Friday, 27 January 2012

ACTA: The Corporate Usurpation of the Internet

Written by Nile Bowie

In the wake of a public outcry against internet regulation bills such as SOPA and PIPA, representatives of the EU have signed a new and far more threatening legislation yesterday in Tokyo. Spearheaded by the governments of the United States and Japan and constructed largely in the absence of public awareness, the measures of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) dramatically alter current international legal framework, while introducing the first substantial processes of global internet governance. With complete contempt towards the democratic process, the negotiations of the treaty were exclusively held between industry representatives and government officials, while excluding elected representatives and members of the press from their hearings.

Under the guise of protecting intellectual property rights, the treaty introduces measures that would allow the private sector to enforce sweeping central authority over internet content. The ACTA abolishes all legal oversight involving the removal of content and allows copyright holders to force ISPs to remove material from the internet, something that presently requires a court order. ISPs would then be faced with legal liabilities if they chose not to remove content. Theoretically, personal blogs can be removed for using company logos without permission or simply linking to copy written material; users could be criminalized, barred from accessing the internet and even imprisoned for sharing copyrighted material. Ultimately, these implications would be starkly detrimental toward the internet as a medium for free speech.

The Obama Administration subverted the legal necessity of allowing to US Senate to ratify the treaty by unconstitutionally declaring it an “executive agreement” before the President promptly signed it on October 1st, 2011. As a touted constitutional lawyer, Barack Obama is fully aware that Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution, mandates Congress in dealing with issues of intellectual property, thus voiding the capacity for the President to issue an executive agreement. The White House refused to even disclose details about the legislation to elected officials and civil libertarians over concern that doing so may incur "damage to the national security." While some may hang off every word of his sorely insincere speeches and still be fixated by the promises of hope offered by brand-Obama, his administration has trampled the constitution and introduced the most comprehensive authoritarian legislation in America’s history.

In addition to imposing loosely defined criminal sanctions to average web users, the ACTA treaty will also obligate ISPs to disclose personal user information to copyright holders. The measures introduce legislative processes that contradict the legal framework of participant countries and allows immigration authorities to search laptops, external hard drives and Internet-capable devices at airports and border checkpoints. The treaty is not limited solely to internet-related matters, ACTA would prohibit the production of generic pharmaceuticals and outlaw the use of certain seeds for crops through patents, furthering the corporate cartelization of the food and drug supply.

ACTA would allow companies from any participating country (which include EU member states, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Morocco) to shut down websites without any explanation. Hypothetically, nothing could prevent private Singaporean companies from promptly taking down American websites that oppose the Singapore Air Force conducting war games on US soil, such as those conducted in December 2011. By operating outside normal judicial framework, exporting US copyright law to the rest of the world and mandating private corporations to conduct surveillance on their users, all prerequisites of democracy, transparency and self-expression are an afterthought. 

The further monopolization of the existing resources of communication, exchange and expression is ever present in the form of deceptive new articles of legislation that unanimously call for the implementation of the same austere censorship measures. Even if the ACTA treaty is not implemented, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TTP) between Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Vietnam and the United States offers more extensive intellectual property regulations. Leaked documents prepared by the U.S. Business Coalition (which have been reportedly drafted by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufactures of America, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Motion Picture Association of America) report that in addition to ACTA-style legislation, the TTP will impose fines on non-compliant entities and work to extend the general period of copy write terms on individual products.

Under the sweeping regulations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, individual infringers will be criminalized and sentenced with the same severity as large-scale offenders. Within the United States, the recently announced Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) H.R. 3782 regulation seeks to install policies largely identical to SOPA and PIPA. The Obama administration is also working towards an Internet ID program, which may be mandatory for American citizens and required when renewing passports, obtaining federal licenses, or applying for social security. Spreading these dangerous measures to other countries participating in these treaties would necessitate a binding obligation on the US to retain these policies, averting any chance of reform.

The ACTA will become law once it is formally ratified and cleared by the European Parliament in June. By petitioning members of the European parliament and educating others about the potential dangers imposed by this legislation, there is a chance of the treaty being rejected. Upon closer examination of the human condition with all of its inequalities, food insecurity and dire social issues, our governments have lost their legitimacy for giving such unwarranted priority to fighting copyright infringement on behalf of lobbyists from the pharmaceutical and entertainment industries. The existence of ACTA is a clear statement that surveillance, regulations and securing further corporate centralization dwarfs any constructive shift towards stimulating human innovation and self-sufficient technologies.  

When former US National Security Advisor and Trilateral Commission co-founder, Zbigniew Brzezinski spoke before the Council on Foreign Relations in 2010, he warned of a global political awakening beginning to take place. Technology such as file sharing, blogging, and open source software has the potential to undermine the oligarchical governing interests seeking to centrally control our society and enforce the population into being entirely dependent on their commodities. The following excerpt from Brzezinski’s book Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, provides invaluable insight into the world being brought in; “The technetronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.”

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Australian Militarism in the Asia-Pacific Century

Written by Nile Bowie

For a nation who has historically subordinated itself to larger powers, Australia’s Labour-led foreign policy shows little divergence away from being wholly complicit to American full spectrum dominance in the region. For all of its pristine natural beauty, the continent-nation has become a treasure chest of precious natural resources managed by a monopolistic elite, and a martial subsidiary of the world’s most militaristically aggressive empire. While the potential exists for Australia’s economy to hemorrhage in the absence of Chinese trade and demand, the permanent force of 2,500 US marines building up in the Northern Territory certainly does not appear to be in the public interest. 

A document issued by the Australian Ministry of Defense in 2009 entitled "Defending Australia in the Asia-Pacific Century: Force 2030" cites the introduction of an expansive military program, which seeks to enable a “comprehensive set of reforms that will fundamentally overhaul the entire Defense enterprise, producing efficiency and creating savings of about $20 billion.” The agenda’s efficiency and the savings it can potentially yield however, are unquestionably a subject of speculation. Reconfigurations of Australia’s armed forces under Julia Gillard’s Labour government have ratified a $100 billion program to purchase advanced military hardware from the United States, such as F-35 jet fighters, missile-guided frigates and submarines.

With naval expansionism being cited as a high priority, Australia seeks to maintain twelve submarines, three destroyers equipped with SM-6 long-range anti-aircraft missiles, eight new frigates and a fleet of LHD amphibious ships by the mid 2030s. Australia has also recently purchased ten C-27J aircrafts equipped with missile warning systems and radar from the United States, to the tune of $95 million. While the Gillard government pays lip service to China by welcoming its rise, the zeros on her defense receipt suggest otherwise. With regards to China, the Ministry of Defense document states China’s rise in economic, political and military terms has become more evident. Pronounced military modernization in the Asia-Pacific region is having significant implications for our strategic outlook.”

By heavily depending on China in the economic sphere and aligning itself militarily with the United States, playing both sides of the coin may prove to be most injudicious. Australia’s involvement in the ostensibly anti-Chinese multilateral trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) appears to be fencing China into an economic exclusion zone at the behest of US corporate interests. Much like the detested US-Korea Free Trade Agreement, the TPP requires participating countries to restructure their economies to benefit transnational entities. The carbon tax-pushing Gillard has also aligned closer to India in the form of a new trilateral security pact, which also incorporates the United States. The Chinese perspective on these developments remains plausible; commentators such as People’s Liberation Army Major General Luo Yuan reiterate, “The intent is very clear - this is aimed at China, to contain China".

As a means strengthen the foundation of the new trilateral pact, the Labour government has overturned its own ban on selling uranium to countries that are not signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). By giving India access to 40% of the world’s identified uranium reserves (possessed by Australia), the country plans to build 30 nuclear power stations in the next 20 years, earning billions for the Australian corporate elite. Australian uranium is also sold to the General Atomics Corporation; a producer of unmanned aerial drone aircrafts, which are frequently deployed against sovereign nation-states to indiscriminately exenterate any living being in its focus. The Australian leadership’s contribution to such unethical forms of warfare is truly against the will of the Australian people.

As the US faces economic torpidity and abject bankruptcy, it’s clear that a restored focus on Asia is not solely in the interest of economics, as professed by Hillary Clinton in her manifesto, America’s Pacific Century. The skulking encroachment of American militarism beneath the public relations-jargon of the State Department is increasingly evident in dealings with Australia. Although the Gillard government criminalized certain lethal armaments such as Cluster munitions under Australian law, US personnel transit and stockpile the weapons at US military facilities in Darwin. The people of Australian cannot tolerate a foreign military power illegally conducting operations on their territory and a foreign President asserting, “we’re here to stay.”

The underlining initiative of recent US foreign policy has been to continually thwart Chinese economic interests in various parts of the globe, irrespective of moral and ethical consequence. The moment that it’s provocations appear too reckless, China may incite a collapse of the US dollar by dumping its holdings of US treasury bonds. While the current Labour government spends an unjustifiable amount of money on military expansion, the original inhabitants of Australia have the shortest life expectancy of any of the world’s indigenous groups. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission has reported that half of the Indigenous people in the Northern Territory do not have adequate housing, while various communities are unable to access potable water.

Australia is the only developed nation where cases of blinding trachoma still exist. While basic infrastructure and housing in Aboriginal communities is abjectly insufficient, clearly, owning amphibious warships is more of a priority for the Australian leadership, who sheepishly play junior to American authority. While the rate of Aboriginal imprisonment in the state of Western Australia is eight times the figure than that of South Africa’s apartheid regime, the scene of mining bulldozers demolishing invaluable Aboriginal artwork on the walls of expansive natural caves situated on traditional tribal land is truly the weltschmerz of an entire people. Canberra’s allegiances are evidently not to its population, but to amoral mining enterprises and the military industrial complex.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Lagos Dissents Under IMF Hegemony

Nigeria: The Next Front for AFRICOM

Written by Nile Bowie

Photo: Sunday Alabama / Associated Press
On a recent trip to West Africa, the newly appointed managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde ordered the governments of Nigeria, Guinea, Cameroon, Ghana and Chad to relinquish vital fuel subsidies. Much to the dismay of the population of these nations, the prices of fuel and transport have near tripled over night without notice, causing widespread violence on the streets of the Nigerian capital of Abuja and its economic center, Lagos. Much like the IMF induced riots in Indonesia during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, public discontent in Nigeria is channelled towards an incompetent and self-serving domestic elite, compliant to the interests of fraudulent foreign institutions. 

Although Nigeria holds the most proven oil reserves in Africa behind Libya, it’s people are now expected to pay a fee closer to what the average American pays for the cost of fuel, an exorbitant sum in contrast to its regional neighbours. Alternatively, other oil producing nations such as Venezuela, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia offer their populations fuel for as little as $0.12 USD per gallon. While Lagos has one of Africa’s highest concentration of billionaires, the vast majority of the population struggle daily on less than $2.00 USD. Amid a staggering 47% youth unemployment rate and thousands of annual deaths related to preventable diseases, the IMF has pulled the rug out from under a nation where safe drinking water is a luxury to around 80% of it’s populace.  

Although Nigeria produces 2.4 million barrels of crude oil a day intended for export use, the country struggles with generating sufficient electrical power and maintaining its infrastructure. Ironically enough, less than 6% of bank depositors own 88% of all bank deposits in Nigeria. Goldman Sachs employees line its domestic government, in addition to the former Vice President of the World Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is widely considered by many to be the de facto Prime Minister. Even after decades of producing lucrative oil exports, Nigeria has failed to maintain it’s own refineries, forcing it to illogically purchase oil imports from other nations. Society at large has not benefited from Nigeria’s natural riches, so it comes as no surprise that a severe level of distrust is held towards the government, who claims the fuel subsidy needs to be lifted in order to divert funds towards improving the quality of life within the country.

Like so many other nations, Nigerian people have suffered from a systematically reduced living standard after being subjected to the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP). Before a loan can be taken from the World Bank or IMF, a country must first follow strict economic policies, which include currency devaluation, lifting of trade tariffs, the removal of subsidies and detrimental budget cuts to critical public sector health and education services.

SAPs encourage borrower countries to focus on the production and export of domestic commodities and resources to increase foreign exchange, which can often be subject to dramatic fluctuations in value. Without the protection of price controls and an authentic currency rate, extreme inflation and poverty subsist to the point of civil unrest, as seen in a wide array of countries around the world (usually in former colonial protectorates). The people of Nigeria have been one of the world’s most vocal against IMF-induced austerity measures, student protests have been met with heavy handed repression since 1986 and several times since then, resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths. As a testament to the success of the loan, the average laborer in Nigeria earned 35% more in the 1970’s than he would of in 2012.

Working through the direct representation of Western Financial Institutions and the IMF in Nigeria’s Government, a new IMF conditionality calls for the creation of a Sovereign Wealth Fund. Olusegun Aganga, the former Nigerian Minister of Finance commented on how the SWF was hastily pushed through and enacted prior to the countries national elections. If huge savings are amassed from oil exports and austerity measures, one cannot realistically expect that these funds will be invested towards infrastructure development based on the current track record of the Nigerian Government. Further more, it is increasingly more likely that any proceeds from a SWF would be beneficial to Western institutions and markets, which initially demanded its creation. Nigerian philanthropist Bukar Usman prophetically writes “I have genuine fears that the SWF would serve us no better than other foreign-recommended "remedies" which we had implemented to our own detriment in the past or are being pushed to implement today.”

The abrupt simultaneous removal of fuel subsidies in several West African nations is a clear indication of who is really in charge of things in post-colonial Africa. The timing of its cushion-less implementation could not be any worse, Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan recently declared a state of emergency after forty people were killed in a church bombing on Christmas day, an act allegedly committed by the Islamist separatist group, Boko Haram. The group advocates dividing the predominately Muslim northern states from the Christian southern states, a similar predicament to the recent division of Sudan.

As the United States African Command (AFRICOM) begins to gain a foothold into the continent with its troops officially present in Eritrea and Uganda in an effort to maintain security and remove other theocratic religious groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army, the sectarian violence in Nigeria provides a convenient pretext for military intervention in the continuing resource war. For further insight into this theory, it is interesting to note that United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania conducted a series of African war game scenarios in preparation for the Pentagon’s expansion of AFRICOM under the Obama Administration.

In the presence of US State Department Officials, employees from The Rand Corporation and Israeli military personnel, a military exercise was undertaken which tested how AFRICOM would respond to a disintegrating Nigeria on the verge of collapse amidst civil war. The scenario envisioned rebel factions vying for control of the Niger Delta oil fields (the source of one of America’s top oil imports), which would potentially be secured by some 20,000 U.S. troops if a US-friendly coup failed to take place. At a press conference at the House Armed Services Committee on March 13, 2008, AFRICOM Commander, General William Ward then went on to brazenly state the priority issue of America’s growing dependence on African oil would be furthered by AFRICOM operating under the principle theatre-goal of “combating terrorism”.

At an AFRICOM Conference held at Fort McNair on February 18, 2008, Vice Admiral Robert T. Moeller openly declared the guiding principle of AFRICOM is to protect “the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market”, before citing China’s increasing presence in the region as challenging to American interests. After the unwarranted snatch-and-grab regime change conducted in Libya, nurturing economic destabilization, civil unrest and sectarian conflict in Nigeria is an ultimately tangible effort to secure Africa’s second largest oil reserves. During the pillage of Libya, its SFW accounts worth over 1.2 billion USD were frozen and essentially absorbed by Franco-Anglo-American powers; it would be realistic to assume that much the same would occur if Nigeria failed to comply with Western interests. While agents of foreign capital have already infiltrated its government, there is little doubt that Nigeria will become a new front in the War on Terror. 




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