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France launches new UN effort to undermine Palestinian rights

Ali Abunimah

By Ali Abunimah. This article was first published on Electronic Intifada.

The administration of French President François Hollande is determined to combat Palestinian rights at home and abroad.

(Presidency of France)

The government of French President François Hollande is renewing its efforts to fatally undermine fundamental Palestinian rights, particularly those of refugees.

France’s Le Figaro has obtained the text of a draft UN Security Council resolution that the Hollande administration plans to introduce sometime before September.

The resolution should be seen as the international counterpart to France’s increasingly fierce crackdown on Palestine solidarity at home under the guise of fighting anti-Semitism.

The resolution would enshrine the Zionist and segregationist principle of “two states for two peoples.”

It also calls for “compensation” for Palestinian refugees instead of the right to return to lands from which they were expelled and barred just because they are not Jewish.

According to Le Figaro, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has shared the draft text with Arab governments.

The resolution would set a limit of 18 months for negotiations to reach a “just, lasting and comprehensive peace” between Israelis and Palestinians.

If no agreement is reached by that deadline, France would grant diplomatic recognition to a nonexistent “State of Palestine.”

Pushing Israel’s agenda

The text of the resolution recycles formulas from the failed “peace process” that were carefully written to allow Israel to maximize its annexation of occupied lands and to keep the settlements it has built on them in violation of international law.

It calls for a Palestinian state to be created “based on the lines of 4 June 1967, with mutually agreed exchanges of equivalent territory,” while placing Israel’s so-called “security concerns” at the “heart of future negotiations.”

As I’ve noted previously, the term “based on” should be taken with the same seriousness as when a TV movie claims to be “based on” a true story.

Another recycled aspect of the resolution is its call for the Palestinian “state” to be “demilitarized” and for a phased Israeli withdrawal from its territory over an unspecified period that could, like the terms of the 1993 Oslo accords, stretch to infinity.

While Palestinians would be disarmed, no limitations are to be placed on the military forces that Israel has used for decades to ethnically cleanse and conquer the lands of the Palestinians and neighboring states.

No right of return

With respect to refugees, the French text calls for “a just, balanced and realistic solution to the refugee problem,” underlining that it would be based on a “compensation mechanism.”

This is of course another clear concession to Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to come home so that Israel can maintain a Jewish majority – a racist intent that contradicts the legally enshrined right of refugees, implemented in Bosnia, to go home even if the local authorities are bigoted against their ethnic or religious group.

Enshrining segregation

Regarding the text’s adoption of the “two states for two peoples” formula, Le Figaro comments: “This apparently harmless mention constitutes the beginning of a concession to the Israelis, who have for years demanded the recognition of the Jewish character of their state. This is a demand the Palestinians consider unacceptable given that a fifth of the Israeli population are Arab Muslims or Christians.”

I have noted previously that this formula, promoted by Israeli politician Tzipi Livni during previous rounds of negotiation, is aimed precisely at legitimizing Israel’s demand that it be granted a right to discriminate against Palestinians, particularly Palestinian citizens of Israel and refugees.

Le Figaro also notes that the draft text uses a “vague formula” that Jerusalem would be “the capital of two future states.”

Worse than the last resolution

Last December, a similar resolution put forward by Jordan, on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, failed to win a majority in the Security Council. That was a great relief.

Prior to that vote, I explained why I wanted the US to veto the resolution because of the damage it would do to Palestinian rights. I argued that, if passed, the weak resolution would effectively negate much stronger existing resolutions.

Of course I understood that any US veto would not be motivated by my concerns, but I felt that having the resolution fail due to a US veto would be better than seeing it pass.

The new French draft is apparently even worse for Palestinians than the one that failed in December.

As Columbia University Professor Joseph Massad has written, initiatives to “recognize” the “State of Palestine” are actually efforts by European states to preserve Israel as a racist state (lire l’article de Massad en français).

I hope that friends of the Palestinian cause in France will not be seduced by the Hollande administration’s promises to “recognize” an imaginary Palestinian state and therefore give misguided support to this plan.

Instead, they should stress in every possible forum that there can be no such thing as peace without the restoration of all human and political rights for all Palestinians.

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The Dispute Between Chile and Bolivia: Michelle Bachelet and Isabel Allende Undermine Latin American Integration

Carlos Aznárez

By Carlos Aznárez. This article was first published on Bolivia Rising.

It is very easy to speak at forums and summits about Latin American integration but those principles don’t seem to transfer well when put to the practice of everyday life.

There could be no greater proof of this than what is going on with the current government of Chile. The very government that the Chilean “left” insisted had to be elected to prevent, as that worn out phrase repeats, “the need to stop the right”. We have heard this rationale time and time again in other Latin American countries but this time it has given the government of Michelle Bachelet the green light to put Chile in the dramatic fix it finds itself in.

It is with absolute logic that neighboring Bolivia has been demanding a route to the sea for a 136 years. It is worth remembering that this situation is not new and between 1879 to 1883 it came to a war between Chile, Peru and Bolivia that ended with Bolivia losing 400 kilometers of its rightful coastline on the Pacific.

Currently Bolivia is not even asking to take back that lost territory that could cause a massive displacement of the population there. No, what Bolivia is asking for is gaining access to a very small portion of unpopulated area on the coast so they could have access to the sea and to recuperate a small area taken away from them during that military conflict. Meanwhile the Chilean social democrats have shamefully joined the right to say this would have a serious effect on the economy of Chile. It was only the government of Salvador Allende that tried to fix the problem but was not able to do it because those in power in Chile before had slammed the door shut on any resolution of this serious problem.

Bachelet is not alone in that extreme position against actual Latin America integration. It is words she often repeats but in practicality follows the advice of functionaries such as her current agent in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Felipe Bulnes who is the former minister of the right wing government of Sebastián Piñera and an active member of the fascist National Renovation Party. The political background of Bulnes was always anti-Allende, one linked to anti-communism and he is now in The Hague trying to deny Bolivia its sovereign right.

The position of Bolivia couldn’t be clearer. Through their representatives in The Hague Bolivia has explained that it has always honored international treaties, like the “Treaty of Peace and Friendship” of 1904 that included a series of clauses that was to help with the issue of the lack of access to the sea. In part of that treaty Chile committed to build a railroad between Arica and La Paz, to issue credit, allow the right of free passage to the Pacific Ports and the payment of 300 thousands pound sterling in compensation. All that ended in nothing and Bolivia once again is having to raise its rights.

And Bachelet, a so called “socialist”, continues to deny Bolivia just like during Pinochet who tortured her own father. Bachelet even goes so far as to say that, “Chile will not give up its legitimate territory and Bolivia has to accept what is decided at The Hague”.

This argument is a complete rupture with all currents and thoughts of fraternity and Latin America integration that was re-introduced by that giant of unity of the peoples Hugo Chávez. On several occasions he said that his biggest wish was that “sooner rather than later he could swim in the Bolivian Sea”. These are also the demands of the majority of the popular and revolutionary Chilean left that on several occasions has welcomed Evo Morales as a blood brother and continues to mobilize to make a reality of the demand from Bolivia.

While this dispute has become an issue of international importance Bachelet continues to lose popularity inside and outside Chile. As Morales recently mentioned, she continues to "clutch to a Constitution inherited from Pinochet". She has ignored the demand for free education coming from Chilean students and has also ignored the territorial demands of the Mapuche people, whose leaders are imprisoned and in many cases have been assassinated. Her foreign policy shows contempt for Bolivia, and this is in and of itself is enough to understand why she is supporting the U.S. Pacific Alliance.

And as if this were not bad enough to define just how far the Socialist Party of Bachelet has gone astray the very daughter of Salvador Allende has also joined in this shameless offense of the memory of what her father stood for. Isabel Allende has stooped even further than denying Bolivia but to visit in Caracas the wives of the imprisoned right wing coup organizers Mayor Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez. She was not satisfied with this disrespect to the people of Venezuela but took it further by the calling the government of Nicolas Maduro a dictatorship.

With these spokes people defending the so called interests of Chile in The Hague it would be very healthy for the authentic socialist movement in Chile to reject this sustained rightward drift of the leadership with a militant struggle or to massively abandon their party altogether.

Republished from Resumen Latinoamericano

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Are US Drillers Actually Making A Comeback?

Nick Cunningham

By Nick Cunningham. This article was first published on Oilprice.

Is US shale about to make a comeback?

Oil prices have rebounded strongly since March. The benchmark WTI prices soared by more than 36 percent in two months, and Brent has jumped by more than 25 percent. There is a newfound bullishness in the oil markets – net long positions on Brent crude have hit multi-year highs in recent weeks on a belief that US supply is on its way down.

That was backed up by recent EIA data that predicts an 86,000 barrel-per-day contraction for June. The Eagle Ford (a loss of 47,000 barrels per day) and the Bakken (a loss of 31,000 barrels per day) are expected to lead the way in a downward adjustment.

But that cut in production has itself contributed to the rise in prices. And just as producers cut back, now that prices are on the way back up, they could swing idled production back into action.

A series of companies came out in recent days with plans to resume drilling. EOG Resources says it will head back to the oil patch if prices stabilize around $65 per barrel.

The Permian is one of the very few major shale areas that the EIA thinks will continue to increase output. That is because companies like Occidental Petroleum will add rigs to the Permian basin for more drilling later this year. In fact, Oxy's Permian production has become a "sustainable, profitable growth engine,” the company's CEO Stephen Chazen said in an earnings call. Oxy expects to increase production across its US operations by 8 percent this year. Diamondback Energy, another Permian operator, may add two rigs this year.

Other companies – including Devon Energy, Chesapeake Energy, and Carrizo Oil & Gas – have also lifted predicted increases in output for 2015.

In the Bakken, oil production actually increased by 1 percent in the month of March, a surprise development reported by the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

Taken together, momentum appears to be building in the US shale industry.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

The US oil rig count has plummeted since October 2014, falling from 1,609 down to 668 as of May 8 (including rigs drilling for gas, the count dropped from 1,931 to 894). That is a loss of 941 rigs in seven months. Just because a few companies are adding a handful of rigs does not mean that the drilling boom is back. It takes several months before a dramatic drop in the rig count shows up in the production data. The EIA says production will start declining this month – but further declines in production are likely.

Moreover, even if US producers do come swarming back to the oil fields and manage to boost output from the current 9.3 million barrels per day, that would merely bring about another decline in oil prices. Lower prices would then force further cut backs in rigs and spending. The effect would be a seesaw in both prices and the fortunes of upstream producers.

As John Kemp over at Reuters notes, that is not an enviable position to be in. Much has been made about the geopolitical and economic influence that shale drillers have snatched away from OPEC. The oil cartel has lost its ability to control prices, the thinking goes. Now, the US is the new "swing producer,” and with it comes influence and prosperity.

But if oil companies oscillate between cutting back and adding more rigs as the price of oil bobs above and below the $60 mark, they won't exactly be raking in the profits. Worse yet, EOG and Oxy may be profitable at $60, but there are a lot more drillers in the red.

In other words, there is still a supply overhang. In order for oil markets to balance, a stronger shake out is still needed. That means that the least profitable sources of production – drillers that have loaded up on debt to drill in high-cost areas – have yet to be forced out of the market. The drilling boom is not back yet.

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How the Saudis Wag the Dog

Andrew Levine

By Andrew Levine. This article was first published on Counterpunch.

American diplomacy favors (majority) white, English-speaking countries (the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and non-Hispanic European settler states (Canada, Australia and New Zealand again, but also Apartheid South Africa and, of course, Israel).

South Africa eventually fell out of favor, thanks in part to boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts in Western countries.

Similar efforts now underway directed towards Israel are beginning to change public opinion too; though elite opinion, in the United States and the other settler states especially, has, so far, hardly budged.

Thanks to its lobby and its strategic location, Israel is still, for America, the most favored nation of all.

Western European countries are also favored, though to a lesser extent – thanks, again, to cultural affinities and historical ties. Those that sent large numbers of emigrants to North America generally have a leg up. France didn’t send many emigrants, but it is also favored, at least some of the time, for philosophical and historical affinities dating back to the American and French Revolutions.

With Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies, there are no deep or longstanding cultural and historical ties; quite the contrary. Nevertheless, those nations, Saudi Arabia especially, receive favored treatment too.

The events surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden provide a window into this strange and revealing state of affairs.

*  *  *

When Barack Obama lied about how Navy Seals murdered bin Laden, he blew apart a carefully constructed cover story concocted in Washington and Islamabad intended to conceal the role of Pakistani intelligence and the Pakistani military.

According to Seymour Hersh’s account in The London Review of Books, bin Laden had been in Pakistani custody at least since 2006. American intelligence learned of this some four years later, when a “walk-in” gave them information that checked out.

The raid itself took place a year after that, in time for the 2012 Presidential election in the United States.

The Pakistanis had reasons for keeping bin Laden in custody and out of American hands. It gave them leverage with the Taliban and with the remnants of Al Qaeda, as well as with other radical Islamist groups.

The Saudis wanted bin Laden kept in Pakistan too; away from the Americans. According to Hersh, they paid Pakistan generously for their trouble.

Hersh’s article does not dwell on their motives, but, in interviews he has given after his article went on line, he is less reticent.

The Saudis didn’t want the United States to get its hands on bin Laden because they didn’t want him to talk about Saudi involvement in 9/11 and other operations directed against Western interests.

This is only a conjecture, but it makes eminently good sense. It isn’t even news. Like the fact that the Israeli arsenal includes nuclear weapons, everybody knows about the Saudis’ role, but nobody in official circles or in the media that toes its line talks about it.

Since his article appeared, official Washington and mainstream media line have gone after Hersh with a degree of vehemence reminiscent of their attack on Edward Snowden.

They hate it when their bumbling is revealed, almost as much as when the hypocrisy of their claims to respect human rights and the rule of law is exposed.

But, for all the sound and fury, they have not effectively rebutted a single one of Hersh’s contentions – nor, for that matter, any of Snowden’s.

If Hersh is right, as he surely is, then two of America’s closest allies were, to say the least, not acting the way that allies should.

Capturing bin Laden was officially – and probably also really – a high priority for the United States.   Pakistan and Saudi Arabia kept him from being captured.

However, none of this appears to have harmed U.S.-Pakistani or U.S.-Saudi relations.

The rulers of both countries depend on American support to survive.   And yet, when they choose, they defy their protector with impunity. Israel isn’t the only country that wags the dog.

Pakistan gets carte blanche because, like Israel, it has the Bomb. Keeping the Bomb out of the hands of anyone who might use it – especially, against the United States or its interests abroad — is, understandably and legitimately, a goal of American diplomacy.

And so, the United States will do what it must to keep the Pakistani military and intelligence communities happy and on board.

This is not easy: the Pakistanis have been involved with radical Islamists from Day One. By all accounts, contacts survive to this day.

The United States encouraged these connections, especially when the prospect of getting the Soviet Union bogged down in Afghanistan clouded the thinking of diplomats in the Carter and Reagan administrations.

But, since even before the Americans became involved, the Pakistanis have been going their own way in Afghanistan – partly for cultural and historical reasons of their own, and partly to keep India at bay.

For all these reasons, the Americans have found it expedient to buy off the leaders of the Pakistani military and intelligence communities.   Therefore, whenever possible, in light of the totality of their concerns, they give them what they want. What the Pakistanis wanted with the bin Laden killing was plausible deniability.

This was the point of the story that Obama blew. Therefore when he, or his political operatives, decided that, with the 2012 election looming, the moment was opportune to announce bin Laden’s death, they had to concoct a different story that would also keep the Pakistani role secret.

The one they made up had the added benefit of reinforcing the swashbuckling image that the Navy Seals, Obama’s Murder Incorporated, try to project. Hollywood got the message, and made the most of it.   So did the Obama campaign.

But, for reasons Hersh explains, the fable they concocted was transparently implausible; a point not lost on observers at the time.

To point this out, back in the day, was to risk being taken for a “conspiracy theorist” – or, worse, a Romney supporter.

Now that a definitive account of what happened has appeared, it is plain who the real conspirators were.

And so, by now, only the willfully blind – and the Washington press corps — believe the tale Obama told.

Needless to say, it is not exactly news when Obama lies; in the “man bites dog” sense, it would be news if he didn’t.

And neither is the duplicity of Pakistan’s military and intelligence leadership surprising.   Politics in the Indian sub-continent is as devious and convoluted as anywhere in the world.

In Pakistan, as in Iraq and Syria, the stewards of the American empire – the ones who worked for Bush and Cheney, and the ones who have worked for Obama and his hapless Secretaries of State — are in way over their heads. They are like the proverbial bull in the china shop; powerful and therefore destructive, but ultimately clueless.

American obeisance to the wishes of the Saudi royal family is not unusual either.  The United States has been toadying up to them since the days of Franklin Roosevelt. They have oil, and we want to control what they do with it.

However, the fact that the American public, and its counterparts in other Western countries, goes along, almost without dissent, is puzzling in the extreme.

The American way, after all, is to villainize first, and ask questions later.

The Saudi royals, and the ruling potentates in the other Gulf kingdoms, are prime candidates for villainization. They are characters out of central casting.

One would think that a public that loathes, or has been made to loathe, Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad – and that still goes livid at the very thought of the Iranian Ayatollahs and Saddam Hussein — would be out with pitchforks demanding the heads of each and every member of the Saudi ruling class.

They were, after all, if not the perpetrators, at least the protectors of the perpetrators, of 9/11, a “day of infamy,” our propaganda system tells us, equal only to the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

And yet the public’s ire seldom turns the Saudis’ way.

This is all the more remarkable because they have neither a Bomb nor a domestic lobby that the entire American political class fears.

All they have is a massive public relations operation. Evidently, the flacks they hire know their trade. No matter how much money they are paid, they earn every cent.

* * *

Ironically, the Saudis’ hold over America’s political and economic elites is an unintended consequence of American diplomacy in the days when the United States was, or seemed to be, on the side of the angels.

When Britain or France wanted Middle Eastern oil – in Iraq or Iran, for example, — they took it. They were colonial powers; this is what colonial powers do.

Before World War II, American diplomats cultivated a different image. Washington’s cupidity may have been no less than London’s or Paris’; but, in the White House and at Foggy Bottom, the idea was to present the United States as, of all things, an anti-colonial power.

Never mind Puerto Rico or the Philippines or, for that matter, Hawaii and the several other Pacific islands that the U.S. Navy coveted; and never mind America’s obvious collusion – before, during, and after World War II — with the British and French empires.

It is true, though, that in the Middle East, American domination took a different form. When American oil companies wanted Middle Eastern oil, they didn’t seize it; they bought it from the rulers of the peoples who live on top of it.

And, if there weren’t rulers willing or able to sell, the Americans created them.

The House of Saud made out like bandits. For the oil companies, it was a small price to pay.

The U.S. got control of the oil without having to administer rebellious colonies. Meanwhile, local elites got rich.   All they had to do for the money was give the Americans free rein and enforce the order that made American domination possible – with American help, of course, and with arms purchased from American corporations.

And so, until reality made the pretense unsustainable, the U.S. could present itself, throughout the Middle East, as a defender of anti-colonial, independence movements.

As other Gulf states broke free from British rule, the U.S. took over, applying the same model. This worked well — for a while.

Before long, though, the Saudi regime, and he others, became too big to fail.

This is why, even as the Clinton State Department floundered about cluelessly when the Arab Spring erupted, the prospect of allowing those regimes to fall was never seriously considered.   For official Washington, this was as unthinkable as allowing nuclear Pakistan to “go rogue,” or not kowtowing to the Israel lobby.

When there is a disconnect between public and elite opinion, elites generally win, but not always: not when too many people care too much. American elites, eager to maintain the status quo, like the PR people the Saudis hire to keep public opinion from getting out of control, therefore have their work cut out for them.

Some of the reasons for this reflect poorly on the moral probity of public opinion in the West.

In their appearance, manner and demeanor, the Saudi ruling class epitomizes the Western idea of the Arab.

Even before Europeans inserted themselves into the Arab world, Arabs have occupied a special place in the imaginations of Western peoples.

Like many of the other peoples of the East, they were deemed mysterious and exotic, highly sexualized, and vaguely dangerous.

But, unlike Turks and Persians or the peoples of South Asia and the Far East, and like Africans and the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australasia, Arabs were never quite regarded as fully human.

The Saudi PR machine therefore has deeply racialized attitudes to counter. The Saudis epitomize “the other”; this makes them a hard sell.

They also epitomize the retrograde, which makes them a hard sell for reasons that have nothing to do with racial or cultural stereotypes — and everything to do with modern political morality.

There is hardly a reactionary trend in the Muslim world that the Saudis haven’t supported financially; and there are few that they did not actually instigate or help shape.

Also, there are few places on earth where human rights and gender equality are less respected, or where liberal and democratic norms hold less sway, than in Saudi Arabia.

Elites in that country and in the other Gulf monarchies are rich and idle because they are sitting on top of vast oil reserves, and because they have accumulated so much wealth that they can exploit “guest workers” in the ways that masters exploit slaves. No one holds them to account for this or anything else untoward that they do.

In a world that permits, indeed encourages, private ownership of natural resources and the limitless accumulation of wealth — and that is largely indifferent to the harm petroleum extraction does — they won the lottery.

This could make them objects of envy, of course; and envy tinged with racial animosity is a lethal brew. Yet, for all practical purposes, the Saudis get a pass – not just in Western elite circles and within the political class of Western countries, but in Western public opinion too.

It has been this way ever since the phasing out of the short-lived Arab oil embargo brought on by American support for Israel in its 1973 war against Egypt.

The Saudis’ immunity from public rancor is all the more amazing because it would be easy to rationalize – indeed, to justify – turning them into objects of scorn.

Inasmuch as our moral intuitions took shape over many centuries, under conditions in which nearly everything everyone wanted was in short supply, we are inclined to think that, where the distribution of income and wealth are concerned, principles of fair play apply; and therefore that “free riding” on the contributions of others is morally reprehensible.

In existing capitalism – and, indeed, in all class divided societies – plenty of free riding nevertheless occurs. It is so commonplace that people often don’t notice it or don’t care. Sometimes, though, when people get something for nothing, it can be enough over the top to cause consternation. When the free riders stand out conspicuously, the level of consternation is typically enhanced.

Saudi Arabia’s feudal rulers, and their counterparts in other Gulf states, are about as over the top as it gets.

Other than maintaining the profoundly oppressive order that makes the status quo possible in the territories they control, it is hard to think of any contributions, productive or otherwise, that they make to justify the riches they receive.

But, as finance has superseded industry as the driving force behind the world’s overripe capitalist system, Western publics have become more accustomed than they used to be to rewarding unproductive people.

The robber barons of old, and the “industrialists” who succeeded them, at least played a role in increasing society’s wealth. The enterprises from which their riches derived made things. The money people at the cutting edge of capitalism today make money out of money, an activity even more useless than collecting rents for drilling rights.

Yet, hostility is seldom directed towards them. Quite the contrary: the richer they are, the more they are esteemed.

Could the sort of confused and obsequious thinking that has made hedge fund managers the heroes of our age account, in part, for how Saudi elites escape vilification? Is this yet another situation where, if you are rich enough, everything is forgiven?

No doubt, this is part of the explanation. But a government intent on keeping public and elite opinion on the same page is a more important factor.   Add on a lavishly funded PR campaign and an entire category of miscreants gets off scot-free.

That there is no group of people on earth today to whom the epithet “malefactors of great wealth” more justly applies hardly matters. The Western public may not like them much or respect them; but, so long as they don’t flaunt their wealth too blatantly, hardly anyone complains when Western politicians let them call the shots.

Meanwhile, Islamophobia rages and a gullible public lives in mortal fear of terrorist bogeymen.   And yet the Saudi elite gets a pass, notwithstanding the fact that nearly all the perpetrators of 9/11 — of the event that, more than any other, boosted Islamophobia and got the so-called war on terror going — were Saudi nationals. It is an amazing phenomenon.

* * *

In real democracies, governments would do what the citizens who put them in office want them to do. The United States and other Western democracies make a mockery of that ideal. But, even so, there are limits; governments cannot defy public opinion on matters of great moment indefinitely.

It is also the case, at least in the United States, that public opinion is affected significantly by the very government that is supposed to do what the people want – and therefore, ultimately, by the demands of the corporate and financial forces that corrupt democracy.

This is why propaganda matters. Keeping public opinion in line is a function, perhaps the main one, of propaganda systems. In America in the Age of Obama, that is one of the few things that works well.

We underestimate its effectiveness at our peril.

Enabling the Saudi ruling class, and the rulers of the other Gulf states, to direct American foreign policy to the extent that they do, and to get away with whatever they please, is hardly the least of it; but neither is it the only cause for concern.

ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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Edward Snowden talks ethics of whistleblowing

Victor Xu

By Victor Xu. This article was first published on Stanford Daily.

Edward Snowden, former NSA infrastructure analyst turned whistleblower, spoke on May 15 to Cubberley Auditorium to discuss the philosophical tensions of whistleblowing and government surveillance. The 2015 Symbolic Systems Distinguished Speaker, Snowden spoke via video conference from Moscow.

Professors of philosophy John Perry and Kenneth Taylor moderated the discussion, part of which also served as a recording of “Philosophy Talk,” a nationally-syndicated radio program which grapples with problems in philosophy and how philosophy relates to our everyday lives.

After brief introductions by Perry and Taylor, Snowden addressed the dilemmas in whistleblowing and his thoughts on his situation. Taylor asked whether he sees himself as a hero or a traitor, considering the various depictions presented by the government and media.

“This is a really common question that’s asked a lot,” he said. “I think it’s got one of the least interesting answers. I don’t think about myself or how I will be perceived. It’s not about me. It’s about us. I’m not a hero. I’m not a traitor. I’m an ordinary American like anyone else in the room. I’m just trying to do the best that I can.”

Snowden, who currently resides in Russia under asylum, proceeded to discuss the cost-benefit analysis that whistleblowers must consider before leaking information.

“I certainly paid for it,” he said. “I lived in Hawaii, had a wonderful girlfriend, a home, a happy family, a successful career. To walk away from that it does require a real commitment to something…I think the driving principle is that you have to have a greater commitment to justice than a fear of the law.”

Perry and Taylor asked whether Snowden was reluctant to “break the law.” Discussing his personal motivations for leaking the NSA documents, Snowden said he was motivated more by “self-interest” than altruism, as he felt that he would improve societal wellbeing by revealing and ultimately dismantling the NSA’s metadata collection programs. He added that he feels there are moral obligations to act when the law no longer reflects the morality of the society it governs.

“When legality and morality begin to separate, we all have a moral obligation to do something about that,” he said. “When I saw that the work I was doing and all my colleagues were doing [was] being subversive not only to our intentions but contrary to the public’s intent, I felt an obligation to act.”

Snowden spoke at length about the institutional failures in the U.S. government that allowed for the NSA activities in question to occur.

“The courts were frozen out, the majority of Congress was frozen out, the populace was frozen out,” he said.

He added that he attempted to reintroduce this system of checks and balances—which failed in the case of the NSA—in his own methodology for releasing the documents. By involving conflicting parties in the press and the government, Snowden said he hoped to serve the public interest: bringing attention to privacy issues while also mitigating security risks.

“I never published a single document on my own because I believe that the model, the ideal of American government is actually quite a shrewd one,” he said. “I tried to emulate the model of checks and balance. Instead of making a unilateral decision, that ‘The world must know,’ I worked with the free press, institutions that we trust, American journalists.”

At various points, Snowden expressed concern that the world as a whole is moving toward increased government surveillance at the expense of privacy, citing recent measures in France among other nations. He cautioned against acceptance of this trend and frequent justifications used by governments, such as heightened security. Citing the NSA leaks, he said that there was no clear benefit, while the privacy costs were great.

Snowden also addressed several issues related to the Internet, including expectations of privacy on the web, Chelsea Manning’s role in leaking confidential government documents to WikiLeaks and new liberation technologies.

“The Internet goes into our homes and also into the confines of our mind. That’s where we confide in friends, that’s where we express ourselves, that’s where we develop our thoughts. It’s where we decide what we believe in and who we want to be.”

On the role of WikiLeaks, he said, “Much like with whistleblowing, if all other parts of the system fails, there’s a fallback [in WikiLeaks]. There’s an ultimate choice that can provide real, unvarnished truth in the most extreme circumstances.”

Snowden recommended two major policy changes: ending mass surveillance and better protecting whistleblowers. On the first point, he cited the “infective” nature of surveillance projects and the ineffectuality of the NSA’s data collection in producing any concrete security outcome. On the second point, he argued for creating independent agencies staffed by civil liberties advocates to handle cases like his.

“If I had taken these documents to Congress, I would’ve gone to jail,” Snowden said, alluding to the massive costs facing whistleblowers.

After the first hour, the “Philosophy Talk” segment concluded. Snowden stayed for another half hour to answer questions from the audience, with topics ranging from his personal life in Moscow to the working environment within the NSA.

Snowden ended the discussion with a hope that he might one day return to the United States, although he said he was not exactly optimistic at the chances.

“If there’s any question, if the opportunity was presented, I would of course come home,” he said. “Because that’s where I live, that’s where my family is.”

The full recording of “Philosophy Talk” will be available the week of July 3 on radio stations nationwide.

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