After announcing “normalization” with Cuba, Obama slaps sanctions on Venezuela

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By Bill Van Auken
20 December 2014

President Barack Obama, Thursday, signed into law legislation imposing a new set of sanctions against Venezuela. The action, taken just one day after he took what have been widely described as “historic” steps to “normalize” relations with Cuba, shed considerable light on the real aims being pursued in relation to the Caribbean island nation.

The “human rights” sanctions were imposed on the pretext of punishing individual Venezuelan officials for the handling of violent anti-government protests launched last February with the aim of deposing President Nicolas Maduro. The violence claimed the lives of 40 people, including numerous members of the security forces, as well as supporters of the government and others killed in confrontations at barricades erected by Maduro’s US-backed rightist opponents.

The “Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act” abrogates or denies visas for a number of top Venezuelans and orders the freezing of any assets they may have in the US.

In another measure that serves to undermine the Venezuelan government, the US-based Fitch rating agency downgraded Venezuela’s credit rating from “B” to “CCC”, which suggests a likelihood of failure to meet payments.

Maduro, who only the previous day had praised Obama for his “brave and necessary gesture” toward Cuba, on Thursday denounced the new sanctions as “insolent measures taken by the imperial elite of the United States.” At the same time, he noted, “On the one hand, it recognizes the failure of the policies of aggression and blockade against our sister Cuba (…), and, on the other hand, it launches a new escalation of attacks” against Venezuela.

Underlying this seeming contradiction is a definite logic, however. The move toward rapprochement with Cuba and the sanctions against Venezuela are different tactics that are directed toward the same aim: bringing to power pliant regimes prepared to more fully accept US semi-colonial domination.

Washington is banking on the driving down of oil prices destabilizing Venezuela and creating better conditions for orchestrating a right-wing campaign to depose the Maduro government. At the same time, it sees economic and political destabilization of Venezuela, which has provided a lifeline to Cuba in the form of discounted oil shipments as well as tens of billions of dollars in loans, investments and grants, as a means of weakening Cuba and facilitating a restoration of the type of regime that characterized the country before the 1959 revolution.

For all of Obama’s rhetoric about “democracy,” “human rights” and “empowering the Cuban people,” these are the real aims and interests underlying the shift in Washington’s policy toward Havana.

And, while much has been written about Obama’s “bold move,” the reality is that the driving force behind a change in Cuba policy has been ruling corporate and financial sectors, which have seen a market that they believe should be theirs, dominated by China, Spain and other countries.

Fortune magazine’s response to Wednesday’s announcement was a story headlined, “Corporate lobbyists score victory in loosening of Cuban trade embargo.”

The story noted that truck and tractor manufacturer Caterpillar, the personal care product maker Colgate-Palmolive and the insurance giant Chubb “all spent tens of thousands of dollars to lobby government officials this year about the Cuban embargo, according to regulatory documents.”

“PepsiCo wants in. So does Caterpillar and Marriott International,” the New York Times exclaimed. “Within hours of President Obama’s historic move to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, companies in the United States were already developing strategies to introduce their products and services to a market that they have not been in for the better part of 50 years—if ever.”

The Financial Times reported, “Cargill, the private US commodities trader, was among the first to welcome the announced easing of US trade restrictions on Cuba.” It noted that the company, “although a long-time supporter of the Republican Party […] has long urged ending the more than 50-year trade embargo.”

While US business interests currently are exporting approximately $500 million worth of goods to Cuba annually, consisting mostly of agricultural products, this flow is hobbled by financial restrictions requiring pre-payment through a third-party bank, typically in Europe. Other competitors, including Brazil, have been able to gain a greater share of the market by offering credit. Among the executive measures that Obama has announced will be an easing of these financial barriers.

Propelled by these big business interests, Obama’s changes in Cuban policy will apparently be rolled out rapidly, with regulatory changes on trade and travel made “as soon as new regulations can be published in the Federal Register ,” according to the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, the process of restoring diplomatic relations is expected to begin next month with a visit to Havana by Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson. The official told the newspaper that the reestablishment of formal ties could be accomplished simply through an exchange of letters, and that Washington would then “change the sign” on its large US Interests Section in Havana, turning it into an embassy.

Asked about how quickly the new measures expanding trade, travel and US banking operations, as well the quadrupling of the amount of money that can be sent to individuals on the island, will be implemented, Jacobson told thePost, “I am quite certain we’re talking about days or weeks. Certainly not months.”

Washington’s strategy is for the expansion of US trade and investment to intersect with the series of counter-reforms implemented over the past five years by the government of President Raul Castro, which have slashed government jobs and social spending while spurring private enterprise and offering more favorable conditions for foreign capital to exploit cheap Cuban labor. The ultimate aim is the fostering of a new bourgeois layer as the social basis of a semi-colonial Cuban regime.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/12/20/cuba-d20.html

The secret to the Uber economy is wealth inequality

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WRITTEN BY  Leo Mirani

Of the many attractions offered by my hometown, a west coast peninsula famed for its deep natural harbor, perhaps the most striking is that you never have to leave the house. With nothing more technologically advanced than a phone, you can arrange to have delivered to your doorstep, often in less than an hour, takeaway food, your weekly groceries, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs (over-the-counter, prescription, proscribed), books, newspapers, a dozen eggs, half a dozen eggs, a single egg. I once had a single bottle of Coke sent to my home at the same price I would have paid had I gone to shop myself.

The same goes for services. When I lived there, a man came around every morning to collect my clothes and bring them back crisply ironed the next day; he would have washed them, too, but I had a washing machine.
These luxuries are not new. I took advantage of them long before Uber became a verb, before the world saw the first iPhone in 2007, even before the first submarine fibre-optic cable landed on our shores in 1997. In my hometown of Mumbai, we have had many of these conveniences for at least as long as we have had landlines—and some even earlier than that.
It did not take technology to spur the on-demand economy. It took masses of poor people.

Silicon Valley catches on

In San Francisco, another peninsular city on another west coast on the other side of the world, a similar revolution of convenience is underway, spurred by the unstoppable rise of Uber, the on-demand taxi service, which went from offering services in 60 cities around the world at the end of last year to more than 200 today.

Uber’s success has sparked a revolution, covered in great detail this summer by Re/code, a tech blog, which ran a special series about “the new instant gratification economy.” As Re/code pointed out, after Uber showed how it’s done, nearly every pitch made by starry-eyed technologists “in Silicon Valley seemed to morph overnight into an ‘Uber for X’ startup.”
Various companies are described now as “Uber for massages,” “Uber for alcohol,” and “Uber for laundry and dry cleaning,” among many, many other things (“Uber for city permits”). So profound has been their cultural influence in 2014, one man wrote a poem about them for Quartz. (Nobody has yet written a poem dedicated to the other big cultural touchstone of 2014 for the business and economics crowd, French economist Thomas Piketty’s smash hit, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.)
The conventional narrative is this: enabled by smartphones, with their GPS chips and internet connections, enterprising young businesses are using technology to connect a vast market willing to pay for convenience with small businesses or people seeking flexible work.
This narrative ignores another vital ingredient, without which this new economy would fall apart: inequality.

The new middlemen

There are only two requirements for an on-demand service economy to work, and neither is an iPhone. First, the market being addressed needs to be big enough to scale—food, laundry, taxi rides. Without that, it’s just a concierge service for the rich rather than a disruptive paradigm shift, as a venture capitalist might say. Second, and perhaps more importantly, there needs to be a large enough labor class willing to work at wages that customers consider affordable and that the middlemen consider worthwhile for their profit margins.

Uber was founded in 2009, in the immediate aftermath of the worst financial crisis in a generation. As the ride-sharing app has risen, so too have income disparity and wealth inequality in the United States as a whole and in San Francisco in particular. Recent research by the Brookings Institution found that of any US city, San Francisco had the largest increase in inequality between 2007 and 2012. The disparity in San Francisco as of 2012, as measured (pdf) by a city agency, was in fact more pronounced than inequality in Mumbai (pdf).
Of course, there are huge differences between the two cities. Mumbai is a significantly poorer, dirtier, more miserable place to live and work. Half of its citizens lack access to sanitation or formal housing.
Another distinction, just as telling, lies in the opportunities the local economy affords to the army of on-demand delivery people it supports. In Mumbai, the man who delivers a bottle of rum to my doorstep can learn the ins and outs of the booze business from spending his days in a liquor store. If he scrapes together enough capital, he may one day be able to open his own shop and hire his own delivery boys.
His counterpart in San Francisco has no such access. The person who cleans your home in SoMa has little interaction with the mysterious forces behind the app that sends him or her to your door. The Uber driver who wants an audience with management can’t go to Uber headquarters; he or she must visit a separate “driver center.”

There is no denying the seductive nature of convenience—or the cold logic of businesses that create new jobs, whatever quality they may be. But the notion that brilliant young programmers are forging a newfangled “instant gratification” economy is a falsehood. Instead, it is a rerun of the oldest sort of business: middlemen insinuating themselves between buyers and sellers.

All that modern technology has done is make it easier, through omnipresent smartphones, to amass a fleet of increasingly desperate jobseekers eager to take whatever work they can get.

Impressions of Rojava: a report from the revolution

By Janet Biehl On December 16, 2014

Post image for Impressions of Rojava: a report from the revolutionIn early December an international delegation visited Rojava’s Cezire canton where they learned about the ongoing revolution, cooperation and tolerance.

From December 1 to 9, I had the privilege of visiting Rojava as part of a delegation of academics from Austria, Germany, Norway, Turkey, the UK, and the US. We assembled in Erbil, Iraq, on November 29 and spent the next day learning about the petrostate known as the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), with its oil politics, patronage politics, feuding parties (KDP and PUK), and apparent aspirations to emulate Dubai. We soon had enough and on Monday morning were relieved to drive to the Tigris, where we crossed the border into Syria and entered Rojava, the majority-Kurdish autonomous region of northern Syria.

The Tigris river channel was narrow, but the society we encountered on the far shore could not have been more different from the KRG: the spirit of a social and political revolution was in the air. As we disembarked, we were greeted by the Asayis, or civilian security forces of the revolution. The Asayis reject the label police, since police serve the state whereas they serve society.

Over the next nine days, we would explore Rojava’s revolutionary self-government in an old-fashioned state of total immersion (we had no internet access to distract us). Our delegation’s two organizers — Dilar Dirik (a talented PhD student at Cambridge University) and Devriş Çimen (head of Civaka Azad, the Kurdish Center for Public Information in Germany) — took us on an intensive tour of the various revolutionary institutions.

Rojava consists of three geographically non-contiguous cantons; we would see only the easternmost one, Cezire (or Jazira), due to the ongoing war with the Islamic State, which rages to the west, especially in Kobani. But everywhere we were welcomed warmly.

Rojava’s Third Way

At the outset, the deputy foreign minister, Amine Ossi, introduced us to the history of the revolution. The Syrian Ba’ath regime, a system of one-party rule, had long insisted that all Syrians were Arabs and attempted to “Arabize” the country’s four million Kurds, suppressing their identity and stripping those who objected of their citizenship.

After Tunisian and Egyptian opposition groups mounted insurgencies during the Arab Spring in 2011, rebellious Syrians rose up too, initiating the civil war. In the summer of 2012, the regime’s authority collapsed in Rojava, where the Kurds had little trouble persuading its officials to depart nonviolently.

Rojavans (I’ll call them by that name because while they are mostly Kurds, they are also Arabs, Assyrians, Chechens, and others) then faced a choice of aligning themselves either with the regime that had persecuted them, or with the mostly Islamic militant opposition groups.

Rojava’s Kurds being relatively secular, they refused both sides and decided instead to embark on a Third Way, based on the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned Kurdish leader who rethought the Kurdish issue, the nature of revolution, and an alternative modernity to the nation-state and capitalism.

Initially, under his leadership, Kurds had fought for a state, but several decades ago, again under his leadership, their goal began to change: they now reject the state as a source of oppression and instead strive for self-government, for popular democracy. Drawing eclectically from sources in history, philosophy, politics, and anthropology, Öcalan proposed ‘Democratic Confederalism’ as the name for the overarching program of bottom-up democracy, gender equality, ecology, and a cooperative economy. The implementation of those principles, in institutions not only of democratic self-government but also of economics, education, health and gender, is called Democratic Autonomy.

A Women’s Revolution

Under their Third Way, Rojava’s three cantons declared Democratic Autonomy and formally established it in a “social contract” (the non-statist term it uses instead of “constitution”). Under that program, they created a system of popular self-government, based in neighborhood commune assemblies (comprising several hundred households each), which anyone may attend, and with power rising from the bottom up through elected deputies to the city and cantonal levels.

When our delegation visited a Qamishlo neighborhood (Qamishlo being the largest city in the Cezire canton), we attended a meeting of a local people’s council, where the electricity and matters relating to women, conflict resolution and families of martyrs were discussed. Men and women sat and participated together. Elsewhere in Qamishlo, we witnessed an assembly of women addressing problems particular to their gender.

Gender is of special importance to this project in human emancipation. We quickly realized that the Rojava Revolution is fundamentally a women’s revolution. This part of the world is traditionally home to extreme patriarchal oppression: to be born female is to be at risk for violent abuse, childhood marriage, honor killings, polygamy, and more.

But today the women of Rojava have shaken off that tradition and participate fully in public life: at every level of politics and society. Institutional leadership consists not of one position but two, one male and one female official — for the sake of gender equality and also to keep power from concentrating into one person’s hands.

Representatives of Yekitiya Star, the umbrella organization for women’s groups, explained that women are essential to democracy — they even defined the antagonist of women’s freedom, strikingly, not as patriarchy but as the nation-state and capitalist modernity. The women’s revolution aims to free everyone. Women are to this revolution what the proletariat was to Marxist-Leninist revolutions of the past century. It has profoundly transformed not only women’s status but every aspect of society.

Even the traditionally male-dominated strands of society, like the military, have been profoundly transformed. The people’s protection units (YPG) have been joined by the YPJ — or women’s protection units — whose images by now have become world famous. Together, the YPG and the YPJ are defending society against the jihadist forces of ISIS and Al-Nusra with Kalashnikovs and, perhaps equally formidably, a fierce intellectual and emotional commitment not only to their community’s survival but to its political ideas and aspirations too.

When we visited a meeting of the YPJ, we were told that the fighters’ education consists not only of training in practical matters like weapons but also in Democratic Autonomy. “We are fighting for our ideas,” they emphasized at every turn. Two of the women who met with us had been injured in battle. One sat with an IV bag, another with a metal crutch — both were wincing in pain but had the fortitude and self-discipline to participate in our session.

Cooperation and Education

Rojavans fight for the survival of their community but above all, as the YPJ told us, for their ideas. They even put the successful implementation of democracy above ethnicity. Their social agreement affirms the inclusion of ethnic minorities (Arabs, Chechens, Assyrians) and religions (Muslims, Christians, Yezidis), and Democratic Autonomy in practice seems to bend over backwards to include minorities, without imposing it on others against their will, leaving the door open to all.

When our delegation asked a group of Assyrians to tell us their challenges with Democratic Autonomy, they said they had none. In nine days we could not possibly have scoured Rojava for all problems, and our interlocutors candidly admitted that Rojava is hardly above criticism, but as far as I could see, Rojava at the very least aspires to model tolerance and pluralism in a part of the world that has seen far too much fanaticism and repression — and to whatever extent it succeeds, it deserves commendation.

Rojava’s economic model “is the same as its political model,” an economics adviser in Derik told us: to create a “community economy,” building cooperatives in all sectors and educating the people in the idea. The adviser expressed satisfaction that even though 70 percent of Rojava’s resources must go to the war effort, the economy still manages to meet everyone’s basic needs.

They strive for self-sufficiency, because they must: the crucial fact is that Rojava exists under an embargo. It can neither export to nor import from its immediate neighbor to the north, Turkey, which would like to see the whole Kurdish project disappear.

Even the KRG, under control of their ethnic kin but economically beholden to Turkey, observes the embargo, although more cross-border KRG-Rojava trade is occurring now in the wake of political developments. But the country still lacks resources. That does not dampen their spirit: “If there is only bread, then we all have a share,” the adviser told us.

We visited an economics academy and economic cooperatives: a sewing cooperative in Derik, making uniforms for the defense forces; a cooperative greenhouse, growing cucumbers and tomatoes; a dairy cooperative in Rimelan, where a new shed was under construction.

The Kurdish areas are the most fertile parts of Syria, home to its abundant wheat supply, but the Ba’ath regime had deliberately refrained from industrializing the area, a source of raw materials. Hence wheat was cultivated but could not be milled into flour. We visited a mill, newly constructed since the revolution, improvised from local materials. It now provides flour for the bread consumed in Cezire, whose residents get three loaves a day.

Similarly, Cezire was Syria’s major source of petroleum, with several thousand oil rigs, mostly in the Rimelan area. But the Ba’ath regime ensured that Rojava had no refineries, forcing the oil to be transported to refineries elsewhere in Syria. But since the revolution, Rojavans have improvised two new oil refineries, which are used mainly to provide diesel for the generators that power the canton. The local oil industry, if such it can be called, produces only enough for local needs, nothing more.

A DIY Revolution

The level of improvisation was striking throughout the canton. The more we traveled through Rojava, the more I marveled at the do-it-yourself nature of the revolution, its reliance on local ingenuity and the scarce materials at hand. But it was not until we visited the various academies — the women’s academy in Rimelan and the Mesopotamian Academy in Qamishlo — that I realized that it is integral to the system as a whole.

The education system in Rojava is non-traditional, rejecting ideas of hierarchy, power and hegemony. Instead of following a teacher-student hierarchy, students teach each other and learn from each other’s experience. Students learn what is useful, in practical matters; they “search for meaning,” as we were told, in intellectual matters. They do not memorize; they learn to think for themselves and make decisions, to become the subjects of their own lives. They learn to be empowered and to participate in Democratic Autonomy.

Images of Abdullah Öcalan are everywhere, which to Western eyes might suggest something Orwellian: indoctrination, knee-jerk belief. But to interpret those images that way would be to miss the situation entirely. “No one will give you your rights,” someone quoted Öcalan to us, “you will have to struggle to obtain them.”

And to carry out that struggle, Rojavans know they must educate both themselves and society. Öcalan taught them Democratic Confederalism as a set of principles. Their role has been to figure out how to implement it, in Democratic Autonomy, and thereby to empower themselves.

The Kurds have historically had few friends. They were ignored by the Treaty of Lausanne that divided up the Middle East after World War I. For most of the past century, they suffered as minorities in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Their language and culture have been suppressed, their identities denied, their human rights overruled.

They are on the wrong side of NATO, where Turkey is permitted to call the shots on Kurdish matters. They have long been outsiders. That experience has been brutal, involving torture, exile and war. But it has also given them strength and independence of mind. Öcalan taught them how to reset the terms of their existence in a way that gave them dignity and self-respect.

This do-it-yourself revolution by an educated populace is embargoed by their neighbors and gets along by the skin of its teeth. It is nonetheless an endeavor that pushes the human prospect forward. In the wake of the twentieth century, many people have come to the worst conclusions about human nature, but in the twenty-first, Rojavans are setting a new standard for what human beings are capable of. In a world fast losing hope, they shine as a beacon.

Anyone with a bit of faith in humanity should wish the Rojavans well with their revolution and do what they can to help it succeed. They should demand that their governments stop allowing Turkey to define a rejectionist international policy toward the Kurds and toward Democratic Autonomy. They should demand an end to the embargo against Rojava.

The members of the delegation in which I participated (even though I am not an academic) did their work well. Sympathetic to the revolution, they nonetheless asked challenging questions, about Rojava’s economic outlook, about the handling of ethnicity and nationalism, and more. The Rojavans we met, accustomed to grappling with hard questions, responded thoughtfully and even welcomed critique. Readers interested in learning more about the Rojava Revolution may look forward to forthcoming writings by the other delegation members: Welat (Oktay) Ay, Rebecca Coles, Antonia Davidovic, Eirik Eiglad, David Graeber, Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Johanna Riha, Nazan Üstündag, and Christian Zimmer. As for me, I have much more to say than this short article allows and plan to write a further work, one that incorporates drawings I made during the trip.

Janet Biehl is an independent writer, artist, and translator living in Burlington, Vt. She previously edited The Murray Bookchin Reader and is the author of Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin, forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

 

http://roarmag.org/2014/12/janet-biehl-report-rojava/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

As Washington “Pivots” to Asia, China Does the Eurasian Pirouette

Go West, Young Han

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By Pepe Escobar

November 18, 2014: it’s a day that should live forever in history. On that day, in the city of Yiwu in China’s Zhejiang province, 300 kilometers south of Shanghai, the first train carrying 82 containers of export goods weighing more than 1,000 tons left a massive warehouse complex heading for Madrid. It arrived on December 9th.

Welcome to the new trans-Eurasia choo-choo train.  At over 13,000 kilometers, it will regularly traverse the longest freight train route in the world, 40% farther than the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway. Its cargo will cross China from East to West, then Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France, and finally Spain.

You may not have the faintest idea where Yiwu is, but businessmen plying their trades across Eurasia, especially from the Arab world, are already hooked on the city “where amazing happens!” We’re talking about the largest wholesale center for small-sized consumer goods — from clothes to toys — possibly anywhere on Earth.

The Yiwu-Madrid route across Eurasia represents the beginning of a set of game-changing developments. It will be an efficient logistics channel of incredible length. It will represent geopolitics with a human touch, knitting together small traders and huge markets across a vast landmass. It’s already a graphic example of Eurasian integration on the go. And most of all, it’s the first building block on China’s “New Silk Road,” conceivably the project of the new century and undoubtedly the greatest trade story in the world for the next decade.

Go west, young Han. One day, if everything happens according to plan (and according to the dreams of China’s leaders), all this will be yours — via high-speed rail, no less.  The trip from China to Europe will be a two-day affair, not the 21 days of the present moment. In fact, as that freight train left Yiwu, the D8602 bullet train was leaving Urumqi in Xinjiang Province, heading for Hami in China’s far west. That’s the first high-speed railway built in Xinjiang, and more like it will be coming soon across China at what is likely to prove dizzying speed.

Today, 90% of the global container trade still travels by ocean, and that’s what Beijing plans to change.  Its embryonic, still relatively slow New Silk Road represents its first breakthrough in what is bound to be an overland trans-continental container trade revolution.

And with it will go a basket of future “win-win” deals, including lower transportation costs, the expansion of Chinese construction companies ever further into the Central Asian “stans,” as well as into Europe, an easier and faster way to move uranium and rare metals from Central Asia elsewhere, and the opening of myriad new markets harboring hundreds of millions of people.

So if Washington is intent on “pivoting to Asia,” China has its own plan in mind.  Think of it as a pirouette to Europe across Eurasia.

Defecting to the East?

The speed with which all of this is happening is staggering. Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the New Silk Road Economic Belt in Astana, Kazakhstan, in September 2013. One month later, while in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, he announced a twenty-first-century Maritime Silk Road. Beijing defines the overall concept behind its planning as “one road and one belt,” when what it’s actually thinking about is a boggling maze of prospective roads, rail lines, sea lanes, and belts.

We’re talking about a national strategy that aims to draw on the historical aura of the ancient Silk Road, which bridged and connected civilizations, east and west, while creating the basis for a vast set of interlocked pan-Eurasian economic cooperation zones.  Already the Chinese leadership has green-lighted a $40 billion infrastructure fund, overseen by the China Development Bank, to build roads, high-speed rail lines, and energy pipelines in assorted Chinese provinces. The fund will sooner or later expand to cover projects in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Europe. But Central Asia is the key immediate target.

Chinese companies will be investing in, and bidding for contracts in, dozens of countries along those planned silk roads. After three decades of development while sucking up foreign investment at breakneck speed, China’s strategy is now to let its own capital flow to its neighbors. It’s already clinched $30 billion in contracts with Kazakhstan and $15 billion with Uzbekistan. It has provided Turkmenistan with $8 billion in loans and a billion more has gone to Tajikistan.

In 2013, relations with Kyrgyzstan were upgraded to what the Chinese term “strategic level.” China is already the largest trading partner for all of them except Uzbekistan and, though the former Central Asian socialist republics of the Soviet Union are still tied to Russia’s network of energy pipelines, China is at work there, too, creating its own version of Pipelineistan, including anew gas pipeline to Turkmenistan, with more to come.

The competition among Chinese provinces for much of this business and the infrastructure that goes with it will be fierce. Xinjiang is already being reconfigured by Beijing as a key hub in its new Eurasian network. In early November 2014, Guangdong — the “factory of the world” — hosted the first international expo for the country’s Maritime Silk Road and representatives of no less than 42 countries attended the party.

President Xi himself is now enthusiastically selling his home province, Shaanxi, which once harbored the start of the historic Silk Road in Xian, as a twenty-first-century transportation hub. He’s made his New Silk Road pitch for it to, among others, Tajikistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, and Afghanistan.

Just like the historic Silk Road, the new one has to be thought of in the plural.  Imagine it as a future branching maze of roads, rail lines, and pipelines. A key stretch is going to run through Central Asia, Iran, and Turkey, with Istanbul as a crossroads site. Iran and Central Asia are alreadyactively promoting their own connections to it. Another key stretch will follow the Trans-Siberian Railway with Moscow as a key node. Once that trans-Siberian high-speed rail remix is completed, travel time between Beijing and Moscow will plunge from the current six and a half days to only 33 hours. In the end, Rotterdam, Duisburg, and Berlin could all be nodes on this future “highway” and German business execs are enthusiastic about the prospect.

The Maritime Silk Road will start in Guangdong province en route to the Malacca Strait, the Indian Ocean, the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, ending essentially in Venice, which would be poetic justice indeed.  Think of it as Marco Polo in reverse.

All of this is slated to be completed by 2025, providing China with the kind of future “soft power” that it now sorely lacks. When President Xi hails the push to “break the connectivity bottleneck” across Asia, he’s also promising Chinese credit to a wide range of countries.

Now, mix the Silk Road strategy with heightened cooperation among the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), with accelerated cooperation among the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with a more influential Chinese role over the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) — no wonder there’s the perception across the Global South that, while the U.S. remains embroiled in its endless wars, the world is defecting to the East.

New Banks and New Dreams

The recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing was certainly a Chinese success story, but the bigger APEC story went virtually unreported in the United States.  Twenty-two Asian countries approved the creation of an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) only one year after Xi initially proposed it. This is to be yet another bank, like the BRICS Development Bank, that will help finance projects in energy, telecommunications, and transportation.  Its initial capital will be $50 billion and China and India will be its main shareholders.

Consider its establishment a Sino-Indian response to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), founded in 1966 under the aegis of the World Bank and considered by most of the world as a stalking horse for the Washington consensus. When China and India insist that the new bank’s loans will be made on the basis of “justice, equity, and transparency,” they mean that to be in stark contrast to the ADB (which remains a U.S.-Japan affair with those two countries contributing 31% of its capital and holding 25% of its voting power) — and a sign of a coming new order in Asia.  In addition, at a purely practical level, the ADB won’t finance the real needs of the Asian infrastructure push that the Chinese leadership is dreaming about, which is why the AIIB is going to come in so handy.

Keep in mind that China is already the top trading partner for India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.  It’s in second place when it comes to Sri Lanka and Nepal.  It’s number one again when it comes to virtually all the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), despite China’s recent well-publicized conflicts over who controls waters rich in energy deposits in the region. We’re talking here about the compelling dream of a convergence of 600 million people in Southeast Asia, 1.3 billion in China, and 1.5 billion on the Indian subcontinent.

Only three APEC members — apart from the U.S. — did not vote to approve the new bank: Japan, South Korea, and Australia, all under immense pressure from the Obama administration. (Indonesia signed on a few days late.) And Australia is finding it increasingly difficult to resist the lure of what, these days, is being called “yuan diplomacy.”

In fact, whatever the overwhelming majority of Asian nations may think about China’s self-described “peaceful rise,” most are already shying away from or turning their backs on a Washington-and-NATO-dominated trade and commercial world and the set of pacts — from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) for Europe to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for Asia — that would go with it.

When Dragon Embraces Bear

Russian President Vladimir Putin had a fabulous APEC. After his country and China clinched a massive $400 billion natural gas deal in May — around the Power of Siberia pipeline, whose construction began this year — they added a second agreement worth $325 billion around the Altai pipeline originating in western Siberia.

These two mega-energy deals don’t mean that Beijing will become Moscow-dependent when it comes to energy, though it’s estimated that they will provide 17% of China’s natural gas needs by 2020. (Gas, however, makes up only 10% per cent of China’s energy mix at present.)  But these deals signal where the wind is blowing in the heart of Eurasia. Though Chinese banks can’t replace those affected by Washington and EU sanctions against Russia, they are offering a Moscow battered by recent plummeting oil prices some relief in the form of access to Chinese credit.

On the military front, Russia and China are now committed to large-scale joint military exercises, while Russia’s advanced S-400 air defense missile system will soon enough be heading for Beijing.  In addition, for the first time in the post-Cold War era, Putin recently raised the old Soviet-era doctrine of “collective security” in Asia as a possible pillar for a new Sino-Russian strategic partnership.

Chinese President Xi has taken to calling all this the “evergreen tree of Chinese-Russian friendship” — or you could think of it as Putin’s strategic “pivot” to China.  In either case, Washington is not exactly thrilled to see Russia and China beginning to mesh their strengths: Russian excellence in aerospace, defense technology, and heavy equipment manufacturing matching Chinese excellence in agriculture, light industry, and information technology.

It’s also been clear for years that, across Eurasia, Russian, not Western, pipelines are likely to prevail. The latest spectacular Pipelineistan opera — Gazprom’s cancellation of the prospective South Stream pipeline that was to bring yet more Russian natural gas to Europe — will, in the end, only guarantee an even greater energy integration of both Turkey and Russia into the new Eurasia.

So Long to the Unipolar Moment 

All these interlocked developments suggest a geopolitical tectonic shift in Eurasia that the American media simply hasn’t begun to grasp. Which doesn’t mean that no one notices anything.  You can smell the incipient panic in the air in the Washington establishment.  The Council on Foreign Relations is already publishing laments about the possibility that the former sole superpower’s exceptionalist moment is “unraveling.” The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission can only blame the Chinese leadership for being “disloyal,” adverse to “reform,” and an enemy of the “liberalization” of their own economy.

The usual suspects carp that upstart China is upsetting the “international order,” will doom “peace and prosperity” in Asia for all eternity, and may becreating a “new kind of Cold War” in the region. From Washington’s perspective, a rising China, of course, remains the major “threat” in Asia, if not the world, even as the Pentagon spends gigantic sums to keep its sprawling global empire of bases intact. Those Washington-based stories about the new China threat in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, however, never mention that China remains encircled by U.S. bases, while lacking a base of its own outside its territory.

Of course, China does face titanic problems, including the pressures being applied by the globe’s “sole superpower.” Among other things, Beijing fears threats to the security of its sea-borne energy supply from abroad, which helps explain its massive investment in helping create a welcoming Eurasian Pipelineistan from Central Asia to Siberia. Fears for its energy future also explain its urge to “escape from Malacca” by reaching for energy supplies in Africa and South America, and its much-discussed offensive to claim energy-rich areas of the East and South China seas, which Beijing is betting could become a “second Persian Gulf,” ultimately yielding 130 billion barrels of oil.

