Friday, October 3, 2014

I Agree With Senator Reid: Let’s Audit The Federal Reserve- So why is Harry Reid an Arsehole stopping this?

Paul Broun to Harry Reid: Schedule a Vote on Audit the Fed!

In a must-read op-ed published yesterday at The Daily Caller, Congressman Paul Broun, the lead sponsor of the Audit the Fed legislation in the House, calls on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to schedule a Senate vote on Audit the Fed before the end of the year. Since Harry Reid has publicly expressed support for Audit the Fed numerous times in the past (most recently during his 2010 reelection campaign) and since Audit the Fed overwhelmingly passed the House in September, there is no logical reason why Reid should not schedule a vote on Audit the Fed.
Please join Campaign for Liberty’s efforts to get a roll-call vote on Audit the Fed!
You can read Dr. Broun’s op-ed here and below:

 “For years, I have sponsored legislation that would call for an audit of the Federal Reserve System. I offer that amendment every year. Every year, the legislation gets nowhere. I think it would be interesting to know about the Federal Reserve. I think we should audit the Federal Reserve. It’s taxpayer’s money that’s being used there. But we don’t do that.” – Senator Harry Reid, 1995
I agree with Senator Reid. I think we should audit the Federal Reserve.
A century ago, Congress relinquished its constitutional duty to regulate our nation’s monetary policy and instead, gave that power to a quasi-government entity — the Federal Reserve. Established under President Woodrow Wilson in 1913, the Federal Reserve issues all coin and paper currency, controls interest rates, and sets the course of our nation’s monetary policy. The Fed is the banker’s bank, the federal government’s bank, and, as such, it is the most powerful and influential financial institution in the world. Senate Majority Leader Reid once articulated it nicely when he said “there is no entity in the world that controls our lives more than the Federal Reserve System.”
Yet, despite the undeniable importance and responsibility of the Federal Reserve over our nation’s economy, we are unable to obtain a complete grasp of its inner-workings: Current law specifically prohibits full audits of the Federal Reserve’s deliberations, decisions, or actions on monetary policy. This means that for the past 100 years, the Federal Reserve has controlled our nation’s monetary policy – and, therefore, our economy – behind a complete veil of secrecy.
The Federal Reserve’s lack of accountability and transparency has led to grievous consequences. Since the Federal Reserve was established, the United States has witnessed the Great Depression, the high inflation and unemployment of the 1970s, the stock market crash and banking crisis of the 1980s, the market turbulence of the 1990s, and, most recently, the 2008 financial crisis. Yet at the same time, the buying power of the United States dollar has fallen 95 percent under the Fed’s stewardship – in other words, today’s dollar is valued at approximately what a nickel was worth in 1913. What does this mean for the average American taxpayer? The steady decline of the U.S. Dollar punishes thrift, erodes the value of savings, and harms senior citizens living on fixed incomes.
Fortunately, my dear friend and former colleague, Dr. Ron Paul, has tirelessly fought for transparency at the Federal Reserve. Last Congress, Dr. Paul amassed the bipartisan coalition that saw his Federal Reserve Transparency Act – which would simply provide for a full audit of the Fed – pass in the U.S. House. This Congress, I reintroduced this important legislation as H.R. 24, and just weeks ago, the House passed it by an overwhelming 333-92 margin.
H.R. 24 currently sits on Senator Reid’s desk among hundreds of other House-passed bills, awaiting consideration. In the past, the Senate Majority Leader has voiced his support for an audit of the Federal Reserve. As recently as 2010, he stated, “There should be a Federal Reserve audit. We haven’t gotten it yet, but we’ve made some progress in that regard.” In 1995, he enthusiastically called for an audit of the Federal Reserve on the U.S. Senate floor, “I think we should audit the Federal Reserve. It’s taxpayer’s money that’s being used there. But we don’t do that.”
Last Congress, Senator Reid stonewalled Dr. Paul’s “Audit the Fed” bill. Why his sudden change of heart, when the facts on the Fed remain the same? If anything, the Fed has proven to be a more powerful force today than it was 19 years ago. In fact, in 2011, a partial audit of the Federal Reserve required by the Dodd-Frank law found that the Fed had loaned 16 trillion dollars to financial institutions – some of which were not even American – between 2007 and 2010. If this is the sort of activity brought to light by a partial audit, then I believe it further highlights the absolute necessity of a full audit.
FBI blocked in corruption probe involving Sens. Reid, Lee

FBI agents working alongside Utah state prosecutors in a wide-ranging corruption investigation have uncovered accusations of wrongdoing by two of the U.S. Senate’s most prominent figures — Majority Leader Harry Reid and rising Republican Sen. Mike Lee — but the Justice Department has thwarted their bid to launch a full federal investigation.
The probe, conducted by one Republican and one Democratic state prosecutor in Utah, has received accusations from an indicted businessman and political donor, interviewed other witnesses and gathered preliminary evidence such as financial records, Congressional Record statements and photographs that corroborate some aspects of the accusations, officials have told The Washington Times and ABC News.

But the Justice Department’s public integrity section — which normally handles corruption cases involving elected figures — rejected FBI agents’ bid to use a federal grand jury and subpoenas to determine whether the accusations are true and whether any federal crimes were committed by state and federal officials.
The information involving Mr. Reid and Mr. Lee is not fully developed but centers on two primary issues:
• Whether both or either politician sought or received money or other benefits from donors and/or fundraisers in connection with doing political favors or taking official actions.

• Whether Mr. Lee provided accurate information when he bought, then sold a Utah home for a big loss to a campaign contributor and federal contractor, leaving his mortgage bank to absorb large losses.
“There are allegations, but they are very serious allegations and they need to be looked at by somebody,” Sim Gill, a Democrat who is the elected chief prosecutor in Salt Lake County, told The Times. “If true, or even if asserted, they truly should be investigated and put to rest, or be confirmed.”
Spokesmen for both senators denied their bosses engaged in any wrongdoing and said the lawmakers were unaware of the investigations.
Mass recusal
The investigative efforts have been further complicated by the fact that Mr. Reid worked to get Mr. Lee’s chief counsel, David Barlow, confirmed in 2011 as the U.S. attorney in Salt Lake City. That action — a Democratic Senate leader letting a Republican be named to a key prosecutor’s position in the Obama administration — raised many eyebrows and angered some Democrats.
Subsequently, the entire office of federal prosecutors in Utah was forced to recuse itself from the corruption case after questions surfaced about a conflict of interest involving one prosecutor and a subject of the probe. After the recusal, state prosecutors secured a court order transferring the federal evidence gathered up to that point to their possession.
The process has left FBI agents in the unusual position of trying to help two local prosecutors make a case in state court without the ability to use the federal court system to determine whether accusations against two powerful members of Congress are true.
“We’re just two local prosecutors but everybody who was supposed to look at this evidence above us has made a decision not to, and by default left it to us to investigate and prosecute at the state level,” Mr. Gill said.
He and his counterpart in the wide-ranging probe, chief Davis County prosecutor Troy Rawlings, praised the FBI agents assisting their case for their dedication to finding the truth.
State charges sought
The prosecutors said their current focus is pursuing state charges against Utah officials and figures, like former Utah Attorney General John Swallow. To the dismay of the investigators, the Justice Department declined to prosecute Mr. Swallow, a Republican.
On Wednesday, a special committee of the Utah Legislature concluded that Mr. Swallow may have violated as many as eight state laws on abuse of public office.
Mr. Swallow “compromised the principles and integrity of the office to benefit himself and his political supporters,” and he “hung a veritable ‘for sale’ sign on the office door that invited moneyed interests to seek special treatment and favors,” the legislative report concluded.
Mr. Swallow has denied wrongdoing.
A senior law enforcement official familiar with the discussions among FBI, Justice Department and state authorities said that after federal prosecutors declined to take the Swallow case or pursue the accusations about the senators, a decision was made to pursue justice wherever it could be achieved, even at the state level with FBI agents assisting.
“The sentiment was that it doesn’t matter in the end where it occurs as long as justice is served,” the official said, speaking only on the condition of anonymity.
Both state prosecutors said they eventually plan to pursue the accusations involving the senators and other federal officials — at least to determine whether any crimes were committed inside Utah borders that would warrant state charges.
“We’re sweeping up that information and those items of evidence,” said Mr. Rawlings, a Republican. “I think it would be unfair to say we are currently investigating Sens. Reid and Lee at this time. But we are not going to ignore the scraps of evidence coming in about them.
“Do we plan on formally turning attention to all of the scraps picked up about them? We do plan on that,” Mr. Rawlings said.
Justice ‘ran away’
People familiar with the probe said both FBI agents and local investigators have been frustrated for months by the Justice Department’s inaction on the initial accusations and evidence against the two senators, and those concerns were recently elevated to FBI headquarters.
The special agent in charge of the Utah office was summoned earlier this month to Washington to meet with senior FBI officials, and the bureau’s Utah office has been instructed that the FBI agents working the case may only assist in the state probe and cannot pursue federal criminal investigative leads — unless Justice finally approves a corruption probe.
The frustrations have prompted discussions of seeking a special prosecutor who would bypass the Justice Department and U.S. attorney’s office and evaluate the evidence independently.
FBI officials said it was rare but not unprecedented for their agents to assist a state-only investigation.
“We’ve let agents provide expertise and assist on the ground investigations for states in the past, especially in complex cases where federal crimes weren’t clear,” a senior FBI official in Washington told The Times, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to talk to reporters.
“But in this case, DOJ risks creating the perception of a cover-up rather than let agents use the normal tools and follow the evidence wherever it leads — Republican, Democrat, Senate or not,” the senior FBI official said.
Mr. Rawlings criticized the Justice Department for failing to let FBI agents examine the evidence for federal crimes and leaving the matter to state prosecutors with limited jurisdiction.
“Based upon what we know today, we were surprised that the DOJ ran away,” he said.
FBI agents have conducted some interviews in Utah and provided analysis of bank records. But until the Justice Department engages or a special prosecutor is named, the agents are handcuffed from using a federal grand jury to gather evidence. FBI officials requested Justice Department permission last year but were turned down in August, officials said.
Influence-peddling claim
One focus of the investigation is on allegations by federally indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson, who says he was asked by Mr. Swallow and other intermediaries to route hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and consulting payments to an associate of Mr. Reid and other companies in hopes that the senator would intervene on two matters.
The first was a dispute that Mr. Johnson was having with the Federal Trade Commission, which led to a fraud lawsuit against him.
Mr. Johnson says he was instructed by intermediaries to write a $200,000 check to one company and a $50,000 check to a personal friend of Mr. Reid in return for getting the senator to intervene with the FTC, an intervention that did not happen.
The second accusation involves the timing of Mr. Reid’s changing his opposition to legislation allowing Internet poker. Mr. Reid’s aides contend his change of heart was consistent with a broader shift underway in his state — and of the leading industry group, the American Gaming Association.
Mr. Johnson says Mr. Reid announced his new position in 2010 at a fundraiser with online gambling executives in a Las Vegas.
In a recorded conversation published last year by a Utah newspaper, Mr. Johnson is heard telling Mr. Swallow about the Las Vegas event.
Mr. Johnson says Mr. Reid told the gathering: “Look, I’ve polled my constituents and they don’t like online poker, bottom line. … It’s bad for jobs here in Las Vegas. But I’m going to back what you guys are doing here. I’m going to introduce a bill for you.”
On the recording, Mr. Johnson tells Mr. Swallow that, after Mr. Reid departed, Mr. Johnson himself pulled aside an online gambling official to ask about his announcement.
“I [Mr. Johnson] said, ‘How in the hell did you guys get him to do that?’ And he [the online gaming official] says, ‘Let’s just say he got a little something in his retirement fund.’ And I was like, ‘OK, that’s how it is.’”
Reid changes position
Mr. Johnson said in the recording that he was instructed by intermediaries to route a seven-figure check to a company on the West Coast.
Mr. Reid did introduce online poker legislation one month after his re-election in a closely contested race in 2010. The proposed legislation never went anywhere.
Jeffrey Ifrah, an online gambling industry attorney, attended the 2010 event with what he guessed were 60 to 70 others. He confirmed to ABC News that Mr. Reid announced his change of position on Internet poker in front of the donors.
But he said he did not think the contributions influenced the decision and laughed off Mr. Johnson’s suggestion that Mr. Reid was paid to make that change.
“If someone said that, they must have been joking,” Mr. Ifrah said. “Let me tell you something about gamblers: They don’t give their money to anybody and I highly doubt they would have given it to Reid. When they have cash to spend, they gamble with it — period.”
Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Mr. Reid, confirmed that Mr. Johnson attended the fundraiser.
Senator Reid met with a large group of supporters, just as he met with thousands of people over the course of his re-election campaign, and took pictures and shook hands with countless people. The record indicates that Mr. Johnson was present at this large group meeting, but Senator Reid does not recall him as anything other than a face in the crowd,” Mr. Jentleson said.
“The event was a fundraiser, but Sen. Reid himself did not make a personal appeal for money. Fundraising is a necessary reality of politics and Sen. Reid has always conducted his fundraising activities with full transparency and in full compliance with the law,” he added.
When Mr. Johnson’s accusations were first made public last year, Mr. Reid called him a man of “low record and character” and termed his accounts as “absurd and utterly false.”
Mr. Jentleson echoed those sentiments Thursday.
Mr. Johnson is a desperate individual who’s been indicted on over 80 counts. His allegations are false and the flailings of a desperate man,” the Reid spokesman said.
Mr. Reid had long opposed online poker, making clear his position in a 2006 news conference.
“I, at one time in my career, was chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, which is the regulator for gaming in Nevada. I was there when gaming went to New Jersey. I do not believe in Internet gambling,” Mr. Reid told reporters. “I know how hard gambling is to control. I had my life threatened on more than one occasion as a result of untoward people who were involved in Nevada gambling. I was involved in shutting down major hotels because of the involvement of organized crime. The commodity of gambling is cash. And someone asked me if I oppose a study. I don’t oppose a study. If anyone wants to study it, they can study it. But unless I’m convinced differently, I do not favor Internet gambling.”
Shortly after Mr. Reid won re-election, the Senate majority leader surprised many by publicly supporting legislation to legalize online poker.
“Under the status quo, Internet poker is played by millions of Americans every day in an essentially unregulated environment,” Mr. Reid said in December 2010. “The legislation I am working on would get our collective heads out of the sand and create a strict regulatory environment to protect U.S. consumers, prevent underage gambling and respect the decisions of states that don’t allow gambling.”
Mr. Reid’s spokesman said his boss actually began reconsidering that position in late 2009, well before the fundraiser.
Sen. Reid has always opposed broad-based online gaming, in part because of concerns that it could not be regulated. Since the issue first arose nearly a decade ago, new regulations and new technologies have been developed, including technologies that would enable sites to block minors. Due to these and other developments, Sen. Reid became convinced over time that states should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to allow online poker,” Mr. Jentleson said.
Tainted accuser
Mr. Johnson’s credibility is certain to come under attack from anyone he levels accusations against.
Federal prosecutors secured a federal indictment accusing the St. George, Utah, businessman of 86 criminal charges accusing him and other executives of his former financial firm of bilking tens of thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars.
A plea deal between him and the government fell through before the charges were filed, and the U.S. attorney’s office subsequently secured a gag order from a federal judge prohibiting Mr. Johnson from talking to the media.
Despite the accusations portraying Mr. Johnson as a swindler, FBI and state investigators have unearthed some early information that would substantiate some aspects of his claims against state and federal officials.
They include canceled checks of some of the payments Mr. Johnson purportedly made to third parties other than Mr. Reid, other bank records and even a photo of the fundraiser with Mr. Reid, officials said.
Lee questions
The questions in the broad-ranging state probe that surround Mr. Lee involve real estate transactions in which the Republican bought a home for $1.1 million in Utah in 2008 when he was still a private lawyer and then sold it for $720,000 after becoming a senator, leaving his mortgage bank, J.P. Morgan, to absorb a significant loss.
Investigators want to know whether Mr. Lee accurately described his personal finances in conjunction with the mortgage transactions.
Investigators have gathered information that Mr. Lee sold the home in a short sale in 2011 to a campaign contributor and federal contractor. As part of the short sale, Mr. Lee forfeited his down payment and left the rest of the loss to his bank, then immediately turned around and rented another property from the same donor for just more than $2,000 a month.
A spokesman for Mr. Lee confirmed the house transactions but said the senator accurately reported all of his finances and all the transactions were legal and proper.
“The purchase of the house was completely aboveboard so there was little to consider about appearances,” spokesman Brian Phillips said, adding that Mr. Lee at the time of the house transaction didn’t even know the buyer was a federal contractor.
Around the same time, Mr. Lee made a speech on the Senate floor praising the same donor who bought his home. Mr. Lee called the donor a “friend” and suggested the donor’s books and writings might offer a blueprint for compromise in congressional budget talks.
Mr. Phillips said his boss did no other favors for the donor and that the brief mention on the Senate floor was “an off-the-cuff, unplanned remark referencing a single line from a widely sold book” by the donor.
Mr. Lee told a local newspaper in Utah that his sale of the home and the rental of the new property were not connected, but rather separate transactions involving the same friend. He said he gained empathy with average Americans after experiencing the loss of his first home in the short sale.
“It certainly is something that is painful to go through, and I know a lot of people are going through it, and I feel for those who have had to go through it,” Mr. Lee told the Salt Lake City Tribune.
ABC News contributed to this report.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Are New Zealanders equal under law- or do Maori have priority?

The Matakana litigation proved we are not equal under the law. Arklow Investment's rights were shut down by judges with a hidden agenda to deliver Matakana Island to Maori at any expense. The Maori defendants didn't even have rights to those assets- but the judges created them by ignoring the law and the facts.
See Arklow vs Mclean. 

David Round: Treaty 'rights' a trap in constitution plan

9:30 AM Friday Jan 18, 2013       You need kidney dialysis. But you cannot get it, because people of Maori ancestry, although less deserving of treatment on purely clinical grounds, have priority. You have paid your taxes all your life. You die.
Impossible? At present, yes - we hope. But several years ago when an elderly man in Northland was ruled ineligible for dialysis - on solely clinical grounds - the Maori Council declared elderly Maori people were "taonga" and therefore entitled to treatment under the Treaty of Waitangi, which would give them priority over non-Maori.
If, then, we were saddled with a written constitution which referred to the Treaty and its alleged "principles", we could easily have racial discrimination in health care.
Why should that surprise us? The Treaty's words are now twisted to mean their exact opposite. The Treaty said Maori and settler were to be equals under the Queen's government. In Captain Hobson's words, "Now we are one people". But by the modern "principles", "Maori" are not the Queen's subjects but her "partners" in governing New Zealand. The "taonga" Maori were promised are now not just their physical property - what the word undoubtedly meant in 1840 - but anything Maori might take a fancy to.
To give these "principles" overriding legal standing would be utterly disastrous for our country. Yet incredibly, a racially-stacked panel appointed by the Maori and National parties is considering how to put the Treaty into our constitution.
Our present Chief Justice considers herself entitled to declare acts of Parliament invalid if they offend against her own extreme understanding of Treaty "principles". That is, essentially, treason. Parliament has been our undisputed supreme lawmaker for centuries, yet this usurper longs to replace our democracy with her own decrees.
But we can be certain that once authorised by a written constitution's reference to Treaty "principles" and Maori "rights" she and some of her unelected unaccountable fellows would need no second bidding before establishing themselves as our supreme and eternal rulers. The rule that power tends to corrupt does not have an exception for the judiciary.
Once Treaty "principles" were in a constitution, all our laws and legal arrangements would be open to challenge in the courts for failure to provide what the "principles" require.
Some Maori are already claiming that full and final settlements are impossible, because they are "not the Maori way". If judges agree, and overturn finality clauses accordingly, there will be further rounds of claims ad nauseam.
Since the Waitangi Tribunal now interprets "taonga" to mean anything that Maori want, then Maori could claim any valuable public resource - water, oil, air - on the basis of Treaty "principles".
Maori would clearly like the public conservation estate, an enormous area full of useful timber, water, minerals, scenery for tourism ventures. Privatisation to them will be just as objectionable as any other privatisation. Brown people can be greedy capitalists too.
There is no reason Treaty "principles" should not force themselves on to private property. Already, "wahi tapu" - "sacred sites" - can be declared over private property without the landowner's consent, even without anything being physically there. Thereafter an owner may not alter his land without official - and Maori - permission.
At present the Waitangi Tribunal may not recommend that private land be "returned" to Maori ownership. But if Treaty principles are our supreme law, surely Maori claims to land ownership must take priority.
If Treaty "principles" are supreme, then not only laws, but Parliament's allocations of money will be subject to the courts' direction. Already judges have discovered a Treaty obligation to fund the Maori language generously. If Treaty "rights" required more taxpayer money for Maori health, social welfare, anything, the constitution would justify it. An adequate income sufficient for a dignified and comfortable lifestyle - and a lot of child support - must surely be a Treaty right. Freedom from crushing taxation and parasitic con-artists will run a very poor second. We will still pay the taxes, but our Parliament will be unable to decide conclusively how to spend them. We will be back to taxation without representation.
Even worse follows. Beyond all this looms the "principle" of "partnership" or, more ominously, "co-governance". Maori claim that as "partners" their representation in decision-making should not be on the democratic basis of one adult one vote, but on 50:50 Maori: non-Maori representation. Some already speak of a separate Maori House of Parliament whose approval for all laws would be necessary.
Once they have this 50:50 representation, they will form an unassailable voting bloc. Then we will be at their mercy - or not - forever, and our country will be irrevocably stuffed.
All this is being plotted right now.

David Round teaches law at the University of Canterbury.
- NZ Herald

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Facts dont matter- in fact- facts make idiots even more stupid

How facts backfire

Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains

By Joe Keohane
July 11, 2010

It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight. In the end, truth will out. Won’t it?Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite.
In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”These findings open a long-running argument about the political ignorance of American citizens to broader questions about the interplay between the nature of human intelligence and our democratic ideals. Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote. This effect is only heightened by the information glut, which offers — alongside an unprecedented amount of good information — endless rumors, misinformation, and questionable variations on the truth. In other words, it’s never been easier for people to be wrong, and at the same time feel more certain that they’re right.“Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be,” read a recent Onion headline. Like the best satire, this nasty little gem elicits a laugh, which is then promptly muffled by the queasy feeling of recognition. The last five decades of political science have definitively established that most modern-day Americans lack even a basic understanding of how their country works. In 1996, Princeton University’s Larry M. Bartels argued, “the political ignorance of the American voter is one of the best documented data in political science.”On its own, this might not be a problem: People ignorant of the facts could simply choose not to vote. But instead, it appears that misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions. A striking recent example was a study done in the year 2000, led by James Kuklinski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He led an influential experiment in which more than 1,000 Illinois residents were asked questions about welfare — the percentage of the federal budget spent on welfare, the number of people enrolled in the program, the percentage of enrollees who are black, and the average payout. More than half indicated that they were confident that their answers were correct — but in fact only 3 percent of the people got more than half of the questions right. Perhaps more disturbingly, the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic. (Most of these participants expressed views that suggested a strong antiwelfare bias.)Studies by other researchers have observed similar phenomena when addressing education, health care reform, immigration, affirmative action, gun control, and other issues that tend to attract strong partisan opinion. Kuklinski calls this sort of response the “I know I’m right” syndrome, and considers it a “potentially formidable problem” in a democratic system. “It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs,” he wrote, “but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so.”What’s going on? How can we have things so wrong, and be so sure that we’re right? Part of the answer lies in the way our brains are wired. Generally, people tend to seek consistency. There is a substantial body of psychological research showing that people tend to interpret information with an eye toward reinforcing their preexisting views. If we believe something about the world, we are more likely to passively accept as truth any information that confirms our beliefs, and actively dismiss information that doesn’t. This is known as “motivated reasoning.” Whether or not the consistent information is accurate, we might accept it as fact, as confirmation of our beliefs. This makes us more confident in said beliefs, and even less likely to entertain facts that contradict them. New research, published in the journal Political Behavior last month, suggests that once those facts — or “facts” — are internalized, they are very difficult to budge. In 2005, amid the strident calls for better media fact-checking in the wake of the Iraq war, Michigan’s Nyhan and a colleague devised an experiment in which participants were given mock news stories, each of which contained a provably false, though nonetheless widespread, claim made by a political figure: that there were WMDs found in Iraq (there weren’t), that the Bush tax cuts increased government revenues (revenues actually fell), and that the Bush administration imposed a total ban on stem cell research (only certain federal funding was restricted). Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took.For the most part, it didn’t. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic — a factor known as salience — the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.It’s unclear what is driving the behavior — it could range from simple defensiveness, to people working harder to defend their initial beliefs — but as Nyhan dryly put it, “It’s hard to be optimistic about the effectiveness of fact-checking.”It would be reassuring to think that political scientists and psychologists have come up with a way to counter this problem, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves. The persistence of political misperceptions remains a young field of inquiry. “It’s very much up in the air,” says Nyhan.But researchers are working on it. One avenue may involve self-esteem. Nyhan worked on one study in which he showed that people who were given a self-affirmation exercise were more likely to consider new information than people who had not. In other words, if you feel good about yourself, you’ll listen — and if you feel insecure or threatened, you won’t. This would also explain why demagogues benefit from keeping people agitated. The more threatened people feel, the less likely they are to listen to dissenting opinions, and the more easily controlled they are.There are also some cases where directness works. Kuklinski’s welfare study suggested that people will actually update their beliefs if you hit them “between the eyes” with bluntly presented, objective facts that contradict their preconceived ideas. He asked one group of participants what percentage of its budget they believed the federal government spent on welfare, and what percentage they believed the government should spend. Another group was given the same questions, but the second group was immediately told the correct percentage the government spends on welfare (1 percent). They were then asked, with that in mind, what the government should spend. Regardless of how wrong they had been before receiving the information, the second group indeed adjusted their answer to reflect the correct fact. Kuklinski’s study, however, involved people getting information directly from researchers in a highly interactive way. When Nyhan attempted to deliver the correction in a more real-world fashion, via a news article, it backfired. Even if people do accept the new information, it might not stick over the long term, or it may just have no effect on their opinions. In 2007 John Sides of George Washington University and Jack Citrin of the University of California at Berkeley studied whether providing misled people with correct information about the proportion of immigrants in the US population would affect their views on immigration. It did not.And if you harbor the notion — popular on both sides of the aisle — that the solution is more education and a higher level of political sophistication in voters overall, well, that’s a start, but not the solution. A 2006 study by Charles Taber and Milton Lodge at Stony Brook University showed that politically sophisticated thinkers were even less open to new information than less sophisticated types. These people may be factually right about 90 percent of things, but their confidence makes it nearly impossible to correct the 10 percent on which they’re totally wrong. Taber and Lodge found this alarming, because engaged, sophisticated thinkers are “the very folks on whom democratic theory relies most heavily.”In an ideal world, citizens would be able to maintain constant vigilance, monitoring both the information they receive and the way their brains are processing it. But keeping atop the news takes time and effort. And relentless self-questioning, as centuries of philosophers have shown, can be exhausting. Our brains are designed to create cognitive shortcuts — inference, intuition, and so forth — to avoid precisely that sort of discomfort while coping with the rush of information we receive on a daily basis. Without those shortcuts, few things would ever get done. Unfortunately, with them, we’re easily suckered by political falsehoods.Nyhan ultimately recommends a supply-side approach. Instead of focusing on citizens and consumers of misinformation, he suggests looking at the sources. If you increase the “reputational costs” of peddling bad info, he suggests, you might discourage people from doing it so often. “So if you go on ‘Meet the Press’ and you get hammered for saying something misleading,” he says, “you’d think twice before you go and do it again.”Unfortunately, this shame-based solution may be as implausible as it is sensible. Fast-talking political pundits have ascended to the realm of highly lucrative popular entertainment, while professional fact-checking operations languish in the dungeons of wonkery. Getting a politician or pundit to argue straight-faced that George W. Bush ordered 9/11, or that Barack Obama is the culmination of a five-decade plot by the government of Kenya to destroy the United States — that’s easy. Getting him to register shame? That isn’t.

Joe Keohane is a writer in New York. -
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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Noam Chomsky: Why Americans Know So Much About Sports But So Little About World Affairs

The way the system is set up, there is virtually nothing people can do anyway to influence the real world. 

