We are here.

So Ferguson happened.

The pictures say a lot, don’t they? What they say depends on who’s doing the looking. To me, it says dangerous times are ahead.

If you recall, I wrote about this very thing many months ago. In that piece, the militarization of America’s police departments was discussed. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we know that Ferguson has been a forward moving train..gathering steam..barrelling toward us at a speed sure to cause massive damage when it finally made impact. Armored vehicles and military grade weapons are not new. SWAT teams are not new. Abuse of authority is not new. So, I won’t go into all that again. This begs the question: Are we truly surprised? Or are we simply expert reactionary Facebook/Twitter/Instagram protesters?

If, indeed, you are truly surprised..or if you really don’t understand why minorities, all across the nation, are angry..or if you find it impossible to fathom the type of desperation, frustration, and hopelessness that causes you to destroy your own communities…

“Hence I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”

“I was going through the hardest thing, also the greatest thing, for any human being to do; to accept that which is already within you, and around you.” –Malcolm X

We are here.

Remember when I said it depended on who was doing the looking? Yeah, well, African-Americans have always been here. This type of drama plays out on the stages of our communities Every. Single. Day.

America has done this. America – with her high handedness, her conceit, her total lack of will to right her wrongs – has done this. America is masterful at “breaking” a subset of people, at burdening them until they collapse to their knees, then punishing them for not standing up straight. (Bootstraps, anyone?) Systemic racism is like kudzu in the foundation of this nation. It has sprung up around -and intertwined itself with- every aspect of life. So much so, that far too many can’t recognize what a privilege it is to not be black in America. America wants to keep us in check with The Dream. (That they began waking us up from before we got too deeply involved in it.)

Americans have allowed it. (And by Americans, I mean ALL of us. Hang on, black folk, I’ll get to you in a minute.) There has been silence where there should have been shouting. Heads have been turned when we should have faced issues head on. Apathy has replaced action. The face we show to the world has got to be flawless, but our inner workings are as ugly as homemade sin. That ugliness fuels riots and rebellion. Unfortunately, when a people is left without power, they react in ways those without such experiences can not possibly relate to.

But, here is the thing…you don’t need to relate. You need to acknowledge. So, you’ve heard of Michael Brown. And Trayvon Martin. You posted about how sad it was for their families. You posted about the senseless waste of life. You may have even found a local march in an attempt to show your support. And then, you moved on with your life. Life does go on, right?

Not for Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Russell, Aaron Campbell, Victor Steen, Alonzo Ashley, Wendell Allen, Oscar Grant, Ramarley Graham, Manuel Loggins, Ezell Ford, Kimani Gray, Amadou Diallo, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Sean Bell, Orlando Barlow, Steven Washington, Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Travares McGill, John Crawford III, or Eric Garner. To name a few.

The constitution was meaningless for these young men and thousands of others like them. But, guess what? That means that the constitution is meaningless for you, too. Today, your kids are pretty safe from lying in a pool of their own blood for hours in the middle of the street. What of tomorrow? Don’t think for a moment it can’t happen. It has already happened. For years, disgruntled blacks complaining of police brutality, harassment, and use of excessive force were ignored. Remember? We had it coming. We deserved it. We were whiners. While you were giving the “birds and bees” talk to your kids, we were giving the “statistics show that you will probably have an encounter with police, so this is how to avoid being shot” speech. Then one day, a funny thing happened. Your neighborhood cops became overzealous. They demanded respect without being bothered to return it. They began bursting into your homes, with or without warrants. Just like that, our problem became your problem. Welcome. You are here. What are you going to do about it? Point guns at officers of the law? You just might get away with it, but black people….

“America’s greatest crime against the black man was not slavery or lynching, but that he was taught to wear a mask of self-hate and self-doubt.”
“So early in my life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.”
― Malcolm X

….know they would be shot down. Immediately. So what do we do? March and sing? Riot and loot?

No.  Plan our lives!  We must give up on the notion that America cares. Still waiting for forty acres and a mule? Ha! Hell, we can’t even eat skittles or jaywalk! The first step is to know your worth. Self hatred, doubt, and lack of pride are the greatest enemies we face. Stop allowing this country to dictate your value. We must be present. Present in our homes and in the lives of our children. Present in our communities and programs that lift one another up. Present in our classrooms where we learn how to play the game.  Present in our children’s classrooms to ensure they are well prepared to face the world. And, like my Grandma always said, “America ain’t giving away nothing. Money talks, bullshit walks.”  Therefore, we must purchase our equality with the only currency power accepts – ballots and dollar bills. These are our weapons; we must wield them well. The logo on your foot, the name on your rear, nor the initials on your purse are more important than the number on your bank balance. Finally, speaking of walking, high step it to the voting booth. You can’t expect to be heard when you don’t speak!

“We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” —
Malcolm X

So, yes, we are here. But we don’t have to remain here. Stand for something.

 

Further Reading

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-ferguson-black-men

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/07/26/wealth-gaps-rise-to-record-highs-between-whites-blacks-hispanics/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/14/police-killings-data/14060357/

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/Modern-Parenthood/2014/0815/If-They-Gunned-Me-Down-on-Tumblr-Pressing-parents-to-take-a-second-look

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/michael-brown-shooting-us-cannot-lecture-others-on-human-rights-amnesty-says-9677800.html

 

The Covert Action Virus

Twenty or so years ago, I had a conversation with a soil scientist of my acquaintance, who had recently returned from an extended trip through Central America. He had been teaching alternative farming techniques to peasant farmers being squeezed into less and less available land, as part of a private aid group. It sounded to me like an ideal gig for the Peace Corps, so I was surprised when he answered: “Uh-uh. No way. If you’re in Central America with the Peace Corps, everyone just assumes you’re CIA. Nobody will talk to you, and you can’t get anything done.”
I was taken aback, given that, as the Peace Corps itself says:

Persons who have been employed by an intelligence agency, or otherwise have been associated with intelligence activities, are ineligible to serve as volunteers. This exclusionary policy is one aspect of the broader, long-standing policy of maintaining an absolute separation between Peace Corps and intelligence activities conducted by the U.S. government. This absolute separation is necessary to protect volunteers’ safety and to maintain the trust and confidence of the people in the countries in which volunteers serve.

The inverse, however, is also true. Because of this exclusionary policy, the Peace Corps would in fact make an excellent cover for an agent. This goes to the very nature of the deception that is the core of what intelligence agents do: it does not matter what lie is believed, as long as a lie is believed. As long as the target believes something that is not true, he/she can be manipulated. Which means that everything is a potential cover story, a legend, and a potential target for infiltration and exploitation. Every bureau, every commercial outlet, every information source is a potential target. Every cell of the body politic is susceptible to this, either proactively or by being compromised; a virus of deceit, secrecy, and covert action.

The problems with this are obvious, and became apparent to me again this morning, when I opened Firedoglake and saw USAID Fake HIV Center in Cuba Undermines Global Health Efforts. I followed the links; the gist, as reported by the AP, is that “Over at least two years, the U.S. Agency for International Development — best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid — sent nearly a dozen neophytes from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Peru to gin up opposition in Cuba.” These untrained agents, supplied with encrypted flash drives, and codes for communications, “posed as tourists, visited college campuses, and used…[a]n HIV-prevention workshop one called “the perfect excuse” to recruit political activists.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the operation was set up by the same contractor that dreamed up the failed “Cuban Twitter” project.

This program is being defended by the Obama Administration: according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, the program “enabled support for Cuban civil society, while providing a secondary benefit of addressing the desires Cubans express for information and training about HIV prevention.” Note the moment of honesty: the secondary benefit of the HIV awareness program was HIV awareness. The first was covert action.

This type of covert action is not rare, as Peter at FDL goes on to elaborate; nor is it just medical aid being used as cover. The fake NGO that was used to decapitate a FARC unit in Columbia is missing, but he includes the fake hepatitis vaccine program in Pakistan that helped identify Usama bin Laden-since then, the Pakistani Taliban has outlawed polio vaccination and killed 60 vaccination workers, allowing polio to make a robust comeback. Another one Peter could have pointed to was the role of the NED-the National Endowment for Democracy-in Ukraine, where it has spent tens of millions of dollars on a wide variety of programs. As  One of the founders of the NED-“whose purpose is to support foreign organizations sympathetic to US foreign policy goals” explained it in 1991“A lot of what we do was done 25 years ago covertly by the CIA.” And so it is: whether it be Nicaragua, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Albania, Iran, Cuba, Mongolia, or Venezuela, the NED is there. No wonder Putin was pissed about US operations in Ukraine. Every dollar spent there was intended to lessen Russian influence. Every single aspect of the “civil society” NED is supporting there can be considered a covert operation targeted on Russian interests.

And that’s the real issue-the meta-issue. The effect of using everything as a cover for covert operations is the certain destruction of the ability of people to have faith in institutions that, in a democracy, require faith to operate (rampant conspiracy theory-the guaranteed response to pervasive secrecy-has the same effect). You can have democracy-or you can have deceit and covert action. You can have citizen participation-or you can have counterintelligence programs designed to “expose disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize…” You can have journalism-or you can have Operation MOCKINGBIRD, in which the CIA compromised dozens of journalists and fed them CIA propaganda. You can have community policing-or you can have Phoenix Program-style counterinsurgency as law enforcement, in which pervasive surveillance, secret and unconstitutional police methods, and Special Operations teams combine to “neutralize threats.” Radley Balko reports an average of fifty thousand SWAT raids annually in the US…we have come a hell of a long way from “to serve and protect.”

And that’s the point-when everything is a covert action bureau, or cover, that is all it is. It cannot be an institution that operates by deceit and covert violence, AND be a democratically-controlled institution responsive to citizens’ needs. You can have democracy, and freedom, and all the messy processes that democratic institutions require to operate; or you can have the expediency, secrecy, deception, and violence of government-by-secret-police-agency. When your service providers collect and sell your information; when your cell phone is tracked by retailers in the mall; when your movements are tracked via car tracking, facial recognition programs, and ubiquitous cameras; and when your police subvert oversight by deceiving responsible authority, your institutions have become spy agencies, whose tools are secrecy and deception: anathema to self-government in a free society. A paradigm of covert action, or a representative democracy. You cannot have both.

You cannot have both, and there will be no progress until this question is answered, definitively. Subverting change in defense of the status quo, after all, is what intelligence agencies do. Our government is infected with a virus, that has seemingly moved into every cell; healing America will require, first, a robust immune response from a citizenry that will not be able to suspend the necessary weight of disbelief much longer, and second, an intense vaccination course to keep the patient from  relapsing.

 

In the News…

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  – U. S. Constitution, First Amendment

The past few weeks have been interesting, to say the least.  For me, they have been thought-provoking.  Not being a professional journalist, I admit to only a cursory knowledge of protocol concerning the media and national security.  Current events have cured me of that.

The Associated Press and Fox News scandals are huge.  This is not like Umbrella-gate, which was ridiculous.  Even the IRS intrusion takes a back seat to this debacle.  The intrusion into the rights of the media to gather and report important information should concern us all.  Not because we finally have some conspiracy to pin on Obama, but because it is a possible infringement of rights.

Whenever there is a clash between an administration and the media, “national security” is at stake.  While national security has no official definition, we believe it to mean the protection and safety of our citizens and our secrets.  This safety is secured through economic, political, diplomatic, and military power.  In essence, each administration is allowed the freedom to determine what places “it” at risk.

So, let’s take on the Fox scandal first.  The national security in this case involved North Korea, and its plan to respond to U.N. sanctions with more nuclear tests.  The CIA, allegedly, learned this information from a source within North Korea.  James Rosen’s (Fox News contributor) story was reported online the same day that the top-secret report was revealed to a small group within the intelligence community.  Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a government advisor, was among that small group.  The FBI used security badge data, phone records, and email exchanges to tie the two men together.  The pair spoke/met on several occasions, even going so far as to use code names.  Kim was charged, in 2010, with disclosing national defense information.  Rosen, while not charged, has been labeled a “co-conspirator”.

This case is disturbing.  While I am no fan of Fox news, the labeling of Rosen as a co-conspirator is unacceptable.   The nature of a reporter’s job is to uncover information (whether a current administration likes it or not) and report it.  Rosen conspired to do nothing, but his job.  My issue here is with the administration.  When a trusted advisor chose to leak top-secret information, the Justice department should have dealt solely with him.  Rosen was well within his rights, as a reporter, to “solicit” information.  The ownership belongs to Kim.  My issue is not so much the investigation, but the attack on Rosen for reporting the news provided to him.

The AP story is a little more complex.  With the help of foreign intelligence agencies, an undercover informant infiltrated the leadership of al-Qaeda. “The spy in question infiltrated AQAP, retrieved its latest non-metalic underwear bomb and delivered it to U.S. authorities”.  Our government had hoped to be led to Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, the bomb’s creator.  Officials claimed that the opportunity was destroyed and the informant was compromised when the story of the foiled plot was reported.  There are reports that AP sat on the story, for days, at the request of the CIA.  Once given clearance, the story ran.

This case disturbs me, as well, but for an entirely different reason.  For me, it is not open and shut.  True, the AP story never revealed the name of the informant, like Cheney’s office outed Valerie Plame.  But, it is possible that an opportunity to locate and/or capture al-Asiri was lost.  It appears as though John Brennan’s (then counter-terrorism advisor) “inside control” comments propelled the story and revealed the more intimate details of the plot.  If security was at risk, an explanation of how should have been provided, and the source of the leak addressed.

I am bothered that the MSM has become a way to turn a profit, making whistleblowers like Julian Assange necessary.  Security leaks are not new, and in fact, have become quite necessary.  Without unofficial accounts, we might be woefully uninformed, as conventional media has become more sensationalism than facts.  However, I am uncomfortable with the surveillance of media, by any administration.  I am equally uncomfortable with the public’s feeling of entitlement where news is concerned.  Around the clock news has encouraged this mentality.

This is a time to question.  Do we have a right to know all?  And, if we do, how soon should we learn it?  What constitutes a national security threat?  And, in cases where applicable, should a member of the press be held accountable for taking what was given?  How far are we willing to go in the name of fighting terrorism?  What is an appropriate balance between security and liberty?

Any administration using national security as justification for surveillance warrants investigation.  In the wake of 9/11, fear introduced us to warrantless wire taps, restrictions of individual rights, and unconstitutional imprisonment.  Rights of the people vs national security is a delicate balance.  We expect our rights to be uncontested.  Yet, we expect our government to keep us as safe.

Keeping our citizens safe is not an implied duty.  Our constitution gives that power to the government.  That being said, our constitution gives us power, as well.  The actions of the last two administrations set a dangerous precedent moving forward.  We have accepted infringement too many times in the past, without question, because we were afraid.   So, we must question.

And, we must DEMAND answers.

Let’s Talk Tyranny

In a free society, government reflects the soul of its people.  If people want change at the top, they will have to live in different ways.  Our major social problems are not the cause of our decadence.  They are a reflection of it. 

–Carl Thomas

Tyranny.   It seems that almost everything the government does is “tyrannical” these days.  Clearly, that is a bit of an exaggeration.  As imagesdefined by Merriam-Webster, tyranny is an oppressive power or a government in which absolute power is vested in a single ruler.  Our president is, indeed, a powerful man.  But he is no tyrant.  Comparisons of Obama to these men is to disregard reality (not to mention commit dreaded logical fallacies).

President Obama is no Führer.  Our nation continues to suffer from racial tension, we have no concentration camps. There are no plans for concentration camps. I will be the first to admit that this country’s media machine and news corporations leave a lot to be desired.  However, news (biased or not) is presented for our consumption.

That means Dear Leader is out of this equation. News is handed over to us on platters, and we eagerly consume.  We are, obviously, not being forced from urban areas into labor on collective farms.  So, while Obama sports brown skin, he is not Brother Number One.

Then WHY all the talk of tyranny?  We are very vocally angry.  As well, we should be.  We are being watched and heard everywhere we go.  We are being profiled on the streets and in airports.  We are losing our retirements, homes, and sometimes shirts, as corporations – and our representatives –  gain more wealth.  We feel powerless and we need someone to blame.

Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.  

– Thomas Jefferson

Our government, good and bad, is only what we make of it.  “We, the people,” is not just a catchy slogan.  We, the people, are charged with holding our elected officials accountable.  We, the people, are charged with being well-informed, so as to ensure that the elected officials are representing us.  We, the people, are given the responsibility of keeping them honest and humble.  We, the people, are, also,  responsible for making short work of any who get too big for their britches.

In this, we have failed.  Miserably.  A great many of us are totally uninformed.  Many are apathetic  (perhaps out of a sense of helplessness) to the things taking place all around us.  Some feel like their vote doesn’t count.  Some feel like politics are too complicated or frustrating.  Many say they are too busy.  We, the people, don’t consider that our continued political disinterest allows our politicians the freedom to become disinterested in us.

Many of us, though, are misinformed.  We are interested, yet are basing our viewpoints on issues that are simply not factual or true.  Certain news outlets, and I use that term very liberally (pun not intended!), profit from our biases.  This profit from slanted, biased news is not even a secret anymore!  It really doesn’t have to be when you consider things like this.  We, the people, are being told things,  untrue things, and we do…nothing?

Times are hard, and we are frightened.  I understand that.  Our representatives don’t represent us often, and for that, we are rightly angry.  I understand that.  What I do not understand is placing blame everywhere…except where it belongs.  With ourselves.  We are the problem.  We, the people, are the tyranny

Did you hear me?  I said, We, the people, are the tyranny.

We continue to be used by politicians who thrive off of our ignorance.  We continue to be lied to, openly, without ever doing any fact-checking of our own. We don’t engage because that is why we elect politicians, right?  Wrong.  We discuss our children, our cars, our cats and dogs, complain about the price of gasoline, etc.  If we will poke around Google to find out why a certain dog food makes Fluffy cranky, we should be willing to figure out why a certain politician is not voting in our interest.  If we are willing to search for recipes (and pin them on a virtual board), we should be willing to search out representatives to replace those who forget their job description.

Oh, everyone will say, “Congress works for us, we don’t work for them!  And they are driving us right over the cliff!”  I have heard it a thousand times.  But if we truly feel that way, it is time to put our money where our mouths are.  The best thing we can do is take back the wheel.  We need to take our feet off the gas, apply the brakes, and pull over.  We must not be distracted by the smoke, and instead take action. Fix the car: pop the hood, dig deeper.  Once we see what the problem is (or problems are), we can go about fixing it.  It won’t happen in a day, or even a year, but we can get our car back in shape and running smoothly.

The vehicle is ours, we are not leasing it.  We determine our direction.  Nobody is forcing us to take Tyranny Avenue.

So, why are we?

Protection or Privacy?

On Thursday, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, by a margin of 288-127. See a vote breakdown here.

The Senate has displayed little interest in considering this bill so far, but it’s still worth considering the pro’s and con’s of CISPA.

This cybersecurity bill is broad, allowing corporations to share customer’s private information with other firms and the government.  This is applicable even in cases where the company has a contract not to do so.  Companies would be exempt from liability should the act pass.

Proponents of the bill claim that its primary purpose is to protect infrastructure and institutions from online attacks.  They say that the bill has nothing to do with government surveillance, and that the information obtained would be usable only in cases where a cyber threat is detected.  They also make clear that the information collected will not be stored and/or used for any other purposes.

big-brother-posterOpponents of CISPA are many and are vocal, calling for a blackout today. They point to the fact that the language is broad enough that it is difficult to be certain what the information gathered will be used for.  “It is written so broadly that it allows companies to hand over large swaths of personal information to the government with no judicial oversight—effectively creating a “cybersecurity” loophole in all existing privacy laws.” (eff.org) Opponents are uncomfortable with the idea of information being used for “national security purposes” as well as concerns over a loss of cybersecurity.  These worries are amplified by the fact that companies would be authorized to hand over information directly to the NSA.

President Obama has threatened a CISPA veto, claiming that it does not do enough to protect privacy and civil liberties.  This threat is semi-assuring, but not altogether a sigh of relief. After all, Mr. Obama had threatened to veto the NDAA, which he later signed into law.  Although top intelligence officials warn that hackers are “a greater national security threat than terrorists”, the administration believes that that the legislation does not adequately address or protect privacy concerns.

Congress could have taken an important step towards calming public outrage if it had not blocked the Perlmutter provision.  Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Co.) stated, regarding his amendment, “It helps the individual protect his right to privacy and it doesn’t allow the employer to impersonate that particular employee when other people are interacting with that person across social media platforms.”  It was voted down 224-189, republican majority.

President Obama’s threat of veto may sound promising, but it is also at odds with his stance that cyber threats are a concern for his administration.  The American people are all too aware of the fact that  government is not always altruistic.   The concern may be valid but is the overreach necessary?  Our nation’s security is and should be of utmost importance to the nation.  Yet, individuals do have the expectation of privacy when using social media.  More importantly, individuals absolutely have the right to due process.

In any case where an individual is suspected of cyber threats, our constitution is very clear on how to handle it.   Obtain a warrant.

Evergreen Up Late: Time Has Come Today

‘evenin’, all-

Lacking any kind of coherent theme or statement tonight beyond desperate meandering between distractions from what I should be doing, I just couldn’t resist the urge to headline the title of tonight’s song selection, the wonderfully over-the-top garage psychedelia of the Chambers Brothers. Cue it up, crank it up, and check out this sh*t:

Riffing off a theme from last night, again, the satire goes where Presidents fear to tread.

More proof that you should always…just stay the hell out of Florida.

If this is okay, why not just demand DNA samples and be done with it?

As long as you avoid hospitals and nuclear plants, then..what?

Well, at least we can efficiently exterminate each other whilst we wait.

Because you just can’t keep a good fascist Big Brother idea down.

And finally, because it well and truly has…

The best of all possible tomorrows to you all-

Evergreen Up Late: Remote Control

So, I’m going to be on TV tonight, probably even as you read this, and thus unable to do my usual frantic last-second scramble to cut something together that has to be re-edited at least twice after it’s been published. Luckily for me, it turns out that there’s this very cool bloggy thing called “scheduler” that I am going to attempt to employ. Based on current data, odds of success are no more than 50-50, which means there’s an excellent chance that I’ll be on camera trying to thoughtfully answer a question from the host while my phone buzzes angrily in my pocket, and if it’s loud enough for the mic to pick up, then that’s for the win. The fact that at least this time the complaint from Management isn’t about obscenity or otherwise sullying the reputation of this fine Institute will be of at least some solace as I stumble over my words and slap at my thigh in the attempt to silence the damn thing, causing the host to jump backwards in surprise and yell “Fuck!” into a live mic. If it’s like last time, rather than shut the damn thing off, I’ll manage rather to switch the speaker to ON. Merriment will ensue….I can see it all now. And no, I’m not going to reveal either the name of the show, the network, nor the market, nor the time. I’ll be appearing under yet another of my seemingly-endless series of pseudonyms, but, just like the way the re-use of a one-time pad by a spy makes the pad vulnerable to cryptography, to allow this name to be cross-referenced with that name would ruin the whole game. I’d be EXPOSED. Naked before a ruthless, judgmental world, like the little stuffed doll at the end of The Wall. And who needs that? There’d be recriminations, hurt feelings…and possibly even a hearing or two. And questions. People would demand answers.
And I’m not going through that again, I tell you. So, as long as Up Late is on remote control tonight, let’s also look at:

Black helicopters-not just for nuts anymore.

Because flying death robots are clearly the best way to win hearts and…oh never mind.

Come on, try it yourself. Full-motion video and audio available for only a small upcharge.

Do you suppose people grasp that the last human fighter pilot may have already been born?

And really, how could this possibly go wrong?

At least someone is saying something.

And so, I ask only that you please stay In the Light.

The best of all possible tomorrows to you all-