The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

The Interest-Divergence Dilemma Between the Tech Companies and the NSA* | Translation Exercises

… [As] the tech letter [from Google, Yahoo, etc.] shows, while the language they resort to is the time-honored liberal discourse between security and freedom, in fact the balance they care about is the balance between corporate profits, government power, and customer complacence. It is not necessarily a problem to tip over from freedom to security, as long as government surveillance doesn’t begin to cause unrest among their customers such that they lose their profit machine.

Presumably “being sensible” means not undermining “trust in the Internet,” which makes total sense, when your business profits depend on your customers’ trust in the Internet. So the appeal from the tech companies to the USG, in essence, is to continue their collaboration with the corporations to mine and acquire as much data as possible, but to be less obtrusive, less extreme, less confrontational about it. One way to do so, is to re-institute strict controls on which persons are the focus of data collection.

This is the quintessential neoliberal environment: corporations and the government converge to strip the focus away from rights so as to have better control over individuals. But at the moment that corporate profit is threatened, corporations no longer act in complete concert with the state, but rather each “institution” (the government and corporations) battle each other for control over consumers/citizens.

I think there’s a different (or another) red herring … : It is the red herring of “interests.” In other words, the discourse of interests distracts the “public” conversation from naming several realities (i.e. this is what is NOT printed as part of the official record, as in Reuters or the NYT; it doesn’t mean that many of us don’t see it).

1) It distracts us from being able to identify the struggle over the limits of surveillance as being about the limits of corporate power versus the state’s power and not, as its typically articulated, to protect persons/subjects/consumers/citizens.

2) This struggle is better understood as that between corporate interests for profit and (managing its customers’ behaviors for that purpose) v. government interests to acquire all information as a mode of securing control over subjects and companies.

In other words, the struggle between the tech companies and the government is over managing individual actions en masse, and by extension, its dialectical counterpart: consumers’/subjects’ resistance to being managed.

And this battle reflects the red herring of interests: The discourse of “interests” saturates the public conversation, such that privacy is no longer a relevant question. In fact, the prime concern that governs state actions is “its” own interests. This makes more sense if we revert to the assumption that the state’s interest is in its own survival, not that of its subjects/citizens. The corporations have their own interests in mind is obvious, but their interests are profits as extracted through the control/management of consumers’ actions (such as through Google’s and Facebook’s data collection methods, which in turn are enhanced by targeting personalized ads at each user, which in turn extracts more information about user behavior.

The issue at stake is not about principles, or ethics, or privacy per se. Rather, the real concern—from the perspective of the tech companies is their profits being lost. That is the tipping point that shifts the balance away from profit in the service of overwhelming government desire to know everything that’s going on. That interest was okay, so long as the public (customers) didn’t know (or didn’t focus so much on) the fact that their information was being handed over in volume by the tech companies. But when that knowledge threatens to drive away their customer base, then the “balance” qua fine-tuning has been lost. [READ]

Detroit on the Auction Block | Glen Ford

The corporate plan to abolish the last vestiges of urban democracy in the United States is proceeding on a “hyper fast track” with this week’s court ruling that Detroit is eligible for bankruptcy “protection.” Judge Steven Rhodes quickly made clear that the only parties to be protected in his venue are the bankers that will get first crack at the Black metropolis’s remaining assets. Public workers’ pensions, he ruled, are not entitled “to any extraordinary attention” under federal bankruptcy law, despite the Michigan state constitution’s prohibitions against tampering with or diminishing pension benefits. The stage is now set for Kevyn Orr, the state-imposed Emergency Financial Manager, to put Detroit in hock to Britain’s Barclays Bank for $350 million, in order to pay off Bank of America and UBS for a 2005 derivatives deal with the city. Barclay’s would then become Detroit’s “super-priority” creditor – King Predator – with first dibs on all city incomes and assets over $10 million.

The trial on Detroit’s “restructuring” begins December 17 in Rhodes’ court but, based on his conduct since assuming jurisdiction, there is little doubt of the outcome. The judge is an empathetic hangman who listens patiently to the pleas of the people – and then swiftly condemns them. He agreed with the pensioners that Orr had failed to negotiate in “good faith” with the unions, but then ruled that the petition for bankruptcy had been filed in good faith – which somehow negated Orr’s bad faith negotiations.

Municipal bankruptcies are very rare, and tend to be long and tortuous legal ordeals, but Rhodes has greased the skids for the banksters to gulp down the city like fast food. He is on an accelerated Wall Street schedule, and there is no time to waste. Detroit is the golden opportunity to shape anti-democratic legal precedents that can be applied, nationwide, with the least resistance from the white American public. The city is guilty of excessive Blackness (82%) and must be punished. In a racist society, Detroit’s bankruptcy fits perfectly the legal maxim that “hard cases” or “great cases” make “bad law.” Whites can be expected to applaud a negative judgment on a Black city, with little thought to the ramifications for their own situations. Michigan voters, who rejected the idea of state emergency managers in a referendum, nevertheless favored Orr’s filing of bankruptcy for Detroit. Whites have always made exceptions to common notions of justice when it comes to African Americans, resulting in grotesquely bad laws.

Wall Street is counting on reflexive racism to smooth the path to a new legal and social order, where capital is unencumbered by democratic constraints. Having already succeeded in disenfranchising a majority of the Black population of Michigan, there are now fewer legal impediments to doing the same thing to whites. After all, thanks to the Black Freedom Movement of the Sixties, the law is race-neutral.

Kevyn Orr, Judge Rhodes and Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder work for the banking cartel – as does President Obama and the leaders of the Democratic Party, who have done nothing to interfere with the urban doomsday process that is unfolding in Detroit. (Barclays Bank and UBS, the prime beneficiaries of Orr’s restructuring plan, were just this week cited for taking part in a massive conspiracy to rig global LIBOR interest rates, in what has been called the greatest financial collusion of the century.) Finance capital, which creates nothing, is confiscating the wealth of the world. In the U.S., a thin veneer of democratic structures stands in the way. Therefore, restructuring is in order. What better place to start than in Detroit, a city filled with people who can be made exceptions to democratic norms.

Soon, the exception will become the rule.

The holiday season begins:
"Black Friday 2013: A dispute between two men in a crowded Wal-Mart parking lot in southwest Virginia quickly escalated into a punch, followed by a knife, a rifle, a crowd of panicked shoppers, and two arrests…

Christian Science Monitor has more on the festivities

Also see Reuters: “Fights, store evacuation mar U.S. holiday shopping rush" for updates.

The post-Thanksgiving shopping rush sparked incidents of violence across the United States as a police officer was injured breaking up a fight, a shopper was shot in the leg over a TV and a Walmart was evacuated, according to police and media reports.

The holiday shopping incidents also included a suspected shoplifter shot by police in a Chicago suburb and a woman spitting on another woman’s child in an argument over baby clothes.

(via auntieimperial)

The Ends of Capitalism | Rob Urie

… The saying is that Mr. Obama inherited difficult circumstances when he came into office. But what he inherited was a particular stage in an historical trajectory—one of what are regularly recurring crises in the ascendance of global capitalism. Within this trajectory catastrophes such as that of 2009 are as much a part of political economy as the times of ‘prosperity.’ The view from the ‘inside’—from Washington and Wall Street, averages prosperity with catastrophe to come to an ‘average’ conclusion about the political-economic viability of this capitalism. Mr. Obama, or any other successful politician within the modern understanding of success, ‘embodies’ the hopes and aspirations of ‘average’ Americans in the same way that the average of catastrophe and prosperity reach them in their lives. Mr. Bush before him embodied the hopes and dreams of ‘long suffering’ war-mongering white, Christian Pentecostals and Mr. Obama has his liberal-progressive constituency, the average of the two which form different ‘sides’ of an outside—the ‘driven by.’ This isn’t to discount the difference, but rather to ask: who exactly is making bank on it? As circumscribed by those whose fortunes have been restored since Mr. Obama took office, the difference that matters remains between the embedded and the embodied, between those whose fortunes are foregone conclusions and those who wave as the motorcade passes.

The passions that surround Western political economy are reactive for a reason. Mr. Obama was assumed to represent antithesis because history called for it. The unmitigated disaster of the (baby) Bush years was evident to even the dullest of his supporters as the incontrovertible ‘proof’ of calamity– falling stock prices, was underway. But ‘change’ holds forth no promised direction. And more fundamentally, from what possible logic would true antithesis spring? Within the static anti-historicism of capitalism antithesis always and everywhere exists in the ‘driven by,’ in the ‘failure’ needed to demonstrate the truth determining power of ‘success’ through wealth and profits. Restoration of the fortunes of the already rich was restoration of this static antithesis, the only one visible to Mr. Obama’s classmates. The problem of re-thinking capitalism, not that anyone in the recent history has tried, is that within its logic no catastrophe is effective repudiation and outside of it either the whole project goes into the garbage heap or none of it does. A real catastrophe confronted the peoples of the West as Mr. Obama entered office. But the difference between having a billion dollars in the bank or ‘only’ five hundred million dollars was the problem that confronted the people who brought Mr. Obama into office. That problem calls for a different set of solutions than being cold, hungry and unemployed. And that is the problem Mr. Obama set about fixing.

Austerity does not involve the withdrawal of the state from the economy, as per the ‘free market’ myth, but rather the further penetration of capital into the state, and the re-organisation of state apparatuses to better accommodate the accumulation imperatives of specific sectors of capital, above all finance. In general, the state supplies not just the social reproduction necessary for capitalist growth, but also, as Mariana Mazzucato has demonstrated, the primary investments that make capitalist enterprise work from start-up capital to research and development. The state is integral to the production process and will continue to be so. But its current reorganisation is about bringing capital more and more into the material spaces of the state itself, on terms which leave capital’s autonomy intact.

Richard Seymour | Theses on austerity and how to fight it

About that - Wealth of world’s billionaires doubles since 2009:

Even as workers in the US and other countries have seen their incomes plummet, the combined net worth of the world’s billionaires has doubled since 2009, according to a report published Tuesday by UBS and Wealth-X, a consultancy that tracks super-rich individuals.

The collective wealth of the world’s billionaires hit $6.5 trillion, a figure that is nearly as large as the gross domestic product of China, the world’s second-largest economy. The number of billionaires has grown to 2,170 in 2013, up from 1,360 in 2009, according to the report.

The vast enrichment of this social layer has been driven by surging stock markets, fueled by the “easy money” and money-printing operations of the US Federal Reserve and other central banks. This process is intensifying. Last week the European Central Bank, responding to a deterioration of economic conditions in Europe, cut its benchmark interest rate in half, from 0.5 to 0.25 percent, sending a new wave of cash into financial markets.

… The wealth report reflects the parasitic growth of the financial sector throughout the world economy. Seventeen percent of billionaires got their wealth from the finance, banking, and investment sectors, more than any other, while only eight percent are associated with manufacturing.

The vast expansion in the incomes of the super-rich comes even as social services are being slashed in the US, Europe and throughout the world. Earlier this month, food stamp benefits were reduced for the first time in US history, and extended unemployment benefits are scheduled to expire entirely at the end of the year.

The budget for the SNAP food stamp program is currently $74.6 billion a year, and funding the extended unemployment benefit extension, scheduled to expire in January, for one year would cost $25.2 billion. The combined net worth of the 515 billionaires in the US would pay for the food stamp and extended unemployment benefit program for an entire century.

There is $118 trillion of wealth in the United States alone, or about $375,000 per American. For every homeless person in the country, there are 28 empty homes waiting for them right now. Laws and culture deny them a roof over their head, not a dearth of roofs. It is our legal system that funnels a disproportionate amount of wealth to a small handful of people, not the benevolent hand of a just and caring god. Steal This Article

Sharing science is a crime | Charles Davis

You did it, friend. You helped discover the cure for cancer. Pretty big deal, that. Just imagine: Within 20 years, leukemia and lymphoma could end up being nothing more than trendy baby names - alongside yours.

Understandably, your first impulse might be to share your discovery. Tell the world! But not so fast, professor. Your holier-than-thou plan for sainthood has one big flaw: that fancy little cure of yours is worth a pretty little penny. And divulging that cure before someone can patent it is likely to land you in a prison cell for crimes against economic disparity. Quarterly profits are people too, you know. And the reality is whether you want to be a saint or not, the economic considerations that govern academic research in the United States almost give one no choice but to be a scoundrel.

It doesn’t matter if you start out working for a university. Scientists are given two choices for getting their research funded, academia or not: go to work for the Pentagon or start making something you can patent. And the government and its corporations want it that way.

Of the $140bn in research and development funding requested by President Barack Obama for 2013, according to the Congressional Research Service, more than half goes through the Department of Defense; less than $30bn through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). That invariably leads to a shift in resources, with scientists going to where the money is: instead of finding ways to cure, finding high-tech ways to kill or otherwise aid the war effort. Researchers at the University of Arizona, for instance, received a $1.5m grant to “adapt their breast cancer imaging research for detection of embedded explosives”, which speaks rather well to the US government’s priorities and the toll it takes on research that has the general public in mind. [READ]

How Goldman Made $5 Billion By Manipulating Aluminum Inventories (and Copper is Up Next) | naked capitalism

What sexual favors were exchanged so that the New York Times blunted the impact of an important, detailed investigative story on Goldman profiteering, this time in the aluminum market, by releasing it on a heat-addled summer Saturday?

On a high level, the story sets forth a simple and damning case. Not all that long ago, banks were prohibited from being in operating businesses. But the Federal Reserve and Congress have loosened those rules and big financial players have gone full bore backward integrating from commodities trading into owning major components of the delivery and inventorying systems. This doesn’t just give them a big information advantage by having better access to underlying buying and selling activity. It allows them to manipulate inventories, and thus, prices. And Goldman’s aluminum henanigans increased prices all across the market, not just for the customers who chose to use them for warehousing and delivery.

The article A Shuffle of Aluminum, but to Banks, Pure Gold by David Kocieniewski, tells us that the newly-permissive rules allowed Goldman to buy Metro International Trade Services, a concern in Detroit with 27 warehouses that handles a bit over 25% of the aluminum available for delivery. And here’s where the fun and games begin:

Each day, a fleet of trucks shuffles 1,500-pound bars of the metal among the warehouses. Two or three times a day, sometimes more, the drivers make the same circuits. They load in one warehouse. They unload in another. And then they do it again.

This industrial dance has been choreographed by Goldman to exploit pricing regulations set up by an overseas commodities exchange, an investigation by The New York Times has found. The back–and-forth lengthens the storage time. And that adds many millions a year to the coffers of Goldman, which owns the warehouses and charges rent to store the metal. It also increases prices paid by manufacturers and consumers across the country…

Before Goldman bought Metro International three years ago, warehouse customers used to wait an average of six weeks for their purchases to be located, retrieved by forklift and delivered to factories. But now that Goldman owns the company, the wait has grown more than 20-fold — to more than 16 months, according to industry records.

Longer waits might be written off as an aggravation, but they also make aluminum more expensive nearly everywhere in the country because of the arcane formula used to determine the cost of the metal on the spot market. The delays are so acute that Coca-Cola and many other manufacturers avoid buying aluminum stored here. Nonetheless, they still pay the higher price.

The Times’s sources estimate the price impact across the market at 6 cents per pound, which adds $12 to the price of a typical car. Goldman piously claims it obey all the rules, but obeying the rules is far from operating in a fair or pro-customer manner. Metro’s inventories ballooned from 50,000 tons in 2008 to 850,000 tons in 2010. By 2011, Coca Cola complained to the London Metals Exchange, which attempted to address the situation by increasing the amount that warehouses must ship daily from 1,500 tons to 3,000 tons. But all that appears to have taken place is that Goldman simply shuffles more inventory among the 27 Metro warehouses while thumbing its nose at the LME (its inventories have almost doubled again from the 2010 levels, standing at 1.5 million tons).

The article goes into considerable detail as to how Goldman and its speculator allies manipulate prices (remember that holding inventories off the market results in higher prices, this is supply-demand 101):

Industry analysts and company insiders say that the vast majority of the aluminum being moved around Metro’s warehouses is owned not by manufacturers or wholesalers, but by banks, hedge funds and traders. They buy caches of aluminum in financing deals. Once those deals end and their metal makes it through the queue, the owners can choose to renew them, a process known as rewarranting.

To encourage aluminum speculators to renew their leases, Metro offers some clients incentives of up to $230 a ton, and usually moves their metal from one warehouse to another, according to industry analysts and current and former company employees.

To metal owners, the incentives mean cash upfront and the chance to make more profit if the premiums increase…metal analysts, like Mr. Vazquez at Harbor Aluminum Intelligence, estimate that 90 percent or more of the metal moved at Metro each day goes to another warehouse to play the same game. That figure was confirmed by current and former employees familiar with Metro’s books, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of company policy…

Despite the persistent backlogs, many Metro warehouses operate only one shift and usually sit idle 12 or more hours a day. In a town like Detroit, where factories routinely operate round the clock when necessary, warehouse workers say that low-key pace is uncommon.

When they do work, forklift drivers say, there is much more urgency moving aluminum into, and among, the warehouses than shipping it out. Mr. Clay, the forklift driver, who worked at the Mount Clemens warehouse until February, said that while aluminum was delivered in huge loads by rail car, it left in a relative trickle by truck.

“They’d keep loading up the warehouses and every now and then, when one was totally full they’d shut it down and send the drivers over here to try and fill another one up,” said Mr. Clay, 23.

Because much of the aluminum is simply moved from one Metro facility to another, warehouse workers said they routinely saw the same truck drivers making three or more round trips each day.

There is plenty more damning material in this excellent and important piece, which I strongly urge you to read in full. This is simply another form of looting. And the Times highlights, as we warned, that JP Morgan is running the same trick in copper, and Goldman will join the party. [++]

Emergency manager throws Detroit into bankruptcy | WSWS

The emergency manager overseeing the financial restructuring of Detroit filed a petition in federal court Thursday afternoon throwing the devastated industrial city of 700,000 residents into Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who appointed Wall Street bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr as the city’s emergency manager last March, immediately approved the filing.

The largest municipal bankruptcy in US history paves the way for an unprecedented attack on the pensions and health care benefits of city workers, the further slashing of essential services, and the sell-off of public assets to pay the banks and bondholders who hold the city’s debt.

Announcing the filing, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr stood side-by-side with the city’s Democratic mayor, David Bing, a multi-millionaire who has slashed the city workforce by 20 percent since taking office in 2009. Both cynically claimed that the bankruptcy would have little effect on daily life and would lead to improved services for city residents.

The Obama administration signaled its support for the bankruptcy filing, issuing a statement Thursday declaring: “While leaders on the ground in Michigan and the city’s creditors understand that they must find a solution to Detroit’s serious financial challenge, we remain committed to continuing our strong partnership with Detroit as it works to recover and revitalize and maintain its status as one of America’s great cities.”

Orr has already approved a corporate-backed plan to shut off services to neighborhoods deemed too poor or under-populated for profitable private investment, while handing over public lighting, transportation, garbage collection and other services to for-profit companies. His “turnaround” team has appraised everything from the city’s water treatment plant and masterpieces at the Detroit Institute of Arts to Belle Isle Park and the animals at the Detroit Zoo for possible sale to private investors.

Above all, the bankruptcy filing clears the way to gut the pensions and health care benefits of the city’s 31,000 current and retired employees. By throwing the city into the bankruptcy courts, Orr intends to circumvent Michigan’s constitution, which declares public pensions to be a “contractual obligation” that “shall not be diminished or impaired.”

Orr rushed the bankruptcy filing to preempt lawsuits filed by pension trustees and public-sector unions seeking to block bankruptcy on the grounds that it would lead to unconstitutional pension cuts. Attorneys for Snyder reportedly asked the lawyers representing the pension funds for a five-minute delay before they sought a temporary restraining order to block the bankruptcy filing. During those five minutes, Orr’s attorneys filed the bankruptcy petition in Detroit.

At Thursday’s press conference, Orr gloated that the bankruptcy filing put an “automatic stay on all litigations,” adding, “We don’t have any time for more delaying tactics.”

Under a plan Orr previously outlined, pension trust funds would receive as little as 10 cents for every dollar owed to 21,000 retirees for a lifetime of labor. Orr wants to eliminate cost-of-living adjustments for retirees who receive as little as $500 to $1,000 a month, with no additional Social Security payments. He also intends to impose an immediate freeze on future pension payments and shift retirees to Medicare or privately controlled health care exchanges set to begin next year under the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act. The city’s current 9,700 workers will also see a huge reduction in health benefits and the loss of employer-paid pensions.

[…] The only contractual obligations that will be honored by Orr are the billions of dollars in principal and interest demanded by the major Wall Street banks and bondholders. Orr has already made a settlement with UBS, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch Capital Services on $340 million in credit default swaps, giving them 75 cents on the dollar.

[…] “Officials in other financially troubled cities may feel encouraged to follow Detroit’s path, some experts say,” the New York Times wrote Thursday, citing Karol K. Denniston, a lawyer involved in the bankruptcy of Stockton, California. “If you end up with precedent that allows the restructuring of retirement benefits in bankruptcy court, that will make it an attractive option for cities. Detroit is going to be a huge test kitchen.”

[…] While Orr insists there is no money for pensions or essential services, hundreds of millions in public dollars will be used to subsidize the development of an upscale housing, commercial and entertainment district covering about 7.2 out of the city’s 139 square miles. This includes $286 million in public funds for a new sports arena for the owner of Little Caesar’s Pizza and the Detroit Red Wings hockey franchise, Mike Ilitch, whose net worth is estimated at $2.7 billion. To make room for the arena, hundreds of low-income workers and seniors are being evicted from their downtown apartments.

The bankruptcy will bring devastation to the working class, but it will mean a huge windfall for Ilitch, Quicken Loan billionaire Dan Gilbert, and the gangs of bankruptcy lawyers, hedge fund operators and private speculators who will descend on Detroit to cash in on the carve-up of the former Motor City. [++]

The infrastructure of a police state emerges in Europe | Peter Schwarz

The claim that this Orwellian surveillance apparatus is devoted to the struggle against terrorism is absurd. There is no need to monitor hundreds of millions of citizens in order to track down a handful of terrorists, who in many cases have their own links to the intelligence services.

The real target of the intelligence surveillance is the vast majority of the people. This is the real enemy identified by the ruling class. This is confirmed by any brief look at social statistics and the social counterrevolution currently taking place.

In the US, the richest ten percent of the population control more than half of all income and about three quarters of all private assets. At the bottom, the poorest 15 percent of the population live below the official poverty line of $22,300 annually for a family of four.

In Europe, austerity measures dictated by the EU have resulted in mass unemployment and social decline on an unprecedented scale. After five austerity budgets in Greece, 40 percent of the population are no longer covered by health insurance and therefore not entitled to health care.

The ruling class senses that popular opposition is growing and is responding by placing the entire population under surveillance. Such surveillance is not limited to passive observation. In the event of an escalation of the class struggle, as is currently occurring in Egypt, the profiles and addresses stored in the vast databases of the intelligence agencies would be mined to draw up lists of dissidents and political leaders for arrest and prosecution.

The ruthlessness of the ruling class is most clearly shown in the case of Edward Snowden. The 30-year-old must fear for his life and is being hunted across the planet because he had the courage to expose the criminal activities of the NSA. The forced landing of Bolivian President Evo Morales in Vienna made clear that even the elected leader of a sovereign state is not safe from the machinations of the US Secret Service and their European accomplices.

The intelligence agencies are also quite prepared to use provocations and acts of terror to further their ends. The secret NATO Gladio organization in Italy was infamous for carrying out such acts of provocation in Italy in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, is expected to resign today due to a similar case, the so-called “bomb-planting affair”. In Germany, meanwhile, new evidence is continually emerging on the involvement of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in the racist murders conducted by the National Socialist Underground (NSU).

The case of Edward Snowden contains vital lessons. No confidence can be placed in any of the institutions of the capitalist state—the courts, the political parties, the legislatures, or the capitalist media—to defend basic democratic rights. The ruling elites disregard the most basic rights and are developing police-state methods to defend their wealth and privileges. The defense of democratic rights, along with the struggle against social cuts, can only be carried out on the basis of a mass movement of the working class aimed at overturning the capitalist system.

Obama Administration, Congress Intensify Opposition To Global Generic Drug Industry

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration and members of Congress are pressing India to curb its generic medication industry. The move comes at the behest of U.S. pharmaceutical companies, which have drowned out warnings from public health experts that inexpensive drugs from India are essential to providing life-saving treatments around the world.

Low-cost generics from India have dramatically lowered medical costs in developing countries and proved critical to global AIDS relief programs; about 98 percent of the drugs purchased by President George W. Bush’s landmark PEPFAR AIDS relief program are generics from India. Before Indian companies rolled out generic versions priced at $1 a day, AIDS medication cost about $10,000 per person per year.

But India’s generic industry has also cut into profits for Pfizer and other U.S. and European drug companies. In response, these companies have sought to impose aggressive patenting and intellectual property standards in India, measures that would grant the firms monopoly pricing power over new drugs and lock out generics producers. [continue]

Capitalism is nothing but class war. Requiring the permanent revolutionizing of the means of production, it demands and receives an ever-expanding arsenal for subjugation - the militarization of the police, enclavement of the ruling class, extension of the apparatus of surveillance, growth of the penal system. Police protect banks. Law serves creditors. Championing of the “right to work,” governors demolish unions. The immiserated, indebted, and precarious are necessary components of our present capitalism, the contemporary reserve army of the un- and underemployed, the service sector, service class, servants and serfs in becoming. Someone’s got to do that work. The indebted are doubly exploited as their futures belong to someone else. To the extent that their debts are packaged into asset backed securities (such as collateralized debt obligations), they become themselves the spoils of war, virtual serfs owned by one bank or another. Periscope: No War but Class War (via azspot)

(via azspot)

Things Fall Apart | Rob Urie

[…] So far [the] framing [of the motivations behind the surveillance state] posits the single direction of government subsidizing tech for its own nefarious intent—paying for the privilege, but extracting its due in blood. But what commercial genius lay behind convincing several generations of children, the dependents whose psychologies aren’t yet developed by history and experience to beware the intentions of cynical technocrats bearing toys, that delivering their life-secrets to self-serving capitalists would leave them safe? Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs thought nothing of using the advantages of history and strategies of planned destitution to squeeze those making ‘his’ computers for everything he could take. The major Internet companies span the globe to find captive workforces to labor in slave conditions to program their technologies of global domination, or more likely, the latest moronic ‘app’ that notifies one of the need to use the toilet. These are the capitalists and capitalist enterprises bravely standing between ‘the government’ and totalitarian intrusion? And who, exactly, do they run to to protect their privilege?

Were ‘the government’ in control, why would all of ‘its’ power and resources be dedicated to making the lives and bank accounts of this technerati, public largess dependent financiers, and the sociopathic tools occupying executive suites, so remunerative and comfortable? There is tension, no doubt, between the self-interest of plutocrat tools in government and their plutocrat masters—the largest neighborhood of the largest houses I ever saw being built was in suburban Washington, DC at the very height of the most recent economic calamity. But given the theorized power of government, why don’t self-interested bureaucrats take what the plutocrats have for themselves? This question is for my friends with anarchist and libertarian tendencies. As Lenin had it, and the late Hugo Chavez understood, the way to restrain totalitarian government is to restrain capitalist imperialism. The NSA and CIA are but tools, aspects, of imperialist capitalism.

Framed differently, it requires improbably separating method from purpose to argue ‘private’ and government data mining and statistical analysis developed from the symbiosis of government and business serve fundamentally different purposes. ‘Private’ data collection and use, e.g. stores that use ‘store cards’ to track and analyze customer purchases, is intended to provide economic advantage. Given the NSA can only give implausible and absurd explanations for why it tracks and uses similar data from the citizenry, what possible explanation, aside from mindlessly squandering public resources, is possible than to gain political advantage from it? Again, if the claim they’ve interrupted terrorist plots is demonstrably bullshit and bluster, what use value does the data they’re collecting have?

If giving self-interested sociopaths—the definition of successful capitalists, everything they wanted the roaring twenties and debt-fueled 2000s would have led to self-sustaining economic outcomes. But they led instead to financial and economic crashes. The move to consolidate political-economic power through the technocratic corporate state is likewise leading to increasing political dysfunction. One of the only political leaders in the U.S. with retained credibility, Barack Obama, appears to be losing his ability to serve as front for plutocrat interests. And technocratic overreach is leading to increasing skepticism of the corporate state nexus. The right-wing revolution started in the 1970s worked by demonizing government to the benefit of global capital. With both government and capital losing credibility, technocratic control and police repression are the tools remaining to sustain corporate state power.

"Intelligence," Corporatism, and the Dance of Death | Arthur Silber

[…] How does the public-“private” intelligence industry make foreign policy? The NYT story [on Booz Allen’s connection to the NSA] offers an instructive example in its opening paragraphs:

When the United Arab Emirates wanted to create its own version of the National Security Agency, it turned to Booz Allen Hamilton to replicate the world’s largest and most powerful spy agency in the sands of Abu Dhabi.

It was a natural choice: The chief architect of Booz Allen’s cyberstrategy is Mike McConnell, who once led the N.S.A. and pushed the United States into a new era of big data espionage. It was Mr. McConnell who won the blessing of the American intelligence agencies to bolster the Persian Gulf sheikdom, which helps track the Iranians.

“They are teaching everything,” one Arab official familiar with the effort said. “Data mining, Web surveillance, all sorts of digital intelligence collection.”

See how perfect this is? All the special people are making tons of money — and, when the day arrives that the U.S. wants to ramp up its confrontational stance with Iran, well, there’s the UAE helping to “track the Iranians” with all the tools that the U.S. has given them and taught them to use. And how easy would it be to get the UAE to provide the U.S. with just the right kind of new and disturbing “intelligence” that would get lots of people screaming about the “grave Iranian threat”? You know the answer to that: easy peasy. A wink and a nod — and off the U.S. goes, with bombing runs or whatever it decides to do. But whatever it does will be determined in greatest part not by a genuine threat to U.S. national security (there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Iran’s leaders are all suicidal), but by what will make the most money for the State and its good friends.

[…] How much is the intelligence-security industry worth? The NYT story offers this toward the end:

Only last month, the Navy awarded Booz Allen, among others, the first contracts in a billion-dollar project to help with “a new generation of intelligence, surveillance and combat operations.”

The new push is to take those skills to American allies, especially at a time of reduced spending in Washington. So while the contract with the United Arab Emirates is small, it may be a model for other countries that see cyberdefense — and perhaps offense — as their future. The company reported net income of $219 million in the fiscal year that ended on March 31. That was up from net income of $25 million in 2010, shortly after Mr. McConnell returned to the company.

They’re just getting started. Note that the $219 million is net income. Earlier, the Times told us that “more than half its $5.8 billion in annual revenue [is] coming from the military and the intelligence agencies.” The story also informs us that: “Booz Allen is one of many companies that make up the digital spine of the intelligence world, designing the software and hardware systems on which the N.S.A. and other military and intelligence agencies depend.”

It’s all about wealth and power. Here and there, in episodes notable only for their rarity, “the intelligence world” might actually provide a small piece of information actually related to “national security.” Again, I turn to Gabriel Kolko:

It is all too rare that states overcome illusions, and the United States is no more an exception than Germany, Italy, England, or France before it. The function of intelligence anywhere is far less to encourage rational behavior—although sometimes that occurs—than to justify a nation’s illusions, and it is the false expectations that conventional wisdom encourages that make wars more likely, a pattern that has only increased since the early twentieth century. By and large, US, Soviet, and British strategic intelligence since 1945 has been inaccurate and often misleading, and although it accumulated pieces of information that were useful, the leaders of these nations failed to grasp the inherent dangers of their overall policies. When accurate, such intelligence has been ignored most of the time if there were overriding preconceptions or bureaucratic reasons for doing so.

The incessant chatter about the indispensable, critical importance of “intelligence” to “national security” is marketing, the time-tested phrases that the ruling class knows are so popular with most Americans. And Americans dearly love the marketing:

So all of the feigned bafflement and incessant caterwauling about the supposedly indecipherable actions of the United States — Why, oh why, did we invade Iraq?, and Why, dear God, are we in Afghanistan? — represent only the capitulation of the purported critics to precisely those arguments U.S. leaders hope you will engage. They want you to spend all your time on those arguments, because they’re only marketing ploys having nothing at all to do with their actual goals. As I said the other day, if you want to stop this murderous madness — and I dearly hope you do — forget about what they say their goals are (fostering “democratic” governments, “regional stability,” “security,” and all the associated claptrap), and focus on the real problem: the carefully chosen policy of U.S. geopolitical dominance over the entire globe.

In the midst of the rush of revelations concerning the NSA and surveillance, almost everyone forgets that the “intelligence” industry is founded on one of the most momentous lies in the history of statecraft. As I write this, I see the following:

National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander told a House committee Tuesday that 50 terror threats in 20 countries have been disrupted with the assistance of two secret surveillance programs that were recently disclosed by former defense contractor Edward Snowden.

Ooooohhhhh! 50 terror threats in 20 countries, and “At least 10 of the plots targeted the U.S. homeland.” These guys suck stylistically, too. It’s exactly 50! And exactly 20! But kinda around 10 that targeted the “homeland.” C’mon, Keith. Precision is important in propaganda. Emulate a master: “I have here in my hand a list of 205 terror plots…!!”

Of course, they will never provide any evidence to prove the truth of these claims. You’re too stupid to be trusted with such information. You just have to take their word for it. Right. I wonder how many of these frightening plots were ones dreamed up by government agents themselves. And I wonder how many of them were, in fact, discovered by mundane, old-fashioned “police work.” Not incidentally, I wonder how many of these plots occurred at all.

I repeat again, for approximately the fiftieth time, that “intelligence” is almost always wrong. Don’t take my word for it: read the excerpt from Chalmers Johnson here. Read this. And this. See all the articles linked at the conclusion of this article. …

The intelligence-security industry isn’t about protecting the United States or you, except for extraordinarily rare, virtually accidental occurrences. It’s about wealth and power. Yet every politician and every government functionary speaks reverently of the sacred mission and crucial importance of “intelligence” in the manner of a syphilitic preacher who clutches a tatty, moth-eaten doll of the Madonna, which he digitally manipulates by sticking his fingers in its orifices. Most people would find his behavior shockingly obscene, if they noticed it. But they don’t notice it, so mesmerized are they by the preacher with his phonily awestruck words about the holy of holies and the ungraspably noble purpose of his mission. Even as the suppurating sores on the preacher’s face ooze blood and pus, his audience can only gasp, “We must pay attention to what he says! He wants only the best for us! He’s trying to save us!”

What the preacher says — what every politician and national security official says on this subject — is a goddamned lie. The ruling class has figured out yet another way to make a killing, both figuratively and literally. They want wealth and power, and always more wealth and power. That’s what “intelligence” and “national security” is about, and nothing else at all. When you hear Keith Alexander, or James Clapper, or Barack Obama talk about “intelligence” and surveillance, how your lives depend on them, and why you must trust them to protect you if you wish to continue existing at all, think of the preacher. Think of his open sores, of the blood and pus slowly dribbling down his face.

All of them are murdering crooks running a racket. They are intent on amassing wealth and power, and they’ve stumbled on a sure-fire way to win the acquiescence, and often the approval, of most people. They are driven by the worst of motives, including their maddened knowledge that there will always remain a few people and events that they will be unable to control absolutely. For the rest of us, their noxious games are a sickening display of power at its worst. For us, on a faster or slower schedule, in ways that are more or less extreme, their lies and machinations are only a Dance of Death.

The New Scramble for Africa and the War On Terror | Counterfire

The current scramble for Africa is not simply about the ongoing scramble for resources on the part of imperialist powers. The eurocrisis is an extra motivating factor. The crisis of neoliberalism which began in America in 2008 and then spread to Southern Europe and elsewhere threatens to spread much further still. This crisis has lit a fire under the US imperialists who are experiencing an economy in dire straits which is heading towards the ‘cliff edge’ we keep hearing about with no solutions in view and both government debt and the deficit increasing.

By way of contrast the old 19th Century scramble for Africa was motivated by a period of rapid industrial expansion fuelled by the industrial revolution. Expansion within Europe had hit a wall with the unification of Italy and Germany and so on. So the European powers turned their focus outwards towards the untapped continent of Africa at the end of the century. This involved both an imperialist scramble between imperialist rivals but also involved partial agreements and marriages of convenience in order to carve up African resources whilst attempting to minimalise inter-imperialist conflict.

Today we have a eurocrisis instead of an industrial revolution. Where previously rapid industrial growth pushed the west into Africa in order to open up new markets, now we have an economic crisis forcing imperialists to try and monetise Africa in an attempt to get some kind of purchase in a tanking economy.

When talking about the New Scramble for Africa it’s worth noting that it’s not just the left using the phrase, however convenient it may be for the left to bring up the imperialist past in the context of our current liberal democracy. In fact we don’t have to look any further than the head of Meryll Lynch Bank of America, a man by the name of Richard Gush, who said that ‘a new scramble for Africa is underway’ in the economic sphere in terms of the competition for markets and resources in Africa.

We also saw US Secretary of State John Kerry almost putting his foot in it at his inauguration hearing when he said that ‘China is all over Africa and we’ve got to get in the game here, folks, because if we get in the game we can win’. Presumably realising that he wasn’t just talking to his mates, he was also being broadcast on TV as well, Kerry tried to cover up this gaff by quickly adding that ‘when I say “win” I don’t mean win in the cold war sense, I mean win in an economic sense in terms of creating jobs for Americans’.

So the new scramble for Africa is a very real question we need to address. It’s important that we don’t just seek to understand the significance of the New Scramble For Africa but that we actually oppose any interventions into the continent and also oppose proxy wars and drone wars. Drones and proxies are in a way a partial response to the fact that the anti-war movement stopped conventional wars from being politically viable, at least in the West, forcing the imperial powers to find new ways to be horrendous and new ways of killing people.

It showed that a mass movement did actually force the imperialist powers onto a new track. Of course it’s still a nasty and dangerous situation we find ourselves in. This means that it is vital that we don’t just try to understand this new phase in the War on Terror but that we organise to effectively oppose this imperialist project as well.