U.S. companies are cozier with the NSA than previously thought

Newly disclosed documents reveal the agency has “under cover” spies working at some corporations

and , ProPublica

U.S. companies are cozier with the NSA than previously thought
This originally appeared on ProPublica.

ProPublica Newly disclosed National Security Agency documents suggest a closer relationship between American companies and the spy agency than has been previously disclosed.

The documents, published last week by The Intercept, describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as the fact that the NSA has “under cover” spies working at or with some U.S. companies.

While not conclusive, the material includes some clear suggestions that at least some American companies are quite willing to help the agency conduct its massive surveillance programs.

The precise role of U.S. companies in the NSA’s global surveillance operations remains unclear. Documents obtained by Edward Snowden and published by various news organizations show that companies have turned over their customers’ email, phone calling records and other data under court orders. But the level of cooperation beyond those court orders has been an open question, with several leading companies, such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, asserting that they only turn over customer information that is “targeted and specific” in response to legal demands.

The documents do not identify any specific companies as collaborating with the NSA. The references are part of an inventory of operations, of which the very “fact that” they exist is classified information. These include the:

 

“SIGINT” in NSA jargon is signals intelligence, the intercepting of data and voice communications. According to the document, “contractual relationships” can mean that U.S. companies deliberately insert “backdoors” or other vulnerabilities that the NSA then uses to access communications. The existence of deals to build these backdoors is secret:



 

The NSA’s efforts to break encryption and establish backdoors were disclosed last year, but left open the possibility that the companies didn’t know about the activities. This new disclosure makes clear that some of those relationships are cooperative.

The documents also describe a program codenamed Whipgenie. Its purpose is to safeguard one of the NSA’s most important secrets, the “relationships” between “U.S. Corporate partners” and the agency division that taps fiber optic cables. It refers to the dealings with U.S. companies as ECI — exceptionally controlled information: It says:

 

The Whipgenie document details one company’s involvement in “domestic wire access collection” – an apparent reference to eavesdropping inside the United States. Under current law, such surveillance is only allowed after the government obtains a court order. But the document said that at least one “Corporate Partner” was involved in a “cooperative effort” to break into U.S. communications. This information, it says, is itself classified and should be closely guarded:

 

The Whipgenie document makes clear that the program being shielded from public view involves data that moves through the United States. (Emails and other information from one foreign address to another frequently hopscotch across international borders as companies use the cheapest routing for traffic.) The document tells NSA officials that they should protect:

 

In 2008, Congress authorized the agency to collect information that traveled through the United States. But the agency is supposed to discard entirely domestic communications that it picks up “incidentally.”

A draft document indicates that the NSA targets U.S. manufacturers of commercial equipment used for communications. The document obliquely refers to covert operations by NSA agents aimed at what is termed “specific commercial entities.” Those companies are identified in the document only by the letters: A, B, and C.

 

Sentry Owl, the program that protects this particular bit of spying, is among the most closely guarded secrets in the intelligence community. Documents describe it as “Exceptionally Controlled Information” that can only be disclosed to “a very few select” people in government.

 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers, who head the congressional intelligence oversight committees, did not respond to requests for comment on whether they had been briefed on the program. Sen. Ron Wyden, an outspoken critic of NSA activities that impact U.S. residents, also declined to comment.

In a statement, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said NSA surveillance is authorized by law and subject to multiple layers of oversight. She added: “It should come as no surprise that NSA conducts targeted operations to counter increasingly agile adversaries.”

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/19/u_s_companies_have_cozier_relationship_with_nsa_than_we_thought_partner/?source=newsletter

Google makes us all dumber

…the neuroscience of search engines

As search engines get better, we become lazier. We’re hooked on easy answers and undervalue asking good questions

Google makes us all dumber: The neuroscience of search engines
(Credit: Ollyy via Shutterstock)

In 1964, Pablo Picasso was asked by an interviewer about the new electronic calculating machines, soon to become known as computers. He replied, “But they are useless. They can only give you answers.”

We live in the age of answers. The ancient library at Alexandria was believed to hold the world’s entire store of knowledge. Today, there is enough information in the world for every person alive to be given three times as much as was held in Alexandria’s entire collection —and nearly all of it is available to anyone with an internet connection.

This library accompanies us everywhere, and Google, chief librarian, fields our inquiries with stunning efficiency. Dinner table disputes are resolved by smartphone; undergraduates stitch together a patchwork of Wikipedia entries into an essay. In a remarkably short period of time, we have become habituated to an endless supply of easy answers. You might even say dependent.

Google is known as a search engine, yet there is barely any searching involved anymore. The gap between a question crystallizing in your mind and an answer appearing at the top of your screen is shrinking all the time. As a consequence, our ability to ask questions is atrophying. Google’s head of search, Amit Singhal, asked if people are getting better at articulating their search queries, sighed and said: “The more accurate the machine gets, the lazier the questions become.”

Google’s strategy for dealing with our slapdash questioning is to make the question superfluous. Singhal is focused on eliminating “every possible friction point between [users], their thoughts and the information they want to find.” Larry Page has talked of a day when a Google search chip is implanted in people’s brains: “When you think about something you don’t really know much about, you will automatically get information.” One day, the gap between question and answer will disappear.

I believe we should strive to keep it open. That gap is where our curiosity lives. We undervalue it at our peril.

The Internet can make us feel omniscient. But it’s the feeling of not knowing which inspires the desire to learn. The psychologist George Loewenstein gave us the simplest and most powerful definition of curiosity, describing it as the response to an “information gap.” When you know just enough to know that you don’t know everything, you experience the itch to know more. Loewenstein pointed out that a person who knows the capitals of three out of 50 American states is likely to think of herself as knowing something (“I know three state capitals”). But a person who has learned the names of 47 state capitals is likely to think of herself as not knowing three state capitals, and thus more likely to make the effort to learn those other three.



