News Releases

Is Google Really Ending its Military Contracts?

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YASHA LEVINE, [in NYC] mail at yashalevine.com, @yashalevine
Levine is an investigative journalist and author of the new book Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet. He recently wrote the piece “Know your history: Google has been a military-intel contractor from the very beginning,” which includes excerpts from the book that document specific contracts Google has with the CIA; and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, in partnership with Lockheed Martin.

He has been commenting on the scandal surrounding Google’s military contracting work on Project Maven, a Pentagon initiative to develop AI visual recognition capability for drones and was quoted in the recent Wired piece on the story.

He said today: “The public should not fall for Google’s announcement that it will not be renewing its contract for Project Maven, which came as a result of public criticism and the resignation of dozens of Google employees. The company is still a military contractor. …

“Sure, Google might not renew this specific AI drone contract. But what about the rest of the company’s military contracting work? What about its work with predictive policing outfits?

“Head of Google’s AI (who also runs Stanford’s AI lab) doesn’t mind building weapons for the military. What she worries about is the optics.

“Co-founder Sergey Brin wants Google to be a military contractor. Says it will be better for peace if Google does this military work rather than traditional military contractors.

“It’s great that Google employees are protesting their company’s Pentagon AI drone research, but that’s hardly the only work Google does for militaries and law enforcement. Google has been building more efficient systems of surveillance and death for generals, spies and cops for 15 years and counting.”

Truth Commission to Investigate 43 Missing Mexican Students

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The New York Times reports: “A federal court in Mexico ordered the government on Monday to investigate the 2014 disappearances of 43 college students again, but this time under the supervision of a truth commission to be led by the nation’s top human rights body and parents of the victims.”

JOHN GIBLER, john.gibler at gmail.com
Gibler is the author of  I Couldn’t Even Imagine That They Would Kill Us: An Oral History of the Attacks Against the Students of Ayotzinapa and Torn from the World: A Guerrilla’s Escape from a Secret Prison in Mexico. He has been published in California Sunday Magazine and featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

He said today: “Last Monday, June 4, a Mexican federal court invalidated the government’s investigation of the attacks against the students of Ayotzinapa, citing evidence that the detained made false confessions under torture. The ruling also noted the government’s failure to investigate the participation of the federal police and the Army in the attacks. The court ordered the government to form an independent truth commission and to restart the investigation within a period of ten days.

“This recent court ruling supports what the families of the disappeared students as well as independent journalists and human rights investigators have been arguing and documenting for years: That the federal government has been orchestrating a massive ‘cover-up’ operation based on torture, lies, the destruction of evidence and the planting of false evidence. …

“In addition to truly investigating the intellectual and material authors of the attacks against the students in Iguala, Guerrero on September 26-27, 2014, it remains essential to fully investigate the command structure and participants in the federal ‘cover-up’ that has been ongoing since the first moments after the violence in the streets. In cases of forced disappearance involving state actors, a ‘cover up’ is never a secondary, external operation, but instead an essential, constitutive part of the atrocity itself.”

Gibler’s past books include Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt and To Die in Mexico: Dispatches From Inside the Drug War.

Tenant Rights Ballot Measure Wins in San Francisco

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The San Francisco Chronicle reports: “A ballot measure to give tenants facing eviction lawsuits the right to taxpayer-funded legal representation won Tuesday.

“With 99 percent of precincts counted, Proposition F, ‘Defend SF Against Evictions,’ won with nearly 56 percent in favor, and 44 percent opposed.

“Takeaway: Tenants’ rights groups that back the measure have been fighting to keep renters in their homes during the tech boom, which since 2010 has resulted in a steady increase in evictions.”

See also from the SF Weekly: “Yippee! Prop. F Passes.”

SUSANNA BLANKLEY, susanna at righttocounselnyc.org, @RTCNYC

Last year, a similar measure was passed into law in New York City. Blankley is coalition coordinator for the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition, which just released a statement: “We couldn’t be more excited that the tenants of San Francisco voted to make their city the second city in the country to recognize tenants’ right to a lawyer when defending their homes. The vote was an overwhelming referendum — where landlords use the court as a weapon of displacement, tenants are fighting back. We especially commend the amazing work of the San Francisco Tenants Union for making this happen and for getting this referendum passed with no income restrictions! We know more cities will follow suit because this new civil right should not be exclusive to the tenants of NYC and SF.”

Protests Against Austerity Force Jordanian PM Out

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The New York Times reports: “Jordan’s Prime Minister Quits, as Protesters Demand an End to Austerity.”

PETE MOORE, pwm10 at case.edu
Professor of political science at Case Western Reserve University, Moore is author of Doing Business in the Middle East: Politics and Economic Crisis in Jordan and Kuwait (Cambridge University Press) and wrote the in-depth paper “The Bread Revolutions of 2011 and the Political Economies of Transition” for the Woodrow Wilson Center and the U.S. Institute of Peace.

LAMIS ANDONI, lamisk15 at gmail.com, @LamisAndoni
Andoni is a noted analyst independent journalist based in Amman, Jordan. She was just interviewed by the BBC and Al-Jazeera about the situation in Jordan. She writes to the Institute for Public Accuracy: “Changing prime ministers is no longer sufficient to appease widening discontent as the country is facing a deep economic and political crisis. The new designated prime minister Omar Razzaz is one of the more respected public personalities in the country but he could rapidly lose his credibility if there are no fundamental policy changes.

“Jordan is already bound by an agreement with the IMF [International Monetary Fund] to continue fuel price increases, pass a flawed income tax law and maintain high sales taxes.

“In fact, the middle class is only starting to feel the effects of the austerity measures and price hikes. There is a feeling that the consecutive governments had not sought solutions but bowed to the IMF without making cuts in unnecessary expenditures or presenting alternative plans. It’s important to note that many Jordanians lay the blame at the king’s door as governments have come to be seen as no more than rubber stamps for the palace.

“No doubt there are tremendous pressures on Jordan exercised by the Saudi and the UAE [governments] who attach well-known conditions on aid and investment to and in Jordan. Both countries want the king to totally and fully accept whatever package that Trump includes in the so-called deal of the century [with Israel].

“But this is not enough to get people to rally around the king as there has been a mounting feeling of total disregard to Jordanians as citizens by both the palace and the [successive] governments. Omar Razzaz’s background as a World Bank official is already viewed by suspicion by many activists, so even if he truly tries to make changes he will be under a lot of scrutiny.”

“End This Russophobic Insanity”

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Jack F. Matlock Jr., ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991, just wrote the piece “Amid ‘Russiagate’ Hysteria, What Are the Facts? We must end this Russophobic insanity” for The Nation.

He writes regarding Russiagate: “Unless there is a mass shooting in progress, it can be hard to find a discussion of anything else on CNN. Increasingly, both in Congress and in our media, it has been accepted as a fact that ‘Russia’ interfered in the 2016 election.

“So what are the facts?

“It is a fact that some Russians paid people to act as online trolls and bought advertisements on Facebook during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. Most of these were taken from elsewhere, and they comprised a tiny fraction of all the advertisements purchased on Facebook during this period. This continued after the election and included organizing a demonstration against President-elect Trump.

“It is a fact that emails in the memory of the Democratic National Committee’s computer were furnished to WikiLeaks. The U.S. intelligence agencies that issued the January 2017 report were confident that Russians hacked the emails and supplied them to WikiLeaks, but offered no evidence to substantiate their claim. Even if one accepts that Russians were the perpetrators, however, the emails were genuine, as the U.S. intelligence report certified. I have always thought that the truth was supposed to make us free, not degrade our democracy. …

“The most important fact, obscured in Russiagate hysteria, is that Americans elected Trump under the terms set forth in the Constitution. Americans created the Electoral College, which allows a candidate with a minority of popular votes to become president. Americans were those who gerrymandered electoral districts to rig them in favor of a given political party. The Supreme Court issued the infamous Citizens United decision that allows corporate financing of candidates for political office. …

“I did not personally vote for Trump, but I consider the charges that Russian actions interfered in the election, or — for that matter — damaged the quality of our democracy ludicrous, pathetic, and shameful. ….

“’Shameful’ because it is an evasion of responsibility. It prevents the Democrats, and those Republicans who want responsible, fact-based government in Washington, from concentrating on practical ways to reduce the threat the Trump presidency poses to our political values and even to our future existence. After all, Trump would not be president if the Republican Party had not nominated him. …

“I should add ‘dangerous’ to those three adjectives. ‘Dangerous’ because making an enemy of Russia, the other nuclear superpower — yes, there are still two — comes as close to political insanity as anything I can think of.”

Currently available for interviews on these issues:

JACKSON LEARS, tjlears at history.rutgers.edu
Lears is the Board of Governors Professor of History at Rutgers University. He recently wrote the piece “What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk about Russian Hacking” for the London Review of Books.

DNC Suing WikiLeaks: Part of the “Greatest Threat to Press Freedom”

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AVI ASHER-SCHAPIRO, via press at cpj.org, @AASchapiro
Avi Asher-Schapiro is the Committee to Protect Journalists’ U.S. correspondent. His work has appeared in outlets including The Atlantic, The Intercept, and The New York Times. He just wrote a piece titled “By suing WikiLeaks, DNC could endanger principles of press freedom.”

He writes: “In April, the Democratic National Committee, the governing body of the Democratic Party, announced that it was suing WikiLeaks and Julian Assange — along with a number of other defendants, including the Trump campaign and Russian operatives — for their alleged involvement in the theft and dissemination of DNC computer files during the 2016 election. On its surface, the DNC’s argument seems to fly in the face of the Supreme Court’s precedent in Bartnicki v. Vopper that publishers are not responsible for the illegal acts of their sources. It also goes against press freedom precedents going back to the Pentagon Papers and contains arguments that could make it more difficult for reporters to do their jobs or that foreign governments could use against U.S. journalists working abroad, First Amendment experts told CPJ. …

“The notion that journalistic activity such as cultivating sources and receiving illegally obtained documents could be construed as part of a criminal conspiracy is, according to [The New York Times‘ Pentagon Papers lawyer James] Goodale, the ‘greatest threat to press freedom today.’ …

“The case raises a number of important press freedom questions: Where should courts draw the line between source-building and ‘conspiring’? What activities could implicate a journalist in a source’s illegal behavior? Would putting a SecureDrop link soliciting leaks count as illegal conspiracy? And if a reporter asked for documents on an individual while indicating that they think the person deserves to be exposed, would that count as shared motive, or is the only truly protected activity passively receiving leaks, like radio host Vopper? …”Many of the legal experts said they assume the counts that mention Assange and WikiLeaks will be dismissed when the judge assesses if the conspiracy claims in the DNC lawsuit are ‘plausible.’ If the judge moves forward, University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck said, it will be because he finds a way to substantially differentiate what WikiLeaks does from routine reporting practices.

“However, Charles Glasser, a professor at NYU’s journalism school who spent over a dozen years as global media counsel for Bloomberg, said that if the charges against Assange and WikiLeaks survived, it could pave the way for companies or others to label everyone — from those who illegally obtain documents to the press — as co-conspirators.”

Pardoning D’Souza is Trump’s “Blazing Signal”

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LISA GILBERT, CRAIG HOLMAN, via Nadia Prupis, nprupis at citizen.org;
Angela Bradbery, abradbery at citizen.org, @Public_Citizen
Gilbert is vice president of legislative affairs and Holman is government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

The group just released a statement: “Pardoning D’Souza Is Trump’s Blazing Signal to Associates to Stay Loyal Amid Mueller Investigation”: “President Donald Trump today announced that he would pardon Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative political pundit and filmmaker, who in 2014 confessed to campaign money laundering and was sentenced to five years’ probation and a $30,000 fine. D’Souza devised a scheme to launder $20,000 in illegal contributions to the 2012 U.S. Senate campaign of Republican candidate Wendy Long. D’Souza solicited two ‘straw donors’ each to make another $10,000 contribution to the candidate, which he reimbursed the following day.”

Gilbert said today: “Pardoning someone who breaks anti-corruptions laws is not a subtle message. The president is sending a blazing signal to his surrogates and associates that they will be rewarded if they stay loyal. The precedent is particularly frightening as the important Mueller investigation into obstruction of justice and collusion continues and seems likely to have ongoing indictments and charges of those in the president’s orbit.”

Holman said today: “If there was any lingering doubt left that Trump’s pledge to ‘drain the swamp’ in Washington was nothing more than campaign rhetoric, today’s pardon of a confessed campaign money launderer should bring those doubts to a close.

“D’Souza confessed in court that he deliberately violated our campaign finance laws and with full knowledge that it was illegal. Allegations that the prosecution of D’Souza was political were dismissed by the judge as, legally speaking, ‘all hat, no cattle.’

“By pardoning D’Souza, Trump is sending another clear signal that he’s AOK with flagrant corruption.”

U.S.-China Trade Relations: Cooperation or Confrontation?

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DAVID KOTZ, dmkotz at comcast.net
With escalating activity and rhetoric on trade between the U.S. and China, Kotz just returned from two weeks in Beijing and Shanghai. He is professor emeritus of economics and Sheridan Scholar at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His most recent book is The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism from Harvard University Press.

Kotz said today: “Many analysts and interest groups have criticized President Donald Trump’s trade war threats against China. Much of the criticism has been aimed at the administration’s tactics, not the goal of forcing a radical change in China’s trade and technology upgrade policies. That goal appears to be widely shared by elite policy analysts and business interests.

“The widespread criticism of China’s economic policy focuses on its industrial policy, through which the state encourages technological upgrade by investment in science and technology and by directing financing to key industries of the future. It is claimed that this leads to unfair state promotion of its industries as well as the theft of American technology. Overall, the policy is cast as an effort to ‘dominate’ all of the key industries of the coming years, an aim that is supposed to be openly proclaimed in the official policy document ‘Made in China 2025.’

“A reading of the ‘Made in China 2025’ document finds no mention of a goal of domination of key industries. Instead, it is a plan to reach the world technological and product quality frontier while addressing the problems of environmental degradation and global climate change. The U.S. claim of theft of technologies seems to be based on China’s practice of granting Western corporations access to its lucrative market on the condition of partnering with a Chinese company that leads to sharing of the technology and business practices with the Chinese partner, a deal that Western companies accept if reluctantly.

“The current establishment goal of changing China’s economic strategy appears to be a demand that China stop aiming for the global technological frontier but instead permanently accept a lesser position in the global economy. No rising country government could accept such a demand. This approach to U.S.-China relations will only lead to a dangerous and unresolvable conflict.

“While China’s rise has cost good jobs in the U.S., the way to protect American workers is not the imposition of punitive tariffs as a bargaining chip to get China to give up its ambitious plans for upgrading its economy. A government jobs program guaranteeing a living wage job for any worker who needs one, as part of a green economy development strategy, would insulate American workers from the negative effects of the rise of China’s and other developing economies. Instead of demanding that China give up industrial policy, the U.S. should adopt one of its own.”

See Kotz’s interview with The Real News shortly after Chinese President Xi Jinping commemorated Karl Marx’s 200th Birthday earlier this month.

Corporations Are Profiting From Immigrant Detainees’ Labor

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VICTORIA LAW, victorialawnyc at gmail.com, @LVikkiml
Law is a freelance journalist and author of Women Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women. She just wrote the article “Corporations Are Profiting From Immigrant Detainee’s Labor. Some Say It’s Slavery” for the magazine In These Times.

She writes: “There’s reason to believe thousands of the roughly 35,000 people in immigrant detention are currently being coerced into labor. …

“Within the past year, four lawsuits have been filed by seven people who say they were victims of trafficking at the hands of the nation’s two largest private detention center operators: CoreCivic and GEO Group. The suits charge that at five CoreCivic facilities and one GEO Group facility, the corporations violated the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act by threatening solitary confinement or withholding basic necessities, such as food, toilet paper and soap, if detainees refused to work. According to the lawsuits, the companies did so to reduce labor costs and maximize profits.

“The four new suits join one already wending its way through the court system. …

“Each of these five lawsuits concerns the Voluntary Work Program, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program that puts detainees to work for $1 a day.

“‘The name “Voluntary Work Program” is misleading since, in most cases, it actually means forced labor,’ says Liz Martinez, director of advocacy and strategic communications at Freedom for Immigrants, a nonprofit working to abolish immigrant detention. Noting that detained people are wholly dependent upon detention staff for basics such as food, toilet paper and even time outside, ‘the detention facilities create an inhospitable atmosphere that incentivizes people to join these Voluntary Work Programs,’ she explains. …

“‘When I arrived at Stewart [Detention Center in Georgia] I was faced with the impossible choice — either work for a few cents an hour or live without basic things like soap, shampoo, deodorant and food,’ said Guatemalan asylum-seeker Wilhen Hill Barrientos in a recent press release announcing his lawsuit against CoreCivic. …

“The Voluntary Work Program dates back to 1950. Its $1 a day rate has yet to be adjusted for inflation (and would be equivalent to $10.40 a day now). In 2013, the 55 detention centers where the program operated held 76 percent of the country’s detained immigrants. …

“In 2012, Congress approved an act mandating that ICE maintain a daily minimum of 34,000 detention beds. In May 2017, Congress provided ICE with an additional $2.6 billion to increase the beds by another 5,300. In 2017, an average of 39,322 people were in immigrant detention each day, a huge jump from 5,532 in 1994. Private corporations control over 60 percent of immigrant detention beds. …

“In 2017, one-quarter of (CoreCivic’s) $444.1 million revenue came from ICE detention.”

Israel Stops Palestinian Freedom Flotilla

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Newsweek reports Tuesday: “Boat Carrying Wounded Palestinians Breaks Gaza Blockade, Gets Towed to Israel.” AP reported late last week: “Israel’s supreme court rejects human rights group’s request to declare it unlawful for soldiers to shoot at unarmed civilians.”

LEEN ABUSAID, ASMAA TAYEH, leen.abusaid at gmail.com, asmaatayeh9 at gmail.com, [in Gaza] also via PAM BAILEY, pam.palestine at gmail.com, @WeAreNotNumbers
Abusaid, Tayeh and Bailey are with the group We Are Not Numbers. The group tweeted: “Update on the Al-Hurriyeh (Liberty) boat: Of the 17 passengers, 4 are crew, 2 unemployed students, 2 injured protesters, 2 deaf (seeking treatment), & the rest are ill with cancer/similar serious diseases. The boat was shelled & they are in Ashdod. Call for their safe release!”

Tayeh is an English literature student at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University. She was born in Gaza and lives in a refugee camp called Jabalia in northern Gaza. Leen is a freelance journalist and has B.A. in English and French Literature.

See piece from the group: “Boat from Gaza attempts to break Israeli blockade” that profiles a wounded protester seeking treatment outside of Gaza.

See also statements from Freedom Flotilla Coalition, which “condemns Israel’s brutal act of state piracy in attacking the aptly named Hurriya (Liberty) vessel which attempted to leave the port of Gaza today filled with people needing urgent medical assistance as well as students and crew, as they attempted to peacefully make safe passage to Cyprus.”

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