An entire industry is dedicated to getting your privacy back.

The Anti-Surveillance State: Clothes and Gadgets Block Face Recognition Technology, Confuse Drones and Make You (Digitally) Invisible

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Last spring, designer Adam Harvey hosted a session on hair and makeup techniques for attendees of the 2015 FutureEverything Festival in Manchester, England. Rather than sharing innovative ways to bring out the audience’s eyes, Harvey’s CV Dazzle Anon introduced a series of styling methods designed with almost the exact opposite aim of traditional beauty tricks: to turn your face into an anti-face—one that cameras, particularly those of the surveillance variety, will not only fail to love, but fail to recognize.

Harvey is one of a growing number of privacy-focused designers and developers “exploring new opportunities that are the result of [heightened] surveillance,” and working to establish lines of defense against it. He’s spent the past several years experimenting with strategies for putting control over people’s privacy back in their own hands, in their pockets and on their faces.

Harvey’s goal of “creating a style that [is] functional and aesthetic” has driven several projects and collaborations, including a method for “spoofing” DNA, and via the Privacy Gift Shop, his drone-thwarting Stealth Wear line (clothing he claims “shields against thermal imaging…[which is] used widely by military drones to target people,” seen below) and the OFF Pocket phone sleeve, able to keep out unwanted wireless signals.

His CV Dazzle designs for hair and makeup obscure the eyes, bridge of the nose and shape of the head, as well as creating skin tone contrasts and asymmetries. Facial-recognition algorithms function by identifying the layout of facial features and supplying missing info based on assumed facial symmetry. The project demonstrates that a styled “anti-face” can both conceal a person’s identity from facial recognition software (be it the FBI’s or Facebook’s) and cause the software to doubt the presence of a human face, period.

Harvey’s work is focused on accessibility in addition to privacy. “Most of the projects I’ve worked on are analog solutions to digital challenges,” he said. His hair and makeup style tips – a veritable how-to guide for how to create “privacy reclaiming” looks at home – are “deliberately low-cost.” His current project – software to “automatically generate camouflage…that can be applied to faces” – will allow a user to “create [their] own look and guide the design towards [their] personal style preferences.”

Other low-tech protections against widespread surveillance have been gaining ground, too. Though initially designed as a tongue-in-cheek solution to prying eyes and cameras, Becky Stern’s Laptop Compubody Sock offers a portable, peek-free zone to laptop users, while the CHBL Jammer Coat and sold-out Phonekerchief use metal-infused fabrics to make personal gadgets unreachable, blocking texts, calls and radio waves. For people willing to sport a bit more hardware in the name of privacy, the Sentient City Survival Kit offers underwear that notifies wearers about real-life phishing and tracking attempts, and its LED umbrella lets users “flirt with object tracking algorithms used in advanced surveillance systems” and even “train these systems to recognize nonhuman shapes.”

Large companies are also getting in on the pushback against increasing surveillance. Earlier this year, antivirus software leaders AVG revealed a pair of invisibility glasses developed by its Innovation Labs division. The casual looking specs use embedded infrared lights “to create noise around the nose and eyes” and retro-reflective frame coating to interfere with camera flashes, “allowing [the wearer] to avoid facial recognition.” In early 2013, Japan’s National Institute of Informatics revealed a bulky pair of goggles it had developed for the same purpose.

A spokesperson for Innovation Labs claims its glasses represent “an important step in the prevention against mass surveillance…whether through the cell phone camera of a passerby, a CCTV camera in a bar, or a drone flying over your head in the street.” Innovation Labs says that, with a person’s picture, facial recognition software “coupled with data from social networking sites can provide instant access to the private information of complete strangers. This can pose a serious threat to our privacy.” Though AVG’s glasses are not scheduled for commercial release, Innovation Labs said that individuals can take a number of steps to prevent their images from being “harvested”:

“First and foremost, make sure you’re not allowing private corporations to create biometrics profiles about you. When using social networks like Facebook, be aware that they are using facial recognition to give you tag suggestions. Facebook’s DeepFace was already tested and trained on the largest facial dataset to-date (an identity labeled dataset of more than 4 million facial images belonging to thousands of identities).”

Holmes Wilson of nonprofit Fight for the Future, which works to defend online privacy and freedoms on various fronts, is more concerned with other types of privacy invasion than real-life image harvesting. “It’s pretty unlikely in most of the world that you’ll get followed around using a network of street cameras with face recognition,” he said. “It’s probably pretty likely, though, that you’ll get filmed by police at a protest. But [there’s] not much you can do about that other than wearing a mask.”

Wilson advises people concerned about privacy breaches through surveillance to first focus on the ways in which their gadgets are supplying info to third parties. “The place where it’s easiest to fight back against surveillance is in protecting the security of your messages,” he said, adding that message security “can be a problem for activists, too.” He said apps like Textsecure, Signal, and Redphone can make it “a lot harder for people to spy on you.” Wilson added:

“Phones are the biggest thing. Lots of people think of smartphones as the big privacy problem, but old-fashioned phones are just as bad, and worse in some ways. All cellphones report on your location to the network as you move around. That’s just how they work, and they need to send that information or the system won’t know where to send your call. There’s no way to turn that off, other than by turning off the phone and, for good measure, taking the battery out.”

