Tactical Linguistics Research Institute

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Posts Tagged ‘US

Philanthropy is Theft, or, How Competitive Society is Optimized for the Success of Individuals who Exhibit Sociopathic Personality Traits

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Elon Musk is the richest African-American. To hear him say it, however, he really doesn’t care all that much about money. He’s actually just tirelessly using his genius to save humanity from its dumb-ass self — and that’s why he needs so much money. He just wants to help out.

But because worldly possessions just weigh a person down, Musk will be selling his homes and belongings, as if to become a penniless, screen-less, wandering cyber mystic. Like a hyper-modern Tolstoy, when he disowned his literary output and embraced Christian Anarchism, Musk is devoting his wealth entirely to the true deliverance and redemption of humanity.

African-American Elon Musk gives his future two thumbs up.

And through this delicate, alchemical fusion of earth and heaven — part of the hidden meaning of the riddle of the sphinx — Musk will bring the light of reason to the stars.

Setting aside how obviously sociopathic and delusional this all sounds, there’s a certain contempt towards all the employees and customers that supply him with so much of his wealth: his boasts about giving away all his money were tweeted on May Day — the International Worker’s Day. As CEO of Tesla Motors, Musk makes 40,688 times what his average employee makes, which is the highest CEO-to-worker pay ratio ever recorded. Which, of course, is vital to single-handedly saving humanity.

In addition to getting rich by saving humanity, Musk is ruining astronomy to bring wireless social media propaganda to the entire planet, terrorizing rural residents by starting brush fires and breaking windows and shutting down highways for test launches, forcing employees to go to work during a pandemic and in defiance of local ordinances, earning billions of dollars in corporate welfare in the form of government subsidies and tax credits, and planning to build a humanoid robot in a bid to potentially destroy more jobs than George W. Bush.

The US economy shed roughly as many manufacturing jobs during George W. Bush’s presidency as World War II created.

While many Americans assume their society operates along meritocratic lines — such that the “best and brightest” are entitled to as much wealth as they can accumulate — the greatest predictor of who will become wealthy is not genius or talent, but whether one’s parents are wealthy.

And so both Musk and his brother — both of whom grew up white in apartheid South Africa — have become rather wealthy. Although Musk likes to tell the story that he “left South Africa by myself when I was 17 with just a backpack & suitcase of books,” his father’s fabulous wealth played a pivotal role in Musk’s success.

African-American Elon Musk gives his future two thumbs up.

Musk opportunistically arrived in Silicon Valley to become an entrepreneur right in the middle of the dotcom bubble, when companies with big ideas but which only existed on paper were a dime a dozen. The speculative bubble led companies without products to grab up wads of cash through an IPO craze, while venture capitalists threw money around left and right. At this time, Musk’s wits alone had only helped him to accumulate $2000. So his father stepped in with $28,000 to get Musk and his brother off the ground.

Musk then started work on a web site with the dreadfully un-sexy name “Global Link Information Network.” A year later, to impress some venture capitalists, he dressed up his web server during an office tour to make it look like a supercomputer; in exchange for a $3 million investment, Musk ceded control of the website he designed to Rich Sorkin. Under Sorkin’s leadership, the company changed its name to Zip2 — something more in line with how early internet firms named themselves — and within three years, the firm was sold to computer maker Compaq. Compaq paid $305 million, of which Musk received $22 million, which enabled him to “flip” a couple more start-ups.

So here is the Elon Musk recipe for success: get born rich, go to the right place at the right time, work hard, employ trickery, and get lucky. Unquestionable genius.

Martin Buber wrote “The man to whom freedom is guaranteed does not feel oppressed by causality.” We can see the glibness in Musk’s demeanor as the product of a certain type of fate mistaken for merit. It is perhaps this quality of the American new rich — which believes so fervently in the equality of merit and money — that most cleanly separates it from the old rich like Bill Gates.

African-American Elon Musk gives his future two thumbs up.

