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Monday, August 12, 2013
Activists battle the military over its refusal to release the names of trainees at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
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In recent years, the Pentagon has kept the public from finding out the names of Latin American security forces being trained at an army base in Georgia. And it wants to keep it that way.
From 1994-2004, the U.S. military, in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, disclosed the nationalities of the security forces it was training at the school. But soon after the feisty activists from School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) shed light on how the U.S. was training known human rights abusers from Latin America in 2004, the Department of Defense stopped telling the public who was attending the institution. It was a bid to keep the public from finding out whether the U.S. continued to facilitate human rights abuses in Latin America through that training, which would be a violation of U.S. law.
Now, the military is doubling down on that position and is embroiled in a court battle with SOAW over the disclosure of names of trainees at what is now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). (In 2001, after bad publicity was heaped on the institution, the school’s name was changed from School of the Americas to WHINSEC.)
Although a district court judge in California ruled that the DOD had to release the names, the court battle continues. The Obama administration still has not released the names, and is likely to appeal the judge’s decision, which could send the case to a higher court. The administration has already filed a “notice of appeal” to the judge’s decision but the district court proceedings are not yet over. Some outstanding issues—like the full scope of the DOD’s disclosure—remain unresolved, but the plaintiffs got most of what they wanted from the judge. And the district court’s order represented a major win for transparency advocates, as the judge rejected the government’s assertion that releasing the names of trainees would harm the U.S. “national interest,” a claim that usually wins the day.
The court dispute between SOAW and the Department of Defense is the activist group’s latest salvo in their effort to shine a light on the Georgia school, which has been responsible for training the perpetrators of a wide range of Latin American human rights abuses, from genocide in Guatemala to the killing of Jesuit priests in El Salvador. And the refusal of the military to release the names is yet another example of the Obama administration’s penchant for secrecy.
“The soldiers who are being trained at the SOA/WHINSEC are doing the bidding [of] the Pentagon. Their purpose is not to promote human rights,” said Hendrik Voss, a national organizer with SOAW. “Their purpose is to preserve U.S. domination, and to keep Latin America open for U.S. business. The reason why the Pentagon is keeping the names of the graduates secret is that they want to prevent the truth about their actions being made public. Making the names public and exposing the activities of SOA/ WHINSEC graduates is one step towards shutting down the school for good.”
SOAW has been agitating for the school’s closure since 1990 by protesting (and getting themselves arrested and sentenced to a year in a federal penitentiary), lobbying legislators and going through the courts.
From prior disclosures, SOAW has created a public database detailing the names, courses, rank, countries of origin of the people trained at the School of the Americas. Using the database, the group discovered that the U.S. had trained human rights abusers across Latin America. In one example, SOAW matched the names of SOA graduates with human rights abusers cited in a United Nations report on the brutal civil war in El Salvador. And despite the name change in 2001, and reforms the U.S. said it was implementing at the school, SOAW continued to expose the nefarious nature of those the U.S. trains. SOAW’s work has led to congressional votes on whether to close the school. While they haven’t yet been successful, the group has come close; in 2007, for instance, Congress voted to keep the school open, but only by six votes. Another bill to close the school is set to be introduced in Congress in August.
The disclosure of current trainees could boost the next congressional efforts to close the school. SOAW filed a FOIA request in 2011 seeking the names, ranks, branches, countries of origin and more of people trained at WHINSEC from 2005-2010.
The military responded with some responsive records, but the relevant portions detailing the names of those attending were redacted. The Pentagon cited an exemption from FOIA that prohibits the release of “personnel and medical files,” arguing that it would constitute an invasion of privacy. After more back and forth between SOAW and the DOD, the military added another exemption: a prohibition on disclosures that would harm the national interests of the U.S.
After the military continued to refuse to disclose the names, SOAW took them to court. Duffy Carolan, the lawyer representing SOAW in court, called the DOD’s refusal to release the names “really disconcerting. This information...serves to inform members of the public how their tax dollars are spent and whether this [school] is a wise choice to fund.” Carolan added that the information SOAW was seeking is “essential” because it has helped “inform Congress on what’s happening at the school.” The release of names could also help determine whether the Leahy law, which prohibits U.S. funding of foreign military units that are human rights abusers, is being violated.
The judge in the case, Phyllis Hamilton, agreed with Carolan’s argument in an April 2013 ruling. Hamilton’s decision states that the government “has not established that the privacy interests advanced are substantial, and has not shown through admissible evidence that the release of this information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, in light of the strong public interest in access to this information.” Hamilton noted that the government, which claimed that the disclosure of names could harm trainees when they went back home, couldn’t point to a single instance of that happening in the past.
Spokespeople for both the DOD and the Department of Justice refused to comment on the case to AlterNet.
The effort to keep the names of those being trained at WHINSEC secret is in line with other decisions by Obama that seek to keep a tight lid on what the government does. Despite pledging transparency on drone strikes, for instance, the president has not released to the public the justification for conducting them—especially when it comes to the killing of American citizens. And as McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay and Marisa Taylor reported in June, the Obama administration’s “Insider Threat” program directs government employees to keep tabs on their co-workers and make sure that those who leak information to the media are pursued and punished.
But more importantly, the Obama administration’s efforts to keep the public in the dark about who the U.S. is training in Georgia shows the continued importance of the school to America’s flagging efforts to exert influence over Latin America. WHINSEC, which has operated since 1946, has long had a notorious reputation as a breeding ground for the worst of the worst in Latin America. The school’s graduates include top officials of Chile’s dictatorial Pinochet regime, which presided over the deaths and torture of thousands of people; General Efraín Rios Montt, the Guatemalan strongman recently convicted of genocide (though the verdict was overturned); and Emilio Massera, an Argentine naval officer responsible for the torture of tens of thousands of people.
The most recent and high-profile instance of WHINSEC graduates carrying out human rights abuses occurred in Honduras in 2009, when Manuel Zelaya, who had allied himself with the resurgent left in Latin America, was ousted in a military coup. The officers who overthrew Zelaya were graduates of WHINSEC, and the coup regime went on to kill, detain and torture forces in support of democracy and Zelaya.
And in December 2012, the Colombian armed forces promoted a number of generals who had graduated from WHINSEC. A number of those generals had committed human rights abuses after graduating from the school, like the extrajudicial killings of civilians.
With those facts, SOAW has continued to make the case that WHINSEC should be shut down. The group’s battle with the U.S. military and Obama administration to release the names of even more current trainees is crucial to that effort.
And SOAW’s lawyer, Duffy Carolan, says she is looking forward to a higher court battle over the release of the names. Carolan says she’s confident SOAW will get what it's asking for.
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The latest in a long series of US terror scares since the September 11, 2001 attacks has unfolded over the last three days, following a well-worn pattern.
Top officials of the executive branch issue vague and ominous alerts. Congressional leaders, after closed-door briefings by the intelligence agencies, echo the warnings. The media amplifies the alarm uncritically, seeking to stampede the public. Not a single voice is raised to question the claims or essential premises of the scare campaign.
A number of questions are raised by the global travel alert and closure of US diplomatic facilities throughout the Middle East announced on Friday.
First, there is the timing of the measures. They come after nearly two months of nonstop revelations about massive US government spying on the American people, including the collection of both metadata and the content of the telephone conversations and e-mail of virtually every person in the United States.
The Obama administration has been thrown on the defensive by the information made public by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, with the assistance of Guardian newspaper columnist Glenn Greenwald.
Only two days before the State Department alert, the White House received a rebuff when Russia granted one-year temporary asylum to Snowden. This allowed him to leave the transit zone at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and take up residence in Russia, freeing him from the threat of immediate deportation to a US prison cell or torture chamber.
At the same time, opinion polls continue to show that despite the smear campaign by the Obama administration and leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties, the majority of the American people regard Snowden as a whistle-blower engaged in a principled exposure of US government crimes, not a spy or traitor. A similar majority sees the mass surveillance by the NSA as a threat to democratic rights.
The congressional leaders who trooped to the television talk shows Sunday morning cited the latest terror scare as proof of the value of the NSA surveillance dragnet. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told CNN, “The NSA program is proving its worth yet again… if you want to gut it, you make us much less safe and you’re putting our nation at risk.”
Saxby Chambliss, top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, waved the bloody shirt of the 9/11 attacks, telling NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “there has been an awful lot of chatter out there…about the planning that’s going on, very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11.” He added, referring to the NSA spying, “If we did not have these programs, then we simply would not be able to listen in on the bad guys.”
The US media has played its usual reprehensible role, lining up to uncritically report the government’s claims as fact and promote an atmosphere of anxiety. There was not the slightest hint that previous such alerts have proven to be baseless, and no reference to the government’s record of lying to the people—from the lies used to justify the invasion of Iraq to the lies from Obama administration officials about NSA spying.
In its account, the New York Times alluded to the real political motives behind the government’s alarmist warnings. “Some analysts and Congressional officials,” it wrote, “suggested Friday that emphasizing a terrorist threat now was a good way to divert attention from the uproar over the NSA’s data-collection programs, and if it showed the intercepts uncovered a possible plot, even better.”
Obama administration officials have provided no factual substantiation for their claims of a new and imminent terror threat, and they have admitted that no specific targets have been identified. The State Department bulletin issued Friday cited only the “potential” for terrorists to attack tourist areas and subway, rail, air and maritime services, a characterization, while deliberately chilling, so vague as to be meaningless.
This is not to say that terrorist attacks on US government facilities or even American citizens traveling abroad may not take place. US foreign policy, based on the constant threat or use of military violence against those deemed to be adversaries, to say nothing of frequent assassinations by drone-fired missile in a half-dozen countries, combined with support for brutal oil sheikdoms and Israeli repression of the Palestinians, continuously incites retaliation which may take the form of terrorism.
Moreover, there are sections of the American state and intelligence apparatus that would see such attacks as an opportunity for expanding their operations both at home and abroad and accumulating ever-greater resources. The US government has ample means at its disposal to engineer such a provocation.
It is a well-established but little-reported fact that virtually every terrorist attack or attempted attack in the United States from September 11, 2001 to last April’s Boston Marathon bombing was carried out by individuals who were either acting in collaboration with US government agents or had been under police/intelligence surveillance.
While the White House and the media point fingers at Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, there has been no reference in the course of the media firestorm to the tacit US alliance with Al Qaeda in the Syrian civil war or the links with radical Islamists in the overthrow and murder of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
There have been frequent comments in the American media over the past several months, particularly in the wake of the NSA revelations, that a major new terrorist attack might provide the impetus for a sudden reversal in public hostility to the growing power of the military-intelligence complex. In this view, the United States is “one terrorist attack away from martial law.”
The model for this, as in much of the buildup of military-police power in America, is Hitler’s Germany. It was the 1933 Reichstag Fire—a supposed terrorist attack on the parliament building by a communist worker—that provided the pretext for Hitler’s assumption of dictatorial powers. It was later proven that the attack was organized and directed by the Nazi Gestapo.
There are, of course, significant differences between America in 2013 and Germany in 1933. But the extreme social antagonisms that drove German capitalism to resort to the Nazis to suppress the working class are being reproduced within the United States today. Nowhere in the world is the social gulf between the ruling elite and the vast majority of working people so acute as in America.
Moreover, the national security apparatus is an increasingly independent and assertive factor in American life, with military, police and intelligence operations accounting for nearly 90 percent of the federal government workforce—nearly 3 million people, a figure that rises to 5.5 million when military reservists and military/intelligence/security contractors are included.
It is this combination of mounting social inequality and the growth of militarism and repression that poses such a danger to the democratic rights of the American people. The Obama administration, far from representing a break with its predecessor, has carried the Bush administration’s repressive buildup to unprecedented dimensions.
For more than a decade, the so-called war on terror has been used as the overarching pretext for the erection of the infrastructure of a police state, including the Patriot Act, the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon’s Northern Command, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, military commissions, indefinite detention, extralegal drone assassinations and pervasive spying on the population.
These preparations are now encountering increasing resistance from working people in the United States and internationally, expressed initially in the popular support for the exposure of US government crimes by Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.
The defense of these courageous individuals is an obligation of working people, youth and students in the United States and internationally. The cause of freedom for those targeted by US imperialism for exposing its crimes must become the starting point for an offensive in defense of democratic rights. This movement must be consciously developed as part of a political movement of the American and international working class against capitalism, which is the source of war, social inequality and dictatorship.
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Amid escalating denunciations and threats against both Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency (NSA) contractor-turned whistle-blower, and Russia, which granted Snowden temporary asylum on Thursday, the Obama administration on Friday issued a “global travel alert,” closing US embassies in Tripoli, Cairo, Tel Aviv, Baghdad, Riyadh and Doha based on supposed threats of Al Qaeda attacks.
In total, 22 embassies and consulates are to be closed, and a terror alert has been issued covering the entire Middle East. Official statements have asserted that a contact from Yemen—a country that has been under bombardment from US drones for years—gave information raising the possibility of terror attacks against US embassies.
All three major television networks led their evening news reports with the government’s claims, reporting them uncritically despite the lack of any substantiation or any specific purported threats. Terrorism “experts” were trundled out in the usual fashion to stoke up public alarm.
None of the government’s claims should be taken for good coin. They follow more evidence of broad popular support for Snowden, whom the Obama administration is witch-hunting and targeting for prosecution—or worse—for leaking details of secret surveillance programs that invade the privacy and violate the rights of every American and millions more people around the world.
On Thursday, a Quinnipiac poll was released showing that 55 percent of Americans believe Snowden is a whistle-blower, versus only 34 percent who buy the government line that he is a spy or traitor. Weeks of official statements from Obama, top intelligence officials and politicians of both parties claiming that the spying operations are needed to combat terror threats have obviously fallen flat with the public. There is every reason to believe that Friday’s terror scare was launched in an attempt to sow disorientation and dissipate opposition to the illegal and unconstitutional spying programs.
The Obama administration has threatened to cancel a planned meeting between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow following the upcoming G20 summit in St. Petersburg. This would be one form of retaliation for Moscow’s granting of temporary asylum to Snowden.
Russia’s decision to allow Snowden to leave the Moscow airport to which he had been confined for over a month and settle in Russia for at least a year provoked furious denunciations from the American political establishment. “Obviously this is not a positive development,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Thursday. “We are evaluating the utility of a summit.”
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York called Snowden a “coward” and denounced Russia for “stabbing us in the back.” Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said Snowden was a “traitor to our country.”
“Any time our president is seen to be disrespected, it’s not good,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in an interview. “Our foreign policy is not working. This is an example of it not working.”
Lon Snowden, father of Edward, told CBS in regard to the asylum decision, “It’s the honourable thing to do, and as not just a citizen of the United States, but a global citizen of this planet, an occupant of the Earth, I am so thankful for what they have done for my son.”
“As you know, he is receiving threats from the United States government every day,” said Anatoly Kucherena, the Russian lawyer who facilitated Snowden's asylum request. “The situation is heating up.”
“The personal safety issue is a very serious one for him,” Kucherena added. Security concerns will constrain Snowden's movement, according to Kucherena, who said that he “can’t go for a walk on Red Square or go fishing.”
Friday’s terror alert comes in the midst of a public relations campaign by the administration to portray the spying programs as legal and carefully monitored by Congress. This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to take testimony from top officials of the NSA and the Justice Department concerning the programs. Amid talk of the need for “transparency” and “accountability” from some of the senators on the committee, the hearing only underscored the absence of any serious or principled opposition in Congress and the complicity of both parties, the Congress and the courts in the buildup of the apparatus of a police state.
Congress was fully informed about the NSA programs for years before the Guardian published Snowden’s leaked documents. Democratic Senators Mark Udall of Colorado and Ron Wyden of Oregon have been trumpeted as adversaries of the NSA surveillance and defenders of civil liberties. In fact, they make no serious challenge to either the programs or the spy agencies that carry them out.
Their supposed opposition is two-faced and cowardly. Neither of them even voted against the confirmation this week of a former Bush Justice Department official and supporter of torture and the NSA spying programs as the new Federal Bureau of Investigation director.
They propose token measures to provide a fig leaf of legality and constitutionality to programs that directly violate the Bill of Rights. In a recent meeting between congressional would-be opponents of surveillance and President Obama, Wyden proposed the addition of a “privacy and civil liberties advocate” to the secret court that reviews surveillance requests.
He claims to oppose NSA programs that collect the records of all US telephone calls, but adds caveats that would allow the government to continue to shred the Fourth Amendment’s ban on warrantless searches and seizures. “I am open, for example, on areas like these emergency authorities to make sure that our government is in a position to get information needed to protect the public,” Wyden said after the meeting with Obama.
Neither Wyden nor any of the other congressional “critics” of the spying programs defend Snowden or other whistle-blowers who have exposed US government crimes, such as Bradley Manning and Julian Assange.
Meanwhile, virtually every day brings new revelations of pervasive spying programs. A CNET report released Friday stated that the FBI has been pressuring telecommunications providers to install “port reader software” that enables real-time interception of internet metadata, including IP addresses, e-mail addresses, identities of Facebook correspondents, and sites visited by government surveillance agencies. As CNET wrote: “The US government is quietly pressuring telecommunications providers to install eavesdropping technology deep inside companies’ internal networks to facilitate surveillance efforts.”
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The US economy added 162,000 net jobs in July, the Labor Department reported Friday, the worst jobs figure in four months. The jobs total was lower than economists’ projections and well below the number needed to have an impact on mass unemployment.
The report underscored the fact that, five years after the 2008 financial crash, the US remains mired in a deep economic slump. Over the past four months, the US economy averaged only 173,000 new jobs per month, even though the working-age population is growing by a monthly average of 184,000.
The official unemployment rate dropped by 0.2 percent in July to 7.4 percent, mainly because 240,000 people left the labor force.
The US has recovered only about six million of the 8.5 million jobs lost during the 2008-2009 recession. Since the official end of the recession in June of 2009, the working-age population has increased by six million, meaning the gain in jobs relative to population growth has been essentially zero.
The share of the US population that is employed remained at 58.7 percent in July, largely unchanged from what it has been since 2009 and down from 62.7 percent in December 2007. The labor force participation rate, meanwhile, dropped 0.1 percent to 63.4 percent, near its lowest level in decades.
The number of people working part-time for economic reasons last month was 8.2 million, up by 19,000 from June, and the total number of people who are either unemployed or under-employed was 22 million.
Of the jobs created last month, the majority were low-wage and part-time positions, mainly in sectors such as food service and home health care. "Over the last four months, we've created 4.2 part-time jobs for every one full-time job. That trend is not going in a good direction," Burt White of LPL Financial told CNBC.
The food service sector added 38,400 jobs last month. The typical food preparation worker receives $9.18 per hour, or $19,100 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Private education and health services added 13,600 jobs, including 3,900 in home health care services, mostly consisting of home health care aides who have a median pay of $9.70 per hour.
The Federal government shed 2,000 jobs, while state government lost 3,000. This was in addition to the furlough of hundreds of thousands of federal government employees as a result of the "sequester" budget cuts, resulting in lost pay of up to 20 percent of annual salary.
The jobs report comes after the Commerce Department on Wednesday reported that the economy grew at a rate of only 1.7 percent in the second quarter of this year. At the same time, the government downgraded its estimate of economic growth for the first quarter to a rate of 1.1 percent.
Over the past three quarters, the US economy has grown at an annualized rate of only 0.96 percent. These figures shatter the government’s claims of an economic “recovery” and show that the US economy is deteriorating, along with the economies of Europe, Asia and most of Latin America.
The US is today able to achieve a growth rate only one-sixth of the post-World War II average. In the past, a US growth rate of 3 percent or 4 percent was considered modest, anything under 3 percent was considered weak, and a growth rate below 2 percent was deemed to be disastrous.
In the face of this crisis, the Obama administration and the ruling class as a whole have no policies to offer for serious economic growth or job-creation. Their response is to intensify the assault on the working class. Obama's so-called “jobs” program consists entirely of tax cuts and subsidies for business and incentives to slash the wages and benefits of workers—in the name of increasing US “competitiveness” and convincing transnational companies to shift jobs from foreign cheap labor havens to take advantage of near-poverty wages in the US.
This is combined with austerity policies that further depress economic growth.
In his latest speech on the economy Tuesday in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Obama proposed cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent, with a 25 percent rate for manufacturers, while calling on the government to “partner with the private sector” to provide infrastructure, social services and education—code words for privatization and spending cuts.
This is under conditions where the Obama administration has rejected any federal assistance to the city of Detroit, which declared bankruptcy on July 18. State and city officials, representing the demands of the banks and major bondholders, are seeking to use the bankruptcy to slash the retirement benefits of 20,000 city workers and privatize the city's assets, including the world-famous collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Meanwhile, the US Federal Reserve Board made clear in its latest statement this week that it will continue its $85 billion-per month money-printing operation and near-zero interest rate policy for the foreseeable future. The contrast could not be more stark: virtually unlimited funds are made available to finance the enrichment of the financial elite, while there is “no money" to pay the legally-mandated pensions of Detroit workers.
These vast cash handouts have driven an ongoing stock market rally. Despite the poor jobs figures, both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 index set new records Friday for the second consecutive day.
The profits of the biggest US banks continued to swell in the second quarter of this year. Last month, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, among the largest US banks, announced record quarterly profits. JPMorgan made $6.1 billion in the second quarter, up 32 percent from a year ago, while Wells Fargo took in $5.27 billion, up 20 percent.
JPMorgan Chase is expected to make $25 billion in profits this year, equivalent to the gross domestic product of Afghanistan, a country with a population of 30 million.
According to an analysis conducted by Equilar Inc. for the Wall Street Journal, the CEOs of 200 US companies with revenues over $1 billion saw their pay swell by 16 percent in 2012, with the average hitting $15.1 million.
Facing protracted economic decline and crisis, the US ruling class is implementing a systematic policy of boosting the profits of major corporations and the wealth of the super-rich through the impoverishment of the majority of the population.
Yes, the government can search your email, chats, searches, attachments. Snowden's most shocking leak yet reveals America's National Security State.
The meta-data explanation has now been unmasked as a mega-lie, according to the latest revelations from exiled National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
When Snowden first disclosed the extent of America’s national security state spying on the electronic lives of Americans, the Obama administration led by the president himself said the government was not looking at the details of one’s electronic communications, web searches and sites visited. Instead, it was looking at so-called “meta-data,” which was akin to a phone bill listing calls but not listening in. On Wednesday, the White House declassified documents remaking that same argument.
But Wednesday’s disclosure by Snowden, reported by the U.K. Guardian, exposes that spin as a security state lie. The NSA has a computer program, called XKeyscore, that is its “widest-reaching” system for conducting digital dragnets. Screenshot presentations describing its capacities boast that it can trace “nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet,” including the content of emails, attachments, online seaches, websites visited, chats, phone numbers and user data. The 32-page slideshow uses examples of tracking overseas targets, but the software can be used domestically as well.
Here are three breathtaking revelations about Snowden’s XKeyscore disclosure.
1. Internet privacy is dead. Snowden famously said, “I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email” address. XKeyscore explains how this can be done. Obviously, the government cannot collect billions of electronic messages and transactions with no smart way to sift through them, including examining them at the most detailed level. XKeyscore is the sifting and storage system for doing so. But technical capacities aside, the bottom line is online privacy is completely dead. The government now can collect dossiers on anyone down to the most intimate details of their lives. In contrast, Wednesday's White House release only concerned the NSA's narrower telephone dragnet.
2. The security state has trumped the Constitution. Snowden’s latest revelation begins by saying that any government contractor working for spy agencies can access and use this system. They don’t need a search warrant. There is no judicial process to push back. And Congress has enabled that shadow government to grow without checks and balances, which directly conflicts with the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment banning illegal searches and seizures. The Bill of Rights enshrined the quartet of police search warrants, protection against self-incrimination, trial by jury and the credo of innocent until proven guilty in response to Great Britain’s 18th-century abuses of this nature. XKeyscore completely upends those constitutional protections.
3. The security state’s defenders won’t stop lying. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers told the Guardian that Snowden is “lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he’s saying he could do.” But the Guardian’s latestarticle is filled with screenshots from the program that show how to search “within bodies of emails, webpages and documents.” It also mentions another NSA tool, DNI Presenter, that not only can read stored emails, but also “the content of Facebook chats or private messages.” The agency had to create software tools like this, the Guardian explained, quoting a retired NSA employee, because without them it would be left with mountains of data and no way to parse it.
Moreover, the NSA spin that its data tools would only be used for overseas targets—to combat terrorism—doesn’t hold up because the NSA’s software tools do not discriminate between domestic and overseas targets. Everything is swept into the gigantic data-mining operation. And pledges that the NSA internallyaudits its contractors work ring hollow, because those activities always come later—after searches are conducted in a crisis-driven environment.
The Upside to Snowden’s Brave New World
If there is an upside to Snowden’s latest disclosures it is that spying-as-usual has been unmasked and is deeply unnerving many Americans across the political spectrum who care about privacy and intrusive government. It also shows the public that there is a national security state that currently answers to almost no one, regardless of which political party controls the White House or Congress.
Exposing that Internet spying machinery to the public is probably the only way to begin pushing back and striking, as Washington lawmakers say, the balance between freedom and security. Right now, thanks to Snowden, we see that there is no balance.
Incarceration of child support debtors is part of a broader set of policies that, in the words of Ehrenreich, “rob the poor.”
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The concept of a debtors’ prison is usually deemed a thing of the past, something out of a Dickens novel. But just this past June and July, New Jersey counties conducted one of their twice-annual raids to arrest people who are behind in child support payments. After the raids several New Jersey county sheriffs’ offices issued press releases proudly announcing the number of deadbeat parents they’d locked up.
New Jersey is not alone. Weeks ago Lebanon, Pennsylvania issued bench warrants for people who were behind on child support, in addition to publishing these debtors’ names. The trend is abundantly clear to those in the criminal justice community: incarceration is increasingly routine to child support enforcement practice -- even though many who owe child support are indigent. And as August brings with it National Child Support Awareness Month -- an obscure designation established in the mid-nineties by the Clinton Administration and linked child support enforcement to Clinton’s welfare reform legislation -- it is clear that federal policies toward the poor encourage toughness in collecting on child support arrears, often resulting in local incarceration of child support debtors. States and counties maintain the authority to lock people up for their child support debts -- revealing one of the many ways in which poverty is criminalized in America.
New Jersey county sheriffs are mandated to conduct the arrest raids as part of the state funding they receive, and they stand behind the policy. “I believe that it is important to have the ability to arrest violators and bring them before the court when they do not pay support,” Sheriff Jean Stanfield of Burlington County, New Jersey told AlterNet in an email. “Without the threat of incarceration, far fewer custodial parents would be receiving the child support owed to them.”
The arrests in Burlington County took place June 18, 19 and 20, and a total of 48 were arrested. According to documents provided by Sheriff Stanfield on July 25, four of the child support obligors remain in prison; five were jailed for more than two weeks; and several were jailed for one-four nights. All but four have ostensibly male names. Sheriff Stanfield’s press release did indicate that nearly $1 million in child support arrears were owed, the county has not yet shared with AlterNet how much money was collected from the raids.
The arrest raids generate small sums of money in connection to how much is actually owed. In Mercer County, New Jersey, the recent raid resulted in $41,000 in unpaid child support payments. Mercer County also led the state with 84 arrests. Yet $41,000 from a county that led the state in arrests is miniscule -- over $2 million is owed in child support arrears in Mercer County.
So arrests and incarceration for child support arrears persists even though they may not be effective in yielding payment or in the best interest of the state. In its 2010 report, “In for a Penny,” the ACLU found that “incarcerating indigent defendants unable to pay their LFOs (legal financial obligations) often ends up costing much more than states and counties can ever hope to recover. In one two-week period...16 men in New Orleans were sentenced to serve jail time when they could not pay their LFOs. If they served their complete sentences, their incarceration would cost the City of New Orleans over $1,000 more than their total unpaid legal debts. In Washington, one man was jailed for two weeks for missing $60 in LFO payments. In Ohio, a woman was held in jail for over a month for unpaid legal debt of $250.”
Still, the issue of child support enforcement is a complicated one that can divide progressives, as is clear that enforcement is critical for single mothers. Mothers make up five out of six custodial parents. Some 42 percent of all custodial parents live at or below the poverty level. In 2009, only 42 percent of custodial mothers received all of the child support owed to them and nearly 30 percent did not receive any child support payments at all. The budget for child support enforcement has actually dropped since the Bush administration’s Deficit Reduction Act, something women’s groups have opposed.
But is the solution to lock up poor debtors, collect a small sum from them, and then brag about it? Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out last year in TomDispatch that about half of child support debt is owed to state governments as reimbursement for welfare payments that have already been paid to children, and that public sector entities regard collecting debt from poor fathers as a source of revenue for the state. And the photograph published by NJ.com in its story about the New Jersey child support debtors’ raid is revealing: a young black man, maybe in his 20s, being taken out of what appears to be a residence and arrested by two white police officers. The ACLU has found that jail time for legal financial obligations disproportionately impact people of color.
Incarceration is publicly threatening and can help a state look strong in its enforcement practices. Johnson Tyler, an attorney with South Brooklyn Legal Services, has been representing impoverished child support debtors for years. Tyler calls the systemic policies to arrest child support debtors in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states “another form of humiliation and intimidation. It’s a splash in papers,” Tyler said. “People are basically rotating in and out of jail. Maybe it makes a political splash, but it makes no economic sense.”
Incarceration of child support debtors is part of a broader set of policies that, in the words of Ehrenreich, “rob the poor.” Tyler has seen many coercive means of obtaining payment. Most of his clients are on some type of public benefits such as social security -- and payments are often seized in order to cover outstanding child support debt. “I see over and over that people lose their jobs, eventually qualify for social security, and their meager funds are then seized by the state to cover a child support order,” Tyler said.
This seizing of funds is also found at the federal level: a Department of Treasury rule still allows banks to seize all social security and disability benefits of child support debtors even though it typically protects up to two months of payments of these public benefits for other types of debt.
Jail time for debtors persists, even though there are supposed to be protections in place for those who are too poor to pay. In 1983, the Supreme Court held in Bearden v. Georgia that courts must inquire into a defendant’s reasons for failing to pay a fine or restitution before sentencing him to serve time in prison, as jailing a person merely because of his poverty would be fundamentally unfair.
Legal scholar Elizabeth Patterson wrote that even though a “finding of ability to pay the ordered support is a necessary precedent to both a finding of contempt and the penalty of a coercive incarceration. Otherwise, the incarceration can only be characterized as a punishment for being poor. Yet many child support obligors are indigent, with irregular employment, limited earning potential, no real assets, and questionable ability to pay.”
In theory, debtors prisons were outlawed at the federal level in 1833, pre-industrial America. Yet states’ tendency to imprison debtors as well as garnish public benefits reveals the continuing freedom local governments have to punish the poor to collect a small sum -- as well as the deeply troubling implications this can have for people of color. As the eighteenth annual Child Support Awareness Month is upon us, new frameworks for aiding “deadbeat” parents need to be considered in lieu of modern-day debtors’ prisons.
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What is America going to look like when the middle class is dead? Once upon a time, the United States has the largest and most vibrant middle class in the history of the world. When I was growing up, it seemed like almost everyone was "middle class" and it was very rare to hear of someone that was out of work. Of course life wasn't perfect, but most families owned a home, most families had more than one vehicle, and most families could afford nice vacations and save for retirement at the same time. Sadly, things have dramatically changed in America since that time. There just aren't as many "middle class jobs" as there used to be. In fact, just six years ago there were about six million more full-time jobs in our economy than there are right now. Those jobs are being replaced by part-time jobs and temp jobs. The number one employer in America today is Wal-Mart and the number two employer in America today is a temp agency (Kelly Services). But you can't support a family on those kinds of jobs. We live at a time when incomes are going down but the cost of living just keeps going up. As a result, the middle class in America is being absolutely shredded and the ranks of the poor are steadily growing. The following are 44 facts about the death of the middle class that every American should know...
1. According to one recent survey, "four out of five U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives".
2. The growth rate of real disposable personal income is the lowest that it has been in decades.
3. Median household income (adjusted for inflation) has fallen by 7.8 percent since the year 2000.
4. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the middle class is taking home a smaller share of the overall income pie than has ever been recorded before.
5. The home ownership rate in the United States is the lowest that it has been in 18 years.
6. It is more expensive to rent a home in America than ever before. In fact, median asking rent for vacant rental units just hit a brand new all-time record high.
7. According to one recent survey, 76 percent of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.
8. The U.S. economy actually lost 240,000 full-time jobs last month, and the number of full-time workers in the United States is now about 6 million below the old record that was set back in 2007.
9. The largest employer in the United States right now is Wal-Mart. The second largest employer in the United States right now is a temp agency (Kelly Services).
10. One out of every ten jobs in the United States is now filled through a temp agency.
11. According to the Social Security Administration, 40 percent of all workers in the United States make less than $20,000 a year.
12. The ratio of wages and salaries to GDP is near an all-time record low.
13. The U.S. economy continues to trade good paying jobs for low paying jobs. 60 percent of the jobs lost during the last recession were mid-wage jobs, but 58 percent of the jobs created since then have been low wage jobs.
14. Back in 1980, less than 30% of all jobs in the United States were low income jobs. Today, more than 40% of all jobs in the United States are low income jobs.
15. At this point, one out of every four American workers has a job that pays $10 an hour or less.
16. According to one study, between 1969 and 2009 the median wages earned by American men between the ages of 30 and 50 declined by 27 percent after you account for inflation.
17. In the year 2000, about 17 million Americans were employed in manufacturing. Today, only about 12 million Americans are employed in manufacturing.
18. The United States has lost more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities since 2001.
19. The average number of hours worked per employed person per year has fallen by about 100 since the year 2000.
20. Back in the year 2000, more than 64 percent of all working age Americans had a job. Today, only 58.7 percent of all working age Americans have a job.
21. When you total up all working age Americans that do not have a job, it comes to more than 100 million.
22. The average duration of unemployment in the United States isnearly three times as long as it was back in the year 2000.
