Archive for April, 2014

The NSA Comes Home: Police Departments Conceal Phone Tracking Equipment From Courts

Saturday, 26 April 2014 09:54
 

2014 0426bernd

The intricate surveillance equipment used by the federal government to track and store the cellphone data of millions of people and to monitor terrorism suspects is making its way to Main Street.

Police departments across the nation have been trying to conceal their use of cellphone tracking equipment from local courts because of nondisclosure agreements that allow the departments to use the devices on loan – as long as they promise the manufacturer they will keep it a secret.

The devices, manufactured by the Florida-based Harris Corporation, are commonly used at the federal level, but are also proliferating across local and state police departments. The technology has been purchased under various names, including StingRay, HailStorm, Harpoon, AmberJack, KingFish and RayFish, and mimics a cellphone tower.

When cellphones connect to the device, it can record the phone’s unique information and traffic data, as well as its location. The devices can triangulate the position of a particular cellphone in relation to its antenna and other towers in the area with greater accuracy than would be possible from a network provider’s permanent tower location.

The devices are used to gather information about both specific individuals and large groups (including people involved in political dissent). They also sweep up the cellphone records of thousands of users who happen to be in the devices’ radius and who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. For those who are suspected of wrongdoing, the potential indiscriminate use of the devices is likely harming their due process rights, according to Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

However, the exact targets of the devices are rarely revealed, thanks to the terms of the agreement between the cops and the companies. Police departments in Florida and Arizona have signed nondisclosure agreements with Harris Corporation to purchase the equipment on loan from the company and say that these agreements bar them from revealing information about the devices’ use – even to judges. In one case in Tallahassee, officers opted not to seek a warrant for a suspect they had tracked to his girlfriend’s apartment to specifically avoid having to tell a judge they used a StingRay device to find him there.

The language of the nondisclosure agreement signed by a police department in Tucson, Arizona, is more broad than necessary to protect legitimate trade secrets, according to civil liberties experts. According to the contract, which was obtained by an Arizona journalist, the city is not to “discuss, publish, release or disclose any information pertaining to the Products covered under this NDA to any third party individual, corporation, or other entity, including any affiliated State, County, City, Town or Village, or other governmental agency or entity without the prior written consent of Harris.”

“It’s like [the Harris Corporation is] not even trying to pretend that they are protecting trade secrets,” said Wessler with the ACLU, who was involved in the Tallahassee case. He said nondisclosure agreements can protect legitimate secrets, including technical details or other information that could give corporate competitors an economic advantage, but that the language of the Tucson agreement is much broader than necessary. He told Truthout that state and local police departments sometimes obtain similar technology from the FBI, and in those cases, departments have signed similar agreements with the FBI.

“[The Harris Corporation] seems to be trying to prevent [police departments] from talking about how these devices are used in investigations, about things like whether they are getting warrants for them or not, or what they think the legal policy limitations on their use should be, all these kinds of questions that are absolutely fundamental issues of digital law, public policy and good governance,” Wessler said.

The contract does contain one exception for “judicially mandated disclosures,” but leaves no method for courts to ascertain that the device was used. The ACLU suspects that through the use of such broad language, the contracts amount to product testing by the Harris Corporation. The nondisclosure agreements essentially allow Harris to examine how effective their devices are and possibly make modifications while shielding the corporation from accountability.

The Tucson Police Department said the contract was one reason why the department held information from an Arizona journalist who filed an open records request for information about the use of the devices. The agreement requires the police department to notify the company any time a records request for information about the devices’ use is filed and also requires the law enforcement agency to help the company decide what records to release.

The Arizona ACLU is seeking an injunction for the records on behalf of the journalist and is arguing that the City of Tucson allowed the Harris Corporation to dictate the city’s compliance with Arizona public records law, violating its legal requirement to respond.

Law enforcement agencies aren’t just using the devices to target specific individuals in specific incidents. Police departments have also used the equipment to intentionally gather information about groups of dissenters, including monitoring the protest activity of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, and the occupation of Zuccotti Park in New York City.

“Those kinds of cases where police are trying to figure out who was at a protest because they want to arrest people or they want to track them or surveil them further, this is a really convenient way to do that. It could end up really chilling people’s ability to engage in political speech and protest,” Wessler told Truthout.

The cellphone tracking equipment was originally developed for military and intelligence agency use, but is increasingly being marketed in large numbers to municipal and state police departments for average criminal investigations. It’s another plot point in a growing trend of police militarization across the country.

“We should be worried when police are using this kind of very powerful invasive surveillance gear to gather information about people in the US without ever going to a judge,” Wessler said.

The Elite, the ‘Great Game’ and World War III

 
The Elite, the ‘Great Game’ and World War III

This article was originally published in June 2011

The control of the US, and of global politics, by the wealthiest families of the planet is exercised in a powerful, profound and clandestine manner. This control began in Europe and has a continuity that can be traced back to the time when the bankers discovered it was more profitable to give loans to governments than to needy individuals.

These banking families and their subservient beneficiaries have come to own most major businesses over the two centuries during which they have secretly and increasingly organised themselves as controllers of governments worldwide and as arbiters of war and peace.

Unless we understand this we will be unable to understand the real reasons for the two world wars and the impending Third World War, a war that is almost certain to begin as a consequence of the US attempt to seize and control Central Asia. The only way out is for the US to back off – something the people of the US and the world want, but the elite does not.

The US is a country controlled through the privately owned Federal Reserve, which in turn is controlled by the handful of banking families that established it by deception in the first place.

In his interesting book The Secret Team, Col. Fletcher Prouty, briefing officer of the US President from 1955-63, narrates a remarkable incident in which Winston Churchill made a most revealing utterance during World War II:

“On this particular night there had been a heavy raid on Rotterdam. He sat there, meditating, and then, as if to himself, he said, ‘Unrestricted submarine warfare, unrestricted air bombing – this is total war.’ He continued sitting there, gazing at a large map, and then said, ‘Time and the Ocean and some guiding star and High Cabal have made us what we are’.”

Prouty further states:

“This was a most memorable scene and a revelation of reality that is infrequent, at best. If for the great Winston Churchill, there is a ‘High Cabal’ that has made us what we are, our definition is complete. Who could know better than Churchill himself during the darkest days of World War II, that there exists, beyond doubt, an international High Cabal? This was true then. It is true today, especially in these times of the One World Order. This all-powerful group has remained superior because it had learned the value of anonymity.” This “High Cabal” is the “One World Cabal” of today, also called the elite by various writers.

The High Cabal and What They Control

The elite owns the media, banks, defence and oil industry. In his book Who’s Who of the Elite Robert Gaylon Ross Sr. states: “It is my opinion that they own the US military, NATO, the Secret Service, the CIA, the Supreme Court, and many of the lower courts. They appear to control, either directly or indirectly, most of the state, county, and local law enforcement agencies.”

The elite is intent on conquering the world through the use of the abilities of the people of the United States. It was as far back as 1774 that Amschel Mayer Rothschild stated at a gathering of the twelve richest men of Prussia in Frankfurt: “Wars should be directed so that the nations on both sides should be further in our debt.” He further enunciated at the same meeting: “Panics and financial depressions would ultimately result in World Government, a new order of one world government.”

The elite owns numerous “think tanks” that work for expanding, consolidating and perpetuating its hold on the globe. The Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA), the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, and many other similar organisations are all funded by the elite and work for it. These think tanks publish journals, such as Foreign Affairs, in which these imperialist and anti-mankind ideas are edified as publications, and then, if need be, expanded in the form of books that are given wide publicity.

Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger et al, as well as the neo-con “thinkers,” owe their positions and good living standards to the largesse of the elite. This is an important point that must be kept in full view at all times. These thinkers and writers are on the payroll of the elite and work for them. In case someone has any doubts about such a statement, it might help to read the following quotes from Professor Peter Dale Scott’s comprehensively researched book The Road to 9/11 – Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America (University of California Press, 2007):

…Bundy’s Harvard protégé Kissinger was named to be national security adviser after having chaired an important “study group” at the Council on Foreign Relations. As a former assistant to Nelson Rockefeller, Kissinger had been paid by Rockefeller to write a book on limited warfare for the CFR. He had also campaigned hard in Rockefeller’s losing campaign for the Presidential nomination in 1968. Thus Rockefeller and the CFR might have been excluded from control of the Republican Party, but not from the Republican White House. (Page 22)

The following quote from page 38 of the book is also very revealing:

The Kissinger-Rockefeller relationship was complex and certainly intense. As investigative reporter Jim Hougan wrote: “Kissinger, married to a former Rockefeller aide, owner of a Georgetown mansion whose purchase was enabled only by Rockefeller gifts and loans, was always a protégé of his patron Nelson Rockefeller, even when he wasn’t directly employed by him.”

Professor Scott adds:

Nixon’s and Kissinger’s arrival in the White House in 1969 coincided with David Rockefeller’s becoming CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank. The Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy of detente was highly congruous with Rockefeller’s push to internationalise Chase Manhattan banking operations. Thus in 1973 Chase Manhattan became the first American bank to open an office in Moscow. A few months later, thanks to an invitation arranged by Kissinger, Rockefeller became the first US banker to talk with Chinese Communist leaders in Beijing.

How They Manipulate Public Opinion

In addition to these strategic “think tanks” the elite has set up a chain of research institutes devoted to manipulating public opinion in a manner the elite desires. As pointed out by John Coleman in his eye opening book The Tavistock Institute on Human Relations – Shaping the Moral, Spiritual, Cultural, Political and Economic Decline of the United States of America, it was in 1913 that an institute was established at Wellington House, London for manipulation of public opinion. According to Coleman:

The modern science of mass manipulation was born at Wellington House London, the lusty infant being midwifed by Lord Northcliffe and Lord Rothmere. The British monarchy, Lord Rothschild, and the Rockefellers were responsible for funding the venture… the purpose of those at Wellington House was to effect a change in the opinions of British people who were adamantly opposed to war with Germany, a formidable task that was accomplished by “opinion making” through polling. The staff consisted of Arnold Toynbee, a future director of studies at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA), Lord Northcliffe, and the Americans, Walter Lippmann and Edward Bernays. Lord Northcliffe was related to the Rothschilds through marriage.

Bernays was a nephew of Sigmund Freud, a fact never mentioned, and developed the technique of “engineering consent.” When Sigmund Freud moved to Britain he also, secretly, became associated with this institute through the Tavistock Institute. According to Coleman, Bernays “pioneered the use of psychology and other social sciences to shape and form public opinion so that the public thought such manufactured opinions were their own.”

The Tavistock Institute has a 6 billion dollar fund and 400 subsidiary organisations are under its control along with 3,000 think tanks, mostly in the USA. The Stanford Research Institute, the Hoover Institute, the Aspen Institute of Colorado, and many others, devoted to manipulation of US as well as global public opinion, are Tavistock offshoots. This helps explain why the US public, by and large, is so mesmerised as to be unable to see things clearly and to react.

Bilderberg researcher Daniel Estulin quotes from Mary Scobey’s book To Nurture Humanness a statement attributed to Professor Raymond Houghton, that the CFR has been clear for a very long time that “absolute behaviour control is imminent… without mankind’s self realisation that a crisis is at hand.”

Also keep in mind that currently 80% of US electronic and print media is owned by only six large corporations. This development has taken place in the past two decades. These corporations are elite owned. It is almost impossible for anyone who is acquainted with what is going on at the global level to watch, even for a few minutes, the distortions, lies and fabrications, incessantly pouring out of this media, a propaganda and brainwashing organ of the elite.

Once your picture is clear it is also easy to notice the criminal silence of the media on crimes being perpetrated against humanity at the behest of the elite. How many people know that the cancer rates in Fallujah, Iraq are higher than those in Hiroshima and Nagasaki because of the use of depleted uranium, and maybe other secret nuclear devices, by US forces? Fallujah was punished for its heroic resistance against the American forces.

The Importance of Eurasia

Why is the US in Central Asia? In order to understand this, one has to look at the writings of the stooges of the elite – Brzezinski, Kissinger, Samuel P Huntington, and their likes. It is important to note that members of these elite paid think tanks publish books as part of a strategy to give respectability to subsequent illegal, immoral and predatory actions that are to be taken at the behest of the elite. The views are not necessarily their own – they are the views of the think tanks. These stooges formulate and pronounce policies and plans at the behest of their masters, through bodies like the Council on Foreign Relations, Bilderberg Group, etc.

In his infinitely arrogant book The Grand Chessboard, published in 1997, Brzezinski spelled out the philosophy behind the current US military eruption. He starts by quoting the well-known views of the British geographer Sir Halford J Mackinder (1861–1947), another worker for the elite. Mackinder was a member of the ‘Coefficients Dining Club’ established by members of the Fabian Society in 1902. The continuity of the policies of the elite is indicated by the fact Brzezinski starts from Mackinder’s thesis first propounded in 1904:

“Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland: Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island: who commands the World-Island commands the world.”

Brzezinski argues that for the first time in human history a non-Eurasian power has become preeminent and it must hold sway over the Eurasian continent if it is to remain the preeminent global power: “For America the chief geopolitical prize is Eurasia… About 75 percent of the world’s people live in Eurasia… Eurasia accounts for about 60 percent of the world’s GNP and about three fourths of the world’s known energy resources.”

It is not just the geostrategic location of this region – it is also its wealth, “both in its enterprises and beneath its soil,” that holds such attraction for the elite whose greed for money, and lust for power, remain insatiable, as if there was a sickness afflicting it.

Brzezinski writes:

“But it is on the globe’s most important playing field – Eurasia – that a potential rival to America might at some point arise. This focusing on the key players and properly assessing the terrain has to be a point of departure for the formulation of American geostrategy for the long-term management of America’s Eurasian geopolitical interests.”

These lines were published in 1997. Millions of people have died in the past two decades and millions have been rendered homeless in this region but it remains a “playing” field for Brzezinski and his likes! In his book Brzezinski has drawn two very interesting maps – one of these has the caption The Global Zone of Percolating Violence (page 53) and the other (page 124) is captioned The Eurasian Balkans. The first of these encircles a region which includes the following countries: Sudan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, all Central Asian states, Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of Russia as well as India. The second one has two circles, an inner circle and a wider circle – the outer circle encloses the same countries as in the first map but the inner circle covers Iran, Afghanistan, eastern Turkey and the former Soviet Republics in Central Asia.

“This huge region, torn by volatile hatreds and surrounded by competing powerful neighbours, is likely to be a major battlefield…” writes Brzezinski.

He further writes:

“A possible challenge to American primacy from Islamic fundamentalism could be part of the problem of this unstable region.”

These lines were written at a time when this kind of fundamentalism was not a problem – subsequently the US manipulated things and chose to make it one by its provocative and deceptive tactics. According to its strategic thinkers, the US might face a serious challenge from a coalition of China, Russia and Iran and must do whatever it can to prevent such a coalition from forming.

For Brzezinski, “terrorism” – a Tavistock-type concept – is just a well planned and well thought out strategy, a lie and a deception, to provide cover for a military presence in the Central Eurasian region and elsewhere. It is being used to keep the US public in a state of fear, to keep Russia in a state of insecurity about further breakup (the US has trained and supported Chechen fighters, “terrorists,” throughout) and to justify presence of US troops in and around Central Asia.

The Concocted War on Terrorism

Terrorism provides justification for transforming the United States into a police state. According to the Washington Post of 20 & 21 December 2010, the US now has 4,058 anti-terrorism organisations! These are certainly not meant for those so-called terrorists who operate in Central Asia – the number far exceeds the number of so-called terrorists in the entire world. Unbridled domestic spying by US agencies is now a fact of life and the US public, as always, has accepted this because of the collusion of media and Tavistock type institutes owned by the elite.

The US historian Howard Zinn puts it very well: “The so-called war on terrorism is not only a war against innocent people in other countries, but also a war on the people of the United States: a war on our liberties, a war on our standard of living. The wealth of the country is being stolen from the people and handed over to the superrich. The lives of our young are being stolen. And the thieves are in the White House.” Actually the thieves control the White House and have been doing so for a very long time.

In his outstanding book Crossing the Rubicon, Michael Ruppert points out that much of the violence in the Central Asian region as well as in Pakistan, which has been encircled in two maps in Brzezinski’s book, was “initiated by the US proxies.” “Given that these maps were published a full four years before the first plane hit the World Trade Centre, they would fall in a category of evidence I learned about at LAPD [Los Angeles Police Department]. We called them ‘clues’.” This means that the eruption of US militarism after 9/11, and the event itself, were part of a pre-planned and coherent strategy of global domination in which the people of the US were also “conquered” through totalitarian legislation carried out in the wake of 9/11.

As Brzezinski puts it:

America is too democratic at home to be autocratic abroad. This limits the use of America’s power, especially its capacity for military intimidation. Never before has a popular democracy attained international supremacy. But the pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular passion, except in conditions of a sudden threat or challenge to the public’s sense of domestic well-being… The economic self-denial (that is, defence spending) and the human sacrifice (casualties even among professional soldiers) required in the effort are uncongenial to democratic instincts. Democracy is inimical to imperial mobilisation.

Certainly post 9/11 legislation, the extraordinary expansion of agencies and surveillance of the US public is a cause of great satisfaction for the elite – the US can hardly be called a democracy now. As reported by the Washington Post, the National Security Agency intercepts over 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other communications every day and stores them. No wonder Bush called 9/11 “a great opportunity” and Rumsfeld saw it analogous to World War II to “refashion the world.”

In order to achieve the objectives of the elite, the US destroyed Yugoslavia while Russia stood by mesmerised and impotent, carried out regime changes in Central Asia, set up military bases in East Europe and Central Asia, and staged highly provocative military exercises testing Russia’s and China’s will. It set up a military base in Kyrgyzstan that has a 500 mile or so border with China. When the Chinese protested recent naval exercises with South Korea were too close to Chinese territory, a US spokesman responded: “Those determinations are made by us, and us alone… Where we exercise, when we exercise, with whom and how, with what assets and so forth are determinations that are made by the United States Navy, by the Department of Defence, by the United States government.” As journalist Rick Rozoff notes: “There is no way such confrontational, arrogant and vulgar language was not understood at its proper value in Beijing.”

The US has acquired bases in Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, and the Czech Republic – and set up the largest military base ever built in the region, Camp Bondsteel, in Kosovo. According to a report in the Russian Kommersant newspaper on 3 March 2011, a four-phase plan for deployment of a US missile system in Europe is to be fully implemented by the end of 2020. The US is also busy setting up bilateral military ties in Russia’s backyard with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and is pursuing the goal of a “Greater Central Asia” from Afghanistan right up to the Middle East, a great corridor from where the oil, gas, and great mineral wealth of this region will flow to the coffers of the US elite, at bloody expense to the local people.

As remarked by the Indian career diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar: “The time is not far off before they begin to sense that ‘the war on terror’ is providing a convenient rubric under which the US is incrementally securing for itself a permanent abode in the highlands of Hindu Kush, the Pamirs, Central Asian steppes and the Caucasus that form the strategic hub overlooking Russia, China, India and Iran.” The scene for a great war involving the great powers of the time – US, Russia and China – is now set, by design of the elite. It is just a matter of time.

Time and again the US elite has taken its good people into great wars through documented and proven deceptions – the sinking of the Lusitania during World War I, Pearl Harbour in World War II, and so on. The elite considers us “human garbage” – a term first used by the French in Indo-China. It is also generating a good deal of “human garbage” in the US. A World Bank report points out that in 2005, 28 million Americans were “insecure” – in 2007 the number had risen to 46 million! One in every five Americans is faced with the possibility of becoming “destitute” – 38 million people receive food coupons!

Michael Ruppert laments:

My country is dead. Its people have surrendered to tyranny and in so doing, they have become tyranny’s primary support group; its base; its defender. Every day they offer their endorsement of tyranny by banking in its banks and spending their borrowed money with the corporations that run it. The great Neocon strategy of George H.W. Bush has triumphed. Convince the America people that they can’t live without the ‘good things’, then sit back and watch as they endorse the progressively more outrageous crimes you commit as you throw them bones with ever less meat on them. All the while lock them into debt. Destroy the middle class, the only political base that need be feared. Make them accept, because of their shared guilt, ever-more repressive police state measures. Do whatever you want.

A global economic system erected on inhuman and predatory values, where a few possess more wealth than the billions of hungry put together, will end, but the end will be painful and bloody. It is a system in which the elite thrives on war and widespread human misery, on death and destruction by design. As Einstein said, “I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth – sticks and stones!”

Prof. Mujahid Kamranis Vice Chancellor, University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan, and his book The Grand Deception – Corporate America and Perpetual War has just been published (April 2011) by Sang e Meel Publications, Lahore, Pakistan.

60% Of China’s Water “Too Polluted To Drink”

Zero Hedge
April 24, 2014

Forget bank-runs, the water run has begun in China. Residents of the western city of Lanzhou rushed to buy mineral water earlier this month after local tap water was found to contain excessive levels of the toxic chemical benzene. But that is the tip of what is a massive problem facing the Chinese people. Not only do they suffer choking smog day after day, but, as The Business Times reports, sixty per cent of underground water in China which is officially monitored is too polluted to drink directly, state media have reported, underlining the country’s grave environmental problems.

60% Of Chinas Water Too Polluted To Drink 20140423 water 0

As The Business Times reports,

Sixty per cent of underground water in China which is officially monitored is too polluted to drink directly, state media have reported, underlining the country’s grave environmental problems.

Water quality measured in 203 cities across the country last year rated “very poor” or “relatively poor” in an annual survey released by the Ministry of Land and Resources, the official Xinhua news agency said late Tuesday.

Water rated “relatively” poor quality cannot be used for drinking without prior treatment, while water of “very” poor quality cannot be used as a source of drinking water, the report said.

The proportion of water not suitable for direct drinking rose from 57.4 per cent from 2012, it said.

As we noted previously, The World Bank’s Ismail Serageldin puts it succinctly: “The wars of the 21st century will be fought over water.”

That old axiom that the earth is 75% water… not quite. In reality, water constitutes only 0.07% of the earth by mass, or 0.4% by volume.

This is how much we have, depicted graphically:

60% Of Chinas Water Too Polluted To Drink image1 184 490x504

What this shows is the relative size of our water supply if it were all gathered together into a ball and superimposed on the globe.

The large blob, centered over the western US, is all water (oceans, icecaps, glaciers, lakes, rivers, groundwater, and water in the atmosphere). It’s a sphere about 860 miles in diameter, or roughly the distance from Salt Lake City to Topeka. The smaller sphere, over Kentucky, is the fresh water in the ground and in lakes, rivers, and swamps.

Now examine the image closely. See that last, tiny dot over Georgia? It’s the fresh water in lakes and rivers.

There’s no doubt that this is a looming crisis we cannot avoid. Everyone has an interest in water. How quickly we respond to the challenges ahead is going to be a matter, literally, of life and death. Where we have choices at all, we had better make some good ones.

 

This article was posted: Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 5:28 am

Brazil’s ‘Internet Bill of Rights’ a Victory for Web Freedom

“This is a truly historical day for people power, with Brazil now leading the world in keeping the net neutral.”

– Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff signed into law the first ‘Internet Bill of Rights’ at the NETmundial conference in Sao Paulo on Wednesday. (Photo: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR)A landmark law that guarantees equal access to the nation’s internet and protects the privacy of users was signed by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Wednesday, in a move that is being hailed as a historic step for online freedom worldwide.

The “Civil Law Marco Internet”—dubbed the Internet Bill of Rights by its supporters—was passed unanimously by Brazil’s Senate on Tuesday. Rousseff signed the bill at the launch of the two-day NETmundial conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

“Internet and freedom are wired together forever,” said Michael Freitas Mohallem, Campaign Director at Avaaz, an international organization that collected more than 350,00 signatures in Brazil calling for net neutrality legislation.

“Marco Civil is a bill created, championed, and today delivered into law by the people,” Freitas Mohallem continued. “This is a truly historical day for people power, with Brazil now leading the world in keeping the net neutral.”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, considered the ‘Father of the Internet,’ hailed the law as “a gift to the web on its 25th birthday.” 

Berners-Lee said the law “reflects the Internet as it should be: an open, neutral and decentralized network, in which users are the engine of collaboration and innovation.” He added that by passing the bill, Brazil would “unleash a new era—in which the rights of citizens in all countries are protected by a Digital Rights Charter.”

The Brazilian government fought hard to preserve certain aspects of the law, including a net neutrality provision that was fiercely opposed by telecom companies, according to Reuters, because it bars them from giving preferential treatment to some websites or content providers over others.

Rousseff, whose targetting by the NSA was revealed by documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, has become a strong proponent of internet privacy.

“This is a truly historical day for people power, with Brazil now leading the world in keeping the net neutral.”
—Michael Freitas Mohallem, Campaign Director at Avaaz.org

“The Civil Marco protects the privacy of citizens, both in relation to the government and in relation to companies operating on the Internet,” Rousseff said during the signing.

One provision of the law holds that companies, such as Google and Facebook, will be subject to Brazil’s laws and courts in cases involving information on Brazilians, even if the data is stored on servers abroad. Officials had initially wanted metadata on Brazilian users stored exclusively in Brazil, but that “contentious provision” was removed after companies threatened that would “push up their costs and create barriers to the free flow of information,” Reuters notes.

Further, the law limits the gathering and use of metadata on Internet users in Brazil. Communications are “inviolable,” except by specific court order.

The law also protects freedom of expression and information by establishing clear rules for the removal of content. Service providers will not be liable for content published by users, but they must comply with court orders to remove offensive or libelous material.

Marking the opening day of the NETmundial conference, during which representatives from 80 nations will convene to discuss a proposed set of “Internet Governance Principles,” Rousseff said that Brazil “has much to contribute to the process of building a new Internet governance.” She added that the development of the law was “innovative” because the process “echoed the voices of the streets, networks and institutions.”

Protesters have criticized the international forum as a “farce,” saying the proposed standards lack adequate protections.

On Monday, it was revealed that the United States had submitted a draft of the “Principles” with specific edits in an attempt to strip the document from binding protections of net neutrality.

Secret Plan to Advance Global Internet Censorship. ISPs to Act as “Internet Police”

 
internet1

This is urgent. An Internet censorship plan is being finalized in secret meetings right now. We need all hands on deck at this crucial moment. 

Here’s the situation: President Obama himself is in secretive meetings with key political figures and lobbyists in Asia to lock the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s Internet censorship plan into place.

We know from leaked documents that this secretive plan will censor your use of the Internet and strip away your rights.[1] If finalized, this plan would force ISPs to act as “Internet Police” monitoring our Internet use, censoring content, and removing whole websites.[2]

It will give media conglomerates centralized control over what you can watch and share online.

We urgently need your help to fight back. Add your voice right now and we’ll project a Stop the Secrecy message on key buildings in Washington D.C. to ensure Obama, the media, and everyone else knows this censorship plan must be stopped.

This is huge: covering 40% of the global economy, the TPP is being called a legal “blueprint” for the rest of the world.[3] Once key leaders finalize TPP Internet censorship plans, those plans will be used to globalize censorship. You will be affected and this may be our only chance to stop it.

Our attention-grabbing message will shine a light on their secret plan and will make clear to Washington lobbyists that the Internet community will never accept the TPP’s secrecy or censorship. The more who speak out, the larger our projection will become, and the more people we can reach.

This is a decisive moment: we need to act right now. Join with hundreds of thousands of people all over the world to shine a light on the TPP’s job-killing Internet censorship plan. Let’s send decision-makers and the lobbyists pulling the strings a message they can’t ignore: “Stop the secrecy now.”

Thank you for being a part of history,

After signing the petition, please forward this message to your friends.

– The RootsAction.org team

RootsAction is an independent online force endorsed by Jim Hightower, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Daniel Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Bill Fletcher Jr., Laura Flanders, former U.S. Senator James Abourezk, Coleen Rowley, Frances Fox Piven, and many others.

Footnotes:

[1] WikiLeaks: Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
[2] Electronic Frontier Foundation: TPP Creates Legal Incentives For ISPs To Police The Internet
[3] U.S. “Bullying” TPP Negotiators Amid Failure to Agree

Wall Street Greed and the Corrupt Global Banking Cartel: Too Big to Prosecute? Not for a California Jury

too big to jail

Sixteen of the world’s largest banks have been caught colluding to rig global interest rates.  Why are we doing business with a corrupt global banking cartel?

United States Attorney General Eric Holder has declared that the too-big-to-fail Wall Street banks are too big to prosecute.  But an outraged California jury might have different ideas. As noted in the California legal newspaper The Daily Journal:

California juries are not bashful – they have been known to render massive punitive damages awards that dwarf the award of compensatory (actual) damages. For example, in one securities fraud case jurors awarded $5.7 million in compensatory damages and $165 million in punitive damages. . . . And in a tobacco case with $5.5 million in compensatory damages, the jury awarded $3 billion in punitive damages . . . .

The question, then, is how to get Wall Street banks before a California jury. How about charging them with common law fraud and breach of contract?  That’s what the FDIC just did in its massive 24-count civil suit for damages for LIBOR manipulation, filed in March 2014 against sixteen of the world’s largest banks, including the three largest US banks – JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup.

LIBOR (the London Interbank Offering Rate) is the benchmark rate at which banks themselves can borrow. It is a crucial rate involved in over $400 trillion in derivatives called interest-rate swaps, and it is set by the sixteen private megabanks behind closed doors.

The biggest victims of interest-rate swaps have been local governments, universities, pension funds, and other public entities. The banks have made renegotiating these deals prohibitively expensive, and renegotiation itself is an inadequate remedy. It is the equivalent of the grocer giving you an extra potato when you catch him cheating on the scales. A legal action for fraud is a more fitting and effective remedy. Fraud is grounds both for rescission (calling off the deal) as well as restitution (damages), and in appropriate cases punitive damages.

Trapped in a Fraud

Nationally, municipalities and other large non-profits are thought to have as much as $300 billion in outstanding swap contracts based on LIBOR, deals in which they are trapped due to prohibitive termination fees. According to a 2010 report by the SEIU(Service Employees International Union):

The overall effect is staggering. Banks are estimated to have collected as much as $28 billion in termination fees alone from state and local governments over the past two years. This does not even begin to account for the outsized net payments that state and local governments are now making to the banks. . . .

While the press have reported numerous stories of cities like Detroit, caught with high termination payments, the reality is there are hundreds (maybe even thousands) more cities, counties, utility districts, school districts and state governments with swap agreements [that] are causing cash strapped local and city governments to pay millions of dollars in unneeded fees directly to Wall Street.

All of these entities could have damage claims for fraud, breach of contract and rescission; and that is true whether or not they negotiated directly with one of the LIBOR-rigging banks.

To understand why, it is necessary to understand how swaps work. As explained in my last article here, interest-rate swaps are sold to parties who have taken out loans at variable interest rates, as insurance against rising rates. The most common swap is one where counterparty A (a university, municipal government, etc.) pays a fixed rate to counterparty B (the bank), while receiving from B a floating rate indexed to a reference rate such as LIBOR. If interest rates go up, the municipality gets paid more on the swap contract, offsetting its rising borrowing costs. If interest rates go down, the municipality owes money to the bank on the swap, but that extra charge is offset by the falling interest rate on its variable rate loan. The result is to fix borrowing costs at the lower variable rate.

At least, that is how they are supposed to work. The catch is that the swap is a separate financial agreement – essentially an ongoing bet on interest rates. The borrower owes both the interest onits variable rate loan and what it must pay on its separate swap deal. And the benchmarks for the two rates don’t necessarily track each other. The rate owed on the debt is based on something called the SIFMA municipal bond index.  The rate owed by the bank is based on the privately-fixed LIBOR rate.

As noted by Stephen Gandel on CNNMoney, when the rate-setting banks started manipulating LIBOR, the two rates decoupled, sometimes radically. Public entities wound up paying substantially more than the fixed rate they had bargained for – a failure of consideration constituting breach of contract. Breach of contract is grounds for rescission and damages.

Pain and Suffering in California

The SEIU report noted that no one has yet completely categorized all the outstanding swap deals entered into by local and state governments.  But in a sampling of swaps within California, involving ten cities and counties (San Francisco, Corcoran, Los Angeles, Menlo Park, Oakland, Oxnard, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Riverside, and Sacramento), one community college district, one utility district, one transportation authority, and the state itself, the collective tab was $365 million in swap payments annually, with total termination fees exceeding $1 billion.

Omitted from the sample was the University of California system, which alone is reported to have lost tens of millions of dollars on interest-rate swaps. According to an article in the Orange County Register on February 24, 2014, the swaps now cost the university system an estimated $6 million a year. University accountants estimate that the 10-campus system will lose as much as $136 million over the next 34 years if it remains locked into the deals, losses that would be reduced only if interest rates started to rise. According to the article:

Already officials have been forced to unwind a contract at UC Davis, requiring the university to pay $9 million in termination fees and other costs to several banks. That sum would have covered the tuition and fees of 682 undergraduates for a year.

The university is facing the losses at a time when it is under tremendous financial stress. Administrators have tripled the cost of tuition and fees in the past 10 years, but still can’t cover escalating expenses. Class sizes have increased. Families have been angered by the rising price of attending the university, which has left students in deeper debt.

Peter Taylor, the university’s Chief Financial Officer, defended the swaps, saying he was confident that interest rates would rise in coming years, reversing what the deals have lost. But for that to be true, rates would have to rise by multiples that would drive interest on the soaring federal debt to prohibitive levels, something the Federal Reserve is not likely to allow.

The Revolving Door

The UC’s dilemma is explored in a report titled “Swapping Our Future: How Students and Taxpayers Are Funding Risky UC Borrowing and Wall Street Profits.” The authors, a group called Public Sociologists of Berkeley, say that two factors were responsible for the precipitous decline in interest rates that drove up UC’s relative borrowing costs. One was the move by the Federal Reserve to push interest rates to record lows in order to stabilize the largest banks. The other was the illegal effort by major banks to manipulate LIBOR, which indexes interest rates on most bonds issued by UC.

Why, asked the authors, has UC’s management not tried to renegotiate the deals? They pointed to the revolving door between management and Wall Street. Unlike in earlier years, current and former business and finance executives now play a prominent role on the UC Board of Regents.

They include Chief Financial Officer Taylor, who walked through the revolving door from Lehman Brothers, where he was a top banker in Lehman’s municipal finance business in 2007. That was when the bank sold the university a swap related to debt at UCLA that has now become the source of its biggest swap losses. The university hired Taylor for his $400,000-a-year position in 2009, and he has continued to sign contracts for swaps on its behalf since.

Investigative reporter Peter Byrne notes that the UC regent’s investment committee controls $53 billion in Wall Street investments, and that historically it has been plagued by self-dealing. Byrne writes:

Several very wealthy, politically powerful men are fixtures on the regent’s investment committee, including Richard C. Blum (Wall Streeter, war contractor, and husband of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein), and Paul Wachter (Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s long-time business partner and financial advisor). The probability of conflicts of interest inside this committee—as it moves billions of dollars between public and private companies and investment banks—is enormous.

Blum’s firm Blum Capital is also an adviser to CalPERS, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which also got caught in the LIBOR-rigging scandal. “Once again,” said CalPERS Chief Investment Officer Joseph Dear of the LIBOR-rigging, “the financial services industry demonstrated that it cannot be trusted to make decisions in the long-term interests of investors.” If the financial services industry cannot be trusted, it needs to be replaced with something that can be.

Remedies

The Public Sociologists of Berkeley recommend renegotiation of the onerous interest rate swaps, which could save up to $200 million for the UC system; and evaluation of the university’s legal options concerning the manipulation of LIBOR. As demonstrated in the new FDIC suit, those options include not just renegotiating on better terms but rescission and damages for fraud and breach of contract. These are remedies that could be sought by local governments and public entities across the state and the nation.

The larger question is why our state and local governments continue to do business with a corrupt global banking cartel. There is an alternative. They could set up their own publicly-owned banks, on the model of the state-owned Bank of North Dakota. Fraud could be avoided, profits could be recaptured, and interest could become a much-needed source of public revenue. Credit could become a public utility, dispensed as needed to benefit local residents and local economies.

Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, and a candidate for California State Treasurer running on a state bank platform. She is the author of twelve books, including the best-selling Web of Debt and her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, which explores successful public banking models historically and globally.

US, And Global, Military Spending Summed Up In One Chart

While we previously noted the relative stability (but absolute surge) in US military spending over the past few decades, the scale of what the world’s peace-keeping, red-line enforcing, hypocrisy-packed nation spends in context to the rest of the world…

 

 

 

 

And unless we get some serious military conflict to blame a reflation on, and if U.S. military spending were to revert to its 2000 level over the next five years, as President Obama had proposed, and the rest of the world were to continue spending the same portion of its GDP on the military, U.S. military spending as a share of the global total would decline sharply, to just under 30 percent.

U.S. Military Spending Share of Global Total

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