Neoliberals are killing us

The TED talk, techno-utopian, Thomas Friedman-economy is a lie

Neoliberal fantasy world is filled with daring entrepreneurs competing in a meritocracy. Do you recognize that?

Neoliberals are killing us: The TED talk, techno-utopian, Thomas Friedman-economy is a lie

A turkey and Thomas Friedman (Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson/panbazil via Shutterstock/Salon)

Last week, 295,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits. Economists called it good news, as the number was less than 300,000; that’s the line they say separates good news from bad. But it isn’t much less, and other news seems very bad. In February, housing starts plunged 17 percent. Inventories are high. Demand is low. Job growth is anemic. Still, economists say things are going so well we can raise interest rates. They call that good news — though they don’t say for whom.

There’ll be more news this week: home prices, consumer confidence, new growth figures. In our casino economy we hang on these reports like blackjack players waiting for a dealer to turn the next card. Republicans and Democrats alike believe growth will cure all our ills. President Obama and Hillary Clinton call it their No. 1 economic priority. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they still believe a rising tide lifts all boats.

Some call Obama’s and Clinton’s economic worldview ‘neoliberal.’ Like ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative,’ it’s an imprecise word meant to signify a cluster of opinions; among them that globalization is inevitable and benign and that the revolution in information technology is fast democratizing commerce and politics. Neoliberals love fiscal austerity and free trade and are suckers for privatization, deregulation and ‘education reform,’ which they say will keep us competitive.

Like the neoconservatives with whom they often ally on military matters, neoliberals seem to regard our present political and economic arrangements as civilization’s final flowering, as close to perfect as one can get in a fallen world. It’s the faith that made Bush think Iraqis would greet us as liberators–who wouldn’t want to be us– and why Obama bet his presidency on economic recovery rather than reform. It’s our establishment orthodoxy, the ‘bipartisan consensus’ we’re forever chasing. It’s killing us.

In the neoliberal narrative, geniuses reinvent the world in their garages; risk takers invest in innovation; technology and trade spawns endless opportunity. It’s a land without ideology; a true meritocracy where anyone with pluck and grit is sure to rise. (So long as they’re really, really smart.) Above all it’s an engine of prosperity, the only sure means by which to broaden and strengthen the middle class.

Real life is nothing like the neoliberal narrative. As PayPal’s Peter Thiel says, our overhyped innovations tend toward mere gadgetry and away from such vital areas as health and transportation. One reason: those stories about geniuses in garages and their angel investors are mostly made up. In 2014 venture capital funding hit $48.3 billion, but just $700 million of it went to ‘seed stage’ projects. Who really funds the little guys? The same folks who brought you the microchip, the Internet and GPS. Last year the federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research Program alone lent or gave the real pioneers $2.4 billion; more than triple their take from ‘venture capitalists.’

If the story of our not-so-bold investors disappoints, it may matter less than you think, in that technology and trade never really lived up to their billing. In 2005, Tom Friedman, the Candide of globalization, said “the world is flat”; meaning technology was a great leveling force that would soon topple the old political and economic oligarchies and give everyone a chance to be an entrepreneur, or at least work in a call center. America has since grown more economically stratified and politically corrupt and has fewer jobs than it did eight years ago.

Early critics who said the new information technology would lay waste to labor were dismissed as Luddites. Twenty years on it still kills more jobs than it creates; even ‘serious people’ now say this could be the first new technology wave to result in a net job loss. As for trade, the tide let in by NAFTA sank more middle-class boats than it lifted, which accounts for the resistance to Obama’s fast track scheme.

In real life, we’re a nation of middle men and corporate toll collectors, where health insurers get 20 cents on the dollar for services done everywhere else for a nickel or less; where big banks shun small business while raking in merger fees and taking a cut of every purchase charged to a credit card; where Comcast’s pipeline is worth more than NBC’s oil; where Google gorges on ad revenues that once supported world-class journalism. We’re about cartels, not startups, not bound to the future but mortgaged to the past.

In real life, the middle class is in limbo. In the seven years since Wall Street’s crash, stocks, profits and CEO pay are at historic highs, but wages haven’t budged and we’re still years away from adding back all the jobs we lost. Millions of older Americans who lost their pensions and the equity in their homes will retire broke. Millions of younger Americans fear they’ll never have their parents’ opportunities. They all know it will take more than a bailout or a stimulus to get our economy, or their lives, back on track. You can’t prime a broken pump. We need real reform and everybody knows it; everybody, that is, except those in charge.*

The gap between elite and popular opinion on these issues is wide. Tension boiled over on the right long ago, but Democrats have mostly kept mum. It reflects their fear of Republicans, and the fact that Obama and Clinton are staunch neoliberals. Bill Clinton, more than anyone, made the consensus bipartisan. Hillary’s rhetoric has a more populist hue now, but changing her actual views won’t be easy for her.

The backlash against neoliberalism cuts across all political categories. If the Democrats resist debating it, progressives must force a debate. But they too may be reluctant, not because of any risk—there’s greater risk in silence—but because they don’t know what to say. Many progressive critics of neoliberalism are just like Republican critics of Obamacare; they hate it, but can offer no alternative.

It’s understandable. The very purpose of a political debate is to test our ideas. We progressives knock Democrats who duck debates but it’s been a while since we’ve had one of our own. I don’t mean the daily squabbles we all seem to enjoy, but a big debate that draws our whole community and eventually the nation in. We know we’d raise the minimum wage and tax the rich. But do we know our bottom line? We reject soulless, mindless globalization, but can we picture a more just and humane order? If so, we can start to frame policies to support it. I’ve only a few fragments of a vision, but hoping to extend the conversation, I’ll describe them.

Right now, before our eyes, a new economy struggles to be born. It’s more democratic than the one we have. It prizes smallness, permanence and community. It favors cooperatives and other collaborative forms of ownership and production. It reclaims the commons we own in trust for future generations. It’s local and sustainable. It both needs and fosters civic renewal. It’s growing now despite great resistance, but its final success or failure is up to us. I’ll offer some examples, first a less exotic one. It’s of an old familiar institution readapting to changing times.

I speak of independent bookstores. By 2009 the big chains had nearly wiped them out. They hit rock bottom: 1,651 stores. Then to everyone’s surprise, they revived. The number of stores has since grown to 2,094, a 25 percent increase in six years. Sales are up, and at a brisk 8 percent annual rate. It turns out that in the age of information overload, thoughtful curation means more, not less. The Internet that nearly killed them also provided a cheap way to advertise. And by expanding their activities, they built community and played to their great strength, their customers’ love of books and bookstores. To many the future of small-scaled enterprises looks bleak, but the independent booksellers’ story is one of many that suggests that in the new economy, small is beautiful.

The new economy favors forms of ownership and production that foster democracy and collaboration. You may recall George W. Bush’s blather about an ‘ownership society,’ a greedy scam to privatize Social Security and Medicare. For many years real reformers have been building a real ownership society. A familiar tool is the employee stock ownership plan. (ESOP) Often underestimated, today 11,000 ESOPs now employ nearly 11 million workers. Benefits range from higher job satisfaction and wages to improved productivity and in hard times, fewer layoffs.

ESOPs are most typically born via conversion of an established business on its owner’s retirement. Chris Mackin, a leader in the field, says coming retirements of so many baby boomers offer a chance for rapid growth. Mackin also urges use of other forms of employee ownership and seeks new government policies, including possible set asides for employee owned businesses. Having worked in the field for thirty years, he feels its best days are not only ahead of it, but imminent.

Some very innovative thinking concerns the public commons. The phrase has always meant y resource owned and used by the public but it applies in new ways to new things, from public lands to the internet and the airwaves. One goal is to preserve priceless public assets; another is to compensate the public for private use of its resources.

Peter Barnes, a journalist, activist and public spirited entrepreneur, has called for a dividend fund patterned after the Alaskan fund that distributes state oil revenue to all citizens on a pro rata basis. He’d first target companies that pollute the air and says the government could collect enough money from all sources to write every American a check every year for $5,000.

The commons may refer to peer to peer production, a process by which people collaborate as equals to produce things of value, often with little or no pay. It may sound arcane but examples include Linux, Mozilla Firefox, and Wikipedia. David Bollier, a brilliant strategist of the commons, says the challenge is to protect such work from rapacious monetization by corporate actors. Another challenge for all cooperatives is to preserve an ethos of public spiritedness as enterprises scale up.

In their different ways, independent booksellers, ESOP owner/ employees and open source programmers are helping to engineer our next economy our next new economy. The 11million who work in ESOPs enjoy good wages, benefits and job security. The booksellers are among the 14 million Americans who work for very small businesses. The programmers may be among the 6 million Americans who work from home or the 10 million who are independent contractors. For income and benefits, most of them are pretty much on their own.

All have these things in common: Their government doesn’t think much about them. They don’t think much of it. Their needs are ill-served by current economic policies or by having both major so closely tied to the old order. You can count them different ways and never with confidence, but it’s likely they comprise as much as 15 percent of the workforce — and they grow by the hour. They haven’t a sense of themselves as a political force but one party or the other soon will. When that happens, I hope they hold out for real answers.

Bill Curry was White House counselor to President Clinton and a two-time Democratic nominee for governor of Connecticut. He is at work on a book on President Obama and the politics of populism.

http://www.salon.com/2015/04/29/neoliberals_are_killing_us_the_ted_talk_techno_utopian_thomas_friedman_economy_is_a_lie/?source=newsletter

 

Obama gave CIA free rein for drone assassinations in Pakistan

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By Bill Van Auken
28 April 2015

The killing of US and Italian aid workers Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto in a January 2015 drone strike stemmed, at least in part, from a secret order by President Barack Obama exempting the Central Intelligence Agency drone war in Pakistan from restrictions supposedly imposed on drone attacks in other countries.

According to current and former US officials quoted by the Wall Street Journal Monday, the administration tightened the rules governing drone warfare in 2013, but issued a secret waiver allowing the CIA an essentially free rein in carrying out its murderous campaign in northwestern Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, near the Afghan border.

President Obama made an extraordinary public admission of US responsibility for the killing of the two Western hostages in a White House announcement last Thursday. In the course of his remarks–which he cynically boasted were proof of an “American democracy, committed to openness”–Obama stated that the deadly operation last January had been “fully consistent with the guidelines under which we conduct counterterrorism efforts in the region.”

What he left concealed was the fact that the guidelines for “the region” were at odds with the formal rules existing everywhere else.

The US president outlined these rules in a speech delivered at the National Defense University in May 2013, insisting that drone strikes would be ordered only against alleged “terrorists” posing “a continuing and imminent threat to the American people,” and only under conditions of “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.”

These purported restrictions were made public as part of the administration’s effort to lend a veneer of legality to a state assassination program that is in flagrant violation of both international law and the US Constitution. The American president arrogated to himself the power to order the killing of anyone- including American citizens- without charges, much less trials. In his speech, Obama acknowledged that he authorized the killing of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was killed in a subsequent US drone strike.

The reality is that the supposed restrictions have been observed nowhere in the world. In Somalia and Yemen, just as in Pakistan, strikes have claimed the lives of numerous civilians, while the targets selected for remote-control murder posed no “imminent threat” to the US.

In Pakistan, however, the CIA’s covert drone program was relieved of even the pretense of observing such constraints. Initially, the rationale was the need to eliminate forces opposed to the US occupation of Afghanistan, which was supposed to end last year. Now, with the occupation extended, the unfettered drone warfare is continuing.

Not only is the CIA under no obligation to ascertain that the targets pose an “imminent threat” to the American people, it does not have to identify them at all, carrying out “signature strikes” in which behavior observed from an altitude of 50,000 feet– military aged men traveling in a convoy or carrying weapons, for example– is sufficient reason to take human lives with Hellfire missiles.

The deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto were the result of such a “signature” attack. While the CIA concluded that someone at the compound where they were held was an Al Qaeda leader, they did know the identity of the person they were trying to kill.

Such strikes have taken a massive toll in human life. According to a recent study by the British-based human rights group Reprieve, US drone missile strikes aimed at killing 41 supposed terrorists took the lives of a total of 1,147 men, women and children. In the attempt to assassinate one Pakistani militant, Baitullah Mehsud, the CIA carried out seven separate strikes, killing a total of 164 people.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has tallied 383 drone strikes against Pakistan alone between 2004 and the beginning of 2015, killing and maiming thousands of civilians.

Yet Thursday’s apology for the deaths of two Westerners was the closest the Obama administration has ever come to acknowledging civilian casualties inflicted by the CIA drone war. In his “democratic” and “open” announcement last Thursday, Obama stated only that “a US counterterrorism operation… in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region accidentally killed Warren and Giovanni.” No mention was made of the agency responsible, the CIA, or the weapon used- a drone.

This was no accident. According to the Journal report, whether or not to acknowledge the CIA’s role was the subject of a dispute within the administration, with the CIA, the Pentagon and the State Department insisting that such an admission would threaten the continuation of the CIA program and provoke a conflict with the Pakistani government.

Others– the Journal names Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper– insisted that disclosing the CIA’s role was necessary if the administration was to maintain the pretense of “transparency” that Obama promised in his speech two years ago.

The decisive argument, according to the Journal’s account, was that of the US Attorney General’s office, which “warned Mr. Obama that publicly disclosing the CIA’s role in this case would undermine the administration’s standing in a series of pending lawsuits challenging its legality.”

Among these cases is that of Kareem Khan, whose 17-year-old son, Zahinullah Khan, died instantly, along with his uncle Asif Iqbal and another man identified as Khaliq Dad, a stonemason, when a Hellfire missile fired by a CIA drone tore through their home in the North Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan in 2009. The family had no involvement with Al Qaeda or any other militant group.

A senior judge in Pakistan last month ordered the opening of a criminal case in connection with the drone killings against former CIA Islamabad Station Chief Jonathan Bank and ex-CIA legal counsel John Rizzo. The charges are murder, conspiracy, terrorism and waging war against Pakistan.

The case could also set the stage for a multi-billion dollar class action lawsuit against the CIA and the US government by the relatives of the many more Pakistani civilians reportedly killed in drone strikes.

The drone strikes constitute war crimes under international law, which bars the arbitrary deprivation of human life and extrajudicial executions. The role of the CIA, which under international law is not a legal combatant, but rather a kind of state-run Murder, Inc., itself makes these strikes criminal.

For all of these reasons, the Obama administration is compelled to maintain a veil of secrecy over its drone assassination program.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/28/dron-a28.html

An entire industry is dedicated to getting your privacy back.

The Anti-Surveillance State: Clothes and Gadgets Block Face Recognition Technology, Confuse Drones and Make You (Digitally) Invisible

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Last spring, designer Adam Harvey hosted a session on hair and makeup techniques for attendees of the 2015 FutureEverything Festival in Manchester, England. Rather than sharing innovative ways to bring out the audience’s eyes, Harvey’s CV Dazzle Anon introduced a series of styling methods designed with almost the exact opposite aim of traditional beauty tricks: to turn your face into an anti-face—one that cameras, particularly those of the surveillance variety, will not only fail to love, but fail to recognize.

Harvey is one of a growing number of privacy-focused designers and developers “exploring new opportunities that are the result of [heightened] surveillance,” and working to establish lines of defense against it. He’s spent the past several years experimenting with strategies for putting control over people’s privacy back in their own hands, in their pockets and on their faces.

Harvey’s goal of “creating a style that [is] functional and aesthetic” has driven several projects and collaborations, including a method for “spoofing” DNA, and via the Privacy Gift Shop, his drone-thwarting Stealth Wear line (clothing he claims “shields against thermal imaging…[which is] used widely by military drones to target people,” seen below) and the OFF Pocket phone sleeve, able to keep out unwanted wireless signals.

His CV Dazzle designs for hair and makeup obscure the eyes, bridge of the nose and shape of the head, as well as creating skin tone contrasts and asymmetries. Facial-recognition algorithms function by identifying the layout of facial features and supplying missing info based on assumed facial symmetry. The project demonstrates that a styled “anti-face” can both conceal a person’s identity from facial recognition software (be it the FBI’s or Facebook’s) and cause the software to doubt the presence of a human face, period.

Harvey’s work is focused on accessibility in addition to privacy. “Most of the projects I’ve worked on are analog solutions to digital challenges,” he said. His hair and makeup style tips – a veritable how-to guide for how to create “privacy reclaiming” looks at home – are “deliberately low-cost.” His current project – software to “automatically generate camouflage…that can be applied to faces” – will allow a user to “create [their] own look and guide the design towards [their] personal style preferences.”

Other low-tech protections against widespread surveillance have been gaining ground, too. Though initially designed as a tongue-in-cheek solution to prying eyes and cameras, Becky Stern’s Laptop Compubody Sock offers a portable, peek-free zone to laptop users, while the CHBL Jammer Coat and sold-out Phonekerchief use metal-infused fabrics to make personal gadgets unreachable, blocking texts, calls and radio waves. For people willing to sport a bit more hardware in the name of privacy, the Sentient City Survival Kit offers underwear that notifies wearers about real-life phishing and tracking attempts, and its LED umbrella lets users “flirt with object tracking algorithms used in advanced surveillance systems” and even “train these systems to recognize nonhuman shapes.”

Large companies are also getting in on the pushback against increasing surveillance. Earlier this year, antivirus software leaders AVG revealed a pair of invisibility glasses developed by its Innovation Labs division. The casual looking specs use embedded infrared lights “to create noise around the nose and eyes” and retro-reflective frame coating to interfere with camera flashes, “allowing [the wearer] to avoid facial recognition.” In early 2013, Japan’s National Institute of Informatics revealed a bulky pair of goggles it had developed for the same purpose.

A spokesperson for Innovation Labs claims its glasses represent “an important step in the prevention against mass surveillance…whether through the cell phone camera of a passerby, a CCTV camera in a bar, or a drone flying over your head in the street.” Innovation Labs says that, with a person’s picture, facial recognition software “coupled with data from social networking sites can provide instant access to the private information of complete strangers. This can pose a serious threat to our privacy.” Though AVG’s glasses are not scheduled for commercial release, Innovation Labs said that individuals can take a number of steps to prevent their images from being “harvested”:

“First and foremost, make sure you’re not allowing private corporations to create biometrics profiles about you. When using social networks like Facebook, be aware that they are using facial recognition to give you tag suggestions. Facebook’s DeepFace was already tested and trained on the largest facial dataset to-date (an identity labeled dataset of more than 4 million facial images belonging to thousands of identities).”

Holmes Wilson of nonprofit Fight for the Future, which works to defend online privacy and freedoms on various fronts, is more concerned with other types of privacy invasion than real-life image harvesting. “It’s pretty unlikely in most of the world that you’ll get followed around using a network of street cameras with face recognition,” he said. “It’s probably pretty likely, though, that you’ll get filmed by police at a protest. But [there’s] not much you can do about that other than wearing a mask.”

Wilson advises people concerned about privacy breaches through surveillance to first focus on the ways in which their gadgets are supplying info to third parties. “The place where it’s easiest to fight back against surveillance is in protecting the security of your messages,” he said, adding that message security “can be a problem for activists, too.” He said apps like Textsecure, Signal, and Redphone can make it “a lot harder for people to spy on you.” Wilson added:

“Phones are the biggest thing. Lots of people think of smartphones as the big privacy problem, but old-fashioned phones are just as bad, and worse in some ways. All cellphones report on your location to the network as you move around. That’s just how they work, and they need to send that information or the system won’t know where to send your call. There’s no way to turn that off, other than by turning off the phone and, for good measure, taking the battery out.”

In collaboration with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future recommends a variety of options for encrypting messages, password-protecting accounts and securing a user’s various communication and browsing activities via Reset the Net. Wilson encouraged those with specific privacy concerns to check out tutorials, resources and break-downs of privacy issues from Surveillance Self-Defense.

Last year, Facebook announced that its DeepFace facial recognition technology can detect a person’s identity from photos with 97.25 percent accuracy, only a hair below the 97.5 percent success rate for humans taking the same test. Currently, a congressional front is preparing to extend surveillance powers granted to legal bodies by Section 215 of the Patriot Act—the NSA’s legal foothold of choice with regard to mass collection of US phone records since 2006, and set to expire on June 1—with the light-on-reform USA Freedom Act.

It seems likely that a growing number of both tech-wary and tech-savvy people will continue weighing how best to ensure their personal privacy, whether by putting stark makeup on or by turning their phones off.

Janet Burns is a writer in Brooklyn, NY. Her website is warmlyjanetburns.com.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/anti-surveillance-state-clothes-and-gadgets-block-face-recognition-technology?akid=13037.265072._uEekz&rd=1&src=newsletter1035368&t=5

Obama’s drone warfare: Assassination made routine

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25 April 2015

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of President Obama’s announcement Thursday that two hostages of Al Qaeda, an American and an Italian, were killed in a US drone missile strike in Pakistan is the lack of any significant reaction from official political circles or the media.

There was a certain amount of tut-tutting in the press and expressions of sympathy for the family of Dr. Warren Weinstein, the longtime aid worker in Pakistan who was kidnapped by Al Qaeda in 2011 and killed by the US government in January 2015.

But there was no challenge to the basic premise of the drone missile program: that the CIA and Pentagon have the right to kill any individual, in any country, on the mere say-so of the president. Drone murder by the US government has become routine and is accepted as normal and legitimate by the official shapers of public opinion.

Obama’s own appearance Thursday was chilling. He made perfunctory expressions of regret, but only because the latest victims of US drone strikes included an American and an Italian who were being held hostage. It was a transparently poor acting performance, convincing no one but the editors of theNew York Times, who praised Obama’s “candor and remorse.”

After blaming the deaths of Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto on “mistakes” made because of “the fog of war,” Obama declared, “But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional, is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.” He had decided to admit responsibility for the deaths because “the United States is a democracy, committed to openness, in good times and in bad.”

What a farce! Far from admitting “mistakes,” Obama, the political front man for the military-intelligence apparatus, was making clear that the drone assassination program would continue and no one would be held accountable for the latest atrocity.

Today’s America is “exceptional” only in the degree to which the entire ruling elite has embraced a policy of reckless violence around the globe that includes murder, torture and aggressive war. The United States is run by criminals.

A major test of any American president is readiness to approve state killings in his or her capacity as the political representative, not of the American people, but of a cabal of generals and CIA assassins. How much longer before such actions are carried out not just in remote parts of Afghanistan or Yemen, but in major urban centers of major countries, including, ultimately, the United States itself?

The drone strike in Pakistan’s Shawal Valley that killed Weinstein and Lo Porto is part of an unending campaign of death and destruction. Obama did not even have to sign off on this particular missile strike, since he has given the CIA blanket authority to conduct such operations in the predominately Pashtun-populated Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

The claim that drone attacks target individuals designated by the US military-intelligence apparatus as “terrorists” is hardly a limitation, given the indiscriminate application of this term to anyone offering significant resistance to US foreign policy, as well as the cynical practice of posthumously applying the label of “enemy combatant” to any military-age male killed by a US drone-fired missile.

Moreover, as events in Syria and Libya demonstrate, yesterday’s anti-American “terrorist” can become today’s “rebel” or “freedom fighter,” the recipient of US cash, military training and weaponry. Similarly, today’s “freedom fighter” or ally in the “war on terror” can become tomorrow’s target for overthrow or assassination.

The CIA recruited Al Qaeda sympathizers for its overthrow of the Libyan regime and murder of Muammar Gaddafi, formerly an ally, and for the ongoing regime-change operation against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The latter effort gave rise to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, in which terrorists turned “rebels” were subsequently branded terrorists, in accordance with the twists and turns of US foreign policy.

Obama administration officials have confirmed that the drone missile attack that killed Weinstein and Lo Porto was a “signature strike,” in which targets are not identified by name, but selected on the basis of a pattern of activities supposedly consistent with those of a terrorist group. The CIA carried out a drone missile attack that killed six people, including Weinstein and Lo Porto, based on aerial observation of the comings and goings at the building targeted, without actually knowing who was there or what their relation, if any, was with Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Such attacks are in flagrant violation of international law. The US is trampling on the sovereignty of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries where it carries out such strikes.

Drone missile murders are war crimes under the Geneva Conventions, which forbid deliberate attacks on civilians or military operations that recklessly endanger civilians. According to a study by the human rights group Reprieve, US drone missile strikes targeting 41 supposed terrorists killed a total of 1,147 people, including many women and children.

Not a single significant voice in the US political or media establishment has been raised against the elevation of assassination to a major element of American foreign policy. In the 1970s, when the US Senate’s Church Committee held hearings on CIA assassination plots against a handful of foreign leaders, its revelations had the capacity to shock. There was a reaction even at the highest levels of the political establishment, and the White House was compelled to issue an executive order disavowing murder as a tool of government policy.

Today there is no such reaction. On the contrary, earlier this month the Timesrevealed that congressional leaders had put pressure on the White House and CIA for more acts of drone missile murder. Describing discussions about whether to kill or capture a Texas-born Islamist who had joined Al Qaeda in Pakistan, Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, the Times reported: “During a closed-door hearing of the House Intelligence Committee in July 2013, lawmakers grilled military and intelligence officials about why Mr. Farekh had not been killed.” (See: “US targeted second American citizen for assassination”).

The American media is well aware of the drone missile death toll, but covers it up. An article Friday in the Times noted that the White House refuses point-blank to discuss civilian victims of drone missile attacks when they are Pakistani or Yemeni. “When Americans have been killed, however, the Obama administration has found it necessary to break with its usual practice and eventually acknowledge the deaths, at least in private discussions with reporters,” the newspaper wrote.

The lack of any significant protest of the latest revelations of US war crimes is a warning to the working class, both in the United States and internationally. As the WSWS has consistently warned, the war drive of imperialism is inseparably linked to a frontal assault on democratic and social rights.

The struggle against war and in defense of democratic rights requires a turn to the working class, the only social force capable of disarming the ruling elite. That is the purpose of the International May Day Online Rally called by the International Committee of the Fourth International for Sunday, May 3. We urge all readers and supporters of the WSWS to register for the rally today.

Patrick Martin

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/25/pers-a25.html

Most US states saw jobs losses in March

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By Ed Hightower
24 April 2015

The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report on state and regional unemployment for March 2015 shows a deteriorating economic situation. Despite modest job growth nationally, nonfarm payroll employment declined in 31 states and the District of Columbia last month. Only 18 states saw an increase in employment.

In particular, states and regions that once benefited from a boom in domestic oil production are now hemorrhaging jobs as a result of the oil price decline. States with the largest over-the-month job losses were Texas (25,000), Oklahoma (12,900) and Pennsylvania (12,700).

In percentage terms, the largest over-the-month declines in employment occurred in Oklahoma (0.8 percent), followed by Arkansas, North Dakota, and West Virginia (0.6 percent each).

The rapid job losses in Texas—America’s second most populous state with 27 million residents, with an economic output equivalent to Spain—has generated concerns in major economic and political circles. March 2015 is the first time in 53 months that the state of has showed a net loss of jobs.

JP Morgan Chase economist Michael Feroli was among many analysts who predicted a severe loss of oil-related jobs in the state in late 2014, earning him the ire of then-President of the Dallas Federal Reserve who last month, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, publicly dismissed such predictions with contempt.

Referring to the March jobs report, Feroli said if the national economy had lost jobs in the same proportion as Texas did, the US would have lost 304,000 jobs last month, an amount associated with a full-blown recession.

The slump in oil prices threatens jobs in other industries, including steel and automobile manufacturing. The steel sector closely followed the boom in shale oil and natural gas production over the past several years when higher oil prices prevailed. Globally, the industry has undergone a restructuring over the last quarter century that is almost without parallel, forcing prices down and destroying jobs and productive infrastructure.

On Friday, United States Steel Corporation sent layoff notices to 1,404 workers involved in producing pipe and tube products used in the oil and gas sector. The layoffs could come as early as June for 579 employees at a plant in Lone Star, Texas, 166 at a factory in Houston, 255 at a mill in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and 404 managers in the company’s tubular operations.

Since March, US Steel has announced plans to idle its Granite City, Illinois, factory that employs 2,000 workers, a tubular steel facility in Ohio employing 614 workers, as well as layoffs and closures in Pennsylvania and Minnesota.

Ford Motor Company announced Thursday that it will idle 700 workers at the Michigan Assembly Plant in the Detroit suburb of Wayne starting June 22, citing decreased demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles. The facility produces a number of vehicles in this category, including the Ford Focus, Focus ST, Focus Electric, C-Max hybrid and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid.

Sales of the Ford Focus fell 14.5 percent in March, and sales of the C-Max Hybrid were down 22 percent during the same period and by 31 percent during the first quarter. General Motors has announced similar plans for facilities making its more fuel-efficient models.

The United Steelworkers and the United Auto Workers unions accept without question the destruction of tens of thousands of jobs by the corporate giants, with the USW predictably blaming foreign steelmakers for “dumping” steel.

The report on state unemployment further exposes the Obama administration’s lies about the supposed economic “recovery.” It dovetails with poor economic figures in recent months, including retail sales, industrial production and home building, all of which point to a deepening economic downturn.

Flush with more than $1.3 trillion in cash—and benefiting from virtually free credit poured into the financial markets by the Federal Reserve—major corporations are not investing in expanding production. Instead they are pouring billions into stock buybacks and dividends to benefit wealthy investors, and to fuel a wave of mergers and acquisitions that will destroy even more jobs. Meanwhile the workers who remain are subjected to unrelenting demands for lower wages and benefits and higher levels of exploitation.

Financial news outlets are now referring to “mega-mergers.” A case in point is this month’s takeover by energy giant Shell of the smaller firm BG in a $70 billion deal. ExxonMobil is also widely expected to make a bid for BP. Both the Shell-BG mega-merger, as well as any acquisitions by rival ExxonMobil, will serve to boost profits not through new investment in infrastructure, but through layoffs, closures and the lowering of labor costs.

While better-paying jobs in the US manufacturing sector are evaporating, what little job growth there is consists largely of low wage service sector work. In one sign of the deteriorating conditions for workers in these industries, a study by the University of California’s Center for Labor Research and Education released April 13 found that a majority of spending on public assistance programs goes to households headed by someone who is working.

“When companies pay too little for workers to provide for their families, workers rely on public assistance programs to meet their basic needs,” Ken Jacobs, chair of the labor center and co-author of the new report said in a press release.

Thus, at the state and federal level, the US government subsidizes companies that pay poverty wages, to the tune of $153 billion per year.

According to the report, workers in a diverse range of occupations systematically rely on public assistance, and in staggering proportions, including frontline fast-food workers (52 percent), childcare workers (46 percent), home care workers (48 percent) and even part-time college faculty (25 percent).

While Wall Street executives are making record bonuses, four out of 10 bank tellers in New York City are forced to rely on some form of public assistance because their wages are too low to survive.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/24/jobs-a24.html

US admits FBI falsified evidence to obtain convictions

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By Kate Randall 

20 April 2015

The US Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that over a more than two-decade period before 2000, nearly every FBI examiner gave flawed forensic hair testimony in almost all trials of criminal defendants reviewed so far, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The cases examined include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death, 14 of whom have been either executed or died in prison. The scandal raises the very real probability that innocent people have been sent to their deaths, and that many more wrongfully convicted are languishing on death rows across the US due to FBI analysts’ fraudulent testimony.

Testimony involving pattern-based forensic techniques—such as hair, bite-mark, and tire track comparisons—has contributed to wrongful convictions in more than a quarter of the 329 defendants’ cases that have been exonerated in the US since 1989. In their pursuit of convictions prosecutors across the country have often relied on FBI analysts’ overstated testimony on hair samples, incorrectly citing them as definitive proof of a defendant’s guilt.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project are assisting the government in the nation’s largest post-conviction review of the FBI’s questioned forensic evidence. The groups determined that 26 of 28 examiners in the elite FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far.

The nation’s courts have allowed the bogus testimony, masquerading as definitive scientific evidence of defendants’ guilt, to railroad innocent people and consign them to decades in prison, life in prison, or death row and the execution chamber.

Federal authorities launched an investigation in 2012 after a Post examination found that flawed forensic hair matches might have led to the convictions of hundreds of potentially innocent people nationwide since at least the 1970s. Defendants in these cases were typically charged with murder, rape and other violent crimes.

The scandal involves about 2,500 cases in which FBI examiners gave testimony involving hair matches. Hair examination is a pattern-based forensic technique. It involves subjective examination of characteristics such as color, thickness and length and compares them to a known source.

There is no accepted scientific research on how often hair from different people may appear the same, and any hair “matches” must be confirmed by DNA analysis. However, the Post ’s 2012 review found that FBI experts systematically testified to the near-certainty of matches of hair found at crime scenes to the hair samples of defendants. The FBI gave flawed forensic testimony in 257 of the 268 trials examined so far.

In 2002, a decade before the Post review, the FBI reported that its own DNA testing revealed that examiners reported false hair matches more than 11 percent of the time.

In Washington, DC, the only jurisdiction where defenders and prosecutors have carried out an investigation into all convictions based on FBI hair testimony, five of seven defendants whose trials included flawed hair evidence have been exonerated since 2009 based on either DNA testing or court appeals. All of them served 20 to 30 years in prison for rape or murder.

In an interview with the Post, University of Virginia law professor Brandon L. Garrett said the results of the DC investigation reveal a “mass disaster” inside the criminal justice system. “The tools don’t exist to handle systematic errors in our criminal justice system,” he said.

Those exonerated since 2009 in DC include:

* Donald Eugene Gates was incarcerated for 28 years for the rape and murder of a Georgetown University student. He was ordered released in December 2009 by a DC Superior Court Judge after DNA evidence revealed that another man committed the crime. The prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of an FBI analyst, who falsely linked two hairs from an African-American male to Gates.

* Kirk L. Odom was wrongfully imprisoned for more than 22 years for a 1981 rape and murder. He completed his prison term in 2003, but it was not until July 2012 that DNA evidence exonerated him of the crimes. A DC Superior Court order freed him from remaining on parole until 2047 and registering as a sex offender.

* Santae A. Tribble was convicted in the 1978 killing of a DC taxi driver. An FBI examiner testifying at Tribble’s trial said he had microscopically matched the defendant’s hair to one found in a stocking near the crime scene. In 2012, DNA tests on the same hair excluded him as the perpetrator, clearing the way for his exoneration.

Federal authorities are offering new DNA testing in those cases where FBI analysts gave flawed forensic testimony. However, in some 700 of the 2,500 cases identified by the FBI for review, police or prosecutors have not responded to requests for trial transcripts or other information. Biological evidence is also not always available, having been lost or destroyed in the years since trial.

Although defense attorneys argue that scientifically invalid testimony should be considered a violation of due process, only the states of California and Texas specifically allow appeals when experts recant their testimony or scientific advances undermine forensic evidence given at trial.

In a statement responding to the new scandal’s eruption, the FBI and Justice Department vowed that they are “committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance” and that are “also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”

The scandal over fraudulent testimony, however, only reveals the corrupt and anti-democratic character of the US prison system as a whole. The United States locks behind bars a greater proportion of its population than any other country, topped off by the barbaric death penalty that is supported by the entire political establishment.

Whatever the hypocritical posturing of the Obama White House, it cannot bring back the years spent in prison by the wrongfully convicted or the lives of those likely executed for crimes they did not commit.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/20/hair-a20.html

California governor’s emergency drought measures leave agribusiness giants untouched

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By Evan Blake and Glenn Ricketts
20 April 2015

On April 1, California Governor Jerry Brown issued an Executive Order mandating that the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) implement water rationing guidelines that must lead to “a statewide 25% reduction in potable urban water usage through February 28th, 2016.” On Saturday, the State Water Board released draft regulations to meet this standard, which will be finalized after its May 5-6 business meeting.

The emergency regulations, taken in response to severe drought conditions, place the burden of water conservation primarily on the shoulders of working class residents, while leaving the vast agribusiness giants and other large corporate interests–which consume the overwhelming majority of the state’s water resources–untouched.

The restrictions come in response to Department of Water Resources (DWR) estimates of record low levels of mountain snow, which supply rivers and streams as it melts. On the Sierra Nevada mountain range, whose snowpack normally provides the largest yearly source of freshwater, there is a mere 1.4 inches of water content, five percent of the historical average of 28.3 inches for April 1 and 80 percent lower than the previous lows for the date in 2014 and 1977.

The State Water Board regulations released on Saturday set conservation benchmarks for the state’s 411 local water districts ranging from 8-36 percent, proportional to water usage measured last summer, and will take effect on June 1. Beginning in July, local districts that fail to meet their conservation requirement face fines of up to $10,000 per day. Under previous emergency legislation, local districts also have the authority to fine individual residents caught violating the measures up to $500 daily, effectively pitting neighbors against one another by encouraging reporting of wasteful consumers.

This is essentially a regressive and punitive consumption tax placed on working class families. A recent UCLA study found that wealthy neighborhoods in California on average use three times more water than working class communities, a discrepancy directly attributable to the acres of lawns and landscaping that adorn the properties of the rich who will have little problem absorbing any fines.

California’s agricultural industries account for roughly 80 percent of all potable water usage in the state, or 27 of the total 34 million acre feet of water used in California each year. However, Brown’s order only mentions agriculture in sections 12 and 13 and imposes no restrictions, let alone consumption fines or taxes on the largest enterprises.

Agricultural water suppliers responsible for farms 25,000 acres or larger are told to submit a “detailed drought management plan that describes the actions and measures the supplier will take to manage water demand during drought.” Those supplying water to farmland 10,000 to 25,000 acres do not need to “submit the plans to the Department until July 1st, 2016.”

The order does not require any usage reductions from agribusiness, and any measures taken by growers as part of their “drought management plan” are strictly voluntary.

When asked in an interview about the need to curtail agricultural water usage, Brown responded, “Then you’re putting government in a role of picking and choosing, maybe almonds instead of walnuts or tomatoes instead of rice. That is a big brother that outside of war or some unprecedented catastrophe shouldn’t even be considered.”

Brown has no trouble acting as “big brother” when it comes to regulating the water usage of working class residents. The governor refuses, however, to impinge in the slightest fashion on the profit interests of big business, and justifies this by insisting the present situation does not qualify as an “unprecedented catastrophe.”

In reality, it is the big agribusinesses that are holding the people of California hostage and sacrificing the needs of society to the single-minded drive to produce profits for top executives and wealthy investors. For all of Brown’s “environmentally progressive” posturing, he is nothing more than a tool of these corporate interests.

In response to the water shortage, growers are spending millions to drill ever-deeper groundwater wells, in order to gain access to the state’s natural aquifers, upon which they then draw water free of charge. As a result, naturally occurring arsenic is increasingly released from underground rock formations as the water level drops. The rising concentration of this cancer-causing element has rendered the drinking water unsafe for at least 255,000 people in 341 separate local water systems across the state, mostly in rural areas of the Central Valley.

Groundwater aquifers throughout the Central Valley, the breadbasket of California, also show high levels of carcinogenic nitrates, which stem from farming chemicals and animal waste and are linked to thyroid cancer, skin rashes, hair loss and birth defects. The region’s working class, largely Latino immigrant families, are hardest hit by aquifer contamination and spend as much as 10 percent of their already meager income on bottled water.

Governor Brown’s Executive Order absolves agribusiness for their past and ongoing crimes because he and the entire political establishment directly benefit from their patronage. Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of the largest almond, pomegranate, pistachio and mandarin orange farms in the state, and who possess a combined net worth of over $4.2 billion dollars, have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign coffers of each of the last three governors.

Governor Brown directly rewarded agribusiness for their support last year, when the Super PAC raising funds for his election, “Brown for Governor 2014,” donated over $5 million to the “Yes on Prop. 1” campaign. Proposition 1 cut the total budget for all state agencies managing and overseeing water resources from $11.14 billion down to $7.12 billion. It furthermore allows the agribusinesses to use inefficient, but largely cheaper irrigation systems, and ignore more sustainable watering or farm management practices that would produce the most substantial reductions in water usage over time.

The Resnicks donated $150,000 to the “Yes on Prop. 1” campaign, while the California Farm Bureau Federation and the Western Growers Service Association each donated $250,000. Prop 1 passed in November last year after its proponents spent nearly $22 million, compared to opponents of Prop. 1 who only raised $101,149.

The entire framework for attempting to achieve water savings under capitalism turns reality on its head. The State Water Board has proposed an addition to Brown’s restrictions, mandating that “The use of potable water outside of newly constructed homes and buildings that is not delivered by drip or micro-spray systems will be prohibited.”

If the same principle of adopting universal drip irrigation and other more efficient technologies were applied where appropriate to agriculture, the water savings would dwarf any potential savings through urban conservation. Instead, these giant and obscenely wasteful monopolies are untouchable.

As water has become scarce over the duration of the ongoing drought, agribusiness has responded by concentrating production on high value cash crops such as fruits, nuts and hay. Almonds alone use roughly 3.4 million acre feet of water per year, 10 percent of the state’s total usage, while alfalfa consumes roughly 6.8 million acre feet, or 20 percent of the state’s total usage.

Alfalfa is by far the most water intensive crop, as a majority goes toward feeding the state’s 1.8 million dairy cows, while the state’s horses come in close second. The most recent DWR data shows that 77.1 percent of all alfalfa is grown using the least efficient flood, or furrow, irrigation methods, while 17.9 percent is grown using inefficient sprinkler systems. A paltry 2.5 percent of alfalfa grown in the state uses the most water efficient drip irrigation methods. Transitioning to drip irrigation for this single crop would account for vastly more savings than those that will be realized by Brown’s Executive Order.

Statewide, 43 percent of all crops are grown using the least efficient flood irrigation, 15.4 percent using slightly more efficient sprinkler systems, and 38.4 using the most efficient drip irrigation methods. The majority of crops grown in the state would grow as well or better using drip irrigation, and shifting all applicable crops to these highly efficient watering systems would yield immense water savings.

To fundamentally address the unprecedented drought crisis requires multiple, massive public works programs for both agricultural and urban sectors. Techniques exist to sustainably produce more food while using exponentially less water, including hydroponics and aquaponics, drip irrigation for applicable crops and remote sensing farm management technologies. At the same time, the universal use of water efficient showers and toilets, drought resistant lawns composed of native species, advanced water capture and recycling systems that span entire cities and modern pipe and sewage systems would greatly improve water usage.

Far from investing the necessary resources for the repair and renovation of the country’s outmoded and decaying infrastructure, however, both Democrats and Republicans continue to starve it of necessary funds. The annual Pentagon budget- $360 billion- is 6.3 times the amount of federal funding for infrastructure even as cities across the country are plagued with bursting water pipes and drainage systems dating back to the early 20th, if not late 19th centuries.

To give precedence to the needs of society–for modern infrastructure and the application of the latest developments in science and technology to address water usage, climate change and the preservation of the planet–the outmoded capitalist system must be abolished and economic and political life reorganized based on the socialist principle of production for human need, not profit. This includes the nationalization of the major agricultural monopolies and other large corporations under the democratic control of working people. For this, a mass political movement of the working class, independent of both big business parties, fighting for a workers’ government and socialism, must be built.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/20/drou-a20.html