Archive for the ‘Luther Blisset’ Category

via The most perilous time in world history got worse

The Most Perilous Time In World History Just Got WORSE! Posted By Luther Blissett: By Stephen Lendman: Intrepid Report 03/19/18: https://desultoryheroics.com/2018/03/19/the-most-perilous-time-in-world-history-got-worse/ Or: https://randrewohge.wordpress.com/2018/03/19/the-most-perilous-time-in-world-history-just-got-worse/

Events ongoing should terrify everyone—things likely heading for greater war than already.

Most Americans, Brits, and others in NATO countries are unaware of the danger posed by hardline Western extremists in charge of policy-making—notably in Washington, London and Israel, the Jewish state an alliance Mediterranean Dialogue member.

Businessman Trump was co-opted to be a warrior president—neocon generals in charge of geopolitical policies, their agenda hardened by Mike Pompeo replacing Rex Tillerson at State, along with torturer-in-chief Gina Haspel appointed new CIA director.

An unholy alliance of US extremist policymakers allied with like-minded ones in partner countries risks war winds reaching gale force, a terrifying prospect if confrontation with Russia, Iran or North Korea occurs—the possibility increased by recent events.

Earlier this week, US Defense Secretary Mattis and UN envoy Haley threatened Russia and Damascus.

Russia vowed to retaliate against US attacks on Syrian forces in East Ghouta or elsewhere endangering its personnel in the country.

Anti-Russia hysteria in Britain over the Sergey Skripal poisoning affair, most certainly Moscow had nothing to do with, soured bilateral relations more than already.

In response to British PM Theresa May demanding swift Russian answers to questions posed about the incident, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman (speaking for her government) replied sharply saying, “One does not give 24 hours notice to a nuclear power,” adding the “Skripal poisoning was not an incident but a colossal international provocation,” adding not a “single international legal mechanism [exists] to probe the Skripal case.”

Russia’s embassy in London said “Moscow will not respond to London’s ultimatum until it receives samples of the chemical substance to which the UK investigators are referring.”

“Britain must comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention which stipulates joint investigation into the incident, for which Moscow is ready.”

“Without that, there can be no sense in any statements from London. The incident appears to be yet another crooked attempt by the UK authorities to discredit Russia.”

“Any threat to take ‘punitive’ measures against Russia will meet with a response. The British side should be aware of that.”

“Not only is Russia groundlessly and provocatively accused of the Salisbury incident, but apparently, plans are being developed in the UK to strike Russia with cyber weapons.”

“Judging by the statements of the prime minister, such a decision can be taken at tomorrow’s meeting of the National Security Council.”

Given the gravity of the situation, the above comments by Russian diplomats were uncharacteristically strong.

Sergey Lavrov warned Washington that “[i]f a new [US] strike . . . takes place [against Syrian forces], the consequences will be very serious,” adding, “I simply don’t have any normal terms left to describe all this.”

What’s coming remains to be seen. Hostile rhetoric from US and UK officials, along with hawkish extremists Pompeo in charge at State and Haspel appointed new CIA chief likely signal more war, not less.

What’s ongoing assures no possibility of improving dismal bilateral relations with Russia, China, Iran and other sovereign independent countries.

Talks with North Korea could either be scuttled or confrontational if they take place.

Given very disturbing ongoing events, the perilous state of world conditions reached a new low.

Be scared about what may follow—be very scared!

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via Annihilation: Alex Garland’s Bad Trip Through Dis-ease and Over-Reproduction

Annihilation: Alex Garland’s Bad Trip Through Dis-ease and Over-Reproduction Post By Luther Blissett Written By Kim Nicolini: CounterPunch 03/08/18: https://desultoryheroics.com/2018/03/08/annihilation-alex-garlands-bad-trip-through-dis-ease-and-over-reproduction/Edited By Rex/Ric: https://wordpress.com/post/randrewohge.wordpress.com/3579

If you go see Alex Garland’s Annihilation (2018)-and I highly recommend you see this film in an actual movie theater with a big screen and big sound–you are in for a trip.

Not a road trip.

Not a good trip.

But a bad trip.

You may ask why I am urging you to see a film that will pull the ground out from under you, defy delivering a tidy narrative, refuse to answer your questions, and leave you in a state of discombobulated horror as if you just experienced a 115 minute very bad trip.

There are a lot of reasons to join Garland’s journey into a shaky world where reproduction leads to destruction and where the further you go into the film the further you will find yourself separated from any known reality (just as the further the main characters delve into the ominous and alien Shimmer, the further they come unglued).

At one point in the film, female scientist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) questions whether all the women who reside at the film’s center have lost their minds.

After watching the film, you may very well ask yourself the same thing.

But that is the power of the film.

By provoking the audience to lose their minds, toss all rational thought to the wind, and deconstruct the most primal notions of stability, this sci-fi horror film unveils the fears that seep through collective humanity like a terminal illness and show the unnatural and terrifying impact of human intervention with the natural world.

The movie is built on the basic sci-fi premise of a team of scientists sent on an expedition to explore an alien anomaly-in this case, the Shimmer.

This mysterious form sprouted from an occurrence at a lighthouse and is rapidly devouring a national park and its surroundings, and it is hell bent on eating up all humankind and the earth it occupies (emphasis on the term occupation).

Annihilation is astoundingly beautiful while also being exceptionally terrifying.

It will take you into an alluring yet unnerving world that reflects our own world through myriad lenses.

The Shimmer takes the very substance of all life-DNA- and refracts it into a kaleidoscopic array of mutant variations.

Most of them are terrifying, even when they are beautiful, and the realm of this film is one of absolute instability.

Like the characters in the film, we presently occupy an environment of fear, where every day we are confronted with new terrors and new monsters bombarding the airwaves and the internet, a world which is being ripped from the core, where they natural landscape is threatened to be mutated by monster drills, where borders are pushed at us as if they are threats, and where females are both the source of growing power and the source of tremendous social anxiety.

These and so many other things are delivered in Garland’s surreal portrait of four women on a scientific expedition into the unknown realm of the Shimmer which is rapidly consuming the southern gulf coast and mutating or killing everyone who enters it.

The film is based on Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel, and your first question may be how well Garland has adapted the book for screen.

Well, the book is the first thing he annihilates, so don’t attempt to compare.

The material of the book inspired the film, but Garland acts not unlike the Shimmer.

He has refracted the DNA of the book into its own species, something that none of us has ever seen before. In the film, the central Scientist Lena (Natalie Portman) discovers that all mutated plant species within the Shimmer are connected to one shared root system.

VanderMeer’s book is like the movie’s root system from which Garland has conceived his own lusciously nightmarish film species, growing a whole forest of ideas and visions that multiply in glorious weirdness.

Garland outwardly states that he engages in an anarchistic approach to filmmaking.

He resists leadership and debunks the idea of the auteur and refuses to be one (though both films he directed – Ex Machina (2014) and Annihilation bear striking similarities in aesthetics, production, and themes).

An Alex Garland film is firmly and concretely an Alex Garland film.

There is no way to mistake Garland’s use of glass and reflections (sliding doors as eerie otherworldly portals/prisons) or his cinematic obsession with reproduction (girl-bots and genetic engineering) for the films of anyone else.

I commend Garland for his cooperative approach to filmmaking and for stepping back and letting people do what they are good at, trusting the experts he employs to do their job and refusing to interfere with their work.

For example, when he partnered with Director of Photography Rob Hardy (also DP in Ex Machina), Garland didn’t dictate what lens or camera to use.

He respects his DP as a collaborative artist within a team of collaborative artists, and he trusts that together they will produce uniquely beautiful and unsettling films.

Likewise, Garland gives free reign to his actors to improvise, reinvent characters, and add their own unique dimensionality.

His anarchistic approach to filmmaking shines through every surface of his films, and the surfaces in Annihilation indeed are magically shiny, slick with water, glistening with reflections, and refracted through glowing prisms.

Perhaps, Garland’s filmmaking anarchy also leads the audience to the sense that we are entering a world that never existed before because it only exists as a result of a distinct collaborative artistic process.

It is a movie that can only result from a very specific mutation of elements.

Just as the film relies on the image of cellular reproduction to create unique species that did not preexist, the cellular interaction of human creative DNA in Garland’s films creates a new species of movie, and for many, that is unsettling.

People are comfortable with what is familiar, and Annihilation is not like anything we have seen before, though we may recognize elements of its underlying DNA.

The initial reference to the lighthouse as the locus for obliterating norms and a destination for the film’s team of women to reach echoes Virginia Woolfe’s desperate plea for female autonomy, creative freedom, and liberation in her 1927 novel To the Lighthouse.

The four female protagonists are headed to the source of the reproductive anomaly (representing a breach in the traditional female role as birther and caregiver), and they are mirroring an early work of feminist fiction through the lens of sci-fi horror (because reproduction and all its ramifications both intrigue and terrify men who want to understand and control something they can’t entirely understand and control).

To reach the lighthouse, the women have to trek through Area X, a former national park which has now become a mutated kill zone that bears an eerie resemblance to the infamous Zone in Andrei Tarkovsky’s cinematic masterpiece Stalker (Сталкер, 1979).

As in the Zone, Area X jumbles time, seems to be plagued with the aftermath of an environmental catastrophe, seeps water from every surface, glows with a haze of timeless loss, and destabilizes all sense of location (compasses fail), communication (technology signals drop), and unravels logic and reason.

It also evokes the sense of some kind of radioactive disaster.

To follow through on the film’s exploration of cancer as an act of self-destruction, radiation can cure (cancer) or kill (bombs).

Finally, staying rooted in 1979, the film’s hazy dream/nighmarescape recalls the directorial style of Ridley Scott, and the Shimmer’s central root system – a seething undulating network of organs that combined look like a horrifically alien birth canal-harken back to H.R. Geiger renditions of a monster-breeding alien reproduction system in Scott’s Alien (1979).

In other words, though Annihilation is its own cinematic species, it possesses the DNA of its cinematic and literary ancestors, which gives the audience a thread of familiarity even as we are being thrown into a psychedelic whirlwind of confusion and terror.

Both Annihilation and Ex Machina have very solid aesthetic and thematic grounding-the conjoining of the organic and the artificial which creates another dimension of being.

Both films obsessively dissect, interrogate, and reconstruct ideas of reproduction and the murky, often shifting, line between reproduction and self-destruction.

Ex Machina explores the traditional horror film approach to reproduction by showing what happens when men try to take on the female role of reproducing through technological and/or scientific intervention.

In this film, not only is the man the one reproducing, but he reproduces women as objects of male consumption-porno objects who can cook dinner, suck your dick, and kick up some dust on the dance floor.

But in the end, man can’t outdo woman as the great reproducer.

The girl-bots win, playing on man’s weak spots-all-consuming lust and ego-the man cancer that causes him to eat himself in an act of selfish self-destruction.

The robo-girls beat both their inventor, who thinks his brains can buy him a pussy (on all fronts), and the nerdy tech geek who likes to believe he’s above fetishizing women when actually his attraction to a girl is ruled more by his hard-on than intellectual intrigue.

The only one either of these men is kidding is themselves.

And they lose, and . . . they kind of get off on it, which flips us back into that loop that never seems to close.

Annihilation, on the other hand, puts women front and center.

Female bodies invade a male genre-a troop of scientists and/or military guys sent on a mission to learn the secrets of and destroy a mysterious alien force-the Shimmer.

We are not accustomed to seeing women in these roles, so the film annihilates traditional male-dominated sci-fi horror narratives.

With another nod to Alien and a tribute to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, these women righteously bear automatic weapons to fend off the alien forces that threaten them.

Remember how adept Ripley was at wielding a blow torch?

In one scene Portman’s Lena obliterates a gigantic mutated crocodile without batting an eye.

She literally never blinks!

Unlike its predecessor Ex Machina which is fixated on male-reproduction of female bodies, Annihilation focuses on a group of women who have somehow failed to reproduce.

The central character Lena has destroyed her marriage and therefore snuffed her possible future as a mother. Anya (Gina Rodriguez) has infiltrated her body with drugs and booze instead of babies.

Radek (Tessa Thompson) has actually “felt” life through self-destruction (cutting herself to the extent that her arms are mapped with scars) rather than giving life through reproduction.

Finally, Ventress has no connections to anyone, projects as if she is an ether trace of a rapidly vanishing body.

Ventress is, it turns out, dying of cancer-the film’s stand-in metaphor for toxic reproduction, since cancer is the reproduction of cells to the point of biological annihilation.

The film opens with a close-up of cells multiplying under a microscope.

We learn very quickly that they are cancerous cells from a female cervix-the gateway (or gatekeeper) to reproduction.

From the film’s onset, reproduction is under attack (being annihilated).

As we enter deeper into the Shimmer with the four women, we learn that cellular reproduction can be both beautiful and toxic.

As Dr. Ventress states: “It is the source of all life, and of all death.”

Therein lies the great conundrum, and the underlying horror of the movie (because this is a Sci-Fi horror film). By vividly exploring multiple angles of Reproduction Gone Wrong-from the Shimmer’s mutated plants and creatures to lethal cancer-Annihilation taps into some of the most prevalent collective social fears.

Over-population (one of the greatest threats to the planet) is shown as both beautiful (“Look at all those gorgeous and strange flowers!”) and as claustrophobic and strangulating (“Look how that mutated corpse is sprouting from a tapestry of flowers!”).

Fear of scientific intervention in human creation and the potential horrors of genetic engineering confront us full-body through abominable mutated creatures, some of which literally open their mouths and swallow us.

A rampaging bear howls with the voice of a dead woman.

A female scientist sprouts stems and leaves and morphs into a cross-species plant.

At its core, the film confronts one of the biggest social fears that has been planted so deeply in the collective unconscious that many people are unaware of it.

Even at this point in the 21st century when you would think people would “know better,” the large majority of the population-both male and female rely on the traditional role of women as mother caregivers for a sense of stability.

This film destabilizes patriarchal order by refusing to put its lead female characters in maternal roles and instead putting them in the traditional male shoes of scientists, and in Lena’s case-Scientist Soldier.

Unlike the women’s bodies, the land in the Shimmer has no problem reproducing.

It reproduces itself crazy.

It reproduces itself to annihilation, one of the great conundrums of the film-that reproduction (as in cancer) leads to complete destruction.

Still, the women push through the Shimmer as it refracts all DNA, reproducing mutant and sometimes terrifying life forms.

Climbing through overgrown plants, encountering hybrid animals, and camping out in abandoned houses and military encampments, the women make their way through an iridescent beautifully toxic world.

Shimmering wet rainbows resemble the iridescence of a biologically disastrous oil spill.

Though terrified and with the very ground of their minds unraveling, the women keep pushing, even as their numbers dwindle, and they confront such images as a live autopsy and its resulting mutation; a psychotic rampaging monster bear; tree-humans/human-trees; alligator-shark hybrids; and myriad other grotesque surprises.

In the end, however, the most terrifying image is the one of reproduction and destruction when Lena confronts herself and births her mutated, alien replicant via a seething, pulsing psychedelic vagina.

At once curiously alluring and beautifully horrific, the magnum opus of the film occurs in a scene that defies description but must be experienced on the big screen as the vagina swirls in fleshy prismatic colors, its form both bulging and opening.

In the climatic act of self-reproduction and destruction, the screen/vagina opens into a bottomless black birth canal and swallows the audience.

There are fewer things more terrifying than a psychedelic vagina the size of a theater screen opening its black hole to swallow you alive while giving birth to your mutated duplicate self.

One of the many reasons this film is so unsettling and delivers such an overwhelming sense of dread is that it refuses to offer any middle ground.

Everything is turned on its head.

Actions and environments are extreme.

Women bear arms instead of children. Interior landscapes are eerily sterile, filled with plastic zippered rooms, stainless steel furniture, and windows reflecting windows reflecting more windows.

Not one organic thing lives in the lab, except the women (and one dying man and a few men in hazmat suits). Outside, the landscape is abominably fertile.

Creatures are like beautifully terrifying genetic experiments.

The land is so pregnant, you could practically barf looking at it.

It is both bulging with life and seething with decay.

Seemingly lovely flowers evoke feminist fiber art run amok.

Humans and nature blend not into a vision of utopian bliss, but into an unnerving psychedelic bad trip.

While reproduction is supposed to be the act of life, in this world it is a death sentence where living things reproduce themselves to annihilation, echoing the metaphor of cancer-a disease in which the body actually consumes itself with its own cellular reproduction.

The film itself is an act of reproduction, reproducing itself in movie theaters while audiences succumb to, absorb, and are mutated by its toxic beauty.

This is the kind of movie you don’t easily forget. It will infiltrate your dreams.

Next time you take a hike through a densely wooded forest, you may think twice before exploring that abandoned cabin.

The mismatch between humans and nature and its potential for disastrous consequences leads to some excellent moments of sci-fi horror (you will be terrified) while also questioning the nightmarish impact and consequences of human exploitation of the environment/natural world.

Let’s close those national parks and drill!

But remember, if you keep on drilling, you may give birth to a monster.

Throughout the film, music is critical to the movie’s unsettling hallucinatory delivery.

With a soundtrack composed by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and long-time composer Ben Salisbury, the music is as large and imposing of a character as the mutant bear.

Alternating between soft acoustic guitar from another era, full orchestral strings, assaultive horns and bombastically creepy synths, the music doesn’t tell us how to feel, it immerses us in feeling.

Complementing the film with orchestral moans and sonic decay, the music tips the scales of this movie toward outright Very Bad Trip.

But it’s an entertaining trip!

Annihilation may be the most mind-boggling movie of the century.

As it builds and breeds and breathes and opens its mouth and swallows us whole, the movie oozes questions and refuses answers.

Told from the single POV of the unreliable narrator Lena, we don’t know what to believe and not believe, what is happening, what is a demented hallucination, what is past, present, or future.

In one scene, Anya screams over and over: “Lena is a liar! Lena is a liar!”

And maybe she is.

We never know.

Since the story is strictly told from Lena’s perspective, we don’t know if she is lying to us.

When asked to recount what happened in the Shimmer, her most common reply is: “I don’t know.”

She doesn’t know, and neither do we, just like in the world outside the Shimmer where we are bombarded with “fake news,” false alarms, and paranoid manufactured distractions to prevent us from getting to answers.

At this point, you may be asking, “But what about Oscar Isaak and his character Kane?”

He exists in ghost form, in memory, propped up by life support, leaking blood from mutated organs, or as a reconstituted alien being.

In other words, he has been stripped of solidity.

The central conjoining entities in the film are Lena and Kane, but Lena destroyed their marriage in an act of self-destruction.

Lena, who introduces the cancer cells in the beginning of the film, is a cancer herself, and oddly the lone survivor, perhaps because she is the mutant cell that consumes everything in an act of self-destruction that ironically keeps her alive. I know-what a lot of confusing hogwash.

But the world is confusing hogwash!

We live in a time of questions not answers, a time of abstract fear that permeates everything and saturates our very souls with instability.

The earth is dying; the System is lying; our hearts and land are crying; and there are no fucking answers.

Launching a cast of women in traditional male roles and playing on the trope of cancer as the ultimate method of lethal reproduction, Annihilation blows a hole through just about everything known and turns it in an unknown.

It annihilates preconceptions about conception; rational thought; traditional gender roles; cinematic genre; social expectations; definitions of species; fundamental biology, earth science; the possibility of future; application of human thought to unanswerable questions; and the idea of self itself.

And the annihilation is both beautiful and horrific.

The movie screen seems to actually breathe with mutated life as it sucks us into its tantalizing bad trip.

And I loved every minute of it.

Personally, I’d rather be on a bad trip that explores socio-political fears and anxiety through a hallucinatory cinematic lens rather than succumb to the excessively toxic reproduction and biased distortion of an unreal reality.

via The Military Industrial Complex Strikes Again: War Spending Will Bankrupt America

The Military Industrial Complex Strikes Again: War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Posted By Luther Blissett By John W. Whitehead: The Rutherford Institute 03/06/18: https://desultoryheroics.com/2018/03/06/the-military-industrial-complex-strikes-again-war-spending-will-bankrupt-america/ OR: https://wordpress.com/post/randrewohge.wordpress.com/3574

“Why throw money at defense when everything is falling down around us? Do we need to spend more money on our military (about $600 billion this year) than the next seven countries combined?

Do we need 1.4 million active military personnel and 850,000 reserves when the enemy at the moment-ISIS-numbers in the low tens of thousands?

If so, it seems there’s something radically wrong with our strategy.

Should 55% of the federal government’s discretionary spending go to the military and only 3% to transportation when the toll in American lives is far greater from failing infrastructure than from terrorism?

Does California need nearly as many active military bases (31, according to militarybases.com) as it has UC and state university campuses (33)?

And does the state need more active duty military personnel (168,000, according to Governing magazine) than public elementary school teachers (139,000)?”— Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times

Mark my words, America’s war spending will bankrupt the nation.

For that matter, America’s war spending has already bankrupted the nation to the tune of more than $20 trillion dollars.

Now the Trump Administration is pushing for a $4.4 trillion budget for fiscal year 2019 that would add $7 trillion to the already unsustainable federal deficit in order to sustain America’s military empire abroad and dramatically expand the police state here at home.

Trump also wants American taxpayers to cover the cost of building that infamous border wall.

Truly, Trump may turn out to be, as policy analyst Stan Collender warned, “the biggest deficit- and debt-increasing president of all time.”

For those in need of a quick reminder:

“A budget deficit is the difference between what the federal government spends and what it takes in.

The national debt, also known as the public debt, is the result of the federal government borrowing money to cover years and years of budget deficits.”

Right now, the U.S. government is operating in the negative on every front: it’s spending far more than what it makes (and takes from the American taxpayers) and it is borrowing heavily (from foreign governments and Social Security) to keep the government operating and keep funding its endless wars abroad.

This is how military empires fall and fail: by spreading themselves too thin and spending themselves to death.

It happened in Rome.

It’s happening again.

Not content to merely police the globe, in recent decades, America has gradually transformed its homeland into a battlefield with militarized police and weapons better suited to a war zone.

Since taking office, President Trump—much like his predecessors—has marched in lockstep with the military.

Now Trump wants $716 billion to expand America’s military empire abroad and billions more to hire cops, build more prisons and wage more profit-driven war-on-drugs/war-on-terrorism/war-on-crime programs that eat away at the Fourth Amendment while failing to make the country any safer.

Even the funds requested for infrastructure will do little to shore up the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, railways, highways, power grids and dams.

No matter how your break it down, this is not a budget aimed at perfecting the Union, establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting general welfare, or securing the blessings of liberty for the American people.

No, this is a budget aimed at pandering to the powerful money interests (military, corporate and security) that run the Deep State and hold the government in its clutches.

So much for Trump’s campaign promises to balance the budget and drain the swamps of corruption.

The glaring economic truth is that at the end of the day, it’s the military industrial complex—and not the sick, the elderly or the poor—that is pushing America towards bankruptcy.

As investigative journalist Uri Friedman puts it, for more than 15 years now, the United States has been fighting terrorism with a credit card, “essentially bankrolling the wars with debt, in the form of purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds by U.S.-based entities like pension funds and state and local governments, and by countries like China and Japan.”

The illicit merger of the armaments industry and the Pentagon that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us against more than 50 years ago has come to represent perhaps the greatest threat to the nation’s fragile infrastructure today.

Having been co-opted by greedy defense contractors, corrupt politicians and incompetent government officials, America’s expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour)—and that’s just what the government spends on foreign wars.

That does not include the cost of maintaining and staffing the 1000-plus U.S. military bases spread around the globe.

Incredibly, although the U.S. constitutes only 5% of the world’s population, America boasts almost 50% of the world’s total military expenditure, spending more on the military than the next 19 biggest spending nations combined.

In fact, the Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety.

War is not cheap.

Although the federal government obscures so much about its defense spending that accurate figures are difficult to procure, we do know that since 2001, the U.S. government has spent more than $1.8 trillion in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (that’s $8.3 million per hour).

That doesn’t include wars and military exercises waged around the globe, which are expected to push the total bill upwards of $12 trillion by 2053.

Mind you, these ongoing wars—riddled by corruption, graft and bumbling incompetence—have done little to keep the country safe while enriching the military industrial complex—and private defense contractors—at taxpayer expense.

Just recently, for example, a leading accounting firm concluded that one of the Pentagon’s largest agencies “can’t account for hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of spending.”

Just consider the fact that it costs American taxpayers $2.1 million per year for each soldier deployed in Afghanistan.

Imagine what you could do with that money if it were spent on domestic needs here at home.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen anytime soon, not as long as the money interests in Washington keep calling the shots and profiting from the spoils of war.

War has become a huge money-making venture, and America, with its vast military empire, is one of its best buyers and sellers.

Not only does the U.S. have the largest defense budget, it also ranks highest as the world’s largest arms exporter.

The American military-industrial complex has erected an empire unsurpassed in history in its breadth and scope, one dedicated to conducting perpetual warfare throughout the earth.

For example, while erecting a security surveillance state in the U.S., the military-industrial complex has perpetuated a worldwide military empire with American troops stationed in 177 countries (over 70% of the countries worldwide).

In the process, billions have been spent erecting luxury military installations throughout the world.

For example, the U.S. Embassy built in Iraq, dubbed “Fortress Baghdad,” covers 104 acres and boasts a “city within a city” that includes six apartment buildings, a Marine barracks, swimming pool, shops and 15-foot-thick walls.

Camp Anaconda in Iraq, like many U.S. military bases scattered across the globe, was structured to resemble a mini-city with pools, fast food restaurants, miniature golf courses and movie theaters.

While most Americans can scarcely afford the cost of heating and cooling their own homes, the American government spends $20 billion annually just to provide air conditioning for military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In essence, what we’re doing is “we’re air conditioning the desert over there in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places,” noted retired brigadier general Steven Anderson, a former chief logistician for Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq.

Think about that for a minute.

There’s a good reason why “bloated,” “corrupt” and “inefficient” are among the words most commonly applied to the government, especially the Department of Defense and its contractors.

For instance, a study by the Government Accountability Office found that $70 billion worth of cost overruns by the Pentagon were caused by management failures.

To put that in perspective, that equates to one and a half times the State Department’s entire $47 billion annual budget.

Fraud is rampant.

A government audit, for example, found that defense contractor Boeing has been massively overcharging taxpayers for mundane parts, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in overspending. As the report noted, the American taxpayer paid:

$71 for a metal pin that should cost just 4 cents;

$644.75 for a small gear smaller than a dime that sells for $12.51: more than a 5,100 percent increase in price.

$1,678.61 for another tiny part, also smaller than a dime, that could have been bought within DoD for $7.71: a 21,000 percent increase.

$71.01 for a straight, thin metal pin that DoD had on hand, unused by the tens of thousands, for 4 cents: an increase of over 177,000 percent.

Price gouging has become an accepted form of corruption within the American military empire.

And if you think gas prices at home can get high, just consider what the American taxpayer is being forced to shell out overseas: once all the expenses of delivering gas to troops in the field are factored in, we’re paying between $18-30 per gallon for gas in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Incredibly, despite reports of corruption, abuse and waste, the mega-corporations behind much of this ineptitude and corruption continue to be awarded military contracts worth billions of dollars.

The rationale may keep changing for why American military forces are in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, but the one that remains constant is that those who run the government are feeding the appetite of the military industrial complex.

What began in 2001 as part of an alleged effort to root out al Qaeda has turned into a goldmine for the military industrial complex and its army of private contractors.

Just consider: the Pentagon in 2008 spent more money every five seconds in Iraq than the average American earned in a year.

Yet Congress and the White House want taxpayers to accept that the only way to reduce the nation’s ballooning deficit is by cutting “entitlement” programs such as Social Security and Medicare?

As Martin Luther King Jr. recognized, under a military empire, war and its profiteering will always take precedence over the people’s basic human needs.

Simply put, we cannot afford to maintain our over-extended military empire.

“Money is the new 800-pound gorilla,” remarked a senior administration official involved in Afghanistan.

“It shifts the debate from ‘Is the strategy working?’ to ‘Can we afford this?’

And when you view it that way, the scope of the mission that we have now is far, far less defensible.”

Or as one commentator noted, “Foreclosing the future of our country should not be confused with defending it.”

Inevitably, military empires collapse.

As Cullen Murphy, author of Are We Rome? and editor-at-large of Vanity Fair writes:

A millennium hence America will be hard to recognize.

It may not exist as a nation-state in the form it does now—or even exist at all.

Will the transitions ahead be gradual and peaceful or abrupt and catastrophic?

Will our descendants be living productive lives in a society better than the one we inhabit now?

Whatever happens, will valuable aspects of America’s legacy weave through the fabric of civilizations to come?

Will historians someday have reason to ask, Did America really fall?

The problem we wrestle with is none other than a distorted American empire, complete with mega-corporations, security-industrial complexes and a burgeoning military.

And it has its sights set on absolute domination.

Eventually, however, all military empires fail.

At the height of its power, even the mighty Roman Empire could not stare down a collapsing economy and a burgeoning military.

Prolonged periods of war and false economic prosperity largely led to its demise.

As historian Chalmers Johnson predicts:

The fate of previous democratic empires suggests that such a conflict is unsustainable and will be resolved in one of two ways.

Rome attempted to keep its empire and lost its democracy.

Britain chose to remain democratic and in the process let go its empire.

Intentionally or not, the people of the United States already are well embarked upon the course of non-democratic empire.

I would suggest that what we have is a confluence of factors and influences that go beyond mere comparisons to Rome.

It is a union of Orwell’s 1984 with its shadowy, totalitarian government—i.e., fascism, the union of government and corporate powers—and a total surveillance state with a military empire extended throughout the world.

As we have seen with the militarizing of the police, the growth of and reliance on militarism as the solution for our problems both domestically and abroad affects the basic principles upon which American society should operate.

We must keep in mind that a military empire will be ruled not by lofty ideals of equality and justice but by the power of the sword.

Those in the military are primarily trained to conduct warfare, not preserve the peace.

Here’s the kicker, though: if the American empire falls and the American economy collapses—and with it the last vestiges of our constitutional republic—it will be the government and its trillion-dollar war budgets that are to blame.

Of course, the government has already anticipated this breakdown.

That’s why the government has transformed America into a war zone, turned the nation into a surveillance state, and labelled “we the people” as enemy combatants.

For years now, the government has worked with the military to prepare for widespread civil unrest brought about by “economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters.”

Having spent more than half a century exporting war to foreign lands, profiting from war, and creating a national economy seemingly dependent on the spoils of war, the war hawks long ago turned their profit-driven appetites on us, bringing home the spoils of war—the military tanks, grenade launchers, Kevlar helmets, assault rifles, gas masks, ammunition, battering rams, night vision binoculars, etc.—and handing them over to local police, thereby turning America into a battlefield.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America:

The War on the American People, this is how the police state wins and “we the people” lose.

More than 50 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower warned us not to let the profit-driven war machine endanger our liberties or democratic processes.

We failed to heed his warning.

As Eisenhower recognized in a speech given to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, on Apr. 16, 1953, the consequences of allowing the military-industrial complex to wage war, exhaust our resources and dictate our national priorities are beyond grave:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.

It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people…

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense.

Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

via Ecuador Endangered

Ecuador Endangered
Posted By Luther Blissett By John Seed 03/05/18: https://desultoryheroics.com/2018/03/05/ecuador-endangered/ Or: https://wordpress.com/post/randrewohge.wordpress.com/3569

The tropical Andes of Ecuador are at the top of the world list of biodiversity hotspots in terms of vertebrate species, endemic vertebrates, and endemic plants.

Ecuador has more orchid and hummingbird species than Brazil, which is 32 times larger, and more diversity than the entire USA.

In the last year, the Ecuadorean government has quietly granted mining concessions to over 1.7 million hectares (4.25 million acres) of forest reserves and indigenous territories.

These were awarded to transnational corporations in closed-door deals without public knowledge or consent.

This is in direct violation of Ecuadorean law and international treaties, and will decimate headwater ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots of global significance.

However, Ecuadorean groups think there is little chance of stopping the concessions using the law unless there is a groundswell of opposition from Ecuadorean society and strong expressions of international concern.

The Vice President of Ecuador, who acted as Coordinating Director for the office of ‘Strategic Sectors’, which promoted and negotiated these concessions, was jailed for 6 years for corruption.

However, this has not stopped the huge giveaway of pristine land to mining companies.

From the cloud forests in the Andes to the indigenous territories in the headwaters of the Amazon, the Ecuadorean government has covertly granted these mining concessions to multinational mining companies from China, Australia, Canada, and Chile, amongst others.

The first country in the world to get the rights of Nature or Pachamama written into its constitution is now ignoring that commitment.

They’ve been here before. In the 80’s and 90’s Chevron-Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of crude oil there in the biggest rainforest petroleum spill in history.

This poisoned the water of tens of thousands of people and has done irreparable damage to ecosystems.

Now 14% of the country has been concessioned to mining interests.

This includes a million hectares of indigenous land, half of all the territories of the Shuar in the Amazon and three-quarters of the territory of the Awa in the Andes.

Please sign the petition and contribute to the crowdfund which will help Ecuadorean civil society’s campaign to have these concessions rescinded.

As founder and director of the Rainforest Information Centre (RIC), I’ve had a long history of involvement with Ecuador’s rainforests.

Back in the late ‘80’s our volunteers initiated numerous projects in the country and one of these, the creation of the Los Cedros Biological Reserve was helped with a substantial grant from the Australian Government aid agency, AusAID.

Los Cedros lies within the Tropical Andes Hotspot, in the country’s northwest. Los Cedros consists of nearly 7000 hectares of premontane and lower montane wet tropical and cloud forest teeming with rare, endangered and endemic species and is a crucial southern buffer zone for the quarter-million hectare Cotocachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve.

Little wonder that scientists from around the world rallied to the defense of Los Cedros.

In 2016 a press release from a Canadian mining company alerted us to the fact that they had somehow acquired a mining concession over Los Cedros!

We hired a couple of Ecuadorean researchers and it slowly dawned on us that Los Cedros was only one of 41 “Bosques Protectores” (protected forests) which had been secretly concessioned.

For example, nearly all of the 311,500 hectare Bosque Protector “Kutuku-Shaimi”, where 5000 Shuar families live, has been concessioned. In November 2017, RIC published a report by Bitty Roy, Professor of Ecology from Oregon State University and her co-workers, mapping the full extent of the horror that is being planned.

Although many of these concessions are for exploration, the mining industry anticipates an eight-fold growth in investment to $8 billion by 2021 due to a “revised regulatory framework” much to the jubilation of the mining companies.

Granting mineral concessions in reserves means that these reserves aren’t actually protected any longer as, if profitable deposits are found, the reserves will be mined and destroyed.

In Ecuador, civil society is mobilising and has asked their recently elected government to prohibit industrial mining “in water sources and water recharge areas, in the national system of protected areas, in special areas for conservation, in protected forests and fragile ecosystems”.

The indigenous peoples have been fighting against mining inside Ecuador for over a decade.

Governments have persecuted more than 200 indigenous activists using the countries anti-terrorism laws to hand out stiff prison sentences to indigenous people who openly speak out against the destruction of their territories.

Fortunately, the new government has signalled an openness to hear indigenous and civil society’s concerns, not expressed by the previous administration.

In December 2017, a large delegation of indigenous people marched on Quito and President Moreno promised no NEW oil and mining concessions, and on 31 January 2018, Ecuador’s Mining Minister resigned a few days after Indigenous and environmental groups demanded he step down during a demonstration.

On 31 January, The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE, announced their support for the platform shared by the rest of civil society involved in the anti-mining work.

Then on 15 February CONAIE called on the government to “declare Ecuador free of industrial metal-mining”, a somewhat more radical demand than that of the rest of civil society.

But we will need a huge international outcry to rescind the existing concessions: many billions of dollars of mining company profits versus some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth and the hundreds of local communities and indigenous peoples who depend on them.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION TO SUPPORT THEIR DEMANDS: http://www.rainforestinformationcentre.org/save_ecuadors_forests_from_mining

From 2006, under the Correa-Glas administration, Ecuador contracted record levels of external debt for highway and hydroelectric dam infrastructure to subsidize mining.

Foreign investments were guaranteed by a corporate friendly international arbitration system, facilitated by the World Bank which had earlier set the stage for the current calamity by funding mineralogical surveys of national parks and other protected areas and advising the administration on dismantling of laws and regulations protecting the environment.

After 2008, when Ecuador defaulted on $3.2 billion worth of its national debt, it borrowed $15 billion from China, to be paid back in the form of oil and mineral exports.

These deals have been fraught with corruption. Underselling, bribery and the laundering of money via offshore accounts are routine practice in the Ecuadorean business class, and the Chinese companies who now hold concessions over vast tracts of Ecuadorean land are no cleaner.

Before leaving office Correa-Glas removed much of the regulation that had been holding the mining industry in check.

And the corruption goes much deeper than mere bribes.

The lure of mining is a deadly mirage.

The impacts of large-scale open pit mining within rainforest watersheds include mass deforestation, erosion, the contamination of water sources by toxins such as lead and arsenic, and desertification.

A lush rainforest transforms into an arid wasteland incapable of sustaining either ecosystems or human beings.

Without a huge outcry both within Ecuador and around the world, the biological gems and pristine rivers and streams will be destroyed.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Civil society needs an open conversation with the state.

Ecuador has enormous potential to develop its economy based on renewable energy and its rich biodiversity can support a large ecotourism industry. In 2010 Costa Rica banned open-pit mining, and today has socioeconomic indicators better than Ecuador’s.

Costa Rica also provides a ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ to landholders, and through this scheme has actually increased its rainforest area (from 20% to just over 50%).

Ecuador’s society and government must explore how an economy based on the sustainable use of pristine water sources, the country’s incomparable forests, and other natural resources is superior to an economy based on short term extraction leaving behind a despoiled and impoverished landscape.

For example, studies by Earth Economics in the Intag region of Ecuador (where some of the new mining concessions are located) show that ecosystem services and sustainable development would offer a better economic solution let alone ecological and social.

The Rainforest Information Centre is launching a CROWDFUND to support Ecuadorean NGO’s to mobilise and to mount a publicity and education campaign and to help advance a dialogue throughout Ecuador and beyond: ‘Extractivism, economic diversification and prospects for sustainable development in Ecuador’.

We have set the crowdfund target at A$15,000 and Paul Gilding, ex-CEO of Greenpeace International is getting the ball rolling with an offer to match all donations $ for $ so that every $ that you donate will be matched by Paul.

Donations are tax-deductible in Australia and the US.

When you sign the PETITION you will reach not just to the President of Ecuador and his cabinet.

The petition is also addressed to the other actors who have set the stage for this calamity, being:

The World Bank who funded a project which collected geochemical data from 3.6 million hectares of Western Ecuador including seven national protected areas and dozens of forest reserves thus doing the groundwork for the mining industry.

The international governments and NGO’s who funded the creation and upkeep of these Bosques Protectores and indigenous reserves and other protected sites and who now need to persuade Ecuador to prevent their good work from being undone.

The governments of the countries whose mining companies are preparing this devastation.

Australian senator Lee Rhiannon (who was part of helping us create Los Cedros 30 years ago) wrote to the Canadian Environment Minister on our behalf and the Canadian Embassy has expressed concern about the bad name Cornerstone is giving the other Canadian mining projects.

They have asked us for a meeting to discuss the reports of bad business practices by the company.

Likewise, the Chinese government is beginning to develop some guidance which will come into effect in March 2018.

We are lobbying the Australian government to put pressure on BHP, Solgold and other Australian companies preparing to mine protected forests and indigenous reserves in Ecuador.

Visit Ecuador Endangered for more links to the history and causes of Ecuador’s mining crisis: https://ecuadorendangered.com/

There you will find research, detailed reports and news updates.

Contact information can be found for those wanting to be involved in the campaign, which is being run entirely by volunteers.

To let the Ecuadorean Government, World Bank and mining companies know you want them to invest in a sustainable future for all, a petition can be found here: http://www.rainforestinformationcentre.org/save_ecuadors_forests_from_mining

via Philip K. Dick and the Fake Humans

Philip K. Dick and the Fake Humans
Posted By Luther Blissett-By Henry Farrell: Boston Review 03/02/18: https://desultoryheroics.com/2018/03/02/philip-k-dick-and-the-fake-humans/ Or https://wordpress.com/post/randrewohge.wordpress.com/3564

(Editor’s note: on this 36th anniversary of the passing of Philip K. Dick, it seems an appropriate time to note the relevance of his work to our current dystopia as Henry Farrell does in the following essay. Unfortunately the author is less astute regarding the ways in which the dystopias of Orwell and Huxley are equally relevant to our current milieu.)

This is not the dystopia we were promised.

We are not learning to love Big Brother, who lives, if he lives at all, on a cluster of server farms, cooled by environmentally friendly technologies.

Nor have we been lulled by Soma and subliminal brain programming into a hazy acquiescence to pervasive social hierarchies.

Dystopias tend toward fantasies of absolute control, in which the system sees all, knows all, and controls all. And our world is indeed one of ubiquitous surveillance.

Phones and household devices produce trails of data, like particles in a cloud chamber, indicating our wants and behaviors to companies such as Facebook, Amazon, and Google.

Yet the information thus produced is imperfect and classified by machine-learning algorithms that themselves make mistakes.

The efforts of these businesses to manipulate our wants leads to further complexity.

