“It’s Crucial to Break Up Facebook”

By Asher Schechter

Source: ProMarket

Four decades ago, writes Tim Wu in the introduction to his recent book The Curse of Bigness, the United States and other countries entered into a sweeping experiment that radically transformed their economies and politics. The experiment in question consisted of abandoning most checks on anticompetitive conduct, thus allowing concentrated corporate power to grow undisturbed.

The result: an increasingly concentrated global economy marked by historic levels of inequality and extreme concentrations of economic and political power, with disaffected voters being lured by radical far-right nationalists across the West. “We have managed to recreate both the economics and politics of a century ago—the first Gilded Age,” Wu writes.

Now, he warns, liberal democracies risk making yet another grave historical error by ignoring the well-established link between the concentration of economic power and the rise of authoritarianism. That monopolization poses an existential threat to democracy has been widely known throughout history: Louis Brandeis famously referred to this threat as the “curse of bigness”; in Germany, the rise of fascism was partly facilitated by monopolists and industrial cartels.

Yet in recent decades, explained Wu in an interview with ProMarket, much of this history has been forgotten. The legacy of Brandeis, America’s leading defender against bigness, has been “neglected, almost forgotten,” along with the greater antimonopoly tradition that has been an integral part of US politics for over 200 years. Which is why he decided to write The Curse of Bigness, a slim book that is equal parts historical polemic and urgent call to action. 

Wu, the Julius Silver Professor of Law, Science and Technology at Columbia Law School and also the author of The Attention Merchants and The Master Switch, is perhaps best known for coining the term “net neutrality.” In his interview with ProMarket, he discussed the parallels between the monopolies of today and those of the first Gilded Age and explained why breaking up dominant companies is crucial, particularly when it comes to Facebook.

[This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity]

Q: I want to start with Brandeis, who famously coined the phrase “curse of bigness.” In the book, you write that Brandeis “has been done a disservice.”

Yes, I think he has been. I think his economic vision has been forgotten. There are powerful ideas in it, very appealing in our times, very appealing through much of American history. So I wanted to try to do justice to and resurrect the Brandeisian strain of thought when it comes to economic policy.

Q: You point to many parallels between Brandeis’s time and ours, but one that especially haunts the book is the rise of neo-fascist movements around the world and the potential link between large business groups and aspiring authoritarians. Did you feel a certain sense of urgency in writing this book and making this link at this particular moment in time?

There is something alarming about the rise of extremist governments around the world. It has something to do with a sense of discontent as to how the economy functions for people, and that did give the writing of this a sense of a sense of urgency and a sense of a historic moment.

It’s a dangerous moment around the world and in the United States. I don’t think we have a complete understanding of what causes fascist uprisings, but I have a strong instinct, and I think many people do too, that there are economic origins to fascism that are very important and that, among other things, we really need to understand how to prevent people from turning to fascist, neo-nationalist, and extremist answers. I would suggest that has a lot more to do with economic policy than people think.

Q: That is something many of the “big is beautiful”-type arguments about private monopolies seem to ignore: the historical precedents of concentrated economic power contributing to the rise of authoritarian regimes.

I think that’s right. Also, it ignores [the fact] that there’s more to people’s lives than their lives as customers. People are also workers, and it’s one thing to face scale when you’re buying things and another thing to face scale when you’re an employee looking for a job and in a difficult bargaining position.

To take this further: I don’t like excessive pricing or price gouging, but the vision of antitrust over the last 40 years has been that the best of all possible worlds is one where you have relatively mild reductions in prices for consumer goods. Let’s just say there’s more to life than that. It’s not always clear that economics can get at it, but the focus on price in antitrust yields very narrow results.

“I don’t like excessive pricing or price gouging, but the vision of antitrust over the last 40 years has been that the best of all possible worlds is one where you have relatively mild reductions in prices for consumer goods. Let’s just say there’s more to life than that.”

Q: Unlike many people involved in the antitrust debate, even those that support vigorous enforcement, you don’t shy away from what Robert Pitofsky called the “political content of antitrust.” In fact, you seem to embrace it. What would you say is the political role of antitrust?

Ultimately, antitrust is a kind of constitutional check on private power. You can’t understand antitrust law without understanding its relationship with power. This is the centerpiece of the book and the original soul of antitrust law. It wasn’t so concerned with the details with price. It just had a sense that there needed to be some kind of outer limit on private power, much like there’s a limit on public power set by the constitution.

Q: What do you say to criticisms that you’re leading antitrust through uncharted waters, and that reinstilling political values into antitrust risks turning antitrust into a blunt political tool, much like what Trump is threatening to do with tech platforms?

I think this is confusing two meanings of the word “political.” There’s a narrow political sense in which a law can be used to punish your opponents or save your friends—consumer welfare antitrust can be used to do that already. But there’s also the broader sense of the law informed by constitutional values or concerns about power. That is also political, but in a much broader sense. That is the best sense in which the law has been enforced in the best moments of its history—the sense that a firm has become too powerful and too dominant to be tolerated in a land which calls itself free. It’s important not to confuse those two ideas of the term “political.”

Q: You compare the first Gilded Age to our own. Where do you see parallels between the monopolists of the Gilded Age, people like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, and present day dominant firms? Google and Facebook are not shooting workers, after all. 

There’s some traces of the same ideology. Peter Thiel is a prominent example: He calls his [ideology] libertarianism, but it’s not much different than 19th century social Darwinism, which worships the monopoly form and holds the idea that we should see our society as a winner-take-all, survival of the fittest, “The strong shall rule, the weak shall serve them” kind of undertaking. Google and Facebook have much kinder public faces, but—particularly with Facebook—I’m not sure underlying it they think that much differently.

There are other parallels as well, particularly levels of individualized personal wealth that the world has never seen before. In the concentration of wealth is a glorification of wealth, and almost a fetishization with accumulating amounts of money that no person could spend in their lifetime. A lot of projects in Silicon Valley get bent to the need for monstrous payouts and it ends up getting in the way of what would otherwise be good projects or better ways to run companies.

Obviously, as I explore in the book, the economic structure is also similar, where you have an overall economy dominated by fewer entities and greater levels of inequality.

Q: Another parallel seems to be this belief in the goodness of monopolies and the benefits they bring humanity. The ruthless robber barons, who threatened to crush rivals who didn’t submit to their will, genuinely believed they were doing the good, moral thing, for the betterment of humankind.

That’s right. But I think this has less to do with Silicon Valley and more to do with Wall Street today, this very fragmented morality, the idea that somehow the right thing to do is not exactly what we would usually call the ethical thing: It’s right to destroy your rivals, it’s right to lie and cheat so long as you get away with it.

“If you’re looking for the one big signal failure of the last 20 years, it’s got to be merger review. There has been an inexplicable allowance of so many industries to merge down to four or three players, sometimes two, sometimes even a monopoly. Europe is as guilty of this as the United States.”

Q: You write that the priority for neo-Brandeisian antitrust would be reforming the process of merger review. Why is merger review the top priority, and how should it be reformed?

If you’re looking for the one big signal failure of the last 20 years, it’s got to be merger review. There has been an inexplicable allowance of so many industries to merge down to four or three players, sometimes two, sometimes even a monopoly. Europe is as guilty of this as the United States. In many cases, it seems like the question was not how are we going to stop this [merger], but what kind of conditions are [merging companies] going to agree to, which is not the way merger review was intended. Merger review is not intended to be a big set of commitments that companies make, but rather the actual blocking of mergers. There’s been some recovery from that, particularly in the United States near the end of the Obama administration, but merger review has been in a crisis point.

It’s possible Congress could act and reaffirm that it meant what it said when it passed the 1950 Merger Act. It’s possible you could add greater burdens for larger mergers, or mergers that pass some structural threshold. Another way would be to open merger review to more public scrutiny. I understand some of the arguments in favor of secrecy, but I think that in the case of really big blockbuster mergers there’s just too much at stake. Having more public awareness and more groups involved would be good actually, given the important political consequences.

Q: What’s interesting about European antitrust is that although they’ve taken on several big cases in recent years, in terms of mergers European competition authorities don’t put up a lot of a fight. 

I agree. I think that Europe, if anything, has been worse than the United States for the last ten years. The beer merger of Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller was inexplicably approved, creating a monopoly. Telecom mergers across Europe have been allowed, bringing multiple markets down to three [competitors].They allowed the Monsanto-Bayer merger—I’m not sure what they were thinking with that one.

Overall, I think consent decrees appeal to academic economists, but they have a bad track record. One problem with consent decrees is that you have the most talented attorneys and economists negotiating these on the government side, but once they’re done, they’re given to an enforcement bureau which is typically not heavily staffed. And sometimes it can be forgotten, and certainly not enforced with any kind of vigor.

Structural separation is self-executing. The blocking of mergers is self-executing. You don’t have to have the government constantly trying to make sure the thing is working. I think Europe has really gone down the wrong path in that direction.

Q: Another solution you explore in the book is breaking up dominant companies. One company you point to in this regard is Facebook—you call for breaking up Facebook, separating it from Instagram and WhatsApp. Why single out Facebook? And what would breaking up Facebook accomplish, considering its business model is at this point shared by the majority of online platforms?

I think it’s crucial to break up Facebook, particularly from WhatsApp and Instagram. In some ways, I think the burden should be on Facebook to explain why they shouldn’t be broken up.

Will that make a difference? I think it will. I have faith in improved competition. I don’t think there’s strong evidence of great efficiencies that come from having all of the major social networks under one roof. It’s hard to see any real loss of so-called efficiencies, at least ones that matter to consumers.

People are looking for somewhere to switch, but they don’t have anywhere to go. WhatsApp can easily be that platform, and its leadership has different values, or at least had different values before they left.

“I think it’s crucial to break up Facebook, particularly from WhatsApp and Instagram. In some ways, I think the burden should be on Facebook to explain why they shouldn’t be broken up.”

Q: In a recent post in Medium, you laid out ten antitrust cases the government should be investigating. Which ones would you say are the most pressing?

Someone has to stop the T-Mobile/Sprint merger. Maybe it will be the states, but someone has to stop that merger. I already mentioned the Facebook breakup, which I think is big and symbolically important.

I think the Justice Department actually is already working on this, but the Live Nation-Ticketmaster matter has been sitting there for a long time. It’s not the biggest industry, but it’s still a case with a lot of anticompetitive conduct.

And I would like to take a look back at the airline mergers and ask whether we should consider breaking down the triopoly. The state of the airlines is really unacceptable.

Q: It’s been roughly a year since the repeal of net neutrality. You, of course, famously coined the term net neutrality. What would you say is the importance of net neutrality, in terms of competition and the bigness debate?

It’s really a parallel discussion but the same issue, which is: When you have monopolies that don’t seem to be going anywhere, should they be completely unconstrained? Or should there be some rules as to how they conduct themselves? It’s always been a parallel to this question of antitrust, but they’re part of the same discussion. For some reason, we’ve moved in the direction of extreme, radical, laissez faire [responses] for all of these questions. But people are starting to move in different directions now, and the backlash is inevitable.

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Posted in Authoritarianism, Corporate Crime, culture, Economics, elites, Financial Crisis, Neoliberalism, Oligarchy, society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

HOW TO REPROGRAM YOUR MIND TO TAKE AN ACTIVE ROLE IN YOUR PERSONAL EVOLUTION

By Jonathan Davis

Source: Waking Times

For a long time we’ve been taught that evolution is a process that is happening to us. Thankfully we’re living in times where the human race is finally getting a grasp on the fact that we’re actually actively involved in how we evolve as a species.

As humans, our bodies are constantly changing in response to the environment around us. Our muscles change according to whether we choose to use them or not. The enzymes in our digestive system change in response to the foods we choose to eat. Our endocrine system is in a constant feedback loop with our emotions which can change dramatically according to what’s happening in the world around us. As Dr Bruce Lipton put it, “the cell is a carbon-based ‘computer chip’ that reads the environment”, and the field of epigenetics teaches us that our DNA changes in quality – again, according to our environment.

When science talks about ‘environmental influence’ it seems to imply ‘all that which is outside ourselves’. It’s easy to overlook the fact that that our conscious choices about which environmental factors we engage with are part of what shapes the way our bodies restructure. We are part of the environment that influences our own development; our free will lets us choose and change the environment. We participate in our own evolution during our lifetime and what we do in our own lives can also affect future generations. In this way, personal evolution is collective evolution, and nowhere is personal evolution more apparent than how we are capable of rewiring our own brain.

How Reprogramming the Mind Is Helpful To Us

Humans work really well with routines. We repeat the same pattern over and over, and through neuroplasticity our brain wires itself so that it doesn’t have to think too much about that task anymore, it just runs that established electrical pathway. To riff off Noel Burch, it’s like when we learn to drive a car: we move from unconscious incompetence ‘I don’t know how bad at this I’m going to be’; to conscious competence ‘I now know how bad I am at this’; to conscious competence ‘OK, I can do this but I have to keep my mind on the job’; to unconscious competence ‘I can wind the window down, change the radio, turn a corner and change gears all at the same time, without even thinking about it’.

We program ourselves all the time with repetition, so we don’t have to waste energy engaging isolated focus on every task. The question is whether these are routines we are choosing for ourselves or that have been imposed on us? If they are imposed, are they helpful to us both personally and as a species?

When Are We Most Easily Able To Wire And Re-wire Our Mind?

During early childhood our brains are wiring themselves for the first time. While this process slows after the intense surge of development in first few years, our brains are still establishing the wiring we will largely use for the rest of our life throughout childhood. When we hit our teenage years we experience the second surge of new wiring and there is an opportunity for patterns to be created during this time that can setup behaviours for years to come. After this period, neuroplasticity still occurs but it just isn’t as fluid as it was before. So you can teach an old dog new tricks, it’s just a slower process.

The problem here is that our subconscious is overhearing everything our conscious mind is hearing, and is therefore to a being programmed by whatever influence we’re being exposed to. The Jesuits knew this 400 years ago. They would boast:

“Give me a child until it’s seven, it will belong to the church for the rest of its life.’” – Dr Bruce Lipton, paraphrasing Jesuit priests.

We Are Always Programming Ourselves

I like to imagine the subconscious mind is like an autopilot system. It is overhearing everything we ever think or say, and it’s mission (in the background and whenever possible) is to guide us towards whatever we want… or at least whatever it thinks we want according to what it overhears. An extra level of challenge is introduced when we imagine that the conscious mind has the capacity for judgment its higher expression – discernment. The subconscious, however, doesn’t have that ability. When it is overhearing everything you think and every word you say it simply hears the topic, not the context. ‘I don’t want to be fat’ with the judgment of ‘I don’t want’ removed becomes the topic only: ‘be fat’. The subconscious ‘overhears’ the topic of what is active in your conscious mind and it is listening for repetition. This is how it figures out for how ready we need to be for that particular thought process.

Repetition Is The Key. Repetition Is The Key.

If we lift weights we are using repetition to say to the muscles, ‘be ready for this, we may need to do this at any moment, so restructure yourself’. Scientists have found the fastest way to get fit is to do interval sprints, which is basically a physical way of saying to the body through repetition ‘you need to restructure yourself so we can sprint at top speed at any time, at the drop of a hat’. Rest, get your breath back and sprint again, over and over. This repetition tells the body that it’s a high priority to restructure and be ready for this at all times. My observation is that the same appears to be true for our brain. When our subconscious overhears our thoughts and words and there is repetition, there is an increased likelihood of neural rewiring. After all – neurons that fire together wire together.

The path of least resistance

When attempting to re-wire an old habit or behaviour pattern, it is useful to remember the old adage from high school science: electricity follows the path of least resistance. Imagine the old pattern as a well-established electrical pathway in your brain. As you put conscious focus into creating a new electrical pathway to replace the old pattern, you make that new electrical pathway fatter. As soon as you stop putting conscious focus into running the new behaviour pattern the electricity will revert to the old cable for as long as it is the fatter of the two cables, as that is the path of least resistance. As soon as the day comes when the new electrical pathway is thicker than the old one you have a new program in your autopilot system, that will now run on it’s own without you needing to focus conscious intention on it. You have reached a level of conscious competence. According to Dan Coyle a key to making the consciously chosen wiring stick is holding the intention that ‘I want to know this for the rest of my life’. Coyle suggests this causes the brain to coat the new electrical pathway in the brain with myelin insulation, making it much more permanent.

Taking care with the programs we allow our subconscious to overhear

As stated earlier, our autopilot system is taking direction from everything you’re experiencing – which includes the media we watch, the people we surround ourselves with and more. For this reason, one of the most powerful things we can do is exercise discernment around the kind of experiences we expose ourselves to, and their level of intensity and repetition.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglass

More importantly is the need for extra care in exercising this discernment on behalf of the children in our care and teaching this discernment to teenagers as, in both cases they are in a heightened state of neuroplasticity and are more susceptible to influence. To be clear, I am by no means advocating prudishness or avoidance of the truth, just a higher level of awareness of how we are either consciously or inadvertently being programmed all the time.

In the video below Bruce Lipton speaks passionately on this very subject, citing this discernment on behalf of our children as a clear solution to war and conflict.

Posted in conditioning, consciousness, culture, education, Philosophy, Psychology, Science, society, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Saturday Matinee: Repo Man

By Alex Cox

Source: AlexCoxFilms

HOW DID REPO MAN OCCUR?

After I left UCLA I was hired to write a script for United Artists about the British World War One deserter and agitator, Percy Topliss.  When I delivered the screenplay it was rejected as “too English, too expensive, and too anti-war.”

Shortly thereafter I met the British director, Adrian Lyne.  He had directed one feature, FOXES, and he wanted his next to be about what he felt was the most important issue of the day:  the imminent possibility of a nuclear war.  I scouted Seattle and Vancouver as locations, and wrote him a script called THE HAPPY HOUR.

Adrian read it and went off to direct FLASHDANCE.   And I ran into two old chums from UCLA – Jonathan Wacks and Peter McCarthy.   They had been in the Production programme;  Jon had directed a documentary, Pete a drama.   Now they had a company, and even more impressive, an office in Venice, California, where they were making commercials (“Gene Kelly assures the public the MGM Grand is safe again!”) and public service announcements.    I suggested to them that they should also be feature film producers, and hire me as a director.   They agreed to consider this, but instructed me to come up with a script.

The first one I wrote for them was called THE HOT CLUB (a comedy about nuclear blast veterans and nerve gas thieves set in the early years of the 21st century).   They budgeted and Marie Canton (also ex-UCLA) budgeted it; it turned out to be rather expensive.    So I went off and wrote another screenplay instead: REPO MAN. This was based on my own personal Los Angeles horrors and the tutelage of Mark Lewis, a Los Angeles car repossessor and my neighbour in Venice, CA..  When the screenplay was published, Dick Rude and I interviewed Mark for the introduction:  his take on the repo trade and the movie can be found at pscweb.com/repo/whatever.

To make the package more interesting to investors, I drew four pages of a comic book based on the script and we included them with the screenplay.   I had planned at one stage to do an entire comic book, but it is too much work:  a page a day at the very most, and hard on the eyes.    Michael Nesmith, the former Monkee, saw the script/comic package, became interested, and took it to Bob Rehme at Universal.

WHAT WAS THE RESPONSE TO REPO MAN?

REPO MAN was made as a “negative pickup” by Universal at the time when Bob Rehme was head of the studio.    At the time, the big deal over there was STREETS OF FIRE, and nobody really noticed our film at all.   Which was lucky for us, since Bob Rehme had “green-lighted” a film which was quite unusual by studio standards.   Unfortunately, just before we were completely done, Rehme was ousted from his post, and a new boss came in.   It is, we quickly discovered, the primary task of a new boss  to make an old boss look bad, and so as much of Rehme’s product as possible was quickly junked.   That which was already made, or almost complete – REPO MAN and RUMBLEFISH, for instance – was swiftly consigned to the Chute of No Return.

We took out an ad in Variety, reprinting a good review we got there (we also got a very bad one – in the weekly edition – but we didn’t reprint that) as a challenge to Universal to get the picture out into the theatres.

The studio’s response was to lean on the head of public relations at Pan American World AIrlines, Dick Barkle, to condemn the film.   Mr Barkle declared himself shocked by REPO MAN, adding, “I hope they don’t show this film in Russia.” It is the world of DILBERT there.

The theatrical life of the film was prolonged by Kelly Neal at Universal, who went out of his way to support both REPO MAN and RUMBLEFISH.   And, even more, the record was a major element in promoting the film;  it was popular with the punk rock community and that got the word around.  And rightly so.  I was an enthusiast, and the film has a major punk influence – in addition to the protagonists Otto, Duke, Debbi, Archie and Kevin, there’s a tailor-made hardcore score by Los Plugz, Circle Jerks, Fear, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, and Juicy Bananas, and a title song by Iggy Pop, who suffers under the sobriquet of The Godfather of Punk. 

DID YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE TV VERSION?

Yes.    Because the film REPO MAN had so much swearing and a scene of speed-snorting, the studio made their own re-edited video version.   It was very  odd.   In an effort to “explain” the film, someone had gone and shot an insert of the license plate of the Chevy Malibu, and made the Hopi symbol dissolve into the HEAD OF THE DEVIL!

YOU’RE JOKING.

No, this is really true.    It made me wonder, could it be that the Christian Fundamentalists are right, and that the multinationals and Hollywood are controlled by Satanists?   I cannot say.  It seems so, most of the time.  But  perhaps those executives were just confused by the film, and trying to explain, in their own innocent, satanistic way, what it was about.   “Whut the heck is in that trunk?”   “Gee I don’t know.”   “Maybe it’s the… Devil  hisself!”    They were just trying to improve it in their own way, and make it clearer.

WEREN’T YOU HORRIFIED THAT THEY WERE BUTCHERING YOUR FILM?

I was a bit alarmed, yes.   They’d intercut static shots of this license plate with shots of the car moving, and it looked completely cheesy, worse than an Ed Wood film.     But the thing was, they weren’t really bad guys:  they knew what they’d done was a mistake, and now they were looking for the filmmaker to fix it.
They knew they had done wrong.

In the end I removed their strange insertions, and included two funny scenes which hadn’d made it into the theatrical version:    the one with Jac MacInally shaving (where Harry Dean says his name is “I.G.Farben”) and the the one where Harry Dean smashes the phone booth with his baseball bat.

BUT WHAT ABOUT CUTTING OUT ALL THE SWEARING?

And who cares.   By then I’d made SID & NANCY and I was sick of swearing.   It was fun coming up with synonyms for the swear words – “Melon Farmers” was a particular favourite.

Sometimes, for television and aeroplane screening, or for a film to play in prisons or at children’s tea-parties, changes need to be made.    It is always better for the filmmaker to be invited to participate than to be excluded.    Excluding the filmmaker results in what in Liverpool is called a dog’s breakfast.

WHAT WAS REPO MAN ABOUT – REALLY?

Nuclear War.  Of course. What else could it be about?  And the demented society that contemplated the possibility thereof.  Repoing people’s cars and hating alien ideologies were only the tip of the iceberg.  The iceberg itself was the maniac culture  which had elected so-called “leaders” named Reagan and Thatcher, who were  prepared to sacrifice everything — all life on earth — to a gamble based on the longevity of the Soviet military, and the whims of their corporate masters.   J. Frank Parnell – the fictitious inventor of the Neutron Bomb – was the central character for me.  He sets the film in motion, on the road from Los Alamos, and, as portrayed by the late great actor, Fox Harris, is the centrepoint of the film.

Fourteen years later, I had a call from one Sam Cohen, who announced himself the father of the Neutron Bomb.  I imagined  a cross between Jack D. Ripper and Edward Teller in a dark Brentwood apartment, raging because there hadn’t been an intercontinental thermonuclear war…

The following week Sam Cohen and I had lunch in Venice, California.  Sam had lived in LA since 1923 – “Grew up in the Jewish ghetto of East LA – grew up knowing all your locations.”   His daughter saw REPO MAN when it came out in 1984 and took him to see it.  He’s seen the video “a couple of dozen times”.

“It starts off with nostalgia for me…  the map at the beginning, I spent World War Two at Los Alamos, working on the Fat Man device.  My job was to study what the neutrons did.  I know more about neutrons than you would ever want to ask.

“My daughter took me to see this film, and here was this nutcake, our hero, lobotomized, head bobbing.  A cop stops him, opens the trunk, and — voila!  He’s neutronized!”   Sam had no doubt there was a Neutron Bomb in Otto’s trunk.
“It was the quintessential neutron bomb in the trunk… what we call a SADM – a Strategic Area Denial Munition.”  He and the Russian politician General Lebed gave press conferences a couple of years ago to draw attention to the number of ex-Soviet SADMs which had gone missing — hundreds of them, sold on the black market to whoever was buying.  He thinks a SADM may have levelled the Federal Building  in Oklahoma.

Sam’s next destination was Washington, DC.  “I’ve got a grand bash to attend: two friends of mine, aged 87 and 90, both four-star Air Force generals, are having a birthday party.  One of them is General Schraber.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him.   He put together the ICBM program.”

Later he reconsidered, and called me again.   “It wasn’t a Neutron Bomb in the trunk – it was an enormous concentration of nuclear material – it was gamma rays that killed the cop.”

Sam had one more observation, re. his contribution to thermonuclear devastation:  “The Neutron Bomb was the most moral weapon ever devised… it was a weapon for good Christians… a defensive weapon, it spares innocents, keeps war to the warriors, doesn’t damage the economy, has no hideous, crippling, lasting effects as in conventional warfare…  if you survive, a lot of the victims will recover…  no significant level of radiation is produced… it disappears very rapidly.  My friends Graves and Slotin were in just such an accident.  Slotin died horribly;  Graves had a fifty-fifty chance of dying, but recovered, and in a few months was playing handball.”

I asked if he meant his Bomb was intended as a battlefield (“theater” in the vernacular) weapon.  He insisted that was its only possible application:  “The Neutron Bomb totally conformed to the so-called Christian principles of a Just War.   I got a medal from the Pope in Rome, in 1979.”

WILL THERE BE A REPO MAN SEQUEL?

I would be delighted.   But Universal have already released a faux-sequel, “REPO MEN” and don’t seem interested in pursuing the real McCoy. So the sequel will have to wait till March 2019, when the rights to the original script revert to me.

THE RIGHTS TO REPO MAN REVERT TO YOU?

To the screenplay, yes. So if you are a wealthy patron of the fine arts, seeking to see a sequel, or a remake, or a REPO MAN series, just get in touch.

 

Posted in Art, culture, Film, Humor, Saturday Matinee, society, Video | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Two New Reports Point to Further US Decline & Higher Risk of War

By James ONeill

Source: New Eastern Outlook

Two recent reports from the United States strongly suggest the United States is planning a major war with Russia and China, but are far from certain that they could in fact succeed in such a war. The reports also provide insights into how the United States will meet the budgetary demands of such war preparations, but almost zero appreciation of the social and human costs of such policies.

The first of these reports is entitled “Providing for the Common Defence” (November 2018). It is the report prepared for the purpose of assessing the National Defence Strategy document released in early 2018.

It acknowledges that changes “at home and abroad are diminishing US military advantages,” and that this diminution of these “advantages” poses a threat to “vital United States interests.”

Geopolitical shifts in the regional power structures are “undermining deterrence of United States adversaries and confidence of United States allies, thus increasing the likelihood of military conflict”. Should such a conflict eventuate, the United States could “suffer unacceptably high casualties and a loss of major capital assets.”

The report says that “America is losing its advantage in key war fighting areas such as air and missile defence, cyber and space operations, anti-surface and anti- submarine warfare, long range ground-based fires, and electronic warfare”.

It further acknowledges that “America’s edge is diminishing or has disappeared in many key technologies that underpin US military superiority”.

Such frankness is not without precedent in US strategy papers and the implications of the above quotations are a probable reason why the report has received almost zero coverage in the western mainstream media.

Acknowledgements of technological deficiency and strategic disadvantage do not sit comfortably with the image of an all-powerful America willing and able to defeat any threat to its own global interests or those of its allies. The latter prefer the comfortable delusion of an omnipotent US “umbrella.”

The Commission’s strategy for addressing this perceived falling behind and consequent loss of military omnipotence is however itself fatally flawed. The proposed “solution” is to spend vastly greater sums of money at a rate of 3-5% above inflation.

That means that a significantly greater share of the federal budget would have to be devoted to military spending. The only way that could be achieved, given that the United States government already has a huge growing deficit ($22 trillion and counting) would have to come, the report acknowledges, by cuts to social spending such as pensions, Medicare and social security. The “trade-offs” the report acknowledges will be “difficult”, a statement that seriously under- estimates the social devastation that such cuts would bring about.

This argument is put forward in a society which already spends more on defence than that spent by the next eight national military budgets combined. United States national infrastructure, in everything from bridges to schools is already crumbling; and these proposals will only accelerate that downward trend.

It does not seem to occur to the report writers that the entire premise that the United States should maintain its attempt to control the world for the benefit of the United States is neither desirable nor wanted by the vast majority of the worlds nations as evidenced by multiple UN General Assembly resolutions.

The second report is issued by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) and is entitled: National Security: Long Range Emerging Threats Facing the United States as Identified by Federal Agencies (December 2018.) It has received even less publicity then the ‘Providing for the Common Defence’ document.

The probable reason for this mainstream media reticence is because the GAO report actually details where the United States is lagging in military capability viz a viz its two perceived principal rivals: Russia and China.

The fact of relative military weakness is not new. Andrei Martyanov in his book Losing Military Supremacy (2018) provided a detailed analysis of why Russian military technology was superior to the United States in several important fields. What Martyanov said about Russia applies with equal validity to Chinese technology.

Martyanov’s argument was dramatically illustrated by President Putin’s 1st March 2018 address to the Russian Parliament. The initial American reaction was to discount Putin’s claims, although within days the military industrial complex was demanding more funds to counteract the superiority of Russian weaponry outlined in Putin’s speech.

The GAO Report now provides an authoritative acknowledgement that Putin was not bluffing. Under the section of the report headed “Weapons” it has this to say:

Hypersonic weapons. China and Russia are pursuing hypersonic weapons because their speed, altitude, and maneuverability may defeat most missile defence systems, and they may be used to improve long range conventional and nuclear strike capabilities. There are no existing countermeasures.

Missiles. Adversaries are developing missile technology to attack the United States in novel ways and challenge US missile defence, including conventional and nuclear ICBMs, sea launched land attack missiles, and space based missiles that could orbit the earth.

Aircraft. China and Russia are developing new aircraft, including stealth aircraft, which could fly faster, carry advanced weapons, and achieve greater ranges. Such aircraft could force US aircraft to operate at further distances and put more US targets at risk.

There is more in the same vein. The only caveat to add to those points is the use of the conditional tense. The use of such words as “may” or “could” is redundant. That technology is already operational (www.thesaker.is 1 March 2018).

A number of commentators have argued that the technology gap between Russian and Chinese systems and that of United States is now measured in decades. There is no evidence to suggest this gap could be bridged in the foreseeable future. A more likely scenario is that the technological gap could widen.

Although there are powerful voices in the United States administration and ‘deep state’ generally sufficiently delusional and frankly crazy enough to believe that the United States could “win” a nuclear war with Russia and/or China, the GAO report should act as a constraint on their wilder ambitions.

History demonstrates that it is unwise to underestimate the extent to which the United States will go to maintain its self appointed role is the world’s dominant hegemon, (see Michael Pembroke’s Korea (2018). The reality is that the era of United States dominance is now well past.

Rather than risk a nuclear war that would wreak unimaginable losses upon all the world’s peoples, including for the first time the United States, the more likely scenario will be an intensification of what Andrei Korybko calls ‘hybrid warfare.’ A current illustration of this is the campaign being waged against Huawei, ostensibly because of the potential for Chinese cyber espionage but in reality to weaken and undermine China’s 2025 program for leadership in artificial intelligence, quantum information and other sophisticated technologies, and enforce America’s allies to buy their inferior products.

Proxy wars in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America are also likely to increase exponentially.

These two reports demonstrate that the United States has lost its previous technological and military superiority, but equally, that it is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to prevent any further erosion of its world wide role and its replacement by the two emerging countervailing superpowers, Russia and China. Whether or not that American determination will tip the world into a catastrophic nuclear exchange will be one of the major questions for 2019.

Posted in culture, Empire, Geopolitics, imperialism, Militarization, military spending, Neocons, Social Control, society, State Crime, Technology, war, war on terror, wasted taxpayer dollars | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Recession Will Be Unevenly Distributed

By Charles Hugh Smith

Source: Of Two Minds

Those households, enterprises and organizations that have no debt, a very low cost basis and a highly flexible, adaptable structure will survive and even prosper.

The coming recession will be unevenly distributed, meaning that it will devastate many while leaving others relatively untouched. A few will actually do better in the recession than they did in the so-called “recovery.”

I realize many of the concepts floated here are cryptic and need a fuller explanation: the impact of owning differing kinds of capital, fragmentation, asymmetry, opacity, etc. ( 2019: Fragmented, Unevenly Distributed, Asymmetric, Opaque).

These dynamics guarantee a highly uneven distribution of recessionary consequences and whatever rewards are generated will be reaped by a few.

One aspect of the uneven distribution is that sectors that were relatively protected in recent recessions will finally feel the impact of this one. Large swaths of the tech sector (which is composed of dozens of different industries and services) that were devastated in the dot-com recession of 2000-02 came through the 2008-09 recession relatively unscathed.

This time it will be different. The build-out of mobile telephony merging with the web has been completed, social media has reached the stagnation phase of the S-Curve and many technologies that are widely promoted as around the corner are far from profitability.

Then there’s slumping global demand for mobile phones and other consumer items that require silicon (processors) and other tech components: autos, to name just one major end-user of electronics.

The net result will be mass layoffs globally across much of the tech sector.Research is nice but it doesn’t pay the bills today or quiet the restive shareholders as profits tank.

The public sector is also ripe for uneven distribution of recessionary impacts.Local government and its agencies in boomtowns such as the SF Bay Area, Seattle, Los Angeles, NYC, etc. have feasted on soaring tax revenues and multi-billion dollar municipal bonds.

The Powers That Be in these boomtowns are confident that the good times will never end, and so the modest rainy-day funds they’ve set aside are widely viewed as immense bulwarks against recession when in reality they are mere sand castles that will melt away in the first wave.

A $1 billion reserve looks impressive in good times but not when annual deficits soar to $10 billion. Local governments depend on various revenue streams, and most rely on a mix of property, sales and income taxes, both wages (earned) and capital gains (unearned). All of these will be negatively impacted in the next recession.

Local governments are especially prone to The Ratchet Effect, the dynamic in which expenses move higher as revenues climb but the organization is incapable of shrinking, i.e. it only knows how to expand. This defines government as an organizational type.

Inefficiencies (including low-level corruption and fraud) pile up and are offset with higher revenues. When revenue crashes, the system is incapable of eliminating the inefficiencies or reducing benefits and headcount.

I call the endgame of The Ratchet Effect the Rising Wedge Model of Breakdown:

The Ratchet Effect is visible in organizations of all scales, from households to sprawling bureaucracies. The core of the Ratchet Effect is the ease with which the cost basis of an organization rises and the extreme resistance to any reduction in funding.

The psychology of this resistance is easy to understand: everyone hired in the expansion will fight to keep their job, regardless of the needs of the organization or the larger society. Every individual, department and division will fight with the fierceness of a cornered animal to retain their share of the budget, for their self-interest trumps the interests of the organization or society.

Since each “ratchet” will fight with desperate energy to resist being cut while those attempting to do the cutting are simply following directives, the group that has pulled out all the stops to resist cuts will typically win bureaucratic battles.

Broad-based cuts trigger Internecine Warfare Between Protected Fiefdoms as entrenched vested interests battle to shift the cuts to some politically less favored fiefdom. Bureaucracies facing cuts quickly shift resources to protecting their budget, leaving their mission on auto-control. (The Lifecycle of Bureaucracy December 2, 2010)

These dynamics create a rising wedge in which “minimum” costs continue to rise over time even if modest cuts are imposed from time to time. The eventual consequence is a cost basis that is so high that even a modest reduction collapses the organization.

In other words, incremental reductions and reforms have zero impact on the endgame. The organization has become so brittle that any structural reform triggers a breakdown.

Those households, enterprises and organizations that have no debt, a very low cost basis and a highly flexible, adaptable structure will survive and even prosper. Those with high debt loads, high fixed expenses and inflexible responses will find incremental reductions and reforms will have little impact on the endgame of breakdown and collapse.

This is one of the core topics of my latest book, Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic.

Here’s a household example of the type of organization that won’t just survive but thrive in the recession: a household with $100,000 in revenues from multiple income sources and fixed expenses of $35,000, no debt and a management team (the spouses/adults) that’s willing to implement radical changes in lifestyle, expenses and work at the first disruption of revenues. The household that doesn’t just survive but thrives sees crisis / disruption as an opportunity, not a disaster to be mitigated with denial and wishful thinking.

Posted in Corporate Crime, Corruption, culture, Dystopia, Economics, elites, Empire, Financial Crisis, Labor, Neoliberalism, Oligarchy, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, Sociology, Technology, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Five Reasons I’m Excited About Tulsi Gabbard’s Candidacy

By Caitlin Johnstone

Source: CaitlinJohnstone.com

Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard has announced her intent to campaign for President of the United States, and the entire political spectrum is shitting bricks about it. Mainstream liberals and neocons are calling her a Putin puppet and Assad’s BFF, leftists and progressives are criticizing her associations with right-wing factions in India and anti-LGBT comments she made in the early 2000s, conspiracy analysts are criticizing her Council on Foreign Relations membership, and the Zionist elements of Trump’s base are openly promising to destroy her candidacy. A lot of others, myself included, got a lot more interested in the 2020 elections when she threw her hat in.

I’m not interested in defending Gabbard from the criticisms that have been leveled at her at this time; many articles have been written toward that end already, and if she’s going to run for the most powerful elected office on the planet it’s fair to scrutinize and question what kind of person she is. I’m also not interested in endorsing anyone for the presidency. What I am interested in is the way Gabbard’s presence in the Democratic presidential primary race is already in January 2019 upsetting the standard establishment script and forcing foreign policy debates that need to happen.

Here are a five thoughts on that subject:

1 – Gabbard will definitely be the most antiwar candidate on the debate stage by a wide margin, except in the highly unlikely event that someone steps up from way out of left field to run like Dennis Kucinich. Being the most antiwar candidate in anything associated with the Democratic Party is a very low bar, but her vocal positions on SyriaIranYemenRussiaNorth KoreaAfghanistanGaza, and previous US regime change interventions set her so far from the establishment orthodoxy that she’ll look as different from the other candidates as Ron Paul looked on the Republican debate stage.

2 – Make no mistake, it is this opposition to significant aspects of the US war machine that is the driving force behind the overwhelming bulk of the shrieking objection to Gabbard’s candidacy, not any of the more valid criticisms. We have learned from the mainstream acceptance of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that some criticism of the status quo will be tolerated when it comes to domestic policy, but it’s an excommunicable offense when it comes to foreign policy. The idea that the US should forcefully control world affairs using the carrot of alliance and the stick of military violence is so ubiquitous in both of America’s mainstream parties that it takes a Washington Postcolumnist getting dismembered alive to start a debate about something so self-evidently evil as the Saudi-led destruction of Yemen.

3 – Foreign policy is undeniably the area in which the greater part of US government depravity takes place, and as far as America’s permanent government is concerned it is by far the most important. Forcing a debate on an issue you’re not even supposed to bring up on mainstream media will get a lot of ordinary Americans asking questions that very powerful individuals don’t want asked. The DNC went from scheduling over 20 debates in 2008 to trying to limit it to six in 2016 because they didn’t want Sanders’ excellent domestic policy ideas getting out to the public and making their coronated status quo candidate look bad. Gabbard could have the same impact on foreign policy in an audience that has been aggressively propagandized by MSNBC warmongering.

4 – Gabbard’s progressive positions on issues like Medicare for Allenvironmentalism$15 minimum wageWall Street accountability, the failed war on drugsmarijuana legalizationcriminal justice reform and indigenous water rights will also set her further to the left on domestic policy than anyone on the debate stage besides Sanders should he run. This is a self-evident fact, but a lot of narrative control efforts are being poured into painting her as a right-winger. She will definitely help force the debate to the left, and her position on withdrawing from expensive interventionist war policies answers the “But how are you going to PAY for it??” questions the MSM talking heads are so fond of grilling progressives with on social programs.

5 – For me the most telling thing about Gabbard is the way she resigned from her position as vice chair of the DNC in order to endorse Bernie Sanders in 2016. Other DNC operatives remained inside the Committee and actively schemed to give Clinton every unfair advantage in the primary, but Gabbard showed integrity and refused to advance a biased agenda in violation of the DNC charter. It showed that she’s a real person operating within one of the phoniest places in the world, and that she’s willing to throw a spanner in the works of the machine when it’s in the highest interest. This unwillingness to march to the beat of the establishment drum for such proceedings could lead to some very interesting things as the presidential race heats up.

And that’s good enough for me. She’s not perfect, she’s a major long shot to actually win, but Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign for president will definitely shake things up in all the right places, and good things will come from it. Which is why all the right people are outraged by her bid today.

 

Posted in anti-war, corporate news, Deep State, Empire, Geopolitics, imperialism, media, Media Literacy, news, society, war | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two for Tuesday

Prince EA

Posted in Art, culture, Music Video, Two for Tuesday, Video | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

State Secrets and the National-Security State

By Jacob G. Hornberger

Source: Activist Post

Inadvertently released federal documents reveal that U.S. officials have apparently secured a secret indictment against Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks who released secret information about the internal workings of the U.S. national-security establishment. In any nation whose government is founded on the concept of a national-security state, that is a cardinal sin, one akin to treason and meriting severe punishment.

Mind you, Assange isn’t being charged with lying or releasing false or fraudulent information about the U.S. national-security state. Everyone concedes that the WikiLeaks information was authentic. His “crime” was in disclosing to people the wrongdoing of the national-security establishment. No one is supposed to do that, even if the information is true and correct.

It’s the same with Edward Snowden, the American contractor with the CIA and the NSA who is now relegated to living in Russia. If Snowden returns home, he faces federal criminal prosecution, conviction, and incarceration for disclosing secrets of the U.S. national-security establishment. Again, his “crime” is disclosing the truth about the internal workings of the national-security establishment, not disseminating false information.

Such secrecy and the severe punishment for people who disclose the secrets to the public were among the things that came with the conversion of the federal government to a national-security state.

Recall that when the U.S. government was called into existence by the Constitution, it was a type of governmental structure known as a limited-government republic. Under that type of governmental structure, the federal government’s powers were extremely limited. The only powers that federal officials could lawfully exercise were those few that were enumerated in the Constitution itself.

Under the republic form of government, there was no enormous permanent military establishment, no CIA, and no NSA, which are the three components of America’s national-security state. The last thing Americans wanted was that type of government. In fact, if Americans had been told that the Constitution was going to bring into existence a national-security state, they never would have approved the deal and would have continued operating under the Articles of Confederation, a type of governmental system where the federal government’s powers were so few that it didn’t even have the power to tax.

Under the republic, governmental operations were transparent. There was no such thing as “state secrets” or “national security.” Except for the periodic backroom deals in which politicians would make deals, things generally were open and above-board for people to see and make judgments on.

That all changed when the federal government was converted from a limited-government republic to a national-security state after World War II. Suddenly, the federal government was vested with omnipotent powers, so long as they were being exercised by the Pentagon, the CIA, or the NSA in the name of “national security.”

Interestingly enough, the conversion of the federal government to a national-security state was not done through constitutional amendment. Nonetheless, the federal judiciary has long upheld or simply deferred to the exercise of omnipotent powers by the national-security establishment.

An implicit part of the conversion was that the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA would be free to exercise their omnipotent powers in secret. Secrecy has always been a core element in any government that is structured as a national-security state, especially when it involves dark, immoral, and nefarious powers that are being exercised for the sake of “national security.”

One action that oftentimes requires the utmost in secrecy involves assassination, which is really nothing more than legalized murder. Not surprisingly, many national-security officials want to keep their role in state-sponsored murder secret. Another example is coups initiated in foreign countries. U.S. officials bend over backwards to hide their role in such regime-change operations. And then there are the surveillance schemes whereby citizens are foreigners are spied up and monitored. Kidnapping, indefinite detention, and torture are still more examples.

Of course, these are the types of things that we ordinarily identify with totalitarian regimes. The reason for that is that a national-security state governmental system is inherent to totalitarian regimes. For example, the Nazi government, which was a national-security state too, had an enormous permanent military establishment and a Gestapo, which wielded the powers of assassination, indefinite detention, torture, and secret surveillance. And not surprisingly, to disclose the secrets of German’s national-security state involved severe punishment.

But it’s not just Nazi Germany. There are many other examples of totalitarian regimes that are based on the concept of national security and structured as a national-security state. Chile under Pinochet. The Soviet Union. Communist China. North Korea. Vietnam. Egypt. Pakistan. Iraq. Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia. Turkey, Myanmar. And the United States. The list goes on and on.

And every one of those totalitarian regimes has a state-secrets doctrine, the same doctrine that the Pentagon, CIA, and NSA have.

A newspaper in Vietnam, which of course is ruled by a communist regime, reported that a Vietnamese citizen named Phan Van Anh Vu was sentenced to 9 years in prison for “deliberately disclosing state secrets.”

A website for the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that the Chinese communist regime charged a Chinese journalist named Yang Xiuqiong with “illegally providing state secrets overseas.” The Chinese Reds have also charged a prominent environmental activist named Liu Shu with “revealing state secrets related to China’s counterespionage work.”

The military dictatorship in Myanmar convicted two Reuters reporters for violating the country’s law that prohibits the gathering of secret documents to help an enemy.

RT reports that the Russian military will “launch obligatory courses on the protection of state secrets starting next year.

US News reports that the regime in Turkey is seeking the extradition from Germany of Turkish journalist Can Dunbar, who was convicted of revealing state secrets.

Defenders of Assange and Snowden and other revealers of secrets of the U.S. national security state point to the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of the press to justify their disclosures.

I’ve got a better idea: Let’s just dismantle America’s decades-long, nightmarish Cold War-era experiment with the totalitarian structure known as a national-security state and restore a limited-government republic to our land.

 

Posted in Authoritarianism, black ops, CIA, civil liberties, culture, Deep State, Empire, freedom of speech, Geopolitics, History, imperialism, media, NSA, police state, Psy-ops, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, State Crime, surveillance state, war | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment