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7 iconic fights to keep fossil fuels in the ground

Fri, 05/11/2018 - 03:28

via 350.org

Despite the urgent climate crisis, fossil fuel companies and their financiers are still supporting new projects to extract, transport, and burn coal, oil, and gas. These projects don’t just threaten the communities in their path: they also lock us into fossil fuels for decades to come at exactly the time we need to stop.  When you’re in a hole, stop digging!

The fossil fuel industry is global – but luckily resistance is too. Here are 7 of the fights going on right now to keep it in the ground, and how you can help.

Kinder Morgan

In the west of Canada, people power on the frontlines – and actions of solidarity from around Canada and the world – has put the breaks on plans for an expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline. On March 10th, the largest mobilization yet against Kinder Morgan took place, with 10,000 people taking the street in Burnaby, Canada. They took action in solidarity with Indigenous leaders who built a a “Watch House” – a traditional structure used by the Coast Salish Indigenous peoples for generations to watch over their enemies – on the pipeline’s path on Burnaby Mountain.

Since then, more than 200 arrests have taken place at the pipeline terminal facility on Burnaby Mountain, with Indigenous activists, students, grandparents, and many others — including 2 sitting members of parliament, standing up to take bold action to protect the land, water and climate from Kinder Morgan.

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‘The people have seen through the lies of the Moroccan State’

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 23:28

via The Dawn

The recent mobilizations in the city of Jerada and the Rif region in Morocco mark a new era of popular uprisings in the country. The Dawn News speaks to Abdallah Harrif, Deputy Secretary General of Morocco’s Democratic Way, on the mobilization over the year, the repression unleashed by the government and the way forward for the movement.

Q: The last year has seen huge mobilizations in Morocco, mainly on the issue of the mines in Jerada. Could you tell us about the nature of the mobilization and the current situation with respect to the struggle?

A: These huge mobilizations, particularly in the Rif region and the city of Jerada, are the second wave of the revolutionary process which were initiated by the so-called Arab spring. This struggle has been embodied in Morocco by the February movement, and took place in marginalized regions: The Rif region has a long tradition of struggles against the Moroccan regime, which has always marginalized the region and despised its inhabitants. Jerada is a town which lived, almost uniquely, on coal mines which were closed in the end of the last century and no alternative activity has been created.

In the Rif and Jerada, almost all the inhabitants participated in the mobilizations which took place: sit-ins, demonstrations, marches and other forms of protest. The trigger of the mobilization in the Rif was the murder of Mohcine Fikri, a fish merchant, who was ground to death by a garbage compactor in the presence of local authorities.

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What Really Helps the Unemployed Find Full-Time Jobs

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 23:20

via Yes! magazine

by Amanda Abrams

In April, President Trump signed an executive order requiring many Americans who get public benefits to join the workforce if they want to continue receiving assistance. The order, Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility, was immediately decried by advocates for low-income people as an ineffective effort to reduce government aid.

The most-cited reason has been that most people getting social safety net supports such as Medicaid, SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), and housing subsidies, and other assistance already work at low-paying jobs. Of those who don’t, a majority of them face serious barriers to employment: criminal records, disabilities, homelessness, histories of substance abuse or domestic abuse. A simple demand for these people to find jobs likely will not land them livable-wage, long-term employment—especially in a tight labor market.

But more important, researchers say, social safety net programs need more money, not less, for a work requirement program to succeed.

In 2016, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities examined work requirements implemented by eight cities or counties around the country in the 1990s and found that they were largely ineffective. The requirements resulted in very little initial increase in employment, and virtually no impact five years later. More significantly, most of those people who had major barriers to employment never found jobs. Instead, they lost benefits and drifted further down the socioeconomic scale.

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Climate justice from below for climate harms

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 23:03

via The New Internationalist

by Harpreet Kaur Paul

Tasked with exploring ways in which to avert, minimize and address climate harms, the Suva Expert Dialogue – which took place from 2–3 May during the ongoing Bonn Climate Change Conference – was able only to agree to yet another meeting, theExCom8, for deciding the scope of the next technical paper on loss and damage.

Delegates from Sudan, Botswana and other developing countries insisted on the need for concrete proposals to address already occurring and ‘exploding’ climate risks and harms before the next COP (COP24), to be held from 3–14 December this year in Poland. As has now become natural law, developed countries shielded themselves from responsibility behind bureaucratic processes.

French, Swiss, British, American and Canadian delegates have been silent on financing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events. While Germany’s delegate referred to insurance as a ‘magic’ tool to redress loss and damage, insurance cannot redress harms that arise from slow onset events (since they are largely uninsurable), repair non-economic loss and damage, respond to climate migration, and is often insufficient where it is available and inaccessible to the most vulnerable. Still, ideological fervour mythologizes insurance as a cost-effective, determinable, and efficient solution to climate harms.

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Interview with Chelsea Manning: ‘There’s No Troll that Can Hurt Me’

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 00:10

via Spiegal Online

Interview Conducted by Angela Gruber

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Manning, after seven years in prison, your sentence was commuted a year ago. How did you restart your life?

Chelsea Manning: At first, there was a euphoria, sort of a honeymoon period after my release. But all of the things that drove me into political activism and sparked my actions have gotten worse and accelerated in pace. So, I never got the feeling that I can just sit down now. There are lots of important political issues out there waiting to be addressed, not just in the U.S. but the whole world. We can’t wait anymore.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can you provide a few examples?

Manning: We see the rise of authoritarianism all over the world, in Russia, in China and also in Europe. The technological developments have enabled a surveillance apparatus that is much more intense and threatening than ever before. Militarization is another issue: Our local police departments in the U.S. look like military units now. What we as people need to do is fight back.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What toll did your time in prison take on your life?

Manning: Even though there’s real work to be done, what I also realized within the last few months is that I also have to take care of myself. Sometimes I just try to forget about prison and the last decade, because it’s easier for me. My experience now, being a public figure, is definitely drastically different from the life I had – in prison or in the military.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You are quite active on social media channels like Twitter and Instagram. Was it difficult for you to catch up with the technology?

Manning: What I like to remind people of: I was using emojis back in the 1990s when they were still called emoticons. I’ve been on the internet since the mid-90s. Back then, there was the feeling that the internet was special, a place with liberating capacities. But as it became more entrenched in our society, it became a reinforcement of the existing system.

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What is the true cost of eating meat?

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 00:00

via The Guardian

by Bibi van der Zee

What are the economics of meat?

Food and farming is one of the biggest economic sectors in the world. We are no longer in the 14th century, when as much as 76% of the population worked in agriculture – but farming still employs more than 26% of all workers globally. And that does not include the people who work along the meat supply chain: the slaughterers, packagers, retailers and chefs.

In 2016, the world’s meat production was estimated at 317m metric tons, and that is expected to continue to grow. Figures for the value of the global meat industry vary wildly from $90bn to as much as $741bn.

Although the number of people directly employed by farming is currently less than 2% in the UK, the food chain now includes the agribusiness companies, the retailers, and the entertainment sector. According to the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in 2014 the food and drink manufacturing sector contributed £27bn to the economy, and employed 3.8 million people.

It is not simple to separate out the contribution that meat production makes to this – particularly globally. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation states that livestock is about 40% of the global value of agricultural output and supports the livelihoods and food security of almost a 1.3 billion people.

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Lettrism and the Youth Uprising of 68

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 23:52

via Verso Books

by Joel White and Isidore Isou

Translated and introduced by Joel White. 

As Kristin Ross has made explicit, the variety of writers who are supposedly the true theoretical progenitors of France’s May 68 has not stopped proliferating since the “events” came to a close. Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilisation, Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism, and Henri Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday Life come to mind. Whole books have been dedicated to defining what is now known as la pensée 68 (the thought of 68). Perhaps the most notorious of these so-called progenitors is Situationist Guy Debord, who, late into his life, even megalomaniacally claimed that it was he who “chose the time and direction of the attacks” (Guy Debord, Anselm Jappe, 100).

Before Debord and the Situationist International, however, there was Isidore Isou and Lettrism. Creator or novateur of the French avant-garde group, Isou moved to Paris in 1945 with the single purpose of founding a movement that would surpass Tristan Tzara’s Dadaism and André Breton’s Surrealism. Regarding these movements as exhausted of revolutionary and creative potential, Isou and his early supporters, Maurice Lemaître, Gil J. Wolman, and Guy Debord set out to reinvigorate France’s artistic and political avant-garde. (Wolman and Debord would later split to form the Lettrist International in 1952 before finally creating the Situationist International in 1957). Artistically, this meant “creatively diverting” (créativité détourné) the material support of formal artworks so that new possibilities latent in the material could become manifest. Words were reduced to graphemes and phonemes and then built back up again to make “hypergraphic” or “lettrie” poems. Images and figures were morphed into shadowy blocks that would consume themselves, and films were “chiselled” and scratched to which “discrepant sounds” were added and juxtaposed (for example, Lemâitre’s 1969 film Youth Uprising – May 68). While this had significant influence, via the Situationist International, on the aesthetics of 68, it is Isou’s “nuclear” political economy and his manifestos for the Youth Uprising (1949) that hold the most weight. The notion of the abolishment of “youth-capital” found in Debord’s Society of the Spectacle (1967) and Mustapha Khayat’s On the Poverty of Student Life (1966) both develop the notion of a youth “externalised” from capital’s internal exchange “circuits.” For Isou, the youth constituted the “primary revolutionary force” of any insurrection because of their not-yet internalised but likewise exploited, socio-economic status. Isou even complains in 1974 that his particular conception of the revolutionary youth was the “real motor of the youth uprising in May 68,” and not the “neo-Nazi situationists” that only knew how to plagiarise him.

Translated here for the first time is a rare text published in the summer of 1968: no.5 of the second series of the Lettrist journal Youth Uprising, entitled “Between Isou and Marcuse.” In true Lettrist style, Isou (who writes in the third person) both insults and lampoons Marcuse’s “sub-sub-Marxism,” while excessively praising his own philosophical and political rigour. Correct or not in its assessment of Marcuse’s and Isou’s influence on ‘68, this text should be read as one of the first and most explicit attempts at theoretically re-appropriating May. Much of this text is also included into the script for Lemâitre’s 1969 film Youth Uprising – May 68 (this film can be found on display in room 33 at the Pompidou Centre, Paris). While the direct causal relationship between intellectual or theoretical development and political practice must always be subject to suspicion, the often oblique and implicit influence that texts and thoughts have on action must not be overlooked. After all, cannot dialectics break bricks?

Youth Uprising

(Number five)

“Between Isou and Marcuse”

(Summer 68)

*

The differences between the rigorous and reflective system of “Nuclear Economics” and the ersatz sociologist sub-sub-Freudist and sub-sub-Marxist Herbert Marcuse.

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Noam Chomsky Makes Case for Iran Nuclear Deal

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 03:44

by Noam Chomsky

via Telesur

Nothing can compare with the U.S. “war on terror.”

(This article was orginally published in 2015)

The nuclear deal reached between Iran and P5+1 was greeted with relief and optimism throughout the world, with striking exceptions: the U.S. and its closest regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, which are consumed with visceral fear and hatred of all things Iranian. In the U.S, even sober commentary declares Iran to be “the gravest threat to world peace” and warns that we must be vigilant, given the exceptional gravity of the Iranian threat.

It is perhaps of some interest that the world sees the matter differently: it is the United States that is regarded as the gravest threat to world peace (WIN/Gallup). Far below in second place is Pakistan. Iran is ranked well below, along with Israel, North Korea, and Afghanistan.

It is worthwhile to explore the reasons for the concerns of the rejectionist triad. What exactly is the colossal threat of Iran?

The threat can hardly be military. U.S. intelligence years ago concluded that Iran has low military expenditures by regional standards and that its strategic doctrines are defensive, designed to deter aggression; and that “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.”

Details are provided in an April study of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which finds that the Arab Gulf States outspend Iran on military weaponry by a factor of almost 10 to 1. The qualitative difference is even greater. The Arab Gulf states have “some of the most advanced and effective weapons in the world [while] Iran has essentially been forced to live in the past, often relying on systems originally delivered at the time of the Shah,” which are virtually obsolete. The imbalance is of course even greater with Israel, which, along with the most advanced U.S. weaponry and its role as a virtual offshore military base of the global superpower, has a huge stock of nuclear weapons.

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Are You in a BS Job? In Academe, You’re Hardly Alone

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 20:34

by David Graeber

via The Chronicle of Higher Education

I would like to write about the bullshitization of academic life: that is, the degree to which those involved in teaching and academic management spend more and more of their time involved in tasks which they secretly — or not so secretly — believe to be entirely pointless.

For a number of years now, I have been conducting research on forms of employment seen as utterly pointless by those who perform them. The proportion of these jobs is startlingly high. Surveys in Britain and Holland reveal that 37 to 40 percent of all workers there are convinced that their jobs make no meaningful contribution to the world. And there seems every reason to believe that numbers in other wealthy countries are much the same. There would appear to be whole industries — telemarketing, corporate law, financial or management consulting, lobbying — in which almost everyone involved finds the enterprise a waste of time, and believes that if their jobs disappeared it would either make no difference or make the world a better place.

Generally speaking, we should trust people’s instincts in such matters. (Some of them might be wrong, but no one else is in a position to know better.) If one includes the work of those who unwittingly perform real labor in support of all this — for instance, the cleaners, guards, and mechanics who maintain the office buildings where people perform bullshit jobs — it’s clear that 50 percent of all work could be eliminated with no downside. (I am assuming here that provision is made such that those whose jobs were eliminated continue to be supported.) If nothing else, this would have immediate salutary effects on carbon emissions, not to mention overall social happiness and well-being.

Even this estimate probably understates the extent of the problem, because it doesn’t address the creeping bullshitization of real jobs. According to a 2016 survey, American office workers reported that they spent four out of eight hours doing their actual jobs; the rest of the time was spent in email, useless meetings, and pointless administrative tasks. The trend has much less effect on obviously useful occupations, like those of tailors, steamfitters, and chefs, or obviously beneficial ones, like designers and musicians, so one might argue that most of the jobs affected are largely pointless anyway; but the phenomenon has clearly damaged a number of indisputably useful fields of endeavor. Nurses nowadays often have to spend at least half of their time on paperwork, and primary- and secondary-school teachers complain of galloping bureaucratization.

And then there’s higher education.

In most universities nowadays — and this seems to be true almost everywhere — academic staff find themselves spending less and less time studying, teaching, and writing about things, and more and more time measuring, assessing, discussing, and quantifying the way in which they study, teach, and write about things (or the way in which they propose to do so in the future.

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The Art of Not Being Governed: Hill Peoples and Valley Kingdoms in Mainland Southeast Asia

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 14:00

via VOID Network

Published on April 29, 2018 in Global movement

 

For two thousand years, the peoples residing in Zomia — the mountainous region that stretches from the Central Highlands of Vietnam to northeastern India — have fled the organized state societies in the valleys. Far from being ‘remnants’ left behind by civilizing societies, they are “barbarians by choice”, peoples who have deliberately put distance between themselves and lowland, state-centers.

James Scott, director of the Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University, tells the story of the peoples of Zomia and their unlikely odyssey in search of self-determination.

The event was Cornell’s eighth Frank H. Golay Memorial Lecture.

HIST A390: Global anarchism, the Scott Debate and Zomia from ejdennison

____________________________________

You can READ the book The art of not being governed : an anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia – by Scott, James C here:

https://law.yale.edu/system/files/documents/pdf/Intellectual_Life/LTW-Scott.pdf

A book-length anthropological and historical study of the Zomia highlands of Southeast Asia by James C. Scott, first published in 2009.

Zomia is a new name for virtually all the lands at altitudes above roughly three hundred meters all the way from the Central Highlands of Vietnam to northeastern India and traversing five Southeast Asian nations (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Burma) and four provinces of China (Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, and parts of Sichuan). It is an expanse of 2.5 million square kilometers containing about one hundred million minority peoples of truly bewildering ethnic and linguistic variety. Geographically, it is also known as the Southeast Asian mainland massif. Since this huge area is at the periphery of nine states and at the center of none, since it also bestrides the usual regional designations (Southeast Asia, East Asia, South Asia), and since what makes it interesting is its ecological variety as well as its relation to states, it represents a novel object of study, a kind of transnational Appalachia, and a new way to think of area studies.

My thesis is simple, suggestive, and controversial. Zomia is the largest remaining region of the world whose peoples have not yet been fully incorporated into nation-states. Its days are numbered. Not so very long ago, however, such self-governing peoples were the great majority of humankind. Today, they are seen from the valley kingdoms as “our living ancestors,” “what we were like before we discovered wet-rice cultivation, Buddhism, and civilization.” On the contrary, I argue that hill peoples are best understood as runaway, fugitive, maroon communities who have, over the course of two millennia, been fleeing the oppressions of state-making projects in the valleys—slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labor, epidemics, and warfare.

_______________________________________

More books about Anarchism in Void Network Library: http://voidnetwork.gr/library/

Health and Happiness as a Political Organiser – Brief Notes

Sat, 05/05/2018 - 04:57

by Alex Amargi

via WSM.ie

This is a quick article about some of the psychology and health issues of being a political organiser. There is as much to say about this topic time in the universe would allow, as such, this is a brief sketch which will be part of an ongoing series of articles dedicated to mental health and psychology with a particular focus on its application to political organising.

Political organising presents additional challenges to our health. As time goes on, more is said about this. However, it is not enough. As psychological beings, attending to the psychology of organising is as necessary as attending to car mechanics in Formula One. It is a movement-level issue rather than a personal issue for particularly sensitive and damaged people, not just in responsibility but in the scope of its effects.

I understand these matters can be sensitive, and I reassure the reader that the author is
both a committed political organiser and has much experience with the grimmest regions of
mental illness, so approaches the subject with real understanding. I am not writing this
to preach or criticise, but because I care about you and our movement to better the world.

Why Negativity Matters

There is a lot of negativity associated with leftist political organising for a variety of reasons. Before discussing those reasons, let us consider why such negativity is important. There are three basic reasons:

We get personally weighed down, and our lives become less rich. Who wants to feel negative?

We get burned out, and hence are less able to advance our cause. What wants to be incapable?

We produce an atmosphere which many others understandably don’t want to be inside. Who
wants to be involved with a bunch of negative people?

Now, how and why does this negativity manifest? Though its effects are damaging, it is
very understandable. Negativity both manifests in the attitudes of individuals, and in
cultural practices within groups.

How Negativity Manifests

Political organising wouldn’t be necessary unless there were many serious problems in our
world, problems such as war, poverty, ecological destruction, fascism, and the subjugation
of women. Even reading that short list drags one’s mind down a bit.

People who get involved are often cynical from seeing so many bad things happening in the
world. We poke holes in what we see and hear, in the normal narrative. That is good until
we come to identify with always seeing the flaws. There is a widespread belief on the left
that being positive means being naïve or deluded, while being negative means being savvy
and aware. Or, that the worse you feel the more you care. This is actually completely
incorrect, and will be addressed in detail in another article.

Often leftists can get in the habit of complaining for the sake of complaining, either
about people in their circles, other organisations, or in general. It is not uncommon to
sit down with a group of other leftists and engage in a whinge-fest for hours. There is a
difference between measured commentary towards some productive end, and complaining to vent negative emotions. This can produce quite a toxic environment which I wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to avoid.

Even if we don’t decide we want to be negative, it can be challenging to stay upbeat or
calm when repeatedly engaging with injustice. It takes effort to look straight at misery
and not produce your own misery in response. But the vast majority of us – humans, not
just organisers – have picked up maladaptive ways of thinking and acting. We feel the
weight of the world on our shoulders, a responsibility to make changes which, to us, do
not happen fast enough. We hope for a better world, but are disappointed by the reality
and the slowness of change or even regression. So we give up on hope and instead say or
feel that there is no hope. ‘Every cynic is a disappointed idealist’ as George Carlin said.

Why Positivity? (Or, Rationality, Accuracy, and Calm)

The left, being full of proud cynics, tends to think of ‘positivity’ as being synonymous
with being a fool. This is not universally the case, but is a major trend worth remarking
upon. Being positive is seen as a ruse of the American corporate self-help industry,
objectively functioning as a device to control people and cover up for the horrors of society.

Indeed there is a lot of garbage ‘positivity’ out there, but, let us remember, there is a
lot of garbage ‘anarchism’ and ‘socialism’ out there too, so let’s not throw the baby out
with the bathwater. What I am discussing here is not so much ‘positivity’ as being more
rational, accurate, and calm. Why is this important or preferable?

We will live happier lives. Who doesn’t want to be content and at peace?
We will attract more people to our cause. Who doesn’t want a larger movement?
We will burn out less or not at all. Who doesn’t want to be capable and sustainable?
We will have a clearer understanding of the world and clearer plans when we are not
engulfed in negative emotions which cloud our judgment. Who wants to have clouded judgment?
To settle any doubts, this does not mean retreating entirely into our own minds and
ignoring injustices or putting a phony, cloying, happy-clappy gloss on life. We require
neither a miserable smudge nor a happy-clappy gloss.

Helpful Ideas and Techniques

We will now briefly consider some advice from the Stoic philosophers, which was absorbed
into CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) about 2000 years later. I will re-iterate that I
have plenty of personal experience, enough for a lifetime, with the grimmest, nastiest,
regions of mental illness. Accepting and practising this advice is one of the decisive
factors in changing that situation. I say this because some readers will resist the
following passages, and it is important that they know that I am not a naïve, whimsical,
self-help blogger who has skimmed through life and only knows suffering from a textbook.

To begin, let us consider two of the most important facts about our universe.

Firstly, it is not things which make us feel bad, it is our responses to them. Some people
will resonate with this idea. Others will be resistant: ‘don’t tell me it is all in my
head!’. The fact is, though, as long as we allow external events to dictate our mental
state, we will be miserable, always chasing something external which will supposedly make
it better. For every event, we make a value judgment, and that value judgment makes us
feel bad (or good). Often we don’t notice that we do this. Yes, burning my hand on the
cooker will hurt. But burning my hand will not necessarily make me sorrowful, angry,
disappointed, guilty, jealous, hopeless, ashamed, or afraid. That requires a value
judgment. When we change the way we think about the world, the way we feel changes too.

Has a lasting, genuine, liberatory, global revolution happened yet? No. How you respond to
that fact is your choice. The next time you feel bad, ask yourself what you are really
worrying about, and whether it absolutely has to make you feel bad, or could you think
about it another way.

Secondly, there are some things in our control, some things not. Oh truism of truisms! But
as Chomsky said, the great thing about truisms is that they are true. If we cannot control
something, why bother worrying? And if we can control it, why not change it rather than
worry? It is useful to repeatedly consider this in our daily life. Is it in your control
that millions of people from Syria fleeing war and then facing xenophobia in Europe? No.
Do not worry about that. What is in your control is doing your small part to help them. So
don’t worry about that either, just do it. Or perhaps, you have enough to do already. In
that case, none of it is in your control. Don’t waste your time on worry.

The next time you find yourself worrying, carefully decide what part of it is actually in
your control and what part of it actually isn’t.

Conclusion

These two truths are simple and can be quickly and easily stated and understood. But to
put them into practice takes work. What we might call ‘practical wisdom’ is a skill which
requires training over relatively long periods of time, and really our entire lives. It
doesn’t change the fact that someone is trying to take control of your local campaign
group, or that the government cut funding to domestic violence shelters, or that you have
to work for a boss for 8 hours, or that you’ve been sleeping for at most 5 hours per night
since you had a baby. What it does is equip you with the tools to make the best of
whatever situation you are in, including preserving your own equanimity.

There is much more to say, but this article is supposed to be quite short. As said, this
article is part of a series exploring such issues. Look out for further articles in the
series, as these issues of mental health and psychology in conjunction with political
organising will be discussed in much greater detail.

https://wsm.ie/c/health-happiness-political-organiser-brief-notes

Solidarity Economy Part I: Cooperative Development in Rio and Beyond

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 17:25

via RIOOnwatch

When one stops to consider Rio’s hundreds of favelas for their plurality, with a lens of recognizing assets instead of just highlighting problems, one common thread is clear: in the face of public neglect, favela residents are expert at doing things for themselves, many times coming together to do so collectively. There is even a word for this, gambiarra, a native Brazilian Tupi-Guarani word meaning ‘improvised solution.’

There are many examples of this in both consumption and labor: favelas have been practicing collective consumerism since their inception (and well before the “sharing economy” was trendy); favelas come together in mutirão collective work sessions for infrastructure upgrades, such as building sewerage systems or cleaning up abandoned lots; and favelados (favela residents) have come together in work collectives, such as the baking and skills sharing collective Mangarfo featured in the short documentary, Here Is My Place.

These grassroots collective economic practices are all examples of the “solidarity economy” that exists in favelas and in other communities all over Brazil and the world. Solidarity economy has many definitions but, most broadly, is both an umbrella term and a movement that seeks to promote alternative economic structures based on collective ownership and horizontal management instead of private ownership and hierarchical management. Such structures include community banks, credit unions, family agriculture, cooperative housing, barter clubs, consumer cooperatives, and worker cooperatives or collectives, most well-known in Brazil in the industries of recycling and crafts. The goal is to decentralize wealth, root wealth in communities, and financially and politically empower stakeholders participating in these structures toward another, more just, economy.

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Where’s the Winter Palace? On the Marxist-Leninist Trend in the United States

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 16:30

via Libcom

In the United States today, there exists a political trend which describes itself as Marxist-Leninist.

This trend is organized as a loose constellation, orbiting around organizations such as the Workers World Party (WWP) and the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), and to a lesser extent the Freedom Road Socialist Organization-Fight Back (FRSO)1.

Members of this trend associate in forums such as r/communism on Reddit, on Facebook in pages and groups such as Bro, We Are Communist. Problem? and Karl Marx’s Red Reading Room, and on Twitter. Though containing members of all generations2, this contemporary Marxist-Leninist trend has a particular character among millennials, including those in their early thirties or late twenties radicalized during the protests against the Iraq War or in the Occupy Movement, and younger members radicalized during Black Lives Matter or the election of Trump. The authors count ourselves among many others who politically “came of age” within this trend.

This trend is united in support of “Actually Existing Socialism” historically3 and the continued centrality of the “Five Heads” of Marxism-Leninism (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao). They stress the importance of anti-imperialism to revolutionary practice in the “belly of the beast”, and additionally support for national liberation struggles historically and today as well as support for national bourgeois governments which are targeted by U.S. imperialism (e.g. Iran, Syria). This trend upholds Stalin against Trotsky, views Khrushchev as a revisionist, and supports the USSR’s interventions in ‘56 and ‘68. Social Democrats, anarchists, and others denigrate it as Stalinism and condemn its members as “tankies”. Those in the Maoist movement consider it to be revisionism.

The contemporary Marxist-Leninist trend views itself as the continuation of the world communist movement of the twentieth century, including the anti-imperialist struggles of the century more broadly. It proudly sees its own history as being that of the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, and the Cuban Revolution; in the U.S., its local heroes include the Black Panther Party, Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, and so on. Its study guides feature lots of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, and to a lesser degree Stalin and Mao. Its propaganda features, for instance, Thomas Sankara, Fred Hampton, and Fidel Castro.

Stalin provides the canonical definition of Marxism-Leninism historically:

Leninism is Marxism of the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution. To be more exact, Leninism is the theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution in general, the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular. Marx and Engels pursued their activities in the pre-revolutionary period, (we have the proletarian revolution in mind), when developed imperialism did not yet exist, in the period of the proletarians’ preparation for revolution, in the period when the proletarian revolution was not yet an immediate practical inevitability.4

This is a major touchstone for contemporary MLs. Since imperialism still dominates and proletarian revolution is still the aim, ML is considered to be a still-applicable way of approaching politics. Dictatorship of the proletariat is still considered necessary, as is a vanguard party run along democratic centralist lines.5

The Appeal of Marxism-Leninism

We believe there are several positive aspects of U.S. MLism that have drawn millennials into its orbit.

First, MLism, as a revolutionary trend, provides an alternative to the reformist wing of the nascent socialist movement led by the right wing of the DSA, the Jacobin milieu, and the movement around Bernie Sanders. New radicals who were unsatisfied by the prospects of social democracy or the Democratic Party have found a viable option in Marxism-Leninism, which explicitly calls for the total overthrow of the bourgeois State by any means necessary.

Second, MLism prides itself on organizational discipline. This aspect attracted a lot of militants to Leninism in the late 60s due to the disarray of loose New Left organizations such as the original Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). These activists came to realize that “structureless” or “non-hierarchical” formations often meant in practice the despotism of unelected, media-appointed leaders, combined with anti-democratic practices like the refusal of the minority (or worse, individuals) to bow to the decisions of the majority6. Similarly, post-Occupy radicals have turned to more disciplined organizational structures after participating in a movement without clearly defined organizational structures or articulated political goals. Organizational discipline has also appealed to ex-anarchists from the Seattle ‘99 tradition, some of whom have adopted Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and other Leninist trends.

Third, MLism is a trend known for its strong stance on national liberation and anti-imperialism. In the U.S. in particular, the early CPUSA was known for its commitment to Black liberation, especially through organizing sharecroppers in Alabama and placing an emphasis on Harry Haywood’s “Black Belt” thesis, the idea that African-Americans constituted an oppressed nation within the United States. Today, the ML trend participates in popular anti-racist struggles, in particular #BlackLivesMatter as well as anti-imperialist struggles, particularly against U.S. wars in the Middle East. Today’s ML groups largely call for self-determination for oppressed nations as well as the return of land to indigenous peoples. For many young militants, especially radicals of color, this focus on self-determination is a breath of fresh air compared to the class-reductionism that crops up in other U.S. leftist trends.

Fourth, Marxist-Leninists generally hold positive views of the 20th century socialist states. For those who wish to draw positive lessons from this experience, MLism presents an appealing alternative to the Cold War anti-communism often propagated by layers of the reformist, anarchist, and Trotskyist trends.

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Josiah Warren, a Most Unlikely Internationalist

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 16:22

By Shawn P. Wilbur
www.libertarian-labyrinth.org

Josiah Warren was, famously, not a joiner. He habitually quarreled with anyone who suggested that he had followers or had founded a school. By his own account, after his early adventures with Owenite socialism, he only ever joined one organization—but what an organization! It appears that, for roughly a month in the summer of 1873, Josiah Warren was affiliated with Section 26, of Philadelphia, of the International Workingmen’s Association.

Warren was certainly not the only individualist anarchist who took an interest in the I. W. A., and participated to some extent in the activities of its American sections. William B. Greene has been the primary author of an Address of the Internationals, issued by Boston’s French-speaking Section 1, and published by the Heywoods’ Co-operative publishing Company. Various others, such as Joshua King Ingalls and Lewis Masquerier, are supposed to have been affiliated, and the faction around Victoria Woodhull and Stephen Pearl Andrews, pushing a typically Andrusian mix of extreme individualism and integralist centralization, made enough of a nuisance of themselves that they were effectively purged from the International by Marx’s faction even before he dealt with Bakunin. But Warren was not one of those conscious dialectical, or trialectical, or synthesist mutualists. At the end of his life, he showed no evidence that he had read Proudhon, bristling at the phrase “property is theft” like someone unacquainted with any of the subtleties involved. His aversion to connecting interests seems to have extended even to the various “reform leagues” organized by his fellow-radicals—organizations primarily characterized by their almost purely formal character.

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Europe faces ‘biodiversity oblivion’ after collapse in French birds, experts warn

Sat, 04/28/2018 - 18:35

via The Guardian

The “catastrophic” decline in French farmland birds signals a wider biodiversity crisis in Europe which ultimately imperils all humans, leading scientists have told the Guardian.

A dramatic fall in farmland birds such as skylarks, whitethroats and ortolan bunting in France was revealed by two studies this week, with the spread of neonicotinoid pesticides – and decimation of insect life – coming under particular scrutiny.

With intensive crop production encouraged by the EU’s common agricultural policy apparently driving the bird declines, conservationists are warning that many European countries are facing a second “silent spring” – a term coined by the ecologist Rachel Carson to describe the slump in bird populations in the 1960s caused by pesticides.

“We’ve lost a quarter of skylarks in 15 years. It’s huge, it’s really, really huge. If this was the human population, it would be a major thing,” said Dr Benoit Fontaine of France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the new studies, a national survey of France’s common birds. “We are turning our farmland into a desert. We are losing everything and we need that nature, that biodiversity – the agriculture needs pollinators and the soil fauna. Without that, ultimately, we will die.”

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General Strike in South Africa

Sat, 04/28/2018 - 16:11

via Libcom

Cities and rural towns across South Africa were shut down today as the new South African Federation of Trade Unions, which is independent of the ruling ANC, and driven by the militant National Union of Metal Workers, held a successful general strike. The strike was strongly supported by popular organisations organised outside of the factory floor, such as Abahlali baseMjondolo. It is being understood as a clear indication that the ANC has lost its hold over the organised working class.

R20 an hour is an insult, say marchers

By Zoë Postman, Joseph Chirume, Eryn Scannell and Annie Cebulski
GroundUp

25 April 2018

Thousands of workers from the SA Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) marched in several cities on Wednesday calling for a higher minimum wage.

They are demanding a minimum wage of R12,500 a month instead of the R3,500 a month (R20 per hour) which has been proposed. Workers also protested against proposed changes to the law on strikes and to the increase in VAT.

In Johannesburg workers gathered at the Newtown precinct and marched to the Premier’s office, and the offices of the Department of Labour and the Gauteng Department of Social Development. Unions included the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the General Industrial Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA), the National Union Of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW), the South African Liberated Public Sector Workers’ Union (SALIPSWU), the Information Communication and Technology Union (ICTU) and Simunye Workers Forum.

Unions from the Federation of Unions of SA (FEDUSA), the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) and the Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU) did not join the strike.

NUMSA spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said the unions who did not join the strike were saying that “workers must settle in their poverty”.

“COSATU leadership is telling us that half a loaf of bread is better than no bread. But we are saying that is not good enough. We are demanding a decent living minimum wage”, said Hlubi-Majola.

SAFTU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi urged the crowd to maintain discipline. “There are stories that say this strike will turn violent but today we will prove them wrong”, he said.

In Cape Town, thousands of workers marched from Keizersgracht Street to the Civic Centre and Parliament.

“R11 is an insult, R15 is an insult, R18 is an insult, R20 is an insult,” Brightness Matwa, a spokesperson for the Democratised Transport Logistics and Allied Workers Union (DEWATU) said in a speech to workers before the march. “All the proposed wages are an insult.”

Businesses closed their doors as workers and supporters sang and danced down the streets on the way to Parliament. Police escorted the procession on foot and in cars.

“Viva SAFTU!” the crowd sang as the sea of red shirts flooded down the streets.

“I have six kids and I am a single parent,” community care worker Kanyisha Mendela said. “I have two kids who are going to tertiary level next year. Where am I going to get the money?”

Security worker Ntombozuko Bomba, who makes R4,000 a month, said the proposed minimum wage was too low because though he made more, his pay was still inadequate. “Our boss gets R16,000. We can go two months without getting paid because they say they don’t have the money,” Bomba said.

In Port Elizabeth about 1,200 workers marched from Nangoza Jebe hall in New Brighton to City Hall, singing. Some businesses closed along Govan Mbeki Avenue.

Addressing the workers, Numsa president and SAFTU representative Andrew Chirwa said the R20 an hour minimum wage was unacceptable. “People who are propagating that wage are themselves swimming in riches. They don’t know what R20 is worth. Our government has decided to legalise poverty by introducing a wage of R20 an hour.”

Chirwa said the other reason for the strike was to stop employers from conniving with the government against workers. “The employers want to give power to the Minister of Labour to allow or ban strikes. They want to force all of us to vote before a strike and the ballot will be supervised by the Department of Labour — the same department that is not helping workers. Workers are dying of maltreatment but the Department of Labour is doing nothing to stop it. Those who sit in government offices making laws against workers are our enemies.”

The memorandum was handed over to Mzimkhulu Papu of the Department of Labour.

In a statement released on Tuesday, FEDUSA said organised labour initially proposed R4,500 a month but had to bring it down to R3,500 during negotiations so that business would buy in.

“FEDUSA remains fully cognizant that the proposed R20 per hour, translated to R3,500 monthly, is not a living wage, but a minimum wage, recommended for 47% of workers currently earning less than R20 per hour”, the federation said.

COSATU also released a statement, on Monday, saying that the R20 minimum wage would be the foundation of a living wage.

“The minimum wage will be a huge achievement that will see wages rise for the 47% of workers (6 million), who earn less than R20 an hour currently”, COSATU said.

Against Nationalism and War!

Sat, 04/28/2018 - 12:10

via Libcom

May Day 2018 Statement of the Internationalist Communist Tendency.

This is not the happiest of times: Worldwide nationalist tensions, arms races and military conflicts are assuming dramatic proportions as exploitation and oppression are on the increase. These are not consequences of this or that egomaniac or incompetent politician but of the very inner workings of the system.

Economic Stagnation

For the first time in a decade the IMF is not revising down its estimates for global economic growth. For some of capitalism’s cheerleaders this shows that the world economy is on the road to recovery. More sober voices however can point to the reality of this “recovery”. Once again it is predicated on debt – the US revival for example coincides with a huge new expansion in credit card debt. And debt makes the wheels of this system keep on going round. Debt was supposed to shrink via inflation and growth. But, with a low rate of profit, investment has been feeble, and austerity policies have only made matters worse.

According to the Bank for International Settlements the global debt burden was 225% of annual economic output in 2008. Today it stands at 330%. In bald figures Global Debt Monitor in January tell us that global debt (public and private combined) went from $17 trillion in 2006 to an incredible $233 trillion today. We are in a fantasy world where the production of the future is already mortgaged to infinity. The next financial collapse is not only inevitable it is not far off.

However this capitalist economic crisis goes back much further to the end of the post-war boom in the early 1970s. Workers have been paying for it ever since. From 1979 on, wages as a share of GDP have continued to fall as globalisation has brought about the flight of jobs to low wage economies. Today the wealth of the world largely rests in the hands of a few individuals. In the USA, for example, the differential between rich and poor is once again the same as in 1917.

Political Failure

Economic failure is now being translated into political instability. Neo-liberal conservatism (which brought us the 2007-8 collapse) and social democratic Keynesianism (which now cannot fund its welfare state) have both failed to solve the woes of the world. The old established governing parties are losing their grip and their credibility. Whether it is the complete failure of states (as in Syria or South Sudan), Brexit, the election of Trump, political paralysis or the rise of the radical right, wherever we look there is increasing political turmoil.

Much of this turmoil is put down to “populism”. Populism, in one form or another, has always been around but, as long as the old mainstream capitalist parties could pretend that there was some hope that things might get better, it was confined to the margins of the system. For capitalists “populism” now means the rise of alternative forces which they believe will destroy their control over the system.

After 4 decades of economic stagnation the rise of populist organisations has taken several forms. The populism of the Left (Podemos, Syriza, Corbyn’s Labour, Sanders’ “socialism”) channels workers anger into the safety of the ballot box, without having programmes to challenge the system. It will thus fail. The populism of the right is more dangerous since it is built on the politics of fear. Their nationalist message is not only about “America First” or “taking back control” and the like. It is built on hatred of the “other”. Falling living standards? It is the fault of Jews, Muslims, or migrants in general. This has brought about the rise of anti-semitic and Islamophobic attacks as well as those on migrants (themselves already the victims of wars brought to Africa and Asia by the world’s richest capitalist powers).

Trade Wars …

And this rabid nationalism does not end there. In emphasising the need to defend the national economy against “them”, the outsiders and the foreigners, this xenophobia is taking the world down a dangerous road. The global capitalist system grew stronger after World War Two on the basis of the US economy and its institutions which presided over a boom unprecedented in capitalist history.

This all came to an end when the US could no longer maintain the dollar “as good as gold” in 1971. Since then the process has been long and slow but there has been a relative decline in the dominance of the US economy over the rest of the world, disguised by the fact that the rest of the world helps pay for the mountainous US debt by using the dollar as the premier currency of international trade.

Far from China ripping off the world it has been the US through the general use of the dollar that has been getting a free ride. No other country in the world could keep printing its currency to cover its growing debts unless that currency mainly circulated abroad.

When a poor, developing China started building its manufacturing base and increasing its trade with the West a quarter-century ago it did so thanks to US capital. Few imagined that it would now be the world’s industrial giant. China has already surpassed the US in manufacturing output, savings, trade, and even GDP when measured in terms of purchasing power parity.

… and Strategic Wars

The US might still be powerful but the trade conflict unleashed by Trump reveals the extent to which America has lost its dominant global position. Previously the US could ignore the fact that China made revelation of intellectual property and technology secrets a condition for investment in its low cost factories. Now the stakes are higher and they are not just about trade. Trump cited a 1964 law on the defence of US national security for the introduction of his first steel tariff. We are already at the point where a trade war is the precursor of a strategic war. This is not a simple scenario.

With the fall of the USSR American triumphalism about the “end of history” and the beginning of a new world order knew no bounds. However it did not last. The failures in Afghanistan and Iraq have been compounded by the rise of China. The danger in this situation is that there is a complete mismatch between the military power of the US and the rest. Its troops are present nearly everywhere, its navies control the world’s shipping lanes and its spending on defence is much more than twice the Chinese and Russians put together. If China’s growth continues, and its initiatives in Africa and Asia prosper as in the past, the US will be looking at a further diminution of its power.

The pressure for pre-emptive military action is growing and Trump’s recent appointments of Bolton and Pompeo brings the likelihood of that much closer. Behind them lie American think tanks calling for some action to halt China. As we have often written trade wars throughout history have been the precursors to shooting wars. There is no guarantee that the long agony of this economic crisis will not end the same way.

The Only Alternative

The only force that can stop it is the international working class, the majority of the world’s population. Although they have been in retreat for decades suffering unemployment, inflation, restructuring of industry and new methods of exploitation the wage workers of the world are essential to the capitalist system in war and peace. The signs are that after the disorientation caused by the destruction of jobs in the 1980s and 1990s the working class is beginning to re-find itself in a new class composition which refuses to accept just any old conditions. Migrant workers, workers in the gig economy and the proletarianised professional sectors of the wage labouring classes are already beginning to fight back. So far these are just scattered signs and not yet a massive and systematic response to the seriousness of the attack that we have been suffering for a long time but at least they exist.

It is not a moment too soon. The system is sick. Not only is the drive for capitalist profit threatening the peacetime existence of the planet through environmental destruction but the racist solutions of the nationalists threaten wars which could drive humanity back centuries, assuming it survives at all.

Struggles against exploitation, oppression and racism are however only the beginning. Strikes, occupations and protests can build confidence, provide experience, and win concessions from employers and landlords. These elemental struggles need focus and a programme if we are to escape from a situation where every struggle starts from scratch. This May Day, only 4 days before the 200th anniversary of the birth of Marx, we remember his words that “every class struggle is a political struggle”.

Whilst the working class needs its own organs to centralise its struggles across a vast territory, a function played in the past by workers’ councils and assemblies, it also needs an international and internationalist party to provide a long term political vision and consciously guide that struggle in a communist direction. This party is not a government in waiting and certainly not another parliamentary project (as Social Democrats and Stalinists maintain), but a necessary political instrument to unite and guide the movement for emancipation which emerges from the class struggle itself. It is this party which the Internationalist Communist Tendency has dedicated itself to being a part of to fight for a world without classes or states, without exploitation or borders, without famines and wars, in which the freedom of each is condition for the freedom of all.

Internationalist Communist Tendency
May Day 2018

The ‘Anti-imperialism’ of Idiots

Sun, 04/15/2018 - 04:03

by Leila Al Shami

Once more the western ‘anti-war’ movement has awoken to mobilise around Syria. This is the third time since 2011. The first was when Obama contemplated striking the Syrian regime’s military capability (but didn’t) following chemical attacks on the Ghouta in 2013, considered a ‘red line’. The second time was when Donald Trump ordered a strike which hit an empty regime military base in response to chemical attacks on Khan Sheikhoun in 2017. And today, as the US, UK and France take limited military action (targeted strikes on regime military assets and chemical weapons facilities) following a chemical weapons attack in Douma which killed at least 34 people, including many children who were sheltering in basements from bombing.

The first thing to note from the three major mobilisations of the western ‘anti-war’ left is that they have little to do with ending the war. More than half a million Syrians have been killed since 2011. The vast majority of civilian deaths have been through the use of conventional weapons and 94 per cent of these victims were killed by the Syrian-Russian-Iranian alliance. There is no outrage or concern feigned for this war, which followed the regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrators. There’s no outrage when barrel bombs, chemical weapons and napalm are dropped on democratically self-organized communities or target hospitals and rescue workers. Civilians are expendable; the military capabilities of a genocidal, fascist regime are not. In fact the slogan ‘Hands off Syria’ really means ‘Hands off Assad’ and support is often given for Russia’s military intervention. This was evident yesterday at a demonstration organized by Stop the War UK where a number of regime and Russian flags were shamefully on display.

This left exhibits deeply authoritarian tendencies, one that places states themselves at the centre of political analysis. Solidarity is therefore extended to states (seen as the main actor in a struggle for liberation) rather than oppressed or underprivileged groups in any given society, no matter that state’s tyranny. Blind to the social war occurring within Syria itself, the Syrian people (where they exist) are viewed as mere pawns in a geo-political chess game. They repeat the mantra ‘Assad is the legitimate ruler of a sovereign country’. Assad – who inherited a dictatorship from his father and has never held, let alone won, a free and fair election. Assad – whose ‘Syrian Arab Army’ can only regain the territory it lost with the backing of a hotchpotch of foreign mercenaries and supported by foreign bombs, and who are fighting, by and large, Syrian-born rebels and civilians. How many would consider their own elected government legitimate if it began carrying out mass rape campaigns against dissidents? It’s only the complete dehumanization of Syrians that makes such a position even possible. It’s a racism that sees Syrians as incapable of achieving, let alone deserving, anything better than one of the most brutal dictatorships of our time.

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Who Will Take on the 21st Century Tech and Media Monopolies?

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 15:33

via FAIR

by Justin Anderson

After decades of regulatory neglect, Big Tech is finally coming under the microscope.

Facebook is under fire for (among other things) its involvement with Cambridge Analytica, a British data analytics firm funded by hedge fund billionaire and major Republican party donor Robert Mercer and formerly led by President Trump’s ex–campaign manager and strategist Steve Bannon. Cambridge Analytica harvested data from over 87 million Facebook profiles (up from Facebook’s original count of 50 million) without the users’ consent, according to a report by the London Observer (3/17/18) sourced to a whistleblower who worked at Cambridge Analytica until 2014.

The users’ personal data was gathered through a survey app created by a Cambridge Analytica–associated academic named Aleksandr Kogan, who used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk micro-work platform and Qualtrics survey platform to gather and pay over 240,000 survey-takers. The data collected was then used by Cambridge Analytica to comb through the political preferences of the survey takers and their Facebook friends, without their knowledge, to create individual “psychographic models” that would then allow for entities (like the Trump presidential campaign) to target them with personalized political advertisements and news.

Worse than the breach itself, Facebook apparently knew about this data-harvesting for years, and in fact, according to another whistleblower who worked at the social media giant itself (Guardian, 3/20/18), had a policy of allowing developers to gather user data by linking apps with Facebook logins, as Cambridge Analytica did through its partnership with Kogan and his survey app. While Facebook changed its terms of service in 2015 to prevent this, the company maintains that it is not at fault for the breach. Still, Facebook failed to report the breach to their users, and then threatened to sue the Guardian (owners of the Observer) upon publication of the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower’s testimony.

Facebook also recently suspended New York–based analytics firm CubeYou from their platform for using similar data-harvesting tactics for targeted advertising under the guise of academic study, which Kogan has described as common practice in the ad industry.

The use of consumer data harvested through Facebook and other online platforms for micro-targeted political content has raised questions about privacy and the potential for abuse, particularly in regard to the proliferation of so-called “fake news” in the run-up to the Brexit vote and the 2016 US presidential election; the involvement of Trump adviser Steve Bannon and billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer in Cambridge Analytica only heightens those concerns. In response to the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, the British Information Commissioner’s Office is now inquiring into whether Facebook violated the country’s privacy standards

The Data Duopoly and the Media Oligopoly

Comcast‘s media assets—from “The Six Companies That Own (Almost) All Media” (WebpageFX)

Fueling the scandal is Facebook’s dominant position in advertising, the source of almost all of the company’s $40 billion in annual revenue. Alphabet, the parent company of Google (whose ad revenue totals over $74 billion annually), and Facebook arguably maintain a duopoly over digital advertising. Together, the two internet giants account for just under 60 percent of all non-China digital ad revenues in the world in 2017, according to eMarketer, a digital research firm. Similarly, the two companies are also responsible for 70 percent of referral traffic for web publishers.

The consolidation of social media, web search and internet platforms among just a few players is central to this dominance in advertising: Facebook also owns the popular messaging app WhatsApp and the photo-sharing service Instagram, while Google owns the massive video platform YouTube.

Waves of consolidation in the technology, telecom and entertainment industries have concentrated power over media content and delivery into just a handful of companies. Today, there are only a few dominant players in each industry:

  • Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft rule the social media, search, e-commerce and digital advertising domains.
  • Comcast, Verizon, Charter and AT&T are the only internet service providers in most locations throughout the US, and often don’t compete with one another in specific regions and cities.
  • Comcast, the Walt Disney Company (which recently acquired 21st Century Fox), News Corp, Time Warner and National Amusements (owner of CBS and Viacom) have conglomerated the majority of US media and entertainment properties.

While these companies have vertically integrated themselves to staggering degrees in their industries, what’s worse is the increasing pace at which they have sought to consolidate horizontally across sectors. Social media, internet and phone service providers, newspapers, television, radio, sports, magazines, book publishers and streaming services are all increasingly intertwined below just a few owners, creating conflicts of interest in pricing and providing content.

It is no wonder that a news station like MSNBC, owned by the cable giant Comcast, would be reluctant to take on antitrust regulation or adjacent issues like net neutrality on its shows. Or why the Washington Post, owned by Amazon CEO (and world’s richest billionaire) Jeff Bezos, publishes puff pieces on the supposed benefits Amazon’s new headquarters could provide to potential locations.

Giving a Green Light

The consolidation in these industries results from the green light given to mergers and acquisitions by recent presidential administrations, who are supposed to maintain oversight of anti-competitive practices through the antitrust divisions of the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.

A casual observer might think the Trump administration has broken this trend and taken a hard line against corporate consolidation. AT&T’s bid to merge with Time Warner was blocked by the Justice Department on the grounds that AT&T, an internet service provider, could choose to favor media content owned by Time Warner—like its properties CNN, TNT and HBO—over that of its competitors, and ultimately increase prices for consumers.

But when then-candidate Donald Trump vowed on the campaign trail to block the merger, he explicitly linked it to CNN’s negative coverage of himself: “They’re trying desperately to suppress my vote and the voice of the American people,” he told supporters (Reuters, 10/22/16):

As an example of the power structure I’m fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.

CNN (10/22/16) covers Trump’s attack on CNN.

Trump’s overt, ongoing hostility toward CNN complicates the DoJ’s case against the merger, as the prospect of a president ordering antitrust action against a media company because he objects to the way it covers him raises serious First Amendment alarms. AT&T and Time Warner have taken legal action against the DoJ, maintaining that the merger would allow them to better compete with large tech conglomerates like Facebook, Amazon and Google, who are increasingly creating their own media content.

In the same campaign speech (The Hill, 10/22/16), Trump singled out the owners of two other frequent targets of his wrath, NBC and the Washington Post:

Comcast‘s purchase of NBC concentrates far too much power in one massive entity that is trying to tell the voters what to think and what to do. Deals like this destroy democracy….

Likewise Amazon, which through its ownership controls the Washington Post, should be paying massive taxes but its not paying, and it’s a very unfair playing field.

Trump has continued a crusade against Amazon for its favorable contracts with the US postal service. But even as Trump raises concerns about concentration by particular media companies that have raised his ire, in practice he’s been generally very tolerant of corporate consolidation: In its first year, his administration allowed a hefty $1.2 trillion worth of mergers and acquisitions, the most of any president’s first year. His FCC has facilitated the continued consolidation of the majority of local television and radio affiliates under Sinclair Broadcasting (FAIR.org, 5/8/17), a conservative media conglomerate with close ties to the Trump administration that has been steadily increasing its share of local media markets since 2004.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s record on antitrust doesn’t look much different. While Obama did block some consolidation efforts, including the mergers of AT&T and T-Mobile, as well as that of Comcast and Time Warner, many large media and technology mergers and acquisitions during the Obama years have resulted in corporate behemoths with the power to stifle innovation, discourage competition and increase prices. These mergers and acquisitions include Comcast and NBC Universal, AT&T and DirecTV, Charter and Time Warner Cable, Facebook and Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp, Microsoft and LinkedIn, and Live Nation and Ticketmaster, among many others.

Why worry about antitrust when you can hire the antitrust regulators (IBT, 6/27/17)?

One sign of a dysfunctional antitrust system is the revolving door for agency heads, civil servants and government officials who go to work for companies that they formerly regulated (or failed to regulate), either working for them directly or working for the large private law firms that represent them. An egregious example is Obama’s first DoJ antitrust chief, Christine Varney, who now works for Cravath, Swaine & Moore, the law firm representing Time Warner in the AT&T merger lawsuit. (United Airlines, whose merger with Continental was approved during Varney’s tenure, is another Cravath client.) Obama’s last DoJ antitrust chief, Renata Hesse, now at the New York law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, was a lead advisor for Amazon in its takeover of Whole Foods.

Perhaps the most damning case is Obama’s FTC chair Jon Leibowitz, who was criticized for his agency’s leniency towards Google—a company on intimate terms with the Obama White House. Leibowitz and his fellow FTC commissioners rejected staff recommendations for antitrust action against the search giant. Leibowitz’s new employer, New York law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, lists Google among its clients. Leibowitz is also the chair of the 21st Century Privacy Coalition, a trade group funded by Comcast, AT&T and Verizon that backed a successful Republican effort to overturn Obama-era FTC privacy regulations, winning the ability to share customers’ data without their permission.

Combating Corporate Concentration

Clearly, the impact of the revolving door between government agencies and Big Law is a problem in regulating antitrust. However, US antitrust laws and enforcement themselves are often insufficient in tackling the issues central to consolidation in technology and media. Antitrust policy since the late 1970s has generally focused on the short-term interests of consumers—meaning low prices—at the expense of the overall health of market sectors and long-term consumer protection, according to Lina Khan, director of legal policy at the Open Markets Institute. (The anti-monopoly institute was housed at the New America Foundation until complaints by Eric Schmidt, the former executive chair of Google and a large donor to the Foundation, prompted a severing of ties.)

Of course, with web companies like Facebook or Google, the fundamental maxim for ad-based platforms still holds: if it’s free, you are the product. Advertisers are indeed the true customers in this business model. With no “costs” to consumers in a dollar sense, measuring the pitfalls of consolidation by looking at prices available to consumers is inadequate for determining whether a company like Google or Facebook should be regulated for antitrust reasons.

Companies like Amazon pose a similar threat to long-term economic health. Amazon’s strategy of accruing market share in the cloud computing and e-commerce sectors through aggressive business tactics and investment (not to mention massive government contracts), rather than pursuit of quarterly profit, actually lowers prices on goods for most consumers, but at the same time destroys brick-and-mortar retail stores and limits overall consumer choice in the long run. Similarly, the shift towards an all-online economy, with infrastructure largely controlled by Amazon, contributes to huge job losses and depresses wages.

Amazon, Facebook and Google, along with other internet and media companies that have cross-sector investments, like Comcast or AT&T, reap their gains from network effects, meaning that the ease of availability and usability of their platforms locks customers into using that company’s other products, while giving them the opportunity to engage in predatory pricing against other competitors to drive them out of businesses.

This is especially damaging with cross-sector consolidation. For example, if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, and have a choice between shopping at Whole Foods, where you can get discounts for being a Prime member, or some other grocery store without the same perks, you will likely choose Whole Foods for the lower prices. However, these low prices have the potential to price other grocery stores out of the market, consolidating the market further and decreasing consumer choice and competition.

The same goes for social media like Facebook and Google for search engines, whose market dominance leads to control of smaller platforms like Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube, and ultimately creates behemoths with power over consumer data that is hard to challenge, because they make their platforms so convenient and universal. After all, the major benefits of a social network like Facebook is having all your friends in one place, while having a video platform like YouTube with the highest possible amount of videos seems to make sense.

“Unlike a traditional monopoly whose power stems from its control over the production and pricing of a single good, a platform draws its power from its position as a kind of middleman, a broker that controls the relationship with producers and consumers alike,” argues K. Sabeel Rahman (Boston Review, 5/4/15). 

One remedy would be stricter enforcement of privacy and data protections in Facebook and Google’s terms of service, and making these protections clear to consumers so that they know their rights. Paying consumers for their data could also be a useful solution, as internet activist Tim Wu (New Yorker, 8/14/15) has suggested. Open Markets director Barry Lynn and fellow Matthew Stoller (Guardian, 3/22/18) have advocated for spinning off Facebook’s ad network, in addition to calling for strict fines against executives if the company is found to have knowingly violated a 2011 FTC consent decree that stipulated that Facebook not share its users’ data to third parties without permission.

Another strategy could be treating the companies that handle massive amounts of data, particularly internet and digital advertising giants like Facebook and Google, as public utilities, which Big Tech has long been fearful of. After all, it is hard to live and work in our society these days without using search engines or social media. This strategy would recognize the monopoly that Facebook and Google (as well as Amazon and internet service providers like Comcast or AT&T) have in their respective sectors, but would entrench and enforce policies of non-discrimination against outside platforms and content and would limit the potential for rate-setting. However, calls for regulating consumer credit reporting company Equifax as a public utility after its massive 2017 data breach have not yet materialized.

Most importantly, the forest must not be missed for the trees: the fight over data protection and privacy must not obscure the importance of stronger antitrust regulation. New mergers and acquisitions should be scrutinized more harshly than they have in past presidential administrations. Past cross-sector mergers and acquisitions, especially in media, should be reviewed and potentially rolled back.

Turning the Tables on Tech

It seems as though the tide is beginning to turn against Big Tech consolidation. The European Union has taken an aggressive stance against the monopoly power of Facebook and Google and their policies on the protection (or lack thereof) of the data of its users.

For example, Facebook’s data practices, such as default privacy settings that automatically revealed users’ locations, were ruled illegal in Germany in February. Spain’s data protection agency fined Facebook €1.2 million over such policies, which also involved the collection and sale of data on personal beliefs without notifying users. France fined the company its data regulation agency’s maximum of €150,000 last May for compiling data from non-users without their consent for targeted advertising using third-party website cookies and plug-ins. Fines and legal proceedings against Facebook over its data collection and privacy policies have been taken up by Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium as well. The European Commission also fined Facebook €110 million—about 0.3 percent of the company’s 2017 revenues—for misleading regulators during its acquisition of WhatsApp.

The European Union has rolled out a new law on handling data, the General Data Protection Regulation, that will go into effect on May 25, 2018. The law will have far-reaching effects on Facebook and other data-centric companies like Google, particularly in maintaining user consent for data collection, and will come with harsh penalties for violation: Fines can amount to 4 percent of a company’s annual global revenue. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has not yet committed to applying European privacy laws to the company’s privacy policy outside of the EU.

Google has also come under fire in the EU, and is currently under investigation by the European Commission over the way its Android mobile operating system (a clear monopoly, with 80 percent of the European mobile market) automatically pre-installs Google apps. Additionally, the EU has fined Google €2.4 billion—about 2.7 percent of 2017 revenues—for using its search engine monopoly to give preferential treatment to its Google Shopping service.

Facebook makes its own reality through lobbying efforts (LA Times, 3/20/18).

In the US, signs of life are appearing as well, partially because the Cambridge Analytica scandal galvanized opposition to Facebook. Politicians in both parties have begun to speak out in favor of stricter antitrust regulation. The FTC has opened an investigation into Facebook over its privacy practices, while Zuckerberg is set to testify April 10 before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees. Zuckerberg is also set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 11, and has released his testimony.

Still, the fight against the lack of data protection and privacy and the continued consolidation in tech and media will be a tough one: Facebook is reportedly beefing up its lobbying efforts in DC, and is currently lobbying against privacy laws in California and Illinois. Additionally, many top Democrats have close ties with large tech companies. For the Democratic Party, safeguarding the sanctity of privacy and choice would mean breaking with these powerful allies in tech and media.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has shown, once again, that these large tech and media companies cannot be trusted to police themselves. In order to win the battle over data protection and privacy, individuals will need to demand that the social media, search, technology and media platforms that we use and consume every day, and which constitute such an oversized part of our culture and social interactions, are regulated with greater zeal than has been applied in recent decades.

Ian MacKaye’s Visceral Relationship with Life

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 22:48

via Psychology Today

“You tell me that I make no difference

At least I’m f*ckin’ trying

What the f*ck have you done?

It’s in my eyes

And it doesn’t look that way to me

In my eyes”

From “In My Eyes” by Minor Threat

Ian MacKaye was not always “Ian MacKaye.”

It is only now with the benefit of historical perspective that we can properly evaluate how groundbreaking MacKaye’s music, personal ethos and business model have been. MacKaye not only helped shape hardcore punk with his bands Teen Idles and Minor Threat, but also he went on to create the “post-hardcore” music genre with his band Fugazi.

And when MacKaye came into the punk rock scene, “sex, drugs and rock and roll” was the norm. However, MacKaye decided that he did not want to numb himself out. And with the song, “Straight Edge,” he inspired others to take on a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle, giving birth to the Straight Edge punk rock sub-culture.

Prior to MacKaye co-founding the record label, Dischord Records in 1979, most bands sought only to play music while leaving the “business” of the band to labels, managers and other handlers. Bands typically had very little interest or say in things such as ticket and album prices or whether shows were accessible to kids.

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