Monday, December 22, 2014

Goosebumps: A Scary Sony Story

Can we bring the discussion of the Sony hack back to earth?

It’s a hack.

Somebody hacked into the Sony Pictures Entertainment computer network in Hollywood, and released to the public a treasure trove of confidential information. Everything from embarrassing emails to forthcoming movie scripts was dumped out in public. This is an embarrassment for an international (Japanese-American) media corporation and a bunch of celebrities. It may be a violation of intellectual property rights, and personal privacy rights, and common courtesy. It may be condemnable on any of those grounds. But it is not “terrorism” or “cyberwar.” It’s a hack.

It is, furthermore, a rather ordinary and foreseeable kind of hack, despite the Sony cybersecurity guy’s insistence that: "This attack is unprecedented in nature. …an unparalleled and well planned crime, carried out by an organized group, for which neither [Sony Pictures Entertainment] nor other companies could have been fully prepared,"[1]  To which one security expert, known as "The Grugq," says: “Bullshit.” Malware for such attacks can be purchased on the Internet.  A similar attack struck 30,000 computers at Aramco in Saudi Arabia and at banks and media companies in South Korea. 

In fact, Sony itself had been hacked in 2011, forced to shut down its Online Entertainment and PlayStation Networks for weeks.[2]  In a previous security audit, Jason Spaltro, Sony’s Executive Director of Information Security, was warned about the company’s cyber vulnerabilities, with an emphasis on its lax password practices (simple nouns, passed around in plaintext documents), with the blunt admonition: “If you were a bank, you’d be out of business.” To which Spaltro replied: “If a bank was a Hollywood studio, it would be out of business.”

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Ripley Was Right: Ebola, Science, and the Precautionary Principle

In my previous post on the Ebola outbreak, I focused on how the treatment of Ebola patients highlights the shortcomings of private healthcare in the US, and the need for a comprehensive public system.  I also mentioned that American media coverage has been limited, as we might expect, to a spectrum running from Republican/Fox fear-mongering to Democratic/MSNBC ass-covering. I avoided, and had formed no opinion about, the question of how dangerous this strain of Ebola is, or of any question about what preventive measures are called for.

Since that post, the subsequent brouhahas about who should and shouldn’t be quarantined have only exacerbated the ridiculous media paradigm in which what’s really at stake in Ebola is Obama’s presidential reputation or Chris Christie’s presidential prospects or which party will win the mid-term elections. At the same time, a lot of evidence has become available regarding the lethality and transmissibility of the Ebola strain we are dealing with. In this post, I want to look at some of that evidence, teasing out the issues of scientific knowledge and ethico-political authority that are raised by the Ebola crisis, and which are confused by the impulse to read them through the lens of American liberal/conservative categories, with which they have nothing to do.


How lethal and how transmissible is the current (Zaire) strain of the Ebola virus?

Here’s a two-minute clip of Dr. Michael Osterholm, head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, speaking at Johns Hopkins:

(2 minutes)

And here’s Peter Jahrling, chief scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who’s been studying hemorrhagic fevers for 25 years, and helped discover the Reston strain of Ebola, in an interview with Vox:
We are using tests now that [we] weren't using in the past, but there seems to be a belief that the virus load is higher in these patients [today] than what we have seen before. If true, that's a very different bug. …
JB (Vox): A higher viral load means this Ebola virus can spread faster and further? 
PJ: Yes. I have a field team in Monrovia. They are running [tests]. They are telling me that viral loads are coming up very quickly and really high, higher than they are used to seeing.
As Vox points out (using statistics that have already been surpassed), the current Ebola outbreak is “remarkable” because “the virus has spread to six countries in Africa plus America, and has already infected more than 13,000 people. It has killed nearly 5,000 people. That is more than six times the sum total of all previous outbreaks combined.” It has a 50-70% mortality rate.

In short, unprecedented lethality:

A Joke In November

On the way home from his successful fund-raising meeting, a powerful US Senator drives his car into a tree and dies. His soul arrives at the Pearly Gates, and is met by St. Peter. 

"Welcome to heaven," says St. Peter. "Before you settle in, we have a special protocol for a person of your stature, to make sure that you are given appropriate accommodations.“

"No problem, says the Senator. “Just let me in and we’ll work it out."

"Actually,” St. Pete says, “our process requires that you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity."

"Not necessary. No need to waste my time. I've made up my mind. I want to be in heaven," says the Senator.

"I'm sorry, but those are our rules, and there can be no exception," says St. Peter, who escorts the Senator to the elevator and hits the “Down” button. The Senator gets anxious as the elevator wooshes waaaay dooooown.

The elevator stops abruptly, the doors open, and the Senator steps out into the middle of a lush resort. The sun is shining, there’s a beautiful beach, tennis courts, golf courses, yoga studios. At the main lounge, he finds all of his old friend and colleagues who greet him enthusiastically—everyone as healthy and charming as the day he met them. Also present is the devil, who turns out to be a very friendly guy, and who welcomes the Senator warmly. The Senator passes the day with the lot of them, frolicking in the sun and surf, and in the evening he joins his companions in a gourmet dinner, followed by drinks and dancing.

Before he realizes it, the day has passed, and he finds himself in the elevator, going up, up, up. When it stops, the door opens, and St. Peter greets him, saying: "Now it's time to visit heaven." So the Senator passes the next 24 hours with a small group of contented souls, going from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing his favorite Beatles’ songs.  He has a good enough time, which passes quickly, and before he realizes it, another day has gone by, and St. Peter returns.

"Well, then, Senator you've now spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Choose your eternity."

The Senator thinks for a minute, then answers: "Well, I never thought I would say this, but, although heaven has been delightful, I think I would rather be in hell."

So St. Peter puts him in the elevator and he goes back down to hell.

Now, when the elevator opens, the Senator is in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage, reeking of the foulest odors. He sees all his friends, covered in shredded rags, scrounging in the muck for offal. The devil himself comes over to him, puts his arm around his shoulders, and says: “Welcome to eternity.”

"I don't understand," stammers the Senator. "Yesterday I was here and there was a beautiful beach, and beautiful people, and great food, and fun and dancing. Now there's just a horrid wasteland full of miserable, tortured souls. What happened?"

The devil smiles at him and says: "Yesterday we were campaigning.  Today, you voted."

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Irish Widow and the Liberian Fiancé:
Ebola, CEO Disease, and the Public Good


The Ebola crisis highlights the absurdity of pretending that a private, for-profit health system can do what a real public healthcare system must.

Remember the deadly-Ebola-like-virus movie where Dustin Hoffman and Renee Russo and Morgan Freeman and a whole state-of-the-art medical team, along with a small army (There’s always an army!) swoops in to quarantine the sick, catch the monkey, whip up a vaccine, and save the country?

Keep dreaming. That’s a fantasy. In reality, there is no public healthcare system. There is no serious publicly-funded and publicly-managed infrastructure, institution, or set of resources devoted to healthcare as a public good.

As the Washington Post said: “The hospital that treated Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan had to learn on the fly how to control the deadly virus.” The CDC? It runs a web site and holds press conferences. The medical professionals are all in private hospitals, now mostly folded into large private healthcare conglomerates, that do whatever the MBAs who manage them dictate—which is what the MBAs who manage the private for-profit health insurance companies are willing to pay for. As Rob Urie points out: “Missing from this ‘process’ that now finds Mr. Duncan dead, two nurses who attended him with Ebola themselves, the American health care system revealed as wholly unprepared to deal with what at present seems a moderately communicable disease, is any notion of a public interest.”

Here’s Juan González, talking to Karen Higgins, to co-president of National Nurses United:
The executive director of your union, RoseAnn DeMoro …, specifically raised the fact the CDC has no control over these individual hospitals, that in the privatized hospital system that we operate in here in the United States, the CDC can only offer guidelines, and it’s up to individual hospitals whether they’re going to enforce those guidelines, practice those guidelines. And, in fact, the CDC said yesterday…that they have no plans to investigate what happened at Texas Health Presbyterian, that that’s the responsibility of the local Department of Health in Texas. 
Karen Higgins: I think, you know—unfortunately, I think she’s right, as far as what powers the CDC has. … And what happens is then CDC makes recommendations, guidelines, and then it falls apart, because what you do with it as an individual hospital, because every hospital is pretty much individual, is where it starts to fall apart.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gaza Calling: It’s the Colonialism, Stupid!

On how Gaza lays Zionism bare, in eight bites.

Subjugate, expel, exterminate

This summer’s Israeli assault on Gaza was a horror show. Whole families killed, whole neighborhoods levelled, schools and hospitals attacked, electricity, water, and waste treatment facilities destroyed, about 500 children killed, 3000 injured (1000 with lifelong disabilities), and 1500 orphaned – utter devastation.  We’ve all seen the pictures. I’ve written about it. I’m not going to go over the specifics again.1

I share with many the conviction that this deliberately disproportionate carnage constitutes a despicable crime. It has certainly forced everyone to confront the deep disparities and injustices embedded in what’s called the Israel-Palestine conflict. The incessant waves of death and destruction visited on Palestinians for decades have challenged even those Westerners predisposed to “liberal Zionism” to question more radically what they think the Jewish state, and the Zionist project, is, was, or could be all about.

Conversely, the aftermath of the Gaza carnage has seen the defenders of Israel become ever more frantic and adamant in asserting the absolute righteousness of the Zionist project—not just refuting, but wherever possible refusing to allow any fundamental questioning of its legitimacy. Ask Stephen Salaita.

Yet, casualty figures and atrocity photos are not really what the argument is about. We have to remember, as Miko Peled points out, that: “Israel began attacking Gaza when the Strip was populated with the first generation refugees in the early 1950s.”2 This summer’s Gaza carnage helps reveal the problem, but it is not itself the fundamental problem.

The fundamental problem is colonialism. You know, that thing where a group of people, who want the land somebody else is living on, take it. By subjugating, expelling, and/or exterminating the indigenous population.

The fundamental argument here between Zionists and non- or anti-Zionists is not about civilian casualties, but about colonialism. It is not about how many civilians the IDF (or Hamas) killed last month, but about the ongoing colonialism-in-progress that necessarily produces these casualties. It’s colonialism that provides the context which gives the facts and events their ethico-political meaning.

This needs to sink in. Israel is a colonial-settler state. Zionism is a colonialist project.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Bailout Created the Debt,
Not Vice-Versa

Take a look at this graph, from an interesting post (and follow-up) by documentary filmmaker David Malone on his blog Golem XIV. It shows that everything we've been told about the 2008 financial crisis and the resulting bailout is a complete crock of shit. It's the bailout that created the public debt crisis, not public debt that created the need for a bailout. The bailout, in every one of these countries, was a means for the financial elite to preserve its own enormous wealth by shifting its unsustainable private debt onto the shoulders of the public.

As Malone points out:
The green bars are debt as percentage of GDP before the bank bail outs and the blue bars are after. .... Notice Ireland. Its debt to GDP was down at 27%.  The ONLY thing that altered between 2007 and 2010 was the bank bails outs. Ireland’s ENTIRE debt problem is due to bailing out private banks and their bond holders. ... the fact is that all European nations apart from Portugal were either reducing their debt-to-GDP level or at least not allowing it to grow. Most of Europe was reducing government debt to quite manageable and historically low levels. ...Almost  every European country was keeping debt to GDP even or going down – before the banks were bailed out that is. The exceptions, of course, were Greece and Italy ..
The sudden explosion of European sovereign debt is the direct and indisputable result of all our political parties deciding they would safeguard their mates’ and their own personal wealth (it is the top 10% who hold the bulk of their wealth in the financial products which would be destroyed in a bank collapse. NOT the rest of us!) by bailing out the private banks and piling their unpaid debts on to the public purse.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Israel’s “Human Shield” Hypocrisy: The Early Days

Down those meme streets

In 2001, Edward Said called Leon Uris's 1958 novel Exodus: “The main narrative model that [still] dominates American thinking” about Israel.1 As a Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston put it more recently (2012), in an article entitled “The ‘Exodus’ effect: The monumentally fictional Israel that remade American Jewry,” Uris’s narrative “Tailor[ed], alter[ed] and radically sanitize[ed] the history of the founding of the State of Israel to flatter the fantasies and prejudices of American Jews.” Burston quotes American Zionist Jeffrey Goldberg, who served in the IDF as a prison guard, to the effect that "Exodus … made American Jews proud of Israel's achievements. On the other hand, it created the impression that all Arabs are savages.” And he quotes none other than David Ben-Gurion: "As a literary work it isn't much…But as a piece of propaganda, it's the best thing ever written about Israel."2       

Of course, even more Americans owe their education in Zionism to Otto Preminger’s 1960 movie version of the book, which has been “Widely characterized as a ‘Zionist epic’ [that was] enormously influential in stimulating Zionism and support for Israel in the United States.” It was Exodus, the movie, that really viralized (as we say now) the “Exodus-effect.”3

The film stars Paul Newman as Haganah militant Ari Ben Canaan.4 Newman provides the perfect image of what Burnson calls “the wiry, wily, can-pass-for-Christian New Israeli Jew - exactly [what Uris’s] literary engineering had intended.”  Gleaming blonde Eva Marie Saint plays the love interest, Kitty Fremont, a volunteer American and Presbyterian nurse who starts out all pacifistic and ends up riding off into battle as Ari’s shiksa comrade.  It was an iconic package that was, as Jerome A. Chanes, writing in New York Jewish Week in 2010, said: "just what we needed at the time - the Americanization of Zionism and Israel.”5

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Dogs of Hell: An Original Jihadi Trashes ISIS

In my last post, I treated ISIS as a phenomenon that serves imperial interests—the latest character in an ongoing tragedy of the opportunist use of jihadi players by hegemonic powers, which went into production in Afghanistan in 1979, and which has been on the road throughout the Middle East since, with the script frequently re-written as some members of the original cast and crew drop out, and new faces take on the challenge. One of the keys to its long run is the improvisational skill with which the producers adapt to the new talent that jumps on the well-financed and outfitted stage they have provided.

Thus, I have argued that ISIS, like other jihadi groups, has been effectively armed and nourished by American interventions in the region, and that its dramatic appearance and antics are of the If-they-didn’t-exist-we’d-have-had-to-invent-them genre—particularly, at this particular conjuncture, in regard to the grand plan for Syria. I am not, however, arguing that it was deliberately created by any particular country to do so. That’s not impossible, but I’ve seen no dispositive evidence of that. ISIS is just as likely, and no less perniciously, the product of the benign inadvertence of those who set and supplied the stage.

I do find it understandable, however, that many in the region, who doubt the possibility of coincidence—especially serial coincidences, especially serial coincidences that always end up promoting the urgent necessity for imperial powers to intervene in a particular group of Arab and Muslim countries for ostensibly non-imperialist reasons—will tend to favor notions that ISIS in Syria (and Iraq) is a deliberate creation of the foreign powers meddling in the region.

To get a glimpse of the kind of thinking that is prevalent in the region, and prevalent even among fellow jihadis, about ISIS, I strongly suggest that you look at the remarkable interview with Nabeel Naiem on Syria News below. (Bear with the rocky translation from Syria News.) I don’t endorse his theories about ISIS, or anything else he says, but if you’re interested in the dynamics of jihadism and jihadi thinking in the region, and of how even the most militant Islamists detest ISIS, you’re unlikely to find anything like it.

Friday, September 5, 2014

America, ISIS, and Syria: We have to bomb the jihadis in order to save them

Does it take more than one full minute of thought to see what’s going on here?

The short version:
  • ISIS is the product of years of American military intervention in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. ISIS is the creature of an imperial enterprise—a global effort to bring down the Syrian state using jihadi proxies that included the U.S and its allies--Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, and Israel, at least—that could only have proceeded, “at the bidding of,” and managed by, the imperial center. It was by surfing the American-directed “cataract” of weaponry and funds directed against Syria that ISIS became an international jihadi movement surpassing Al-Qaeda itself. Without that American intervention, there would be no ISIS.

  • In this regard, ISIS is only the latest in a series of worst-ever takfiri groups that has been cooked up in the stew of jihadi proxy fighters the U.S. and its allies have been serving up since the its holy war in Afghanistan in 1979—the one where Zbigniew Brzezinski told Bin Laden’s jihadis, “God is on your side.”1 As Gilbert Mercier quipped, “Just like al-Qaeda, ISIS is the secret love child of United States imperialism and the kings and sheiks of the Gulf states.”2
  • An American (“coalition”) military attack on Syria will not destroy ISIS, and will not have the primary purpose of destroying ISIS; it will target and degrade the Syrian military, and its primary purpose will be to destroy the Syrian state’s capacity to resist the onslaught of jihadi rebels, including ISIS—a “rebellion” which hasn’t been going so well recently. The Obama administration knows, and says, that an American military attack will not defeat ISIS. It also knows, and says (sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly, depending on the audience), that its main objective will be to help the jihadi onslaught succeed. “A­ssad must go” is still the prime directive; the jihadis are still the most effective instrument for that. ISIS changes nothing, except to help sell military intervention to the Western publics. In a number of ways, ISIS has intervened to save the jihadi rebellion from defeat. It’s the reverse of the Vietnam rule: We have to bomb the jihadis in order to save them.

For those who want the details, the long version:

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Holy Bejeezus!": I Know What We Did This Summer, In Gaza

We’re now learning that “senior U.S. military officers” were “stunned” at the scale of the Israeli army’s “indiscriminate” shelling that demolished the Shujaiya neighborhood in Gaza on July 21st. A Pentagon report found “11 Israeli artillery battalions — a minimum of 258 artillery pieces …pumped at least 7,000 high explosive shells into the Gaza neighborhood… during a seven-hour period at the height of the operation.“
“Holy bejeezus,” exclaimed retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard when told the numbers of artillery pieces and rounds fired during the July 21 action. “That rate of fire over that period of time is astonishing. If the figures are even half right, Israel’s response was absolutely disproportionate.” 
Another Pentagon senior officer said: “Eleven battalions of IDF artillery is equivalent to the artillery we deploy to support two divisions of U.S. infantry…That’s a massive amount of firepower, and it’s absolutely deadly.” And a retired American artillery commander, who thought the Pentagon’s report “might well have underestimated the firepower the IDF brought to bear on Shujaiya,” said:  “This is the equivalent of the artillery we deploy to support a full corps...It’s just a huge number of weapons.”

A third senior U.S. officer made the point: “The only possible reason for doing that is to kill a lot of people in as short a period of time as possible.”

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Gaza, Israel, and America: Crime and Demolishment

Shejaiya  Neighborhood in Gaza/Mahmoud Hams (AFP)/Getty Images

The Israeli army is one of the most powerful in the world, usually ranked around fourth in firepower. It can deploy a half a million troops with a panoply of state-of-the-art weaponry—from body armor, integrated electronic communications and control, and sniper rifles, to tanks, artillery, airpower, drones, ships, and submarines—and, of course, an arsenal of nuclear weapons that have been in development over fifty years. It is backed by the most powerful armed force in the world, which continuously supplies it with whatever arms, cash, intelligence, and political and diplomatic support it needs—an effective guarantee of military (though not political) victory.

There are a few thousand militants armed with light infantry weapons and homemade rockets among the 1.8 million people in Gaza, one of the most densely-populated territories on earth. Those 1.8 million people have been locked into that territory by Israel (abetted by its Egyptian ally, and backed by its American patron), which controls the entry and exit of every person and particle, making Gaza what even British Prime Minister David Cameron (who helps to enable this policy) calls a “prison camp.” This siege has been Israel’s way of punishing the 1.8 million people of Gaza for, among other things, having freely and fairly elected leaders that Israel doesn’t like.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Israel's "Human Shield" Hypocrisy

“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look at it too much…”– Joseph Conrad “Heart of Darkness” [h/t William A. Cook]

The Israeli-American (Let’s never forget this is a team effort!) slaughter in Gaza is so horrifying that I’ve been at a loss to find the words to comment on it without letting anger get the better of me. The media coverage of what’s happening, dominated by the ridiculous notion that Israel is “defending” itself, is so grotesquely mendacious, hypocritical, and racist (imbued with colonialist ethno-supremacism) that it is hard to know where to begin critiquing it—without, again, becoming enraged.

For the moment, I’ll focus on one particular, insistent meme, constantly being promoted by Israel and its apologists, namely that Hamas is using civilians as “human shields.” The idea is that for Hamas to place any kind of military personnel anywhere in or near a civilian neighborhood constitutes using all the civilians in that neighborhood as “human shields.” Furthermore, it makes of that neighborhood a legitimate “military” target for devastating Israeli attack, absolves Israel from any culpability for the scores of resulting dead, blown-apart civilians including children, and places all moral and legal responsibility for those victims on the Palestinian resistance fighters who dared appear anywhere near civilians.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Getting It: Another American Renounces His Zionism

If this guy can get it, every American can

In Mondoweiss, Lenny Lapon writes about Renouncing my Israeli citizenship:
On October 19, 2010 my plane landed in Israel and instantaneously I was awarded Israeli citizenship with identification card # 012706735, solely because I am Jewish. Through reflection and study I have come to realize that this act was a travesty of justice. There are several million Palestinians and their descendants who cannot enter and/or live and move freely in their native historical homeland...
Israel is not becoming an apartheid state—it already is one with separate and unequal laws and policing for its Jewish citizens on one hand and for its non-Jewish, mostly Arab citizens and victims of the occupation on the other hand.
It is with a newfound clarity of thinking and analyzing a very emotional tragedy that I have thrown off the shackles of Zionist propaganda and am proudly and publicly renouncing my Israeli citizenship effective immediately.  At the same time I denounce the ongoing colonial oppression of the Palestinian people, a terrible injustice that is greatly facilitated by US tax dollars supporting the vast Israeli military machine. I also encourage other Jews to educate themselves and to stand on the side of the oppressed.

Monday, July 7, 2014


Conspiracy fact. 

Two supposedly independent leaders of supposedly independent states, supposedly representing their own citizens, deliver exactly the same speech.  Read, that is, the same script. S
upporting the United States war on Iraq.

Who wrote it? Do you think it was a  Canadian or an Australian?

These are satellite states of the American empire, their leaders are proconsuls, and the US government will never let them be anything but.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Murder at a Discount: Pricing Lives in Israel

Here's an excerpt from the New York Times story, by Isabel Kershner and Jodi Rudoren, on the apparent revenge abduction and killing of Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian in Jerusalem:
The Israeli minister of internal security, Yitzhak Aharonovich, urged residents to “lower the volume” regarding the suspicion of a revenge attack by Jews. “There are attempts to make a connection between the two incidents and we are still checking all directions,” he said on Israel Radio. “There are many possibilities, criminal and nationalistic, and everything is being examined in a responsible manner.”
Is this what the Israeli government did when young Jewish kids went missing? Did the Israeli government "lower the volume" regarding its "suspicions"? Or didn't they—on the basis of pure suspicion, before anyone was known to be killed, before any suspect was identified or charged—raid, bomb, destroy homes, abduct and arrest hundreds, kill at least six people? Did they not, without any evidence, “make a connection” and use the incident to it as a pretext to attack a political party (Hamas)?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Without America this cannot happen." Jewish Grandmother Shows the Way

On June 12, three Israeli teenagers disappeared. The Israeli government and most of the media say they were “kidnapped,” although there have been no ransom demands. If they were taken by one of the five previously-unknown groups that claimed responsibility (including, apparently, a branch of the now-ubiquitous ISIS), that group would probably say that they were  “captured.” Some Palestinians have described the teenagers as "soldiers" or "soldier-settlers," or "armed settlers." Israel denies they were soldiers (probably true, especially for the two 16-year-olds), but at least one of them lived in an illegal West Bank settlement, where carrying arms is common..

However these particular teenagers have served the Israeli state and its settlement enterprise, in order to understand the motivation of whoever might have taken them, it’s worth remembering the policies that teenage Israeli soldier boys carry out on the even-younger boys of the illegally-occupied population:

Friday, May 16, 2014

Resurrecting the Lede: The New York Times on the F.C.C. and Net Neutrality

Yesterday (May 15th), the New York Times published a story by Edward Wyatt on the FCC’s “net neutrality” decision.  Here are the first two paragraphs of the story, and what I believe was the headline (See note below), as it appeared on the  NYT web site yesterday:
F.C.C. Votes to Move Ahead on Net Neutrality Plan
WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to move forward with a set of proposed rules aimed at guaranteeing an open Internet, prohibiting high-speed Internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against legal content flowing through their pipes. 
While the rules are meant to prevent Internet providers from knowingly slowing data, they would allow content providers to pay for a guaranteed fast lane of service. Some opponents of the plan, those considered net neutrality purists, argue that allowing some content to be sent along a fast lane would essentially discriminate against other content.
When I read this, I contributed the following comment (slightly edited):
This story is published in a seriously deceptive way. The headline and the first paragraph make it sound like the decision reinforces openness and equality, with language about "guaranteeing an open Internet, prohibiting high-speed Internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against legal content."  Only when you read the second paragraph, after the introductory "while"--which actually means "in contradiction with what we just implied"--does the reader learn that the decision will "allow content providers to pay for a guaranteed fast lane of service," which means precisely that everyone else will be relegated to a slower lane, creating, ipso facto, "discriminat[ion] against legal content"! The headline could and should have read: "FCC Votes to Allow Internet Content Discrimination"!  Why did the NYT feel the need to present the case so misleadingly? 
When I went to write about this for the blog today, I found that the story had been substantively re-written, including the headline.* The article now begins like this:
F.C.C. Backs Opening Net Neutrality Rules for Debate
WASHINGTON — Federal regulators appear to share one view about so-called net neutrality: It is a good thing.
But defining net neutrality? That is where things get messy.
On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to open for public debate new rules meant to guarantee an open Internet. Before the plan becomes final, though, the chairman of the commission, Tom Wheeler, will need to convince his colleagues and an array of powerful lobbying groups that the plan follows the principle of net neutrality, the idea that all content running through the Internet’s pipes is treated equally.
While the rules are meant to prevent Internet providers from knowingly slowing data, they would allow content providers to pay for a guaranteed fast lane of service. Some opponents of the plan, those considered net neutrality purists, argue that allowing some content to be sent along a fast lane would essentially discriminate against other content.
Yesterday’s lead paragraph, with its flat claim that the FCC’s proposal is “aimed at guaranteeing an open Internet,” has been changed to a kind of “Well, ‘net neutrality’ means different things to different people” plaint.  This at least implicitly recognizes that the FCC’s claim that it’s working for net neutrality is not accepted by everyone. “Moving Ahead on Net Neutrality” also has significantly different implications than “Opening Net Neutrality Rules for Debate.”

Still, the article maintains the misleading and contradictory sentence that now begins the fourth paragraph.  This sentence, beginning with “While the rules,” contains, in its first clause, an assertion about what the rules “are meant” to do--prevent some data from being provided more slowly--that is proved false by the second clause, which states that the rules allow some data to be provided more quickly for a fee. The article then goes on to treat the idea that allowing paid fast lanes on the internet means actual discrimination in content delivery as if that idea were a peculiar conceit of net neutrality “purists.”

This is another example of the construction of a false ambiguity that complexifies a clear distinction—an ambiguity that pretends the point of the FCC’s proposed rules may not be what it obviously is.  FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, former cable industry lobbyist, is trying to approve a system of differential speeds of content delivery on the internet in order to provide cable and telecom companies with a new profit stream. That is the opposite of net neutrality. There’s no ambiguity or debate or mystery about this. 

Wheeler’s claim—namely, that such a system is “meant” to “guarantee an open internet” and preserve net neutrality—is not of equal credibility with the claim that the system he proposes will undermine net neutrality. The attempt to present these as equally compelling claims is an egregious example of the journalistic tactic of constructing a false equivalence in order to avoid identifying the weakness and mendacity of positions promoted by those who are powerful and respected.

You know, we must consider the idea that Republican Voter ID laws are “meant” to preserve the integrity of the vote as equally credible as the idea that they are meant to reduce voter turnout by disfavored populations.

I’d also ask: Should not the NYT acknowledge its re-write of the story? The paper very carefully acknowledges one edit: a change in the number of protesters cited in the article. But it gives no hint of the much more substantial re-write from the "earlier version," which changed the lede significantly.

All the news we print in fits.


*Thus my uncertainty about the headline. The original story has been preserved on local news sites that picked up the NYT feed yesterday; some have the headline: “FCC votes to pursue net neutrality rules.” I cannot remember specifically, but the headline strongly suggested that the FCC had ratified net neutrality, as my comment to the NYT implies. See also the post on this at DailyKos.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sealed With A Kiss: Mabel and Kathleen Talk Armed Self-Defense

In a previous post (The Rifle on the Wall: A Left Argument for Gun Rights), I remarked that: “Only in the ridiculous political discourse of the United States, where Barack Obama is a “marxist" (or any kind of “leftist” at all) can citizens' right to gun ownership be considered a purely right-wing demand.”  I discussed how it was the Black Panthers who embraced gun rights forty-some years ago, much to the consternation of conservative Republicans, including California governor Ronald Reagan. And I mentioned how the Panthers themselves were inspired by Robert Williams, a North Carolina activist, whose book, Negroes With Guns, made the forceful case for armed resistance to racist oppression in the United States.

Robert Williams died in 1996, and Rosa Parks delivered a passionate eulogy. Mabel Williams, Robert’s amazing wife, outlived him for many years, continuing her own activism.  Mabel died on April 19th.

In the video clip below (about 10 minutes, see full discussion here), from a conference on “Self Respect, Self Defense & Self Determination” held in Oakland in 2004, you’ll see what an amazing woman she was, as she and Kathleen Cleaver discuss the issue of armed self-defense in the black community.  They talk about how Williams argued that an armed black community “reduced the level of violence,” since it forced murderous white racists “to make a calculation: are they willing to risk their superior life to take your inferior life.” They discussed how “all the black people had guns…It was just not even discussed. You had guns. ..If in fact they heard the Klan was going to ride, they would be prepared. There was no discussion. ” They stressed that, for black revolutionaries: “That was fundamental: the notion that people had to accept the responsibility for standing up for themselves.” 

You know, just a couple of gun nuts.

In this clip, Mabel starts out by describing how Robert’s radicalism was energized by the kind of incident that, we must (and don’t) remember, was completely ordinary in these United States. It was an incident that got Robert “accused ..of being a communist, of course,” since only communists would raise a fuss about such things. Mabel Williams tells us how the story of Robert Williams and Negroes With Guns began, as do many great stories, with a kiss:

Related Posts: Lawyers, Guns, and Twitter: Gun Battles and Class Struggle after San BernardinoThe Rifle on the Wall: A Left Argument for Gun Rights

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Good for the Gander:
Ukraine's Demise Accelerates

A further look at the Ukraine debacle, in seven pieces.

Montagueski and Capuletovitch
(Cool Photo. Remember what happened to Romeo and Juliet.)

Ukraine, Interrupted

“Ukraine” means “borderland,” and if there were ever a country suffering a borderline personality disorder—barely “keeping itself together,” as we say—it is Ukraine. Suddenly, it’s been deprived of its meds (discounted gas and other Russian-provided subsidies), and goaded into a schizophrenogenic family crisis (the American-sponsored overthrow of its elected government, resented by half the country).  After the maidan mania, came the Crimea depression, and now, it seems, rapid and radical decompensation.

Before the maidan winter games, if some in the country (Kiev “liberals”) were looking for the cure from Dr. America and Nurse NATO, standing by to treat the flailing patient with their straitjacket of austerity and electroshock-and-awe therapy, perhaps some are now realizing that these practitioners’ cures only increase the crazy.

Since my last detailed post, the Ukraine situation has indeed been devolving rapidly, both within the country and on the level of international geopolitics.  It’s hard to see where Ukraine is going—whether it will survive as a unified state at all (even sans Crimea), and it is hard to see how seriously the world will be riven by a “new Cold (or even hot) War.” American political and media discourse is now completely dominated by the “aggressive Russia/nasty Putin” meme, but it would be wise to look carefully at the different axes of major, and lesser-included subsidiary, contradictions to see the real web of tensions which the “new Cold War” narrative is designed to occlude.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Charge of the Right Brigade:
Ukraine and the Dynamics of Capitalist Insurrection

A treatise on the upheaval in Ukraine, in eight takes.

The money shot:
As tensions rose on the streets of the Russian-speaking eastern portion of Ukraine, the response of the new government in the capital on Sunday was not to send troops, but to send rich people. 
The interim government, worried about Russian efforts to destabilize or seize regions in eastern Ukraine after effectively taking control of the Crimean peninsula in the south, is recruiting the country’s wealthy businessmen, known as the oligarchs, to serve as governors of the eastern provinces. 
The strategy, which Ukrainian news media are attributing to Yulia V. Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and party leader, is recognition that the oligarchs represent the country’s industrial and business elite, and exercise great influence over thousands of workers in the east, which is largely ethnically Russian.
The office of President Oleksandr V. Turchynov announced on Sunday the appointments of two billionaires — Sergei Taruta in Donetsk and Ihor Kolomoysky in Dnipropetrovsk — and more were reportedly under consideration for positions in the eastern regions….
The ultra-wealthy industrialists wield such power in Ukraine that they form what amounts to a shadow government, with empires of steel and coal, telecoms and media, and armies of workers. Persuading some to serve as governors in the east was a small victory for the new government in Kiev.1
Has there ever been a more pathetic postscript to a putative “revolution”? This act by Ukraine’s new-old rulers encapsulates everything that’s wrong with the phony “democracy promotion” advanced by American “regime changers,” everything that’s wrong with the recent history of the post-Soviet republics, and everything that was wrong with Soviet Stalinism.  It’s a sorry symptom of the sad state of politics and ideology in Ukraine, and in the whole wide neo-liberal world.  More on that later.

Let’s take a careful look at what has happened in Ukraine.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Monday, February 24, 2014

Partnership for Impoverishment

Pretty good online comic about "Free-Trade" and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Treaty.

"We don't want cheap goods per se, we want goods to be cheap relative to our incomes." That's what would actually make it possible to buy more things. Decades of stagnant incomes plus "free trade" agreements -- which are actually free-capital-from-regulations agreements that enable offshoring and union-busting -- do not add up to that.

Economix Comix

See the whole 27-page comic at Economix Comix: The Trans-Pacific Partnership and "Free Trade"

For more information, see: Public Citiaen: Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): Job Loss, Lower Wages and Higher Drug PricesExpose the TPPThe Nation: NAFTA on Steroids, and my discussion of the TPP in Politics Upside-Down: Fictional Campaigns, Invisible Issues, and Disappearing Jobs.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Eye of the Beholder

Wherein lies the beauty?


"I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical . . . make me any less of an American."
-- Pete Seeger to House Committee on Un-American Activities, August 1955

"Now that I know more, I support the BDS movement as much as I can.”
 -- Pete Seeger,January 2014  (Mondoweiss)
"SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma'ale Adumim factory every working day...I believe in conscious consumerism and transparency and I trust that the consumer will make their own educated choice that is right for them. I stand behind the SodaStream product...."
 --Scarlett Johansson, January 23, 2014

Wide Asleep in America: Scarlett's Letter: SodaStream's Global Apartheid Ambassador & the Enduring Effervescence of Ethnic Cleansing

Deconstructing Scarlett Johansson’s statement on SodaStream | Mondoweiss

US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation : US Groups Respond to Scarlett Johansson's Defense of Israeli Occupation

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dipsy Doodle:
What "Globalization" Has Wrought

Why the rise of right-wing populism in America and Europe?

by Branko Milanovic, lead economist of the World Bank’s research department, 
via Derek Thompson in The Atlantic

This graph requires some explanation. You've got, first of all, to resist the impulse to see the x-axis (horizontal) as a time line. This chart is a snapshot of the result after twenty years.

As Derek Thompson describes it: "Imagine you lined up every human being in the world by income, divided them into 100 groups ("percentiles") ranging from lowest to highest, and asked: How has the last generation of economic growth been for you?"

This is a graph of real income growth over twenty years for each income percentile of the entire world's population. The x-axis (horizontal) is not a progression over time. You'll get confused if you read it that way. It is just represents the different income percentiles or the world's population. The y-axis (vertical) represents the final result, the net total growth in real income for each percentile over the twenty-years.* So the third dot on the line indicates that the people in the bottom 15% of the world's population saw their inflation-adjusted incomes grow about 57%. From the bottom 15% to about 50% of the world's population saw significant (up to 80%) income growth. These would be the populations of the developing countries, especially the BRICs. 

From about the 80th percentile (the top 20% of the world's incomes) to the 86th percentile (the top 14%) there has been a net decline in real income. Then you see another sharp (60%) increase for the top one percent, and especially the highest tiers therein, of the world's incomes. (That's about $130,000, which would be the income of the top 11-12% U.S. households.)

So a lot of people in developing countries, who have obtained new jobs and incomes in the world capitalist economy -- by some combination of the export of the developed world's capital, the increase of investment by indigenous elites, and the entrance into the capitalist wage economy of the ex- and putatively-still-"communist" states - have seen their incomes increase by the World Bank's calculations. That does not, it's important to remember, mean they are living high on the hog, just that their newly-acquired sweatshop wages put significantly more money than zero in their pockets.  

The big losers, on the other hand, are the sectors of the world's population that had decent incomes, a few notches above average -- the kind of income that allowed for homes and vacations, but not limousines and villas. It's not hard to figure who they are; they're the people on the streets in Athens, Madrid, and Paris, in the state capitol in Wisconsin, and those losing their pensions in Detroit.

Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the people in developing nations earning more income. And there’s absolutely no reason that decently-paid workers in developing countries could not have real income gains as well. The diabolical inverse relation between these two sectors of the world’s population that this graph presents is not a necessary result of “purely” economic factors, but of the political economy of world capitalism. In that political economy, growth in profitability for the top 1% is always the main objective, and is always supported by various (and variable) supporting structures of inequality among the rest of the population.**

As Joe Wiesenthal puts it, at Business Insider:
In the chart you can see how lower income percentiles have seen monster growth since the late '80s. This growth represents the emerging economies and the rise of the Chinese middle class. Then you have the developed world middle class, which has seen almost no real income growth over the last few decades (which probably explains a lot of the current angst over inequality). And then you have the rise of the ultra-elite, the global 1%, which has done fantastically well during all this time.
Thus, this graph partly answers the question: Why the rise of right-wing populism in America and Europe?

The other part of the answer to that question is contained in the sad vacuum at the end of this one: Who, in the "liberal" sectors of the political and media establishments of the "developed world," actually speaks and works for the "lower middle classes" in their own countries? 

[Modified on 1/28/2014 to explain chart more fully.]

[*Added words "the final result" to this sentence on 2/1/2014.]

[**Added this paragraph on 2/1/2014.]

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Keep on Truckling: Mayor of New York's Job "is to be a defender of Israel"

Really?  "Part of my job description is to be a defender of Israel"

Bill de Blasio & Avigdor Lieberman/Bill de Blasio via Wikimedia Commons

Keep on Truckling.

"When you need me to stand by you in Washington or anywhere, I will answer the call and I will answer it happily, because that’s my job."

As it is the job of every major-party politician in the United States. And don't you forget it.

This was the newly-elected "progressive" New York City Mayor de Blasio speaking to AIPAC at the New York Hilton last night, as recounted by Philip Weiss.1 According to The New York Times, this event was a "private” speech. It was kept off his public schedule, and a reporter who attempted to cover the event was ejected by security.  Nothing to see here.

Say Hello to My Little Friend 

By the way, that little fella de Blasio is schmoozing with in the picture above is Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's Foreign Minister.

Lieberman is, shall we say, a colorful character.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Who’s the Boss? The Obamacare Deception

"Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman."
attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Is it not painfully obvious to everyone now that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a complicated failure of a contraption, from a healthcare and a political point of view? Answer: Yes!  Even Michael Moore now admits that “Obamacare is awful.”

Indeed, I contend that:
  • Obamacare is not a public program, but a government-assisted private boondoggle. Its main purpose is not to ensure public health, but to insure the profitability of private health insurance companies and the private pharmaceutical and hospital industries.
  • It is the product of a now thoroughly corrupt political culture in which capital openly buys politicians, elections, and laws.
  • It is failing politically at every level, and is even likely to fail in its actual socio-economic goal of perpetuating the profitability of the private health insurance industry.
  • It cannot be “tweaked” into becoming a real public healthcare program, and every syllable of every argument for fine-tuning it does nothing but waste time and stand in the way of ever getting the single-payer, universal coverage, Medicare-for-all that we need.

Unfortunately, it was Democratic Obama cheerleaders like Moore – who refused four years ago to oppose the program and insist, as they should have (and promised they would!), on a public system – who helped to create the terrible situation we now have. (And Moore still seems to think Obamacare is “a godsend” that can be tweaked into perfection.  See Shamus Cooke’s wonderful takedown of Moore’s weaseling.)

As Norman Solomon put it, with their “disingenuous sales pitches four years ago, President Obama and his Democratic acolytes did a lot to create the current political mess engulfing Obamacare — exaggerating its virtues while pulling out the stops to normalize denial about its real drawbacks. That was a bad approach in 2009. It remains a bad approach today.”

The result has been a situation in which healthcare has become more thoroughly privatized, and the possibility of a single-payer Medicare-for-all system – the cheaper, more effective, already-proven and undeniably popular (favored by two-thirds of the public in 2009) solution – has become deferred even further, and made harder even to see or discuss.

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