Bad Apple: 5 Ways the Computer Giant is Plundering America

Bad-apple-283x300

No amount of clever branding can hide these harsh truths.

An emotional response to any criticism of the Apple Corporation might be anticipated from the users of the company’s powerful, practical, popular, and entertaining devices. Accolades to the company and a healthy profit are certainly well-deserved. But much-despised should be the theft from taxpayers and the exploitation of workers and customers, all cloaked within the image of an organization that seems to work magic on our behalf.

1. Apple Took Years of Public Research, Integrated the Results, and Packaged it As Their Own

Apple’s stock market value of over $700 billion is about twice the value of any other company. It is generally regarded as innovative, trendy, and sensitive to the needs of phone and computer users all around the world. Many of us have become addicted to the beautifully designed iPhone. But the design goes back to the time before Apple existed.

Steve Jobs once admitted: “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” And reaping most of the benefits. As economist William Lazonick put it, “The iPhone didn’t just magically appear out of the Apple campus in Cupertino. Whenever a company produces a technology product, it benefits from an accumulation of knowledge created by huge numbers of people outside the company, many of whom have worked in government-funded projects over the previous decades.”

In her revealing book, The Entrepreneurial StateMariana Mazzucato explains that “Apple concentrates its ingenuity not on developing new technologies and components, but on integrating them into an innovative architecture.” She goes on to describe 12 major technologies that have their roots in government research, including memory and hard disks, displays, cellular technology, GPS, and all the Internet protocols. Much of it came from the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, NASA, the Air Force, and other U.S. agencies. The biggest expense in the iPhone is the touchscreen, which was developed at the CERN laboratories in Europe.

The “stealing of ideas” has not been accompanied by a reciprocal contribution to research. Apple spends much less than Microsoft and Google on R&D as a percentage of revenue.

It gets worse. Apple effectively takes all the credit for much of our public R&D by invoking the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, which allowed publicly-funded work to be patented by companies. In 2011, for the first time, Apple spent more on patent purchases and lawsuits than on R&D. And worst of all, patents can make it extremely difficult for other researchers to continue work on the ideas behind newly developed products.

2. Even After Taking Our Research, Apple Does Everything in its Power to Avoid Taxes

In 2013 Apple CEO Tim Cook proclaimed, “We pay all the taxes we owe – every single dollar.” Delusion teams with denial. When questioned about the “Double Irish” scheme that allowed Apple’s Irish subsidiary to pay ZERO taxes from 2009 to 2012, Apple executive Tony King said he had “no idea” what the questioner was talking about.

Apple recently announced that its overseas, untaxed cash hoard, currently about $157 billion, is expected to reach $200 billion by 2017. But rather than pay taxes, Apple, along with other tech companies, has been part of a “fierce attack” on plans to crack down on tax avoidance, lobbying instead for a repatriation tax holiday to allow the billions of overseas dollars to come home at a greatly reduced tax rate.

3. Overcharging Customers 

The manufacturing cost of a 16 GB iPhone 6 is about $200, and with marketing it comes to about $288. But without an expensive phone contract with Verizon, AT&T, or one of the other wireless carriers, the cost to the customer is at least $650.

4. Underpaying and Mistreating Employees 

In response to criticisms of Apple, Rand Paul advised us to “apologize to Apple and compliment them for the job creation they’re doing.” The company claims to have “created or supported” over a million jobs in the United States. But in reality it has 66,000 employees in the U.S., about half of them retail store workers.

Apple has an efficient way of undermining workers, earning nearly $600,000 profit per employee while paying their full-time retail “specialists” less than $30,000 per year. Thus each store worker gets about $1 for every $20 in profits that he or she helps to generate. As for higher-level employees, Apple is alleged to have conspired with Google and other Silicon Valley each firms to hold down the salaries of engineers and analysts.

Regarding laborers at notorious Chinese factories like Foxconn, Apple CEO Tim Cook said in 2012: “We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain.” The sentiment went deeper three years later in 2015, when Apple VP Jeff Williams assured us that “We care deeply about every worker in Apple’s global supply chain.” But investigations have revealed little change, with a continuation of low wages, forced overtime, safety hazards, employee abuse, increased production quotas, and manipulation of student interns. Before the launch of the iPhone 6 in late 2014, workers put in 15 hours a day for 10 weeks without a day off.

5. Apple Has Figured Out How to Spend Most of its Untaxed Money on Itself 

Much of Apple’s ‘offshore’ money is reportedly held in the U.S., in the form of U.S government securities, earning interest from U.S. taxpayers. When the company needs cash, it simply borrows the money at a near-zero interest rate, often using that cash to pay off shareholders with stock buybacks, which use potential research and development money to pump up the stock prices for shareholders.

After spending $90 billion on stock buybacks last year, Apple has now proudly announced a 2015 “share repurchase authorization” of $140 billion, almost the entire amount of its currently hoarded cash. Buybacks benefit company executives and investors. Beyond that, Apple’s ever-growing $.7 trillion stock market value is spread among relatively few Americans. The richest 10% own 91 percentof U.S. stocks.

Apple’s View 

The tax-avoiding, research-appropriating, cost-escalating, wage-minimizing, self-enriching Apple Corporation has, according to CEO Tim Cook, a very strong moral compass.

Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of the Web sites UsAgainstGreed.org,PayUpNow.org and RappingHistory.org, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached atpaul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

http://www.alternet.org/bad-apple-5-ways-computer-giant-plunder-america?akid=13111.265072.ZtiMvx&rd=1&src=newsletter1036499&t=7

Drone warfare in Good Kill

And a roundtable interview with writer-director Andrew Niccol and actor Ethan Hawke

By David Walsh
13 May 2015

Good Kill opens in theaters in the US on May 15 and will also be available fromvideo on demand. This comment and interview originally appeared September 26, 2014 as part of the coverage of the Toronto film festival.

* * * * *

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol

Drone strikes carried out by the US military and CIA have killed thousands of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries. The barbaric strikes, which have increased sharply under the Obama administration, are illegal under international and US law and amount to war crimes.

According to Reprieve, the British human rights organization, “To date, the United States has used drones to execute without trial some 4,700 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia—all countries against whom it has not declared war. The US’ drones programme is a covert war being carried out by the CIA.”

Good Kill

An April 2014 article in Rolling Stone observed, “The people of Yemen can hear destruction before it arrives. In cities, towns and villages across this country, which hangs off the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, the air buzzes with the sound of American drones flying overhead. The sound is a constant and terrible reminder… Over half of Yemen’s 24.8 million citizens—militants and civilians alike—are impacted every day.”

New Zealand-born writer-director Andrew Niccol has taken on the subject of drone warfare, with mixed but often intriguing results, in Good Kill, featuring Ethan Hawke, Bruce Greenwood, Zoë Kravitz and January Jones.

Major Thomas Egan (Hawke) is a former fighter pilot and Iraq war veteran, now operating drones over Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere from a trailer on a US Air Force base near Las Vegas. After killing people by remote control 12 hours a day he returns to his house and family in the tidy, slightly unreal suburbs. “Now I’m going home to barbecue,” he explains sardonically after one murderous shift.

Good Kill

His superior, Lt. Col. Jack Johns (Greenwood), is resigned to the endless conflict: “Don’t ask me if it’s a just war. It’s just war.” Two of the four-member team parrot, in an especially vulgar fashion, the US government line, something to the effect that “the ‘terrorists’ hate us because of our freedom and our way of life.” The fourth member, Airman Vera Suarez (Kravitz), is different. She comes to see through a good many of the lies.

The film is set in 2010 and centers on the stepping up of drone strikes by the Obama administration and the transfer of control of the attacks to the CIA, represented by a disembodied voice (Peter Coyote) from “Langley [Virginia].”

The atrocities accumulate. The crew, aiming for a bomb factory, kills two children. “Keep compartmentalizing,” Egan is told. But “I pulled the trigger,” he responds. The CIA, once it takes over, begins ordering “signature strikes,” i.e., bombings based on what US officials believe to be suspicious behavior or simply on the association of the intended victims at some point or another with alleged “terrorists.”

Good Kill

When a strike goes wrong, the CIA official blandly tells the crew, as the US government repeats to the public, “No one regrets the loss of innocent lives more than us.” After one deadly bombing, he orders a “follow-up,” the notorious “double tap,” in other words, a strike on those responding to the first attack. “In our opinion, it’s proportionate.” He explains, “preemptive self-defense is ordered by the administration.” The voice and the commands it gives are coldly monstrous.

Following this attack, Suarez leans over and asks, “Was that a war crime, sir?” She suggests “that’s what terrorists do,” and points out bitterly that this is apparently what “they now give Nobel Peace prizes” for.

In a later scene, the CIA orders the bombing of a group of men near a market. Johns asks incredulously, “You want us to kill a crowd?” The men, he is informed, represent “an imminent threat.”

There is a good deal of this, quite powerful material. As the film’s publicity suggests, Egan starts “to question the mission. Is he creating more terrorists than he’s killing? Is he fighting a war without end?” It becomes increasingly difficult for him to carry on, both at work and at home.

In perhaps Good Kill ’s most moving sequence, out in the backyard at home, Egan asks his wife, Molly (Jones), “You want to know about my job?” He proceeds to describe how he and his crew blew up a house, although the supposed Taliban official was not there. “I watched as neighbors started carrying bodies,” then we “blew up the funeral.” A tear runs down her cheek and she puts her head on his shoulder.

There are weaker sides to the film too. A subplot about Egan’s desire to return to flying actual warplanes is not especially compelling. The crisis in the Egans’ marriage that develops, while no doubt—or perhaps precisely because it is—based on the real-life accounts of military personnel, has something a little formulaic and predictable about it.

Most significantly, the recurring presence of a Taliban-rapist character is an obvious concession to the official propaganda campaign. Opposition to the horrendous war crimes committed by US imperialism is not predicated on support for Islamic fundamentalism or any of the regimes the American government sets out to bring down. Dealing with these reactionary elements is the responsibility of the Afghan, Pakistani or Yemeni people; it cannot be subcontracted to the US government, military and CIA, which have, in many cases, incited and funded such movements or regimes.

Writer-director Niccol’s invention of this Taliban “bad guy” in Good Kill forms part of the rationale for arguing, as he did in the round table interview included below, that US drone warfare has certain “beneficial aspects.”

Nonetheless, it’s to his great credit that Niccol (the writer of The Truman Show and writer-director of Gattaca, S1m0 ne and In Time ) undertook this project, in the face of considerable odds. This is the first major US feature film that has attempted to represent this criminal policy and its consequences both for the targeted populations and for the American people, even if the filmmakers (also see below) are not inclined to work out the full implications of their own effort.

A conversation with Andrew Niccol and Ethan Hawke

I participated, along with a number of other journalists, in a roundtable interview in Toronto September 9 with Andrew Niccol and Ethan Hawke. The following is a slightly edited version of that conversation:

Journalist 1: Was it [Good Kill] hard to get made?

Andrew Niccol at the 2014 Toronto film festival [Credit: WireImage/Getty]

Andrew Niccol: Yes. It’s hard to make a military movie without the support of the military. So it means that all of the machinery you have to come up with yourself. I had drone consultants who I would speak to, and I was very lucky to get those ex-drone pilots.

Journalist 1: So did you approach the US military, and they presumably said, ‘No, thanks’?

AN: They just said no. They were polite, but they politely declined.

Journalist 2: In the film, there are “signature strikes.”

AN: This is well documented. I didn’t make up the language, that’s the language of the CIA. To go, as the character says, from a “personality strike” to a “signature strike.” All that means is, if you’re standing next to a terrorist, you’re most likely a terrorist, so you’re fair game. That’s your signature.

Journalist 3: There is a parallel between his [Egan’s] home and his work. Was there an attempt to show how detached we are from the consequences?

AN: This is the new reality for our pilots, our soldiers. They have this schizophrenic life. We’ve never asked soldiers to do this before in the history of warfare, to go to war from nine to five, and then go home. You have no decompression time, you’re going to get up the next day and do the same thing again. So what that does to a pilot’s psyche is unimaginable to me.

Journalist 1: Did you talk to drone pilots who had done what Ethan portrays in the film?

Ethan Hawke at the 2014 Toronto film festival [Credit: WireImage/Getty]

AN: Yes.

Journalist 1: And what sort of effects did they say it had on them?

AN: There’s an interesting aspect to it. I spoke to one sensor operator [who works in tandem with the pilots] who definitely has PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], and admits it.

There are others who almost feel ashamed admitting that they’re affected by it. They claim that they can compartmentalize. There are younger drone pilots who would use a joystick, perform their mission over Afghanistan, they’re obviously not in Afghanistan, which is another point, then they go back to their apartments in Las Vegas and play video games at night. How do you possibly separate the two? I couldn’t do it. Then you’re really desensitizing yourself to war.

Ethan Hawke: What’s interesting to me is that this film is about something real. Perhaps the next movie Andrew and I will do together will be a video game. That’s where it’s going.

I’m always very interested in where movies are going, where they will be 30 years from now. And where warfare will be. Will all major countries have drones? Will Obama be scared to walk out of his house? Where is this game going?

No one is talking about these issues. I think it’s a very good moment when Zoe [Kravitz] says, ‘So, they’re handing out [Nobel] peace prizes for this now?’ A very good moment.

David Walsh: I think it’s important you’ve raised these issues. The scene where the CIA official says, ‘These operations never happened,’ that’s an acknowledgement that these are criminal activities, that these are illegal activities.

AN: It’s not necessarily that. The military will say that it’s ‘national security.’

DW: They say that, but your film, whether or not you’ve worked out all its implications, is saying these are or may be criminal activities.

AN: It’s well documented that the US has struck funerals intentionally. For me, that’s a step over the line. Of course, they justify it by saying, ‘Who goes to a terrorist’s funeral except other terrorists?’ For me, that’s beyond. Also, to strike first responders, something the IRA used to do, that Hamas does, is beyond the pale for me. That’s too much.

I try to tread a straight line, because there are also beneficial aspects to the drone program. The fact that they are so precise, we’re not carpet-bombing people any more. If we get the right address, and hit a legitimate target, I understand that.

If you look at ISIS, for instance. There’s probably nobody sitting here that would say that the guy who beheads somebody, if you get the right guy…would you not order a drone strike on him?

DW: But who created ISIS? Who incited Islamic fundamentalism for 50 years, going back to the Muslim Brotherhood?

AN: Right. That’s the other thing that really interests me; Afghanistan is the US’ longest war, 13 years. Vietnam was 10. The Iraq war was eight.

DW: Now there’s a new Iraq war.

AN: Exactly, there’s a new one coming. When are we going to decide that we shouldn’t be in that part of the planet? Or are we ever going to decide that? Is this going to be an endless war? It’s a very complicated question and I don’t have the answer, but at least we will discuss it, which I think is important. To know what’s being done in your name is important.

EH: With the so-called “war on terror” you really get into Orwellian territory, because who’s defining what freedom is and freedom for whom? The people there certainly don’t feel free.

I have a brother who’s in the military, and my mother was in the Peace Corps and she works in Bucharest fighting racism against gypsies, trying to get kids in school. One of the things she often talks about is that if you just took all that money, and you just taught all the kids over there, you’d end terrorism so much sooner than by bombing them. That’s the kind of peacenik dialog that a lot of people don’t want to hear.

AN: When you speak of the “war on terror,” we are terrorizing to achieve those aims. In Waziristan [in northwestern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan], people won’t gather together in groups, even for town hall meetings, because it could be perceived that they’re plotting against Western interests.

So when Ethan’s character talks about people being afraid of blue skies because that’s when the drones fly, it’s true. People don’t want to step outside, they don’t want to rescue people from a strike… They don’t show up, because they’re afraid they’re going to be hit again.

DW: That raises the question, is it about “terrorism,” or is it about terrorizing an entire population?

AN: Right.

EH: Or holding an entire population guilty for what a few have done, which is oftentimes what people there do to us as well.

AN: Every time you kill one terrorist, if you give birth to ten more, it’s surely counterproductive.

DW: Can I ask, is it difficult to make critically minded films? Is there something emerging, or is it just as difficult as ever?

AN: Oh, it’s probably more difficult. Ethan and I were just discussing Gattaca[1997 science fiction film, written and directed by Niccol and starring Hawke], we couldn’t get that made today at a studio. No way.

EH: No way. You couldn’t even begin to try. It wouldn’t matter who was involved in it.

Journalist 1: Why is it so difficult?

AN: It’s so much easier to make money, big money, by making comic books.

EH: It started with Jaws [1975]. Much has been written about this. They’ve learned how to inundate and saturate… It’s funny, these Transformer movies make a ton of money, and I’ve never met anyone who liked one. There’s a case to be made about the power of advertising, and the power they have to create this sense that this is what we’re supposed to see.

There’s an essay by [Czech writer Milan] Kundera, in which he says during his lifetime he witnessed the birth of an art form and then he saw it eaten by big business. He makes a joke that what qualifies for an art film today is far inferior to what qualified as an art film in 1960.

In 1960, they were pressing the boundaries of realism and storytelling; it was a thrilling art form. Whereas literature has found avenues for this. The film industry hasn’t found a place… I’m a dramatic actor so I’ve almost been feeling run out of the business over the last ten years because there are action movies and there are thrillers. Most studios don’t make dramas any more. They’ll make a drama if they think it might win an Academy Award, if you have [Steven] Spielberg directing it or something.

DW: And yet when I go to the movies, I don’t find a lot of satisfaction in the audience itself.

EH: I don’t either. They all leave the movie unhappy. You don’t feel good after. I have to try to do enough things that make money so that if Andrew wants to hire me for this he can. If Andrew could get the guy who was in the last Marvel [comic] movie in it, he would get more money.

Journalist 1: Have you been offered one of those?

EH: I’ve been doing this since I was thirteen. They’ve offered things here and there. When I was younger, I was incredibly cocky and I thought those offers would always come. If you don’t make people money, they don’t like you.

Projects like this are worth trying. There’s so much pull toward mediocrity your whole life. Everybody just wants you to follow the rules and cash out. It’s worth it to try. We showed the movie at Venice [the film festival] and it was way more work than anybody wanted it to be, but this is the movie Andrew wanted to make and it exists, and it’s hard to get people to want to talk about serious subjects. It’s a lot of work.

There’s a great pull…if Andrew would just use his imaginative mind to have it be, instead of a drone pilot, [someone] who could fly himself and have super-powers… My point being that I feel very blessed and grateful, and I believe at this moment in my life, I believe again, that it’s worth trying. Sometimes the world beats you down, and you feel like nothing could ever work.

Journalist 2: I don’t know if all the drone pilots are in Nevada. Could you tell me something about Las Vegas?

AN: There’s a very practical reason why the military put a military base near Las Vegas. The reason they do it is because the mountains near Vegas look very much like Afghanistan. And that’s how they can train. Also, when you are driving to Vegas from Los Angeles, they actually use your car just for fun, in practice, just to follow it. You can’t see the drone, but they can see you.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/05/13/good-m13.html

Porn and video game addiction leading to ‘masculinity crisis’, says Stanford psychologist

 A leading psychologist has warned that young men’s brains are being ‘digitally rewired’ by unprecedented use of video games and pornography

A leading psychologist has warned that young men are facing a crisis of masculinity due to excessive use of video games and pornography.

Psychologist and professor emeritus at Stanford University Phillip Zimbardo has made the warnings, which form a major part of his latest book, Man (Dis)Connected.

In an interview on the BBC World Service’s Weekend programme, Zimbardo spoke about the results of his study, an in-depth look into the lives of 20,000 young men and their relationships with video games and pornography.

He said: “Our focus is on young men who play video games to excess, and do it in social isolation – they are alone in their room.”

“Now, with freely available pornography, which is unique in history, they are combining playing video games, and as a break, watching on average, two hours of pornography a week.”

Zimbardo says there is a “crisis” amongst young men, a high number of whom are experiencing a “new form of addiction” to excessive use of pornography and video games.

Zimbardo gave a TED talk in 2011 outlining the problems facing young men’s social development and academic achievement, which he puts down to excessive use of porn, video games and the internet.

He cited the example of a mother he met while conducting the study whose son does not see the problem in playing video games for up to 15 hours a day.

Zimbardo said: “For me, ‘excess’ is not the number of hours, it’s a psychological change in mindset.”

Giving an example of the mindset of a gaming and pornography-addicted young man, he says: “When I’m in class, I’ll wish I was playing World of Warcraft. When I’m with a girl, I’ll wish I was watching pornography, because I’ll never get rejected.”

Zimbardo claims that this relatively new phenomenon is affecting the minds of young men.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02qyfc7/playerCiting the research he and his team conducted for the book, he says: “It begins to change brain function. It begins to change the reward centre of the brain, and produces a kind of excitement and addiction.”

“What I’m saying is – boys’ brains are becoming digitally rewired.”

He also mentioned the growing problem of a disputed phenomenon called ‘porn-induced erectile dysfunction’, or PIED: “Young boys who should be virile are now having a problem getting an erection.”

“You have this paradox – they’re watching exciting videos that should be turning them on, and they can’t get turned on.”

An article from Psychology Today, however, argues that there are no demonstrable scientific links between porn consumption and erectile dysfunction.

In his opinion, the solution is to accept that the problem is serious – parents must become aware of the number of hours a child is spending alone in their room playing games and watching porn at the expense of other activities.

He also blamed negative images of men in the American media, which show men as being “slobs, undesirable, only wanting to get laid and being inadequate in doing that.”

He also called for better sex education in schools – which should focus not only on biology and safety, but also on emotions, physical contact and romantic relationships.

The pressing issue of male mental health is now a much more prominent concern than it once was. Last year saw the first Male Psychology Conference at University College London, intended to encourage the British Psychological Society to introduce a male specialist section, to sit alongside its female equivalent.

Zimbardo believes that excessive, solitary use of video games and porn is seriously stunting boys’ social development

The charity Campaign Against Living Miserably, or CALM, was started in 2006 and has gained a high profile in recent years, for its efforts to encourage men to discuss mental health problems and bring down the male suicide rate.

Phillip Zimbardo is famous for the 1971 Stanford prison experiment, in which 24 students were asked to play the roles of ‘guards’ and ‘prisoners’ in a mock prison at Standford University. Intended to last for two weeks, the experiment was abandoned after six days, after the previously normal ‘guards’ became extremely sadistic and the ‘prisoners’ became submissive and depressed.

The experiment is believed to demonstrate the extreme impressionability and obedience of people when they are presented with a supporting ideology and power.

READ MORE: IS MASCULINITY IN CRISIS?
CELEBRITIES SPEAK OUT ON MASCULINITY PROBLEM
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT MENS’ MENTAL HEALTH

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/porn-and-video-game-addiction-are-leading-to-masculinity-crisis-says-stanford-prison-experiment-psychologist-10238211.html

Pentagon, DEA and Private Companies Conspiring to Track Everything You Do

Guess what the malware software is really for?

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Yet another report has surfaced describing how tools created by the companies selling software that can damage and hack into people’s computers are being deployed by U.S. security services. While the coverage surrounding this story focuses primarily on federal agencies it’s important to step back for a moment and view the big picture. In particular, looking at who builds, operates, and profits from mass surveillance technology offers insight into the nature of the global panopticon.

A report published by Privacy International as well as an article posted by Vice Motherboard clearly show that both the DEA and the United States Army have long-standing relationships with Hacking Team, an Italian company that’s notorious for selling malware to any number of unsavory characters.

Federal records indicate that the DEA and Army purchased Hacking Team’sRemote Control System (RCS) package. RCS is a rootkit, a software backdoor with lots of bells and whistles. It’s a product that facilitates a covert foothold on infected machines so intruders can quietly make off with sensitive data. The aforementioned sensitive data includes encryption keys. In fact, Hacking Team has an RCS brochure that tells potential customers: “What you need is a way to bypass encryption, collect relevant data out of any device, and keep monitoring your targets wherever they are, even outside your monitoring domain.” Note: Readers interested in nitty-gritty details about RCS can check out the Manuals online.

It’s public knowledge that other federal agencies like the FBI and the CIA have become adept at foiling encryption. Yet this kind of subversion doesn’t necessarily bother high tech luminaries like Bruce Schneier, who believe that spying is “perfectly reasonable” as long as it’s targeted. Ditto that for Ed Snowden. Schneier and Snowden maintain that covert ops, shrouded by layers of official secrecy, are somehow compatible with democracy just so long as they’re narrow in scope.

But here’s the catch: RCS is designed and marketed as a means for mass collection. It violates the targeted surveillance condition. Specifically, a Hacking Team RCS brochure proudly states:

“’Remote Control System’ can monitor from a few and up to hundreds of thousands of targets. The whole system can be managed by a single easy to use interface that simplifies day by day investigation activities.”

Does this sound like a product built for targeted collection?

So there you have it. Subverting encryption en masse compliments of Hacking Team. The fact that there’s an entire industry of companies just like this should give one pause as there are unsettling ramifications regarding the specter of totalitarian control.

Corporate America is Mass Surveillance

Throughout the Snowden affair there’s a theme that recurs. It appeared recently in a foreword written by Glenn Greenwald for Tom Engelhardt’s bookShadow Government:

“I really don’t think there’s any more important battle today than combating the surveillance state [my emphasis]. Ultimately, the thing that matters most is that the rights that we know we have as human beings are rights that we exercise.”

There’s a tendency to frame mass surveillance in terms of the state. As purely a result of government agencies like the CIA and NSA. The narrative preferred by the far right is one which focuses entirely on the government (the so-called “surveillance state”) as the sole culprit, completely ignoring the corporate factions that fundamentally shape political decision making.

American philosopher John Dewey once observed that “power today resides in control of the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Whoever owns them rules the life of the country,” even under the pretense of democratic structuresi.

There are some 1300 billionaires in the United States who can testify to thisfact. As can anyone following the developments around the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Dewey’s observation provides a conceptual basis for understanding how business interests drive the global surveillance apparatus. Mass surveillance is a corporate endeavor because the people who inevitably drive decisions are the same ones who control the resources. For example, the backbone of the internet itself consists of infrastructure run by Tier 1 providers like Verizon and Level 3 Communications. These companies are in a perfect position to track users and that’s exactly what they do.

Furthermore when spying is conducted it’s usually executed, in one form or another, by business interests. Approximately 70 percent of the national intelligence budget end up being channeled to defense contractors. Never mind that the private sector’s surveillance machinery dwarfs the NSA’s as spying on users is an integral part of high tech’s business model. Internet companies like Google operate their services by selling user information to the data brokers. The data broker industry, for example, generates almost $200 billion a year in revenue. That’s well over twice the entire 2014 U.S.intelligence budget.

From a historical vantage point it’s imperative to realize that high tech companies are essentially the offspring of the defense industry. This holds true even today as companies like Google are heavily linked with the Pentagon. For decades (going back to the days of Crypto AG) the private sector has collaborated heavily with the NSA’s in its campaign of mass subversion: the drive to insert hidden back doors and weaken encryption protocols across the board. Companies have instituted “design changes” that make computers and network devices “exploitable.” It’s also been revealed that companies like Microsoft have secret agreements with U.S. security services to provide information on unpublished vulnerabilities in exchange for special benefits like access to classified intelligence.

In a nutshell: contrary to talking points that depict hi-tech companies as our saviors, they’re more often accomplices if not outright perpetrators of mass surveillance. And you can bet that CEOs will devote significant resources towards public relations campaigns aimed at obscuring this truth.

A parting observation: the current emphasis on Constitutional freedom neglects the other pillar of the Constitution: equality. Concentrating intently on liberty while eschewing the complementary notion of equality leads to the sort of ugly practices that preceded the Civil War. In fact there are those who would argue that society is currently progressing towards something worse, a realityby the way that the financial elite are well aware of. When the public’s collective misery reaches a tipping point, and people begin to mobilize, the digital panopticon of the ruling class will be leveraged to preserve social control. They’ll do what they’ve always done, tirelessly work to maintain power and impose hierarchy.

NOTES:

i The Later Works of John Dewey, 1925-1953, Volume 9: 1933-1934, Essays, Reviews, Miscellany, and A Common Faith, Southern Illinois University Press, 2008, page 76.

 

Bill Blunden is the author of several books, includingThe Rootkit Arsenal” andBehold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex.” He is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/latest-outrageous-example-pentagon-dea-and-private-companies-conspiring-track?akid=13088.265072.W5QXWE&rd=1&src=newsletter1036073&t=19

US-backed Saudi forces dropped cluster bombs on Yemeni villages

cluster-bomb

By Thomas Gaist
5 May 2015

War planes of the US-backed, Saudi-led Arab war coalition dropped illegal cluster munitions on several groups of villages in northern Yemen, a report released this week by Human Rights Watch found.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) found remnants of BLU 108 canisters, fired from a CBU 105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon, in the al-Safraa area of Yemen’s Sadaa province. Evidence of extensive cluster bomb use was discovered on a plateau less than one kilometer away from “four to six village clusters,” inhabited by thousands of people each, HRW found. The alleged use of illegal weapons was corroborated by video footage, photographs and analysis of satellite imagery.

“These weapons should never be used under any circumstances. Saudi Arabia and other coalition members—and the supplier, the US—are flouting the global standard that rejects cluster munitions because of their long-term threat to civilians,” according to HRW arms director Steve Goose.

“Saudi-led cluster munition airstrikes have been hitting areas near villages, putting local people in danger,” he said.

The Sensor Fuzed cluster weapon system works by spreading four submunitions across a target area, each of which then automatically identifies and locks onto a potential target such as a vehicle or structure.

The bomblets themselves are geared to explode above ground for maximum effect. They are tailored to generate a downward explosive force that covers the target and surrounding area in hot shrapnel and flames. The US government has transferred the CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons to Saudi Arabia and UAE in recent years. The weapons were manufactured by an American firm, Textron Systems Corporation.

Cluster munitions have been banned by an international treaty called the Convention on Cluster Munitions, signed in 2008 in Dublin by more than 100 governments. Saudi Arabia, the US and the recently deposed US- and Saudi-backed Yemen government were among the small number of governments that refused to sign the agreement.

In comments to AFP Sunday, Pentagon officials defended sale of cluster bombs on the grounds that all states purchasing cluster weapons are required to sign agreements not to use the weapons in areas “where civilians are known to be present.”

The Sensor Fuzed Weapons used against villagers in northern Yemen were first deployed by the US military during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Incendiary and chemical weapons such as white phosphorus, which was dropped on civilian areas indiscriminately during the 2004 US punitive assault against the population of the Iraqi city of Fallujah, and napalm, widely used in US imperialism’s war against Vietnam, are typically deployed using cluster systems.

Thousands of tons of cluster munitions were dropped on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos by the US Air Force and Navy during the 1960s and 1970s. The US dropped some 260 million bomblets on Laos between 1964 and 1973; some 80 million are estimated to have not exploded, remaining dispersed across the land. Civilians and especially children are regularly killed by explosives left over from the US war, including cluster bombs and mines, themselves frequently deployed via cluster systems.

US forces also dropped thousands of cluster bombs, including a total of more than 200,000 submunitions, during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. During and after the 2003 “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” the US-led assault deployed more than 2 million submunitions against targets inside Iraq. The NATO powers also used the illegal weapons during the bombing of Yugoslavia by the Clinton administration at the end of the 1990s.

Many cluster munitions carry a cache of hundreds and even thousands of smaller submunitions, which in many cases do not explode immediately and become effective land mines.

Cluster weapons often combine both “anti-personnel” bomblets (designed to kill and maim individual human targets) with “anti-armor” ones (designed to destroy tanks and armored vehicles). The widespread pattern of small explosions that the submunitions produce has earned the weapons the military nicknames of “popcorn” and “fire crackers.”

Cluster munitions were first deployed on a large scale during the Second World War, by both the Nazi regime and the “democratic” imperialist powers. Nazi forces used the so-called “butterfly bomb,” named for the shape of the container after it had released its submunitions, against both civilian and military targets. Cluster-type systems were used by the US and allied imperialist governments to blanket urban areas in Germany and Japan with flammable explosions, a tactic geared to produce massive firestorms.

Israel and the US are top producers of cluster bombs worldwide. As many as 30 countries may have received cluster munitions from the US. According to some estimates, Israel used as many as 4 million submunitions against Lebanon during the 1978 invasion and the protracted occupation that followed.

There are signs that the Saudis and the Gulf monarchies are further escalating their savage military actions against Yemen.

Saudi Arabia had vowed a ceasefire and political deal to end the war on April 21, but strikes by the coalition began again the very next day, and it has since greatly intensified its bombing runs against cities and towns across the country. New contingents of ground troops trained by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are reported to be in Yemen, where they are engaging in combat with the Houthis. The deployments may be the opening phase of a Saudi ground invasion.

Large areas of the country have already been laid waste by the fighting on the ground between militant groups and weeks of heavy bombing by the Saudi-led alliance. At least 1,200 have been killed and 5,000 wounded by the bombing campaign, according to World Health Organization statistics. Aid groups state that the real death toll may be much higher, but conditions on the ground make it impossible to get an accurate count at present.

Saudi planes have carried out 70 percent of strikes against Yemen, according to a spokesman for the Saudi coalition. In this, the Saudis have received extensive and growing support from the US military, which has surveilled targets, providing logistical support in coordination with the Saudi-led coalition, in addition to providing billions of dollars worth of up-to-date US-made military hardware.

The Obama administration is working closely with sections of the Saudi, Gulf and Iranian elites in an effort to forge a comprehensive political settlement that will restabilize US imperialism’s hegemonic position in the Middle East. Yemen’s population is being treated as a bargaining chip in this process, with all parties seeking to utilize the growing bloodbath to strengthen their positions against rivals in the regional and global arenas.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/05/05/yeme-m05.html

Fracking linked to earthquakes and increased levels of radon in homes

fracking_diagram

By Philip Guelpa
4 May 2015

A newly released study indicates that a significant correlation exists between areas where fracking (high volume hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal directional drilling used to extract oil and natural gas from shale deposits) is taking place and elevated levels of radon.

Radon is an odorless, colorless radioactive gas, a known carcinogen, which accumulates in homes and commercial buildings. It is a radioactive decomposition product of radium-226, and is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.

The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, was conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, UC San Francisco, and Johns Hopkins University.

In a separate study, government researchers identified a statistically significant correlation between increased seismic activity and the proximity of injection wells used to dispose of huge quantities of contaminated fracking wastewater.

Neither of these findings is entirely surprising. It has been known for years that the fracking process employs huge quantities of water and a witch’s brew of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals to break open the shale bedrock in order to release oil and natural gas trapped within. It is also known that, in addition to the hydrocarbons, the resulting wastewater “backflow” may also bring up harmful heavy metals and radioactive materials. However, the industry and its political supporters have consistently denied that this is of concern.

The findings regarding radon are based on analysis of over 860,000 measurements taken in Pennsylvania homes and other buildings from 1989 to 2013. Levels of radon began to increase noticeably in 2004 as fracking activity intensified. Between 2005 and 2013, 7,469 fracking wells were drilled in the state.

Radium is a naturally occurring inclusion in the shale deposits being fracked. As it decomposes into radon gas, it normally travels to the surface in varying quantities and can accumulate in building basements, posing a health danger to the occupants. However, the significant increase in radon levels in recent years correlated with the expansion of fracking strongly suggests a cause and effect relationship, posing a marked increase in health risk.

Joan Casey of University of California Berkeley, a coauthor of the study, said in a statement released by Johns Hopkins University that, “By drilling 7,000 holes in the ground, the fracking industry may have changed the geology and created new pathways for radon to rise to the surface.”

Among the study’s findings was that radon concentrations were 21 percent higher in buildings that used well water as compared to municipal sources. Buildings in rural areas where fracking is prevalent were found to have radon in concentrations 39 percent higher than those in urban areas, where fracking is not taking place.

Radon has a half-life of about four days. Within 20 days it has lost 95 percent of its radioactivity. Therefore, the source of radon contamination must be in close proximity to the locations where increased levels have been found.

The new study contradicts earlier findings by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, published in January, that there is “little potential for additional radon exposure to the public” due to fracking. Last fall, earlier DEP studies downplaying the dangers of fracking were brought into question when it was revealed that they omitted measurements on many important contaminants. Given that the state’s politicians are heavily supportive of fracking, the latest DEP study must be viewed as suspect. The reliability of the UC/Johns Hopkins results is bolstered by the very large sample size of the data used and the fact that the source of the data is the DEP itself.

Another study, published last October, using data from five states, found elevated levels of eight toxic chemicals near fracking sites. These included benzene and formaldehyde, both known carcinogens. And, a September study by the National Institutes of Health found that Pennsylvanians who live close to natural gas wells are twice as likely to report skin and respiratory problems as residents who live farther away.

Not only does fracking pose dangers stemming from the release of toxic and radioactive materials, but the disposal of the huge quantities of contaminated wastewater that result is also a major problem. Treating this effluent to make it safe to return to the environment is technically difficult and expensive. Most sewage treatment plants are not capable of accomplishing this task. Therefore, the industry employs various methods to make the waste “disappear.”

One favored method is the injection of the fracking fluid deep underground, where it is supposedly “sequestered,” preventing environmental contamination. In Oklahoma, more than 50 billion gallons of wastewater went into disposal wells in 2013 alone, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey. Not only does this make the water unavailable for future use, an especially troublesome problem for arid areas, but it is becoming increasingly evident that introducing large quantities of water under pressure into geologic formations where it did not formerly exist is resulting in seismic disturbances—earthquakes.

A study by the US Geological Survey, released last Thursday, demonstrates a clear correlation between the increasing frequency of earthquakes and the injection well disposal of fracking wastewater. In Oklahoma, the hardest-hit state, earthquakes are hundreds of time more likely than they were a few years ago, before the underground disposal began. Elevated seismic activity associated with this practice was found in eight other states as well.

According to the report, Oklahoma is now experiencing quakes of magnitude 3 or greater at the rate of one or two a day. Previously, such events occurred there only once or twice per year. The state government has been forced to publicly acknowledge the link between the increased seismic activity and fracking wastewater injection wells.

This comes after years of denials by industry and government representatives across the country. There has been only limited regulation of fracking fluid disposal using this method. In 1988 the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cited a loophole in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) which regulates hazardous and solid waste, exempting the waste from oil and gas exploration, development, and production from oversight, leaving responsibility to even weaker or nonexistent state regulations.

Earthquakes of magnitude 5 or greater are capable of producing structural damage. In 2011, Oklahoma experience a magnitude 5.6 quake, which is the largest yet recorded that can be linked to fracking wastewater disposal. The cumulative effect of increasing numbers of disposal wells, especially when concentrated in close proximity appears to increase not only the frequency but also the intensity of such events.

Estimates suggest that quakes of magnitudes up to 7 or 8 could result from this practice. This is within the range of naturally occurring tremors that caused major damage. For example, the 1995 Los Angeles earthquake reached 6.7 and the San Francisco quake of 1989 measured 6.9.

Further confirmation of the link between well disposal and earthquakes comes from the observation that in the few areas where this practice has been halted, the frequency of quakes has dropped dramatically.

The Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC), a state regulatory agency, stated in an official report, “The commission finds increased seismic activity constitutes an immediate danger to the public health, safety and welfare. The commission finds damage may result if immediate action is not taken.” However, in deference to the power of the petroleum industry, the order is limited to areas where an increase in earthquake activity has already been observed.

The influence of the industry over state regulators is illustrated by a recently revealed incident in Oklahoma. As shown by emails obtained under the freedom of information law, the state seismologist, Austin Holland, was summoned to a meeting in 2013 with Oklahoma City-based oil and gas tycoon Harold Hamm. Hamm, who has been called the founding father of the US fracking boom, expressed his “concern” that earthquakes were being linked to the fracking process. Holland indicated that meeting was “intimidating.” This was reportedly at least the second such meeting with industry executives.

The pattern seen emerging from multiple efforts by a variety of researchers consistently points to one conclusion: the combination of high-volume hydraulic fracturing and horizontal directional drilling used to extract oil and natural gas from shale deposits, as currently practiced, poses a marked and immediate danger to human health and the environment. Despite persistent industry claims to the contrary, the process itself and the resulting waste create safety hazards.

Leakage and spillage expose humans, both industry workers and residents in nearby communities, as well as plants and animals in the environment, to carcinogens and other toxic materials at unsafe concentrations. Furthermore, tremendous quantities of water, contaminated by the fracking process, are difficult or impossible to safely return to the environment. Efforts to sequester the wastewater by injection deep underground not only remove it from any further practical use, a concern especially in more arid regions, but also causes increasingly dangerous earthquakes.

The vast proliferation of fracking in the US, where it is currently being conducted in 18 states, and increasingly around the world, is driven by a combination of the unfettered drive for profit by energy companies and increasing geopolitical rivalries without regard to the consequences.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/05/04/frac-m04.html