Their dams provide innumerable ecological benefits. So why haven’t they been restored to their natural habitats?

, TomDispatch.com

How beavers can save the American West
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

The great novelist Wallace Stegner sorted the conflicting impulses in his beloved American West into two camps. There were the “boomers” who saw the frontier as an opportunity to get rich quick and move on: the conquistadors, the gold miners, the buffalo hunters, the land scalpers, and the dam-building good ol’ boys. They are still with us, trying to drill and frack their way to Easy Street across our public lands. Then there were those Stegner called the “nesters” or “stickers” who came to stay and struggled to understand the land and its needs. Their quest was to become native.

That division between boomers and nesters is, of course, too simple.  All of us have the urge to consume and move on, as well as the urge to nest, so our choices are rarely clear or final. Today, that old struggle in the American West is intensifying as heat-parched, beetle-gnawed forests ignite in annual epic firestorms, reservoirs dry up, and Rocky Mountain snow is ever more stained with blowing desert dust.

The modern version of nesters are the conservationists who try to partner with the ecosystems where they live. Wounded landscapes, for example, can often be restored by unleashing nature’s own self-healing powers. The new nesters understand that you cannot steer and control an ecosystem but you might be able to dance with one.  Sage Sorensen dances with beavers.

Dances with Beavers

The dance floor is my Utah backyard, which, like most backyards out here, is a watershed.  At its top is the Aquarius Plateau, the horizon I see from my deck, a gracefully rolling forest of pines and aspens that stretches for 50 miles to the south, 20 miles wide at its midpoint, and reaches 11,300 feet at its highest ridge.

The forest on top of the plateau is unique, as trees rarely grow almost two miles above sea level.  That high forest is heated by the deserts that fall away around the plateau’s shoulders, culminating in the amber, bone, and honey-toned canyons of Capitol Reef National Park on its eastern flank and on the west by Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.



During a long career with the Bureau of Land Management, Sage Sorenson saw firsthand how beavers created rich green habitat out of overgrazed and burned-over land.  Now retired, he calls himself a “beaver believer” and devotes his days to monitoring and protecting scattered “remnant” beaver colonies in our region. Quietly but persistently, he advocates for their reintroduction onto stressed landscapes that need their services.

Beavers are the original geo-engineers.  It’s no exaggeration to credit them for their major role in building the North American landscape.  In pre-colonial times, there were as many as 400 million of them.  They used their big buckteeth and tough paddle-tails to build dams across every stream imaginable, spreading water to a Noah’s Ark-worth of creatures that thrive in the wet habitats they create.  Now, of course, they are mostly long gone from the land, and conservationists want them back.

Sorenson recently trained and got certified to trap and transport beavers in anticipation of restocking the streams that tumble down the Aquarius Plateau.  He is convinced that it is only a matter of time before they are reintroduced.  After all, several of those streams have already been scientifically assessed and identified as prime candidates for such a reintroduction program.   But when I talked to him at a café in the small hamlet of Boulder, Utah, he was feeling discouraged.

A remnant colony of beavers along North Creek, he told me, is just about gone.  Over the last two years, at least 34 of them have been illegally shot or legally trapped by a local irrigation company.  Although beaver reintroduction is getting rave reviews in places like Scotland where the last one had been trapped out hundreds of years ago and Oregon where they are healing land hammered by logging, in Utah the road back will be rough.

Flat-Tail Climate Hero

Beavers were once abundant across the Aquarius Plateau, but they have now retreated to its high headwaters where they do not compete with cattle or cowboys with guns. Visiting them requires strong lungs for steep hikes and sturdy boots to navigate flooded meadows.  Up close, beavers look like especially large rodents that swim.  Call them cute if you care to, but a wet mammal that smells like its mud hut is neither cuddly nor charismatic.  They are not, in other words, like the penguins or polar bears that adorn fundraising appeals from wildlife advocates.

Nevertheless, as Sage patiently explains, they are key to the restoration of damaged watersheds. First, their dams create ponds and wetlands for diverse plants, amphibians, fish, and fowl. Eventually, those ponds fill with silt and become meadows, creating yet more habitat for another round of plants and animals.

Letting beavers do their work is one powerful way to make the land and its creatures resilient in a time of climatological stress.  For example, across the planet a wide range of amphibians, including frogs and salamanders, are declining fast, becoming rare or extinct.  Their sudden decline may be due to habitat loss, pollution, viruses enabled by a warming climate, or all of the above, but their disappearance is one more measure of the ecological catastrophe now underway.  Beavers make wet habitat where amphibians can recover and thrive.

The aquatic insects that bloom in wetlands feed populations of stressed songbirds. Their ponds shelter fingerling fish — beavers are vegetarians — and baby ducks.  Beavers are ecological servants par excellence who give life to the land.  They are not only beneficial agents of biodiversity, however: humans benefit, too.

In Western forests, the beaver’s stick-in-the-mud architecture spreads, slows, and deepens the flow of water from spring runoff so that it recharges underground aquifers, springs, and seeps. Slowing that runoff means that the streams feeding reservoirs last longer, possibly all summer.  That’s important for local agriculture, which depends on irrigation.  Beaver dams improve water quality by trapping sediment that filters pollution. A lush-green landscape also inhibits landslides, floods, and fire.  So beavers are not only good for the usual crew of endangered species, but also for millions of humans whose drinking water originates in heat-stressed watersheds that could be restored by the beaver’s hydrological habits.

Considering all the benefits beavers bring with them, why haven’t we rushed to return them to their keystone role in the Western landscape?  The simple answer to a complicated question is one word: cows.

When beavers re-occupy their historic homelands, they compete with the human economy that once drove them deep into the wilds.  Farmers and ranchers who irrigate their fields via ditches and culverts hate them.  There are simple techniques to guard against beavers clogging irrigation systems but they are either unlearned or resisted as yet another example of unwanted government intrusion on Western life.  Across the rural West, ranchers have power and influence way beyond their numbers or their contribution to the economy.

The Elephant in the Room Is a Cow  

One man’s keystone species is another’s varmint.  For conservationists like Sorenson who are devoted to bringing beavers back, seeing one with a bullet hole in it is not just sad, but taken as a very personal warning.  Despite the popularity and success of beaver reintroduction elsewhere, in much of the American West it runs into an outsized obstacle — the iconic western cow.  Not ol’ Bossy chewing a cud in Wisconsin, but the wild steer chased by a cowboy with a lasso yelling “yeeha!”  That cow is sacred.

In reality, cattle ranching is a tough, marginal business in this part of America and grazing on public lands makes it possible.  In other words, it’s heavily subsidized by distant taxpayers. Those grazing fees Cliven Bundy objects tocost less than a buck and a half per cow per month for all it can eat on federal land — food stamps for cows, indeed.   Cattle ranchers, whose families have been on the land for generations, think of grazing allotments on federal land as an entitlement, even if that attitude contradicts the image of the independent cowboy they cherish.  About 250 million acres — or more than half of the federal lands administered by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management — are open to cattle grazing, and that’s a large arena where cowboys and conservationists compete.

Moving cows out of sensitive riparian areas (streams and springs) or putting competitors like wolves and beavers onto the land with them is seen by ranchers as the start of a slippery slope that might lead to removing cows altogether.  That is, however, unlikely.  In the West, cows rule.  The soundtrack of Manifest Destiny may once have been the sharp crack of gunfire aimed at Indians and wolves, but it was followed by a mellow moo.  Cows graze over the bones of bison and the other creatures we eliminated to make room for them.

Our Dams, Not Theirs

Like the beavers they replaced, cows have reshaped the land — not, in their case, by creating habitat but by destroying it.  The pioneers who first came upon southern Utah described the vast grasslands they found there.  That grass is long gone.  The soil blew away, too, and rusting fences now swing above gullies or are buried under dunes.  When millions of cows and sheep were let loose on that fragile soil, massive erosion and the disappearance of that vast native grassland followed.  It never came back. When Congress finally stepped in and passed grazing regulations in 1934, improvements followed.

Conservationists claim that cows are today contributing to the die-off of the West’s beloved aspen groves by eating tree seedlings and short-circuiting forest succession. They also spread highly flammable cheat grass in their voluminous poop.  But whatever damage cows do directly to public lands pales in comparison to the way the infrastructure necessary for the cattle business hascaptured western water sources and de-watered western lands.

Stegner’s boomers dammed thousands of rivers and streams, while building pipelines through our national forests down to valley floors.  Aqueducts, canals, and tunnels followed.  The growth of many western towns is rooted in the building of a water infrastructure that has allowed us to suck the forests dry in order to irrigate the fields of alfalfa that feed those cows.  And yet — hold onto your hats for this — only a miniscule 3% of the nation’s beef is raised in the West.

Yet at least 80% of the water out here goes to alfalfa and other cow-food crops.  When you get those dire warnings about the Colorado River going dryand Phoenix and Vegas blowing away, remember this: because the cattlemen own the rights, cows get a lion’s share of whatever water is left after the western watersheds are baked and burned.  We grow so much cow-food that we now essentially export our precious water to China in the form of alfalfa.

Beavers as Underdogs 

Now maybe you’re beginning to see just why the odds are so stacked against the lowly beaver. Americans have forgotten the formative nature of our relationship with that creature.  Not only did European explorers encounter a landscape that had been thoroughly carved out and watered by them, but a robust trade in beaver pelts drove settlement.  Pelts that were made into warm hats for wealthy people were a kind of rodent gold and trappers couldn’t get enough of them.

Under the grinding wheel of a voracious commerce in furs, beavers were so trapped-out that they seemed to be headed for the fate of the once plentiful but now extinct passenger pigeon. This precipitous decline was reversed by one of North America’s earliest conservation campaigns.

In the 1920s, through the new medium of film the public imagination was captured by a Canadian Indian named Grey Owl.  He lived on a lake with his wife, Anahareo, and raised orphaned beaver kits, explaining their ecological importance and the consequences of their loss to a public unfamiliar with the beaver’s role in keeping forests healthy.  As the original beaver-believers cuddled their kits, audiences ooohed and aaahed.

Eventually Grey Owl was exposed as Archie Belaney, an Englishman posing as an Indian, but by then the message he had delivered had been translated into governance.  Beaver trapping was strictly regulated across most of the West and eventually many colonies recovered.  Today, there are far more beavers in North America, perhaps 10 million, than at their near-extinction moment, but their distribution on the land remains thin and uneven.  Once upon a time, hundreds of millions of them helped create the American landscape.  It would be fitting if, in the era of global warming, the beaver’s influence came full circle, this time as a means of making heat-stressed landscapes more resilient.

Are Beavers a Plot Against Humanity?

Most of the land in the American West is federally owned and managed, despite recent schemes by local tea-hadis to take it over and sell it to the highest bidder (or closest crony).  Because federal lands are a national treasure that we own together, there are rules for the sustainable use of it and sanctions for abuse.  Those rules and policies are negotiated by stakeholders and change over time.  That is happening now as our forests and grasslands are baked by prolonged drought.

In 2009, a Utah Beaver Advisory Committee composed of wildlife biologists, forest rangers, ranchers, trappers, farmers, and conservationists hammered out a plan to restore healthy beaver populations to their historic range across Utah “where appropriate.”  The beaver’s ecological service was finally acknowledged, but with the proviso that it be balanced against “human needs.”  Getting such an endorsement for restoration and protection, however qualified, was an important first step and a catalyst for a grassroots campaign to “leave it to beavers.”

An agreement had been reached among stakeholders traditionally at odds.  It was a rare feat of consensus building in a political environment where acrimony generally reigns supreme and it could have been a model for resolving other conflicts over land use and regulation.  Instead, local politicians, in a panic that beavers might “steal” water, have effectively resisted it.

Joe Wheaton, who teaches watershed hydrology and restoration at Utah State University, says the science on this is clear: there is no net water loss downstream from beaver dams.  If anything, they only increase a watershed’s capacity by capturing water that would otherwise be lost to floods.  But the cattlemen aren’t buying it. Science, you see, is just another liberal ideology.  As a Kane County commissioner put it succinctly, “Beavers are an environmentalist plot.” Think of those dead beavers along North Creek that Sage Sorenson described to me as collateral damage in the ideological civil war now raging across the region.

You Can’t Drink an F-35

The Grand Canyon Trust and a local citizens group, Boulder Community Alliance, have tried to fill the gap between the advisory group’s clear intention and the state’s hesitance to overrule obstructionist county commissioners and actually implement the plan.  The Trust recruited local volunteers and trained them to assess canyon drainages using the best scientific criteria and methods available.  Several streams were identified as candidates for beaver reintroduction.

Volunteers monitor and report on the few existing beaver settlements like the one being decimated in North Creek. Through education and advocacy they are building a constituency for putting beavers back on the land to do their job.  They have faith that the benefits of beaver reintroduction will become obvious as re-habitation happens. When the time comes to move beavers into new streams, they will be ready.

The kind of homegrown resilience practiced by Sage Sorenson and thousands of other backyard conservationists gets a paltry piece of the taxpayer pie compared, say, to homeland security.  I used to say that in the long run we’d be wiser to invest in restoring watersheds than putting a camera on every corner.  As it happens, given the tenacious drought now spreading across the West and Southwest, the long run seems to be here, sooner than expected.  Even the Pentagon now acknowledges that ecological catastrophe sows human turmoil and suffering that eventually blows back our way.  For the cost of just one of the 2,400 F-35 fighter jets we are committed to buying at historic prices, we could restore the stressed Aquarius watershed.

But the beavers don’t care what we do.  They just do their own thing.  They are like their human partners: persistent and oh so local.

Saving The World, Stick by Stick 

Each ecosystem has its own particular dynamic.  There are endless variables to understand. That’s why conservation work is ultimately local.  It focuses on improvements in this river and that forest, specific habitats and watersheds with specific conditions and a set of specific inhabitants and users.

The world we aim to save is a planet of mundane dirt, air, and water that, when woven together, somehow becomes a transcendent whole.  It’s a diverse universe of living plants and critters not well-suited for one big solution.  Rather, it calls forth a million small solutions that add up, like the natural world itself, to a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Or perhaps there are no parts at all, just participants.

Will introducing beavers onto wounded watersheds save the world?  The answer is: yes.  That and all the other acts of restoration, protection, and restraint, small and large, individual and collective, taken together over time.  Sure, it’s not the same as the U.S. taxing carbon or China abandoning coal.  Restoring a watershed doesn’t curb the corporations that reduce communities to commodities. But in addition to the global goals we support, our responses to ecological crisis must be grounded in the places where we live, especially in the watersheds that nourish our bodies.

Rewilding tattered land is holistic because it sees and honors connectivity.  It trades hubris for humility by acknowledging complexity and limitations.  Its ultimate goal is landscape health and resilience, not the well-being of a small handful of stakeholders.

If we want to construct a healthy and resilient world for ourselves and our fellow creatures, we could do worse than look to the lowly beavers for hints on how it can be done. They build a vibrant world for themselves and so many others by weaving one small limb into another, stick by stick by stick.

 

A former grassroots organizer and librarian, Chip Ward writes from Torrey, Utah. He is the author of two books, “Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West” and “Hope’s Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land.” His essays can be found by here.

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/30/how_beavers_can_save_the_american_west_partner/?source=newsletter

Recuperating Marcuse against a culture of cruelty

by James Anderson on July 29, 2014

Post image for Recuperating Marcuse against a culture of crueltyCan an affective politics based on Marcuse’s pleasure principle help us overcome our culture of violence and prefigure relations of love and pleasure?

Image: Students look through a window marked with bullet holes in Isla Vista, California, on May 24, 2014, after 22-year-old Elliot Rodgers shot, stabbed and killed multiple victims at the University of California Santa Barbara campus.

Herbert Marcuse, the Berlin-born theorist who started teaching at the University of California San Diego in 1965, and who died exactly 35 years ago today, provided a critique of modern domination that inspired student-worker uprisings in May 1968 and influenced the New Left, including students at the University of California.

His work also inspired counter-revolution.

As governor of California, intent on privatizing the state’s university system, Ronald Reagan referenced in disgust the “sexual orgies so vile that I cannot describe them to you,” referring to the free love counter-culture ethos elaborated early on in Eros and Civilization, Marcuse’s first major anti-capitalist critique, published in 1955, synthesizing Freudian and Marxian theory. Reagan reaffirmed the “naturalness and rightness of a vertical structuring of society,” and “the right of man to achieve above the capacity of his fellows” — a reactionary defense of existing order and hierarchy.

In a 1971 memo authored two months before his nomination for the Supreme Court, Lewis F. Powell echoed Reagan’s reactionary sentiments and told the US Chamber of Commerce that there must “be no hesitation to attack … the Marcuses and others who openly seek destruction of the enterprise system” — a system Marcuse understood as one of un-freedom.

In light of the counter-revolutionary successes after Reagan and Powell, Marcuse’s “philosophy of psychoanalysis” in Eros and Civilization must be repurposed to go beyond the new system of violence so as to prefigure relations of love and pleasure, not domination.

Neoliberalism and our “Culture of Cruelty”

Violence, a pain-causing process present whenever there is a difference between the actual and potential for a person or people, pervades the social fabric in insidious ways now made apparent when relations of repression result in outbursts, with root causes rarely understood.

The killings in Isla Vista, near the University of California Santa Barbara campus, where 22-year-old Elliot Rodgers stabbed to death three people and shot two women on May 23 in a “day of retribution” after being — or feeling — sexually rejected by the opposite sex, are repudiated as emblematic of gun violence or denounced as exemplars of misogynist culture.

However, analysis seldom digs deeper to unearth the violence embedded in the way we organize ourselves, our production and reproduction as a species. Commentary fails to engage with the repression induced by those oppressive social relations.

Marcuse termed this “surplus-repression,” referring to the organized domination in modern society over and above the basic level repression of instincts psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed necessary for civilization. That “surplus-repression” exists now in a more extreme form.

Neoliberalism, the contemporary form of capitalism, structures this “surplus-repression” and engenders what Henry Giroux suggested is a widespread “culture of cruelty,” which normalizes violence to such a degree that mass shootings recur regularly. Analyses of individual psychopathy and of real cultural problems abound, but the inquiries cut those acts “off from any larger systemic forces at work in society.”

Shootings like the one in Isla Vista are products of our “culture of cruelty,” but the insidious causes demand critique of “larger systemic forces at work,” as Giroux argued. This has to go beyond commentary calling for tighter gun laws and beyond feminist responses throwing light on the endemic misogyny that systematically dehumanize women. Those analyses are apt but also insufficient, as is criticism without consideration for conditions of possibility.

To go beyond the “culture of cruelty” characteristic of neoliberalism requires organizing social movements in ways that reflect — or prefigure — the more just society we would like to see. A prefigurative political project, where the ends are in many ways immanent in the means, must cultivate política afectiva, an affective politics based on forging bonds of love and trust. This is the only way to break through the hegemony of neoliberal relations that forcefully binds us together while simultaneously wrenching us apart.

Systemic Neoliberal Domination and Alienation

Neoliberalism is a class project, advanced since the early 1970s, to consolidate wealth and social power. Money, Marxist analyst David Harvey argued, is a representation of the value of exploited social labor given greater priority under neoliberalism. It can be accumulated potentially ad infinitum, as opposed to other commodities like yachts — although a select few certainly try to acquire a lot of those too! Money, or capital generally, is essentially our own alienated labor power in symbolic form, which comes to exert a tremendous material power over that which it is supposed to represent. And it functions as a weapon enabling some to exert power over others.

As Marcuse averred, “domination is exercised by a particular group or individual in order to sustain and enhance itself in a privileged position.” But domination does not just happen. Its roots are in the social relations central to the current reproduction of our everyday lives.

Marx wrote more than a century ago that once a certain stage of capitalist production is reached, a capitalist must function “as capital personified,” as a slave to a system of violence, in control of the labor of others but also controlled by the prerogatives of capital, “value which can perform its own valorization process, an animated monster which begins to ‘work … as if its body were by love possessed.’”

The capitalist is beholden to the “performance principle,” “the prevailing historical form of the reality principle,” per Marcuse. Freud had earlier coined the concept of the “reality principle,” to refer the repressive organization of sexuality that subjects or sublimates our innate sexual instincts to “the primacy of genitality,” at the expense of powerful Eros that could allow for a radically different society. The “performance principle” presupposes particular forms of rationality for domination, and it stratifies society, Marcuse wrote, “according to the competitive economic performances of its members.”

Neoliberalism, a market rationality and “mode of public pedagogy,” represses Eros by reducing human relations to exchange. Neoliberal pedagogy posits us as self-interested individual actors out for our own self-aggrandizement through the ubiquity of market relations. Covert privatization, like increasing tuition and fees for higher education, reifies the neoliberal ethic in ways that make it appear natural. Use values must be converted into exchange values, and everything has a price, in this arrest of human potentials. The enforcement of what can be called the neoliberal performance principle teaches us to conceive of social problems as personal problems, either focusing on market-based solutions to systemic ills, or emphasizing individual responsibility while erasing the violence inscribed in the relations that result in transgressions like the Isla Vista murders.

Marcuse described repression in an age where “all domination assumes the form of administration,” and “sadistic principles, the capitalist exploiters, have been transformed into salaried members of a bureaucracy,” producing “pain, frustration [and] impotence of the individual” in the face of an immense apparatus.

To be sure, “structural violence,” or the “pervasive social inequality” defining the neoliberal age, “ultimately backed up by the threat of physical harm,” create bureaucratic modes of managing social situations that, as David Graeber has pointed out, tend to negate the need to empathize with other people. Bureaucratic norms legitimate the “culture of cruelty” through the enforcement of administrative control and the negation of alternatives. “There is no alternative” to the new historical form of the reality principle, former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously proclaimed.

Bureaucratic administration also reflects the restraints placed on Eros, the life instincts. Likewise, it exacerbates the effects of abstract labor, where people’s “labor is work for an apparatus which they do not control, which operates as an independent power to which the individual must submit if they want to live,” Marcuse proffered. This is “painful time, for alienated labor is absence of gratification, negation of the pleasure principle.”

As David Harvey recently argued in his presentation at the Crisis-Scapes conference in Athens, alienation is intrinsic in capitalist relations because workers “are alienated from the surplus value they produce,” while capitalists construct alienating, competitive relations among fellow workers. The workers remain estranged from the products of their labor, from nature and from the rest of social life. The processes are violent insofar as feelings “of deprivation and dispossession” are “internalized as a sense of loss and frustration of creative alternatives foregone,” Harvey theorized.

Of the multiple varieties of alienation, its active form “means to be overtly angry and hostile, to act out at being deprived or dispossessed of value and of the capacity to pursue valued ends,” Harvey explained. “Alienated beings vent their anger and hostility towards those identified as the enemy, sometimes without any clear definitive or rational reason,” or they sometimes may “seek to build a world in which alienation has either been abolished or rendered redeemable or reciprocal.”

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have theorized the alienating effects of “affective labor,” the “labor that produces or manipulates affects such as a feeling of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement or passion,” practiced in increasingly common service work, from fast food to retail sales. When the most intimate human doing must be performed for a (low) wage under coerced conditions, extreme alienation ensues. The hegemonic position of this form of labor becomes violent and volatile as a result.

Finance capital assumes added importance under neoliberalism, Hardt and Negri add. It is defined by “its high level of abstraction,” allowing it “to represent vast realms of labor” as it represses present and future Eros by commanding “the new forms of labor and their productivity” with contradictory effects.

Effects of Repressive Neoliberal Violence

Elliot Rodgers, a young adult male from an affluent family, murdered six people in an attempt to exact revenge on women for not being attracted to him — what he said in a video was “an injustice, a crime,” which is why he would “take great pleasure in slaughtering” women, so that they would “finally see’ that he was “the superior one, the true alpha male.”

In his 140-page manifesto, entitled “My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodgers,” he recounts a time in Seventh Grade when a girl he thought was pretty teased him. “I hated her so much,” and “I started to hate all girls because of this.” Toward the end of the diatribe Rodgers declares there to be “no creature more evil and depraved than the human female,” he equates women with “a plague,” and he calls women “vicious, evil, barbaric animals” that “need to be treated as such” and “eradicated.”

Despite early humanizing accounts — like when he was still a child, first crying and then later trying to console after discovering his friend’s mother died of breast cancer — Rodgers ends the manifesto by describing a recipe for a “pure world” to advance human civilization: women are to be killed in concentration camps — save for a few necessary to artificially inseminate for reproduction — while, “Sexuality will cease to exist. Love will cease to exist.”

Laurie Penny, arguing in the New Statesman that “Mental illness does not excuse misogyny,” assayed Rodgers’ manifesto. She emphasized agency and argued popular discussion about mental health “has resisted any analysis of social issues,” which might be “convenient for those in power keen to overlook the structural causes of mental health problems such as alienation, prejudice, poverty and isolation.” However, Penny failed to explain the processes undergirding the “structural oppression” that produced a person — Rodgers — who came to loathe women, express racist sentiments and desire the abolition of Eros.

It is not that “we should pity him” because he suffered from insanity, as Penny suggested the errant popular reaction has it. Rather, we should recognize that while we all have agency, we are also all mutilated by the extant reality. This new historical mode of the reality principle — the neoliberal performance principle — so violently represses the life instincts that it intensifies to an unprecedented degree the destructive forces initially conjured up to prevent full eroticization and gratification, which Freud believed would be at the expense of human survival.

Myriad popular examples of “surplus-repression” in the neoliberal era exist. It is evident in the conception of intercourse as just “a piece of body touching another piece of body — just as existentially meaningless as kissing,” as one young adult, part of the so-called “Millenials” generation, put it. The complete absorption of the sexual revolution by the powers of neoliberalism turned into a commodity what Marcuse considered an emergent movement for greater “self-sublimation of sexuality,” to constitute “highly civilized human relations” without the “repressive organization” of hitherto civilization.

The connections between commodification and the violence at Isla Vista have not been made explicit enough by most writers, even those aware of how neoliberal “surplus-repression” permits and promotes a “culture of cruelty,” replete with misogyny, predicated on domination.

Rebecca Solnit identified a “toxic brew in our culture right now that includes modeling masculinity and maleness … as violence, as domination, as entitlement, as control, and women as worthless, as disposable, as things men have the right to control, etc.”

Dexter Thomas, a scholar of hip-hop at Cornell University, assayed debates about gun control and mental health services that swirled around media outlets after the Isla Vista attacks, and argued that while those topics are worth discussing, letting “our anger culminate” in those arguments alone amounts to a “cop-out.” Thomas entreats us to confront the fear within ourselves and others and “talk about why we are so afraid to talk about race and gender.”

Attention to intersectionality, or rather, viewing “race, class, and gender as interlocking systems of oppression,” within an overarching “matrix of domination” as Patricia Hill Collins put it, marked a major advance in critical theory. But neoliberalism, as a rationality reflecting the violence embedded in the contradictory relationships of domination — humans dominating each other and resources — cannot be undone with discussion of gender, race or class alone.

The historically specific, repressive modification of instinctual drives through alienated labor, bureaucratic procedures and the “culture of cruelty” educating us all to amass “wealth, forgetting all but self,” in accord with prevailing principles, augments domination. It is more often than not directed against women, experienced disproportionately by people of color, felt differentially along frequently ignored (and nuanced) class lines, exacted on satellite nations subjected to the “underdevelopment of development” as their surplus is sucked up by wealthier states, and now lived by new peripheral populations in the world system as it morphs under neoliberalism.

Warfare championed by nations no longer able to dominate any way but militarily evinces the inevitable reliance on force to sustain endemic violence. That violence also animates the resurgence of xenophobic right-wing nationalists who demonize oppressed populations. From anti-immigrant protesters in California scaring buses of children fleeing areas in Central America decimated by decades of US policies, to Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party murdering leftists, to Israeli demonstrators defending the shelling of concentrated civilian areas in Gaza and pelting peace activists with rocks, the brutalization of others in turn dehumanizes them, just as capitalists and financiers who derive profits from others’ labor do violence to themselves when they exploit those they expropriate.

What Marcuse, following Freud, saw as “the progressive weakening of Eros” — even and especially now with a culture so obsessed with such an impoverished mode of sexuality — leads to “the growth of aggressiveness,” evidenced everywhere. Individualization of problems pits all but the most powerful against each other. The sublimation of sexuality, extolled only in superficial forms amenable to capital, further militates against fuller eroticization that would betoken a world without repressive hierarchies.

In his manifesto, Rodgers observed the ways hierarchies shaped — and distorted — his worldview. “As my fourth grade year approached its end, my little nine-year old self had another revelation about how the world works,” he wrote. “I realized that there were hierarchies, that some people were better than others.”

Reflecting on the “common social structure” at his school, those hierarchical divisions, Rodgers’ admitted his self-esteem decreased because of his “mixed race” — his mother was Asian — and, he concluded: “Life is a competition and a struggle,” empowering some at the expense of others.

Those hierarchies are not necessary, nor are they necessarily everlasting. Hierarchical divisions of labor — indeed, all alienated labor as we know it — perpetuates a power-over others, sacrificing human potentials. That violence gives way to insecurity-fuelled internalized oppression and the extroverted frustration, witnessed when Rodgers carried out his hate-fuelled homicide in Southern California.

Prefigurative Politics and Erotic Recuperation

Important for our purposes, Marcuse noted emerging preconditions for “a qualitatively different, non-repressive reality principle” — intimating a project for societal self-realization of the “pleasure principle,” the instinctual drive for gratification bound up with erotogenic activity and libidinal desire.

Sublimation, Marcuse asserted, occurs only after repression of the pleasure principle by the reality principle. Following initial repressive modification, sublimation restrains sexuality while desexualizing most of the body, save for specific areas we commonly associate with sex. The neoliberal performance principle now enacts even tighter restriction of sexuality while amplifying “the primacy of genitality.”

The process has been intensified today to ensure the reproduction of labor power and a surplus population to repress wages — Marx’s “industrial reserve army” of the unemployed, conscripted today by “free trade” agreements facilitating the movement of capital across borders while restraining populations around the world put into greater competition with each other. With surplus destruction and hardship the world is made into an alienated object for domination, which in turn leads to domination over us all.

Prospects exist, however, for a “non-repressive sublimation,” according to Marcuse, through the “self-sublimation of sexuality,” presupposing “historical progress beyond the institutions of the performance principle, which in turn would release instinctual regression.” The process entails, for Marcuse, a re-sexualization of the entire organism, “the conceptual transformation of sexuality into Eros,” extending into relations with others throughout the entire social body.

Despite the seeming omnipresence of the libido in society, its modification by the neoliberal performance principle — the existing condition wherein our increasingly alienated labor (capital) comes to exert greater power over people — connotes a possible project for liberation through eroticization.

Asking us to “Think Hope, Think Crisis,” John Holloway recently explained how capitalism is imbued with its own instinctual drive for endless growth. Its immanent instability lies in the “inadequacy of its own domination,” because to continually reproduce itself, capital has to intensify its domination and exploitation of humanity, which inevitably results in resistance to constant aggression and “easily overflows into rebellion.”

Under the neoliberal performance principle, capital’s drive — our own alienated life instincts, our abstracted Eros turned against us — for domination increases, causing crisis. Holloway reminds us, however, that “we are the crisis of capital.” Our crisis-causing power-to points to possibilities for a liberating erotic project.

Recuperation of our instincts by cultivating the kinds of non-hierarchical and non-exploitative relations we would like to see throughout a society without “surplus-repression,” requires prefigurative and affective politics — a movement of movements of people looking to each other. This can be accomplished through mutual aid, by collective decision-making where people have a say in decisions being made in proportion to the degree they are impacted, and with conscious effort directed toward everyone’s gratification.

The “affective labor” Hardt and Negri averred as hegemonic sets the conditions for a new pleasure principle, but it also shows how capital “seeks increasingly to intervene directly into social reproduction and the way we communicate and commune,” as Max Haiven has explained. Although the importance of “affective labor” to today’s economy illustrates the inverted erotic urge — or simply the death drive — of neoliberalism intent on marketizing human relations for ceaseless capital accumulation, the increased emphasis on affective work intimates greater possibilities for a project aimed at recuperating libidinous, loving desires.

This project does not dispense entirely with Marcuse’s notion of the pleasure principle. It is rather an attempt to re-articulate it in such a way that promotes deeper social eroticization, taking that to encompass feelings of care, concern and a way of seeing oneself in the other — the way Marcuse understood narcissistic Eros and sexuality.

The reactivation of “narcissistic sexuality,” Marcuse maintained, “ceases to be a threat to culture and can itself lead to culture-building if the organism exists not as an instrument of alienated labor but as a subject of self-realization,” through “lasting and expanding libidinal relations because this expansion increases and intensifies the instinct’s gratification.”

After the shooting in a Colorado movie theater by a young man during the summer of 2012, Giroux noted that the “issue of violence in America goes far beyond the issue of gun control, and in actuality, when removed from a broader narrative about violence in the United States,” it deflects from raising key questions and elides reasons why “violence weaves through the culture like a highly charged electric current burning everything in its path.” Elsewhere, Giroux analyzed how “spectacles of consumerism, celebrity culture, hyped-up violence and a market-driven obsession with the self” have led to “the absence” — or evisceration — “of a formative culture necessary to construct questioning agents who are capable of dissent and collective action in an increasingly imperiled democracy.”

The “narcissistic sexuality” Marcuse theorized differs appreciably from the market-induced narcissistic subjectivities Giroux assailed. Those subjectivities are manufactured and controlled via “biopolitical production,” which Hardt and Negri explain encompasses added emphasis on “affective labor” as well as the new ways capital produces subjects. Our alienated subjectivities are thus dialectical insofar as we embody capital’s violence yet utilize our affective and communicative powers, if primarily in alienated and expropriated ways under subjugation by the neoliberal performance principle.

The dialectic demonstrates desires for recuperation — within, against and beyond the “culture of cruelty” that dominates today. Marcuse celebrated the “culture-building power of Eros” as “non-repressive sublimation: sexuality is neither deflected from nor blocked in its objective; rather, in attaining its objective, it transcends it to others, searching for fuller gratification.”

Creating New Subjectivities

To construct a formative democratic culture in and against neoliberalism means also “creating new subjectivities,” as Marina Sitrin and Dario Azzellini write in They Can’t Represent Us! — that is, transforming relationships based on “trust and a growing feeling of care and mutual responsibility, with the goal of building a movement and society based in a relationship of mutual trust and concern for the other and the collective.” Sitrin and Azzellini explain that “responsibility for the other and solidarity are basic conditions of a future society not grounded in capitalist principles” — and, of course, not subordinated to the affect-incarcerating neoliberal performance principle.

In an interview with Bryan Magee on “Modern Philosophy” years ago, Marcuse mentioned the primacy of patriarchal domination throughout history, and said that deployment of “socially conditioned” so-called “feminine qualities,” like care, receptivity and tenderness, “could be the beginning of a qualitatively different society, the very antithesis to male domination with its violent and brutal character.”

To be sure, Sitrin and Azzellini rightly stress that “relegating affective politics to the feminine realm” — as is often the case — “simply reinforces gendered roles in patriarchal societies.” In fact, “affective politics is not an expression of ‘maternal responsibility’ but a social responsibility to build a new society based on cooperation and mutual aid rather than competition.”

Contrary to the critique of Marcuse for his downplaying revolutionary potentials of the working class, a re-articulation of his theory is also relevant for workers’ control initiatives, in which affective politics are challenging capitalist domination by altering existing relations.

These ongoing processes of people taking over their workplaces to run them in common, Sitrin and Azzelini explain, include recuperated workplaces like Hotel Bauen, a former four-star hotel in Buenos Aires that employees took collective control over after owners laid off workers and tried to shut the place down following the 2001 economic crisis. Similarly, workers at Republic Windows and Doors recuperated their factory when similar events unfolded in Chicago, reopening the place under democratic control in 2013, around the time the recuperated factory in Thessaloniki — Vio.Me — began production in Greece. Vio.Me now produces environmentally-friendly cleaning products made with local, natural ingredients distributed through the solidarity economy — but it also produces new subjectivities with renewed agency and revitalized affects.

Recuperation compliments autogestión, the process of “collective democratic self-management, especially within local communities, workplaces, cultural projects, and many other entities,” Sitrin and Azzelini averred. Examples of autogestión abound, from Zapatista Councils of Good Government in Chiapas to Communes for community-based organization and local control of production in Venezuela.

The formation of an alternative justice system “based on re-socialization, and not on retribution and vengeance,” in the San Luis Acatlán municipality in “Guerrero, one of the poorest, most violent, and most repressive states in Mexico,” constitutes another recuperative effort, as Sitrin and Azzellini describe it. These recuperative movements are inextricably bound with building affective bonds. They tend to promote relations otherwise suppressed or repressively modified by a performance principle designed to enlarge profits, not Eros.

In part interstitial, the movements illustrate prefigurative politics — “the end as process,” Sitrin and Azzelini termed it — consonant with Marcuse’s description of the pleasure principle dialectic, enriching the social organism over time by focusing on gratification now. Marcuse underscored “sustaining the entire body as subject-object of pleasure,” yet the robust construction of Eros through horizontalidad and política afectiva “calls for the refinement of the organism, the intensification of its receptivity, the growth of its sensuousness,” in more meaningful, humanizing ways. This refined “aim generates its own projects of realization,” including freedom from toil and violence, as Marcuse suggested, and this non-repressive “sublimation proceeds in a system of expanding and enduring libidinal relations, which are in themselves work relations.”

Often intended “to foster horizontal processes and subvert the boundaries of capitalist value-exchange,” Sitrin and Azzellini suggest that such recuperation, which frequently refers to reclaiming of common space and recovering historical memory, does not refer to “a nostalgic turn to an idealized past,” but “the recuperation of memory and history is,” rather, “a collective process meant to enrich the present and build a common future.”

Recuperation of the erotic and an expanded conception of the pleasure principle attuned to the richness of the life instincts, including our under-tapped affective capacities, must undergird any prefigurative politics aimed at dethroning neoliberalism as the reigning reality principle. This would address violence, and allow healthy sexuality to flourish.

Far from eliminating sexuality as we know it, such a project would allow for greater, meaningful love-making, in myriad ways. The underlying violence that drove Elliot Rodgers to seek vengeance would cease to rule, as would the general condition that, in Rodgers’ case, and as in the case of countless others, precludes loving relationships and maims us all.

This project cannot be divorced from recuperation of doing through direct democratic control over production of the pleasurable things we collectively want or need. It should foster enjoyable exercise of our creative faculties through non-alienating work-as-play, part of broader “transformation of sexuality into Eros, and its extension to lasting libidinal work relations,” as Marcuse advanced.

Cruelty and domination in the present imply the opposite, love and liberation, which must be achieved — not by enduring the violence of the day while holding out for a better future, but through a prefigurative revolution that must be pleasurable now in every, expanded sense.

James Anderson is a doctoral candidate in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis. He writes for Truthout, among other publications.

http://roarmag.org/2014/07/marcuse-neoliberalism-culture-violence/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

ISRAEL’S PLAN

Israel’s public actions explain its plan: A state policy of disenfranchisement, apartheid, settlement building and war which has and will continue to result in the death, removal and expulsion of all Palestinians from territories which Israel is illegally occupying.

How else to explain the accompanying map which shows how Palestinian lands and hopes have been disappeared?

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Record-low US primary voting shows mass alienation from two-party system

By Patrick Martin
29 July 2014

A report issued last week tabulating the results of the first 25 statewide primary elections held in the United States this year found that voter turnout was the lowest in history, at least since the primary system became the norm after the Second World War.

Only 14.8 percent of eligible citizens have voted in the primaries held so far, a decline of 3.5 percentage points from the turnout in the same 25 states in 2010. This is less than half the postwar record turnout of 31.9 percent set in 1966.

In raw figures, the mass abstention is even more staggering. Of the 122.7 million citizens eligible to vote in the first 25 primaries this year, only 18.2 million actually went to the polls, while 104.5 million declined to participate in choosing Democratic and Republican nominees for the November 4 election.

Given the enormous media coverage of the primary campaigns and the record expenditures by both parties and a myriad of corporate-financed groups established to influence the outcome of the voting, the mass abstention is a stark reflection of the disillusionment and alienation of the broad mass of working people from the American two-party system.

Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate (CSAE) at American University and author of the report, made observations along this line in his analysis of the figures.

He wrote: “Many decades ago citizens turned out to vote out of a sense of civic duty and because of an allegiance to one or other major party. That motivation has largely been lost. The numbers in this report reflect how deeply citizens are turning away from political engagement and from positive feeling about one or another major political party.”

The CSAE report documents the obstacles to popular participation in elections, including voter registration procedures so cumbersome that 61 million eligible citizens are not registered and therefore cannot vote. To this could be added the exclusion of former prisoners from the voter rolls in many states, particularly in the South, and the spread of laws requiring photo IDs, enacted to reduce the percentage of voting by the poor, who have greater difficulty obtaining the necessary identification.

However, Gans noted that a slew of procedural measures established to make voting easier, including same-day registration, expanded mail-in voting, and early voting, showed no long-term effect. California, where two-thirds of the votes are cast by mail, and Oregon, which is entirely a mail-in procedure, both posted record low primary voting.

He concluded: “The core problem of participation does not reside in the realm of procedure, but rather in motivation. Contributing factors to the decline in motivation are not hard to find: campaigns that are run on scurrilous attack ads that give the citizen a perceived choice between bad and awful; one major party situated far to the right of the American center and the other without a clear and durable message; a decline in faith that government will address major societal need…”

This considerably understates the nature of the political dilemma confronting working people. It is not just the Republican Party that is “situated far to the right” but the Democratic Party as well.

Both parties adhere to the political consensus prevailing within the financial aristocracy, supporting imperialist war, attacks on democratic rights, and savage austerity measures that undermine working class living standards and public services. They seek to obscure the political monopoly exercised by corporate America with conflicts over secondary and tertiary issues, or by whipping up divisions along the lines of race, gender, sexual orientation and religion to conceal the fundamental class questions.

The figures presented in the CSAE report are worth considering in some detail, since they demonstrate that the great mass of the American people have become so alienated from the two-party system, and particularly the Democratic Party, that there exists an enormous political vacuum in the country.

Of the 25 states holding primary elections prior to mid-July, 15 showed record low overall voter turnouts. Only three showed an increase in turnout from 2010 to 2014. Democratic turnout was higher in only four states, while Republican turnout was higher in six states. Democratic Party turnout hit record lows in 15 of the 25 states.

Republican primary turnout, at 8.2 percent of eligible voters, was down from the 2010 level of 9.6 percent, but only slightly below the average of 13 midterm elections over the last half-century, where the average Republican primary turnout was 8.9 percent.

The historical decline is thus in large measure due to declining participation in Democratic Party primaries—significant because for decades the Democratic Party was the main vehicle for the subordination of the working class to capitalist politics, with the AFL-CIO unions peddling illusions that Democratic candidates were “friends of labor.”

Popular participation in Democratic Party midterm election primaries hit its post-World War II high in 1970—a year of mass antiwar activity and popular radicalization that the unions and organizations such as the Communist Party and Socialist Workers Party sought to divert behind supposedly antiwar candidates within the Democratic Party. This culminated in the 1972 presidential campaign of George McGovern.

In 1970, 20.9 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Democratic Party primaries. This year, that figure is down to only 6.4 percent of eligible voters. In other words, popular participation in Democratic midterm primaries has fallen by 70 percent over the past 44 years. Participation in Republican midterm primaries has fallen by 38 percent over the same period.

Voter participation in Democratic primaries has fallen for 11 consecutive midterm elections, from 1974 to 2014. (Because voter participation is generally much higher in presidential years like 2008 and 2012 than in non-presidential years like 2006 and 2010, the study compares 2014 only with other “midterm” elections, when only congressional and state offices are on the ballot).

The experience of the Obama administration represents a definite turning point in this long-term process of decline. Democratic turnout increased significantly in both the 2006 congressional elections and the 2008 presidential election, with record numbers of black and other minority workers going to the polls.

But whatever the initial illusions that the first African-American president would produce a positive change in the conditions of life for working people, the right-wing, pro-Wall Street record of the Obama administration has produced a historically unprecedented collapse in popular support for the Democratic Party, culminating in a 29 percent decline in participation in Democratic mid-term primary elections between 2010 and 2014.

The figures presented in the CSAE report strongly suggest that millions of working people are fed up with the Democratic Party and are looking for an alternative to oppose the reactionary policies of the financial oligarchy promoted by both the Democrats and Republicans.

The financial bubble economy

28 July 2014

All three major US stock indexes fell Friday, capping the largest weekly decline in US stock markets in nearly two months. The catalyst for Friday’s sell-off was a very weak series of sales figures and projections from three corporations tied to consumer spending: Amazon, the largest online retailer; Wal-Mart, the largest brick-and-mortar retailer; and Visa, the credit and debit card transaction company.

More broadly, the stock market tremors reflect growing concern within the ruling class that share values, which have doubled, and in some cases tripled, since their 2009 lows, are on the verge of another historic collapse.

The open secret of the US economy is that the extraordinary rise in the stock markets is entirely disconnected from the process of production. While US economic growth was only 1.8 percent last year, below the average of the previous three years, the S&P 500 stock index shot up more than 20 percent. In the first quarter of this year, as the economy contracted at a rate of nearly three percent, all three US stock indexes continued to rise.

The stock market rally is based on two interconnected elements: the systematic transfer of wealth from the working class to the financial elite, and the provision of an essentially unlimited flow of cash into the financial system by the Federal Reserve.

The stock market bubble has facilitated mergers and acquisitions designed to inflate corporate stock prices by mass layoffs and cost cutting, further choking off economic growth. Such mergers and acquisitions are up by some 50 percent over the past year. A case in point was Microsoft’s announcement this month of 18,000 worldwide layoffs in the aftermath of its $7 billion acquisition of Nokia’s mobile division.

Corporate profits as a share of US GDP were higher last year than any year on records going back to the late 1940s. A measure of the speculative fever that has once again gripped corporate America: companies are using these profits not for investment, but rather to swell executive pay, raise dividends, and buy back their own stocks. Stock buybacks reached their second-highest level on record in the first quarter of this year, behind only the second quarter of 2007, just before the financial meltdown.

The fact that the stock market rally is clearly unstable has generated murmurs of concern from some quarters. Earlier this month, Fitch Ratings Agency warned of an “increasing anxiety among investors that valuations reflect too much money chasing too few income-producing assets.” The rating agency added, “Investors feel they have little choice but to invest in whatever comes to market, despite the continuing fall in yields and coupons.”

One commentator warned this month in the New York Times of an “Everything Bubble” in which “there are very few unambiguously cheap assets.” These warnings echoed concerns raised by the Bank of International Settlements, which concluded late last month that “it is hard to avoid the sense of a puzzling disconnect between the markets’ buoyancy and underlying economic developments.”

The most categorical warning comes from John P. Hussman, a former University of Michigan professor and current investment fund manager who published a memo this week entitled, “Yes, This Is An Equity Bubble.” He concluded, “Make no mistake – this is an equity bubble, and a highly advanced one. On the most historically reliable measures, it is easily beyond 1972 and 1987, beyond 1929 and 2007, and is now within about 15% of the 2000 extreme.” He concludes, “The Federal Reserve can certainly postpone the collapse of this bubble, but only by making the eventual outcome that much worse.”

Soaring corporate profits and stock values have accompanied an enormous decline in social conditions for the vast majority of the US population. According to one recent study, the inflation-adjusted net worth of a typical US household has declined by 36 percent between 2003 and 2014. Median household income in the US plummeted by 8.3 percent between 2007 and 2012, and the number of people using food stamps has increased by 70 percent since 2008.

The enormous social retrogression of American society is summed up in one statistic: one in four children in the United States live below the official poverty line, while one in five are at risk of going hungry.

The 2008 collapse nearly brought down the entire world financial system and sparked a global recession, with no recovery. The Fed has lowered interest rates to essentially zero, where they have stayed for nearly six years, allowing banks access to cash for free. Through a variety of asset purchasing programs, the Fed has tripled the size of its balance sheet since 2008. This policy has been mimicked internationally, coupled with ever more brutal austerity measures directed at the working class.

This game cannot go on forever. Ultimately, the valuations of financial assets must come crashing down. The consequences of the coming crash will be even more dramatic than those of the 2008 financial meltdown.

The US ruling elite has reached a historical dead end. It staggers from crisis to crisis, trying to put out fires with gasoline. This pragmatic, shortsighted and parasitic approach to the crisis of the US economy is expressive of the basic physiognomy of the financial elite. This is a social layer that has amassed its wealth not through productive activity, but through the looting of society: raiding pension funds, slashing wages, shutting down industrial facilities and laying off workers.

This internal socioeconomic crisis of American capitalism is a significant factor in US foreign policy, the extraordinary recklessness with which the ruling class and its representatives in the political and media establishment stoke conflict all over the world.

Facing an economic and political disaster at home, the US ruling elite seeks through war a desperate means to shore up its position in the global economy and deflect social anger at home into wars and interventions abroad. Each stage of the economic crisis has been accompanied by an every greater paroxysm of imperialist violence.

The policy of the American ruling class is, in a profound sense, insane. However, it is a socially conditioned insanity, an insanity that expresses a bankrupt economic system and a social order on the eve of revolution.

Andre Damon

A struggle to save Europe’s soul from privatization

by Jerome Roos on July 26, 2014

Post image for A struggle to save Europe’s soul from privatizationAs the EU sells its soul by pushing Greece to privatize its natural and cultural heritage, ordinary citizens are mobilizing to save their common wealth.

Image: the historic Stoa of Attalos, recently rented out for a private event.

When news of the Greek debt crisis first broke in 2010, a number of German tabloids called on the country to pawn its cultural and natural heritage to pay off its debts. “Sell your islands, you bankrupt Greeks!” ran a headline of the ever tasteless Bild. “And sell the Acropolis too!” With the bailout of May 2010 in the making, the populist editors of the right-wing magazine, apparently oblivious to the historical sensitivities around the German annexation of foreign territories, stubbornly insisted: “We give you cash, you give us Corfu.”

Today, more than four years since the signing of the first memorandum of understanding, it seems that Germany’s nationalist media — along with the European investor class and the oligarchic Greek elite — are finally getting their way. Greece’s subservient government is now pushing hard to open up new frontiers for privatization, with some 77.000 state assets slated for sale, including a host of historic marinas and idyllic islands, a number of ancient palaces, and large stretches of the country’s spectacular and unspoilt coastline.

Pawning Greece’s Heritage

Earlier this year, the government announced that it would move ahead with its plans to sell off a number of beautiful buildings of great historic value at the foot of the Acropolis. The Guardian reported that “among the properties are refugee tenement blocks built to put up Greeks fleeing the Asia Minor disaster in 1922 and culture ministry offices housed in neo-classical buildings in the picturesque Plaka district … that were erected shortly after the establishment of the modern Greek state. Both are widely viewed as architectural gems.”

The announcement came on the heels of a controversial decision to rent out two of the most important archeological sites in Athens — the Stoa of Attalos, which sits in the ancient agora, and the Panathenaic Stadium — to companies for private events. Earlier, similar plans had been mooted by leading politicians of the ruling conservative party to lease out the Acropolis for photoshoots and other commercial and promotional activities.

Then, in May, the government upped the ante by proposing a bill that would effectively overturn decades-old constitutional protections of the country’s coastline that restrict development and guarantee open access to the beach. The Greek privatization fund TAIPED subsequently marked 110 beaches for privatization, including such gems as Elafonisos, home to the valuable marine archeological site Pavlopetri. Under the coastal bill, ownership of the seashore — along with any architectural structures and the surrounding natural environment — will fall exclusively unto the buyer, who will be able to “develop” their property and restrict access to non-owners.

The consequences of this privatization drive would be disastrous and largely irreversible. Thanks to its constitutional protections, the Greek coastline has so far managed to avoid the kind of mass development that has befallen the Spanish coastline — leaving it intact as one of Europe’s last-remaining unspoilt seashores. As The Press Project points out, however, the proposed coastal bill “would make it possible for even large beaches in Greece to be carpeted from end to end with umbrellas and beach bars,” while the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has warned of a Spanish-style construction boom of holiday apartments that could cover the Greek coastline in concrete.

Needless to say, the privatization drive goes hand-in-hand with the strangulation of Greece’s public sector — under direct orders of the Troika of foreign lenders — which renders the crisis of the country’s archeological heritage all the more acute. The budget of the Culture Ministry has been slashed by a savage 52% since 2010, putting at risk some of Europe’s most valuable cultural treasures by greatly reducing the available funds to maintain and protect archeological sites and run public museums. Meanwhile, the Environment Ministry has overtly shifted its attention from preserving the country’s natural heritage to opening up new spaces for oil exploration.

A Scandalous Logic of Dispossession

While the sheer size of the privatization program and the aggressiveness with which it is being pursued are unprecedented in European history — eclipsing even the disastrous fire-sale privatizations in Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union — the moves follow a well-established ideological script that has long been tested and perfected in the developing world, under the guise of the infamous Washington Consensus. As Harvard economist Dani Rodrik put it, in the 1980s and 1990s, “‘stabilize, privatize, and liberalize’ became the mantra of a generation of technocrats who cut their teeth in the developing world and of the political leaders they counseled.”

The script is not merely ideological, however: it has long since become the very modus operandi of the neoliberal state and the globalized world economy. The influential Marxist geographer David Harvey has referred to these processes as “accumulation by dispossession,” emphasizing how the “primitive” practices of enclosure that expropriated smallholder farmers and commodified the commons of pre-industrial England do not only continue today but constitute the very logic of the system. In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein furthermore showed how economic and political elites often strategically exploit the temporary paralysis wrought by natural disasters and economic crises in order to privatize public property and common wealth that would otherwise be impossible to expropriate.

With the brutalities of disaster capitalism on full display in Greece today, and with the European Union and the IMF resorting to outright expropriation in order to claw back their own irresponsible loans to the Greek state, it is perhaps no surprise that the privatization process itself has been marred by scandals throughout. It recently emerged that the government secretly granted total tax exemption to the consortium that bought up the rights to exploit the old Hellenikon airport, one of the most valuable pieces of land in the Mediterranean. Even as a Kafkaesque array of fees and taxes is being imposed on ordinary Greeks surviving off less than 500 euros per month, the owners of Lamda Development, as sole bidder for the site, “shall be exempt from any tax, duty or fee, including income tax in respect of any form of income derived from its business, of transfer tax for any reason, [or] capital accumulation tax.”

To make matters worse, it soon emerged that Lamda Development, which is owned by the Latsis family of shipping and banking tycoons, paid a mere $1.2 billion for the old airport, even though independent pre-crisis valuations estimated it to be worth at least $6.8 billion. Calculations by the Greek newspaper To Vima furthermore show that the state will have to make at least another $3.4 billion in administrative and infrastructural expenses before it can deliver the property to its new owner — thus effectively subsidizing the multi-billionnaire Latsis family for its “purchase.” In the process, the public debt accumulates even further.

In fact, the corruption of public officials and the collusion between state and capital is so extreme and so deeply entrenched that it has inevitably infected the top echelons of both government and business. Last year, Stelios Stavridis, head of the TAIPED privatization fund, himself a former construction mogul who made a fortune building swimming pools for Greece’s tax-evading business elite, was fired after a newspaper revealed that he had been offered a trip to the island of Kefalonia on the private jet of the infamous Greek oligarch and shipowner Dimitris Melissanidis, to whom he had — just hours before — sold a 33% share of the recently privatized state gambling monopoly OPAP. Stavridis was the second TAIPED head to be dismissed on allegations of improper conduct within a year. Of course, the deals themselves have not been in the least affected by any of these scandals. Whatever the cost, the fire-sale must go on.

Europe, Selling its Soul

Ultimately, however, we need to face up to the real powers behind these endless scandals — the ones who have so far managed to keep their hands clean of any overt cases of corruption but who are nevertheless ultimately responsible for the expropriation and exploitation of Greece’s immense natural and cultural wealth, not to mention the unspeakable humanitarian tragedy that has been inflicted upon its ailing society in the past four years.

It should be clear by now that the privatization process, in all its scandalous ugliness, is little more than an attempt to enclose the commons and extract as much value as possible from a country whose population has already been sucked dry by the European banking elite amidst a catastrophic four-year-old depression. Completing the privatizations is a prerequisite for the release of Greece’s bailout funds, and it is common knowledge that Troika officials have been playing a leading role in drafting up many of the plans in great detail. This, also, is no surprise, as European investors stand to benefit lavishly from future sell-offs, with the Germans already eying the waste disposal industry and the healthcare sector (which their austerity measures have already reduced to shambles), and the French set on Greece’s public water utilities.

It is safe to say, then, that Europe has now fallen to the lowest of lows: having already abolished Greek democracy (insofar as such a thing could still be said to exist), European leaders and EU institutions are now selling off Greece’s invaluable natural and cultural heritage at cutthroat prices in order to “reduce” the country’s debt, which only ends up growing in the process. If Greece is indeed the cradle of European civilization, as the EU’s Hellenophile leaders — European Commision President Jean-Claude Juncker first among them — still like to maintain, then Europe obviously stands accused of selling its own soul, for a nickel and dime, to redeem a debt that everyone knows cannot be repaid.

The Resistance Builds Up

Still, if recent years have shown anything, it is that wherever there is great injustice and indignity, there will be resistance — and even the paralysis wrought by the neoliberal shock doctrine cannot last forever. In fact, the social and political opposition to the Troika’s privatization drive has been so fierce that the Greek government has already had to scale back its projected proceeds from 50 billion euros by 2015 to a “mere” 11 billion euros by 2016. While this hardly constitutes a victory, it does reveal the hostile social and political terrain on which the Troika and the Greek government currently have to navigate.

In fact, some early signs of hope are already starting to emerge. In recent months, the grassroots campaign against the privatization of the public water utilities in Athens and Thessaloniki, spearheaded by veteran activists from the 2011 Movement of the Squares, has made major strides in rousing public opinion. In late May, the movement was aided by a favorable court ruling that blocked the privatization of the Athens water utility. The ruling marks the first significant victory in a collective push-back — operating on multiple fronts, both institutional and extra-institutional — that may yet set a precedent and make the EU/IMF-enforced privatization drive come undone at the seams.

Meanwhile, as the government prepares to relaunch its deeply unpopular coastal bill — which had been briefly shelved ahead of the European elections in late May and which it now hopes to push through during summer recess, when only 100 out of 300 MPs will be in session — the resistance to the enclosure of Greece’s ecological commons is also taking off anew. While the outcome of this struggle remains uncertain, it is clear that the government’s room for maneuver is rapidly closing down. SYRIZA, the left opposition party which actively resists the bill and openly commits itself to re-nationalizing all privatized assets, now leads the polls — further increasing pressure on the last-remaining “Socialist” MPs of PASOK to defect from the government in future privatization votes.

At the same time, it is clear that simply re-nationalizing privatized state assets and returning to the status quo ante will not suffice. With the direct democratic legacy of 2011 still freshly in mind, ordinary citizens are increasingly pushing for Greece’s immense natural and cultural wealth to be democratically self-managed and held in common. Beyond a sclerotic and capitalist-controlled state apparatus and a thoroughly polarized and depressed economy, Greece’s dynamic grassroots movements provide a vision of what a truly radicalized society could look like — reclaiming the common from the rapacious claws of an elite gone mad and helping Europe redeem its privatized soul in the process.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. This article was written as part of his weekly column for TeleSUR English.

The New Cold War

 

 

 

MH17 – Sacrificed Airliner

 

by ANDRE VLTCHEK

 

The special train carrying refrigerated corpses from the MH17 catastrophe has left the station of Torez, just a few miles from the crash site. People, who died a terrible death onboard the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, will soon be reunited with their grieving families. They will receive a proper funeral, and will be laid to rest in the Netherlands, Malaysia and several other countries. They are on their way home, at last.

The Ukrainian rebels handed over the black boxes to international authorities. The investigation can begin. It hopefully will begin, unobstructed by political maneuvering.

Will the Empire allow the investigation to follow its course? The Western propaganda machine is in full gear. The twisting of facts, obscuring of evidence, and maneuvering public opinion all over the world: all this is being done with determination and routinely applied precision.

So much is at stake! Increasing cooperation between Russia, Latin America and China could mean the end of Western neo-colonial control of the world. The creation of alternatives to the World Bank can free billions of human beings from market feudalism and its slavery. Powerful news organizations broadcasting from Russia (RT), Venezuela (TeleSur) and Iran (Press TV) are consistently breaking the depressing and nihilistic monopoly of Western propaganda and control of people’s brains all over the world.

The more liberating these trends and waves are for the world, the more panic there is in Washington, London and Paris, but also on Wall Street and in the City, as well as in the newsrooms of the corporate media.

The West is terrified. Its ‘exceptionalism’, tremendous profits from controlling everything that moves on this planet, the kick of being in charge and holding the whip, all this can disappear if these waves of resistance are not reversed!

And the villains are damned Russia and Putin, who is refusing to yield. Putin is despicable, and a real nuisance in the eyes of the Empire, because he is unwilling to sacrifice, or to destroy his own country as Yeltsin had done two decades earlier. The villains are also those bloody Chinese, because they are sticking to their ideals, to socialism the Chinese way, while lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. The other villains are those bastards from Latin America, with their big dreams and humanism, their revolutions and sudden refusal to sacrifice their own people for the wellbeing of the Western elites.

And all of them – these three disobedient parts of the world, three cohorts – are now getting closer and closer together, forging an as yet undefined alliance, but an alliance nevertheless, increasing cooperation, signing treaties, creating alternative organizations, and saying “No!” to the world order. And more countries are looking at all this with hope; more are joining the club of the free. Not absolutely free, but free from Western colonial terror, which is now perhaps the worst kind of terror that exists on this planet (including those horrid derivates of the regime, implanted all over the planet).

To fight these dissident nations openly, to do it on ideological or moral grounds, is impossible. They would most certainly not lose! By now it should be too obvious, it should be too clear who is on the ‘right and wrong sides of history’.

Therefore, the “smear” is the only way for the Empire to advance its destructive cause. Or at least it is the most effective way. The good old way of discrediting one’s enemy, was by dragging him through filth, by turning his achievements into failures, his heroic resistance into hideous crimes. The Brits perfected this, ruling their colonies for centuries, by deceit and perverse philosophical concepts. The German Nazis were fairly effective as well.

The way it stands, there is nothing good that Russia can do. There is nothing decent about China (it is Communist when it suits Western propaganda or ‘more capitalist than traditionally capitalist countries are’, when it fits the bill). Venezuela with its direct democracy is dictatorial. And so on.

And now the plane… The second Malaysian Boeing 777 lost in one single year… Both belonged to one of the best airlines on earth, with a great maintenance record for its equipment! Strange, very strange… But Russia is certainly to blame. Because the President of the United States said so, because the British PM said so… No proof is needed. The Western public is extremely obedient.

Now the bodies are going! From a small Torez station, they are going home, wrapped in bags.

They are victims of something that many decent people all over the world are even afraid to formulate in their minds.

The area of Eastern Ukraine that they – the corpses – are now leaving, is full of local victims, too – those civilian victims of ethnic cleansing, whose only fault is that their maternal tongue happened to be Russian, or that they do not or cannot live in a country run by the pro-Western fascist dictatorship of the ‘Chocolate King’, Poroshenko, and his gangsters.

Now civilians are dying, every day. That does not bother the Western regime. Killing the rebels, their families and neighbors, is encouraged. Burning people in Odessa, burning them alive, is not even criticized in the lackey corporate media. The entire debate and coverage of events has become grotesque and sick.

More then 100,000 people have recently crossed into Russia, seeking refuge from Ukrainian bombers and rockets, or perhaps more, most likely much more.

Russian lives do not count. Asian lives do not count. African lives do not count. Middle Eastern lives do not count. The lives of Latin Americans do not count. That is why the West so freely and without hesitation has murdered tens of millions of ‘unpeople’, for decades and centuries.

The formula is simple: Dutch tourists do count. Ukrainian villagers don’t. It was quite similar during Nazi control of Europe.

***

Right after the tragedy, the legendary thinker and Chief Editor of “The Greanville Post”, Patrice Greanville, summarized the events and predicted what is coming. He did it with deadly accuracy:

The US TV networks —the West’s Ministry of Truth organs—and other media have been blabbering almost nonstop for the past few hours about the Malaysian airliner down in Ukraine.

In the early reports on CBS, ABC, etc., I perceive a marked tendency to suggest “Russia or her proxies did it”, in this case also involving the “Pro-Russia separatists” in East Ukraine, who supposedly “have been shooting at planes” (the implication is indiscriminately) in their struggle against Kiev’s all-out military offensive.

As you probably agree, this is either an outright blatant provocation by the West, or a direct result of Washington’s criminal policies in Ukraine.

It’s easy to determine several scenarios in varying degrees of plausibility and culpability. While it’s plausible the plane was shot down by Eastern Ukraine separatists, it’s also obvious they (and Russia) have little to gain from such an act. So at worst, it can be argued it was simply an error on their part.

Indeed, if the plane was shot down by a missile, it could have been fired accidentally by the East Ukraine rebels—perfectly understandable given the horrible pounding they’ve been taking by Kiev’s air force, etc.

The second type of suspect involves not error but direct intention and therefore complete culpability. Here the lineup is clear, as the shot could have come from Kievan forces in the region, seeking to heighten tensions as per script, or a third party working for the West…

As usual, the larger context, that the US is the principal and very real meta-cause of this tragedy, will be lost to most in America

Welcome to the new, even higher stakes Cold War, courtesy of the usual bastards in Washington, and their accomplices around the world.

The problem for us now is how to counter the inevitable propaganda wave sure to follow. Brace yourselves for the barrage of hypocrisy and sanctimonious accusations to pour out of Washington’s mouthpieces.”

All this was happening while I was working in Cambodia, trying to counter another fully perverse narrative manufactured by the West in this tortured country, several decades ago.

I met my friend, a fellow war correspondent, Andrew Marshall, and asked him, theoretically, about the coverage of similar events. Andrew is the former head of Reuters in Iraq, who later resigned from the agency because it refused to publish his critical findings about the Thai establishment and its ‘elites’ (I will be soon publishing my full interview with him). He offered his thoughts on the issue of the downed passenger jet. The point he was making: whatever the answer to ‘The question’ is (who is responsible for the act itself?), it does not change the wider geopolitical and ethical issue:

There is a tendency in the 21st century World of 24-hour rolling news coverage to overemphasize and dramatize individual incidents in a conflict, subjecting them to intense coverage, while at the same time failing to analyze the underlying causes and patterns of conflict. The task of analyses is to focus on the “signal”, not the “noise”, but most modern media do the opposite. It’s also clearly true that powerful global interests seek to control the narrative by staging events to drown out the signal with noise. Some opponents of this strategy seek to create their own “noise”, trying to undermine the dominant narrative. In many instances it is justified, but a focus on the noise rather than signal can be counterproductive.

For example, I believe the overwhelming evidence of what happened on 9/11 is that men associated with Al Qaeda flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This was then exploited by the United States to justify a disastrous “war on terror” in the Muslim world.

The modern news media seize on incidents such as MH17, or 9/11, to exemplify a wider struggle. But in fact, in conflict, all sides tend to commit atrocities sometimes, and all sides make mistakes. In any conflict, innocents on all sides, and innocents unconnected with any side, routinely suffer. This is tragic. But sensible analysts need to avoid conflating the horror and blame of specific incidents within a conflict with the overall moral calculus of the conflict. The two are totally unconnected.”

***

Soon, things began to crystalize. As Western propaganda howling reached a crescendo, I contacted another trusted source, Sergei Kirichuk, the leader of the ‘Borodba’ movement, an influential left-wing organization in Ukraine, which is fully opposed to the Kiev junta, but at the same time maintains its independence, and cannot be defined as fully ‘pro-Russian’. He replied at length, and I have translated most of his quote for this essay:

Without any doubt, the tragedy of the Malaysian airliner has become the most significant political event of the last few years. The tragic death of innocent people shook public opinion in Ukraine and in the entire world. Unfortunately, the circumstances of the tragedy and the information related to it, offers more questions than answers. First, and the most important question, is how did a passenger airliner happen to be in the epicenter of the military conflict? In all those days leading to the tragedy, the mass media was carrying stories about attempts by the insurgents (both successful and unsuccessful attempts) to down airplanes belonging to the Ukrainian military. Earlier it was announced that the airspace was declared closed for civilian aviation. Besides, MH17 deviated significantly from its usual flight path; routinely it was flying more to the south. Answers to these questions should be given through an international investigation.

The second important question is based on the claim by the Ukrainian security services, related to some “intercepted communication of the terrorists”, that the ‘terrorists’ were the ones who downed the plane. This communication appears to be a clear fabrication, fake, but were it to be genuine, it would provoke even more questions towards the Ukrainian security services: would it mean that they were able to monitor the communications of their adversaries, were familiar with their plans, but did nothing to prevent the tragedy?

The most terrible thing is that the tragedy of innocent people who lost their lives is being used by Ukrainian mass media as some sort of justification for the loss of lives of the civilian population in Donbas. The onslaught of the Government forces began with renewed zeal, not caring at all, anymore, about the losses among the armed forces or civilian population.

Besides that, pro-NATO elements now believe that there is solid justification for the invasion of Ukraine by Western forces…”

***

But a leading international lawyer, Christopher Black (he has investigated genocides and crimes against humanity all over the world), based in Toronto, Canada, went even further, and declared in a letter to me:

The downing of the Malaysian airliner was either an accident by the Kiev forces or the anti-fascist forces of the Donetsk Republic, in each instance targeting the plane because they thought that it was a military and therefore a legitimate target, or it was a deliberate attack on a known civilian aircraft.  If it was deliberate then it is a case of mass murder and a war crime since it took place in the midst of hostilities. I wouldn’t call it an act of terrorism as some have said as an act of terrorism is designed to create fear and panic in a population. Clearly those who downed the plane had other motives than creating fear and panic among civilians.

Many writers over the past few days have commented that neither the DPR forces nor Russia had either the equipment in place to hit neither the plane nor the motive to deliberately shoot it down. But there is strong circumstantial evidence that the forces of the Kiev regime had the means, the opportunity and the motive. They had the equipment and engaged in very suspicious actions; they had BUK anti-aircraft systems in place for unknown reasons since the DPR forces have no aircraft, the Ukraine Air Traffic Control ordered the plane’s crew to divert from the regular more southerly route to go north over the combat zone, a Ukraine jet fighter was recorded by Russian radar climbing rapidly towards it just before it went down, and, within minutes of the crash, it was the Kiev regime and its masters in Washington and London who cried loudly that it was the DPR and Russians who were to blame without a shred of evidence to support the claim. And now we know that the Ukraine SBU immediately seized the ATC radar tapes and do not appear to have handed them over to international investigators.

Kiev and Washington also had the motive: to smear Russia and the anti-fascist forces and to provoke the EU to abandon its political and economic relations with Russia. It does not take a Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes to conclude the most likely suspects are in Kiev and Washington not in Donetsk and Moscow.

President Putin has insisted on an objective international investigation since the news broke while President Obama and his minions in Kiev have done nothing but call for the head of Putin.  History shows that President Putin has insisted on adherence to international law and civilized behavior consistently throughout his terms in office. His integrity is unquestioned, whereas President Obama has been consistent in his calls for war, war and more war in every region of the globe and insists that the Americans are “exceptional” and above the law and judgment.

It may be that the results of an independent investigation of this tragic and terrible event will have consequences for the United States that are beyond its imaginings and that will erase any remaining influence or credit that it may still have in the world. They have committed many crimes. This may be the one crime too many.”

***

The presentation of logical arguments and proof, by Moscow, by the rebels, and even by some dissidents inside the Western regime, has not changed the dogged and extremist position of the Empire. But why should it, really, if the entire scenario had been, most likely, manufactured (or at least manipulated) by the neo-con mafia in Washington and by their counterparts in European capitals?

At some point, The Wall Street Journal reported in its article, “Russia Presents Its Account of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Crash,” and it was refreshing that at least some quotes ‘from the other side’ were able to make it into the mainstream Western media:

Russia’s Defense Ministry on Monday presented its first detailed account of the final moments of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, saying Russian radar had spotted a second aircraft in the vicinity shortly before the crash and that satellite imagery showed Ukraine had moved missile systems into the area before the incident.

At a news conference, air force chief Igor Makushev didn’t say who the ministry thought had fired the missile that apparently brought down the airliner on Thursday.

In an elaborate presentation displaying radar and satellite imagery, Mr. Makushev said it was likely that the second airplane was a Ukrainian fighter jet. He also showed satellite photos allegedly portraying several Buk ground-to-air missile systems in the area close to where the plane crashed. The systems, he said, could only belong to the Ukrainian military. Ukraine has accused Russia of giving the rebels a Buk system, with which they then shot down the passenger jet.

Mr. Makushev said the airplane deviated from its course by 14 kilometers, but then attempted to return to its course, before crashing shortly after.

He said Russia is prepared to hand all of the information it has to European authorities, which included satellite imagery and data from its own radars.”

***

But there was much more to it – proof after proof painstakingly put together by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. And one is only left to wonder how many ‘objective’ and ‘well-informed’ European and US citizens ever read these accounts.

It is becoming clear and obvious, that even at the height of the so called Cold-War, citizens of the Soviet Union, even countries like Romania, were much better informed and knew more about the lines of thought of their adversaries, than the arrogant and thoroughly brainwashed Westerners now know about the points made by the people in the countries designated as their enemies.

But back to the Russian response:

The Wall Street Journal was referring to what occurred on July 21, 2014, at a Special Briefing by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation on the crash of the Malaysian Boeing 777 in Ukrainian air space, the speech was given by the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Lieutenant-General A.V. Kartapolov. For those who are interested in what Russia has to say, these briefings are indispensable.

I worked for several hours, on improving the original translation, while trying to keep the original tone in which this was presented.

General Kartapolov argued that:

After the Malaysia Airlines Boeing-777 accident on July 17, studying the international flight-plan for, Amsterdam – Kuala Lumpur, we can find a quantity of conflicting information. In this case, the Russian Federation Ministry of

Defense considers it necessary to submit the information which is at the General Staff’s disposal. On the scheme you can see the international flight-path. The

Boeing-777 was supposed to fly on this flight-path. Draw your attention to the fact that the aircraft was flying inside the specified air corridor to Donetsk, but then it deviated north from the route. Meanwhile the maximum distance from the left border of the air corridor was 14 kilometers.

Then we can see that the Boeing-777 turned back to the borders of the specified air corridor. Nevertheless, the Malaysian aircrew didn’t perform the maneuver successfully. At 17.20 the aircraft began registering a rate reduction, at 17.23 the aircraft’s point blinked off on the radar. Why did the aircraft cross the border of the air corridor? Was it a navigation mistake, or the aircrew following the Dnepropetrovsk ground control orders? We will find out the answers after the decoding of the “black boxes” and communications. According to our information on the day of the accident, the Ukrainian Armed Forces deployed 3 to 4 artillery batteries of Buk-M1 missile systems not far from Donetsk. The system can hit targets at a distance of up to 35 kilometers, and at an altitude, up to 22 kilometers. Why did the Ukrainian Armed Forces deploy these air defense units in the Donetsk region? As we know militants don’t have any aircraft.

On the scheme we can see that both the projected impact point and the flight-path are inside the air defense battle zone of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ Buk-M1 missile system. We have satellite photos of the Ukrainian Air Defense systems deployed in the Southeast of the country.”

Then the photos of the Buk are shown, near Luhansk and Donetsk. The first three photos are dated July 14, 2014. There are photos from that day to the day of the accident: launchers, radar, all belonging to the Ukrainian military.

After the painstaking photo presentation, the General continued:

I want to expose the airspace situation in the Donetsk area that day. In the picture you can see the information of the objective air traffic control between 17.10 to 17.30 Moscow time.

During that period, there were 3 civilian aircraft:

Flight from Copenhagen to Singapore at 17.17;

Flight from Paris to Taipei at 17.24

Flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur… Beside it, the Russian system for air traffic control detected a Ukrainian Air Force aircraft, supposedly a Su-25, moving upwards towards the Malaysian Boeing-777. The distance between two aircraft was 3-5 kilometers.

The Su-25 can gain an altitude of 10,000 meters in a short time. It is armed with an air-to-air missile R-60, which is able to lock-on and destroy a target at a distance of 12 kilometers, and destroy it definitely at a distance of 5 kilometers. What was the mission of the combat aircraft, in the flight-path of civilian aircraft, almost at the same time and same altitude with the civilian craft? We want to have this question answered.

The video of the Rostov Aerial Center of the Joint Air Traffic Management

System can provide the information. The Chief of Staff of the Air

Force, Lieutenant-General Igor Makushev, will comment on the video.”

Then the Chief of Staff of the Air Force of the Russian Federation, Lieutenant-General I.Y. Makushev presents his arguments:

Today the aircraft Air Traffic Control has acquired some objective control materials from the Rostov Aerial Center of the Joint Air Traffic

Management System. The video presents the air control information on the airspace situation in the region of Donetsk in the period from 17.19 P.M. to 17.25P.M., Moscow time, on July 17, 2014. In the upper left corner there is a

Boeing-772 mark, as it was following the route from Copenhagen to Singapore. Under this dot, there is another aircraft – it is marked as Boeing-777, which is on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. And on its right there is a Boeing-778 mark making its way from Delhi to Birmingham. All these three aircraft have been steadily monitored by the three radar stations of the air traffic control of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. The Boeing-777 is moving towards the Russian Federation state boundary, and is to cross it at the point of «TONAK». An air traffic control officer has been controlling the aircraft flight and keeps on enquiring for its flight variables to compare them with the given ones. At 17.20 P.M. at a distance of 51 kilometers from the Russian Federation state boundary and the azimuth of 3000 (degrees), the aircraft started to lose its speed inexplicably, which is to be seen quite distinctively on the table of the aircraft characteristics. At 17.21.35 (seconds) P.M. with the aircraft at a speed of 200 km/h, at the point of the Boeing crash, there is a new mark of an aircraft to be seen. The radar stations of Ust-Donetsk and Butirinskoe, during the 4 minute period, steadily monitored the aircraft. The Air Traffic Control officer, having enquired for the characteristics of newly appeared aircraft but couldn’t possibly get them, because it is in all likelihood that the aircraft had no secondary deduction system mounted on it, which is typical of military aircraft. The early detection of this aircraft appeared to be quite impossible because those radars work in a standby mode and usually perform the air situation control. Detection possibilities at the given distance are over 5000 m altitude.

The detection of the aircraft turned out to be possible as soon as the aircraft ascended.

The further aircraft flight variables changed. It was now flying in the area of the Boeing crash and was monitoring the situation. Earlier the Ukrainian officials reported that on the day of the Boeing-777 accident, there were no military aircraft flying in the region. So, as you can see, it does not appear to be true.

…We also have some questions for our US partners. According to the statement of the US representatives, they have some pictures from space supporting that the militants launched the missile. But nobody has seen these pictures.

According to our records from 17:06 till 17:21 Moscow time on the July 17 over the Southeastern territory of Ukraine, a US space satellite flew overhead. This is a special device of the experimental space system designed to detect and track various missile launches. If the US party has photos made by the satellite, please let us ask them to show them to world community for further investigation.

Is it a coincidence or not? However, the time of the Malaysian Boeing-777 accident and the time of the observation done by the satellite over the Ukrainian territory are the same. In conclusion, I would like to mention that all the concrete information is based on the objective and reliable data of the different Russian equipment, in contrast to the accusations of the US against us, made without any evidence. A good example of such facts is that some mass media showed the transportation of a Buk-M1 missile system from Ukrainian to Russian territory. We can clearly see that it is a frame-up. These pictures were taken in the city of Krasnoarmeisk, which is confirmed by a banner situated close to the road. This banner has an address of the car shop situated at No. 34, Dnepropetrovskaya Street. Since May 11th, the Krasnoarmeysk city has been under the control of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. That is why we have some questions. What kind of launching system is it? Where is it being transported? Where is it now? Why is it completely unloaded? What was the last time it launched missiles? To end my speech I would like to emphasize that the Russian Federation did not deliver any Buk-M1 missiles systems to the militants, and any other such equipment. All the data compiled by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation will be transmitted today to the experts of the European countries and Malaysia…

The Ministry of Defense will continue to inform you about the newly revealed facts connected with the air disaster of Malaysian Boeing-777.

***

Now why on earth should we not believe this presentation, backed by facts, images and concrete analyses?

Western and Ukrainian lies are piling up: wobbly explanations or no explanations at all for change of 777’s course, lowering altitude, ‘bad weather’, and revealing testimony of the Spanish traffic controller working in Ukraine…

And why should we believe people like the current President of the United States, who openly bragged about US ‘exceptionalism’, at the military academy, which has been responsible for producing countless mass murderers?

And for the sake of objectivity, why would we not listen to the Russians, before imposing sanctions on them, for something that we are, most likely, responsible for, ourselves?

And although it is most likely that the pro-Western Ukrainian military shot down the plane, even if it were to be the other side that did it, the entire conflict began with the EU and the US destabilizing Ukraine, overthrowing the legitimate government, and igniting the war.

Angry Dutch families of the victims should stop pointing fingers at Russia. Instead they should go to Brussels and Washington to express their wrath and to demand justice.

***

And what about Malaysia and Indonesia? Indonesia lost 12 people on that ill-fated flight.

Most of the Southeast Asian countries are historically “client” states of the West, with hardly any independent, non-corporate media. Indonesia has been exactly that since the 1965 ‘events’. Malaysia, pushing for an independent course under Dr. Mahathir’s rule, is presently being lured by the US, which is trying to establish military bases there, or to at least gain access to existing Malaysian ones.

Suddenly, a great amount of US funding has been unleashed, to win over Malaysian intellectuals, some of the most shamefully subservient in the region. Several have already began departing for conferences, cultural exchanges and writer’s retreats, to destinations all over the United States, all expenses paid.

In Kuala Lumpur, there was deadly silence after the downing of MH17. Not one writer or filmmaker that I know and contacted wanted to go on record. One mistaken word and the entire rosy dream of Western ‘funding’ would go up in flames.

Only the official anti-Russian narrative was available.

Two filmmakers spoke, but off the record:

To be honest, Malaysians are completely out of touch with what’s happening or even with the political consequences of the ‘deal’ that our Prime Minister had made to bring the bodies back. No one has even questioned what the deal was. There is no discussion whatsoever, even in the educated circles as it’s taboo to even start talking about anything other than the people who died. All Malaysians care about is that it’s tragedy and that we should feel sad. But largely, Russia and Putin are the villains in the mind of Malaysians.”

In Indonesia, theories vary. Some are far, remote from the war in Ukraine.

Mr. Agus Suhartono, a former aeronautical engineer at PT. Dirgantara Indonesia, thinks that Malaysia has been punished for creating an alternative banking system for the Muslim world:

I think it is bit strange. How could a plane at an altitude of more than 30,000 ft be a mistaken missile target? At that altitude, the plane identification should be very clear. Whoever fired knew perfectly well what he was doing. The question should be why MAS (Malaysia Airlines) again? Did they rub somebody the wrong way? Why was Malaysia the target twice in a row? I think maybe because the financial turnover of the Arab world is centered in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia is the gate. The sharia gate of the Arab financial world.”

***

New sanctions are being leveled against Russia. “Cold Warriors” in Canada, Australia, UK and US are back in their saddles, like Major Kong in the unforgettable film, “Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”, they are ready to cover their skulls with cowboy hats, and stick A-bombs between their legs. Time to ‘go and bomb the Russkies’.

Arabs are not tough enough adversaries, and most of the Muslim world is now in ruins anyway, thanks to the ‘War on… ehm… terror’.

Russia and China are again blocking the West from fully controlling the world. ‘How dare they?’

The most frightening thing is the state of the self-righteousness and self-deception of the Western public. One wants to scream: Don’t they see? Do they refuse to see? Is it more comfortable not to see? How long are they going to pretend that they are blind? Or maybe they are blind…

After the MH17 tragedy and after the way it has been handled by the Western mass media, there is no doubt that we are back to the Cold War again. It is not just a war against Russia. The war is reflected in the arms race that is being accelerated by the US in Asia, from the revolting, racist anti-Chinese propaganda, and from the attempts to overthrow our socialist governments in Latin America.

We should never forget that Western imperialism murdered tens of millions of innocent people all over the world, after the Nagasaki ‘A-bomb’ and the official end of the WWII: all those crimes and horror to satisfy its unbridled obsession with controlling the world.

Tens of millions of lives already lost.

Why should they spare some 298 of those on MH17?

Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. The result is his latest book: Fighting Against Western Imperialism‘Pluto’ published his discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. His critically acclaimed political novel Point of No Return is re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and the market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. His feature documentary, “Rwanda Gambit” is about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.

 

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Nearly one quarter of US children in poverty

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By Andre Damon
23 July 2014

Nearly one in four children in the United States lives in a family below the federal poverty line, according to figures presented in a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

A total of 16.3 million children live in poverty, and 45 percent of children in the US live in households whose incomes fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

The annual report, titled the Kids Count Data Book, compiles data on children’s economic well-being, education, health, and family support. It concludes that, “inequities among children remain deep and stubbornly persistent.”

The report is an indictment of the state of American society nearly six years after the onset of the financial crisis in 2008. While the Obama administration and the media have proclaimed an economic “recovery,” conditions of life for the vast majority of the population continue to deteriorate.

The report notes that the percentage of children in poverty hit 23 percent in 2012, up sharply from 16 percent in 2000. Some states are much worse. For almost the entire American South, the share of children in poverty is higher than 25 percent.

These conditions are the product of a ruthless class policy pursued at all levels of government. While trillions of dollars have been made available to Wall Street, sending both the stock markets and corporate profits to record highs, economic growth has stagnated, social programs have been slashed, and public services decimated, while prices of many basic items are on the rise. Jobs that have been “created” are overwhelmingly part-time or low-wage.

“We’ve yet to see the recovery from the economic recession,” said Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, who helped produce the report. “The child poverty rate is connected to parents’ employment and how much they are getting paid,” added Ms. Speer in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“The jobs that are being created in this economy, including temporary and low-wage jobs, are not good enough to keep children out of poverty,” she added.

The Kids Count report notes, “Declining economic opportunity for parents without a college degree in the context of growing inequality has meant that children’s life chances are increasingly constrained by the socioeconomic status of their parents.” The percentage of children who live in high-poverty communities has likewise increased significantly, with 13 percent of children growing up in communities where more than 30 percent of residents are poor, up from 9 percent in 2000.

Speer added that, given the significant run-up in home prices over the previous two decades, “the housing cost burden has gotten worse.” She noted that the share of children who live in households that spend more than one third of their annual income on housing has hit 38 percent, up from 28 percent in 1990. In states such as California, these figures are significantly higher.

“In many cases families are living doubled up and sleeping on couches to afford very expensive places like New York City,” she added. “Paying such a large share of your income for rent means that parents have to decide between whether or not to pay the rent or to pay the utility bills. It’s not a matter of making choices over things that are luxuries, it’s choosing between necessities.”

The report concludes, “As both poverty and wealth have become more concentrated residentially, evidence suggests that school districts and individual schools are becoming increasingly segregated by socioeconomic status.”

In most of the United States, K-12 education is funded through property taxes, and there are significant differences in education funding based on local income levels. “Kids who grow up in low-income neighborhoods have much less access to education: that’s only been exacerbated over the last 25 years,” Speer said.

The Kids Count survey follows the publication in April of Feeding America’s annual report, which showed that one in five children live in households that do not regularly get enough to eat. The percentage of households that are “food insecure” rose from 11.1 percent in 2007 to 16.0 percent in 2012. Sixteen million children, or 21.6 percent, do not get enough to eat. The rate of food insecurity in the United States is nearly twice that of the European Union.

According to the US government’s supplemental poverty measure, 16.1 percent of the US population—nearly 50 million people—is in poverty, up from 12.2 percent of the population in 2000.

The Kids Count report notes that the ability of single mothers to get a job is particularly sensitive to the state of the economy, and that the employment rate of single mothers with children under 6 years old has fallen from 69 percent in 2000 to 60 percent ten years later. This has taken place even as anti-poverty measures such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) have been made conditional on parents finding work.

The report noted that enrollment in the federal Head Start program, which serves 3- and 4-year-olds dropped off when the “recession decimated state budgets and halted progress.” It added that cutbacks to federal and state anti-poverty programs, as well as health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, are contributing to the growth of poverty and inequality.

With the “sequester” budget cuts signed by the Obama administration in early 2013, most federal anti-poverty programs are being slashed by five percent each year for a decade. “Programs like head start, LIHEAP [Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program], and other federal programs are really a lifeline in a lot of families,” Speer said.

Since the implementation of the sequester cuts, Congress and the Obama administration have slashed food stamp spending on two separate occasions and put an end to federal extended jobless benefits for more than three million long-term unemployed people and their families. These measures can be expected to throw hundreds of thousands more children into poverty.

The rise of data and the death of politics

Tech pioneers in the US are advocating a new data-based approach to governance – ‘algorithmic regulation’. But if technology provides the answers to society’s problems, what happens to governments?

US president Barack Obama with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Government by social network? US president Barack Obama with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

On 24 August 1965 Gloria Placente, a 34-year-old resident of Queens, New York, was driving to Orchard Beach in the Bronx. Clad in shorts and sunglasses, the housewife was looking forward to quiet time at the beach. But the moment she crossed the Willis Avenue bridge in her Chevrolet Corvair, Placente was surrounded by a dozen patrolmen. There were also 125 reporters, eager to witness the launch of New York police department’s Operation Corral – an acronym for Computer Oriented Retrieval of Auto Larcenists.

Fifteen months earlier, Placente had driven through a red light and neglected to answer the summons, an offence that Corral was going to punish with a heavy dose of techno-Kafkaesque. It worked as follows: a police car stationed at one end of the bridge radioed the licence plates of oncoming cars to a teletypist miles away, who fed them to a Univac 490 computer, an expensive $500,000 toy ($3.5m in today’s dollars) on loan from the Sperry Rand Corporation. The computer checked the numbers against a database of 110,000 cars that were either stolen or belonged to known offenders. In case of a match the teletypist would alert a second patrol car at the bridge’s other exit. It took, on average, just seven seconds.

Compared with the impressive police gear of today – automatic number plate recognition, CCTV cameras, GPS trackers – Operation Corral looks quaint. And the possibilities for control will only expand. European officials have considered requiring all cars entering the European market to feature a built-in mechanism that allows the police to stop vehicles remotely. Speaking earlier this year, Jim Farley, a senior Ford executive, acknowledged that “we know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone.” That last bit didn’t sound very reassuring and Farley retracted his remarks.

As both cars and roads get “smart,” they promise nearly perfect, real-time law enforcement. Instead of waiting for drivers to break the law, authorities can simply prevent the crime. Thus, a 50-mile stretch of the A14 between Felixstowe and Rugby is to be equipped with numerous sensors that would monitor traffic by sending signals to and from mobile phones in moving vehicles. The telecoms watchdog Ofcom envisions that such smart roads connected to a centrally controlled traffic system could automatically impose variable speed limits to smooth the flow of traffic but also direct the cars “along diverted routes to avoid the congestion and even [manage] their speed”.

Other gadgets – from smartphones to smart glasses – promise even more security and safety. In April, Apple patented technology that deploys sensors inside the smartphone to analyse if the car is moving and if the person using the phone is driving; if both conditions are met, it simply blocks the phone’s texting feature. Intel and Ford are working on Project Mobil – a face recognition system that, should it fail to recognise the face of the driver, would not only prevent the car being started but also send the picture to the car’s owner (bad news for teenagers).

The car is emblematic of transformations in many other domains, from smart environments for “ambient assisted living” where carpets and walls detect that someone has fallen, to various masterplans for the smart city, where municipal services dispatch resources only to those areas that need them. Thanks to sensors and internet connectivity, the most banal everyday objects have acquired tremendous power to regulate behaviour. Even public toilets are ripe for sensor-based optimisation: the Safeguard Germ Alarm, a smart soap dispenser developed by Procter & Gamble and used in some public WCs in the Philippines, has sensors monitoring the doors of each stall. Once you leave the stall, the alarm starts ringing – and can only be stopped by a push of the soap-dispensing button.

In this context, Google’s latest plan to push its Android operating system on to smart watches, smart cars, smart thermostats and, one suspects, smart everything, looks rather ominous. In the near future, Google will be the middleman standing between you and your fridge, you and your car, you and your rubbish bin, allowing the National Security Agency to satisfy its data addiction in bulk and via a single window.

This “smartification” of everyday life follows a familiar pattern: there’s primary data – a list of what’s in your smart fridge and your bin – and metadata – a log of how often you open either of these things or when they communicate with one another. Both produce interesting insights: cue smart mattresses – one recent model promises to track respiration and heart rates and how much you move during the night – and smart utensils that provide nutritional advice.

In addition to making our lives more efficient, this smart world also presents us with an exciting political choice. If so much of our everyday behaviour is already captured, analysed and nudged, why stick with unempirical approaches to regulation? Why rely on laws when one has sensors and feedback mechanisms? If policy interventions are to be – to use the buzzwords of the day – “evidence-based” and “results-oriented,” technology is here to help.

This new type of governance has a name: algorithmic regulation. In as much as Silicon Valley has a political programme, this is it. Tim O’Reilly, an influential technology publisher, venture capitalist and ideas man (he is to blame for popularising the term “web 2.0″) has been its most enthusiastic promoter. In a recent essay that lays out his reasoning, O’Reilly makes an intriguing case for the virtues of algorithmic regulation – a case that deserves close scrutiny both for what it promises policymakers and the simplistic assumptions it makes about politics, democracy and power.

To see algorithmic regulation at work, look no further than the spam filter in your email. Instead of confining itself to a narrow definition of spam, the email filter has its users teach it. Even Google can’t write rules to cover all the ingenious innovations of professional spammers. What it can do, though, is teach the system what makes a good rule and spot when it’s time to find another rule for finding a good rule – and so on. An algorithm can do this, but it’s the constant real-time feedback from its users that allows the system to counter threats never envisioned by its designers. And it’s not just spam: your bank uses similar methods to spot credit-card fraud.

In his essay, O’Reilly draws broader philosophical lessons from such technologies, arguing that they work because they rely on “a deep understanding of the desired outcome” (spam is bad!) and periodically check if the algorithms are actually working as expected (are too many legitimate emails ending up marked as spam?).

O’Reilly presents such technologies as novel and unique – we are living through a digital revolution after all – but the principle behind “algorithmic regulation” would be familiar to the founders of cybernetics – a discipline that, even in its name (it means “the science of governance”) hints at its great regulatory ambitions. This principle, which allows the system to maintain its stability by constantly learning and adapting itself to the changing circumstances, is what the British psychiatrist Ross Ashby, one of the founding fathers of cybernetics, called “ultrastability”.

To illustrate it, Ashby designed the homeostat. This clever device consisted of four interconnected RAF bomb control units – mysterious looking black boxes with lots of knobs and switches – that were sensitive to voltage fluctuations. If one unit stopped working properly – say, because of an unexpected external disturbance – the other three would rewire and regroup themselves, compensating for its malfunction and keeping the system’s overall output stable.

Ashby’s homeostat achieved “ultrastability” by always monitoring its internal state and cleverly redeploying its spare resources.

Like the spam filter, it didn’t have to specify all the possible disturbances – only the conditions for how and when it must be updated and redesigned. This is no trivial departure from how the usual technical systems, with their rigid, if-then rules, operate: suddenly, there’s no need to develop procedures for governing every contingency, for – or so one hopes – algorithms and real-time, immediate feedback can do a better job than inflexible rules out of touch with reality.

Algorithmic regulation could certainly make the administration of existing laws more efficient. If it can fight credit-card fraud, why not tax fraud? Italian bureaucrats have experimented with the redditometro, or income meter, a tool for comparing people’s spending patterns – recorded thanks to an arcane Italian law – with their declared income, so that authorities know when you spend more than you earn. Spain has expressed interest in a similar tool.

Such systems, however, are toothless against the real culprits of tax evasion – the super-rich families who profit from various offshoring schemes or simply write outrageous tax exemptions into the law. Algorithmic regulation is perfect for enforcing the austerity agenda while leaving those responsible for the fiscal crisis off the hook. To understand whether such systems are working as expected, we need to modify O’Reilly’s question: for whom are they working? If it’s just the tax-evading plutocrats, the global financial institutions interested in balanced national budgets and the companies developing income-tracking software, then it’s hardly a democratic success.

With his belief that algorithmic regulation is based on “a deep understanding of the desired outcome”, O’Reilly cunningly disconnects the means of doing politics from its ends. But the how of politics is as important as the what of politics – in fact, the former often shapes the latter. Everybody agrees that education, health, and security are all “desired outcomes”, but how do we achieve them? In the past, when we faced the stark political choice of delivering them through the market or the state, the lines of the ideological debate were clear. Today, when the presumed choice is between the digital and the analog or between the dynamic feedback and the static law, that ideological clarity is gone – as if the very choice of how to achieve those “desired outcomes” was apolitical and didn’t force us to choose between different and often incompatible visions of communal living.

By assuming that the utopian world of infinite feedback loops is so efficient that it transcends politics, the proponents of algorithmic regulation fall into the same trap as the technocrats of the past. Yes, these systems are terrifyingly efficient – in the same way that Singapore is terrifyingly efficient (O’Reilly, unsurprisingly, praises Singapore for its embrace of algorithmic regulation). And while Singapore’s leaders might believe that they, too, have transcended politics, it doesn’t mean that their regime cannot be assessed outside the linguistic swamp of efficiency and innovation – by using political, not economic benchmarks.

As Silicon Valley keeps corrupting our language with its endless glorification of disruption and efficiency – concepts at odds with the vocabulary of democracy – our ability to question the “how” of politics is weakened. Silicon Valley’s default answer to the how of politics is what I call solutionism: problems are to be dealt with via apps, sensors, and feedback loops – all provided by startups. Earlier this year Google’s Eric Schmidt even promised that startups would provide the solution to the problem of economic inequality: the latter, it seems, can also be “disrupted”. And where the innovators and the disruptors lead, the bureaucrats follow.

The intelligence services embraced solutionism before other government agencies. Thus, they reduced the topic of terrorism from a subject that had some connection to history and foreign policy to an informational problem of identifying emerging terrorist threats via constant surveillance. They urged citizens to accept that instability is part of the game, that its root causes are neither traceable nor reparable, that the threat can only be pre-empted by out-innovating and out-surveilling the enemy with better communications.

Speaking in Athens last November, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben discussed an epochal transformation in the idea of government, “whereby the traditional hierarchical relation between causes and effects is inverted, so that, instead of governing the causes – a difficult and expensive undertaking – governments simply try to govern the effects”.

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman

Governments’ current favourite pyschologist, Daniel Kahneman. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer
For Agamben, this shift is emblematic of modernity. It also explains why the liberalisation of the economy can co-exist with the growing proliferation of control – by means of soap dispensers and remotely managed cars – into everyday life. “If government aims for the effects and not the causes, it will be obliged to extend and multiply control. Causes demand to be known, while effects can only be checked and controlled.” Algorithmic regulation is an enactment of this political programme in technological form.The true politics of algorithmic regulation become visible once its logic is applied to the social nets of the welfare state. There are no calls to dismantle them, but citizens are nonetheless encouraged to take responsibility for their own health. Consider how Fred Wilson, an influential US venture capitalist, frames the subject. “Health… is the opposite side of healthcare,” he said at a conference in Paris last December. “It’s what keeps you out of the healthcare system in the first place.” Thus, we are invited to start using self-tracking apps and data-sharing platforms and monitor our vital indicators, symptoms and discrepancies on our own.This goes nicely with recent policy proposals to save troubled public services by encouraging healthier lifestyles. Consider a 2013 report by Westminster council and the Local Government Information Unit, a thinktank, calling for the linking of housing and council benefits to claimants’ visits to the gym – with the help of smartcards. They might not be needed: many smartphones are already tracking how many steps we take every day (Google Now, the company’s virtual assistant, keeps score of such data automatically and periodically presents it to users, nudging them to walk more).

The numerous possibilities that tracking devices offer to health and insurance industries are not lost on O’Reilly. “You know the way that advertising turned out to be the native business model for the internet?” he wondered at a recent conference. “I think that insurance is going to be the native business model for the internet of things.” Things do seem to be heading that way: in June, Microsoft struck a deal with American Family Insurance, the eighth-largest home insurer in the US, in which both companies will fund startups that want to put sensors into smart homes and smart cars for the purposes of “proactive protection”.

An insurance company would gladly subsidise the costs of installing yet another sensor in your house – as long as it can automatically alert the fire department or make front porch lights flash in case your smoke detector goes off. For now, accepting such tracking systems is framed as an extra benefit that can save us some money. But when do we reach a point where not using them is seen as a deviation – or, worse, an act of concealment – that ought to be punished with higher premiums?

Or consider a May 2014 report from 2020health, another thinktank, proposing to extend tax rebates to Britons who give up smoking, stay slim or drink less. “We propose ‘payment by results’, a financial reward for people who become active partners in their health, whereby if you, for example, keep your blood sugar levels down, quit smoking, keep weight off, [or] take on more self-care, there will be a tax rebate or an end-of-year bonus,” they state. Smart gadgets are the natural allies of such schemes: they document the results and can even help achieve them – by constantly nagging us to do what’s expected.

The unstated assumption of most such reports is that the unhealthy are not only a burden to society but that they deserve to be punished (fiscally for now) for failing to be responsible. For what else could possibly explain their health problems but their personal failings? It’s certainly not the power of food companies or class-based differences or various political and economic injustices. One can wear a dozen powerful sensors, own a smart mattress and even do a close daily reading of one’s poop – as some self-tracking aficionados are wont to do – but those injustices would still be nowhere to be seen, for they are not the kind of stuff that can be measured with a sensor. The devil doesn’t wear data. Social injustices are much harder to track than the everyday lives of the individuals whose lives they affect.

In shifting the focus of regulation from reining in institutional and corporate malfeasance to perpetual electronic guidance of individuals, algorithmic regulation offers us a good-old technocratic utopia of politics without politics. Disagreement and conflict, under this model, are seen as unfortunate byproducts of the analog era – to be solved through data collection – and not as inevitable results of economic or ideological conflicts.

However, a politics without politics does not mean a politics without control or administration. As O’Reilly writes in his essay: “New technologies make it possible to reduce the amount of regulation while actually increasing the amount of oversight and production of desirable outcomes.” Thus, it’s a mistake to think that Silicon Valley wants to rid us of government institutions. Its dream state is not the small government of libertarians – a small state, after all, needs neither fancy gadgets nor massive servers to process the data – but the data-obsessed and data-obese state of behavioural economists.

The nudging state is enamoured of feedback technology, for its key founding principle is that while we behave irrationally, our irrationality can be corrected – if only the environment acts upon us, nudging us towards the right option. Unsurprisingly, one of the three lonely references at the end of O’Reilly’s essay is to a 2012 speech entitled “Regulation: Looking Backward, Looking Forward” by Cass Sunstein, the prominent American legal scholar who is the chief theorist of the nudging state.

And while the nudgers have already captured the state by making behavioural psychology the favourite idiom of government bureaucracy –Daniel Kahneman is in, Machiavelli is out – the algorithmic regulation lobby advances in more clandestine ways. They create innocuous non-profit organisations like Code for America which then co-opt the state – under the guise of encouraging talented hackers to tackle civic problems.

Airbnb's homepage.

Airbnb: part of the reputation-driven economy.
Such initiatives aim to reprogramme the state and make it feedback-friendly, crowding out other means of doing politics. For all those tracking apps, algorithms and sensors to work, databases need interoperability – which is what such pseudo-humanitarian organisations, with their ardent belief in open data, demand. And when the government is too slow to move at Silicon Valley’s speed, they simply move inside the government. Thus, Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America and a protege of O’Reilly, became the deputy chief technology officer of the US government – while pursuing a one-year “innovation fellowship” from the White House.Cash-strapped governments welcome such colonisation by technologists – especially if it helps to identify and clean up datasets that can be profitably sold to companies who need such data for advertising purposes. Recent clashes over the sale of student and health data in the UK are just a precursor of battles to come: after all state assets have been privatised, data is the next target. For O’Reilly, open data is “a key enabler of the measurement revolution”.This “measurement revolution” seeks to quantify the efficiency of various social programmes, as if the rationale behind the social nets that some of them provide was to achieve perfection of delivery. The actual rationale, of course, was to enable a fulfilling life by suppressing certain anxieties, so that citizens can pursue their life projects relatively undisturbed. This vision did spawn a vast bureaucratic apparatus and the critics of the welfare state from the left – most prominently Michel Foucault – were right to question its disciplining inclinations. Nonetheless, neither perfection nor efficiency were the “desired outcome” of this system. Thus, to compare the welfare state with the algorithmic state on those grounds is misleading.

But we can compare their respective visions for human fulfilment – and the role they assign to markets and the state. Silicon Valley’s offer is clear: thanks to ubiquitous feedback loops, we can all become entrepreneurs and take care of our own affairs! As Brian Chesky, the chief executive of Airbnb, told the Atlantic last year, “What happens when everybody is a brand? When everybody has a reputation? Every person can become an entrepreneur.”

Under this vision, we will all code (for America!) in the morning, drive Uber cars in the afternoon, and rent out our kitchens as restaurants – courtesy of Airbnb – in the evening. As O’Reilly writes of Uber and similar companies, “these services ask every passenger to rate their driver (and drivers to rate their passenger). Drivers who provide poor service are eliminated. Reputation does a better job of ensuring a superb customer experience than any amount of government regulation.”

The state behind the “sharing economy” does not wither away; it might be needed to ensure that the reputation accumulated on Uber, Airbnb and other platforms of the “sharing economy” is fully liquid and transferable, creating a world where our every social interaction is recorded and assessed, erasing whatever differences exist between social domains. Someone, somewhere will eventually rate you as a passenger, a house guest, a student, a patient, a customer. Whether this ranking infrastructure will be decentralised, provided by a giant like Google or rest with the state is not yet clear but the overarching objective is: to make reputation into a feedback-friendly social net that could protect the truly responsible citizens from the vicissitudes of deregulation.

Admiring the reputation models of Uber and Airbnb, O’Reilly wants governments to be “adopting them where there are no demonstrable ill effects”. But what counts as an “ill effect” and how to demonstrate it is a key question that belongs to the how of politics that algorithmic regulation wants to suppress. It’s easy to demonstrate “ill effects” if the goal of regulation is efficiency but what if it is something else? Surely, there are some benefits – fewer visits to the psychoanalyst, perhaps – in not having your every social interaction ranked?

The imperative to evaluate and demonstrate “results” and “effects” already presupposes that the goal of policy is the optimisation of efficiency. However, as long as democracy is irreducible to a formula, its composite values will always lose this battle: they are much harder to quantify.

For Silicon Valley, though, the reputation-obsessed algorithmic state of the sharing economy is the new welfare state. If you are honest and hardworking, your online reputation would reflect this, producing a highly personalised social net. It is “ultrastable” in Ashby’s sense: while the welfare state assumes the existence of specific social evils it tries to fight, the algorithmic state makes no such assumptions. The future threats can remain fully unknowable and fully addressable – on the individual level.

Silicon Valley, of course, is not alone in touting such ultrastable individual solutions. Nassim Taleb, in his best-selling 2012 book Antifragile, makes a similar, if more philosophical, plea for maximising our individual resourcefulness and resilience: don’t get one job but many, don’t take on debt, count on your own expertise. It’s all about resilience, risk-taking and, as Taleb puts it, “having skin in the game”. As Julian Reid and Brad Evans write in their new book, Resilient Life: The Art of Living Dangerously, this growing cult of resilience masks a tacit acknowledgement that no collective project could even aspire to tame the proliferating threats to human existence – we can only hope to equip ourselves to tackle them individually. “When policy-makers engage in the discourse of resilience,” write Reid and Evans, “they do so in terms which aim explicitly at preventing humans from conceiving of danger as a phenomenon from which they might seek freedom and even, in contrast, as that to which they must now expose themselves.”

What, then, is the progressive alternative? “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” doesn’t work here: just because Silicon Valley is attacking the welfare state doesn’t mean that progressives should defend it to the very last bullet (or tweet). First, even leftist governments have limited space for fiscal manoeuvres, as the kind of discretionary spending required to modernise the welfare state would never be approved by the global financial markets. And it’s the ratings agencies and bond markets – not the voters – who are in charge today.

Second, the leftist critique of the welfare state has become only more relevant today when the exact borderlines between welfare and security are so blurry. When Google’s Android powers so much of our everyday life, the government’s temptation to govern us through remotely controlled cars and alarm-operated soap dispensers will be all too great. This will expand government’s hold over areas of life previously free from regulation.

With so much data, the government’s favourite argument in fighting terror – if only the citizens knew as much as we do, they too would impose all these legal exceptions – easily extends to other domains, from health to climate change. Consider a recent academic paper that used Google search data to study obesity patterns in the US, finding significant correlation between search keywords and body mass index levels. “Results suggest great promise of the idea of obesity monitoring through real-time Google Trends data”, note the authors, which would be “particularly attractive for government health institutions and private businesses such as insurance companies.”

If Google senses a flu epidemic somewhere, it’s hard to challenge its hunch – we simply lack the infrastructure to process so much data at this scale. Google can be proven wrong after the fact – as has recently been the case with its flu trends data, which was shown to overestimate the number of infections, possibly because of its failure to account for the intense media coverage of flu – but so is the case with most terrorist alerts. It’s the immediate, real-time nature of computer systems that makes them perfect allies of an infinitely expanding and pre-emption‑obsessed state.

Perhaps, the case of Gloria Placente and her failed trip to the beach was not just a historical oddity but an early omen of how real-time computing, combined with ubiquitous communication technologies, would transform the state. One of the few people to have heeded that omen was a little-known American advertising executive called Robert MacBride, who pushed the logic behind Operation Corral to its ultimate conclusions in his unjustly neglected 1967 book, The Automated State.

At the time, America was debating the merits of establishing a national data centre to aggregate various national statistics and make it available to government agencies. MacBride attacked his contemporaries’ inability to see how the state would exploit the metadata accrued as everything was being computerised. Instead of “a large scale, up-to-date Austro-Hungarian empire”, modern computer systems would produce “a bureaucracy of almost celestial capacity” that can “discern and define relationships in a manner which no human bureaucracy could ever hope to do”.

“Whether one bowls on a Sunday or visits a library instead is [of] no consequence since no one checks those things,” he wrote. Not so when computer systems can aggregate data from different domains and spot correlations. “Our individual behaviour in buying and selling an automobile, a house, or a security, in paying our debts and acquiring new ones, and in earning money and being paid, will be noted meticulously and studied exhaustively,” warned MacBride. Thus, a citizen will soon discover that “his choice of magazine subscriptions… can be found to indicate accurately the probability of his maintaining his property or his interest in the education of his children.” This sounds eerily similar to the recent case of a hapless father who found that his daughter was pregnant from a coupon that Target, a retailer, sent to their house. Target’s hunch was based on its analysis of products – for example, unscented lotion – usually bought by other pregnant women.

For MacBride the conclusion was obvious. “Political rights won’t be violated but will resemble those of a small stockholder in a giant enterprise,” he wrote. “The mark of sophistication and savoir-faire in this future will be the grace and flexibility with which one accepts one’s role and makes the most of what it offers.” In other words, since we are all entrepreneurs first – and citizens second, we might as well make the most of it.

What, then, is to be done? Technophobia is no solution. Progressives need technologies that would stick with the spirit, if not the institutional form, of the welfare state, preserving its commitment to creating ideal conditions for human flourishing. Even some ultrastability is welcome. Stability was a laudable goal of the welfare state before it had encountered a trap: in specifying the exact protections that the state was to offer against the excesses of capitalism, it could not easily deflect new, previously unspecified forms of exploitation.

How do we build welfarism that is both decentralised and ultrastable? A form of guaranteed basic income – whereby some welfare services are replaced by direct cash transfers to citizens – fits the two criteria.

Creating the right conditions for the emergence of political communities around causes and issues they deem relevant would be another good step. Full compliance with the principle of ultrastability dictates that such issues cannot be anticipated or dictated from above – by political parties or trade unions – and must be left unspecified.

What can be specified is the kind of communications infrastructure needed to abet this cause: it should be free to use, hard to track, and open to new, subversive uses. Silicon Valley’s existing infrastructure is great for fulfilling the needs of the state, not of self-organising citizens. It can, of course, be redeployed for activist causes – and it often is – but there’s no reason to accept the status quo as either ideal or inevitable.

Why, after all, appropriate what should belong to the people in the first place? While many of the creators of the internet bemoan how low their creature has fallen, their anger is misdirected. The fault is not with that amorphous entity but, first of all, with the absence of robust technology policy on the left – a policy that can counter the pro-innovation, pro-disruption, pro-privatisation agenda of Silicon Valley. In its absence, all these emerging political communities will operate with their wings clipped. Whether the next Occupy Wall Street would be able to occupy anything in a truly smart city remains to be seen: most likely, they would be out-censored and out-droned.

To his credit, MacBride understood all of this in 1967. “Given the resources of modern technology and planning techniques,” he warned, “it is really no great trick to transform even a country like ours into a smoothly running corporation where every detail of life is a mechanical function to be taken care of.” MacBride’s fear is O’Reilly’s master plan: the government, he writes, ought to be modelled on the “lean startup” approach of Silicon Valley, which is “using data to constantly revise and tune its approach to the market”. It’s this very approach that Facebook has recently deployed to maximise user engagement on the site: if showing users more happy stories does the trick, so be it.

Algorithmic regulation, whatever its immediate benefits, will give us a political regime where technology corporations and government bureaucrats call all the shots. The Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, in a pointed critique of cybernetics published, as it happens, roughly at the same time as The Automated State, put it best: “Society cannot give up the burden of having to decide about its own fate by sacrificing this freedom for the sake of the cybernetic regulator.”

 

More musicians are taking aim at the rates paid by Spotify and Pandora, and warning whole genres are in danger

It’s not just David Byrne and Radiohead: Spotify, Pandora and how streaming music kills jazz and classical

It's not just David Byrne and Radiohead: Spotify, Pandora and how streaming music kills jazz and classical

David Byrne, Thom Yorke (Credit: Reuters/Hugo Correia/AP/Chris Pizzello/Photo collage by Salon)

After years in which tech-company hype has drowned out most other voices, the frustration of musicians with the digital music world has begun to get a hearing. We know now that many rockers don’t like it. Less discussed so far is the trouble jazz and classical musicians — and their fans — have with music streaming, which is being hailed as the “savior” of the music business.

But between low royalties, opaque payout rates, declining record sales and suspicion that the major labels have cut deals with the streamers that leave musicians out of the equation, anger from the music business’s artier edges is slowing growing. It’s further proof of the lie of the “long tail.” The shift to digital is also helping to isolate these already marginalized genres: It has a decisive effect on what listeners can find, and on whether or not an artist can earn a living from his work. (Music streaming, in all genres, is up 42 percent for the first half of this year, according to Nielsen SoundScan, against the first half of 2013. Over the same period, CD sales fell 19.6 percent, and downloads, the industry’s previous savior, were down 11.6 percent.)

Only a very few classical artists have been outspoken on the issue so far: San-Francisco-based Zoe Keating — a tech-savvy, DIY, Amanda Palmer of the cello — has blown the whistle on the tiny amounts the streaming services pay musicians. Though she’s exactly the kind of artist who should be cashing in on streaming, since she releases her own music, tours relentlessly, and has developed a strong following since her days with rock band Rasputina, only 8 percent of  her last year’s earnings from recorded music came from streaming. The iTunes store, which pays out in small amounts since most purchases are for 99 cent songs, paid her about six times what she earned from streaming. (More than 400,000 Spotify streams earned her $1,764; almost 2 million YouTube views generated $1,248.)

For jazz and classical players without Keating’s entrepreneurial energy or larger cult following, the numbers are even bleaker. “It feels awful,” says Christina Courtin, a Julliard-trained violinist who plays in classical groups and has put out albums on the Nonesuch and Hundred Pockets labels. “I don’t count on that as a way to make money — I don’t see how it makes sense for a musician. It’s pretty dark — no one’s selling as much as they were even five years ago.”



Some artists remember a very different world. “I used to sell CDs of my music,” says Richard Danielpour, a celebrated American composer who has written an opera with Toni Morrison and once had an exclusive recording contract with Sony Classical. “And now we get nothing.”

It’s not just streaming, but the larger digital era that’s burying record stores, radio and recordings – and it’s hitting jazz and classical musicians especially hard. For some young musicians launching their careers, the “exposure” they get on Pandora or YouTube brings them employment or a fan base somewhere down the line. But many wait in vain. And like their counterparts in the pop world, musicians typically cannot opt out of streaming and the rest of the new world.

“One of the big reasons musicians kept control of their publishing was for the possibility that at least we would be paid when those songs were played in media outlets,” says jazz pianist Jason Moran, currently the jazz advisor for the Kennedy Center. “Back in the day, Fats Waller, and tons of other artists were robbed of their publishing. This is the new version of it, but on a much more wider scale.”

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In some ways, the trouble in these genres resembles the problems experienced by any non-superstar musicians. Royalties on steaming services, for instance, are notoriously low. “All of my colleagues — composers and arrangers — are seeing huge cuts in their earnings,” says Paul Chihara, a veteran composer who until recently headed UCLA’s film-music program. “In effect, we’re not getting royalties. It’s almost amusing some of the royalty checks I get.” One of the last checks he got was for $29. “And it bounced.”

The pain is especially acute for indie musicians. While some jazz and classical labels are owned by one of the three majors — Blue Note and Deutsche Grammophon, for example, are now part of the Universal Music Group — the vast majority of musicians record for independent labels. And the indies have been largely left out of the sweet deals struck with the streamers. Most of those deals are opaque; the informed speculation says that these arrangement are not good for musicians, especially those not on the few remaining majors.

“Musicians in niche categories need to be fearful of the agreements that labels are signing with streaming services,” says music historian Ted Gioia, who has also recorded as a jazz pianist. Some of these deals, he suspects, allow the steamers to pay nothing at all to some artists, including most who record jazz and classical music. “The record labels could make a case that they don’t need to share royalties with artists whose sales don’t cross a certain threshold. If you’re Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, you have no problem. But otherwise, you would get no royalties. The nature of these deals are that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Labels that own substantial back catalog — old Pink Floyd and Eagles albums, and earlier music that no longer require royalty payments to musicians — have likely cut much better deals than labels that primarily put out new music, especially those in non-pop genres. Says Gioia: “I suspect we’d find agreements where the labels say, [to the streamers], ‘You can have our whole catalog for $5 million, plus you pay us a fraction of a penny for any song that streams more than a million times.’” You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think this way: The major labels have a number of weaselly little tricks like this one, sometimes called a “digital breakage,” in which musicians get nothing.

Moran compares the appearance of Spotify on the scene to the arrival of Wal-Mart to an American small-town: The new model undercuts the existing ones, and helps put smaller, independent stores out of business.

Indie labels are equally vulnerable. Pi Recordings is a jazz label that puts out recordings by the cream of the avant-garde, including Henry Threadgill, Marc Ribot and Rudresh Mahanthappa. It’s been described as one of the rare success stories in a dark time. But Yulun Wang, who co-runs the label, is not sure how they can stand up against the streaming onslaught.

“You have the guy who buys 20 jazz records a year — $300 a year,” Wang says. “He might buy one or two of our albums. If I convert that guy to Spotify – he’s now getting all-you-can-eat for $120. And the proportion that comes to me is literally pennies. That’s when it over. That’s will force labels like ours to either change the way we do things significantly.”

The digital enthusiasts say that labels need to “adjust” to the new world – by taking a piece of musicians’ touring, or cutting “360 deals” in which they get part of every strand of an artist’s revenue stream. But for jazz artists, touring outside New York and a few other cities does not yield much. “If I take 15 percent of someone making $30,000, it’s just less money in their pocket.” At a certain point, the artist can no longer pay the rent. “That’s when it’s game over.”

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But it’s not just a problem of scale. There are distinctive qualities to jazz and classical music that make it a difficult fit to the digital world as it now exists, and that punish musicians and curious fans alike. To Jean Cook, a new-music violinist, onetime Mekon, and director of programs for the Future Musical Coalition, it further marginalizes these already peripheral styles, creating what she calls “invisible genres.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, or Beats Music, she says. “Any music service that’s serving pop and classical music will not serve classical music well.” The problem is the nature of classical music, and jazz as well, and the way they differ from pop music. They all make different use of metadata – a term most people associate with Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, but which have a profound importance to streaming services. Put most simply: Classical music and jazz are such a mismatch for existing streaming services, it’s almost impossible to find stuff. Cook realized this when she got a recommendation from a music lover, and found herself falling down an online labyrinth trying to find it.

Here’s a good place to start: Say you’re looking for a bedrock recording, the Beethoven Piano Concertos, with titan Maurizio Pollini on piano. Who is the “artist” for this one? Is it the Berlin Philharmonic, or Claudio Abbado, who conducts them? Is it Pollini? Or is it Beethoven himself? If you can see the entire record jacket, you can see who the recording includes. Otherwise, you could find yourself guessing.

Or, if you want music written the Russian late romantic, do you want Rachmaninoff, or Rachmaninoff? Chances are, your service will have one but not the other. And what do you call the movements of a symphony or chamber piece? By their Roman numeral? Or by names like andante or scherzo?

“These services are built to serve the largest segments of the marketplace — pop, country and hip hop,” says Cook. None of these have this kind of complicated structure.

Jazz offers similar difficulties, she says. Say you want to find recordings by pianist Bill Evans. You can find a bunch of them — but nothing linking him to “Kind of Blue,” perhaps the most important (and, in vinyl and CD form, certainly the bestselling) recording he was ever a part of. Evans shaped that album profoundly. You won’t find John Coltrane — another key voice on that session — there either, since it’s a Miles Davis record.

“Listing sidemen is something that is just not built into the architecture,” says Cook. It’s not a small problem. “I can’t think of a single example of a jazz musician who was not a sideman at one point in their career. We’re talking about a significant portion of jazz history that can’t get out.” It also makes you wonder — what are the chances that sidemen, or their heirs, get paid when things are streamed? And what do potential music consumers do when they can’t find what they’re looking for?

There used to be a solution to this. “Go back to the days of record stores,” says Gioia, “and customers could learn a lot from browsing the racks, or asking the serious music fans who worked there.” (Classical record stores, then and now, tended to have their recordings organized by composer rather than group.) The algorithms for specialized genres — classical, reggae, acoustic blues, Brazilian music —are hopeless, he says.

“These days, you have to know exactly what you’re looking for. If you want something by Beyonce or Miley Cyrus, it’s not hard. If you’re interested in niche music, you can be in the position of not knowing what’s out there. I still find myself missing important releases by musicians I care about. Streaming provides access to millions of hours of music, but it’s easy to get lost in it.”

If dedicated fans like Cook and Gioia have these problems, what will happen to the casual or new fans that every genre needs in order to stay alive? They’ll simply drift away to the stuff that’s being beamed at them by advertisers around the clock.

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Even some of those frightened and demoralized by the digital transition think things can be improved for jazz and classical music.

So far, Wang’s solution has been to drop out. It’s nearly impossible for artists to withdraw, but as a label head, he can pull all of Pi’s music off Spotify. After three or four months on the service, two years back, he received a royalty statement of about $25 for all of it, and decided it just wasn’t worth it.

“What we found when we got out of Spotify — after these dire warnings — was that our sales went up; they absolutely jumped.”

He’s very familiar with the pressure to give art away. “We were always told you need to get as many audiences as possible … With the exposure argument, you’re told, ‘You could become the next Lady Gaga!’ It’s like playing Lotto — buy dollar tickets, and you could hit it big. In jazz, keep buying dollar tickets so you can win a dollar fifty.”

Cook sees the poor fit of these genres to streaming services as part of a larger phenomenon: Their radio playlists don’t show up in Billboard, their ticket receipts and album sales are often not reported to SoundScan and PollStar, and their awards on the Grammys are rarely televised. “This affects the visibility of jazz and classical music, and the way they are viewed by the rest of the industry.”

Part of a solution involves getting the data straight. “There is no database that tells you who played on what recording, and who wrote each song. ASCAP has one piece of the puzzle; iTunes has another. If you’ve got a music service, you need this, because you need to know who to pay. You need to tell listeners who they’re listening too. And if it’s not consistent, it’s not searchable.”

She wonders how it happens, though, even with open-source software that makes it easier. “The classical community needs to say, ‘This is a good index, instead of the crap the record labels are sending you. It requires a coordinated effort by a lot of different parties.”

Composer Danielpour says that classical people should not give up on recording work and trying to get on the radio. “Even though radio is a mid-20th century medium, for classical music it’s still a powerful source of revenue,” especially in Europe, where royalties are typically better. He recently returned from a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. “For European and Russian audiences, classical music is religion. For us in America, it’s entertainment.”

Gioia, a former businessman, is pragmatic and forward looking. “My view is that the only solution for this, that is equitable for everyone, is for the music labels, in partnership with the artists, to control their own streaming,” says Gioia. “They need to bypass Silicon Valley.

“They need to work together with a new model, to control distribution and not rely on Apple, Amazon and everyone else. The music industry has always hated technology — they hated radio when it came out — and have always dragged their feet. They need to embrace technology and do it better.”

 

Scott Timberg, a longtime arts reporter in Los Angeles who has contributed to the New York Times, runs the blog Culture Crash. His book, “Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class” comes out in January. Follow him on Twitter at @TheMisreadCity

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