It is becoming ever harder for companies to distinguish the behavior which they want to analyze from their own and others’ manipulations.

This does not look like totalitarianism unless you squint very hard indeed.

As the sociologist Kieran Healy has suggested, sweeping political critiques of new technology often bear a strong family resemblance to the arguments of Silicon Valley boosters.

Both assume that the technology works as advertised, which is not necessarily true at all.

Standard utopias and standard dystopias are each perfect after their own particular fashion.

We live somewhere queasier—a world in which technology is developing in ways that make it increasingly hard to distinguish human beings from artificial things.

The world that the Internet and social media have created is less a system than an ecology, a proliferation of unexpected niches, and entities created and adapted to exploit them in deceptive ways.

Vast commercial architectures are being colonized by quasi-autonomous parasites.

Scammers have built algorithms to write fake books from scratch to sell on Amazon, compiling and modifying text from other books and online sources such as Wikipedia, to fool buyers or to take advantage of loopholes in Amazon’s compensation structure.

Much of the world’s financial system is made out of bots-automated systems designed to continually probe markets for fleeting arbitrage opportunities.

Less sophisticated programs plague online commerce systems such as eBay and Amazon, occasionally with extraordinary consequences, as when two warring bots bid the price of a biology book up to $23,698,655.93 (plus $3.99 shipping).

In other words, we live in Philip K. Dick’s future, not George Orwell’s or Aldous Huxley’s.

Dick was no better a prophet of technology than any science fiction writer, and was arguably worse than most.

His imagined worlds jam together odd bits of fifties’ and sixties’ California with rocket ships, drugs, and social speculation.

Dick usually wrote in a hurry and for money, and sometimes under the influence of drugs or a recent and urgent personal religious revelation.

Still, what he captured with genius was the ontological unease of a world in which the human and the abhuman, the real and the fake, blur together.

As Dick described his work (in the opening essay to his 1985 collection, I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon):

The two basic topics which fascinate me are “What is reality?” and “What constitutes the authentic human being?”

Over the twenty-seven years in which I have published novels and stories I have investigated these two interrelated topics over and over again.

These obsessions had some of their roots in Dick’s complex and ever-evolving personal mythology (in which it was perfectly plausible that the “real” world was a fake, and that we were all living in Palestine sometime in the first century AD).

Yet they were also based on a keen interest in the processes through which reality is socially constructed.

Dick believed that we all live in a world where “spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups—and the electronic hardware exists by which to deliver these pseudo-worlds right into heads of the reader.” He argued:

“The bombardment of pseudo-realities begins to produce inauthentic humans very quickly, spurious humans—as fake as the data pressing at them from all sides.

My two topics are really one topic; they unite at this point.

Fake realities will create fake humans.

Or, fake humans will generate fake realities and then sell them to other humans, turning them, eventually, into forgeries of themselves.

So we wind up with fake humans inventing fake realities and then peddling them to other fake humans.”

In Dick’s books, the real and the unreal infect each other, so that it becomes increasingly impossible to tell the difference between them.

The worlds of the dead and the living merge in Ubik (1969), the experiences of a disturbed child infect the world around him in Martian Time-Slip (1964), and consensual drug-based hallucinations become the vector for an invasive alien intelligence in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965).

Humans are impersonated by malign androids in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and “Second Variety” (1953); by aliens in “The Hanging Stranger” (1953) and “The Father-Thing” (1954); and by mutants in “The Golden Man” (1954).

This concern with unreal worlds and unreal people led to a consequent worry about an increasing difficulty of distinguishing between them.

Factories pump out fake Americana in The Man in the High Castle (1962), mirroring the problem of living in a world that is not, in fact, the real one.

Entrepreneurs build increasingly human-like androids in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, reasoning that if they do not, then their competitors will.

Figuring out what is real and what is not is not easy.

Scientific tools such as the famous Voight-Kampff test in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (and Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie based loosely on it) do not work very well, leaving us with little more than hope in some mystical force—the I Ching, God in a spray can, a Martian water-witch—to guide us back toward the real.

We live in Dick’s world—but with little hope of divine intervention or invasion.

The world where we communicate and interact at a distance is increasingly filled with algorithms that appear human, but are not—fake people generated by fake realities.

When Ashley Madison, a dating site for people who want to cheat on their spouses, was hacked, it turned out that tens of thousands of the women on the site were fake “fembots” programmed to send millions of chatty messages to male customers, so as to delude them into thinking that they were surrounded by vast numbers of potential sexual partners.

These problems are only likely to get worse as the physical world and the world of information become increasingly interpenetrated in an Internet of (badly functioning) Things.

Many of the aspects of Joe Chip’s future world in Ubik look horrendously dated to modern eyes: the archaic role of women, the assumption that nearly everyone smokes.

Yet the door to Joe’s apartment—which argues with him and refuses to open because he has not paid it the obligatory tip—sounds ominously plausible.

Someone, somewhere, is pitching this as a viable business plan to Y Combinator or the venture capitalists in Menlo Park.

This invasion of the real by the unreal has had consequences for politics.

The hallucinatory realities in Dick’s worlds—the empathetic religion of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the drug-produced worlds of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, the quasi–Tibetan Buddhist death realm of Ubik—are usually experienced by many people, like the television shows of Dick’s America.

But as network television has given way to the Internet, it has become easy for people to create their own idiosyncratic mix of sources.

The imposed media consensus that Dick detested has shattered into a myriad of different realities, each with its own partially shared assumptions and facts. Sometimes this creates tragedy or near-tragedy.

The deluded gunman who stormed into Washington, D.C.’s Comet Ping Pong pizzeria had been convinced by online conspiracy sites that it was the coordinating center for Hillary Clinton’s child–sex trafficking ring [likewise, the masses may have been convinced by mainstream media that a real child-sex trafficking ring never existed].

Such fractured worlds are more vulnerable to invasion by the non-human.

Many Twitter accounts are bots, often with the names and stolen photographs of implausibly beautiful young women, looking to pitch this or that product (one recent academic study found that between 9 and 15 percent of all Twitter accounts are likely fake).

Twitterbots vary in sophistication from automated accounts that do no more than retweet what other bots have said, to sophisticated algorithms deploying so-called “Sybil attacks,” creating fake identities in peer-to-peer networks to invade specific organizations or degrade particular kinds of conversation.

Twitter has failed to become a true mass medium, but remains extraordinarily important to politics, since it is where many politicians, journalists, and other elites turn to get their news.

One research project suggests that around 20 percent of the measurable political discussion around the last presidential election came from bots.

Humans appear to be no better at detecting bots than we are, in Dick’s novel, at detecting replicant androids: people are about as likely to retweet a bot’s message as the message of another human being.

Most notoriously, the current U.S. president recently retweeted a flattering message that appears to have come from a bot densely connected to a network of other bots, which some believe to be controlled by the Russian government and used for propaganda purposes.

In his novels Dick was interested in seeing how people react when their reality starts to break down.

A world in which the real commingles with the fake, so that no one can tell where the one ends and the other begins, is ripe for paranoia.

The most toxic consequence of social media manipulation, whether by the Russian government or others, may have nothing to do with its success as propaganda.

Instead, it is that it sows an existential distrust.

People simply do not know what or who to believe anymore.

Rumors that are spread by Twitterbots merge into other rumors about the ubiquity of Twitterbots, and whether this or that trend is being driven by malign algorithms rather than real human beings.

Such widespread falsehood is especially explosive when combined with our fragmented politics.

Liberals’ favorite term for the right-wing propaganda machine, “fake news,” has been turned back on them by conservatives, who treat conventional news as propaganda, and hence ignore it.

On the obverse, it may be easier for many people on the liberal left to blame Russian propaganda for the last presidential election than to accept that many voters had a very different understanding of America than they do.

Dick had other obsessions—most notably the politics of Richard Nixon and the Cold War.

It is not hard to imagine him writing a novel combining an immature and predatory tycoon (half Arnie Kott, half Jory Miller) who becomes the president of the United States, secret Russian political manipulation, an invasion of empathy-free robotic intelligences masquerading as human beings, and a breakdown in our shared understanding of what is real and what is fake.

These different elements probably would not cohere particularly well, but as in Dick’s best novels, the whole might still work, somehow.

Indeed, it is in the incongruities of Dick’s novels that salvation is to be found (even at his battiest, he retains a sense of humor).

