Friday, December 23, 2011

Xmas Eve of Destruction - Spiderlegs

free to download...happy holidays!


SPIDERLEGS Apparel Now Available

Click on the image to get to the merchandise at the SPIDERLEGS Store.

Will Facebook Make Advertising Too Personal?

Timeline here. Mobile ads coming.
Online advertising is growing. Facebook is getting more personal. What does this mean for users being targeted by advertisers?

The Interactive Advertising Bureau reported that third quarter revenues from online advertising are up 22% year-over-year. Here’s a look at the trend:

IAB Q3 Revenue Chart
Facebook is becoming an increasingly attractive channel for businesses. Part of it has to do with the fact that 800 million people use Facebook. Part of it has to do with the incredible targeting opportunities that come along with those users and all of the information they share. MerchantCircle shared this infographic looking at where local merchants are spending their marketing dollars.

local marketing

Notice where Facebook is at. And how long do you think it’s going to be behind print – especially once Facebook starts offering mobile ads.

Oh yeah, by the way, Facebook is going to start offering mobile ads, probably ahead of its IPO. The company is already sitting on a $3.5 billion pile of money. How much do you think mobile ads will help?

Facebook was already expected to leapfrog Microsoft in ad spend this year, without mobile.

ads market share

Again, Facebook has some really good targeting capabilities, and this is something they continue to expand on. They recently added topic targeting to the mix, but they let advertisers really drill down into interest and “likes”. If I’m a fan of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” merchandisers can target me with products related to the show. T-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.

That’s already pretty powerful. Add mobile to the equation, and then physical location will likely come into play as well. At that point, if you own a brick and mortar store that sells these items, and you’re nearby, you can target me based on that (in theory).

Now, Facebook has launched the Timeline, encouraging users to put their entire lives on Facebook. Keep giving Facebook more and more information about yourself, including your past. Facebook ad targeting is already based on what users put on their profiles. Well, the timeline is the profile, and Facebook’s goal is for you to share more and more. Why stop at what you did today, or what you’re doing now. Share anything you want dating back to your birth. I can’t imagine the advertising potential of something like this.

Perhaps I put a dentist appointment on my timeline. Maybe dentists can advertise to me when I’m due for a teeth cleaning. Let’s say a loved one passes away. Facebook has a feature for this with the Timeline.

Facebook timeline feature

Are we going to see ads for funeral homes popping up? Would this be ok? It sounds kind of creepy and disrespectful, but on the other hand, this is indeed when you might require such services.

Here’s what the timeline looks like on mobile devices:

Facebook mobile timeline

Does A Simple Firefox Add-On Make SOPA Useless? (2 articles, video)

Are browser add-ons the key to defeating SOPA?  
Chris Richardson | December 20, 2011

As the world of SOPA continues to turn, the emergence of a simple Firefox browser add-on may render the potential punitive actions of these protection acts null and void; or, at least ineffective, if not outright useless.

Firefox, which already boasts an outspoken stance against SOPA, and has already shown they are willing to stand by add-on developers who create circumvention extensions designed to go around measures currently employed by Homeland Security, has welcomed a new add-on, one that is designed to circumvent whatever SOPA website blacklists that are created, provided the bills become law.

Working much like the MAFIAAFire Redirector extension, the DeSopa add-on was developed by Tamer Rizk, and designed with SOPA circumvention in mind. Naturally, the idea behind the add-on is to be in defiance of the oft-maligned protection act. This even includes the extension’s name, “DeSopa,” which is short for, “DNS Evasion to Stop Oppressive Policy in America.” On the extension’s page, there’s also a multiple paragraph manifesto of sorts, detailing the developer’s stance.

An example:
This program is a proof of concept that SOPA will not help prevent piracy. The program, implemented as a Firefox extension, simply contacts offshore domain name resolution services to obtain the IP address for any desired website, and accesses those websites directly via IP. Similar offshore resolution services will eventually maintain their own cache of websites, without blacklisting, in order to meet the demand created by SOPA.
If SOPA is implemented, thousands of similar and more innovative programs and services will sprout up to provide access to the websites that people frequent. SOPA is a mistake. It does not even technically help solve the underlying problem, as this software illustrates. What it will do is give undue leverage to predatory organizations, cripple innocent third party websites, severely dampen digital innovation and negatively impact the integrity and security of the Internet.
If you’ll notice, the blocked quote also contains a description of how it works and if this is all it takes to sidestep/circumvent/defeat SOPA measures — “[DeSopa] simply contacts offshore domain name resolution services to obtain the IP address for any desired website, and accesses those websites directly via IP” — then these protection acts are worth less than the paper they’re written on.

The sad things is, if you were to point these shortcomings out to the government officials who support SOPA/PIPA, there’s a strong possibility it would get ignored, or they would pass it anyway and worry about the details later.

As far as the inevitable backlash that DeSopa will probably get from concerned government officials, keep in mind, Mozilla has already outspokenly stood by the MAFIAAFire Redirector, so I would expect the same when it comes to DeSopa.


After writing a rather lengthy and somewhat firey post on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) yesterday, I realized this morning that I didn’t know Microsoft’s position on the matter. As I edit our Microsoft channel, I immediately sent off a query to the company concerning the Act.

To my surprise it took some time to hear back, and when I did get word the response was ‘no comment.’ Obviously intrigued, I dug into the issue. As it turns out, ‘no comment’ is Microsoft’s official position on SOPA. The company has made no noise at all on the issue, other than what I would wager is a rather conspicuous silence.

But Microsoft did support the pre-SOPA Protect IP Act, something that SOPA did draw on heavily for its roots. To quote the official page on the House website“The Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261) builds on the Protect IP Act of 2008 and the Senate’s Protect IP Act introduced earlier this year.” So we have Microsoft supporting the intellectual ancestor of SOPA, but that’s certainly not enough to say that the company supports SOPA outright.

We can, however, show that it does. And somewhat disingenuously, if I may. You see, Microsoft is a major player in the Business Software Alliance, along with Apple and 27 other companies. And the BSA supports SOPA. This is from a recent BSA bulletin:
The Business Software Alliance today commended House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) for introducing the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (H.R. 3261) to curb the growing rash of software piracy and other forms of intellectual property theft that are being perpetrated by illicit websites.
Yeah, how about that. In short, Microsoft is using a front group to throw its support behind SOPA, while publicly saying and doing nothing, thus avoiding our rancor and displeasure. Well, no, that won’t do at all.

The following list is every single member of the Business Software Alliance. Each of them is complicit in supporting SOPA unless they publicly distance themselves from the BSA on the issue. As the companies are, presumably, dues paying members of the BSA, they are financially supporting the enaction of SOPA.
  • Adobe
  • Apple
  • Autodesk
  • AVG
  • Bentley Systems
  • CA
  • Cadence Design Systems
  • CNC Software – Mastercam
  • Compuware
  • Corel
  • Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corporation
  • Dell
  • Intel
  • Intuit
  • Kaspersky
  • McAfee
  • Microsoft
  • Minitab
  • Progress Software
  • PTC
  • Quark
  • Quest
  • Rosetta Stone
  • Siemens PLM Software, Inc.
  • Sybase
  • Symantec
  • TechSmith
  • The MathWorks
To learn more about SOPA, and why you should be afraid of it, head here.

Mind-Reading Machines Are Here

Source: Washington's Blog - December 22, 2011

There are now prototypes of machines which can read your mind for a wide variety of purposes.




Other uses (and potentials for abuse):

Congress passes payroll tax deal

By Reuters
Friday, December 23, 2011
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congress approved a two-month payroll tax cut extension on Friday, capping an exhausting year of partisan warfare over taxes and spending that will resume in January, with the economy barely scratching out a recovery and elections on the horizon.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives, by voice votes in chambers nearly emptied for the holidays, passed a $33 billion measure to keep the payroll tax rate at 4.2 percent until the end of February. It had been slated to increase after December 31 to 6.2 percent.

The temporary fix lets lawmakers draw down the curtain, for now, on weeks of partisan deadlock that in the end produced only another inconclusive truce in a debate over taxes and spending that is set to rage straight through 2012.

The temporary payroll tax fix gives President Barack Obama and the Democrats a political win over Republicans. The 2012 election cycle is about to kick off with the January 3 Iowa Republican presidential caucus, but a long road lies ahead until voters go to polls in November.

House Republicans backed down late on Thursday from their opposition to the two-month extension, clearing the way for Friday’s action.

Unemployment benefits that had been set to expire soon were extended as well, while cuts in payments to doctors who treat patients in the government-backed Medicare health insurance program for the elderly were also postponed, under the measures.

An increase in the payroll tax would have hit the wallets of 160 million U.S. workers at a time of high unemployment and deep voter dissatisfaction with the tax system, the shape of the economy and the way Congress conducts itself.

Analysts had warned that failing to renew the tax cut could jeopardize the economic recovery, perhaps even risking another recession.

House Speaker John Boehner, the top U.S. Republican, yielded to pressure from Democrats and his party and agreed, with minor changes, to allow a vote on the extension bill passed by the Senate last week with bipartisan support.

The two-month deal came after lawmakers were unable to agree on ways to offset the costs of a full-year payroll tax cut extension. The temporary extension legislation was expected to be sent to Obama to sign into law before December 31.

Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen said on Friday the two parties remained far apart on how to pay for a full-year fix.

“I heard Eric Cantor (the No. 2 Republican in the House) at one point say the parties are really close on the one-year deal. That’s just not the case,” Van Hollen told MSNBC.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Congress works very well for the top 1 percent

By Eric W. Dolan - RAW Story
Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Thursday blasted the influence of corporate money on American politics during an appearance on MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show.

“The United States Congress, and to a certain degree the White House, are dominated by big money interest,” he said. “If you look at who contributes to campaigns, by and large they are very wealthy people. If you look at the lobbying effort that takes place it Washington it is beyond belief. When we look at what happened at Wall Street and the collapse of the Wall Street as a result of deregulation, we can never forget that Wall Street spent $5 billion over a ten year period lobbying for that deregulation.

“I don’t look at Congress having a personality defect, people can’t get along and all that stuff, that’s not the issue,” he continued. “The issue is Congress is dominated by people who have a whole lot of money and if you look at what has happened in recent years, in fact Congress has been working very, very well for the top 1 percent or the top 2 percent.”

In hopes of getting money out of politics, Sanders has introduced the Saving American Democracy Amendment to the Senate. The constitutional amendment would state that corporations are not entitled to the same constitutional rights as people, ban corporate campaign donations to candidates, and give Congress and the states broad authority to regulate spending in elections.

Watch video, courtesy of MSNBC, below:

Why Jurors Should Refuse to Convict Drug Arrestees

Jurors are not required to enforce unjust laws, and can legally refuse to convict a person, even if he or she appears to be guilty. 
By Tony Newman, AlterNet
Posted on December 22, 2011

 Should juries vote “not guilty” on low-level marijuana charges to send a message about our country’s insane marijuana arrest policy? Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor and law professor of George Washington University made a powerful argument for jury nullification in an op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times.

Jury nullification is a constitutional doctrine that allows juries to acquit defendants who are technically guilty, but who don’t deserve punishment. Butler explained that juries have the right and power to use jury nullification to protest unjust laws.

Mr. Butler points out that nullification was credited with ending our country’s disastrous alcohol prohibition as more and more jurors refused to send their neighbors to jail for a law they didn’t believe in. Butler says we need to do the same with today’s marijuana arrests.

There is growing recognition that today's drug laws are ineffective and unfair. For the first time ever, a recent Gallup poll found that 50 percent of Americans want legalize use of marijuana. Despite half of our country wanting to end marijuana prohibition, the war on marijuana users is as vicious as ever. There were more than 750,000 arrests last year for marijuana possession alone. In New York City, marijuana possession was the #1 reason people were arrested last year; making up 15 percent of all arrests.

People hoping for change should not expect it to come from our “leaders” in Washington. While most of our elected officials know in their hearts that our drug war is an utter failure that fills our prisons while doing nothing to help people struggling with addiction, there is deafening silence when it comes to offering alternatives to the war on drugs. Democrats and Republicans are both cowardly and opportunistic and don’t want to give up their “tough on crime” credentials.

Here is where jury nullification comes in. If our leaders are going to stop the madness, maybe it is up to our peers to say enough is enough.

In Montana last year, a group of five prospective-jurors said they had a problem with someone receiving a felony for a small amount of marijuana. The prosecutors were freaked out about the “Mutiny in Montana” and were afraid they were not going to be able convince12 jurors in Montana to convict. The judge said, in a major New York Times article, “I’ve never seen this large a number of people express this large a number of reservations” and “it does raise a question about the next case.”

The highest profile group to call for jury nullification for drug offenses is from the creators of the HBO hit series The Wire. David Simon and the other creators of The Wire wrote a passionate piece in Time magazine where they called on Americans to join them in the use of jury nullification as a strategy to slow the drug war machine.

From the article:
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right," wrote Thomas Paine when he called for civil disobedience against monarchy — the flawed national policy of his day. In a similar spirit, we offer a small idea that is, perhaps, no small idea. It will not solve the drug problem, nor will it heal all civic wounds. It does not yet address questions of how the resources spent warring with our poor over drug use might be better spent on treatment or education or job training, or anything else that might begin to restore those places in America where the only economic engine remaining is the illegal drug economy. It doesn't resolve the myriad complexities that a retreat from war to sanity will require. All it does is open a range of intricate, paradoxical issues. But this is what we can do — and what we will do.
If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will — to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun's manifesto against the death penalty — no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens.”
Forty years after President Richard Nixon launched the “war on drugs” the casualties continue to mount with no end in sight. We need to step up our efforts to end this war at home and stop sending our loved ones to cages because they have a drug problem. We have more power than we realize. If the people lead, the leaders will follow.

When Democracy Becomes Disposable

by Roger Bybee 
The Laboratory for Our Future is the ominous subtitle of Charles Bowden's haunting 1998 book about Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

The seedy but highly profitable laboratory revealed by Bowden, also author of the harrowing book Murder City about narco wars in Juarez, brings together the 19th-century model of sweatshop labor with 21st-century technology to generate maximum earnings for the U.S.-owned firms while offering minimal pay under NAFTA's protections.

In 1999, for example, GE CEO Jack Welch collected $92 million in compensation, more than his 15,000 Mexican workers combined. U.S.-based corporations pay no taxes and only minimal annual fees in Juarez,  so the vast majority of social costs are borne by the citizenry. As former Juarez Mayor Gustavo Elizondo explains, "We have no way to provide water, sewage, and sanitation works. Every year we get poorer and poorer even though we create more and more wealth."

But at the opposite end of the globalization process from Juarez, there's another laboratory conducting a related experiment : Benton Harbor, Mich., which once hosted jobs that have moved to places like Juarez. Like the workers in Juarez, impoverished residents of Benton Harbor—which is 92 percent African-American—have been stripped of democratic rights.

In Juarez, the prevalence of fraudulent political elections stolen and brutal repression have deprived the mostly female "maquiladora" workforce in assembly plants of any meaningful voice in either their workplaces or society.

In Benton Harbor, a unionized manufacturing workforce has been cast aside and the presence of nearly 10,000 overwhelmingly poor and black people are a potential obstacle to corporations like Whirlpool implementing a plan for redeveloping the area. Benton Harborites, too, have been rendered utterly powerless.

Thanks to Public Act 4, promoted by a Whirlpool ally and signed by GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joe Harris gained expanded powers to override decisions made by the democratically elected City Council and School Board. He literally expelled the elected mayor from his own office. Harris and other managers can also negate union contracts and other city agreements.

Gov. Snyder seems to believe that a state takeover of cities is more essential to their health than providing actual financial aid, which has been reserved for Michigan corporations in the form of $1.7 billion in tax cuts. Meanwhile, in part because of state budget cuts, Harris plans to raise water rates by about 40 percent even though 20 percent of the city's residents can't or won't pay city fees.

The Whirlpool Corp., headquartered in Benton Harbor, is playing a huge role in re-shaping the city, specifically in two major projects:
  • A heavily taxpayer "incentivized" new corporate campus for 4,000 professionals, as Whirlpool began off-shoring jobs in the 1980s (its Fort Smith Ark. plant is being relocated to Mexico)
  • A 530-acre Harbor Shores development including a Jack Nicolaus-designed golf course, high-end shopping, and condominiums. Whirlpool is also busy promoting an "Arts District" that attracts many affluent whites but few local black residents.
Whirlpool's role is not universally praised, as the New York Times Magazine' Jonathan Mahler reports in his December 18 cover story:
To skeptics of the redevelopment of Benton Harbor, Whirlpool looks less like a good corporate citizen than another company manipulating the system, leveraging its power to maximize its tax breaks and taking advantage of the town's access to federal and state grant money. (It's worth noting that Whirlpool hasn't paid any federal corporate income taxes in the United States for the last three years, partly, the company says, because of losses due to the recession.)
But the recession explanation covers only a small part of Whirlpool's tax picture, according to Matt Gardner, executive director of the Washington, DC-based Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy. Losses in recent years of economic troubles in the U.S. have been offset by foreign profits.

Further, in 2007, Whirlpool reported U.S. profits of $103 million, but earned an additional $701 million abroad that will not be taxed until Whirlpool brings the money back into the United States. Moreover, Whirlpool got a federal tax rebate of $28 million that year. In 2006, $231 million in U.S. earnings were topped off by another  $388 million in foreign profits.

Whirlpool's central role in the town and redevelopment plans has led many Benton Harbor residents to feel that the corporation views them as distinctly disposable and mainly a barrier to their plans. As Mahler summarizes,
It's being converted into a resort town for wealthy weekenders and Whirlpool employees that, when all is said and done, its struggling black population will either be driven out by the development or reduced to low-wage jobs cleaning hotel rooms, carrying golf bags or cutting grass.
Mahler observes,
The juxtaposition of Benton Harbor's impoverished population and its two rising monuments to wealth -- all wedged into a little more than four square miles -- make it almost a caricature of economic disparity in America.
But at the same time, it offers a window into one possible future for towns across the country, places that can no longer support their own economies or take care of their citizens and may ultimately have no choice but to turn their fate over to private industry and nonprofits. The way things are going, more and more states may start to look like Michigan, and more and more towns may start to look like Benton Harbor.
The Benton Harbor scenario is actually a familiar one for other de-industrialized cities wracked by massive industrial job loss or poor cities wrecked by natural disasters. As Hurricane Katrina tore off roofs and exposed the destroyed interiors of homes, it also peeled back the genteel veneer of elite opinion about New Orleans revealing that many top corporate and political figures viewed the majority of its residents to be essentially irrelevant, if not an outright impediment, to the restructuring of the city's devastated economy.

The flight of the city's poorest citizens was viewed openly as a chance for a fresh start. It not only removed a substantial part of the Big Easy's poor, black population for whom the city's economic leaders no longer saw as their responsibility to provide employment, but it also severely diminished their voting power and ability to have a role in determining how the city would be rebuilt.

The Arts District formula being applied to Benton Harbor has also been tried out in my hometown of Racine, Wis.,  a factory town of 80,000 hollowed out by the loss of well over 40 percent of its manufacturing base since 1980.

The solution: replacing more than 13,000 mostly unionized factory jobs with a new art museum and a cluster of art galleries and crafts shops. New York Times reporter Robert Sharoff fully bought into this re-invented Racine, a vision seemingly derived from the work of neo-liberal urbanist Richard Florida:
This formerly gritty industrial city roughly 70 miles north of Chicago and 30 miles south of Milwaukee on the shores of Lake Michigan has been trying for much of the last decade to reinvent itself as an artistÕs colony and tourist destination. The efforts have included the opening of the $11 million Racine Art Museum on Main Street in 2003 and the creation of a gallery district centering on nearby Sixth Street.
This stunning premise that the museum and 12 art galleries could significantly fill in the economic Grand Canyon left by the destruction of 13,000 family-supporting factory jobs reflects the same mentality that can view the Harbor Shores development as a path to prosperity for Benton Harbor's impoverished African-American population.

Despite Mahler's moving and insightful description of a de-industrialized city being re-shaped by those who destroyed the economic base, with the victims being deprived of any voice, he fails to point out several fundamental features:
  • Those harmed most by past corporate decisions are treated as disposable people standing in the way of corporate-defined reconstruction.
  • Democracy and public participation are early victims to this process.
  •  With corporate elites having shrunken government's public-interest role in planning and economic development, major "job-creation projects" must be shaped around generating profit with the needs of the majority a negligible concern.
But despite all the rhetoric about corporations rushing to the rescue of troubled cities--whether New Orleans, Benton Harbor, or Racine—massive public subsidies to CEOs advocating "free enterprise" are an essential element.

It's a formula for private benefit with public funding, for a distorted form of "development" devoid of democracy or public benefit.

'Ag Gag': Why Whistleblower Suppression Laws Are A Bad Idea

by Bruce Friedrich
Almost everyone opposes cruelty to animals. In fact, 97% of Americans (according to Gallup) say that animals should be protected from harm, and encouragingly, a poll by Ohio State researchers found that 92 percent want farm animals to be treated well. It’s hard to imagine any topic with more bipartisan support than the humane treatment of animals.  

Last year, meat and egg factory farms pushed these “whistleblower suppression” (aka: “Ag Gag”) bills that criminalize taking photos of factory farms without owner permission in four states (Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, and New York) and it looks like they’ll be coming back in all four of these states, and maybe more. The industry’s guiding philosophy appears to be “what the public doesn’t know won’t hurt us.” So in response to investigations that document abuse, the industry is not trying to stop the abuse; instead, it’s trying to stop the investigations by proposing laws that would make it illegal to investigate factory farms and slaughterhouses.

But if you’ve been paying attention, you know that the will of the American people on humane treatment is not in alignment with reality; the most recent evidence comes courtesy of Mercy for Animals and Brian Ross’ investigative team at ABC News, which exposed a large egg operation that supplied McDonald’s and other big corporations. MFA’s investigators documented dead and decomposing hen carcasses in cages with live hens, workers gratuitously abusing animals in myriad ways, and (of course) the standard abuses of modern poultry farming (e.g., burning off beaks without pain relief and cramming 5 hens into tiny wire cages, where they spend their entire lives).

This was just one more in a long line of investigations by animal protection organizations; every year, we see 3-4 of these investigations, and sadly, every investigation finds new and horrific abuses—abuses that shock the conscience of all kind people.

Responsible industries would meet this stream of horrid undercover investigations with a serious commitment to change their behavior; they would promulgate strong regulations to protect animals and implement “no tolerance” policies for (at least) the sadistic abuse. And they would, as Dr. Temple Grandin has suggested, put video cameras onto their factory farms and into their slaughterhouses to monitor animal treatment. They would hire independent inspectors to review the video and make sure that there was no gratuitous abuse.

Sadly, the industry does not believe that the customer is always right. Instead, the industry’s guiding philosophy appears to be “what the public doesn’t know won’t hurt us.” So in response to investigations that document abuse, the industry is not trying to stop the abuse; instead, it’s trying to stop the investigations by proposing laws that would make it illegal to investigate factory farms and slaughterhouses.

You read that right: Last year, meat and egg factory farms pushed these “whistleblower suppression” (aka: “Ag Gag”) bills that criminalize taking photos of factory farms without owner permission in four states (Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, and New York) and it looks like they’ll be coming back in all four of these states, and maybe more.

Another high-profile investigation makes clear why these bills are counter-productive to the good of the American people: In 2008, the Humane Society of the United States investigated a dairy cow slaughter plant that had passed all of its USDA inspections going back years and in fact had won USDA’s “supplier of the year” award. Their investigation uncovered horrid cruelty to animals and unsafe meat that led to the recall of 143 million pounds of potentially dangerous meat, much of which was destined for our nation’s schools.

If California had one of these whistleblower suppression bills, HSUS’s investigators could have been prosecuted; of course the much more likely scenario is that the investigation would not have happened, and children would have eaten those potentially lethal burgers.

So these whistleblower suppression laws would (if enacted) literally make it a crime to save human beings from dying from contaminated meat, and would also criminalize video investigations that led to employer indictments for worker safety violations, violations of civil rights and sexual harassment laws, and any other potentially illegal activity of a corporation. These are the sorts of investigations that companies and the government should be doing, but if they won’t, the last thing we want to do is criminalize charities for doing them.

At Farm Sanctuary, we provide sanctuary for farm animals who have escaped the factory farming system, and we know these animals as individuals. For the same reason we would never eat cats and dogs, we also would never eat chickens, pigs, or any animals—they are individuals.

However, we also fight for an end to the worst abuses, and that’s where whistleblower protection and the need to legitimately criticize the worst abuses in animal agriculture come in. If your company is so afraid of being “exposed” that you feel the need to criminalize taking pictures of your work, perhaps it’s time to make changes so that you are engaged in work you can be proud of.

Why America’s 99% Have Rebelled

Thursday, December 22, 2011 by The New Internationalist Magazine
by Mark Engler

If you haven't seen it yet, you owe yourself a visit. If you're already familiar with it, go back to remind yourself why the #Occupy movement is so powerful.

I am referring to the "We Are the 99%" Tumblr, the most direct and articulate explanation available of why so many—across America and beyond—have rebelled. The site is a blog to which people submit pictures of themselves. Usually, a person holds out a notebook or sheet of paper, their face partially obscured. On the paper, they have written their stories. Almost always, you can see their eyes.

A stocky man with a short beard, maybe in his forties, has written neatly in marker: "947 days unemployed. 2,000+ resumes sent out. 0 job prospects."

A young woman in light lipstick: "I'm a full-time grad student and a full-time worker. I have chronic, excruciating migraines. I live in fear of the next attack. I can barely cover rent, gas, and groceries. I can’t afford a doctor’s visit, let alone health insurance."

A woman with a weary stare: "My husband has been looking for work for five years. I support him, myself, our 6-year-old-son, and (increasingly) my aging parents. Now my job is in jeopardy too."

They write: "I am one paycheck away from not being able to make my loan payments." "I am 32 years old and live with my mother." "I have lost hope." "What am I doing wrong?"

They sign their messages, "I am the 99%."

You will not get through all of the stories. As I write, there are 185 pages of them. Yet the message of the site is immediately clear: While our society's richest 1% enjoy a hugely disproportionate share of wealth and income, the economy has left the vast majority of us behind.

The majority has had enough.

Conservatives say that those protesting Wall Street are just complaining. Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain tells them, "Get a job."

As a response to the movement's Tumblr, right-wingers have made a blog called, "We Are the 53%." It is based on the misleading notion that since only around half of Americans pay federal income taxes, the rest are freeloading. (In fact, even those not subject to federal taxes on income nevertheless pay state and local taxes, gas and excise taxes, plus mandatory contributions for Medicare and Social Security.)

The "53%" stories are testimonials to dogged determination. One man, a father of a 5-month-old, expresses pride in working 70-hour weeks in an effort to pay $100,000 in student loans. "I will be responsible for my own success through character and hard work," he writes. Another story that has gained notoriety reads: "I am a former Marine. I work two jobs. I don't have health insurance… I haven't had 4 consecutive days off in over 4 years. But I don't blame Wall Street. Suck it up you whiners."

These stories only reinforce the message of the occupations. For, if you're working nearly all of your waking hours, we think you deserve health care. We want you to be free of crippling debt. In fact, we want these things for those who work 40 hours per week. We believe a just society should allow you to spend time with your children.

In large part, the difference between the two blogs is not the description of our economic plight. It's whether individuals have recognized their personal struggles as part of something larger.

Those who have joined the #Occupy movement are not whining. They are drawing strength from shared experience. They are laying bare the failure of a system. And they are doing something to change it.

Their signature is not merely a denunciation of economic inequality. It is an assertion of a solution: true democracy and collective action. It is a statement of power.

We Are the 99%.

Prism Break: Seeing Beyond the Shadows on the Walls Around Us

Thursday, December 22, 2011 by
by Randall Amster

Social movements, when broadly construed and successfully applied, serve as something akin to elaborate filters. By holding a mirror up to society, a movement causes us to reconsider basic assumptions and structural processes that often exist invisibly yet pervasively in our collective midst. Social movement activities render such practices visible, and subject them to scrutiny in a manner that can become contagious in its breadth and depth alike. Movements make us question those things that we take for granted, assume are unchangeable, or benefit from without repercussions.

In this sense, a movement acts like a lens that sharpens and clarifies the reality we observe and participate in, making the strange familiar and the familiar strange all at once. When this movement consciousness begins to “go viral” and infuse the larger culture itself -- as we have seen with Occupy -- it has the initial effect of breaking down the facade of “consensus reality” that subsumes a great deal of “normal life” without much investigation or contestation. A viral movement perspective, in short, begins to erode the virtual prism that envelops the larger part of our daily existence.

In this context, we can define a prism as “a medium that distorts, slants, or colors whatever is viewed through it.” We carry this prism around with us throughout the spaces, places, relationships, and business of our lives, over time coming to embrace its distortions -- even the obvious ones -- as realities. Plato wrote about something quite like this millennia ago in his “allegory of the cave,” in which people conditioned to face only in a particular direction fail to recognize that the images they take to be real are merely backlit projections onto the surface of the walls set in place around them.

A movement asks us to cast our gaze in all directions, to evaluate the source of the images we consume, to critically observe how many are unquestioningly taken to be tangible, and to bring the light of inquiry to bear in order to decide which of them can withstand genuine scrutiny. Despite at times appearing to make “all or nothing” arguments in which every aspect of society is being rejected, movements are more properly understood as intricate sociopolitical filtration mechanisms that are set up to allow people, both individually and collectively, to determine which pieces of the world around them will be kept in some form and which are outmoded and destined to go obsolete.

This selective mechanism is sometimes known simply as process, and it is why the claims articulated by movements are often processual more so than substantive, especially in the early days of a mobilization. People want their voices to be heard, they desire accountability and transparency in governance, and they evolve forms of decision making that model these values in real time. The distance between those deciding and those experiencing a course of action is sought to be narrowed or even eliminated, and perspectives often excluded from the dialogue are brought into the center of it. The central issue often devolves squarely upon who gets to chart the course of societal evolution.

For a long time, we have largely accepted a model in which wealthy, entrenched, powerful, and professional interests control these processes. More broadly, we have failed to exert sufficient popular influence to challenge those interests as they steadily put in place a system that preserves their uncontestable rule seemingly regardless of the particular individuals elected or appointed to manage it. The charade of partisan politics today may not be much different than it was in Plato’s time, blending seamlessly in our modern world with sports, celebrity news, and infotainment to further accentuate its illusory nature. We have been functionally distracted and politically disempowered, with our attention diverted from actual reality to an aesthetic of faux real.

Such a system transcends the eloquence or goodness of specific individuals. It constrains popular debate by filtering all issues through a narrow ideological prism that falsely conveys a two-sided discourse despite the narrow margin of actual disagreement across the aisle. The dominant system reinforces itself at every turn, from politics and economics to culture and education. Our freedoms to express and associate remain reasonably unfettered within these structures -- as long as we are engaging in a debate whose terms have already been set, and as long as we accept the validity and authority of the images that are perpetually broadcast on the wall.

And then along comes a movement that asks us to look at the source of those constructed images. First, it suggests to us that there is in fact such a source, which many among the masses will recoil at as being either hysterical or heretical. Then, it begins to reveal the source by physically occupying its more obvious locales and drawing societal attention directly toward it. This has the effect of making uncomfortable those seeking to keep the source cloaked, and they will utilize tactics ranging from artifice to force in order to cast the collective cultural gaze back toward the image-bearing cave wall and away from the shadow-making source that is always just out of people’s field of vision. At this point, there is a contest between those who would uphold the prism and those who would break it.

Some who have seen the source for the first time will express their dismay, yet hope for it to win this contest because they fear the new and do not like the idea of things being broken. Some will try to broker a compromise that allows the dominant prism to remain in place with a few concessions, perhaps including an expansion of the range of images that will be allowed to appear on the walls in the future. Some will sense a long-awaited opening and agitate strenuously to smash the image-producing source altogether. Some will remain firmly glued to the cave walls, undistracted by the mild fracas happening over their shoulders and hoping it stops before their favorite show comes on. And some will hastily be creating new images for public consumption that include the “anti-images” of the movement as part of the spectacle, thus seeking to absorb it into the prism involuntarily.

And then a decisive crossroads is reached. If the movement cannot demonstrate that it is more than merely agitating against the dominant system and its false images, then many -- even those who are sympathetic to it -- will generally accept the projection of its claims as simply part of the larger spectacle. On the other hand, if the movement continues to remain dynamic, multifaceted, and constructive in its approach, it can resist easy cooptation and make itself interesting and relevant to those who are growing tired of being spectators at all. The aim is not to turn every single head, but to gather enough momentum in a new direction that begins to expand the range of people’s vision.

Ultimately, if successful, the movement will reach a point where a critical mass of the members of a given society is no longer constrained by the prism of false images, values, and ideas. A new prism will be in the process of taking hold, one that works to remain malleable and open to constant correction by the collective power of everyone utilizing it -- lest it become but another rigid lens for projecting pictures on the cave walls. Maybe it is actually a multitude of new prisms that gets produced, overlapping and interdependent to an extent yet subject to being determined by the unique individuals and communities that comprise the new society’s foundations. Perhaps, in an even longer while, people may come to perceive reality itself without the need to filter it at all.

Until that day, we have a movement urging us to reevaluate the dominant prism, and with it an opportunity to remake the map of our world -- or at least the image of it that is placed before us. That might not seem like a lot, but without it we have little hope of breaking free from the shadows.

How Did Obama End Up Appeasing the Neocons?

The President will continue to mind his conservative flank, particularly on security and law and order
by John Kampfner
Last Saturday, as normal people were doing their Christmas shopping, I was hidden away in a Sky television studio in debate with a neocon. I was discussing the treatment of Bradley Manning, the American serviceman accused of leaking secrets to WikiLeaks, with John Bolton, one of the leading lights of the American right.

The point I was trying to make was fairly simple. As the self-professed leader of the free world, the United States should abide by the highest practices of international law. These arguments have been rehearsed incessantly over the past decade with reference to Guantanamo, renditions, Abu Ghraib and the Patriot Act. Yet the manner of Manning's incarceration has been truly horrific.

If Obama had hoped to reassure the likes of neocon John Bolton, that message seems to have fallen on deaf ears. For the first 10 months after his arrest in Iraq in May 2010, Private Manning was held in solitary confinement in the Marine Corps Brig at Quantico, Virginia. 

There he was cooped up in his tiny cell for 23 hours a day. He was required to respond to the shouts of his guards every five minutes. At night, he was woken regularly. His detention included periods of forced nudity, which the military justified by labeling him a suicide risk.

Although conditions have improved since he was transferred to a different jail, Manning's treatment has been criticized by groups ranging from US lawyers to members of the European parliament.

It has taken place not on the watch of a Republican president, but that of Barack Obama's Democrat administration. Obama's record on a number of civil liberties areas, notably anti-terrorism and whistleblowers, is as draconian as any of his recent predecessors. The intent towards Manning has been clear: to try to "break" him so that he admits a direct link with WikiLeaks and to deter others from contemplating doing anything similar in future.

The administration's approach poses a conundrum for conservatives and liberals alike.

Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union are vocal in criticising abuses wherever they find them; but their language towards Obama has been more restrained. The US left (or what approximates to it) fears losing what few crumbs come from the table.

The right is also torn in its reaction to Obama's hawkishness, but for different reasons.

Should it praise him for refusing to challenge virtually any of the post-9/11 Bush doctrines, less still amending or repealing any of the legislation? Or should it denounce him for being lily-livered, even where he is not?

Bolton's approach fell into the latter. First, he insisted that I must be a "socialist" to air such concerns. He then betrayed his own confusion by suggesting that I had nothing to worry about as I had a "friend" in the White House by name of "O-ba-ma" – his syllable by syllable pronunciation of the president's name was disturbing.

Manning, he insisted, had committed "heinous" crimes. I suggested that, as the pre-trial hearings had only just begun, perhaps Bolton might want to endorse that basic judicial principle of innocence until proven guilty. He moved swiftly on; he reminded me that army prosecutors had indicated they would not seek the death penalty on the charge of "aiding the enemy". We should, therefore, all be grateful for such mercy.

I insisted throughout this exchange that I was not addressing the substantive charges against Manning. I was talking merely about standards in criminal justice, and would be happy to do so again on US networks such as Fox. The calmer I was, the more incensed Bolton became.

Pundits come and pundits go; on one level, this was merely a small piece of Saturday afternoon entertainment for anyone who happened to be watching. But Bolton is more than that. He was, under Bush, the US Ambassador to the United Nations. Now Newt Gingrich, one of the Republican candidates, has dangled him the post of Secretary of State, in the unlikely event of victory.

For all the troubles of the American economy and for all the disappointments and doubts about Obama, it is still his election to lose next November. The Republicans have so far failed to produce a candidate who appeals both to the party's hard core vote and the less ideological mainstream. But they still have time.

The bigger threat to those who hope to see a more enlightened US administration – one that abides by international conventions and seeks to practice what it preaches – is that Obama will continue to mind his conservative flank, particularly on security and law-and-order issues, in order to secure his second term.

The US government's response initially to the WikiLeaks publications a year ago was shrill. It subsequently tightened procedures for internal emails and documents – an important, if belated, correction – and toned down the rhetoric. The treatment of Bradley Manning in jail contravened accepted norms. His trial hardly inspires confidence.

The irony is that if, in behaving as it has done, the administration had hoped to reassure the likes of Bolton, that message seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

A Christmas Message From America's Rich

by Matt Taibbi 
It seems America’s bankers are tired of all the abuse. They’ve decided to speak out.

"The very rich on today’s Wall Street," writes Taibbi, "Are now so rich that they buy their own social infrastructure. They hire private security, they live on gated mansions on islands and other tax havens, and most notably, they buy their own justice and their own government." 

True, they’re doing it from behind the ropeline, in front of friendly crowds at industry conferences and country clubs, meaning they don’t have to look the rest of America in the eye when they call us all imbeciles and complain that they shouldn’t have to apologize for being so successful.

But while they haven’t yet deigned to talk to protesting America face to face, they are willing to scribble out some complaints on notes and send them downstairs on silver trays.

Courtesy of a remarkable story by Max Abelson at Bloomberg, we now get to hear some of those choice comments.

Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, for instance, is not worried about OWS:
Who gives a crap about some imbecile?” Marcus said. “Are you kidding me?”
Former New York gurbernatorial candidate Tom Golisano, the billionaire owner of the billing firm Paychex, offered his wisdom while his half-his-age tennis champion girlfriend hung on his arm:
“If I hear a politician use the term ‘paying your fair share’ one more time, I’m going to vomit,” said Golisano, who turned 70 last month, celebrating the birthday with girlfriend Monica Seles, the former tennis star who won nine Grand Slam singles titles.
Then there’s Leon Cooperman, the former chief of Goldman Sachs’s money-management unit, who said he was urged to speak out by his fellow golfers. His message was a version of Wall Street’s increasingly popular If-you-people-want-a-job, then-you’ll-shut-the-fuck-up rhetorical line:
Cooperman, 68, said in an interview that he can’t walk through the dining room of St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida, without being thanked for speaking up. At least four people expressed their gratitude on Dec. 5 while he was eating an egg-white omelet, he said.
“You’ll get more out of me,” the billionaire said, “if you treat me with respect.”
Finally, there is this from Blackstone CEO Steven Schwartzman:
Asked if he were willing to pay more taxes in a Nov. 30 interview with Bloomberg Television, Blackstone Group LP CEO Stephen Schwarzman spoke about lower-income U.S. families who pay no income tax.
“You have to have skin in the game,” said Schwarzman, 64. “I’m not saying how much people should do. But we should all be part of the system.”
There are obviously a great many things that one could say about this remarkable collection of quotes. One could even, if one wanted, simply savor them alone, without commentary, like lumps of fresh caviar, or raw oysters.

But out of Abelson’s collection of doleful woe-is-us complaints from the offended rich, the one that deserves the most attention is Schwarzman’s line about lower-income folks lacking “skin in the game.” This incredible statement gets right to the heart of why these people suck.

Why? It's not because Schwarzman is factually wrong about lower-income people having no “skin in the game,” ignoring the fact that everyone pays sales taxes, and most everyone pays payroll taxes, and of course there are property taxes for even the lowliest subprime mortgage holders, and so on.

It’s not even because Schwarzman probably himself pays close to zero in income tax – as a private equity chief, he doesn’t pay income tax but tax on carried interest, which carries a maximum 15% tax rate, half the rate of a New York City firefighter.

The real issue has to do with the context of Schwarzman’s quote. The Blackstone billionaire, remember, is one of the more uniquely abhorrent, self-congratulating jerks in the entire world – a man who famously symbolized the excesses of the crisis era when, just as the rest of America was heading into a recession, he threw himself a $5 million birthday party, featuring private performances by Rod Stewart and Patti Labelle, to celebrate an IPO that made him $677 million in a matter of days (within a year, incidentally, the investors who bought that stock would lose three-fourths of their investments).

So that IPO birthday boy is now standing up and insisting, with a straight face, that America’s problem is that compared to taxpaying billionaires like himself, poor people are not invested enough in our society’s future. Apparently, we’d all be in much better shape if the poor were as motivated as Steven Schwarzman is to make America a better place.  
But it seems to me that if you’re broke enough that you’re not paying any income tax, you’ve got nothing but skin in the game. You've got it all riding on how well America works.

You can’t afford private security: you need to depend on the police. You can’t afford private health care: Medicare is all you have. You get arrested, you’re not hiring Davis, Polk to get you out of jail: you rely on a public defender to negotiate a court system you'd better pray deals with everyone from the same deck. And you can’t hire landscapers to manicure your lawn and trim your trees: you need the garbage man to come on time and you need the city to patch the potholes in your street.

And in the bigger picture, of course, you need the state and the private sector both to be functioning well enough to provide you with regular work, and a safe place to raise your children, and clean water and clean air.

The entire ethos of modern Wall Street, on the other hand, is complete indifference to all of these matters. The very rich on today’s Wall Street are now so rich that they buy their own social infrastructure. They hire private security, they live on gated mansions on islands and other tax havens, and most notably, they buy their own justice and their own government.

An ordinary person who has a problem that needs fixing puts a letter in the mail to his congressman and sends it to stand in a line in some DC mailroom with thousands of others, waiting for a response.

But citizens of the stateless archipelago where people like Schwarzman live spend millions a year lobbying and donating to political campaigns so that they can jump the line. They don’t need to make sure the government is fulfilling its customer-service obligations, because they buy special access to the government, and get the special service and the metaphorical comped bottle of VIP-room Cristal afforded to select customers.

Want to lower the capital reserve requirements for investment banks? Then-Goldman CEO Hank Paulson takes a meeting with SEC chief Bill Donaldson, and gets it done. Want to kill an attempt to erase the carried interest tax break? Guys like Schwarzman, and Apollo’s Leon Black, and Carlyle’s David Rubenstein, they just show up in Washington at Max Baucus’s doorstep, and they get it killed.

Some of these people take that VIP-room idea a step further. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon – the man the New York Times once called “Obama’s favorite banker” – had an excellent method of guaranteeing that the Federal Reserve system’s doors would always be open to him. What he did was, he served as the Chairman of the Board of the New York Fed.

And in 2008, in that moonlighting capacity, he orchestrated a deal in which the Fed provided $29 billion in assistance to help his own bank, Chase, buy up the teetering investment firm Bear Stearns. You read that right: Jamie Dimon helped give himself a bailout. Who needs to worry about good government, when you are the government?

Dimon, incidentally, is another one of those bankers who’s complaining now about the unfair criticism. “Acting like everyone who’s been successful is bad and because you’re rich you’re bad, I don’t understand it,” he recently said, at an investor’s conference.

Hmm. Is Dimon right? Do people hate him just because he’s rich and successful? That really would be unfair. Maybe we should ask the people of Jefferson County, Alabama, what they think.

That particular locality is now in bankruptcy proceedings primarily because Dimon’s bank, Chase, used middlemen to bribe local officials – literally bribe, with cash and watches and new suits – to sign on to a series of onerous interest-rate swap deals that vastly expanded the county’s debt burden.

Essentially, Jamie Dimon handed Birmingham, Alabama a Chase credit card and then bribed its local officials to run up a gigantic balance, leaving future residents and those residents’ children with the bill. As a result, the citizens of Jefferson County will now be making payments to Chase until the end of time.

Do you think Jamie Dimon would have done that deal if he lived in Jefferson County? Put it this way: if he was trying to support two kids on $30,000 a year, and lived in a Birmingham neighborhood full of people in the same boat, would he sign off on a deal that jacked up everyone’s sewer bills 400% for the next thirty years?

Doubtful. But then again, people like Jamie Dimon aren’t really citizens of any country. They live in their own gated archipelago, and the rest of the world is a dumping ground.
Just look at how Chase behaved in Greece, for example.

Having seen how well interest-rate swaps worked for Jefferson County, Alabama, Chase “helped” Greece mask its debt problem for years by selling a similar series of swaps to the Greek government. The bank then turned around and worked with banks like Goldman, Sachs to create a thing called the iTraxx SovX Western Europe index, which allowed investors to bet against Greek debt.

In other words, Chase knowingly larded up the nation of Greece with a crippling future debt burden, then turned around and helped the world bet against Greek debt.

Does a citizen of Greece do that deal? Forget that: does a human being do that deal?

Operations like the Greek swap/short index maneuver were easy money for banks like Goldman and Chase – hell, it’s a no-lose play, like cutting a car’s brake lines and then betting on the driver to crash – but they helped create the monstrous European debt problem that this very minute is threatening to send the entire world economy into collapse, which would result in who knows what horrors. At minimum, millions might lose their jobs and benefits and homes. Millions more will be ruined financially.

But why should Chase and Goldman care what happens to those people? Do they have any skin in that game?

Of course not. We’re talking about banks that not only didn’t warn the citizens of Greece about their future debt disaster, they actively traded on that information, to make money for themselves.

People like Dimon, and Schwarzman, and John Paulson, and all of the rest of them who think the “imbeciles” on the streets are simply full of reasonless class anger, they don’t get it. Nobody hates them for being successful. And not that this needs repeating, but nobody even minds that they are rich.

What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens.

Most of us 99-percenters couldn’t even let our dogs leave a dump on the sidewalk without feeling ashamed before our neighbors. It's called having a conscience: even though there are plenty of things most of us could get away with doing, we just don’t do them, because, well, we live here. Most of us wouldn’t take a million dollars to swindle the local school system, or put our next door neighbors out on the street with a robosigned foreclosure, or steal the life’s savings of some old pensioner down the block by selling him a bunch of worthless securities.

But our Too-Big-To-Fail banks unhesitatingly take billions in bailout money and then turn right around and finance the export of jobs to new locations in China and India. They defraud the pension funds of state workers into buying billions of their crap mortgage assets. They take zero-interest loans from the state and then lend that same money back to us at interest. Or, like Chase, they bribe the politicians serving countries and states and cities and even school boards to take on crippling debt deals.

Nobody with real skin in the game, who had any kind of stake in our collective future, would do any of those things. Or, if a person did do those things, you’d at least expect him to have enough shame not to whine to a Bloomberg reporter when the rest of us complained about it.

But these people don’t have shame. What they have, in the place where most of us have shame, are extra sets of balls. Just listen to Cooperman, the former Goldman exec from that country club in Boca. According to Cooperman, the rich do contribute to society:
Capitalists “are not the scourge that they are too often made out to be” and the wealthy aren’t “a monolithic, selfish and unfeeling lot,” Cooperman wrote. They make products that “fill store shelves at Christmas…”
Unbelievable. Merry Christmas, bankers. And good luck getting that message out.

The National Defense Authorization Act Explained

The Indefinite Detention of American Citizens

Passed by the House and Senate last week, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) now awaits the president’s signature. Because of its controversial provisions on indefinite detention, President Obama had threatened to veto the bill back in May, when the House passed one version of it, and again in November, when the Senate passed another, somewhat different version of it.

But last week, after the House and Senate reconciled their two versions of the bill, the president lifted his veto threat. His press secretary explained in a written statement that the revised bill was considered acceptable because problematic provisions had been removed, and because “the most recent changes give the President additional discretion in determining how the law will be implemented, consistent with our values and the rule of law.”

Numerous human rights advocates, civil libertarians, and members of Congress disagree. Human Rights Watch said that President Obama’s decision not to veto the bill “does enormous damage to the rule of law both in the US and abroad.” The ACLU said, “if President Obama signs this bill, it will damage both his legacy and American’s reputation for upholding the rule of law.” Representative Jerrold Nadler, who voted against the bill, said that it presents a “momentous challenge to one of the founding principles of the United States—that no person may be deprived of his liberty without due process of law.”

The bill’s congressional supporters reacted with outrage to such criticism, calling it false and misleading. “Rarely in my time have I seen legislation so consistently misunderstood and misrepresented as these detainee provisions,” complained Senator John McCain, one of the bill’s main drafters.

So what do the detention provisions of the NDAA actually say, and who, in particular, do they affect?

Background to the NDAA

To fully understand the NDAA’s provisions on detention, a brief review of recent history is needed.

During the Bush years, despite massive public and press attention to the administration’s detention policies, Congress remained largely out of the picture. While the USA PATRIOT Act contained some provisions on detention, they were never put to use; the Bush administration preferred to create a detention system that was, it assumed, largely free of legal constraints and judicial oversight.

The military prison at Guantanamo and the CIA’s secret prison system were therefore created by executive fiat, without congressional input or restriction. When cases challenging Guantanamo and the military detention of US citizens on US soil got to court, however, the administration claimed that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), a joint resolution passed by Congress in September 2001, gave congressional approval for those detentions.

The AUMF, which authorizes the president to use “necessary and appropriate force” against those whom he determined “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the September 11 attacks, or who harbored such persons or groups, is silent on the issue of detention. A plurality of the US Supreme Court agreed with the administration, nonetheless, that the power to detain is necessarily implied by the power to use military force.

Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the 2004 ruling that upheld the US government’s detention power, left many questions unanswered. Because it involved a prisoner who was captured during the armed conflict in Afghanistan, it did not raise the Bush administration’s broad claims of a “global war on terror,” in which terrorism suspects far from any battlefield were treated like enemy soldiers. It did not even give much guidance regarding the scope of the armed conflict, geographic or temporal, although it included, in dicta, a skeptical reference to the administration’s broadest claims.

Congress maintained its hands-off approach to detention during the entirety of President Bush’s two terms in office, even as it legislated on closely related issues like minimum standards of humane treatment and the rules for military commission proceedings. When Obama took office in January 2009, however, Congress’s attitude changed. Many members of Congress reacted negatively to Obama’s stated goal of closing Guantanamo, and, since that time, Congress has imposed various ever tighter restrictions on the release and transfer of detainees.

One last historical fact that is important to remember, when considering the scope of the NDAA, is that the Bush administration held two American citizens in indefinite military detention, Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla. While Hamdi was picked up as a combatant in Afghanistan in 2002, Padilla was arrested in a civilian setting in Chicago that same year.

The Padilla case was never definitively adjudicated—Padilla was finally moved to the civilian justice system in 2006 — but it underscores the Bush administration’s claim of power to hold even American citizens picked up in the United States indefinitely without trial.

Subtitle D of the NDAA

What is now known as Subtitle D of the NDAA—the section on detention—made its first appearance in March of this year. Called the Detainee Security Act in the House, and the Military Detainee Procedures Improvement Act in the Senate, the bills, introduced by Representative Buck McKeon and Senator John McCain, respectively, were meant to shift counterterrorism responsibilities from law enforcement to the military. The clear goal of the two bills was to require that suspected terrorists either be tried before military commissions or be held in indefinite detention without charge.

By May, the House version of the bill had been added to the NDAA, a $662 billion spending bill that finances the military’s annual operations. It passed by a vote of 322-96, even as President Obama issued a veto "threat," complaining that the bill improperly limited the government’s ability to fight terrorism effectively.

The Senate version of the bill, which also became part of the NDAA, passed in November on an overwhelming 93-7 vote. Prior to the Senate’s passage of the bill, nearly every government official with responsibility over counterterrorism, from FBI head Robert Mueller to CIA director David Petraeus, had voiced concerns that the bill would have a negative impact on US counterterrorism efforts.

President Obama again issued a veto threat after the Senate vote, but as soon as the bill was modified slightly during the process of reconciling its House and Senate versions, the threat was dropped. The final version of the bill passed both houses of Congress last week with large majorities.

Substance and Procedure in the NDAA

Subtitle D of the NDAA consists of twelve sections, covering issues that range from the military’s power over detention to technical amendments to the Military Commissions Act of 2009. Overall, the thrust of its provisions is to create a presumption of military jurisdiction over terrorism suspects, expand post-hoc congressional scrutiny of decisions over the detention and prosecution of such suspects, and effectively prevent Guantanamo from being closed.

Rather than establishing categorical rules to achieve these ends, however, the bill mostly relies on an array of procedural techniques like reporting, briefing and certification requirements. The substantive rules that it does establish are, in large part, qualified by waiver options and other potential loopholes.

Nonetheless, nearly every provision in subtitle D is objectionable from the standpoint of human rights and civil liberties. Among the controversial provisions are sections 1026, 1027 and 1028 of the bill, which restrict detainee transfers and releases from Guantanamo. But while human rights organizations are worried about these limitations, their gravest concerns pertain to sections 1021 and 1022.

Sections 1021 and 1022

It is sections 1021 and 1022 that human rights organizations have in mind when they say that the NDAA enshrines indefinite detention without charge into US law.

Section 1021 purports to “affirm” the military’s authority to hold people in indefinite detention without charge pursuant to the AUMF. Although the original House version of the bill would have stated explicitly that the US continues to be in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated groups, the final version of the bill is somewhat more circumspect.

Section 1022 takes a subset of the persons possibly subject to military detention under section 1021—focusing essentially on persons with a stronger connection to terrorism—and creates a presumption that they will be held in military detention.

The bad news is that, as passed, sections 1021 and 1022 represent clear congressional approval of what, up to now, has been solely the executive branch’s decision to hold people in indefinite detention without charge. (Remember that the AUMF itself was silent on detention questions.) Giving the practice a firm and explicit statutory grounding not only makes it less vulnerable to legal challenge, it may well make the practice more permanent.

The good news, to the extent there is any, is that neither section 1021 nor section 1022 defines the “war” or the “hostilities” at issue. They do not, in other words, explicitly embrace the “global war on terror” paradigm that equates terrorism with armed conflict and suspected terrorists with enemy soldiers. By failing to address that question, they leave open the theoretical (if unlikely) possibility that a court could give the statute a narrow reading consistent with international law understandings of armed conflict.

Yet even this qualified success should be further qualified. First, some of the people explicitly covered by section 1021—who, for example, harbored persons responsible for the September 11 attacks—might have no meaningful link to armed conflict. More importantly, the focus of section 1022 is clearly terrorism, not armed conflict: it covers Al Qaeda members and members of groups that act in coordination with or under the direction of Al Qaeda. Although the people subject to presumptive military detention under section 1022 are supposed to be a subset of the larger group of people covered by section 1021, which includes a requirement of a nexus to armed conflict under its subsection (b)(2), the thrust of the provision is still to equate armed conflict with terrorism.

Finally, it should also be noted that the set of “covered persons” subject to possible military detention, as defined in section 1021(b) of the NDAA, is far broader than the set of persons mentioned in the AUMF. While section 1021(b)(1) relies on the wording of the AUMF, section 1021(b)(2), which defines an additional category of potential detainees, is based on the Obama administration’s definition of “unprivileged enemy belligerent” (which, itself, is just a slight tweaking of the Bush administration’s definition of “unlawful enemy combatant”).

This provision covers not only persons who are members of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces (all broad and possibly inchoate categories in themselves), but also persons who “substantially supported” those groups. The concept of “substantial support” is potentially quite broad (what kind of support is covered, and might opinion or expression count?). Also, support is an extremely controversial basis for law of war detention, even in traditional wars, and the issue has sparked enormous litigation at Guantanamo.

The Indefinite Detention of American Citizens

In my next column, I will address the most vexed and contested question about the scope of the NDAA’s detention provisions: the extent to which they authorize the detention of American citizens, including citizens picked up in the United States.

For the moment, I’ll just note some recent remarks of one of the NDAA’s key drafters. In applauding the bill’s passage last week, Senator McCain spoke of its “strong, unambiguous language that recognizes that the war on terror extends to us at home.”

Wars Without End

The Costs of Empire
In “The Absence of a Draft Makes Americans Feel Immune to War” (December 7, 2011), Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report makes the argument that an all-volunteer military has ushered in the “most militaristic period in American history.” While I agree with Ford that this is indeed a grotesquely militaristic environment in which we now live, I cannot agree that the existence of an all-volunteer military has caused the latter to take place.

As a war resister from the Vietnam era, I can testify to the fact that the military was at least as vicious in its conduct of the war in Southeast Asia during the 1960s and early 1970s as it is conducting wars today. I make the point in my memoir Notes of a Military Resister that not a single division within the Army during that war was without a war crime attributed to it. Untold millions were killed, and the effects of that era are still being felt in the daily reality of abandoned land mines and the effects of Agent Orange. So much for an egalitarian military following the dictates of the rules of war!

The problem with militarism in the US is not the presence or absence of a military draft, but rather the hold that militarism and its trappings have on this society. Whether it’s for the purpose of nation building or the “protection” of big business interests (including military contractors) abroad, the military is the tool of choice for this nation. If the military existed for the defense of the nation, as it should have on September 11, 2001, then an argument could be make for the maintenance of a standing military force. But both the military and “intelligence” failed miserably in the months leading up to that tragedy, and the decade that followed has seen the emergence of a nation dedicated to constant warfare and an “intelligence” apparatus that uses technology to spy on anyone. The Patriot Act is but the most obvious expression of a government at war with its own people. In fact, the passage of the most recent Defense Authorization Act (signed by Barack Obama), allows the military to hold any citizen that the government deems a terrorist without that person’s access to the Bill of Rights. Chilling!

The question that begs asking is: how did this dreadful and dangerous scenario ever come to happen in the US? Readers have to go back to the administration of Ronald Reagan, The Great Communicator (actually, the Great Nincompoop), to find the seeds of this contemporary expression of endless war and militarism. Reagan made war acceptable to masses of those in the US through his conduct of the policy of low-intensity warfare.

Since this policy was directed, for the most part, against Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, most in the US felt no impact of these theaters of battle. Iraq, during the administration of George H.W. Bush, was next to lineup in the crosshairs of US policy. Oil and the projection of US power were the twin objectives of that war waged against our former ally Saddam Hussein. One day a dictator can be photographed shaking hands with US officials, and the next day he can be the target of our military might.

Following Bush, there was a bit of a hiatus in massive war making on the part of this nation. Then came George W. Bush and the hijacked general election. Osama bin Laden did the rest, allowing the opening up of the door of preemptive warfare that continues to this day in places as disparate as Somalia, Pakistan, Columbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, to name a few. In the case of Iraq, as the last US troops leave, violence continues in the wake of the trashing of one of the “nurseries” of civilization.

Barack Obama carried on the policies of Bush without missing a step militarily. As the longest war in US history continues to drag on, Afghanistan, by most accounts, is in no better position as a society than it was at the onset of the war in October 2001. Women still suffer the consequences of right wing religious intolerance there. Since so little of actual democracy exists in the US today that hasn’t been bought off or privatized by massive business and military conglomerates, we’re not exactly the shining example to export our ideas of democracy anywhere else on the globe. Indeed, Occupy Wall Street protesters around the nation being bashed by the police are not the kinds of poster children for photo opts that the government wishes to use to portray democracy.

Largely absent from the Occupy movement, however, are the staggering costs of the US empire. In 2010, $680 billion of the federal budget went to the military, with an additional $37 billion going to the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan alone. A pie chart showing the slice the military takes out the US federal budget indicates that military expenditures made up 54 percent of the budget for the fiscal year 2009. Compare the latter to 30 percent of the federal budget that went to human resources in the same year.

As I’ve fought militarism over the decades from a personal and activist perspective, I’ve seen firsthand how the nation uses the symbols of freedom and democracy to negate those same principles whenever they emerge on distant shores or right here at home. The military dictatorship in Egypt is allowed to consume its own people in the face of a democracy movement while stocks of US-made tear gas are used to subdue democracy fighters.

Candidates for political office who espouse peace and an egalitarian social-economic structure at home are relegated to the status of non persons through the stranglehold that both the Democratic and the Republican Parties have on the election process. Without the support of the 1 percent that holds over 40 percent of the wealth in the US, a candidate remains an unknown and unelectable.

And the symbols that militarism uses have a great hold on the ordinary people who labor and live within the system. The flag, patriotic songs, and the glamor of military service are drummed into the psyches of children from the time they reach kindergarten age until they become adults. The cold war so easily morphed into the war on terrorism! And the consumerist ethos brings the rest of the population into the fold. Myths about the beauty of democracy at home go unquestioned even as protestors are driven from encampments in places as far flung as New York City, Philadelphia, and Oakland, California. Myths about the goodness of the nation, dubbed American Exceptionalism, fly in the face of Nicaraguan deaths during the 1980’s contra war, the hundreds of thousands lost during the twenty years of the war in Iraq with its economic sanctions (not to mention the millions of Iraqis displaced by the war), and the millions of Southeast Asians and Americans who died as a result of US intervention in the 1960s and early 1970s. Smaller military operations are not counted here.

When George Orwell wrote the classic Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, he focused his sharp criticism on totalitarian regimes that called themselves socialist. Isn’t it somewhat ironic that his main character Winston Smith could find himself equally at home here in the US in 2011 as he was in the mythical land of Oceania. There was constant and unbridled government surveillance of the citizens in Oceania. There was constant warfare. And finally, there was total subservience to the state.