The official cover-up of social and political issues in the police murder of Michael Brown

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27 August 2014

Thousands of workers and youth participated in funeral services for Michael Brown on Monday, an expression of widespread outrage over the police murder of the unarmed 18-year-old. However, the funeral service itself, attended by three representatives of the Obama administration and presided over by Democratic Party operative Al Sharpton, was a thoroughly establishment, right-wing affair.

The aim of the ceremony, paid for and run by Sharpton’s organization, was to obscure the class issues raised by the killing of Brown, legitimize the de facto imposition of martial law in Ferguson, Missouri, and channel social opposition back behind the political establishment.

The ruling class responded to the spontaneous eruption of protests over the killing of Brown with a two-pronged strategy. First, the repressive apparatus of the state was mobilized, including militarized SWAT teams toting automatic weapons, driving armored vehicles, and firing tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bags at peaceful protesters. More than 200 people were arrested in the police crackdown.

Ferguson became a test case for imposing police-state conditions on an American city in response to social unrest. Journalists were threatened, arrested and assaulted. The National Guard was called in. A curfew was imposed and the constitutional right to assemble was effectively suspended under the “state of emergency” declared by Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat.

Sheer repression did not suffice to silence the protests, however. Hence the second prong of the ruling class strategy. Figures such as Sharpton along with local preachers and Democratic Party politicians were mobilized to promote racial politics and direct the protests along safe channels. The Obama administration sent Attorney General Eric Holder, an African American, to Ferguson, and Governor Nixon appointed Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, also an African American, to head up the police response.

This dual strategy found expression in the funeral eulogy delivered by Sharpton—both in what he said, and what he did not say. The one-time FBI informant spoke not as a partisan of the workers and youth of Ferguson, but rather as an emissary of the capitalist state, i.e., of the very forces that killed Brown and sought to crush the subsequent protests.

Most significant in Sharpton’s remarks was the absence of any reference to the social and economic issues underlying the killing of Brown (and hundreds of other police killings across the country) and the mass repression that followed. There was no mention of the unemployment and poverty that characterize Ferguson and cities throughout the country, nor was there any reference to the immense social inequality that drives the ruling class to employ increasingly violent means to suppress social anger and unrest.

Instead, Sharpton devoted much of his remarks to vile slurs against African-American youth in general and the protesters in Ferguson in particular. He complained that too many people are “sitting around having ghetto pity parties.” Celebrating the fact that a section of African Americans like himself have “got some positions of power,” he denounced those who “decide it ain’t black no more to be successful.” He continued, “Now you wanna be a n****r and call your woman a ho.”

These foul remarks, dripping with contempt, were combined with an open defense of the state. “We are not anti-police, we respect police,” proclaimed Sharpton. The murder of youth like Brown is the product only of a few “bad apples,” he declared, which can be corrected with measures like hiring more African-American police officers.

While avoiding any criticism of the massive military-police response to the protests over Brown’s killing, Sharpton repeated all the tropes used by the state to justify its repression. He bemoaned the fact that Brown’s parents “had to break their mourning to ask folks to stop looting and rioting,” adding, “Michael Brown must be remembered for more than disturbances.”

The use of the word “disturbances,” part of the lexicon of the police and military, is significant, carrying with it the implication that the protests were illegitimate. The police repression, Sharpton implied, was a necessary response to violence by the protesters.

He made no mention of the connection between domestic repression and the waging of aggressive wars abroad, ignoring the fact, noted by many Ferguson workers and youth who spoke to the World Socialist Web Site, that even as the National Guard was being deployed to Ferguson, Obama was once again ramping up the US military’s involvement in Iraq.

Sharpton’s support for the police crackdown reflects what he is: an agent of the state and representative of a section of the corporate establishment and upper-middle class that has amassed great wealth even as the great majority of the population, including African-American workers and youth, has seen its living standards plummet. This privileged and corrupt social layer has long promoted identity politics to conceal the basic class divide in society and sow divisions within the working class.

In particular, Sharpton spoke as a representative of the Obama administration. He has developed the closest ties with administration officials, coordinating his actions and remarks with the White House. This is an administration that has intensified the assault on the working class and overseen an enormous growth of social inequality, while increasing the militarization of the police.

The financial aristocracy reacts to any expression of social opposition with repression. In the 1960s, the ruling class responded to urban uprisings with violence, but that was followed by pledges to address inequality and poverty and the implementation of limited social reforms. Today, the ruling class has nothing to offer but more repression.

The events in Ferguson are an expression of the explosive character of social relations in the United States. The financial aristocracy is petrified over the revolutionary implications of the open emergence of class conflict. Hence the resort to violence on the one hand and reliance, on the other, on Sharpton and other so-called “civil rights” leaders to complement state terror with diversions and lies.

Andre Damon

Companies sell mobile phone spying tools to governments worldwide

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By Thomas Gaist
26 August 2014

Cell phone location tracking technologies long used by the US National Security Agency and British GCHQ are increasingly available for purchase by other governments throughout the world, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Cell phone location data tracking systems, which include a range of associated intelligence gathering capabilities, are constantly being developed and marketed by private security contractors. The technology enables governments and private entities to track the movements of cell phone users across national boundaries, in many cases pinpointing users’ precise locations within a few meters.

One surveillance firm, called Defentek, boasts on its web page that its Infiltrator Global Real-Time Tracking System can “locate and track any phone number in the world.” The Infiltrator System is “a strategic solution that infiltrates and is undetected and unknown by the network, carrier, or the target,” the site says.

Analysis of cell phone location tracking software by the watchdog group Privacy International highlighted the role of Verint, a sophisticated Israeli-American private security and intelligence contractor that employs former government agents, including special forces soldiers.

Verint reports on its web page that the company’s systems are used by “more than 10,000 organizations in over 180 countries,” the Washington Post reported.

The spread of such cutting-edge surveillance systems by private security and intelligence firms is taking place with the help of the major telecommunications corporations. Verint states that it has installed location data capture software on cellular networks in numerous countries with the knowledge and cooperation of major telecommunications providers.

A confidential Verint advertising brochure posted online by Privacy International detailed the wide array of surveillance capabilities offered by Verint to clients. According to its advertising material, Verint’s “Solution’s Portfolio” includes “Cellular Interception and Control, Mobile Satellite Interception, Global Cellular Location, and IP Interception and Tampering.” The brochure notes that the company sells “Monitoring Centres that can operate at nationwide levels and has been known to have had installations in Slovakia, Ivory Coast, India and Vietnam.”

For the right price, Verint will also carry out and/or facilitate a number of other intelligence-related operations on behalf of its clients, including:

* Identifying potential targets and building an intelligence picture over cellular networks

* Passively and covertly collecting cellular traffic in an area and analyzing it in real time to identify potential targets

* Identifying suspicious communication patterns using a range of analysis tools, including Location, Speech Recognition, Link Analysis, Text Matching

* Intercepting voice calls and text messages of potential targets

* Identifying, intercepting, decoding, manipulating and analyzing WiFi-enabled devices such as tablets, smartphones, and laptops

Verint also claims that it can break into encrypted communications and remotely activate microphones on cell phones, and the company offers training sessions simulating a range of tactical scenarios with its in-house veteran military and intelligence personnel.

Reports from the summer of 2013 showed that Verint provided systems used by the Mexican government during the administration of President Felipe Calderon to capture and analyze all types of communications in that country beginning in 2007, as part of operations initiated in coordination with the US State Department.

In its report, the Washington Post noted that surveillance agencies and private companies are increasingly deploying “IMSI catchers,” also referred to as StingRays, which enable users to send fake text messages, inject malware into targeted phones, and intercept the content of various forms of cellphone-based communications.

In addition to using StingRays, surveillance agencies can tap directly into cell phone towers to identify movement patterns of nearby telephone users. Location data from cell phone towers, moreover, is regularly transferred in bulk to federal, state, and local security agencies across the US through a procedure known as “tower dumps.”

Revelations from December of 2013 have already shown that the NSA’s CO-TRAVELLER program gathers around 5 billion pieces of cell phone location data worldwide on a daily basis, and has been capable of tracking the location of cellphones, even when switched off, since 2004. Location data gathered by the NSA allows the agency to map the overall movement pattern of targeted individuals, their daily routes and habitual meeting places.

The US uses related technology to orchestrate its drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. As part of a program codenamed GILGAMESH, the NSA’s “Geo Cell” program, which sports the motto “We Track ‘Em, You Whack ‘Em,” guides drone strikes against alleged terrorists by tracking the location of SIM cards inside their cellphones.

All of these surveillance and tracking programs are part of the efforts of the US and other imperialist states to compile comprehensive databases on their respective populations in response to growing popular opposition to the growth of social inequality and attacks on democratic rights.

Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer An Actual Democracy

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AP Photo / Patrick Semansky

Asking “[w]ho really rules?” researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America’s political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.

TPM Interview: Scholar Behind Viral ‘Oligarchy’ Study Tells You What It Means

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” they write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

As one illustration, Gilens and Page compare the political preferences of Americans at the 50th income percentile to preferences of Americans at the 90th percentile as well as major lobbying or business groups. They find that the government—whether Republican or Democratic—more often follows the preferences of the latter group rather than the first.

The researches note that this is not a new development caused by, say, recent Supreme Court decisions allowing more money in politics, such as Citizens United or this month’s ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC. As the data stretching back to the 1980s suggests, this has been a long term trend, and is therefore harder for most people to perceive, let alone reverse.

“Ordinary citizens,” they write, “might often be observed to ‘win’ (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail.”

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/princeton-experts-say-us-no-longer-democracy

Obama administration “review” aimed at systematizing transfer of military arms to police

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By Andre Damon
25 August 2014

Under the pretense of reining in police militarization in the aftermath of the crackdown on protests in Ferguson, Missouri, the Obama administration has called for a review of the federal government’s programs to transfer military weapons to local police departments. In reality, such a review is intended to regularize and professionalize the militarization of domestic police forces, which has been spearheaded by the federal government.

One senior White House official told the Washington Post that the administration’s review, which will take place together with a series of congressional hearings, will assess “whether state and local law enforcement are provided with the necessary training and guidance; and whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing the use of equipment obtained through federal programs and funding.”

Attorney General Eric Holder wrote in a statement provided to the New York Times, “It makes sense to take a look at whether military-style equipment is being acquired for the right purposes and whether there is proper training on when and how to deploy it.”

The premise of Holder’s remark is that there is a “right” purpose for the police to be militarized, and thus that the program is entirely legitimate. The concern is that local police departments may be insufficiently trained as to “when and how” to deploy the billions of dollars in military assets that they have been given.

In the aftermath of the Ferguson protests, the police forces involved were publicly criticized by military veterans and even Pentagon officials for what they called unprofessional conduct from a military standpoint. “These guys are idiots—riding around on the top of armored trucks looking like rednecks on a country drive, pointing their weapons at unarmed Americans,” one Pentagon official anonymously told the Christian Science Monitor. “Our troops would never do that stuff, even in a war zone,” he said. Notably, one St. Louis police officer was disciplined after he was caught on video pointing an assault rifle at journalists, proclaiming, “I will f*****g kill you.”

The aim of the Obama administration’s review—beyond being a public relations exercise—will be to cut down on such unprofessional displays and make the use of domestic military police more systematic, widespread and regular. In this it will be similar to the administration’s reviews of its domestic spying programs, each of which has only resulted in the extension of illegal spying by the US intelligence agencies.

Far from acting as a restraining influence on local police departments, the federal government has been the most active facilitator of police militarization. In June, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report entitled “War comes home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” which concluded that “the federal government has justified and encouraged the militarization of local law enforcement.”

The ACLU’s report documents the way in which the federal government has actively facilitated the militarization of local police forces, “in large part through federal programs that have armed state and local law enforcement agencies with the weapons and tactics of war.”

The American Civil Liberties Union is the largest such scheme, operating under the motto, “from warfighter to crimefighter.” This program has transferred more than $4.3 billion in property from the military to local police departments, including nearly half a billion last year. Local police have been provided with combat uniforms, night-vision goggles, belt-fed machine guns, military helicopters, armored vehicles and assault rifles, some of which were on display in the streets of Ferguson this month.

The military program provided law enforcement with $1 million of military hardware in 1990, $324 million in 1995, and nearly $450 million in 2013. The ACLU report notes that the federal government “requires agencies that receive 1033 equipment to use it within one year of receipt, so there can be no doubt that participation in this program creates an incentive for law enforcement agencies to use military equipment.”

Earlier this year, the Pentagon provided the New York Times with a database of military assets transferred to local police departments since 2006, which the Times published online last week. The statistics are staggering. Police in the Detroit Metropolitan Area, for example, have been given enough assault rifles by the Defense Department to arm a midsize battalion. This does not include rifles purchased by local police departments.

Los Angeles County has been given enough rifles for three battalions. The county has received 3,408 assault rifles, 1,696 pieces of body armor, 15 helicopters and seven armored vehicles. Meanwhile, every county in Connecticut except one, which has the highest per capita income in the country, got an armored vehicle from the Defense Department. More than six hundred such vehicles have been dispensed to local police departments.

Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight, will lead one of the congressional inquiries into the programs. McCaskill, according to the Times, “agreed that the military equipment had proved valuable,” but that the “government should be able to find a way to ensure officer safety and keep streets safe more strategically.”

Representative Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, told the Times that he would support requiring police to certify that they were trained to use the military hardware they were provided

 

 

Why Burning Man is not an example of a loosely regulated tech utopia

The rules are important at Burning Man. But being rich means you get to do what you want, just like anywhere else

Why Burning Man is not an example of a loosely regulated tech utopia
El Pulpo Mecanico, at the Burning Man 2012 “Fertility 2.0″ arts and music festival, August 29, 2012. (Credit: Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

“Burning Man culture,” writes Gregory Ferenstein in Vox, “discourages money or bartering; the entire economy is a gift economy.”

Ferenstein, a regular attendee at the Nevada desert counterculture festival so beloved by Northern California’s tech-hipsters, is defending Burning Man from critics like the New York Times’ Nick Bilton, who have noted that in recent years, rich attendees have been setting up their own luxury camps within the confines of Black Rock City. Ferenstein makes some good points explaining why tech billionaires love Burning Man, but it’s still difficult to square his point on “burning man culture” with the details reported by Bilton.

“We used to have R.V.s and precooked meals,” said a man who attends Burning Man with a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs… “Now, we have the craziest chefs in the world and people who build yurts for us that have beds and air-conditioning.” He added with a sense of amazement, “Yes, air-conditioning in the middle of the desert!”

His camp includes about 100 people from the Valley and Hollywood start-ups, as well as several venture capital firms. And while dues for most non-tech camps run about $300 a person, he said his camp’s fees this year were $25,000 a person. A few people, mostly female models flown in from New York, get to go free, but when all is told, the weekend accommodations will collectively cost the partygoers over $2 million.

Such camps, reports Bilton, also included “Sherpas” that serve as servants.

Ferenstein writes that the tech execs have basically the same experience as everyone else. But he appears to be tone-deaf to the enormous offense of labeling paid employees “Sherpas” and doesn’t bother to mention the female models flown in from New York. That’s not the gift economy, and it’s not the sharing economy. And it’s surely not something that anyone even imagined possible when tripping around a very big bonfire on Baker Beach in the early ’90s.



Ferenstein also wanders into a self-combusting contradiction, of the sort that would look pretty good exploding  in the desert night. Burning Man, he writes, “is an experiment in what a city would look like if it were architected for wild creativity and innovation…. At Burning Man, sharing is the economy. It’s rather appealing to the Silicon Valley elite to see an entire city function on an economic idea that is at the heart of the knowledge economy. It’s an important glimpse of why the founders are so optimistic that a loosely regulated field of tech startups can outweigh the potential downsides of unregulated sharing.”

But Burning Man is intensely regulated. It’s got its own police force. Gun control is absolute. Attendance is limited to a set number of people who can afford the not-cheap tickets. The very layout of Black Rock City is a paean to planning and organization. Central control is as much the essence of Burning Man as is hedonism and fire.

We can argue about the proper extent of regulation. Is Burning Man more like Houston, which scoffs at zoning restrictions, or San Francisco, where plastic bags are outlawed? (The rules on trash at Burning Man might come off as pretty extreme to your typical happy-go-lucky free market polluter, after all.) But to use Burning Man as a model for what tech billionaires want for a greater society is to actually argue that rules are extremely important, and anarchy is a failure!

The key point made by Nick Bilton is that the very existence of a camp inside Burning Man where tickets cost $25,000 and female companionship is imported is a demonstration that Burning Man, far from being an alternative to society, is business as usual.

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

http://www.salon.com/2014/08/22/why_burning_man_is_not_an_example_of_a_loosely_regulated_tech_utopia/?source=newsletter

One-third of the US population has no retirement savings

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By Jake Dean

22 August 2014

A new survey from Bankrate.com, accompanied by Bankrate’s Financial Security Index, conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Associates International, underlines the deplorable economic conditions facing millions of Americans. More than one-third (36 percent) of the US population has no savings for retirement.

The Financial Security Index breaks down the retirement savings for the different age groups. For ages between 19 to 29, at the start of their working lives, it might be expected that a higher percentage, in this case 69 percent, have no retirement saving. From ages 30 to 49, however, 33 percent have no savings, and for ages 50 to 64, 26 percent still have no savings. The findings are most disturbing for adults aged 65 and older, where 14 percent have no retirement savings at all.

The survey measures how Americans feel about their personal finances in comparison from one year ago. Below are some of the significant findings highlighted in the report:

· 31 percent of parents said they are less comfortable with debt compared to 21 percent of nonparents who are comfortable

· 32 percent say they feel less comfortable with their savings compared to 16 percent who assert that they are comfortable

· College graduates are more than twice as likely to say that they are comfortable with their savings than those who never attended college

· Individuals between the ages of 18 to 29 years old are twice as likely to feel secure than seniors 65 years and older

· Part-time workers are twice as likely compared to full-time workers to have no savings plan

· Individuals living in suburban and rural areas feel twice as less likely to be financially secure than those living in urban areas

While the report notes that the younger generation may feel more secure than those nearing retirement, it is also true that the youth have been told they have no worries along this line. As part of the protracted social counterrevolution, bound up with the cult of competition, youth have been led to believe that any meager full-time job represents financial success, and hence financial security. Although the survey notes that college graduates may feel more secure than those who never attended college, it never addresses the issue of financial or job security, as companies slash wages and hire more part-time workers.

The survey, involving 1,003 participants, exposes the fictitious character of the economic “recovery” that is being hailed by bourgeois media and the Obama administration. The reality is that the economic recovery has only been a recovery for the financial and corporate elite.

Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com, told USA Today “These numbers are very troubling because the burden for retirement savings is increasingly on us as individuals with each passing day.”

“‘Well, I’ll just work forever,’ is not a viable retirement savings strategy, because you don’t control your own destiny on that. When we look at long-term unemployment, it’s concentrated on adults over age 50,” states McBride.

These findings are indeed very revealing. The survey essentially reports that 65 is no longer seen as the threshold age for retirement, but the new norm is work till you die or until you are physically unable to do so.

While the solution proposed by McBride is to “Save more and save it now,” what exactly is there to save? Several reports within the past year have confirmed the daunting reality of Bankrate’s report that workers are unable to save anything for retirement, as there is nothing they can save.

A report released earlier this year from the Federal Reserve, the US central bank, entitled Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2013, has revealed that a typical American household cannot raise $400 without borrowing money or selling possessions.

According to the report, nearly two-thirds of those under 45 are unable to set aside funds to cover their expenses for a three-month period. Seventy percent of the respondents in the survey have stated that they were no better off than they were in 2008, when the financial crisis first began.

When the survey examined the population that attended college, one quarter of the respondents held student loan debt averaging $27,840, with 56 percent of the respondents stating that they “believe that the costs of the education outweighed any financial benefits they received from the education.”

Of the two-thirds of households that have any form of savings in 2008, a quarter reported that they used of “some” or “nearly all” of their saving “to pay for bills and expenses.”

Other surveys have confirmed the abysmal conditions facing vast numbers of working people. A nonprofit institute, Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), and Greenwald & Associates found in a survey of 1,000 individuals that 36 percent of the respondents have less than $1,000 in savings and investments that could possibly be used for retirement, and that 60 percent of workers have less than $25,000.

In a separate survey conducted by EBRI, only 18 percent of workers feel that they are confident that they will have enough money to live a comfortable life during retirement, forcing thousands to work longer and longer.

Despite the drumbeat of propaganda that seek to convince the unemployed or the indebted that their problems are simply their fault, the facts show otherwise. Jack VanDerhei, EBRI’s research director, said that the two primary factors in the creation of such conditions were the cost of living and day-to-day expenses. That such expenses are unable to allow individuals to keep a meager $1,000 in savings is an indictment of the capitalist system.

The participants in these surveys and findings are part of a broader social layer that is unable to meet even its most basic needs, much less to be able to prepare for the future or retirement.

Report after report all point to the same conclusion: the precarious state of the majority of US households, who risk poverty or bankruptcy in the event of an unforeseen accident or loss of job. What is happening in the US is the deliberate polices of the Obama administration, which has shoveled trillions of dollars to the financial sector with no strings attached or to hold anyone responsible for the 2008 financial crisis, while encouraging companies to slash wages and benefits.