Archive | June 2013

How Did We Get Here? The Secret Government Spying Program Revealed

You can at once do the worst and best thing to someone by educating him or her (or yourself) – the worst thing because once informed, he can never be indifferent or neutral to events around him and use ignorance as the excuse, and best because there is nothing more empowering than knowledge, just as there is nothing as disempowering as ignorance.

Guardian and Washington Post revealed the other day that the National Security Agency, secretly, indiscriminately and without a cause, accesses, seizes and stores just about all forms of communication and Internet activities of tens of millions of Americans, including email, chat, videoconferencing, Web searches, file transfers, etc., directly from the servers of most (probably all) major carriers and Internet service providers, such as Facebook, Yahoo, Google, Skype, Verizon, Apple, Microsoft and others, through a program codenamed PRISM.

Upon the revelation of the secret program, the Administration made it clear they intend to find and prosecute the source of the leak. According to Washington Post, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said Saturday that the NSA had initiated a Justice Department investigation into who leaked the information. They couldn’t be any clearer what the intended message was: you expose government wrongdoing and breaking of the law and we’re coming after you.

Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old system administrator and former undercover CIA employee, came forward today as the source, denouncing the “systematic surveillance of innocent citizens”. He said in an interview with Washington Post: “it’s important to send a message to government that people will not be intimidated.” He added: “I intend to ask for asylum from any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimization of global privacy”. Let me repeat that: He’s looking for “any countries that believe in free speech …”, and he’s a US citizen and a former CIA employee! He said he won’t be intimidated and added: “Allowing the U.S. government to intimidate its people with threats of retaliation for revealing wrongdoing is contrary to the public interest”, he added.

Already, John Kiriakou, another former CIA employee is serving time for blowing the whistle on torturing prisoners in Guantanamo, and Bradley Manning has been charged with espionage and is awaiting trial for revealing US atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan, after spending over 3 years in military prison, most of it in solitary confinement. And, they’re also trying to get their hands on Wiki leaks founder Julian Assange who did what any journalist would do with leaked information: he published it. And he’s not even a US citizen or resident and the publication didn’t occur in the US. Are you getting the mind boggling arrogance here?

Snowden added that “The government can’t reasonably assert the state secrets privilege for a program it has acknowledged. The courts can now allow challenges to be heard on that basis”. But, when Amnesty International sued the government recently over their seizure of Verizon cell phone records, the court dismissed the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs didn’t provide enough details!! Who was supposed to give those details, the government?!?

Think about it. Not only do they resort to an act that clearly and irrefutably violates the law and the citizens’ civil and privacy rights, not only no one is held accountable for this violation, not only is no one apologizing or running away from it, or promising to stop or, at the very least, limit its scope to those that involve persons suspected of having ties to terrorists or terrorist organizations or at least to those communications that either originate or end overseas, they shamelessly admit to it, and as if to add a slap in the face to this egregious violation, they seek to press criminal charges against the person who blew the whistle in order to discourage future whistle blowers and silence opposition, once and for all.

This is not just another government overreach, as we’ve come to know, little by little, in the past few decades. Nor is it just arrogance and over zealousness of government officials or a simple and harmless violation of the law by them, which we’re getting accustomed and desensitized to. This is something completely new, altogether. This is precisely what a military junta which tightly controls information, keeps its operations secret and identifies, tracks, controls and punishes or eliminates its opponents does – no more, no less.

We didn’t get here overnight. We got here step by step, starting from the Patriot Act. At each step, as the corporate government imposed on us more and more intrusive laws that took away some of our civil and privacy rights and freedoms and we remained silent, they became emboldened to go even further. I’m going to say something that I challenge anyone – and I know many liberals would love to – to prove me wrong: No administration and no security agency – NSA or others – has ever gone as far as the current government of the United States in stripping the civil and privacy rights of the American people, and no administration has ever discouraged and threatened against honest whistle blowers who just wanted people to know of government wrongdoing, and no administration has attempted to operate in as much secrecy and without oversight and accountability as the Obama Administration and the current US government, as a whole, which all is being done under the pretext of “war on terror”. I’m not putting all the blame on Obama and his cabinet or the current Congress or NSA. Where we are is the culmination of a step by step process. Obama is faithfully continuing the overall and long term policies of the Empire – something he was hired to do, something he applied for the job and promised to do, starting with his speech to the Democratic National Convention of 2004. I knew then when I heard his speech that he knew what he was doing and what he wanted to do.

I am disappointed, though not surprised, that this bogus “war on terror” which I’d have expected anyone older than 5 years old to see through and reject as a ludicrous ploy, is being bought by so many who are much older than 5. That could only have been made possible by one thing and one thing alone: brainwashing. This is not rhetoric or innuendo or conspiracy. This is a fact. Corporate media, especially TV, and corporate controlled education at early age, have for over 50 years, drilled ideas, mindset, groupthink and culture into the heads of the population that have made it possible for the corporate government to implement their program and agenda unchallenged. Through such systematic and relentless brainwashing, wars are presented and mostly accepted either as fighting those who want to harm us or as taking democracy to other less civilized and savage people – people who don’t value life as much as we do and don’t want or “aren’t ready” for democracy and “prefer” tyrannical rule, something that even supposedly liberal TV personalities like Bill Maher tell us. By making that false and cynical claim, they’re indirectly, wittingly or not, conditioning us to think of other peoples as less than us and their lives as less valuable than ours. So, their casualties don’t matter as much and dictators we impose on them are for their own good, and if they revolt, well, that’s another sign of their violent nature.

The attacks on civil and privacy rights, as well as discouraging and threatening against whistle blowers who expose and report government overreach and law breaking, as a whole, is the corollary and requirement of the policy of expanding the reach and influence of the Empire and the objective of world domination and plunder for US corporations and the tiny super wealthy minority who own them.

The fact of the matter is that the policy of such expansive and broad eavesdropping on Americans’ communication, including chats, emails, cell phone conversations, file downloads and Web searches didn’t start after or as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and was not really for the purpose of identifying and preventing terror attacks. That was never its main purpose. Did they suspect Dr. King of terrorism too when they monitored his private conversations in 1960’s? Eavesdropping on Internet communication began long before 9/11, in 1990’s, soon after the spread of Internet based communication and as soon as the required software was developed for them, though it was probably not as vast and massive as it is now and wasn’t as publicized or well known as now.

Throughout the years, though, leaks have surfaced as to its existence, especially, recently. As each such leak surfaced and shed light on it, the Congress moved to make legal what was previously done illegally. Whereas in the past, they had to get a court order to obtain private communication logs, the latest after-the-fact modification changed the law to relieve the government from the requirement that they first get court order in cases when the communication is with someone who’s overseas. For domestic ones, they still had to go to court which itself is a secret process with some secret judge in secret location, completely away from public scrutiny.

But, what the latest exposé by Glen Greenwald of Guardian and Washington Post shows is that communications of millions of Americans are seized routinely, en mass and in bulk and indiscriminately without regard to the above requirement, putting all kinds of private communication, including emails, photos, chats and text messages in the hands of government officials who could listen in, read and view those personal and private communication, without having any cause or suspicion of breaking the law. That is exactly the kind of thing that is explicitly and unambiguously forbidden in the Constitution. So, now, suddenly, it’s okay to disregard that part of the Constitution, too? And, I’m supposed to feel good because it’s for my safety when I know there is a far higher chance in this country of getting killed by the police or security agents than terrorists, not to mention the risk of dying from cancer causing produce genetically engineered by Monsanto?

When Obama and others, including not surprisingly Republican war hawks who came to the Administration’s defense – which should make liberals wonder if they ever wake up from their slumber – are all lying when they say this vast dragnet is “lawful”. Senator Feinstein was right when she said this was “nothing new”. But, she clearly and deliberately was lying when she said it was “lawful”. So was Obama when he said in domestic cases they still get a warrant. How can you get a warrant for acquiring what you already have in your possession which you keep obtaining indiscriminately and everyday? It’s like the cops coming to your house and searching everywhere and taking whatever they want without a warrant and when they get caught, they say they get a warrant when they decide to get possession of your personal belongings, even though they just hauled away whatever they wanted without one and keep doing it. This isn’t even a simple lie. It’s a massive fraud and a mass deception. The lie itself is as big as the unlawful dragnet. I want liberals to tell me what exactly is liberal about any of this?

We got here because in each step of the way, as they encroached on our rights and our dignity, we remained silent. And they will continue if we continue to stay silent. As the process continues, it’ll be harder and harder to oppose and dissent, as it’ll get that much harder to report, reveal and speak the truth. As we sit and watch them go after reporters, journalists and whistle blowers, which this Administration has done more than any other in the history of this country in the name of prosecuting leaks, we’re sinking deeper into the hole they’re digging for us, making it that much harder for us to climb out of it. The longer we wait, the worse it gets.Image

How Can They Sleep At Night? How Can We For Doing Nothing About It? The Story Of Oscar Lopez Rivera

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May 29 was the anniversary of Puerto Rican freedom fighter, Oscar Lopez’ imprisonment  by the US government. He was convicted of “seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States in Puerto Rico”, and sentenced to 70 years in prison, without committing a single act of violence or violating anyone’s rights or stealing anyone’s property. All he and his comrades wanted was an end to the occupation of their country by the US.

The “seditious conspiracy” law was used before and during the American Civil War against Southerners attempting to secede from the Union. After the war, all convicted of that crime were freed. Since then, the law was never used again until 1937, when they used it again for the first time, against Pedro Albizu Campos, another Puerto Rican nationalist. Since then, the law has only been used against Puerto Rican activists seeking end to the occupation. Since the US government considers Puerto Rico its legitimate possession, any attempt to liberate it from its annexation is met with heavy sentences. And they claim to have a non-political judicious system!

At his trial in 1980-81, López and his comrades were not tied to any bombings or murders or even attempted murders. In fact, they were not convicted of any real crime. Their only crime was the “conspiracy” to liberate their homeland from US occupation which makes the conviction purely political. How else can you liberate a nation from an occupying colonial power other than attempting to “overthrow” the occupying force in your country? With that logic, the founders of the US who fought against the British colonialism were all criminals deserving 70 year sentences.

Oscar Lopez and his comrades correctly declared themselves prisoners of war when arrested and refused to recognize US kangaroo court of injustice and instead called for an international court to review their case. The US government of course dismissed their claim and request.

According to Luis Nieves Falcón, a renowned Puerto Rican lawyer and professor emeritus of University of Puerto Rico and editor of the just-released book of Oscar’s letters and reflections titled “Oscar López Rivera: Between Torture and Resistance”, “he was not accused of killing anybody. He was not accused of placing any bombs. He was not accused of maiming anybody. He was accused of being associated with an organization [FALN] that favored using all means at their disposal to get rid of colonialism in Puerto Rico”.

“When you compare, for example, the sentence that’s imposed on him with those imposed on other convictions, like rapists and murderers, all those convictions were much, much less than the one imposed on Oscar López Rivera”.

According to Mr. Falcón who visited him in jail, he was kept in a tiny six by nine, underground cell, all painted white, illuminated 24 hours a day, in solitary confinement, for 12 years and subjected to abuse, including continuous sleep deprivation. The cell did not have a bed, just a concrete slab that was too small to lie down on and a toilet. All he could do was sit. Not only he was subjected to sleep and movement deprivation, he was also deprived of any communication. The guards were not allowed to speak to him, ever, not even a single word!

Who does that? What kind of government does that? How do they sleep at night?

Oscar Lopez is among the longest serving political prisoners in the world. He’s been in prison for 32 years – since he was 38; he’s now 70 – more than half of that time in solitary confinement, and authorities want to keep him in prison for another 30. And for what?

In 1999, Bill Clinton offered clemency to 16 Puerto Rican political prisoners, including Lopez, but he rejected the offer because it excluded two of his comrades. Is that the kind of person you want to keep in jail? In retaliation, the US government refuses to release him, even long after releasing the two for whom Oscar Lopez gave up his freedom. Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa who knows a thing or two about resistance against colonialism, as well as a few other Nobel Peace Prize laureates, have written to Obama, himself a Nobel Peace Prize awardee (what the hell for?) requesting his release, but, our first black President ignores their request.

In 1988, he was charged with conspiracy to escape and was given additional 15 years. In 1998, he was transferred to Federal Correctional Facility in Terra Haute, Indiana, and put in with murderers, rapists and other violent criminals where he still remains.

There have been reports of prison guards sexually assaulting Puerto Rican political prisoners. Conditions have been found to be in violation of UN “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners”. In 2006, the UN asked the US government to free all remaining Puerto Rican political prisoners. Both Bush and Obama have ignored the UN request, as well.

Puerto Rico is a separate nation with its own separate Spanish speaking people, their own culture, history and national identity and was forcibly occupied and annexed to the United States. These men are our brothers fighting for what we ourselves would have fought for.

What kind of government would free Marines who break into Iraqi homes in Haditha, in the middle of the night and execute two dozen unarmed men, women and children – mostly children – and jails someone who did nothing, but tried to liberate his occupied country?

How do they sleep at night? And how do we for standing by and doing nothing about it?

Is Obama A Centrist As Claimed By Liberals? The illusion of “the center”, the social vs. economic right and the left alternative

If you’re an evangelical Christian – part of the so-called “Christian Right” – and are therefore against abortion, against equal rights for gays and women, against science and teaching of evolution in schools, are for mandatory school prayers, and are for an all-out conflagration in Middle East because you think of it as the sign of the coming Rapture that you’ve been waiting for, then you would understandably be against Democrats in general and Obama, in particular, and would likely find more affinity with the most reactionary elements of the Republican Party. Likewise, if you are a white person who feels concerned and worried that your race is losing its power, and blacks, Hispanics and Asians present an attack on the purity of your race, again, it’s understandable for you to be against the presidency of a black man. But, if you’re a billionaire or multimillionaire and are for unbridled capitalism without much effective regulations, oversight or taxation of corporations, are against workers’ rights, including immigrants’, are against unions, don’t care about climate change, or safety of the food you eat, are for austerity and against social programs for the poor, elderly, students and kids, and support US colonial policies and wars and military attacks against nations and individuals in several countries and assassinations without due process, and don’t mind curtailing of people’s civil liberties or violation of international laws or exploitation of the poor nations for enriching the wealthy of this country, then Obama is your man.

The fact is: the ruling corporate and wealthy class, including the largest multinational corporations, banks, arms manufacturers, insurance, oil and pharmaceutical companies and their CEO’s and large shareholders, in general, with some exceptions, are totally fine and indeed do fine with Obama in the White House.

The reactionary, ultra-religious, misogynist and racist sectors of the society, on the other hand, who want to send women back to the kitchen, Hispanics to Mexico (to them, they’re all Mexicans), and gays to therapy, are not in the driver seat of US corporate-military-industrial complex. Those crazies are used to scare people, especially women and minorities to vote with the millionaires and billionaires and CEO’s, keeping the corporate oligarchy in power.

Obama, therefore, is not “center-left”, “center” or even “center-right”, if you consider politics in the context of economics, which is what really matters and determines class orientation. The social issues, though important and must be paid attention to, is not where the real battle – class battle, to be exact – is. Those issues, such as the battle for women’s and gays’ rights, though real and important, is a side show and a distraction – not because they’re not important, but, because that’s not where the corporate power is putting its money, and it’s not where the corporations are going, necessarily. Wars and occupations, austerity for the population, less corporate regulations and taxation, less worker rights and more cuts for the poor, and more police and repressive laws and generally corporate dictatorship is where the wealthy put their money and where they really are headed, not a religious autocracy.

Obama and the Democratic Party are often juxtaposed against the social conservatives as a social and cultural movement, instead of the working class as an economic class, and their true class allegiance and disposition is thus ignored by those who call them centrist. This, effectively, distracts attention from and gives a free pass to corporatists and proponents of monopoly capital who keep getting stronger, politically and economically. The corporate class uses the social conservatives to create division among people over social issues – white vs. black, men vs. women, straight vs. gay – and scapegoat minorities to keep the focus off them.

Running away from the Christian Right and into the arms of Obama is analogous to the reaction of a herd of buffaloes running away from smaller wolves chasing them from behind and right into the bigger and stronger wolves waiting in front. For wolves, causing a stampede from behind is a part of a deliberate strategy with the purpose of delivering the buffaloes to those in front. For the social reactionaries and religious zealots, it’s an accidental, but no less effective, cooperation, that serves corporations and the wealthy, all the same.

Obama and his Party is not any kind of “center”, but precisely is and represents THE RIGHT – not the misogynist bigots of evangelical Christian Right, or the racists and ignorant “birthers” and barn burners of the Republican and Tea Parties, but corporate (economic) right. You may identify which right – social or economic – is more nefarious and dangerous and should be mostly resisted, and I would understand whichever you choose. I would understand if you picked the first, if you’re a woman, gay or a member of a minority, but, it’s not the egregiousness or outrageousness that determines where the main battle is. The main battle is with greedy corporations such as Monsanto, the giant banks, the oil, insurance, weapons, pharmaceutical and other big corporations and their servants who are in power and maintain their grip on power. What matters is which of those two groups – corporate bosses or religious right – stand a better chance of getting their way and imposing on us their dictatorship.

If you’re a woman concerned about your rights (which you should be), and fight back against those who try to take them away (which you should), or you’re an African American disgusted and outraged by racist or racially motivated attacks on Obama (I am), does it mean you should support a servant of the corporations and agent of their tyranny which he clearly and evidently is? I think not. Avoiding one bad doesn’t mean accepting another.

This leads us to ask what the real alternative to corporate politics is. Though the Occupy movement suffered from lack of a strong and capable leader such as Dr. King of the last such movement and was unable to withstand the attacks by the security forces and adapt to the changing circumstances, it had the right idea and was on the right track. For the first time in many decades, it represented an alternative viewpoint and put the spotlight on the 1% and their greed and crimes. Though it did not continue, it helped with political education of the masses and represented another way, though in its infancy and most primitive. The nationwide protests against Monsanto last Saturday, though not successful in shutting down the company operations – they never suffered from such elusion – did help raise, to a small degree, consciousness about what the company does and why we should care. Likewise, the protests against Walmart and the struggle for higher pay for fast food workers, the protests against Bank of America or Guantanamo or drone attacks or in support of Bradley Manning, are all important because they raise consciousness and they can be the seeds for a movement that incorporates and builds on the demands expressed in those protests. The civil rights movement of 1960’s began with protests and civil disobedience before developing into a large mass movement and finding its voice in Dr. King. It started with the Rosa Parks of the movement, many of them unknown and unsung heroes, before flourishing into a full movement and exerting its power and influence.

We need to distinguish what works for us from what works for them (the corporate elite, the 1%). What works for them is the Congress and Oval Office and corporate elections, paid for courtesy of the corporations which then demand payback, as soon as the votes are tallied. What works for us, on the other hand, is street protests and a grass roots movement born from those protests. We don’t own the Congress or the President or the media or the police. All those have already been bought, paid for and spoken for. What we can own and own decidedly, without a Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and without expensive lobbyists, is the streets which is where all major historic changes have come from and all big changes of the future will, too.