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    Seven Days in Solitary [9/28/2014]

    Solitary Watch - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 20:38

    The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts.

    • Michael Anthony Kerr, a North Carolina man who had been held in solitary confinement, died of thirst, according to a recently released autopsy. The pathologist wrote that the Department of Corrections released too little information for her to determine whether Mr. Kerr’s death constituted a homicide; however, she did note that at the time he was not receiving any treatment for his schizoaffective disorder.

    • At a Colorado gubernatorial debate, the two candidates addressed a variety of issues, including solitary confinement. Governor John Hickenlooper mentioned his friend, Boulder attorney Jack Ebel, whose son Evan allegedly killed then-prisons chief Tom Clements in 2013 after being released from solitary confinement.  He commented, “my friend would painstakingly describe how he saw his son withering away in front of his eyes.”

    • The Village Voice published a profile of Masai Stewart, a 23-year-old with a long history of mental illness currently incarcerated in the New York State Correctional System. Stewart was sentenced to many months of punitive segregation in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), despite a SHU exclusion law designed to keep those with mental illness out of isolation.

    • Associate Professor Tamar R. Birckhead published an op-ed about a young man who spent more than 300 days in solitary confinement at Rikers. She writes, “Ismael Nazario’s experience is representative of the many thousands of young people who are held in isolation on any given day across the globe. I’ve conducted new research that reveals that approximately 30 percent of the world’s countries either employ the practice or legally condone its use.”

    • Federal prosecutors rebutted arguments that a death row inmate, Gary Lee Sampson, faces cruel and unusual punishment because of the many years he will likely wait before execution. Sampson’s lawyers have also argued that “the conditions of death row confinement are equivalent to solitary confinement, but for years on end. This exacts a toll on those so incarcerated that cannot be understated.”

    • The ACLU filed a motion seeking class action status for an ongoing federal lawsuit against Mississippi’s Department of Corrections, with the aim of “protecting all prisoners at the for-profit East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF)” from allegedly inhumane conditions. In a report, solitary confinement expert Dr. Terry A Kupers wrote, “taken as a whole, the conditions in solitary confinement at EMCF are the worst I have witnessed in my 40 years as a forensic psychiatrist investigating jail and prison conditions.”

    • Writing for Pacific Standard, Jessica Pishko describes a growing movement “to keep architects and designers from working on spaces designed for solitary confinement and execution.”

    Anti-Imperial Feminist Musings in Morocco

    Truthout - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 14:56

    I traveled to Fez and Casablanca, Morocco, earlier this month to dialogue with Islamic Feminists there and to see, feel, and stretch myself to and in Northern Africa. What follows are a few thoughts about the complexity of traveling and being from the United States today while also being committed to building coalitions for peace, especially among feminists. And today means now, this urgent moment after the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

    Nothing I say here is universally true. Some of it may be more momentary than lasting. It would be easy to disagree or pose a differing viewpoint. But, yet, I think it is worthwhile to risk myself to maybe find newly honest dialogue.

    Some of my musings are cryptic and partial, but I share them if they might help us to think about the urgency of now. Though there is nothing new in saying the U.S. is imperial, racist, misogynist, and militarist, we may be in a newer, more vengeful phase of it, with unknown consequences for everyone.

    Both Fez and Casablanca are in part replicas of walled-in cities. The medina bespeaks a life built at the ready for defense against new conquest. Unsettled histories of tribal conquering, militarism, and colonialism defined the early architectures of these cities and much of it remains. The tribal and then colonial past by Portugal and then France still lines the contours of everyday life.Morocco

    While walking in the streets of Fez, I was conscious of being Caucasian and therefore of the West. Most often I was asked if I was Australian. There were no North Americans in easy view for me to see. As from the west, and then "American," I symbolize the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, and in Morocco the wars seem closer and they are. Unsuccessful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and the continuing blood bath in Syria, are on people's minds and bespeak the callousness of war spoils: displacement, refugees, death.

    These countries suffer U.S. imperial projects in ways that we do not at home. There is no daily presence of endless displacement here in the U.S. Food and electricity is available for most, and bombs are not heard or seen. But northern Africa suffers our doings more closely and worries about them more. Some people I spoke with think their king is figuring out ways to avoid an Egypt, while others remain skeptical. Drivers of petite red taxis are at the ready to peg us for a visit to the old synagogue and graveyard. As soon as it known I am from the U.S., it is assumed I am Zionist. The actual "being a Jew" is not the identity here. I wonder whether U.S. Christians get this—which they too represent, the travesty of Zionist politics. This is the new political identification and conflation—that the U.S. and Zionism are one. The Israeli destruction of Gaza exposed this more clearly than ever.

    While chatting, walking, and eating in Fez it seems like such a homosocial society across the genders. There is open hugging and kissing of men with men; women with women. They seem totally affectionate with each other. There is physicality across the identities of sex and gender in public venues. It is not clear how this covers over misogynist privileging of male life or how its sets different contours of it. There are few young women out and about. Men dominate in numbers in public spaces. And the cafes are almost all filled with males. But women are hustling about doing the work they do in every country.

    MoroccoMen dote on their young daughters in public. So many of them are incredibly loving and affectionate, and I wonder when and why and how this changes to set the patriarchal markers that limits women's lives in both public and private spaces. I assume domestic violence exists behind closed doors, just like at home and everywhere. I wonder about the similarities, the universalisms that are specifically written in Casablanca.

    I see more families out and about than in the States. Intergenerational groups fill the streets of Fez on Friday evening near the medina. Many people have cell phones but are speaking on them, instead talking with one another. Restaurant tables are set for groups of six or more; I hardly see a setting for two that is so much more ordinary back home.

    The petite red cabs pick you up for short fares. It does not matter if others are already in the cab. They move over and we share the seat.

    The mint tea became a ritual for Richard, my spouse, and me. We would slow ourselves down and sip it together leisurely and muse and wander. We go to buy some of the tea for friends back home and only see Chinese-made tea. The salesperson laughs and finds us some made in Morocco. But China is all over the economy, as it is here.

    MoroccoI see every kind of dress and panoply of head coverings and scarves for women and just a very few niqabs. As usual, most men are dressed in western garb. All the Muslim fashion and variety of dress seems more freeing than constraining. Most of the women I spoke with see themselves as believing and as feminist. And they see Morocco as engaging in the long slow struggle of progressive change.

    It was surprising to see Richard's white hair as so much of a marker as we walked the streets of Casablanca. Most older Moroccan men, at least in the cities we were in, dye their hair. Richard's head of white hair marked us as different. Maybe my mix of blonde/white/grey also did.

    We walked the cities to get to know them. The streets in Casablanca are rutted and broken even in the rich neighborhoods. Rich and I wondered why these fancy neighborhoods did not have fancier streets. The disrepair reminded me of streets in the Bronx. And we wondered what actually defines/makes a country poor, especially when it has many rich people in it. I am still wondering now that I am back home.

    MoroccoWe are told that you are supposed to bargain in the medina when you are buying something. The vendor will give you a high price, similar to a U.S. price and you push for less. Neither of us wanted to do this. After all, why should the price be less? After seeing the workers with their exposed bodies in the tannery vats filled with chemicals for softening the leather for hats, shoes, and bags, we wanted to buy nothing. I just wanted to give my money away. And I wanted to not be seen as a rich westerner.

    Computers are down at the Casablanca airport for our return creating a slow chaos of meandering lines going nowhere. Then, the entire system crashes. I realize it is very possible we will not leave today. But then the computers are back online and we start to move and our passports are checked and stamped. We leave, late, but we are finally on our way home.

    On the return, our plane was filled with 75 percent Sub-Saharan Africans, 23 percent Moroccans or North Africans, and three whites, including us, from the United States. But at customs, so many of the Black Africans come into the U.S. citizen line. I stood on the line thinking that you can tell nothing or almost nothing by looking at any of us. U.S. citizens come in all colors, but the symbol is still white. And everything depends on what people think they see.

    I am unsettled and wondering in the best way. It is why we travel.

    I carried our U.S. wars around with me in North Africa so I am not sure how much anyone can extrapolate from my feelings about the world just now. But I cannot help but think that feeling the wars up closer is good even if heartbreaking. And it felt important to be a pro-Palestinian feminist from the U.S. in Morocco to open dialogues that are too closed.

    I was and am devastated to return home to the smugness of U.S. superiority and exceptionalism, as Obama promises the world that he will smash ISIS. The streets of Fez and Casablanca felt challenged but vital in the chaos and turmoil of the surrounding world. Coming home, it feels as though we are stifled, too removed from the mess of the world, and simply repeating vengefulness. I offer my snippets of thought as an anti-imperial feminist looking for alternatives to punishing "Others" and instead building coalitions towards a just peace.

    Anti-Imperial Feminist Musings in Morocco

    Truthout - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 14:56

    I traveled to Fez and Casablanca, Morocco, earlier this month to dialogue with Islamic Feminists there and to see, feel, and stretch myself to and in Northern Africa. What follows are a few thoughts about the complexity of traveling and being from the United States today while also being committed to building coalitions for peace, especially among feminists. And today means now, this urgent moment after the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

    Nothing I say here is universally true. Some of it may be more momentary than lasting. It would be easy to disagree or pose a differing viewpoint. But, yet, I think it is worthwhile to risk myself to maybe find newly honest dialogue.

    Some of my musings are cryptic and partial, but I share them if they might help us to think about the urgency of now. Though there is nothing new in saying the U.S. is imperial, racist, misogynist, and militarist, we may be in a newer, more vengeful phase of it, with unknown consequences for everyone.

    Both Fez and Casablanca are in part replicas of walled-in cities. The medina bespeaks a life built at the ready for defense against new conquest. Unsettled histories of tribal conquering, militarism, and colonialism defined the early architectures of these cities and much of it remains. The tribal and then colonial past by Portugal and then France still lines the contours of everyday life.Morocco

    While walking in the streets of Fez, I was conscious of being Caucasian and therefore of the West. Most often I was asked if I was Australian. There were no North Americans in easy view for me to see. As from the west, and then "American," I symbolize the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, and in Morocco the wars seem closer and they are. Unsuccessful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and the continuing blood bath in Syria, are on people's minds and bespeak the callousness of war spoils: displacement, refugees, death.

    These countries suffer U.S. imperial projects in ways that we do not at home. There is no daily presence of endless displacement here in the U.S. Food and electricity is available for most, and bombs are not heard or seen. But northern Africa suffers our doings more closely and worries about them more. Some people I spoke with think their king is figuring out ways to avoid an Egypt, while others remain skeptical. Drivers of petite red taxis are at the ready to peg us for a visit to the old synagogue and graveyard. As soon as it known I am from the U.S., it is assumed I am Zionist. The actual "being a Jew" is not the identity here. I wonder whether U.S. Christians get this—which they too represent, the travesty of Zionist politics. This is the new political identification and conflation—that the U.S. and Zionism are one. The Israeli destruction of Gaza exposed this more clearly than ever.

    While chatting, walking, and eating in Fez it seems like such a homosocial society across the genders. There is open hugging and kissing of men with men; women with women. They seem totally affectionate with each other. There is physicality across the identities of sex and gender in public venues. It is not clear how this covers over misogynist privileging of male life or how its sets different contours of it. There are few young women out and about. Men dominate in numbers in public spaces. And the cafes are almost all filled with males. But women are hustling about doing the work they do in every country.

    MoroccoMen dote on their young daughters in public. So many of them are incredibly loving and affectionate, and I wonder when and why and how this changes to set the patriarchal markers that limits women's lives in both public and private spaces. I assume domestic violence exists behind closed doors, just like at home and everywhere. I wonder about the similarities, the universalisms that are specifically written in Casablanca.

    I see more families out and about than in the States. Intergenerational groups fill the streets of Fez on Friday evening near the medina. Many people have cell phones but are speaking on them, instead talking with one another. Restaurant tables are set for groups of six or more; I hardly see a setting for two that is so much more ordinary back home.

    The petite red cabs pick you up for short fares. It does not matter if others are already in the cab. They move over and we share the seat.

    The mint tea became a ritual for Richard, my spouse, and me. We would slow ourselves down and sip it together leisurely and muse and wander. We go to buy some of the tea for friends back home and only see Chinese-made tea. The salesperson laughs and finds us some made in Morocco. But China is all over the economy, as it is here.

    MoroccoI see every kind of dress and panoply of head coverings and scarves for women and just a very few niqabs. As usual, most men are dressed in western garb. All the Muslim fashion and variety of dress seems more freeing than constraining. Most of the women I spoke with see themselves as believing and as feminist. And they see Morocco as engaging in the long slow struggle of progressive change.

    It was surprising to see Richard's white hair as so much of a marker as we walked the streets of Casablanca. Most older Moroccan men, at least in the cities we were in, dye their hair. Richard's head of white hair marked us as different. Maybe my mix of blonde/white/grey also did.

    We walked the cities to get to know them. The streets in Casablanca are rutted and broken even in the rich neighborhoods. Rich and I wondered why these fancy neighborhoods did not have fancier streets. The disrepair reminded me of streets in the Bronx. And we wondered what actually defines/makes a country poor, especially when it has many rich people in it. I am still wondering now that I am back home.

    MoroccoWe are told that you are supposed to bargain in the medina when you are buying something. The vendor will give you a high price, similar to a U.S. price and you push for less. Neither of us wanted to do this. After all, why should the price be less? After seeing the workers with their exposed bodies in the tannery vats filled with chemicals for softening the leather for hats, shoes, and bags, we wanted to buy nothing. I just wanted to give my money away. And I wanted to not be seen as a rich westerner.

    Computers are down at the Casablanca airport for our return creating a slow chaos of meandering lines going nowhere. Then, the entire system crashes. I realize it is very possible we will not leave today. But then the computers are back online and we start to move and our passports are checked and stamped. We leave, late, but we are finally on our way home.

    On the return, our plane was filled with 75 percent Sub-Saharan Africans, 23 percent Moroccans or North Africans, and three whites, including us, from the United States. But at customs, so many of the Black Africans come into the U.S. citizen line. I stood on the line thinking that you can tell nothing or almost nothing by looking at any of us. U.S. citizens come in all colors, but the symbol is still white. And everything depends on what people think they see.

    I am unsettled and wondering in the best way. It is why we travel.

    I carried our U.S. wars around with me in North Africa so I am not sure how much anyone can extrapolate from my feelings about the world just now. But I cannot help but think that feeling the wars up closer is good even if heartbreaking. And it felt important to be a pro-Palestinian feminist from the U.S. in Morocco to open dialogues that are too closed.

    I was and am devastated to return home to the smugness of U.S. superiority and exceptionalism, as Obama promises the world that he will smash ISIS. The streets of Fez and Casablanca felt challenged but vital in the chaos and turmoil of the surrounding world. Coming home, it feels as though we are stifled, too removed from the mess of the world, and simply repeating vengefulness. I offer my snippets of thought as an anti-imperial feminist looking for alternatives to punishing "Others" and instead building coalitions towards a just peace.

    TRNN Debate: Can Carbon Pricing Bring Down Global Carbon Emissions? (1/2)

    The Real News Network - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 13:09
    After the World Bank and more than a thousand global companies sign on to carbon pricing, Dr. Steffen Boehm of University of Essex and CDP Executive Director Nigel Topping debate its effectiveness in reducing greenhouse gas emissions

    Uruguay's Legalization of Marijuana Makes Sense in a Senseless Drug War

    Truthout - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 12:43

    Conflicts over turf, profit and power in Latin America's drug war have claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, from Tijuana to Montevideo. While Washington wants to keep throwing bullets and prisons at a problem that requires broad-based social, political and economic solutions, various political leaders and grassroots movements in Latin America have argued for the legalization of drugs as one way to stem the drug war's spiraling violence.

    In December of last year, Uruguay became the first country in the world to enable its government to fully legalize and regulate the cultivation, sale, distribution and use of marijuana. This small country's challenge to the orthodox approaches to the drug war may provide some steps out of the labyrinth of one of the region's bloodiest conflicts in recent memory.

    "In no part of the world has repression of drug consumption brought results. It's time to try something different," explained Uruguayan president Jose Mujica in a 2013 speech at the UN General Assembly.

    Unlike the legalization efforts in the US, the new marijuana regulation push in Uruguay came about not from a wave of public demand, but through internal discussions within the Frente Amplio, the political party of the progressive Mujica. Party leaders wanted to take advantage of their majority in both houses of Congress to pass the legislation. The goal was to develop a policy that would weaken drug cartels by taking away a key profit source, and regulate, rather than criminalize marijuana trade and use in the country.

    "This law being attempted is a regulation," Mujica explained in his UN speech. "It's to regulate something that already exists and that's in front of our noses, right there at the door of the schools, on the street corners. It attempts to snatch this market from the underground, identify it and expose it to daylight."

    Within Uruguay's population 3.3 million, 120,000 use marijuana at a minimum of once per year, with roughly 75,000 smoking each week, and 20,000 each day, according to the country's National Drug Council.

    At this point, the legalization would allow people to buy 1.4 ounces (40 grams) each month from government-sanctioned vendors for the equivalent of roughly US$1 per gram. Users must be at least 18 years old and need to be registered in a confidential government database organized to monitor the number of purchases. On the production end, approved growers will be allowed to maintain a maximum of six plants per household, with cultivation limited to roughly 17 ounces (480 grams). Marijuana "clubs" will also be allowed, in which 15-45 growers can come together to grow 99 plants annually.

    Uruguayan government officials working on the program say it is designed to steer people away from the black market by providing high quality marijuana at prices that are the same or lower than the weed provided by unregulated competitors. The extent to which the regulation will help to finance existing social programs is also notable. Funds generated from the state program will support public healthcare and prevention programs, according to Uruguayan government drug policy advisor Agustin Lapetina. The question of whether or not the government will provide subsidies to help offset the cost of marijuana is still being debated.

    Rules surrounding this state controlled market are expected to be heavily enforced; illegal growers and distributors can face serious jail time. The government's plan doesn't allow for marijuana to be sold to foreigners, nor can the state sanctioned weed cross the Uruguayan border.

    Originally planned to be applied this year, the government announced in July that it will delay its marijuana program until 2015 due to "practical difficulties." Mujica told reporters, "If we want to get this right we are going to have to do it slowly. We are not just going to say, 'hands off and let the market take care of it,' because if the market is in charge, it is going to seek to sell the greatest possible amount."

    While this legalization program is a hopeful move in the right direction, in the context of the wider drug war, its sphere of influence is limited. Uruguay doesn't come close to experiencing the same levels of drug war-related conflict as Mexico and Central America, and just as the cartels themselves operate across borders, complicity in the drug war's violence and impunity spans the continent, from mining companies and police officers, to presidents and judges.

    Uruguay's legalization efforts make sense in a senseless drug war. But this sense needs to be extended beyond the country's borders for it to be fully effective.

    Which is why, earlier this year, President Mujica called upon leaders in the US and Europe to follow in Uruguay's footsteps and legalize marijuana. "The industrial societies are the ones that have to change," Mujica told Reuters. "For a small country, it's possible to experiment with this, but it's also very possible for a developed country because of the resources it has ... Until things change there, it will be very difficult to change elsewhere."

    Uruguay's marijuana legalization law should be a wakeup call to political leaders across the hemisphere stop applying the failed policies of the past, and instead address the structural changes that need to happen to end the drug war.

    "Legalizing marijuana, as in Uruguay, is a good step, but it is only a first step," explained Dawn Paley, investigative journalist and author of the forthcoming book Drug War Capitalism. "It is important to keep in mind that the real moneymakers, which fund the paramilitarization of drug production and trafficking, are cocaine and harder narcotics. Until narcotics are legalized or decriminalized on an international scale, violence and mass incarcerations under the pretext of the war on drug will continue."

    Uruguay's Legalization of Marijuana Makes Sense in a Senseless Drug War

    Truthout - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 12:43

    Conflicts over turf, profit and power in Latin America's drug war have claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, from Tijuana to Montevideo. While Washington wants to keep throwing bullets and prisons at a problem that requires broad-based social, political and economic solutions, various political leaders and grassroots movements in Latin America have argued for the legalization of drugs as one way to stem the drug war's spiraling violence.

    In December of last year, Uruguay became the first country in the world to enable its government to fully legalize and regulate the cultivation, sale, distribution and use of marijuana. This small country's challenge to the orthodox approaches to the drug war may provide some steps out of the labyrinth of one of the region's bloodiest conflicts in recent memory.

    "In no part of the world has repression of drug consumption brought results. It's time to try something different," explained Uruguayan president Jose Mujica in a 2013 speech at the UN General Assembly.

    Unlike the legalization efforts in the US, the new marijuana regulation push in Uruguay came about not from a wave of public demand, but through internal discussions within the Frente Amplio, the political party of the progressive Mujica. Party leaders wanted to take advantage of their majority in both houses of Congress to pass the legislation. The goal was to develop a policy that would weaken drug cartels by taking away a key profit source, and regulate, rather than criminalize marijuana trade and use in the country.

    "This law being attempted is a regulation," Mujica explained in his UN speech. "It's to regulate something that already exists and that's in front of our noses, right there at the door of the schools, on the street corners. It attempts to snatch this market from the underground, identify it and expose it to daylight."

    Within Uruguay's population 3.3 million, 120,000 use marijuana at a minimum of once per year, with roughly 75,000 smoking each week, and 20,000 each day, according to the country's National Drug Council.

    At this point, the legalization would allow people to buy 1.4 ounces (40 grams) each month from government-sanctioned vendors for the equivalent of roughly US$1 per gram. Users must be at least 18 years old and need to be registered in a confidential government database organized to monitor the number of purchases. On the production end, approved growers will be allowed to maintain a maximum of six plants per household, with cultivation limited to roughly 17 ounces (480 grams). Marijuana "clubs" will also be allowed, in which 15-45 growers can come together to grow 99 plants annually.

    Uruguayan government officials working on the program say it is designed to steer people away from the black market by providing high quality marijuana at prices that are the same or lower than the weed provided by unregulated competitors. The extent to which the regulation will help to finance existing social programs is also notable. Funds generated from the state program will support public healthcare and prevention programs, according to Uruguayan government drug policy advisor Agustin Lapetina. The question of whether or not the government will provide subsidies to help offset the cost of marijuana is still being debated.

    Rules surrounding this state controlled market are expected to be heavily enforced; illegal growers and distributors can face serious jail time. The government's plan doesn't allow for marijuana to be sold to foreigners, nor can the state sanctioned weed cross the Uruguayan border.

    Originally planned to be applied this year, the government announced in July that it will delay its marijuana program until 2015 due to "practical difficulties." Mujica told reporters, "If we want to get this right we are going to have to do it slowly. We are not just going to say, 'hands off and let the market take care of it,' because if the market is in charge, it is going to seek to sell the greatest possible amount."

    While this legalization program is a hopeful move in the right direction, in the context of the wider drug war, its sphere of influence is limited. Uruguay doesn't come close to experiencing the same levels of drug war-related conflict as Mexico and Central America, and just as the cartels themselves operate across borders, complicity in the drug war's violence and impunity spans the continent, from mining companies and police officers, to presidents and judges.

    Uruguay's legalization efforts make sense in a senseless drug war. But this sense needs to be extended beyond the country's borders for it to be fully effective.

    Which is why, earlier this year, President Mujica called upon leaders in the US and Europe to follow in Uruguay's footsteps and legalize marijuana. "The industrial societies are the ones that have to change," Mujica told Reuters. "For a small country, it's possible to experiment with this, but it's also very possible for a developed country because of the resources it has ... Until things change there, it will be very difficult to change elsewhere."

    Uruguay's marijuana legalization law should be a wakeup call to political leaders across the hemisphere stop applying the failed policies of the past, and instead address the structural changes that need to happen to end the drug war.

    "Legalizing marijuana, as in Uruguay, is a good step, but it is only a first step," explained Dawn Paley, investigative journalist and author of the forthcoming book Drug War Capitalism. "It is important to keep in mind that the real moneymakers, which fund the paramilitarization of drug production and trafficking, are cocaine and harder narcotics. Until narcotics are legalized or decriminalized on an international scale, violence and mass incarcerations under the pretext of the war on drug will continue."

    Truthout Interviews Featuring Paul Armentano on Marijuana, Alcohol and the Law

    Truthout - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 12:37

    Paul Armentano has spent a great deal of time writing about cannabis. In this "Truthout Interviews," he compares the deleterious health consequences between cannabis and alcohol by reviewing the medical research on each and finds that when compared side by side, alcohol is much more harmful to one's health than cannabis. As Armentano points out, it's not that cannabis is an innocuous drug, but rather it does not reach the threshold established by the Drug Enforcement Administration in categorizing controlled substances. Indeed, alcohol and tobacco should qualify as controlled substances for their addictive qualities and propensity for abuse. However, Congress exempted both substances from the drug schedules - most likely due to intense lobbying from the industries that profit from them. As Armentano argues, what is needed (and is happening in many parts of the US) are changes in the laws regarding cannabis that impose harsh penalties on users of a drug that should not be classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

    Truthout Interviews Featuring Paul Armentano on Marijuana, Alcohol and the Law

    Truthout - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 12:37

    Paul Armentano has spent a great deal of time writing about cannabis. In this "Truthout Interviews," he compares the deleterious health consequences between cannabis and alcohol by reviewing the medical research on each and finds that when compared side by side, alcohol is much more harmful to one's health than cannabis. As Armentano points out, it's not that cannabis is an innocuous drug, but rather it does not reach the threshold established by the Drug Enforcement Administration in categorizing controlled substances. Indeed, alcohol and tobacco should qualify as controlled substances for their addictive qualities and propensity for abuse. However, Congress exempted both substances from the drug schedules - most likely due to intense lobbying from the industries that profit from them. As Armentano argues, what is needed (and is happening in many parts of the US) are changes in the laws regarding cannabis that impose harsh penalties on users of a drug that should not be classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

    Pledges Can Work, But It Will Take International Law to Fight Climate Change

    Truthout - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 12:12

    Do we need a climate treaty, or could a simple political deal based on national pledges work just as well?

    Conventional wisdom suggests that the only international climate deal worth having is one that is "legally-binding". In other words, a treaty which binds states to their commitments under international law.

    This wisdom is touted by academics, activists and politicians alike. Even Ban Ki-moon's climate summit this week is working towards a legal deal at the next major climate conference in Paris, 2015.

    Whether simple national pledges could work instead is an important question to ask, since that is exactly where the negotiations are heading.

    A history of climate failure

    The climate negotiations have struggled on for 20 years now, with little to show in terms of actual emissions reductions. A key problem is that the negotiations are seeking a treaty-based outcome. Unfortunately, the world's superpower and second largest emitter — the US — requires a two thirds majority vote in the politically-divided Senate to ratify an international treaty.

    For climate change, this has proven to be impossible, as illustrated by the failure of the US to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

    A recent article in the New York Times highlighted that the Obama administration is attempting to craft a politically-binding "climate accord". That is, a deal that would not be legally-binding and thus, would not require Senate ratification.

    Instead it would be a system whereby countries put forward self-determined carbon reduction targets based on domestic legislation. These pledges would then be regularly reviewed, and hopefully, scaled up over time. The idea has been met with uproar.

    But, is such an approach necessarily a bad idea?

    When politics trumps law

    Legal treaties are also slow and cumbersome affairs. The process of "ratification", which happens after the actual agreement, can take anywhere up to and beyond five years.

    By comparison, political "pledges" offer a number of theoretical advantages. First, because they don't need ratification they can be agreed upon and implemented much more quickly.

    Second, countries are not bound by their targets. So, they are more likely to take on ambitious commitments without any fear of being reprimanded for not meeting them.

    Importantly, the model of pledge and review has had success previously: strong international action to combat and eliminate Tuberculosis (TB) was based on exactly this.

    What the climate fight can learn from tuberculosis

    At the 1991 World Health Assembly of the World Health Organisation (WHO) countries from around the world made a voluntary agreement to eliminate TB.

    The WHO crafted a new plan of reaching a 70% detection rate and 85% cure rate for TB. While these suggestions were heeded, the end agreement decided that the targets for each country was a national decision. No top-down framework or form of international law was imposed.

    While it may have been voluntary, it produced results. A recent WHO report notes that TB rates per capita and annual cases have been falling over the last decade and the mortality rate has declined by 40% since 1990.

    One report argues that what both of these examples have in common, asides from their voluntary nature, was strong monitoring reporting and verification (or "MRV" as it is called in diplomatic speak). It meant that countries knew where they were succeeding or going wrong, and importantly they faced international pressure when they were not doing their fair share.

    Countries care about their reputation; the threat of being an international pariah can be a powerful motivator.

    Our past shows us that political pledges can often be just as good as legal contract, or at times, even better. Yet, every international issue has a distinctive character. Pledges have worked well for TB and some financial and security matters (such as the 1975 Helsinki Accords), but would it be sufficient for addressing climate change?

    Unfortunately, I fear not.

    Climate change needs something stronger

    While Tuberculosis is similar in being a global issue with severe repercussions for human health, climate change is an altogether different kind of beast.

    Tuberculosis had a relatively cost effective and easily implemented treatment, mitigating and adapting to climate change requires deep structural changes to our economy and society. Tuberculosis had a decent degree of political consensus around it, climate change is politically divisive and action runs against many vested interests, particularly the fossil fuel lobby.

    Not to mention that countries such as ourselves and Canada have an unfortunate reputation for backtracking on our climate commitments. Thanks to Abbott and others, trust is now a scarce resource in the climate negotiations.

    With all of this in mind, pledges just might not be adequate. Instead, when we look at the international response to issues with the same scope and depth as climate, they are treaties with strong enforcement.

    The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has had a profound impact and reshaped global trade towards neoliberalism. It has done so by international law, underlined by a dispute settlement mechanism which makes use of trade restrictions.

    The Montreal Protocol is the poster child for international environmental treaties since it quickly and effectively dealt with the problem of global ozone depletion. The ozone problem is the closest mimic we have to global warming, and it took a legal treaty with strong financial and trade-based carrots and sticks to deal with it.

    The past shows us that intentional, transformational change is rarely driven by voluntary or egalitarian ideals. Instead, it is underpinned by mutual material incentives and coercion.

    Pledges are a start, but are not enough

    A pledge and review system will make a difference, and that may very well be the difference between 3 degrees in comparison to 4 or 5 degrees C of warming. And it offers a feasible and quick solution to get the US on board and move forward.

    But existing national pledges are consistent with a 4, or even 6, degrees C rise in temperature. It would be very risky to assume that international pressure would be enough to bridge the gap between pledges currently on the table and what is necessary.

    Pledges would, in essence, be playing roulette with future generations.

    Staying below 2 degrees will require a legal treaty with enforcement. The choice the world now faces is whether to accept a useful, yet likely insufficient, pledge based approach, or find a way of having a climate treaty without US ratification.

    Pledges Can Work, But It Will Take International Law to Fight Climate Change

    Truthout - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 12:12

    Do we need a climate treaty, or could a simple political deal based on national pledges work just as well?

    Conventional wisdom suggests that the only international climate deal worth having is one that is "legally-binding". In other words, a treaty which binds states to their commitments under international law.

    This wisdom is touted by academics, activists and politicians alike. Even Ban Ki-moon's climate summit this week is working towards a legal deal at the next major climate conference in Paris, 2015.

    Whether simple national pledges could work instead is an important question to ask, since that is exactly where the negotiations are heading.

    A history of climate failure

    The climate negotiations have struggled on for 20 years now, with little to show in terms of actual emissions reductions. A key problem is that the negotiations are seeking a treaty-based outcome. Unfortunately, the world's superpower and second largest emitter — the US — requires a two thirds majority vote in the politically-divided Senate to ratify an international treaty.

    For climate change, this has proven to be impossible, as illustrated by the failure of the US to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

    A recent article in the New York Times highlighted that the Obama administration is attempting to craft a politically-binding "climate accord". That is, a deal that would not be legally-binding and thus, would not require Senate ratification.

    Instead it would be a system whereby countries put forward self-determined carbon reduction targets based on domestic legislation. These pledges would then be regularly reviewed, and hopefully, scaled up over time. The idea has been met with uproar.

    But, is such an approach necessarily a bad idea?

    When politics trumps law

    Legal treaties are also slow and cumbersome affairs. The process of "ratification", which happens after the actual agreement, can take anywhere up to and beyond five years.

    By comparison, political "pledges" offer a number of theoretical advantages. First, because they don't need ratification they can be agreed upon and implemented much more quickly.

    Second, countries are not bound by their targets. So, they are more likely to take on ambitious commitments without any fear of being reprimanded for not meeting them.

    Importantly, the model of pledge and review has had success previously: strong international action to combat and eliminate Tuberculosis (TB) was based on exactly this.

    What the climate fight can learn from tuberculosis

    At the 1991 World Health Assembly of the World Health Organisation (WHO) countries from around the world made a voluntary agreement to eliminate TB.

    The WHO crafted a new plan of reaching a 70% detection rate and 85% cure rate for TB. While these suggestions were heeded, the end agreement decided that the targets for each country was a national decision. No top-down framework or form of international law was imposed.

    While it may have been voluntary, it produced results. A recent WHO report notes that TB rates per capita and annual cases have been falling over the last decade and the mortality rate has declined by 40% since 1990.

    One report argues that what both of these examples have in common, asides from their voluntary nature, was strong monitoring reporting and verification (or "MRV" as it is called in diplomatic speak). It meant that countries knew where they were succeeding or going wrong, and importantly they faced international pressure when they were not doing their fair share.

    Countries care about their reputation; the threat of being an international pariah can be a powerful motivator.

    Our past shows us that political pledges can often be just as good as legal contract, or at times, even better. Yet, every international issue has a distinctive character. Pledges have worked well for TB and some financial and security matters (such as the 1975 Helsinki Accords), but would it be sufficient for addressing climate change?

    Unfortunately, I fear not.

    Climate change needs something stronger

    While Tuberculosis is similar in being a global issue with severe repercussions for human health, climate change is an altogether different kind of beast.

    Tuberculosis had a relatively cost effective and easily implemented treatment, mitigating and adapting to climate change requires deep structural changes to our economy and society. Tuberculosis had a decent degree of political consensus around it, climate change is politically divisive and action runs against many vested interests, particularly the fossil fuel lobby.

    Not to mention that countries such as ourselves and Canada have an unfortunate reputation for backtracking on our climate commitments. Thanks to Abbott and others, trust is now a scarce resource in the climate negotiations.

    With all of this in mind, pledges just might not be adequate. Instead, when we look at the international response to issues with the same scope and depth as climate, they are treaties with strong enforcement.

    The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has had a profound impact and reshaped global trade towards neoliberalism. It has done so by international law, underlined by a dispute settlement mechanism which makes use of trade restrictions.

    The Montreal Protocol is the poster child for international environmental treaties since it quickly and effectively dealt with the problem of global ozone depletion. The ozone problem is the closest mimic we have to global warming, and it took a legal treaty with strong financial and trade-based carrots and sticks to deal with it.

    The past shows us that intentional, transformational change is rarely driven by voluntary or egalitarian ideals. Instead, it is underpinned by mutual material incentives and coercion.

    Pledges are a start, but are not enough

    A pledge and review system will make a difference, and that may very well be the difference between 3 degrees in comparison to 4 or 5 degrees C of warming. And it offers a feasible and quick solution to get the US on board and move forward.

    But existing national pledges are consistent with a 4, or even 6, degrees C rise in temperature. It would be very risky to assume that international pressure would be enough to bridge the gap between pledges currently on the table and what is necessary.

    Pledges would, in essence, be playing roulette with future generations.

    Staying below 2 degrees will require a legal treaty with enforcement. The choice the world now faces is whether to accept a useful, yet likely insufficient, pledge based approach, or find a way of having a climate treaty without US ratification.

    Ferguson Police Chief Sparks Fresh Round of Protests

    The Real News Network - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 12:09
    Reverend Osagyefo Sekou talks about the causes of the new rounds of arrests and protests in Ferguson and explains why activists are calling for civil disobedience in October

    It's Time for a Real Debate on Reader Privacy

    Truthout - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 11:45

    Last week longtime local publisher Howard Owens, founder of the online news site the Batavian, launched a new publication covering Wyoming County in upstate New York. Buried in a parenthetical within his welcome message to readers was a fascinating promise: "We'll also respect your privacy by not gathering personal data to distribute to multinational media conglomerates for so-called 'targeted advertising.'"

    This kind of explicit promise regarding reader privacy is increasingly important and all too rare.

    Even though stories about government surveillance, commercial tracking and financial data theft have become commonplace in the press over the last two years, news organizations are still loath to talk about their own practices in regards to reader privacy. It's time for some real talk about what we owe our readers in the age of big data and mass surveillance.

    Just last week this blog published an analysis of news organizations' use of encrypted HTTPS connections. "Virtually none of the top news websites," writes Kevin Gallagher, "including all those who have reported on the Snowden documents — have adopted the most basic of security measures to protect the integrity of their content and the privacy of their readers." Without this encrypted connection it becomes possible to essentially eavesdrop on what people are reading online, as the NSA did with people who visited the Wikileaks website.

    Earlier this year, in a report on the challenges of encrypting news websites, the Washington Post pointed out how much this kind of surveillance can reveal about someone. "Among the issues potentially illuminated by what you choose to read, advocates say, are your health concerns, financial anxieties, sexual orientation and political leanings."

    And yet, the use of encrypted connections on news websites is just one part of a much larger and more complex issue.

    How Much Information Are News Sites Collecting?

    News organizations have long collected subscriber data, but more and more news sites are asking everyone who visits the site to sign in and create an account to access basic functionality like commenting. This means that news organizations are housing more and more of our personal data without clearly communicating how that data is being stored, secured and used. News organization privacy policies are as dense and impenetrable as other companies' terms of service.

    As analytics software develops, news organizations are collecting vast amounts of data, not just about what people read but how they read it – how fast, where they linger on the page, etcetera. There are good reasons for news organizations to measure that kind of engagement, but we should also engage our readers in a conversation about what data we are collecting, why we are collecting it, and how we are protecting personally identifiable information in the process.

    Earlier this year, Kashmir Hill wrote about how the New Yorker had exposed its subscribers' passwords and some credit card info through their subscription management software. Essentially all you needed was the info on their magazine's mailing label to gain access to a person's full New Yorkeraccount. The New Yorker fixed the issue quickly, but the case is emblematic of an industry that is still adapting to new kinds security threats.

    In July, the Wall Street Journal's computers were attacked and a hacker claimed to have possession of personal information for users of WSJ.com. At the time the Journal said there was no evidence that customer data had been affected, and noted that the same hacker had targeted other media organizations like Vice. Last year, computers at the Washington Post, New York Times and Bloomberg News were all infiltrated by Chinese hackers.

    At a time when trust has once again dropped to historic lows, it is in news organizations' best interests to be more transparent about how they collect and protect user data. In an era of data breaches and targeted hacking strong and clear privacy policies that create a safe and secure place to read the news, may become a competitive advantage.

    Advertisers, Surveillance and Journalism

    As an industry we need to come to address our increasing reliance on advertising tools that collect massive amounts of data about people who visit our sites. How much do we disclose about these third party programs to our readers, and what is our responsibility when those tools are used against them?

    For example, last December the Washington Post revealed that the NSA had piggybacked on one of Google's cookies to track users and "pinpoint targets for hacking." This Google cookie is present not just on Google's websites but also anywhere a Google service or widget is embedded, including on many news organization websites. "This shows a link between the sort of tracking that's done by Web sites for analytics and advertising and NSA exploitation activities," Ed Felten, a computer scientist at Princeton University told the Washington Post.

    I installed the browser plug-in Ghostery, which tells you what trackers are active on the sites you visit, and went for a short tour of some news websites. Of the sites I visited, the Wall Street Journal topped the charts at 62 trackers. The Atlantic had 41. Forbes clocked in at 28. The New York Timeshad 26. Vox had 23. The Huffington Post had 19. The San Francisco Chroniclehad 17. Yahoo News had 10.

    It should be noted, that not all of these trackers were from ads on the site. As noted in the Google example above, all kinds of services track users. In June, Jason Kint, the CEO Digital Content Next, an online publishers association, wrote "Facebook dropped a bomb on the industry with the announcement it will target ads based on the browsing histories of its users... Every page you visit with the 'Like' button sends data back to Facebook regardless of whether you 'like' it or not."

    The advertising industry has argued that this tracking software is essential for to maintain and expand ad revenue by presenting readers with more personal and relevant ads. Given the financial challenges many news organizations have faced in the last five years, it is unlikely that we'll see news organizations abandon targeted ads wholesale.

    "Once we've assumed that advertising is the default model to support the Internet, the next step is obvious: We need more data so we can make our targeted ads appear to be more effective," writes Ethan Zuckerman in theAtlantic. "So we build businesses that promise investors that advertising will be more invasive, ubiquitous, and targeted and that we will collect more data about our users and their behavior." Zuckerman calls advertising the original sin of the Internet.

    But at least the original original sin brought with it new knowledge. In contrast, much of how online ads work, and the surveillance they enable, remains hidden from view. For Zuckerman, the best solution is to pay for the services we use and "abandon those that are free, but sell us — the users and our attention — as the product." I think that is likely part of the answer, but when it comes to access to news and information I don't think people should have to pay for privacy.

    In his response to Zuckerman, journalism professor Jeff Jarvis acknowledges that the system as currently structured is broken, but argues that we shouldn't give up on advertising. News organizations, writes Jarvis, need to restructure their business model as a service to readers and community, built on the pillars of transparency, accountability and user-control. I'd take this idea a step further and argue that we need journalists to actually advocate for reader's privacy (just as we need the public to advocate for press freedom and journalist's rights).

    It's Time For Newsrooms to Lead

    Journalism has long claimed to serve the public interest. In the digital age, part of that service should be standing up for its users and pushing the ad industry strike a better balance between privacy and tracking. We don't have to abandon advertising but as journalists and news organizations we should be forceful advocates for better advertising systems that give people more control over how their data is used.

    News organizations could also help educate readers by more actively informing people of how the ads on their site function and what steps users can take to protect themselves. See for example how sites in the UK have had to adapt since a law there prohibited tracking without consent. This kind of active digital literacy, explicitly notifying and educating users, goes beyond passive transparency (i.e. posting a notice in your privacy policy).

    Some in media, however, are going the opposite direction. Yahoo (Yahoo News is regularly ranked the most news website by traffic numbers) for example, recently announced it would no longer honor people's use of "Do Not Track" – a privacy tool built into browsers. Over at Search Engine Land they explain:

    "The Do Not Track browser setting (also referred to as Tracking Preference Expression) allows users to send a signal to websites that they don't want to be tracked or have their information passed along to entities like analytics and advertising networks with a header request. However, websites and advertisers can choose to ignore Do Not Track requests without penalty."

    I have written before, tools like Do Not Track are useful but limited. This past July, ProPublica and Mashable reported on a new tracking device that is nearly impossible to be blocked. According to the report, this new, "extremely persistent" online tracking technology (called canvass fingerprinting) was found on "thousands of top websites, from WhiteHouse.gov to YouPorn.com." The source of this canvass fingerprinting was AddThis, a social sharing widget used by many news and media sites. AddThis lists ABCNews, DailyMotion, The Today Show and financial website The Motley Fool as clients (as well as 14 million other websites).

    As part of its report, ProPublica let users see how "your browser generates a unique fingerprint image," offered a sidebar with six tips for how to try to block fingerprint collection, and it provided a link to other tools readers can use to protect themselves. Finally, ProPublica's privacy policy highlights its commitment to user privacy and security in clear and easy to understand language. Similarly, when the Intercept launched earlier this year staff there went into great detail about the steps they had taken to invest in secure tools and protections for their readers as well as their journalists.

    I'd like to see more new sites educate and advocate around these issues. But as a starting place the industry has to at least acknowledge their own role in this debate over privacy and security in a digital age. The Society for Professional Journalists just revised their code of ethics. The Online News Association has launched a DIY code of ethics project. And Poynter is investigating the intersection of algorithms and ethics.

    We should also consider these questions about data collection and reader privacy in the context of journalism ethics.

    Since the revelations brought about by Edward Snowden's leak of NSA documents there has been renewed attention and debate about journalist's security and their ability to protect sensitive reporting materials and sources. Those press freedom issues are critical, as governments around the world crack down on leakers and threaten journalists.

    However, our readers and communities are also stakeholders in this debate, and they have largely been left out of the debate. It's time for that to change.

    It's Time for a Real Debate on Reader Privacy

    Truthout - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 11:45

    Last week longtime local publisher Howard Owens, founder of the online news site the Batavian, launched a new publication covering Wyoming County in upstate New York. Buried in a parenthetical within his welcome message to readers was a fascinating promise: "We'll also respect your privacy by not gathering personal data to distribute to multinational media conglomerates for so-called 'targeted advertising.'"

    This kind of explicit promise regarding reader privacy is increasingly important and all too rare.

    Even though stories about government surveillance, commercial tracking and financial data theft have become commonplace in the press over the last two years, news organizations are still loath to talk about their own practices in regards to reader privacy. It's time for some real talk about what we owe our readers in the age of big data and mass surveillance.

    Just last week this blog published an analysis of news organizations' use of encrypted HTTPS connections. "Virtually none of the top news websites," writes Kevin Gallagher, "including all those who have reported on the Snowden documents — have adopted the most basic of security measures to protect the integrity of their content and the privacy of their readers." Without this encrypted connection it becomes possible to essentially eavesdrop on what people are reading online, as the NSA did with people who visited the Wikileaks website.

    Earlier this year, in a report on the challenges of encrypting news websites, the Washington Post pointed out how much this kind of surveillance can reveal about someone. "Among the issues potentially illuminated by what you choose to read, advocates say, are your health concerns, financial anxieties, sexual orientation and political leanings."

    And yet, the use of encrypted connections on news websites is just one part of a much larger and more complex issue.

    How Much Information Are News Sites Collecting?

    News organizations have long collected subscriber data, but more and more news sites are asking everyone who visits the site to sign in and create an account to access basic functionality like commenting. This means that news organizations are housing more and more of our personal data without clearly communicating how that data is being stored, secured and used. News organization privacy policies are as dense and impenetrable as other companies' terms of service.

    As analytics software develops, news organizations are collecting vast amounts of data, not just about what people read but how they read it – how fast, where they linger on the page, etcetera. There are good reasons for news organizations to measure that kind of engagement, but we should also engage our readers in a conversation about what data we are collecting, why we are collecting it, and how we are protecting personally identifiable information in the process.

    Earlier this year, Kashmir Hill wrote about how the New Yorker had exposed its subscribers' passwords and some credit card info through their subscription management software. Essentially all you needed was the info on their magazine's mailing label to gain access to a person's full New Yorkeraccount. The New Yorker fixed the issue quickly, but the case is emblematic of an industry that is still adapting to new kinds security threats.

    In July, the Wall Street Journal's computers were attacked and a hacker claimed to have possession of personal information for users of WSJ.com. At the time the Journal said there was no evidence that customer data had been affected, and noted that the same hacker had targeted other media organizations like Vice. Last year, computers at the Washington Post, New York Times and Bloomberg News were all infiltrated by Chinese hackers.

    At a time when trust has once again dropped to historic lows, it is in news organizations' best interests to be more transparent about how they collect and protect user data. In an era of data breaches and targeted hacking strong and clear privacy policies that create a safe and secure place to read the news, may become a competitive advantage.

    Advertisers, Surveillance and Journalism

    As an industry we need to come to address our increasing reliance on advertising tools that collect massive amounts of data about people who visit our sites. How much do we disclose about these third party programs to our readers, and what is our responsibility when those tools are used against them?

    For example, last December the Washington Post revealed that the NSA had piggybacked on one of Google's cookies to track users and "pinpoint targets for hacking." This Google cookie is present not just on Google's websites but also anywhere a Google service or widget is embedded, including on many news organization websites. "This shows a link between the sort of tracking that's done by Web sites for analytics and advertising and NSA exploitation activities," Ed Felten, a computer scientist at Princeton University told the Washington Post.

    I installed the browser plug-in Ghostery, which tells you what trackers are active on the sites you visit, and went for a short tour of some news websites. Of the sites I visited, the Wall Street Journal topped the charts at 62 trackers. The Atlantic had 41. Forbes clocked in at 28. The New York Timeshad 26. Vox had 23. The Huffington Post had 19. The San Francisco Chroniclehad 17. Yahoo News had 10.

    It should be noted, that not all of these trackers were from ads on the site. As noted in the Google example above, all kinds of services track users. In June, Jason Kint, the CEO Digital Content Next, an online publishers association, wrote "Facebook dropped a bomb on the industry with the announcement it will target ads based on the browsing histories of its users... Every page you visit with the 'Like' button sends data back to Facebook regardless of whether you 'like' it or not."

    The advertising industry has argued that this tracking software is essential for to maintain and expand ad revenue by presenting readers with more personal and relevant ads. Given the financial challenges many news organizations have faced in the last five years, it is unlikely that we'll see news organizations abandon targeted ads wholesale.

    "Once we've assumed that advertising is the default model to support the Internet, the next step is obvious: We need more data so we can make our targeted ads appear to be more effective," writes Ethan Zuckerman in theAtlantic. "So we build businesses that promise investors that advertising will be more invasive, ubiquitous, and targeted and that we will collect more data about our users and their behavior." Zuckerman calls advertising the original sin of the Internet.

    But at least the original original sin brought with it new knowledge. In contrast, much of how online ads work, and the surveillance they enable, remains hidden from view. For Zuckerman, the best solution is to pay for the services we use and "abandon those that are free, but sell us — the users and our attention — as the product." I think that is likely part of the answer, but when it comes to access to news and information I don't think people should have to pay for privacy.

    In his response to Zuckerman, journalism professor Jeff Jarvis acknowledges that the system as currently structured is broken, but argues that we shouldn't give up on advertising. News organizations, writes Jarvis, need to restructure their business model as a service to readers and community, built on the pillars of transparency, accountability and user-control. I'd take this idea a step further and argue that we need journalists to actually advocate for reader's privacy (just as we need the public to advocate for press freedom and journalist's rights).

    It's Time For Newsrooms to Lead

    Journalism has long claimed to serve the public interest. In the digital age, part of that service should be standing up for its users and pushing the ad industry strike a better balance between privacy and tracking. We don't have to abandon advertising but as journalists and news organizations we should be forceful advocates for better advertising systems that give people more control over how their data is used.

    News organizations could also help educate readers by more actively informing people of how the ads on their site function and what steps users can take to protect themselves. See for example how sites in the UK have had to adapt since a law there prohibited tracking without consent. This kind of active digital literacy, explicitly notifying and educating users, goes beyond passive transparency (i.e. posting a notice in your privacy policy).

    Some in media, however, are going the opposite direction. Yahoo (Yahoo News is regularly ranked the most news website by traffic numbers) for example, recently announced it would no longer honor people's use of "Do Not Track" – a privacy tool built into browsers. Over at Search Engine Land they explain:

    "The Do Not Track browser setting (also referred to as Tracking Preference Expression) allows users to send a signal to websites that they don't want to be tracked or have their information passed along to entities like analytics and advertising networks with a header request. However, websites and advertisers can choose to ignore Do Not Track requests without penalty."

    I have written before, tools like Do Not Track are useful but limited. This past July, ProPublica and Mashable reported on a new tracking device that is nearly impossible to be blocked. According to the report, this new, "extremely persistent" online tracking technology (called canvass fingerprinting) was found on "thousands of top websites, from WhiteHouse.gov to YouPorn.com." The source of this canvass fingerprinting was AddThis, a social sharing widget used by many news and media sites. AddThis lists ABCNews, DailyMotion, The Today Show and financial website The Motley Fool as clients (as well as 14 million other websites).

    As part of its report, ProPublica let users see how "your browser generates a unique fingerprint image," offered a sidebar with six tips for how to try to block fingerprint collection, and it provided a link to other tools readers can use to protect themselves. Finally, ProPublica's privacy policy highlights its commitment to user privacy and security in clear and easy to understand language. Similarly, when the Intercept launched earlier this year staff there went into great detail about the steps they had taken to invest in secure tools and protections for their readers as well as their journalists.

    I'd like to see more new sites educate and advocate around these issues. But as a starting place the industry has to at least acknowledge their own role in this debate over privacy and security in a digital age. The Society for Professional Journalists just revised their code of ethics. The Online News Association has launched a DIY code of ethics project. And Poynter is investigating the intersection of algorithms and ethics.

    We should also consider these questions about data collection and reader privacy in the context of journalism ethics.

    Since the revelations brought about by Edward Snowden's leak of NSA documents there has been renewed attention and debate about journalist's security and their ability to protect sensitive reporting materials and sources. Those press freedom issues are critical, as governments around the world crack down on leakers and threaten journalists.

    However, our readers and communities are also stakeholders in this debate, and they have largely been left out of the debate. It's time for that to change.

    Africa Pays the Price of Low Harvests Thanks to Costly Fertilisers

    Truthout - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 11:27

    Chmoio, Mozambique - Eherculano Thomas Rice, is pleased to have harvested 40 bags of white maize from his eight-hectare field in Chimoio, in Mozambique's Manica Province. But he knows that his productivity and yield would be higher if he had been able to afford to buy fertiliser to add to his crop.

    Rice grows cowpea to boost soil fertility in his field and improve his productivity, only buying fertiliser when he can afford it.

    According to local NGO Farm Inputs Promotions Africa (FIPS), which works with about 38,000 farmers in five districts in Manica Province, a 50kg bag of fertiliser costs about 33 dollars. And a farmer will need three bags per hectare of land.

    Africa is paying the price of low productivity because of limited use of commercial fertilisers by smallholder farmers who produce the bulk of the continent's food.

    "For now I intercrop my maize with pigeon pea, to increase soil fertility and it works. But fertiliser could boost my productivity," Rice tells IPS, during a walk around his farm as he points to the mature pigeon pea plants.

    "Farmers need awareness on how fertiliser can improve their production for them so that they can save and buy it easily. Farmers are discouraged by having to travel long distances to buy inputs, often a high cost."

    Low fertiliser use by smallholder farmers like Rice is a common narrative in sub-Saharan Africa — a continent which currently uses about eight kg/ha of fertiliser. It is a figure that pales against the global average of 93kg/ha and 100-200kg/ha in Asia, according to the Montpelier Panel's 2013 report, Sustainable Intensification: A New Paradigm for African Agriculture.

    Rice, who was trained by FIPS as a village inputs promotion agent, runs demonstration plots teaching farmers how to use improved inputs. Farmers are given input kits of improved seed and fertilisers as an incentive for them to buy them themselves.

    Agriculture currently contributes about 25 percent of Mozambique's GDP and a 2004 Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development evaluation report indicates that improved seeds, fertilisers and pesticides are capable of raising productivity by up to 576 percent.

    Charles Ogang, the president of the Uganda National Farmers Federation, tells IPS via email that food security in Africa is compromised because farmers are not using enough agricultural inputs, in particular fertilisers.

    "There are many reasons why farmers in Africa are still hardly making a living of agriculture. One of them is the lack of access to key tools and knowledge," Ogang says.

    "Fertilisers are often not even available for purchase for farmers who live remotely. I believe that the lack of rural infrastructure, storage and blending facilities, the lack of credit and limited knowledge of farmers of how to use fertilisers are the key constraints for an increased use."

    According to the First Resolution of the Abuja Declaration on fertiliser, African governments have to increase fertiliser use from the average of eight kg of nutrients per hectare to 50 kg of nutrients per hectare by 2015.

    "Although no country in sub-Saharan Africa has achieved this target, there are some signs of improvement in the implementation of the Abuja Declaration on Fertiliser by the countries and Regional Economic Communities since June 2006," says Richard Mkandawire, vice president of the African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP). He says that Malawi has increased its fertiliser use from an average of 10kg/ha in the 90s, to a current 33kg/ha, and shows the commitment of countries to reach the target of 50kg/ha.

    Mkandawire tells IPS that the partnership is undertaking technical research to advance appropriate soil management practices, including the facilitation of soil mapping. It is also testing soil to ensure that smallholder farmers are able to access fertiliser blends that are suitable for their land.

    Mkandawire acknowledges that there is no silver bullet to lowering the cost of fertiliser for smallholder farmers. But he says AFAP has employed several types of financial mechanisms to help lower the cost. The mechanisms include facilitating guarantees to fertiliser distributors for retailer credit, financing assistance to importers or blenders to improve facilities, training, financial and technical assistance to warehouses at ports.

    In August, AFAP in collaboration with the International Fertiliser Industry Association (IFA) launched a multi-media campaign in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to push African governments to invest in agriculture productivity.

    According to the campaign, African governments should ensure farmers have access to adequate and improved inputs especially fertiliser for agriculture transformation and economic development.

    In June, African heads of state committed themselves to use agriculture growth to double food productivity, halve poverty and eliminate child under nutrition by 2025 when they came up with the Malabo Declaration following a meeting in Equatorial Guinea.

    Charlotte Hebebrand, IFA director general, says Africa's fertiliser demand is less than three percent of the global market. The continent's production continues to be low and a significant share of the local production is exported as raw materials.

    "Our estimates are that demand will increase over the course of the next three to five years in countries that are stable politically, committed to allocate at least 10 percent of their budget to agriculture, and those that have established sound fertiliser subsidy schemes," Hebebrand tells IPS.

    "Equipped with the right inputs and the knowledge to use these inputs, yields can increase tremendously. For every one kilogram of nutrient applied, farmers obtain five to 30 kg of additional product."

    Poor supply chains for fertilisers where farmers often have to travel long distances to buy a bag of fertiliser, are a primary cause of low fertiliser use in Africa. Poor farming practises are also worsening soil health in Africa.

    An analysis of soil health in Africa by the Nairobi-based Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) shows that croplands across sub-Saharan Africa lose 30 to 80 kgs per hectare of essential plant nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen annually as a result of unsustainable farming practices, which the report warns will "kill Africa's hopes for a food-secure future."

    AGRA's Soil Health Programme is working on solving the problem by supporting an extensive network of partnerships in 13 countries in which three million farmers have been trained in using organic matter, applying small amounts of mineral fertilisers, and planting legume crops like cowpea, soybean and pigeon pea.

    Africa Pays the Price of Low Harvests Thanks to Costly Fertilisers

    Truthout - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 11:27

    Chmoio, Mozambique - Eherculano Thomas Rice, is pleased to have harvested 40 bags of white maize from his eight-hectare field in Chimoio, in Mozambique's Manica Province. But he knows that his productivity and yield would be higher if he had been able to afford to buy fertiliser to add to his crop.

    Rice grows cowpea to boost soil fertility in his field and improve his productivity, only buying fertiliser when he can afford it.

    According to local NGO Farm Inputs Promotions Africa (FIPS), which works with about 38,000 farmers in five districts in Manica Province, a 50kg bag of fertiliser costs about 33 dollars. And a farmer will need three bags per hectare of land.

    Africa is paying the price of low productivity because of limited use of commercial fertilisers by smallholder farmers who produce the bulk of the continent's food.

    "For now I intercrop my maize with pigeon pea, to increase soil fertility and it works. But fertiliser could boost my productivity," Rice tells IPS, during a walk around his farm as he points to the mature pigeon pea plants.

    "Farmers need awareness on how fertiliser can improve their production for them so that they can save and buy it easily. Farmers are discouraged by having to travel long distances to buy inputs, often a high cost."

    Low fertiliser use by smallholder farmers like Rice is a common narrative in sub-Saharan Africa — a continent which currently uses about eight kg/ha of fertiliser. It is a figure that pales against the global average of 93kg/ha and 100-200kg/ha in Asia, according to the Montpelier Panel's 2013 report, Sustainable Intensification: A New Paradigm for African Agriculture.

    Rice, who was trained by FIPS as a village inputs promotion agent, runs demonstration plots teaching farmers how to use improved inputs. Farmers are given input kits of improved seed and fertilisers as an incentive for them to buy them themselves.

    Agriculture currently contributes about 25 percent of Mozambique's GDP and a 2004 Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development evaluation report indicates that improved seeds, fertilisers and pesticides are capable of raising productivity by up to 576 percent.

    Charles Ogang, the president of the Uganda National Farmers Federation, tells IPS via email that food security in Africa is compromised because farmers are not using enough agricultural inputs, in particular fertilisers.

    "There are many reasons why farmers in Africa are still hardly making a living of agriculture. One of them is the lack of access to key tools and knowledge," Ogang says.

    "Fertilisers are often not even available for purchase for farmers who live remotely. I believe that the lack of rural infrastructure, storage and blending facilities, the lack of credit and limited knowledge of farmers of how to use fertilisers are the key constraints for an increased use."

    According to the First Resolution of the Abuja Declaration on fertiliser, African governments have to increase fertiliser use from the average of eight kg of nutrients per hectare to 50 kg of nutrients per hectare by 2015.

    "Although no country in sub-Saharan Africa has achieved this target, there are some signs of improvement in the implementation of the Abuja Declaration on Fertiliser by the countries and Regional Economic Communities since June 2006," says Richard Mkandawire, vice president of the African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP). He says that Malawi has increased its fertiliser use from an average of 10kg/ha in the 90s, to a current 33kg/ha, and shows the commitment of countries to reach the target of 50kg/ha.

    Mkandawire tells IPS that the partnership is undertaking technical research to advance appropriate soil management practices, including the facilitation of soil mapping. It is also testing soil to ensure that smallholder farmers are able to access fertiliser blends that are suitable for their land.

    Mkandawire acknowledges that there is no silver bullet to lowering the cost of fertiliser for smallholder farmers. But he says AFAP has employed several types of financial mechanisms to help lower the cost. The mechanisms include facilitating guarantees to fertiliser distributors for retailer credit, financing assistance to importers or blenders to improve facilities, training, financial and technical assistance to warehouses at ports.

    In August, AFAP in collaboration with the International Fertiliser Industry Association (IFA) launched a multi-media campaign in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to push African governments to invest in agriculture productivity.

    According to the campaign, African governments should ensure farmers have access to adequate and improved inputs especially fertiliser for agriculture transformation and economic development.

    In June, African heads of state committed themselves to use agriculture growth to double food productivity, halve poverty and eliminate child under nutrition by 2025 when they came up with the Malabo Declaration following a meeting in Equatorial Guinea.

    Charlotte Hebebrand, IFA director general, says Africa's fertiliser demand is less than three percent of the global market. The continent's production continues to be low and a significant share of the local production is exported as raw materials.

    "Our estimates are that demand will increase over the course of the next three to five years in countries that are stable politically, committed to allocate at least 10 percent of their budget to agriculture, and those that have established sound fertiliser subsidy schemes," Hebebrand tells IPS.

    "Equipped with the right inputs and the knowledge to use these inputs, yields can increase tremendously. For every one kilogram of nutrient applied, farmers obtain five to 30 kg of additional product."

    Poor supply chains for fertilisers where farmers often have to travel long distances to buy a bag of fertiliser, are a primary cause of low fertiliser use in Africa. Poor farming practises are also worsening soil health in Africa.

    An analysis of soil health in Africa by the Nairobi-based Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) shows that croplands across sub-Saharan Africa lose 30 to 80 kgs per hectare of essential plant nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen annually as a result of unsustainable farming practices, which the report warns will "kill Africa's hopes for a food-secure future."

    AGRA's Soil Health Programme is working on solving the problem by supporting an extensive network of partnerships in 13 countries in which three million farmers have been trained in using organic matter, applying small amounts of mineral fertilisers, and planting legume crops like cowpea, soybean and pigeon pea.

    The Fake Terror Threat Used To Justify Bombing Syria

    The Intercept - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 11:11

    As the Obama Administration prepared to bomb Syria without congressional or U.N. authorization, it faced two problems. The first was the difficulty of sustaining public support for a new years-long war against ISIS, a group that clearly posed no imminent threat to the “homeland.” A second was the lack of legal justification for launching a new bombing campaign with no viable claim of self-defense or U.N. approval.

    The solution to both problems was found in the wholesale concoction of a brand new terror threat that was branded “The Khorasan Group.” After spending weeks depicting ISIS as an unprecedented threat — too radical even for Al Qaeda! — administration officials suddenly began spoon-feeding their favorite media organizations and national security journalists tales of a secret group that was even scarier and more threatening than ISIS, one that posed a direct and immediate threat to the American Homeland. Seemingly out of nowhere, a new terror group was created in media lore.

    The unveiling of this new group was performed in a September 13 article by the Associated Press, who cited unnamed U.S. officials to warn of this new shadowy, worse-than-ISIS terror group:

    While the Islamic State group [ISIS] is getting the most attention now, another band of extremists in Syria — a mix of hardened jihadis from Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Europe — poses a more direct and imminent threat to the United States, working with Yemeni bomb-makers to target U.S. aviation, American officials say.

    At the center is a cell known as the Khorasan group, a cadre of veteran al-Qaida fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan who traveled to Syria to link up with the al-Qaida affiliate there, the Nusra Front.

    But the Khorasan militants did not go to Syria principally to fight the government of President Bashar Assad, U.S. officials say. Instead, they were sent by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to recruit Europeans and Americans whose passports allow them to board a U.S.-bound airliner with less scrutiny from security officials.

    AP warned Americans that “the fear is that the Khorasan militants will provide these sophisticated explosives to their Western recruits who could sneak them onto U.S.-bound flights.” It explained that although ISIS has received most of the attention, the Khorasan Group “is considered the more immediate threat.”

    The genesis of the name was itself scary: “Khorasan refers to a province under the Islamic caliphate, or religious empire, of old that included parts of Afghanistan.” AP depicted the U.S. officials who were feeding them the narrative as engaging in some sort of act of brave, unauthorized truth-telling: “Many U.S. officials interviewed for this story would not be quoted by name talking about what they said was highly classified intelligence.”

    On the morning of September 18, CBS News broadcast a segment that is as pure war propaganda as it gets: directly linking the soon-to-arrive U.S. bombing campaign in Syria to the need to protect Americans from being exploded in civilian jets by Khorasan. With ominous voice tones, the host narrated:

    This morning we are learning of a new and growing terror threat coming out of Syria. It’s an Al Qaeda cell you probably never heard of. Nearly everything about them is classified. Bob Orr is in Washington with new information on a group some consider more  dangerous than ISIS.

    Orr then announced that while ISIS is “dominating headlines and terrorist propaganda,” Orr’s “sources” warn of “a more immediate threat to the U.S. Homeland.” As Orr spoke, CBS flashed alternating video showing scary Muslims in Syria and innocent westerners waiting in line at airports, as he intoned that U.S. officials have ordered “enhanced screening” for “hidden explosives.” This is all coming, Orr explained, from  ”an emerging threat in Syria” where “hardened terrorists” are building “hard to detect bombs.”


    The U.S. government, Orr explained, is trying to keep this all a secret; they won’t even mention the group’s name in public out of security concerns! But Orr was there to reveal the truth, as his “sources confirm the Al Qaeda cell goes by the name Khorasan.” And they’re “developing fresh plots to attack U.S. aviation.”

    Later that day, Obama administration officials began publicly touting the group, when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned starkly: “In terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.” Then followed an avalanche of uncritical media reports detailing this Supreme Threat, excitingly citing anonymous officials as though they had uncovered a big secret the government was trying to conceal.

    On September 20, The New York Times devoted a long article to strongly hyping the Khorasan Group. Headlined “U.S. Suspects More Direct Threats Beyond ISIS,” the article began by announcing that U.S. officials believe a different group other than ISIS “posed a more direct threat to America and Europe.” Specifically:

    American officials said that the group called Khorasan had emerged in the past year as the cell in Syria that may be the most intent on hitting the United States or its installations overseas with a terror attack. The officials said that the group is led by Muhsin al-Fadhli, a senior Qaeda operative who, according to the State Department, was so close to Bin Laden that he was among a small group of people who knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they were launched.

    Again, the threat they posed reached all the way to the U.S.: “Members of the cell are said to be particularly interested in devising terror plots using concealed explosives.”

    This Khorasan-attacking-Americans alarm spread quickly and explosively in the landscape of U.S. national security reporting. The Daily Beast‘s Eli Lake warned on September 23 — the day after the first U.S. bombs fell in Syria — that “American analysts had pieced together detailed information on a pending attack from an outfit that informally called itself ‘the Khorasan Group’ to use hard-to-detect explosives on American and European airliners.” He added even more ominously: “The planning from the Khorasan Group … suggests at least an aspiration to launch more-coordinated and larger attacks on the West in the style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001″ (days later, Lake, along with Josh Rogin, actually claimed that “Iran has long been harboring senior al Qaeda, al Nusra, and so-called Khorasan Group leaders as part of its complicated strategy to influence the region”).

    On the day of the bombing campaign, NBC News’ Richard Engel tweeted this:

    That tweet linked to an NBC Nightly News report in which anchor Brian Williams introduced Khorasan with a graphic declaring it “The New Enemy,” and Engel went on to explain that the group is “considered a threat to the U.S. because, U.S. intelligence officials say, it wants to bring down airplanes with explosives.”

    Once the bombing campaign was underway, ISIS — the original theme of the attack — largely faded into the background, as Obama officials and media allies aggressively touted attacks on Khorasan leaders and the disruption of its American-targeting plots. On the first day of the bombing, The Washington Post announced that “the United States also pounded a little-known but well-resourced al-Qaeda cell that some American officials fear could pose a direct threat to the United States.” It explained:

    The Pentagon said in a statement early Tuesday that the United States conducted eight strikes west of Aleppo against the cell, called the Khorasan Group, targeting its “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communications building and command and control facilities.”

    The same day, CNN claimed that “among the targets of U.S. strikes across Syria early Tuesday was the Khorasan Group.” The bombing campaign in Syria was thus magically transformed into an act of pure self-defense, given that ”the group was actively plotting against a U.S. homeland target and Western targets, a senior U.S. official told CNN on Tuesday.” The bevy of anonymous sources cited by CNN had a hard time keep their stories straight:

    The official said the group posed an “imminent” threat. Another U.S. official later said the threat was not imminent in the sense that there were no known targets or attacks expected in the next few weeks.

    The plots were believed to be in an advanced stage, the second U.S. official said. There were indications that the militants had obtained materials and were working on new improvised explosive devices that would be hard to detect, including common hand-held electronic devices and airplane carry-on items such as toiletries.

    Nonetheless, what was clear was that this group had to be bombed in Syria to save American lives, as the terrorist group even planned to conceal explosive devices in toothpaste or flammable clothing as a means to target U.S. airliners. The day following the first bombings, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed: “We hit them last night out of a concern that they were getting close to an execution date of some of the plans that we have seen.”

    CNN’s supremely stenographic Pentagon reporter, Barbara Starr, went on air as videos of shiny new American fighter jets and the Syria bombing were shown and explained that this was all necessary to stop a Khorasan attack very close to being carried out against the west:

    What we are hearing from a senior US official is the reason they struck Khorasan right now is they had intelligence that the group — of Al Qaeda veterans — was in the stages of planning an attack against the US homeland and/or an attack against a target in Europe, and the information indicated Khorasan was well on its way — perhaps in its final stages — of planning that attack.

    All of that laid the fear-producing groundwork for President Obama to claim self-defense when he announced the bombing campaign on September 23 with this boast: “Once again, it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.”

    The very next day, a Pentagon official claimed a U.S. airstrike killed “the Khorasan leader,” and just a few days after that, U.S. media outlets celebrated what they said was the admission by jihadi social media accounts that “the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Khorasan group was killed in a U.S. air strike in Syria.”

    But once it served its purpose of justifying the start of the bombing campaign in Syria, the Khorasan narrative simply evaporated as quickly as it materialized. Foreign Policy‘s Shane Harris, with two other writers, was one of the first to question whether the “threat” was anywhere near what it had been depicted to be:

    But according to the top U.S. counterterrorism official, as well as Obama himself, there is “no credible information” that the militants of the Islamic State were planning to attack inside the United States. Although the group could pose a domestic terrorism threat if left unchecked, any plot it tried launching today would be “limited in scope” and “nothing like a 9/11-scale attack,” Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in remarks at the Brookings Institution earlier this month. That would suggest that Khorasan doesn’t have the capability either, even if it’s working to develop it.

    “Khorasan has the desire to attack, though we’re not sure their capabilities match their desire,” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official told Foreign Policy.

    On September 25, The New York Times — just days after hyping the Khorasan threat to the homeland — wrote that “the group’s evolution from obscurity to infamy has been sudden.” And the paper of record began, for the first time, to note how little evidence actually existed for all those claims about the imminent threats posed to the homeland:

    American officials have given differing accounts about just how close the group was to mounting an attack, and about what chance any plot had of success. One senior American official on Wednesday described the Khorasan plotting as “aspirational” and said that there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works.

    Literally within a matter of days, we went from “perhaps in its final stages of planning its attack” (CNN) to “plotting as ‘aspirational’” and “there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works” (NYT).

    Late last week, Associated Press’ Ken Dilanian — the first to unveil the new Khorasan Product in mid-September — published a new story explaining that just days after bombing “Khorasan” targets in Syria, high-ranking U.S. officials seemingly backed off all their previous claims of an “imminent” threat from the group. Headlined “U.S. Officials Offer More Nuanced Take on Khorasan Threat,” it noted that “several U.S. officials told reporters this week that the group was in the final stages of planning an attack on the West, leaving the impression that such an attack was about to happen.” But now:

    Senior U.S. officials offered a more nuanced picture Thursday of the threat they believe is posed by an al-Qaida cell in Syria targeted in military strikes this week, even as they defended the decision to attack the militants.

    James Comey, the FBI director, and Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, each acknowledged that the U.S. did not have precise intelligence about where or when the cell, known as the Khorasan Group, would attempt to strike a Western target. . . .

    Kirby, briefing reporters at the Pentagon, said, “I don’t know that we can pin that down to a day or month or week or six months….We can have this debate about whether it was valid to hit them or not, or whether it was too soon or too late…We hit them. And I don’t think we need to throw up a dossier here to prove that these are bad dudes.”

    Regarding claims that an attack was “imminent,” Comey said: “I don’t know exactly what that word means…’imminent’” — a rather consequential admission given that said imminence was used as the justification for launching military action in the first place.

    Even more remarkable, it turns out the very existence of an actual “Khorasan Group” was to some degree an invention of the American government. NBC’s Engel, the day after he reported on the U.S. government’s claims about the group for Nightly News, seemed to have serious second thoughts about the group’s existence, tweeting:

    Indeed, a Nexis search for the group found almost no mentions of its name prior to the September 13 AP article based on anonymous officials. There was one oblique reference to it in a July 31 CNN op-ed by Peter Bergen. The other mention was an article in the LA Times from two weeks earlier about Pakistan which mentioned the group’s name as something quite different than how it’s being used now: as “the intelligence wing of the powerful Pakistani Taliban faction led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur.” Tim Shorrock noted that the name appears in a 2011 hacked Stratfor email published by WikiLeaks, referencing a Dawn article that depicts them as a Pakistan-based group which was fighting against and “expelled by” (not “led by”) Bahadur.

    There are serious questions about whether the Khorasan Group even exists in any meaningful or identifiable manner. Aki Peritz, a CIA counterterrorism official until 2009, told Time: “I’d certainly never heard of this group while working at the agency,” while Obama’s former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said: ”We used the term [Khorasan] inside the government, we don’t know where it came from….All I know is that they don’t call themselves that.” As The Intercept was finalizing this article, former terrorism federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wrote in National Review that the group was a scam: “You haven’t heard of the Khorosan Group because there isn’t one. It is a name the administration came up with, calculating that Khorosan … had sufficient connection to jihadist lore that no one would call the president on it.”

    What happened here is all-too-familiar. The Obama administration needed propagandistic and legal rationale for bombing yet another predominantly Muslim country. While emotions over the ISIS beheading videos were high, they were not enough to sustain a lengthy new war.

    So after spending weeks promoting ISIS as Worse Than Al Qaeda™, they unveiled a new, never-before-heard-of group that was Worse Than ISIS™. Overnight, as the first bombs on Syria fell, the endlessly helpful U.S. media mindlessly circulated the script they were given: this new group was composed of “hardened terrorists,” posed an “imminent” threat to the U.S. homeland, was in the “final stages” of plots to take down U.S. civilian aircraft, and could “launch more-coordinated and larger attacks on the West in the style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001.”"

    As usual, anonymity was granted to U.S. officials to make these claims. As usual, there was almost no evidence for any of this. Nonetheless, American media outlets — eager, as always, to justify American wars — spewed all of this with very little skepticism. Worse, they did it by pretending that the U.S. government was trying not to talk about all of this — too secret! — but they, as intrepid, digging journalists, managed to unearth it from their courageous “sources.” Once the damage was done, the evidence quickly emerged about what a sham this all was. But, as always with these government/media propaganda campaigns, the truth emerges only when it’s impotent.

    The post The Fake Terror Threat Used To Justify Bombing Syria appeared first on The Intercept.

    TRNN Debate: Can Carbon Pricing Bring Down Global Carbon Emissions? (2/2)

    The Real News Network - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 11:09
    CDP executive director Nigel Topping and Dr. Steffen Boehm of the University of Essex continue their debate about the effectiveness of carbon pricing in bringing down global greenhouse gas emissions

    Fact-Checking Feinstein on the Assault Weapons Ban

    Truthout - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 09:59

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is flanked by a display of guns while speaking at a news conference where she announced her bill to ban assault weapons, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 24, 2013. (Photo: Drew Angerer / The New York Times)

    In the ten years since the federal assault weapons ban expired, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has kept trying to renew the law, which she authored. In a press release this month honoring the 20th anniversary of the ban, she wrote, "The evidence is clear: the ban worked."

    But gun violence experts say the exact opposite. "There is no compelling evidence that it saved lives," Duke University public policy experts Philip Cook and Kristin Goss wrote in their book "The Gun Debate: What Everyone Needs to Know."

    A definitive study of the 1994 law – which prohibited the manufacture and sale of semiautomatic guns with "military-style features" such pistol grips or bayonet mounts as well as magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition – found no evidence that it had reduced overall gun crime or made shootings less lethal. "We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence," the Department of Justice-funded study concluded in 2004. "Should it be renewed, the ban's effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement."

    As we recently reported, key gun control groups say they are no longer making an assault weapons ban a priority because they think focusing on other policies, including universal background checks, are a more effective way to save lives. The Center for American Progress released a report earlier this month suggesting ways to regulate assault weapons without banning them.

    Feinstein introduced an updated version of the assault weapons ban last year, in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which the shooter used a type of rifle that had been targeted by the ban. She told her Senate colleagues to "show some guts" when they voted on it in April. The measure failed, 40 to 60. The push to improve background checks also failed, but attracted more support.

    The key statistic that Feinstein cited in her recent press release — that the ban "was responsible for a 6.7 percent decrease in total gun murders, holding all other factors equal"— was rejected by researchers a decade ago.

    Feinstein attributed the statistic to an initial Department of Justice-funded study of the first few years of the ban, published in 1997.

    But one of the authors of that study, Dr. Christopher Koper, a criminologist from George Mason University, told ProPublica that number was just a "tentative conclusion." Koper was also the principal investigator on the 2004 study that, as he put it, "kind of overruled, based on new evidence, what the preliminary report had been in 1997."

    Feinstein's spokesman, Tom Mentzer, contested the idea that the 2004 study invalidated the 1997 statistic that Feinstein has continued to cite. But Koper said he and the other researchers in 2004 had not re-done the specific analysis that resulted in the 6.7 percent estimate because the calculation had been based on an assumption that turned out to be false. In the 1997 study, Koper said, he and the other researchers had assumed that the ban had successfully decreased the use of large-capacity magazines. What they later found was that despite the ban, the use of large-capacity magazines in crime had actually stayed steady or risen.

    "The weight of evidence that was gathered and analyzed across the two reports suggested that initial drop in the gun murder rate must have been due to other factors besides the assault weapons ban," Koper said.

    Cook, the Duke public policy expert, told ProPublica that the "weak results" of the 1994 ban "should not be interpreted to mean that in general bans don't work."

    He said Feinstein's updated version of the ban, which she proposed in 2013 and is more restrictive, might be more effective. An American assault weapons ban might also have an impact on drug and gang-related violence in Mexico, he said.

    "Around 30,000 Americans are killed with guns each year; one-third of those are murders," Feinstein said in a statement to ProPublica. "Obviously there's no single solution, which is why I support a wide range of policy proposals to bring sense to our firearms laws. I continue to believe that drying up the supply of military-style assault weapons is an important piece of the puzzle—and the data back this up." (See Feinstein's full statement below.)

    Gun rights groups have long criticized the ban, and Feinstein's defense of it.

    "Gun rights organizations, Second Amendment people, always take Dianne Feinstein with the whole shaker full of salt," said Dave Workman, the communications director for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. "She's been a perennial gun-banner."

    "One would think the lesson learned from banning alcohol, marijuana, and many other drugs and items [is that] it never works for anyone intent on obtaining any of these items," Jerry Henry, the executive director of GeorgiaCarry.org, told ProPublica. "All it does is put it in the background and helps establish a flourishing black market."

    The National Rifle Association did not respond to a request for comment.

    Full Feinstein statement:

    "Around 30,000 Americans are killed with guns each year; one-third of those are murders. Obviously there's no single solution, which is why I support a wide range of policy proposals to bring sense to our firearms laws. We need to expand background checks, strengthen gun trafficking laws and make sure domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill and other dangerous people cannot access guns.

    "I continue to believe that drying up the supply of military-style assault weapons is an important piece of the puzzle—and the data back this up. These weapons were designed for the military and have one purpose: to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. They are the weapon of choice for grievance killers, gang members and juveniles, and they shouldn't be on the streets.

    "A 2004 Justice Department study found clear evidence that the ban on manufacture and transfer of assault weapons reduced their use in crimes. The percentage of assault weapons traced as part of criminal investigations dropped 70 percent between 1993 and 2002, and many police departments reported increases in the use of assault weapons after the ban expired. In less than a decade, the ban was already drying up supply. The study suggested the law would have been even more effective if it had banned weapons already in circulation and if it had continued past its 10-year duration. Unfortunately those limits were part of the compromise that had to be struck to pass the ban into law.

    "Let me be clear: Assault weapons allow criminals to fire more shots, wound and kill more individuals and inflict greater damage. The research supports that. A ban on assault weapons was never meant to stop all gun crimes, it was meant to help stop the most deadly mass shootings. That's why it needs to be a part of the discussion, or rampages like Sandy Hook will continue to happen."

    Fact-Checking Feinstein on the Assault Weapons Ban

    Truthout - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 09:59

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is flanked by a display of guns while speaking at a news conference where she announced her bill to ban assault weapons, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 24, 2013. (Photo: Drew Angerer / The New York Times)

    In the ten years since the federal assault weapons ban expired, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has kept trying to renew the law, which she authored. In a press release this month honoring the 20th anniversary of the ban, she wrote, "The evidence is clear: the ban worked."

    But gun violence experts say the exact opposite. "There is no compelling evidence that it saved lives," Duke University public policy experts Philip Cook and Kristin Goss wrote in their book "The Gun Debate: What Everyone Needs to Know."

    A definitive study of the 1994 law – which prohibited the manufacture and sale of semiautomatic guns with "military-style features" such pistol grips or bayonet mounts as well as magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition – found no evidence that it had reduced overall gun crime or made shootings less lethal. "We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence," the Department of Justice-funded study concluded in 2004. "Should it be renewed, the ban's effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement."

    As we recently reported, key gun control groups say they are no longer making an assault weapons ban a priority because they think focusing on other policies, including universal background checks, are a more effective way to save lives. The Center for American Progress released a report earlier this month suggesting ways to regulate assault weapons without banning them.

    Feinstein introduced an updated version of the assault weapons ban last year, in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which the shooter used a type of rifle that had been targeted by the ban. She told her Senate colleagues to "show some guts" when they voted on it in April. The measure failed, 40 to 60. The push to improve background checks also failed, but attracted more support.

    The key statistic that Feinstein cited in her recent press release — that the ban "was responsible for a 6.7 percent decrease in total gun murders, holding all other factors equal"— was rejected by researchers a decade ago.

    Feinstein attributed the statistic to an initial Department of Justice-funded study of the first few years of the ban, published in 1997.

    But one of the authors of that study, Dr. Christopher Koper, a criminologist from George Mason University, told ProPublica that number was just a "tentative conclusion." Koper was also the principal investigator on the 2004 study that, as he put it, "kind of overruled, based on new evidence, what the preliminary report had been in 1997."

    Feinstein's spokesman, Tom Mentzer, contested the idea that the 2004 study invalidated the 1997 statistic that Feinstein has continued to cite. But Koper said he and the other researchers in 2004 had not re-done the specific analysis that resulted in the 6.7 percent estimate because the calculation had been based on an assumption that turned out to be false. In the 1997 study, Koper said, he and the other researchers had assumed that the ban had successfully decreased the use of large-capacity magazines. What they later found was that despite the ban, the use of large-capacity magazines in crime had actually stayed steady or risen.

    "The weight of evidence that was gathered and analyzed across the two reports suggested that initial drop in the gun murder rate must have been due to other factors besides the assault weapons ban," Koper said.

    Cook, the Duke public policy expert, told ProPublica that the "weak results" of the 1994 ban "should not be interpreted to mean that in general bans don't work."

    He said Feinstein's updated version of the ban, which she proposed in 2013 and is more restrictive, might be more effective. An American assault weapons ban might also have an impact on drug and gang-related violence in Mexico, he said.

    "Around 30,000 Americans are killed with guns each year; one-third of those are murders," Feinstein said in a statement to ProPublica. "Obviously there's no single solution, which is why I support a wide range of policy proposals to bring sense to our firearms laws. I continue to believe that drying up the supply of military-style assault weapons is an important piece of the puzzle—and the data back this up." (See Feinstein's full statement below.)

    Gun rights groups have long criticized the ban, and Feinstein's defense of it.

    "Gun rights organizations, Second Amendment people, always take Dianne Feinstein with the whole shaker full of salt," said Dave Workman, the communications director for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. "She's been a perennial gun-banner."

    "One would think the lesson learned from banning alcohol, marijuana, and many other drugs and items [is that] it never works for anyone intent on obtaining any of these items," Jerry Henry, the executive director of GeorgiaCarry.org, told ProPublica. "All it does is put it in the background and helps establish a flourishing black market."

    The National Rifle Association did not respond to a request for comment.

    Full Feinstein statement:

    "Around 30,000 Americans are killed with guns each year; one-third of those are murders. Obviously there's no single solution, which is why I support a wide range of policy proposals to bring sense to our firearms laws. We need to expand background checks, strengthen gun trafficking laws and make sure domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill and other dangerous people cannot access guns.

    "I continue to believe that drying up the supply of military-style assault weapons is an important piece of the puzzle—and the data back this up. These weapons were designed for the military and have one purpose: to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. They are the weapon of choice for grievance killers, gang members and juveniles, and they shouldn't be on the streets.

    "A 2004 Justice Department study found clear evidence that the ban on manufacture and transfer of assault weapons reduced their use in crimes. The percentage of assault weapons traced as part of criminal investigations dropped 70 percent between 1993 and 2002, and many police departments reported increases in the use of assault weapons after the ban expired. In less than a decade, the ban was already drying up supply. The study suggested the law would have been even more effective if it had banned weapons already in circulation and if it had continued past its 10-year duration. Unfortunately those limits were part of the compromise that had to be struck to pass the ban into law.

    "Let me be clear: Assault weapons allow criminals to fire more shots, wound and kill more individuals and inflict greater damage. The research supports that. A ban on assault weapons was never meant to stop all gun crimes, it was meant to help stop the most deadly mass shootings. That's why it needs to be a part of the discussion, or rampages like Sandy Hook will continue to happen."

    For Oil and Gas Companies, Rigging Seems to Involve Wages, Too

    Truthout - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 09:26

    (Image: Oil workers via Shutterstock)A ProPublica review of U.S. Department of Labor investigations shows that oil and gas workers – men and women often performing high-risk jobs – are routinely being underpaid, and the companies hiring them often are using accounting techniques to deny workers benefits such as medical leave or unemployment insurance.

    The DOL investigations have centered on what is known as worker "misclassification," an accounting gambit whereby companies treat full time employees as independent contractors paid hourly wages, and then fail to make good on their obligations. The technique, investigators and experts say, has become ever more common as small companies seek to gain contracts in an intensely competitive market by holding labor costs down.

    In the complex, rapidly expanding oil and gas industry, much of the day to day work done on oil rigs and gas wells is sub-contracted out to smaller companies. For instance, on one gas rig alone, the operator might hire one company to construct the well pad, another to drill the well, a third company to provide hydraulic fracking services and yet another to truck water and chemicals for disposal.

    But for the thousands of workers in the hundreds of different companies, a single standard is supposed to apply: by law, they must be paid more than minimum wage and they must be fairly compensated for any overtime accrued.

    In 2012, the DOL began a special enforcement initiative in its Northeast and Southwest regional offices targeting the fracking industry and its supporting industries. As of August this year, the agency has conducted 435 investigations resulting in over $13 million in back wages found due for more than 9,100 workers. ProPublica obtained data for 350 of those cases from the agency. In over a fifth of the investigations, companies in violation paid more than $10,000 in back wages.

    One of those companies was Morco Geological Services, a company providing mud logging services for other oil and gas drilling companies. In 2013, the DOL found that Morco was paying some workers $75 daily for working virtually round-the-clock shifts. The company eventually agreed to pay $595,737 in back wages to 121 workers following the DOL's investigation. In another significant case, Hutco, a company providing labor services to the oil and gas industry, ended up paying $1.9 million to 2,267 employees assigned to work in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

    "The problem of misclassification has become pervasive," said Dr. David Weil, a former economics professor at Boston University who today heads the DOL's Wage and Hour Division. "Employers are looking for opportunities in a changing business landscape at the employee's expenses to cut corners as much as possible, leaving room for wage and hour violations."

    Over the last decade, the oil and gas industry has seen tremendous growth. Between 2007 and 2012, when average employment in all U.S. industries fell by 2.7 percent, employment in the oil and gas industry increased by over 30 percent. According to research conducted by Annette Bernhardt, a scholar on low-wage work, 84 percent of workers in the oil, gas and mining industry were employed by contractors in 2012.

    At the same time, the industry has also seen an increase in fatalities and injuries on the job. There is, so far, no evidence to suggest that these accidents are a result of inadequate training or overworked laborers. But accounts from other industries that heavily outsource work suggest those risks could be present.

    For example, a 2012 investigation by ProPublica and PBS Frontline showed that cell phone carriers often contract out the dangerous job of climbing towers to smaller firms, which don't provide the necessary training and equipment to climbers. As a result, the death rate was 10 times higher among cell tower climbers than other construction workers.

    Between December 2009 and November 2011, Troy Bearden worked on gas rigs in Pennsylvania and Colorado for Precision Air Drilling Services, a company that provides labor services for oil and gas exploration around the country. During that time period, Bearden worked an average of 12 hours a day, seven days a week, unloading and hooking up drilling equipment and maintaining it during operation.

    Bearden was a full time employee of Precision Air Drilling, but the company classified him as exempt from the federal overtime statute, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and did not pay him time and a half for his overtime hours.

    In 2011, Bearden and other workers filed a class action lawsuit against the company. Precision Air Drilling settled for $500,000.

    "We know that the oil and gas industry has a reputation of paying high wages, but the economic reality often is they receive large paychecks because of the number of hours they're putting in," said Betty Campbell, the Deputy Regional Administrator for the Wage and Hour Division's Southwest Region.

    Labor lawyers specializing in wage disputes say the governing law – the Fair Labor Standards Act – is not easy to understand, interpret and comply with. As a result, they say employers can be unintentionally violating wage laws. But several investigations by the DOL show there are companies willfully dodging their responsibilities. The violations – accidental or intentional – are being committed by companies large and small, lawyers and labor officials say.

    "You would think that some of the larger companies would be better in terms of compliance, what we're seeing is these violations are really rampant in this industry and affect all sizes of companies," said Shanon Carson, a lawyer with Philadelphia-based Berger & Montague, who has represented several oil and gas workers, including Bearden, in class action lawsuits.

    The oil and gas industry is hardly the only industry to be afflicted with wage abuses. A recent investigation by McClatchy found that misclassification of workers was especially rampant in the construction industry, where companies flouted labor laws to evade taxes.

    In the last few years the DOL has been cracking down on companies in several industries including construction, healthcare and hospitality. In recent years the Wage and Hour Division has had its funding increased by millions of dollars and upped its number of investigators by 300.

    Federal wage and hour lawsuits have also seen an increase. Last year alone the number of Fair Labor Standards Act cases increased by 10 percent to 7,764.

    "Anecdotally, I think the trend is similar if not more in the oil and gas industry simply because since the downturn in 2008 they've continued to grow and continued to expand and hire," said Steve Shardonofsky, a lawyer with Seyfarth and Shaw, a Chicago law firm that typically represents the industry.

    Yet, worker rights groups and some lawyers believe there are likely thousands of mistreated workers unaware of protections under wage laws, partly because oil and gas activity primarily takes place in rural areas.

    "Oil field workers are traditionally non-union. They're isolated in man camps and on their sites and it's hard [for union organizers] to get to them," said Alex Lotorto, union delegate for Industrial Workers of the World.

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