Hacktivism

A review of Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: the Many Faces of Anonymous, by Gabriella Coleman. First published at TeleSUR English.

On December 17, independent journalist Barrett Brown, who has been in jail for two years without trial, had his first sentencing hearing (see the report by The Intercept). Barrett Brown was threatened with one hundred years in prison for analyzing documents that were hacked from private security companies HBGary and Stratfor. Brown never hacked anything - he received the documents and was reporting on them.

Interesting points emerge from a posting by Julian Assange of Wikileaks, who reacted to the sentencing hearing. Assange pointed out that the charges against Brown were of two kinds: the first, pertaining to his reporting on the Stratfor documents, which should be protected under free expression. The other, pertaining to things he said when the FBI threatened to charge his mother unless he turned over his source material. The worst thing Brown said about the FBI agent was a tweet that read, "illegally shoot the son of a bitch". Assange pointed out that this tweet was Brown quoting Fox News's Bob Beckel, who called for Assange's assassination. (Assange posted this link as proof.) Beckel has faced no FBI investigation, no legal consequences, no arrests. Barrett Brown, who quoted him, has been in jail for two years and is threatened with many more. Brown and his lawyers have gag orders against them - the prosecution told the court that Brown has shown "intent to continue to manipulate the public through press and social media comments," thus undermining the enormously powerful government's right to a fair chance of obtaining a harsh conviction against this independent journalist.

Anti-Authoritarian Current: A Review of Dixon's Another Politics

First published on TeleSUR 16 December 2014

In Another Politics, Chris Dixon presents a part of the North American left, defining it early on in the book as the “anti-authoritarian current”. A significant part of the book is dedicated to defining this current, its ideology, and its practices. Dixon is explicit about being a part of this current, and while the book raises some of the dilemmas and internal criticisms of the current, it is largely a celebration of the current's beliefs and methods.

How is the current defined? Dixon identifies three strands: Antiracist feminism, prison abolitionism, and anarchism. Antiracist feminism is Dixon's summary for what is sometimes called intersectional analysis or anti-oppression politics: the idea that there are multiple oppressions, along lines of gender, race, and class, and that true liberation requires liberation from all of these oppressions. Moreover, in this current, none of these oppressions can be assigned a place of primacy over the others. Prison abolitionism is “a set of politics aimed at the complete elimination of the institutions of incarceration” (pg. 38). On anarchism, Dixon emphasizes that this current is defined by a “reconfigured anarchism”, a bundle of features fusing “consensus decision-making, affinity groups, and direct action”, “a strongly prefigurative movement culture based on working together collectively, sharing resources equitably, challenging power relations, and supporting one another”, “along with a commitment to egalitarianism, mutual aid, and freedom as well as a far-reaching critique of domination.” The “glue that largely held it all together was a shared counterculture and template of activities” (pg. 42).

After defining these three strands, Dixon goes on to further define the current according to four “antis”: anti-authoritarianism, anti-capitalism, anti-oppression, and anti-imperialism. The four “antis” help define what the current is against; a chapter on prefigurative politics discusses the positive aspirations of the current as its members try to redefine relations within their groups as they challenge oppressive institutions in society.

The Power of Crazy Ideas: A review of Naomi Klein's 'This Changes Everything'

A review of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, by Naomi Klein (Simon and Schuster, 2014), 576 pgs.

Review first published at TeleSUR

Sources of misery in the world are difficult to rank, but any short list would have to include inequality, war, and environmental degradation. People who are concerned about inequality and war have historically been called leftists. Those who are concerned about the planet have been called environmentalists. Over the decades, they have distrusted one another, and synthesis has been elusive.

Environmentalists have argued that waiting for "the revolution" in order to try to save species from extinction, or prevent the planet from boiling over because of climate change, is denying the urgency of environmental problems. They have argued that, given the urgency of environmental problems, we have to use whatever mechanisms are available to us, from high-tech solutions to market mechanisms, to rich philanthropists. They point to spectacular environmental failures by the communist governments of China and Russia, as well as to numerous failures by left-leaning social democratic governments. They note how worker's unions, who try to preserve work and jobs, can campaign to do so at the expense of nature.

On the other side, leftists see environmentalists as willing to displace people from their lands in order to preserve species against human influence and create biological reserves that are, in theory, inaccessible to anyone, but in practice, are usually accessible to elite tourists and scientists. They see environmentalists as willing to accept compromises with elites in ways that ultimately compromise not only left, but also environmental values. They view the concerns of humans as primary, and other species as a much more distant concern, which many environmentalists do not understand.

Some of the views environmentalists and leftists hold about one another are true, others are caricatures, and still others might be true now but could potentially change through dialogue and common action. Such a dialogue is urgent, since the planet, and the people, have the same enemy.

Colombia: The Early Signs of a Violent Peace

First published at Telesur English

In my last column, I described the Colombian peace process between the government and FARC. I discussed possible spoilers of the peace agreement, especially the role of the paramilitary-linked former Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe Velez. I also discussed the many things that the peace process will not solve, including some of the most gruesome violence occurring in Buenaventura, committed by the 'demobilized' paramilitaries.

Since then, we have seen some of the peace process's first murders of indigenous people, this time by the FARC. What happened is summarized in an open letter published by Pueblos en Camino. As the peace negotiations enter their final phase, the FARC faced its victims in Havana and acknowledged wrongs it has committed. On October 30, they made what WOLA called their "clearest recognition that it (FARC) owes something to its victims."

The Colombian Peace Negotiations: Prospects and Continuing Horrors

From TeleSUR English

It is now about four years since the unofficial initiation of the ongoing peace process between the FARC and the Colombian government (secret approaches were made starting in October 2010), and over two years since the official opening of talks based on a “General Agreement” signed on August 26, 2012. There have been thirty rounds of negotiations to date, which have brought negotiators from the government and the FARC to Havana.

The Washington Office on Latin America has created a website, colombiapeace.org, that collects documents and media reports in a single place, and has even arranged them on a remarkably complete, and ongoing, timeline (http://colombiapeace.org/timeline2014/), which we can use to begin to understand what is happening with the peace process.

The process is being supported by an unusually expansive set of actors. The Cuban government is hosting the talks. The United States government, the United Nations, most of the governments of Latin America, the Venezuelan government, are all supportive. Effusive statements have been made. Uruguay's President Pepe Mujica last year called the peace process “The most important thing happening in Latin America”. In July 2013, Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez suggested that the process could be opposed by “only idiots, those who do not love their country”. In November 2013, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa went further, suggesting that “only psychopaths” would boycott the process.

Speaking of which, despite the remarkably wide-ranging support for a negotiated solution to the conflict, Colombia's former president Alvaro Uribe Velez is staunchly opposed, as is his political party (which lost at the polls earlier this year, in an election which effectively became a referendum on the continuation of the peace negotiations). Whether the Argentinian and Ecuadorian presidents were thinking of Uribe when they mentioned “idiots” and “psychopaths” is, of course, unclear. Uribe's attempts to spoil the peace process go far beyond running against it in an election, however, a point to which I will return.

The BBC Documentary doesn't deny the genocide

The BBC Documentary, Rwanda: The Untold Story, does not deny the Rwandan genocide against Tutsis. It is a documentary primarily about Paul Kagame, Rwanda's current ruler, who came out of the Rwandan civil war and genocide of 1994 into a position of absolute power in Rwanda, from which he launched multiple invasions into the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, invasions which resulted in well-documented mass atrocities. I wrote about the documentary after I watched it (“The BBC and the Rwandan Genocide”: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-BBC-and-the-Rwandan-Genocide-20141011-0029.html), saying that I hoped that it would create an opening to talk about the current government in Rwanda and about Western support for Kagame. So did many others, including Jonathan Cook, who has done excellent work on Israel-Palestine and has a sharp critique of propaganda in that conflict (See his Oct 4 blog, “Why is the truth about Rwanda so elusive?”: http://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/2014-10-04/why-is-the-truth-about-rwanda-so-elusive/).

On October 12, a group of academics and writers wrote to the BBC to express their "grave concern" about the documentary. Their letter, which has been posted on media lens (http://members5.boardhost.com/medialens/msg/1413251703.html) is supposedly about 'genocide denial', but since no one involved in the BBC documentary denied the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis, the letter is really about Kagame, and continuing to protect him from criticism using the slur of genocide denial. The letter seems designed to ensure that no discussion about Kagame or Western support for his regime occurs. It repeats the term "genocide denial" 10 times, but it centers on a number of factual claims which can be evaluated. In the spirit of the "utmost intellectual honesty and rigor" that they claim to seek in their letter, let us evaluate these claims.

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The BBC and the Rwandan Genocide

First published on TeleSUR English:

At the beginning of October 2014, the BBC aired a documentary called Rwanda: The Untold Story. The outlet, the BBC, and the producer and presenter, Jane Corbin, don't just possess impeccable mainstream credentials - they define the mainstream in the West. The one hour documentary is intended for a British audience, and Britain is a bigger supporter of Rwanda and its ruler, Paul Kagame, than even the US. Up until now, in Western media, scholarship, and commentary, the Hutus as a community have been held solely responsible for the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and Kagame held up as Rwanda's savior. The titular untold story is that of the crimes committed by the winners in the Rwandan civil war, and especially the crimes committed by the biggest winner who took all, Kagame, Rwanda's president for the past 20 years.

In the documentary, Corbin talks to Rwandan dissidents who were once close to Kagame, but are now exiled and hunted - Kagame's former army chief of staff, Kayumba Nyamwasa, has survived four assassination attempts so far. Kagame's former intelligence chief, Patrick Karageya, was not so lucky, and was strangled in a hotel room in South Africa in January of this year. The documentary shows Kagame at a prayer meeting after Karageya's assassination telling the crowd that anyone who crosses Rwanda will pay the price, and that "it's a matter of time." Details of assassination plots are provided by another exile, who fled the country rather than carry out a killing of these dissidents for Kagame.

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A massacre in the NAFTA zone

Written for Ricochet Media

A national day of action in protest against the disappearance and massacre of 43 education students in Mexico occurred on Wednesday, Oct. 8. The national teachers’ union made the call to protest, which was answered in 59 cities in Mexico and included a silent march organized by the Zapatistas in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Protests occurred all over the world, including Canada.

The college students from the Mexican community of Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero, 43 of whom were disappeared from a bus on Sept. 26, were studying to be teachers and protesting the starvation of the public system they were planning to work in. The bus was ambushed by police, probably on orders from officials in the nearby city of Iguala, Guerrero, from the director of Seguridad Publica (Public Security), Francisco Salgado Valladeres, and the mayor, José Luis Abarca. Both of these men are currently on the run. Six people were killed in the ambush, among them people on an unrelated bus, which was mistaken for a bus with student protesters and was actually carrying a soccer team.

An unknown number of bodies, 34 at last count, almost certainly belonging to these students, were unearthed in a mass grave in Iguala. The bodies had signs of torture and were probably burned alive.

Randal Archibold, writing in the New York Times, put forward the theory that the police were a part of a gang, or passed the kidnapped students on to a gang, which was strange because the students “were not known to have criminal ties.”

Canadian journalist and author Dawn Paley, currently studying in Mexico, writes, “The killers in Iguala were not drug gangs. They were cops and paramilitaries. Paramilitaries are non-state armed groups who work with state forces. There can be no clearer example of the horrors of state and paramilitary violence than what has happened to these students.” This massacre, Paley notes, is far from the only mass grave in Mexico. The New York Times report went so far as to say the country was “accustomed to mass killings.”
the key context for these killings is the use of state violence, up to mass murder, to manage social protest and to dismantle the public sphere

Democracy: Failed Installation In Afghanistan

Written for TeleSUR English

In 2000, George W. Bush and Al Gore were the winner and loser in a very close US presidential election, with Gore getting 48.4% and Bush getting 47.9% of the vote amid irregularities and fraud. The issue was ultimately decided not by recounting the votes, but by a decision of the US Supreme Court not to count the votes. This was irregular, bizarre, and made a mockery of the election. But the recent Afghan election was worse.

Take all of the despair of those who realized their votes didn’t count, all the disillusionment in a nontransparent electoral system that came about in the US in 2000, and imagine a few changes. Imagine a foreign country, say the UK, coming to broker a power-sharing deal between Gore and Bush. Imagine the deal involving making emergency changes to the US constitution in order to accommodate the ambitions of both the winner and the loser in the contest. Imagine the loser of the contest insisting not only on the nullification of the electoral outcome, but also that the outcome never be made public. That gets us closer – but the recent Afghan election was still worse.

Some background: In October of 2001, the declared winner of the US election, George W. Bush, sent troops to invade Afghanistan and bring about a regime change in Kabul. Most of Afghanistan had, from 1996-2001, been under the control of the Taliban, a Pakistan-sponsored group that was battling for control of Afghanistan’s territory and resources. The Taliban’s opponents were a coalition of commanders, who combined military, territorial, and business power, and legal and illegal activity, in a way that got them characterized as ‘warlords’. The warlords had ruled in Kabul, destroyed and plundered their parts of Afghanistan from 1992-1996, and still held parts of Afghanistan in 2001. Bush’s invasion sent the Taliban into retreat and the warlords back to power. The Taliban went first across the border into Pakistan and then, years later, returned to fight the Afghan government and the US from base areas in southern Afghanistan.

Reading from and a review of The Demands of the Dead, Oct 10, 12pm, Toronto Public Library

I will be reading from the Demands of the Dead on Friday Oct 10, 12pm, at the Toronto Public Library. If you're in the city, come and check it out.

I also wanted to call attention to the review of the book by Megan Cotton-Kinch at the Two Row Times, which was also republished at Countercurrents.org.

Here's the event listing:

The Demands of the Dead: A crime novel by Justin Podur

Fri Oct 10, 2014

12:00 p.m. - 1:15 p.m.

75 mins

Toronto Reference Library, Elizabeth Beeton Auditorium

Here's Megan Cotton-Kinch's review:

Book review: A detective story set in the middle of an Indigenous insurgency

Demands of the Dead, By Justin Podur
Reviewed by Megan Cotton-Kinch

While I’ve always enjoyed a good detective novel, I’ve always felt like this genre usually contains an underlying message of support for the police, and never really takes a critical look at the role of “law-and-order” in maintaining a society based on the oppression of poor people and the theft of Indigenous land. At best, this kind of stories will look at corruption in police and politics but offer no solutions. This is where Demands of the Dead transcends the genre, and moves beyond works like The Wire by actually looking at the larger political context and offering possible solutions. In the case of Podur’s novel these are represented by the Zapatista Indigenous insurgency, which has an important presence in the book.

In the opening of Demands of the Dead, an ex-cop receives an email, in Spanish that says, “The dead demand so much more than vengeance.” But the dead are more than the two dead police, or his dead friend, but include all the dead in southern Mexico who have been killed in the counter-insurgency. And unlike most books in the detective genre the novel does offer up the possibility of solutions that go beyond personal vengeance.