that states and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana policies work best to improve the public safety and health of their communities; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the United States Conference of Mayors believes that federal laws, including the Controlled Substance Act, should be amended to explicitly allow states to set their own marijuana policies without federal interference; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that until such time as federal law is changed, the United States Conference of Mayors urges the President of the United States to reexamine the priorities of federal agencies to prevent the expenditure of resources on actions that undermine the duly enacted marijuana laws of states.

H/T to Undernews.

Brazil protests continue, target corruption


We open with this video report from Agence France-Presse:

Anti-corruption campaigners push on with Rio protests

The program notes:

The day after 300,000 people gathered in Rio de Janeiro to protest against the government, more activists rally in the city to draw attention to corruption amongst the country’s leaders.

Vincent Bevins of the Los Angeles Times reports on the response to the presidential promises and plea:

A day after 1 million Brazilians took to the streets in protests that left two dead, President Dilma Rousseff again sought to reach out to demonstrators, praising the unexpected movement and presenting a program that would respond to some of its diverse demands.

Yet even as she delivered her televised speech in Brasilia, the capital, smaller demonstrations continued throughout the country and protesters blocked access to the nation’s largest airport. Friday was the ninth straight day of marches that have rocked the country as it hosts the FIFA Confederations Cup, an international soccer tournament seen as a test run for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, both to be held in Brazil.

“If we can take advantage of this boost of new political energy, we can do a lot of things, better and faster, that Brazil has still not been able to achieve,” Rousseff said, announcing a national public transportation plan, a project to commit oil revenue to education spending and the importation of thousands of foreign doctors, and invitations to the protest leaders to converse with the president.

Read the rest.

Here’s a brief video report synopsis of the presidential remarks from The Guardian:

The program notes:

The president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, gives a presidential address on Friday to urge an end to mass protests and violence in the country. Rousseff has pledged to begin a dialogue with protesters angry about poor public services, government corruption and the increasing cost of hosting the football World Cup. Two-million people marched nationwide in Brazil on Thursday and protesters say they will not cease, despite a police crackdown.

Violence was reported in two cities, as the BBC reports:

Trouble was reported in Belo Horizonte and Salvador, the two cities hosting Confederations Cup matches on Saturday.

>snip<

A crowd gathered in the centre of Belo Horizonte on Saturday and marched towards the Mineirao stadium, where Mexico were playing Japan in the Confederations Cup, the eight-team football tournament seen as a curtain-raiser for next year’s main event.

Police put the number of protesters at more than 60,000 people.

The clashes began when a group tried to break through a perimeter set by the police and the National Guard around the stadium. Riot police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The trouble escalated after dark when car dealers had windows broken, some shops were looted and protesters set fire to a car and several other objects on the streets.

Authorities sent in mounted police officers and fired more tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Read the rest.

Focus shifts to corruption

The new focus, reported from São Paulo by the Associated Press:

More than 250,000 anti-government protesters have again taken to the streets in several Brazilian cities and engaged police in isolated intense conflicts. Demonstrators vowed to stay in the streets until concrete steps are taken to reform the political system.

Across Brazil protesters gathered to denounce legislation known as PEC 37 that would limit the power of federal prosecutors to investigate crimes. Many fear the laws would hinder attempts to jail corrupt politicians.

Federal prosecutors were behind the investigation into the biggest corruption case in Brazil’s history, the so-called “mensalao” cash-for-votes scheme that came to light in 2005 and involved top aides of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva buying off members of congress to vote for their legislation.

Last year the supreme court condemned two dozen people in connection to the case, which was hailed as a watershed moment in Brazil’s fight against corruption. However those condemned have yet to be jailed because of appeals, a delay that has enraged Brazilians.

Read the rest.

In a video recorded before the mass protests erupted, one activist sums up her discontent:

Carla Dauden: No, I’m not going to the world cup.

She writes:

This video was recorded right before the recent protests started, but with all of this going on, it becomes even more evident that the World Cup and the Olympics should not be our priority. The world has to know about what’s really going on. Please share

I know this is a brief overview, so if you want to know more about the problems discussed in the video, please check the links below:

A Nova Democracia (The New Democracy)- https://www.facebook.com/jornalanovad… - private
Domínio Público (Public Domain)- http://vimeo.com/50479054 - private
Copa pra quem? https://www.facebook.com/copapraquem? - private
Comitê Popular do Rio http://comitepopulario.wordpress.com/ - private
Conectas http://www.conectas.org/ - private
http://www.conectas.org/politica-exte… - private
http://www.theworld.org/2012/08/brazi - private
Marcelo Lacerda – http://vimeo.com/24851532 - private

And in Rome, tens of thousands march

For the sake of variety, we also note that a major anti-austerity rally took place Saturday in Rome, as Al Jazeera reports:

Tens of thousands of Italians march in Rome

The program notes:

Tens of thousands of Italians have marched through the capital, Rome. They want improvements to the labour market, and better financial protection for workers. Al Jazeera’s Charlie Angela reports.

And from the Al Jazeera website:

An estimated 100,000 workers and jobless people have marched in Rome to protest against record unemployment and call on Enrico Letta’s new government to deliver more than empty rhetoric on the issue.

Saturday’s rally, organised  by Italy’s three largest union confederations, CGIL, CISL and UIL, was the first major protest since Letta’s broad, left-right coalition took office after an inconclusive election in February.

Italian unemployment hit 12 percent in April, the highest level on record, and joblessness among people under 24 is at an all-time high above 40 percent.

The protesters demanded growth measures and protection for workers who are sent into pre-retirement without a pension.

Read the rest.

Quote of the day: It’s Barry Milhous Obama


From Glenn Greenwald, writing in The Guardian:

The US government has charged Edward Snowden with three felonies, including two under the Espionage Act, the 1917 statute enacted to criminalize dissent against World War I. My priority at the moment is working on our next set of stories, so I just want to briefly note a few points about this.

Prior to Barack Obama’s inauguration, there were a grand total of three prosecutions of leakers under the Espionage Act (including the prosecution of Dan Ellsberg by the Nixon DOJ). That’s because the statute is so broad that even the US government has largely refrained from using it. But during the Obama presidency, there are now seven such prosecutions: more than double the number under all prior US presidents combined. How can anyone justify that?

For a politician who tried to convince Americans to elect him based on repeated pledges of unprecedented transparency and specific vows to protect “noble” and “patriotic” whistleblowers, is this unparalleled assault on those who enable investigative journalism remotely defensible? Recall that the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer said recently that this oppressive climate created by the Obama presidency has brought investigative journalism to a “standstill”, while James Goodale, the General Counsel for the New York Times during its battles with the Nixon administration, wrote last month in that paper that “President Obama will surely pass President Richard Nixon as the worst president ever on issues of national security and press freedom.” Read what Mayer and Goodale wrote and ask yourself: is the Obama administration’s threat to the news-gathering process not a serious crisis at this point?

Read the rest.

Greek public TV’s future still in doubt


ERT [the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation] — the Greek national public television broadcaster — was closed last week on the orders of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in a move designed to placate the country’s international lenders.

Late Monday, following a court ruling reversing the closure of major public outrage, members of the coalition government claimed they had reached an agreement which would appoint a special manager to decide just how many of the network’s 2,700 pink-slipped employees would get their jobs back.

The 11 June shutdown was dramatic:

Equally dramatic was the reaction both inside Greece and within the larger European Union.

From Euronews:

There are fears the country may well be on its way to an early election, if coalition parties cannot reach agreement about ERT’s closure.

“You decided and commanded to silence the state television, tarnishing both democracy and freedom of speech. Such things happen on only on two occasions, minister: only when there is a foreign invasion of the country or when there is a collapse of democracy,” said the Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras.

Read the rest.

The European Broadcasting Union fried off its own protest to Samaras:

President of the EBU, Jean Paul Philippot and the EBU Director General, Ingrid Deltenre urged Mr Samaras  “to use all his powers to immediately reverse this decision”.

The existence of public service media and their independence from government lie at the heart of democratic societies, and therefore any far-reaching changes to the public media system should only be decided after an open and inclusive democratic debate in Parliament – and not through a simple agreement between two government ministers.

In the letter, the EBU stresses the importance of public service media as an essential pillar of democratic and pluralistic societies across Europe.

Read the rest.

The ousted Greek broadcasters proved resilient, occupying the studios and continuing to send out programming via satellite and over the Internet.

Samaras’s actions prompted a call for a national strike and threaten to shatter the coalition government.

Reuters reports on the response of the occupying journalists, who had been earing a mere €1,200 a month, the equivalent of $19,250 a year:

“What we’re saying is that we want public TV to belong to those who pay for it, and that’s the citizens of this country,” anchorwoman Chrysa Roumelioti said on air as her co-presenter nodded somberly. “Let them be the ones to judge us.”

A bevy of studio guests, from French and Italian journalists to local celebrities and actors, stopped by to express their outrage and solidarity.

>snip<

“We feel angry and scared and cheated,” Maria Alexaki, a 31-year-old foreign news editor told Reuters from the newsroom as she finished presenting her morning show.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, but our heart and soul is here. We’re doing our shows not for us but for all the people out there who are demanding a public broadcaster.”

Read the rest.

Protests begin, politicians dither

In this clip, ERT journalists occupying the studios report on protests outside the station as Greeks mobilized in support of the workers:

Journalists across the country struck in protest, and a movement began, symbolized by this poster from Keep Talking Greece “with the help of Spanish internet friend ‘Todos Somos Griegos’”:

BLOG Keep calm ERT

The shock of the shutdown of an emblematic institution threatened to shatter the coalition of conservative New Democracy, Pasok [the Greek socialist party], and Democratic Left.

To Vima reported Monday that

the Prime Minister’s relationship with his two government partners Evangelos Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis has suffered dearly.

The three partners are one step before a full-blown conflict, a development that would cause a monumental shock to the country’s political system. This is also the first time that the Prime Minister’s method of operation is openly questioned.

>snip<

The Prime Minister’s decision to show down ERT despite the objections of Venizelos and Kouvelis during their meeting at Mr. Samaras’ home has dramatically exacerbated their relations. The PASOK and DIMAR leaders are furious at Mr. Samaras, who maintains he did the right thing and operated democratically, while claiming that Mr. Venizelos and Kouvelis were aware of the ERT shutdown.

Read the rest.

Then came a key court ruling Monday, as reported by Lefteris Papadimas and Renee Maltezou of Reuters:

A Greek court on Monday ordered the state broadcaster back on air while it is restructured, allowing squabbling coalition leaders to move towards a compromise that avoids early elections.

The ruling came six days after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras suddenly switched ERT off to save money and please foreign lenders, sparking an outcry from unions, journalists and exposing a rift with his allies.

The top administrative court appeared to vindicate Samaras’s stance that a leaner, cheaper public broadcaster must be set up but also allowed for ERT’s immediate reopening as his two coalition partners had demanded, offering all three a way out of an impasse that had raised the spectre of a snap election.

Read the rest.

More from the BBC:

The leading party in the governing coalition, the conservative New Democracy, said last Tuesday that ERT suffered from chronic mismanagement, lack of transparency and waste.

It shut the broadcaster down with the loss of nearly 2,700 jobs. Viewers saw TV screens go black as the signal was switched off.

Greece’s top administrative court – the Council of State – upheld Mr Samaras’s plan to replace ERT with a new broadcaster later this year but backed the position of the other coalition partners that the signal must be restored in the interim.

The case was brought by ERT’s union in an attempt to overturn Mr Samaras’s surprise move.

Read the rest.

The inevitable political meetings followed the court ruling.

From Ekathemerini:

In a statement after the meeting, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos said the court ruling had “vindicated” PASOK and stressed the need for an overhaul of the government, hinting at a reshuffle. “The talks were about ERT, but the main issue is for the government to operate as a real coalition, not with New Democracy just tolerating its partners,” Venizelos said. He called on Samaras to “examine the ruling” and take “bold moves.”

Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left made a similar statement, condemning the premier for taking the “unilateral action” to close ERT.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, who also attended the talks, had a different interpretation; he said it determined that ERT should stay closed while a temporary program is broadcast. “The big issue for the government is for radical reforms to continue,” he said, expressing hopes that coalition leaders would “converge” in fresh talks tomorrow.

Read the rest.

A compromise is reached

But a later announcement Monday declared that a settlement had been reached.

EnetEnglish reports:

The coalition leaders’ meeting has concluded. Speaking to reporters, junior coalition leaders Fotis Kouvelis and Evangelos Venizelos welcomed the Council of State’s decision. Venizelos stressed that “no government can go against the majority of parliament… this is what happened in ERT’s case,” before confirming that there will soon be a government reshuffle and a revision of the government’s programme agreement. The coalition leaders will meet again on Wednesday.

A specially appointed manager will have the right to either retain ERT’s staff or proceed with as many layoffs as he deems necessary, the head of the Council of State, Konstantinos Menoudakos, has said regarding the council’s decision.
The Council of State ruling does not cover ERT’s two orchestras and choir, so it’s unclear what their fate will be.

Read the rest.

