Jun 242013
 

Topic: Leadershift by Orrin Woodward and Oliver DeMille – a recent publication of the Hachette Book Group.

Introduction
Leadershift is a wonderful little book that should inspire all who decry the current human order and aspire to be participants in forging a new society that delivers peace, prosperity and freedom. These are worthy goals and I applaud them unconditionally. Also, I am impressed with the level of historical and analytical scholarship with which these authors inform their readers – both in this book and in others that each of them has written. They really do their homework, as they gather, organize, analyze and present relevant information concerning their topic. I know of none better.

I must also point out that the authors of this book are men of action. I have personally seen them on a stage before an audience of 15,000 admirers. Their speeches stir the hearts of those present, and I’m sure by now their “following” includes at least 100,000 men and women – and possibly many more. It is for this reason that I’m writing this review – as a critique of what I perceive to be a critical error in the conclusions drawn by the book’s authors. Given their popularity and potential to influence others, I feel compelled to provide a little corrective feedback to those who might listen.

Since November 1, 2011, I have been attempting to arrange a meeting with Mr. Woodward and his business partner Chris Brady – but thus far I have yet to succeed. So I’m fearful that their organization may become too bureaucratized to reach its ultimate goals. And I’d much rather see them succeed. Bureaucracy, a common feature of hierarchic organizations, is the systematic elimination, destruction or avoidance of corrective feedback – and as such plays a major role in destroying the efforts of well-meaning men and women of action whose goals are much to be desired.

So it is in the spirit of caring support that I’m offering the feedback contained in this article – in hopes of seeing the authors modify their plan of action in a way that will lead to their ultimate success.

Plaudits
We need a nation of citizens who are leaders”, says the principal character, David Mersher to himself, just 5 pages into the story. Mersher is a successful business consultant who specializes in corporate “turnarounds”. And with this brief statement he establishes a template for what is great about this book – and for what is not. Recognizing that our government is not meeting the needs of the nation’s people and framing that fact as the consequence of inadequate leadership is brilliant. And, as the story unfolds we see Mersher doing what he does best – leading.

He gathers about himself a cadre of competent successful people who jointly undertake to initiate a turn-around in the current evil trend evinced by the U.S. government today. In laying the foundation for this plan, the authors present a conversational explication of the history that led to the dilemma we face today – and they do this consistently in the spirit of the country’s founders. In fact, each chapter begins with a somewhat whimsical discussion among the ghosts of those very founders – most especially George Washington and James Madison, the latter of whom actually appears twice in the story as a living human, for the purpose of performing an intervention when he thinks Mersher’s plan may be going astray. It makes for a nice dramatic touch in the storytelling.

As the story proceeds, the Leadershift plan is advanced and the historical context deepens with each conversation captured in print. The skill evinced in this presentation is masterful and the resulting analysis of the weaknesses in the U.S. Constitution is well conceived. Especially so is the notion that the framers of the Constitution presumed that political leadership at the local level would continue to be highly motivated and well informed – when in fact this turned out not to be so, and the consequences of this fact proved highly detrimental to achievement of the framers intended outcome.

We know that at the time Benjamin Franklin had reservations about the implementation of a republic form of government, and in the eyes of the authors those doubts came home to roost.

So it is that in Chapter 26 (on page 130 of 192) we are presented with Mersher’s plan (or, more to the point, the authors’ plan – I presume.) to solve the problem of the decline of U.S. government. The rest of the book details this plan and provides insights into steps that a new generation of informed local leaders can take to make our government substantially more responsive to the needs and wishes of our populace by making changes in the Constitution.

The solution offered is valuable and the proposed steps may even be necessary for our species to survive – but at this point I have to maintain: this solution is insufficient, because it does not address the illusory nature of government authority.

Critique
I think the authors would agree that their plan to fix our government rests on the following assumptions:

  1. The existence of the “State”, at any level of government, is real – not a delusion or hallucination.
  2. The legitimate purpose of government is to protect the rights of the people, i.e. the public at large.
  3. A person can legitimately represent another person without that individual’s explicit informed consent. (a central tenet of “representative government”)
  4. Majority rule provides an ethical way of making group decisions. (Mersher’s proposal assumes this.)
  5. A group of people, elected as legislators, can legitimately delegate rights and powers collectively that none of them possess as individuals (law making).
  6. Among these legislative rights is the right to forcibly take resources away from one person or group and bestow them upon another. (taxation)
  7. A [government] act that benefits more people than it harms is acceptable – whereas one that benefits fewer than it harms is not (the utilitarian ethic).
  8. The nature of government (ours at least) is such that it can be altered and improved by the people.

In Chapter 26 one of the book’s characters points out that at the time the Constitution was written, government was mostly a local activity and most people were involved in it on a regular basis. The significance of this fact went unnoticed – much the way a fish doesn’t notice the water in which it’s immersed – until/unless the fish suddenly finds itself removed from the water. So the framers of the Constitution took it for granted that such local activity would continue – and this was an error on their part – an error that profoundly weakened the power of the Constitution to achieve its goals long term.

Similarly, I would argue that the assumptions listed above, which form the implicit background of the story, are in fact fallacious – yet so widely accepted that the authors failed to recognize the fact of their falsehood, let alone the significance of their falsehood. And further, that while the Constitutional improvements proposed in the book are worthwhile, they cannot solve the deeper problem inherent in the false assumptions.

About the Assumptions
As pointed out by William Edwards Deming, referenced more than once in the book, it is very risky to modify a system in hopes of eliciting better results without a “profound understanding” of the system itself. This, of course requires that one make accurate assumptions about the system. Deming called failure to do this, “tinkering”, and warned of a variety of undesirable consequences that otherwise often attend the unstudied effort. Although he addressed this problem from a management perspective, his doing so constituted a magnificent example of leadership. And, though not often recognized, organizations that followed his advice not only became more successful, but also more creative and ethical.

In the paragraphs that follow I refute the assumptions listed above, providing links to more detailed explanations where those are available.

