Yahweh and his Asherah

Asherah with two lions, in clay.

Asherah with two lions, in clay.

This comes adjacent to a lot of thinking about the perils of Dominator culture. That term is used to describe the overt military, patriarchal culture that arose out of the bronze and iron ages. Yes it really is only a few thousand years old. Religion has been a major driver in enforcing this kind of thinking. The religious gender binary at work in contemporary Western culture is part of Dominator thinking. Men are tough, boys don’t cry, don’t be a sissy… All in order to be tough and aggressive, to kill and colonise the enemy, who are typically described in feminine terms. Pussies, for instance.

These figures are commonly found in archaeological digs.

These figures are commonly found in archaeological digs around Palestine.

The underlying idea is that domination by (male) violence is legitimate authority. The earlier cultures it replaced were marked by management of resources and more inclusive society. Some of these have been referred to as Matrilinear cultures, to distinguish from the Patriarchal. The terms Dominator and Partnership were used by Riane Eisler, rather than focus on inheritance. These terms are becoming widely used now, particularly in connection with social movements directed at reconfiguring growth economics and debt. Think access to resources managed and maintained by the members of the community. Access rather than artificial scarcity, debt, violent religion, class and warfare.

The history of the god particularly interests me, as it’s a kind of myth or metaphor for what has happened to all men during the period of Dominator culture.

Christendom stole the god from the Jews and already he had been made unnatural. As a result of increasing hostility and technology of warfare, following the invasion and occupation, religious leaders reformed the god into an image more like the Dominator gods of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

This was not Etana riding the eagle up to trick the goddess to give him legitimacy, this was the religious leaders redefining the god to suit the influence of Dominator culture. Rather than Shiva coming out of the wilderness to be with Parvati, or Carnonoss coming to his mate, this is captivity and pressed service.

Another tablet depicting Asherah and two lions.

Asherah tablet.

He has been disconnected from the relationship with the earth and her ecosystem. He has been disfigured and armed. He is presented as unstable, insecure and violent. On top of all that they destroyed his wife! Instead of being a partner a woman was now property or livestock. A man became a kind of owner of the family rather than a member of it. By killing off his connection with his partner and environment, he could now be used to enforce domination of these new enemies.

This is taken from an engraving on a jar, showing Yahweh together with Asherah.

This is taken from an engraving on a jar, showing Yahweh together with Asherah.

Then along comes Christendom which snatches this lonely conscript, disfigures him some more and proceeds to mass murder Heathens and Pagans in His name, by sword. And flesh hook. And stake. And knee press. You’re probably aware of history like the Saxon wars in the 9th century when as many as 80% of the population were slaughtered by good Christian knights in the service of the Holy Roman Empire. (Catholicism.) The Inquisition came from a long line of brutality which extends to the overt economic and emotional manipulation of fundamentalist Dominion and Opus Dei.

I burn incense sometimes to Yaweh and his Asherah. And made little statues of them like the clay figures that are found all over the place by archaeologists. Just to give the poor bastard something. I know how it feels to be alone, lonely and having to pretend to be something you’re not.

Contemporary figurines.

Contemporary figurines.

Men who feel that they are punished for showing emotions, who feel marginalised in their experience of family life in favour of serving as canon fodder, those whose existence is reduced to being merely a life support system for a wallet, might find it interesting to consider that this was all first done to the god.

Posted in environmentality, meditation, mysticism, partnership society, sustainable community | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

March in March

Despite Rupert Murdoch and Tony Abbott apparently spending the day with their fingers in their ears singing “LAlalalala!” The rest of Australia knew what was going on.

I’ll let them speak for themselves. Here’s Senator Ludlam offering a qualified invitation to Mr Abbott, just a week or so ago. The tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands all up, who marched this weekend have said essentially the same thing: Behave like a 21st century representative leader of a developed nation, not a Feudal Lord.

condensed

Our borders are safe

St Paddys day

hands off aus post

undoing

not in my name

bought dinner

shout louder

Posted in Australia, ausvotes, environmentality, pollyticks, social justice, sock puppets, sustainability | Tagged , , , , , ,

Paying for SPC

The population of Colorado is about 5.2 million. They legalised cannabis and in a week turned over more than $5 million in sales. Victoria’s population is about 5.8 million. If we legalise cannabis and all the sellers donate their profit for two weeks, we could pay for the SPC Ardmona support and have another 50 weeks to go.

rupert murdoch

Oh wait. It was $10 million that the Abbott Federal Government couldn’t find, although they managed to give Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd a $882 million rebate on top of tax loopholes, the Napthine gub in Victoria is talking about $22 million. Okay, so that’s a month of profit. And again, still the other eleven to kick in GST and related spending.

AN $882M TAX REBATE received by Rupert Murdoch’s (pictured) News Corporation from Australia is set to reignite the debate over how much tax is paid by international corporations.

The reliefs were related to a $2bn (£1.2bn) claim for historic losses made on currency transactions made by its Australian subsidiaries, a disclosure made in the US revealed. The payment was originally expected to be in the region of $600m, but grew to $882m after interest.

That’s including interest, although it was paid to a new company formed under the Murdochistan split last year. Which begs the question: If we have a free market and small businesses are failing all over the place because the market just doesn’t want them, why is a nation having to bail out a media magnate when the market has spoken?

Jobs for the boys, eh Tones?

Posted in Australia, green thumbs, partnership society, social justice | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Post employment and the new paradigm

For a while now I’ve been researching and writing essays on the transition that humanity is currently undergoing. It’s not a matter of waiting for change to occur. We’re in the midst of change right now. All over the planet grass roots movements and organisations are springing up. No, you don’t see much about them on tellie, but that’s the mouthpiece for the obsolete dominator paradigm. You wouldn’t expect the Murdochracy to be championing post-employment.

Frederico Pistono has written Robots will steal your job and that’s OK. I disagree. It’s not only OK, it’s fantastic! And if you think about it for a moment, the only thing keeping you from agreeing with me is the worry about debt. If you didn’t have to wonder where your mortgage/rent/car loan/bills/food payments are coming from you’d throw in your job right now, wouldn’t you?

And the debt overhaul is happening too.

Enjoy Frederico’s video. I’ll explain about the debt thing in another essay, or you can look up the Occupy debt buy-backs. This is an exciting time to be alive.

Posted in environmentality, partnership society, social justice, sustainability, sustainable community, teh interwebs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Contour crafting.

Imagine 3D printing your own home in 20 hours. Imagine using something like a game engine to design a home. Like adobe? Like minimalist? Prefer ornate gothic? Want colour built in? How would you lay the cables through various walls so the rooms have fibre-optic and power? Include water catchment and connection mounts for solar? Include a greenhouse with bio-plastic “glass” panels?

How fortunate that so many kids these days enjoy spending time on computers instead of making mud pies.

And when hemp crete and bio-plastics become reusable with those 3D printer hoppers, if you don’t like it you can just throw it all in the mulcher and start over. As a bonus the hemp for hemp crete can be grown just about anywhere, without much water or pesticides etc. so there’s very little in the way of transporting materials.

This is fantastic.

Posted in environmentality, Go for it!, sustainability, sustainable community, textile engineering | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

A few reasons why cannabis law reform makes sense.

Industrial Hemp crop 940x627Last week’s edition of The Shepparton Adviser included an article about a local group working for law reform.

There are a number of reasons why cannabis should be legal. What it really boils down to is that we can’t afford for it not to be.

Millions of dollars each year are spent policing, trying and incarcerating people for cannabis offences. If it were legal, that could go toward prevention of violent crime or simply reducing the load for overworked police officers. Legal marijuana also reduces other problems because there’s less organised crime.

If a person is on welfare they’re paid at best maybe $20,000 per year. All of that goes directly back into the local economy. They buy food, pay rent etc. It all gets spent supporting local business and retirees who have their super invested in property. In contrast, keeping someone inside is costing the taxpayers anywhere between $100,000 and $300,000 every year. Public prisons are very expensive. Private prisons even moreso. They’re subsidised by the Government and owned by multinational corporations. That’s a *lot* of resources locked up or going overseas instead of keeping local communities alive.

Perfectly normal woman wearing clothes made from hemp.

Perfectly normal woman wearing clothes made from hemp.

If people are locked up they’re not there for their family. They’re not there for friends, work and everyone else. Not only while they are in prison but when they get out and find it much harder to go back to work because of the record. Why criminalise people like that over grass? In terms of both economic and human costs it’s cutting off our collective nose to spite our face. The point of Corrections was supposed to be correction, not profit making for some overseas business.

Another cost is health. Australia’s public health system is constantly looking for ways to cut costs. If marijuana were legal people could be using it to manage conditions including MS, Alzheimers, PTSD, chronic pain and insomnia. This would save the PBS millions of dollars. It would reduce ongoing costs because of less side effects. Marijuana is safer than aspirin. Seriously. People can die from taking aspirin. A person taking marijuana for chronic back pain has none of the risks of organ damage as if they were taking prescription pain-killers, for example. You physically cannot consume enough cannabis to poison yourself. What about the cost of treating side effects or addiction? That doesn’t add to current costs because they’re being treated anyway. If anything, the reduction in stigma and legal threat means that people will get treatment earlier and again reduce ongoing costs. Few of the population use it regardless of it’s legality anyway.

A man wearing hemp clothing with no ill effects.

A man wearing hemp clothing with no ill effects.

Years ago there was a study done that linked marijuana use to potential development of schizophrenia. This was seized upon to whip up a frenzy and put more money in the pockets of Big Pharma. Again, at the taxpayers’ expense. In fact, marijuana acts on the brain’s own receptors and may be self-medication before the disease shows up. There are ongoing studies trying to establish this at the moment. This is a health concern in terms of usage or maybe a contra-indication for a very, very small percentage of people. It’s not a legal grounds. If it were, none of the anti-depressants, painkillers or asthma puffers prescribed in Australia now would be legal. None. If there were no potential harmful effects they wouldn’t be available by prescription only. Beer, coffee, salt, sugar and ibuprofen wouldn’t be available either because some people can’t have those safely.

Health care and legal costs would also be vastly reduced when it comes to outcomes of violence. Every weekend ER rooms are full of people who’ve been in fights, often associated with alcohol. Marijuana use doesn’t result in the same likelihood of violent behaviour and it can assist people trying to deal with addiction to alcohol and harder drugs. Rather than being a “gateway drug” into worse things, it helps people back out.

Proponents of law reform often cite the potential tax income from regulation but it’s even simpler than that. Setting up a tax structure would cost money and involve paying people to handle all the paper work. It would involve yet another costly bureaucracy. Without regulation we don’t have to pay to set up or maintain that structure. The State, even the whole country, overnight, has billions to spend on other necessary services. Like, um… Oh I don’t know. Ambulances perhaps? If cannabis or hemp products are sold commercially they can be subject to existing GST. Like you can buy beer or home brew it instead. That means minimal paperwork and still plenty of revenue. It’s not like the safety studies would be expensive to do. The enquiry would be pro forma. The work’s already been done.

The house that hemp built.

The house that hemp built.

Then there’s industrial hemp. We live in an area with some big issues with water and markets. Family farms are going under at a rate of knots. People are losing their family properties and homes because of debts, while supermarkets are full of imported cheap food. People are committing suicide over the losses. There’s increasing salinity and acidic ground water. Hemp grows, well, like a weed. Less maintenance while growing. Less problems fighting over water allocation. More income per acre because of the reduced overheads. More income per acre because of the many potential uses. More opportunity for secondary industry which will provide even more jobs.

Let’s have a look at some of those uses. Building with hempcrete is sustainable, local and stores carbon. Making paper or cardboard from hemp reduces the need for logging while providing ongoing, local employment. Fabric made from hemp is durable and comfortable. An Australian farmer has developed a machine that can process the hemp as it’s being harvested so it can be chipped for pulp or spun ready for weaving right there on the farm where it’s grown. This is value adding for an already higher yield, higher profit margin crop. A variety of foods are made from hemp. It’s rich in Omega 3 that we’re used to getting in fish oil. Cooking oil, grain, flour, juice and so forth, all high in vitamins and other healthy goodies.

Bio-plastics and bio-fuel made from hemp reduce Australia’s need to import fossil fuel products. They reduce carbon emissions before we even get to trading schemes. They are less toxic to produce and use. They’re less toxic to dispose of. There is enormous opportunity to develop bio-plastics for stuff like mobile phones, car parts, household appliances and packaging. Considering the growing use of so-called 3D printing, how about a natural, bio-degradeable plastic that is also recyclable for use in 3D printers? Why buy your next smart phone cover from the other side of the world when you can print it up in the study or at the local library? That needs a pretty small tweak of techniques we already have.

Bio fuel question

The other bonuses, aside from the sheer number of uses of this crop, are that it’s grown and used locally. That means less pollution from shipping the stuff by the container load around the planet. It means loads of pollution absorption by the growing plants. The byproducts go into compost to increase farm fertility. It means lots of local jobs for the people who are involved in secondary industry, adding value. People who will design and build the homes made from hempcrete. People who will design, make, market and sell the clothing. People who process and sell the food products. People who make all the various paper products. It’s potentially an organic crop as well, with all the benefits that brings. Add to all that, keeping local farmers on their farms and you have a pretty solid argument for growing the stuff. Especially on the driest continent on Earth. Even moreso while we’re trying to stop exporting jobs.

State of the art law enforcement.

State of the art law enforcement.

Once upon a time marijuana was thought to be a dangerous drug and it was thought that the way to deal with crime was to lock people up or send them to Australia. Now that we know cannabis is safer than alcohol there’s really no reason for it to be illegal. Unless you happen to own shares in a private prison company. It’s like those laws about having to ring a bell in front of your motor carriage so it doesn’t scare the ladies or horses as it passes. It seemed like a good idea at the time. In Victoria I can legally jump out of an aeroplane if I wish and learn skydiving. Or scuba diving. Or take up race car driving. Sure there’s some management issues but we don’t criminalise everything that might be risky or because someone doesn’t like it. There’d be no cars, no beer… No planes. (No priests.)

Right now the Murray-Goulburn region is battling scarce water resources, unemployment and farmers are having to bulldoze orchards. Governments at every level are desperate to cut costs. Premier Napthine’s stand against legalisation may seem rational if you’re living in the 1850′s but not today. We simply can’t afford this pretence. And it really doesn’t bother the horses.

Posted in Australia, ausvotes, environmentality, green thumbs, social justice, sock puppets, sustainable community | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Peace, love, understanding and respect.

Peace Love Understanding Respect

This has been going through my head for a little while. A friend mentioned to me that in certain music circles the saying ‘Peace, Love, Understanding and Respect” was a popular idea. As I’ve been thinking about the cultural baggage that comes with a lot of religious language, I was trying to find a way to clarify the idea of love. You hear a lot of people say “love” when they’re actually describing actions that are abusive or dominating. For the sake of my own meditation I wanted something clearer. Together these four symbols sum it up pretty nicely.

Peace

This fairly widely recognised peace symbol came into common use, in the West at least, during the 60′s. It is derived from the semaphore figures for “N” and “D” and represented Nuclear Disarmament.

 

 

Love

This is another pretty widely known symbol for love and affection. There’s different theories about whether it comes from the appearance of somebody’s backside, but it’s a few hundred years old and pretty well known.

 

 

DagazThis is an old German rune “Dagaz.” Why I chose this to symbolise respect is that it means “daylight or clarity” among other things. Kenau seemed to me more an intellectual process, while Dagaz is something that’s obvious. We use phrases like “in broad daylight” or “when you see it in the light of day.” The idea is that most people are trying to live in peaceful well being and that when constructs of nationalism, military domination or religion are stripped away we can see that about each other.

GeboGebo is another rune, it means “gift.” I chose it to symbolise respect because of the rune poem that goes with it: A gift demands a gift. When I started searching for an image online, it was also linked to love and understanding so I guess that fits. The idea was that in the current Western paradigm domination by violence is legitimate authority. In less baboon like cultures a person is respected or earns respect in lots of ways other than violence. And like the greeting “Namaste,” when we offer respect to others we expect that we’re creating a social environment in which we will also be welcomed and treated with respect.

In the second Wall Street movie, there’s a scene where Gordon Gecko is giving a lecture in which he addresses Gen Y and the “Millenials” generation as being ninjas. No income, no jobs, no assets. For a little while now I’ve been using the term lacking equity to describe this situation. In sociology apparently people talk about social collateral which is a little more broad than simply not owning your own home, but implies the lack of respect that often accompanies unemployment and poverty.

The Free Market experiment has largely led to an accumulation of wealth by a minority and greater social inequity. As a way of resetting that world view I guess I’ve borrowed from the generations following me in order to try and correct our course. To try to leave them a more inclusive, sustainable world than our current situation might indicate will be the case. We really cannot keep digging stuff out of the ground to fuel a colonial era consumer growth culture. We are well aware that the Earth not only has finite resources but simply doesn’t deserve to be treated like a big garbage heap.

Regardless of what certain religious types think is likely to happen before Jesus comes back, we are living in a social construct that we made up and continue to make up. For the past few hundred years it’s looked like a death wish. The symbolism I’m using to meditate on is to transform that into something more like a “life wish.” For the sake of my own sanity, if nothing else. I don’t want my kids living through some Pentecostal lunatic’s fantasy of seven years of tribulation and armageddon because they don’t know how to read their bible properly or own shares in Raytheon.

Humans have made up all sorts of different cultures and social structures during our time on this planet. Now with our understanding of our selves, our needs, the environment and our technological abilities it’s well nigh time to move on from Iron Age ideas about domination. We teach little kids to share. Let’s remind the big ones as well.

Posted in environmentality, meditation, mysticism, social justice, sustainable community | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s not going to go away.

security theatre

security theatre

Today the ABC ran a piece about Obama and the NSA.

“Given the history of abuse by governments, it’s right to ask questions about surveillance, particularly as technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives,” Mr Obama told reporters at the White House.

Mr Obama said he was unveiling specific steps to improve oversight of surveillance and restore public trust in the government’s programs.

“It’s not enough for me as president to have confidence in these programs. The American people need to have confidence in them, as well,” he said.

That’s a big ask. Not only the rabid US style libertarians are upset over this overstep by government. Many more progressive people are as well, and not only because of the infringements of civil liberties. The US spy agencies are collecting much more than is legal even by the standards of Patriot Act law. And they’re collecting info about citizens in other nations as well.

Obama may well single out Edward Snowden for seeking asylum in Russia, but after the way the US has treated Bradley Manning and the many people still incarcerated in Guantanamo bay, Snowden’s still looking less like a traitor and more like someone who’s justifiably concerned for his safety.

The US, meanwhile, is still the world’s most dangerous rogue state. The bombing of a school in Yemen is yet more evidence of that. All the diversion and dust up about supposed Al Qaeda traffic in recent weeks shouldn’t stop people asking questions about the nature of the surveillance carried out by the US and the representatives that have permitted it to become legal, or turned a blind eye at the illegalities.

After a brief mention of privacy by Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Ludlam, the behaviour of Australia’s erstwhile ally has gone unquestioned during the Federal election campaign. No one wants Nicola Roxon’s data sequestration facility questioned at present. That’s not the only issue here, though. As was pointed out at the time of Snowden’s first announcements, the actual surveillance is only part of the problem.

Last week a story went around, regarding a woman who had six agents from a terrorism task force knock on her door. Initially she thought it was a result of online searching. The story that came out later was much darker.

Turns out though, it was the former employer of Catalano’s husband doing the watching. Following the online uproar, Suffolk County police explained that “detectives received a tip from a Bay Shore-based computer company regarding suspicious computer searches conducted by a recently released employee.” Apparently Catalano’s husband had been searching for the terms “pressure cooker bombs” and “backpacks” in his work computer and his former employers became paranoid they could have a terrorist in their midst.

And that, folks, is the real issue. People are so paranoid because of the constant scaremongering and propaganda used by the government and mainstream media that they can’t tell which way is up. In a scene which does actually echo Nineteen Eighty-Four, the guy was dobbed in by co-workers. At the time Snowden’s leaks were made public someone noticed that sales of that book had risen. Many derided it as being irrelevant. What we see, though, as the story plays out is that it is more relevant than we’d like to think. The flow on chilling effect this has in broader society is dangerous. The fact that it’s being done to prop up government by the corporations, for the corporations makes it outright fascist. At the time Orwell wrote British society was still a social democracy. His identification of the dystopian government as socialist wasn’t a stretch of the imagination in his day.

Fox “news” and other media organs like to fan the flames of a belief in socialism because it suits Rupert Murdoch’s malignant agenda. There are people in the US that actually believe that public health care in a civilised nation must be socialist. The Republican party representatives have made 40 attempts to repeal “Obamacare.”

What all this really amounts to is that the US is lost in the woods, leadership wise, without even a trail of breadcrumbs to follow. Whether Australia will continue to stumble blindly after the States remains to be seen. Given the continuing focus on small numbers of Asylum seekers rather than of the real issues that face Australia in the 21st century, like our continuing dependence on fossil fuels, it looks like Transition Towns and other sustainable living grass roots endeavours will become much, much more important in future.

Posted in pollyticks, sock puppets, teh interwebs, what's wrong with these people? | Tagged , , , , ,

Australians left naked before PRISM.

Well, that’s all there is to it. No worries, Australia. According to Foreign Minister Bob Carr, the US government’s outsourced intelligence community going through your virtual sock drawer and taking a good look while you’re standing at the urinal is nothing to be concerned about.

I'm from the government, I'm here to help.

I’m from the government, I’ll only look a little bit.

While Bob Carr is toeing the line, instructing us that there’s nothing going on, the head of the NSA has been excusing the PRISM program in the US by claiming that it’s used mostly on foreigners. That would be us.

Malcolm Turnbull was taking his cues from The Hollowmen issuing a statement that “Australians would be disturbed.” Mal was part of the government that introduced Australia’s anti-terror laws that enable massive data collection locally without any warrants or public scrutiny. Scott Ludlam, the Greens Senator, is introducing a bill next week to try to correct some of it, but that won’t have any effect on the NSA’s data collection.

In Europe, where a few of the leaders apparently still have half a spine between them, there are calls for laws to prevent companies enabling this kind of no-holds-barred collection of people’s personal information.

Politicians in Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Romania are among those to have called for an investigation into PRISM at a European level. German privacy chief Peter Schaar has demanded that the U.S. government “provide clarity” regarding what he described as “monstrous allegations of total monitoring of various telecommunications and Internet services.” And Schaar has been backed up by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who plans to raise the issue when she meets in Berlin with President Obama next week.

And-then-he-said-there-are-weapons-of-mass-destruction-in-iraq

That Slate article quotes James Clapper confirming that the program can be used to spy on foreign government agents. Our own security agents are being spied on. By a nation that is supposedly an ally. Well, an ally enough to dump cheap citrus on us when they need to, even when our own farmers are going broke. Very neighbourly of them. Of course they have our best interests at heart. They relied on us to back them up in the war over WMDs.

From The Conversation, Sean Rintel gives us a list of 9 reasons why this massive intrusion is not okay. Sean observes that the entire argument “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” is wallpaper words, a con, basically, to guilt trip you into accepting whatever the government and their private contractors wish. The implication that putting your pants on before you leave the house is the same as covering up a terrorist plot is ridiculous.

In the wake of former CIA employee Edward Snowden’s revelations of the PRISM NSA mass surveillance, people are once again asking why the general public should care if they’ve got nothing to hide.

“Nothing to hide” hides a lot behind an absolutist gloss. It puts the focus on the individual rather than on the real problem of a society-wide loss of data control at many levels.

Dana Boyd has written an essay about agencies presuming the guilt of the people they’re paid to watch.

The frameworks of “innocent until proven guilty” and “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” are really really important to civil liberties, even if they mean that some criminals get away. These frameworks put the burden on the powerful entity to prove that someone has done something wrong. Because it’s actually pretty easy to generate suspicion, even when someone is wholly innocent. And still, even with this protection, innocent people are sentenced to jail and even given the death penalty. Because if someone has a vested interest in you being guilty, it’s often viable to paint that portrait, especially if you have enough data. Just watch as the media pulls up random quotes from social media sites whenever someone hits the news to frame them in a particular light.

Both of those articles are recommended to read.

The Age has dutifully printed the official talking points by producing an account of Australia being a valued partner in the US surveillance network, which includes keeping North Korea under scrutiny, and helped us get that seat on the UN security council. Where our vote is going to be completely independent as a result. As in the case of “nothing to hide” this completely distorts the issue.

What I’d like to ask is, who is doing what with all this information that we’re supposed to be so trustingly handing over?

There are millions of private contractors operating now, in intelligence and military arenas.

Private contractors. The testosterone fuelling those beards could power an entire Afghani village.

Private contractors. The testosterone fuelling those beards could power an entire Afghani village.

Over the years, the government has outsourced huge chunks of its operations wholesale to private contractors like Booz Allen, particularly in the realm of intelligence gathering. And it’s costing Washington untold billions every year.

Nobody knows for sure how many contractors the government pays because, well, the government doesn’t keep track. But New York University Professor Paul Light has estimated that in 2005, they made up more than half the federal workforce, totaling some 7.6 million employees. Since then, the tally has no doubt grown. And whatever their precise numbers may be, the bottom line is that contractors are now enmeshed in virtually every federal function, from catering to research to spying.

Aside from the sheer numbers, these functions are now effectively outside the control and scrutiny of the citizens they’re supposed to be protecting. This is partly because of the nature of the contracts and partly the influence of corporations because of their size and legal status. Over the past few decades there’s been increasing moves from government by and for the citizens, to government by and for the interests of multinational corporations together with international deregulation. It’s been described as neo-feudal.

There is continuing conflict in many areas because of the revolving door between private enterprise and government. Clarence Thomas famously failed to recuse himself in a Supreme Court case involving Monsanto, for which he had worked. This week it was announced that Ken Salazar from the Interior Ministry, that is prosecuting BP for the Deepwater Horizon disaster, will be taking up a new position with the firm that is defending BP in the matter. But it’s okay. He promises not to be named on any documents pertaining to the case to protect the firm’s integrity.

Found 'em!

Found ‘em!

In addition to the confusion between private enterprise and the government is that increasing deregulation. We’ve discussed previously that companies are required by law to put profit ahead of everything else, including the community and environment. If you’re unfamiliar with that, have a watch of the documentary The Corporation. Not only are the costs of business externalised for someone else to pay for, there are substantial protections in place for large companies. Where laws do exist to prosecute or revoke a charter, they’re simply not enforced. HSBC was found to be laundering money for drug and arms traders and was not prosecuted. Instead, given a fine that amounted to about five week’s worth of profit. “The banks’ laundering transactions were so brazen that the NSA probably could have spotted them from space.” Wall Street firms that were given billions in loans did not repay them and have continued illegally foreclosing on homes that they don’t even have the mortgage paperwork for. In the UK police officers were found to be complicit in the Murdoch media phone tapping scandal. One paper was closed and the rest of the monopoly has continued, internationally, without repercussion.

Without getting too side tracked by the massive scale of corporate protection and corruption, what we’re considering is the provision of security and intelligence in this climate. George Orwell and Philip K Dick were fond of describing dystopian states where citizens were powerless and under constant surveillance but it was Aldous Huxley who hinted at the importance of corporations in the paradigm. His book Brave New World depicted the worship of a capital T. After the T model Ford and the beginning of the production line.

But wait. There’s more. In addition to its dubious provenance, big data doesn’t work.

Politicians need to be seen as actively protecting public safety and the easiest way is to add surveillance, reduce privacy and expand the security state. What they are not willing to discuss is the impossibility of detecting and deterring all attacks. The suggestion is that more security measures translate to more public safety. The fact is that even the most repressive nations with the most abusive security services, places such as China and Iran, have not been able to stop terrorist acts.

More noise gives us more opportunity to make it look like you're up to something.

More noise gives us more opportunity to make it look like you’re up to something.

Let’s just leave aside the issue of the war on terror for the moment, since our governments are collectively encouraging the growth of terrorism through wedge politics, occupations and drone bombing. If there was a genuine intention to stop terrorist activities from harming citizens, there’d be an end to fuelling the circumstances that create it.

It’s not as if the Australian Government has all our security neatly under wraps and kept according to a process subject to adequate scrutiny. People building Government networks and handling citizens’ private information here are frequently contractors. The free market system we were sold demanded it. But contractors aren’t any more reliable than any other human being.

A federal government contractor that was paid more than $1 million to deliver e-security alert services to Australians has lost 8000 subscribers’ personal information in the postal system.

AusCERT, which was paid $1,199,484.52 by the federal government to run staysmartonline.gov.au between April 29 2008 and April 29 2012*, lost subscribers’ data after using Australia Post to send it on a DVD to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) on April 11 when its contract to run the alerts service expired.

We have then gathering of information without warrants by government agencies and corporations based here and overseas. The US government has no requirement to protect the privacy of Australian citizens and there’s no system in place to ensure that breaches are addressed. There are also significant questions about the corporations themselves, how they operate and under what oversight, if any. There are blatant illegalities involving multinationals and very little scope or willingness to address that. There have been demonstrated issues with the calibre of security information being provided back to Australia by this and other systems. On top of all this is the problematic nature of the whole war on terror to start with.

Australian citizens were never asked if we wish to turn Australia into Iran. We didn’t elect representatives on the basis of introducing Stasi like information gathering techniques. Now our information is being gathered by departments the government refuses to talk about, vulnerable to interception by private contractors for a foreign government and our websites are being blocked or taken down to the tune of 250,000 by mistake.

While there are no doubt plenty of people who’d like us to take our soma and just put up with it, we are citizens of a supposedly free country. The Australian government is going to need to come up with something more than “nothing to worry about” in response to this. Scott Ludlam’s proposal to rein in the Howard era warrantless investigation and detention is a start. But without public discussion and some real protections for the privacy of Australian citizens, we’re left with government agencies and private contractors in other countries peering through our blinds at night.

Posted in Australia, ausvotes, pollyticks, teh interwebs | Tagged , , , , , ,

Edward Snowden’s chutzpah.

After a few days of ebb and flow, the source of the NSA leak has come forward. From a hotel in Hong Kong, one Edward Snowden, CIA ret., gave an interview to Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill. Like a scene from the second Bourne movie. He doesn’t want to live in a society where the government is spying on everyone, all the time, without them knowing or consenting. Naturally fur will fly in the US media analysis of this, if the recent tarring of Bradley Manning is anything to go by.

The development of this story over the past three days has been quite something. Shocks, astonishment, wavering and more shocks before the other boot finally dropped with the release of the interview video. So much has happened today that I’m still trying to piece it all together. Who knew what, and when? More importantly, how will this play out.

Prism

June 6th, the Washington Post publishes a story claiming that the NSA has direct access to the data on servers of the nine largest internet companies. Names like Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and AOL. (Are they still producing coasters around?) Using a system called PRISM the US agency can access whatever it likes, when it likes. Even from users of the services in other countries.

The same day, the Guardian posts the story about telecoms provider Verizon.

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

Users of the internet, phones and anyone even vaguely concerned with the legality of tapping was stunned. These claims, if true, mean the US government has a rubber stamp for any request for interception of phone calls. And access to everything on the internet, virtually. Everything sent publicly or privately. Everything sent through those companies or stored with their cloud services. By anyone, regardless of whether they’re US citizens or not.

June 7th The Guardian posts an article about the NSA’s surveillance abilities. Their source is apparently the same as that of the Washington Post.

The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.

The leak itself was incredible enough. For it to come on the day when everyone was condemning Bradley Manning in preparation for his trial, which begins tomorrow, was icing on the cake. That it happened a day after yet another mass shooting which the invasive surveillance failed to prevent was tragic.

What was originally acquired by the Washington Post and or The Guardian was a 41 slide powerpoint presentation. The slides were supposedly for training people to use the system and claimed “collection directly from the servers” of major US service providers. Curiously, the poor quality of the slides was seen as evidence of their not being genuine.

Executives of the companies involved seemed to be just as surprised as the users. Larry Page, CEO of Google, published a What the… entry on the Google blog.

You may be aware of press reports alleging that Internet companies have joined a secret U.S. government program called PRISM to give the National Security Agency direct access to our servers. As Google’s CEO and Chief Legal Officer, we wanted you to have the facts.

First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.

Page makes another couple of points, which as at the time of writing, are still on that site and unaltered. Mark Zuckerberg released a fairly similar statement. The similarity prompted some of the commentariat to wonder if this was scripted and if anything could be read into that. It also prompted one wag to produce the PRISM denial generator.

The Washington Post story was later edited to remove important details, including the assertion that the companies knew of and willingly participated in the program. This quiet editing without acknowledgement was noticed and a few people thought then that the whole thing was bogus. ZDNet’s Ed Bott considered that the real story, at that stage, was the lack of fact checking and poor journalism involved. That article has a close look at the redaction of the original Washington Post story, which is still unexplained. It’s also been edited in the past day or two, since The Guardian became more prominent in the leak story.

June 8, William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, denied the claims that the UK government had been involved.

He [Hague] said reports that the UK’s eavesdropping centre had circumvented the law to gather data on British citizens were “nonsense.”

But he refused to confirm or deny claims GCHQ has had access to the Prism programme, which the US has used since 2010 to access the systems of nine of the world’s top internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Skype.

In Australia Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Ludlam took the opportunity to get some press. Apparently taking his cue from last weeks The Hollowmen episode, Turnbull made a statement saying he thought Australians would be troubled by this and he had “raised the matter with the US Government’s representatives in Australia and sought clarification”. Turnbull is quite correct that the use of cloud services and other online applications exposes Australians to illegal electronic eavesdropping. Ludlam, to his credit, went further and put some hard questions to the government here. “Australians use these services to the point of ubiquity. Does the Australian Government believe it is appropriate that the US intelligence agencies appear to be engaged in warrantless realtime surveillance of the entire online population? Does the Australian intelligence community have access to this material? And is this the reason the Attorney Generals Department have been so insistent that Australian ISPs institute a two-year data retention regime?”

Ludlam mentioned Bradley Manning and George Orwell in his statement and he’s not exaggerating. This kind of warrantless surveillance is the kind of thing the Stasi were engaged in, in East Germany during the cold war. A massive accumulation of data to the point where there wasn’t a way to sift through it all. If you’re an Aussie, pop over to that Delimiter article and have a read. The list of questions Ludlam has raised and the analysis there are pertinent. Now that the video has been released and dissection of the whole situation has begun, these questions become more and more important. Who has access to Australians’ (or anyone else for that matter) privately stored info and why?

Even the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has weighed in about corporations and governments trying to take control of what was intended to be a free and open way for human beings to communicate, without ownership. This freedom has been gradually challenged and eroded over time, by both corporations and government agencies. This current leak, though, exposes the way the technology of the internet and digital telecommunications has been turned on the citizens. We’ll get to that a bit more in a minute.

The Washington Post story appears to have been updated now and includes a video interview with Barton Gellman addressing the accusations that they didn’t do their homework.

June 9. Now the video is out. Edward Snowden has gone on record. It’s not a hoax. Dear gods, Richard Stallman has been right all along.

The Guardian’s article which introduced us to Snowden has the video and a transcript.

Okay, so now we can put a face to the source. Edward talks about his reasons for doing what he’s done and what he expects to come of it, at least for him. “Nothing good.” The guy’s only 29. He now has a lifetime ahead of him trying to evade the clutches of the US government. And the Brits, probably. Having seen what’s happened to Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Aaron Swartz and now Deric Lostutter, Snowden knew perfectly well what would be in store. And he did it anyway. I’m just absolutely stunned by the spine on this guy. It’s incredible. I have enormous respect for his bravery and the stand that he’s taken in the face of this global power. What he’s done has shown the US, again, that they can’t keep breaking the law and get away with it. They can’t rely on citizens and employees to collude in the bullshit any longer.

This isn’t about the reading of things we’ve shared online, like Logging in from my favourite cafe Burnt Grounds. It’s not the selfies you’ve put all over all your social media acounts, knowing that once they’re up there, they’ll be free for anyone to take and meme to buggery. This is all the documents and images and videos on every cloud or storage site, regardless of the privacy settings you’ve chosen. This is interception of the sxts you sent your partner while they’re in a boring sales meeting and you’ve both deleted but they’re still on the servers somewhere. It’s taking the dunny door off. It’s a global creepshot.

One thing that’s brilliant is the timing of it. While the government argues on the one hand that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. That the collection of data is about protecting citizens and national security. At the same time Bradley Manning is on trial for releasing, among other things, the Collateral Murder video. Actually, while we’re at it, let’s have another look at that. Let’s have a look at some of what Manning is accused of releasing. The reason why he’s been held in horrific conditions, in solitary confinement, for more than two years.

The families of the two Reuters photographers murdered in that video had been trying to find out what happened that day. For years they’d been petitioning the US government and military. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for their friends and family to view that video. After all that time and all those denials and bullshit stories, to actually see what happened. To hear the commentary of the flight crew and shooters. It must have been heart breaking.

Young Manning sees this. He sees evidence all around him of the war crimes his government is committing repeatedly. He knows that people condemn other nations and other people for acts like this. He knows that officers who stand trial after the fact do not get pardoned for saying they were only taking orders. I am in agreement with Matt Taibbi. Any remotely decent person was obliged to come forward.

Now Snowden has too. Because this is not about protecting national security. This is about protecting citizens from abuses of national security. It’s about not allowing corporate profit motive to trump the law or the citizens’ influence in their own governance.

Edward Snowden

The second thing about this that has impressed me is Snowden’s nouse in choosing to go to Hong Kong. It’s only days since the Chinese Premier was in the US for talks. There’s been a history of discussion in the US press and by some military spokes orcs about the potential problem of Chinese hackers and what might be done about that. Of course, most of that is hot air designed to put the wind up the public. It might help the prosecutors try to justify the sentences being given to those convicted of cracking.

Now we get to watch over the coming few days. To see what China’s move will be. The leadership in Hong Kong probably doesn’t appreciate being put in a position between China and the US, but there’s a different style of leadership and quite a bit more freedom there. The anniversary of Tianamin Square is celebrated openly. An extradition would have to be approved by both Hong Kong and China, and they have no reason to cave to US demands. The Chinese government has declined to open their currency and stock exchange as fully as other nations that are now in thrall to the global banking cartels. The Chinese position here is fairly strong, it seems. They can take their time deciding what to do. Considering all that drone bombing that’s been going on in Pakistan, which is not so far from Chinese borders, and that the Chinese Premier’s wife has an iPhone that was used during their visit to the US, one would imagine China would find this news fascinating. Friendship with the US is a euphemism anyway, as any nation that’s had goods or produce dumped on them under the mantel of “Free Trade Agreements” knows. How much is that Marine base in Darwin costing us, by the way?

Whether the Chinese and Hong Kong governments choose to hand over Snowden or not, what they do and why will send out some big ripples in global politics.

Aside from those political considerations, however, is the issue of surveillance, security and privacy. As it happens I’ve just finished re-reading Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Everyone remembers the constant scrutiny poor Winston and the others came under. The constant invasion and control of the lives of Party members. We use the term “Big Brother” frequently. What’s worth considering, after more than a decade of the war on terror, is Orwell’s observation that constant warfare is necessary. It helps control the population by providing an enemy and an excuse. As well it absorbs the production that would otherwise help raise people’s standards of living to the point where they could educate themselves and start agitating for better representation and more progressive society. Or simply get out of debt and off the hamster wheel.

It is the citizens of a nation that are supposed to elect government and be represented by it. Over the past few decades we’ve seen the erosion of protections for the human beings in the country and ever increasing sell outs to corporate interests. The global economy is propped up by arms trades and the military industrial complex. The US economy certainly is. Billions of dollars are being spent on arms and personnel every year. And really, who in their right mind is going to try and invade the US? The only trouble Anglo and European nations are copping now is because of the constant pulling of tigers’ tails in the Middle East and North Africa. You know, maybe if we stopped interfering with other nations to their detriment and traded fairly we wouldn’t have so many people trying to seek asylum from those nations or retaliating with violence to the violence we’ve done them.

No. National security my arse. This is all about whether human community is centred on human beings or serving corporations. Anyone who has had their eyes open is well aware of the high cost, both human and financial, of the war on terror and the war on drugs. It’s patently obvious that these wars are not fought to be won but to create ongoing problems that lazy politicians can use to get re-elected. As the crucifixion of Edward Snowden now proceeds the issue of power and ownership must be kept firmly in focus. This gathering of information is being done covertly. Not only without warrants, but without the knowledge or consent of those supposedly being governed and protected by this program. It’s not in the citizens’ interest.

All this gathering of information did not prevent the mass shooting in Aurora by a man who ordered guns, ammunition and riot gear over the net. It didn’t even stop the two brothers who’d been flagged by the Russians as a problem but were allowed to carry on until all of Boston was in lockdown. It hasn’t stopped the trafficking of thousands of human beings in slavery throughout the US and other countries. It didn’t stop the insurgents attack on Kabul airport yesterday.

As Snowden said himself,

We managed to survive greater threats in our history than a few disorganised groups and rogue States without resorting to these sorts of programs. It is not that I do not value intelligence, but that I oppose omniescent, automatic mass surveillance. That seems to me a greater threat to the institutions of free society than missed intelligence reports, and unworthy of the costs.”

Let me also add a quote from another discussion about information gathering that happened on Reddit.

I live in a country generally assumed to be a dictatorship. One of the Arab spring countries. I have lived through curfews and have seen the outcomes of the sort of surveillance now being revealed in the US. People here talking about curfews aren’t realizing what that actually FEELS like. It isn’t about having to go inside, and the practicality of that. It’s about creating the feeling that everyone, everything is watching. A few points:

1) the purpose of this surveillance from the governments point of view is to control enemies of the state. Not terrorists. People who are coalescing around ideas that would destabilize the status quo. These could be religious ideas. These could be groups like anon who are too good with tech for the governments liking. It makes it very easy to know who these people are. It also makes it very simple to control these people.

Lets say you are a college student and you get in with some people who want to stop farming practices that hurt animals. So you make a plan and go to protest these practices. You get there, and wow, the protest is huge. You never expected this, you were just goofing off. Well now everyone who was there is suspect. Even though you technically had the right to protest, you’re now considered a dangerous person.

With this tech in place, the government doesn’t have to put you in jail. They can do something more sinister. They can just email you a sexy picture you took with a girlfriend. Or they can email you a note saying that they can prove your dad is cheating on his taxes. Or they can threaten to get your dad fired. All you have to do, the email says, is help them catch your friends in the group. You have to report back every week, or you dad might lose his job. So you do. You turn in your friends and even though they try to keep meetings off grid, you’re reporting on them to protect your dad.

There’s a bit more to that comment and the discussion that ensued, but that’s from the horses mouth, so to speak. A human being talking about the lives and experiences of human beings living with this intrustion and the exploitation thereof. I’m out of energy to try to keep cracking wise about all this now. Our government is supposed to answer to us and represent us. If not, it’s not a democracy. You can call it what you like, but it’s not a democracy.

dwarf_fortress

Posted in pollyticks, teh interwebs | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment