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30.11.2019 – Roberto Savio

This post is also available in: Italian

Dangers and questions of the Zuckerberg era

This year the Worldwide Web is thirty years old. For the first time since 1435, a citizen from Brazil could exchange their views and information with another in Finland. The Internet, the communications infrastructure for the Web is a little older. It was developed from the ARPANET, a US Defense Department project under the Advanced Research Projects Agency; the military designing it to decentralize communications in the case of a military attack. That network enabled scientists to communicate over email in universities. Then in 1989 Tim Berners-Lee at CERN in Switzerland invented the Hyperlink and the Worldwide Web (the Web) rapidly moved from scientists automating information sharing between universities and research institutions to the first Websites now available to the general public. In 2002 the first social media sites began as specialised websites. LinkedIn launched in 2003 then FaceBook in 2004, Twitter in 2006, Instagram in 2010 and so on…

My generation regarded the arrival of the Web as a great prospect for democracy. We come from the Gutenberg era, an era that in 1435 changed the world. From manuscripts drafted by monks to be read by a few people in monasteries, the invention of reusable movable type meant that in just 20 years already eight million copies of printed books went all across Europe. Among many other things it also meant the creation of information. People who heretofore had merely a scant horizon beyond their immediate surroundings, could suddenly access information about their country, and even the entire world. The first newspaper was printed in Strasbourg in 1605. From then until 1989, the world was filled with information.

Information had a very serious limit. It was a vertical structure. Just a few people sent news to a large number of recipients; there was little feedback. It wasn’t participatory, it required large startup investments, it was easily used by economic and political powers. In the Third World, the media system was part of the State. In 1976, 88% of World news flows emanated from just three countries: the US, the UK and France. International news agencies based in these three countries included Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), Reuters and Agence France Press (AFP). The world’s media were dependent on their news services. Some alternative news agencies, like Inter Press Services, were able to put a dent in their monopoly. But what this Western media published, by and large was a biased window on the world.

Then came the Internet, and with it, came horizontal communication. Every receiver was also a sender. For the first time since 1435, media were no longer the only window on the world. Like-minded people could take part in social, cultural and economic interactions. This change was evident in the United Nations Woman’s World Conference in Beijing, 1995. Women created networks prior to the conference, and came with a common plan of action. Governments were not so prepared, so the Declaration of Beijing was a turning point, one which was entirely unlike the bland declarations from the previous four World Conferences. Another good example is the campaign to eliminate anti-personnel landmines, started by the Canadian activist Jody Williams in 1992. This soon blossomed into a large coalition of Non-Governmental Organizations from more than 100 countries. Under mounting pressure Norway decided to introduce the issue to the UN, where the US, China, and other manufacturers of landmines like the USSR, tried to block the debate, declaring that they would vote against it. The activists did not care, and 128 countries adopted the Mine Ban Treaty in 1997 with the US, China and the USSR voting against. A vast global movement was more powerful than the traditional role of the Security Council. The Internet had become the tool to create world coalitions.

Those are just two examples of how far the Internet could change the traditional system of Westphalian state sovereignty as defined at the Conference of Westphalia in 1648. The Internet spanned national frontiers to bring on a new era. Let’s say, for the sake of symbolism, that the Internet brought us from the Gutenberg Era, to the Zuckerberg Era, to cite the inventor of Facebook and a leading instance of what went wrong with this medium.

The Internet came upon us with an unprecedented force. It took 38 years for the radio to reach 50 million people: television took 13 years; and the Web just four years. It had a billion users in 2005, two billion in 2011, and it now has three and a half billion users, three billion of those using social media. So the two traditional pillars of power, the political system and the economic system, also had to learn how to use the Internet. The US provides a good example. All of American media (national and regional publications) involves printing 50 million copies daily. Quality newspapers — both the conservative broadsheets like the Wall Street Journal, and progressive ones like the Washington Post or the New York Times — together print ten million copies a day. Trump has sixty three million followers on Twitter; they read Trump’s tweets but don’t buy newspapers.

The Web has had two unforeseen developments. One was the dramatic reinforcement of the consumer society. Today advertising budgets are ten times larger than budgets for education, and education only lasts a few years compared with a lifetime of advertisement. With the development of social networks, people — now more consumers than citizens — have become objects for marketing goods and services, and recently also for political campaigns. All systems of information and communications extract our personal data, selling us on as consumers. Now the TV can see us while we watch it. Smartphones have become microphones that listen in on our conversations. The notion of privacy is gone. If we could access our data, we would find out that we are followed every minute of the day, even into our bedrooms. Secret algorithms form profiles of each and every one of us. Based on these profiles platforms provide us with the news, the products, and the people that these algorithms believe we will like, thus insulating us in our own bubbles. Artificial intelligence learns from the data that it accumulates. China, with 1.35 billion people, will provide its researchers with more data than Europe and United States together. The Internet has given birth to a digital extractive economy, where the raw material is no longer minerals, but we humans.

The other development that went awry is that the digital extractive economy has created unprecedented wealth.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was recently divorced from his wife. In the settlement she received 36 billion dollars yet Bezos remains among the 10 richest people in the world. This is just one story from an increasingly sad reality of social injustice, where 80 of the world’s richest persons hold the same wealth as nearly three billion poor people.

A new sector is evolving, the “surveillance capitalism” sector, where money is made not from the production of good and services, but from data extracted from people. This new system exploits humans to give to the owners of this technology, a concentration of wealth, knowledge and power without precedent in history. The ability to develop facial recognition and other surveillance instruments no longer lies in the realms of science fiction. The Chinese government has already given every citizen a digital number, where all their ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviours converge. If a citizen goes below a level, their children will not be allowed to go to a good school, and the citizen themselves, though they may still be able to travel by train, won’t have access to planes. These technologies will soon be in use all over the planet. London town now has 627,000 surveillance cameras, one for every fourteen citizens; in Beijing it’s one for every seven.  A study conducted by The Rand Corporation estimates that by 2050, Europe too would also have one camera for every seven citizens.

The interrelationship between democracy and the Internet is now creating a belated awareness in the political system. The European Parliament has just released a study, about the negative impact of the Internet. These impacts are:

  1. Internet Addiction
    There is unanimity among doctors and sociologists that a new generation is coming, one which is very different from the previous one. Over 90% of those aged 15-24 uses the Internet, as against 11% for those over 55. Young people spend 21 hours per week on the PC, and 18 hours on a smart phone. This leaves little time for social and cultural interaction. 4.4% of European adolescents now show pathological Internet use “that affects their lives and health”. The American Academy of Psychology has officially included Internet Addiction as a new ailment. Magnetic resonance studies of those with Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) show that they exhibit the same brain structure alterations as those who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction.
  2. Harming cognitive development
    A particular warning is given about children under two years of age. More than 20 minutes a day of screen use reduces some of their neural development. People pushed to isolation tend to develop symptoms of distress, anger, loss of control, social withdrawal, familial conflicts, and an inability to act in real life. Internet users in tests were faster than non-users at finding data, but they were less able to retain data.
  3. Information Overload
    The condition of having too much information hampers the ability to understand an issue, or to make effective decisions, an important issue for managers, consumers, and social media users. According to Microsoft, attention span for a title has gone from 12 seconds in 2000 down to 8 seconds in 2016. The attention span for reading has gone from 12 minutes to 8 minutes. Two new terms can be used: one, the ‘popping brain’, describes a brain less adept to adapt to a slower pace of real life and then there is ‘Neuroplasticity’; i.e. the ability to alter one’s behaviour after a new experience. Frequent immersion in virtual worlds can reduce neuroplasticity and also make it more difficult to adapt to the slower pace of real life. The need to compete in speed between social media channels is well known. For example Amazon estimates that one second of performance delay would cost 1.16 billion losses per year in sales.
  4. Harmful effects in knowledge and belief
    The fact that social media deliberately tends to gather together users with similar views, tastes and habits, is fragmenting society in a negative way for democracy, resulting in closed systems that don’t allow for alternative viewpoints. Adolescents no longer discuss significant subjects. They go to their virtual world, and if they come across somebody from another group, they tend to insult each other. The Internet is full of fake news and misleading information, and users have great difficulty distinguishing accurate from inaccurate information. Echo chambers appear to be far more pervasive, and may unite those with more extreme and partisan political and ideological positions, therefore undermining possibilities for civil discourse and tolerance, supporting radicalization.
  5. Harming public/private boundaries.
    The Internet blurs the distinction between the private and the public. Private life becomes public. This is especially negative for teenagers who lose the concept of privacy, for example by sending private photos across the Internet. One important observation is that teenagers now get their sexual education from pornography, where women are always an object to satisfy men’s sexual phantasies. This is in turn creating a lack of respect for women, and a new generation that risk, for new reasons, returning to a patriarchal society. Group violations of teenage girls are clearly a result of this trend.
  6. Harming social relationships
    The Internet is clearly a powerful instrument to create new communities. However, when used negatively, it can also damage communities, because of the migration to Internet of many human activities such as shopping, commerce, socialising, leisure, professional activities and personal interaction. That migration creates impoverished communication, incivility and a lack of trust and commitment.
  7. Harming democracy
    The Internet has been a powerful tool for participation, and therefore for democracy. However the study notes with concern that a growing number of activities are also harmful to democracy. These include: a) The incivility of many online political discourses, b) Political and ideological polarisation, uniquely possible using the Internet. c) Misinformation, and, in particular, fake news, d) Voter manipulations through profiling based on harvested social media information. We all know what happened in the US elections with Cambridge Analytica data, gathered by Facebook, and how thousands of false web users and bots now heavily interfere in elections.

We should add to this study some other considerations. The first is that finance now is now also run by algorithms. The algorithms do not only decide when to sell or buy shares, but now also decide where to invest. The Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) last month reached 14,400 billion dollars in trades, more than that traded by humans. This trend will continue with the development of artificial intelligence and soon finance will become even more dehumanized.  Even when Internet users invest themselves they too will be directed by machines and algorithms.

A second consideration is that young people read less and less. Reading a book is very different to scrolling a screen. We are experiencing a progressive reduction in levels of culture. It’s not uncommon to have university students that make grammar and spelling mistakes. Let us remember that when the Internet was still new, its proponents told us: it is not important to know, rather it is important to know how to find. We are more and more dependent on search engines, learning less and less, and we are unable to connect that data in a personal holistic logical system.

There is clearly a need for regulation to reduce the negative aspects of the Internet and to reinforce positive values. The owners of social media platforms are now under increased scrutiny so they have taken the road of self-regulation. Twitter, for instance, has decided that it cannot be used for political purposes. Zuckerberg is an exponent of market myths telling us that good news will automatically prevail over fake news. Except that platforms help users to read and find only what they like, to maintain our attention, providing us what is striking, unusual and provocative. This is not a free market.

The Zuckerberg era is clearly creating an entirely different generation, very different from the generations of the Gutenberg era. This raises many questions, from privacy to freedom of expression (now in private hands), from who will regulate, what to regulate and how. A five year-old child is now very different from a Gutenberg five year-old. We are in a period of transition. The meaning of democracy is changing.

International relations are moving away from the search for common values via multilateralism, to a tide of nationalist, xenophobic and selfish views of the world. Terms like peace, cooperation, accountability, participation and transparency are becoming outdated. What is clear is that the present system is no longer sustainable. Policies disappear from debate, now referred to only as ‘politics’. Vision and paradigms are getting scarce. Over and above all of this the threat of climate change is looming; yet last year toxic emissions from the five largest countries increased by 5%. Young people are largely absent from political institutions as is shown by the vote on Brexit where only 23% of the 18-25 age group participated. At this very moment we have large demonstrations in thirteen countries all over the world. In those streets young people do participate, frequently demonstrating rage, frustration and violence. If we cannot bring back horizontal communication to the Internet and we do not free it from the commercial fracturing of young people, the future is hardly rosy. Yet as the marches against Climate Change clearly demonstrate, if young people want to change the world, values and vision will return. It is evident that the Internet can be a very powerful tool. But who will redress these failings? Will the Internet become a tool for participation? How will this be done? These are questions that political institutions, if they really care for democracy, must address as soon as possible. The Zuckerberg era must make this choice now, in a few years time it will already be too late…

 

Mark Twain born Samuel Clemens November 30, 1835Hat tip today to Garrison Keillor, whose Writer’s Almanac reminded me that today (November 30) is the birthday of Samuel L. Clemens, aka Mark Twain (born 1835). Garrison sent me in search of some Mark Twain quotes, of which there are of course many. Here are a few,…

via Happy Birthday, Mark Twain, You Old Anti-Imperialist! — A Friendly Letter

29.11.2019 – Pressenza London

‘Everything Is Not Fine’: Nobel Economist Calls on Humanity to End Obsession With GDP
Buy Nothing Day demonstration in San Francisco, November 2000 (Image by Lars Aronsson – Own work, CC SA 1.0)

“If we measure the wrong thing,” warns Joseph Stiglitz, “we will do the wrong thing.”

Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz is warning the world that unless the obsession many world leaders have with gross national product (GDP) comes to end, there will be little chance of adequately fighting back against the triple-threat of climate destruction, the scourge of financial inequality, and the crises of democracy now being felt around the globe.

In an op-ed published Sunday in the Guardian, Stiglitz says that these interrelated crises of environmental degradation and human suffering have solidified in his mind the idea that  “something is fundamentally wrong with the way we assess economic performance and social progress.”

“Something is fundamentally wrong with the way we assess economic performance and social progress.”—Joseph Stiglitz

Defining GDP as “the sum of the value of goods and services produced within a country over a given period,” Stiglitz points to the financial crash of 2008—and the so-called “recovery” which has taken place in the decade since—as evidence that the widely-used measurement is not up to the task of providing an accurate assessment of the economy, let alone the state of the world or the people living in it.

“It should be clear that, in spite of the increases in GDP, in spite of the 2008 crisis being well behind us, everything is not fine,” writes Stiglitz. “We see this in the political discontent rippling through so many advanced countries; we see it in the widespread support of demagogues, whose successes depend on exploiting economic discontent; and we see it in the environment around us, where fires rage and floods and droughts occur at ever-increasing intervals.”

A central argument of his new book—co-authored by fellow economists Jean-Paul Fitoussi and Martine Durand and titled “Measuring What Counts: The Global Movement for Well-Being“—Stiglitz says that studying the last ten years of the global economy has showed him with increasing clarity why governments “can and should go well beyond GDP,” especially with the climate crisis knocking down the planet’s door. He writes:

If our economy seems to be growing but that growth is not sustainable because we are destroying the environment and using up scarce natural resources, our statistics should warn us. But because GDP didn’t include resource depletion and environmental degradation, we typically get an excessively rosy picture.

These concerns have now been brought to the fore with the climate crisis. It has been three decades since the threat of climate change was first widely recognized, and matters have grown worse faster than initially expected. There have been more extreme events, greater melting of glaciers and greater natural habitat destruction.

Everything is not fine, Stiglitz argues, but says economists have been working hard on providing new ways to measure economic health. Embraced more broadly, new economic measures that include accounting for human happiness and environmental well-being could help change the course of humanity.

As he notes in the op-ed, “If we measure the wrong thing, we will do the wrong thing.”

28.11.2019 – Zoe Blackler – Extinction Rebellion

This post is also available in: Italian

Over 1000 cases set to be dropped against Extinction Rebellion protesters arrested during October’s International Rebellion
  • The Metropolitan Police has admitted to the unlawful use of Section 14 of the Public Order Act during the first week of the October protests, following a threat of further legal action by Extinction Rebellion’s lawyers
  • The news follows Extinction Rebellion’s landmark victory in the High Court earlier this month in which the Met’s blanket Section 14 ban from the second week of the International Rebellion was ruled to be an unlawful overreach of Police powers
  • Extinction Rebellion now expects police investigations and charges against over 1000 of its activists to be dropped

The Metropolitan Police has admitted to the unlawful use of Section 14 of the Public Order Act during the first week of October’s International Rebellion, following a ‘Letter Before Action’ sent by lawyers on behalf of Extinction Rebellion.

On the morning of November 27, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) informed scores of Extinction Rebellion protesters already charged with breaching Section 14 orders during both weeks of the International Rebellion that their cases will be discontinued. Police investigations against hundreds of others are also expected to be dropped.

The news follows Extinction Rebellion’s landmark victory in the High Court earlier this month, in which the Met’s blanket Section 14 ban from the second week of the International Rebellion was ruled to be an unlawful overreach of Police powers.

Following the Met’s admission, Extinction Rebellion has today filed an application at the High Court to formally quash the Section 14 order from the first week.

The combination of Extinction Rebellion’s successful judicial review and this concession by the Met (once it has been sealed by the High Court) means that all arrests for Section 14 offences between 8 and 18 October 2019 will be considered unlawful. 

Tobias Garnett, a human rights lawyer in Extinction Rebellion’s Legal Strategy team, said: “Extinction Rebellion is glad to see that the Met Police and the CPS have recognized the implications of our successful challenge earlier this month. It underlines the need for proper policing that doesn’t waste precious public resources. These admissions of unlawful arrest do not impact on other arrests for criminal damage or related to aviation and railway legislation, for example. But they do affirm that when the people of this country assemble peacefully to demand action on the Climate and Ecological Emergency the law is on our side.”

Martin Marston-Paterson, one of those arrested under the first week’s Section 14 order and a claimant in Extinction Rebellion’s Letter Before Action to the Met regarding that order’s legality, said: “I am delighted to see that the Met have conceded the illegality of the 8 October Section 14 order in the light of the judgment in Jones. It is to be hoped that the police will, in future, take much greater care to act within the law and to balance the right to protest with their desire for public order”.

Jules Carey of Bindmans LLP who were instructed by Extinction Rebellion said: “We welcome the Police’s confirmation that they will not dispute the legality of their 8 October Section 14 ban. While we wait for the High Court to formally address the issue, it is now clear that the policing of the Extinction Rebellion protests was a mess: the right to protest was overlooked, police powers were overstepped, and a significant clean-up operation is now required in the criminal justice system to deal with hundreds of cases that should never have been brought”.

27.11.2019 – Pressenza New York

November Nostalgia 2019: End of a Decade

By j.jill

As Thanksgiving week hammers its start-of-the-season advertising from restorative nostalgia around family tables—turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes— to Black Friday ads that repeat the same jingle every two minutes, it’s time to turn it all off and just stop to think.

Storybook versions of different people feasting together to welcome and celebrate cooperation have their limits when we explore history realistically. And these days are no exception.  Still, a twinge of angst rises for many during Thanksgiving week and seems to extend through January 1st.  So, what may be some realistic ways to assess and recognize the emotional flurry that takes place and how to deal with it?  One group on Long Island seems to have discovered an answer.

Community Solidarity is a Long Island relief organization that rescues a small amount of the 27 million pounds of food wasted daily from local markets and grocery stores to feed tens of thousands of people each week. Its all-vegetarian food shares proclaim something we all should consider, “Food is a right, not a privilege.” Its volunteers recoup a part of the 51% of daily wasted, perfectly good food from collaborating grocery stores and set up weekly food shares in communities throughout the year, four on Long Island, one in Brooklyn. Volunteers drive, collect, set-up, and give a week’s worth of groceries to those who otherwise would struggle with food insecurity. In places like Hempstead, Wyandanch, Farmingville, Huntington Station and Bedford-Stuyvesant, considered by many as “food deserts”, where less access to healthy, nutritious food options is available to local residents, Community Solidarity sets up one day a week during the year, whatever the weather, and offers vegetables, fruits, baked goods and even prepared meals for those who may otherwise have little or nothing to eat.  In recent years, food insecurity has become an issue in a variety of situations, including for the economically vulnerable, children, elderly, disabled, those in disproportionately low-income neighborhoods with fewer resources and it may be a temporary or more permanent condition. In fact, according to the USFDA:

 In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30–40 percent of the food supply. This figure, based on estimates from USDA’s Economic Research Service of 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010. Wasted food is the single largest category of material placed in municipal landfills and represents nourishment that could have helped feed families in need.[1]  

While…globally, one third of all food produced, worth nearly $1 trillion, is wasted every year, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).[2]

These long-term plans and projects from government bureaus offer hope and vision. But it seems evident that Community Solidarity has a “hands-on” immediate solution for a critical, pressing problem that can be found in almost every community locally, regionally, nationally and in a conceivable way, globally. It would take “people-power” and enough of it consistently to uphold the pace it takes to fulfill this mandate five out of seven days each week. That need for can be found in administrations re-directing portions of adolescent and young adult classroom education to include service for credit, apprenticeship and partnering with existing businesses and organizations dedicated to problem-solving and applied learning.

The potential beauty of this season may revitalize fond memories, bring a longing for dreams of an unimagined life or help cope with struggles, temporary or otherwise. Whatever these final months of 2019 may mean, an increasing need calls us to work, serve, and uplift together with reflection, empathy, compassion and action.  For more information, contact Community Solidarity at https://communitysolidarity.org/

[1] https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/food-waste-and-loss

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/food_waste/eu_actions/food-waste-measurement_en


Making connections through experience has been the foundation of j.jill’s personal philosophy: in education, service, writing, spirituality and the arts. She teaches Italian part-time within the State University of NY system, follows topics in peace & justice advocacy, and enjoys spending time with friends & family including two very affectionate rescue puppies.

26.11.2019 – US, United States – Pressenza New York

Warning Julian Assange ‘Could Die in Prison’, 60+ Doctors Demand Immediate Medical Attention for WikiLeaks Founder

By Julia Conley, staff writer  – Common Dreams

Following an urgent warning from an expert at the United Nations earlier this month that Julian Assange’s mistreatment in prison may amount to life-threatening torture, more than 60 doctors from around the world Monday called on officials in the United Kingdom to act immediately to ensure the WikiLeaks founder receives proper medical attention.

In their letter to British Home Secretary Priti Patel and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, the doctors—including physicians practicing in the U.K., Sri Lanka, the U.S., and several other countries—expressed grave concerns over Assange’s deteriorating health as a result of his seven-year confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and subsequent incarceration by British authorities as he awaits possible extradition to the United States.

“We have real concerns, on the evidence currently available, that Mr. Assange could die in prison.”
—Physicians in letter to U.K. government

“We have real concerns, on the evidence currently available, that Mr. Assange could die in prison,” the doctors wrote. “The medical situation is thereby urgent.”

Assange is currently serving a 50-week sentence in prison for violating his bail conditions in 2012 and is facing charges in the U.S. under the Espionage Act for exposing human rights violations and evidence of war crimes by the U.S. government. He is set to appear in court in February for an extradition hearing.

“Mr. Assange was unable to exercise his right to free and necessary expert medical assessment and treatment throughout the seven-year period,” the physicians added.

While he was examined by a number of medical experts during his confinement, Assange was not permitted to go to a hospital even as he reported stiffness and inflammation in his shoulder which first appeared nearly four years ago. He has also exhibited signs of moderate to severe depression and major dental health issues.

Last month, the doctors wrote, former British ambassador Craig Murray published an eyewitness account of Assange’s current state describing him as exhibiting “exactly the symptoms of a torture victim.” Shortly after, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer accused the U.K. government of “outright contempt for Mr. Assange’s rights and integrity.”

“It is our opinion that Mr. Assange requires urgent expert medical assessment of both his physical and psychological state of health,” wrote the medical experts. “There is no time to lose.”

On social media, supporters of Assange expressed alarm and anger at the government’s decision to allow his health to deteriorate so significantly.

“Revealing stuff that should have been in the public domain all along should be treated as a public service, not a crime,” Guardian columnist and political activist George Monbiot wrote Monday.”But Julian Assange is rotting in jail, awaiting extradition, at the behest of a government that wants to preserve its grim secrets.”

25.11.2019 – US, United States – Codepink

War Is Not Green

Addressing the climate crisis is one of the most important challenges of our time. The U.S. military is the world’s largest consumer of oil and causes more greenhouse gas pollution than 140 nations combined. Yet 64% of our discretionary spending is siphoned off to the Pentagon every year and the private weapons companies that the Pentagon contracts with continue to place their short term profit above the future of our planet. Funding endless war is an existential threat to human life and one of the leading causes of climate change.

When our public institutions invest public money in weapons corporations like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman, they are underpinning the war machine that draws public dollars away from projects that benefit our communities and puts them instead into an already bloated defense budget. Moreover, those same weapons are a major factor in conflicts that lead to migration by asylum seekers.

A movement to divest from the war machine will remove the social licenses that allow weapons corporations to literally make a killing on killing, and the Pentagon budget to increase annually even when our military budget far-outpaces the military budgets of all other nations.

The opportunities for divestment from the war machine abound. Cities, public pension funds, and university endowments invest public dollars in private corporations that often include weapons corporations, and elected public servants often accept campaign contributions from weapons makers. Together we can demand that they divest, that it is morally unacceptable to build our communities on top of global conflicts, and at the same time we must demand that we instead invest our public resources in projects that positively impact our communities, starting first with a rapid response to the climate crisis that is exacerbated by endless wars.

If we’re going to avert a climate disaster, we have to hold companies like BlackRock, which invests billions of dollars in weapons manufacturers and millions in companies fueling the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, accountable. And if we want to drastically reduce our carbon emissions, we have to demand that our universities divest their endowments from weapons manufacturers, that our cities divest public dollars from weapons corporations, and that our elected officials refuse campaign contributions from weapons makers.

Take action locally to divest from the war machine! Addressing climate change and U.S militarism starts with people organizing for change in their local communities.  

 The original article can be found on our partner’s website here

U.N. Rapporteur: Julian Assange Has Faced Psychological Torture; He Should Not Be Extradited to U.S.

24.11.2019 – Democracy Now!

U.N. Rapporteur: Julian Assange Has Faced Psychological Torture; He Should Not Be Extradited to U.S.
(Image by Democracy Now)

This week Swedish prosecutors dropped an investigation into sexual assault allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, stemming from 2010. Assange, who has always denied the allegations, took refuge inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London for over seven years to avoid extradition to Sweden on the charges. British authorities dragged him out of the Ecuadorian embassy in April and he has since been jailed in London’s Belmarsh prison on charges related to skipping of bail in 2012, when he first entered the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden over the now-dropped sexual assault charges. The United States is still seeking Assange’s extradition to the U.S., where he faces up to 175 years in prison on hacking charges and 17 counts of violating the World War I-era Espionage Act for his role in publishing U.S. classified military and diplomatic documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. A full extradition hearing will take place in February. We air remarks by U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer, who says his initial position of skepticism toward Assange’s case changed as he began to look more deeply at the evidence and charges against him. “As I scratched the surface a little bit, immediately, things did not add up with the images I had in my mind of this man,” Melzer said in a recent talk at Columbia University. “The deeper I got into this, the more fabrication I saw.”

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to the case of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Earlier this week, Swedish prosecutors have for the third time dropped an investigation into sexual assault allegations that Assange has long denied. The move comes as Julian Assange’s legal team is fighting his possible extradition to the United States where he faces up to 175 years in prison on hacking charges and 17 counts of violating the rarely-invoked World War I-era Espionage Act for his role in exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. A full extradition hearing will take place in February. Julian Assange has been locked up at London’s Belmarsh prison since April when he was dragged out of the Ecuadorean embassy by London police. He had taken refuge inside the Ecuadorian embassy for over seven years to avoid extradition.

Later in the program, we will speak to Tariq Ali and Margaret Ratner Kunstler, co-editors of the new book In Defense of Julian Assange. But first, I want to turn to Nils Melzer, United Nations special rapporteur on torture. He recently spoke at Columbia University.

NILS MELZER: About a year ago when—well, December, it was—when Julian Assange’s lawyers first contacted me and asked me to intervene on his behalf with [inaudible[ governments, I was very hesitant to get involved because I had this visceral reaction. I didn’t know anything about the man. I had never dealt with the case. But I had this visceral reaction of “Oh, this is this narcissist, this rapist, this hacker, this spy. He’s going to manipulate my mandate, and I’m not going to get into this case.”

Because I have received, as you know, [inaudible] we receive in our mandates, we receive about ten to 12 to 15 requests per day of potential victims of torture or other human rights violations to intervene on their behalf. So we have to make a selection, because we can maybe deal with two, with the resources we have. So I wasn’t going to get into this case. And it took me another three months when his lawyers came back to me and said, “Well, there are rumors that he might be expelled from the embassy of Ecuador in London imminently and please, look just at a few documents, and then make up your mind.”

And so I somehow felt I owed it to my professional integrity to at least look at these documents. And I have to admit that as soon as I scratched the surface a little bit, immediately, things didn’t add up with the images I had in my mind of this man. And the deeper I got into this, the more fabrication I saw. And I just saw that there was nothing to back up all these—this public narrative that had been spread about Julian Assange in the media, mainly. Or that’s at least where I got it from, almost passively, almost through osmosis. It was kind of this constant thing over the years. So that started to intrigue me.

And I looked into this case and I decided, if I get into this—this is a very politicized case—I need to—and a very publicly—obviously publicized case—I need to make sure I have a solid basis. So I requested the British authorities after his arrest to allow me to visit him and I took two medical experts with me, a psychiatrist and a forensic expert. Both of them have worked with torture victims for decades and advised courts in distinguishing symptoms that might come from ill treatment from other symptoms—psychological ones, physical ones,. They really know how to distinguish these things.

And we visited Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison on the 9th of May for four hours. I spoke with him for an hour just to get a good first impression, then we had a physical examination for an hour by our forensic expert and then we had the two-hour psychiatric examination. And all three of us had the same impression—and, well, I had certainly an impression and the medical doctors had a diagnosis, that they—we all came to the conclusion that he showed all the symptoms that are typical for a person that has been exposed to psychological torture over an extended period of time. So now, I had this result.

And I have to say—well, also personally, when I met him the first time—the only time I met him, actually—he made a very rational impression. A lot of anxiety I could feel. He was certainly extremely stressed and on a stress level where he could never relax, and something that reminded me of many of the victims of torture I had seen at interrogation centers that had been indefinitely detained for a long time, intellectuals that have been in isolation for a long time that would show that kind of reaction pattern. Asking me questions and when I just started to answer, he would already come to the next questions. And very intelligent questions but he would not even be able to compute my answers. So he was already kind of beyond that point.

And it put me—because he had been in a very controlled environment for more than six years, we could identify the causes. And there was just a number of causes of factors that could have influenced his life. It was not someone that we picked up on a battlefield and we didn’t know what happened to them the last three months. The last six or seven years, he had been exposed to this precisely same environment that obviously evolved, but it was fairly easy to make the calculation and conclude what were actually the causes that have produced these symptoms.

Now, we also have to be clear from a torture and ill treatment perspective, not everything that is—not every anxiety and stress level or pain and suffering is torture. Just because you show that symptoms does not necessarily mean that someone tortured you. Because there is an exception in the torture definition. So essentially, torture is the deliberate and purposeful infliction of severe pain and suffering in order to achieve some kind of a purpose—coercion, confession, intimidation or something like that. But there is an exception where there is pain and suffering that is inherent in lawful sanctions. So when you have a lawful, legal proceeding and someone is lawfully detained, obviously they will be stressed, and the longer it lasts, the more they will be stressed. That obviously is a level of anxiety that is just inherent in a lawful measure.

So the question was, was his detention lawful? And when I looked at all the evidence—and I’m not going to go obviously into every single detail here—but if this were about applying the law, then he would not have been sentenced to a 50-week imprisonment simply for bail violation in the U.K. for a case that at the time was not even pending anymore. The Swedes at the time had terminated that case, had dropped the case. And he had violated that bail condition because he had received asylum from political persecution, given by a U.N. member state, Ecuador. And that is not a grave violation of the bail conditions. In the U.K., bail violations don’t routinely lead to prison sentences. It is just a fine or maybe a minor sentence that might not even be served in the end. So that was clearly excessive. So that was not about applying the law regularly.

Then we also saw that British judges showed from the first day when he was arrested [inaudible], they showed extreme bias against him. They called him narcissist, although in that hearing he said nothing except “I plead not guilty.” And I’m a professor at a British university, and I consider the U.K. a rule-of-law state and one of the leading ones. And to me, that was very odd. And then I saw—so we have an excessive sentence. We have judges calling—insulting him for saying nothing, basically. We had a judge leading the extradition proceedings until recently who had a documented conflict of interest. Her husband had been exposed by WikiLeaks. And his defense lawyers had tried to make that case and that was simply ignored.

And until two weeks ago, I believe, Julian Assange never had access to legal documents. So how do you prepare a defense, which is a basic human right when you’re facing all of these proceedings, and you don’t even have access to your legal documents? When in the extradition hearing, the judge asks him, “Sir, how do you react to the U.S. indictment?” And he said, “Well, I haven’t received it.” That is not the rule of law. This is not about applying the law. That is not a lawful proceeding.

Then we look at the Swedish proceedings. It’s the same thing. It’s totally arbitrary when a state conducts a preliminary investigation. He has never been charged of anything in Sweden. He is not charged of sexual offenses. Never been. The case has been opened, three days later has been closed because there was no evidence for any offense at all. Chief prosecutor of Stockholm saying that. And a different prosecutor takes it up again, based on the statement of the purported victim, which had been adapted, changed by the police without consulting the victim in order to have a stronger basis for the rape case.

And it goes on and on and on. Strange evidence, condoms that have no DNA on them, but which supposedly have been used. And it goes on and on and on. It’s one contradiction after the other. And Sweden never gets beyond the stage of a preliminary investigation, which simply means someone has alleged rape and they have still not decided whether they want to charge him or not, after nine years. And that’s what has kept him in detention in Ecuador, in the Ecuadorian embassy, for so long and under that constant pressure.

And then we see the U.S. proceedings. With all due respect, but you have—you know, the grand jury proceedings have their own particularities, right? Secret evidence, jury selection, which obviously in that area will result in a certain amount of bias within the jury. We have the history of the so-called espionage court, which has its own problematics. Seventeen of the 18 charges, basically, refer to activities that are the basic business of any investigative journalist, which brings in the whole freedom of press and freedom of opinion problematic here. And the 18th charge, the first one that the U.S. disclosed, refers to Julian Assange supposedly having attempted to help Chelsea Manning to decode a password but not succeeded. So if every time someone tries to type in a password and decode it and it doesn’t work, you get extradited to the U.S. for espionage, there’s something slightly disproportionate in this.

I mean, something just doesn’t add up in all these proceedings, when it’s about depriving or terminating the asylum of Julian Assange by Ecuador and terminating citizenship. That is done without any legal proceeding whatsoever. The president just decides, “That’s what we’re going to do today.” He is being informed. He is kicked out of the embassy or arrested by the Brits in the embassy that very day…

So we see that there, we have no due process proceeding whatsoever. And so U.K., U.S., Ecuador, Sweden—all these legal proceedings, severe violations of due process consistently. This is not about prosecuting someone for an offense. This is not about applying the law. The story–we have to take a step back. What has the man done? He has disclosed enormous amounts of information that governments wanted to stay secret, to remain secret. And obviously, we know obviously most famously or most infamously, the Collateral Murder video, which is in my view as a former ICRC legal advisor, having worked with the law of war for many years, it’s evidence for war crimes.

And what is the scandal in this case is that everybody focuses on Julian Assange and his cat and his skateboard, and having allegations that are—having smeared feces on the wall and all these types of things that are not—there’s no evidence whatsoever for any of these, and as if these were war crimes, even if they were true. But no one looks at the war crimes. And I think that’s the big story here.

And that’s why I get passionate about this case, because here is someone who discloses evidence for war crime, including torture, murder, all kinds of corrupt activities going on, and everybody focuses on Julian Assange and his domestic obligations in the embassy. And therefore, there is no justification for detaining him in isolation and having him under this constant pressure where he knows he cannot trust anybody [inaudible] and no official authority.

He will be certainly exposed to an arbitrary trial in the U.K., extradition trial. The choreography is clear. Whatever his lawyers say, in the end, the U.K. judges will say, “Yes, of course, we cannot extradite him if there is death penalty or torture or treatment, so please U.S., make assurances.” The U.S. will obviously make these assurances, and then the U.K. will say, “Then we have no reason not to trust the U.S.” And they will extradite him to the U.S. That’s what I foresee. And that’s what he—expect him here. That’s the crux here.

In addition to the ill treatment he has already suffered, I am absolutely convinced that he will not get a fair trial. He will get a show trial in East Virginia, and he’ll end up in prison under inhumane conditions for the rest of his life. That needs to be prevented.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, speaking about Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, speaking at Columbia University this past October 15th. When we come back, we will speak with Tariq Ali in London and Margaret Kunstler here in New York, editors of the new book In Defense of Julian Assange. Stay with us.

 The original article can be found on our partner’s website here

Climate Change Is Breaking Open America’s Nuclear Tombs in Marshall Islands and Johnston Island

23.11.2019 – TRANSCEND Media Service

Climate Change Is Breaking Open America’s Nuclear Tombs in Marshall Islands and Johnston Island
The concrete dome the U.S. built to dispose of its nuclear waste.

By James Albertini | Malu ‘Aina Center for Non-violent Education & Action

14 Nov 2019 – The Marshall Islands say that plutonium is leaking into the Pacific Ocean from the concrete dome the U.S. built to dispose of its nuclear waste.  (Also see information below on Johnston Island plutonium contamination, etc.)

During the Cold War, the United States nuked the Marshall Islands 67 times. After it finished nuking the islands, the Pentagon dropped biological weapons on the islands. Once the U.S. was finished, it scooped the irradiated and ruined soil from the islands, poured it into a crater left behind from a nuclear detonation, mixed it all with concrete, and covered the whole thing in a concrete dome. They called it “The Tomb.” According to a report from The Los Angeles Timesclimate change is breaking that dome open. Rising sea levels and temperatures are cracking open The Tomb, threatening to spill nuclear waste into the Pacific Ocean.

The Marshall Islands is a collection of 29 atolls across 1,156 islands. More than 50,000 people live on the islands. From 1946 to 1958, it was a proving ground for America’s nuclear arsenal. On March 1, 1954, the Pentagon conducted Castle Bravo and detonated a 15 megaton thermonuclear warhead over the Bikini Atoll. It was the largest nuclear weapon the U.S. ever detonated.

The fallout from the explosion rained down on the people of the Marshall Islands.

“It was only a matter of two or three years before women on the island started to give birth to things less than human,” a Marshall Islands woman told diplomats on a fact finding mission decades later. Birth defects are so common on the islands that the people have a number of words to describe them, among them marlins, devils, jellyfish children, and grape babies.

The U.S. has largely dismissed its responsibility to the Marshall Islands. It relocated many of its people and claims the cost of relocation and installation of The Tomb at the Enewetak Atoll covers its liability. As sea levels and temperatures rise, however, the Tomb is cracking. As it cracks, water rushes over it, leaching out plutonium and dumping it into the sea.

The U.S. has said The Tomb is now the Marshall Islands’ responsibility.

“I’m like, how can it [the dome] be ours?” Hilda Heine, the president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, told The Los Angeles Times. “We don’t want it. We didn’t build it. The garbage inside is not ours. It’s theirs.”

*************

Johnston Island Questions Too!

And what about Johnston Island located 800 miles south west of Hawaii where 12 nuclear atmospheric tests were conducted.   Two nuclear weapons also blew up on the launch pad contaminating  the island with plutonium.  For years Johnston also was the storage and disposal site for chemical and biological weapons, many of which were incinerated there.  The original size of Johnston island was enlarged by dredging for the harbor there, but it is likely that the island will revert to it’s original size or even smaller as a result of climate change.  The big question is what will happen to all those nuclear, chemical and biological contaminants there that were put in a large hole and simply capped with dirt and a sign placed on the island — “Wildlife Refuge,” before the military abandoned the island.  There were reports that following the plutonium accidents on the launch pad that the plutonium was simply bulldozed into the lagoon  In 2018 Johnston took a direct hit from a hurricane.  I wonder what was washed off the island already with that and other storms and have the currents brought that toxic pollution to Hawaii’s shores and waters.

Below is a study of Plutonium fallout from atmospheric nuclear tests.  Please note that of all the soil samples tested, the soil sample with the highest level of plutonium contamination worldwide was from Papaikou, Hawaii, four miles north of Hilo.  The correlation seems to be the high rainfall bringing the fallout down on the east side of the Hawaiian Islands.  The upper jet stream winds which travel west to east (opposite the trade winds) would have brought the fallout eastward from Johnston to Hawaii.  I would suspect that all the windward sides of the Hawaiian Islands received plutonium fallout from Johnston Island tests in the late 50s and early 60s.  One of the atmospheric nuclear tests done at Johnston in 1962 resulted in street lights on Oahu and phone lines on Kauai being knocked out by the electromagnetic pulse of the atmospheric nuclear blast.

See — Just after 11 p.m. Honolulu time on July 9, 1962 the 1.45-megaton hydrogen bomb was detonated thirteen minutes after launch from Johnston Island. Almost immediately, an electromagnetic pulse knocked out electrical service in Hawaii, nearly 1,000 miles away. Telephone service was disrupted, streetlights were down and burglar alarms were set off by a pulse that was much larger than scientists expected….

 The original article can be found on our partner’s website here

Today Netanyahu, tomorrow Trump.

22.11.2019 – Pressenza New York

Today Netanyahu, tomorrow Trump.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Image by Wikimedia Commons)

By Gabriela Jurosz-Landa

Once again, icons are falling, only this time in the Jewish-Christian hemisphere. One is reminded of the bringing down of Hussein, Gaddafi, Moubarak, and all the other dictators. But what comes after? Let’s not forget what happened after these leaders were removed. They all, on the one hand, were criminals on the other; however, they held their countries together, avoiding a different kind of fragmentation and crimes.

Whoever we vote for and put on the throne next, we should train ourselves in foresight. Instead of yelling for the next best thing, we should allow for more true reflection in the media, social discourse, and ourselves. Too easy do we fall into the dangerous stereotypes of good and evil as conditioned by our confession-specific Bibles, as well as the Cold War.

The way out of the dichotomy of extremes and polarity is diverse information, discourse, and interest in “the other”—opinion, subject, person, culture, and religion. Our viewpoint must not be the only truth once the other has had a chance to lay out theirs. That fashion of quick stereotyping without sufficient background information does not happen only in politics, of course. I am thinking of the recent dispute about the 2019 Nobel Prize Dir Literature given to the Austrian novelist Peter Handke. For weeks now, European papers have been torturing the fact that Handke spoke out for Serbia after the 1990s war in Yugoslavia, and even attended and spoke at war criminal Milošević’s funeral. Nobody asks why he did that, and few people know that Handke’s mother was Yugoslav.

Quick conclusions are the crime of the digital era. We think of our societies as advanced and educated and still, fall back into medieval behavior calling for the guillotine.

One may wonder, if the degree of civilization is surpassed and we now lack the human-animal need for ritual, including ritual murder. A new interest in ritual life has arisen on both sides, the radical and the meditative. People travel into the Amazon to dive down into their unconscious and to learn more primary forms of living.

However, I am afraid of many cases that are only another extreme, and it does not bring us closer to our opponent.

I am convinced of the need for a new wave of cultivation, a gentle, reserved, and weight-out manner, perhaps reminding one that existed in the 1930s.

Instead of driving things to extremes, we should focus on the middle ground. In politics, that may mean to establish controlling forces of the new powers. The Czech Republic just created such a controlling force in the form of the movement “Milion chvilek pro demokracii” which translates into„ A Million Moments for Democracy.“ The organizers call themselves the watchdogs of their government. The movement held a very successful event combining the celebration of the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution with a peaceful demonstration against president Zeman who tends closer to Russia and China than to his own country, and against prime minister Babiš who thinks the country is his private golf course and misuses money given to the Czech Republic by the European Union.

Amnesty International is, of course, another one, to name just one more. Such organizations standing outside of the political party race may see problems far along before they occur, and people’s concerns, and can inform the public and intervene before it is too late. Bolivia is a current example of a lack of third-party-watching and reporting. If the USA had had such actors before the 2016 elections, much pain, the division of the country, time, and money could have been saved. They could also hold the memory of events that the commoner so conveniently forgets in the rush of daily life and twitter posts. Once upon a time, intellectuals filled those shoes. Since they lost this power within society, these new groups of actors may take their place. Maybe once upon a time, the media were to be those watchdogs. Today, however, all the above can only work if the media play a fair game, and stop profiting on the polarization of society in the first place.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must act and dare the appropiateness and not whatever comes to our mind not floating in the likelihood but grasp the reality as brave as we can be freedom lies in action not in the absence of mind obedience knows the essence of good and satisfies it, freedom dares to act and returns God the ultimate judgment of what is right and what is wrong, Obedience performs blindly but Freedom is wide awake Freedom wants to know why, Obedience has its hands tied, Freedom is inventive obedient man respects God’s commands and by virtu of his Freedom, he creats new commands. Both Obedience and Freedom come true in responsability (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

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