Obviously, it is less easy to see the joke when one is living through it. Dystopias may sometimes be grimly funny—but rarely from the inside.

via Time To Make Life Hard For The Rich

Time To Make Life Hard For The Rich 03/01/18
Posted By Luther Blissett By Hamilton Nolan: Splinter: https://desultoryheroics.com/2018/03/01/time-to-make-life-hard-for-the-rich/ Or: https://wordpress.com/post/randrewohge.wordpress.com/3562

It is time for polite, respectable, rational people to start saying what has become painfully obvious: It is time to stop respecting the rich, and start stealing from them. In earnest.

Inequality is eating America alive. It has been growing for decades.

To say that “the American dream is dead” is no longer a poetic exaggeration—it is an accurate description of 40 years of wage stagnation and declining economic mobility that has produced a generation that cannot expect to live better than their parents did.

Not because of devastating war or plague, but because of a very specific set of rules governing a very specific economic system that encourages the accumulation of great wealth among a tiny portion of the population, to the detriment of the vast majority of people.

Our political and business leaders have chosen to embrace a system that favors capital over labor.

A system in which the more you already have, the more you make, and the less you have, the harder it is to build wealth.

It is a system designed to increase inequality.

It is functioning exactly as designed. And now, it is about to get worse.

How long are people supposed to tolerate being smacked in the face?

By the rich?

Who already have more than enough?

It is not as though the fact that inequality is a crisis is a fact that snuck up on anyone.

Economists have seen the trend for decades, and the general public has been well aware of it since at least the financial crisis.

Obama called it “the defining challenge of our time.”

Thomas Piketty became a rock star by writing a very dry book about it.

It’s not an underground thing.

It is well known and well understood by the people in control of the institutions with the power to change it.

The response to this dire situation by the Republican Party, which a wholly owned subsidiary of the American capital-holding class, has been to pass a tax bill that will horribly exacerbate economic inequality in this country.

It is a considered decision to make a bad situation worse.

It is a deliberate choice—during a time when the rich already have too much—to take from the poor in order to give the rich (including members of Congress and the President) more.

That is not a metaphor.

That is the reality.

That is what the Republican party is about to accomplish on behalf of the donor class, calling it “middle class tax relief” in the face of mathematical proof to the contrary.

Even to my cynical ass, the sheer fuck you-ness of this action towards the majority of the country is breathtaking.

This is not just a failure to solve a severe problem; it is the expenditure of vast amounts of political capital to make the severe problem worse so that a tiny handful of people will get wealthier than anyone needs to be.

Ideally, in a democracy, elected leaders reflecting the interests of the people would pass taxes and regulations to reverse the growing inequality here.

For that to happen, we would need to end gerrymandering and reform campaign finance and probably abolish the Senate and the Electoral College, and that’s just for starters.

It is not imminent, in other words.

Our broken political system, which is designed to reward money with political power, is actually moving in the opposite direction of a solution.

Who is suffering because of this?

Most Americans.

Certainly the bottom 50% are acutely suffering—money that would have been in their paychecks has been instead funneled upwards into the pockets of the rich.

Every desperate family that has found themselves coming up short for rent or food or medicine, every American who has downgraded her dreams and aspirations because they became financially implausible, has been directly harmed by the political and economic class war perpetuated by the rich, even if they cannot see the perpetrators with their own eyes.

I think that people have been more than patient in the face of this slow-moving crisis.

In 2009, when the markets crashed and millions were laid off, nobody rioted and kidnapped the financiers and burned their homes.

The outcome of that lack of direct action is the situation we find ourselves in today.

Violence against people is morally wrong and a bad way to solve problems.

But capital is different.

One thing that would help to create the political environment conducive to solving the inequality problem would be to make the cost of accumulating all that capital too high to be worth it.

In other words, to create a downside to being too rich.

I have personally stood in a room full of hedge fund titans and billionaire investors warning one another explicitly that inequality must be addressed lest the U.S. become a place like Latin America, where rich people are forced to live behind walls, surrounded by armed guards, because of the very real risks from the rage of the poor.

Rich people in this country do not want to live like that.

If they see that they must stop being so greedy in order to enjoy their own freedom, they will stop being so greedy.

Those conditions have to be created by people who want justice.

Our situation is absurd.

Not since the Gilded Age has it been more clear that a few people have too much.

Furthermore, the people with too much are investing in political clout to give themselves more.

It’s just wrong.

If the government won’t help, we have to help ourselves.

Sticking up a billionaire on the street for $100 is not going to do it.

But one can imagine other ways that angry Americans might express their dissatisfaction with our current division of wealth:

A large-scale online attack against the holdings of the very rich; yachts sunk in harbors; unoccupied vacation homes in the Hamptons mysteriously burned to the ground.

Sotheby’s auctions swarmed by vandals, Art Basel attacked by spraypaint-wielding mobs, protests on the doorsteps of right-wing think tanks, venomous words directed at millionaires as they dine in fancy restaurants.

People have a right to life and safety, but property does not.

A life spent screwing the little people so that you can acquire lots of stuff loses its allure when you know that all that stuff will be smashed to pieces by angry little people.

It is not hard to put together a list of those who should be targeted—Forbes publishes it every year.

Likewise, public campaign finance records give us a pretty good idea of exactly who is funding the politicians who are perpetuating this economic war on behalf of the rich.

It is nice to imagine a grand, well-targeted computer hack that would neatly transfer billions of dollars out of the accounts of, say, the Walton family and into a charity account that would disburse the money to the poor in untraceable ways.

That seems far-fetched.

Realistically, what people can do now is to start thinking about ways to make it uncomfortable to be too rich.

Socially uncomfortable and otherwise.

When the accumulation of great wealth ceases to be a praiseworthy endeavor and instead becomes viewed as a sick, greedy pastime whose only reward is the hatred of your fellow citizens and the inability to live comfortably without fear of your excessive property being destroyed, rich people will rethink their goals.

Until then, inequality will keep rising, and everything, for most people, will continue to slowly, slowly get worse.

via Is John Brennan the Mastermind Behind Russiagate?

Is John Brennan the Mastermind Behind Russiagate?
Posted By Luther Blissett 02/21/18
https://desultoryheroics.com/2018/02/21/is-john-brennan-the-mastermind-behind-russiagate/; https://wordpress.com/post/randrewohge.wordpress.com/3554
By Mike Whitney: The Unz Review

The report (“The Dossier”) that claims that Donald Trump colluded with Russia, was paid for by the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign.

The company that claims that Russia hacked DNC computer servers, was paid by the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign.

The FBI’s counterintelligence probe into Trump’s alleged connections to Russia was launched on the basis of information gathered from a report that was paid for by the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign.

The surveillance of a Trump campaign member (Carter Page) was approved by a FISA court on the basis of information from a report that was paid for by the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign.

The Intelligence Community Analysis or ICA was (largely or partially) based on information from a report that was paid for by the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign. (more on this below)

The information that was leaked to the media alleging Russia hacking or collusion can be traced back to claims that were made in a report that was paid for by the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign.

The entire Russia-gate investigation rests on the “unverified and salacious” information from a dossier that was paid for by the DNC and Hillary Clinton Campaign. Here’s how Stephen Cohen sums it up in a recent article at The Nation:

“Steele’s dossier… was the foundational document of the Russiagate narrative…from the time its installments began to be leaked to the American media in the summer of 2016, to the US “Intelligence Community Assessment” of January 2017….the dossier and subsequent ICA report remain the underlying sources for proponents of the Russiagate narrative of “Trump-Putin collision.” (“Russia gate or Intel-gate?”, The Nation)

There’s just one problem with Cohen’s statement, we don’t really know the extent to which the dossier was used in the creation of the Intelligence Community Assessment. (The ICA was the IC’s flagship analysis that was supposed to provide ironclad proof of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.)

According to some reports, the contribution was significant. Check out this excerpt from an article at Business Insider:

“Intelligence officials purposefully omitted the dossier from the public intelligence report they released in January about Russia’s election interference because they didn’t want to reveal which details they had corroborated, according to CNN.” (“Mueller reportedly interviewed the author of the Trump-Russia dossier — here’s what it alleges, and how it aligned with reality”, Business Insider)

Bottom line: Despite the denials of former-CIA Director John Brennan, the dossier may have been used in the ICA.

In the last two weeks, documents have been released that have exposed the weak underpinnings of the Russia investigation while at the same time revealing serious abuses by senior-level officials at the DOJ and FBI.

