Sunday, January 5, 2014

What tent cities say about America

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As millions of Americans gather in their homes for the holidays, there will be those who will congregate in a different kind of home.

An abode common to other parts of the world now proliferates across America: Tent cities.

The total number of homeless people residing in tents and makeshift homes is unknown. Many of these communities are small and hidden from public view, while others claim hundreds of residents and are sprinkled through major urban areas.

Some, like those tucked under roadways, are temporary and relocate frequently. Their conditions are vile, unsanitary and fail to provide refuge from storms and winds. Then there are communities, such as Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon, that have a more sustained presence. The 13-year-old "ecovillage" set up by homeless people is hygienic and self-sufficient.

Preliminary findings by The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty show that tent cities have been documented in almost every state, and they're growing.

A report released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, for example,found that homelessness and hunger rates are rising, culminating in 47 million Americans living below the poverty line. A fledgling economic recovery, high unemployment and contracting government services are largely to blame. So is the paucity -- or paradox -- of affordable housing. While homelessness is increasing, more than 10% of homes in America are empty.

Emergency services, meanwhile, aren't filling the void. Homeless families and single adults are routinely turned away by shelter homes because of lack of bed space.

Tent cities are an organic, last resort response to crushing economic circumstances. Yet, rather than ameliorating the conditions that give rise to these communities, many states and municipalities are cracking down. While some encampments are legally sanctioned or permitted to operate on church grounds, officials routinely invoke prohibitions against public camping and sleeping to disband these encampments, leaving tenants languishing out in the cold.

Epithets suggesting that homeless people are mentally ill, lazy, criminal, violent or some combination thereof only fuels the fire.

These accusations are largely urban myth.

Most homeless people do not suffer from mental illness or drug abuse. Many homeless people have jobs but simply can't afford housing. Some tent cities, for example, cater to local economies, and many of their residents are gainfully employed. Homeless people also tend to be the victims of countless hate crimes, even though they are a protected class under numerous state hate crime statutes.

Lost in this shameful rhetoric is the fact that the right to housing is a bedrock of international law and protected by U.S. law. Some courts have held that tearing down camps when no alternative is available amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and a deprivation of property without due process of law.

That we can even stroll through our cities while some of the residents languish in squalor is hard to believe. A few decades ago, tent cities would have been unimaginable.

In 1964, a group of researchers famously roamed the parks of New York City and found only one homeless man. Fifty years later, homelessness in New York City has reached a record high. The same can be said for much of America: Homelessness has doubled since the 1980s. Those who declare that we're close to ending poverty just need to look around and see the victims of the Great Recession.

Tent cities are an ugly reminder of America's growing income inequalities. Yet, in the absence of meaningful economic reform, these self-reliant communities must not be dismantled. Nor should they be forgotten. For in sanctioning them, we risk capitulating to the epidemic of poverty and shifting our public policy from eliminating poverty to accommodating it.

This is already happening in other parts of the world. In Mumbai, India, for example, slums freckle the landscape like skyscrapers. But sprouting from the dilapidation are antennas and electrical wires. Some of the housing units have electricity, cable programming and mail delivery. And so the discussion no longer concerns extricating human beings from the slums but making the slums more habitable.

We must not succumb to America's great divide. Doing so isn't just a repudiation of the downtrodden; it's a stain on our national consciousness

