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Obama Moves to Massively Expand Covert Military Abroad

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Via The New York Times, President Obama has just ordered a “broad expansion of clandestine military operations” in an attempt to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda”. The ‘covert operations’ will likely include anything from target assassinations, ‘drone’ attacks in Pakistan, secret bombing campaigns, money transfers to client states (a la Karzai and Maliki), and many things in-between. This is a significant move for a variety of reasons, not least of which stands the utter lack of public consultation for such a policy.

Mr. Greenwald has a timely essay on why Mr. Obama can undertake such extreme actions in the absence not only of opposition to his imperial policy, but indeed, any discussion whatsoever. Our major news outlets have reported the order in classic ‘objective’ style, assigning as little controversy to it as possible and treating it instead as a run-of-the-mill executive action. But it is interesting to examine why, in this year 2010, after nine continuous years of war, public opinion is such that a unilateral expansion of our secret military complex can occur with as little discussion as imaginable.

First, Mr. Greenwald notes, because this military expansion is taking place under a “Democratic” President, it creates the illusion of so-called ‘bipartisan support’. Back when President Bush was carrying out covert operations in Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc., they were painted as the actions of an ‘extremist’ administration, one which regards the opposition with disdain and made a point of treating international law with utter contempt. However, after 18 months of military escalation, these wars are as much Mr. Obama’s (that is, “Democratic” wars), as they were Mr. Bush’s. As such, the number of “Democrats” willing to risk their political futures by opposing military action has dropped precipitously, as have the number of war-opposers in the general population. Specifically, the subset of people for whom Mr.Obama can do no wrong will automatically agree with his war policy – or if they disagree, put forth some excuse as to how Mr. Obama ‘has no choice’.

The biggest reason Mr. Greenwald identifies, however, is the complete lack of documented impact these wars have on our livelihood. It has been often mentioned that, unlike in Vietnam, very few Americans have had to go to war against their will. Our press is largely censored as to the true cost of our warfare not only on the beleaguered people of Iraq and Afghanistan, but even our own soldiers. Recall the recent dust-up when our Secretary of War, Robert Gates, “harshly condemned” the media’s display of a flag-draped coffin. And that was just one soldier, who had admittedly died in combat, but whose grisly death we had been totally shielded from.  As much as possible, we citizens are encouraged not to think about our military “commitments” abroad, and instead to simply carry on with our daily lives, a few dollars shorter than the day before, a little more ragged perhaps, but still inestimably “proud” of our “commitment” to “democracy in the Middle East”. One wonders just how far that pride would take us if more than 1% of the US population was involved in our military escapades, as the statistic stands now.

But beyond that, what Mr. Greenwald hints at but never explicitly states, is the psychology of powerlessness to which we citizens are routinely subjected. We literally have no say in what our government does abroad, and we have less and less of a say in even its domestic policies. In the 2008 elections, both candidates were unabashedly pro-war, Mr. Obama more so than even his most fervent supporters might have dreamt. For whom are we to vote if we wish to exit Iraq and Afghanistan immediately? Which Congressman, which Senator would even entertain such a possibility? To whom do we donate that we can be sure our paltry $50 will not be rendered irrelevant by the millions of dollars industry interests donate in order to keep these wars going? It is an implacable question, one made all the more urgent by President Obama’s dramatic escalation of our already over-stretched ‘commitments’.

The feeling of powerlessness can lead to apathy, but also to fear. When one recalls the brutality to which previous “anti-war protesters” have been subjected in the US, including savage beatings with nightsticks, water-cannons, ear-splitting sound emitters, tear gas and rubber bullets, it is not hard to imagine from whence this fear of dissent arises. Recall, also, that since the Homegrown Terrorism Act of 2007 passed, civil disobedience – the mere act of peaceful protest – has been defined as ‘terrorism’. And once you are accused of ‘terrorism’, citizen or no, you are immediately stripped of every right you think you have.

This latest move towards military hegemony is particularly insidious, and I suppose it follows that Mr. Obama merely announced his policy, in true decree style, with little or no discussion. With one stroke of a pen, Mr. Obama has resserved the right to carry out military operations anywhere around the globe, from “surgical strikes”, bombing campaigns, ground incursions, assassinations, or, indeed, anything his enigmatic mind may wish. It is worth remembering at this point that Mr. Obama also reserves the right to assassinate US citizens in their beds (that is, far from a battlefield), and ‘render’ accused terrorists to a global prison complex where no defense attorney dares enter. There, they can be beaten, tortured, or even murdered, far from the watchful eye of the Red Cross.

It is easy to imagine this latest move on the part of Mr. Obama is merely a continuation of Mr.  Bush’s odious policies. It is that, of course, but its implications go far deeper. Mr. Bush’s covert actions were largely piecemeal: an assassination here, a few ‘drone’ attacks there, maybe some ‘cash assistance’ to some friendly dictator or another for spice. In contrast, Mr. Obama’s new ‘national security strategy‘ systematizes these covert acts of aggression, and sets up, in essence, a new governmental body, with no congressional or popular oversight, to carry out his murderous will around the globe. It is difficult to overstate the significance of this ‘overhaul’, yet it is even more difficult to convince anyone of that significance.

Mr. Hitler once coined the term for the Germans as a ‘sleep-walking people’, but the same could easily be said of Americans (or, for that matter, anyone else). We face, in our generation, a confluence of crises of which we are only just beginning to see the magnitude, and unfortunately the first step to solving a crisis is to realize it exists, something for which, at least with regards to our present constitutional crisis, we still have quite some ways to go.

Written by pavanvan

May 27, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Tea Partiers to Raise Private Army

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This doesn’t look good – and of course, because our lawmakers are idiots, several of them support the idea of a non-state “Tea Party militia”; y’know, because our government is just getting too big.

This is a little difficult for me to swallow. Where were these people when President Bush was busy getting us into two absurd wars, creating the Dept. of Homeland Security (which was literally the biggest expansion of government since the ’70s), or reserving for himself the right to detain anyone, citizen or no, indefinitely without trial and interrogate them by torture? This is “big government” by definition, unlike this watered-down “Affordable Care Act”, which leaves the corporate system of health care almost entirely intact.

I guess I shouldn’t be arguing from a logical perspective because from the start this “tea party movement” has displayed an eerie, otherworldly indifference to reality. But from a pragmatic standpoint, well, let’s see what the Tea Parties have already done with the considerable shelter our government has given them:

  • Threatening gun violence if health-care reform passes.
  • Advocating the murder of census workers.
  • Calling a civil rights hero and congressman a “nigger” repeatedly.
  • Beginning a systemic campaign of harassment, including painting a swastika on one congressman’s office.
  • Carrying automatic rifles to town hall meetings (including one where Obama was speaking).
  • Threatening to murder a Democratic lawmaker in Colorado.
  • Severing the gas line of the brother of a Virginia Congressman, with the clear intent of blowing up his house (they got the address wrong).

Et Cetera. Is this legitimate politics? Like, you don’t get what you want so you proclaim the other side illegitimate (the “birther movement”) and threaten to kill them?

I invite the reader to imagine what the result of this behavior would have been had it occurred under the Bush Administration. I have the feeling these “patriots” would have been labeled “terrorists”, rounded up in the middle of the night, and held indefinitely without trial with the media cheering. But there’s no need to speculate! In 2006, more than 71 Iraq War Protesters (who, I might add, were demonstrating peacefully – i.e. without guns) were arrested. In 2003,  more than 275  anti-war protesters were arrested in New York. Shit – just last month, the government arrested 8 anti-war protesters at a rally. And these guys, I hasten to repeat, did not wave guns around, spout racial slurs, or threaten to murder congressmen. On the other hand, not a single Tea Partier has been arrested at a rally (to my knowledge).

It’s clear that this “movement”, such as it is, enjoys vast institutional support, from the corporations who fund the gatherings to the GOP congressmen who actively encourage this behavior (Rep. Steve King from Iowa, Mike Pence of Indiana, and many, many others have given bellicose speeches at these “tea party gatherings”) to the Democratic congressmen who have studiously avoided any serious condemnation of these actions whatsoever. As such, I think one can reasonably assume that these “Tea Partiers” serve a useful role to the corporations who fund senatorial and congressional campaigns. Clearly, if these Tea Party actions went against the wishes of our lawmaker’s benefactors (like, say, the anti-war protest crowd had), we’d be seeing a lot more “bipartisanship” against this movement.

When one takes a brief look at what the Tea Partiers want, it’s not difficult to see why. The Times reports on its front page today that Tea Party hero Sen. Mitch McConnell vehemently opposes new finance regulation (the old regulations worked so well, after all…), and indeed, the Tea Party ethos against all manifestations of “big government” can be seen to be anti-regulation by its very nature. There is nothing our industry elite – the JP Morgans and Monsantos of the world – would like better than a grassroots movement to look out for their interests. When JP Morgan says it’s against financial regulation, it looks, of course, like a crook. But when they convince (and pay) a bunch of ignorant hicks to march against “big government”, well, then it seems like the people are against financial regulation. Sure, some of them tend to get a little out of hand, what with the racial slurs and death threats, but even that serves a purpose – to keep uppity lawmakers in line.

It would be shallow to attribute the Tea Party’s rise only to GOP support of it, which, I admit, has been substantial. The Democratic silence on the matter has done just as much to encourage them. And that makes sense, considering both parties tend to work in favor of their corporate sponsors, who are clearly thrilled with the rise of a grassroots corporatist movement.

If the Tea Party succeeds in cobbling together a “militia” (it seems unlikely at this point), they will serve as the perfect complement to Blackwater. While BW remains a purely corporate mercenary force, it is only taken from the elite sector of society. A Tea Party militia would form the everyman’s Blackwater, as it were – an army made up of the public to work directly against the public interest.

Oh, if Orwell could see us now!

Written by pavanvan

April 14, 2010 at 11:46 am

Telangana Resumption

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Poster at a Telangana protest. The dam diverts water from Telangana to Andhra, leaving some farmers impoverished.

As I write, the city of Hyderabad has virtually shut down – but then, a city of 4 million can never really shut down, can it? The police have cordoned off the arterial roadways; they stand erect, decked in full riot gear, shields glistening in the sun before a tangle of razor-wire. Every 200 meters or so reveals a new checkpoint, a new cadre of stern-faced policeman prepared for – what? – for anything. The students of Osmania University have decided to march on the state assembly, for one last (though it won’t really be the last) cry of agitation for Telangana. The police have determined that they will not get that far. Hyderabad swarms with them; they have learned from past mistakes, and are now taking no chances. The previous agitations may have seemed a joke to most, a petty squabble between fresh-faced youngsters and India’s grimly determined gendarmerie. Only now does the seriousness of this affair sink in. Hyderabad resembles an occupied city, a militarized zone, whose citizens are doing their best, in spite of the inconvenience, to go about their daily business. The main roads blocked, their vehicles cram the side-streets, loosing a cacophony of horns, shouts, and irritated grunts.

But what of the students? From a terrace outside the university campus I got a birds-eye view of the coming agitation; a prelude, perhaps, to the free-for-all that is sure to ensue should the students somehow make it to the state assembly. (As of this writing, at 2:30 PM, the mob has been stopped approximatly four kilometers from their target.) Thousands of students stand in a tightly packed oblong circle, surrounded by hundreds of riot-clad policeman. The crowd roars, “Jai! Telangana!” and the police nervously fingered their batons, ready for the violence to break, perhaps even willing it, but sternly warned not to attack until the first stone had been thrown.

Suddenly – a break. As though by common consent, the stduents in the center of the mass begin pushing, and soon they force a hole in the police line. The police, still cautious, refrain from swinging their batons. One catches just the faintest wisp of bemusement in their eyes – the students, after all, have six kilometers and fifteen roadblocks to traverse before they reach their goal at the assembly. Let them march! But still, one officer cannot help but swing a half-hearted whack at a passing student. The gap widens; the students pour through. The shouts become ebullient, joyful: “Johar! Johar!” One young fellow, only twenty by the looks of him, runs at the head of the mob, leaping with joy, pumping his fist into the air. Another group of students stays behind at the university gate, chanting slogans, waving flags, and glaring, with anger-widened eyes, at their khaki-clad oppressors.

