Saturday, June 19, 2010

Common Action Statement on the US Social Forum – Detroit 2010

A message from Common Action to the progressive left on the occasion of the 2010 US Social Forum – Where are we? What can we do?

It is with great feelings of love and solidarity that we greet the participants of the 2010 US Social Forum. We are very excited to be able to attend the social forum and learn from so many amazing organizers and individuals.

Despite the bright spot that the Social Forum represents, our movements are not where they need to be. With this paper we hope to lay out some reasons why we think people's movements are so weak now, and what we can do to rectify that. This includes confronting the capitalist system, while not forgetting that all forms of oppression are related and need to be fought simultaneously. We offer our analysis, at the same time we recognize this white paper is only one part of a broader conversation. We hope to learn from you all and to bring your struggles into our analysis and organizing.

The State of Affairs

It was forty years ago this year that the United States saw some of the strongest social movements our country has ever seen. From the perspective of organizers and activists in 1970, the pace and scale of social movements was on the increase. The civil rights movement was still very strong, and had spawned new developments: the student movement, the anti-war movement, the feminist movement. Labor was at an historic high. These movements were creating tremendous victories for people the country over -- ending Jim Crow segregation, creating the highest standard of living for working people in our country's history, forcing new opportunities and respect for women, fighting against the Vietnam war, strengthening community control, and expanding the vistas of American democracy and equality. From the perspective of those on the ground, it was reasonable to believe that these changes were leading to unprecedented social transformations, perhaps even revolution, in the United States.

Forty years later we find ourselves in dramatically different circumstances. Even with the election of our nation's first black president, a testament to the power of the civil rights movement, conservatives and the business groups that support them have made gains politically, culturally, and ideologically. Here in Detroit -- formerly the powerhouse of the domestic manufacturing economy, heart of the union movement, and center for struggles of black liberation -- the population has declined by half. Thirty-five square miles of the city are abandoned; the official unemployment rate is over 15%, well higher if you include those who have given up looking for work altogether.

This picture is similar across the nation. With the economic crisis of 2008, the pain and dislocation Detroit has felt for decades has spread to nearly every major US city. It is with heavy hearts that we recognize the painful situation the economic crisis has brought to our communities. But we also must recognize that this crisis is nothing new, and that it will be here for sometime to come.

How do we find ourselves here?

The last forty years have been a continuous string of victories for the business elite. Even with the crisis, corporate productivity and profits are up -- oil companies are recording record revenues, banks like Goldman-Sachs are lodging perfect quarters (making money on the market every day of trading), Wal-Mart and McDonald's have record profits. Meanwhile working people are in the worst position we've been in since the great depression. Wages have been stagnant for thirty years, a record number of people require government assistance to make ends meet, and many more are forced into homelessness or other forms of precarious existence. At the same time corporations ride roughshod over what's left of our political democracy and regulatory state. The Supreme Court has granted corporations unlimited access into our political process. Regulatory agencies are run by the corporations they are supposed to regulate -- best demonstrated by the exemptions granted to BP's Deepwater Horizon oil platform and the resultant blowout. Perhaps most disappointingly, Obama's presidency has proven to be just as dominated by business interests as his predecessor.

With the economic crisis the attack on working people has only intensified, and the issues of business control of our society show themselves in greater relief. But activists have failed to use the crisis to organize. This is especially egregious given the increased vulnerability to those of us who are already the most marginalized in society. The increasing incidence of white-supremacist hate crimes, the targeting of immigrants especially those from Latin America, the increase in reports of violence against women, all point to the intersectionality of the economic crisis and all forms of oppression. These struggles are only going to intensify in the coming period. And we need to be better organized to empower people to fight against them.

What Can We Do?

There are important lessons to be learned for those of us trying to build strong people's movements. One of these is that we've neglected to understand how capitalism operates and to offer a clear critique. More particularly, we have neglected the power of class struggle -- both as a method of analysis and as a source of strategic leverage for organizing. Taking our eye off capitalism and the class struggle meant that only one side has been fighting. In the words of billionaire Warren Buffet "the rich class [is] making war, and we're winning." The historic victory of Barack Obama is part of this problem. Obama always represented the business class. He received more campaign contributions from the financial sector than any other candidate in history. And in his personal political career he is the single largest recipient of BP money. As a result he represents their interests, not ours. Using class to analyze the changes going on around us will better enable us to see clearly what the problems are that we face, and how to fight them.

Engaging in class struggle also provides tools for empowerment. In the electoral arena the deck is stacked against us. The rich and powerful have much greater access to politicians and the government; working people have a hard time simply finding information on what is going on with our elected officials. Fighting back in the class struggle empowers us to take things into our own hands. Our greatest strength is that as working people we have the power to stop, and restart, the economy on our own. We can run our workplaces and our cities by ourselves. We don't have to act at the ballot box only, but in our jobs and communities where we have more power.

Empowerment is key. Whether we are working on combating racism, fighting homophobia, increasing access for people with disabilities, ending patriarchy, challenging police brutality or protecting our natural environment, the focus of our struggles should be the empowerment of working people to act and organize for themselves. This means adopting the model of organizing used by Ella Baker, Septima Clark, Bob Moses, and the civil rights organizers who refused to be made into leaders. They recognized that the only way to build an effective movement is to have large grassroots participation; and to do that people need to make their own movements, be allowed to demonstrate their own leadership, and to empower themselves and their communities. As organizers we need to facilitate this process, not lead it. We need to have tough conversations with those that may not agree with us, to go door to door, and to mobilize popular discontent and pain into effective self empowerment. As Baker said "strong people don't need strong leaders;" we need to organize, organize, organize.

Class struggle and bottom up organizing are important, but we need to simultaneously challenge racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other systems of oppression, as well as put anti-oppression values into practice in our organizations. We advocate collective liberation, the idea that our liberation depends on everyone else's and nobody's struggle can wait -- all our struggles are interconnected. To really end any form of oppression, we must address them all; we have to defend, protect, and fight for each other.

As an anarchist organization, we aren't afraid to call it as we see it, and what we see is a world that is still organized for the benefit of a few, at the expense of the rest of us. Yet we are willing to believe that cooperation, listening, empathy, and sharing can actually become the bedrocks of our communities, workplaces, and decision-making structures. Anarchists believe that the means are the ends, and that the best way to win a new society is to start building it right now while we fight the worst aspects of the old one. We believe in focused community work, in presence, listening, humility. We believe in winning people over through communication and shared values, and in toppling the power structure through massive collective action, rather than through charismatic leaders or top-down policies.

Detroit and Beyond

The left let the economic crisis go by without using it to highlight these problems and organize people to defend their own interests. Despite the horror it's wrought on our communities, the crisis is in many ways a missed opportunity. Although the financial sector has stabilized, the streets of Detroit and the rest of the country tell a different story. Unemployment is destroying families, our education system is being dismantled, tens of thousands continue to die due to lack of health insurance, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq rage on killing innocents and depleting resources. These larger structural crises mean that we will see a return of the 2008 crash. It also means that for those of us on the bottom the "crisis" is ongoing.

We can regain the transformative power that social movements demonstrated in 1970. The Social Forum is a step in the right direction. But like the Forum's organizers have emphasized, the Social Forum is a process. We need to take the lessons learned, the connections we've made, and the energy generated here, back to our own communities. We need to understand that to organize is to empower others to empower themselves, and to include those who are unorganized, apathetic, or otherwise disinclined to fight to defend their interests. We need to bring hope to regular people and the organizational capacity to turn hope into empowerment. The Social Forum is a bright spot on a dim horizon. Let's work to make sure it signifies a coming dawn.

Common Action is an anarchist organization based in the Pacific Northwest.

~ Common Action ~

Darpa’s self-learning software knows who you are

Software systems could one day analyze everything from blurry war-zone footage to the subtle sarcasm in a written paragraph, thanks to two unassuming scientists who are inspired by biology to make revolutionary strides in intelligent computing.

Yann LeCun and Rob Fergus, both computer science professors at New York University, are the brains behind “Deep Learning,” a program sponsored by Darpa, the Pentagon's blue-sky research agency. The idea, ultimately, is to develop code that can teach itself to spot objects in a picture, actions in a video, or voices in a crowd. LeCun and Fergus have $2 million and four years to make it happen.

Existing software programs rely heavily on human assistance to identify objects. A user extracts key feature sets, like edge statistics (how many edges an object has, and where they are) and then feeds the data into a running algorithm, which uses the feature sets to recognize the visual input.

“People spend huge amounts of time building these feature sets, figuring out which are better or more accurate, and then refining them,” LeCun told Danger Room. “The question we're asking is whether we can create computers that automatically learn feature sets from data. The brain can do it, so why not machines?”

~ more... ~

The strange story of Sally Hartman

On 26 October, [redacted], an employee of the [redacted], contacted the Office of the Inspector General here at the Agency and related the following information. His wife, whose maiden name is [redacted], was previously married from 1955 until 1960 to [redacted], who was employed by CIA at that time. In the summer of 1956, according to [redacted], she accompanied her husband to the farm of her husband's supervisor for dinner, drinks and wine.  She believes her husband worked for Dr. Gottlieb, who was chief of the Technical Services Staff Chemical Division and heavily involved in MKULTRA activities. Her next recollection is receiving electric shock treatment at George Washington University Hospital for some time ...

- Letter from CIA assistant general counsel to John Gavin Esq., Office of Legal Counsel, US Department of Justice, November 2, 1977.

Mind-Control Victims

Over the past 15 years, while working on "A TERRIBLE MISTAKE," and after, about two-dozen people separately contacted me wanting to share their experiences as victims of CIA mind-control projects. Without exception, all of these people seemed quite sincere in their approach and claims. Some had written passionate letters, accounts, or articles about their experiences, a few had even written books about what had happened to them. Several of these books had been published and their authors were happy to send me copies, hoping that I would read them and perhaps write a review. Almost every person seemed more than convinced that they had fallen under the control of the CIA after being targeted at an early age. A surprising number claimed the CIA selected them through their fathers, who were somehow connected to the agency or with officials who worked for the agency. Nearly all of these people had also suffered physical and sexual abuse committed against them by their fathers and their memories of being controlled by the CIA were brought to the surface as a result of their working with psychotherapists or psychologists.

~ more... ~

Satellite tracking for the most dangerous psychiatric patients

 Some of Britain's most dangerous psychiatric patients, including murderers, rapists and paedophiles, are being fitted with satellite tracking devices to stop them escaping and reoffending.

A leading NHS trust has become the first to fit patients with an ankle bracelet containing global positioning system (GPS) technology, so they can be tracked if they abscond. The device, worn on a lockable, steel-reinforced, ankle strap, allows authorities to track a patient's movements to within a few metres anywhere in the world.

More than 60 medium and high-risk patients detained at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust have been fitted with the device as a condition of day leave, or while they are transferred to and from hospitals.

The trust said that such measures were necessary to protect the public, after a series of high-profile incidents where patients absconded, fled abroad or committed violent crimes.

 Mental health charities said that the secure cuffs, which can be forcibly removed only using industrial bolt cutters, resembled “virtual leg irons” and could violate the rights of vulnerable patients.

The GPS device, known as a Buddi tracker, was originally designed for carers to track dementia patients who wandered from their homes.

The secure version, remotely monitored by a private security company based in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, was approved in March for routine use after a pilot study showed that it could help to apprehend patients in a matter of hours rather than days.

A number of other NHS Trusts are understood to be considering use of the trackers, developed by Sara Murray, an entrepreneur whose previous projects include confused.com, the price comparison website.

The system was introduced in South London as a response to the case of Terrence O' Keefe, 39, a rapist who escaped from the trust's care in March 2008 and later strangled David Kemp, 73, in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. O'Keefe was jailed for life after being recaptured and convicted of murder.

~ more... ~

EU may monitor searches under guise of child porn prevention

The European Parliament's website urging its members to sign Declaration 29 seems well-meaning enough, with a frightened-looking child and a plea to end sexual harassment, child porn, and pedophilia. However, privacy advocates are concerned over a semi-hidden rider on the declaration that allows EU member states to retain data from search engines, essentially eliminating any privacy EU citizens previously had when surfing the Web.

The stated purpose of Declaration 29 is to set up an early warning system (EWS) to target pedophiles and sex offenders. The statement itself is somewhat vague about how this would be done, but claims that pedophiles currently enjoy "freedom of action, putting them on the same footing as honest citizens and making it difficult for the authorities to trace them."

As such, the EU is calling on members to implement Directive 2006/24/EC—also known as the Data Retention Directive—in order to "tackle online child pornography and sex offending rapidly and effectively." Once the declaration has 369 signatures, it will be adopted—as of this writing, it has 324.

The problem is that the Data Retention Directive makes it simple for EU states to monitor the Internet searches of citizens. This has led privacy advocates to urge parliament members to withdraw their signatures in support of Declaration 29. One member of the parliament, Christian Engström, indicated on his blog that he believes many of those who have signed the declaration were misled and don't realize the full implications of the Data Retention Directive. He notes that the marketing materials don't mention the directive by name (only by number).

~ more... ~

Musical Innerlube: Oshen - 1 Rebel

How the ultimate BP Gulf disaster could kill millions

Disturbing evidence is mounting that something frightening is happening deep under the waters of the Gulf of Mexico—something far worse than the BP oil gusher.

Warnings were raised as long as a year before the Deepwater Horizon disaster that the area of seabed chosen by the BP geologists might be unstable, or worse, inherently dangerous.

What makes the location that Transocean chose potentially far riskier than other potential oil deposits located at other regions of the Gulf? It can be summed up with two words: methane gas.

The same methane that makes coal mining operations hazardous and leads to horrendous mining accidents deep under the earth also can present a high level of danger to certain oil exploration ventures.

Location of Deepwater Horizon oil rig was criticized

More than 12 months ago some geologists rang the warning bell that the Deepwater Horizon exploratory rig might have been erected directly over a huge underground reservoir of methane.

Documents from several years ago indicate that the subterranean geologic formation may contain the presence of a huge methane deposit.

None other than the engineer who helped lead the team to snuff the Gulf oil fires set by Saddam Hussein to slow the advance of American troops has stated that a huge underground lake of methane gas—compressed by a pressure of 100,000 pounds per square inch (psi)—could be released by BP's drilling effort to obtain the oil deposit.

Current engineering technology cannot contain gas that is pressurized to 100,000 psi.

By some geologists' estimates the methane could be a massive 15 to 20 mile toxic and explosive bubble trapped for eons under the Gulf sea floor. In their opinion, the explosive destruction of the Deepwater Horizon wellhead was an accident just waiting to happen.

Yet the disaster that followed the loss of the rig pales by comparison to the apocalyptic disaster that may come.

~ more... ~

"Europe's financial class war against labor, industry and government"

Must interview with Dr. Michael Hudson.

Economic crisis in Europe created by predatory lending; European Central Bank stranglehold on the Eurozone; the Euro; foreign banks decimate Greece's social structure; Marx's industrial capital versus fictitious capital; Latvia as a model for the rest of Europe; Hudson's financial and fiscal plan for Latvia; the Cold War and its ruinous effect on progressive economic thought.

Listen to interview here.

Seattle police officer punches girl in the face

US convict executed by firing squad

A convicted killer has been executed by firing squad in the US state of Utah, reviving a style of justice that has not been used for 14 years.

Ronnie Lee Gardner was shot through the heart by a five-man team of sharpshooters at approximately 12:20 (06:20GMT) on Friday.

Gardner was sentenced to death for a 1985 courthouse shooting during an escape attempt in which a lawyer was killed.

His final appeal for a stay of execution to the US Supreme Court was rejected late on Thursday, hours before the sentence was set to be carried out.

Utah banned execution by firing squad in 2004, retaining lethal injection as the default method for carrying out death sentences.

But because he was convicted prior to that date Gardner retained the right under previous state laws to choose between lethal injection or firing squad as his method of execution.

Marksmen

Gardner was strapped into a chair with a target pinned over his chest as five anonymous marksmen armed with .30-calibre rifles fired from behind a wall.

Prison officials said that four of the guns were loaded with live rounds, while one was loaded with a blank so that the shooters would never know for sure if they fired a fatal round.

Gardner's execution makes him the third man killed by firing squad in the US since a Supreme Court ruling reinstated capital punishment in 1976.

The most famous case was the 1976 execution of Gary Gilmore, who gained notoriety for demanding that his execution be carried out and whose last words were simply "let's do it".
 
Gardner's attorney said his client's decision to opt for the firing squad was based on preference, not a desire to embarrass the state or draw publicity to his case.

Critics have condemned the method of execution as barbaric, archaic and reminiscent of "Wild West" style justice.

~ more... ~

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