The NSA, the Boston Bombing, and the War on Terror.

Run to the corner and hide, there is no hope we are all in grave danger. Trust the news!

Go ahead huddle in the corner, bite your fingernails, turn pale and shiver. Make sure you are curled into a fetal position. You’ll be less exposed to the elements, and therefore, safer.

Actually, no, recent information has come to light that the NSA has been snooping on American citizens in the interest of keeping us safe. This being the case there is no need for the fetal position. It’s okay, you can come out now! The government has got you covered! There is certainly no way they are taking advantage of the fact that they have such access. I mean they have oversight… right?

There is fortunately an outcry over what has been revealed and a conversation created which is excellent. A conversation unfortunately then turned into the dead-end argument of “Do we want to be kept safe or not?” and then turned into a hide-and-seek report-back of “Where is Edward Snowden now?” The proper discussion to have is actually “How much oversight do those with surveillance access have as they carry out their duties?” No matter what, the conversation of our approach and handling of the “threat of terrorism” is an important one to have. The country doesn’t always react in such a productive manner though. Our reaction to the Boston Bombing was one such example.

Maybe two months ago I was on the train in New York and it had to stop for about 10 minutes in the station because of a “suspicious package.” I know the train was stopped for this reason because the conductor walked through the car 5 minutes into the stop and asked “Has anyone seen a bag that does not belong to them?”

I’ll guess and say this probably happened to a few other people who might have not thought anything of it at all. They also evacuated the Port Authority bus terminal because of a “suspicious package” that apparently looked like a “box of grenades.” I feel like we are drastically overreacting to the potential for terrorism.

While I do not aim to dismiss what happened there at all; we need to reevaluate our reaction to the Boston bombing. It was horrible, and having connection with the Boston marathon I was shaken by the news on a personal level. Understand I do not think we live in a utopian society where there is never any legitimate threat of terrorism. What I do think is we were scared by the news, at first, and then by the following hype. (This hype includes the mainstream media’s sensationalized coverage of the bombing’s aftermath; but also of the people trying to explain exactly what happened that day despite their never having been to Boston once.) News coverage, the inevitable conspiracy theories, and the heightened security state pumped down our throats all fit into the category of “hype surrounding the Boston Marathon.”

To build the hype were many comparisons between the Boston bombing and 9/11.

Anyone who compares the two without any sense of humor really needs to step back a bit. How many people died or were injured on 9/11 and its aftermath? How many died or were injured in the Boston bombings? There is no point in even referencing figures in this case because we all know the casualties from 9/11 were exponentially worse. People are still facing respiratory problems, depression, insomnia, and many other things just for having worked in the area or for helping with rescue efforts after 9/11. I still see ads about this 12 years later on the subway. How many people present at the Boston bombing can claim those same ailments?

Our reaction to the Boston Bombing was exacerbated by the war on terror. Case and point: the below photos of the scene in Times Square maybe 2 hours after the Bombing had occurred:

A show of police in Times Square.

A show of police in Times Square.

Officers in Times Square on horseback

Officers in Times Square on horseback

A news team reporting from Times Square.

A news team reporting from Times Square.

Let’s remind ourselves of the location of the bombing that day: Boston
Let’s recognize exactly where the police and news crews are in the above photos: Times Square, New York.

Why did they need to assemble so many officers in Times Square, the most heavily fortified and surveyed place in New York, for something that happened in Boston? Why did there need to be a news crew present? (FYI I did ask the news crew if they were there for the Boston Bombing and they replied “yes.”). Doesn’t the news have better things to do than cover the Boston Bombing from Times Square, in New York? (Keep that question rhetorical :) )

There were also helicopters hovering above New York for the rest of the day into the night.

A helicopter hovering above 34th street.

A helicopter hovering above 34th street.

New York essentially went to Code Red terror alert for something drastically smaller than the attacks on 9/11, in a location 200 miles away. Considering New York’s exposure and experiences with terrorist attacks 12 years prior on 9/11 it seems to me we overreacted just a bit. The country didn’t suddenly become vulnerable over night to the forces of terror, and evil, plotting to destroy “the very principles of freedom and democracy we cherish.”

It was a great opportunity for media sensationalism though.

The NYPD discussed the need to ramp up security as well. In fact, this article from The Daily News was entitled “‘We’re going to have more visibility and less privacy’: Mayor Bloomberg admits soon NYPD surveillance cameras will be on nearly every corner and in the air.” By the way, that article and the Mayor are saying they will be adding more surveillance to what is already in place.

What is in place already? Have a look!

This is a CBS news report on the largest surveillance center in the nation already in operation in New York (a news report from before the Boston bombing). If you watch until the end of the news report you find the reason for the report is to ask for more funding to get more surveillance equipment. Do they really need that much surveillance as it is? Do we really have such a deep-seated mistrust of our neighbors, and the world, that we need to have a Panopticon in New York City for the police to watch over the very citizens paying taxes to keep the system running (in the off-chance they find something worth chasing after)? Can we really afford to put so much effort into surveillance and the war on terror (to “keep us safe”) when doing so has prevented the proper resources from being put towards prosecuting the financial crimes which led to the 2008 crash?

And just to throw it out there can we really put all this money into surveillance and the War on Terror at the expense of other things such as “the inevitable” closing of 20 public schools two years in a row in New York? Or 50 public schools in one year in Chicago?

Realize, the state has no problem asking for money to watch its people and “keep them safe;” but balks at the idea of using the money for better education and complains about the deficit, or poor student performance as an excuse. It also balks at the idea of prosecuting the financial crimes of bankers who very likely are profiting in some way from the War on Terror. Had more money gone towards education it’s very likely student performance would improve. A more educated population would likely know what is necessary to “keep themselves safe” without spending millions (?) to watch themselves. Finally, if we prosecuted financial crimes which led to the 2008 crash we would have seen repercussions for the bankers. So far there has been no accountability for the bankers and they actually became more powerful. Furthermore, they are still giving out bad loans. I, for one, am expecting some deja vu sooner or later…

We’ve been at war now for 12 years.

Even after 9/11 we were never up against an enemy with even near the same military capacity as the United States. Nevertheless we leveled two very small countries: One of which for essentially no reason (besides assuring oil wasn’t traded in Euros), the other because there were some terrorist cells there (nothing though with even close to the pervasiveness portrayed by the media). That was the first 8 years under President George W. Bush. Then came the Obama Presidency and the (expanded upon) drone program which has killed countless civilians overseas. See this article from Scientific American for information on US drone strikes in Pakistan alone. In the article is a link to an infographic on the extents of the drone program (roughly 3100 non-high profile targets killed and the number may have risen since then).

The above article and infographic, though accurate, were nonetheless cold, statistical and not terribly insightful as far as anything past an illustration that the United States is killing people needlessly. Not particularly moving. How about viewing this from another perspective? That of a Yemeni man, who had the benefit of an American education, speaking on the horrors of drone strikes against his village and the seething anger towards America which these strikes are cultivating…

Watch:

The village the man came from actually had a decent opinion of America because of that man’s sharing his positive experiences of America with them. One drone strike and now the village hates us…

Based on that man’s testimony, and the stats on casualties in Pakistan alone, we have an idea of how much danger the country is in from the forces of terror and evil. There is certainly anger towards the United States in the world; some of which we may have created ourselves. Are we in as much danger as the media and government officials have described? My opinion: no. Well, at least nothing we’re not harvesting ourselves, ironically.

Watch this clip from The Real News as they discuss how former government officials say the US’s foreign policy is making US less safe:

Here is The Real News website with a transcript of the video

There has been a great deal of propaganda to justify the above mentioned foreign efforts to “keep us safe” or to misdirect our attention from them. As a result there was little reaction to the procedural response of the authorities to the Boston Bombing. It’s worth asking why (after the bombing) the FBI got a chance to flex their muscles in, and shut down, Watertown in search of the bomber on the run. Yes, let’s repeat that. Actually, why not just quote wikipedia: “On the scene were the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Guard, the Boston and Watertown Police departments and the Massachusetts State Police. The show of force was the first major field test of the interagency task forces created in the wake of the September 11 attacks.” All this to search for one person.

Does that sound excessive to anyone else? I’m no expert on the tactics and procedures involved in, and required for, a manhunt. However, when you are only looking for one person wouldn’t a small team of police officers (not the military) accompanied by a police dog be sufficient to find one person? Even just from speaking in the defense of the Boston PD; one would think their officers are more than capable of finding one dude on the run. One dude on the run mind you, who wasn’t being given safe haven by anyone, anywhere. It would have been very hard to find one Bostonian who didn’t want this person in handcuffs and willing to help the Police in their search. Still… sending in the FBI, the military, a few other agencies and then declaring curfews makes perfect sense? Yes, okay fine, they found the bomber quicker because they didn’t have to navigate pedestrian or vehicle traffic… I suppose I can see how that justifies the tactics and procedures carried out… sarcasm…

May as well also show the video of a home being raided as police hunted for this one person.

About a minute-and-a-half in is when the fun begins. (There have been debates of whether or not this and other instances like it were violations of our 4th Amendment protection from illegal searches.)

Later the bomber on the run was captured and the media showed Boston in celebration from the terror of this one person. Was anyone shaken by the use of federal muscle though? If no one was bothered by the extent federal muscle used, I might say the terrorists won in Boston.

Now we’ve analyzed the state’s response to terrorism, let’s look at a more reasonable approach; courtesy of the Illuminator and some activists in New York:

Two different events were held as bookends to the week following the Boston Bombing. The first event was a projection of slides onto the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York with the word “Love” glowing below the building. This event took place at night on the same day as the Boston Bombing.

The slides read “Brooklyn Loves Boston,” “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” And a few more choice phrases.

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Does it sound idealistic and naive to have shown these slides on the night of such a shocking event? Well this is what one of the organizers had to say about it:

A few days later as Watertown was put on lockdown and the manhunt to catch the single bomber on the run was being carried out the Illuminator shined again. This time it was in Manhattan and in the neighborhood, Chelsea.

Check out some of their projections:

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As people came by I asked what they thought of the projections, the message behind them, and the comparison to how the media went about the Boston Bombing.

First were two women from Australia.

Second was a random passerby from the neighborhood.

Afterward I got a nice sequence of the people holding the signs reading “Light over fear” to say “Love Not Fear”

The message here is to talk about the issues and not rush to conclusions. To think before we draw our guns, and go invading another place on the basis of fighting terrorism (which is like fighting a human emotion) or “spreading democracy” (which we never end up doing).

The war on terror has been going on since the 9/11 attacks, and many of those who supported it at first are probably starting to think that it may be starting to drag on a bit. We’ve pulled out of Iraq, but we’re still at war in other countries, in April we deployed troops to Jordan hinting at involvement in Syria, and many troops (in general) probably want to come home by now. When is it slated to end. Well, not anytime soon… “A spokeswoman, Army Col. Anne Edgecomb, clarified…the conflict is likely to last 10 to 20 more years from today – atop the 12 years that the conflict has already lasted. Welcome to America’s Thirty Years War.

And where will this “thirty-years war” be fought? Well, at home and abroad; supporting and defending the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic (to quote the United States Uniformed Services oath of office). Except as recent documents have exposed the majority of the threat is now… apparently… at home. At home and amongst the citizenry of the nation as the documents which Edward Snowden leaked have revealed. The defense for this “surveillance for domestic threats” has been that it will stop terrorism or help make connections to find terrorists. However, this article from beforeitsnews.com explains how most US Surveillance is actually not aimed at terrorists.

From the above referenced article, “Websites aimed at attracting traffic do their best to get noticed, paying to tailor their content to the real or perceived requirements of search engines such as Google. Terrorists have no such ambitions. They prefer to lurk in the dark recesses of the Undernet.”

An official from the Netherlands security service commented, “People who radicalise under the influence of jihadist websites often go through a number of stages…Their virtual activities increasingly shift to the invisible Web, their security awareness increases and their activities become more conspiratorial.”

With this in mind it seems important to question the current narrative being supplied by the media. Should our concern be the unanswerable, and loaded, question of: “Should we fight terrorism?” Or rather: “Who is providing the necessary oversight over the NSA as they carry out their surveillance, and is it effective in checking the power of those with access?” Expanding on that “What or who is keeping those with access to this information from using it in a malicious or abusive manner?” “Could those with access to this info be selling it to third parties?” Speaking of third parties why is the government contracting out the data to private companies (Snowden worked for Booze Allen analyzing data)? Shouldn’t they analyze the information themselves? Also, based on the above information in the article from beforeitsnews.com. Is the NSA even looking in the right places to stop terrorism?

Read this article for a quick synopsis of what Edward Snowden released. A program called PRISM was one thing which Edward Snowden leaked. For a visual representation of what exactly PRISM was check out these slides.

Now to be fair there has been a great deal of hype, as usual, surrounding what was leaked. This hype has led to paranoia, which has also led to some exaggerations (if that’s even possible) with regards to what Snowden revealed.

Read Fact and Fiction in the NSA Surveillance Scandal for more info.

Now remembering I said earlier the US was surveying its own people to keep its own people safe. Well the buck doesn’t stop there. We also like snooping on foreign officials too!

New NSA leaks show how US is bugging its European allies. Well that should help trade negotiations blossom!

That as well as 5 more points are discussed in this article.

As a result of the war on terror surveillance has found a specific target amongst Muslim groups. There is another group though which is not discussed at all though “the proliferation of white supremacist groups. This movement not only openly espouses racist and xenophobic goals, but has also effectively executed the most savage attacks on innocent Americans during this past year.” Is the definition of terrorism specific to acts committed by Muslims only?

Finally it’s time to address the biggest question which should be addressed in the whole NSA scandal. It’s not a question of keeping us safe. Rather it’s a question of the oversight the NSA is getting. Even President Obama has said “We’ve got congressional oversight and judicial oversight,”

Maybe but it doesn’t seem like it: “the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which was created in 1979 to oversee Department of Justice requests for surveillance warrants against foreign agents suspected of espionage or terrorism in the United States. But the FISC has declined just 11 of the more than 33,900 surveillance requests made by the government in 33 years, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. That’s a rate of .03 percent, which raises questions about just how much judicial oversight is actually being provided.” (See source)

Granted 33 years is a long time but still, when just 11 out of 33,900 requests get declined, I’d love to know what those 11 requests were for.

It’s important for me to stress that I do not think we live on a utopian planet. There are people who want to hurt others and I do want to see those people stopped. Example, the United States in hinting at involvement in the Syrian civil war. Am I happy to know that Syria is dealing with a civil war? No. Would I support United States’ involvement in Syria should we go to help them find peace amidst a civil war, and actually help bring about democracy there? Yes, I certainly would support a humanitarian effort like that. That’s not the intention though. US involvement is based on aiding the lesser of two geopolitical evils there. Our involvement in Iraq under George H. W. Bush which included our initial, more friendly relationship, with Saddam Hussein was the same circumstance. As was our initial support for the Taliban. Therefore, based on our track record, I’m against involvement there and think we should focus on the problems at home instead.

Another scary bit of current events is the recent break out of 500 Al-Quaeda members from Abu-Ghraib. Do I worry about where these Al-Quaeda members may go now? Yes. Am I concerned they may organize to attack us again using the hatred of America that has come as a result of our drone strikes? Yes. Do I think more drone strikes would be the solution to this concern? No. Drone strikes have caused far more damage than good. The concept of “fighting terror” with drone strikes is not working but instead is actually terrorism, in itself, to the innocent civilian victims of the strikes. It’s time for a new solution…

If what has caused so much hatred of America across the world is our foreign policy of intervention with much collateral damage where we are not wanted (something which pre-dates 9/11 by the way) and imperialism; the solution to the problem is not more of the same. I feel some risks need to be taken and maybe we shouldn’t keep sending troops across the globe, combined with an enhanced “security state” at home, and more drone strikes abroad. There must be another way of addressing the hatred the world feels towards us than by using the same tactics which also help to pad the pockets of military contractors like Boeing, General Electric, Lockheed Martin and others.

Ironically, I believe Dwight D. Eisenhower (something of a proponent of the military industrial complex) said it best:

“Preventive war was an invention of Hitler. Frankly, I would not even listen to anyone seriously that came and talked about such a thing.”

The War on Terror, drone strikes, and the NSA surveillance are examples of measures taken to carry out a preventative war which the tax payer is funding.

So the next time you see this, remember:

It's probably just a box.

It’s probably just a box.

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A rally against police brutality

On Thursday July 11, demonstrations against police brutality were held in Union Square. One demonstration was held to call attention to brutality at the hands of the NYPD, and other police forces. The other to highlight the brutality of the military-police in Brazil. Both protest groups had their own identities but worked in coalition with one another as well; to highlight the problems of police brutality around the world.

The following footage is of the demonstration more targeted at the NYPD.

A photo calling out the NYPD on the death of Ramarley Graham

A photo calling out the NYPD on the death of Ramarley Graham

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Watch the protest centered largely around NYPD brutality. At the 22:30 mark a woman begins a very informed rant on the surveillance state, the militarization of the police, and the growing infringements on our civil liberties.

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The footage below is of the demonstration bringing attention to military-police brutality in Brazil.

Watch a video of the speak out explaining the reason for the street performance in support of victims of police brutality in Brazil.

A street theater demonstration against Brazilian military police brutality

A street theater demonstration against Brazilian military-police brutality.

The above photo is the climax of the action explained, and then performed, in the below video.

Here is a video of the street performance. Demonstrators lay on the ground and cover themselves in black garbage bags. This was done in memory of those whom the Brazilian military-police has killed over the course of Brazilian protests. The memorial was carried out in this fashion to illustrate the Brazilian military-police’s practice of covering dead bodies with the same such bags.

Once the protesters had laid on the ground under the bags for 1 minute of silence, they rose and proceeded to read of the names of some of those killed at the hands of military-police.

A symbolic emptied body bag.

A symbolic emptied body bag.

Following the demonstration and reading of names a man spoke to the crowd about Brazilian foreign policy in Haiti. He said that Brazil was sending military forces to Haiti for 2 reasons:

The first reason: To look more aggressive in an attempt to earn their way on the UN Security Council, which apparently only allows the most aggressive countries, entry.

The second reason: To train the soldiers for Brazilian policing.