In collaboration with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future recommends a variety of options for encrypting messages, password-protecting accounts and securing a user’s various communication and browsing activities via Reset the Net. Wilson encouraged those with specific privacy concerns to check out tutorials, resources and break-downs of privacy issues from Surveillance Self-Defense.

Last year, Facebook announced that its DeepFace facial recognition technology can detect a person’s identity from photos with 97.25 percent accuracy, only a hair below the 97.5 percent success rate for humans taking the same test. Currently, a congressional front is preparing to extend surveillance powers granted to legal bodies by Section 215 of the Patriot Act—the NSA’s legal foothold of choice with regard to mass collection of US phone records since 2006, and set to expire on June 1—with the light-on-reform USA Freedom Act.

It seems likely that a growing number of both tech-wary and tech-savvy people will continue weighing how best to ensure their personal privacy, whether by putting stark makeup on or by turning their phones off.

Janet Burns is a writer in Brooklyn, NY. Her website is warmlyjanetburns.com.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/anti-surveillance-state-clothes-and-gadgets-block-face-recognition-technology?akid=13037.265072._uEekz&rd=1&src=newsletter1035368&t=5

Obama’s drone warfare: Assassination made routine

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25 April 2015

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of President Obama’s announcement Thursday that two hostages of Al Qaeda, an American and an Italian, were killed in a US drone missile strike in Pakistan is the lack of any significant reaction from official political circles or the media.

There was a certain amount of tut-tutting in the press and expressions of sympathy for the family of Dr. Warren Weinstein, the longtime aid worker in Pakistan who was kidnapped by Al Qaeda in 2011 and killed by the US government in January 2015.

But there was no challenge to the basic premise of the drone missile program: that the CIA and Pentagon have the right to kill any individual, in any country, on the mere say-so of the president. Drone murder by the US government has become routine and is accepted as normal and legitimate by the official shapers of public opinion.

Obama’s own appearance Thursday was chilling. He made perfunctory expressions of regret, but only because the latest victims of US drone strikes included an American and an Italian who were being held hostage. It was a transparently poor acting performance, convincing no one but the editors of theNew York Times, who praised Obama’s “candor and remorse.”

After blaming the deaths of Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto on “mistakes” made because of “the fog of war,” Obama declared, “But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional, is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.” He had decided to admit responsibility for the deaths because “the United States is a democracy, committed to openness, in good times and in bad.”

What a farce! Far from admitting “mistakes,” Obama, the political front man for the military-intelligence apparatus, was making clear that the drone assassination program would continue and no one would be held accountable for the latest atrocity.

Today’s America is “exceptional” only in the degree to which the entire ruling elite has embraced a policy of reckless violence around the globe that includes murder, torture and aggressive war. The United States is run by criminals.

A major test of any American president is readiness to approve state killings in his or her capacity as the political representative, not of the American people, but of a cabal of generals and CIA assassins. How much longer before such actions are carried out not just in remote parts of Afghanistan or Yemen, but in major urban centers of major countries, including, ultimately, the United States itself?

The drone strike in Pakistan’s Shawal Valley that killed Weinstein and Lo Porto is part of an unending campaign of death and destruction. Obama did not even have to sign off on this particular missile strike, since he has given the CIA blanket authority to conduct such operations in the predominately Pashtun-populated Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

The claim that drone attacks target individuals designated by the US military-intelligence apparatus as “terrorists” is hardly a limitation, given the indiscriminate application of this term to anyone offering significant resistance to US foreign policy, as well as the cynical practice of posthumously applying the label of “enemy combatant” to any military-age male killed by a US drone-fired missile.

Moreover, as events in Syria and Libya demonstrate, yesterday’s anti-American “terrorist” can become today’s “rebel” or “freedom fighter,” the recipient of US cash, military training and weaponry. Similarly, today’s “freedom fighter” or ally in the “war on terror” can become tomorrow’s target for overthrow or assassination.

The CIA recruited Al Qaeda sympathizers for its overthrow of the Libyan regime and murder of Muammar Gaddafi, formerly an ally, and for the ongoing regime-change operation against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. The latter effort gave rise to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, in which terrorists turned “rebels” were subsequently branded terrorists, in accordance with the twists and turns of US foreign policy.

Obama administration officials have confirmed that the drone missile attack that killed Weinstein and Lo Porto was a “signature strike,” in which targets are not identified by name, but selected on the basis of a pattern of activities supposedly consistent with those of a terrorist group. The CIA carried out a drone missile attack that killed six people, including Weinstein and Lo Porto, based on aerial observation of the comings and goings at the building targeted, without actually knowing who was there or what their relation, if any, was with Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Such attacks are in flagrant violation of international law. The US is trampling on the sovereignty of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries where it carries out such strikes.

Drone missile murders are war crimes under the Geneva Conventions, which forbid deliberate attacks on civilians or military operations that recklessly endanger civilians. According to a study by the human rights group Reprieve, US drone missile strikes targeting 41 supposed terrorists killed a total of 1,147 people, including many women and children.

Not a single significant voice in the US political or media establishment has been raised against the elevation of assassination to a major element of American foreign policy. In the 1970s, when the US Senate’s Church Committee held hearings on CIA assassination plots against a handful of foreign leaders, its revelations had the capacity to shock. There was a reaction even at the highest levels of the political establishment, and the White House was compelled to issue an executive order disavowing murder as a tool of government policy.

Today there is no such reaction. On the contrary, earlier this month the Timesrevealed that congressional leaders had put pressure on the White House and CIA for more acts of drone missile murder. Describing discussions about whether to kill or capture a Texas-born Islamist who had joined Al Qaeda in Pakistan, Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, the Times reported: “During a closed-door hearing of the House Intelligence Committee in July 2013, lawmakers grilled military and intelligence officials about why Mr. Farekh had not been killed.” (See: “US targeted second American citizen for assassination”).

The American media is well aware of the drone missile death toll, but covers it up. An article Friday in the Times noted that the White House refuses point-blank to discuss civilian victims of drone missile attacks when they are Pakistani or Yemeni. “When Americans have been killed, however, the Obama administration has found it necessary to break with its usual practice and eventually acknowledge the deaths, at least in private discussions with reporters,” the newspaper wrote.

The lack of any significant protest of the latest revelations of US war crimes is a warning to the working class, both in the United States and internationally. As the WSWS has consistently warned, the war drive of imperialism is inseparably linked to a frontal assault on democratic and social rights.

The struggle against war and in defense of democratic rights requires a turn to the working class, the only social force capable of disarming the ruling elite. That is the purpose of the International May Day Online Rally called by the International Committee of the Fourth International for Sunday, May 3. We urge all readers and supporters of the WSWS to register for the rally today.

Patrick Martin

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/25/pers-a25.html

Most US states saw jobs losses in March

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By Ed Hightower
24 April 2015

The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report on state and regional unemployment for March 2015 shows a deteriorating economic situation. Despite modest job growth nationally, nonfarm payroll employment declined in 31 states and the District of Columbia last month. Only 18 states saw an increase in employment.

In particular, states and regions that once benefited from a boom in domestic oil production are now hemorrhaging jobs as a result of the oil price decline. States with the largest over-the-month job losses were Texas (25,000), Oklahoma (12,900) and Pennsylvania (12,700).

In percentage terms, the largest over-the-month declines in employment occurred in Oklahoma (0.8 percent), followed by Arkansas, North Dakota, and West Virginia (0.6 percent each).

The rapid job losses in Texas—America’s second most populous state with 27 million residents, with an economic output equivalent to Spain—has generated concerns in major economic and political circles. March 2015 is the first time in 53 months that the state of has showed a net loss of jobs.

JP Morgan Chase economist Michael Feroli was among many analysts who predicted a severe loss of oil-related jobs in the state in late 2014, earning him the ire of then-President of the Dallas Federal Reserve who last month, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, publicly dismissed such predictions with contempt.

Referring to the March jobs report, Feroli said if the national economy had lost jobs in the same proportion as Texas did, the US would have lost 304,000 jobs last month, an amount associated with a full-blown recession.

The slump in oil prices threatens jobs in other industries, including steel and automobile manufacturing. The steel sector closely followed the boom in shale oil and natural gas production over the past several years when higher oil prices prevailed. Globally, the industry has undergone a restructuring over the last quarter century that is almost without parallel, forcing prices down and destroying jobs and productive infrastructure.

On Friday, United States Steel Corporation sent layoff notices to 1,404 workers involved in producing pipe and tube products used in the oil and gas sector. The layoffs could come as early as June for 579 employees at a plant in Lone Star, Texas, 166 at a factory in Houston, 255 at a mill in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and 404 managers in the company’s tubular operations.

Since March, US Steel has announced plans to idle its Granite City, Illinois, factory that employs 2,000 workers, a tubular steel facility in Ohio employing 614 workers, as well as layoffs and closures in Pennsylvania and Minnesota.

Ford Motor Company announced Thursday that it will idle 700 workers at the Michigan Assembly Plant in the Detroit suburb of Wayne starting June 22, citing decreased demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles. The facility produces a number of vehicles in this category, including the Ford Focus, Focus ST, Focus Electric, C-Max hybrid and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid.

Sales of the Ford Focus fell 14.5 percent in March, and sales of the C-Max Hybrid were down 22 percent during the same period and by 31 percent during the first quarter. General Motors has announced similar plans for facilities making its more fuel-efficient models.

The United Steelworkers and the United Auto Workers unions accept without question the destruction of tens of thousands of jobs by the corporate giants, with the USW predictably blaming foreign steelmakers for “dumping” steel.

The report on state unemployment further exposes the Obama administration’s lies about the supposed economic “recovery.” It dovetails with poor economic figures in recent months, including retail sales, industrial production and home building, all of which point to a deepening economic downturn.

Flush with more than $1.3 trillion in cash—and benefiting from virtually free credit poured into the financial markets by the Federal Reserve—major corporations are not investing in expanding production. Instead they are pouring billions into stock buybacks and dividends to benefit wealthy investors, and to fuel a wave of mergers and acquisitions that will destroy even more jobs. Meanwhile the workers who remain are subjected to unrelenting demands for lower wages and benefits and higher levels of exploitation.

Financial news outlets are now referring to “mega-mergers.” A case in point is this month’s takeover by energy giant Shell of the smaller firm BG in a $70 billion deal. ExxonMobil is also widely expected to make a bid for BP. Both the Shell-BG mega-merger, as well as any acquisitions by rival ExxonMobil, will serve to boost profits not through new investment in infrastructure, but through layoffs, closures and the lowering of labor costs.

While better-paying jobs in the US manufacturing sector are evaporating, what little job growth there is consists largely of low wage service sector work. In one sign of the deteriorating conditions for workers in these industries, a study by the University of California’s Center for Labor Research and Education released April 13 found that a majority of spending on public assistance programs goes to households headed by someone who is working.

“When companies pay too little for workers to provide for their families, workers rely on public assistance programs to meet their basic needs,” Ken Jacobs, chair of the labor center and co-author of the new report said in a press release.

Thus, at the state and federal level, the US government subsidizes companies that pay poverty wages, to the tune of $153 billion per year.

According to the report, workers in a diverse range of occupations systematically rely on public assistance, and in staggering proportions, including frontline fast-food workers (52 percent), childcare workers (46 percent), home care workers (48 percent) and even part-time college faculty (25 percent).

While Wall Street executives are making record bonuses, four out of 10 bank tellers in New York City are forced to rely on some form of public assistance because their wages are too low to survive.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/24/jobs-a24.html

California governor’s emergency drought measures leave agribusiness giants untouched

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By Evan Blake and Glenn Ricketts
20 April 2015

On April 1, California Governor Jerry Brown issued an Executive Order mandating that the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) implement water rationing guidelines that must lead to “a statewide 25% reduction in potable urban water usage through February 28th, 2016.” On Saturday, the State Water Board released draft regulations to meet this standard, which will be finalized after its May 5-6 business meeting.

The emergency regulations, taken in response to severe drought conditions, place the burden of water conservation primarily on the shoulders of working class residents, while leaving the vast agribusiness giants and other large corporate interests–which consume the overwhelming majority of the state’s water resources–untouched.

The restrictions come in response to Department of Water Resources (DWR) estimates of record low levels of mountain snow, which supply rivers and streams as it melts. On the Sierra Nevada mountain range, whose snowpack normally provides the largest yearly source of freshwater, there is a mere 1.4 inches of water content, five percent of the historical average of 28.3 inches for April 1 and 80 percent lower than the previous lows for the date in 2014 and 1977.

The State Water Board regulations released on Saturday set conservation benchmarks for the state’s 411 local water districts ranging from 8-36 percent, proportional to water usage measured last summer, and will take effect on June 1. Beginning in July, local districts that fail to meet their conservation requirement face fines of up to $10,000 per day. Under previous emergency legislation, local districts also have the authority to fine individual residents caught violating the measures up to $500 daily, effectively pitting neighbors against one another by encouraging reporting of wasteful consumers.

This is essentially a regressive and punitive consumption tax placed on working class families. A recent UCLA study found that wealthy neighborhoods in California on average use three times more water than working class communities, a discrepancy directly attributable to the acres of lawns and landscaping that adorn the properties of the rich who will have little problem absorbing any fines.

California’s agricultural industries account for roughly 80 percent of all potable water usage in the state, or 27 of the total 34 million acre feet of water used in California each year. However, Brown’s order only mentions agriculture in sections 12 and 13 and imposes no restrictions, let alone consumption fines or taxes on the largest enterprises.

Agricultural water suppliers responsible for farms 25,000 acres or larger are told to submit a “detailed drought management plan that describes the actions and measures the supplier will take to manage water demand during drought.” Those supplying water to farmland 10,000 to 25,000 acres do not need to “submit the plans to the Department until July 1st, 2016.”

The order does not require any usage reductions from agribusiness, and any measures taken by growers as part of their “drought management plan” are strictly voluntary.

When asked in an interview about the need to curtail agricultural water usage, Brown responded, “Then you’re putting government in a role of picking and choosing, maybe almonds instead of walnuts or tomatoes instead of rice. That is a big brother that outside of war or some unprecedented catastrophe shouldn’t even be considered.”

Brown has no trouble acting as “big brother” when it comes to regulating the water usage of working class residents. The governor refuses, however, to impinge in the slightest fashion on the profit interests of big business, and justifies this by insisting the present situation does not qualify as an “unprecedented catastrophe.”

In reality, it is the big agribusinesses that are holding the people of California hostage and sacrificing the needs of society to the single-minded drive to produce profits for top executives and wealthy investors. For all of Brown’s “environmentally progressive” posturing, he is nothing more than a tool of these corporate interests.

In response to the water shortage, growers are spending millions to drill ever-deeper groundwater wells, in order to gain access to the state’s natural aquifers, upon which they then draw water free of charge. As a result, naturally occurring arsenic is increasingly released from underground rock formations as the water level drops. The rising concentration of this cancer-causing element has rendered the drinking water unsafe for at least 255,000 people in 341 separate local water systems across the state, mostly in rural areas of the Central Valley.

Groundwater aquifers throughout the Central Valley, the breadbasket of California, also show high levels of carcinogenic nitrates, which stem from farming chemicals and animal waste and are linked to thyroid cancer, skin rashes, hair loss and birth defects. The region’s working class, largely Latino immigrant families, are hardest hit by aquifer contamination and spend as much as 10 percent of their already meager income on bottled water.

Governor Brown’s Executive Order absolves agribusiness for their past and ongoing crimes because he and the entire political establishment directly benefit from their patronage. Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of the largest almond, pomegranate, pistachio and mandarin orange farms in the state, and who possess a combined net worth of over $4.2 billion dollars, have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign coffers of each of the last three governors.

Governor Brown directly rewarded agribusiness for their support last year, when the Super PAC raising funds for his election, “Brown for Governor 2014,” donated over $5 million to the “Yes on Prop. 1” campaign. Proposition 1 cut the total budget for all state agencies managing and overseeing water resources from $11.14 billion down to $7.12 billion. It furthermore allows the agribusinesses to use inefficient, but largely cheaper irrigation systems, and ignore more sustainable watering or farm management practices that would produce the most substantial reductions in water usage over time.

The Resnicks donated $150,000 to the “Yes on Prop. 1” campaign, while the California Farm Bureau Federation and the Western Growers Service Association each donated $250,000. Prop 1 passed in November last year after its proponents spent nearly $22 million, compared to opponents of Prop. 1 who only raised $101,149.

The entire framework for attempting to achieve water savings under capitalism turns reality on its head. The State Water Board has proposed an addition to Brown’s restrictions, mandating that “The use of potable water outside of newly constructed homes and buildings that is not delivered by drip or micro-spray systems will be prohibited.”

If the same principle of adopting universal drip irrigation and other more efficient technologies were applied where appropriate to agriculture, the water savings would dwarf any potential savings through urban conservation. Instead, these giant and obscenely wasteful monopolies are untouchable.

As water has become scarce over the duration of the ongoing drought, agribusiness has responded by concentrating production on high value cash crops such as fruits, nuts and hay. Almonds alone use roughly 3.4 million acre feet of water per year, 10 percent of the state’s total usage, while alfalfa consumes roughly 6.8 million acre feet, or 20 percent of the state’s total usage.

Alfalfa is by far the most water intensive crop, as a majority goes toward feeding the state’s 1.8 million dairy cows, while the state’s horses come in close second. The most recent DWR data shows that 77.1 percent of all alfalfa is grown using the least efficient flood, or furrow, irrigation methods, while 17.9 percent is grown using inefficient sprinkler systems. A paltry 2.5 percent of alfalfa grown in the state uses the most water efficient drip irrigation methods. Transitioning to drip irrigation for this single crop would account for vastly more savings than those that will be realized by Brown’s Executive Order.

Statewide, 43 percent of all crops are grown using the least efficient flood irrigation, 15.4 percent using slightly more efficient sprinkler systems, and 38.4 using the most efficient drip irrigation methods. The majority of crops grown in the state would grow as well or better using drip irrigation, and shifting all applicable crops to these highly efficient watering systems would yield immense water savings.

To fundamentally address the unprecedented drought crisis requires multiple, massive public works programs for both agricultural and urban sectors. Techniques exist to sustainably produce more food while using exponentially less water, including hydroponics and aquaponics, drip irrigation for applicable crops and remote sensing farm management technologies. At the same time, the universal use of water efficient showers and toilets, drought resistant lawns composed of native species, advanced water capture and recycling systems that span entire cities and modern pipe and sewage systems would greatly improve water usage.

Far from investing the necessary resources for the repair and renovation of the country’s outmoded and decaying infrastructure, however, both Democrats and Republicans continue to starve it of necessary funds. The annual Pentagon budget- $360 billion- is 6.3 times the amount of federal funding for infrastructure even as cities across the country are plagued with bursting water pipes and drainage systems dating back to the early 20th, if not late 19th centuries.

To give precedence to the needs of society–for modern infrastructure and the application of the latest developments in science and technology to address water usage, climate change and the preservation of the planet–the outmoded capitalist system must be abolished and economic and political life reorganized based on the socialist principle of production for human need, not profit. This includes the nationalization of the major agricultural monopolies and other large corporations under the democratic control of working people. For this, a mass political movement of the working class, independent of both big business parties, fighting for a workers’ government and socialism, must be built.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/20/drou-a20.html

US targeted second American citizen for assassination

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By Andre Damon
14 April 2015

A lead article in Monday’s New York Times describing a debate within the US government over whether to assassinate another American citizen brings into relief one basic fact: the United States is run by criminals.

The Times article revealed the name of an American citizen who had been placed on the so-called “kill list” for drone assassination. Due to a number of contingencies, the life of Texas-born Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh was ultimately spared. He was captured in a raid in Pakistan last year and was taken to the United States to face trial in Brooklyn, New York.

It has been known since 2010 that the Obama administration had decided to place at least one US citizen on its “kill list” of targets for drone assassination. This was Anwar al-Awlaki, who was assassinated in Yemen on September 30, 2011, many months later. The killing was a premeditated and unconstitutional act, targeting an individual who had not been charged, let alone convicted for any crime.

In a May 2013 speech at the National Defense University, President Barack Obama formally acknowledged the killing al-Awlaki, while also admitting that three other Americans had been killed as part of the “collateral damage” of other drone strikes. This included Awlaki’s teenage son one month after the killing of his father.

In February 2014, the Associated Press, citing “senior US officials,” reported that the White House was “wrestling with whether to kill [another US citizen] with a drone strike.” That man, unnamed at the time, was evidently Farekh.

Monday’s New York Times article makes clear that the life of Farekh was spared not because of any fundamental constitutional or democratic concerns, but rather as a result of tactical disagreements and jurisdictional conflicts among the agencies responsible for drone killings, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon and the Justice Department.

According to the Times, “The Pentagon nominated Mr. Farekh to be placed on a so-called kill list for terrorism suspects; CIA officials also pushed for the White House to authorize his killing. But the Justice Department, particularly Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., was skeptical of the intelligence dossier on Mr. Farekh.”

In other words, the decision against murdering Farekh was entirely a matter of expediency, based, according to the Times, on the belief by the Justice Department that his capture would better serve the purposes of American imperialism than his extrajudicial killing.

According to the Times piece, a major reason for not killing Farekh was the fact that he fell through the jurisdictional cracks between the Pentagon and the CIA in their operations inside Pakistan.

The Times writes that in 2013, “The White House directed that the Pentagon, rather than the CIA, should conduct lethal strikes against American citizens suspected of terrorism … But the Pentagon has long been banned from conducting drone strikes in Pakistan, part of a 2004 deal with Pakistan that all such attacks be carried out by the CIA under its authority to take covert action—allowing Pakistan to publicly deny any knowledge of the strikes and American officials to remain silent.”

Between 2004 and 2015, the US killed as many as 3,949 people through drone strikes in Pakistan alone, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Top administration officials are well aware that what they are doing is illegal and unconstitutional, particularly in relation to US citizens. One unnamed “former senior official” told the Times that “Post-Awlaki, there was a lot of nervousness” about killing American citizens, reflecting the very real awareness in the Obama administration that its actions could leave it open for prosecution in the future.

Whatever these concerns, however, the Obama administration, along with the entire political establishment, has vigorously defended the right of the president to assassinate US citizens without due process.

Tellingly, the Times reported that congressional leaders functioned not as a restraint and a check on the criminal actions of the White House and CIA, but rather sought to goad the White House to murder Farekh. The article states, “During a closed-door hearing of the House Intelligence Committee in July 2013, lawmakers grilled military and intelligence officials about why Mr. Farekh had not been killed.”

In February 2013, Attorney General Holder made clear that the administration claims its right to extrajudicially assassinate US citizens, even within the borders of the United States.

Holder wrote in a letter to Senator Rand Paul: “It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.”

In his May 2013 speech, Obama reinforced his commitment to the drone murder program, declaring, “America’s actions are legal … We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force.”

Obama then declared, seemingly contradicting himself, “For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any US citizen—with a drone or with a shotgun—without due process.”

This statement revolves around a crude verbal sophistry. In 2012, Attorney General Holder argued that the Constitution’s declaration that no person shall “be deprived of life … without due process of law” did not specify judicial process, but rather could apply to the internal deliberations within the executive branch.

As a result, the administration argued, the types of negotiations between cabinet officials, intelligence agencies and allied governments chronicled in Monday’s Times piece qualify as “due process.”

The Times article on Farekh was certainly cleared with the Obama administration and US intelligence agencies before being published. This may indicate that the turf battles described in it continue, and the article is part of ongoing maneuvers between the military and intelligence agencies of the US state apparatus.

The article is also part of a process of legitimizing and normalizing the clearly illegal and impeachable offenses described. In June of last year, the Obama administration released the drone murder memo outlining is pseudo-legal rationale for killing US citizens. Neither the memo not the crimes it outlined produced any significant objection from within the state or media establishment, the representatives and spokesmen of the corporate and financial aristocracy in America.

The author also recommends:

The Obama drone murder memo
[25 June 2014]

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/14/usdr-a14.html

Has Google Indexed Your Backup Drive?

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Depending on how you’ve configured the device, your backup drive may have been indexed by Google, making some seriously personal information freely available online to anyone who knows what they’re looking for. Using a few simple Google searches, CSO’s Steve Ragan discovered thousands of personal records and documents online, including sales receipts with credit card information and tax documents with social security numbers. In all cases, the files were exposed because someone used a misconfigured device acting as a personal cloud, or FTP (File Transfer Protocol) was enabled on their router.

5 Worst Things About the Techno-Libertarians in Silicon Valley

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There’s a lot wrong with the tech industry, and it’s increasingly impacting ordinary Americans.

Nowadays the Silicon Valley is either celebrated as a hotbed of creativity or condemned as a cauldron of greed and wealth inequality.

While there are certainly some talented and even idealistic people in the Valley, there’s also an excess of shallow libertarianism, from people who have enriched themselves with government-created technology who then decide they’re being held back by government. That’s shortsighted and vain. And yes, there are serious problems with sexism and age discrimination – problems which manifest themselves with some ugly behavior.

But such ethical problems aren’t solely, or even primarily, the product of individual character defects. They’re the result of self-reinforcing cultural norms at work. Anthropologists and sociologists could do worse than study the tech culture of the Silicon Valley. It would be important work, in fact, because this insular culture is having a deep and lasting impact on our economy and society.

Here, to star them off, are five socially destructive aspects of Silicon Valley culture:

1. Tech products become the byproducts of a money-making scheme rather than an end unto themselves.

It’s almost inevitable when big money enters the picture: Smart or talented people are drawn to a field for the chance to get rich, not necessarily because it’s where their greatest talents or dreams lie.  The same thing has happened to fields as diverse as film, pop music, and the financial sector.  There’s nothing wrong with getting rich, but it should be the byproduct of a happy marriage between talent and  inspiration.

But here’s how it works instead: The goal of entrepreneurs and innovators was once summed up in the cliched phrase, “build a better mousetrap.” But for  many Silicon Valley products and services, including services like Uber and AirBnB, the goal now is to build a product which can be hyped into a multi-billion-dollar valuation – preferably by winning as much market share as possible, and then using that market position to engage in the kinds of practices usually reserved for monopolies and monopsonies (markets in which there is only one buyer). This process is described in more detail here.

Instead of building a better mousetrap, the new Silicon Valley business model works like this:

i. Give your “mousetrap” away for free, or as close to free as you can make it. (Since you’re working with digital signals transmitted over a government-invented network, that can usually be done at minimal cost. In other cases it pays to benefit from a government tax loophole (see Amazon) or make an end run around the regulations your competitors must follow (see Uber, Lyft, and AirBnB).

ii. Use these government-conferred advantages, along with your own aggressive market moves, to gain a large or decisive marketshare.  (See Amazon, Facebook, etc.) In exceptional cases, actually build brilliant and superior software to win your market share. (See Google.)

iii. Use your newfound market share to a) bend government to your will wherever possible, b) screw down your suppliers’ prices, c) hit your customers with increased prices and/or new ads or other profit-making devices, and d) manipulate your customers without their knowledge. (See Uber, Amazon, Google, Facebook, et al.)

This business model has directed much of the Valley’s efforts away from inventing genuinely creative new products – and toward the kinds of aggressive tactics that, as we’ve written before, would be very familiar to the Robber Barons of the 19th century.

2. Even inspired leaders internalize a worldview which places profits over humane behavior.

Steve Jobs is a prime example of this phenomenon. As an early innovator in the tech field, Jobs – however interested he was in making money – was not drawn to the field for the sake of money alone. Nor was he following in the footsteps of others, seeking to replicate the successes of a Zuckerberg or a Sergey Brin, as newcomers to the field are now. Jobs possessed a genuinely inspired design vision, from the earliest days of his career to his last.

And yet, for all his gifts, the pursuit of wealth led Jobs to commit some morally reprehensible deeds. As “white collar criminologist” William K. Black Jr. told me in a 2012 radio interview, Jobs’ drive to maximize profits – and his craving to get new products to market as quickly as possible – almost certainly led him to knowingly ignore abuses and safety threats to the Chinese workers who built his products.  That, in turn, led to dormitory-based workers being forced to work under extreme conditions. These unheeded warnings also led to the horrific burning deaths of several workers.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is also unquestionably an innovator. But the working conditions which Amazon’s warehouse workers endure would seem familiar to their Apple counterparts in China. As documented by Simon Head in his book “Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans” (excerpthere), Amazon’s American warehouse workers are subjected to ever-harsher production expectations and invasive measurement techniques. Head documents the case of a Pennsylvania employee who worked 11-hour shifts and was ultimately fired for “unproductive periods” which lasted only minutes. GPS devices in an England warehouse tell workers which routes they must travel – inside the warehouse – and their expected travel time.

Amazon’s German operations employed “a security firm with alleged neo-Nazi connections that … intimidated temporary workers lodged in a company dormitory … with guards entering their rooms without permission at all times of the day and night.” An Allentown facility which lacked air conditioning repeatedly reached temperatures of more than 100 degrees one summer. More than fifteen workers collapsed, but supervisors refused to open garage doors. Reports Head: “Calls to the local ambulance service became so frequent that for five hot days in June and July, ambulances and paramedics were stationed all day at the depot.”

A number of Silicon Valley CEOs were also implicated in a widespread conspiracy to illegally suppress wages and prevent job-seeking from engineers and other key employees. Mark Ames, who has reported extensively on the conspiracy, wrote that “confidential internal Google and Apple memos … clearly show that what began as a secret cartel agreement between Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Eric Schmidt to illegally fix the labor market for hi-tech workers, expanded within a few years to include companies ranging from Dell, IBM, eBay and Microsoft, to Comcast, Clear Channel, Dreamworks, and London-based public relations behemoth WPP.”

These incidents are by no means exceptions in the Silicon Valley culture. The most generous way to interpret behavior like this is to assume that Steve Jobs and operated in a culture whose worldview downplayed the human impact of business practices. That, in fact, is reinforced by other aspects of Silicon Valley’s leadership society.

3. The culture encourages a solipsistic detachment from reality, even as its brute economic strength colonizes everything it touches.

A dispassionate observer might be tempted to wonder how a culture filled with so many smart people can remain so unaware of, and/or disinterested in, their effect on other people’s lives?

For many of them, the evidence is literally right before their eyes: San Francisco’s richness and diversity is being drained away, as the city becomes unaffordable for more and more of its citizens.  They are all good with numbers, so the statistics on growing wealth inequality should not be hard for them to understand. And their arguments – e.g., that the “sharing economy” will benefit struggling Americans – are easily punctured by even a superficial look at US demographics. (Are struggling Milwaukee residents going to get rich driving tourists around their battered town, or renting out their inner-city apartments on AirBnB?)

Most of the tech executives I’ve known aren’t bad guys. (To be clear, I haven’t met Uber’s leadership – with the exception of a brief encounter with former Obama advisor David Plouffe – and they certainly appear to be an exception.)   But even many of the “good” ones seem oblivious to the effect of their own behavior.

To a certain extent that’s an occupational hazard. I’ve spent just enough time hammering out software in the glow of a computer screen to see how easily a synthetic world can replace the one inhabited by other human beings.

But there are correctives for that: reading, contemplation, speaking with human beings from different walks of life. The Valley’s tech culture doesn’t seem to encourage that – to its detriment, and that of society as a whole.

4. The Valley gets fixated on lame (and sometimes antisocial) buzzwords.

“Move fast and break things,” said Mark Zuckerberg in a much-repeated quotation. Other tech types prattle on about “the next Big Idea.” And almost everyone wants to “disrupt” an existing industry.

Why is it good to “move fast and break things”? Isn’t it usually wiser to move carefully and build things? There may be times when it’s wise to act rapidly, or break with conventional ways of doing things. But there are also times when a hastily-executed rollout dooms a product. Sometimes it makes sense to improve the established ways of doing things, rather than upend them altogether.

When you think about it, what does this expression even mean? It’s only repeated because a) it sounds smart, and b) it was spoken by someone who is extremely wealthy, and such people are to be imitated whenever possible in the hope that some of their magic will rub off.

As for “Big Ideas”: do they really correlate with tech success? Google was a smarter search engine, but search engines were no longer a new or “big” idea by the time it came along. Craigslist? It’s online classified ads.  Facebook was originally conceived as the online version of the printed “facebooks” traditionally given to incoming freshmen so they could get to know their classmates. Neither Zuckerberg nor those Harvard twins knew what it would someday become.   There is surprisingly little correlation between tech success and actual “Big Ideas.”

Disruption’s overrated, too. Sure, it can work. Instagram disrupted home photography, for example. But Twitter, one of the smarter ideas to come from the Valley in recent years, didn’t disrupt anything. Instead it created a new market and a new medium. Sometimes “disruption” is a euphemism, whose real meaning is “use tax loopholes to undercut law-abiding vendors” or “employ Robber Baron business practices to cut suppliers prices.”

Sometimes it means nothing at all.

5. Silicon Valley’s culture is hurting our economy.

Politicians like to celebrate the tech industry as a boon to the economy, but for most Americans the opposite is true. As economist Joseph Stiglitz and others have documented, monopoly practices exert a significant drag on the economy. The economy becomes increasingly capital-driven, rather than labor-driven. Monopolies suppress wages, overcharge consumers, mistreat suppliers, and drive the economy increasingly off-course.

There’s also a price to be paid for product inefficiency. Monopolies can sometimes squander human capital – that is, waste people’s time – by forcing them to struggle with inefficient products like Microsoft’s operating system or Facebook’s user interfaces. (More on this topic here.) Multiply every minute wasted on a Windows inefficiency or Facebook’s privacy settings by millions of users, and the cost begins to add up.

The Valley’s hurting our economy in another way, too. Somehow, some of the titans of tech have gotten the misguided idea that they are exemplars of libertarian self-created success. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Silicon Valley runs on government-subsidized technology, from microchips to the Internet itself. Corporations like Amazon used government-created tax breaks to build near-monopoly leverage and turn it against their suppliers.

And now, having enriched themselves through government generosity, some of the Valley’s billionaires are using their publicly-assisted wealth to back political candidates and organizations under a “libertarian” label that is better described, at least economically, as a far-right agenda. These candidates and organizations push our political dialogue in a more conservative direction – which in turn creates a political climate which tends to permit more of the things that have already wounded our economy, like deregulation and lower taxes for the wealthy and corporations.

All of the Valley’s cultural traits, from the profound to the trivial, reflect a culture that is urgently in need of maturation and change. One thing’s for sure: If I hear another tech titan say he plans to “disrupt” an industry, I’m going to move fast and break something.

Richard (RJ) Eskow is a blogger and writer, a former Wall Street executive, a consultant, and a former musician.

http://www.alternet.org/culture/5-worst-things-about-techno-libertarians-solidifying-their-grasp-our-economy-and-culture?akid=12994.265072.5R9qHL&rd=1&src=newsletter1034621&t=1