Sunday, January 15, 2012

election 2012: how rich are these guys?

Money | Mitt Romney

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Total net worth: $85 million to $264 million

With no regular day job, Romney still earns a tidy income in the form of dividends and interest from his investments, and records filed with the Federal Election Commission show that the former Massachusetts governor commands between $20,000 and $68,000 on the speaking circuit.

Much of Romney's wealth is tied up in a blind trust, but some assets remain under his control -- including a few quirky items. For example, the FEC lists between $250,000 and $500,000 in horses, an asset the campaign says belongs to the candidate's wife. He owns another $250,000 to $500,000 in gold.

Romney has degrees from both Harvard Law and Harvard Business School, and had successful careers at the consulting shop Bain & Company and private equity firm Bain Capital before joining the Salt Lake City Olympics effort in 1999.

Jon Huntsman

Richard Ellis/Getty Images

Total net worth: $16 million to $72 million

The 51-year-old former governor spent much of his career in the public sector, but he also found time to work at the family business: Huntsman Corporation.

The candidate's father is one of the richest self-made men in the world, having given away more than $1 billion to fund universities and a cancer research center, among other causes.

Most of the younger Huntsman's assets are tied in some way to the family. He lists a family holding company worth between $5 million and $25 million as an asset.

The Utah native lists a few more conventional assets as well -- including investment funds from Vanguard and Fidelity.

Newt Gingrich

Allison Joyce/Getty Images

Total net worth: $7 million to $31 million

The former house speaker is worth at least $7 million, putting him right in the middle of the 2012 pack.

The bulk of his assets come in the form of a promissory note from the Gingrich Group, LLC to Gingrich Productions, Inc., which are part of the tangled web of businesses the speaker maintains.

Most of the Georgia native's income comes from Gingrich Productions, a Washington-based multimedia company that paid out $2.4 million in disbursements to Gingrich.

Additionally, Gingrich lists between $565,000 and $1,150,000 in liabilities, including a now-closed line of credit at Tiffany and Co.

Barack Obama

Kristoffer Tripplaar-Pool/Getty Images

Total net worth: $2.8 million to $11.8 million*

While some of his Republican challengers are downright wealthy, President Obama isn't all that far behind.

Obama earns a $400,000 salary as the nation's chief executive, and the Center for Responsive Politics estimates his net worth to be somewhere between $2.8 million and $11.8 million.

Where did the former senator and law professor get that kind of cash? Book sales, mostly.

In 2010, the Obama family reported an adjusted gross income of $1,728,096, down from about $5.5 million in 2009, according to the first couple's tax returns.

His paycheck was much higher in 2009 because his books -- "Dreams from My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope" were registering strong sales.

The tax returns also show the family donated about 14% of their income to charity in 2010.

Ron Paul

Richard Ellis/Getty Images

Total net worth: $2.4 million to $5.4 million

While nowhere near the poor house, Ron Paul has more modest assets than some of his deep-pocketed rivals.

The Texas congressman also has a personal loan out from the First National Bank of Lake Jackson that totals $250,000 to $500,000 with a 5-year term.

Paul lists a Washington-area condo worth $100,000 to $250,000 as an asset, and has an investment portfolio stuffed full of mining stocks.

For example, the sound-money advocate holds $100,000 to $250,000 in Barrick Gold Corporation and $500,000 to $1,000,000 in Goldcorp Inc., two publicly traded mining companies.

In all, the congressman is invested in more than 20 separate companies that have the words "mining," "mines," "gold" or "silver" in their name.

Rick Santorum

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Total net worth: $1 million to $3 million

One of the poorest 2012 candidates, Rick Santorum is still a millionaire.

Much of the former Pennsylvania senator's money is tied up in rental real estate properties, as well as education and savings plans for his children.

Santorum also has some debt to his name -- including two mortgages for rental properties totaling between $350,000 and $750,000. Those properties, located in State College, Pa., are worth between $500,000 and $1.25 million, according to the FEC filing.

From relatively modest means, Santorum served as a congressman and senator, but has since found more lucrative compensation in the private sector.

Santorum earned $1.3 million in income from January 2010 until August of last year from a variety of jobs, including a gig at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington and as a contributor on Fox News.

Rick Perry

Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images

Total net worth: $1 million to $2.5 million

Rick Perry is not exactly poor. But it's all relative. His assets place him at the back of the pack of 2012 candidates.

The governor -- who's still on the job -- collects both a salary and pension from the state of Texas. The salary is $132,995 a year, and he brings in a monthly annuity of $7,698.

In August, Perry revoked his blind trust, giving a look into his portfolio. The candidate is invested in a wide range of companies, including PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Chevron, Cisco and Microsoft.

doing God's work!!!

Before Lloyd Blankfein made this most audacious claim, a google search of the term "doing gods work" would have returned a solid page of jesus-spam. Now, it's nearly all about Goldman Sachs and their psychopath CEO.

inequality now, inequality tomorrow, inequality forever!

NYTimes | Conflict between rich and poor now eclipses racial strain and friction between immigrants and the native-born as the greatest source of tension in American society, according to a survey released Wednesday.

About two-thirds of Americans now believe there are “strong conflicts” between rich and poor in the United States, a survey by the Pew Research Center found, a sign that the message of income inequality brandished by the Occupy Wall Street movement and pressed by Democrats may be seeping into the national consciousness.

The share was the largest since 1992, and represented about a 50 percent increase from the 2009 survey, when immigration was seen as the greatest source of tension. In that survey, 47 percent of those polled said there were strong conflicts between classes.

“Income inequality is no longer just for economists,” said Richard Morin, a senior editor at Pew Social & Demographic Trends, which conducted the latest survey. “It has moved off the business pages into the front page.”

The survey, which polled 2,048 adults from Dec. 6 to 19, found that perception of class conflict surged the most among white people, middle-income earners and independent voters. But it also increased substantially among Republicans, to 55 percent of those polled, up from 38 percent in 2009, even as the party leadership has railed against the concept of class divisions.

The change in perception is the result of a confluence of factors, Mr. Morin said, probably including the Occupy Wall Street movement, which put the issue of undeserved wealth and fairness in American society at the top of the news throughout most of the fall.

Traditionally, class has been less a part of the American political debate than it has been in Europe. Still, the concept has long existed for ordinary Americans.

“Americans have always acknowledged that there are Rockefellers and the lunch-bucket guy,” said Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center, based at the University of Chicago. “But they believe it is not a permanent caste, but a transitory condition. The real game-changer would be if they give up on that.”

constituent representative government...,

msnbc | Just a few days into the new year, and we're already blitzed with wall-to-wall election coverage. But the fun is only just beginning. Before this election year is out, scores of congressional candidates will join the presidential contenders already dominating the airwaves.

If you observe their endless debates and expensive attack ads and get a sense that these candidates are out of touch with many of the pedestrian problems faced by the rest of us -- oh, say like trying to balance a family budget -- it's not just your imagination.

While most Americans saw their incomes and wealth slip in the past several years, the wealth of our reps in Washington, D.C., has grown by leaps and bounds. The key takeaway here: Being a millionaire would make any normal person a One-Percenter, a member of the nation’s wealthiest group. In Congress, it just makes you average.

So rather than a CEO this week -- we’ll get back to them – I’m making Congress my One-Percenter of the Week.

Consider these numbers:

  • Nearly half of the members of Congress are millionaires, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a Washington watchdog.
  • The median net worth of a U.S. senator was $2.63 million in 2010, the most recent year for which financial data are available. That was up 11% from the year before, says CRP.
  • The median estimated net worth for House members was $756,765.
  • The median net worth of House members almost tripled from 1984 and 2009, while the net worth of Americans declined slightly during the same time, according to the Washington Post and the University of Michigan.

"It's no surprise that so many people grumble about lawmakers being out of touch," said Sheila Krumholz, CRP executive director. And it's not only the news of their costly yachts and expensive vacations that rankles.

It's also the sense that our One-Percenter reps in Washington aren't doing enough to help the rest of us, perhaps because they are so distracted by their embarrassingly rancorous bipartisan arguing -- which has earned them their most unfavorable ratings in years.

Bickering over the budget last summer, for example, brought the threat of a U.S. credit rating downgrade, helping to shave billions off our stock holdings in just a few painful weeks.

A recent Congressional Budget Office study found that public policy efforts -- in the tax code and through programs like Medicaid -- now do less to combat income inequality than they did in 1979.

And three years after the worst financial meltdown in decades -- which many blame on lax oversight of the financial sector by Washington -- our economy is improving, but not fast enough to provide jobs for the millions who are unemployed.

It’s not hard, either, to suggest a little bias toward the One Percent, and a bipartisan one. For all the talk about rescinding the portion of the Bush tax cuts that apply to the highest income brackets, they survived two years with a Democratic president and Democratic majority in both houses of Congress as well as the current, divided Congress. And late in 2011, House Republicans took lots of criticism for stalling on a 2% payroll tax that by its nature helped those in the lower brackets more than the One Percent.

So who's richest in Congress?

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., tops the CRP list as the wealthiest of the lot, with an estimated 2010 net worth of $448 million. He's followed by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, with an estimated net worth of $380 million. (For a look at a list from Roll Call and CNBC, read "The 15 richest members of Congress.")

Just how did these reps get so wealthy? Probably not on the $174,000 they make a year, despite the juicy perks like extra pay for senior posts and generous medical and pension benefits. Most likely, they're so much richer than the rest of us simply because campaigning is expensive, so politics naturally attracts wealthy people. Many of them made their riches in real estate, or they got their wealth through inheritances and marriage.

But shrewd stock picking also clearly help. Studies by Alan Ziobrowski at Georgia State University conclude that our reps regularly outperform the markets by large amounts due to the “significant information advantage” they derive from their jobs.

Our reps may actually be a lot wealthier than the numbers provided by CRP suggest, since so much of their wealth goes unreported. The top bracket for assets of spouses is "more than $1 million," which means that family net worth is likely undervalued in many cases. Plus their annual filings exclude the value of government retirement accounts, primary residences and personal property not held for investment -- like artwork and cars.

smells like change?

declineofempire | Writing in Salon, Glenn Greenwald reports on Jack Lew, Hopey-Changey's choice to replace William Daley as his chief of staff. Glenn gives us some background on Daley, who I used to illustrate just how screwed we truly are in my post America's Elites Own You. I believe that was the first post in which I used the classic George Carlin video on the "American Dream"—you've got to be asleep to believe it.

When President Obama last January announced the departure of Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff, many liberals were furious that his replacement was the Midwest Chairman of JP Morgan and Boeing Director William Daley, who was also an opponent of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a critic of Obama’s health care bill as too leftist...

Rachel Maddow harshly condemned the choice ... and sardonically observed: “mmm – a banker and a lobbyist: smells like change.”

I don't have much use for Rachel Maddow, but she got that right. What will Daley do now?

Yesterday, the White House announced Daley’s departure — he will now co-chair Obama’s re-election campaign, which basically means raising huge amounts of money from his Wall Street friends — and unveiled his replacement as Chief of Staff: Jacob "Jack" Lew.

And what about the new guy? What was he doing prior to the financial crisis?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

banks use the ex nihilo political power of money to enslave the world...,

nakedcapitalism | A prisoner kneels before the watchtower in a drawing of Jeremy Bentham’s ‘Panopticon’. The Panopticon was an architectural form that Bentham envisioned for a variety of social institutions. The idea was to have a central platform where an observer could cast their gaze over all the observed, thus making them feel constantly under watch and ensuring, in Bentham’s own words, “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.” Jeremy Bentham is also the father of modern utility theory – a theory often associated with individual liberty, which is actually at heart a blueprint for social control.

It’s not hard to forget just how nonsensical, simplistic and childish the so-called theory of marginal utility is. Personally, I hadn’t encountered it directly for a number of years. But reading a review copy of Steve Keen’s excellent new revised edition of ‘Debunking Economics’ encouraged me to pull out the old Samuelson and Nordhaus textbook once more.

While Keen shows quite clearly in that book that even within its own narrow and absurd definitions the theory is internally inconsistent, I propose here to take a more general look at this intellectual masturbatory appendage that passes for a theory of individual and societal desire – and to try to substantially demonstrate that, far be it from being an expression of individual liberty, it is, in fact, a vision of a controlled and deterministic society, not unlike it’s father Jeremy Bentham’s other invention, the Panopticon.

“But it’s not psychological!”

The theory of marginal utility is, like most concepts in neoclassical microeconomics, quite simple. It begins, also like most concepts in neoclassical microeconomics, with a tautology. The economists claim that people choose that which maximises their pleasure and minimises their displeasure. They refer to this as people ‘optimising their utility’ – ‘utility’ here being this supposedly innate tendency to choose that which satisfies us most.

As any even a half-blind observer will note this is complete claptrap. People often make choices that turn out later not to ‘maximise their satisfaction’ (whatever that crude phrase might mean). Have you ever gone clothes shopping and bought an expensive pair of jeans that you never wore? Well, that’s hardly utility maximising behaviour.

In fact people often make choices that lead to less than satisfactory outcomes. This seems to be by design rather than anything else. If we always made the choices that ensured constant satisfaction we would soon find that we had no motivation to do anything new and would simply sit and stew in our own narrow and static world. That we occasionally make less than satisfactory choices allows us to continue to pursue satisfaction all the more. Nothing would smother our drives, our ambitions and our aspirations quite like a constant state of satiation.

But saying any of this is far too psychological for the average economist. After all, they insist that the theory of utility is not psychological. From Samuelson and Nordhaus’ ‘Economics’ (15th Edition):

But you should definitively resist the idea that utility is a psychological function or feeling that can be observed or measured. Rather, utility is a scientific construct that economists use to understand how rational consumers divide their limited resources among commodities that provide them with satisfaction. (P. 73)

The sheer amount of qualifying statements in those sentences is outstanding. But let us ignore such brazen tautology and meandering qualifying rhetoric for a moment, as there is something far more important and interesting going on here.

Why does Samuelson insist that this is not a psychological ‘function’? After all, we have just shown that the theory of utility contains a strongly psychological dimension in which it gives a very definitive view of human psychology.

This is a classic shunning of intellectual responsibility on the part of Samuelson. He assures us – and with us, himself – that he is not passing psychological judgement. He does this by insisting that we are engaged here in ‘science’ (whatever that means).

Of course, the critical observer can see that this is a strongly psychological argument with absolutely psychological foundations, but Samuelson doesn’t want to know anything about this.

Why? Because that would lead him to be questioned regarding the psychological basis of his assertions and that would cause his neoclassical worldview to crumble, strip him of scientific authority and show him to be doing what he is, in fact, doing; namely, using a scientific ‘style’ to try to convince the reader that the unlikely psychology that he puts forward is in fact objective, scientifically verified reality.

google needs to quit the u.s. chamber of commerce

Googlequitthechamber | Google's unofficial corporate motto is "don't be evil". On many fronts, outlined below, Google's actions have lived up to its rhetoric. But the US Chamber of Commerce's positions on the key issues of the day are in direct conflict with Google's mission and hurt Google users all around the world. Google's membership in the Chamber of Commerce legitimizes the Chamber. If Google's staff and leadership are truly committed to not being evil, they need to end their membership in the US Chamber of Commerce.

Google works to protect the environment
Google founder Sergey Brin has been a major donor to climate causes, including donating $200,000 to a campaign to keep California's stringent global warming emissions cap in place. He also donated $1 million to support the establishment of a renewable energy fund in California.

But Google's commitment to the environment extends beyond one of its founders. Google's headquarters in Mountain View, CA is powered entirely by solar energy, making it one of the world's largest solar-powered complexes. They are even advancing "Google Earth Engine", which allows scientists and developing countries to track activity causing climate change - like deforestation.

Google has entered into Power Purchase Agreements, committing to purchase power from clean energy facilities across the country. Long-term financial agreements with two wind farms in Oklahoma and Iowa are expected to produce 15% of Google's total energy use by next year. Google has touted its formidable investment in clean energy technology as a model for other corporations, challenging other companies to think about long-term benefits once renewable energy prices are competitive with coal.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the biggest obstacles to ending our addiction to fossil fuels and addressing the climate crisis. See more on the Chamber's climate and environmental policies here.

back to the robber barons?

NYTimes | With federal campaigns already knee-deep in a new era of laissez-faire money, the Republican National Committee has brazenly proposed the ultimate step — that the 105-year-old ban on direct corporation contributions to candidates and parties be scrapped as unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court’s misguided Citizens United decision did damage enough to fair elections by freeing corporations to make unlimited donations to supposedly independent campaign expenditure groups. But the court said nothing about the basic 1907 reform law — enacted after the robber baron scandals — that bans corporate donors from wooing candidates directly with largess.

The R.N.C., in a brief filed in federal court in Virginia, would effectively spike that law by freeing candidates to solicit what could amount to a million-dollar-plus donation from any corporation seeking clout. The result would dash the anticorruption restrictions on candidates’ money seeking under the McCain-Feingold law, inviting a blizzard of money and favors directly between donors and politicians.

Republicans argue that the logic of Citizens United points toward scrapping the ban on direct corporate giving. This was the muddled reasoning of a federal district judge who overreached last year from the Supreme Court decision. The R.N.C. aimed to keep that possibility alive in the current appeal by filing a brief in opposition to the Justice Department’s defense of corporate restrictions.

Crucial to the R.N.C. position is having its own coffers keep pace with the new boom in corporate donations to “independent” so-called super PACs unleashed by Citizens United that do the candidates’ dirty work. “Traditional political parties and candidate committees are in danger of having their voices drowned out,” the R.N.C. wailed.

Friday, January 13, 2012

confessions of an economic hitman (for non-readers)

In part I of this interview, John Perkins tells us how America built her empire -- how we forced countries around the world to sell their common resources (oil, forests, state-owned industries, dismantle welfare systems, etc.) and force the work to be done by US industries.

All the legwork is done through private contractors. Although the work is being carried out on behalf of The National Security Agency, nowhere are US government employees seen.

Subcontractor economists -- economic hit men -- hired by other branches of our government (e.g., State Department) enter a country and produce a development model based on a loan from the World Bank. The model produced by these economists deliberately overestimates -- by typically double -- the amount of economic development which can result from a loan. This means that if a country takes the loan and spends the money, they can't possibly ever pay it back. This places these countries in debt bondage forever; banks force the county to sell its common resources, cut government spending, and dismantle its social welfare system.

If the leader of a country is reluctant to take a loan, which is actually double the size they could actually use, the subcontractor tries to bribe the leader by deliberately overpaying for local good and services, sending his or her relatives to US universities, giving his or her relatives lucrative jobs, etc.

If the leader of a country is honest and can't be bribed, we send in the "Jackals." These are subcontractors who intimidate leaders and, if necessary, assassinate them. The assassination is supposed to bring a new leader that is more dishonest and bribable.

Keep in mind the goal of all of this is to force countries around the world to sell all of their common resources (oil, state-owned industries, welfare system etc.) and force the work to be done by US industries.

If the leader of a country can't be bribed or assassinated (e.g., Saddam Hussein), the only option left is boots on the ground war -- to send our troops into the country and forcibly remove a recalcitrant leader.

Can you see us using this process of empire building in today's headlines?

inconsistent with "one nation under god"?

obama, sarkozy and taxing wall street

HuffPo | With U.S. media obsessing on the fight here at home among conservatives vying to become president, most of them missed some big news about France, which already has a conservative president. This week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that he would take the lead -- even go it alone within Europe, if need be -- in introducing and pushing a Financial Transaction Tax in his country.

That's right -- the conservative president of France wants to tax the financial traders and speculators.

Referring to the tax as a "moral issue" and blaming deregulation and speculation for the global economic meltdown, Sarkozy has said that traders must "repay for the damage they have caused."

What does it tell us about U.S. politics that the conservative president of France - on this issue and others -- is way to the left of President Obama? The U.S. president has not publicly promoted a Wall Street transaction tax (even though U.S. financial institutions, not the French, were largely responsible for the global crisis).

Sometimes called a "Robin Hood tax," a Financial Transaction Tax is endorsed worldwide by everyone from conservative European leaders to the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury to Bill Gates and Ralph Nader. The tax is tiny per transaction and would barely be felt by middle-class investors or their pensions or 401(k)'s, but it could raise big bucks from high-volume investors and impose a brake on the kind of speculation that tanked the world's economy.

French President Sarkozy keeps explaining to the people of France and Europe that a small transaction tax raises billions for countries facing deficits.

Wouldn't it be something if President Obama went to the American people with such a deficit proposal, instead of putting Medicare on the chopping block?

President Sarkozy invokes the "moral issue" of financial institutions repairing the damage they caused. What a shock it would be to see President Obama aiming the "moral issue" at Wall Street profiteers and demanding repair of damage, instead of rewarding them with top White House jobs.

After failing to get resistant allies among European countries to join him, Sarkozy is going forward on his own - declaring yesterday: "If France waits for others to tax finance, then finance will never be taxed."

Can you imagine Obama standing up to a resistant Congress on a Wall Street transaction tax? He can't even stand up to his own advisers on the issue, according to Ron Suskind's insider book on the Obama White House, "Confidence Men." Suskind reports that Obama briefly embraced the tax and declared at one meeting: "We are going to do this!" But after Obama's top economic adviser (and Wall Streeter) Larry Summers criticized the tax, the idea was buried at the White House.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

you have to be asleep to believe it

in the place and ruling it, but not of it...,

truthout | It was in 1993 during Congressional deliberation over the North American Free Trade Agreement. I was having lunch with a staffer for one of the rare Republican members of Congress who opposed the policy of so-called free trade. I distinctly remember something my colleague said: "The rich elites of this country have far more in common with their counterparts in London, Paris and Tokyo than with their own fellow American citizens."

That was just the beginning of the period when the realities of outsourced manufacturing, financialization of the economy and growing income disparity started to seep into the public consciousness, so at the time it seemed like a striking and novel statement.

At the end of the cold war, many writers predicted the decline of the traditional nation state. Some looked at the demise of the Soviet Union and foresaw the territorial state breaking up into statelets of different ethnic, religious or economic compositions. This happened in the Balkans, former Czechoslovakia and Sudan. Others, like Chuck Spinney, predicted a weakening of the state due to the rise of fourth-generation warfare and the inability of national armies to adapt to it. The quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan lend credence to that theory. There have been hundreds of books about globalization and how it would break down borders. But I am unaware of a well-developed theory from that time about how the super-rich and the corporations they run would secede from the nation state.

I do not mean secession in terms of physical withdrawal from the territory of the state, although that happens occasionally.(i) It means a withdrawal into enclaves, a sort of internal immigration, whereby the rich disconnect themselves from the civic life of the nation and from any concern about its well-being except as a place to extract loot. Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it. If one can afford private security, public safety is of no concern; if one owns a Gulfstream jet, crumbling bridges cause less apprehension - and viable public transportation doesn't even show up on the radar screen. With private doctors on call, who cares about Medicare?

To some degree, the rich have always secluded themselves from the gaze of the common herd; for example, their habit for centuries has been to send their offspring to private schools. But now this habit is exacerbated by the plutocracy's palpable animosity toward public education and public educators, as Michael Bloomberg has demonstrated. To the extent public education "reform" is popular among billionaires and their tax-exempt foundations, one suspects it is as a lever to divert the more than one-half trillion dollars in federal, state and local education dollars into private hands, meaning themselves and their friends.(ii) A century ago, at least we got some attractive public libraries out of Andrew Carnegie. Noblesse oblige like Carnegie's is presently lacking among our seceding plutocracy.

In both world wars, even a Harvard man or a New York socialite might know the weight of an Army pack. Now, the military is for suckers from the laboring classes, whose subprime mortgages you just sliced into CDOs and sold to gullible investors in order to buy your second Bentley or rustle up the cash to employ Rod Stewart to perform at your birthday party. Courtesy of Matt Taibbi, we learn that the sentiment among the super-rich toward the rest of America is often one of contempt rather than noblesse; Bernard Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, says about the views of the 99 percent: "Who gives a crap about some imbecile?"

this is exactly how the french revolution started...,

thenakedcity | Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has announced a major assault on the food stamp program that feeds 1.8 million Pennsylvanians, including 439,245 in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare announced that on May 1, people under 60 with more than $2,000 in savings or other assets will be barred from receiving food stamps. People over 60 would have a $3,250 cap.

As the Inquirer points out in a detailed look, the move to cut food stamps is way out of line with what other states are doing: Pennsylvania plans to make the amount of food stamps that people receive contingent on the assets they possess — an unexpected move that bucks national trends and places the commonwealth among a minority of states.”

The trend during the Great Recession, with millions falling into poverty, has been to remove such barriers to assistance. Gov. Ed Rendell eliminated the state's asset test in 2008. Pennsylvania now joins 11 states with asset tests — including Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and South Dakota.

Eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse” is an old and recurrent refrain from those who seek to dismantle the country's social welfare system. But it's a cynical ruse: 30 percent of those eligible for food stamps in Pennsylvania don't receive them. According to federal data, the Inquirer notes, Pennsylvania has a fraud rate of just one-tenth of 1 percent.

Conservatives frequently bristle at the idea that poor people might have nice things while receiving public assistance ("they have a television on welfare!"). But Pennsylvania will now create the most bizarre of disincentives: dissuading poor people from saving.

We all know that families need to save money to get off government assistance and achieve self-sufficiency,” according to a press release from Carey Morgan, Executive Director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. “So it’s not only inhumane, but counterproductive to force people to drain their savings before they can get any help. Someone with less than $2,000 in the bank would easily be wiped out by one visit to the emergency room.”

The City of Philadelphia has condemned the move, as have local retailers who stand to lose business from food stamp recipients. The food stamp program is a major economic stimulus: every dollar of public funds spent on food stamps grows GDP by $1.73.

There was a time not too long ago when even Republicans seemed to support the food stamp program.

the faustian bargain

ourfiniteworld | Recently, beliefs have shifted again, with people worshipping just one part of a god, the invisible hand. Thanks to Adam Smith and those who followed him, especially the current neoclassical economic theologians, we have seen such an increase in the world’s wealth and sheer numbers that it is hard to imagine life before the industrial revolution, with its shift from mostly human and animal muscle power to the energy dense fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas. It is also hard to imagine that humanity could someday slide back into another age of scarcer and more expensive energy, but that is a possibility that cannot be excluded from our thinking.

What about the Faustian bargain? It remains deeply hidden from view because its exposure by the high priests of modern economics would force us to rethink how we live and why we live this way, as well as what we’re planning to leave for future generations. The Faustian bargain goes something like this: Thanks to the discovery and exploitation of fossil fuels, humans (really just a small minority of them) are able to live richer lives today than even the queens and kings of yore could have dreamed of.

Furthermore, we’ve used some of those finite resources to increase food supplies and to expand the human population, which provides the economic system with both more workers and more consumers, a necessity to keep the economy growing under our current economic model. The world’s population increased from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 7 billion today, and we add about 80 million more each year. Humans have quickly become the most numerous megafauna on the planet.

The other side of the bargain, the side hidden from view and never mentioned in economics texts is this: At some undetermined time in the future, one that creeps ever closer, this economic system, fed by energy and other resources at ever increasing rates at one end and spewing out waste products at rates that cannot be absorbed by Earth’s ecosystems at the other, is unsustainable. What that means is simple enough: Industrial society as we know it cannot go on as it has forever—not even close.

Our economic system must exist within Earth’s finite limits, so recent and current generations have sold their soul to the devil for temporary riches, leaving the Devil to collect his due when the system falls apart under its own weight and the four horsemen of the apocalypse ride again across the world’s landscapes. None of this will happen tomorrow or this week or this year, but our economic system is faltering at both ends.

For many, if not most, of the world’s population life may become more difficult, incomes lower, and uncertainty greater. It does not mean the end of the world, as some predict for 2012, but it will mean that future generations probably will not live like current ones. Rather than admit that the current system cannot be sustained, the affluent and powerful will do everything possible to maintain the status quo.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

intolerable levels of truthiness...,

the war on iran..,

globalresearch | The Islamic Republic of Iran has been threatened with military action by the US and its allies for the last eight years.

Iran has been involved in war games in the Persian Gulf. The US Navy is deployed. Iran's naval exercises which commenced on December 24th were conducted in an area which is patrolled by the US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain.

Meanwhile, a new round of economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran has been unleashed, largely targeting Iran's Central Bank, leading to a dramatic plunge of Iran's currency.

Reacting to US threats, Iran declared that it would consider blocking the shipment of oil through the Strait of Hormuz:

"Roughly 40 percent of the world's oil tanker shipments transit the strait daily, carrying 15.5 million barrels of Saudi, Iraqi, Iranian, Kuwaiti, Bahraini, Qatari and United Arab Emirates crude oil, leading the United States Energy Information Administration to label the Strait of Hormuz "the world's most important oil chokepoint." (John C.K. Daly, War Imminent in Strait of Hormuz? $200 a Barrel Oil? Global Research, January 3, 2012)

The Globalization of War and the Demise of the American Republic

There is a symbiotic relationship between War and the Economic Crisis.

The planning of the Iran war is being carried out at the crossroads of a worldwide economic depression, which is conducive to widening social inequalities, mass unemployment and the impoverishment of large sectors of the world population.

Crushing social movements on the domestic front --including all forms of resistance to America's military agenda and its neoliberal economic policies-- is an integral part of the United States' hegemonic role Worldwide.

Does Constitutional Government in the eyes of the Obama Administration constitute an encroachment to "The Globalization of War"?

History tells us that an Empire cannot be built on the political foundations of a Republic.

In this regard, it should come as no surprise that the new Iran sanctions regime adopted by the US Congress became law on New Year's Eve, December 31st, on the same day Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA 2012), which suspends civil liberties and allows for the "Indefinite Detention of Americans". (See Michel Chossudovsky, The Inauguration of Police State USA 2012. Obama Signs the “National Defense Authorization Act ", Global Research, January 1, 2012)

The Obama administration is intent upon crushing both social dissent as well as antiwar protest. The American Republic is incompatible with America's "long war". What is required is the instatement of a "democratic dictatorship", a de facto military rule in civilian cloths.

Thousands of Troops to Israel

Advanced war preparations are ongoing. Barely mentioned by the Western media, although confirmed by Israeli press reports, the Pentagon is preparing to send several thousand US troops to Israel.

In the context of ongoing war preparations, these troops are slated to participate in joint US-Israeli military maneuvers in Spring 2012, described by the Jerusalem Post as "the largest-ever missile defense exercise in [Israel's] history." (emphasis added)

Last week [11-18 December], Lt.-Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of the US’s Third Air Force based in Germany, visited Israel to finalize plans for the upcoming drill, expected to see the deployment of several thousand American soldiers in Israel. (US commander visits Israel to finalize missile... Jerusalem Post December 21, 2011 emphasis added)

These war games involve the testing of Israel's air defense system, which is now fully integrated into the US global missile detection system, following the installation (December 2008) of a new sophisticated X-band early warning radar system. (See, December 30, 2011, .See also Sen. Joseph Azzolina, Protecting Israel from Iran's missiles, Bayshore News, December 26, 2008).

The US global missile detection system includes satellites, Aegis ships in the Mediterranean, Persian Gulf and Red Sea as well as land-based Patriot radars and interceptors. In the context of planning the US-Israel Spring war games:

"The US will also bring its THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) and shipbased Aegis ballistic missile defense systems to Israel to simulate the interception of missile salvos against Israel.

The American systems will work in conjunction with Israel’s missile defense systems – the Arrow, Patriot and Iron Dome.

Gorenc came to Israel for talks with Brig.-Gen. Doron Gavish, commander of the Air Force’s Air Defense Division.

He toured one of the Iron Dome batteries in the South and the Israel Test Bed lab in Holon where the IAF holds its interception simulation exercises.

The IAF is planning to deploy a fourth battery of the Iron Dome counter-rocket system in the coming months and is mulling the possibility of stationing it in Haifa to protect oil refineries located there.

The Defense Ministry has allocated a budget to manufacture an additional three Iron Dome batteries by the end of 2012. IAF operational requirements call for the deployment of about a dozen batteries along Israel’s northern and southern borders.

The IAF is also moving forward with plans to deploy Rafael’s David’s Sling missile defense system, which is designed to defend against medium-range rockets and cruise missiles. Rafael recently completed a series of successful navigation and flight tests of the David’s Sling’s interceptor and plans to hold the first interception test by mid-2012. US commander visits Israel to finalize missile... Jerusalem Post December 21, 2011)

you realize it's already begun, right?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

the streets of 2012

ferrada-noli | What does the New Year hold for the global wave of protest that erupted in 2011? Did the surge of anger that began in Tunisia crest in lower Manhattan, or is 2012 likely to see an escalation of the politics of dissent?

The answers are alarming, but quite predictable: We are likely to see much greater centralization of top-down suppression -- and a rash of laws around the developed and developing world that restrict human rights. But we are also likely to see significant grassroots reaction.

What we are witnessing in the drama of increasingly globalized protest and repression is the subplot that many cheerleaders for neoliberal globalization never addressed: the power of globalized capital to wreak havoc with the authority of democratically elected governments. From the perspective of global corporate interests, closed societies like China are more business-friendly than troublesome democracies, where trade unions, high standards of human-rights protection, and a vigorous press increase costs.

All over the world, the push-back against protest looks similar, suggesting that state and corporate actors are learning "best practices" for repressing dissent while maintaining democratic facades.

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron routinely impugns human-rights laws; the Metropolitan Police have sought authority to use baton rounds -- foot-long projectiles that have caused roughly a dozen deaths, including that of children, in Northern Ireland -- on peaceful protesters; and a police report on the threat of terrorism, distributed to "trusted partners" among London businesses, included updates about Occupy protests and referred to "suspected activists."

The UK has stringent internal-security legislation, but it never had a law like the United States Patriot Act. After anti-austerity protests in early 2011, followed by riots in major cities in August, the Metropolitan Police claimed powers to monitor private social-media accounts and smartphones. And, under the guise of protecting this summer's Olympics against terrorism, the British military is establishing a massive base in London from which SAS (special forces) teams will operate -- a radical departure from Britain's traditional civil policing.

In Israel, Ha'aretz reports that Occupy-type protests have been met with police violence, including a beating of a 15-year-old girl, and threats of random arrest.

Israel, like Britain, has seen a push, seemingly out of nowhere, to enact new laws crippling news gathering and criminalizing dissent: A new law makes it potentially a crime to donate to left-wing organizations, human-rights laws have been weakened, and even investigative reporting has become more dangerous, owing to stricter libel penalties. Ha'aretz calls the push "the new feudalism."

Finally, in the US, the National Defense Authorization Act, enacted by Congress in December, allows the president to suspend due process for US citizens, detain them indefinitely and render them for torture. One should not be surprised to see similar legislation adopted in democracies worldwide.

Not only are laws criminalizing previously legal dissent, organizing, and reporting being replicated in advanced democracies; so are violent tactics against protesters, backed by the increasing push in countries with long traditions of civil policing to militarize law enforcement.

Indeed, increasingly sophisticated weapons systems and protective equipment are being disseminated to civilian police officers. In the US, the federal government has spent an estimated $34bn since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to arm state and local police forces with battlefield-grade hardware. Investigative reporting has also revealed cross-pollination of anti-protest training: Local police from cities like Austin, Texas, have been sent to Israel for training in crowd control and other tactics.

The globalization of mercenaries to crack down on dissent is also proceeding apace. Mercenaries are important in a time of global grassroots protest, because it is easier to turn a foreigner's guns or batons against strangers than it is to turn the military or police against fellow citizens.

Erik Prince, the head of the most infamous outfit, Academi (formerly Xe Services, formerly Blackwater), has relocated to the UAE, while Pakistani mercenaries have been recruited in large numbers to Bahrain, where protesters have been met with increasingly violent repression.

But this apparently coordinated push-back against global protest movements is not yet triumphant -- not even in China, as the people of Wukan have shown. While the outcome of the villagers' protest against the local government's confiscation of their land remains uncertain, the standoff reveals new power at the grassroots level: Social media allows sharper, coordinated gatherings and the rapid dissemination of news unfiltered by official media. The internet is also disseminating templates of what real democracy looks like -- instantly and worldwide.

Not surprisingly, people use this technology in ways that indicate that they have little interest in being cordoned off into conflicting and competing ethnicities, nationalities, or religious identities. Overwhelmingly, they want simple democracy and economic self-determination.

That agenda is in direct conflict with the interests of global capital and governments that have grown accustomed to operating without citizen oversight. It is a conflict that can be expected to heighten dramatically in 2012, as protesters' agendas -- from Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Moscow -- gain further coherence.

Much is at stake. Depending on the outcome, the world will come to look either more like China -- open for business, but closed for dissent -- or more like Denmark.

What other 'disruptively compliant' tools can you think of creating?

Expect a lot more of this. Expect those who use computers to transmit subversive true messages to be labelled terrorists and violently attacked by government authorities. Taking down Occupy Wall St. livefeed operators is just the beginning. This prescient essay, "Waging Peace on the Internet", authored by an Anonymous founder in 2002, describes what's going on pretty well. This essay is the intellectual precursor to recent activities and movements like WikiLeaks and Occupy Wall St. As many of you hopefully know, Anonymous was built by CultoftheDeadCow/Hacktivismo to act as guardian and protector of WikiLeaks. As most of you hopefully also know, Occupy Wall St. was kicked off by Adbusters and Anonynmous, but now has a life of its own.

Hacktivismo | Waging Peace on the Internet by Oxblood Ruffin

There's an international book burning in progress; the surveillance cameras are rolling; and the water canons are drowning freedom of assembly. But it's not occurring anywhere that television can broadcast to the world. It's happening in cyberspace.

Certain countries censor access to information on the Web through DNS (Domain Name Service) filtering. This is a process whereby politically challenging information is blocked by domain address (the name that appears before the dot-com/net/org suffix, as in, etc.). State censors also filter for politically or socially-unacceptable ideas in e-mail. And individual privacy rights and community gatherings are similarly regulated.

China is often identified as the world's worst offender with its National Firewall and arrests for on-line activity. But the idea that the new Mandarins could have pulled this off by themselves is absurd. The Chinese have aggressively targeted the Western software giants, not only as a means of acquiring technical know-how, but also as agents for influencing Western governments to their advantage through well-established corporate networks of political lobbying. Everything is for sale: names, connections, and even national security.

Witnessing hi-tech firms dive into China is like watching the Gadarene swine. Already fat and greedy beyond belief, the Western technology titans are being herded towards the trough. And with their snouts deep in the feedbag, they haven't quite noticed the bacon being trimmed off their ass. It isn't so much a case of technology transfer as digital strip-mining. Advanced research and technical notes are being handed over to the Chinese without question. It couldn't be going better for the Communists. While bootstrapping their economy with the fruits of Western labor and ingenuity, they gain the tools to prune democracy on the vine.

But to focus on Beijing's strategy misses the larger opportunity of treating the spreading sickness that plagues cyberspace. Cuba not only micromanages its citizens' on-line experience, it has recently refused to sell them computers, the US trade embargo notwithstanding. Most countries indulging in censorship claim to be protecting their citizens from pornographic contagion. But the underlying motive is to prevent challenging opinions from spreading and coalescing through the chokehold of state-sponsored control. This includes banning information that ranges from political opinion, religious witness, "foreign" news, academic and scholarly discovery, news of human rights abuses, in short, all the intellectual exchange that an autocratic leadership considers to be destabilizing.

The capriciousness of state-sanctioned censorship is wide-ranging.
  • In Zambia, the government attempted to censor information revealing their plans for constitutional referenda.
  • In Mauritania - as in most countries - owners of cybercaf s are required to supply government intelligence agents with copies of e-mail sent or received at their establishments.
  • Even less draconian governments, like Malaysia, have threatened Web-publishers, whose only crime is to publish frequent Web site updates. Timely and relevant information is seen as a threat.
  • South Korea's national security law forbids South Koreans from any contact - including contact over the Internet - with their North Korean neighbors.
The risks of accessing or disseminating information are often great.
  • In Ukraine, a decapitated body found near the village of Tarachtcha is believed to be that of Georgiy Gongadze, founder and editor of an on-line newspaper critical of the authorities.
  • In August 1998, an eighteen year old Turk, Emre Ersoz, was found guilty of "insulting the national police" in an Internet forum after participating in a demonstration that was violently suppressed by the police. His ISP provided the authorities with his address.
  • Journalist Miroslav Filipovic has the dubious distinction of having been the first journalist accused of spying because his articles detailed the abuses of certain Yugoslav army units in Kosovo, and were published on the Internet.
These are dangerous trends for all of us. The Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc) and Hacktivismo are not prepared to watch the Internet's lights dim simply because liberal democracies are asleep at the switch.

Our fathers and grandfathers fought wars defending, among other things, our right to speak and be heard. They even fought to defend unpopular opinions. It is the unpopular opinions that are most in need of defense. Without them, society would remain unchallenged and unwilling to review core beliefs. It is this tension between received truths and challenging ones that keeps societies healthy and honest. And any attempt at preventing the open exchange of ideas should be seen for what it is: censorship.

For the past four years the cDc has been talking about hacktivism. It's a chic word, beloved among journalists and appropriators alike. Yet the meaning is serious. Our definition of hacktivism is, "using technology to advance human rights through electronic media." Many on-line activists claim to be hacktivists, but their tactics are often at odds with what we consider hacktivism to be. From the cDc's perspective, creation is good; destruction is bad. Hackers should promote the free flow of information, and causing anything to disrupt, prevent, or retard that flow is improper. For instance, cDc does not consider Web defacements or Denial of Service (DoS) attacks to be legitimate hacktivist actions. The former is nothing more than hi-tech vandalism, and the latter, an assault on free speech.

As we begin to challenge state-sponsored censorship of the Internet, we need to get our own house in order. There have to be accepted standards of what constitutes legitimate hacktivism, and what does not. And of course, none of this will be easy. Hacktivism is a very new field of endeavor that doesn't rely on mere technical expedience. We have to find new paradigms. (Tossing the letter E in front of a concept that has meaning in meat-space, to borrow a term from the Electronic Disturbance Theatre, is convenient but rarely meaningful). There is no such thing as electronic civil disobedience. Body mass and large numbers don't count as they do on the street. On the Internet, it's the code that counts, specifically code and programmers with conscience.

We need to start thinking in terms of disruptive compliance rather than civil disobedience if we want to be effective on-line. Disruptive compliance has no meaning outside of cyberspace. Disruptive, of course, refers to disruptive technology, a radically new way of doing things; compliance refers back to the Internet and its original intent of constructive free-flow and openness.

But what disruptively compliant, hacktivist applications shall we write, and more importantly, how shall we write them? There are essentially two ways of writing computer programs: closed/proprietary, and, open/public. In non-technical terms, a closed program would be like a menu item in a restaurant for which there was no recipe. An open program would be like a dish for which every ingredient, proportion, and method of preparation was published. Microsoft is an example of a closed, hi-tech restaurant; Linux is its stellar opposite, an open code cafeteria where all is laid bare. For years the technical community has been raging over the absolutes of closed over open code, an argument only slightly more boring than whether Macs are better than PCs.

The answer to this debate is relative; it leans closer to the user's requirements than to the geek community's biases. If the user wants an inflexible, controlled - and often insecure - experience, then closed is the way to go. But if the user opts for greater variety and freedom from control, then flexible, open code is the only option. The choices are similar, although not equivalent, to living in an authoritarian society as opposed to a free one.

Hacktivism chooses open code, mostly. Although there might be very specific instances where we would choose to obscure or hide code, going by the averages we support the same standards-based, open code methodology that built the Internet in the first place. It is germane that users of hacktivist applications sitting behind national firewalls in China and other repressive regimes are more worried about being caught with 'criminal software' than crashing their computers. End user safety is paramount in such instances, and if closing down code would prevent arrests, then so be it. Techno-correctness is a luxury of the already free.

There are numerous arguments for open code, from the rhapsodic possibilities of the Open Source Initiative, through the demotic juggernaut of the Free Software Foundation, to the debate laden pages of Slashdot with its creditable fetish for better security. And everyone is right in his or her own way. But there is another compelling reason to show the code apart from any technical or philosophical considerations.

The field is getting crowded.

Four years ago when cDc first started talking about hacktivism, most Internet users didn't know, or care, about things like state-sponsored censorship or privacy issues. But now the terrain has changed. Increasingly human rights organizations, religious and political groups, and even software developers, are entering the fray, each for unique reasons. It would be premature to call such an unlikely accretion of stakeholders a coalition. In fact, there is every reason to believe there are greater opportunities for carping over differences than leveraging common cause into shared success. But open code may become the glue that binds.

As more and more disparate groups attempt to loosen dictators' restraints over Internet, it's important to keep focused on their common goals and not petty differences. The more transparent and crystalline their progress towards collective goals becomes, the more likely it is that those objectives will be achieved. Open code, like the open and inclusive nature of democratic discourse itself, will prove to be the lingua franca of hacktivism. And perhaps more importantly, it will demonstrate that hacktivists are waging peace, not war.

In 1968 the Canadian communications guru Marshall McLuhan stated, "World War Three will be a guerilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation."

Anyone who's watched the Web after an international incident knows how true that statement is. Teenagers from China have attacked sites in Taiwan and the U.S., and vice versa, just to name one claque of combatants. And although the exchanges are more annoying than truly damaging, they do support McLuhan's theory. As the Internet erupts into battle zones, Hacktivists could become something akin to a United Nations peacekeeping force. But rather than being identified by blue helmets, they'll be recognized by the openness of their code and the quality and safety of their applications designed to defeat censorship and challenge national propaganda.

One key to countering the cadres of information censors in China and elsewhere is the fluidity of open code projects. Another is through peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. P2P has floated into public awareness mostly as a result of the Napster phenomenon. The 'peers' on the network are computers, and yet not so different from a society of peers in a democracy. Some are more powerful than others, but they all have common attributes. This is in contrast with the traditional, and more pervasive, client/server network mechanism, where little computers go to big ones and ask for something, be it a Web page, an application, or even processing power.

What is most interesting about P2P technologies is that they turn the much-ballyhooed Information Superhighway into a two-way street. Peers become both clients and servers, or 'clervers' as one naming convention has it. Files can be shared, a la Napster; or processes from one or many partner computers can be strung together to create supercomputers, among other things. What makes these systems attractive to hacktivist developers is they are difficult to shut down. Large central servers are easy to locate and take down. But clouds of peers in numerous arrays springing up around the datascape are far more problematic.

This is not to say that P2P networks are invincible. Napster got shut down. But when the salt is out of the shaker, it's hard to get it back in. With Naptser down, a legion of even more powerful file-trading devices arose to take its place. The fact that Napster was easy to use and didn't require a steep learning curve was also key to its success, other convergences notwithstanding. This is fundamental to anyone hoping to appeal to non-technical users, many of whom are partially blinded and deafened by national firewalls.

The target user is socially engaged, but not necessarily technically adept. Beneath the surface the programs can be as complicated as you please, but on top, from the functionality/usability perspective, the apps have to be dead simple and easy to use. And they have to be trustworthy.

Here is where the Napster analogy breaks down. Trust was never a paramount factor in using the application. It was a fun loving network developed on the free side of the firewall, where users' greatest worries were, a) Can I find what I want? b) How long will it take to download? c) Is it of good quality? and, d) Do I have time to download four more tunes before I go to the keg party?

No one ever had to ask, a) If I'm caught using this, will I be arrested? b) Is this application good for ten years in jail?

Having millions of students on the Napster network made sense because the more users there are on-line, the larger the lending library becomes. Users behind national firewalls cannot be so casual. Having millions of users on a network may be one thing, but only a fool would trust more than his or her closest friends when the consequences of entrapment are so high. Thus, carefree peer-to-peer networks are replaced by careful hacktivist-to-hacktivist (H2H) networks.

H2H networks are like nuclear families living in large communities. Everyone may live in the same area, but each family has its own home where the doors open, close, and lock. And occasionally, a family member will bring someone new home. Everyone will sit around the living room, and if all goes well, the guest will be shown the library, perhaps, and maybe even someone's bedroom. All of this is based on earned trust. H2H networks will operate along these lines, where families will share a space and grant permission to one another as well as to certain visitors. The greater the trust, the more permissions will be granted; and for guests visiting the home, trust will be earned incrementally.

This model is already in existence, more or less. Using the Internet to communicate between known and trusted computers is a fact of business life. Virtual Private Networks are used daily to communicate sensitive and proprietary data. The same can be done by taking elements of this model and marrying them to H2H network development. But saying is not doing, and even the best marriages can unravel and fail. It's important to realize these things are possible but have never been done before.

Building H2H networks is not just a matter of guessing at how particular technologies will respond under fire. Hackers must know what users in the field need. We have been telling anyone who will listen that hackers, grassroots activists, and other parties who care about Internet freedom and the growth of democracy must partner up and work together.

Hacktivismo has been working with Chinese hackers and human rights workers, and the collaboration has been both fruitful and energizing. Occasionally there are cultural conflicts, but this has nothing to do with where anyone was born, and everything to do with how people get things done. Hackers tend towards MIT professor Dave Clark's credo which states, "We reject: kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code." Trust will come as development partners begin working more closely and learning that we aren't so different as we appear at the surface.

Research and development is phase one. Then comes distribution. Hackers have never had a problem distributing software. If you write something worth running, it will end up in every corner of the globe, something else we've learned from experience.

Leveraging existing distribution channels with those of our partners will ensure that users who most need liberating software will get it. Some human rights organizations have vast e-mail databases that will become increasingly invaluable for raising awareness, and in some instances, act as a distribution layer. Other areas of co-operation are also possible, especially in translations for non-English users where documentation and re-skinning U.I.s [the process of replacing the user interface of an application from, say, English to Chinese, or Arabic, etc.] will take development to ever-wider usefulness.

Last, although certainly not least, we need to acknowledge the Chinese government for their unwitting contributions to Hacktivismo's work. After reverse engineering some of their fundamental technologies we've discovered a few cracks where the light might shine through. But it does raise the question: why are we put in the position of doing this work? With billions of dollars in government budgets at their disposal, when are the world's liberal democracies going to put some of their resources into opening up the Internet? We know they don't care about human rights policy when it conflicts with jobs at home; but what about international security? As Beijing continues to play the patriotism card domestically, a more open Internet could diffuse traditional xenophobia through greater one-on-one interaction on-line.

But until Western governments become engaged, the main challenge for hackers is to keep focused on the goal of liberating the Internet. We realize that, but for the grace of God, we could be sitting on the other side of the firewall. It's a sentiment that is being picked up, although it would be a lie to say that thousands of hackers want to get into the game.

Still, enough are beginning to take up this cause that we should be able to see results, if new partnerships hold. There's a new generation of freedom fighters, sitting behind computers, who believe that it can be done.