The fall of Europe: Why the European Union is teetering on the brink

Growth is anemic at best and socio-economic inequality is on the rise. How did the European project go so wrong?

The fall of Europe: Why the European Union is teetering on the brink
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Europe won the Cold War.

Not long after the Berlin Wall fell a quarter of a century ago, the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States squandered its peace dividend in an attempt to maintain global dominance, and Europe quietly became more prosperous, more integrated, and more of a player in international affairs. Between 1989 and 2014, the European Union (EU) practically doubled its membership and catapulted into third place in population behind China and India. It currently boasts the world’s largest economy and also heads the list of global trading powers. In 2012, the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize for transforming Europe “from a continent of war to a continent of peace.”

In the competition for “world’s true superpower,” China loses points for still having so many impoverished peasants in its rural hinterlands and a corrupt, illiberal bureaucracy in its cities; the United States, for its crumbling infrastructure and a hypertrophied military-industrial complex that threatens to bankrupt the economy. As the only equitably prosperous, politically sound, and rule-of-law-respecting superpower, Europe comes out on top, even if — or perhaps because — it doesn’t have the military muscle to play global policeman.

And yet, for all this success, the European project is currently teetering on the edge of failure. Growth is anemic at best and socio-economic inequality is on the rise. The countries of Eastern and Central Europe, even relatively successful Poland, have failed to bridge the income gap with the richer half of the continent. And the highly indebted periphery is in revolt.

Politically, the center may not hold and things seem to be falling apart. From the left, parties like Syriza in Greece are challenging the EU’s prescriptions of austerity. From the right, Euroskeptic parties are taking aim at the entire quasi-federal model. Racism and xenophobia are gaining ever more adherents, even in previously placid regions like Scandinavia.



Perhaps the primary social challenge facing Europe at the moment, however, is the surging popularity of Islamophobia, the latest “socialism of fools.” From the killings at the Munich Olympics in 1972 to the recent attacks atCharlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris, wars in the Middle East have long inspired proxy battles in Europe. Today, however, the continent finds itself ever more divided between a handful of would-be combatants who claim the mantle of true Islam and an ever-growing contingent who believe Islam — all of Islam — has no place in Europe.

The fracturing European Union of 2015 is not the Europe that political scientist Frances Fukuyama imagined when, in 1989, he so famouslypredicted “the end of history,” as well as the ultimate triumph of liberal democracy and the bureaucracy in Brussels, the EU’s headquarters, that now oversees continental affairs. Nor is it the Europe that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher imagined when, in the 1980s, she spoke of the global triumph of TINA (“there is no alternative”) and of her brand of market liberalism. Instead, today’s Europe increasingly harkens back to the period between the two world wars when politicians of the far right and left polarized public debate, economies went into a financial tailspin, anti-Semitism surged out of the sewer, and storm clouds gathered on the horizon.

Another continent-wide war may not be in the offing, but Europe does face the potential for regime collapse: that is, the end of the Eurozone and the unraveling of regional integration. Its possible dystopian future can be glimpsed in what has happened in its eastern borderlands. There, federal structures binding together culturally diverse people have had a lousy track record over the last quarter-century. After all, the Soviet Union imploded in 1991; Czechoslovakia divorced in 1993; and Yugoslavia was torn asunder in a series of wars later in the 1990s.

If its economic, political, and social structures succumb to fractiousness, the European Union could well follow the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia into the waste bin of failed federalisms. Europe as a continent will remain, its nation-states will continue to enjoy varying degrees of prosperity, but Europe as an idea will be over. Worse yet, if, in the end, the EU snatches defeat from the jaws of its Cold War victory, it will have no one to blame but itself.

The Rise and Fall of TINA

The Cold War was an era of alternatives. The United States offered its version of freewheeling capitalism, while the Soviet Union peddled its brand of centralized planning. In the middle, continental Europe offered the compromise of a social market: capitalism with a touch of planning and a deepening concern for the welfare of all members of society.

Cooperation, not competition, was the byword of the European alternative. Americans could have their dog-eat-dog, frontier capitalism. Europeans would instead stress greater coordination between labor and management, and the European Community (the precursor to the EU) would put genuine effort into bringing its new members up to the economic and political level of its core countries.

Then, at a point in the 1980s when the Soviet model had ceased to exert any influence at all globally, along came TINA.

At the time, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and American President Ronald Reagan were ramping up their campaigns to shrink government, while what later became known as globalization — knocking down trade walls and opening up new opportunities for the financial sector — began to be felt everywhere. Thatcher summed up this brave new world with her TINA acronym: the planet no longer had any alternative to globalized market democracy.

Not surprisingly, then, in the post-Cold War era, European integration shifted its focus toward removing barriers to the flow of capital. As a result, the expansion of Europe no longer came with an implied guarantee of eventual equality. The deals that Ireland (1973) and Portugal (1986) had received on accession were now, like the post-World War II Marshall Plan, artifacts of another era. The sheer number of potential new members knocking on Europe’s door put a strain on the EU’s coffers, particularly since the economic performance of countries like Romania and Bulgaria was so far below the European average. But even if the EU had been overflowing with funds, it might not have mattered, since the new “neoliberal” spirit of capitalism now animated its headquarters in Brussels where the order of the day had become: cut government, unleash the market.

At the heart of Europe, as well as of this new orthodoxy, lies Germany, the exemplar of continental fiscal rectitude. Yet in the 1990s, that newly reunified nation engaged in enormous deficit spending, even if packaged under a different name, to bring the former East Germany up to the level of the rest of the country. It did not, however, care to apply this “reunification exception” to other former members of the Soviet bloc. Acting as the effective central bank for the European Union, Germany instead demanded balanced budgets and austerity from all newcomers (and some old timers as well) as the only effective answer to debt and fears of a future depression.

The rest of the old Warsaw Pact has had access to some EU funds for infrastructure development, but nothing on the order of the East German deal. As such, they remain in a kind of economic halfway house. The standard of living in Hungary, 25 years after the fall of Communism, remainsapproximately half that of neighboring Austria. Similarly, it took Romania 14 years just to regain the gross national product (GDP) it had in 1989 and it remains stuck at the bottom of the European Union. People who visit only the capital cities of Eastern and Central Europe come away with a distorted view of the economic situation there, since Warsaw and Bratislava are wealthier than Vienna, and Budapest nearly on a par with it, even though Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary all remain economically far behind Austria.

What those countries experienced after 1989 — one course of “shock therapy” after another — became the medicine of choice for all EU members at risk of default following the financial crisis of 2007 and then the sovereign debt crisis of 2009. Forget deficit spending to enable countries to grow their way out of economic crisis. Forget debt renegotiation. The unemployment rate in Greece and Spain now hovers around 25%, with youth unemployment over 50%, and all the EU members subjected to heavy doses of austerity have witnessed a steep rise in the number of people living below the poverty line. The recent European Central Bank announcement of “quantitative easing” — a monetary sleight-of-hand to pump money into the Eurozone — is too little, too late.

The major principle of European integration has been reversed. Instead of Eastern and Central Europe catching up to the rest of the EU, pockets of the “west” have begun to fall behind the “east.” The GDP per capita of Greece, for example, has slipped below that of Slovenia and, when measured in terms of purchasing power, even Slovakia, both former Communist countries.

The Axis of Illiberalism

Europeans are beginning to realize that Margaret Thatcher was wrong and there are alternatives — to liberalism and European integration. The most notorious example of this new illiberalism is Hungary.

On July 26, 2014, in a speech to his party faithful, Prime Minister Viktor Orban confided that he intended a thorough reorganization of the country. The reform model Orban had in mind, however, had nothing to do with the United States, Britain, or France. Rather, he aspired to create what he bluntly called an “illiberal state” in the very heart of Europe, one strong on Christian values and light on the libertine ways of the West. More precisely, what he wanted was to turn Hungary into a mini-Russia or mini-China.

“Societies founded upon the principle of the liberal way,” Orban intoned,“will not be able to sustain their world-competitiveness in the following years, and more likely they will suffer a setback, unless they will be able to substantially reform themselves.” He was also eager to reorient to the east, relying ever less on Brussels and ever more on potentially lucrative markets in and investments from Russia, China, and the Middle East.

That July speech represented a truly Oedipal moment, for Orban was eager to drive a stake right through the heart of the ideology that had fathered him. As a young man more than 25 years earlier, he had led the Alliance of Young Democrats — Fidesz — one of the region’s most promising liberal parties. In the intervening years, sensing political opportunity elsewhere on the political spectrum, he had guided Fidesz out of the Liberal International and into the European People’s Party, alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Now, however, he was on the move again and his new role model wasn’t Merkel, but Russian President Vladimir Putin and his iron-fisted style of politics. Given the disappointing performance of liberal economic reforms and the stinginess of the EU, it was hardly surprising that Orban had decided to hedge his bets by looking east.

The European Union has responded by harshly criticizing Orban’s government for pushing through a raft of constitutional changes that restrict the media and compromise the independence of the judiciary. Racism and xenophobia are on the uptick in Hungary, particularly anti-Roma sentiment and anti-Semitism. And the state has taken steps to reassert control over the economy and impose controls on foreign investment.

For some, the relationship between Hungary and the rest of Europe is reminiscent of the moment in the 1960s when Albania fled the Soviet bloc and, in an act of transcontinental audacity, aligned itself with Communist China. But Albania was then a marginal player and China still a poor peasant country. Hungary is an important EU member and China’s illiberal development model, which has vaulted it to the top of the global economy, now has increasing international influence. This, in other words, is no Albanian mouse that roared. A new illiberal axis connecting Budapest to Beijing and Moscow would have far-reaching implications.

The Hungarian prime minister, after all, has many European allies in his Euroskeptical project. Far right parties are climbing in the polls across the continent. With 25% of the votes, Marine Le Pen’s National Front, for instance, topped the French elections for the European parliament last May. In local elections in 2014, it also seized 12 mayoralties, and polls show that Le Pen would win the 2017 presidential race if it were held today. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the National Front has been pushing a range of policies from reinstating the death penalty to closing borders that would deliberately challenge the whole European project.

In Denmark, the far-right People’s Party also won the most votes in the European parliamentary elections. In November, it topped opinion polls for the first time. The People’s Party has called for Denmark to slam shut its open-door policy toward refugees and re-introduce border controls. Much as the Green Party did in Germany in the 1970s, groupings like Great Britain’s Independence Party, the Finns Party, and even Sweden’s Democrats are shattering the comfortable conservative-social democratic duopoly that has rotated in power throughout Europe during the Cold War and in its aftermath.

The Islamophobia that has surged in the wake of the murders in France provides an even more potent arrow in the quiver of these parties as they take on the mainstream. The sentiment currently expressed against Islam — at rallies, in the media, and in the occasional criminal act — recalls a Europe of long ago, when armed pilgrims set out on a multiple crusades against Muslim powers, when early nation-states mobilized against the Ottoman Empire, and when European unity was forged not out of economic interest or political agreement but as a “civilizational” response to the infidel.

The Europe of today is, of course, a far more multicultural place and regional integration depends on “unity in diversity,” as the EU’s motto puts it. As a result, rising anti-Islamic sentiment challenges the inclusive nature of the European project. If the EU cannot accommodate Islam, the complex balancing act among all its different ethnic, religious, and cultural groups will be thrown into question.

Euroskepticism doesn’t only come from the right side of the political spectrum. In Greece, the Syriza party has challenged liberalism from the left, as it leads protests against EU and International Monetary Fund austerity programs that have plunged the population into recession and revolt. As elsewhere in Europe, the far right might have taken advantage of this economic crisis, too, had the government not arrested the Golden Dawn leadership on murder and other charges. In parliamentary elections on Sunday, Syriza won an overwhelming victory, coming only a couple seats short of an absolute majority. In a sign of the ongoing realignment of European politics, that party then formed a new government not with the center-left, but with the right-wing Independent Greeks, which is similarly anti-austerity but also skeptical of the EU and in favor of a crackdown on illegal immigration.

European integration continues to be a bipartisan project for the parties that straddle the middle of the political spectrum, but the Euroskeptics are now winning votes with their anti-federalist rhetoric. Though they tend to moderate their more apocalyptic rhetoric about “despotic Brussels” as they get closer to power, by pulling on a loose thread here and another there, they could very well unravel the European tapestry.

When the Virtuous Turn Vicious

For decades, European integration created a virtuous circle — prosperity generating political support for further integration that, in turn, grew the European economy. It was a winning formula in a competitive world. However, as the European model has become associated with austerity, not prosperity, that virtuous circle has turned vicious. A challenge to the Eurozone in one country, a repeal of open borders in another, the reinstitution of the death penalty in a third — it, too, is a process that could feed on itself, potentially sending the EU into a death spiral, even if, at first, no member states take the fateful step of withdrawing.

In Eastern and Central Europe, the growing crew who distrust the EU complain that Brussels has simply taken the place of Moscow in the post-Soviet era. (The Euroskeptics in the former Yugoslavia prefer to cite Belgrade.) Brussels, they insist, establishes the parameters of economic policy that its member states ignore at their peril, while Eurozone members find themselves with ever less control over their finances. Even if the edicts coming from Brussels are construed as economically sensible and possessed of a modicum of democratic legitimacy, to the Euroskeptics they still represent a devastating loss of sovereignty.

In this way, the same resentments that ate away at the Soviet and Yugoslav federations have begun to erode popular support for the European Union. Aside from Poland and Germany, where enthusiasm remains strong, sentiment toward the EU remains lukewarm at best across much of the rest of the continent, despite a post-euro crisis rebound. Its popularity now hovers ataround 50% in many member states and below that in places like Italy and Greece.

The European Union has without question been a remarkable achievement of modern statecraft. It turned a continent that seemed destined to wallow in “ancestral hatreds” into one of the most harmonious regions on the planet. But as with the portmanteau states of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, the complex federal project of the EU has proven fragile in the absence of a strong external threat like the one that the Cold War provided. Another economic shock or a coordinated political challenge could tip it over the edge.

Unity in diversity may be an appealing concept, but the EU needs more than pretty rhetoric and good intentions to stay glued together. If it doesn’t come up with a better recipe for dealing with economic inequality, political extremism, and social intolerance, its opponents will soon have the power to hit the rewind button on European integration. The ensuing regime collapse would not only be a tragedy for Europe, but for all those who hope to overcome the dangerous rivalries of the past and provide shelter from the murderous conflicts of the present.

John Feffer‘s most recent book is “North Korea, South Korea: U.S. Policy at a Time of Crisis.”

http://www.salon.com/2015/01/30/the_fall_of_europe_why_the_european_union_is_teetering_on_the_brink_partner/?source=newsletter

 

From #Takethesquare to São Paulo’s #FreeYourPark

By Bernardo Gutiérrez On January 29, 2015

Post image for From #Takethesquare to São Paulo’s #FreeYourParkAfter the square occupations of the past years, the Augusta Park actions in São Paulo, Brazil, open a new phase based on a vision of the commons.

There was a time when the occupied square was the city. The initial camp of Spanish 15M Indignados in Puerta del Sol in Madrid became a city per se. In this square-city a kindergarten, libraries, clinics, and cultural spaces emerged.

There was a time when the occupied square was a country. In Tahrir Square talks of dissatisfaction of the mosques of Egypt and Facebook groups like We Are Khaled Said converged, lighting the flame of the revolt. During the occupation of Gezi Park in Istanbul a map of the Republic of Gezi was even designed. The space occupied by different ethnic, religious or ideological groups appeared in different colors: anarchists, communists, socialists, nationalists, LGBT, environmentalists, Muslims, and football fans. Groups losing their walls of prejudice, talking to each other for the first time.

There was a time when the occupied square was the world. In fact, all occupations were or wanted to be the world. The mind map of Acampada Sol of Madrid drew a planetary dialogue in which groups such as the Zapatistas and Anonymous and events such as Argentina 2001 default and Tiananmen Square fitted together. The Zuccotti Park in New York, taken for weeks by Occupy Wall Street, became a global connection interface. We are the 99% of the square-world, they said.

But many squares forgot to be squares. The occupation created a second skin of commons-oriented practices and self-management. But the petitions of the occupations had more to do with macro-political, social or economic issues. The exception could be the Turkish #DirenGezi explosion, born as resistance against the construction of a mall in Gezi Park. After the outbreak of the riots, the cause of Gezi Park was diluted in an ocean of ailments and requests. The slogan “It is not for a park” opened a multi-faceted revolt. But beyond the conservation of Gezi Park there was no specific demand for self-management. Defending the park as a public good seemed to be the horizon.

Neither public nor private

The occupation of Augusta Park in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, without being as explosive as the Turkish Gezi Park, opens a new breakthrough in the global cycle of occupations: the proposal of a commons-oriented park. The Augusta Park — being city, country and world — wants to be a park. But it wants to be a common, communitarian or collective park, not just a public park.

Many of the contradictions of the global occupations float over the 25,000 square meters of Augusta Park. As Zuccotti Park in New York, the Augusta Park is a private property. Two companies are the owners of the park: Syrela and Setin. Syrela is also responsible for the construction of the golf course in the Olympic area of Rio de Janeiro, where the #OcupaGolfe (#OccupyGolf) movement has emerged. And here comes the dystopian metaphor: a public sector serving the private sector interests. The market sets the pace.

The municipality of São Paulo, after a lot of public pressure, sanctioned the creation of Augusta Park in late 2013. The forest, the last redoubt of Atlantic Forest in São Paulo, has been declared a historical, environmental and cultural heritage. But the city hall council argues that it has no resources to expropriate the park. The owners of the park wanted €21.8 million in September 2013. Now, based on rising housing prices, they want €85.5 million for the park.

The Park Augusta Movement, after months of actions, festivals and small raids into the park, decided to ‘liberate the park.’ They broke the locks. They entered. They camped. The movement argues that they are not occupying: “We are releasing a space that should be open by law,” says Daniel Biral, member of the Advogados Ativistas collective. The freedom of movement of citizens in the Augusta Park is legally guaranteed. But since December 2013, the park is closed. That is why the park was occupied/opened on Saturday 17 January.

The assemblies within the park take place at a dizzying pace. There are yoga classes, shows, an open school, workshops, meetings, and so on. The creative frenzy includes the presence of many of the groups and social actors of the massive June 2013 protests. The occupation of Augusta Park aims to break the logic of the market. One paragraph of the objectives of the Park Augusta Movement stresses that point: “A public park is a common good, belongs to the social network of the city and cannot remain under private and speculative interests. Its social function must be guaranteed.”

The park wants to be a park. The park wants to be a common park.

The process-park

“We do not have a definite plan for the park.” The sentence floated on a screen in one of the initial assemblies after the occupation. Breno Castro, one of the participants, was explaining, one by one, the principles of the movement. First: horizontality. Next: pluralism, public space, permaculture, direct democracy, respect and generosity. Finally, Breno explained the process-park concept, a point which also summarizes the insights of global occupations. It is also linked to the so-called ‘perpetual beta’ state, common in the hacker world: an unfinished shape that collective intelligence can constantly improve. The Process-Park, according to its own site: “Why defining a design that will last for years? The Augusta Park will be multiple and be renewed periodically. We will leave mobile and empty areas, which will enable rebuilding processes.”

The Augusta Park park is city, country and world. It is a park-city: inside there are reading places, recycling areas, tents for political debates. It is also a park-city because it is connected to a network of twelve threatened parks in São Paulo, all of them in a process of resistance. It is a park-country: it has close contact with other urban environmental struggles, such as Fica Ficus (Belo Horizonte), Ocupe Estelita (Recife), the Gong Park (Curitiba), Coco Park (Fortaleza) and #OcupaGolfe (Rio de Janeiro). It is also a park-world: in 2014 they were visited by activists who participated in the occupation of Turkish Gezi Park. Both movements released together the manifesto #Reclaiming our parks. And it is an icon that gains support in several countries, as reflected in a recent BBC article.

But maybe the Augusta Park is something else. Something else than park, city, country and/or world. Paulinho Fluxus, one of the participants in the occupation, sitting on the grass of Augusta Park, remembered his visit to the Santuario dos Pajés, an indigenous land threatened by the housing boom of Brasilia. The sanctuary, for urbanite Paulinho, is the city’s cosmic connection with nature. With the planet. The Augusta Park represents that connection too. It is an urban struggle, but connected to the environmental imaginary of the world.

It is connected to the ancient world-views of the so-called Global South. It is a resistance connected to some commons-ruled natural forests in Europe (as in Galicia, Spain). The Augusta Park is technopolitics, networks and territories. But it is also cosmopolitics. This kind of cosmopolitics, linked to the practices of indigenous people around the commons, is a counterweight to the storytelling of the Western world. The individual Cartesianism succumbs in the collective Amerindian vision. “The other exists, therefore he thinks”, according to Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, an influential Brazilian anthropologist.

With a serious hydraulic crisis in Brazil, Paulinho Fluxus’ speech makes even more sense. There is a lack of water in the main Brazilian cities. Many people think that a water revolt is inevitable. Within weeks. Naomi Klein, in her latest book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate puts climate change at the center of politics. There will be riots, she states. Many. Different ones. Against the lack of water. Against the scarcity of green in the cities.

On September 20, People’s Climate Mobilization held protests in 156 countries. “Whether or not climate change is the main reason, (such local movements) deserve to be recognized as the anonymous ‘carbon keepers’, which means that protecting their beloved forests, mountains, rivers and coasts are helping to protect all of us”, writes Klein. It is the water, stupid. It is water. It is the climate. It is the park that resists against capital. OccupyDesign and 99% cross creativity and plan actions to impact the UN Climate Conference COP21, to be held in Paris in late 2015. It will be a classic scene of battles. An old struggle. But now there is the landscape of environmental urgency, indignations are rising, and the global network system is more connected than ever.

Near the entrance of Augusta Park in São Paulo, a painting on a poster ignores the fact that military police already has the legal order for eviction. The Augusta Park can be evicted any day. The painting talks with passersby with a shout that opens doors. A shout that connects the city with other visions. A shout that is an evolution of that of Take the Square of 2011. Black letters, white background. An arrow encouraging new horizons: Free your park.

Bernardo Gutiérrez (@bernardosampa) is a Spanish-Brazilian journalist and writer who researches networked movements, hacker culture and peer-to-peer politics. He is the founder of the network FuturaMedia.net, lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and participates in the Global Revolution Research Network (GRRN).

Image by Acacio Augusto via Twitter: @acacio1871

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/01/sao-paolo-augusto-park-occupation/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

WikiLeaks considers legal action over Google’s compliance with US search orders

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By Evan Blake
29 January 2015

On Monday, lawyers for WikiLeaks announced at a press conference that they may pursue legal action against Google and the US government following revelations that the Internet company complied with Justice Department demands that it hand over communications and documents of WikiLeaks journalists.

More than two and a half years after complying with the surveillance orders, Google sent notifications to three victims of these unconstitutional searches—WikiLeaks investigations editor Sarah Harrison, organization spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson and senior editor Joseph Farrell. The company informed WikiLeaks that that it had complied fully with “search and seizure” orders to turn over digital data, including all sent, received, draft and deleted emails, IP addresses, photographs, calendars and other personal information.

The government investigation ostensibly relates to claims of espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage, the theft or conversion of property belonging to the United States government, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and conspiracy, which combine to carry up to 45 years in prison. The ongoing investigation into WikiLeaks was first launched in 2010 by the Obama administration, which has so far led to the 35-year sentence for Chelsea (Bradley) Manning.

At the press conference, Hrafnsson stated, “I believe this is an attack on me as a journalist. I think this is an attack on journalism. I think this is a very serious issue that should concern all of you in here, and everybody who is working on, especially, sensitive security stories, as we have been doing as a media organization.”

Baltasar Garzon, the Legal Director for Julian Assange’s legal team, told reporters at the event, “We believe the way the documents were taken is illegal.”

On Sunday, prior to the press conference, Michael Ratner, the lead lawyer of the counsel for WikiLeaks and president emeritus at the Center for Constitutional Rights, penned a letter to Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, stating, “We are astonished and disturbed that Google waited over two and a half years to notify its subscribers that a search warrant was issued for their records.”

Google claims that they withheld this information from the three journalists due to a court-imposed gag order. A Google spokesperson told the Guardian, “Our policy is to tell people about government requests for their data, except in limited cases, like when we are gagged by a court order, which sadly happens quite frequently.”

In his letter, Ratner reminds Schmidt of a conversation he had with Julian Assange on April 19, 2011, in which Schmidt allegedly agreed to recommend that Google’s general counsel contest such a gag order were it to arise.

The letter requests that Google provide the counsel for WikiLeaks with “a list of all materials Google disclosed or provided to law enforcement in response to these search warrants,” as well as all other information relevant to the case, whether or not Google challenged the case prior to relinquishing their clients’ data, and whether Google attempted to remove the gag order at any point since they received their orders on March 22, 2012.

At the Monday press conference, Harrison noted that the government was not “going after specific things they thought could help them. What they were actually doing was blanketly going after a journalist’s personal and private email account, in the hopes that this fishing expedition would get them something to use to attack the organization and our editor-in-chief Julian Assange.”

The case, Harrison said, pointed to the “breakdown of legal processes within the US government, when it comes to dealing with WikiLeaks.”

Harrison assisted Edward Snowden for four months, shortly after his initial revelations on NSA spying in 2013, helping him leave Hong Kong. She is one of Assange’s closest collaborators, highlighting the inherent value of her personal email correspondence. Through her and her colleagues’ email accounts and other personal information, the Justice Department is seeking to manufacture a case against Assange.

Assange currently faces trumped up accusations of sexual assault in Sweden, along with the threat of extradition to the US. He has been forced to take refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for over two and a half years, under round-the-clock guard by British police ready to arrest him if he steps out of the embassy.

In various media accounts, Google has postured as a crusader for democratic rights. A Google attorney, Albert Gidari, told the Washington Post that ever since a parallel 2010 order for the data of WikiLeaks’ volunteer and security researcher Jacob Appelbaum, “Google litigated up and down through the courts trying to get the orders modified so that notice could be given.”

In reality, the company serves as an integral component of, and is heavily invested in, the military-intelligence apparatus. In their 2014 “transparency report,” Google admitted to complying with 66 percent of the 32,000 data requests they received from governments worldwide during the first six months of 2014 alone, including 84 percent of those submitted by the US government, by far the largest requester.

In his book When Google Met WikiLeaks, published in September 2014, Assange detailed the company’s ties to Washington and its wide-ranging influence on geopolitics.

In a statement published by WikiLeaks, the organization noted that “The US government is claiming universal jurisdiction to apply the Espionage Act, general Conspiracy statute and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to journalists and publishers—a horrifying precedent for press freedoms around the world. Once an offence is alleged in relation to a journalist or their source, the whole media organisation, by the nature of its work flow, can be targeted as alleged ‘conspiracy.’”

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/29/wiki-j29.html

The 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz

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28 January 2015

On Tuesday, a public ceremony was held at Auschwitz to mark the 70th anniversary of the concentration camp’s liberation by elements of the Soviet Union’s Red Army on January 27, 1945. The very name of this Nazi death camp in southern Poland is synonymous with the greatest crimes and horrors of the 20th century, a byword for capitalist barbarism in its most extreme form.

Between early 1942 and late 1945, transport trains delivered Jews from throughout Nazi-occupied Europe to the gates of Auschwitz, which bore the infamous slogan “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes [you] free”). Over 1.1 million people were put to death at Auschwitz, hundreds of thousands of them sent immediately to gas chambers, others exterminated through starvation, overwork, disease or the hideous medical experiments carried out by the likes of Josef Mengele, known as the “Angel of Death.”

While 90 percent of those murdered in the camp were Jews, 150,000 Poles, including political prisoners, 23,000 Romani and Sinti (Gypsies), 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and other national minorities, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals were imprisoned and exterminated there.

The Nazi regime’s “final solution of the Jewish question,” was part of a wider “General Plan for the East,” which envisioned the reduction of the population of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union by some 30 million through starvation and mass deportations. The plan included the demolition of cities and the turning over of the land to German colonists. By the end of the war, the Soviet Union had lost 14 percent of its population, some 27 million people, while Poland lost some 5.8 million, 16 percent of its population.

Auschwitz and all of the associated crimes of the Nazis were carried out by a regime brought to power with the support of Germany’s capitalist ruling class for the purpose of smashing the country’s socialist workers movement and overcoming the crisis of German capitalism by means of militarist aggression and conquest.

The observance of the anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation this year was attended by just a few hundred of the dwindling number of survivors of the death camp, most of them in their nineties. Many made statements of urgency and poignancy, conscious that they would not likely be present at the next major anniversary.

“People forget what Auschwitz was, and it terrifies me, because I know to what kind of hell it leads,” said Roman Kent, 85. He concluded his remarks at the ceremony by stating, “We do not want our past to be our children’s future.”

These words resonated all the more because the ceremony was overshadowed by a new drive toward world war and the threat of historic crimes to come, horrors that are being consciously prepared through the falsification of history. This was evident in the deliberate attempts to turn the anniversary into a vehicle for whipping up anti-Russian sentiment in Europe and promoting the US-led “war on terror.”

On the eve of the event, the Polish government went out of its way to snub the Russian government of President Vladimir Putin, while inviting the head of the NATO-backed regime in Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko, as an honored guest. Asked by a Polish radio station whether Warsaw’s attitude toward Putin wasn’t petty, Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna replied that the Russian president’s presence was superfluous because Auschwitz had been liberated by “the First Ukrainian Front and Ukrainians.”

Anyone with the slightest familiarity with the history of Auschwitz knows that it was liberated by a unit of the Soviet Union’s Red Army. More than 200 Soviet troops died in the battle to liberate Auschwitz and the adjacent Polish town. The so-called “Ukrainian Front” was named not for the national composition of its troops, but for the location where it had last fought in driving back the German occupiers.

This grotesque historical revisionism is of a piece with the statement made earlier this month by Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on German television in which he condemned the “Soviet invasion of Ukraine and Germany” in World War II.

As for the present Ukrainian regime, given a place of honor at the ceremony, it was brought to power nearly a year ago through a US- and German-orchestrated coup spearheaded by the fascist bands of Svoboda and the Right Sector, which venerate the legacy of Hitler’s SS and of the Ukrainian fascist units that participated in the Holocaust.

Among the heads of state attending the ceremony was France’s President François Hollande, who in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris invited to the presidential palace Marine Le Pen. Her National Front party is the political heir of the French Nazi collaborators of the Vichy regime. Hollande’s gesture marked yet another step in the drive by European governments to legitimize and rehabilitate fascism.

Also present was German President Joachim Gauck, who has served as the standard bearer for the revival of German militarism and a return to the great power imperialist politics that led to the catastrophes of World War I and World War II.

As an essential part of this process, German academics are revising history, downplaying the central responsibility of the German state for the previous world wars, and even relativizing the crimes of the Third Reich. The chief representative of this tendency in German historiography, Ernst Nolte, is being feted as a great historian. And in February 2014, the Berlin-based historian Jörg Baberowski — an ardent defender of Nolte — told Der Spiegel magazine: “Hitler was no psychopath, and he wasn’t vicious. He didn’t want people to talk about the extermination of the Jews at his table.”

While much was written about Putin’s absence from the ceremony Tuesday, little was made in the media of US President Barack Obama’s decision to send the relatively unknown treasury secretary, Jack Lew, to represent Washington, while he and top US military and intelligence officials flew to Saudi Arabia to discuss Middle East war plans with the monarchical regime in the wake of Saudi King Abdullah’s demise.

Once again, as in the period that led to the rise of fascism in Europe and the outbreak of the Second World War, world capitalism is gripped by a deep and systemic crisis that drives the rival imperialist powers to seek their salvation through militarist aggression abroad and the destruction of the social and democratic rights of the working class at home.

Seventy years after its liberation, Auschwitz stands not as some abstract symbol of the human potential for “evil,” but rather as a grim and urgent warning of the crimes and catastrophes that capitalism in crisis is capable of inflicting upon humanity.

Once again, the world working class is confronted with the stark alternatives of socialism or barbarism, in which even the crimes of the Nazis can be eclipsed in a nuclear Third World War.

Bill Van Auken

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/28/pers-j28.html

US Engaged in Massive Car Spying Program

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Documents obtained by ACLU reveal vast expansion of DEA’s license plate reader database

“This story highlights yet another way government security agencies are seeking to quietly amplify their powers using new technologies,” said Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. (Photo: Thomas Hawk/flickr/cc)

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operates a massive secret government database that tracks the movement of motorists across the country, documents reveal.

The documents, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through the Freedom of Information Act, cast further light on the scope of government surveillance and raise significant privacy concerns, the organization says.

At issue is the DEA’s national license plate reader program, which began aimed at vehicles in states along the Mexico border, ostensibly to fight drug trafficking.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday:

The DEA program collects data about vehicle movements, including time, direction and location, from high-tech cameras placed strategically on major highways. Many devices also record visual images of drivers and passengers, which are sometimes clear enough for investigators to confirm identities, according to DEA documents and people familiar with the program.

The newly obtained documents reveal the years-long expansion of that initiative, with information being fed to the database by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, and other agencies being allowed to query the database, though those inter-agency sharing agreements are secret.

For example, a sharing agreement exists between the DEA and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) , the ACLU states, such that the agencies provide each other with their license plate reader data and can also share the other’s data with “intelligence, operations, and fusion centers.”

One undated document obtained by ACLU showed that there were at least 100 license plate readers across the United States.

The records provided to ACLU by the DEA are “undated or years old,” Bennett Stein of ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project and Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst of the project, write. Yet they do “offer documentation that this program is a major DEA initiative that has the potential to track our movements around the country. With its jurisdiction and its finances, the federal government is uniquely positioned to create a centralized repository of all drivers’ movements across the country — and the DEA seems to be moving toward doing just that.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Journal, “The fact that this intrusive technology is potentially being used to expand the reach of the government’s asset-forfeiture efforts is of even greater concern.”

ACLU’s Stanley told the Guardian, “This story highlights yet another way government security agencies are seeking to quietly amplify their powers using new technologies.”

“On this as on so many surveillance issues, we can take action, put in place some common sense limits or sit back and let our society be transformed into a place we won’t recognize — or probably much like,” he said.

Kobani liberated! Kurdish forces push ISIS out of town

By Joris Leverink On January 26, 2015

Post image for Kobani liberated! Kurdish forces push ISIS out of town 

After 134 days of resistance, the Kurdish forces of the YPG/YPJ have finally pushed IS out of Kobani. While the battle is won, the struggle continues.

Today, the resisting Kurds and their comrades in Kobani achieved the unimaginable: they managed to expel the fighters of the Islamic State (ISIS) from the city.

After 134 days of fierce battles between the Kurdish forces of the YPG and the YPJ (People’s and Women’s Defense Units), Peshmerga troops and elements of the Free Syrian Army on the one hand, and ISIS on the other, it appears that the last neighborhoods of the city that were under control of the jihadist militants have finally been liberated.

While the official spokesman for the YPG, Polat Can, announced the complete liberation of the city via Twitter, social media are buzzing with images ofcelebrating resistance fighters, burned-out ISIS tanks and of course the iconic red-yellow-and-green flag of TEVDEM, the Movement for a Democratic Society,waving on top of the strategically important Mishtenur hill overlooking the city.

ISIS’ advance on Kobani started in mid-September, when their forces managed to conquer the countryside surrounding the city in a matter of days before marching on the urban center itself. In the process, hundreds of thousands of people were forced out of their homes, fleeing in terror before the heavily armed jihadists who left little but carnage and destruction in their wake.

Approximately 260,000 people sought refuge across the border in Turkey, but several hundreds of resistance fighters remained behind to protect the city. With little else but their AK-47s and a firm determination to halt ISIS’ advance into Kobani, the men and women of the YPG/YPJ managed to prevent ISIS from adding yet another town to their long list of military victories in recent months.

The resistance of the Kurdish fighters against ISIS was hampered by the policies of neighboring Turkey, which kept its border with the besieged town hermetically sealed, preventing any aid from reaching the resistance. At the same time many sources and observers have made mention of its supposed military, logistical and medical support for the jihadists.

In the past few months, the Kurdish fighters and their supporters from across the region and across the globe have gathered at the Turkish side of the border to express their support and solidarity with the resistance. The battle in Kobani not only highlighted the effectiveness of the Kurdish militias as one of the few armed forces in the region able to combat ISIS, but, more importantly, it brought global attention to the plight of the people of Rojava and their social revolutionfocusing on direct democracy, gender equality and environmental sustainability.

While the victory in Kobani is undoubtedly of crucial importance for the war against ISIS and a major reason for celebration, it has to be stressed that the struggle is far from over. The majority of the more than 300 villages that are part of the Kobani canton remain under the control of ISIS, and as long as this remains the case the great majority of refugees in Turkey will be unable to return to their homes.

Moreover, the liberated city of Kobani now lies in ruins. The continuous mortar shelling, heavy artillery fire and car bomb (VBIEDs) attacks by ISIS in combination with the aerial bombardments by the US-led coalition targeting ISIS positions in the city have destroyed entire neighborhoods.

The liberation of Kobani is of military strategic importance, but more importantly it is a symbolic victory of democracy over authoritarianism; of pluralism over fascism; of freedom over repression — and most of all a victory that has shown the world the true power of those fighting for genuine liberation as opposed to the fanaticism of those who fight for little but fraudulent beliefs.

While Kobani was under siege, in the neighboring cantons Afrin and Cezire therevolution continued: people’s councils were set up, workers’ cooperatives were developed and women actively started to engage in the decision-making processes that are laying the foundations for a new society where power rises from the bottom-up, rather than from the top-down.

The major challenge for the people of Kobani, and possibly a crucial test for the strength of the revolution, lies ahead: not only a city, but an entire society will have to be rebuilt almost from scratch.

The people of Kobani have proven their strength on the battlefield, and their heroic resistance against all odds has become a beacon of hope for all those believing that the fight against the repressive forces of fascism, in whatever form, can be won.

The international attention the battle of Kobani has received can now be used to show the world that the people of Rojava are not only leading the way in battling the extremism of ISIS, but also in fighting against the forces of imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy that have given birth to so many of the evils currently plaguing societies across the globe — and in the Middle East in particular.

Bijî Berxwedane Kobani!

Bijî Berxwedane YPG!

Bijî Berxwedane YPJ!

Bijî Berxwedane Rojava!

Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based freelance journalist, editor for ROAR Magazine and columnist for TeleSUR English. 

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/01/kobani-liberated-ypg-is/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

State of emergency declared in eastern Ukraine, as US vows more sanctions against Russia

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By Niles Williamson
27 January 2015

Presaging a further escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, Prime Minster Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Monday declared an official state of emergency in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. He also announced that the rest of the country would be placed on high alert. The eastern Donbass strongholds of separatists opposed to the regime in Kiev that came to power last year after a US- and EU-supported coup have seen renewed hostilities in recent weeks.

Speaking to reporters in New Delhi, India on Sunday, US President Barack Obama blamed Russia for the renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine and vowed to use all options short of war to escalate political and economic pressure on Moscow.

Obama glibly told reporters that the United States has no interest in weakening Russia or devastating its economy. “We have a profound interest, as I believe every country does, in promoting a core principle, which is, large countries don’t bully smaller countries. They don’t encroach on their territorial integrity. They don’t encroach on their sovereignty. And that’s what’s at stake in Ukraine,” he said.

Obama expressed concern over the collapse of a ceasefire agreement signed in Minsk in September, accusing the pro-Russia separatists of fighting “with Russian backing, Russian equipment, Russian financing, Russian training and Russian troops.” To date neither the US government nor the regime in Kiev has provided any solid evidence backing up their repeated claims of direct Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine.

President Obama vowed to “ratchet up” the pressure on Russia and ominously promised that the US government would consider all options “available to us short of a military confrontation” to resolve the ongoing conflict.

At the same time that Obama denounced supposed Russian interference in Ukraine, he reiterated that Washington would continue to give economic support to the Kiev regime, as well as provide equipment and training for its armed forces.

It was announced last week that the United States Army would be sending a contingent of advisers to western Ukraine in the spring to train four companies of the National Guard of Ukraine. At the end of last year, Obama signed the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which authorizes the president to deliver a large cache of lethal military equipment to the Ukrainian government and implement a new raft of sanctions against Russia at his discretion. (See: US announces plans to deploy military advisers to Ukraine).

Obama’s remarks were part of a coordinated response to a deadly artillery attack in the city of Mariupol on Saturday that struck a residential area, killing 30 civilians and injuring approximately 100 others. An investigation by members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that Grad and Uragan rockets were fired into the city from rebel-held territory.

After an emergency meeting of NATO and Ukrainian ambassadors on Monday, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg blamed Russia for the escalating violence in eastern Ukraine. “We condemn the sharp escalation of violence along the cease-fire line in eastern Ukraine by Russia-backed separatists. This comes at great human cost to civilians,” he told reporters.

After the shelling in Mariupol, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, called for new sanctions against Russia after an “urgent” phone call with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The former Polish prime minister bellicosely tweeted, “Once again, appeasement encourages the aggressor to greater acts of violence. Time to step up our policy based on cold facts, not illusions.”

Responding to the new allegations of support for the anti-Kiev forces in eastern Ukraine and threats of escalating sanctions by European and American leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the Ukrainian army of operating as a foreign legion for NATO. Speaking to students in Moscow on Monday, he stated that the operations of the Ukrainian army were tied to the “geopolitical containment of Russia” rather than the “national interests of the Ukrainian people.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the EU and US of using the attack on Mariupol to “whip up anti-Russian hysteria.” He defended the actions of the separatists, saying they were fighting to defend themselves from the Kiev regime’s new offensive. “They started to act…with the goal of destroying Ukrainian army positions being used to shell populated areas,” he told reporters in Moscow.

Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minster of the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic, denied that the separatists were responsible for the attack on Mariupol. “Kiev decided to shift the blame on us for its erroneous fire from Grad multiple rocket launchers at residential areas,” he told reporters.

The effort by the US and EU to maintain economic sanctions against Russia has been showing signs of strain in recent weeks, with some countries, such as France and Italy, pressing for the improvement of diplomatic and economic relations with Russia. Last week, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini published a paper that outlined possible ways to begin improving diplomatic relations with Moscow.

In the wake of the Mariupol attack, Mogherini has called for an extraordinary session of the EU Foreign Affairs Council. The foreign ministers of the 28 EU member countries will convene in Brussels on Thursday to discuss possible new sanctions against Russia.

Fighting has flared up in the east in the last two weeks in the wake of an assault launched by the Kiev regime on separatist-held areas. The pretext for the new attack was the shelling of a commuter bus that killed 13 people in Volnovakha, a small town on the main highway between Donetsk and Mariupol.

Speaking at a rally in Kiev on January 19, President Petro Poroshenko denounced the attack, which he blamed on the separatists, and vowed that his government would “not give away one scrap of Ukrainian land.” That same day the Ukrainian military was authorized by Poroshenko to launch a “massive assault” on separatist-held positions in the east.

The Kiev regime launched an offensive in an attempt to solidify its control over the Donetsk International Airport. In an embarrassing turn of events, pro-Russian separatists succeeded at the end of last week in repelling the attack and dislodging Ukrainian troops and right-wing militia fighters from the airport’s main terminal. The symbolically and strategically important airport, the site of intense fighting between both sides for the last several months, has been nearly completely destroyed by relentless artillery bombardment.

Shelling in Donetsk on Monday damaged a power station at the Zasyadko mine, temporarily trapping 496 miners underground. Temporary power generators were used to bring the mine’s elevators back online and the miners were gradually evacuated.

Pro-Russian separatists have moved to surround the government-controlled town of Debaltseve, where hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers taking part in the renewed offensive have encamped. The town is located on the main highway and rail line connecting the separatist strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk. At least seven Ukrainian soldiers have been reported killed and 24 wounded in the last day of fighting in the Luhansk region.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/27/ukra-j27.html