Sunday, March 8, 2015

Snowden Revelations Considered: Is Your Library, Once Intended To Be A Protected Haven of Privacy, Spying on You?

Edward Snowden in "Citizenfour"
I was watching the Academy Award-winning documentary “Citizenfour”about Edward Snowden. . . .

. . . I realize as I write that sentence there must, of course, be a lot of people be authoring essentially the same sentence, or its equivalent on computers these days, in emails or in phone texts or via other electronic devices. .

Having watched the film, I realize that the writing of such a sentence will, one must assume, attract attention, in all probability sooner, rather than later, something to take into account even though I eventually do plan to publish the sentence, at which time that publication, and any reaction to it, must be presumed to attract some greater level of additional attention.

This is my first National Notice article about libraries.  I’ve written a great deal about what is happening to libraries in the city of New York where library real estate is being stalked by acquisitive developers, but I am writing here about this issue in National Notice because what I am about to address here it is an issue of national importance.

During the McCarthy era agents of the FBI showed up at the New York Public Library and said that wanted to know what books people were reading.  The librarians were said to be aghast and briefly at a loss about what to do because they recognized the invasion of privacy that this represented.  The solution to their plight, however, was apparently very simple: They took the FBI agents into a room where they showed the agents stacks of call slips for the books.  The agents had no idea what to do with such an overwhelming amount of data, exited and never returned.  This story was told to me by a long-term librarian.

During the McCarthy era there was also concern about what books were available in the libraries, how readily available certain books were and concern about the political leanings of librarians working in the libraries.

Times change and societies transform, often abruptly.  Who would have thought that there would have been a time in the United States when freedom of thought was so perilously threatened? The Nazi era in Germany and the countries Germany occupied also provide examples of how completely countries could change faster than residents could recognize the dire threat they faced in time to flee and save their lives.

Much of the vastly expanded surveillance in the United States documented by Snowden came about abruptly after 9/11.  There had been pendulum swings in both directions before.  The paranoid abuses of government and Nixon’s enemies list during the Watergate era led to new check and balance protections that were gutted after 9/11.

And libraries?  That’s what this article is about: Changes occurring at libraries mean that what you read there probably won’t be private anymore.

Author David Baldacci recently commented to the New York Times:   
Libraries are the mainstays of democracy. The first thing dictators do when taking over a country is close all the libraries, because libraries are full of ideas.
Indeed, the elimination of books is closely associated with dictatorships and totalitarianism and totalitarian governments are likely interested in controlling thought will be interested choosing what is available to the public to read.  Most recently, ISIS reportedly ransacked Mosul's central library, destroying and burning 100,000 books and manuscripts, many of them reportedly rare and ancient, that did not conform to their notion of what should serve their conception of Islam.

But the surveillance state is interested in something else: The surveillance state wants to know what you think and for that reason the surveillance state believes that libraries should tell the government what you read.

Librarians in Connecticut were the first to successfully challenge the PATRIOT Act when the FBI, along with an accompanying perpetual gag order to keep its actions secret, demanded broadly that the Connecticut librarians turn over to the bureau library records concerning what their patrons were reading and their computer use.

Secrecy was the name of the game.  According to a report of the trial in Mother Jones:
Among the evidence the government had tried to keep secret were quotes from previous Supreme Court cases; copies of New York Times articles; and the text of the Connecticut law that guarantees the confidentiality of library records.
Previously, librarians of the American Librarian Association had, relatively soon after the passage of the PATRIOT Act, fired a shot across the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) bow, with passage of a January 29, 2003 resolution by the ALA Council, criticizing aspects of the PATRIOT Act and urging librarians to be protective of the patrons' privacy.  Librarians were recommended to adopt:
patron privacy and record retention policies that affirm that the collection of personally identifiable information should only be a matter of routine or policy when necessary for the fulfillment of the mission of the library"
Among other strong measures it was urged:
librarians everywhere to defend and support user privacy and free and open access to knowledge and information
The resolution cited among its premises that:
 . . . Libraries are a critical force for promoting the free flow and unimpeded distribution of knowledge and information . . .  that suppression of ideas undermines a democratic society, . . Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association; and, in a library, the subject of users' interests should not be examined or scrutinized by others. .  Certain provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act . .  threaten civil rights and liberties guaranteed under the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights
And very important to the discussion here it cited:
the likelihood that the activities of library users, including their use of computers to browse the Web or access e-mail, may be under government surveillance without their knowledge.
End of story?  Did the NSA, just pack up its bags and leave, tail between its legs?  Back in the days of the swaggering Bush administration?

What do you think the NSA would do, especially after familiarizing yourself with Snowden’s disclosures concerning the NSA’s secret back doors into all things electronic?

One might suspect that the NSA’s opponents might become even much more of a target.  That was probably likely, but remember that what the NSA does, it does not do out in the open.

Now consider this: Changes are being implemented at libraries, and the changes are particularly apparent in New York City, that would make the heroism of these librarians wanting to protect their patrons’ privacy virtually meaningless except for its symbolism. .  As a practical matter the NSA is probably going to know what you read, just as it always wanted to.

The changes being implemented are twofold:
    1.    An elimination or significant curtailment of the availability of physical books at the libraries that is being pushed even though the public still craves its physical books.

    2.    To the extent that physical books can still be read at the library they must increasingly be requested by computer, often online, and this is more and more often being necessitated by keeping books off-site of the library premises.
Given its multitudinous back doors to technology the NSA will certainly be able to find out what you are reading from the library.  It’s not just libraries: If you buy your books online from Amazon or Barnes and Noble the NSA is probably going to know that too.

When it comes to ebooks it is quite astounding what someone else at a remote location can easily know about your reading.  The publishers of ebooks are not only able to know when you began reading your ebook and whether you ever finished it, they can also determine how long you lingered on each page, what you may have skipped over or chosen to read first. In other words, “just what kind of reader you are.”  See BuzzFeedNews: Publishers Know You Didn't Finish "The Goldfinch" - Here's What That Means For The Future Of Books- The publishing industry's uneasy embrace of Netflix-style analytics, by Joseph Bernstein, January. 21, 2015.

As The Guardian in “Big e-reader is watching you” (by Alison Flood, July 4, 2012) puts things
. . . Would Orwell have been amused or disturbed by the development that Big Brother now knows exactly how long it takes readers to finish his novel, which parts they might have highlighted, and what they went on to pick up next?

Because your ebook, as a recent article in the Wall Street Journal put it, is now reading you right back.

        * * * *

Back to Orwell. Nineteen Eighty-Four, says Amazon, is the 608th most-highlighted book it sells. "'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past'" has been marked by 349 Kindle users, while "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever" has been highlighted by 195. What would George have said?
There is nothing an e-reader publisher is able to know that the NSA isn’t able to find out too.

Also, with digital reading, if the publisher decides retroactively that it doesn’t want you to be reading what it gave you to read, it can make it disappear.  Amazon did exactly that in 2009 when it eliminated George Orwell's "1984" from its patrons' Kindles.  Wrote the New York Times:   
In George Orwell's "1984," government censors erase all traces of news articles embarrassing to Big Brother by sending them down an incineration chute called the "memory hole."

On Friday, it was "1984" and another Orwell book, "Animal Farm," that were dropped down the memory hole - by Amazon.com.
(See: New York Times: Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle, by Brad Stone, July 17, 2009.)

Amazon removed the books and others such as digital editions of the Harry Potter books and the novels of Ayn Rand as the most convenient to itself way of dealing with some licensing disputes.  The precedent, however, is truly frightening.  What’s worse is that there is no reason to believe that disappearance or deletions would always occur only in discrete book-size chunks.  It might be just a paragraph or particular phrasing that disappears or is altered, just as it was the job of the Ministry of Information to do in "1984."

The possibilities play out interestingly in a situation like the following.  In 2010, Anthony Shaffer, a former military intelligence officer who was a military spy in Afghanistan and elsewhere, released a book, “Operation Dark Heart,” after getting CIA clearance of its content.  The book was already out and public when the CIA decided to rescind various aspects of its previously granted clearance.  Unsold versions of the book (10,000 copies) were destroyed at government expense.  This led to comically absurd outcomes.  With two versions of the book ultimately in release (review copies were out), exactly what the CIA had wanted redacted was highlighted by the contrast (including, for some reason, a reference to the actor Ned Beatty).  Also, the CIA would not release to Shaffer, a copy of the book that he, himself had authored and submitted to the CIA for review because it was classified.

Of course, we all know how this very same situation turns out in the digital, ebook world: The CIA instructs the publisher to make deletions whenever it decides on retroactive reclassification of previously cleared and public materials, and the readers, if they notice at all, get a feeling of vague disquiet that what they went back to read again is not what they read originally.  If they linger over the particular passage trying to figure out their unease, somebody in a remote location can be taking note of it.

The idea of fluidly changing books is a reality.  The industry is already releasing ebooks that are being re-edited based on reader feedback.  It is a very small shift from this to books that perpetually and fluidly change for other less laudable reasons.

In the end, there is nothing to prevent ebooks from becoming the equivalent of an ever-changing web page.  The old axiom that you can never step into the same river twice would similarly apply.  Ever-changing web pages* may be beneficial in the context of Wikipedia, but where does this lead when it come to books?
(* When it comes to changing web pages there is actually some monitoring that currently occurs.  Would that happen in the case of an e-publisher’s books?)
Government could be the culprit that ultimately makes our ready access to reliable information extremely tenuous, but the undermining of the availability can also come from the private sector.

Citizens Defending Libraries (of which I am a co-founder) has testified at New York City Council hearings about the relationship of the privatizing sell-offs of library real estate to the threat of another form of privatization (excerpts below):
 . .  we must be wary that there are many who see the digitized future in terms of an increasingly privatized future where corporations pushing for various plans expect to make a lot of money by controlling digitized information, in many cases, by charging the public for what's already owned by the public in public collections that are being put out of reach.

    * * *

Digital activist Aaron Swartz warned about this disturbing trend:
The world's entire scientific ... heritage ... is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations....The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it.
In the future we may expect that after the libraries have contracted out to privatize content we will be charged exorbitantly high fees for what was once publicly owned.  The further irony in all of this is that much of the transcription and other work to create digitally available content may have been crowd sourced so that the public will be charged for what it once freely owned and for the result of its own freely contributed work product and intensive labor creating privatized content.
Whether our slipping hold on the knowledge we are entitled to will come from the private sector or from government does not have to be an either/or proposition.  Tim Wu, the Columbia Law School professor who is credited with coining the term “internet neutrality,” has written in his book, “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires,” about how the government often colludes with private corporations.  It’s particularly likely when those corporations are monopolies, the very companies the government is supposed to be regulating.

A section of Wu’s book describes how at the same time that AT&T was assisting President Bush to violate federal law pursuant to a secret executive order by assisting the National Security Administration in the warrantless monitoring of telephone and Internet communications on a vast scale, the phone company's pending plans to reintegrate its monopoly were under review by the Bush administration. Congress then, in July of 2008, passed a law granting AT&T and Verizon full retroactive immunity for any violation of the laws against spying on Americans so the full extent of exactly happened has not been investigated and may never get adequate attention.

To put if frankly, it looks like there was a quid pro quo, a trade of rights, in this case, rights to competitive advantage, in exchange for aiding the surveillance state.

There are societal safeguards whenever monopolies are avoided to maintain a pluralistic society.  Surveillance assistance was routinely provided with no objection raised to its illegality by any of the big telecom companies or other large companies, that provided by far the largest bulk of such surveillance.  The first challenge to such surveillance came instead from Nick Merrill, a CEO who ran a small Web-hosting company in New York named Calyx.

Had a few more mergers wiped out the smaller companies, we might never have heard that challenge.

Now let's leave the subject of electronic books to discuss what is happening with respect to physical books.

What is becoming knowable about the individual physical books that library patrons are reading is not quite as granular, but a great deal more is now knowable than ever before.  Books are being checked out electronically.  If you renew your book, you will renew it electronically.  When you want your books you may even specify electronically what library you consider it most convenient at which to pick up that book.  There will be an electronic, again web-based, record of exactly how long you kept your book.  Everything you do electronically can be tracked.

You might go to the library to select and read your book privately, personally removing a copy from the shelves, but more and more under new management practices the number of books kept on the shelves of New York City’s public libraries is dwindling.  Fewer physical books overall and the escalating practice of keeping books off-site of the library premises diminish the chances that you can simply go to any library, or even a central library and expect to find the book on its shelves.   If the book you want is the least bit esoteric or unusual its likely not to be on the shelf. . . in the Brooklyn Public Library you should not expect to find the books of Jane Jacobs without a a preparatory hunt, some not at all.

One thing you can do to adjust for this is to check library records before setting out for a particular library, but if you do, you will probably do so electronically on the internet.  At the library, you might want to figure out what particular section of book could be in. . .  You might succumb and ask your phone (referred to these days as 'personal tracking devices'*) as the quickest possible shortcut.
(* These days they also include built-in fingerprint submission features.)
The NYPL's 42nd Street Central Reference Library- Famously guarded by the lions, Patience and Fortitude, and behind the statues of Truth and Beauty- Behind those symbols physical books are disappearing from the shelves.
At the NYPL’s 42nd Street Central Reference Library, (recently renamed after Stephen A Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group, among other things, the world’s largest real estate investment firm, who, without seeming to be that particularly an impressive fellow, just set a record collecting “the highest annual payout ever notched by a founder of a publicly traded private-equity firm) any of its millions of reference books will now probably be requested electronically, because those books must be if they are off-site as the majority now are.  Those are the books that used to be requested by the physical paper call slip system that once baffled the FBI.

Those research library books will probably be requested electronically whether they are amongst the minority of books still kept at the research library, or amongst the millions more that have been exiled to sites like Princeton, New Jersey.   Only if you are already at the library and want to request a book that is actually there will you have the chance to circumvent a computer request with a paper call slip.
Reverend Billy in Princeton New Jersey where the NYPL sent its books.  From his video.
In August of 2014 the Reverend Billy led a small band of fellow activists out to discover and visit the ReCAP facility site in New Jersey where the NYPL’s books are now entombed.  His plan was to lead a ceremonial “Stonehenge Circle” protest about the books’ removal.  The protest was interrupted, its completion effectively prohibited, because it turned out that ReCAP shares an area of Princeton University with the nearby Forrestal Campus, a complex which has stringent federal security requirements as a laboratory devoted to nuclear fusion and plasma physics research.

Maybe it is unlikely that these books could become inaccessible to the public as the result of an accident or political change expanding federal controls over the area, but what is more frightening is considering the fate of the books that some library administration officials are now intent on bringing about by conscious design.  That can be seen in this report on the ReCAP website: ReCAP-Discovery to Delivery Project- April 1, 2012 through July 31, 2013, Final Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, October 2013.

When I first heard that million’s of the NYPL’s research books were being moved to, of all places, far away Princeton, New Jersey, I had an initial reaction of, Oh My God, is there some sort of plan where, in the end, the university is going to wind up owning all these books, a reaction I tamped down as paranoia on my part. . . Little did I think I’d eventually learn that this suspicion was not nearly so far off the mark as I’d thought.
From the report, speaking as of 2012, before the NYPL's transfer of even more of its research books
This “Final Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation” speaks of the NYPL, Columbia University, and Princeton University as being partner institutions with ReCAP.  It envisions that to `manage’ the books `efficiently’ the collection, effectively its ownership, would be “shared.”  The sharing would extend to eliminating many books that were independently owned and identifiable as such in what is euphemistically phrased as a “deduplication” of stock, “deduping” for short.  At the same time, books, now many of them made so much rarer through “deduping,” would be put at risk by allowing them to be borrowed and circulated to “authorized borrowers of any ReCAP partner.”  That would typically be anyone from the universities, students or professors, as NYPL research collection books never circulated to NYPL patrons.  They were considered too valuable.
Also from the report envisioning "deduping"of the shared books
At the same time, the report also speaks of discouraging the reading of the physical books by encouraging that “digital surrogates” of the books be electronically searched before any actual retrievals of books for use.  That’s the  “discovery” of the report’s title.  It would be done (are you listening, NSA?) through a “cloud-based middleware system.”  That system is spoken of as providing “visibility” in “real time status.”  That’s visibility to the users of the library. .  Theoretically.  The report envisions expansion of this “cloud-based middleware system” system to all the libraries’ books.
From the report- "Search and Discover" has been slightly increased in size by National Notice to help emphasize its importance in the structure
This scheme of locating the entire “shared” collection books in New Jersey makes the books sound rather like the family portrait owned on a “shared” basis by a group of siblings except that it is one sibling who keeps it hanging in her own home.  It’s hard to ignore the fact that “shared” books kept on the Princeton campus are most accessible there, especially when the NYPL concedes that transporting books to people who want them in New York is interfered with by things like the Super Bowl.

The NYPL is contributing far more of the books to the “shared” collection than the two universities.  Princeton is contributing the fewest.  According to the report the NYPL had the most books there already, 3.5 million in November of 2012, and noted that “a significant number of additional materials” would come “as part of the NYPL’s Central Library Plan.”  In 2013 the NYPL emptied the research stacks under the Rose Reading Room with more transportations.  Those stacks were historically understood to house another 3 million books, but NYPL president Anthony Marx recently asserted that the NYPL (presumably before any deduping) had determined that 3 million number to be somewhat overstated.

“Deduping” mankind’s knowledge into one central repository where it is intended to be shared may sound efficient, even altruistic, but it reflects a hubristic indifference to how knowledge survives the ages.  Among other things it forgets that one of the benefits of a pluralistic society is the check and balance safeguards that inherently result.  The conservative pro-tar-sands Harper government in Canada is apparently antagonistic to having evidentiary records in its libraries that document and further the understanding of climate science and climate change.  Accordingly it’s engaged in a wholesale destruction of the contents of its national libraries, including:
An irreplaceable, 50-volume collection of logs from HMS Challenger's 19th century expedition went to the landfill, taking with them the crucial observations of marine life, fish stocks and fisheries of the age.
In that particular case, however little the consolation, a copy of the logs was later found overseas.  That is all we have that mitigates such tragedies when the occur.

The Great Library of Alexandria famously failed.  The myth is that it met is demise in a single catastrophic fire.  Actual fires may have seeded the myth, but the more encompassing explanation is that the library slowly degraded and fell apart in serial destructions over a prolonged period, lack of funding being one of its problems.
Image from Wikipedia: The Library of Alexandria- by O. Von Corven - Tolzmann, Don Heinrich, Alfred Hessel and Reuben Peiss. The Memory of Mankind.
The Alexandrian library was intended to be a central repository of all of mankind’s knowledge, something it  probably largely achieved.  It built up its stock of books in a commandeering fashion.  Whenever a ship came into the port of Alexandria all of its books had to be presented to the library for copying by the library’s scribes.  But when the copies were made, books were returned to the ships.  Reputedly some copies were so good that the ships may not have known whether they got back an original or a copy.

Although ultimately the Great Library of Alexandria wasted and then vanished, the copying that created duplicates meant that, at least as much of mankind’s knowledge survived as if the library had never been created, had never commandeered the knowledge into its collection. . . .

. . . It is the job of lawyers to envision the worst when drafting agreements (I am a lawyer), and the lawyers who drafted the book-sharing partnership agreement to which the NYPL was to become a party envisions that it is ultimately possible the consortium will unwind.  At that time there will be a legal hell of ensuing complications and extra expenses.  Even without a total unwinding, minor reversals or retrenchment of some of the decisions carried out could encounter bureaucratic obstacles such as if the NYPL wanted to, for the sake of increased convenience, return books contributed to the shared collection to stacks on its own premises because certain books (referred to sometimes in the report as the “artifactual” original physical copies) were in frequent demand for retrieval.
The collapse of the NYPL's Central Library Plan was big news
In May of 2014 the NYPL’s Central Library Plan dramatically unraveled. In part because it was going to cost an astronomical amount for what was essentially a drastic shrinkage of library space and services, more than one half billion dollars.  That half billion was at least $200 million dollars more than the NYPL had previously publicized.   As envisioned in the report, in 2013, before the plan fell apart, a significantly important part of the NYPL’s collection, an additional three million or so of what were probably the library’s most accessed books, had been transported off premises out of the stacks under the Rose Reading Room. . . .

. . .  Notwithstanding the rather abject and embarrassing failure of the Central Library Plan the NYPL announced that it did not intend to return these books to the stacks from which they had been taken.  The NYPL maintained that the 110+ year-old stacks that had always been the collection’s home were no longer suitable for their original purpose despite appropriate upgrades over the years.  The cost of any further upgrade of the stacks to make them suitable for return to service was dismissed by the NYPL, ostensibly as prohibitive.  While that was the reason given, there are many who think the NYPL simply wanted to continue to keep the books off premieres, and one must wonder to what extent the grip of these “sharing” arrangements presented a force that countervailed against the collection’s return.

Legalities pull both ways, creating a sort of tug-of-war.  The report, speaking before this additional major shift of the NYPL’s collection materials, noted that, “The controversy over NYPL's Central Library Plan may affect planned transfers to ReCAP.”  That escalating controversy ultimately became, among other things, three lawsuits that delayed and helped derail the plan, two of which I was involved in as a co-founder Citizens Defending Libraries, one of the plaintiff parties.  Similarly the report noted, “a strict NYPL deaccession policy may complicate deduping.”   Expressed more forthrightly, that second statement translates to an admission that getting rid of books that a library owns is likely to legally violate the duty of care impressed when possession of those books was entrusted to the library. . .entrusted to the library and its Board of Trustees.

Although there are also the issues we have just just reviewed above of whether knowledge will be preserved and readily accessible with the NYPL sending its books off-site to ReCAP, the overarching concern of this article is the issue of privacy of reading and thought when library collections become accessible only through computers.  That concern increases exponentially when books are kept off-site.

The intermediation of computers to access books at the library is intruding into the libraries in another way.  In the old days you could, and were likely to, speak to a reference librarian when you hunted for books that would serve your research and mental explorations.  You were likely to speak to that reference librarian in person and that reference librarian was likely to have beliefs, per the 2003 ALA resolution quoted from near the beginning of this article, that your privacy using the library should be defended.  Now there is a move afoot amongst library administration officials to substitute off-site computer-based services for these formerly in-person services.  These electronically managed services may be supported by running requests through analytical algorithms, possibly supplied by the likes of Amazon and may even, in the future, simply be handled largely by computer robots. . .

. . . Robots?  (And Senator Joe McCarthy and his minions once worried about the political leanings of librarians?)

In New York City, the best analysis and explanation for why libraries, more used and in demand and than ever, have been targeted for sale and shrinkage with the concomitant elimination of the books and the librarians used to occupy their space is that this serves the interests of developers looking to grab their real estate.  It should be understood that plans respecting those library real estate ambitions began to emerge around 2005.  Groundwork relating thereto may date back a tad earlier, perhaps a year or two.  Although there is a decided convergence of interest between those who would like to grab library real estate and those who want the use of libraries to be less private, that does not mean that there has been any effort by those with these interests to work together or cross-support each other.

In considering aligned interests one should also think about the increasingly monopolistic corporations providing content electronically with whom the NSA regularly gets entwined.

The sale and shrinkage of New York City libraries was initiated and handled largely by the NYPL's Chief Operating Officer, David Offensend, who came from Evercore, a spin-off from Schwarzman's Blackstone Group, until he was replaced by Iris Weinshall, Senator Charles Schumer's wife.*  More or less contemporaneously with Offensend's efforts at the NYPL, Offensend's wife, Janet Offensend was involved in implementing similar plans at the Brooklyn Public Library.
(*  Weinshall came to the NYPL from CUNY, the City University of New York, where she had handled some somewhat similar and related matters.  The NYPL's Science, Industry and Business Library was designed to function on an integrated basis with CUNY's in the same building on 34th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues.)
If one were to guess when the NSA might have wanted to mobilize to decrease the privacy of library use one might have guessed that it would have viewed the January 2003 American Library Association resolution calling for a defense of libraries as havens of privacy as a call to, instead, target these declared sanctuaries.  2006 was the year that the U.S. government backed off in its litigation with the Connecticut librarians, finally settling and allowing the librarians to speak about the FBI’s previous pursuit of library usage records under the PATRIOT Act.

There are those who feel secure, because they see no evidence to the contrary, that surveillance is benign so long as it is only used to prevent clearly illegal, bad acts such as terrorist attacks.  “Citizenfour,” the Snowden documentary, however, presents challenge to the notion that the NSA always acts in in such a restrained and circumscribe fashion.  There a number of references to private companies collaborating with the NSA.  For advantage? To avoid disadvantage? Or just because they feel legally compelled?
From "Citzenfour": Glenn Greenwald speaking to the Senate in Brazil
In one scene of the documentary, Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists who broke the Snowden story, subsequently addresses a Brazilian Senate hearing on NSA spying held in Brasília, Brazil. Speaking in Portugese, he says (the film’s translation below):
First of all, Americans’ justification for everything since the September 11 attacks is terrorism.  Everything is in the name of the national security, to protect our population. In reality, it's the opposite.  A lot of the documents have nothing to do with terrorism or national security, but with competition between countries, and with companies' industrial, financial, or economic issues.

    * * * *

The US government has the ability to get not only metadata, but the actual content of your email, or what you say on the phone, the words you type into Google searches, the websites you visit, the documents your send to colleagues.

This system can track nearly everything that every individual is doing on line.  So if you are a journalist investigating the American government, if you work for a company with American competitors, or if you work in human rights involving the American government or any other field, they can easily intercept your communication.
From "Citzenfour": Appelbaum before the European Parliament
A little later in the film, Jacob Appelbaum, an encryption and security software developer, and journalist testifies at a September 2013 European Parliament hearing investigating NSA searches of of EU citizens and companies, telling the assembly:
There is this myth of the passive surveillance machine, but actually what is surveillance except control? This notion that the NSA are passive this is nonsense.  What we see is that they actively attack European citizens, American citizens and, in fact, anyone that they can if they perceive an advantage.
Do we need to worry that the NSA puts its finger on the scale to control outcomes?  If so, in which situations and how would we know?
Oscar night: Oscar to Laura Poitras, standing with Glenn Greenwald on the left for "Citizenfour" and Oscar to Graham Moore for "The Imitation Game" on right.
Another film that took home an Oscar the same night as “Citzenfour,” also about espionage, could provide some insight into the way NSA may be behaving.   That was “The Imitation Game,” that took home the Oscar for best adaptive screenplay.
From left to right:  Alan Turig, Benedict Cumberbatch playing Alan Turig and Julian Assange, and Julian Assange appearing in "Citizenfour."
Spoiler Alert!: Several significant reveals in that film’s plot are key in giving that film a provocative depth and they apply to the questions we probably, if past is prologue, need to take into account when guessing what the NSA might being doing.  “The Imitation Game” is based on actual historical events concerning the breaking of Enigma, the Nazis’ encoded communications during World War II.  It is a mostly, if not perfectly, accurate.  (Humankind does exhibit a partiality for simplifying historical narratives.  How that makes our race vulnerable to unfortunate manipulations will have to be saved for discussion another time.)

The first plot reveal of “The Imitation Game,” not much of a reveal at all if you know the tales of the time, is how the Nazi code was broken.

After that, you learn in the film’s ensuing reveals:   
    1.    After the Nazi codes were broken, the intelligence community (MI-6, the British Secret Intelligence Service) modulated their interventions into the war, intervening only selectively, sometimes intentionally not using available intelligence and allowing battles and military assets to be lost so that the Nazis wouldn’t perceive by any change in the pattern of outcomes, and would remain unable to detect the surveillance or any tell-tale interventions based thereon.

    2.    A main theme of the film was highlighted by the Oscar acceptance speech of screenwriter Graham Moore, who spoke of wanting to commit suicide as a 16-year-old: Those who are different, and out of the conventional mainstream who may seem weird or like misfits, even societal pariahs, often have very important gifts to offer.  The unfortunate reveal is that even after such individuals may have proved in exemplary fashion how valuable the gifts they offer are, society’s prejudices and demands for conformity may ultimately destroy them nonetheless.  The code-breaking protagonist of the film, Alan Turing, one of the fathers of the modern computer, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is portrayed as socially awkward, somewhat along the Asperger’s spectrum, but more importantly, as a misfit, he is in the end tragically persecuted for his homosexuality. The British intelligence agency he helped stands by, not coming to his aid.  Worse, even before that persecution, the intelligence agency manipulatively blackmailed Turig.  (Interestingly, Benedict Cumberbatch played Julian Assange in 2013's “The Fifth Estate.”- Assange makes an appearance in “Citzenfour” working to assist Snowden get to a country of political asylum.)

    3.    The last reveal is that the intelligence community, able to operate in secret, is unaccountable.  Those running the intelligence community decide that they know better than Churchill how to manage the sharing of information with the Soviets (allies during the war).  Therefore they cut the British Prime Minster out of the picture in order to share more information.
Since World War II the Unite States and British intelligence agencies have been largely cooperative and coordinated.  These days that means the NSA and GCHQ.

Here would be as good a place as any to sum up with some questions.  When you use your library these days, is your library use private, as was once intended?  Or is your library yet one more place that you are being watched?  It probably is.  Also pertinent to ask: When you go to the library are the changes you may encounter changes that are being made because they are good for you, or because those changes are good for those wanting to watch you?  In New York that means, for instance, you’ll probably ask about all those books that are getting increasingly hard to find.  Asking these questions should get you around to asking another set: Is what is good for the NSA always good for the rest of us?. . .

. . .  If it isn’t, what do we need to know about how and why it isn’t?

If you think these are questions well worth asking you might want to email or phone your friends that: “There is an interesting article in National Notice asking interesting questions about the NSA and privacy in our libraries,” but, given the Snowden revelations, you’ll have to assume communicating such a sentence will attract attention.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Cloud Silver Linings Corporation Says Global Warming And Climate Change Won’t Be Bad As Was Feared Provided It Engineers Expected Benefits

Cloud Silver Linings Corporation man-made clouds to counteract climate change?
You were feeling glum about climate change?  You feared your grandchildren would grow up on an earth with nary a resemblance to the one humankind has inhabited over the millennia? . . . 

. . .  Your worries are over.  Cloud Silver Linings Corporation says it has perfected an answer: With a little ingenious engineering coupled with what it refers to as the “elbow-glitz” of some good old Madison Avenue know-how, it’s rising to the challenge and some obvious market investment opportunities presented.  It says it can guarantee that global warming and climate change won’t be anywhere near as bad as many nay-sayers were predicting.  In fact, for the luckiest who get in on the ground floor and buy in early, there is a chance to participate in some real profit.

Cloud Silver Linings started with the pertinent observations that clouds have always had some “really important benefits that those who think simplistically readily tend to overlook,” according to spokesperson Peter Strasser.   What's often overlooked?: The significant cooling effect clouds provide.
After 9/11- No contrails results in no clouds formed as a result
Contrail formation of clouds over Europe
Strasser, who eccentrically wears a small Belle Époque goatee and mustache, tends to finger his beard when he talks.  He noted how, with the 9/11 attacks, climatologists realized they had an unprecedented opportunity to scrutinize how the contrails from jets form clouds and lower global temperatures by dimming the light of the sun actually reaching the earth.  When for several days no planes were allowed to fly over the continental United States after 9/11, cloud formation from contrails ceased and the temperature of the United States consequently rose.
Scientist Beate Liepert in “Dimming The Sun” researching records relating to climate change in a library
The effect of clouds to reduce sunlight and accordingly reduce temperature has been proved.  Overall, in recent decades there has been an increase in clouds across the world that has been preventing sunlight from reaching the earth and that’s known as “global dimming.”  See: “Dimming The Sun” (video here).  To date, scientists are reasonably certain that “more than half the warming effect of our greenhouse emissions has been masked by the cooling effect of particle pollution.”  But, as Strasser points out, that’s only half the job needing to be done, and, what’s more, scientists predict the masking effect is temporary because when the man-made pollution resulting in the global dimming clears up the counteractive effect will end.
Dimming The Sun” research records relating to climate change in a library
Cloud Silver Linings Corporation is ready to close the gap with man-made clouds.  The clouds would be permanent fixtures in the sky and carefully designed to be more highly reflective of sunlight than the ordinary clouds that come courtesy of Mother Nature.  The `Silver Linings' part of our name isn’t just metaphorical,” says Strasser: “Because of the of the high degree of reflectivity of the clouds we manufacture the edges of our clouds will literally glint with a pleasing silvery brilliance.”  

The chemicals that were finally decided upon as being best to ensure cloud brilliance were actually discovered accidentally when experimenting with retardants to find what might make the clouds fire resistant. Maintaining brilliance is important because clouds tarnishing and turning brown will not only look like trouble on the horizon, they will actually absorb heat and put into the atmosphere.

Strasser said ideas for "geoengineering" solutions of this sort go back decades and include ideas like reflective films that would be let out in outer space, or sulfur, aerosols, or particulates that would be pumped up into the upper atmosphere.   (See: Scientists Dream Up Bold Remedies for Ailing Atmosphere, by William J. Broad, August 16, 1988, The Energy Challenge-Exotic Visions- How to Cool a Planet (Maybe), by William J. Broad, June 27, 2006 and Engineering a Cooler Planet, by Eric Etheridge, October 21, 2009.)

“Our solution is much more natural,” says Strasser.  “For instance, it doesn’t engender any changes of the sky color to purple or white as some proposals would.  Mankind was meant to live under a blue sky and it's probably evolutionary that blue skies make people feel happy.  People would just see more clouds in the sky, but the new clouds would be of a more beautiful variety.”

Furthermore, the clouds could be provided where most desirable and would be provided free.  The clouds could be steered away from areas designated by agreement for solar power collection. 
Silver Linings’ clouds technically wouldn’t be true clouds.  Engineered with a structure of ultralight nanotubes and nanofibers based on the chemical composition of spider silk (stronger that steal) the clouds would be able to retain shape.  Additionally, they would retain the positions in the air or navigate to new ones by integrating nanites or nanobots, microscopic solar powered flying machines that would cooperate, working together using simple swarm technology algorithms.  According to Silver Linings’ press releases the flying nanobots have already been largely developed by another company, Parthenogenic Solutions, which is readying the small flyers to replace bees for pollination when colony collapse disorder has done its worst.

To provide the clouds absolutely free and without cost to the public Cloud Silver Linings will produce them in the shape of advertisements that spell out the names of sponsoring corporations.  Cloud Silver Linings already has an exclusive contract for its first decade of operation to fill the skies with names of some biggies: Exxon Mobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Conoco Phillips and Gazprom.  The smallest sponsor whose name you’ll see above?: An early investor in the corporation, T. Boone Pickens.  Pickens, a heavy promoter of hydrofracking who has also recently been making a name for himself by investing in the water resources that fracking makes much more scarce.

Pickens says he stands willing to invest in everything and anything, “it's all a matter of supply and demand” and on this, “the sky isn’t the limit, but the starting place to invest.”

Cloud Silver Linings’s claim to the sky space is already legally firmly locked up.  It litigated the matter under the provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty’s provision that allows foreign corporations to seize natural resources for corporate purposes like mining.  For those who where unaware that it is already possible to litigate these matters in secret tribunals prior to actual passage of the TPP, Strasser points out that since the provisions of the TPP under negotiation are being treated as “classified” there is a lot that people don’t know about the TPP, including its retroactive provisions.  “I can say no more,” said Strasser. (Working as a subsidiary of HD 'n Burg technologies Cloud Silver Linings has been structured to operate as a foreign corporation no matter where it is doing business in the world to ensure treaty protections.)

Bitcoin dividends?
Cloud Silver Linings is taking one other innovative leap into the future.  Its stock will be issued in exchange for U.S. dollars, but its dividends will be paid in bitcoin.  Borrowing a page from Bitcoin’s playbook using artificial scarcity to generating perceived value, Cloud Silver Linings will restrict issuance of its stock, issuing only annually on the same day of every year (provided it’s a weekday), April 1st.
Same clouds twenty minutes earlier
Dated on upper right hand corner of sky

Thursday, October 17, 2013

If the Government Shutdown Wasn’t About Obamacare (And It Isn’t), Then It Was About?. . . Ready To Be Hot Under The Collar?

Montage above: Koch funded anti-healthcare creepy Uncle Sam ad, David and Charles Koch from Forbes 400 and from a story about  Koch funding of climate change science denial.
After a national election in which the Republican Party substantially lost the presidential election, lost the U.S. Senate, and lost the popular vote for the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican Party has been deferring to a fractional extremist fringe within its ranks, allowing that faction to steer the whole country into a government shutdown and near default on all its financial obligations, theoretically to prevent the enactment of “Romneycare” (now renamed “Obamacare”).  Really?  Romney/Obamacare is a healthcare plan that was originally developed by and sought by the Republican Party.  It was ultimately adopted by President Obama as a concessional compromise that gave the Republican Party what it once said it wanted.

This is really why the government was shutdown and we went to the precipice of default at huge financial cost to the country?  That’s why we risked complete and total chaos in the economy?

Really and truly?

Absolutely not.  Think again.

There are quite a few theories about why the Republicans, chose to prostrate themselves before their Tea Party faction, shutting down the government.  None of them actually accurate.  They are:
    1.    Republicans believed that the Romney/Obamacare would be a complete and total disaster so damaging to the country that it was worth bringing the country to its knees, incapacitating it and threatening the very worst in order to prevent its rollout.

    2.    Republicans actually believe the opposite, that Romney/Obamacare will be a tremendous success, that Americans will wind up loving it and will become (as predicted by Republican Senator Ted Cruz) addicted to its “sugar” when implemented, making it impossible to repeal.  Since even Republicans, including very possibly subcategory Tea Party members might, when actually experiencing the law, decide they sincerely like the result of having healthcare, it is important to nip this in the bud . . .  because, if the Republican and Tea Party constituency realize that the doctrinaire lies they have been fed about Romney/Obamacare aren’t true, it could, among other things, undermine the future credibility of the Republicans and the Tea Party on other matters was well as this.

    3.    Republicans believe that being generally obstructionist will always benefit them in the polls.  (Not exactly the way things are working out.)

    4.    As expressed in a recent Paul Krugman column, Republicans are “deeply incompetent,” so much so that they “can’t even recognize their own incompetence.”  (See: The Boehner Bunglers, October 6, 2013.)

    5.    Shall we, for the sake of a more profound debate, stay away from the perception, often expressed by comedian-commentator Bill Maher (however much unfortunate truth may actually be in it) that Republicans oppose everything Obama does simply because Obama is black?
What is really going on?

Sometimes things in this world turn out as no one could expect, chance having its way, and unexpected results coming out of the blue.  But there are many other times when it is instructive to look at outcomes and assume they were intended from the start.  In this regard, it is valuable to note the recent and well-documented New York Times report that orchestration of the current shutdown crisis was planned way in advance, going back to at least January/February of this year.  According to the Times, “The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort.”  See: A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning, by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Mike McIntire, October 5, 2013, accompanying timeline graphic here: House Republican Efforts to Repeal or Weaken the Health Care Law, October 5, 2013.
So, are we to believe that the number one priority of the Koch brothers for which they would shutdown the United State government is denying healthcare to American citizens?

Within days of the Times article the Koch brothers through their chief corporate spokesperson issued a denial of involvement in the shutdown as part of an attack on the healthcare program with an October 9, 2013 letter.  Notwithstanding, when that letter is read carefully against the documented facts it is really not much of a denial.  See: Kochs Deny Pushing for Shutdown Over Health Law, October 9, 2013.

One hint that the manufactured crisis was never really truly about opposition to the Democrats’ passage of a  Republican-formulated healthcare law is that in the waning days of the crisis, as an immediate default on government obligations was about to be avoided, the dialogue had readily shifted from being about the healthcare bill to being about other things, mainly broader government spending and general budget matters.  Like defense spending?: No, that wasn't talked about. . .   One of the problems for the Republicans when they tried to halt the roll-out of Obamacare by defunding the government is that Obamacare is self-funded and therefore rolled out nonetheless.  The other indication of what all of this craziness this is really about is that resolutions sought by the Republicans involved kicking the can down the road with deferral of dates so that the nation will potentially be kept in a state of constant crisis with more of this craziness almost guarnteed to transpire again in the future.

If all this drama and damage to the country has not actually been about the Koch brothers wanting to block a healthcare program, what is it really about?   . . .   Instead of believing that the Koch brothers have an intense, burning and paramount desire to deny healthcare to Americans (which seems rather absurd), let's think about what the Koch brothers are really interested in and where they direct most of their other political spending: They direct that money to climate change science denial and to the frustration of any efforts to societally address the issue of global warming.

The Koch brothers are vastly wealthy and their wealth comes principally from the extraction of fossil fuels.  With an estimated personal wealth of $36 billion each this year, Charles and David Koch are now tied for fourth place on September’s Forbe’s 400 list.  If we think of them as a single united unit of family wealth then the Koch’s jump to the head of that Forbes list alongside of Bill Gates and place well ahead of the $58.5 billion that earns Warren Buffett his Number Two status on this list. Lesson to us all: The Koch’s wealth has been rocketing up concurrent with their involvement in politics.

Would American industrialists really do something as outrageous as wrecking the government for the sake of advancing their personal wealth and private industrial pursuits?  Is that so very different from putting the fate of the entire human race and the rest of the planet at risk with climate change— or simply a mere subset of such behavior?

How is the attack on healthcare and the government shutdown connected with efforts to fend off people doing something about climate change?  Just think what would be happening if we had not been embroiled in this silly mess about preventing Romney/Obamacare from going into effect: With a working government we would very likely be proceeding to the biggest priorities at hand.  We might therefore be taking measures to deal with climate change at this very moment.  Even if we weren’t dealing with climate change right now we’d certainly be getting to it considerably sooner.

For how many weeks and months has the issue of the pending government shutdown been consuming all the oxygen in the media for any discussion of anything else?  Attention everywhere has been diverted as we heard about this silliness 24/7 in ad nauseam detail.

It goes further than that.  At the same time that we haven’t we heard anything about what the government ought to be doing about climate change we also haven't heard about the reverse: We haven’t heard anything about the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty (TPP) which will go a long way to prevent government from doing something about climate change.  In fact, most Americans are probably unaware that the TPP exists at all or that it is a stealth corporatist attack on government regulation, including government regulation of such fossil fuel climate change game-over business activities as hydro-fracking.  It is, if you will, another envisioned form of government shutdown, intended to replace government control of corporations with corporate control of governments.  See: Saturday, October 12, 2013, The Other Government Shutdown Now In The Works (One You Are Not Hearing About): A Corporate Replacement Of Government Via The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty.

At first blush it might seem odd that John Boehner, Speaker of the Republican House, would have sacrificed so much of the Republican Party's reputation, deferring to the Tea Party faction, the extreme end of his party financed by the Koch brothers, rather than letting majority rule solve the problems.  Of course, the analysis is offered that with such things as gerrymandered districts, average and middle-of-the-road Republicans are more afraid of being ousted in primaries than in being perceived by the general electorate as extremist, but it is important to know that the Kochs don't just finance the Tea Party.   The "moderates" are beholden to the Kochs as well, even before you consider whether Koch brother money can be used to threaten in primaries.

The visuals below are for the purpose of illustrating something the last set of election results have probably not significantly changed: How the Koch brothers have contributed to over half the members of the House and half the members of the U.S. Senate.  They are from the one-hour Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer) 2012 documentary “Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream” about income inequality in America, including very particularly its corrosive effect on politics.

The Zeitgeist of the Tea Party, and now the Republican Party as well, is an extreme refusal to allow the government to work.  One can't help but notice that for the Koch brothers and their fossil fuel industries gridlock that preserves the status quo is a win.  So, yes, in this regard, those who perceive a working healthcare program as a threat to Republicans are in a sense right: Because if your goals is to have a dysfunctional government you want the public to see as few examples of successful government programs as possible.

But, I suggest to you, in the end, crippling the government is only an intermediate goal:  The end goal is to defer the day of reckoning for the industries like the Kochs' that are fast and furiously bringing us climate change that, unaddressed, we are less and less likely to survive.  Feel any heat under your collar?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Other Government Shutdown Now In The Works (One You Are Not Hearing About): A Corporate Replacement Of Government Via The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty

It sounds like a science fiction vision of a futuristic dystopia, the kind of story whose horrific elements have been slathered on thickly to emphasize the “cautionary tale” a creative writer has dreamed up, one of those, not now, not here, not just yet, but “could be” essays commenting on what might go wrong in the future given the seeds we can observe in today’s society:
A select army of coordinating and elite-trained corporatist operatives, 600 strong, deploy around the world planning to replace government control of corporations with corporate control of governments.   Having found their more nefarious goals stymied by democracy and public debate, the corporations plan a secretive end-run around public process to supplant government with corporate supremacy and, in one fell swoop, enact, unfettered, their long wish list of desires, even at the cost of public health, welfare and the environment.  In the end, even the earth itself may be doomed as a result of this power grab.
The only problem is that this is not science fiction.  It is actually happening.  What I have just described is the move toward passage of something called Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty (“TPP”) and though it may sound like pure paranoia, the fact that political adversaries Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Occupy Wall Street are both among those very concerned about its effects should be a pretty good indication that the nightmare threats are very real.

The TPP gives corporations the right to tell governments to stand down from their functions of protecting the public.  That’s because, in the corporatist view, governments should not be allowed to interfere with the expectations that corporations and their investors have of receiving profits.  It has been described as giving corporations a new “corporate bill of rights” to make profits notwithstanding public detriment.

So, for example, in August New York’s Mayor Bloomberg wrote an Op-Ed published in the New York Times fearful that one result of the TPP’s passage would be that New York City could no longer regulate smoking the way it does because doing so would interfere with the profits the tobacco companies want to make.  The NYC Bloomberg era ban on smoking is considered a signature and, in retrospect, very popular (82% approval) achievement of the mayor’s administration, copied elsewhere around the world.

The TPP’s provisions are actually secret from those who are not among the 600 corporatists working on it, a problem we will get to in a moment.  Mr. Bloomberg, who apparently knew something about what was actually in the TPP about regulating smoking at various times, commented:
The early drafts of the agreement included a “safe harbor” provision protecting nations that have adopted regulations on tobacco — like package warnings and advertising and marketing restrictions — because of “the unique status of tobacco products from a health and regulatory perspective.” This provision would have prevented the tobacco industry from interfering with governments’ sovereign right to protect public health through tobacco control laws. 
(See: Op-Ed Contributor: Why Is Obama Caving on Tobacco? By Michael R. Bloomberg, August 22, 2013.)

Unfortunately, as Mr. Bloomberg was also aware, the tobacco industry successfully lobbied to have the provision removed.  Mr. Bloomberg complained about the agreement's alternative:
weak half-measures at best that will not protect American law — and the laws of other countries — from being usurped by the tobacco industry, which is increasingly using trade and investment agreements to challenge domestic tobacco control measures. 

    . . .  not only will cigarettes be cheaper for the 800 million people in the countries affected by the trade pact, but multinational tobacco corporations will be able to challenge those governments — including America’s — for implementing lifesaving public health policies. This would not only put our tobacco-control regulations in peril, but also create a chilling effect that would prevent further action, which is desperately needed.
There is actually something wrong with this picture of Bloomberg championing protection of the public health: It is Mr. Bloomberg’s very narrow focus about what is wrong with the TPP.  Tobacco is certainly an addictive poison the use of which governments would do well to curtail, but under the TPP it is not just anti-smoking measures, but virtually all public health protections that would be sacrificed or in jeopardy if they conflicted with a desire for corporate profit.

Elsewhere in his Op-Ed Mr. Bloomberg commends that (in his view):
The pact is intended to lower tariffs and other barriers to commerce, a vitally important economic goal.
And later he says:
I could not be more strongly in favor of trade agreements that expand economic opportunity here and around the globe.
In actuality, most of the TPP does not concern itself with these issues of trade.  The current version of the TPP has 29 chapters.  Of these, only five reportedly have to do with trade. The other 24 chapters involve a wide range of grabs by the corporations. Days ago Naked Capitalism commented that the TPP has been mis-branded as a “trade deal”:
The reason the label is misleading is that trade is already substantially liberalized; the real point of the TPP and its cousin, the pending EU-US trade agreement, is to weaken the power of nations to regulate, which will allow multinationals to lead a race to the bottom on product and environmental safety.
(See: Thursday, October 10, 2013, Will China’s Gambit to Undermine the Trans-Pacific Partnership Succeed?)

In this race to the bottom, what else would the TPP override in terms of public protections?  That’s where the problem of secrecy comes in.  Discussion of the treaty’s provisions is very difficult because the provisions under negotiation are being treated as "classified."  The army of 600 corporatist soldiers working on the document may be intimately familiar with the wish list items they are inserting, but the public is not allowed to know anything about them.  A good starter guess though is that anything that has to be secret is not good news for the public.

Said Senator Elizabeth Warren in September:
For big corporations, trade agreement time is like Christmas morning. They can get special gifts they could never pass through Congress out in public. Because it's a trade deal, the negotiations are secret and the big corporations can do their work behind closed doors. We've seen what happens here at home when our trading partners around the world are allowed to ignore workers rights, wages, and environmental rules. From what I hear, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, telecom, big polluters, and outsourcers are all salivating at the chance to rig the upcoming trade deals in their favor.

Why are trade deals secret?  I've heard people actually say that they have to be secret because if the American people knew what was going on, they would be opposed.  Think about that.  I believe that if people would be opposed to a particular trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not happen.
Congress, which has exclusive authority to approve treaties (in this case both houses), is being asked to “Fast Track” the approval of this treaty  “But until this June, they were not even allowed to see the draft text,” according to Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, who explained that, after 150 members of Congress made a tremendous fuss, the situation now is that:
    . . members of Congress, upon request for the particular chapter, can have a government administration official bring them a chapter. Their staff is thrown out of the room. They can’t take detailed notes. They’re not supposed to talk about what they saw. And they can, without staff to help them figure out what the technical language is, look at a chapter.  This is in contrast to, say, even what the Bush administration did. The last time we had one of these mega-NAFTA expansion attempts was the Free Trade Area of the Americas. And in that instance, in 2001, that whole draft text was released to the public by the U.S. government on the official government websites. So, this is extraordinary secrecy, and members of Congress aren’t supposed to tell anyone what they’ve read. So, for instance, you know, Alan Grayson, who was one of the guys who helped to get the text released, Alan Grayson said, "I can tell you it’s very bad for the future of America. I just can’t tell you why." That’s obscene. 
(See: "A Corporate Trojan Horse": Obama Pushes Secretive TPP Trade Pact, Would Rewrite Swath of U.S. Laws, Democracy Now October 4, 2013.  A full Democracy Now transcript of the video below is available.)


The Obama administration reportedly wants to push through the “Fast Track” authority that would delegate Congressional authority for the treaty review to get it adopted by the end of this year-. . . That’s just months, practically a matter of weeks away, and yet the public knows virtually nothing about what that would mean.  “Fast Track” authority would limit the congressional lawmakers to an up-or-down vote on the TPP.  BTW: The current government shutdown may be a distraction from what is going on but it reportedly isn't slowing down the efforts to bring about this other envisioned shutting down of government functions via the TPP.

What kinds of things are crammed into the TPP?  TPP has been referred to as “son of SOPA” because it contains most of the intellectual property rights restrictions that corporations tried, and ultimately failed, to lobby through as part of “SOPA,” the “Stop Online Piracy Act.”  Remember that fight?  That was when Wikipedia and other internet sites shut down for a day to call attention to that law's proposed Draconian provisions (See: Wikipedia Blackout: 11 Huge Sites Protest SOPA, PIPA On January 18.)

The hotly debated SOPA amounts to 38 pages coming out of my printer.  Think of that as just one of the 25 non-trade related chapters of the TPP!  The money and the corporatists wanted to see that law passed but the public was against it.  Listed on Wikipedia 125 organizations supported the law while 222 opposed it and many others refused to support it: List of organizations with official stances on the SOPA and PIPA.

Here is a list of the corporate end-runs presently understood to be in the TPP that will give you an idea of why the TPP is often referred to as “NAFTA on steroids.”  Note that although there are 25 chapters full of non-trade related provisions, the list below doesn’t approach that number:
    1.    Limitations on food quality and food safety regulation.
    2.    Limitations on regulation of agriculture and forestry practices.
    3.    Limitations on environmental standards, and environmental protections (including provisions whereby corporations expect to be able to avoid having to pay for environmental damage).
    4.    Limitations on the regulation of toxins and poisons.
    5.    Limitations on climate policy measures.
    6.    Limitations on regulating energy markets.
    7.    Establishment of corporate rights to seize natural resources, including for such things as mining.
    8.    Protections for corporations to charge high and unregulated prices for such things as water, gas, energy, transportation and other utilities (unless government provides them to the public entirely without a fee).
    9.    Limitations on regulation of banks and the financial industry, including back doors for those institutions to get around what presently exists.
    10.    Restrictions on taxes such as a ban on the proposed “Robin Hood” tax on speculative Wall Street investments.
    11.    Restricting measures governments undertake to make medication affordable, including limiting generics and affordable medicines.
    12.    Limitations on other consumer health laws like those that deal with cigarettes. (Prevention of gun control regulation Mr. Bloomberg?)
    13.    Restrictions on internet freedoms and intellectual property rights (The “son of SOPA” provisions).
    14.    Effects on labor unions (see discussion below).
    15.    Give corporation new rights to sue governments that try to regulate them and entitle corporations to taxpayer-funded damages for such unpermitted regulation.
    16.    Elevate rights of corporations to a higher level equating them with governments.  It looks as if foreign corporations would thereby wind up empowered with greater rights than U.S. companies in the United States. 
    17.    Turn adjudication and resolution of these corporate rights matters over to new pro-corporate international foreign courts outside of and not bound by the existing legal systems.  The idea is that the those representing corporations seeking to assert their rights would rotate through taking their turn as the adjudicating judges.
Full-fledged world-wide dystopia as was described at the outset?  The twelve countries negotiating to put the TPP into effect (Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam) comprise about 26 percent to 30 percent of world GDP), but that overall reach can be expanded, partly, as Naked Capitalism points out, with the implementation of other parallel treaties.   The exploits of the James Bond super-villains, most of whom all had their own super-corporation empires, once seemed satisfyingly fantastical in scale, but most of them would have picked more sparingly from the above menu in concocting their world-domineering schemes. (In 2008's “Quantum of Solace,” my candidate for the most disappointing of the Bond franchise films, you had a fairly exact match for just one of the schemes above: The villain was a counterfeit environmentalist named “Greene,” whose goal was to monopolistically corner the market for water in Bolivia so as to be able to charge the populace higher prices.)

The above list, generically covering all the bases, manages to be automatically comprehensive about protecting all the worst possible corporate behaviors.  So, for example, those who perceive hydro-fracking to be a threat to our health, water, and with climate change the survival of much of the life on this planet, would lose all possible tools to address the practice.  The hard-fought fight to prevent fracking in New York State?: The industry would have achieved an end-run around it.

When I and others write to say that the TPP contains such disturbing provisions, are we wrong?  If they’d only make the TPP provisions public we’d know exactly what to worry about with accuracy and specificity.  Otherwise we just leave it to those working for Halliburton and Monsanto to assure us that the unpublished provisions they are stuffing into the bill will be as good for us as they will be for them!

Would foreign corporations doing business in the U.S. gain greater rights than domestic corporations?  Days ago, without bring up the advent of the TPP as a possible contributing reason, the New York Times was reporting:
From New York to Silicon Valley, more and more large American corporations are reducing their tax bill by buying a foreign company and effectively renouncing their United States citizenship.
(See: New Corporate Tax Shelter: A Merger Abroad, by David Gelles, October 8, 2013.)

The effect of TPP on jobs and labor unions in the United States under the TPP is not a simple discussion.  Many blame NAFTA for draining jobs out of the U.S.  It is true that when jobs go overseas other jobs can be created here in ways that are complicated and not easy to measure.  Many economists believe a liberal approach to free trade usually results in a net plus.  However, when our domestic labor unions compete with workers in other countries where workers rights are not enforced or don’t exist there is a serious race to the bottom problem.  The subject is too long and complex to debate in this short article, but that complexity too is another example of why passage of this secretly formulated corporate wish list cannot be rushed through without due and proper discussion and airing.

What then might the concerned citizen want to do about the TPP?    Contact your senators and congressmen.  Tell them you are concerned and that, at a minimum, the TPP should not be "Fast Tracked."

Here are sites at which to further educate yourself:
 •        Expose the TPP

 •        Public Citizen’s TPP Trade Watch site

 •        Sierra Club TPP page

 •        Occupy Wall Street TPP page

 •        Citizens Trade Campaign TPP page

 •        Amnesty International TTP information
 •        Public Knowledge TPP page 
 •        Electronic Frontier Foundation TPP webpage and petition
 •        Infojustice.org
 •        Food and Water Watch TPP page
There is a MoveOn Petition you can sign calling for no "Fast Tracking" of the the TPP:

  •        MoveOn Petition: Congress: Don't renew "fast track" authority

Here is a short, simple video to send around through social media: "Why you should care about the TPP."