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Archive for December, 2013

A secrets law for whom?

Look who gets a free pass

Contentious legislation could mark the start of a dramatic shift of power to the executive, with checks and balances an afterthought

by Colin P.A. Jones

The Japan Tmes (December 18 2013)

Ancient Confucian scholars regarded law as a necessary evil, something used on lower orders of people who lacked the moral refinement to act righteously without prompting. Yet this just states a basic truth about law: It is something we do to other people. You and I know how to act properly, right? It’s those awful other people who act like jerks and need their freedom restricted by rules.

Think about it: If you could be dictator for a day and pass any law, what would it be? More likely than not it would only affect other people. For example, I think people who mistreat animals are scum, so I might pass a law imposing harsh punishments on animal abuse.

Mind you, I am partial to steak frites, so I would be sure to define animal abuse in a way that doesn’t interfere with the process by which barnyard animals become conveniently sized cuts of meat. Or perhaps the best thing would be pass a law imposing veganism on everyone but myself, just in case; after all, we dictators need to keep up our strength.

Of course, in a democracy we theoretically consent to the laws that bind us. The reality, however, is that most laws first and foremost serve the goals of the people who make and execute them. This is not always clear because they generally need to at least pay lip service to notions of equality and democracy while at the same time remaking the world the way the law’s creators think it should be.

One way of understanding who a law is for is to identify who is subject to its restrictions and who is not. The latter category is probably where the folks in charge are sitting. The penchant of the US Congress for exempting itself from laws it imposes on the rest of the country is a prime example.

In Japan, the Supreme Court recently rejected a constitutional challenge to a requirement that birth reports indicate if a child has been born out of wedlock. The court noted that the Japanese system of family law is founded on legal marriage, making distinctions based on marital status unavoidable. The Diet subsequently failed by a single vote to amend the law in question.

The judges did, however, eliminate a provision of the Civil Code that the court separately found unconstitutional for treating children differently for inheritance purposes based on legitimacy, though conservative parliamentarians grumbled about the destruction of the “traditional Japanese family”. No such complaining was heard when the same Diet passed laws allowing judges and other public servants to take leaves of absence to accompany working spouses posted abroad, “spouses” being defined to include partners in de facto marriages.

Family law reform for regular Japanese people? Very difficult. Hey, somebody has to keep up the traditional family.

Another example: The Ministry of Justice has a website devoted to human rights. According to it, most human-rights violations are caused by the Japanese people themselves; much of the site is devoted to awareness about various forms of discrimination, which now include prejudice against Fukushima nuclear refugees. Discrimination based on legitimacy or marital status is not mentioned, of course, but it’s not discrimination when the government does it.

In fact, missing from the site is anything about what most people typically associate with human-rights violations: those committed by government actors. The Justice Ministry also has jurisdiction over prisons, juvenile correctional facilities, the system for processing (and generally rejecting) asylum applications from people fleeing human-rights abuses elsewhere, as well as the immigration detention system in which some of those people end up. In other words, the ministry itself oversees a vast system of potential human-rights abuses. Its highly selective characterization of human-rights problems thus makes perfect sense.

But of course, the prosecutors who run the Justice Ministry already know how not to violate human rights, and perhaps nothing bad ever happens in Japanese prisons. Just to be sure, they even subject prisons and other detention facilities to oversight by third-party committees whose members are … er, that information is a secret.

Which brings us to Japan’s new state secrets act. Imposing draconian new punishments on public servants who leak “designated state secrets” and anyone helping them, it was rushed into law in the closing hours of the 2013 legislative calendar – during the Justice Ministry’s Human Rights Week, no less. With little opportunity for meaningful debate and ignoring fierce opposition from minority parties and broad sectors of Japanese society, the process was reminiscent of the dark old days of Liberal Democratic Party rule. “Consensus-based decision making” is supposedly a traditional Japanese value of the sort the LDP professes to respect, but apparently consensus, like law, is also best when it is imposed only on other people.

So who is this new law for? One answer might be the United States and other potential security partners. Such countries doubtless require that some sort of national secrets law be in place before they will expand defense ties with Japan, ties that may be increasingly necessary with China becoming more belligerent. That said, however, partner countries may not care about some of the specific details of the law that alarm journalists and civil libertarians.

Certainly it is not for the Japanese people: Although polls show that almost half the population agrees with the general need for such an act, it clearly wasn’t an issue in the election that brought Shinzo Abe to power. Moreover, when the government solicited public comments on the draft law, of the 90,000 comments received, eighty percent were in opposition.

Oddly, the law doesn’t seem to be for the parliament that passed it either, since it contains no exceptions for Diet members trying to do their jobs. Constitutionally, the Diet is the highest organ of state, with both chambers empowered to conduct investigations. Individual Diet members also have the ability to require Cabinet members to answer questions, a power that opposition parties use to hold the government to account.

While under the law the heads of executive agencies “may” disclose designated secrets to Diet investigatory bodies, that is not the same as Diet members being able to use information they have independently obtained – including through leaks – to launch an investigation or ask a question of a minister of state. The law thus contains no protections enabling the people’s elected representatives to work with whistle-blowers or use classified information to expose malfeasance. The law may thus prove to be part of a dramatic rebalancing of power in favor of the executive branch.

Nor does the law seem to be for the bureaucracy as a whole. Public servants are already subject to criminal sanctions for disclosing secrets. The real target of the expanded penalties in the new law is more likely anyone who might encourage or help them to do so, a category so broad that it can include foreign spies and journalists alike, with even “negligent” disclosures and “interfering with control of classified information” being punishable by imprisonment.

The ambit of what can be designated as a state secret is similarly broad, and includes information related to “terrorism”, a term that is also helpfully vague. Defined in part as “forcing political or other ideological views on a nation or other people”, “terrorism” seems to potentially include much of the majoritarian democratic process itself, though one commentator suggests the definition is missing a vital comma in Japanese that would render it much narrower in scope.

Nonetheless, remember when organizers of the 2005 Aichi Expo prohibited outside drinks – on the grounds of preventing terrorism? More disturbingly, LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba characterized noisy protests against the law as being similar to terrorism. And if you have become numb to the signs at bus stations and elsewhere saying “On special alert for terrorism!” just remember that each one reflects a context in which designation of a state secret may now be theoretically possible.

A hint of whom the law is for might be found in the provisions establishing a system of security clearances for people with access to designated secrets. However, waivers apply for Cabinet ministers and vice ministers, the heads of the executive agencies empowered to designate national secrets in the first place, a few other designated posts and a useful “TBD” category; for this elite few, a security clearance will be something that other people have to get.

From this emerges a picture of a core group of people – political bosses and elite bureaucrats – who, perhaps not individually but as a group, expect that “they” will always be in power. “They” apparently are not concerned about the prospect of becoming “other people” whose access to government information will be blocked by the law. Given the LDP’s almost uninterrupted monopoly on power and the even greater consistency of bureaucratic rule, this might be a reasonable assumption.

It would also be a frightening one. In most democratic systems the prospect of legislative weapons being turned against the people who make them often keeps even a strong majority government from aggressively tampering with the levers of power – the US Senate’s long reluctance to overturn rules on filibusters being an example.

Disturbingly, some former prosecutors have warned that the problem is not so much with the secrets act itself, but with the inability to expect the criminal justice system to prevent its abuse. One of them, attorney Yoji Ochiai, notes on his blog that elite special prosecutors already use criminal statutes not just to fight crime but as a pretext for investigating – and sometimes detaining – people who “need to be investigated” because they threaten “public security”. This ability will be greatly expanded under the secrets act, concentrating even more power in the hands of prosecutors who can arrest people and detain them for up to three weeks based on the pretext of a violation.

Detention alone is enough to shatter the lives of most political troublemakers without a trial, conviction or even significant evidence; all that is required is for judges to continue rubber-stamping detention warrants. The act may thus prove to be a potent weapon against those challenging the political status quo, such as former Democratic Party of Japan boss Ichiro Ozawa, whose prosecution on a flimsy political-finance charge prevented him from becoming prime minister, a role he was expected to use to pursue an anti-bureaucrat agenda.

The assumption of perpetual rule is also suggested by the absence of any meaningful independent controls over the classification process. A “third-party” committee has been promised but would most likely be filled with carefully-selected yes men. Perhaps like prison oversight committees, its membership will also be a secret. After all, who wants to be a dictator for just one day?

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Colin P A Jones is a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. Law of the Land appears on the third Thursday of the month. Send your comments and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2013/12/18/general/a-secrets-law-for-whom-look-who-gets-a-free-pass

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Under Amazon’s CIA Cloud: The Washington Post

by Norman Solomon

http://www.normansolomon.com (December 18 2013)

News media should illuminate conflicts of interest, not embody them. But the owner of the Washington Post is now doing big business with the Central Intelligence Agency, while readers of the newspaper’s CIA coverage are left in the dark.

The Post’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, is the founder and CEO of Amazon – which recently landed a $600 million contract with the CIA. But the Post’s articles about the CIA are not disclosing that the newspaper’s sole owner is the main owner of CIA business partner Amazon.

Even for a multi-billionaire like Bezos, a $600 million contract is a big deal. That’s more than twice as much as Bezos paid to buy the Post four months ago.

And there’s likely to be plenty more where that CIA largesse came from. Amazon’s offer wasn’t the low bid, but it won the CIA contract anyway by offering advanced high-tech “cloud” infrastructure.

Bezos personally and publicly touts Amazon Web Services, and it’s evident that Amazon will be seeking more CIA contracts. Last month, Amazon issued a statement saying, “We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA”.

As Amazon’s majority owner and the Post’s only owner, Bezos stands to gain a lot more if his newspaper does less ruffling and more soothing of CIA feathers.

Amazon has a bad history of currying favor with the US government’s “national security” establishment. The media watch group FAIR pointed out what happened after WikiLeaks published State Department cables:

 

WikiLeaks was booted from Amazon’s webhosting service AWS. So at the height of public interest in what WikiLeaks was publishing, readers were unable to access the WikiLeaks website.

 

How’s that for a commitment to the public’s right to know?

Days ago, my colleagues at RootsAction.org launched a petition that says:

 

The Washington Post’s coverage of the CIA should include full disclosure that the sole owner of the Post is also the main owner of Amazon – and Amazon is now gaining huge profits directly from the CIA.

 

More than 15,000 people have signed the petition so far this week, with many posting comments that underscore widespread belief in journalistic principles.

While the Post functions as a powerhouse media outlet in the Nation’s Capital, it’s also a national and global entity – read every day by millions of people who never hold its newsprint edition in their hands. Hundreds of daily papers reprint the Post’s news articles and opinion pieces, while online readership spans the world.

Propaganda largely depends on patterns of omission and repetition. If, in its coverage of the CIA, the Washington Post were willing to fully disclose the financial ties that bind its owner to the CIA, such candor would shed some light on how top-down power actually works in our society.

 

The Post is unquestionably the political paper of record in the United States, and how it covers governance sets the agenda for the balance of the news media. Citizens need to know about this conflict of interest in the columns of the Post itself.

— Journalism scholar Robert W McChesney

 

In a statement just released by the Institute for Public Accuracy, McChesney added:

 

If some official enemy of the United States had a comparable situation – say the owner of the dominant newspaper in Caracas was getting $600 million in secretive contracts from the Maduro government – the Post itself would lead the howling chorus impaling that newspaper and that government for making a mockery of a free press. It is time for the Post to take a dose of its own medicine.

 

From the Institute, we also contacted other media and intelligence analysts to ask for assessments; their comments are unlikely to ever appear in the Washington Post.

 

What emerges now is what, in intelligence parlance, is called an ‘agent of influence’ owning the Post – with a huge financial interest in playing nice with the CIA. In other words, two main players nourishing the national security state in undisguised collaboration.

— Former CIA official Ray McGovern

 

 

 

It’s all so basic. Readers of the Washington Post, which reports frequently on the CIA, are entitled to know – and to be reminded on a regular basis in stories and editorials in the newspaper and online – that the Post’s new owner Jeff Bezos stands to benefit substantially from Amazon’s $600 million contract with the CIA. Even with such disclosure, the public should not feel assured they are getting tough-minded reporting on the CIA. One thing is certain: Post reporters and editors are aware that Bezos, as majority owner of Amazon, has a financial stake in maintaining good relations with the CIA – and this sends a clear message to even the hardest-nosed journalist that making the CIA look bad might not be a good career move.

— John Hanrahan, former reporter for the Washington Post and many other news organizations

 

The rich and powerful blow hard against the flame of truly independent journalism. If we want the lantern carried high, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.

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Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death (2006). Information about the documentary based on the book is at http://www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.

http://www.normansolomon.com/norman_solomon/2013/12/under-amazons-cia-cloud-the-washington-post.html

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Google, Facebook Ask NSA to Back Off

2013/12/30 1 comment

by Chris Strohm and Jordan Robertson

Bloomberg (December 23 2013)

Google, Facebook and other Internet companies expressing outrage over the National Security Agency intercepting their users’ data pioneered mining information about customers, sometimes without their knowledge.

Whether it’s Google’s Android smartphone, Apple’s iPhone, Yahoo’s Internet search engine or Facebook’s social-media website, Silicon Valley now relies on capturing and analyzing information about users’ Internet habits, locations and social media postings, some of the very information the NSA gathers. The companies profit by sending people information about products they’re most likely to buy.

Companies such as Yahoo have said the NSA programs will lead to country-by-country Internet rules and damage their prospects abroad. The indignation isn’t credible when the companies make money from their users’ data, said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington.

“They’re the biggest bunch of hypocrites on the planet”, Chester said in a phone interview. “It’s a brilliant PR move on their part that they’ve been able to shift the focus away from themselves and point to the government as creating a privacy problem”.

Each piece of data a person shares online has measurable value to the companies that collect it and marketing firms that use it, helping to build an industry that generated $156 billion in revenue in 2012, according to the New York-based Direct Marketing Association. That’s more than twice the size of the budget for US intelligence agencies.

User Values

Facebook, Google, Apple and Yahoo were among fifteen technology companies that asked President Barack Obama December 17 to restrain spy programs exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and let them disclose the extent of government prying into their data. The agency has defended its data gathering as essential to national security.

The NSA has tapped fiber-optic cables abroad to siphon data from Google and Yahoo, circumvented or cracked encryption, and covertly introduced weaknesses and back doors into coding, according to reports in the Washington Post, the New York Times and the UK’s Guardian newspaper based on documents leaked by Snowden.

The technology companies’ response to those reports revolves around a business calculation: information they receive for free from users has a tangible value, because targeted advertising sells more products. They risk receiving less information if users move elsewhere.

A presidential review panel agreed this week with the companies’ assertions that the secrecy may cost them business if users think their communications aren’t secure.

High-Value Women

“Data is one of the most important assets that these companies have, and companies protect their assets zealously”, said Jim Brock, a former Yahoo executive and co-creator of PrivacyFix, a program that monitors Internet tracking, in a phone interview.

PrivacyFix users get real-time estimates of the monetary value of the personal data they share, derived from factors such as the number of searches they’ve performed on Google or the number of ‘likes’ and photos they’ve posted on Facebook.

For users of Menlo Park, California-based Facebook, the least anyone can be worth is $1.65. That value may correspond to a male user outside the US, Asia or Europe, who has few friends and posts infrequently, according to PrivacyFix calculations.

The most a user could be worth is $27.62, which corresponds to a female user from the US who has more than 250 friends and posts more than 150 times a month. Facebook has around 1.2 billion users.

Hungry Cookies

“It’s very healthy for people to understand that their data has value and this value exchange is a two-way street”, Brock said.

The hundreds of millions of people who have accounts with Cupertino, California-based Apple generate $95 of free cash flow per person for the company, significantly more than users of Facebook, Amazon.com and eBay, Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty wrote in a research note in June.

Some data collection happens with users’ explicit awareness, given in such tasks as signing up for a Gmail account or clicking on an ad in Facebook.

It also occurs in indirect ways, such as viewing pages on websites that have no advertised connection to Internet companies, yet share data on users’ habits with them through profit-sharing marketing arrangements.

The use of tracking cookies – small bits of computer code that are implanted in people’s Internet browsers when they visit a website – allows companies to continuously update dossiers of users’ behavior, even when they’re not on the companies’ own websites or not logged in to the services.

‘Dirt Roads’

While Mountain View, California-based Google makes more money from ads on its own sites – because there’s no one to share the profits with – ads on the Google Network of affiliate sites brought in $12.5 billion in 2012, 29 percent of the company’s ad revenue, according to its latest annual report.

The tracking is difficult to stop. While clearing all cookies from a browser is easy, they’re placed again the next time the user logs into a service such as Google or Facebook or visits sites affiliated with them.

Many websites require Internet users to have cookies enabled to access their pages. “One cannot really opt out”, Chester said. “Are you going to use the highway or rely on dirt roads?”

The companies say their privacy policies tell users what data is collected and how it’s used. They say they allow users to opt out from being tracked by disabling cookies that monitor websites viewed.

Yahoo Uses

“Our privacy statements and principles demonstrate how we strive to use people’s data responsibly, be transparent about our privacy practices and offer meaningful privacy choices”, Adrienne Hall, general manager for trustworthy computing at Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, said in an e-mailed statement.

Yahoo’s privacy policy states the company will collect the name, e-mail address, birth date, gender, ZIP code, occupation, industry, and personal interests of users, as well as automatically receive and record “information from your computer and browser, including your IP address, Yahoo cookie information, software and hardware attributes, and the page you request”.

Uses for the information include customizing advertising and content, fulfilling requests for products and services, and providing “anonymous reporting for internal and external clients”, the policy states.

Sarah Meron, spokeswoman for Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo, declined to comment other than to refer to the privacy statement.

Uninformed Choices

Studies published this year and last year by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found users may not be considering all privacy implications when they download applications on their smartphones.

“Alarmingly, we find that people are unaware of the security risks associated with mobile apps and believe that app marketplaces test and reject applications”, according to one of the studies. “In sum, users are not currently well prepared to make informed privacy and security decisions around installing applications”.

The value of the data transcends what the Internet companies by themselves can do with it.

Acxiom, a data brokerage company based in Little Rock, Arkansas, works with companies including Facebook to match user data with offline information such as retail loyalty-card purchases, to analyze ads’ effectiveness.

Data Brokers

“Large technology firms are a key client industry for Acxiom”, Jennifer Barrett Glasgow, global privacy and public policy executive for the company, said in an e-mail. “We sell them our products and services and partner to help advertisers place ads on their sites, but we don’t get any of their data for our own use”.

Glasgow said she takes issue with accusations that the technology companies erode privacy.

“Tech companies work very hard at offering consumers all kinds of choices to satisfy all views on privacy, not just the most conservative”, she said.

Consumers probably have little understanding about how their information is used by data brokerages like Acxiom, said Adi Kamdar, a privacy activist with the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.

Expanding Collection

“Data aggregators have large profiles of individuals and yet consumers have no idea they exist”, Kamdar said.

Data brokers segment Americans into categories based on their incomes, including categories labeled as “Rural and Barely Making It”, and “Ethnic Second-City Strugglers”, according to the findings of an investigation released December 18 by the Senate Commerce Committee.

Google’s acquisition of flight-information firm ITA Software in 2011 gave it a trove of travel data to incorporate into users’ profiles. When Facebook more than $700 million for Instagram last year, it got access to 55 million posted images a day. That may allow it to sharpen facial-recognition technology for future use in developing personalized advertising.

Even Apple, while saying it doesn’t amass personal information about its customers, is intensifying its data-mining efforts. The company’s purchase of social-media analytics firm Topsy earlier this year gave the iPhone and iPad maker a trove of Twitter-feed information that can be used to improve the targeting of ads on mobile phones.

‘Feeling Creepy’

Kristin Huguet, an Apple spokeswoman, referred to a company report in November about government information requests. It said Apple considers privacy from the early stages of product design and one policy covers every product.

“Perhaps most important, our business does not depend on collecting personal data”, the report said. “We do not store location data, Maps searches, or Siri requests in any identifiable form”.

Spokeswomen Niki Fenwick of Google and Jodi Seth of Facebook said their companies had no comment for this story.

The NSA revelations have presented an opportunity for privacy watchdogs to push for changes in how consumers’ data is used, said Chris Jay Hoofnagle, director of information privacy programs at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.

The US Federal Trade Commission should be more aggressive in monitoring whether companies are complying with their privacy policies, and fining or taking other action against those that don’t, said Kamdar, the privacy activist.

“Strategically, the privacy advocates can get a great deal done when consumer privacy interests align with the agenda of businesses”, Hoofnagle wrote in an e-mail. “That said, the underlying motivation of the Silicon Valley companies is to protect the Internet from feeling creepy”.

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See also: “Exclusive: Secret contract tied NSA and security industry pioneer”,
by Joseph Menn, Reuters (December 20 2013): http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/20/us-usa-security-rsa-idUSBRE9BJ1C220131220

_____

To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Strohm in Washington at cstrohm1@bloomberg.net; Jordan Robertson in San Francisco at jrobertson40@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-12-23/data-are-money-for-google-to-yahoo-asking-nsa-to-back-off.html

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How Would the US Media Cover “the Nuclear Option” …

… if it Happened in Another Country?

The World: How It Works

If It Happened There: US Restores Majority Rule in Legislature

by Joshua Keating

Slate (November 21 2013)

This is the third installment of a continuing series {1} in which American events are described using the tropes and tone normally employed by the American media to describe events in other countries.

WASHINGTON, United States – In what analysts are calling a landmark step on the country’s path toward representative democracy, the US government agreed today {2} to allow most appointments to high offices to be approved by a majority vote. However, opposition lawmakers are crying foul, arguing that the change will allow the country’s embattled leader to seize more power.

On paper, America’s unique system of government is supposed to work like any other electoral democracy. The executive and the legislative branches are elected by voters. The president then has the right to appoint judges and Cabinet officials, subject to approval by the legislature. In most mature democracies, the need to fill vacant posts is considered an uncontroversial matter.

However, due to a peculiar political institution known as the “filibuster” – an untranslatable word that has its origins in nineteenth-century maritime piracy and was once used to describe the practice of violently overthrowing Latin American governments – individual members of America’s upper legislative chamber have the ability to place indefinite holds on nominees. In earlier eras, members of the chamber were required to stand and speak for lengthy periods of time in order to carry the maneuver out.

While some nostalgic {3} traditionalists still do this, just the threat of a filibuster is often all that is usually required to grind the appointments process to a halt. Overcoming a filibuster requires a sixty percent majority, a tall order in America’s current bitter and contentious political climate. Individual lawmakers and the regional or economic interests they represent have been invested with vast power under this arrangement.

Under the filibuster system, nominees for important judicial posts have been trapped in limbo for years at a time {4}. Under the current regime, the number of unfilled positions in the government have reached record levels {5}, including three seats on the country’s second-most-important court {6}.

While a seemingly obvious political fix, the change has excited the passions of powerful lawmakers in the capital to the point where it is regularly compared to thermonuclear warfare {7} in the press, a serious statement in the only country ever to drop an atomic bomb on another country.

Opposition lawmakers also argue {8} that the change is an unconstitutional power grab by a scandal-racked regime. Experts expect that the fact that a number of vacant posts will be filled will improve the quality of US governance in the eyes of the World Bank and other international institutions.

While some activists might hope the change will lead to other moves to modernize America’s political institutions and bring them in line with democratic norms, including eliminating the filibuster for bills and high-court judges, experts felt that more radical changes to the country’s “republic with American characteristics” were unlikely in the near term.

Links:

{1} http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2013/11/13/if_it_happened_there_how_would_we_cover_mike_bloomberg_if_he_were_in_another.html

{2} http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/22/us/politics/reid-sets-in-motion-steps-to-limit-use-of-filibuster.html?hp

{3} http://articles.latimes.com/2010/dec/10/news/la-pn-sanders-filibuster-20101211

{4} http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/political-fix/obama-nominates-ronnie-white-to-federal-judgeship-he-was-once/article_fccd87bd-8535-5811-bd18-92d937d37b5e.html

{5} http://www.propublica.org/article/under-obama-more-appointments-go-unfilled

{6} http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304607104579210383151449004

{7} http://www.politico.com/story/2013/11/harry-reid-nuclear-option-100199.html?hp=t1

{8} http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/senate-poised-to-limit-filibusters-in-party-line-vote-that-would-alter-centuries-of-precedent/2013/11/21/d065cfe8-52b6-11e3-9fe0-fd2ca728e67c_story.html

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2013/11/21/if_it_happened_there_how_would_we_cover_the_nuclear_option_if_it_happened.html

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Corporate Tribunals

A US / EU Holiday Gift to Foreign Firms?

by Ben Beachy

Public Citizen (December 20 2013)

A moratorium on fracking. A strong anti-smoking cigarette label. A requirement to clean up industrial pollution. A medicine patent policy that could tamp down health costs. A decision to phase out nuclear energy.

Each of these has been attacked by a foreign corporation using “trade” and investment treaties that allow firms to circumvent domestic legal systems and directly challenge domestic public interest policies before private international tribunals.  Such tribunals, comprised of three lawyers, are currently deciding whether to order governments to hand foreign corporations taxpayer money for each of the health and environmental safeguards above.

The extraordinary system that enables such assaults on domestic policymaking, known as the investor-state regime, could be vastly expanded by a “trade” deal under negotiation this week between the US and the European Union.  A “trade” deal only in name, the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) would empower an unprecedented number of foreign corporations to attack health, environmental, financial, product safety, labor, Internet and other domestic policies in both the US and the EU. Here’s a synopsis of what’s at stake.

Empowering Foreign Corporations to Directly Attack Public Protections

US and EU officials have called for TAFTA to grant foreign firms the power to directly attack domestic health, financial, environmental and other public interest policies that they view as undermining new foreign investor privileges and rights that TAFTA would establish. TAFTA could empower individual foreign corporations to drag the US and EU governments before extrajudicial tribunals, comprised of three private attorneys, that would be authorized to order unlimited taxpayer compensation for domestic policies or government actions perceived as undermining firms’ “expected future profits”.

This extreme “investor-state” system already has been included in US “free trade” agreements, forcing taxpayers to pay firms more than $400 million for toxics bans, land-use rules, regulatory permits, and water and timber policies. Just under US pacts, more than $14 billion remains pending in corporate claims against medicine patent policies, pollution cleanup requirements, climate and energy laws, and other public interest polices.

TAFTA could vastly expand the investor-state threat, given the thousands of corporations doing business in both the United States and EU that would be newly empowered to attack standards and safeguards. More than 3,300 EU parent corporations own more than 24,200 subsidiaries in the United States, any one of which could provide the basis for an investor-state claim. This exposure to investor-state attacks far exceeds that associated with all other US “free trade” agreement partners. Similarly, the EU could be exposed to a potential wave of investor-state cases from any of the more than 14,400 US-based corporations that own more than 50,800 subsidiaries in the EU. In sum, TAFTA could newly enable corporate attacks on behalf of any of the US and EU’s 75,000 cross-registered firms.

The EU is proposing for TAFTA an even more radical version of investor privileges than that found in past US pacts. But even if TAFTA would simply replicate the sweeping terms of past agreements, thousands of corporations would gain a new tool to undermine the policies on which we all rely. Consider these extreme features:

* Massive expansion of corporate power: The “investor-state” dispute settlement mechanism elevates foreign corporations to the level of sovereign governments, uniquely empowering them to skirt domestic laws and courts and privately enforce the terms of a public treaty by directly challenging governments’ public interest policies before foreign tribunals. That this regime would even be included in a US-EU pact reveals that its aim is not investor protection, but corporate empowerment. The investor-state system was ostensibly established to ensure that foreign investors operating in countries without reliable domestic court systems could obtain compensation if their factories, mines or land were expropriated. The United States and EU have among the world’s strongest domestic court systems and property rights protections. Inclusion of the regime in TAFTA would only provide corporations a new means to attack domestic policies deemed permissible by domestic courts.

* Three corporate lawyers as “judges”: The tribunals authorized to rule against government policies are comprised of three private sector attorneys, unaccountable to any electorate. Many of the tribunalists rotate between serving as “judges” and bringing cases for corporations against governments. In the small “club” of international investment tribunalists, there are fifteen lawyers who have been involved in 55 percent of the total investment-state cases known to date. There is no appeal mechanism for their decisions.

* Corporate right to avoid new regulation: Under this system, corporations can challenge policies or government actions that they allege as violating special substantive new investor “rights” that TAFTA would grant. These “rights” are phrased in vague, broad language and tribunals have increasingly interpreted them to be far more expansive than those afforded to domestic firms under domestic laws. This has included the “right” to a regulatory framework that conforms to a corporation’s “expectations” – meaning that governments should make no changes to regulatory policies once a foreign investment has been established. Another right is to obtain compensation for “indirect expropriation” – meaning governments must pay if a regulatory policy diminishes the value of an investment even if such a policy applies equally to domestic and foreign firms. Investors have no obligations to governments. Investors decide if and when to initiate cases.

* Wide array of policies attacked: Foreign investors have used these broad privileges to demand taxpayer compensation for consumer health and safety policies, environmental and land-use laws, government procurement decisions, energy and climate policies, water and mining laws, financial regulations and other non-trade domestic policies applied equally to foreign and domestic firms. For example, Egypt’s minimum-wage increase and a Peruvian anti-toxic emissions policy are now being attacked by EU and US corporations, respectively, under deals enshrining investor privileges. And US tobacco behemoth Philip Morris has launched investor-state cases against progressive anti-smoking laws in Uruguay and Australia, after failing to undermine the health laws in domestic courts. US pharmaceutical corporation Eli Lilly has mounted an investor-state attack against Canada’s ability to set its own patent standards, a prerogative that is essential to ensuring access to affordable medicines. And Swedish energy firm Vattenfall has used the investor-state regime to demand billions in compensation from Germany over its coal-fired electricity plant regulations and its phase-out of nuclear energy.

* Billions in taxpayer compensation: There is no limit to the amount of money a tribunal can order a government to pay a foreign corporation. In one recent case, a tribunal ordered Ecuador to pay over $2 billion to an oil firm. Even when governments win, they often must pay for the tribunal’s costs and legal fees, which average $8 million per case, wasting scarce resources to defend public interest policies against corporate challenges.

* Surge of corporate attacks: The annual number of new investor-state cases has more than doubled over the last ten years, with UNCTAD reporting a tenfold increase in the cumulative number of cases since 2000 (despite the fact that the system has existed since the 1950s). More cases were launched in 2012 than ever before.  An entire industry of third-party financing and specialized law firms has sprung up to raid public treasuries via investor-state cases.

Multinational corporations that have profited most from this extreme system, such as Chevron, are those most loudly calling for its expansion via TAFTA. Chevron has been using an investor-state case in attempt to evade justice after eighteen years of losing litigation in US and Ecuadorian courts. Chevron now faces an $18 billion judgment in Ecuadorian courts in a case brought by indigenous communities suffering from the dumping of billions of gallons of toxic sludge in a wide swath of Ecuador’s Amazonian region. In response, Chevron launched an investor-state counterattack and asked a three-person tribunal to help halt the ruling. The tribunal obliged, ordering Ecuador’s government to defy its own constitution and interfere with the independent judiciary to block enforcement of the $18 billion order to clean up the egregious damage.  In an initial ruling in the case, the tribunal simply ignored US and Ecuadorian courts’ determination on the merits of the claim, declaring that some of the indigenous communities’ rights to pursue the case “no longer exist”.

In its formal comments on TAFTA, Chevron calls for the deal to expand the investor-state system, candidly stating, “Chevron’s ability to do business globally and protect our shareholder investments depends on strong mechanisms for resolving disputes”.

http://citizen.typepad.com/eyesontrade/2013/12/corporate-tribunals-a-us-eu-holiday-gift-to-foreign-firms.html

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NAFTA at Twenty (Part Two)

State of the North American Farmer

by Karen Hansen-Kuhn

Foreign Policy in Focus (December 20 2013)

Foreign Policy In Focus is partnering with Mexico’s La Jornada del campo magazine, where an earlier version of this commentary appeared, to publish a series of pieces examining the impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) twenty years since its implementation. This is the second in the series.

One of the clearest stories to emerge in the two decades since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented is the devastation wreaked on the Mexican countryside by dramatic increases in imports of cheap US corn.

But while Mexican farmers, especially small-scale farmers, undoubtedly lost from the deal, that doesn’t mean that US farmers have won. Prices for agricultural goods have been on a roller coaster of extreme price volatility – caused by unfair agriculture policies and recklessly unregulated speculation on commodity markets, as well as by increasing droughts and other climate chaos. Each time prices take their terrifying ride back down, more small- and medium-scale farmers are forced into bankruptcy, concentrating land ownership and agricultural production into ever fewer hands.

Corporate Consolidation

It’s hard to separate the impacts of NAFTA from another big change in US farm policy: the 1996 Farm Bill. That legislation set in place a shift from supply management and regulated markets to a policy of “get big or get out”. Farmers were encouraged to increase production with the promise of expanded export markets – including to Mexico. But almost immediately, commodity prices dropped like a stone, and Congress turned to “emergency” payments – later codified as farm subsidies – to clean up the mess and keep rural economies afloat.

Then, as new demand for biofuels increased the demand for corn, and as investors turned away from failing mortgage markets to speculate on grains, energy, and other commodities, prices soared. It wasn’t only the prices of farm goods that rose, however. Prices also increased for land, fuel, fertilizers, and other petrochemical-based agrochemicals. As a result, net farm incomes became much more erratic.

In many ways, the family farmers who had been the backbone of US rural economies really did either get big or get out, leaving a sector marked by inequality and corporate concentration. Over the last twenty years, there has been a marked shift in the size of US farms, with the numbers of very small farms and very large farms increasing dramatically. The increase in the number of small farms is due to several factors, including urban dwellers returning to the land (almost all of whom rely on off-farm jobs to support themselves), and the growth in specialty crops for local farmers’ markets. According to USDA researchers Robert Hoppe, James MacDonald, and Penni Korb, the number of farms in the middle – small operations that are commercially viable on their own – dropped by forty percent, from half of total farms in 1982 to less than a third in 2007.

During this process of farm consolidation, corporations involved in agriculture and food production also consolidated. Mary Hendrickson at the University of Missouri has calculated the share of production held by just four firms in different sectors. In total beef production, for example, the share of the top four firms (Cargill, Tyson, JGF, and National Beef) increased from 69 percent in 1990 to 82 percent in 2012. The story is the same in poultry, pork, flour milling, and other sectors. Fewer firms control bigger and bigger shares of total production, making it harder for other farmers to get fair prices or earn a living from their production.

Trade Agreements

Enter the free trade agreements. As corporations consolidated in the United States, they grew even larger by taking advantage of provisions in NAFTA that let them operate across borders. For example, US-based corporations can grow cattle in Canada and pork in Mexico, and then bring their products back to the United States for slaughter and sale. Efforts to label these meats under Country of Origin Labeling laws have been vigorously opposed by the Mexican and Canadian governments. As a result of these advantages to large-scale growers, independent hog and poultry producers in the United States have virtually disappeared. Meanwhile the factory farms contribute to growing environmental devastation in all three countries.

Over time, the US public has gained a growing appreciation of the need to change food and farm policies to ensure healthier foods and more stable rural economies. But policymakers in Congress and the Obama administration continue to support the same failed policies. They advocate for more free trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. These are largely cut and pasted from NAFTA, but with a twist: they add dangerous new provisions that would limit any remaining restrictions on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), permit questionable food additives, and pave the way for even more questionable emerging technologies. A “new” US Farm Bill currently being negotiated shifts the emphasis from commodity support to crop insurance, while locking in place advantages for even bigger farms and corporations. And it perpetuates the same willful ignorance of the devastating impacts of droughts and flooding caused by climate change.

The wild ride of prices under the NAFTA roller coaster has left us a food system that is dominated by fewer and bigger corporations. In many communities across the country, people are opting out of the existing Big Food system to rebuild smaller, healthier options that are rooted in local economies and nurture connections between farmers and consumers. Whether those experiences can scale up from local experiences to national agriculture, and whether they can change policy, is a big question – one made harder by the overwhelming dominance of corporate interests. But rebuilding the system from the ground up, and considering how to make fairer links to farmers in Mexico and elsewhere, is really the only path forward.

http://fpif.org/nafta-20-state-north-american-farmer/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nafta-20-state-north-american-farmer

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A Christmas Speculation

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (December 25 2013)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I’ve spent most of the last year discussing the place of religion in the troubled future ahead of us. This holiday season, in which millions of Americans have just engaged in an all-out orgy of conspicuous consumption and mindless waste to celebrate the birth of a poor carpenter’s son in a stable in Bethlehem, also has me thinking about religious matters, and it occurs to me that there’s an issue along these lines that my blog posts haven’t yet explored. It may not have much to do with the future of the modern industrial world, but it may just explain a thing or two about the present and the recent past here in the United States.

I’m sorry to say that the issue I have in mind has a distinct partisan dimension, which marks a break from my usual policy in this blog. One of the more common criticisms I field from irate readers, in fact, is the insistence that I treat politicians of both major US parties as though they’re interchangeable. It’s a valid criticism, since I do indeed do this, and the only justification I can offer is that, by and large, that’s the way they behave. For exhibit A, it’s hard to beat the current inmate of the White House, who won the presidency just over five years ago in a flurry of sound bites about “hope” and “change”, and then turned around and gave us a truly inspired imitation of the third and fourth terms of George W Bush, complete with all the drone strikes and violations of civil liberties that his chorus of sycophants in the media used to insist he was sure to abolish once he got into office.

Still, the criticism has some merit, since there’s one significant difference between the two major US parties. Most Democratic politicians, like the example just cited, will say and do whatever it takes to get elected, and then conveniently forget all about their alleged ideals in order to proceed with, and profit from, the ordinary business of politics once they land in office. A fair number of Republican politicians do exactly the same thing, to be sure, but there’s also a large number of Republicans who have convictions regarding important social issues, and cling firmly to those convictions even when they’re not popular.  That’s a distinction worth noting, but a certain amount of confusion enters the picture when the Republicans in question – as nearly all of them do – insist that their convictions follow from their Christian faith.

Now of course the Christian faith does have quite a bit to say about social issues. Theologies differ from church to church, but friends of mine in several different denominations assure me that the words of Jesus quoted in the four gospels of the New Testament are considered definitive guides to faith and morals, so I sat down a few days ago with a copy of the King James version and spent an afternoon reading the gospels – not, by the way, for the first time.  Here are the passages I found in which Jesus tells his followers that they have a duty to take care of children, the poor, and other vulnerable people:

Matthew 18:6, 18:10, 19:21, 23:14, and 25:31-46; Mark 9:36-37, 10:21, and 12:40; and Luke 10:30-37, 11:41, 12:33, 14:12-14, 18:22, and 20:47.

Here are the passages in which Jesus tells his followers to pay their taxes without complaining:

Matthew 5:42, 17:24-27, and 22:19-21; Mark 12:14-17; and Luke 6:30 and 20:21-25.

Here are the passages in which Jesus tells his followers that they aren’t supposed to obsess about other people’s sins, but should leave that to God, and attend to their own moral failings instead:

Matthew 7:1-5 and 9:10-13; Mark 2:15-17; Luke 6:37, 6:41-42, 7:44-48, 15:2, 18:10-14, and 19:7; and John 8:2-11.

And here are the passages in which Jesus tells his followers to blame the poor and vulnerable for their plight, direct benefits toward the already well-to-do at the expense of everyone else, refuse to pay their fair share of taxes, and obsessively denounce and punish the sins of people they don’t like while finding every opportunity to excuse their own sins and those of their friends:

Yet these latter are the things that a great many Republicans, and in particular a great many of those Republicans who claim to be motivated by their Christian faith, have been pursuing in practice, if not always advocating in theory. If they’re deriving their commitments from a religion, it’s pretty clearly not the one taught by Jesus. Many people have made this same point in recent years, but it doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of them that another religion that’s active in today’s America does teach all the things the GOP supports. That religion, of course, is Satanism, and more specifically the version of it taught in Anton Szandor LaVey’s The Satanic Bible (1969).

Those who were around during LaVey’s glory days in the 1970s, when he appeared regularly on talk shows and had a coterie of Hollywood stars in his Church of Satan, will doubtless remember The Satanic Bible. For those who weren’t, it’s a book-length screed denouncing Christian morality and upholding an ethic of raw selfishness and might-makes-right. It’s still very much in copyright, so I’m not going to quote it here, but any reader who turns its pages will find the present social policy of the GOP precisely reflected in LaVey’s dismissal of two thousand years of Christian teaching about our duty to care for one another, his shrill denunciations of the vulnerable and needy as “parasites” and “vampires”, and his insistence that the successful owe nothing to anybody else.

An interesting coincidence, or perhaps an ironic one? Maybe so, but I find myself wondering if there’s more to it than that. It happens fairly often that the repeated failure of a belief system causes many former believers to swing all the way to the opposite extreme, and embrace the antithesis of their former faith. The neoconservatives who briefly and disastrously shaped the direction of US foreign policy in the first years of this century are a case in point:  many of the leaders of that movement were doctrinaire Marxists during their college years, and responded to the abject failure of Marxism by doing their level best to become the wicked capitalists they had once so fervently denounced.

The evangelical revival of the late 1970s and 1980s, in turn, was pervaded by hopes at least as extreme and unrealistic as anything the Marxists envisioned in their heyday. Wildly popular books such as Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) convinced millions of newly “Born Again” Christians that the Second Coming was due any minute, and the repeated failure of Jesus to show up on cue must have put immense psychological strains on a great many people who cut their ties to the secular world in the imminent expectation of Armageddon. All through those same years, in turn, copies of  The Satanic Bible could be found in cheap mass market editions on the shelves of chain bookstores all over America. It’s not hard to imagine how, after each loudly proclaimed date for the Rapture waltzed serenely by without incident, a trickle of not-quite-former fundamentalists could well have responded to their feelings of humiliation and despair by walking away from the Bible section in those same bookstores and seeing if the opposing side had something better on offer.

Those who found solace of one sort or another in LaVey’s evocation of diabolical values would have had several good reasons not to make their change of heart public, to be sure. On the one hand (or horn, or cloven hoof), a public confession of devil worship would have been difficult to explain to one’s employer in those somewhat more innocent times, and the reactions of one’s presumably Christian friends and family would also have been an issue for many. On the other, one of the classic titles given Satan by Christian theologians is “the father of lies”, and it’s easy to see how the thought of remaining ostensibly Christian while practicing devil worship in private, and perhaps leading others down the Left Hand Path, might have seemed like the most delectable option available to these new Satanic converts.

Nor would active membership in most of today’s Christian churches have been any impediment to the enthusiastic worship of Satan. According to Matthew 7:21, it’s not enough to say “Lord, Lord”, to qualify as a Christian; it’s also necessary to do the will of God – a requirement that, as noted above, involves among other things some highly specific commitments to help the poor and vulnerable. Thus covert devil worshippers could shout “Jesus is Lord” at the top of their lungs every Sunday, and so long as they carefully refrained from following the teachings of the gospels, they would have had no difficulty maintaining their status as Satanists in good standing. This, it seems, they accordingly did.

As the number of devil worshippers in evangelical churches and the Christian end of the Republican Party increased, though, their most pressing need would have been some surreptitious way to signal their involvement to those who shared their convictions, without believers in the Christian gospel being any the wiser. Coming up with a Satanic shibboleth that would be instantly recognizable to other devil worshippers, but completely opaque to devout Christians, might seem like a tall order, but it’s one that seems to have been met with aplomb.

Yes, this is where we discuss Ayn Rand.

All things considered, Rand’s cult status in those circles that call themselves conservative these days is hard to explain, because Rand was not a conservative. By that I don’t simply mean that she rejected the term and savagely denounced conservative ideas and politicians, though this is true; nor that the conservative movement in her time rejected her ideas with at least as much energy as she did theirs, and generally with better logic than hers, though this was also the case.  Far more important here is that she was a radical ideologue of exactly the sort against which the founders of conservatism directed their most barbed and thoughtful critiques.

As discussed in Russell Kirk’s brilliant study The Conservative Mind (seventh edition, 2001), classical conservatism has at its core an enduring and wholly justified suspicion of claims that some abstract ideology or other can bring about heaven on earth.  “The pretended rights of these theorists”, wrote Edmund Burke, “are all extremes; and in proportion as they are metaphysically true, they are morally and politically false”. He was talking about the Jacobins, but he could just as well have been talking about Rand.

Still, there’s another point that is worth making here, which is that Ayn Rand was a violent opponent of Christianity and Christian morality, a committed atheist {1} who considered selfishness a central moral virtue {2}, and who also idolized one of the most disgusting child murderers {3} of the twentieth century.  Her present role as intellectual pin-up girl for people who call themselves Christian conservatives is thus a little odd, since claiming to be a Christian and a believer in Rand’s teachings at the same time is right up there with claiming to be a vegetarian carnivore or a celibate harlot. It’s not just that one of these things is not like the other; Rand’s teachings are flatly, openly, and deliberately opposed to every part of the gospel of Jesus.

Rand’s anticommunism made her turgid novels popular on the less thoughtful end of the American right in the 1950s and 1960s, though, and that accident of history prepared her for what might just be her core role in contemporary culture: a covert way for devil worshippers to identify themselves to one another in the supposedly Christian (and just as supposedly conservative) GOP of today. Closet Satanists attending fundamentalist church services or Republican party get-togethers can’t exactly sport upside-down pentagrams on their shirts or greet other attendees with a hearty “Hail Satan”, but a casual reference to one of Rand’s novels or pseudophilosophical screeds is the next best thing: once someone else responds enthusiastically to the mention of Rand’s name, a few other seemingly casual comments and perhaps a covert devil sign or two would be enough to settle the matter.

All this may suggest some sobering reflections as we approach the beginning of another US election year, in which most races will pit a candidate from a party that puts its faith in Lucifer against a candidate from a party that for all practical purposes believes in nothing at all. Still, when supposedly Christian politicians start waxing rhapsodic about the alleged intellectual or literary virtues of Ayn Rand, I trust my readers will remember that what they’re saying actually works out to “I worship the Prince of Darkness, and you should too!” Any of my readers who happen to be devil worshippers themselves can proceed to welcome them as friends and brothers, while those of other faiths can cast their votes as their own ethical views suggest.

On the off chance that any Republican Satanists are reading these lines, though, I’d like to offer a helpful suggestion.  The long charade of pretending to be Christian conservatives has no doubt been great fun, and it’s certainly succeeded in getting Satanic ideas widely accepted all through those parts of American society that might have been expected to resist them most forcefully.  Only one of the seven deadly sins has gotten by without extravagant praise from so-called Christian conservatives in recent years – it’s hard to glorify an economic system that depends on avarice, gluttony, envy and sloth, and a foreign policy defined by pride and wrath, in any other way – and no doubt they’ll find a way to fit lust in there somewhere one of these days, and finish collecting the whole set.

At this point, though, it’s hard to see any reason why the Satanists in the GOP need to keep the pretense going any longer. In an era when most discussions of the Christmas season in the mass media fixate on whether retailers are making a big enough profit to keep the economy stumbling blindly onward for one more year, I think a strong case can be made that America is ready to shake off the last of its qualms and openly embrace a Satanic political agenda. Among its other benefits, putting public devil worship at the heart of the GOP, where it so evidently belongs, can’t help but improve the flagging ratings of Republican national conventions; the otherwise tedious proceedings of the 2016 GOP convention, for example, would be enlivened no end by a Black Mass celebrated by the GOP nominee, perhaps with Ann Coulter’s nude form draped over the altar and a chorus of delegates chanting “Evil, be thou my good!” from the bleachers.

In the meantime, I would like to wish to those of my readers who actually believe in the gospel of Jesus, who study his teachings prayerfully and try their level best to live their lives in accordance with them, a very merry Christmas; to my other readers, blessings on whatever holiday you celebrate in this season of hope’s rebirth in a cold and bitter time; and to all, a happy new year.
_____

John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {4} and the author of more than twenty books on a wide range of subjects, including The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (2008), The Ecotechnic Future: Exploring a Post-Peak World (2009), and The Wealth of Nature: Economics As If Survival Mattered (2011). He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.

If you enjoy reading this blog, you might want to check out Star’s Reach {5}, his blog/novel of the deindustrial future. Set four centuries after the decline and fall of our civilization, it uses the tools of narrative fiction to explore the future our choices today are shaping for our descendants tomorrow.

And please consider putting a tip in the Archdruid’s tip jar. Many thanks!

Links:

{1} http://rebirthofreason.com/Articles/Parille/Ayn_Rand,_Objectivism,_and_Religion_(Part_1_of_4).shtml

{2} http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Virtue_of_Selfishness

{3} http://michaelprescott.freeservers.com/romancing-the-stone-cold.html

{4} http://www.aoda.org/

{5} http://starsreach.blogspot.com/

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.jp/2013/12/a-christmas-speculation.html

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