Snowden reveals massive National Security Agency hacking unit

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The US National Security Agency (NSA) runs an Office of Tailored Access Operations (TAO), described by Germany’s Der Spiegel as the “NSA’s top operative unit—something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked.”
A report published Sunday based on documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden states that the TAO operates as a vast hacking unit on behalf of the US government.
Based in San Antonio, Texas and formed in 1997, the TAO, “are involved in many sensitive operations conducted by American intelligence agencies. TAO’s area of operations ranges from counterterrorism to cyber attacks to traditional espionage. The documents reveal just how diversified the tools at TAO’s disposal have become—and also how it exploits the technical weaknesses of the IT industry, from Microsoft to Cisco and Huawei, to carry out its discreet and efficient attacks.”
In 2008, the TAO unit had 60 specialists the magazine said—a number set to escalate to 270 by 2015. The TAO’s duties according to the NSA are based on “Getting the ungettable.”
A document seen by Der Spiegel cites a former head of the TAO who comments that it had collected “some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen” and has “access to our very hardest targets.”
The remit of the TAO is enormous, with the former head stating it “needs to continue to grow and must lay the foundation for integrated Computer Network Operations.”
In a statement that reveals how the mass surveillance operations of the NSA are intimately tied to the drive by US imperialism to dominate its rivals internationally, the former head states that the TAO must “support Computer Network Attacks as an integrated part of military operations.”
Outlining its future role, she said the TAO would have to acquire “pervasive, persistent access on the global network.”
Der Spiegel reports that this is precisely what has been achieved. “During the middle part of the last decade, the special unit succeeded in gaining access to 258 targets in 89 countries—nearly everywhere in the world,” DerSpiegel notes. “In 2010, it conducted 279 operations worldwide.”
Through their hacking operations the TAO has “directly accessed the protected networks of democratically-elected leaders of countries” states DerSpiegel. It notes in passing, “Workers at NSA’s target selection office…had Angela Merkel in its sights in 2002 before she became [German] chancellor…”
Der Spiegel states that the TAO “infiltrated networks of European telecommunications companies and gained access to and read mails sent over Blackberry’s BES email servers, which until then were believed to be securely encrypted.”
The global reach of the TOA is vast, with Der Spiegel reporting that the “San Antonio office handles attacks against targets in the Middle East, Cuba, Venezuela and Colombia, not to mention Mexico, just 200 kilometers (124 miles) away, where the government has fallen into the NSA’s crosshairs.”
One of the presentation slides states that a critical TAO goal is to “subvert endpoint devices.” These include the many main devices that make up modern communication technologies including “servers, workstations, firewalls, routers, handsets, phone switches, SCADA systems, etc.”
Der Spiegel explains, “SCADAs are industrial control systems used in factories, as well as in power plants” and notes that the “most well-known and notorious use of this type of attack was the development of Stuxnet, the computer worm whose existence was discovered in June 2010. The virus was developed jointly by American and Israeli intelligence agencies to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, and successfully so.”
The TAO has developed various means to gain access to the PCs of Internet users. One slide reveals that TAO is able to gain “passive access” to a machine via Microsoft’s automated PC crash reports. Der Spiegel notes, “even this passive access to error messages provides valuable insights into problems with a targeted person’s computer and, thus, information on security holes that might be exploitable for planting malware or spyware on the unwitting victim’s computer.”
TAO operatives even created an internal graphic, for their own amusement, which replaced Microsoft’s original error message with one reading, “This information may be intercepted by a foreign sigint system to gather detailed information and better exploit your machine.”
Sigint is the acronym for “signals intelligence”, meaning the gathering of intelligence by interception of signals.
Another document reveals that among the TAO’s “most productive operations” is the direct interception of new PCs and other computer accessories ordered by individuals targeted by the NSA.
In a process named “interdiction”, the goods are rerouted from the supplier to one of the TAO’s secret workshops. Der Spiegel states that TAO agents then “carefully open the package in order to load malware onto the electronics, or even install hardware components that can provide backdoor access for the intelligence agencies. All subsequent steps can then be conducted from the comfort of a remote computer.”
Interdiction allows the TAO to exploit networks “around the world,” said the document.
The information on the TAO was published just days after Edward Snowden broadcast an “alternative” Christmas Day television message for Britain’sChannel 4, to contrast with that given by the Queen. Speaking from his forced exile in Moscow, Snowden said the world’s population have recently “learned that our governments, working in concert, have created a system of worldwide mass surveillance, watching everything we do.”
He added that “the conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it. Together, we can find a better balance.”
His message followed an interview with the Washington Post December 24 in which he said of the revelations he has made available, “For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished... Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”
Snowden has exposed a state intelligence apparatus of genuine totalitarian dimensions, which spies on the entire world’s population and his courage and dedication to the preservation of basic democratic rights are admirable. However, if he believes that “a better balance” can now be found, he is mistaken.
Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency, said Sunday that he had thought of Snowden as a “defector,” but is now “drifting in the direction of perhaps more harsh language...such as ‘traitor.’ I think there’s an English word that describes selling American secrets to another government, and I do think it’s treason.”
Earlier this month John Bolton, US ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration, said, “My view is that Snowden committed treason, he ought to be convicted of that, and then he ought to swing from a tall oak tree.”
Similarly, former CIA director James Woolsey declared that Snowden “should be prosecuted for treason. If convicted by a jury of his peers, he should be hanged by his neck until he is dead.”

Old Game, New Enemy

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Countries are “pieces on a chessboard on which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world,” wrote Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India in 1898. Nothing has changed. The shopping mall massacre in Nairobi was a bloody façade behind which a full-scale invasion of Africa and a war in Asia are the great game. 
The al-Shabaab shopping mall killers came from Somalia. If any country is an imperial metaphor, it is Somalia. Sharing a common language and religion, Somalis have been divided between the British, French, Italians, and Ethiopians. Tens of thousands of people have been handed from one power to another. “When they are made to hate each other,” wrote a British colonial official, “good governance is assured.”
Today, Somalia is a theme park of brutal, artificial divisions, long impoverished by World Bank and IMF “structural adjustment” programs, and saturated with modern weapons, notably President Obama’s personal favorite, the drone. The one stable Somali government, the Islamic Courts, was “well received by the people in the areas it controlled,” reported the U.S. Con- gressional Research Service, “[but] received negative press coverage, especially in the West.” Obama crushed it and Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, presented her man to the world. “Somalia will remain grateful to the unwavering support from the United States government,” effused President Hassan Mohamud, “thank you, America.”
The shopping mall atrocity was a response to this—just as the attack on the Twin Towers and the London bombings were explicit reactions to invasion and injustice. Once of little consequence, jihadism now marches in lockstep with the return of unfettered imperialism. Since NATO reduced modern Libya to a Hobbesian state in 2011, the last obstacles to Africa have fallen. “Scrambles for energy, minerals, and fertile land are likely to occur with increasing intensity,” reported Ministry of Defense planners. They predict “high numbers of civilian casualties”; therefore, “perceptions of moral legitimacy will be important for success.” Sensitive to the PR problem of invading a continent, the arms mammoth, BAE Systems—together with Barclay Capital and BP—warn that “the government should define its international mission as managing risks on behalf of British citizens.” The cynicism is lethal. British governments are repeatedly warned, not least by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, that foreign adventures beckon retaliation at home.
With minimal media interest, the U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) has deployed troops to 35 African countries, establishing a familiar network of authoritarian supplicants eager for bribes and armaments. In war games, a “soldier to soldier” doctrine embeds U.S. officers at every level of command, from general to warrant officer. The British did the same in India. It is as if Africa’s proud history of liberation, from Patrice Lumumba to Nelson Mandela, is consigned to oblivion by a new master’s black colonial elite whose “historic mission,” as Frantz Fanon warned half a century ago, is the subjugation of their own people in the cause of “a capitalism rampant though camouflaged.” 
Pivot to Asia
For Obama, there is a more pressing cause—China. Africa is China’s success story. Where the Americans bring drones, the Chinese build roads, bridges, and dams. What the Chinese want is resources, especially fossil fuels. NATO’S bombing of Libya drove out 30,000 Chinese oil industry workers. More than jihadism or Iran, China is now Washington’s obsession in Africa and beyond. This is a “policy” known as the “pivot to Asia,” whose threat of world war may be as great as any in the modern era.
A recent meeting in Tokyo of U.S. secretary of state John Kerry and defense secretary Chuck Hagel, with their Japanese counterparts, accelerated the prospect of war with the new imperial rival. By 2020, 60 percent of U.S. and naval forces are to be based in Asia, aimed at China. Japan is re-arming rapidly under the right-wing government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who came to power in December with a pledge to build a “new, strong military” and circumvent the “peace constitution.” A U.S.-Japanese anti-ballistic missile system near Kyoto is directed at China. Using long-range Global Hawk drones, the U.S. has sharply increased its provocations in the East and South China seas where Japan and China dispute the ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Advanced vertical take-off aircraft are now deployed in Japan and their purpose is blitzkrieg.
On the Pacific island of Guam from which B-52s attacked Vietnam, the biggest military buildup since the Indochina wars includes 9,000 U.S. Marines. In Australia, an arms fair and military jamboree is in keeping with a government propaganda campaign to justify an unprecedented U.S. military build-up from Perth to Darwin—aimed at China. The vast U.S. base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs is, as Edward Snowden disclosed, a hub of U.S. spying in the region and beyond. It is also critical to Obama’s worldwide assassinations by drone.
“We have to inform the British to keep them onside,” former assistant U.S. secretary of state McGeorge Bundy once said, “You in Australia are with us, come what may.” Australian forces have long played a mercenary role for Washington. However, there is a hitch. China is Australia’s biggest trading partner and largely responsible for its evasion of the 2008 recession. Without China, there would be no minerals’ boom and no weekly mining return of up to a billion dollars.
The dangers this presents are rarely debated publicly in Australia where Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s patron, Rupert Murdoch, controls 70 percent of the press. Occasionally, anxiety is expressed over the “choice” that the U.S. wants Australia to make. A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute warns that any U.S. plan to strike at China would involve “blinding” Chinese surveillance, intelligence, and command systems. This would “consequently increase the chances of Chinese nuclear pre-emption…and a series of miscalculations on both sides if Beijing perceives conventional attacks on its homeland as an attempt to disarm its nuclear capability.” In his address to the nation, Obama said, “What makes America different, what makes us exceptional is that we are dedicated to act.”

