Category Archives: Canada

the united colours of Bilderberg — a late review of Montreux 2019: #3 smart era

This is the third of a sequence of articles based around the ‘key topics’ to last year’s Bilderberg conference discussed in relation to the prevailing political agenda and placed within the immediate historical context.

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Welcome to the machine

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been?
It’s alright we know where you’ve been.

— Roger Waters 1

More than a century ago, E M Forster wrote an eerily prophetic science fiction novella entitled “The Machine Stops” (1909). The machine in the novel is vast and seemingly omnipotent. It services all the needs for a global civilisation that has long since abandoned the Earth’s surface and retreated underground; all citizens now inhabiting highly luxurious, fully automated, and secluded subterranean quarters, which are compared in the book to the geometrical cells of a beehive.

Although travel is permitted in this future world, it is seen as a bothersome hindrance on the perfectly understandable basis that every settlement in every country is exactly alike every other. Moreover, being accustomed to air-conditioned atmospheres and artificial illumination, once cast into daylight, travelers are likely to experience an urgent need to shield their eyes, the sun to them a distressing aggravation.

For these and other reasons, human interaction is usually limited to minute by minute communication via screens instead. It is here that all ideas are shared, and this is largely how people prefer to occupy themselves. Nevertheless, this is a free society and so there is no active censorship of ideas, although notions about anything that is ‘unmechanical’ have become essentially incomprehensible (just as witchdoctory is incomprehensible to the average twenty-first century westerner today and so we don’t talk about it much).

So this is Forster’s world, and it is in some respects a forerunner to Huxley’s later vision. Clean, efficient, clinical, and absolutely impersonal. Of course it also shares a great deal with our own world and in ways that Huxley did not envision. As many have commented before, it is as if Forster dreamt up the internet, and then afterwards also imagined all the ways such miraculous interconnectedness would soon begin to isolate humanity.

More specifically, we can also recognise ‘the machine’ as not so much the internet as it exists, but actually a foreshadowing of the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), where everything that isn’t ‘unmechanical’ is what nowadays we call ‘smart’. Forster’s entire world is ‘smart’ in this most fundamental sense.

But Forster also poses this question and makes it the title of the book: what if the machine stops? To the future citizens of his world this is not actually a question at all, of course, being unutterably ‘unmechanical’. As unthinkable to them as when we try to imagine the sun not rising tomorrow; not that such comparison would be remotely comprehensible to these future humans who descended to dwell within the sunless realms of Forster’s abysmal, yet extraordinary, premonition:

The original upload was taken down, so here’s a different version:

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The Technetronic tranformation

In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or it might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies—the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction. — Aldous Huxley 2

President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, the late Zbigniew Brzezinski is remembered today for two main reasons. Firstly, he was the principle architect of Operation Cyclone, a successful US strategy to bog down the Soviets in Afghanistan thanks to the help of covertly supplied and trained Mujahideen fighters; the precursors to al-Qaeda.

His other notable and less clandestine claim to fame is the authorship of two works of particular note: The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (1997), a blueprint for US primacy; and, almost three decades prior, his remarkably prescient Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era (1970). It is in this perhaps lesser known work that Brzezinski too envisions a future:

“that is shaped culturally, psychologically, socially and economically by the impact of technology and electronics – particularly in the arena of computers and electronics”: 3

Indeed, a society that is under rapid construction today:

Alphabet Inc. is best known for its signature product, the Google search engine. But it is useful to think of it as a company that builds platforms – software that serves as a foundation for a growing array of technologies and services that people use every day.

It practically owns the web advertising market through its search platform, it is a leading player in the smartphone ecosystem with its Android platform, it is a large player in the cloud-computing platform, not to mention playing significant roles in the race to build an autonomous-vehicle platform and with high hopes to do the same in the artificial-intelligence space.

With the announcement on Tuesday that its subsidiary Sidewalk Labs would develop a whole new district of Toronto as a working model of a new type of smart city, it’s no stretch to say the company is trying to build a platform for the construction and organization of cities. 4

From an article published by Globe and Mail in October 2017 about plans to transform Toronto into a state-of-the-art “smart city”.

The same piece continues:

Google intends to build a traffic-sensing network that will collect data from smartphones, embedded sensors and cameras to identify areas that could use more bike-sharing slots, or where a self-driving vehicle should be routed, or where a future pop-up store could find a market for its wares.

It’s hoping to be the private garbage collectors of the data that describe what makes Toronto tick and recycle that data into solutions for how this and other cities can be run more effectively.

Now let’s compare this with the ‘Technetronic era’ envisioned by Brzezinski at the beginning of the 70s. Incidentally, Brzezinski’s words might be read as a warning or a blueprint… a deliberate ambiguity that remains unresolved because he hesitates to make his own position clear. 5:

“In the Technetronic society the trend seems to be toward aggregating the individual support of millions of unorganized citizens, who are easily within the reach of magnetic and attractive personalities, and effectively exploiting the latest communication techniques to manipulate emotion and control reason.” […]

“Another threat, less overt but no less basic, confronts liberal democracy. More directly linked to the impact of technology, it involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled and directed society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite whose claim to political power would rest on allegedly superior scientific knowhow. Unhindered by the restraints of traditional liberal values, this elite would not hesitate to achieve its political ends by using the latest modern techniques for influencing public behavior and keeping society under close surveillance and control.” 6

It is somewhat of an understatement to say that Brzezinski was well-connected. He was a former member of the Atlantic Council, the National Endowment for Democracy, and had remained a member of the Council on Foreign Relations until his death in 2017. On the back of his thesis, Between Two Ages, he had also been invited in 1973 to co-found The Trilateral Commission with David Rockefeller, and alongside, Rockefeller, was a high profile and regular Bilderberg attendee. 7

Nowadays Bilderberg is dominated mostly by the tech giants and the person whose star is most in the ascendant appears to be Alphabet chief, Eric Schmidt, who has attended the annual conferences every year since 2007 (with the sole exception of 2009):

If you look around the current conference for people with enough substance — enough ideological meat on their bones to drive Bilderberg forward, you won’t find it in finance, and you certainly won’t find it in politics, because for the last few decades the really smart people have gone into engineering and tech. And that, surely, is where the center of gravity within Bilderberg will end up.

Writes Charlie Skelton, summing up his thoughts after last year’s conference in Montreux, and adding more concretely:

The two figures at Bilderberg who seem to have an aura of influence about them are Schmidt and Thiel. Over the years, Schmidt has been gently aligning himself as the heir to Kissinger, and has populated recent conferences with Google executives. The Libertarian Thiel has already engineered his lieutenant, Alex Karp, onto the steering committee. 8

Click here to read Skelton’s full article published by Newsweek.

As Schmidt’s business model appears set to engender the sort of ‘technetronic’ transformation that Brzezinski outlined, it should hardly come as a surprise that Schmidt takes a less circumspect position on the whole reason for building “smart cities”. A naked ambition that Jathan Sadowski, lecturer in ethics of technology at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands, discusses in a Guardian op-ed:

There is much at stake with this initiative – and not just for Toronto and Alphabet, but for cities globally. With a high-profile project like this one, the kind of deals and terms set here could become a template for similar projects in other cities.

Mayors and tech executives exalt urban labs as sites of disruptive innovation and economic growth. However, this model of creating our urban future is also an insidious way of handing more control – over people, places, policies – to profit-driven, power-hungry corporations.

As the Globe and Mail reports, Eric Schmidt said at the announcement: “The genesis of the thinking for Sidewalk Labs came from Google’s founders getting excited thinking of ‘all the things you could do if someone would just give us a city and put us in charge’.” Ambition alone is not a sin, yet desires like these should evoke suspicion, not celebration.

Sadowski concludes his piece with this warning:

It is easy for city leaders to step aside and allow technocrats and corporations to take control, as if they are alchemists who can turn social problems and economic stagnation into progress and growth. […]

When Sidewalk Labs was chosen to develop Quayside, Schmidt said his reaction was: “Now, it’s our turn.” While this was a joyous exclamation for him, it’s an ominous remark for the rest of us.

There’s no doubt that urban labs can help in the design of powerful, useful technologies. But building the smart urban future cannot also mean paving the way for tech billionaires to fulfill their dreams of ruling over cities. If it does, that’s not a future we should want to live in. 9

Click here to read the full article entitled “Google wants to run cities without being elected. Don’t let it”.

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5G and the Internet of Things (IoT)

More and more personal and household devices are connecting to the internet, from your television to your car navigation systems to your light switches. CIA Director David Petraeus cannot wait to spy on you through them.

So begins a report entitled “CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher” published by Wired magazine back in March 2012.

The same eye-opening piece tells us with no less candour how General Petraeus (Rtd), another regular high-profile Bilderberg attendee [every year since Copenhagen 2014 – although curiously Wikipedia only lists 3 of these in its main entry], was licking his lips at the prospect of routinely hacking into the lives of every “person of interest”:

Earlier this month, Petraeus mused about the emergence of an “Internet of Things” – that is, wired devices – at a summit for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm. “‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,” Petraeus enthused, “particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft.”

All those new online devices are a treasure trove of data if you’re a “person of interest” to the spy community. Once upon a time, spies had to place a bug in your chandelier to hear your conversation. With the rise of the “smart home,” you’d be sending tagged, geolocated data that a spy agency can intercept in real time when you use the lighting app on your phone to adjust your living room’s ambiance.

“Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters – all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,” Petraeus said, “the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.”

Petraeus allowed that these household spy devices “change our notions of secrecy” and prompt a rethink of “our notions of identity and secrecy.” All of which is true – if convenient for a CIA director. 10

That’s not the end of the whole article by the way, though it might look like an excellent way to conclude it. To read the whole piece click here.

Embedded below is another fascinating episode of The Corbett Report that follows up his How Big Oil Conquered the World. Again he explores the concept of technocracy and now asks, if “Data is the New Oil” then what does that tell us about the 21st Century oligarchy and the world that the plutocrats are busily creating?

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The vision of the future offered by the proponents of this next-generation cellular technology is one in which every object that you own will be a “smart” object, communicating data about you, your movements and your activities in real time via the ultra-fast 5G network. From the grandiose—self-driving cars and remote surgery—to the mundane—garbage cans that let garbage trucks know when they’re full—everything around us will be constantly broadcasting information through the Internet of Things if the 5G boosters get their way.

But beyond the glossy sci-fi fantasy presented in the slick advertisements for this “smart” world of the future is a creepy and unsettling glimpse into a technological dystopia. One in which “social experiences” are “shared” by strapping VR goggles to your face and interaction with humans is reduced as much as possible in favor of interaction with machines, gadgets and personal assistants that are there to cater to your every whim . . . for a price. And, as some are only now starting to realize, the price that one pays for this world of robotic comfort and convenience is control. Control over our data. Control over our security. And control over our lives. 11

From the transcript of another in-depth episode of the Corbett Report entitled “The 5G Dragnet” written and presented by James Corbett and broadcast last June – the full episode (#358) is also embedded below:

Having provided a few cautionary examples of how smart homes and other smart technology is constantly at risk of being hacked, the Corbett Report continues

It isn’t hard to see why these smart technologies, and the 5G network that enables them, are a security concern. And, in that context, it isn’t hard to see why Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE are now being targeted as potential national security threats and barred from developing 5G network infrastructure in country after country. After all, with access to that much data and information—let alone the ability to communicate with, hack into, or disable everything from our “smart” TV to our “smart” door locks to our “smart” car—a potential adversary with control of the 5G network would have nearly limitless power to surveil and control a target population.

But given that these powers—the ability to access our most intimate data and to take control of our homes and personal appliances—are not bugs but features of the 5G-connected Internet of Things, the question is: Why is there such a headlong rush to connect this network? Is demand for smart dishwashers and smart toothbrushes and smart baby monitors really so overwhelming that it requires us to put the security of our homes, our possessions and our families at risk? What is really driving this frenzy for a world where every new object we buy presents another potential vulnerability, another device that can be hacked into to steal our information, to track our location, to record our conversations and to disable our appliances?

One answer to this question lies in the fact that intelligence agencies—whether Chinese or Russian, CIA or MI6, Mossad or CSIS—will make use of the vast amounts of data flowing through these networks to spy on the public. In fact, the members of the so-called “intelligence community” do not even hide this fact; they openly gloat about it.

[Note that here I have edited out a further reference to the same Petraeus statement already quoted above.]

Lest there be any doubt about the intelligence community’s intentions to use these devices to spy on the population, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed this approach in a report to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2016:

“Smart” devices incorporated into the electric grid, vehicles—including autonomous vehicles—and household appliances are improving efficiency, energy conservation, and convenience. However, security industry analysts have demonstrated that many of these new systems can threaten data privacy, data integrity, or continuity of services. In the future, intelligence services might use the IoT for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.

Whistleblowers from within the intelligence establishment—whistleblowers like Russ Tice and Bill Binney, who are actively shunned by the same mainstream media that breathlessly reported on Edward Snowden—have already laid out in exhaustive detail how the NSA is collecting all data flowing through the internet as we know it. Every phone call. Every email. Every web search. Every file stored to the cloud. Everything that passes from one computer or phone to another is being stored, catalogued, data-based and data-mined to construct detailed profiles of ordinary citizens.

But now the 5G network is promising to deliver us not an internet of phones and computers but an internet of things, from cars and watches to fridges and hats to milk jugs and floor tiles. When every manufactured object is broadcasting information about you and your activities to the world at large by default, and when it is discovered that opting out of this surveillance grid is not an option, the true nature of this 5G panopticon will finally begin to dawn on the public. But by that point it will already be too late.

[The following part of the transcript is all about the Quayside project in Canada discussed above]

NARRATOR: Cities use data every day, everything from showing you when your next train will arrive to measuring the air quality in different neighborhoods. Typically all this information is spread out across a ton of different agencies and companies in a bunch of different file formats and spreadsheets. But at Quayside we have the chance to start from scratch and build a single unified digital platform that’s transparent, open, and accessible for everyone working to make our cities better.

SOURCE: Meet Sidewalk Toronto: Kristina and Craig Talk Open Urban Data

TINA YAZDANI: The leaders behind Toronto’s first data-driven smart city are under fire tonight after yet another resignation. This time, a member of Waterfront Toronto’s digital advisory panel quit and wrote a strongly worded letter on her way out, sharing her deep concerns about privacy and data control.

SOURCE: Sidewalk Labs advisory panel member resigns, highlights privacy concerns

STEVE PAIKIN: I want to get some feedback now from the former information and privacy commissioner from the province of Ontario, who, when you were here discussing this very topic, you were kind of bullish about it. And then I just couldn’t happen but help notice that you’ve resigned from your involvement in all this. What happened?

ANA CAVOUKIAN: And I didn’t. . . I didn’t do it lightly. I wanted to draw attention to the fact that we had to make sure that all the personal data that was being collected automatically by the sensors and other technologies were de-identified at source—anonymized at source—

PAIKIN: “De-identified” meaning . . .?

CAVOUKIAN: Meaning no personal identifiers. You wouldn’t know it’s Ana Cavoukian walking, or you [walking], or this is my car, or anything. And the reason that was critical is unlike most uses of what I call operational data, where the individual—the data subject—can exercise some control over the use—the operation of that data. They can consent to it, they can revoke consent, they can choose not to consent. They have some sense of control with the data. Here you have no control. It’s all being collected automatically with the emerging technology sensors all picking up data.

SOURCE: A Year of Planning Quayside

[James Corbett again…]

But it is not just the intelligence agencies or the Big Tech conglomerates who are set to profit from the creation of this newer, stickier world wide web. In fact, the 5G-enabled Internet of Things is a necessary part of the creation of the system of total control—physical, financial and political—that the technocrats have been lusting over for a century now.

Click here to read the full Corbett Report transcript

And here to read an earlier post entitled “the panopticon: a potted history of mass surveillance”

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Addendum: the known health risks of RF radiation

During recent weeks there has been a strange spate of attacks on mobile phone masts. The apparent justification for these sporadic acts of vandalism relates to a claim that the ongoing rollout of 5G technology is the real cause of the deaths now being falsely attributed to coronavirus.

This is nonsense, of course, and yet another example of the mind-numbing idiocy promoted by high priest of flat-earthery David Icke, who is renowned for repeated claims that the world is ruled by shape-shifting lizards, and once advised everyone to wear turquoise to reduce the chance of earthquakes – that was on the same outing of BBC’s Wogan when he effectively declared himself the messiah!

The youtube video below is cued up:

There is a common train of reasoning that goes as follows: since X is rather obviously not doing Y, all those who suspect X of anything at all must be crazy “conspiracy theorists” like David Icke. Technically this is known as ‘guilt by association as an ad hominem fallacy’, which is a highly effective debating tactic that can be used to discredit otherwise valid and well-formulated arguments and opinions. 12

At the risk of hammering this point, I have already noticed how this fallacy is being used to dismiss growing concerns about the rapid rollout of 5G, when in fact there are extremely solid grounds for adopting the precautionary principle based on past research, just as there are legitimate health concerns over our current use of 4G and other RF technologies like Wifi.

In fact there have been quite a number of studies looking into the health risks of existing 4G technologies and many of the results from these studies pose very serious concerns. A quite comprehensive overview of the research can be found in a comparatively short review published by the Guardian in July 2018, which discusses in detail “how the wireless industry has “war-gamed” science, as a Motorola internal memo in 1994 phrased it”:

For a quarter of a century now, the industry has been orchestrating a global PR campaign aimed at misleading not only journalists, but also consumers and policymakers about the actual science concerning mobile phone radiation. Indeed, big wireless has borrowed the very same strategy and tactics big tobacco and big oil pioneered to deceive the public about the risks of smoking and climate change, respectively. And like their tobacco and oil counterparts, wireless industry CEOs lied to the public even after their own scientists privately warned that their products could be dangerous, especially to children.

War-gaming science involves playing offence as well as defence – funding studies friendly to the industry while attacking studies that raise questions; placing industry-friendly experts on advisory bodies such as the World Health Organisation and seeking to discredit scientists whose views differ from the industry’s.

Funding friendly research has perhaps been the most important tactic, because it conveys the impression that the scientific community truly is divided. Thus, when studies have linked wireless radiation to cancer or genetic damage – as [George] Carlo’s [industry-financed Wireless Technology Research project] WTR did in 1999; as the WHO’s Interphone study did in 2010; and as the US government’s NTP did earlier this year – the industry can point out, accurately, that other studies disagree.

How the industry has repeatedly tried to mislead governments and the public over the reporting of these studies is also a matter I have covered in previous posts.

Before continuing, it always needs to be stressed that based on the latest findings, authorities in France, Belgium, Israel, Spain, Australia, Italy and elsewhere took action to limit Wifi use in schools and nurseries. 13 Moreover, mobile phones generally come with a warning in the fine print, cautioning users to hold the device away from the body. 14 In short, there is abundant evidence that ought to raise concerns over the health effects of 4G technology.

The upgrade to 5G that is required for the Internet of Things relies on a network of masts transmitting RF radiation at higher frequencies than 4G. Since radiation at these frequencies is less penetrating, the array of masts also needs to be more densely packed. Finally, it is important to understand that the radiation is less penetrating because it is more highly absorbed by objects including buildings, trees and, of course, people. As the same Guardian piece explains:

The industry’s neutralisation of the safety issue has opened the door to the biggest prize of all: the proposed transformation of society dubbed the Internet of Things. Lauded as a gigantic engine of economic growth, the Internet of Things will not only connect people through their smartphones and computers but will also connect those devices to a customer’s vehicles and appliances, even their baby’s nappies – all at speeds much faster than can currently be achieved.

There is a catch, though: the Internet of Things will require augmenting today’s 4G technology with 5G technology, thus “massively increasing” the general population’s exposure to radiation, according to a petition signed by 236 scientists worldwide who have published more than 2,000 peer-reviewed studies and represent “a significant portion of the credentialled scientists in the radiation research field”, according to Joel Moskowitz, the director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, Berkeley, who helped circulate the petition. Nevertheless, like mobiles, 5G technology is on the verge of being introduced without pre-market safety testing. 15

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “The inconvenient truth about cancer and mobile phones”.

Please note: I started constructing this article as part of a larger review (that was subsequently broken down into this series of smaller pieces) many months prior to the current coronavirus crisis and lockdown.

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1 Opening lyrics to the Pink Floyd track Welcome to the Machine written by Roger Waters from the 1975 album Wish You Were Here.

2 Quote taken from Brave New World Revisited (1958), Chapter 4, by Aldous Huxley.

3 From Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, reprinted by Greenwood Press, December 20, 1982., p. 9.  You can find it quoted in a review of the book by Stephen McGlinchey, published by e-International Relations on July 22, 2011. http://www.e-ir.info/2011/07/22/review-between-two-ages-america%E2%80%99s-role-in-the-technetronic-era/

4 From an article entitled “With Toronto, Alphabet looks to revolutionize city-building” written by Shane Dingnam, published in The Globe and Mail on October 17, 2017. https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/with-toronto-alphabet-looks-to-revolutionize-city-building/article36634779/ 

5

The Technetronic age is that which is created by the (theoretical) Technetronic Revolution. It is always fairly ambiguously presented as to whether Brzezinski is actually predicting this revolution based on observation/trends, or whether he is abstractly philosophizing. It certainly is not a work of political science. With this in mind, his concluding line in the book, ‘In the technetronic era, philosophy and politics will be crucial’ serve to confuse the reader further rather than give some closure.

Taken from a rather favourable review of Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, written by Stephen McGlinchey and published July 22, 2011. The full review can be found here: http://www.e-ir.info/2011/07/22/review-between-two-ages-america%E2%80%99s-role-in-the-technetronic-era/

6 Quotes from Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, published in 1970 (although out of print since 1982).

7

Incidentally, the names of Bilderberg attendees I have picked out above were all drawn from what is only a partial and a highly abbreviated list provided by wikipedia. A list that surprisingly fails to record even the name of Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser, and another serial warmonger I have featured many times before on this blog. The funny thing is that although Brzezinski’s name is missing from the main list, it is nevertheless registered in one of the many footnotes. A footnote (currently number 83) which reads:

“Western Issues Aired”. The Washington Post. 24 April 1978. “The three-day 26th Bilderberg Meeting concluded at a secluded cluster of shingled buildings in what was once a farmer’s field. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser, Swedish Prime Minister  Thorbjorrn Falldin, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and NATO Commander Alexander M. Haig Jr. were among 104 North American and European leaders at the conference.”

Alternatively, and if you decide to visit the main wikipedia entry for Zbigniew Brzezinski you’ll see there is a direct link back to Bilderberg. The same goes for Donald Rumsfeld and also Paul Wolfowitz, who though missing from the main list of attendees is actually described on his own page as a former steering committee member of the Bilderberg group. But then the main wikipedia entry for Bill Clinton fails to record his ties to the group and the same goes for Margaret Thatcher – both invited to Bilderberg gatherings prior to becoming national leaders.

8 From an article entitled “Silicon Valley in Switzerland: Bilderberg 2019 and the High-Tech Future of Transatlantic Power” written by Charlie Skelton published in Newsweek on June 1, 2019. https://www.newsweek.com/silicon-valley-switzerland-bilderberg-2019-and-high-tech-future-transatlantic-1441259

9 From an article entitled “Google wants to run cities without being elected. Don’t let it” written by Jathan Sadowski, published in the Guardian on October 24, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/24/google-alphabet-sidewalk-labs-toronto

10 From an article entitled “CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher” written by Spencer Ackerman, published in Wired magazine in March 2012. https://www.wired.com/2012/03/petraeus-tv-remote/

11 From the transcript of Episode 358 – The 5G Dragnet of the Corbett Report broadcast on June 21, 2019. https://www.corbettreport.com/5g/

12 Which goes as follows: A makes a particular claim, and then B, which is currently viewed negatively by the recipient, makes the same claim as A, causing A to be viewed by the recipient of the claim as negatively associated with B.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_fallacy#Guilt_by_association_as_an_ad_hominem_fallacy

13

France has banned wifi from nursery schools (the younger the child, the greater the danger), and restricted its use in teaching children up to the age of 11.

It has also banned mobile phones from all schools, partly because they are socially disruptive. But the country’s official Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety has recommended that tablets and other wifi devices should be regulated as phones are.

Cyprus has also banned wifi from kindergartens, and only permits it in the staff offices of junior schools for administration purposes. Israel also prohibits it in pre-schools and kindergartens, and allows it only to be gradually introduced in class as children get older. The Israeli city of Haifa has hardwired its school system so children can used computers that don’t need wifi to connect to the internet.

Frankfurt, meanwhile, hardwired 80 per cent of all its schools more than a decade ago, while the school authorities in Salzburg, Austria, wrote to headteachers officially advising them not to use wifi as long ago as 2005.

Ghent in Belgium has banned wifi in pre-schools and daycare centres, while individual local authorities in Spain and Italy have removed it from all their schools. Even faraway French Polynesia has prohibited it in nursery schools and limits it in primary ones. And so the list goes on.

From an article entitled “As more countries ban iPads and mobile phones from the classroom, could wifi be giving our children cancer?” written by Geoffrey Lean , published in The Daily Mail on June 21, 2018. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5872001/Could-wifi-giving-children-cancer.html

14

If you receive texts or calls while the phone is on your body (in a pocket or tucked into the waistband of your pants, or wherever) you are exceeding radiation exposure guidelines established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

So, how many of you have seen this warning??? […]

It appears in the ‘fine print’ of the user manual packaged with most cell phones. Is it in yours? It’s important to take the time to look.

Here’s a quote from the website of BlackBerry’s manufacturer, Research in Motion (RIM):

If you do not use a body-worn accessory supplied or approved by RIM when you carry the BlackBerry device, keep the device at least 0.98 inches (25 mm) from your body when the BlackBerry device is turned on and connected to a wireless network.”

Translated this means: You’re NEVER supposed to hold the BlackBerry Pearl (and possibly other BlackBerry devices) closer than 1 inch from your body when it’s turned on!

https://www.consumers4safephones.com/check-your-cell-phone-see-if-you-can-find-the-warning-label/

15 From an article entitled “The inconvenient truth about cancer and mobile phones” written by Mark Hertsgaard & Mark Dowie, published in the Guardian on July 14, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jul/14/mobile-phones-cancer-inconvenient-truths

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Canada, Charlie Skelton, mass surveillance

Nicolás Maduro’s open letter to the people of America

Reprinted in full below (unabridged and unedited) is an open letter to the American people from the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. By reproducing it, I do not uncritically endorse and support Maduro’s presidency nor his government’s policies, but I do take a stand for democracy against the self-appointed, US-led coalition, primarily of Western powers, who have openly embarked on another illegal regime change operation. As María Páez Victor, a Venezuelan born sociologist living in Canada, recently wrote in Counterpunch:

In opposing the legitimately elected president of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro, and advocating for a bogus, self-appointed CIA trained puppet Guaidó what exactly does [Canadian Foreign Minister, Chrystia] Freeland and [Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau think will happen, or have they not thought this out? There could be 3 consequences:

(1) A coup d’etat

(2) A military intervention by USA, Colombian or Brazilian troops, or all of them together

(3) A civil war that can easily spiral into a regional war.

Read more of María Páez Victor’s piece in the footnote *

*

An open letter to the people of America | Nicolás Maduro

If I know anything, it is about people, such as you, I am a man of the people. I was born and raised in a poor neighborhood of Caracas. I forged myself in the heat of popular and union struggles in a Venezuela submerged in exclusion and inequality.

I am not a tycoon, I am a worker of reason and heart, today I have the great privilege of presiding over the new Venezuela, rooted in a model of inclusive development and social equality, which was forged by Commander Hugo Chávez since 1998 inspired by the Bolivarian legacy.

We live today a historical trance. There are days that will define the future of our countries between war and peace. Your national representatives of Washington want to bring to their borders the same hatred that they planted in Vietnam. They want to invade and intervene in Venezuela – they say, as they said then – in the name of democracy and freedom. But it’s not like that. The history of the usurpation of power in Venezuela is as false as the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It is a false case, but it can have dramatic consequences for our entire region.

Venezuela is a country that, by virtue of its 1999 Constitution, has broadly expanded the participatory and protagonist democracy of the people, and that is unprecedented today, as one of the countries with the largest number of electoral processes in its last 20 years. You might not like our ideology, or our appearance, but we exist and we are millions.

I address these words to the people of the United States of America to warn of the gravity and danger that intend some sectors in the White House to invade Venezuela with unpredictable consequences for my country and for the entire American region. President Donald Trump also intends to disturb noble dialogue initiatives promoted by Uruguay and Mexico with the support of CARICOM for a peaceful solution and dialogue in favour of Venezuela. We know that for the good of Venezuela we have to sit down and talk, because to refuse to dialogue is to choose strength as a way. Keep in mind the words of John F. Kennedy: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate”.  Are those who do not want to dialogue afraid of the truth?

The political intolerance towards the Venezuelan Bolivarian model and the desires for our immense oil resources, minerals and other great riches, has prompted an international coalition headed by the US government to commit the serious insanity of militarily attacking Venezuela under the false excuse of a non-existent humanitarian crisis.

The people of Venezuela have suffered painfully social wounds caused by a criminal commercial and financial blockade, which has been aggravated by the dispossession and robbery of our financial resources and assets in countries aligned with this demented onslaught.

And yet, thanks to a new system of social protection, of direct attention to the most vulnerable sectors, we proudly continue to be a country with high human development index and lower inequality in the Americas.

The American people must know that this complex multiform aggression is carried out with total impunity and in clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations, which expressly outlaws the threat or use of force, among other principles and purposes for the sake of peace and the friendly relations between the Nations.

We want to continue being business partners of the people of the United States, as we have been throughout our history. Their politicians in Washington, on the other hand, are willing to send their sons and daughters to die in an absurd war, instead of respecting the sacred right of the Venezuelan people to self-determination and safeguarding their sovereignty.

Like you, people of the United States, we Venezuelans are patriots. And we shall defend our homeland with all the pieces of our soul. Today Venezuela is united in a single clamor: we demand the cessation of the aggression that seeks to suffocate our economy and socially suffocate our people, as well as the cessation of the serious and dangerous threats of military intervention against Venezuela. We appeal to the good soul of the American society, victim of its own leaders, to join our call for peace, let us be all one people against warmongering and war.

Long live the peoples of America!

Nicolás Maduro

President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

The original source of this article is Bolivarian Government of Venezuela

Copyright © Nicolas Maduro, Bolivarian Government of Venezuela, 2019

Reposted by Global Research on Saturday 10th.

*

Additional:

On Tuesday 5th, RT Spanish broadcast an exclusive interview with Nicolás Maduro in which he spoke on Juan Guaidó’s unlawful self-declaration as “interim president”, the growing threat of war and his commitment as Venezuelan leader with the promise “I won’t be remembered as a traitor”:

*

* Canada has become the cheerleader of the Lima Group, an ad-hoc, self-appointed busybody group formed specifically to overthrow the legitimate government of Venezuela.

Unable to get the OAS votes needed to agree to their nefarious plot, this is a group of governments with no official international standing, few democratic principles, most led by known discredited leaders spouting market ideology.  Canada has allied itself throwing all of its diplomatic and economic support for a man who self-proclaimed himself president of Venezuela in a public plaza, violating the country’s constitution and all electoral rules. So much for the “respect for the rule of law” that the Canadian Foreign Minister, C. Freeland so frequently spouts.

These are the main members of the Lima Group:

Canada, doing its best to do the US’s dirty work in exchange for a trade deal

Colombia: 65% of the world’s cocaine production comes from Colombia; it is the world’s most dangerous place for labour leaders due to their ongoing assassinations, assassination of rural and indigenous leaders and recently the assassination of the leaders of the FARC who laid down their arms in a peace treaty. Paramilitary and narco mafia are rampant in this country.

Peru: its president was NOT elected; its former president had to be removed because of proven corruption by their own courts.

Argentina: Macri is famously included in the Panama Papers for corruption; his popularity is dramatically down. He even jailed the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (women seeking their lost children during the Pinochet era).

Brazil: Bolsonaro is president only because he jailed his key opponent who led the polls:  Lula. He has boasted of giving the police the right to shoot to kill anyone they SUSPECT are criminals. He is a blatant, extremist. He has declared that the Amazon is now “open for business” and will allow development there.

Paraguay: its president came to power through a judicial coup d’etat. […]

Guaidó and his party [Voluntad Popular (VP), “the most violent and right wing opposition party in Venezuela”] carried out the terrible street violence of 2014, which they named “La Salida” (The Exit). It resulted in 114 innocent people being killed. Several young men were burned alive suspected of being “Chavistas”. This was the worst street violence ever seen on the streets of Venezuela. The leader of the party, Leopoldo López was jailed, after a long and fair trial with the best lawyers money can buy, sentenced for his responsibility for unleashing this terror and the ensuing 114 deaths.

A simple Google search would have shown Ottawa politicians and the CBC, the videos of the street terror that the VP unleashed and the salient role Guaidó, López and Machado played.  López and Machado are members of two of the country’s richest families, key part of an elite that governed Venezuela for 40 years using the oil revenues for their own enrichment and left 80% of their people impoverished.

Guaidó, a son of Spanish immigrants, is a useful idiot, a thug who will be thrown into the trashcan of history for his treason. He does not command any type of institution, not one policeman, not one ministry, no official agency of any sort. He is a president in his own mind and that of the USA Embassy where he is holed out.

Now Canadian politicians and media choose to back people known for using violence (not ballots) to overthrow a legitimate government. VP spectacularly lost support among people who are opposed to the government due to the violence they unleashed. VP regularly feeds outlandish lies to the foreign mainstream media. [hypertext links added]

From an article entitled “Bloody Canada: Cheerleading the Lima Group’s Plot to Overthrow the Government of Venezuela” written by María Páez Victor, a Venezuelan born sociologist living in Canada, published by Counterpunch on February 6, 2019.  https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/02/06/bloody-canada-cheerleading-the-lima-groups-plot-to-overthrow-the-government-of-venezuela/  

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everything you always wanted to know about fracking (but were too afraid to ask)

Jessica Ernst, M.Sc. is a 55 year old Canadian environmental scientist with 30 years oil and gas industry experience. She is currently suing the Alberta government, Alberta energy regulator, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), and EnCana for negligence and unlawful activities related to hydraulic fracturing. Click here to read more about the lawsuit.

Ernst’s statement of claim alleges that EnCana broke multiple provincial laws and regulations and contaminated a shallow aquifer that supplied drinking water to the Rosebud community with natural gas and toxic industry-related chemicals.

In March of this year, she gave a series of presentations (uploaded on youtube) about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing, or “Fracking” across Ireland and the United Kingdom, which included talks in Lancashire (where test drilling began in Britain) and also Balcombe, Sussex. In these presentations she outlined her own case and explained more generally why she believes no healthy society should ever permit hydraulic fracturing.

In 2010, she was awarded the “Woman of Courage” award by UNANIMA International, a UN Economic and Social Council accredited NGO, for her efforts to hold companies accountable for environmental harm done by “fracking”.

I have embedded below a presentation she gave in America in 2012:

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The industry claims that “with a history of 60 years, after nearly a million wells drilled, there are no documented cases that hydraulic fracturing has lead to the contamination of water”. A statement which involves not one lie, but two.

Unearthed: The Fracking Facade is a short documentary film that sets the record straight by explaining how the hydraulic fracturing process has changed (with current practices having little more than a decade-long history) and how the industry has covered up its poor record of polluting by means of intimidation, plausible deniability and the widespread use of non-disclosure agreements, which force victims to remain silent in return for guarantees of support either in the form of clean water deliveries, relocation, or financial compensation:

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Canada, fracking (shale & coal seam gas)

time for an open debate about the ‘green technologies’

Let’s imagine you have a virus on your computer. You didn’t know you had it until someone phoned you up out of the blue. However, it turns out that this isn’t a prelude to the usual scam: – no, on this occasion your computer really has contracted a virus. The person on the other end of the phone going on to explain how they have ample evidence to prove their case because, after all, they created the virus in question. Adding that they have phoned you to demand legitimate compensation. Compensation…?

Well, after all, you have stolen their proprietary software, haven’t you? Software that they had personally spent years developing in order to make computers run faster and more efficiently, or so they say. Obviously you protest your innocence. You didn’t ask for their software and in any case you haven’t noticed any improvement. In fact, you feel like the victim, since your computer had been rather less reliable and more sluggish, if anything. But it’s to no avail. They are intent on suing for patent infringement, and that’s that. Such a case would never stand up in court, of course…

Unless…, unless the product in question belonged perhaps to a huge multinational corporation. An organisation that has highly paid legal teams, and armed with the political clout to change patent laws altogether. And say it wasn’t software that was being spread this way, but something altogether more fundamental to your existence. The viral code having been embedded not in computers, but in the food supply, and the question becoming why you didn’t sign a licence needed to grow their invasive but patented crops.

Now obviously the seed from these patented crops might have accidentally drifted into many unlicensed fields. Whilst, on top of this, there is nothing to prevent the patented varieties from pollinating other crops, thereby reproducing further patented hybrids in turn. So if this corporation were to have its own teams of inspectors with powers to search, then it would be more than profitable to send them off to scout the whole land looking for patent violations. How could the farmers prove their innocence? With the patented crops now growing all across their land, they are caught red-handed.

Such an aggressive modus operandi sounds like a product itself of an overly fertile and altogether deranged imagination, yet sadly the scenario I have sketched is literally the product of an increasingly deranged world:

Percy Schmeiser, a canola breeder and grower in Bruno, Saskatchewan, first discovered Roundup-resistant canola in his crops in 1997.[4] He had used Roundup herbicide to clear weeds around power poles and in ditches adjacent to a public road running beside one of his fields, and noticed that some of the canola which had been sprayed had survived. […]

At the time, Roundup Ready canola was in use by several farmers in the area. Schmeiser claimed that he did not plant the initial Roundup Ready canola in 1997, and that his field of custom-bred canola had been accidentally contaminated. While the origin of the plants on Schmeiser’s farm in 1997 remains unclear, the trial judge found that with respect to the 1998 crop, “none of the suggested sources [proposed by Schmeiser] could reasonably explain the concentration or extent of Roundup Ready canola of a commercial quality” ultimately present in Schmeiser’s 1998 crop.[5]

This is taken directly from the wikipedia entry (with original references retained) about a Canadian court case between Monsanto (who else!) and a canola (or rapeseed) farmer called Percy Schmeiser. The same article continues:

In 1998, Monsanto learned that Schmeiser was growing a Roundup-resistant crop and approached him to sign a license agreement to their patents and to pay a license fee. Schmeiser refused, maintaining that the 1997 contamination was accidental and that he owned the seed he harvested, and he could use the harvested seed as he wished because it was his physical property. Monsanto then sued Schmeiser for patent infringement. Patents being in federal jurisdiction, the case went to federal court.

In 2009, Percy Schmeiser featured in a documentary film based around the case and entitled David Versus Monsanto:

Note that I will come back to review some of the later verdicts in the long-running Monsanto v. Schmeiser case at the end of the article.

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The issues surrounding the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are many and complex, but it is perfectly clear that new developments in genetics, like those in nuclear physics more than half a century ago, have automatically opened the door to some quite extraordinary possibilities. Possibilities that will most assuredly impact our future no less dramatically than the advent of atomic reactors and the hydrogen bomb impacted our very recent past – and still continue to affect us today.

The need for a proper debate is long overdue but, hardly surprisingly, the huge bio-tech corporations prefer to keep the debate closed down. Monsanto, for instance, who say that it is perfectly safe to release their GMOs directly into our environment, are also in the habit of claiming that their herbicide Roundup is so harmless you can drink it!1 But then why on earth would anyone (or at least anyone not in their pocket) trust such self-interested and deliberately compromised low risk assessments? The quick answer being that the precautionary principle has once again been overridden by money and influence.

This great debate about the use of genetic modification needs to be both open and public: a forum for discussion amongst leading experts (and especially those not associated with the powerful bio-tech firms); scientists from other fields, who though ignorant on specifics, might bring a detached expertise by virtue of familiarity with scientific procedures; alongside representatives from other interested parties such as ‘consumers’ (that’s the rest of us by the way – we all consume, and though I hate the word too, it at least offers a little better perspective on our role without the current system, since this is how the system itself defines us).

It also needs to be fully inclusive, welcoming all intelligent opinion, whether concordant or dissenting. No reasoned objections from any quarters being summarily dismissed as unscientific or anti-scientific, as is so often the case, because we must never leave it for technicians alone to decide on issues that so directly affect our common future. Relying on highly specialised experts alone – even when those experts are fully independent (as they so rarely are these days) – being as unwise as it is anti-democratic.

Genetic manipulation is already upon us. It is already helping in the prevention and treatment of diseases, and in the production of medicines such as insulin (although even here serious questions are arising with regards to the potentially harmful side-effects of using a genetically modified product). More controversial again is the development of pest- and drought-resistant strains of crops (such as the Roundup Ready canola that contaminated Schmeiser’s fields), developments that are claimed by their producers to have alleviated a great deal of human suffering already, but which seem to have brought misery of new kinds – I will come back to this later.

And then we come to the development of Genetic Use Restriction Technology (Gurt), better known as ‘suicide’ or ‘Terminator’ (to use the industry term) seeds, which are promoted by the industry as a ‘biosafety’ solution. Engineered sterility being a clever way of preventing their own genetically modified plants from causing unwanted genetic contamination – which we might think of as a new form of pollution. The argument goes that if modified genes (whether pharmaceutical, herbicide resistance or ‘Terminator’ genes) from a ‘Terminator’ crop get transferred to related plants via cross-pollination, the seed produced from such pollination will be sterile. End of problem.

But this is merely an excuse, of course, and if used in this way, the new technology will ultimately prevent over a billion of the poorest people in the world from continuing in their age-old practice of saving seeds for resowing, which will, as a consequence, make these same farmers totally dependent on a few multinational bio-tech companies. An excellent means for monopolising the world’s food, and a satisfactory solution only for the owners of companies like Monsanto.2

In any case, do we really wish to allow patents on specific genes, opening the door to the corporate ownership of the building blocks to life itself? The world renowned physicist and futurist visionary Freeman Dyson draws a direct comparison to earlier forms of slavery:

“The institution of slavery was based on the legal right of slave-owners to buy and sell their property in a free market. Only in the nineteenth century did the abolitionist movement, with Quakers and other religious believers in the lead, succeed in establishing the principle that the free market does not extend to human bodies. The human body is God’s temple and not a commercial commodity. And now in the twenty-first century, for the sake of equity and human brotherhood, we must maintain the principle that the free market does not extend to human genes.”3

Nor, I would quickly add, should it extend to the ownership of genes of other higher species of animal or plant life. Moreover, I personally have no wish whatsoever for apples, tomatoes, potatoes (or even tobacco) that provides the RDA of all my nutritional needs, or any other supposed improvement on the original designs – preferring to trust to apples, tomatoes and potatoes that evolved alongside my own human digestive system. Which is not merely a preference, but a human right. Since we all have the right not to eat GMO just as we have the right to be vegan (not that I’m a vegan, by the way).

Beyond this, we also need to consider the many perfectly serious and inescapable ethical issues that arise once you are tinkering with the primary source code of life itself. Take cloning as an interesting example.

Identical twins are essentially clones, having both developed from the same fertilised egg, and thus sharing the same DNA. But then nature sometimes goes one step further again:

A form of virgin birth has been found in wild vertebrates for the first time.

Researchers in the US caught pregnant females from two snake species and genetically analysed the litters.

That proved the North American pit vipers reproduced without a male, a phenomenon called facultative parthenogenesis that has previously been found only in captive species.4

Taken from a BBC article I accidentally came across only yesterday.

I have since learned that parthenogenesis (reproduction without fertilisation or “virgin birth”) is surprisingly common throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. Birds do it, bees do it… and even mammals have been induced to do it. So cloning is not inherently unnatural, and if carried out successfully (as it frequently is in nature), it may one day be no more harmful nor fraught with latent dangers to be a cloned individual than an individual produced by other forms of artificial reproduction. Furthermore, since we already know what human twins are like, then we already know what human clones will be like. Yet many ethical questions still hang.

Should anyone be allowed to clone themselves? Or more generally, who chooses which of us are to be cloned? Do we just leave it to the market to decide? And why would we ever want a world populated by identical (or rather, approximately identical – since no two twins are truly identical and there are sound biological reasons for believing clones will never be perfectly reproduced either) human beings? Such ethical questions are forced by the new biotechnologies. And there are many further reasons for why ordinary, intelligent public opinion needs to be included in the debate.

Here is Freeman Dyson again, summarising his own cautious optimism as we enter the age of the new ‘green technologies’:

“I see two tremendous goods coming from biotechnology in the next century, first the alleviation of human misery through progress in medicine, and second the transformation of the global economy through green technology spreading wealth more equitably around the world. The two great evils to be avoided are the use of biological weapons and the corruption of human nature by buying and selling genes. I see no scientific reason why we should not achieve the good and avoid the evil.

The obstacles to achieving the good are political rather than technical. Unfortunately a large number of people in many countries are strongly opposed to green technology, for reasons having little to do with the real dangers. It is important to treat the opponents with respect, to pay attention to their fears, to go gently into the new world of green technology so that neither human dignity nor religious conviction is violated. If we can go gently, we have a good chance of achieving within a hundred years the goals of ecological sustainability and social justice that green technology brings within our reach.”5

Dyson is being too optimistic no doubt. Many of the dangers of genetic modification are only now coming to light; more than a decade after Dyson uttered these words as part of his acceptance speech for the award of the Templeton Prize in 2000.

Meanwhile, last month, Greenpeace issued the following press release. It contains the summary of an open letter sent by nearly a hundred Indian scientists to the Supreme Court of India:

An official report submitted by the technical Expert committee set up by the Supreme Court of India comprising of India’s leading experts in molecular biology, toxicology and biodiversity – unanimously recommends a 10-year moratorium on all field trials of GM Bt [insecticide producing due to genes from Bacillus thuringiensis] food crops, due to serious safety concerns. The committee has also recommended a moratorium on field trials of herbicide tolerant crops until independent assessment of impact and suitability, and a ban on field trials of GM crops for which India is center of origin and diversity.