  1. The State exists.
    Although it appears to be a noun – and is used as one – the word “state” doesn’t represent a person, place or thing. You can’t put a state in a wheelbarrow, no matter how big, so the word isn’t a noun. It is rather a nominalization, a word that represents a process or activity. Although states often have geographic boundaries, it’s generally agreed that a state isn’t the land within such a boundary. The boundary is simply the line beyond which a state cannot exercise its power without coming into conflict with another state. Think “jurisdiction.”The definition of a state has been attempted many times by many authors and scholars. On two things they generally agree. A state levies taxes. And a state maintains (as best it can) a monopoly of coercive power. But levying taxes and exercising power are activities enacted by people – people who often say they represent the state. And this brings us back to the question, “what is the state”? Given the visible activities of states, I’d suggest that the state is an idea, concept, fiction, illusion, hallucination, or opinion that exists only to justify the exercise of power by one group of people over another.From this it follows that states have no real existence and no moral authority whatever. Think it through. Under what circumstances, other than self defense, does one adult have the authority to exercise coercive power over another? The Ethics tells us unequivocally, “NONE!”
  2. The legitimate purpose of government is to protect the rights of the people. So says the Declaration of Independence – but the statement is highly misleading. Purpose doesn’t exist in government any more than it exists in the putative state. The word, “purpose” implies motivation. Whose purpose are we discussing – those who serve and work for government? Those folks abrogate our rights more and more each day – with the passage of every new law, code, regulation etc.The sad fact is that protection of our rights has never been the purpose of government – no matter how ardently we’ve wished for it to be. A more accurate assumption would be that the purpose of government is for those who own the government to control the people at their expense – and that purely for the owners’ benefit. Our government, like most governments, is owned by the ultra wealthy central bankers, who also own the major global corporations, the prominent universities and the mass media. Their ownership is purchased via campaign contributions, school endowments, insider business tips, lender bailouts, stock option transfers, interlocking corporate board memberships, as well as by simple stock purchases, foundation grants and outright bribery.The upshot of this, more accurate, assumption is that our government is a machine – a robot that serves only its owners, and not the rest of us.
  3. A person can legitimately represent another person without that individual’s explicit informed consent.
    Consider this scenario. You go to your attorney and request that he attend and represent you at an important meeting that you will be unable to attend yourself. The outcome of the meeting will have profound effects on your life. What does the lawyer do? We know the answer. He draws up a very detailed contract called a Power of Attorney that specifies exactly how he is to represent you – including what he may say and what not, what you are willing to risk or give up, what you want in return, and what liabilities, if any, you are willing to undertake. And before he represents you, you have to sign the agreement – else he won’t.It is interesting to note that when that same attorney gets himself elected as a legislator, at whatever level of government, he will invariably present himself to the public as representing his “constituents” – even though most have never met him, let alone signed a power of attorney for his representation of them. It would be an understatement therefore to describe the entire concept of representational government as farcical at best – and otherwise fraudulent.
  4. Majority rule provides an ethical way of making group decisions.
    When a fox and a coyote take a chicken to lunch and vote on who will pay the tab, the outcome is invariably the same – the chicken gets eaten. This dynamic has been the downfall of every democracy instituted since the dawn of history. The result is known as the “tyranny of the majority”.Compound this dynamic with the elite ownership of the mass media and the schools and the result is the installation of the two party political system that is owned and operated by and for those same elites.Yet in spite of these facts, the authors of Leadershift propose fixing government by employing a strategy that includes voting based on majority rule – when in fact, we know ways of making much better, more ethical and more creative decisions than those made via majority rule. Yet this knowledge is ignored. How smart is that?
  5. A group of people, elected as legislators, can legitimately delegate rights and powers collectively that none of them possess as individuals.
    What would you think if you met a pair of legislators on the street and they demanded you hand over your wallet or purse to them – or face serving time in a cage? You’d call that a “mugging” wouldn’t you? It would be a crime against you – obviously.Yet that same pair of muggers can walk into the state-house or capitol and, together with their anointed accomplices, enact a tax – with the same net effect as a mugging. Even the Mafia members are more honest than that – as they operate their various protection rackets. At least they make no pretense of operating for the benefit of their victims.Yet the proposed government fix includes three taxes that everyone would be required to pay – or else. The general acceptance of assumption number 5 has many terrible consequences that go way beyond the taxation issue. These consequences bring us face to face with evil in almost every aspect of our lives. So I would challenge authors Woodward and deMille to justify acceptance of this assumption.
  6. Among these legislative rights is the right to forcibly take resources away from one person or group and bestow them upon another.
    The preceding section could stand alone to refute this assumption; but the matter is so important that I must call the reader’s attention to two other relevant discussions on this topic. Why Taxation Is Slavery presents three arguments against the acceptance of taxation as ethical. Ethical Means and Ethical Ends presents a more general explication of the fact that it is impossible to achieve ethical ends by unethical means.
  7. A [government] act that benefits more people than it harms is acceptable – whereas one that benefits fewer than it harms is not.
    This assumption, known generally as the “Utilitarian Ethic”, is readily refuted in at least 3 ways, as demonstrated in the preceding link. Yet it is generally accepted as valid by those who choose not to examine it properly – and it forms the ostensible ethical basis for government per se. As such, its acceptance constitutes a critical error in the thinking of Mr. Woodward and Mr. deMille.
  8. The nature of government (ours at least) is such that it can be altered and improved by the people.
    This assumption is partly refuted by the discussion of Assumption #2 above. For a more comprehensive discussion of the nature of government and the ethical implications thereof, the reader will find Ethics, Law & Government to be highly illuminating.

Conclusion
The book, Leadershift, is well worth reading. It contains much that is both thoughtful and informative. And it embraces the “grassroots” principles that are largely missing in today’s world. What is more, I know enough about the authors to have immense respect for them. Mr. Woodward is building a huge leadership training organization that is without peer – potentially a great asset to the human species.

In light of the falsehood of the 8 assumptions discussed in the foregoing, I must assert that the Mersher plan to fix the government is doomed from its inception. While the steps outlined in the book may be necessary to provide a just and ethical human society, they are surely insufficient. To correct the ills of society we will need to employ a strategy that is outside the box of political action. Such is the Titania Project.

Unfortunately, it is all too easy for great leaders to insulate themselves from valuable feedback from outside their immediate sphere of influence. When leaders make themselves immune to such feedback, they become bureaucrats – by definition.

So to Orrin Woodward, Oliver deMille, Chris Brady, and the Life Policy Council I say, this is a test. You have to choose. Are you leaders or bureaucrats? You can’t be both. Let me show you a better way to implement grassroots self-governance. Let’s get you going in the right jungle.

Cordially,
Bob Podolsky
June, 2013

Jun 212013
 

Edward Snowden Readies Private Plane for Icelandic Asylum

Reuters  |  Posted: 06/20/2013 6:38 pm EDT

REYKJAVIK, June 20 (Reuters) – An Icelandic businessman linked to WikiLeaks said he has readied a private plane to take Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who exposed secret U.S. surveillance programmes, to Iceland if the government grants him asylum.

“We have made everything ready at our end now we only have to wait for confirmation from the (Icelandic) Interior Ministry,” Olafur Vignir Sigurvinsson told Reuters. He is a director of DataCell, a company which processed payments for WikiLeaks.

“A private jet is in place in China and we could fly Snowden over tomorrow if we get positive reaction from the Interior Ministry. We need to get confirmation of asylum and that he will not be extradited to the U.S. We would most want him to get a citizenship as well,” Sigurvinsson said.

Neither a WikiLeaks spokesman nor the Icelandic government were immediately available for comment.

Snowden, a former employee of contractor Booz Allen Hamilton who worked in an NSA facility in Hawaii, made world headlines this month after providing details of the programmes to the Guardian and Washington Post and fleeing to Hong Kong.

Earlier this week, WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said a middleman had approached him on behalf of Snowden to seek asylum in Iceland.

The Icelandic government, which has declined to say whether they would grant asylum to Snowden, confirmed it had received the message from Hrafnsson.

Birgitta Jonsdottir, a lawmaker for the Pirate Party in Iceland which campaigns for Internet freedom, said the only way for Snowden to travel to the Nordic country would be to have Icelandic citizenship.

Snowden has mentioned Iceland as a possible refuge.

Iceland has a reputation for promoting Internet freedoms, but Snowden has said he did not travel there immediately from the United States because he feared the country of 320,000 could be pressured by Washington.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over allegations of sex offences, visited Iceland several times in the run-up to some of the website’s major releases. Assange denies any wrongdoing.

WikiLeaks and DataCell won a ruling this year in Iceland’s Supreme Court against MasterCard’s local partner.

The court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the payment card company had illegally ended its contract with the website. WikiLeaks’ funding had been squeezed without the ability to accept card payments. (Reporting by Robert Robertsson; Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

Jun 142013
 

Encrypted e-mail: How much annoyance will you tolerate to keep the NSA away?

How to to encrypt e-mail, and why most don’t bother.

by – June 14 2013, 6:00am USMST

Aurich Lawson

In an age of smartphones and social networking, e-mail may strike many as quaint. But it remains the vehicle that millions of people use every day to send racy love letters, confidential business plans, and other communications both sender and receiver want to keep private. Following last week’s revelations of a secret program that gives the National Security Agency (NSA) access to some e-mails sent over Gmail, Hotmail, and other services—and years after it emerged that the NSA had gained access to full fiber-optic taps of raw Internet traffic—you may be wondering what you can do to keep your messages under wraps.

The answer is public key encryption, and we’ll show you how to use it.

The uses of asymmetry

The full extent of the cooperation between the NSA and various technology companies is unclear. It will probably remain that way for the foreseeable future. For the time being, however, it seems likely that the standard cryptographic tools used to secure data “in flight”—that is to say, the SSL that protects data traveling between machines on the Internet—remain secure as long as certain best practices are used.