On the internal front, President Xi has outlined in detail his vision of a “results-oriented” path for his country over the next decade. As road maps go, China’s “must-do” list of reforms is nothing short of impressive. And worrying about keeping China’s economy, already the world’s number oneby size, rolling along at a feverish pitch, Xi is also turbo-charging the fight against corruption, graft, and waste, especially within the Communist Party itself.

Economic efficiency is another crucial problem. Chinese state-owned enterprises are now investing a staggering $2.3 trillion a year — 43% of the country’s total investment — in infrastructure. Yet studies at Tsinghua University’s School of Management have shown that an array of investments in facilities ranging from steel mills to cement factories have only added to overcapacity and so actually undercut China’s productivity.

Xiaolu Wang and Yixiao Zhou, authors of the academic paper “Deepening Reform for China’s Long-term Growth and Development,” contend that it will be difficult for China to jump from middle-income to high-income status — a key requirement for a truly global power. For this, an avalanche of extra government funds would have to go into areas like social security/unemployment benefits and healthcare, which take up at present 9.8% and 15.1% of the 2014 budget — high for some Western countries but not high enough for China’s needs.

Still, anyone who has closely followed what China has accomplished over these past three decades knows that, whatever its problems, whatever the threats, it won’t fall apart. As a measure of the country’s ambitions for economically reconfiguring the commercial and power maps of the world, China’s leaders are also thinking about how, in the near future, relations with Europe, too, could be reshaped in ways that would be historic.

What About That “Harmonious Community”?

At the same moment that China is proposing a new Eurasian integration, Washington has opted for an “empire of chaos,” a dysfunctional global system now breeding mayhem and blowback across the Greater Middle East into Africa and even to the peripheries of Europe.

In this context, a “new Cold War” paranoia is on the rise in the U.S., Europe, and Russia.  Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who knows a thing or two about Cold Wars (having ended one), couldn’t be more alarmed. Washington’s agenda of “isolating” and arguably crippling Russia is ultimately dangerous, even if in the long run it may also be doomed to failure.

At the moment, whatever its weaknesses, Moscow remains the only power capable of negotiating a global strategic balance with Washington and putting some limits on its empire of chaos.  NATO nations still follow meekly in Washington’s wake and China as yet lacks the strategic clout.

Russia, like China, is betting on Eurasian integration.  No one, of course, knows how all this will end.  Only four years ago, Vladimir Putin was proposing “a harmonious economic community stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok,” involving a trans-Eurasian free trade agreement. Yet today, with the U.S., NATO, and Russia locked in a Cold War-like battle in the shadows over Ukraine, and with the European Union incapable of disentangling itself from NATO, the most immediate new paradigm seems to be less total integration than war hysteria and fear of future chaos spreading to other parts of Eurasia.

Don’t rule out a change in the dynamics of the situation, however.  In the long run, it seems to be in the cards.  One day, Germany may lead parts of Europe away from NATO’s “logic,” since German business leaders and industrialists have an eye on their potentially lucrative commercial future in a new Eurasia. Strange as it might seem amid today’s war of words over Ukraine, the endgame could still prove to involve a Berlin-Moscow-Beijing alliance.

At present, the choice between the two available models on the planet seems stark indeed: Eurasian integration or a spreading empire of chaos. China and Russia know what they want, and so, it seems, does Washington.  The question is: What will the other moving parts of Eurasia choose to do?

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT, and a TomDispatch regular. His latest book is Empire of Chaos (Nimble Books). Follow him on Facebook.

Copyright 2014 Pepe Escobar

 

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175935/tomgram%3A_pepe_escobar%2C_eurasian_integration_vs._the_empire_of_chaos/

Why Paris is waging a war against driving

Inside the campaign to dramatically reduce automobile traffic in the city of lights

A "canyon of pollution": Why Paris is waging a war against driving

A car drives near the Eiffel tower in Paris, March 14, 2014. (Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau)

The mayor is supposed to be a problem-solver and a cheerleader, comfortable with both honest assessment and hometown boosterism

The two roles come into conflict now and again. And yet it still seems strange to hear Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, call the Champs-Elysées a “canyon of pollution” — as she did in an interview last week.

The grand boulevard is one of the world’s most famous streets and a major tourist attraction in its own right. It’s an urban design archetype with dozens of imitators, from Budapest to Philadelphia. And it’s also one of the worst places in Paris to take a breath of fresh air.

Hidalgo is offering some constructive criticism. In an interview on Sunday, the socialist mayor outlined a radical plan to reduce automobile use in the French capital, which will be introduced in full next month.

In addition to removing all but hybrid and electric cars from the Champs-Elysées, the Rue de Rivoli, and other major corridors, Hidalgo wants to ban all diesel vehicles from Paris by 2020. Trucks not headed for a destination in Paris will be forbidden from using Parisian roads. The speed limit will drop to 30 km/h on all but a few big streets. The mileage of the city’s bike lane network will double.

The central four arrondissements will be restricted to taxis, buses, delivery trucks and emergency vehicles. Only residents will be allowed to operate private cars.

It’s not that Paris needs to reduce traffic for mobility, raise money with fines and tolls, or discourage driving in the name of global sustainability — though all those may be beneficial side effects. The pressing problem is local air pollution, and Hidalgo’s plan to fight it may be the most drastic anti-car policy undertaken in a major city.

Air quality in the City of Light has been of increasing concern. Particle pollution exceeds the European Union’s suggested level of PM 10 content between 32 and 130 days a year, depending on one’s location within the city. Hidalgo likes to say that Parisians lose six months off their lives compared to their rural compatriots.

Hidalgo was elected in March, two weeks after a particularly bad cloud of smog disrupted life in the capital. The state activated stringent emergency measures. Mass transit, bike share and car share were free. Alternate driving days were instituted inside the city.



It worked — traffic fell and pollution followed. But Hidalgo would like to avoid making such crises an annual occurrence. She talked about the need to shift away from diesel fuel on the campaign. But making that a citywide reality is a huge challenge: 80 percent of French cars run on diesel.

That she feels she has the political will to do so reflects a long-term mobility shift underway in the city. In 2001, 40 percent of Parisians didn’t own a car. Today, Hidalgo says, it’s 60 percent. For that, she can thank her predecessor, Bertrand Delanoe, who established the city’s much-imitated bike share system, and a car share system, and turned a riverside highway into a beach every summer. Traffic dropped by 25 percent.

Hidalgo’s carless majority marks an important moment in municipal street policy. Just as the much-maligned Parisian “donut” — a wealthy center surrounded by poorer suburbs — provided a warning for cities like San Francisco and London; so too the city’s shift from the car may be a bellwether.

Unlike her counterpart in New York, Hidalgo doesn’t have to assuage constituents in car-dependent, low-density neighborhoods. She can afford to be openly radical. Even in Paris, with its outsize influence over France, achieving a ban on diesel would be a striking gesture of urban power and could reverberate throughout the French automobile industry.

But she won’t be able to enact her reforms without a larger consensus. This is, in part, a political issue: Without state approval, she can’t ban diesel vehicles from inside Paris or, to take another of her ideas, use commuter rail tracks to transport freight. But it’s also an environmental reality. Paris is a hub, but twice as many people live in the inner suburbs; there are 200,000 more jobs there as well. Airparif, the agency that monitors regional air quality, has said that to be effective, the ban on diesel vehicles would need to extend to the A-86, the ring road three miles beyond the city’s boundaries.

Hidalgo has said she will meet with the mayors of those suburban cities. Many of them are as dense if not denser than central Paris. But they aren’t under the inner city’s blanket of metro stations. The number of car trips per person has dropped in the region at large, but only slightly, from 1.54 trips per day in 2001 to 1.46 in 2010.

The ongoing expansion of the regional transport network should sweeten the deal. (Another huge stretch of suburban tramway opened on Saturday.) Hidalgo has also spoken about making exceptions for low-income drivers and distributing credits for upgrading vehicles. She recently introduced Utilib’, a car-sharing service intended for the transport of goods. She has pledged to expand the passenger-focused, car-sharing service Autolib’.

Whether or not Hidalgo can bring the Petite Couronne municipalities along with her, her scheme for Paris demonstrates how the megacity has been divorced from its national context. The plan to pedestrianize central Paris is similar to a measure that will debut in Madrid next month. The push to rethink freight transport is similar to efforts undertaken by Michael Bloomberg in New York. Tracking what types of vehicles enter the city is an idea indebted to the success of London’s congestion pricing initiative.

It’s not surprising that these metropolises share problems and solutions across different national cultures and legal frameworks. More interesting is the extent to which smaller, regional cities imitate them, diffusing policy innovations across the country.

In France, that does not seem to be happening. In fact, many smaller French cities are moving in the opposite direction, bringing cars back to central districts. In provincial centers like Lille, Angers and Saint-Etienne – and many smaller cities – authorities fear that exiling cars may have hurt the ability of urban shops to compete with their suburban counterparts. (Sound familiar? Many American cities share the philosophy.)

It’s not a worry on the Champs-Elysées. Within a few years, the avenue will no longer resemble the smoggy backdrop from “Breathless.” The transformation won’t be as novel as you might think: Most of the grand urban boulevards, including this one, were designed before cars existed. It’s a testament to their charm that people have continued to enjoy such streets in spite of the noise, traffic and exhaust.

Just think how nice the avenue will be without them.

http://www.salon.com/2014/12/14/a_canyon_of_pollution_why_paris_is_waging_a_war_against_driving/?source=newsletter

 

Why Cameras on Police Officers Won’t Save Us

One reaction to the decision by a grand jury in New York, on Wednesday, not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put a Staten Island man named Eric Garner in an unauthorized chokehold that killed him, is despair over cameras as potential instruments of juridical salvation. On Monday, in an effort to improve police accountability after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, declined to indict the white police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black eighteen-year-old, the Obama Administration announced that it would provide local police departments with funding to purchase fifty thousand body-worn video cameras. Garner’s death had became infamous precisely because it was videotaped by a friend of Garner’s with a cell phone, and the video, which we could all watch on YouTube, was not blurry or muffled or ambiguous. It was not at all hard to make out Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” repeated over and over and over again. My son, a college freshman in New York, texted me after the grand-jury news came out: “What makes this sad is it shows the mandatory cameras for cops idea might not change anything.” If evidence like that in the Garner case couldn’t elicit an indictment, what was the point?

The truth is that if the cameras do offer a benefit—and there is some, not a lot, of research showing that they do—it’s in influencing behavior before the fact, not providing evidence after it. In two cities where the effect of body-worn cameras has been studied—Rialto, California, and Mesa, Arizona—researchers noted that the cameras had exerted “a civilizing effect” on police behavior. In Rialto, citizen complaints against the police declined by eighty-eight per cent during the year that the cameras were used, while the use of force by police officers fell by sixty per cent. Moreover, the incidents involving the use of force by camera-wearing officers all started with a suspect physically threatening the officer. The numbers suggest that such provocation was not an essential element with officers who weren’t wearing cameras.

In a 2014 Department of Justice report, the criminologist Michael D. White, who looked at five empirical studies involving body-worn cameras (two in Arizona, one in California, one in England, and one in Scotland), notes that we can’t be sure what produced the decrease in complaints and instances of use of force by the camera-wearing cops. It could be that the officers, knowing that their actions were being recorded, behaved with more restraint, or it could be that citizens did. But it seems more likely that the police would be conscious of the camera’s presence—the devices are usually worn hooked to a shirt or mounted on a pair of sunglasses, and the officers knew that they were participating in an experiment—than most civilians, who may not notice the green recording light.

White concluded that the videotapes played some role in chronicling and accounting for police actions: they helped police officers to resolve citizen complaints against them more quickly, and they made unwarranted and frivolous complaints less likely. As it happened, the benefits as evidence tended to accrue to the police—which is fine, of course, provided that they are serving the larger goal of establishing the truth and a standard of behavior. Still, most people who have high hopes for the cameras probably aren’t primarily concerned with wiping out some scourge of frivolous citizen complaints but, rather, with achieving justice for citizens like Eric Garner.

Maybe the bigger lesson is, again, that cameras won’t save us. Like photographs and like eyewitness testimony, video evidence is subject to differing interpretations, and to the prejudices and assumptions of individual viewers. We’ve known that for a long time; still, we can’t help hoping. One of the only cases in recent years in which a New York police officer was indicted, charged, and convicted in the death of a citizen occurred in 1994. As it happens, it also involved a police officer administering a chokehold to a man, the twenty-nine-year-old asthmatic Anthony Baez, a security guard who was playing football in the street with his brothers when the ball landed on a police car, and an altercation ensued. Why that case and not Garner’s resulted in an indictment isn’t clear—and, in any event, the officer’s conviction was later overturned. But there was no video evidence in Baez’s case.

And yet the cell-phone video of Eric Garner’s death was not meaningless. The fact that so many people watched it is part of what fuelled the outrage that produced demonstrations, as well as a Justice Department investigation that the Obama Administration announced this week. But there is also something deeply sad and demoralizing about having in our collective possession such a vivid record of a death that could neither be prevented nor, in any immediate way, remedied.

NSA tapping vast majority of cell phone networks worldwide

By Thomas Gaist
5 December 2014

Electronic surveillance programs run by the US National Security Agency have compromised the great majority of the world’s cell phone networks, according to newly released NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden and published on The Intercept.

The NSA’s operation AURORAGOLD, exposed by the new Snowden documents, has already established an institutional and technological framework through which the spy agency can achieve direct access to all data traversing the world’s cellular networks.

Run by at least two secret NSA spy units, referred to in the documents as the Wireless Portfolio Management Office and the Target Technology Trends Center, AURORAGOLD encompasses a range of surveillance and electronic infiltration activities against cell phone networks on every continent.

The agency had established some level of electronic surveillance presence within 701 of the estimated 985 global cell phone networks as early as May 2012, the leaked documents reveal.

The main purposes of AURORAGOLD, the slides in the documents indicate, are:

* to “maintain data about international GSM/UMTS [cell phone] networks”

* to “forecast the evolution” of global cellular networks in support of the agency’s “imperative to Know the Future”

* to develop intelligence on and surveillance operations against “GSM/UMTS infrastructure,” “voice data convergence,” “technology migration,” and “technology deployments”

As part of AURORAGOLD, the slides show that NSA agents engage in:

* installing electronic backdoors in encryption systems deployed to protect cell phone networks

* gathering intelligence on and predicting the future development of cell phone security systems

* cracking new encryption technologies before they have even been deployed on live cellular networks

Information gathered by AURORAGOLD is widely shared within the intelligence agencies of the US and its allies, the slides show.

“Coincident beneficiaries of this mission are, among others, other NSA SIGDEV elements, protocol exploitation elements, and Five-Eyes Partner SIGDEV organizations,” one slide states. The Five Eyes network is comprised of the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

The leaked slides include a color-coded map showing that the NSA has tapped into 100 percent of existing cellular networks in numerous countries, including the majority of countries in Africa, as well as Mexico, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Venezuela, Poland and Indonesia.

The NSA has tapped a large majority of cell phone networks in China, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Spain, the map shows, and is running cellular network surveillance operations inside the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and France.

Making clear that the NSA is seeking to establish a regime of total information awareness even in relation to its corporate partners, one slide reads, “We monitor the industry” and demands “visibility into changing standards and practices for: Roaming, Signaling, Billing, Interoperability.”

The agency systematically spied on the content of emails sent from more than 1,000 email accounts run by key offices within the global telecommunications network.

One of the NSA’s main targets was a British-based global trade group called the GSM Association, which maintains ties to hundreds of telecommunications and tech companies around the world. NSA operations against GSM sought to intercept “IR.21 documents” passed between companies via GSM. The IR.21 documents contain information about cell phone networks that the NSA uses to penetrate their security systems.

The NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ worked together to crack the so-called “A 5/3” encryption algorithm as part of a program called WOLFRAMITE, the documents show.

The documents also shed light on the role of NSA in supporting the geopolitical machinations of US imperialism. One document shows that the NSA received orders to hack Libyan cellphone networks from the Pentagon’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) in March 2011.

“AFRICOM IKD-OPS requires information concerning the SMS Gateway domains for: Libyana mobile (libyans.ly) and Al Madar Al Jadid (almadar.ly),” one slide reads.

A slide boasting of the agency’s “Notable Successes” claims that the NSA has achieved “IR 21 collection from 67 high-priority networks,” including “recent IR 21s from Egypt,” and “IR 21 collection related to a possible new Chinese network.”

The latest documents make a mockery of the countless lies advanced by the Obama administration and the intelligence establishment in defense of the US government’s warrantless surveillance programs.

Rather than being limited to telephone metadata, or to “foreign intelligence” threats, the NSA’s surveillance machine has direct access to the bulk of cell phone traffic worldwide, including traffic that is supposedly protected by encryption.

Responding to the latest revelations, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines reassured the public that the spy agency “collects only those communications that it is authorized by law.”

In a sense, it is true that the surveillance programs have been “authorized by law.”

With the emergence of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 1978, a secret surveillance judiciary has was established that presides over the development of a panoply of unconstitutional spying operations by the US intelligence establishment.

This process has complete support from the Republican and Democratic parties in Congress and the last several presidential administrations, which have adopted a series of executive orders authorizing mass surveillance.

The entire US government, including the Congress, has endorsed practices which clearly violate the Fourth Amendment to the US Bill of Rights. It is the military and intelligence agencies that call the shots in Washington, in alliance with Wall Street, not Senators, congressmen and even presidents, who serve as willing accomplices.

Defending the worldwide cell network tapping programs, NSA spokesperson Vines argued that the use by “terrorists” of cellular networks justifies total access by the US agency to global cellular data. “Terrorists, weapons proliferators, and other foreign targets often rely on the same means of communication as ordinary people,” Vines said.

These words express the fact that as far as the NSA is concerned, Internet and telephone users have no democratic rights. Under the pretext of spying on “terrorists” lurking in every corner of the globe, the NSA is aggressively pursuing its openly stated objectives: “Collect it All; Process it All; Exploit it All; Partner it All; Sniff it All; Know it All.”

Terrorists also breath the same air, drink the same water, eat the same food and travel the same roads as ordinary people. Apparently this brings every necessity of human life under the jurisdiction of the US military-intelligence apparatus.

The favorite arguments of right-wing dictatorships are now continually invoked by the leaders of the US bourgeois state. The NSA spokesperson’s comments are a textbook application of the authoritarian legal theories developed by Nazi jurists, which call for the executive power to free itself from all legal constraints in response to a “state of emergency.”

The Obama administration has fully embraced authoritarian legal doctrine that the government the government can spy arbitrarily on any target that its agents select.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/12/05/cell-d05.html

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