|Lakkis (Al-Manar TV)|
Last night’s assassination of senior Hizbullah military figure Hasan Lakkis (??????) was the latest direct attack on Hizbullah and Iranian interests in Lebanon. Just before it, Hizbullah keader Hasan Nasrallah had blamed the bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut on Saudi Arabia, but Hizbullah quickly and reflexively blamed Israel for Killis. What is interesting is that Israel, instead of declining comment as it usually does in such cases, flatly denied the accusation and said it was likely Sunni elements.
That underscores the increasingly complex situation in Lebanon (though it doesn’t mean Israel didn’t do it), where Hizbullah is deeply embroiled in both the conflict with Israel and the civil war in Syria, as well as broader regional sectarian rivalries. Discussing suspects quickly takes on a Murder on the Orient Express feel: everyone has a motive. Even if we leave out conflicts within Hizbullah or with other Shi‘ite elements, reasonable suspects would include Israel; Syrian rebels; Lebanese Sunnis; Saudi Arabia; Jordan; Turkey; France; and the US. If he had been killed by a drone I’d put the US first (though Israel has used them this way in Gaza), but he was shot at close range, so I think the US is probably off the hook on this one, though unlikely to send flowers.
I’m not sure it matters, or if we’ll ever know for sure. For decades, Hizbullah mostly limited itself to Lebanon and Israel, or to US targets in the region. By throwing itself openly into the Syrian conflict it has found itself with a whole spectrum of new enemies, and further destabilized Lebanon, which more than ever seems to deserve the title Michael Hudson used in his 1968 (several wars ago) book, The Precarious Republic.
Tunisian oud jazz by Dhafer Youseff
For more on the artist see CCTV :
This video interview with Talal Asad (Professor of Anthropology, Graduate Center of
the City University of New York), recorded in 2008, is well worth watching. Harry Kreisler welcomes Professor Talal Asad who reflects on his life and work as an anthropologist focusing on religion, modernity, and the complex relationships between Islam and the West.
“… Yesterday, Dick Cheney lackey John Hannah wrote a remarkable screed about Saudi complaints. It starts by warning that Obama’s Iran deal’s “greatest impact is not ensuring that Iran doesn’t get the bomb, but that the Saudis will.” In part to support this, he describes Mr. Tip of the Spear’s close consultations with the Pakistanis (who not only have the bomb but have thousands of our troops held hostage to supply lines through Pakistan).
“… Bandar is now clearly the tip of the spear in King Abdullah’s efforts to combat the Iranian threat around the region — not to mention the principal point of contact in the kingdom’s thick relationship with Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment…”
“… An atmosphere this poisonous is dangerous, to say the least. The incentive for the Saudis to engage in all kinds of self-help that Washington would find less than beneficial, even destructive, is significant and rising. Driven into a corner, feeling largely abandoned by their traditional superpower patron, no one should doubt that the Saudis will do what they believe is necessary to ensure their survival. It would be a mistake to underestimate their capacity to deliver some very unpleasant surprises: from the groups they feel compelled to support in their escalating proxy war with Iran, to the price of oil, to their sponsorship (and bankrolling) of a much expanded regional role for Russia and China at America’s expense….”
Go to Source
“… Believing that this interruption will be brief, the US has called for the transport trucks to wait in holding areas in Afghanistan. Will these holding areas be the sites of the next “tactical success” for opponents of US policy?…”
Detroit can go into bankruptcy, a judge has ruled. Likely it means that workers’ pensions will be at least in part stolen from them.
It is a good occasion to reprint this recent piece on post-industrial decline, robots and the future of capital and labor:
The big question is whether Detroit’s bankruptcy and likely further decline is a fluke or whether it tells us something about the dystopia that the United States is becoming. It seems to me that the city’s problems are the difficulties of the country as a whole, especially the issues of deindustrialization, robotification, structural unemployment, the rise of the 1% in gated communities, and the racial divide. The mayor has called on families living in the largely depopulated west of the city to come in toward the center, so that they can be taken care of. It struck me as post-apocalyptic. Sometimes the abandoned neighborhoods accidentally catch fire, and 30 buildings will abruptly go up in smoke.
