sexta-feira, 12 de julho de 2013

Will America’s War on Terror Ever End at Home?

The Forever Conflict: Will America’s War on Terror Ever End at Home?

Keith B. Alexander is Director of the National Security Agency , one of the many agencies prosecuting the war on terror domestically (Photo: AP)The war on terror has continued to wreak havoc on Americans’ civil liberties.  Will this war at home ever be shut down?
The short answer is not anytime soon. But a conversation over its domestic costs has been sparked by new revelations about a surveillance state that has grown out of control, collecting massive amounts of data and tracking the online and phone activities of millions of Americans.
The leaks from former National Security Agency contract employee Edward Snowden have refocused attention on the domestic war on terror and infringements on civil liberties. Snowden and The Guardian have revealed that the U.S. government is collecting data from millions of Americans’ phone calls; that the communications of Americans are routinely swept up even if the NSA targets foreigners; that the Obama administration continued a program until 2011 that collected e-mail records of Americans in bulk; and that a secret court has signed off on these programs.
In all, the leaks reveal that the war on terror at home continues to grind on, capturing in its dragnet millions of Americans and foreigners, many of them innocent of any crime. The war on terror has become institutionalized, and the domestic costs of this war continue to mount: privacy is being eroded; communications are being monitored; and dissent is being cracked down on. The primary targets of the domestic war on terror continue to be Muslims and Arabs, though it is now clear that the sweep of the domestic war has ensnared millions of other Americans. And there is no end in sight to this domestic juggernaut.
“The NSA revelations underscore the war-time footing of the administration, and of the previous administration as well,” said Naureen Shah, an expert on U.S. counter-terrorism practices and the former acting director of Columbia University Law School’s Human Rights Clinic. “The US approach to terrorism treats war as perpetual and boundless geographically, and also in terms of who can be targeted for surveillance [and] for prosecution.”
How did we get here?
The story begins in the immediate aftermath of September 11. Individual acts of hate-crimes against Muslims, or those perceived to Muslim, dramatically accelerated. But it was the state that had the ability to do the most damage to Muslims and Arabs--and they did.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation led the way in tracking down, rounding up and detaining hundreds of Arab and South Asian Muslims in the U.S. They were thrown into jail, held on minor immigration violations and detained for questioning. Many were deported.

The U.S. government and its law enforcement agencies then instituted counter-terror policies that disproportionately impacted Muslims in America. One of these policies is the no-fly list, where people are arbitrarily thrown onto a list that prohibits them from freely traveling into and out of the U.S. Another was the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System, a government program that singled out non-citizen Muslim males for special registration in the U.S. immigration system. Many of those who registered, thinking it would put them on a path to citizenship, were instead deported. The program was dropped in April 2011.
And the other major iteration of the domestic “war on terror” is the use of surveillance and informants to keep tabs on the Muslim community wholescale. The FBI, for instance, has used a so-called “mosque outreach” program in California to keep tabs on Muslim leaders. From 2004-2008, FBI agents visited mosques to ostensibly collect reports on hate crimes, only to turn around and retain information on Muslims’ religious beliefs, practices, travel and the location of mosques. The FBI has also used undercover informants. One of the more notorious cases involved a man named Craig Monteilh, who told The Guardian in 2012 that since 2006, he infiltrated mosques in southern California, pretended to be a convert and recorded conversations with Muslims.
Monteilh told The Guardian’s Paul Harris that the FBI gave him the go-ahead to even have sex with a Muslim woman he was targeting. Eventually, Monteilh’s rhetoric at mosques grew so extreme that members of the Orange County Muslim community reported him to the FBI, not knowing he was in fact working for them.
The story of Monteilh rings true throughout Muslim communities in the U.S, where informants have become a routine part of life.
“Sometimes at our ‘know your rights’ workshops, we’ll be at a mosque and ask how many people in the room--either themselves or if they know someone--have been questioned by the FBI, and every single hand in the room will go up,” said Diala Shamas, an attorney with the City University of New York School of Law’s Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR), which provides legal services to Muslim and other communities dealing with the domestic war on terror. “The impact [of the war on terror] has been disproportionately felt in one community, and that’s the American Muslim community...The fact that this community is viewed as one that is not empowered, one that doesn’t have political clout, and one that may be afraid to speak out given the climate of fear, allows these policies to continue. This very silencing breaks the system of checks and balances that our democracy relies on."
By far the most extreme example of the pernicious targeting of American Muslims has been the New York Police Department’s extensive program of surveillance, which began following the September 11 attacks and was exposed by the Associated Press. Instituted with the help of the Central Intelligence Agency, the police’s Intelligence Division has mapped Muslim-owned businesses, recorded innocuous conversations, infiltrated student groups and urged informants to bait Muslims into saying inflammatory things about violence.
Critics charge that the surveillance program is based on the unconstitutional notion that the more devoutly Muslim you are, the more likely a terrorist you are. In 2007, the NYPD released a controversial policy paper, with that notion at the heart of it. The paper charges that radicals are “incubated” at places like “mosques...cafes, cab driver hangouts, flophouses, prisons, student associations, nongovernmental organizations, hookah (water pipe) bars, butcher shops and book stores.” The paper also states that you can pinpoint radicalization if a person begins to give up “cigarettes, drinking, gambling and urban hip-hop gangster clothes,” wear “traditional Islamic clothing” or grow a beard and become involved in “social activism and community issues.”
The NYPD has continued its program of surveillance, though a number of legal challenges have been lodged against it. One of the thrusts of a lawsuit that charges the police have violated federally-imposed guidelines on how to conduct religious or political surveillance is that “the program is interminable...[A] surveillance program of the sort that the NYPD conducts has no end. Its pervasive injurious effects must increase as people become more aware of the surveillance. This is the essence of a police state.”
But the way the NYPD sees it, there’s no reason for the surveillance to end--ever. In their eyes, as long as the war on terror continues, and as long as the threat of homegrown terrorism is ever present, the surveillance program is needed. In recent court filings, the NYPD pointed to the Boston bombings as well as a host of other local plots to justify why the judge should dismiss a lawsuit challenging the program. But the NYPD’s justifications cite a number of plots that were created with the help of NYPD informants who baited and, critics would argue, entrapped young, struggling Muslims--many of whom had no way to actually carry out the plot they were charged with.
The use of informants to fuel alleged terror plots is part of the circular logic that justifies the perpetual war on terror domestically. Both the NYPD and the FBI point to the plots their informants concocted to show why they need to continue to be vigilant against terrorism--a vigilance they say necessitates mass surveillance.
There are also institutional reasons why the the NYPD and the FBI want the war on terror to continue. Thousands and thousands of jobs are at stake. Billions of dollars in counter-terrorism budgets are at stake, too. As Trevor Aaronson, author of The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism, recently told AlterNet’s Joshua Holland, “the reason we’re seeing these really aggressive sting operations is the result of something of a bureaucratic evil. That is every year Congress allocates the FBI’s budget, and they set the counter-terrorism budget at $3 billion...From the highest levels of the FBI, there’s pressure to build counter-terrorism cases because they just received $3 billion from Congress and that pressure then flows down to the field offices.”
But now it’s not just Muslims who are being affected. As the NSA revelations have shown, the war on terror has metastasized into an all-encompassing dragnet affecting nearly every American. To critics of of the war on terror like CLEAR’s Shamas, the NSA leaks prove that the executive branch’s powers needs to be curbed.
“That these policies are still happening under the Obama administration is proof of what many have long observed, which is that the executive is not likely to reign itself in,” she said. “It’s institutionally not inclined to yield any discretion or gains that it’s made, and it’s institutionally inclined to try and continue to garner more power. That is the trajectory we’re going to continue to see unless and until there is push back from communities and voters organizing - and from the courts if that doesn't work.”
But the combination of a powerful and largely unaccountable executive branch and a compliant judiciary and Congress seems to indicate that until there’s a massive movement against the war on terror at home, it will continue to grind on. Naureen Shah says the war at home won’t end until two specific laws are changed.
“The Patriot Act, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force--these are pieces of legislation passed after 9/11 in response to a horrific attack on U.S. soil that gave the U.S. government unprecedented power that we’ve never really rolled back, more than 10 years on,” said Shah. “We can expect the government to continue using these powers it has until we force it to relinquish those powers by changing the law.”

Una Europa alemana: Vichy para todos

Cuarto Poder

Leyendo el último libro de Rafael PochLa quinta Alemania (Icaria, 2013), escrito junto con Ángel Ferrero y Carmela Negrete– las cosas se entienden mejor y podemos verlas con perspectiva. El dato central: la reunificación alemana, en el contexto de la disolución del Pacto de Varsovia y de la desintegración de la URRS, cambió la naturaleza de la Unión Europea. Al principio, no se notó demasiado: había que pagar la enorme factura de la anexión de la RDA y hacerlo en condiciones que no pusieran en peligro lo delicados equilibrios de poder en una Europa y un mundo que cambiaba aceleradamente. Lo que vino después es conocido: la Agenda 2010 del gobierno socialdemócrata-verde (lo de rojo-verde me parece excesivo) presidido por Schröder. Los autores lo analizan detalladamente: un gobierno teóricamente de izquierdas realiza un sistemático desmontaje del Estado social alemán con el objetivo explícito de devaluar los salarios y debilitar el poder de los sindicatos. Una vez más, haciendo lo que la derecha no se atrevería a realizar y practicando eso que los medios suelen denominar el “coraje reformista” de los políticos que responsablemente gobiernan más allá de las ideologías de derecha e izquierda. Estos son los famosos “deberes” que ya hicieron los alemanes y que ahora nos toca realizar a nosotros, los holgazanes del sur de la UE. Se suele olvidar que el ajuste en estos países ha sido mucho más duro y en menos tiempo y, lo fundamental, que las respectivas bases de partida eran muy diferentes, es decir, que los derechos sociales eran mucho más significativos en el centro que en la periferia.
Lo que la llamada Agenda 2010 ponía de manifiesto era claro y preciso. El Estado alemán (es decir, la alianza entre la patronal, el gobierno, la clase política, con la complicidad de una parte de la dirección sindical) diseñó una estrategia de desarrollo nacional neo-mercantilista con el objetivo de ganar mercados de los demás países de la Unión en base a su superioridad tecnológica, a una brutal devaluación salarial y a las nuevas reglas del “sistema euro”. Al final, lo que se ha ido consolidando es un “núcleo” exportador-acreedor en torno a Alemania y una periferia subalterna importadora-deudora, condenada a transitar rápidamente hacia el subdesarrollo. Como Anguita dijo en los noventa, la Unión Europea en gestación liquidaría el Estado social, los derechos laborales y sindicales y terminaría por dividir duraderamente a Europa, a la de verdad, que es mucho más que la UE.
Situadas así las cosas, se podrá entender sin demasiadas dificultades que estamos ante un cambio de naturaleza de la integración europea que, más temprano que tarde, la hará inviable en el futuro. ¿Por qué? Porque la integración es incompatible con estrategias estatales basadas en disputar mercados, empleos y beneficios a costa de los demás países, sobre todo cuando estos son más débiles. Las políticas de “arruinar al vecino” son siempre inaceptables, mucho más cuando, teóricamente, se está en proceso de integración europea en base a una moneda única que impide, entre otras cosas, devaluar y controlar la política monetaria. Este es el verdadero problema del euro: una moneda extranjera para todos los Estados miembros al servicio de la estrategia nacional de Alemania.
Si esto es así ¿por qué los demás gobiernos, sobre todo del sur, lo aceptan? Una primera respuesta parece evidente: los fundamentos jurídico-políticos de la UE constitucionalizan el ordoliberalismo alemán convirtiendo en obligatorias las políticas que sirven a los intereses de los poderes económicos dominantes. Toda la llamada construcción europea es un perfecto “sistemas de cierres” que la convierten en (casi) irreversible, no dejando otro resquicio que acatarla (aceptar las políticas neoliberales como las únicas posibles) o romper abiertamente con ella. Una ratonera, como diría Martín Seco.
Sin embargo, creo que hay otra razón más de peso, más de clase, con un carácter “fundador de un Nuevo Orden Europeo”. Una metáfora podría explicarlo mejor. Me refiero a la Francia de Vichy y es debida (ampliada y redefinida) a Miguel Herrero. Como es sabido, Vichy hace referencia a la ciudad-balneario donde residía el gobierno títere impuesto por las tropas alemanas tras la derrota de Francia en la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Lo característico de dicho gobierno fue una tercera entidad (la Alemania hitleriana) vino a resolver el conflicto existente en la república francesa entre el movimiento popular democrático y de izquierdas y las clases conservadoras y de derechas. Los tanques alemanes dieron la victoria a las clases dominantes y condenaron a la cárcel, a la tortura, al exilio y a la muerte a los patriotas republicanos que unieron rápidamente liberación nacional con emancipación social.
Las clases dominantes de la zona sur del euro están resolviendo sus problemas al modo francés de Vichy: aprovechar el poder de las fuerzas económicas-financieras alemanas (las finanzas siempre han sido la continuación de la guerra por otros medios) para liquidar los derechos sociales y laborales, cambiar, en sentido reaccionario, el modelo social y convertir nuestro débil sistema político en una democracia “limitada y oligárquica”. Hay una alianza entre las clases dominantes de los países del sur en torno a la burguesía alemana, para legitimar el Estado de excepción global e imponer un nuevo orden social y económico europeo.
El problema es que a los españolitos y españolitas nos toca la periferia, es decir, una estructura productiva débil y dependiente, con una industria poco significativa y controlada por las trasnacionales, mucho turismo de masas y una agricultura y pesca residual. En un espacio económico así configurado no caben derechos sociales y sindicales, trabajo decente y pensiones dignas. Será el Reino de la desigualdad y se provocará una enorme concentración de renta, riqueza y poder en manos de una restringida y maciza oligarquía y una clase política subalterna y corrupta.
¿Pesimismo? Para nada: realismo bien informado. Miremos a nuestro alrededor y reflexionemos ¿Alguien nos hubiera dicho hace apenas cuatro años que nos encontraríamos ante esta involución que solo cabe calificar de civilizatoria? ¿Alguien cree que esta deriva no va a continuar para peor? Lo que se está produciendo es la crisis del Régimen constitucional del 78 y la transición hacia otra cosa que está recién comenzando. Las clases dominantes españolas (incluidas las burguesías vasca y catalana, siempre ha sido así) a lo suyo y a lo de siempre: aliados subalternos de los que mandan y dispuestos a vender, una vez más, a las gentes de este país. Su único proyecto: mandar, repartirse las migajas de la explotación y poner fin a esa fechoría histórica de una democracia basada en la igualdad, la justicia y la emancipación social.
¿Qué hará la plebe y que harán las izquierdas después de tantos desengaños y estúpidas ilusiones?

public service broadcasting; as necessary as fresh air

Quality not profit

About the author
Andrew Graham is Master of Balliol College, Oxford. A member of the advisory group for the recent Communications White Paper and a regular consultant for the BBC, he serves on the Board of Channel 4.

It is essential that all countries should have well financed public service broadcasting. There are three core reasons for this. First, broadcasting as a medium suffers from “market failure”. Second, even if markets were to work perfectly in broadcasting, a democratic culture and equal rights require more than the market will deliver. These two arguments justify an activist public policy. The third part of the argument is that public service broadcasting is the right form for public policy to take.
My argument is a universal one argued from the point of view of economics. I believe that it holds true for all human societies, whether rich or under-developed. And I think it is important to ground the case in economic terms rather than cultural ones, because the strongest aspect of the case against public broadcasting is also an economic one, based on the proposition that the market always knows best.
Old monopoly, new monopoly
The failure of the market in broadcasting arises in two quite distinct ways – production and consumption. Take production first. A fundamental tenet of economic theory is that for markets to work well there must be real competition. Otherwise output will be restricted and prices higher than justified by costs. Admittedly a degree of monopoly may promote investment, but, even so, such near monopoly concentrations would only be justified in these terms for, at most, a few years.
Until recently, with only a few channels available, it was clearly the case that broadcasting had to be licensed and there could not be free competition. Now the digital revolution will remove scarcity of frequencies. Some are arguing, therefore, that this means that the concentration of broadcasting into the hands of only a few companies will be a thing of the past. Both theory and the evidence, however, suggest the opposite.
First, broadcasting, including digital broadcasting, has high fixed costs and near zero marginal costs. Especially in the digital age, the second copy costs nothing. Whenever this occurs the economies of scale are massive, entry to the market becomes difficult and firms tend to be concentrated.
Second, the digital revolution produces convergence – the coming together of previously separate industries. This dramatically increases the possibility for what economists call “economies of scope”. It describes the way activities in one area can decrease costs or increase revenues in a second area if the two are brought together. Indeed this is one of the main points of the digital revolution. Information can be endlessly edited, copied, stored, retrieved, redesigned and merged with other information to reappear in a multiplicity of formats. To exploit this there will be many channels, but only a few owners. Two recent examples of the process are the AOL/Time-Warner merger and the Bertelsmann deal with Napster.
A third factor leading to concentration in digital media is the economics of networks and standards. Betamax was probably a better technology than VHS, Apple software was better than Microsoft’s, but where are Betamax and Apple today? In networked industries firms that manage to gain control of the standard then tend to sweep the board and charge accordingly, as Microsoft have done.
Nor does the existence of the internet disprove this. At the start it was highly competitive, but today’s internet is very different. Alongside email and a multitude of low quality web-pages lies a world in which mass marketing, network economies, incumbency effects, and economies of scale and scope are creating concentration of ownership and a small number of highly promoted “nodal” sites. Let’s hope that openDemocracy sets a different standard and survives and flourishes, but its aim is to provide an antidote to the mass providers, not compete directly with them.
While the digital revolution has therefore removed one source of monopoly, spectrum scarcity, it has replaced it with another, the natural monopoly of economies of scale, of scope and of network industries. The extraordinary global rush to multimedia mergers in recent years confirms the point.
The market fails consumers
Now consider consumption. Here three further forms of market failure apply. First, as mentioned, in a digital age extra copies of a programme cost almost nothing. As a result the gains to consumers will almost always be greater if the fixed costs are covered by an initial payment, such as a licence fee, and thereafter the content is supplied free.
Second, broadcasting creates “externalities”. One person may want to watch violence or pornography, but another, who does not, and finds such programmes are being shown, is offended. Left to itself, the market will produce too much violence and pornography and too few programmes where the external effects are positive, such as programmes that raise knowledge.
Third, broadcasting includes “merit goods”. This is because parts of broadcasting are like education in the sense that, sometimes, we do not think we will like it – and, if left to ourselves, would not buy it – yet, we realise, later, that it has benefited us and are pleased in retrospect that we experienced it. Here the untrammelled market would produce too little.
The merit good and externalities arguments are extremely important when taken together. We take it for granted that good schools, football teams, orchestras and firms can raise everyone’s level. It is a question of the “company you keep”. We all gain when our environment is improved. Today the media is part of that company. But the market does not care whether it enriches or impoverishes our experience.
One key role for public policy is therefore to correct these failures of the market. However, even if the market could be made to work perfectly, it would still not meet the needs of democratic rights.
The market fails democracy
At the core of democratic theory is the belief, subscribed to by all democratic societies, that two wholly different methods of allocating resources are justified. In the marketplace one person’s pound, euro, dollar or yen is as good as another, while in the public arena one person’s vote is as good as another.
Moreover, it is generally acknowledged in liberal societies that citizenship entails a range of rights beyond the mere casting of votes. In the case of the media three such rights are especially important. First, there is the right to basic information about how society is governed, what are the laws of the land, who represents you. For these rights to have meaning, such information should be free, not sold for profit via the television or the PC.
Second, there is the right to equality of respect. Today, broadcasting is the dominant way in which different parts of society present themselves, or are presented, to each other. In today’s multicultural world, each group, as well as each individual, has the right to be portrayed on equal terms and in terms that they would recognise. Whether one comes from Cornwall, the countryside, Serbia or England, or whether one is Black, a gypsy, a Peer or an asylum seeker, one has the right not to be misrepresented or seen only as a member of a stereotypical group. Such an assumption cannot be made automatically of commercial television. An ABC producer stated that advertisers are aware that “hate sells their products”.
Third, there is the right to participate in society. Such participation includes not just having employment and somewhere to live, but the right to political engagement. Here again the media plays a critical role as today’s politics takes place more on the radio and television than on the floor of the House of Commons or in formal sessions of Congress or in the Bundestag. The right to have one’s opinions heard is a right of all citizens. It is not something that should depend on income or wealth.
Regulation vs public service
The right to information, the right to respect and to have one’s opinions represented are not the concerns of the market nor are they those of the commercial broadcasters. If you accept this, there are two possible courses of action. One is regulation, the other a direct component of public service broadcasting. Of the two, public service broadcasting is much the best.
First, because neither market failures, nor the democratic requirements I have sketched out in such a summary form, are genre specific. Game shows, comedies and soaps are just as much ways in which society empowers or impoverishes itself and tells its own story as news, documentaries and current affairs. Nor should public service broadcasters stand aside from developments in the internet. The provision of in-depth background information in a form that ought to be trusted adds to rather than detracts from their ability to inform and educate as well as to entertain. There is therefore no specific part of broadcasting that could be successfully hived off into “the public service bit”.
Second, and most fundamental, regulation can stop things, but it cannot promote them. What society requires is a set of broadcasters with purposes different from those of the market. It makes no more sense to regulate a broadcaster to produce programmes that “extend people’s imagination”, than to regulate an artist to paint a good picture.
Helping choice
The argument about genre reinforces this conclusion. What matters is the goals of the programmes, not what genre of programme is being made. The key people to look after this are the producers and the commissioning editors. They make the real, creative decisions. As a result, for public service broadcasting to flourish, these people must work in an institution that has the goal of public service as its ethos.
At least three important points remain. First, lest there be any doubt, a public service broadcasting organisation is not a state broadcasting organisation. It must, if it is to serve citizens, stand independent of both state and market.
Second, far from hindering the market or restricting choice, public service broadcasting helps both. It is often forgotten that the theory of choice, on which the economic claim in favour of a free market in broadcasting rests, presupposes consumers who are already both fully formed – they know their own preferences – and fully informed. In reality, neither is likely. As a result, and given that the media is one of the main sources of information as well as one of the ways in which people come to understand themselves, the existence of a set of broadcasters committed to empowering citizens and providing impartial information increases the autonomy of the individual – and, without this autonomy, where is the real choice?
The next point is so often misunderstood that it must be emphasised. Over the next twenty years, the market in all forms of broadcasting will undoubtedly grow considerably and, as channels increase, audiences will fragment. In this context the case for public service broadcasters providing information about their society in an unloaded way will become more rather then less important. There is a vital difference between having organisations that are committed to impartiality and one that wants to tell you what you ought to think. Not having an axe to grind should not be confused, as it so often is, with paternalism.
Public service broadcasting is crucial. It acts as a counterweight to possible monopolisation of ownership and fragmentation of audiences in the private sector. Because its purposes are different, it widens the choice for consumers, both individually and in common. And it has an especially important part to play in today’s multicultural world in promoting democratic rights. Public service broadcasting is not an optional add-on. Every society should have one or more – independent – public service broadcasters.

Las manifestaciones en Brasil: un balance político

Barómetro Internacional

La movilización contra el aumento de las tarifas de transporte público tuvo inicio en Porto Alegre, en Río Grande del Sur. Entre marzo y abril de 2013, dos manifestaciones reunieron diversos grupos frente al Ayuntamiento de la capital gaúcha, pidiendo la reducción del valor de los pasajes de autobús. Las protestas en Porto Alegre dieron origen a una serie de eventos, llevando a cientos de miles de personas a las calles en todo el país. La acción policial durante los actos fue cada vez más agresiva, rebelando a la población brasilera. La mayoría de los manifestantes eran jóvenes, sin experiencia política y dieron la voz a diversas reivindicaciones de los brasileros. La lucha por la revisión de precios de los pasajes dio fuerza a otras solicitudes, como la disminución de los gastos para la Copa del Mundo, el mejoramiento de los servicios públicos y el fin de la corrupción en el país.
Al llegar a la capital paulista, San Pablo, el movimiento convocado en Porto Alegre por el Bloque de Lucha por el Transporte Público, y organizado por el Movimiento Pase Libre (MPL) que se coordina a nivel nacional desde enero de 2005. Al llegar a Río de Janeiro y en San Pablo, la lucha puntual extrapola una pauta específica y se nacionaliza. Por eso la presidenta Dilma Rousseff convoca al MPL de algunas capitales, buscando dialogar con este sector legítimo, con gran capacidad de convocatoria y no pro gobierno.
El Movimiento Pase Libre, Dilma y la cabra en la sala
La reunión que el Movimiento Pase Libre tuvo con la presidenta Dilma Rousseff ocurrió el día 24 de junio, antes que la Jefe de Estado se reuniera con gobernadores y alcaldes de diversas capitales. Al mismo tiempo que sería una ligereza no reconocer la importancia de estas reuniones, nos deja mucho más esperanzados la postura pública del MPL que los cinco puntos del proyecto de Dilma para, en teoría, sacar al país del impasse. La delegación del Movimiento presentó propuestas a la Jefa del Poder Ejecutivo e inquirió si Dilma conocía las bases del movimiento (ella las desconocía) y salió con la impresión que no estaba por llegar ninguna medida concreta.
Cuando la presidencia considera alguna demanda como razón de Estado, abre el abanico de maniobras para hacer posible tal realización. Así viene siendo con las obras de la Copa y también con la Usina de Belo Monte (represa hidroeléctrica en tierras indígenas de la Región Amazónica) a pesar de los impactos y daños ambientales irreversibles a consecuencia de su construcción.
Esta vez, a pesar de toda la confusión en las calles, de la mezcla de civismo y lucha popular, de la gran prensa insuflando elementos despolitizados y aumentando la pérdida de foco, del equívoco entre movimiento no-partidario y una postura totalizante anti-partidaria; se ve una luz.
Luego de la instancia con la presidenta, los delegados del Movimiento Pase Libre no quedaron impresionados con la dimensión que tomó la lucha, y menos todavía salieron con la guardia baja. Es interesante notar la buena capacidad de articulación entre el basamento teórico de la causa defendida (el transporte como un derecho y no como un negocio) y las relaciones con las otras demandas no atendidas en la última década.
Luego de diez años de co-gobierno del Partido de los Trabajadores (PT) y otros partidos que antes fueran de izquierda, siempre aliados con lo peor de las oligarquías brasileras y sus grandes agentes económicos, los movimientos populares casi se desarmaron.
Es de la naturaleza de la política que las nuevas formas de organización social se conviertan en frentes sociales no manipulables. En la semana en que el núcleo duro del Poder Ejecutivo y su “vendedor de marketing” colocan una cabra en la sala, en el auge de la paranoia de los “golpes cibernéticos”, realmente la mejor noticia es saber que el Movimiento Pase Libre no se va a entregar.
Tres lecciones políticas de las protestas en Brasil
El Brasil ya no será como antes, no al menos en términos de cultura política. Después de diez años de apatía y 21 años sin manifestaciones masivas, el país se reencuentra con la lucha política de calle y de masas. Algunas lecciones fueron transmitidas, ente las cuales destacamos tres:
Primero, la noción de que los derechos fundamentales no son fruto de la acción institucional, y sí de la lucha colectiva. Dentro del rigor fiscal y de la contingencia de presupuestos públicos, una política distributiva es el fruto directo de la presión popular. De lo contrario, la rutina de las agendas burocráticas siempre supera a la mayoría silenciosa. Cuando una parte de esta mayoría se moviliza, los ocupantes de puestos clave en el Estado se ven contra la pared.
Segundo, la idea de auto organización. Este concepto, fundamental para el sindicalismo, también llamado de independencia de clase, estaba olvidado. NO cabría más colocar a la gente en la calle utilizando como vanguardia una enorme franja roja o amarilla, para hacer un desfile cívico-ciudadano con parlamentarios o candidatos a cargos electivos. Todavía estamos lejos de la consigna de Argentina en diciembre de 2001 (“que se vayan todos”) pero al menos esta instaurada la desconfianza en el proceso decisorio de los gabinetes y en el juego de los poderes constituidos.
Tercero, se nota que finalmente Internet cumple con su destino manifiesto: el de alcanzar a quien se encontraba atomizado, desorganizado. Este papel de hablar con la mayoría que no hace política día a día y se informa poco, fue posible a través de la red mundial de computadoras, en especial en las redes sociales. Las conversaciones entre personas conocidas, grupos afines por causas específicas o temáticas particulares, finalmente consiguió masificarse en Brasil. Hace cinco años participamos en una investigación de campo donde se apuntaba al uso diario de la Web entre jóvenes de 14 a 20 años. Este era banal, para fines privados y sin temas de fondo. Aumentó el tiempo de navegación y de uso de la Internet móvil. Proporcionalmente, el diez por ciento de millones de usuarios hicieron la diferencia en estas jornadas.
El saldo es positivo. La democracia representativa es ejercida por personas en cargos electivos, de confianza, comisión y grupos organizados en pro de los agentes económicos. La democracia que emerge de las calles brasileras es otra. No tiene “paciencia histórica” y aprendió la comprensión viendo el “caminar por arriba” “yaciendo y rodando”. Primero se presiona para después negociar márgenes de conquistas. Definitivamente esta es una nueva etapa política, pero sus avances dependen de la unidad de la izquierda que está a la izquierda del gobierno, por lo tanto no gubernista y sin haber pactado con lo peor de la oligarquía y de los agentes económicos brasileros a lo largo de estos últimos diez años. Respecto a esta posible unidad, elaboramos la conclusión de este texto.
Respecto a la unidad de las izquierdas en el momento actual, participamos algunas nociones básicas
  1. La unidad de las izquierdas es cada vez más necesaria, pero dentro de esta unidad es imprescindible separar el pro gobierno de las izquierdas que no comparten el pacto de tal gobernabilidad.
  2. Infelizmente los medios alternativos todavía ligados al gobierno y los militantes todavía sinceros que en ella militan, siempre parecen tener una condición binaria, creando así una falsa dicotomía: Las críticas a Dilma están ligadas a la derecha y abren camino al neoliberalismo, luego, tenemos que trabar la Unidad y pelear por la hegemonía del “gobierno en disputa”. La afirmación es falsa. No hay gobierno en disputa, menos todavía hegemonía en juego. Vivimos dos concepciones, donde el Consenso de Brasilia disputa con el Pos Consenso de Washington. Ninguno de estos proyectos es “de izquierda” sea cual sea la tradición evocada.
  3. Al apuntar a esa condición binaria, se acaba por defender la vacilación. Ya vivimos antes ese momento, cuando el vacilante gobierno João-Jango- Goulart (1961-1964, seguido por el golpe militar del 10 de abril de 1964), del todavía más vacilante Partido Trabajador Brasilero (PBT, partido creado por Getulio Vargas y que tenía semejanzas con el Partido Justicialista de Argentina), varguista con posición dudosa, llevó a la clase trabajadora a recibir un Golpe de Estado sin condiciones para resistirlo)
  4. El lema de la época era “¡manda brasa, presidente!” y la tragedia de la omisión política terminó con un caudillo en huída (Jango) y otro trasvertido frontera abajo (Leonel Brizola) y años para reorganizar los andrajos del Partido Comunista (entonces de línea Moscú, que se recusó a resistir en armas al Golpe). Los héroes y mártires de la lucha contra la dictadura pagaron ese precio por el pueblo brasilero.
  5. Es hora de tener el valor de decir. Existen compañer@s válidos aún dentro del Partido de los Trabajadores. Éstos, por más reformistas que sean realmente creen en la socialización del poder y la renta. Insistimos, estas personas son valiosas, más ese partido y sus aliados ya no lo son. Menos todavía sus dirigentes políticos de carrera. Luego, no puede haber unidad con estos operadores políticos.
  6. Las conquistas en forma de anuncios de futuras políticas públicas emergentes solo vienen porque ganamos las calles, a trancos y barrancos, pero ganamos, y por la izquierda, sin hacer coro o referencias a los pro gobierno. Esta es la única unidad de acción que interesa y ninguna otra. /
Bruno Lima Rocha es politólogo, periodista y docente de relaciones internacionales, Julia Klein es periodista

Privatising our genes?

About the author
Michael Ashburner is Professor of Biology at the University of Cambridge, and Joint Head of the European Bioinformatics Institute. He led the sequencing of the Drosophila fruit fly genome, and played a key role in the international Human Genome Project.

Life as we knew it is no more. Or rather, life as we did not know it is coming to an end, to be replaced by a situation where, as a species, we understand the inner workings of our own life-systems.
I say “we”. But when politicians and scientists, the representatives of our knowledge, appear together in public we must suspend belief. Politicians are untrustworthy as a class, and we know it. Scientists, who ought to know it too, can be all too gullible. Entranced by the media attention leaders attract, they surrender. Dr. Faustus, the original scientist, sold only his own soul to the devil. Today, his successors will sell ours as well, if they have the chance.
On 26 June last year, two scientists, Francis Collins and Craig Venter, flanked Bill Clinton to announce that all was sweetness and light in the world of genomics. The relationship between Collins and Venter had never been wonderful. Open war broke out between them in May 1998 when they became head-to-head rivals to determine the sequence of the human genome – in media hype the “blueprint of (human) life”. Now we were supposed to believe that peace and co-operation between them had been brokered by William Jefferson Clinton.
The issue at stake could hardly be more momentous: who owns our knowledge about ourselves? “Know thyself” has long been a fundamental instruction for moral life. Now the issues are whether a scientific company can add “provided you pay”, and what follows if self-knowledge becomes part of the cash nexus.
Forget arguments about nature and nurture; at least for a few minutes. The form of all living organisms is determined by the sequence of their DNA. This sequence is a code of four letters, A, G, C and T. Apparently simple – but often lethal – bacteria may have a genome consisting of a few million of these letters. The foot and mouth virus responsible for the present UK epidemic has a sequence of only 7,733 letters. A small fly or simple weed has a sequence of some 100 million letters; that of mouse, elephant or humans a sequence of about three billion letters.
We have known this for years: the first sequence of a virus was determined in the late 1970s; of the first bacteria in 1995; of a fly and a weed last year. Since the early 1990s it has been clear that research technology could sequence the very large genomes of mouse and human. Nobody underestimated the magnitude of the task. Government agencies in the United States, and the Wellcome Trust, an independent UK biomedical charity, were persuaded to make the necessary investment. Slowly at first, the sequencing of the human genome began.
Factories had to be built, very different in scale from the biological research laboratories with which we were familiar. By 1998, less than 10 per cent of the human genome had been sequenced. With growing investment and mounting confidence the ramp-up in sequencing rate started. In the process two important principles about the endeavour were established.
The Bermuda Agreement
First, it would be truly international. Despite the domination of the USA and UK, groups from Germany, France, Japan, China and other countries were making significant contributions. Second, it would be truly public. At a historic meeting in February 1996 in Hamilton, Bermuda, the partners agreed not to patent any of the sequences that they determined, but instead immediately to deposit them in a public database, where they were freely available to all.
Bermuda was, and should have remained, a momentous agreement, on a par with the great treaties and conventions – like those on human rights – which punctuate modern history. It had three essential elements. First, that something as fundamental to our nature as the sequencing of our own genome should not be the property of any individual, group or government, however enlightened, but should belong freely to all humankind. Such knowledge, Bermuda ruled, should as a matter of principle be freely available to all: to simply hold in one''s hand, to ponder, to study and analyse or, within certain ethical limits, to exploit.
The second essential feature was more pragmatic. Everyone at Bermuda was aware that determining the sequence of genomes, whether human or not, is but the first step to understanding the complete meaning of the message they contain. This process could take decades of work. Progress in it will be much faster if the problem of interpreting sequences attracts the brightest interested minds, and most skilled and experienced geneticists, available everywhere. This possibility would be seriously impeded if access to a sequence is controlled in any way, either by legal or commercial constraints.
The standard argument for patents of inventions is that they encourage investment and therefore accelerate the development of the advances they embody. Here, the opposite holds true. The swift advancement of knowledge involves unimpeded scientific rivalry and collaboration.
The third core element at Bermuda was more technical but equally important. There are two opposing ways in which a genome may be analysed (I exaggerate for emphasis). These may be contrasted as the “gene-centric” view and the “holistic” view. There is intense interest among clinicians and scientists in understanding the genetic basis of much of human disease. For them a gene-centric view of the genome is sufficient: they need to be able to study in immense detail the properties of individual genes. But scientists also need to study the genome overall, to compare, for example, the entire genome of humans with that of the mouse, or to compare specific long sequences.
Building the database of life
Since the early 1980s scientists in Europe, the USA and Japan have collaborated to create a single database of all public DNA sequences. Since the mid-1980s it has become practice that no scientist could publish work concerning a DNA sequence unless that sequence had been deposited in this database, as the scientific journals made such deposition a precondition of publication. The Bermuda Agreement was a confirmation of this practice. Because the database is free, anyone can download it across the internet onto their own computer any time of the day or night without asking permission of anyone. Thanks to this it has become the central resource for our attempts to make sense of any DNA sequence.
In the last 20 years some 50,000 different scientists have contributed sequences to the databank. If I determine a new sequence in my laboratory it is the work of a moment to compare it with the entire databank, now some 12 billion bases. Consider the alternative: each of these 50,000 contributions would become sequences placed on different web sites of varying quality and accessibility. I would need to trawl through all of them to analyse my sequence. In practice, this would either be impossible or it would enormously delay research into an overall understanding of genomes. Without this public resource the achievement of sequencing the human genome, let alone its analysis, would have been far more difficult than it was.
Bermuda was, therefore, a hugely positive agreement in three ways: in establishing a fundamental principle, in improving and accelerating the growth of human knowledge, and in facilitating practical understanding of what whole sequences of the genome actually do.
Celera and the sequencing split
But in May 1998 Craig Venter announced he was forming a new company to sequence the human genome in three years and make money by selling access to the sequence to business, in total breach of Bermuda. This was not pure bravado. It coincided with a technological breakthrough in sequencing technology, achieved by Venter’s backers, PE Biosystems Inc. They wagered that their new machines could be coupled with novel computational methods to make the task much easier, cheaper and faster.
Reactions to Venter’s announcement varied from outrage to disbelief. Some said that it could not be done technically; others said that even if it could it was immoral, unethical and offended all of the laws of human nature other than those of capitalism. Those responsible for the public sequencing project had three choices: to lay down and let Venter do it; to collaborate with Venter; or to compete. They competed. The competition did, of course, have a bright side - despite their public statements to the contrary, the public sequencing group accelerated their progress many-fold in response to Celera. It was an ugly, not friendly, competition. Both sides took every opportunity to question the integrity of their opponent in public.
Until the famous meeting in the White House, when Clinton used what was still his credibility to mediate a truce. Hands were shaken; the cameras whirled and clicked, and wise heads hid themselves in their hands. Joint publication of the scientific papers was promised. It soon became an open secret that this would take place in the scientific magazine Science, a weekly owned by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, part of whose mission statement reads: “Foster scientific freedom and responsibility”.
Fight for scientific recognition
The rules for publication in Science demand submission of the data in “the appropriate database”. It was clear to everyone in the field that the phrase signified the international sequence database. Once deposited there, however, Celera’s sequence would be open to all without restraint, even to Celera’s commercial competitors.
Celera wanted to make a commercial return on its very considerable investment; were the data to be published on the public database, their potential revenues would be reduced. On the other hand it, or at least Craig Venter, desperately wanted the approval of the scientific community and his personal achievement to be recognised, perhaps even with a Nobel Prize. This meant the work had to be published in a respectable scientific magazine.
The major scientific weeklies – Science in the US and Nature in the UK – are not published for fun. They too are commercial ventures that compete for the hottest science. Science was keen to publish the two human sequence papers, the public one and Celera’s – that would be a considerable commercial coup. Science allowed itself to be persuaded to publish Celera’s paper with neither public data deposition nor full disclosure of the methods by which the work was done. The fact that Celera is a major financial donor to the AAAS (Science’s charitable owners) had, of course, no influence on this decision.
Science magazine bows to Celera
It took some time for the full implications of this decision to sink in. In early December 2000, I wrote an open letter to all the directors of the AAAS and all the editorial board of Science urging them to reverse this decision. The reply of Don Kennedy, the editor of Science, was far from convincing and, in response, the publicly funded group pulled its manuscript and sent it to Nature, paradoxically a journal owned by a commercial conglomerate. Both were published in the week of 12 February, to considerable media attention.
Most, though not all, reputable scientists regard the Celera paper published in Science as little more that an expensive advertisement, a form of science by press release. One of the defining features of science is that it is public knowledge. Only if scientific knowledge and the methods used to acquire it are freely available, can the cardinal principle of the reproduction and testing of experiments take place. It is a tragedy that a great scientific magazine has seen fit to bow to the will of big business to compromise such a basic principle.
The consequences are only beginning to be felt. When Heather Kowalski of Celera Genomics announced at the end of April that the company had assembled the genetic code of the mouse, it was with a mixture of PR-speak (“the Rosetta stone”) and keep-off-the-grass. The denial of access to non-subscribers means that the scientific credibility of the findings cannot be tested where it matters – in the public realm.
At a time when the sober assessment and understanding of scientific findings has never been more important, the scientific community needs to restore, not lessen, its legitimate standing with the public. Above all this means ensuring its independence from corporate interests and politicians. We have to work with them, clearly. The less we work for them, the better.

The business of genes

About the author
These are extracts from the discussion forums of the openDemocracy pilot website.
What do we know?
19 May 2001
Christophe Van Huffel writes:
Even though we have made advances in studying the genome, I actually do not believe that we are any closer to understanding our inner workings in a synthetic way.
The synthetic description would be self-contained and would be understandable, usable (misusable) by politicians and any non expert person to influence ideologies or religions. The human genome has merely defined the basic building blocks that are necessary to initiate systematic approaches aiming at capturing the features of life and allowing us to try to describe certain correlations in a satisfactory way. This process involves complex data mining of large quantities of data that can only be managed by computers (not by the human brain).
So we lack a sense of feeling of what our life system is all about. This therefore still leaves a lot of room for freedom of thoughts and imagination. Beyond the human genome, higher levels of organization of human life need to be described (proteins, cells, tissues, organs, body). Most of those aspects of life are still very incompletely described and it is likely going to take a long time before we have sufficient knowledge about all those aspects to provide an integrated view of life, let alone the possibility of successfully integrating this information.
I suspect that the complexity of the system is too large to allow any human to derive a viable self contained description of our life that will make people feel different about what or who they are.
Christophe Van Huffel is Chief Scientist in Genomics at Starlab in Brussels.

Science and money
19 May 2001 Guido Van Steendam writes:
Science is not just the theoretical activity of pure minds in the air. Science needs investment.
It needs money to pay people, buildings and machines. The input of money in science - just like the input of money in any other human activity, including football games - can be corrupted; and of course it is necessary that institutions, scientific or other, organize themselves in a way that prevents such corruption.
Indeed, the author rightly mentions that the Human Genome Initiative required a huge amount of money. He ends his piece, though, by saying that although scientists need to deal with politics and money, the less so the better. Surely the question is not how much, but how?
Guido Van Steendam is Professor at the Biophilosophy Centre of Starlab in Brussels.

Inventions and discoveries
19 May 2001 Jack Klaff writes:
There are clear differences between inventions and discoveries. There is a clear distinction between creativity and knowledge.
How do you patent something that is inventive and creative? Well, that requires something between brightness and genius. How do you patent something that already exists? Well, that requires something called a good lawyer. There exist many people on earth, thank goodness, who allow free access to their creativity, knowledge, inventions and discoveries; the Open Source movement is bound to be a powerful force during the 21st century. There exist people who feel strongly that they should not pay so much, for example, to be able to see the Mona Lisa on their computer monitors, or for medicines, or to be educated. In short, there are people who believe there are inventions and discoveries which, as an inalienable human right, should be free. Biomolecular studies join atomic physics and computer science in a powerful troika which will ride through this century trailing powerful scientific revelations and an awesome range of questions for openDemocracy to address.
Jack Klaff works for public understanding of science at Starlab in Brussels.

Behaviour of scientists
19 May 2001 James Lutsko writes:
I read this piece with interest. IF the account is entirely factual, then I would hope that the Nobel committee - and all other scientific award committees - would avoid giving the Celera scientists any recognition since what they did is not science (it is not reproducible and cannot be checked). The behaviour of Science - as described in the article - is deplorable.
James Lutsko is Chief Scientist at Starlab in Brussels.

Human rights
19 May 2001 Richard Wheeler writes:
One of the great movements of the 21st century will be the application of open-source thinking to every aspect of human endeavor
The root question here is not one of ethics, but, like the larger struggles now playing themselves out on the world stage, one of common sense, and agreeing upon a shared perception of human rights. Surely some things belong to every person equally, as a small but equally held part of the trust placed in us by our very humanity. Many people believe these inalienable rights to include the freedom of decision over one's own body, and clearly, as outlined by the Bermuda accord, equal and unrestricted access to the road map of our own creation, the human genome.
Surely a single company or nation who seeks to own that which is common to all people cannot be included among the coalition of researchers formed around the common goal of enhancing human understanding, perception, and philosophy. Perhaps such a entity stands only at the margins of a civilized society.
I believe one of the great movements of the 21st century will be the application of open-source thinking to every aspect of human endeavor, and, more fundamentally, to the manner in which we perceive some types of knowledge. As with the effect which open source code and programming has had upon the software industry, an equally profound sea change will occur in fields from education to business and beyond.
Already in the scientific community we see the first rumblings of this - MIT opening all of its curriculum to the world freely, calls for scientific journals to be made free and open-access, and even within Starlab itself with the launching of One World Knowledge and the Free Medical School. What things belong to each person of the world as a basic human right? In addition to the human genome, can it be said that there are works of art, educational and health materials, even pharmaceuticals, which belong to all of the world community equally simply through the common recognition of their ability to transform human life and the human condition?
Should we create a common knowledge bank of those things commonly agreed to be freely and wholly owned by all people? Should one of the conditions of being granted FDA or other governmental approval for pharmaceuticals be that the company participates in an open source royalty-free program for the developing world organized by the World Health Organisation? These are the real questions that the human genome controversy are posing, and the answers will hopefully shake the foundations of our civilization itself.
Richard Wheeler is Chief Scientist in Artificial Intelligence at Starlab in Brussels.

Portugal: a media story - good service before privatisation

About the author
Eunice Goes is Assistannt Professor of Communications at Richmond University and a Portugese broadcaster and blogger.

In Portugal there was a time when public service broadcasting delivered good service: programmes for all segments of the population, good news bulletins with extended political coverage, cultural programmes, films and the odd costume drama from the BBC.
The launch of two private channels in the early 1990s changed all that. In the beginning the change was not so obvious. One of the private channels -- SIC -- started with a very good and punchy news coverage. There were programmes of political analysis and debate, "reportage" that made us forget about those horrible chat-shows that filled most of Saturday nights.
But then SIC realised that it needed to make money, to get more publicity. Then the dumbing-down started. The serious news was replaced by populist and parochial little dramas. On top of that, SIC decided to fill all the gaps between news bulletins with either Brazilian soap-operas (telenovellas) or trashy chat shows of doubtful taste. SIC was so successful in the ratings that the other private channel, TVI, and the public channels soon followed suit.
The high moment of the dumbing down took place when TVI opened the 9 o'clock news bulletin with the latest news from the Portuguese version of "Big Brother". Often, the chattering classes have heated discussions about the need to regulate broadcasting. But the more frequent buzz is about the irrelevance of public TV: If they're providing a public service because they're following the market, what's the point of subsidising public broadcasting?, says the new conventional wisdom. In the end nothing happens. In a typical Portuguese reaction, everyb

Brazil too ‘traditional’ to be a global human rights leader

The author responds to Camilo Asano’s prediction in ‘Emerging powers and human rights’ of the considerable potential for Brazil to contribute positively to a global human rights agenda. A lot will have to change in the ‘global South agenda’ before that happens.
Camila Asano’s hopeful piece on the potential for Brazilian foreign policy to push a human rights agenda is, unfortunately, too hopeful.
It is true, as she notes, that Brazil has not supported the international status quo in its foreign policy.  However, it is also true that Brazil has been particularly meticulous in insisting on the principle of non-interventionism in other countries’ affairs.  It is hard to reconcile this non-interventionism and respect for sovereignty with anything approaching an internationally activist position on human rights.  While it is conceivable that concerted presidential leadership could change this stance, this is highly unlikely to happen.
Brazil’s diplomats are well regarded internationally, have outstanding training, and are viewed as especially effective in global negotiations.  At the same time, these diplomats are steeped in tradition, and Brazil’s foreign policy has been remarkably consistent, through both democratic and military governments, in the post-WWII period.  Brazil’s foreign policy has also been consistently agnostic regarding the internal politics of other countries, mostly because it did not want others to intervene in its own domestic affairs.
Human rights in Brazil
Brazilians in London in solidarity with the protests in Brazil. Demotix/Samuel Hardy. All rights reserved.
Brazil has championed a “global south” agenda in its foreign policy, particularly beginning with the government of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.  That said, this stance was not entirely new, and in many ways was a continuation of foreign policy positions adopted for decades by the country.  Some emphases had changed, but the overall foreign policy orientation persisted. Brazil has considered itself an emerging power for longer than it has been considered a BRIC, and has not wanted to be in anyone’s “camp”.  It has tried to establish its own camp.
In its defense of the global south, Brazil has continuously placed an emphasis on intergovernmental negotiation, particularly in the trade sphere.  Its diplomats have cultivated an image as defenders of those poor countries who are disadvantaged by the global trading system, and especially by countries harmed by agricultural subsidies in wealthier countries.  At the same time, because of Brazil’s emphasis on intergovernmentalism, it is difficult to imagine that Brazil might step outside its self-imposed parameters, which confine its international diplomatic operations to relations with other governments and negotiations within international organizations.  Speaking out on human rights—and criticizing other governments for their human rights records—would be a huge change for Brazil.
The only way one might imagine a change in Brazilian foreign policy in a direction that would emphasize human rights would be through a change imposed by above—and in particular a change in emphasis from the very top.  In recent decades—both under former president Lula and his immediate predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso—presidents took on a greater role in pushing new foreign policy agendas, at least incrementally.  But the sort of change that Ms. Asano is suggesting would require a huge push from President Rousseff.  Would she be willing to buck the traditional orientation of Brazilian foreign policy to make such a shift? It is hard to imagine that it would be politically advantageous for her to do so.
One might ask, as well:  would it not be possible for civil society organizations to push the Rousseff administration (or a future administration) to focus more on human rights?  In theory, that would be possible, and it is certainly the case—as evidenced by recent protests—that Brazilian civil society is awakening. 
There are two reasons, however, to think that civil society pressure will not change Brazilian foreign policy orientation in the human rights area:  first, much of the popular, grass-roots pressure that we are now witnessing is focused on bread and butter economic issues.  Recent protests were kicked off by an increase in bus fares, and overall, the protests are focusing very specifically on domestic issues and government budget priorities.
More important is that fact that foreign policy is one of the public policies least influenced by internal pressure and civil society in Brazil.  While there has been some (mild) weakening of the traditional autonomy of Brazil’s foreign policy establishment in recent years, this has mostly been in the economic sphere.  It would be a fairly big leap—and a large change in Brazilian foreign policy making—to see this extend to the human rights area, especially in a way that would effectively change Brazil’s foreign policy orientation.
In the end, Brazilian foreign policy in the future is likely to have the same thrust that it has for decades: respect for sovereignty and an unwillingness to intervene in, or comment on, the affairs of other countries. It may well focus on human rights internally - and well it should - but it is unlikely to make human rights promotion a centerpiece of its foreign policy.

Internet and the contemporary monopoly capitalism

When we talk about the Internet, we are talking about the bone marrow of contemporary monopoly capitalism

In a wide-ranging interview, the author and media reform activist Robert W. McChesney discusses the political economy of the Internet, the crisis in contemporary journalism, and the struggle to create a media system equal to the needs of democracy.
Robert McChesney is a co-founder of Free Press, a national media reform organization in the United States. He is a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the author of several books on the media, including the award-winning Rich Media, Poor Democracy, Communication Revolution and Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy. His most recent book, written with John Nichols, is Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America.
No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.’ James Madison, centrist conservative and critic of American foreign policy.
James Madison: centrist conservative and ardent opponent of permanent war. Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress. Public domain.
In Digital Disconnect you write that, "we are better off admitting what is plainly obvious: there is no business model that can give us the journalism a self-governing society requires". The convention view is that the market can provide us with the journalism we need, and so we tend to think that the disruption caused by new technology will be temporary. Can you explain why you think this view is wrong?  

The role of advertising in providing between 50 and 100 percent of news media revenues—depending upon the medium—provided the illusion that popular journalism for a mass audience could be a profitable undertaking. Prior to the ascension of advertising in the final third of the 19th century in the United States, popular journalism was heavily dependent upon massive postal subsidies and printing subsidies. It was simply taken for granted that these subsidies were necessary for a mass press; otherwise only an elite news media would survive.
Advertising came with strings—at times, ropes—attached and much of media studies and media criticism has examined the tensions of a commercially generated journalism. To a certain extent the creation of professional journalism in the United States was an attempt to address this problem.

In the digital realm, with journalism floundering, the tensions with advertising have magnified, as desperate journalists have strong pressures not to do anything that might antagonize those who support them.

But, the big story is that advertising in the digital realm is abandoning journalism, indeed all media content. Advertising’s support for journalism in the old media was always opportunistic; it was the best way to reach the desired audience. On the Internet advertising is rapidly shifting to what is called “smart” advertising, meaning that advertisers purchase desired audiences through huge ad networks run by the likes of Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. These networks then find the desired target audiences at whatever website they go to. There is very little money on this for journalism websites, or content producers writ large. In the USA newspaper websites got 100 percent of the revenues for their digital ads in 2003; by 2010 they figure was down to 20 percent. I suspect it is even less today.

The idea that the final consumer can pay the full amount directly through subscriptions to support a viable popular journalism—the kind a self-governing society requires—has not evidence to support it.

The logic points in one direction: as in the first century in U.S. history, if society values independent, competitive popular journalism it will require massive public subsidies to produce it. Much like education. This is a public good.

Is there a sense in which we should think of the public sphere as a commons? After all, we all need to know what's going on, if we are to avoid being deceived, and so to operate as self-governing citizens.
I know there is a good deal of material on the notion of the commons and it importance. I confess I do not know the literature very well at all, though on the surface I am sympathetic. The way your question is phrased I would agree that the public sphere is a commons. And understood in that manner, I imagine it lends itself to the idea that we need the commons to be largely noncommercial.  

And if we do start to think of the sum of things that are widely known as a commons, what does that imply for how we organize the political economy of the media, including, centrally, the internet? 
I believe the Internet should be available to everyone for free. It is a birthright. In the United States Internet access is controlled by a few monopolies—Comcast, Verizon & AT&T—that charge people through the teeth for generally inferior and crappy service. They use the control over the politicians to lock in their monopoly power and eliminate the threat of regulation in the public interest. Then they extract massive “rents”—the term economists used for unearned and undeserved profits. They are parasites.A far more rational system would simply establish ubiquitous broadband through a public utility.
As for the structure of the Internet beyond that, I only have so much time and energy. Obviously, we need Network Neutrality, so all legal services are treated equally. And we need to have privacy such that what a person does on line is accorded the same treatment as what that person does in a traditional letter. I will leave it there for now.

One of the things you highlight in Digital Disconnect and in your other writings is that debates about the internet often divide on lines that reflect the interests of different groups of companies.

The arguments about copyright, for example, often seem to reflect the positions of the traditional content providers on the one hand, and the big digital newcomers on the other. Is there a danger that the language of the commons, along with idealism about the free internet, can become a resource for Google and other companies' deep public relations?
Google and other Internet companies do take the moral high ground on some issues, but all of them have issues where they rub shoulders with the lowliest sewer rats. In Google’s case it is privacy, and monopoly law, and taxation.
The Internet today is dominated by a handful of spectacularly huge monopolies. Network economics encourages monopoly and companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Amazon, eBay, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast often have monopoly power in their core markets not unlike what John D. Rockefeller had with Standard Oil in the late 19th century. In the United States today, 12 of the 31 most valuable public traded corporations—all with a value over $100 billion—are Internet corporations. There are only three “too big to fail” banks on the list, for comparison, and only three energy companies. When we talk about the Internet, we are talking about the bone marrow of contemporary monopoly capitalism.

So that means, yes, we are going to get the greatest and most impressive blast of corporate public relations bullshit in the history of the human race. 
Speaking of the "bone marrow of contemporary monopoly capitalism", we've learned a good deal in the last few weeks about the integration of the big digital companies with the state, through agencies like the NSA in America and GCHQ in Britain. It provides strong support for your argument that "really existing capitalism" is best understood as a condominium of state and corporate interests. What do you make of the information that's come from Edward Snowden?
 You have provided the answer in your question. We have a handful of enormous monopolies—using the term the way economists traditionally used it, as having sufficient market power to dominate a market, set prices and control the level of competition—that have as a key part of their business model gathering as much information about Internet users as possible. It is this commercial impetus that has turned the Internet upside down from what it was originally conceived of a generation ago.
Twelve of the 31 US corporations with a market value over $100 billion are Internet companies, and there are several more in the top 31 like Disney that partially qualify. I suspect the only comparison to the present digital corporate domination of the commanding heights of the economy would have been the automobile industry in its heyday with the attendant steel, glass, rubber, and oil companies.
These giant corporations—Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Verizon, Comcast, Microsoft, AT&T, eBay, and so on—hardly see the government as an adversary as in liberal democratic theory. Yes, that state has potential to be a pain-in-the-ass if it actually represents the interest of the people. But that model is premised on a competitive private economy, the kind that existed many moons ago. Then there would be effective taxation, anti-monopoly provisions, privacy protection, and all sorts of other measures. But these guys effectively control the state, in the USA at least, and the government works very much to advance their interests across the world.
Recent research by leading political scientists concludes that the great mass of Americans have no influence over substantive government policies, and the poorer one is, the greater the likelihood the government will do the opposite of what you would like. It is why John Nichols and I term modern America a “Dollarocracy.”
Since the 1940s or 1950s the US government has been in permanent warfare mode. Aside from geopolitical interests, military spending had been a crucial part of the political economy, providing demand to prevent stagnation and funds for a large part of research and development. Much of the digital revolution was spawned through military (and other government) funding.
At any rate the military is such a profound institutional presence in the United States—it is unchallengeable by either political party—and so closely linked to the really existing economy, that one could argue that its fate is joined at the hip to the fate of corporate capitalism.
Militarism is anathema to democracy, a point well understood by the nation’s framers. Madison was apoplectic about the need to limit the warmaking ability of the government. Militarism, he argued, led to corruption, secrecy, propaganda. He hit the nail on the head.
That is the context for the NSA scandal. The security agencies are unaccountable to Congress or the people and have every incentive to collect as much information as possible. There is no penalty for getting too much, and careers can be ended if you do not get enough. The digital corporate giants have reason to play ball because they get generously compensated, plus they have every reason to wish to remain on superb terms with the military and the state. The US government is effectively their private agency when it comes to representing their interests globally. It is like having the most powerful law firm and security force in the world on retainer.
 In another way the bank bailouts illustrated the same point - that the state and the dominant players in the private economy cooperate in a way that makes a nonsense of what you call the "official catechism" about capitalism and free markets. My sense is that most Americans don't really believe this official version now. Is that right, do you think? Is your argument finally moving into the mainstream? If so, what are the implications for politics and the media? It sometimes seems as though the politicians and opinion-formers are sailing on regardless. We know that they have excellent data ... But is the game up, finally?
U.S. politics is at a new place, both an exciting and dangerous place. The USA is a more progressive nation than it has been for a long time. If there were 70-75 percent voter turnout and parties worth voting for the nation would be an exciting cauldron of social reform. The widespread enthusiasm for the status quo is much less than it used to be. The standard bromides about free enterprise just don’t cut it with a younger population that sees no future. The idea that the USA should be fighting countless endless wars against enemies no one can even identify is wearing thin. It is a social order in decline and without much hope of a future, barring radical changes.
At the same time, the political system—including mainstream news media—is entirely in the hands of big money and resistant to change. The growing chasm between the bulk of the population and the corruption and cynicism of those atop the system is the great defining issue of our times. In one way or another it is what everyone is grappling with.
 You write in Digital Disconnect about how successful public relations efforts often pass unnoticed - we accept something as the way of the world when a huge effort has gone into making it seem so. What do you think we should look out for in the coming months and years? How are Google and the Pentagon and their many partners going to try to keep the show on the road?
Expect more of the same, and expect nothing to change except window dressing. Look at how the Snowden affair has been handled as Exhibit A. The fact that it is the Snowden affair and not the NSA Illegal Spying affair says it all.

The American Way of Torture


Torture is now solidly installed in America’s repressive arsenal, not in the shadows where it has always lurked, but up front and central, vigorously applauded by prominent politicians.  Rituals of coercion and humiliation seep through the culture, to the extent that before Christmas American travelers began to rebel at the invasive pat-down searches, conducted by the TSA’s airport security teams, groping around bosoms and crotches.
Covertly, there was always plenty of torture, just as there were assassinations, high and low.   After World War Two the CIA’s predecessor, OSS, imported Nazi experts in interrogation techniques.   But this was the era of Cold War competition: Uncle Sam the Good against the dirty Russians and Chinese.  The US government would go to desperate lengths to counter accusations that its agents in the CIA or USAID practiced torture.
One famous case was that of Dan Mitrione, working for the US Agency for International Development, teaching refinements in torture techniques to Brazilian and Uruguayan interrogators. Mitrione was ultimately kidnapped by the Tupamaro guerillas and executed, becoming the subject of Costa Gavras’ movie State of Siege.  The CIA mounted major cover-up operations to try to discredit the accusations against Mitrione, quoted as having said to his students: “The precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect.”
The American liberal conscience began to make its accommodation with torture in June, 1977, which was the month the London Sunday Times published a major expose of torture of Palestinians by the Israeli armed forces and the security agency, Shin Bet. Suddenly American supporters of Israel were arguing that certain techniques–sensory deprivation, prolonged stress positions while hooded, incarceration in “cells” the size of packing crates, etc–somehow weren’t really torture, or  were morally justifiable torture  under “ticking time bomb” theory.
Ahead lay the repellent spectacle of Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School, and a supposed liberal defender of civil rights, recommending to Israel the notion of “torture warrants”, with the targets of the warrants being  “subjected to judicially monitored physical measures designed to cause excruciating pain without leaving any lasting damage.’ One form of torture recommended by the Harvard professor was “the sterilized needle being shoved under the fingernails.”
With the Great War on Terror, launched after the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11/2001, torture made its march into the full light of day.
One hands-on executive in this itinerary was George Bush’s secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. At Guantanamo, it was Rumsfeld who gave verbal and subsequently written colossal
approval to torture suspects, using the notorious techniques of isolation, sleep deprivation and psychic degradation, with Rumsfeld micromanaging the humiliations. (For one prisoner’s horrifying torments in Guantanamo, read Richard Neville’s account of David Hicks’  book, Guantanamo, My Journey.)
In the case of Abu Ghraib in Iraq, there is again a trail of evidence showing it was Rumsfeld who personally decreed and monitored stress positions, individual phobias, such as fear of dogs, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding. One US army officer, Janis Karpinski, described finding in Abu Ghraib a piece of paper stuck on a pole outside a little office used by the interrogators.
It was a memorandum signed by Rumsfeld, authorizing techniques such as use of dogs, stress positions, starvation. On the paper, in Rumsfeld’s handwriting, was the terse instruction, “Make sure this happens!!”
James Bovard wrote in CounterPunch that “Perhaps Bush’s most important legacy is his embrace of torture:”
“In a June 2010 speech in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he declared, ‘Yeah, we water-boarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I’d do it again to save lives.’ There is no independent evidence that Bush-era torture saved any American lives.
“The fact that a former president can stand up in public and admit that he ordered torture is a sea change for the American republic. (While he was president, Bush consistently denied that the U.S. government engaged in torture.) In reality, the Bush administration’s torture policies were simply the most vivid example of its belief that the president was entitled to do as he pleases. Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury declared in 2006, ‘Under the law of war, the president is always right.’”
On the home front torture as a drastic mode of social control flowered luxuriantly in the America’s prison system, whose population began to rocket up in the 1970s to its present 2.5 million total. Sanctioned male rape goes hand in hand with increasingly sadistic solitary confinement with prolonged sensory deprivation–a condition in which some 25,000 prisoners are currently being driven mad.
As the Bush years drew to a close liberals dared hope that the rule of law would return and with it respect for internationally agreed prohibitions on torture and treatment of combatants.  Anticipation grew that the torturers, with the Bush high command at the apex, would face formal charges. Candidate Obama sedulously fanned that hope.
The moment of opportunity arrived on January 20, the day Obama was sworn in as president and declared that “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” he said. He added that the United States is “ready to lead once more.”
On January 21, 1977, on his first day in office President Jimmy Carter fulfilled his campaign pledge issuing a pardon to those who avoided serving in the Vietnam war by fleeing the U.S. or not registering. If he’d waited a month or two, the honeymoon was already turning tepid and he might well have lost his nerve.
In his second full day in office, President Obama signed a series of executive orders   to close the Guantanamo detention center within a year, ban the harshest interrogation methods and review military war crimes trials.
In his first state of the Union address, a week later Obama declared to the joint session of Congress that “I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture. We can make that commitment here tonight.” Within days of this guarantee, Obama’s Justice Department lawyers were telling  U.S. judges in explicit terms  that the new administration would not be moving on from Bush’s policies on the legal status of renditions and of supposed enemy combatants.
These lawyers from Obama’s Department of Justice emphasized to judges that they, like DoJ lawyers instructed by Bush’s lawyers, held that captives seized by the US government and conveyed to secret prisons to be tortured, had no standing in US courts and the Obama regime has no legal obligations to defend or even admit its actions in any US courtroom.   “Enemy combatants” would not be afforded international legal protections, whether on the field of battle in Afghanistan or, if kidnapped by US personnel, anywhere in the world.
The torture system is flourishing and the boundaries of the American empire are demarcated by overseas torture centers.
Alexander Cockburn’s memoir, A Colossal Wreck, is now available from CounterPunch. 
Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of NatureGrand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at:
This essay originally appeared in the January 2011 print edition of CounterPunch.