Important aspects to note of both the NYPD and the Brazilian police are how the NYPD is considered a para-military organization; Brazilian police are considered a military-police. Realize how neither the NYPD nor Brazil have a police force which can be classified in a way which does not equate them with a military force in some way. Neither force can be simply called: police.

The next questions to ask with this in mind then is the following:

What are the qualifications of a para-military police force?

What are the qualifications of a military-police force?

Especially in New York; do we need a police force which is classified as such?

Also important thing to bring to attention is the protests which happened throughout brazil on July 11th (which this event was in solidarity with). The protests on this day, as I understand it were of a different nature from the protests which sparked from the proposed fare hike. The protests of July 11 were much more union-oriented and not as multi-dimensional as the protests from just a month ago.

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A 7-hour action for Justice

Following the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman street protests and marches could be found in New York, Chicago, Florida, Texas, California, and many other places. These protests demanded true justice, but they also had another point. Racism is a glaring problem in this country and it will only get worse until we all face up to it and try to fix it, and our own views of our neighbors.

Before continuing any further is important I make something clear. The last post I made was titled “Zimmerman Innocent!” and it contained a very impassioned vigil and speak out in Union Square. The problem with this post was the headline “Zimmerman Innocent!” As I found out later George Zimmerman was not actually found “innocent.” However, of all the accused charges he was “Not Guilty.”

The 7-hour action began around 6 pm with people gathering in Union Square.

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An hour prior to this, when the square was less packed, chalk could be found on the ground…

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A chalk outline on the ground. Inside the Chalk outline read the words "Who is next?"

A chalk outline on the ground. Inside the Chalk outline read the words “Who is next?”

Some police officers standing on the sides of Union Square, out of sight.

Some police officers standing on the sides of Union Square, out of sight.

A Solidarity circle formed around chalked writings on the ground and small march passes in back.

A Solidarity circle formed around chalked writings on the ground and small march passes in back.

The rally began at about 6. There were three different groups having speak outs simultaneously.

Video archive 1

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The rally lasted for about an hour at which point the marching began.

Video archive 2

Note: At the 1:02:38 mark (roughly) I walk ahead of the march to get a close-up of a line of cops blocking the street. I make repeated exclamations of “They have clubs out!”

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Video archive 3

At the 2 minute mark of the above video the march from Union Square reaches Madison Square Garden where a standoff with the police ensues as the march shuts down traffic.

At the 40 minute mark of the above video we have reached the Red Stairs in Times Square. It is there that speak outs were held for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half.

Here are some photos:

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The crowd makes an "L" sign with their hands to say "Trayvon Lives"

The crowd makes an “L” sign with their hands to say “Trayvon Lives”

(At this point the phone I was taking photos with died. Watch streams below:)

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The march continued up to Central Park at which point there was some signal interference.

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The march continued to Park Avenue and further. As the march took Park avenue, at the 15 minute mark there is a slew of arrests which take place.

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I believe it is crucial to point out how at this moment, during these arrests, the march became more about class than it did about race. I say this because, from my recollection the most arrests happened in this spot than anywhere else in the march. The streets were slowed or shut down from Union Square, to 34th Street, to Times Square, in Harlem, and in the Bronx as well (where I left the march). However, all the arrests that I saw happened on Park Avenue at that moment. It became a class issue because protesters were arrested, in a very wealthy neighborhood.

To build on this concept quickly. Perhaps a year and a half ago a march took place which passed by the homes of Rupert Murdoch of Fox News, the Koch Brothers of Koch Industries, and many other definitive 1%ers. That march took place in the same neighborhood as the arrests in the above video.

After being shortly separated from the group after this march I took a cab to 125th and Malcolm X and eventually caught up with a march. On the way there I had an interview with a friend:

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The march ended at the courthouse on 161 st in The Bronx. It was an inspiring march to say the least. Unfortunately, an inspiring march which came from a very tragic place. The death of a young 17-year-old boy whose killer was then found “Not Guilty” of all charges.

The next day I found myself in Union Square and saw these three signs:

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An important comparison needs to be addressed now to highlight the racism of the current George Zimmerman “Not Guilty” verdict. The following article talks about a woman in Florida who used the Stand Your Ground law as her defense for firing *warning shots* at her husband. She was sentenced to 20 years. She is also black. Fla. mom gets 20 years for firing warning shots

It would seem wrong at this point to end this piece with a hopeful comment or a heartbroken comment as all we’ve heard so far are heartbroken comments. The march derived from heartbreak. However, I believe a very good thing to point out is where the “Stand Your Ground” law, which George Zimmerman used as his defense (at least at first), derived. Research the “American Legislative Exchange Council” (ALEC). ALEC is a way that corporations can influence legislation which then gets passed in congress. I can promise you, they have authored a great deal more legislation than just the Stand Your Ground law.

The secretive corporate outfit behind ‘Stand Your Ground’

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Zimmerman innocent!

On Saturday, July 13 George Zimmerman was found “not guilty” of the murder of Trayvon Martin. In response to this trial verdict a vigil was held in Union Square demanding answers, justice, and something better.

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It began as just about 25 to 30 mostly white people in Union Square chanting “Justice for Trayvon.” Over time the crowd became much more diverse. With this diversity came a great deal of honesty, pain, and anger from a community of people who rarely get to have their voices heard, and have come to feel as though the system has no regard for them at all. This abandonment, disillusionment, and isolation was very deeply and justifiably expressed.

Video archive 1

Video archive 2

Attention: Tomorrow (July 14th) at 6pm in Union Square there will be another rally demanding “Justice for Trayvon.”

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The second Egyptian Revolution: An interview with an Egyptian protester.

On July 3, 2013 after 3 or 4 days of mass protest, the Egyptian military took President Mohammed Morsi into custody, stripping him of his power; as was demanded by the showing of roughly 30,000,000 or so protesters outraged with the President and a year of his rule.

The crowd in Tahrir Square

The crowd in Tahrir Square

Upon the President’s removal the Egyptian military offered this statement. As that’s a facebook page and will probably induce eye-rolling here is an article with very similar content from the Huffington Post.

Here is another source with the roadmap as well as some video footage of the protests.

The media has been calling what happened a coup, and delivering that as their narrative for Former Presidents Morsi’s ouster. However, to simply say “It’s a coup” without even trying to elaborate on any of the nuances of the conflict really does not do justice to the events in Egypt.

Here’s one link to some video first.

The video above has this quote resting above it:

“Contrary to what is portrayed in the media, Morsi’s supporters began killing opposition protesters days before he was ousted. This is what happened outside the Muslim Brotherhooh HQ on the 30th, the day tens of millions of egyptians took to the streets across Egypt in a move that can only be described as direct democracy.”

Following the Military’s outster of President Morsi, I had the good fortune of an interview with an Egyptian protester named Fady El-Gizawy, who also did some livestreaming from protests.

He gave me a much deeper understanding of exactly what had happened in Egypt, the events leading up to Morsi’s ouster and his thoughts on next steps.

Me:
Please, let me know if it would be wrong to call what happened today a “popular coup” as opposed to a “military coup”?

Fady:
Look mate, the Muslim Brotherhood regime and followers had always been threatening the army whenever Morsi did something and the people didn’t like it. They always went and said stuff like “and we ask the Army to keep an eye on its job protecting the country’s borders instead of getting back to the political area.”

And these threats to the army had been scaling up to direct warnings that if they [the army] interfered there would be blood baths. So the army had been waiting for the moment to take out the corrupted regime, but they couldn’t do it because it’d be a coup.

Me:
Hmm

Fady:
When millions went out asking for Morsi’s departure, the army saw this as the right moment to join forces with the people, especially when everyone was calling for them to get involved.

Me:
So the army took advantage of a situation…

Fady:
Yeah. Hit two birds with one rock; did what the people asked for, and got rid of those who think they’ve the power over the army. The Muslim Brotherhood reached a level that they were saying they’ve more armor than the army.. lol

And that they can beat them up.

Me:
One more question.

Fady:
Sure.

So, it’s not a coup btw. But it’s a coup.. lol

Me:
As it happened the military took out Morsi as there was an opportunity with the public outcry… Voice of the people, I agree. However, what if there had been an election to get Morsi out instead of the military doing it on their own?

Well, not on their own. Answering a call. But it was done more with force is my point.

Fady:
Look Matt, since a few weeks ago the opposition were asking Morsi to do the early elections so he could cut all the talk off. But he refused and kept whining about him being the legit President of Egypt and that he came by elections and the people had no power to let him go.

So the demands went up for his departure, and nothing came of it.

Me:
Thank you very much for that answer.

Fady:
When the army gave him the 48 hrs to sort it out he was asked by the army to reply to what the people were asking for, which would be his departure in other words. Instead he went out saying that the army had no right to say such thing or to give him the countdown.

And more threats to the army

got it? :p

Me:
I understand. Based on what you say then I’d consider it a “popular coup” in the most positive sense. Btw I don’t know what’s gonna happen but it was a pretty exciting day, even over here.

I’m not sure how often you’d prefer I used that term [popular coup] and I wont use it again if you’d prefer not.

Fady:
Yeah, we can name it that way.

Me:
Cool

Fady:
That’s what the majority asked for, yet I’m against it..

I’ve that feeling that the army is gaining more people trust by giving them a technocrat cabinet
and stepping away from leading the political situation while they keep a close eye on the road map till the elections, where they will fake it.. or using the “people’s love” strategy to let it go to one of them,
a military president, or a civil president who is a puppet for them. But to be clear with you, I’m still not sure how things will be later. I might be wrong and maybe the SCAF do a free election.

But history shows nothing like that.. lol

Me:
So I must ask what you meant when you said “That’s what the majority asked for, yet I’m against it.”

Fady:
That’s why they will try to get the people’s love to get their votes. We’ve trusted the SCAF once before, they screwed us over. So asking for their help again is such a stupid thing to do.

We’re the people, let us do it ourselves. We could’ve forced him [Morsi] to leave. Strikes everywhere, closing the stock market. We could strike at the Suez Canal. All governmental offices.

Paralyze the country till he left, no need for the army.

But the majority who went out on these marches are Felool and Sofa, who don’t know anything about what’s going on.

Me:
How did the protests in Tahrir compare to those in Etihadya? Other demo locations? Did you make it to all the locations?

Fady:
I don’t understand? Do you mean if those are different than those?

Me:
Well was it the same method of protest? Were there different things happening at each? I’ve seen banners and lazers at some in pictures…

Photo by Jano Charbel

Lasers spell “You Must Go Out.” Photo by Jano Charbel on twitter

Fady:
No, Both places represent the same group of people, same demands.. but Tahrir represents the revolution and Etihadya is where the presidential palace is. There were also many more demos in many more areas around Egypt. There was also another demo for days in front of the Ministry of Defense.

Me:
I wasn’t asking about demands. I was asking more specifically about the mood of the protests, was there more dancing at one, or more chanting at another, did some have groups in prayer? Was it a mix of secular an non-secular, only secular?

For example, I saw a piano at Taksim Square in Turkey but I don’t think the piano was at Ankara. Does that make sense?

Fady:
Well, Tahrir is way more powerful with chanting. Etihadya had more “upper class” protesters due to its location, Tahrir is a hub.. marches from everywhere head to there, people from many governorates head to Tahrir.. but we don’t have seculars around here, only a few and they don’t show that off. Both had group prayers, but in Etihadya you could find a protester marching with his Rottweiler, but never in Tahrir.

Me:
hahaha

Fady:
True story. Witnessed it.

Me:
Lol, do you have a picture by any chance?

Fady:
I need to check my videos, but I can Google that though.

Me:
Nice! Oh, was the [internet] signal better in one place or another?

Fady:
I didn’t have troubles with network in Tahrir. A few hours before I had troubles in Etihadya but on other days I had the same issues in Tahrir.

Me:
I may as well ask what the general sentiment was when Morsi took office in the first place? Were the elections viewed as legitimate overall? Meaning was there ever a point when people were open to the idea of Morsi being in power?

Fady:
Well, the answer for this question will be a bit long… you need to know few things before the elections, within the elections, after elections…

When the Muslim Brotherhood entered the political scene in Egypt a few days after the revolution sparked, they made so many deals with the old regime to grant themselves a place, and they said they wont take over the parliament, but they did take the majority by bribing the voters at the poor districts.

Afterwards, they said they wont go for presidential elections, but they did push 2 of the Muslim Brotherhood, to grant a spot within the elections; one was kicked out for his criminal record “Khairat El-Shater” and one went to the race “Mohammed Morsi.”

At first round, a lot tried to show the real face of the Muslim Brotherhood to the people so they wouldn’t vote for Morsi, but unfortunately they made it through to the second round. There were 2 to choose from, Morsi and Shafiq (who is a copy of the old regime).

At this moment, the rebels started to ask everyone not to vote for Shafiq, and to vote for Morsi, he MIGHT be a better leader than Shafiq, or to cancel your vote.

They called it “lemon Squeezing move” it’s a proverb meaning to accept the least worse, and everyone supported him when he won. The elections were 80% legit, but afterwards, he went against those who got him the chair, going back on all his promises. So all of those who asked the people to “squeeze lemons” were ashamed they did. A few months after he got in charge, a lot of these temporary supporters went out on him, asking him to obey who elected him not the Muslim Brotherhood leader-board. Again he didn’t give a damn, leading to the current situation.

That’s a brief btw.

Me:
Now I’m curious about your thoughts on another statement I just read from someone in Egypt. If you’d care to comment?

Fady:
Sure.

Read the post which I asked Fady to comment on.

Fady:
Well, it’s a well-written note; but about elections, I believe it was legit. There were SO many organizations, local and international watching it. I don’t deny there were a lot of issues, and they were all documented, but really the majority went for Morsi. The streets, rebels, everyone in the second round were begging the people to vote for him to not allow the old regime to get back in charge, represented in Shafiq.

Me:
The note speaks about relationships with the SCAF as well. I’m curious if you have more comments on that.

Fady:
I didn’t comment about that, give me a minute to read this part again and give you my comments I thought you wanted comments only about the elections.. lol

Me:
Haha Well you’ve largely answered that unless you had more to say. The SCAF though did seem to be the group with the most power after Mubarak stepped down so I think that’s important to discuss as well.

Fady:
“Egyptian military was openly threatened by the US that any “military coup” would be “unacceptable” to the “international community”. Even when the soldiers and regular police officers became openly rebellious against the top brass, the army refused to step in, fearing US military or economic retaliation, or both.”

Due to me being either asleep or out in the streets, I couldn’t keep an eye on the news but I did know that the US had cut off the aids to the army till they stepped out from the political scene here.

I’ve two scenarios:
1st- Russia is offering to replace the US with aids and other military stuff, also the US have always been giving us old or second-handed technologies, which could be easily replaced by the Russian ones.
2nd- Due to the huge corruption on the Army facility, most of the aids go to the leaders’ pockets, which means when the aids stop, they will not affect much on the army, cause the army here is getting money from so many sources, like constructions and trade.

Also, many other rich countries like the UAE (United Arab Emirates) is offering support. They are Muslim Brotherhood haters since day one. They cut off many aids to Egypt till the Muslim Brotherhood left.

Another thing to add: Egypt has SO many resources that needs to be used right, if there is an uncorrupted leader using our resources right, we’ll be one of the richest countries. We’ve a lot of oil, one of the biggest gold mines in the world, agriculture, gas, labor force that’s well known world wide; and so many other things to get money from, and don’t forget our stolen money abroad that Morsi’s regime didn’t move a finger to get back.

Also, we’re a VERY important ally to the US, everyone knows that, and the heads will be begging us to accept their aids, they can’t lose us as long as they treat Israel as their own child. And if Russia took one serious move towards supporting us with money or weapons, you know the US will offer a higher bid.

Again, they can’t afford to lose an ally like us.

Me:
Haha

Fady:
I’m not happy with aids though, I want them to stop, I want our government to use our resources, we’re already deep in debt.

Me:
I saw a photo on twitter of some street art in Egypt. It had Mubarak’s face, Morsi’s face, and then a blank face and pretty much read “Mubarack, Morsi, who’s the next dictator?”
what do you think of that, and what if you could guess do you think may happen next?

See the photo described in the above question.

Photo by Jano Charbel on twitter.

Fady:
Well, I guess it’s a warning for whomever comes next, that it’ll not be allowed for him to make any mistakes. The people aren’t ready to take any more shit.

Me:
Are there a lot of divides amongst the people which could pose problems or be exploited?

Fady:
Well, at the moment there are a few parties of people, some support the army, few rebels who aren’t taking the army shit, and Islamists…

Everyone now except the Muslim Brotherhood are gathered supporting Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei for leading the next phase till the elections and writing a new constitution.

Me:
I can’t say I know much about him. What is his background? Why does he have support?

Fady:
But the thing here is, we don’t have a decent leader to be a president. The opposition is very weak, Hamdeen Sabahi the one who was getting the most votes last election did some stupid things to get a piece of the cake and made deals with the army few days ago.

Sabahi has always been seeking to get the chair, but he is smart ass, and knows how to talk and use words. So he gathered the majority who seek change into his side.

About ElBaradei, let me get u a link cause it’s toooooo long to write.. lol

Me:
Okay. hahahahah

Fady:
You can say he is one of the few who torched the revolution here.

Me:
You mean sparked it, I assume?

Fady:
Seeking no chair, he said it himself on an TV interview, “I’m not qualified to run the country, I’ve lived most of my time abroad, I can only help in any way, formal or informal.”

Yes, sparked it.

Wikipedia page for Mohamed ElBaradai

He is a great guy, but also had some flaws, but he is the one with the least mistakes so far.

Me:
I see.

Fady:
When you’re done reading about him let me know so I can tell you about another presidential candidate who had no luck in the elections.

Me:
It’s a lot to read. I got the idea though, I skimmed through it. He seems very credentialed and well educated.

You said he has some flaws…?

Fady:
Yeah, he said it’s okay for the “Felool” to join the new political scene but in many occasions he didn’t take any firm actions. He also joined “Rescue front” when there was Amr Moussa in, one of the well known old regime members and they joined forces.

Which was totally not acceptable by the rebels here.

Wikipedia page for Amr Moussa.

Me:
Hmm. The other guy does look better haha

Fady:
Baradei?

Me:
Yeah yeah

Fady:
Elbaradei stood up against Mubarak when Mubarak was in his full power.

Me:
Yeah, that’s what I mean.

Fady:
And he was attacked everywhere.

Me:
Baradei looks more interesting than Moussa. Just on his background and education alone.

Fady:
Also, he used to be Amr Moussa’s assistant or something like that.

They both were working together on the Ministry of International Affairs.

Me:
Moussa looks like a guy with an in.

Fady:
An in?

Me:
Like he had connections.

Fady:
Ahh yes, he had a lot.

Me:
The first thing the wiki said is his dad was an official, and then he became an official.
With Baradei, the first thing it discusses is his education.

Fady:
ElBaradei’s dad was also a great guy.

Me:
Nice, there seems to be dissent in Baradei’s blood haha

Fady:
Hahaha yess! Anything else you want to ask?

Me:
I guess just how strong the Muslim Brotherhood is now. Are they a significant number of the public, is there much chance of them doing what they did in the last election?

Fady:
Well, one of the benefits is that they won the last time, and they wont win any more next times. They won by the support they got from the street on the second and final round which they will never get again. Also.. a lot of their followers have seen their true identity, those also will never vote for them again
but yet, they still have quite a number of followers, but wont be able to let them win individually.

Me:
Thank you.

Fady:
You’re welcome.

Well, if I can add one thing, that there is no real opposition leader, and I can’t see a promising leader to vote for on the elections next time, but let’s wait and see who will come up. There are a lot of young politicians who are not well known. If they join, and people work hard to know about them, maybe we get a good chance for a promising leader.

Me:
I hate bringing this up but it’s important for a full spectrum of the protests…

Fady:
Hit me.

Me:
I’ve seen many articles talking about the strength of women in the Egyptian revolution, and in the original Tahrir square occupation (See source article)
However, I also saw this…

Gang rape, the dark side of Egypt’s protests

What things were done to make women feel safe at protests? Were they generally treated well? Is that article discussing a rare occurrence?

Fady:
Well, I only watched the video. Heba Morayef actually said it all..

But yes, Op Anti Sexual Harassment reported around 20-40 cases a day. It’s a serious issue that no official [government] front gives any attention. Only groups of activists work on it, sacrificing themselves to protect whomever they can using all the available limited resources.

Me:
Thank you.

Fady:
You’re welcome, although please note lately some “activists” have been denying that such cases happen…

Another fact: the Muslim Brotherhood used to hire thugs to go to the square and start such cases. Not all of them for sure, but it was a strategy started by the Muslim Brotherhood to keep the women from going.

Back in Jan 2011, the square was filled with women, you didn’t see as many cases as you see now, but what I can say is that activists really do all what they can to keep it from happening.

Me:
Good. I assume there’s more cases now because there’s more people now.

Fady:
Sure. There are also a lot of soft harassment cases that don’t get reported. Like fingering and touching, and tons of verbal harassment. Also, not all the cases here get reported, even if it was big.

Me:
Yeah, that’s patriarchy for you.

Fady:
It’s a shame :s … stupid traditions and ignorance…

Me:
Often cases don’t get reported. Also victim blaming against women…
Yeah.

Fady:
Most of the cases around here don’t get reported… maybe 95% of them.

Me:
Damn.

Fady:
Here in the country side, if a girl gets raped, her family may kill her.
Best case scenario, they marry her to anyone “mostly old guy” and they live in shame.

Me:
Would you say it’s something a new government needs to address?

Fady:
Sure, but to solve it you need to change the tradition that keeps people sexually oppressed.

Me:
True, that takes time.

Fady:
Yeah. Again, there is no reason that allows sexual harassment but to understand the situation fully, you should live here, I cant describe it in words :s

Me:
I understand, completely. The women still came out though and as the woman in the video said, they were brave for taking part and joining the revolution.

I’ll probably end it there. unless I get questions from others. It’s bit of a downer to end it on but it’s real.

Yeah :s

Thank you very much for answering everything.

Fady:
You’re welcome, bro.
It’s a pleasure, really.

Me:
Truth be told even though it’s a downer, the traditions aren’t something that people in other parts of the world are unaware of.

The revolution though inspired the world.

Fady:
Yeah

Me:
And those of us involved in the scene [activist] are extremely proud of what you’ve all accomplished.

Read Fady’s blog on the start of the Egyptian Revolution from 2011

(Following this part of the interview I posted to twitter asking for questions from my followers)
Here is the response I received:
From KINGOFNYHACKS:
Does he think what is happening there will influence the surrounding regions and America ?…and how ?

Fady:
Well, sure the surrounding regions will follow us; Tamaroud has already begun in Tunisia and Libya.
And about the states, that needs more than 140 letters.. lol

(I received no other questions from twitter)

After a day of editing the interview more clashes had been erupting in Egypt. It seemed only proper to inquire about them so as to have a better understanding. President Morsi had been removed. However the question remained of who was involved in the clashes. Pro-Morsi people, Anti-Morsi people, the SCAF?

Me:
Someone said in another thread that they preferred the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership over the SCAF.
There are clashes right now that I’m hearing about between pro and anti-Morsi demonstrators.
has the SCAF been the aggressors here or is it the Muslim Brotherhood?

Fady:
I’ve been out all day, all I know is that at the national guard’s center the pro-Morsi protesters started to attack the army there and on twitter it said that they organized marches to attack the guys in Tahrir.

Me:
Okay

Fady:
[pro-Morsi supporters] They’re the ones who go to make troubles so far.

Me:
From what you have seen what has been the role of the SCAF in the days after Morsi’s ouster?
Does it seem like they are keeping to their roadmap?

Fady:
So far, yes, and I just read that ElBaradei has been selected as a vice president.

Me:
I thought he didn’t want that.

Fady: He said he didn’t want to be the president. Back in 2011 when the SCAF was ruling the moving period he offered to run the cabinet, only in this period. I guess he is doing the same, he will only work for it till the period ends, and will step away when it’s done. He doesn’t want any titles though. That I’m sure of.

Me:
Okay, okay.

Also, with regards to the clashes. Is there expectation the Muslim Brotherhood will continue after elections? As I recall the SCAF continued their aggression in the time between when Mubarak stepped down and the elections were held as well…

Now it’s just a different aggressor? Is that accurate?

Fady:
Back then it was different. The leader [Mubarak] back then had bloody hands, he was seeking a safe exit, and the only ones who granted it to him was the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, the SCAF got rid of those who have dirty hands, the big heads, so they don’t seek a safe exit. Plus the Muslim Brotherhood’s power isn’t as it was back then. They might enter the elections, but I believe it’s impossible for them to win.

Me:
So when Mubarak stepped down the clashes were a result of rebels (if that’s the proper term) who were threatening Mubarak’s safe exit which was guaranteed by the Muslim Brotherhood?
Threatening a safe exit because of his dirty hands.

Fady:
No, when Mubarak stepped, he delegated the SCAF to lead the country, after he fixed everything within the 18 days so that he can go out in a legal way clean-handed, looking like a hero. All the documents were shredded / burnt, money exported, files disappeared, etc..

Me:
That could piss someone off lol

Fady:
The SCAF at this point been facing a lot of demands to include the budget of the army on the parliament to be checked and reviewed, etc… Then the SCAF started to use power to oppress those demands.

After a year and a half, so many were killed, virginity tests “which was the Sisi idea” blood baths were everywhere while the SCAF was ruling. At this point everything changed, the activists demands turned to ending the SCAF period, and to be jailed for what they did. So the SCAF at this point was seeking safe exit
which they found with the Muslim Brotherhood, America’s BF.

Me:
What do you mean “virginity tests ‘which were the Sisi idea’” and why were there virginity tests at all?
Is Sisi a group there?

Fady:
El-Sisi is the head of the army and he was one of the SCAF back then, and back then there were accusations that the girls in Tahrir are whores :s

So the army decided to do the tests.

Me:
Just for a clarification. Is there a Sisi now? Because you said “back then?”

Fady:
Haha, the Sisi now is the head of the SCAF the one who took Morsi away.

(This concluded the interview with Fady)
He did make sure to send me the following video of an exchange between Morsi supporters and the SCAF.

Exchange between Morsi supporters and SCAF.

The above video is in Arabic. However, Fady provided an explanation for it:

“The two guys talking to the soldiers are 2 heads in Muslim Brotherhood, El-Beltagy and Safwat Hijjazi saying they will protest peacefully and the officer says to them: As long as you keep it like this, we have no issue. But please, ask your supporters to keep a safe distance between them and the barbed wires,
and the guy on mic keeps asking them in a VERY nice way to go back few steps and don’t touch the wires
respecting everyone even the 2 leaders.”

This concludes the segment with Fady. However, I saw the following video of a 12-year-old boy voicing his opinions on what was happening in Egypt. It is really too impressive to not show.

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Notice to readers

As I haven’t posted a blog in quite a while I wanted to make a quick post to address my lack of writing:

Due to a combination of a great deal of livestreaming, and scant donations I have needed to take a break for a short time to reassess my situation. I will be posting soon though as there is much to discuss and I have been silent for far too long. Please consider a donation if you can and certainly check out my livestream archives at www.stopmotionsolo.tv to see that work that I have been busy with on a largely pro-bono basis.

Thank you all very much for your continued support and I will have another post up within a few days.

PRESS RELEASE: NYC COLLEGE STUDENTS TO HOLD MAY DAY PROTESTS

Actions will call for accessible education and an end to shady practices

NEW YORK – Hundreds of students from across the city will unite Wednesday to protest the out-of-control cost of college education that has resulted in unprecedented levels of debt.

In honor of May Day, student groups from numerous major city-based colleges and universities also will stand in solidarity with workers from across the nation by vilifying exploitative employer and corporate practices at these institutions, while pledging support for the full legalization of all undocumented immigrants.

Students specifically will denounce the imposition of tuition at Cooper Union, which effectively has ended a century-long tradition of free schooling; the union busting and corporatization of education at Columbia University; tuition hikes and harmful administrative practices at Medgar Evers College; the unfair treatment of student workers at The New School; and the debt-driven 2031 expansion plan at New York University.

The protesters seek to shine a light on the increasingly privatized and inaccessible American education system that is often enabled by unskilled and unscrupulous administrators driven by self-interests.

After individual campus actions in the early afternoon, hundreds of city students will converge at 3 p.m. at Cooper Square park for a rally whose goal is to erect a long-term, citywide student movement. This will be followed by a May Day coalition action in Union Square. Afterward, students will gather at 9 p.m. in Washington Square Park for a “Dance Your Debt Away” party.

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On weakened special interests

As stated by Mayor Bloomberg during his recent State of the City address:

“The special interests and campaign donors have never had less power than they’ve had over the past 11 years.”

The truth behind this statement likely went unnoticed by many. To assert that special interests and campaign donors have never had less power than at any point in the past 11 years sounds nice. However, this is actually a clever use of language.

Speaking generally of the current national political climate it’s absurd to say that campaign donors have such little power. Speaking just in terms of New York City, this would mean that Mayor Bloomberg thinks banks, corporations, and real estate interests have power which is at its weakest in 11 years. This is just plain absurd. It makes more sense though if you think of this from a different perspective, namely Mayor Bloomberg’s.

To the Mayor the unions are viewed as the special interest groups. There is logic to this. According to thefreedictionary.com interest groups are defined as “a group of persons working on behalf of or strongly supporting a particular cause, such as an item of legislation, an industry, or a special segment of society.” Unions do represent a special segment of society. They represent workers, many of whom in New York City have been without contracts for a while now.

Which unions have been without contracts? According to an article posted by PSC-CUNY.org (Professional Staff Congress) in January 2013 “Every municipal employee in New York City is now working under an expired contract. It is the first time since New York City’s fiscal crisis in the 1970s that the City has had no current labor agreements with any of its 152 bargaining units.” (See source article)

To add to the lack of labor agreements throughout the city “Since the economic crash in 2008, the [Bloomberg] administration has pushed for a policy of austerity, and has held the line against wage increases…As public revenues fell in the wake of the crash, the City opposed efforts to balance the budget by raising taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers. That left belt-tightening as the only alternative, and when the City opened bargaining with the largest City workers’ union, DC 37, last November, it offered three years with 0% annual raises, followed by two 2% raises, in a five-year deal.” (Same source article)

The problem exists amongst labor unions as well though. In order to have power at the bargaining table, it helps to be supported by other unions as well. In the recent school bus workers’ strike this inter-union solidarity was not present.

The strike from the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) was undoubtedly fought in earnest. It carried on for a month with daily pickets in front of the Department of Education (DOE) and climaxed with a 4 to 5 thousand person march from Cadman Plaza, Brooklyn to City Hall. The problem is other unions didn’t stand with the ATU that day, or on any other days in significant numbers.

Here is a short interview with a member of 99 Pickets by the DOE. In the interview he explains some of the issues behind the strike and also how Mayor Bloomberg’s charter schools played into it. The interviewee explains how one of Mayor Bloomberg’s reasons for not being sympathetic towards demands for Employee Protection Provisions (EPP) was due to budgetary concerns. This however is an illogical argument as the bus routes to take children to charter schools are described as “all over the place,” and “inefficient” by the interviewee.

What are the EPP though?

EPP are what Mayor Bloomberg threatened to cut from a new contract with the bus drivers which then sparked the strike. To elaborate more the demand to keep the EPP addresses two issues simultaneously: job security for the bus drivers but also child safety. The EPP demanded experienced bus drivers with appropriate training and certification. When a bus driver is responsible for 20 or so children (some of whom with special needs) on city streets one would hope that he/she is properly trained.

The EPP which the mayor was not sympathetic to dealt with issues of seniority-based hiring, training, health care, and benefits among other things.

School bus 2

School bus 3

School bus 6

The steps of the Department of Education in New York.

The steps of the Department of Education in New York.

The next demonstration for the ATU school bus strike took place on February 10th and was populated by some 4,000 to 5,000 school bus drivers. See a clip of the crowd gathered in Cadman Plaza, Brooklyn here.

school bus march 1

school bus march 2

school bus march 3

school bus march 5

school bus march 4

school bus march 6

City Comptroller John Liu was present to show his support as well.

Comptroller John Liu

Comptroller John Liu

Following very few speeches the crowd began to make its way out of Cadman Plaza. Watch to see the size of the crowd.

The crowd leaving Cadman Plaza

The crowd leaving Cadman Plaza

The march waits in line en route to the Brooklyn Bridge.

The march waits in line en route to the Brooklyn Bridge.

A video showing another view of people waiting to leave Cadman Plaza.

The entrance used to access the Brooklyn Bridge was this stairwell.

The entrance used to access the Brooklyn Bridge was this stairwell.

The march over the Brooklyn Bridge

The march over the Brooklyn Bridge

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A police officer directs protesters to one side of bridge's tower.

A police officer directs protesters to one side of bridge’s tower.

After crossing the bridge the march gathered for a rally outside City Hall. Here is some of the fun before the rally.

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The school bus strike ended not long after this march. There was also an impression that the strikers had been somewhat successful. This however is not the case. The truth is the school bus strikers conceded in the end. For more information veteran TWU member Marty Goodman was able to shed some light on the situation from the perspective of a union member.

Mr. Goodman also felt that the ATU had been sold out from all sides. Politicians did not really engage the ATU, the leadership of the 32BJ did not back up the ATU, and other unions in general did not come to the support of the ATU. The unions instead made a vague promise stating they would “revisit the issue(s).” The common misconception here is a revisiting of the issues does not mean an endorsement of the demands made by the workers on strike.

You can read more from Mr. Goodman at: http://socialistaction.org/2013/03/ny-school-bus-strike-ends-in-defeat/

To “revisit the issue(s)” simply means to look over the demands again and there is no guarantee of any sympathy being shown towards them. For example, Mayor Bloomberg could revisit the issue(s) and he destroyed the EPP and sparked the strike. It’s also possible any re-visitation could bring out more concessions from the workers and a weakened EPP.

Did any politician or union leader come out and publicly state support for the EPP? Also, with regards to the unions it should be noted how they’ve expressed interest in fiscal responsibility. While fiscal responsibility is important; understand Mayor Bloomberg wanted fiscal responsibility too and look what he did‽

What is possibly the strongest validation to the idea that union power and solidarity are weak is the spectacle which could have been attained during the school bus strike. If all the unions were on the same page, didn’t let politics get in the way and understood the common attacks they were all facing; they could have shut down traffic in lower Manhattan easily. Doing this would have shown the power and support that unions could have if they only worked together. It could also have very easily helped the school bus strikers achieve their demands.

A perfect example of how strong unions can be if they work together is the current Fast Food Forward push for unions and higher pay. It is because of the help of outside groups like United NY and New York Communities for Change (NYCC) that the strikes have been as successful as they have. The Fast Food workers themselves are determined to get their $15 an hour and a recognized union. Groups like United NY and NYCC have been crucial to the workers’ organization since most people do not remain at Fast Food chains long enough to develop into organizers on their own. As a result they have been stuck with no union and just the $7.25 minimum wage.

The Fast Food workers march to their rally point.

The Fast Food workers march to their rally point.

See the march underway.

A worker addresses the rally with a sign reading "Yo Soy Un Hombre"

A worker addresses the rally with a sign reading “Yo Soy Un Hombre”

See his speech here.

See the next worker speak here.

Minister Kirsten John Voy

Minister Kirsten John Voy

See Minister Voy’s speech here.

Here is a prayer from Rabbi Feinberg.

Unfortunately, the same unity was not shown for the school bus strikers; and effects of this lack of unity is very apparent for more than just the school bus strikers. As stated earlier, unless things have changed in the past few months, every municipal union in New York City is without a contract. According to Marty Goodman the TWU local-100 has not had a union since last January. Even with the new fare hikes recently imposed in New York the majority of that money is going to pay off the MTA’s debt to the banks. The workers are seeing little to nothing of the fare hike. Even the NYPD has been working without a contract since at least the start of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Another union effort that was only slightly successful was the Con Edison lockout back in July of 2012. In that case the unions were offered a contract which took away their health insurance and turned their pensions into 401(k)’s. In response to this offer the unions said “no” which led to the lockout. During one of the biggest rallies in Union Square it was announced that the workers would be given their healthcare. Then after 4 weeks of being locked out a deal was reached, brokered by Governor Cuomo, due to the possibility of an impending storm. The deal was somewhat successful for the current employees of Con Edison. Any new employees though would be hired without pensions.

Though it may be true that labor is stronger in New York than in other parts of the country this is not a good sign. The labor movement was responsible for many of the commonly recognized rights many of today’s workers benefit from. If not for the labor movement today’s workers would not have pensions, insurance, an 8-hour work day, weekends off, vacation days, sick days, workplace safety standards, job security and much more.

The labor movement was terrible for bosses and supervisors as they were forced to give in to the demands of organized workers thus cutting into business owners’ accumulations of wealth. It’s been said that labor in New York is waiting for Mayor Bloomberg to leave office before fighting for more, but at the same time, there is no guarantee the next mayor will be any better.

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On organization, outreach, algorithms and the limitless internet

Many people have found Facebook to be a great way to organize and spread ideas. It makes a lot of sense too; you have a network where there are over 700,000,000 profiles and the possibilities of who might see your posts are limitless! Another benefit is you get to meet new people from all over the world in cyberspace. You can learn new things and have discussions with people of opposing views. Facebook, twitter, and other social networks have really made the world a smaller place.

Actually, this is just the perception and the business strategy that’s promoted. The reality of how these sites work couldn’t be further from what’s perceived.

The truth is an algorithm makes our Facebook news feed very catered to our interests. Actually it’s too catered and we don’t even realize it. It’s so catered to our interests that it actually ends up providing us with a very personalized, virtual echo chamber. The way the Facebook algorithm works is by taking note of our interests giving us more of what we appear to like and less of what we aren’t as interested in. It’s a brilliant business strategy. It’s horrible for personal growth and overall societal progress.

Now the word algorithm may scare away all those who are timid of math. This is understandable. Math is hard. However, it’s always good when you have a video to help you out.

The video which best explains the problems with the algorithm that personalizes our internet is a TED Talk by Eli Pariser called “Filter Bubbles.” He begins the video showing the result of this algorithm on Facebook. He then continues to explain how it works through examples in Google searches, and the NetFlix queue.

In this short clip from the TED Talk the speaker discusses the differences between two people’s search results upon just doing a Google query for “Egypt.”

In the clip the speaker, Eli Pariser, explains how he asked some friends to Google: “Egypt” and to send him screenshots of the search results. The results were very different. Next Mr. Pariser compared the search results and explained how at the time the Egyptian Occupation of Tahrir Square was going on. I don’t think anyone has to search their memories long to remember just how much attention this protest was getting. Besides, you know something is big news when President Obama makes a public statement for Egyptian President Mubarak to “step down.”

Nevertheless the search results were drastically different for the two screenshots compared during this TED Talk. In both cases the search results rendered Wikipedia. Past that one friend’s search results rendered links very much related to activism, other general news sites and one link for tourism. The other friend’s search results rendered some links for general news, one for the CIA World Factbook but the overwhelming focus was on tourism.

Mr. Pariser continued to explain how The New York Times, The Huffington Post and The Washington Post have all been experimenting with personalization, and that more and more the web is being tailored to show us what it thinks we want to see based on our previous activity. The problem here is we might not see what we need to. He then quoted Eric Schmidt of Google who said “It will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them.”

Then the “filter bubble” came into the picture. Mr. Pariser explained how everyone has their own unique filter bubble and it is always the product of who you are and what you do. The problem lies in the fact that the user does not decide what goes into their filter bubble. More importantly, the user does not see what gets left out.

Next he explained how this related to the NetFlix queue and how some movies seem to rush to our doorstep and others take a very long time to arrive. In this case the NetFlix algorithm determines which movie is mailed to our houses by analyzing our choices in movies streamed. The example used in the TED talk is how we all want to be someone who has watched Rashomon, but at the moment, we want to watch Ace Ventura for the 4th time. The idea here is our personalized queues are most often chosen by our spur-of-the-moment viewing interests. While there is nothing wrong with a spur-of-the-moment viewing interest if the algorithm only looks at these choices to know what else to send us, it will assume we aren’t interested in much else. Anything intellectually stimulating could get the algorithm’s cold shoulder.

How does all of this relate to Facebook and organization?

It separates liberals, conservatives, democrats, libertarians, Tea Partiers, communists, Republicans, socialists, anarchists and more into their own isolated groups. Of course it makes sense for liberals to have more common ground and talk more with other liberals. The same goes for every other political persuasion. However, the theoretical benefit of the internet was to allow people with different perspectives to interact more with others of varied mindsets.

In order to have a functioning democracy all perspectives must be understood and respected. Though you might not agree with them it is still important to have discussions and to learn from those with opposing viewpoints. If people cannot have discussions with others of conflicting ideas all we will ever find is agreement or someone asking us to clarify a minute detail in our opinion. Communication and growth does require clarification of details but it also requires exposure to drastically different views if we want to learn anything. If people rely on something like Facebook to organize, they are ultimately allowing their organizational efforts to fall victim to a filter bubble which isolates differing perspectives into personalized echo chambers.

Say you are on Facebook and you share a meme created by… Americans against the Tea Party. Okay, the algorithm sees you’ve shared something, or clicked on a link which is more left-of-center. One or two shares like this probably won’t have a great effect. However, if over time you click links and share (or “like”) a lot of left-of-center memes the Facebook algorithm will learn your tastes and start feeding you more from people and groups who are left-of-center. In theory, after a while, the algorithm will have followed your behavior and will direct you to the point where you might end up seeing things that support radicalized communist and socialist theories, when you started off a moderate Democrat. By the same process a more conservative-leaning centrist could end up as a radicalized Republican seeing content supporting cuts in the social safety net. Granted some may choose only strictly moderate posts. In this case the strict moderates will end up grouped together.

There’s nothing wrong with having a viewpoint that’s left of center, right of center, or just centrist. There is something wrong though when those different groups can’t communicate and exchange ideas. Organizing around specific political interests is one thing. Not being able to even see and communicate with those of other political interests is a very different issue, and it’s something that severely hinders progress; even worse when you don’t realize you have been isolated into that group. It’s actually kind of ironic that an algorithm can make your interests your worst enemy.

Another side effect is how memes can stimulate conversation. You are not going to have a very diverse conversation on any meme if the only people who see it are those who agree with it.

For a quick illustration, the TED Talk began with an observation the speaker made about his Facebook page. The speaker admits to being a progressive, but enjoys hearing from conservatives as well. One day he realized the conservative voices on his Facebook page were gone… Watch.

So I’ve discussed why this algorithm is restricting access to opposing views. How might it affect organization?

If the algorithm sees your interests and gives you more of it, an event notification you’re only slightly interested in will show up far more rarely in your news feed, if at all. Even if you might’ve just wanted to stop by an event to see what it was about you probably won’t be able to rely on Facebook to know it’s happening. You’d have to rely on friends’ invites, and your events listing. However, most people don’t take their event invites seriously. So when the event actually happens, organizing via Facebook will just bring out the same faces over and over again. If your primary tool for organization is Facebook you’ll wonder why no one new is coming.

Obviously this algorithm is somewhat breakable in the case of a viral issue. Going viral though is a phenomenon that takes a lot of work, internet savvy, and it requires the topic to have some widespread cultural relevance at the time. Recently the protests for 16-year-old Kimani Gray were trending nationwide. Police brutality is also in the news a lot these days and that certainly helped to bring attention to what happened to Kimani Gray. When Occupy Wall Street got big the issue of economic inequality was on a lot of people’s minds. Gay Marriage and the legalization of marijuana also gets a lot of attention. What about smaller issues though like the Trans-Pacific Partnership; or the fact that Congress just signed the “Monsanto Protection Act,” which is actually just a rider/earmark (section 735) of defense appropriations bill HR 933; or what about New Hampshire’s recent vote to prohibit private prisons? These aren’t big issues and have a much smaller chance of going viral. As such they will likely be filtered out by the algorithm that effects everything from Google Searches, to social networks. This in turn makes us less informed users.

One way to combat this problem is to confuse the algorithm. Look into new things when you have little to no interest in them. Click on links you don’t care about. The effectiveness of this solution may be limited though. In the end we have to realize, while personalization may help us do a quick Google search under normal circumstances, it will inadvertently isolate us to a world of ourselves. The best solution, in the end, is to do outreach and organization in person, outdoors, in public areas, with flyers and information.

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Standing with Rand

On Wednesday March 6th, Rand Paul filibustered President Obama’s nomination of John Brennan for Director of the CIA.

He filibustered the nomination of John Brennan because of Brennan’s key role as an architect of the drone program. Specifically though it was to make a statement about President Obama’s potential overreach of office in granting himself the right to kill American citizens without due process.

Rand Paul began his 12 to 13-hour filibuster as follows:

“I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan’s nomination for the CIA. I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”

He said so in response to the following answer from Attorney General Eric Holder on inquiries into the President’s powers with regard to the usage of drones:

“‘It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the President could conceivably have no choice’ but to authorize strikes in the case of a second Pearl Harbor or 9/11 attack, in which case Holder would ‘examine the particular fact and circumstances before advising the President on the scope of his authority.’” (See source article)

In carrying out this filibuster Rand Paul did two things at once; he built on the already growing discussion surrounding the use of drones, and he forced the President to give a clear answer on a vague position which was extremely unprincipled.

Soon after Press Secretary Jay Carney relayed the following answer from Eric Holder to clear up the confusion which created the filibustered 12-hour question:

“Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer is no.” (See source article)

This dispute concluded with a favorable response from the White House. However, I do believe the entire debate may have been somewhat short-sighted. Though it makes sense why Rand Paul did the filibuster it’s very unlikely he thought there was a high probability President Obama would actually start killing American citizens en mass, with drone strikes and hellfire missiles, without due process. He unfortunately did create a bit of hysteria over the internet as there were many memes which took the issue to the extreme.

The most positive outcome from this filibuster, and the frenzy surrounding, is we’ve established for ourselves; we don’t think the President should have the authority to kill American citizens without due process with drones. Good. What does need to be discussed more now is how we feel about these drone strikes being carried out in other countries. Paul didn’t address this issue very much and didn’t seem to disagree with the policy either during his filibuster. In fact he even seemed to say, in the case of domestic policy, after due process a drone killing of an American citizen might be justified. This is strange to say a drone strike on an American citizen on domestic soil is justified but at the same time, he had to sustain the filibuster somehow. It’s also unlikely he expected the President to bomb Jane Fonda, or to interrupt our lunch breaks at work with hellfire missiles; but he did mention these scenarios as possibilities.

Absurdities aside he did offer a few indirect criticisms of the drone policy on foreign soil. He referenced Eric Holder’s original response of how some “extreme circumstances” may justify the President’s authorization of a drone strike on a US citizen. Paul then discussed how, overseas, the drone strikes have not always been used for “extreme circumstances.” He finished this remark by wondering how the leniency in foreign policy might translate to domestic policy?

The President responded shortly after the filibuster that the drone strikes would not be used on American citizens without due process. However, as Rand Paul already alluded to the sometimes sketchy usage of drone strikes on foreign soil, let’s think about it…

About how many people had been killed by drone strikes as of February 2, 2013? According to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, about 4700. To compare sources on this “The figure cited by Graham matches the high end of a tally by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. It says the number killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia is between 3,072 and 4,756.” (See source article)

So now we have a figure of about how many people have been killed since Feb 2. What about the number of drones strikes used in the first place? “The Washington-based New America Foundation says there have been 350 US drone strikes since 2004, most of them during Barack Obama’s presidency. And the foundation estimates the death toll at between 1,963 and 3,293, with 261 to 305 civilians killed.” Thus we also have the number of civilians killed by drone strikes. (Same source article)

While it seems the death toll varies depending on whether your source is a senator, the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, or the Washington-based New America Foundation; there seems to be a consensus that the number is roughly at least 2000 people. This means, based on what seems to be about the approximate minimum number of deaths from 2004 to the end of 2012 (for example) there have been 250 drone strikes every year out of a possible 365 days in which to carry out a single strike.

To get a better picture of these drone strikes let’s remember how the study by the New America Foundation said the majority of the strikes have been carried out during Barack Obama’s presidency. True, there is no actual figure given in this assessment but it is worth noting that the President took office in 2009. This means the original figure, which allowed for total people killed over a period of 8 years needs to be adjusted to 4 years. So, hypothetically speaking, if the approximate minimum number of people killed by drone strikes, 2000, (which is less than half the number the Senator mentioned, 4700) were carried out over a period of 4 years, this means over a 365-day year there were 500 people killed. Mind you, this figure of 500 is derived from a number less than half of the number mentioned by the Senator, which means the actual number of people killed each year by drone strikes ordered by President Obama needs to be considerably more to account for a majority of the potential 4700.

What about who the drone strikes have been used for…

One man, Anwar al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico was killed by a drone strike. He “became well known for his fiery anti-American sermons posted throughout the Internet.” Another man Samir Khan, “who’d lived in both New York and Charlotte, N.C., produced a magazine called ‘Inspire’ that became known for its extreme Jihadist views.” (See reference article) Both of these men had links to terrorist groups. Therefore, even though neither was given due process the case can theoretically be made that overseas drone killings of terrorists might have been justified for them if they were “up to no good” (no matter how unconstitutional).

Overseas drone strikes become sketchy though when you discuss people like Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. He was the victim of a drone strike as well. The only difference is he was 16 when he was killed in Yemen. The “Family of the Denver-born teenager say he had no ties to terrorist organizations and was unjustly targeted because of his father.” In December, Nassar al-Awlaki (Anwar’s father and Abdulrahman’s grandfather) told CNN, “In Anwar it was expected because he was under targeted killing, but how in the world they will go and kill Abdulrahman. Small boy, U.S. citizen from Denver, Colorado.”

“Nassar al-Awlaki said his grandson snuck out of their Yemen home one night, leaving a note for his mother saying he would return in a few days. The boy never returned, killed instead while eating at an outdoor restaurant.” Nassar also said “I took care of him, and suddenly after 2 year absence from his father, he decided to go to our government in Yemen to seek information from his father. That was the only reason he went, and he did not tell us.” (See source article)

The targets of these attacks have not always been so selective. “The CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals, an investigation by the Bureau for the Sunday Times has revealed.”

“The findings are published just days after President Obama claimed that the drone campaign in Pakistan was a ‘targeted, focused effort’ that ‘has not caused a huge number of civilian casualties’….”

“A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. The tactics have been condemned by leading legal experts.”

The above quotes are from a Salon article from February 2, 2012. The article further states how “There have been 260 attacks by unmanned Predators or Reapers in Pakistan by Obama’s administration – averaging one every four days.” Keep in mind, the Al-Jazeera article about Senator Graham’s remark came out about 1 year later. In that article the number of drones strikes reported was 350.

Now is an appropriate time to discuss another potential impact of the United State’s drone program: international stability.

“The US policy of using aerial drones to carry out targeted killings presents a major challenge to the system of international law that has endured since the second world war, a United Nations investigator has said.” “Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, told a conference in Geneva that President Obama’s attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, carried out by the CIA, would encourage other states to flout long-established human rights standards.”

“Some states, he added, ‘find targeted killings immensely attractive. Others may do so in future … Current targeting practices weaken the rule of law. Killings may be lawful in an armed conflict [such as Afghanistan] but many targeted killings take place far from areas where it’s recognized as being an armed conflict.’” “Heyns ridiculed the US suggestion that targeted UAV strikes on AL-Qaida or allied groups were a legitimate response to the 9/11 attacks. ‘It’s difficult to see how any killings carried out in 2012 can be justified as in response to [events] in 2001,’ he said. ‘Some states seem to want to invent new laws to justify new practices.’” (See source article)

Another potential impact of these drone strikes is the birth of more terrorist cells. Samiullah Khan, a field researcher from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism explained:

“In a war situation no one is allowed to attack the Red Cross. Rescuers are like that. You are not allowed to attack rescuers. You know, the number of Taliban is increasing in Waziristan day by day, because innocents and rescuers are being killed day by day.” (See source article)

Could the potential birth of new terrorist cells cause us to fear future possibilities and then support more drone killings? Yes. However when we realize that (at least in this case) the growth of new terrorist cells is because of the United States’ attacks on civilians in other countries, the more reasoned solution would be to stop the attacks in general. We should not give in to fear and attack more.

To be fair, even before Senator Paul’s filibuster drone strikes were a topic of conversation. All Senator Paul really did was make the topic more mainstream. However, there is a new report that suggests complications to this conversation. “With debate intensifying in the United States over the use of drone aircraft, the U.S. military said on Sunday that it had removed data about air strikes carried out by unmanned planes in Afghanistan from its monthly air power summaries.

U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Afghanistan war, said in a statement the data had been removed because it was “disproportionately focused” on the use of weapons by the remotely piloted aircraft as it was published only when strikes were carried out – which happened during only 3 percent of sorties. Most missions were for reconnaissance, it said.” (See source article)

True the focus of the discussions was on the usage of armed drones. However, even if the strikes were carried out during only 3 percent of the sorties this doesn’t mean information on drone strikes should be made less available overall. Besides, it seems appropriate that information about drone surveillance be made just as available as information about drone strikes. As drone strikes are invariably funded by taxpayer dollars, the taxpayers have a right to see how their government uses their money.

This pretty much covers the issues surrounding drone strikes and their controversial nature. There is however, another issue which seems to have been ignored by most in John Brennan’s nomination for director of the CIA. Brennan was not just a key architect in the drone program, he “has also been at the heart of two other high-profile national security controversies. One was the CIA’s torture program, which Brennan was aware of but did not object to during the Bush administration. The other is warrant-less wiretapping.” (See source article)

The last issue to address is Senator Rand Paul’s voting record. It should be made clear how, while this filibuster was very important to start a conversation on drone strikes, Sen. Paul’s record is not nearly as progressive as the resulting discussion. The twitter hashtag which went viral on the day of his filibuster read “#standwithrand.” I want to make it clear how while I “Stand With Rand” on the issue he filibustered, I do not stand with him on most other issues at all.

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