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Featured: American Socrates by Chris Hedges

In biology, education, government, history, philosophy, politics, society on June 16, 2014 at 14:51

Featured: American Socrates by Chris Hedges, Common Dreams, https://www.commondreams.org

Noam Chomsky speaks to the media at a friend’s house in Amman, Jordan, in 2010. (AP/Nader Daoud)

Noam Chomsky speaks to the media at a friend’s house in Amman, Jordan, in 2010. (AP/Nader Daoud)

 

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Noam Chomsky, whom I interviewed last Thursday at his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has influenced intellectuals in the United States and abroad in incalculable ways. His explications of empire, mass propaganda, the hypocrisy and pliability of the liberal class and the failings of academics, as well as the way language is used as a mask by the power elite to prevent us from seeing reality, make him the most important intellectual in the country. The force of his intellect, which is combined with a ferocious independence, terrifies the corporate state—which is why the commercial media and much of the academic establishment treat him as a pariah. He is the Socrates of our time.

 

 

We live in a bleak moment in human history. And Chomsky begins from this reality. He quoted the late Ernst Mayr, a leading evolutionary biologist of the 20th century who argued that we probably will never encounter intelligent extraterrestrials because higher life forms render themselves extinct in a relatively short time.

“Mayr argued that the adaptive value of what is called ‘higher intelligence’ is very low,” Chomsky said. “Beetles and bacteria are much more adaptive than humans. We will find out if it is better to be smart than stupid. We may be a biological error, using the 100,000 years which Mayr gives [as] the life expectancy of a species to destroy ourselves and many other life forms on the planet.”

Climate change “may doom us all, and not in the distant future,” Chomsky said. “It may overwhelm everything. This is the first time in human history that we have the capacity to destroy the conditions for decent survival. It is already happening. Look at species destruction. It is estimated to be at about the level of 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the earth, ended the period of the dinosaurs and wiped out a huge number of species. It is the same level today. And we are the asteroid. If anyone could see us from outer space they would be astonished. There are sectors of the global population trying to impede the global catastrophe. There are other sectors trying to accelerate it. Take a look at whom they are. Those who are trying to impede it are the ones we call backward, indigenous populations—the First Nations in Canada, the aboriginals in Australia, the tribal people in India. Who is accelerating it? The most privileged, so-called advanced, educated populations of the world.”

If Mayr was right, we are at the tail end of a binge, accelerated by the Industrial Revolution, that is about to drive us over a cliff environmentally and economically. A looming breakdown, in Chomsky’s eyes, offers us opportunity as well as danger. He has warned repeatedly that if we are to adapt and survive we must overthrow the corporate power elite through mass movements and return power to autonomous collectives that are focused on sustaining communities rather than exploiting them. Appealing to the established institutions and mechanisms of power will not work.

“We can draw many very good lessons from the early period of the Industrial Revolution,” he said. “The Industrial Revolution took off right around here in eastern Massachusetts in the mid-19th century. This was a period when independent farmers were being driven into the industrial system. Men and women—women left the farms to be ‘factory girls’—bitterly resented it. This was also a period of a very free press, the freest in the history of the country. There were a wide variety of journals. When you read them they are pretty fascinating. The people driven into the industrial system regarded it as an attack on their personal dignity, on their rights as human beings. They were free human beings being forced into what they called ‘wage labor,’ which they regarded as not very different from chattel slavery. In fact this was such a popular mood it was a slogan of the Republican Party—‘The only difference between working for a wage and being a slave is that working for the wage is supposed to be temporary.’ ”

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Brave New World, Plato’s Republic, and Our Scientific Regime by Matthew J. Franck

In government, literature, philosophy, politics, science, science fiction, sexuality, society, sociology, writers on May 18, 2014 at 08:24

From: Brave New World, Plato’s Republic, and Our Scientific Regime by Matthew J. Franck, The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com

 

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

But an even more telling comparison can be made — that Brave New World is a modern counterpart to the “city in speech” built by Socrates and his young interlocutors in Plato’s Republic. Whether Huxley saw the similarities himself is far from clear. In neither the “Foreword” added to the 1946 edition nor his lengthy 1958 essay Brave New World Revisited, which is published together with the novel in some editions, does he indicate any consciousness of a parallel. Nor do his Complete Essays (published 2000 – 2002) shed light on this. His biographer Murray mentions no such connection in Huxley’s mind either; nor does his earlier biographer Sybille Bedford. Yet it may not be necessary to confirm any precise authorial intention on Huxley’s part to imitate Plato. Whereas Huxley’s other novels are largely forgotten today by the general public, and his later visits to the themes of Brave New World are those of a crank whose imaginative gifts have deserted him, in writing his greatest work he seems to have been in the grip of an idea larger than himself. Plato’s Socrates tells us in the Apology that when he “went to the poets” to “ask them thoroughly what they meant” in their greatest poems, he found to his surprise that “almost everyone present, so to speak, would have spoken better than the poets did about the poetry that they themselves had made.” For as Socrates said (not without some biting irony) in Plato’s Ion, “all the good epic poets speak all their fine poems not from art but by being inspired and possessed, and it is the same for the good lyric poets.” Perhaps during the mere four months it took Huxley to write Brave New World, he was “possessed” in this way and remained forever unconscious of his debt to Plato.

In its political teaching, the Republic is as much a dystopian poem as is Brave New World. With every step in his radical project of instituting uncompromisingly perfect justice — from the noble lie, to the abolition of the family among the guardians, to the eugenics program that brushes aside the incest taboo with a wave of the hand, to the impossible proposal that the city be ruled by philosophers, to the absurd suggestion that the city be founded by exiling all of an existing city’s residents over ten years of age — Socrates reveals humanity’s inability to overcome the limits that our nature imposes. We love the good, but we also love what is our own. Nature draws us toward other particular persons whom we embrace and love as our own; it gets in the way of our commitment to the collective good of the community, which has, in the best case, its own just yet conflicting demands on our love. Nature, or nature’s God, has made us embodied souls, or ensouled bodies. We can live neither wholly for others nor wholly for ourselves, and this is no less true for the philosopher than for others. The project of perfect justice in which each of us is a “cell in the social body” is not within our grasp.

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Reposted with permission: The New Atlantis

The Bachelor Century by Jon Rich

In civilisation, ethics, Europe, government, history, North America, politics, religion, society, war, world on March 2, 2014 at 21:07

From: The Bachelor Century: Single Sinners Seeking God’s Job by Jon Rich, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Since the sixteenth century, writing has aspired towards permanence. That horrific century brought a succession of powers, churches, popes, writers, politicians, and artists who made attempts at immortality by making their marks on the rocks of time. The Catholic Church has remained tenaciously faithful, in a sense, to the fifteenth century. The Church’s guards, popes, teachings, sermons, and its Bible have been the center of attention since Michelangelo finished his marvelous works at the Sistine Chapel. As is the case with other holy books, the Bible is a hymnal. Its hymns are recited and sung in the same fashion as the hymns found in other holy books. The fact that the Bible is a hymnal means that there’s a strong tendency, which has remained strong for centuries, to convert it from the written to the oral realm. In the latter realm, it is no longer simply a book, a physical artifact that will fall victim to the deleterious effects of light and humidity, but an invocation that unites all, regardless of their faith. The recitation and the sound of bells are meant to be familiar even to heretics and infidels. This phenomenon finds a perfect match in other holy books like the Torah and the Quran. Religions have, since the beginning, sought to make the word of God familiar and approachable. People who treated divine texts as primarily written words became priests, irrespective of their vocational inclination: infidels, heretics, atheists, priests, or theologians. Voltaire is no less priestly than St. Augustine.

Let’s go back briefly to Nietzsche to remind ourselves that collective human memory—what makes us human—is activated by pain and suffering. To oversimplify Nietzsche, we could say that our collective memory has privileged reactive thinking as a tool of evolution. A man who likes a woman for purely physical reasons is ready to reproduce with her but calls this attraction love. This reactive thinking extends to food, sleep, comfort, sport, work, and achievement. In fact, this sense of urgency to react is directly connected to scarcity. When we read Joseph’s story in the Torah, or the Quran, or The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, we are taken by the pain and joy of very specific people. For these people to invest so much effort into finding their better halves elevates love to a universal human value.

With the supremacy of television and the ubiquity of the internet, this elevation of love becomes nearly impossible. No woman is a man’s better half and no death is pure and final on TV. Television recycles better halves infinitely, giving them new names, new bodies, and new faces. It also portrays death and suffering in myriad ways, creating a variety that impels us to admire and be entertained by it. This bombardment by images of horror leaves little room in one’s heart for a tinge of discomfort, like the one Lionel Messi might feel upon missing a shot on goal.

All of this was impossible to predict before the events of the Arab Spring. It has become clear, with the abundance of images of death and bloodshed coming out of Syria in the past two years, that death itself has become incapable of pushing us, even for a tiny moment, to think about the death of an individual. More deaths will follow, and staying up to date with them will mean having no time for sorrow, and certainly no time to mourn.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

Rethinking Drug Policy Assumptions by Jefferson M. Fish

In government, law, North America, politics, society on January 25, 2014 at 23:34

From: Rethinking Drug Policy Assumptions by Jefferson M. Fish, The Humanist, http://thehumanist.org

The so-called war on drugs has lasted more than four decades and increasing numbers of people are convinced that it is not only unwinnable but also misguided. From foreign policy to domestic policy to drug treatment, U.S. drug policy has been based on inaccurate assumptions and incorrect causal models that have led to an ever-escalating failure. The attempt here is to identify some of the principal errors, point out their shortcomings, and offer more plausible assumptions and models in their stead. These alternatives point not simply to downsizing the war and decriminalizing marijuana, as voters in Colorado and Washington State recently did, but to ending the war on drugs altogether by considering a range of legalization options.

Current U.S. policy is based on the assumption that drugs cause crime, corruption, and disease. Hence, we label and ban some substances as “dangerous drugs.” It follows that bad people supply these drugs, so we lock them up, but the supply keeps getting through. Engagement between police and criminal suppliers ramps up, leading only to more crime, corruption, and disease at home, while the battle spreads around the world.

It looks as if the more we clamp down, the worse the problem gets. Up until now the response has been not to question the underlying assumption, but to further escalate the war, hoping the right side will eventually achieve victory. There seems to be no consideration of the possibility that it’s the policy itself that’s making matters worse.

Here’s an alternative causal model, one that actually explains the failure of our longstanding policy: drug prohibition—that is, the war on drugs—causes an illegal, or black market, which in turn causes crime, corruption, and disease. With this model, the goal of drug policy should be to attack the black market instead of attacking drugs because the market undermines the stability of friendly countries (witness Colombia and Mexico) and finances our enemies (al-Qaeda and the Taliban, for example). Attempts to suppress the black market by force merely spread it, from one country to another or, in response to local police crackdowns, from one neighborhood to another.

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Reposted with permission from: The Humanist

Silicon Valley Solutionism by Evgeny Morozov

In government, information science, internet, politics, technology on January 20, 2014 at 17:47

From: Silicon Valley Solutionism by Evgeny Morozov, Literal Magazine, http://www.literalmagazine.com

… We have tried NGOs, we have tried political parties, we have tried building nationalist movements, everything in the case of Belarus has been tried and failed, and here comes this new technology: you can use text messages to mobilize people, you can use blogs to discuss things you cannot discuss in the traditional media, you can rely on the power of cell phones to capture police brutality. I mean, there was a lot of excitement around 2005 and 2006, which partly, again, derives from the political climate in Eastern Europe at the time. You had the revolution in Serbia, then you had a few years later the revolution in Ukraine, then you had the revolution before that in Georgia. Something was brewing in Eastern Europe, and we had a lot of hope, and I invested a lot of hope in technology.

And then, I think, my other cynical Eastern European part took over. I have to add that I also spent four years in Bulgaria. This is where I was educated. And Bulgaria is known, as the rest of the Balkans, for its cynicism. And my cynical Bulgarian side, I think, took over at some point in 2006 and 2007 and I became skeptical of the very tools and platforms we were using, in part because I saw that they were actually making very little difference to the situation on the ground, to the people who were on the ground using those tools. But I also noticed that certain governments themselves were actually actively deploying those tools to spy on the population, to engage in propaganda by paying and training bloggers to spread the kind of truth that the government wanted to spread by engaging in new forms of censorships or cyber attacks. I basically saw the other side of this digitalization. And I saw that if you leave things as they are, and we engage in this very happy, cheerful celebration of the power of the Internet, we would miss the real story, and the real story, unfortunately, was that certain governments were getting empowered as well.

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Reposted with permission from: Literal Magazine

A Mass Media Cure for Auschwitz by Henry Krips

In government, media, philosophy, politics, society, sociology, theory on January 20, 2014 at 17:13

From: A Mass Media Cure for Auschwitz : Adorno, Kafka and Žižek by Henry Krips, International Journal of Žižek Studies, http://zizekstudies.org

In today’s regulated world of mass media corporations, what space is left for a radical politics? From the theoretical perspectives of most contemporary work in cultural studies, the answer seems to be “not much.” For example, according to the classic Frankfurt School position, the mass media serve the politically conservative end of spreading ideological lies: telling us that the government bureaucracies and private corporations that control our daily lives know best and care personally for each and every one of us (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002).

In order for these lies to be effective, however, it is not enough that they are encoded at the level of message content – after all, in today’s cynical climate few people fully trust what they are told in newspapers or see on television. How, then, can the mass media ensure that the lies that they circulate have an impact upon their audience; what, in any case, is the nature of that impact? The Frankfurt School answer (as represented, for example, in the early work of Theodor Adorno) is that a mass media presentation has two methods of encoding ideological lies: (1) it encodes the lies denotatively, at the level of its content, or (2) it encodes them connotatively, at the more abstract level of technique or form of presentation (Barthes, 1985: 111-117). Consider a familiar example: a full page magazine advertisement that places an image of a bottle of perfume next to an image of a beautiful woman who is photographed while she is staring
seductively into the camera. The advertisement encodes a message denotatively about the perfume’s power to make its wearer attractive. But also, because the woman appears to look at us directly, as if she knew us personally, a meta-message is encoded connotatively into the form of presentation: “Hey you there, this message is for you!” Furthermore, and here is the key point, even though we know that the latter message is a lie, it has an impact upon us – each of us feels, and to a certain extent acts as if through the ad she or he is being addressed personally.1 Adorno argues that it is in exactly this way, namely through their forms of presentation, that mass media presentations propagate ideological lies.

