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We are a worldwide social network of freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists.

The Opiate of Exceptionalism

By SCOTT SHANE

IMAGINE a presidential candidate who spoke with blunt honesty about American problems, dwelling on measures by which the United States lags its economic peers.

What might this mythical candidate talk about on the stump? He might vow to turn around the dismal statistics on child poverty, declaring it an outrage that of the 35 most economically advanced countries, the United States ranks 34th, edging out only Romania. He might take on educational achievement, noting that this country comes in only 28th in the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool, and at the other end of the scale, 14th in the percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds with a higher education. He might hammer on infant mortality, where the United States ranks worse than 48 other countries and territories, or point out that, contrary to fervent popular belief, the United States trails most of Europe, Australia and Canada in social mobility.

The candidate might try to stir up his audience by flipping a familiar campaign trope: America is indeed No. 1, he might declare — in locking its citizens up, with an incarceration rate far higher than that of the likes of Russia, Cuba, Iran or China; in obesity, easily outweighing second-place Mexico and with nearly 10 times the rate of Japan; in energy use per person, with double the consumption of prosperous Germany.

How far would this truth-telling candidate get? Nowhere fast. Such a candidate is, in fact, all but unimaginable in our political culture. Of their serious presidential candidates, and even of their presidents, Americans demand constant reassurance that their country, their achievements and their values are extraordinary.

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The article links to a blog Ranking America. The U.S. is #1 in small arms ownership and tied with Nigeria at 24th in  frequency of sex.

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The United States does not have the “freest” Internet in the world, according to the annual Freedom House transparency and access report, Freedom on the Net. Slow and gentrified broadband access and occasional government intrusion stunted the U.S. to the #2 spot, with the tiny Eastern European technological powerhouse, Estonia, taking the gold medal. With online voting, access to electronic medical records, and widespread broadband access, Estonia is the envy of the digital world.

That's the way to go!
Plus access to the government databases and the public files they keep on you.

It's too bad we can't use their server farms to back up our hard drives, or at least our emails (that they have on file).

Here's link to a brief report; Surveillance Monitor 2007 - International country rankings

2007 Country rankings

Since 1997, the US-based Electronic Privacy Information Center and the UK-based Privacy International have undertaken what has now become the most comprehensive survey of global privacy ever published. The Privacy & Human Rights Report surveys developments in 70 countries, assessing the state of surveillance and privacy protection.

The 2007 global rankings extend the survey to 47 countries (from the original 37) and, for the first time, provide an opportunity to assess trends.

Important note

This study and the accompanying ranking chart measure the extent of surveillance and privacy. They do not intend to comprehensively reflect the state of democracy or the full extent of legal or parliamentary health or dysfunction in these countries (though the two conditions are frequently linked). The aim of this study is to present an assessment of the extent of information disclosure, surveillance, data exploitation and the general state of information privacy.

  • The 2007 rankings indicate an overall worsening of privacy protection across the world, reflecting an increase in surveillance and a declining performance o privacy safeguards.
  • Concern over immigration and border control dominated the world agenda in 2007. Countries have moved swiftly to implement database, identity and fingerprinting systems, often without regard to the privacy implications for their own citizens
  • The 2007 rankings show an increasing trend amongst governments to archive data on the geographic, communications and financial records of all their citizens and residents. This trend leads to the conclusion that all citizens, regardless of legal status, are under suspicion.
  • The privacy trends have been fuelled by the emergence of a profitable surveillance industry dominated by global IT companies and the creation of numerous international treaties that frequently operate outside judicial or democratic processes.
  • Despite political shifts in the US Congress, surveillance initiatives in the US continue to expand, affecting visitors and citizens alike.
  • Surveillance initiatives initiated by Brussels have caused a substantial decline in privacy across Europe, eroding protections even in those countries that have shown a traditionally high regard for privacy.
  • The privacy performance of older democracies in Europe is generally failing, while the performance of newer democracies is becoming generally stronger.
  • The lowest ranking countries in the survey continue to be Malaysia, Russia and China. The highest-ranking countries in 2007 are Greece, Romania and Canada.
  • The 2006 leader, Germany, slipped significantly in the 2007 rankings, dropping from 1st to 7th place behind Portugal and Slovenia.
  • In terms of statutory protections and privacy enforcement, the US is the worst ranking country in the democratic world. In terms of overall privacy protection the United States has performed very poorly, being out-ranked by both India and the Philippines and falling into the "black" category, denoting endemic surveillance.
  • The worst ranking EU country is the United Kingdom, which again fell into the "black" category along with Russia and Singapore. However for the first time Scotland has been given its own ranking score and performed significantly better than England & Wales.
  • Argentina scored higher than 18 of the 27 EU countries.
  • Australia ranks higher than Slovakia but lower than South Africa and New Zealand.

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The New Chiquita Papers: Secret Testimony and Internal Records Iden...

SEC Deposition Transcripts Detail Years of Payments to Colombian Paramilitary, Guerrilla Groups
Top Chiquita Exec: “Not Realistic” to Halt Colombia Operations over Guerrilla Payments

Posted April 24, 2017
National Security Archive Briefing Book No. 586
Edited by Michael Evans
For further information, contact: mevans@email.gwu.edu Twitter: @colombiadocs

"

Washington, D.C., April 24, 2017 - Ten years ago, Chiquita Brands International became the first U.S.-based corporation convicted of violating a U.S. law against funding an international terrorist group—the paramilitary United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). But punishment for the crime was reserved only for the corporate entity, while the names of the individual company officials who engineered the payments have since remained hidden behind a wall of impunity.

As Colombian authorities now prepare to prosecute business executives for funding groups responsible for major atrocities during Colombia’s decades-old conflict, a new set of Chiquita Papers, made possible through the National Security Archive’s FOIA lawsuit, has for the first time made it possible to know the identities and understand the roles of the individual Chiquita executives who approved and oversaw years of payments to groups responsible for countless human rights violations in Colombia.

Today’s posting features the first in a series of articles published jointly by the National Security Archive and Verdad Abierta highlighting new revelations from the Chiquita Papers, identifying the people behind the payments, and examining how the Papers can help to clarify lingering questions about the case.

* * *

The New Chiquita Papers: Secret Testimony and Internal Records Identify Banana Executives who Bankrolled Terror in Colombia

In the last few years of the 1990s, Chiquita Brands International, the U.S.-based fruit company, fell under a cloud of suspicion. An exposé in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the company’s hometown paper, revealed some of the banana giant’s dirtiest secrets—among them: the messy fallout from bribes paid to Colombian customs agents by officials at Banadex, Chiquita’s wholly-owned Colombian subsidiary.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)—the U.S. financial crimes watchdog—was also looking into the bribery allegations. The agency subpoenaed thousands of Chiquita’s internal records and soon made a startling discovery. Tucked away in the same accounts where Chiquita concealed the bribes were millions of dollars in additional payments to a rogues’ gallery of armed groups, including leftist insurgents, right-wing paramilitaries, notorious army brigades, and the controversial, but government-approved, “Convivir” militias.

With these documents in hand, the SEC deposed seven Chiquita executives, each of whom played a different role in administering the so-called “sensitive payments.” In secret testimony on January 6, 2000 Robert F. Kistinger, head of Chiquita’s Banana Group based in Cincinnati, Ohio, told the SEC he had direct knowledge about many of the payments to armed groups, especially when they began in the late 1980s, but claimed that he had become less and less involved with the specifics over time. In his view, the amounts of money paid to the groups—hundreds of thousands of dollars per year—were simply not large enough to affect the company’s bottom line.

Kistinger, who is a named defendant in a massive civil litigation case pending against former Chiquita executives in U.S. federal court, and a likely target of future investigations in Colombia, said it was “not realistic” to halt Chiquita’s Colombia operations over such insignificant amounts of money. “I’m sorry,” he said, “it doesn’t hit the scorecard.”

“We’re not going to stop doing business in Colombia, because, you know, we’re going to have to spend an extra $25,000. That’s not realistic. Right?”

In 2013, Chiquita brought a rarely-seen “reverse” Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the SEC in an effort to block the agency from releasing transcripts of these depositions (and thousands of additional documents) to the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research group based in Washington, D.C. Two years later, a federal appeals court panel rejected Chiquita’s claim, clearing the way for the release of more than 9,000 pages of the company's most sensitive internal records..."

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The FCC is getting worse as time goes on. Now ISP's will sell internet searches to the highest bidder.

Theologies of American exceptionalism

The paired posts in this series were developed in connection with a workshop supported by the three-year Luce Foundation funded project “Politics of Religion at Home and Abroad,” directed by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd and Winnifred Fallers Sullivan. The one-day workshop which produced these essays focused on “Theologies of American Exceptionalism,” asking participants to expound on an exemplary text (a link to those texts is found in each essay). These ranged from what might usually be regarded as explicitly religious texts, such as John Winthrop’s sermon aboard the Arabella and Khomeini’s Last Testament, to judicial opinions, such as that of the US Supreme Court articulating the doctrine of conquest, literary reflections on the Great American Novel, explicitly political engagements with theology, and academic writing on capitalism, consumption, and excess. What followed was an intense discussion of the deeply ambiguous heritage of US exceptionality, both in terms of the stories Americans tell themselves and the stories others tell of them, of what they do at home and what they do abroad—of those excluded and those in charge,—of whether and how the US is or ever was new and innocent—of revolution and the exception,—and of the credibility of the rule of law. Perhaps reflecting the current political climate, much of the discussion, while not centered on the US presidential election, elaborated on the indeterminacy, elusiveness, and provisionality of the US project. Lingering questions concerned the nature and status of sacrifice, sovereignty, and supersessionism in the American context. Begin with the introduction by series guest editors Elizabeth Shakman Hurd and Winnifred Fallers Sullivan.

February 13th, 2017

Theologies of American exceptionalism: Introduction

posted by Winnifred Fallers Sullivan and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd

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