An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Fake Healthcare for People Who Don't Matter Anyway

The Doctor who assisted the C.I.A. to find Bin Laden faces a 33 year prison sentence. Glenn Greenwald at pointed out that Dr. Afridi perpetrated a fake vaccination program as part of his work for the C.I.A. to hunt for Bin Laden. The vaccination injections did no harm in themselves, but did not really vaccinate anyone either.

You would never know this if you watch the mainstream news media.

Despite the harmlessness of the injections, the fake program has increased distrust by Moslems in developing countries of U.S. aid workers and set back Polio eradication efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The President of Doctors without Borders commented:  “The potential consequence is that even basic healthcare, including vaccination, does not reach those who need it most.” 

That the C.I.A. has infiltrated do-gooder U.S. organizations before in order to spy in foreign countries at least since the founding of the Peace Corps. (For a hilarious satire of the Peace Corps including its infiltration by the C.I.A. see the movie Volunteers, an early Tom Hanks comedy). Even when U.S. citizens try to do something good, something poisons it.

Of most interest is Greenwald's re-framing of the matter. Hopefully this will give some people in the U.S. some perspective (if they ever read it):

In light of all the righteous American outrage over this prison sentence, let’s consider what the U.S. Government would do if the situation were reversed: namely, if an American citizen secretly cooperated with a foreign intelligence service to conduct clandestine operations on U.S. soil, all without the knowledge or consent of the U.S. Government, and let’s further consider what would happen if the American citizen’s role in those operations involved administering a fake vaccine program to unwitting American children. Might any serious punishment ensue? Does anyone view that as anything more than an obvious rhetorical question?
… American lives are inherently more valuable; foreign lives are expendable in pursuit of American interests; the U.S. has the inalienable right to take action in other countries that nobody is allowed to take in the U.S. (just imagine: “An Iranian drone fired two missiles at a bakery in the northwest U.S. Saturday and killed four suspected militants, Iranian officials said, as Iran pushed on with its drone campaign despite American demands to stop. This was the third such strike in the country in less than a week").

I suggest you read Greenwald's entire post: The Imperial Mind.

By the way, this "it's OK when the U.S. does it" mindset I find most disturbing where-ever I encounter it. Despite how much I like the Rachel Maddow Show I can barely contain my disgust with the liberal-hawk bias in her reporting: she ignores innocent civilians' deaths inflicted by drone attacks while celebrating victories by the Obama administration in the War on an abstract concept Terrorism. Both on the left as well as on the right in U.S. politics and political reporting American lives matter - others well not so much.

They hate us for our freedoms. Oh, and because they think we're weak.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Google is evil

Most have heard the phrase "high treason." Does that mean there's such as thing as "low treason?" Actually, yes. In  medieval society in which dueling is legal, the law specified that "low treason" was "killing a relative of the king." Why make this treason? Because by selectively eliminating heirs to the throne through dueling one could determine the succession - pick the next monarch.

A thought experiment.

Let's say you do something that most other people would find strange (or so you think). Let's say you like to watch antelope porn. No one harmed. You just get off on watching antelopes mating.

Now let's say you find yourself fed up with all the rogues in politics: the culture warrior republicans, the spineless democrats, the fragmented left, the looney right, all of it. You start talking to friends and acquaintances about running for office. You're well-liked and make for a good candidate. After winning a low level local race you start campaigning for state-wide or national office. Your record as a county or city official indicates that you remain above all the corruption and reject traditional party loyalties.

Now let's say you win a congressional seat. Once in Washington you start raising holy hell about the traditional way of doing business. You go to the press about a meeting between business leaders and congressional reps in which the business people give  insider trading information to the politicians, and how your colleagues cash in. Or something. It does not matter what. Not part of the existing beltway society, you stand up for what you think is right and do not cave in to pressures to conform. The wealthy and powerful donate to your opponent during your re-election. Outspent a thousand to one you somehow manage to encourage enough people to look at your record, your youtube videos, come to your campaign events that you convince a majority to reject the candidate with the multi-million dollar campaign. You win re-election.

But then Google gives all your personal information it has gathered to the CIA, your web surfing and video viewing history then finds its way into the hands of the media. Your antelope fetish becomes public knowledge. You never touched an antelope in your life - you just watched them do it. Doesn't matter. No one will vote for you now.

This may sound far-fetched in a lot of respects. I purposely made the details a bit silly for entertainment. But the part that's not far-fetched? That Google has already entered into an arrangement with the CIA to share everyone's personal digital histories. That sounds like conspiracy theory but it's actually a matter of fact. (See the alternet news report about Google: The Terrifying Ways Google Is Destroying Your Privacy. Well worth the read).

The destruction of privacy runs only in one direction. That's the real problem. Google, (and people staffing the national security agencies) can release an individual's personal information in ways that can damage that person's reputation or livelihood or political prospects. But the rest of us can not see the same for the people on the other side of the one-way mirror.

Eric Schmidt, one of Google's founders, one of the 'do not evil' guys, stated in 2010: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." But can we see what he's been up to online? Is that information available freely to the rest of us, as our information is available to him? I didn't think so.

I realize all of this exists now as a thought experiment. We may not even realize the abuse of this power when and if it happens. But the obvious power that comes from eliminating persons from even potentially serving in government already has a name.  Although no longer applied to dueling, the concept of "low" treason, unused for centuries, is coming back. But this time it's legal.

Friday, May 18, 2012

TED organizers never heard of the Streisand effect?

[Updated below] Here's the TED talk that the people at TED did not want you to see. According to a story in, TED Even more elitist than we thought, multimillionaire Seattle venture capitalist named Nick Hanauer gave a TED talk on income inequality in which he blasted conventional wisdom (the meme that fabulously rich people "create jobs") in no uncertain terms. He bluntly calls this dishonest. My favorite part is the following:

...when businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it's a little like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it's the other way around.

It's hard to call this censorship - no government agency has ordered TED not to post Hanauer's talk. Commercial censorship maybe. Limiting access to information most librarians consider censorship and we do not care about dictionary definitions. Language evolves. Kind of like Squirrels. The trouble comes mostly from the behavior of the TED organizers, TED curator Chris Anderson in particular. As Lauren Kelley of Alternet has pointed out, "... TED’s stance on the talk went from “The world must see this!” to “We’ll get to it later…” to “Actually it’s too partisan” to “It might upset businessmen.”" Strange.

Stranger still are the insinuations that the talk did not meet some sort of high quality standards that TED supposedly sets to post talks online. Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy posted a howler of an article picking out 10 TED Talks They Should Have Censored. This reminds me of the newspaper that defends its choice of what stories to run with the argument that they have to sort out what's important from what's not but they run Lady Gaga saying something outlandish on the front page.

Well, alls well that ends sort of well, I guess. Despite refusing to post the video on its own web site, Anderson nonetheless (after a barrage of criticism and accusations of censorship) posted Hanauer's talk on YouTube. (You can also read a transcript here).

AROY found this segment of the Lawrence O'Donnell show in which Hanauer expands on some of the ideas in his TED talk.

The segment runs about 7 and a half minutes.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Divide and Conquer

This 30 second video speaks volumes. Scott Walker talking to one of his billionaire supporters.

Use of the agency of government to assist your friends and cronies always looks a bit murky: you can not tell definitively in many cases. You can make whatever arguments you like for how getting rid of unions will somehow benefit everyone. You can make arguments that the unions support politicians who enact policies favorable to unions. The lines between policy, politics and personal friendships here lack clarity. Fine.

Here's what's not murky: Gov. Walker has stated that he eliminated public sector collective bargaining in Wisconsin due to fiscal pressures. But his union stripping also left alone those public sector unions which supported him in his election. Now this "divide and conquer" explanation to a billionaire supporter. Clear enough?