For example, advertisements, newscasts, talk shows and so on all typically engage their audience through such personal forms of address. By singling out each member of the audience for public recognition of a personal kind, this form of address contributes to the ideological lie at the heart of the liberal state, namely that it knows about and cares for each and every one of us individually (Goehr, xix-xx). And because the lie is encoded at the level of form rather than content, despite its transparency it sneaks under the audience’s critical radar and affects what they do. It general terms, we may conclude, even if mass media presentations are politically radical in their content, thanks to their form of presentation their overall impact will fall on the conservative side of the political ledger.

In The Sublime Object of Ideology Slavoj Žižek argues for a similar conclusion, but in the context of rather different theoretical premises (Žižek, 1989: 28-33). He argues that the totalitarian conditions in which we live today create a perverse split between knowledge and action: we know very well the terrible things that are going on around us, but even so – perhaps because we can’t do anything about them, or perhaps because we feel immune to their effects – we act as if we are ignorant. Like ostriches recognizing danger, we collectively stick our heads in the sand. It seems to follow that mass media exposées – or indeed any techniques of consciousness-raising – will be useless as radical political strategies for getting people to act differently. To put the argument in a nutshell: if, as Žižek claims, people don’t act on what they know then broadcasting the truth to them will make no political difference.

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Reposted with permission from: International Journal of Žižek Studies

A Tale of Two Decades by James F. Warren

In Asia, government, history, politics, society on January 12, 2014 at 01:25

From: A Tale of Two Decades: Typhoons and Floods, Manila and the Provinces, and the Marcos Years by James F. Warren, Japan Focus, http://www.japanfocus.org

In the second half of the twentieth century, typhoon-triggered floods affected all sectors of society in the Philippines, but none more so than the urban poor, particularly the esteros-dwellers or shanty-town inhabitants, residing in the low-lying locales of Manila and a number of other cities on Luzon and the Visayas. The growing number of post-war urban poor in Manila, Cebu City and elsewhere, was largely due to the policy repercussions of rapid economic growth and impoverishment under the military-led Marcos regime.1 At this time in the early 1970s, rural poverty and environmental devastation increased rapidly, and on a hitherto unknown scale in the Philippines. Widespread corruption, crony capitalism and deforesting the archipelago caused large-scale forced migration, homelessness and a radically skewed distribution of income and assets that continued to favour elite interests.2

Marginal urban enclave of Siteo Baseco, Tondo.

… There was a cruel contradiction, albeit irony, between the generally clean, quiet and orderly atmosphere proclaimed in travel guides, tour advertisements and billboards, depicting Manila as a global city where economic progress went hand in hand with the developing social reality of a burgeoning rural-urban migrant population. Many of the globe-trotting tourists and overseas executives visiting the city’s business district were not fully aware of the scope and rate of the adverse changes that were taking place in Manila, as the metropolis rapidly grew and poor people struggled to cope with its consequences. But the government-sponsored promotion of the remarkable transformation of the city, from a previously alarming and deteriorating place to a vibrant, expanding metropole proved a cruel illusion—a false dream—for the tens of thousands of squatters confronting the problem of a lack of housing and related health impacts, in one of the third world’s fastest growing cities. Most of the comfortably-housed wealthy locals and foreign visitors rarely went anywhere near the burgeoning slum quarters of the city. But Makati’s tree-lined avenues and glass-lined skyscrapers cast shadows across the makeshift houses of squatters from rural areas living at overcrowded addresses that did not appear in information provided on recommended tours and general guide maps. The migrants from the provinces threatened with homelessness dwelled out of sight of the path of the capital’s crushing progress, but they lived within its interstices and in vulnerable areas; low-lying neighbourhoods often sited directly in the path of typhoons and prone to flooding.

… Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos did not only use the productive character of ‘power’ to restrict social and individual possibilities. They produced new strategies and techniques of social control, through the development of their vice-like regulation and management of disaster relief and, correspondingly, new social and political capacities in the individuals threatened by the typhoons and floods.52 Kenneth Hewitt argues in interpreting the role of hazards in third-world societies that if the main purpose of government and scholars is to bring aid to the needy after calamity has struck then it is clear that these disaster-mitigation responses were not working properly, and they were making matters worse in the Philippines of the 1970s and mid-1980s. These failings were generated by preoccupations of the Marcos government that were political-economic, agency centred and selectively, communal-centric. There was no need to question whether this was a deliberate moral or technical choice; rather it was a simple but necessary side effect of partisan political and institutional arrangements. It is the meaning and implication of these arrangements as they bear upon the interpretation of risk and responsibility for damages and disaster relief—but also, more importantly, in relation to ‘who eats and who does not’—with which Hewitt is concerned.53 Clearly, the Marcos administration derived a dual benefit from the destruction and deprivation wrought by the typhoons and floods: the value of the resources they controlled became inflated in a political and material sense, and they also controlled the force necessary to either expand and protect, or deny, the support of redistributable resources and aid.54

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Reposted with permission from: Japan Focus

The Over-Policing of America by Chase Madar

In ethics, government, law, North America, politics, society on December 9, 2013 at 19:32

From: The Over-Policing of America: Police Overkill Has Entered the DNA of Social Policy by Chase Madar, TomDispatch, http://www.tomdispatch.com

Sometimes a single story has a way of standing in for everything you need to know. In the case of the up-arming, up-armoring, and militarization of police forces across the country, there is such a story. Not the police, mind you, but the campus cops at Ohio State University now possess an MRAP; that is, a $500,000, 18-ton, mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicle of a sort used in the Afghan War and, as Hunter Stuart of the Huffington Post reported, built to withstand “ballistic arms fire, mine fields, IEDs, and nuclear, biological, and chemical environments.” Sounds like just the thing for bouts of binge drinking and post-football-game shenanigans.

Office and retail work might seem like an unpromising growth area for police and prosecutors, but criminal law has found its way into the white-collar workplace, too. Just ask Georgia Thompson, a Wisconsin state employee targeted by a federal prosecutor for the “crime” of incorrectly processing a travel agency’s bid for state business. She spent four months in a federal prison before being sprung by a federal court. Or Judy Wilkinson, hauled away in handcuffs by an undercover cop for serving mimosas without a license to the customers in her bridal shop. Or George Norris, sentenced to 17 months in prison for selling orchids without the proper paperwork to an undercover federal agent.

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Reposted with permission from: TomDispatch

The Treason of Intellectuals by Chris Hedges

In ethics, government, history, war on October 31, 2013 at 01:33

From: The Treason of Intellectuals by Chris Hedges, Common Dreams, https://www.commondreams.org

The rewriting of history by the power elite was painfully evident as the nation marked the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Some claimed they had opposed the war when they had not. Others among “Bush’s useful idiots” argued that they had merely acted in good faith on the information available; if they had known then what they know now, they assured us, they would have acted differently. This, of course, is false. The war boosters, especially the “liberal hawks”—who included Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Al Franken and John Kerry, along with academics, writers and journalists such as Bill Keller, Michael Ignatieff, Nicholas Kristof, David Remnick, Fareed Zakaria, Michael Walzer, Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, George Packer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Kanan Makiya and the late Christopher Hitchens—did what they always have done: engage in acts of self-preservation. To oppose the war would have been a career killer. And they knew it.(Illustration by Mr. Fish)

brainiac_attack_copyThese apologists, however, acted not only as cheerleaders for war; in most cases they ridiculed and attempted to discredit anyone who questioned the call to invade Iraq. Kristof, in The New York Times, attacked the filmmaker Michael Moore as a conspiracy theorist and wrote that anti-war voices were only polarizing what he termed “the political cesspool.” Hitchens said that those who opposed the attack on Iraq “do not think that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy at all.” He called the typical anti-war protester a “blithering ex-flower child or ranting neo-Stalinist.” The halfhearted mea culpas by many of these courtiers a decade later always fail to mention the most pernicious and fundamental role they played in the buildup to the war—shutting down public debate. Those of us who spoke out against the war, faced with the onslaught of right-wing “patriots” and their liberal apologists, became pariahs. In my case it did not matter that I was an Arabic speaker. It did not matter that I had spent seven years in the Middle East, including months in Iraq, as a foreign correspondent. It did not matter that I knew the instrument of war. The critique that I and other opponents of war delivered, no matter how well grounded in fact and experience, turned us into objects of scorn by a liberal elite that cravenly wanted to demonstrate its own “patriotism” and “realism” about national security. The liberal class fueled a rabid, irrational hatred of all war critics. Many of us received death threats and lost our jobs, for me one at The New York Times. These liberal warmongers, 10 years later, remain both clueless about their moral bankruptcy and cloyingly sanctimonious. They have the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents on their hands.
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When Exclusion Replaces Exploitation by Daniel Zamora

In economy, Europe, government, history, philosophy, politics, society, sociology on October 21, 2013 at 05:36

From: When Exclusion Replaces Exploitation: The Condition of the Surplus-Population under Neoliberalism by Daniel Zamora, Nonsite.org, http://nonsite.org

In 1992, 13 years after Margaret Thatcher’s “neoliberal revolution,” the Iron Lady’s chief economic advisor, Alan Budd, declared that he had his doubts that “the 1980’s policies of attacking inflation by squeezing the economy and public spending” had ever really been taken seriously by those at the helm of government. Rather, he wondered if they weren’t really a “cover to bash the workers. Raising unemployment,” he pointed out, “was a very desirable way of reducing the strength of the working class. What was engineered—in Marxist terms—was a crisis of capitalism which re-created a reserve army of labor, and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since.”1 The interest of this anecdote is in its implicit suggestion of a link between the socio-political destabilization and fragmentation of the wage-earning working class (the intensification, in other words, of the difference between the working army of labour and the unemployed reserve) and the politics pursued during the decades following the rise of neoliberalism. The central problem with which we are confronted today, in other words, may be less the conflict between labor and capital, and more, as Margaret Thatcher put it, the antagonism between a privileged “underclass” with its “dependency culture” and an “active” proletariat whose taxes pay for a system of “entitlements” and “handouts.”2

During this same period, in France, André Gorz published his Farewell to the Working Class—a book in which he argued that the “society of unemployment” would henceforth be divided into two camps: “a growing mass of the permanently unemployed” on one side, “an aristocracy of tenured workers” on the other, and, lodged between the two, “a proletariat of temporary workers.”3 Far from constituting the very motor of social change, the “traditional working class” had become little more than a “privileged minority.”4 From now on, the vanguard of the class struggle would be a “non-class” made up of the “unemployed” and “the temporary workers” for whom work would never be a “source of individual flourishing.” Gorz’s idea was that, in today’s world, class conflict is no longer between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, but rather, between the lumpenproletariat and a working class no longer at odds with the class system.

The fact that this logic—redefining the social question as a conflict between two factions of the proletariat rather than between capital and labor—can today be found on the left as well as the right, raises a number of question. On one side, it aims at limiting the social rights of the “surplus population”5 by pitting “active” workers against them; on the other side, it aims at mobilizing the “surplus population” against the privilege of the “actives.” In the end, both sides end up accepting, to the detriment of all “workers,” the centrality of the category of the “excluded.”

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Repossted with permission from: Nonsite.org

Every Day We Put the State on Trial by Ai Weiwei

In art, Asia, culture, government, human rights, internet, technology on October 21, 2013 at 05:01

From: Every Day We Put the State on Trial by Ai Weiwei, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

For ages, artists have asked difficult questions about the human condition. It is their privilege to pursue such questions without needing to yield practical results. As individuals, and as a society, we can never really say we know everything. Society allows artists to explore what we don’t know in ways that are distinct from the approaches of science, religion, and philosophy. As a result, art bears a unique responsibility in the search for truth.
Art is a social practice that helps people to locate their truth. The truth itself, or the so-called truth presented by the media, has limitations. Manipulation of the truth does not lead to a lack of truth—it’s worse than no truth. Manipulated truths help the powerful, or advance the positions of the people who publicize them. So the arts and journalistic media play completely different roles.
I think it is important for artists to see themselves as privileged, and to bear some responsibility, because their job is about communication and expression. These are the core values of life, of being individuals. Most people don’t realize that they have to fight for this, but for us artists it’s necessary.

With 140 Chinese characters on Twitter, you can write a short story or novel. It’s not like in English, where you only have room for one question or piece of information. So we’re very privileged. But at the same time, I have been censored countless times for blogging on Sina Weibo, sharing my opinions, and publishing the names and stories of children killed during the Sichuan earthquake. The authorities delete my sentences. When they find that I’m writing too much, they shut off my IP. So I have to use another one and write under another user name. Sometimes in one month I have to use a hundred different IP addresses. Still, whatever I do, they’ll try to recognize me from the way I talk and the name I take—variations on my name like “Ai Weiwei,” “Ai Wei,” “Ai” and so on.

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

Turns of the Century by Martin Eiermann

In economy, Europe, government, history, news, North America, politics, society, South America on July 23, 2013 at 18:38

From: Turns of the Century: What the protests in Brazil and Greece tell us about world history by Martin Eiermann, The European Magazine, http://www.theeuropean-magazine.com

As I am writing this, 300,000 people are marching in Rio de Janeiro against corruption and public sector cuts ahead of next year’s soccer World Cup. It must be bad if Brazilians start anti-soccer riots. In Greece, protests have been ongoing for several years. In Spain, Italy and Portugal, popular discontent has ousted several governments and continues to cause a headache for their successors (in Greece, the government coalition is crumbling right now). In Great Britain, cuts to the National Health Service inspired regular demonstrations and a special segment during the Olympic opening ceremony in 2012, which defiantly celebrated the NHS as one of the great achievements of modern British society. Look at any newspaper front page today, and you are likely to see one or more photos of police in riot gear, shooting tear gas into crowds of protesters.

The language employed by protesters in Rio, Athens, and Madrid – against “corruption,” against “top-down politics,” against “welfare squeezes” – speaks to a commonality of experience that transcends the particularities of each context: Economic policies are broken, and politics seems unable to provide a fix. It’s thus misleading to think of the crisis of the last five years primarily as an “economic crisis.” Sure, it all started with a downward cascade in the financial and mortgage markets, but it has long since morphed into a social and political crisis. It is sure to leave its mark not only on economic history or on the history of a specific country, but on history as such.

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Reposted with permission from: The European Magazine

Edward Snowden on Why He Stood Up to the NSA with Amy Goodman

In government, human rights, information, interview, news, politics, privacy, technology, video on July 12, 2013 at 18:39

From: Edward Snowden on Why He Stood Up to the NSA: Mass Spying “Not Something I’m Willing to Live Under” with Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, Democracy Now!, http://www.democracynow.org

GLENN GREENWALD: Was there a specific point in time that you can point to when you crossed the line from contemplation to decision making and commitment to do this?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: I grew up with the understanding that the world I lived in was one where people enjoyed a sort of freedom to communicate with each other in privacy, without it being monitored, without it being measured or analyzed or sort of judged by these shadowy figures or systems, any time they mention anything that travels across public lines. I think a lot of people of my generation, anybody who grew up with the Internet, that was their understanding. As we’ve seen the Internet and government’s relation to the Internet evolve over time, we’ve seen that sort of open debate, that free market of ideas, sort of lose its domain and be shrunk.

GLENN GREENWALD: But what is it about that set of developments that makes them sufficiently menacing or threatening to you that you are willing to risk what you’ve risked in order to fight them?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talked to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. And that’s not—that’s not something I’m willing to support, it’s not something I’m willing to build, and it’s not something I’m willing to live under. So, I think anyone who opposes that sort of world has an obligation to act in a way they can. Now, I’ve watched and waited and tried to do my job in the most policy-driven way I could, which is to wait and allow other people, you know, wait and allow our leadership, our figures, to sort of correct the excesses of government when we go too far. But as I’ve watched, I’ve seen that’s not occurring, and in fact we’re compounding the excesses of prior governments and making it worse and more invasive. And no one is really standing to stop it.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: Democracy Now! website

On Privacy by Jill Priluck

In government, history, information, law, North America, politics, privacy, technology on July 3, 2013 at 18:09

From: On Privacy by Jill Priluck, N + 1, http://nplusonemag.com

No one law or right governs privacy in the United States. The word privacy doesn’t appear in the Constitution, and some skeptics even refer to it as a “so-called” right. But there is a basis for American privacy law, and a good place to start is the fourth item in the Bill of Rights, now known as the Fourth Amendment. “The right of the people,” the Fourth Amendment states, “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

This right dates to the struggle against government abuse in the colonial era, when it was common practice for British officials to search homes and shops for smuggled goods. In 1761, Boston merchants questioned the legality of this practice—and the vague permits, or writs, that authorized it—arguing that it violated the colonists’ “natural” rights. So fierce was the sentiment against these searches that when Advocate General and Cape Cod native James Otis was ordered by his superiors to defend them, he resigned and represented the Boston merchants for free. Otis called the writs “a power that places the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer.” A man’s home was “his castle,” he argued, “and whilst he is quiet, he is well guarded as a prince in his castle.” Otis lost the case, and the British magistrate deemed the writs legal, but Otis won a reputation as a patriot. Among the spectators who saw his argument was a 25-year-old John Adams, later the architect of the Fourth Amendment.

In the centuries since, American privacy law has developed on the basis of much more than the Fourth Amendment, and has gone on to cover reproductive and sexual rights and even the distribution of commercial media, such as newspaper photographs and advertisements. At the same time, the concept of Fourth Amendment “privacy” has gradually expanded. The definition of “home”—and “papers and effects”—has broadened as courts have defined the reasonableness of searches and seizures, the meaning of “probable cause,” and what constitutes a “search” or “seizure” in the first place.

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Reposted with permission from: N + 1

Death & Data by Matthew Bulger

In copyright, government, information, information science, internet, society on June 23, 2013 at 20:45

From: Death & Data: What should the punishment be for a crime that’s often benign in nature and consequence? by Matthew Bulger, The Humanist. http://thehumanist.org

This past January Aaron Swartz, a brilliant young computer programmer and activist, committed suicide after apparently being harassed for over a year by federal prosecutors. Swartz, the twenty-six-year-old who helped develop the social news site Reddit and founded the Internet activist group Demand Progress, was a technological pioneer who cared as much about the next big digital breakthrough as he did about social justice.

Swartz was also very interested in how knowledge is shared in modern society, and how the concentration of knowledge behind pay-to-view barriers could cause entire segments of the population to be less educated and therefore less likely to succeed in an information-based economy. With this concern in mind, he set out to share a virtual treasure trove of academic articles from the online archive JSTOR. Swartz downloaded several million academic articles and, while he never actually published them online for anyone to see, he did receive an unwelcome visit from the government and several law enforcement agencies. Swartz was promptly charged with thirteen felony counts of hacking and wire fraud, charges that mandated decades in prison and some pretty monstrous fines.

It’s apparent now that the laws Swartz was accused of breaking are as draconian as they are obsolete. The most flawed is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which contains provisions that are just plain unworkable in our interconnected world. For example, the CFAA makes it illegal to gain access to computers or websites “without authorization” or in a manner that “exceeds authorized access.” Unfortunately, authorization is never really defined by the CFAA, and that ambiguity has allowed federal prosecutors to stretch the law in order to put more people in jail.

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Reposted with permission from: The Humanist

Ma Jun: Information Empowers by John Haffner, Ma Jun

In Asia, ecology, economy, environment, government, human rights, information, politics, science on June 3, 2013 at 21:19

From: Ma Jun: Information Empowers by John Haffner, Ma Jun, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

Sitting with Ma in his office last year, I asked him to talk about the remarkable 20-year career that propelled him to the forefront of China’s environmental movement.

Ma was lucky enough to find a job with “the privilege of asking questions.”

He took me back to 1992, the year Deng Xiaoping made his famous tour to open southeastern cities to commerce. China remained closed in many ways but Ma was lucky enough to find a job with “the privilege of asking questions.” He was a fresh journalism graduate from the University of International Relations and had landed a position as a researcher and translator in the Beijing office of the South China Morning Post, later working his way up to office manager. At the paper he found himself immersed in every kind of issue and story.

While working as a journalist Ma came to realize that China was in an environmental crisis. He had grown up learning the poems of Li Bai and Du Fu, poets who spoke of China’s lakes, rivers, and land in lyrical, beautiful images. “I grew up reading these books, knowing this landscape through the words of ancient literary giants. I had an image in my mind, but when I traveled—it was just so different.”

In 1994, he found himself at the Three Gorges Dam site covering the story for his paper. Ma was saddened to find that the trees had been clear cut, the river muddied and polluted. “Li Bai and Du Fu had both been so inspired by the landscape, by the gorge, by the torrential flow. When I saw the river, I felt such a big loss.”

When he traveled to Dongting Lake in 1996, he expected to find a place he knew from ancient literature as “vast and extremely pretty.” But when he got there, he “found that the lake during the dry season had been reduced to a few rivers. The degradation was just so obvious.”

And when he went to the Fen River in Shanxi province, Ma saw “streams coming out of different villages with different colors, representing different industries: copper green and iron red and iron brownish, and yellowish and reddish. And they all came together to form a very highly polluting flow, eventually ending up in the Yellow River.”

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

Breaking the Social Contract by Pelin Tan and Simon Critchley

In Asia, Europe, government, interview, North America, politics, religion on June 3, 2013 at 21:12

From: Breaking the Social Contract by Pelin Tan and Simon Critchley, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Pelin Tan: In Infinitely Demanding, you describe a distinction between active and passive nihilism. As I understand it, this description has a theological basis. You offer Al-Qaeda as an example of active nihilism. However, I have my doubts about this distinction. I think active nihilism cannot be explained in terms of local and specific conditions, since its meaning is based in Western epistemology. Do you think Western thought is capable of explaining oppositional radical movements such as Al-Qaeda by way of nihilism?

Simon Critchley: It is a question of the political uses of religion, or civil religion in the way Rousseau talks about it in The Social Contract. We could think of religion as ideology. My view is that things like class, ethnicity, and the rest are hugely important, but the question concerns how a polity such as a state acquires legitimacy and is able to motivate citizens to act on its behalf. And the answer to that question requires some understanding of civil religion. In The Social Contract Rousseau comes to the conclusion that politics requires a quasi-religious apparatus of rituals, including flags, national anthem, pledges of religions, and all the rest. Turkey is a very good example. Ataturk basically tried to invent a kind of civil religion using nationalism. So for me, all political units, especially states, justify themselves and try to motivate citizens by appealing to a form of civil religion. Here in the US, that works through the Constitution and the way constitutionality begins with an appeal to God—”In God We Trust.” And this becomes the basis for a political fight, the question of how the civic creed of the United States is to be interpreted. Does it justify a Republican or Democratic governmental order? Analogous situations exist elsewhere. The French elections took place last Sunday and France also has a civil religion, even though the country is purportedly secular.

PT: What is your opinion on the relationship between secularism and liberal democracy nowadays?

SC: I think that all political units make an appeal to something like the sacred, some conception of the sacred. And to me, the history of political forms is a history of different forms of sacralization — from Mesopotamia through Sumeria to the ancient world, and to where we are now. So in my opinion the secular is another expression of the sacral. Of course, secularists usually insist that God has no role in the political realm, that we cannot appeal to God. This is usually based on some progressivist idea of history, which is also religious. Secularism takes over the providential narrative of Christianity, changes some key elements, and comes up with the idea that liberal democracy is the completion of history. The idea is that one is either on the right side of history or the wrong side of history—as Saint Obama has said. So for me, secularism is another appeal to something sacred, the sacredness of human rights, the universality of human rights. This is ideology. I come out of a Gramsician leftist tradition that took a very particular form in England in the ‘70s and ‘80s, where thinkers like Ernesto Laclau, who was very influential for many years, tried to follow Gramsci’s insistence that ideology is important. Ideology isn’t just superstructure. Marxism is about socioeconomic conditions, class, and all the rest—of course that’s true. But ideology, and therefore politics, is that field where social groups are articulated. So for me, ideology has huge importance. And it’s in relation to that notion of ideology that religion takes on this particular importance. So it is not religion, ethnicity, or class inequalities that are important, but the way in which the articulation of each of those terms also appeals to notions of the sacred.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

Norway and the Prisoners of Peace by F. J. Riopelle

In Europe, government, human rights, law, politics, writers on May 27, 2013 at 18:16

From: Norway and the Prisoners of Peace by F. J. Riopelle, AGNI Online, http://www.bu.edu/agni/index.html

Imagine a country, I used to tell my students of Norwegian at Harvard, of beautiful fjords and impressive coastal scenery, of extensive petroleum reserves, natural gas, minerals, lumber, seafood and fresh water, with universal health care, subsidized higher education, a comprehensive social security system and very low unemployment rate. Imagine the world’s most well-functioning and stable country, where parents have forty-seven weeks of paid parental leave and prison cells look like budget hotel rooms. And—as a final flight of Lennonesque imagination—imagine all the people, or at least some, living life in peace in these cells—because they are pacifists.

That broke the spell, didn’t it? Norway’s great international reputation is well deserved, but a student of its language and culture should also learn about the embarrassments lurking behind this utopian image of Norway. There is, for instance, a curious lack of statistics for the number of convicted pacifists in Norway—the country that administers the Nobel Peace Prize, presumably because Alfred Nobel found it even more peaceful than Sweden—a curious lack of information, on Wikipedia and elsewhere, but I know, as John Lennon says in one of his protest songs, that I’m not the only one.

According to European Bureau for Conscientious Objection’s 2011 report, Norway is one of three European countries that “prosecute conscientious objectors repeatedly for their continued refusal to serve in the army” (the other countries are Greece and Turkey). “Each year, between one-hundred and two-hundred conscripts refuse to perform both military and substitute service,” and they are thereby penalized.

I am one of them—a conscientious objector, not only to the military service, but also to the substitute civilian service. In a report of 2002, researchers in Norway’s Ministry of Defense acknowledged that the civilian service, which is labor typically performed in healthcare institutions, retirement homes, kindergartens and schools, is little more than a “sanction of men who refuse to perform military service.” It “costs about 230 million Norwegian kroner per year,” and is “obviously unprofitable based on socio-economic considerations.”

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Reposted with permission from: AGNI Online

Boston Marathon Bombings by Philippe Theophanidis

In government, human rights, law, media, news, North America, politics, war on April 27, 2013 at 19:52

From: Boston Marathon Bombings: the Emergency Declaration as a State of Exception by Philippe Theophanidis, Aphelis, http://aphelis.net

NGUYEN_2013_Boston_manhunt-620x826Up until recently (First World War), warfare had traditionally made a clear distinction between civilian and military targets. The bombings in Boston is yet another striking reminder that things have since drastically changed. The front lines that need to be protected have moved within the most intimate spaces of the civilian sphere. The war zone extend all the way into private living rooms and backyards.

Such an inversion (further) blurs the traditional distinction between what is public and what is private. Indeed, when the front lawn of private homes becomes a theatre for military-like operations in a democratic country, two issues arise. First, the extent of a government’s authority into the intimacy of private lives become spectacularly visible. The fact that such an intervention is conducted for the population’s “own good”, as it was repeatedly argued in the past few days, does not invalidate the relevance of this observation. Second, it raises some questions regarding the democratic principle of the separation of powers.

Which brings the question of the Emergency Declaration that was signed by President Barack Obama for the state of Massachusetts on April 17, 2013. At the time of writing, there doesn’t seem to be much information available online about this presidential declaration. Mainstream media have been very generous in providing the public with various informations regarding the events, including extensive coverage about the lifting of the Miranda rule for the captured suspect in the name of a “public safety exception”. However, informed analysis about the legal aspects surrounding an Emergency Declaration are scarce. A couple of informative points relative to the exceptional character of the authorities’s response are worth highlighting.

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Reposted with permission from: Philippe Theophanidis

A Citizen as a Slave of the State? by Melina Tamiolaki

In Europe, government, history, philosophy, politics, society on April 24, 2013 at 07:24

From: A Citizen as a Slave of the State? Oligarchic Perceptions of Democracy in Xenophon by Melina Tamiolaki, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, http://grbs.library.duke.edu/index

One of the criticisms leveled at the Athenian democratic constitution, though not so prominent in comparison with other criticisms, was that it imposed
burdensome obligations to its wealthy citizens. The most important among these obligations were the liturgies—the choregia and the trierarchia—and the eisphora. The attitude of the wealthy towards these obligations was ambivalent: on the one hand, these services constituted a source of prestige and glory and confirmed their high status (especially the choregia, which had a strong public and performative aspect). On the other, they also aroused complaints, since they fostered the impression that the city exploited its wealthy citizens financially. These complaints were institutionalized in ancient Athens: Attic oratory provides rich evidence about the procedure of the antidosis, by which a wealthy citizen could avoid a liturgy by indicating a wealthier one, and hence more suitable, to undertake it.

… Charmides, a wealthy Athenian citizen, explains why, in his opinion, being poor secures a more peaceful life than being rich. More provocatively, he claims that by being poor, he resembles a tyrant, because he is absolutely free, whereas before he was clearly a slave:
“Your turn, Charmides,” said Callias, “to say why you take pride in poverty.” “Well,” he said, “there is agreement as fol lows, that it is better to be brave than fearful, to be free than a slave, to receive attentions than give them, and to be trusted by one’s country than distrusted. Now when I was a rich man inthis town, first of all I was fearful that people might break into my house and take my property and do me some personal hurt..”

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Reposted with permission from: Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies

Voices of Opposition Against CISPA

In government, media, news, privacy, technology on April 22, 2013 at 02:31

From: Voices of Opposition Against CISPA, Electronic Frontier Foundation, http://www.eff.org

Here is a list of organizations and influential people that expressed concerns about the dangerous civil liberties implications of the bill. Though each organization or person may differ in their terminology, they all reach the same conclusion—CISPA is not a “sharing of information bill only.” It is an expansive bill that enables spying on users and allows for unaccountable companies and government agencies that can skirt privacy laws.

American Library Association in ALA CISPA Information Page

“This bill would trump all current privacy laws including the forty-eight state library record confidentiality laws as well as the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Wiretap Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the Privacy Act.

Mozilla in a statement to Forbes:

“While we wholeheartedly support a more secure Internet, CISPA has a broad and alarming reach that goes far beyond Internet security. The bill infringes on our privacy, includes vague definitions of cybersecurity, and grants immunities to companies and government that are too broad around information misuse. We hope the Senate takes the time to fully and openly consider these issues with stakeholder input before moving forward with this legislation.”

Free Press in Free Press Action Fund Joins Stop Cyber Spying Week to Protest CISPA

“As it stands, CISPA could lead all too easily to governmental and corporate violations of our privacy and attacks on our right to speak freely via the Internet. While there is a need to protect vital national interests, we can’t do it at the expense of our freedoms.”

Find out more at the EFF website

 

The Monsanto Protection Act? with Amy Goodman

In biology, ethics, government, law, North America, politics, science on April 2, 2013 at 20:12

From: The Monsanto Protection Act? A Debate on Controversial New Measure Over Genetically Modified Crops with Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, http://www.democracynow.org

President Obama outraged food activists last week when he signed into law a spending bill with a controversial rider that critics have dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act.” The rider says the government must allow the planting of genetically modified crops even if courts rule they pose health risks. The measure has galvanized the U.S. food justice movement, which is now preparing for its next fight when the provision expires in six months. We host a discussion on the “Monsanto Protection Act” and the safety of genetically modified foods with two guests: Gregory Jaffe, director of the Biotechnology Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that addresses food and nutrition issues; and Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch and author of the book, “Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America.” On Wednesday, Hauter’s group is releasing a major new report called “Monsanto: A Corporate Profile.”

AMY GOODMAN: One of the biggest supporters of the provision was Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, Monsanto’s home state. Blunt reportedly crafted the bill’s language with Monsato’s help.
On the other side was the lone member of the Senate who’s also an active farmer, Democrat Jon Tester of Montana. Senator Tester tried to remove the rider when the budget bill made its way through Congress last month. Speaking on the Senate floor, Tester said the provision would undermine judicial oversight and hurt family farmers.

SEN. JON TESTER: The United States Congress is telling the Agricultural Department that even if a court tells you that you’ve failed to follow the right process and tells you to start over, you must disregard the court’s ruling and allow the crop to be planted anyway. Not only does this ignore the constitutional idea of separation of powers, but it also lets genetically modified crops take hold across this country, even when a judge finds it violates the law—once again, agribusiness multinational corporations putting farmers as serfs. It’s a dangerous precedent. Mr. President, it will paralyze the USDA, putting the department in the middle of a battle between Congress and the courts. And the ultimate loser will be our family farmers going about their business and feeding America in the right way.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: Democracy Now! website

The Gospel of Wealth by Jim Chaffee

In economics, education, government, North America, politics, society on March 21, 2013 at 12:49

From: The Gospel of Wealth: towards a new generation of American consumership by Jim Chaffee, nthposition online magazine, http://www.nthposition.com

Economics and Finance for the American Way of Life is a textbook for a mandatory full year Texas public school course at the end of middle school. It was deemed necessary at this level because this is the age when students take their place among the ranks of their adult peers as consumers, with credit cards and cell phones and online shopping and as soon to be de facto owners of automobiles. Furthermore, fully thirty percent of the students in Texas will not advance beyond this level of education.

As this implies, The Economy is the center of the text. Each nation, state, county, city and family has an Economy which must be appeased and cajoled. The duty of every citizen is to cultivate his or her Personal Economy from an early age as this will become the Family Economy, an amalgamation of husband’s and wife’s Economies upon marriage. They hint that there is not only a Global Economy, but in fact a Universal Economy which must be appeased by financial experts who are trained to intercede with the individual’s Personal Economy through the higher Economies. (Makes you wonder what would happen if another country got an ATM on the moon first.) Some university departments such as the Stanford department which consulted on this text specialize in training analysts adroit in intercession on behalf of institutions larger than the individual, such as banks and corporations, while such intercession at the national level is mostly left to economists. In general, the role of the financial engineer (or analyst), which includes MBAs, is to intercede with different Economies on behalf of the people, including through institutions, while the duty of the economist is to interpret the will of The Economy at varying levels.

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Reposted with permission from: nthposition

Afraid of the Dark in Afghanistan by Anand Gopal

In Asia, government, human rights, law, North America, politics, war on March 5, 2013 at 23:11

From: Afraid of the Dark in Afghanistan by Anand Gopal, http://anandgopal.com

One quiet, wintry night last year in the eastern Afghan town of Khost, a young government employee named Ismatullah simply vanished. He had last been seen in the town’s bazaar with a group of friends. Family members scoured Khost’s dusty streets for days. Village elders contacted Taliban commanders in the area who were wont to kidnap government workers, but they had never heard of the young man. Even the governor got involved, ordering his police to round up nettlesome criminal gangs that sometimes preyed on young bazaargoers for ransom.

But the hunt turned up nothing. Spring and summer came and went with no sign of Ismatullah. Then one day, long after the police and village elders had abandoned their search, a courier delivered a neat handwritten note on Red Cross stationery to the family. In it, Ismatullah informed them that he was in Bagram, an American prison more than 200 miles away. US forces had picked him up while he was on his way home from the bazaar, the terse letter stated, and he didn’t know when he would be freed.

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Reposted with permission from: Anand Gopal

The Two-headed Problem of Asian Hydropolitics by Saleem H. Ali

In Asia, ecology, government, politics, war on February 26, 2013 at 05:36

From: The Two-headed Problem of Asian Hydropolitics: Security and Scarcity by Saleem H. Ali, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

As the rift has widened between the Chinese government and the Tibetan leadership in exile during the past year, it is high time that innovative strategies be considered for conflict resolution. During a recent visit to the Netherlands, I had an opportunity to interact with the Dalai Lama at a seminar on water security organized by the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. Sitting around a table with about fifteen scholars from Asia and Europe, the Buddhist spiritual leader called the Tibetan plateau a “third pole” of available water on the planet. The conversation was meant to be apolitical and to focus on science as a touchstone for cooperation. The Dalai Lama humorously commented that it is time we protect mountains not just because they are “sacred” but because “science tells us they are important.” A global strategy is needed by scientists and policymakers alike to address the challenge of water scarcity in Asia.

The situation is particularly acute for the world’s largest continent. While home to more than half of the world’s population, Asia has less fresh water—3,920 cubic meters per person—than any continent except Antarctica. Almost two-thirds of global population growth is occurring in Asia, which is expected to grow by nearly 500 million within the next 10 years, mostly in urban areas. In November 2008, The U.S. National Intelligence Council highlighted Asian water scarcity in its Global Trends 2025 report: “With water becoming more scarce in Asia and the Middle East, cooperation to manage changing water resources is likely to become more difficult within and between states.”

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

The Future of the Internet by Vint Cerf

In government, information science, internet, interview, politics, privacy, society, space on February 26, 2013 at 05:28

From: The Future of the Internet “Freshwater Will Be the New Oil” by Vint Cerf, The European Magazine, http://www.theeuropean-magazine.com

The European: When you started working on the Internet, did you have an idea of how big it would become one day?
Cerf: Bob Kahn and I had a sense of how powerful technology is. But we couldn’t possibly imagine what it would be like when 1/3 of the world’s population would be online. When we came up with an original design in 1973, we knew that new communication technologies would come along. At that time we couldn’t think of what they would be like – but we wanted the Internet to work on top of them.

The European: How will we debate truth, or argue about what is most important to us?
Cerf: I would ask: what will be our utopia? We don’t know. People call me chief Internet envangelist. Some misunderstood this and thought that it meant I was using the Internet to promote religion. I have to explain that I’m geek-orthodox. I see many good things in the world, but I also see some bad things. I believe that we really have the choice to use technology and the infrastructure of the Internet towards very positive ends. But like any infrastructure, it is open to abuse. We are reaching a point now where governments are concerned about the impact of the Internet infrastructure on citizens and on society.

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Reposted with permission from: The European Magazine

The Humanist Interview with Gloria Steinem by Jennifer Bardi

In gender, government, human rights, interview, media, religion on February 24, 2013 at 00:53

From: The Humanist Interview with Gloria Steinem by Jennifer Bardi, The Humanist, http://thehumanist.org

The Humanist: So let’s talk a little about women in secularism. I attended the first-ever Women in Secularism conference in May, and I’m wondering if it would surprise you to learn that there are problems with sexist behavior within the secular movement, including in online forums and at conferences.

Steinem: No, it doesn’t surprise me to learn that there is bias and sexism everywhere, just like there are problems of racism and homophobia stemming from the whole notion that we’re arranged in a hierarchy, that we’re ranked rather than linked. I think we’ve learned that we have to contend with these divisions everywhere.

There might have been more surprise, say, in the 1960s and ’70s when people were active in the antiwar movement or in the Civil Rights movement, only to discover that women sometimes had the same kinds of conventional positions there. But I think there’s a much deeper understanding now of how widespread patriarchy is, on the one hand, and that it didn’t always exist, on the other.

The Humanist: So, if humanists and secularists consider themselves enlightened individuals—reasonable, progressive, and so forth—shouldn’t we hold these men up to a higher standard in terms of sexist behavior?

Steinem: Yes. But, it’s not only holding humanist men up to a higher standard, it’s saying you can’t win unless you’re a feminist. Because the patterns that are normalized in the family—the whole idea that some people cook and some people eat, that some listen and others talk, and even that some people control others in very economic or even violent ways—that kind of hierarchy is what makes us vulnerable to believing in class hierarchy, to believing in racial hierarchy, and so on.

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Reposted with permission from: The Humanist

From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism by Slavoj Žižek

In Asia, economics, Europe, government, politics, religion, society on February 24, 2013 at 00:39

From: From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism by Slavoj Žižek, Cabinet, http://cabinetmagazine.org

The ultimate postmodern irony of today is the strange exchange between Europe and Asia: at the very moment when “European” technology and capitalism are triumphing worldwide at the level of the “economic infrastructure, the Judeo-Christian legacy is threatened at the level of “ideological superstructure” in the European space itself by New Age “Asiatic” thought, which, in its different guises ranging from “Western Buddhism” to different “Taos,” is establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. Therein resides the highest speculative identity of opposites in today’s global civilization: although “Western Buddhism” presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement. One should mention here the well-known concept of “future shock” that describes how people are no longer psychologically able to cope with the dazzling rhythm of technological development and the social changes that accompany it. Things simply move too fast, and before one can accustom oneself to an invention, it has already been supplanted by a new one, so that one more and more lacks the most elementary “cognitive mapping.” The recourse to Taoism or Buddhism offers a way out of this predicament that definitely works better than the desperate escape into old traditions. Instead of trying to cope with the accelerating rhythm of techno-logical progress and social changes, one should rather renounce the very endeavor to retain control over what goes on, rejecting it as the expression of the modern logic of domination. One should, instead, “let oneself go,” drift along, while retaining an inner distance and indifference toward the mad dance of accelerated process, a distance based on the insight that all this social and technological upheaval is ultimately just a non-substantial proliferation of semblances that do not really concern the innermost kernel of our being. One is almost tempted to resuscitate the old infamous Marxist cliché of religion as the “opium of the people,” as the imaginary supplement to terrestrial misery. The “Western Buddhist” meditative stance is arguably the most efficient way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity. If Max Weber were alive today, he would definitely write a second, supplementary, volume to his Protestant Ethic, entitled The Taoist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet

The Spam of the Earth by Hito Steyerl

In culture, government, information science, internet, media, photography, privacy, society on February 17, 2013 at 22:05

From: The Spam of the Earth: Withdrawal from Representation by Hito Steyerl, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Dense clusters of radio waves leave our planet every second. Our letters and snapshots, intimate and official communications, TV broadcasts and text messages drift away from earth in rings, a tectonic architecture of the desires and fears of our times.1 In a few hundred thousand years, extraterrestrial forms of intelligence may incredulously sift through our wireless communications. But imagine the perplexity of those creatures when they actually look at the material. Because a huge percentage of the pictures inadvertently sent off into deep space is actually spam. Any archaeologist, forensic, or historian—in this world or another—will look at it as our legacy and our likeness, a true portrait of our times and ourselves. Imagine a human reconstruction somehow made from this digital rubble. Chances are, it would look like image spam.

Image spam is one of the many dark matters of the digital world; spam tries to avoid detection by filters by presenting its message as an image file. An inordinate amount of these images floats around the globe, desperately vying for human attention.2 They advertise pharmaceuticals, replica items, body enhancements, penny stocks, and degrees. According to the pictures dispersed via image spam, humanity consists of scantily dressed degree-holders with jolly smiles enhanced by orthodontic braces.

Image spam is our message to the future. Instead of a modernist space capsule showing a woman and man on the outside—a family of “man”—our contemporary dispatch to the universe is image spam showing enhanced advertisement mannequins.3 And this is how the universe will see us; it is perhaps even how it sees us now.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

Only “Lone Wolves” Commit Terror? by Russ Baker

In government, history, media, politics, war on January 27, 2013 at 03:41

From: Only “Lone Wolves” Commit Terror? by Russ Baker, WhoWhatWhy, http://whowhatwhy.com

Just before the opening of the London games, a former Olympic Committee executive declared in a New York Times interview that he had confidence in how this year’s spectacle would unfold:

“I think in the end London will more than hold its own against any previous Games. The only black cloud for me is the security agenda and whether there is some crazy, as they say, lone wolf out there.”

As they say…some lone wolf.

If that gives you chills, you aren’t alone. We’ve had enough experience to know that these statements shouldn’t be taken lightly. Nor should the underlying principle go unchallenged: that only deranged individuals provoke mayhem by design.

Media reports and government statements pretty much reduce terror sponsors to two types:  the “lone wolf,” and countries and entities in current ill repute. To be sure, for many, the archetype of Olympic terror is the organized attack: Palestinian Black September members taking the Israeli team hostage at the 1972 Munich games, and the bloody climax. Since then, we’ve also had our share of lone (or allegedly lone) gunmen and bombers, and of (allegedly) sponsored terror by identified enemies.

Originally published at http://www.WhoWhatWhy.com

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Reposted with permission from: WhoWhatWhy

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