Like Musk, Gates has a story he likes to tell about how he dropped out of college to start a company in his garage –and then his genius made him rich. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Gates was born into a family with the means to send him to Harvard — one of those top universities that seem perfectly willing to admit anybody whose parents can make a sizable donation.

And so it went with Gates: his mother, Mary Maxwell Gates, was on the Board of Regents at the University of Washington, knew the CEO of IBM, served on the boards of banks and telecommunications carriers. And so it was with Mrs. Gates: her father, James Willard Maxwell, was a banker born around 1900. And so it was with Mr. Maxwell: his father, also named James Willard Maxwell, was a also banker and former head of the San Francisco Federal Reserve, born at the outbreak of the American Civil War. Bill Gates, Sr. is memorialized in the Puget Sound Business Journal like so: “Gates, a lawyer and philanthropist, was known as an optimist in relentless pursuit of an equitable world.” That’s the whole thing.

The difference in attitude between these two types of wealth — the status-seeking new wealth of the colonialist and the low-key old wealth of the aristocracy — can perhaps illuminate one of the more troubling, Orwellian consequences of societies that permit such accumulations of money and power: philanthropy. The aristocracy experiences something like the noblesse oblige, and uses the term “philanthropy” to describe their efforts to justify amassing huge fortunes while their countrymen struggle and millions starve everywhere.

African-American Elon Musk gives his future two thumbs up.

It was perhaps this noblesse oblige that compelled Mrs. Gates in her time at the University of Washington to pressure the University to divest itself of South African holdings to protest apartheid. And which led Gates, Jr. to associate with pedophile-embezzler-drug dealer-spy Jeffrey Epstein in a relentless effort to “get more philanthropy.” As if such absurd amounts of wealth weren’t inherently immoral, regardless of how it’s acquired.

The status-seeking new wealth of the colonialist mindset has another facet,observed by Brazilian educator Paolo Freire in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire wrote:

The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly.

The oppressed suffer from the duality which has established itself in their innermost being. They discover that without freedom they cannot exist authentically. Yet, although they desire authentic existence, they fear it. They are at one and the same time themselves and the oppressor whose consciousness they have internalized.

In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity (which is a way to create it), become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both.

For better or for worse, we must view Musk as a victim of apartheid — not in the same way as Black South Africans, to be sure, but in a more subtle, pernicious way. While he should neither be faulted nor lavishly rewarded for the accidents of his birth, he nevertheless grew up under apartheid, and he internalized the logic of the oppressor class to which he belonged. As a member of a colonial oppressor class, he is unaware of the autonomous psychic processes within himself that re-create the logic of his oppressor class on a colossal scale. He openly identifies with his greed to be first to colonize another world. And so he perpetuates this victimization as a morally-neutered victim himself.

African-American Elon Musk gives his future two thumbs up.

The argument that Musk needs his wealth to save the rest of us from ourselves resembles the historical arguments used by white slave owners in the US to justify treating people like common property. President John C. Calhoun is known to have remarked:

Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually… It came to us in a low, degraded, and savage condition, and in the course of a few generations it has grown up under the fostering care of our institutions

So, modern-day Black Americans can thank slavery for TV. But before we really decide whether it is fit and proper to allow such massive agglomerations of wealth to exist — before we really decide to have the discussion in any kind of coherent way — do we have to wait for Elon Musk — speculatively — to use his wealth to hire a small mercenary army to take over some African nation, seize its mineral wealth, and continue his project unmolested, like some Charles Taylor on some perverse messianic philanthropic mission? Is this what we want for our cosmic legacy? Is this why the aliens keep us in quarantine?

African-American Elon Musk gives his future two thumbs up.

A New, Clandestine Fiscal Policy?

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Towards the end of the 2008 US Presidential election, Barack Obama’s opponent John McCain repeatedly insisted that “the fundamentals of the economy are sound.” Just two months before the election, the widespread fraud committed by organized finance — popularly referred to as a “financial meltdown” in the media — threatened to undermine “the orderly exchange of commodities in interstate commerce.”

The 2008 financial crisis precipitated by “sub-prime lending” involved fraud in accounting, fraud in the real estate industry, fraud in the use of novel financial instruments to back residential mortgages, and fraud in global inter-bank lending.

John McCain with runningmate Sarah Palin — the Tea Party’s first foray into Presidential politics, courtesy of an old-school conservative.

Before the 2007 financial crisis that precipitated the 2008 crisis, the 2000 Dot-Com Bubble, the 2001 Enron energy trading crisis, the 2002 Arthur Anderson accounting crisis, and the 2002 WorldCom accounting scandal, gave ample evidence that the impending 2008 “financial meltdown” might have been averted were the Department of Justice, for example, to make it a routine practice to hire professional criminologists to pro-actively look for evidence of fraud in major financial markets.

“Crisis” would, rather, seem to be a common metaphor for “normal.” Or, at least where it comes to when decisions about huge amounts of money are made. Or, perhaps, an exciting, news-worthy way to say the world is run by crooks, and the commercial media sure as shit isn’t here to help.

If you think “social media” is the vital democratizing force here to save us, good luck to you and the malfunctioning DNA that made you.

Major Shifts in the Market for US Treasury Debt

In the wake of the Sub-Prime Mortgage Lending Scandal that served as the proximal cause to a global “financial meltdown” that was severe enough to help tip the 2008 US Presidential election, President Obama’s Administration implemented a policy of “Quantitative Easing” begun at the tail end of the George W. Bush Administration.

Quantitative Easing involved a significant change in US fiscal policy. Quantitative Easing involves the US Federal Reserve Bank purchasing US Treasury debt in huge volumes. This is highly unusual historically, untested economically, correlated with massive transfers of wealth to the wealthy recently, and is intensifying.

Until the 2007-08 financial crisis, the Federal Reserve purchased Treasuries at a steady pace.

Before the “2008 Crash,” the Federal Reserves purchasing of US Treasury Securities was steady. This is a reasonable way to diversify the Fed’s holdings and to stabilize demand for Treasuries. This process of “monetizing debt” must take place on the open market: the Fed doesn’t buy straight from the US Treasury, but from major banks — which helps create credit.

President Obama’s fiscal policy for managing the “toxic mortgage assets” involved stabilizing the currency market by purchasing “toxic assets” to increase their price, recapitalizing insolvent banks by expanding the money supply by purchasing huge volumes of Treasury bills, and restricting lending to slow the rate at which the new money enters the economy as a means to limit inflation.

After the 2007-08 Financial crisis, the Federal Reserve increased its Treasury holdings dramatically.

Over the course of President Obama’s eight years in office, the Federal Reserve tripled its holdings of Treasury bills to just over $2.4 trillion. This is, roughly, the amount of Treasury debt held by China, Japan, Canada, and Mexico combined (our major trading partners). These debt purchases meant that the US economy received $2.4 trillion more than the total goods and services produced.

Injecting large amounts of cash into the economy risks creating inflation, and control over interest rates is the main tool the Federal Reserve uses to combat inflation. During the Obama Administration the Fed took an additional inflation risk, as interest rates plummeted to spur economic activity in the form of borrowing (creating more consumer debt and profits for the banks). At the same time, rates for interest on savings also plummeted, so that anybody with modest savings would lose the yields they previously earned from mundane financial instruments like CD’s or their bank’s savings account (gradually shifting more money to the major backers of the banks). A savings account as the cornerstone of smart personal finance is no longer a meaningful option.

Lowering interest rates hurts individuals who save money, but helped recapitalize insolvent banks when combined with “quantitative easing.”

While the jury is very much still out on the long-term effects of this type of fiscal policy, its use does not appear to be limited to this single, major financial crisis. At the end of the Trump Presidency, the US embarked on another round of quantitative easing — without much discussion of how to manage the long-term consequences.

More Major Purchases of US Treasury Debt

When the COVID Pandemic led to lockdowns and layoffs, the US was facing various forms of economic disruption. By April 2020, over 20 million people found themselves out of work, and the unemployment rate rose above 14%. This, in turn, threatened the purchasing power of many families and, ultimately, the revenue of large corporations. Because interest rates were already so low — pegged at .05% in April 2020 — the Fed could not invoke this tool to spur economic activity.

Because Congress is unwilling to tax the wealthy or aggressively tax large corporations, the only option available to the Federal Reserve was to provide more credit itself by purchasing Treasury bills.

While the Federal Reserve’s US Treasury holdings tripled under the Obama Administration, they doubled again under Trump’s.

Instead of easing back on Treasury purchases as planned — which would gradually restrict the money supply after creating trillions of dollars in new credit — the Fed resumed Treasury purchases in early 2021, eventually doubling the amount of Treasury debt on the books — which had already tripled in the previous decade.

This policy — creating massive amounts of new credit in the form of Fed Purchases of US Treasury bills — appears to be continuing into the Biden Administration.

What Are the Implications of This Fiscal Policy?

This fiscal policy is pumping new credit into the financial system, but not in a way that benefits ordinary individuals. Taxpayers have continued to struggle financially through the COVID pandemic, receiving small, infrequent stimulus payments, and relying on extended unemployment benefits because available wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living.

Full view of the Federal Reserve’s acquisitions of Treasury Securities.

At the same time, the wealthy have become astronomically wealthier. The top few percent of the wealthy — whose wealth derives from structured financehave increased their wealth by 54%, or $4 trillion during the pandemic, while 200-500 million people slid into poverty. While the relationship is not exactly direct, this $4 trillion figure is nearly identical to the amount of new credit the Federal Reserve has created during the pandemic. Bailouts to large, struggling corporations wind up in executive bonuses at a much higher rate than in the pockets of employees: during 2019, CEO compensation increased 14% such that the average CEO makes 320 times as much as the average employee.

The long-term implications for the economy are unclear, as this is a new, little-discussed acceleration of the processes of financialization that began in the 1980’s. In addition to facilitating massive wealth transfers, this may, ultimately, impact the global market for dollars and the “real economy” that is increasingly marginalized by the financial sector.

Under the post-war neo-Keynesian economic model, Federal debt is perfectly sustainable as long as the economy continues to grow at a rate that exceeds interest on the debt. Several key historical US policy decisions echo this principle: Woodrow Wilson ended the Gold Standard in 1913 while simultaneously establishing the Federal Reserve, while Nixon ended the convertibility of dollars to gold in 1973. As a result of these two policy decisions, the US dollar was able to become a major global reserve currency.

It is not true that “since the US abandoned the gold standard the value of the dollar isn’t based on anything anymore,” as argued by many conservatives who would like to see the US return to a fixed dollar price. The value of the dollar is driven by the demand for dollars — largely backed by the demand for US goods and oil from OPEC.

Although many Americans despair that “the United States doesn’t make anything anymore,” this is not true either. The United States manufactures more than ever before, except this is done with machines now instead of people — especially since the highly-contested election of George Bush II in the Fall of 2000 signaled a change in the political order. Foreign buyers who want US goods need dollars first — and this demand for dollars helps maintain the price of the dollar.

Another major demand for dollars comes from the demand for oil. The US produces more oil than Saudi Arabia. Because oil is a global commodity, oil is priced according to global demand, and the global demand for oil helps maintain the value of the dollar. When Nixon ended the last vestige of the gold standard, he struck a deal with OPEC: OPEC agreed to price oil exclusively in dollars, creating the petrodollar. Any buyer on Earth who wants oil from OPEC must purchase dollars first, which creates a global demand for dollars.

At the moment, Federal Reserve policy is creating the demand for dollars out of thin air. Foreign governments currently hold about $10 trillion in Treasury securities, about equal to what the Federal Reserve and local governments hold — except half of that is just from the past decade, representing a major shift in the financial order.

What happens if OPEC stops pricing oil in dollars, and starts using the yuan? This would be a problem for the dollar, unless the Federal Reserve acts to avert such a crisis with another round of quantitative easing. What happens if electric vehicles reduce the global demand for oil? You can be sure that large corporations — having failed to plan for this eventuality — will be rewarded with another round of quantitative easing.

What this Fed policy appears to be creating is a financial order where the demand for dollars among the owners of financial wealth keeps the “real economy” functioning: essentially, the demand for dollars among the wealthy can be used to replace the demand for dollars among nations seeking oil or US manufacturing goods. With interest rates near zero, inflation can be controlled by ensuring that most people never see any of the Fed’s new financial wealth: as long as those dollars stay in a rich person’s offshore bank account, they stay out of the economy.

This is a financial system that requires an ultra-wealthy, financialized oligarchy who, in turn, sell ordinary citizens commodity survival on credit. The purpose of the individual in this new system, then, is to convert credit into debt — no more, no less. No more owning music on vinyl or tape or CD, or films or physical books, or owning phones that now are leased, or cars, or houses or even one’s own online social activity, or the economic value thereof, unless one is selling images of one’s young, un-spent body.

Gone are the days when individualist economists like Friedrich Hayek cautioned that using individuals as means to economic ends was the hallmark of the authoritarian economies.

When capitalism enjoys a monopoly and no longer needs to compete in the marketplace of ideas, all options are on the table; education, healthcare, arts, and culture become unnecessary social expenses that diminish the ability of individuals to convert credit into debt.

Written by Indigo Jones

April 28, 2021 at 3:19 pm

New World Order for Fun and Profit

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The Martial Lord of Wei asked one of his ministers what had caused the destruction of a certain nation-state. The minister said, “Repeated victories in repeated wars.”

The Martial Lord said, “A nation is fortunate to win repeated victories in repeated wars. Why would that cause its destruction?”

The minister said, “Where there are repeated wars, the people are weakened; when they score repeated victories, rulers become haughty. Let haughty rulers command weakened people, and rare is the nation that will not perish as a result.”

— Masters of Huainan (ca. 200 BCE)

What Just Happened?

Although many American voters feel alarmed and disoriented by Donald Trump’s rise to power, this is nevertheless the direct, causal result of millions of Americans pretending that Democrats are an opposition party over the last 30 years.  Unfortunately, for these naive souls, the real difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Republicans are delusional while Democrats are in denial.

At present, Barack Obama and other prominent Democrats are blaming Russia for manipulating the election, which is pure propaganda. Russia probably manipulates every election.  Russia, China, and others probably do too — just like we routinely interfere with theirs.

The real issue is both more nuanced and more troubling.  In Wisconsin, for example, less than 1% of the vote separated Clinton from Trump. For comparison, in Florida after the 2000 election, a similarly narrow result triggered a recount by statute.

When one looks at what factors constitute that 1% of the vote in Wisconsin, however, the role of Russian involvement is not the decisive factor (though it may be a bit of a wildcard).  Rather, a number of pervasive influences within American society amount to a far more profound influence:

1) Systematic black disenfranchisement due to Reagan-era federal sentencing guidelines (2.2 million voters nationally)

2) Systematic disenfranchisement through Voter ID laws (coordinated among statehouses through think tanks like ALEC)

3) Closed-source electronic voting machines with proprietary code that behave anomalously but can’t be audited

4) Rampant gerrymandering

5) Campaign strategies that game the electoral college (Clinton won the 2016 popular vote, just like Gore won the 2000 popular vote against Bush)

6) Citizens United Supreme Court ruling overturning campaign finance reform, opening a floodgate of un-traceable political manipulation

7) Sporadic election fraud by officials like Kathy Nickolaus in Waukesha

Of course, Barack Obama — in blaming Russia — cannot call attention to these issues, because it undermines the validity of the very system from which he derives his power, influence, prestige, identity.

This was the same reason Al Gore couldn’t call for protests in the street after the 2000 election: he’s part of the system and therefore needs to help preserve it.  So now, instead of solutions, we get propaganda from the left in addition to the right.

What Does it Mean?

Historian Robert Paxton has analyzed historical fascist movements, and has discerned five distinct stages along the way to fascism:

1. Development of the ideology
2. Ideology takes root
3. Ideology gains power
4. Ideology exercises power
5. Open society overtaken by entropy or becomes a police state

In Paxton’s analysis, the proto-fascist disillusionment with popular democracy begins in the rural around a rhetoric of renewal. The Greek Golden Dawn party, with seats amounting to about 10% of the European parliament, holds the phoenix as the emblem of their movement.

Popular with past Greek fascist movements, the symbol of the phoenix — which rises reborn from its own ashes — resonates with Trump’s promise to “make america great again.”

After a fascist ideology takes hold, traditional conservative elite adopt the rhetoric of the rural brownshirts to stave off a resurgent progressive movement. Which is to say: Hitler used the brownshirts but did not create them, just like the Republican Tea Party took advantage of American right wing militants.

Once the traditional conservatives are able firmly to re-establish control over resurgent progressives, the brownshirts become emboldened to act on their own.  This historically has often taken the form of attacks on farmers.  It may seem appealing to suppose — given the current state of race relations in the United States and the animosity suffered between rural and urban areas — that a modern equivalent of this step may consist in right wing militants squaring off with disaffected black inner-city youth (who figure they have nothing to lose, since they’ll be dead or in jail by the time they’re 20 years old).  However, for all the problems with policing, it is unlikely that many police would sit by idly while white militants pick off black folks indiscriminately.  Moreover, rural folks are often afraid of the city, making such a scenario less likely.

While the rural folks are afraid of the city, however, they’re not afraid of Mexican migrant farmers with no rights. They’ll be the canary in the coal mine, or the sacrificial lamb, for the same reason a john beats up a hooker: she can’t take it to the cops.

Once the traditional conservative elements try to restore order in the face of quasi-sanctioned vigilantism, two general outcomes typically result: entropy, or a police state.

Since Bill Clinton put the wiretaps in place, Bush switched them on, and Obama made it legal to use them, we would seem to have a pretty comprehensive system of repression in place already.

What’s Next?

The panopticon principle makes it pretty clear that surveillance is not some passive proposition, but an active system of control. If you CAN be monitored at any time, but NEVER know exactly when, it is in your interest to behave at ALL times as though you ARE being monitored.

Foucault summarized Bentham’s insight:

“Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power…
“So… that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers.”
— Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 1975

The surveillance society depicted in George Orwell’s novel 1984 is built along these precise lines:

“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to.”

“You had to live–did live, from habit that became instinct–in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

— George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

The social deviance of 1984’s protagonist Winston Smith is eventually arrested through police entrapment, not through the efficacy of the surveillance infrastructure.  Smith wanders into a forbidden part of town and rents a room from an undercover cop to use as a love nest.

In our world, these forces are already being brought to bear on the American population.  What’s needed first is a sober recognition of these realities.

Those who would organize an opposition should not do so over social media.  Use of the element of surprise is a rudimentary component of any strategy — which would-be organizers surrender without fight when organizing on a wiretap.

Those who would organize an opposition should not report their activities on social media.  The types of information gained through the elaborate system of hundreds of thousands of spies and informers utilized by the East German state is routinely handed over voluntarily today on FaceBook.  The East German state maintain control by exploiting personal information, and our system is not likely to be much different.

Cellphones are tracking devices.  Even with GPS off, they are in constant communication with cell towers.  The slight time differential between when a phone’s signal is picked up at multiple nearby towers can be used to precisely locate any such mobile device.

The walls have ears.  Cellphones speak and understand English now.  Past movements — the labor movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement — succeeded without social media.  An opposition movement that has any chance of success today will be no different in that regard.

 

Written by Indigo Jones

January 25, 2017 at 7:45 pm

Primer on Resistance and the Surveillance State

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There’s no Internet without surveillance. The Internet was built by the US military to be robust, not for privacy or security.  Privacy was not part of the Internet’s design goals.

The Internet became a commonplace household word in part because of the hype surrounding an economic bubble created during the presidency of Bill Clinton.  Under Bill Clinton, the US Congress also enacted the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act at the same time that Windows 95 introduced Americans to personal computers and the phrase “information superhighway” introduced Americans to networking. Surveillance was an integral part of handing the Internet over to commerce.

The relationship between commerce and the surveillance state is now well-established: Apple and Microsoft are suspect, and Yahoo has made surveillance a business proposition — as per 18 U.S.C. § 2706, Yahoo’s 2009 rates ran as follows:

Basic subscriber records cost $20 for the first ID, $10 per ID thereafter; basic group Information (including information about moderators) cost $20 for a group with a single moderator; contents of subscriber accounts — including email — cost $30-$40 per user; contents of groups cost $40 – $80 per group.

Given that typical internet advertising revenue brings in only pennies per click, the current scale of Internet surveillance clearly implies that spying on customers is big business for online firms.

Other telecommunications carriers have made similar overtures, some companies have faced legal and economic reprisal for refusing to cooperate, and yet others have availed themselves of their free speech rights as corporate persons to engage in this dubious commerce.

It should be reason enough to be disturbed by NSA surveillance that the Founders prohibited this type of information gathering in the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution. The excuse “I’ve got nothing to hide” misses the point.  The government should obey the law, that’s a core feature of what “rule of law” means. And the example of non-violent resistance through non-participation set by Ghandi and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and vegetarians and vegans offers a clear a lesson for how to resist the surveillance society: stop participating in an abusive system.  The Internet is cruelty to human animals and it’s bad for the social environment.

If it weren’t for so many Americans purchasing data plans on “smart” phones, purchasing home Internet access, and dutifully reporting their daily thoughts and habits psychological makeup on FaceBook accounts, the costs to Uncle Sam for maintaining the current surveillance state would very rapidly prove prohibitive.  That is, if the government had to pay your phone bill and your internet costs and pay a spy to follow you around to listen in on your conversations, it could no longer afford to spy on everybody. Through consumer habits and the cultural value placed on convenience, Americans effectively subsidize the surveillance state on behalf of the governmentDan Geer stated the matter succinctly: our online choices are between freedom, security, and convenience, but we can only pick two.

From a cost perspective, a “vegetarian” approach to resisting the surveillance state (that is, by simply opting out) is an inexpensive solution that aims at increasing the cost of surveillance to the state.  This approach requires little social coordination other than a shared will to change prevailing circumstances — and a little personal initiative.   Such a “vegetarian” approach also serves to inject additional uncertainty into what data is gathered (thereby diminishing the value of what data Uncle Sam does collect).  This doesn’t mean life without the internet any more than vegetarianism means life without food, it just means being more selective about where your internet comes from, where you take it, and what you do with it.

You don’t need to be online all day.  A good starting point would be to make a habit of leaving your cellphone tracking device at home once in a while.  Just because your cellphone is wireless, that doesn’t mean you need to take it with you everywhere you go.  If you take it with you everywhere you go, it’s more of a tracking device than a phone.  When Uncle Sam looks through your cell tower data, changing your cellphone habits will increase the uncertainty as to your location at any given time during the day.

If you care to preserve “democracy,” all that’s really needed is a little social coordination and a willingness to put up with a little less “convenience.”  This may sound incompatible with the modern world, but there’s good reason to get motivated: the modern world is incompatible with the perpetuation of the human race.  There’s more at stake than a little privacy, though the more fundamental problem is bound up with the psychology of consumer society: in a growth economy based on persuasion though advertising — where consumers must make choices about the allocation of their scarce resources — every new product requiring new investment must be presented as needful and fundamental to the modern way of life.

Many people know things have gone awry with the modern world: between the threats posed by persistent national militarism, thermonuclear war, war over resources, mass hunger, environmental degradation, climate change, shortening attention spans, new communicable diseases — something is clearly wrong.  And yet, somehow, everyone looks to another for the solution.  Nobody is willing to see their complicity and change their behavior.  So: if you don’t like internet surveillance, stop surveilling yourself.  The problem isn’t some nebulous “big brother,” it’s you. The government isn’t going to change its behavior, so stop waiting for the government to save you from the government. You have to save yourself from yourself.

 

Connecting the Dots: the Past Didn’t Go Anywhere

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Nobody can rightly say the Bush Administration committed any crimes.

This is not because no crimes occurred; rather, there have been no investigations, and therefore no charges, and therefore no convictions.  But the abuses of the Bush Administration are not history.

We are still at war, we are still grappling with massive deficits, we still torture, we still submit “enemy combatants” to arbitrary systems of justice, we still subject US citizens to warrantless surveillance.  These things are current events, even if they began a decade ago.

Each year that goes by evidence is lost.  Memories cloud over, papers get misplaced, files are deleted, the news moves on to the next story.

Few of the “difficulties” brought up by the Bush Administration’s actions have been adequately resolved.  Here is one case study:

Kurt Friedrich Gödel was an Austrian logician, mathematician and philosopher. Later in his life he emigrated to the United States to escape the effects of World War II. One of the most significant logicians of all time, Gödel made an immense impact upon scientific and philosophical thinking in the 20th century, a time when many, such as Bertrand Russell, A. N. Whitehead and David Hilbert, were pioneering the use of logic and set theory to understand the foundations of mathematics.

 

On December 5, 1947, Einstein and Morgenstern accompanied Gödel to his U.S. citizenship exam, where they acted as witnesses. Gödel had confided in them that he had discovered an inconsistency in the U.S. Constitution, one that would allow the U.S. to become a dictatorship. Einstein and Morgenstern were concerned that their friend’s unpredictable behavior might jeopardize his chances. Fortunately, the judge turned out to be Phillip Forman. Forman knew Einstein and had administered the oath at Einstein’s own citizenship hearing. Everything went smoothly until Forman happened to ask Gödel if he thought a dictatorship like the Nazi regime could happen in the U.S. Gödel then started to explain his discovery to Forman. Forman understood what was going on, cut Gödel off, and moved the hearing on to other questions and a routine conclusion.

Source: Wikipedia

 



The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.

Source: US Constitution Article 1 Section 3

Early on in the Bush Administration, the Bush Transition Energy Advisory Team was tasked with formulating national energy policy.  Numerous industry executives met with Vice President Dick Cheney.

Cheney, who had been CEO of the energy company Haliburton in the years immediately prior to his run for office, had close ties to industry insiders, representing a possible conflict of interest.  Shortly after the Bush Energy Task Force met, the Enron scandal erupted, calling into question the value of whatever advice the Bush Administration had received from industry executives.

When Cheney was asked for details about his involvement with the Energy Task Force, he refused to disclose any documents, citing executive privilege.

Years later, when Cheney’s office was suspected of disclosing the identity of an undercover CIA agent to retaliate against her husband for criticizing the Administration, Cheney took a different approach.

To avoid disclosing how his office handled classified information, Cheney maintained that his office was not part of the executive branch, since the Vice President is also President of the Senate.

Since nobody has investigated Cheney’s actions in detail, it would seem he gets to have it both ways — and so might any future Vice President.

Written by Indigo Jones

October 12, 2011 at 7:00 pm

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