Category Archives: Governance

Birgitta Jónsdóttir: Headed for Iceland’s top post?


A 2011 self-portrait by Birgitta Jónsdóttir

A 2011 self-portrait by Birgitta Jónsdóttir

esnl‘s long been partial to Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Iceland’s poet, artist, Internet activist, publisher, hacker, and best-known science fiction fan.

She came to international prominence as a Wikileaks activist at a time when half the world’s cops and spooks wanted to shut the site down, and her activism led her into the national legislature as a member of the Pirate Party, a movement she helped found.

The anger spurring her move into the political arena came from the national government’s capitulation of the banksters who had brought the country to near-ruin.

But now she stands on the brink of yet another major change.

Birgitta Jónsdóttir could become the nation’s next prime minister.

From a 28 January post from the Reykjavik Grapevine:

The Pirate Party is currently polling at 42%, remaining the top party in the country for the past year now. Support for the party exceeds that of both parties in the ruling coalition combined.

These results come from a new poll conducted by Stöð 2 and Fréttablaðið, where the Pirates have polled at over 30% for the past 12 months.

At the same time, support for the Independence Party is now at 23.2%, which is a record low for the party for this poll. Their partners in the ruling coalition, the Progressive Party, are currently slightly above 10%. This puts support for the Pirates alone almost 10% greater than that of both parties in the coalition.

So what would this remarkable activist do in office?

From a 22 January Backchannel profile:

Stubbornly, Birgitta follows the Pirate Party guidelines: horizontal leadership, power rotation, liquid democracy. She votes in Parliament according to the majority will collected on the Píratar web platform. Birgitta is a captain with no title or privileges. Yet she leads.

With only three parliamentarians, Pirates have surged into first place for the next legislative elections. (With 38 percent of voter intention, they are ahead of both traditional parties combined.) “People are really fed up,” she comments. Birgitta could become prime minister. She rolls her big eyes and says, “That is my worst nightmare.”

Birgitta isn’t a rebel but a hacker. Complaining and pointing fingers is a waste of time. She has a goal, a plan: Birgitta wants democracy to work again. Being in charge is the price to pay. Yet she imposes her conditions: She wants her hands free. If in power, Birgitta’s action plan is clear: apply the new constitution; implement IMMI to make Iceland a safe haven for freedom of expression and data; hold a proper debate on joining the European Union, followed by a referendum; conduct a six-month policy assessment of every ministry; and turn the recommendation into a government plan. After that, Birgitta would step down to force new elections to have this plan supported across the board. A true pirate, she would leave her seat as soon as she is done. Power destroys souls. It has worn her out already.

So what does she believe?

From Julian Correa, a video of a talk she gave on freedom of information [and much more] at the November 2014 CopyCamp, a Warsaw gathering on copyright law:

Birgitta Jónsdóttir

And here’s an interview from We Are Change Rotterdam:

Birgitta Jónsdóttir: “We have to help the system to collapse”

Program notes:

Birgitta Jónsdóttir is a politician (poetician) and an activist member of the Althing, the Icelandic parliament, formerly representing the Citizens’ Movement and The Movement, but now representing the Pirate Party. We Are Change Rotterdam got a chance to talk to her about revolution, Icelandic politics, the new Icelandic constitution and much more. Utrecht, 2014

We suspect life is about to get very interesting in Iceland.

Her blog is here, she also posts on Facebook and on Twitter.

Quote of the day II: Profitable torturing for the CIA


From Tamsin Shaw, Associate Professor of European and Mediterranean Studies and Philosophy at NYU, writing in the New York Review of Books on the role of professional psychologists in the Central Intelligence Agency’s war on terror torture program:

The Senate report also tells us that the CIA misrepresented the results of the program to policymakers and the Department of Justice, maintaining that it was obtaining “a high volume of critical intelligence.” In the case of two prisoners tortured by [CIA torture program co-architect James] Mitchell—Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—the CIA attributed to them the statement that “the general US population was ‘weak’, lacked resilience, and would be unable to ‘do what was necessary’ to prevent the terrorists from succeeding in their goals.’” But the Senate report tells us: “There are no CIA operational or interrogation records to support the representation that KSM or Abu Zubaydah made these statements.”

In spite of the clear lack of effectiveness of their “enhanced interrogation techniques,” [torture program co-architect/psychologist Bruce] Jessen and Mitchell continued to apply them and were eventually paid $81 million for doing so. When the involvement of psychologists in interrogations in Guantánamo Bay and Iraq came to light in a New York Times article in late 2004, the APA assembled a task force to look into it and issue ethical guidelines. In discussing their report, one board member, Diane Halpern, insisted they included a statement asserting that torture was ineffective. The task force did not pursue the question of effectiveness and did not include a statement on it.

When the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence published its extensive report on official torture in December 2014, Jonathan Haidt tweeted a link to an article by Matt Motyl, his former Ph.D. student, claiming that the report would not change anyone’s views on the morality or effectiveness of torture, owing to the phenomenon of cognitive bias, which distorts people’s assessment of the relevant evidence. Motyl warned that none of us should assume that our beliefs about torture are based on facts. Nevertheless, there are established facts. One of them is that psychologists secured enormous financial gains by collaborating in official torture, while also having clear evidence that it was ineffective.

Map of the day: The Trans Pacific Partnership


A look at the people and financial clout of the member states of the massive and highly controversial just-signed trade agreement of Pacific Rim nations, via Agence France Presse:

BLOG TPP

Quote of the day: Incestuous panopticon duopoly


From novelist and civil libertarian Cory Doctorow in a Simon Willmetts interview for Jacobin:

Many historians have observed that social surveillance was the norm in the small agricultural towns where everybody knew everybody else’s business in the seventeenth century. Even if the only “everyone” whose business you knew were people who lived nearby, you had a very intimate view into their lives. There are ways in which that is corrosive.

But it’s a different kind of corrosiveness to the kind of overwhelming corporate and state surveillance. The argument I hear more often than the “sousveillance” argument is that corporations are scarier than governments, or governments are scarier than corporations. But the reality is that the only reason overwhelming surveillance is possible is because, on the one hand, the state has failed to regulate private data collection and, on the other, the state raids corporate databases.

After the Church Committee in the 1970s, when the FBI’s surveillance powers were limited, the credit bureaus sprang up. A lot of them were started by ex-FBI agents, and although they supplied intelligence to mortgage lenders and lots of other entities, their major client was the FBI. The FBI wasn’t allowed to maintain dossiers on people unless they had specific, articulable criminal suspicions about them, but credit bureaus were.

Whether you are worried about the state surveilling you or corporations surveilling you, the problem of mass surveillance is inseparable from state or corporate surveillance. When you have one, you’ll have the other, and until you rein in one, you’ll never rein in the other.

Zika outbreak spreads, with high anxiety in Asia


We begin with the latest map, issued Friday by the  Pan American Health Organization showing the countries of Latin America where Zika virus has been contracted locally:

BLOG Zika regional map

Next, from euronews, a report on the latest news from the nation at the epicenter of the crisis:

Brazil in crisis as Zika fears mount

Program notes:

In exactly six months, the summer Olympic Games will open in Rio de Janeiro. Even though some 500 millions de dollars have been axed to balance the budget, the installations are between 80 and 90 percent complete.

But there are other dangers, beyond financial, are threatening the first South American city to host the event.

Since May last year the Zika epidemic has spread from Brazil’s north-east bringing fear in almost equal measure because of the number of microcephaly cases.

From RT, more news from Brazil:

Olympic organizers deny Games under threat due to Zika virus

Brazil’s Sports Minister George Hilton issued a statement on Thursday in which he criticized the press for suggesting South America’s first-ever Olympics may be called off.

UPDATE: And there’s reason for that anxiety, as the Independent reports:

Zika: Pregnant British holidaymakers with bookings to Caribbean and US face uncertainty amid risk of virus spreading

Airlines and holiday companies allowing pregnant women to switch destinations, but only if they are booked to one of the affected countries

From the San Francisco Chronicle, would-be U.S. travelers are having second thoughts:

Zika fears spur rash of calls to clinics about travel safety

Medical experts in the Bay Area say they’ve been fielding calls from residents inquiring about the safety of traveling to countries primarily in South and Central America and the Caribbean, where Zika is widespread.

VOA News covers the latest warning from the Centers for Disease Control:

New Warning From CDC on Zika Virus Transmission

Program notes:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a new warning for men about transmitting the Zika virus, which is spreading rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean, creating a crisis for pregnant women. VOA’s Carol Pearson reports very little is actually known about the virus.

More from Agence France Presse:

US urges condoms or abstinence to avoid Zika virus

US health authorities on Friday urged people to use condoms or refrain from sex if they live in or have travelled to areas where the Zika virus is circulating

From Reuters, troubling news from another country:

More than 3,100 pregnant women in Colombia have Zika virus: government

 More than 3,100 pregnant Colombian women are infected with the mosquito-borne Zika virus, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Saturday, as the disease continues its rapid spread across the Americas.

UPDATE: The latest from Colombia via teleSUR English:

First Abortion in Colombia Possibly as Result of Zika

A woman struggled to find a doctor willing to provide an abortion after it was discovered her fetus suffered from microcephaly

Channel NewsAsia covers Aussie angst:

Australia to step up Zika testing as two new cases reported

Australia will intensify testing for the Zika virus in Queensland state where Aedes mosquitoes are found, authorities said on Saturday, adding that two new cases among local residents were the result of travel to affected countries.

Kiwi worries from the New Zealand Herald:

Kiwi teen may have Zika virus after holiday

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that is suspected of causing serious birth defects in unborn babies. The World Health Organisation has declared the latest outbreak a public health emergency and there have been 10 confirmed cases – all contracted overseas – in New Zealand this year.

And here in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control maps states where Zika cases have been reported:

Laboratory-confirmed Zika virus disease cases reported to ArboNET by state or territory — United States, 2015–2016 [as of February 3, 2016]

Laboratory-confirmed Zika virus disease cases reported to ArboNET by state or territory — United States, 2015–2016 [as of February 3, 2016]

Next, Zika concerns in Arkansas, via KATV ABC 7 in Little Rock:

CDC testing two new possible Zika cases from Arkansas

  • The Arkansas Department of Health reports it has sent two additional samples to the Centers for Disease Control to test for the Zika virus.
  • One case of the Zika virus has already been confirmed in Arkansas.
  • In Florida, a fifth county has been added the state of emergency list after 12 confirmed cases.

On to Illinois with ABC7 Chicago:

Zika virus cases expected to rise in IL after spring break

Three cases of the Zika virus have been reported in Illinois, and doctors expect more as people travel to the Caribbean on spring break.

WPDH radio in Poughkeepsie, NY, covers cases in the Empire State:

Breaking: Another Zika Virus Case Discovered in Hudson Valley

The Zika Virus was reported in another Hudson Valley individual today. This brings the total number of New Yorkers with the virus up to 11, with two of them right here in our area.

Finally, from CCTV English, another development:

Indian firm developing two possible Zika vaccines

Chart of the day: One tax remains constant


Gues which one?

From the U.S. Census Bureau [PDF]:

Quarterly Summary of State and Local Government Tax Revenue for

Julian Assange gets ol’ Palestinian treatment


You know, the one in which a few small powers reject the overwhelming votes in their favor from a vast majority of the world’s nations.

First, from the Los Angeles Times:

‘How sweet it is,’ WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange declares after U.N. panel backs his freedom

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Friday he felt vindicated by the findings of a United Nations panel that ruled he should be allowed to walk free.

And the inevitable, via Deutsche Welle:

Assange stays put as Britain, Sweden reject UN decision

The British and Swedish authorities have rejected a UN panel’s findings and say WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will still face arrest if he exits Ecuador’s embassy. He’s not budging, reports Samira Shackle from London

UPDATE: From The Real News Network, an interview [transcript] on Britain’s response with Assange’s own attorney:

UK Rejects UN Ruling that Assange Detention Is Illegal

Program notes:

After the UN finds Assange to be arbitrarily detained, Assange attorney Carey Shenkman explains how the UK is undermining the authority of the UN while simultaneously relying on it to release detained UK citizens

BBC News covers Old Blighty umbrage:

Julian Assange decision by UN panel ridiculous, says Hammond

The UK foreign secretary has branded as “ridiculous” a UN panel’s ruling that Julian Assange be allowed to go free, as the Wikileaks founder demanded the decision be respected.

And the response, via the Guardian:

Julian Assange accuses UK minister of insulting UN after detention finding

Foreign secretary Philip Hammond dismisses panel’s finding as ‘ridiculous’ but WikiLeaks founder hails ‘sweet victory’

Anonymous voices our own sentiments, and much more graphically:

BLOG Anon