Filming in fear: Edward Snowden as ‘Citizenfour’

“It was clear for me, when we started communicating over email, that if he was legitimate we were going to anger some of the most powerful people in the world, and people who would try to make this stop. These are powerful institutions and they have an enormous reach,” she added.

“Citizenfour,” opens in select U.S. movie theaters on Friday. It takes its title from the moniker Snowden used when he first approached Poitras through encrypted emails with a view to exposing how the NSA gathers data on the Internet activities and phone calls of millions of ordinary Americans and dozens of world leaders.

Poitras shared a Pulitzer prize for her role in publicizing that information, and “Citizenfour” is being tipped by awards watchers for an Oscar nomination in January. Variety called it “an extraordinary portrait” of Snowden, while Salon.com described it as “an urgent, gripping real-life spy story that should be seen by every American.”

From Inside the Snowden Saga: How Laura Poitras Covertly Shot Her New Film, Citizenfour

There’s a reason Poitras is on the Homeland Security “watch list,” why she resides in Berlin, where she can make films without government intrusion. She documents hard truths. They sting. Citizenfour, the piping-hot end product of her Hong Kong rendezvous, is the end of Poitras’s self-described post-9/11 trilogy: 2006’s My Country, My Country painted a portrait of average Iraqi life under U.S. occupation; 2010′s The Oath follows two Yemeni men, both former Osama bin Laden employees, as they navigate life outside al-Qaeda; Citizenfour centers on Snowden and blossoms outward, a disparaging look at N.S.A. conduct akin to a John le Carré adaptation.

VF.com spoke to Poitras on making her impossible-to-imagine documentary, befriending, understanding, and filming Snowden as the 21st century’s most prominent whistleblowing went down in real time:

After the Department of Homeland Security put you on its watch list, you settled in Berlin to compile your film on surveillance. What was your biggest fear? What would they actually do?

Before I was contacted by Snowden in 2013, I was stopped and detained every time I crossed the U.S. border. The border agents would take my notebooks and photocopy them, take my receipts and photocopy them, take my credit cards, ask me questions about where I had been, what I had done. This becomes an invasive process at some point [laughs]. I started becoming more careful about what I carried across the border. Agents would say to me, “If you don’t answer our questions, we’ll find out our answers on your electronics.” A pretty straight up threat. O.K., if you’re going to find out your answers on my electronics, I’m going to stop taking my electronics across the border.

Citizenfour review – gripping Snowden documentary offers portrait of power, paranoia and one remarkable man

Laura Poitras’s film shows the first extensive interviews with Edward Snowden, conducted in his hotel room in Hong Kong when he first revealed his information to reporter Glenn Greenwald: Snowden contacted him under the handle Citizenfour. Greenwald wrote about it for Salon, in his book No Place to Hide and for this newspaper. Snowden risked his neck, revealing that despite official statements to the contrary, the US and the UK were widely using their ability to eavesdrop upon every phone call, every email, every internet search, every keystroke. The pre-emptive mining of data has gone beyond suspicion of terrorist activity. As Snowden says: “We are building the biggest weapon for oppression in the history of mankind,” and a martial law for intercepting telecommunication is being created by stealth. This is despite the bland denials of every official up to and including President Obama, whose supercilious claim to have been investigating the issue before the Snowden revelations has been brutally exposed by this film.

Snowden himself seems notably calm and reasonable. Where Julian Assange is mercurial, Snowden is geeky and imperturbable, with a laid-back voice that sounds like that of Seth Rogen. Pressure that would have caused anyone else to crack seems to have have no real effect on Snowden, and he appears unemotional even as he reveals how he had to leave his partner, Lindsay Mills, in the dark. (She is now living with him in Russia, where he is in exile, a country whose own record on civil liberties provide a scalding irony.)

There are moments of white-knuckle paranoia. The interview is interrupted by a continuous alarm bell; Snowden calls down to reception, who tell him it’s a routine fire drill. Snowden is satisfied by the explanation, but disconnects the phone in case it is bugged. When he types key passwords into his laptop he covers his head and arms in a bizarre shroud, like an old-fashioned photographer, so he can’t be filmed. This is what he calls his “magic mantle of power”. It looks absurd, but it isn’t precisely melodramatic, and Snowden seems as if he both knows what he is doing and appreciates the absurdity of it all.

Meanwhile, governmental forces are ranged against him – and against ordinary citizens making a stand against snooping. Poitras shows us a scene from a US court case in which AT&T phone customers took action against having their affairs pried into. A sycophantic, bow-tied lawyer for the government tries to suggest that a court is not the proper place to discuss the matter. When a plain-speaking judge rebuked this weasel, I felt like cheering.

So what else can be done? There is a funny moment when Citizenfour shows how German chancellor Angela Merkel is far from amused at having her mobile phone conversations listened to by the NSA. It was an exquisite moment of diplomatic froideur and possibly did more to make Obama take this seriously than anything else.

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what IS the unemployment rate? and why?

Capital Allocation, Debt, and Stock Market Volatility

Census report: Half of Americans poor or near poor

The figures follow the release of a series of reports and studies documenting the growth of social inequality in the United States. Last week, Credit Suisse reported that the top one percent of the world’s population controls nearly half of all wealth, and that the United States has nearly ten times more super-wealthy people than any other country.

The census figures “show that poverty is still a major problem in the US,” said Christopher Wimer, Co-Director of the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, in a telephone interview Tuesday.

He said the SPM begins with a slightly higher poverty threshold than the official poverty figure, and then adjusts it based on the local cost of living and the prices of necessities of life.

As a result, both the poverty rate and the number of people in poverty are slightly higher than under the official poverty figure. But the biggest difference is that the more sophisticated supplemental measure shows the extent to which a much broader section of the population is struggling to make ends meet. “Because the supplemental poverty measure subtracts non-discretionary income, you get a lot more people hovering close to the poverty line,” Dr. Wimer said.

Chris Christie Says He’s ‘Tired of Hearing About the Minimum Wage’

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet L. Yellen recently declared that the past several decades “have seen the most sustained rise in inequality since the 19th century.”

According to Pew Poll findings released last month, 56 percent of Americans say their family’s incomes can not match living costs, 45 percent say that they have experienced at least one severe financial hardship over the past year, and 79 percent say their financial future looks poor or fair.

A study conducted earlier this year by the 2014 Assets and Opportunities Scorecard finds that nearly half of all people in the United States live paycheck to paycheck, without the savings to get them through a financial emergency, from medical problems to a broken car.

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Just who is on the ropes?

How to start a war and lose an empire

You’d think that Obama has already overplayed his hand, and should behave accordingly. His popularity at home is roughly the inverse of Putin’s, which is to say, Obama is still more popular than Ebola, but not by much. He can’t get anything at all done, no matter how pointless or futile, and his efforts to date, at home and abroad, have been pretty much a disaster. So what does this social worker turned national mascot decide to do? Well, the way the Russians see it, he has decided to declare war on Russia! In case you missed it, look up his speech before the UN General Assembly. It’s up on the White House web site. He placed Russia directly between Ebola and ISIS among the three topmost threats facing the world. Through Russian eyes his speech reads as a declaration of war.

It’s a new, mixed-mode sort of war. It’s not a total war to the death, although the US is being rather incautious by the old Cold War standards in avoiding a nuclear confrontation. It’s an information war—based on lies and unjust vilification; it’s a financial and economic war—using sanctions; it’s a political war—featuring violent overthrow of elected governments and support for hostile regimes on Russia’s borders; and it’s a military war—using ineffectual but nevertheless insulting moves such as stationing a handful of US troops in Estonia. And the goals of this war are clear: it is to undermine Russia economically, destroy it politically, dismember it geographically, and turn it into a pliant vassal state that furnishes natural resources to the West practically free of charge (with a few hand-outs to a handful of Russian oligarchs and criminal thugs who play ball). But it doesn’t look like any of that is going to happen because, you see, a lot of Russians actually get all that, and will choose leaders who will not win any popularity contests in the West but who will lead them to victory.

Given the realization that the US and Russia are, like it or not, in a state of war, no matter how opaque or muddled, people in Russia are trying to understand why this is and what it means. Obviously, the US has seen Russia as the enemy since about the time of the Revolution of 1917, if not earlier. For example, it is known that after the end of World War II America’s military planners were thinking of launching a nuclear strike against the USSR, and the only thing that held them back was the fact that they didn’t have enough bombs, meaning that Russia would have taken over all of Europe before the effects of the nuclear strikes could have deterred them from doing so (Russia had no nuclear weapons at the time, but lots of conventional forces right in the heart of Europe).

But why has war been declared now, and why was it declared by this social worker turned national misleader?

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big corporations v. the federal government…

Data Secrecy Company Accused of Sharing Information with Media and Military

Makers of the Whisper application, which was launched in March 2012, claim that anyone that posts thoughts or secrets on their web site will remain anonymous. In the last 30 months, the company has exploded in popularity with over 2.6 million posts a day, notably by college students, who use the application to put up a picture and a line of text for anyone to read.

But Whisper also secretly mines the posts to send out hundreds of pitches a week to over 75 media organizations ranging from serious newspapers like the Guardian and the Washington Post to blog sites like Mashable and low brow entertainment web sites like Total Frat Move. The media can also request information on a certain topic or help finding sources.

The Guardian revelations were made after newspaper executives met with the company to discuss deepening their collaboration. The newspaper says it was astonished to discover that the company was secretly storing users posts as well as rough location data in an in-house searchable database.

The application data can also be provided to governments. “Whisper is also sharing information with the U.S. Department of Defense gleaned from smartphones it knows are used from military bases, and developing a version of its app to conform with Chinese censorship laws,” wrote Paul Lewis and Dominic Rushe in a Guardian article published Thursday.

Pipeline Leaks in Caspian Sea Oil Project To Cost $4 Billion

The project is a joint venture between China National Petroleum Corporation, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil from the U.S, Eni of Italy, Inpex of Japan, KazMunaiGas of Kazakhstan, Royal Dutch Shell from the Netherlands/UK and Total of France. Originally estimated to be a $10 billion project that would started to produce oil in 2003, Kashagan fell ten years behind schedule and has cost over $50 billion to date.

Extreme weather conditions of 45 degrees Celsius in summer and minus 40 Celsius in winter posed major challenges to drilling for oil in the Caspian Sea from the very beginning. In order to overcome these challenges the companies built an artificial island 50 miles from shore by dumping four milllion tons of rock into the sea and enclosing it with artificial reefs to protect it against the elements.

The effort was not easy. “We’ve had experience with hydrogen sulfide, low temperatures and high pressure — but never all together,” Paolo Campelli, Eni’s head of operations in Kazakhstan, told the Wall Street Journal in 2007….

“Unfortunately, oil leaks are not rare in Kazakhstan,” a consultant named Abdulla Amin told the magazine. “Around 600,000 hectares of land in the Kazakhstani part of the Caspian Sea region is covered by a thick layer of oil, which is polluting soil and ground water. Should there be an oil disaster in the Caspian Sea, the existence of this fragile ecosystem will face a serious threat, especially because Kazakhstan has not decided yet on a plan to deal with oil leaks.”

One month after oil production began in September 2013, leaks were discovered and the project was shut down. The Kakazh government estimated that 2.8 million cubic metres of toxic “sour gas” had been flared off causing the local air and water to turn acidic.

Fashion District Businesses Accused of Laundering Mexican Drug Money

One thousand law enforcement officers staged an early morning raid on dozens of businesses in Los Angeles fashion district to seize $65 million allegedly derived from drug trafficking. QT Fashion, a company that imports wholesale maternity wear from China to Mexico, provided a key to the money laundering scheme.

“Unscrupulous companies that help cartels cover their financial tracks by laundering their illicit funds are contributing to the devastation wrought by the international drug trade,” Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles, said in a press statement.

The U.S. State department estimates that between $19 billion and $29 billion in cash is sent each by drug dealers to Mexico to buy drugs like cocaine.

Essentially the way the system works is as follows: U.S. drug dealers who need to launder large quantities of hard cash they make in clandestine sale give the money to fashion businesses in Los Angeles. The fashion traders accept the money in exchange for exporting clothing to Mexico. The clothing is sold on the Mexican market, generating legal local currency that traders then pay out to Mexican peso brokers who are working for drug cartels.

“Los Angeles has become the epicenter of narco-dollar money laundering with couriers regularly bringing duffel bags and suitcases full of cash to many businesses,” Robert Dugdale, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said in a press statement.

The target of the raid was the Sinaloa drug cartel – allegedly the most powerful in the world – which deals in Colombian cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine from Mexico as well as heroin from Southeast Asia.

Federal Regulators Failed to Police Goldman Sachs, Says Whistleblower

Carmen Segarra, a former senior examiner with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, has revealed how government regulators failed to adequately police Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment bank. (The Federal Reserve is the central banking system of the U.S. chartered by Congress to supervise private banks)

Goldman Sachs has been ranked as the top bank in the world for mergers and acquisitions by Bloomberg. It makes a profit of roughly $8 billion a year on revenues of $34 billion but has been widely criticized for how it makes its money. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone once descibed Goldman Sachs thus: “The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Segerra was hired by the Federal Reserve in 2011 in order to monitor major banks after the 2008 economic crisis. Seven months after she started work, she was fired. But before that, and unbeknownest to her employers, she recorded a number of internal conversations which she then turned over to ProPublica, an investigative website, and “This American Life” – a U.S. radio show.

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nativist narrative v. humanitarian framing…

A Texas Militiaman Reconsiders the Mission

Gilbert and others in the group wondered if what they were doing wasn’t unethical, if not illegal. His conclusion: “Texas Border Volunteers operates as a militia in plain sight and no one is calling them on it. They’ve done a good job at suppressing what they do.”

Kevin Cottrell, an Austin entrepreneur who joined TBV in May 2013 and left in April, says he grew uncomfortable with the tactics.

“They’re actually chasing and doing what a law enforcement or government agency would to catch people who have violated immigration. The problem is they have no law that allows them to do it, especially off their ranch.”

“There’s something wrong here with the fact that the Border Patrol is using TBV as an interdiction force,” Cottrell says. “I witnessed that from the very first time I went out from the time that I left the group. They are essentially unlawfully detaining people. That is part of the reason I left.”

Over the summer, new militia groups—much less organized than TBV—began cropping up in the Rio Grande Valley in response to the influx of Central American children and families. After a Border Patrol agent opened fire on a militiaman with a group called Camp Lonestar in Brownsville, the agency put out a statement distancing itself from militia activity. The Border Patrol’s position was fairly unequivocal: “Forced detention can be viewed as a criminal offense and violators will be referred to local, state or federal prosecutors for possible legal action.”

Hunting Humans: The Americans Taking Immigration Into Their Own Hands

“I will do everything in my power to send them back,” she said, sitting down at a wooden picnic table next to the main house. A pair of handcuffs hung next to a fireplace nearby. Behind B.J. were two dozen half-empty bottles of alcohol and a sign that read, “When life gives you lemons…break out the Tequila and salt.”

Ranchers like B.J. see themselves as the first line of defense against migrants. Before calling “the boys,” as she refers to the Border Patrol agents who make up the vast majority of her social circle, B.J. goes on a “manhunt.”

“It’s a cat-and-mouse game,” says B.J. with a grin, driving through ranch trails. Her Heckler & Koch P2000 pistol rests in the cup holder next to her right knee. She starts by looking for footprints—they are most noticeable on the sand tracks she has set up next to the trails that she smooths by dragging tires. When she sees a fresh set, she speeds through the trails, finds the migrants, chases after them until they tire out, corners them and then yells, “Pa’bajo!”—Spanish for down.

“You can’t tell me this isn’t fun,” she said, chewing dipping tobacco and spitting its juice out into an empty plastic water bottle. “More fun than shopping and looking at sights.” As she came up to a yellow road sign that read, “Caution,” she pointed out the figures of running people she had drawn on it to make her friends laugh.

What if the migrants resist when she corners them? She smiles and says that is one question too many.

America’s Continuing Border Crisis: The Real Story Behind the “Invasion” of the Children

As labor journalist David Bacon has shown, the children-at-the-border story was first brought to the attention of the media by anti-immigrant organizations, beginning with the radical right-wing Breitbart News Network in Texas. Their narrative focused on President Obama’s supposed failure to control the border, his timid gestures aimed at granting temporary legal status to some undocumented youth through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the attempts of Congressional liberals to promote what they called “comprehensive immigration reform,” and of course those children “invading” the US.

In fact, there was nothing new about the so-called surge. Rather, the Breitbart Network turned a long-term issue into a “crisis” for political reasons, and the media, politicians and organizations on both sides of the political spectrum took the bait.

Breitbart’s Texas bureau chief Brandon Darby “ignited a national firestorm,” the network claimed proudly, when he released a set of exclusive photos of overcrowded detention facilities for child detainees. Darby did not explain how he was able to gain access to what he called “internal federal government photos.” He did, however, provide an explanation for what Breitbart called the “invasion”: the children “know they will not be turned away and that they will be provided for.” In other words, it was the fault of Obama, the Democrats and the liberals. The stage was set for a Republican and populist backlash.

Pro-Obama voices like Deval Patrick and some immigrant rights organizations played right into the sensationalist nativist narrative. “There’s a humanitarian reason to try to find a solution, try to find a way to help,” Patrick stated, insisting that at stake was an issue of “love of country and lessons of faith” — and that it was explicitly not a political issue.

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