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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Cornell West on Obama

Friday, September 5th, 2014

The full interview is a great read, but this part of it does a good job summing it up:

So that’s my first question, it’s a lot of ground to cover but how do you feel things have worked out since then, both with the economy and with this president? That was a huge turning point, that moment in 2008, and my own feeling is that we didn’t turn.

No, the thing is he posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency. The torturers go free. The Wall Street executives go free. The war crimes in the Middle East, especially now in Gaza, the war criminals go free. And yet, you know, he acted as if he was both a progressive and as if he was concerned about the issues of serious injustice and inequality and it turned out that he’s just another neoliberal centrist with a smile and with a nice rhetorical flair. And that’s a very sad moment in the history of the nation because we are—we’re an empire in decline. Our culture is in increasing decay. Our school systems are in deep trouble. Our political system is dysfunctional. Our leaders are more and more bought off with legalized bribery and normalized corruption in Congress and too much of our civil life. You would think that we needed somebody—a Lincoln-like figure who could revive some democratic spirit and democratic possibility.

Why Automation Is Problematic

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

It’s Labor Day here in the US, and automation and its implications is something that again, has been weighing on my mind.

Here’s the short, to the point summary in two graphs:

Changes in Productivity and Hourly Compensation since 1948

Change in Productivity and Wages since 1979

To spell it out: the fundamental problem with automation is that when workers (lets call them the “proletariat”) are displaced by automation, they don’t see any of society’s productivity gains – those benefits are instead captured and concentrated by a smaller and smaller set of owners/capitalists (lets call them “bourgeoisie”).

Economic and technological logic is no doubt going to inexorably drive this displacement, but it’s not going to address the resulting social instability creating a massive and literally unsustainable underclass.

Related recent articles/discussion:

Syria Resolution in Congress

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

The Syrian civil war that’s left tens of thousands of civilians dead has been terrible and tragic, and Assad’s recent use of chemical weapons only compounds that. Remember, all this started during the Arab Spring in 2011 when Assad responded to protests by kidnapping, torturing and raping activists and their family members, including children. The fact that the international community can’t get its shit together in light of what’s been going on for over two years offers dim hopes for humanity’s future.

Unfortunately, I don’t see how symbolic “limited and narrow” unilateral military action by the US would help… anyone, really. That, btw is the general consensus, but I can’t even imagine it impacting Assad’s continued killing of civilians, conventionally or otherwise.

Coincidentally I received a canned response today from my Rep about the Amash amendment (she voted Yes). So I decided to write a followup w/ my thoughts about the Syria Resolution. Thought I might as well publish it while it’s in my clipboard:

Representative Bass,

I’m sure I won’t be the only one dropping a line about the Syria Resolution that President Obama sent to the Hill today, but just thought I’d give my 2 cents.

I think we can all agree that the use of chemical weapons (and the slaughter of tens of thousands over the past two years) in the Syrian civil war is terrible, however as some (Fallows of the Atlantic, et al) have noted, we knew about similar usage of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war and did nothing (this was, if you recall, when Saddam Hussein was our good friend).

If the international community really does view use of chemical weapons against a nation’s own people as anathema/unacceptable, there should be a strong, multilateral, international response. That there isn’t saddens me a great deal, however, I can’t see how a unilateral military response, no matter how limited or broad would change that most basic fact.

That being said, let’s play this out… if we send out a “limited” missile strike against strategic targets, it’s unlikely to be anything but symbolic, except for the additional civilian
casualties – “collateral damage” except to those who are killed, and their families. What it won’t do, is stop Assad from continuing to kill.

But what if it’s successful in getting us more involved? As Obama so forcefully stated, he already believes that he has blanket AUMF, and would treat any YES vote as tacit agreement to escalate w/o restraint. In for a penny as they say…

We’ll only be more entangled in yet another war in the Middle East – one in which there is literally no winning end-game (as the likely replacements for the Assad regime would be even worse for both American and global interests. Over the past decade, we’ve had two wars of choice that have left us poorer in standing, treasure, and most importantly, in lives, both military and civilian and has also left us with a more dangerous Middle East and a world where we are less secure. I cannot imagine that engagement in Syria would end better (in all likelihood it’d be much worse, considering the conflicting interests of Iran, Russia, China, etc).

In the past, President Obama has shown no qualms about (embraced, really) abusing the unitary exercises of executive privilege that the Presidents have carved out over the past decades. That fight is for another day, but Obama’s decision to yield to Congress shows that he’s fully aware of what this commitment would mean and where it’ll lead.

Ignoring the politics of the situation, it seems clear that unilateral military action in Syria does not serve anyone’s best interests, and I hope you’ll side with the American people in doing the right thing and voting NO on the Syria Resolution.

Thank you,

Leonard Lin

Fixed the Glitch

Friday, August 9th, 2013

I think this Hacker News back and forth (in response to new that the NSA will be cutting sysadmin staff by 90% to limit data access) cuts right to the heart of the matter.

zaroth:
But who will manage the systems that are managing the systems? I’m sure this will work out brilliantly for them when systems crash, or hackers start exfiltrating their data, and there’s no one left to analyze the logs and discover and fix the holes.
The problem at the NSA isn’t that there are too many sysadmins, although apparently that plays well with tech illiterate politicians. The problem is too many morally unconscionable programs which lead to a growing revulsion in the ranks.

Mr. Alexander defends his agency’s conduct and claims the press is distorting the facts. “No one has willfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies,” he said. “There were no mistakes like that at all.” Except we know that even FISA says that’s not true, in a report so damning apparently even elected members of congress can’t read it.

I have news for you Keith, blanket collection of the “meta-data” of every call on Verizon’s network is ex vi termini, invasion of privacy and civil liberty. DEA’s SOD (Special Operations Division) handing off your clandestine intercepts to civilian law enforcement is just the latest, but not the last, sickening revelation. The leaks won’t stop until you stop, and I hope your hubris continues to blind you to how close the political tides are to turning against you. It seems to me that your ‘ends justify the means’ mentality conflicts with your sworn oath to uphold the Constitution, and I can only hope history will look back on this whole endeavor as a dark stain in American history, and view you like a McCarthy of our time. Machiavelli would be proud of you, sir.

rhizome:

The problem is too many morally unconscionable programs which lead to a growing revulsion in the ranks.

Au contraire, it’s extremely morally conscionable to people who see law enforcement as a noble profession empowered to rid the nation (and beyond) of people they see as the scum of the earth. These programs are run by people who, I can guarantee you, do not wake up in the morning wondering what morals and ethics they can ignore that day.
However.

“No one has willfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies,” he said.

And he’s right. And that’s the problem: these things are likely not against the law. The law has both been perverted inch by inch and the agencies have been allowed to operate under looser legal interpretations than you and I receive for parking tickets. This means that to the degree that laws exist that permit their behavior (PATRIOT Act, FISAA), those who would constrain them to even the loose boundaries do not (and by all accounts refuse to) do so. This goes for the FISC as much as Dianne Feinstein and Eric Holder. This means they can say it’s legal for them to do pretty much whatever they want. So now what?

I wish I could agree with the zaroth and the optimists – the romantic view that as they squeeze tighter, as they transgress, actors of conscience will react or that as Assange posits, that authoritarian organizations will become less effective as the secrecy cost increases (PDF link to Assange’s 2006 essay State and Terrorist Conspiracies), however sadly I feel that this reduction in numbers will have quite the opposite effect.

While it’s easy (and satisfying) to decry the opposition as evil from my experience, the idea that no one (well most) people are not the villains of their own story seems to reflect reality much better (see also guardian organizations in particular are predisposed feel paternalistic. This is only magnified by a culture of hidden, hoarded knowledge, secrecy and elitism (“if you only knew what I knew”). Depending on your location on the libertarian/authoritarian political compass, your skin may be crawling a bit reading this description, but certainly those involved in this total surveillance view themselves as professional and honorable – their duty is to serve and protect those that (by design) don’t know any better.

However, there of course must be those within the organization that will have qualms and doubts. After all, history has shown again and again the inevitable progression of unchecked state power against its citizenry, especially when an organization can act in secrecy and with impunity. And of course there are those that, having been brought up with the belief in liberal democracy (you know, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers) would have a very hard time indeed justifying secrecy and actions that would fall under what many would consider the very definition of tyranny. And of course, some of those individuals must also be concerned about what it means to society to have total surveillance, archived forever, and searchable instantly. This combination of the panopticon and the memex has never existed before and its existence (and now the public knowledge that it is controlled by a state actor w/ no meaningful oversight) and I suspect its impact and consequences has yet to be fully digested by society at large…

All this is a long way to say that there surely are those working at the NSA that have doubts – but as this continues to polarize, the ranks will only further close. Those that have the strongest doubts will leave or be forced out, but the Death Star is already fully operational, and there will be more than enough authoritarians, opportunistic, power-hungry, and just plain sociopathic boots to fill the ranks. And as those that would resist the trends towards aggregating more power and authority leave, so will the last remaining internal checks and balances (the external ones having disappeared long ago), leaving the organization more focused, in fact accelerating the slide towards… well, something that will no longer be much of a democratic republic in function, if not form.

Without drastic changes (full transparency, full oversight), this logic feels inescapable, inevitable. The truism about power and corruption seems apropos here.

That’s not to say that the issues of digital privacy and surveillance wouldn’t otherwise be a problem, that cat’s certainly out of the bag, but there’s a clear difference between the commerce vs the state (that centers on the monopoly on violence).

It’s also not to say that the society automatically becomes some sort of Grim Meathook (well, unless you’re poor in which case it already is, or if you decide to stand in the way of the Harkonnen fist). After all, in this new society, you capacity for autonomy will depend primarily on how innocuous/complicit you are within the system (also, being rich never hurts) – this, perhaps alarmingly, is not so different from how it’s always been.

OK, this is much longer than I was planning on, and has turned out to be a bit of a ramble that certainly lays out a lot of rope at least as far as my thoughts on political theory goes. I wish, that after quite a lot of thinking and processing, that I had some better conclusions, but … I don’t. Oh, here’s a catchy one:

Welcome to the future. Enjoy your stay.

205-217

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

The Amash-Conyers amendment to defund the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs failed to pass the House today. The White House made a statement prior to the vote that included this amazing sentiment:

This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.

How whoever wrote that managed to do so without choking on the cognitive dissonance, I don’t know.

On the bright side, we’ll soon have a full record of where all our congressmen stand when confronted with, well, the worst attack of the Republic and the Constitution that I can think of in my lifetime.

James Madison is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution”, and was a key figure both in drafting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Sometimes he gets quoted on T-shirts. A prescient quote of his:

If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), one of the few Senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee that has been privy to some of these programs (and one of the even fewer, Mark Udall (D-CO) is the only one I can think of, who seems to give a shit) recently also quoted Madison. His remarks on domestic surveillance and the PATRIOT Act are well worth the watch/listen. He ends with this:

At this point in the speech I would usually conclude with the quote from Ben Franklin about giving up liberty for security and not deserving either, but I thought a different founding father might be more fitting today. James Madison, the father of our constitution, said that the the accumulation of executive, judicial and legislative powers into the hands of any faction is the very definition of tyranny. He then went on to assure the nation that the Constitution protected us from that fate. So, my question to you is: by allowing the executive to secretly follow a secret interpretation of the law under the supervision of a secret, non-adversarial court and occasional secret congressional hearings, how close are we coming to James Madison’s “very definition of tyranny”? I believe we are allowing our country to drift a lot closer than we should, and if we don’t take this opportunity to change course now, we will all live to regret it.

Unfortunately, it seems too few perceive that secret laws, with secret interpretations by secret courts, enforced secretly, and kept secret with extreme prejudice coupled with an unchecked, massively increased/invasive security apparatus and unbounded total surveillance (saved forever) might be an existential threat to a free society.

Oh well.

UPDATE: Votes here:

Obama’s Speech at Woodrow Wilson Center

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Full transcript here.

This Administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom.

That means no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient. That is not who we are. And it is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists. The FISA court works. The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.

This Administration acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security. It is not. There are no short-cuts to protecting America, and that is why the fifth part of my strategy is doing the hard and patient work to secure a more resilient homeland.

Late Night Reading

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Transcript of secret meeting between Julian Assange and Google CEO Eric Schmidt

And I wanted there to be more just acts, and fewer unjust acts. And one can sort of say, well what are your philosophical axioms for this? And I say I do not need to consider them. This is simply my temperament. And it is an axiom because it is that way. And so that avoids, then, getting into further unhelpful discussions about why you want to do something. It is enough that I do. So in considering how unjust acts are caused and what tends to promote them and what promotes just acts I saw that human beings are basically invariant. That is that their inclinations and biological temperament haven’t changed much over thousands of years and so therefore the only playing field left is: what do they have? And what do they know? And “have” is something that is fairly hard to influence, so that is what resources do they have at their disposal? And how much energy they can harness, and what are the supplies and so on. But what they know can be affected in a nonlnear way because when one person conveys information to another they can convey on to another and another and so on in a way that nonlinear and so you can affect a lot of people with a small amount of information. And therefore you can change the behaviour of many people with a small amount of information. So the question then arises as to what kinds of information will produce behaviour which is just? And disincentivise behaviour which is unjust?

Thinking about this in context of the events unfolding in Boston, and the crowdsourced attention happening among other things.

Some Notes on Labor, Technology and Economics

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

I think that we are all aware that advanced capitalism is leading us down a road that as a society, we may not want to travel – constant crisis due to increasingly advanced, complex, and unstable financialization, an increasingly vicious trend toward plutocracy and plutonomy that has obliterated socioeconomic mobility via massively increasing inequality, and of course, as an engine of unsustainability, where environmental, health, and social costs are externalized and reality is subsumed via a twisted economic logic.

All these things really should be teased out into much larger discussions, but a few recently related links/discussions I want to make note of (I’m slowly moving some things back out of Evernote into a way that can be narratized):

  • HN: Confessions of a Job Destroyer – a good essay that highlights what technological “disruption” really means; relevant to software, robotics and all sorts of enabling technologies
  • HN: Unfit for work (npr.org) – NPR is doing a weeklong series on how the disability program is hiding massive collapses in the workforce

Also, this image popped up in my Twitter stream recently…

A quick Google search shows that it’s been floating around for at least a year, and the bottom text references an organization that ceased to exist in 1982 so it is probably quite old, but still resonates as much (if not more) today. Here’s the text transcribed (via)

If you’re unemployed it’s not because there isn’t any work

Just look around: A housing shortage, crime, pollution; we need better schools and parks. Whatever our needs, they all require work. And as long as we have unsatisfied needs, there’s work to be done.

So ask yourself, what kind of world has work but no jobs. It’s a world where work is not related to satisfying our needs, a world where work is only related to satisfying the profit needs of business.

This country was not built by the huge corporations or government bureaucracies. It was built by people who work. And, it is working people who should control the work to be done. Yet, as long as employment is tied to somebody else’s profits, the work won’t get done.

- The New American Movement (NAM)

Searching for this led to this interesting article:

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Charlie Stross posted an interesting essay today, Reasons To Be Cheerful recapping some of the great things that have happened in the world over the past decade, primarily in the developing world. A great read, and honestly inspiring/heartwarming for the disheartened humanists. It’s easy to get overly cynical about it all. This is a good antidote.

That being said, I don’t think Charlie goes quite far enough. The essay starts framed by the thesis that in the world, things haven’t much improved, and the besides a few specific counterpoints about disease and the general march of technology, it feels like he gives up on really repudiating that thesis… for the developed world. And it’s easy to see why. In terms of general socio-economic trends, it’s hard to be all that positive. Things are downright unsettling heading towards dystopian. However, there’s at least one aspect, the very medium where we are commenting on that is worth, uh, commenting on.

Yes, the interwebbytubes, as Stross puts it, is quite a different place than it was at the beginning of the millennium. We are looking at a 2X adoption growth in developed nations (from plurality to supermajority, if not ubiquity). Worldwide, 2 billion people are now online. Beyond the quantitative changes, the qualitative changes are even more intriguing. In 2000 there was no Web 2.0. Blogging was in its infancy. Most of the things we take for granted online today were not invented yet. Among them: Wikipedia (2001), Facebook (2004), Google Maps (2005), Twitter (2006). I list these in particular because I don’t think there’s a day that goes by where I don’t use these particular services, but I’m sure that others have their own lists. Lest you think that this was a singular period of growth, I’ll throw in that the iPhone (2007) and iPad (2010) have kicked us into another era of hyper-growth that will be just as (if not more) life-changing.

We’re just starting to see what happens when the Internet starts engaging with us in a location/context aware fashion. We’re also starting to see what happens when Internet-style/scale dynamics are applied outside traditional consumer Internet contexts (e.g. Obama Campaign, 2008). In a historical scale, we’re still at the very beginning stages of figuring out what it means to live in a digital, massively inter-networked world, and similarly just starting to get a handle how that will change society (attention, communications and collaboration in particular).

All that’s a really long way of saying… well, there’s a pretty dang bright spot in the developed world too. One that has the potential of being turned into the shovel we need to dig ourselves out. So, here’s looking to the future. Happy New Year.

Wikileaks, Net Neutrality, Architectures of Participation

Friday, December 24th, 2010

This post is mostly a placeholder/notes for further thinking I’ve yet to do about a few related threads that seem connected this past week. Before, but particularly since my experience working on the 2008 Obama campaign, I’ve been thinking about the most potentially transformative aspects of the technologies that we deployed: specifically, deploying methods and means for self-directed organization and participation.

In the meantime, the things that some things that have caught my attention.

In regards to the capitulation of Net Neutrality, this thread on building a alternative mesh network. I wonder if it’ll come to that?

On Gitmo and normalization of indefinite detention, davidasposted’s sobering analysis of the situation.

And of course, there is Bruce Sterling’s Wikileaks missive – melodramatic, oversweeping, but truly compelling, and a must read (counterpoint).

Also, Julian Assange’s impressively articulate recent interviews, and more information on Bradley Manning’s continued mistreatment.