Wednesday, November 30, 2011
In July of 1971, a 31-year-old John Lennon celebrated the conclusion of the Imagine album recording sessions with a party like no other, held at Allen Klein's home in Riverdale. The above footage, mostly taken by friend Jonas Mekas (and included in his 1996 film Happy Birthday To John) shows party guests like Ringo Starr, Phil Spector, Allen Ginsberg, Miles Davis, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono (of course) and many others. Check out Davis and Lennon shooting hoops at the 5-minute mark, and Andy Warhol snapping Polaroids throughout.
Foam fight: Brussels brought to a standstill as protesting firefighters turn their hoses on police
Last updated at 1:47 PM on 23rd January 2010
When a disgruntled group of Belgian firefighters wanted to press for speedier promotions, an ordinary street demonstration just wouldn't cut it.
Instead, the 150-strong group turned to their trusty water trucks to make themselves seen - blocking the streets of the capital Brussels with a spectacular foam display.
Making use of the hoses usually reserved for fires, the emergency workers sprayed foam from 20 trucks over a main road in central Brussels, blocking traffic in the busy area.
More than 150 firefighters covered central Brussels with foam to protest over pay
Police were helpless as they were sprayed with foam during the protest
The streets resembled a winter wonderland as the thick layer of white foam coated the road and nearby buildings.
Police who arrived to calm the protest were helpless as their comrades covered them in foam, and many officers were spotted laughing.
Not happy with just stopping traffic they then turned their hoses on nearby government buildings - including the Brussels' Minister President's office.
The firemen also lit several fires to attract attention, before quickly putting them out
Protesters used their firefighting trucks to scale government buildings and cover them with foam
Government buildings, including the Minister President's office, were targeted in the attack
The protesters also used their ladders to get onto the roof of government buildings as sirens wailed below.
The firefighters also changed roles for the day - lighting small fires on the roads before quickly putting them out.
The workers are demanding clearer rules with regards to nominations and promotions.
One policeman saw the funny side as he was covered in foam
The Wizard of #OWS
Jake Whitney interviews Kalle Lasn December 2011
The editor in chief of Adbusters on sparking the Occupy Wall Street movement and its next phase, why the president is a “f#$%ing wimp,” and his beef with David Brooks.
Photo by Jim Labounty
Just hours before Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a militaristic, middle-of-the-night raid on the protesters at Zuccotti Park, Kalle Lasn and his team at Adbusters sent a “tactical briefing” to their ninety thousand followers. Lasn, the magazine’s cofounder and editor in chief, sensed that with winter bearing down and media coverage turning increasingly negative, morale was slipping. His missive urged protesters to “declare victory and throw a party,” “scale back,” and “emerge rejuvenated” in the spring. Bloomberg’s raid, however, was a “game changer.”
In fact, Lasn says, the raid, which occurred at 1 a.m. on the morning of November 15 during a media blackout and under closed airspace, was a “huge tactical blunder” that not only reenergized the protesters but officially ended the peaceful, amorphous, strategically vague “Phase I” of the movement. Phase II will see not only specific demands, but, because of the increasing thuggishness of police crackdowns nationwide, more counter attacks and disruptions. “When you attack young protesters who are expressing their right to free speech and fighting for a better future, there is going to be a price to pay,” he says. “It didn’t work in the Middle East and it’s never going to work in America.”
Lasn is, for the moment, the closest thing that Occupy Wall Street has to a leader. It was his pronouncement on July 13 that first urged demonstrations at the world’s financial district. Calling for a “Tahrir moment” that combined the peaceful encampments of the Spanish acampadas with the youthful uprisings that toppled Mubarak in Egypt, he prodded his followers, “On Sept 17, flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street.” That tweet has resulted in over one thousand occupations globally, according to Lasn, and while each protest has its own raison d’etre, Adbusters continues to offer suggestions on strategy, organization, communication and even inspiration.
Nevertheless, OWS has taken criticism for being leaderless and demand-less, though Lasn asserts that this “all-inclusive” model is a key to its success. Each protester, it seems, harbors a different grievance. For some, it’s skyrocketing tuition costs. Others, the lack of jobs. For some, the too-big-to-fail banks. For others, a Supreme Court decision that granted corporations “personhood.” And still others a broken political system that, even in the wake of an economic catastrophe caused by Wall Street recklessness, couldn’t manage to implement safeguards that would prevent a similar crash in the future. Underneath it all, however, is a shared feeling of profound injustice; that the rules are different for those at the top, and that the traditional means of balancing the scales no longer work. So why was Lasn the man to start it?
He was born in Estonia during the Second World War. When he was two, Stalin’s tanks rolled across the border and his family fled to Germany, where they landed in a refugee camp. These early experiences with dictatorships left Lasn with a deep regard for the sanctity of freedom. As an adult, Lasn made his way to North America where he became an activist and documentary filmmaker. It was in Canada’s Pacific Northwest, in 1989, that Lasn’s worldview was shaped. After being subjected to a misleading public relations campaign by the forest industry, Lasn and some filmmaker friends decided to create a counter message. When they approached the television stations, however, they were refused airtime. “For fifty years in my country you couldn’t speak out against the government,” he says. “Now here I was in North America, the cradle of democracy, and I couldn’t speak out against a sponsor.” He concluded that corporations were a bigger threat to freedom than governments. Adbusters was born.
As for Occupy Wall Street, the smears are well under way. One lobbying firm offered to “construct negative narratives” about the movement if the American Bankers Association would pay the lobbyists $850,000, as MSNBC reported last month. But even earlier, opponents had attempted to brand Lasn as an anti-Semite, pointing to a 2004 article that attempted to shed light on the Iraq War by calling out the fifty biggest neocons in the Bush Administration. The article found that half of them were Jewish, and put a mark next to each Jewish name (to show that they were supporters of Israel). Though Lasn admits to being a frequent critic of Israel, he maintains that he doesn’t “have an anti-Semitic bone” in his body. During our phone calls, we discussed this topic as well as many others, including Obama’s relationship with Occupy, what the Tea Party and OWS have in common, and his plans to create a third political party by the spring of 2012.
—Jake Whitney for Guernica
Guernica: Occupy Wall Street is considered a leaderless movement, but Adbusters sparked it and continues to shape strategy. Your “tactical briefings” have told the protesters how they should behave, how they should organize, what their inspirations should be, and to scale back during the winter. Are you more of a leader than is acknowledged?
Kalle Lasn: We are not the leaders, but we did spark it. When a movement is ripe, all you need is a spark. And we’ve tried our darnedest to insert our two cents with our tactical briefings. We’ve also been able to launch conversations at the general assemblies. Our role is similar to the one the Situationists played in 1968. They had good ideas and fired people’s imaginations with books like Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle. They had these wonderful slogans and they provided the philosophical underpinning, but they weren’t the leaders. Debord, the leader of the Situationists, was by no means the leader of the movement. The same thing is happening here. A bunch of people, not just Adbusters, but Michael Moore, Slavoj Žižek, Naomi Klein and others have been setting the scene for a while. Then the moment was ripe and Adbusters lit a spark. This could be the beginning of a second great mind-shift, possibly a global revolution.
Guernica: Where did the idea for the occupation of Wall Street come from?
Kalle Lasn: The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt got the ball rolling. At our brainstorming sessions at Adbusters, we watched how these largely nonviolent regime changes upset the power balance in the Middle East and inspired activists around the world. The tantalizing thought was regime change. But in Egypt and Tunisia, the regime changes were hard. In Egypt, you had murderous dictators torturing people for years. Obviously, that kind of hard regime change where you topple obvious criminals and murderers doesn’t translate to America. The story in America was a vibrant, bottoms-up democracy subverted by corporations and financial speculators. Those people now control much of the narrative. They also control the congressmen and the legislation that’s passed in Washington. So we felt that America had become a corporate state and soft regime change was necessary. That was the concept that got us excited. Then we started thinking about ways to spark it.
Guernica: Many remain confused about what the protesters are protesting and what they want. Why?
Kalle Lasn: There’s a disconnect with older people who expect a movement to be vertical, like they’d seen in the past, with recognized leaders and demands and manifestos. Reporters want to be able to walk into an occupation and say, “Take me to your leader,” ask “What’s this about?” and write a story. But this movement is different. It’s been launched horizontally by people raised on the Internet. They don’t really like leaders. They’re egalitarian and don’t like having clearly articulated demands. But they have powerful, horizontal ways of communicating through social media. That’s the real magic here. Some of the young people at these occupations describe them as semi-religious experiences. Suddenly they feel things they’re not used to feeling, like hope and community. They share a belief that there is something fundamentally wrong with the direction the world is going in.
Guernica: In your Washington Post Op-Ed on November 18, you said we will be hearing specific demands, such as a 1 percent tax on all financial transactions, the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, and the overturning of Citizens United. What has taken so long?
Kalle Lasn: Our first tactical briefing of July 13 talked about demands. But then we realized that they were unnecessary during the first phase of the movement. Everybody was invited, whatever your beef was, whatever your angle or campaign was, you were involved. But now with winter coming and this game-changing moment by Bloomberg in Zuccotti Park, people will start brainstorming and networking. Our counter-attack will involve not only more precision-targeted militancy around specific projects, but also crystal clear demands such as a Robin Hood tax and others. Ultimately, though, what these young people want is not nitty-gritty policy demands. They’re after something deeper. They look at the future and see a black hole. They look at climate change and see an ecological crisis. They look at their leaders corrupted by money and see a political crisis. They wonder if they’ll ever be able to pay off their student loan or own a house. Given this ecological, political and financial crisis, what they want is a different future. Their fundamental demand is a different regime to provide that future.We needed to put the fat cats and financial speculators who gave us this mess under the microscope and say that the global casino they created to enrich themselves doesn’t mean anything for real jobs and the real economy.
Guernica: But if the protesters want regime change, they’ll need to attack existing power structures, which would involve a concrete goal like getting money out of politics. Your first tactical briefing, in fact, demanded that Obama appoint a commission to “end the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.” What happened to that?
Kalle Lasn: We initially thought that if you’re going to pull off regime change then stopping the moneyed corruption at the heart of American democracy was the key. I still believe that is the crucial demand. Yet in an operational sense, it shouldn’t be the first thing you do. Before those issues are addressed, it’s necessary to talk about the global situation in terms of the one percent and the 99 percent. We needed to put the fat cats and financial speculators who gave us this mess under the microscope and say that the global casino they created to enrich themselves doesn’t mean anything for real jobs and the real economy. Before we dealt with the rational part, we needed to generate emotional outrage. It’s like going for the knockout punch in Round 1 of a boxing match, when maybe it’s better to wait until Round 12. We haven’t given up on that demand, but there’s still a lot of work to do before we’re ready for the knockout punch.
Guernica: You described Bloomberg’s raid on Zuccotti Park as a game-changer. What did you mean?
Kalle Lasn: Bloomberg made a huge tactical blunder. He did what Ben Ali did in Tunisia, what Mubarak did in Egypt and what Assad is doing in Syria. He turned against his young, striking against peaceful protesters while they slept. On the surface, it’s hard to compare what Bloomberg did with what the Middle East’s dictators did. And yet the sentiment is exactly the same. When you turn against young protesters expressing their right to free speech and fighting for a different future, there is going to be a huge price to pay. It didn’t work in the Middle East and it’s never going to work in America.
Guernica: Your recent writings are more militant, calling for edgy theatrics and disruptions of transit and other things. Isn’t there a danger that these tactics could turn popular opinion against the protesters?
Kalle Lasn: I don’t really give a damn about popular opinion. Bloomberg’s mistake has created legitimate anger. Now some of the more radical elements are going to come out, like anarchists and similar groups who up to now have been marginalized by our nonviolent philosophy. But now, like it or not, there is going to be more militancy. By striking at the heart of our protests, Bloomberg has brought the first phase of the movement to an end. He’s got thousands of young people feeling that a brutal attack in the middle of the night deserves a ramped-up counter-attack.You look at the media and realize that these corporate-run commercial entities are failing to give Americans the information they need to make informed choices.