That word “effort” is important. It’s hardly surprising that we love the ease and fluency of the modern web: our brains are designed to avoid anything that seems like hard work. The psychologists Susan Fiske and Shelley Taylor coined the term “cognitive miser” to describe the stinginess with which the brain allocates limited attention, and its in-built propensity to seek mental short-cuts. The easier it is for us to acquire information, however, the less likely it is to stick. Difficulty and frustration — the very friction that Google aims to eliminate — ensure that our brain integrates new information more securely. Robert Bjork, of the University of California, uses the phrase “desirable difficulties” to describe the counterintuitive notion that we learn better when the learning is hard. Bjork recommends, for instance, spacing teaching sessions further apart so that students have to make more effort to recall what they learned last time.

A great question should launch a journey of exploration. Instant answers can leave us idling at base camp. When a question is given time to incubate, it can take us to places we hadn’t planned to visit. Left unanswered, it acts like a searchlight ranging across the landscape of different possibilities, the very consideration of which makes our thinking deeper and broader. Searching for an answer in a printed book is inefficient, and takes longer than in its digital counterpart. But while flicking through those pages your eye may alight on information that you didn’t even know you wanted to know.

The gap between question and answer is where creativity thrives and scientific progress is made. When we celebrate our greatest thinkers, we usually focus on their ingenious answers. But the thinkers themselves tend to see it the other way around. “Looking back,” said Charles Darwin, “I think it was more difficult to see what the problems were than to solve them.” The writer Anton Chekhov declared, “The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them.” The very definition of a bad work of art is one that insists on telling its audience the answers, and a scientist who believes she has all the answers is not a scientist.

According to the great physicist James Clerk Maxwell, “thoroughly conscious ignorance is the prelude to every real advance in science.” Good questions induce this state of conscious ignorance, focusing our attention on what we don’t know. The neuroscientist Stuart Firestein teaches a course on ignorance at Columbia University, because, he says, “science produces ignorance at a faster rate than it produces knowledge.” Raising a toast to Einstein, George Bernard Shaw remarked, “Science is always wrong. It never solves a problem without creating ten more.”

Humans are born consciously ignorant. Compared to other mammals, we are pushed out into the world prematurely, and stay dependent on elders for much longer. Endowed with so few answers at birth, children are driven to question everything. In 2007, Michelle Chouinard, a psychology professor at the University of California, analyzed recordings of four children interacting with their respective caregivers for two hours at a time, for a total of more than two hundred hours. She found that, on average, the children posed more than a hundred questions every hour.

Very small children use questions to elicit information — “What is this called?” But as they grow older, their questions become more probing. They start looking for explanations and insight, to ask “Why?” and “How?”. Extrapolating from Chouinard’s data, the Harvard professor Paul Harris estimates that between the ages of 3 and 5, children ask 40,000 such questions. The numbers are impressive, but what’s really amazing is the ability to ask such a question at all. Somehow, children instinctively know there is a vast amount they don’t know, and they need to dig beneath the world of appearances.

In a 1984 study by British researchers Barbara Tizard and Martin Hughes, four-year-old girls were recorded talking to their mothers at home. When the researchers analyzed the tapes, they found that some children asked more “How” and “Why” questions than others, and engaged in longer passages of “intellectual search” — a series of linked questions, each following from the other. (In one such conversation, four-year-old Rosy engaged her mother in a long exchange about why the window cleaner was given money.) The more confident questioners weren’t necessarily the children who got more answers from their parents, but the ones who got more questions. Parents who threw questions back to their children — “I don’t know, what do you think?” — raised children who asked more questions of them. Questioning, it turn out, is contagious.

Childish curiosity only gets us so far, however. To ask good questions, it helps if you have built your own library of answers. It’s been proposed that the Internet relieves us of the onerous burden of memorizing information. Why cram our heads with facts, like the date of the French revolution, when they can be summoned up in a swipe and a couple of clicks? But knowledge doesn’t just fill the brain up; it makes it work better. To see what I mean, try memorizing the following string of fourteen digits in five seconds:

74830582894062

Hard, isn’t it? Virtually impossible. Now try memorizing this string of fourteen letters:

lucy in the sky with diamonds

This time, you barely needed a second. The contrast is so striking that it seems like a completely different problem, but fundamentally, it’s the same. The only difference is that one string of symbols triggers a set of associations with knowledge you have stored deep in your memory. Without thinking, you can group the letters into words, the words into a sentence you understand as grammatical — and the sentence is one you recognize as the title of a song by the Beatles. The knowledge you’ve gathered over years has made your brain’s central processing unit more powerful.

This tells us something about the idea we should outsource our memories to the web: it’s a short-cut to stupidity. The less we know, the worse we are at processing new information, and the slower we are to arrive at pertinent inquiry. You’re unlikely to ask a truly penetrating question about the presidency of Richard Nixon if you have just had to look up who he is. According to researchers who study innovation, the average age at which scientists and inventors make breakthroughs is increasing over time. As knowledge accumulates across generations, it takes longer for individuals to acquire it, and thus longer to be in a position to ask the questions which, in Susan Sontag’s phrase, “destroy the answers”.

My argument isn’t with technology, but the way we use it. It’s not that the Internet is making us stupid or incurious. Only we can do that. It’s that we will only realize the potential of technology and humans working together when each is focused on its strengths — and that means we need to consciously cultivate effortful curiosity. Smart machines are taking over more and more of the tasks assumed to be the preserve of humans. But no machine, however sophisticated, can yet be said to be curious. The technology visionary Kevin Kelly succinctly defines the appropriate division of labor: “Machines are for answers; humans are for questions.”

The practice of asking perceptive, informed, curious questions is a cultural habit we should inculcate at every level of society. In school, students are generally expected to answer questions rather than ask them. But educational researchers have found that students learn better when they’re gently directed towards the lacunae in their knowledge, allowing their questions bubble up through the gaps. Wikipedia and Google are best treated as starting points rather than destinations, and we should recognize that human interaction will always play a vital role in fueling the quest for knowledge. After all, Google never says, “I don’t know — what do you think?”

The Internet has the potential to be the greatest tool for intellectual exploration ever invented, but only if it is treated as a complement to our talent for inquiry rather than a replacement for it. In a world awash in ready-made answers, the ability to pose difficult, even unanswerable questions is more important than ever.

Picasso was half-right: computers are useless without truly curious humans.

Ian Leslie is the author of “Curious: The Desire To Know and Why Your Future Depends On It.” He writes on psychology, trends and politics for The Economist, The Guardian, Slate and Granta. He lives in London. Follow him on Twitter at @mrianleslie.

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/12/google_makes_us_all_dumber_the_neuroscience_of_search_engines/?source=newsletter

DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

Judge Slashes $48 Million Verdict Against

MP3Tunes Founder Michael Robertson

 

     A federal judge this week slashed record label EMI’s $48 million jury verdict against defunct music storage service MP3Tunes and its founder by about $33 million, ruling many of EMI’s claims were “just too big to succeed” and were backed by very little actual evidence. U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III tossed out most of the jury’s findings of secondary infringement against MP3Tunes and founder Michael Robertson under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The judge also cut common law punitive damages from $7.5 million to $750,000, and additional elements of the ruling could reduce the total amount to just over $10 million.

Earlier this year a Manhattan jury found MP3tunes and Robertson liable for copyright infringement and awarded $48.1 million in damages. EMI Group Ltd originally contended in its 2007 lawsuit that MP3tunes and another website known as Sideload.com enabled the infringement of copyrights in sound recordings, musical compositions, and cover art. Since that suit was filed EMI was split up, with Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group acquiring its recording music business and a consortium led by Sony Corp purchasing its publishing arm in 2012.

In his ruling, Judge Pauley excoriated attorneys on both sides of the case. Slamming EMI’s lawyers, he wrote, “Despite this Court’s efforts to winnow the issues, the parties insisted on an 82-page verdict sheet on liability and a 331-page verdict sheet on damages that included dense Excel tables, necessitating at least one juror’s use of a magnifying glass. While the jury did its best, their assignment was beyond all reasonable scale.” Judge Pauley then turned his attention to Robertson, noting that he “created a business model designed to operate at the very periphery of copyright law.”

The plaintiffs now can either accept the decision or embark on a new trial on punitive damages, the judge said. He gave both sides until Oct. 17 to submit proposals for a final judgment. [Read more: Global Post Hollywood Reporter

Judge Hits Grooveshark In

Federal Copyright Infringement Case

 

Gavel      A federal judge in New York this week ruled that Grooveshark, an online music service long vilified by the major record companies, infringed on thousands of their copyrights. Judge Thomas P. Griesa of United States District Court in Manhattan said the digital music platform was liable for copyright infringement because its own employees and officers – including Samuel Tarantino, the chief executive, and Joshua Greenberg, the chief technology officer – uploaded a total of 5,977 of the labels’ songs without permission. Those uploads are not subject to the “safe harbor” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The case stems from Grooveshark’s claim that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects websites that host third-party material (content posted by users and not company employees) if they comply with takedown notices issued copyright holders. Grooveshark and its parent company, Escape Media Group, insisted in court documents and testimony that all of the music files on its servers had been uploaded by its users.

But Judge Griesa didn’t buy that argument, and on Monday said, “Each time Escape streamed one of plaintiffs’  recordings, it directly infringed upon plaintiffs’ exclusive performance rights.” He also found the company destroyed important evidence in the case, including lists of files that Mr. Greenberg and others uploaded to the service.

As reported by The New York Times, the next step of the case will be to set damages, and the possibility of a multimillion-dollar ruling against Grooveshark puts the service’s future in doubt. When asked for a comment about the summary judgment decision, John J. Rosenberg, a lawyer for Grooveshark, said, “The company respectfully disagrees with the court’s decision and is currently assessing its next steps, including the possibility of an appeal.” 

Judge Rules Expert Testimony In Apple’s

Alleged “Monopoly” Case Can Be Included

 

Monopoly man      Unbelievably, the class action suit that claims Apple Inc. is guilty of monopolistic practices because of an iTunes update continues to move through the court system. According to Courthouse News Service, a federal judge has ruled the Cupertino, CA-based tech giant cannot exclude a key expert for the plaintiffs who are accusing it of monopolizing digital music and music players between 2006 and 2009.

The lawsuit, filed in 2005, alleges Apple illegally acquired a digital music player monopoly with an iTunes update that made it impossible for iPods to play songs purchased from another online music store. As part of their case, the plaintiffs asked Stanford economist Roger Noll to testify that the update made it more costly for an iPod user to switch media players because it would be harder to collect music that could be played on all devices. Noll said the update also encouraged iPod owners to only buy music from iTunes.

The resulting monopoly allowed Apple to charge more for iPods, causing $305 million in damages to the class, Noll told the court. Apple had asked the judge to exclude Noll’s testimony in December 2013, but U.S. District Judge Yvonne Rogers last week denied that motion. She also denied a motion by Apple for summary judgment. 

Digital Streaming Revenue Grew In First

Half While Overall Revenues Slipped 4.9%

 

     U.S. music revenues slipped to $3.2 billion in the first half of 2014, a 4.9% drop from the $3.35 billion the industry tallied in the first half of 2013. According to the latest figures released by the Recording Industry Association Of America (RIAA), digital music revenue declined about 0.5% to $2.203 billion, from $2.214 billion in the first half of 2013. Meanwhile, subscription revenue jumped 23.2%, to $371.4 million from $301.4 million, and ad-supported streaming jumped 56.5% to $164.7 million from $105.2 million. CD sales fell 19.1% to $715.6 million from $994.1 million, while the sale of vinyl product – an infinitesimal line item – jumped 41% to $6.5 million, from $4.8 million in the same period last year.

The RIAA says paid subscription services averaged 7.8 million U.S. subscribers in the first six months of the year, up from an average of 5.5 million subscribers in the first half of 2013. Download sales of albums and tracks fell 11.8% to nearly $1.3 billion from $1.47 billion. Distribution of performance royalties collected by SoundExchange grew 21.3% during the same period, from $266.5 million in the first half of 2013 2013 to $323.4 million in H1 2014.

As noted by Billboard, the RIAA for the first time also provided an overall market volume for wholesale. Typically, the RIAA numbers add up the value of units for each album by that album’s list price, not the wholesale price that the labels receive when they ship the albums to retailers. But converting their data to wholesale values for downloads and the physical formats, RIAA estimates the U.S. music marketplace at $2.2 billion, down from $2.3 million at mid-year 2013.

 

Spanish Broadcasting System, 7digital

Launch Digital Content Partnership

 

Handshake      Spanish Broadcasting System has entered into a partnership with 7digital to provide SBS’ LaMusica.com with secure content management technology and a royalty reporting system to support additional music products beyond the site’s current streaming content. LaMusica.com currently streams 14 of the broadcasting company’s Spanish-language radio stations, and also provides a variety of entertainment, news, and cultural offerings leveraged from SBS’ radio network, television, and live entertainment properties.

“We continue to invest in strengthening our LaMusica.com portal and extending the robust content offerings we provide to the nation’s Latino music fans,” SBS Chairman/CEO Raul Alarcón, Jr. said in a statement. “Our agreement with 7digital will provide us with additional tools to maximize the LaMusica.com experience, further building on our momentum as we seek to fully capitalize on our strong media brands and close ties to the vibrant Latino music community.”

“We are pleased to partner with fast-growing entertainment services such as LaMusica.com to enhance the infrastructure that is required to deliver comprehensive and seamless digital entertainment offerings,” Simon Cole, 7digital’s CEO, commented in the same statement. “SBS has an exceptional history in creating top-ranked media brands attracting large and loyal audiences in the nation’s biggest Hispanic media markets, and we look forward to playing a role in expanding LaMusica.com’s operating platform.”

 

Yes, eMusic Is Still Around…And

It’s Returning To Its Indie Roots

 

     For years eMusic – one of the first MP3 download services on the web – positioned itself as specializing in independent label content and, in fact, thrived (somewhat) as a music subscription service, whereby users paid a set fee each month to download a set number of tracks.

Over the years, however, the company grdually aligned itself with the major labels in order to survive, but iTunes and Amazon eventually cornered the mainstream download market, leaving eMusic to languish in the nether regions between major and indies. In fact, most industry execs more or less forgot eMusic still existed, except when it popped up as a sponsor at various industry events.

So imagine the surprise of eMusic’s small but loyal user base this week when they received an announcing the service was ending its partnerships with the majors, and returning to its roots as a hub of indie label content. In fact, the email said that beginning today (Oct. 1, the start of the fourth quarter), eMusic “will be exiting the mainstream music business and exclusively offering independent music. The company’s goal is to build the most extensive catalogue of independent music in the world.” While Complete Music Update calls that an admirable goal, it does raise the question of whether it’s too little, too late, for two reasons: 1) Much of eMusic’s small user base has drifted to the subscription streaming services, and 2) The indie labels that 10 years ago would have applauded this move are now focused on trying to get a piece of that same streaming revenue.

 

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2014

The midterm elections and the American political crisis

http://www.pollster.com/blogs/2010-04-08-McDonald-Turnout-Rates.png

30 September 2014

Early voting began last Thursday in Iowa, and mail-in voting has begun in several states for the US general election set for November 4. The contests on the ballot include a third of the US Senate, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, and the governorships of 36 out of 50 states, as well as thousands of seats in state legislatures.

Yet from the standpoint of everyday life in America, one would hardly know an election was taking place. There is little discussion of electoral politics in factories, offices and other workplaces, and little interest in the candidates of either of the two corporate-controlled parties.

The elections are taking place in the aftermath of the decision by the Obama administration, with the bipartisan backing of congressional Republicans and Democrats, to plunge into a new imperialist war in the Middle East, with the bombing of Syria and the dispatch of thousands of American troops to Iraq. Yet there is not a way for the working class to make its opinion heard on this or any significant element of policy.

On the specific question of the bombing of Iraq and Syria, Congress adjourned without attempting to vote on the Obama administration’s new war, while approving, with large bipartisan majorities in both House and Senate, the financing of “moderate” rebels seeking to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Voter turnout in the primaries in which the Democrats and Republicans chose their candidates fell to record lows this year. In many cases, fewer than five percent of eligible voters went to the polls. All indications are that voter turnout in the November 4 balloting will be even lower than the dismal 37 percent recorded in the last non-presidential election in 2010.

The indifference to the electoral process and its outcome testifies to the deepening alienation of the population from both the political system and the corporate-dominated socioeconomic order that the two parties defend. Tens of millions of working people see the Democrats and Republicans as providing government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich, and they are not wrong.

According to a CBS-New York Times poll conducted September 12-15, only five percent of voters thought their own congressional representative deserved reelection, while 87 percent favored replacing the incumbent with someone new. Poll after poll shows majority opposition to both the Democrats and Republicans. But despite these sentiments, the two-party political monopoly ensures that the election to be held in five weeks will change nothing.

Projections and forecasts by campaign consultants and election analysts agree that the Republicans will retain their majority in the House of Representatives, gaining or losing at most a handful of seats; the Republicans will add at least three seats in the US Senate to their present total of 45, and may well achieve the 51-vote majority that would give them control of the upper house. The Democrats are expected to take back some of the state governorships that Republicans won in their 2010 electoral sweep.

The likelihood of Republican gains, despite the deep unpopularity of both the Republican Party and its ultra-right policies, is an indictment of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party, which represent merely another brand of right-wing, pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist policies.

Obama’s approval rating has plunged, not merely in the states won by Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, but in so-called “blue states” like New York, where the most recent Marist poll found only 39 percent approval in a state where Obama captured 63.3 percent of the vote two years ago.

A Pew poll over the summer found that the revelations of massive NSA surveillance of Americans, as well as the threat of greater US involvement in Mideast wars, have alienated millions, particularly young people, who had voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Add to that the constant provocation of the president proclaiming the “success” of his economic policies, which have boosted the stock market and the wealth of the super-rich to record levels, while unemployment remains high and real wages decline.

Whatever the outcome of elections in the United States, the political apparatus as a whole moves steadily to the right. Since coming to power nearly six years ago, Obama has embraced and extended the major policies of the Bush administration, particularly in the area of foreign policy and attacks on democratic rights. The doctrines of the Bush administration to justify torture have been resurrected under Obama to argue for presidential power to carry out the assassination of US citizens without any due process.

In domestic social policy as well, Obama carried forward the most important initiatives of his predecessor, above all the bailout of the big banks and financial institutions in the wake of the 2008 Wall Street crash. Obama intensified the attacks on public education, reached several deals with congressional Republicans for austerity measures to cut public spending on other social programs, launched an assault on health care programs under the guise of reform, and arrested and deported more immigrants in six years than Bush did in eight years.

Money predominates over the entire process. In campaign fundraising for 2014, for example, the Democrats have actually raked in more money in large donations from the super-rich than the Republicans, with the 15 top Democrat-aligned political action committees outraising the 15 top Republican PACs by $453 million to $289 million. In key Senate races like North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and Alaska, endangered Democratic incumbents have raised far more and spent far more than their Republican challengers.

All of this is a measure of the crisis of bourgeois rule in the United States. The state is run by a combination of a corporate and financial aristocracy and a military-intelligence apparatus that makes all decisions behind closed doors. Policy is marketed to the public on the basis of lies and propaganda parroted by the mass media.

The institutions of the ruling class, among which one must include the trade unions and the network of organizations around the Democratic Party, seek desperately to prop up a hollowed out apparatus in which democratic forms are an increasingly threadbare cover for the dictatorship of the banks. This is the political form that corresponds to the extraordinary level of social inequality that is the dominant feature of American life and has soared to new records in the six years since the 2008 financial collapse.

American working people should draw the necessary political conclusions. To carry forward a struggle against war and militarism, and to defend jobs, living standards, social conditions and democratic rights, the working class must break with the two parties of big business and build an independent political movement.

Patrick Martin

John Holloway: cracking capitalism vs. the state option

by Amador Fernández-Savater on September 29, 2014

Post image for John Holloway: cracking capitalism vs. the state optionWith left parties on the rise in Spain and Greece, John Holloway reflects on his influential 2002 thesis: can we change the world without taking power?

Interview by Amador Fernández-Savater. Translated by Richard Mac Duinnsleibhe and edited by Arianne Sved of Guerrilla Translation.

In 2002, John Holloway published a landmark book: Change the World without Taking Power. Inspired by the ‘¡Ya basta!’ of the Zapatistas, by the movement that emerged in Argentina in 2001/’02, and by the anti-globalization movement, Holloway sets out a hypothesis: it is not the idea of revolution or transformation of the world that has been refuted as a result of the disaster of authoritarian communism, but rather the idea of revolution as the taking of power, and of the party as the political tool par excellence.

Holloway discerns another concept of social change at work in these movements, and generally in every practice—however visible or invisible it may be—where a logic different from that of profit is followed: the logic of cracking capitalism. That is, to create, within the very society that is being rejected, spaces, moments, or areas of activity in which a different world is prefigured. Rebellions in motion. From this perspective, the idea of organization is no longer equivalent to that of the party, but rather entails the question of how the different cracks that unravel the fabric of capitalism can recognize each other and connect.

But after Argentina’s “que se vayan todos” came the Kirchner government, and after Spain’s “no nos representan” appeared Podemos. We met with John Holloway in the city of Puebla, Mexico, to ask him if, after everything that has happened in the past decade, from the progressive governments of Latin America to Podemos and Syriza in Europe, along with the problems for self-organized practices to exist and multiply, he still thinks that it is possible to “change the world without taking power.”

:::::::::::::::::::::::

Firstly, John, we would like to ask you where the hegemonic idea of revolution in the 20th century comes from, what it is based on. That is, the idea of social change through the taking of power.

I think the central element is labor, understood as wage labor. In other words, alienated or abstract labor. Wage labor has been, and still is, the bedrock of the trade union movement, of the social democratic parties that were its political wing, and also of the communist movements. This concept defined the revolutionary theory of the labor movement: the struggle of wage labor against capital. But its struggle was limited because wage labor is the complement of capital, not its negation.

I don’t understand the relation between this idea of labor and that of revolution through the taking of state power.

One way of understanding the connection would be as follows: if you start off from the definition of labor as wage or alienated labor, you start off from the idea of the workers as victims and objects of the system of domination. And a movement that struggles to improve the living standards of workers (considered as victims and objects) immediately refers to the state. Why? Because the state, due to its very separation from society, is the ideal institution if one seeks to achieve benefits for people. This is the traditional thinking of the labor movement and that of the left governments that currently exist in Latin America.

But this tradition isn’t the only approach to a politics of emancipation…

Of course not. In the last twenty or thirty years we find a great many movements that claim something else: it is possible to emancipate human activity from alienated labor by opening up cracks where one is able to do things differently, to do something that seems useful, necessary, and worthwhile to us; an activity that is not subordinated to the logic of profit.

These cracks can be spatial (places where other social relations are generated), temporal (“Here, in this event, for the time that we are together, we are going to do things differently. We are going to open windows onto another world.”), or related to particular activities or resources (for example, cooperatives or activities that pursue a non-market logic with regard to water, software, education, etc.). The world, and each one of us, is full of these cracks.

The rejection of alienated and alienating labor entails, at the same time, a critique of the institutional and organizational structures, and the mindset that springs from it. This is how we can explain the rejection of trade unions, parties, and the state that we observe in so many contemporary movements, from the Zapatistas to the Greek or Spanish indignados.

But it isn’t a question of the opposition between an old and a new politics, I think. Because what we see in the movements born of the economic crisis is that those two things come to the fore at the same time: cracks such as protests in city squares, and new parties such as Syriza or Podemos.

I think it’s a reflection of the fact that our experience under capitalism is contradictory. We are victims and yet we are not. We seek to improve our living standards as workers, and also to go beyond that, to live differently. In one respect we are, in effect, people who have to sell their labor power in order to survive. But in another, each one of us has dreams, behaviors and projects that don’t fit into the capitalist definition of labor.

The difficulty, then as now, lies in envisioning the relation between those two types of movements. How can that relation avoid reproducing the old sectarianism? How can it be a fruitful relation without denying the fundamental differences between the two perspectives?

Argentina in 2001 and 2002, the indignados in Greece and Spain more recently. At a certain point, bottom-up movements stall, they enter a crisis or an impasse, or they vanish. Would you say that the politics of cracks has intrinsic limits in terms of enduring and expanding?

I wouldn’t call them limits, but rather problems. Ten years ago, when I published Change the World without Taking Power, the achievements and the power of movements from below were more apparent, whereas now we are more conscious of the problems. The movements you mention are enormously important beacons of hope, but capital continues to exist and it’s getting worse and worse; it progressively entails more misery and destruction. We cannot confine ourselves to singing the praises of movements. That’s not enough.

Could one response then be the option that focuses on the state?

It’s understandable why people want to go in that direction, very understandable. These have been years of ferocious struggles, but capital’s aggression remains unchanged. I sincerely hope that Podemos and Syriza do win the elections, because that would change the current kaleidoscope of social struggles. But I maintain all of my objections with regard to the state option.

Any government of this kind entails channeling aspirations and struggles into institutional conduits that, by necessity, force one to seek a conciliation between the anger that these movements express and the reproduction of capital. Because the existence of any government involves promoting the reproduction of capital (by attracting foreign investment, or through some other means), there is no way around it. This inevitably means taking part in the aggression that is capital. It’s what has already happened in Bolivia and Venezuela, and it will also be the problem in Greece or Spain.

Could it be a matter of complementing the movements from below with a movement oriented towards government institutions?

That’s the obvious answer that keeps coming up. But the problem with obvious answers is that they suppress contradictions. Things can’t be reconciled so easily. From above, it may be possible to improve people’s living conditions, but I don’t think one can break with capitalism and generate a different reality. And I sincerely believe that we’re in a situation where there are no long-term solutions for the whole of humanity within capitalism.

I’m not discrediting the state option because I myself don’t have an answer to offer, but I don’t think it’s the solution.

Where are you looking for the answer?

Whilst not considering parties of the left as enemies, since for me this is certainly not the case, I would say that the answer has to be thought of in terms of deepening the cracks.

If we’re not going to accept the annihilation of humanity, which, to me, seems to be on capitalism’s agenda as a real possibility, then the only alternative is to think that our movements are the birth of another world. We have to keep building cracks and finding ways of recognizing them, strengthening them, expanding them, connecting them; seeking the confluence or, preferably, the commoning of the cracks.

If we think in terms of state and elections, we are straying away from that, because Podemos or Syriza can improve things, but they cannot create another world outside the logic of capital. And that’s what this is all about, I think.

Finally, John, how do you see the relation between the two perspectives we’ve been talking about?

We need to keep a constant and respectful debate going without suppressing the differences and the contradictions. I think the basis for a dialogue could be this: no one has the solution.

For the moment, we have to recognize that we’re not strong enough to abolish capitalism. By strong, I am referring here to building ways of living that don’t depend on wage labor. To be able to say “I don’t really care whether I have a job or not, because if I don’t have one, I can dedicate my life to other things that interest me and that give me enough sustenance to live decently.” That’s not the case right now. Perhaps we have to build that before we can say “go to hell, capital.”

In that sense, let’s bear in mind that a precondition for the French Revolution was that, at a certain point, the social network of bourgeois relations no longer needed the aristocracy in order to exist. Likewise, we must work to reach a point where we can say “we don’t care if global capital isn’t investing in Spain, because we’ve built a mutual support network that’s strong enough to enable us to live with dignity.”

Right now the rage against banks is spreading throughout the world. However, I don’t think banks are the problem, but rather the existence of money as a social relation. How should we think about rage against money? I believe this necessarily entails building non-monetized, non-commodified social relations.

And there are a great many people dedicated to this effort, whether out of desire, conviction or necessity, even though they may not appear in the newspapers. They’re building other forms of community, of sociality, of thinking about technology and human capabilities in order to create a new life.

John Holloway is Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences of the Autonomous University of Puebla in Mexico. His latest book is Crack Capitalism (Pluto Press, 2010).

http://roarmag.org/2014/09/john-holloway-cracking-capitalism-vs-the-state-option/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

How an Apple mega-deal cost Los Angeles classrooms $1 billion

Rotten to the Core:

Bad business and worse ethics? A scandal is brewing in L.A. over a sketchy intiative to give every student an iPad

 

Rotten to the Core: How an Apple mega-deal cost Los Angeles classrooms $1 billion

Technology companies may soon be getting muddied from a long-running scandal at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation’s second-largest system. A year after the cash-strapped district signed a $1 billion contract with Apple to purchase iPads for every student, the once-ballyhooed deal has blown up. Now the mess threatens to sully other vendors from Cambridge to Cupertino.

LAUSD superintendent John Deasy is under fire for his cozy connections to Apple. In an effort to deflect attention and perhaps to show that “everybody else is doing it,” he’s demanded the release of all correspondence between his board members and technology vendors. It promises to be some juicy reading. But at its core, the LAUSD fiasco illustrates just how much gold lies beneath even the dirtiest, most neglected public schoolyard.

As the U.S. starts implementing federal Common Core State Standards, teachers and administrators are being driven to adopt technology as never before. That has set off a scramble in Silicon Valley to grab as much of the $9 billion K-12 market as possible, and Apple, Google, Cisco and others are mud-wrestling to seize a part of it. Deasy and the LAUSD have given us ringside seats to this match, which shows just how low companies will go.

When the Apple deal was announced a year ago, it was touted as the largest ever distribution of computing devices to American students. The Los Angeles Times ran a story accompanied by a photograph of an African-American girl and her classmate, who looked absolutely giddy about their new gadgets. Readers responded to the photo’s idealistic promise — that every child in Los Angeles, no matter their race or socioeconomic background, would have access to the latest technology, and Deasy himself pledged “to provide youth in poverty with tools that heretofore only rich kids have had.” Laudable as it was, that sentiment assumed that technology would by itself save our underfunded schools and somehow balance our inequitable society.



When I heard about the deal, I felt a wave of déjà vu. I had sat in a PTA meeting at a public school listening to a similar, albeit much smaller, proposed deal.  An Apple vendor had approached administrators in a Santa Barbara County school, offering to sell us iPads. The pitch was that we could help propel our kids into the technological age so that they’d be better prepared for the world, and maybe land a nice-paying, high-tech job somewhere down the line. Clearly, a school contract would be great for Apple, giving it a captive group of impressionable 11-year-olds it could then mold into lifelong customers.

But parents had to raise a lot of money to seal this deal. “Is Apple giving us a discount?” asked a fellow PTA member. No, we were told. Apple doesn’t give discounts, not even to schools. In the end, we decided to raise funds for an athletics program and some art supplies instead.

To be fair, PTA moms and dads are no match at the bargaining table for the salespeople at major companies like Google, and Hewlett-Packard. But the LAUSD, with its $6.8 billion budget, had the brains and muscle necessary to negotiate something valuable for its 655,000 students. That was the hope, at least.

Alas, problems began to appear almost immediately. First, some clever LAUSD students hacked the iPads and deleted security filters so they could roam the Internet freely and watch YouTube videos. Then, about $2 million in iPads and other devices went “missing.” Worse was the discovery that the pricey curriculum software, developed by Pearson Education Corp., wasn’t even complete. And the board looked foolish when it had to pay even more money to buy keyboards for iPads so that students could actually type out their reports.

Then, there was the deal itself. Whereas many companies extend discounts to schools and other nonprofits, Apple usually doesn’t, said George Michaels, executive director of Instructional Development at University of California at Santa Barbara. “Whatever discounts Apple gives are pretty meager.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy has noted Apple’s stingy reputation, and CEO Tim Cook has been trying to change the corporation’s miserly ways by giving $50 million to a local hospital and $50 million to an African nonprofit.

But the more we learned about the Apple “deal,” the more the LAUSD board seemed outmaneuvered. The district had bought iPad 4s, which have since been discontinued, but Apple had locked the district into paying high prices for the old models. LAUSD had not checked with its teachers or students to see what they needed or wanted, and instead had forced its end users to make the iPads work. Apple surely knew that kids needed keypads to write reports, but sold them just part of what they needed.

Compared with similar contracts signed by other districts, Apple’s deal for Los Angeles students looked crafty, at best. Perris Union High School District in Riverside County, for example, bought Samsung Chromebooks for only $344 per student. And their laptop devices have keyboards and multiple input ports for printers and thumb drives. The smaller Township High School District 214 in Illinois bought old iPad 2s without the pre-loaded, one-size-fits-all curriculum software. Its price: $429 per student.

But LAUSD paid Apple a jaw-dropping $768 per student, and LAUSD parents were not happy. As Manel Saddique wrote on a social media site: “Btw, thanks for charging a public school district more than the regular consumer price per unit, Apple. Keep it classy…”

By spring there was so much criticism about the purchase that the Los Angeles Times filed a request under the California Public Records Act to obtain all emails and records tied to the contract. What emerged was the image of a smoky backroom deal.

Then-Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino had once worked at Pearson, the curriculum developer, and knew the players. It turned out that Aquino and Deasy had started talking with Apple and Pearson two years before the contract was approved, and a full year before it was put out to bid. The idea behind a public bidding process is that every vendor is supposed to have the same opportunity to win a job, depending on their products, delivery terms and price. But emails show that Deasy was intent on embracing just one type of device: Apple’s.

Aquino went so far as to appear in a promotional video for iPads months before the contracts were awarded. Dressed in a suit and tie, the school official smiled for the camera as he talked about how Apple’s product would lead to “huge leaps in what’s possible for students” and would “phenomenally . . . change the landscape of education.” If other companies thought they had a shot at nabbing the massive contract from the influential district, this video must have disabused them of that idea.

At one point, Aquino was actually coaching software devloper Pearson on what to do: “[M]ake sure that your bid is the lower one,” he wrote. Meanwhile, Deasy was emailing Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino, and effusively recounting his visit with Apple’s CEO. “I wanted to let you know I had an excellent meeting with Tim at Apple last Friday … The meeting went very well and he was fully committed to being a partner … He was very excited.”

If you step back from the smarmy exchanges, a bigger picture emerges. Yes, LAUSD is grossly mismanaged and maybe even dysfunctional. But corporations like Apple don’t look so good, either. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Hewlett Packard — the companies that are cashing in on our classroom crisis are the same ones that helped defund the infrastructure that once made public schools so good. Sheltering billions of dollars from federal taxes may be great for the top 10 percent of Americans, who own 90 percent of the stock in these corporations. But it’s a catastrophe for the teachers, schools and universities that helped develop their technology and gave the companies some of its brightest minds. In the case of LAUSD, Apple comes across as cavalier about the problem it’s helped create for low-income students, and seems more concerned with maximizing its take from the district.

But the worst thing about this scandal is what it’s done to the public trust. The funds for this billion-dollar boondoggle were taken from voter-approved school construction and modernization bonds — bonds that voters thought would be used for physical improvements. At a time when LAUSD schools, like so many across the country, are in desperate need of physical repairs, from corroded gas lines to broken play structures, the Apple deal has cast a shadow over school bonds. Read the popular “Repairs Not iPads” page on Facebook and parents’ complaints about the lack of air conditioning, librarians and even toilet paper in school bathrooms. Sadly, replacing old fixtures and cheap trailers with new plumbing and classrooms doesn’t carry the kind of cachet for ambitious school boards as does, say, buying half-a-million electronic tablets. As one mom wrote: “Deasy has done major long-term damage because not one person will ever vote for any future bond measures supporting public schools.”

Now, the Apple deal is off, although millions of dollars have already been spent. An investigation into the bidding process is underway and there are cries to place Deasy in “teacher jail,” a district policy that keeps teachers at home while they’re under investigation. And LAUSD students, who are overwhelmingly Hispanic and African-American, have once again been given the short end of the stick. They were promised the sort of “tools that heretofore only rich kids have had,” and will probably not see them for several years, if ever. The soured Apple deal just adds to the sense of injustice that many of these students already see in the grown-up world.

Deasy contends that that he did nothing wrong. In a few weeks, the public official will get his job performance review. In the meantime, he’s called for the release of all emails and documents written between board members and other Silicon Valley and corporate education vendors. The heat in downtown Los Angeles is spreading to Northern California and beyond, posing a huge political problem for not just Deasy but for Cook and other high-tech captains.

But at the bottom of this rush to place technology in every classroom is the nagging feeling that the goal in buying expensive devices is not to improve teachers’ abilities, or to lighten their load. It’s not to create more meaningful learning experiences for students or to lift them out of poverty or neglect. It’s to facilitate more test-making and profit-taking for private industry, and quick, too, before there’s nothing left.

 

The Great Lightbulb Conspiracy: Free Markets in Action

article opening art

Today, with many countries phasing out incandescent lighting in favor of more-efficient and pricier LEDs, it’s worth revisiting the history of the Phoebus cartel — not simply as a quirky anecdote from the annals of technology, but as a cautionary tale about the strange and unexpected pitfalls that can arise when a new technology vanquishes an old one. Prior to the Phoebus cartel’s formation in 1924, household light bulbs typically burned for a total of 1,500 to 2,500 hours; cartel members agreed to shorten that life span to a standard 1,000 hours.

Each factory regularly sent lightbulb samples to the cartel’s central laboratory in Switzerland for verification. If any factory submitted bulbs lasting longer or shorter than the regulated life span for its type, the factory was obliged to pay a fine. Though long gone, the Phoebus cartel still casts a shadow today because it reduced competition in the light bulb industry for almost twenty years, and has been accused of preventing technological advances that would have produced longer-lasting light bulbs. Will history repeat itself as the lighting industry is now going through its most tumultuous period of technological change since the invention of the incandescent bulb?

“Consumers are expected to pay more money for bulbs that are up to 10 times as efficient and that are touted to last a fantastically long time—up to 50,000 hours in the case of LED lights. In normal usage, these lamps will last so long that their owners will probably sell the house they’re in before having to change the bulbs,” writes Krajewski. “Whether or not these pricier bulbs will actually last that long is still an open question, and not one that the average consumer is likely to investigate.” There are already reports of CFLs and LED lamps burning out long before their rated lifetimes are reached. “Such incidents may well have resulted from nothing more sinister than careless manufacturing. But there is no denying that these far more technologically sophisticated products offer tempting opportunities for the inclusion of purposefully engineered life-shortening defects.””

~Slashdot~