Sunday, June 30, 2013

How we are being transformed by surveillance

An important article:


EXCERPT:  1994 was the very beginning of the Information Age, and it has turned out rather differently than many expected. Instead of information made available for us, the key feature seems to be information collected about us. Rather of granting us anonymity and privacy with which to explore a world of facts and data, our own data is relentlessly and continually collected and monitored. The wondrous things that were supposed to make our lives easier—mobile devices, gmail, Skype, GPS, and Facebook—have become tools to track us, for whatever purposes the trackers decide. We have been happily shopping for the bars to our own prisons, one product at at time.

Researchers have long known that there are serious psychological consequences to being surveilled, and you can be sure that it's changing us, both as a society and as individuals. It’s throwing us off balance, heightening some characteristics and inhibiting others, and tailoring our behavior sometimes to show what the watcher wants to see, and other times to actively rebel against a condition that feels intrusive and disempowering.

As Michel Foucault and other social theorists have realized, the watcher/watched scenario is chiefly about power. It amplifies and exaggerates the sense of power in the person doing the watching, and on the flip side, enhances the sense of powerlessness in the watched.

If you think about it, “ Prism” is the perfect name for a secret program of extensive watching that will shift our perspective and potentially fracture our view of each other and of ourselves as citizens. Public opinion is now sorting itself out, and we don’t yet know how Americans will come to feel about the new revelations of spying on the part of the government, private contractors, and their enablers. But whether we like it or not, surveillance is now a factor in how we think and act. Here are some of the things that can happen when watching becomes the norm, a little map to the surveillance road ahead.  (Read rest of article at: )


Chris Hedges Defends Snowden in Democracy Now debate

Chris Hedges Defends Snowden's Heroism in the Face of a Growing Smear Campaign

Hedges: "If there are no Snowdens, if there are no Mannings, if there are no Assanges, there will be no free press."
... we’re talking about the death of a free press, the death of a civil society.
...And if we don’t wrest back this power for privacy, for the capacity to investigate what our power elite is doing, I think we can essentially say our democracy has been snuffed out.

what [Snowden] has exposed essentially shows that anybody who reaches out to the press to expose fraud, crimes, unconstitutional activity, which this clearly appears to be, can be traced and shut down. And that’s what’s so frightening. So, we are at a situation now, and I speak as a former investigative reporter for The New York Times, by which any investigation into the inner workings of government has become impossible. That’s the real debate."

In this excellent debate from Democracy Now!, Chris Hedges makes a brilliant defense of Edward Snowden, and the collapse of our institutions:

"Unfortunately, the press, like most institutions in this country, and I would add the legal profession, has largely collapsed under this corporate coup d’état that’s taken place and is no longer functioning. And I want to get back, that what this is fundamentally a debate about is whether we are going to have, through the press, an independent institution within this country that can examine the inner workings of power or not. And it is now—I mean, many of us had suspected this widespread surveillance, but now that it’s confirmed, we’re seeing—you know, why did Snowden come out publicly? Well, because I think he knew that they would find out anyway, because they have all of Glenn Greenwald’s email, phone records and everything else, and they can very quickly find out who he was speaking to and whether Snowden had contact with him. And that—I speak as reporter—is terrifying, because it essentially shuts down any ability to counter the official propaganda and the official narrative and expose the crimes. And we have seen in the last few years tremendous crimes being committed by those in power. We have no ability now to investigate them."

The full transcript is well-worth reading to the bottom 

Edward Snowden’s decision to leak a trove of secret documents outlining the NSA’s surveillance program has elicited a range of reactions. Among his detractors, he’s been called "a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison," (Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker), who’s committed "an act of treason," (Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee). To supporters, Snowden is a hero for showing that "our very humanity [is] being compromised by the blind implementation of machines in the name of making us safe," (author Douglas Rushkoff), one whom President Obama should "thank and offer him a job as a White House technology advisor," (American Conservative editor Scott McConnell). We host a debate with two guests: Chris Hedges, a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and former Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The New York Times, and Geoffrey Stone, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. Stone served as an informal adviser to President Obama in 2008, years after hiring him to teach constitutional law.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to a debate on Edward Snowden's decision to leak a trove of secret documents outlining the NSA's surveillance program.  In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Snowden described why he risked his career to lead the documents.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: I think that the public is owed an explanation of the motivations behind the people who make these disclosures that are outside of the democratic model. When you are subverting the power of government, then that’s a fundamentally dangerous thing to democracy. And if you do that in secret consistently, you know, as the government does when it wants to benefit from a secret action that it took, it will kind of get its officials a mandate to go, "Hey, you know, tell the press about this thing and that thing, so the public is on our side." But they rarely, if ever, do that when an abuse occurs. That falls to individual citizens. But they’re typically maligned. You know, it becomes a thing of these people are against the country, they’re against the government. But I’m not. I’m no different from anybody else. I don’t have special skills. I’m just another guy who sits there, day to day, in the office, watches what happening—what’s happening, and goes, "This is something that’s not our place to decide. The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong." And I’m willing to go on the record to defend the authenticity of them and say, "I didn’t change these. I didn’t modify the story. This is the truth. This is what’s happening. You should decide whether we need to be doing this."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Edward Snowden’s actions have elicited a range of reactions. Jeffrey Toobin of CNN and The New Yorker writes that Snowden is, quote, "a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison." Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that Snowden should not be considered a whistleblower because, quote, "what he did was an act of treason." And Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted, "I hope we follow Mr Snowden to the ends of the earth to bring him to justice," language echoing what Senator Graham once said in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Douglas Rushkoff wrote on CNN, quote, "Snowden is a hero because he realized [that] our very humanity was being compromised by the blind implementation of machines in the name of making us safe," unquote. The editor of The American Conservative, Scott McConnell, wrote, quote, "If Obama wanted to do something smart, he should thank Snowden and offer him a job as a White House technology advisor." And Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg sang Snowden’s praises, writing, quote, "In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden’s release ofNSA material—and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago."

