Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Break up Facebook (and while we’re at it, Google, Apple and Amazon)

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

by ROBERT REICH

‘How long will it be before Facebook uses its own data and platform against critics?’ PHOTO/Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Big tech has ushered in a second Gilded Age. We must relearn the lessons of the first, writes the former US labor secretary

Last week, the New York Times revealed that Facebook executives withheld evidence of Russian activity on their platform far longer than previously disclosed. They also employed a political opposition research firm to discredit critics.

There’s a larger story here.

America’s Gilded Age of the late 19th century began with a raft of innovations – railroads, steel production, oil extraction – but culminated in mammoth trusts owned by “robber barons” who used their wealth and power to drive out competitors and corrupt American politics.

We’re now in a second Gilded Age – ushered in by semiconductors, software and the internet – that has spawned a handful of giant hi-tech companies.

Facebook and Google dominate advertising. They’re the first stops for many Americans seeking news. Apple dominates smartphones and laptop computers. Amazon is now the first stop for a third of all American consumers seeking to buy anything.

This consolidation at the heart of the American economy creates two big problems.

America responded to the Gilded Age’s abuses of corporate power with antitrust laws

First, it stifles innovation. Contrary to the conventional view of a US economy bubbling with inventive small companies, the rate at which new job-creating businesses have formed in the United States has been halved since 2004, according to the census.

A major culprit: big tech’s sweeping patents, data, growing networks and dominant platforms have become formidable barriers to new entrants.

The second problem is political. These massive concentrations of economic power generate political clout that’s easily abused, as the New York Times investigation of Facebook reveals. How long will it be before Facebook uses its own data and platform against critics? Or before potential critics are silenced even by the possibility?

America responded to the Gilded Age’s abuses of corporate power with antitrust laws that allowed the government to break up the largest concentrations.

President Teddy Roosevelt went after the Northern Securities Company, a giant railroad trust financed by JP Morgan and John D Rockefeller, the nation’s two most powerful businessmen. The US supreme court backed Roosevelt and ordered the company dismantled.

In 1911, President William Howard Taft broke up Rockefeller’s sprawling Standard Oil empire.

It is time to use antitrust again. We should break up the hi-tech behemoths, or at least require they make their proprietary technology and data publicly available and share their platforms with smaller competitors.

The Guardian for more

Governments must tackle meat over-consumption

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

by BRENDAN MONTAGUE

Reducing meat and dairy consumption is essential for meeting climate targets.

There is a complete lack of public policies in place to ensure the food sector is part of the solution to climate change, a new report from the Changing Markets Foundation and Mighty Earth has revealed.

In many EU countries and in the US, meat consumption is more than double the recommended levels for healthy diets.

However, the report – Growing the Good: The Case for Low Carbon Transition in the Food Sector – argues that government policies universally support unsustainable agricultural production systems dominated by intensive meat and dairy farmers and producers.

Global emissions

In contrast, the report highlights positive market trends, notably the growth of plant-based foods and ground-breaking innovation in meat alternatives.

The number of vegans and vegetarians is also growing rapidly and many more people, particularly among the younger generations, are reducing their meat intake.

Instead of fuelling such societal trends, politicians are succumbing to pressure from meat producers by introducing new legislative measures aiming to restrict market growth for alternatives, such as the recent French ban on terms like ‘vegan burger’.

Nusa Urbancic, Campaigns Director at the Changing Markets Foundation, commented: “The lack of public policies in this sector is alarming.

“If meat and dairy consumption increases as forecast, there will be almost no room within the total allowable global emissions budget for any sectors other than agriculture by 2050.

“The window of opportunity to address climate change is closing, while its consequences are already being felt. This year’s droughts resulted in food price increases and even more public subsidies to this polluting sector – mostly to finance feed imports.

“Unsustainable bail-outs should end, and governments should instead finance the transition towards a low emissions food system with more environmentally friendly farming methods and healthier diets for all.”

Sustainable models

Animal agriculture is responsible for around 16.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, equivalent to the emissions from combustion of all transport fuels. The sector is also responsible for a third of potent methane and nitrous oxide emission.

A managed reduction in demand for meat and dairy could increase humanity’s chances to stay below 1.5°C temperature increase and avoid climate the ‘cliff edge’ as highlighted by the last week’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Low carbon transition in the food sector is also crucial to reduce the pressure on land. Currently, 70-80 percent of agricultural land is dedicated to animal agriculture, either directly for grazing or to grow increasing quantities of feed. Reducing the number of animals is key to put this land to use for reforestation, climate sequestration and also to more sustainable farming methods.

Anahita Yousefi, Mighty Earth campaigns director, said: “The complete absence of public policies to promote a shift towards plant-based diets means that this critical dietary shift is left to the whims of the market and personal choice.

The public is being forced to foot the bill for environmental impact of animal agriculture and the market is being denied opportunities for more sustainable models of food production and healthier diets.”

Key recommendations

Bérénice Dupeux, policy officer for agriculture at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said: “This report is yet more evidence that to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, the agriculture sector needs to significantly reduce meat and dairy production to reduce overall emissions – just as many other industries are doing.

The Ecologist for more

Why is inclusive mosque so afraid of secularism?

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

by MARYAM NAMAZIE

The Inclusive Mosque Initiative is organising “Beyond the Promise of Secularism” in response to our 25 November International Conference on Sharia, Segregation and Secularism.

Their event will apparently explore what they say are “western preoccupations with ‘Sharia Law’, Hijabs, and segregation” and “look at the ways Islam is pitted against ‘secularism’ in the name of women’s rights, equality and democracy, and … utilised and weaponised by the State against Muslim communities and other minorities to promote nationalist narratives.”

Given the Inclusive Mosque’s confusions, I hope our conference and its 38 speakers from 24 countries and the Diaspora, may assist them in understanding what secularism is before they venture “beyond secularism.” Leading activists in the fight against the far-Right – including religious fundamentalisms of all stripes – from Algeria, Bangladesh, Europe, India, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Kurdistan, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, Serbia to Sudan, Tunisia and the United States – will reiterate the importance of secularism and universal values for women’s rights.

We can only hope that our conference will enable Inclusive Mosque to finally grasp that secularism is merely a framework that separates religion from the state to ensure that religion cannot influence the state and public policy and impose itself on private lives. After all, not everyone in a given society is a believer and even if they are, they don’t usually want the state to tell them how to believe. And what about the persecuted atheists and agnostics, like ex-Muslims, or minorities like the Christian Asia Bibi in Pakistan or Bahais in Iran or LGBT in Somalia and UAE?

Only a secular framework can ensure the equal rights of all citizens before the law and not different rights for different categories of communalised groups. It is only a secular framework that can ensure one law for all via changeable laws made by people versus unchangeable ‘divine’ laws imposed by clerics. It is a secular framework which can allow for multi-ethnic, multi-religious and plural societies and is a minimum precondition for the rights of women and minorities. It is a secular framework that can ensure freedom of conscience, including freedom of and from religion. Which is why there is no “Inclusive” Mosque – let alone a Council of Ex-Muslims – in places like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Iran.

Maryam Namazie for more

25 years ago: Christian Democrats suffer political collapse in Italy

Monday, December 10th, 2018

WORLD SOCIALIST WEB SITE

A PDS rally outside the Vatican

In two rounds of municipal and regional elections concluding December 5, 1993, the Christian Democratic Party, which had ruled Italy as part of coalition governments throughout the period since World War II, suffered an historic rout, with millions of voters shifting their support both to the neo-fascist right and the Party of the Democratic Left (PDS), the successor organization to the Italian Communist Party.

The coalition of the Christian Democrats and three smaller “center” parties won no more than 15 percent of the first round of the vote in the November 21, and placed not a single candidate into the second round, December 5, in any major city or region. In most cases, the runoffs were between candidates of the PDS and two ultra-right opponents, the MSI, the neo-fascist party founded by former supporters of Mussolini, and the Northern League, the regional chauvinist party founded by Umberto Bossi.

Candidates backed by the PDS won control of Italy’s five largest cities: Rome, Naples, Milan, Genoa and Trieste. The runoff for mayor of Rome, the capital and largest city, saw Franco Rutelli, a Green running with support from the ex-Stalinist PDS, defeat Gianfranco Fini of the MSI. The fact that the successor party to Mussolini’s blackshirts won 40 percent of the vote in the Italian capital, 50 years after the dictator’s overthrow, was a warning to the Italian and European working class.

The political authority of the Christian Democrats had been undermined by the economic crisis and massive job cuts at major industrial companies like Fiat, Olivetti and Alfa Romeo. Added to this was the impact of a mushrooming scandal over the systematic payoffs to Italian politicians of all parties by the corporate elite, in the course of which more than 3,000 politicians, bankers and corporate executives were indicted, arrested or forced to resign their positions.

Particularly destabilizing in Italy was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resultant transformation of the main Stalinist parties in Western Europe, like the Italian Communist Party (PCI), which had a symbiotic relationship with the Christian Democrats over the previous four decades. The PCI served to politically straitjacket the working class and block any challenge to capitalist rule, while enjoying enormous privileges as the official opposition party in parliament and the ruling party in many cities and regions.

The PCI was always the most right-wing of the Stalinist parties in Western Europe, pioneering the reformist doctrine known as “Euro-Communism,” which foreshadowed the open abandonment of even the pretense of a connection between the PCI and the perspective of socialism, let alone revolution. The transformation of the PCI into the PDS was another step in grooming the former Stalinist party to play the role of stabilizer and defender of Italian capitalism after the break-up of the Christian Democrats.

50 years ago: Vietnam peace talks to be resumed

Changing its decision in early November to leave the Paris Peace Talks, the government of South Vietnam announced on December 7, 1968 it would re-join the negotiations. The envoys left Saigon just three hours after the national legislature voted to give official approval to participation in the negotiations. The delegation was led by Nguyen Cao Ky, vice president of South Vietnam and the former air force commander who was appointed the “Supreme Advisor” for the team.

Paris peace talks deadlock over the shape of the conference table

World Socialist Web Site for more

Promises to keep

Monday, December 10th, 2018

by ASHRAF JEHANGIR QAZI

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan PHOTO/Daily Times

When I returned to Pakistan in 2010, Imran Khan was an emerging presence on the political scene. Asif Zardari had been swept into office on an outpouring of sympathy for his assassinated wife. He cared little for her legacy. He sought only to cash in on her popularity. Nawaz Sharif never really developed beyond being a Punjabi politician. Neither he nor Zardari had the qualities, passion or moral imagination to transform Pakistan.

Imran Khan projected an image of simplicity and sincerity, of a leader not interested in accumulating wealth, confident in his achievements in cricket and philanthropy, seeking to be a national statesman rather than a ‘successful’ politician, and with a transcending and empowering belief that ‘someone up there liked him’ enough to be the saviour of Pakistan. He embodied hope, instead of the acquiescent despondency the ruling elite and its servile public intelligentsia and political ‘commentariat’ sought to inculcate in the people.

Many, especially among the English-speaking middle and upper classes saw Imran’s confidence and faith in himself as an arrogant lack of both humility and sophistication. Many more among the youth and the poorer classes saw him as exactly the maverick outsider needed to challenge the ruling elite who were the principal impediment to Pakistan’s progress. This perception outweighed all his alleged shortcomings. It put him on a level far above his tainted rivals.

Before the 2013 elections, I suggested that any result other than a win for Imran would be uninteresting as it would mean the political cavalcade to hell would continue. Only he would bend his every effort to cure the cancer of political, social, economic and institutional corruption that was killing Pakistan. He did not win. Instead, he displayed a remarkable resilience and tenacity as an opposition leader to ultimately bring down a corrupt government at the centre while providing perceptibly better governance in KP.

An unbridgeable chasm opened up between Nawaz Sharif and the military/intelligence establishment. Massive corruption scandals involving him and his family surfaced. These developments led to his judicial ouster, disqualification and imprisonment. Imran Khan’s political fortunes underwent a sea change.

Imran entered the 2018 elections with an ‘umpire’ more in the mould of Idris Beg than Dickie Bird! The umpire’s finger was far more upwardly mobile than in 2013. Imran no longer inspired the same enthusiasm. He was more popular in defeat in 2013 than he was in victory in 2018.

Nevertheless, the cynicism and disappointment generated by his proximity to the power establishment abated in the moment of his triumph. Past hopes were stirred. He was expected to provide relief from the filth of pervasive corruption and, not least, from the lethal costs of self-serving political and policy interventions by an unelected and overweening but inept ‘deep state’. At least democratic control over domestic and foreign policy was expected to result in much less folly, disaster and isolation.

Dawn for more

Why be nonbinary?

Monday, December 10th, 2018

by ROBIN DEMBROFF

IMAGE/STATE NEWS/Duck Duck Go

A world segregated into male and female categories feels suffocating. Nonbinary identity is a radical escape hatch

Recently, I found myself at London Stansted Airport, travelling back to the United States. I’m a frequent flyer, so I’m familiar with the airport ritual: shoes, laptop, body scanner. But for myself and many others, the final instalment of this liturgy tends to become a social test. As usual, I braced myself and stepped into the scanner.

‘Arms like this… Anything in your pockets? Stand still.’ As the security agent stepped back to the controller, she looked up. Gender panic rose in her face. Her eyes desperately tried to undress me: female or male? Pink or blue button? (Yes, pink or blue.) ‘Female,’ I sighed, but the Plexiglas muffled my voice. ‘Female!’ I yelled. ‘The pink button!’ Other travellers froze, expecting a scene, but the agent’s face lit up. ‘I thought you were a woman!’ she announced triumphantly. She jabbed the button featuring a pink stick figure: vagina; female; woman.

As someone who is gender nonbinary, I’ve gathered hundreds of these stories. Some are funny, others vicious. Despite a widespread assumption that everyone fits into neat gender categories, I’ve always been treated as a gender question mark. My social interactions since childhood have been filled with wildly vacillating gender expectations. These days, though, I identify as nonbinary not because I am androgynous. Rather, I do so because experiencing life as an androgynous person has made me acutely aware of how gendered expectations and assumptions saturate our lives.

Unreflective critics like to accuse people like me of being ‘obsessed’ with gender. But far from being obsessed, many of us are just plain tired of it. I am tired of living in a society where everyone forces each other into a blue or a pink box. The ferocity with which these gender boxes are maintained – and the Hail Mary attempts to justify them with science – is truly staggering. Anyone who dares to challenge these boxes is met with distortion and ridicule. I don’t want to put up with it any longer: my identity is a petition for an escape hatch.

Most people assume that gender is tied to biological sex. For the majority, this means that gender is identical to sex, where sex is taken to be determined by one’s reproductive features. Call this the ‘identity’ view of gender. For others, following Simone de Beauvoir, gender is the social meaning of sex. Call this the ‘social position’ view of gender.

On either the identity or the social-position view, your gender is constrained by whether your body is sexed as male or as female. According to the identity view, your gender just is your sexed body. And, according to the social view, your gender is unavoidably indexed to your sexed body, because society imposes social roles onto you on the basis of your biology. On either view, then, it would seem that nonbinary genders do not – cannot – exist. But this is mistaken.

Consider first those who hold to a strict identity relation between gender and sex. On this view, nonbinary gender cannot exist because – it is assumed – everyone has either a male or a female body. This view proliferates on countless blogs, forums and news sources, where one finds wildly distorted discussions of what it means to be nonbinary. Nearly all conclude that nonbinary gender is a biological impossibility. The more vitriolic commenters add to this that anyone who says they are nonbinary is deranged.

It seems, then, that when I say: ‘I am nonbinary’, a staggering number of people take this to mean: ‘I don’t have female or male reproductive features’, and so dismiss my claim as absurd. But this is a conversational failure. Maybe even a bald-faced lie. We are nowhere near the end of militant insistence that nonbinary genders are a ‘biological’ impossibility. But the insistence is a façade hiding a bad argument. Let’s take the reasoning at face value:

Aeon for more

Weekend Edition

Friday, December 7th, 2018

Fake vs fake fight

Friday, December 7th, 2018

by B. R. GOWANI

Former first lady Laura Bush, former President George W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State and first lady Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, former President George H. W. Bush, former first lady Michelle Obama and current first lady Melania Trump pose for a group photo at the funeral ceremony for the late first lady Barbara Bush at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church on April 21, 2018 in Houston, Texas. PHOTO/Paul Morse/George W. Bush Presidential Center via Getty Images/MPR News

(From left) President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Rosalynn Carter attend the State Funeral of former President George H.W. Bush at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, Dec. 5, 2018. PHOTO/Jack Gruber/USA TODAY

Trump, a fake sympathizer of common people
criticizes CNN, Washington Post, New York Times as “fake news”
at least the fake Trump knows the fake news media
but the fake Trump refuses to recognize Fox News as such
even though the Fox News is the fakest of them all

same is true of Washington Post, CNN, New York Times, etc.
they accuse Trump of being fake
but they resist acknowledging fake people among their lot

US president/monster/war criminal George H. W. Bush died last week
his son Bush Jr. president/war criminal/monster cried while paying tribute
neither father nor son ever shed a tear for the victims of their heinous wars
in Iraq – father 1992, son 2003

“U.S. planes trapped the long convoys [of retreating and leaving civilians of various nationalities and Iraqi soldiers from Kuwait] by disabling vehicles in the front, and at the rear, and then pounded the resulting traffic jams for hours,” according to Joyce Chediac, a Lebanese-American journalist.

In the words of one US pilot, “It was like shooting fish in a barrel.” PHOTO/Information Clearing House

George H. W. Bush’s also invaded Panama in 1989/1990
his crimes as CIA director
rarely any of those things were discussed

Trump and Republicans are openly fake
Democrats and their media mask their fakeness with “civility” and “decency”

B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com

Pagans against Genesis

Friday, December 7th, 2018

by PIETER VAN DER HORST

Confused, inferior and philosophically unsound: the Greco-Roman critique of the Old Testament could have been written today

In the early 3rd century BCE, the biblical book of Genesis was translated from Hebrew into Greek in order to be read by the Jewish communities of the diaspora who no longer understood Hebrew. Though the book could now be read by non-Jewish Greeks, it did not incite much commentary or hostility because Judaism was not a missionary religion. Most Greeks felt no need to quarrel with the Jews. But with the rise of Christianity – a decidedly missionary religion – the situation changed. Christians adopted the Greek Bible from the Jews, and in their proselytising efforts they confronted non-Jews with this book, which they took to prove that the coming of Christ had been predicted by Moses and the prophets. Between the 2nd and 4th centuries CE, pagans struck back against the new Christian challenge, arguing that the Greek Bible (the Old Testament) was an inferior work, confused and philosophically unsound. There are three Platonist philosophers who stood foremost in the philosophical fight against the Christians and their book of Genesis: Celsus, Porphyry and Julian the Apostate.

Celsus, the first pagan writer known to have drawn extensively on Genesis, wrote his massive anti-Christian work The True Doctrine between 175 and 180 CE. It does not survive. But some 70 years later, his book at last received its equally massive counterattack in the Christian scholar Origen of Alexandria’s work Against Celsus (c248 CE). Origen’s book contains extensive quotations and paraphrases of Celsus, allowing us to examine the role that Genesis played in his polemics against Christians and Jews. As with other later Platonists, Celsus firmly believed that the ‘true doctrine’, which is of divine origin, is to be found in the age-old traditions passed on since time immemorial by wise ‘barbarian’ (that is, non-Greek) nations, such as the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Indians, etc. There is, he says, an ancient doctrine that has existed from the beginning of time, and has always been maintained by the wisest nations and most perspicacious humans. But much to Origen’s indignation, Celsus excludes the Jews from this list. Celsus argues that the Jews, instructed by Moses, perverted this tradition by insisting that there is only one God, and by abandoning the customs and practices that are part and parcel of this old tradition. In fact it is precisely this novelty that disqualifies the Jews from taking their position among the wise ‘barbarians’.

In Celsus, we find for the first time all the major issues in the debate about the Bible between Christians (and, by implication, Jews) and the Greco-Roman intellectuals that remained standard topics from then on. The arguments sometimes sound surprisingly modern. These include the utter lack of literary quality of the Bible, the glaring contradictions between the various biblical books, and the chronological inconsistencies. The Bible is also charged to be a product of plagiarism containing highly implausible prophecies and, most importantly, promoting a philosophically untenable concept of God – a God that is anthropomorphic.

Aeon for more

What if Donald Trump is what America is all about?

Friday, December 7th, 2018

by HAMID DABASHI

President Donald Trump walks away after stepping off Marine One, on the South Lawn of the White House, Sunday, November 11, 2018, in Washington, DC PHOTO/AP/Alex Brandon

There is a widely accepted idea among some Americans that Trump does not reflect American values. They are wrong.

In an erudite and timely piece for the New York Times, published just a few days before the midterm elections in early November 2018, my distinguished Columbia University colleague Andrew Delbanco wrote a poignant essay about “The Long Struggle for America’s Soul.”

In this learned piece, Professor Delbanco writes passionately about the long US history of human suffering that had come before the cruel behaviours and policies of the democratically elected President Donald Trump, focusing specifically on slavery.

“Even free black people in the North …” we learn in this piece, “found their lives infused with terror of being seized and deported on the pretext that they had once belonged to someone in the South. The Fugitive Slave Act forced them to dread every footstep on the stairs and every knock on the door. As for the millions still in bondage in the South, it deepened the despair of the already desperate.”

Delbanco also points to some crucial events in the later history of the United States, such as Abraham Lincoln’s call for “re-adoption” of to the Declaration of Independence, the New Deal of the 1930s, and the Civil Rights Movement as attempts to right the terrorising wrongs of slavery.

His excellent essay and his recent book from which it is drawn, The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul From the Revolution to the Civil War (2018), seem to rest on the assumption that the “American Soul” is something quintessentially good and even noble, sublime, and beautiful to behold, and yet there are dark forces trying to take it over and spoil it.

But with due diligence and persistent struggle and perhaps even the grace of God, so this assumption goes, Americans will someday get there and win the noble battle for the “American Soul”.
Might the opposite be true?

This widely accepted idea of the benign essence of the “American soul”, however, has never been questioned and the opposite assumption – that it is not intrinsically good – has never been critically examined.

So might it be that exactly the opposite proposition is true: That this “American soul” might, in fact, be precisely what we now see in Trump and Trumpism, institutionalised not just in the heinous history of slavery but even earlier than that – in the genocidal history of American conquest and slaughter of native peoples?

And that the whole sustained history of US thuggish militarism on almost every continent on planet earth, waging wars, toppling regimes, instigating military coups is its natural manifestation?

We may, in fact, be hard pressed to find a single moment in American history when hateful racism, sexism, militarism, and xenophobia have not been entirely definitive to this “American soul”.

Could this “American soul” perhaps be something entirely diabolical, perturbed, vicious, vindictive, monstrously greedy from the get-go?

With far less historical erudition and far more political rhetoric liberal politicians ranging from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders keep telling Americans what Trump is doing “is not what America is all about.”

Campaigning against Donald Trump during the midterm elections, Obama went out and loudly declared: “We helped spread a commitment to certain values and principles like the rule of law and human rights and democracy and the notion of the inherent dignity and worth of every individual.”

Really? Is that what the US has done around the globe? Who exactly is this “We”? Would that “We” include the US president who gave billions of dollars to Israel to slaughter Palestinians with ease and to the Saudis to commit war crimes in Yemen; and would it include the president before him who left Iraq and Afghanistan in ruins?

We seriously need to examine this American soul business and wonder what makes it so murderously detrimental to world peace, and while we are at it rediscover what is this “America really about”.

Al Jazeera for more