23. The percentage of Americans that are self-employed has steadily declined over the past decade and is now at an all-time low.
24. Right now there are 20.2 million Americans that spend more than half of their incomes on housing. That represents a 46 percent increase from 2001.
25. In 1989, the debt to income ratio of the average American family was about 58 percent. Today it is up to 154 percent.
26. Total U.S. household debt grew from just 1.4 trillion dollars in 1980 to a whopping 13.7 trillion dollars in 2007. This played a huge role in the financial crisis of 2008, and the problem still has not been solved.
27. The total amount of student loan debt in the United States recently surpassed the one trillion dollar mark.
28. Total home mortgage debt in the United States is now about 5 times larger than it was just 20 years ago.
29. Back in the year 2000, the mortgage delinquency rate was about 2 percent. Today, it is nearly 10 percent.
30. Consumer debt in the United States has risen by a whopping1700% since 1971, and 46% of all Americans carry a credit card balance from month to month.
31. In 1999, 64.1 percent of all Americans were covered by employment-based health insurance. Today, only 55.1 percent are covered by employment-based health insurance.
32. One study discovered that approximately 41 percent of all working age Americans either have medical bill problems or are currently paying off medical debt, and according to a report published in The American Journal of Medicine medical bills are a major factor inmore than 60 percent of all personal bankruptcies in the United States.
33. Each year, the average American must work 107 days just to make enough money to pay local, state and federal taxes.
34. Today, approximately 46.2 million Americans are living in poverty.
35. The number of Americans living in poverty has increased by more than 15 million since the year 2000.
36. Families that have a head of household under the age of 30 have a poverty rate of 37 percent.
37. At this point, approximately 25 million American adults are living with their parents.
38. In the year 2000, there were only 17 million Americans on food stamps. Today, there are more than 47 million Americans on food stamps.
39. Back in the 1970s, about one out of every 50 Americans was on food stamps. Today, about one out of every 6.5 Americans is on food stamps.
40. Right now, the number of Americans on food stamps exceeds the entire population of the nation of Spain.
41. According to one calculation, the number of Americans on food stamps now exceeds the combined populations of “Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.”
42. At this point, more than a million public school students in the United States are homeless. This is the first time that has ever happened in our history. That number has risen by 57 percent since the 2006-2007 school year.
43. According to U.S. Census data, 57 percent of all American children live in a home that is either considered to be "poor" or "low income".
44. In the year 2000, the ratio of social welfare benefits to salaries and wages was approximately 21 percent. Today, the ratio of social welfare benefits to salaries and wages is approximately 35 percent.
And not only is the middle class being systematically destroyed right now, we are also destroying the bright economic future that our children and our grandchildren were supposed to have by accumulating gigantic mountains of debt in their names. The following is from a recent articleby Bill Bonner...
Today, the U.S. lumbers into the future with total debt equal to about 350% of GDP. In Britain and Japan, the total is over 500%. Debt, remember, is the homage that the future pays to the past. It has to be carried, serviced… and paid. It has to be reckoned with… one way or another.And the cost of carrying debt is going up! Over the last few weeks, interest rates have moved up by about 15% — an astounding increase for the sluggish debt market. How long will it be before long-term borrowing rates are back to “normal”?At 5% interest, a debt that measures 3.5 times your revenue will cost about one-sixth of your income. Before taxes. After tax, you will have to work about one day a week to keep up with it (to say nothing of paying it off!).That’s a heavy burden. It is especially disagreeable when someone else ran up the debt. Then you are a debt slave. That is the situation of young people today. They must face their parents’ debt. Even serfs in the Dark Ages had it better. They had to work only one day out of 10 for their lords and masters.
We were handed the keys to the greatest economic machine in the history of the planet and we wrecked it.
As young people realize that their futures have been destroyed, many of them are going to totally lose hope and give in to despair.
And desperate people do desperate things. As our economy continues to crumble, we are going to see crime greatly increase as people do what they feel they need to do in order to survive. In fact, we are already starting to see this happen. Just this week, CNBC reported on the raging epidemic of copper theft that we are seeing all over the nation right now...
Copper is such a hot commodity that thieves are going after the metal anywhere they can find it: an electrical power station in Wichita, Kan., or half a dozen middle-class homes in Morris Township, N.J.Even on a Utah highway construction site, crooks managed to abscond with six miles of copper wire.Those are just a handful of recent targets across the U.S. in the $1 billion business of copper theft."There's no question the theft has gotten much, much worse," said Mike Adelizzi, president of theAmerican Supply Association, a nonprofit group representing distributors and suppliers in the plumbing, heating, cooling and industrial pipe industries.
The United States once had the greatest middle class in the history of the world, but now it it dying.
This is causing a tremendous amount of anger and frustration to build in this nation, and when the next major wave of the economic collapse strikes, a lot of that anger and frustration will likely be unleashed.
The American people don't understand that these problems have taken decades to develop. They just want someone to fix things. They just want things to go back to the way that they used to be.
Unfortunately, the great economic storm that is coming is not going to be averted.
Get ready while you still can. Time is running out.