Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history

from The Guardian
The fate of industrially farmed animals is one of the most pressing ethical questions of our time. Tens of billions of sentient beings, each with complex sensations and emotions, live and die on a production line

nimals are the main victims of history, and the treatment of domesticated animals in industrial farms is perhaps the worst crime in history. The march of human progress is strewn with dead animals. Even tens of thousands of years ago, our stone age ancestors were already responsible for a series of ecological disasters. When the first humans reached Australia about 45,000 years ago, they quickly drove to extinction 90% of its large animals. This was the first significant impact that Homo sapiens had on the planet’s ecosystem. It was not the last.
About 15,000 years ago, humans colonised America, wiping out in the process about 75% of its large mammals. Numerous other species disappeared from Africa, from Eurasia and from the myriad islands around their coasts. The archaeological record of country after country tells the same sad story. The tragedy opens with a scene showing a rich and varied population of large animals, without any trace of Homo sapiens. In scene two, humans appear, evidenced by a fossilised bone, a spear point, or perhaps a campfire. Scene three quickly follows, in which men and women occupy centre-stage and most large animals, along with many smaller ones, have gone. Altogether, sapiens drove to extinction about 50% of all the large terrestrial mammals of the planet before they planted the first wheat field, shaped the first metal tool, wrote the first text or struck the first coin.
The next major landmark in human-animal relations was the agricultural revolution: the process by which we turned from nomadic hunter-gatherers into farmers living in permanent settlements. It involved the appearance of a completely new life-form on Earth: domesticated animals. Initially, this development might seem to have been of minor importance, as humans only managed to domesticate fewer than 20 species of mammals and birds, compared with the countless thousands of species that remained “wild”. Yet, with the passing of the centuries, this novel life-form became the norm. Today, more than 90% of all large animals are domesticated (“large” denotes animals that weigh at least a few kilograms). Consider the chicken, for example. Ten thousand years ago, it was a rare bird that was confined to small niches of South Asia. Today, billions of chickens live on almost every continent and island, bar Antarctica. The domesticated chicken is probably the most widespread bird in the annals of planet Earth. If you measure success in terms of numbers, chickens, cows and pigs are the most successful animals ever.
Alas, domesticated species paid for their unparalleled collective success with unprecedented individual suffering. The animal kingdom has known many types of pain and misery for millions of years. Yet the agricultural revolution created completely new kinds of suffering, ones that only worsened with the passing of the generations.
At first sight, domesticated animals may seem much better off than their wild cousins and ancestors. Wild buffaloes spend their days searching for food, water and shelter, and are constantly threatened by lions, parasites, floods and droughts. Domesticated cattle, by contrast, enjoy care and protection from humans. People provide cows and calves with food, water and shelter, they treat their diseases, and protect them from predators and natural disasters. True, most cows and calves sooner or later find themselves in the slaughterhouse. Yet does that make their fate any worse than that of wild buffaloes? Is it better to be devoured by a lion than slaughtered by a man? Are crocodile teeth kinder than steel blades?
What makes the existence of domesticated farm animals particularly cruel is not just the way in which they die but above all how they live. Two competing factors have shaped the living conditions of farm animals: on the one hand, humans want meat, milk, eggs, leather, animal muscle-power and amusement; on the other, humans have to ensure the long-term survival and reproduction of farm animals. Theoretically, this should protect animals from extreme cruelty. If a farmer milks his cow without providing her with food and water, milk production will dwindle, and the cow herself will quickly die. Unfortunately, humans can cause tremendous suffering to farm animals in other ways, even while ensuring their survival and reproduction. The root of the problem is that domesticated animals have inherited from their wild ancestors many physical, emotional and social needs that are redundant in farms. Farmers routinely ignore these needs without paying any economic price. They lock animals in tiny cages, mutilate their horns and tails, separate mothers from offspring, and selectively breed monstrosities. The animals suffer greatly, yet they live on and multiply.
Broiler chickens, which are reared specifically for their meat, often suffer lameness due to overcrowding.
 Broiler chickens, which are reared specifically for their meat, often suffer lameness due to overcrowding. Photograph: PA
Doesn’t that contradict the most basic principles of Darwinian evolution? The theory of evolution maintains that all instincts and drives have evolved in the interest of survival and reproduction. If so, doesn’t the continuous reproduction of farm animals prove that all their real needs are met? How can a cow have a “need” that is not really essential for survival and reproduction?
It is certainly true that all instincts and drives evolved in order to meet the evolutionary pressures of survival and reproduction. When these pressures disappear, however, the instincts and drives they had shaped do not evaporate instantly. Even if they are no longer instrumental for survival and reproduction, they continue to mould the subjective experiences of the animal. The physical, emotional and social needs of present-day cows, dogs and humans don’t reflect their current conditions but rather the evolutionary pressures their ancestors encountered tens of thousands of years ago. Why do modern people love sweets so much? Not because in the early 21st century we must gorge on ice cream and chocolate in order to survive. Rather, it is because if our stone age ancestors came across sweet, ripened fruits, the most sensible thing to do was to eat as many of them as they could as quickly as possible. Why do young men drive recklessly, get involved in violent rows, and hack confidential internet sites? Because they are obeying ancient genetic decrees. Seventy thousand years ago, a young hunter who risked his life chasing a mammoth outshone all his competitors and won the hand of the local beauty – and we are now stuck with his macho genes.
Exactly the same evolutionary logic shapes the life of cows and calves in our industrial farms. Ancient wild cattle were social animals. In order to survive and reproduce, they needed to communicate, cooperate and compete effectively. Like all social mammals, wild cattle learned the necessary social skills through play. Puppies, kittens, calves and children all love to play because evolution implanted this urge in them. In the wild, they needed to play. If they didn’t, they would not learn the social skills vital for survival and reproduction. If a kitten or calf was born with some rare mutation that made them indifferent to play, they were unlikely to survive or reproduce, just as they would not exist in the first place if their ancestors hadn’t acquired those skills. Similarly, evolution implanted in puppies, kittens, calves and children an overwhelming desire to bond with their mothers. A chance mutation weakening the mother-infant bond was a death sentence.
What happens when farmers now take a young calf, separate her from her mother, put her in a tiny cage, vaccinate her against various diseases, provide her with food and water, and then, when she is old enough, artificially inseminate her with bull sperm? From an objective perspective, this calf no longer needs either maternal bonding or playmates in order to survive and reproduce. All her needs are being taken care of by her human masters. But from a subjective perspective, the calf still feels a strong urge to bond with her mother and to play with other calves. If these urges are not fulfilled, the calf suffers greatly.
This is the basic lesson of evolutionary psychology: a need shaped thousands of generations ago continues to be felt subjectively even if it is no longer necessary for survival and reproduction in the present. Tragically, the agricultural revolution gave humans the power to ensure the survival and reproduction of domesticated animals while ignoring their subjective needs. In consequence, domesticated animals are collectively the most successful animals in the world, and at the same time they are individually the most miserable animals that have ever existed.
The situation has only worsened over the last few centuries, during which time traditional agriculture gave way to industrial farming. In traditional societies such as ancient Egypt, the Roman empire or medieval China, humans had a very partial understanding of biochemistry, genetics, zoology and epidemiology. Consequently, their manipulative powers were limited. In medieval villages, chickens ran free between the houses, pecked seeds and worms from the garbage heap, and built nests in the barn. If an ambitious peasant tried to lock 1,000 chickens inside a crowded coop, a deadly bird-flu epidemic would probably have resulted, wiping out all the chickens, as well as many villagers. No priest, shaman or witch doctor could have prevented it. But once modern science had deciphered the secrets of birds, viruses and antibiotics, humans could begin to subject animals to extreme living conditions. With the help of vaccinations, medications, hormones, pesticides, central air-conditioning systems and automatic feeders, it is now possible to cram tens of thousands of chickens into tiny coops, and produce meat and eggs with unprecedented efficiency.
Science shows that animals are sentient beings that can feel pain and loneliness.
 Science shows that animals are sentient beings that can feel pain and loneliness. Photograph: Graham Turner/Guardian
The fate of animals in such industrial installations has become one of the most pressing ethical issues of our time, certainly in terms of the numbers involved. These days, most big animals live on industrial farms. We imagine that our planet is populated by lions, elephants, whales and penguins. That may be true of the National Geographic channel, Disney movies and children’s fairytales, but it is no longer true of the real world. The world contains 40,000 lions but, by way of contrast, there are around 1 billion domesticated pigs; 500,000 elephants and 1.5 billion domesticated cows; 50 million penguins and 20 billion chickens.
In 2009, there were 1.6 billion wild birds in Europe, counting all species together. That same year, the European meat and egg industry raised 1.9 billion chickens. Altogether, the domesticated animals of the world weigh about 700m tonnes, compared with 300m tonnes for humans, and fewer than 100m tonnes for large wild animals.
This is why the fate of farm animals is not an ethical side issue. It concerns the majority of Earth’s large creatures: tens of billions of sentient beings, each with a complex world of sensations and emotions, but which live and die on an industrial production line. Forty years ago, the moral philosopher Peter Singerpublished his canonical book Animal Liberation, which has done much to change people’s minds on this issue. Singer claimed that industrial farming is responsible for more pain and misery than all the wars of history put together.
The scientific study of animals has played a dismal role in this tragedy. The scientific community has used its growing knowledge of animals mainly to manipulate their lives more efficiently in the service of human industry. Yet this same knowledge has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that farm animals are sentient beings, with intricate social relations and sophisticated psychological patterns. They may not be as intelligent as us, but they certainly know pain, fear and loneliness. They too can suffer, and they too can be happy.
It is high time we take these scientific findings to heart, because as human power keeps growing, our ability to harm or benefit other animals grows with it. For 4bn years, life on Earth was governed by natural selection. Now it is governed increasingly by human intelligent design. Biotechnologynanotechnology and artificial intelligence will soon enable humans to reshape living beings in radical new ways, which will redefine the very meaning of life. When we come to design this brave new world, we should take into account the welfare of all sentient beings, and not just of Homo sapiens.
 Buy Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (Vintage) or Animal Liberation by Peter Singer (Bodley Head) now from or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tesla unveils a battery to power your home, completely off grid

from Eat Tomorrow:
Tesla unveils a battery to power your home, completely off grid
CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, landed an official message unveiling the Powerwall, a battery designed to power your home.  The message came at a convention center powered completely by renewable battery power.
The battery unit itself contains the same batteries present in the Tesla electric cars.  The 7kWh unit will ship for $3,000, while the 10kWh unit will go for $3,500 (get the big one). They will store electricity from the grid or from solar and wind generators on site and if the grid goes down, they will continue to power your home indefinitely  This feature makes them ideal for developing nations that are leap-frogging power grids completely.
Musk refers to it as changing the “entire energy infrastructure of the world.”

The batteries will begin shipping over the summer of 2015 and mount on the wall, looking like this:

Here is a clip from the initial release

“Powerwall is a home battery that charges using electricity generated from solar panels, or when utility rates are low, and powers your home in the evening. It also fortifies your home against power outages by providing a backup electricity supply. Automated, compact and simple to install, Powerwall offers independence from the utility grid and the security of an emergency backup.
Powerwall comes in 10 kWh weekly cycle and 7 kWh daily cycle models. Both are guaranteed for ten years and are sufficient to power most homes during peak evening hours. Multiple batteries may be installed together for homes with greater energy need, up to 90 kWh total for the 10 kWh battery and 63 kWh total for the 7 kWh battery.”
  • TechnologyWall mounted, rechargeable lithium ion battery with liquid thermal control.
  • Models10 kWh $3,500For backup applications7 kWh $3,000For daily cycle applications
  • Warranty10 years
  • Efficiency92% round-trip DC efficiency
  • Power2.0 kW continuous, 3.3 kW peak
  • Voltage350 – 450 volts
  • Current5.8 amp nominal, 8.6 amp peak output
  • CompatibilitySingle phase and three phase utility grid compatible.
  • Operating Temperature-4°F to 110°F / -20°C to 43°C
  • EnclosureRated for indoor and outdoor installation.
  • InstallationRequires installation by a trained electrician. DC-AC inverter not included.
  • Weight220 lbs / 100 kg
  • Dimensions51.2″ x 33.9″ x 7.1″
    1300 mm x 860 mm x 180 mm
  • CertificationNRTL listed to UL standards

Monday, September 28, 2015

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bernie Sanders: NO I WILL NOT YIELD!

"U.S spends $300 billion on military when facing no major enemy threat. Use this money to help fix a broken America, help fix the middle class, provide basic health care to everyone rich or poor, provide free public education to anyone. No I will not yield!" - Bernie Sanders 6/4/1992

Friday, September 25, 2015

15 Rules From the Hobo Ethical Code of 1889

from Mental Floss

At the 1889 National Hobo Convention in St. Louis, a strict ethical code was established for all hobos to follow. Here are some tips we could all use, no matter what you carry in your rucksack.


"Decide your own life, don't let another person run or rule you."


"When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times."


"Don't take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos."


"Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again."


"When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts."


"Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals' treatment of other hobos."


"When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as badly, if not worse than you."


"Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling."


"If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help."


"Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible."


"When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member."


"Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard."


"Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home."


"Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday."


"If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it. Whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!"

Thanks, Seth

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Turning Pennies Into Billion$: The Tiny Tax that Wall Street Fears


by Matt Stannard
In Chicago – where hunger strikers are protesting school closures, where school closures result from throwing public money into risky Wall Street ventures, where risky ventures happen under the nose of venture-capitalist-in-chief Rahm Emanuel – people want a financial transaction tax.

Lara Weber of the Chicago Tribune editorial board describes a recent town hall meeting in Chicago where the mayor attended. It was a budget meeting with 500 people, many of whom “took time to register for their allotted 60 seconds of microphone time and got their brief chance to address the mayor,” writes Weber, and asked “thoughtful questions about why the city’s red-light camera system is still in place, despite its deep flaws. They asked how the mayor intends to prioritize child care funding. They recommended that Emanuel pursue a financial transaction tax.”

The mayor, whose loyalties are clear, loathes the idea of a financial transaction tax for the same reason that Wall Street fears it – not because it would be especially cumbersome (read on), but because it represents a democratically-imposed limit on the financial class against doing whatever it wants with our money.

A financial transaction tax (FTT) is a tiny charge placed on financial (rather than consumer) transactions. It can range from a dime to fifty cents per $1,000 exchanged. Many countries have particular transaction taxes – Peru for foreign wire transfers, Finland for Finnish securities and derivatives, France for stock purchases of publicly traded French companies with a market value over €1 billion. Brazil used to have a financial transaction tax, then it didn’t, and now it wants one again.

Supporters of an FTT in the U.S. have been pushing the plan for years, though it’s not as alluring, loud or radical-sounding as public banks or worker-owned cooperatives. Experts on the tax tell me that global cooperation will make it work even better (money travels easily) and that we can start it anywhere – particularly in cities where financial trading is concentrated, like New York and Chicago.

I recently spoke with James Henry, an attorney, senior fellow at Columbia University’s Center for Sustainable International Investment, and an adviser to the Tax Justice Network. Henry says the financial transaction tax, which is designed to extract money from high-frequency trading – 68% of which is controlled by nine powerful banks, including some with criminal convictions – is a “positive project” for economic justice advocates. “Simple and intelligible,” an open-and-shut case.

Henry and other proponents say the tax would do two critical things to correct the imbalanced economy: slow money down, and spread it out.

The tax would limit the large-scale financial transactions that economists say are occurring far too quickly and creating the volatility that is again on display with the recent market plunge. As Maria Gallucci of the International Business Times describes it, the tax could “discourage the sudden sell-offs and volatile trading that are causing the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s wild swings,” since “computer-based trading accounts for roughly half today’s trade volume, exposing the markets to increasing instability.”

Henry adds: “This would be a tax on speed. Capitalism makes us crazy. We might as well collect something for it.” If the tax is as much a liquidity hindrance as its opponents claim it is, maybe it will slow down the “constant noise” of financial markets whose volatility hurts small investors and the general public, he says.

The other argument is that a transaction tax could generate much-needed redistributive revenue across America – money which, in the absence of more structural economic reform coming from government, could be used to pay for college tuition (like Bernie Sanders’s plan) or other services, or simply redistributed as a basic income or dividend.

“Tax proposals vary in size and target,” Gallucci writes. “But the Tax Policy Center, an independent think tank in Washington, estimates that a 0.01 percent excise tax, spread over trillions of transactions, could raise $185 billion over 10 years.”

That redistributive element is crucial. Although sometimes under-emphasized in alternative media coverage, the financial transaction tax carries near universal support among people on the deeper end of the economic justice movement. That’s because, while the financial transaction tax is still just a tax, it has tremendous breadth and potential for income generation at a time when we’re looking for sources of dividend distribution.

Recently, Kevin Zeese’s Popular Resistance newsletter pointed out that technology has outpaced the need for labor, and thus there “will never be enough jobs in the future so we need a new way to ensure people have money on which to live and to keep the economy going.” I asked Zeese whether he felt the transaction tax was still a hot issue for progressives and the economic justice movement.

“The case for the tax has gotten stronger since 2006 as the finance sector has become an even larger segment of the economy,” he answered. “Even a tiny, micro tax of under 1% on stocks, bonds, and derivatives would fund essentials for creating a more diverse economy,” including basic income, free education and money for new kinds of cooperative businesses.

Laura Wells, California's Green Party candidate for governor in 2010 and State Controller in 2014, agrees with the “practical benefits” of the tax. But Wells, organizer of the No Corporate Money Campaign, told me she also sees the tax's potential to reduce the concentration of wealth and “increase the power of ordinary people to make our own decisions on things that deeply affect us.”

My colleagues at Commonomics USA like it, too. Communications director Ira Dember told me he thought a transaction tax would “either make [big volatile] trading less profitable or unaffordable, essentially killing this toxic practice.” Our outreach coordinator Susan Harman, who is more convinced than ever that we’re dealing with pathological people punching numbers on a screen, told me: “Since most financial transactions these days merely build additions onto the Wall Street house of cards, anything that discourages that construction is helpful.”

Like other good ideas, Wall Street hates this one, and its minions will quickly move in to sap political will and encourage politicians to act against their constituents’ interests. Earlier this month, revelations emerged about the financial sector’s hold over several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who are being wooed into helping kill regulations designed to force financial advisers to tell the truth and not give out sham advice to investors.

In the case of the financial transaction tax, opponents argue that it will “decrease liquidity” – a fancy way of saying that increasing the cost of transactions decreases the amount of money floating around in the system, making it harder to invest, spend cash or extend credit.

Well, yeah, James Henry replied when I asked him about this. “Liquidity is not always a good thing. The world is awash in capital,” he said. The problem is a lack of investment in productive assets, which is why states and municipalities need credit (for small businesses, public spending and the like). What the world doesn’t need are more high-level breakneck-speed financial transactions.

How do we garner the political will to win such a policy? Keep the base broad, Henry added, and you keep the tax low – ridiculously, unable-to-notice low. A one basis-point tax would amount to ten cents per thousand dollars. At that measurement, a hundred thousand dollar financial transaction would cost ten bucks to execute. “You could raise a hell of a lot of money no one would miss,” says Henry.

Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, says that 75 percent of liability for an FTT would fall on the top 20% of Americans. He's skeptical of every argument against the tax. “If our financial markets will crumble in the face of a one-basis-point financial transaction tax,” Bernstein writes, “then we've got much bigger problems than I thought.”

Wall Street’s opposition to the financial transaction tax is even more frustrating given how much its firms charge America’s municipalities for their financial transactions. It's come to light in recent months that Wall Streeters make municipalities pay millions, even billions, in interest for managing public money. They frequently do so in defiance of laws; both their illegal and legal deals have ruined many of our nation’s cities and left countless people in poverty, struggling in broken neighborhoods after water and other necessities have been privatized. Against that evidence, Wall Street’s resistance to a tax of a penny per hundred dollars only adds to its image of childishness and unwarranted audacity.

Matt Stannard is policy director at Commonomics USA and a Board Member of the Public Banking Institute.

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why a resurgent, unapologetic left is on the rise globally

from VOX:

Bernie Sanders is currently beating Hillary Clinton in polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire. By conventional standards, he still probably won't win. Then again, it certainly seemed at the start of the recent UK Labour Party leadership campaign that it was extraordinarily unlikely Jeremy Corbyn would win. And yet he did. Meanwhile, up in Canada the social democratic New Democratic Party — perennial third-place finisher in Canada's two-and-a-half-party system — has opened up a small but persistent lead in the polls.
There is also enough sharing of ideas across national boundaries — especially in the modern age where global social media is more important than nationally segmented television franchises — that it's hard not to see something of a trend across the English-speaking world, in which a generation too young to be swayed by the traumas of the 1980s is driving forward a resurgent and increasingly self-confident left.
And whatever happens to these individual candidates, the social and intellectual forces that have driven them forward by demanding a more robust alternative to neoliberalism will keep shaping Anglophone politics in years to come. From the late 1970s through to the Great Recession, left-of-center parties were consistently led by figures chastened by the perceived excesses of midcentury liberalism and impressed by the free market reforms of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. But a large younger generation of progressive voters are demanding a less apologetic approach that does more to hold to account the cross-party conventional wisdom that led the world into economic disaster early in the 21st century.

The crisis of the 1970s provoked generation-long change

In the mid- to late 1970s, the world economy ground into a rough patch. Productivity growth slowed sharply in the United States and several other rich countries, while geopolitical turmoil in the Middle East sent oil prices surging. These factors pushed the unemployment rate up, which made central banks hesitant to implement tighter monetary policy conditions. But rather than a return to prosperity, the world got a hefty dose of inflation.
In response, new politicians swept into office promising to fix the economy with "supply-side" reforms — weaker labor unions and lower tax rates on the wealthy — paired initially with much higher interest rates to choke off inflation.
The tight money worked, and while the supply-side reforms didn't return productivity to its pre-1973 trend, economies did start growing again, and oil prices fell. Inequality rose, and then the Soviet Union's empire in Eastern Europe collapsed in 1989 through 1991, further bolstering the prestige of free market thinking. In the 1990s, center-left parties returned to power under Bill Clinton, Jean Chr├ętien, and Tony Blair but they did so by promising "third way" approaches to the welfare state and establishing "credibility" on economic management with balanced budgets and respect for independent central banks.

The financial crisis of 2008 did not change much

By contrast, the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath did not produce much in the way of big conceptual change. It led to important election results in the US and UK, of course, and those elections have had significant (and opposite) consequences for distribution of income in those two countries. But the Obama administration has never sought to displace Wall Street from its position in the commanding heights of the economy.
In the UK, Ed Miliband retired Tony Blair's "New Labour" branding and was generally perceived as shifting the party to the left. At the same time, Labour leaders bought into a story in which inadequate fiscal discipline by the government rather than anything fundamentally wrong with the financial system was at the center of the economic crisis.
And while left-of-center parties were chastened by the economic failures of the 1970s, there is no sign that right-of-center parties have had their faith in the power of tax cuts and deregulation shaken by anything they've seen in the 21st century. Instead, when Anglophone conservative parties have repositioned toward the center — whether under David Cameron a few years ago in the UK or under Malcolm Turnbull in Australia this week — they've done so on cultural issues rather than on the fundamental underpinnings of the economy.

A post–Cold War generation

To most pundits, the idea that Democrats would even consider nominating a self-described socialist is obviously ridiculous and counterproductive, just as it's obvious to the bulk of the UK establishment that Corbyn's selection as Labour Party leader is an act of political suicide.
But to the youngest cohorts of voters, raised outside the shadow of the Cold War but under the storm clouds of the Great Recession, things look different. As "capitalism" has come to mean something bleaker and meaner than it did during the heyday of the mixed economy, and "socialism" something kinder and gentler than it did during the heyday of the Soviet Union, the valences of these terms have shifted.
Over in the UK, Corbyn's supporters, too, are disproportionately young people who simply lack experience with the political events of the 1970s and '80s that were so central to the New Labour project.

The search for a clean break

Establishment politicians are not blind to this trend.
Hillary Clinton is campaigning on a platform that is significantly more left-wing — in terms of both its policy content and its themes — than her 2008 campaign or her husband's administration in its 1990s heyday. She's cagily declined to endorse the Trans-Pacific Partnership and is promising zero-debt college tuition, a new treatment-first approach to drug abuseuniversal preschool, a 700 percent increase in installed solar capacity, and a constitutional amendment on campaign finance reform.
There's no "the era of big government is over" here.
But while it's true that Clinton is attuned to the spirit of the times, the converse is that Sanders and Corbyn were preaching from this book when it wasn't in keeping with the spirit of the times to do so. It means they offer a clean break with the neoliberal third-way past in a way no close associate of Blair or Bill Clinton possibly could. Establishment figures may start singing a somewhat different melody, but they're never going to disavow a 1990s-vintage centrist turn that they sincerely believe saved progressive politics.
In a slightly different universe, new leaders (Elizabeth Warren?) might have stepped up to fill that void. Instead we got veterans of the losing side of old intraparty clashes. But whether or not this particular cohort of leaders succeeds, their ability to garner support from younger voters speaks to a deep craving by a younger generation forged in the Great Recession for a less apologetic form of left-wing politics.

Friday, September 18, 2015

You’re a Criminal in a Mass Surveillance World – How to Not Get Caught

from DisInformation


David Montgomery via
Sometimes you just get lucky.
I was in Amsterdam when the Snowden story broke. CNN was non-stop asking politicians and pundits, “Is Edward Snowden a traitor?” Those who said he betrayed America also said something else: Mass surveillance is only an issue if you’re a criminal. If you’ve got nothing to hide then you’ve got nothing to fear.
The Snowden story hit me upon my return from – of all places on earth – the Secret Annex of the Anne Frank House. The Secret Annex is where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis for two years. It was during this period of hiding in terror that Anne wrote her world-famous diary. In it she confided, “I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met.”
The “Anne Frank House” — then and now
The “Anne Frank House” — then and now
I say I was lucky because the cosmic unlikeliness of my Secret Annex visit coinciding with Snowden’s mass surveillance revelations led to some revelations of my own. My understanding of law, criminality, and mass surveillance coalesced into a horrifying picture.
It turns out we’re all criminals in a mass surveillance world. The only question is whether we’ll get caught. Let me explain.

What Makes a Criminal?

Merriam-Webster defines crime as “activity that is against the law.” Law is defined as a “set of rules made by the government.” Thus a criminal is someone who breaks government rules.
The law as a whole is an ever-expanding collection of rules that politicians (“lawmakers”) decree and occasionally repeal. Laws are as moral as the politicians who make them.
Simply put, laws are the rules politicians make up, and criminals are people who break them.
It floored me to realize: Anne Frank was, in fact, a criminal. She was a fugitive of the law.
We can express outrage at the designation since Anne did nothing wrong. And we can debate which rules of any particular regime are tolerable or repugnant. But our opinions don’t change the fact that “criminal” is a government-defined standard imposed on us, the governed.
A law-abiding citizen was obligated to turn Anne into the police. To assist her was a crime. In America the Fugitive Slave Law obligated law-abiding citizens to turn in runaway slaves, and assisting them was punishable by 6 months in jail and a $28,000 fine (in today’s dollars).
In early colonial America masturbation, blasphemy, and homosexuality werecrimes punishable by death. Virtually any act you can think of has been criminalized by one regime or another. Being a law-abiding citizen only means you comply with whatever rules politicians have imposed on you.
Throughout history we observe only a slight overlap between the endless supply of laws governments impose on people and the handful of acts we all agree are morally wrong: theft, assault, rape, murder.

The American Crime Complex

To understand why we’re criminals requires a basic overview of how law is created and enforced.
Every law hatches a new crime with an associated punishment. A law is both an order and a threat, for if a law carries no threat of punishment, it’s not a law. It’s a suggestion. Politicians mince words by using different labels for their rules – laws, regulations, statutes, bills, acts, ordinances, et cetera – but they all fundamentally mean the same thing: Obey or be punished.
Every year American politicians create thousands of new laws. They are incorporated into volumes consisting of hundreds of thousands of pages of legalese. The laws are grouped into “codes” such as the CFRUSCIRS Code, and codes for every state. These codes, along with the Constitution,executive ordersratified treatiescounty and city ordinances, and rulings from district courts to the Supreme Court comprise U.S. law as a whole.
Although the law is incomprehensible to the governed, ignorance of the law is not a defense when you’re prosecuted by the government.
Suspicion of committing even the most trivial crime subjects you to arrest at the discretion of a law enforcement officer. The Supreme Court has ruled that it’s legal to arrest people for crimes such as driving without a seatbelt orhaving unpaid parking tickets. Arrest can result in imprisonment for months or years without ever being convicted of a crime.
In America the punishments for not obeying politicians’ rules may include monetary fines, property confiscation, imprisonment (including de factorape and torture), and execution.
The application of these punishments is wildly inconsistent and often horrifically arbitrary. The minimum sentence for first degree murder in Illinois is 20 years, but in Indiana it’s 45 years. Compare 20 years for murder with 15 years for having sex on a beach. Or a 5 years for stabbing a man to death. Or a 5 days (yes, days) for raping a 14-year old girl. Victimless crimes often carry far harsher sentences than raping and killing people, such as 25 years for selling painkillers to a friend.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that it’s legal for prosecutors to threaten you with catastrophic punishment – even life imprisonment – for a minor crime if you don’t forfeit your right to a jury trial. (In the landmark caseprosecutors secured a life sentence for forging an $88 check because the defendant refused a plea bargain.)
Because prosecutors wield such enormous power, almost everyone takes a plea bargain. Getting your day in court is a myth perpetuated in TV shows and movies. Innocent people often agree to plead guilty and suffer the punishment rather than risk having their lives destroyed. The system isrigged against you, and your chance of conviction at trial is around 90%.
This government prosecutor explains to new prosecutors that the goal of jury selection is to pick people who “are as unfair and more likely to convict than anybody else in that room.”
Given this set of facts, it’s no surprise that millions of Americans today are caged and millions more are on probation or parole. The “land of the free” is the most imprisoned nation in the world on both a total and per capita basis. The prison-industrial complex is booming.

The Secret Annex

Back to our heroic criminal, Anne. The Frank family moved from Germany to Amsterdam in 1933. Otto started a successful spice and pectin business. In 1942 the family went into hiding from the Nazis in the rear section of Otto’s building. Anne called it the Secret Annex. It’s a cramped, makeshift living quarters whose hidden entry is masked by a swinging bookcase.
The feeling was overwhelming as I slunk through the space: I am disgusted by my species. This little girl and her family spent two years living with a noose around their necks knowing the floor could drop out at any time.
Then one day it did. An informant tipped off the police. They were arrested and sent to death camps, which were described as “labor camps” to its victims. “Work will set you free” it said above the gate at Auschwitz. The Franks were healthy enough to be put to work rather than gassed straight away.
Are you female? Imagine yourself as a 15-year old being stripped naked by guards, having your head shaved, getting tattooed with a serial number, and then being forced into non-stop hard labor. Take a moment and imagine having a daughter who suffered this fate.
We’re members of a species that does this. Not as an act of spontaneous insanity, but deliberately and methodically. Let us remember: It was legal.
Only Anne’s father Otto survived. His wife and two daughters perished despite the substantial measures he had taken to avoid this horrific fate. They left Germany early on, and he even put his business in a gentile’s name to stay out of government filings. As things got worse, he applied for visas to bring his family to America or Cuba, but they were rejected. How did his family end up trapped in Amsterdam? Laws.


A heroic woman named Miep Gies rescued Anne’s diary before the police confiscated everything in the Annex. Miep returned the diary to Otto after the war ended. She was one of six souls who risked their lives as outlaws in order to keep them in hiding. Miep not only rescued Anne’s diary. She never read it out of respect for Anne’s privacy. When Otto published it, Miep said if she’d read it she would have felt obligated to destroy it since it was filled with damning information, including her name and all the others who helped the family survive, including an (illegal) underground supply network.
The dramatic irony of Miep not reading Anne’s diary made me cry. Here is an act of human decency which epitomizes everything government is not. Miep not only risked everything trying to keep these people alive. She not only saved Anne’s diary, one of the world’s most powerful pieces of literature. She not only didn’t read it despite its owner getting shipped off to a death camp. After the Franks were arrested, Miep went to the police station and offered the arresting officer a bribe for their release. As fearless as that was, it didn’t work. She escaped punishment because the officer had a soft spot for her being from his home town, Vienna.
If it’s possible to love a dead woman you’ve never laid eyes on, I do. Miep, thank you for showing people that human decency springs from following our conscience, not the law. Millions blindly follow orders. The bravest heroes in this world are law-breakers.

A Single Piece of Data

Walking from Anne’s Secret Annex into CNN’s nothing-to-hide mass surveillance chorus provided a rare moment of clarity in my life. Her father’s disclosure a decade earlier of a single piece of data, their religion, destroyed his family. The disclosure was a legalrequirement to be issued a passport.
To apologists of mass surveillance, what did Anne Frank have to hide? I ask because the person credited with popularizing the nothing-to-hide argument is none other than Joseph Goebbles, Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda for the Third Reich. (Back then the word propaganda didn’t have a negative connotation. It meant public relations.)
After examining the Frank family passports in the Secret Annex, it later struck me how much more information is extracted by the US census and annual American Community Survey. Where were you born? Are you “Black, African Am., or Negro?” Are you Pakistani? Latino? Are you unemployed? What is your profession? How much money do you make? Do you own or rent? How much do you spend on utilities? Who lives with you? Do you have children? How well do you speak English? Do you speak another language at home? What is your marriage status? Have you been divorced? Where did you go to school? Have you been employed by the U.S. military? Which wars did you fight in? And on it goes… All information explained away as needed to hand out “government benefits.”


Minister Goebbels would have wrung his hands with delight at having this depth of data on his regime’s citizens. But this data is absolutely trivial compared to what the U.S. government actually knows about you. Thanks toWilliam Binney and Edward Snowden, we know that the U.S. regime has for many years been secretly constructing the means to monitor and record every aspect of our lives.
Snowden put it in terms everyone can understand: “Even if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you are being watched and recorded.” Thankfully we don’t have to take Snowden’s word for it. The government’s agenda was laid bare in this secret NSA slide from 2011: Sniff It All – Know It All – Collect It All – Process It All – Exploit It All.

Share It All is in reference to swapping surveillance data with New Zealand, Canada, Britain, and Australia – the so-called Five Eyes who are de facto military protectorates of the United States.