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Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth
Updated: 2 weeks 4 days ago

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

Sat, 04/28/2018 - 2:35pm

via The Guardian

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

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

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

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

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General Strike in South Africa

Sat, 04/28/2018 - 12:11pm

via Libcom

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

R20 an hour is an insult, say marchers

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

25 April 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Against Nationalism and War!

Sat, 04/28/2018 - 8:10am

via Libcom

May Day 2018 Statement of the Internationalist Communist Tendency.

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

Economic Stagnation

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

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

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

Political Failure

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

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

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

Trade Wars …

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

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

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

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

… and Strategic Wars

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

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

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

The Only Alternative

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

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

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

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

Internationalist Communist Tendency
May Day 2018

The ‘Anti-imperialism’ of Idiots

Sun, 04/15/2018 - 12:03am

by Leila Al Shami

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

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

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

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

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 11:33am

via FAIR

by Justin Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Data Duopoly and the Media Oligopoly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving a Green Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combating Corporate Concentration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning the Tables on Tech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian MacKaye’s Visceral Relationship with Life

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 6:48pm

via Psychology Today

“You tell me that I make no difference

At least I’m f*ckin’ trying

What the f*ck have you done?

It’s in my eyes

And it doesn’t look that way to me

In my eyes”

From “In My Eyes” by Minor Threat

Ian MacKaye was not always “Ian MacKaye.”

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

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

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

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Focus on Israeli Apartheid and the BDS Movement

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 12:33pm

The long-standing system of apartheid by the Israeli state has dispossessed Palestinians of their lives and land. This ongoing system of state terror has been condemned by the world community numerous times, but Israel continues its violent occupation of Palestine.

At the same time, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement (Wikipedia), has been organizing internationally to confront and change this violent occupation.

TODAY at the 5th week of #GreatReturnMarch friday demonstration, protesters throw

stones, burn tires and cut a part of the Gaza fence. 3 Palestinians were killed by Israeli snipers and more than 100 injured. The United Nation Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced that “Over the course of four Fridays of demonstrations, far more Palestinians have been injured in the Gaza Strip than in the preceding three years combined” and that “This staggering rise has had a catastrophic impact on the already-struggling Gaza health sector”
By: Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org

Updated: April 28, 2018

Israel’s Occupation of Palestine BDS Movement Protests Outside of Palestine Israel Pro-Israel Media Bias

 

La ZAD: Another End of the World Is Possible

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 10:39am
Learning from 50 Years of Struggle at Notre-Dame-des-Landes

On January 17, 2018, the French government announced on television, via the voice of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, that it had given up on pursuing the highly controversial project of building a new airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes (NDDL). This decision capped five decades of political, economic, legal, environmental, and personal struggle. The airport was to be located approximately 30 kilometers north of the city of Nantes in western France; instead, the site became la ZAD—the Zone a Défendre (Zone To Defend). What began as a small protest camp grew into a world-famous space of autonomous experimentation that lasted almost nine years.

At the very moment we are publishing this article, a massive police operation has invaded the ZAD to evict it. The French government was prepared to lose the fight to build an airport, but no state willingly cedes autonomy to anyone within its territory. The ZAD’s moment of triumph as a single-issue struggle may have spelled its doom as a space of contagious freedom.

Yet the state alone could never destroy such a vibrant project. As we will explore in detail below, dynamics that emerged from within the occupation enabled the police to resume the offensive. In some regards, this pattern is built into the life cycle of movements based around concrete objectives; but in other regards, what took place at the ZAD is avoidable, and we should make a point of learning from it if we hope to create permanent autonomous zones.

The similarities to the story of Standing Rock are obvious. In the US, starting in April 2016, thousands of people mobilized to block the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through North Dakota. Following months of clashes with the police, President Barack Obama announced that the Army Corps of Engineers would deny the permit for the last leg of the pipeline; protesters declared victory and many left the camp. Within a couple months, Donald Trump’s administration reversed the decision, the police evicted the last stragglers in the camp in a brutal raid, and the pipeline proceeded after all. The ZAD and Standing Rock offer cautionary tales about the perils of victory.

As one zadist wrote presciently to the occupiers of Standing Rock at the peak of the latter movement,

“All the things you dream of: do them now, while your enemies are reeling, trying to figure out their next angle of attack. There won’t ever be less repression, less police and private security, less drones and dogs. I personally regret not pushing harder before our possibilities shifted, not taking things to the fullest expression they could have reached. I hope you won’t have these same regrets.”

In the following text, we trace the history of 50 years of resistance to the airport at NDDL and analyze the internal dynamics that set the stage for today’s police raid.

Clashes with the police in the ZAD. The Airport at at Notre-Dame-des-Landes: From the Cradle to the Grave 1960s: The Story Begins

The idea of building a new airport in the Nantes area dates back to the 1960s. At that time, the Paris region (Ile-de-France) was constantly consolidating more and more capital. To reverse this tendency, the French government decided to embark on a new project of decentralization by creating new areas that would be attractive for investors.

In the Grand Ouest, the geographical area including the cities of Nantes and Saint-Nazaire, local authorities were concerned that the infrastructure of the region was lacking. For example, the dilapidated airport at Nantes fell short of their desire for a hub that could receive millions of passengers, provide trans-Atlantic flights, and offer a runway for the Concorde, at the time the new national aeronautic jewel. In 1965, the Loire-Atlantique prefecture agreed to start looking for an additional aeronautic site for the region.

In 1968, Notre-Dame-Des-Landes was selected as the best place to build a new airport on account of its location between Rennes and Nantes. Local farmers opposed the project; they formed the first organization to defend against it in 1972. In 1974, a zone d’aménagement différé (deferred development zone) was created at Notre-Dame-des-Landes. This official decree allowed the government to progressively purchase land in the area. However, the oil crisis of the 1970s and the opening of the new high-speed railway line (TGV) at Nantes in 1989 delayed the project for several decades.

No airport! 2000s: The Airport, Again

In 2000, the project was revived under the government of Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. This delighted Jean-Marc Ayrault, then Mayor of Nantes (and later Prime Minister under François Hollande’s presidency), who had personal plans for restructuring his city. The plan from 1970 was already obsolete. After creating a special committee to study the issue, the local authorities received an official report validating that the project promoted “public utility and interest.” Despite the newly adopted Grenelle de l’Environnement1 stating that no new airport should be build in France, on February 9, 2008, the French state signed a decree valid for 10 years stating the “public utility and interest” of building the new airport.

At this point, various groups began to object that environmental issues had been set aside in order to speed up the validation process. Opponents of the airport organized awareness campaigns on a local and national scale.

In 2009, their determination paid off. That summer, local activists and residents organized a “climate action camp” on the designated site of the future airport. Hundreds of activists discussed the issues at stake in the decision to build an international airport on top of these fields and historic farmers’ houses. The first major occupation took place during this camp. Understanding that the French government was determined to pursue the project, activists decided to occupy the site of the future airport by squatting the buildings and farms that were left empty by the authorities and building their own shacks and houses. On the incandescent ashes of the “climate action camp,” the ZAD was born.2 When the occupation began, several organizations decided to follow the legal protocol by presenting the Conseil d’Etat3 with several objections to the airport project, focusing on its environmental impact. The Conseil d’Etat rejected their demands.

Among the numerous objections raised to the airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, the major ones include:

• In addition to the obvious fact that airplanes are accelerating global climate change, the new airport would destroy approximately 2000 hectares of well-preserved forests and wetlands. The project would have a massive impact on the biodiversity of the region, including on hundreds of animal species and natural water sources within and around the ZAD that are officially “protected.”

• The airport would also affect human beings, destroying farming lands and eliminating the chief income of local farmers and their families. The contract for the construction of the airport included measures to expel the inhabitants of the construction zone. Living near an airport would also raise health and quality of life issues for residents.

• There were also economic problems relating to the airport. Why put money into creating a new airport rather than renovating the existing one? What would happen to the older airport once the new one was operational? A new airport in the region would impact the locals in other ways, as taxes would increase.

• Finally, the lack of transparency. At first, authorities promoted the new airport by explaining that it would be bigger than the existing one. However, opponents revealed that the plans for the future airport indicated that the additional space would not be used to increase the “comfort” of passengers in the terminals, but rather to create a bigger shopping area. This increased popular opposition.

The classic slogan of the ZAD: “Against the airport and its world.” 2010s: The Struggle Intensifies

In December 2010, a subsidiary company of VINCI, the internationally well-known French Concession and Construction Company, was selected as the state’s new partner for the airport project. According to the contract, VINCI would receive funds from the state to design, build, and operate the future airport for 55 years, in addition to the existing airport between Nantes and Saint-Nazaire. The opening of the new airport at NDDL was set for 2017.

After the official announcement, the French multinational was targeted in solidarity actions across France and elsewhere around the world. The decision did not discourage the opponents. On the contrary, more and more people showed up to occupy the land. Many activists were eager to experiment in alternative forms of autonomous living based in mutual aid and self-sufficiency. Parcels of land were transformed into collectively cultivated gardens; collective spaces were created as well as several forges, bakeries, and mills. Here is a rough translation of a text published in December 2011 summarizing the general idea behind the creation of the ZAD at NDDL:

Nôtre Dame des Landes

The struggle against the NDDL airport is an attempt to create a breach in the capitalist ramparts. Because for many of us, to attack capitalism, we had to start somewhere!

This is 2000 hectares that will be razed to the ground and covered with concrete, with the delusional goal of creating a HQE (High Environmental Quality) international airport. We could laugh about it if the local population in favor of this project were not imagining making a profit from it. But the rich will become richer and the poor, poorer. The realization of this project led by VINCI, a multi-national company present on all the continents (also in Khimki, near Moscow, where VINCI wants cut down the last local forests, and where the weak resistance on the ground confronts ultra-violent far-right wing militias, in a context in which political assassination is common place), was therefore chosen, in defiance of the local population, who made a call to occupy the land in 2009 to resist this decision.

The occupation has been going on for two years now, during which a handful of anti-capitalist resistance fighters have developed food, cultural, and political autonomy. The squatting of this zone to defend (ZAD) slows down the construction of the airport, leading to the charging of activists, repression against them, and starting not long ago, eviction procedures, but we will resist whatever the cost!

This is why, today, we are calling for the re-occupation of the site and for international rebellion!

It goes without saying that when they evict us, we will resist! (And international solidarity is necessary if we want to put capitalism to an end!)

Against rampant capitalism and the sacred power of money, there is only one solution: insurrection!

“This is a summons to resist.” A map of the ZAD.

The ZAD progressively became a sort of autonomous community, drawing a wide range of individuals from longtime farmers living on the ZAD to anarchists, anti-globalization activists, liberals, and leftists. The zadists themselves emphasize this diversity. Years later, in 2017, “Camille” (a standard nom de guerre among activists), a zadist at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, explained:

“The movement itself is large and has great solidarity, but there’s a great diversity of people and opinions (…) From those who’ve got degrees to people from the streets or those who just want to get away from their families (…) some are already politically engaged, some just broken by conventional life.”

The growth of the ZAD led to an intensification of legal battles to block the airport project. The opponents filed many appeals and legal proceedings followed one another for several years. In 2012, two local farmers went on hunger strike in front of the Nantes prefecture to protest the project. The newly elected Socialist President François Hollande promised that the government would not physically enter the zone until every other means available had been exhausted.

“Welcome to our vision of the future.”

Nevertheless, early in the morning of October 16, 2012, the government of Jean-Marc Ayrault—now Prime Minister—launched Opération César, the official name given to the eviction of the ZAD.4 More than one thousand police forces, two helicopters, and several armed vehicles were deployed in this operation.

On the first day of Operation Caesar, police forces slowly progressed through the occupied zone, destroying everything in their path. However, the authorities had underestimated their opponents: unanticipated resistance from zadists stymied the operation. Over the following days, activists gathered to reoccupy and defend the ZAD. Demonstrations delayed police operations while activists erected barricades and pelted the police with stones. The wide array of actions, the unfailing solidarity among zadists, and their knowledge of the terrain were major assets. The NDDL movement gained more and more support and visibility while Operation Caesar bogged down.

After days of perpetual harassment on one side and tenacious resistance on the other, the government suspended the operation. This decision was not taken lightly. On the first day of the eviction, the Prefect of Loire-Atlantique, Christian de Lavernée, had declared, “If the state can’t take back the zone, then we should be worried for the state.”

“If the state can’t take back the zone, we should be worried for the state.”

The French government had admitted defeat. This was a major turning point in the psychological war between the authorities and the zadists. The following month, on November 17, 2012, several thousand people showed up to reclaim and reoccupy their land and to clean and rebuild the ZAD. You can read a report from the reoccupation demo here. To read a longer personal account of Operation Caesar, we recommend “Rural Rebels and Useless Airports,” published in two parts here and here.

A week after the successful reoccupation, the government changed its strategy, seeking to restore its public image by announcing the establishment of three different commissions—one gathering experts, another focusing on establishing dialogue between the different parties, and the a third composed of scientists—in order to find a solution to the conflict.

In 2013, the movement around the occupation of the ZAD continued growing; numerous agricultural and living projects appeared. In the meantime, direct action and sabotage became more frequent, as chronicled in a zine entitled Défendre la zad, Paroles publiques depuis le mouvement d’occupation de la zad de Notre-Dame-des-Landes, 2013-2015.

For example, in March 2013, a group went to a construction site outside of Nantes. This construction site was slated to start building a major highway connecting Saint-Nazaire, Nantes, and Rennes in order to facilitate the transport and delivery of equipment to build the airport at NDDL and to connect it to those three cities. The group destroyed ducts, cables, surveyors’ equipment, and six electric poles. They justified this attack with the following arguments:

  1. Defending the zone and fighting against the airport and its world doesn’t just mean occupying the ZAD or living there while awaiting eviction. It also means building a real offensive against the project by developing practices of active resistance.
  2. The movement must not fall into the traps of the government and be neutralized. That includes the commission aimed at establishing dialogue, with all its negotiations, agreements, compromises, potential moratoriums, and other frauds.
  3. Direct action will increase the pressure on the decision-makers.

Indeed, on April 2013, the dialogue commission presented its conclusions. Once again, the airport project was announced to be of “public utility,” but this time the commission asked for a few improvements regarding environmental compensations. For example, in view of the hundreds of protected species living on the ZAD and its surroundings, the commission determined that financial compensation should be granted in return for… four of them. This underscores the cynicism of the state.

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‘Reforming has done nothing. That’s why I’m an anarchist.’ An interview with Benjamin Zephaniah

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 8:35am

via Red Pepper

Benjamin Zephaniah is still angry. The legendary novelist, actor, playwright, poet and musician has spent a career raging against the racist machine – and he’s not about to stop any time soon. As a young black man growing up in the 70s and 80s, he saw more than his share of police violence – and spent a stint in prison himself. Those experiences informed a body of work which pulls no punches in its critique of institutional racism.

For Benjamin, success didn’t come easy. He left school at thirteen, gaining a reputation as a wordsmith on the dub poetry scene before publishing his first book of poetry by the age of just 22. The following year, police stop and search brutality gave rise to the Brixton Riots of 1981. Benjamin was in the thick of it, and chronicled those experiences in the 1983 album, Rasta.

“When I was picked up by white police officers I told them they were being racist, so they sent in a black officer to beat me instead. Could I tell a black copper he was being racist? He was with the institution. It happened a lot back then. They’d just jump out the car and beat me up and drive off. That’s why we had a lot of riots.” The Scarman Report of the time concluded the police were not racist – rather, the black community harboured the dangerous misbelief that they were being treated unfairly by the institution.

Benjamin speaks about this incident on the album track, Dis Policeman Keeps Kicking me to Death (Lord Scarman Dub) with the lyrics:

 “I am living in de ghetto / trying to do my best / when dis policeman tells me / I’m under damn arrest / Him beat me so badly / I was on the floor / him said if I don’t plead guilty / him gwan kick me more / I was feeling sick, I pleaded RACIST ATTACK /another policeman come to finish me off, dis one was black. In dis war we have traitors who don’t think to sell you out. In dis war der are people who refuse to hear de shout for human rights to be regarded as a basic right. Still dis policeman kicks me every day and every night.”

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Documents reveal Shell knew dangers of fossil fuels and climate change decades ago

Sat, 04/07/2018 - 12:06pm

via The Ecologist

by Mat Hope

Shell knew climate change was going to be big, was going to be bad, and that its products were responsible for global warming all the way back in the 1980s, a tranche of new documents reveal.

Documents unearthed by Jelmer Mommers of De Correspondent, published on Climate Files, a project of the Climate Investigations Center, show intense interest in climate change internally at Shell.

The documents date back to 1988, meaning Shell was doing climate change research before the UN’s scientific authority on the issue – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – was established.

Here’s a quick run through of a 1988 document entitled, The Greenhouse Effect. Shell’s internal document acknowledge that increased greenhouse gas emissions could lead to 1.5 degrees to 3.5 degrees of warming:

Shell was worried that should the issue of climate change become better known, public opinion may shift against fossil fuels and towards renewables, putting Shell’s business model at risk:

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