Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Concept of "Innocent" in Utilitarian Jurisprudence

Does rule utilitarianism give an adequate explanation of why we should not punish innocent people?

One can think of rule utilitarianism as a system of unmitigated statism and legal jurisdiction with certain rules and limitations attached to it. If punishment can be shown to promote effectively the interest of society it is justifiable on the utilitarian point of view, otherwise it is not justified.

On the utilitarian point of view, however, the extent to which the state and the courts are willing to prosecute determines the degree of guilt involved. If the punishment of an innocent person can be proved -- utilitarianism proved? -- to promote greater happiness or less pain in society overall, then it should be permitted. So the concept of what it means to be innocent in this system of instrumental jurisprudence is wholly dependent on the outcomes it would produce.

But the utilitarians are far more clever than that. Only Bentham was so naive as to suggest this kind of unmitigated hedonism. Utilitarians now have incorporated checks and balances into their theories of punishment. As John Rawls points out in his essay Two Concepts of Rules, "utilitarians agree that punishment is to be inflicted only for the violation of law." The utilitarian, accordingly, seeks to limit the extent of punishment by a system of rules.

Yet aren't utilitarians themselves creating the rules? The rules themselves ought to also be created on a utilitarian calculus, and this would put us in the same position as before. Seeing as it might be the case that punishment of an innocent person could lead to greater happiness, why create a rule that would inhibit this? Rawls says that utilitarians hold that "no official should have discretionary power to inflict penalties whenever he thinks it for the benefit of society."

On this account, Rawls believes he has reconciled the retributive view with the utilitarian view. Judges decide cases base on retributive forms of justice. Legislators create rules based on a utilitarian form of justice. And the utilitarian justice has primacy.

The problem Rawls is concerned about is whether utilitarianism in general, as the legislator's prerogative, justifies too much. It would, for example, justify institutions that by their very nature condone the condemnation of the innocent. It is, as Rawls says, an "engine of justification". He wants to make sure, however, that there are clear rules set in place, and clear rules of recognition specifically, so that legislators know who has the power to decide such matters and by what authority, for all of this "must be written into the rules of the institution".

What Rawls calls "telishment" is the unjustified punishment of innocent people for the greater happiness of the rest of the society. Rawls says we should come to doubt our justice system if it had ever been recognized as one that telishes it citizens rather than punishes them for offenses they are guilty of. He says that it is highly unlikely, given that we would feel sorry for innocent people, that we would allow a system of telishment to go on.

Rawls ends on the idea that the system of utilitarian punishment is justified, and that it would be unlikely to end in a form of "telishment", based on his own ideas of what a proper sensibility in society would be like. He says there would be "less danger" of any of that happening because we would give requirements to the arbitrary forces in government not to act in an unmitigated utilitarian way.

It appears, however, that the ultimate justification for a system like this depends on the credibility and the 'ascertainability' of the requirements themselves. The requirements cannot be chosen on a utilitarian calculus, because then we would have justified the telish operations we are trying to avoid. The project here rests on something signified that is outside the justifications that utilitarianism provides, and for this reason it cannot be said to be a utilitarian justification. It relies on something else, something like a set of rules based on a principle that would simply not allow some acts to be permitted by government.

This would not appear to be a consequentalist view at all. And a retributivist view, as Rawls has pointed out himself, is a view that the judges hold, not a view that the policymakers or legislators hold. The view of the legislators and policymakers, then, cannot be utilitarian. It must be some form of Kantian or rights-based point of view, that cannot be persuaded by the utilitarian calculus.

What is Participatory Democracy?

There is a misconception among students at my university about what Students for Democratic Society stands for politically. Some think it stands for communism, some think socialism. Others think Marxism. This is all wrong.

SDS is basically an expression of participatory democracy. This is a democratic system of governance where members participate in the political decision-making process at many many levels. There is usually an emphasis for action in the public sphere. The emphasis is on the community and what is important to the broader range of community participants.

It can also mean that all members of a society have a voice and veto-powers in decision-making politics. Majority-based voting would not count as participatory since this excludes minority-based votes and group-differentiated votes from the decision-making process. So that means representative democracy is not participatory either.

Participatory democracy typically works by building consensus on legally-binding decisions and other decisions about policy. If consensus cannot be reached, these laws or ordinances cannot be passed since they violate individual and group-differentiated rights.

Many participatory democracies can choose to be socialist or communist or other ways of thinking about wealth, and there is no contradiction. All the decision-making can happen within a socially cohesive group of people, and the sources of decision-making are connected to the social bond.

Under the participatory framework, I would consider myself a socialist. But this should not be perceived as being a totalitarian, since that is against the principles of participatory politics. The broader framework I operate in is a form of libertarianism, with an emphasis on community-based participatory politics. In other words, this can be seen as a form of anarcho-syndicalism.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Globalistik Informatik Manifesto

We live in the Information Age, it is said, and yet information is not free.

Globalization has increased information and information networks. We are more aware of what is happening around the world.

There is now a sea of information.

Yet we are aware of this information only through specific organizations and aggregations of that information.

We rely on transnational advocacy groups, such as NGOs, IGOs and international media organizations to report concisely about what is happening, what has happened, and what global civil society makes of what happened.

Yet there are mounds of data sitting statically in databases which have not been tapped by the media, or by public interest groups.

There is publicly-funded data located in the United Nations, in universities, in governmental departments and bodies, in the national statistical agencies.

But the data is hidden; it's down in the databases. And it is not searchable on the web. These are barriers to free and public information.

This data is not free, and it needs to be. It is asymmetrical and it needs to be symmetrical.

Public viewers and media users exist, and the internet exists as a tool to tap this data, but we have not used our tools effectively.

As long as global civil society is paying for this data, it ought to be able to access it and search for it freely on the web.

There are organizations with public domains who are trying to do this., for example. But most of these domains are encrypted, password-protected, pricey, and filled with unorganized statistics. All of that aggregated information with sources from NGOs is not free information.

We have the databases; it's not new databases we need.

We have design tools, such as flash animations and other devices; it's not new designs we need.

There exists non-profit ventures which would like to link data with designs and aggregation tools; it's not new ventures we need.

There exists software which could potentially link the data together and animations which will liberate publicly funded data; it's not new software we need.

What is needed is a search function that will allow all the aggregate information to be searched in the public sphere.

This data can then be mapped and graphed with tools used to liberate information that already exists.

A massive search function like this is already available for government agencies in the United States, for example, within the DARPA and the NSA complex. This sort of technology is used to search and scale possible terrorist attacks through the tapping of vast amounts of data available on multiple databases.

This same function could be used to allow students and public interest groups to search, scale, map, and graph data from public-funded sources, like the United Nations, national statistics agencies, and so on.

Pressing concerns about human migratory patterns, refugee statuses, human trafficking operations, and various other international problems can easily be mapped, studied, and analyzed by internet users around the globe. But this data is not available to us. It has not been made searchable.

When this data is searchable, it can be tapped by web crawlers that will find that information and put it in the public sphere. This is what is needed.

The reason why this is important is that in an information society, information cannot be asymmetric. It must be free and symmetrical.

The data must be highly contextualized, it must be visible and analyzable by internet users from all angles and perspectives who wish to gain a deeper understanding of global politics through the information source that they fund themselves. We are calling for information symmetry and information democracy.

Free the information!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Denial of Political Teleology

A political teleology would seek to understand and establish an issue's underlying political causes. A denial of the causes would leave only the effects for discussion. Whether that denial is a strategy or an ideology I have not decided yet. In this blog I explore the issue in more detail regarding the debate on the Palestinians' right of return. While debates about what can be portmanteau'd "political teleology" are extreme and intense between Israelis and Palestinians themselves, there is a prevailing denial of that political teleology in the mainstream international press and in all sorts of NGO and international bodies.

The Statute of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) states in the 2nd general provision that its work ought to be "entirely non-political in character." Meaning that the work it does is supposed to be strictly "humanitarian" in character.

I find it rather presumptuous that an international body for the amelioration of political and economic refugees believes that its work can be entirely non-political. Consider the Palestinian refugee crisis. If the work in Palestine is non-political in character, it essentially means doing nothing to address the underlying political causes of the crisis. Decidedly "temporary" solutions, or series of temporary solutions, appear to be the permanent objective of the UN in Palestine. But it is also historically untrue that the UN's work in Palestine has been non-political in character.

While Article 13 of the UN Charter guarantees that any person ought to have the ability to leave his country and have the right to return to it, what has followed Israel's creation in 1948 has been considerable political hypocrisy about it internationally. Of course, the UN established the state of Israel in 1948, and this was itself a highly political solution to a refugee crisis. Are the Palestinians to receive no political attention?

Yes, in fact, they receive some political attention from the UN. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has made all sorts of political recommendations to the UNGA and the Security Council that would allow for a Palestinian right of return. The GA Resolutions 194, 393, 394, and 513 are in agreement. Yasser Arafat and the PLO have used these recommendations in their speeches at UN bodies and other international forums. Further, every organization involved in the Palestinian conflict has a very distinct political agenda. The aid offered, the contractors involved with the UNRWA, their promotion of admission of refugees into neighboring states, etc., cannot be done without a political understanding and a political agenda in mind.

The UNHCR mandate implies that while a refugee crisis may be political in nature, its own work shall be entirely non-political. (Which is also not true, ideally and historically.) But the UNHCR mandate makes a terrible distinction; it is often understood to mean there are either political or humanitarian refugee crises. There are refugee crises that are caused by natural or environmental factors, a tsunami, for example. This would be a strictly non-political and humanitarian issue, unless there were political recommendations made about storm infrastructure, say. Yet the majority of refugee crisis have essentially political causes. The UNHCR treats all refugee crises in the non-political way.

This agenda is largely misguided. And we see misguided behavior reflected elsewhere. The American mainstream media treat the Palestinian Right of Return as an entirely non-political issue. Instead of addressing the issue as having distinct political causes and effects, it is often treated as a kind of natural phenomenon, much like a tsunami: there are forces which are naturally opposed to one another (which they are not prepared to explain) and thus the mitigation of conflict can be achieved by simply addressing the effects of the crisis. And we therefore fall into an ideology of accepting a non-political teleological account of the crisis.

A Media Splash

Another video I created.

The "splash" is a meaninglessly bit of meaningless information. To constantly repeat that information is supposed to be like "symbolic exchange and death". In symbolic exchange, there is always a link, never an end-point. The chain of signifiers is infinite. These are all Derridean ideas.

The definition is constantly put-off. So the film does not end with "The End", but rather with "And Now This". The death of symbolic exchange comes through the constant symbolic meaninglessness of information presentation. Death in this short fluxus film uses the ambiguity of that phrase to depict a very literal situation.

"The absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and the play of signification infinitely." ~ Derrida

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Neo-Fluxus Creation!

I created the fluxus film above. It's called "Desert of the Real", after the term that Baudrillard used to first explain media in the society of spectacles, and all the narration in the video comes from Guy Debord's "Society of the Spectacle". It was partly filmed in Turkey, partly filmed in San Fransisco, and partly filmed in my bedroom. But in fact that doesn't matter much since, as you'll see, media images are simply "detached from every aspect of life" and they "merge into a stream in which the unity of that life can no longer be recovered." The "reality" of the medium in the message--and thus the medium itself--can be subject to unmitigated skepticism.

But just what is fluxus? Can anyone define it? There was a special period of fluxus, during the 60s, in which certain characteristics were upheld. But since then it has taken on a new life of its own. Many believe that fluxus is dead. But there are many fluxus artists still making what they claim to be fluxus art. So I have come up with a list of characteristics below that I think best describe what fluxus means in brainstorming-style descriptiveness.

  • Fluxus is an attitude. It is not a movement or a style.
  • Fluxus is intermedia. Fluxus creators like to see what happens when different media intersect. They use found & everyday objects, sounds, images, and texts to create new combinations of objects, sounds, images, and texts.
  • Fluxus is experimental.
  • Fluxus works are simple. The art is small, the texts are short, and the performances are brief.
  • Fluxus is fun. Humor has always been an important element in Fluxus.
  • Fluxus is about modality and the disunity of art.
  • Fluxus is always changing, so it doesn't always have to be this way.
  • Fluxus is not an art style.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Violent Prevention and Terrorism Against Homegrown Radicalization

They want to know what makes a radical turn violent. But what I want to know is what makes violent government turn on its radicals.

The "Benign Neglect" of Native Rights

In 1976 the Inuit in Canada wished to divide the Northwest Territories into two, so that they will form the majority in the eastern half. This was seen as essential to the implementation of their right of self-government. Some liberals object that this proposal violates the separation of state and ethnicity by distributing public benefits and state powers so as to make it easier for a specific group to preserve its culture. But all decisions regarding boundaries and the distribution of powers in multi-nation states have this effect.

We can draw boundaries and distribute legislative powers so that a national minority has an increased ability within a particular region to protect its societal culture; or we can draw boundaries and distribute legislative powers so that the majority nation controls decisions regarding language, education, immigration, etc. on a state-wide basis. This form of native gerrymandering is often used to restrict native access to democracy putting them at a disadvantage, while at the same time advantaging the white settler constituents by giving them a disproportionate amount of representation in government.

The response of many states to these sorts of issues is the policy of benign neglect. This was first initiated during the period following the Civil Rights movement in the United States. The Urban Affairs adviser to the Nixon administration wrote the president a memo in ___ arguing the urban black population, now enjoying a period of relatively increased freedoms and liberties, could "benefit from a period of benign neglect" -- a period of rhetorical calm which is best interpreted as a call to abandon federal programs to improve the lives of black families.

The eastern half of the Northwest Territories were eventually transitioned to the control of the Inuit population in 1999 in cooperation with the Canadian government. The territory that now exists under their control is called Nunavut. It means "our land" in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit peoples. But what has happened in Nunavut should happen everywhere.

Group-differentiated rights--such as territorial autonomy, veto powers, guaranteed representation in central institutions, land claims, and language claims--can help rectify the disadvantages that native populations have today in contemporary American society. American and Canadian histories are full of abuses to native and indigenous populations. And by allowing indigenous populations the right to self-government and self-determination, we are rectifying past harms and allowing for greater democracy.

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council, which mandates and discusses indigenous peoples' issues in formal UN settings. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a body of text that outlines the rights that the West has finally come to realize. Article Three states that "Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development." This is followed by Article Four which states that "Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions."

Outlined here, we have a series of legal rights that assign traditional, natural property rights and natural theories of self-determination to those who are commonly neglected in legal settings. The rights as we seen them here, apply not only to indigenous populations in the Rothbardian-Lockean theory of natural rights. These apply to all peoples, and all natural squatters. My own ideas about territory and property here are much more in line with the Lockean-Rothbardian notion rather than the United Nations notion, since the idea that these rights apply only to 'peoples' of the indigenous sort does not take this argument to the logical conclusion, and that is that each individual has these rights as well.

But for the time being, it is important to articulate why these are important for indigenous communities. At its most basic level, these rights will make it more difficult for the members of the larger society, ex.g. white Christianized society, to move into and colonize the territory of the minority. Native reservations have seen this constantly. Mines exist all over Nunavut, due to excessive extraction and exploitation of their land which was set in place before their control. It is difficult to roll back these exploitations. If the Inuit had full control over their territories, as they should, the resources in their territories would be theirs to sell, not for corporate forces to exploit freely. In American reservations there is a lot of interference from the white community. Industries, commercial farms, commercial centers, and even residential areas have been constructed for the white community. The native populations are scarce, as it turns out, on their own lands.

Where these rights are recognized, members of the majority who choose to enter the minority's homeland may have to forgo certain benefits they are accustomed to. This is a burden. But without such rights, the members of many minority cultures face the loss of their culture, a loss which we cannot reasonably ask people to accept.

Any plausible theory of justice should recognize the fairness of the external protections, for the time being, for national minorities, and eventually give rise to internal autonomy. This is clearly justified, I believe, within a liberal philosophical framework, such as Locke's or Rothbard's or Nozick's, which emphasizes the importance of rectifying unchosen inequalities. Indeed inequalities in cultural membership are just the sort which natural rights lawyers says we should be concerned about, since their effects are profound, pervasive and present at birth.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Kuznets: Reified. Reinterpreted. Smashed.

A Lorenz curve is one of the most sensible ways an economist would measure inequality in a society. The yellow line in the graph represents a situation of perfect equality, where each quintile (or one fifth) of the population earns exactly one quintile of the income. That situation is certainly not argued by most economists to be a desirable state of affairs, since perfect income equality is not the policy prerogative of economists or governments. But it is a good measure of how well a society is developing, since development should give rise to, among other things, rising income and equity. By development I simply mean the transition of economy from an agrarian society to a modern, industrialized or consumer society. Any society that is in transition from an agrarian society to some modern form of production is developing.

The Lorenz curve above shows the income equality in both China and Brazil. We notice that the equality in Brazil is in fact much lower than China even. And China is known to exacerbate their system of inequality, since its rural working classes are not given any of the societal benefits and opportunities that its urban classes are. Rural workers are given fewer legal rights, while the urban class has more rights and fewer restrictions anywhere else in the country. The income inequality in China, overall, is rising. In 1985 the GINI coefficient, the representational number that comes from this model, was 0.31. With "0" being the line of perfect income equality and "1" being the line of perfect income inequality. In 2004, however, that number had moved closer to the line of inequality at 4.6.

In the previous entry, Middle Classistics, I mentioned the state of rising inequality in Brazil. Other things being equal, that is, if we assume no disasters (whether natural, financial, or political), economic growth theory stipulates that economies ought to see rising income equality after an initial period of inequality. It is not clear how long the rising inequality period is supposed to take, however, this stages-model was developed by Simon Kuznets who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1971 "for his empirically founded interpretation of economic growth which has led to new and deepened insight into the economic and social structure and process of development". It has been argued in recent years, however, that the Kuznets Curve -- the U-Curve -- is wrong in its assumptions since it was based on static data. The data Kuznets used was based on static data from the current situations in developed and developing countries. At the time, developing countries were showing great differences in income equality. Kuznets argued that since developed countries were showing higher income equalities, this meant that developing countries, once they develop, will also show higher income equalities.

Economists, if they are going to reason this way, are now pressured to build time-series data models, which will argue more persuasively that what was experienced in one country will also happen in another. Inductive validity and causality should be more persuasively argued for. But the Kuznets model, it turns out, is largely falsified. The U-Curve might happen in some cases, but it is not a necessary stage in development, and therefore income inequalities cannot be justified on the basis that incomes will simply equal out in the future.

It is my view that states rarely develop in ways that do not significantly limit or violate the rights of their population. For example, all sorts of landgrab reforms in Brazil have taken place over the years. The development strategies are often aimed at enriching a certain class, the upper class, with a trickle-down theory about how that income will reach the rest of society.

We can demonstrate the lack of persuasion the Kuznets model should have with a time-series model of Brazil and China. Despite China's effort to develop in recent years, income inequality has risen at a dramatic pace. As I mentioned earlier, the GINI coefficient in 1985 was 0.31. In 2004 it is 0.46. If we look closer at the rural and urban distinction, we see this transformation had even greater effects on the rural population, who have been systematically denied participation in China's development scheme. In 1985, the rural GINI was 0.27, which reflects inequality among rural workers themselves. In 2001 that number was 0.343. The average coefficient over the years 0.31, the same level of inequality that existed in the entirety of China in 1985. The average coefficient among the urban population has been 0.21, which means urban equality has been higher than rural equality over the years.

The international GINI warning level is 0.4, and this has provoked a discussion about whether we are really considering two distinct countries--the rich and the poor. However, the situation in Brazil, whose GINI in 2004 was 0.59, is much more unequal than China. In Brazil the poorest quintile of the population earn 3% of the income, while the richest quintile earn 61% of the income. In China the inequalities are increasing, yet the lowest quintile earns 4% of the income and the highest quintile earns 52%.

We can see also from the 2004 World Bank data that China would appear to have a much more prosperous middle class than Brazil. China's middle quintile earns 14% of the income, while in Brazil they earn 11% of the income. This is reflected in the Lorenz curve shown above. The entire population in both countries is unimodally skewed toward the richest quintile. But Brazil is far worse.

The GINI time-series model for Brazil, however, seems to fit the overall Kuznets picture of an inverted-U dynamic. In fact, it appears to be a perfect example of the U-curve hypothesis. This, I argue later, is not always the case, although Brazil for now appears to be a good example of it. It is important to say, however, that the U-curve model itself would be insignificant if the inequalities did not give rise to anything else, that is, if they were not justified by anything else. Kuznets' intention was to show that the increase in inequality was justified due to an increase in overall economic activity as measured by GDP. And the real GDP growth estimates show that Brazil has increased from $15b in 1960 to $1068b in 2006, using current US currency value as the base-year value.

But -- and this is a big but -- it's important to mention, just before we start thinking the Kuznets model has circumnavigated Brazil, and we reify this information as socioeconomic laws of nature, it needs to be said that the GINI Coefficients in my graph are misleading. If you look at the Y-axis, you'll see I had to squish the numbers so that the only variation we see is between 0.57 and 0.61. This is a very small margin, but I needed to do that so it would appear to be a noticeable difference. If we look at overall GINI coefficients for the time period, in full scale, the picture we get is much different:

Brazil's GINI coefficients have hardly moved from around the 0.6 area. We can rightly ask whether this is a good example of the inverted-U hypothesis, although many think that it is. To use Brazil as an example of the empirical justification of the model seems absurd. China, on the other hand, has grown faster than Brazil since 1960, and we see that its GINI index over time has evidently not become an inverted-U shape. In 1960, GDP in China was $61b in current US dollars. By 2006 that value had risen to $2,668b, or $2.6 trillion. By measuring gross domestic product, China has grown faster than Brazil by more than 70%. Yet take a look at the GINI values over time:

The GINI coefficients on a time-series scale do not match the Kuznets prediction that they will eventually drop to levels equal to or below the GINI coefficients at the time inequalities began rising. One may say that the isolated urban population would be expected to display lower levels of inequality, since they are the most rapidly developing areas of China. Yet even in the urban areas inequality measurements are increasing at the same pace each year. The rural population suffers the most, due to all sorts of social and legal issues, but also due to the rising inequality amongst themselves. The GINI index of rural populations in China is increasing at an increasing rate, which is not desirable.

In fact, overall, the World Bank measurements are more optimistic than other measurements. The 2004 World Bank GINI puts the number at 0.41, whereas other data have found this number to be closer to 0.46. We might expect this to be the case since the World Bank analysis is tightly connected to the Washington Consensus, which argues that rising inequalities are justified if shock therapeutic developmental policies are in place.

One could say that what I have said about the Kuznets model is not yet proven correct, since China still has the opportunity to decrease inequality rates and increase GDP rates, thus proving the model correct. However, there is no reason to accept this idea if there is a persuasive case to be made that the methodological approach of the model is not cogent.

The argument that inequality must increase before it decreases, the conclusion of Kuznets' work, is based on cross-sectional data. The other way to gather and present data in economics is through time-series analyses. The U-shape in the curve comes not from progression in the development of individual countries, but rather from historical differences between countries. In his data set, many of the middle income countries were Latin American countries. The individual countries Kuznets used as the basis for argument were developed countries, such as the United States, where income inequalities had historically been lower. In Latin America, with its history of colonialism and presence of neo-colonial and white minority who own the majority of the means of production, inequalities were historically very high. When we factor in this time-series variable, the shape of the U-curve tends to disappear. And in some instances, such as the time-series GINI index of Canada 1970-1999, we see what would appear to be an inverted U-curve. That is, a situation in which rising equality eventually gave way to inequality conditions that existed before the increase in equality.

The status of the Kuznets curve was once reified as a socioeconomic law. Economists and social scientists have recently demonstrated how Kuznets’s arguments, originally advanced under more limited conditions, became transformed into overarching theoretical, empirical, and political constructions. The time-series analyses suggests that even empirically grounded and testable social science models are contingent on the broader social and political contexts in which they are produced and negotiated.

Middle Classistics

While poverty is measurable, the word “middle-class” is subjective. The kind of people who call themselves middle-class in Brazil, for example, tend to be at the top of the scale: prosperous professionals with several servants, children at private schools and holidays in Europe or Miami. From the 1940s to the 1970s, state-led industrialization and the growth of public employment saw the rise in some Latin American countries of a middle class of managers, bureaucrats and a labor aristocracy of skilled workers. But the policies that pushed them up proved unsustainable; they were abandoned after the 1982 debt crisis, which triggered a decade of mediocre growth and high inflation. Since then, partly because protected industries were subjected to privatization and import competition, this group has struggled. The middle class that is emerging now in Brazil is very different. It is more accurately described as a lower-middle class which consumes more like an American middle-class.

Simultaneously, there has been a drop in the income-defined "middle class" category in Brazil, and there have been increases in the sale of new cars, computers, Coca Cola, wine, American clothing, i Pods, and other consumer electronics. This should be counter-intuitive to anyone familiar with rational choice theory. There are other ways of explaining the situation, however. Pictures on Flickr and elsewhere attest that uppity Brazilians see themselves as members of a rising global middle class, even if their incomes don't agree. The picture on the right depicts a young couple in which the man is wearing an Abercrombie and Fitch shirt, and the woman is wearing busty white and red clothing. If we weren't paying attention, we might have assumed these consumers were American. However, they are Brazilians. The deception lies in the fact that the image is an imitation of an American high school jock and his girlfriend. The reality is that the image is a symbol of class oppression, an image which represents the American-style bondage to consumerist fashion sensibilities.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Net Offensive

The SouthSound Indymedia project in Western Washington was hacked by a pro-war group who spammed the site and deleted all the recent coverage on the Olympia port protests and other coverage. "They may try to censor people writing their own histories. We don't have to put up with it," the site administrators said. Whoever is responsible may or may not be caught and prosecuted, but this is a felony crime if it can be shown to cause at least $5,000 in damages under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Cyber-Crime Act of 2007.

This is information warfare. In an age when mainstream media cannot be relied upon to report fairly on sensitive subjects, independent media sources are often the only viable alternative. When rival factions begin silencing opposing narratives, this constitutes terrorism in the postmodern sense of the word. The content of SouthSound Indymedia is currently being restored. However, some information may be erased indefinitely, the administrators say.

Unfortunately, -- the site for Tacoma Students for a Democratic Society -- was also attacked last night. The attack was not as serious, seeing as the attackers were unable to elevate their privileges and destroy content, but they did flood the site with hate-speech.

Preventive or Preemptive?

Michael Walzer, an important American political philosopher, outlines the difference between preventive war and preemptive war in his book Just and Unjust Wars:

A preventive war is one in which a nation attacks against a possible threat to the balance of power relations.

A preemptive war is one in which a nation attacks against an imminently possible threat to the peace of a nation.

This raises the question, since the book was written after Vietnam -- a preventive war -- whether the War in Iraq would count as either a preventive or a preemptive war. There are time variables, however, because at the time of the invasion of Iraq, the war was advertised and buttressed as a preemptive war: a war that if not fought, it was said by the senior cabinet members of the administration that the United States would see the evidence of the weapons of mass destruction "in the form of a mushroom cloud".

However, that justification -- or the truth of the WMDs -- turned out to be false. The administration must have known it was false all along, since the informants from the IAEA and even the CIA agreed there were no weapons of mass destruction. This information was systematically silenced and manipulated. This bit of evidence raises other important questions. Seeing as the evidence for a first strike was decidedly minimal, was the implicit justification for war preventive rather than preventive? Was the real justification simply that the United States did not want to see the balance of power relations in the region change over time? With long-term interests in the region, and a mercantilistic urge to control the world's natural resources, did the United States lie in order to wage an aggression preventive war?

This is what the evidence has suggested. However, justifications for war have changed over time. The administration no longer says we have invaded Iraq because of the imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction. Instead, the justification for staying in Iraq today is undeniably a preventive one. The argument that Iran should colonize and take over Southern Iraq is a preventive justification for the furtherance of war. The argument that the Turks, acting preemptively to end Kurdish insurgent attacks, would cause a balance of power crisis in the region is likewise a preventive justification for war. The argument that the Sunni Triangle has as its aim to destroy Shia populations and rule all the governates of Iraq is also a preventive claim for war.

The point that Walzer is trying to make in his book Just and Unjust Wars, however, is that no justification for preventive war is justified. The principles of Western liberalism, using the term in the broadest sense, have long held that wars of aggression are unjust. A preventive war, while it may be noble in its efforts to end the spread of violent ideology, is itself a source of violent ideology. Since preventive war uses violence and militarism as its only means to change policy and affect the balances of power, it is an unfounded doctrine in the Western liberal tradition. Wars of aggression justified by a preventive strike are unjust wars.

What about a preemptive strike? What lawyers call "hostile acts short of war" Walzer says does not count as a warrant for a preemptive strike. Even if these hostile includes acts of violence, this may not be seen as a intention to make war. Troop movement, border incursions, naval blockades, military alliances, etc. are all hostile acts short of war, yet they do not constitute the intention to make war itself.

In general, however, where the justification about preemptively striking is most important is not regarding imminent threat (as it is so commonly thought to be) but on sufficient threat. And according to this set of criteria, outlined in the book, the invasion of Iraq is not justified.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Threat of Nationalist Chauvinism

In many countries the dominant image of nationalism is one of aggression and militarism, quite the opposite of a principled belief in national self-determination. The aggressive face of nationalism became apparent in the late nineteenth century as European powers indulged in a "scramble for Africa" in the name of national glory and their "place in the sun". The imperialism of the late nineteenth century differed from earlier periods of colonial expansion in that it was supported by a climate of popular nationalism: national prestige was increasingly linked to the possession of an empire and each colonial victory was greeted by demonstrations of public approval.

In Britain, a new word, jingoism, was coined to describe this mood of public enthusiasm for aggressive nationalism or imperial expansion. In the early twentieth century, the growing rivalry of European powers divided the continent into two armed camps, the Triple Entente, comprising Britain, France, and Russia, and the Triple Alliance, containing Germany, Austria, and Italy. When world war eventually broke out in August 1914, after a prolonged arms race and a succession of international crises, it provoked public rejoicing in all major cities of Europe. Aggressive and expansionist nationalism reached its high point in the inter-war period when the authoritarian or fascist regimes of Japan, Italy and Germany embarked upon policies of imperial expansion and world domination eventually leading to war in 1939.

What distinguished this form of nationalism from earlier liberal nationalism was its chauvinism, a belief in superiority or dominance, a term derived from the name of Nicolas Chauvin, a French soldier who had been fanatically devoted to Napoleon. Nations were not thought to be equal in their right to national self-determination. Rather, some nations were thought to possess characteristics or qualities which made them superior to others. Such ideas were clearly evident in European and American imperialism, which was justified by an ideology of racial and cultural superiority. In nineteenth century Europe, it was widely believed that the 'white' peoples of Europe and America were intellectually and morally superior to the 'black', 'brown', 'yellow', and 'Indian' peoples of Africa, Asia, and the colonies.

Indeed, Europeans portrayed imperialism as a moral duty; colonial peoples were the "white man's burden". Imperialism supposedly brought the benefits of civilization and in particular Christianity to the less fortunate and less sophisticated peoples of the world.

More particular forms of national chauvinism have developed in Russia and Germany. In Russia, this took the form of pan-Slavism, sometimes called Slavophile nationalism, particularly strong in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Russians are Slavs, enjoying linguistic and cultural links with other Slav peples in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. Pan-Slavism reflects the goal of Slavic unity, which the Russians believed to be their historic mission. In the years before 1914, such ideas brought Russia into deepening conflict with Austro-Hungary for control over the Balkans. The chauvinistic character of pan-Slavism was derived from the belief that the Russians were the natural leaders of the Slavic people, and that Slavs were culturally and spiritually superior to the peoples of Central or Western Europe. It was anti-Western and anti-liberal.

Germany's nationalist chauvinism was born out of the experience of defeat in the Napoleonic Wars. Writers like Fichte and Jahn reacted strongly against France and the ideals of its Revolution, emphasizing instead the uniqueness of German culture and its language, and the racial purity of its people. After unification in 1871, German nationalism developed a pronounced chauvinistic character with the emergence of pressure groups like the pan-German League and the Navy League, which campaigned for closer ties with German-speaking Austria, and for a German Empire, her "place under the sun".

(to be continued... on the American Empire and the nature of nationalist chauvinism)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Age and Political-Semantic Masturbation

“At 20, if your not a liberal, you don’t have a heart,” Churchill said, “but at 40, if your not a conservative, you don’t have a head.” So very true. Unfortunately this can only be understood when you're 40.

This comment was found on an earlier post, and it maintains that there is certain political knowledge that cannot obtain until one has reached a certain age. I have several ways of explaining why this is false.

In general, arguments from private knowledge claim that it is impossible to obtain the source of private knowledge, while simultaneously holding that this knowledge is justified. It is the equivalent of saying "I know bogons exist, and you can't know this fact because you're not a moron like me."

This is a contradiction. We are owed an account of how that knowledge is obtained, and more importantly whether that knowledge is justified true belief. To say that justified true belief -- the definition of knowledge -- only comes at a certain age is simply not true. I may learn discrete mathematics at an early age and no 40-year old, no matter how conservative or liberal, can tell me that this knowledge is false simply because I am young. Age itself has nothing to do with the truth-value of knowledge.

I must say that the argument from Winston Churchill has been reduced to a form of semantic masturbation, a form of coercive private knowledge abuse, which gives no compelling reason to believe it is true.

So if the person making this claim wants to masturbate on the faculties of reason like this, it can equally be applied the other way: because I am younger and therefore do not understand conservativism, as the claim goes, it can equally be replied that the author is older and therefore does not understand liberalism.

If there is private knowledge that exists at the age of 40, then there is reason to believe there must be private knowledge that exists at the age of 20. The 40-year old does not know what-it-is-like to be a 20-year old anymore, and the 20-year old does not yet know what-it-is-like to be a 40-year old. Neither understands the other anymore so than one can know what-it-is-like to be a bat. Knowledge is completely subjective. And there is no point in assigning truth-values to each of these subjective states, since neither of them can know what-it-is-like to be the other, and therefore neither has basis for refuting the position of the other. Further, to assume that time is a function of truth would also make no sense due to the fact that neither can know what-it-is-like to be at various different points along the time continuum.

How different, in all honesty, is this situation from what the born-again says to the unconvinced atheist? "I was once an atheist, and now I'm born-again. I know what it was like to be an atheist but I have somehow become born-again and that refutes atheism". Arguments like this are unconvincing, and should never be convincing, since they address social comparisons, instead of faculties of reason. They neglect all other factors, including reason, that are involved in the conversion process, such as Erikson-style stages of life, subconscious acts, and various neuro-physiological inputs.

But the most basic point of my objection to this semantic abuse is to point to the Toulmin model of argumentation, where one basically refuses to respond since the burden of the opposition has not been met.

Geneva Conventions and the Principle of Charity

Last time I checked al Qaeda or the Taliban had not sign on yet to the Conventions. Reality: conventions were intended for uniformed enemy soldiers captured during combat. Terrorists don’t qualify.

This was a comment on an earlier blog that I would like to discuss here. This position is far too simplistic, and the intention is to disqualify terrorists from any binding sources of law, which would justify their mutilation and torture in the hands American soldiers and interrogators. The only Geneva Convention which could be legitimately contemplated here is the Fourth Geneva Convention which relates to the use of force and protection regarding civilians. The reason why is because the convention specifies members of the opposing faction as having to be nationals or high-contracting parties of some kind. Civilians and non-state actors are not contemplated in the fourth convention. They are, however, contemplated in the Third Geneva Convention.

The neo-conservative position here is highly misguided. It is my position that a captured enemy combatant (using the phrase generally) must be either a prisoner of war, and as such, covered by the Third Convention, or a civilian, and as such, covered by the Fourth Convention. If states are parties to the Geneva Conventions, no captured enemy can be considered outside the laws of war. Indeed, as the commenter objected, enemy combatants have not signed the Geneva Conventions themselves. Yet this is a trite objection. In fact, enemy combatants cannot possibly sign these conventions, as international law in general only allows that states can be parties to these conventions. Individuals are the subject of the Geneva Conventions, not the object.

This means that states who ratify the conventions apply these protocols unconditionally regardless of whether a particular enemy combatant can be held under any state authority. Lest we have all stateless individuals, refugees, and international criminals fall outside the laws of war to which all civilized nations adhere. The fact that non-signatories to the conventions exist does not mean it is authorized to torture and mutilate them in prisons. No prisoner of war is considered outside the protocols.

Allow me to introduce a hermeneutic device, what philosophers of historical texts call the principle of charity. Having ratified the corpus of these texts, we ought not read them as if to give undue weight to the view that the conventions are "outdated" and hence "non-binding" on non-state actors. Some aspects of the language in the treaty do not specify modern conditions of warfare or international crime, but we should have expected this, and we are still obliged to read the conventions in the most charitable way, salvaging as much of the original intent of the convention as possible.

Consider this analogy. The principle of charity would have us extend the rights of, say, the press, to modern domains of publishing. The limited conditions of production which existed when the Bill of Rights were first drafted should have little affect on the intention of the amendments themselves applied today. There are many ways to publish documents and these are not limited to the use of a printing press. The Bill of Rights, interpreted through the principle of charity, extends the press freedoms to all modern forms of publishing, including video production, photography, online publishing, and blogs. To hold that the freedom of the press only applies to the use of a Gutenberg printing press is extremely non-charitable and contradicts the basic tradition of common law.

Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention specifies that, in fact, members of militias, resistance movements, or other volunteer corps would count as "prisoners of war" if captured. This is further evidence that a captured enemy in the War on Terror ought to be considered as a prisoner of war, whereby the protocols in the convention are applicable. To say that terrorists ought to be considered "unlawful combatants" or "enemy combatants", therefore subjecting them to torture, interprets this body of text in the most uncharitable way possible. This is an interpretive fallacy, and violation of the principle of pacta sunt servanda -- "the treaty shall be upheld". This is one of the most basic principles of civil and international law, and to ignore this undermine a nations' good faith that it will stand by the principles it has agreed to stand by.

It is helpful to enumerate exactly what protocols are at stake here if the conventions do not apply to certain persons captured in any armed conflict.
  • mutilation to prisoners.
  • cruel treatment and torture to prisoners.
  • the prevention of prison inspections by the International Red Cross.
  • medical or scientific experiments on prisoners of any kind which are not justified by medical, dental, or hospital treatment.
  • the use of torture or coercion to secure information of any kind.
  • theft of prisoners' badges of rank or sums of money, unless an officer authorizes the latter.
There are other despicable acts enumerated in the convention, but this is merely an example of what is permissible if the Geneva Conventions are not in place, or the pact is not upheld.

Now, it may be objected that the protocols within the pact may be upheld whether one considers the conventions binding or not. This is another trite point. It calls into question the very nature of treaty-making itself. The purpose of drafting and agreeing to follow treaties is exactly to hold nations accountable. More fundamentally, the purpose is to have principles set out in black letter law that nations agree to adhere to. If one ignores the text of the treaty, while simultaneously maintaining that the intention of the treaty is being upheld, this is a rather Stalinesque mode of operation. It raises the question of why any nation would withdraw from a pact it previously ratified while claiming it still intends to uphold the pact. Other things being equal, if one intends to uphold the treaty, it would make no sense to withdraw from a treaty, or to make legal reservations.

This raises deep skepticism about the commitments of states to treaties altogether. This would in effect be a Stalinesque foreign policy. The verdict on whether the state will follow the treaty has already been reached, but a show trial is presented as if to give the appearance of objectivity. The show trial, in this case, would be the fact that the state claims adherence to a treaty it no longer is a party to.

The point in posting my thoughts on the Geneva Conventions here is to expose the fact that United States foreign policy is incredibly hypocritical. Neo-conservative imperialists, such as the commenter whose blog claims that he is from "The New Rome: Washington D.C.", are likewise hypocritical and view law only as an instrument to further empire. Instrumentalism in international relations is morally repugnant and violates another basic principle of the Western legal tradition, one that the Romans themselves held with great esteem, and that is the rule of law itself.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Distributed Computing Revolution

The scientific and cultural problems our society faces today are being addressed systematically not only by teams of scientists, but by volunteer distributed computing farms worldwide. Users volunteer their own processing power to research-level university departments, who send information in various packet sizes to computers at home in order to solve a wide range of computational and algorithmic problems.

At my office of Instructional Technology at the university I attend, we installed the Stanford-based project "Folding@Home" onto all of the lab machines and workstations this summer. Each computer on our campus is working in its spare time to solve various problems that could lead to a greater understanding of how diseases and disorders develop. Since then our campus has workhorsed its way to one of the top scores for folding teams. We rank 518 out of nearly 90,000 teams globally thanks to our combined processing power. This is the genius of outsourcing scientific knowledge, and the genius of encouraging productive competition.

The structure of scientific knowledge is effectively decentralized due to distributed computing projects. Probably the most notable DC project is the Berkeley-based "SETI@Home" project, which outsources SETI's computational problems to volunteer workstations with the goal of discovering extra-terrestrial life through the examination of data from radio telescopes. The SETI project has 5.2 million participates worldwide, but alas, has not been successful in finding one positive candidate in space.

The digital revolution as a whole is also moving faster than the sustainability revolution. The SETI project, while admirable in its mission, also comes at a cost to the environment. Since global power grids are not sustainable, the use of battery power and electricity relies foremost on power from coal and other energy plants. Most the energy produced in the United States still comes from coal and coke sources, in fact. And one estimate says the SETI@Home project alone has cost $500,000,000 in total equivalent energy costs.

Among a list of distributed computing projects, Folding@Home is one of the most practical. The project simulates problems that occur in lab settings (and real-life settings, of course) where proteins fold, or assemble themselves, in ways that are little understood by the scientific community. When proteins fail to fold properly, this gives rise to all sorts of disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease, Mad Cow disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, and many forms of cancer. The idea is that understanding the folding process will lead to all sorts of solutions to these diseases. And Folding@Home has in fact received numerous awards since 2000, when it began, for completing various tasks that could not have been completed in the laboratories at Stanford alone. One of those awards is for developing efficient algorithms and methods of distributing computational problems, thus reducing the environmental costs.

In some sense, the environmental critique is no different than an environmental critique of anything else. We could say that the critique is non-unique in that it applies equally to all sorts of other energy-intensive uses. Distributing computing is in fact not too energy-intensive on a local level, since it does not take priority over other system processes. Yet distributed computing can be compared to less admirable uses of computational power. Such as the aggregate amount of energy spent by local computers to daily view vast amounts of pornography. The cost of pornography in terms of environmental costs, to my knowledge, has not been calculated. But that activity does not funnel its energy into a single source, like distributed computing does. So it is difficult to hold anyone accountable. The only option would be to shame the entire pornographic community.

While distributed computing projects have not solved the sustainability problem itself, they should not be singled out as a greenhouse gas proliferators which are more 'unique' than other activities. That problem should be addressed separately, or perhaps addressed directly by distributed computing projects themselves. The most useful distributed computing project at this time would be to solve the problem of creating sustainable energy alternatives. This could be done by distributing algorithmic problems to determine the most efficient way to produce energy from, say, photovoltaic energy cells.

A similar distributed computing program at DARPA uses scalability technology to determine how and when the next terrorist attack will occur, and under what circumstances. Perhaps the same model could be used to determine under what circumstances our culture will become sympathetic to the damage our activities cause to the environment. And under what circumstances will that culture act on its behalf. But by the time the algorithms are solved and computational problems reach a stand-still, our society's traditional energy sources will have expired and all our research would have been in vain.

We understand the problems our society faces today already, and the potential benefits through the distributed computing revolution are greatly hindered by governmental policies and subsidies to harmful, archaic energy industries.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dia de los Muertos

A video project I worked on at the Tacoma Art Museum.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Labor Solidarity for Maersk

Online Videos by

On Nov. 7th 2007 a picket line was called to push the administration of Maersk (headquarters in Tacoma, WA) to allow workers to join the union of their choice instead of the company union that managers have imposed on them.

An arbitrator called by the longshoremens' union (ILWU) and management decided whether the picket line Jobs With Justice staged was safe to cross. The arbitrator deemed it unsafe and required management to compensate the longshore workers for not crossing the line.

Jobs With Justice organized the picket, Tacoma SDS and other community members who heard word-of-mouth about the picket went to the port to show solidarity.

Maersk is the largest shipping company in the world, JwJ said. Its North American headquarters are located in Tacoma. The workers are not granted basic needs that other union workers are, such as a living wage. Workers are forced to join the company union which acts as an obstacle to them. Maersk has tried to convince workers that the company union is a good union, and that other unions are dangerous. The workers are not convinced. They voted to change the company union, and Maersk is unwilling to do that at this time.

Tacoma P.D. singled out Tacoma SDS members and asked for identification and phone numbers. There were no physical confrontations, but our group felt it was unfair that officers would single out SDS without any reasonable suspicion. We told them we would not consent to any of their questions or searches. Officer Darlington said the port has been the site of conspiracies to conduct terrorism. "People ride jetskis next to tankers and then they speed off in the other direction," he said. We were not convinced that this warranted suspicion towards Tacoma SDS.

Mark Jensen from UFPPC wrote,

Maersk began operations at the Port of Tacoma in 1985, and completed a major port extension in 2002, finishing the Port of Tacoma's largest terminal before the Iraq war. Maersk Line Ltd. contracts with the Department of Defense Military Sealift Command to operate and manage a number of military vessels, and has approximately double the volume of its business with the U.S. Government since Sept. 11, 2001, undertaking one third of the shipping of all U.S. military equipment to Iraq in preparation of the March 2003 invasion and earning more than $1 billion in sales through 2006, according to a CorpWatch ( =13196&printsafe=1) account.

***Earlier I published an account of this protest that we wish to clarify. The Jobs with Justice (JwJ) port protest was a community solidarity picket not a wildcat strike. JwJ is a community coalition that includes many community organizations as well as unions. Solidarity picketers did not include Port of Tacoma workers and JwJ did not call for and is not calling for a strike of any workers. Securitas is the contractor that Maersk hired to employ the Maersk Terminal guards who are organizing to form a union. The company union has a different name than Securitas. The arbitrator is an independent "neutral" selected jointly by management and union leaders and is not from the Longshoremens' union (ILWU).

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Narus, the Telecommunicative Panopticon

The digital panopticon is already deeply embedded in our society. A close look at what has been happening in the telecommunications industry reveals the extent to which our global hegemonic intelligence community is embedded in networks everywhere. We live in a digital looking glass, a narus box, a telecommunicative panopticon. Jeremy Bentham wrote of the panopticonic prison system in the 19th Century, and we are fulfilling the aims of a kind of prison-society today, one that is visible from everywhere, especially by our own governments.

In 2006, the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) filed a class action suit against AT&T and its holding companies which have been collaborating with the National Security Agency (NSA) in a massive and warrantless surveillance program that illegally tracks the domestic and foreign communications and communication records of millions of Americans. The AT&T office on Folsom Street in San Fransisco is the location which had moved this case forward, the specific point of dispute in Hepting v AT&T. Yet overall EFF estimates that the NSA intercepts and data-mines at least 10% of all internet traffic in the United States. EFF found that there were 477 such locations, like the one in San Fransisco, in 2006 alone.

AT&T is not the only internet service provider in the telecom industry that collaborates with the NSA. MCI and Sprint, who control most of the international telecommunications, have also been implicated. And the spread of the apparatus is aided by recent mergers: AT&T was recently acquired by SBC Communications, which has since adopted the AT&T name as its corporate moniker. MCI, formerly known as WorldCom, was recently acquired by Verizon. Sprint recently merged with Nextel. The tentacles of the NSA digital spy apparatus would seemingly have a nearly unlimited influence over the telecom industry, given the collaboration, and the rate of acquisition. Hepting v AT&T is still unresolved.

Several legislations have made this massive apparatus possible. The longstanding Title 18 of the US Code provides the panopticonic backbone. The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, enacted in 1994, paved the way for an expansion of massive surveillance, and amended title 18 to this end. The next obvious piece in this game is the USA Patriot Act, which magnified its exuberance throughout the code, amending things like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, granting electronic surveillance without the obtainment of court orders. This in turn changes the entire context and practice of the 1st and 4th amendments to the Constitution. There are no limitations to illegal search and seizure in the digital domain--the court calls this post-Patriot expansion of executive powers "legal interception". President Bush says the looking glass society protects the country. Yet it is clear the programs are part of a domestic spying apparatus, slowly built up during the Cold War years, and now being turned on its own people.

The diagram on the left is a detailed plan of how the NSA splits and intercepts all the data at the AT&T Folsom Street facility. Each packet is sniffed and its content examined through massive computing capabilities through technologies like the Narus box. This high-end security equipment is provided by Narus carrier-class security systems, profiting from the US War on Terror. The term "narus" is in fact Latin for "to know", and this is exactly what all these legislations allow the federal government and its epistemic communities to do--increase search-ability, increase visibility, magnify projectability, and ultimately control and silence behavior.

The average person doesn't have a concept of the massive data-mining capabilities of the federal government. Data-mining is the systematic search and discovery of specific information through general access to all information. In order to data-mine DARPA and the NSA need general access to all information. This is what Narus technologies provides.

Another feature of data-mining is that there is no individualized suspicion upon analysis. The NSA and DARPA mine data without discretion. Everyone is a suspect, all payloads are suspicious upon going into the mine. As I have outlined in an earlier blog, there is a legal precedent in our country that says general searches and general warrants are unjust, as was part of the reason for the American Revolution. A digital panopticon is perhaps the most extreme kinds of scenario that John Wilkes Booth envisioned. If our revolutionaries were concerned with whole neighborhoods being searched, their "papers" confiscated, think of how invasive it would have seemed to them to have all private networks subject to illegal search and seizure.

The exuberation of these institutions is not benign. Our technology is not wholly benign. For decades it has been developed for governmental purposes--if it were only for social networking we perhaps would have nothing to fear. The government has the ability to prosecute and silence. Social communities do not. I'm putting a plug in for counter-institutions like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, since it is important in our age that we are aware of and contributing to counter epistemic communities who help keep our knowledge free and our networked societies free.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What Has Washington To Do With Harare?

The only topic at the National Model United Nations Conference in Washington D.C. my committee spoke on was the Crisis in Zimbabwe. Much to the chagrin of Cuba, whom I was representing, the topic “the use of torture in the War on Terror” was not even touched. The Zimbabwe debate, however, was fertile and only Cuba and a few other nations (Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea) spoke out against the imperialism of other countries, including many so-called progressive African nations, who wished to intervene politically in Zimbabwe. Venezuela and Bolivia were not present. Altogether about 500 students were present at the SAIS (School of Advanced International Studies) conference on Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue.

This situation in Zimbabwe was created in colonial times when blacks were forced off their ancestral lands. “The land question” was a major cause of the guerrilla war which led to Zimbabwe's independence in 1980.

As much as I disagree with Mugabe's reforms, which disproportionately skewed production, transformed the employment structure, and set the country into spiraling inflation, I spoke out in favor of Operation Clean-Up and the land reform policies. Cuba wishes to see the establishment of a “Unified Socialist Zimbabwe”, I maintained, and thus the land reform policy -- much like the first and second Agrarian Reforms in Cuba in the 1960s -- is something that Havana would like to see emulated in other Pan-African nations and the Diasporan community.

As Cuba, I spoke out against what I see are the sins of colonialism. And of neocolonialism, the highest stage of imperialism. Africa herself has seen centuries of land abuse. The Land Apportionment Act of 1930 in Zimbabwe barred African land ownership outside the reserves, except in a special freehold purchase area. Africans not needed for labor on white farms were forced to move to the reserves, which became increasingly congested. Independence saw the transfer of power from whites to blacks, but not land. Thousands of settlers opted for Zimbabwean nationality after independence. Now, since 1997, Mugabe is bringing the land back to the African peoples in a form of intense reparations that have shocked the country. He announced a hit list of 1,500 farms set for compulsory acquisition, and said Britain should foot the bill for compensating the white farmers because Rhodesian colonists had stolen the land from blacks in the first place.

The Arab-Persian bloc drafted a resolution to end the sanctions from the World Bank and the IMF that would open Zimbabwe up for loans. This was ridiculous, I said, since Mugabe would never accept the conditions upon which the loans are offered, and the conditions themselves have destroyed numerous other countries. I mentioned the Venezuelan-based Bank of the South as a viable option. Other nations proposed reinforcing the sanctions that forbid Mugabe from diplomatic immunity in many nations and other visa bans. This was also ridiculous, I said, since it violates hundreds of years of international custom and ICJ statutes. Restricting a foreign head of state during a crisis is also not helpful -- shuttle diplomacy during the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict has been effective. That was the genius of Kissinger whether he was a genius or not.

Another group of nations said we ought to reinforce the arms embargo which prevents any weapons from entering Zimbabwe. Cuba said, however, that this would only prevent a Pan-African leader from protecting the work of socialism and fighting the imperialists. Mugabe, after all, has helped many other nations fight their independence wars. Most notably in the Congo. And for other nations to deny him weapons would only confirm their own neo-colonialism and imperialist policies towards Africa.

In the end it was an enjoyable conference, although somewhat less satisfying than the Berkeley Model UN conference, which is much less restricted, encouraging free exploration and academic freedom which is conducive to creative expression. The Washington Conference restricted many of the things I had been used to at Berkeley, such as an un-moderated caucus, which is very helpful in debate. However, I'm not that if UPS put on a conference it could have been any better.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Justice Unbound

Last Saturday, Northwest SDS chapters broke away from the confines of the Oct. 27th End The War March and spread the message of the protest to the Pike Place Market area in downtown Seattle. The aim of the short march was to bring the anti-war message of the march to areas of greater pedestrian presence, such as the Pike Place district near the downtown area. The organizers from had made arrangements with the city for the larger march, but this confined the message to small streetways on Beacon Hill and in the Chinatown district, clearly out of the way from the majority of pedestrian areas. No arrests were made, and our group felt the actions we took were necessary to affect change and cause a small disruption in the daily lives of urban-dwellers and shoppers. The group chanted, "While you're shopping bombs are dropping" to remind the city that the War in Iraq has not ended after nearly five years, and to urge action to be taken.

Protested spots included Wells Fargo for its involvement and funding the detention of migrant workers and families in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, and Starbucks for its Walmart-style union-busting and salaries which are lower than the cost of living, especially in cities such as New York. Protests at these sites weren't planned, but chanced upon, and the opportunity seized.

Most pedestrians seemed surprised and glad to see SDS marching. Yet there were a small number who gave the group quizzical looks, perhaps misunderstanding the importance of democracy in the streets. To them, I must say that exposing, dramatizing, and creating tension is the very heart of direct action, since this is necessary for growth and change. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create a kind of crisis and foster such a tension that the community and the government--constantly refusing to negotiate or discuss with those whom they represent--are forced to confront the issue. We sought to dramatize the issue in the streets that it could not be ignored. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that his fellow Athenians could rise from the bondage of myths and ignorance to the realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent "gadflies" to create the kind of tension in society that will help us, as Dr. King wrote in the Letter from Birmingham Jail, "Rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood."