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1
Diner TV / The Religion of Libertarianism
« on: September 13, 2018, 11:51:36 AM »
The Religion of Libertarianism

We'll just put this right here. Enjoy.

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/ycu8Rlu7TBY" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/ycu8Rlu7TBY</a>

2
Far Out Newz / Bright Insight
« on: September 12, 2018, 11:51:33 AM »
AZ, I stumbled across this guy's channel, and I have found his stuff highly speculative but entertaining AF. I thought you'd get a kick out of it.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsIlJ9eYylZQcyfMOPNUz9w

3
Futurology / Why Technology Favors Tyranny
« on: September 09, 2018, 04:49:00 AM »
Why Technology Favors Tyranny

Artificial intelligence could erase many practical advantages of democracy, and erode the ideals of liberty and equality.



I. The Growing Fear of Irrelevance

There is nothing inevitable about democracy. For all the success that democracies have had over the past century or more, they are blips in history. Monarchies, oligarchies, and other forms of authoritarian rule have been far more common modes of human governance.

The emergence of liberal democracies is associated with ideals of liberty and equality that may seem self-evident and irreversible. But these ideals are far more fragile than we believe. Their success in the 20th century depended on unique technological conditions that may prove ephemeral.

In the second decade of the 21st century, liberalism has begun to lose credibility. Questions about the ability of liberal democracy to provide for the middle class have grown louder; politics have grown more tribal; and in more and more countries, leaders are showing a penchant for demagoguery and autocracy. The causes of this political shift are complex, but they appear to be intertwined with current technological developments. The technology that favored democracy is changing, and as artificial intelligence develops, it might change further.

Information technology is continuing to leap forward; biotechnology is beginning to provide a window into our inner lives—our emotions, thoughts, and choices. Together, infotech and biotech will create unprecedented upheavals in human society, eroding human agency and, possibly, subverting human desires. Under such conditions, liberal democracy and free-market economics might become obsolete.

Ordinary people may not understand artificial intelligence and biotechnology in any detail, but they can sense that the future is passing them by. In 1938 the common man’s condition in the Soviet Union, Germany, or the United States may have been grim, but he was constantly told that he was the most important thing in the world, and that he was the future (provided, of course, that he was an “ordinary man,” rather than, say, a Jew or a woman). He looked at the propaganda posters—which typically depicted coal miners and steelworkers in heroic poses—and saw himself there: “I am in that poster! I am the hero of the future!”

In 2018 the common person feels increasingly irrelevant. Lots of mysterious terms are bandied about excitedly in ted Talks, at government think tanks, and at high-tech conferences—globalization, blockchain, genetic engineering, AI, machine learning—and common people, both men and women, may well suspect that none of these terms is about them.

In the 20th century, the masses revolted against exploitation and sought to translate their vital role in the economy into political power. Now the masses fear irrelevance, and they are frantic to use their remaining political power before it is too late. Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump may therefore demonstrate a trajectory opposite to that of traditional socialist revolutions. The Russian, Chinese, and Cuban revolutions were made by people who were vital to the economy but lacked political power; in 2016, Trump and Brexit were supported by many people who still enjoyed political power but feared they were losing their economic worth. Perhaps in the 21st century, populist revolts will be staged not against an economic elite that exploits people but against an economic elite that does not need them anymore. This may well be a losing battle. It is much harder to struggle against irrelevance than against exploitation.

The revolutions in information technology and biotechnology are still in their infancy, and the extent to which they are responsible for the current crisis of liberalism is debatable. Most people in Birmingham, Istanbul, St. Petersburg, and Mumbai are only dimly aware, if they are aware at all, of the rise of AI and its potential impact on their lives. It is undoubtable, however, that the technological revolutions now gathering momentum will in the next few decades confront humankind with the hardest trials it has yet encountered.

II. A New Useless Class?

Let’s start with jobs and incomes, because whatever liberal democracy’s philosophical appeal, it has gained strength in no small part thanks to a practical advantage: The decentralized approach to decision making that is characteristic of liberalism—in both politics and economics—has allowed liberal democracies to outcompete other states, and to deliver rising affluence to their people.

Liberalism reconciled the proletariat with the bourgeoisie, the faithful with atheists, natives with immigrants, and Europeans with Asians by promising everybody a larger slice of the pie. With a constantly growing pie, that was possible. And the pie may well keep growing. However, economic growth may not solve social problems that are now being created by technological disruption, because such growth is increasingly predicated on the invention of more and more disruptive technologies.

Fears of machines pushing people out of the job market are, of course, nothing new, and in the past such fears proved to be unfounded. But artificial intelligence is different from the old machines. In the past, machines competed with humans mainly in manual skills. Now they are beginning to compete with us in cognitive skills. And we don’t know of any third kind of skill—beyond the manual and the cognitive—in which humans will always have an edge.

At least for a few more decades, human intelligence is likely to far exceed computer intelligence in numerous fields. Hence as computers take over more routine cognitive jobs, new creative jobs for humans will continue to appear. Many of these new jobs will probably depend on cooperation rather than competition between humans and AI. Human-AI teams will likely prove superior not just to humans, but also to computers working on their own.

However, most of the new jobs will presumably demand high levels of expertise and ingenuity, and therefore may not provide an answer to the problem of unemployed unskilled laborers, or workers employable only at extremely low wages. Moreover, as AI continues to improve, even jobs that demand high intelligence and creativity might gradually disappear. The world of chess serves as an example of where things might be heading. For several years after IBM’s computer Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997, human chess players still flourished; AI was used to train human prodigies, and teams composed of humans plus computers proved superior to computers playing alone.

Yet in recent years, computers have become so good at playing chess that their human collaborators have lost their value and might soon become entirely irrelevant. On December 6, 2017, another crucial milestone was reached when Google’s AlphaZero program defeated the Stockfish 8 program. Stockfish 8 had won a world computer chess championship in 2016. It had access to centuries of accumulated human experience in chess, as well as decades of computer experience. By contrast, AlphaZero had not been taught any chess strategies by its human creators—not even standard openings. Rather, it used the latest machine-learning principles to teach itself chess by playing against itself. Nevertheless, out of 100 games that the novice AlphaZero played against Stockfish 8, AlphaZero won 28 and tied 72—it didn’t lose once. Since AlphaZero had learned nothing from any human, many of its winning moves and strategies seemed unconventional to the human eye. They could be described as creative, if not downright genius.

Can you guess how long AlphaZero spent learning chess from scratch, preparing for the match against Stockfish 8, and developing its genius instincts? Four hours. For centuries, chess was considered one of the crowning glories of human intelligence. AlphaZero went from utter ignorance to creative mastery in four hours, without the help of any human guide.

AlphaZero is not the only imaginative software out there. One of the ways to catch cheaters in chess tournaments today is to monitor the level of originality that players exhibit. If they play an exceptionally creative move, the judges will often suspect that it could not possibly be a human move—it must be a computer move. At least in chess, creativity is already considered to be the trademark of computers rather than humans! So if chess is our canary in the coal mine, we have been duly warned that the canary is dying. What is happening today to human-AI teams in chess might happen down the road to human-AI teams in policing, medicine, banking, and many other fields.

What’s more, AI enjoys uniquely nonhuman abilities, which makes the difference between AI and a human worker one of kind rather than merely of degree. Two particularly important nonhuman abilities that AI possesses are connectivity and updatability.

For example, many drivers are unfamiliar with all the changing traffic regulations on the roads they drive, and they often violate them. In addition, since every driver is a singular entity, when two vehicles approach the same intersection, the drivers sometimes miscommunicate their intentions and collide. Self-driving cars, by contrast, will know all the traffic regulations and never disobey them on purpose, and they could all be connected to one another. When two such vehicles approach the same junction, they won’t really be two separate entities, but part of a single algorithm. The chances that they might miscommunicate and collide will therefore be far smaller.

Similarly, if the World Health Organization identifies a new disease, or if a laboratory produces a new medicine, it can’t immediately update all the human doctors in the world. Yet even if you had billions of AI doctors in the world—each monitoring the health of a single human being—you could still update all of them within a split second, and they could all communicate to one another their assessments of the new disease or medicine. These potential advantages of connectivity and updatability are so huge that at least in some lines of work, it might make sense to replace all humans with computers, even if individually some humans still do a better job than the machines.

All of this leads to one very important conclusion: The automation revolution will not consist of a single watershed event, after which the job market will settle into some new equilibrium. Rather, it will be a cascade of ever bigger disruptions. Old jobs will disappear and new jobs will emerge, but the new jobs will also rapidly change and vanish. People will need to retrain and reinvent themselves not just once, but many times.

Just as in the 20th century governments established massive education systems for young people, in the 21st century they will need to establish massive reeducation systems for adults. But will that be enough? Change is always stressful, and the hectic world of the early 21st century has produced a global epidemic of stress. As job volatility increases, will people be able to cope? By 2050, a useless class might emerge, the result not only of a shortage of jobs or a lack of relevant education but also of insufficient mental stamina to continue learning new skills.

III. The Rise of Digital Dictatorships

As many people lose their economic value, they might also come to lose their political power. The same technologies that might make billions of people economically irrelevant might also make them easier to monitor and control.

AI frightens many people because they don’t trust it to remain obedient. Science fiction makes much of the possibility that computers or robots will develop consciousness—and shortly thereafter will try to kill all humans. But there is no particular reason to believe that AI will develop consciousness as it becomes more intelligent. We should instead fear AI because it will probably always obey its human masters, and never rebel. AI is a tool and a weapon unlike any other that human beings have developed; it will almost certainly allow the already powerful to consolidate their power further.

Consider surveillance. Numerous countries around the world, including several democracies, are busy building unprecedented systems of surveillance. For example, Israel is a leader in the field of surveillance technology, and has created in the occupied West Bank a working prototype for a total-surveillance regime. Already today whenever Palestinians make a phone call, post something on Facebook, or travel from one city to another, they are likely to be monitored by Israeli microphones, cameras, drones, or spy software. Algorithms analyze the gathered data, helping the Israeli security forces pinpoint and neutralize what they consider to be potential threats. The Palestinians may administer some towns and villages in the West Bank, but the Israelis command the sky, the airwaves, and cyberspace. It therefore takes surprisingly few Israeli soldiers to effectively control the roughly 2.5 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank.

In one incident in October 2017, a Palestinian laborer posted to his private Facebook account a picture of himself in his workplace, alongside a bulldozer. Adjacent to the image he wrote, “Good morning!” A Facebook translation algorithm made a small error when transliterating the Arabic letters. Instead of Ysabechhum (which means “Good morning”), the algorithm identified the letters as Ydbachhum (which means “Hurt them”). Suspecting that the man might be a terrorist intending to use a bulldozer to run people over, Israeli security forces swiftly arrested him. They released him after they realized that the algorithm had made a mistake. Even so, the offending Facebook post was taken down—you can never be too careful. What Palestinians are experiencing today in the West Bank may be just a primitive preview of what billions of people will eventually experience all over the planet.

Imagine, for instance, that the current regime in North Korea gained a more advanced version of this sort of technology in the future. North Koreans might be required to wear a biometric bracelet that monitors everything they do and say, as well as their blood pressure and brain activity. Using the growing understanding of the human brain and drawing on the immense powers of machine learning, the North Korean government might eventually be able to gauge what each and every citizen is thinking at each and every moment. If a North Korean looked at a picture of Kim Jong Un and the biometric sensors picked up telltale signs of anger (higher blood pressure, increased activity in the amygdala), that person could be in the gulag the next day.

And yet such hard-edged tactics may not prove necessary, at least much of the time. A facade of free choice and free voting may remain in place in some countries, even as the public exerts less and less actual control. To be sure, attempts to manipulate voters’ feelings are not new. But once somebody (whether in San Francisco or Beijing or Moscow) gains the technological ability to manipulate the human heart—reliably, cheaply, and at scale—democratic politics will mutate into an emotional puppet show.

We are unlikely to face a rebellion of sentient machines in the coming decades, but we might have to deal with hordes of bots that know how to press our emotional buttons better than our mother does and that use this uncanny ability, at the behest of a human elite, to try to sell us something—be it a car, a politician, or an entire ideology. The bots might identify our deepest fears, hatreds, and cravings and use them against us. We have already been given a foretaste of this in recent elections and referendums across the world, when hackers learned how to manipulate individual voters by analyzing data about them and exploiting their prejudices. While science-fiction thrillers are drawn to dramatic apocalypses of fire and smoke, in reality we may be facing a banal apocalypse by clicking.

The biggest and most frightening impact of the AI revolution might be on the relative efficiency of democracies and dictatorships. Historically, autocracies have faced crippling handicaps in regard to innovation and economic growth. In the late 20th century, democracies usually outperformed dictatorships, because they were far better at processing information. We tend to think about the conflict between democracy and dictatorship as a conflict between two different ethical systems, but it is actually a conflict between two different data-processing systems. Democracy distributes the power to process information and make decisions among many people and institutions, whereas dictatorship concentrates information and power in one place. Given 20th-century technology, it was inefficient to concentrate too much information and power in one place. Nobody had the ability to process all available information fast enough and make the right decisions. This is one reason the Soviet Union made far worse decisions than the United States, and why the Soviet economy lagged far behind the American economy.

However, artificial intelligence may soon swing the pendulum in the opposite direction. AI makes it possible to process enormous amounts of information centrally. In fact, it might make centralized systems far more efficient than diffuse systems, because machine learning works better when the machine has more information to analyze. If you disregard all privacy concerns and concentrate all the information relating to a billion people in one database, you’ll wind up with much better algorithms than if you respect individual privacy and have in your database only partial information on a million people. An authoritarian government that orders all its citizens to have their DNA sequenced and to share their medical data with some central authority would gain an immense advantage in genetics and medical research over societies in which medical data are strictly private. The main handicap of authoritarian regimes in the 20th century—the desire to concentrate all information and power in one place—may become their decisive advantage in the 21st century.

Yoshi Sodeoka

New technologies will continue to emerge, of course, and some of them may encourage the distribution rather than the concentration of information and power. Blockchain technology, and the use of cryptocurrencies enabled by it, is currently touted as a possible counterweight to centralized power. But blockchain technology is still in the embryonic stage, and we don’t yet know whether it will indeed counterbalance the centralizing tendencies of AI. Remember that the Internet, too, was hyped in its early days as a libertarian panacea that would free people from all centralized systems—but is now poised to make centralized authority more powerful than ever.

IV. The Transfer of Authority to Machines

Even if some societies remain ostensibly democratic, the increasing efficiency of algorithms will still shift more and more authority from individual humans to networked machines. We might willingly give up more and more authority over our lives because we will learn from experience to trust the algorithms more than our own feelings, eventually losing our ability to make many decisions for ourselves. Just think of the way that, within a mere two decades, billions of people have come to entrust Google’s search algorithm with one of the most important tasks of all: finding relevant and trustworthy information. As we rely more on Google for answers, our ability to locate information independently diminishes. Already today, “truth” is defined by the top results of a Google search. This process has likewise affected our physical abilities, such as navigating space. People ask Google not just to find information but also to guide them around. Self-driving cars and AI physicians would represent further erosion: While these innovations would put truckers and human doctors out of work, their larger import lies in the continuing transfer of authority and responsibility to machines.

Humans are used to thinking about life as a drama of decision making. Liberal democracy and free-market capitalism see the individual as an autonomous agent constantly making choices about the world. Works of art—be they Shakespeare plays, Jane Austen novels, or cheesy Hollywood comedies—usually revolve around the hero having to make some crucial decision. To be or not to be? To listen to my wife and kill King Duncan, or listen to my conscience and spare him? To marry Mr. Collins or Mr. Darcy? Christian and Muslim theology similarly focus on the drama of decision making, arguing that everlasting salvation depends on making the right choice.

What will happen to this view of life as we rely on AI to make ever more decisions for us? Even now we trust Netflix to recommend movies and Spotify to pick music we’ll like. But why should AI’s helpfulness stop there?

Every year millions of college students need to decide what to study. This is a very important and difficult decision, made under pressure from parents, friends, and professors who have varying interests and opinions. It is also influenced by students’ own individual fears and fantasies, which are themselves shaped by movies, novels, and advertising campaigns. Complicating matters, a given student does not really know what it takes to succeed in a given profession, and doesn’t necessarily have a realistic sense of his or her own strengths and weaknesses.

It’s not so hard to see how AI could one day make better decisions than we do about careers, and perhaps even about relationships. But once we begin to count on AI to decide what to study, where to work, and whom to date or even marry, human life will cease to be a drama of decision making, and our conception of life will need to change. Democratic elections and free markets might cease to make sense. So might most religions and works of art. Imagine Anna Karenina taking out her smartphone and asking Siri whether she should stay married to Karenin or elope with the dashing Count Vronsky. Or imagine your favorite Shakespeare play with all the crucial decisions made by a Google algorithm. Hamlet and Macbeth would have much more comfortable lives, but what kind of lives would those be? Do we have models for making sense of such lives?

Can parliaments and political parties overcome these challenges and forestall the darker scenarios? At the current moment this does not seem likely. Technological disruption is not even a leading item on the political agenda. During the 2016 U.S. presidential race, the main reference to disruptive technology concerned Hillary Clinton’s email debacle, and despite all the talk about job loss, neither candidate directly addressed the potential impact of automation. Donald Trump warned voters that Mexicans would take their jobs, and that the U.S. should therefore build a wall on its southern border. He never warned voters that algorithms would take their jobs, nor did he suggest building a firewall around California.

So what should we do?

For starters, we need to place a much higher priority on understanding how the human mind works—particularly how our own wisdom and compassion can be cultivated. If we invest too much in AI and too little in developing the human mind, the very sophisticated artificial intelligence of computers might serve only to empower the natural stupidity of humans, and to nurture our worst (but also, perhaps, most powerful) impulses, among them greed and hatred. To avoid such an outcome, for every dollar and every minute we invest in improving AI, we would be wise to invest a dollar and a minute in exploring and developing human consciousness.

More practically, and more immediately, if we want to prevent the concentration of all wealth and power in the hands of a small elite, we must regulate the ownership of data. In ancient times, land was the most important asset, so politics was a struggle to control land. In the modern era, machines and factories became more important than land, so political struggles focused on controlling these vital means of production. In the 21st century, data will eclipse both land and machinery as the most important asset, so politics will be a struggle to control data’s flow.

Unfortunately, we don’t have much experience in regulating the ownership of data, which is inherently a far more difficult task than regulating land or machines. Data are everywhere and nowhere at the same time, they can move at the speed of light, and you can create as many copies of them as you want. Do the data collected about my DNA, my brain, and my life belong to me, or to the government, or to a corporation, or to the human collective?

The race to accumulate data is already on, and is currently headed by giants such as Google and Facebook and, in China, Baidu and Tencent. So far, many of these companies have acted as “attention merchants”—they capture our attention by providing us with free information, services, and entertainment, and then they resell our attention to advertisers. Yet their true business isn’t merely selling ads. Rather, by capturing our attention they manage to accumulate immense amounts of data about us, which are worth more than any advertising revenue. We aren’t their customers—we are their product.

Ordinary people will find it very difficult to resist this process. At present, many of us are happy to give away our most valuable asset—our personal data—in exchange for free email services and funny cat videos. But if, later on, ordinary people decide to try to block the flow of data, they are likely to have trouble doing so, especially as they may have come to rely on the network to help them make decisions, and even for their health and physical survival.

Nationalization of data by governments could offer one solution; it would certainly curb the power of big corporations. But history suggests that we are not necessarily better off in the hands of overmighty governments. So we had better call upon our scientists, our philosophers, our lawyers, and even our poets to turn their attention to this big question: How do you regulate the ownership of data?

Currently, humans risk becoming similar to domesticated animals. We have bred docile cows that produce enormous amounts of milk but are otherwise far inferior to their wild ancestors. They are less agile, less curious, and less resourceful. We are now creating tame humans who produce enormous amounts of data and function as efficient chips in a huge data-processing mechanism, but they hardly maximize their human potential. If we are not careful, we will end up with downgraded humans misusing upgraded computers to wreak havoc on themselves and on the world.

If you find these prospects alarming—if you dislike the idea of living in a digital dictatorship or some similarly degraded form of society—then the most important contribution you can make is to find ways to prevent too much data from being concentrated in too few hands, and also find ways to keep distributed data processing more efficient than centralized data processing. These will not be easy tasks. But achieving them may be the best safeguard of democracy.


4
Surly Newz / The real Goldfinger: the London banker who broke the world
« on: September 08, 2018, 04:15:22 AM »
I know of someone here who will enjoy this story. The Bretton Woods system, based on dollars backed by gold and tightly controlled currency flows, created an unprecedented period of global financial stability after World War II. Here is a look at the German banker whose ingenious “eurobonds” helped break that postwar system—giving rise to the global superrich.


The real Goldfinger: the London banker who broke the world

The true story of how the City of London invented offshore banking – and set the rich free
by Oliver Bullough




Every January, to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Oxfam tells us how much richer the world’s richest people have got. In 2016, their report showed that the wealthiest 62 individuals owned the same amount as the bottom half of the world’s population. This year, that number had dropped to 42: three-and-half-dozen people with as much stuff as three-and-a-half billion.

This yearly ritual has become part of the news cycle, and the inequality it exposes has ceased to shock us. The very rich getting very much richer is now part of life, like the procession of the seasons. But we should be extremely concerned: their increased wealth gives them ever-greater control of our politics and of our media. Countries that were once democracies are becoming plutocracies; plutocracies are becoming oligarchies; oligarchies are becoming kleptocracies.

Things were not always this way. In the years after the second world war, the trend was in the opposite direction: the poor were getting richer; we were all getting more equal. To understand how and why that changed, we need to go back to the dying days of the conflict, to a resort in New Hampshire, where a group of economists set out to secure humanity’s future.

This is the story of how their dream failed and how a London banker’s bright idea broke the world.


In the years after the first world war, money flowed between countries pretty much however its owners wished, destabilising currencies and economies in pursuit of profit. Many of the wealthy grew wealthier even while economies fell apart. The chaos led to the election of extremist governments in Germany and elsewhere, to competitive devaluations and beggar-my-neighbour tariffs, to trade wars and, ultimately, to the horrors of the second world war.

The allies wanted to prevent this ever happening again. So, at a meeting at the Bretton Woods resort in New Hampshire in 1944, they negotiated the details of an economic architecture that would – in perpetuity – stop uncontrolled money flows. This, they hoped, would keep governments from using trade as a weapon with which to bully neighbours, and create a stable system that would help secure peace and prosperity.

Under the new system, all currencies would be pegged to the dollar, which would in turn be pegged to gold. An ounce of gold cost $35 (that’s about $500/£394 today). In other words, the US Treasury pledged that, if a foreign government turned up with $35, it could always buy an ounce of gold. The United States was promising to keep everyone supplied with enough dollars to fund international trade, as well as to maintain sufficient gold reserves for those dollars to be inherently valuable.

To prevent speculators trying to attack these fixed currencies, cross-border money flows were severely constrained. Money could move overseas, but only in the form of long-term investments, not to speculate short term against currencies or bonds.

To understand how this system worked, imagine an oil tanker. If it has just one huge tank, then the oil can slosh backwards and forwards in ever greater waves, until it destabilises the vessel, which overturns and sinks. At the Bretton Woods conference, the oil was divided between smaller tanks, one for each country. The liquid could slosh back and forth within its little compartments, but would be unable to achieve enough momentum to damage the integrity of the vessel.

Strangely, one of the best evocations of this long-gone system is Goldfinger, the James Bond book. The film of the same name has a slightly different plot, but they both feature an attempt to undermine the west’s financial system by interfering with its gold reserves. “Gold and currencies backed by gold are the foundations of our international credit,” a Bank of England official named Colonel Smithers explains to 007.

Goldfinger: Sean Connery as James Bond fights with Harold Sakata’s Oddjob the bullion in Fort Knox’s gold depository.
Sean Connery as James Bond and Harold Sakata as Oddjob in Goldfinger (1964). Photograph: Getty

The trouble is, the colonel continues, that the Bank is only prepared to pay £1,000 for a gold bar, which is the equivalent of the $35 per ounce price paid in America, whereas the same gold is worth 70% more in India, where there is a high demand for gold jewellery. It is thus highly profitable to smuggle gold out of the country and sell it overseas.

The villain Auric Goldfinger’s cunning scheme is to own pawnbrokers all over Britain, buy up gold jewellery and trinkets from ordinary Brits in need of a bit of cash, then melt them down into plates, attach the plates to his Rolls-Royce, drive them to Switzerland, reprocess them and fly them to India. By doing so, Goldfinger will not only undermine the British currency and economy, but also earn profits he could use to fund communists and other miscreants. Hundreds of Bank of England employees are engaged in trying to stop this kind of scam from happening, Smithers tells 007, but Goldfinger is too clever for them. He has secretly become Britain’s richest man, and has £5m-worth of gold bars sitting in the vaults of a bank in the Bahamas.

“We are asking you to bring Mr Goldfinger to book, Mr Bond, and get that gold back,” says Smithers. “You know about the currency crisis and the high Bank rate? Of course. Well, England needs that gold, badly – and the quicker the better.”

By modern standards, Goldfinger wasn’t doing anything wrong, apart perhaps from dodging some taxes. He was buying up gold at a price people were prepared to pay for it, then selling it in another market, where people were prepared to pay more. It was his money. It was his gold. So what was the problem? He was oiling the wheels of commerce, efficiently allocating capital where it could best be used, no?

No, because that wasn’t how Bretton Woods worked. Colonel Smithers considered the gold to belong not only to Goldfinger, but also to Great Britain. The system didn’t consider the owner of money to be the only person with a say in what happened to it. According to the carefully crafted rules, the nations that created and guaranteed the value of money had rights to that money, too. They restricted the rights of money-owners in the interests of everybody else. At Bretton Woods, the allies – desperate to avoid a repeat of the horrors of the inter-war depression and the second world war – decided that, when it came to international trade, society’s rights trumped those of money-owners.

All this is hard to imagine for anyone who has only experienced the world since the 1980s, because the system now is so different. Money flows ceaselessly between countries, nosing out investment opportunities in China, Brazil, Russia or wherever. If a currency is overvalued, investors sense the weakness and gang up on it like sharks around a sickly whale. In times of global crisis, the money retreats into the safety of gold or US government bonds. In boom times, it pumps up share prices elsewhere in its restless quest for a good return. These waves of liquid capital have such power that they can wash away all but the strongest governments. The prolonged speculative attacks on the euro, the rouble or the pound, which have been such a feature of the past few decades, would have been impossible under the Bretton Woods system, which was specifically designed to stop them happening.

And the system was remarkably successful: economic growth in most western countries was almost uninterrupted throughout the 1950s and 1960s, societies became more equal, while governments made massive improvements in public health and infrastructure. All of this did not come cheap, however. Taxes had to be high to pay for it, and rich people struggled to move their money out of the taxman’s reach – thanks to the separate compartments in the oil tanker. Fans of the Beatles will remember George Harrison singing on Taxman about the government taking 19 shillings for every one he could keep; that was an accurate reflection of the amount of his earnings that was going to the Treasury, a 95% marginal tax rate.

It wasn’t only the Beatles who hated this system. So did the Rolling Stones, who relocated to France to record Exile on Main St. And so, too, did Rowland Baring, scion of the Barings bank dynasty, third earl of Cromer and – between 1961 and 1966 – the governor of the Bank of England. “Exchange control is an infringement on the rights of the citizen,” he wrote in a note to the government in 1963. “I therefore regard [it] ethically as wrong.”


One reason Baring hated the restrictions was that they were killing the City of London. “It was like driving a powerful car at 20 miles an hour,” lamented one banker, of his spell in charge of a major British bank. “The banks were anaesthetised. It was a kind of dream life.” In those days, bankers arrived at work late, left early and frittered away much of the time in between having boozy lunches. No one particularly cared, because there wasn’t much to do anyway.

Today, looking over its glass-and-steel skyline, it is hard to imagine that the City of London once almost died as a financial centre. In the 1950s and 1960s, the City played little part in the national conversation. Yet, although few books about the swinging 60s even mention the City, something very significant was brewing there – something that would change the world far more than the Beatles or Mary Quant or David Hockney ever did, something that would shatter the high-minded strictures of the Bretton Woods system.

A group of diners at Pimm’s snack bar in the City of London, 1951.
Bankers dining at Pimm’s snack bar in the City of London, 1951. Photograph: Getty

By the time Ian Fleming published Goldfinger in 1959, there were already some leaks in the compartments of the oil tanker. The problem was that not all foreign governments trusted the US to honour its commitment to use the dollar as an impartial international currency; and they were not unreasonable in doing so, since Washington did not always act as a fair umpire. In the immediate post-second-world-war years, the US government had sequestered communist Yugoslavia’s gold reserves. The rattled eastern bloc countries then made a habit of keeping their dollars in European banks rather than in New York.

Similarly, when Britain and France attempted to regain control of the Suez canal in 1956, a disapproving Washington froze their access to dollars and doomed the venture. These were not the actions of a neutral arbiter. Britain at the time was staggering from one crisis to another. In 1957, it raised interest rates and stopped banks using sterling to finance trade in an attempt to keep the pound strong (this was the “currency crisis and the high bank rate” that Smithers told Bond about).

City banks, which could no longer use sterling in the way they were accustomed, began to use dollars instead, and they obtained those dollars from the Soviet Union, which was keeping them in London and Paris so as to avoid becoming vulnerable to American pressure. This turned out to be a profitable thing to do. In the US, there were limits on how much interest banks could charge on dollar loans – but not so in London.

This market – the bankers called the dollars “eurodollars” – gave a bit of life to the City of London in the late 1950s, but not much. The big bond issues were still taking place in New York, a fact which annoyed many bankers in London. After all, many of the companies borrowing the money were European, yet it was American banks that were earning the fat commissions.

One banker in particular was not prepared to tolerate this: Siegmund Warburg. Warburg was an outsider in the cosy world of the City. For one thing, he was German. For another, he hadn’t given up on the idea that a City banker’s job was to hustle for business. In 1962, Warburg learned from a friend at the World Bank that some $3bn was circulating outside the US – sloshing around and ready to be put to use. Warburg had been a banker in Germany in the 1920s and remembered arranging bond deals in foreign currencies. Why couldn’t his bankers do something similar again?

Up to this point, if a company wanted to borrow dollars, it would have to do so in New York. Warburg, however, was pretty confident he knew where he could find a significant chunk of that $3bn – Switzerland. Since at least the 1920s, the Swiss had been in the business of hoarding cash and assets on behalf of foreigners who wanted to avoid scrutiny. By the 1960s, perhaps 5% of all the money in Europe lay under Switzerland’s steel mattresses.

For the City’s most ambitious financiers, this was tantalising: there was all this money squirrelled away, doing nothing much, and it was exactly what they needed in their quest to start selling bonds again. As Warburg saw it, if he could somehow access the money, package it up and lend it, he would be in business. Surely, Warburg thought, he could persuade the people who were paying Swiss bankers to look after their money that they would rather earn an income from it by buying his bonds? And surely he could persuade European companies that they would rather borrow this money from him and avoid paying the steep fees demanded in New York?

It was a great idea, but there was a problem: the compartments of the oil tanker were in the way. It was impossible for Warburg to move that money from Switzerland via London to clients who wanted to borrow it. But he took two of his best men and told them to get it done anyway.


They began their efforts in October 1962, the same month that the Beatles released Love Me Do. The bankers finalised their deal on 1 July the following year, the same day that the Fab Four recorded She Loves You, the song that sparked global Beatlemania. That extraordinary nine months not only revolutionised pop music, but also geopolitics, since they included the Cuban missile crisis and John F Kennedy’s Ich bin ein Berliner speech. Under the circumstances, it is understandable that a simultaneous revolution in global finance passed little remarked.

Warburg’s new bond issue – these bonds became known as “eurobonds”, after the example set by eurodollars – was led by Ian Fraser, a Scottish war hero turned journalist turned banker. He and his colleague Peter Spira had to find ways to defang the taxes and controls designed to prevent hot money flowing across borders, and to find ways to pick and choose different aspects of different countries’ regulations for the various elements of their creation.

If the bonds had been issued in Britain, there would have been a 4% tax on them, so Fraser formally issued them at Schiphol airport in the Netherlands. If the interest were to be paid in Britain, it would have attracted another tax, so Fraser arranged for it to be paid in Luxembourg. He managed to persuade the London Stock Exchange to list the bonds, despite their not being issued or redeemed in Britain, and talked around the central banks of France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Britain, all of which were rightly concerned about the eurobonds’ impact on currency controls. The final trick was to pretend that the borrower was Autostrade – the Italian state motorway company – when really it was IRI, a state holding company. If IRI had been the borrower, it would have had to deduct tax at source, while Autostrade did not have to.

The cumulative effect of this game of jurisdictional Twister was that Fraser created a bond paying a good rate of interest, on which no one had to pay tax of any kind, and which could be turned back into cash anywhere. These were what are known as bearer bonds. Whoever possessed the bond owned them; there was no register of ownership or any obligation to record your holding, which was not written down anywhere.

Fraser’s eurobonds were like magic. Before eurobonds, hidden wealth in Switzerland couldn’t really do much; but now it could buy these fantastic pieces of paper, which could be carried anywhere, redeemed anywhere and all the while paid interest to their owners, tax free. Dodge taxes and make a profit, worldwide.

Staff with gold deposits at the Federal Reserve in New York City, 1968.
Gold deposits at the Federal Reserve in New York, 1968. Photograph: Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty

So, who was buying Fraser’s magical invention? Who was providing the money he was lending to IRI, via Autostrade? “The main buyers of these bonds were individuals, usually from eastern Europe but often also from Latin America, who wanted to have part of their fortune in mobile form so that if they had to leave they could leave quickly with their bonds in a small suitcase,” Fraser wrote in his autobiography. “There was still a mass migration of the surviving Jewish populations of central Europe heading for Israel and the west. To this was added the normal migration of fallen South American dictators heading east. Switzerland was where all this money was stashed away.”

Later, historians tried to downplay Fraser’s account a little, and to claim that corrupt politicians – those fallen South American dictators – made up just a fifth or so of the demand for these early bond issues. As for the remaining four-fifths of the money that bought up the bonds, this came from standard tax dodgers – “Belgian dentists”, the bankers called them – high-earning professionals who steered a chunk of their earnings to Luxembourg or Geneva, and who welcomed this lovely new investment.

The eurobonds set wealth free and were the first step towards creating the virtual country of the rich that I call Moneyland. Moneyland includes offshore finance, but is much broader than that, since it protects every aspect of a rich person’s life from scrutiny, not just their money. The same money-making dynamic that enticed Fraser to defang capital controls on behalf of his clients, entices his modern-day counterparts to find ways for the world’s richest people to avoid visa controls, journalistic scrutiny, legal liability and much more. Moneyland is a place where, if you are rich enough, whoever you are, wherever your money comes from, the laws do not apply to you.

This is the dirty secret at the heart of the City’s rebirth, the beginning of the process that eventually led to today’s stratospheric inequality. It was all made possible by modern communications – the telegram, the phone, the telex, the fax, the email – and it allowed the world’s richest people to avoid the responsibilities of citizenship


That first deal was for $15m. But once the way to sidestep the obstacles that stopped cash flowing offshore had been identified, there was nothing to stop more money following behind. In the second half of 1963, $35m of eurobonds were sold. In 1964, the market was $510m. In 1967, the total passed $1bn for the first time, and it is now one of the biggest markets in the world.

