“I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you, or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the president if I had a personal email.” —Edward Snowden, Booz Allen Hamilton whistleblower, during his interview with The Guardian.
Could the sprawling surveillance state enable government or its legion of private contractors to abuse their technology and spy upon domestic political targets or judges?
This is not a far off possibility. Two years ago, a batch of stolen e-mails revealed a plot by a set of three defense contractors (Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and HBGary Federal) to target activists, reporters, labor unions and political organizations. The plans— one concocted in concert with lawyers for the US Chamber of Commerce to sabotage left-leaning critics, like the Center for American Progress and the SEIU, and a separate proposal to “combat” WikiLeaks and its supporters, including Glenn Greenwald, on behalf of Bank of America— fell apart after reports of their existence were published online. But the episode serves as a reminder that the expanding spy industry could use its government-backed cybertools to harm ordinary Americans and political dissident groups.
The episode also shows that Greenwald, who helped Snowden expose massive spying efforts in the United States, had been targetted by spy agency contractors in the past for supporting whistleblowers and WikiLeaks.
Firms like Palantir—a Palo Alto–based business that helps intelligence agencies analyze large sets of data—exist because of the government’s post-9/11 rush to develop a “terror-detection leviathan” of high-tech companies. Named after a stone in the Lord of the Rings that helps both villains and do-gooders see over great distances, the company is well-known within Silicon Valley for attracting support from a venture capital group led by libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel and Facebook’s Sean Parker. But Palantir’s rise to prominence, now reportedly valued at $8 billion, came from initial investment from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the CIA, and close consultation with officials from the intelligence-gathering community, including disgraced retired admiral John Poindexter and Bryan Cunningham, a former adviser to Condoleezza Rice.
While Palantir boasts that its government-backed technology is geared towards helping the military track terrorists, stolen e-mails from HBGary Federal show the firm and its senior executives were eager to use its platform on behalf of the Chamber, one of the largest corporate lobbying associations. In the fall of 2010, the Chamber had received unflattering attention, first from a New York Times piece about allegedly laundered money from AIG, and then from my reporting at the Center for American Progress’ ThinkProgress blog about foreign funds flowing to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6) entity used to run campaign advertisements. The Chamber’s attorneys at the firm Hunton & Williams, at the time already busy prosecuting a group of activists for impersonating the Chamber, sought out the help of Palantir to develop a team to go after the Chamber’s critics. As I reported later for TheNation.com, Palantir eventually connected with Berico and HBGary Federal, and along with the Chamber’s attorneys, the group began plotting a campaign of snooping on activists’ families and even using sophisticated hacking tools to break into computers:
The presentations, which were also leaked by Anonymous, contained ethically questionable tactics, like creating a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” to give to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then subsequently exposing the document as a fake to undermine the credibility of the Chamber’s opponents. In addition, the group proposed creating a “fake insider persona” to “generate communications” with Change to Win, a federation of labor unions that sponsored the watchdog site, US Chamber Watch.
Even more troubling, however, were plans by the three contractors to use malware and other forms of malicious software to hack into computers owned by the Chamber’s opponents and their families. Boasting that they could develop a “fusion cell” of the kind “developed and utilized by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC),” the contractors discussed how they could use “custom malware development” and “zero day” exploits to gain control of a target’s computer network. These types of hacks can allow an attacker not only to snoop but to delete files, monitor keystrokes and manipulate websites, e-mail archives and any database connected to the target computer.
In January of 2011, Hunton and Williams, which had met with the Chamber to discuss the proposals, sent by courier a CD with target data to the contractors. The targets discussed in e-mails included labor unions SEIU, IBT, UFW, UFCW, AFL-CIO, Change to Win, as well as progressive organizations like the Center for American Progress, MoveOn.org, Courage Campaign, the Ruckus Society, Agit-Pop, Brave New Films and others. […]
The tactics described in the proposals are illegal. However, there were no discussions in the leaked e-mails about the legality of using such tactics. Rather, the Chamber’s attorneys and the three contractors quibbled for weeks about how much to charge the Chamber for these hacking services. At one point, they demanded $2 million a month.
By December in 2010, the attorneys from Hunton & Williams approached the three contractors about developing a similar plan to go after WikiLeaks on behalf of Bank of America, which was concerned that many of their private documents were about to be published by the whistleblower website. HBGary Federal’s Aaron Barr discussed his reasoning on why it was especially critical to take down Glenn Greenwald, noting in one e-mail: “I think we need to highlight people like Glenn Greenwald. Glenn was critical in the Amazon to OVH [data center] transition and helped WikiLeaks provide access to information during the transition. It is this level of support we need to attack. These are established professionals that have a liberal bent, but ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause, such is the mentality of most business professionals. Without the support of people like Glenn WikiLeaks would fold.” The team of contractors created a similar proposal for Hunton & Williams, again suggesting the idea of planting a false document and launching cyber attacks.
The contractors looked forward to the private sector money. One Palantir official wrote: “We are the best money can buy! Dam it feels good to be a gangsta.” However, they never had a chance to launch either attack plan.
The proposal fell apart when HBGary Federal’s Barr attracted the attention of LulzSec, a splinter group of Anonymous hactivists. LulzSec hacked into HBGary’s e-mail system and dumped thousands of private messages online, including the e-mails detailing the plan to go after both the Chamber’s perceived opponents and supporters of WikiLeaks. (A timeline of the scandal can be found here.)
Twenty House Democrats called for an investigation into the scandal, but the Republican-held chamber did little to look into the story. However, Congressman Hank Johnson did manage to briefly question NSA officials about the three defense contractors.
In the wake of the scandal, HBGary Federal shut down, but its sister firm, HBGary, was later sold to another military contractor, ManTech International for $23.8 million. Berico retained an influential DC lobbyist; Palantir increased their spending on lobbyists. Both companies managed to escape much scrutiny.
Although some media outlets have reacted to the Snowden story with apprehension that such a young employee of a government contractor would have such wide-ranging spy capabilities, the disclosure presents other questions. Journalist Tim Shorrock, who also blogged recently about the rise of Palantir, reported that some 70 percent of the nation’s intelligence gathering budget is spent on private contractors. Could any of these firms, which number in the hundreds, use their terrorist-seeking espionage weapons against their fellow Americans? If what Snowden claimed is true, he could have spied upon judges and journalists and sold that information to powerful domestic or foreign interests. At one point during the discussions about how to use their technologies to attack activists, Barr had met with Booz Allen Hamilton senior vice president Bill Wansley. The disclosure of the Palantir-Berico-HBGary proposals suggest other abuses could be lurking out there, from a rogue employee to a carefully planned effort to spy on activists.
Edward Snowden. (Courtesy: Guardiannews.com)
There’s really nothing “meta” about metadata. Even without knowing the content of a conversation, knowing whom someone is calling, for how long and how often conveys an enormous amount of information, as former National Security Agency official and whistleblower Thomas Drake and former Department of Justice attorney and whistleblower Jesselyn Radack reminded me and a roomful of others over the weekend. To know whom a journalist is in touch with is to know who their sources are, and a brutally efficient way to kill whatever network of confidential contacts a journalist has built up. (Would you dish the dirt to a reporter you know is being monitored?) The notion that we ought to be grateful because the government is “only” collecting our telecommunications metadata is creepy, dystopian and grovellingly servile. The perfectly reasonable desire to keep the government out of your e-mail and phone records does not make you a “privacy purist” or God forbid, a “libertarian.”
Thanks to The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald and 29-year-old whistleblower Edward Snowden, we know that the government has been collecting our telecommunications metadata in enormous data dragnets. We also know that the government has developed backdoor access to e-mail and other intenet communications through arrangements with Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other Silicon Valley corporations.
Snowden revealed his identity yesterday afternoon; it had been the subject of fervid speculation since Greenwald began breaking stories about the data trawling last week. (Steve Clemons, the impeccably Establishment foreign policy journalist and think-tanker, overheard four national security professionals loudly and repeatedly proposing that both Snowden and “the journalist” be “taken out”.) Snowden is not a government man, not exactly anyway: he worked at Booz Allen Hamilton, an enormous and enormously profitable corporation that has gobbled up $1.3 billion in intelligence-related government contracts in the past fiscal year, from digital intelligence gathering to questing after the much-sought-after but spurious link between Al Qaeda and South American narcotraffickers. A common theme in the reactions to Snowden’s whistleblowing is outrage and resentment that a 29-year-old with a GED instead of a high-school diploma is making $200,000 a year off government contracts. In today’s grim economy, one of the few bright spots is the boom field of counterterrorism and intelligence consulting, highly paid jobs that don’t seem to require much in the way of skills, experience or expertise.
Did the leak require all kinds of digital derring-do and expertise? Probably not; the ACLU’s Christopher Soghoian has noted that Snowden probably used the same surveillance-proofing software, Tor, that the United States developed for dissidents in China and Iran. For the time being, Snowden is in Hong Kong where American authorities cannot get at him—at least not today. (According to The New York Times, the Hong Kong government will most likely be very happy to comply with an extradition request from Washington, which is surely being drafted right now.)
The news about government snooping has raised old questions about mass digital surveillance by the state. Not surprisingly, Senator Dianne Feinstein sees nothing wrong with the programs, and assures us that they have already been instrumental in foiling terrorist plots—it’s just that she’s not at liberty to tell us how exactly, because that information is secret. Marcy Wheeler however at her Empty Wheel blog has subjected these official claims to searching scrutiny and finds there is no evidence that the newly revealed surveillance techniques had anything to do with the apprehension of Najibullah Zazi’s plot to bomb the New York subway. It’s not clear if many of the elected officials involved understand the technology or what it means.
But some critics among elected officials are speaking out. Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have long hinted darkly about the abuse of digital surveillance authorized by the Patriot Act, and they are joined by the libertarian-conservative Senator Rand Paul who has bashed the program as “unconstitutional.” This has opened up an entertaining civil war over civil liberties within the GOP, pitting Paul against big-government hawks like Lindsey Graham. (Free medical advice to progressives and liberals: you will not catch the clap by making common cause with Ron and Rand Paul on this issue, try it and see.)
Will more Democrats push back against this Stasi-like encroachment of the surveillance state? Some clearly will not: MSNBC mainstay Joy Reid whinged earlier today via Twitter that “purist libertarians don’t believe the government is entitled to any secrets. If I’m a covert CIA operative, say, in China, should I worry?” (Her compassion for CIA agents in China is presumably linked to Snowden’s gesturing in a video interview to the location of the American consulate in Hong Kong, not exactly a secret to anyone there.)
Are the surveillance programs legal? Attorneys Ben Wizner and Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU have both addressed this with their usual good sense—and so has The New Republic’s John Judis, looking back at the way he was surveilled and harassed (his friends and family too) because of his antiwar and left-wing political views in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Note to lawyers and wanna-be lawyers: that the program may be in conformity with the law is of course no guarantee that it is not a nightmare; the history of the United States is full of abominations that were permitted, required and violently enforced by legal statute.
Where is Obama? The great compromiser has told the country we cannot expect either “total security or total privacy.” But is the humble expectation that the government is not spying on our phone calls or e-mail an insolent, utopian demand for “total privacy”? Not in the least, but many Democratic voters, who seem to care deeply about civil liberties when a Republican administration is in charge, seem adequately soothed. The enemy is not just the Lindsey Grahams and the Dianne Feinsteins, it’s the apathy and internalization of Stasi values that has been growing like a mold over the nation. Sometimes this psychological internalization is meek and mild, but surprisingly often it comes with a weird macho swagger, as in David "The Wire" Simon's online rant that it's really no biggie for the feds are treating all Americans the way Baltimore police treat suspected crack dealers. Read the twitter feed @_nothingToHide which retweets statements offering shrugging approval to the NSA spying from bestselling intellectuals like Sam Harris as well as ordinary citizens--and weep for our future.
The morning after whisteblower Edward Snowden revealed his identify, Greg Mitchell writes about the NSA leaks and the contrasting narratives of how the Snowden went public.
John Cornyn. (Courtesy of Flickr user Gage Skidmore)
After months of behind-the-scenes haggling and committee work—and really, years and years of organizing, activism and elections—comprehensive immigration reform will have its moment on the big stage of the Senate floor this week.
Monday evening, the Senate will hold a roll call vote on a five-year farm bill, and assuming there are no hitches, will then begin floor debate on immigration reform. It will take weeks, but Democrats want the debate wrapped up and a bill passed by the July 1 recess.
As it stands now, the legislation (known officially as Senate bill 744, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013) creates a path to citizenship for most—but not all—of the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in America. That’s a huge step forward, and Congress hasn’t seriously debated anything like it since 1986.
But it also spends $5.5 billion over ten years on border security, on top of the $18 billion the country spends annually on border enforcement, more than all other law enforcement activities combines. The ACLU warns that the legislation “creates the kind of militarized environment along our southern border that is extremely costly, harmful to border communities’ quality of life, and enormously inefficient.”
Over the coming weeks, a fascinating push-and-pull will happen through the amendment process. Senate conservatives will propose measures that, if they pass, would amount to a “poison pill” that renders the entire legislation un-passable because Democrats wouldn’t be able to support it. Meanwhile, pro-reform activists and senators will be attempting to push the bill as far towards justice as is possible, with the aim of including the most possible people and removing as many roadblocks as possible.
Here are a few of the major flashpoints to watch for:
Senator John Cornyn’s border security amendment. Things will get interesting right away, as the Texas Senator and minority whip in the Senate will introduce a measure this week that basically tears out all the border security sections agreed upon by the “Gang of Eight” and the Senate Judiciary Committee, and replaces them with much tougher—and to most Democrats and reformers, unacceptable—requirements.
Cornyn’s amendment would deny undocumented immigrants permanent residency until there was 100 percent surveillance of every mile of the southern border, a 90 percent apprehension rate, a national E-Verify system, and a biometric ID system at all airports and ports. The head of the Department of Homeland Security and the Government Accountability office would be the arbiters of whether those goals were met. He would also require even more spending on border enforcement, and narrow the group of people eligible for citizenship further by excluding “serious misdemeanors.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already deemed these provisions unacceptable, and said this weekend:
QUESTION: How far are you willing to compromise on this bill to make it happen? In other words, what are you willing to give up and what is a deal-breaker?
REID: Well, I will not accept any poison pills. I mean, we have a senator from Texas, Senator Cornyn, who wants to change border security, a trigger, saying that it has to be 100 percent border security, or there’ll be no bill. That’s a poison pill….we’re not going to have big changes in this legislation.
The question now is obviously whether Cornyn can marshal enough votes—he would need all Republicans and some conservative Democrats—to pass the amendment. Just as important will be how Senate conservatives react if the amendment failed. Senator Marco Rubio hasn’t explicitly backed Cornyn’s amendment but has certainly suggested he favors it. If it fails, will Rubio declare the process dead and walk away?
Rubio’s own border security measures. Despite Harry Reid’s declaration that no “major changes” to the bill will be made, Rubio has repeatedly insisted that the legislation must move to the right in order to pass.
In particular, Rubio has said he will introduce a measure that makes Congress, not the executive branch, responsible for deeming that certain triggers have been met before citizenship can be granted. He also wants to further limit the government benefits that provisional immigrants can receive.
Democrats oppose these measures but haven’t thrown down the gauntlet as they have with Cornyn. Some degree of compromise with Rubio will be likely, but how far? At what point do the Democrats say no? At what point would Rubio walk away?
Agitation by far-right senators. There’s a group of far-right conservatives in the Senate who have made it pretty clear they oppose immigration reform outright. One of the leaders of this movement, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, is proposing all kinds of extreme amendments, like 700 miles of double-layered fencing on the southern border and exit visa tracking at every point of entry in the United States, not just air and sea.
The question isn’t really whether these will pass—they won’t—but how much Sessions is able to rile up the right-wing base when they fail.
Until now the far right has been relatively quiet on immigration reform. There have been no rallies against reform, as there were in 2007, and evangelical churches are playing a key role in calling for real reform.
Sessions’ floor speeches and media appearances are basically more important than his amendments. His goal isn’t really to change the bill—he can’t—but to wake up and shake up the base. His op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on Monday is a good demonstration of this effort. “Should it pass, [this legislation] would represent the ultimate triumph of the Washington elite over the everyday citizen to whom Congress properly owes its loyalty,” he wrote.
Who is eligible? Senators are going to keep trying to both trim and expand the number of people eligible for citizenship.
The headline will be Senator Patrick Leahy’s effort to include LGBT immigrants in reform, so that all partners are eligible for benefits and citizenship that until now is limited to straight immigrants and their families. Leahy was unable to marshal many of his fellow Democrats on the committee to support it, let alone any Republicans—who again, are having their rear covered at this point by evangelical churches—and the amendment is likely to fail on the Senate floor.
Activists are also focusing on the cut-off date in the bill: anyone who came after December 11, 2011, is ineligible for any path to citizenship. So hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came since then would continue living in a shadow society, and some senators may try to push that date forward. There is also serious concern about the list of criminal offenses that can lead to denial of citizenship and deportation, that reformers view as “quite extreme.”
But some senators are trying to pull it in the other direction. There is Cornyn’s aforementioned effort to expand the list of criminal offenses that ultimately lead to denial of citizenship. Senator Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat, is set to introduce an amendment that would force the children of undocumented immigrants to get a college degree or join the military before receiving citizenship.
Courtesy of No Grandi Navi
Flying into Venice for a long-awaited vacation, the biggest thing we could see from the air was not the Piazza San Marco, or the Doge’s Palace, or the Basilica—the biggest thing in Venice was a cruise ship docked in the passenger port. In town an hour later, we saw the posters, which said (in Italian, of course), “Defend the City—Take Back the Lagoon—Days of International Struggle Against the Big Ships—June 7-8-9.” We had arrived just in time.
The problem was easy to see: the day of the big protest, MSC Divina was in port—it’s one of the ten biggest cruise ships in the world. It looks like a floating apartment building. It has eighteen decks, which makes it much taller than anything in Venice, where the tallest buildings are four or five stories high. It’s more than 1,000 feet long. Piazza San Marco, the largest public space in Venice, is less than 600 feet long. This ship carries 4,000 passengers and a crew of 1,300. When a ship like this sails through the canals of Venice on its way to Dubrovnik and the Greek Islands, it is, in the words of the protest organization No Grandi Navi, “an affront, an insult to the city and its way of life.”
The insults are coming more often. Cruise-ship tourism in Venice has increased fourfold in the last fifteen years, and the city is now the cruise capital of Europe. The organizing committee for the protest declared, “These mega cruise ships are a visible expression of a system of political and commercial wrongdoing that has been corrupting life, damaging the economy, the environment and, ultimately, the people of this region.” They called for “sustainable alternatives in business, industrial and economic planning, based on more participatory procedures, and a new season of democracy in defense of the common good.”
The committee also announced a contest for a new logo—and stated that “the prize for the winner will NOT be a cruise.”
“Everyone in Venice hates the cruise ships,” a young woman who worked for our hotel told us. But not quite everyone: the Cruise Venice Committee held a gala affair in October 2012, according to Barbie Nadeau of The Daily Beast, where 1,800 people gathered at the passenger terminal to celebrate the success of the city in attracting the big ships. According to the committee, more than 650 cruise ships now dock in Venice annually—two almost every day of the year—and they bring passengers who spend almost $200 million annually. Obviously, the people who run the restaurants and own the stores that sell the cheap carnival masks and little plastic gondolas have something to celebrate.
But “if the benefits of tourism are the death of a city, then tourism is not worth it,” says Silvio Testa, spokesman for the protest organization. “Cruise ships may not be entirely to blame, but they are a major component of a mechanism that is changing Venice like a gradual tide that erodes the substance of the city.”
During the three-day mobilization, demonstrators from out of town camped out on one of the nearby lagoon islands, where political discussions, debates and workshops were held during the first two days, with puppet shows for the children and music and partying at night—ska, Afrobeat and rock steady were listed on the program.
Sunday morning, the protest began with a blockade of the road from the parking lot to the passenger terminal. While demonstrators chanted “Don’t board that ship!”, police in riot gear attacked with clubs. News photos showed the protesters protecting themselves with inflatable plastic ducks and other children’s beach toys. The event was streamed live on the web by Global Project.
The climax of the three-day protest came Sunday afternoon in the water outside the cruise ship terminal: “Everyone in Boats in the Giudecca Canal!” While coast guard and police motorboats patrolled, hundreds of people in dozens of smaller boats filled the canal, flying flags that said “No Big Ships” alongside red medieval banners bearing a yellow lion of St. Mark—the historic flag of the 1,000-year-old Venetian Republic.
Manila Ricci, who blogged about the protest for Huffington Post Italia, called it “a day that expressed the collective power of people.” “Venice is free,” she wrote, “at least for today.” One of the leaders of the protest committee told me the protest was “una gesto simbolico”—“a symbolic gesture.” But for a tourist from Los Angeles, it was an eloquent and thrilling event.
Watch video of the protest flotilla here.
The Venice Biennale opened at the end of May. Read more about the political art exhibition here.
Samantha Power. (Wikimedia Commons)
Whether or not the Geneva conference on Syria, backed by both the United States and Russia, takes place—it’s now been pushed back from June to July—the Syrian rebels are not acquitting themselves well. They’ve now refused outright to attend, unless the United States and the Europeans supply them with heavy weapons, a kind of blackmail that won’t sit well with their backers in Washington and elsewhere. General Idris—the commander of the rebel forces, who just had a session with John McCain, who no doubt encouraged him in his anti-Geneva stance—is saying this:
“If we don’t receive ammunition and weapons to change the position on the ground, to change the balance on the ground, very frankly I can say we will not go to Geneva. There will be no Geneva.”
McCain, of course, is incessantly demanding direct American involvement in the war.
Meanwhile, the government of President Bashar al-Assad is making important military gains on the ground while telling the Russians that they’ll attend Geneva.
In a perfect world, Secretary of State John Kerry would read the riot act to the rebel leaders, explaining not-so-patiently that there will be no military solution to the civil war in Syria. Kerry’s message ought to be that the United States will cut off the rebels if they don’t attend Geneva. Further, the United States must start putting intense pressure on Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the rebels’s main arms suppliers, to slow down the weapons pipeline, especially to the ultra-Islamists and the Al Qaeda types who are the rebels’s strongest fighters. And Kerry ought to make it clear to the world that Iran will be welcome in Geneva, since Tehran has great influence over the course of the war in Syria.
Meanwhile, Kerry will have to deal patiently, as well, with Susan Rice, the new US national security adviser to-be, and with Samantha Power, the yet-to-be-confirmed replacement for Rice at the United Nations, both of whom are likely to push for more American support for the beleaguered anti-Assad forces.
Perhaps realizing that the alliance between Al Qaeda in Iraq and Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, the so-called Nusra Front, had resulted in poor public relations for Al Qaeda, the organization’s top leader—Ayman al-Zawahiri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as chieftain—has annulled the marriage of Nusra and AQI. According to Reuters:
“The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is canceled, and work continues under the name the Islamic State of Iraq,” he said in the letter posted on the website on Sunday night. “The Nusra Front for the People of the Levant is an independent branch” of al Qaeda, Zawahiri said, urging both groups to “stop arguing in this dispute, and to stop the harassment among the Muslims.”
Zawahiri’s intervention won’t do anything to remove the stain of Al Qaeda extremism from the Syrian revolt, however.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty of speculation about what the addition of the two liberal interventionists, Rice and Power, will mean to the decision-making of the Obama administration. In the Los Angeles Times, the headline is: “At White House, liberal hawks ascend.” Says the paper:
Their promotions hints at a new source of fireworks in a growing foreign policy battle in the Obama administration. Liberal hawks and doves in the White House and the Democratic Party are struggling for hearts and minds over whether it makes sense to intervene in Syria and to attack Iran.
But Neil McFarquhar, in The New York Times over the weekend, is fairly certain that the Rice-Power axis won’t make much difference:
Could the fact that both Ms. Rice and Ms. Power have taken very public stances on the importance of humanitarian intervention mean they will shift American foreign policy in that direction? The consensus among experts and their ex-colleagues is that not much will change. Ms. Power’s appointment represents continuity, and neither of them differed publicly with President Obama on foreign policy issues.
James Mann, too, says in The Washington Post that Power, for all her tough talk about preventing genocide, won’t have a major impact at the UN, and that Obama’s own anti-interventionist instincts will hold sway:
Power is likely to get the opportunity to put these ideas into effect at the United Nations. In her daily work, proposals for U.S. military intervention will seem remote, if not entirely irrelevant.
