Among accelerating reports of civil unrest around the world, new revelations once again confirm Orwellian conspiracy theorists may have far greater legitimacy than we ever thought possible. Thanks largely to the efforts of Edward Snowden, “The Guardian” newspaper has reported the NSA has been assisting the British spy agency GCHQ’s efforts to spy on millions of webcam users, likely including American citizens, under operation Optic Nerve.
From analyzing video metadata with facial recognition software to outright capturing images of unsuspecting users, the spy agencies of the world have demonstrated a thorough and total lack of respect for privacy and legal boundaries. Not only have they hijacked the personal property of, at least, millions of individuals, they have outright invaded the homes and workplaces of these individuals without any sort of warrant or probable cause. Quite frankly, they are using the lack of specifics in privacy laws, which have failed to respond to technology trends, as well as lingering public fears of events like 9/11 and 7/7, to rationalize any sort of program they wish to indulge.
At this point, it is increasingly obvious that the national security communities of the world are becoming more of a danger to our modern, democratic way of life than terrorism and other national security threats. What makes this latest report so unsettling is that it is part of a much larger, ongoing series of unsettling revelations while we have yet to learn the full extent of our national security officials’ questionable operations. Quite frankly, we are learning only a small fraction of how our spies are identifying potential threats while we do not even know what proactive active measures are being taken to disrupt potential threats.
We already have the CIA torturing suspected terrorists and killing unprosecuted individuals with drones, among other things, but we do know much about how our national security officials are engaging in their secret war. For example, it would be very easy for the likes of the NSA and GCHQ to manipulate/disrupt the online and financial activities of innocent individuals in order to prevent them from becoming a potential threat. Meanwhile, our political leaders already cannot effectively act against our national security agencies, because they do not know the full extent of their activities and our spies clearly have information that can be used against our politicians. As such, the threat to our democratic and free way of life is very real.
Sadly, the truth is that there is actually nothing new said here. In fact, this latest development in the Edward Snowden/NSA scandal only strengthens arguments against the unchecked activities of the black ops community. As such, this writer is left with the same conclusion found in “Why Hardliner Thinking in the NSA and CIA Is Doing Damage.”
“Unfortunately, the best option at this point for wrangling in our spies is to create official private and public channels for insiders to anonymously, securely, and responsibly submit material for review. People like Edward Snowden and Former CIA Agent John Kiriakou, who was targeted for publicly criticizing the Agency and prosecuted based on an uneven application of the Espionage Act in violation of his Equal Protection rights under the Fourteen Amendment for a simple mistake, are the only effective tools we have when it comes to oversight of organizations like the NSA and CIA . Quite frankly, these individuals and others are the only means of stopping the larger problems at the NSA and CIA at this time, yet we are prosecuting them instead of helping them leak information in a more responsible manner.”
Humility and Intimidation, Ukraine
Barely making it into the news is the story of Ukrainian riot police in Lviv kneeling in hopes of being forgiven for their involvement in last week’s lethal crackdown against anti-government protesters. Although these individuals insist they did not personally engage in violence against protesters, their association with those who did means they might have been able to do more to prevent the killings or found themselves in a similar situations.
Clearly, this gesture does little to resolve the underlying issues plaguing Ukraine in the short-term while it certainly does not make up for ending the lives of so many, but a little humility goes a long way, especially when you or your associates have helped take someone’s life away. Publicly recognizing wrongdoing and submitting oneself to the mercy of those injured is the first to reconciliation and absolution. This scene, involving a group of public servants taking on this type of personal and leadership responsibility, is something authorities around the world should always remember, especially when they find themselves needing to rebuild public confidence in their institutions.
Unfortunately, the efforts of these individuals and the Ukrainian political class to resolve their internal conflicts, with the West offering external intervention to help stabilize the fragile state, was not the main news story coming out of Ukraine. Instead of reaching out to all Ukrainians, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to provoke anti-Russian factions by ordering unscheduled military training exercises along the border.
Although there is an argument to be made that Putin is simply trying to demonstrate Russia will always defend the rights of pro-Russian Ukrainians, this act of intimidation solely makes anti-Russian Ukrainians feel more threatened by Russian influence, thus they are more likely to reject any cooperation with Russia and pro-Russian factions. Given Ukraine’s vested interests in its neighboring big brother, this type of action is far from constructive and must be stopped, if Russia wishes to see stability in Ukraine and its interests addressed any time soon.
Secret Swiss bank accounts, no more
Swiss bank Credit Suisse admitted today that it was a “mistake” to help Americans evade taxes on as much as 12 billion dollars, even though it blames a handful of bankers for the dealings. Using tactics more befitting a criminal organization, including the creation of offshore shell entities, falsifying visa applications, and establishing a branch at Zurich airport, as well as passing statements hidden in a Sport Illustrated magazine by hand to a client, it is clear there was a whole series of criminal acts committed by agents of the Swiss bank against the US. Although the Credit Suisse will pay a 196 million dollars fine to the SEC, executives refuse to turn over account information relating to US tax evaders.
Given that Credit Suisse operates in the United States, it is subject to US law. As the bank committed several crimes against the US, aided a myriad of individuals conspiring to commit crimes against the US, and is now impeding the investigation of those crimes, the Credit Suisse must be held legally accountable. Authorities should consider revoking their bank charter, if this behavior continues. Just as America has the right to deport Justin Bieber, we have the right to give a foreign owned company the boot.
On the other hand, Credit Suisse executives argue that Swiss law prevents them from releasing client information under plenty of incarceration. As such, the United States also has a very serious foreign policy dispute with Switzerland. Just as Credit Suisse profited from its blatant disregard for US law, the country of Switzerland has used its perverse regulations to enrich its treasury for decades by undercutting the laws of countries like the US.
Unfortunately, America and many other governments have tended to avoid dealing with messy foreign policy issues rooted in business dealings, e.g. trade and patent infringement issues with China and India, because they are afraid of upsetting the global economy. Sadly, the world economy is in tatters thanks to dishonest business dealings and the neglect of the economic interests of the world’s population. Enough is enough. As the wealthiest country, America needs to ensure its interests are met by forcing the Swiss to be honest.
With the now defunct Ukrainian President on the run and an interim government forming, the Ukrainian People have an opportunity to refocus their attention on the issues that originally inspired their protests instead of the months old crackdown by police. As President Victor Yanukovych had become the focus of protester outrage, it is within the interests of all Ukrainians that he is gone while it would best if Mr. Yanukovych were found and removed from his home country before any harm might befall him, which could incite renewed conflict between pro-Western and pro-Russian factions.
That said, the removal of the President, who is viewed by many as a perpetrator of murder and should be brought to Justice, does not necessarily guarantee the situation in the former soviet state will be resolved. Although efforts by the US and EU member states to provide the Ukrainian People the $35 billion dollars they will need to prevent an economic catastrophe is necessary to help prevent Ukraine from destabilizing, the West risks inflaming tensions between pro-Western and pro-Russian factions, i.e. provoke a civil war, if Russia is not part of the foreign intervention.
Given Russia’s abrupt withdrawal of financial aid in the wake of Mr. Yanukovych departure, it is fairly self-evident that Russian President Vladimir Putin was interfering with the internal affairs of Ukraine, which will give the US leverage over Russia on the international stage, while this evidence will certainly validate the views of pro-Western factions. On the other hand, pro-Russian factions will not be so easily swayed. After all, they view the real economic and other consequences of scorning Russia to be far more pressing than the unrealized benefits of partnering with the West while they do not want to be ruled by the West.
Consequently, the US and the rest of the West must carefully approach how they plan to keep Ukraine stable, which must be the sole and perceived mission of the International Community. Clearly, Russia will ultimately choose whether it wants to part of an international intervention, thus the West can only offer Russia opportunities to voice their concerns and do their part to stabilize Ukraine, until the arduous task of democratic reforms can be completed.
Furthermore, Russia has clear interests in preventing Ukraine from destabilizing, which any effort on behalf of Putin to influence the outcome of reforms will obviously result in further unrest. At the same time, the West must tread softly as well. The last thing the International Community need is Ukraine turning into a reenactment of post-World War II Germany. There is no reason to divide Ukraine into an Eastern Germany and a Western Germany while regressing to a Cold War-era proxy war out of habit would only hurt Russian, Western, Ukrainian, and overall International interests.
With pressure building for President Obama to aggressively pursue the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement (TPP), Americans are looking closely at the ripple effects of the 20-year-old NAFTA, which TPP is largely patterned after. Opponents point to data on outsourcing, shrinking earnings, growing economic disparity, and other economic indicators that demonstrate the average American is losing ground to NAFTA. Proponents point to data on increased GDP, capital gains, and other macroscopic economic gains while they essentially argue average Americans would have done worse if NAFTA had not been implemented.
Given both sides have significant evidence supporting their positions, it is important to interpret the facts under a larger framework or worldview, i.e. numbers lack wisdom. Lowering trade barriers means foreign goods are no longer taxed. When domestic goods are taxed, unless business taxes are displaced onto individual taxpayers, free trade translates into domestic goods that are less competitive. If a foreign country has an established, efficient industry, which does not cater to vital national interests, that can deliver an equivalent and/or superior product and there is a weak or nonexistent domestic industry, free trade can be beneficial as it can be used to remove trade barriers to our established industries in exchange for the same benefit. This can translates into lower priced goods with few economic disruptions to domestic industries, thus it is in a nation’s interests.
Absent this scenario, i.e. a clear coequal exchange of economic benefits, free trade is an industry killer, because it disadvantages the already mature, often more expensive, domestic industry and favors investment in cheaper options, especially when it comes to cheap foreign labor. Meanwhile, national interests change with time, thus treatises and treaty Law must be recalibrated to serve the shifting interests of allies. Obviously, economic interests shift very rapidly. As such, trade agreements must be recalibrated regularly to reflect shifting economic interests. Unfortunately, NAFTA and TPP do not include maintenance provisions, thus they do not shift with national interests.
That said, the fact that America is the world’s wealthiest nation dictates labor costs and other operating costs will certainly be higher than those in poorer countries. After all, simply surviving in a developed country, let alone thriving, requires a higher income and access to modern amenities while American economic supremacy is dependent upon the ability of workers to maintain a higher standard of living, engage in higher cost consumption, invest for the future, and advance their fiscal standing. As the US is both rich in labor and financial capital, America needs financial capital to generate jobs that support a massive workforce with a broad range of skills and technical knowledge. Beyond economics, outsourcing threatens a nation’s ability to regulate its industries, which is part of an overall loss of economic sovereignty that free trade encourages. Given this context, those who support NAFTA and TPP have a less compelling argument than those who oppose untargeted, unfettered Free Trade.
Read old posts