The so called Nunes memo was the first to point out these abuses, but it was the 8-page “criminal referral” authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham that gave credence to the claims. Here’s a blurb from the document:

“It appears the FBI relied on admittedly uncorroborated information, funded by and obtained for Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign, in order to conduct surveillance of an associate of the opposing presidential candidate. It did so based on Mr. Steele’s personal credibility and presumably having faith in his process of obtaining the information. But there is substantial evidence suggesting that Mr. Steele materially misled the FBI about a key aspect of his dossier efforts, one which bears on his credibility.”

There it is. The FBI made a “concerted effort to conceal information from the court” in order to get a warrant to spy on a member of a rival political campaign. So –at the very least– there was an effort, on the part of the FBI and high-ranking officials at the Department of Justice, to improperly spy on members of the Trump team.

And there’s more.

The FBI failed to mention that the dossier was paid for by the Hillary campaign and the DNC, or that the dossier’s author Christopher Steele had seeded articles in the media that were being used to support the dossier’s credibility (before the FISA court), or that, according to the FBI’s own analysts, the dossier was “only minimally corroborated”, or that Steele was a ferocious partisan who harbored a strong animus towards Trump.

All of these were omitted in the FISA application which is why the FBI was able to deceive the judge. It’s worth noting that intentionally deceiving a federal judge is a felony.

Most disturbing is the fact that Steele reportedly received information from friends of Hillary Clinton. (supposedly, Sidney Blumenthal and others) Here’s one suggestive tidbit that appeared in the Graham-Grassley” referral:

“…Mr. Steele’s memorandum states that his company “received this report from REDACTED US State Department,” that the report was the second in a series, and that the report was information that came from a foreign sub-source who “is in touch with REDACTED, a contact of REDACTED, a friend of the Clintons, who passed it to REDACTED.”

It is troubling enough that the Clinton campaign funded Mr. Steele’s work, but that these Clinton associates were contemporaneously feeding Mr. Steele allegations raises additional concerns about his credibility.” (Lifted from The Federalist)

What are we to make of this?

Was Steele shaping the dossier’s narrative to the specifications of his employers?

Was he being coached by members of the Hillary team?

How did that impact the contents of the dossier and the subsequent Russia investigation?

These are just a few of the questions Steele will undoubtedly be asked if he ever faces prosecution for lying to the FBI.

But, so far, we know very little about man except that he was a former MI6 agent who was paid $160,000 for composing the dubious set of reports that make up the dossier.

We don’t even know if Steele’s alleged contacts or intermediaries in Russia actually exist or not.

Some analysts think the whole thing is a fabrication based on the fact that he hasn’t worked the Russia-scene since the FSB (The Russian state-security organization that replaced the KGB) was completely overhauled.

Besides, it would be extremely dangerous for a Russian to provide an M16 agent with sensitive intelligence.

And what would the contact get in return?

According to most accounts, Steele’s sources weren’t even paid, so there was little incentive for them to put themselves at risk?

All of this casts more doubt on the contents of the dossier.

What is known about Steele is that he has a very active imagination and knows how to command a six-figure payoff for his unique services.

We also know that the FBI continued to use him long after they knew he couldn’t be trusted which suggests that he served some other purpose, like providing the agency with plausible deniability, a ‘get out of jail free’ card if they ever got caught surveilling US citizens without probable cause.

But that brings us to the strange case of Carter Page, a bit-player whose role in the Trump campaign was trivial at best.

Page was what most people would call a “small fish”, an insignificant foreign policy advisor who had minimal impact on the campaign.

Congressional investigators, like Nunes, must be wondering why the FBI and DOJ devoted so much attention to someone like Page instead of going after the “big fish” like Bannon, Flynn, Kushner, Ivanka and Trump Jr., all of whom might have been able to provide damaging information on the real target, Donald Trump.

Wasn’t that the idea?

So why waste time on Page?

It doesn’t make any sense, unless, of course, the others were already being surveilled by other agencies?

Is that it, did the NSA and the CIA have a hand in the surveillance too?

It’s a moot point, isn’t it? Because now that there’s evidence that senior-level officials at the DOJ and the FBI were involved in improperly obtaining warrants to spy on members of the opposite party, the investigation is going to go wherever it goes.

Whatever restrictions existed before, will now be lifted.

For example, this popped up in Saturday’s The Hill:

“House Intelligence Committee lawmakers are in the dark about an investigation into wrongdoing at the State Department announced by Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) on Friday. …Nunes told Fox News on Friday that, “we are in the middle of what I call phase two of our investigation. That investigation is ongoing and we continue work toward finding answers and asking the right questions to try to get to the bottom of what exactly the State Department was up to in terms of this Russia investigation.”…

Since then, GOP lawmakers have been quietly buzzing about allegations that an Obama-era State Department official passed along information from allies of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that may have been used by the FBI to launch an investigation into whether the Trump campaign had improper contacts with Russia.

“I’m pretty troubled by what I read in the documents with respect to the role the State Department played in the fall of 2016, including information that was used in a court proceeding. I am troubled by it,” Gowdy told Fox News on Tuesday.” (“Lawmakers in dark about ‘phase two’ of Nunes investigation”, The Hill)

So the State Department is next in line followed by the NSA and, finally, the Russia-gate point of origin, John Brennan’s CIA.

Here’s more background on that from Stephen Cohen’s illuminating article at The Nation:

“….when, and by whom, was this Intel operation against Trump started?

In testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in May 2017, John Brennan, formerly Obama’s head of the CIA, strongly suggested that he and his agency were the first, as The Washington Post put it at the time, “in triggering an FBI probe.”

Certainly both the Post and The New York Times interpreted his remarks in this way. Equally certain, Brennan played a central role in promoting the Russiagate narrative thereafter, briefing members of Congress privately and giving President Obama himself a top-secret envelope in early August 2016 that almost certainly contained Steele’s dossier.

Early on, Brennan presumably would have shared his “suspicions” and initiatives with James Clapper, director of national intelligence. FBI Director Comey… may have joined them actively somewhat later….

When did Brennan begin his “investigation” of Trump?

His House testimony leaves this somewhat unclear, but, according to a subsequent Guardian article, by late 2015 or early 2016 he was receiving, or soliciting, reports from foreign intelligence agencies regarding “suspicious ‘interactions’ between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents.”

In short, if these reports and Brennan’s own testimony are to be believed, he, not the FBI, was the instigator and godfather of Russiagate.” (“Russiagate or Intelgate?”, Stephen Cohen, The Nation)

Regular readers of this column know that we have always believed that the Russiagate psyops originated with Brennan.

Just as the CIA launched its disinformation campaigns against Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gadhafi, so too, Russia has emerged as Washington’s foremost rival requiring a massive propaganda campaign to persuade the public that America faces a serious external threat.

In any event, the demonizing of Russia had already begun by the time Hillary and Co. decided to hop on the bandwagon by blaming Moscow for hacking John Podesta’s emails.

The allegations were never persuasive, but they did provide Brennan with some cover for the massive Information Operation (IO) that began with him.

According to the Washington Times:

“It was then-CIA Director John O. Brennan, a close confidant of Mr. Obama’s, who provided the information — what he termed the “basis” — for the FBI to start the counterintelligence investigation last summer….Mr. Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee on May 23 that the intelligence community was picking up tidbits on Trump associates making contacts with Russians.”

It all started with Brennan. After Putin blocked Brennan’s operations in both Ukraine and Syria, Brennan had every reason to retaliate and to use the tools at his disposal to demonize Putin and try to isolate Russia.

The “election meddling” charges (promoted by the Hillary people) fit perfectly with Brennan’s overall strategy to manipulate perceptions and prepare the country for an eventual confrontation.

It provided him the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, to deliver a withering blow to Putin and Trump at the very same time.

The temptation must have been irresistible.

But now the plan has backfired and the investigations are gaining pace.

Trump’s allies in the House smell the blood in the water and they want answers.

Did the CIA surveil members of the Trump campaign on the basis of information they gathered in the dossier?

Who saw the information?

Was the information passed along to members of the press and other government agencies?

Was the White House involved?

What role did Obama play?

What about the Intelligence Community Assessment?

Was it based on the contents of the Steele report?

Will the “hand-picked” analysts who worked on the report vouch for its conclusions in or were they coached about what to write?

How did Brennan persuade the reluctant Comey into opening a counterintelligence investigation on members in the Trump campaign when he knew it would be perceived as a partisan attempt to sabotage the elections by giving Hillary an edge?

Soon the investigative crosshairs will settle on Brennan.

He’d better have the right answers.