The report’s recommendations are expected put a stop to all field releases of GM food crops in India, including the controversial Bt eggplant, whose commercial release was put under an indefinite moratorium there last February 2010. Contrarily, the same Bt eggplant is currently being evaluated for approval in the Philippines.

“This official unanimous declaration on the risks of GMOs, by India’s leading biotech scientists is the latest nail on the coffin for GMOs around the world,” said Daniel M. Ocampo, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “It is yet another proof that GMOs are bad for the health, bad for the environment, bad for farmers and bad for the economy.”

Click here to read the full Greenpeace press release.

For though it would be foolish to fail to recognise the enormous potential benefits of some of the new ‘green technologies’, underestimating the hazards is sheer recklessness. And this is really where my own opinion differs significantly from enthusiasts like Dyson. This science is just so brilliantly new, and so staggeringly complex. The dangers are very real and our concerns entirely justified: whether these are concerns over safety, over the political implications, or anxieties of a more purely ethical kind.

But allow me to finish for once on a more positive note. Against all the odds and at considerable cost, financially and in terms of personal trauma, Percy Schmeiser, with the support of his wife Louise, eventually succeeded in their long-running legal battle against Monsanto. Beginning with the Federal Court judgement in March 2001:

Justice Andrew McKay upheld the validity of Monsanto’s patented gene which it inserts into canola varieties to make them resistant to their herbicide Round Up.

McKay dismissed Schmeiser’s challenge to the patent based on the claim Monsanto could not control how the gene was dispersed through the countryside.

In a key part of the ruling, the judge agreed a farmer can generally own the seeds or plants grown on his land if they blow in or are carried there by pollen — but the judge says this is not true in the case of genetically modified seed.

It was that part of the ruling that most upsets Percy Schmeiser. The implications are wide ranging and Schmeiser has launched an appeal that was heard on May 15 & 16, 2002 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The Federal Court of Appeal subsequently rejected Schmeiser’s appeal. Schmeiser then asked for leave from Canada’s Supreme Court to hear the case. Leave was granted in May 2003 and the case was heard on January 20, 2004.

The Supreme Court issued their decision in May 2004 and one can view the decision as a draw. The Court determined that Monsanto’s patent is valid, but Schmeiser is not forced to pay Monsanto anything as he did not profit from the presence of Roundup Ready canola in his fields. This issue started with Monsanto demanding Schmeiser pay the $15/acre technology fee and in the end, Schmeiser did not have to pay. The Schmeiser family and supporters are pleased with this decision, however disappointed that the other areas of appeal were not overturned.

And then, seven years on:

In an out of court settlement finalized on March 19, 2008, Percy Schmeiser has settled his lawsuit with Monsanto. Monsanto has agreed to pay all the clean-up costs of the Roundup Ready canola that contaminated Schmeiser’s fields. Also part of the agreement was that there was no gag-order on the settlement and that Monsanto could be sued again if further contamination occurred. Schmeiser believes this precedent setting agreement ensures that farmers will be entitled to reimbursement when their fields become contaminated with unwanted Roundup Ready canola or any other unwanted GMO plants.

On this occasion then, David didn’t kill Goliath, and in spite of huge personal effort and sacrifice. But he has undoubtedly helped to rein him in a bit, and Percy Schmeiser is just one of many Davids battling against the same Goliath. Collective actions that are also helping to open up the long overdue debate about the ‘green technologies’ and the future of life on our planet.

Both extracts above are quoted from Percy Schmeiser’s own website where you can find out more about his continuing fight against Big Agro.

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Update:

A more recent Bloomberg article from November 28th reveals how another agro-giant DuPont is now employing the same strategy used by Monsanto:

DuPont Co. (DD), the world’s second- biggest seed company, is sending dozens of former police officers across North America to prevent a practice generations of farmers once took for granted.

The provider of the best-selling genetically modified soybean seed is looking for evidence of farmers illegally saving them from harvests for replanting next season, which is not allowed under sales contracts. The Wilmington, Delaware-based company is inspecting Canadian fields and will begin in the U.S. next year, said Randy Schlatter, a DuPont senior manager.

DuPont is protecting its sales of Roundup Ready soybeans, so called because they tolerate being sprayed by Monsanto Co. (MON)’s Roundup herbicide. For years enforcement was done by Monsanto, which created Roundup Ready and dominates the $13.3 billion biotech seed industry, though it’s moving on to a new line of seeds now that patents are expiring. That leaves DuPont to play the bad guy, enforcing alternative patents so cheaper “illegal beans” don’t get planted.

Click here to read the full article written by Jack Kaskey and entitled “DuPont Sends in Former Cops to Enforce Seed Patents”.

1 In 1996, the New York Times reported that: “Dennis C. Vacco, the Attorney General of New York, ordered the company to pull ads that said Roundup was “safer than table salt” and “practically nontoxic” to mammals, birds and fish. The company withdrew the spots, but also said that the phrase in question was permissible under E.P.A. guidelines.”[237]

Extract taken from wikipedia with original reference retained. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto#False_advertising

2 For further arguments against “Terminator Technology”, I recommend the following website: http://www.banterminator.org/content/view/full/233

3 From Freeman Dyson’s acceptance speech for the award of the Templeton Prize, delivered on May 16, 2000 at the Washington National Cathedral.

4 From an article entitled “Virgin births discovered in wild snakes” written by Jeremy Coles, published by BBC nature on September 12, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/19555550

5 Also taken from Freeman Dyson’s acceptance speech for the award of the Templeton Prize.

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Filed under Canada, did you see?, GMO, India

lies, damned lies and outrageous fracking lies!

When filmmaker Josh Fox was asked to lease his land for hydraulic fracture drilling for natural gas (known as fracking), he set off instead on a journey in search of the truth about fracking. His award-winning film, Gasland, chronicles that investigation, uncovering the secrets and lies that the industry uses to protect itself, and documenting the real impact that two decades of fracking has already had on communities across America.

On Wednesday [1st Feb], Josh Fox attempted to film a congressional hearing, called after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming had been caused by fracking. Instead, he was handcuffed and arrested. On Thursday, Fox spoke on Democracy Now! about his arrest and also explained the importance hearing:

Well, basically, I was there to report on a story that I’ve been following very closely for three-and-a-half years… this was a crucial hearing for us to tape, because what was going on there was a clear and brazen attack on the EPA and on the meticulous three-and-a-half-year investigation that took place in the small town of Pavillion, Wyoming, to expose a link between fracking and groundwater contamination. And this is the first case in which EPA has come out and said, at least in this last 10 years, that the likely cause of groundwater contamination was fracking.

And what was apparent to us was that this was going to be an attack on science from within the science and technology committee, that they had a panel that was stuffed with gas industry lobbyists, that there was—this was actually a way of trying to dismantle this EPA report. We wanted to be there to show that that was what the agenda was. We wanted to report on what happened. I was not interested in disrupting that hearing. It was not a protest action. I was simply trying to do my job as a journalist and go in there and show to the American people what was transpiring in that hearing…

Fox was also asked his thoughts about President Obama’s recent State of the Union address. Obama stating that “my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy”, whilst claiming that the supply of natural gas from fracking could last America nearly 100 years. And that: “The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.” Fox replies:

That was actually quite, I think, a very painful moment for a lot of people who have been focusing on gas fracking for the last several years. I think the President’s statements right there are wrong. I mean, it’s very clear that we do not have a hundred years’ worth of natural gas, and certainly not if we want to start using it in cars and trucks. And it has been—it’s very, very unclear, in the science, whether or not this fracking technique can be done safely. And in my research, it shows itself to be inherently contaminating. And there is no proof to think that we could be doing this gas extraction safely.

In the second part of the interview, Josh Fox, who is currently making the sequel Gasland 2 for HBO, was joined by John Fenton, a Wyoming farmer and chair of the group Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, which is attempting to bring awareness of groundwater contamination by the local natural gas extraction industry. Here are extracts of what they each had to say:

JOHN FENTON: Within just 350 feet of our home, we have eight to 10 of them. On the whole farm, we have 24 gas wells. When industry first moved in here in the middle ’90s and started really filling this field in, we were assured over and over that these processes were safe, that we had nothing to worry about. And, you know, a lot of people around here, quite frankly, have a pro-industry view and wanted the gas to be extracted.

But things changed pretty rapidly. It didn’t take long to notice significant impacts to the water, the change to smell like diesel fuel. Methane was bubbling in the water. We had neighbors that actually had livestock die from drinking the water. […]

Drinking and cooking water comes in five-gallon office cooler-type water jugs now. So that’s what we do all of our drinking and cooking issues with. We’re still bathing in the contaminated water. We have not been able to prepare an alternative source yet. We’ve seen all sorts of impacts from that. We have people with really unexplainable health conditions, a lot of neurological problems, a neuropathy, seizures, people losing their sense of smell, sense of taste, you know, people with their arms and legs going numb. It’s very significant.

JOSH FOX: But what we’re seeing here is a rampant situation of water contamination, both with methane getting into aquifers, as you see the methane coming into the private water well, the natural gas, and actually being ignitable out of the tap—but what’s scarier, in a way, is the benzene and the carcinogenic chemicals, some of these things that have shown up in John Fenton’s well, that are associated with drilling fluids and drilling muds. In Pavillion, they showed that there was 50 times the safe level of benzene in their groundwater. Now there’s no real safe level of benzene at all in groundwater. Benzene is a carcinogen. […]

And when you witness the events of yesterday, not only kicking out journalism from the House of Representatives and kicking the First Amendment out, and out with that goes John Boehner’s pledge of transparency in Congress, but also kicking out science and saying, “Actually, we don’t care about science.” And what’s true here is that we’re living in an age which is not kind to objective information. And frankly, this kind of obstructionism of investigating the truth, reporting the truth, this is what we’ve seen over and over and over again. And I’m outraged at this approach, because when you see people like John Fenton, who have been dealing with this and who don’t have a political position coming into it, and they’re being attacked simply for reporting what’s happening to them, you witness that this is a phenomenon and a tactic and a strategy that happened when climate change was first reported. It goes all the way back to when they started to link tobacco with lung cancer. They mounted a PR campaign to try to dismantle that information. And this is not a democratic approach.

Click here to read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! Website.

To read earlier posts on fracking click here, here, and here.

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ACTA is a treaty drawn up by pirates and for pirates

With SOPA and PIPA kicked into the long grass, another attempt to close down free speech on the internet is now coming under scrutiny. ACTA, the “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement”, is yet another draft of legislation that is ostensibly for the purpose of enforcing intellectual property rights, although unlike SOPA and PIPA, ACTA is an international treaty. (And apologies for such an obfuscation of acronyms — I presume that’s the correct collective noun).

ACTA, which establishes its own governing body outside existing international institutions such as the WTO, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) or even the United Nations, was originally signed by countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United States back on October 1st 2011.

When, last Thursday [Jan 26th], twenty-two of the European Union member states including the UK also signed the agreement, French Member of the European Parliament, Kader Arif, was so angered by “manoeuvres” used to get the bill approved, that he immediately resigned in protest from his position as rapporteur:

Negotiations over a controversial anti-piracy agreement have been described as a “masquerade” by a key Euro MP.

Kader Arif, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta), resigned over the issue on Friday.

He said he had witnessed “never-before-seen manoeuvres” by officials preparing the treaty.1

And Kader Arif made the following statement:

“I condemn the whole process which led to the signature of this agreement: no consultation of the civil society, lack of transparency since the beginning of negotiations, repeated delays of the signature of the text without any explanation given, reject of Parliament’s recommendations as given in several resolutions of our assembly.”

Click here to read the full BBC news article.

In Poland, tens of thousands of demonstrators also voiced opposition to their own government’s signature to the ACTA agreement:

Crowds of mostly young people held banners with slogans such as “no to censorship” and “a free internet”.

Earlier in the week, hackers attacked several Polish government websites, including that of Prime Minister Donald Tusk.2

Russia Today reported that the Anonymous group had earlier sent out ‘a stern warning’ to the Polish authorities, issuing what was little short of a blackmail note:

“Polish government – we are more powerful than you. We have a lot of your files and personal information. We warn you to exercise caution” which was published on pastebin.com.

The scope of ACTA is more expansive than SOPA and PIPA, not merely geographically, but because it aims to establish and enforce global standards in many other areas. Here’s analysis of how the new legislation will affect the lives of people across the world, published in Forbes:

Worse, it appears to go much further than the internet, cracking down on generic drugs and making food patents even more radical than they are by enforcing a global standard on seed patents that threatens local farmers and food independence across the developed world.

Despite ACTA’s secrecy, criticism of the agreement has been widespread. Countries like India and Brazil have been vocal opponents of the agreement, claiming that it will do a great deal of harm to emerging economies.

I’ll have more on the agreement as it emerges. But to briefly sum up, according to critics of the agreement:

  • ACTA contains global IP provisions as restrictive or worse than anything contained in SOPA and PIPA.
  • ACTA spans virtually all of the developed world, threatening the freedom of the internet as well as access to medication and food. The threat is every bit as real for those countries not involved in the process as the signatories themselves.
  • ACTA has already been signed by many countries including the US, but requires ratification in the EU parliament.
  • ACTA was written and hammered out behind closed doors. While some of the provisions have been taken out of the final US draft, plenty of unknowns still exist. It’s not nearly clear enough how the agreement will affect US laws.3

Click here to read more details in Forbes.

With regards to the internet, the tightening of control on websites will automatically lead to the closer scrutiny of all internet users:

Under ACTA, internet service providers are virtually obliged to monitor all user activity for possible copyright violations. It also gives trademark owners and officers of the law great authority to violate privacy while investigating suspected infringements.4

Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, told Russia Today that the ACTA copyright protection treaty is an “excellent example of abuse of power by the corporate industry”:

“This legislation about putting people in jail was negotiated by corporations and the lawmakers just got it in their lap,” he explained. “That is not how a democratic society should work, quite regardless of what this law says.”

Click here to read the full Russia Today article.

Jonathan Swift famously said that “laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.” ACTA is a perfect example of Swift’s observation, drawn up in order to serve the interests of the biggest pirates of our economies. The pirates at the helm of the megabanks who continue to force whole nations to surrender their wealth to bail them out on the basis of threats from their pirate buddies at the credit rating agencies. And the multinational corporate pirates who refuse to pay up their modest contribution in taxes, preferring to bury their treasures in offshore havens.

We already have laws to bring many of the major pirates to justice, but these laws are rarely used for such purposes. Regulations that haven’t so far been axed are increasingly being ignored. Meanwhile, bills like SOPA, PIPA and ACTA have been drawn up to further choke opposition, opening the way for greater corporate control over our lives. All of this so-called ‘anti-piracy’ legislation is nothing but humbug, and poisonous humbug at that. The signing of ACTA, which is clearly designed to squeeze out the little guy and stifle the independent voice, represents just another miserable step towards a globalised corporate tyranny. In short, ACTA was written by the pirates and for the pirates.

1 From an article entitled “European Parliament rapporteur quits in Acta protest” written by Dave Lee, published by BBC news on January 27, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16757142

2 From an article entitled “ACTA action: Poland signs up to ‘censorship’ as 20,000 rage”, published by Russia Today on January 26, 2012. http://rt.com/news/acta-poland-internet-government-745/

3 From an article entitled “If You Thought SOPA Was Bad, Just Wait Until You Meet ACTA”, written by E.D. Kain, published by Forbes on January 23, 2012. http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/01/23/if-you-thought-sopa-was-bad-just-wait-until-you-meet-acta/

4  http://rt.com/news/acta-poland-internet-government-745/

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if you tolerate this…

My eldest nephew is very excited at the moment. He has just turned eleven and is about to move to his new secondary school. Anyway, a few weeks ago, my sister showed me a letter she’d received via the assistant head at her son’s new school. It read:

“Dear Parent/Carer,

I am pleased to inform you that we will be installing biometric fingerprint readers at the – – – School as part of the catering system.”

“Pleased to inform you… as part of the catering system!”, I parroted back, as my sister read on from the briefing, my own voice rising with incredulity. “They’re fingerprinting the kids to help with the catering?!”

“Yes, but he’s not going to have his fingerprints taken”, she assured me, “they’re not going to treat him like a prisoner. It’s not compulsory…” And she then read on:

“This will enable students to get their dinners more quickly by speeding up the payments process. It will also mean that they can put cash into the system (via paying in machines, like a ticket machine) whenever it suits them so that they do not have to carry cash around with them all day…”

I interrupted again: “But you could do that with a card or something.”

“Yes, I know,” she said, “that’s the alternative option…” And then continuing from the letter:

“Swipe cards can be issued as an alternative to the finger scanning however these can obviously be lost, forgotten or stolen.”

“So what are the other parents thinking?” I asked her.

“There are a few of us refusing but mostly they think it’s just a good idea.”

“Do you know what company’s behind it?” I asked.

“No, but there are some notes on the back…” And she turned the letter over to show me, adding: “perhaps you can check it out”.

On the back of the letter, there is indeed “information” about the biometric system being installed. Information that explains why: “students, parents and staff can rest assured that the fingerprint images cannot be used by any other source for identification purposes”, because “the software turns your child’s fingerprint into a mathematical algorithm” and about how “the image of the fingerprint is then discarded”.

What the notes fail to mention, however, is that this kind of “processing” is standard procedure when recording any kind of digital biometrics. With “image capture” followed by “feature extraction” leading finally to “digital representation”, data compression is an inevitability, but that’s okay so long as in this processing the “vital information” isn’t lost. The important thing is that “the encoded information is functionally as unique as the original, and as easily processed, i.e., compared.”

How do I know this? In part because I’ve just read through Chapter 8 of the Defense Science Board Task Force report on biometrics (p35–6) published in September 2006. Not that a report from the US Department of Defense has anything to do with the installation of a catering system at a school in Sheffield, obviously…

So the fact that “the information stored cannot be used to recreate an image of the child’s fingerprint”, as the notes on the back of the letter explain, is actually beside the point. The actual point being that they can be used to identify the child, because the information is still “as functionally unique as the original”. To put all this another way, a photograph cannot be used to reconstruct a perfect 3-D likeness of your head. There is a loss of information. But that obviously doesn’t mean a photograph can’t be used to identify you. It can, and even when still more information is removed, by let’s say photocopying it a few times, a photo will still retain a sufficiently detailed likeness to identify you. Biometrics are just the next step down. The original photo can be deleted, just so long as sufficient details are retained of, for example, how wide your mouth is and how close together your eyes are. With enough of the right pieces of information, they can distinguish one person from another, reliably and consistently. Which is how biometrics works.

All of this biometric information, “the unique digital signatures” are then held in the database, as the notes on the letter from school also explain. Less clear is who actually owns this database. And skipping through the other details on the back of the letter, I can’t immediately find the name of the company involved, but it does give the brand name of their “cashless catering system”, which is IMPACT. So I looked up IMPACT:

“A million users in over 1700 schools throughout the UK.

We design, build and maintain industry leading, reliable and functional cashless payment systems under the brand name IMPACT…”

Here begins the sales pitch on the homepage of CRB Solutions. Never heard of them? Nor had I. Well, it turns out that they are a “Serco Learning Partner”, one of many. Indeed, Serco have more than 20 current “Learning Partners” offering “solutions” to “clients” (i.e., schools and colleges across the country), which means they have access to a lot of biometric and other kinds of data on school pupils and college students. For instance, listed directly above CRB Solutions, there is Aurora Computer Services, who are:

The UK market leader in face recognition. faceREGISTER is designed for sixth form registration or whole school lateness. faceREGISTER enables students to register automatically in school, college or university.”

Gone are the days, apparently, when teachers simply remembered their student’s faces. Now whenever a student is late:

they will be asked for a reason why they are late and these marks are fed back to Serco Facility via our administration software faceMANAGER.

Those of a more curious disposition are perhaps wondering what other kinds of personal information is downloaded at the “Serco Facility”. In fact, what other kinds of information more generally, since Serco already offers its services in sectors as diverse as environmental services, health, science, transport, local government, welfare to work, defence and nuclear. Nuclear? Yes, nuclear:

“We support the operation of over 20 nuclear reactors, and serve as the lead nuclear safety advisor to Westinghouse, designer of the AP1000 nuclear reactor currently under assessment for the UK’s new civil nuclear programme.” 1

That and the management of the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), which Serco says is the leading nuclear technology services provider in the UK, “with expertise across the full range of nuclear technology, including waste management, nuclear safety and non-proliferation, materials and corrosion and plant inspection.” So that’s pretty comprehensive. Aside from this, Serco also manages the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) as part of a consortium with Lockheed Martin and Jacobs. So the company behind the introduction of school biometrics systems across the country is also responsible for managing the UK atomic power and weapons programmes:

“Serco has a reputation for being a tad secretive. This is perhaps not surprising, as it manages the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire, where nuclear weapons are made, and runs the ballistic missile early warning system.

There are parts of AWE that even the head of the company, Kevin Beeston, can’t go into. Other secrets, too, are kept from him, such as where the company stores evidence on behalf of the National Crime Squad. “I don’t need to know or want to know,” he says.” 2

So begins an article entitled “Serco thunders down the tracks: Traffic lights, rail services, atomic weapons, the time of day. This secretive company manages them all” from the Independent on Sunday, published in March 2002. The article goes on:

“While many people haven’t heard of Serco, almost everyone in this country will have come across its services. It is Serco that runs the speed cameras on the M25, and maintains the traffic signals on a third of motorways in the UK. Half of London’s traffic lights are run by Serco, as are all the signals in Dublin. Manchester’s tram service, Metrolink, and London’s Docklands Light Railway (DLR) are both Serco-operated. When you ring National Rail Enquiries, you will speak to a Serco employee. The company has also built hospitals and prisons.

“In fact, Serco is so ubiquitous, it even sets the time. It manages the National Physical Laboratory, which owns the atomic clock that gives us Greenwich Mean Time.

“You’d be forgiven for thinking Serco was a government ministry.”

This article was published almost a decade ago and yet Serco‘s involvement in running public services was so large and far-flung that comparison is already being made to “a government ministry”. So just how did Serco manage to expand so rapidly and yet so inconspicuously? Well, here’s a brief overview of their rise and rise, taken from the same article:

“As well as having a novel corporate culture, Serco also has an intriguing history. It started out in 1929 as the UK maintenance division of RCA, at the time a cinema and radio equipment company. In the late Fifties it got its first taste of top-secret government contracts. The Ministry of Defence needed a radio equipment specialist to design, build and run the four-minute warning system for nuclear attacks. RCA got the job and has been maintaining it since.

“But it was in the early Eighties that the government-related business really started taking off. Beeston takes up the story: “Mrs Thatcher had come in power in 1979 and began reducing public sector costs on a tax-reduction agenda and carrying out privatisation. One of biggest areas that was first turned to contractualisation was the Ministry of Defence.”

“Happily for Serco, Thatcher’s successors, John Major and Tony Blair, both exhibited a fondness for getting the private sector involved in the public sector.”

Click here to read the full article by Heather Tomlinson:

Four years later and Serco were already being talked of as “probably the biggest company you’ve never heard of”, as a glowing profile of their CEO Christopher Hyman in the Guardian explained:

“Have you recently travelled on a train in northern England? Or on London’s Docklands Light Railway? Or perhaps been caught by a speed camera?

“If the answer to any of these questions was yes — or you have spent any time in custody or the armed forces — chances are you have dealt with the support services company Serco. With almost 48,000 people helping to service 600 largely public-sector contracts around the world, Serco is probably the biggest company you’ve never heard of.”3

No longer a small British subsidiary of a little known American corporation, by 2006, when the article above was published, Serco had gone global. Here, for instance, is taste of what Serco are already running in Canada, Ireland, Dubai, and Australia these days:

Taken from ABC Australia’s Hungry Beast.

Rebranded with Olympian titles, we are familiar with the names of most of our new gods: Blackwater and DynCorp, gods of war and reconstruction; Monsanto, god of harvests; Nokia, god of messages; Walmart, god of convenience; Aviva, god of life (insurance); but then, above and beyond all of these, there is Serco, the god of all the things the other gods don’t already do. A god without portfolio, and although not quite omnipresent, Serco is certainly “highly maneuverable”. As their own bragging PR likes to put it: “Serco has a finger in many pies”.

Now, having reached this point I realise that I have drifted well away from the original issue. My initial response to reading the letter from my nephew’s school having been to wonder at the kind of country we are living in. Already the most surveilled society in history, and now face-scanning and fingerprinting our children on a routine basis. In the process, as my sister says, we are already treating them as if they’re little criminals. Is it really necessary to hammer home the point here?

For we may believe this data can and will never be retrieved for uses beyond the bounds of the schools and colleges involved, but in permitting such licence we are nevertheless inculcating a sense of naïve trust in the next generation, which will normalise them to accept adult life in a surveillance society. We are teaching them to submit to authority. The word Orwellian is very overworked, but what other word can be applied in this instance? We are fingerprinting our children and entrusting that information to the major government defence contractor. And there is barely a raised eyebrow. Parents are mostly thinking that this is “helpful”. So please, if you haven’t done so already, read Nineteen Eighty-Four (not that Orwell has anything to say about fingerprint or face recognition systems, because back in the 1940s such hi-tech digital biometrics had yet to be imagined, let alone invented).

So what kind of a world awaits my nephew and his friends when he finally leaves school in five years time? Well, that will depend.

The road ahead is already laid. As our national assets and provision of our state sector were stolen away, Serco, and a few other giant corporations, absorbed the new workforce and took over. And now, as ours and other economies around the world begin to splutter and flail, they are about to suck up whatever remains at bargain prices. Finally, they will put up their toll-booths at every turn of our daily lives, and in the envisaged “cashless society”, these toll-booths will also be our checkpoints — logging every transaction and every movement.

History ought to have taught us to beware, its overriding message being that the rise of tyranny needs to be constantly guarded against. But those, like Thatcher and Reagan, who rushed us away from more direct forms of centralised government (supposedly to save us from a Soviet style tyranny) have delivered us instead into the talons of an unregulated and monopolised market. Any distinction between interests of the state and the corporations having thus been eroded, the takeover by multinationals such as Serco has been unstoppable. After all, someone has to be in charge of things. Serco then (and the pantheon of other corporate gods we must increasingly bow to) amounts to governance by another title, and not merely at a national scale, but transnationally — a few corporations becoming, in effect, arms of an unelected and largely unaccountable “global governance”.

This shift away from democracy and towards neo-feudalism is happening in plain sight. You even get the picture from Serco‘s own PR  material — the closing overlapping mosaic of corporate heads in their latest video simultaneously and hypnotically announcing: “we are Serco”; with the eerie subtext being that “resistance is futile”. But resistance isn’t futile, not yet…

If you’d like further information about this widening programme of school biometrics then I direct you to a worthwhile campaign group called Leave Them Kids Alone (LTKA) that is calling for a stop to this latest encroachment upon our civil liberties, or rather, the civil liberties of our children.

2 From an article entitled “Serco thunders down the tracks: Traffic lights, rail services, atomic weapons, the time of day. This secretive company manages them all” by Heather Tomlinson published in the Independent on Sunday on Sunday 10th March 2002 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/serco-thunders-down-the-tracks-653444.html

3 From an article entitled “Happy, touchy-feely and driven by God: The Serco chief Christopher Hyman is unusual for his values of doing business, with staff and customers coming first and profit last” by Jane Martinson, published in the Guardian on Friday 24th February, 2006. http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2006/feb/24/columnists.guardiancolumnists

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