Archive for the 'World Affairs' Category

Afghanistan War $2.3 Trillion FUBAR

Tuesday, October 19th, 2021

The Afghanistan Papers, A Secret History of the the War, Craig Whitlock, 2021

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…it (this book) is an attempt to explain what went wrong and how three consecutive presidents and their administrations failed to tell the truth. All told, the Afghanistan Papers is based on interviews with more than 1,000 people who played a direct part in the war. The Lessons Learned interviews, oral histories and Rumsfeld snowflakes comprise more than 10,000 pages of documents…(people) who know that the official version of the war being fed to the American people was untrue, or aggressively sanitized at best.

By 2002, few al-Qaeda followers remained in Afghanistan. Hundreds had been killed or captured, while the rest fled to Pakistan, Iran and other countries. The United States and its allies were left fighting the Taliban and other militants from the region — Uzbeks, Pakistanis, Chechens. So for the next two decades the war In Afghanistan was waged against people who had nothing to do with 9/11.

The problem was that the military had not run a counterinsurgency campaign since the Vietnam War. To figure out what to do, (David) Barno scrounged up three textbooks on counterrevolutionary warfare he had read as a West Point cadet more than twenty-five years earlier. “We had no U.S. military doctrine whatsoever at this point in time by which to guide us.”

“He (Pakistani ISI head Ashfaq Kayani) says, ‘You know, I know you think we’re hedging our bets. You’re right, we are because one day you’ll be gone again, it’ll be like Afghanistan the first time, you’ll be done with us, but we’re still going to be here because we can’t actually move the country. And the last thing we want with all our other problems is have turned the Taliban into a mortal enemy, so, yes, we’re hedging our bets.'”

The table of contents pretty much summarizes this important book

Part One: A False Taste of Victory, 2001–2002
Chapter One: A Muddled Mission
Chapter Two: “Who Are the Bad Guys?”
Chapter Three: The Nation-Building Project
Part Two: The Great Distraction, 2003–2005
Chapter Four: Afghanistan Becomes an Afterthought
Chapter Five: Raising an Army from the Ashes
Chapter Six: Islam for Dummies
Chapter Seven: Playing Both Sides
Part Three: The Taliban Comes Back, 2006–2008
Chapter Eight: Lies and Spin
Chapter Nine: An Incoherent Strategy
Chapter Ten: The Warlords
Chapter Eleven: A War on Opium
Part Four: Obama’s Overreach, 2009–2010
Chapter Twelve: Doubling Down
Chapter Thirteen: “A Dark Pit of Endless Money”
Chapter Fourteen: From Friend to Foe
Chapter Fifteen: Consumed by Corruption
Part Five: Things Fall Apart, 2011–2016
Chapter Sixteen: At War with the Truth
Chapter Seventeen: The Enemy Within
Chapter Eighteen: The Grand Illusion
Part Six: Stalemate, 2017–2021
Chapter Nineteen: Trump’s Turn
Chapter Twenty: The Narco-State
Chapter Twenty-One: Talking with the Taliban

An excellant prequel to this book is Steve Coll’s 2007 Ghost Wars account of how the CIA seeded this next conflict

We seem to have even forgotten how to be Imperialistic Extractive Capitalists by ignoring the vast endowment of natural resources in Afghanistan.

Far more value, however, lies with the country’s endowments of iron, copper, lithium, rare earth elements, cobalt, bauxite, mercury, uranium and chromium. While the total abundance of minerals is certainly vast, scientific understanding of these resources is still at an exploratory stage.Aug 31, 2021

An Anthropologist looks at U.S. forts, bases, lily-pads – endless wars and first strikes

Thursday, October 7th, 2021

The United States of War, David Vine, 2020

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The U.S. military has waged war, engaged in combat, or otherwise employed its forces aggressively in foreign lands in all but eleven years of its existence.

Rather than being a book about battles, this book uses military bases as windows to understand the pattern of endless U.S. wars…These bases have expanded the boundaries of the United States, while keeping the country locked in a state of nearly continuous war that has largely served the economic and political interests of elites and left tens of millions dead, wounded, and displaced.

Beyond a way of warfare, this mode of total genocidal war (against native Americans) became important to the development of a distinct U.S. identity. This identity in turn has played some role in shaping later wars and the conduct of those wars, especially against peoples deemed to be supposedly racially inferior. “Successive generations of Americans, both soldiers and civilians, made the killing of Indian men, women, and children a defining element of their military tradition, and thereby part of a shared American identity.”

By the end of World War II…the United States would build and occupy some thirty thousand installations at two thousand base sites worldwide. While large numbers of bases would close at War’s end what remained was a global base network larger than any in human history…By war’s end, Roosevelt would oversee the largest expansion of bases, territory, and imperial power in U.S. History – arguably far exceeding the power of Jefferson’s purchase (Louisiana Territory).

Other “territories” (excepting the Philippines which was granted independence in 1946) remained colonies without democratic incorporated into the United States. They included Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Guantanamo Bay, and the Panama Canal Zone.

U.S. officials further used the nation’s unchallenged military superiority at the end of World War II to dictate much of the postwar international economic system, on which geoeconomic power would be based. New global institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations became important economic and political tools to open and dominate markets and maintain other countries in subordinate relationships.

“The United States did not abandon empire after the Second World War. Rather it reshuffled its imperial portfolio,…investing in military bases, tiny specks of semi-sovereignty strewn around the globe.”

Across history and geography the Chagossians and others displaced by U.S. Bases abroad are thus linked along a continuum of violence to the victims of war in Southeast Asia, Iraq, and Afghanistan; to Native American peoples displaced, dispossessed, and murdered; to Angolans and Mozambicans kept under Portuguese colonial rule for decades with U.S. Aid exchanged for Azores basing rights; to Indonesians slaughtered in a U.S. Supported genocide; to Cubans and Haitians and many others killed during dozens of U.S. Invasions in Latin America; to Guatemalans and Chileans tortured, assassinated, and disappeared during U.S. Based coups; to the enslavement, murder, and disenfranchisement of African-Americans over centuries; to attacks on immigrants and religious and sexual minorities in the United States; and to the poor in the United States whose bodies are so often ground up by the workings of everyday capitalism and the U.S. Wars they are so often sent to fight.

Continued Myths and Propaganda about the murder of Osama Bin Laden

Sunday, September 12th, 2021

The Killing of Osama bin Laden, Seymour Hersh, 2016
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This spring (2016) I contacted (Asad) Durrani (former head of Pakistan’s ISI in the 1990s) and told him in detail what I had learned about the bin Laden assault from American sources; that bin Laden had been a prisoner of the ISI at Abbottabad compound since 2006; that (Army General) Kayani and (ISI head) Pasha knew of the raid in advance and had made sure that the two helicopters delivering the SEALS to Abbottabad could cross Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms; that the CIA dis not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward by the US, and that, while Obama did order the raid and the SEAL team did carry it out, many other aspects of the administration’s account were false

In August 2010 a former senior Pakistani ISI officer approached Jonathan Bank, then the CIA’s station chief at the US embassy in Islamabad. He offered to tell the CIA where to find bin Laden in return for the reward that Washington had offered in 2001…The walk-in passed the (polygraph) test.

The CIA needed to determine if bin Laden was really in the compound. Obama was informed in October, but was skeptical, wanting proof that bin Laden was in the compound. A Pakistani Army doctor by the name of Amir Aziz was treating bin Laden at the compound.

The (US) planners turned to Kayani and Pasha, who asked Aziz to obtain the (DNA) specimens…Aziz had been awarded with a share of the $25 million reward..because the DNA sample had showed conclusively that it was bin Laden in Abbottabad.

Pakistan agreed In January 2011 to cooperate on an operation if the US would come in lean and mean and kill bin Laden. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia insisted that bin Laden be killed because they did not want him interrogated by US authorities as he would have been able to implicate both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in having supported his activities. Pasha met with officials in Washington. The US agreed to increase assistance to the ISI and give Pakistan a free hand in Afghanistan as the US started withdrawing its forces.

Pasha and Kayani were promised that the deal would remain secret. Once the mission was carried out and bin Laden killed, the US would wait at least 7 days and then announce that bin Laden had been killed in a drone strike on the Afghan side of the Hindu Kush.

Obama instantly broke the agreement, announcing the raid and murder for political/electioneering purposes and setting in motion an incredible series of false, fabricated stories about the whole history of events, worthy of Lewis Carroll. The CIA has sealed most of the fabrications to keep the truth hidden from journalists and the public. That didn’t stop them from revealing classified material to the makers of the 2012 propaganda film “Zero Dark Thirty” who used the material to propagate false narratives in an amazing work of propaganda/fiction posing as a depiction of actual events. Much of this fictionalized account has survived to be repeated in the 2021 Netflix series Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, Part 5.


– – – – “Stealth” Chinook Helicopters delivering tanks to battle

At the Abbottabad compound ISI guards were posted around the clock to keep watch over bin Laden and his wives and children. They were under orders to leave as soon as they heard the rotors of the US helicopters. The town was dark; the electricity supply had been cut off on the the orders of the ISI hours before the raid began. One of the Black Hawks crashed inside the walls of the compound, injuring many on board…The cockpit of the crashed Black Hawk, with its communications and navigational gear, had to be destroyed by concussion grenades, and this would create a series of explosions and a fire visible for miles. Two (giant) Chinook helicopters had flown from Afghanistan to a nearby Pakistani intelligence base to provide logistical support (like refueling the Black Hawks) and one of them was immediately dispatched to Abbottabad…The crash of the Black Hawk and the need to fly in a replacement were nerve racking and time-consuming setbacks, but the SEALs continued with their mission. There was no firefight as they moved into the compound; the ISI guards had gone…Instead…an ISI liaison officer flying with the SEALs guided them into the darkened house and up a staircase to bin Laden’s quarters…Aside from those that hit bin Laden, no other shots were fired.

The SEALS reported recovering a treasure trove of computers and documents from the compound.

“Why create the treasure trove story? The White House had to give the impression that bin Laden was still operationally important. Otherwise, why kill him? A cover story was created — that there was a network of couriers coming and going with memory sticks and instructions. All to show bin Laden remained important.”

Bin Laden was under arrest of the Pakistani ISI with Saudi Arabia providing financial support for the compound. Bin Laden was very ill and delusional by this time. The ISI gave the CIA all materials remaining in the compound when they razed it. bin Laden’s wives and children were not allowed to be interrogated by US authorities.


– – – – – The Mythical Burial of Osama bin Laden Aboard the USS Carl Vinson- Photos not Provided

“The (SEAL) squad came through the door and obliterated him.” There were no other arms in the compound. Once Obama broke the Pakistani agreement, the administration was left with a very long list of unexplained problems and questions, which journalists immediately started asking.
– How did you know bin Laden was in Abbottabad? Invent a non existent al Quaeda courier with a white car that you followed to the compound.
– How did you know he was an al Quaeda courier? Tortured him or someone else.
– How did you confirm that bin Laden was in the compound? Blame an innocent man, Dr. Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor that operates a well funded, independent medical operation that provides free Hepatitis B vaccinations, and claim that he was assigned to collect DNA samples from the bin Laden compound. This started a worldwide rumor that the CIA was funding fake vaccination programs. Afridi was accused of treason and sentenced to 33 years in prison.
– What happened to the courier? The non existent courier was killed in the non existent Abbottabad firefight.
– What happened to bin Laden’s body? He was immediately buried at sea off the USS Carl Vinson. (Never happened but all records of the ship have been sealed by the CIA).
– Where are the photo proofs of death and burial? There aren’t any.
– Where is the body? Several SEALS later reported they had thrown bin Laden’s body parts out of the helicopter somewhere over the mountains and arrived in Afghanistan without a body. With the originally agreed story of death in a drone attack there would be no need for a body – in fact a body would pose problems for the original false story agreed between the US and Pakistan.

The American History of Missed Opportunities

Monday, August 2nd, 2021

From Here to Equality, Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century, William A Darity jr & Kristen Mullen, 2020

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This important, well researched, and very readable book makes the case for reparations due to African Americans after more than 400 years of racially discriminatory, officially sanctioned policies in America. It is a history with an emphasis on turns not taken or taken wrongly and the impacts of these actions on the inequality of African American wealth and income. Much of their case for reparations rests on undeniable facts and statistics. And ultimately this is a story of unstoppable and unaccountable capitalism in search of cheap (or free) labor.

From 1619 to the 1660s, the majority of blacks in the colonies were contract servants not slaves. They could accumulate land, vote, testify in court, and mingle with whites as relative equals.

Black people overwhelmingly were the objects of enslavement. While there was an extended period of white immigrant indentured servitude during the colonial period, their numbers were dwarfed by coerced immigrants from the African continent. Even at the height of importation of white indentures, while 216,000 whites came to British North America as bonded laborers, 300,000 Africans were forcibly imported to the colonies. By the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the practice of white indentureship was in sharp decline. On the other hand, in 1790 there were close to 700,000 enslaved blacks in the United States, a number that grew to 4 million by the start of the Civil War.

For a very brief period during the colonial era, black and while laborers were treated equally and their wages and their punishments for comparable offenses were undifferentiated. County court records from the period reveal that some slaves owned personal property and were allowed to contract for their services; others were able to procure freedom for themselves and their families. In England throughout the sixteenth century, the status of “slave” was not a life sentence…nor was it determined by phenotype. But as the demand for manpower grew in the colonies, so too, did the legal strictures on enslaved people, transforming them comprehensively into human chattel devoid of individual rights…In addition to solving the colonial labor shortage problems, enslavement of Africans enabled European mercantilists policymakers–and British mercantilists in particular–to maintain a regime of low wages in the home economy. The exportation of too large a fraction of the domestic labor force would put upward pressure on the cost of hiring labor at home.

Black phenotype also made it easier to recognize and capture slaves if they escaped. White indentured laborers couldn’t be so easily identified.

A British High Court decision in 1772 de facto ended the practice of slavery in England proper. A major motivator in the American independence movement was fear that Slavery would end throughout the British dominion. Slave owner Thomas Jefferson could decry the slave trade, call for independence from England, and uphold slavery, all without irony.

The Declaration of Independence could have been a document of universal rights. To the extent that black people are construed as fully human, championing liberty and freedom for some…while condemning blacks to eternal servitude is problematic. Republicanism affirmed the ascendancy of the colonial aristocracy while maintaining a fine line of control over the masses of poor whites, providing opportunity for some of them to obtain land and own slaves while assuring even the most impoverished whites that they could exercise dominance over blacks.

At least a third of the signers of the Declaration of Independence owned slaves. The Constitution of 1787 specified that the slave trade would end in 1808, though illegal slave trade continued. Elsewhere in the Americas, as independent nations came into existence, outlawing the slave trade and outlawing slavery went hand in hand. The Constitution required 2/3 of slave populations be counted for congressional apportionment and presidential elections and decreed 2 senators for each state. The Constitution has minority rule embedded within it. The mere existence of slaves as countable bodies allowed the slave states to control elections and enact slave protecting legislation like the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. They even invented the filibuster which today can block any majority Senate action with only 40 senators.

The American Revolution was fought, in large part, by a colonial elite to preserve their right to human property. The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) was fought, in large part, by the enslaved to liberate themselves from slavery.

Pease and Pease estimated that between 1830 and 1860 approximately 60,000 blacks left the south and resettled in the north, and an additional 20,000 to 40,000 blacks migrated to Canada. They estimated the number of blacks living in intentional black communities during the forty year period before the Civil War at 3,500 to 5,000 persons.

When Abraham Lincoln came into office, he hoped to end slavery through programs of compensated emancipation where slave owners would be paid compensation for the freeing of their slaves. Most slave owners preferred to hold on to their slave property to such an extent that Southern States seceded from the union, leading to the Civil War. Lincoln does not seem to have given much thought to what would happen to 4 million freed slaves other than the vague idea that they would migrate to Haiti or Liberia. A small number did migrate, but the vast majority wanted to be recognized as full citizens with all the privileges and rights of citizenship. To accomplish this goal they would need education, employment, the vote, and land.

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White supremacist Andrew Johnson of Tennessee became President on Lincoln’s assassination. He universally pardoned all Confederate participants allowing the southern elites to return to power and to reacquire property seized by the Union during the war. He thwarted all efforts to transfer or sell confiscated lands to blacks. The “seven magic years” of reconstruction saw some black voting rights in Republican controlled states. As southern democrats regained political control black voting rights all but disappeared. The withdrawal of Federal troops from the south left blacks without any protection since whites did everything they could to prevent blacks from arming themselves. Whites burned black schools and intimidated or killed any teachers in these schools. Johnson was impeached in 1868 but was not removed from office. Grant became President in 1869 but his lack of political skill and bad judgement continued the absence of Federal action in the southern states. A South Carolina Representative reported that 53,000 had been killed by white terrorists since the end of the war; 1766 on average each year. The white supremacist south began to rewrite history immediately after the end of the Civil War, coining the term the “Lost Cause” and erecting thousands of monuments to southern political and military “heroes”. They even incorporated the confederate battle flag into their new state flags. Once in power again, southern white Democratic leaders began enacting Black Codes to reestablish black slavery in all but name throughout the south. Whites again controlled most of the land for which they required “Labor”. Labor contracts were far worse than indentured servitude because the laborer could only escape the contract upon death. Blacks could be arrested at will to provide free labor. Union Col. Samuel Russell Thomas testified before Congress:
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Wherever I go– the street, the shop, the house, or the steamboat–I hear the people talk in such a way as to indicate that they are yet unable to conceive of the Negro as possessing any rights at all. Men who are honorable in their dealings with their white neighbors will cheat a Negro without feeling a single twinge of their honor. To kill a Negro they do not deem murder; to debauch a Negro woman they do not think fornication; to take property away from a Negro they do not consider robbery…they still have an ingrained feeling that the blacks at large belong to the whites at large, and whenever opportunity serves, they treat the colored people just as their profit, caprice or passion may dictate.

Federally owned land was (and still is) huge, with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 adding 827,00 square miles or 529 million acres. Land confiscated from the Confederacy during the Civil War made additional tracks of land available, approximately 850,000 acres. 40 acres and a mule would have required the Federal government to earmark 40 million acres for 1 million families of former slaves. This never happened. Between 1862 and 1934, the federal government granted 1.6 million homesteads and distributed 270 million acres. Most of the Confederate confiscated land was sold at auction to white, many northern, speculators. These new capitalist absentee landowners, needing farmers, instituted share cropping and “labor contracts” for poor farmers both white and black. A few blacks were able to acquire small blocks of land or houses.

By 1910 blacks had managed to amass 15 million acres with 218,000 owners or farmers. By 1997 black farm ownership had diminished to 2.7 million acres. “The land African Americans lost over the 20th century was taken in some form, and not sold freely.”

The disregard for black lives evidenced by antiblack riots, lynchings, neighborhood devastation, and inferior education in the process that Douglas Blackmon has called “black reenslavement”.

(Jennifer) Mueller provides evidence that the source of This transfer transfers to whites is in publicly provided assets, including 246 million acres of land, an area approximating that of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia combined. These occurred under the auspices of the Homestead Acts (1860s-1930s).

Blacks were largely excluded from the the benefits of the Homestead Acts; mere 4,000 to 5,500 African American claimants ever received federal land patents from the Southern Homestead Act enacted in 1866…white Southern Homestead Act claimants numbered around 28,000. Gifts of Southern Homestead and Homestead Act land enriched more that 1.6 million white families–both native born and immigrant. By the year 2000, the number of adult descendants of these original land grant recipients was 46 million people, about a quarter of the U.S. adult population.

At the end of WWII, the GI Bill guaranteed home, business, farm loans, and educational opportunities to returning veterans. Of 3,229 GI Bill related loans made in Mississippi in 1947, only two were offered to black veterans.

The article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the June 2014 issue of the Atlantic resurrected the national conversation over reparations for black Americans. One of the most impressive aspects of Coate’s article is his insistence that the events and conditions during the antibellum period are far from the only basis for reparations.

This book is devoted heavily to documenting the damages done to blacks post Emancipation. Turning to details of reparations, the authors give a number of alternate ways that damages could be calculated with a number of these studies showing damages on the order of more than $17 trillion.

…since today’s differential in wealth captures the cumulative effects of racism on living black descendants of American slavery, we propose mobilizing national resources to eradicate the racial wealth gap. The magnitude of ongoing shortfalls in wealth for blacks vis-a-vis whites provides the most sensible foundation for the complete monetary portion of the bill for reparations.

To qualify for reparations, the authors suggest two criterion;

First, U. S. citizens would need to establish that they had at least one ancestor who was enslaved in the United States after the formation of the republic. Second, they would have to prove that they self-identified as “black” “Negro”, “Afro-American”, or “African American” at least twelve years before the enactment of the reparations program or the establishment of a congressional or presidential commission “to study and develop reparations for African Americans”.

How do you change the minds of millions of white supremacists whose fixed attitudes toward black people were described so well by Union Col. Samuel Russell Thomas? Must the U.S. wait til white supremacists are in such a minority as in South Africa that they can no longer control or defeat any efforts to address race based income and wealth inequality?

denial, disinformation, deflection, delayism, doomism

Monday, July 26th, 2021

The New Climate War: The Fight To Take Back Our Planet, Michael E. Mann, 2021

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Mann has devoted much of his professional life and focus in an effort to educate the public about climate change. His role model was Carl Sagan who had a remarkable ability to communicate complex science to ordinary people.
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Mann, Bradley and Hughes 1998 Hockey Stick Chart

How quickly are temperatures rising?

The true warming rate is about 0.2%C per decade. Since current warming stands at about 1.2%C, it would at current rates take a decade and a half to reach 1.5%C warming, and another two and a half decades to reach 2%C warming.

Without CO2 reductions, we would expect a rise of 1.5%C by 2035 and of 2%C by 2060.

Researchers believe renewables can be scaled up to meet 80% of global energy needs in ten years and 100% in thirty years. Clearly that last 20% which would include air travel and other hard to solve problems will take time and research.
Guardian’s Fiona Harvey:

investments amounting to trillions of dollars (estimated 1 to 4 trillion) in fossil fuels–coal mines, oil wells, power stations, conventional vehicles–will lose their value when the world moves decisively to a low-carbon economy. Fossil Fuel reserves and production facilities will become stranded assets, having absorbed capital but unable to be used to make a profit…If the bubble bursts suddenly, as it might, rather than gradually deflating over decades, then it could trigger a financial crisis.

Banks are already reducing their investments and many University endowments are pulling their funds out under pressure from their students.

Why look at non solutions when a solution is in hand. Solar costs about $50, wind $30-$40, and nuclear $100 per megawatt hour. Fossil fuels cost about $50. If fossil fuel subsidies were removed and a carbon tax were added to reflect the real cost of CO2 emissions, the cost of fossil fuels would rise dramatically.

One group of climate experts has in fact published a set of “concrete interventions to induce positive social tipping dynamics.” They propose as key ingredients, “removing fossil-fuel subsidies and incentivizing decentralized energy generation, building carbon neutral cities, divesting from assets linked to fossil fuels, revealing the moral implications of fossil fuels, strengthening climate education and engagement, and disclosing greenhouse gas emissions information.

Air travel is often sited as a way to reduce CO2 but air travel accounts for about 3% of global carbon emissions. if everything is taken into account, travel by train can have an even higher carbon footprint than air travel.

We know that we can eliminate most CO2 emissions by converting to renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, geothermal, etc. Those who wish to continue to rely on fossil fuels for energy often propose “non-solution solutions” as a deflection tactic.

DEFLECTION DELAYISM
The most common of these is “clean coal” using carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). Global CCS Institute reports 51 facilities globally are under development. When fully deployed they would collectively capture nearly 100 million tons of C02 annually. We emit about 40 billion tons of CO2 annually so 100 million tons would represent about 0.25% of total emissions. It will take decades (which we don’t have) to determine the actual amount of CO2 that has been captured and stored successfully. Coal generators are rapidly being phased out. CCS is not a solution.

There has been much talk of geoengineering and Bill Gates has hired geoengineers to look into shooting reflective particles, sulfate aerosols into the stable upper part of the atmosphere. This is feasible and a muti-billionaire like Gates might even be able to try it without government assistance or approval. The big problem is “we don’t know what we don’t know.” Would Ozone layer destruction accelerate? Would polar ice melt faster? Would the sulfur falling back to earth result in catastrophic acid rain? If we don’t sustain the layer with continuous injections the earth’s temperature would rise suddenly. The danger here is not only from billionaires but from other countries that might attempt to solve their own problems without regard for the rest of the world. And we already have a known solution – renewable energy – so why even look at such a crazy unproven idea with huge unknown risks to the entire planet?

Reforestation sounds promising but at best, combined with modified agricultural practices, at absolute most 20 billion tons of CO2 could be captured or 50% of our current emissions. It would take decades to reach these levels of CO2 removal and meanwhile we would continue to increase emissions every year. We already have a real and proven solution, renewables, that can be implemented now so why focus on this. Reforestation and agricultural reform are important and should be undertaken but they are not a solution to our immediate CO2 problem.

Then there is the nuclear power option, forgetting the meltdowns at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Nuclear cost is double that of renewables. Mann suggests we leave existing nuclear plants operational since the investment has already been made until they are decommissioned at the end of their useful lives, hoping they continue to have access to adequate cooling water and avoid other accidents. Building new Nuclear plants would also take far too long to displace existing fossil fuels.

Much of this important book is dedicated to educating the public in the tactics developed by monopolistic companies whose products are harmful in attempts to convince the public otherwise. These tactics no doubt originated in the 19th Century but came to public awareness over the dangers of tobacco, plastic trash, chemicals like DDT, CFC refrigerant destroying the ozone layer, Roundup, etc., Fossil Fuels and CO2 levels, etc. The playbook was even attempted for COVID-19 because the pandemic posed a threat to companies wanting business as usual (Urging us to take one (die) for the sake of the economy). The successes of these campaigns is due to the enormous resources available to these companies, their willingness to sponsor fake research (Koch and Mercer), their control over messaging and media (Fox WSJ, the petrostates led by Russia and Saudi Arabia), and exploiting the ignorance of the public about science and research (disinformation). Who does the powerful global fossil fuel industry most fear? Greta Thunberg and the international climate youth movement. Mainstream media is notorious for failing to report on climate change. Young climate activists have succeed in making the front page of major newspapers around the world, something climate scientists have been unable to do. As Bob Dylan would say “The times they are a changin”.
Stephan Schmidt, former presidential campaign co-advisor to McCain tweeted about the COVID-19 campaign “The injury done to America and the public good by Fox News and the bevy of personalities from Limbaugh to Ingraham will be felt for many years in this country as we deal with the death and economic damage that didn’t have to be.”

The Coronavirus crisis, in fact, underscored the importance of government. The need for an organized and effective response to a crisis, after all, one of the fundamental reasons we have governments in the first place. Crises, whether in the near term like COVID-19 or in the long term like climate change, remind us that government has an obligation to protect the welfare of its citizens by providing aid, organizing an appropriate crisis response, alleviating economic disruption, and maintaining a functioning social safety net.

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The book includes discussions of social media and the role of bots and troll bots, artificially generated internet postings with the ability to automatically analyze real people’s postings and create artificial responses. So then bot sentinel is created that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to classify accounts and their postings as being the creation of bots and trollbots and to automatically generate a trollbot score for the likelihood that the the account is automated. This is not a fictional dystopian world. Users of social media are facing this mad world of bots where it may be impossible to know if you are having a conversation with a machine or a person. Imagine an entire discussion thread generated completely by warring bots with no actual human participation. Forget annoying automated phone calls. This is total out-of-control madness.

Rediscovering the Magic of Antitrust

Friday, July 23rd, 2021

Break ’em Up; Recovering our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money, Zephyr Teachout, 2020

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This is a compact must read book. Here are some highlights:

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Antitrust Can’t Bust a Monopoly of Ideas WSJ

The highest and best goals of America–equality and freedom–require government to protect citizens from any group or any person wielding too much power. We used to do pretty well, using antitrust, campaign finance laws, public utility regulation, labor laws, and other anti-monopoly tools. But in recent years, our government has failed on all these fronts. Meanwhile, corporations have disabled key institutions designed to protect against arbitrary power.

After the crash of 2008, the impunity of elite networks was on full display when no banker was jailed for lawless activity. Pharmaceutical and big tech corporations regularly get away with laughably trivial fines for their major violations of the law…Public courts have been replaced by arbitration in which judges are paid by corporations, reasons aren’t given, and no one knows what happens.

Unelected “megalomaniac President” Zuckerberg: “In a lot of ways Facebook is more like a government than a traditional company.” Facebook “set up a more democratic or community-oriented process that reflects the values of people around the world.”

The will to power is connected to the desire for material accumulation, but it is made of something different, and Zuckerberg clearly has it. The ability to affect the lives of everyone on earth, to know everything about them, to shift elections, to change the practice of democracy–these are not unforeseen by-products of a business plan. They are not an accident. They are the point.

People in power are more likely to interrupt, to look away when others speak, to touch others inappropriately, to say what they want, to take risks…They are more likely to be rude, hostile, and humiliating. They are more impulsive,more self-centered in their choices, which they make obliviously, because they are less able to read other people’s reactions. People in power rely more on stereotypes when making judgments about others, with less awareness of unique or individual traits. They aren’t good at describing the interior lives of others, and are bad at guessing what others want or feel.

Researcher Jake Dunagan: “The experience of power might be thought of as having someone open up your skull and take out that part of your brain so critical to empathy and and socially-appropriate behavior.”

Denmark has appointed an ambassador to deal directly with the quasi governments of Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

At the heart of (Antonin) Scalia logic in the Gilmer case, and entire series of cases involving arbitration agreements, is a fantasy of choice–a fantasy that relies on a nonexistent power dynamic and and set of unavailable non-arbitration options…Scalia’s contract logic reflects neoliberalism, a powerful ideology in American legal thought. Neoliberalism is defined by a deep skepticism of democratic institutions, which it treats as corrupt and unreliable, and a mirror-image faith in market institutions, which it treats as responsible and reliable. For most of Anglo-American history, a whole series of principles shaped contract enforcement. Corrupt contracts weren’t enforced, and contracts with real power imbalances were not enforced. The neoliberal view is that freedom of contract should be presumed and contracts almost always enforced…If you sign a contract, the presumption is that you signed it freely, and freedom is treated as a formal matter, not a contextual one…Was Scalia cynically serving big business or naively imagining a world that didn’t exist?

Political parties are being replaced by corporate-run institutions. Big corporations, which consider political strategy essential to their overall strategy, increasingly use the tools of authoritarianism–centralized regimes, opposition suppression, forced public displays of alignment–to hold on to their power, and they do it in the name of free speech. A persistent paranoia has naturally slipped into politics as these institutions are corroded, and this has led millions to flee politics as quickly and quietly as possible, and millions of others to embrace the nihilism of Donald Trump and Fox News.

The cutting edge of monopoly racism is, as with so much else, in big tech companies, where a toxic combination of power and opaque bias is repackaged and defended as neutral algorithms…When doing web searches, poor people are shown worse jobs and apartments, while elites with purchasing power get access to real estate deals and better employment opportunities…Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple pose unique race bias dangers in two ways. First, they are among the few companies with the resources to extract and exploit publicly available datasets in combination with their own data, creating data monopolies. Second, their choices about what data they use to serve what content have uniquely powerful impacts on everyone in society…Finally, they don’t just passively allow bias, they make money off it.

Researcher Marshall Steinbaum:

“Permitting consolidation and vertical integration and control in supply chains has made labor markets less competitive and worsened outcomes for workers, which is in direct contradiction to the (untested) economic assumptions that motivated the Chicago School’s antitrust takeover in the first place.” Monopoly turns out to be a major driver of inequality…With the massive collapse of an economy into sectors that are each dominated by corporate monopolies, workers may be in great demand, but they are not in a good position to bargain for a fair portion of the value they create…In simple terms, “Capital won, labor lost.”

Wall street has been a driving force behind the gutting of antitrust laws, because when it is allowed, monopoly power is a means of taking a big chunk of money and multiplying it, without adding any value. Access to seed capital, combined with bad antitrust policy, meant big unearned profits…Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world, has made his money by investing in already-monopolized industries…He invests in closed markets, monopolies, and oligarchies…He prefers businesses with substantial “moats”, or, as a friend of his called it, “unregulated toll bridges.”

Business school graduates today are taught to invest in the areas where antitrust fails.

In 1967, the Chicago School of Economics launched an all-out war against American predation rules…after President Reagan (in the 1980’s) installed new judges, and economic departments were flooded with Chicago School scholars, the new theory won…The new court decisions did not get rid of predatory pricing laws as a concept, but they made it so difficult to prove a predatory pricing claim that in practice any lawsuit became nearly a dead letter.

The monopoly-predation-subsidy-capital cycle goes like this:
1. The promise of monopoly power attracts excess capital investment;
2. with that investment, the company can engage in predatory pricing to push out competitors and win subsidies;
3. only the biggest companies win individual company subsidies, which they use to push out remaining competitors and reinvest in politics.
4. they then use the investment in politics to block antitrust and influence tax code;
5. without being subject to antitrust and having to pay taxes, they can promise more monopolistic behavior and attract more capital investment.

These new judges–including Justice Antonin Scalia and judges Frank Easterbrook and Richard Posner, the biggest defenders of big business–overturned decades of case law. They treated all mergers as presumptively positive. They effectively wrote predatory pricing out of the Clayton Antitrust Act, concluding that almost any price-cutting was good for customers–even if price-cutting was designed to push out competitors and monopolize a market. They reinterpreted antitrust laws as consumer price-protection tools. They rejected a vision that these laws were designed to curb despotism. They rewrote hundreds of years of contract law, excising the power analysis that once accompanied contract interpretation.

Clinton, Bush, and Obama all presided over an ongoing merger wave that would have horrified any 1960’s judge. From 1992 to 2016, antitrust was not even in the Democratic Party platform.

In sum, from 1980 to today, antitrust was triply depoliticized. First, courts treated the body of antitrust laws as if they were designed only to serve consumer welfare, not growth and abuses of political power in the private realm. Second, practitioners of antitrust–prosecutors, judges, and law professors–depoliticized their own roles, allowing technically trained economists to make the big judgements about what society should look like. They deferred to professional elite economists, whose jargon is complicated and whose claims to special knowledge make it hard for people to feel comfortable challenging them. Giving economists the final say also allowed practitioners to avoid responsibility and to treat decisions as if they were required by abstract laws instead of as hard political decisions that shape power in society. Third, and most bizarrely, these same practitioners treated antitrust as if it were a job for courts, not Congress.

We are in the early stages of a major battle to reinvigorate the anti-monopoly movement. There are huge toolboxes of existing laws that can be enforced right now; a lot of bad Supreme Court precedents that can be overturned by congress; and new laws that need to be passed to address weaknesses in the old laws and new obstacles. The new antitrust era, to meet the crisis of concentration we now face, will require us to do all three.

The Federal Trade Commission–right now– can also play a critical role in changing basic competition rules. As Sandeep Vaheesan argued in a significant article in 2017, the FTC has substantial power, to define the scope of federal laws. Congress, anticipating changing business practices and changing methods of unfairness, purposefully gave the FTC the power to define “unfair methods of competition.” Executive agencies have enormous discretion to act, as Vaheesan points out, the FTC can and should change merger law by making mergers presumptively illegal in competitive markets, and should lay out particular clear, bright line rules–like speed limits– against certain kinds of “vertical” behavior, like when Tyson forces farmers to use building firms it prefers.

The next president (Biden), in particular will have outsized power when it comes to antitrust; she (or he) can unilaterally promulgate new merger rules, directing the FTC to adopt clear guidelines that declare that it will oppose mergers of a certain size and percentage of the market. The new guidelines for the Department of Justice and the FTC can adopt the posture that policing conduct violations is a top priority. They can strongly signal that they won’t stand for a few small changes, but will require structural reorganization.

Even with strong enforcement, we need new laws. Congress should start by overturning all the bad decisions made by Reagan judges. That alone would serve to sharpen the swords of the laws already on the books.

When people are allowed to amass great pools of capital, one of two things happens; The logic of investment overcomes the moral sensibilities of the people who hold the investments, and the investments agents’ instructions to maximize profit sever the moral relationships between people and their impact on the world. Or the logic of power overcomes the moral sensitivities of those who hold too much power, and they start governing from a place of whimsy and self-importance, disconnected from human reality and unable to honestly perceive the world over which they trample. Both outcomes lead to destruction, instability, and cruelty.

For today’s neoliberal economist, market freedom does not mean moral action or thought in the commercial realm, it only frees the buyer and seller from state interference; the only morality in a market lies in cheaper consumer goods. Efficiency has become more than a value, it’s become something approaching an unhealthy, elite obsession.

As (Langston) Hughes understood, the biggest, most powerful dream of America, the one we can’t forget, the one that underpins the right to eat, breathe clean air, have dignity, is the dream that people, not kings or lords or dukes, should govern themselves. The basic dream of America is the fight against illegitimate power. Money is not a legitimate source of political power. The only source of legitimate power over others–the power to imprison, the power to tax, the power to make decisions–flows from we the people.

Monopolies, Created Deserts, and Warren Buffets

Friday, July 9th, 2021

Monopolized; Life in the Age of Corporate Power, David Dayen, 2021

This book is one of the most depressing, even apocalyptic in recent memory. It is also well researched, organized, and important.
Each chapter addresses an industry segment that has fallen to monopoly: Airlines, Big Agriculture, Journalism and media, Broadband Internet, Opioid medication, Banks, Offshoring essential products, Amazon and Google, Hospitals Supply chains, Rental Housing after 2008, Prisons and Immigrant detention. The book is focused on monopolies in each of these segments. Warren Buffet is mentioned as a significant investor in monopolies in each chapter. Dayen estimates that twelve mega-billionaires like Warren Buffet effectively control the entire US economy today. What can these handful of men possibly do with the wealth they have accumulated? This is from Jeff Bezos, currently the wealthiest:

The only way I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space Travel

Tesla’s Elon Musk seems to share Bezos’ sentiment. Dayen — “Our overlords literally shoot money into space while millions around them suffer.” Here is Buffet;

We think in terms of that moat and the ability to keep its width and its impossibility of being crossed.


Dayen — “Morningstar offers an economic moat index fund of the twenty companies with the highest walls around their businesses.”

The average age of a farmer in America is fifty-eight. In Iowa, 60 percent of all farm owners are over the age of sixty-five; just 1 percent are thirty-four or younger. More than half of all Iowa farmland is rented out, and the startup costs of land, machinery, and other inputs are a huge barrier to entry. A substantial number of farm owners are elderly widows who inherited the land. As they pass on, Iowa could be transformed.

As Iowa and other agricultural states empty out and businesses close, the states turn into people less deserts. Mono culture (single crop) farming with huge chemical inputs are transforming formerly fertile land into barren deserts. Deserts can take many forms and empty farmland is only the first discussed here.

The news deserts created primarily by the dominance of Facebook and Google and by the crippling of the media business model have grave implications for democracy…it’s undeniable that corruption spreads, conspiracies are fostered, and truth is obscured where journalism is absent.

This is the curse of bigness in San Francisco, a city so teeming with money that nobody can afford to open a store to take it…But the truth is that the San Francisco Bay Area is the nation’s second-most dense…Big money has created a vicious spiral: a winner-take-all city keeps accumulating vacant lots, dead-eyed commuters drive for hours to their barely affordable homes, landords must keep rents astronomically high to cover their own astronomically high loans. The concentration of extreme wealth isn’t just bad for the losers in depressed counties and towns. It’s bad for the winners.

Urban deserts are not limited to Flint and Detroit Michigan, to Oakland California and Philadelphia and Baltimore. Try living in today’s San Francisco. Several of my son’s San Francisco old high school friends are living lives as nomads in the city, complete with vans.

In telecommunications including cellphone and broadband America is a disgrace with the highest prices and lowest quality and service anywhere in the world. At America’s founding, postal service was guaranteed to every American. FDR’s Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) together with massive western dam projects guaranteed electrical power to every American. At one time every American was guaranteed phone service. Dayen describes Chattanooga, a big beneficiary of the TVA, and its TVA run utility the Electric Power Board (EPB) which decided to upgrade using fiber optics to improve the reliability of its electric grids. In 2007 EPB decided to offer fiber optics to every home in its service area paid for by a $219.8 million bond. Comcast sued to stop the plan alleging illegal cross-subsidy of electric rate payer funds. Comcast lost and residents of EPB’s service area have access to gigabit broadband access supporting phone and internet service. If you are not in EPB’s service area you are in the communications desert.
I live in the heart of Phoenix Arizona and have access to Centurylink’s (baby Bell) DSL “service” of 16MB sometimes at a cost of about $50 per month. I have a grandfathered T-Mobile prepaid phone that gets no signal at my home even after the T-Mobile Sprint merger. I can make phone calls from my home via Android wifi on my T-Mobile phone or via voice over IP (VOIP) through google voice.
I live five miles from Phoenix’s TV Towers but receive no over the air (OTA) signals for any major network on my TV. Using advanced rooftop antennas and signal amplifiers, I used to be able to receive 5 major networks 95 miles line-of-site to the towers on Mount Lemon near Tucson. Continued reduction in transmit power by network operators has reduced reception to 3 major networks today. Even these 3 are sensitive to weather. I tried to raise the issue of reduced OTA transmitter power over the publicly owned airwaves with newly elected Senator Mark Kelly and was blown off by staff members.
If you live in rural America chances are you have no access to broadband. Urban Americans may typically have two “options” for broadband, your baby bell or surviving phone company and one cable operator. Both will have atrocious customer service and questionable reliability and unconscionable low speeds. Somewhere in a streaming chain, maybe the local broadband supplier is able to restrict speeds or break a stream altogether. We could get better service almost anywhere in the world. Most Americans live in a communications desert.

Dayen talks about the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) banking business that came into it’s own in the 1960s. Today it is a huge industry dominated by the six too big to fail banks.

As of 2019, the six biggest banks–JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley–control $10.5 trillion in financial assets. These banks also happen to be serial transnational criminal enterprises, paying $182 billion in (inadequate) penalties for rap sheets of incomparable length. Few of the violations even relate to the financial crisis’s run-up and aftermath, though those were significant. Incidents of debt collection fraud, market rigging, money laundering, misrepresentations to clients, kickback schemes, and unlawful securities sales all occurred after the crisis.

The media has focused on stock buyback after tax reductions and record profits but gives little attention to the bigger story; mergers of corporations into ever larger and more unaccountable monopolies. The six big banks are key players in these mergers pocketing huge fees for their services. Goldman Sachs, in one merger featured in the book involving United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI), continued to change the terms of the merger to favor themselves and even created and sold derivatives for hedge funds wanting to bet against the merger.

Mergers in the health care industry, especially hospitals has created large healthcare deserts in America. Hedge funds often buy hospitals for their real estate value and close them after gutting their operations. Millions of Americans are left with few options and long travel distances and time to seek services.

Monopolies create highly vulnerable supply chains often with sole source and offshore production. Dayen talks about an acute shortage of saline drip bags (cost $1) because production in sole source Puerto Rico was disrupted. This failure disrupted services in hospitals across the country. Covid19 protective equipment like masks, shields, gowns, etc. were simply not available for months. Then there are sole source parts like faulty batteries for the F-35 $100 million fighter jets that made them unable to escape Hurricane Michael in 2018. All current US Weapons systems are dependent on parts from China! Supply deserts are disruptive and dangerous and we are inundated in them.

Ten million American homes were lost to foreclosure as a result the 2008 financial subprime disaster. Dayen has an earlier book Chain of Title focusing on the struggle of American’s being illegal foreclosed on as a result of the massive production of fake documents purporting to support the existence of loans. Aaron Glantz in 2019 published Homewreckers, showing the macro side of how all these illegally foreclosed homes ended up in the hands of hedge funds and other bottom feeders and were removed permanently from the American supply of individually owned homes. Dayen here talks about how these new owners, without experience in real estate rentals and without any regard for the law or people converted these homes into badly or unmaintained rentals and profited from illegal fees, penalties, evictions, and extortion while the huge inventory of once livable single family homes are turned into slums. These few corporations make the Trumps and Kushners of the world look like petty thugs. Meantime, Americans looking to buy homes find limited options and soaring prices. Welcome to the housing desert.

We know how to handle monopolies. You restore the interpretation of the antitrust laws to cover the full spectrum of harms, beyond just consumer welfare. Then you break up dangerous concentrations of economic power, block mergers that would excessively consolidate markets, regulate natural monopolies as public utilities, structurally separate functions where necessary, intervene in the public interest so citizens are protected and empowered, and vigilantly examine markets to prepare for monopolies to emerge again. Maybe that sounds impossible in the abstract. But it is entirely possible under existing law that either hasn’t been enforced in decades or has been misinterpreted for decades. We have over a century of experience with both successfully preventing unnecessary concentrations and failing to do so. The mechanisms are clear; getting the political class to enforce them is the stumbling block.

Latex, Diamonds, Charles Taylor, Austerity, Ebola, The Perfect Storm

Saturday, May 22nd, 2021

Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds, Ebola and the Ravages of History, Paul Farmer, 2020

Young Paul Farmer and Future World Bank President Kim Jim Yong in Haiti


Ebola was not simply a deadly disease; it was the manifestation of neolibereralism as an affliction, which wrecks havoc in the world’s most vulnerable societies. –Ibrahim Abdullah and Ismail Rashid, Understanding West Africa’s Ebola Epidemic: Toward a Political Economy, 2017





Charles Taylor Liberian Warlord

There can be no understanding of this medical wasteland, and its vulnerability to Ebola, without knowledge of the shared and distinct histories… Their shared history has long involved rapacious extraction and forced labor regimes. Rapacity on this scale requires and foments violence, resulting in more illness and injury…That’s (colonial rule) where control-over-care strategies originated…In the first part of the twentieth century at least, black doctors were shunted aside or formally excluded from the colonial medical services…Many West Africans still harbor memories of campaigns to isolate (and sometimes destroy) settlements afflicted by smallpox, cholera, and vector-borne diseases such as plague, malaria, and trypanosomiasis. In the course of many of these epidemics, and for a century or more, funerals and wakes were banned, travel restrictions imposed, and punitive measures (from fines to incarceration) routine. Medical care was not…After independence, tardy efforts of link disease control to care were nonetheless under way in Guinea and Sierra Leone and, to a lesser extent, Liberia. But health expenditures of any sort remained a tiny fraction of postcolonial national budgets. That fraction shrank further when their governments signed on to structural adjustment programs (austerity) — and geared up for war…Neglectful policies first written by the sanitarians of fading colonial governments have left a disastrous imprint, but other disastrous policies were advanced by development institutions claiming to represent the poor, or frail or failed states. Few of these ventriloquists were natives of West Africa…Externally imposed austerity meant that governments lost much of their scant capacity to engage in anything resembling caregiving.

Commentary on most epidemics sends history down the drain. That’s no accident. Surely the successful rebranding of European empires as “Western democracies” and the inevitable focus on “local” disasters of African politics or epidemiology stand as impressive examples of willed amnesia. This entire process of shrugging off human agency — a.k.a. history — lets external actors and forces off the hook, allowing expatriate pundits and self-dealing global bureaucrats to argue that local greed and tribal grievance are the primary cause of independent Africa’s woes, including its poor economic, political, social, and physical health. But those without shelter are of course obliged to pay closer attention to the clouds above.

…if you want to address the delivery problems, you need a social medicine incorporating staff, stuff, space, and systems. But Western Africa, like the northern Congo, has not known this sort of social medicine, because of the extractive arrangements that I’ve described in the previous four chapters; slavery, racism, colonialism, and war. Its medical and public-health systems have failed repeatedly to delivery on the promise of discovery.

Ebola, like Marburg has received scant attention from the best basic scientists and clinical researchers, and from the world’s largest research based pharmaceutical concerns, for a simple reason: there’s not much money in it.

The critical step in preventing future epidemics will be finding ways of delivering vaccines and therapies to those who need them — and who need them in part because they live in a clinical desert that was created when their predecessors were enslaved and subjugated so that people and nations in other parts of the world could amass great wealth and prosperity.

Public-health nihilism and its control-over-care variant retain their force largely among the poor living in what are now called low-income countries. These countries are, of course, the former colonies; strains of the paradigm run rampant within them, and in the field now widely known as global-health.

The postcolonial world still suffers from control-over-care logic, and from the plague. In the Indian state of Gujarat, population forty-five million, plague killed hundreds in the 1990s–with the diamond polishing city of Surat the epicenter of a major outbreak in 1994.

One of the few happy aftermaths of the Western Ebola epidemic has been the development of what appears to be be a safe and protective vaccine… We can expect the usual debates about whether further and different clinical trials are needed, and which regulatory hurdles must be cleared before it and other vaccines are licenses, and by which agencies…Ebola-nomics is sure to influence these discussions, since the disease’s victims, like those sickened by cholera and plague, are mostly poor people of color, as are their primary caregivers.

…Ebola and other public-health calamities strike most often in places from which human capital and raw materials have been extracted for centuries. From the rural reaches of Haiti and Rwanda, from the prisons of Siberia, and from the slums of urban Peru; for thirty years, I’ve been pointing out how the epidemics that people have suffered in these places have arisen because of the inequalities — political, economic, and medical –that such extraction invariably worsens.

No One is Illegal Anti imperialist Organizing in Canada

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

Undoing Border Imperialism, Harsh Walia, 2013



Walia refers to North America by its folklore Native American name Turtle Island. She refers to Vancouver as Indigenous Coast Salish territories. The No One is Illegal (NOII) movement often chants No One is Illegal, Canada is Illegal. Walia is a long-haul anti imperialist revolutionary with impressive intellect. Highly recommended but wish the publisher, AK Press of Oakland (Edinburgh) had not produced a pocket version with unreadably small print. Phoenix Library has only one copy of this important book.

On many days, fighting against border imperialism is like swimming in glue or grieving against gravity. But I remember all the battles we have won and the shifting terrain for migrant justice movements that has centered the voices and experiences of our immigrant, refugee, and non status communities within the broader social movements. In the words of Davis, “What we manage to do each time we win a victory is not so much to secure change once and for all, but rather to create terrains for struggle.”

Within movement building, the strengthening of external alliances and facilitating internal leadership both require a strong grounding in antioppresssion analysis and practice. Antioppresssion analysis attempts to examine and address the varied – often unintentional and invisible – effects of systemic marginalization and differential power dynamics between individuals, groups, and communities by providing a a critical analysis of the intersecting lived realities of race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability.

“Democracy is not, to begin with, a form of State. it is in the first place, the reality of the power of the people that can never coincide with the form of a State. There will always be a tension between democracy as the exercise of a shared power of thinking and acting, and the State, whose very principle is to appropriate this power.”- Jacques Ranciere Democracy is not, to begin with, a form of State

“What we want is democracy and inclusion of all – not in a nation, a state, or an identity that always presupposes exclusion – but in a life in common.” – Carlos Fernandez, Meredith Gill, Imre Szeman, and Jessica Whyte, Erasing the Line, or, the Politics of the Border.

Why don’t we alter the frames of the question, asking, instead, what feminism actually means and whether feminism, both as a political movement and analytical tool, is amenable to Islam and religious identity and practice? Anti imperialist movements reject the white man’s (and woman’s) burden – or what author Teju Cole characterizes as the “White Savior Industrial Complex” – represented by state interventions and certain progressive movements, to rescue women, children, and queers from their so called backward traditions. By challenging the ideologies of superiority and uniformity underlying cultural imperialism, anti-imperialist movements diversify and hence decolonize our understanding of how coercion is experienced.

Restraint to Reclaim the Internet

Saturday, October 31st, 2020

Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society, Ronald J. Deibert, 2020

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Deibert is professor of Political Science and founder and director of the Citizen Lab at the Monk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto. He is also co-founder and a principal investigator of the OpenNet Initiative and Information Warfare Monitor projects. He was one of the founders and former VP of global policy and outreach for Psiphon.

A central theme of this book is the growth and dominance of Surveillance Capitalism by a handful of enormously rich and powerful companies and individuals.

Today it is virtually impossible to protect yourself from privacy encroachment via the Internet even using tools like Tor or end to end encryption like that found on Signal and WhatsApp. When Citizen Lab researchers cross international borders they must totally erase their Chromebooks to prevent seizure of their work. Much of Citizen Labs work is uncovering security and privacy vulnerabilities in existing Internet products such as Zoom with vulnerable camera and microphone control and the big hack of 2020. A huge problem with the Internet is its dependency on multiple layers of independently developed software deployed without adequate attention to security issues and problems. Governments may compound the security problem by requiring exploitable back doors, promoting faulty encryption that they can break, or the forced disclosure of encryption keys as a precondition for use in their jurisdictions.

Using Privacy Badger, Deibert found fifteen trackers on LinkedIn and a comparable number of trackers on the New York Times “Privacy Project” site.

As I write this book, the nerves of our World Brain are vibrating with full-on assaults on truth, science, ethics, and civility.
It’s a perfect storm–tools that enable precise details about people’s preferences and habits; Sophisticated machines that can swiftly analyze and then manipulate data as points of leverage around human emotions; unethical companies willing to do anything for a profit; and clandestine government agencies that lack public accountability but do have big budgets and a blank cheque to use social media as an experimental laboratory for their dark arts. The potential implications of this perfect storm should be profoundly unsettling for everyone concerned about democracy, the public sphere, and human rights.

Receiving special attention here is Isreali-based NSO Group and their flagship spyware Pegasus which the Saudi government used to spy on Saudi dissident and exile in Canada student Omar Abdulaziz and his friend Jamal Khashoggi. Citizen Lab had a bead on the number of Pegasus infected phones and realized that one of those phones was in Montreal. Going door to door with a short list of Saudi dissidents in Montreal, they uncovered the needle in the haystack Omar Abdulaziz and were able to confirm that his phone was infected. It is more than likely that information from this infected phone informed Saudi intelligence of Omar’s conversations with Khashoggi and may well have led to Khashoggi’s assassination by MBS.

Deibert estimates that 90% of the most active campaigners in the 2011 Arab Spring have vanished, in large part due to the use of NSO Group’s spyware.

Citizen Lab was able to infect an Iphone with Pegasus spyware in a laboratory environment and to reverse engineer Pegasus itself.

The spyware was extraordinarily sophisticated; it included exploits that took advantage of three separate flaws in Apple’s operating system that even Apple was unaware of at the time…After disclosing the vulnerabilities to Apple, which pushed out a security patch to more than one billion users, and publishing our report on targeting Mansoor, we reverse engineered Pegasus and began scanning for and monitoring NSO’s infrastructure and government client base.

Finding exploitable flaws in operating systems can be sold for as much as $1 million.

Also receiving special attention is China’s security apparatus courtesy of the Chinese government obsession with the Tibetan refugees settled in Dharamsala particularly with the Dalai Lama. Deibert representing Citizen Lab made numerous trips to Dharamsala and had a personal audience with the Dalai Lama. Citizen Lab’s history studying GhostNet goes back to 2009 when China’s large-scale electronic espionage program used to spy on individuals, organizations, and governments was discovered. The threat actors breached 1,295 computers in 103 countries over a two-year period, predominately focusing on governments in Southeast Asia. Citizen Lab’s first report on GhostNet was issued in 2009.

…recent years have brought about a disturbing descent into authoritarianism, fueled by and in turn driving income inequality in grotesque proportions and propelling the rise of a kind of transnational gangster economy. There is today a large and influential class of kleptocrats spread across the globe and supported by a professional service industry of lawyers, shell companies, accountants, and PR firms, the members of which move seamlessly between the private sector and agencies of the state…They thrive by victimizing innocent others, undermining individuals and organizations that seek to hold them to account, and using the power of the state for personal gain. There is no jurisdiction that is immune to corruption and authoritarian practices–only greater or lesser degrees of protection against them.

…In fact, the most disturbing dynamics are playing themselves out within normally liberal democratic countries. Hyper-militarized policing practices that draw on big data and AI-enabled surveillance tools are creating states on steroids…Meanwhile the constraints on abuse of power seem quaint and old-fashioned, as if constructed for a different time and context. We now have twenty-first century policing practices with nineteenth and twentieth century checks and balances.

The growing critical commentary on social media and surveillance capitalism is at a stage similar to the environmentalism of the 1960s and 1970s. The works of Shoshana Zuboff, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Bruce Schneier, and others are, in this respect, the social media equivalent of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Barry Commoner’s The Closing Circle, and Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb. They have dissected what’s wrong and have helped wake us up to a serious pathology, but they have yet to carve out a confident alternative way to organize ourselves.

Commenting on Europe’s GDPR and California’s Consumer Privacy Act, Deibert says “However promising, these statutes on their own are not so much prompting a fundamental behavior shift as they are further trivializing informed consent.”

Thanks to the Snowden disclosures, we now know that a flawed encryption protocol was foisted clandestinely on much of the world by the U.S., Canadian, and U.K. signals intelligence agencies, which enable them to crack the code of their adversaries communications. Critical infrastructure throughout the world depended on the integrity of the protocol. It’s unclear how many governments or criminals knew of and exploited it, or whether people were harmed in the process–but it is conceivable some malfeasance took place because of it.

Deibert takes us into a brief history of “republicanism” from the Greeks to the U.S. founding fathers, to today. “…One shorthand way to think about republican political theory is to take virtually anything that Republican Senate majority leader Mich McConnell advocates and think of the exact opposite of that position.”

Critical to the proper functioning of civil society is an educated and fully informed, enlightened citizenry. With this in mind, Deibert presents the mission statement of his own University.

The University of Toronto is dedicated to fostering an academic community in which the learning and scholarship of every member may flourish, with vigilant protection for individual human rights, and a resolute commitment to the principles of equal opportunity, equity and justice…
Within the unique university context, the most crucial of all human rights are the rights of freedom of speech, academic freedom, and freedom of research. And we affirm that these rights are meaningless unless they entail the right to raise deeply disturbing questions and provocative challenges to the cherished beliefs of society at large and of the university itself…
It is this human right to radical, critical teaching and research and which the University has a duty above all to be concerned; for there is no one else, no other institution and no other office, in our modern liberal democracy, which is the custodian of the most precious and vulnerable right of the liberated human spirit.

Herbert Marshall McLuhan (July 21, 1911 – December 31, 1980) was a Canadian philosopher, whose work is among the cornerstones of the study of media theory. He joined the University of Toronto in 1946 and taught there until his death. Harold Adams Innis (1894 – 1952) was a Canadian professor of political economy at the University of Toronto and the author of seminal works on media, communication theory, and Canadian economic history.

Ron Deibert follows in an important tradition at the University of Toronto.