One of Largest Transfers of Public Wealth to Private Hands: Our Staggering War Economy

The cost of our massive military and endless wars is almost beyond comprehension, and non stop

The money should stagger you. Journalist James Risen, author of Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, a revelatory new book about the scammers, counterterrorism grifters, careerist bureaucrats, torture con artists, and on-the-make privatizers of our post-9/11 national security state, suggests that the best figure for money spent on Washington’s war on terror, including the Iraq and Afghan wars, is four trillion dollars. If you add in the bills still to come for the care of American soldiers damaged in that global war, the figure is undoubtedly significantly higher. In the process, an array of warrior corporations were mobilized to go into battle alongside the Pentagon and the country’s intelligence and homeland security outfits. This, in turn, transformed the global struggle into a highly privatized affair and resulted, as Risen vividly documents, in “one of the largest transfers of wealth from public to private hands in American history.” Halliburton offshoot KBR, for instance, took remarkable advantage of the opportunity and became “the largest single Pentagon contractor of the entire war,” more or less monopolizing the Iraq war zone from 2003 to 2011 and “receiving a combined total of $39.5 billion in contracts.”

So our four trillion dollar-plus investment gave rise to a crew of war profiteers that Risen dubs “the oligarchs of 9/11” and who are now wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.  And how has it gone for the rest of us? If you remember, the goal of George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror (or, in one of the worst acronyms of the new century, GWOT) was initially to wipe out terror outfits across the planet. At the time, enemy number one, al-Qaeda, was the most modest of organizations with thousands of followers in Afghanistan and scattered groups of supporters elsewhere. Thirteen years and all those dollars later, Islamic jihadist outfits that qualify as al-Qaeda branches, wannabes, look-alikes, or offshoots have run rampant. Undoubtedly, far more foreign jihadis — an estimated 15,000 — have traveled to Syria alone to fight for the Islamic State and its new “caliphate” than existed globally in 2001.

Some recent figures from the Global Terrorism Index of the Institute for Economics and Peace give us a basis for thinking about what’s happened in these years.  In 2013 alone, deaths related to “terrorism” — that is, civil/sectarian conflict in areas significantly destabilized directly or indirectly by U.S. military action (mainly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria) — rose by a soaring 61%.  The number of countries that saw more than 50 such fatalities (the U.S. not among them) expanded from 15 to 24 in the same period. So raise your glass to GWOT.  If nothing else, it’s managed to ensure its own profitable, privatized future for years to come.

But here’s a question: After 13 years of the war on terror, with terror running rampant, isn’t a name change in order? A simple transformation of a single preposition would bring that name into greater sync with reality: the war for terror.

And here’s a seldom-mentioned guarantee that leaps directly from a post by TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author most recently of Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country. Given Washington’s bedrock assumptions about the Greater Middle East, we should have no problem kissing another four trillion taxpayer dollars goodbye in the years to come. Eight trillion? If that isn’t a record, what is?  Some “USA! USA!” chants might be in order.

 

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/one-largest-transfers-public-wealth-private-hands-our-staggering-war-economy?akid=12500.265072.NVAXH0&rd=1&src=newsletter1027589&t=19&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

 

You should actually blame America for everything you hate about internet culture

November 21

The tastes of American Internet-users are both well-known and much-derided: Cat videos. Personality quizzes. Lists of things that only people from your generation/alma mater/exact geographic area “understand.”

But in France, it turns out, even viral-content fiends are a bit more … sophistiqués.

“In France, articles about cats do not work,” Buzzfeed’s Scott Lamb told Le Figaro, a leading Parisian paper. Instead, he explained, Buzzfeed’s first year in the country has shown it that “the French love sharing news and politics on social networks – in short, pretty serious stuff.”

This is interesting for two reasons: first, as conclusive proof that the French are irredeemable snobs; second, as a crack in the glossy, understudied facade of what we commonly call “Internet culture.”

When the New York Times’s David Pogue tried to define the term in 2009, he ended up with a series of memes: the “Star Wars” kid, the dancing baby, rickrolling, the exploding whale. Likewise, if you look to anyone who claims to cover the Internet culture space — not only Buzzfeed, but Mashable, Gawker and, yeah, yours truly — their coverage frequently plays on what Lamb calls the “cute and positive” theme. They’re boys who work at Target and have swoopy hair, videos of babies acting like “tiny drunk adults,” hamsters eating burritos and birthday cakes.

That is the meaning we’ve assigned to “Internet culture,” itself an ambiguous term: It’s the fluff and the froth of the global Web.

But Lamb’s observations on Buzzfeed’s international growth would actually seem to suggest something different. Cat memes and other frivolities aren’t the work of an Internet culture. They’re the work of an American one.

