Hillary Clinton and secret Swiss bank accounts

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By Patrick Martin
31 July 2015

A lengthy report in the Wall Street Journal Thursday details Hillary Clinton’s actions while US secretary of state,on behalf of the Swiss banking giant UBS. The bank reciprocated by means of large contributions to the Clinton Foundation and a fat paycheck for Bill Clinton to participate in a question-and-answer session with UBS executives.

The article examines the type of exchange of services for cash payment that is standard operating procedure for capitalist politicians and their corporate masters worldwide. The only unusual aspect of the transactions is the detailed record, supplied in part thanks to the publication of US State Department cables from Switzerland by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.

In 2008, an American employee of the bank, working in Switzerland, revealed that UBS had thousands of US customers who had opened accounts to avoid paying US taxes. The bank signed a consent agreement in 2009, agreeing to pay a $780 million fine and give the names of 250 account holders. But the IRS was pressing for a broader disclosure—the names of US citizens who held 52,000 numbered accounts worth an estimated $18 billion.

At Clinton’s first meeting with her Swiss counterpart, Micheline Calmy-Rey, there was a list of pressing issues, several relating to Iran, where the Swiss embassy has represented US interests since 1979. The Obama administration wanted Switzerland to accept some Guantanamo detainees, to curtail business by a Swiss-based energy company in Iran, and to intervene on behalf of a US journalist detained in Iran. The Swiss government, serving as the political agent of the Swiss banks, wanted to curb the forced disclosure of information by UBS.

A deal was worked out. In return for Swiss action on its concerns, the US government agreed to a legal settlement with UBS that limited disclosure to information on 4,450 accounts, less than 10 percent of the 52,000 sought by the IRS.

It was at this point that the arrangement moved beyond the routine horse-trading between capitalist governments, into direct financial kickbacks. UBS began to step up its donations to the Clinton Foundation, from less than $60,000 through 2008 to more than $600,000 in total by the end of 2014.

The Journal report continues: “The bank also joined the Clinton Foundation to launch entrepreneurship and inner-city loan programs, through which it lent $32 million. And it paid former president Bill Clinton $1.5 million to participate in a series of question-and-answer sessions with UBS Wealth Management Chief Executive Bob McCann, making UBS his biggest single corporate source of speech income disclosed since he left the White House.”

The newspaper then adds the disclaimer, “There is no evidence of any link between Mrs. Clinton’s involvement in the case and the bank’s donations to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, or its hiring of Mr. Clinton.”

But of course, no such link is required in the elevated circles in which the Clintons move. Rarely is it a matter of cash in envelopes. Actions on behalf of corporate benefactors and expressions of “gratitude” and “support” follow like night follows day.

UBS officials vociferously denied any such crass exchange. “Any insinuation that any of our philanthropic or business initiatives stems from support received from any current or former government official is ludicrous and without merit,” a bank spokeswoman told the Journal .

By 2012, a UBS-sponsored program it called Elevating Entrepreneurs was listed by the Clinton Foundation as one of its most important projects, featuring 11 appearances by Bill Clinton with former President George W. Bush playing the role of second banana at a number of locations, for an undisclosed fee.

Given the Journal ’s hostility to Clinton and the Democratic Party, there is little doubt that the newspaper’s decision to publish the report was politically motivated and intended to damage the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. The facts uncovered, however, are nonetheless damning.

It should also be pointed out that Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire who owns theJournal and dozens of other media properties, including Fox News, is a longtime practitioner of the tax avoidance that Swiss banks like UBS facilitate. Murdoch has changed his citizenship from Australia to Great Britain to the United States to further the expansion of his corporate empire by taking advantage of favorable tax treatment.

As for Hillary Clinton, the report on UBS is only a further demonstration of her decades of hobnobbing with the bankers and billionaires.

One of the grosser expressions of this was reported earlier this week byPolitico.com, which detailed Bill and Hillary Clintons’ attendance at the 2005 wedding (his third) of billionaire Donald Trump to Slovenian model Melania Knauss, at Trump’s Palm Beach estate.

According to this account, based on tabloid reports of the $1 million celebrity-studded event, the groom wore a black Brioni tuxedo, while the bride “wore a $200,000 Christian Dior dress, replete with 300 feet of satin, 1,500 crystals and pearls and a 13-foot, 50-pound train. The strapless gown reportedly took 1,000 hours to make. The reception and after-party at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion featured song and dance facilitated by Tony Bennett and Billy Joel; lobster, caviar and filet mignon; and a 5-foot-tall wedding cake covered with buttercream frosting and 3,000 roses made of white icing.”

Trump is today leading in polls for the Republican presidential nomination. Ten years ago he called himself a Democrat, praised Hillary Clinton extravagantly and donated to her campaigns. This history only demonstrates the vanishingly small differences between the Democrats and Republicans, both controlled lock, stock and barrel by the financial oligarchy.

 

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/31/clin-j31.html

Social media and movements: is the love affair really over?

By Thomas Swann On July 31, 2015

Post image for Social media and movements: is the love affair really over?Social media are monitored and controlled by large corporations. Can they also facilitate the kind of self-organization that defines radical politics?

When I started my PhD in 2011 there was a strong feeling that radical politics was changing. On the one hand, there was more of it. The Arab Spring, theindignados, Occupy: they all made it seem like direct action and direct democracy, were moving out of the ghettos of what remained of the alter-globalization movement. With mass assemblies and a radical DIY (or even DIO: Do It Ourselves) politics, something was changing across the world. In the face of austerity and totalitarianism, an actual alternative was being prefigured.

At the same time, the tools of these protests and uprisings came into the spotlight. Not only the democratic mechanisms of decision-making but also the digital infrastructures that, many argued, were facilitating what was so promising in these movements.

Social media was increasingly seen as an essential element in how large groups were able to organize without centralized leadership. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter were allowing people to mobilize not as hierarchical structures like trade unions and political parties but as horizontal networks. Individual activists and sub-groups enjoyed a tactical autonomy while remaining part of a larger whole.

Almost four years have passed, and now at the end of my PhD the gloss to this narrative has to a large extent worn off. Some elements of the 2011 uprisings have been consumed by the tragedy of civil war and renewed dictatorships, while others have dispersed.

But of course, four years is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, and the examples of Podemos and Syriza suggest that perhaps these movements are in fact evolving and developing new strategies. While the story of mass mobilization and radical social movements is by no means over, what has been disputed perhaps more than anything else in the last four years is the promise that lay in the tools of the 2011 uprisings.

Social media, once held up by some as the very essence of contemporary radical politics, is now seen in a harsher, less forgiving light. A number of experiences have underlined the implicit hierarchies and inequalities that were reinforced by social media.

Others have pointed towards the ways in which social media exploit, for profit, our online behavior. The Edward Snowden saga has shown how vulnerable our online organizing is, as has the repression of social media-based activism seen inTurkey and elsewhere.

But among these critiques of social media, is there something that can be salvaged? Can platforms like Facebook and Twitter be useful in radical politics, and if so how? Perhaps we don’t need to abandon social media just yet. Perhaps it can, in one form or another, still facilitate the kind of organization that was so promising in 2011 and that continues, in many ways, to define radical left politics.

The promise of social media

Social media platforms are often discussed as means of communication, self-expression and forming public discourse. As well as this, however, social media platforms — and communication practices more generally — also act as infrastructures that support the actions we take. They allow us to share information and resources, and to make decisions that can then be enacted.

In this way, communication practices can also be understood as information management systems. This is a concept borrowed from the world of business and management and refers to any system, normally electronic and increasingly digital, that facilitates organization. Work email and intranets are of this sort. They don’t just let people talk to one another but also contribute to getting tasks completed.

What social media might offer when viewed as information management systems, as platforms that facilitate certain forms of action, is a way to make radical and anarchist forms of organization more like the participatory and democratic structures that characterized the 2011 uprisings and radical left politics since at least the Zapatista rebellion, the alter-globalization movement in the 1990s and, even earlier, the radical feminism of the 1960s and 1970s.

Social media can provide the infrastructure for both democratic decision-making and autonomous action, with activists given access to resources and information that may enable them to act in ways that more hierarchical communication structures reduce to command and control processes.

While there are significant critiques of social media from activists and scholars alike (focusing on privacy and surveillance, corporate and state control, the political economy of free labor and the psychology and behavior that is encouraged by the architecture of mainstream platforms), I want to suggest that there is still a potential inherent in social media owing to the nature of the communication practices it supports.

These practices can be described as many-to-many communication. They are potentially built on conversations with multiple actors that reflect some of the necessary foundations of the participatory democracy of radical Left politics. Social media can, therefore, be seen as systems that facilitate radically democratic forms of organization and that can support the kinds of autonomy and horizontality that have in part been seen in the 2011 uprisings.

This is the promise of social media. And it is a promise that may yet be fulfilled. If social media present opportunities for horizontal, conversational communication, and these types of communication are consistent with the ways in which we try to imagine non-hierarchical social relationships and decision-making structures, then social media can be considered as having at least the potential to be a part of a radical left politics.

Internal and external communication practices

As part of my PhD research I interviewed a number of activists involved in the Dutch radical left and anarchist scene. The pictures they provided of the communication practices of the groups they were involved in can be used to work through some of the ideas around many-to-many communication, its relationship to radical politics and the promise of social media.

Internally, the radical left groups in question all more or less conform to the many-to-many communication model. Much of this communication is done through face-to-face meetings at which members aim to reach consensus on the topics being discussed and the decisions that need to be made.

In terms of social networking technologies, however, activists spoke of the email listservs and online forums that have been common to radical left politics at least since the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and the beginnings of the alter-globalization movement.

While none of the groups used newer, mainstream platforms like Facebook in their internal communication practices, one of the groups did use the alternative social networking site Crabgrass as a core part of their discussion and decision-making infrastructure. Crabgrass was developed by people connected to the RiseUp collective that provides secure email addresses for activists. It aims to facilitate social networking and group collaboration with a specifically radical, left-wing bent.

Externally, many-to-many communication practices became much rarer. While most of the groups use Facebook and Twitter, they use them primarily as extensions of their websites, which in turn act mainly as extensions of their printed newspapers.

The three exceptions to this highlight the abilities of both mainstream and alternative social media platforms to play this role. One group, involved in community organizing, was active on Facebook not only in sharing articles and announcements but also in responding to comments and engaging in discussions with other users.

Another made use of crowd-sourced mapping in a way that reflects the scope of many-to-many communication to support autonomous action. The third example of using social media in line with this participatory ethos came from one group that printed comments and responses from Facebook and Twitter in their newspaper, facilitating some level of conversation between the group and those outside it.

Institutionalizing autonomy

The many-to-many communication social media facilitates, insofar as it allows for conversation rather than merely the broadcast of information (or even orders), is intimately connected to a radical left and anarchist vision of organization. If prefiguration, the realization of the goals of politics in the here and now, is taken as one of the core concerns of radical social movements, then a commitment to many-to-many communication might need to be seen as just as important as the commitment to democracy and equality.

It has the potential to empower activists to take autonomous action and the bedrock of participatory democracy. In this way, social media platforms can contribute towards freeing activism from the top-down structures of political parties and trade unions.

But is there another way of looking at these types of organization and of the structures suggested by social media and many-to-many communication? I mentioned at the start of this article that social media and the examples of the 2011 uprisings have lost some of what made them so attractive at the time. Activists are, it seems, increasingly (and perhaps rightly given the limitations) wary of both networked organization and networked communications. In the last year or so, however, radical politics has shifted somewhat.

In place of social movements that are completely opposed to, and autonomous from political parties, the rise of Podemos and Syriza, and indeed the surge of support for the Greens in England and Wales and the Scottish National Party in Scotland, might point to a return of the mass party as an element of radical left social movement strategy.

Podemos and Syriza, by many accounts, have become the institutional articulations of mass social movements. They haven’t replaced them and are clear that they aim to act as parliamentary wings subservient to those movements (although the current tensions in Syriza suggest that this is much more problematic that some might make out).

In the case of Podemos, this has meant a continuation of the radical, direct democracy of the 15-M movement and the party has relied on social media and many-to-many communication not in getting its message across to voters but in defining the very content of that message and of its policies.

Social media might continue to have a role in radical left politics after all. The many-to-many communication practices it supports can be, at their best, prefigurative of the goals of radical politics, of democratic and participatory decision-making. As information management systems, facilitating concrete action, the examples of the radical left groups involved in my PhD research point towards this conclusion.

Both mainstream social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and alternative platforms, such as Crabgrass and n-1, can be an important part of radical left politics, whether in the form of mass social movement mobilizations or the articulation of those movements in more democratic political parties.

Thomas Swann is a PhD student in the University of Leicester School of Management and member of the Centre for Philosophy and Political Economy. His research focuses on radical left organization, social media and organizational cybernetics. Follow him on Twittter via @ThomasSwann1.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/07/social-media-organization-movements/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Post Capitalism

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Jonathan Taplin on Jul 25

The British journalist Paul Mason published a provocative except from his new book Postcapitalism in the Guardian last week. His theory is that the sharing economy is ushering in a new age.

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed — not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies — the giant tech companies — on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.

Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information product in the world — Wikipedia — is made by volunteers for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue.

Since the 1930’s when Lord Keynes worried about a future in which we would have so much leisure time that we might not be able to create enough poets to fill our evening hours. So of course I am skeptical as most of my friends are working longer hours than 10 years ago when their every waking hour wasn’t harried by smartphones chirping.

But I do believe that Mason’s point, about the potential of Open Source technology to break up the “fragile corporate edifice” constructed by the tech monopolies that I have written about, is real. Consider the edifice that was Microsoft’s Windows operating system in 1998 when the Justice Department brought its anti-trust action. Since that time two Open Source software systems, Linux and Apache have made huge inroads into the corporate and Web server business. Both systems were constructed by hundreds of thousands of man hours of free labor contributed by geeks interested in improving the software and sharing their improvements with a large community for free. So in that sense, Mason is right that this is a post capitalist construct.

But here is the current problem with the sharing economy. It tends towards a winner take all economy.

Whether Uber ends up buying Lyft is yet to be determined, but my guess is that market will look like markets dominated by AirBnb, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Google. As Susie Cagle recently pointed out:

While technology has provided underlying infrastructure to spark and support new peer-to-peer network behavior, it hasn’t really changed anything about how those networks are built and owned. For example, we now have the tools and ability to disrupt the taxi industry by allowing collectives of drivers to reach customers directly — but instead, we have Lyft and Uber, multibillion dollar companies that neither offer benefits to their drivers, nor truly give them the opportunity to run their own independent businesses.

Likewise, we have the tools and ability to build collectively owned messaging and social platforms — but instead, we have Twitter and Facebook, which mediate what users can see from other users and collect personal data to better tailor advertising sales.

My concerns relate to the media and entertainment industry that we study at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. And in that world the possibility of using the Open Source model to build a new kind of Digital Distribution Cooperative seems very possible.

Ask yourself this question: why should YouTube take 55% of the ad revenue from a Beyonce (or any other artist) video when all they provide is the platform?

They provide no production money, no marketing support and their ad engine runs lights out on algorithms.

Imagine in today’s music business a distribution cooperative that would run something like the coops that farmer’s use (think Sunkist for orange growers). Here is how they are described.

Many marketing cooperatives operate through “pooling.” The member delivers his product to the association, which pools it with products of like grade and quality delivered by other members. After doing whatever processing is necessary, the co-op sells the products at the best price it can get and returns to the members their share of total proceeds, less marketing expenses.

In our model (much like the early days of the United Artists film distribution company formed in the 1920’s by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W.Griffith) the producers of music would upload their new tunes to the coop servers, do their own social marketing and probably end up getting back 85–90% of the revenues rather the 45% they get from YouTube. The coop could rent cloud space from Amazon Web Services just like Netflix and Spotify do.

All of this is possible because in the world of entertainment the artist is the brand. No one ever suggested to you, “let’s go to a Paramount movie tonight.” It is possible that we are entering a post capitalist age, but it cannot exist as long as the sharing economy is dominated by a few monopolists. Perhaps some bold experiments on the part of music artists could point the way towards a truly innovative way of using technology for the good of the artist rather than for her exploitation.

https://medium.com/@jonathantaplin/post-capitalism-f8d687d19c3

How to make $7 billion in 45 minutes

Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon, at the introduction of the new Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Paperwhite personal devices, in Santa Monica, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

25 July 2015

On Thursday, Amazon, the online retail giant, announced that, contrary to analysts’ predictions and after months of financial losses, it had turned a profit in the second quarter.

The stock market responded with euphoria. Amazon’s share price surged by 18 percent in a single day, adding $40 billion to the company’s market capitalization. With 154,000 employees, Amazon overnight became the world’s largest retailer by market capitalization, surpassing Wal-Mart, with 2.2 million employees.

The market response was conditioned by the fact that stocks have been registering significant losses in the US in the past week, with earnings reports of major companies falling short of expectations amidst growing signs of slump in the United States and internationally.

These include a continuing sharp fall in the prices of commodities such as oil and iron ore, along with declining growth rates in China and a number of emerging markets, and ongoing stagnation in Europe. The International Monetary Fund earlier this month predicted the worst year for global growth since 2009, and last week the US Federal Reserve Board, in its semiannual Monetary Policy Report, painted a grim picture of the state of the US economy.

The signs are mounting—the stock panic in China, extreme volatility on US markets—that the disconnect between a stagnant real economy and a booming stock market, which has prevailed in the US since the beginning of the stock market recovery in the spring of 2009, may well be setting the stage for a new financial meltdown even greater than that of 2008.

In the meantime, multibillionaires such as Amazon CEO Jeffrey Bezos continue to milk the economy. For Bezos, Thursday’s trading was, to put it mildly, lucrative. He made $7 billion in 45 minutes.

Now the seventh-richest man in the world, Bezos saw his wealth surge to $43 billion. For all the hype surrounding the company he founded 20 years ago, Bezos got his billions by sweating his workers, monopolizing the market and capitalizing on a decades-long financial bubble.

Employees in Amazon’s fulfillment centers are paid $11-12 per hour. They are subject to grueling and humiliating conditions. They are regularly searched and foremen record how many times they use the restroom.

A 2011 report in a Pennsylvania newspaper noted that the company would not open the doors to ventilate one of its warehouses even when temperatures reached 110 degrees, for fear of theft. When workers started passing out, the company stationed ambulances outside for them.

Amazon now accounts for a bigger share of online sales than the next dozen competitors. It has used its enormous market power to strong-arm small publishers and authors, recently announcing unilaterally that it will start paying authors of e-books by the page view, instead of by the download, resulting in sharply reduced commissions. Bezos purchased the Washington Post with $250 million of his personal funds in 2013.

It is worth making some comparisons. The amount of money Bezos made Thursday is:

* Equivalent to what 300,000 US workers earning the median income earn in an entire year.

* Forty-seven times larger than the annual budget for the National Endowment for the Arts.

* Three hundred and eighteen times the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s deficit, which is being addressed by shutting off water to tens of thousands of households.

* More than two-thirds of the annual funding of America’s free and reduced-price school lunch program.

* Enough to provide every one of America’s 15.8 million hungry children $450 per year in food assistance.

The accumulation of such personal wealth amid the vast social misery that prevails in the United States can only be called obscene. But such an assessment would be news to the US media, which salutes every milestone hit by the Dow or NASDAQ with rapture and depicts the members of America’s billionaire oligarchy as geniuses and innovators.

There is something deeply dysfunctional about an economic system in which the announcement of a $92 million profit—the first-ever quarterly profit reported by Amazon—triggers $40 billion in share purchases in a matter of minutes.

The continual diversion of vast amounts of money into the stock market is a symptom of an underlying economic crisis of immense proportions. Every dollar that goes into speculating on a stock like Amazon, with a price-to-earnings ratio of nearly 1,000, is a dollar not used for productive investment.

While the real economy in the US has grown by only 13 percent since the depth of the recession in 2009, all three major American stock indexes have more than tripled. This year, NASDAQ for the first time surpassed the heights it reached just before the collapse of the dot.com bubble in 2000.

Meanwhile, the US economy shrank at an annual rate of 0.2 percent in the first quarter of this year. The falloff in economic activity was led by a collapse in business fixed investment, which fell by 2 percent. Investment in nonresidential structures fell by 18 percent.

The sharp fall in investment came despite the fact that US corporations are hoarding some $1.4 trillion in cash and similar assets, the largest such figure on record, amassed as a result of years of record profits amid falling wages and an influx of cheap money from the world’s central banks.

Instead of using this cash to hire workers and build factories, corporations are diverting it to raise dividends, buy back shares, hike executive pay and carry out mergers and acquisitions, all at record levels. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that major US corporations in 2013 spent 36 percent of their operating cash to buy back their own shares, more than double the rate a decade before.

This speculative frenzy has been driven by six years of near-zero interest rates and money printing by the Federal Reserve, whose policies underlie the enormous overvaluation of companies such as Amazon.

The performance of the US stock market has decoupled from economic growth to such an extent that any indication of genuine recovery in the real economy generally prompts a market sell-off, while signs of economic slump tend to send the markets higher.

This state of affairs is an expression of the crisis and decline of American capitalism, which has for nearly four decades responded to declining profit margins in manufacturing by turning ever more decisively to financial parasitism.

The US ruling class and the capitalist system over which it presides have no answers to the social crisis in America. For every problem, they have the same solution: impoverish workers and use the money to gamble on the stock market. If workers don’t like it, there are always the police to keep them in line.

Andre Damon

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/25/pers-j25.html

How “Big Data” can help save the environment

Journalists, scientists & techies must work to translate data into the knowledge needed to address climate change 

How "Big Data" can help save the environment
A rider attached to the appropriation bill that funds the EPA would end the moratorium on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon which could contaminate the Colorado River
This article was originally published by Scientific American.

Scientific American

A recent study using NASA’s CALIPSO satellite described how wind and weather carry millions of tons of dust from the Sahara desert to the Amazon basin each year – bringing much-needed fertilizers like phosphorus to the Amazon’s depleted soils.

To bring this story to life, NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization team produced a video showing the path of the Saharan dust, which has been viewed half a million times. This story is notable because it relies on satellite technology and data to show how one ecosystem’s health is deeply interconnected with another ecosystem on the other side of the world.

Stunning data visualization like this one can go a long way to helping communicate scientific wonders to the wider world. But even more important than the technology driving the collection and analysis of this data is how the team presented its findings to the public – as a story. NASA’s CALIPSO data offers a model of how scientists, technologists and journalists can come together and make use of data to help us respond to this a slow-motion crisis like air pollution.

Being able to see the dust blowing in the wind has broad implications. Today, one in eight people in the world dies from exposure to air pollution, which includes dust. This stunning fact, issued by the World Health Organization last March, adds up to 7 million premature deaths per year. Air pollution is now the single largest environmental risk in the world, and it occurs both indoors and outdoors.

The WHO report, which more than doubles previous estimates, is based on improved exposure measurements including data collected from satellites, sensors and weather and air flow information. The information has been cross-tabulated with demographic information to reveal, for example, that if you are a low- to middle-income person living in China, your chances of dying an air pollution-related death skyrockets.

These shocking statistics are hardly news for people living in highly polluted areas, though in many of the most severely affected regions, governments are not eager to confirm the obvious. The availability of global scale particulate matter (dust) monitoring could change this dynamic in a way that we all can see.

In addition to the volume of satellite data generated by NASA, sensor technology that helps create personal pollution monitors is increasingly affordable and accessible. Projects like the Air Quality EggSpeck and the DustDuino (with which I collaborate) are working to put tools to collect data from the ground in as many hands as possible. These low-cost devices are creating opportunities for citizen science to fill coverage gaps and testing this potential is a key part of our upcoming installation of DustDuino units in Sao Paulo, Brazil later this summer. Satellite data tend to paint in broad global strokes, but it’s often local details that inform and motivate decisions.

Satellites give us a global perspective. The official monitoring infrastructure, overseen by large institutions and governments, can measure ambient air at a very high resolution and modeling exposure over a large area. But they don’t see everything. The nascent field of sensor journalism helps citizen scientists and journalists fill in the gaps in monitoring networks, identifying human exposures and hot spots that are invisible to official infrastructure.

As program officer of the Earth Journalism Network, I help give training and support to teams of data scientists, developers and environmental journalists around the world to incorporate this flood of new information and boost local environmental coverage. We have taken this approach because the skills that we need to communicate about slow-motion crises like air pollution and climate change require a combination of experts who can make sense of data and journalists who can prioritize and contextualize it for their readers.

Leveraging technologies, skills and expertise from satellites, sensors and communities alike, journalists, scientists and technologists need to work together to translate data into the knowledge needed to address environmental crises.

 

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/07/18/how_big_data_can_help_save_the_environment_partner/?source=newsletter

USA Network’s Mr. Robot: A provocative start, but where will it go?

By Christine Schofelt and David Walsh
17 July 2015

USA Network’s Mr. Robot, created and written by Sam Esmail and already renewed for a second season, began airing in late June. So far four episodes have been broadcast. The series centers on Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a cyber-security engineer by day and a self-described “vigilante-hacker” by night.

Elliot’s opening voiceover is unusual for American television: “What I’m about to tell you is top secret. A conspiracy bigger than all of us. There’s a powerful group of people out there that are secretly running the world. I’m talking about the guys no one knows about, the guys that are invisible. The top one percent of the top one percent. The guys that play God without permission.”

Mr. Robot

In general, those behind Mr. Robot have promoted the series by appealing to the mass hostility to the banks, conglomerates and government spies. Incendiary ads, for example, read “F–k the System,” “F–k Wall Street,” “F–k Society.” Taglines include: “Our democracy has been hacked,” “Banks own your money,” “Social media owns your relationships,” “Corporations own your minds.” The promise of something hard-hitting for once has drawn some two million people to watch each of the first four shows. Is there a gap, however, between the promise and the actual substance of Mr. Robot?

It does not take long for one’s internal alarm system to go off. Immediately following Elliot’s opening voiceover about “the top one percent of the top one percent,” the series veers off into a sort of individual vigilantism. Elliot confronts the owner of chain of coffee shops, whose computer he has hacked, about his involvement in child pornography. Later, he targets a philandering husband, who has not committed any crimes, and a violent drug dealer.

Generally well played by Malek, Elliot is another in a long and growing list of pathologically anti-social geniuses. Speaking directly to the viewer in a running inner monologue, he explains his sense of justice, his morphine addiction and his methods for getting into people’s personal computer records—which is the only way he gets close to other human beings. Malek (like the show’s creator, Sam Esmail, of Egyptian descent) does manage to convey something about the low-grade depression that afflicts large numbers of young people in the US, mired in difficult economic and personal circumstances, with nothing to look forward to. Certain shots of Elliot passing anxiously and stealthily through subway stations and passageways have something especially disturbing about them.

Mr. Robot

Christian Slater plays Mr. Robot, a member of a group calling itself F-society, obviously based on Anonymous, among others. He makes contact with Elliot through a DDOS (distributed denial-of-service) attack on E Corp, a client of AllSafe, the cybersecurity company for which Elliot works. Mr. Robot then draws him into a wider plot against E Corp, which Elliot refers to as “Evil Corp,” an all-encompassing tech company.

Through Elliot’s narration, we are presented with a litany of social ills; student debt, corporate power, easily hacked personal information, etc. His feverish list is accompanied by snapshots and clips of recent events—Occupy Wall Street, Chelsea (Bradley) Manning, newspaper headlines about growing inequality. In many of the early monologues, however, a disdain for the general populace seeps through—the notion that the people are “asleep” predominates.

The plan of Mr. Robot and F-society to bring down E Corp, which presumably will dominate the series’ first season, is put forward as a “revolution.” The elimination of E(vil) Corp and the debt it holds (largely student debt), including the hard copies of loan documents, no doubt has its appeal.

Moreover, many viewers will identify and sympathize with Elliot and his beleaguered friends, including Angela (Portia Doubleday), who is financially drowning, and Shayla (Frankie Shaw), who has serious problems with drugs. These characters are more or less realistically drawn, and some of the situations, which convey the stress of simply navigating daily life and a general sense of being at sea, pull the viewer in.

Mr. Robot

In other words, there are intriguing aspects to Mr. Robot. However, there are numerous troubling issues. First of all, there are the clichéd characters and situations. The presence of corporate evil incarnate, in the form of Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström), the senior vice president of technology at E Corp, is not much help. In general, the picture of business wickedness is neither earthshaking nor terribly enlightening. An accounting of contemporary corporate life and practices, which dramatized and shed light on the objective driving forces at work, would be far more intriguing as well as highly unusual. (The presence of an unredeemably monstrous drug dealer also hints at intellectually lazy territory.)

The biggest problem, however, is surely the glaring contradiction between the picture painted of overwhelming corporate criminality and overall social dysfunction, on the one hand, and the meagerness of the possible social responses envisioned by the show’s creators, on the other.

The idea of “revolution” and “revolutionaries” put forward by Mr. Robot is ludicrous. The notion that wiping out one giant firm’s records will bring about “the largest revolution the world will ever see,” in the words of Slater’s character, hardly merits a comment. In general, the series appears to have little interest, despite the references to inequality, in the conditions of wide layers of the population, much less any conception that masses of people will take part in the process of changing things. This is a “revolution” carried out by (and presumably for) a layer of disgruntled computer engineers and other professionals.

In an interview with Slate, Sam Esmail makes some revealing comments. He notes that he was in Egypt “right after the Arab Spring happened, and I was so inspired by that. One of the things that defined Elliot’s character is that revolutionary spirit I saw in my cousins. These are young people who are tech-savvy, who use technology to their advantage to channel the anger against the status quo and try and make a change to better their lives.” Esmail provides some idea of the social change he has in mind. Mr. Robot, he notes is “set in the world of technology, because I think that is a tool that young people can use to bring about change. I mean, look at the LGBT community: What massive changes have occurred in society just in terms of marriage and trans issues being more public and open.”

Esmail later tells his interviewer that “the current mixed economy system that we have in this country is broken. It doesn’t do what it’s set up to do, which is to value the best product made by the best companies.” This is pretty meager, to say the least.

One also has the right as well to be made nervous by the portrayal of the hackers, offered up as uncompromising “revolutionaries.” Slater’s Mr. Robot is distinctly unappealing—manipulative and destructive on a personal level and willing to kill people in pursuit of the plan (citing potential victims of an explosion as mere “collateral damage”). Darlene (Carly Chaikin) is unbalanced and annoying. Personalities aside, the depiction of these people as ruthless or ambivalent potential killers does little to distinguish them from their targets in the upper echelons of the corporations.

Time will tell whether Mr. Robot settles down and tells an important story. The fourth episode was not promising, focused on Elliot’s not very intriguing personal “demons” and the unlikely plan against E Corp. Will the moral of the USA Network series prove to be that what’s needed is a mere “rebooting” of capitalism and a slight redistribution of the wealth through the ascension to power of a more principled group of business men and women? It is impossible to be certain, but one has ample reason to fear the worst.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/17/mrro-j17.html