Let’s hope he’s right. But I’m a lot less sanguine than McFarquhar and Mann, and a lot more worried that the pressure to intervene in hotspots from Africa to Syria to Iran will increase once Rice and Power settle into their new positions later this summer.
Fans of Besiktas (Black-White), Galatasaray (Yellow-Red) and Fenerbahce (Yellow-Blue) wave Turkish flags during an anti-government protest in Istanbul on June 2, 2013. (Reuters/Murad Sezer)
Mark Twain’s maxim that “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme” is echoing in the streets of Istanbul. The echo is heard in everything that makes Turkey resemble a sequel to the 2011 Egyptian Revolution that toppled assumed President-for-Life Hosni Mubarak. I’m not only referring to the fact that it marks another internal revolt against an iron-booted US ally. I’m not only referring to the repeat of the social equation that neoliberal shock economics plus police repression will equal upheaval. I’m talking about soccer. More specifically, the role that organized soccer fans are playing by the thousands.
Turkey and Egypt are of course two very different countries with different leaders, different political systems and different histories. But the revolt of the highly intense, usually apolitical “ultra” soccer-fan clubs must be noted. As in Egypt, for years the ultra soccer clubs have been places in Turkey where young, alienated men could express aggression without fear of serious retribution from the state. They were places a young man could release steam, get in a brawl with other fan organizations or the police and receive at worst a beating. In contrast, attending a political demonstration—or writing an article about the political demonstration—could land you in prison. For the state, ultra clubs have been seen as ways to channel anger in a direction that doesn’t threaten their power. After the last two years, they may need to revise their playbook on how to manufacture consent.
There are differences between the ultra revolts in Egypt and Turkey. Unlike in Egypt, the Turkish soccer fan clubs have historically been a magnet for people wanting a more liberalized, secular rule of law. Perhaps because they share this connective tissue, there is another critical difference: unlike in Egypt, the Turkish ultra clubs have all united in very rapid order. This isn’t Tahrir, where for days rival ultra clubs would organize on opposite sides of the square, until their hatred was worn down by the necessity of standing together against the police. In Turkey, from the start, the ultra clubs hailing from the city’s most pugnaciously oppositional clubs—Besiktas, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce—marched arm-in-arm under the slogan “Istanbul United.”
For the people occupying in Taksim, their entry was not only welcome, it was desperately needed. Bagis Erten, a reporter for Eurosport Turkey, was quoted by Middle Eastern soccer blogger James M. Dorsey as saying, “It was a critical moment. Supporters of all the big teams united for the first time against police violence. They were more experienced than the protesters, they fight them regularly. Their entry raised the protesters’ morale and they played a leading role.”
This development must be giving Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan night sweats. The ultras normally interact only when they’re trading chants, curses or blows. Instead, they arrived looking more like mass-street-combat organizations than anything that could be described antiseptically as “fans.” They set up barricades, threw back tear gas canisters and protected the core of protesters from violence. As one 18-year-old ultra said, “We are normally enemies, but this has really brought us together. It’s never happened before.”
The fan group known as Çarşi has reportedly led this uniting of the ultras. Çarşi is also the ultra group most associated with the political left. Just so there is no doubt about where they stand, the "a" in Çarşi is the anarchism is the anarchism symbol and their slogan is “Çarşi is against everything!” Tensions were already extremely high between Çarşi and the security police when a post-match march, after their team Beşiktaş J.K. was victorious, strayed too close to Erdogan party headquarters, resulting in more gassing and violence than the typical ultra/police skirmish.
To be clear, ultras across the globe reflect at best a very mixed consciousness. Although some are explicitly left-wing, others explicitly fascist and most proudly apolitical, they all carry features of hyper-masculine fight-clubs. That can be heard in Taksim in the chants they raise at the state police, like, “You can use you tear gas bombs, you can use your tear gas bombs/ Have courage if you are a real man/ Take off your helmet and drop your batons/ Then we’ll see who the real man is.”
The difference, of course, is that they are directing their rage at the police in the name of basic democracy. The difference is that instead of representing merely their team, they are “Istanbul United." Like the ultras in Egypt, their very existence should be pushing sports writers, academics and sociologists to rethink the very stale conventional wisdom about sports fandom: that its most prominent feature is that it’s devoid of all politics and actually serves to steer people away from struggle. In the case of the Turkish ultras, they are citizens with the same concerns as anyone else. The difference is they bring mass organization and the art of street combat to this dynamic stage in Turkey’s history.
Sports fans—again—playing a leading role in a mass social uprising? Welcome to the twenty-first century, where the revolution is not only televised: it takes place in between games.
Edward Snowden. Courtesy: Guardiannews.com
What a day. Sunday opened with more fallout and media debate over the revelations from the pair of bombshells about NSA data collection and surveillance via The Guardian and The Washington Post. Glenn Greenwald, the main reason for The Guardian scoops, went on ABC from somewhere abroad for a valuable interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. A few hours later he was back—with the shocking news that the source for the leaks had chosen to reveal his identity and location.
Turns out Glenn was in Hong Kong.
The Guardian posted a full, riveting interview, words and video (shot by Laura Poitras of the Post), with the leaker, 29-year-old Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who now works, or worked, for a major NSA contractor. He had fled to Hong Kong from Hawaii hoping to gain asylum there or in another place, such as Iceland, but he seemed to expect the worst.
You probably know all this already but if you need to catch up here’s how I followed news and reaction at my Pressing Issues blog, including an amazing interview with my old friend Dan Ellsberg, who said that even at his advanced age—if he’d been given this material himself this month he would have leaked it and accepted spending the rest of his life in prison. Snowden is being attacked by some for fleeing to repressive China—but others ask, what better options did he have?
But here’s an intriguing media angle. As I noted yesterday, Barton Gellman, the fine Washington Post reporter who had also been the recipient of Snowden’s leakage, followed The Guardian’s account of working with Snowden by writing his own first-person account. This repeated the pattern of the first big leak last week—The Guardian went first, the Post closely behind. On PRISM, the Post beat The Guardian by twenty minutes, according to Mike Calderone of Huffington Post.
Gellman claimed that Snowden actually came to him first last month, then demanded that the Post publish his material within three days (for his own safety) and in full—that is, all forty-one slides from the now-fabled PRISM slide show. Gellman writes that after he told Snowden that the paper doesn’t operate that way and could not make such promises—and they’d have to check it out with government sources in any case—the whistleblower told him he would now go elsewhere with the material. About two weeks later the Post learned that the first Guardian report was about to explode, which prompted the Post to quickly go public. In both cases, with PRISM, the news outlets used only four of forty-one slides.
But is this how it really went down? Greenwald tweets today: “Bart Gellman’s claims about Snowden’s interactions with me—when, how and why—are all false.” And: “The reality is that Laura Poitras and I have been working with him since February, long before anyone spoke to Bart Gellman….I have no idea whether he had any conditions for WP, but he had none for us: we didn’t post all the slides.”
Gellman has not replied to Greenwald on Twitter, but on Sunday he tweeted, “Snowden didn’t bolt when I refused guarantees, just quit going steady. And not because I consulted USG [US government].” Tim Noah, late of Slate, tweeted: “By (rightly) not allowing Snowden to dictate how and when of release, Wash Post lost exclusive.” Gellman did hit back at a WikiLeaks charge that he had informed on the leaker in going to the US government: “Accusing me of ‘informing’ on Snowden to USG is garbage. I told him I’d seek comment and did. Period.” He also told Charlie Savage of The New York Times, via Twitter, that if he saw the still-secret slides he wouldn’t publish them either.
Calderone has just written this valuable untangling, with Poitras, it turns out, playing perhaps THE key role. Snowden, he explains, first approached Greenwald months ago but Glenn was stymied by tech issues and didn't know what the leak entailed. Poitras met Greenwald later and told him that Snowden had told her details and this sparked all that followed. As for Gellman: It appears true that Snowden did go to him first with PRISM, and then to Greenwald. But Greenwald objects to Gellman suggesting that Glenn was the second choice all along, when in fact he had gotten the first leak...first.
Stay tuned for more on this—here’s a new Greenwald interview with NBC—and the numerous other angles on this tremendously important story.
UPDATES Kevin Drum at Mother Jones asks what's on the many slides not published by the two news outlets—and why not published? Though surely not up to Greenwald and Gellman alone. More updates: USA Today and Reuters ID'd Snowden’s hotel, but he had already checked out. Smearing of Snowden begins. The AP declares that Snowden, and Bradley Manning, are "leakers" not "whistle-blowers."
Glenn Greenwald plays a pivotal role in my book (with Kevin Gosztola) on the Bradley Manning case, just published in an updated edition. Soime of my other books on political campaigns, atomic coverups and more here.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie answers a question during a campaign event in Manville, New Jersey, Monday, May 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
It is not just Democrats who object to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s gaming of the political process to schedule the state’s special Senate election twenty days before his own gubernatorial election.
State Senator Michael Doherty, one of the most conservative Republicans in the New Jersey legislature, ripped Christie for calling the election to replace the late US Senator Frank Lautenberg for October 16, rather than having it coincide with the regularly scheduled November 5 election.
Like everyone else who pays even passing attention to politics, Dohery knows why Christie scheduled the unnecessary extra election, at an expense to taxpayers of at least $12 million. The governor, who is looking to score a big re-election win to jumpstart a 2016 Republican presidential run, wanted to avoid having to deal with a lot of Democratic voters who will show up to vote in the Senate race (for a marquee nominee such as Newark Mayor Cory Booker or Congressman Rush Holt or Congressman Frank Pallone or Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver)—and who might stick around to vote for Christie’s hard-working if underfunded Democratic challenger, state Senator Barbara Buono.
Doherty, a movement conservative who has often sparred with his party’s governor, has called on Christie to scrap the October 16 scheme and schedule a November 5 Senate election. That would make it possible to move the Democratic and Republican primaries to later dates—allowing more candidates to run.
Of course, Christie is not interested in small-“d” democratic niceties. So he’s not going to reschedule the election without a fight.
As it happens, however, he has a fight on his hands: a key Democratic senator says the governor could be forced to do the right thing.
State Senator Shirley K. Turner has introduced legislation that would upset Christie’s scheme. Under Turner’s plan, the date of the state’s general election would be shifted from November to October 16.
“Moving an election is not unprecedented,” says Turner. “In 2005, we moved the presidential primary election from June to February and then passed legislation in 2011 to move it back to June. The trend is to have fewer elections to save taxpayers money and increase voter participation, not schedule more elections, create more waste, and have fewer people vote. Not only does it cost more to have a special election three weeks before the General election—a total of four elections in four months—it creates more confusion and voter fatigue. People are just too busy working two jobs, in some cases, and taking care of family obligations to carve out the time to vote every month.”
Indeed, argues Turner, “scheduling two special elections is a form of voter suppression, especially when October 16 is a Wednesday.”
Turner has asked for quick action on her bill. And she says she’s received strong support from colleagues.
Who knows? She might even get Republican Senator Doherty to vote with her. In fact, if enough principled conservatives do the right thing, the legislature might even beat a Christie veto, a result that could even teach the governor a thing or two about respecting the electorate—as opposed to his own ambitions.
John Nichols is the author (with Robert W. McChesney) of the upcoming book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America, which outlines a reform agenda that calls for establishing a guaranteed right to vote, getting corporate money out of politics and electing—rather than appointing—all senators.
Read more about the late Frank Lautenberg, the last of the New Deal liberals.
James Naismith. (Wikimedia Commons)
This season’s NBA playoffs have produced some timely commentary by Nation sports correspondent Dave Zirin, whose recent basketball-related dispatches discussed the emergence of Jason Collins as the first openly gay major-sports player and defended the pundit Bill Simmons’s controversial comments about fans of the Memphis Grizzlies still being affected by the trauma of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination forty-five years ago. Zirin’s thoughtful reporting from the intersection of politics, sports and culture is unique in today’s highly stratified media environment.
And yet the coverage of basketball in the pages of The Nation has a long history. As early as 1935, a writer using the pseudonym Left Wing documented and decried “the growth of that extraordinary sport which for want of a better name is called basketball.” Wing noted that basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a physical education instructor at a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts, sarcastically adding:
Only a retainer of the Y could possibly have invented such a fiendish pastime, a game which in forty short years has been responsible for as many brawls, lost tempers, broken relations, fights, arguments, and discussions as any branch of athletics. Most of us are ashamed of our mistakes and try to hide them, but the inventor…actually boasts of the fact that basketball is played in countries as remote as Latvia, Turkey, Arabia, Madagascar, Uruguay, Bulgaria, and Korea.
