NSA chief calls for more “permeable” barrier between state and tech corporations

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By Thomas Gaist
31 October 2014

In two speeches this month, US National Security Agency (NSA) Director Admiral Mike Rogers called for a further integration between the NSA and major technology and communications companies.

Speaking to more than 500 corporate, military and academic leaders at the Cyber Education Summit at Georgia Regents University earlier this month, Rogers argued that the needs of cybersecurity are rendering obsolete traditional distinctions between the private sector, the civilian government and the military-intelligence apparatus.

“Traditionally, in our structure as a nation, we have tried to very strongly differentiate between what is a private sector function, what is a governmental function and what is a function that really falls under national security. I would argue cyber crosses all three of those lines,” Rogers said.

In line with the demand advanced in his inaugural address as NSA head for a more “permeable membrane” between the national security agencies and private corporations, Rogers went on to call for effective merging of US government cyber systems with those of major corporations, allowing for direct, continuous communication between corporate databases and the NSA.

“In the end what we have got to get to, I believe, is real-time automated machine-to-machine interface,” Rogers said.

These remarks come as America’s top surveillance agency is experiencing a succession of media exposures of for-profit ventures by top officials of a legally dubious character.

Last week, the NSA announced that the agency’s top official for signals intelligence (SIGINT), Teresa Shea, will leave the agency after reports that she was running a side business specializing in electronic intelligence, Telic Networks. Shea’s husband also works for a major SIGINT contractor called DRS Signals Solutions.

Shea’s departure follows revelations that the NSA’s Chief Technical Officer Patrick Dowd has been working at least 20 hours per week for ex-NSA director General Keith Alexander’s own private cybersecurity venture, IronNet Cybersecurity. IronNet has already taken in millions in revenues by offering services based on technology patented by General Alexander during his tenure at NSA.

In addition to his own business activities, disclosure documents from early October show that Alexander made substantial investments in a number of tech companies while serving as NSA director. Because their operations focused on information security, the companies that received investment funds from Alexander stood to benefit from the NSA head’s hyping of the threat of cyberwarfare and terrorist attacks against US targets in the wake of the Snowden leaks, stoking accusations of conflict of interest against Alexander.

In a speech delivered Tuesday at the Third Annual Cybersecurity Summit at the US Chamber of Commerce, however, Rogers defended the private sector initiatives by NSA personnel, saying that the agency required continuous exchange of personnel and “flow of partnerships and information back and forth” with private tech firms.

“We’ve got to create a world where people from NSA can leave us for a while and go work in the private sector. And I would also like to create a world where the private sector can come spend a little time with us,” Rogers said.

The systematic transfer of data and technology between the US government and corporations—and between government agencies themselves, both within the US and internationally—is becoming ever more streamlined.

The NSA leadership, moreover, has already infiltrated undercover agents into tech companies worldwide, as recent leaked documents furnished by Edward Snowden have shown, and has developed secret contracts with major communications providers to insure cooperation with the US government’s data trawling programs (See: “Leaked documents expose secret contracts between NSA and tech companies”).

The NSA is also making its vast electronic warehouses of personal data assessable to the intelligence agencies of other imperialist powers. Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) receives transfers of “unlimited bulk intelligence” from the NSA without any warranting process, according to a report published Wednesday by UK-based human rights group Liberty.

“British intelligence agencies can trawl through foreign intelligence material without meaningful restrictions and can keep such material, which includes both communications content and metadata, for up to two years,” the report states.

The drive of the NSA to implement total information sharing between the state and corporations reflects the unwillingness of the military-intelligence establishment to tolerate any obstacles, real or imaginary, to its ability to spy on the entire population at will. For the ruling elite, it is not sufficient to have secret contracts with the corporations and a panoply of surveillance programs mining their data.

On top of all of this, plans are now clearly afoot to implement automatic bulk data sharing between the corporations and the government, in direct violation of the US Constitution and international law.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/31/nsas-o31.html

Obama uses Ebola doctors as campaign prop

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By Patrick Martin
30 October 2014

President Obama appeared Wednesday with a group of doctors and other healthcare volunteers just returned from working in the Ebola zone of West Africa, in a cynical effort to put a caring face on the aggressive militarism of his administration.

The White House event was blatantly stage-managed, only five days before the US congressional elections, to allow Obama to posture as an advocate of humanitarian intervention overseas, while taunting his political rivals in the Republican Party, who he suggested were “hiding under the covers” in the Ebola crisis.

There was a striking contrast between Obama’s strident American nationalism and the humane and modest posture of the man who introduced him at the event, Dr. Kent Brantly, the medical missionary who contracted Ebola in Liberia but survived because he was transported back to the US and treated at Emory University hospital.

Dr. Brantly made reference to the desperate need for more medical personnel in West Africa, then declared, “At this time, perhaps more than any other, we feel the impact of our position as citizens of not only the United States of America, but as citizens of the world. We must strive together for the good of all mankind to put an end to this disease.”

Obama, however, spoke not as a “citizen of the world” but as the commander-in-chief of American imperialism, waving the flag and declaring his belief in “American exceptionalism” and “American leadership.”

“The medical professionals and public health workers serving in Africa are a shining example of what America means to the world, of what is possible when America leads,” he said.

Actually, in terms of deploying medical personnel, Cuba and not America is the leader, both in the world and in West Africa. One third of all foreign medical professionals in the Ebola zone come from that small island, with 11 million people, one-thirtieth the population of the United States.

While 165 Cuban health care workers are currently in the Ebola zone — the first batch of a planned deployment of 461— Washington has deployed a total of 65 health officials to Liberia.

Obama referred to the visit of his UN ambassador, Samantha Power, to the Ebola zone, where she toured Ebola treatment facilities being built by US soldiers sent to Liberia last month at his orders. This deployment has far more to do with imperialist geo-politics than humanitarianism,

The immediate goal of the Liberia deployment is the Pentagon’s quest for a permanent location for the headquarters of its Africa Command (AFRICOM), which has been stranded in Germany since its formation because no African country would host it. Now that US troops have been introduced into Liberia in a “humanitarian” guise, Washington calculates that its political puppet, Liberia President Ellen Sirleaf, will extend an invitation for an indefinite stay.

West Africa and the offshore Gulf of Guinea is increasingly important to the United States, Britain and France as a source of oil, and the disease-fighting actions of the imperialist powers and former colonial masters are thus happily conjoined with more profitable concerns.

Besides promoting the national interests of American corporations and banks, Obama seized on the occasion to gain leverage on his political rivals. Republican candidates for the US Senate and Republican governors have added criticism of the administration’s handling of the Ebola crisis to their political campaigning for the November 4 election.

Over the last several days, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, has deliberately postured as “tougher” on Ebola than the Obama administration, criticizing the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control on monitoring health care workers returning from the Ebola zone in West Africa.

Last Friday, Christie and his Democratic counterpart in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, announced a full-scale 21-day quarantine on all returning health workers, despite the unanimous consensus among public health experts that such a measure is unnecessary and even counter-productive, since it will discourage health care volunteers to go to West Africa, thus increasing the danger of a global Ebola outbreak.

For several days, representatives of the medical community have fought back publicly against Christie’s bullying, with a joint statement condemning the quarantine issued by the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, and an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine. The Journal said the quarantine “is not scientifically based, is unfair and unwise, and will impede essential efforts to stop these awful outbreaks of Ebola disease at their source, which is the only satisfactory goal.”

The media has put a sympathetic spotlight on Kaci Hickox, the Ebola nurse who was the first victim of the New Jersey quarantine, and who was allowed to travel to her home in Maine on Monday. In that state, another reactionary blowhard Republican governor, Paul LePage, ordered Hickox confined to a home quarantine and stationed state troopers outside the house in Ft. Kent, Maine to enforce it.

On Wednesday Hickox spoke out on the NBC “Today” program, denouncing the quarantine as “not scientifically nor constitutionally just.” She said she would adhere to the guidelines set by the CDC, for twice-daily temperature readings and daily in-person monitoring by a CDC representative, but she would not accept home confinement through November 10, as ordered by the governor.

“If these restrictions are not removed for me by tomorrow morning, Thursday morning, I will go to court to fight for my freedom,” she said. “I am not going to sit around and be bullied by politicians and forced to stay in my home when I am not a risk to the American public.”

Obama sought to associate himself with the medical consensus and the courageous stance taken by Hickox, without, as usual, actually taking a stand. He made no mention of either Hickox or Christie, only declaring that neither a travel ban nor a quarantine could stop Ebola in a world of easy global travel.

He then tacitly accused Christie and those like him of insufficient aggressiveness in maintaining the world position of American imperialism. “When I hear people talking about American leadership, and then promoting policies that would avoid leadership and have us running in the opposite direction, hiding under the covers, it makes me a little frustrated,” he said.

“It is how we help others around the world that is important. It is not just massive numbers of troops and equipment — deployments of troops and equipment, as proud as we are of that.”

There is not a shred of genuine concern for the health of the American people or that of the people of West Africa in the political posturing by Obama and the Republicans. Both big business parties have facilitated the Ebola crisis through cuts in public health funding in the United States, through support for the giant drug companies that have refused for decades to develop an Ebola vaccine because it wasn’t profitable, and through support for the continued imperialist oppression of the impoverished masses of West Africa.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/30/ebol-o30.html

DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

Record Label Coalition Asks Appeals

Court To Uphold Verdict Against Vimeo

 

Gavel      Emboldened by last month’s ruling that SiriusXM was financially liable for playing music recorded prior to 1972, a coalition of record labels now is asking the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a ruling issued earlier this year by U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Abrams in New York. In that decision Judge Abrams said online music service Vimeo was ineligible for the Digital Millennium Copyright Harbor Act’s safe harbor protections for any user-uploaded clips with pre-1972 music. As reported by MediaPost, the labels this week filed papers asking the 2nd Circuit to uphold Abrams’ ruling, arguing that the “plain language” of the Copyright Act supports the idea that Congress intended for pre-1972 music to be treated differently from music recorded after that date.

Vimeo is appealing Abrams’ ruling, arguing that it has no practical way to distinguish pre-1972 recordings from newer ones. Moreover, the company says the Digital Millennium Copyright Act contains safe harbor provisions that give online companies immunity from infringement liability for material uploaded by users, as long as the companies meet certain requirements – including that they remove infringing material upon request of the copyright owner. However, the Copyright Act of 1976 – which overhauled U.S. copyright law – says it doesn’t annul any “common law” rights that existed before Feb. 15, 1972. Thus, the labels insist the provision preserving pre-1972 common-law rights means that the DMCA’s safe harbors don’t apply to older music.

Different judges have reached different conclusions about this issue, and a number of Silicon Valley companies, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter, have supported Vimeo in the dispute. Additionally, digital rights groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation have filed papers supporting Vimeo. In a friend-of-the-court brief, the EFF said treating pre-1972 and post-1972 music differently would “create an impossible burden for service providers and would stifle innovation.” 

Apple Says iTunes Store Revenue

Grew, But Overall Music Sales Dropped

 

Increase and Decrease      In an 88-page annual report filed Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Apple Inc. revealed the iTunes Store overall took in more revenue in its 2014 fiscal year – which ended September 27 – than it did last year, despite the fact that music sales have fallen. “The iTunes Store generated a total of $10.2 billion in net sales during 2014 compared to $9.3 billion during 2013,” Apple said. “Growth in net sales from the iTunes Store was driven by increases in revenue from app sales, reflecting continued growth in the installed base of iOS devices and the expanded offerings of iOS Apps and related in-App purchases. This was partially offset by a decline in sales of digital music.”

As noted by CNET, Apple didn’t give specifics on how much digital music sales have declined, but the Wall Street Journal last week cited “people familiar with the matter” who said such sales have skidded 13% to 14% since January 1. In a statement that seems to support this estimate, Apple said, “The company’s digital content services have faced significant competition from other companies promoting their own digital music and content products and services, including those offering free peer-to-peer music and video services.” The Journal pinned the blame on growing competition from cheap music sources, such as free videos and $10-per-month unlimited music subscription plans.

A drop in digital music sales is having an impact on global music sales, as listeners to streaming services are buying fewer digital albums and tracks. Apple took steps earlier this year to counteract this shift by acquiring Beats Music, which the company hopes will help it regain prominence as the #1source for digital music. Rebranding the Beats service and integrating it with iTunes should help do this. 

Music Fans Will Come Back To

Apple For These 3 Reasons

 

Apple      Apple is in danger of losing its music industry dominance. That’s the hypothesis of the analysts at Tech Cheat Sheet, which this week reiterated that the digital music downloads market has been in a steady decline over the past year, as more consumers shift from buying digital music files to subscribing to streaming music services. Citing and Nielsen’s and Billboard‘s 2014 Mid-Year Music Industry Report, they noted that individual digital track sales and digital album sales fell by 13% and 11.6%, respectively, in the first six months of 2014 vs. the same period last year. At the same time, on-demand audio streaming grew by 50.1%.

Although Apple has been able to buck trends in the wider smartphone and PC markets, a recent report from The Wall Street Journal suggested the company has not been as fortunate in the digital music download market. Still, the company is not about to surrender its dominance of the retail music market without a fight, and the Cheat Sheet gurus offer three steps Apple is taking to regain its prominence in the digital music universe:

  1. Integrating Beats Music into iTunes: It appears Apple has plans to fully integrate the music streaming service into its iTunes Radio service; rebranding the newly acquired subscription-based music streaming platform with the iTunes label may help the company garner more users who are familiar with Apple’s iconic brand.
  2. Undercutting the competition. Apple is pushing record labels to give it a discount rate that would allow it to offer Beats Music subscriptions for only $5 per month, instead of the $10 per month standard charged by most other competitors.
  3. Apple may be introducing a new digital music format. There are numerous indications that Apple is working on a digital music format that, according to U2 frontman Bono, “will prove so irresistibly exciting to music fans that it will tempt them again into buying music – whole albums as well as individual tracks.

New Tidal Streaming Platform To Compete

Against Spotify With “Lossless” Digital Music

 

Mobile increase      In a gamble (of sorts) that pits quality against quantity, a new streaming music service known as Tidal launched in the U.S. and U.K. this week in an effort to compete directly with such online platforms as Spotify, Deezer, and Beats Music. Developed by Scandinavian technology company Aspiro, Tidal’s monthly subscription is twice the price of most of those rivals – $19.99 vs. $9.99 – with the firm hoping that its promise of “hifi-quality” music induces music fans to pay the extra cost. The service will stream tracks at “lossless” quality – FLAC/ALAC 44.1kHz / 16 bit files at 1411 kbps, to be specific – with distribution partnerships already signed with a range of hi-fi manufacturers that include Sonos, Denon, and Harman.

As reported by The Guardian, Tidal is betting on more than just high-quality audio. It has 25 million individual tracks in its library, as well as 75,000 music videos and a team of editors writing features and interviews about established and emerging artists. “The music is just one part of the service,” Andy Chen, Tidal’s chief executive, said in a statement. “The expert editorial educates, entertains, and enriches the music experience while the music videos complement the music perfectly. We are sure that Tidal will quickly become the music streaming service of choice for all who appreciate high quality at every level.”

Unlike other subscription-based services, Tidal is not offering a separate “introductory” version supported by advertising. Parent company Aspiro has signed licensing deals with all three major labels, as well as independent labels and collection societies in the U.S. and U.K. According to company information, Tidal’s roots lie in WiMP, the Aspiro-owned service that is a rival to Spotify in Scandinavia, and which has its own double-price WiMP HiFi tier offering lossless-quality streams. At the end of June 2014, WiMP had 580,000 paying users, including 17,000 signed up to its HiFi version. 

Motley Fool: With Audio Cards Twitter

May Have “Done Music Right”

 

Twitter Music     It’s been a tough week so far for Twitter, which reported on Monday that its usage numbers stalled in the third quarter, and the number of new users has slowed dramatically. This news didn’t keep the Motley Fool from noting that the social media giant finally may have gotten its music platform moving in the right direction, following last year’s #Music debacle that shut down less than 12 months later.

As the Fool reported, Twitter is giving music a second chance with its rollout of Audio Cards, which were developed to fix the numerous problems users had with #Music. Audio Cards offer a simple solution for users to share music simply by pressing a play button. Not only can they launch a song in a new window, but they can “dock” it so they can continue browsing their timeline. To do this, Twitter enlisted the help of Soundcloud, which is highly popular with social media users and has been an acquisition target in the past. With a new round of debt funding, Twitter may make another go at Soundcloud soon, Motley Fool says.

Twitter also is partnering with Apple, allowing any song on iTunes to stream through Twitter, ad giving users the choice to easily purchase downloads through their timeline with just a few taps. Apple was quick to join up with Audio Cards as a way to help boost activity in its iTunes store, and the company is hoping its early adoption helps spur digital music sales. 

New Microsoft “Music Deals” App Offers

Select Albums At Heavy Discounts

 

Music Business      Windows Phone, PC, and tablet users can look forward to scoring some new music on the cheap as Microsoft has unveiled an app that offers albums for as little as $0.99. Silicon Republic reports the Microsoft Music Deals app allows 101 albums to be downloaded every Tuesday, with newer records available for $0.99 and older LPs costing $1.99. For instance, some of the albums available for next to nothing this week are Slipknot’s latest album .5: The Gray Chapter, Maroon 5’s V, Prince’s Purple Rain, and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors.

     Once an album is purchased via the app it’s added to a user’s Xbox Music account, where it can be downloaded for listening. The app is only available within the U.S., with no announced plans for a worldwide rollout.

The news follows recent reports of Apple re-branding its Beats Music platform and integrating it with iTunes Radio, with new licensing arrangements that allow it to undercut the competition. (See story, above.) If this is the case and Apple is able to lower the cost of music streaming (and/or downloads), it would seem the two tech giants might become engaged in a digital music price war.

 

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2014

 

After the US election, an escalation of the Mideast war

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29 October 2014

Last week, the Pentagon announced the death of a 19-year-old Marine, the first fatality among the estimated 1,900 US troops currently deployed in the new US war in the Middle East. This will undoubtedly be only the first of many American casualties in this war, a death toll that will be multiplied many times over for the Iraqi and Syrian men, women and children who will lose their lives in this latest imperialist intervention.

Less than one week before the midterm elections in the US, it is becoming ever more clear that, whatever the results in terms of the breakdown of Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Obama administration will embark on a major escalation of military operations once the voting is done.

Already there is a mounting drumbeat from within Washington’s vast military and intelligence apparatus—and those in politics and the media who voice its demands—for stepped-up bombing and more US “boots on the ground” in both Iraq and Syria.

This campaign for military escalation was summed up in a lead editorial published in Monday’s Washington Post entitled “Mr. Obama’s half-hearted fight against the Islamic State.” The editorial asserts that “an unlikely consensus is emerging across the ideological spectrum” in Washington that the Obama administration’s current strategy in the war on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is “unworkable,” and that “the military means the president has authorized cannot accomplish his announced aims.”

The editorial criticizes the “modest tempo of airstrikes” as well as “the absence of ground trainers and special forces who could accompany Iraqi and Syrian forces.” It cites an unnamed senior Pentagon official as stating that the aim of fielding a new mercenary army of “rebels” in Syria is impossible “if you’re not on the ground to advise and assist them.”

“The United States will have to broaden its aims and increase its military commitment if the terrorists are to be defeated,” the editorial concludes. This means “a strategy to counter the Assad regime” and deploying special operations troops in combat together with Iraqi and Syrian proxy forces.

The editorial follows a report in the Post last week that US and Iraqi officials recently discussed increasing the number of US military “advisers” in Iraq, and that deploying them “in the field with the Iraqis” is under consideration, given the abysmal record of Iraqi security forces collapsing in the face of ISIS advances.

Along similar lines, Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon official and adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has written of US strategy in the Iraq-Syria war “imploding” and dismissed the campaign of air strikes in both countries as “military tokenism.” He insists that “advisers” must be deployed alongside Iraqi troops “as soon as possible,” and that the US must accept “risking combat losses.”

Then there is Lt. Col. John Nagl (ret.), the co-author of the Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual, who states that some 15,000 US “advisers” are needed on the ground, and that the war in Iraq and Syria will have to go on “for at least a generation and probably longer.”

The Vietnam War provides an instructive precedent for the steady escalation in the number of “advisers” deployed in a US overseas intervention. John F. Kennedy deployed several hundred to the country shortly after taking office. By the time he was assassinated in November 1963, they numbered 16,700. Within barely two years, 200,000 US troops had been thrown into the war, and by 1968 the number was well over half a million.

Obviously, there are vast differences between Vietnam, where Washington intervened in an attempt to crush a popular anti-colonial struggle, and Iraq and Syria, where it confronts a crisis entirely of its own making, forged through the destruction of Iraq in nearly nine years of war and the devastation of Syria by the Islamist militias that the US and its allies have armed and supported.

What they have in common, however, is that the existing forces on the ground, the Iraqi army and the so-called Syrian “moderate rebels,” are—like the South Vietnamese Army before them—wholly inadequate (or non-existent) instruments for achieving US aims. Thus, the demand for US “boots on the ground”—plenty of them and in short order.

Once again, the American people are being dragged into a criminal war of aggression based upon lies. While this war is being sold with propaganda about ISIS atrocities against minorities, beheadings, etc., the real objective is the use of military force to assert US hegemony over the strategically vital and oil-rich Middle East.

The aims of this war, which spans national boundaries, involves not only the re-occupation of Iraq, but also the overthrow of the government of Syria and its replacement with a pliant US puppet regime. These war aims, in turn, place US imperialism on a clear trajectory for military confrontation with Iran and Russia, posing the real threat of a Third World War.

Every step has been taken to preclude next week’s midterm elections from providing the slightest possibility for the American people to express their will in relation to the most important political question, that of a war which we are told may last for more than “a generation.”

Just before the bombs began falling in Iraq, the members of the US Congress scurried out of town for a two-month campaign season recess without taking any vote to authorize a war that is both unconstitutional and in violation of international law. Any vote that is taken will be held after the election in a lame-duck session of Congress, thereby assuring that no one will be held politically accountable. In the election campaign itself, the war—like virtually every other social question of vital importance to the masses of working people—is not even an issue.

Nothing could more clearly expose the entirely rotted-out character of the American political system, which is controlled lock, stock and barrel by a financial aristocracy, and in which decisions on imperialist war abroad and repression at home are made by an unelected cabal of military and intelligence officials for whom Obama serves as a mouthpiece.

The corrupt capitalist two-party system offers no means to resist the drive to war. The working class must intervene independently, mobilizing its objective strength in a mass antiwar movement based upon a socialist and internationalist program to put an end to capitalism, which is the source of war.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/29/pers-o29.html

Journalist Matt Richtel’s ‘Deadly Wandering’ tells a harrowing story of technology’s dangers

By Wallace Baine, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Matt Richtel

Matt Richtel

On an early Friday morning in September 2006, a young man named Reggie Shaw climbed into his Chevy Tahoe for his long commute to work in Logan, Utah. Somewhere on a highway east of Logan, with the sky just beginning to lighten, Reggie veered over the yellow line and sideswiped a Saturn coming from the opposite direction. The Saturn spun out and was “T-boned” by a Ford pick-up, killing the two men riding in the Saturn.

From that tragic event comes the story at the center of Matt Richtel’s new book “A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention” (Wm. Morrow).
Reggie Shaw, it was later determined, was texting on his flip phone at the time of the accident, which he initially denied. What followed was the seminal legal case that defined the debate about texting and driving.
Richtel, a reporter at the New York Times, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for his reporting on the risks of distracted driving. In his book, he lays out the narrative of the Shaw case, what happened to Reggie and to the families of the victims, and how the events of that morning led lawmakers to look for a proper legal response to what can be a deadly habit.
At the same time, “Deadly Wandering” probes into the neuroscience of distraction, and the deeply seated neuro-chemical appeal of our ubiquitous hand-held devices.
“I didn’t want to write a book just about texting and driving,” said Richtel, who comes to Bookshop Santa Cruz to discuss his book Nov. 5. “What we’re talking about here goes well beyond what happens in the car. Why are we checking our devices all the time? Why can’t we stand idly in line at the grocery store, or at a stoplight, or with our homework, or with the spouse that sitting right across the table, without feeling that itch to look at our device?”
Chapters on what science is learning about how smart-phone and tablet technology are changing our brains are interspersed within the longer story of Reggie Shaw who later went to jail.
“This is not a screed against technology,” said Richtel of his new book. “It’s a wake-up call to be informed about the power of the neuro-chemical power of these things, in the same way we want to be informed about anything that has lots of power over our lives.”

Research suggests that checking in on your smart phone may release a dose of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that regulates the pleasure centers of the brain. “Ninety-six percent of people say that you shouldn’t text and drive, and yet, 30 percent do it anyway,” said Richtel. “The only other disconnect I can find that is that stark is with cigarettes. Every smoker says it’s bad for you, yet they keep doing it. Why do these devices have such a lure over us.”

Today, Shaw is a crusader against texting while driving. “Deadly Wandering” is an often harrowing chronicle of how Shaw got to the point where he could admit his wrongdoing and atone for causing the death of two fathers and husbands.

“The Reggie story is so compelling because we can connect to him easily,” said Richtel. “The battle that happened after his deadly wreck is a metaphor for our own internal battle about how to pay attention, particularly on the roads.”

This is not, however, a morality tale. Instead of talking about the problem of texting while driving as an issue of responsibility and willpower, Richtel asserts that our powerful and appealing technological devises are changing our behaviors on a neurological level.

“People are getting in their cars every single day, people who are not malicious, who are not bad people, and yet they’re winding up in these deadly wrecks. Driving feels boring a lot of the time. And with every passing moment, we are becoming less tolerant of boredom than we’ve ever been. This thing is constantly beckoning us.”

Matt Richtel

http://www.mercurynews.com/entertainment/ci_26823138/journalist-matt-richtels-deadly-wandering-tells-harrowing-story?source=rss

 

The US elections and the American plutocracy

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27 October 2014

The 2014 midterm elections mark a further development in the disintegration of American democracy. Only eight days from Election Day, the general population evinces little interest in the campaigns or candidates of the two official parties. This is not because working people are satisfied or apathetic. On the contrary, there are many signs of growing concern and anger over ceaseless war overseas and relentless attacks on social conditions and democratic rights at home.

But the election process, more openly than ever, excludes any expression of the concerns or democratic will of the vast majority of the people. The issues that affect the masses—growing poverty and inequality, declining living standards, police violence and repression—are ignored by the two parties and the media. To the extent foreign policy is discussed, both sides indulge in chauvinist and militarist demagogy, seeking to outflank one another from the right.

Behind the mutual mudslinging and attack ads that insult the people’s intelligence, there is agreement on the need for more austerity, more government spying, more tax breaks for the rich, and a militarist agenda that leads inexorably to a Third World War.

It is little wonder, with none of the Democrats or Republicans proposing any policies to address the jobs crisis or the rise in hunger and homelessness, and both parties supporting savage attacks on the working class such as the bankruptcy of Detroit, that November 4 is expected to see a new record low turnout for a midterm election.

According to the most recent polls, hostility to the congressional Democratic Party is at a 20-year high, with only 30 percent approving and 67 percent disapproving. Congressional Republicans are even more unpopular, with just 25 percent of Americans approving, while 72 percent disapprove.

Popular alienation from the political system coincides with the ever more naked domination of both parties and the manipulation of elections by a handful of multi-millionaires and billionaires. A report issued last week by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) projects that the 2014 election will cost nearly $4 billion, a record for a midterm election.

Candidates and the Democratic and Republican parties will raise and spend about $2.7 billion, while outside political action committees, which have mushroomed since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, will spend another $1 billion.

Candidates and campaign committees are spending more than $100 million on the Senate races in Kentucky and North Carolina, and the governor’s race in Florida, and sums only slightly smaller in other close statewide contests, in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Colorado, Massachusetts, Louisiana and other states.

According to a chart published in this week’s Time magazine, spending on US political campaigns has risen 555 percent in the past 30 years, far more than the cost of health care or college education, and nearly four times the increase in household income. The vast sums expended have not won either party any genuine popularity—something that is impossible given their adherence to virtually identical ultra-right programs dictated by the needs of the super-rich.

The Republican Party will likely win a narrow victory on November 4, maintaining its control of the House of Representatives, retaining the majority of state governorships, and winning or narrowly missing a 51-seat majority in the US Senate. This reflects, at least in part, its roughly equivalent lead in the spending race, with the CRP projecting $1.92 billion in pro-Republican campaign fundraising compared to $1.76 billion for the Democrats.

However the two parties divide control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, the financial aristocracy maintains a vise-like grip on all three institutions and on the entire machinery of government.

Last week, the New York Times Magazine published a cover story on the role of billionaires backing rival candidates in the Florida gubernatorial election. This was followed by a report in the daily Times on so-called “dark money,” funds that go unreported to the Federal Election Commission that now comprise half of all outside campaign expenditures.

On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” NBC journalists Chuck Todd and Luke Russert chatted about the “group of modern-day oligarchs” funding the 2014 campaigns.

These conditions make a mockery of claims that the US elections embody genuine democracy. The United States has been transformed into a plutocracy, a country where government of, by and for the wealthy is openly admitted, and in some quarters, celebrated.

American politics is being brought openly into alignment with American economics. American society has divided into two great camps: a handful of the super-rich at the top, with a layer of upper-middle-class hangers-on; and the great mass of working people, struggling from day to day to make ends meet.

Last week, social scientists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman posted an article under the headline “Exploding wealth inequality in the United States.” In documenting the massive growth of social inequality over the past four decades in the US, they noted that the share of total household wealth owned by the top 0.1 percent increased from 7 percent in the late 1970s to 22 percent in 2012.

The colossal class divide between an oligarchic elite and the mass of working people underlies the collapse of democratic processes in the United States—and increasingly around the world. Democratic rights cannot be defended apart from a revolutionary struggle by the working class against the capitalist system, which is the source of inequality as well as imperialist war.

Patrick Martin and Barry Grey

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/27/pers-o27.html

The dangerous American myth of corporate spirituality

How invocations of “karma” and Zen are being used to justify deeply unequal systems of power

The dangerous American myth of corporate spirituality
Steve Jobs, Satya Nadalla (Credit: AP/Paul Sakuma/Brendan McDermid/rnl, Kaveryn Kiryl via Shutterstock/Salon)

Recently, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gave some shocking advice to a young businesswoman who was concerned that her male peers were passing her up for promotions: Don’t question the systemic sexism of corporate America, just trust in “good karma” to get you ahead. While his attitude made waves in the blogosphere, in fact it accurately represents a form of spirituality that is becoming popular in the West.

You know what I’m talking about. When I go to yoga, I’m often surrounded by wealthy white women who can afford expensive classes and Lululemon threads. When I scroll through my Facebook feed, I see exclamations of bourgeois spirituality (“Staying at the Waldorf tonight! #gratitude #blessed #100happydays #livelife”). Moreover, my actor friends seem to use karma and positivity as tools to help them achieve commercial success.

We might call this a belief in spiritual meritocracy. The implicit idea here is that our professional and financial growth depends on our spiritual merit, not on the presence or absence of social structures and biases. We are told that if we are grateful enough, if we put enough happy energy into the universe, then we will be rewarded with material wealth and earthly pleasures. (Think “The Secret.”) We are told that we actually can have it all: a rich spiritual life, leading to a rich material life.

Of course, this is just the new-agey equivalent of the same old meritocracy myth that’s been floating around America since at least the 19th century; that in the land of the free, anyone can become rich if they just work hard enough, if they use the right brand of elbow grease.

Unless you are a rich Republican, decades of widening economic inequality should tell you how faulty this story is. While it is true that most successful people work hard, the meritocracy myth works more to justify an existing social hierarchy than to inspire us to make positive social changes.

So, for the same reason we look suspiciously on Horatio Alger-esque theories of social mobility, we ought to also be skeptical of their spiritual version, which says that underserved groups can get ahead not by standing up to power, but by focusing on love and positivity.



It’s times like these when I am reminded of Slavoj Zizek’s summary dismissal of “Western Buddhism.” Zizek cautions that while meditation may seem to come from an edgy counterculture, in fact Americans practice it in a way that is often consistent with consumerist capitalism:

“… although ‘Western Buddhism’ presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement … One is almost tempted to resuscitate the old infamous Marxist cliché of religion as the ‘opium of the people,’ as the imaginary supplement to terrestrial misery. The ‘Western Buddhist’ meditative stance is arguably the most efficient way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity … ”

In other words, rather than helping yogis become more socially conscious spiritual warriors, Buddhist meditation can get hijacked by the status quo. It only brings us a shallow peace that makes us less likely to question what counts as normal.

For the last seven years I have dedicated myself to a Buddhist meditation practice, and I believe that there is some truth to Zizek’s harsh critique. As I have become more skilled, I have enjoyed moments of sublime bliss. And the more mindfulness I developed, the better I got at daily activities. I got a little better at surfing, playing poker, driving; the truth is, meditation helps me achieve whatever goals I set for myself, whether that’s being kinder to my friends and family, or earning more money.

One problem with a capitalist-inflected Buddhism is that it can lead us to a kind of spiritual cul de sac. I found that my practice was in an uneasy tension with my leftist politics. I found myself attracted to a glamorous Santa Barbara lifestyle that left me feeling unfulfilled and disappointed. I found that it became easy to deal with disturbing images in the news by dismissing the suffering of others as the karmic products of their own poor decisions. (They’re just not being positive enough!)

Yes, I found myself tempted by tales of spiritual meritocracy.

Overall, I am happy that my Facebook friends and yoga moms are finding spiritual enrichment. But I believe that focusing only on the joyful aspects of spirituality can get us into trouble, if we aren’t careful. Every religion can get appropriated by the West’s consumerist ideology, and Buddhism is no exception. When we cultivate gratitude for our material wealth and ignore compassion for those less fortunate, comments like those of Nadella are a natural consequence.

In traditional forms of Buddhism, there are bits and pieces of teachings on karma that capitalism loves to pick up on. Our society emphasizes an interpretation of Eastern spirituality that does not threaten its own internal logic. It’s true, for example, that the Buddha taught that money was a blessing, and that one effect of an ethical way of life would be material prosperity. But it is hard for me to believe the Buddha would say that wealth inequality is solely the result of karmic patterns, and that we should ignore its hidden histories of slavery, colonialism and patriarchy.

The good news is that there may be a spiritual antidote for what Tibetan teacher Trungpa Rinpoche called “spiritual materialism.” And I’m not talking about intermittent bouts of Catholic guilt. I’m suggesting that if we work to complement our gratitude with mercy and compassion for those who are less fortunate, we can move away from the surface-level spirituality that is really just materialism in disguise. And this may be what the world needs more than ever.

There are plenty of opportunities for us to be compassionate. For example, as scientists’ long-term projections of the effects of climate change become more and more dire, somehow American denial of anthropogenic global warming is on the rise. This kind of denial is only possible if it is not met with compassion for those who are already facing the extreme weather of hurricanes like Sandy and Katrina, like the hard-hit women who are struggling to survive after flash floods destroy their communities. Cultivating compassion for those we usually ignore — whether that’s women in the global south who are facing the ugly end of natural disasters, inmates of American prisons, or businesswomen who make 20 percent less than men who do in the same job — is therefore both a spiritual and political imperative.

The point is not that we give up on Western spirituality, as Zizek seems to suggest. The teachings of Eastern religions are becoming more mainstream in America, but this is an opportunity as well as a cautionary tale. As we develop a more conscious lifestyle, let’s ask ourselves if we are deepening our spirituality, or just falling for the myth of spiritual meritocracy. May all beings be free from pain and suffering.

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/26/the_dangerous_american_myth_of_corporate_spirituality/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

 

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