Here’s an explanatory video on the orchestras from vlogger violin81030:

Cultural resonance on an Athenian wall

The Reuters story notes that the occupiers have posted a studio wall with a famous phrase coined by the late Gil Scott Heron for the title track of his 1974 album, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”

Here’s their inspiration

Why we were in Vietnam, the library edition


Mickey Mouse died in Vietnam in the name of  what they called the Domino Theory, the notion that should Communists win in Vietnam, the event would trigger takeovers in other countries, analogous to a cascade of falling dominos.

Here’s how Dwight David Eisenhower summed it up in a 1954 press conference:

Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the “falling domino” principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.

Vietnam fell, but not India, or Thailand, or most of the other dominoes predicted to fall.

All of which is a long way of getting to this video, in which the gaming tiles are replaced by books. . .lots of books.

The program notes from the Seattle Public Liubrary:

The Seattle Public Library launched the 2013 Summer Reading Program by setting a new world record for the longest book domino chain!

The books used to make this domino chain were either donated or are out of date and no longer in the library’s collection. They are now being sold by the Friends of Seattle Public Library to help raise money for library programs and services.

No books were harmed during the filming of this video.

More detail from the World Record Academy:

The Seattle Public Library kicked off its summer reading season by toppling 2,131 books that are part of an upcoming book sale; it took 27 volunteers and seven hours to set the new world record for the Longest Book Domino Chain, according to the World Record Academy: www.worldrecordacademy.com/.

The world record attempt was setup by 27 volunteers on the third floor of the Seattle Central Library with one portion of the books spelling “read.” At one point, a book had to fall from a shelf to the floor to continue the domino chain.

“We had to be packed up and out of the building by midnight,” Amy Twito, the Library’s youth program manager, said in a statement. “Everyone was so happy that we were able to break the record.”

It took seven hours to set the chain up in its entirety — however the volunteers had to go through the agony of five failed attempts when the chain was set off too early by accident.

Read the rest.

H/T to Metafilter.

Three takes on the NSA eavesdropping scandal


First up, James Bamford, one of America’s finest investigative journalists, and he’s devoted boundless energy to exposing the actions of the super-secret National Security Agency, the most powerful intelligence agency in the nation’s history.

In an interview by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now!, Bamford places the NSA revelations in context, and the picture is scary indeed.

A Bamford quote from the video:

Well, you know, the interesting thing here is that the administration, and particularly the NSA, has been coming out with all these charges against China going after our secrets, our information, and so forth. It’s caused the Congress to give enormous amounts of money to NSA, this money for defensive use against the Chinese and so forth. What never comes out is the U.S. offensive capability against the rest of the world. The U.S.—there’s nobody that can even compare to the U.S. We’ve got an enormous Cyber Command. They’re expanding NSA’s secret city by a third to accommodate 14 new buildings, 10 parking garages, a new enormous supercomputer center—all this for this new, very secret Cyber Command. And it’s dedicated largely to offensive, to creating wars, not preventing wars.

A full transcript is posted here.

The program notes:

As the U.S. vows to take “all necessary steps” to pursue whistleblower Edward Snowden, James Bamford joins us to discuss the National Security Agency’s secret expansion of government surveillance and cyberwarfare. In his latest reporting for Wired Magazine, Bamford profiles NSA Director General Keith Alexander and connects the dots on PRISM, phone surveillance, and the NSA’s massive spy center in Bluffdale, Utah. Says Bamford of Alexander: “Never before has anyone in America’s intelligence sphere come close to his degree of power, the number of people under his command, the expanse of his rule, the length of his reign, or the depth of his secrecy.” The author of “The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America,” Bamford has covered the National Security Agency for the last three decades after helping expose its existence in the 1980s.

He told you so: Bill Binney talks NSA leaks

A retired 32-veteran on No Such Agency offers RT America his own take on the scandal, and what he sees is truly Orwellian:

The program notes:

In the wake of multiple leaks regarding the data mining programs PRISM and Boundless Informant, whistleblowers are coming out in droves to talk about the unprecedented government surveillance on the American public. RT Correspondent Meghan Lopez had a chance to sit down with NSA whistleblower William Binney to talk about the latest developments coming out of the NSA case. Binney is a 32 year veteran of the NSA, where he helped design a top secret program he says helps collect data on foreign enemies. He is regarded as one of the best mathematicians and code breakers in NSA history. He became an NSA whistleblower in 2002 when he realized the program he helped create to spy no foreign enemies was being used on Americans.

Moyers & Company: Big Brother’s Prying Eyes

Finally, from Bill Moyer’s PBS show Moyers & Company, a discussion between Moyers and Lawrence Lessig, professor of law and director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and founder of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.

An excerpt form the program notes, beginning with Lessig’s take on an account by NSA whistleblower and current fugitive:

“Snowden describes agents having the authority to pick and choose who they’re going to be following on the basis of their hunch about what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense. This is the worst of both worlds. We have a technology now that gives them access to everything, but a culture if again it’s true that encourages them to be as wide ranging as they can,” Lessig tells Bill. “The question is — are there protections or controls or counter technologies to make sure that when the government gets access to this information they can’t misuse it in all the ways that, you know, anybody who remembers Nixon believes and fears governments might use?”

Few are as knowledgeable about the impact of the Internet on our public and private lives as Lessig, who argues that government needs to protect American rights with the same determination and technological sophistication it uses to invade our privacy and root out terrorists.

“If we don’t have technical measures in place to protect against misuse, this is just a trove of potential misuse…We’ve got to think about the technology as a protector of liberty too. And the government should be implementing technologies to protect our liberties,” Lessig says. “Because if they don’t, we don’t figure out how to build that protection into the technology, it won’t be there.”

80 years ago today: The launch of the New Deal


A report from The Real News Network featuring John Weeks, professor emeritus at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, and Jennifer Taub, associate professor of law at Vermont Law School.

A full transcript is posted here.

Quote of the day: Five-star resort socialism


It’s about time somebody said it.

From María Sosa Troya of El País:

The conference organized by the Socialist International in Portugal between February 4 and 5 garnered little attention among the world’s media, but one moment went viral on the social networks. Beatriz Talegón, the Spanish-born secretary general of the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY), lambasted delegates at a luxury hotel in the chic beach resort of Cascais, who included representatives of the ruling French PS and Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE), accusing them of being out of touch with the problems facing young people.

“When people are taking to the streets in Madrid, in Brussels, in Cairo, in Beirut, they’re fighting for what we here, as convinced socialists, defend. [...] Unfortunately, it has not been us socialists taking enthusiastically to the streets and mobilizing,” said the 29-year-old, looking around at her increasingly uncomfortable audience, before continuing: “I am surprised that we claim to lead the revolution from our five-star hotels, traveling in luxury cars. When you political leaders tell people that you understand them, that you support them, that we are socialists, do you really feel their pain inside? Can we really understand them from a five-star hotel?”

Read the rest.

Here’s a video of her remarks. We’ve not been able to find a English-subtitled version.

 

What would MLK think of Barack Obama?


First, consider this excerpt from his final speech, delivered at Mason Temple in Memphis 3 April 1968, the night before his assassination. Then consider the deplorable record of the Obama administration:

Next, consider this speech, delivered almost exactly a year earlier [4 April 1967] to the gathering of meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in Manhattan, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence.” Then consider the case of a chief executive who arrogates to himself the powers of judge, jury, and executioner of those he declares enemies of the state:

Video: The plot to destroy the postal system


From The Real News Network, a report from Berkeley on the neolibertarian-planned destruction of the U.S. postal service, including the sell-off of buildings, many architectural jewels, to the immense profit of the spouse of California Senator Diane Feinstein.

An excerpt from the webcast produced by TRNN’s David Zlutnick, including a quote from UC Berkeley geographer Gray Brechin:

[S]ome private contractors will do quite well off of the ongoing USPS fiscal crisis. CBRE, for example, is the world’s largest commercial real estate broker, chaired by San Francisco billionaire Richard Blum, husband of Sen. Diane Feinstein. Last year CBRE won a contract from the USPS to be the sole manager of its property sales, as well as an advisor on which properties should be sold.

Brechin: CBRE also arranges the leases, so it’s involved in all aspects of the sale. They’re making a ton of money off this.

CBRE has played this role before. In October 2009, the firm was contracted by the State of California to sell over $2 billion in office buildings the state wanted to privatize because of its own financial problems. But USPS dismisses any possible conflict of interest CBRE may have in performing its services.

Read the rest.

One of the post offices on the block is the downtown Berkeley building, listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places and the home of some very notable New Deal-created artwork featured in a previous post.

Quote of the day: Death of the social contract


From Salvatore Babones, originally published in Australian Options Magazine and reprinted in Truthout:

Over the past forty years, America has become much more politically correct with regard to gender and sexualiy. Men do not openly display calendars featuring topless models on their office walls, and public gay bashing is now considered inappropriate, even in Republican circles. But gender and sexuality are issues that transcend social class. Even rich, powerful men have gay children – or may be gay themselves. Even rich, powerful men have wives.

On every other issue, America – or at least American politics – has swung violently to the right. The more social class is involved, the further to the right America has swung. Poverty was once a social disease to be cured; it is now an individual crime to be punished. Put it down to individualism, conservatism, neoliberalism, or whatever -ism you want, America is now the world’s greatest reactionary force.

Unfortunately, all the evidence is that the rest of the world is following America down the road to perdition. Nowhere are national health insurance schemes, access to free education, and old age pensions being expanded. Nowhere is the world moving forward. Everywhere the social gains of the twentieth century are either being eroded, or destroyed.

The Dancing Cop comes out of retirement


Though he retired in 1988, Tony Lepore returns to duty for 10 days every holiday season for a command performance as the Dancing Cop of Providence, Rhode Island, drawing crowds and smiles as he directs traffic.

In an age when police are becoming militarized and increasing distant from the communities they’re supposed to serve, it’s refreshing to see an officer accomplish his very serious purpose with elan and delight.

For more on Lepore, see this Associated Press story from Rodrique Ngowi.

And here’s Lepore at his dancing best in a Boston Globe video:

H/T to Just An Earth-Bound Misfit, I.

A view from Greece: Utopia on the Horizon


From ROAR Magazine and the Syntagma Multimedia Team, signs of hope emerging from the misery being inflicted on the people of Greece by the global banking systems and their minions in government:

The program notes:

ROARMAG.org presents: ‘Utopia on the Horizon’, a documentary for those who chose to struggle.

In May 2011, hundreds of thousands of Greeks swarmed into Syntagma Square in Athens to protest against the firesale of their country, their labor rights and their livelihoods to corrupt domestic elites and foreign financial interests.

In a matter of days, a protest camp was set up — organized on the principles of direct democracy, leaderless self-management and mutual aid — providing a glimpse of utopia in the midst of a devastating financial, political and social crisis. On June 28-29, during a Parliamentary vote on further austerity measures, the state finally responded with brutal force, eventually evicting the protesters from the square and crushing the radical potential of their social experiment.

A year later, Leonidas Oikonomakis and Jérôme Roos — PhD researchers at the European University Institute and co-authors of the activist blog ROARMAG.org — returned to Athens to speak to activists involved in the movement and the occupation of Syntagma Square, as well as WWII resistance hero Manolis Glezos. What follows is this dramatic portrait of a country veering on the brink of collapse; and the people who chose to struggle in order to build a new world on the ruins of the old.

Manolis Glezos, articulate and insightful at age 90, is Greece’s most famous hero from the World War II resistance to Nazi occupation, immortalized in the Greek heart by his daring 30 May 1941 capture of the Nazi flag installed over the Parthenon a month earlier.

RT Hosts Third Party Candidates Debate


Hosted by Larry King and sponsored by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation, whose founder, Christina Tobin, joins in the questioning, the debate — held last night — features four candidates appearing on presidential ballots but excluded from the staged debates appearing on the mainstream media.

All questions were submitted via social media.

They candidates are:

  • Libertarian Party candidate and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson
  • Constitution Party nominee and former Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode
  • Green Party nominee and Harvard-educated physician Jill Stein
  • Justice Party nominee and former Salt Lake City Mayor  Rocky Anderson

From RT:

In response to widespread blackout from both the mainstream media and political establishment alike, RT is honored to be presenting a platform for the major third-party candidates also vying for the White House this election year to debate. We offered the event live in cooperation with the debate’s organizers, the Free and Equal Elections Foundation.

The event was moderated by multi-award winning broadcast journalist Larry King and was broadcasted live from Chicago, Illinois. Thom Hartmann, the star of RT’s The Big Picture and noted radio host, was one of a few select journalists hand-picked to hit the candidates with questions about their campaign.

RT has posted extended candidate profiles here. An extended edition with pre-debate discussion is found here.

The Washington Post actually covered the event.

UC Berkeley forum on neoliberalism, student debt


Leading off tomorrow night’s event will be Bob Meister, president of the Council of UC Faculty Associations [CUCFA] and Professor of Political and Social Thought at UC Santa Cruz. Click on the image to enlarge:

From Reclaim UC:

Debt is a permanent feature of most of our lives. Yet the socialization of risk debt represents isolates individuals, locking us in the private misery of our dealings with banks and creditors. Medical debt, student debt, consumer debt, foreclosures — these social forms mark so many personal failings and moral obligations, we are told. Debt, in other words, not only insures our continued servitude to the corporate pursuit of dwindling private profits. It also serves to alienate us from one another, and foreclose the possibility of collective resistance. Debtors’ Assemblies, then, are a first step in fighting back to reclaim our stolen futures. Please join us Wednesday, October 24th from 5-6 in front of California Hall for the first in a series of weekly Debtors’ Assemblies to learn more about the many forms of debt and discuss ways to resist debt’s claim upon our lives. Robert Meister will speak briefly at the beginning of the first assembly.

Banned Commercial: Save Greece’s heritage


The Geek government doesn’t want you to see this, created by the Greek Archaeologists Association against the IMF/E.U. cuts in culture funding.

From Areti Kotseli of Greek Reporter:

The Association of Greek Archaeologists (SEA) launched a campaign in March this year, an international appeal for the protection of Greece’s cultural heritage and historical memory, titled Monuments Have no Voice, They Must Have Yours.

Now, one of the campaign’s videos has been banned by the Central Archaeological Council. It had circulated for several months via the Internet and social media, but it failed to receive an official approval on Aug. 28 after they pointed out security lapses in guarding monuments, embarrassing authorities.

The Council rejected the video because it was inspired by the grand thefts which took place at the Olympia Museum of the History of the Olympic Games in Antiquity earlier this year, when dozens of ancient artifacts were stolen, after another art theft at the Athens National Gallery, when two oil paintings by 20th-Century masters Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian were stolen.

The Association of Greek Archaeologists put together the campaign to draw attention to funding cuts that are threatening the Greek cultural heritage and, as it said, the “austerity packages and authoritarian measures, that are currently tearing apart Greece and its monuments”.

The organization has a petition on Facebook. Sadly, you have to belong to Facebook to sign, and since we refuse to succumb to the Facebook agenda, we can’t add our name.

In childhood, we had intended to become a member of the archaeologist’s trade, and the very first word we insisted or third grade teacher to show us how to write in cursive was archaeology [we still have the exemplar].

Since the American imperial adventure has already destroyed much of Iraq’s archaeological heritage, we find it unconscionable that the U.S.-based International Monetary Fund and it’s Troika allies are demanding that Greece cut funding for its own heritage — a form of “war by other means.”

The New York Times: From watchdog to lapdog


The latest sad example of the demise of a once-great American newspaper.

First, a video report from RT:

From RT:

New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti allegedly forwarded an advance copy of a column penned by colleague Maureen Dowd to a CIA spokesperson. The piece was about the film “Zero Dark Thirty” which is about the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Dowd’s column criticized the White House for giving Hollywood inside information while leaving the public in the dark about the operation – this all coming to light thanks to documents disclosed by the transparency group Judicial Watch. Jeff Cohen, media critic and journalism professor at Ithaca College, joins RT’s Liz Wahl to talk more about subjective journalism.

But there’s no “allegedly” involved, as Glenn Greenwald notes in The Guardian, where he reproduces the actual emails:

The CIA had evidently heard that Maureen Dowd was planning to write a column on the CIA’s role in pumping the film-makers with information about the Bin Laden raid in order to boost Obama’s re-election chances, and was apparently worried about how Dowd’s column would reflect on them. On 5 August 2011 (a Friday night), Harf wrote an email to Mazzetti with the subject line: “Any word??”, suggesting, obviously, that she and Mazzetti had already discussed Dowd’s impending column and she was expecting an update from the NYT reporter.

A mere two minutes after the CIA spokeswoman sent this Friday night inquiry, Mazzetti responded. He promised her that he was “going to see a version before it gets filed”, and assured her that there was likely nothing to worry about:

“My sense is there a very brief mention at bottom of column about CIA ceremony, but that [screenwriter Mark] Boal also got high level access at Pentagon.”

She then replied with this instruction to Mazzetti: “keep me posted”, adding that she “really appreciate[d] it”.

>snip<

Moments later, Mazzetti forwarded the draft of Dowd’s unpublished column to the CIA spokeswoman (it was published the following night online by the Times, and two days later in the print edition). At the top of that email, Mazzetti wrote: “this didn’t come from me … and please delete after you read.” He then proudly told her that his assurances turned out to be true:

“See, nothing to worry about.”

Read the rest.

As Greenwald notes:

Here we have a New York Times reporter who covers the CIA colluding with its spokesperson to plan for the fallout from the reporting by his own newspaper (“nothing to worry about”). Beyond this, that a New York Times journalist – ostensibly devoted to bringing transparency to government institutions – is pleading with the CIA spokesperson, of all people, to conceal his actions and to delete the evidence of collusion is so richly symbolic.

We shouldn’t be surprised. The Times sunk into into present slough of despond starting with Judith Miller, the reporter who did so much to boost the Bush administration’s case for invading Iran with all those stories about nonp-existent stocks of uranium.

The Times, as with all American newspapers, has been devastated by the Internet economy, downsizing its newsroom a reducing overseas bureaus — nad in the process becoming all too reliant on the goodwill of governments.

This latest scandal is merely symptomatic of the decline of American journalism.

Here in California, we’ve seen wave after wave of municipal government corruption, greatly facilitated by the devastation of the state’s newspapers, which once played a vigilant watchdog role in policing the actions of governments and elected officials.

Three of the five newspapers we worked for in the Golden State are gone, the cities they covered no longer regularly covered by full-time experienced journalists and the financial resources needed to support their work. That, in turn, creates an environment where corruption can thrive.

That the New York Times has fallen so low is a tragedy; one we mourn. But we save our tears for the thousands of communities left with either no newspapers or with decaying husks of once thriving institutions.

We’d say we expect more scandals, but who’s left to expose them?

Three cheers for Denmark: Phthalates banned


But here in the U.S., parents are sending their kids back to school with supplies laced with the chemicals.

We’ve written extensively about the scientific evidence establishing links between phthalates to a wide-ranging host of health problems, ranging from male sterility and obesity to cancer.

The chemical industry has a great deal at stake in phthalates, as do pharmaceutical manufacturers [which use them to coat pills to delay digestion of medicines], cosmetics [hand lotions, nail polish, shampoos, and hair sprays], food packaging, our cars [they’re sprayed on car interiors to provide that “new car smell”], and a vast number of other consumer goods.

Now Denmark is moving ahead with a bad on four of the most widely used phthalates.

From EurActiv:

Danish Environment Minister Ida Auken has decided to ban four industrial chemicals linked to disrupting the human endocrine system, pushing Denmark ahead of the European Union which has already started a process of phasing phthalates.

Auken said she would introduce a ban this autumn on DEHP, DBP, DIBP and BBP phthalates.

Phthalates are chemical substances which are used to make plastic soft and more flexible. They can be found in everyday products such as rubber boots, oilcloths and vinyl flooring and have already been banned in Europe for use in children’s toys.

In deciding the ban, Auken is defying EU regulation in the area. In Spring 2013, the European Commission is due to look into further action in the area of endocrine disrupters that could lead to tougher regulation of phthalates.

Phthalates are among other things suspected of making men sterile and of pushing young girls into puberty too early.

“The Danish Environment Ministry has enough documentation so we feel now is time for action,” Auken told EurActiv.

Read the rest.

Sending kids back to school with phthalates

The Disney Princess Lunchbox contained an estimated 29,800 ppm of DEHP. If this product were a children’s toy, this would be over 29 times the limit set by the federal ban. From CHEJ.

The Danish announcement comes simultaneously with a new report from the Center for Health, Environment & Justice revealing their findings of high levels of phthalates in back-to-school supplies sold in U.S. stores.

From their press release:

A brand new report reveals that toxic chemicals linked to asthma and birth defects that are banned in toys were found to be widespread in children’s vinyl back-to-school supplies.

Seventy-five percent of children’s school supplies tested in a laboratory had elevated levels of toxic phthalates, including popular Disney, Spiderman, and Dora branded school supplies such as vinyl lunchboxes, backpacks, 3-ring binders, raincoats, and rainboots. Hidden Hazards: Toxic Chemicals Inside Children’s Vinyl Back-to-School Supplies was released in New York City today outside of Kmart, where some of the school supplies were purchased.

“Our investigation found elevated levels of toxic phthalates widespread in children’s school supplies, including Disney and Spider-Man lunchboxes and backpacks.  These dangerous chemicals manufactured by Exxon Mobil have no place in our children’s school supplies.  Unfortunately, while phthalates have been banned in children’s toys, similar safeguards don’t yet exist to keep them out of lunchboxes, backpacks and other children’s school supplies.  It’s time for Congress to move forward and pass the Safe Chemicals Act to protect our children from toxic exposure,” says Mike Schade from the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), author of the new report, Hidden Hazards: Toxic Chemicals Inside Children’s Vinyl Back-to-School Supplies. CHEJ collaborated on the report with the Empire State Consumer Project.

“It is disturbing that millions of young children are being exposed to these toxic chemicals with no enforcement to protect them,” said Judy Braiman of the Empire State Consumer Project, co-publisher of the report.

Read the rest.

The full report is posted online here.