The Telangana movement has entered into the third month of its current incarnation, and it shows no signs of slowing. What moves these students to risk their lives, their well-being? By what do they endure the blows of police batons, the cracked skulls, the shattered ribs? To find out, I visited the Osmania University campus during a lull in the activity, one week ago. In interviews with students and professors, I caught, perhaps, a glimpse of the disposession, the frustration that drives this movement – but I gained as well a healthy dose of cynicism.

Before I begin I should admit that my initial writings on this topic (here, here and here) were premature and largely uninformed. I regarded this business then as so much wasted time, a pointless agitation for a rather meaningless goal – would Telangana, after all, relieve India’s systemic corruption? Would it ease Hyderabad’s pollution-withered lungs? I had a sense, at the time, that Telangana had suffered some historical injustice, but I had no idea how systematic it was, how deeply it affected the farmers and villagers of this area, what a scarified psychic wound it left. As with all political movements, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction, how much of it is a spontaneous effusion of decades of frustration, and how much planned by clever, power-seeking politicians. My interviews with the Osmania students did little to relieve this ambiguity.

The grievances, at least, are real enough – Telangana has been deprived of water, land, and cultural identity. The statistics are revealing, and Telangana protesters never turn down an opportunity to quote them – 80% of state jobs go to Andhra, even though the state capital is in Telangana; only 13% of the state’s water supplies get to the Telangana region. Telangana finds itself bereft of universities, capital investment, development projects, or any kind of government support.  They’ve been lied to from the start – the 1956 agreement that bound Andhra and Telangana together was a sham and was violated almost immediately after it was signed.

The knowledge of this deprivation has moved countless students to protest – but it seems there must be something more to it.

My interviews at Osmania were partially instructive. I wanted to know why these students felt so strongly about the Telangana issue – beyond the various statistics that illustrate Telangana’s subjugation. What did Telangana mean to them? Why were they willing to risk being arrested and beaten? Why were students dousing themselves with kerosene and lighting a match?

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Aravind Seti, 22, is a Master’s student in Biotechnology. He has a shy, innocent smile, and a soft-spoken manner about him. He was sitting outside the Osmania Arts College, the main building of the agitations, under a tent where a few students desultorily milled about and a cheap 1960s-era speaker blasted grainy Telangana protest music. I approached him, notebook in hand, and began to ask of his motivations.

“Well…” he started. He seemed to have difficutly putting his thoughts into words. “The political leaders here are all very corrupt. We aren’t represented in the assembly. I’m doing this for the sake of my friends and colleagues. We’ll get more jobs, you see, many more opportunities if Telangana comes.”

I persisted, “But why do you, specifically, feel strongly about this? Is it a sense of historical injustice, or have you personally seen Andhra oppression? What lead you to protest?”

“I am excited to be part of such a historic movement,” he explained, “We have suffered for so long – not me, personally, but my countrymen, we in Telangana. So much history behind us gets stamped under the Andhra heel. Who will speak for us?”

He opened his mouth to continue, but before he could speak, a short professor with a furrowed brow walked quickly towards us. His eyes were red.

“Yes, who are you?” he asked.

“I’m a journalist – I’m trying to get a sense of the public mood here. You know, why the students feel so strongly about this, etc.”

He was brusque. “Address your questions to me. I can speak for the students.”

“And who might you be?” I asked.

“I’m his teacher.”

“Which class do you teach?”

“I teach Arts at a different university.”

“But he just told me he’s a biochemistry student. How can you be…”

“Well, I’ve taken on the role of a mentor for these students. I’m a teacher for all the students of this movement now.”

I attempted to interview Aravind, but his ‘professor’ continued to interject with the standard Telangana grievances: the water, the jobs, the land-grab on the part of Andhra, etc. He was vigorous, angry, even, and hardly allowed Aravind to speak. This was not what I had come there for. The grievances I knew; the students, I didn’t.

Thinking I could not understand Telegu, the professor hurriedly whispered to Aravind: “When he asks you questions, you must give perfect answers. You are speaking for the movement.  Do not give wrong answers!”

I felt I wouldn’t get much farther with Aravind, so I asked him one final question: “How long have you felt this way? How long have you been conscious of the Telangana plight?”

He blushed. The professor winced. “To tell you the truth,” said Aravind, “I had no idea about any of this until last November, when K.C.R [the leader’s movement] gave his speech at the university and began his hunger strike. I listened to his speech and wanted to be part of a movement.”

The professor began to give a long speech regarding the historical injustice of Telangana’s union with Andhra – the broken promises, the theft of water, the deprivation of employment. I cut him off and asked: “What do you think of the recent suicides? There have been almost 100 so far, all for Telangana. Do you think that by glorifying the students who choose to kill themselves, the movement condones it?”

He turned scarlet. “We absolutely do not condone these suicides!” he said vigorously, “But how can we stop them? They are an expression of the students’ rage.”

I persisted. “But Aravind just said he didn’t even know about this movement until a couple months ago. How could they have gotten so enraged so quickly?”

The professor stammered. “Well… emotions run hot…” He did not want to comment further.

I was curious as to how long the professor had been active in the movement. For someone who evidently felt so strongly about the issue, for someone who had taken a leadership position in these student agitations, he surely must have agitated before. He was in his late thirties.

“How long have you been in the movement?” I asked.

The professor scowled, then frowned, as though he knew the question was coming, and dreaded it.

“…. I’ve only been participating since November 28th, the date of K.C.R’s speech. ” And then, by way of justification: “One has to take care of their own…” Meaning his family.

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Pandu Rangam is 22 years old, and he’s studying for a B. Tech in computer science. His parents are farmers in Nizamabad, in the heart of Telangana. When I spoke with him he betrayed a profound cynicism toward the whole student movement, and questioned the motives of its leaders.

“These students are being totally manipulated by K.C.R and the rest of the leadership,” he said, “The tragedy is that while the politicians aren’t really sincere about this, the students are. Look at how many have killed themselves over this! I’m amazed K.C.R has no shame. 99% of the students you talk to had no idea about Telangana this – Andhra that, until K.C.R came and gave his speech here. They’re 2-month-old patriots.”

“What do you think will happen if Telangana comes into existence?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing much will change,” he replied, almost cheerfully, “The politicians will rule the state much as it has been ruled – only now we’ll be plundered by our own people, instead of those living 200 km away.”

“These students are trying so hard,” he continued, “They endure the police charges, take their blows, but in the end they’ll be disenfranchised as they always have – you know, we’ll only see a real change if the students get leadership positions in the new Telangana. They’re the only ones who aren’t corrupt. How can they be – they haven’t had time to get the taste of money. ”

Arjun, 21, another computer science student, overheard our conversation and joined in.

“But you have to admit, we’ve been totally mistreated by the Andhra government. Remember – 85% of jobs to go Andhra! They buy all our real estate and force our farmers into slavery!” he chided Pandu, “All politicians are corrupt – we know that. But maybe things will be a little better under our own leaders.”

Pandu laughed, “You want to risk your life for a ‘maybe’?”

Arjun continued, “Before we get Telangana we need a full inquiry into government corruption. We must root out corruption in our state if anything is to change.”

Pandu: “That’s why we let the students run the state!”

Arjun: “That’s a stupid idea. What do we know? We 22-and-23 year olds? You yourself said how easily the students were led into risking their lives, into enduring police charges. Who is to say some corrupt politician won’t manipulate these student leaders if they gain power in the state?”

Pandu had no answer.

I asked, “Would it be worth all this be worth it if Telangana happened, but its leaders turned out to be just as corrupt as the Andhra leaders?”

Pandu said no. Arjun said yes.

Pandu: “What is the use if none of our problems are solved?”

Arjun: “Even if we get corrupt leaders, at least they will be our corrupt leaders.”

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Walking about the campus, I stopped a student on the street for a spot interview. His name was Vikas, and he had taken part in the agitations since November 28th – K.C.R’s speech. He has attended meetings, but did not participate in the riots.

“I wanted to be a part of something historic,” he said, “I didn’t know very much about this until K.C.R. gave his speech. I listened to it and became very inspired. Without Telangana we won’t get jobs. We won’t get land, or water.”

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Thimmapa is 20, and one of the few students I spoke with who rioted with the students last December. He endured the police batons, and showed me a scar on his forehead to prove it. He bears it with pride.

“My dad is dead, and my mom is a coolie,” he said, by way of introduction, “I’ve been wanting Telangana ever since I was 14 years old. I read about it in books, but more than that, I watched society. People from Andhra are managers. People from Telangana are night watchmen outside the buildings.”

I ask you, how is this fair? Are we not people? I tell you, we are just as smart as anyone from Andhra. They think we’re second-class, but I say they are the second-class!”

“What about K.C.R.?” I asked.

“He is a good orator,” Thimmapa replied. “We will see what kind of leader he is. I trust him.”

“With Telangana we’ll have jobs, land,” Thimmapa continued, “We’ll tear down these evil dams that divert our water. Our water! And we won’t give a drop more to Andhra. Have they not drank enough?”

His roommate interjected: “We feel stepped on. They destroy our culture, say it’s no good. Well, I think they’re culture is no good. But who listens to me? If I were from Andhra, I would have a nice job waiting for me when I get out of university; I would have big land with a river flowing through it.”

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Anurag is a 19-year-old law student and speaks in flawless English. He, too, is skeptical of the movement, and says he is “neither for nor against Telangana”, instead describing himself merely as “pro-development”.

“I see no clear agenda from the pro-Telangana people”, he remarked, “The students who are involved in this so-called agitation to me  seem to be simply moving with the flock. What will happen once they achieve Telangana? No one knows. Well, I guess K.C.R will become Chief Minister – everyone knows that. But then what? Do they think they’ll suddenly get land and water and jobs overnight? I think a lot of students are in for a big disappointment, one way or another.”

“What do you see as the pros and cons of a separate Telangana state?” I asked.

“Well, let’s see – definitely a con will be the lack of negotiation power with the Central Government – consolidated with Andhra we speak with a much bigger voice. All alone, I’m not sure how many concessions we’ll be able to wrest from them. Another con would be the interruption of studies. If these agitations continue, the students will have lost one full year of school. Don’t they care about that?

On the pro side – a new state will open new opportunities for jobs. A new state means a new assembly, a new legislature. These positions will obviously be filled by Telangana students. But at the same time, the number of positions we’re talking about is slight – maybe 300 to 400 new jobs at the max. It’s clear the problem is bigger than this – it has to do with overpopulation – but of course no one wants to talk about that. Let’s see… well, I guess it’ll do wonders for our self-respect. I mean that’s what everyone talks about, right? But I can’t help but think that if we can’t respect ourselves without our own state, how will be be able to respect ourselves with one? During the independence movement that was also a major argument; people said India can never respect itself while it’s under the British crown. Do we really respect ourselves so much now?”

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

I came away from the university with something of a clearer picture of this movement. The grievances, at least, are no doubt legitimate, but I found it extremely curious that most of the students with whom I spoke had very little knowledge of them before K.C.R gave his fateful speech. However no one can doubt the genuineness of the student’s emotions – they feel the injustice, and are willing to go to some length to demonstrate it. Partly for a desire to belong to a larger movement, certainly, but also of a feeling of historical injustice, and the desire to redress it. The student suicides are especially perplexing, and I cannot wrap my mind around why someone would kill themselves over this.

One last note on the police brutality this movement has seen: at several protests over the past few months the police have charged, seemingly without warning, striking anyone at hand, including women and reporters. I know not under whose orders such actions were undertaken, but they remain counterproductive in the extreme, and have likely done more than their part in recruiting new protesters. It is not a pleasant sight to see young women clutching their heads as blood seeps between their fingers – and those who do see it are likely to become far more enraged over that, rather than abstract historical grievances.

Google and the Surveillance State

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So everyone is talking about Google’s latest threats to China. If you somehow haven’t already heard, Google is suddenly pissed at Chinese policy for some reason and is now threatening to leave. I think the Chinese government hacked some e-mails or something? Anyway, Google just isn’t going to take it anymore.

This news is in its speculative stage (just a little baby!) but already it’s grown into a behemoth, dominating the business sections of The Times, The Journal, pretty much every other “serious” newspaper, and of course, all the myriad blogs. What makes this development so puzzling, and what few have bothered to mention, is that until now Google.cn has cooperated fully with China’s censorship program, removing results to searches containing words such as “Tiananmen square massacre”, “Tibet”, “democracy”, “protest”, and so forth. In the past, they have received copious criticism for this blatant disregard for their (supposed) motto of “free information”.

In its blog, Google briefly mentions that it will no longer cooperate with the Chinese censorship program, and then launches into a harangue regarding hacked e-mails and “attacks” on Google’s infrastructure:

We have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

As part of this investigation but independent of the attack on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users’ computers.

Okay. I understand why Google might want to backpedal on its cooperation with China’s censorship programs.  It was never a good idea to begin with, ran completely opposed to Google’s stated aims, and sparked a lot of really bad publicity. But why not say as much? Why the feigned surprise and outrage over China’s “hacking” of Google e-mail accounts? Obviously the Chinese Government has some kind of beef with human-rights activists (and Google should know: they voluntarily censored the words “human rights” in their Chinese searches for four years) – was Google really that surprised that the Chinese government decided to take a peek into some dissident G-mail accounts?

And this further begs the question – will Google apply this standard to all countries, or just China? As they well know, the UK also has a warrantless surveillance program, with specific clauses for e-mail. In the UK, the exact practices which so offended Google in China (accessing accounts via “phishing scams or malware”) are legal and apparently occur as I write.

The Times of London reports in an article entitled “Police set to step-up hacking of home PCs” that the UK police are also hacking e-mails:

Police might also send an e-mail to a suspect’s computer. The message would include an attachment that contained a virus or “malware”. If the attachment was opened, the remote search facility would be covertly activated. Alternatively, police could park outside a suspect’s home and hack into his or her hard drive using the wireless network.

Oh… Yeah, that’s pretty much what China is doing. I wonder if Google will set up a huge press conference to announce it’s pulling out of Britain now.

And remember, the US still has warrantless wiretapping on its books, which means that in addition to e-mail, the US government can listen in on phone calls and regular conversations without approval from a judge. Obviously this means the US government can also hack e-mails (even Google e-mails) at its whim. Will Google write a new blog post to decry these “attacks and surveillance”, prompting them to “review the feasibility of operations in the US”? Somehow I doubt it.

So hooray, I guess, for Google finally standing up to the Chinese police state. One only wishes it would do the same for other surveillance states.

Tea Party Poopers

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Stephanie Mencimer has an amusing report in this week’s Mother Jones. The “Tea Party” group of September 12th fame, who rose in opposition to “Obamacare”, “death panels” (and let’s not forget) “socialism”, finds itself riven with factionalism and discontent, according to Mencimer’s article. A picturesque and characteristic study of a “grassroots movement” and its eventual co-option by moneyed forces, her article is valuable for shedding light on how money corrupts.

Would a true Tea Party patriot drop nearly $1,600 in donor money for a small meal at a fancy steakhouse? Robin Stublen says no, and he’s mad as hell about the profligate expenditures of a GOP political organization that has glommed on to his grassroots movement. Stublen is the organizer of the Punta Gorda, Florida, Tea Party and a member of Tea Party Patriots, a national grassroots organization that has no offices, no president, raises virtually no money, operates largely on volunteer efforts, and, most important, doesn’t endorse candidates.

The “Tea Party Patriots” are not to be confused with the “Tea Party Express”; the latter derives its funding from major Republican donors and is basically seen as an organ of the Republican party. The former, on the other hand, claims to be the true “grassroots” movement – underfunded and without an institutional voice, they are frequently mistaken for their well-funded cousins.

For instance, according to recent filings with the Federal Election Commission, the PAC that created Tea Party Express dropped $1,597.29 over the summer for a meal for six at a tony Sacramento Chops restaurant, an expenditure that has Stublen seeing red.

“Six people averaged $266; that’s not grassroots. I kill bugs and cut grass for a living. I’m splurging when I spend $19 at Chili’s. Outback Steakhouse is reserved for Mother’s Day,” Stublen says.

Hilarious.

Written by pavanvan

January 3, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Telangana

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Insofar as the Telengana separatists have an ecological grievance (loss of water rights), a strong sense of emotionalism carries through the movement. Students battle policemen, the city strikes, and a wrenching cry of “Jai Telangana!” erupts before protesters light themselves ablaze. This is no ordinary issue, but one which has festered for almost forty years, and for which no obvious solution exists.

India’s leading party, the Congress Party, does not wish for a separate Telengana state. For the past week they have sat silent, hoping this agitation will blow over, but this seems less likely every day. The separatist leader, K.C. Rao, is now on the tenth day of his fast, and another strike will be held tomorrow in his honor. The biggest fear among the public is that he should die tomorrow, the day of the strike, a development which, in the words of one citizen, “would make the whole city burn”.

It is clear that a group does not engage in strikes and riots when they feel they have a reasonable chance of being heard by their government. Such acts are generally those of desperation, of a last resort. Also noteworthy here are the students of Osmania University, who have endured countless beatings over the past week. By leading the demonstrations, they have introduced a new element, as everyone knows protests become more serious once students are involved.

It will be very interesting to see the effects of tomorrow’s strike. Congress leadership is apparently in high-level talks, but they are obviously very reluctant to let Telengana go. There is also the small matter of Telengana not having any significant cities, except for Hyderabad, the capital of the state from which it wants to secede. There seems no good way this will end.

Written by pavanvan

December 9, 2009 at 9:14 pm

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Tea Parties for All

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The New York Review of Books (not to be confused with the New York Times Book Review), has an excellent dissection of the recent conservative protest movement in this week’s issue. In it, Michael Tomasky attempts to answer the questions: Who were those protesters outside Capitol Hill on Sept. 12? Where did they come from? What are their aims? And perhaps most important: Should they be taken seriously?

Tomasky’s superb analysis yields some very dismal conclusions. According to him a new coalition has arisen, reactionary and corporate-funded, which comprises approximately 25% of the population. While opposition to “big government” and “bailouts” forms a strong part of their ethos, the movement’s greatest demonstration – the September 12protest – focused its denigration upon one piece of one issue ( the public option and reform in genral). They are heavily patronized both by rich benefactors and the entire conservative media apparatus, most notoriously, Fox News. With manufactured outrage and serious financial support, they give the distinct impression of populism on issues where very little popular outrage exists.

The article is valuable for its discussion of the underlying philosophy of the protest movement: the Ayn Rand – Objectivist viewpoint that has compelled so many to act against their material benefit. The financiers of these protests and the party theorists behind them seek little more than the removal of the programs many of those overwhelmingly middle-class protesters enjoy. Concepts such as the minimum wage, social security, medicare, unemployment benefits and many like them simply cannot coexist with the de-regulated “small government” the protesters apparently wish for. The wealthy capitalists behind this movement seek a government with their wealth in mind – not that of the middle class.

Tomasky makes the astute observation that the sentiments expressed betray a nostalgia for the Bush administration, and that their adherents likely comprise the 24% of Americans who viewed President Bush favorably as he departed. However he spends little time discussing a major hole in the protest’s ideology. There is a distinct difference between the protester’s stated aims of “smaller government” and their tacit support of our wars abroad. Their paragon, President Bush, expanded government almost beyond recognition, with his “Department of Homeland Security”, his 3 Trillion dollar wars, warrantless  wiretapping, politicization of the Justice Dept, employment of mercenaries, and many, many other actions. That these protesters choose such a minor manifestation of “big government” shows the divestment between their ideology and practice.

The problem, then, is not so much with the size of government, but the ends to which the government works. Government spending in the direct interest of Corporate America – no-bid contracts, costly wars, so-called “privatization”, etc. – comes under no scrutiny. Instead the objection comes mainly to the public manifestations of government spending, to government in the public interest. Hence, there was no specific opposition to a government mandate that all citizens must carry health insurance (a major goal of the health insurance industry), merely opposition to a public option (which would cut into industry profits.)

It is clear to see why our nation’s most wealthy citizens should wish to curb government spending on items they don’t purvey. But their ability to foment a purely artificial movement (Tomasky calls this phenomenon “astroturf” – corporate-funded grassroots) and  manipulate a public, with the major media complicit, into protesting against their tax-paying interest serves as a dismal reminder of the sheer power moneyed interests hold in our country.

Written by pavanvan

October 3, 2009 at 12:59 am