The result was that, over time, the system created at Bretton Woods fell apart. More and more dollars were escaping offshore, where they avoided the regulations and taxes imposed upon them by the US government. But they were still dollars, and thus 35 of them were still worth an ounce of gold.

The trouble that followed stemmed from the fact that dollars don’t just sit around doing nothing. They multiply. If you put a dollar in a bank, the bank uses it as security for the money it lends to someone else, meaning there are more dollars – your dollar, and the dollars someone else has borrowed. And if that person puts the money in another bank, and that bank lends it, there are now even more dollars, and so on.

And since every one of those dollars was nominally worth a fixed amount of gold, the US would have needed to keep buying ever more gold to satisfy the potential demand. If the US did that, however, it would have to have bought that gold with dollars, meaning yet more dollars would exist, which would multiply in turn, meaning more gold purchases, and more dollars, until the system would eventually collapse under the weight of the fact that it didn’t make sense; it couldn’t cope with offshore.

Banker Siegmund Warburg, 1968.
Banker Siegmund Warburg, 1968. Photograph: Getty

The US government tried to defend the dollar/gold price, but every restriction it put on dollar movements just made it more profitable to keep your dollars in London, leading more money to leak offshore, and thus more pressure to build on the dollar/gold price. And where the dollars went, the bankers followed. The City had looser regulations and more accommodating politicians than Wall Street, and the banks loved it. In 1964, 11 US banks had branches in the City of London. In 1975, 58 did.

The US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, who administered the federal banking system, opened a permanent office in London to inspect what the British branches of American banks were up to. But the Americans had no power in the UK and got no help from the locals. “It doesn’t matter to me,” said Jim Keogh, the Bank of England official responsible for monitoring these banks, “whether Citibank is evading American regulations in London”.

By that time, however, Washington had bowed to the inevitable and stopped promising to redeem dollars for gold at $35 an ounce. It was the first step in a steady dismantling of all the safeguards created at Bretton Woods. The philosophical question over who really owned money – the person who earned it, or the country that created it – had been answered.

If you had money, thanks to the accommodating bankers of London and Switzerland, you could now do what you wanted with it and governments could not stop you. As long as one country tolerated offshore, as Britain did, then the efforts of all the others came to nothing. If regulations stop at a country’s borders, but the money can flow wherever it wishes, its owners can outwit any regulators they choose.

The developments that began with Warburg did not stop with simple eurobonds. The basic pattern was endlessly replicable. Identify a line of business that might make you and your clients money. Look around the world for a jurisdiction with the right rules for that business – Liechtenstein, the Cook Islands, Jersey – and use it as a nominal base.

If you couldn’t find a jurisdiction with the right kind of rules, then you threatened or flattered one until it changed its rules to accommodate you. Warburg himself started this off, by explaining to the Bank of England that if Britain did not make its rules competitive and its taxes lower, then he would take his bank elsewhere, perhaps to Luxembourg.

Hey presto, the rules were changed, and the tax – in this case, stamp duty on bearer bonds – was abolished. The world’s response to these developments has been entirely predictable as well. Time after time, countries have chased after the business they have lost offshore (as the US did by abolishing the regulations the banks were dodging when they moved to London), thus making the onshore world ever more similar to the offshore piratical world that Warburg’s bankers created.

Taxes have fallen, regulations have relaxed, politicians have become friendlier, all in an effort to entice the restless money to settle in one jurisdiction rather than another. The reason for this is simple. Once one jurisdiction lets you do what you want, the business flows there and other jurisdictions have to rush to change, too. It is the Moneyland ratchet, always loosening regulations for the benefit of those with money to move around, and never tightening them.

Different nations are affected by Moneyland in different ways. Wealthy citizens of the rich countries of Europe and North America own the largest total amount of cash offshore, but it is a relatively small proportion of their national wealth, thanks to the large size of their economies. The economist Gabriel Zucman estimates it to be just 4% for the US. For Russia, however, 52% of household wealth is offshore, outside the reach of the government. In the Gulf countries, it is an astonishing 57%.

“It’s very easy for oligarchs of developing countries, non-democratic countries, to hide their wealth. That provides them with huge incentives to loot their countries, and there’s no oversight,” says Zucman.

Come January, we will get another update of how much more of the world’s wealth these oligarchs have taken for themselves: the only surprise will be the precise volume of their new acquisition, and how little they have left for the rest of us. But we shouldn’t wait until then to grasp the urgency of the situation.

We need to act now to shine a light on their wealth, on the dark matter whose gravitational power is bending the fabric of our societies. We may have been ignoring Moneyland, but its nomad citizens have not been ignoring us. If we wish to take back control of our economies, and our democracies, we need to act now. Every day that we wait, more money is stacked against us.

Adapted from Moneyland: Why Thieves & Crooks Now Rule The World & How to Take It Back by Oliver Bullough, published by Profile Books


5
Surly Newz / Bullshit Jobs
« on: September 02, 2018, 09:58:22 AM »
On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant

by David Graeber
Printed: Issue 3 The Summer Of...August 2013 Estimated Read Time: 9 minutes

n the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century's end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There's every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn't happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

Why did Keynes' promised utopia—still being eagerly awaited in the '60s—never materialise? The standard line today is that he didn't figure in the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we've collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment's reflection shows it can't really be true. Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the '20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.

John Riordan

ISo what are these new jobs, precisely? A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture (and I note, one pretty much exactly echoed in the UK). Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, ‘professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers’ tripled, growing ‘from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.’ In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be.)

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world's population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning of not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs’.

It's as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the sort of very problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don't really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organizing or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.

The answer clearly isn't economic: it's moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the '60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don't like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done—at least, there's only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there's endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it's all that anyone really does. I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.

Now, I realise any such argument is going to run into immediate objections: ‘who are you to say what jobs are really “necessary”? What's necessary anyway? You're an anthropology professor, what's the “need” for that?’ (And indeed a lot of tabloid readers would take the existence of my job as the very definition of wasteful social expenditure.) And on one level, this is obviously true. There can be no objective measure of social value.

I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless? Not long ago I got back in touch with a school friend who I hadn't seen since I was 12. I was amazed to discover that in the interim, he had become first a poet, then the front man in an indie rock band. I'd heard some of his songs on the radio having no idea the singer was someone I actually knew. He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he'd lost his contract, and plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, ‘taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school.’ Now he's a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.

There's a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call ‘the market’ reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.) But even more, it shows that most people in these jobs are ultimately aware of it. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever met a corporate lawyer who didn't think their job was bullshit. The same goes for almost all the new industries outlined above. There is a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely (one or t'other?) Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one's job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one's work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it's obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It's not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.

Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It's even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It's as if they are being told ‘but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?’

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it's hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc.)—and particularly its financial avatars—but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3–4 hour days.


6
Woman killed as Caltrans crew clears homeless encampment in Modesto

AUG 30, 2018 |11:50 AM
Woman killed as Caltrans crew clears homeless encampment in Modesto
Police say a homeless woman sleeping in a cardboard box was struck and killed by heavy machinery operated by a Caltrans crew clearing a homeless camp earlier this month in Modesto. (Deke Farrow / Associated Press)

A 33-year-old woman sleeping in cardboard box in a homeless camp died this month after she was struck by machinery used by a California Department of Transportation crew to bulldoze the area.

Shannon Marie Bigley’s last known address was in Stockton, but police said prior to her death on Aug. 1, she had set up camp in a grassy field where homeless people frequently sleep alongside Highway 99 south of Kansas Avenue. A Caltrans crew operating a front loader was clearing the area that day.

California Highway Patrol Officer Thomas Olsen said the department’s multidisciplinary accident investigation team is still trying to determine how Bigley died. It is not clear when the investigation will be complete.

“We owe it to the family members and the victim to do a proper investigation,” Olsen said. “We’re not going to rush anything.”

A man who said he witnessed the incident told a reporter at the encampment that her body was “smashed.”

The woman’s death also renewed lingering tensions among Caltrans workers, who have been tasked with cleaning up dozens of homeless encampments across the state.

The union representing Caltrans workers on Wednesday filed a formal complaint with the agency highlighting health and safety concerns related to the practice, which workers contend should not be part of their duties.

“As we have said before, Caltrans is putting our members and the public at risk by requiring them to perform these homeless encampment cleanup duties,” Steve Crouch, director of public employees for Local 39 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, wrote in the complaint.

Caltrans did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

“Our sympathies go out to the family of the woman who was found earlier this month during an encampment cleanup along State Route 99 in Modesto,” the agency wrote in a statement to the Modesto Bee.

Crouch said Caltrans workers are not given protective equipment, training or vaccinations necessary to undertake the hazmat-type work. Homeless encampments where crews are dispatched often are littered with human waste and potentially hazardous items such as needles, which Crouch said poses a health risk for employees.

“This is not work that’s in their job specification,” Crouch said. “These are not hazmat crews. They’re being sent unprepared into an unsafe and unhealthy area.”

Crouch filed a similar grievance with the agency in April. In response, Caltrans officials told him they already were providing employees with necessary vaccinations and training and rejected the complaint, he said.

Keeping homeless encampments at bay is becoming a growing challenge as California’s unsheltered population continues to climb.

The tab for cleaning up homeless encampments across the state also has grown steadily over the past several years. Since 2012, Caltrans has spent about $29 million on it. Last year alone, the agency spent $10 million on the sweeps, according to a March performance report.

Crouch said he was told by Caltrans officials that it’s uncommon for crews to use machines to clear encampments. Before cleanup begins, a supervisor also is expected to survey the area and tag potentially hazardous items, he said.

“We were worried about something like this happening,” Crouch said. “The thing that troubles me about the incident in Modesto is: Why didn’t somebody walk it?”


7
Geopolitics / The Cornpone Nazi Thread
« on: August 05, 2018, 08:34:52 AM »
Protests again convulse Portland, Ore., as groups on the right and left face off

Protests again convulse Portland, Ore., as groups on the right and left face off

Right-wingers, antifascists clash again in Portland

Crowds of right-wing and antifascist demonstrators squared off on Saturday in Portland, Ore, where four people were injured in similar rallies on June 30.(Reuters)

This post has been updated.

PORTLAND, Ore. —Hundreds of protesters from the right and left faced off on downtown streets here Saturday, with police declaring an increasingly tense situation several hours in to be a “civil disturbance” and trying to disperse the crowd through the use of flash grenades and pepper spray.

On a sun-drenched afternoon, the confrontation was just the latest upheaval in a city that has seen repeated and sometimes violent demonstrations since the election of Donald Trump in November 2016. The counterdemonstrators had come to oppose the presence of two groups, Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys, which were teaming up on a permitted rally in a popular riverfront park.

As police tried to get both sides to leave, people at times scrambled through traffic to avoid the clouds of pepper spray. Live-stream shots from the scene showed at least a few individuals bleeding after being hit by projectiles or attacked. Police later announced that four people were arrested on a variety of charges, including harassment, attempted assault on a public safety officer and unlawful use of a weapon.

Fears over serious problems had been building for days, heightened by pronouncements from Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys that members and supporters would be carrying guns and would not shy away from fighting.

But not until Friday did Portland police and Mayor Ted Wheeler release statements emphasizing that city ordinance prohibits carrying a loaded firearm in public unless an individual has a valid state concealed handgun license. They also stressed that Oregon has no concealed handgun license reciprocity with other states.

Another police statement Saturday morning said the goal was “to help facilitate peaceful events and prevent criminal behavior from occurring.” It signaled a heavy police presence and noted that people attending the rally in the park would face security-screening checkpoints and bomb-sniffing dogs.

A coalition of labor unions, immigrant rights groups and others tried to take a high road with their gathering midmorning near City Hall. As they spoke about a world free of homophobia and racism, members of Patriot Prayer arrived via buses and started massing a few blocks away with the Proud Boys, most of them helmeted white males in their 20s and 30s. They carried Don’t Tread on Me Flags. They wore Make America Great Again hats.

Across the four-lane roadway that separates the spacious green waterfront from downtown, hundreds of sign-waving counterprotesters — including those known as antifa for their anti-fascist views — were in position shortly before noon. In the middle were police, clad in riot gear, as announcements blared. “Stay out of the street and stay on the sidewalk,” they ordered over and over. By and large, both sides complied.


Counterprotesters gathered Saturday in opposition to a rally by the right-wing Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys groups in Portland, Ore. (Bob Strong/Reuters)

A protracted standoff followed, with chanting lobbed back and forth across Naito Parkway asofficers stood alert in long lines. The Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys groups marched along the waterfront, ignoring that designated rally area where police had planned their security checkpoints. The department later posted photos to its Twitter account of potential weapons that had been confiscated, including cans of mace and Confederate flag-emblazoned shields.

Patriot Prayer was founded by Joey Gibson, a Vancouver, Wash., real estate investor running for Senate in his home state. Until 16 months ago, he was one conservative voice in an area of the country known for its vocal urban progressiveness. But in April 2017, he found a tribe of like-minded people when he organized a rally in response to a family parade that was canceled after a threatening letter suggested that the float of the local GOP would be attacked by protesters.

Gibson has since organized several rallies across the Columbia River in Oregon. Among the participants, ostensibly to provide security: the Proud Boys, a “Western chauvinist” organization that advertises chapters across North America. Their critics call them extremist, a label the group denies.

During a Facebook live stream Friday, Gibson told his followers they had a right to be armed. “You have a right to follow the law. You have a right to carry things with you following the law. And you do not have the right to be searched,” he said. He wore a hat that read “John 6:10.” Unity, he said, was “to stand shoulder to shoulder, to bleed together.”

On Saturday, he struck a different tone, telling a local reporter on the scene, “We’re here to promote freedom and God and that’s it. . . . Our country’s getting soft, we need leaders to step up, it’s that simple.”

He reiterated that point just before his followers renewed their march about 1:30 p.m., saying they were not in Portland to teach a “small” group of antifa a lesson. “We’re here to teach a lesson to the entire country,” Gibson said. He then urged his group to “go slow, keep tight,” and prayed to God to “silence the enemy.”

Portland streets — and the city’s reputation as an open, liberal place — have been marred repeatedly by protests in the past 20 months.

In the immediate wake of Trump’s election victory, the city endured five nights of tense and sometimes destructive rallies, with protesters upset about his win overshadowed by a group that law enforcement described as anarchists. The latter lit fires and smashed store windows and car windshields. Police scattered crowds with flash grenades, pepper spray rounds and rubber bullets. Dozens of people were arrested.

But in spring 2017, other groups also took to the streets here. Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys were often front and center, intent on protesting the liberal protesters. Antifascists met them — in streets, parks, city squares — and clashes escalated. Over the 2017 Memorial Day weekend, a man who had flung racial slurs and Nazi-style salutes at a Gibson rally allegedly harassed two teen girls — one wearing a hijab — aboard a train. Three men came to their defense, and two of them were fatally slashed.

And just two months ago, a “Freedom and Courage” march led here by Patriot Prayer was again confronted by antifascists. The groups hurled obscenities at each other, and when one punch was thrown, hundreds followed. The scene was declared a riot, several people were hospitalized, and multiple arrests were made.


Portland police keep antifa protesters separate from far-right activists during an afternoon of demonstrations Saturday. (Thomas Patterson/AFP/Getty Images)

In an interview with the Oregonian in July, the mayor expressed a feeling of powerlessness over controlling the events. “We have two objectives,” Wheeler said. “Number one, protect the public safety. Two, give space for people to exercise their First Amendment rights. I’m no fan of the people from Vancouver who come down here and spout their venom . . . It’s a no-win.”

On Friday, Wheeler issued a statement decrying the rally. “I continue to strongly reject the idea that violence or hate speech are legitimate means to a political end,” he said. “It is particularly troubling to me that individuals are posting publicly their intent to act out violently. We don’t want this here.”

Despite the history of such rallies ending in violence, an aide to the mayor said there was no way for Gibson’s permit to be revoked. “There is a law that jurisdictions can’t preemptively deny events based on occurrences at prior demonstrations,” she said.

In the days leading up to Saturday’s protests, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report warning that Portland could become “another Charlottesville” and that online taunting by Gibson and his supporters could make things even more volatile.

Yet Sgt. Christopher Burley, public information officer for the Portland Police, told The Washington Post that the SPLC could be causing bigger problems. “I think it is disheartening that an organization outside the City of Portland is making a statement that could potentially inflame an already intense situation,” he said.


8
Art & Photography / Michael Simms: The Garden and the Drone
« on: August 05, 2018, 07:59:33 AM »

Michael Simms: The Garden and the Drone

We come to the garden because it is beautiful.

Arborvitae, hydrangea, anemone--

Even the names are beautiful.

The men who call themselves our leaders

Seem far away. We feel free to be kind,

To walk from here down the street,

Greeting our neighbors, stopping to give

A dollar to a ragged man sitting on the sidewalk.

Beauty wants us to be kind.

Can we believe in kindness the way we believe in rain?

Can we practice kindness until it becomes a habit,

A custom, a ritual of small acts?

If we step over the homeless man

On the sidewalk, then we can easily ignore

The child in Syria blown apart by our taxes

And our drone hovering over the garden

Where the wedding party waits

For the bride. A missile is launched

And everyone dies.

But such cruelty seems far away.

Here in the garden where virtue is easy

We avoid the cold calculus of blame:

Arborvitae, hydrangea, anemone

Beneath the wide August sky.


Note: According to an article by Tom Engelhardt published by The Nation, U.S. airstrikes have wiped out a total of eight wedding parties in Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan since 2001.

This poem was commissioned by City of Asylum Pittsburgh to be read at the Alphabet City Garden on August 4, 2018.

Copyright 2018 Michael Simms.



Anemone.


A Viceroy visits the Lantana that Contrary cultivates at our home.

9
Surly Newz / WHAT DO WE REALLY KNOW?
« on: August 05, 2018, 05:27:15 AM »
Most provocative article I'v read today. But it's still early. The writer throws a lot of stuff at the wall, and it reads like late Ted Kaczynski. As yes, I know, long AF. But it addresses one of the subjects often in discussion here: how do we know what we know, and what do we really know about it? One ought to question everything. Old time journos were taught, "If your mother says she loves you, check out out."

Quote
This is the only life we get. Time is our total capital. Why waste it allowing our potential, our scope of awareness, our personality, our values to be shaped, crafted, and boxed up according to the whims of the mass panderers? There are many important issues that are crucial to our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being which require time and study. If it’s an issue where money is involved, objective data won’t be so easy to obtain. Remember, if everybody knows something, that image has been bought and paid for.

Real knowledge takes a little effort, a little excavation down at least one level below what “everybody knows.”

Pitch perfect for the Diner Forum.

The Doors of Perception: Why Americans Will Believe Almost Anything

The Doors of Perception: Why Americans Will Believe Almost Anything

By Tim O’Shea

August 04, 2018 "Information Clearing House" - Aldous Huxley’s inspired 1954 essay detailed the vivid, mind-expanding, multisensory insights of his mescaline adventures. By altering his brain chemistry with natural psychotropics, Huxley tapped into a rich and fluid world of shimmering, indescribable beauty and power. With his neurosensory input thus triggered, Huxley was able to enter that parallel universe glimpsed by every mystic and space captain in recorded history. Whether by hallucination or epiphany, Huxley sought to remove all bonds, all controls, all filters, all cultural conditioning from his perceptions and to confront Nature or the World or Reality first-hand – in its unpasteurized, unedited, unretouched infinite rawness.

Those bonds are much harder to break today, half a century later. We are the most conditioned, programmed beings the world has ever known. Not only are our thoughts and attitudes continually being shaped and molded; our very awareness of the whole design seems like it is being subtly and inexorably erased. The doors of our perception are carefully and precisely regulated.

It is an exhausting and endless task to keep explaining to people how most issues of conventional wisdom are scientifically implanted in the public consciousness by a thousand media clips per day. In an effort to save time, I would like to provide just a little background on the handling of information in this country. Once the basic principles are illustrated about how our current system of media control arose historically, the reader might be more apt to question any given story in today’s news.

If everybody believes something, it’s probably wrong. We call that

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

In America, conventional wisdom that has mass acceptance is usually contrived. Somebody paid for it. Examples:

        Pharmaceuticals restore health
        Vaccination brings immunity
        The cure for cancer is just around the corner
        Menopause is a disease condition
        Childhood is a disease condition
        When a child is sick, he needs immediate antibiotics
        When a child has a fever he needs Tylenol
        Hospitals are safe and clean
        America has the best health care in the world.
        Americans have the best health in the world.
        The purpose of Health Care is health.
        Milk is a good source of calcium.
        You never outgrow your need for milk.
        Vitamin C is ascorbic acid.
        Aspirin prevents heart attacks.
        Heart drugs improve the heart.
        Back and neck pain are the only reasons for spinal adjustment.
        No child can get into school without being vaccinated.
        The FDA thoroughly tests all drugs before they go on the market.
        Pregnancy is a serious medical condition
        Infancy is a serious medical condition
        Chemotherapy and radiation are effective cures for cancer
        When your child is diagnosed with an ear infection, antibiotics should be given immediately ‘just in case’
        Ear tubes are for the good of the child.
        Estrogen drugs prevent osteoporosis after menopause.
        Pediatricians are the most highly trained of al medical specialists.
        The purpose of the health care industry is health.
        HIV is the cause of AIDS.
        AZT is the cure.
        Without vaccines, infectious diseases will return
        Fluoride in the city water protects your teeth
        Flu shots prevent the flu.
        Vaccines are thoroughly tested before being placed on the Mandated Schedule.
        Doctors are certain that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh any possible risks.
        There is a terrorist threat in the US.
        The NASDAQ is a natural market controlled by supply and demand.
        Chronic pain is a natural consequence of aging.
        Soy is your healthiest source of protein.
        Insulin shots cure diabetes.
        After we take out your gall bladder you can eat anything you want
        Allergy medicine will cure allergies.
        Your government provides security.
        The Iraqis blew up the World Trade Center.
        Wikipedia is completely open, unbiased, and interactive

This is a list of illusions, that have cost billions to conjure up. Did you ever wonder why most people in this country generally accept most of the above statements?

PROGRAMMING THE VIEWER

Even the most undiscriminating viewer may suspect that TV newsreaders and news articles are not telling us the whole story. The slightly more lucid may have begun to glimpse the calculated intent of standard news content and are wondering about the reliability and accuracy of the way events are presented. For the very few who take time to research beneath the surface and who are still capable of abstract thought, a somewhat darker picture begins to emerge. These may perceive bits of evidence of the profoundly technical science behind much of what is served up in daily media.

Events taking place in today’s world are enormously complex. An impossibly convoluted tangle of interrelated and unrelated occurrences happens simultaneously, often in dynamic conflict. To even acknowledge this complexity contradicts a fundamental axiom of media science: Keep It Simple.

In real life, events don’t take place in black and white, but in a thousand shades of grey. Just discovering the actual facts and events as they transpire is difficult enough. The river is different each time we step into it. By the time a reasonable understanding of an event has been apprehended, new events have already made that interpretation obsolete. And this is not even adding historical, social, or political elements into the mix, which are necessary for interpretation of events. Popular media gives up long before this level of analysis.

Media stories cover only the tiniest fraction of actual events, but stupidly claim to be summarizing “all the news.”

The final goal of media is to create a following of docile, unquestioning consumers. To that end, three primary tools have historically been employed:

deceit
dissimulation
distraction

Over time, the sophistication of these tools of propaganda has evolved to a very structured science, taking its cues in an unbroken line from principles laid down by the Father of Spin himself, Edward L Bernays, over a century ago, as we will see.

Let’s look at each tool very briefly:


DECEIT

Deliberate misrepresentation of fact has always been the privilege of the directors of mass media. Their agents – the PR industry – cannot afford random objective journalism, interpreting events as they actually take place. This would be much too confusing for the average consumer, who has been spoonfed his opinions since the day he was born. No, we can’t have that. In all the confusion, the viewer might get the idea that he is supposed to make up his own mind about the significance of some event or other. The end product of good media is single-mindedness. Individual interpretation of events does not foster the homogenized, one-dimensional lemming outlook.

For this reason, events must have a spin put on them – an interpretation, a frame of reference. Subtleties are omitted; all that is presented is the bottom line. The minute that decision is made – what nuance to put on a story – we have left the world of reporting and have entered the world of propaganda. By definition, propaganda replaces faithful reporting with deceitful reporting.

Here’s an obvious example from the past: the absurd and unremitting allegations of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction as a rationale for the invasion of Iraq. Of course none were ever found, but that is irrelevant. We weren’t really looking for any weapons – but the deceit served its purpose – get us in there. Later the ruse can be abandoned and forgotten; its usefulness is over. And nobody will notice. Characterization of Saddam as a murderous tyrant was decided to be an insufficient excuse for invading a sovereign nation. After all, there are literally dozens of murderous tyrants the world over, going their merry ways. We can’t be expected to police all of them.

So it was decided that the murderous tyrant thing, though good, was not enough. To whip a sleeping people into war consciousness has historically involved one additional prerequisite: threat. Saddam must therefore be not only a baby-killing maniac; he must be a threat to the rest of the world, especially America. Why? Because he has weapons of mass destruction. For almost two years, this myth was assiduously programmed into that lowest common denominator of awareness which Americans substitute for consciousness. Even though the myth has now been openly dismissed by the Regime itself, the majority of us still believe it.

Hitler used the exact same tack with the Czechs and Poles at the beginning of his rampage. These peaceful peoples were not portrayed as an easy mark for the German war machine – no, they were a threat to the Fatherland itself. Just like the unprovoked Chinese annihilation of the peaceful Tibetan civilization in the 1940s. Or like Albania in the Dustin Hoffman movie. Such threats must be crushed by all available force, under the pretext used by every strong nation in history to subjugate a weaker one.

With Iraq, the fact that UN inspectors never came up with any of these dread weapons before Saddam was captured – this fact was never mentioned again. That one phrase – WMD WMD WMD – repeated ad nauseam month after month had served its purpose – whip the people into war mode. It didn’t have to be true; it just had to work. A staggering indicator of how low the general awareness had sunk is that this mantra continued to be used as our license to invade Iraq long after our initial assault. If Saddam had any such weapons, probably a good time to trot them out would be when a foreign country is moving in, wouldn’t you say?

No weapons were ever found, of course, nor will they be. So confident was the PR machine in the general inattention to detail commonly exhibited by the comatose American people that they didn’t even find it necessary to plant a few mass weapons in order to justify the invasion. It was almost insulting. Now nobody asks any more. In 2010 a poll of US soldiers in Iraq showed 60% believed the Iraqis blew up the World Trade Center.

So we see that a little deceit goes a long way. All it takes is repetition. Lay the groundwork and the people will buy anything. After that just ride it out until they seem doubtful again. Then onto the next deceit.

SELLING WAR

Did you ever wonder how all the war leaders down through history were able to persuade armies of thousands as individuals to leave their homes and families and risk their lives for vague, obscure reasons? How do they sell that? How do you get people to go off to war?

With rare exceptions, it’s been the same formula right down the line: sell idealistic young men the lie of the glory of war, defending their country and home from some imaginary enemy, some contrived foreign threat, from a place of alien culture. Then any oppposition to the ‘war effort’ are then lily-livered, unpatriotic, etc. Patriotism – the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Hermann Goering summarized it eloquently at Nuremberg:
 

        ‘Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.’

      This technique holds true right up to the present time, intensified exponentially by the magnitude of incessant, pervasive online media. Worked great for Bush and Obama in their marketing of war.

      DISSIMULATION

      A second tool that is commonly used to create mass intellectual torpor is dissimulation. Dissimulation simply means to pretend not to be something you are. Like phasmid insects who can disguise themselves as leaves or twigs, pretending not to be insects. Or bureaucrats and who pretend not to be acting primarily out of self-interest, but rather in the public interest. To pretend not to be what you are.

      Public servant, indeed.

      Whether it’s the Bush/Obama in Iraq or Hitler in Germany, aggressors do not present themselves as marauding invaders initiating hostilities, but instead as defenders against external threats.

      Freedom-annihilating edicts like the Homeland Security Act and the Patriot Act – still the law of the land – do not represent themselves as the negation of every principle the Founding Fathers laid down, or as shaky pretexts for looting the country, but rather as public services, benevolent and necessary new rules to ensure our SECURITY against various imagined enemies. To pretend to be what you are not: dissimulation.

      Other examples of dissimulation we see today include:

          pretending like the world’s resources are not finite
          pretending like more and more government will not further stifle an already struggling economy
          pretending like programs favoring “minorities” are not just a different form of racism
          pretending like drug laws are necessary for national security
          pretending like passing more and more laws every year is not geared ultimately for the advancement of the law enforcement, security, and prison industries
          pretending there is a bioterrorist threat in the US today
          pretending there is a terrorist threat in the US today
          pretending the present regime has not benefited from every program that came out of 9/11

        To pretend not to be what you are: dissimulation.

        DISTRACTION

        A third tool necessary to media in order to keep the public from thinking too much is distraction. Bread and circuses worked for Caesar in old Rome. Marie Antoinette offered cake when there was no bread. The people need to be kept quiet while the small group in power carries out its agenda, which always involves fortifying its own position.

        Virtually all new policies of the regimes since 9/11 may be explained by plugging in one of four beneficiaries:

            Oil
            Pharmaceuticals
            War gear
            Security industry

          Every act, every political event, every bill introduced, every public statement of the present administration has promoted one or more of these huge sectors. More oil, more drugs, more weapons, more security.

          But the people mustn’t be allowed to notice things like that. So they must be smokescreened by other stuff, blatant obvious stuff which is really easy to understand and which they think has a greater bearing on their day to day life. A classic axiom of propaganda is that people shouldn’t be allowed to think too much about what the government is doing in their name. After all, there’s more to life than politics, right? So while the power group has its cozy little wars and agendas going on, the people need to have their attention diverted.

          All the strongmen of history would have given their eyeteeth to have at their disposal the number and types of distractions available to today’s regimes:

          TV sports, its orchestrated frenzy and spectacle, where the fix is usually in

      Super Sunday

      the endless succession of unspeakably boring, inane movies, short on plot, long on CGI, re-working the same 20 premises, over and over

      the wanton sexless flash of ‘talent shows’ with their uninspired lack of talent, a study in split second phony images

      colossally dull TV programs which serve the secondary purpose of instilling proper robot attitudes into people who have little other instruction in life values

      the artistic Mojave of modern music, with its soulless cyber-droning, a constant quest for the nadir of reptilian brain stimulation, devoid of lyrical competence, instrumental proficiency, or human passion

      the ever-retreating promise of financial success, switched now to the trappings and toys that suggest success, available to anyone with a credit card

      organized superstitions of all varieties, with their requisite pseudo-spiritual trappings

      the constant sensationalization of crimes and “issues” throughout the world whose collective goal is the humble and grateful acknowledgement of “how good we’ve really got it”

      dwelling for months on the minutiae of unsupported allegations of impropriety, preferably sexual, of a celebrity personality

      non-events presented as events, brought to life by media alone, employing one of the Big Three hooks: sex, blood, and racism

      With these ceaseless noisy, banal distractions, the forces promoting the general decline in intelligence and awareness jubilantly engulf us on all sides. Media science holds the advantage: as people get dumber and dumber year by year, it gets easier and easier to keep them dumb. The only challenge is that their threshold keeps getting lower. So in order to keep their attention, messages have to become more obvious and blatant, taking nothing for granted.


      Too long to post without an html line overrun. Read the rest here.

10
Surly Newz / Common Dreams
« on: August 04, 2018, 07:36:05 AM »
Common Dreams

News & Views | 8/4/18

Feature...


HELP :(

by Jessica Corbett, staff writer
As temperatures bust heat records across the globe and wildfires rage from California to the Arctic, a new report produced annually by more than 500 scientists worldwide found that last year, the carbon dioxide concentrations in the Earth's atmosphere reached the highest levels "in the modern...

News...



by Jake Johnson, staff writer
Infuriated by a scathing United Nations report estimating that over 18 million Americans are living in "extreme poverty" and accusing the Trump administration of "deliberately" making such destitution worse with its tax cuts for the rich, the White House insisted in its June response to the U.N. analysis that the United States is overflowing with "prosperity" and that claims of widespread poverty are "exaggerated."



by Julia Conley, staff writer
After misleading parents into waiving their right to be reunited with their children—and then deporting them—the Trump administration claimed on Thursday that if immigrant rights groups want families reunited, they should now be responsible for finding the parents who have been sent back to their home countries.



by Julia Conley, staff writer
The White House has shrugged off accusations that President Donald Trump is waging war on the news media—notably this week when press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to state that the press is not, as Trump has stated, "the enemy of the people."


buzzzz

by Jessica Corbett, staff writer
While regulators in other regions of the world have recently worked to ban bee-poisoning pesticides called neonicotinoids that scientists have long warned could cause an "ecological armageddon," the Trump administration just reversed an Obama-era policy that had outlawed the use of neonics and genetically modified crops in the nation's wildlife refuges.


protest

by Jessica Corbett, staff writer
In a march that shut down a portion of Lake Shore Drive during rush hour and ended with prayers and speeches outside of Wrigley Field, hundreds of anti-violence protesters marched in Chicago on Thursday evening to demand that the city invest in its impoverished neighborhoods and to call for the resignations of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.



by Jake Johnson, staff writer
In a keynote address at the annual Netroots Nation gathering in New Orleans on Thursday, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer tore into establishment Democrats for refusing to do "anything real" to stop President Donald Trump and accused Democratic leaders of lacking the courage and "common sense" to support impeachment.

More News

Views...


"Racism has been an essential part of the Republican playbook for decades. Elected over and over as defenders of white working people’s “way of life,” the GOP has reliably used its political power to make its rich donors richer."(Photo: Getty)

by Tim Koechlin
Blaming the hard times suffered by struggling whites on “underserving” people of color – is as old as America


Cattle in central California.

by Ben Lilliston
The deceptive use of “Product of U.S.A” in labeling imported beef hurts ranchers, consumers, and the environment


"Fixing our broken farm policy and ensuring a functional marketplace where farmers are paid fairly would."(Photo: TumblingRun/flickr/cc)

by Patty Lovera
And what we really need to do to get agriculture back on track


"Albence’s testimony should drive home that there is nothing the Trump administration will not say to defend the indefensible."(Photo: US Customs and Border Protection/Flickr)

by Amrit Cheng
It’s a ludicrous statement, entirely disconnected from reality or any semblance of humanity


Vernon Haltom, executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch, testified before a congressional subcommittee this week about the impact of coal mining on Appalachian communities. (Image is a still from the official video)

by Vernon Haltom
"Whether it's coal to Asia, coal waste to oil, coal to plastics, or coal to rainbows and unicorns, that coal is mined from the bones and the lungs of people who can never be fairly compensated for their injuries or their lives."


A snarky sign seen in San Francisco.

by Dean Baker
As the Republican motto goes, "tax cuts are for rich people."

More Views

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11
Surly Newz / The Coming Climate Refugee Migration Crisis
« on: August 04, 2018, 05:01:45 AM »
I looked in on this discussion on r/collapse. Interesting that the commenters there already recognize that climate migrations are an all-but-inevitability as the planet begins to be come unlivable near the tropics. Some of the comments were surprising. Such as this one:

I'm convinced the current increase in border "security" and ICE raids and whatnot is, if not conscious still definitely real, practice for dealing with climate refugees in the near future.

How do you think the climate change refugee crisis will be handled?(self.collapse)

submitted by sexpletive

At this point it looks like with unmitigated, horrifying cruelty, but that's just me.

all 40 comments
sorted by:
best

Eventually it will be dealt with by building impenetrable land borders and setting up zero-tolerance sea border patrols.

Is this "unmitigated, horrifying cruelty"? Yes, sort of. It's like being in one of the lifeboats after the Titanic sank, knowing perfectly well that there are people in the sea who are going to die. But your lifeboat is full, and if you don't prevent them from climbing aboard then it will sink.

[–]SarahCAcademi hopeful0 points 

Imagine the water running out in Saudi Arabia. Everyone runs over to Europe.
Say 100 million at a start..... the UK gets 50 million for instance..... everyone just landing on the beaches and running into the cities. Via the Thames too!
The sea defences barely make a dent.

So UK - 2040....... population 110 million, 1 in every 2 people is a direct climate refugee. There's no water infrastructure can support anyone - there are camps everywhere - they block traffic, and violence breaks out everywhere. People are shoved out of their own homes, so people on the street are a mix of original refugees, and recent local refugees.

The police - stretched at 50 million people, are completely inefficient at 100 million.

Society collapses - all that can be done is food drops from planes by the UN.

[–]Elukka3 points 

They can't "run to Europe." If a society the size of S-A collapses there won't be organized transport flights of millions of people. What could happen is that tens of thousands flee by plane, hundreds of thousands scram to neighboring countries by car, millions try to walk somewhere and the rest just die or survive in place. In a world situation where suddenly tens of millions of new people go thirsty and hungry, they aren't walking or driving anywhere for 3000 miles. The logistics collapse and then fuel and food supply collapses and the roads become clogged and littered with the dying wherever the fuel and water runs out. It will be much more chaotic and lethal than the migrations of the post-roman collapse where people moved over the decades and centuries with their cattle, children, camps, priests, warriors and their whole nomadic society.

When tolerance of and demand for multicultural richness and humanitarian do-goodery runs out, you will see western nations start to fortify their borders and enact strict residence controls. In a world of dwindling resources and increasing disasters people will eventually put their own first regardless of what's considered good now. Borders, tribes and nations might be social constructs but they serve a purpose and they are strong during times of calamity.

[–]Spotted_Blewit2 points 

They wouldn't get anywhere near the UK. They'd end up in places like Turkey and the coastal states of North Africa.

I suspect the political situation in the UK will be such that no refugees from the islamic world will be allowed in, long before the water runs out in SA.

[–]global_dimmer26 points 

Badly at first. And then badly.

[–]FallibleSanguine16 points 

+1 on the unmitigated cruelty. Though, assuming countries are already having issues with water shortages and the like, probably not a good idea to let swathes more people come in, will only exacerbate the situation.

[–]CelestialCock13 points 

Sooner or later rich countries will make their borders impenetrable.

A lot of people say this would be impossible but that's nonsense. Technically it's not hard to make a border impenetrable. The iron curtain was practically impenetrable and it was 1000s of kilometers long. It's just that politicians have been too squemish to implement such a thing, because it would have some nasty side effects. On the iron curtain, border guards were authorised to shoot illegal border crossers on sight.

I wouldn't be surprised if a new iron curtain was erected in the next couple of decades, only this time to keep people out.

[–]deathisonitsway3 points 

As I recall, unnamed people high-up in the Pentagon told journalist Gwynne Dyer ("Climate Wars") that a wall on the southern US border would definitely happen due to climate refugees.

This was some years before the current administration, and is rather ironic for multiple reasons

[–]alacp12341 point 

[url=https://youtu.be/Mc_4Z1oiXhY]https://youtu.be/Mc_4Z1oiXhY[/url]

He also says that there’s talk within the northern countries of the EU to impose border control on the Southern countries as the refugee crisis gets worse. I fear Children of Men will become a reality in the next decade.

[–]SarahCAcademi hopeful1 point 

and is rather ironic for multiple reasons

I can think of two bad ones I made up - what are you thinking?

[–]Octagon_Ocelot3 points 

The difference with the iron curtain is that if you made it through you were generally ok and given asylum. In a situation where countries realize this is a true fight for survival there will be no putting up with people making it past the border.

The real question will be what happens at sea. I can only think boats will be sunk and survivors left to drown. I just don't know how long it will take to get to that point. The current process of taking survivors, bringing them back to your country, feeding and housing them while the courts drag on forever with asylum cases is completely untenable.

[–]Elukka1 point 

They will eventually use drones to sink every little dinghy that tries to cross. After a year of 99% lethality and 99% rounding up of the survivors on the Mediterranean crossing, almost no one would try to cross it. People would look for other routes

[–]NotThoseThings11 points 

It's not being handled well so far.

[–]ErikaTheZebra8 points 

Probably just as well as we handled climate change.

[–]travessia8 points 

Same as every other – a patchwork of cruelties including bureaucracy, expulsions, fences, detention centers, deportations, fence-jumpings, bum's-rushes, slow-walkings of asylum requests, boat-sinkings, squalid camps, disease outbreaks, people suffocating in trucks, lots of dying of every kind.

[–]Humans-R-Scum16 points 

Some of the loudest overprivileged progressives will be demanding bullets and walls when the reality sinks in that sharing means loss of privilege. Then they will really get loud when it sinks in that killing migrants today means their own kids get to live a little longer. These will be some of the the choices the humans have left themselves assuming there ever was much choice to begin with.

[–]xenagohumans must contribute to their local ecosystems6 points 

Most aspects of civilization could be described as horrifying and cruel, so I'd say you're on the right track.

[–]McCree1145 points 

So the gist I'm getting here is that the Western world (after causing most of the damage leading to the impending extinction level climate collapse) will respond to third world refugees (who had little to nothing to do with the 250 years of rampant laissez-faire industrialism killing the planet) fleeing the inhospitable zones with giant walls and guns. Like intentionally setting the chicken coup on fire and then killing the chickens for fleeing into the pig pen.

When it gets so bad that people are fleeing from areas literally rendered inhospitable to human life society will most likely have collapsed past the point of having governments able to organize robust border control and whether you let them in or not makes no difference. At that point your own country is just as fucked as everyone is now part of the post ecological collapse hellhole. Your kids will be killing "fellow countrymen" for scraps to sustain themselves just a few more days.

[–]SarahCAcademi hopeful1 point 

Like intentionally setting the chicken coup on fire and then killing the chickens for fleeing into the pig pen.

Just like that..... there's hundreds of millions on the way when things get bad enough.

They will overwhelm the borders, and "society" will double in size over a few short weeks... collapsing all infrastructure - water, sanitation, roads, housing, police.....

The police were stretched with the 60 million people of the UK, they are completely ineffective at 110 million.

The UN can only drop aid by air, and gangs form, most people getting no food, the gangs hording everything.

The army can't enter due to world condemnation of military involvement.

People starve, crime is rampant, disease everywhere.

And in one short month, society is reduced to the level it would be after a nuke attack.

[–]diet_pepsi_bottle3 points 

Machine guns.

[–]sc00p3 points 

Fascism will rise.

[–]weezthejooce3 points 

Jesus Christ guys.

[–]MaleficentBiscotti90 points 

eh don't put your faith in that

[–]was_kinetics3 points 

With genocide.

[–]bryter-later8 points 

With bullets and bombs... sadly

[–]Transocialist5 points 

Genocide.

[–]roo10661 point 

All of this hysteria about building a wall has been manufactured by the republican party not just because it demonizes Latin American immigrants (though that's a nice bonus), their intent is to keep out the massive caravans of hundreds of millions of climate refugees who will soon be on their way. They're planting seeds of support for an idea they think will be necessary.

[–]SarahCAcademi hopeful1 point 

: nods : isn't the wall part of the "American national security" plans for climate change?

If anything Trump is the perfect dude to implement it - people hate him anyway, so sticking up a wall with him in power (notice I didn't say HE put the wall up), will be accepted grudgingly as a part of what many perceive as a "shit show".

When it was all planned, critical paths of Gannt charts worked through a decade ago.

When half the worlds population jumps into Europe and America....... it'll get a bit "messy" keeping infrastructure, food, and law and order.

[–]CytheYoungerDeclinist1 point 

I'd put money on Totalitarianism.

[–]Nihilist_11 point 

In the end, bullets and bombs.

[–]BigHatMatt1 point 

This current kumbaya attitude that the liberal elite & their hanger-ons have is just a passing stage. Large part of the liberal establishment will go Fortress Europe or Apartheid the moment they start to feel more threatened by the brown tide than by the poor white. It's easy to be overflowingly charitable towards refugees/asylum seekers when you have outsourced most of the costs, required sacrifices & negative effects to other, usually poorer citizens.

The liberal elite will go sour towards refugees and demand closing the borders/deportations the moment when they're expected to make big financial sacrifices and give up luxuries & privileges to pay the upkeep of the burgeoning refugee population and when they really start to feel negative effects refugee/immigration problem like increasing crime and immigrant riots start to spill into their neighborhoods. The culture people (artists, singers, actors) especially will lose their love towards refugees when the state has to stop/seriously scale back the sponsorships of cultural activities & organizations and they start to lose their jobs and quality of life - then they will start to blame the refugees & immigrants for ruining their life.

Easy to be totally naive & unrealistic towards refugee & immigration issues ("WE MUST LET ALL TO COME! WE OWE IT TO THEM!") if all the foreign people in your own neighborhood are well behaved and highly educated and increased police patrols in the area & private security chases off the ones that aren't, your kid's elite school is nice and safe and immigrant kid gangs aren't causing havoc, you get to see your private doctor whenever you want etc.

The whole thing is damn depressing. and I fear for future because my gf has Middle-Eastern roots and can't really pass as white person. I'm all for helping but it needs to be sustainable. The virtue brownie points don't help when the shit hits the fan. The bigger refugee population the country racks before that happens - the bigger the mess will be when the situation starts to get out of control and the more drastic steps the authorities and elite will take. I seriously hope Finland doesn't go full steam Sweden and take 200 000 - 400 000 new asylum seekers/refugees during the 2020s.

[–]SarahCAcademi hopeful1 point 

Easy to be totally naive & unrealistic towards refugee & immigration issues ("WE MUST LET ALL TO COME! WE OWE IT TO THEM!")

Yup - everything you said after this too. People are unaware of the NUMBERS of people too.

The UK in total, including babies and old people - is 65 million. With 7.5 billion people on the planet, it's not unlikely - in fact it's VERY likely that 500 million will want to hit the UK.

500,000,000 are NOT going to be stopped at the borders, every beach on the UK will have refugees landing on them, and running into the nearest towns and cities.

10 X the number of people already in the UK now, hitting the UK in a month.

People will be kicked out of their houses by gangs. Shacks built in streets, getting to work impossible. Food lorries for the supermarkets will be looted en-root.

Supermarkets would be empty, people couldn't get to work, the police would be out numbered 50 to 1, food will run out.

The water supply would not keep up. Sanitation would not exist...

Gangs would form or increase in size, and would control food. The UN would only be able to drop food in. The gangs would claim it straight away.

Mass starvation and death, dehydration, massive disease outbreaks due to no sanitation (water, nor toilets enough), soon people want to LEAVE the UK because as a functional society, it can no longer exist.

If a "refugee" bomb of 4 billion get on the move, collapse of first world nations will be fast and complete.

[–]AArgot1 point 

The only possibility is war. We know how this species behaves.

[–]CaptainRyRytbh only communism can save us1 point 

I'm convinced the current increase in border "security" and ICE raids and whatnot is, if not conscious still definitely real, practice for dealing with climate refugees in the near future.

[–]MaleficentBiscotti91 point 

in the future they won't make it past the border they'll just be gunned down

nice flair but its too late even for communism to save us. Too bad the USSR didn't win the cold war theyactually understood the threat at least :(

[–]MaleficentBiscotti91 point 

machine guns

[–]SnapesGrayUnderpants1 point 

Americans believe the best possible scenario is if everyone takes care of themselves and their families without government involvement. Therefore, we don't make large scale response plans for natural disasters, much less train our citizens in emergency preparedness. Thus we have situations like housing developments in the Houston area that were actually built inside flood reservoirs and sold to unsuspecting buyers. And because people have to evacuate themselves in a disaster, people who cannot do so are often left behind while the highways get clogged with traffic for hours and cars run out of gas. It just doesn't occur to us that we could or should be doing a lot more as a nation rather than leaving everyone to just deal with it individually.

At present, we have zero plans to deal with movements of people within our own borders in response to climate change. I imagine that when things get hairy, our response is most likely to be some form of police/military enforced martial law within the US and military action to keep foreign refugees outside, assuming they want in. But as far as any other coordinated, proactive response goes, I highly doubt it. It will be totally reactionary/after-the-fact.

[–]Robinhood192000[score hidden] 

Badly.


12
Geopolitics / The Manafort Trial
« on: August 01, 2018, 01:52:00 AM »
With Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman on trial, America is reckoning with its very serious kleptocracy problem.

This Is So Much Bigger Than Paul Manafort


Franklin Foer


BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

On the eve of the Paul Manafort trial, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin casually announced that the Trump administration was considering a fresh $100 billion tax cut for the wealthy. The two events—the trial and the tax cut—should be considered plot points in the very same narrative. Manafort had grown very rich by looting public monies, and Mnuchin was proposing an arguably legal version of the same.

Unlike past Trump tax cuts, this proposed cut would be implemented by executive fiat, without a congressional vote—a highly unusual and highly undemocratic act of plunder that would redirect money from the state to further enrich the American elite, not to mention Mnuchin himself.

The trial of Paul Manafort is not merely an episode in a larger scandal that will unfold over many chapters. It is a warning not to be ignored. It’s an occasion for the United States to awaken from its collective slumber about the creeping dangers of kleptocracy.

So much about the American view of itself resists accepting a disturbing reality. Conventional wisdom long held that America’s free market would never tolerate the sort of clientelism, nepotism, and outright theft that prevailed in places like Brazil and Italy. Americans thought that globalization would export the hygienic habits of this nation’s financial system and its values of good government to the rest of the world. But over the past three decades, the opposite transpired: America has become the sanctuary of choice for laundered money, a bastion of shell companies and anonymously purchased real estate. American elites have learned to plant money offshore with acumen that comes close to matching their crooked counterparts abroad.

Manafort is one of the architects of this new world order. During the 1980s and 1990s, he provided strategic advice to the thuggish dictators who served as proxies for the Reagan administration’s anti-Communist foreign policy. With his mastery of American media, he helped sanitize crooks like the former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda—the symbol of their regime, the 3,000 pairs of shoes she owned, was a little less than the number of people by killed it. These dictators (also Angola’s Jonas Savimbi, the Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko, and Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi) should never have been respectable figures in Washington. But Manafort reinvented them as latter-day Thomas Jeffersons, allies in the cause of democracy, and successfully lobbied for them to receive arms and aid from the U.S. government.

Paul Manafort’s pursuit of foreign cash and shady deals laid the groundwork for the corruption of Washington.

As Communism fell, the former Soviet Union became the scene of one of the biggest heists in history, and the opportunity of a lifetime for Paul Manafort. In Russia, the KGB steered billions into offshore accounts during the dying days of the regime, the beginning of a pattern of plunder best described by the late Karen Dawisha in her instant classic, Putin’s Kleptocracy. These funds became the basis for some of the fortunes of those who now appear as characters in the Russiagate scandal. Vladimir Putin himself amassed wealth that totaled more than $40 billion, when Dawisha calculated his haul several years ago. Russians who invested in Trump real estate over the years had many motives. But everything we know about kleptocracy suggests that they were likely attempting to relocate their money to a place where it would both disappear from public view and have the protections that come with the American rule of law.

An important part of this story is Ukraine. Paul Manafort went to work there in 2004—and the country’s ruling party remained his primary client until 2014. During those years, the country hemorrhaged more than $118 billion in illicit financial flows, according to the Kleptocracy Initiative, a think tank that has published invaluable reports about the scourge of corruption. (To set that number in relief, the country’s entire gross domestic product in 2013 was $181 billion.) Stealing this money wasn’t a victimless crime: It came at the expense of Ukraine’s development as a market economy; it sucked funds away from public investment; it eroded faith in democracy and Western institutions. The West hypocritically lectured Ukraine about good government while it profited from Ukrainian oligarchs parking cash in Vienna, London, and New York.

Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs stole these vast fortunes, but they couldn’t accomplish the feat on their own. They needed enablers, and in the course of Mueller’s prosecution of Manafort, we’ve come to see how pillars of the American establishment filled this role.

Barack Obama’s White House counsel Greg Craig and his top-drawer law firm Skadden Arps abetted former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s efforts to smash the political opponents who might get in the way of his thievery. Manafort arranged for the firm to publish a report justifying the arrest of a former Ukrainian prime minister, who had been denied counsel at crucial moments of her trial. (Last April, Craig retired from the firm under a cloud of scandal. Another Skadden associate who worked with Manafort has pled guilty to misleading Mueller’s investigators.) Tony Podesta, a leading Democratic lobbyist of his generation, has watched his own power firm collapse after Mueller revealed his complicity in Manafort’s efforts. These are not stray villains, but representative figures: American law firms play an essential role in protecting global kleptocracy and helping it relocate money to the United States.

Manafort was, of course, the most important enabler of them all. During the decade he spent in Ukraine, he helped a clique of former gangsters seize control of the country’s governmental machinery, a feat he achieved by bringing state-of-the-art campaign strategy to a barely developed democracy. He hired a network of former European politicians to apologize for the regime, to whitewash its history of corruption and illiberalism. Back in Washington, Manafort would escort oligarchs around town, taking them to think tanks and meetings with politicians, helping them achieve the legitimacy that they hoped would protect their ill-gotten fortunes.

It doesn’t require any imagination to see how money stolen from Ukrainian coffers, money won in rigged privatizations and crony contracts, money obtained after the brutal murder of rivals, ended up with Paul Manafort. Clean money doesn’t need to travel through shell companies in Cyprus, like the millions that Manafort poured into accounts there. And Manafort allegedly used the same techniques of his dodgy clients to repatriate the money in the United States, taking advantage of gaps in the enforcement of anti-money-laundering laws to sneak cash into the country through real estate, expensive rugs, and tailored suits.

What’s increasingly clear is that Manafort also attempted to exploit the Trump campaign with similarly kleptocratic aims. Take the story of Stephen Calk that has emerged in the course of Mueller’s pretrial filings. Calk owns a small Chicago bank. In the summer of 2016, Manafort applied for a loan from the bank—and the claims in Manafort’s loan applications were obviously shaky. According to Mueller, officials in the bank were quite adamant in expressing their reservations about Manafort’s application. But there was apparently a backstory that these officials didn’t know. Calk had won a place on Trump’s board of economic advisors, one of 13. Mueller’s lawyers have said that they plan to prove that Calk only landed this official title after promising Manafort loans. So, even as Manafort departed the campaign amid widespread allegations of misdeeds, Calk extended him loan after loan, $16 million in total. (The loans represented 22 percent of the bank’s total equity capital.)

This small tale is just one instance of a larger genre repeated across this administration—the hints that foreign countries are financing deals that profit the president’s own family; the long list of officials (see also: Scott Pruitt, Tom Price) abusing the perquisites of their office. And those stories are just a subset of an even larger narrative still, of an American elite increasingly at home in the ranks of international kleptocracy. Thanks to Robert Mueller, that racket is now on trial.

We want to hear what you think. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.


13
Surly Newz / Who They Are...
« on: July 25, 2018, 07:20:51 AM »
Really, why would anyone be surprised?

Pro-Confederate Birther Introduced Maria Butina’s Handler to NRA Chief

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY THE DAILY BEAST

WHITE WEDDING

Pro-Confederate Birther Introduced Maria Butina’s Handler to NRA Chief

The unlikely union of the American gun-rights movement and Moscow starts with G. Kline Preston IV, a Tennessee attorney who says he’d like Vladimir Putin to run the U.S government.

The first American to introduce two of the major players at the heart of a shocking Russian spy scandal has such deep ties to Moscow that he has doubted Barack Obama’s American citizenship in the course of demonstrating his affinity for Vladimir Putin.

“As long as U.S. is electing foreign-born presidents,”tweetedTennessee attorney G. Kline Preston IV in 2013, “I propose Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.”

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Two years later, at a rally featuring soon-to-be-President Donald Trump, Prestontweeted: “Donald Trump today in Nashville. He is a friend of Russia.” He wrote the message in Russian.

In other words, at the very beginning of what appears to be an audacious geopolitical gambit to pivot the American right in Moscow’s direction is a birther who has explicitly stated a preference for Vladimir Putin to run the United States of America. He’s also something of a Confederate enthusiast, according to his Facebook activity.

“As long as U.S. is electing foreign-born presidents... I propose Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.”
—G. Kline Preston IV

Preston’s offline activities mirror his social-media habits. He’s occasionally works as a freelance elections observer for Russia, testifying about the fidelity and freedom of various Russian elections and bringing Moscow an American voice it can point to for legitimacy. And he’s brought officials to his home state of Tennessee to witness an American presidential election up close. Preston is also tied to Marsha Blackburn, a conservative congresswoman running for Senate in Tennessee.

It’s just a small indicator of Preston’s longstanding ties to Russia, and in particular to Alexander Torshin.

Torshin, a former Russian parliamentarian nowunder Treasury Department sanctions, is a friend and confidant of Preston, who has described Torshin as a client. In 2011, accordingtomultipleaccounts, Preston introduced Torshin to David Keene, then the president of the National Rifle Association. (Torshin “was interested in the NRA so I hooked him up,” Preston toldThe Tennesseanearlier this year.) It’s the first known contact between the NRA and the Russians, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Preston’s ties to Torshin are particularly significant now that a Torshin protégé is accused of infiltrating the NRA to tilt the supremely influential lobby group in a pro-Russian direction—and with it, the Republican Party.

Last week, federal prosecutors charged Maria Butina, a Russian national who made inroads to the U.S. right through a stated love of guns, with being an unregistered Russian agent, tight with Russian intelligence, whotraded sex for influence in American right-of-center circles. A figure matching Torshin’s description is listed in court documents only as a “Russian Official.”

Butina, working with Torshin, spent years cozying up to American conservatives to sell them on Russia as a natural ally for the American right. Preston was there first.

Preston studied in Russia as an undergraduate and speaks the language fluently, according toa 2002 article in theNashville Business Journal. His Facebook pag esays he studied at Leningrad State University.According to his LinkedIn page, Preston has 20 years of experience doing business with Russia. The page also boasts that he gave a speech to the Russian Duma in 2009 and that he is an expert on Russian copyright issues. Indeed, Preston even published a 2008 book on Russian copyright law and represented the Russian pop singer Sergey Lazarev in a licensing dispute over his song “Almost Sorry.”

cached version of Preston’s law office’s website boasts of extensive work with Russian clients. He claims to have organized a “visit, participation and conference for Russian Government Officials to attend the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association.”

The cached site also claims that he organized “private communications, conferences and physical observations for Russian Government Officials to review and analyze the operations of private-prison industry founder and leader Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) as part of a Russian Government study on the feasibility of implementing private prisons in the Russian Federation.”

Preston also claims to have provided legal analysis for an unnamed “U.S.- based investment fund for [a] real-estate development project in the Russian Federation.”

Preston has a longstanding relationship with Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the Tennessee Republican running for the U.S. Senate. Preston represented her in 2005 and provided legal advice to her campaign in 2007,according toThe Tennessean. He told the paper in March that he and Blackburn are “family friends.”The liberal site Think Progress reportedthat Preston started working for Blackburn in 2003 and was working with her as recently as 2014.

Reached for comment for this story, a spokesperson for Blackburn referred The Daily Beast to her response toThe Tennessean.

“Congressman Blackburn believes Russia is not our friend—and thinks we need to treat Russia like any bully: We need to be strong enough to prevent them from pushing the United States and our allies around, and we need to draw firm lines and show them that America is not to be trifled with.”

Preston told The Daily Beast he would “respond to written questions” and then did not.

Accordingly, it’s unclear how Preston linked up with Torshin before linking the Russian to Keene.The Washington Postreported that Preston first brokered an introduction betweenTorshin and Keenein 2011, the same year that Preston traveled to Russia to observe legislative elections there. Preston recounted the introductiontoRolling Stone, as well. “I told [Keene], ‘Hey, I got a friend who is interested in the NRA, gun rights, that kind of stuff. Happens to be a Russian senator.’ ” He toldThe Tennesseanin March that Torshin “had and has a legitimate interest in the NRA and he’s not anti-American in any way.”

An associate of Keene’s told The Daily Beast he was “out of cellphone range” on a fly-fishing trip and unreachable for comment.

Echoing Trump, Preston told the paper that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, presented by multiple U.S. intelligence agencies and detailed in two indictments of Russian nationals by special counsel Robert Mueller, is a “witch hunt.”

“I told [Keene], ‘Hey, I got a friend who is interested in the NRA, gun rights, that kind of stuff. Happens to be a Russian senator.’
—G. Kline Preston IV

In his self-published 2012 book,The Art of Gettin’ Paid, Preston references business ventures in Russia there stretching back decades. (His private Twitter handle,@gittinpaid, references the book.) He claims in the book to have financed his law degree by importing a Ukrainian vodka.

“I witnessed an economic disaster much worse than this in Russia and Ukraine immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union,” Preston wrote. “We are nowhere near that time or economy, but the lessons in business that I learned in Russia and Ukraine in the early 1990s are applicable today here in the United States.”

That year, Preston took Torshin on an unusual trip to Tennessee to witness the vote for the presidential election. Accompanying them was Igor A. Matveev, a Russian diplomat, formerly assigned to the Russian embassy in Washington. Matveev has since been posted to Syria. Aphoto Torshin tweetedshows him standing on line at a polling place; Preston is behind him.

Unusual as the visit was, it was also something of a reciprocal exchange. Prestonobservedhe Russian parliamentary elections in 2011 and 2016 as well as the presidential elections in 2012. He pronounced the 2011 parliamentary vote free and fair. By contrast, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)foundthat the “lack of independence of the election administration, the partiality of most media, and the undue interference of state authorities at different levels” failed to provide the “necessary conditions for fair electoral competition.” A 2011 book Preston wrote about the Russian vote carried the subtitle “The Case Against Western Media Bias and Prejudice.”

Later that same year, Preston was in Russia to discuss the parliamentary elections and lamented to aninterviewerthat he was at a loss for then-Prime Minister Putin’s poor American reputation. “Maybe because he’s a strong leader. Maybe because he’s done a pretty effective job in Russia, first as president and now as prime minister... I’ve seen improvements in Russia under Putin, myself. I don’t see why the United States & a lot of other countries are opposed to him.”

He’ssince been back to observe additional Russian elections, most recently in March,according toThe Tennessean. And according to NPR’s Tim Mak, Prestondeclared the voting in Russian-occupied Crimeaduring the most recent presidential elections to be aboveboard. (For its part, the OSCE, the gold standard for election monitoring,declared the presidential electiona “choice without competition” and noted the vote “took place in an overly controlled environment, marked by continued pressure on critical voices.”)

А.П. Торшин@torshin_ru

Губернатор Теннеси (слева). Республиканец.

In 2015, Torshin and Preston attended an NRA convention in Nashville thatfeatured a Trump appearance. WhenThe Tennesseanasked if Torshin met Trump there, Preston said he “may have” but didn’t know for certain. “Trump shook hands with a lot of people,” Preston told the paper.

Preston’s fondness for the Russian electoral process has not gone unrequited. On his law firm’s website, Preston wrote that he has received theRussian Federation Council’s“Order of the Russian Nation for his contributions to Russian-American relations” as well as the “Nikolai Girenko Award for his contributions to Russian Civil Law.”

All the while, Preston continued to press Moscow’s case. To Think Progress, he’s proclaimed that Putin is “God-sent.” On Facebook, he’s shared propagandistic imagery showing Russian-backed paramilitary forces in the Donbass region of Ukraine. He’s also shared and liked imagery of the Confederate flag,other pro-Confederate propaganda—a different tweet referred to the Civil War as the “War for Southern Independence”—and a now-deleted video purportedly showing Obama “bashing” Jesus Christ. He liked a 2015 Facebook picture Butina posted ofher and Torshin. Preston’sArt of Gettin’ Paidbook features a famous quotation from Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Tennessean.

For good measure, Preston posted a picture of Putinbeside a white horse receiving a snuggle from an enthusiastic dog.


14
Surly Newz / WHEN THE END OF HUMAN CIVILIZATION IS YOUR DAY JOB
« on: July 22, 2018, 10:07:45 AM »
It's all right here.

WHEN THE END OF HUMAN CIVILIZATION IS YOUR DAY JOB

Glaciologist Jason Box, left, at work on the Petermann Glacier on Greenland's northwest coast, which has lost mass at an accelerated pace in recent years. Box and his family left Ohio State for Europe a couple years ago, and he is relieved to have escaped America's culture of climate-change denial.
Nick Cobbing

WHEN THE END OF HUMAN CIVILIZATION IS YOUR DAY JOB

Among many climate scientists, gloom has set in. Things are worse than we think, but they can't really talk about it.

This story was published in the August 2015 issue of Esquire.

The incident was small, but Jason Box doesn't want to talk about it. He's been skittish about the media since it happened. This was last summer, as he was reading the cheery blog posts transmitted by the chief scientist on the Swedish icebreaker Oden, which was exploring the Arctic for an international expedition led by Stockholm University. "Our first observations of elevated methane levels, about ten times higher than in background seawater, were documented . . . we discovered over 100 new methane seep sites.... The weather Gods are still on our side as we steam through a now ice-free Laptev Sea...."

As a leading climatologist who spent many years studying the Arctic at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at Ohio State, Box knew that this breezy scientific detachment described one of the nightmare long-shot climate scenarios: a feedback loop where warming seas release methane that causes warming that releases more methane that causes more warming, on and on until the planet is incompatible with human life. And he knew there were similar methane releases occurring in the area. On impulse, he sent out a tweet.

"If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we're f'd."

The tweet immediately went viral, inspiring a series of headlines:

CLIMATOLOGIST SAYS ARCTIC CARBON RELEASE COULD MEAN "WE'RE FUCKED."

CLIMATE SCIENTIST DROPS THE F-BOMB AFTER STARTLING ARCTIC DISCOVERY.

CLIMATOLOGIST: METHANE PLUMES FROM THE ARCTIC MEAN WE'RE SCREWED.

Box has been outspoken for years. He's done science projects with Greenpeace, and he participated in the 2011 mass protest at the White House organized by 350.org. In 2013, he made headlines when a magazine reported his conclusion that a seventy-foot rise in sea levels over the next few centuries was probably already "baked into the system." Now, with one word, Box had ventured into two particularly dangerous areas. First, the dirty secret of climate science and government climate policies is that they're all based on probabilities, which means that the effects of standard CO2 targets like an 80 percent reduction by 2050 are based on the middle of the probability curve. Box had ventured to the darker possibilities on the curve's tail, where few scientists and zero politicians are willing to go.

Jason Box, above (McKenzie Ross)

Worse, he showed emotion, a subject ringed with taboos in all science but especially in climate science. As a recent study from the University of Bristol documented, climate scientists have been so distracted and intimidated by the relentless campaign against them that they tend to avoid any statements that might get them labeled "alarmists," retreating into a world of charts and data. But Box had been able to resist all that. He even chased the media splash in interviews with the Danish press, where they translated "we're fucked" into its more decorous Danish equivalent, "on our ass," plastering those dispiriting words in large-type headlines all across the country.

The problem was that Box was now working for the Danish government, and even though Denmark may be the most progressive nation in the world on climate issues, its leaders still did not take kindly to one of its scientists distressing the populace with visions of global destruction. Convinced his job was in jeopardy only a year after he uprooted his young family and moved to a distant country, Box was summoned before the entire board of directors at his research institute. So now, when he gets an e-mail asking for a phone call to discuss his "recent gloomy statements," he doesn't answer it.

Five days later: "Dr. Box—trying you again in case the message below went into your junk file. Please get in touch."

This time he responds briefly. "I think most scientists must be burying overt recognition of the awful truths of climate change in a protective layer of denial (not the same kind of denial coming from conservatives, of course). I'm still amazed how few climatologists have taken an advocacy message to the streets, demonstrating for some policy action." But he ignores the request for a phone call.

A week later, another try: "Dr. Box—I watched your speech at The Economist's Arctic Summit. Wow. I would like to come see you."

Box takes temperature and conductivity readings at Kane Basin, near the Humboldt Glacier, Greenland. The customary scientific role is to deal dispassionately with data, but Box says that 'the shit that's going down is testing my ability to block it.' (Nick Cobbing)

But gloom is the one subject he doesn't want to discuss. "Crawling under a rock isn't an option," he responds, "so becoming overcome with PTSD-like symptoms is useless." He quotes a Norse proverb:

"The unwise man is awake all night, worries over and again. When morning rises he is restless still."

Most people don't have a proverb like that readily at hand. So, a final try: "I do think I should come to see you, meet your family, and make this story personal and vivid."

I wanted to meet Box to find out how this outspoken American is holding up. He has left his country and moved his family to witness and study the melting of Greenland up close. How does being the one to look at the grim facts of climate change most intimately, day in and day out, affect a person? Is Box representative of all of the scientists most directly involved in this defining issue of the new century? How are they being affected by the burden of their chosen work in the face of changes to the earth that could render it a different planet?

Finally, Box gives in. Come to Copenhagen, he says. And he even promises a family dinner.

For more than thirty years, climate scientists have been living a surreal existence. A vast and ever-growing body of research shows that warming is tracking the rise of greenhouse gases exactly as their models predicted. The physical evidence becomes more dramatic every year: forests retreating, animals moving north, glaciers melting, wildfire seasons getting longer, higher rates of droughts, floods, and storms—five times as many in the 2000s as in the 1970s. In the blunt words of the 2014 National Climate Assessment, conducted by three hundred of America's most distinguished experts at the request of the U. S. government, human-induced climate change is real—U. S. temperatures have gone up between 1.3 and 1.9 degrees, mostly since 1970—and the change is already affecting "agriculture, water, human health, energy, transportation, forests, and ecosystems." But that's not the worst of it. Arctic air temperatures are increasing at twice the rate of the rest of the world—a study by the U. S. Navy says that the Arctic could lose its summer sea ice by next year, eighty-four years ahead of the models—and evidence little more than a year old suggests the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is doomed, which will add between twenty and twenty-five feet to ocean levels. The one hundred million people in Bangladesh will need another place to live and coastal cities globally will be forced to relocate, a task complicated by economic crisis and famine—with continental interiors drying out, the chief scientist at the U. S. State Department in 2009 predicted a billion people will suffer famine within twenty or thirty years. And yet, despite some encouraging developments in renewable energy and some breakthroughs in international leadership, carbon emissions continue to rise at a steady rate, and for their pains the scientists themselves—the cruelest blow of all—have been the targets of an unrelenting and well-organized attack that includes death threats, summonses from a hostile Congress, attempts to get them fired, legal harassment, and intrusive discovery demands so severe they had to start their own legal-defense fund, all amplified by a relentless propaganda campaign nakedly financed by the fossil-fuel companies. Shortly before a pivotal climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, thousands of their e-mail streams were hacked in a sophisticated espionage operation that has never been solved—although the official police investigation revealed nothing, an analysis by forensics experts traced its path through servers in Turkey and two of the world's largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

No scientist has come in for more threats and abuse than Michael Mann, whose "hockey stick" graph (so named because the temperature and emissions lines for recent decades curve straight up) has become the target of the most powerful deniers in the world.
No scientist has come in for more threats and abuse than Michael Mann, whose 'hockey stick' graph (so named because the temperature and emissions lines for recent decades curve straight up) has become the target of the most powerful deniers in the world. (Chris Crisman)

Among climate activists, gloom is building. Jim Driscoll of the National Institute for Peer Support just finished a study of a group of longtime activists whose most frequently reported feeling was sadness, followed by fear and anger. Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a practicing psychiatrist and graduate of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth slide-show training, calls this "pretraumatic" stress. "So many of us are exhibiting all the signs and symptoms of posttraumatic disorder—the anger, the panic, the obsessive intrusive thoughts." Leading activist Gillian Caldwell went public with her "climate trauma," as she called it, quitting the group she helped build and posting an article called "16 Tips for Avoiding Climate Burnout," in which she suggests compartmentalization: "Reinforce boundaries between professional work and personal life. It is very hard to switch from the riveting force of apocalyptic predictions at work to home, where the problems are petty by comparison."

Most of the dozens of scientists and activists I spoke to date the rise of the melancholy mood to the failure of the 2009 climate conference and the gradual shift from hope of prevention to plans for adaptation: Bill McKibben's book Eaarth is

a manual for survival on an earth so different he doesn't think we should even spell it the same, and James Lovelock delivers the same message in A Rough Ride to the Future. In Australia, Clive Hamilton writes articles and books with titles like Requiem for a Species. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, the melancholy Jonathan Franzen argued that, since earth now "resembles a patient whose terminal cancer we can choose to treat either with disfiguring aggression or with palliation and sympathy," we should stop trying to avoid the inevitable and spend our money on new nature preserves, where birds can go extinct a little more slowly.

At the darkest end of the spectrum are groups like Deep Green Resistance, which openly advocates sabotage to "industrial infrastructure," and the thousands who visit the Web site and attend the speeches of Guy McPherson, a biology professor at the University of Arizona who concluded that renewables would do no good, left his job, and moved to an off-grid homestead to prepare for abrupt climate change. "Civilization is a heat engine," he says. "There's no escaping the trap we've landed ourselves into."

The most influential is Paul Kingsnorth, a longtime climate activist and novelist who abandoned hope for political change in 2009. Retreating to the woods of western Ireland, he helped launch a group called Dark Mountain with a stirring, gloomy manifesto calling for "a network of writers, artists, and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilization tells itself." Among those stories: progress, growth, and the superiority of man. The idea quickly spread, and there are now fifty Dark Mountain chapters around the world. Fans have written plays and songs and a Ph.D. thesis about them. On the phone from Ireland, he explains the appeal.

"You have to be careful about hope. If that hope is based on an unrealistic foundation, it just crumbles and then you end up with people who are despairing. I saw that in Copenhagen—there was a lot of despair and giving up after that."

Personally, though he considers them feeble gestures, he's planting a lot of trees, growing his own vegetables, avoiding plastic. He stopped flying. "It seems like an ethical obligation. All you can do is what you think is right." The odd thing is that he's much more forgiving than activists still in the struggle, even with oil-purchased politicians. "We all love the fruits of what we're given—the cars and computers and iPhones. What politician is going to try to sell people a future where they can't update their iPhones ever?"

He laughs.

Does he think it would be wrong to take a transatlantic airplane trip to interview a climate scientist?

He laughs again. "You have to answer that yourself."


All this leaves climate scientists in an awkward position. At NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which early in the year was threatened with 30 percent budget cuts by Republicans who resent its reports on climate change, Gavin Schmidt occupies the seventh-floor corner office once occupied by the legendary James Hansen, the scientist who first laid out the facts for Congress in 1988 and grew so impassioned he got himself arrested protesting coal mines. Although Schmidt was one of the victims of the 2009 computer hacks, which he admits tipped him into an episode of serious depression, he now focuses relentlessly on the bright side. "It's not that nothing has been done. There's a lot of things. In terms of per capita emissions, most of the developed world is stable. So we are doing something."

Box's tweet sets his teeth on edge. "I don't agree. I don't think we're fucked. There is time to build sustainable solutions to a lot of these things. You don't have to close down all the coal-powered

stations tomorrow. You can transition. It sounds cute to say, 'Oh, we're fucked and there's nothing we can do,' but it's a bit of a nihilistic attitude. We always have the choice. We can continue to make worse decisions, or we can try to make ever better decisions. 'Oh, we're fucked! Just give up now, just kill me now,' that's just stupid."

Gavin Schmidt in his office at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Box's dire forecast annoyed him. 'You don't run around saying, 'We're fucked! We're fucked! We're fucked!' It doesn't incentivize anybody to do anything.'
Gavin Schmidt in his office at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Box's dire forecast annoyed him. 'You don't run around saying, 'We're fucked! We're fucked! We're fucked!' It doesn't incentivize anybody to do anything.' (Sam Eaton)

Schmidt, who is expecting his first child and tries to live a low-carbon existence, insists that the hacks and investigations and budget threats have not intimidated him. He also shrugs off the abrupt-climate-change scenarios. "The methane thing is actually something I work on a lot, and most of the headlines are crap. There's no actual evidence that anything dramatically different is going on in the Arctic, other than the fact that it's melting pretty much everywhere."

But climate change happens gradually and we've already gone up almost 1 degree centigrade and seen eight inches of ocean rise. Barring unthinkably radical change, we'll hit 2 degrees in thirty or forty years and that's been described as a catastrophe—melting ice, rising waters, drought, famine, and massive economic turmoil. And many scientists now think we're on track to 4 or 5 degrees—even Shell oil said that it anticipates a world 4 degrees hotter because it doesn't see "governments taking the steps now that are consistent with the 2 degrees C scenario." That would mean a world racked by economic and social and environmental collapse.

"Oh yeah," Schmidt says, almost casually. "The business-as-usual world that we project is really a totally different planet. There's going to be huge dislocations if that comes about."

But things can change much quicker than people think, he says. Look at attitudes on gay marriage.

And the glaciers?

"The glaciers are going to melt, they're all going to melt," he says. "But my reaction to Jason Box's comments is—what is the point of saying that? It doesn't help anybody."

As it happens, Schmidt was the first winner of the Climate Communication Prize from the American Geophysical Union, and various recent studies in the growing field of climate communications find that frank talk about the grim realities turns people off—it's simply too much to take in. But strategy is one thing and truth is another. Aren't those glaciers water sources for hundreds of millions of people?

"Particularly in the Indian subcontinent, that's a real issue," he says. "There's going to be dislocation there, no question."

And the rising oceans? Bangladesh is almost underwater now. Do a hundred million people have to move?

"Well, yeah. Under business as usual. But I don't think we're fucked."

Resource wars, starvation, mass migrations . . .

"Bad things are going to happen. What can you do as a person? You write stories. I do science. You don't run around saying, 'We're fucked! We're fucked! We're fucked!' It doesn't—it doesn't incentivize anybody to do anything."


Scientists are problem solvers by nature, trained to cherish detachment as a moral ideal. Jeffrey Kiehl was a senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research when he became so concerned about the way the brain resists climate science, he took a break and got a psychology degree. Ten years of research later, he's concluded that consumption and growth have become so central to our sense of personal identity and the fear of economic loss creates such numbing anxiety, we literally cannot imagine making the necessary changes. Worse, accepting the facts threatens us with a loss of faith in the fundamental order of the universe. Climate scientists are different only because they have a professional excuse for detachment, and usually it's not until they get older that they admit how much it's affecting them—which is also when they tend to get more outspoken, Kiehl says. "You reach a point where you feel—and that's the word, not think, feel—'I have to do something.' "

This accounts for the startled reaction when Camille Parmesan of the University of Texas—who was a member of the group that shared a Nobel prize with Al Gore for their climate work—announced that she'd become "professionally depressed" and was leaving the United States for England. A plainspoken Texan who grew up in Houston as the daughter of an oil geologist, Parmesan now says it was more about the politics than the science. "To be honest, I panicked fifteen years ago—that was when the first studies came out showing that Arctic tundras were shifting from being a net sink to being a net source of CO2. That along with the fact this butterfly I was studying shifted its entire range across half a continent—I said this is big, this is big. Everything since then has just confirmed it."

But she's not optimistic. "Do I think it likely that the nations of the world will take sufficient action to stabilize climate in the next fifty years? No, I don't think it likely."

She was living in Texas after the climate summit failed in 2009, when media coverage of climate issues plunged by two thirds—the subject wasn't mentioned once in the 2012 presidential debates—and Governor Rick Perry cut the sections relating to sea-level rise in a report on Galveston Bay, kicking off a trend of state officials who ban all use of the term "climate change." "There are excellent climate scientists in Texas," Parmesan says firmly. "Every university in the state has people working on impacts. To have the governor's office ignore it is just very upsetting."

The politics took its toll. Her butterfly study got her a spot on the UN climate panel, where she got "a quick and hard lesson on the politics" when policy makers killed the words "high confidence" in the crucial passage that said scientists had high confidence species were responding to climate change. Then the personal attacks started on right-wing Web sites and blogs. "They just flat-out lie. It's one reason I live in the UK now. It's not just been climate change, there's a growing, ever-stronger antiscience sentiment in the U. S. A. People get really angry and really nasty. It was a huge relief simply not to have to deal with it." She now advises her graduate students to look for jobs outside the U. S.

No one has experienced that hostility more vividly than Michael Mann, who was a young Ph.D. researcher when he helped come up with the historical data that came to be known as the hockey stick—the most incendiary display graph in human history, with its temperature and emissions lines going straight up at the end like the blade of a hockey stick. He was investigated, was denounced in Congress, got death threats, was accused of fraud, received white powder in the mail, and got thousands of e-mails with suggestions like, You should be "shot, quartered, and fed to the pigs along with your whole damn families." Conservative legal foundations pressured his university, a British journalist suggested the electric chair. In 2003, Senator James Inhofe's committee called him to testify, flanking him with two professional climate-change deniers, and in 2011 the committee threatened him with federal prosecution, along with sixteen other scientists.

Kayaking the melt-water, Petermann Glacier.
Kayaking the melt-water, Petermann Glacier. (Nick Cobbing)

Now, sitting behind his desk in his office at Penn State, he goes back to his swirl of emotions. "You find yourself in the center of this political theater, in this chess match that's being played out by very powerful figures—you feel anger, befuddlement, disillusionment, disgust."

The intimidating effect is undeniable, he says. Some of his colleagues were so demoralized by the accusations and investigations that they withdrew from public life. One came close to suicide. Mann decided to fight back, devoting more of his time to press interviews and public speaking, and discovered that contact with other concerned people always cheered him up. But the sense of potential danger never leaves. "You're careful with what you say and do because you know that there's the equivalent of somebody with a movie camera following you around," he says.

Meanwhile, his sense of personal alarm has only grown. "I know you've spoken with Jason Box—a number of us have had these experiences where it's become clear to us that in many respects, climate change is unfolding faster than we expected it to. Maybe it is true what the ice-sheet modelers have been telling us, that it will take a thousand years or more to melt the Greenland Ice Sheet. But maybe they're wrong; maybe it could play out in a century or two. And then it's a whole different ballgame—it's the difference between human civilization and living things being able to adapt and not being able to adapt."

As Mann sees it, scientists like Schmidt who choose to focus on the middle of the curve aren't really being scientific. Worse are pseudo-sympathizers like Bjorn Lomborg who always focus on the gentlest possibilities. Because we're supposed to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, and a real scientific response would also give serious weight to the dark side of the curve.

And yet, like Schmidt, Mann tries very hard to look on the bright side. We can solve this problem in a way that doesn't disrupt our lifestyle, he says. Public awareness seems to be increasing, and there are a lot of good things happening at the executive level: tighter fuel-efficiency standards, the carbon-pricing initiatives by the New England and West Coast states, the recent agreement between the U. S. and China on emissions. Last year we saw global economic growth without an increase in carbon emissions, which suggests it's possible to "decouple" oil and economic growth. And social change can happen very fast—look at gay marriage.

But he knows that gay marriage had no huge economic downside, and the most powerful companies in the world are fighting to stop any change in the fossil-fuel economy. So yes, he struggles with doubt. And he admits that some of his colleagues are very depressed, convinced there's no way the international community will rise to the challenge. He gets into that conversation in bars after climate conferences, always pushing the side of hope.

Dealing with all of this has been a long emotional journey. As a young scientist, Mann was very traditional: "I felt that scientists should take an entirely dispassionate view when discussing matters of science," he wrote in a book called The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. "We should do our best to divorce ourselves from all of our typically human inclinations—emotion, empathy, concern." But even when he decided that detachment was a mistake in this case and began becoming publicly active, he was usually able to put the implication of all the hockey-stick trend lines out of his mind. "Part of being a scientist is you don't want to believe there is a problem you can't solve."

Might that be just another form of denial?

The question seems to affect him. He takes a deep breath and answers in the carefully measured words of a scientist. "It's hard to say," he says. "It's a denial of futility if there is futility. But I don't know that there is futility, so it would only be denial per se if there were unassailable evidence."

There are moments, he admits, flashes that come and go as fast as a blinking light, when he sees news reports about some new development in the field and it hits him—Wait a second, they're saying that we've melted a lot. Then he does a peculiar thing: He disassociates a little bit and asks himself, How would I feel about that headline if I were a member of the public? I'd be scared out of my mind.

Right after Hurricane Sandy, he was in the classroom showing The Day After Tomorrow with the plan of critiquing its ridiculous story about the Atlantic conveyor belt slowing down so fast that it freezes

England—except a recent study he worked on shows that the Atlantic conveyor belt actually is slowing down, another thing that's happening decades ahead of schedule. "And some of the scenes in the wake of Hurricane Sandy—the flooding of the New York City subway system, cars submerged—they really didn't look that different. The cartoon suddenly looked less like a cartoon. And it's like, Now why is it that we can completely dismiss this movie?"

He was talking to students, so it got to him. They're young, it's their future more than his. He choked up and had to struggle to get ahold of himself. "You don't want to choke up in front of your class," he says.

About once a year, he says, he has nightmares of earth becoming a very alien planet.

The worst time was when he was reading his daughter Dr. Seuss's The Lorax,the story of a society destroyed by greed. He saw it as an optimistic story because it ends with the challenge of building a new society, but she burst into tears and refused to read the book again. "It was almost traumatic for her."

His voice cracks. "I'm having one of those moments now."

Why?

"I don't want her to have to be sad," he says. "And I almost have to believe we're not yet there, where we are resigned to this future."


The spring day is glorious, sunny and cool, and the avenues of Copenhagen are alive with tourists. Trying to make the best of things, Jason Box says we should blow off the getting-to-know-you lunch and go for a bike ride. Thirty minutes later he locks up the bikes at the entrance to Freetown, a local anarchist community that has improbably become one of Copenhagen's most popular tourist destinations. Grabbing a couple beers at a restaurant, he leads the way to a winding lake and a small dock. The wind is blowing, swans flap their wings just off the beach, and Box sits with the sun on his face and his feet dangling over the sand.

"There's a lot that's scary," he says, running down the list—the melting sea ice, the slowing of the conveyor belt. Only in the last few years were they able to conclude that Greenland is warmer than it was in the twenties, and the unpublished data looks very hockey-stick-ish. He figures there's a 50 percent chance we're already committed to going beyond 2 degrees centigrade and agrees with the growing consensus that the business-as-usual trajectory is 4 or 5 degrees. "It's, um... bad. Really nasty."

The big question is, What amount of warming puts Greenland into irreversible loss? That's what will destroy all the coastal cities on earth. The answer is between 2 and 3 degrees. "Then it just thins and thins enough and you can't regrow it without an ice age. And a small fraction of that is already a huge problem—Florida's already installing all these expensive pumps." (According to a recent report by a group spearheaded by Hank Paulson and Robert Rubin, secretaries of the Treasury under Bush Jr. and Bill Clinton, respectively, $23 billion worth of property in Florida may be destroyed by flooding within thirty-five years.)

Box is only forty-two, but his pointed Danish beard makes him look like a count in an old novel, someone who'd wear a frock coat and say something droll about the woman question. He seems detached from the sunny day, like a tourist trying to relax in a strange city. He also seems oddly detached from the things he's saying, laying out one horrible prediction after another without emotion, as if he were an anthropologist regarding the life cycle of a distant civilization. But he can't keep his anger in check for long and keeps obsessively returning to two topics:

"We need the deniers to get out of the way. They are risking everyone's future.... The Koch Brothers are criminals.... They should be charged with criminal activity because they're putting the profits of their business ahead of the livelihoods of millions of people, and even life on earth."

Like Parmesan, Box was hugely relieved to be out of the toxic atmosphere of the U. S. "I remember thinking, What a relief, I don't have to bother with this bullshit anymore." In Denmark, his research is supported through the efforts of conservative politicians. "But Danish conservatives are not climate-change deniers," he says.

The other topic he is obsessed with is the human suffering to come. Long before the rising waters from Greenland's glaciers displace the desperate millions, he says more than once, we will face drought-triggered agricultural failures and water-security issues—in fact, it's already happening. Think back to the 2010 Russian heat wave. Moscow halted grain exports. At the peak of the Australian drought, food prices spiked. The Arab Spring started with food protests, the self-immolation of the vegetable vendor in Tunisia. The Syrian conflict was preceded by four years of drought. Same with Darfur. The migrants are already starting to stream north across the sea—just yesterday, eight hundred of them died when their boat capsized—and the Europeans are arguing about what to do with them. "As the Pentagon says, climate change is a conflict multiplier."

His home state of Colorado isn't doing so great, either. "The forests are dying, and they will not return. The trees won't return to a warming climate. We're going to see megafires even more, that'll be the new one—megafires until those forests are cleared."

However dispassionately delivered, all of this amounts to a lament, the scientist's version of the mothers who stand on hillsides and keen over the death of their sons. In fact, Box adds, he too is a climate refugee. His daughter is three and a half, and Denmark is a great place to be in an uncertain world—there's plenty of water, a high-tech agriculture system, increasing adoption of wind power, and plenty of geographic distance from the coming upheavals. "Especially when you consider the beginning of the flood of desperate people from conflict and drought," he says, returning to his obsession with how profoundly changed our civilization will be.

Despite all this, he insists that he approaches climate mostly as an intellectual problem. For the first decade of his career, even though he's part of the generation of climate scientists who went to college after Al Gore's Earth in the Balance, he stuck to teaching and research. He only began taking professional risks by working with Greenpeace and by joining the protest against Keystone when he came to the intellectual conclusion that climate change is a moral issue. "It's unethical to bankrupt the environment of this planet," he says. "That's a tragedy, right?" Even now, he insists, the horror of what is happening rarely touches him on an emotional level... although it has been hitting him more often recently. "But I—I—I'm not letting it get to me. If I spend my energy on despair, I won't be thinking about opportunities to minimize the problem."

His insistence on this point is very unconvincing, especially given the solemnity that shrouds him like a dark coat. But the most interesting part is the insistence itself—the desperate need not to be disturbed by something so disturbing. Suddenly, a welcome distraction. A man appears on the beach in nothing but jockey shorts, his skin bluish. He says he's Greek and he's been sleeping on this beach for seven months and will swim across the lake for a small tip. A passing tourist asks if he can swim all the way.

"Of course."

"Let me see."

"How much money?"

"I give you when you get back."

"Give me one hundred."

"Yeah, yeah. When you get back."

The Greek man splashes into the water and Box seems amused, laughing for the first time. It's the relief of normal goofy human life, so distant from the dark themes that make up his life's work.

Usually it's a scientific development that smacks him, he says. The first was in 2002, when they discovered that meltwater was getting into the bed of the Greenland Ice Sheet and lubricating its flow. Oh, you say, it can be a wet bed, and then the implications sunk in: The

whole damn thing is destabilizing. Then in 2006, all of the glaciers in the southern half of Greenland began to retreat at two and three times their previous speed. Good Lord, it's happening so fast. Two years later, they realized the retreat was fueled by warm water eroding the marine base ice—which is also what's happening to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Just thinking about it makes him gloomy. "That's unstoppable," he says. "Abrupt sea-level rise is upon us."

The Greek man returns with surprising speed, emerging from the sea like a god in a myth, laughing and boasting. The Greeks are masters of the waters! Pay me!

"I'm gonna give this guy a hundred kroner," Box says.

He makes sure the tourists pay, too, and comes back smiling. He knows a Greek guy who's just like that, he says, very proud and jolly. He envies him sometimes.

He leads the way to a quieter spot on the lakeside, passing through little hippie villages woven together by narrow dirt lanes—by consensus vote, there are no cars in Freetown, which makes it feel pleasantly medieval, intimate, and human-scaled. He lifts a beer to his lips and gazes over the lake and the happy people lazing in the afternoon sun. "The question of despair is not very nice to think about," he says. "I've just disengaged that to a large degree. It's kind of like a half-denial."

He mentions the Norse proverb again, but a bulwark against despair so often cited becomes its own form of despair. You don't dredge up proverbs like that unless you're staying awake at night.

He nods, sighing. This work often disturbs his sleep, driving him from his bed to do something, anything. "Yeah, the shit that's going down has been testing my ability to block it."

He goes quiet for a moment. "It certainly does creep in, as a parent," he says quietly, his eyes to the ground.

But let's get real, he says, fossil fuels are the dominant industry on earth, and you can't expect meaningful political change with them in control. "There's a growing consensus that there must be a shock to the system."

So the darker hopes arise—maybe a particularly furious El Niño or a "carbon bubble" where the financial markets realize that renewables have become more scalable and economical, leading to a run on fossil-fuel assets and a "generational crash" of the global economy that, through great suffering, buys us more time and forces change.


The Box family dinner isn't going to happen after all, he says. When it comes to climate change at the very late date of 2015, there are just too many uncomfortable things to say, and his wife, Klara, resents any notion that she is a "climate migrant."

This is the first hint that his brashness has caused tension at home.

"Well, she..." He takes a moment, considering. "I'll say something like, 'Man, the next twenty years are going to be a hell of a ride,' or 'These poor North African refugees flooding to Europe,' and how I anticipate that flux of people to double and triple, and will the open borders of Europe change? And she'll acknowledge it... but she's not bringing it up like I am."

Later, she sends a note responding to a few questions. She didn't want to compare herself to the truly desperate refugees who are drowning, she says, and the move to Denmark really was for the quality of life. "Lastly, the most difficult question to answer is about Jason's mental health. I'd say climate change, and more broadly the whole host of environmental and social problems the world faces, does affect his psyche. He feels deeply about these issues, but he is a scientist and a very pragmatic, goal-oriented person. His style is not to lie awake at night worrying about them but to get up in the morning (or the middle of the night) and do something about it. I love the guy for it :)"

So even when you are driven to your desk in the middle of the night, quoting Norse proverbs, when you are among the most informed and most concerned, the ordinary tender mercies of the home conspire in our denial. We pour our energy into doing our jobs the best we can, avoid unpleasant topics, keep up a brave face, make compromises with even the best societies, and little by little the compartmentalization we need to survive the day adds one more bit of distance between the comfortable now and the horrors ahead. So Box turns out to be a representative figure after all. It's not enough to understand the changes that are coming. We have to find a way to live with them.

"In Denmark," Box says, "we have the resilience, so I'm not that worried about my daughter's livelihood going forward. But that doesn't stop me from strategizing about how to safeguard her future—I've been looking at property in Greenland. As a possible bug-out scenario."

Turns out a person can't own land in Greenland, just a house on top of land. It's a nice thought, a comforting thought—no matter what happens, the house will be there, safely hidden at the top of the world.


In the lead photo: Glaciologist Jason Box, left, at work on the Petermann Glacier on Greenland's northwest coast, which has lost mass at an accelerated pace in recent years. Box and his family left Ohio State for Europe a couple years ago, and he is relieved to have escaped America's culture of climate-change denial (Photo: Nick Cobbing).


15
Surly Newz / Delete your account
« on: July 21, 2018, 04:57:13 AM »
Delete your account
It’s a “great shame,” says Silicon Valley insider Jaron Lanier, that so much of big tech’s AI has been aimed at manipulating you.


Delete your account

[Photo: JD Lasica]

Critiquing social media these days is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. Singling out the almost mindless narcissism is an easy target, as is pointing to the social media users’ susceptibility to fake news, whether it’s coming out of Russia or Fox News. And with Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, even the most quotidian social media user—the ones who gleefully post photo updates, funny memes, or mild political rants—are starting to rethink their relationship with these platforms, with many (1 in 10 Americans, according to a Techpinions survey) deletingtheir accounts in protest.

But precious few have considered their relationship with social media—or sought account deletion—with the seriousness that Jaron Lanier has. The virtual reality pioneer, musician, and author has been around Silicon Valley for much of his 58 years, and has consulted for a number of its giants (he is currently a researcher affiliated with Microsoft). He’s also spent much of that time worrying, loudly and eloquently, about the risks of the things those companies make.

His new book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, examines how a technology designed to bring people together (remember Mark Zuckerberg’s ongoing dream of “connecting” the world) has instead helped tear apart humanity’s delicate social fabric. People, he argues, are becoming angrier, less empathetic, more isolated yet tribal, and sadder, crazier even. With every post and scroll, users feed a system built to influence behavior, in a sort of reward feedback loop. And as the 2016 elections demonstrated, the same system that’s used to sell you deodorant online can also be hijacked to wreak havoc on your political system. Lanier, who hasn’t been on social media for years, now likes to refer to Facebook and Google as “behavior modification empires.”

“How did we get here, and how did we end up creating this mass surveillance system and applying principles of psychology to manipulating people all the time when what we set out to do was create a more open society for the benefit of everybody,” Lanier says in a phone call, sounding slightly deflated. “How did this thing go so wrong?”

Lanier says he has long been interested in how the internet could be used to control people. Back in 1995, he published an article titled “Agents of Alienation,” arguing that “agents”—which is what AI bots were being called at the time—would get to know people by hanging out with them, so to speak, figuring everything out and delivering custom content to the user.

“If info-consumers see the world through agent’s eyes, then advertising will transform into the art of controlling agents, through bribing, hacking, whatever,” Lanier wrote, presciently. “You can imagine an arms race” between armor-plated agents and hacker-laden ad agencies. Lovely . . . An agent’s model of what you are interested in will be a cartoon model, and you will see a cartoon version of the world through the agent’s eyes.”

HOW IT ALL WENT WRONG

Lanier began noticing Silicon Valley’s dabbling in behavior modification around 1992. In a sense, it was a problem with the web from very early on.

As Lanier recalls, when Tim Berners-Lee proposed the World Wide Web, with the HTML protocol—web pages that sat atop the raw internet—the thing that stood out as different from other similar systems that were being considered is that there weren’t universal back-links (two-way links). Thus, if someone created a link on an HTML web page, the linked-to page didn’t know it was being linked to at all.

“Therefore, the whole design kind of shifted away from selling stuff online, because there wasn’t any way to know who to pay, and instead suggested this alternate ad model,” says Lanier. “From the very beginning there was a lot of talk about maybe having these programs then that would direct people to things. In those days, instead of bots they were called agents, which would create content for people and direct people here and there.”

In retrospect, he wonders if maybe the internet’s design was made too minimalist, too focused on entrepreneurs, when it should have provided a way to represent individual people, to support transactions, to offer some basic data storage for users, and to provide history and authentication functions.

“Maybe some of that stuff actually should have been in there from the start rather than leaving it to commerce,” says Lanier, as it created “monopolies that have to figure out a business plan, and this business plan has been this very awkward and destructive one.”

Years later, for instance, one Stanford-born company would capitalize on the web’s minimalist architecture—and specifically an inability to tell what was linked to what—to build a powerful search engine, and an empire. “You can say, ‘Oh, I’m on this page, what pages point to me?'” Scott Hassan, the little-known third cofounder of Google tells Adam Fisher in his new oral history of Silicon Valley, Valley of Genius. “Right? So Larry [Page, another cofounder] wanted a way to then go backward to see who was linking to whom. He wants to surf the whole net backward. . . . So what Larry did was he started writing a web crawler.”

The business plan that now dominates much of the web is, as Lanier sees it, a conflict between two different ideologies that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and developers love. On the one hand, it is an almost socialist sensibility that holds that everything should be totally open and shared, like Wikipedia and free software. On the other hand, there’s an admiration for beloved tech entrepreneurs and walled-garden builders like Steve Jobs. The compromise between these two ideologies is the ad-based model. The Google founders, for instance, were opposed to this model when they built their first search engine, but they later relented on the basis, they claimed, that ads could be relevant and helpful to people.

Lanier thinks this arrangement gave us the best and worst of both worlds, where on the surface it seems like everyone is being open and sharing, but in the background a “hidden machine” is running that makes money off of manipulating and playing with people who are being open. He cites internet gambling sites as pioneers in behavior modification, like real-life slot machine makers before them. That said, other companies, including video game developers and pornography sites, have also dabbled in behavior modification to make addicts of people—a power that has since been refined by social media platforms and their machine learning algorithms.

“As that thing evolved, and everything about it got more sophisticated, it turned into this weird era of surveillance and manipulation where we sort of don’t trust anything anymore, and everything is crazy and cranky,” Lanier observes. “I think that’s how we ended up here.”

Still, the system is far from perfect. As Lanier points out, the results Google, Facebook, and others achieve are still very small and barely better than random. Facebook can glean from posts and likes, for instance, that a user leans Democrat or Republican, and cares about particular issues like the environment or gun rights, but many of the portraits that our data dossiers paint are cartoonish at best.

“[The results] are cumulative, so they have been able to destroy our trust in elections and that sort of stuff,” says Lanier. “The damage is very real, but I’d say it’s premature to say that anyone has mastered [the social media manipulation machine]. It’s still kind of crude.”

That crudeness is ironic, of course, given Google’s accomplishments in artificial intelligence. DeepMind, the company’s London-based startup, has designed algorithms famous for mastering the game of Go among other intricate challenges. Of course those lofty ambitions belie more humdrum use cases, like recommendation engines that pull up the next funny cat video.

“One of the things that saddens me is that probably the majority of applications of AI and machine learning is the manipulation of people for this kind of stuff,” Lanier laments. “And that’s a great shame.”

Still, with ever-increasing hordes of data, recommendation engines and other psychologically tuned algorithms have advanced in dramatic and sometimes strange ways.

“If you look at some of the most heavily viewed YouTube videos, a lot of them were designed for very little kids, and they will watch them over and over again,” says Lanier. “And the feed will often drag the kids into endless variations of the videos, and each one will have 35 million views. The problem is the feeds will gradually pull in other things like weird stuff that will be more manipulative, perverse, or dark, and what does that all do to kids? Honestly, we don’t know.”

Lanier’s referring to reports last year about a horde of bizarre YouTube videos aimed at children, sometimes with simulated violence and off-color content. Some titles feature innocuous words and phrases like “learn colors” and “Halloween for kids”—keywords that make it more likely that the videos pop up in searches and the algorithmic Recommended feed.

While these videos are illustrative of behavior modification, Lanier is more interested in small, pervasive, and controlled changes to a population. The manipulation of political beliefs on Facebook in particular is particularly troubling to him.

“If you can make just a small percentage of people reliably cynical during an election to have a small change on the vote, and you can do that consistently, you can disrupt the society in a negative way,” Lanier says. Microtargeting users with misinformation may not necessarily influence an individual user’s behavior, but in the aggregate, over a large enough sampling, the right kind of message sent to the right kind of users—the kind prone to share those messages—could have subtle but lasting impacts, especially during a tight election.

“And that’s essentially what’s happening in the world. But that’s different from potentially worse things” that could happen.

Like many others, Lanier was appalled in 2014 when Facebook researchers described manipulating 700,000 users’ news feeds in order to better understand users’ emotions. Without “informed consent,” the experiment broke basic ethical rules regarding tests on human subjects, leading Facebook to formulate new controls for its research. But last year, the company came under fire again after an internal document said that the platform could detect teenage users’ emotional states in order to better target ads at users who feel “insecure,” “anxious,” or “worthless.” (The company responded that it does not do this, and that the document was provisional.)

Even without microtargeting or psychographics, social media can have even more appalling effects. Facebook has been widely criticized for the way that fake news and hate speech on its platforms has led to violence, especially in places with few mainstream news sources to counter misinformation. In India, false rumors about child kidnappers spread on Facebook’s WhatsApp has been implicated in two dozen fatal mob killings. In Myanmar and Sri Lanka, Facebook posts have been implicated by UN observers and police in dozens of fatal mob beatings and arsons.


Related:Undercover video shows Facebook is loath to delete toxic content


Lanier doesn’t deny the positive effects of social media, like activism efforts (see the #Enough walkouts organized by high schoolers advocating for gun control) or using it to stay in touch with friends. But he also thinks there is ample evidence—to the point where it should be beyond debate, in his mind—that social media’s net effect is more negative than positive.

“For the individual person it might be more positive than negative,” he says. “There are some lucky people who get some more good stuff than bad stuff, and good for them.”

GETTING TO KNOW YOURSELF

Lanier won’t argue that deleting your social media accounts will necessarily impact the behavior of the social media companies themselves, or change the web’s business model. He wants you to do it for the sake of you, and everyone around you.

To start, Lanier advocates for young people in particular to take a sabbatical of a few days, just as a test—part of a process of unplugging that he describes as “getting to know yourself.” “I try to say over and over that I’m not asking you to destroy your life,” he says, “but I am asking you to question it.”

He gets emails from young people and others who have followed his advice, saying they’re happier as a result. The research is ongoing, but some recent peer-reviewed studies back that up. “In general, the result is the one that one might expect, which is that they report improved well-being and happiness.”

He does have a few ideas for saving the internet from advertising. He suggests charging users small fees for services like social networking and search, providing a subsidy to those in need, and even paying users for giving platforms access to their data.

But when it comes to social media, Lanier will also remind you that every one of its functions is already available without it. Those concerned with what’s going on in the world can subscribe to high-quality, widely trusted news sites. And if they want to connect with somebody, regardless of distance, they can use older communication technologies like email.

For those who live in cities, Lanier emphasizes the continued importance—and ease—of real-life networking. “One of the things that really strikes me is that ambitious young people still have to move to the big, rich city centers, so social media is not actually serving as an alternative to their networking anyway,” says Lanier.

“As long as you have to do that, you will be surrounded by people. You will meet them. You don’t need social media anymore. Just the mere fact that cities get more and more crowded, and richer and richer, it is by definition a proof that social media isn’t really needed, or else that phenomenon wouldn’t be happening.”

Of course, the cost of living continues to rise in many big cities, a trend often attributed in part to the very companies building Lanier’s “behavior modification empires.” As vibrant networking centers in places like New York, Seattle, and Lanier’s own Bay Area—all fueled by tech money—start to look more like exclusive, gated communities, even real-life social networking may have trouble avoiding the winds of technological change.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

DJ Pangburn is a writer and editor with bylines at Vice, Motherboard, Creators, Dazed & Confused and The Quietus. He's also a pataphysician, psychogeographer and filmmaker.


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