Wing went on to dismiss the game as “a sort of winter rival to football,” inferior to the older, more popular game because unlike football, “basketball is played in overheated gymnasiums or field houses, in a dusty, smoke-laden atmosphere conducive to anything except sport.”
The next major Nation article on basketball came in 1960, when the novelist Willard Manus wrote about the gambling scandals that had plagued the game throughout “the Fixed Fifties…this flabby decade.” As Manus wrote, bookies and athletes routinely conspired to fix the score of college basketball games in order to reap major gambling profits. “College basketball is, as it was ten years ago, a maggoty mess of moral hypocrisy, out-and-out dishonesty, side-of-the-mouth connivery,” Manus wrote. “The current scandal stands as an almost too-pat symbol of the moral journey to nowhere that college basketball is making.” Manus also paused to criticize professional basketball, whose rising popularity in the 1950s, he claimed, was directly due to fallout from the early ’50s college basketball fixing scandals and the contemporaneous rise of television. The same sports promoters who had profited illegally from the college scandals had colluded to professionalize their schemes, Manus explained:
They did it by pandering to the lowest tastes of the new fans of the TV age—armchair addicts who crave high scores, sensational shooting matches, speeded-up action. Out the window went all the old subtleties and niceties of the game: intricate zone defenses, possession paly, clever passing and strategy. The pro game became all offense and no defense. To these eyes, watching it is about as exciting as watching pinball game for two hours.
Even if subsequent changes in the rules and culture of the game have rendered obsolete many of Manus’s complaints, one thing remains obvious: basketball, at both the college and professional levels, is undoubtedly “big business.”
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In recent decades Nation writers have more directly addressed the politics and socioeconomics of basketball. In a special sports issue in July, 1998, Peter Rothberg—now our associate publisher—wrote about the issues surrounding the NBA lockout that significantly truncated the 1998–99 season. “The marketing and packaging of the NBA and, yes, the crazy salaries have led to a glittery product long on flash but short on fundamentals and passion,” Rothberg wrote.
Longtime fans have become increasingly alienated by the transformation of their sport into glam entertainment. No one at the top cares, though, as long as the corporate boxes keep selling and ticket prices keep rising…So what if lifelong fans are leaving their seats in droves. There’s still a waiting list for tickets, and the kids priced out of the games can still buy Bulls jackets.
A 2003 Comment piece by sportswriter Murray Polner, “Dissent and Basketball,” told the story of Toni Smith, captain of a Division III basketball team outside New York City, who had stoked national outrage for refusing to salute the American flag before games, citing an abhorrence for economic inequality and the impending war with Iraq. “We have to wonder whether an obscure 21-year-old would have caused the media storm she did if this country weren’t so divided, anxious and fearful about the threat of war—and if dissent among big-time athletes hadn’t become so exceedingly rare,” Polner said. An article the following year by Kelly Candaele and Peter Dreier made the same point. In “Where are the Jocks for Justice?” they attributed the relative dearth of politically involved athletes to an improvement in their collective economic situation, in part thanks to a strong labor movement. “Morality is much bigger than athletics,” the writers concluded. Dave Zirin, a jock for justice if ever there were one, would certainly agree.
For our second special issue on sports in August 2011, Ari Paul updated readers on the NBA’s labor disputes—the league was then in the midst of yet another lockout. Paul argued that although “many fans dismiss sports labor conflicts as squabbles between billionaires and millionaires,” there were real labor and class issues at stake. The majority of NBA players, Paul made clear, were not earning gargantuan salaries like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James: “You don’t see most players in commercials, and while they might earn more than the blue-collar worker watching the Finals in a bar, they don’t accumulate ruling-class wealth.”
Moreover, he noted that players weren’t the only employees who the owners were locking out—that group also included parking lot attendants, bartenders and merchandise retailers—Paul claimed “the struggle is really not about billionaires versus millionaires but billionaires versus everyone else—including consumers.” Ultimately, the owners’ assault on NBA players was not that different from the attacks on labor that were seen around the country in 2011 and since:
The reality here is that owners are using a recessionary market to justify economic restructuring that would put more money in their pockets, taking it from the highly skilled laborers who make the product so singularly mesmerizing. There is an impulse in the United States to say to skilled workers that they can afford to take some cuts. But that impulse typically stops at CEOs and owners. Maybe this high-profile labor struggle is an opportunity to confront that logical inconsistency.
The NBA labor dispute was eventually settled, but that logical inconsistency, in sports and in society at large, lives large.
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Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.
Walmart CEO Mike Duke speaks to a crowd of shareholders from around the world during the Walmart shareholders meeting in Fayetteville, Ark., Friday, June 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
Fayetteville, Arkansas—A striking retail worker and a Bangladesh labor activist today made their case from the floor of Walmart’s shareholder meeting, addressing thousands of workers and stock-owners and countering what was otherwise a highly scripted celebration of the largest private company in the world.
Thousands of Walmart shareholders and employees settled into their seats before 7 CST this morning, nearly filling the University of Arkansas’s Bud Walton arena as a band on stage played “We Are Family” and “I Will Survive.” An LCD display above the balcony displayed chosen tweets, like “Celebrating my birthday today with 14,000 of my friends”—a reference to the Walmart employees from around the world flown to Arkansas by management to attend the meeting. Also present: some of the hundred striking members of the union-backed group OUR Walmart, granted admission because they owned shares or had been designated to attend by others who did. (Other strikers were in neighboring Missouri, holding actions inside and outside stores to protest alleged retaliation against an activist.)
What followed was something like a cross between a Hollywood awards ceremony and a political convention: surprise celebrity appearances, storytelling from the stage about individuals seated in the crowd and ample references to opportunity, service and the American dream.
(I attempted to obtain media credentials from Walmart beginning in March, and was notified by a spokesperson in May that the company was denying my request because of “the limited number of media that is invited to attend…” I obtained access to the meeting using shareholder proxy authorization from the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, a New York City nonprofit that owns Walmart stock; I did not vote.)
The meeting was emceed by actor Hugh Jackman, who cracked jokes (one involved a superhero movie featuring “the greatest villains anyone in history has ever faced: the IRS auditors”); sang songs (including “Who Am I?”, one of the non-revolutionary Les Miserables numbers) and introduced fellow celebs, including Tom Cruise, John Legend and Jennifer Hudson. Walmart executives were generally introduced by rank-and-file Walmart employees, the constituency at which most of the day’s content was directed.
CEO Mike Duke and a string of other officials heaped words of praise and gratitude on the company’s workforce, individually and collectively. And while they made time to tout the company’s financial performance and philanthropic contributions, they returned most often to the theme that, in Duke’s words, “No company provides opportunities to more people to go from where they are, to where they want to be, than Walmart.” Whereas “government jobs are known for their stability,” Walmart US President Bill Simon told the crowd, and other jobs for other features, “what makes Walmart special is the opportunity.” To illustrate this point, he called up two employees who had recently applied for promotions, and then offered them the jobs on the spot.
The only disruption to that message came during the legally required formal business of the meeting, which included the presentation of four resolutions submitted by shareholders and opposed by the company. The non-binding resolutions—involving corporate governance, board member stock retention, the board’s independence, and compensation clawbacks tied to misconduct—were backed by large institutional investors, including major union pension funds. Two of the four were presented by activists who’ve spent the past week protesting against Walmart.
The first was introduced by Kalpona Akter, a former garment worker who now directs the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity. Akter and her colleagues have repeatedly been jailed in Bangladesh over what human rights groups allege were spurious charges design to suppress labor organizing; Akter told The Nation in April that she currently faces a new round of charges, some of them brought by factories that contract for Walmart. Akter’s address to the Bud Walton auditorium focused on the April building collapse and November fire that killed workers in Bangladesh factories where Walmart clothes have been sewn. “Forgive me,” said Akter, “but for years every time there’s a tragedy Walmart officials have made promises to improve the terrible conditions in my country’s garment factories, yet the tragedies continue. With all due respect, the time for empty promises is over.”
Akter was followed by OUR Walmart member Janet Sparks, whose co-workers say she’s been the driving force behind the current strike by six employees in her Baker, Louisiana store. Three shareholder meetings ago, before joining OUR Walmart, Sparks was among the workers flown to Arkansas by management. Reading slowly and steadily from her statement, Sparks described a company that understaffed, underpaid, and over-relied on temps. “So when I think about the fact that our CEO Mike Duke made over $20 million last year,” she said, “more than 1,000 times the average Walmart associate, with all due respect, I have to say, I don’t think that's right.” A handful of OUR Walmart members cheered. (“I was so nervous,” Sparks told The Nation later.) A few sentences later, when Sparks contrasted Duke's millions in bonuses with sparse and paltry bonuses paid out in her store, a few attendees elsewhere in the arena tried to start a chant of of “USA! USA!”
After she asked the crowd “if you can honestly say our company is doing the best we can for customers and associates,” Board Chairman Rob Walton cut in to point out she’d exceeded her designated three minutes. Sparks closed shortly after with a quote from Walmart founder Sam Walton: “Listen to the associates!”
After the four shareholder resolutions had been presented, Rob Walton thanked the presenters, with little apparent enthusiasm, for “your engagement and interest in the company.” Then the hall was bathed in pink-and-blue light as musician Prince Royce took the stage to sing “Stand By Me.” As expected, by the meeting’s end, all Walmart-supported proposals had won majority support, and those that management opposed had failed. That news, announced by Rob Walton, brought a burst of applause. (The Walton family controls about half of Walmart’s available stock.)
After last year’s shareholder meeting, top company executives gathered on the arena’s floor to take questions from any shareholders who approached them; OUR Walmart workers took that opportunity to go in groups and confront them about their grievances. But this year, the company opted instead to offer shareholders one-on-one sessions with company representatives elsewhere in the building, a move which workers said parallels management’s repeated offers for human resources staff to meet with workers individually but not in groups. Rather than take individual meetings with less-senior staff, a group of strikers quickly presented a Walmart investor relations official in the hallway with petitions signed by supporters. Then they left the building with a brief chant of “Whose Walmart? OUR Walmart!” (In contrast, Walmart executives repeatedly referenced “your Walmart” throughout the day.)
The thousands of employees flown in by Walmart left the building soon after the OUR Walmart activists. Asked about the issues Sparks had raised regarding staffing and pay, one said said she had to run to catch a plane; a second said, “I have no complaints about that, pretty much”; and a third said, “I’m not really sure I can talk to you.”
Janet Sparks told The Nation she believes the attention drawn by the strike and today’s shareholder showdown will create an opening to draw more workers into OUR Walmart—including some of those flown to Bentonville by the company. As they return home, said Sparks, “they’re going back to the reality of being overworked, of being understaffed, of not being able to pay their bills and feed their families.” As for herself, she said, once she returns to work this weekend after several days on strike, “I’m ready to do even more.”
OUR Walmart organizers and workers who’d attended past shareholder meetings said they were struck by how much more of this year’s gathering was directed at the hearts and minds of employees, and by how executives’s messaging seemed designed to neutralize OUR Walmart’s allegations about scheduling, compensation and respect. While executives didn’t mention OUR Walmart today by name, said Richmond, California, striker Pamela Davis, “everything that we said that they are, they were saying they’re not.” (Walmart this week dismissed OUR Walmart’s protests as a “union-organized publicity stunt” with “a small and insignificant amount of associates participating.”)
Several strikers left the meeting frustrated by what they saw as the gaps between rhetoric and reality, or between the cost of the convention and the everyday cheapness of the company. Seattle striker Sara Gilbert said that the Walmart hunger-alleviation agenda touted by Tom Cruise rang hollow: “They said Walmart’s going to donate a million dinners for American people that are hungry, and they’re going to bring them to their local food bank. And the saddest thing is that their associates are going to be going to those same food banks to get that food.”
Gilbert told The Nation she found it “depressing” and “disgusting” to see the Walmart revenue lavished on the event. “I never want to go again,” she said. “Next year, I’ll be out in the stores doing actions and stuff instead.” Still, Gilbert said Walmart had shown it was starting to sweat: “Obviously they’re listening because they’re scared. We’ve just got to work harder.”
Fast food workers around the country are organizing work stoppages to protest low wages and poor working conditions. Read Josh Eidelson's report on Seattle workers here.