Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Tech can regenerate Rural Heartland America’s Economy

Friday, April 22nd, 2022

Dignity in a Digital Age; Making Tech Work for all of Us, Ro Khanna, 2022

(Frederick) Douglass’s vision informs this book, which, at its heart is an attempt to imagine how technology can advance democratic patriotism, which is predicated on respecting the dignity of every American. The book shares Douglass’s faith that we can be a composite nation– that we can embrace a holistic, resplendent American identity that is more than just a formal contract among citizens. It offers a blueprint for structuring the technology revolution to empower left-behind Americans, regardless of their background, so they have a stronger voice in our economic and political life, building thriving communities, and are on more equal footing to participate in the dynamic process of developing our national culture.

We have looked thus far at how to respect dignity in a digital age domestically by focusing on distributing jobs, empowering workers, cultivating our freedoms, protecting online rights, creating deliberative forums, and including a multiplicity of voices in science policy.

This era calls for an Essential Workers Bill of Rights…The framework would promise livable wages, benefits, and bargaining rights for workers. It envisions giving employees a voice in shaping automation and pushing back against intrusive surveillance and abusive supervisors–a particular challenge in a remote and distributed workplace, which makes organizing difficult. Until all workers reap the benefits of their hard word and are treated with dignity, the promise of the digital age remains unfulfilled.

but nearly 80 percent of venture capital funding goes to only three states, California, New York, and Massachusetts. While California had nearly 4,000 VC deals and New York 1,400 in 2019, the state of West Virginia had only one.

A policy of creating new tech hubs should begin with the most promising locations and then gradually expand…Each hub would specialize in a few technologies based on their regional assets and expertise. The cutting edge fields would include quantum computing, data science, clean energy, cybersecurity, robotics, electronics manufacturing, and synthetic biology.

According to a Harlem Capital report, as of 2019, three are only two hundred startups led by Black or Brown founders that received more than $1 million in funding, and the total investment in these Black or Brown led start-ups is just $6 billions over nearly a decade. (Total VC funds deployed are $130 billion annually) The capital wealth gap is not just based on legacy assets but on a current, ongoing racial wealth generation gap.

The moral case for prioritizing workers is that they’ve been denied the gains they’ve helped create, and dignity that they’ve deserved, for multiple decades now. But the dollars and cents economic rationale is straightforward as well. While paying workers more may not maximize short-term shareholder value, in the way that stock buybacks or dividend payments do, it will lead to more consumer spending.

What they (Silicon Valley techies) may see as mundane and easily automated tasks actually are skilled ones, requiring dexterity, balance, judgment, practice, patience, precision, mapping, and a specific attention to detail.

Joel Rogers, a law professor at University of Wisconsin famously laid out the “high road” strategy, arguing that firms that foster worker participation and develop worker talent will generate more wealth compared to firms that use a top-down, command model to get the most out of their workers at the cheapest wage. Rogers argued that “shared prosperity”, “environmental sustainability”, and workplace democracy were “necessary complements, not tragic tradeoffs”, in maximizing revenue growth.

He (Gary Backer) said that the fuel for modern economic growth are investments in on-the-job training, health, information, and research and development. In fact, Becker argued that human capital, which is the “knowledge, information, ideas, skills, and health of individuals”, is “over 70 percent of the total capital in the United States.”

The ultimate design of Apple and Google’s Covid app is consistent with many of my Internet Bill of Rights principles, and it is an example of technology designed to meet these standards. The app requires a use to consent before any data is collected, and it offers an easy-to-understand explanation of how the data will be used. There is no centralized database, negating the major risk of data theft in a breach or the need for deletion. If someone is Covid positive, then they receive a digital code from their local health department to enter into their phone, which sends an anonymous exposure alert to every user in contact with them while they are infectious. Apple and Google both prioritized the need for interoperability so the app can work across platforms on any smartphone in the world. They made a concerted effort to minimize the data collected and committed not to have access to the data.

If tech companies are serious about promoting constructive dialogue, they should work with behavioral scientists, political theorists, psychologists, and mental health professionals to experiment with new designs. Software engineers should not only optimize for attention with like and share buttons, but to also prioritize for engagement with a wide range of perspectives. They could construct platforms for instance, that incentive users to participate in diverse online communities. Pushing opposing material to users can motivate them to become even stronger proponents of their ideologies…The key is to foster open-communications, and not simply self-affirmation.

The best we may be able to hope for in an imperfect democracy is a plurality of online forums for political conversations that (a) demonstrate a threshold respect for our agency as participants by not engaging in data extraction, (b) are transparent in terms of both their speech standards and the priorities of their algorithms, and (c) comply with legitimate restrictions on unlawful speech consistent with our First Amendment jurisprudence.

An Indiana University study that analyzed millions of tweets during the 2016 presidential election concluded that bots are a large contribute to the spread of misinformation and conspiracies. They share fabricated stories, make salacious content trend, and overwhelm investigatory teams with volume that makes it hard to find the offending postes. Most shockingly, the presence of fake accounts helps explains why “over 86% of shares and 75% of comments on German political Facebook from October 2018 to May 2019 were Alterative fur Deutschland content” even though the far-right party never “exceeded 15% of public support in polls during this time period”.

The Living Planet Earth – Gaia and Solaris

Friday, February 18th, 2022

The Nutmeg’s Curse; Parables for a Planet in Crisis, Amitav Ghosh, 2021

Out of these processes of subduing and muting was born the idea of “nature” as an inert entity,a conception that would in time become a basic tenet of what might be called “official modernity”. This metaphysic, fundamentally an ideology of conquest, would eventually become hegemonic in the West, and it it now shared by the entire global elite: within its parameters the idea that a volcano can produce meaning; or that a nutmeg can be a protagonist in history, can never be anything other than a delusion or a “primitive superstition”. To envision the world in this way was a crucial step toward making an inert Nature a reality. As Ben Ehrenreich observes; “Only once we imagined the world as dead could we dedicate ourselves to making it so.”


Standing Rock Protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline – Camp became a prayer camp because its lands are a site of ancestral knowledge

Now, as humanity faces the possibility of a future in which living will indeed have turned into a battle for survival, it is becoming increasingly clear that Indigenous understandings of terraforming were, in fact, far more sophisticated than those of today’s techno-futurists.

Exhaustion is a metaphor that occurs often in science fiction stories about terraforming. Swarms of aliens go off to conquer another planet because their own is “exhausted”. It is the same presumption that impels billionaires to plan the conquest of Mars, now that the Earth is “exhausted”…what the Earth is really exhausted of is not its resources, what it has lost is meaning.

He (Tennyson) sees the ascent of his “crowning race” as coming about by the severing of every kind of earthly tie, through the overcoming of everything that links humanity to other creatures and animals. He even proposes what we might call an “end of history” or an “end of the world”…This is man’s final ascent, when all creation ends and he is united with God.

As we watch the environmental and biological disasters that are now unfolding across the Earth, it is becoming ever harder to hold onto the belief that the planet is an inert body that exists merely to provide humans with resources. Instead, the Earth’s responses are increasingly reminiscent of the imaginary planet after which the Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem named his brilliant novel, Solaris: when provoked by humans, Solaris begins to strike back in utterly unexpected and uncanny ways.

James Lovelock; “Long ago the Greeks…gave to the Earth the name Gaia or, for short, Ge. In those days science and technology were one and science although less precise, had soul. As time passed this warm relationship faded and was replaced by the frigidity of schoolmen. The life sciences, no longer concerned with life, fell to classifying dead things and even to vivisection…Now at least there are signs of a change. Science becomes holistic again and rediscovers soul, and theology, moved by ecumenical forces, begins to realize that Gaia is not to be subdivided for academic convenience and that Ge is much more than a prefix.”

Other-than-human beings, forces, and entities, both manmade and earthly, could be pursuing their own ends, of which humans know nothing. Gaia, at once bountiful and monstrous, has now assumed a new avatar: Solaris.

It is this compressed time frame (the last 30 years) that has made sure that non humans too are no longer as mute as they once were. Other beings and forces–bacteria, viruses, glaciers, forests, the jet stream– have also unmuted themselves and are now thrusting themselves so urgently on our attention that they can no longer be ignored or treated as elements of an inert Earth.

So the true question then is not whether non humans can communicate and make meaning; rather we must ask: When and how did a small group of humans come to believe that other beings, including the majority of their own species, were incapable of articulation and agency? How were they able to establish the idea that non humans are mute, and without minds, as the dominant wisdom of the time?

The reason why coal powered mills began to edge out their water-powered competitors in the early nineteenth-century was not that coal was cheaper or more efficient. Water powered mills were just as productive, and far cheaper to operate than coal-fired mills. It was for social rather than technical reasons that steam-powered machines prevailed: because, for example, coal-mills allowed mill owners to locate their factories in densely crowded cities, where cheap labor was easily available. “The steam engine” writes Malm,”was a superior medium for extracting surplus wealth from the working class, because, unlike the waterwheel, it could be put virtually anywhere”…In short, steam, and thus coal won out over water precisely because it empowered the dominant classes and was better suited to their favored regime of property.

The role that fossil fuels play in war making is another, monstrously vital, aspect of their enmeshment with structures of power and forms of violence…Today the Pentagon is the single largest consumer of energy in the United States–and probably in the world…A single non-nuclear aircraft carrier consumes 5,621 gallons of fuel per hour; in other words, these vessels burn up as much fuel in one day as a small midwestern town might use in a year…In the 1990s the three branches of the US military consumed approximately 25 billion tons of fuel per year. This was more than a fifth of the country’s total consumption, and “more than the total commercial energy consumption of nearly two thirds of the world’s countries.”…Indeed, the predicament of the US Department of Defense is a refraction of the quandary that now confronts the world’s status quo powers: how do you reduce your dependence on the very “resources” on which your geopolitical power is founded?

Viewed from this perspective, climate change is but one aspect of a much broader planetary crisis: it is not the prime, cause of dislocation, but rather a cognate phenomenon. In this sense climate change, mass dislocations, pollution, environmental degradation, political breakdown, and the Covid-19 pandemic are all cognate effects of the ever increasing acceleration of the last three decades. Not only are all these crises interlinked–they are all deeply routed in history, and they are all ultimately driven by the dynamics of global power.

Just as the Lakota, repeatedly displaced by wars and the rising of dammed waters, were herded into ever shrinking reservations, so too are the refugees of today’s geopolitical wars being forced into zones of containment in North Africa, the Sahara, Mexico, Central America, and islands like Nauru. They too are casualties in a conflict that is not recognizable as war, in the sense defined by Western legal theorists. Yet the parallels with the biopolitical wars of the past are perfectly clear to many indigenous peoples–thus the title of Nick Este’s powerful account of the environmental struggles of the Lakota and their kin Our History is the Future.

Since the adoption in 1989 of the Washington Consensus, the ideologies and practices of settler colonialism have been actively promoted, in their neoliberal guise, by the world’s most powerful countries, and have come to be almost universally adopted by national and global elites. It is those settler-colonial practices that are now being implemented by China, in Xinjiang; by Indonesia in Papua; and by India,in Kashmir and in many of its foreign regions.

And surely it is no accident that today there exists a technology of last resort that many believe will ultimately work in favor of the neo-Europes: geo-engineering. As novel as it may seem, geoengineering is nothing other than terraforming carried literally into the stratosphere; it should by rights be called “strato-forming”. Today some of the richest and most powerful people, and institutions, in the West are openly promoting geo-engineering. Their enthusiasm makes it impossible to forget that “from the mid-eighteenth century onward, modern science explicitly supported empire, defining strategies for colonization.”

This is the great burden that now rests upon the writers, artists, filmmakers, and everyone else who is involved in the telling of stories: to us falls the task of imaginatively restoring agency and voice to non humans. As with all the most important artistic endeavors in human history, this is a task that is at once aesthetic and political–and because of the magnitude of the crisis that besets the planet, it is now freighted with the most pressing moral urgency.

Pope Francis; “A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach, it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Shattering the Mythical basis of Anthropology and Archeology – Imagining Alternate Futures and Recovering our Freedom

Tuesday, February 8th, 2022

The Dawn of Everything; A New History of Humanity, David Graeber & David Wengrow, 2021

Father Lallemant:”From the beginning of the world to the coming of the French, the Savages have never known what it was so solemnly to forbid anything to their people, under any penalty, however slight. They are free people, each of whom considers himself of as much consequence as the others; and they submit to their chiefs only in as far as it pleases them.”

The democratic governance of the Wendat and Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee, which so impressed later European readers, was an expression of the same principal; if no compulsion was allowed, then obviously such social coherence as did exist had to be created through reasoned debate, persuasive arguments, and the establishment of social consensus.

An impoverished French aristocrat known as Lahonstan recorded his conversions with a Wendat statesman named Kandiaronk; “In short, they neither quarrel, nor fight, nor slander one another…They brand us for slaves, and call us miserable souls, whose life is not worth having, alleging that we degrade ourselves in subjecting ourselves to one man [the king] who possesses all the power, and is bound by no law but his own will.”

If human beings, through most of our history, have moved back and forth fluidly between different social arrangements, assembling and dismantling hierarchies on a regular basis, maybe the real question should be ‘how did we get stuck?’. How did we end up on one single mode? How did we lose that political self-consciousness, once so typical of our species? How did we come to treat eminence and subservience not as temporary expedients, or even the pomp and circumstance of some kind of grand seasonal theatre, but as inescapable elements of the human condition? If we started out just playing games, at what point did we forget that we were playing?

As indigenous legal scholars have been pointing out for years, the ‘Agriculture Argument’ makes no sense, even on its own terms. There are many ways, other than European style farming, in which to care for and improve the productivity of land. What to a settler’s eye seemed savage, untouched wilderness usually turns out to be landscapes actively managed by indigenous populations for thousands of years through controlled burning, weeding, coppicing, fertilizing and pruning, terracing estuarine plots to extend the habitat of particular wild flora, building clam gardens in intertidal zones to enhance the reproduction of shellfish, creating weirs to catch salmon, bass, and sturgeon, and so on. Such procedures were often labour intensive, and regulated by indigenous laws governing who could access groves, swamps, root beds, grasslands and fishing grounds, and who was entitled to exploit what species at any given time of year.

In fact land ownership illustrates perfectly what Rudolf von Ihering called the state’s monopoly of violence within a territory — just within a much smaller territory than a nation state.

Just as access to violence, information, and charisma defines the very possibilities of social domination, so the modern state is defined as a combination of sovereignty, bureaucracy and a competitive political field.

…in all parts of the world small communities formed civilizations in that true sense of extended moral communities. Without permanent kings, bureaucrats or standing armies they fostered the growth of mathematical and calendrical knowledge. In some regions they pioneered metallurgy, the cultivation of olives, vines and date palms, or the invention of leavened bread and wheat beer; in others they domesticated maize and learned to extract poisons, medicines and mind-altering substances from plants. Civilization, in this true sense, developed the major textile technologies applied to fabrics and basketry, the potter’s wheel, stone industries and beadwork, the sail and maritime navigation, and so on. A moments reflection shows that women, their work, their concerns and innovations are at the core of this more accurate understanding of civilization.

It was precisely this combination of such conflicting ideological possibilities — and of course, the Iroquoian penchant for prolonged political argument — that lay behind what we have called the indigenous critique of European society. It would be impossible to understand the origins of its particular emphasis on individual liberty, for instance, outside that context. Those ideas about liberty had a profound impact on the world. In other words, not only did indigenous North Americans manage almost entirely to sidestep the evolutionary trap that we assume must always lead, eventually, from agriculture to the rise of some all-powerful state or empire; but in doing so they developed political sensibilities that were ultimately to have a deep influence on Enlightenment thinkers and, through them, are still with us today.

We started out by observing that to inquire after the origins of inequality necessarily means creating a myth, a fall from grace, a technological transposition of the first chapters of the Book of Genesis — which, in most contemporary versions, takes the form of a mythical narrative stripped of any prospect of redemption. In these accounts, the best we humans can hope for is some modest tinkering with our inherently squalid condition — and hopefully, dramatic action to prevent any looming, absolute disaster. The only other theory on offer to date has been to assume that there were no origins of inequality, because humans are naturally somewhat thuggish creatures and our beginnings were a miserable, violent affair; in which case ‘progress’ or ‘civilization’ — driven forward largely, by our own selfish and competitive nature — was itself redemptive. This view is extremely popular among billionaires but holds little appeal to any else, including scientists, who are keenly aware that it isn’t in accord with the facts…The more rosy, optimistic narrative — whereby the progress of Western civilization inevitably makes everyone happier, wealthier and more secure — has at least one obvious disadvantage. It fails to explain why that civilization did not simply spread of its own accord; that is, why European powers should have been obliged to spend the last 500 or so years aiming guns at people’s heads in order to force them to adopt it.

…innovation in Neolithic societies was based on a collective body of knowledge accumulated over centuries, largely by women, in an endless series of apparently humble but in fact enormously significant discoveries. Many of those Neolithic discoveries had the cumulative effect of reshaping everyday life every bit as profoundly as the automatic loom or lightbulb.

Over the course of these chapters we have instead talked about the basic forms of social liberty which one might actually put into practice; (1) the freedom to move away or relocate from one’s surroundings; (2) the freedom to ignore or disobey commands issued by others; and (3) the freedom to shape entirely new social realities, or shift back and forth between different ones…It is clear that something about human societies really has changed here, and quite profoundly. These three basic freedoms have gradually receded, to the point where a majority of people living today can hardly comprehend what it might be like to live in a social order based on them.

There is nothing particularly primordial about such arrangements (murder of entire populations); certainly there is no reason to believe they are in any sense hardwired into the human psyche. On the contrary, it’s almost invariably necessary to employ some combination of ritual, drugs and psychological techniques to convince people, even adolescent males, to kill and injure each other in such systematic yet indiscriminate ways.

Time and again we found ourselves confronted with writing which simply assumes that the larger and more densely populated the social group, the more complex the system needed to keep it organized. Complexity in turn, is still often used as a euphemism for chains of command, which means that as soon as large numbers of people decided to live in one place or join a common project they must necessarily abandon the second freedom — to refuse orders–and replace it with legal mechanisms for, say, beating or locking up those who don’t do as they’re told. As we’ve seen, none of these assumptions are theoretically essential, and history tends not to bear them out…complex systems don’t have to be organized top-down, either in the natural world or in the social world.

What is the purpose of all this new knowledge, if not to reshape our conceptions of who we are and what we might become? if not, in other words, to rediscover the meaning of our third basic freedom: the freedom to create new and different forms of social reality?…We know, now, that we are in the presence of myths.

Pax Britannica, Pax Americana, Pax Zhōngguó, The Last World Empire?

Friday, January 28th, 2022

To Govern the Globe, World Orders & Catastrophic Change, Alfred W. McCoy, 2021

Indeed, the Iberian (Spain and Portugal) vision of expansive sovereignty — acquisition of terrain by conquest and oceans by exploration — would continue under Dutch and British hegemony, illustrating the capacity of these global systems to survive the empires that created them…Thanks to the British and Dutch decisions to strip their colonial subjects of civil liberties and carry the transatlantic slave trade to new heights, the Iberian hierarchy of human inequality would, in all its cruelty and tragedy continue.

In the years following the (Dutch) East India Company’s founding in 1602, the city’s (Amsterdam) dynamism led to a host of financial innovations that soon made it… “the clearinghouse of world trade”. The new Bank of Amsterdam took deposits, transferred funds trans nationally and later stored vast quantities of precious metals in its vaults, helping make the city “Europe’s reservoir of gold and silver coin.” The Chamber of Maritime Insurance offered coverage for dozens of dangerous destinations, while the newspaper Amterdamsche Courant gave the city’s merchants critical information about the prices of goods arriving from those distant shores. Amsterdam also built the world’s first stock exchange, where up to five thousand met to trade more than four hundred commodities around a central courtyard that became “the nerve center of the entire international economy.”

William III Mary II

William’s (of Orange) reign also witnessed a modernization of the British economy along Dutch lines, exemplified by the founding of the Bank of England, the London Stock Exchange, and a profusion of private banks, insurance companies, and joint stock firms.

Coal was the catalyst for an industrial revolution that fused steam technology with steel production to make Britain master of the world’s oceans

Each step in slavery’s eradication was foreshadowed by a new stage in Britain’s use of coal-fired energy–including the introduction of steam power in mills and mines by the time Parliament banned the slave trade in 1807; the development of mobile steam engines for land and sea transport prior to the Later, abolition of West Indies slavery in 1833; and the adoption of coal powered steam power in almost all British industries by the 1850’s, when the Royal Navy’s anti-slavery patrols reached their coercive climax. Later, new forms of fossil energy — electricity and internal combustion engines — would render even the coerced labor of the imperial age redundant.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius would publish the first report on the capacity of industrial emission to cause global warming. By countless hours of painstaking manual calculations, he predicted with uncanny prescience and considerable precision “the temperature in the arctic regions would rise about 8 degrees to 9 degrees C., if the [carbon dioxide] increased 2.5 or 3 times its present value.”

Britain was the world’s preeminent power for more than a century, but its dominance nevertheless evolved through two distinct phases. From 1815 to 1880 it largely oversaw an “informal empire” with a loose hegemony over client states worldwide. In the period of “high imperialism” from 1880 to 1940, however the empire combined informal controls in countries like China, Egypt, and Iran with direct rule over colonies in Africa and Asia to encompass a full half of all humanity.

Parliament rescinded mercantilist laws that had protected British commerce for centuries, starting with the abolition of the (British) East India Company’s monopolies on Asian trade.

British engineers built the world’s first major central power plant at Deptford, London in 1888, capable of lighting two million electric bulbs. As electrical plants spread quickly, their generators were powered by the first coal-fired steam turbines…tying a knot between coal and electricity that persists to this day.

By century’s end (19th), discoveries (Iran, Indonesia, Burma) had created a sufficient supply of oil to enable a shift from steam to internal combustion engines in ships, trains, automobiles, and ultimately, aircraft.

Eleanor Roosevelt Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In fulfilling this commitment to human rights (The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948), the United States would face some exceptional challenges. Unlike earlier imperial powers, it was, after all, a former colony with a long history of slavery and a succeeding system of racial segregation that would compromise its commitment to those principle at home. As its global power grew during these postwar decades, Washington would cultivate anti-Communist allies among authoritarian leaders in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, tacitly endorsing torture and repression in their lands. Even as the US practiced racial segregation at home and backed ruthless dictators abroad, civil society groups worldwide would continue to fight for human rights, just as African Americans would struggle for their civil rights at home, making this universal principal a defining attribute of Washington’s world order, almost in spite of itself.

By the time Washington’s world order was fully formed in the late 1950’s, the unequal power of its nuclear-armed bombers, its countless overseas military bases, and its covert interventions in the affairs of countless nations coexisted tensely with a new world order, epitomized by the UN, that was meant to protect the sovereignty of even small states and promote universal human rights. This underlying duality of Washington’s version of world power would manifest itself in numerous contradictions during its 70 years of global hegemony.

Washington’s visionary world order took form at two major conferences — at Breton Woods, New Hampshire, 1944 where 44 Allied nations forged an international financial system exemplified by the World Bank, and at San Francisco in 1945, where they drafted a charter for the UN that created a community of nations. The old order of competing empires, closed imperial trade blocs, and secret alliances would soon give way to an international community of emancipated colonies, sovereign nations, free trade, and peace through law. In essence, the UN charter’s many clauses rested on just two foundational principles that would soon become synonymous with Washington’s world order; inviolable national sovereignty and universal human rights.

Between 1945 and 2000, the US intervened in 81 consequential elections worldwide, including eight times in Italy, five in Japan, and many more in Latin America. Between 1958 and 1975, military coups, many of them American sponsored, changed governments in three dozen nations — a quarter of the world’s sovereign states — fostering a distinct “reverse wave” in the global trend toward democracy.

George Kennan supported covert operations

George Kennan, State Department official later called the creation of the CIA with authorization to conduct covert operations “The greatest mistake [he] ever made.

President Truman tried to limit the newly created CIA to intelligence gathering only with no authorization for covert activities. Allen Dulles maneuvered Frank Wisner into position as OPC Chief and by 1952 OPC was operating 47 overseas stations and employed 3000 people. It specialized in the black arts of espionage sabotage, subversion, and assassination. When Eisenhower became president in 1953, Kermit Roosevelt led the overthrow of the elected President of Iran and installation of the Shaw.

Throughout its rise to world power from 1820 to 1870, Britain increase its share of gross world product by just 1 percent per decade, while America’s rose by 2 percent during its accent from 1900 to 1950. By contrast, China was increasing its slice of the world pie at an extraordinary pace of 5 percent from 2000 to 2020.

…the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers calculated that China’s economic output had already surpassed America’s in 2014 and was on a trajectory to become 40 percent larger by 2030.

Across Europe, hypernationalist parties like the French National Front, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Alternative for Germany, and the British Independence Party won voters by cultivating nativist reactions to just such trends, often attacking the economic globalization that had become a hallmark of Washington’s world order. Simultaneously, a generation of populist demagogues won power in nominally democratic nations around the world — notably Viktor Orban in Hungary, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Narendra Modi in India, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and of course, Donald Trump in the United States.

While a weakening of Washington’s global reach seems likely, the future of its world order is still unclear. At present, China is the sole state to have most (but not all) of the requisites to become a new global hegemon. Its economic rise coupled with its expanding military and growing technological prowess under the “Made in China 2025” program, has given it many of the elements fundamental to superpower status…Yet, as the 2020s began, no state seemed to have both the full panoply of power to supplant Washington’s world order and the skill to establish global hegemony. Indeed, apart from its rising economic and military clout, China has a self referential culture, recondite non roman script (requiring 4000 characters instead of 26 letters), nondemocratic political structures, and a subordinate legal system that will deny it some of the chief instruments for global leadership.

Successful imperial transitions driven by the hard power of guns and money also require the soft power salve of cultural suasion if they are to achieve sustained and successful global domination. During its near century of hegemony from 1850 to 1940, Britain was the exemplar par excellence of soft power, espousing an enticing political culture of fair play and free markets that it propagated through the Anglican church, the English language and its literature, mass media such as the British Broadcasting Corporation, and it virtual creation of modern athletics (including cricket, soccer, tennis, rugby, and rowing). Similarly, US military and economic domination after 1945 was made more palatable by the appeal of Hollywood films, civic organizations like Rotary international, and popular sports like basketball and baseball. On the higher plane of principle, Britain’s anti-slavery campaign invested its global hegemony with moral authority, just as Washington’s advocacy of human rights lent legitimacy to its world order…China still has nothing comparable. Both its communist ideology and its popular culture are avowedly particularistic.

China has been a command economy state for much of the past century, and as such has developed neither the legal culture of an independent judiciary nor an autonomous rules-based order complementary with the web of law that undergirds the modern international system.

Xi Jiping – Zhōngguó (China) is translated as Middle Kingdom

If, however, Bejing’s potentially immense infrastructure investments, history’s largest by far, succeed in unifying the commerce of three continents, then the currents of financial power and global leadership may indeed flow, as if by natural law, toward Beijing. But if that bold project falters or ultimately fails, then for the first time in five centuries, the world could face an imperial transition without a clear successor as global hegemon.

From scientific evidence, it seems clear that, for the first time in seven hundred years, humanity is facing another cumulative, century long catastrophe akin to the Black Death of 1350 to 1450 that could once again rupture a global order and set the world in motion…If the “Chinese century” does indeed start around 2030, it is unlikely to last long, ending perhaps sometime around 2050 when the impact of global warning becomes unmanageable. With its main financial center at Shanghai flooded and its agricultural heartland baking in insufferable heat, China’s days as a global power will be numbered.

Given that Washington’s world system and Beijing’s emerging alternative are largely failing to limit carbon emissions, the international community will likely need a new form of collaboration to contain the damage. In the years following the Paris climate accord, the current world system — characterized by strong nation-states and weak global governance at the UN — has proven inadequate to the challenge of climate change. The 2019 Madrid climate summit failed to forge a collective agreement for emission reduction sufficient to cap global warming to 1.5C, largely due to the obstruction of major emitters like Australia, Brazil, China, India, and the United States. Any world order, whether Washington’s or Beijing’s that is based on primacy of the nation-state will probably prove incapable of coping with the political and economic crisis likely to arise from the appearance of some 275 million climate refuges by 2060 or 2070.

The Laws of War: Nuremberg Trials, Vietnam, 9/11, Obama

Saturday, November 27th, 2021

Humane; How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War, Samuel Moyn, 2021


<> <> <> Quincy Wright in 1933 and 1941:

“The pax Britannia had given Europe the best two centuries it has had — at least since the pax Romana a millennium and a half earlier.” It was a long established fact: empires brought peace, too. “The excessively brutal civil and imperial wars which characterized the last century of the Roman Republic were followed by such a will to peace that most of the western world submitted to the Pax Romana of Augustus and his successors for two centuries.” (Quincy) Wright mused. Could the twentieth century offer something similar, he wondered, without requiring the humiliating subjugation of vassals and ceaseless violence at the savage frontiers of empire? Could a world organization under international law keep aggressors from bringing ruin to liberal democracies at peace? Would peace come,if it did, under the auspices of another empire or in some unprecedented guise?

One of Wright’s first publications explained how it ought to be plausible under international law to hold (Kaiser) Wilhelm II accountable for his biggest crime, which was starting a war, with all the catastrophes to which that decision led…Most of the early public uses of the phrase “crimes against humanity”, now associated with grave atrocities during war, allocated responsibility for war itself…It became popular in 1918-1919 to call war itself, rather than its attendant cruelties, a “crime against humanity”. (The Kaiser fled to the Netherlands, which refused to extradite the queen’s “Uncle Willie”.)

Home from Nuremberg, Wright definitely agreed it had been a good thing to rank aggression the premier evil. In effect, it was an auspicious sign for a federation to come that there was so much agreement to try individuals for war after the fact — as the Allies did in Tokyo for Japanese perpetrator, too. “Sanctions, to be effective must operate on individuals rather than states,” Wright explained. “International law cannot survive in the shrinking world, threatened by military instruments of increasing destructiveness, if sanctioned only by the good faith and self-help of governments.”

But at Nuremberg and Tokyo, the charge (“crimes against humanity”) was only allowed in connection the the primary infraction of aggressive war, which Americans were sure they did not fight (despite Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki). As for aerial bombardment , all powers conducted it, and no one was punished.

…It was the Nuremberg Trial veteran Telford Taylor ( Counsel for the Prosecution) who went where Falk did not, and he framed the case against the Vietnam War exclusively in terms of war crimes…If one had to choose a single cultural document that marked the beginning of the coming of humane war in our time, Taylor’s bestselling and widely reviewed Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy, which appeared in late 1970, is undoubtedly it. At the same time, Taylor epitomized how, after My Lai, atrocities became the index of consensus–belatedly mainstream–that the war had to end.

…after receiving the pentagon Papers from the dissident defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg, (Neil) Sheehan was preparing to publish them. His grave and wide-ranging New York Times Book Review essay on whether to hold war crimes tribunals for Americans normalized talk of national guilt. “Do you have to be a Hitlerian to be a war criminal?” Sheehan asked. “Or can you qualify as a well-intensioned President of the United States?”


Dick Cavett Show 1971

…(Telford) Taylor stated clearly on The Dick Cavett Show (Jan 8, 1971) that (General William) Westmoreland was liable for war crimes, and then he went further adding that, while he reserved judgement on such a tricky question, (President Lyndon) Johnson might be, too.

From the ashes of Hanoi and the darkness of My Lai, the possibility of humane war would come into view.

Forget talk of war crimes prosecution. Let’s just strive to make war more humane. The leaders and decision makers of Pax Americana cannot be held legally responsible for their past actions. Then came the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the lessons of Vietnam were lost to history. After George W Bush started wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, revelations of torture and abuse threatened a serious return of antiwar movements. Interestingly Seymour Hersh broke both the Mai Lai massacre story and the Abu Ghraib prison abuse story.


<> <> <> <> <> <> Benjamin confronts Obama

After Obama’s election support for antiwar politics cratered. (Medea) Benjamin promptly put her energies into finding new support for the cause of peace by attacking Obama’s drone empire. “Unless we shine a light on it,” she told one reporter of his done mania, “we’re going to turn around a say, “How’s we get involved in all these wars without knowing about it?”.

Within two days of his inauguration, Obama signed executive orders to ban torture and rescind all Bush-era legal directives governing the treatment of prisoners…Few noticed Obama’s own first done strike, which took place that same third day of his administration…But the deepest and enduring reality of Obama’s first phase in office was that by making other moves, he was engineering an unprecedented new era of global engagement that would blur the lines between war and policing. What had once been brutal, albeit with beginnings and conclusions, was becoming humane — but never ending.

Obama turned to armed drones more times in his first year alone than Bush had in the entirety of his presidency. Almost from the start, Obama’s policy called for engaging in targeted killing with gusto, not only by drone but also with the Special Forces or standoff missiles sent from long distances. And as Obama re-created a war less bounded in space and let it bleed in time, his lawyers formalized the system…target killings transformed the war on terror so that it stretched across a widening arc of the earth. Soon it was to be advertised as a humane enterprise, conducted with concern for the innocent in harm’s way.

By the end of Obama’s time in office, no-footprint drones had struck almost ten times more than under his predecessor’s watch, with many thousands dead. The air force now trained more drone operators than aircraft pilots, and the architecture of drone activity had been extended deep into the African continent, not merely across the Middle East and South Asia. The same trend line followed the deployment of the light-footprint Special Forces, which operated in or moved through 138 nations…Actual fighting took place in at least thirteen, and targeted killing in some of those…If no one was captured, no one could be mistreated…As the Obama administration continued, the abuses to the laws prohibiting force accumulated almost without counterexample.

“The United States takes the legal position that–in accordance with international law–we have the authority to take action against al-Quaeda and its associated forces without doing a separate self-defense analysis each time”, (John) Brennan remarked in his 2011 speech, flashing an astonishing license to kill. In the spirit of the March 2009 brief, what began as a rationale for detention off hot battlefields became a justification for killing. Many of the individuals and groups in question had never struck at the United States, and the threat they posed was debatable. They died anyway.

For another take on Drones see High Tech Assassins

For the year starting in the Summer of 2011, the drone program began to receive more intense scrutiny in the press. The Obama administration would lift secrecy partially and strategically over the period that followed. By doing so, it normalized targeted killing–not hard to do given the enthusiasm for the death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, in a dramatic commando raid. At the same time it set out to demonstratively minimize collateral harm.

Seymour Hersh reported on the actual events surrounding the killing of Osama Bin Laden in 2016.

Obama offered something part way down a continuum between war and policing. Why not go all the way, these critics (Philip Alston) reasoned? If war was going to occur off battlefields and without time limit, so the impulse went, it really ought to resemble the permanent institution of policing with its far more stringent rules on killing, only on a global scale.

(Medea) Benjamin intuited that drones without footprints were a sequel to the heavy-footprint wars of the Bush years. The technology was chosen for its difficulty to monitor but also its allegedly more humane precision. But she insisted that diplomacy was a better alternative to all forms of war: “I think it’s time to really reflect on the paths not chosen and those paths not chosen include policing instead of military focus…And focusing on the muscle that has been so deteriorated in the last ten years and that’s diplomacy.”

Trump was to continue the Obama assassination program and dangerously escalate it when on Jan 3, 2020 he ordered the drone killing of popular active Iranian general Quassim Soleimani as his motorcade traveled to Baghdad, Iraq.


Leo Tolstoy and Gandhi

In his concern that advocates for more humane war could help make it endless for a public that tolerates it, Leo Tolstoy fixated on corporal wrongs and physical violence. Advocacy aimed at humane war, he contended, was no more ethically plausible than agitation for humane slavery, with daily episodes of torture replaced by everlasting–but kind and gentle–direction of labor and service. Audiences who accept endless war out of the belief that its humanity excuses them, the truculent moralist inveighed, were fooling themselves. They were no better than those who rest content with more humane techniques of animal slaughter, leaving them to carve their steaks and fricassee their chickens with eager gusto in good conscience.

From The Nuremberg Trials to State Sponsored Extrajudicial Assassination

Tuesday, November 9th, 2021

Kill Chain; The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins, Andrew Cockburn, 2015

Daniel Reisner, former head of the IDF’s Legal Department:

“If you do something for long enough the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries…International law progresses through violations. We invented the targeted assassinations thesis and we had to push it. [Now] it is the center of the bounds of legality.”

A former senior White House counterterrorism official:

“The idea had its origins in the drug war. So that the precedent was already in the system as a shaper of our thinking…In addition, the success of the Israeli targeted-killing strategy was a major influence on us, particularly in the Agency (CIA) and in Special Ops. We had a high degree of confidence in the utility of targeted killing. There was a strong sense that this was a tool to be used.”

The Predator drone was only made feasible after the Internet and the 24 GPS satellites were available in 1993. The Predator was first fitted with a Hellfire missile in 1994. “Given that 168 support staffers were required to keep one predator 24-hour Combat Air Patrol in the air, this was clearly an expensive undertaking.” The drone program allowed live video connections to the entire military chain of command up to and including the President. Each could be directly involved in the remote action of an attack for the first time in history. They could make real time remote kill decisions based on dubious quality video images.

President Obama as Assassin

Two years into the (Obama) administration, everyone in the Ritz_carton ballroom knew that the bulky Irishman (John Brennan) was the most powerful man in U.S. intelligence as the custodian of the president’s kill list, on which the chief executive and former constitutional law professor insisted on reserving the last word, making his final selections for execution at regularly scheduled Tuesday afternoon meetings. “You know our president has his brutal side” a CIA source cognizant of Obama’s involvement observed at the time.

The 542 drone strikes that Obama authorized killed an estimated 3,797 people, including 324 civilians. As he reportedly told senior aides in 2011: “Turns out I’m really good at killing people. Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.”

On May 2, 2011 a team of navy SEALs killed Osama Bin Laden upon the orders of Obama. President Obama, breaking his agreement with Pakistan, immediately announced the assassination in support of his reelection campaign.


<> <> <> Daniel Hale

The NSA features heavily in this book and whistleblower Edward Snowden is included but whistleblower Daniel Hale whose leaked documents paint a far bleaker picture of the number of innocent casualties from drone strikes is not. Daniel Hale is serving a 45 month sentence for his trouble. See Snowden, Cell Phone Privacy, and Targeted Assassinations.

As originally written, President Dwight Eisenhower’s epochal-1961 farewell address had warned of the “military-industrial-congressional complex” and its “economic, political, and even spiritual” influence at every level of government.

Much of this book deals with the ever rising defense budget that even the fall of the Soviet Union couldn’t stop. The book deals with inter-service rivalries continuing to today, the competition for funding, the crazy high tech ideas that will never work, the total lack of accountability for failure, the failure to even admit failure, the corruption, the waste, the undermining of democracy, the use of classification to bury unwanted information, etc. Pretty bleak reading.

Deep Medicine – Wellness in a very complex universe and web of life

Friday, November 5th, 2021

Inflamed; Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice, Rupa Marya & Raj Patel, 2021

Truly holistic health must contend with the elements that continue to make people unwell, locating the disease-causing entities in social structures and the grave misunderstandings that created them. Systems that position humans as supreme over the entire web of life, settler over Indigenous, a singular religion over all other-world views, male over female and nonbinary understandings of gender, white over every other shade of skin — these must be dismantled and composted. We must reimagine our wellness collectively, not simply as individuals or communities but in relation to all the entities that support the possibility of healthy lives. These relaionships, precisely because they are vital for health, are worthy of our care.
The problem is when inclusion becomes enclosure — when the radically transformative projects, theories, and futures led by Indigenous and poor people are sterilized by liberalism, and when the language and other signifiers of revolution are co-opted and incorporated into some giant soup of civil rights struggles…For those living in settler societies, the work of being in solidarity specifically with Indigenous-led movements is particularly critical. The collapse of ecological, social, and bodily health is an outcome of over six hundred years of cosmological warfare.
Forging new forms of solidarity is not easy. It requires abandoning colonial ties and creating new relations with other fugitives. Reconnecting relations that colonialism sundered is simultaneously a personal and political project. Colonialism reproduces itself through a hegemony that has been widely internalized. Transcending it won’t require just therapy, or antiracist book clubs, or some individual process of self-scrutiny. It will involve a collective journey to new forms of exchange and relations.


Yosemite Valley and Falls

The romance of the wilderness (the National Parks) was created through the erasure of the people who knew how to live sustainably in a specific place, often for thousands of years…Removing this taint (native inhabitants) on the landscape would have severe consequences not only for the people but for the entire ecosystem: the invention of the pristine wilderness inaugurated an era of catastrophic forest fires.

Inflammation is triggered when tissues and cells are damaged or threatened with damage. A complex and intricately coordinated response of the immune system, inflammation mobilizes resources to ultimately heal what has been injured. In a healthy, balanced system, once the mending has occurred, inflammation subsides. When the damage keeps coming, the repair cannot fully happen, leaving the inflammatory response running. A system of healing then turns into one that creates more harm.
As we explore inflammation in this book, we will sometime use the language of the body in analogy. So salmon are to rivers as hearts are to blood vessels. They both function as nutrient pumps in systems of circulation. We sometimes proceed by simile; dams are like vascular obstructions. We are not above metaphor. Trade routes for example, are colonialism’s arteries, moving people, capital goods, and diseases around the world system, and connecting bodies, societies, geographies, and ecologies. The metaphor helps us to show that inflammation is systemic and that the systems are linked. But we aren’t making a literary arguments so much as a medical one. The inflammation in your arteries and the inflammation of the planet are linked, and the causal connections are becoming increasingly clear; your physiological state is a reaction to social and environmental factors. Racial violence, economic precarity, industrial pollution, poor diet, and even the water you drink can inflame you.

The stories of interference in the ancient relationships between land, water, humans, and salmon demonstrates how interconnected these all are and how technological arrogance can crate downstream problems when we work to outsmart the ecologies we belong to. A disruption in one part of the web of life, within a few short decades, ends up eroding the vitality of the whole system. But the good news is that ecologically guided reparation starting at one point of the web can bring vitality back to the whole…And that ecological restoration must start with the people who were integrated into the ecology before colonialism, and who are still here working on these solutions.

The (Covid) pandemic revealed in stark terms the reality of how environmental and social injustice affects health, and also the deeper truth that under a colonial cosmology, many humans have been made disposable.

Unfortunately, we are rushing headlong into a crisis of colonial capitalism in which pollution deaths soar, driven by a climate crisis, like the Covid pandemic, in which a few profit greatly while billions suffer…Absent a serious diagnosis of the climate crisis and its impact on the exposome and our bodies, medicine will continue to treat the symptoms but will miss the opportunity for a cure.

Learning to listen must be the work of settlers on colonized land, of modern societies that treat the Earth as a thing to be exploited, and of health care workers, as we increasingly encounter existential threats from forest fires, pandemics, catastrophic floods, and global warming–all signs that we are critically out of balance.

Through his investments, (Bill) Gates owns 97,933 hectares (242,000 acres) of arable land, making him the largest farmland owner and occupant of stolen territory in the United States.

After the Bolivian coup to assure US extractive rights to lithium needed for his electric cars, Elon Musk tweated: “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”

Colonial capitalism suppresses the equitable distribution of resources, expending great energy–through extraction, border construction, incarceration, and the creation of supremacist cosmologies and institutions–to maintain a structure that prioritizes individuals over communities. Without the networking-capacity benefits of communities, society under colonial capitalism is more vulnerable to the shocks and failures of systems within systems, which we see with pandemics, raging wildfires, and stock market volatility.

Normally, pro-inflammatory activity is self limited, turning off once homeostasis is achieved. Sustained activation means that an inflammatory stimulus is chronic or the response simply fails to stop. When it continues unabated, it produces the inflammation that is a hallmark of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

The planet, our own bodies, and our consciousness are wired for the care of others. But capitalist economic and social systems teach us to restrict the set of beings whom we’re prepared to recognize as people, and to suppress the urge to care, unless money might be made from it. They misdirect our attention and obfuscate our capacity to recognize one another, and the care we need.
Humans have broken the world. The air that renders neurological disease more likely has to be cleaned. Industrial agriculture has massively degraded the land, and it will take a profound shift in priorities to reverse the killing of the flora, fauna, and fungi beneath our feet. In the United States, as elsewhere in the world, waterways are being polluted by agriculture and fossil fuels, and the defenders of that water are being attacked.

Unlearning capitalist cosmology cannot be done alone, as a project of individual therapy. It is not about an individual decision to “be kind” or to “be antiracist.” Rather it’s about the solidarity of political communities, of networks of people, engaged in systemic change. A decolonial idea of care extends not just to other humans but to all relations in the web of life.


Water Protectors at Standing Rock

When I (Rupa) went to Standing Rock, I saw a glimpse of another way of being in community, which allowed us to reconnect to that pluripotency that has been broken by colonialism…It was as if time were standing still and we were back in the era of colonial conquest. I had already known this conceptually, but it was there that I really understood in every cell of my body that colonialism is an ongoing project that reproduces itself across generations. It never stopped. For the system to continue, its power relations must be re-created every day, and that re-creation occurs because individuals are coerced, voluntarily agree, or simply cannot imagine how not to participate in the rules set out before us.

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

<> <> <> <> <> <>

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.

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.