Truthout Stories Sat, 25 Oct 2014 11:26:53 -0400 en-gb Irked by Israel's Foot-Dragging

In his recent meeting with President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was "committed to the vision of peace for two states for two peoples."

That sounds nice. But Netanyahu has done everything possible to demonstrate that he's not interested in negotiating a two-state solution with the Palestinian people.

This past summer alone, he authorized thousands of new Israeli housing units in Palestinian East Jerusalem, annexed nearly 1,000 acres of the West Bank, and launched a devastating war in Gaza that left over 2,000 people dead — the vast majority of them civilians.

Unless the Palestinians are given a state of their own, their higher birth rate will make Jews a minority in Israeli-controlled lands by 2025.

That's why a majority of Israelis — including most Netanyahu voters — still support a two-state solution.

And yet Netanyahu has refused to compromise. Right-wing members of his coalition continue to resist sharing Jerusalem, oppose swapping land to compensate Palestine for territory seized by Israeli settlers, and reject allowing displaced Palestinians to return to land they owned before their expulsion in 1948.

As the more powerful side in the negotiations, Israel is playing hardball, waiting for the Palestinians to buckle. But it's absurd to imagine that a state and a non-state can engage in fair negotiations. Without a real state, no one will stand up for the Palestinians scattered throughout the region.

For the last couple decades, the most likely route to statehood for Palestine was through negotiations with Israel, usually brokered by third parties like the United States. But there's another path that doesn't go through Israel: international recognition.

Quite a few countries have already recognized Palestine as a state — 134 of them, actually. That's a lot more than Taiwan (21), more even than Kosovo (108). But most of the countries that have recognized Palestine don't have much economic or diplomatic pull.

That's about to change.

A new center-left government recently took over in Sweden and immediately announced its intention to recognize Palestine as a state.

Shortly thereafter, the UK parliament voted by a large margin — 274 to 12 — to recommend recognition as well. The UK government isn't likely to take that step under its current political leadership, but that could change after the May 2015 elections.

Meanwhile, the French government is reportedly mulling a recognition move of its own.

Israel might ultimately care as little about the attitudes of "old Europe" as Donald Rumsfeld did around the invasion of Iraq. But Israel can't ignore the increasing impatience of its chief supporter — the United States.

Immediately after Netanyahu's October meeting with Obama, the White House issued a statement "call(ing) into question Israel's commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians."

At the moment, the United States and much of the world is focused on the Islamic State, so a new round of U.S.-brokered talks is unlikely. But the Islamic State is a reminder of what happens when legitimate grievances — in its own case, those of Sunnis in Syria and in Iraq — are ignored.

Strong, democratic states are an antidote to Islamic State-style extremism. As such, a strong Palestinian state would serve the interests of Israel, the United States, and the entire Middle East.

At his meeting with Obama, Netanyahu said that it was time to "think outside the box." The Palestinians, by pursuing statehood outside of talks with Israel, are doing just that. It's time for Israel to do the same.

Opinion Sat, 25 Oct 2014 10:44:56 -0400
European Privacy in the Age of Snowden: We Need a Debate About What Intelligence Agencies Are Doing

As the movie "Citizenfour" about National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden opens in theaters in the United States, we look at the impact his leaks have had on the debate over online privacy in Europe. The Austrian newspaper Der Standard reports the NSA has accessed nearly 70 percent of telecommunications in Vienna, home to thousands of diplomats from around the world. Earlier this year, Germany ordered the removal of a top U.S. intelligence official in the country after leaks from Snowden showed the United States was monitoring the communications of millions of Germans and tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone. In a victory for digital privacy, the European Court of Justice struck down a rule that required telecommunication companies to store the communications data of European Union citizens for up to two years. The ruling happened on the same day Snowden addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe from Moscow. We are joined by Andreas Krisch, president of European Digital Rights.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Fri, 24 Oct 2014 12:05:12 -0400
"Citizenfour": Inside Story of NSA Leaker Edward Snowden Captured in New Film by Laura Poitras

"At this stage I can offer nothing more than my word. I am a senior government employee in the intelligence community. I hope you understand that contacting you is extremely high risk … This will not be a waste of your time." This was one of the first messages Edward Snowden wrote to filmmaker Laura Poitras beginning an exchange that helped expose the massive surveillance apparatus set up by the National Security Agency. Months later, Poitras would meet Snowden for the first time in a Hong Kong hotel room. Poitras filmed more than 20 hours of footage as Snowden debriefed reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill. That footage — most unseen until now — forms the backbone of Poitras’ new film, "Citizenfour." She joins us to talk about the film and her own experience with government surveillance. The film is the third installment of her 9/11 trilogy that also includes "My Country, My Country" about the Iraq War and "The Oath" about the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Poitras’ NSA reporting contributed to a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service awarded to The Guardian and The Washington Post. We also speak with Jeremy Scahill, who appears in the film reporting on recent disclosures about NSA surveillance from a new, anonymous government source. Scahill, along with Poitras and Greenwald, founded The Intercept, a new media venture to continue investigating whistleblower leaks.

Image Credit: RADiUS-TWC

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, Citizenfour.

LAURA POITRAS: [reading Edward Snowden] "Laura, at this stage I can offer nothing more than my word. I am a senior government employee in the intelligence community. I hope you understand that contacting you is extremely high risk ... From now, know that every border you cross, every purchase you make, every call you dial, every cell phone tower you pass, friend you keep, ... site you visit [and] subject line you type ... is in the hands of a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not. ... In the end if you publish the source material, I will likely be immediately implicated. ... I ask only that you ensure this information makes it home to the American public. ... Thank you, and be careful. Citizen Four."

EWEN MacASKILL: Sorry, I don’t know anything about you.


EWEN MacASKILL: Sorry, I don’t know even your name.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: Oh, sorry, my name is Edward Snowden. I go by Ed. Edward Joseph Snowden is the full name.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That’s the trailer to the new film, Citizenfour, directed by filmmaker Laura Poitras about National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. The new documentary offers an inside look at what transpired in a Hong Kong hotel room over eight days in June 2013 when Snowden first met with Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill to leak a trove of secret documents about how the United States had built a massive surveillance apparatus to spy on Americans and people across the globe.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura Poitras filmed over 20 hours in the hotel room, including this moment when Snowden was questioned by _Guardian_’s Ewen MacAskill. By this point, the first exposés based on Snowden’s leaks had been published, but his identity was not yet known to the public.

EWEN MacASKILL: What’s the next step? When do you think you’ll go public? Or—

EDWARD SNOWDEN: I think it’s pretty soon. I mean, with the reaction, this escalated more quickly. I think pretty much as soon as they start trying to make this about me, which should be any day now—


EDWARD SNOWDEN: —I’ll come out, just to go, "Hey, you know, this is—this is not a question of somebody skulking around in the shadows. These are public issues. These are not my issues. You know, these are everybody’s issues. And I’m not afraid of you. You know, you’re not going to bully me into silence like you’ve done to everybody else. And if nobody else is going to do it, I will. And hopefully, when I’m gone, whatever you do to me, there will be somebody else who will do the same thing. It will be the sort of Internet principle of the Hydra: You know, you can stomp one person, but there’s going to be seven more of us."

EWEN MacASKILL: Yeah. Are you getting more nervous?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: Um, I mean, no. I think—I think the way I look at stress, particularly because I sort of knew this was coming, you know, because I sort of volunteered to walk into it, I’m already sort of familiar with the idea. I’m not worried about it. When somebody like busts in the door, suddenly I’ll get nervous and it’ll affect me. But until they do...

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from Citizenfour, the new film by director Laura Poitras. Her first film, My Country, My Country, focused on the Iraq War, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2007. Her second, The Oath, was about Guantánamo. Citizenfour is the third installment of her 9/11 trilogy. The film opens in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., on Friday. Her NSA reporting contributed to a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service awarded to The Guardian and The Washington Post. We spoke to Laura on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., and began by asking her about the name of her film, Citizenfour.

LAURA POITRAS: "Citizen Four" was the alias that Edward Snowden used to contact me in January 2013. And we corresponded over the course of five months, and he—when I didn’t know who he was. And it was only actually days before traveling to Hong Kong that I actually had a name for the person that I had been talking to.

AMY GOODMAN: But why did he choose "Citizen Four"? What does it mean?

LAURA POITRAS: Yeah, yeah, that’s a good question. Actually, I made a trip to Moscow not that long ago, where I filmed part of the end of the film where he’s with his longtime partner Lindsay Mills. And I asked him, you know, because I didn’t actually ever know what it was, and he said, "Well, I’m not the first person who’s going to come forward and reveal information that the public should know, and I won’t be the last." And so, that’s where it comes from.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: One of the most striking things, Laura, about the film is that Snowden never appears to have considered the possibility of leaking anonymously. Were you struck by that?

LAURA POITRAS: Yeah, I mean, I was actually very shocked. I was contacted in January, and we had email correspondence for a long time. And for all of—for the first three months, I assumed he would remain an anonymous source. He wouldn’t tell me any details about his—you know, where he worked or where he lived. And I thought that I was talking to somebody, at some point I’d receive documents, and then, you know, he would disappear and I would never know who the person was. And then, in April, he revealed to me—he said, "You know, you should know that I actually intend to come forward and say that I’m the source of this information," and that he didn’t want to hide, and he didn’t want others to take responsibility and that he didn’t—if there was a leak investigation, etc.

And so, he told me that, and that’s when I said, "Well, then, if that’s the case, then I would really like to meet you and be able to film, so that I could understand, you know, your motivations." And his first response was that he didn’t feel comfortable about that, because he didn’t want the story to be about him, which is something he also—you see he echoes in the film when he’s talking to Glenn in the very first interview. He says, "I’m not the story." And I said, "Well, people are going to—the media will make you the story and that your motivations really do matter." And then he agreed, and that’s how—sort of what led to the face-to-face meeting in Hong Kong.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura, how did he find you?

LAURA POITRAS: You know, so, as Glenn Greenwald has written in his book, he had received emails in December of 2012 asking to set up an encrypted way of talking, saying he had some information that he thought Glenn would be interested in, but he was very, very vague and didn’t say anything specific. And Glenn didn’t have—he wasn’t using encryption at that point, encrypted email. And so, I then received an anonymous email in January from someone I didn’t know, just asking me for my public key. And a public key is what’s used for encryption. It’s called PGP encryption. You have a key—you exchange keys, and then you’re able to communicate securely. And so, I had a key. I had been using encryption for a while, so it was an easy thing for me to do.

And I just said, you know, "Here you go, here’s my key," you know, and "Who are you, and what do you want?" And that’s—then we started this correspondence. And the first—then, the following email was the one that you hear at the beginning of the film as we’re moving through a tunnel, which he says, you know, "I’m a member of the intelligence community. This is not going to be a waste of your time." And he says other details, like "Imagine your adversary is capable of one trillion guesses per second." And that was sort of the beginning of our correspondence in January.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, in fact, Snowden says to you, or writes, that "You ask[ed] why I [chose] you. I didn’t. You [chose yourself]," he says to you in one of your chats.

LAURA POITRAS: Right. So that was—so, after he—the first email that I respond is like, "OK, well, then, why me? You need to help me understand this," because I was being a little bit cautious, not knowing—it could be potentially, you know, entrapment or something. And then he said—he referenced the fact that I had been put on a watchlist and stopped at the U.S. border many times. So he had, I think, read about that. Glenn had written about the fact that I had been stopped at the border. I had also published a short video about another NSA whistleblower, William Binney, on the New York Times website in August of 2012. And my guess is that he had seen both those things, and he knew that I was somebody who was working on NSA-related things, and he knew that also I had been targeted in some way, so that I had, I guess, maybe a personal connection to the issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Laura, Edward Snowden wrote, "Your victimization by the NSA system means that you are well aware of the threat that unrestricted, secret abilities pose for democracies. This is a story that few but you can tell." You talked about being stopped at the border dozens and dozens of times. In fact, it’s how you open Citizenfour. It’s what you told us on Democracy Now! before. Talk about those experiences. How many times have you been stopped crossing the border?

LAURA POITRAS: I think it’s about 40 times. And it started in 2006, and it continued until 2012—actually, until Glenn wrote about it. And then they stopped detaining me and questioning me at the border. And, you know, in terms of what happens at the border, I mean—you know, I had made a film about the Iraq War, so I had spent some time in the war zone, and it happened about a year and a half after finishing that film. And what I think—I mean, what I don’t think it is, I don’t think the U.S. government is watching films, and, you know, they’re just some thought police that says, "We don’t like this film, and we’re going to stop this person." But there is certainly—as we know, there is this growth of the intelligence community, which has created this sort of secret watchlist process. And people get put on it, and then, once you’re put on it, there’s actually no way to know why you’re on it or how to get off of it.

And so, yeah, every time I would return to the United States, they would—border agents would be sent to the plane, and I would be walked off into an area where I’d be questioned. And many different things happened. You know, each time was slightly different. Sometimes they would photocopy my notebook. Sometimes they would photocopy my credit cards. I had my computer confiscated once, my camera confiscated once. And, you know, they were asking questions about what I was doing, you know, why was I traveling the places I was traveling. And when it first started, I was naive. I thought, well, this is just clearly a mistake, and I answered questions. I said, "Well, I’m a filmmaker. I was going to a film festival. I made a film about the Iraq War," thinking like, well, once I sort of explained all those things, that I would be taken off the watchlist.

AMY GOODMAN: They got mad when you started taking notes about their questions.

LAURA POITRAS: Right, and then—right, and then things changed. And then I became a little bit more, "OK, well, this doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon." And then I started taking notes every time that I traveled, writing down the names of the agents, writing down the questions, the times that I was detained, and etc. And then they weren’t particularly happy about that. And it did escalate in 2012, when I was returning via Newark airport, when I was taking notes, and they threatened to handcuff me for taking notes. You know, they made the argument that they thought that I was going to hurt them, physically hurt them, with the pen, which, you know, was of course absurd.