Guernica: Comparisons have been made with the Tea Party. How would you compare the movements? I would argue that they share a basic motivating idea. As trite as it sounds, it comes down to freedom; a desire for less outside control on their lives. The key difference between the groups is how they define freedom and who they believe is most responsible for restricting it.
Kalle Lasn: I agree that we share that. It’s a profound way of seeing resonance between the movements. But there’s an even deeper resonance. The two parties grew out of the same emotional feeling: that the future does not compute; that America is going in the wrong direction. They see America in decline, people losing their jobs, all this pain. Both movements know that we the people have to passionately rise up and change the existing system if we’re going to have any kind of a future. But we see the problem in different ways. They see the problem as Big Government, we see the problem as corporations and Wall Street.
Guernica: The movement has been credited with bringing attention to income inequality. Inherent in that is a sense of injustice. The president of Ireland recently assailed the “small group of people” who crashed the global economy and who now “run around the continent with impunity.”
Kalle Lasn: That’s why the 1 percent/99 percent slogan is so important. There’s something so fundamentally unfair about those fat cats and financial speculators getting away with this. Not one of them has been brought to justice. None of them has apologized. People who just lost their house or cannot pay their student loan see this and say, “Those fucking bastards.” But it’s not just recent events. There is a profound injustice at the heart of the American economy. You look at the media and realize that these corporate-run commercial entities are failing to give Americans the information they need to make informed choices. You look at the food we’re eating and the obesity epidemic and realize there is something fundamentally wrong about our nutritional habits. So across the board there is something fundamentally unjust about every aspect of our personal lives.
Guernica: And there’s a sense that the traditional ways of righting these wrongs no longer work. Obama was the left’s great hope for change, yet even after a global economic meltdown he couldn’t pass meaningful financial reform. In a healthy democracy, that should have been a no-brainer.
Kalle Lasn: That’s what revolution is all about. It’s like putting up with Mubarak for forty years who is controlling the media and having all his friends make money hand over fist—and you can’t stop it. The same thing exists in America now. People have tried all kinds of ways to fix things, like electing Obama and having a debate about decreasing the power of corporations. Then the Supreme Court gives them personhood [with the Citizens United decision]. You realize that no matter what you do, who you elect, how wonderful your article is, how eloquently you speak on CNN, none of it will make a difference. Ultimately, the only choice is a revolution that pulls off a soft regime change.
Guernica: Let’s talk about Obama’s relationship with the protesters. The left has been deeply disappointed with him. But could OWS be the fulfillment of Obama’s vision, after all? He helped usher in the Arab Spring. His financial reform bill was flawed but an attempt to address many of the issues OWS rails against. As Van Jones keeps pointing out, Obama’s slogan was always “Yes, we can, ” not “Yes, I can.” Is it possible to see OWS as the left finally doing its part to help Obama succeed?
Kalle Lasn: I don’t see it that way. I was absolutely inspired by the speeches Obama gave before he got elected, and some of the ones after, like in Cairo. But there’s something wrong with him now. He changed once he got elected, flip-flopping on Guantanamo and many other things. And now, especially in knuckling to Israel when it comes to the Arab Spring and the freedom fight that Palestinians have been waiting on for so long, he’s a fucking wimp. He’s like a guy who knows he’s doing the wrong thing but just wants to get re-elected. When you sense that in a leader, then you really lose faith in the guy.
Guernica: Do the protesters need Obama to succeed…
Kalle Lasn: I hope not. The guy has proven himself to be a gutless wonder. I’m not saying that if the 2012 election is between Rick Perry and Obama that many in the movement won’t vote for Obama. But a much more tantalizing possibility is that the movement will give birth to a third party…
Guernica: …because you’re not going to get a President Rick Perry to appoint a commission to examine financial corruption in our political system.
Kalle Lasn: We weren’t really expecting Obama to either. What needs to happen is that the movement play exactly the same game that was played in Egypt, where there was a battle between Mubarak and the people. We need to have hundreds of thousands of young people saying “Mr. President, whoever you are, we want this.” And then the American people would say, “That sounds reasonable, let’s do it.” So we’re really launching ideas to force the president’s hand.
Guernica: What role do you expect this third party to play?
Kalle Lasn: We’d like to see it emerge next spring. It may not be able to [challenge for the presidency] in six months, but we may be able to play a Tea Party-type role. We’re not going to hop in bed with the Democrats, though. We expect it to be much more powerful and broad-based, more infused with enthusiasm and the passion of young people than Ralph Nader or other third-party candidates have been. I call it the True Cost Party of America. Our goal is to get beyond the Pepsi-Cola/Coca-Cola political choice that Americans have had for so long and to give them a real choice for a different future. It may be an amalgamation of the passionate people from the Tea Party and the passionate people from our side. We can finally transcend this rigid left-right divide that always turns into a slugfest and ultimately means nothing.A deep transformation of capitalism is something we’d like to see: a bottoms-up capitalism with a free market that gives entrepreneurs the ability to launch their business ventures.
Guernica: You mentioned the media several times, so let’s talk about news coverage of the protests. Media bias has rarely been more obvious. The right wing press has thrown out even the slightest pretense of objectivity in demonizing the protesters.
Kalle Lasn: The global press is the same. Look at the BBC. I don’t know if they’re still doing it, but a few weeks after the movement began, they were talking about it as an “anti-capitalist movement.” The commercial mass media would like this movement to just go away. They are threatened by it. They were a hell of a lot more comfortable covering the Tea Party because the Tea party was anti-government. That suited them fine. Our movement is fighting against the same corporations that own their TV stations and magazines. They know that eventually we will not only be trying to reform capitalism but we’ll be trying to reform the mass media that is continually lying to us.
Guernica: Adbusters was launched, in fact, out of frustration with the media. None of the television networks would air one of your TV spots.
Kalle Lasn: Yes. A group of us in the Pacific Northwest weren’t able to respond to the forest industry. The industry was killing our old growth forests and their TV campaigns said how well they managed the forests and how we’ve got “forests forever”—that was their slogan. When we tried to answer them with our own TV spot, the stations refused us. So we concluded there was no democracy on the public airwaves. It provided the spark for everything we’ve done since. I was born in Estonia. For fifty years you couldn’t speak out against the government there. Now here I was in North America, the cradle of democracy, and I wasn’t able to speak out against a sponsor. This brought to mind the stranglehold that consumerism has on our media and our lives.
Guernica: Is your goal with Adbusters to replace capitalism with socialism or communism?
Kalle Lasn: In our brainstorming sessions, there are not too many people who want a chilling off of capitalism or an ushering in of some sort of communist system. They’re saying there is something fundamentally wrong with the existing financial speculative capitalism and we have to do heavy surgery to create a global economy that works. A deep transformation of capitalism is something we’d like to see: a bottoms-up capitalism with a free market that gives entrepreneurs the ability to launch their business ventures. On the other hand, because of the atrocities that took place in the Soviet Union, communism has gotten something of a bad rap. Some of the ideals of communism are finding their way back. We’ve woken to the fact that this individualistic, everybody against everybody culture that we’ve created is hitting the wall.The average American consumes three times—300 percent—more than the average American after WWII.
Guernica: Adbusters is anti-consumerist. But we seem to be stuck in a consumer cycle that is not easy to break. If we start consuming less, as you advocate, companies will produce less and jobs will be lost.
Kalle Lasn: Retailers use that argument when we launch a Buy Nothing Day. They tell us we’re going to ruin their businesses because the Christmas shopping season is so important. But learning to celebrate Christmas in non-commercial ways is the secret to a sane, sustainable future. The jobs argument is very myopic. It’s madness to sacrifice the long term for the sake of short-term satisfaction. The key flaw with our system is that it’s driven by the ability of corporations to keep consumerism going at all costs.
Guernica: But even after the financial crash, few people would want to return to a way of life from a century ago.
Kalle Lasn: That’s true. But in the process of becoming more comfortable, we’ve made a devil’s bargain. The average American after the Second World War had a great life and consumed a good deal. Now, just a half-century later, the average American consumes three times—300 percent—more than the average American after WWII. The richest one billion on the planet now consume three-quarters of the global pie, leaving a quarter to the other six billion. This comfort argument, like the jobs argument, allows you to be in denial. The truth is we are in a climate change scenario, in an age of terror largely fueled by this huge income inequality. We’re in the middle of an American mini-revolution. Has the comfort been worth it? How much is enough? It’s time to ask these questions. The good news is that a new ecological economics paradigm is emerging out of the ashes of the neoclassical paradigm that has been taught for the last many generations. A whole new way of looking at the economy and our lives is emerging.
Guernica: How will your third political party put this paradigm into practice?
Kalle Lasn: We’d mark on every product the ecological truth. It’s a new way of measuring. Currently, we don’t measure the bad things, just the good. When you pay for something, whether it’s a pin or a bottle of Coca-Cola or a thirty-thousand-dollar car, you should be paying the true cost of that product. Not just what it costs Toyota or Ford to make the car plus some profit. You should also pay for the ecological damage that you’ll be doing by driving that car and pumping carbon into the atmosphere for the next five or ten years. If you were forced to pay the true cost of the car, there would be less cars sold and we’d find alternative ways of transportation. It’s the idea of a marketplace that instead of getting us deeper into the shit starts pulling us out.
Guernica: One of the ways the right has smeared OWS is by labeling you an anti-Semite. You’ve been accused of having a history of anti-Semitic writing. How do you respond to that?
Kalle Lasn: It goes back to a half-page story that Adbusters ran seven years ago. Adbusters and I have suffered because of the way that story has been portrayed. The New York Times twice took a swipe at us over it. First, David Brooks in one of his recent columns [“The Milquetoast Radicals”], and then Joseph Berger quoted some organization saying that I had a history of anti-Semitic writing. I tried to get the right of reply but the Times refused. Brooks wrote a piece last year pointing out that 51 percent of Nobel Prize winners in nonfiction are Jewish and that 37 percent of Academy Award–winning directors are Jewish and many other percentages. He got zero flak for it. I think it’s perfectly valid for David Brooks to point that out to show the intellectual power of Jews. But then for him to take a swipe at Adbusters for pointing out that 50 percent of neocons were Jewish is a real double standard. It was a cheap shot and I’m not going to let Brooks get away with it.Neocons should be under the microscope for what they’ve done to American foreign policy. That’s a far bigger story than the fact that Adbusters or Kalle Lasn may be anti-Semitic.
Guernica: The article was “Why Won’t They Say They are Jewish?” and you listed the fifty most prominent neocons in the Bush Administration and marked the ones who were Jewish. You were trying to draw attention to the Iraqi invasion and to ask whether, because of support for Israel, they pushed Bush into war. But wouldn’t it have been more to your point to mark the names of the hard-line Israeli supporters, regardless of whether they were Jewish?
Kalle Lasn: Looking back, instead of using the word Jewish repeatedly, I would have pointed out that they were Likudists, Zionists, and people who had a special loyalty not just to America but to Israel. And the fact that they were able to play a significant role in pushing for war partly for the benefit of Israel. At Adbusters we’ve taken on not only consumerism but also the super pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian neocons that pushed for the Iraq war and who are now pushing Obama [in his dealings with] Netanyahu. Neocons should be under the microscope for what they’ve done to American foreign policy. That’s a far bigger story than the fact that Adbusters or Kalle Lasn may be anti-Semitic.
Guernica: To put the matter to rest, would you go on record saying that anti-Semitism is absolutely wrong and you oppose any trace of it in Occupy Wall Street?
Kalle Lasn: Sure, absolutely. I would much rather go on record as saying there is not an anti-Semitic bone in my body and people should read our story themselves. See it in the context of the percentages that David Brooks himself has quoted.
#OpRobinHood : Thousands of United Nation logins leaked by TeaMp0isoN
Online 'hactivist' collective Anonymous and hackers Team Poison have joined forces for a new group effort known as 'Operation Robin Hood', that plans to target banks in an effort to give money back to the people.TeaMp0isoN today hack United nation website (www.undp.org) and leak 1000's of Login usernames, Passwords and Emails . Leaked accounts details are posted on pastebin, With a note include "The UN is a fraud! The bureaucratic head of NATO used to legitimise the Barbarism of Capitalist elite!""How far you have come from the first address by Thomas Jefferson where 'peace, commerce and honestfriendship' were the Modis Operandi to one today where talk of 'eliminating 350,000 people a day'as outlined by Jacques Cousteau is a academic consideration." They added.Operation Robin Hood Video Message :The music is overly dramatic, the text slamming on the screen feels more like a blockbuster movie than what it's trying to be. This feels like more of an Anonymous parody than a real call to arms.First victim of Operation Robin Hood was National Bank of Long Island. The hacktivists behind Operation Robin Hood revealed the vulnerabilities present in the website of the First National Bank of Long Island."We have watched our brothers and sisters being refused their hard-earned money by the banks on top of being beaten and brutalised by officers during peaceful demonstrations. Congratulations banks, you have gotten our attention," reads the Anonymous and Team Poison statement.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Tadeusz Sawicz of RAF-Polish Air Forces in Great Britain, 1941.
Six weeks after Tadeusz Sawicz breathed his last in a Toronto nursing home, his ashes arrived in Poland Tuesday to a hero’s welcome.
A Canadian resident since 1957, the 97-year-old former airman and general was the last surviving Polish veteran of the Battle of Britain.
“General, welcome in Poland, we shall always remember what you have done for the Republic of Poland,” said Polish Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak as Mr. Sawicz ashes were received at Warsaw military airport by a joint contingent of Polish and British troops. Mr. Sawicz was named an honorary brigadier-general in 2006 by Polish President Lech Kaczynski.
The acclaimed pilot died on Oct. 19 at the Copernicus Lodge on Roncesvalles Avenue.
A pilot in the Polish Air Force at the time of the 1939 German invasion of Poland, Mr. Sawicz was among the first to face the formidable power of the German Luftwaffe.
The main Polish fighter, the PZL P.11c — an open cockpit airplane, had once been considered the most advanced in the world, but Polish pilots soon discovered it was horribly outdated against German Messerschmitt Bf 109s. Nevertheless, Mr. Sawicz was able to score at least two kills in the opening days of the conflict.
After only two weeks of battle, however, he was ordered to round up the remnants of his squadron and lead them through heavy fire on a treacherous escape to France by way of Romania, Italy and Yugoslavia. After spending the winter training on French aircraft, Mr. Sawicz was back in battle by June to help fend off France’s own invasion.
Only three weeks later, as another capitulation loomed, Mr. Sawicz made his escape by plane to Algiers and hopped a boat to Britain to join the Royal Air Force. Within months, he and 144 other Polish pilots were fighting the Luftwaffe again in the Battle of Britain, an intensive air battle meant as the lead-up to a German amphibious invasion of England.
Before the war was out, in a flying career that would stretch across the European theatre, Mr. Sawicz would down two more German planes, damage three others and collect top flying honours from Poland, the U.K., the Netherlands and the United States. Miraculously, he suffered his only major injury in an airfield collision with a fellow Spitfire.
Following the German surrender, however, Mr. Sawicz’s hopes of returning home were quickly dashed by the rise of a communist government in Poland, which frowned on Poles who had served with Western forces.
After spending nine years as a farmer in the U.K, Mr. Sawicz moved to Montreal and took up a string of aviation jobs with regional airlines. Ten years ago, he settled into an apartment in Etobicoke, making the occasional trip back to Poland for Polish Air Force Veterans Association reunions, at which he was usually mobbed by admirers.
After lying in state at Warsaw’s Field Cathedral of Polish Army, Mr. Sawicz will be given a full state funeral on Wednesday attended by his daughter Anna and widow Jadwiga.
Posted: 29 Nov 2011 12:21 AM PST
information on a new research that shows violent video games can effect the brain. At the same time, News.com Australia reported that mental health professionals in Australia are considering video game addiction and internet addition as official mental disorders.
These studies are far from definitive, given the large volume of game studies over the years. But if games are classified as harmful or addictive, that could limit their reach. Parents might proactively decide to crack down on violent video games, which have become a big part of the mass market. Studies like this are a force that could shove gamers back into the closet.
The new research conducted by the RSNA took 22 young men, ages 18 to 29, and instructed 11 of the 22 males to play 10 hours of violent video games for one week and then stop playing completely the second week. Then, the other 11 men were instructed to not play any violent video games throughout the two week period.
Before, during and after the two week period, the subjects were given tests via MRI’s to monitor their brain function. The results showed that after the week of game play, there was less activity in the left inferior frontal lobe during the emotional test and less activity in the anterior cingulate cortex during the counting test. Yang Wang, a medical doctor and an assistant research professor in the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences at Indiana University School of Medicine said, “These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long term effect on brain functioning.”
While these findings are coming to light, mental health professionals in Australia are being asked by parents to include video game addiction and internet addiction in the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The professionals might declare the addictions as an official disorder called pathological internet misuse. If that happens, parents are hoping this will encourage further study on the matter.
The news stirs up old memories of the negative stigma often associated with video games. As video games jump into the mainstream more and more every year, studies and alleged official disorders like the ones mentioned are likely to pop up from time to time and thwart the advance of games as a universal medium. It also shows that, despite a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, the issue of violent video games is far from dead.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Anonymous • Intelligence in Public Literature: Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War
Intelligence in Public Literature: Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War
Intelligence in Public Literature: Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War
Robert Jervis, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010. 238 pp, endnotes and index.
Can intelligence failure be avoided? Robert Jervis begins his study of two well-known cases, the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the 2003 Iraq War, by noting that the question is more complicated than it may first appear. The most common understanding is that “intelligence failure” occurs when, as Jervis puts it, “there is a mismatch between the estimates and what later information reveals.” But intelligence has no crystal ball, and no one should be surprised that assessments of things that are hidden and projections about the future sometimes miss the mark. In this sense, intelligence failures are indeed inevitable, whatever steps might be taken to try to avoid them. A more interesting question is whether analysts succeed or fail in making the most of information available to them. In two case studies, Jervis identifies key reasons why analysis fell short while also demonstrating that the most common explanations for these failures are wrong. His conclusion in both cases is that if analysts had done their best, i.e., “succeeded,” they would have reached many of the same judgments, albeit with a reduced degree of certainty.
Jervis’s study of why the CIA failed to anticipate the revolution that deposed the shah of Iran was written in 1979 and only recently declassified. Despite the intervening years, its insights remain fresh and relevant to today’s intelligence challenges. The fundamental reason for the failure, according to Jervis, was that judgments were based mostly on their inherent plausibility and alternative possibilities were not seriously considered. The shah had defied previous predictions of his demise and was expected to do so again. Analysts didn’t understand the nature of the opposition, particularly the religious dimension—which was dismissed as an anachronism. CIA believed that the shah would crack down if his rule was threatened, apparently not taking into account that this expectation was at odds with US advice that he should continue to pursue democracy and reform. Most important, analysts did not recognize that this key belief was not “disconfirmable”—that is, it could not be shown to be false until the shah had already been deposed.
Jervis’s Iraq study is less comprehensive and acknowledges some missing pieces, but he finds the basic mechanism of failure to be similar to that in the Iran case. Analysts had developed plausible inferences about what was happening in Iraq that guided their interpretation of the relatively few specific bits of information that were available. It made no sense that Saddam Hussein would continue to obstruct inspections and risk a US attack if he had nothing to hide. This general presumption, rather than the specific evidence being reported, was the basis for the judgment that Iraq had WMD. Analysts assumed that they were seeing only a small portion of Iraq’s effort because of Saddam’s well-developed program of denial and deception. As in the case of Iran, they did not take into account that there was no way to determine if this core belief was true or false.
Jervis does not discount or excuse the specific errors of analysis and sourcing that received most of the attention in the official postmortems of the Iraq failure. However, he notes that critics invariably leave the impression that had these mistakes been avoided, the Intelligence Community could have reached the correct judgments about Iraq’s weapons. In fact, given the information available, the least damning verdict that might have been offered was that there was no solid evidence of continuing programs. Any claim that Saddam had ended his WMD programs would have been seen as highly implausible, even if there was evidence to support it. As Jervis notes, critics do not wish to acknowledge this because there is a presumption that “bad outcomes are explained by bad processes.” It is more comforting to believe that if the right reforms and organizational changes are made, future failures can be avoided.
This is not to say that the IC could not do a better job. Jervis’s main criticism is the failure to apply what he calls “social science methods,” which might be thought of more generally as critical thinking skills. Analysts tend to look for (and find) what they expect to see. They do not think enough about the potential significance of things that are not seen (“dogs that do not bark”). Most important, they do not make an effort to consciously articulate the beliefs that guide their thinking and consider what evidence should be available if they were true, or what it would take to disprove them. Facts do not speak for themselves but inevitably are seen in a framework of understanding and belief—whether that framework is recognized or not. Analysts rarely think about that contextual framework or what it would take to make them change their views.
The perils of such thinking traps are not a new concern to intelligence analysts. Indeed, Jervis begins his book with a quotation from Sherman Kent, one of the founding fathers of the profession, who observed that intelligence officers are supposed to be distinguished from others by their “training in the techniques of guarding against their own intellectual frailties.” However, as Jervis also notes, many aspects of routine practice and culture in the IC do not encourage attention to this problem. Intelligence products tend to focus on the latest events, reporting the facts with little reflection or interpretation. Conclusions are too often merely assertions without explanation or support beyond their inherent plausibility. Although it has all the necessary raw materials, the IC has never developed an effective peer review process for analytic production. “Coordination” tends to focus on superficial language changes rather than a serious examination and debate about fundamental premises.
In the aftermath of post-9/11 and Iraq war critiques, the IC has placed renewed emphasis on enhancing collaboration and improving the quality of analysis. In accordance with the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, analysts are applying new guidelines designed to improve characterization of sourcing, clarify assumptions, and encourage consideration of alternative possibilities. Jervis does not assess the merits of these initiatives specifically, but he clearly believes that the prospects for improvement are limited by the fundamentally intractable nature of the problem. He suggests that better analysis requires a robust examination of how judgments are reached and a sharp focus on underlying factors that are often overlooked. Why do specific judgments seem plausible and are there alternative possibilities? Could the information advanced in support of a particular thesis be explained by other factors? Are we misunderstanding the impact of political and historical factors unique to the issue or region? He recommends supplementing this program of self-scrutiny with substantively focused peer review and extensive study of a range of historical cases.
Even as Jervis explains the challenge of overcoming congenital intelligence limitations, he also warns that better analysis in the sense he suggests might not be particularly welcomed by consumers. By their nature, decision makers need to have conviction and are focused on selling and implementing their policies. Intelligence analysis that gives more scope to alternative interpretations of the evidence is not likely to be well received. Jervis offers a colorful quote from John Maynard Keynes to illustrate the point: “There is nothing a Government hates more than to be well-informed; for it makes the process of arriving at decisions much more complicated and difficult.” Perhaps the best contribution intelligence can offer, Jervis suggests, is a nuanced evaluation of alternative possibilities and the key factors at work. Ideally, this could raise the level of understanding and debate before policymakers make decisions. At the same time, however, they are unlikely to pay attention unless they are already seized with the issue, so there is a narrow window for such inputs.
There is much more of value to the intelligence professional in this concise but densely packed volume, including a discussion of the complexities of politicization, specific insights on other historical cases of interest, and detailed end notes that constitute a survey of relevant literature. It is essential reading that gets beyond the conventional wisdom about intelligence failure and provides nuanced insight into what Jervis describes as the “insoluble dilemmas of intelligence and policy making.”
All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed in this article are those of the author. Nothing in the article should be construed as asserting or implying US government endorsement of an article’s factual statements and interpretations.
Posted: Dec 10, 2010 04:16 PMLast Updated: Dec 14, 2010 01:34 PMLast Reviewed: Dec 14, 2010 01:34 PM
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How profoundly has Occupy Wall Street altered our political discourse? Consider Laura D’Andrea Tyson, a former top economic adviser to President Bill Clinton. Tyson has just penned an op-ed that applauds Occupy protestors for focusing the nation’s “attention on rising income inequality.” They’re right to worry, she goes on, about our “concentration of income and wealth.”
Back during the Clinton administration, Tyson and her fellow insider economists — Republicans and Democrats alike — sang a somewhat different tune. All seemed to agree, by century’s close, that only the plight of the unfortunate, not the wealth of the fortunate, rated the nation’s rapt attention.
At a 1998 Federal Reserve conference, Tyson asked Americans to imagine the nation’s economy as an apartment building. Some people live up high in penthouse luxury. Others live in the rat-infested basement. What should the nation do? Pillage the penthouse? Forget the penthouse. Advised Tyson: “We need to do something about that rat-infested basement.”
We now know better. We now know we’ll never empty those basements so long as we allow folks in our penthouses to accumulate ever more wealth and power. In this week’s Too Much, more evidence why.
|GREED AT A GLANCE|
Former Presidents of the United States haven't exactly rushed to line up behind the Occupy Wall Street movement. Former Canadian prime ministers seem to be a different story. Paul Martin, a former corporate CEO and a former prime minister, believes the Occupiers “have touched a chord” on inequality. The top 1 percent? Says Martin: “That's not what built North America.” Adds the former Canadian leader: “For the last hundred years, certainly in North America, every generation has felt it’s going to have a better life than their parents. For the first time, that’s not there.”
Newt Gingrich, the top “idea” man among the 2012 GOP presidential candidates, has a new idea. Newt wants to bring back child labor. The former House speakertold a Harvard audience last week that “stupid” laws against child labor were preventing schools from replacing union janitors with student part-timers. This Gingrich pitch shocked America's leading advocates for kids. But America's greatest child advocate of the early 1900s, Columbia University philosopher Felix Adler, wouldn't have found Newt's remarks the least bit surprising. Adler chaired the national committee against child labor and saw a direct link between the concentration of America's wealth and the exploitation of America's kids. The chase after grand fortunes made grand miseries — “the evils of surplus wealth,” as Adler dubbed them — inevitable . . .
Just a few years ago the world's top public policy wonks considered economic growth the absolute be-all and end-all. All would be well if nations simply grew their economies. But global policy wonks today are executing an amazing about-face. Their latest advice? The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the developed world's wonk central, last week urged nations to drop any single-minded focus on growth and start worrying about inequality. Or else. Rising gaps between rich elites and the rest of society “can sow the seeds of future conflict and social unrest,” says the new OECD Social Cohesion in a Shifting World report. Both the poor and middle class, adds the study, feel “increasingly alienated from the richest.” This alienation, warns OECD secretary-general Angel Gurría, is fraying “social cohesion, the glue that holds societies together.”
|INEQUALITY BY THE NUMBERS|
The Alchemy of Our Awesomely Affluent
Today's super rich can't turn tin into gold. But they can get Uncle Sam to loan them free money. At the expense, of course, of the bottom 99.
How much money is pouring into the pockets of America's richest 1 percent? How much of this income are America's richest paying in taxes?
Major media outlets have been asking questions like these ever since the Occupy Wall Street movement first started gaining traction earlier this fall. But the numbers in their answers, suggests a groundbreaking new analysis from Bloomberg reporter Jesse Drucker, aren’t telling the full story.
America’s mega rich are actually taking in much more in income, Drucker shows, than their tax returns indicate. Hundreds of millions more. And this hidden income has reduced their effective tax rate — a figure already lower than the rate average Americans pay — even lower.
We’re not talking patently illegal tax evasion here. We’re talking complex financial transactions that would do medieval alchemists proud.
Those alchemists long ago struggled mightily to turn common metals into gold. Lawyers and money managers for today’s mega rich can routinely pull off a trick almost as lucrative: They can make money off unrealized capital gains.
This trick carries various arcane labels like “variable prepaid forward contracts.” But the goal always remains simple and straightforward: to grab as much tax-free cash as possible out of assets that have increased in value.
How does the trick work? Imagine yourself a major corporate CEO. You hold a huge stash of stock in your company. That stock has appreciated. If you sold your shares, you could clear a quarter billion dollars in personal profit. But you would also immediately face a capital gains tax on that quarter billion.
Now that prospect shouldn’t leave you particularly upset. The capital gains tax you face, after all, only runs 15 percent. That’s less than half the 35 percent you would be paying if capital gains were taxed at the same rate as ordinary income.
Some super rich in this situation do indeed just take their capital gain, pay Uncle Sam his 15 percent, and buy a bigger yacht. Others get creative. They don’t pay Uncle Sam. They get Uncle Sam to pay them.
These super rich go ahead and sell their shares — for colossal sums — but don’t deliver them to the buyer until a few years after they cut the deal.
At delivery time, these mega rich do report the income from the sale on their tax returns and pay the capital gains tax upon it. But in the meantime they’ve enjoyed what amounts to an interest-free loan from Uncle Sam.
Setting these deals up can cost the super rich millions in dollars in fees. But the returns make that outlay to accountants and tax lawyers well worth the expense. The rich, observes former New York State Bar Association tax section chair David Miller, “can use complex transactions not available to most Americans to get cash from their appreciated stock without paying any taxes at all.”
Dole Food chairman David Murdock, notes Bloomberg’s Jesse Drucker, played this game in 2009 when he pocketed $228.6 million for his Dole shares. He won’t “deliver” them until next November. Hank Greenberg, the former CEO at insurance giant AIG, parlayed a “prepaid forward agreement” into $278.2 million. Clear Channel Communications founder Red McCombs grabbed $259 million.
“Prepaid forward” deals first became all the rage for the wealthy about a decade ago, the New York Times reports. The IRS is still playing catch-up. An IRS crackdown of sorts did start in 2008. But the super rich haven't flinched much.
One reason: The odds of getting audited remain low. Another: Even if wealthy taxpayers do get challenged on prepaid forwards, notes New York tax analyst Robert Willens, they can count on a tax court settlement that lets them keep a hefty chunk of whatever the prepaid forward helped them make.
“Who wouldn’t want that?” asks Willens.
Maybe the 99 percent. And what could protect the 99 percent from the continuing super-rich drive to exploit appreciated assets? David Miller, the New York State Bar Association tax expert, wants the super rich to have to pay a tax on the annual increase in the value of their immense stock holdings.
Such a tax, even if only levied on America’s richest 0.1 percent, could raise as much as three-quarters of a trillion dollars over a decade’s time. At that prospect, even the super rich might have to flinch.
The Best Case Yet for Ending CEO Pay Excess
Bob Diamond, an American banker, currently runs the British banking behemoth Barclays. By U.S. standards, Diamond doesn’t rate as particularly overpaid. At last count, he’s only pulling in £4.4 million a year, the equivalent of about $6.7 million.
The real outrageousness of Diamond’s paycheck only becomes unmistakably evident when we mix in some historical context. Back in 1980, the top executive at Barclays took home just 13 times the annual pay of the average British worker. Bob Diamond’s pay today equals 169 times average UK worker pay.
Final “plea” might be a more accurate description. You have one last chance, this powerful indictment of executive excess is warning Britain’s wealthy and powerful, to restore some common sense to executive pay. If you fail, you have only yourselves to blame for the “social unrest” that will surely befall you.
The UK's wealthy and powerful won’t be able to easily slough off this High Pay Commission admonition. The commissioners — from chair Deborah Hargreaves, a former Financial Times editor, on down — have too much national credibility to ignore. And the British media certainly haven’t ignored them.
The high pay panel has been making headlines ever since its launch a year ago. Last week’s final report release drew extensive coverage, from media outlets across the British political spectrum.
The new High Pay Commission report, entitled Cheques With Balances, essentially demolishes all the defenses that overpaid executives and their flacks, in the UK and the United States, have advanced to justify why executives today merit so much more than their counterparts a generation ago.
Excessive rewards for the UK’s corporate and banking elite, the commission details, have helped quintuple the share of national income that goes to Britain’s top 0.1 percent, from 1.3 percent of national income in 1979 to 6.5 percent.
If executive pay continues to rise at its current pace, the commission adds, that top 0.1 percent will be pulling in 14 percent of UK income by 2035, an inequality level not seen since the days of Charles Dickens.
To curb that current pace, the High Pay Commission has proposed a series of 12 eminently moderate reforms, a set of proposals that don’t go nearly as far as the original advocates for a High Pay Commission may have hoped.
Back two years ago, these advocates — a group of 100 nationally known lawmakers, scholars, journalists, and activists organized by the Compass think-and-act tank — called on the then-ruling British Labour Party to create a commission that would “consider proposals to restrict excessive remuneration” via “maximum wage ratios and bonus taxation.”
The Labour Party government ignored that call, and Compass a year later would establish the commission on its own, with the help of one of Britain’s most highly regarded foundations.
The high pay panel's six members haven't called, in their final report, for a “maximum wage.” They do call for disclosure of the ratio between chief exec and median worker pay, worker representation on the corporate panels that set CEO pay, and the replacement of intricate CEO pay deals with straight-salary arrangements that include, at most, one performance-related bonus element.
The remainder of the commission’s dozen recommendations all fall within the “interlinked and inseparable” principles of “transparency, accountability, and fairness.” Their adoption, says the panel, “could mark an important turning point.”
But these dozen proposals, the commissioners note, amount to no “quick fix.”
“It took 30 years to get us to this place and it may easily take that long to reverse,” the high pay report acknowledges. “This is not to admit defeat, but is a recognition that these are just the first steps in what is the much longer and deeper process of cultural and economic change that is required.”
What relevance does the new High Pay Commission report hold for the United States? All the reforms the Commission advances would, for starters, make equally good sense here. In fact, one of these reforms — ongoing disclosure of CEO-median worker pay gaps — has already become U.S. law.
But this pay ratio disclosure provision, enacted last year as a little-noticed feature of the celebrated Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, has not yet gone into effect. Corporate America has unleashed a full-throttled lobbying assault against it, at both the regulatory and legislative levels.
The new UK High Pay Commission final report ought, at the least, help American executive pay reformers save pay ratio disclosure. If that happens, Americans will be better able, as the High Pay Commission puts it, to “move away from an economy predicated on a flow of rewards to the top.”
“A business model where corporate profits accrue in the hands of the few,” the high pay panel sums up, “is deeply flawed and over the long term unsustainable.”
Quote of the Week
“When pay for senior executives is set behind closed doors, does not reflect company success, and is fueling massive inequality, it represents a deep malaise at the very top of our society.”
Deborah Hargreaves, chair, UK High Pay Commission, November 22, 2011, upon the release of the executive pay panel's final report
Stat of the Week
The taxpayers in America's top 0.1 percent certainly do like those capital gains. They're together pulling in about half the nation's total income from the sale of stocks, bonds, real estate, and other assets, notesForbes, and the richest of the rich — the Forbes 400 — can currently credit these capital gains for 60 percent of their income.
Patriotic Millionaires meet with Grover Norquist, The Agenda Project. A video of a recent meeting between the right wing's point man on cutting taxes on the rich and a group of wealthy Americans who feel people like them ought to be paying more at tax time.
Paul Krugman, We Are the 99.9%, New York Times, November 25, 2011. Why we need to focus more attention on the richest one-thousandth of the population.
John Berthelsen, The Rich Get Richer Off the Backs of the Poor, Asia Sentinel, November 25, 2011. How bankers, hedge fund managers, and other financial speculators have turned food, fuel, and other commodities into a new global casino.