American audiences love animals and “light content,” Lamb said, but readers in other countries have reacted differently. Germans were skeptical of the site’s feel-good frivolity, he said, and some Australians were outright “hostile.” Meanwhile, in France — land of la mode and le Michelin — critics immediately complained, right at Buzzfeed’s French launch, that the articles were too fluffy and poorly translated. Instead, Buzzfeed quickly found that readers were more likely to share articles about news, politics and regional identity, particularly in relation to the loved/hated Paris, than they were to share the site’s other fare.

A glance at Buzzfeed’s French page would appear to bear that out. Right now, its top stories “Ça fait le buzz” — that’s making the buzz, for you Americaines — are “21 photos that will make you laugh every time” and “26 images that will make you rethink your whole life.” They’re not making much buzz, though. Neither has earned more than 40,000 clicks — a pittance for the reigning king of virality, particularly in comparison to Buzzfeed’s versions on the English site.

All this goes to show that the things we term “Internet culture” are not necessarily born of the Internet, itself — the Internet is everywhere, but the insatiable thirst for cat videos is not. If you want to complain about dumb memes or clickbait or other apparent instances of socially sanctioned vapidity, blame America: We started it, not the Internet.

Appelons un chat un chat.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/11/21/you-should-actually-blame-america-for-everything-you-hate-about-internet-culture/

Every sci-fi movie since Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece has echoed the original in certain unavoidable ways

Kubrick’s indestructible influence: “Interstellar’’ joins the long tradition of borrowing from “2001’’

Kubrick's indestructible influence: "Interstellar’’ joins the long tradition of borrowing from "2001’’
“2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Interstellar” (Credit: Warner Bros./Salon)

When I first heard about Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi adventure, “Interstellar,” my immediate thought was only this: Here comes the latest filmmaker to take on Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Though it was released more than 40 years ago, ”2001″ remains the benchmark for the “serious” science fiction film: technical excellence married to thematic ambition, and a pervading sense of historic self-importance.

More specifically, I imagined that Nolan would join a long line of challengers to aim squarely at “2001’s” famous Star Gate sequence, where astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) passes through a dazzling space-time light show and winds up at a waystation en route to his transformation from human being into the quasi-divine Star Child.

The Star Gate scene was developed by special effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull, who modernized an old technique known as slit scan photography (you can learn more about it here). While we’ve long since warp-drived our way beyond the sequence effects-wise (you can now do slit scan on your phone), the Star Gate’s eerie and propulsive quality is still powerful, because it functions as much more than just eye candy. It’s a set piece whose theme is the attempt to transcend set pieces — and character, and narrative and, most of all, the technical limitations of cinema itself.

In “2001,” the Star Gate scene is followed by another scene that also turns up frequently in sci-fi flicks. Bowman arrives at a series of strange rooms, designed in the style of Louis XVI (as interpreted by an alien intelligence), and he watches himself age and die before being reborn. Where is he? Another galaxy? Another dimension? Heaven? Hell? What are the mysterious monoliths that have brought him here? Why?

Let’s call this the Odd Room Scene. Pristine and uncanny, the odd room is the place at the end of the journey where truths of all sorts, profound and pretentious, clear and obscure, are at last revealed. In “The Matrix Reloaded,” for instance, Neo’s Odd Room Scene is his meeting with an insufferable talking suit called the Architect, where he learns the truth about the Matrix. Last summer’s “Snowpiercer,” about a train perpetually carrying the sole survivors of a new Ice Age around the world, follows the lower-class occupants of the tail car as they stage a revolution, fighting and hacking their way through first class toward the train’s engine, an Odd Room where our hero learns the truth about the train.



These final scenes in “2001″ still linger in the collective creative consciousness as inspiration or as crucible. The Star Gate and the Odd Room, particular manifestations of the journey and the revelation, have become two key architectural building blocks of modern sci-fi films. The lure to imitate and try to top these scenes, either separately or together, is apparently too powerful to resist.

Perhaps the most literal of the Star Gate-Odd Room imitators is Robert Zemeckis’s 1997 “Contact.” It’s a straightforward drama about humanity’s efforts to build a large wormhole machine whose plans have been sent by aliens, and the debate over which human should be the first to journey beyond the solar system. The prize falls to Jodie Foster’s agnostic astronomer Ellie Arroway. During the film’s Star Gate sequence, Foster rides a capsule through a wormhole that winds her around distant planets and through a newly forming star. Zemeckis’s knockoff is a decent roller coaster, but nothing more. Arroway is anxious as she goes through the wormhole, but still in control of herself; a deeply distressed Bowman, by contrast, is losing his mind.

Arroway’s wormhole deposits her in an Odd Room that looks to her (and us) like a beach lit by sunlight and moonlight. She is visited by a projection of her dead father, the aliens’ way of appearing to her in a comfortable guise, and she learns the stunning truth about … well, actually, she doesn’t learn much. Her father gives her a Paternal Alien Pep Talk. Yes, there is a lot of life out in the galaxy. No, you can’t hang out with us. No, we’re not going to answer any of your real questions. Just keep working hard down there on planet Earth; you’ll get up here eventually (as long as you all don’t kill each other first).

Brian De Palma tried his own version of the Odd Room at the end of 2000’s “Mission to Mars,” which culminates in a team of astronauts entering a cool, Kubrick-like room in an alien spaceship on Mars and, yes, learning the stunning truth about the origins of life on Earth. De Palma is a skilled practitioner of the mainstream Hollywood set piece, but you can feel the film working up quite a sweat trying and failing to answer “2001,” and early-century digital effects depicting red Martians are, to be charitable, somewhat dated.

But here comes “Interstellar.” This film would appear to be the best shot we’ve had in years to challenge the supremacy of the Star Gate, of “2001″ itself, as a Serious Sci-Fi Film About Serious Ideas. Christopher Nolan should be the perfect candidate to out-Star Gate the Star Gate. Kubrick machined his visuals to impossibly tight tolerances. Nolan (along with his screenwriter brother Jonathan) do much the same to their films’ narratives, manufacturing elaborately conceived contraptions. The film follows a Hail Mary pass to find a planet suitable for the human race as the last crops on earth begin to die out. Matthew McConaughey plays an astronaut tasked with piloting a starship through a wormhole, into another galaxy and onto a potentially habitable planet. “Interstellar” promises a straight-ahead technological realism as well as a sense of conscious “We’re pushing the envelope” ambition. (Hey, even Neil deGrasse Tyson vouches for the film’s science bonafides.) The possibilities and ambiguities of time, one of Nolan’s consistent concerns as a storyteller, is meant, I think, to be the trump card that takes “Interstellar” past “2001.”

But the film is not about fealty to, or the realistic depiction of, relativity theory. It’s about “2001.” And before it can try to usurp the throne, “Interstellar” must first kiss the ring. (And if you haven’t seen “Interstellar” yet, you might want to stop reading now.) So we get the seemingly rational crewmember who proves to be homicidal. The dangerous attempt to manually enter a spaceship. More brazenly, there’s a set piece of one ship docking with another. In “2001,” the stately docking of a spaceship with a wheel-shaped space station, turning gently above the Earth to the strains of the Blue Danube was, quite literally, a waltz, a graceful celestial courtship. It clued us in early that the machines in “2001″ would prove more lively, more human, than the humans. “Interstellar” assays the same moment, only on steroids. It turns that waltz, so rich in subtext, into a violent, vertiginous fandango as a shuttle tries to dock with a mothership that’s pirouetting out of control.

Finally, after a teasing jaunt through a wormhole earlier in the movie, we come to “Interstellar’s” Star Gate moment, as Cooper plummets into a black hole and ultimately into a library-like Odd Room that M.C. Escher might have fancied. It’s visually impressive for a moment, but its imprint quickly fades.

It’s too bad.” Interstellar” wants the stern grandeur of “2001″ and the soft-hearted empathy of Steven Spielberg, but in most respects achieves neither. Visually only a few images impress themselves in your brain — Nolan, as is often the case in his movies, is more successful designing and calibrating his story than at creating visuals worthy of his ambition. Yet the film doesn’t manage the emotional dynamics, either. It’s not for lack of trying. The Nolan brothers are rigorous scenarists, and the concept of dual father-daughter bonds being tested and reaffirmed across space-time is strong enough on the drawing board. (Presumably, familial love is sturdier than romantic love, though the film makes a half-hearted stab at the latter.)

For those with a less sentimental bent, the thematic insistence on the primacy of love might seem hokey, but it’s one way the film tries to advance beyond the chilly humanism of Kubrick toward something more warm-blooded. Besides, when measured against the stupefying vastness of the universe, what other human enterprise besides love really matters? The scale of the universe and its utter silence is almost beyond human concern, anyway.

So I don’t fault a film that suggests that it’s love more than space-age alloys and algorithms that can overcome the bounds of space and time. But the big ideas Nolan is playing with are undercut by too much exposition about what they mean. The final scene between Cooper and his elderly daughter — the triumphant, life-affirming emotional home run — is played all wrong, curt and businesslike. It’s a moment Spielberg would have handled with more aplomb; he would have had us teary-eyed, for sure, even those who might feel angry at having their heartstrings yanked so hard. This is more like having a filmmaker give a lecture on how to pull at the heartstrings without actually doing it.

Look, pulling off these Star Gate-like scenes requires an almost impossible balance. The built-in expectations in the structure of the story itself are unwieldy enough, without the association to one of science fiction’s most enduring scenes. You can make the transcendent completely abstract, like poetry, a string of visual and aural sensations, and hope viewers are in the right space to have their minds blown, but you run the risk of copping out with deliberate obfuscation. (We can level this charge at the Star Gate sequence itself.)

But it’s easy to press too far the other way — to personify the higher power or the larger force at the end of these journeys with a too literal explanation that leaves us underwhelmed. I suppose what we yearn for is just a tiny revelation, one that honors our desire for awe, preserves a larger mystery, but is not entirely inaccessible. It’s a tiny taste of the sublime. There’s an imagined pinpoint here where we would dream of transcendence as a paradox, as having God-like perception and yet still remaining human, perhaps only for a moment before crossing into something new. For viewers, though, the Star Gate scenes ultimately play on our side of that crossroads: To be human is to steal a glimpse of the transcendent, to touch it, without transcending.

While Kubrick didn’t have modern digital effects to craft his visuals with, in retrospect he had the easier time of it. It’s increasingly difficult these days to really blow an audience’s minds. We’ve seen too much. We know too much. The legitimate pleasure we can take in knowledge, in our ability to decode an ever-more-complex array of allusions and references, may not be as pleasurable or meaningful as truly seeing something beyond what we think we know.

Maybe the most successful challenger to Kubrick was Darren Aronofsky and his 2006 film “The Fountain.” The film, a meditation on mortality and immortality, plays out in three thematically-linked stories: A conquistador (Hugh Jackman) searches the new world for the biblical Tree of Life; a scientist (Jackman again) tries to save his cancer-stricken wife (Rachel Weisz), and a shaven-headed, lotus-sitting traveler (Jackman once more) journeys to a distant nebula. It’s the latter that bears the unique “2001″ imprint of journey and revelation: Jackman travels in a bubble containing the Tree of Life, through a milky and golden cosmicscape en route to his death and rebirth. It’s the Star Gate and the Odd Room all in one. Visually, Aronofsky eschewed computer-generated effects for a more organic approach that leans on fluid dynamics. I won’t tell you the film is a masterpiece — its Grand Unifying ending is more than a little inscrutable; again, pulling this stuff of is a real tightrope — but the visuals are wondrous and unsettling, perhaps the closest realization since the original of what the Star Gate sequence is designed to evoke.

Having said that, though, it may be time to turn away from the Star Gate in our quest for the mind-blowing sci-fi cinematic sequence. Filmmakers have thus far tried to imagine something like it, only better, and have mostly failed. It’s harder to imagine something beyond it, something unimaginable. Maybe future films should not be quite so literal in their chasing of those transcendent moments. This might challenge a new generation of filmmakers while also allowing the Star Gate, and “2001″ itself, to lie fallow for awhile, so we can return to it one day with fresh eyes.

It is, after all, when we least suspect it that a story may find a way past our jaded eyes and show us a glimpse of something that really does stir a moment of profound connection. There is one achingly brief moment in “Interstellar” that accomplishes this: Nolan composes a magnificent shot of a small starship, seen from a great distance gliding past Saturn’s awesome rings. The ship glitters in a gentle rhythm as it catches light of the Sun. It’s a throwaway, a transitional moment between one scene and another, merely meant to establish where we are. But its very simplicity and beauty, the power of its scale, invites us for a moment to experience the scale of the unknown and to appreciate our efforts to find a place in it, or beyond it.

http://www.salon.com/2014/11/22/kubricks_indestructible_influence_interstellar_joins_the_long_tradition_of_borrowing_from_2001/?source=newsletter

Amnesty International Releases Tool To Combat Government Spyware

https://www.eff.org/files/2014/11/20/detekt-1d.png

Human rights charity Amnesty International has released Detekt, a tool that finds and removes known government spyware programs. Describing the free software as the first of its kind, Amnesty commissioned the tool from prominent German computer security researcher and open source advocate Claudio Guarnieri, aka ‘nex’. While acknowledging that the only sure way to prevent government surveillance of huge dragnets of individuals is legislation, Marek Marczynski of Amnesty nevertheless called the tool (downloadable here) a useful countermeasure versus spooks. According to the app’s instructions, it operates similarly to popular malware or virus removal suites, though systems must be disconnected from the Internet prior to it scanning.

DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

Federal Judge Rejects Sirius XM’s Call

For Summary Judgment In Pre-1972 Case

 

     The Turtles keep on rolling to copyright victory, as a federal judge in New York has ruled against Sirius XM in the ongoing battle to collect royalties on recordings made before 1972. Last Friday (Nov. 14) Judge Colleen McMahon of United States District Court in Manhattan rejected Sirius XM’s motion for summary judgment, saying the Turtles have performing rights to their recordings under New York State law. She gave Sirius XM until Dec. 5 to dispute the remaining facts in the case; otherwise Sirius XM will be ruled liable for infringement.

“General principles of common copyright law dictate that public performance rights in pre-1972 sound recordings do exist,” Judge McMahon wrote in her decision. The ruling comes after a separate win for the Turtles in September, when a federal judge in California found Sirius XM liable for infringement under state laws there. According to The New York Times, that decision was viewed as a major victory for artists and record companies, although its wider impact was unclear because it applied only to that state.

Judge McMahon’s decision strengthened the music industry’s position that pre-1972 recordings are covered under state laws. Still, recording and broadcast industry executives say the potential for widespread confusion over music licensing – for example, it may mean that thousands of AM-FM radio stations, as well as restaurants or sports arenas where music is performed, may have been infringing on recording rights for decades – likely will require clarification from Congress. 

YouTube Launches Music Key In

Already-Crowded Streaming Field

 

     After years of false starts and seemingly endless label negotiations, YouTube’s Music Key launched earlier this week to the ultimate question: will users actually pay $9.99 for something  they previously received free of charge? That’s the monthly rate Google set for its ad-free service that also offers offline functionality, with a company spokesperson telling Billboard, “The goal is more ways to play music on YouTube, giving artists more ways to reach fans and make money.”

So why create a subscription service, especially given the competitive landscape? As Billboard notes, Apple is certain to grow its share of the streaming market, Amazon is going after middle-of-the-road listeners with Music Prime, and Spotify has a head start of 12.5 million U.S. subscribers (28 million worldwide in 2013, according to IFPI).

Still, many industry executives hope Music Key will help YouTube clean up the metadata that often gets lost in uploads of master recordings and drives users to the original composer and purchase links. This has been a core asset of YouTube’s Content ID system, which has disbursed more than $1 billion in revenue to labels and content creators since 2007. 

YouTube Refuses To Remove Songs

By Artists Represented By Azoff’s GMR

 

     YouTube apparently has refused to remove songs composed by artists represented by Irving Azoff’s Global Music Rights (GMR), forcing a showdown between the 42 artists the music icon represents and the Google-owned video site. The dispute stems from YouTube’s claim that it has licensing deals in place with the record labels, while Azoff contends that in order to publicly perform those 42 artists’ songs, the company also has to pay the songwriters, which Azoff says are “massively underpaid” when it comes to digital services.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the primary question here is whether YouTube has a right to perform these songs until proven otherwise. GMR thinks the burden of proving a valid license is on YouTube, which reportedly says it has a multiyear license for the public performance of works represented by GMR. The licensors aren’t identified, but it’s possible that YouTube believes its covered by prior deals made with ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, or a foreign performing rights organization.

Howard King, an attorney representing GMR, says YouTube has failed to comply with demands to stop performing those 20,000 songs. “Obviously, if YouTube contends it has properly licensed any of the songs for public broadcast, a contention we believe to be untrue, demand is hereby made that we be furnished with documentation of such licenses,” he says.

By contrast, a spokesperson for YouTube told THR, “We’ve done deals with labels, publishers, collection societies, and more to bring artists’ music into YouTube Music Key. To achieve our goal of enabling this service’s features on all the music on YouTube, we’ll keep working with both the music community and with the music fans invited to our beta phase.” 

Music Key Could Thwart Apple’s Move

To Reduce Monthly Subscription Fee

 

     It’s no secret that Apple has been engaged in heated discussions with the major record labels to lower the price of on-demand music to $5 per month from the standard $9.99 currently charged by such subscription services as Spotify, Rhapsody, Google, Rdio, and its own Beats Music. According to Forbes, Apple is telling record labels that $5/month for all-you-can-hear on-demand music is the right price because the best iTunes customers spend about $60 per year on music downloads. The obvious thinking here is that this $60 annual revenue per user (ARPU) could be the best record companies can hope to get from those consumers who still actually pay for music.

This may be a convenient talking point for Apple’s negotiators, but – as Forbes points out – two important factors strongly counter that argument. First, for all the talk about monthly subscription fees (and Taylor Swift, below), the vast majority of users of on-demand music services don’t pay for them at all. Second, in 2011 Google introduced

a technology called Content ID that enables copyright owners to make money, if they choose, when users upload content to YouTube. The system detects users’ uploads of copyrighted works and gives copyright owners several options, including to block the uploads or monetize them through ad revenue sharing. By 2011, the major labels had opted to allow many user uploads of their content for monetization, and they also supply their own “official” music videos.

As a result, YouTube is a de facto on-demand music service and, as noted by Forbes, possibly is the biggest one in the game. Market research from Edison Research and Triton Digital suggests that, strictly as a music service, YouTube has about four times the U.S. user base of Spotify, Rhapsody, and Google Play Music All Access combined. No one pays for YouTube, although some may pay for its Music Key service, which will hit that same $10 monthly price point when it comes out of beta. 

Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta: Spotify

Paid Less Than $500,000 To TS Last Year

 

     The verbal fisticuffs between Spotify and Taylor Swift have not let up, with the streaming music service’s Daniel Ek insisting the pop music icon was on track to earn over $6 million in royalties this year. This claim came after a Spotify spokesperson said Swift had been paid a total of $2 million over the last 12 months for the global streaming of her songs. But Scott Borchetta (above left), CEO of Swift’s label Big Machine Records, says that’s nowhere near the truth, maintaining Swift earned less than $500,000 from Spotify streams over the last 12 months.

“The facts show that the music industry was much better off before Spotify hit these shores,” Borchetta told The New York Times. Noting that the amount Spotify paid out over the last year was “the equivalent of less than 50,000 albums sold, he said Swift actually earns more from her videos on Vevo than she did from having her music on Spotify.

While half a million dollars will cause few people to weep, it should be noted that Swift’s most recent album, 1989, became the first this year to sell more than a million copies in a week – a feat only equaled by 18 albums in history. Unlike most performers, she can make millions of dollars from traditional album sales, but by keeping her music away from Spotify even as it begs for her to come back, she and Borchetta say they’re trying to make the larger point that the service doesn’t pay its artists a reasonable fee. “[Taylor Swift] is the most successful artist in music today,” Borchetta says. “What about the rest of the artists out there struggling to make a career?” 

Sony Music Wary Of Ad-Supported

Streaming After Taylor Swift Move

 

     Taylor Swift’s claim that subscription streaming services hurt music sales has caused Sony Music to reconsider its own digital music plans. PC World reports that, during a recent company briefing, Sony Music CFO Kevin Kelleher questioned whether or not the free, ad-supported services are taking away from how quickly, and to what extent, the company can grow those paid services. “That’s something we’re paying attention to… It’s an area that’s gotten everyone’s attention,” he observed.

This is important because, as CD sales and digital music downloads continue to shrink, streaming services offer a potential ray of sunshine for the recorded music industry. Such companies as Pandora and Spotify routinely lose money due to a combination of high royalty fees and low revenue, an imbalance that appears to be due to poor ROI on ad-supported tiers and not enough premium subscribers to sustain a business model.

While Sony says the move by Taylor Swift (not a Sony artist) to pull her music from Spotify made the company sit up and take notice, it isn’t enough to make anyone want to change the dynamics of the digital music business. In fact, Sony says it’s “very encouraged with the pay streaming model.” Approximately 27 million people worldwide pay for streaming subscriptions, Sony says, and the company is focused on helping that number grow.

 

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2014

US Defense Department organizing covert operations against “the general public”

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By Thomas Gaist
19 November 2014

The US Defense Department (DOD) is developing domestic espionage and covert operations targeting “the general public” in coordination with the intelligence establishment and police agencies, according to a New York Times report.

“The Times analysis showed that the military and its investigative agencies have almost as many undercover agents working inside the United States as does the F.B.I,” the newspaper wrote.

“While most of them are involved in internal policing of service members and defense contractors, a growing number are focused, in part, on the general public as part of joint federal task forces that combine military, intelligence and law enforcement specialists,” the Times continued.

The report amounts to an acknowledgment by the leading media organ of the US ruling class that the American government is deploying a vast, forward-deployed counter-insurgency machine to target the US population at large.

Coming directly from the horse’s mouth, the Times report makes clear that espionage, deception, and covert operations are now primary instruments of the US government’s domestic policy. In preparation for a massive upsurge in the class struggle, the US ruling class is mobilizing the entire federal bureaucracy to carry out systematic and targeted political repression against the working class in the US and around the world.

These moves are in keeping with the latest US Army “Operating Concept” strategy document, published in October, which calls for “Army forces to extend efforts beyond the physical battleground to other contested spaces such as public perception, political subversion, and criminality.”

In addition to the DOD, at least 39 other federal security and civilian agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), have developed increasingly ambitious forms of covert operations involving the use of undercover agents, which now inhabit “virtually every corner of the federal government,” according to unnamed government officials and documents cited by the New York Times.

New training programs to prepare agents to conduct Internet-based undercover sting operations have been developed by the DOD, Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI, according to the report.

DHS alone spends at least $100 million per year on the development of undercover operations, an unnamed DHS intelligence official told the Times. Total costs for operations involving undercover government agents likely total at least several hundred millions of dollars per year, the Times reported.

The US Supreme Court trains its own security force in “undercover tactics,” which officers use to infiltrate and spy on demonstrators outside the high court’s facilities, the Times reported.

IRS agents frequently pose as professionals, including as medical doctors, in order to gain access to privileged information, according to a former agent cited by the report. IRS internal regulations cited in the report state that “an undercover employee or cooperating private individual may pose as an attorney, physician, clergyman or member of the news media.”

Teams of undercover agents deployed by the IRS operate in the US and internationally in a variety of guises, including as drug money launderers and expensive luxury goods buyers.

The Department of Agriculture (DOA) employs at least 100 of its own covert agents, who often pretend to be food stamp users while investigating “suspicious vendors and fraud,” according to the Times .

Covert agents employed by the Department of Education (DOE) have embedded themselves in federally funded education programs, unnamed sources cited by the report say.

Numerous other federal bureaucracies are running their own in-house espionage programs, including the Smithsonian, the Small Business Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the report stated.

This sprawling apparatus of spying, disruption and manipulation implicates the state in a mind-boggling range of criminal and destructive activities. Covert operations using undercover agents are conducted entirely in secret, and are funded from secret budgets and slush funds that are replenished through the “churning” of funds seized during previous operations back into the agencies’ coffers to fund the further expansion of secret programs.

Secret operations orchestrated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) on this basis are increasingly indistinguishable from those of organized crime syndicates, and give a foretaste of what can be expected from the ongoing deployment of counter-revolutionary undercover agents by the military-intelligence apparatus throughout the US.

In 2010, the ATF launched a series of covert operations that used state-run front businesses to seize weapons, drugs, and cash, partly by manipulating mentally disabled and drug addicted individuals, many of them teenagers, according to investigations by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

While posing as owners of pawnshops and drug paraphernalia retail outlets, ATF agents induced cash-desperate and psychologically vulnerable individuals to carry out illegal activities including the purchase and sale of stolen weapons and banned substances.

A number of the ATF-run fake stores exposed by the Sentinel were run in “drug free” and “safe” zones near churches and schools. Youths were encouraged to smoke marijuana and play video games at these locations by ATF agents. In one instance reported by the Sentinel, a female agent wore revealing attire and flirted with teenage targets while inciting them to acquire weapons and illegal substances to sell to an ATF-run front business, the Sentinel found.

The ATF was notorious for its operations in the 1980s where it used agents provocateurs to frame up and jail militant workers involved in industrial strikes. In one infamous case in Milburn, West Virginia an ATF informer was exposed after he tried unsuccessfully to convince striking coal miners to blow up an abandoned processing facility.

The US government has steadily escalated its domestic clandestine operations in the years since the September 11, 2001, attacks. The New York Police Department (NYPD) intelligence section deployed hundreds of covert agents throughout New York City, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

As part of operations coordinated with the CIA and spanning more than a decade, the NYPD paid informants to spy on and “bait” Muslim residents into manufactured terror plots. The security and intelligence agencies refer to this method as “create and capture,” according to a former NYPD asset cited by the Associated Press.

It is now obvious these surveillance and infiltration programs, initially focusing on Muslim neighborhoods, were only the first stage in the implementation of a comprehensive espionage and counter-insurgency system targeting the entire population.

Large numbers of informers and FBI agents infiltrated the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011.

Historically, secret police groups targeted the political and class enemies of the capitalist state using the pretext of defending the nation from dangerous “foreign” elements.

Among the first covert police sections established by the imperialist powers were the British “Special Branch,” originally established as the “Special Irish Branch” in 1883 to target groups opposed to British domination of Ireland. “Special Branch” police intelligence forces were subsequently set up throughout the commonwealth to run cloak-and-dagger missions in service of British imperialism.

Similarly, in an early effort by the US ruling class to develop a secret police force, New York City police commissioner established “Italian Squad” in 1906 to carry out undercover activities against socialist-minded workers in the city’s immigrant and working class areas.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/19/unde-n19.html

Russia and China Are Teaming Up as the World’s New Power Elite

 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/1/12/APEC_Logo.svg/1280px-APEC_Logo.svg.png

If there were any remaining doubts about the unlimited stupidity Western corporate media is capable of dishing out, the highlight of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing has been defined as Russian President Vladimir Putin supposedly “hitting” on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s wife – and the subsequent Chinese censoring of the moment when Putin draped a shawl over her shoulders in the cold air where the leaders were assembled. What next? Putin and Xi denounced as a gay couple?Let’s dump the clowns and get down to the serious business. Right at the start, President Xi urged APEC to “add firewood to the fire of the Asia-Pacific and world economy”. Two days later, China got what it wanted on all fronts.

1) Beijing had all 21 APEC member-nations endorsing the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) – the Chinese vision of an “all inclusive, all-win” trade deal capable of advancing Asia-Pacific cooperation – see South China Morning Post (paywall). The loser was the US-driven, corporate-redacted, fiercely opposed (especially by Japan and Malaysia) 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). [See also here].

2) Beijing advanced its blueprint for “all-round connectivity” (in Xi’s words) across Asia-Pacific – which implies a multi-pronged strategy. One of its key features is the implementation of the Beijing-based US$50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. That’s China’s response to Washington refusing to give it a more representative voice at the International Monetary Fund than the current, paltry 3.8% of votes (a smaller percentage than the 4.5% held by stagnated France).

3) Beijing and Moscow committed to a second gas mega-deal – this one through the Altai pipeline in Western Siberia – after the initial “Power of Siberia” mega-deal clinched last May.

4) Beijing announced the funneling of no less than US$40 billion to start building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

Predictably, once again, this vertiginous flurry of deals and investment had to converge towards the most spectacular, ambitious, wide-ranging plurinational infrastructure offensive ever attempted: the multiple New Silk Roads – that complex network of high-speed rail, pipelines, ports, fiber optic cables and state of the art telecom that China is already building across the Central Asian stans, linked to Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Indian Ocean, and branching out to Europe all the way to Venice, Rotterdam, Duisburg and Berlin.Now imagine the paralyzed terror of the Washington/Wall Street elites as they stare at Beijing interlinking Xi’s “Asia-Pacific Dream” way beyond East Asia towards all-out, pan-Eurasia trade – with the center being, what else, the Middle Kingdom; a near future Eurasia as a massive Chinese Silk Belt with, in selected latitudes, a sort of development condominium with Russia.Vlad doesn’t do stupid stuff

As for “Don Juan” Putin, everything one needs to know about Asia-Pacific as a Russian strategic/economic priority was distilled in his intervention at the APEC CEO summit.

This was in fact an economic update of his by now notorious speech at the Valdai Club meeting in Sochi in October, followed by a wide-ranging Q&A, which was also duly ignored by Western corporate media (or spun as yet more “aggression”).The Kremlin has conclusively established that Washington/Wall Street elites have absolutely no intention of allowing a minimum of multipolarity in international relations. What’s left is chaos.

There’s no question that Moscow pivoting away from the West and towards East Asia is a process directly influenced by President Barack Obama’s self-described “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” foreign policy doctrine, a formula he came up with aboard Air Force One when coming back last April from a trip to – where else – Asia.

But the Russia-China symbiosis/strategic partnership is developing in multiple levels.

On energy, Russia is turning east because that’s where top demand is. On finance, Moscow ended the pegging of the rouble to the US dollar and euro; not surprisingly the US dollar instantly – if only briefly – dropped against the rouble. Russian bank VTB announced it may leave the London Stock Exchange for Shanghai’s – which is about to become directly linked to Hong Kong. And Hong Kong, for its part, is already  attracting Russian energy giants.

Now mix all these key developments with the massive yuan-rouble energy double deal, and the picture is clear; Russia is actively protecting itself from speculative/politically motivated Western attacks against its currency.

The Russia-China symbiosis/strategic partnership visibly expands on energy, finance and, also inevitably, on the military technology front. That includes, crucially, Moscow selling Beijing the S-400 air defense system and, in the future, the S-500 – against which the Americans are sitting ducks; and this while Beijing develops surface-to-ship missiles that can take out everything the US Navy can muster.

Anyway, at APEC, Xi and Obama at least agreed to establish a mutual reporting mechanism on major military operations. That might – and the operative word is “might” – prevent an East Asia replica of relentless NATO-style whining of the “Russia has invaded Ukraine!” kind.

Freak out, neo-cons

When Little Dubya Bush came to power in early 2001, the neo-cons were faced with a stark fact: it was just a matter of time before the US would irreversibly lose its global geopolitical and economic hegemony. So there were only two choices; either manage the decline, or bet the whole farm to consolidate global hegemony using – what else – war.We all know about the wishful thinking enveloping the “low-cost” war on Iraq – from Paul Wolfowitz’s “We are the new OPEC” to the fantasy of Washington being able to decisively intimidate all potential challengers, the EU, Russia and China.And we all know how it went spectacularly wrong. Even as that trillionaire adventure, as Minqi Li analyzed in The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy, “has squandered US imperialism’s remaining space for strategic maneuver”, the humanitarian imperialists of the Obama administration still have not given up, refusing to admit the US has lost any ability to provide any meaningful solution to the current, as Immanuel Wallerstein would define it, world-system.

There are sporadic signs of intelligent geopolitical life in US academia, such as this at the Wilson Center website (although Russia and China are not a “challenge” to a supposed world “order”: their partnership is actually geared to create some order among the chaos.)

And yet this opinion piece at USNews is the kind of stuff passing for academic “analysis” in US media.

On top of it, Washington/Wall Street elites – through their myopic Think Tankland – still cling to mythical platitudes such as the “historical” US role as arbiter of modern Asia and key balancer of power.

So no wonder public opinion in the US – and Western Europe – cannot even imagine the earth-shattering impact the New Silk Roads will have in the geopolitics of the young 21st century.

Washington/Wall Street elites – talk about Cold War hubris – always took for granted that Beijing and Moscow would be totally apart. Now puzzlement prevails. Note how the Obama administration’s “pivoting to Asia” has been completely erased from the narrative – after Beijing identified it for what it is: a warlike provocation. The new meme is “rebalance”.

German businesses, for their part, are absolutely going bonkers with Xi’s New Silk Roads uniting Beijing to Berlin – crucially via Moscow. German politicians sooner rather than later will have to get the message.

All this will be discussed behind closed doors this weekend at key meetings on the sidelines of the Group of 20 in Australia. The Russia-China-Germany alliance-in-the-making will be there. The BRICS, crisis or no crisis, will be there. All the players in the G-20 actively working for a multipolar world will be there.

APEC once again has shown that the more geopolitics change, the more it won’t stay the same; as the exceptional dogs of war, inequality and divide and rule keep barking, the China-Russia pan-Eurasian caravan will keep going, going, going – further on down the (multipolar) road.

This essay originally appeared on Asia Times.

 

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His latest book is “Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).” He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

http://www.alternet.org/world/russia-and-china-are-teaming-worlds-new-power-elite?akid=12476.265072.cENggk&rd=1&src=newsletter1027278&t=27

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