Courage, Love

Oils on 40 x 40 cm stretched canvas. 
Oils on 40 x 40 cm stretched canvas. 

Emergency plea: Please donate to Lauri Love’s Courage Foundation emergency legal defense fund ahead of his 28-29 June U.S. extradition hearings.

To encourage people to support Lauri, I’m raffling a painting. This one, if you like it. Or another one you prefer; we can talk. Just send me proof of donation (e.g., an email receipt forward). Donations will be quantity-pegged—1 euro, 1 raffle ticket. So the more you donate to the fund, the more chances you get to win. You can enter the raffle by donating to Lauri’s Courage fund by 28 June and emailing me the confirmation. 


Why support Lauri? 

Support Lauri to support truth-tellers, civil disobedience in the Internet age, and liberal democracy as we know it.  Lauri is an Occupier, musician, student, hacktivist, half-Finn, infectious smile carrier (beware), and alleged Anonymous hacker of various U.S. governmental agency websites. I’ve previously written about his case here

Lauri’s extradition case matters for truth-tellers worldwide, because journalist, publisher, whistleblower, hacker, scholar, artist, and activist rights are under threat worldwide. If you have to worry as a truth-teller that you need to follow every country’s laws, and not only your own… Well, then sovereignty isn’t particularly meaningful anymore as a legal concept.

And maybe it’s not. But rule of law ostensibly means I follow applicable laws under applicable jurisdictions. Not the laws of the whoever files an extradition request (and has the political clout to bully client regimes into granting it). 

Lauri’s case is also of great importance to people who practice or care about civil disobedience, or citizens’ right (some might say obligation) to engage in peaceful but active protest of injustice. It’s not clear the hacktivism he’s alleged to have participated in actually caused any damage (peaceful). And it was part of a much larger political protest over—ironically—the exceedingly harsh U.S. prosecution of hacker and democratic activist Aaron Swartz, which led to Swartz’s suicide. You do not respond to peaceful anti-war activism by shooting hippie college students (although the U.S. did). And you do not respond to peaceful civil disobedience by extraditing other countries’ musicians.

But digital civil disobedience is very poorly understood, and the battle for its tools (like the DDoS attacks protesting PayPal’s participation in the extrajudicial financial blockade of WikiLeaks) seems to be a losing one. At the same time, unduly harsh prosecutions and record-breaking sentences under pretrial conditions that often qualify as torture according to Amnesty International (e.g., solitary confinement) are the current norm for hacktivists, whistleblowers, and their ilk in the U.S.

Finally, Lauri’s case also tells us something about the state of liberal democracy today. If you cannot engage in peaceful protest in your own country without another country extraditing you with a strong possibility of torture—then you cannot meaningfully express your political views as a law-abiding citizen. Citizenship loses its value when suspicion of the wrong mouse click can land you incommunicado in a country where you lack basic protections. 

Do we want to get rid of citizenship now? Fine by me. No love for a nation, to paraphrase José Pacheco. But as long as I’m paying taxes and my passport seems to work? #NoLove4USGov


Other stuff you can do

Support other Courage Foundation truthtellers

UK denizens can also write your MP in support of Lauri Love. 


You’re Fired!

How is this not already a thing? On my list of political art to make, modifying the famous Flagg-Kitchener soldier recruitment poster as a Carville-esque anti-Trump warning is the quickest, easiest, most obvious thing. Anyway, now this is a thing.

Mr. Trump? “You’re Fired!” 

World? You’re welcome. 

My work on the Internet is done. 


Bloom in Darkness

Oils on 40 x 40 cm stretched canvas. 
Oils on 40 x 40 cm stretched canvas. 

Made some new flower paintings last weekend that are close to what I was trying to create when I came back to painting in 2005 after finishing my first (and art-free) college degree. 

One weird thing about them: I’m finally relaxed enough to do the work I wanted to do. Turns out worrying doesn’t help you get shit done. 

Another weird thing: The palette knife works best for what I want here—smooth lines, good transition between thin and impasto areas, clean contrastive pigment breaks. It’s a knife. That makes paintings look delicate. That’s using a swimsuit to make yourself look thin. 

Another weird thing: I didn’t work from real-life models. For years, I bought myself flowers under the auspices of painting (and writing about) them. But what I was really buying was time away from my guilt and grind, an excuse to breathe and be happy, and a little bit of feeling loved. Now I have all those things—time, happiness, love. I want to buy and plant more herbs and flowers in our new home… And I will. But I already have what they’re really about. So now I can paint flowers without buying them first. 


Whistling in the Dark

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. 
Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. 

This painting is in the minimalist style I worked in a lot in Boston last winter. It stretches paint and makes me think more like a graphic artist, like every line is a word in a haiku. I loved it then and I love it now.

Hard to photograph, though. Gotta get a better rig set up to curate the new oeuvre… 


Making History Sucks

Oils on 24
Oils on 24″ x 48″ stretched canvas. Vintage 2009—Obama’s inauguration. A day we had hope for change. Private collection. 

I won a big FOIA victory, and all I got was this stupid police state. 

“[Y]ou just helped me make FOIA history,” writes Kel McClanahan, Esq., the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawyer I retained years ago for my National Science Foundation-supported graduate research on bias in polygraphs, popularly known as lie detectors. Kel just won a Circuit Court appeal on my behalf, arguing students are educational requestors. This win improves access to the FOIA system for young scholars by making it harder for agencies to price them out of requests. In a highly stratified society where what judicial and administrative due process is due can seem to change according to your race and class, this victory makes effective information access more equal. 

It’s a Pyrrhic victory. Last year I left America and my postdoctoral fellowships at UCLA and Harvard working on the Justice Database. I felt the U.S. was no longer a safe place to do policing and intelligence research at the highest level. So I got on a plane with a backpack, telling friends and family I felt called to make art and see the world. I do not have plans to return. 

The data I sought for years from multiple federal agencies, which would allow independent researchers like me to assess whether polygraph programs appear to institutionalize bias, remains unreleased. This governmental nontransparency featured in a national investigative series. The government was silent in the face of this public pressure, and still refused to hand over the data needed for my research. 

In my work with McClatchy reporter Marisa Taylor on that series, I forked over multiple documents and sources establishing that the CIA Polygraph Division breaks the law and has lied to Congress about it. Those documents are now gone from the document cloud McClatchy had made them publically available on. What the series proved remains: the same federal government that enforces equal opportunity law on local and state-level agencies—including police agencies—doesn’t follow that law itself. 

Those local and state-level police agencies don’t seem crazy about transparency and equal opportunity, either. In my work on the Justice Database, I repeatedly heard police leaders express anger at public perceptions that American police are biased—and at the same time, reluctance to disclose data that would let independent researchers test whether, when, and how police profiling and brutality coincide. 

That reluctance sometimes turned to unprofessional lack of regard toward me. One major city police chief told me that, as an artist, I was law enforcement’s natural enemy. Others merely wanted to sleep with me. Kel suspects that law enforcement hacked his email and phone in retaliation for his work; I share similar suspicions. Finally, at the 2015 Major City Chiefs/Major County Sheriff’s Association Conference, Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee had a packed room of America’s police leaders wildly applauding the due process-free drone assassination of American citizens. I looked around that room and realized that, if anyone ever pointed a gun at my head and said “national security,” no one would protect me. 

As high as the price has been, none of my work has made a difference. Was I naive to believe that through hard work and collaborative truth-telling, I could help make my country and the world a safer, fairer place? That, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32; CIA motto)? 

Probably. FOIA appears to me now to be a massive resource capture. As transparency activists know and scholars like me have learned the hard way, you will not even get the processing notes on your own lost or ignored requests without suing. Professionally, that costs you as a young scholar: It looks adversarial to your colleagues in academia who don’t know the FOIA game. 

Strategically, seeking data and documents through the front door of FOIA takes money, legal expertise, time, and attention. This is attention taken away from actual research. However unintentional, the current FOIA system is thus a way the government can slowly bleed its opponents who seek greater transparency in the public interest. 

At the same time it’s capturing resources, FOIA lets agencies set the terms of the discourse. For example, instead of giving me the data I sought, the CIA released historical records on an unscientific, internal evaluation of their polygraph program that were not even of historical interest to me as a scholar specializing in this area. It was simply what they wanted to release to the public, as if FOIA were a public relations game. 

I never got the data I requested. Previous research suggests federal polygraph programs may institutionalize bias in the field—but not under experimental conditions, which science shows often generate different results. This means the only way to check whether bias plagues polygraph programs is to get field data. And that means if federal polygraph programs violate equal opportunity law systematically, we might never know. Even though we do know that federal polygraphers have repeatedly violated it with apparent impunity. 

This impunity reflects a pattern of double standards that defines the current legal and political regime. Others who kidnap and torture civilians are terrorists; American officials who planned the same crimes are pensioners. Small-town schools that remain segregated are racist; federal law enforcement agencies that deny recruits or fire employees on the basis of their sexuality or political beliefs are above the law. And people who release information the government wants released are ok; but people who release information the government wants kept secret are treated as criminals

Sure, it’s a good thing that students can finally access the FOIA system for their research without being priced out of it from the start. But in my opinion, the larger context of the Obama Administration’s historic crackdown on freedom of the press—recently denounced by Reporters Without Borders as a “war on whistleblowers”— belies any narrative about progress in accountability and openness. 

By letting police and intelligence agencies be the bottleneck in giving data on their own contested actions to the public, efforts like FOIA and the Justice Database keep true accountability future-tense. In my opinion, you don’t keep asking nicely for the data about what public employees and agencies do in your name. Unless you’re living in a police state, you already own the data. 

So why not take it? Hacking, leaking, citizen data collection, and other possibilities abound. When you’re offered a choice between paying to sue (or otherwise beg) for data that the public owns to begin with, and going away quietly—you can fin
d another option. Just as, when you’re offered a choice between collaborating with a police state, and putting up with its abuse quietly—you can get on a plane

And if you live in the U.S. and do policing, intelligence, or civil liberties work of any kind, it might be time to do just that. 


Anonymous Love Seal

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. 
Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. 

Congratulations to Lauri Love, his friends at the Courage Foundation, and advocates of privacy for individuals/transparency for governments, for Love’s win yesterday against the U.K. NCA’s attempt to force him to hand over encryption keys in the absence of a U.K. criminal investigation or precedent suggesting this would be appropriate. 

I want to auction a painting to fundraise for Love’s legal defense… Without using PayPal or creating unnecessary extra steps where I have to transfer funds again to Courage or Love’s defense fund. So I’m talking with Bitcoiners and other smart people about how it might make sense to do this. Please get in touch if you have a good idea, and watch this space. 


Boats to Life, Boats to Death

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. 
Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. 

Brainstorming how to remake this marvelous Kindertransport memorial at Friedrichstrasse station—”Trains to Life, Trains to Death”—for the current child refugee crisis. 

What is different and must be updated:

– What were then trains now are boats. What was then a centralized effort, is now comparatively decentralized—and unreliable. The trains went to life and to death, because centralized actors (like the German state) sent them there. The boats go to life and to death, because so many are not seaworthy, don’t get where they’re going, are interfered with or turned away in less explicitly governmental ways. 

– The refugees then were mainly European, and now are mainly Middle Eastern (Iraqi, Syrian, Afghani) and African (Somalian, Eritrean). 

– They carried briefcases then; now they carry backpacks and smartphones. 

– Someone puts fresh flowers in the girl’s hands every morning to remind Berliners of our history. But the distancing problems with the current child refugee crisis are less about time, and more about:

     … attention (so many competing concerns),

     … blame (America has been destabilizing the Middle East for generations, but America is Europe’s geostrategic friend—so German culpability here is somewhat at a remove), 

     … Othering (They are Muslim, They are brown, They have Their own history and problems—the voices of Islamophobia or xenophobia at some times, racism at others, broader us-versus-them psychology more generally—although this is just anti-Semitism in another incarnation), and 

     … magnitude (the scale of the current crisis being too big to comprehend, and of the coming increasing waves of mass displacement due to climate change and its geopolitical destabilizing effects being even greater—although this too is just another historical moment’s Holocaust). 

So the first effort painting in this vein here has not hit the spot of updating all these points and coming up with a current version of fresh flowers to close the space of these forms of distancing. It might need to be three-dimensional and I’m not a sculptor, and I don’t want to spend three months learning 3D printer and laser-cutter tech to draw and render what I think I want to see here (I gotta remake an oeuvre, curate it more properly, and start selling again). But this seems important and that’s the idea… 


Anonymous Love

Oils on 40 x 40 cm stretched canvas.
Oils on 40 x 40 cm stretched canvas.

Brainstorming what to paint, how to sell it to fundraise for legal defense ahead of U.K. hacktivist and alleged Anon Lauri Love’s 10 May forced decryption and 28-29 June U.S. extradition hearings… Probably at this point need to shoot for the latter as an auction deadline. But I’m not sure what platform to use/how to work this (Open Bazaar? other alternatives to eBay/PayPal? fuck PayPal, fuck PayPal, fuck PayPal)… Also, wet paint is wet. 

Wet paint or no, Love’s case matters for politics today. As I wrote for Rebel News in November

...Anonymous’s potential as a platform for direct collective action led to a series of domestic American counter-intelligence responses. One ongoing operation, reminiscent of that proposed by HBGary, seeks to sow mistrust within and between Anonymous and WikiLeaks — following similar such efforts to break Anonymous associates’ trust in each other and support of WikiLeaks in response to the PayPal14’s Operation Payback. Another seeks to undermine the credibility of Anonymous-associated releases through compromised versions of anticipated Anonymous releases— another disinformation tactic prefigured by the HBGary release and numerous counterintelligence handbooks.

Attacks like this fail to recognize that, like democracy itself, the Anonymous platform is vulnerable by design. Anonymous is not a group, in the sense that we are all Anonymous. Anyone can participate in discussion and action on the platforms associated with the group. It’s a platform, not a group or brand. And this distinction is about more than anonymity or anarchism. It’s about the essence of politics itself.

Politics assumes free competition of ideas. Forcing decryption while seeking Love’s extradition—and getting his extradition—would degrade this freedom by creating bad precedent on three counts. 

First, with the U.K. government seeking to force decryption of Love’s inaccessible data on his personal devices that they have seized and refused to return on request, we will either see a new precedent that assumes data itself is guilty and can be forcibly searched and seized like a criminal suspect—or a new precedent protecting the privacy of data and devices, like the American Fifth Amendment protects the privacy of internal spaces (hearts and minds) from forced confessions. Our Fifth was inspired by the reaction against England’s Star Chamber—in particular by public outcry over torture to coerce confessions—so it would be ironic if the U.K. now took the lead on protecting that sacred internal space where no man has a right to demand disclosure (because we only owe our confessions to God). 

Although technically the U.K. already has an encryption key disclosure law—under section 49, part III, of the Regulatory Investigative Powers Act, or RIPA—the bar for police to apply this rule is extremely high, resulting in few annual prosecutions for not complying with a section 49 order. This situates Love’s case in the context of expanding police and intelligence surveillance and other (especially digital) search and seizure powers more broadly. For example, the U.S. Supreme recently amended Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to permit the government to hack and spy on anyone using an anonymizing service, such as Tor or a VPN (Virtual Private Network). This is a far-reaching expansion of police and intelligence agency digital search and seizure powers that, if not stricken by Congress before December 1, will basically let the state break into any digital house with a halfway decent lock (cf the key/crypto metaphor). 

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is seeking to extradite Love for trial when their U.K. counterparts have not made good faith efforts to try him for analogous crimes under his own country’s law. This is invalid under U.K. law, but in an informal way. It’s more poor form than it is illegal—although it makes no sense for the U.K. National Crime Agency to insist both that they need Love’s stuff decrypted, and that their investigation against him is closed… Unless they’re acting as a tool of the U.S. government against one of their own citizens when he’s been convicted of no crime. So in Love’s extradition case, we will either see a new precedent that explicitly privileges the American state’s power to judge subjects (in U.S. client states) worldwide—or one protecting the rights of people in far-flung places to abide by their own laws, and not necessarily ours. 

Finally, there is also a statutory bar on extradition that would be disproportionate or incompatible with the subject’s human rights—a bar that recently kept another high-profile U.K. hacker (Gary McKinnon) from being extradited to the U.S. But from McKinnon’s case in 2012 to Love’s in 2015, we’ve seen a continued, growing backlash in the U.S. and elsewhere against whistleblowers, transparency (for governments)/privacy (for individuals) activists, hackers, and their ilk. The F.B.I’s legal assault on Tor—and recently revealed extrajudicial harassment of one of its core developers and her family—shows how legal and political conditions have become increasingly unfriendly toward the very same tech thought leaders who can best help enhance security. 

Please donate to Lauri Love’s legal defense today to help prevent these potential bad precedents on the horizon from becoming legal and political realities. It’s easier to prevent the U.S. and U.K.’s continued slide into fascism than it is to walk back police state powers. Plus, I’ll give you a painting… 


Performance Review: August 2015-April 2016

“You grew,” said Bear. “Are you calling me fat?” I said. “Just watch your video clips,” he growled, as Bears do… And then Youtube queued up “Top 10 Mysterious Creatures Caught Tape” after my set, and I figured I had hit my mark. 

On the recommendation of a dear friend, I was just watching little snippets of my past few recorded performances. There’s huge—or, as Donald Trump would say, HUUUUUGE!!!—improvement in my presentation skills. This is just from August, when I gave a lightening talk at a hacker event on the importance of the so-called Dark Web for freedom—to April, when I did stand-up at a few open mics. Even though I’ve barely given any talks.

Practice pays! I own the space better. I move more. My speech is more fluid. Above all, I look like I’m getting comfortable in my own skin. 

I hope performance reviewing pays, too. Because I’m doing this today—instead of doing an open mic. I’m not prepared for one. On account of SPRING HAS SPRUNG IN BERLIN ZOMGS SO GORGEOUS!!! 

Plus, I’m conflicted about what to prep, for where—as usual, making things harder than they have to be. My strongest material, that I know best and know works—that it would make sense to build on and rework—is personal. It’s mostly about being an expat and finding home, love, and other real shit here in the Europe. So it’s political while it’s personal. But it’s still just about me as a lady discovering myself and the world. 

With the part of me that seeks always more challenge over fluency—I’d rather be performing my more political material. It’s riskier. It’s for an even more niche audience than Anglophone expats living in Berlin—much like some of Bill Hicks’ best work was for a more niche audience than he could immediately reach, and he had the balls to say “fuck you” and do it anyway… Except my fuck-you material isn’t as well-honed. And it will require me to (gracefully?) inhabit anger rather than joy in a public space.

That anger thing often doesn’t work well for women in public spaces. It’s not allowed. But it’s really important to me to hone my voice, especially what I have to say politically, and express myself in a public space as an artist. So another open mic or two will happen soon—with a mix of those sets-in-development (personal and political)—and we shall see… As long as I’m having fun. 


Dawn in Osaka

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. From the beautiful sunrises I saw on my recent trip to present on my research about lie detection and corruption at an American Studies symposium at Osaka University, Japan, alongside global expert Ken Alder. 
Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. From the beautiful sunrises I saw on my recent trip to present on my research about lie detection and corruption at an American Studies symposium at Osaka University, Japan, alongside global expert Ken Alder. 

The sun still rises where we dropped the bomb. 

Might is one power. Keep calm and carry on. 


Whistleblowers Welcome

in Kreuzberg (Berlin), says local MP Hans-Christian Ströbele at the unveiling of friend and fellow artist Topsy Qur’et’s “Doppelwelt” WikiLeaks tribute today.

The WikiLeaks logo in 3D spills more secrets. It looks like the dark dripping is making the world lighter below, as if transparency brings about a chemical reaction rather than spreading dirt like pigment. The clock on two sides of the original “Doppeladmiral” statue modernizes and underscores the hourglass that might symbolize the ticking clock of politics (e.g., of climate change, income inequality, arms trade, mass surveillance—the overall global resources endgame). And the sunshine? It always makes life more beautiful. (Try it sometime, Mr. President.

Today, on World Press Freedom Day, I’m grateful to live—as an American expat—in a country where freedom of press remains valued such that a treason probe of journalists can get the top state prosecutor fired. This precedent contrasts sharply with the reality of limited freedom of speech and press in America today, where the war on whistleblowers continues—along with secret prosecution of journalists and publishers

As Edward Snowden writes for The Intercept today, whistleblowing is an act of political resistance. Its alternative—secrecy in the face of private information that public institutions are working against the public interest, violating rule of law in letter and in spirit—prevents accountability. Snowden defends the faith that accountable government is fundamentally American; unrestrained power, fundamentally un-American. “And there are more of us than there are of them.” 

With all due respect, I’m not so sure about all that. The American idea has always been aspirational at best, hypocritical or disingenuous through other lenses. In that context, injustice is not an information problem that can be solved by whistleblowing alone. As Nina Simone wrote, “Everybody knows about Mississippi, Goddamn!” 

In other words, perhaps the U.S. system of inoperable checks and balances that promises equality, but was built on the backs of beaten slaves and poxed natives, is working and has always worked more or less as designed—to maintain unequal access to the very life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness we were promised as inalienable rights. Telling people that we have different systems of justice for poor and rich, black and white, foreigner and citizen, political dissident and lackey, doesn’t actually transform a police state into a nation of laws. In fact, it may only underscore that people who aren’t willing to lose everything should shut up, sit down, and have some more bread and circus (or Doritos and Netflix, as the case may be). Most people probably will. 

But as the old saw goes, 20% of the people in any given group are usually doing 80% of the work. Which means that, with the right people, it doesn’t take that many. With groups like Black Lives Matter and Anonymous surveilled, infiltrated, discredited, and disrupted at levels consistent with the 20th century history of Cointelpro, maybe we are not legion after all. Maybe we don’t have to be.