The pseudo-legal arguments for a police state

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US District Judge William H. Pauley’s ruling in the case of ACLU v. Clapper on December 27, which sanctions dragnet NSA surveillance of the telephone records of the entire country’s population, has immense significance for democratic rights.
Although it is written by a federal judge, it is not so much a legal opinion as a polemic effectively advocating the scrapping of the US Constitution and establishment a police state. The fact that a federal judge makes such arguments is a significant indication of the extent to which a pro-dictatorship consensus has developed within the highest levels of the judicial system.
The entire opening section of the opinion is a self-consciously political case for police state spying and the silencing of whistle-blowers. Responding to United States District Court Judge Richard Leon’s decision earlier this month calling NSA surveillance “almost Orwellian,” Judge Pauley employs the argument that every dictatorship throughout history has made in one form or another: that “national security” and the threat of “terrorism” necessitate the abrogation of democratic rights. This is nothing but a variation on the arguments made by Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt that state interests, as determined by an all-powerful executive (a “Führer”), may warrant a “state of exception,” during which the constitution may be suspended and democratic rights suppressed.
According to Judge Pauley, the attacks of September 11, 2001, more than 12 years ago (carried out by Al Qaeda terrorists well known to US intelligence agencies), justify an unprecedented expansion of state surveillance. Relying uncritically on the testimony of senior Obama administration officials, Pauley contends that if the NSA had had recourse to its current telephone spying program in the period leading up to 9/11, the attacks would have been prevented.
The opinion is riddled with lies and distortions. The principal lie is that the actions of the US government are justified by the demands of the struggle against Al Qaeda. This is a claim that cannot withstand scrutiny. The so-called “war on terror” has provided a pretext for the implementation of policies that would not, without the claim of a grave national emergency, be accepted by the public. Moreover, while it is supposedly at war with Al Qaeda, the United States government has provided weapons, funds, and even side-by-side military cooperation with its Al Qaeda-linked terrorist friends in Libya and Syria. As the World Socialist Web Site has correctly insisted from the start, the real purpose of the “war on terror” was not to fight Al Qaeda, but to justify militarism abroad and the gutting of democratic rights at home.
The idea that the US government has built up a gigantic spying apparatus in order to catch Al Qaeda terrorists does not pass the laugh test. It is now well known, thanks to the courageous actions of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, that the US intelligence apparatus spies indiscriminately on the entire world, including foreign political leaders.
In his opinion, Judge Pauley acknowledges the breadth of the government spying program at issue, only to bluntly contend that government snooping on the telephone records of every American is necessary.
Judge Pauley cites approvingly the testimony of FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce: “Our mission is to stop terrorism, to prevent it. Not after the fact, to prevent it before it happens in the United States. And I can tell you every tool is essential and vital. And the tools as I outlined to you and their uses today have been valuable to stopping some of those plots. You ask, ‘How can you put the value on an American life?’ And I can tell you, it’s priceless.”
The basic conception of the American Constitution is that the natural tendency of government towards tyranny can be blocked only by a careful separation of powers and iron-clad rights watched over by a vigilant public. In this spirit, the American revolutionaries wrote the Fourth Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights (1791), which provides: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,” requiring each government search or seizure to be sanctioned by a particular warrant supported by probable cause.
