Archive for August 2014
Just read the Author’s Note to Hack Attack, by Nick Davies. Here’s the beginning—you can continue reading via the “Look Inside” feature at the link. You have to scroll down past the dramatis personae and the TOC, but then you hit the Author’s Note, which begins:
This is the strangest story I’ve ever written.
In the beginning, it was next to nothing. Two men were arrested – a private investigator and a journalist from the News of the World. Both of them ended up in prison, but it was no big deal. The crime they had committed was minor. Their jail sentences were short. The only eye-catching thing about it at the time was that their crime was quite quirky: they had discovered that they could access other people’s voicemail messages and had spent months eavesdropping on three staff at Buckingham Palace. Even so, it was a small story, dead and gone from the public eye within a few days.
And yet, I ended up spending more than six years of my working life trying to unravel the bundle of corruption which lay hidden in the background. Soon there was a small group of us working together, discovering that we had stumbled into a fight with the press and the police and the government, all of them linked to an organisation which had been created by one man.
Rupert Murdoch is one of the most powerful people in the world. You could argue that he is, in fact, the most powerful. News Corp is amongst the biggest companies on the planet. Like all his commercial rivals, Murdoch has the financial power to hire or fire multiple thousands of people and the political power to worry governments by threatening to withdraw his capital and transfer it to a more co-operative nation. But, unlike his rivals in business, his power has another dimension. Because he owns newspapers and news channels, he has the ability to worry governments even more, to make them fear that without his favour they will find themselves attacked and destabilised and discredited. Certainly, a man who is both global business baron and multinational kingmaker has a special kind of power.
So the simple crime story turned out to be a story about the secret world of the power elite and their discreet alliances. This is not about conspiracy (not generally) but about the spontaneous recognition of power by power, the everyday occurrence of a natural exchange of assistance between those who occupy positions in society from which they can look down upon and mightily affect the everyday worlds of ordinary men and women. In this case, as often, that mutual favouritism took place amidst the persistent reek of falsehood – not the fevered plotting of Watergate lies, but the casual arrogance of a group of people who take it for granted that they have every right to run the country and, in doing so, to manipulate information, to conceal embarrassing truth, to try to fool all of the people all of the time.
A lot of writers say that they can’t do their job – they can’t produce the book or the film or the newspaper article – unless they can reach a point of such clarity about their project that they can reduce it to a single sentence. Waiting for a bus one day while I was drafting this book, I finally got there. This is a story about power and truth.
To be more precise, it is about the abuse of power and about the secrets and lies that protect it. In a tyranny, the ruling elite can abuse its power all day long, and anybody who complains about it will get a visit from the secret police. In an established democracy, abuse of power cannot afford to be visible. It needs concealment like a vampire needs the dark. As soon as a corporation or a trade union or a government or any arm of the state is seen to be breaking the rules, it can be attacked, potentially embarrassed, conceivably stopped. The secrets and lies are not an optional extra, they are central to the strategy.
In this case, the concealment had an extra layer, because . . .
Continue reading in the Look Inside feature.
Laura Poitras et al. report at The Intercept:
On a December night in 2011, a terrible thing happened on Mount Cudi, near the Turkish-Iraqi border. One side described it as a massacre; the other called it an accident.
Several Turkish F-16 fighter jets bombed a caravan of villagers that night, apparently under the belief that they were guerilla fighters with the separatist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The group was returning from northern Iraq and their mules were loaded down with fuel canisters and other cargo. They turned out to be smugglers, not PKK fighters. Some 34 people died in the attack.
An American Predator drone flying overhead had detected the group, prompting U.S. analysts to alert their Turkish partners.
The reconnaissance flight—which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal in 2012—and its tragic consequences provided an important insight into the very tight working relationship between American and Turkish intelligence services in the fight against Kurdish separatists. Although the PKK is still considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, its image has been improved radically by its recent success in fighting ISIS in northern Iraq and Syria. PKK fighters—backed by U.S. airstrikes—are on the front lines against the jihadist movement there, and some in the West are now advocating arming the group and lifting its terrorist label.
Documents from the archive of U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden that Der Spiegel and The Intercept have seen show just how deeply involved America has become in Turkey’s fight against the Kurds. For a time, the NSA even delivered its Turkish partners with the mobile phone location data of PKK leaders on an hourly basis. The U.S. government also provided the Turks with information about PKK money flows, and the whereabouts of some of its leaders living in exile abroad.
At the same time, the Snowden documents also show that Turkey is one of the United States’ leading targets for spying. Documents show that the political leadership in Washington, D.C., has tasked the NSA with divining Turkey’s “leadership intention,” as well as monitoring its operations in 18 other key areas. This means that Germany’s foreign intelligence service, which drew criticism in recent weeks after it was revealed it had been spying on Turkey, isn’t the only secret service interested in keeping tabs on the government in Ankara.
Turkey’s strategic location at the junction of Europe, the Soviet Union, and the Middle East made the future NATO member state an important partner to Western intelligence agencies going back to the very beginning of the Cold War. The Snowden documents show that Turkey is the NSA’s oldest partner in Asia. Even before the NSA’s founding in 1952, the CIA had established a “Sigint,” or signals intelligence, partnership with Turkey dating back to the 1940s. . .
Read Andrew Leonard’s interesting article.
Very interesting column by Ismael Hossein-Zadeh in The Asia Times Online, pointed out by my friend Jack in Amsterdam. As Jack says, Marx’s analysis seems spot-on, but it doesn’t follow that his prescriptions will work: as with any idea, it must be tried, and in this case, it didn’t pan out. But if the analysis is right, we need a better prescription. The article begins:
Many liberal economists envisioned a new dawn of Keynesianism in the 2008 financial meltdown. Nearly six years later, it is clear that the much-hoped-for Keynesian prescriptions are completely ignored. Why? Keynesian economists’ answer: “neoliberal ideology,” which they trace back to President Reagan.
This study argues, by contrast, that the transition from Keynesian to neoliberal economics has much deeper roots than pure ideology; that the transition started long before Reagan was elected President; that the Keynesian reliance on the ability of the government to re-regulate and revive the economy through policies of demand management rests on a hopeful perception that the state can control capitalism; and that, contrary to such wishful
perceptions, public policies are more than simply administrative or technical matters of choice – more importantly, they are class policies.
The study further argues that the Marxian theory of unemployment, based on his theory of the reserve army of labor, provides a much robust explanation of the protracted high levels of unemployment than the Keynesian view, which attributes the plague of unemployment to the “misguided policies of neoliberalism.” Likewise, the Marxian theory of subsistence or near-poverty wages provides a more cogent account of how or why such poverty levels of wages, as well as a generalized predominance of misery, can go hand-in-hand with high levels of profits and concentrated wealth than the Keynesian perceptions, which view high levels of employment and wages as necessary conditions for an expansionary economic cycle. 
Deeper than ‘Neoliberal ideology’
The questioning and the gradual abandonment of the Keynesian demand management strategies took place not simply because of purely ideological proclivities of “right-wing” Republicans or the personal preferences of Ronald Reagan, as many liberal and radical economists argue, but because of actual structural changes in economic or market conditions, both nationally and internationally. New Deal- Social Democratic policies were pursued in the aftermath of the Great Depression as long as the politically-awakened workers and other grassroots, as well as the favorable economic conditions of the time, rendered such policies effective. Those favorable conditions included the need to invest in and rebuild the devastated post-war economies around the world, the nearly unlimited demand for US manufactures, both at home and abroad, and the lack of competition for both US capital and labor.
These propitious circumstances, along with the pressure from below, allowed US workers to demand respectable wages and benefits while at the same time enjoying higher rates of employment. The high wages and the strong demand then served as a delightful stimulus that precipitated the long expansionary cycle of the immediate post-war period in the manner of a virtuous circle.
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, both US capital and labor were no longer unrivaled in global markets. Furthermore, during the long cycle of the immediate post-war expansion US manufacturers had invested so much in fixed capital, or capacity building, that by the late 1960s their profit rates had begun to decline as the enormous amounts of the so-called “sunk costs,” mainly in the form of plant and equipment, had become too high. 
More than anything else, it was these important changes in the actual conditions of production, and the concomitant realignment of global markets, which occasioned the gradual reservations and the ultimate abandonment of the Keynesian economics. Contrary to the repeated claims of the liberal/Keynesian partisans, it was not Ronald Reagan’s ideas or schemes that lay behind the plans of dismantling the New Deal reforms; rather, it was the globalization, first, of capital and, then, of labor that rendered Keynesian-type economic policies no longer attractive to capitalist profitability, and brought forth Ronald Reagan and neoliberal austerity economics.  . . .
And Jack offers this news story as an illustrative example of the situation we’re now in.
Not the CIA torture tapes, though: those were carefully destroyed. But these photos.
We simply lack the data. Why? I suspect because police departments do not wish the public to know. Michael Wines describes the lack of reliable statistics regarding police shootings and killings in the NY Times.
Although corporations love to talk about free competition, they in general loathe competition and wish all their competitors would go away. Where they like competition is among their suppliers: they want competition there. Corporations particularly dislike government competition, since government can provide services without the requirement that they show a continually increasing profit. Alan Holmes reviews telecom efforts in an article at The Center for Public Integrity:
Janice Bowling, a 67-year-old grandmother and Republican state senator from rural Tennessee, thought it only made sense that the city of Tullahoma be able to offer its local high-speed Internet service to areas beyond the city limits.
After all, many of her rural constituents had slow service or did not have access to commercial providers, like AT&T Inc. and Charter Communications Inc.
But a 1999 Tennessee law prohibits cities that operate their own Internet networks from providing access outside the boundaries where they provide electrical service. Bowling wanted to change that and introduced a bill in February to allow them to expand.
She viewed the network, which offers speeds about 80 times faster than AT&T and 10 times faster than Charter in Tullahoma according to advertised services, as a utility, like electricity, that all Tennesseans need.
“We don’t quarrel with the fact that AT&T has shareholders that it has to answer to,” Bowling said with a drawl while sitting in the spacious wood-paneled den of her log-cabin-style home. “That’s fine, and I believe in capitalism and the free market. But when they won’t come in, then Tennesseans have an obligation to do it themselves.”
At a meeting three weeks after Bowling introduced Senate Bill 2562, the state’s three largest telecommunications companies — AT&T, Charter, and Comcast Corp. — tried to convince Republican leaders to relegate the measure to so-called “summer study,” a black hole that effectively kills a bill. Bowling, described as “feisty” by her constituents, initially beat back the effort and thought she’d get a vote.
That’s when Joelle Phillips, president of AT&T’s Tennessee operations, leaned toward her across the table in a conference room next to the House caucus leader’s office and said tersely, “Well, I’d hate for this to end up in litigation,” Bowling recalls.
The threat surprised Bowling, and apparently AT&T’s ominous warning reached her colleagues as well. Days later, support in the Tennessee House for Bowling’s bill dissolved. AT&T had won.
“I had no idea the force that would come against this, because it’s just so reasonable and so necessary,” Bowling said.
AT&T and Phillips didn’t respond to emails asking for comment.
A national fight
Tullahoma is just one battlefront in a nationwide war that the telecommunications giants are fighting against the spread of municipal broadband networks. For more than a decade, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable Inc., and CenturyLink Inc. have spent millions of dollars to lobby state legislatures, influence state elections and buy research to try to stop the spread of public Internet services that often offer faster speeds at cheaper rates. . .