Wednesday 18 January 2012… The Day The (Online) World Stood Still

19/01/2012

Thursday, 19 Jan 2012

Well, what a to-do “Blackout Wednesday” caused! A world of students couldn’t do their homework because Wikipedia went offline (Does serve em right though…students should not be using Wikipedia as the basis of their online research/plagiarism. Google and Bing were still working, as were most other websites; and in a worst-case scenario they could still haul ass to the local library and, you know, look at an actual book!. In fact, all sorts of stuff happened (or didn’t happen) during Black-out Wednesday – far too much for me to catalogue here – so here’s a link to a Guardian webpage that handily links on to lots of news and comment on the momentous day and its meanings and effects.

I’m not an American, and, like most people (including Americans FFS!), I don’t know much about the proposed SOPA and PIPA laws. But I do know this: SOPA/PIPA will enable intellectual property owners (mostly media, movie and music corporations) to block access to any websites the corporations claim are infringing their intellectual property rights – without any judicial or statuary oversight. And Americans won’t be the only victims of this censorship. As a lot of the internet’s infrastructure goes through the USA or US-related systems, online users everywhere will be affected. SOPA/PIPA isn’t just an American problem: its tendrils reach out everywhere. So come on, American action heroes – it’s time for you to save the world again!

I already said I’m not a PIPA/SOPA expert. But these guys are. So click that link (here it is again), find out what SOPA and PIPA would actually mean to your life, and learn what you can do to stop it. There’s some pretty simple action you can do to help, without even leaving your seat – but, because PIPA and SOPA are US legal proposals, only Americans can do them. So go on, USA, do the right thing – cos if you don’t, it might end up that no one anywhere will be able to do their homework from the comfort of their basement!!! :p

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What ya gonna do about Syria then, NATO?

25/06/2011

Western powers, operating under the NATO flag, have involved themselves in the Lybian civil /war, on the grounds that Gadaffi is using his armed forces to terrorise and kill civilians in his own country. This is very laudable and all that; but governments frequently use terror to silence their people.

I could break open the history books to demonstrate how often this has happened without any outside interference. But I don’t need history to show I’m right – cos it’s happening right now. Look, for instance, at Syria. Yesterday (Friday 24 June) up to a thousand civilians have fled across the border to Lebanon after demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorial regime. Troops used tear gas and live ammo to disperse the crowds of demonstrators. It is estimated that 20 people were killed by troops – at least 6 Syrians died in Lebanese hospitals after they were taken across the border. It’s very difficult to get reliable figures from inside Syria. Syrian state-run TV has claimed that the shootings were carried out by “unidentified gunmen”.

So here we have a situation very much like that in Libya – government forces are trying to kill critics and demonstrators. So will US/UK and its NATO allies going to involve themselves in Syria like they have in Libya, carrying out air strikes against government forces? And what about all the other places in the world where governments use terror to silence their critics?

I guess it depends on whether or not there’s oil in the region. Because, believe it or not, that’s why the US/UK “intervened” in Libya – and before that, in Iraq – and, before that, in _______ (insert country of choice). There’s nothing “humanitarian” about the West’s involvement in these places. It’s time to wake up and smell the crude oil.

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Assange extradition hearing day 1: can he get a fair trial in Sweden

07/02/2011

Today, 7 Feb 2011, Wikileaks founder and spokesman Julian Assange attended Belmarsh magistrates court, London, for the first day of his extradition hearing. Prosecutors in Sweden want to put him on trial for “molestation” – an odd law, perhaps found only in Sweden, which can classify consensual sex as some sort of crime.

Assange’s lawyer believes that all the negative publicity attracted to case makes a fair trial in Sweden impossible. But of course, what Assange really believes that Sweden will in turn extradite him to the USA, where various commentators and politicians have declared him guilty of treason(?) and espionage and are calling for the death penalty. A bizarre situation, as it wasn’t Assange that illegally obtained the American cables at the centre of this palaver – he merely published them, as did the New York Times, the Guardian and the Spiegel.

I’m very concerned that this mad chain of events will result with Assange in a US jail cell. Maybe on Death Row, if some idiots get their way. And for what: publishing a bunch of diplomatic cables, some of which are embarrassing to various people and organizations, but none of the revelations has put anyone in danger. It’s all a re-run of the Gary McKinnon affair, where another American administration was embarrassed and tried to strike back. Let’s hope that the USA will see sense and withdraw their ridiculous allegations. And that Britain will grow enough balls to tell the USA to STFU.

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Wikileaks in trouble (again)

03/12/2010

Wikileaks, the website that helps whistleblowers make their info public whilst remaining anonymous, is in trouble again. I guess it’s inevitable that anyone who releases onto the internet hundreds of thousands of classified US government documents is going to face hardship in one way or another – the USA is not a nice enemy to have. First they got Amazon to stop their Wikileaks-based business (the 250,000 US embassy cables recently leaked were stored on servers owned by Amazon) and now they’ve got Everydns, the American-owned company that provided DNS service to Wikileaks, to drop the wikileaks.org site. Tell your browser to go to “wikileaks.org” and it’ll tell you that there’s no server at that address.

Everydns, the company involved, say they had to drop wikileaks.org because the denial-of-service and other cyber attacks aimed at the Wikileaks site were also affecting the internet company’s other customers. And that’s a plausible explanation. Plausible deniability, anyone? Because it seems to me that a more likely explanation is that the US government leaned on Everydns and told them: “Drop Wikileaks or we’ll drop you!” And there’s the fact that Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate’s committee on homeland security, called for a boycott of Wikileaks-related business by all American companies. Amazon have admitted that they acted under pressure from the government – so why are Everydns being so shy? Are they ashamed of what they’ve done? I know that I would be ashamed of myself if I did anything like that.

While this has harmed Wikileaks, it wasn’t fatal. Wikileaks quickly got themselves a Swiss URL – wikileaks.ch – and there’s also the IP address 46.59.1.2 – type that into your browser’s address bar and it’ll take you to the site that makes the US government so scared!!

I think that Wikileaks are providing a much-needed service. If democracy is to be taken seriously, there needs to be transparency of government. And the constant refrain we hear from politicians – that these leaks put the lives of service men and women in danger – is complete BS. The government put its troops’ lives in ganger when it sent them off to war. Also, Wikileaks have collaborated with experienced journalists from the New York Times, the Guardian and others) to ensure that individual identities are not revealed needlessly. The plain truth is that Wikileaks has exposed the politicians’ unethical greed and war-mongering. Good work, Wikileaks… but watch your back.

One Wikileaks-related figure, Julian Assange, has more reason than most to watch his back. Wikileaks works best as an anonymous network of activists and truth-seekers. But Assange has put himself into the story. Go to front of the current Wikileaks site (213.251.145.96) and you’ll find a photo of the man, looking rather contemplative and honest (the direct eye-contact between the man and the camera lens screams “Trust me!” Maybe he’s deliberately hogging the limelight, to distract attention away from the men and women in the shadows doing the actual work. Or maybe he’s a narcissistic sexual predator. I don’t know. But I do know that Wikileaks is incredibly important. Don’t let your government take them down!

Julian Assange: what a lovely guy!

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Is Hamas a terrorist organization? Funnily enough: no.

31/03/2010

My recent post on the documentary film “Children of Gaza” has provoked a couple of comments from someone calling him/herself “Facts First” (both to the post referred to above and an earlier one also about the Israel-Palestine conflict). While “Facts First” is most eloquent in his/her support for Israel and dismissal of Hamas, he/she has basically restated the US and Israeli position that Hamas is a terrorist organization and has no legitimacy as a government. This has persuaded me that I need to state the truth about Hamas’ legitimacy both in the Palestinian territories and the wider world.

In 2006, Hamas beat its opposition party Fatah in a free and fair election. This resulted in Hamas forming a government with Fatah. Unfortunately, supporters of both parties continued to fight each other.

As well as this factional conflict, Hamas’ position as a legitimate government partner was undermined by the USA and EU’s refusal to recognize a government that contained Hamas – their view is that Hamas is a terrorist organization and therefore unqualified to govern.

Matters came to a head when Fatah seized control of the West Bank territory and Hamas did the same in the Gaza Strip. Israel and Egypt, with US and EU support, then imposed a political, economic and humanitarian blockade on the Gaza Strip, again because Hamas is a terrorist organization.

Many critics of Hamas, including the US, the EU and “Facts First” make much of Hamas’ terrorist status. They tend to claim that Hamas’ status as a terrorist organization is a fact.

They are wrong. It is simply their opinion that Hamas are terrorists. There is an equal argument that Hamas is a legitimate political party qualified to govern the Palestinian territories.

For instance the Council on Foreign Relations says of Hamas:

Is Hamas only a terrorist group?

No. In addition to its military wing, the so-called Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade, Hamas devotes much of its estimated $70-million annual budget to an extensive social services network. Indeed, the extensive social and political work done by Hamas – and its reputation among Palestinians as averse to corruption – partly explain its defeat of the Fatah old guard in the 2006 legislative vote. Hamas funds schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues. “Approximately 90 percent of its work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities,” writes the Israeli scholar Reuven Paz. The Palestinian Authority often fails to provide such services, and Hamas’s efforts in this area—as well as a reputation for honesty, in contrast to the many Fatah officials accused of corruption—help to explain the broad popularity it summoned to defeat Fatah in the PA’s recent elections.

Although the USA, the EU, Israel, Canada, Japan and others call Hamas a terrorist organization, there is not an international consensus on this matter. The United Kingdom and Australia consider Hamas’ independent military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, to be terroristic, but accept that Hamas does have legitimacy. Norway is resolute in its position of recognizing Hamas as a legitimate party, and Russia also refuse to regard Hamas as terroristic because Hamas was elected democratically.

Considering the above facts, one has to wonder what exactly Israel was trying to achieve when it attacked Gaza in Operation Cast Lead, and with its ongoing blockade on the region. Israel claims its goal is to remove Hamas’ ability to operate as a terrorist organization. But this has involved the destruction of civil infrastructure in Gaza, including police stations, prisons, power and water supplies, roads, communications, commerce – and hospitals, schools and residential buildings have also been attacked. This all looks like an attempt to destroy Hamas’ ability to provide the services mentioned by the Council on Foreign Relations in the passage quoted earlier – and as no one else can provide those services, this means Israel is trying to destroy Gaza as a functional territory. Exactly who are the terrorists in this scenario?

“Facts First” has criticized my use of Wikipedia as a source of information on this subject. And I’m well aware of Wikipedia’s problems. But I think the article on Hamas is well researched, with a large and diverse number of references, and is very balanced in its presentation of the facts. In fact, I believe it is the article’s thoroughness and neutrality that makes “Facts First” dislike it so much – he/she would prefer to use US or even Israeli sources of information instead as they are more likely to present the “facts” the way he/she likes to see them. But don’t take my word on the Wikipedia’s Hamas article’s balance and thoroughness – read it and decide for yourself. And please, feel free to comment here on what has been said (and also what has not been said). All I ask is that you take “Facts First’s” pseudonym as advice: let’s stick to the facts rather than deal in opinion. And I contend that one simple fact is: Hamas is not a terrorist organization just because some governments think that’s so.


Countless Americans claim asylum in Britain from US government persecution

25/01/2010

Monday 25 January 2010

Okay, so maybe I was exaggerating when I said “countless” Americans are claiming political asylum in the UK. Actually, between 2004 and 2008, 45 US citizens claimed asylum in Britain, claiming they were being persecuted by their government.

The UK Home Office released this info after a Freedom of Information request by the Guardian newspaper. Between 2004 and 2008 there were 132,640 asylum claims made in the UK, according to government statistics. 45 were made by Americans, and 15 came from Canadian citizens. The Home Office refused to reveal the reasons for asylum requests, but a source within the US government suggested that the US requests were made by self-declared “political refugees” claiming persecution by the Bush administration. Applications from the US peaked in 2008, the final year of George Bush’s presidency, when 15 Americans submitted asylum claims. All 60 North American claims were refused – again, the Home Office refused to divulge why they were refused, claiming that a manual search of records to collect the information would take too long.

Maybe you think 45 claims over 4 years isn’t a huge number. But remember: these are just the claims for asylum made in the UK. How many other US citizens have sought refuge in other countries? It would be extremely difficult to collate world-wide information. But I think it’s reasonable to assume that if the UK, America’s biggest ally, received 45 claims for asylum from Americans, other countries probably received many more.

Liza Schuster, an asylum expert from the department of sociology at City University in London, quoted in the Guardian article, suggested another reason to believe these figures are just the tip of the iceberg. She said:

“I don’t know the details of those cases, but assume the US citizens are deserting before being sent to somewhere like Afghanistan. With the Canadians I’m really not sure. It is, as is clear from the numbers, pretty unusual – if only because it is relatively easy for those people to leave their countries and settle elsewhere. Why not just apply for a work visa and renew and then apply for leave to remain?

“As someone who would not find admission to European countries too difficult, it would only make sense to claim asylum if you feared extradition back to Canada or the US, or if there was some reason you might be refused entry. It is interesting – I’d be curious to know more – not least because in spite of what the law books say, granting asylum is a criticism of the originating state.”

On various online forums, people claiming to be American refugees have outlined their cases. One Texan hoping to be allowed sanctuary in Scotland claimed he had been “persecuted as a political dissident against US government war-mongering”.

This really does raise some important questions. For one, there’s the question of how many Americans in total have felt the need to seek political asylum abroad. And why have they sought asylum? Why are citizens of “the land of the free” running away from a country whose constitution allegedly grants them “undeniable rights”? Is American democracy actually no better than the brand of “democracy” on offer in Russia, China, Saudi Arabia?

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Random security screening won’t stop the suicide bombers

06/01/2010

In his blog, Bruce Schneier draws our attention to what Matt Blaze has said about the new system of random security screening at US airports:

“Paradoxically, the best terrorist strategy (as long as they have enough volunteers) under unpredictable screening may be to prepare a cadre of suicide bombers for the least rigorous screening to which they might be subjected, and not, as the strategy assumes, for the most rigorous. Sent on their way, each will either succeed at destroying a plane or be caught, but either outcome serves the terrorists’ objective.”

Schneier also quotes a comment from a reader of Andrew Sullivan’s blog:

“[T]he terrorist didn’t care if he blew the plane up or not, that he went back to his seat instead of detonating the explosive in the toilet precisely because he wanted his fellow passengers to see his attempt — just in case it failed.”

Remember: to succeed, airport security must stop all suicide bombers from getting through; just one bomber needs to get through to succeed at  his task.  Even if the suicide bomber is stopped in the airport, he hasn’t necessarily failed.  His mere presence strikes terror into the hearts of the public.


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