As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) pointed out in its brief, the government’s warrantless gathering of telephone records on the entire population can “reveal a person’s religion, political associations, use of a telephone-sex hotline, contemplation of suicide, addiction to gambling or drugs, experience with rape, grappling with sexuality, or support for particular political causes.” In the final analysis, Judge Pauley spends 55 pages arguing what is on its face a gross absurdity: that the collection of every single American citizen’s phone records is “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment.
Pauley’s legal reasoning, insofar as there is any at all in his opinion, is a patchwork of sophistic arguments, citations twisted out of context, and lies. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (1978), which was designed to regulate (or give the appearance of regulating) the intelligence agencies, is turned upside down and morphed into a blank check for unlimited spying. Pauley also argues that whenever a person uses a telephone, he or she “voluntarily” surrenders his or her rights to privacy. A person presumably makes a similar “voluntary” choice when using a car, a computer, a GPS device, a television, a bank, a hospital, a hotel, a webcam, a post office, and so forth.
The contrast between the conceptions of the American revolutionaries who wrote the Bill of Rights and those of Judge Pauley could not be more stark. The revolutionaries called for eternal vigilance against tyranny. Judge Pauley tells us instead to trust the government without question. The government is made up of good people: patriots and professionals. They know what they are doing. If they are secretly taking away our liberties, they must have a good reason for it.
Notwithstanding its pretensions as the leader of the “free world,” the United States government has a rather deplorable record. Over the past hundred years: legally sanctioned segregation, lynching, mass roundups and deportations (as in the case of Japanese-Americans in the Second World War), infiltration and surveillance of dissenting political groups, Red Scares, war crimes, corruption, criminality, coups, assassination, torture, lies (“weapons of mass destruction”; “if you like your plan, keep it”), and on and on. To argue, as Judge Pauley does, that whatever the government says must be true, and that the defense of democratic rights can be safely left in the hands of the military and intelligence agencies, is to abandon democratic rights altogether.
The judge’s ruling essentially denies any possibility of a conflict between the rights of the people and the interests of the state. Judge Pauley quotes the 9/11 Commission Report: “The choice between liberty and security is a false one, as nothing is more apt to imperil civil liberties than the success of a terrorist attack on American soil.” In other words, as long as the government claims to be fighting terrorism, it may ignore the Bill of Rights.
In the aftermath of Judge Pauley’s opinion, it is reasonable to pose the question: is the Bill of Rights still operative in the US? If the Fourth Amendment does not prevent government spying on every American in the country simultaneously and without a warrant, then what exactly does it prevent?
The American ruling class knows that its policies (plunder abroad, plunder at home) are unpopular. It is desperately afraid of a popular movement from below, and for this reason it is constructing the apparatus of a police state. Cities will be locked down by executive order and dissenters (labeled “terrorists”) summarily seized from their homes, thrown into prison, tortured or assassinated. Judges will defer to the executive and military powers, especially where “national security” is alleged to be involved. The courtroom will be relegated to a rubber stamp assembly line.
As Judge Pauley’s ruling indicates, advocates of totalitarianism already permeate the state apparatus. This month, former CIA head James Woolsey declared: “I think giving him [Snowden] amnesty is idiotic. He should be prosecuted for treason. If convicted by a jury of his peers, he should be hanged by the neck until he is dead.”
This is the language of fascism. Such statements, which find practical application in the ruling of Judge Pauley, should be taken as a grave political warning. American democracy is rotting on its feet. The drive toward dictatorship can be stopped only through the united action of the working class.