That protects against some threats, such as wholesale monitoring of Internet traffic of the kind the NSA is known to engage in, but it doesn’t do anything to protect data that’s “at rest.” That is to say, SSL doesn’t do anything to prevent a company like Google or Microsoft from handing over an archive of your e-mail in response to a court order. The e-mails are just lying around on some Google server somewhere.

If you don’t want a government, service provider, employer, or unauthorized party to have access to your mail at rest, you need to encrypt the mail itself. But most encryption algorithms are symmetric, meaning that the encryption key serves a dual purpose: it both encrypts and decrypts. As such, people encrypting mail with a symmetric key would be able to decrypt other mail that used the same symmetric key. While this would protect against anyone without the key, it wouldn’t be very useful as an encrypted e-mail system.

The solution to this is asymmetric cryptography. In asymmetric encryption there are two opposite keys, and a message encrypted with one key can only be decrypted with the other. The two keys are known as a private key, which as the name might suggest is kept private, and a public key, which is broadcast to the world. Each time you want to send an e-mail to someone, you encrypt it with the recipient’s public key.

Asymmetric encryption is also used to perform mail signing. For this, the mail sender encrypts a hash, or mathematical fingerprint, of their file, producing a signature. Hashes are designed so that any small change to the message’s text will produce a different hash value. Anyone reading the mail can then decrypt the signature using the sender’s public key, giving them the original hash value. They can then compute the hash value of the mail they received and compare the two. If the values are the same, the message hasn’t been modified. If they’re not, it has—and we’ll see the uses of this later on.

Making things even more complex, having encryption support isn’t itself enough. To a great extent, you don’t control the things that are in your own inbox. That’s all mail that someone else has sent you. If you want your inbox to contain encrypted mail that only you can read, you need to be sure that people sending you mail are encrypting that mail when they send it. And if you want to be sure that everything in your sent mail folder is encrypted, you’ll need to send other people encrypted mail.

As a result, e-mail encryption is not something you can impose unilaterally. To protect the contents of your account, you need to ensure that everyone you communicate with is in a position to handle encrypted mail—and is willing to use that ability.

Finally, e-mail encryption doesn’t encrypt everything. Certain metadata—including e-mail addresses of both sender and recipient, time and date of sending, and the e-mail’s subject line—is unencrypted. Only the body of the mail (and any attachments) gets protected.

If you’re happy with these constraints, e-mail encryption is for you. Unfortunately, it can be complicated to use.

Cutting through the complexity

Few e-mail programs have PGP encryption features enabled by default. And even if they do, end users must still navigate a series of mazes that are long and confusing. Tasks include generating the key pair that will lock and unlock the communications and storing the private key in a location where no one else can get it. It also requires securely sharing a public key with every single person who wants to send you a private e-mail and securely getting a unique public key from each person you want to send encrypted e-mail to. No wonder most people—reportedly including Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter who exposed aspects of the secret NSA dragnet—need time getting up to speed.

Fortunately, free e-mail encryption programs are available for all major operating systems, and the ability to use them effectively isn’t out of the grasp of average computer users if they know where to look. What follows is a set of step-by-step instructions for using GnuPG, the open-source implementation of the PGP encryption suite, to send and receive encrypted e-mails on machines running Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X.

After that, we’ll show readers how to use a similar crypto standard called S/MIME, which may prove simpler to deploy because it is already built into many desktop and mobile e-mail clients, including Outlook and Thunderbird. (Interested in S/MIME? Skip directly to page three.)

Linux will be touched on only briefly because much of the functionality is already included in various distributions and because many Linux users already have PGP down cold. (Users are invited to provide Linux instructions and screenshots in the comments following this article.)

PGP on Windows

The basic element you’ll need to encrypt mail is software to generate and manage your key pair and make them work with whatever e-mail program you happen to use. On Windows, there’s no shortage of proprietary apps that will do both, with Symantec’s PGP Desktop E-mail being perhaps the best known. There’s nothing wrong with this offering, but it’s almost $200 for a single-user license. This tutorial will instead focus on the open-source Gnu Privacy Guard, which is available for free on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms.

GnuPG, or simply GPG, is still available mostly as a command-line tool, meaning there’s no graphical interface many end users would feel more comfortable using. Rather than learn a long list of GPG commands, many e-mail users are better off installing graphical implementation of GPG. On Windows, Gpg4win will give you everything you need to generate strongly encrypted messages that can be sent and later decrypted by the intended receiver using standard e-mail programs.

Enlarge / Download Gpg4win 2.1.1

At time of writing, the most recent version of Gpg4win is 2.1.1 and it’s available here. After downloading such a sensitive piece of software you’ll want to confirm the installer hasn’t been tampered with and truly came from Gpg4win rather than a site masquerading as gpg4win.org. To do that, we’ll need to check the SHA1 checksum for the downloaded file and make sure it matches the hash—a94b292c8944576e06fe8c697d5bb94e365cae25—listed on the Gpg4win download page. For those who prefer a graphical interface, use HashCalc. Install HashCalc and then open the program. In the “data” box, navigate to the folder where the downloaded gpg4win-2.1.1.exe file is located. In our case, since the SHA1 hash calculated by HashCalc matches the SHA1 digest provided on the Gpg4win download page, we have a high degree of confidence the file we’re about to install is genuine.

For readers who prefer command lines, Microsoft’s File Checksum Integrity Verifier may be a better way to check the SHA1 hashes. You’ll need to download and extract the FCIV package and follow the instructions in the readme text file, including making sure the folder containing the FCIV executable file has been added to the system path of Windows. With that out of the way, open a Windows command window and navigate to the folder containing the Gpg4win installer.

Once you’re sure you have the real gpg4win-2.1.1.exe, double-click on the file and click Yes to the User Access Control dialogue. When presented with the Gpg4win installation welcome screen, click Next, and then click Next at the following window to accept the Gpg4win license agreement. The next screen will allow you to choose the precise GPG components you want to install. Make sure you install all available components, including GPA, which is short for the GNU Privacy Assistant. Click Next at the Choose Components screen and again at the Destination and Install Options screens.

The Choose Components screen displayed during the Gpg4win installation.

At the Install Options screen, makes sure the “start menu” box is checked, click Next, and at the next window click Install. We won’t be using S/MIME for now, so if you see any screens referring to Trustable Root Certificates, you can click the box to skip configuration and click Next. The installation is now complete.

When you click on your Start menu and choose All Programs, you should now see a Gpg4win folder. Highlight it and choose GPA. This is the GNU Privacy Assistant. We’ll use it to generate our key pair, and later we’ll use it to store the public keys of people who will receive our encrypted messages. The first time you open GPA, you’ll see a screen asking if you want to generate a private key. That’s exactly what we want to do, so click “Generate key now.”

The Generate Key Now dialog presented by GPA.

In the screens that follow, enter your name and e-mail address. When asked if you want to back up your key, choose “Do it later.” It’s not that this step isn’t important, but we’ll want to back up the key only after we’re satisfied that we’ve done everything correctly. Next, you’ll need to choose a passphrase to protect your key. Your passphrase is like the password protecting an e-mail or Web account. Except rather than preventing an unauthorized person from accessing your account, it prevents the person from using your private key should it ever be lost or stolen. In other words, the password is extremely sensitive. It should have a minimum of nine characters, but 18, 27, or even 36 characters are even better. For more tips on generating a strong password, see Ars Senior Reporter Jon Brodkin’s discussion of master passwords here. When you’re finished, you’ll have generated your first key pair: the public key you will share with other people so they can send encrypted messages that only you can read, and the private key you’ll use to decrypt those messages.

While generating your key, be sure to set an expiration date, rather than allowing it to remain valid forever. This way, keys that new users abandon, lose or never end up using won’t remain on public servers indefinitely. Remember also to backup your private key somewhere that’s extremely safe. Storing it on a USB stick that’s stored in lock box is one suitable method. You may also want to upload your public key to one or more public key servers. These servers give crypto users a way to make their keys available to others and to fetch other people’s public keys.

Now that we’ve generated our first key pair, let’s import the public key of someone else so we’ll have it later when we’re ready to send them our first encrypted e-mail. For this, get someone to give you their public key, preferably in person. It will look something like this:

-----BEGIN PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK-----
Version: GnuPG v2.0.17 (MingW32)
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=na8+
-----END PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK-----

Take the public key of a real-world contact and save it to a file named something like key.txt. If you don’t have a real-world contact who has a public key, save the above public key to a file and name it key.txt. Now, with GPA open, choose the “Import” icon, navigate to the disk location of key.txt, highlight the file, and click Open. Congratulations. You’ve just imported your first public key. Don’t get too excited just yet. You’ll need to import a public key for each person you want to send encrypted mail to.

Jun 142013
 

Support Snowden Rally Hong Kong

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Support Edward Snowden HK香港聲援愛德華.斯諾登

Event

“My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate.
I have been given no reason to doubt your system.”
– Edward Snowden

Meet 3pm, Chater Garden, Central Exit J2 | 本周六下午3點中環地鐵 J2出口

March to the US consulate, then HK SAR HQ in Tamar.

place

Confirmed Speakers:

Speaking at Chater Garden:
Albert Ho, Chairman of HK Alliance & ex-Democratic Party leader: “Why this case is important for HK’s future”
Ip lam Chong, In-Media HK: “The implications of Edward Snowden coming to Hong Kong”
Claudia Mo, LEGCO member, founding member of Civic Party: “Whistleblowers and free speech in HK”

Speaking at the US Consulate:
Charles Mok, LEGCO member: “The right to communicate safely online and freedom of expression”

Speaking at HK Gov’t HQ:
Law Yuk Kai, Director, HK Human Rights Monitor: “Hong Kong’s legal system & international legal system”
Ronny Tong, Civic Party LEGCO member: ” “

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Info at InMedia.org (Chi) & HongWrong.com (Eng)

Updates @ Follow us

Rally tag: #snowdenhk
Click to tweet this event in English or in Chinese.

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Download signs/placards (or make your own):

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Download event flyer (Eng/Chi):

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Link to event & update your timeline pic on FB:

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Download press release / organiser contact info (Eng/Chi):

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  • Edward Snowden, the whistleblower behind the NSA internet and phone surveillance program has come to Hong Kong because, he says, we “have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”. Snowden sacrificed his personal safety and freedom to defend our right to free speech and Internet freedom.
  • We call on Hong Kong to respect international legal standards and procedures relating to the protection of Snowden; we condemn the U.S. government for violating our rights and privacy; and we call on the U.S. not to prosecute Snowden.”
  • Do you want to stand for freedom and the rule of law? Or should we totally disregard Hong Kong’s legal system? This episode marks a crossroads in Hong Kong’s future. Stand up for the future of Hong Kong.
  • Time: 3-5:30pm, Saturday June 15, 2013. Please bring a whistle!
  • Rally route: Starting 3pm at Chater Garden, Central MTR exit J2. Rally to the U.S Consulate and then Tamar SAR government building.
  • Rally preparation: Please bring your friends, prepare for rain and try to bring water resistant posters. Slogan suggestions: “Defend Free Speech, Protect Snowden”, “No Extradition”, “Respect Hong Kong Law”, “Shame on NSA”, “Stop Internet Surveillance”, “Betray Snowden = Betray Freedom”.

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  • 揭發美國國家安全局侵犯全球互聯網和電話用戶私隱的愛德華.斯諾登目前正藏身香港,
    因為他相信香港「很重視言論自由和表達政治異見的權利」。他犧牲了自己的安逸的生活和自由,
    去捍衞大家的網絡與言論自由,這場仗不應該由他一個人來背負。
  • 請大家站出來,要求香港政府根據本身的法律去處理和保護斯諾登;譴責美國侵犯我們的權利與私隱,
    要求美國政府不要壓害這位人權捍衞者。
  • 我們亦要借這機會,告訴世界,香港市民會站出來,捍衞自由、人權和法治等普世價值。
    發出我們的聲音,向壓迫者說不!
  • 遊行時間:2013年6月15日下午3點至5點半。 請帶上口哨,我們都是 whistleblowers.
  • 遊行路線:3點於遮打花園(中環站J2出口)起步遊行至美國領事館抗議,
    再遊行至添馬艦政府總部要求港府保護斯諾登。
  • 遊行準備:請呼朋引伴一齊來;由於當天可能下雨,請自備一些防水的海報和橫額。遊行的口號包括:
    「捍衞自由港 保護斯諾登」、「停止互聯網監控」、「NSA可恥」、「出賣斯諾登=出賣自由」

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Rally organisers | 遊行發起團體:

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hongwrong
inmedia
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speak for humanity
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logo logo logo logo
logo logo logo logo
china worker logo logo

inmediahk.net 香港獨立媒體網
Hong Wrong
Civil Human Rights Front 民間人權陣線
People Power 人民力量
Hong Kong Christian Institute 香港基督徒學會
Hong Kong First 香港本土
Midnight Blue 午夜藍
Speak For Humanity
Land Justice League 土地正義聯盟
1908 Book Store 1908書社
Youth Union 青年聯社
Left 21 左翼廿
Socialist Action 社會主義行動
NuTongXueShe 女同學社
League of Social Democrats 社會民主連線
Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union 香港教育專業人員協會
Next Media Trade Union 壹傳媒工會
Defend HK Freedom 保衛香港自由聯盟
Autonomous8a 自治八樓
Hong Kong Women’s Worker Association 婦女勞工協會
League of Social Democrats 社會民主連線
Hong Kong Civil Liberties Union
Democratic Party 民主黨
Labour Party 工黨
The Neighbourhood and Worker’s Service Centre 街工
Student Union of The Chinese University of Hong Kong 中大學生會
Globalisation Monitor 全球化監察

Jun 132013
 

Building America’s secret surveillance state

By James Bamford

Wed Jun 12, 2013 3:05pm EDT

(Reuters) – “God we trust,” goes an old National Security Agency joke. “All others we monitor.

First, the Guardian reported details on a domestic telephone dragnet in which Verizon was forced to give the NSA details about all domestic, and even local, telephone calls. Then the Guardian and the Washington Post revealed another massive NSA surveillance program, called Prism, that required the country’s major Internet companies to secretly pass along data including email, photos, videos, chat services, file transfers, stored data, log-ins and video conferencing.

While the Obama administration and Senate intelligence committee members defend the spying as crucial in its fight against terrorism, this is only the latest chapter in nearly a century of pressure on telecommunications companies to secretly cooperate with NSA and its predecessors. But as stunning technology advances allow more and more personal information to pass across those links, the dangers of the United States turning into a secret surveillance state increase exponentially.

The NSA was so flooded with billions of dollars from post-September 11, 2001 budget increases that it went on a building spree and also expanded its eavesdropping capabilities enormously. Secret rooms were built in giant telecom facilities, such as AT&T’s 10-story “switch” in San Francisco. There, mirror copies of incoming data and telephone cables are routed into rooms filled with special hardware and software to filter out email and phone calls for transmission to NSA for analysis.

New spy satellites were launched and new listening posts were built – such as the recently opened operations center near Augusta, Ga. Designed to hold more than 4,000 earphone-clad eavesdroppers, it is the largest electronic spy base in the world.

Meanwhile, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, where top-secret work was done on the atomic bomb during World War II, the NSA is secretly building the world’s fastest and most powerful computer. Designed to run at exaflop speed, executing a million trillion operations per second, it will be able to sift through enormous quantities of data – for example, all the phone numbers dialed in the United States every day.

Today the NSA is the world’s largest spy organization, encompassing tens of thousands of employees and occupying a city-size headquarters complex on Fort Meade in Maryland. But in 1920, its earliest predecessor, known as the Black Chamber, fit into a slim townhouse on Manhattan’s East 37th Street.

World War One had recently ended, along with official censorship, and the Radio Communication Act of 1912 was again in effect. This legislation guaranteed the secrecy of electronic communications and meted out harsh penalties for any telegraph company employee who divulged the contents of a message. To the Black Chamber, however, the bill represented a large obstacle to be overcome—illegally, if necessary.

So the Black Chamber chief, Herbert O. Yardley, and his boss in Washington, General Marlborough Churchill, head of the Military Intelligence Division, paid a visit to 195 Broadway in downtown Manhattan, headquarters of Western Union. This was the nation’s largest telegram company – the email of that day.

The two government officials took the elevator to the 24th floor for a secret meeting with Western Union’s president, Newcomb Carlton. Their object was to convince him to grant them secret access to the private communications zapping through his company’s wires.

It was easier achieved than Yardley had ever imagined. “After the men had put all our cards on the table,” Yardley later described, “President Carlton seemed anxious to do everything he could for us.'”

Time and again over the decades, this pattern has been repeated. The NSA, or a predecessor, secretly entered into agreements with the country’s major telecommunications companies and illegally gained access to Americans’ private communications.

In a much-cited story, the influential Republican statesman, Henry L. Stimson, was described as deeply offended by the very notion of snooping into people’s private communications. As the new secretary of state in 1929, Stimson shut down the Black Chamber with the now immortal phrase, “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”

But when President Franklin D. Roosevelt later appointed Stimson secretary of war during World War Two, Stimson changed his mind. He wanted to eavesdrop on every possible communication, especially on the Germans and Japanese.

Once the guns of World War Two began falling silent, however, the communications privacy laws again took effect. Thus, Brigadier General W. Preston Corderman, the chief of the Signals Intelligence Service – another pre-NSA iteration — faced the same dilemma Yardley confronted after World War One: a lack of access to the cables flowing into, out of and through the country.

So, once again, deals were made with the major telegraph companies – the Internet providers of the day – to grant the SIS (and later the NSA) secret access to their communications.

Codenamed “Operation Shamrock,” agents would arrive at the back door at each telecom headquarters in New York around midnight; pick up all that days telegraph traffic, and bring it to an office masquerading as a television tape processing company. There they would use a machine to duplicate all the computer tapes containing the telegrams, and, hours later, return the original tapes to the company.

The secret agreement lasted for 30 years. It only ended in 1975, when the nation was shocked by a series of stunning intelligence revelations uncovered by a congressional investigation led by Senator Frank Church.

The illegality and vast breadth of this one operation stunned both the left and the right, Republicans as well as Democrats. The parties came together to create a new law to make sure nothing like it could ever happen again. Known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the legislation created a secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to ensure that the NSA only eavesdropped on Americans when there was probable cause to suspect they were involved in serious national security crimes — such as espionage or terrorism.

For more than a quarter-century, the NSA obeyed this law. The intelligence agency turned its giant ears outward — away from the everyday lives of Americans. But that all changed soon after September 11, 2001, when the Bush administration began its warrantless wiretapping program.

Once again, an NSA director sought the secret cooperation of the nation’s telecom industry to gain access to its communications channels and links. Again, the companies agreed — despite violating the laws and the privacy of their tens of millions of customers. Eventually, when the operation was discovered, a number of groups brought suit against the companies, Congress passed legislation granting them immunity.

Thus, for roughly 100 years, whenever the government knocked on the telecommunications industry’s door and asked them to break the law and turn over millions upon millions of private communications, the telecoms complied. Why not, since they knew that nothing would ever happen to them if they broke the law.

Now, as a result of these new revelations, it appears that the NSA has again gone to Verizon and other telephone companies, as well as many of the giant Internet companies, and obtained secret access to millions, if not billions, of private communications. There are still many questions as to what, if any, legal justification was used.

But unlike with Yardley and the Black Chamber, the dangers today of secret cooperation between the telecom and Internet industry and the NSA are incomparable. Because of technology back then, the only data the government was able to obtain were telegrams — which few average people sent or received.

Today, however, access to someone’s telephone records and Internet activity can provide an incredibly intimate window on their life.

Phone data reveals whom they call, where they call, how often they call someone, where they are calling from and how long they speak to each person. Internet data provides e-mail content, Google searches, pictures, and personal and financial details.

We now live in an era when access to someone’s email account and web searches can paint a more detailed picture of their life then most personal diaries. Secret agreements between intelligence agencies and communications companies should not be allowed in a democracy. There is too much at risk.

In a dusty corner of Utah, NSA is now completing construction of a mammoth new building, a one-million-square foot data warehouse for storing the billions of communications it is intercepting. If the century-old custom of secret back-room deals between NSA and the telecoms is permitted to continue, all of us may digitally end up there.

Contrary to what Simpson may have asserted, gentlemen (and women) do read each other’s mail — at least if they work for the National Security Agency.

And in the future, given NSA’s unrestrained push into advanced technologies, the agency may also be able to read your thoughts as well as your mail.

(James Bamford is a Reuters columnist but his opinions are his own.)

(James Bamford writes frequently on intelligence and produces documentaries for PBS. His latest book is “The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America.”)

Jun 132013
 

Edward Snowden May Defect to China

U.S. intelligence officials on the trail of rogue contractor Edward Snowden are now treating the National Security Agency leak case as a possible foreign espionage matter, raising fears that the 29-year-old computer whiz may be attempting to defect to China with a trove of America’s most sensitive secrets, according to three U.S. officials.

“I think there is a real concern about that,” a senior official familiar with the case told ABC News on Thursday. Another law enforcement official said it was a “very legitimate” worry.

In an interview Wednesday with Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, Snowden said his country “had been hacking into computers in Hong Kong and [in China] for years.”

Those remarks alarmed intelligence officials, who considered those statements as much of a betrayal as his alleged leaking of highly classified files on the NSA’s vast surveillance program to two newspapers last week, the senior official said.

Investigators are scrambling to piece together what may have been swiped by Snowden, who said he was in contact with two reporters to whom he eventually leaked Top Secret files before he took a $122,000 a year job as an NSA contractor with technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii last March.

The Guardian, the British paper that first broke stories on NSA surveillance programs allegedly based on Snowden’s information, reported overnight that Snowden took four laptops filled with secrets with him when he fled from Hawaii to Hong Kong late last month. Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for The Guardian, has promised more stories exposing U.S. operations were to come.

Jeremy Bash, former CIA and Pentagon Chief of Staff, told ABC News today that the possibility of Snowden defecting to China, or even cooperating with Chinese officials, is a top concern for U.S. officials.

“He could do tremendous damage,” Bash said during an interview for the ABC News/Yahoo Power Players series. “I think if a foreign government learned everything that was in Edward Snowden’s brain, they would have a good window into the way we collect signals intelligence… He had access to highly classified information.”

Piecing Together Edward Snowden’s Mysterious Past

When Edward Snowden revealed himself to be the source of the NSA leaks in an interview with The Guardian Sunday, he briefly described how he went from a high school dropout to a man entrusted with some of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets. An investigation by ABC News pieced together the many parts that he left out.

After Snowden quit high school, he earned his GED and then undertook a self-designed college education through a patchwork of classes at community, for-profit and online schools.

As a young man, Snowden lived on his own, according to a neighbor, and took work at a Japanese anime website based in a residential home on the Fort Meade, Maryland Army post, just one block from the National Security Agency headquarters.

During this period, it appears he designed his own syllabus, taking college courses at five different institutions without bothering to seek a diploma — an unorthodox path to a career in the world of high-tech intelligence gathering.

Jun 122013
 

Why Edward Snowden Is a Hero

Posted by

Is Edward Snowden, the twenty-nine-year-old N.S.A. whistle-blower who was last said to be hiding in Hong Kong awaiting his fate, a hero or a traitor? He is a hero. In revealing the colossal scale of the U.S. government’s eavesdropping on Americans and other people around the world, he has performed a great public service that more than outweighs any breach of trust he may have committed. Like Daniel Ellsberg, the former Defense Department official who released the Pentagon Papers, and Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician who revealed the existence of Israel’s weapons program, before him, Snowden has brought to light important information that deserved to be in the public domain, while doing no lasting harm to the national security of his country.

Doubtless, many people inside the U.S. power structure—President Obama included—and some of its apologists in the media will see things differently. When Snowden told the Guardian that “nothing good” was going to happen to him, he was almost certainly right. In fleeing to Hong Kong, he may have overlooked the existence of its extradition pact with the United States, which the U.S. authorities will most certainly seek to invoke. The National Security Agency has already referred the case to the Justice Department, and James Clapper, Obama’s director of National Intelligence, has said that Snowden’s leaks have done “huge, grave damage” to “our intelligence capabilities.”

Before accepting such claims at face value, let’s remind ourselves of what the leaks so far have not contained. They didn’t reveal anything about the algorithms that the N.S.A. uses, the groups or individuals that the agency targets, or the identities of U.S. agents. They didn’t contain the contents of any U.S. military plans, or of any conversations between U.S. or foreign officials. As Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists who broke the story, pointed out on “Morning Joe” today, this wasn’t a WikiLeaks-style data dump. “[Snowden] spent months meticulously studying every document,” Greenwald said. “He didn’t just upload them to the Internet.”

So, what did the leaks tell us? First, they confirmed that the U.S. government, without obtaining any court warrants, routinely collects the phone logs of tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of Americans, who have no links to terrorism whatsoever. If the publicity prompts Congress to prevent phone companies such as Verizon and A.T. & T. from acting as information-gathering subsidiaries of the spying agencies, it won’t hamper legitimate domestic-surveillance operations—the N.S.A. can always go to court to obtain a wiretap or search warrant—and it will be a very good thing for the country.

The second revelation in the leaks was that the N.S.A., in targeting foreign suspects, has the capacity to access vast amounts of user data from U.S.-based Internet companies such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Skype. Exactly how this is done remains a bit murky. But it’s clear that, in the process of monitoring the communications of overseas militants and officials and the people who communicate with them, the N.S.A. sweeps up a great deal of online data about Americans, and keeps it locked away—seemingly forever.

Conceivably, the fact that Uncle Sam is watching their Facebook and Google accounts could come as news to some dimwit would-be jihadis in foreign locales, prompting them to communicate in ways that are harder for the N.S.A. to track. But it will hardly surprise the organized terrorist groups, which already go to great lengths to avoid being monitored. Not for nothing did Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad go without a phone or Internet connection.

Another Snowden leak, which Greenwald and the Guardian published over the weekend, was a set of documents concerning another secret N.S.A. tracking program with an Orwellian name: “Boundless Informant.” Apparently designed to keep Snowden’s former bosses abreast of what sorts of data it was collecting around the world, the program unveiled the vast reach of the N.S.A.’s activities. In March, 2013, alone, the Guardian reported, the N.S.A. collected ninety-seven billion pieces of information from computer networks worldwide, and three billion of those pieces came from U.S.-based networks.

It’s hardly surprising that the main targets for the N.S.A.’s data collection were Iran (fourteen billion pieces in that period) and Pakistan (more than thirteen billion), but countries such as Jordan, India, and Egypt, American allies all, may be a bit surprised to find themselves so high on the list. “We hack everyone everywhere,” Snowden told the Guardian. “We like to make a distinction between us and the others. But we are in almost every country in the world. We are not at war with these countries.”

For most Americans, the main concern will be domestic spying, and the chronic lack of oversight that Snowden’s leaks have highlighted. In the years since 9/11, the spying agencies have been given great leeway to expand their activities, with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, which deals with legal requests from the agencies, and the congressional intelligence committees, which nominally oversees all of their activities, all too often acting as rubber stamps rather than proper watchdogs.

Partly, that was due to lack of gumption and an eagerness to look tough on issues of counterterrorism. But it also reflected a lack of information. Just a couple of months ago, at a Senate hearing, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, one of the few legislators to sound any misgivings over the activities of the intelligence agencies, asked Clapper, “Does the N.S.A. collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” To which Clapper replied: “No, sir.” (He added, “Not wittingly.”) At another hearing, General Keith Alexander, the director of the N.S.A., denied fourteen times that the agency had the technical capability to intercept e-mails and other online communications in the United States.

Thanks to Snowden, and what he told the Guardian and the Washington Post, we now have cause to doubt the truth of this testimony. In Snowden’s words: “The N.S.A. has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”

Were Clapper and Alexander deliberately lying? If so, perhaps Snowden should be extradited to the United States and dragged into court—but only as part of a proceeding in which the two spymasters face charges of misleading Congress. I suppose you could make the argument that he is a naïve young man who didn’t fully understand the dangerous nature of the world in which we live. You could question his motives, and call him a publicity seeker, or an idiot. (Fleeing to Hong Kong wasn’t very smart.) But he doesn’t sound like an airhead; he sounds like that most awkward and infuriating of creatures—a man of conscience. “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things,” he told Greenwald. “I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”

So what is Snowden’s real crime? Like Ellsberg, Vanunu, and Bradley Manning before him, he uncovered questionable activities that those in power would rather have kept secret. That’s the valuable role that whistle-blowers play in a free society, and it’s one that, in each individual case, should be weighed against the breach of trust they commit, and the potential harm their revelations can cause. In some instances, conceivably, the interests of the state should prevail. Here, though, the scales are clearly tipped in Snowden’s favor.

I’ll leave the last word to Ellsberg, who, for revealing to the world that that Pentagon knew early on that the war in Vietnam was unwinnable, was described in some quarters as a communist and a traitor: “Snowden did what he did because he recognised the NSA’s surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, unconstitutional activity. This wholesale invasion of Americans’ and foreign citizens’ privacy does not contribute to our security; it puts in danger the very liberties we’re trying to protect.”

Photograph by Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty.

Jun 122013
 

40 Statistics About The Fall Of The U.S. Economy

By Michael, on May 26th, 2013

40 Statistics About The Fall Of The U.S. Economy That Are Almost Too Crazy To BelieveIf you know someone that actually believes that the U.S. economy is in good shape, just show them the statistics in this article.  When you step back and look at the long-term trends, it is undeniable what is happening to us.  We are in the midst of a horrifying economic decline that is the result of decades of very bad decisions.  30 years ago, the U.S. national debt was about one trillion dollars.  Today, it is almost 17 trillion dollars.  40 years ago, the total amount of debt in the United States was about 2 trillion dollars.  Today, it is more than 56 trillion dollars.  At the same time that we have been running up all of this debt, our economic infrastructure and our ability to produce wealth has been absolutely gutted.  Since 2001, the United States has lost more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities and millions of good jobs have been shipped overseas.  Our share of global GDP declined from 31.8 percent in 2001 to 21.6 percent in 2011.  The percentage of Americans that are self-employed is at a record low, and the percentage of Americans that are dependent on the government is at a record high.  The U.S. economy is a complete and total mess, and it is time that we faced the truth.

The following are 40 statistics about the fall of the U.S. economy that are almost too crazy to believe…

#1 Back in 1980, the U.S. national debt was less than one trillion dollars.  Today, it is rapidly approaching 17 trillion dollars…

National Debt

#2 During Obama’s first term, the federal government accumulated more debt than it did under the first 42 U.S presidents combined.

#3 The U.S. national debt is now more than 23 times larger than it was when Jimmy Carter became president.

#4 If you started paying off just the new debt that the U.S. has accumulated during the Obama administration at the rate of one dollar per second, it would take more than 184,000 years to pay it off.

#5 The federal government is stealing more than 100 million dollars from our children and our grandchildren every single hour of every single day.

#6 Back in 1970, the total amount of debt in the United States (government debt + business debt + consumer debt, etc.) was less than 2 trillion dollars.  Today it is over 56 trillion dollars…

Total Debt

#7 According to the World Bank, U.S. GDP accounted for 31.8 percent of all global economic activity in 2001.  That number dropped to 21.6 percent in 2011.

#8 The United States has fallen in the global economic competitiveness rankings compiled by the World Economic Forum for four years in a row.

#9 According to The Economist, the United States was the best place in the world to be born into back in 1988.  Today, the United States is only tied for 16th place.

#10 Incredibly, more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities in the United States have been permanently shut down since 2001.

#11 There are less Americans working in manufacturing today than there was in 1950 even though the population of the country has more than doubled since then.

#12 According to the New York Times, there are now approximately 70,000 abandoned buildings in Detroit.

#13 When NAFTA was pushed through Congress in 1993, the United States had a trade surplus with Mexico of 1.6 billion dollars.  By 2010, we had a trade deficit with Mexico of 61.6 billion dollars.

#14 Back in 1985, our trade deficit with China was approximately 6 million dollars (million with a little “m”) for the entire year.  In 2012, our trade deficit with China was 315 billion dollars.  That was the largest trade deficit that one nation has had with another nation in the history of the world.

#15 Overall, the United States has run a trade deficit of more than 8 trillion dollars with the rest of the world since 1975.

#16 According to the Economic Policy Institute, the United States is losing half a million jobs to China every single year.

#17 Back in 1950, more than 80 percent of all men in the United States had jobs.  Today, less than 65 percent of all men in the United States have jobs.

#18 At this point, an astounding 53 percent of all American workers make less than $30,000 a year.

#19 Small business is rapidly dying in America.  At this point, only about 7 percent of all non-farm workers in the United States are self-employed.  That is an all-time record low.

#20 Back in 1983, the bottom 95 percent of all income earners in the United States had 62 cents of debt for every dollar that they earned.  By 2007, that figure had soared to $1.48.

#21 In the United States today, the wealthiest one percent of all Americans have a greater net worth than the bottom 90 percent combined.

#22 According to Forbes, the 400 wealthiest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans combined.

#23 The six heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton have as much wealth as the bottom one-third of all Americans combined.

#24 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 146 million Americans are either “poor” or “low income”.

#25 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 49 percent of all Americans live in a home that receives direct monetary benefits from the federal government.  Back in 1983, less than a third of all Americans lived in a home that received direct monetary benefits from the federal government.

#26 Overall, the federal government runs nearly 80 different “means-tested welfare programs”, and at this point more than 100 million Americans are enrolled in at least one of them.

#27 Back in 1965, only one out of every 50 Americans was on Medicaid.  Today, one out of every 6 Americans is on Medicaid, and things are about to get a whole lot worse.  It is being projected that Obamacare will add 16 million more Americans to the Medicaid rolls.

#28 As I wrote recently, it is being projected that the number of Americans on Medicare will grow from 50.7 million in 2012 to 73.2 million in 2025.

#29 At this point, Medicare is facing unfunded liabilities of more than 38 trillion dollars over the next 75 years.  That comes to approximately $328,404 for every single household in the United States.

#30 Right now, there are approximately 56 million Americans collecting Social Security benefits.  By 2035, that number is projected to soar to an astounding 91 million.

#31 Overall, the Social Security system is facing a 134 trillion dollar shortfall over the next 75 years.

#32 Today, the number of Americans on Social Security Disability now exceeds the entire population of Greece, and the number of Americans on food stamps now exceeds the entire population of Spain.

#33 According to a report recently issued by the Pew Research Center, on average Americans over the age of 65 have 47 times as much wealth as Americans under the age of 35.

#34 U.S. families that have a head of household that is under the age of 30 have a poverty rate of 37 percent.

#35 As I mentioned recently, the homeownership rate in America is now at its lowest level in nearly 18 years.

#36 There are now 20.2 million Americans that spend more than half of their incomes on housing.  That represents a 46 percent increase from 2001.

#37 45 percent of all children are living in poverty in Miami, more than 50 percent of all children are living in poverty in Cleveland, and about 60 percent of all children are living in poverty in Detroit.

#38 Today, more than a million public school students in the United States are homeless.  This is the first time that has ever happened in our history.

#39 When Barack Obama first entered the White House, about 32 million Americans were on food stamps.  Now, more than 47 million Americans are on food stamps.

#40 According to one calculation, the number of Americans on food stamps now exceeds the combined populations of “Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.”

Jun 092013
 

Edward Snowden: the NSA Surveillance whistleblower

The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said.

Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world’s most secretive organisations – the NSA.

In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”

Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. “I don’t want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing.”

He does not fear the consequences of going public, he said, only that doing so will distract attention from the issues raised by his disclosures. “I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me.”

Despite these fears, he remained hopeful his outing will not divert attention from the substance of his disclosures. “I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in.” He added: “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

He has had “a very comfortable life” that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”

‘I am not afraid, because this is the choice I’ve made’

Three weeks ago, Snowden made final preparations that resulted in last week’s series of blockbuster news stories. At the NSA office in Hawaii where he was working, he copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose.

He then advised his NSA supervisor that he needed to be away from work for “a couple of weeks” in order to receive treatment for epilepsy, a condition he learned he suffers from after a series of seizures last year.

As he packed his bags, he told his girlfriend that he had to be away for a few weeks, though he said he was vague about the reason. “That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world.”

On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.

In the three weeks since he arrived, he has been ensconced in a hotel room. “I’ve left the room maybe a total of three times during my entire stay,” he said. It is a plush hotel and, what with eating meals in his room too, he has run up big bills.

He is deeply worried about being spied on. He lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping. He puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them.

Though that may sound like paranoia to some, Snowden has good reason for such fears. He worked in the US intelligence world for almost a decade. He knows that the biggest and most secretive surveillance organisation in America, the NSA, along with the most powerful government on the planet, is looking for him.

Since the disclosures began to emerge, he has watched television and monitored the internet, hearing all the threats and vows of prosecution emanating from Washington.

And he knows only too well the sophisticated technology available to them and how easy it will be for them to find him. The NSA police and other law enforcement officers have twice visited his home in Hawaii and already contacted his girlfriend, though he believes that may have been prompted by his absence from work, and not because of suspicions of any connection to the leaks.

“All my options are bad,” he said. The US could begin extradition proceedings against him, a potentially problematic, lengthy and unpredictable course for Washington. Or the Chinese government might whisk him away for questioning, viewing him as a useful source of information. Or he might end up being grabbed and bundled into a plane bound for US territory.

“Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets,” he said.

“We have got a CIA station just up the road – the consulate here in Hong Kong – and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week. And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be.”

Having watched the Obama administration prosecute whistleblowers at a historically unprecedented rate, he fully expects the US government to attempt to use all its weight to punish him. “I am not afraid,” he said calmly, “because this is the choice I’ve made.”

He predicts the government will launch an investigation and “say I have broken the Espionage Act and helped our enemies, but that can be used against anyone who points out how massive and invasive the system has become”.

The only time he became emotional during the many hours of interviews was when he pondered the impact his choices would have on his family, many of whom work for the US government. “The only thing I fear is the harmful effects on my family, who I won’t be able to help any more. That’s what keeps me up at night,” he said, his eyes welling up with tears.

‘You can’t wait around for someone else to act’

Snowden did not always believe the US government posed a threat to his political values. He was brought up originally in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. His family moved later to Maryland, near the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade.

By his own admission, he was not a stellar student. In order to get the credits necessary to obtain a high school diploma, he attended a community college in Maryland, studying computing, but never completed the coursework. (He later obtained his GED.)

In 2003, he enlisted in the US army and began a training program to join the Special Forces. Invoking the same principles that he now cites to justify his leaks, he said: “I wanted to fight in the Iraq war because I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression”.

He recounted how his beliefs about the war’s purpose were quickly dispelled. “Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone,” he said. After he broke both his legs in a training accident, he was discharged.

After that, he got his first job in an NSA facility, working as a security guard for one of the agency’s covert facilities at the University of Maryland. From there, he went to the CIA, where he worked on IT security. His understanding of the internet and his talent for computer programming enabled him to rise fairly quickly for someone who lacked even a high school diploma.

By 2007, the CIA stationed him with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland. His responsibility for maintaining computer network security meant he had clearance to access a wide array of classified documents.

That access, along with the almost three years he spent around CIA officers, led him to begin seriously questioning the rightness of what he saw.

He described as formative an incident in which he claimed CIA operatives were attempting to recruit a Swiss banker to obtain secret banking information. Snowden said they achieved this by purposely getting the banker drunk and encouraging him to drive home in his car. When the banker was arrested for drunk driving, the undercover agent seeking to befriend him offered to help, and a bond was formed that led to successful recruitment.

“Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he says. “I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”

He said it was during his CIA stint in Geneva that he thought for the first time about exposing government secrets. But, at the time, he chose not to for two reasons.

First, he said: “Most of the secrets the CIA has are about people, not machines and systems, so I didn’t feel comfortable with disclosures that I thought could endanger anyone”. Secondly, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 gave him hope that there would be real reforms, rendering disclosures unnecessary.

He left the CIA in 2009 in order to take his first job working for a private contractor that assigned him to a functioning NSA facility, stationed on a military base in Japan. It was then, he said, that he “watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in”, and as a result, “I got hardened.”

The primary lesson from this experience was that “you can’t wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act.”

Over the next three years, he learned just how all-consuming the NSA’s surveillance activities were, claiming “they are intent on making every conversation and every form of behaviour in the world known to them”.

He described how he once viewed the internet as “the most important invention in all of human history”. As an adolescent, he spent days at a time “speaking to people with all sorts of views that I would never have encountered on my own”.

But he believed that the value of the internet, along with basic privacy, is being rapidly destroyed by ubiquitous surveillance. “I don’t see myself as a hero,” he said, “because what I’m doing is self-interested: I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”

Once he reached the conclusion that the NSA’s surveillance net would soon be irrevocable, he said it was just a matter of time before he chose to act. “What they’re doing” poses “an existential threat to democracy”, he said.

A matter of principle

As strong as those beliefs are, there still remains the question: why did he do it? Giving up his freedom and a privileged lifestyle? “There are more important things than money. If I were motivated by money, I could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich.”

For him, it is a matter of principle. “The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to,” he said.

His allegiance to internet freedom is reflected in the stickers on his laptop: “I support Online Rights: Electronic Frontier Foundation,” reads one. Another hails the online organisation offering anonymity, the Tor Project.

Asked by reporters to establish his authenticity to ensure he is not some fantasist, he laid bare, without hesitation, his personal details, from his social security number to his CIA ID and his expired diplomatic passport. There is no shiftiness. Ask him about anything in his personal life and he will answer.

He is quiet, smart, easy-going and self-effacing. A master on computers, he seemed happiest when talking about the technical side of surveillance, at a level of detail comprehensible probably only to fellow communication specialists. But he showed intense passion when talking about the value of privacy and how he felt it was being steadily eroded by the behaviour of the intelligence services.

His manner was calm and relaxed but he has been understandably twitchy since he went into hiding, waiting for the knock on the hotel door. A fire alarm goes off. “That has not happened before,” he said, betraying anxiety wondering if was real, a test or a CIA ploy to get him out onto the street.

Strewn about the side of his bed are his suitcase, a plate with the remains of room-service breakfast, and a copy of Angler, the biography of former vice-president Dick Cheney.

Ever since last week’s news stories began to appear in the Guardian, Snowden has vigilantly watched TV and read the internet to see the effects of his choices. He seemed satisfied that the debate he longed to provoke was finally taking place.

He lay, propped up against pillows, watching CNN’s Wolf Blitzer ask a discussion panel about government intrusion if they had any idea who the leaker was. From 8,000 miles away, the leaker looked on impassively, not even indulging in a wry smile.

Snowden said that he admires both Ellsberg and Manning, but argues that there is one important distinction between himself and the army private, whose trial coincidentally began the week Snowden’s leaks began to make news.

“I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest,” he said. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”

He purposely chose, he said, to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed.

As for his future, he is vague. He hoped the publicity the leaks have generated will offer him some protection, making it “harder for them to get dirty”.

He views his best hope as the possibility of asylum, with Iceland – with its reputation of a champion of internet freedom – at the top of his list. He knows that may prove a wish unfulfilled.

But after the intense political controversy he has already created with just the first week’s haul of stories, “I feel satisfied that this was all worth it. I have no regrets.”

Jun 072013
 
Sovereign Man

June 7, 2013 
Maule Region, Chile

For some, it’s hard to even fathom… as if the headlines were ripped from the Onion instead of Atlas Shrugged or 1984:

* NSA Is Wired Into Top Internet Companies’ Servers, Including Google and Facebook

* NSA reportedly collecting phone records of millions

* Former NSA head defends agency reportedly spying on millions of Americans

* US gov’t defends NSA surveillance, slams ‘reprehensible’ journalists

* The Supreme Court Authorizes DNA can be taken from anyone Arrested

 

Even more, just within the last few weeks we’ve seen the Justice Department confiscating news reporter phone records… the IRS caught bullying political opposition groups… and now this.

It should be as plain as day at this point. Yet some people still have a hard time understanding that they’re living under an oppressive, destructive, unaccountable government.

Most other cultures get it. If you go to Argentina, Vietnam, Italy, or China, people there have absolutely no trust or confidence in their governments.

It’s something that’s -almost- uniquely American– a lifetime of steady, bombastic propaganda that inculcates a deep belief that our system is the ‘best’.

And, even in the face of such overwhelming evidence, it’s still hard for people to break from this programming and acknowledge that their government is just as corrupt as Mexico’s… albeit slightly more sophisticated.

The politicians running the nation are sociopathic criminals, plain and simple. If you or I were to tap people’s phones or hack their Facebook accounts, or use our authority to bully opposition groups, we would be tossed in the slammer in no time… and branded by the media as moral delinquents.

Yet politicians get away with it. They even have prominent members of the press championing their criminality, like this quote from Forbes today:

“this is in fact what governments are supposed to do so I’m at something of a loss in understanding why people seem to be getting so outraged about it.”

The simple reason is because the system is a total failure.

In the ‘free world’, society is based on a principle that a tiny elite should have the power to kill. To steal. To wage war. To debase the currency. To deprive certain people of freedom. All in their sole discretion. And for the good of everyone else.

We’re just supposed to trust them to be good guys and be proficient at their jobs. And in case they happen to completely screw it up and wreck the nation, they get a pass.

It’s a completely absurd. We’re ruled by criminals, plain and simple.

This is a hard lesson for an entire society to learn, but perhaps the most important.

Unfortunately, the second lesson is even harder: that there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.

We’ve also been led to believe that direct democracy and grassroots movements can be a force for change. Yet it rarely, if ever, happens.

Short of outright revolution, the system isn’t going to change. It has to completely crash… and hit rock bottom… before it can be rebuilt. And we’re still a loooong way off from that.

Like ancient Rome before, the Land of the Free can look forward to being governed by a long series of criminals in the foreseeable future, notwithstanding the occasional sage.

Nations rise and fall. This cycle is inevitable. And history shows that the world’s most dominant nation typically has a long, grinding decline. It’s going to take a while.

That’s why, instead of trying to change the system, it’s so important to invest time, energy, and capital in the things that set up you and your family for maximum freedom and prosperity.

You can’t stop a speeding train by standing in front of it. You just want to make sure you’re not on it as it heads towards the cliff.

Until tomorrow,
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Simon Black
Senior Editor, SovereignMan.com