And then, after that, I sort of went public. I hadn’t made a secret of the fact that I was being stopped. But the work that I do, I often go—I was going places and trying to stay under the radar, and, you know, going public, it’s hard. You can’t dial something like that back, so—but it was just so outrageous, you know, that border agents were ordering me to not take notes or they were going to handcuff me, was so outrageous that I called Glenn, and he ended up doing an article about that for

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Laura, that’s part of the reason that you decided to take the material to Berlin that you got of Edward Snowden and to do the editing there rather than here in the U.S.?

LAURA POITRAS: Right. Actually, it was before I was contacted by Snowden that I—you know, I had been filming for a while, and I wanted to edit, and I just felt like that I couldn’t assure that I was going to be able to keep my footage source material secure crossing the border. And I was at that point filming with several people who were all being targeted by the government, and that includes William Binney, the NSA whistleblower; Thomas Drake, another NSA whistleblower; Jacob Appelbaum, who works with the Tor Project and has been training activists on countersurveillance; and also with Julian Assange. So, I was filming with people that I knew that the government had an interest in, and I just felt like it wasn’t safe for me to travel with the footage. So I had moved to Berlin to edit. And that’s when I was actually in Berlin that I received the first email from Edward Snowden.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to the first video of Edward Snowden that the world saw back in June of 2013. You shot this inside his Hong Kong hotel room. It was then published on the Guardian website.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: NSA and the intelligence community, in general, is focused on getting intelligence wherever it can, by any means possible, that it believes, on the grounds of sort of a self-certification, that they serve the national interest. Originally, we saw that focus very narrowly tailored as foreign intelligence gathered overseas. Now, increasingly, we see that it’s happening domestically. And to do that, they—the NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system, and it filters them, and it analyzes them, and it measures them, and it stores them for periods of time, simply because that’s the easiest, most efficient and most valuable way to achieve these ends. So while they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government or someone that they suspect of terrorism, they’re collecting your communications to do so. Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge, to even the president, if I had a personal email.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Edward Snowden, filmed by Laura Poitras, the first time the world saw him. And, Laura, even the way you filmed him back then, I think, sent quite a message. You have him—on one side, there is a window, you know, very bright, and on the other side, a mirror that shows his back. It’s all about transparency. That’s the message, I think, that comes through. You could see him every which way.

LAURA POITRAS: Well, I mean, as a filmmaker, I was actually working with some constraints, because we were in a hotel room, and there weren’t that many options. And so, yeah, you know, people have tried to read into the symbolism of the mirror, and, I mean, it wasn’t that planned. I mean, I just thought it was—it was a nice shot, and I was able to get rid of other things that were in the room. And so, it wasn’t all that, you know, intended to be symbolic.

AMY GOODMAN: But talk about—and this is the power of your film, is it is as if we are, you know, watching a thriller, and because it certainly was this, as all this unfolded—first, the reports coming out, then people wondering who was behind this, and interestingly, as you’ve said, Edward Snowden decides to name himself because he doesn’t want it to be about him. He doesn’t want people speculating. But explain the revelations that so rocked the world.

LAURA POITRAS: Yeah, I mean, in terms of how the film happens, I mean, I come out of a—I make films that are done in a style or tradition called cinéma vérité, or direct cinema. And what happens when you do that is like you’re actually in the moment when things are happening, as things are unfolding, and you document them. And then, after that—and when you’re in the moment, all that kind of uncertainty exists, because you don’t know what’s going to happen next. And so, that’s what you sort of feel as the narrative, dramatic pull. So, you know, you have these letters that come and then take us to Hong Kong, and then Hong Kong unfolds day by day, beginning on a Monday and ending on the following Monday. And I’m not doing many interviews, actually. I did—the only interview that I did was the one that we released on the Guardian website. Everything else was filmed in a, you know, as-it-happens style.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened after this, after he came forward? Explain what took place.

LAURA POITRAS: I mean, after he came forward in terms of the repercussions of the reporting?

AMY GOODMAN: Exactly, as he moved from his hotel room—


AMY GOODMAN: —then to your hotel room, and how he made it out of the country.

LAURA POITRAS: Right, sure, OK. So, you know, it begins—so, we’re sort of beginning the reporting, and then on the—you know, soon after, Glenn publishes the first story, the Verizon story, and then we see that his partner starts to receive emails. Somebody comes to their house looking for him. So it’s clear that the government suspects him of being the source. And so we continue to report, and we’re seeing the news breaking, and it’s clear that there’s also a bit of a—you know, the government knows that he’s missing. So, we then release the video. And the last time we see him in Hong Kong, he’s having a meeting with human rights lawyers, and he leaves. And then, after that, the film then transitions to where the reporting is happening. And so, I guess it’s also important to say that because I’m really a participant in the film, I’m also one of the sort of protagonists, and it’s told from a subjective point of view. So we go to Berlin, where I’m based, and there’s—you know, we see myself and him chatting, and Glenn, and we get the reverberations of these disclosures happening globally.

AMY GOODMAN: Award-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras, speaking about her new documentary, Citizenfour, which features NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. You can go to our website,, to see a video timeline featuring all our coverage based on Snowden’s revelations. When we come back from break, we continue our interview with Laura Poitras talking about the new revelations the film contains—from a second whistleblower. And we’ll speak with Jeremy Scahill about the guilty verdict in Blackwater. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Nine Inch Nails. Oscar-winning composer Trent Reznor created the Citizenfour soundtrack. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we return to our interview with the award-winning filmmaker, Laura Poitras, about her new documentary, out this weekend, Citizenfour.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I asked Laura to describe another clip from the film, which shows an editorial discussion in the newsroom of The Guardian newspaper about how to publish the leaked materials NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden had given them.

LAURA POITRAS: You have there, I think The Guardian might be working on the Tempora story. So, when we’re in Hong Kong, Edward Snowden explains to Ewen MacAskill—and Ewen MacAskill is an investigative journalist with The Guardian, who joined Glenn on the trip. And so, when we were in Hong Kong, Edward Snowden explains to him a program called Tempora, which he describes as, you know, one of—I think he says "the most invasive" Internet collection programs, where the U.K. is buffering the entire, full take of the Internet. And so he shares this with Ewen, and he explains what it means. And so, after Hong Kong, Ewen then passes this information along to his colleagues at The Guardian, and they report on it. So, it’s about the GCHQ’s program, Tempora.

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s go to that clip.

PAUL JOHNSON: All right. So, which ones do we want here then? This is operational stuff, so we mustn’t say any of this.

JULIAN BORGER: So, redact that.

PAUL JOHNSON: Go near the top. What about the Alexander quote? Is that something—

JULIAN BORGER: Yeah, that’s in TARMAC. "Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time? Sounds like a good summer homework project for Menwith." Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, on a visit to U.K. This one.

PAUL JOHNSON: Yeah. It’s a secret document in that secret document. We’ve got a stick here that should just have three single slides on it. If it’s got more than three single slides, we have to be extremely careful.


PAUL JOHNSON: Yeah, that’s it. This is really dangerous stuff for us, Guardian [inaudible]. If we make mistakes, [inaudible] very angry. We kept it all under lock and key. And no one knows. No, I’m not saying that. They will come in and snap the front door down if we elaborate on that. And he said, "The prime minister is desperately concerned about this." And they kept saying, "This is from the very top."

AMY GOODMAN: The clip ends with an on-air screen chat between our guest, Laura Poitras, and Snowden. He types, "How are things over there?"

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And Poitras responds, "I’m at the Guardian. They’re publishing TEMPORA today. [T]hey are very nervous—worried about an injunction."

AMY GOODMAN: Snowden says, "The NSA love that program."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Poitras asks, "Why?"

AMY GOODMAN: Snowden answers, "Because they aren’t allowed to do it in the US. The UK lets us query it all day long."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And Poitras writes back, "They are getting cold feet about publishing names of the telecoms collaborating."

AMY GOODMAN: Snowden says, "Do they know the companies?"

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And Poitras replies, "Yes, I believe so."

AMY GOODMAN: The conversation between Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras. Of course, they’re communicating cryptically. Explain Tempora to us, Laura Poitras.

LAURA POITRAS: Well, I mean, so, Tempora is what’s called a full-take Internet buffer, where the GCHQ collects all the information coming across the Internet, and what they do as a buffer is they slow everything down so that they can look at everything and take things out of it. So, it’s, you know, full-take everything. And what you see in this chat is the fact that Edward Snowden is saying that the NSA is not able to do this, so they actually query the U.K.'s buffer to find—to search for selectors and those kinds of things. So, you know, it's described as very invasive and full-take. So this is—I mean, I think that’s the most important thing to underline in terms of the information that he’s come forward with, is the sort of the scale of it and that these—you know, the NSA and the "Five Eyes" are interested in taking as much information as they can, a sort of bulk dragnet approach to collection of signals intelligence, rather than sort of targeted, you know, so you have this sort of suspicionless gathering of our communications.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In your film, you show a congressional hearing. It’s 2012 before Snowden’s revelations, and Democratic Congressmember Hank Johnson is questioning then-NSA Director Keith Alexander about the agency’s ability to conduct domestic surveillance.

REP. HANK JOHNSON: Does the NSA routinely intercept American citizens’ emails?


REP. HANK JOHNSON: Does the NSA intercept Americans’ cellphone conversations?


REP. HANK JOHNSON: Google searches?


REP. HANK JOHNSON: Text messages?




REP. HANK JOHNSON: Bank records?


REP. HANK JOHNSON: What judicial consent is required for NSA to intercept communications and information involving American citizens?

KEITH ALEXANDER: Within the United States, that would be the FBI lead. If it was a foreign actor in the United States, the FBI would still have to lead and could work that with NSA or other intelligence agencies as authorized. But to conduct that kind of collection in the United States, it would have to go through a court order, and the court would have to authorize it. We’re not authorized to do it, nor do we do it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was then-NSA Director Keith Alexander responding to questions from Democratic Congressmember Hank Johnson in 2012. Laura Poitras, in light of what Snowden revealed, your response to what Keith Alexander stated so emphatically?

LAURA POITRAS: I mean, actually, what I would say is, at the beginning of the film what we’re doing, in the sort of first act before we go to Hong Kong, is sort of set the stage for what’s happening and the denials that were being made by the government. I think actually the most revealing one is the one of James Clapper, where he’s being questioned by Ron Wyden, who—Senator Ron Wyden, who actually knows about the metadata collection program, but he doesn’t want to say it.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Democratic Senator Ron Wyden questioning Director of Intelligence James Clapper during a 2013 Senate hearing. Of course, this is before Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s surveillance program.

SEN. RON WYDEN: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?


SEN. RON WYDEN: It does not.

JAMES CLAPPER: Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there you have James Clapper, who—well, Laura, explain what he was forced to say after the Snowden revelations.

LAURA POITRAS: Sure. I mean, this was an important moment, I think, both for Snowden, when he was watching it, but looking at the government, because the situation, what’s happening there, is that Ron Wyden actually sits on the Intelligence Committee, and he knew very well that the NSA was collecting the metadata records, the sort of call records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act under a, quote-unquote, "secret interpretation of the law." So Ron Wyden knows this. So, he’s trying to question James Clapper, and James Clapper clearly lies, because he knows also that they’re collecting the phone records.

And then it actually—you know, fast-forward to Hong Kong. It’s the first story that Glenn reveals, which is the Verizon order, which is the FISA court—again, the secret court—order that collects the call records of U.S. citizens and gathers them. So this is an example of, you know, the government clearly lying in Congress. And also, I mean, I find it—I mean, one of the things that I think this—hopefully, think people think about when watching this film, and here’s a case where Ron Wyden himself actually knew that this was happening, and he was against it, and yet he didn’t come forward. And then, a whistleblower then, you know, is the one who comes forward to say that the public has a right to know about this. And Wyden and Udall, on one hand, I think that they’ve been trying to push the intelligence agencies to be more transparent; on the other hand, they actually—they have a lot of protection. I mean, they actually could say much more. They have immunity. They could come forward and tell the population. If they think that the people should know what the government is doing, they actually are empowered to do so.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Laura Poitras, what kind of message do you think your film or would you want this film to convey to future whistleblowers?

LAURA POITRAS: I don’t know if it’s so much—I mean, the film begins with William Binney, NSA whistleblower, who worked for three decades in the NSA and knew about the domestic spying and Stellar Wind. And then you see what happens. The FBI shows up at his home with guns, and then Edward Snowden makes different choices. He has documents, unlike Binney, who didn’t have documents, and leaves the country and seeks political asylum. I mean, I don’t know if it’s so much a message for whistleblowers. I mean, I think it’s a question for us as—you know, why is it that people have to make these sacrifices for the public to know what our government is doing? I think that that’s the real question.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go for a moment to William Binney, who actually you brought to our studios when you did this Whitney event with both Jacob Appelbaum, who you feature in the film, and Bill Binney, who spent nearly 40 years at the National Security Agency but retired a month after September 11, 2001, after the attacks, because of his concerns about unchecked domestic surveillance, for a time largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network. In 2012, he gave his first-ever television interview on the show that you were also on, Laura, to Democracy Now!

WILLIAM BINNEY: After 9/11, all the wraps came off for NSA, and they decided to—between the White House and NSA and CIA, they decided to eliminate the protections on U.S. citizens and collect on domestically. So they started collecting from a commercial—the one commercial company that I know of that participated provided over 300—probably, on the average, about 320 million records of communication of a U.S. citizen to a U.S. citizen inside this country.

AMY GOODMAN: What company?

WILLIAM BINNEY: AT&T. It was long-distance communications. So they were providing billing data. At that point, I knew I could not stay, because it was a direct violation of the constitutional rights of everybody in the country. Plus it violated the pen register law and Stored Communications Act, the Electronic Privacy Act, the intelligence acts of 1947 and 1978. I mean, it was just this whole series of—plus all the laws covering federal communications governing telecoms. I mean, all those laws were being violated, including the Constitution. And that was a decision made that wasn’t going to be reversed, so I could not stay there. I had to leave.

AMY GOODMAN: That was NSA whistleblower Bill Binney, who went on to describe what happened in 2007, years after he left the NSA, when his home was raided.

WILLIAM BINNEY: They came busting in.

AMY GOODMAN: Who’s "they"?

WILLIAM BINNEY: The FBI. About 12 of them, I think, 10 to 12. They came in with the guns drawn, on my house.

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you?

WILLIAM BINNEY: I was in the shower. I was taking a shower, so my son answered the door. And they of course pushed him out of the way at gunpoint and came running upstairs and found me in the shower, and came in and pointed the gun at me while I was, you know—

AMY GOODMAN: Pointed a gun at your head?

WILLIAM BINNEY: Oh, yeah. Yes. Wanted to make sure I saw it and that I was duly intimidated, I guess.

AMY GOODMAN: That again was Bill Binney describing what happened. And, Laura, he is featured in your film not only before the Snowden revelations, but after. And this is a powerful part of your film: what Snowden empowered others to do afterward. Soon you see Bill Binney—Bill Binney, who’s a diabetic amputee—in his wheelchair rolling in to testify, as well as others, as the world, country by country, comes to realize what is taking place.

LAURA POITRAS: Right. I mean, that’s one of the things. I mean, when I started filming with Bill and also Tom Drake and Kirk Wiebe and Ed Loomis, I mean, this was the first time that people from the NSA were coming forward, right? And so, I thought, wow, the world should be paying more attention to them. And, you know, people were. I mean, you featured him, and he started doing more interviews. But it didn’t seem to shake things up. And I just remember thinking like, he should be filling auditoriums to talk about what he knows. And then, you know, after Snowden comes forward, where he actually has evidence and documentation, you see Bill has been traveling around the world to talk about the dangers of what the NSA and other intelligence communities are doing and the threat that he feels that it poses to democracies. And so, he—right now in Germany, there’s an inquiry investigating what NSA spying is happening, so it’s an ongoing inquiry, and they invited him to testify. And so, that’s part of the latter part of the film.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura, I know you have to go. You end with Jeremy Scahill and possibly a second whistleblower. Jeremy will pick it up from where you describe what’s happening now.

LAURA POITRAS: I felt strongly that this is not a film that was over, that there were things that—you know, that although Snowden had taken these risks to come forward with this information, that things were still ongoing. And I wanted a sense of that the film is not—doesn’t have a sense of closure. And at the end of the film, we sort of return to the theme of both the war on journalists that we’ve seen, the targeting of journalists and how difficult it is to do investigative journalism when you have intelligence agencies that are able to collect so much information about us and who we talk to—and there’s a scene with William Binney and Jeremy Scahill talking about those risks—and then the film sort of moves on to look at other people who are also coming forward, other whistleblowers who are also under threat as we continue reporting.

And, I mean, for me, it kind of comes full circle, because this whistleblower, who was taken enormous risks, has revealed something that, for me, is quite valuable or important, because it talks about the watchlist, and it talks about the fact that there are 1.2 million people on U.S. watchlists. And this is something that, you know, when I first started being stopped at the border, I would ask the government, "Well, why am I on this list?" And the government’s response to it was: "We won’t even confirm or deny there is a list." And so, now we actually, thanks to the risks and sacrifice of a whistleblower, we actually know that the government has a watchlist. There are documents that support it, which now then opens the possibility for legal challenges, which we’ve already seen come forward, where people—now the courts can intervene and say, "What is this process? What is this watchlist process? And is it legal?" And so, that’s now where things are.

AMY GOODMAN: It even shocks Edward Snowden, the information, as Glenn reveals it to him, as he’s now living in Russia, and you reveal—with his girlfriend, who he had left in Hawaii, not daring to tell her what he was doing because he didn’t want to jeopardize her for having the knowledge.

LAURA POITRAS: Right. I mean, you see—I mean, it’s a really powerful scene between Snowden and Glenn and me, as well. We sort of come together in a different hotel room, you know, later, after the Hong Kong revelations. So, that’s—yeah, I don’t want to say too much about the film, though, the ending of the film.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura, there is a lot of Oscar buzz out there. What else are you hoping will happen with this film, as it opens first in four cities and then around the country?

LAURA POITRAS: I mean, honestly, I’m in a position as a filmmaker—there are people that allow me to document and who put their lives on the line. And so, I hope that the film shows the risk that these people take and that, you know, people should stand up for them and that this is information that the public should know. And it’s people who are having to take personal sacrifice to share information that the public should know.

AMY GOODMAN: Award-winning journalist Laura Poitras, director of the new documentary, Citizenfour, about surveillance and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. It opens Friday in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Her NSA reporting contributed to a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service awarded to The Guardian and The Washington Post. Along with Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, she is co-founder of The Intercept. Jeremy joins us now here in studio, featured at the end of Citizenfour, when it’s revealed a second whistleblower has followed in Snowden’s steps to leak information about the national security state. On two issues, Jeremy, you’ve got this second source. Talk about him and what he’s revealing about watchlists and drone strikes.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you said "him." I didn’t. You know, I just want to make clear from the onset that our absolute top priority is protecting our sources. And so, you know, any information that’s being revealed that comes from this source is being revealed in a manner that’s consistent with protecting the source.

What you see in the film is that we have a source who provided us with a 166-page document, that was not a public document, from the entire intelligence community that outlined the rulebooks for placing people on a variety of watchlists. This document and others like it had been long sought after by the American Civil Liberties Union and other legal organizations and lawyers who represent clients who have been unjustly placed on the no-fly list. We saw an immediate impact from what this extremely principled and brave whistleblower did, in that it’s already been used in court cases. A federal judge has declared the aspects of the watchlisting program that disallow people from knowing their status on the watchlist to be unconstitutional. A coalition of civil liberties groups are now in a major political battle with the Obama Justice Department over releasing this information, asserting that it basically represents a parallel secret legal system consisting of rules that the American people and visitors to the United States are not allowed to know. And so, how do you fight against charges that you’re facing in a secret process when no one tells you that you’ve sort of been labeled a known or suspected terrorist? There were a number of other documents that we published, that were classified as secret, that revealed that there are over a million people on these watchlists, that dead people can be placed on the watchlists, that family members of people that are suspected of having communications with suspected terrorists can be placed on the watchlists.

So, what this individual did, this whistleblower, was done at great personal risk, but also has had an immediate impact on an issue that affects well over a million people, including many, many American citizens. What it also revealed is that the city of Dearborn, Michigan, population 96,000, which has the largest percentage of Arab Americans per capita and Muslim Americans per capita, is the number two city in the United States—the top five all consist of huge cities—New York City, Chicago, San Diego, Houston—but this small city outside of Detroit, Michigan, is the number two place where the U.S. intelligence community says there are known or suspected terrorists residing. It is abundantly clear that that is—it is religious and ethnic profiling at its core. And the only reason we know that is because of a whistleblower taking great personal risk to reveal this to the American public and to the world.

AMY GOODMAN: And Rammstein—how do drone strikes fit into what this source has revealed?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, I’m not going to say much beyond what you see in the film, and I don’t want to spoil too much about it. When this film was shown, and the German government was asked about it—basically, what you see in the film is Glenn Greenwald describing a document that I obtained, that has not yet been published, that indicates that drone strikes are coordinated through the U.S. military base at Rammstein in Germany. And the German government spokesperson denied that any U.S. bases in Germany play any role in the extrajudicial killing operations around the world. It’s interesting that they use that, because maybe they think that they are judicial, which of course, you know, most legal experts say that that’s not true. The only thing I’ll say about that is that either the German government is lying about the role that this U.S. military base is playing in the drone program, or they’re not in the know and the United States is not telling Germany the role that it’s playing.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, we have to break. When we come back, we’re going to talk about the stunning Blackwater verdicts that came down yesterday. Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of, author of the best-selling book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. His most recent book is Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield; it’s just been released in paperback. We’ll be back with him in a minute.

News Fri, 24 Oct 2014 12:01:03 -0400
Obama Promised a "World Without Nuclear Weapons," but May Now Spend $1 Trillion on Upgrades

We are on the road in the historic city of Vienna, Austria, not far from the Czech Republic where President Obama gave a major address in 2009 that called for a nuclear-free world. His disarmament efforts were cited when he won the Nobel Peace Prize, but since then advocates say little progress has been made. A recent New York Times investigation found the United States is on pace to spend as much as $1 trillion over the next three decades to modernize its nuclear arsenal and facilities. This week, more than 150 countries at the United Nations signed a joint statement calling on nuclear powers to attend the third major conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons scheduled this December in Vienna. The United States has yet to attend one of the meetings. We are joined by Elena Sokova, executive director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road broadcasting from the studios of Okto Community Television here in the historic city of Vienna, capital of Austria, in the heart of Europe. It was five years ago that President Obama was in the neighboring country, the Czech Republic, for a major address in Prague where he called for a world free from nuclear weapons.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. First, the United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons. To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same. Make no mistake: As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary and guarantee that defense to our allies, including the Czech Republic. But we will begin the work of reducing our arsenal. To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new strategic arms reduction treaty with the Russians this year. To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that was April 2009. Later that year, President Obama’s disarmament efforts were cited when he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Since then, the United States has failed to meet its nuclear promises. In fact, a recent New York Times investigation found the United States is on pace to spend as much as $1 trillion over the next three decades to rebuild its nuclear arsenal and facilities. As of 2013, the Federation of American Scientists estimates Russia has about—a stockpile of about 8,000 nuclear warheads, while the U.S. has about 7,300.

Meanwhile, this week, more than 150 countries at the United Nations signed a Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons—nearly 80 percent of the body’s member states. It cited the "catastrophic effects" of a nuclear weapon detonation, whether by accident or design, and said, quote, "The only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons will never be used again is through their total elimination." The statement also called on nuclear powers to attend the third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons scheduled this December here in Vienna, Austria. The United States has yet to attend one of the meetings.

Well, for more, we’re joined here in Vienna by Elena Sokova, executive director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.

Elena, we welcome you to Democracy Now!

ELENA SOKOVA: Thank you for inviting me.

AMY GOODMAN: There is not a tremendous amount of attention on nuclear weapons. You know, there’s a great deal of attention, for example, on the threat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But behind the scenes—I mean, this exposé in The New York Times was quite stunning, the difference between what President Obama was saying just next door here, in the Czech Republic, in 2009 about a nuclear-free world and what is actually happening.

ELENA SOKOVA: You’re right that the promises and the announcements made in 2009 in Prague really elevated hopes of people around the world that we’re seriously approaching and dealing with the nuclear weapons and their reductions. But the recent requests from Pentagon and Congress, that President Obama yet to decide upon, project the U.S. arsenal upgrades and modernizations into 40, 50 years from now. Is that the wrong message to send? If you’re going down the goal of Global Zero, elimination of weapons, you’re not spending one trillion of dollars into upgrading your nuclear arsenal. No one says that nuclear weapons should be completely abandoned and not kept safe and secure. But nevertheless, there are a number of these weapons that are completely obsolete: Military doesn’t like them; they have no real purpose. Some of them are, for example, nuclear bombs, gravity bombs, that used on—by heavy bombers as delivery systems. They haven’t been really factored into many of the even military scenarios.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what "Global Zero" is.

ELENA SOKOVA: Global Zero is a goal of getting down to zero nuclear weapons. Of course, even president in his speech said that is a long road, and it’s a tedious road, and expected many bumps in this road. But if we are not working towards that goal, if we are not pushing, we are not agreeing on concrete steps to, first, reducing nuclear weapons significantly and then eliminating them, then how do we reach that Global Zero goal? And speaking here from Europe, some of these modernizations and upgrades really don’t make sense. Some of the—the only weapons that U.S. has outside of its border are in Europe. These are the same B-61 gravity bombs that are located in five countries in Europe, literally next door—Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Turkey. It’s 180 bombs that have no, really, mission here in Europe or in the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2012, three peace activists infiltrated a U.S. nuclear facility that holds more than 400 tons of highly enriched uranium, enough to fuel more than 10,000 nuclear warheads. It was a house painter, a Vietnam vet and an 82-year-old nun who broke into the Y-12 nuclear facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and cut holes in the fence to paint peace slogans. And they also threw blood on the wall. This is Sister Megan Rice speaking about the action in an interview with The Tennessean.

SISTER MEGAN RICE: The appropriate thing was to bring the truth, express the truth, in a way that we could do as quickly as we could and as clearly and as starkly. So we used symbols. Then we also brought the sacred element or symbol of human blood, because so much blood has been shed or would be shed by any of the weapons that would be either refurbished or refined or continue to be built, and hopefully never to be used, but as a stark reminder.

AMY GOODMAN: Sister Megan Rice received a nearly three-year sentence for her actions, and the other two activists involved were sentenced to five years in prison. Their actions prompted the facility to shut down for two weeks and led to congressional hearings about vulnerability of nuclear material. Recent reports show the price tag for renovations to buildings that process uranium at the Oak Ridge facility in Tennessee has soared from $6.5 billion to $19 billion. Elena Sokova, what about these kind of actions and what they show?

ELENA SOKOVA: These actions and the fact that three activists could break into the so-called Fort Knox of the U.S., which houses highly enriched uranium, the material that goes into the nuclear weapons, demonstrates that there are risks and vulnerabilities. And the only way to eliminate these risks is to go down the road and eliminating the weapons and materials for them. And that is a bigger goal. And even if the U.S. has problems with securing some of these top-secret facilities housing them, what about the rest of the world?

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to turn Eric Schlosser, the author of Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety_. During an interviewa on Democracy Now!, he described one of several nuclear "near misses" on American soil.

ERIC SCHLOSSER: One of the most significant near misses occurred just three days after John F. Kennedy was inaugurated. A B-52 bomber broke apart in the sky over North Carolina, and as it was breaking apart, the centrifugal forces affecting the plane pulled a lanyard in the cockpit, which released one of the hydrogen bombs that it was carrying. And the weapon behaved as though it had been released over the Soviet Union, over an enemy target deliberately. And it went through all of its arming stages, except one. And there was one switch that prevented it from detonating in North Carolina. And that switch later was found to be defective and would never be put into a plane today. Stray electricity in the bomber as it was disintegrating could have detonated the bomb.

AMY GOODMAN: Eric Schlosser also noted that in 2010, 50 U.S. nuclear missiles suddenly went offline and were unable to communicate with launch control centers for about an hour due to a computer malfunction. Elena Sokova, if you could comment?

ELENA SOKOVA: What Eric Schlosser described in his book are not the only cases when we almost had near uses or near misses, where nuclear weapons were almost launched because something else was mistaken for the incoming nuclear missiles. There is a recent study published by the Chatham House in London that describes additional cases. And what it demonstrates, that there are vulnerabilities, there are risks, and risk is more than zero, and how we can afford not dealing with this problem of nuclear weapons and the reduction and elimination, if this risk indeed exists. And it’s larger than we thought. All these cases that are now become public demonstrates that we didn’t know about it, and we were really fortunate not to have these incidents happen. Sometimes it’s just a human decision that said that "I cannot believe the data on the radar. I better not do a false alarm." But how we, as a humankind, we can rely always on these decisions?

That’s why the conferences that will be held in Vienna here in December, on December 8 and 9, on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, it will look not only at what are the impacts, short- and long-term, of the weapons on health, on environment, on the food security, on the climate change. But most importantly, it will also look at what the risks are, how vulnerable we are, and how we can deal with that risk, and what if indeed a miscalculation happened or an accident happened, or even premeditated. We speak about nuclear terrorism and other problems. There is no adequate response that we can have. The International Red Cross conducted studies a couple of years ago where they say even a limited, a one nuclear weapon detonation would put severe stress on the whole response system, on medical personnel, on how do you even go and help the individuals who have been under radiation and burns suffering there, because you cannot even move in. Your infrastructure is shattered by the explosion, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, in the editorial in The New York Times that accompanied this big exposé on how President Obama, despite his promises in 2009 next door in Czech Republic, has now spent—invested tens of billions of dollars in rebuilding America’s nuclear arsenal, yet, they say, "after good progress in making nuclear bomb material more secure around the world, [Mr.] Obama has reduced his budget requests for that priority." The significance of this, both increasing the money that’s going into developing nuclear weapons, but then cutting back on securing the nuclear weapons around the world that we have?

ELENA SOKOVA: Well, I think the message is clear, that we really need to follow the priorities that we announced, and that the priorities identified in the Prague agenda were to deal with the elimination of nuclear weapons and risks. Securing nuclear materials is very important, and the funding need to be continued. There are more places in the world that we need still to clean up these materials, and we want to make sure that even the weapons that are remained are kept secure.

AMY GOODMAN: Is the U.S. attending the December conference?

ELENA SOKOVA: That, we don’t know yet. We really hope that they will, that the U.S. will attend—hopefully, other countries will do, as well—because U.S. probably one of the countries that know more than anyone else about the effects. It used their nuclear weapons, the only country that ever used their nuclear weapons. It has an, you know, abundance of data from the nuclear testing and could really contribute to the discussion. What the conference and this humanitarian approach is trying to do is to look at the issue of nuclear weapons not from the security, strategic security viewpoint that has been on the agenda for a long time; it looks at the issue from the humankind perspective of what are we dealing with, can we cope with this, what are the risks, and why don’t we turn table around and look at as an entire humankind, not only the countries that have nuclear weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Elena Sokova, I want to thank you so much for being with us, executive director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation right here in Vienna, Austria.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. As negotiations around Iran and their nuclear facilities go on here in Vienna, one former U.N. weapons inspector, Robert Kelley, is raising questions about what Western officials are saying about Iran. Stay with us.

News Fri, 24 Oct 2014 11:55:13 -0400
Greek Mainstream Media: Economic Interests Come Before the Law

One factor connecting censorship, political favoritism, violence toward journalists, and selective enforcement of the law is economic influence, and in Greece, media is dominated by a few business tycoons, with significant commercial, industrial and financial interests.


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This is the sixth in a series of articles that chronicle the long history of corruption, lawlessness and censorship in Greece's media and journalism landscapes. This is a situation that has worsened in recent years in the midst of the country's severe economic crisis, but which has a deeply-rooted history.

Censorship, political favoritism, violence towards journalists, and selective enforcement of the law collectively pose a tremendous threat to press freedom. One factor which connects all of the above, however, is economic influence, and in Greece, media has traditionally been dominated by a select few business tycoons, with significant investments not just in media and publishing, but in sectors such as shipping, banking, oil and gas, construction, and insurance.

In recent years, this situation has arguably worsened, as the ownership of major media outlets, including upstart internet outlets, has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very few major media and business moguls, who take full advantage of the power their media outlets afford them to flex their financial and political muscle, and influence both politicians and the public at large.

For decades, newspaper publishing in Greece was the realm of the few and the well-connected, who used their newspapers to support particular partisan interests or even specific individual politicians. When private broadcasting emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this situation was essentially replicated, as the major radio and television stations established were backed by many of the same prominent publishing interests. Despite this, the ownership of more than one radio and one television station was not permitted, legally. This law was, however, easily and quite openly flouted. Media owners skirted the ownership limits by placing additional outlets under the ownership of holding companies, individuals from their other business interests, or even spouses and relatives.

Media owners have used this power to wield tremendous influence politically and economically, through the broadcast of outright pro-government propaganda, and through the promotion of their own interests.

With the previous ownership law having become a mockery of itself, in 2007, the Greek government dropped all remaining pretense and, as part of the wide-ranging media law 3592/2007, officially permitted ownership of multiple television and radio stations. Following the elimination of the few remaining obstacles for the concentration of ownership in broadcasting, a buying spree ensued, with major media owners buying up additional television and radio stations, in the waning high-flying pre-crisis days.

While the major media outlets and their owners have argued that media concentration would lead to economic efficiencies and the development of economies of scale, which would permit money to be reinvested into their media holdings as a whole, what has followed has been a growing trend of layoffs and firings at media outlets as entire departments have been consolidated or eliminated, while program offerings have become increasingly homogenized, reducing variety and choice for viewers and listeners.

Meanwhile, the position of media owners has been strengthened and reinforced, and they have used this power to wield tremendous influence politically and economically, through the broadcast of outright pro-government propaganda, and through the promotion of their own extensive non-media business interests. Indeed, these media outlets continue to be used as a "weapon" of choice by media moguls  to threaten the government of the day and to exert pressure, with the goal of receiving lucrative contracts for public works and major state contracts.

The tremendous degree of media and business concentration is concealed within a labyrinth of different holding companies and shell corporations, which in turn are owned, in whole or in part, by other shell corporations, holding companies, or by the media moguls in question, as well as their families and other individuals in certain cases. One prominent example is Ioannis Bobolas, a shareholder in Pegasus Publishing S.A., which in turn is a shareholder in Tiletypos S.A., which is part owner of Mega Channel and of the DIGEA terrestrial digital broadcasting network provider. Bobolas, through Pegasus Publishing S.A., also holds prominent ownership interests in the newspapers Ethnos and Imerisia, the web portal, magazine publishing interests (Elle, Car and Driver, TV Zapping, among others), the Aggelioforos newspaper in Thessaloniki, a share of the TVE television production company, concert promotion and nightclub interests (such as Club 22 in Athens), stakes in companies involved in the printing of newspapers and periodicals, as well as the distribution and sale of these periodicals, and until recently, radio station Sentra FM.

In addition to his media-related holdings, Bobolas is a major shareholder in Ellaktor, one of Greece's major construction firms, which was responsible for the construction of such projects as the new Acropolis Museum, the Olympic Stadium and Olympic Village in Athens, the Attiki Odos highway, and the Rio-Antirrio bridge, among many others. Indeed, Bobolas also remains a shareholder in the parent company of the Attiki Odos highway, while also possessing shares of the Parnitha Casino near Athens, as well as shares in Hellas Gold, the subsidiary company of Canada-based Eldorado Gold, which is conducting controversial gold mining operations in the economically and environmentally sensitive area of Skouries, in the Halkidiki region of Northern Greece.

The impending merger was helped along by a law passed on August 1, at the start of the summer vacation period in Greece, which loosened regulations concerning mergers, while also making it easier for media groups to fire employees.

Bobolas, as well as Pegasus Publishing and Tiletypos, are closely connected to Stavros Psiharis of the Lambrakis Journalism Group, which is a shareholder in Tiletypos, and by extension, Mega Channel and DIGEA. The Lambrakis Journalism Group also fully owns the newspapers Ta Nea and To Vima, and possesses significant ownership interests in radio station Vima FM 99.5, web portal, the Studio ATA television studios, the TVE television studios, in the Aggelioforos newspaper in Thessaloniki, the Papasotiriou bookstores and press kiosks, in the distributors for Disney and Hearst Magazines in Greece, and in other newspaper and book publishing and distribution endeavors, as well as tourism services.

Notably, the Lambrakis Journalism Group and Pegasus Publishing are, as of July 2013, in talks to proceed forward with a merger of the two entities, with possible future plans to merge the new entity with Tiletypos, owner of Mega Channel. The impending merger was helped along by a law passed on August 1, at the start of the summer vacation period in Greece, which loosened regulations concerning mergers, while also making it easier for media groups to fire employees. This law, which was included in a rider in an unrelated health bill, was said to be a longstanding demand of the major media owners and was passed hastily, without a review from the General Accounting Office of the Ministry of Finance.

Another prominent business mogul who is also connected to Pegasus Publishing and Tiletypos is Vardis Vardinogiannis and the Vardinogiannis family, which also owns a stake of Tiletypos, and by extension, Mega Channel and DIGEA. The Vardinogiannis family owns a majority stake in national television station Star Channel (which in turn holds a stake in DIGEA), as well as in Attikes Ekdoseis (Attica Media), which publishes periodicals such as PC Magazine, Esquire, Harper's Bazaar and Playboy in Greece. Attikes Ekdoseis also owns radio stations Lampsi FM 92.3, Athens Deejay 95.2, and Rock FM 96.9 in Athens, while through Star Channel and Star Investments, the Vardinogiannis family also has stakes in radio station Dromos FM 89.8 and Diesi 101.3 FM in Athens. Furthermore, the Vardinogiannis family has a minority stake in MTV Greece, stakes in production company On Productions, in movie theater chain Ster Cinemas and in the Allou Fun Park theme parks. The Vardinogiannis family is said to have stakes in 98 companies in total, in Greece and abroad, with prominent non-media interests in the Motor Oil refineries, the Avin chain of gas stations, Vegas Oil and Gas, and numerous other shipping and business interests.

A figure well-connected to Star Channel, in turn, is prominent journalist Nikos Hatzinikolaou, who is the owner of Greece's top Sunday newspaper, Real News, and part-owner of leading radio station Real FM in Athens and Thessaloniki. Hatzinikolaou is also the owner of the web portal, which spawned a television program, "Ston Eniko," which now airs on Star Channel, where Hatzinikolaou is also the main commentator on the station's main evening newscast. Real FM is, in turn, partially owned by Andreas Kouris of the prominent Kouris family, which has interests, directly or indirectly, in television stations Kontra Channel and Mad TV and in radio stations Mad Radio 106.2, Love Radio 97.5, 104 FM (formerly Parea FM), and Orange 93.2.

The Kouris family also held a prominent interest in national television station Alter Channel, which ceased operations in November 2011 and which has since gone bankrupt. The Kouris family also has stakes in the newspaper Kontra News and the online portal, operates the (nearly bankrupt) Metropolis music store, and for years published the now-defunct newspapers Avriani, Filathlos, and O Kosmos tou Ependiti.

Another prominent business and shipping magnate who is a major player in Greece's media landscape is Minos Kyriakou, owner of the Antenna Group of companies. The Antenna Group owns and operates the nationwide broadcaster ANT1 Television, the ANT1 Online news portal and web TV platform, radio stations Rythmos 94.9 and Easy 97.2 in Athens, Easy 97.5 and Rythmos 104.0 in Thessaloniki, record company Heaven Music (a strategic partner of Warner Music), the Audiotex telecommunications service, a variety of online services ranging from to the matchmaking website, the ANT1 Studies Center and Fame Studio training center, television and radio stations in several Balkan and Eastern European countries (Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova), and Daphne Communications, which publishes such periodicals as OK! Magazine, House & Deco, and Astrologist.

The Antenna Group, officially based in Holland, also publishes Vice magazine for the Greek market. In addition, Kyriakou also indirectly controls another national television broadcaster, Macedonia TV, and both ANT1 and Macedonia TV are, in turn, shareholders in DIGEA. Kyriakou's non-media ventures include the ownership of oil companies Bacoil International and Athenian Oil Trading, a share in Singapore Airlines, the chairmanship of the Aegean Foundation, and, until recently, the chairmanship of the Panellinios athletic club.

Another shipping magnate with a tremendous presence in Greece's media landscape is Giannis Alafouzos from the prominent Alafouzos shipping family. Alafouzos is the owner of the Skai Group, which encompasses the national television station Skai TV, major Athens radio station Skai 100.3, radio stations Melodia 99.2 and Red 96.3, shares in DIGEA, and the and web portals. Additionally, Alafouzos is the president of Kathimerini Publishing, which publishes the Kathimerini newspaper and the English-language e-Kathimerini and International New York Times in Greece, and which also holds stakes in Maison Publishing S.A., newspaper publishing and distribution firms Apostoli S.A. and Evropi S.A., the press kiosk at Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens, and other endeavors. Presently, he is also in talks to purchase leading sports radio station NovaSpor FM and the sports newspaper Sportday. Alafouzos has extensive shipping interests, as the president of Ermis Maritime Holdings. He is also the majority shareholder of the Panathinaikos football club, based in Athens.

Dimitris Contominas is another major name in the world of Greek media, with an extensive non-media background in insurance and banking. He is the owner of national television broadcaster Alpha TV (which, in turn, holds shares in DIGEA), television station Channel 9 in Athens and Kanali 9 in Thessaloniki, radio stations Alpha 98.9 in Athens and Alpha 96.5 in Thessaloniki, the Plus Productions television production company, the Cosmoline telecommunications company, the KB Impuls satellite distribution company, and the Village Group of film distributors and movie theaters. Outside of the realm of the mass media, Contominas holds significant interests, through the holding company Demco Group, in companies such as Prime Insurance, myDirect online insurance, the Euroclinic medical clinic of Athens, the InterJet private aviation firm, in Intertech, and in Panasonic's exclusive representative in Greece, as well as holdings in the realms of construction, gaming, multimedia, gastronomy, and winemaking.

In numerous cases in recent years, many of the aforementioned media, business and shipping barons have not been able to escape legal controversy, and in some cases, even jail time.

Other prominent business and shipping interests with major media holdings include Christos Copelouzos, the chairman of the Copelouzos Group, with major interests in energy (Prometheus Gas, Elica Group), exhibitions (Metropolitan Expo Center in Athens), a share in the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens, as well as Prime Media, which runs news portals Newsbeast and, as well as websites such as The Giannakopoulos family holds major interests in pharmaceuticals (Vianex), a major share of the Panathinaikos basketball club, and the DPG media group, which publishes various print and online titles, including the Newsbomb news portal and the Panathinaikos-friendly Prasini sports newspaper.

Shipping magnate Victor Restis (Enterprises Shipping and Trading) owns shares in electronics retailer Multirama, food manufacturer Nikas, various tourism holdings, as well as majority stakes in MTV Greece and Nickelodeon Greece plus radio station Music 89.2 in Athens. He has also owned shares in Tiletypos S.A. (owner of Mega Channel) and the Lambrakis Publishing Group. Evangelos Marinakis, aside from his substantial shipping interests (Capital Maritime and Capital Product Partners), is the president of the Olympiacos football club, and a major stakeholder in the Parapolitika newspaper and the radio station Parapolitika FM. Marinakis has also recently acquired sports radio station Sentra FM and sports newspaper Goal.

Well-connected media personalities have also become media owners in their own right: Nikos Evagellatos, until recently a news presenter on Skai TV, operates news portal; Themis Anastasiadis, another celebrity television personality, owns a majority stake in major Sunday newspaper Proto Thema; while the notorious and well-connected television personality Makis Triantafillopoulos operates the tabloid news portal and is connected to Athens-based television station AB Channel.

Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, the former major shareholder and president of Proton Bank, had been held in connection with charges of being the moral accomplice in the attempted murder of a 43-year-old businessman.

In numerous cases in recent years, many of the aforementioned media, business, and shipping barons have not been able to escape legal controversy, and in some cases, even jail time. For instance, Kyriakou, in 2007, was given a 48-month prison sentence without deferment and issued a €15,000 fine, in connection with illegal construction which had occurred at his vacation property in Porto Heli, Greece. In January, Contominas was one of 25 individuals arrested as part of a probe into €500 million worth of bad loans given by the failed Hellenic Postbank. He was released on €4 million bail and ordered to report to police twice per month. He was also barred from leaving Greece, which however has not prevented him from reportedly visiting the United States for a series of meetings with businesspeople, as well as visits to family and to medical personnel.

Andreas Kouris has been arrested repeatedly in connection with debts to the Greek state, most recently in June over a debt of over €700,000 stemming from the Metropolis chain of music stores. Similarly, his uncle Makis Kouris was arrested in January and is also facing charges over alleged debts towards the Greek state. Costas Giannikos, a former major shareholder of the now-bankrupt Alter television station and former owner of three Athens-based radio stations and several publications, was, in early July, granted release from prison and placed on probation. He was jailed in connection with alleged unpaid taxes towards the Greek state, stemming from his involvement with Alter Channel. Restis spent four months in prison in 2013, prior to being released in December pending trial in connection with loans totalling €5.8 million issued by First Business Bank, which had been under his control, to off-shore corporations said to be connected to family members of his.

Petros Kyriakidis, a former executive at the scandal-ridden and now-dissolved Proton Bank, and former owner of several radio stations and newspapers, left Greece in December 2012, one day prior to the issuance of an arrest warrant against him in connection with charges of money laundering. He remains at large, allegedly in Latin America, to this day. Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, the former major shareholder and president of Proton Bank, who had acquired a significant media portfolio of his own, was released on €500,000 bail in June after being held in custody for over two years over charges of money laundering and the embezzlement of over €700 million from Proton Bank, through unsecured loans granted to companies in which he had an ownership interest. Lavrentiadis had also been held in connection with charges of being the moral accomplice in the attempted murder of a 43-year-old businessman who was seriously injured after a bomb went off at his home in Athens in June 2012.

Greece's prominent business, financial, and shipping interests have made heavy investments in the media sector not because of its profitability, but instead for the influence that media ownership affords them within Greek society.

In other examples, Themis Anastasiadis was arrested in December 2012 following charges of tax evasion and money laundering, following the discovery of bank accounts totaling €5.5 million which he was said to possess in Switzerland. Anastasiadis was later found not guilty on these charges, though in October 2009, he received a deferred sentence of 19 months in prison stemming from his publication, in Proto Thema, of sensitive personal photographs of Christos Zahopoulos, who was embroiled in a major political and sex scandal that rocked the Kostas Karamanlis-led New Democracy government in late 2007 and early 2008. And recently, Evangelos Marinakis has faced accusations that he participates in a criminal conspiracy that has attempted to manipulate and control police officers, judges, politicians, and other public figures. Despite the severity of these charges, however, few, if any, media outlets have reported the allegations.

It should be stressed that Greece's prominent business, financial, and shipping interests have made heavy investments in the media sector not because of its profitability, but instead for the influence that media ownership affords them within Greek society. Indeed, most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations are either unprofitable or only marginally profitable. However, for their owners, they serve arguably a more important set of objectives: to promote their other business and financial interests, to influence public opinion, and to exert pressure on politicians and the government of the day.

When necessary though, these media outlets have other ways to support themselves financially, other than from their performance within the marketplace. One such method is through loans. At a time when Greece's banking sector is being recapitalized with public funds and numerous banks have been liquidated or absorbed, and at a time where bank loans to individuals and small businesses in Greece has all but ceased, several large media groups have received tremendously large loans often for the purposes of servicing previously existing debt. In early 2013, for instance, Tiletypos S.A., the owner of Mega Channel, received a €98 million loan from Alpha Bank and Piraeus Bank, allegedly to service a previous loan of €50 million granted by the two banks to Tiletypos in 2009, which the company was unable to repay.

Other formerly prominent media moguls have not escaped the loss of their media empires, even if they have avoided jail time.

Earlier this year, Pegasus Publishing S.A., a major shareholder in Tiletypos S.A., had a €20 million loan from the National Bank of Greece, which would otherwise had expired on December 31, 2013, renewed. Meanwhile, another shareholder in Pegasus Publishing, the Lambrakis Journalism Group, received a €98 million loan earlier this year, issued jointly by the National Bank of Greece, Alpha Bank, Eurobank, and Piraeus Bank. €83 of the €98 million are intended to service previously existing debt.

One further way in which the operation of Greece's major media groups is financially supported is through the rather generous distribution of state advertising funds.

Notably, Pegasus Publishing and the Lambrakis Journalism Group, through their proposed merger, are said to be aiming to have 60 percent of their outstanding debts written off. For the first three quarters of 2013, the Lambrakis Journalism Group faced €21.7 million in losses and total debts of €216 million; Pegasus faced losses of €21.8 million and €223 million in outstanding debts; Tiletypos had losses of €17.3 million and outstanding debts of €190.1 million Euros and Kathimerini S.A. faced €13.3 million in losses and total outstanding debts totaling €185.9 million.

Meanwhile, other formerly prominent media moguls have not escaped the loss of their media empires, even if they have avoided jail time. One notable example is that of Petros Kostopoulos, the former owner of radio stations Nitro Radio, Sfera 102.2 and Derti 98.6, and the IMAKO publishing group, whose titles included high-circulation magazines such as Nitro and DownTown, among others. Kostopoulos, however, remains a prominent figure on television and in Greece's celebrity culture.

Despite the many financial and legal troubles which have plagued the sector, one further way in which the operation of Greece's major media groups is financially supported is through the rather generous distribution of state advertising funds. These funds are not always distributed based on audience size or other similar criteria. For instance, in 2008, the newspaper "Hora tis Kyriakis" received over €2.6 million in state advertising, finishing in 11th place overall among all daily and Sunday newspapers in Greece, even though its circulation hovered at around 1,000 sheets nationwide.

Successive governments have also allowed media outlets, and broadcast media outlets in particular, to avoid other financial obligations toward the Greek state.

Hora was published by prominent journalist Giorgos Tragkas, who at that time was still considered to be close to the then-New Democracy government. The paper, which finished in first place that year with over €5.9 million in state advertising funds, City Press, was a free weekly newspaper published by Giorgos Kirtsos, who also maintained close ties with New Democracy and who, in the May 2014 European parliamentary elections, was elected as a representative for Greece with the New Democracy party. In yet another example, Panagiotis Mavrikos, the publisher of four newspapers with a total average nationwide circulation of approximately 1,000 sheets per day (24 Ores, Epikairotita, Acropolis, and Athlitiki Imera) received approximately €150.000 in state advertising fundsin 2008.

At the same time that successive governments have curried favor with media outlets through the generous outlay of state advertising expenditures, they have also allowed media outlets, and broadcast media outlets in particular, to avoid other financial obligations toward the Greek state. For instance, ever since 1995, when legislation was first passed which required broadcast stations to pay for the use of public over-the-air frequencies, broadcasters have often been able to avoid paying the full amount to which they would have otherwise been legally obliged.

For instance, while national television stations were once required to pay 2 percent of their annual revenues each year for the right to use public broadcast frequencies (with a 50 percent reduction during election years due to the legally mandated free airtime broadcasters are required to provide to political parties), in 2009, an election year, that fee dropped to 0.1 percent, and remained at 0.1 percent in 2010, which was not an election year.

Many major media groups also have amassed a tremendous amount of back taxes that are owed to the Greek state.

This meant that Greece's largest television station, Mega Channel, paid a total of just over €1.2 million Euros for its use of frequencies nationwide for 2009 and 2010 combined, while 902 TV, another television station which broadcast nationally, paid just €1,416 for the use of all of its frequencies nationwide for the year 2009. And as if that isn't enough, the government has delayed enforcement of law 3845/2010, which foresees a tax levy of 20 percent on television advertising revenues. Originally passed in 2010, the tax has not yet been levied, and in December 2013, the enforcement of this tax was pushed further back, to 2015.

Television, in particular, has become a visual wasteland of soap operas, low-budget reality shows, celebrity gossip programs, as well as lots of reruns.

Many major media groups also have amassed a tremendous amount of back taxes that are owed to the Greek state. Tiletypos, the parent company of Mega Channel, reportedly owes over €123 million in unpaid taxes, with Pegasus Publishing said to owe an additional €164.3 million Euros. In turn, the Lambrakis Journalism Group reportedly has an outstanding tax debt of €134 million, while the parent companies of Star Channel and Alpha TV each are said to owe approximately €58 million to the Greek State.

Finally, Forthnet, the parent company of the Nova subscription television service, reportedly owes €331 million in unpaid taxes to the Greek state. All this, at a time where the tax burden on ordinary citizens in Greece, as well as Greece's outstanding national debt, are ballooning.

Within this framework of increasing concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few extremely wealthy individuals and corporations, the argument was often made that increased concentration would be beneficial for the media marketplace, for consumers and viewers - and for the media outlets themselves. It was said that increased economies of scale would allow media outlets to expand their operations and to eventually hire more employees, and that consumers would benefit from expanded choice and presumably by higher-quality media outlets that would be financially secure and which would have the ability to make increased investment in their content.

Instead, the opposite seems to have taken place: Television, in particular, has become a visual wasteland of soap operas, low-budget reality shows, celebrity gossip programs, as well as lots of reruns. And that just refers to the stations which remain on the air. Many other media outlets have, in recent years, gone bankrupt. The most prominent example is Alter Channel, a nationwide television station which ceased broadcasts in November 2011, leaving over 600 employees unpaid to this day.

At other prominent media outlets, successive waves of layoffs have taken place over the past few years, as well as successive staff-wide salary reductions.

Indeed, there have been numerous cases in recent years where journalists and other employees at media outlets have been fired without warning, or have been unpaid for long periods of time, while several other formerly prominent media outlets have gone bankrupt and ceased operations. Aside from Alter Channel, media outlets which have filed for bankruptcy and halted their operations include formerly high-rated radio stations VFM and Best Radio in Athens, and Star FM, Heart FM, and Aris FM in Thessaloniki; municipal radio station Xenios FM from Ano Liosia, an Athens suburb; newspapers including Adesmeftos Typos, Apogevmatini, Avriani, City Press, Derby, Filathlos, O Kosmos tou Ependiti, Paraskevi+13, the English-language Athens News, among others; magazines such as DownTown and Difono; and web portals such as And while some radio stations that had been on the brink of bankruptcy were permitted by the National Council for Radio-Television (ESR) to be taken over by their unpaid staffers, most of these radio stations (such as Xenios FM) remain closed, or operate without any live staffers on the air.

Fear of being laid off has also led to increased instances of self-censorship among journalists.

At other prominent media outlets, including Skai and Vima FM, successive waves of layoffs have taken place over the past few years, as well as successive staff-wide salary reductions, which have also been seen at the Antenna Media Group, Sentra FM, Music 89.2, and elsewhere. It is also common for employees at media outlets to go months (or longer) without being paid, as is the case at the municipal radio station Epikoinonia FM of Neo Iraklio, a suburb of Athens, were staffers have been unpaid for over one year.

In other cases, such as at Music 89.2, ownership has attempted to replace collective bargaining agreements with individual contracts with each staffer, firing those who refuse to comply. In other cases, companies such as the Lambrakis Publishing Group have been said to owe significant amounts of money to their employees' insurance funds.

Perhaps most tellingly though, a recent classified advertisement posted by an online news portal sought to hire an individual who would be responsible for copying and pasting 100 articles per day to the online portal, all for a monthly "salary" of €100.

At a time where the media sector as a whole in Greece is facing a tremendous crisis, as advertising revenue and circulation figures have sharply declined, while recent waves of layoffs (including the 2,690 staffers of ERT who lost their jobs) have led to a surplus of journalists and media professionals seeking jobs, employers in Greece have the luxury of sharply reducing salaries and eliminating benefits, including social security contributions, taking advantage of the dire and often desperate situation in which journalists and media professionals find themselves.

Fear of being laid off has also led to increased instances of self-censorship among journalists, fearing that any work which might be considered inexpedient by the government or by ownership interests and the country's financial elite might result in their firing and the prospect of long-term unemployment. This situation, in turn, has a dire impact on the quality of journalism being delivered to the Greek populace.

In the meantime, major media outlets in Greece continue to operate, in many cases, without a modicum of transparency. One recent example comes from the sale of 902 TV, the television station of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) which was sold, in August 2013, along with radio station 902 Aristera sta FM to a mysterious offshore holding company, based in Cyprus, and said to belong to business mogul Filippos Vryonis, owner of television station Extra Channel, based in Athens.

Uncertainty has, for years, prevented the owners of many smaller radio and television stations from making significant investments in their stations.

Notably, the identity of the new ownership of 902 TV (since renamed E Channel) remained shrouded in mystery for many weeks after the sale, but this nevertheless did not prevent the ESR from quickly approving the sale.

While the media outlets owned or associated with major media, business, and political interests have often found themselves operating above the law and outside of normal market norms, subsidized both by the state and by the other business operations of their owners, smaller media outlets that do not have such luxuries are finding it extraordinarily difficult to continue their operations in Greece's current economic environment.

The ever-rising costs of electricity and other utilities, higher taxes, and reduced advertising and circulation have backed smaller media outlets into a tight corner, and throughout the country, many such outlets have ceased operations in recent years. In addition, smaller radio and television stations are faced with disproportionately high costs for copyright and music royalties, regardless of their profitability or revenue, and are constantly operating under the threat that they may be shut down at any time, due to the fact that no formal broadcast licenses have been granted by the state.

Indeed, this uncertainty has, for years, prevented the owners of many smaller radio and television stations from making significant investments in their stations, for fear that these investments would be lost if the state decided to take their stations off the air at any point, as was the case with the 66 radio stations that were suddenly and violently taken off the air in one night by riot police in Athens, back in 2001.

In light of the growing immigrant population in the country in the past two decades, foreign-language media in Greece have become more important. While foreign-language press does operate in Greece without any particular interference, including newspapers, magazines and online outlets, foreign-language broadcasters have faced numerous challenges.

Athens International Radio, a foreign-language broadcaster operated by the municipality of Athens, which was on the air with a "temporary" license issued by Greece's Communications Ministry prior to the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, was taken off the air by the EETT in September 2010.

Perhaps not coincidentally, that same month ERT placed its newly-launched foreign-langauge service, "Filia" (Friendship) on the FM dial in Athens. When ERT was shut down in June 2013, this service ceased broadcasting, as did ERT's international service, The Voice of Greece, which also carried some foreign-language programming.These services have not been replaced by Greece's new "public" broadcaster NERIT. On the other hand, privately-owned radio stations which have aired programming in other languages have selectively been fined by the ESR for broadcasting in languages other than Greek.

Typically, stations in northern Greece broadcasting in Turkish have been fined, at the same time that ERT, Athens International Radio, and the handful of English-language radio stations throughout Greece have never faced similar sanctions. Nor have Greece's major private television broadcasters, such as ANT1 and Mega Channel, been fined for their airing of Turkish soap operas, which are broadcast without a Greek voiceover, but instead with subtitles.

Ironically, at the same time that most of Greece's major media outlets are unprofitable and are supported financially by other means, and while Greece's smaller media outlets are suffering the consequences of the country's financial crisis, the supposedly spendthrift and bloated ERT was, in fact, profitable and financially healthy prior to its sudden shutdown by the government in June 2013. It is within this broader economic and political context, examined in this section and all of the previous articles of this series, that the shutdown of ERT should be analyzed and examined.

Related Articles:

Corruption, Clientelism and Censorship in Greece's Media Landscape

Savage Deregulation: Further Censorship and Crackdowns in Greek Media 

12 Years Before ERT Shutdown, A Dark Chapter in Greece's Media History

Setting a Bad Example: Flouting Legal Requirements in Greek Broadcasting

In Greece, Media Censorship, Self-Censorship, Journalist Arrests and Murder

News Sat, 25 Oct 2014 10:58:31 -0400
California, the Golden State, Is Actually the Poorest of All

2014 1024 cal stWelcome to California (Photo: The Lost Adventure)California, the home of Silicon Valley and more billionaires than any other state, is the poorest state in the country.

That's according to an Oct. 16 report from the Census Bureau, which also finds that Mississippi – typically ranked among the poorest states – has a poverty rate below the national average.

The report out last week is not the official census poverty measure, which came out a month earlier. But after decades of criticism that the official measure is broken and outdated, federal officials in 2011 began quietly piloting an alternative approach to measuring poverty.

Called the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), the report has no official bearing on policy. The latest SPM report puts the 2013 national poverty rate at 15.5 percent, one point higher than the official measure. But the regional differences are dramatic, upending some long-held notions about the distribution of poverty in the U.S.

Those notions are based largely on the official poverty measure, a formula that has changed little since the 1960s.

"It is antiquated," said Mark Levitan, the former director of poverty research for New York City, which in 2008 threw out the official federal measure and devised an alternative for city poverty reports.

2014 1024 cal 1

But for the most part, nonprofit organizations, community groups and the private charity world continue to rely on the official statistics.

"Since the SPM data are relatively new (at least, newly released), I suspect that not many nonprofits use it," Carol J. De Vita, senior fellow at the Urban Institute's Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy, said in an email.

There's little comprehensive data on which measure private charities use, but De Vita notes that nonprofit groups operating a government-funded program such as Head Start must follow government-proscribed eligibility definitions. But, she said: "If the nonprofit is creating a program on its own, then it is free to use whatever measure of poverty it likes."

So should more nonprofit and community groups be using the new supplemental measure?

To understand the official measure's limitations — and how it can be used as a political weapon against anti-poverty programs — it's important to understand how the official measure works.

A Broken Yardstick?

Simply put, the official measure sets a single national poverty threshold by multiplying the cost of a basic subsistence diet by three, adjusting for family size and updating annually for inflation.

Last year, for a family of two adults and two children, the official poverty threshold was roughly $23,600.

That is regardless of whether the family lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming or in San Francisco – where average housing costs run 225 percent higher than Cheyenne, according to a comparison tool from CNNMoney.

In addition to the lack of regional adjustments, experts point to two critical flaws with the official measure. The first is a simple anachronism in household economics. When the formula was created in the 1960s, roughly a third of the average family budget went toward food.

But advances in agricultural technology have made food relatively cheaper, while skyrocketing housing and health care costs have become bigger strains on many low-income household budgets.

Recent estimates from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics put the average household food spend at 16 percent of the family budget for the bottom quintile of wage earners. The same group spends 40 percent of their income on housing – a massive share of household budget, but not that much higher than the 33 percent average share that Americans in all income brackets devote to housing.

The second issue with the official measure is subtler. It defines income strictly as pre-tax wages. This means that assistance programs such as tax credits and food stamps have — by definition — no direct impact on official poverty levels.

A family benefiting from housing tax credits or subsidized health insurance looks as destitute on paper as another family with the same gross income and no access to the same programs.

Opponents of those programs frequently use that fact to attack anti-poverty programs, on the grounds that they aren't making a dent in official numbers. In March, Congressman Paul Ryan issued a blistering report on social assistance programs titled, "The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later."

"Right now, the federal government spends nearly $800 billion a year on 92 different programs to fight poverty," Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, said in remarks introducing the report. "Yet the official poverty rate is the highest in a generation."

But only five of the U.S. government's 92 anti-poverty programs are cash-based. Over 70 percent of the $800 billion spent fighting poverty goes to non-cash programs. That assistance doesn't show up in official numbers at all.

A Different Approach

The Supplemental Poverty Measure aims to bridge that gap by counting food stamps, tax refunds and other public assistance toward a family's income, illuminating the impact of such programs. The SPM report found, for example, that 23 percent of children would be living in poverty if refundable tax credits were eliminated, as opposed to the current supplemental rate of 16 percent.

The SPM also offers a dramatically different geographic picture of poverty. Mississippi, which has one of the highest poverty rates under official measures, drops below the national average in the SPM. By contrast, California's poverty rate jumps from 16 percent under the official measure to 23 percent — making the Golden State the poorest in the country under the new measure.

2014 1024 cal 2With its headquarters located in the Silicon Valley city of Mountain View, California, Google is one of the most successful and innovative technology companies in the world. If the Census Bureau's Supplemental Poverty Measure definition is followed, its employees work in the hardest-hit US state in terms of poverty. (Photo: bubbletea)The differences at the state level are due mainly to regional variations in housing costs, according to Kathleen Short, the Census Bureau economist who authored the latest SPM report.

Choosing The Right Measure

Despite its advantages as a statistical tool, the SPM is unlikely to replace the official poverty measure. For one thing, as Short pointed out, it would be "circular logic" to count food stamps as income when setting eligibility thresholds for food stamps.

But even regional cost-of-living adjustments to the official measure face a seemingly impossible hurdle in Congress. Because billions in federal funding to the states are tied to state poverty levels, any change to the official formula would likely divert dollars from states like Mississippi to places like California.

New York City's revised poverty definition, for example, found that 46 percent of its residents were at or near poverty, versus 31 percent under the official measure, according to the most recent of the reports.

"There would be winners and losers," Levitan, the poverty expert from New York City who teaches at Hunter College, said of changes to the official poverty measure. "Going down that road would create a real political donnybrook in Congress."

Groups and organizations that aren't reliant on government funds can focus on the SPM.

"Overall, research finds that the poverty thresholds under SPM are slightly higher than under the traditional measure," De Vita of the Urban Institute said. "This means that more people would be eligible for poverty programs and services."

"The adjustment that the SPM makes for geographic location, especially as it relates to housing costs, can be an important factor for nonprofits that provide or support place-based programs and services," she said.

Because it accounts for health care costs, the supplemental measure may be particularly useful for groups that focus on older populations, which typically have higher average health care costs, De Vita added.

The SPM also uses a broader definition of households, including same-sex couples with children.

In future years, Short, the economist at the Census Bureau, hopes to release the supplemental report in tandem with the official poverty report. That would give policy makers, researchers and the public a more complete picture of poverty in one shot.

"The official poverty measure gets a lot of criticism from many quarters," she said. "There are a lot of ways we could improve, to get a closer look at families in poverty, and better understand the difficulties they're going through."

News Fri, 24 Oct 2014 10:34:17 -0400
History of Key Document in IAEA Probe Suggests Israeli Forgery

Washington - Western diplomats have reportedly faulted Iran in recent weeks for failing to provide the International Atomic Energy Agency with information on experiments on high explosives intended to produce a nuclear weapon, according to an intelligence document the IAEA is investigating.

But the document not only remains unverified but can only be linked to Iran by a far-fetched official account marked by a series of coincidences related to a foreign scientist that that are highly suspicious.

The original appearance of the document in early 2008, moreover, was not only conveniently timed to support Israel's attack on a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran in December that was damaging to Israeli interests, but was leaked to the news media with a message that coincided with the current Israeli argument.

The IAEA has long touted the document, which came from an unidentified member state, as key evidence justifying suspicion that Iran has covered up past nuclear weapons work.

In its September 2008 report the IAEA said the document describes "experimentation in connection with symmetrical initiation of a hemispherical high explosive charge suitable for an implosion type nuclear device."

But an official Iranian communication to the IAEA Secretariat challenged its authenticity, declaring, "There is no evidence or indication in this document regarding its linkage to Iran or its preparation by Iran."

The IAEA has never responded to the Iranian communication.

The story of the high explosives document and related intelligence published in the November 2011 IAEA report raises more questions about the document than it answers.

The report said the document describes the experiments as being monitored with "large numbers of optical fiber cables" and cited intelligence that the experiments had been assisted by a foreign expert said to have worked in his home country's nuclear weapons programme.

The individual to whom the report referred, Ukrainian scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko, was not a nuclear weapons expert, however, but a specialist on nanodiamond synthesis. Danilenko had lectured on that subject in Iran from 2000 to 2005 and had co-authored a professional paper on the use of fiber optic cables to monitor explosive shock waves in 1992, which was available online.

Those facts presented the opportunity for a foreign intelligence service to create a report on high explosives experiments that would suggest a link to nuclear weapons as well as to Danilenko. Danilenko's open-source publication could help convince the IAEA Safeguards Department of the authenticity of the document, which would otherwise have been missing.

Even more suspicious, soon after the appearance of the high explosives document, the same state that had turned it over to the IAEA claimed to have intelligence on a large cylinder at Parchin suitable for carrying out the high explosives experiments described in the document, according to the 2011 IAEA report.

And it identified Danilenko as the designer of the cylinder, again basing the claim on an open-source publication that included a sketch of a cylinder he had designed in 1999-2000.

The whole story thus depended on two very convenient intelligence finds within a very short time, both of which were linked to a single individual and his open source publications.

Furthermore, the cylinder Danilenko sketched and discussed in the publication was explicitly designed for nanodiamonds production, not for bomb-making experiments.

Robert Kelley, who was the chief of IAEA teams in Iraq, has observed that the IAEA account of the installation of the cylinder at a site in Parchin by March 2000 is implausible, since Danilenko was on record as saying he was still in the process of designing it in 2000.

And Kelley, an expert on nuclear weapons, has pointed out that the cylinder would have been unnecessary for "multipoint initiation" experiments. "We've been taken for a ride on this whole thing," Kelley told IPS.

The document surfaced in early 2008, under circumstances pointing to an Israeli role. An article in the May 2008 issue of Jane's International Defence Review, dated Mar. 14, 2008, referred to, "[d]ocuments shown exclusively to Jane's" by a "source connected to a Western intelligence service".

It said the documents showed that Iran had "actively pursued the development of a nuclear weapon system based on relatively advanced multipoint initiation (MPI) nuclear implosion detonation technology for some years...."

The article revealed the political agenda behind the leaking of the high explosives document. "The picture the papers paints," he wrote, "starkly contradicts the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released in December 2007, which said Tehran had frozen its military nuclear programme in 2003."

That was the argument that Israeli officials and supporters in the United States had been making in the wake of the National Intelligence Estimate, which Israel was eager to discredit.

The IAEA first mentioned the high explosives document in an annex to its May 2008 report, shortly after the document had been leaked to Janes.

David Albright, the director of the Institute for Science and International Security, who enjoyed a close relationship with the IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen, revealed in an interview with this writer in September 2008 that Heinonen had told him one document that he had obtained earlier that year had confirmed his trust in the earlier collection of intelligence documents. Albright said that document had "probably" come from Israel.

Former IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei was very sceptical about all the purported Iranian documents shared with the IAEA by the United States. Referring to those documents, he writes in his 2011 memoirs, "No one knew if any of this was real."

ElBaradei recalls that the IAEA received still more purported Iranian documents directly from Israel in summer 2009. The new documents included a two-page document in Farsi describing a four-year programme to produce a neutron initiator for a fission chain reaction.

Kelley has said that ElBaradei found the document lacking credibility, because it had no chain of custody, no identifiable source, and no official markings or anything else that could establish its authenticity—the same objections Iran has raised about the high explosives document.

Meanwhile, ElBaradei resisted pressure from the United States and its European allies in 2009 to publish a report on that and other documents – including the high explosive document — as an annex to an IAEA report. ElBaradei's successor as director general, Yukia Amano, published the annex the anti-Iran coalition had wanted earlier in the November 2011 report.

Amano later told colleagues at the agency that he had no choice, because he promised the United States to do so as part of the agreement by Washington to support his bid for the job within the Board of Governors, according to a former IAEA official who asked not to be identified.

News Fri, 24 Oct 2014 10:20:09 -0400
The Post-Michael Brown Agenda Provides Goals for the Movement to End Racist, Militarized Policing

Throughout the nation the issue of police brutality, including killings of unarmed people, is a common problem. It is part of a criminal enforcement system that has pitted police against people in ways that are very destructive to the fabric of the nation. DOJ is taking or has taken action involving three dozen law enforcement agencies during the Obama era.

To turn this moment of awareness and activism into an effective movement, we need an agenda to transform policing so police play a constructive role in the community. At the inspiring FergusonOctober actions, protesters put forward a list of demands that provide an agenda for a movement to fix policing in America, including:

1: Body cameras on all police.
2: Empowered civilian review boards.
3: Independent review of fatalities.
4: End of military surplus going to police.

Long-time Washington, DC community activist Kymone Freeman, a co-founder of We Act Radio, has been participating in organizing a series of powerful protests in Washington, DC around Michael Brown and police abuse. Freeman testified before the DC City Council on behalf of #DCFerguson and put forward an agenda consistent with the Ferguson one, adding one more: police should live in the communities where they serve. He also wants police who are involved in a shooting of an innocent civilian to be automatically prosecuted.

Police Know That Racist Militarized Policing Is Destructive

Many police officials recognize the destructive nature of the current militarized policing that is often racially unfair. Former Seattle police chief Norm Samper, writes in The Guardian:

"It's difficult to view citizens as partners when you're looking at them through a Kevlar helmet and a riot shield – or when you have failed to build a culture of trust and then you add military equipment and tactics to a combustible mix of racial discrimination and little police accountability. This explosive combination makes policing significantly less effective, and dramatically less safe for everybody."

Samper should know because he was the chief during the 1999 'Battle of Seattle' and admits he mishandled that protest in part because "the way we looked – and the way we behaved – provoked and exacerbated the violence." Military-policing was just one of the problems; in addition rights to Freedom of Speech and Assembly were not respected. Often violent conflicts can be avoided if police respect constitutional rights as we saw recently with an antiwar protest in New York City, which for the first time in three years was not marred by the presence of threatening police.

The Post Michael Brown Proposals

Cameras: There is a lot of promise in requiring police to wear body cameras and on police vehicles. One California city, Rialto in San Bernadino County, saw an 88% drop in claims of police misconduct in one year with police wearing cameras along with a 59% drop in use of force incidents. Police should recognize the benefit as they will have videotape to prove their innocence. And, people will feel more confident in the police knowing that their encounter is being recorded.

However, there have been multiple incidents where the police have failed to have the camera on at critical moments. There is a need for written policies on the use of video cameras, currently one-third of police forces that use cameras have no written policy. The failure to turn on the camera during an encounter should raise doubt regarding the officer's version of events. Written policies should also require the video be made available to a victim, if deceased to their family and attorney. And, they should require the video and any data associated with it be destroyed in a specific amount of time. Police cameras should not be an excuse to create a data base of citizens.

People should not wait for the police to be required to wear cameras, Cop Watch programs, where people are trained to videotape police encounters should be organized. People should be trained to use a video camera in a legal, credible and safe way, e.g. 7 rules for recording police. Police officers need to understand it is legal for someone to film them while they are performing their duty and there should be no retaliation against people who film police encounters.

Citizen Review Board: There are citizen review boards in many cities across the country but as Freeman testified, they are usually a "paper tiger." There are three things that are essential to make review boards effective (1) The power to initiate investigations of police on their own; (2) The power to subpoena witnesses to testify under oath; (3) The power to indict police officers who have committed crimes or abused their power.

An empowered citizen review board will make it clear that police work for the people and are accountable to the people. A letter sent to President Obama this summer by civil rights, good government and democracy activists this summer said: "Police departments should not be solely responsible for investigating themselves. These departments are funded by the public and should be accountable to the public."

Relying on the police to investigate themselves is insufficient. Relying on prosecutors who work closely with the police to indict police officers often results in no indictment for actions that are 'on their face' criminal. The grand jury process, conducted in secret by a prosecutor is too easy to manipulate in favor of the police (which is why I urged the Wilson family to file a civil lawsuit now). An indictment by a Citizens Review Board means there is probable cause, not guilt. Police officers will still have the right to defend themselves in court and it will remain difficult to convict police for a variety of reasons.

Beyond a citizen review board more citizen involvement is needed. Norm Samper urges local political leadership to "put together a large, representative, credible crisis team to work with the police, communicate systematically with the community and, most importantly, elicit grassroots suggestions for resolution of the conflict." Further he urges "a group of citizens, officers, politicians and civic leaders to craft and quickly implement a statement of non-negotiable standards for the performance and conduct of each and every police officer: for example, any officer should be fired if found to be using racial or ethnic slurs or excessive force."

While we urge people to push for these actions, people should organize now to develop standards for police conduct as well as crisis management. Too often we wait for government to solve these problems when we have the power to take action ourselves.

Independent Review of Fatalities: Whenever there is fatality as a result of a police shooting there should be an independent review outside of police and prosecutors. Civilian review boards can be equipped and directed to take on this responsibility or cities can create an independent investigator to do so.

In addition, guidelines should be enacted for routine response, i.e. removal of the officer from patrol, taking away weapons; depending on the circumstances, e.g. if the person killed was unarmed there should be immediate procedures to follow that would be different from cases where the person is armed. Kymone Freeman of #DCFerguson calls for automatic action against police who shoot at innocent civilians testifying including them being automatically fired and indicted.

These procedures should be developed by a cross section of the community including elected officials, police and members of the community.

Demilitarization: The militarization of US police is a new phenomena that is being routinely misused. In the early 1970s there were no paramilitary police units, now they are common in every police force, even in many small towns. They are used routinely to serve search warrants, respond to protests and even to patrol neighborhoods. Radley Balko, author of Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces, wrote in the ABA Journal in 2013that SWAT teams "smash into private homes more than 100 times per day."

The militarization has been spurred by federal policy that makes military equipment available to local police, even school police. Colin Jenkins reports in Coming Home to Roost: American Militarism, War Culture, and Police Brutality, that military equipment has flowed to police across the country: "They possess everything from body armor to high-powered weaponry to tanks, armored vehicles, and even drones." The ACLU reports $4.3 billion in equipment has been transferred to 17,000 law enforcement agencies from all states and territories.

It is time to demilitarize US police and create stringent standards that make the use of paramilitary units are rarity rather than the rule. A letter to President Obama by more than 120 institutions says:

"Deterring crime and protecting communities should not involve military weaponry. Effective policing strategies and community relationships will not be advanced if police departments continue to act as an occupying force in neighborhoods. The Administration must suspend programs that transfer military equipment into the hands of local police departments and create guidelines that regulate and monitor the use of military equipment that has already been distributed."

Samper urges police to immediately begin demilitarization and greatly limit the use of paramilitary units writing: "prohibit SWAT operations for anything other than school shootings, armed hostage situations and other immediate crises when negotiations fail and lives are at stake."

The Obama administration should take three immediate steps to advance demilitarization of police (1) Stop providing military equipment to police by suspending the program; (2) Direct police who received military equipment to limit their use and provide guidelines for when to use paramilitary units; (3) Let local governments know they can return military equipment to the federal government.

Police Living Where they Work: The debate over police living in the communities where they serve is a long one. The issue has been raised anew because, as CityLab notes, Officer Darren Wilson did not live in Ferguson, but lived a half hour away in a community that was 96% white. When the governor sought to calm the unrest he brought in Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson who came in saying "This is my neighborhood," as he grew up in Ferguson and lived nearby in the bordering city of Florissant.

It used to be common for police to live in the cities where they worked but Pew reports residency requirements are increasingly rare: "Philadelphia police several years ago negotiated a contract provision that allows them to live outside the city after five years on the job. Minnesota repealed the Minneapolis residency requirement in 1999, and Missouri lifted residency requirements for St. Louis police in 2005."

CityLab reports "Detroit is one example of what can happen when cops are freed from these requirements. After the state of Michigan eliminated the city's residency restrictions in 1999, many officers started moving out. By 2011, incoming mayor David Bing noted, more than half of the city's police lived outside of Detroit."

The benefits of police living in the community are obvious; police get to know the community and build relationships. A 2012 report by the Abell Foundation of Baltimore found "many residents like the idea of police officers living in their communities because they view them as a deterrent to crime and because they believe officers would have a better understanding of neighborhood problems if they had homes in the area."

While it may not be possible to have all police live in the communities they patrol, because housing may not be available or affordable, or the communities may be fragmented into small towns as in the St. Louis area, there are steps that can be taken to increase police living within the city limits. The Abell Foundation suggests incentives like rental subsidies or assistance with home down payments. They report "Over a period of 14 months, a police housing incentive in Atlanta, for example, attracted 71 participants in the program, or about 6 percent of all the officers living outside the city."

Abell argues that even a modest increase in the number of officers living in the city could improve public safety in their neighborhoods and foster better relations between the department and local residents.

Do Not Forget the Root Cause Issues

The proposals coming forward in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown would make a tremendous difference if implemented but there are underlying issues that must also be faced. These include the long history of racism, especially in policing, going back to enforcement of slavery through the era of Jim Crow and continuing today. But racism in the United States continues despite Civil Rights laws and this has a big role in police abuse in Ferguson and the rest of the nation. Training, education and strong action against racism are central to remaking policing.

Another underlying issue is the wealth divide and unfair economy that has people protesting the wealthiest Americans and big business interests. Too often police take the side of protecting the wealthy against the people. Police need to make protecting the people and their exercise of constitutional rights a priority. Prosecutors across the country and at the Justice Department need to increase prosecutions of people who rip-off the economy, workers and undermine the environment for extreme profits. There has been a corporate crime wave without a response from law enforcement.

One of the comments on Popular Resistance about Ferguson connected the dots on the issues of police abuse and rebuilding communities, it is worth quoting in full:

"Part of rebuilding communities is having local control and local medical clinics and doctors, local teachers and school boards with power, and local police who live in communities and know the people. We also need better educated police and prison guards. Those who police or wield power over others need to be psychologically fit, and well educated, with ongoing programs of education. The laws protecting police put in place since the 80´s should be repealed, and they should be held more accountable for their lapses in judgment and actions, not less. Violations of law should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, along with counts of failure to follow procedure, abuse of public trust, and abuse of authority. We need to stop legal harassment for the crime of being poor, and start community based job creation via community banks. Legal charges and brutality up to and including murder for jaywalking or minor offenses are crazy. Police need to be more broadly educated on what constitutes justice, and be more willing to fulfill a social service role of warning or advising, referring people to services, and hey! maybe serve their communities in a non-threatening fashion."

People need to unite around the resulting agenda from the killing of Michael Brown and so many others across the country. At the same time, people need to act on their own to create the world we want to see, e.g. instituting Cop Watch and forming citizen groups to define the police they envision. Finally, we need to recognize the connections between police abuse with the broader issues of an unfair economy, environmental destruction, racism and government corruption. Uniting to build a mass transformative movement is the only path to the changes that are needed.

Opinion Fri, 24 Oct 2014 09:48:35 -0400
Against Carceral Feminism

2014 1024 fem fw(Image: Silhouette of woman via Shutterstock)

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Cherie Williams, a thirty-five-year-old African-American woman in the Bronx, just wanted to protect herself from her abusive boyfriend. So she called the cops. But although New York requires police to make an arrest when responding to domestic violence calls, the officers did not leave their car. When Williams demanded their badge numbers, the police handcuffed her, drove her to a deserted parking lot, and beat her, breaking her nose, spleen, and jaw. They then left her on the ground.

“They told me if they saw me on the street, that they would kill me,” Williams later testified.

The year was 1999. It was a half-decade after the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which deployed more police and introduced more punitive sentencing in an attempt to reduce domestic violence. Many of the feminists who had lobbied for the passage of VAWA remained silent about Williams and countless other women whose 911 calls resulted in more violence. Often white, well-heeled feminists, their legislative accomplishment did little to stem violence against less affluent, more marginalized women like Williams.

This carceral variant of feminism continues to be the predominant form. While its adherents would likely reject the descriptor, carceral feminism describes an approach that sees increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the primary solution to violence against women.

This stance does not acknowledge that police are often purveyors of violence and that prisons are always sites of violence. Carceral feminism ignores the ways in which race, class, gender identity, and immigration status leave certain women more vulnerable to violence and that greater criminalization often places these same women at risk of state violence.

Casting policing and prisons as the solution to domestic violence both justifies increases to police and prison budgets and diverts attention from the cuts to programs that enable survivors to escape, such as shelters, public housing, and welfare. And finally, positioning police and prisons as the principal antidote discourages seeking other responses, including community interventions and long-term organizing.

How did we get to this point? In previous decades, police frequently responded to domestic violence calls by telling the abuser to cool off, then leaving. In the 1970s and 1980s, feminist activists filed lawsuits against police departments for their lack of response. In New York, Oakland, and Connecticut, lawsuits resulted in substantial changes to how the police handled domestic violence calls, including reducing their ability to not arrest.

Included in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the largest crime bill in US history, VAWA was an extension of these previous efforts. The $30 billion legislation provided funding for one hundred thousand new police officers and $9.7 billion for prisons. When second-wave feminists proclaimed “the personal is the political,” they redefined private spheres like the household as legitimate objects of political debate. But VAWA signaled that this potentially radical proposition had taken on a carceral hue.

At the same time, politicians and many others who pushed for VAWA ignored the economic limitations that prevented scores of women from leaving violent relationships. Two years later, Clinton signed “welfare reform” legislation. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act set a five-year limit on welfare, required recipients to work after two years, regardless of other circumstances, and instated a lifetime ban on welfare for those convicted of drug felonies or who had violated probation or parole.

By the end of the 1990s, the number of people receiving welfare (the majority of whom were women) had fallen 53 percent, or 6.5 million. Gutting welfare stripped away an economic safety net that allowed survivors to flee abusive relationships.

Mainstream feminists have also successfully pressed for laws that require police to arrest someone after they receive a domestic violence call. By 2008, nearly half of all states had a mandatory arrest law. The statutes have also led to dual arrests, in which police handcuff both parties because they perceive each as assailants, or they can’t identify the “primary aggressor.”

Women marginalized by their identities, such as queers, immigrants, women of color, trans women, or even women who are perceived as loud or aggressive, often do not fit preconceived notions of abuse victims and are thus arrested.

And the threat of state violence isn’t limited to physical assault. In 2012, Marissa Alexander, a black mother in Florida, was arrested after she fired a warning shot to prevent her husband from continuing to attack her. Her husband left the house and called the police. She was arrested and, although he had not been injured, prosecuted for aggravated assault.

Alexander argued that her actions were justified under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Unlike George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin three months earlier, Alexander was unsuccessful in using that defense. Despite her husband’s sixty-six-page deposition, in which he admitted abusing Alexander as well as the other women with whom he had children, a jury still found her guilty.

The prosecutor then added the state’s 10-20-LIFE sentencing enhancement, which mandates a twenty-year sentence when a firearm is discharged. In 2013, an appellate court overturned her conviction. In response, the prosecutor has vowed to seek a sixty-year sentence during her trial this December.

Alexander is not the only domestic violence survivor who’s been forced to endure additional assault by the legal system. In New York state, 67 percent of women sent to prison for killing someone close to them had been abused by that person. Across the country, in California, a prison study found that 93 percent of the women who had killed their significant others had been abused by them. Sixty-seven percent of those women reported that they had been attempting to protect themselves or their children.

No agency is tasked with collecting data on the number of survivors imprisoned for defending themselves; thus, there are no national statistics on the frequency of this domestic violence-criminalization intersection. What national figures do show is that the number of women in prison has increased exponentially over the past few decades.

In 1970, 5,600 women were incarcerated across the nation. In 2013, 111,300 women were in state and federal prisons and another 102,400 in local jails. (These numbers do not include trans women incarcerated in men’s jails and prisons.) The majority have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse prior to arrest, often at the hands of loved ones.

Carceral feminists have said little about law-enforcement violence and the overwhelming number of survivors behind bars. Similarly, many groups organizing against mass incarceration often fail to address violence against women, often focusing exclusively on men in prison. But others, especially women of color activists, scholars, and organizers, have been speaking out.

In 2001, Critical Resistance, a prison-abolition organization, and INCITE! Women of Color against Violence, an anti-violence network, issued a statement assessing the effects of increased criminalization and the silence around the nexus of gender and police violence. Noting that relying on policing and prisons has discouraged organizing community responses and interventions, the statement challenged communities to make connections, create strategies to combat both forms of violence, and document their efforts as examples for others seeking alternatives.

Individuals and grassroots groups have taken up that challenge. In 2004, anti-violence advocate Mimi Kim founded Creative Interventions. Recognizing that alternative approaches to violence need to be demonstrated, the group developed a site to collect and publicly offer tools and resources on addressing violence in everyday life. It also developed the StoryTelling and Organizing Project, where people can share their experiences of intervening in domestic violence, family violence, and sexual abuse.

In 2008, social-justice organizers and abuse survivors Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepnza-Samarasinha compiled “The Revolution Starts at Home,” a 111-page zine documenting various efforts in activist circles to hold abusers accountable. Piepnza-Samarasinha described how trusted friends helped devise strategies to keep her safe from a violent and abusive ex who shared many of the same political and social circles:

When he showed up at the prison justice film screening I was attending, held in a small classroom where we would have been sitting very close to each other, friends told him he was not welcome and asked him to leave. When he called in to a local South Asian radio show doing a special program on violence against women, one of the DJs told him that she knew he had been abusive and she was not going to let him on air if he was not willing to own his own violence.

My safety plan included never going to a club without a group of my girls to have my back. They would go in first and scan the club for him and stay near me. If he showed up, we checked in about what to do.

In their article “Domestic Violence: Examining the Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender,” feminist academics Natalie Sokoloff and Ida Dupont mention another approach taken by immigrant and refugee women in Halifax, Nova Scotia, one which tackled the economic underpinnings that prevent many from escaping abusive relationships.

The women, many of whom had survived not just abuse but torture, political persecution, and poverty, created an informal support group at a drop-in center. From there, they formed a cooperative catering business, which enabled them to offer housing assistance for those who needed it. In addition, women shared childcare and emotional support.

As these examples demonstrate, strategies to stop domestic violence frequently require more than a single action. They often require a long-term commitment from friends and community to keep a person safe, as in Piepnza-Samarasinha’s case. For those involved in devising alternatives, like the women in Halifax, it may require not only creating immediate safety tactics, but long-term organizing that addresses the underlying inequalities that exacerbate domestic violence.

By relying solely on a criminalized response, carceral feminism fails to address these social and economic inequities, let alone advocate for policies that ensure women are not economically dependent on abusive partners. Carceral feminism fails to address the myriad forms of violence faced by women, including police violence and mass incarceration. It fails to address factors that exacerbate abuse, such as male entitlement, economic inequality, the lack of safe and affordable housing, and the absence of other resources.

Carceral feminism abets the growth of the state’s worst functions, while obscuring the shrinking of its best. At the same time, it conveniently ignores the anti-violence efforts and organizing by those who have always known that criminalized responses pose further threats rather than promises of safety.

The work of INCITE!, Creative Interventions, the StoryTelling and Organizing Project, and “The Revolution Starts at Home” (which sparked so much interest that it was expanded into a book) are part of a longer history of women of color resisting both domestic and state violence. Their efforts shows that there is an alternative to carceral solutions, that we don’t have to deploy state violence in a disastrous attempt to curb domestic violence.

News Fri, 24 Oct 2014 11:27:08 -0400
Pacific Climate Change Warriors Block World's Largest Coal Port

United Nations - Climate Change Warriors from 12 Pacific Island nations paddled canoes into the world's largest coal port in Newcastle, Australia, Friday to bring attention to their grave fears about the consequences of climate change on their home countries.

The 30 warriors joined a flotilla of hundreds of Australians in kayaks and on surfboards to delay eight of the 12 ships scheduled to pass through the port during the nine-hour blockade, which was organised with support from the U.S.-based environmental group

The warriors came from 12 Pacific Island countries, including Fiji, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Micronesia, Vanuatu, The Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Niue.

Mikaele Maiava spoke with IPS about why he and his fellow climate change warriors had travelled to Australia: "We want Australia to remember that they are a part of the Pacific. And as a part of the Pacific, we are a family, and having this family means we stay together. We cannot afford, one of the biggest sisters, really destroying everything for the family.

"So, we want the Australian community, especially the Australian leaders, to think about more than their pockets, to really think about humanity not just for the Australian people, but for everyone," Mikaele said.

Speaking at the opening of a new coal mine on Oct. 13, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that "coal is good for humanity."

Mikaele questioned Abbott's position, asking, "If you are talking about humanity: Is humanity really for people to lose land? Is humanity really for people to lose their culture and identity? Is humanity to live in fear for our future generations to live in a beautiful island and have homes to go to? Is that really humanity? Is that really the answer for us to live in peace and harmony? Is that really the answer for the future?"

Mikaele said that he and his fellow climate warriors were aware that their fight was not just for the Pacific, and that other developing countries were affected by climate change too.

"We're aware that this fight is not just for the Pacific. We are very well aware that the whole world is standing up in solidarity for this. The message that we want to give, especially to the leaders, is that we are humans, this fight is not just about our land, this fight is for survival."

Mikaele described how his home of Tokelau was already seeing the effects of climate change,

"We see these changes of weather patterns and we also see that our food security is threatened. It's hard for us to build a sustainable future if your soil is not that fertile and it does not grow your crops because of salt intrusion."

Tokelau's coastline is also beginning to erode. "We see our coastal lines changing. Fifteen years ago when I was going to school, you could walk in a straight line. Now you have to walk in a crooked line because the beach has eroded away."

Mikaele said that he and his fellow climate change warriors would not be content unless they stood up for future generations, and did everything possible to change world leaders' mentality about climate change.

"We are educated people, we are smart people, we know what's going on, the days of the indigenous people and local people not having the information and the knowledge about what's going on is over," he said.

"We are the generation of today, the leaders of tomorrow and we are not blinded by the problem. We can see it with our own eyes, we feel it in our own hearts, and we want the Australian government to realise that. We are not blinded by money we just want to live as peacefully and fight for what matters the most, which is our homes."

Tokelau became the first country in the world to use 100 percent renewable energy when they switched to solar energy in 2012.

Speaking about the canoes that he and his fellow climate warriors had carved in their home countries and bought to Australia for the protest, he talked about how his family had used canoes for generations,

"Each extended family would have a canoe, and this canoe is the main tool that we used to be able to live, to go fishing, to get coconuts, to take family to the other islands."

Another climate warrior, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, from the Marshall Islands, brought members of the United Nations General Assembly to tears last month with her impassioned poem written to her baby daughter Matafele Peinam,

"No one's moving, no one's losing their homeland, no one's gonna become a climate change refugee. Or should I say, no one else. To the Carteret islanders of Papua New Guinea and to the Taro islanders of Fiji, I take this moment to apologise to you," she said.

The Pacific Islands Forum describes climate change as the "single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific."

"Climate change is an immediate and serious threat to sustainable development and poverty eradication in many Pacific Island Countries, and for some their very survival. Yet these countries are amongst the least able to adapt and to respond; and the consequences they face, and already now bear, are significantly disproportionate to their collective miniscule contributions to global emissions," it says.

Pacific Island leaders have recently stepped up their language, challenging the Australian government to stop delaying action on climate change.

Oxfam Australia's climate change advocacy coordinator, Dr Simon Bradshaw, told IPS, "Australia is a Pacific country. In opting to dismantle its climate policies, disengage from international negotiations and forge ahead with the expansion of its fossil fuel industry, it is utterly at odds with the rest of the region."

Dr. Bradshaw added, "Australia's closest neighbours have consistently identified climate change as their greatest challenge and top priority. So it is inevitable that Australia's recent actions will impact on its relationship with Pacific Islands.

"A recent poll commissioned by Oxfam showed that 60 percent of Australians thought climate change was having a negative impact on the ability of people in poorer countries to grow and access food, rising to 68 percent among 18 to 34-year-olds," he said.

News Fri, 24 Oct 2014 09:14:16 -0400