Detroit had nearly 2 million inhabitants in its heyday, in the 1950s. When I moved to southeast Michigan in 1984, the city still had over a million. I remember that at the time of the 1990 census, its leaders were eager to keep the status of a million-person city, since there were extra Federal monies for an urban area of that size, and they counted absolutely everyone they could find. They just barely pulled it off. But in 2000 the city fell below a million. In 2010 it was 714,000 or so. Google thinks it is now 706,000. There is no reason to believe that it won’t shrink on down to almost nothing.
The foremost historian of modern Detroit, Thomas J. Sugrue, has explained the city’s decline. First of all, Detroit grew from 400,000 to 1.84 million from 1910-1950 primarily because of the auto industry and the other industries that fed it (machine tools, spare parts, services, etc.) From 1950 until now, two big things happened to ruin the city with regard to industry. The first was robotification. The automation of many processes in the factories led to fewer workers being needed, and produced unemployment. (It was a trick industrial capitalism played on the African-Americans who flocked to Detroit in the 1940s to escape being sharecroppers in Georgia and elsewhere in the deep South, that by the time they got settled the jobs were beginning to disappear). Then, the auto industry began locating elsewhere, along with its support industries, to save money on labor or production costs or to escape regulation.
The refusal of the white population to allow African-American immigrants to integrate produced a strong racial divide and guaranteed inadequate housing and schools to the latter. Throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s, you had substantial white flight, of which the emigration from the city after the 1967 riots was a continuation. The white middle and business classes took their wealth with them to the suburbs, and so hurt the city’s tax base. That decrease in income came on top of the migration of factories. The fewer taxes the city brought in, the worse its services became, and the more people fled. The black middle class began departing in the 1980s and now is mostly gone.
Other observers have suggested other concomitants of the decline, like poor city planning or the inability to attract foreign immigrants in sufficient numbers. I suspect that the decline of Detroit as a port is important somehow to the story (only one of the four old locks at Sault St. Marie lets big ships come down to the lower Great Lakes and therefore to Detroit any more. A new, big [pdf] modern lock is being built to accommodate larger vessels, but it will be a decade before it opens. Some observers point out that Detroit would make sense as a Midwest hub port for international shipping containers if its harbor was expanded and linked by rail to the cities of the region, but I suspect the new lock at the Soo is a prerequisite.
After all these decades of dashed hopes, it is hard for me to take too seriously any assertions that the city is about to turn the corner or that some renewal project is about to succeed. At this point it seems to me a question of whether you retain some of the population that will otherwise leave. I find particularly unlikely the idea that urban farming is part of the solution. It sounds cute, but farmers don’t make nearly as much money as urban industrial workers, which is why they mostly went to the cities. You can’t put money into a city that way.
While other cities have avoided Detroit’s extreme fate, I think the nation as a whole faces some of the intractable problems that the city does, and I don’t think we have a solution for them.
Take robots (and I really just mean highly mechanized and computerized production of commodities). More and more factory work is automated, and advances in computer technology could well make it possible to substantially increase productivity. This rise of the robots violates the deal that the capitalists made with American consumers after the great Depression, which is that they would provide people with well-paying jobs and the workers in turn would buy the commodities the factories produced, in a cycle of consumerism. If the goods can be produced without many workers, and if the workers then end up suffering long-term unemployment (as Detroit does), then who will buy the consumer goods? Capitalism can survive one Detroit, but what if we are heading toward having quite a few of them?
It seems to me that we need to abandon capitalism as production becomes detached from human labor. I think all robot labor should be nationalized and put in the public sector, and all citizens should receive a basic stipend from it. Then, if robots make an automobile, the profits will not go solely to a corporation that owns the robots, but rather to all the citizens. It wouldn’t be practical anyway for the robots to be making things for unemployed, penniless humans. Perhaps we need a 21st century version of ‘from all according to their abilities, to all according to their needs.’
Communally-owned mechanized/ computerized forms of production would also help resolve the problem of increasing income inequality in the United States. The top 1% is now taking home 20% of the national income each month, up from 10% a few decades ago. The 1% did a special number on southeast Michigan with its derivatives and unregulated mortgage markets; the 2008 crash hit the region hard, and it had already been being hit hard. The Detroit area is a prime example of the blight that comes from having extreme wealth (Bloomfield Hills, Grosse Pointe) and extreme poverty (most of Detroit) co-existing in an urban metropolitan area. It doesn’t work. The wealthy have no city to play in, and the city does not have the ability to tax or benefit from the local wealthy in the suburbs. These problems are exacerbated by de facto racial segregation, such that African-Americans are many times more likely to be unemployed than are whites, and to live in urban blight rather than in nice suburbs.
The crisis of capitalism is being delayed in part because of the rise of Asia and the emergence of new consumer markets in places with rapidly growing populations. American corporations have relocated to those places with increasing numbers of people and cheap labor, leaving working communities like Detroiters abandoned and idle. US companies are making goods in Vietnam to sell to middle class Chinese and Indians. But the world population will level off in 2050 and probably will decline thereafter. At that point, consumerism will have reached its limits, since there will be fewer consumers every year thereafter. (There is also the problem that classical 1940s and 1950s consumerism is environmentally unsustainable).
With robot labor, cheap wind and solar power, and a shrinking global population, post-2050 human beings could have universally high standards of living. They could put their energies into software creation, biotech, and artistic creativity, which are all sustainable. The stipend generated by robot labor would be a basic income for everyone, but they’d all be free to see if they could generate further income from entrepreneurship or creativity. And that everyone had a basic level of income would ensure that there were buyers for the extra goods or services. This future will depend on something like robot communalism, and an abandonment of racism, so that all members of the commune are equal and integrated into new, sustainable urban spaces.
Insisting on a 19th century political economy like barracuda capitalism in the face of the rise of mechanized smart labor and the decline of human-based industry produces Detroit. Racial segregation and prejudice produces Detroit. Shrinking and starving government and cutting services while forcing workers to work for ever shrinking wages (or even forcing them out of the labor market altogether) produces Detroit. In essence, Detroit is the natural outgrowth of the main principles of today’s Tea Party-dominated Republican Party. It doesn’t work, and isn’t the future.
The future is not Detroit or today’s GOP-dominated state legislature in Lansing. It is Something Else. Michigan’s slow, painful decline is trying to tell us something, that robots, race and unhealthy forms of globalization are death to cities under robber baron rules. We need new rules.
Among the many reasons for the popularity of banning alcohol in the US then were the concern of industrialists such as Henry Ford for the creation of a sober, industrious working class. Prohibition was in part intended to regiment and control working people and ensure they were productive, generating profits of which the corporations captured the lion’s share. Prejudice against German-Americans and their beer-making, in the wake of WW I, played a role, as well. The massive wave of immigration from southern and eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean (including Italians, Poles Jews and Lebanese/Syrians) also induced fears of rowdy foreign immigrants among the middle class Protestant women of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The Ku Klux Klan was implicated in the anti-saloon movement and helped enforce prohibition, becoming a major force in states like Indiana (which it took over politically) and in the then Democratic Party. That is, Prohibition was about race and class in some large part.
The prohibition of marijuana, which had been legal most of American history, was also about race and class, and U.S. Commissioner of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger, deployed fear of Mexican immigrant labor to convince Congress to enact the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Fear of African-Americans, white youth and jazz were also drivers of this legislation.
Despite the hysteria about immigrants and the burgeoning blue collar class, the mainstream of America abolished prohibition on December 5, 1933. Among the goals of the anti-dry politicians was to jump-start business in the early years of the Great Depression and to generate tax-revenue. (Restaurants, for instance, are seldom profitable without liquor licenses; when they are successful, they pay taxes. And covert speakeasies paid no taxes because they were illegal. In 1933 they could become legitimate bars and become part of the tax base for an impoverished city, e.g.)
Some 90% of the American population is still in the Great Bush Depression that began in 2008. Only the stockholders have really recovered. The actual unemployment rate is historically high, a fact hidden by the tinkering with the definition of unemployment. Shouldn’t we now be as pragmatic as FDR, and seek prohibition of marijuana, as well. It would be a boon to the economy and to a government burdened by debt. And, shouldn’t we be embarrassed, as a country with a very large and important Latino community, of the racist origins of this Prohibition? And, are we still afraid of youth and jazz?
Jared Anderson at Breaking Energy writes of technologies for solar power storage that allow the energy generated by the sun to be released at night:
“a US-based company will jump ahead of the competition next year with its molten salt storage technique.
“This technology at this size would leap-frog us into [energy] storage leaders,” Solar Reserve CEO Kevin Smith recently told Breaking Energy.
The California-based, PE-backed startup launches its flagship 110 MW concentrated solar power (CSP) project known as Crescent Dunes next year in the Nevada desert. The technology uses a tower-based approach where thousands of mirrors focus sunlight onto a single point to create heat that generates steam used to spin an electricity-producing turbine. First power to the grid is expected mid-2014.”
Five plants like the one Solar Reserve is completing in Nevada would be equivalent to one of the nearly 600 US coal-fired plants, which generate the majority of greenhouse gases and air pollution put out in America. Closing all coal plants within ten years would make a tremendous contribution to avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
Spain’s Abengoa solar energy firm has already just opened a 250 megawatt molten salt solar energy plant in Arizona, but Anderson seems to be saying that Solar Reserve’s tower technology is distinctive.
By Peter Van Buren
What if Edward Snowden was made to disappear? No, I’m not suggesting some future CIA rendition effort or a who-killed-Snowden conspiracy theory of a disappearance, but a more ominous kind.
What if everything a whistleblower had ever exposed could simply be made to go away? What if every National Security Agency (NSA) document Snowden released, every interview he gave, every documented trace of a national security state careening out of control could be made to disappear in real-time? What if the very posting of such revelations could be turned into a fruitless, record-less endeavor?
Am I suggesting the plot for a novel by some twenty-first century George Orwell? Hardly. As we edge toward a fully digital world, such things may soon be possible, not in science fiction but in our world — and at the push of a button. In fact, the earliest prototypes of a new kind of “disappearance” are already being tested. We are closer to a shocking, dystopian reality that might once have been the stuff of futuristic novels than we imagine. Welcome to the memory hole.
Even if some future government stepped over one of the last remaining red lines in our world and simply assassinated whistleblowers as they surfaced, others would always emerge. Back in 1948, in his eerie novel 1984, however, Orwell suggested a far more diabolical solution to the problem. He conjured up a technological device for the world of Big Brother that he called “the memory hole.” In his dark future, armies of bureaucrats, working in what he sardonically dubbed the Ministry of Truth, spent their lives erasing or altering documents, newspapers, books, and the like in order to create an acceptable version of history. When a person fell out of favor, the Ministry of Truth sent him and all the documentation relating to him down the memory hole. Every story or report in which his life was in any way noted or recorded would be edited to eradicate all traces of him.
In Orwell’s pre-digital world, the memory hole was a vacuum tube into which old documents were physically disappeared forever. Alterations to existing documents and the deep-sixing of others ensured that even the sudden switching of global enemies and alliances would never prove a problem for the guardians of Big Brother. In the world he imagined, thanks to those armies of bureaucrats, the present was what had always been — and there were those altered documents to prove it and nothing but faltering memories to say otherwise. Anyone who expressed doubts about the truth of the present would, under the rubric of “thoughtcrime,” be marginalized or eliminated.
Government and Corporate Digital Censorship
Increasingly, most of us now get our news, books, music, TV, movies, and communications of every sort electronically. These days, Google earns more advertising revenue than all U.S. print media combined. Even the venerable Newsweek no longer publishes a paper edition. And in that digital world, a certain kind of “simplification” is being explored. The Chinese, Iranians, and others are, for instance, already implementing web-filtering strategies to block access to sites and online material of which their governments don’t approve. The U.S. government similarly (if somewhat fruitlessly) blocks its employees from viewing Wikileaks and Edward Snowden material (as well as websites like TomDispatch) on their work computers — though not of course at home. Yet.
Great Britain, however, will soon take a significant step toward deciding what a private citizen can see on the web even while at home. Before the end of the year, almost all Internet users there will be “opted-in” to a system designed to filter out pornography. By default, the controls will also block access to “violent material,” “extremist and terrorist related content,” “anorexia and eating disorder websites,” and “suicide related websites.” In addition, the new settings will censor sites mentioning alcohol or smoking. The filter will also block “esoteric material,” though a UK-based rights group says the government has yet to make clear what that category will include.
And government-sponsored forms of Internet censorship are being privatized. New, off-the-shelf commercial products guarantee that an organization does not need to be the NSA to block content. For example, the Internet security company Blue Coat is a domestic leader in the field and a major exporter of such technology. It can easily set up a system to monitor and filter all Internet usage, blocking web sites by their address, by keywords, or even by the content they contain. Among others, Blue Coat software is used by the U.S. Army to control what its soldiers see while deployed abroad, and by the repressive governments in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Burma to block outside political ideas.
In a sense, Google Search already “disappears” material. Right now Google is the good guy vis-à-vis whistleblowers. A quick Google search (0.22 seconds) turns up more than 48 million hits on Edward Snowden, most of them referencing his leaked NSA documents. Some of the websites display the documents themselves, still labeled “Top Secret.” Less than half a year ago, you had to be one of a very limited group in the government or contractually connected to it to see such things. Now, they are splayed across the web.
Google — and since Google is the planet’s number one search engine, I’ll use it here as a shorthand for every search engine, even those yet to be invented — is in this way amazing and looks like a massive machine for spreading, not suppressing, news. Put just about anything on the web and Google is likely to find it quickly and add it into search results worldwide, sometimes within seconds. Since most people rarely scroll past the first few search results displayed, however, being disappeared already has a new meaning online. It’s no longer enough just to get Google to notice you. Getting it to place what you post high enough on its search results page to be noticed is what matters now. If your work is number 47,999,999 on the Snowden results, you’re as good as dead, as good as disappeared. Think of that as a starting point for the more significant forms of disappearance that undoubtedly lie in our future.
Hiding something from users by reprogramming search engines is one dark step to come. Another is actually deleting content, a process as simple as transforming the computer coding behind the search process into something predatory. And if Google refuses to implement the change-over to “negative searches,” the NSA, which already appears to be able to reach inside Google, can implant its own version of malicious code as it has already done in at least 50,000 instances.
But never mind the future: here’s how a negative search strategy is already working, even if today its focus — largely on pedophiles — is easy enough to accept. Google recently introduced software that makes it harder for users to locate child abuse material. As company head Eric Schmidt put it, Google Search has been “fine-tuned” to clean up results for more than 100,000 terms used by pedophiles to look for child pornography. Now, for instance, when users type in queries that may be related to child sexual abuse, they will find no results that link to illegal content. Instead, Google will redirect them to help and counseling sites. “We will soon roll out these changes in more than 150 languages, so the impact will be truly global,” Schmidt wrote.
While Google is redirecting searches for kiddie porn to counseling sites, the NSA has developed a similar ability. The agency already controls a set of servers codenamed Quantum that sit on the Internet’s backbone. Their job is to redirect “targets” away from their intended destinations to websites of the NSA’s choice. The idea is: you type in the website you want and end up somewhere less disturbing to the agency. While at present this technology may be aimed at sending would-be online jihadis to more moderate Islamic material, in the future it could, for instance, be repurposed to redirect people seeking news to an Al-Jazeera lookalike site with altered content that fits the government’s version of events.
However, blocking and redirecting technologies, which are bound to grow more sophisticated, will undoubtedly be the least of it in the future. Google is already taking things to the next level in the service of a cause that just about anyone would applaud. They are implementing picture-detection technology to identify child abuse photographs whenever they appear on their systems, as well as testing technology that would remove illegal videos. Google’s actions against child porn may be well intentioned indeed, but the technology being developed in the service of such anti-child-porn actions should chill us all. Imagine if, back in 1971, the Pentagon Papers, the first glimpse most Americans had of the lies behind the Vietnam War, had been deletable. Who believes that the Nixon White House wouldn’t have disappeared those documents and that history wouldn’t have taken a different, far grimmer course?
Or consider an example that’s already with us. In 2009, many Kindle owners discovered that Amazon had reached into their devices overnight and remotely deleted copies of Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 (no irony intended). The company explained that the books, mistakenly “published” on its machines, were actually bootlegged copies of the novels. Similarly, in 2012, Amazon erased the contents of a customer’s Kindle without warning, claiming her account was “directly related to another which has been previously closed for abuse of our policies.” Using the same technology, Amazon now has the ability to replace books on your device with “updated” versions, the content altered. Whether you are notified or not is up to Amazon.
In addition to your Kindle, remote control over your other devices is already a reality. Much of the software on your computer communicates in the background with its home servers, and so is open to “updates” that can alter content. The NSA uses malware — malicious software remotely implanted into a computer — to change the way the machine works. The Stuxnet code that likely damaged 1,000 centrifuges the Iranians were using to enrich uranium is one example of how this sort of thing can operate.
These days, every iPhone checks back with headquarters to announce what apps you’ve purchased; in the tiny print of a disclaimer routinely clicked through, Apple reserves the right to disappear any app for any reason. In 2004, TiVo sued Dish Network for giving customers set-top boxes that TiVo said infringed on its software patents. Though the case was settled in return for a large payout, as an initial remedy, the judge ordered Dish to electronically disable the 192,000 devices it had already installed in people’s homes. In the future, there will be ever more ways to invade and control computers, alter or disappear what you’re reading, and shunt you to sites weren’t looking for.
Snowden’s revelations of what the NSA does to gather information and control technology, which have riveted the planet since June, are only part of the equation. How the government will enhance its surveillance and control powers in the future is a story still to be told. Imagine coupling tools to hide, alter, or delete content with smear campaigns to discredit or dissuade whistleblowers, and the power potentially available to both governments and corporations becomes clearer.
The ability to move beyond altering content into altering how people act is obviously on governmental and corporate agendas as well. The NSA has already gathered blackmail data from the digital porn viewing habits of “radical” Muslims. The NSA sought to wiretap a Congressman without a warrant. The ability to collect information on Federal judges, government leaders, and presidential candidates makes J. Edgar Hoover’s 1950s blackmail schemes as quaint as the bobby socks and poodle skirts of that era. The wonders of the Internet regularly stun us. The dystopian, Orwellian possibilities of the Internet have, until recently, not caught our attention in the same way. They should.
Read This Now, Before It’s Deleted
The future for whistleblowers is grim. At a time not so far distant, when just about everything is digital, when much of the world’s Internet traffic flows directly through the United States or allied countries, or through the infrastructure of American companies abroad, when search engines can find just about anything online in fractions of a second, when the Patriot Act and secret rulings by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court make Google and similar tech giants tools of the national security state (assuming organizations like the NSA don’t simply take over the search business directly), and when the sophisticated technology can either block, alter, or delete digital material at the push of a button, the memory hole is no longer fiction.
Leaked revelations will be as pointless as dusty old books in some attic if no one knows about them. Go ahead and publish whatever you want. The First Amendment allows you to do that. But what’s the point if no one will be able to read it? You might more profitably stand on a street corner and shout at passers by. In at least one easy-enough-to-imagine future, a set of Snowden-like revelations will be blocked or deleted as fast as anyone can (re)post them.
The ever-developing technology of search, turned 180 degrees, will be able to disappear things in a major way. The Internet is a vast place, but not infinite. It is increasingly being centralized in the hands of a few companies under the control of a few governments, with the U.S. sitting on the major transit routes across the Internet’s backbone.
About now you should feel a chill. We’re watching, in real time, as 1984 turns from a futuristic fantasy long past into an instructional manual. There will be no need to kill a future Edward Snowden. He will already be dead.
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A TomDispatch regular, he writes about current events at his blog, We Meant Well. His next book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, will be available April 2014.
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Copyright 2013 Peter Van Buren
Mirrored from Tomdispatch.com
The Rubin Report on internet censorship: