We Don’t Talk

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An anonymous statement was posted today with a link to NSA files which it is claimed, prove that the NSA is spying on people. Not only on American people, but citizens of over 35 different countries. My first thought, and I assume that of many others, was “how is this news?”. Do any of you really imagine that governments are not spying on us; what do you think all the biometric passport and identity card registrations are intended for? These schemes – passports in the “developed” world, ID cards in the rest (generously funded by stronger economies) – are presented as a means to “protect” our identity and to ensure freedom, democracy and the rule of law. It strikes me as like being told to have sex to protect your virginity.

Digression: My second thought, the one that crops up routinely these days, was “why do we always fall into the trap of talking about Anonymous as if it were a tangible entity, and not a concept?” For example “Anonymous releases  NSA files..” instead of “Files were released anonymously..” That is a trap I fall into regularly, and a fight I  know I am never going to win, so I don’t even try.

In the UK, there were and always will be concerns about these adventures which trespass into our private lives. Accordingly, beginning several years ago, we experienced a series of incidents, which were delivered to us as “data breach” revelations in the media, where government staff or contractors had somehow “lost” laptops, CDs, etc., which contained the records of millions of people or even entire families. Before too long, we could expect detailed information on every household in the UK to have been included on one or more of the “lost lists”. As far as I can recall, no one lost their job or was punished in relation to any of these events, and little news was published about what was being done to recover the missing items or data. What a fine strategy those “data breaches” would be for creating an independent database containing information on every person in the UK!

We also see reports in the media including the same major technology and service companies implicated in the NSA data gathering exercise – Apple, Amazon, Google – evading business tax. Between them, these companies also happen to collect data belonging to millions of individuals on identity, finance, movement or location, interactions and relationships. Is this corporate tax avoidance or a discount for services rendered?

Let us not forget the banks and financial institutions that are too big to fail or be adequately punished for misdeeds and “miscalculations“, the governments and super-governments that are too entrenched to be accountable, and the media’s own scandals, manipulation and scare mongering. What your bank doesn’t know about you these days isn’t worth knowing. But it’s worth something to agencies that like to spy on you. The new data centre for Lloyd’s Bank is constructed like a supervillain’s fortress.

Lloyds Banking Group's new IT data centre

Lloyds Banking Group’s new IT data centre

It has more safeguards and failsafes than any similar structure I have ever heard of. That is good news, as long as all they are concerned with is looking after their clients’ money and securing their data. What difference does data centre security make if the bank is willing, or can be coerced under some new law, to simply hand over the data?

Taken together, this paints a rather horrific image: a collage of corruption, criminality, and mismanagement on a “big brother” canvas. These days I see a growing divide, with ordinary citizens showing an interest in alternative currency systems like Bitcoin or bringing back bartering on the one hand, and institutions selling us out on privacy while frothing at the mouth and waging war on (other people’s) corruption and money laundering on the other.

Many of my recent conversations have broached these topics, and the consensus is that people in general are not, as the media tells us, too lazy and self-serving to take action, but rather are trapped in a demotivating pattern of unquestioning acceptance and compliance. The manufactured obsession with new-newer-newest devices and social media, with the latter a long-term offender with regard to suspicionsprivacy scares and scandals, has spawned a self-perpetuating meme-based ecosystem.

teen_sleep

Social media tells us that smartphones or selfies are phenomena, and without question we embrace them, thereby creating and sustaining them. Generally, the feeling is that people need to disengage from the brainwashing, shun the presstitutes, and start to have meaningful, authentic conversations again, to reconnect with the world and their own thoughts, ideas and opinions. It is increasingly evident that a better sleeping pattern wouldn’t go amiss, either.

What do you think? I do actually want to know, yet I have so little confidence that you will respond, beyond the less than one percent of those who read and click “like”. I feel the distance between us more sharply each day, as we drift on these social media currents. Most days, I can barely see the coastline of our conversation.

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New #m25fev Civil Activism Campaign in #Mauritania

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An awareness-building campaign mounted by February 25 Movement [ar] civil activists in Mauritania to encourage people to react against against spiralling prices has been launched across the country. This first new campaign after a distinct lull in activity has received an enthusiastic reception from Mauritanian youth on social networks, and lots of coverage in local media.

This image shows the change in fuel prices from the three significant price reductions totalling 84MRO implemented after the 2008 military coup against former president Abdallahi – one of the reasons used to justify it was his inability to control runaway price inflation – and then the increases right after the 2009 election that brought General Aziz to power.

With the presidency and international funding secured, prices have been increased 23 times, by a total of 226MRO. They will continue to do so, as long as the Mauritanian government keeps its promise to the IMF, to remove all fuel and food subsidies, restrict wages and install other economic measures in exchange for continued tranches of cash from the Extended Credit Facility.

The 6.4 million-dollar question: what happens to the IMF funds, and to the revenues from the countries two main sources of income: mining and fishing. Aziz made bold claims about being the “president of the poor” (a trashy tag beloved of dictators) and promising to stop corruption.  The reality is that people are worse off and, far from ending corruption, Aziz and his regime have transferred senior political, business and banking positions from former elites to their own sticky-fingered clique.

Here’s an English language version of the image

Mauritania: A Country Without A Government

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When Aziz orchestrated the August 2008 coup that enabled him to take the presidency, big backers like the African Union and the US were furious and froze all non-humanitarian funding and applied sanctions, while the French government condemned the act. Later, without sending their own observers (and presumably with much encouragement from France, which did a political pirouette, and AFRICOM) they relented, accepted the presidential election as “free and fair” and restored a lot of the funding. The EU was mollified, NATO commended their cooperation, and the African Union, with help from from Mauritania’s long-time Libyan ally Colonel Gaddafi, welcomed Mauritania back into the fold.

With the passage of time, the situation in Mauritania has changed, and there are now several reasons why this situation needs to be urgently reviewed.

  • If the election in 2009 was “free and fair”, why did Aziz’ administration need a completely new voter registration census (which apparently failed*) just two years later?
  • What happened to the fancy biometric identification system devised in September 2010, and supposed to be complete by 20 June 2011, and which promised to make registration a simple, efficient process?
  • How was the US$102k of the US$258k UNDP 2010-13 grant – destined to support the electoral cycle – actually used?
  • Why was additional funding needed at all, given that the ousted Abdallahi government already received significant sums for national registration, election systems etc in 2006 for the 2007 election?
  • Why hasn’t the Senate election, meant to renew one-third of the members and cancelled in April 2011, happened yet?
  • What was the result of the “electoral review” that was announced on 31 May 2011, and which was to last from 1 June to 31 August 2011?
  • Why was the registration process halted even though doing that would prevent elections in November?
  • Why were the November parliamentary and municipal elections postponed indefinitely, again without a decent explanation?

Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in his home city Akjou...The result of all the above is that there is no government in Mauritania. There are politicians who were voted into office in the last elections, and they are doubtless still drawing salaries, but their mandate expired in November 2011. This is the plain truth, and supported by law, as stated in the constitution and legal statutes. Now, the illegitimate government is using the power it has retained by false pretences to change the constitution, using one of the only two methods prescribed:  a special conference of both houses of parliament.

The other option is a national referendum. Neither option is valid at this time, and therefore no changes to the constitution can be considered valid. The problem here is, the houses are supposed to debate and then vote, and they need to be representative of the electorate. This is impossible once the mandate has expired. The fraudulent government is seeking to bestow legitimacy on itself retrospectively by altering the constitution after their mandate expired. In fact, there was no debate. As usual, the parliamentary session was called, then immediately postponed. When it reconvened a now-familiar pattern developed: some drama erupted so that the opposition MPs withdrew in a boycott, and the changes were pushed through with only a vote and no debate.

The government was arguably more active after what can only be described as a soft coup than it was during its legal term. In November 2011, it approved an electoral commission in a statement which said the Mauritanian national dialogue held on October 19th recommended organising municipal and parliamentary elections before March 2012, based on a ruling from the Mauritanian constitutional council. That deadline has passed and the elections have not taken place.

I am reminded that, after the international community reacted strongly to the 2008 coup, Aziz went on a charm offensive, claiming that his actions were a response to “anti-constitutional” oppression by the previous government.

Given the unconstitutional acts of his government and the brutal repression waged by his regime against peaceful unarmed protesters, that last part really takes the cake, and it brings me to my last question for this article:

  • Why is international funding not being frozen with a clear demand to complete registration and hold elections, with international observers present, by a set date?

It is important to note that while the IMF and World Bank are a law unto themselves, the source of funds from the United Nations, European Union, European Commission, United States government, etc being handed to this military junta are the taxes paid by ordinary people like you and me. If the people in power in our respective countries won’t do the right thing of their own volition then we will have to make our voices heard to force them to take immediate and affirmative action. And I don’t mean some wishy-washy rhetoric about “we hope” or “it would be advisable” or “we urge”. No. I mean they need to say “This is our people’s money and we only derive our authority from them. We are freezing all funds immediately, and you have to:

  • immediately return all the money we sent you since November 2011;
  • resume the census within 7 days;
  • remove your ambassadors, envoys and government representatives within 10 days;
  • let our observers in to monitor both the census and the elections by the end of April;
  • complete the census by the end of June;
  • and hold elections in August.”

If necessary, they should freeze any foreign bank accounts held by Mauritanian officials in countries that are members of all organizations that have supplied funding until and unless it is returned.

What they can’t do is continue to treat this former government as if it was a democratically elected body fulfilling the mandate of the people.

What might delay mean? Certainly it will mean that Mauritania will become increasingly insecure, and that opportunities for corruption, cronyism and exploitation will increase.  Civil society, already in a constant state of agitation and distress over a whole host of issues and grievances, will become increasingly frustrated by the lack of opportunity to exercise their democratic rights through an election. The opposition will become increasingly marginalised and their sense of frustration will likely make them hostile. New coalitions could form, and a period of escalating political instability, protests, and attempts to gain or seize power could arise.

It could bring the increased militarization of the country –  at times through unexpected means, signs of which are already evident. For example, the recent privatisation of the state TV and radio company was followed by a declaration that the broadcaster would no longer be protected by military security and would instead use a private company. However, this was preceded by a government ruling that all private security companies must exclusively employ ex-servicemen, and that this must be implemented retrospectively. In other words, the private security sector must be 100% staffed by former military members and all non-military personnel will lose their jobs. This is the equivalent of creating  a private army, funded by the commercial security service sector.

As an indicator of cronyism, there is the story in local press about the governor of Aleg province, location of a very well-attended opposition rally, being sacked, allegedly for failing to successfully implement the feed rations for farmers that were announced only last week.

In February 2012, news of the government eavesdropping on private phone conversations was reported by a member of the opposition, and immediately supported by activists and observers, who added that France had sold surveillance technology to Mauritania in 2010.

We are already witnessing events which will prolong and increase the need for humanitarian aid in Mauritania, due both to a lack of effort on essential development projects such as drilling wells for water supply, and the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees from Mali. I assume that Aziz hopes to make up any remaining shortfall in non-humanitarian cash flow by increasing the need for charity, even if this has to be engineered by importing a crisis from the country next door. It may seem harsh to speak in this way about the situation in Mali, but I am not saying the refugees should not be sheltered or provisioned. What I am saying is certain events have made me deeply suspicious about the true nature of the conflict in Mali and the driving forces behind it. I support activists and concerned citizens in the Malian diaspora, who are keen to see a ceasefire, peace talks and families returned to their homes as quickly as possible. Whether I am right about Aziz deliberately manipulating and capitalizing on the situation in Mali  or not, the fact that Mauritania has no legal government and no agenda to rectify this situation is a genuine cause for concern.

Update: 11 March 2012At 3pm on Monday 12 March 2012, the people of #Mauritania will vote with their feet in a march organised by a coalition of political opposition parties and activist groups. Aziz is rumoured to have engineered a plan to disrupt traffic to prevent people from assembling, and there is talk of free food distribution in the suburbs, between 5 and 15 kilometres from the mosque where the march to the presidential palace begins.

There is still some uncertainty about whether the big anti-slavery and anti-racism activist groups will join the march. They are hesitant about the coalition’s call for Aziz to step down, seeing it as a futile demand that will not bring about the level of change (complete removal of the military regime) that is required. Naturally, they also want to see their demands to end racism / slavery and punish offenders added to the list.

I noticed the lack of attention to the needs of largely French-speaking black African activist groups when the march was first announced, with all the initial statements and flyers being produced in Arabic only, and the lack of a clear call for national unity. I wondered how that might impact on its success. After 3pm tomorrow, we’ll know.

I have to say, since the riot police are so fond of using tear gas and sound grenades for crowd control, I often wonder why no one ever organised a rally on the beach, where the sound would have fewer upright surfaces to amplify it and where there are ready supplies of sand and water, two very effective methods for dealing with tear gas grenades (by smothering with sand or immersing in water).

Update: 13 March 2012 They ‘voted’ in their tens of thousands – a resounding “NO!” – see my photo essay post about the historic opposition protest rally here.

*The census was hugely unpopular with the black African community that represents almost half of Mauritania’s population. They claimed they were being discriminated against during the registration process, and a “Hands Off My Nationality” protest movement appeared in April 2011. Their large protests in the capital and other towns were brutally repressed by police, and there were dozens of arrests, injuries and at least two protesters were killed. Rather mysteriously, the movement began to decline at the same time as the government announced indefinite postponement of the elections. To me, it really seems as though the government was playing a rather more subtle game that anyone might have suspected. By inciting racial tension and dividing the previously unified protest movement, Aziz was able to manipulate the situation so that elections were postponed, thus enabling a soft coup for the incumbent majority to retain power.

News and Comments 6 Feb 2012

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Activists protest outside #Syria’s embassy in #Mauritania

A young female activists addresses the crowd, voicing their demands for an end to the killing in Syria and that Assad and his brutal regime should step down.

A cultural festival in Mauritania was marred by sandstorms

Aziz lack of fashion flair spoiled it for me. What a mess he looks in his robe

Emil Boc resigns after austerity protests, had no idea why Romania signed ACTA

Emil Boc said his government had not taken part in a popularity contest

Romania’s Prime Minister Emil Boc has stepped down to “defuse political and social tension” after a series of protests against austerity measures. Speaking after a cabinet meeting, he said he had given up the government’s mandate as “it is the moment for important political decisions”.
Although Romania’s economy grew last year, the government has been hit by three weeks of demonstrations.
Mr Boc has imposed a 25% cut in public sector wages and a freeze on pensions. Sales tax was also increased to 24%, in a country seen as Europe’s second poorest. Romania said it needed to implement the measures to qualify for the next instalment of a 20bn-euro ($25bn; £17bn) bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Poland put ACTA ratification on hold, and Slovenia apparently regrets its signature, and Emil Boc admitted that he doesn’t understand why the country signed ACTA. It appears that opposing politicians are criticizing the government and promising that they will suspend enforcement under ACTA until there are actual public hearings held on the matter. It really is quite amazing that the folks in the entertainment industry, who thought they could ram this through are now discovering how much they’ve awakened internet users across the globe ever since they shot for the moon with SOPA. ACTA has been on the table for years, and only a few of us “copyright geeks” were paying attention to it. But SOPA really made it clear to huge populations of people just how the entertainment industry seeks to restrict the internet through copyright law… and they’re simply not going to take that any more.

BBC News & TechDirt

Iran arrests several on alleged links to BBC Farsi-language service

Iranian authorities have arrested several people over alleged links to the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Farsi-language service, Iran’s semiofficial Mehr news agency reported. The report said they produced content and reported to the BBC. It said they facilitated training and hiring of some Iranian journalists and arranged trips abroad for them. It quoted an unnamed official as saying they were active since 2009. It did not name them or say how many were arrested.

In London, the BBC said in a statement that the report “should be of deep concern to all those who believe in a free and independent media.” The British broadcaster said it has “no BBC Persian staff members or stringers working inside Iran.”

In October, Iran released two filmmakers who were in jail on similar charges. Tehran has accused the BBC of operating as a cover for British intelligence and of hosting Iranian dissidents. Last week the BBC accused Iran of intimidating staff members of its Persian service by slandering them and arresting relatives.

via AP in The Washington Post

Crime rate soars in Brazilian state of Bahia on fifth day of police strike

The Federal government has sent troops and special forces to cope with the wave of criminal actions

The murder rate in Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia has soared during a state police strike that on Saturday entered its fourth day. The state’s Public Safety Department says on its website that 51 people have been murdered in and near the capital city of Salvador since the strike began on Wednesday.

The government news service Agencia Brasil says that the murder rate has ballooned 117% increase over the same period last year.

Some 2,000 Brazilian army soldiers and a contingent of 650 elite federal police troops are patrolling the nation’s third-largest city while officials and strike leaders negotiate an end to the strike.

State officials have said that about 10,000 of the state’s 30,000 police are on strike. They are demanding better pay and bonuses.

The city of Salvador registered a total of 29 homicides over a 30-hour span, amid a crime wave caused by a police strike and despite the reinforcements provided by the federal government.

The city has been plunged in a wave of violent crime since late Tuesday, when the 30.000 members of the Bahia state police force went on strike demanding a 50% pay raise.

Though on Thursday a court declared the walkout “illegal” and ordered police to resume their work immediately, the strike continued until Saturday with spokespersons for the police union announcing that it would not be called off until their demands were met.

The Brazilian government after ordering 2.600 soldiers from Army barracks in Salvador sent to other cities of Bahia, announced it was preparing another 4,000 if the situation gets worse.

The troops went on patrol this Friday in the chief tourism centres of Salvador, a city set to welcome thousands of tourists to celebrate Carnival, one of the most spectacular, massively attended in all Brazil.

Brasilia said that Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo will travel to Salvador this weekend to personally appraise the situation and decide whether a greater military presence is needed.

Speaking Friday night on regional television, Bahia Gov. Jacques Wagner attributed the crime wave to groups with ties to the police on strike.

via Crime rate soars in Brazilian state of Bahia on fifth day of police strike — MercoPress.