Jan 28 2011
With each passing day, the Facebook phenomenon looms larger as a precursor of a global networked society. It is such a potent political organizing mechanism that it has been central to the recent upheavals in North Africa, and it may prove instrumental in bringing down multiple dictatorships. But the most important story about Facebook is the one that nobody in the American media is willing to write. It is the story of an accidental emperor.
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is the world’s youngest Billionaire. At the tender age of 26, he personally controls the development of a global digital social network that is increasingly taking on the characteristics of a political entity. It is easy to conceive of Facebook creating its own currency, citizenship regulations, and judicial and legislative structures. Yet all of these profound potential developments are under the control of a callow young man who stumbled into fame and fortune by building a wildly popular Internet service.
Zuckerberg’s character is that of a bright super-achiever, intensely focused on growing a business. He has no interest, aptitude, or concern for governing a political institution. Indeed, his current focus is on raising vast sums to fuel further growth of Facebook. The frightening fact is that Zuckerberg doesn’t really care what Facebook becomes, as long as it becomes the world’s dominant social network. In this respect, he is quite similar to Bill Gates, who was once another young hyper-achieving billionaire. Had it not been for antitrust actions brought against Microsoft in America and Europe, Microsoft might have crowded out every competitor and put a virtual coin box on every desktop computer in the world.
Unlike the case of Microsoft, there is nothing to stop Facebook from becoming the defacto precursor of an Internet world government. This government would not be a democracy; it would be an empire, and its emperor would be 26 year old Mark Zuckerberg. What is wrong with a profit-seeking corporation, led by a super-competitive businessman, creating a global Internet social network? The problem is that corporations are not designed to govern people. They have no interest in justice or the public good. Corporations are profit-seeking engines narrowly devoted to the interests of the stockholders. In the case of Facebook, Emperor Zuckerberg controls the stock.
It is a peculiar irony of contemporary American politics that it is increasingly dominated by corporations at a time when the model of the corporation is increasingly unsuited to solving global problems. The environment is being poisoned by the toxic effluents of corporations that view pollution as an “externality.” Economic inequality is increasing everywhere as corporations tear down social safety nets and take over legislatures through bribery disguised as campaign contributions. Organized labor is being crushed by corporations intent on minimizing wages. Financial markets are destabilized by unchecked corporate greed and unlimited bailouts. The biggest corporations are not only too big to fail; they are too big to jail, and they flout the laws with impunity.
So behold Emperor Zuckerberg, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus, and we poor citizens of his empire hope for justice and mercy. What will he decide to do to us tomorrow?
Dec 08 2010
Mastercard is down, the result of a massive guerrilla attack from thousands of online rebels. It turns out that there is no defense against a sufficiently large denial of service attack. Fittingly, the founders of the Internet wove the possibility of rebellion into its design. We are witnessing the first successful rebellion of an emerging global political movement against the authoritarian corpocracies.
This rebellion will probably be beaten down, but it will be noted as an historical watershed. For the first time in recent memory, abusers of power were punished directly by the people. Instead of paving stones and barricades, DDoS packets were the tools of rebellion. We have waited many years for a new politics to be born on the Internet. Something is being born.
Dec 05 2010
In the film “Spartacus,” after the Romans crush the slave revolt, they attempt to locate the rebel leader. Their task is made difficult because each of the defeated captives in the rebel army declares that he is Spartacus. (The Roman response was to crucify them all.)
Today, Julian Assange is the head of a global movement for transparency and accountability that has challenged the secrecy that lies at the core of malevolent state-sponsored actions. He has been denounced as a “terrorist,” harassed by legal investigations, and slandered by the servile “reporters” of the world’s commercial press.
We are witnessing an extraordinary act of heroism as the few hundred individuals of Wikileaks confront the might of states and corporations accustomed to using deadly force to work their will in the world. All that protects these brave people is the technological robustness of the global Internet and the force of world opinion. Assange may be killed or imprisoned, but Wikileaks will not be silenced, because there will always be another honest and courageous person to sustain the flame of freedom that Wikileaks has lit. There will always be another Assange.
Each of us has a choice to make. We can cower in fear under the “protection” of local governments and continue to serve the interests of amoral corporations whose activities have become indistinguishable from those of corrupt governments, or we can side with freedom and defend courageous individuals like Assange.
I declare proudly, with millions of others, I am Assange!
Sep 07 2010
Among the many ironies that characterize our chaotic era is the likelihood that the green dreams of environmental reformers will be realized in the nightmarish context of a class war that separates mankind into two groups: the rich and politically powerful, who will preserve high standards of living; and the poor and politically weak, who will sink into polluted misery as resource depletion, climate change, and social unrest ruin their lives.
Nobody is more eager to go “off the grid” than the predatory elites. Once they have isolated their lily pads of comfort from the decaying infrastructure of the mass societies that they exploit, they will have a far more efficient and profitable model for aggrandizing their wealth. The wealthy fully anticipate a die-off of the world’s excess population, and they have zero interest in any kind of shared sacrifice that might save a few billion people at the expense of cuts in their living standards.
Thus, creating enclaves that are ecologically self-sufficient is a high priority for those who intend to be among the survivors of the coming ecological catastrophes. Where possible, the wealthy will provide their own power, water, food, and security directly, but where they must depend on outside entities, they will work relentlessly to secure preferential access, mainly by insisting that the resources be provided by private corporations. The reason the rich love free markets is that they can always be the high bidders. Markets allow the rich to legally secure scarce resources. This is why there has been a steady drive to privatize the control of vital services worldwide. For example, water supply, which was once almost entirely in the hands of governments, has been steadily privatized all over the world. When clean water is provided by a corporation, all it takes is a single price adjustment to turn it into a luxury available only to the wealthy.
There is no realistic possibility of an ordinary middle-class household going “off the grid” without enduring a sharp drop in living standards. But the wealthy can afford the scale of investment required to replace costly shared infrastructure, or to buy dwindling shared resources at top-bidder prices. Thus the green future envisioned by environmental reformers is likely to be realized by the wealthy and powerful, and not by the mass of humanity, who, having exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet, will die in misery outside the islands of comfort the rich have established in the green strongholds of their neo-medieval society.
Jul 26 2010
The recent revelation by Wikileaks of voluminous ugly details of America’s miserable “war” in Afghanistan will provide yet another demonstration of one of our great national illusions: that America is a peace-loving nation that attacks other countries only with the greatest reluctance and seeks peace whenever possible. I predict that the Wikileaks Afghanistan documents will have no impact whatsoever on the course of the war, and that the only political consequences will be the further harassment of whistle-blowers and more moves to criminalize free speech.
For modern Americans, the purpose of war is war. It is the extreme violence we inflict on others that is the end goal of a belligerent and angry nation. The coupling of this violence with rational goals, political, economic, or strategic, has long since vanished, and we are increasingly exposed as the world’s greatest collection of violence junkies. That is why, perversely, the more shocking and ugly the revelations about the Afghan war become, the less likely they are to end that so-called war.
Afghanistan has become a theme park of deadly high-tech force for America. Thrilling GI Combat stories from Afghanistan serve a steady supply of blood and guts to violence-hungry America, and this is well understood by Obama’s mob control technicians. It is simply inconceivable for Obama to give up this war. To do so would be to rob angry America of its last remaining outlet for large scale state-sponsored killing.
Jul 06 2010
When a society becomes corrupt it becomes economically unhealthy. Although it may continue to accumulate wealth through global plundering, the depletion of trust resulting from corruption undermines domestic productivity, as increasing numbers of citizens lose the incentive to cooperate constructively. The wealthy and powerful respond to the economic deterioration in classic zero-sum fashion: to preserve and extend their advantages, they extract more resources from the poor and the weak.
This is the situation America faces at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. The rapacious rich, having consolidated their control over the government since the “Reagan Revolution,” have undermined the economic productivity of the United States to the point that their only remaining avenue for further enrichment is to extract wealth from the middle and lower classes. They will do this by causing the US Government to default on domestic obligations to the poor and middle class – specifically Social Security and Medicare.
The cutbacks will fall on the weakest members of society because the wealthy and powerful control the executive branch, the Congress, and the courts. Behind a huge propaganda blitz, and possibly a new war of choice, the middle class and poor will be told that “sacrifice” is every American’s patriotic duty. Meanwhile, CEO salaries will continue to rise and wealth will be further concentrated, as the oligarchy continues to feed on the decaying carcass of our former democracy.
When social conditions for the middle class reach a point of intolerable deterioration, a political backlash will develop, but this is likely to be brutally suppressed by “anti-terrorist” tactics similar to those utilized in third-world regimes. The people may ultimately prevail against the oligarchs, but the cost will be frightful.
Given the sociopathic character of the American economic elite and their highly perfected tools of political and media manipulation, this unhappy outcome is inevitable. The public Internet has arrived too late to halt America’s plunge into the abyss. The forces of greed have overwhelmed the nascent movements for justice and sustainable society. Something true, just, and decent may arise from the ruins of the American culture of predation, but it will not emerge from simple reason and honest communication; it will be the result of a colossal and costly failure, the global failure of selfishness and deceit in a world sustainable only through sharing and honesty.
Jul 01 2010
If one considers spreading societal corruption as a series of ink blots that progressively stain a white fabric, there is an end state of saturation where everything becomes corrupt and nothing remains unstained. In America, we are nearing that state. Here is some evidence:
1. Our securities markets, once the greatest and most efficient engine of capital formation in the world, are now riddled with manipulation and are openly denounced as corrupt by independent observers.
2. Our government regulatory agencies have been fully captured by the industries they are charged with supervising, with catastrophic results exemplified by the Gulf oil spill.
3. Our political leadership shows no signs of altering its subservience to predatory corporations, and the Supreme Court has permanently established the control of wealthy interests over the election process by equating unlimited corporate political spending with “free speech.” There is no meaningful change possible in US society as long as the corporations are in control.
4. The news media remain in the hands of five private corporations, and they remain completely devoted to preserving the dominance of corrupt corporations and their political servants.
5. The academic sector, harried by cutbacks and funding shortages, is mute in the face of gross dysfunctions in business and political leadership. Instead it grinds out irrelevant and impotent research, while waiting for grants and awards from the corporatocracy.
6. The popular culture enshrines self-indulgence, violence, and the adrenalin rush as the highest values for individuals. The wealthy are admired for their ruthless pursuit of self-interest, and it is believed that calculated selfishness is the sure path to riches for all.
There are interesting consequences of arriving at a saturated state of corruption. One no longer needs to be concerned with its extent, since one can assume that every non-trivial organization is corrupt. Thus, effort can be channeled into shifting all activity away from large institutions and organizations and attempting to make all transactions and interpersonal dealings with trusted individuals and trusted small-scale entities. This contraction into a highly defensive behavioral pattern will be costly and difficult for most people, but it will be the only means of escaping substantial harm as a society saturated by corruption collapses into ruins.
Jun 25 2010
It is painfully obvious to any educated observer that the proper role of the US Government in the current economic crisis is to act as the employer of last resort. The Obama administration should act immediately and vigorously to create government-funded jobs for the millions of unemployed engineers, administrators, technicians, and clerks whose jobs have been outsourced by predatory corporations, and whose dwindling incomes are the root cause of the deflationary spiral afflicting our economy. Unfortunately, the potent ideological legacy of Ronald Reagan is proving to be an enormous obstacle to the restoration of common sense and economic equilibrium.
Thus, before sanity and prosperity can return to America, we must De-Reaganize our political culture. Just as the Soviet Union went through the painful process of De-Stalinization by revealing the horrors committed by that miserable dictator, America needs to cure itself of the delusions of Reaganomics. Americans need to learn how Reagan taught our people to hate and distrust our own government. This hatred has spread and flourished to the degree that malevolent corporations are literally destroying our nation – through ecocide, endless war, and relentless exporting of jobs and industries.
Jun 23 2010
I have long maintained that the only thing that will stop America’s Forever War is the exhaustion of the US Treasury. Some view the removal of McChrystal as the unexpected consequence of a careless interview, but if one considers the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan it is more logically seen as a meltdown of a defeated leader. McChrystal grasped that he would never have enough resources to achieve what he had promised: a sweeping counter-insurgency victory that would make Afghanistan a tractable ally. I believe that this realization fueled the rage that led to his intemperate outbursts.
America is now in the terminal phase of its addiction to war. It is spending its last available (borrowed) resources on two hugely expensive and futile crusades to control strategic nations. When our unsustainable budget deficits force budget cuts, the military will not be spared, and these brutal wars will end. Never in the history of our nation have we squandered so much wealth to such little effect. We have wrecked Iraq, one of the most ancient civilizations of the world, and we have made Afghanistan a failed state, at a cost of over a trillion dollars. Fortunately there is no more money where that came from.
What decency and shame could not achieve, our pending bankruptcy (moral and financial) will necessitate: the end of America’s Forever War.
Jun 18 2010
Obama’s content-free address from the Oval Office will go down in history as an official declaration of incompetence of the US Government. Conspicuous by its absence was the lack of any emergency plan to stop the oil leak by mobilizing the technical resources of the world’s most powerful government. Specifically, there was no mandate to create a task force to deploy unconventional measures to seal the well. Here is Obama’s decision on how to apply the best minds in the Federal Government to the worst environmental disaster in American history:
Because there has never been a leak this size at this depth, stopping it has tested the limits of human technology. That’s why just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge — a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation’s Secretary of Energy. Scientists at our national labs and experts from academia and other oil companies have also provided ideas and advice.
As a result of these efforts, we’ve directed BP to mobilize additional equipment and technology.
Translation: Our government is not competent to fix this problem, so we must rely on BP. This, more than any other sign, is conclusive proof of the poisonous fruit of the “Reagan revolution” – a government that declares itself incompetent to protect its people from the most severe crisis.
There has been much talk about the use of a small nuclear device to seal the oil leak, but the US government’s agencies also have extensive experience with the deployment of conventional high explosives underground. In the face of American airpower supremacy, our potential adversaries have been busily digging and tunneling for decades to establish hardened structures protecting their command posts and strategic weapons development sites. America’s response has been to develop steadily more powerful “bunker buster” weapons to destroy deeply-buried structures.
The development of powerful bunker-buster weapons requires advanced research into explosive effects on geological strata. In short, America’s weapons researchers know a great deal about what happens to underground structures when a large conventional bomb is detonated near them. This knowledge is directly applicable to the problem of sealing a runaway oil well. When a new bunker buster was needed to destroy Saddam Hussein’s most deeply buried bunkers, the US Defense Department developed the weapon in just a few months. No such urgency is felt for sealing the runaway well. But even if such a solution could not be devised before the completion of the relief well fix, it would surely be of immense value to stopping future catastrophic spills.
But Obama said exactly nothing about letting our government take the lead in protecting our people. You see, Obama is a great admirer of Reagan, and Reagan said “Government is the problem.” Having declared our government incompetent, America must now rely on predatory corporations to protect public safety. The result will be more and greater environmental catastrophes, as organizations with no incentive to protect the environment continue to pretend to bear this responsibility while maximizing the profits of stockholders and dumping their risks on the helpless people of the world.
Ronald Reagan destroyed the ability of the United States government to protect its own people, clearing the path for rule by corporate oligarchs. Barak Obama is ensuring that that our governmental incompetence remains intact and the power of the oligarchs remains unchecked.
Jun 08 2010
Obama’s coaches seem to think that they are directing a stage performance in a WWF wrestling bout. Their worry is that their man is not cursing and grimacing sufficiently to entertain the mob. How things have changed from the time when chief executive meant a person who executes critical decisions.
Supposedly, