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Citizenfour’s Escape to Freedom in Russia

In early September in Russia, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden told me about a documentary entitled Citizenfour, named after the alias he used when he asked filmmaker Laura Poitras to help him warn Americans about how deeply the NSA had carved away their freedoms.

When we spoke, Snowden seemed more accustomed to his current reality, i.e., still being alive albeit far from home, than he did in October 2013 when I met with him along with fellow whistleblowers Tom Drake, Coleen Rowley and Jesselyn Radack, as we presented him with the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence.

A year ago, the four of us spent a long, relaxing evening with Snowden – and sensed his lingering wonderment at the irony-suffused skein of events that landed him in Russia, out of reach from the U.S. government’s long arm of “justice.”

Six days before we gave Snowden the award, former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden and House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers had openly expressed their view that Snowden deserved to be on the “list,” meaning the “capture or kill” list that could have made Snowden the target of a drone strike. When I asked him if he were aware of that recent indignity, he nodded yes – with a winsome wince of incredulity.

This September, there was no drone of Damocles hanging over the relaxed lunch that the two of us shared. There were, rather, happier things to discuss. For example, I asked if he were aware that one of his co-workers in Hawaii had volunteered to Andy Greenberg of Forbes Magazine that Snowden was admired by his peers as a man of principle, as well as a highly gifted geek.

What Happened In Ottawa?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): Increased Patent Protection for Big Pharmaceutical Companies

The secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will increase patent protection for the benefit of big pharmaceutical companies, but are such policies really in the interests of global health?

Eradicating disease from the face of the Earth

There are many illnesses that I have never known in my life, but surely two of the most profound are smallpox and polio. Smallpox once killed 400,000 people annually in Europe alone, with as many as 500 million deaths worldwide attributed to the disease in the first 80 years of the 20th Century. Polio was once also endemic to most parts of the world. It killed, too, but also left sufferers – many of them children – with serious physical disabilities, including partial paralysis. Even in highly developed countries like the USA, tens of thousands of children contracted polio each year with scores forced into the dreaded “iron lung” just to keep breathing. Yet today polio exists in only a handful of countries.

These radical advances in global health are due to nothing more complicated than cheap medicine and extensive public health programs that owe more to the spirit of scientific discovery than mercantilism. Such advances often originate from unlikely sources.

In the late 18th century, Edward Jenner, a small-town English doctor, noticed that milkmaids rarely contracted smallpox. He soon came to the conclusion that this was because they were often infected with cowpox, a similar but less dangerous disease, as a result of their occupation, and that this immunized them against future infection. Jenner used this knowledge to develop a successful and safe vaccine against smallpox which he then refined and shared with others. The British government eventually awarded Jenner £30 000 to allow him to abandon his practice and focus on the vaccine. It was a generous gift, but could not have motivated the doctor – he had already made his discovery and shared his work before these awards were bestowed on him.

The history of polio is similar. A safe vaccine was developed against polio by research scientist Jonas Salk in 1955. Salk was funded by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now the March of Dimes) a group set-up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to combat polio. When asked in an interview who owned the patent to his vaccine, Salk was taken aback, eventually responding, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” Shortly thereafter Albert Sabin, co-operating with Russian scientists, came up with a cheaper oral polio vaccination that is now used in most of the developing world. He didn’t patent it, either.

Exposed! Ebola Czar Ron Klain Says "Overpopulation" Is Today's Biggest Problem!

FBI wants Congress to mandate backdoors in tech devices to facilitate surveillance

In response to announcements by Apple and Google that they would make the data customers store on their smartphones and computers more secure and safer from hacking by law enforcement, spies, and identity thieves, FBI director James Comey is asking Congress to order tech companies to build their devices with “backdoors,” making them more accessible to law enforcement agencies.Privacy advocates predict that few in Congress will support Comey’s quest for greater surveillance powers.

In response to announcements by Apple and Google that they would make the data customers store on their smartphones and computers more secure and safer from hacking by law enforcement, spies, and identity thieves, FBI director James Comey is asking Congress to order tech companies to build their devices with “backdoors,” making them more accessible to law enforcement agencies. Speaking at the Brookings Institution last Thursday, Comey said that police need new legislation to help them apprehend criminals who use encryption to hide incriminating evidence. “The FBI has a sworn duty to keep every American safe from crime and terrorism, and technology has become the tool of choice for some very dangerous people,” Comey said. “Unfortunately, the law hasn’t kept pace with technology, and this disconnect has created a significant public-safety problem.”

The 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) forces telephone companies to build surveillance technologies into their networks to allow law enforcement to install wiretaps. The law has not been updated and it does not apply to new technology including online forms of communication.

Privacy advocates predict that few in Congress will support Comey’s quest for greater surveillance powers. “I’d be surprised if more than a handful of members would support the idea of backdooring Americans’ personal property,” Senator Ron Wyden (D- Oregon) said.

Comey urged Congress to update CALEA to “create a level playing field” so new tech companies would have to provide police the same access to information that telephone providers like AT&T do. Comey’s proposal is already facing resistance from the tech industry, as many industry analysts point out that any backdoor for law enforcement could be exploited by hackers. Additionally, such a mandate would make American tech companies less competitive globally. “Who in Europe is going to buy these newly compromised cell phones if Congress insists that they be made with backdoors for U.S. law enforcement?” asked Greg Nojeim, a senior counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology. “It’s probably one of the worst job killers a member of Congress could propose.”

Ed Black, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, a group that represents top tech companies including Facebook and Google, said customers believe improving data security is a core function of technology companies, adding that the new encryptions are not marketing gimmicks. “It’s not like a new color on (the customer’s) phone,” he said. “It’s something that they think is essential to protecting their freedom, their lives, and their privacy.”

Comey said in his speech last Thursday that he understands the reasons for securing customer data, “but we have to find a way to help these companies understand what we need, why we need it, and how they can help, while still protecting privacy rights and providing network security and innovation. We need our private-sector partners to take a step back, to pause, and to consider changing course.”

In June, the House voted 293-123 to slash funds for National Security Agency projects that build vulnerabilities into security products, a sign that Congress is far from passing new legislation that makes U.S. tech products more vulnerable to hacking.

A Platform For Monetary Reform

The Middle East Doesn’t Matter

The ISIS rampage through Iraq and much of Syria, roiling Washington and other world capitals, gives rise to an interesting question: Who would win a contest to be named America’s most worthless Mideast ally? Competition is fierce, but three countries are clear frontrunners.

There is Saudi Arabia, whose princely emissaries to Washington have been confidants of presidents and fixtures on the Georgetown party circuit, a country whose rulers and princes possess seemingly unlimited amounts of discretionary income. They have used this wealth to subsidize worldwide the teaching of the most extremist and intolerant variants of Islam, but also to prop up the US defense industry by buying at every opportunity the most elaborate weapons systems we would sell them. It isn’t yet known whether Saudi pilots can actually effectively fly these advanced fighter aircraft under combat conditions. (There is sufficient evidence however that even relatively untrained Saudis can learn to steer a fully loaded 747 into a fixed ground target.)

What do the Saudis do with their shiny F-16′s and spanking new tanks? One might have hoped to see Saudi forces in action against ISIS—which really hasn’t had any success against a military formation that has been systematically trained and adequately armed. But this isn’t happening, probably because Saudi leaders realize that a great many Saudis (a majority?) actually agree with the ISIS ideology, and there is no guarantee they wouldn’t defect to ISIS if called upon to battle it. Among the best few sentences written since the onset of the crisis comes from veteran observer William Pfaff, who pointed to the stakes:
Moreover, is it fully appreciated in Washington that the “New Caliphate” has every intention of taking over the existing role in Islamic society of Saudi Arabia? It wants to conquer and occupy Mecca. If it succeeds, the Saudis themselves will be submitted to the ferocious discipline the ISIS practices. The Saudi ladies who now complain that they are not allowed to drive cars will find themselves in a new world indeed!
Then there is Turkey, an actual NATO member, a Muslim majority country which bridges Asia and Europe, a country with a considerable middle class and millions of educated and highly trained citizens. There are smart people in Washington and beyond who have held great hopes for Turkey: that it might solve the seemingly intractable riddle of how to combine Islam with modern democracy; that it might provide meaningful diplomatic support to the Palestinians; that it could both restrain America from disastrous blunders (as it tried to do in Iraq) and exert its growing influence on behalf of social and scientific progress in the region as a whole.

Report That North And South Korea Are Holding First "High Level" Talks In 7 Years

Goodbye, Columbus–Hello, “Indigenous People’s Day”

In 1492, “Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and discovered the New World. And Oct. 12 was once a celebrated holiday in America.

School children in the earliest grades knew the date and the names of the ships on which Columbus and his crew had sailed: the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria. They knew his voyage had been financed by Queen Isabella of Spain, after the Genoese Admiral of the Ocean Sea had been turned down by other monarchs of Europe.

Oct. 12, 1492, was considered a momentous and wonderful day in world history: the discovery of America–by men from Europe.

This year, Columbus Day passed almost without notice. And that Columbus Day has become an embarrassment to many and an issue of savage controversy to some reflects a receding belief in this country in the superiority of our civilization.

Haters of Columbus say he was an imperialist, a colonialist, a genocidal racist, and a slaver who brought dictatorship, disease and death to the native peoples he encountered in the Caribbean.
And, in truth, many explorers and conquerors like Columbus, Cortes, Magellan, Pizarro and the soldiers and sailors they led, engaged in acts we would call atrocities and war crimes.

Yet that is true of every great empire and great civilization. The ancient Greeks had slaves. Were the Romans not brutal conquerors? Ask the Carthaginians. The Spanish, British and French empires all have their own long chronicles of crimes against colonized peoples.

The Globalization of War. Michel Chossudovsky

ISIS, Turkey, and the Propaganda of Intervention

Today’s headlines are filled with reports of the imminent fall of the Syrian city of Kobani to forces of the Islamic State (ISIS). There are terrifying descriptions of an imminent massacre and the looming threat to Turkey as Islamic State forces move ever closer to the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkish President Erdogan waxes poetic about how he “warned the West” about the threat IS would pose and the dangers of inaction. It seems that everyone, including security experts and pundits, agree that the situation is critical and that US bombardment alone is powerless to protect the town or halt IS.

And yet, somehow lost amid the din of cries for intervention is the simple fact that it is US policy and the actions of the aforementioned Erdogan along with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, and Israel that created ISIS, nurtured it in its infancy, promoted its development, and unleashed it on Iraq and Syria. And now, for those same leaders, along with a chorus of interventionist voices in the media establishment, to sound the alarm is not only cynical and utterly disingenuous, it is a shining example of the arrogance of empire.

Kobani and the Story Not Being Told

As fighters of the Islamic State (IS) continue their charge towards the mostly Kurdish town of Kobani on the Turkish-Syrian border, deep cracks in the edifice of the US-led coalition against IS have begun to emerge. Diplomatic infighting has shattered the illusion of a cohesive and unified coalition cobbled together by Washington. Not only have a number of countries been apprehensive about getting deeply involved in yet another unwinnable war in the Middle East led by the US, some ostensible allies have used the crisis as an opportunity to achieve political objectives. Perhaps the world leader in cynical opportunism this week is Turkish President Erdogan who has thus far refused to involve his forces in the war on Syria unless that war has as its ultimate aim the toppling of Syrian President Assad.

On October 7th, the NY Times ran a story with the headline Turkish Inaction on ISIS Advance Dismays the US which quoted a senior Obama administration official saying, “There’s growing angst about Turkey dragging its feet to prevent a massacre less than a mile from its border…After all the fulminating about Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe, they’re inventing reasons not to act to avoid another catastrophe…This isn’t how a NATO ally acts.” While the obvious implication is that Erdogan could cost the US the chance at a successful anti-terror operation, there is a subtle subtext that has gone almost entirely unnoticed; Turkey sees in ISIS an opportunity, not a threat.


Read the entire article

Two Months of Airstrikes In Iraq and Syria, Mapped!

Foreign Policy by Ted Cruz

The really interesting thing about the Junior Senator from Texas is the fact that he demonstrates that anyone who wants it badly enough can become president. It is, of course, something for which there is a precedent, when voters elected an inexperienced and largely unknown Barack Obama. Cruz shares Obama’s lack of preparation for the highest office while he is also something of a throwback to fellow Texan George W. Bush’s tradition of anti-intellectualism and lack of curiosity about how the rest of the world interacts with the United States. This is particularly unfortunate as Cruz, a conventional Republican conservative on all social issues, ironically has chosen to identify differences in foreign policy to distinguish himself from the rest of the Republican pack.

Cruz might rightly be seen by some as a nightmarish incarnation of a narrow minded conservative Christian vision of what the United States is all about, aggressively embracing a world view based on ignorance coupled with the license granted by God endowed “American exceptionalism” from sea to shining sea. His father is an Evangelical preacher and the son has successfully absorbed much of both the blinkered notions of right and wrong as well as the Elmer Gantry style, but that is not to suggest that he is stupid. By all accounts Cruz, a graduate of Princeton and of Harvard Law School, is extremely intelligent and by some accounts endowed with both extraordinary cunning and ambition. He is possessed of excellent political instincts when it comes to appealing to the constituencies in the GOP that he believes to be essential to his success.

Washington has seen presidents who were truly religious in the past but it has rarely experienced the Cruz mixture of demagoguery combined with a Biblically infused sense of righteousness which admits to no error. His Manichean sense of good and evil is constantly on display, but he is most on fire when he is speaking to his fellow conservative Christians, most recently at the gathering of the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Iowa. Cruz was one of a number of GOP speakers, which included potential presidential hopefuls Bobby Jindal and Paul Ryan, who were received tepidly while Cruz was greeted with cheering and a standing ovation before launching into his most recent theme, blaming the White House for not pressuring foreign governments to protect their Christian minorities. The enthusiastic reception was not surprising as Cruz is, after all, the “real thing” speaking “their language” fluently and the Evangelicals know it.

Cruz is intelligent enough to realize that what he is peddling is a type of narrative designed to make himself electable. What he actually believes is somewhat irrelevant except that if he is an actual zealot he might well be immune to viewpoints that run counter to his biases, dangerous in a president. A year ago Cruz grandstanded in leading the GOP dissidents’ attempt to shut down the government over the issue of Obamacare, a move that the party leadership regarded as a major “tactical error.” He was widely condemned for his performance in the media and within his own party but he made points with the constituency he was courting, the Tea Partiers.

The disturbing thing about Cruz is that his foreign policy statements are awash in what must be a willful disregard of reality, but, as with the threatened government shutdown, he apparently knows what will sell with the Bible thumping America first crowd that he is primarily targeting. His latest leitmotif which he has been hammering relentlessly is the worldwide persecution of Christians, with the clear implication that it is uniquely a Muslim problem. It is also a line that is being pursued by the Israeli government and American Jewish groups, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is somehow a protector of Christianity. He opposes negotiations with Iran, for example, because a Christian pastor is in prison there. That several other Americans are also being held by the government in Tehran, including a former US Marine, appears to be of secondary importance and US broader regional interests do not enter into the discussion at all.

The Crucifixion of Naomi Wolf for Daring to Question the ISIS Story

The ‘Bitter Truth': Empire and the Death of Liberalism

Daniel McCarthy, editor of The American Conservative, has started a bit of a controversy with his essay "Why Liberalism Means Empire," the thesis of which is that the "happy accident" of the liberal state was made possible only by the existence and beneficence of the British empire. Liberalism, says McCarthy, is dependent on the protective embrace of a global hegemon: this is the "bitter truth" libertarians and anti-interventionist conservatives must face.

One hardly knows how to approach an ostensibly conservative argument whose author unashamedly declares "By 1989 it was obvious that Hegel had been right." But then again one wonders if this is said somewhat tongue in cheek, because McCarthy is here arguing against the Hegelian determinism of Francis Fukuyama, asserting that it wasn’t History that produced liberalism in America and England but the British navy – or "power," as he puts it. Fukuyama famously argued that history had "ended," figuratively, at the Battle of Jena, when Napoleon’s triumph ensured the spread of "liberal" principles over the whole of Europe, but McCarthy begs to differ:

"What in fact has triumphed over the last 250 years – not since the Battle of Jena in 1806 but since the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763 – is not an idea but an institution: empire. Successive British and American empires created and upheld the world order in which liberalism could flourish. Fukuyama’s ‘liberal democracy’ turns out to be a synonym for "the attitudes and institutions of a world in which Anglo-American power is dominant."

Counterposed to Fukuyama’s Germano-centric Hegelian vision of a "world homogenous state" evolving out of the "spirit of History," we have McCarthy’s Anglophilic version of reverse Fukyama-ism, in which liberty is a "happy accident," a rare and fragile flower that can only be sustained within the hegemon’s hothouse.


Two seemingly polar opposite views, and yet when one strips away the neoconservative view that dresses itself up in Hegelian "dialectical" drag, their differences – in terms of practical policy – turn out to be a matter of degree rather than a matter of principle. 







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