Fracketeering: how capitalism is power-hosing the last drops of value out of us all

Once you’ve mined the earth and milked the service industries, what is there left to frack? Us, that’s what – with everything from admin charges and estate agent fees to blockbuster premiums and ‘cakeage’
Welcome to capitalism's late late show … fracking is the chief inspiration for today's entrepreneurs
Welcome to capitalism’s late late show … fracking is the chief inspiration for today’s entrepreneurs. Illustration: Leon Edler

Fracking. Could there be a more perfect model for how we’re getting rinsed by this current conspiracy of government and commerce? In a world turned upside down, “conservative” now means the absolute opposite of “leaving things as they are”. Conservative means changing everything. It means dismantling things and selling off the bits. It means drilling into our lives and extracting the marrow.

Conservatism and conservation are now about as far apart as it’s possible to get. Friends of Conservation are the ones protecting the countryside. The ones who stand around self-consciously in terrible fancy dress, holding passive-aggressive placards in praise of the noble, selfless badger. Or basically any mammal that looks good in a waistcoat.

Friends of Conservatism, on the other hand, are the ones who roll up on heavy machinery like a pissed Ukrainian militia. The ones who drill deep beneath that area of local countryside whose only “use” so far has been as a picnic site. And who then pump into the ground powerful jets of high-pressure hydrogunk, splintering rock as easily as a walnut. And who, having sucked up a sky’s worth of valuable gas through a massive crack pipe, then pack up and lumber off to fracture and steal someone else’s underground treasure.

Welcome to capitalism’s late late show. If you can power-hose the last drop of value out of something, you now have an amoral imperative to do it. Fracking is the chief inspiration for today’s entrepreneurs, those “heroic wealth creators” so admired by Andy Pandery Burnham and half the Labour party. Everything is up for grabs now. The age of the racketeer is over. It’s all about fracketeering now.

Here is a recent example. A gang of London estate agents has invented something called a “client progression fee”. Yeah, ha ha, the cheeky peaky blinders are leeching an extra grand and a half out of buyers just for accepting their offer on a property. Imagine that. Charging people for agreeing to sell them something. Arbitrarily monetising something that customers are obliged to do anyway.

It’s almost as if the property industry is a pirate economy serviced by unscrupulous thieving bastards drenched in melancholy duty-free fragrances. Let’s face it, estate agents have pretty much perfected the art of taking the piss with a straight face. One former estate agent told me the other day he was always instructed to make admin fees “whatever you think you can get away with … go high, then drop as a favour”. Classic surcharge frackery.

I had decided that of all the agents – sports, double, biological – estate agents were definitely the worst. Then I asked people on Twitter how they had been fracked over lately and they reminded me about letting agents. And about how every single person I’ve ever known who has had any dealings with a letting agent has had to recalibrate their view of the human race as a result. Has anyone ever got their exorbitant deposit back in full without an exhausting argument pointing out that three years of normal wear and tear can’t be classed as catastrophic damage? I’ve been hearing about people being charged a £90-per-person “reference fee” when moving between two properties run by the same agent, “so that’s £180 to ask themselves how we were as tenants”. Or being charged £50 for printing six pages of a rental contract. “I asked them to email it so I could print it. They said no.”

The world of fracketeering is infinitely flexible and contradictory. Buy tickets online and you could be charged an admin fee for an attachment that requires you to print them at home. The original online booking fee – you’ve come this far in the buying process, hand over an extra 12 quid now or write off the previous 20 minutes of your life – has mutated into exotic versions of itself.

The confirmation fee. The convenience fee. Someone who bought tickets for a tennis event at the O2 sent me this pithy tweet: “4 tickets. 4 Facility Fees + 4 Service Charge + 1 Standard Mail £2.75 = 15% of overall £!”. Definitely a grand slam.

It’s amazing to think of a world that existed before the admin charge. It almost makes you nostalgic for a simpler and more innocent time, when racketeers would work out what it was we wanted and then supply it at an inflated price. You remember racketeers. Snappy dressers, little moustaches, connections to organised crime. Some of them did very well and went on to become successful publishers or peers of the realm. Quite a few old-school racketeers went into the “hospitality and leisure” business, where these days fracking is in full effect.

Restaurants charging “cakeage” fees of up to £9 a person if diners want to bring their own birthday cake. A “blockbuster” surcharge on cinema tickets for popular films. The “tray charge” on a room service dinner that already costs as much as the room. And a particular favourite of mine – any hotel that charges for internet access, as if WiFi were some fancy extra like a massage chair, or clown therapy. “Congratulations, you may now surf the world wide web,” says the drop-down box from 1996. It might as well add: “We would ask that you keep your visit to the internet as brief as possible as reception may require the telephone line for incoming calls.”

The problem for fracking capitalism is finding new territory. It is an immutable law of economics that the rich have to keep getting richer, otherwise the whole system collapses and then what happens? Nobody knows, but the rich drop hints from time to time that if their margins are eroded we might all find ourselves in some Riddley Walker dystopia where humans have to hunt food again and keep wild dogs at bay and it’s raining all the time and people tell wistful stories about the old days when there were ships in the sky and pictures on the wind, so to stop this happening keep making us richer.

But once you’ve mined the earth and milked the service industries, what is there left to frack? Us, that’s what. Heard of Kwasi Kwarteng? He’s a rising star in the Tory party. Always a danger signal, this. To qualify as a rising star in this context you have to make Judge Dredd look like the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Kwarteng’s suggestion, which has gone down very well with literally everyone I hate, is that a young person who hasn’t got a job and therefore hasn’t paid any national insurance contributions should get their unemployment benefit in the form of a repayable loan. Even if someone was out of work for the entire seven years between 18 and 25, he says, “the total sum repayable would be £20,475 – considerably less than the tuition fees loan repayable by many of his or her peers”. The clincher, there. You might be unemployed, but think yourself lucky you’re not going to university.

Redefining citizens as frackable units is precisely where all this current terrifying unpleasantness with the NHS is leading. Once you apply the laws of fracketeering to the NHS it’s a short step from monetising cataract operations to privatising them. Procedures that are highly profitable for shareholders, however, may be out of reach for the poor. Perhaps we can come to some arrangement. You owe us for restoring your eyesight, but you can’t seriously expect to seeand get a full state pension …

Nearly everyone had an NHS dentist once. God, it’s been years since you were in with a shout for one. What did they look like, can anyone remember? I’ve got this image of a Victorian gentleman, top hat and cape.

Nowadays the poor just put up with bad teeth. It’s the same with physio. GPs round my way now simply advise you to book privately to avoid a months-long waiting list, but even a short course of sessions costs over a ton. It might as well be a grand if you’re on a tight family budget.

I’ve been getting free prescriptions for years. Of course I’m incredibly grateful. The meds are keeping me going. Indeed, they’ve kept me going for longer than was originally anticipated. I’ve paid in all my life; now I’m being looked after. It was always taken for granted, this arrangement. NHS. Free for all, paid for by everyone, from each according to their means to each according to their needs, let’s have a knees-up, God bless us all, boom bang-a-wap diddly bosh.

But I can’t be the only one on regular meds thinking, “how much would they cost me without an NHS?” and Googling the market price.

I don’t want to sound overdramatic but fracketeers are faceless evil wizards and algorithms are their flying monkeys, dispatched from the anonymous castles of corporate service providers. You can’t tell me the people frackers aren’t looking at the meds people are on, too. And wondering how quickly the UK can be shunted into an American reality, where “unpaid medical bills” is now the number one cause of bankruptcy.

We are already living in a capitalist sci-fi horror story, where masters of the universe are trading stuff that doesn’t even exist yet. Future grain harvests in Canada, milk yields in Wisconsin, next year’s batch of Japanese whisky. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange has a wide variety of “weather derivatives” available for trade if you’re interested including “temperature ranges, snowfall amounts and frost”. If fracketeers can think it, they can monetise it. There are no moral boundaries. The only limit to fracketeering is imagination.

For all I know, there’s a cabal of trillionaires sitting in a Jacobean library somewhere discussing how they might trade futures in trading futures. Or trying to fix the odds on farmed stem cells, or fat-burning nebulisers. Whatever’s round the corner, though, you can be sure humanity will be the harvest. People are the basic material of an economic world. Of course the frackers will drill into us.

Aspects of our physical existence will be divided as spoils. One day there will be a giant respiratory multinational that will own all new lungs. Babies will be born with their pulmonary systems on a lifetime leasehold. When they grow up they’ll face severe penalties for breathing polluted air. The manufacturers of cigarettes and vaping devices aren’t going to like that much, so maybe it’s Big Tobacco that sees where the future’s going and cleverly snaps up all the lungs in advance.

Sex, sunshine, sleep, singing. The best things in life are currently free. We’d better make the most of them, because in a frackable future they’ll all be metered and chargeable. Libido International or whoever would be alerted to any sexual activity via, I don’t know, some sort of monitored hormonal “thinkernet” and would shut it down after 60 seconds unless you authorised a debit or had a prepaid sex account.

Maybe people will be fitted with retinal paywalls to allow in sunshine, which will be owned by a solar consortium based somewhere tax-efficient and warm. Sleep would be traded on the international sleep exchange – imagine the premium new parents would pay for an hour of ultra-deep oblivion. And all human singing would be automatically Shazammed to a central licensing bureau for billing, the days of “out of copyright” having long gone. Everything out of copyright will be automatically the copyright of Singinc, who own “trad” and “anon” now, too. And your vocal cords.

In the future it will probably be best to stay celibate, in the dark, awake for as long as possible and quiet. So let’s live a little now, before we’re all fracked.

http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/jun/30/fracketeering-capitalism-power-hosing-estate-agents-cakeage?CMP=fb_gu

 

The Tech Industry Bubble Is About To Burst

Euphoric reaction to superstar tech businesses is rampant — so much so that the tech industry is in denial about looming threats. The tech industry is in a bubble, and there are sufficient indicators for those willing to open their eyes. Rearing unicorns, however, is a distracting fascination.

The Perfect Storm

Raising funding for tech startups has never been so easy. Some of this flood of money has been because of mutual funds and hedge funds, including Fidelity, T. Rowe Price and Tiger Global Management. This is altering not only the funding landscape for tech startups, but also valuation expectations.

There are many concerns that valuations for businesses are confounding rationale. Entrepreneurs and their investors are deviating from more traditional valuation and performance metrics to more unconventional ones. Another cause cited for increasing valuations is the trend of protections for late investors that cause valuations to inflate further. The combination of a number of these factors has put the sector into a state of artificial valuations.

Meanwhile, the companies themselves are burning through cash like there is no tomorrow. Throwing money at marketing, overheads and, in particular, remuneration has become the accepted investment strategy for startup growth. All this does is perpetuate the vicious cycle of raising more money and spending more money. For the amounts that some of these businesses have raised, the jury is still out on actual profitability.

Unicorn Season

CB Insights publishes information on unicorns (companies with a valuation above $1 billion), which shows that access to the club has become increasingly less exclusive in the last couple of years. The chart below shows that the number of companies valued at $1 billion or above in 2014 exceeded previous years by quite some margin (47 unicorns joined the club in 2014 vs. 7 and 8 in 2012 and 2013, respectively). In addition, for the first 5 months of 2015, this trend shows no signs of abating (32 new unicorns as of June 1, 2015).

bubblechart

Different Experts, Same Conclusion

In the face of these trends, a small group of well-respected and influential individuals are voicing their concern. They are reflecting on what happened in the last dot-com bust and identifying fallacies in the current unsustainable modus operandi. These relatively lonely voices are difficult to ignore. They include established successful entrepreneurs, respected VC and hedge fund investors, economists and CEOs who are riding their very own unicorns.

Mark Cuban is scathing in his personal blog, arguing that this tech bubble is worse than that of 2000, because, he states, that unlike in 2000, this time the “bubble comes from private investors,” including angel investors and crowd funders. The problem for these investors is there is no liquidity in their investments, and we’re currently in a market with “no valuations and no liquidity.” He was one of the fortunate ones who exited his company, Broadcast.com, just before the 2000 boom, netting $5 billion. But he saw others around him not so lucky then, and fears the same this time around.

A number of high-profile investors have come out and said what their peers all secretly must know. Responding to concerns raised by Bill Gurley (Benchmark) and Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures), Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz expressed his thoughts in an 18-tweet tirade. Andreessen agrees with Gurley and Wilson in that high cash burn in startups is the cause of spiralling valuations and underperformance; the availability of capital is hampering common sense.

The tech startup space at the moment resembles the story of the emperor with no clothes.

As Wilson emphasizes, “At some point you have to build a real business, generate real profits, sustain the company without the largess of investor’s capital, and start producing value the old fashioned way.” Gurley, a stalwart investor, puts the discussion into context by saying “We’re in a risk bubble … we’re taking on … a level of risk that we’ve never taken on before in the history of Silicon Valley startups.”

The tech bubble has resulted in unconventional investors, such as hedge funds, in privately owned startups. David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital Inc. stated that although he is bullish on the tech sector, he believes he has identified a number of momentum technology stocks that have reached prices beyond any normal sense of valuation, and that they have shorted many of them in what they call the “bubble basket.”

Meanwhile, Noble Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller, who previously warned about both the dot-com and housing bubbles, suspects the recent equity valuation increases are more because of fear than exuberance. Shiller believes that “compared with history, US stocks are overvalued.” He says, “one way to assess this is by looking at the CAPE (cyclically adjusted P/E) ratio … defined as the real stock price (using the S&P Composite Stock Price Index deflated by CPI) divided by the ten-year average of real earnings per share.”

Shiller says this has been a “good predictor of subsequent stock market returns, especially over the long run. The CAPE ratio has recently been around 27, which is quite high by US historical standards. The only other times it is has been that high or higher were in 1929, 2000, and 2007 — all moments before market crashes.”

Perhaps the most surprising contributor to the debate on a looming tech bubble is Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snapchat. Founded in 2011, Spiegel’s company is a certified “unicorn,” with a valuation in excess of $15 billion. Spiegel believes that years of near-zero interest rates have created an asset bubble that has led people to make “riskier investments” than they otherwise would. He added that a correction was inevitable.

What Does A Bubble Look Like?

To shed light on how close we may be to the tech bubble bursting, it is worthwhile trying to understand what determines being in a bubble. Typically, this refers to a situation where the price of an asset exceeds by a large margin its fundamental value.

In his 1986 book Stabilizing an Unstable Economy, economist Hyman Minsky’s theory of financial instability attracted a great deal of attention, and gathered an increasing number of adherents following the crisis of 2008-09. Minsky identified five stages that culminate in a bubble, as described in this Forbes article: displacement, boom, euphoria, profit taking, and panic.

Uber is an enviable company for much of what it has achieved, and the team is to be commended for how they have grown this business, as well as their previous successes. However, it serves as a good example to illustrate the dynamics of the tech bubble.

Displacement:Investors’ excitement with a new paradigm, such as advances in technology or historically low interest rates. The explosion of the “sharing economy” has resulted in companies such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb growing exponentially in recent years by taking advantage of this new mode of operation.

Boom:Prices rise slowly at first, but then gain momentum as more participants enter the market. Fear of missing out (FOMO) attracts even more participants. Consequently, publicity for the asset class in question increases. Reviewing investment rounds for Uber since 2010 when they completed their seed round shows a large variety of investors wanting a piece of the action, perhaps in part due to a fear of missing out on the golden goose. The introduction of hedge funds and investment banks funding the business can also be seen, which underlines the facelift happening in this sector.

Euphoria:Asset prices increase exponentially; there is little rationale evident in decision making. During this phase, new valuation measures and metrics are touted to justify the unrelenting rise of asset prices. Uber’s increased valuation between funding rounds symbolizes the euphoria around the business. The chart below shows the evolution of Uber’s pre-money valuation over the last number of funding rounds.

Source: CB Insights; data analyzed by Funding Your Tech Startup

 

Although the pace of revenue growth at Uber is astounding (doubling approximately every 12 months at the moment), profitability is less certain. Profitability margins should increase over time as recognition and saturation are achieved in newer markets, but it is difficult to ignore the regulatory burdens and lawsuits the business is facing, which could steer it off course.

Profit taking:The few that have identified what’s going on are making their profit by selling their positions. This is the right time to exit, but is not seen by the majority. This is the next indicator on the horizon that will underline that we are in a tech bubble, and that it is about to burst. The catalyst for profit taking could be regulatory strains or excessive cash consumption that isn’t reflected by profitability gains in startups. Savvy investors will take the opportunity to exit while valuations are still high. The exits may well be too late for investors who are further behind on the FOMO curve or new types of investors who don’t appreciate that the market has moved.

Panic:By now it’s too late and asset prices collapse as rapidly as they once increased. With everyone trying to cash in realizing the situation, supply outstrips demand and many face big losses. Watch this space for the unfortunately impending examples.

Conclusion

The fact that we are in a tech bubble is in no doubt. The fact that the bubble is about to burst, however, is not something the sector wants to wake up to. The good times the sector is enjoying are becoming increasingly artificial. The tech startup space at the moment resembles the story of the emperor with no clothes. It remains for a few established, reasoned voices to persist with their concerns so the majority will finally listen.

 

http://techcrunch.com/2015/06/26/the-tech-industry-is-in-denial-but-the-bubble-is-about-to-burst/?ncid=rss&cps=gravity_1462_-7218853287940442458

Addiction is not a disease

A neuroscientist argues that it’s time to change our minds on the roots of substance abuse

A psychologist and former addict insists that the illness model for addiction is wrong, and dangerously so

Addiction is not a disease: A neuroscientist argues that it's time to change our minds on the roots of substance abuse

The mystery of addiction — what it is, what causes it and how to end it — threads through most of our lives. Experts estimate that one in 10 Americans is dependent on alcohol and other drugs, and if we concede that behaviors like gambling, overeating and playing video games can be addictive in similar ways, it’s likely that everyone has a relative or friend who’s hooked on some form of fun to a destructive degree. But what exactly is wrong with them? For several decades now, it’s been a commonplace to say that addicts have a disease. However, the very same scientists who once seemed to back up that claim have begun tearing it down.

Once, addictions were viewed as failures of character and morals, and society responded to drunks and junkies with shaming, scolding and calls for more “will power.” This proved spectacularly ineffective, although, truth be told, most addicts do quit without any form of treatment. Nevertheless, many do not, and in the mid-20th century, the recovery movement, centered around the 12-Step method developed by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, became a godsend for those unable to quit drinking or drugging on their own. The approach spread to so-called “behavioral addictions,” like gambling or sex, activities that don’t even involve the ingestion of any kind of mind-altering substance.

Much of the potency of AA comes from its acknowledgement that willpower isn’t enough to beat this devil and that blame, rather than whipping the blamed person into shape, is counterproductive. The first Step requires admitting one’s helplessness in the face of addiction, taking recovery out of the arena of simple self-control and into a realm of transcendence. We’re powerless over the addictive substance, and trust in a Higher Power, and the program itself, to provide us with the strength and strategy to quit. But an important principle of the 12 Steps is that addiction is chronic and likely congenital; you can be sober indefinitely, but you will never be cured. You will always remain an addict, even if you never use again.

The flourishing of the 12-Step movement is one of the reasons why we now routinely describe addiction as a “disease.” To have a disease — instead of, say, a dangerous habit — is to be powerless to do anything except apply the prescribed cure. A person with a disease is unfortunate, rather than foolish or weak or degenerate. Something innate in your body, particularly in your brain, has made you exceptionally susceptible to getting hooked. You always have and always will contain a bomb, the important question is how to avoid setting a match to it. Another factor promoting the disease model is that it has ushered addiction under the aegis of the healthcare industry, whether in the form of an illness whose treatment can be charged to an insurance company or as the focus of profit-making rehab centers.

This conception of addiction as a biological phenomenon seemed to be endorsed over the past 20 years as new technologies have allowed neuroscientists to measure the human brain and its activities in ever more telling detail. Sure enough, the brains of addicts are physically different — sometimes strikingly so — from the brains of average people. But neuroscience giveth and now neuroscience taketh away. The recovery movement and rehab industry (two separate things, although the latter often employs the techniques of the former) have always had their critics, but lately some of the most vocal have been the neuroscientists whose findings once lent them credibility.

One of those neuroscientists is Marc Lewis, a psychologist and former addict himself, also the author of a new book “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease.” Lewis’s argument is actually fairly simple: The disease theory, and the science sometimes used to support it, fail to take into account the plasticity of the human brain. Of course, “the brain changes with addiction,” he writes. “But the way it changes has to do with learning and development — not disease.” All significant and repeated experiences change the brain; adaptability and habit are the brain’s secret weapons. The changes wrought by addiction are not, however, permanent, and while they are dangerous, they’re not abnormal. Through a combination of a difficult emotional history, bad luck and the ordinary operations of the brain itself, an addict is someone whose brain has been transformed, but also someone who can be pushed further along the road toward healthy development. (Lewis doesn’t like the term “recovery” because it implies a return to the addict’s state before the addiction took hold.)

“The Biology of Desire” is grouped around several case studies, each one illustrating a unique path to dependency. A striving Australian entrepreneur becomes caught up in the “clarity, power and potential” he feels after smoking meth, along with his ability to work long hours while on the drug. A social worker who behaves selflessly in her job and marriage constructs a defiant, selfish, secret life around stealing and swallowing prescription opiates. A shy Irishman who started drinking as a way to relax in social situations slowly comes to see social situations as an occasion to drink and then drinking as a reason to hole up in his apartment for days on end.

Each of these people, Lewis argues, had a particular “emotional wound” the substance helped them handle, but once they started using it, the habit itself eventually became self-perpetuating and in most cases ultimately served to deepen the wound. Each case study focuses on a different part of the brain involved in addiction and illustrates how the function of each part — desire, emotion, impulse, automatic behavior — becomes shackled to a single goal: consuming the addictive substance. The brain is built to learn and change, Lewis points out, but it’s also built to form pathways for repetitive behavior, everything from brushing your teeth to stomping on the brake pedal, so that you don’t have to think about everything you do consciously. The brain is self-organizing. Those are all good properties, but addiction shanghais them for a bad cause.

As Lewis sees it, addiction really is habit; we just don’t appreciate how deeply habit can be engraved on the brain itself. “Repeated (motivating) experience” — i.e., the sensation of having one’s worries wafted away by the bliss of heroin — “produce brain changes that define future experiences… So getting drunk a lot will sculpt the synapses that determine future drinking patterns.” More and more experiences and activities get looped into the addiction experience and trigger cravings and expectations like the bells that made Pavlov’s dogs salivate, from the walk home past a favorite bar to the rituals of shooting up. The world becomes a host of signs all pointing you in the same direction and activating powerful unconscious urges to follow them. At a certain point, the addictive behavior becomes compulsive, seemingly as irresistibly automatic as a reflex. You may not even want the drug anymore, but you’ve forgotten how to do anything else besides seek it out and take it.

Yet all of the addicts Lewis interviewed for “The Biology of Desire” are sober now, some through tried-and-true 12-Step programs, others through self-designed regimens, like the heroin addict who taught herself how to meditate in prison. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a psychologist would argue for some form of talk therapy addressing the underlying emotional motivations for turning to drugs. But Lewis is far from the only expert to voice this opinion, or to recommend cognitive behavioral therapy as a way to reshape the brain and redirect its systems into less self-destructive patterns.

Without a doubt, AA and similar programs have helped a lot of people. But they’ve also failed others. One size does not fit all, and there’s a growing body of evidence that empowering addicts, rather than insisting that they embrace their powerlessness and the impossibility of ever fully shedding their addiction, can be a road to health as well. If addiction is a form of learning gone tragically wrong, it is also possible that it can be unlearned, that the brain’s native changeability can be set back on track. “Addicts aren’t diseased,” Lewis writes, “and they don’t need medical intervention in order to change their lives. What they need is sensitive, intelligent social scaffolding to hold the pieces of their imagined future in place — while they reach toward it.”

Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon. She is the author of “The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia” and has a Web site,magiciansbook.com.

Green Party candidate launches US presidential campaign

134867974289910

By Patrick Martin
27 June 2015

Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate in 2012, announced June 22 that she will seek the party’s nomination for president in 2016. Stein made the announcement on the “Democracy Now” radio program in an interview with host Amy Goodman. This was followed by a formal declaration the next day in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington.

Stein is not a socialist, and the word “socialist” was never spoken in the interview or speech and appears nowhere in her campaign literature. She is running as a capitalist candidate seeking to reform American capitalism. She uses the language traditional to American populism, both right and left, contrasting Main Street to Wall Street.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Stein’s campaign is its parochialism. The world outside the borders of the United States might as well be invisible. In her interview, speech and campaign program, the words Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Ukraine do not appear. China, Russia, Europe and Africa do not rate a mention. There are a few references to immigrants, but not to any of the countries they come from, or what drives them to seek refuge in the US.

There is no assessment made of the wars and military provocations which US imperialism has conducted for the past 25 years along the periphery of the former Soviet Union, from the Baltic States to Afghanistan. Insofar as Stein even addresses the question of military spending—she advocates a 50 percent reduction—it is essentially as a budgetary issue, not because the wars waged by the Pentagon are reactionary and criminal in character. Significantly, she brands Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a war criminal, but makes no such characterization of Barack Obama or George W. Bush, who have far more blood on their hands.

This exclusive focus on US domestic issues has a practical political benefit for the Green candidate, since she can pass in diplomatic silence over the reactionary record of fellow Green Party leaders who have entered capitalist governments around the world. From Germany to Australia, Greens have carried out capitalist policies of austerity, cutting jobs and social spending—the exact reverse of what the Green Party candidate claims to stand for in the United States.

The Green record on foreign policy is even worse. The German Greens opened the door to the reemergence of German imperialism, spearheading the deployment of German troops to the Balkans and Afghanistan. Green politicians are supporting imperialist intervention in Iraq and Syria, the US “pivot to Asia” against China, the preparations of NATO for military conflict with Russia over Ukraine, and the impoverishment of the Greek working people under the boot of the IMF and European Union.

More fundamentally, Stein’s silence on virtually all foreign policy questions is a signal to the US ruling class. The US Green Party will do nothing to challenge the global interests of American imperialism. Like its counterparts worldwide, the US Greens seek to gain access to the halls of power by reassuring those who really call the shots in American politics—Wall Street and the military-intelligence apparatus.

There is much in Stein’s domestic program that could attract popular support among American workers and youth. “Guarantee economic human rights, including access to food, water, housing, and utilities,” she urges, along with “economic rights for everyone—the right to a job, the right to complete healthcare through a Medicare for All… the right to quality education, from preschool through college, and that includes free public higher education and abolishing student debt.”

But like a snazzy car that unfortunately lacks an engine, the Green candidate fails to explain how such a program of social rights can be realized economically. Apparently, according to the Greens, this program can be accomplished within the framework of capitalism, without disturbing or even greatly inconveniencing the capitalist ruling elite.

The Socialist Equality Party calls for the realization of basic social rights: to a job, a living wage, health care, education, housing, a secure retirement. But we make clear that these rights, essential for a decent life in an advanced society, are incompatible with capitalist property relations. These rights can be achieved only through the confiscation of the wealth of the financial aristocracy, the nationalization of the major corporations and banks, and the reorganization of economic life under the democratic control of working people.

For the Green Party, however, these social rights are pie in the sky promises to workers that can be achieved without overthrowing the profit system, and even without any significant struggle, other than voting for Green candidates.

Stein declares, “Our Power to the People Plan lays out these solutions in a blueprint to move our economy from the greed and exploitation of corporate capitalism to a human-centered system that puts people, planet and peace over profit.” But when spelled out in detail, this “blueprint” consists of nothing more radical than breaking up the largest banks and supporting the development of cooperatives and small businesses, as well as efforts to “make Wall Street, big corporations, and the rich pay their fair share of taxes.”

There is no reference to wealth redistribution, a staple even of liberal Democratic Party candidates in the era of the New Deal and Great Society, but now banned from official capitalist politics, which includes the Greens. This reveals something about the class foundation of the Green Party. It is a creation of layers of the upper-middle class, living in comfortable circumstances and possessed of a certain degree of private wealth. The Greens are motivated largely by environmental and lifestyle concerns, not by the desperate struggle for economic survival that confronts the vast majority of working class families.

Much of Stein’s interview with Amy Goodman was taken up with discussion of her attitude to “left” Democratic candidates such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is challenging frontrunner Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Sanders, despite his occasional misuse of the label “socialist,” is nothing more than a liberal Democrat with conventional views about setting modest limits on the power of the biggest banks and corporations, while supporting the worldwide military operations of American imperialism and its client states such as Israel.

Stein hailed the initial support won by Sanders, declaring, “It’s wonderful, and I wish him well. I wish him the best.” She dodged a direct question about whether she would support Sanders if he should run as an independent candidate for president, suggesting instead, “If we were both running as Greens, you know, we would have probably been in a Green primary, which would have been wonderful.”

She continued, “I wish that he had run outside the Democratic Party. There are many similarities, obviously, between his vision and my vision…” She added that “in the Democratic Party, we’ve seen wonderful efforts—Jesse Jackson, Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton—who had extremely vigorous, spirited, visionary campaigns.”

The problem with these campaigns, Stein concluded, was that “It’s very hard to beat the system inside of the Democratic Party. And, you know, when those efforts ended, that was the end. Ours will keep going, and it will continue into the general election. And when it’s over, we’re building a party that’s not going away.”

What is most noteworthy here is that Stein does not distinguish herself or the Greens from Sanders, Jackson, Kucinich or Sharpton in terms of political program. They are bourgeois politicians who defend capitalism and American imperialism, and so is she. The difference is that they do so within the framework of the Democratic Party, one of the two traditional parties of bourgeois rule in America, while Stein seeks to create a new political prop for bourgeois rule outside the two-party system.

Pressed by Goodman to elaborate on policy differences with Sanders, Stein exhibited a bad conscience, first conceding that the differences were small, then trying to correct herself.

“You know, certainly I have more in common with Bernie Sanders than differences,” she said. “I think if you had to look for differences, you would find them in foreign policy, where my campaign is perhaps more critical—I would say definitely more critical—of funding for regimes like that of the Netanyahu government, which are clearly war criminals.”

She continued, “These are, you know, small, big. I mean, foreign policy, I think, is big. It tends to be one issue among many, but it is the majority of our discretionary expenditures, and it’s really inseparable from all the other critical issues that we’re trying to solve.”

Stein spelled out in her interview with Goodman the essential perspective of middle-class “radical” politics in the United States: that protest in the streets and pressure from ethnic minorities, gays, women, trade unionists and others can compel the Democratic Party—or even the Republicans—to enact meaningful reforms.

“It’s important to remember what we did under Richard Nixon, as demonic a Republican as any,” she said. “We did amazing things: on women’s rights, the war, establishing the EPA and the Clean Air Act. We did that because we mobilized, and political activism became a way of life. It’s going to have to be again.”

Stein also revealed how the aspirations of the US Greens have been whetted by the electoral success of the Syriza party in Greece, a coalition of Stalinist and pseudo-left groups, including the Greens. “We wouldn’t presume that the odds are in our favor at this point, but the odds are shifting,” she told Goodman. “Let’s test those waters! Let’s find out! Who would have thought that Syriza would go from 3 percent to 70 percent in five years? We need to get started.”

Neither Stein nor Goodman mentioned that Syriza has cruelly betrayed those who voted for it, capitulating to the austerity demands of the European Union and the IMF and imposing cut after cut on Greek workers, youth and pensioners.

Just after this reference to Syriza, Stein said, “At some point, the tide is going to turn, and it may turn after there are 100 Katrinas up and down all of our coasts, but it’s somewhere along the line.”

What a perspective! Perhaps after 100 Katrinas—destroying 100 American cities, killing tens of thousands and displacing millions—the American people will finally be jolted from their political lethargy. Here, in unvarnished form, is the reactionary pessimism of the upper-middle class ex-radical, disappointed that nothing has come of their decades of engagement in protest politics. The underlying premise is that the fault lies with the workers, who haven’t suffered enough.

There is no question that as a mass movement against capitalism emerges in the United States, rooted in the working class, the attitude of groups like the Greens will be fundamentally hostile. They will prop up the left wing of the Democratic Party, or, failing that, seek to divert the workers into some new bourgeois political trap, such as Syriza in Greece.

The fight to establish the political independence of the working class from all forms of capitalist politics requires an intransigent struggle to unmask the political representatives of the upper-middle class, including the Greens.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/06/27/gpus-j27.html

Bernie Sanders Has Overtaken Hillary Clinton In the Hearts and Minds of Democrats

Posted: 06/25/2015 
BERNIE SANDERS
According to PBS, Bernie Sanders is “gaining against Clinton in early polls.” Salon’s Bill Curry believes “Hillary Clinton is going lose,” primarily because millions of voters longing for a truly progressive candidate will nominate Sanders. POLITICO explained recently that Early-state polls hint at a Bernie Sanders surge, a headline that was unthinkable only several months earlier. Yahoo’s Meredith Shiner calls Sanders a “progressive social media star and pragmatic legislator” and states that “Sanders also has a much more substantial legislative history” than any GOP challenger. In Iowa,1,100 people packed a gym to hear Bernie Sanders speak in May.

In contrast, Team Hillary had an intimate business roundtable discussion with five “ordinary” Iowans. The only problem was that according to The Washington Post, “All five were selected to attend her events.” In fact, Clinton’s “staged roundtables” were attended by a total of 13 Iowans, picked by either the campaign or the host.

Therefore, a paradigm shift has taken place. Many Iowans drove 50 miles to hear Sanders speak in Des Moines, primarily because Bernie Sanders has surpassed Clinton as the ideal choice for Democratic nominee. Regarding electability, Sanders has also surpassed Clinton as the realistic choice for Democratic nominee in the minds of many voters, because as one Salon piece illustrates, Hillary “just doesn’t get it.”

When it comes to everything from immigration to climate change and economic issues (most Americans side with Democrats, according to Pew research and other data) some writers believe that Democrats “can nominate a ham sandwich and win the presidency.” Although once thought of as an impossibility, a closer look at the electoral map shows why Bernie Sanders could realistically defeat any GOP challenger. If voters around the country still care about middle class economics, the federal budget, trade and other hot button issues in 2016, Sanders has a legitimate chance to win. Also, since Sanders isn’t tied to Obama fatigue like Hillary Clinton, it’s quite possible the Vermont Senator re-energizes an America that just recently decided the Confederate flag doesn’t represent its value system.

According to a POLITICO piece titled The 2016 Results We Can Already Predict, “Assuming the lean, likely, and safe Democratic states remain loyal to the party, the nominee need only win 23 of the 85 toss-up electoral votes.” Therefore, there’s no need to jettison cherished values for the sake of pragmatism; those days are over. Senator Bernie Sanders, known in Washington and throughout the nation as an advocate for middle class Americans, veterans, the environment, and other cherished causes can win crucial electoral votes just as easily as Hillary Clinton.

Finally, we’re all asking a question that we’ve been too frightened to ask, for fear of seeming unrealistic:“Why Not Bernie?”

Not long ago, many Democrats emphasized realism over progressive values. Sure, Hillary voted for Iraq and has close ties to Wall Street, but she’ll raise $2.5 billion, so doesn’t this represent our best chance to beat the GOP? This mindset, however, ignored the fact that the Associated Press, Vice News, and others are suing the State Department for access to tens of thousands of Clinton’s emails. A Bloomberg piecetitled Hillary Clinton Monthly E-Mail Releases Must Begin in June Court Ruleshighlights the reality of eventual email disclosures:

The U.S. must begin to make public 30,000 e-mails belonging to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on a monthly basis beginning June 30, a federal judge ruled Wednesday amid competing proposals over their disclosure…

The State Department proposed releasing as many documents as possible at 60-day intervals, ending by Jan. 15. Attorneys for Vice News reporter Jason Leopold, who sued to gain access to the e-mails, proposed releases every two weeks.

Leopold’s case is one of several seeking access to all or part of Clinton’s State Department e-mail through the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Not long ago, winning meant voting for Hillary, even though someone like Bernie Sanders represented a candidate who spoke to the value system of citizens throughout the country. In reality, though, even billions of dollars in campaign funding won’t help if a controversial email is uncovered before Election Day, or debated endlessly like other Clinton scandals.

As for why Bernie Sanders is finally being given the attention he deserves, the Vermont Senator is intimately involved with issues that affect the lives of everyday Americans. While Clinton supporters reference their candidate’s experience, many people aren’t aware of the various Congressional Committees that Sanders is involved with on a daily basis:

Environment and Public Works
The United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is responsible for dealing with matters related to the environment and infrastructure.

Energy and Natural Resources
The United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has jurisdiction over matters related to energy and nuclear waste policy, territorial policy, native Hawaiian matters, and public lands.

Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
The United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) generally considers matters relating to these issues.

Budget
The United States Senate Committee on Budget… is responsible for drafting Congress’s annual budget plan and monitoring action on the budget for the Federal Government. The committee has jurisdiction over the Congressional Budget Office.

Veterans’ Affairs
The United States Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs considers matters relating to the compensation of veterans, life insurance issued on account of service in the Armed Forces, national cemeteries, pensions of all wars, readjustment of servicemen to civil life, and veterans’ hospitals and medical care.

Joint Economic Committee
This joint committee of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives focuses on promoting maximum employment, production, and purchasing power.

While Hillary voted for Iraq, Sanders knows how the repercussions of this decision continue to affect veterans and their families. As for jobs, the federal budget, healthcare, energy, and the environment, Sanders has far more experience than Clinton, Bush, or any other candidate in 2016.

Finally, perhaps the biggest reason Sanders is surging is because he’s a genuine person with real beliefs, while others become chameleons when votes and public image are at stake. It’s important to note that Hillary Clinton just recently “evolved”on gay marriage and in 2004, Clinton’s speech (forward to 0:22 on the Slate video or read the transcript of her passionate defense of marriage between only a man and woman) highlighted her views on the “sacred bond” of marriage:

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY): “I believe marriage is…a sacred bond between a man and a woman….a fundamental bedrock principle that it exists between a man and woman, going back into the midst of history, as one of the founding, foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization. And that it’s primary principle role during those milennia has been the raising and socializing of children for the society into which they are to become adults.”

According to The Atlantic, Clinton’s stance remained unchanged for years, and “she also opposed gay marriage as recently as 2013, long after a majority of Americans already held a more gay-friendly position.”

In terms of identity, Hillary Clinton might be a liberal according tofivethirtyeight.com, yet their analysis gives her a free pass on war, gay marriage, and other issues liberals had championed before they were popular. Adhering to polls is fine, but the words “poll driven,” not “progressive,” come to mind for someone with this type of persona. If one’s views on war and foreign policy are enough for The New York Times to publish an article titled Are neocons getting ready to ally with Hillary Clinton?, then Bernie Sanders becomes an even better candidate for people opposed to never-ending American counterinsurgency wars. Clinton might say she was dupedby faulty intelligence, but Bernie Sanders had enough intelligence and wisdom to vote against the Iraq war back in 2003.

In contrast to Clinton, Sanders has supported the issue of gay marriage since 2000, vehemently opposed the Iraq War, opposes TPP, wants student loan debt reforms, fights for veterans, and isn’t afraid to blast “too big to fail” Wall Street firms. As for him being an “avowed Socialist,” George Bush’s $700 billion bailout of banks was textbook socialism, so Sanders will be able to shrug off the label after one or two televised debates. Bernie Sanders represents a new era in American politics; one where values trump Citizens United cash or cold pragmatism. America needs a human being like Sanders, now more than ever before.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/h-a-goodman/its-official-bernie-sande_b_7660226.html

Study finds that one in six species are in danger of extinction due to climate change

extinctionrisk_rpearce

By Philip Guelpa
25 June 2015

An article published this past April in the journal Science predicts that up to one in six animal and plant species on earth are in danger of extinction due to climate change. The study, authored by Mark Urban, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut, concludes that as the global climate warms, the rate of extinction, already high, will accelerate.

Previous studies, dating back more than a decade, have already shown that global warming, which has increased earth’s temperature by an average of 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) since the Industrial Revolution, has had notable effects on species distributions. It pushes species to higher latitudes and higher altitudes, following the cooler temperatures to which they are adapted. Scientific projections indicate that the rate of warming is accelerating, and global temperatures may rise at least 8 degrees F. (4.5 degrees C.), if present trends continue.

Such drastic changes in climate would far outpace the rate at which species could adapt by evolutionary mechanisms. Many would, quite literally, run out of room, reaching the tops of mountains or the far reaches of the northern and southern hemispheres, where ecological crowding and differing environmental settings would drive many to extinction.

Urban’s research was based on a reanalysis (known as a meta-analysis) of data from 131 previous studies of species extinction from around the world. He concludes that the rate of increase in extinctions would be greater if temperatures reach the higher end of predicted ranges. With a rise of 3.6 degrees F. (2.0 C.), 5.2 percent of species would become extinct, but with an increase of 7.7 degrees F. (4.3 C.) the extinction rate would rise to 16 percent. Larger changes in temperature can be expected to have even more severe consequences.

It must be remembered that these estimates represent global averages. Regional variations are likely to produce a range of results. For example, studies have revealed that the polar regions are warming at notably more rapid rates than are the lower latitudes. As temperatures in these areas increase, cold-adapted species will simply have no place to go.

Another complicating factor is that there are likely to be synergistic effects. Complex, dialectical interrelationships exist between species in a given ecological setting. In- or out-migration, differing migration rates, or local extermination of key species would quite probably disrupt delicate balances of interdependence, causing a downward cascade of consequences for other species, likely making their situations more fragile and prone to extinction.

Less mobile species and those limited to restricted geographic ranges will be especially vulnerable. According to Urban, the highest rates of extinction are likely to occur in South America (23 percent), and Australia and New Zealand (14 percent each).

The danger is not merely that of the loss of individual species, or even large numbers of species, but of the collapse of entire ecosystems, with incalculable, but no doubt very severe consequences for humans.

Urban’s study clearly demonstrates the need for a substantial increase in research on the effects of climate change on species and ecosystems. However, no amount of such research will ameliorate the causes of these extinctions. Furthermore, Urban points out that even species that do not go extinct will suffer major, mostly detrimental consequences due to climate change.

Massive extinctions due to naturally induced climate changes have occurred repeatedly in the past (see: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert). There is a widespread scientific consensus that human activity, if present trends continue, is likely to cause disruptions on a similar scale.

However, despite clear warnings of dire consequences, including massive disruptions to human society, business interests and the political structures that represent them have prevented any meaningful efforts to address the activities that are driving the process (see: Climate report warns of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts”).

A massive, coordinated scientific and technological effort is needed to avert an otherwise inevitable environmental disaster. That will only be possible, however, if control of the economy is taken away from super-rich corporate interests, whose overriding motivation is short-term profit regardless of the consequences. Only a rationally planned program based on the interests of the working class, including the need for a livable planet, can address this crisis.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/06/25/exti-j25.html

 

LOpht’s warnings about the Internet drew notice but little action

NET OF INSECURITY

A disaster foretold — and ignored

Published on June 22, 2015

The seven young men sitting before some of Capitol Hill’s most powerful lawmakers weren’t graduate students or junior analysts from some think tank. No, Space Rogue, Kingpin, Mudge and the others were hackers who had come from the mysterious environs of cyberspace to deliver a terrifying warning to the world.

The making of a vulnerable Internet: This story is the third of a multi-part project on the Internet’s inherent vulnerabilities and why they may never be fixed.

Part 1: The story of how the Internet became so vulnerable
Part 2: The long life of a ‘quick fix’

Your computers, they told the panel of senators in May 1998, are not safe — not the software, not the hardware, not the networks that link them together. The companies that build these things don’t care, the hackers continued, and they have no reason to care because failure costs them nothing. And the federal government has neither the skill nor the will to do anything about it.

“If you’re looking for computer security, then the Internet is not the place to be,” said Mudge, then 27 and looking like a biblical prophet with long brown hair flowing past his shoulders. The Internet itself, he added, could be taken down “by any of the seven individuals seated before you” with 30 minutes of well-choreographed keystrokes.

The senators — a bipartisan group including John Glenn, Joseph I. Lieberman and Fred D. Thompson — nodded gravely, making clear that they understood the gravity of the situation. “We’re going to have to do something about it,” Thompson said.

What happened instead was a tragedy of missed opportunity, and 17 years later the world is still paying the price in rampant insecurity.

The testimony from L0pht, as the hacker group called itself, was among the most audacious of a rising chorus of warnings delivered in the 1990s as the Internet was exploding in popularity, well on its way to becoming a potent global force for communication, commerce and criminality.

Hackers and other computer experts sounded alarms as the World Wide Web brought the transformative power of computer networking to the masses. This created a universe of risks for users and the critical real-world systems, such as power plants, rapidly going online as well.

Officials in Washington and throughout the world failed to forcefully address these problems as trouble spread across cyberspace, a vast new frontier of opportunity and lawlessness. Even today, many serious online intrusions exploit flaws in software first built in that era, such as Adobe Flash, Oracle’s Java and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

“We have the same security problems,” said Space Rogue, whose real name is Cris Thomas. “There’s a lot more money involved. There’s a lot more awareness. But the same problems are still there.”

L0pht, born of the bustling hacker scene in the Boston area, rose to prominence as a flood of new software was introducing such wonders as sound, animation and interactive games to the Web. This software, which required access to the core functions of each user’s computer, also gave hackers new opportunities to manipulate machines from afar.

Breaking into networked computers became so easy that the Internet, long the realm of idealistic scientists and hobbyists, gradually grew infested with the most pragmatic of professionals: crooks, scam artists, spies and cyberwarriors. They exploited computer bugs for profit or other gain while continually looking for new vulnerabilities.

Tech companies sometimes scrambled to fix problems — often after hackers or academic researchers revealed them publicly — but few companies were willing to undertake the costly overhauls necessary to make their systems significantly more secure against future attacks. Their profits depended on other factors, such as providing consumers new features, not warding off hackers.

“In the real world, people only invest money to solve real problems, as opposed to hypothetical ones,” said Dan S. Wallach, a Rice University computer science professor who has been studying online threats since the 1990s. “The thing that you’re selling is not security. The thing that you’re selling is something else.”

The result was a culture within the tech industry often derided as “patch and pray.” In other words, keep building, keep selling and send out fixes as necessary. If a system failed — causing lost data, stolen credit card numbers or time-consuming computer crashes — the burden fell not on giant, rich tech companies but on their customers.

The members of L0pht say they often experienced this cavalier attitude in their day jobs, where some toiled as humble programmers or salesmen at computer stores. When they reported bugs to software makers, company officials often asked: Does anybody else know about this?

CONTINUED:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/business/2015/06/22/net-of-insecurity-part-3/