The following is a short excerpt from a classic, The Chomsky Reader, which offers a unique insight on a question worth asking -- how is it that we as a people can be so knowledgable about the intricacies of various sports teams, yet be colossally ignorant about our various undertakings abroad? 
QUESTION: You've written about the way that professional ideologists and the mandarins obfuscate reality. And you have spoken -- in some places you call it a "Cartesian common sense" -- of the commonsense capacities of people. Indeed, you place a significant emphasis on this common sense when you reveal the ideological aspects of arguments, especially in contemporary social science. What do you mean by common sense? What does it mean in a society like ours? For example, you've written that within a highly competitive, fragmented society, it's very difficult for people to become aware of what their interests are. If you are not able to participate in the political system in meaningful ways, if you are reduced to the role of a passive spectator, then what kind of knowledge do you have? How can common sense emerge in this context?
CHOMSKY: Well, let me give an example. When I'm driving, I sometimes turn on the radio and I find very often that what I'm listening to is a discussion of sports. These are telephone conversations. People call in and have long and intricate discussions, and it's plain that quite a high degree of thought and analysis is going into that. People know a tremendous amount. They know all sorts of complicated details and enter into far-reaching discussion about whether the coach made the right decision yesterday and so on. These are ordinary people, not professionals, who are applying their intelligence and analytic skills in these areas and accumulating quite a lot of knowledge and, for all I know, understanding. On the other hand, when I hear people talk about, say, international affairs or domestic problems, it's at a level of superficiality that's beyond belief.
In part, this reaction may be due to my own areas of interest, but I think it's quite accurate, basically. And I think that this concentration on such topics as sports makes a certain degree of sense. The way the system is set up, there is virtually nothing people can do anyway, without a degree of organization that's far beyond anything that exists now, to influence the real world. They might as well live in a fantasy world, and that's in fact what they do. I'm sure they are using their common sense and intellectual skills, but in an area which has no meaning and probably thrives because it has no meaning, as a displacement from the serious problems which one cannot influence and affect because the power happens to lie elsewhere.
Now it seems to me that the same intellectual skill and capacity for understanding and for accumulating evidence and gaining information and thinking through problems could be used -- would be used -- under different systems of governance which involve popular participation in important decision-making, in areas that really matter to human life.
There are questions that are hard. There are areas where you need specialized knowledge. I'm not suggesting a kind of anti-intellectualism. But the point is that many things can be understood quite well without a very far-reaching, specialized knowledge. And in fact even a specialized knowledge in these areas is not beyond the reach of people who happen to be interested.
QUESTION: Do you think people are inhibited by expertise?
CHOMSKY: There are also experts about football, but these people don't defer to them. The people who call in talk with complete confidence. They don't care if they disagree with the coach or whoever the local expert is. They have their own opinion and they conduct intelligent discussions. I think it's an interesting phenomenon. Now I don't think that international or domestic affairs are much more complicated. And what passes for serious intellectual discourse on these matters does not reflect any deeper level of understanding or knowledge.
One finds something similar in the case of so-called primitive cultures. What you find very often is that certain intellectual systems have been constructed of considerable intricacy, with specialized experts who know all about it and other people who don't quite understand and so on. For example, kinship systems are elaborated to enormous complexity. Many anthropologists have tried to show that this has some functional utility in the society. But one function may just be intellectual. It's a kind of mathematics. These are areas where you can use your intelligence to create complex and intricate systems and elaborate their properties pretty much the way we do mathematics. They don't have mathematics and technology; they have other systems of cultural richness and complexity. I don't want to overdraw the analogy, but something similar may be happening here.
The gas station attendant who wants to use his mind isn't going to waste his time on international affairs, because that's useless; he can't do anything about it anyhow, and he might learn unpleasant things and even get into trouble. So he might as well do it where it's fun, and not threatening -- professional football or basketball or something like that. But the skills are being used and the understanding is there and the intelligence is there. One of the functions that things like professional sports play, in our society and others, is to offer an area to deflect people's attention from things that matter, so that the people in power can do what matters without public interference.
QUESTION: I asked a while ago whether people are inhibited by the aura of expertise. Can one turn this around -- are experts and intellectuals afraid of people who could apply the intelligence of sport to their own areas of competency in foreign affairs, social sciences, and so on?
CHOMSKY: I suspect that this is rather common. Those areas of inquiry that have to do with problems of immediate human concern do not happen to be particularly profound or inaccessible to the ordinary person lacking any special training who takes the trouble to learn something about them. Commentary on public affairs in the mainstream literature is often shallow and uninformed. Everyone who writes and speaks about these matters knows how much you can get away with as long as you keep close to received doctrine. I'm sure just about everyone exploits these privileges. I know I do. When I refer to Nazi crimes or Soviet atrocities, for example, I know that I will not be called upon to back up what I say, but a detailed scholarly apparatus is necessary if I say anything critical about the practice of one of the Holy States: the United States itself, or Israel, since it was enshrined by the intelligentsia after its 1967 victory. This freedom from the requirements of evidence or even rationality is quite a convenience, as any informed reader of the journals of public opinion, or even much of the scholarly literature, will quickly discover. It makes life easy, and permits expression of a good deal of nonsense or ignorant bias with impunity, also sheer slander. Evidence is unnecessary, argument beside the point. Thus a standard charge against American dissidents or even American liberals -- I've cited quite a few cases in print and have collected many others -- is that they claim that the United States is the sole source of evil in the world or other similar idiocies; the convention is that such charges are entirely legitimate when the target is someone who does not march in the appropriate parades, and they are therefore produced without even a pretense of evidence. Adherence to the party line confers the right to act in ways that would properly be regarded as scandalous on the part of any critic of received orthodoxies. Too much public awareness might lead to a demand that standards of integrity should be met, which would certainly save a lot of forests from destruction, and would send many a reputation tumbling.
The right to lie in the service of power is guarded with considerable vigor and passion. This becomes evident whenever anyone takes the trouble to demonstrate that charges against some official enemy are inaccurate or, sometimes, pure invention. The immediate reaction among the commissars is that the person is an apologist for the real crimes of official enemies. The case of Cambodia is a striking example. That the Khmer Rouge were guilty of gruesome atrocities was doubted by no one, apart from a few marginal Maoist sects. It is also true, and easily documented, that Western propaganda seized upon these crimes with great relish, exploiting them to provide a retrospective justification for Western atrocities, and since standards are nonexistent in such a noble cause, they also produced a record of fabrication and deceit that is quite remarkable. Demonstration of this fact, and fact it is, elicited enormous outrage, along with a stream of new and quite spectacular lies, as Edward Herman and I, among others, have documented. The point is that the right to lie in the service of the state was being challenged, and that is an unspeakable crime. Similarly, anyone who points out that some charge against Cuba, Nicaragua, Vietnam, or some other official enemy is dubious or false will immediately be labeled an apologist for real or alleged crimes, a useful technique to ensure that rational standards will not be imposed on the commissars and that there will be no impediment to their loyal service to power. The critic typically has little access to the media, and the personal consequences for the critic are sufficiently annoying to deter many from taking this course, particularly because some journals -- the New Republic, for example -- sink to the ultimate level of dishonesty and cowardice, regularly refusing to permit even the right of response to slanders they publish. Hence the sacred right to lie is likely to be preserved without too serious a threat. But matters might be different if unreliable sectors of the public were admitted into the arena of discussion and debate.
The aura of alleged expertise also provides a way for the indoctrination system to provide its services to power while maintaining a useful image of indifference and objectivity. The media, for example, can turn to academic experts to provide the perspective that is required by the centers of power, and the university system is sufficiently obedient to external power so that appropriate experts will generally be available to lend the prestige of scholarship to the narrow range of opinion permitted broad expression. Or when this method fails -- as in the current case of Latin America, for example, or in the emerging discipline of terrorology -- a new category of "experts" can be established who can be trusted to provide the approved opinions that the media cannot express directly without abandoning the pretense of objectivity that serves to legitimate their propaganda function. I've documented many examples, as have others.
The guild structure of the professions concerned with public affairs also helps to preserve doctrinal purity. In fact, it is guarded with much diligence. My own personal experience is perhaps relevant. As I mentioned earlier, I do not have the usual professional credentials in any field, and my own work has ranged fairly widely. Some years ago, for example, I did some work in mathematical linguistics and automata theory, and occasionally gave invited lectures at mathematics or engineering colloquia. No one would have dreamed of challenging my credentials to speak on these topics -- which were zero, as everyone knew; that would have been laughable. The participants were concerned with what I had to say, not my right to say it. But when I speak, say, about international affairs, I'm constantly challenged to present the credentials that authorize me to enter this august arena, in the United States, at least -- elsewhere not. It's a fair generalization, I think, that the more a discipline has intellectual substance, the less it has to protect itself from scrutiny, by means of a guild structure. The consequences with regard to your question are pretty obvious.
QUESTION: You have said that most intellectuals end up obfuscating reality. Do they understand the reality they are obfuscating? Do they understand the social processes they mystify?
CHOMSKY: Most people are not liars. They can't tolerate too much cognitive dissonance. I don't want to deny that there are outright liars, just brazen propagandists. You can find them in journalism and in the academic professions as well. But I don't think that's the norm. The norm is obedience, adoption of uncritical attitudes, taking the easy path of self-deception. I think there's also a selective process in the academic professions and journalism. That is, people who are independent minded and cannot be trusted to be obedient don't make it, by and large. They're often filtered out along the way. [...]
FromThe Chomsky Reader,as published on Noam Chomsky's personal site. (Serpents Tail Publishing, 1988). 

The Strange, Twisted Logic of the ISIS War


A U.S. veteran opposed to the war and occupation of Iraq in 2007. (Photo: flickr / cc / Night Heron)
Officials in Washington are inadvertently providing some insight into the strange logic of their nebulous war against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, in contradictory and puerile statements about whether the military action should be called a war, or perhaps something else.
Backtracking on an earlier statement that the action against ISIS is simply a “counterterrorism operation,” Secretary of State John Kerry clarified in an interview on Sunday that it is, in fact, a “war.”
“In terms of al-Qaeda, which we have used the word ‘war’ with, yeah, we are at war with al-Qaeda and its affiliates,” Kerry said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“And in the same context if you want to use it, yes, we are at war with ISIL in that sense. But I think it’s a waste of time to focus on that,” Kerry said, adding that there’s “kind of tortured debate going on about terminology.”
On one hand, Kerry may be right that these semantic arguments are something of a distraction, since the debate should be more properly focused on whether the policies of airstrikes are effective, legal, moral and justified, not whether they are called a “war” or a “counterterrorism operation.”
On the other hand, the very fact that we are having this public dispute about which of our military actions qualify as “wars,” which ones are “counterterrorism operations,” and which ones are just run-of-the-mill bombing campaigns should sound the alarm that our political culture of perpetual war is out of control, having reached a bizarre and perilous point about which Americans are increasingly confused and the Constitution is ill-equipped to handle.
Indicative of this strange new normal was a poll released Sept. 4 revealing that few Americans actually know which countries the U.S. is currently bombing. Only about one third of Americans, according to the YouGov survey, knew that the U.S. has not yet conducted strikes in Syria, while 30 percent thought that it has, and the remainder admitted they were unsure.
At the same time, just a quarter of Americans knew that the U.S. military has carried out strikes in Somalia and Pakistan during the past six months, and only 16 percent were aware of strikes in Yemen.
It’s hard to imagine another country on earth in which the citizens could be so confused about which countries were currently being bombed by their government, but then again, no other country on earth is bombing so many other countries so regularly.
When it comes to the strikes targeting ISIS, when administration officials are not arguing about what to call the operation, they seem to be crafting flimsy legal foundations for the strikes by dusting off the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force.
These rationales have not been terribly convincing, with the New York Times pointing out that the 2001 law applied specifically to the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and al-Qaeda more broadly, but since ISIS is not affiliated with al-Qaeda, the law clearly doesn’t apply to the current situation.
“The fact that al-Qaeda has disavowed ISIS, deeming it too radical, does not seem to prevent the administration from ignoring the logic of the law,” the Times noted.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has not even bothered to provide a justification for the strikes under international law.
It has instead asserted without elaboration that borders present no constraints to U.S. military action. “We are lifting the restrictions on our air campaigns,” a senior administration official told reporters during a recent background briefing. “We are dealing with an organization that operates freely across a border, and we will not be constrained by that border.”
Under international law, however, borders most certainly do pose constraints. The sanctity of borders is enshrined in the UN Charter in fact, which states, “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
One reason for the administration’s silence regarding the international legal basis for the possible use of force against ISIS in Syria is that none exists, since the Bashar al-Assad regime has not consented to the use of force in its territory.
As John Bellinger writes at Lawfare, “This will leave the administration to cobble together a variety of international legal rationales.” Some of these might include the argument that ISIS is part of al-Qaeda and therefore part of the U.S. armed conflict, or perhaps some sort of co-belligerency theory, or perhaps collective self-defense.
“Ultimately,” Bellinger speculates, “the administration may choose not to articulate an international legal basis at all, and instead to cite a variety of factual ‘factors’ that ‘justify’ the use of force, as the Clinton administration did for the Kosovo war.  But it would be much preferable for the administration to provide legal reasons.”
This is especially true considering the fact that the administration has recently been waving around “international law” as a rallying cry to confront and isolate Russia over its alleged meddling in eastern Ukraine in recent months. As Secretary of State John Kerry said following the Russian annexation of Crimea last spring, “What has already happened is a brazen act of aggression, in violation of international law and violation of the UN Charter.”
President Obama touted principles of international law in a speech last May at West Point at which he emphasized the importance of the U.S. setting the standard for upholding legal principles and international norms. “American influence is always stronger when we lead by example,” he said. “We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else.”
Now that international law is being cast aside by the United States, it is Russia who is emerging as one of the strongest critics of the threatened actions against the territorial integrity of Syria. Moscow said Thursday that air strikes against militants in Syria without a UN Security Council mandate would be an act of aggression.
“The U.S. president has spoken directly about the possibility of strikes by the U.S. armed forces against [ISIS] positions in Syria without the consent of the legitimate government,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.
“This step, in the absence of a UN Security Council decision, would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law.”
Then there is the fundamental issue of whether the war – or counterterrorism operation – would even achieve its stated goals of degrading ISIS and eliminating the threat that it allegedly poses to U.S. security.
The morning after President Obama made his case to the American people as to why the nation’s security depends on decisive military action against ISIS, the New York Times again called into question the administration’s strange logic with a front-page story announcing that “American intelligence agencies have concluded that [ISIS] poses no immediate threat to the United States,” but that attacking the group could lead to substantial blowback.
“Some American officials,” according to the Times, “warn of the potential danger of a prolonged military campaign in the Middle East, led by the United States, and say there are risks that escalating airstrikes could do the opposite of what they are intended to do and fan the threat of terrorism on American soil.”
As Andrew Liepman, a former deputy director at the National Counterterrorism Center who is now a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, explained: “It’s pretty clear that upping our involvement in Iraq and Syria makes it more likely that we will be targeted by the people we are attacking.”
So, on just about every front, the case for war seems to defy all logic. But at the same time, so too does the entire premise of perpetual war. Perhaps that is what the administration hopes we forget as we debate the proper terminology for this particular operation.
Nat Parry is the co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush. Follow him on Twitter: @natparry

Sunday, September 14, 2014

It is their belief that humans are good at heart

Here's the story behind this wonderful photo:

"There's a tribe in Africa that has a very beautiful custom. When one of the members makes a mistake, the entire tribe surrounds him/her and for two days, they speak of the great things that member has done. It is their belief that humans are good at heart and that we all seek security, love, peace and happiness.... However, in this pursuit, we sometimes make mistakes and when that happens, the tribe unites to reconnect that member with his/her real nature. This tribe's greeting is SAWUBONA, or I value you, I respect you, you are important to me. And the reply is SIKHONA or so I exist for you."

NZ spies on its citizens? Well actually they get the USA to do it

I mentioned this story in advance years ago that NZ spies on its citizens. For the PM to claim GCSB doesn't spy in its people is a lie in the sense it simply allows full access to NZ via the NSA global grid and simply asks them for any data thereby allowing themselves compliance of local NZ law.

Read this-

People are shocked by the scope of secret state spying on their private communications, especially in light of documentary evidence leaked to media outlets by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
While the public is rightly angered by the illegal, unconstitutional nature of NSA programs which seize and store data for retrospective harvesting by intelligence and law enforcement officials, including the content of phone calls, emails, geolocational information, bank records, credit card purchases, travel itineraries, even medical records–in secret, and with little in the way of effective oversight–the historical context of how, and why, this vast spying apparatus came to be is often given short shrift.
Revelations about NSA spying didn’t begin June 5, 2013 however, the day when The Guardian published a top secret FISA Court Order to Verizon, ordering the firm turn over the telephone records on millions of its customers “on an ongoing daily basis.”
Before PRISM there was ECHELON: the top secret surveillance program whose all-encompassing “dictionaries” (high-speed computers powered by complex algorithms) ingest and sort key words and text scooped-up by a global network of satellites, from undersea cables and land-based microwave towers.
Confronted by a dizzying array of code-named programs, the casual observer will assume the spymasters running these intrusive operations are all-knowing mandarins with their fingers on the pulse of global events.
Yet, if disastrous US policies from Afghanistan and Iraq to the ongoing capitalist economic meltdown tell us anything, it is that the American superpower, in President Nixon’s immortal words, really is “a pitiful, helpless giant.”
In fact, the same programs used to surveil the population at large have also been turned inward by the National Security State against itself and targets military and political elites who long thought themselves immune from such close attention.
Coupled with Snowden’s disclosures, those of former NSA officer Russell Tice (first reported here and here), revealed that the agency–far in excess of the dirt collected by FBI spymaster J. Edgar Hoover in his “secret and confidential” black files–has compiled dossiers on their alleged controllers, for political leverage and probably for blackmail purposes to boot.
While Tice’s allegations certainly raised eyebrows and posed fundamental questions about who is really in charge of American policy–elected officials or unaccountable securocrats with deep ties to private security corporations–despite being deep-sixed by US media, they confirm previous reporting about the agency.
When investigative journalist Duncan Campbell first blew the lid off NSA’s ECHELON program, his 1988 piece for New Statesman revealed that a whistleblower, Margaret Newsham, a software designer employed by Lockheed at the giant agency listening post at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, England, stepped forward and told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in closed session, that NSA was using its formidable intercept capabilities “to locate the telephone or other messages of target individuals.”
Campbell’s reporting was followed in 1996 by New Zealand investigative journalist Nicky Hager’s groundbreaking book, Secret Power, the first detailed account of NSA’s global surveillance system. A summary of Hager’s findings can be found in the 1997 piece that appeared in CovertAction Quarterly.
As Campbell was preparing that 1988 article, a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer alleged that arch-conservative US Senator Strom Thurman was one target of agency phone intercepts, raising fears in political circles that “NSA has restored domestic, electronic, surveillance programmes,” said to have been dialed-back in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
Ironically enough, congressional efforts to mitigate abuses by the intelligence agencies exposed by the Church and Pike Committees in the 1970s, resulted in the 1978 creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. However, as The New York Times reported July 7, that court “in more than a dozen classified rulings . . . has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans,” a “parallel Supreme Court” whose rulings are beyond legal challenge.
In an 88-page report on ECHELON published in 2000 by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) Newsham said that when she worked on the development of SILKWORTH at the secret US base, described as “a system for processing information relayed from signals intelligence satellites,” she told Campbell and other reporters, including CBS News’ 60 Minutes, that “she witnessed and overheard” one of Thurman’s intercepted phone calls.
Like Thomas Drake, the senior NSA official prosecuted by the Obama administration under the 1917 Espionage Act, for information he provided The Baltimore Sun over widespread waste, fraud and abuse in the agency’s failed Trailblazer program, Newsham had testified before Congress and filed a lawsuit against Lockheed over charges of sexual harassment, “corruption and mis-spending on other US government ‘black’ projects.”
A year earlier, in a 1999 on the record interview with the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet, Newsham spoke to journalists Bo Elkjaer and Kenan Seeberg, telling them of her “constant fear” that “certain elements” within the US secret state would “try to silence her”; a point not lost on Edward Snowden today.
“As a result,” the newspaper reported, “she sleeps with a loaded pistol under her mattress, and her best friend is Mr. Gunther–a 120-pound German shepherd that was trained to be a guard and attack dog by a good friend in the Nevada State Police.”
“To me,” the whistleblower said, “there are only two issues at stake here: right or wrong. And the longer I worked on the clandestine surveillance projects, the more I could see that they were not only illegal, but also unconstitutional.”
“Even then,” between 1974 and 1984 when she worked on ECHELON, it “was very big and sophisticated.”
“As early as 1979 we could track a specific person and zoom in on his phone conversation while he was communicating,” Newsham averred. “Since our satellites could in 1984 film a postage stamp lying on the ground, it is almost impossible to imagine how all-encompassing the system must be today.”
When queried about “which part of the system is named Echelon,” Newsham told the reporters: “The computer network itself. The software programs are known as SILKWORTH and SIRE, and one of the most important surveillance satellites is named VORTEX. It intercepts things like phone conversations.”
Despite evidence presented in her congressional testimony about these illegal operations, “no substantive investigation took place, and no report was made to Congress,” Campbell later wrote.
“Since then,” the British journalist averred, “investigators have subpoenaed other witnesses and asked them to provide the complete plans and manuals of the ECHELON system and related projects. The plans and blueprints are said to show that targeting of US political figures would not occur by accident, but was designed into the system from the start.” (emphasis added)
This would explain why members of Congress, the federal Judiciary and the Executive Branch itself, as Tice alleges, tread lightly when it comes to crossing NSA. However, as information continues to emerge about these privacy-killing programs it should also be clear that the agency’s prime targets are not “terrorists,” judges or politicians, but the American people themselves.
In fact, as Snowden stated in a powerful message published by WikiLeaks: “In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised–and it should be.”
How did we get here? Is there a direct line from Cold War-era programs which targeted the Soviet Union and their allies, and which now, in the age of capitalist globalization, the epoch of planet-wide theft and plunder, now targets the entire world’s population?
ECHELON’s Roots: The UKUSA Agreement
Lost in the historical mists surrounding the origins of the Cold War, the close collaboration amongst Britain and the United States as they waged war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, by war’s end had morphed into a permanent intelligence-military alliance which predated the founding of NATO. With the defeat of the Axis powers, a new global division of labor was in the offing led by the undisputed superpower which emerged from the conflagration, the United States.
Self-appointed administrator over Europe’s old colonial holdings across Africa, Asia and the Middle East (the US already viewed Latin America as its private export dumping ground and source for raw materials), the US used its unparalleled position to benefit the giant multinational American firms grown larger and more profitable than ever as a result of wartime economic mobilization managed by the state.
By 1946, the permanent war economy which later came to be known as the Military-Industrial Complex, a semi-command economy directed by corporate executives, based on military, but also on emerging high-tech industries bolstered by taxpayer-based government investments, was already firmly entrenched and formed the political-economic base on which the so-called “American Century” was constructed.
While resource extraction and export market domination remained the primary goal of successive US administrations (best summarized by the slogan, “the business of government is business”), advances in technology in general and telecommunications in particular, meant that the system’s overlords required an intelligence apparatus that was always “on” as it “captured” the flood of electronic signals coursing across the planet.
The secret British and US agencies responsible for cracking German, Japanese and Russian codes during the war found themselves in a quandary. Should they declare victory and go home or train their sights on the new (old) adversary–their former ally, the Soviet Union–but also on home grown and indigenous communist and socialist movements more generally?
In opting for the latter, the UK-US wartime partnership evolved into a broad agreement to share signals and communications intelligence (SIGINT and COMINT), a set-up which persists today.
In 1946, Britain and the United States signed the United Kingdom-United States of America Agreement (UKUSA), a multilateral treaty to share signals intelligence amongst the two nations and Britain’s Commonwealth partners, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Known as the “Five Eyes” agreement, the treaty was such a closely-guarded secret that Australia’s Prime Minister was kept in the dark until 1973!
In 2010, the British National Archives released previously classified Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) files that provide an important historical overview of the agreement. Also in 2010, the National Security Agency followed suit and published formerly classified files from their archives. Accompanying NSA’s release was a 1955 amended version of the treaty.
It’s secretive nature is clearly spelled out: “It will be contrary to this Agreement to reveal its existence to any third party unless otherwise agreed by the two parties.”
In 2005, 2009 and 2013, The National Security Archive published a series of previously classified documents obtained from NSA under the Freedom of Information Act that revealed agency thinking on a range of subjects, from global surveillance to cyberwar.
What we have learned from these sources and reporting by Duncan Campbell and Nicky Hager, are that the five agencies feeding the surveillance behemoth, America’s NSA, Britain’s GCHQ, Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Australia’s Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) and New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), are subdivided into first and second tier partners, with the US, as befitting a hyperpower, forming the “1st party” and the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand forming “2nd party” partners.
Under terms of UKUSA, intelligence “products” are defined as “01. Collection of traffic. 02. Acquisition of communications documents and equipment. 03. Traffic analysis. 04. Cryptanalysis. 05. Decryption and translation. 06. Acquisition of information regarding communications organizations, procedures, practices and equipment.”
“Such exchange,” NSA informed us, “will be unrestricted on all work undertaken except when specifically excluded from the agreement at the request of either party and with the agreement of the other.”
“It is the intention of each party,” we’re told, “to limit such exceptions to the absolute minimum and to exercise no restrictions other than those reported and mutually agreed upon.”
This certainly leaves wide latitude for mischief as we learned with the Snowden disclosures.
Amid serious charges that “Five Eyes” were illegally seizing industrial and trade secrets from “3rd party” European partners such as France and Germany, detailed in the European Parliament’s 2001 ECHELON report, it should be clear by now that since its launch in 1968 when satellite communications became a practical reality, ECHELON has evolved into a global surveillance complex under US control.
The Global Surveillance System Today
The echoes of those earlier secret programs reverberate in today’s headlines.
Last month, The Guardian reported that the “collection of traffic” cited in UKUSA has been expanded to GCHQ’s “ability to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analysed. That operation, codenamed Tempora, has been running for some 18 months.”
Then on July 6, The Washington Post disclosed that NSA has tapped directly into those fiber optic cables, as AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein described to Wired Magazine in 2006, and now scoops-up petabyte scale communications flowing through the US internet backbone. The agency was able to accomplish this due to the existence of “an internal corporate cell of American citizens with government clearances.”
“Among their jobs documents show, was ensuring that surveillance requests got fulfilled quickly and confidentially.”
Following up on July 10, the Post published a new PRISM slide from the 41-slide deck provided to the paper by Edward Snowden.
The slide revealed that “two types of collection” now occur. One is the PRISM program that collects information from technology firms such as Google, Apple and Microsoft. The second source is “a separate category labeled ‘Upstream,’ described as accessing ‘communications on fiber cables and infrastructure as data flows past’.”
Recently, Der Spiegel, reported that NSA averred the agency “does NOT target its 2nd party partners, nor request that 2nd parties do anything that is inherently illegal for NSA to do.” This is an outright falsehood exposed by former Canadian Communications Security Establishment (CSE) officer Mike Frost.
In a 1997 CovertAction Quarterly exposé, Frost recounted how “CSE operated alone or joined with NSA or GCHQ to: intercept communications in other countries from the confines of Canadian embassies around the world with the knowledge of the ambassador; aid politicians, political parties, or factions in an allied country to gain partisan advantage; spy on its allies; spy on its own citizens; and perform ‘favors’ that helped its allies evade domestic laws against spying.”
“Throughout it all,” Frost insisted, “I was trained and controlled by US intelligence which told us what to do and how to do it.”
Everyone else, Der Spiegel reports, is fair game. “For all other countries, including the group of around 30 nations that are considered to be 3rd party partners, however, this protection does not apply. ‘We can, and often do, target the signals of most 3rd party foreign partners,’ the NSA boasts in an internal presentation.”
It should also be clear that targeting isn’t strictly limited to the governments and economic institutions of “3rd party foreign partners,” but extends to the private communications of their citizens. Der Spiegel, citing documents supplied by Snowden, reported that the agency “gathered metadata from some 15 million telephone conversations and 10 million Internet datasets.” The newsmagazine noted that “the Americans are collecting from up to half a billion communications a month in Germany,” describing the surveillance as “a complete structural acquisition of data.”
Despite hypocritical protests by European governments, on the contrary, Snowden disclosed that those “3rd party” partners are joined at the hip with their “Five Eyes” cousins.
In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, Snowden was asked if “German authorities or German politicians [are] involved in the NSA surveillance system?”
“Yes, of course. We’re in bed together with the Germans the same as with most other Western countries. For example, we tip them off when someone we want is flying through their airports (that we for example, have learned from the cell phone of a suspected hacker’s girlfriend in a totally unrelated third country–and they hand them over to us. They don’t ask to justify how we know something, and vice versa, to insulate their political leaders from the backlash of knowing how grievously they’re violating global privacy.”
Disclosing new information on how UKUSA functions today, Snowden told the German newsmagazine: “In some cases, the so-called Five Eye Partners go beyond what NSA itself does. For instance, the UK’s General [sic] Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has a system called TEMPORA.”
“TEMPORA,” the whistleblower averred, “is the signals intelligence community’s first ‘full-take’ Internet buffer that doesn’t care about content type and pays only marginal attention to the Human Rights Act. It snarfs everything, in a rolling buffer to allow retroactive investigation without missing a single bit.”
“Right now,” Snowden said, “the buffer can hold three days of traffic, but that’s being improved. Three days may not sound like much, but remember that that’s not metadata. ‘Full-take’ means it doesn’t miss anything, and ingests the entirety of each circuit’s capacity. If you send a single ICMP packet and it routes through the UK, we get it. If you download something and the CDN (Content Delivery Network) happens to serve from the UK, we get it. If your sick daughter’s medical records get processed at a London call center . . . well, you get the idea.”
We do; and thanks to Edward Snowden we now know that everyone is a target.