For more, we host a debate on Edward Snowden. Is he a hero or a criminal, whistleblower or a traitor? Here in New York, we’re joined by Chris Hedges, senior fellow at The Nation Institute; was a foreign correspondent for The New York Timesfor 15 years, was part of a team of reporters that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism; author, along with the cartoonist Joe Sacco, of the New York Times best-seller Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt . His most recent article is called "The Judicial Lynching of Bradley Manning" at

And in Chicago, Illinois, we’re joined by Geoffrey Stone, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. His recent piece for The Huffington Post is called "Edward Snowden: 'Hero or Traitor'?" Stone served as an informal adviser to President Obama in 2008. In 1992, 20 years ago, Professor Stone hired Obama to teach constitutional law at the University of Chicago. Geoffrey Stone is also author of many books, including Top Secret: When Our Government Keeps Us in the Dark and Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime: From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism.

Chris Hedges, Geoffrey Stone, we welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Stone, I want to begin with you. In your piece, you say that Edward Snowden’s actions were criminal. Can you explain why you feel he should be in jail?

GEOFFREY STONE: Well, there is a federal statute that makes it a crime for public employees who have been granted access to classified information to reveal that information to persons who are unauthorized to receive it. So, from a simple, straightforward, technical legal standpoint, there’s absolutely no question that Snowden violated the law. And from that standpoint, if he’s tried, he will be convicted, and he is in fact, from that perspective, a criminal. Whether one admires what he did is another question, but it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not what he did was unlawful.

The question, why I think he deserves punishment, is—he said it actually himself in the clip that you played earlier: He said, "I’m just an ordinary guy." Well, the fact is, he’s just an ordinary guy with absolutely no expertise in public policy, in the law, in national security. He’s a techie. He made the decision on his own, without any authorization, without any approval by the American people, to reveal classified information about which he had absolutely no expertise in terms of the danger to the nation, the value of the information to national security. That was a completely irresponsible and dangerous thing to do. Whether we think it was a positive thing in the long run or not is a separate question, but it was clearly criminal.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Hedges, your response?

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, what we’re really having a debate about is whether or not we’re going to have a free press left or not. If there are no Snowdens, if there are no Mannings, if there are no Assanges, there will be no free press. And if the press—and let’s not forget that Snowden gave this to The Guardian. This was filtered through a press organization in a classic sort of way whistleblowers provide public information about unconstitutional, criminal activity by their government to the public. So the notion that he’s just some individual standing up and releasing stuff over the Internet is false.

But more importantly, what he has exposed essentially shows that anybody who reaches out to the press to expose fraud, crimes, unconstitutional activity, which this clearly appears to be, can be traced and shut down. And that’s what’s so frightening. So, we are at a situation now, and I speak as a former investigative reporter for The New York Times, by which any investigation into the inner workings of government has become impossible. That’s the real debate.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Chris, how do you respond to the point that Geoffrey Stone made and how Snowden identified himself as an ordinary guy? Should any regular government employee or contractor be allowed to disclose whatever information he feels the public ought to be privy to, whether it’s classified by the government and his employer or her employer or not?

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, if—that is what an act of conscience is. And reporters live—our sort of daily fare is built, investigative reporters, off of people who, within systems of power, have a conscience to expose activities by the power elite which are criminal in origin or unconstitutional. And that’s precisely what he did. And he did it in the traditional way, which was going to a journalist, Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian, and having it vetted by that publication before it was put out to the public. Was it a criminal? Well, yes, but it was—I suppose, in a technical sense, it was criminal, but set against the larger crime that is being committed by the state. When you have a system by which criminals are in power, criminals on Wall Street who are able to carry out massive fraud with no kinds of repercussions or serious regulation or investigation, criminals who torture in our black sites, criminals who carry out targeted assassinations, criminals who lie to the American public to prosecute preemptive war, which under international law is illegal, if you are a strict legalist, as apparently Professor Stone is, what you’re in essence doing is protecting criminal activity. I would argue that in large sections of our government it’s the criminals who are in power.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Stone, your response?

GEOFFREY STONE: Well, first of all, there is, so far as I can tell from everything that’s been revealed, absolutely nothing illegal or criminal about these programs. They may be terrible public policy—I’m not sure I approve of it at all—but the fact is the claim that they’re unconstitutional and illegal is wildly premature. Certainly from the standpoint of what’s been released so far, whether Mr. Hedges likes it or not, or whether Mr. Snowdon likes it or not, these are not unconstitutional or illegal programs.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to a letter that you co-signed, Professor Stone, in 2006 with other prominent attorneys about NSA surveillance under President Bush. You were criticizing it. You wrote, quote, "Although the program’s secrecy prevents us from being privy to all of its details, the Justice Department’s defense of what it concedes was secret and warrantless electronic surveillance of persons within the United States fails to identify any plausible legal authority for such surveillance. Accordingly the program appears on its face to violate existing law." How do you compare that to what we’re seeing today?

GEOFFREY STONE: They’re two completely different programs. The Bush NSAsurveillance program was enacted in direct defiance of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The Obama program, if we want to call it that, was approved by Congress. That’s number one. Number two is, the Bush program involved wiretapping of the contents of phone conversations. The Supreme Court has long held that that is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, if there’s not an individualized determination of probable cause. The Obama program, if we want to call it that, does not involve wiretapping; it involves phone numbers. And the Supreme Court has long held that the government is allowed to obtain phone records, bank records, library records, purchase records, once you disclose that information to a third party. And there is no Fourth Amendment violation. So they’re two completely different programs.

AMY GOODMAN: But if you just heard our conversation with the mathematician Susan Landau, she argued that often metadata is more revealing than the transcript of an actual conversation. Do you think the law should change, Geoffrey Stone, to include this metadata?

GEOFFREY STONE: Well, I’m not persuaded by her argument that it’s more revealing. I do believe that it’s problematic, and I think, in fact, there should be statutes that prohibit the gathering of this type of data by private entities, as well as by the government, in the absence of at least a compelling justification. And I thought the Supreme Court’s decisions initially on this question were wrong. So I would certainly want to see them differently. But in terms of what the law is, it’s not unconstitutional, it’s not illegal, and it’s completely different from what the Bush administration was doing.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Chris Hedges, do you agree that—

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, there are plenty of lawyers who disagree with Professor Stone.


CHRIS HEDGES: Well, the ACLU has just issued a lawsuit over this, claiming that it’s a violation of the Fourth Amendment. So, I haven’t done a poll. Frankly, the legal profession, under this steady assault of civil liberties, can’t hold its head very high. There are a few out there, at the ACLU—

GEOFFREY STONE: Unlike—unlike the journalistic profession?

CHRIS HEDGES: —Michael Ratner and a few others. But, you know—

AMY GOODMAN: Geoffrey Stone, aren’t you on the board of the ACLU, or were you?

GEOFFREY STONE: I’m on the National Advisory Council.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. So what do you think of them suing the government over this?

GEOFFREY STONE: I think it’s great. I think that they are perfectly right to bring the question. That’s their job. Their job is to challenge whether or not things are constitutional, to raise those questions. That’s exactly what they should be doing. Doesn’t mean they’re always right, but they should be presenting these questions to the courts. That’s their job. That’s their responsibility.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Chris Hedges, one of the problems that people have pointed to is that there aren’t procedures or mechanisms in place for people within the government to point out wrongdoing when it does occur. Do you think that’s one of the problems that’s occurred in this case with Edward Snowden? Or, for that matter, your most recent article was on Army whistleblower, Private Bradley Manning.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, we used to have a mechanism. It was called the press. And we used to be able to tell our sources that they would be protected and that they would not be investigated for providing information that exposed the inner workings of power. Unfortunately, the press, like most institutions in this country, and I would add the legal profession, has largely collapsed under this corporate coup d’état that’s taken place and is no longer functioning. And I want to get back, that what this is fundamentally a debate about is whether we are going to have, through the press, an independent institution within this country that can examine the inner workings of power or not. And it is now—I mean, many of us had suspected this widespread surveillance, but now that it’s confirmed, we’re seeing—you know, why did Snowden come out publicly? Well, because I think he knew that they would find out anyway, because they have all of Glenn Greenwald’s email, phone records and everything else, and they can very quickly find out who he was speaking to and whether Snowden had contact with him. And that—you know, I speak as reporter—is terrifying, because it essentially shuts down any ability to counter the official propaganda and the official narrative and expose the crimes. And we have seen in the last few years tremendous crimes being committed by those in power. We have no ability now to investigate them.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Stone, let me ask you about whether the reporters from The Guardian and The Washington Post should be prosecuted. CNN’s Anderson Cooper put this question to Republican Congressmember Peter King of New York last night.

ANDERSON COOPER: As far as reporters who helped reveal these programs, do you believe something should happen to them? Do you believe they should be punished, as well?

REP. PETER KING: Actually, if they—if they willingly knew that this was classified information, I think actions should be taken, especially on something of this magnitude. I know that the whole issue of leaks has been gone into over the last month, but I think something on this magnitude, there is an obligation, both moral but also legal, I believe, against a reporter disclosing something which would so severely compromise national security.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Stone, your response to what Peter King is saying?

GEOFFREY STONE: He’s just wrong. The Supreme Court, in the Pentagon Papers case, for example, made very clear that although Daniel Ellsberg could be prosecuted for—as a public official stealing information, that The New York Times and The Washington Post could not be restrained from publishing that information. The court has essentially held that although the government can control classified information at its source by prohibiting employees from revealing it, once the information goes out, it cannot then punish the press for publishing it. It’s a little bit odd as a system. But the idea is that, on the one hand, we have freedom of the press, which has to be preserved; on the other hand, the government has a legitimate interest in maintaining confidentiality at the source within the government itself. So, no, clearly, Greenwald and Reuters and so on, none of those can be — The Guardian, none of those can be punished, consistent with the First Amendment. That’s clear.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Stone, so do you believe that Edward Snowden’s position is comparable to Daniel Ellsberg’s position with the Pentagon Papers and that The Guardian played a comparable role to The New York Times?

GEOFFREY STONE: So, I think Snowden’s position, based upon what I know now, is much worse. Ellsberg revealed historical information that had really no appreciable threat to the national security. It was all old information about what the government had done in the past. And what Snowden has revealed is information about ongoing programs, which, we’re told, are extremely important to the national security, and we’re told that the revelation of those programs makes them far less efficient. That’s a very serious—potentially very serious harm to the nation. That was not the case in Ellsberg’s situation.

AMY GOODMAN: But, Professor Stone—

GEOFFREY STONE: So I think, from that standpoint, what—

AMY GOODMAN: Henry Kissinger said—


AMY GOODMAN: —Dan Ellsberg was "the most dangerous man in America," so they certainly—at that time, they were telling us that what he was doing was threatening national security.

GEOFFREY STONE: He said that at the time before they had an opportunity to really reflect on what was released. Years later, or even weeks later, that was no longer the case. So, I think that those two situations are not remotely comparable, in terms of the harm that Ellsberg did to the country, which I think was trivial, relative to what Snowden has done, which arguably is far more serious.

Let me make another point about civil liberties here, by the way, that it’s extremely important to understand that if you want to protect civil liberties in this country, you not only have to protect civil liberties, you also have to protect against terrorism, because what will destroy civil liberties in this country more effectively than anything else is another 9/11 attack. And if the government is not careful about that, and if we have more attacks like that, you can be sure that the kind of things the government is doing now are going to be regarded as small potatoes compared to what would happen in the future. So it’s very complicated, asking what’s the best way to protect civil liberties in the United States.

CHRIS HEDGES: I just don’t buy this argument that, you know, this hurts national security. I covered al-Qaeda for The New York Times, and, believe me, they know they’re being monitored. The whole idea that somehow it comes as a great surprise to jihadist groups that their emails, websites and phone calls are being tracked is absurd. This is—we’re talking about the wholesale collection of information on virtually most of the American public, and the consequences of that are truly terrifying. At that point, we are in essence snuffing out the capacity of any kind of investigation into the inner workings of power. And to throw out this notion that it harmed—this harmed national security, there’s no evidence for that, in the same way that there is no evidence that the information that Bradley Manning leaked in any way harmed national security. It didn’t. What the security and surveillance state is doing is playing on fear and using that fear to accrue to themselves tremendous forms of power that in a civil society, in a democracy, they should never have. And that’s the battle that’s underway right now, and, frankly, we’re losing.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Professor Stone, to reflect on Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham jail written April 16, 1963, when he said, "One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law." ... Could you respond to that?

GEOFFREY STONE: Sure. Obviously, King is right. The question is whether it’s an unjust law. So, people who violate a law because they think it is unjust don’t necessarily fit within the letter from the Birmingham jail. King was talking about protesting racial segregation, and that’s a little bit different in terms of the moral status of it. Now, maybe it’s true. I mean, maybe Chris Hedges is right, and maybe that—that Snowden is a hero, and maybe this is all a fraud on the part of the government, this information serves no useful purpose, and it’s fundamentally important to the United States that it’s been revealed. Maybe that’s true. And if it turns out to be true, then I’ll be the first to say Snowden was a hero. But at the moment, I have absolutely no reason to believe that. And to say that some people act on legitimate conscience and therefore violate unjust laws is not to say that everyone who violates a law is Martin Luther King in the Birmingham jail.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to put that question to Chris, but I wanted to ask you, Geoffrey Stone, if you were Edward Snowden’s attorney, what arguments would you put forward for him right now?

GEOFFREY STONE: Legally, I don’t think he has—honestly, I don’t think he has any legal arguments that would be a defense to the charge that he violated the law about government contractors not disclosing classified information to persons who are not authorized to receive it. I don’t think he has a defense. Some people commit a crime, and they committed the crime. And I don’t know that there’s any defense sometimes.

AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, Dan Ellsberg faced treason trial, but ultimately, the—he ended up being exonerated because of the illegal wiretapping that was done of him.

GEOFFREY STONE: Well, he wasn’t exonerated. In his case, the judge dropped the charges against him because the Nixon administration searched his psychiatrist’s office in violation of the Constitution, and the judge concluded that that was prosecutorial misconduct, and therefore dismissed the prosecution. If the government does something similar in Snowden’s case and the court finds that it’s a violation of his constitutional rights in the course of the investigation and dismisses the charges, that would be something, as his lawyer, I’d certainly want to know. But on the merits of the charge as they presently—as it presently stands, I think it’s a sentencing question, not a criminality question.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Hedges, if you could respond to the King quote and the significance of what Snowden did?

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, without figures like Snowden, without figures like Manning, without figures like Julian Assange, essentially, the blinds are drawn. We have no window into what’s being done in our name, including the crimes that are being done in our name. Again, I—you know, having worked as an investigative reporter, the lifeblood of my work were figures like these, who had the moral courage to stand up and name the crimes that they witnessed. And these people are always, at the moment that they stand up—and even King, of course, was persecuted and reviled and denounced, hounded by J. Edgar Hoover, who attempted, through blackmail, to get him to commit suicide before accepting the Nobel Prize. Let’s not forget that all of these figures, like Snowden, come under this character assassination, which, frankly, I think Professor Stone is engaging in. And that’s not uncommon. That’s what comes with the territory when you carry out an act of conscience. It’s a very lonely and frightening—and it makes these figures, like Snowden, deeply courageous, because, I mean, the whole debate—traitor or whistleblower—for me, you know, hearing this on the press is watching the press commit collective suicide, because without those figures, there is no press.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to end with Professor Stone. You were an early adviser to President Obama. You gave him his first job at University of Chicago Law School. You were the dean of the University of Chicago Law School. What would you advise him today?

GEOFFREY STONE: I think there needs to be a really careful re-evaluation of the classification system. I—there’s no question that we wildly overclassify, and that creates all sorts of problems, both for the press and for the ability of the government to keep secrets, because if you try to keep everything secret, you don’t effectively keep very much secret. So I think that’s critical. I think there is a serious question about how we make the trade-off between security and privacy, and I think that that’s an issue that needs to be addressed carefully. Certainly, within the administration and within the government, to the extent there are genuinely secret policies that need to be kept secret, and I believe that perfectly possible, then I think that does not immunize them from serious debate by responsible people within the four corners of the administration, bringing in people who can have national security clearances to take the devil’s advocate position and challenge these issues. So I think there’s a lot that can and should be done, and I think that it’s easy to get swept up in the notion of security being the be all and end all. This is a nation that’s committed to individual privacy, to freedom of the press, to freedom of speech, and those values need to be respected. And I think government constantly has to be re-examining itself, because all the temptations are in the wrong direction.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Geoffrey Stone, before we conclude, I’d like to ask you about an article you wrote in 2011 for The New York Times called "Our Untransparent President." You wrote, quote, "The record of the Obama administration on this fundamental issue of American democracy has surely fallen short of expectations. This is a lesson in 'trust us.' Those in power are always certain that they themselves will act reasonably, and they resist limits on their own discretion. The problem is, 'trust us' is no way to run a self-governing society," end-quote. What’s your assessment of the comments that you made then relative to now and his—Obama’s record on transparency and civil liberties?

GEOFFREY STONE: Well, I think the comment was correct then, and I think it’s correct today. I think that there’s a temptation on the part of public officials to basically say, "We don’t to be hassled, we don’t want to be bothered, we don’t want to be criticized, so we’ll just do what’s in the best interest of the country, and we don’t have to tell anybody about it." And that’s a huge danger in a democracy. And—but the fact that I accept that and passionately believe it does not mean that everything the government does in confidence and in secret should not be in confidence or in secret. The problem is where to draw the line.

So, yes, I would criticize the Obama administration, in general, for being overly concerned with secrecy and not being sufficiently transparent. The point I made earlier about overclassification is a good example. But at the same time, I do recognize that there are situations in which secrecy is critical, and the problem is being able to discern when that’s necessary and when it’s not. And to do that, you need to have people within the debate who are internally challenging the necessity for secrecy and confidentiality. I don’t think the Obama administration has done a very good job of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Hedges, just 30 seconds, and I know that you were attending the Bradley Manning trial, but linking the two.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, we’re talking about the death of a free press, the death of a civil society. This is far beyond a reasonable debate. We make the East German Stasi state look like the Boy Scouts. And if we don’t wrest back this power for privacy, for the capacity to investigate what our power elite is doing, I think we can essentially say our democracy has been snuffed out.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Can you figure this one out?: What the - ?

 Well-titled e-mail --WHAT THE...?????

Try and figure this one out!







Friday, June 28, 2013

Important info and film re. Aspartame

This is an informative and potentially life-saving film for those who have not yet learned of the dangers of aspartame.

Aspartame -- best known by the names of Nutrasweet and Equal -- is believed to be carcinogenic and accounts for more reports of adverse reactions than all other foods and food additives combined.

Yet, this artificial sweetener continues to be used in more than 6,000 products (often sugar-free or "diet" versions), and millions of people consume this toxic chemical daily, believing it to be a healthy alternative to sugar.

If you’re one of them, or know someone who is, watching the 90-minute documentary Sweet Misery, in the link above, could literally save your life. You might find you have something in common with filmmaker and narrator Cori Brackett’s own personal story, which starts out the film.

Like many others, Cori noticed a connection between the diet sodas she was drinking and negative effects on her health, including double vision, slurred speech and weak limbs. She was even diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and forced to use a wheelchair.

When she learned of aspartame’s link to the health issues described, she stopped using them and, as if by magic, her symptoms disappeared. But this is only the start of the incredibly eye-opening story behind aspartame, revealed in full detail in Sweet Misery.

A Detective Story of Corporate Fraud and Manipulation

Sweet Misery includes many heartfelt conversations with aspartame victims, including one woman serving a prison sentence for poisoning her late husband, even though his health signs suggest aspartame may have been to blame.

You’ll also hear from medical experts, including Dr. Russell Blaylock, a renowned neurosurgeon, who explain why aspartame acts as a poison to your brain and body.

But perhaps the most riveting aspect of the film is the evidence showing the extensive corporate fraud and manipulation that lead to aspartame's approval. The film has archival footage from G.D. Searle, the producer of aspartame, and federal officials describing the extensive propaganda used to push aspartame on the market.

Additionally, dialogue from a former US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigator also detailing the manipulation that took place to get this chemical approved will leave you with the "big picture" of conspiracy and even criminal negligence surrounding this popular artificial sweetener. There’s even an exchange described with Donald Rumsfeld, who was the CEO of Searle and, at the same time, part of Reagan's transition team when the FDA's board of inquiry was overruled to allow the marketing of aspartame as a food additive. Prior to this time, aspartame was unanimously rejected by the FDA because the scientific data just did not support it as a safe product.

Aspartame 101: Why It Can Wreck Your Health

Aspartame is primarily made up of aspartic acid and phenylalanine. The phenylalanine has been synthetically modified to carry a methyl group, which provides the majority of the sweetness. That phenylalanine methyl bond, called a methyl ester, is very weak, which allows the methyl group on the phenylalanine to easily break off and form methanol.

You may have heard the claim that aspartame is harmless because methanol is also found in fruits and vegetables. However, in fruits and vegetables, the methanol is firmly bonded to pectin, allowing it to be safely passed through your digestive tract. Not so with the methanol created by aspartame; it’s not bonded to anything that can help eliminate it from your body.

Methanol is a serious neurotoxin because it acts as a Trojan horse and it's carried into susceptible tissues in your body, like your brain and bone marrow, where the alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) enzyme converts it into formaldehyde, which wreaks havoc with sensitive proteins and DNA.

All animals except humans have a protective mechanism that allows methanol to be broken down into harmless formic acid. While humans do have the same number of peroxisomes (small structures in cells designed to detoxify chemicals) in comparable cells as animals, human peroxisomes cannot convert the toxic formaldehyde into harmless formic acid, so the formaldehyde is free to cause enormous damage in your tissues.

There IS an Obvious Biological Explanation for Aspartame Reactions...

The industry is fond of claiming that there’s “no biological explanation” for the health problems reported by so many after consuming aspartame. Of course, this is meant to make you think such reports aren’t true, or are unrelated to aspartame. Alas, there is in fact an obvious biological explanation according to Dr. Monte:

"Here is the story: there is a major biochemical problem here," he says. "Methyl alcohol is known now, and has been known since 1940, to be metabolized differently by humans from every other animal."

Here’s how it works: Both animals and humans have small structures called peroxisomes in each cell. There are a couple of hundred in every cell of your body, which are designed to detoxify a variety of chemicals. Peroxisome contains catalase, which help detoxify methanol. Other chemicals in the peroxisome convert the formaldehyde to formic acid, which is harmless, but this last step occurs only in animals. When methanol enters the peroxisome of every animal except humans, it gets into that mechanism. Humans do have the same number of peroxisomes in comparable cells as animals, but human peroxisomes cannot convert the toxic formaldehyde into harmless formic acid.

So to recap: In humans, the methyl alcohol travels through your blood vessels into sensitive areas, such as your brain, that are loaded with ADH, which converts methanol to formaldehyde. And since there's no catalase present, the formaldehyde is free to cause enormous damage in your tissues.

Download Interview Transcript

Symptoms from methanol poisoning are many, and include:

  • Headaches
  • Ear buzzing
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Weakness
  • Vertigo
  • Chills
  • Memory lapses
  • Numbness and shooting pains in the extremities
  • Behavioral disturbances
  • Neuritis
The most well-known problems from methanol poisoning are vision problems including misty vision, progressive contraction of visual fields, blurring of vision, obscuration of vision, retinal damage, and blindness. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that causes retinal damage, interferes with DNA replication and may cause birth defects.

A Historical Timeline of Aspartame

Aspartame is the number one source of side-effect complaints to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with over 10,000 complaints filed and over 91 symptoms documented that are related to its consumption. With that many reports of adverse effects, it's hard to believe aspartame is still allowed on the market — let alone being weaseled in as an unlabeled ingredient in dairy products of all kinds.

Unfortunately, aspartame's approval was and still is largely a political affair. Many readers have long forgotten what 60 Minutes' correspondent Mike Wallace stated in his 1996 report on aspartame — that the approval of aspartame was "the most contested in FDA history." And for good reason. At the time, independent studies had found it caused brain cancer in lab animals, and the studies submitted by G.D. Searle to the FDA for the approval were quickly suspected of being sloppy at best. To get an idea of of how aspartame made it through the FDA approval process despite warning signs of potential health hazards and alleged scientific fraud, take a look at the historical timeline of aspartame:

Blood Cancer, Brain Damage and Weight Gain

Sweet Misery was released in 2004, and the serious risks of aspartame were already well established. But since then, the research has continued to reveal even more striking risks. Last year, the longest ever human aspartame study, spanning 22 years, found a clear association between aspartame consumption and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and leukemia in men.1 Other research revealed that long-term consumption of aspartame leads to oxidative stress, vascular congestion and an imbalance in the antioxidant/pro-oxidant status in the brain.2 Of course, as detailed in Sweet Misery, aspartame has also been previously linked to brain tumors.3

The fact that aspartame is NOT a dieter's best friend has also been known by scientists for some time, and this was again confirmed last year in a study that found compared with sucrose (regular table sugar), aspartame and another artificial sweetener, saccharin, caused greater weight gain in adult rats, and this weight gain was unrelated to caloric intake.4 The underlying mechanism was not determined.

However, a number of studies have already shown that consuming artificial sweeteners disassociates the sensation of sweetness with caloric content, thereby changing your body's ability to regulate caloric intake naturally. So if you’re consuming artificial sweeteners because you think they’re going to help you lose weight, think again. In all, about 90 different adverse effects have been linked to aspartame, including:

Headaches/migraines Muscle spasms Tachycardia/heart palpitations Anxiety attacks
Dizziness/vertigo Weight gain Insomnia Slurred speech
Seizures Rashes Vision problems Loss of taste
Nausea Irritability and depression Tinnitus and hearing loss Memory loss
Numbness Fatigue Breathing difficulties Joint pain


According to researchers and physicians studying the adverse effects of aspartame, the following chronic illnesses can also be triggered or worsened by ingesting aspartame:

Brain tumors Multiple sclerosis Epilepsy Chronic fatigue syndrome Parkinson's disease
Alzheimer's disease Mental retardation Lymphoma Fibromyalgia Diabetes

The Most Dangerous Food Additive on the Market: Are You Being Affected?

After watching Sweet Misery, many people belatedly realize they may have been suffering reactions to aspartame without realizing it. If you suspect an artificial sweetener might be to blame for a symptom you're having, a good way to help you weed out the culprit is to do an elimination challenge. It's easy to do, but you must read the ingredient labels for everything you put in your mouth to make sure you're avoiding ALL artificial sweeteners.

Unfortunately, aspartame toxicity is not well known by physicians, despite its frequency. Diagnosis is also hampered by the fact that it mimics several other common health conditions. It’s quite possible that you could be having a reaction to artificial sweeteners and not even know it, or be blaming it on another cause. To determine if you're having a reaction to artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, take the following steps:

  • Eliminate all artificial sweeteners from your diet for two weeks.
  • After two weeks of being artificial sweetener-free, reintroduce your artificial sweetener of choice in a significant quantity (about three servings daily). Avoid other artificial sweeteners during this period.
  • Do this for one to three days and notice how you feel, especially as compared to when you were consuming no artificial sweeteners.
  • If you don't notice a difference in how you feel after re-introducing your primary artificial sweetener for a few days, it's a safe bet you're able to tolerate it acutely, meaning your body doesn't have an immediate, adverse response. However, this doesn't mean your health won't be damaged in the long run.
  • If you've been consuming more than one type of artificial sweetener, you can repeat steps 2 through 4 with the next one on your list.

Let me make it abundantly clear that even though you may not show immediate signs of any noticeable reaction after consuming aspartame, please don't make the mistake of telling yourself "it must be fine for me." I strongly urge you to avoid aspartame, and other artificial sweeteners, at all costs.

Also, if you do experience side effects from aspartame, please report them to the FDA (if you live in the US) without delay. It's easy to make a report — just go to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator page, find the phone number for your state, and make a call reporting your reaction. There's no telling just how many reports they might need to receive before taking another look at aspartame's safety and reconsidering their stance. But, the more reports they get, the more likely that is to happen. So if you suspect you have experienced an adverse reaction to aspartame (or any other drug or food additive), please take a moment to make this important call.

Finally, if you or someone you love is currently consuming aspartame, please take the 90 minutes to watch Sweet Misery... then decide if it’s really worth the risk.


15-year-old devises test to detect pancreatic, ovarian, lung cancer in early stages

Using Google and Wikipedia, this high school freshman accomplished in under a year what scientists with millions of dollars-worth of research grants have failed to do. This new tool costs 3 cents, takes 5 minutes, and is 90% accurate for detecting 3 types of cancer.

Wow! What an incredible discovery by this kid!  His test is 90% accurate!  If it ever gets to market, it will contribute to saving many lives that would otherwise have been lost.  Of course, Big Pharma will have to involve itself in some way in order to profit from it -- and you know they will. AND, of course, they will have to overcome the fact that it now costs only 3 cents for the test.  When and if it appears on your medical bill, do you really think it will say 3 cents?  Going by today's Big Pharma/AMA rates, it will be more like $300. (Sorry to be so cynical, but that is what living in this world for 77 years has done to me.  :-( :-) )

a 15-year-old boy named Jack Andraka has done what scientists with millions of dollars-worth of research grants at their disposal have failed to do. He invented a dipstick-type sensor to detect pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer that is:
  • 168 times faster
  • 26,000 times less expensive, and
  • 400 times more sensitive than the current standard of detection

And he did it using Google and Wikipedia as his primary research tools — online resources that are available to virtually anyone on the planet with an internet connection. What’s more, the test costs three cents, takes five minutes, and has a 90 percent accuracy rate. Compare that to the current standard, which employs 60-year-old technology, costs about $800, and misses 30 percent of all pancreatic cancers.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Potentially habitable planets are being found

None too soon. At the rate we Earth humans are destroying our planet, future generations will need to flee to planets in other solar systems.

Paula Deen doesn't seem to get it

This is a good article -- it gets it right.  Paula Deen refused to mature as an adult out of the racist upbringing she had. There are MANY more like her in this world, especially in our southern states--but, sadly, not just confined to them.  


Diane Roberts, The Guardian

Paula Deen wants you to know she’s really, really sorry about the “n-word” thing. In a bleary, teary video apology she said: “Inappropriate, hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable … please forgive me.”

Paula Deen’s lawyer wants you to know she’s a victim of her culture: she was “born 60 years ago, when the south had schools that were segregated, different bathrooms, different restaurants and Americans rode in different parts of the bus.”

The celebrity chef, famous for her high-calorie, near-parody recipes (deep-fried balls of butter) admits to using racist epithets in jokes and perhaps in talking to her husband about the time she was held up, but, come on, that was “a long time ago”.

Wait: does 2007 count as “a long time ago”? A former employee of the Deen food empire is suing Deen and her brother Earl “Bubba” Hiers, charging racial and sexual harassment. Lisa T Jackson claims, among other unsavory things, Deen wanted her to design a “plantation style” wedding for Bubba, which would ideally include “a bunch of little niggers” in bow ties to act as servers, like the ones that used to “tap dance around” in “Shirley Temple days”.

Jackson, who is white, says Deen laughed and said, “That would be a true Southern wedding, wouldn’t it? But we can’t do that because the media would be on me about that.”

For his part, Bubba Hiers addressed Jackson as “my little Jew girl”, supposedly because he was impressed with her bringing the business into profit, subjected his employees to porn in the workplace, called his kitchen workers “coons”, and, well, here’s an extract from Jackson’s complaint:

In Ms Jackson’s presence, Bubba Hiers said to his African-American security guard and driver, “don’t you wish you could rub all the black off you and be like me?” The security guard responded, “I’m fine the way I am”, whereupon Mr Hiers replied, “You just look dirty. I bet you wish you could.”

Undelicious as this is, it’s not about only a couple of undereducated white people spouting rubbish worthy of an Imperial Wizard on a bender. We’re talking about Deen because she has a huge following and because she’s on TV – or was, before the Food Network declined to renew her contract – and because she’s not unique. This stuff is said every day and not just down here in Dixie. A century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation, 50 years on from the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, the assassination of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers, and former Alabama Governor George Wallace’s “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door”, too many Americans still haven’t adjusted to the racial realities of the 21st century. Or even the 20th.

The president of the United States continues to be subject to coded language – he’s not really American. Remember Mitt Romney’s attempted quip at a 2012 campaign stop in Michigan: “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate.” Barack and Michelle Obama still get called “uppity” out loud and in public. Recently, a school board official in Virginia thought it amusing to email colleagues pictures of bare-breasted African women and caption it “Michelle Obama’s high school reunion”.

The Kappa Alpha Order, a fraternity with chapters at more than 100 colleges nationwide, throws an annual party called “Old South” at which the young men ride around campus on horses with faux swords to collect their dates, who wear Scarlett O’Hara hoopskirts. The boys used to wear Confederate officers’ uniforms, but the fraternity recently banned the practice, along with the flying of the Confederate battle flag, citing modern racial sensitivities. Progress!

Yet the country still swoons for moonlight-and-magnolias, the South as a land of gents, belles, white-columned houses, down-home folks, honeyed accents, sweet tea, fried chicken and cakes so tasty you’ll want to slap your mama. Paula Deen’s South.

The trouble is, that South never existed. Deen and her brother grew up in Albany, Georgia, a famously vicious little burg where the local sheriff famously broke his cane over the head of an African-American lawyer simply because “he is a nigger and I am a white man”. Deen was about 15 when Martin Luther King Jr spent several days in the Albany jail and when some black kids jumped the fence and dove into the white-only municipal pool, causing the town to drain it and scrub it, and then sell it rather than integrate it.

Deen doesn’t acknowledge any of this. She sticks to the Gone With the Wind-y fantasy that, as she told reporter Kim Severson during as TimesTalks conversation, “Black folks were like our family”. She proudly presents her African-American friend, “black as this board”, and makes him come up on stage: “Come out here, Hollis: we can’t see you standing against that dark board!”  (Her racism goes so deep, she didn't even realize what an insult this was to her friend.)

Although her many fans are outraged and threatening boycotts, Deen has lost her TV program, Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, has dumped her as its spokesmodel and QVC, the home shopping empire, is “reviewing its business relationship” with her. All the banana split brownie pizza in the world can’t sweeten Deen’s casual racism. Stick a fork in her: she’s cooked.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pope Francis Orders Investigation of Vatican Bank

Uh-oh. The pope is wading into very dangerous waters here.  The same action by Pope John Paul I in 1978 led to his quick and mysterious demise after only 33 days as Pope.  Can it be that light is finally going to be shone into the dark dealings of the Vatican bank?

Pope Francis has set up a commission to review the secretive and scandal-dogged Vatican bank in a bid to personally oversee a “greater harmonisation” between its activities and the wider Roman Catholic church.

A panel of five people – including two cardinals and Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor who used to be US ambassador to the Holy See – was announced by the Vatican on Wednesday as Francis showed signs of wanting to extend his belief in ethical financial reform to his own backyard.

Known officially as the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), the bank is attempting to shed its image as a mysterious and opaque organisation which has regularly harmed the Vatican’s image, with a new German president who says his mission is to introduce greater transparency.

But questions remain over its ability to clean up its record, especially in the wake of embarrassing documents leaked during the so-called Vatileaks scandal, which painted a picture of dysfunctional internal machinations.

Last year, soon after its former president had been ousted in an apparent boardroom coup, a landmark report by Moneyval, a monitoring committee of the Council of Europe, found that although the institution had made progress in some areas, it had a lot of work to do before it could be included on the EU’s anti-money laundering “white list”.

The bank is due to update Moneyval on its progress by the end of the year. In interviews last month, Ernst von Freyberg, the German financier who has taken over the reins at the institution, said the Vatican had detected seven possible incidents of money laundering so far this year.

As he outlined one of the Argentinian pontiff’s most concrete moves to date, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the new commission – established through a personal decree known as a chirografo – would report directly to Francis.

In a statement, the Vatican’s secretariat of state said the idea for the commission had emerged from “the desire of the Holy Father to better understand the judicial position and activities of the Institute in order to allow for greater harmonisation with the mission of the universal church … in a wider context of reform”.

Ever since Francis succeeded Benedict XVI in March and announced he wanted a “poor church, for the poor”, there has been speculation that he might seek to restructure – or even close – the 71-year-old IOR, which has around 19,000 accounts, mostly belonging to priests, nuns, charities and Vatican employees.

The commission is not the first step Francis has taken to better oversee its operation – he appointed a trusted ally to an important role inside the IOR earlier this month.

The commission, whose members will have powers to obtain documents and data they deem necessary to establish the state of affairs at the bank, is headed by Raffaele Farina, an Italian cardinal.

Also on the panel are Jean-Louis Tauran, the French cardinal who announced Francis’s election as pontiff to the world in March; Glendon, an American academic who served from 2008-2009 as US ambassador to the Holy See; a Spanish bishop and an American monsignor. © Guardian News and Media 2013