28 February 2014


This item arrived today from Nation of Change and is dated 26 February 2014. It is of course alarming for a number of reasons, one of the most alarming is the fact that Australians who have already heard about TPP seem to be ignoring it as if it didn't matter.

How wrong can they be, and will they start to wake from their slumbers when it is too late? I fear so!

Dave Johnson
Published: Wednesday 26 February 2014
Because of these leaks we know that the TPP has an intellectual property section that will override government rules that limit the power giant corporations can wield against smaller competitors and the general public.

How TPP Would Harm You at the Drug Store and on the Internet

A law affecting content on the Internet that was rejected by Congress shows up in a trade agreement designed to bypass and override Congress. Small, innovative companies that manufacture low-cost, generic drugs find their products blocked.

Those are examples of what is in store based on provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is now being negotiated by the United States and 11 other nations, that have been leaked to the public. The leaks appear to show that provision after leaked provision will take power away from democracy and countries and hand it to the biggest corporations. No wonder these giant, monopolistic corporations want Congress to approve Fast Track before they – and We the People – get a chance to read the agreement.

Because of these leaks we know that the TPP has an intellectual property section that will override government rules that limit the power giant corporations can wield against smaller competitors and the general public. Intellectual property (IP) is a term that covers patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, industrial designs and similar ‘intangible assets.” (Click here for the IP chapter that was leaked to Wikileaks.)

The rigged process in which only giant corporate interests are represented at the talks of course produces results that are more favorable to those giant corporations than to their smaller, innovative competitors and regular people around the world. The rigged “fast track” process enables these interests to push the agreement through Congress before there is time to organize a public reaction.

TPP And Fast Track

TPP is a “trade” agreement that has little to do with trade and everything to do with giving the giant corporations the power to override what governments and their people want. The agreement follows the pattern of the trade agreements that have forced millions of jobs and tens of thousands of factories out of the United States, placed giant corporations in a dominant-power position that is threatening our democracy and sovereignty, and have dramatically accelerated the transfer of wealth from regular people to a few billionaires worldwide.

TPP is being negotiated in secret with consumer, environmental, labor, health, human rights and other “stakeholder’ groups excluded from the table. But the interests of the giant corporations are at the table, with the negotiators either already well-compensated by the corporate interests or in a position to be well-compensated later after leaving government (which many of them tend to do immediately after ending their role in trade negotiations).

To help push TPP through, the giant corporations are trying to get Congress to give up its constitutional responsibility to initiate and carefully consider the terms of trade agreements. The corporations are pushing for Congress to pass “fast track” trade promotion authority, which brings in a process where Congress gets a very limited amount of time after first seeing the agreement to evaluate it and then vote, limits how much they can debate it and prohibits them from amending it in any way. This gives the corporations the opportunity to set up a huge PR campaign to pressure Congress to pass it, before the public has time to organize a response – never mind even read the agreement.

Intellectual Property and Drug Prices 

One example of the way the intellectual property provisions favor giant, multinational corporations over smaller, innovative corporations and regular people around the world is in pharmaceutical prices.

A company with a drug patent is granted a monopoly to sell the drug at any price they choose with no competition. Currently a drug might be patented for a limited number of years in different countries. When the patent runs out other companies are able to manufacture the drug and the competition means the drug will sell at a lower cost.

Leaked documents appear to show that TPP will extend patent terms for drugs. Countries signing the agreement will scrap their own IP rules and instead follow those in TPP. So giant drug companies will have the same patent in all countries, for a longer period, and the patent will prevent competition that lowers drug prices.

Article image
(New Zealand is missing from the map and is country number 12)

Currently smaller, innovative companies can produce “generic” drugs after patents run out. Because of competition these drugs can be very inexpensive. Walmart, for example, sells a month’s supply of many generic drugs for $4, while drugs still under patent protection can cost hundreds or even thousands. This is of particular concern to poor countries that will be under TPP rules. Please read Expose The TPP’s section The Trans-Pacific Partnership and Public Health, which begins:
The TPP would provide large pharmaceutical firms with new rights and powers to increase medicine prices and limit consumers’ access to cheaper generic drugs. This would include extensions of monopoly drug patents that would allow drug companies to raise prices for more medicines and even allow monopoly rights over surgical procedures. For people in the developing countries involved in TPP, these rules could be deadly – denying consumers access to HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and cancer drugs.
What You Can See, Do And Say On The Internet

Another area where the IP section of TPP could give corporations tremendous power is in deciding what regular people can see, do or say on the Internet. TPP will override our own rules, even imposing laws like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) that Congress have specifically rejected.

You might remember when many websites on the Internet “went dark” for 24 hours to protest the proposed SOPA and PIPA laws. According to the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s (EFF) SOPA/PIPA: Internet Blacklist Legislation,
The “Stop Online Piracy Act”/”E-PARASITE Act” (SOPA) and “The PROTECT IP Act” (PIPA) are the latest in a series of bills which would create a procedure for creating (and censoring) a blacklist of websites. These bills are updated versions of the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act” (COICA), which was previously blocked in the Senate. Although the bills are ostensibly aimed at reaching foreign websites dedicated to providing illegal content, their provisions would allow for removal of enormous amounts of non-infringing content including political and other speech from the Web.
… Had these bills been passed five or ten years ago, even YouTube might not exist today — in other words, the collateral damage from this legislation would be enormous.
Larry Magid explained at the time, in What Are SOPA and PIPA And Why All The Fuss?
The bill would require sites to refrain from linking to any sites “dedicated to the theft of U.S. property.” It would also prevent companies from placing on the sites and block payment companies like Visa, Mastercard and Paypal from transmitting funds to the site. For more, see this blog post on Reddit.
The problem with this is that the entire site would be affected, not just that portion that is promoting the distribution of illegal material. It would be a bit like requiring the manager of a flea market to shut down the entire market because some of the merchants were selling counterfeit goods.
… Opponents say it would create an “internet blacklist.”
… There is also worry that SOPA and PIPA could be abused and lead to censorship for purposes other than intellectual property protection.
Congress decided to reject SOPA and PIPA. But the provisions of SOPA and PIPA are back, this time in the TPP, which would override what Congress wants.

Please read the EFF’s Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement page.

We’ve seen how this works too many times. The giant corporations promise jobs and prosperity to get their way, but then We the People end up with fewer jobs and a falling standard of living while a few billionaires and executives pocket the difference. Instead of letting the giant corporations push through yet another job-killing agreement that gives them even more wealth and power let’s take control of things and fix the agreements that have hurt us, our economy and our democracy. Fix NAFTA First!

23 February 2014


Australia became an apartheid state on 26 January 1788.

White people from England invaded Australia and the war with the indigenous population - who were black, "savage and heathen" - began.

That war has continued into the 21st century, and despite having reduced the number of indigenous people to now number only about 2 per cent of the population, the numbers incarcerated at any given time exceed those of the "white" populations by thousands.

From 1788 onwards the people arriving in Australia to settle here and build Britain's colonial empire arrived mostly by boat, until in the mid-20th century, air travel became more and more popular and ultimately became the norm.

As Australia continued to be a lackey of the main imperial powers - the UK and the USA - wars which those countries were involved in also became Australia's wars, and this continues today into 2014 and onwards.

Because of these wars, more and more people around the world have become displaced and have been forced to flee from their countries of origin and residence due to various factors leading to their oppression, persecution and murder.

Thousands of people around the world have been seeking refuge and asylum in whatever country they have been able to get to, and to plead for refuge.

Mostly, these refugees arrive at countries which have been involved in imperial wars and caused the exit of terrified people who only want to try and live their lives as they always have, but greed and tyranny and related causes have forced them into decisions which have meant they need havens of refuge which in many cases has been denied them, causing untold misery and deaths on the way to their destinations which are difficult to get to in most cases.

Australia has been the destination of thousands fleeing desperate situations, and many of these have found homes here and managed to build lives for themselves under difficult situations. Most of them have come from countries in which Australia has been involved with imperial wars of various sorts.

In 1992, Australia's then prime minister, Paul Keating, decided that there were many people trying to arrive here for asylum who, in his opinion, were not worthy of becoming "citizens" of this "great" country, so he instituted concentration camps, similar to those which were built by the British in South Africa during the imperial wars being fought there by the British and the South African "white" occupiers who were mainly of Dutch, English and French extraction. These wars were known as the "Boer" Wars.

In 1996 John Howard became prime minister and we were then treated to the hysteria of the "Children Overboard" episode in which minsters of the crown lied through their teeth about the fact that desperate asylum seekers were throwing their children off the disintegrating Indonesian fishing boats as they were sinking, in order to save themselves.

The Australian population, including those who themselves had been "boat people" over the decades, and influenced by the main stream media who have behaved appallingly over the last 30 years in relation to desperate asylum seekers, became politically shrill voices to "stop the boats" because they were sinking and people were drowning, so we had to "stop the boats" to save lives!!!!!

From 2007 onwards we then had Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard trying to outdo each other in their demonising of the desperate people trying to get into Australia away from the countries where Australia troops were fighting the US/UK wars aided and abetted by the rest of the imperialist powers.

So we had to plan for offshore concentration camps to lock these traumatised people where the Australian population would be saved from "terrorist" threats from people who were already unable to say boo to a goose!

Manus Island was re-opened and Nauru became "viable" once more as centres for concentration camp operation.

Lock them up, out of sight, out of mind and - the boats have stopped coming!!! Objective achieved, until the Papua New Guineans had other ideas about the new prisons in their country and attacked the "inmates", killing one and injuring dozens of others. Of course the privatised companies running these concentration camps had nothing to do with any of this, did they???

The scandalous behaviour of the Australian government and many Australian citizens over the business of incarcerating innocent people in camps reminiscent of some of the world's worst prison regimes leaves those of us opposed to the carnage absolutely horrified by this behaviour.

I come from the country (South Africa) where the first concentration camps were established between 1899 and 1902, and in the last few years, post apartheid, some incarceration regimes in South Africa remind us very much of those early camps. South Africa has been flooded with refugees fleeing the brutal regimes in Zimbabwe and other neighbouring countries and the numbers involved are tens of hundreds of time greater than the numbers trying to enter Australia.

Time for the peoples of the world to unite and not allow the bosses to rule the roost which they are damaging more and more on a daily basis.

20 February 2014


Wow! Over 50,000 of us have taken action calling on Tony Abbott to stand up for our democracy and reject the TPP -- a secret, global pact that would allow corporations to sue the Australian government.
But now, Abbott's government has confirmed they're getting ready to crack down on internet freedom to comply with the TPP -- including a "three strikes" provision that forces ISPs to monitor and police our activity online.
Can you tell Tony Abbott to stand up for ordinary Australians and reject the TPP?
Thanks for all you do,
Paul, Martin, Hannah and the rest of us.

PS - Tell your friends about the campaign on Facebook.
Tony Abbott's Trade Minister is jetting off to Singapore to secretly negotiate the world's biggest corporate power grab, the TPP.
They could be about to hand power to secret courts to overturn Australian laws that big business thinks are unfair.
Can you tell Tony Abbott and his minister to stand up for Australian democracy and to reject the TPP?
Sign the Petition

Tony Abbott's trade minister is about to sign a secret, global pact to allow corporations to sue the Australian government for billions -- just for passing laws to protect our health or the environment.
The secret meeting in Singapore is happening next week. Tony Abbott wants us to believe the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is all about getting a better deal for ordinary Australians. But the truth is that it could end up being one of the biggest corporate power grabs in a generation.
Abbott and his cronies are refusing to make the deal public (although corporate lobbyists seem to be getting the inside track) -- making it hard to know just what's in the TPP. But leaks so far indicate this is bad news. That’s why Tony Abbott wants it to stay confidential -- he’d prefer to quietly sign away our rights without a big fuss.
This deal is too important to leave to the politicians: it could affect the lives of Australians for generations to come.
Can you tell Tony Abbott not to sign away our democratic rights and reject the TPP?
The TPP is being negotiated by 12 countries from around the Pacific. They’re discussing everything from restricting internet freedoms to weakening environmental protections. But that’s not the worst of it. One of the key bits of the deal is a system that will allow the world’s biggest companies to overturn our democratically decided laws.
Tony Abbott hasn’t exactly shown himself to be a pro at foreign affairs. We’ve seen him time and time again make mistakes on the international stage. Can we be sure to trust Tony Abbott to negotiate the best deal for the Australian people, especially while he refuses to be open about what he’s actually doing?
Together we decided that working on stopping unfair global trade deals as one of our top priorities for 2014. So we’ve been busy working on a plan that stretches right around the globe and we’re going to need lots of help. Already, SumOfUs members have been active in the USA calling on Congress to refuse Obama the right to negotiate without consent. We’re also busy building opposition in Canada and in New Zealand too. Now it’s our turn to send a clear message to our government -- “say no to the TPP”.
Tony Abbott -- reject the corporate power grab and say no to the TPP.

Thanks for all you do,
Paul, Martin, Hannah and the rest of us.

More Information:
Mixed feelings on promise of trade deal, The Australian, 05 February 2014
'Toothless' environment protections in secretive global trade pact TPP leaked all over the web, The Register, 15 January 2014
WikiLeaks publishes secret draft chapter of Trans-Pacific Partnership, The Guardian, November 2013.
SumOfUs is a worldwide movement of people like you, working together to hold corporations accountable for their actions and forge a new, sustainable path for our global economy.

14 February 2014

Aaron Swartz: a beautiful mind

Below this article is a video from Democracy Now relating to a film on Aaron Swartz's life shown at the Sundance Film Festival recently


Aaron Swartz: a beautiful mind

February 1, 2014  (From The Age Good Weekend)

Paul McGeough

Chief foreign correspondent

Computer genius and online activist Aaron Swartz wanted to change the world - one download at a time. Then the US government decided enough was enough, with tragic consequences. By Paul McGeough.

Change agent: Aaron Swartz in a bookstore in San Francisco in 2008. Photo: Reuters/Picture Media

His mind raced as the taxi hurtled towards Brooklyn. Sam McLean had dropped in for drinks with mates at an office in SoHo, in Lower Manhattan and now, as the cab crossed the East River, he was assailed by a rising sense of unease.

The day had started badly. He'd been supposed to meet his friend Aaron Swartz for brunch, but his calls and texts had gone unanswered. Miffed, McLean had arranged with Swartz's Australian-American girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, for the gang to gather for dinner.

He did not commit suicide, he was killed by the government.

As national director of the Australian activist movement GetUp!, McLean, then 25, was on a Manhattan stopover after attending a retreat for online activists from around the world in Holmes, 80 kilometres north of New York City. There, the Online Progressive Engagement Networks (OPEN) had taken over a conference centre to "collectively dream and scheme about the future".

Connected: Swartz with his girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman.

At about 7pm, McLean's mobile rang - a frantic call from Ben Margetts, another member of the Australian activist network in New York, insisting he get to the apartment Swartz shared with Stinebrickner-Kauffman urgently. Soon came another call, this time from an agitated Stinebrickner-Kauffman demanding to know how long he'd be.

Less than 10 minutes later, McLean piled out of the taxi into a rainy evening. Barrelling into the newish apartment block, he took the elevator to the seventh floor. The door was open and a stricken Stinebrickner-Kauffman, 32, and Margetts, 27, were standing outside. Swartz was inside, dead, they told him. When she got home that afternoon, his girlfriend had found him hanging by his belt from a window jamb. It was January 11, 2013.

Variously described as a genius, wunderkind and prodigy, 26-year-old Aaron Swartz had become a rock star in a burgeoning, global internet-based activist movement. From his early teens, he had bent an agile mind and a rare wizardry with computers to a self-appointed mission that he often, and perfectly seriously, described as saving the world.

Compelling: Swartz talks at an event in New York in January 2012. Photo: Corbis

Stinebrickner-Kauffman, his girlfriend since 2011, had been so worried about what Swartz might do to himself that morning that she'd tried to prevent him going to the bathroom alone. Unable to reach him through the day, she was so filled with a sense of foreboding on her return to the apartment that as she rode up in the elevator, as she later told The New Yorker, she readied her mobile to be able to dial 911 immediately.

On entering, she found Swartz hanging from the window. He was still in the clothes he'd been wearing when she'd left that morning: black V-neck T-shirt, brown corduroy trousers and jacket.

There was no suicide note.

Police and paramedics brought Swartz down from the window jamb and by the time McLean entered, the body had been zipped into a black bag. McLean grabbed a few things for the deeply shocked Stinebrickner-Kauffman and, with Margetts, they headed to the nearby home of another activist friend, American Ben Wikler.

Swartz's father, Robert. Photo: Mark Fleming

Aaron Swartz committed suicide just two days after federal prosecutors in Boston had rejected his last bid to avoid jail time. Two years earlier, he'd been busted using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) network to download almost 5 million documents ordinarily locked behind a pay-wall on one of the world's most preeminent scholarly archives, JSTOR - a conflation of "journal storage".

When the prosecutors hit Swartz with a raft of charges, under which he might have been jailed for decades, the plea-bargaining process became a stalemate. Swartz rejected any outcome that would brand him for life as a felon when he believed he'd committed no crime; prosecutors insisting, on the other hand, that he was guilty and must do time.

Simon Sheikh, the Canberra-based activist entrepreneur and a failed Greens candidate at the 2013 federal election, was also at the OPEN summit in upstate New York early last year. As McLean's predecessor at GetUp!, Sheikh had first reached out to Swartz the previous year. Swartz was then working for Avaaz, a relatively new, online, global activist movement drawing followers by the millions, and Sheikh had been keen to tap into its campaign inventiveness.

Later, he'd introduced Swartz to the leadership at ThoughtWorks, a privately owned company with a staff of thousands working across the globe to revolutionise software design for positive social change. In April 2012, the organisation snapped up Swartz as a software developer.

Both Sheikh and McLean spent time with Swartz in New York that went way beyond the pro-forma office appointments and conference interactions they might have expected. What was to be a one-hour meeting at the ThoughtWorks office on Madison Avenue, says Sheikh, became a talkfest on machine learning environments that went into the early hours of the next day and reconvened a day later at a restaurant in Brooklyn.

At Holmes, Swartz dragged McLean up to an attic room, where they huddled for hours as he shared his latest dramatic thinking. McLean remembers being struck by what he considered an oddly phrased afterthought. "He told me he had cracked his idea on how to change the world," McLean remembers. "And [he said] he would do it that year - or he would die."

Later, Swartz's collaborator at the Edmond J. Safra Centre for Ethics at Harvard, law professor Lawrence Lessig, described his complex young friend in these terms: "Aaron was a hacker. But he was not just a hacker. He was an internet activist, but not just an internet activist. Indeed, the most important part of Aaron's life is the part that most run over too quickly - the last chunk, when he shifted his focus from this effort to advance freedom in the space of copyright, to an effort to advance freedom and social justice more generally."

Recently, when I track Sam McLean, now 27, to a beach house on the south coast of NSW, he tells me in a Skype video exchange: "We all can see the world one way and think that it should be another way, but most don't feel they have the agency and a responsibility to [change it]. Aaron believed he had both."

Simon Sheikh noticed a healthy tension when Swartz was in a room. "Even without speaking, he could communicate his disappointment with ideas that were not well formed and with people whose values did not match his own," he says. "His values were simple, clear, pure - and he wouldn't budge."

On the night Swartz died, McLean and the others set up a memorial website. Within days, there were tens of thousands of tributes from around the world. "Aaron Swartz is what I wish I was," wrote an introspective John Atkinson. "I am a bright technologist, but I've never built anything of note. I have strong opinions about how to improve this world, but I've never acted to bring them to pass ... If I were able to stop being afraid of what the world would think of me, I could see myself making every decision that Aaron made that ultimately led to his untimely death. This upsets me immensely."

Aaron Swartz, the eldest of three sons, was born in 1986 to bookish parents Robert and Susan in affluent Highland Park, 30 kilometres north of Chicago. By the age of three, he'd taught himself to read. Robert, a 63-year-old computer consultant, remembers his son as an exceptionally bright, inquisitive boy who picked up things quickly.

Aaron grew up with the internet - and was fascinated by it. "He was interested in computers because they were interesting - not because he might go off to Silicon Valley to become another Mark Zuckerberg," Robert tells me recently when we meet at his Chicago office-workshop.

Robert and Susan didn't worry when, complaining of being bored, Aaron opted to drop out of high school after year 9. "I had felt the same thing at school, so it didn't surprise me at all," says the father now. But his parents did worry about his health. All his life, Aaron had suffered from debilitating bouts of ulcerative colitis, a digestive malady with similar symptoms to Crohn's disease. He ate only "white" foods - cheese, bread, rice, eggs, pasta, and tofu and cheese pizza. His friend Ben Wikler tells a story of Swartz coming to dinner and eating nothing but bread because he did not want to burden his hosts with his dietary demands.

Swartz hated to impose himself on others. In the days before he died, he was hugely stressed by the realisation he would have to ask others to help fund his legal defence. Similarly, he was acutely uncomfortable in dealing with the likes of waiters and cabbies because of the power imbalance he perceived in his relationship with them.

As a boy, Swartz insinuated himself into online internet hacking workshops, stunning older collaborators with his computing genius. In photos from back then, first as a 12-year-old and then through his early teens, he can be seen in his trademark ill-fitting T-shirts, sometimes looking like the tag-along child of an adult participant.

Among other projects, Swartz designed a Wikipedia-like site called The Info Network, which was selected as a finalist in the prestigious ArsDigita contest for teen programmers. He then launched watchdog.net, an online political activist website. By the age of 14, he was already considered "a figure in the industry", sharing the heavy-lifting in a team that invented the RSS format that updates websites - news reports, blogs and the like. At 15, he became a co-founder of the Creative Commons copyright-sharing organisation.

Just as he had dropped out of high school, he also quit Stanford University after his freshman year. On day 58, he blogged: "Kat and Vicky want to know why I eat breakfast alone reading a book, instead of talking to them. I explain to them that however nice and interesting they are, the book is written by an intelligent expert and filled with novel facts. They explain to me that not sitting with someone you know is a major social faux pas and not having a need to talk to people is just downright abnormal. I patiently suggest that it is perhaps they who are abnormal ... They patiently suggest I'm being offensive and best watch myself if I don't want to alienate the few remaining people who still talk to me."

At 19, he moved to Cambridge, near Boston in Massachusetts, where he co-founded Reddit, the social news and entertainment website accessed by millions, which was subsequently acquired by Condé Nast Publications in October 2006. Afterwards, he was required to move to California to work in the office of the Condé Nast-owned Wired magazine, an arrangement that had been a condition of the Reddit buyout. He hated the demands of his conventional new job and on his first day at Wired locked himself in a bathroom and cried. "I was miserable," he said later. "I couldn't stand office life. I couldn't stand Wired." He told a flatmate he was heading back to Boston because San Francisco didn't have enough books.

From his new base, Swartz launched OpenLibrary, a vast online book and data repository that these days is accessed free of charge by millions. After that, he co-designed Strongbox, by which sources could anonymously drop documents to The New York Times without fear of disclosure, then SecureDrop, which allowed whistleblowers to communicate with journalists without revealing their identity. He also founded Demand Progress, an online activist website.

The thread running through all his endeavours was a passion for computers, online freedom and freedom of information. Its ultimate expression was his obsession with the web as a vehicle for social and political campaigning - especially his leadership role in a 2012 campaign that spectacularly defeated a bid by Hollywood and the music industry to have Washington rubber-stamp the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, which activists claimed would severely curtail internet freedom.

Stinebrickner-Kauffman, who became romantically involved with Swartz just weeks before he was formally charged, laid out for reporters what she described as a finely honed aesthetic sense: "[Aaron] could get deeper, truer joy [than anyone I've met] out of a perfect corn muffin, a brilliantly constructed narrative arc, a beautiful font." But she added, "He was human. He wasn't happy at every moment and I'd be the first to say he could be a real pain to live with."

Certainly, as the JSTOR case began to gather momentum, those around him noticed signs of growing paranoia. His friend Alec Resnick recalled sitting in a car-share vehicle with Swartz, who would insist on putting all their electronic devices outside it and turning up the radio volume, to guard against eavesdropping. Soon after his arrest, he proposed setting up his Linux server to record any sounds at the door so he'd know if "they" were coming. Worried by prosecutors' bully-boy tactics, his lawyers warned them that Swartz had become a suicide risk.

Swartz's death brought dramatic focus to a global insurgency war in which information is power and the battlefield is the net. In the words of Glenn Greenwald - the former Guardian journalist who reported on much of the Edward Snowden disclosures on the reach of Washington's global and domestic spying network - this is a "war over how the internet is used and who controls the information that flows on it, and [Swartz's] real crime in the eyes of the US government [was that he] challenged its authority and those of corporate factions to maintain a stranglehold on that information."

While at a conference of hackers held in Eremo, Italy, in 2008, Swartz was one of a group of activists who wrote what became known as the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto. Running to just 600 words, it begins: "Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves." It ends with this exhortation: "There is no justice in following unjust laws ... We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world."

Swartz was putting this manifesto into practice when he hacked into JSTOR in 2010. First, he created a script to download JSTOR documents, then he hardwired his new laptop into the MIT network from a closet in a building on the Boston campus. Using a fake profile, he programmed the laptop to suck in a motherload of information over a period of months.

Swartz dodged efforts by MIT's cyber security team to shut him down while he downloaded almost 5 million documents, nearly the entire JSTOR archive. Unknown to him, however, the campus cyber sleuths were able to locate the laptop and to train a surveillance camera on the closet to record his comings and goings.

He was arrested on January 6, 2011, after abandoning his bicycle and attempting to escape on foot in a street near the Harvard University campus in Cambridge. Later, when Aaron and his father Robert went to collect the abandoned bicycle from the MIT campus police, an officer told them he was keeping Aaron's USB drive. "It's all in the hands of the Secret Service now," he told them. Robert can't now remember which of them asked, as they walked away, "What's the Secret Service involved for?"

This wasn't Aaron Swartz's first such caper. In 2006, Swartz had got his hands on the Library of Congress's bibliographic dataset, access to which ordinarily required payment of a fee. Swartz made it available free on his OpenLibrary and got away with it - because, as a government-owned document, the dataset was without copyright.

By 2008, the year in which he helped write the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, he'd become more daring. Exploiting a government trial that allowed limited online access to court documents, he moved almost 3 million of them from the Public Access to Court Electronic Records website to offer them free outside the usual costly and cumbersome system of access. The FBI opened an investigation that went nowhere. Again, these were public documents without copyright.

Swartz might have thought he was nipping through a similar loophole with the JSTOR material. The MIT network was open to all on campus, so he wasn't hacking the system. And as a research fellow at nearby Harvard, where he was studying political corruption, he had legitimate access to JSTOR, which charges institutions such as MIT as much as $50,000 a year for access. Further, there was no real complainant. As soon as the data was returned to JSTOR, the archive's management refused to co-operate with authorities.

It has never been clear what Swartz planned to do with the JSTOR files. Had he made the download just to make a point? It is almost certain, given his ideology, that he didn't intend to personally profit from it. The initial reaction of Massachusetts state prosecutors suggested that here was a stunt in keeping with a colourful history of student pranks at MIT. They were examining the possibility of a simple breaking-and-entering charge when they were elbowed aside by their federal counterparts.

This time, the Feds ignored the copyright issue. Instead, they went for Swartz under a much-criticised 1980s statute, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), alleging he had accessed a "protected computer" and had done so "without authorisation". Despite the "victimless" nature of the case, Washington's chief prosecutor in Boston, Carmen Ortiz, defended the severity of the charges.

 "Stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars," she declared. "It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away."

Initially, Swartz was indicted on four charges: wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging the protected computer. He could have gone down for 35 years and been fined $US1 million but, despite the seriousness implied in all that, prosecutors were set to bargain it away to just six months in jail - if he would plead guilty.

Swartz was horrified. Jail would be awful enough, but he couldn't countenance having the career-destroying term "convicted felon" permanently attached to his résumé. When he baulked in the negotiations, the prosecutors doubled down, belting him with another raft of charges under which he would face 50 years inside.

The bulk of these charges were under the CFAA, a law so badly written that in 2012, Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court ridiculed prosecutors in a similar case: "Under the government's proposed interpretation of the CFAA ... describing yourself as 'tall, dark and handsome' [on a dating website] when you're actually short and homely will earn you [jail time]." In an era of hacker threats to corporate and government websites and mainframes, it seemed Federal authorities wanted to make an example of Swartz.

"Aaron did not commit suicide, he was killed by the government," his father said at the time of his death. When I meet him in Chicago, he elaborates: "The response of the prosecutors was totally out of proportion compared to what he had done."

He characterises the prosecution as "cruel, vindictive, sadistic" and later ticks off the names of the key characters in the drama - Carmen Ortiz, US Attorney General Eric Holder and MIT president Rafael Reif. "They all say they acted appropriately; none has said they made a mistake."

The opposing reactions of the two revered academic institutions involved was also vexing for the Swartz family. Why would MIT sit on its hands, seemingly happy to leave Swartz to the mercy of prosecutors determined to make an example of him, when JSTOR was determined to make it known it did not want to see him in the dock?

The stark contrast between the two performances was on public view two days before Swartz died, when JSTOR announced that all the files he had downloaded would become available free over the internet. Forty-eight hours later, the archive's management acknowledged Swartz as "a truly gifted person who made important contributions to the development of the internet and the web from which we all benefit".

Describing the JSTOR download as "like a pie in the face" - by which he meant annoying for the victim but of no lasting consequence - Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu invoked the names of "two other eccentric geniuses": Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. "In the 1970s, [they] committed crimes similar to, but more economically damaging than, Swartz's," he wrote.

"Those two men hacked AT&T's telephone system to make free long-distance calls and actually sold the illegal devices [to others] to make money ... Jobs and Wozniak were never prosecuted [and] instead got bored ... and built a computer. The great ones always operate at the edge."

In january 2013, Swartz was excited about the future of the web as a campaign tool - and what organisations such as his Demand Progress and Australia's GetUp! might achieve. Invigorated by the success of the campaign to derail the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), he wanted to map out a new age of citizen power. He warned in his SOPA victory speech: "It will happen again. Sure, it will have another name, and maybe another excuse, and it will do its damage in a different way. But make no mistake: the enemies of the freedom to connect have not disappeared."

In his attic meeting with McLean during the OPEN summit at Holmes, Swartz had sketched the contours of a new order, in which he envisaged corporate power being severely weakened and political parties replaced by internet-based people power. In contrast to efforts by activists such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, who sought to reduce state power that derived from secrecy, Swartz's objective was to build citizen power to counter that of governments and corporations. He revealed a grand design by which he envisaged artificial intelligence making activists such as himself and McLean redundant.

"He knew it had to be big enough to combat that kind of [corporate] power," McLean recalls. "The idea was Fordian, as in mass production. Being able to automate or to build computer intelligence around numbers of increasing scale and power. He was working on an intelligent logarithm - artificial intelligence - to devolve leadership to lower organisational levels.

"His argument was that we'll have to fight more SOPA-style campaigns. So we need an algorithm or computer program that would encourage lots of people to identify the fights and to start the campaigns. We'd put the tools that we have at our disposal in their hands."

The following evening, Thursday, January 10, Swartz was one of a small group at Spitzer's Corner, a bar on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The technologist and blogger Andy Baio, 36, reported seeing a seemingly happy Swartz who was "deep in conversation, smiling and chatting".

"denial is a wonderful thing, but it wears off," Robert Swartz tells me. "I can distract myself and make it seem like it didn't happen but, as time goes by, reality becomes more strange."

He dwells on his son's pain: "I miss Aaron terribly. It was incredibly hard on him. He was devastated and it made him sick. You could see the stress he was under." In sidestepping the drudgery of school and college, is it possible Aaron missed an opportunity to acquire skin that might have served as an extra layer of protection in life? Was he less resilient for having missed these rites of passage? "This may have happened," Robert allows.

Stinebrickner-Kauffman, now the founder and director of SumOfUs, a San Francisco-based corporate and government watchdog group, declined to be interviewed for this story, but told The Guardian last year, "I think I understand how it happened, [but] the biggest problem with the decision is that it's permanent. Other dumb decisions, you can usually recover from."

I ask Sam McLean if there was an inflexibility in Swartz's temperament, by which he couldn't face doing what he didn't want to do, and McLean tweaks the construct: it was more about Swartz not being able to do what he so wanted to do. "Perhaps his excitement and suicide were sides of the same coin - every goal he believed he could and must achieve was also something he might not be able to achieve," he ventures. "It was a sword of Damocles. He knew all of his plans could be kyboshed by a ridiculous law and a petty prosecutor."

What is it like now on the activist ramparts without his friend? "It's scary without Aaron," says McLean. "We relied on him to be brilliant."


Video from Sundance festival on 1st anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s suicide

From Democracy Now! 22 January 2014



Forget the Failed Peace Talks—Boycotting Israel Is The True Path To Justice

From AlterNet / By Josh Ruebner

February 12, 2014

Forget the Failed Peace Talks—Boycotting Israel Is The True Path To Justice

Secretary of State John Kerry's diplomacy in Israel/Palestine has devolved into political theater of the absurd.

Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April 2013.
Photo Credit: Matty Ster/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

After Secretary of State John Kerry’s  tenth trip to Israel and the Palestinian West Bank last month, Israeli Defense Minister  Moshe Ya’alon derided his efforts to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace as “obsessive” and “messianic, ” wishing that Kerry would “win his Nobel Prize and leave us alone.”

But the intensity of Kerry’s diplomatic efforts should not be confused with progress toward that elusive goal. Instead, negotiations appear off-track, if not totally derailed. In an interview last month with  al-Arabiya, Kerry refused to set a deadline for putting forth a now much-delayed U.S. framework agreement proposal, and his original April timeframe for a treaty seems all but impossible.
Based on recent leaks from the negotiating teams, it’s easy to see why negotiations appear stuck, with the United States reduced to largely repackaging stale and discarded ideas from the  Clinton administration. For example,  Martin Indyk, U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, told Jewish organizations that under Kerry’s plan, 80 percent of Israelis living in illegal settlements in the West Bank could stay in place with their settlements annexed to Israel, seriously calling into question the territorial contiguity and viability of the envisaged Palestinian state.

In addition to Israel’s annexation of major settlement blocs, a senior Palestinian negotiator, Yasser Abed Rabbo, revealed to  al-Hayat other details of the proposed framework agreement inimical to Palestinian sovereignty and international law. These include a long-term Israeli military presence in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, a Palestinian capital in only a part of East Jerusalem (most likely Abu Dis, cut off from the heart of Jerusalem by Israel’s apartheid wall), denial of Palestinian refugees’ right of return to the homes from which they were exiled by Israel in 1948, and Israel’s control of Palestinian borders and airspace. In sum, any “semblance of Palestinian sovereignty or geographic unity has been completely torn apart” by Kerry’s proposals, according to Abed Rabbo.

Given the highly unlikely nature of Palestinians ever accepting such detrimental terms, the U.S.-led “peace process,” yet again, has devolved into political theater of the absurd rather than serious diplomacy. This point was confirmed by an Israeli source close to the negotiations, who told  The Guardian that Kerry’s goal “is to keep this process on life support for a few more months”  to prevent Palestinians from seeking to advance their rights at the United Nations this fall. “After that,” the source claimed, “we’ll probably see a controlled collapse of the peace process.”

Why, then, is Kerry investing so much political capital and frenetic energy into what amounts to a dog and pony show? It’s because Kerry understands, better than most Israeli politicians, the  window for a two-state resolution to the conflict is shutting. In an “Après moi, le déluge” warning to Israel in Munich this month,  Kerry  spoke of the “increasing de-legitimization campaign” and boycotts of Israel that are sure to snowball if these talks fail. Rather than heed Kerry’s prediction, Israeli politicians instead chose to shoot the messenger. Cabinet member  Naftali Bennett accused Kerry of being a “mouthpiece” for an “anti-Semitic boycott,” while another minister, Yuval Steinitz, reproached him for forcing Israel to “negotiate with a gun to its head.”

The Anti-Defamation League, a stalwart of the Israel lobby, issued as well an  open letter to Kerry, arguing that the import of his “comments was to create a reality of its own” and that by merely discussing the growing, Palestinian civil society-led campaign for  boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, he was bringing it to fruition.  But this ostrich-like attitude neglects the fact that the political class already has not only taken notice of, but has become frightened by, the success of the BDS movement.

In the wake of a  successful BDS campaign forcing the actress Scarlett Johansson to resign her post as a global ambassador for the anti-poverty organization Oxfam in favor of retaining her lucrative contract with SodaStream, a corporation profiteering from Israel’s expropriation of Palestinian land, recent  State Department daily press briefings have been dominated by discussions of BDS.  The press corps has managed to tongue-tie State Department spokespeople, who have unconvincingly tried to explain why the United States sees the boycott of Israeli settlement products as illegitimate, when it claims to view the settlements themselves as being illegitimate.

Meanwhile, at the state and federal levels, lawmakers have attempted to stifle the boycott of Israeli academic institutions complicit in Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. A bill in the New York state assembly penalizing academic institutions supporting such boycotts appeared to be on a fast-track to passage, until organizations such as the  New York Civil Liberties Union and the  American Association of University Presidents, along with   BDS activists, successfully mobilized to halt it, and  The New York Times lambasted it.

Members of Congress, such as Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL),  who introduced last week  H.R.4009, the Orwellian-entitled “Protect Academic Freedom Act,” to deny federal education funding to academic institutions supporting the boycott of Israel, should take heed of the growing power of the BDS movement and potential First Amendment challenges to their threats to repress BDS through legislation.

Now that the political classes supporting the status quo are fearful of BDS, it is clear that the movement has firmly entered the third of  Gandhi’s four stages of social change: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Although the BDS movement is still far from securing Palestinians’ long-denied human and national rights, and as  Martin Luther King, Jr. noted, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability,” the BDS movement is putting forward a credible, alternative strategy to the discredited “peace process.” And, as Kerry recognizes, this movement will gain significant momentum once these talks finally reach their inconclusive end.

Josh Ruebner is the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and a former Analyst in Middle East Affairs at Congressional Research Service. He is the author of the Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace

12 February 2014


Australian Privacy Foundation

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February 11, 2014.
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Last week we told you about today's massive action against mass spying.  We're calling it The Day We Fight Back, and dozens of large organizations and websites and thousands of smaller ones are mobilizing their members and visitors to demand an end to broad suspicion-less surveillance. If all of the organizations and sites that have signed on to the cause press forward today, we should be able to drive tens of thousands of phone calls to lawmakers to demand that the NSA's mass spying programs be reined in.  Will you place one of those calls?  It'll only take 2 minutes, and we'll make it easy for you by giving you a call script and connecting you to the right office. Just click here to call your lawmakers. Then, or if you can't call, please click here to send an email to your lawmakers. We understand the United States to be a democracy, founded upon a Constitution that affords us critical rights, and governed by the rule of law. Yet for years, the NSA has exploited secret legal interpretations to undermine our privacy rights -- thus chilling speech and activism, and thereby threatening to subvert the very underpinnings of our democracy itself. We are demanding that decision makers remedy this:
  • Pass the USA FREEDOM Act, which would end the bulk collection of Americans' phone records and institute other key reforms.
  • Defeat the so-called FISA Improvements Act, which would entrench -- and potentially expand -- the spying.
  • Create additional privacy protections for non-Americans.
  • End the NSA's subversion of encryption and other data security measures.
And we're not even that far from winning on at least one key front: The USA FREEDOM Act has more than 100 bipartisan sponsors, including two powerful lead sponsors: Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who was the original author of the PATRIOT Act and is furious that it has been abused to spy on Americans en masse. Last summer an amendment that's very similar to parts of the USA FREEDOM Act failed to pass in the House of Representatives by just a handful of votes. Enough lawmakers now say they would have voted in support that it would pass if it came up for a vote today. Now we need to force a vote on the issue in the House, and a first vote on it in the Senate -- and we'll do that by putting pressure on lawmakers by calling and emailing them today.  Tens of thousands of people are poised to join the cause: Please be one of them. Just click here to call your lawmakers. Then, or if you can't call, please click here to send an email to your lawmakers. Please forward this email widely to like-minded friends, and perhaps to anyone unaware of some of these facts. -- The RootsAction.org team P.S. RootsAction is an independent online force endorsed by Jim Hightower, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Daniel Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Bill Fletcher Jr., Laura Flanders, former U.S. Senator James Abourezk, Coleen Rowley, Frances Fox Piven, and many others. P.P.S. This work is only possible with your financial support. Please donate.
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90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm