Post Capitalism

tumblr_ltswdxD3HY1r4h4p6o1_500

Jonathan Taplin on Jul 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to make $7 billion in 45 minutes

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

25 July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andre Damon

 

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

How China and Russia Are Running Rings Around Washington 

download

 

The Eurasian Big Bang 

By Pepe Escobar

Let’s start with the geopolitical Big Bang you know nothing about, the one that occurred just two weeks ago. Here are its results: from now on, any possible future attack on Iran threatened by the Pentagon (in conjunction with NATO) would essentially be an assault on the planning of an interlocking set of organizations — the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), the EEU (Eurasian Economic Union), the AIIB (the new Chinese-founded Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), and the NDB (the BRICS’ New Development Bank) — whose acronyms you’re unlikely to recognize either.  Still, they represent an emerging new order in Eurasia.

Tehran, Beijing, Moscow, Islamabad, and New Delhi have been actively establishing interlocking security guarantees. They have been simultaneously calling the Atlanticist bluff when it comes to the endless drumbeat of attention given to the flimsy meme of Iran’s “nuclear weapons program.”  And a few days before the Vienna nuclear negotiations finally culminated in an agreement, all of this came together at a twin BRICS/SCO summit in Ufa, Russia — a place you’ve undoubtedly never heard of and a meeting that got next to no attention in the U.S.  And yet sooner or later, these developments will ensure that the War Party in Washington and assorted neocons (as well as neoliberalcons) already breathing hard over the Iran deal will sweat bullets as their narratives about how the world works crumble.

The Eurasian Silk Road

With the Vienna deal, whose interminable build-up I had the dubious pleasure of following closely, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his diplomatic team have pulled the near-impossible out of an extremely crumpled magician’s hat: an agreement that might actually end sanctions against their country from an asymmetric, largely manufactured conflict.

Think of that meeting in Ufa, the capital of Russia’s Bashkortostan, as a preamble to the long-delayed agreement in Vienna. It caught the new dynamics of the Eurasian continent and signaled the future geopolitical Big Bangness of it all. At Ufa, from July 8th to 10th, the 7th BRICS summit and the 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit overlapped just as a possible Vienna deal was devouring one deadline after another.

Consider it a diplomatic masterstroke of Vladmir Putin’s Russia to have merged those two summits with an informal meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Call it a soft power declaration of war against Washington’s imperial logic, one that would highlight the breadth and depth of an evolving Sino-Russian strategic partnership. Putting all those heads of state attending each of the meetings under one roof, Moscow offered a vision of an emerging, coordinated geopolitical structure anchored in Eurasian integration. Thus, the importance of Iran: no matter what happens post-Vienna, Iran will be a vital hub/node/crossroads in Eurasia for this new structure.

If you read the declaration that came out of the BRICS summit, one detail should strike you: the austerity-ridden European Union (EU) is barely mentioned. And that’s not an oversight. From the point of view of the leaders of key BRICS nations, they are offering a new approach to Eurasia, the very opposite of the language of sanctions.

Here are just a few examples of the dizzying activity that took place at Ufa, all of it ignored by the American mainstream media. In their meetings, President Putin, China’s President Xi Jinping, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi worked in a practical way to advance what is essentially a Chinese vision of a future Eurasia knit together by a series of interlocking “new Silk Roads.” Modi approved more Chinese investment in his country, while Xi and Modi together pledged to work to solve the joint border issues that have dogged their countries and, in at least one case, led to war.

The NDB, the BRICS’ response to the World Bank, was officially launched with $50 billion in start-up capital. Focused on funding major infrastructure projects in the BRICS nations, it is capable of accumulating as much as $400 billion in capital, according to its president, Kundapur Vaman Kamath. Later, it plans to focus on funding such ventures in other developing nations across the Global South — all in their own currencies, which means bypassing the U.S. dollar.  Given its membership, the NDB’s money will clearly be closely linked to the new Silk Roads. As Brazilian Development Bank President Luciano Coutinho stressed, in the near future it may also assist European non-EU member states like Serbia and Macedonia. Think of this as the NDB’s attempt to break a Brussels monopoly on Greater Europe. Kamath even advanced the possibility of someday aidingin the reconstruction of Syria.

You won’t be surprised to learn that both the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the NDB are headquartered in China and will work to complement each other’s efforts. At the same time, Russia’s foreign investment arm, the Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), signed a memorandum of understanding with funds from other BRICS countries and so launched an informal investment consortium in which China’s Silk Road Fund and India’s Infrastructure Development Finance Company will be key partners.

Full Spectrum Transportation Dominance

On the ground level, this should be thought of as part of the New Great Game in Eurasia. Its flip side is the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the Pacific and the Atlantic version of the same, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, both of which Washington is trying to advance to maintain U.S. global economic dominance. The question these conflicting plans raise is how to integrate trade and commerce across that vast region. From the Chinese and Russian perspectives, Eurasia is to be integrated via a complex network of superhighways, high-speed rail lines, ports, airports, pipelines, and fiber optic cables. By land, sea, and air, the resulting New Silk Roads are meant to create an economic version of the Pentagon’s doctrine of “Full Spectrum Dominance” — a vision that already has Chinese corporate executives crisscrossing Eurasia sealing infrastructure deals.

For Beijing — back to a 7% growth rate in the second quarter of 2015 despite a recent near-panic on the country’s stock markets — it makes perfect economic sense: as labor costs rise, production will be relocated from the country’s Eastern seaboard to its cheaper Western reaches, while the natural outlets for the production of just about everything will be those parallel and interlocking “belts” of the new Silk Roads.

Meanwhile, Russia is pushing to modernize and diversify its energy-exploitation-dependent economy. Among other things, its leaders hope that the mix of those developing Silk Roads and the tying together of the Eurasian Economic Union — Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan — will translate into myriad transportation and construction projects for which the country’s industrial and engineering know-how will prove crucial.

As the EEU has begun establishing free trade zones with India, Iran, Vietnam, Egypt, and Latin America’s Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela), the initial stages of this integration process already reach beyond Eurasia. Meanwhile, the SCO, which began as little more than a security forum, is expanding and moving into the field of economic cooperation.  Its countries, especially four Central Asian “stans” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan) will rely ever more on the Chinese-driven Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the NDB. At Ufa, India and Pakistan finalized an upgrading process in which they have moved from observers to members of the SCO. This makes it an alternative G8.

In the meantime, when it comes to embattled Afghanistan, the BRICS nations and the SCO have now called upon “the armed opposition to disarm, accept the Constitution of Afghanistan, and cut ties with Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations.” Translation: within the framework of Afghan national unity, the organization would accept the Taliban as part of a future government. Their hopes, with the integration of the region in mind, would be for a future stable Afghanistan able to absorb more Chinese, Russian, Indian, and Iranian investment, and the construction — finally! — of a long-planned, $10 billion, 1,420-kilometer-long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline that would benefit those energy-hungry new SCO members, Pakistan and India. (They would each receive 42% of the gas, the remaining 16% going to Afghanistan.)

Central Asia is, at the moment, geographic ground zero for the convergence of the economic urges of China, Russia, and India. It was no happenstance that, on his way to Ufa, Prime Minister Modi stopped off in Central Asia.  Like the Chinese leadership in Beijing, Moscow looks forward (as a recent document puts it) to the “interpenetration and integration of the EEU and the Silk Road Economic Belt” into a “Greater Eurasia” and a “steady, developing, safe common neighborhood” for both Russia and China.

And don’t forget Iran. In early 2016, once economic sanctions are fully lifted, it is expected to join the SCO, turning it into a G9. As its foreign minister, Javad Zarif, made clear recently to Russia’s Channel 1 television, Tehran considers the two countries strategic partners. “Russia,” he said, “has been the most important participant in Iran’s nuclear program and it will continue under the current agreement to be Iran’s major nuclear partner.” The same will, he added, be true when it comes to “oil and gas cooperation,” given the shared interest of those two energy-rich nations in “maintaining stability in global market prices.”

Got Corridor, Will Travel

Across Eurasia, BRICS nations are moving on integration projects. A developing Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor is a typical example. It is now being reconfigured as a multilane highway between India and China. Meanwhile, Iran and Russia are developing a transportation corridor from the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the Caspian Sea and the Volga River. Azerbaijan will be connected to the Caspian part of this corridor, while India is planning to use Iran’s southern ports to improve its access to Russia and Central Asia. Now, add in a maritime corridor that will stretch from the Indian city of Mumbai to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and then on to the southern Russian city of Astrakhan. And this just scratches the surface of the planning underway.

Years ago, Vladimir Putin suggested that there could be a “Greater Europe” stretching from Lisbon, Portugal, on the Atlantic to the Russian city of Vladivostok on the Pacific. The EU, under Washington’s thumb, ignored him. Then the Chinese started dreaming about and planning new Silk Roads that would, in reverse Marco Polo fashion, extend from Shanghai to Venice (and then on to Berlin).

Thanks to a set of cross-pollinating political institutions, investment funds, development banks, financial systems, and infrastructure projects that, to date, remain largely under Washington’s radar, a free-trade Eurasian heartland is being born. It will someday link China and Russia to Europe, Southwest Asia, and even Africa. It promises to be an astounding development. Keep your eyes, if you can, on the accumulating facts on the ground, even if they are rarely covered in the American media. They represent the New Great — emphasis on that word — Game in Eurasia.

Location, Location, Location

Tehran is now deeply invested in strengthening its connections to this new Eurasia and the man to watch on this score is Ali Akbar Velayati. He is the head of Iran’s Center for Strategic Research and senior foreign policy adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Velayati stresses that security in Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and the Caucasus hinges on the further enhancement of a Beijing-Moscow-Tehran triple entente.

As he knows, geo-strategically Iran is all about location, location, location. That country offers the best access to open seas in the region apart from Russia and is the only obvious east-west/north-south crossroads for trade from the Central Asian “stans.” Little wonder then that Iran will soon be an SCO member, even as its “partnership” with Russia is certain to evolve. Its energy resources are already crucial to and considered a matter of national security for China and, in the thinking of that country’s leadership, Iran also fulfills a key role as a hub in those Silk Roads they are planning.

That growing web of literal roads, rail lines, and energy pipelines, asTomDispatch has previously reported, represents Beijing’s response to the Obama administration’s announced “pivot to Asia” and the U.S. Navy’s urge to meddle in the South China Sea. Beijing is choosing to project power via a vast set of infrastructure projects, especially high-speed rail lines that will reach from its eastern seaboard deep into Eurasia. In this fashion, the Chinese-built railway from Urumqi in Xinjiang Province to Almaty in Kazakhstan will undoubtedly someday be extended to Iran and traverse that country on its way to the Persian Gulf.

A New World for Pentagon Planners

At the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum last month, Vladimir Putin told PBS’s Charlie Rose that Moscow and Beijing had always wanted a genuine partnership with the United States, but were spurned by Washington. Hats off, then, to the “leadership” of the Obama administration. Somehow, it has managed to bring together two former geopolitical rivals, while solidifying their pan-Eurasian grand strategy.

Even the recent deal with Iran in Vienna is unlikely — especially given the war hawks in Congress — to truly end Washington’s 36-year-long Great Wall of Mistrust with Iran. Instead, the odds are that Iran, freed from sanctions, will indeed be absorbed into the Sino-Russian project to integrate Eurasia, which leads us to the spectacle of Washington’s warriors, unable to act effectively, yet screaming like banshees.

NATO’s supreme commander Dr. Strangelove, sorry, American General Philip Breedlove, insists that the West must create a rapid-reaction force — online — to counteract Russia’s “false narratives.” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter claims to be seriously considering unilaterally redeploying nuclear-capable missiles in Europe. The nominee to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Commandant Joseph Dunford, recently directly labeled Russia America’s true “existential threat”; Air Force General Paul Selva, nominated to be the new vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, seconded that assessment, using the same phrase and putting Russia, China and Iran, in that order, as more threatening than the Islamic State (ISIS). In the meantime, Republican presidential candidates and a bevy of congressional war hawks simply shout and fume when it comes to both the Iranian deal and the Russians.

In response to the Ukrainian situation and the “threat” of a resurgent Russia (behind which stands a resurgent China), a Washington-centric militarization of Europe is proceeding apace. NATO is now reportedly obsessed with what’s being called “strategy rethink” — as in drawing up detailed futuristic war scenarios on European soil. As economist Michael Hudson has pointed out, even financial politics are becoming militarized and linked to NATO’s new Cold War 2.0.

In its latest National Military Strategy, the Pentagon suggests that the risk of an American war with another nation (as opposed to terror outfits), while low, is “growing” and identifies four nations as “threats”: North Korea, a case apart, and predictably the three nations that form the new Eurasian core: Russia, China, and Iran. They are depicted in the document as “revisionist states,” openly defying what the Pentagon identifies as “international security and stability”; that is, the distinctly un-level playing field created by globalized, exclusionary, turbo-charged casino capitalism and Washington’s brand of militarism.

The Pentagon, of course, does not do diplomacy. Seemingly unaware of the Vienna negotiations, it continued to accuse Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons. And that “military option” against Iran is never off the table.

So consider it the Mother of All Blockbusters to watch how the Pentagon and the war hawks in Congress will react to the post-Vienna and — though it was barely noticed in Washington — the post-Ufa environment, especially under a new White House tenant in 2017.

It will be a spectacle.  Count on it.  Will the next version of Washington try to make it up to “lost” Russia or send in the troops? Will it contain China or the “caliphate” of ISIS? Will it work with Iran to fight ISIS or spurn it? Will it truly pivot to Asia for good and ditch the Middle East or vice-versa? Or might it try to contain Russia, China, and Iran simultaneously or find some way to play them against each other?

In the end, whatever Washington may do, it will certainly reflect a fear of the increasing strategic depth Russia and China are developing economically, a reality now becoming visible across Eurasia. At Ufa, Putin told Xi on the record: “Combining efforts, no doubt we [Russia and China] will overcome all the problems before us.”

Read “efforts” as new Silk Roads, that Eurasian Economic Union, the growing BRICS block, the expanding Shanghai Cooperation Organization, those China-based banks, and all the rest of what adds up to the beginning of a new integration of significant parts of the Eurasian land mass. As for Washington, fly like an eagle? Try instead: scream like a banshee.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times, an analyst for RTand Sputnik, and a TomDispatch regular. His latest book is Empire of Chaos. Follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

Copyright 2015 Pepe Escobar

 

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176026/tomgram%3A_pepe_escobar%2C_the_pivot_to_eurasia/

Obama promotes militarism and murder

obamaswar

By Patrick Martin
23 July 2015

In a speech Tuesday before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Pittsburgh, President Obama gave an extraordinary picture of his role as “commander-in-chief” of American imperialism. He listed a series of men killed or kidnapped by US Special Operations forces, punctuating the list with the assertion of their current status as either dead or imprisoned in the US.

As distributed by the White House, the text reads: “Osama bin Laden is gone. Anwar Awlaki, a leader of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen—gone. Many of Al Qaeda’s deputies and their replacements—gone. Ahmed Abdi Godane—the leader of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia—gone. Abu Anas al-Libi, accused of bombing our embassies in Africa—captured. Ahmed Abu Khattalah, accused in the attack in Benghazi—captured. The list goes on.”

Obama made no mention of the fact that Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen, convicted of no crime, judged in no court, but sentenced to death on the sole authority of the president of the United States. Nor did he refer to the subsequent US government murder of Awlaki’s son, an innocent teenager, in another drone missile strike, or the thousands of other civilian victims of US drone warfare across Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

This recitation of a death list came as the peroration of a speech in which Obama identified himself with the US military and demanded an end to congressional sequestration of funds so that the armed forces can receive tens of billions of dollars in new weaponry.

He threatened the world with the power of the US military machine, declaring, “Now, every ally and every adversary needs to know around the world the United States has and will continue to have the strongest, most capable fighting force the world has ever known. No one can match our Army—the greatest land force on Earth. Nobody can match our Navy—the largest and most advanced battle fleet in the world. Or our Coast Guard—safeguarding our shores and ports. Nobody can match our Air Force—its reach and precision are unequalled. Nobody can match our Marine Corps—the world’s only global expeditionary force. Nobody can match our Special Operations Forces—our remarkable, quiet professionals.”

There is little doubt that these aggressive claims of global superiority are now being perused in foreign capitals—not only Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran, but also Berlin, Paris, Delhi, Tokyo and elsewhere. The choice of words provokes inevitable questions.

The Navy is a “battle fleet”—against whom? The Air Force has “unequalled” reach—so any country can be targeted. The Marine Corps is “the world’s only global expeditionary force”—only the United States claims either the right or the power to intervene anywhere in the world it chooses.

Also significant was Obama’s elevation of the Special Operations Forces to the level of the traditional military foursome of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. This is a president who is most truly at home, and in his element, in the weekly meetings with top military-intelligence staffers (once dubbed “terror Tuesdays”) where he approves kill lists drawn up by the CIA and Special Forces, for implementation through drone missile strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and other countries, or through commando raids on virtually any site.

The corporate-controlled media in the United States gave comparatively little attention to Obama’s speech. Only the Washington Post discussed his list of assassination victims and quoted the chilling passage word for word. The newspaper suggested that this was an effort by Obama to “demonstrate his toughness” going into the congressional debate over the nuclear pact with Iran negotiated by the US and five other powers.

There is no doubt an element of truth in this. In promoting the nuclear deal, Obama pointedly noted that US sanctions against Iran over alleged support for terrorism and human rights abuses would remain in place, and that the US reserved the right to employ the “military option” against Tehran.

Obama’s boasting of the power of the US military was music to the ears of his audience, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a frequent location for bellicose addresses by top US politicians. It was at a VFW convention in August 2002 that Vice President Dick Cheney publicly launched the Bush administration’s campaign for war against Iraq.

Cheney’s remarks 13 years ago deserve to be remembered in the context of Obama’s equally bloodcurdling boasts today. The then-vice president put forward for the first time the main lies that would be used to justify the war in Iraq.

He declared: “Many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon… Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction… Regime-change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits for the region… the streets in Basra and Baghdad are sure to erupt in joy…”

Obama’s militaristic rhetoric is cut from the same cloth. Like Cheney, he speaks for an American ruling elite that is drunk on homicidal violence, seeing military force as its trump card in a global struggle to control markets, resources and strategic territory against its foreign rivals.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/23/obam-j23.html

How “Big Data” can help save the environment

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

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

Scientific American

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

US seeks to placate Mideast allies angered by Iran nuclear deal

GTY_iran_world_leaders_ml_150402_16x9_992

By Keith Jones
17 July 2015

US President Barack Obama is dispatching Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to the Middle East to placate Israel and Saudi Arabia, key US allies that are angered by Washington’s recent nuclear accord with Iran.

Under the accord, Tehran has agreed to dismantle key parts of its civil nuclear program, roll back and freeze others for 10-15 years, and submit to the most intrusive inspections regime ever devised. In return, and only after Iran completes the dismantling and rollback, the US and its European Union allies are to lift the punishing economic sanctions that have halved Iran’s oil exports and denied it access to some $150 billion of its own money—a sum equivalent to almost 30 percent of Iran’s annual GDP.

For years to come, the sanctions will only be suspended, however. They can be re-imposed should the US and its European Union allies deem Iran to have violated its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program reached Tuesday between Iran, the US, the four other permanent UN Security Council members, and Germany.

While no specifics have been provided, Obama and his top aides have indicated that Defense Secretary Carter will offer Israel and the Saudi monarchy new weapons systems and enhanced intelligence cooperation and security guarantees. In Israel’s case some or all of the new weaponry may be gifted.

Carter “will be continuing our practical cooperation with both Israel and our partners in the Gulf,” Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice told Reuters Wednesday. The previous day the Pentagon had said Carter would be traveling to Israel for “close consultation on security issues … as we remain vigilant in countering the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities in the region.”

Israel’s opposition to the nuclear agreement is no surprise. For years Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been railing against Iran and threatening to attack its civil nuclear facilities, while authorizing Mossad to work with the US to mount cyber warfare against Iran and assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. Earlier this year, Netanyahu connived with the Republicans, behind the backs of Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, to secure an invitation to Washington to denounce the nuclear negotiations with Iran from the floor of the US Congress.

Nevertheless, the vehemence of Netanyahu’s opposition and that of his government to this week’s agreement has shocked and angered the US’s European allies. It is also causing concern within Israel’s political elite and military-security establishment that Netanyahu may be doing permanent damage to Israel’s relations with the US.

Netanyahu has termed the nuclear deal a “stunning, historic, mistake” that provides “Iran a sure path to nuclear weapons.” Last week, when it was apparent that only the final details of the agreement still needed to be hammered out, Israel’s Prime Minister accused Iran of pursuing aggression in “every corner of the world” and harboring “the ultimate true aim of taking over the world.” This from the head of a nuclear-armed state that was founded on the dispossession of the Palestinian people and routinely bombards and invades its neighbors.

Netanyahu’s aides have told the Israeli daily Haaretz that he is ready to “‘kill himself’ pursuing the last remaining option for scuttling the deal,” rallying sufficient opposition within the US Congress to withstand a presidential veto.

Thus far Obama has bent over backwards to placate Netanyahu. He had a lengthy phone conversation with the Israeli prime minister Tuesday during which he reportedly reiterated an offer of “expanded security cooperation.” But, according to US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, Netanyahu “wasn’t ready to have this conversation yet.”

In a New York Times interview Obama indicated he would not make an issue of Netanyahu’s efforts to conspire with his Republican political opponents to defeat an agreement he has touted as advancing the US’s “national security interests.” Netanyahu might think “he can further influence the congressional debate,” said Obama, “… But after that’s done, if that’s what [Israel’s prime minister] thinks is appropriate,” the two “will sit down” to discuss how the US can enhance Israel’s military capabilities and security.

An Israeli who held a “senior position in the defense apparatus” until recently told Al-Monitor in May that Washington has offered to “upgrade” and extend strategic relations with Tel Aviv, but this “irrevocable strategic opportunity” is “not happening” despite US willingness.

European leaders have been more ready to publicly spar with Netanyahu.

Responding to the Israeli government’s chorus of denunciations, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, “This is a responsible deal and Israel should also take a closer look at it and not criticize the agreement in a very coarse way.”

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond accused Israel of wanting to ensure Iran was permanently locked in conflict with the US and other western powers: “The question you have to ask yourself is what kind of a deal would have been welcomed in Tel Aviv? The answer, of course, is that Israel doesn’t want any deal with Iran. Israel wants a permanent state of stand-off and I don’t believe that’s in the interests of the region. I don’t believe it’s in our interest.”

During the three-and-a-half decades since the 1979 revolution that toppled the US-backed Shah and his brutal regime, Washington has mounted an unrelenting campaign of bullying, sanctions and threats of war against Iran. US imperialism has never reconciled itself to the loss of Iran as a client state and staging area for asserting its predatory interests in the Middle East and Central Asia, and has been determined to force Iran’s clerical-bourgeois rulers to forgo any challenge to US domination of the world’s most important oil-exporting region.

The unsubstantiated claim that Tehran has been seeking to develop nuclear weapons has always been a secondary issue in this. It was first trumpeted by Washington in 2003, following the US’s illegal invasion of Iraq and as the Bush administration sought to lay the groundwork for a regime change war targeting Iran.

In 2007, the US’s intelligence agencies themselves issued a report, to the dismay of then Vice President Dick Cheney, that concluded there was no evidence Iran’s nuclear program had a military dimension. Yet the US continued to ratchet up the confrontation with Iran. In 2011, the Obama administration and the US’s EU allies imposed upon Iran the most sweeping economic sanctions ever implemented against a state outside of a war.

Now the Obama administration has begun to implement a major tactical shift in US policy. It is seeking to exploit the growing fears within the Iranian bourgeoisie of a working class challenge to its rule. These efforts have been aided by the return to power in Tehran of the political faction of the clerical-bourgeois elite most amenable to rapprochement with Washington. Traditionally associated with the ex-Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, this faction is now led by his protégé, President Hasan Rouhani.

Two key calculations lie behind Obama’s shift toward a “diplomatic solution” with Iran: that the ratcheting down of the conflict with Teheran will assist the US in pursuing its military-strategic offensives against its more formidable adversaries, Russia and China; and that Iran can be bent to serve US strategic interests in the Middle East and, in the longer term, through a combination of threats and inducements, including an influx of western capital, “turned” against Russia and China.

This strategic shift is being bitterly contested by sections of the US ruling elite, including the Republicans and the Wall Street Journal, who are demanding as a precondition iron-clad guarantees of Tehran’s total subservience. It is also being opposed by the Israeli bourgeoisie and by the Saudi monarchy because they fear that any US accommodation with Tehran will result in a diminishing of their role as Washington’s principal regional allies.

Obama’s affirmation in his New York Times interview that Iran “will be and should be a regional power” will only further incense Netanyahu and the Saudi oil-sheiks.

Riyadh, while far less outspoken in its criticisms of the nuclear accord, has nonetheless made clear its dissatisfaction, including by stating that it may soon conclude a major arms deal with Moscow. While not condemning the nuclear agreement outright, a Saudi official told Reuters he feared it would allow Iran “to wreak havoc in the region.”

An article published by the Politico website this week reported, “Obama administration officials are keenly aware of Iran’s potential, at least in theory, for helping to solve a slew of devilish problems in a region Obama sees as a strategic sand trap (and) at a time when China and its neighbors demand more US attention.”

It further noted that the administration is “mindful” that under George W. Bush Washington spurned Iranian overtures after Teheran had assisted the US invasion of Afghanistan and the installation of Hamid Karzai as the country’s puppet ruler. (In fact, there is a decades-long history of the rulers of the Islamic Republic seeking an accommodation with US imperialism.)

But, according to Politico, the Obama administration now faces a dilemma: on the one hand, it is eager to explore the potential of leveraging the nuclear agreement with Tehran to pressure it to cut off support to its close ally Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and facilitate the US drive for regime-change in Damascus; but on the other, it fears that if it moves too quickly in the direction of promoting an Iranian role in bringing about a “political settlement” in Syria this will only further antagonize Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf States.

The article concludes by citing the remarks of former Obama Pentagon and State Department official Ilan Goldenberg. “The core debate,” says Goldenberg, “is, will it be engagement (with Iran) first with some push back—or push back with some engagement?”

Goldenberg, who now works for the Center for a New American Security, himself advocates the stepping up of the US’s efforts to support, arm and train anti-Assad insurgents so as to “send our partners a signal that we’re not pivoting strategically to Iran.”

 

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

Mindfulness: Capitalism’s New Favorite Tool for Maintaining the Status Quo

PERSONAL HEALTH

images

The meditative practice is being used in a way that betrays its anti-materialist roots.

I stumbled across mindfulness, the meditation practice now favored by titans of tech, sensitive C-suiters, new media gurus and celebrities, without even really knowing it.

A couple of years ago, I was deeply mired in an insane schedule that involved almost everything (compulsive list-making at 4am, vacations mostly spent working, lots of being “on”) except for one desperately missed item (sleep; pretty much just sleep). A friend suggested I download Headspace, a meditation app he swore would calm the thoughts buzzing incessantly in my head, relax my anxious energy and help me be more present. I took his advice, noting the app’s first 10 trial sessions — to be done at the same time over 10 consecutive days — were free. When I found the time to do it, it was, at best, incredibly relaxing; at worst, it barely made a dent in my frazzled synapses. When I didn’t find the time (because again, schedule), the effort to somehow make time became its own source of stress. In the end, I got an equally hectic yet far more satisfying career, took up running and forgot Headspace existed.

That is, until the term “mindfulness” reached a tipping point of near ubiquity. As it turned out, what I’d regarded as just a digitized form of guided meditation was actually a “mindfulness technique,” part of a bigger, buzzy, Buddhism-derived movement toward some version of corporate enlightenment. As long ago as 2012, Forbes reported that Google, Apple, Deutsche Bank and several other corporate behemoths already had mindfulness programs in place for employees. Phil Jackson, the basketball coach with a record-setting 11 NBA titles, tacitly praised mindfulness for his wins, telling Oprah he’d incorporated the technique into player practice regiments. Arianna Huffington, empress of media, not only sings the praises of mindfulness in speeches around the country, but she and Morning Joe  co-host Mika Brzezinski just hosted anentire conference dedicated to it this past April. And perhaps least surprising of all, Gwyneth Paltrow is a proselytizing adherent, giving mindfulness in general, and Headspace in particular, a shout-out on her lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-beautiful website, Goop.

You can tell a lot about trendy new concepts by who embraces them, and why. In the case of mindfulness, business leaders cite a number of reasons why they’ve adopted the concept so wholeheartedly. Studies have found that mindfulness meditation reduces stress, thereby making it a safeguard against employee burnout. Research finds that mindfulness bolsters memory retention and reading comprehension, which means employees can be more accurate in processing information. One Dutch study found that mindfulness makes practitioners more creative, helping ensure workers remain a fount of ideas. And some schools for children as young as first grade have begun teaching mindfulness meditation, based on studies that suggest it helps maintainfocus, a resource in constant threat of short supply for those multitasking their way through so many mundane, workaday obligations.

The idea is that mindfulness helps cleanse cerebral clutter and hush neural distractions so we can redirect that brain power into being our most in-the-moment selves.

But really, we already knew this. Long before mindfulness became the path toward corporate good vibes — back when Westerners were getting into what was then simply called Zen meditation — millions were already offering unsolicited testaments to the restorative powers of the technique. (To modify an old joke about vegans, Q: How do you know someone’s into meditation? A: Oh, don’t worry, they’ll tell you.) The pesky problem with meditation, now dubbed “mindfulness,” was its connection with Buddhism. Jon Kabat-Zinn, widely credited with introducing the concept of mindfulness to America in the 1970s, reportedly recognized the spread of the concept might be helped by loosening its religious ties. As a New York Times article on the practice explains, Kabat-Zinn redefined the technique, giving it a secular makeover and describing it as “[t]he awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Without all that dogma attached, the opportunities for use were suddenly endless.

And there’s nothing business loves better than a good opportunity. Silicon Valley, which sits in the shadow of San Francisco and its countercultural influence, was first to recognize the benefits of mindfulness. In a New Yorkerpiece that explores the history of the phenomenon, Lizzie Widdicombe cites Steve Jobs — who traveled India as a teen and was an avid practitioner of meditation — as the first tech industry icon to weave mindfulness with business practices. His heir apparent in this arena is Chade-Meng Tan, whose title at Google is, no kidding, Jolly Good Fellow, or alternately, the slightly more formal Head of Personal Growth. Originally hired in 1999 as an engineer, in 2007 Tan headed up the company’s first “Search Inside Yourself” course, a two-day mindfulness-focused program. Since then, the corporate adopters of mindfulness, which also include Procter & Gamble, General Mills and Aetna, have grown to include companies in every area of business, stretching far beyond tech to banking, law, advertising, and even the United States military. (Although, it should be noted, deep meditation may actually be damaging for some PTSD sufferers, exacerbating the condition.)

Strip away all the fuzzy wuzzy, and one glaring fact stands out about mindfulness’s proliferation across the corporate world: At the end of the day, the name of the game is increased productivity. In other words, the practice has become a capitalist tool for squeezing even more work out of an already overworked workforce. Buddhism’s anti-materialist ethos seems in direct odds with this application of one of its key practices, even if it has been divorced from its Zen roots. In an article about “McMindfulness,” the pejorative term indicting the commodified, secularized, corporatized version of the meditative practice, David Loy states “[m]indfulness training has wide appeal because it has become a trendy method for subduing employee unrest, promoting a tacit acceptance of the status quo, and as an instrumental tool for keeping attention focused on institutional goals.”

A 2013 piece from the Economist titled “The Mindfulness Business” compares mindfulness to the culture of self-help, previously held as the cure-all for a business culture looking to maximize worker usefulness. The piece points out that this recontextualized version of meditation seems, cynically, to miss the point of the practice’s original intent:

“Gurus talk about ‘the competitive advantage of meditation.’ Pupils come to see it as a way to get ahead in life. And the point of the whole exercise is lost. What has parading around in pricey Lululemon outfits got to do with the Buddhist ethic of non-attachment to material goods? And what has staring at a computer-generated dot got to do with the ancient art of meditation? Western capitalism seems to be doing rather more to change eastern religion than eastern religion is doing to change Western capitalism.”

It’s a valid point that drives home the schism between the roots of the practice and the warped interpretation of it.

For now, there seems no end to the spread of mindfulness — which isn’t such a bad idea. The notion of self-care in an era of constant digital distractions, as well as midnight and weekend work email exchanges, is a welcome one. But what of the halfhearted appropriation of a noble, anti-capitalist practice to thicken the bottom line? As Loy notes in his Huffington Post piece, American Buddhist monk Bhikkhu Bodhi warns that “absent a sharp social critique, Buddhist practices could easily be used to justify and stabilize the status quo, becoming a reinforcement of consumer capitalism.” That’s a pretty good summation of what’s already happening. Until corporate America discovers its next trendy panacea, the practice will continue to spread, its miraculous effects touted — and often overstated— as a booster of profits and more. It’s a bit like oms for making better worker drones; or rather, Zen done the American way.

http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/mindfulness-capitalisms-new-favorite-tool-maintaining-status-quo?akid=13299.265072.H0AeTf&rd=1&src=newsletter1039283&t=1