President Obama’s perfect example of D.C.’s warmongering con

“That’s how we roll”:

In a swaggering “60 Minutes” interview, the president shows how Washington defends its thirst for endless war VIDEO

"That's how we roll": President Obama's perfect example of D.C.'s warmongering con
President Barack Obama (Credit: Screen shot, CBS “60 Minutes”)

Among the many things that make the United States such an exceptional nation, its relative unwillingness to spend money on programs to better its citizens’ lives is especially notable. Ditto its utterly unrivaled enthusiasm for spending its money on programs to make it easier to end other citizens’ lives. But while it’s true that Americans work more for less, it’s also true that no other country’s political class is quite so festooned with top-of-the-line killing machines, or so unencumbered when it comes to deploying those killing machines wherever and whenever they please.

Assuming you’re not a defense contractor lobbyist or lifetime bureaucratic warrior in the Pentagon, it doesn’t sound like too good a deal for the vast majority of America’s 300-million-plus population. But as President Obama showed during Sunday night’s new interview with Steve Kroft for “60 Minutes,” there’s a tried and true way that U.S. leadership manages to square that circle: By telling Americans that the globe is in many ways like a big university — one where the United States is the undisputed big man on campus.

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“It looks like once again we are leading the operation,” Kroft complained to the president, noting that despite Obama’s efforts to build a broad coalition for his war against ISIS, the United States found itself still in the role of first among equals when it came to shouldering the campaign’s burden. It was a pointed question to deliver to a president who was ushered into office in part on a promise to wield America’s military more wisely, more judiciously and with more of a mind on the problems unresolved at home.

Still, President Obama, that one-time candidate of change, had a quick and direct answer: “Steve, that’s always the case. That’s always the case. America leads. We are the indispensable nation; we have capacity no one else has; our military is the best in the history of the world.

“When trouble comes up anywhere in the world,” Obama continued, “they don’t call Beijing, they don’t call Moscow — they call us.”

Having reduced geopolitics to the level of “Ghostbusters” (because when there’s sectarian killing born from a centuries-long ethnic and cultural conflict in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call?) Obama continued, “When there’s a typhoon in the Philippines, take a look at who’s helping the Philippines deal with that situation. When there’s an earthquake in Haiti, take a look at who’s leading the charge, making sure Haiti can rebuild.”

Obama then laid down the hammer, delivering the sound bite one imagines White House message mavens thought was terrifically badass when they came up with it during the waning hours of an all-night planning session some recent, godforsaken morning: “That’s how we roll,” the president of the United States said. “That’s what makes us America.” (“Bring ‘em on!” was already taken.)

So if in years ahead — perhaps during a time when the debate has shifted from whether to send troops back to Iraq to how many troops we should send; or perhaps during the next time when a temporary economic downturn persuades the most serious people in Washington that the welfare state is a luxury the United States cannot afford — you find yourself wondering why the debate in Washington is always between less welfare and more war now or less welfare and more war later, remember what Barack Obama told you.

That’s how we roll. Because we’re America.

Elias Isquith is staff writer at Salon, focusing on politics. Follow him on Twitter at @eliasisquith, and email him at eisquith@salon.com.

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

Rotten to the Core:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Great Lightbulb Conspiracy: Free Markets in Action

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

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

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

~Slashdot~

The New War on ISIL Will Kill Spying Reform, and Reoccupy Iraq at Giant Costs

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There can be little doubt that the acceleration of western military intervention in Iraq and Syria is pitched to aggravate regional crisis.
 As the US, Britain and France are maneuvering to escalate military action in Iraq and Syria against the ‘Islamic State’ in an operation slated to last “years,” authorities are simultaneously calling for new measures to tighten security at home to fend off the danger of jihadists targeting western homelands. Intervention abroad, policymakers are arguing, must be tied to increased domestic surveillance and vigilance. But US and British military experts warn that officials have overlooked the extent to which western policies in the region have not just stoked the rise of IS, but will continue to inflame the current crisis. The consequences could be dire – while governments exploit the turmoil in the Middle East to justify an effective re-invasion of Iraq along with intensified powers of surveillance and control – the end result could well be accelerated regional violence and increasing criminalization of Muslims and activists.

Pre-empting ‘social contagions’

In a recent article in Defense One, technology editor Patrick Tucker interviewed Dr Erin Fitzgerald, the head of the Pentagon’s controversial Minerva Research Initiative, about how Big Data analytics could have predicted the emergence of the Islamic State.

Founded in 2008, the year of the global financial crash, the Minerva initiative is a multi-million dollar programme funding social science research at universities around the world to support US defense policy. As I reported exclusively in The Guardian and Occupy.com, Minerva-funded projects have focused on studying and modeling the origins and trajectories of “social contagions” to track the propensity for civil unrest and insurgencies that could undermine US strategic interests at home and abroad.

This has included developing powerful new data-mining tools capable of in-depth analysis and automated threat-assessment of social media posts of nonviolent social movements, civil society networks, NGOs, and political activists, alongside potentially violent or extreme groups and organisations. Those algorithms, according to NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, could be used to fine-tune CIA kill lists for drone warfare at a time when the US defense industry is actively (and successfully) lobbying federal and local government to militarise the homeland with drone technology.

A major deficiency even according to academic specialists who advised the Pentagon research programme is its use of fluid and imprecise definitions of “nonviolent activism” and “political radicalism,” which tend to equate even peaceful activists with “supporters of political violence.” Official Pentagon responses to my repeated questions about how they would safeguard against demonizing or criminalizing innocent activists consistently ignored this issue.

Pentagon spokesperson: Minerva research needed to predict groups like ISIS

According to Tucker, the US Department of Defense’s Minerva “program managers feel that the rise of IS, and the intelligence community’s inability to anticipate it, imbues their work with a timely importance.” He quotes Fitzgerald who tells him: “Recent security issues such as the emergence of terror groups like ISIS… highlight the type of critical knowledge gaps that Minerva research aims to address.”

Big Data, writes Tucker, has provided an ideal opportunity to innovate new ways of predicting the future. “It’s an excellent time for data-driven social science research,” he observes. “But is the military the best outfit to fund it at its most innovative?”

Citing a speech last week by CIA director John Brennan, Tucker points out that the sort of research being supported by Minerva is about closing “a big gap” in “intent intelligence” – the capacity to predict human intent.

The elephant in the room, however, is that the US intelligence community did anticipate the rise of IS. There is now mounting evidence in the public record that President Obama had been warned of a major attack on Iraq by IS extremists.

US intelligence long anticipated the rise of ISIS

According to an unidentified former Pentagon official, President Obama “was given detailed and specific intelligence about the rise of the Islamic State as part of his daily briefing for at least a year”, containing “strong and ‘granular’” data on the emergence of ISIS. The source said “[we] were ready to fire, on a moment’s notice, on a couple hundred targets,” but no order was given. In some cases, targets were tracked for a “long period of time” but then slipped away, reported Fox News chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge. The White House neither confirmed nor denied this report.

Similarly, the Daily Beast confirmed via “interviews with a dozen US and Iraqi intelligence officials, diplomats, and policy makers” that “A catastrophe like the fall of Mosul wasn’t just predictable… They repeatedly warned the Obama administration that something like this was going to happen.”

In February, then Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, delivered the annual DIA threat assessment to the Senate Armed Services Committee. He predicted that “al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) also known as Iraq and Levant (ISIL)… probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014, as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah.” Gen. Flynn also noted that “some Sunni tribes and insurgent groups appear willing to work tactically with AQI as they share common anti-government goals.” He criticized Baghdad for its “refusal to address long-standing Sunni grievances” and “heavy-handed approach to counter-terror operations” which has “led some Sunni tribes in Anbar to be more permissive of AQI’s presence.” ISIL has “exploited” this permissive security environment “to increase its operations and presence in many locations” in Iraq, as well as “into Syria and Lebanon,” which is inflaming “tensions throughout the region.” US intelligence also appears to have been fully cognizant of Iraq’s inability to repel a prospective ISIS attack on Iraq. Gen. Flynn added that the Iraqi army has “been unable to stem rising violence” and would be unable “to suppress AQI or other internal threats” particularly in Sunni areas like Ramada, Falluja, or mixed areas like Anbar and Ninewa provinces. As Iraq’s forces “lack cohesion, are undermanned, and are poorly trained, equipped and supplied,” they are “vulnerable to terrorist attack, infiltration and corruption.”

A senior figure in Iraq’s governing party, the Islamic Dawah Party, told me on condition of anonymity that Iraqi and American intelligence had anticipated an ISIS attack on Iraq, and specifically on Mosul, as early as August 2013. Although intelligence was not precise on the exact timing of the assault, the source said, “It was well known at the time that ISIS were beginning serious plans to attack Iraq. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey played a key role in supporting ISIS at this time, but the UAE played a bigger role in financial support than the others, which is not widely recognised.”

Yet when asked whether the Americans had attempted to coordinate with Iraq on preparations for the expected ISIS assault this year, particularly due to the recognized inability of the Iraqi army to withstand such an attack, the Iraqi government source said that nothing of the sort had happened. “Perhaps they screwed up, the same way they screwed up over WMD,” he speculated.

Algorithms ‘for the field’

If Minerva research is not really about addressing a non-existent gap in assessing threats in the Middle East, what is it about? According to Fitzgerald, as reported by Tucker: “In contrast to data-mining system development or intelligence analysis, Minerva-funded basic research uses rigorous methodology to investigate the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of phenomena such as influence, conflict escalation and societal resilience.”

The reality is different. As my detailed investigation showed, including my interviews with senior US intelligence experts, Minerva is attempting to develop new tools capable of assessing social movements through a wide range of variables many of which can be derived from data-mining of social media posts, as well as from analysis of private metadata – all informed by sociological modeling with input from subject-area social science experts.

Contrary to Fitzgerald’s statement to Tucker, and to information on the Minerva website, private Minerva email communications I disclosed in the Guardian showed that the data-mining research pursued at Arizona State University would be used by the Pentagon “to develop capabilities that are deliverable quickly” in the form of “models and tools that can be integrated with operations.” Prof Steve Corman, a principal investigator for the ASU project on ‘radical and counter radical Muslim discourses’, told his ASU research staff that the Pentagon is looking to “feed results” into “applications.” He advised them to shape research results “so they [DoD] can clearly see their application for tools that can be taken to the field.”

Corman himself has a longstanding relationship with the Pentagon. In 2003, his ASU-spin off company, Crawdad Technologies, was awarded a $100,000 grant from the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research to analyse text streams using the company’s unique analytical methods which “transform text into networks that represent author intent.”

“We’re very happy that the United States Air Force sees potential in our technology”, said Corman at the time. “The product we’re developing will help intelligence and business analysts find information and patterns in large volumes of streaming text.”

In 2005, Corman’s company in association with ASU won a $750,000 Pentagon grant to further develop its Centering Resonance Analysis (CRA) technology – a “superior data-mining algorithm” which “had up to five times better precision than ones based on existing technologies.” The new grant was for Crawdad to advance the incorporation of “deep analytics” capable of mimicking “expert analysis” when combined with “domain knowledge.” This would create actionable insight from a range of streaming texts, including “news media, email, and even human conversation.” The project was completed in 2007.

ASU, Minerva and the NSA

For the period 2009 to 2014, ASU won its major award from the Pentagon’s Minerva initiative to continue developing new data-mining algorithms to monitor ‘radical and counter radical Muslim discourses.’ Regional and subject-area academic specialists were asked to rate and scale the threat-level to US interests posed by purportedly Muslim civil society organisations and networks in Britain, Western Europe and Southeast Asia, in order to feed into the fine-tuning of algorithms that could automate the threat-assessment classification process in a way that mimicked expert input. When I obtained access to these scaling tools, it turned out that a significant number of organisations being threat-assessed were simply antiwar, human rights and pro-democracy groups that were not remotely Islamic organisations.

For the same period from 2009 to 2014, the ASU received its National Security Agency (NSA) designation as a ‘National Center of Academic Excellence [CAE] in Information Assurance Research’ under the intelligence community’s CAE programme run by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

According to NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, the ideal use for the ASU’s algorithms would be to feed into the US intelligence community’s capacity to conduct wide-ranging predictive behavioral analysis of groups and individuals in the homeland and abroad – with an inherent danger of categorizing activists as potential terror suspects, and at worst, identifying potential targets for the CIA’s drone warfare kill lists.

Given the problematic nature of the Pentagon’s understanding of political violence, though, rather than fine-tuning the intelligence community’s capacity to meaningfully identify threats, this instead maximizes the capacity to see threats where none exist.

According to a former NSA mathematician, scientists at the agency are employed on condition that they would not be told how their mathematical or scientific research would be used. “The intelligence community has a dearth in the kind of scientific expertise necessary to understand and analyse much of the data that is collected,” he said:

“Even most of the mathematicians at the NSA are ex-military. They’re already comfortable with the intelligence community using their work as it sees fit. That’s why the NSA and other agencies require mechanisms to harness the expertise in the academic community. It’s not so easy to convince independent academics whose specialized knowledge is needed to inform intelligence analysis of complex societies and foreign regions that they don’t need to know how their research will be used. But an external funding programme like Minerva makes it easier to overcome this hurdle. All academics need to know is that they’re aiding the fight against terrorists who want to kill American citizens.”

Islamic State paves the way to kill surveillance reform

No wonder then that Western governments have moved fast on the back of the IS threat to justify the need for mass surveillance and Big Data analysis, while neutering calls for surveillance reform due to systemic violations of privacy.

The USA Freedom Act, which was supposed to restrict the NSA’s authority to spy on American citizens, has now been stalled in the Senate due to IS. Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University, toldForeign Policy: “There was a lot of movement on surveillance reform in Congress… but it has been totally overtaken by ISIS. The Senate will still have to pass something, but the urgency is gone.”

Now the UN Security Council is about to endorse a new resolution granting unprecedented powers to government law-enforcement agencies to monitor and suppress the travel of terror suspects, including stripping people of their passports. The resolution does not require any criminal conduct as a precondition for the use of such enforcement powers.

The problem is that neither of the main approaches to dealing with IS – mass surveillance and military bombardment – are likely to work. The New America Foundation’s detailed report released at the beginning of this year found that surveillance “has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism”; while military action and dubious alliances with regional powers is precisely what led to the current crisis.

Unfortunately, as anthropologist Prof David Price told Defense One’s Patrick Tucker about the Pentagon’s regressive approach to the appropriation of social science: “I just don’t see Minerva funding a study of how American civilian, military, and intelligence activities in the Middle East contributed to the rise of the Islamic State.”

The elephant in the room is foreign policy

According to security analyst Charles Shoebridge, a former British Army and Metropolitan Police counter terrorism intelligence officer, the crisis across Iraq and Syria cannot be resolved without first addressing the extent to which western policies created the crisis in the first place.

“The US, UK and France contributed to the collapse of governance [in Syria]… by funding, training and equipping ‘moderate’ rebels with little realistic consideration of with whom such funds, trained fighters and ‘non lethal’ aid (such as armoured vehicles, body armour, secure military radios and weapon sights) would end up,” said Shoebridge. “Similarly, the West did nothing to discourage vast flows of funds and arms from their allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others towards rebel groups irrespective of, or perhaps because of, their extreme interpretations of Sunni Islam.”

Shoebridge pointed out that the US and UK in particular, “through the covert work of MI6 and the CIA,” appear to have “played a key role in facilitating the flow of arms and jihadist fighters to Syria from such places as Libya, the Caucuses and Balkans, with the aim of militarily boosting those fighting Assad.”

Currently, the success of the new US-led strategy in Iraq and Syria is premised on the notion of a clear and discernable distinction between the ‘moderate’ rebels and extremists linked to al-Qaeda or IS. But according to Shoebridge, this distinction then and now is virtually meaningless: “It should also be noted in this respect that the ‘moderate’ rebels the US and UK support themselves openly welcomed the arrival of such extremists. Indeed, the Free Syria Army backed by the West was allied with ISIS, until ISIS attacked them at the end of 2013. Still today, ‘moderate’ rebels backed by the US and UK are allied with Syrian al Qaeda affiliate al Nusra, despite the US and UK having banned this group at home.”

Turning a blind eye

By some estimates up to 500 Britons are suspected of having gone to fight in Syria. With reports that many of them are planning to return to the UK, some of them due to being disillusioned with IS, the government is exploring new powers to prevent British terror suspects from traveling abroad or re-entering the country. But Shoebridge remarked that since 2006, UK authorities have tacitly allowed this terror-funnel to consolidate and expand, until it began to grow out of control last year. Britain, he told me, “turned a blind eye to the travelling of its own jihadists to Syria, notwithstanding ample video etc evidence of their crimes there. Despite such overseas terrorism having been illegal in the UK since 2006, it’s notable that only towards the end of 2013 when ISIS turned against the West’s preferred rebels, and perhaps also when the tipping point between foreign policy usefulness and MI5 fears of domestic terrorist blowback was reached, did the UK authorities begin to take serious steps to tackle the flow of UK jihadists.”

The US-UK direct and tacit support for jihadists, he said, had made Syria the safest place for regional terrorists fearing drone strikes “for more than two years.” Syria was “the only place British jihadists could fight without fear of US drones or arrest back home… likely because, unlike if similar numbers of UK jihadists had been travelling to for example Yemen or Afghanistan, this suited the US and UK’s anti Assad foreign policy.”

Air strikes will fail, could pave way for ground war

I also talked to a senior US Army official familiar with Iraq who had deep reservations about the current course of military action. “It was almost 100% certain that airstrikes alone could never ‘defeat’ ISIS. The absolute automatic, certain reaction ISIS would take has been taken: they changed the way they operate, move, and where they live. They are now more deeply embedded in the civilian infrastructure so that continued striking is going to build up more and more civilian casualties – which ISIS and other organizations will certainly publicize, making us look very bad. So it should have been known, 100%, that airpower alone wouldn’t succeed.”

The failure of air strikes to quell IS could pave the way for an inevitable ground invasion, he speculated, which however would only result in a deeper quagmire: “What do you do next?  Stop bombing? Bomb more?  What more targets do you engage; which additional targets will you engage?  Or will you bring in Western ground troops to fight?  That has been tried and conclusively failed.”

In much the same way that the devastation of Iraq in the context of the 2003 Iraq War, and the US-backed imposition of a repressive, sectarian regime there, have acted as a recruiting sergeant for Islamist extremists, further air strikes are likely to have a similar counterproductive impact now.

Civilians in Iraq and Syria, the US official said, “were first victimized and brutalized by ISIS, and now many of them have already been killed and wounded by the airstrikes. Their homes, business, and schools have been turned to rubble; their economy almost eliminated. What do we think all these people will think of the West now? Even if we eventually defeated ISIS – highly unlikely – the devastation against these innocents will engender such animosity towards us the results might be worse than what we have now.”

Any solution to the crisis, he said, would require a dramatic change of approach to the region, including serious introspection on the west’s contribution to the conditions which have fed the grievances of groups like al-Qaeda and IS. “Neither the US or UK have been willing to even consider, much less admit, that a good chunk of the causality for this current mess originated with our actions in 2003 and ever since. In effect, the very bad policy and military actions we’ve taken in the past decade to help inflame this region – through considerable kinetic action and the funneling in of huge amounts of weapons and ammunition – will be deepened and expanded… So long as we don’t concede our actions have contributed greatly to this instability (not all, but a significant portion), we will be doomed to deepening the situation.”

For British counter terrorism expert Shoebridge, the sheer incompetence of the US-UK’s reactionary response raises probing questions about whether their strategies have been willingly compromised by commitments to their allies, many of whom played key roles with US and UK support in supporting Islamist extremists in Syria.

“For the US and UK, to find an answer as to a way out of the mess that is now the Islamic State one must first ask whether for their foreign policy it’s actually a mess at all,” he said. “Certainly ISIS remains a potent and useful tool for key US and UK allies such as Saudi Arabia, and perhaps also Israel, which seek the destabilization of enemies Syria and Iraq, as well as a means for applying pressure on more friendly states such as Lebanon and Jordan. It’s understandable therefore that many question the seriousness of US and UK resolve to destroy ISIS, particularly given that for years their horrific crimes against civilians, particularly minorities, in Syria were expediently largely unmentioned by the West’s governments or media.”

Whether or not the west is serious about defeating IS, there can be little doubt that the acceleration of western military intervention in Iraq and Syria is pitched to aggravate regional crisis, while permitting policymakers to dramatically extend the unaccountable powers of the surveillance state.

 

Why Facebook, Google, and the NSA Want Computers That Learn Like Humans

Deep learning could transform artificial intelligence. It could also get pretty creepy.

lol cats

Illustration: Quickhoney

In June 2012, a Google supercomputer made an artificial-intelligence breakthrough: It learned that the internet loves cats. But here’s the remarkable part: It had never been told what a cat looks like. Researchers working on the Google Brain project in the company’s X lab fed 10 million random, unlabeled images from YouTube into their massive network and instructed it to recognize the basic elements of a picture and how they fit together. Left to their own devices, the Brain’s 16,000 central processing units noticed that a lot of the images shared similar characteristics that it eventually recognized as a “cat.” While the Brain’s self-taught knack for kitty spotting was nowhere as good as a human’s, it was nonetheless a major advance in the exploding field of deep learning.

The dream of a machine that can think and learn like a person has long been the holy grail of computer scientists, sci-fi fans, and futurists alike. Deep learning—algorithms inspired by the human brain and its ability to soak up massive amounts of information and make complex predictions—might be the closest thing yet. Right now, the technology is in its infancy: Much like a baby, the Google Brain taught itself how to recognize cats, but it’s got a long way to go before it can figure out that you’re sad because your tabby died. But it’s just a matter of time. Its potential to revolutionize everything from social networking to surveillance has sent tech companies and defense and intelligence agencies on a deep-learning spending spree.

What really puts deep learning on the cutting edge of artificial intelligence (AI) is that its algorithms can analyze things like human behavior and then make sophisticated predictions. What if a social-networking site could figure out what you’re wearing from your photos and then suggest a new dress? What if your insurance company could diagnose you as diabetic without consulting your doctor? What if a security camera could tell if the person next to you on the subway is carrying a bomb?

And unlike older data-crunching models, deep learning doesn’t slow down as you cram in more info. Just the opposite—it gets even smarter. “Deep learning works better and better as you feed it more data,” explains Andrew Ng, who oversaw the cat experiment as the founder of Google’s deep-learning team. (Ng has since joined the Chinese tech giant Baidu as the head of its Silicon Valley AI team.)

And so the race to build a better virtual brain is on. Microsoft plans to challenge the Google Brain with its own system called Adam. Wired reported that Apple is applying deep learning to build a “neural-net-boosted Siri.” Netflix hopes the technology will improve its movie recommendations. Google, Yahoo, Twitter, and Pinterest have snapped up deep-learning companies; Google has used the technology to read every house number in France in less than an hour. “There’s a big rush because we think there’s going to be a bit of a quantum leap,” says Yann LeCun, a deep-learning pioneer and the head of Facebook’s new AI lab.

What if your insurance company diagnosed you without consulting your doctor? What if a security camera could tell if the person next to you is carrying a bomb?

Last December, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared, bodyguards in tow, at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference in Lake Tahoe, where insiders discussed how to make computers learn like humans. He has said that his company seeks to “use new approaches in AI to help make sense of all the content that people share.” Facebook researchers have used deep learning to identify individual faces from a giant database called “Labeled Faces in the Wild” with more than 97 percent accuracy. Another project, dubbed PANDA (Pose Aligned Networks for Deep Attribute Modeling), can accurately discern gender, hairstyles, clothing styles, and facial expressions from photos. LeCun says that these types of tools could improve the site’s ability to tag photos, target ads, and determine how people will react to content.

Yet considering recent news that Facebook secretly studied 700,000 users’ emotions by tweaking their feeds or that the National Security Agency harvests 55,000 facial images a day, it’s not hard to imagine how these attempts to better “know” you might veer into creepier territory.

Not surprisingly, deep learning’s potential for analyzing human faces, emotions, and behavior has attracted the attention of national-security types. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has worked with researchers at New York University on a deep-learning program that sought, according to a spokesman, “to distinguish human forms from other objects in battlefield or other military environments.”

Chris Bregler, an NYU computer science professor, is working with the Defense Department to enable surveillance cameras to detect suspicious activity from body language, gestures, and even cultural cues. (Bregler, who grew up near Heidelberg, compares it to his ability to spot German tourists in Manhattan.) His prototype can also determine whether someone is carrying a concealed weapon; in theory, it could analyze a woman’s gait to reveal she is hiding explosives by pretending to be pregnant. He’s also working on an unnamed project funded by “an intelligence agency”—he’s not permitted to say more than that.

And the NSA is sponsoring deep-learning research on language recognition at Johns Hopkins University. Asked whether the agency seeks to use deep learning to track or identify humans, spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines only says that the agency “has a broad interest in deriving knowledge from data.”

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg has said that Facebook seeks to “use new approaches in AI to help make sense of all the content that people share.” AP Photo/Ben Margot

Deep learning also has the potential to revolutionize Big Data-driven industries like banking and insurance. Graham Taylor, an assistant professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, has applied deep-learning models to look beyond credit scores to determine customers’ future value to companies. He acknowledges that these types of applications could upend the way businesses treat their customers: “What if a restaurant was able to predict the amount of your bill, or the probability of you ever returning? What if that affected your wait time? I think there will be many surprises as predictive models become more pervasive.”

Privacy experts worry that deep learning could also be used in industries like banking and insurance to discriminate or effectively redline consumers for certain behaviors. Sergey Feldman, a consultant and data scientist with the brand personalization company RichRelevance, imagines a “deep-learning nightmare scenario” in which insurance companies buy your personal information from data brokers and then infer with near-total accuracy that, say, you’re an overweight smoker in the early stages of heart disease. Your monthly premium might suddenly double, and you wouldn’t know why. This would be illegal, but, Feldman says, “don’t expect Congress to protect you against all possible data invasions.”

An NSA spokeswoman only says that the agency “has a broad interest in deriving knowledge from data.”

And what if the computer is wrong? If a deep-learning program predicts that you’re a fraud risk and blacklists you, “there’s no way to contest that determination,” says Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for privacy issues at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Bregler agrees that there might be privacy issues associated with deep learning, but notes that he tries to mitigate those concerns by consulting with a privacy advocate. Google has reportedly established an ethics committee to address AI issues; a spokesman says its deep-learning research is not primarily about analyzing personal or user-specific data—for now. While LeCun says that Facebook eventually could analyze users’ data to inform targeted advertising, he insists the company won’t share personally identifiable data with advertisers.

“The problem of privacy invasion through computers did not suddenly appear because of AI or deep learning. It’s been around for a long time,” LeCun says. “Deep learning doesn’t change the equation in that sense, it just makes it more immediate.” Big companies like Facebook “thrive on the trust users have in them,” so consumers shouldn’t worry about their personal data being fed into virtual brains. Yet, as he notes, “in the wrong hands, deep learning is just like any new technology.”

Deep learning, which also has been used to model everything from drug side effects to energy demand, could “make our lives much easier,” says Yoshua Bengio, head of the Machine Learning Laboratory at the University of Montreal. For now, it’s still relatively difficult for companies and governments to efficiently sift through all our emails, texts, and photos. But deep learning, he warns, “gives a lot of power to these organizations.”

Once again, UN climate meeting comes up empty

http://www.un.org/climatechange/summit/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2013/09/climate_summit_2014.jpg

By Daniel de Vries
25 September 2014

As United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opened the Climate Summit in New York this week, he described climate change as the defining issue of our age, warning that “there is no more time for business as usual.” The summit must not be about talk, he urged, but rather about “producing actions that make a difference.”

What world leaders offered up, however, was little more than empty, self-serving pledges that will do nothing to stave off the impact of global warming.

One of the key goals of the meeting had been to build momentum for the Paris Conference in December 2015, which the UN has targeted for a binding agreement on climate change. Fifteen months away, almost no one expects such an agreement to be forthcoming. The Obama administration underscored this last month, saying they intend only to “name and shame” countries into setting voluntary targets, rather than pursuing a legally enforceable treaty.

Tuesday’s summit was the highest-profile effort to bring together leaders of the major countries on the issue of climate change since Copenhagen in 2009, when the last attempt to negotiate a binding agreement ended in debacle. Over 120 heads of state participated in the summit.

However, despite the large numbers of dignitaries, low expectations and rising geopolitical tensions ensured that leaders of several of the most important countries, in terms of both economic output and greenhouse gas emissions, stayed away. Angela Merkel of Germany, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Xi Jinping of China, and Narendra Modi of India, among others, were absent.

A day after initiating the bombing campaign in Syria, President Obama used his remarks to take aim at China. Obama challenged China as the world’s second-largest economy and biggest greenhouse gas emitter. Like the US, China has a “special responsibility to lead,” he said. “That’s what big nations have to do.”

The US has long since gone back on the past concession that the wealthy industrialized countries, having created the bulk of greenhouse emissions, had greater responsibility than the poorer countries for finding a remedy. Instead, the primary aim of Obama’s international climate policy is to gain a competitive advantage against China. In this respect, his singling out of Beijing can be understood as the “green” component of the US “pivot to Asia.”

While Obama boasted in his speech about the United States “stepping up to the plate” to regulate pollution from power plants, the Environmental Protection Agency quietly announced September 16 that it was delaying implementation of the new rules at least through the end of the year.

The president also bragged that the US was on track to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent in 2020. This goal, which is based on a cherry-picked starting point when emissions neared their peak, is nowhere near adequate. The US remains on a trajectory to exceed 1990 emissions by five percent in 2030. The bulk of the recent reductions are attributable to the transition from coal to natural gas in the power sector. Made economically attractive by the boom in hydro-fracking, this development has carried alongside it devastating environmental consequences.

Obama was far from the only leader to make cynical claims of environmental progress. The UK’s David Cameron remarked, “As prime minister, I pledged to lead the greenest government ever and I believe we have kept that promise,” before touting the low-carbon benefits of shale gas exploration.

French President François Hollande was one of the few to announce any new commitments, pledging $1 billion over four years to the Green Climate Fund. Formally established at the Cancun climate conference in 2010, the fund is intended to raise $100 billion a year to finance climate-related projects in so-called developing countries. Four years later, however, the fund remains near empty, with only Germany equaling France’s pledge, plus a handful of other countries making smaller donations. The $1 billion pledge by France is a mere drop in the bucket, equal to roughly half a percent of the country’s military spending over the same four-year period.

The Green Climate Fund, like all the “market-based measures” advanced at the UN conference, is based not on what is needed to limit climate change or adapt to its consequences, but on the profit interests of the banks and major corporations. Wall Street is preparing for a bonanza, eying the fund as a vehicle for huge profits at essentially no risk. National governments would provide loan guaranties and subsidies, essentially covering losses in case the climate investments fail, while ensuring windfall profits flow to private companies.

Underscoring the subordination of climate policy to business interests, Tuesday’s summit had the largest ever involvement from the private sector. A UN press release highlighted this fact, stating, “In a major departure from the climate negotiations and previous climate summits, the business community and civil society are playing a major role. There were 181 representatives from the business and investment community, including 90 chief executive officers.”

Meanwhile, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last week that global temperatures this summer were the hottest on record. This year is on track to break the record for the warmest ever, previously set in 2010, they project.

The NOAA announcement is just the latest in a steady stream of reports and assessments highlighting the severity of the climate crisis. While the governmental, business and “civil society” leaders present at the summit near universally admitted this, they once again demonstrated that it is impossible, within the framework of capitalist property relations and the nation-state system, to muster any meaningful response.

DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

CA Judge Rules SiriusXM Is Liable For

Pre-1972 Turtles Performance Fees

 

Gavel      A federal judge in Los Angeles this week agreed with 1960s band The Turtles that the recorded music industry can collect performance royalty fees for copyrighted recordings made prior to 1972. In a summary judgment ruling published Monday (Sept. 22), U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez ruled SiriusXM had violated California state law by performing 15 recordings of The Turtles dating from before 1972 without a license. The original lawsuit, filed by singers Flo & Eddie, argued that even though Federal copyright laws only covered recordings made after 1972, various state laws provided copyright coverage for works prior to that year.

The Los Angeles ruling thus gives the music industry and its pre-1972 legal theory a major boost. In reaching his conclusion, Judge Gutierrez examined a California law that was enacted in 1982 and meant to address pre-1972 recordings. As reported by Billboard, the statute – passed in the aftermath of U.S. Congress’s decision to expand federal copyright law – was silent on whether “exclusive ownership” of pre-1972 sound recordings carries within it the exclusive right to publicly perform the recording. As such, the judge had to determine whether California’s law was inclusive or exclusive, and the judge’s reading of the law is that other than the exception for cover songs, there’s nothing exclusive about it.

GigaOm called Monday’s ruling the worst-case outcome for SiriusXM and other digital music services because it will likely expand the scope of music on which they must pay royalties. It also could add a further layer of costs for the digital services that traditional AM/FM radio stations do not have to incur. 

SiriusXM Pre-’72 Copyright Ruling

May Mean Nothing Outside California

 

Lawsuit      U.S. Federal Court Judge Philip Gutierrez’ decision that SiriusXM violated the Turtles’ pre-1972 master copyrights is considered a big win for the music industry…but does it have any meaning beyond California, where the original lawsuit was filed? Many legal experts today are scratching their heads and wondering whether Monday’s ruling has any significant implications for other ongoing court cases that argue state laws apply even though the master recording copyright didn’t exist until 1972 in federal law. SiriusXM, Pandora, and other digital music services say they have the right to play pre-1972 recorded music without licensing or paying royalties to record labels and the artists, while labels and artists maintain these services must comply with individual state laws, where they exist.

The Copyright Royalty Board originally said federal law exempts SiriusXM from making such copyright payments, but the CRB’s ruling doesn’t extend to state statutes. This led to the Turtles’ Flo & Eddie to claim copyright protection under California law; subsequent lawsuits also were filed in Florida and New York. Additionally, SoundExchange filed a claim against SiriusXM in federal court in the District of Columbia, while the three major labels filed a lawsuit on the same issue against the satcaster in California state court and against Pandora in New York state court.

Interestingly, last month a different judge ruled the wording in California state law on master recordings is ambiguous and may protect against unlicensed duplication and distribution. “Plaintiffs [the major labels] have not cited any authority for the proposition that the state law rights in pre-1972 sound recordings included rights in public performances of the sound recordings,” Judge Mary Strobel wrote.

“The Flo & Eddie judge [Gutierrez] surely read the interim ruling and said ‘balderdash,'” one senior label executive told Billboard

Apple Denies Rumors Of Beats Closure

 

     In what may have been a major Mark Twain moment, the reports earlier this week that Beats Music was dead may have been greatly exaggerated. While the social media blogosphere was buzzing that Apple Inc. had decided to shutter the service it acquired only four months ago for $3 billion, Hollywood Reporter says Apple claims the story simply is not true. In fact, Apple has been typically silent about how it plans to integrate Beats into its current iTunes offerings, and the service was largely ignored when executives took the stage at a special media event less than two weeks ago to reveal the new iPhone 6.

Still, HR says Apple’s Eddy Cue gave a wink to Beats during his presentation on Apple Pay, and CEO Tim Cook gave the streaming service a shout-out when announcing the launch of the new U2 album. That said, the Beats app, which allows people to access curated streaming music playlists, is noticeably absent from the new iPhones.

So what gives? Actually a source with “knowledge of the situation” says that Apple “is fully committed to offering a subscription service, though changes to any existing products are always a possibility.” Closing Beats Music would leave co-founders Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre available to focus on other initiatives for the tech firm, and would support reports that surfaced at the time of the acquisition that Apple paid a premium to sign the music moguls to long-term development deals.

Editor’s note: It’s been clear from the start that Apple has big plans for certain elements of the Beats technology and the team that brought it to fruition. CEO Tim Cook and the innovators in Cupertino obviously have a vision for the Beats technology that far exceeds simply plugging it into its existing iTunes Radio system. Keep in mind that, for every Apple product that has ever shipped in a box, there has been a team of minds that first thought outside that box. 

U2 And Apple Reportedly Are Developing

New Digital Music “Audiovisual” Format

 

     Expanding on the rumor that Apple Inc. has closed Beats Music, Time magazine this week reported the company actually is working with U2 to develop a new digital music format that “will prove so irresistibly exciting to music fans that it will tempt them again into buying music – whole albums as well as individual tracks.” Fresh off the surprise release (and subsequent partial recall) of U2’s new “Songs of Innocence” album, the band’s legendary frontman Bono told Time that the new music format is designed to be something that “can’t be pirated” and that could limit both illegal downloading and legal streaming, activities Rolling Stone says “have chipped away the music industry from a sales perspective.”

“It’s going to get very exciting for the music business,” Bono said, adding that the format will be “an audiovisual interactive format for music that can’t be pirated and will bring back album artwork in the most powerful way. You can play with the lyrics and get behind the songs when you’re sitting on the subway with your iPad or on these big flat screens. You can see photography like you’ve never seen it before.”

Bono said the new format is about 18 months away, which could potentially align it with U2’s planned “Innocence” follow-up “Songs of Experience.” While U2 is championing this new format, the files are more likely to help younger, lesser-known artists than global superstar acts, as the format gives listeners incentive to actually buy music. “Songwriters aren’t touring people,” Bono said. “Cole Porter wouldn’t have sold T-shirts. Cole Porter wasn’t coming to a stadium near you.” 

Japan’s Love Affair With CDs Boosts

Global Sales, But Could Slam Record Biz

 

     Japan is considered be one of the world’s perennial early adopters of new technologies, but its continuing attachment to the CD puts it sharply at odds with the rest of the global music industry. That’s the word from The New York Times, which reports that, while CD sales are falling worldwide, they still account for about 85% of sales in that country, compared with as little as 20% in some countries. By contrast, digital sales are quickly eroding in Japan, going from almost $1 billion in 2009 to just $400 million last year, according to the Recording Industry Association of Japan. Meanwhile, such streaming music services as Spotify and Rdio, widely seen as the industry’s best new hope for new revenue, have stalled in their efforts to enter Japan, where homegrown pop idols by far outsell Western acts.

Analysts contend peculiarities of Japan’s business climate have shaped its attachment to the CD, but cultural factors may also be at play. For instance, Japanese consumers have a love affair with collectible goods, which means that “Greatest Hits” albums do particularly well in Japan, perhaps because of the elaborate, artist-focused packaging. Cross-promotional activities also abound; for example, the hugely popular girl group AKB48 pioneered the sale of CDs containing tickets that can be redeemed for access to live events. This strategy is credited with propping up CD sales, because it can lead the biggest fans to buy multiple copies of an album.

Digital sales in the U.S. have surpassed physical sales a few years ago, but CDs still account for 41% of the $15 billion recorded music market worldwide. Much of this lingering sales strength comes from Japan (as well as Germany), an attachment that worries analysts who contend that if those countries do not embrace online music, an inevitable decline in CD sales will further damage the industry. “If Japan sneezes and Germany catches a cold, that’s it – we’re done,” Alice Enders, a media analyst with Enders Analysis, told the Times

Music Industry Could Learn A Thing

Or Two From Digital Marketing 101

 

     As the digital music industry becomes increasingly competitive (and, perceptually at least, disjointed), record labels wrestle with a disruped digital ecosystem made up of many seemingly disconnected parts. As a result, consumers have the potential to get lost in the mix, leaving many to wander aimlessly through a morass of traditional, digital, and social media in their quest to discover new music and even listen to what they already know. As Mashable noted earlier this week, music is a breed of its own, where cookie-like tracking tools simply don’t exist yet and artists don’t know their true reach and can’t discover comprehensive insights into their listeners.

To that end, the website offers several modern marketing concepts to see how they apply – or don’t – to the ever-changing music business:

  • Marketing technology. Deeper insight into user behavior is crucial for an industry that bears the brunt of every new disruptive technology.
  • Real-time reporting. Radio is a music research black hole. Activity on Pandora comprises a huge and growing percentage of listening in the United States, the world’s biggest music market. However, like offline radio, there’s no real-time or detailed tracking of  music consumption.
  • Building relationships on social. Marketing’s key theme also applies to the music industry: success is all about having a relationship with the consumer (in this case, the listener). As Taylor Swift pointed out in her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, artists are starting to get record deals because they have fans, not the other way around.

As Mashable says, “The missing links that’ll ultimately power the business of the music industry will fall into place with innovation. Every individual stars in their own movie complete with the soundtrack to their life. By leveraging the innovation seen in digital marketing, artists can understand in which scenes their music is featured.”

 

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2014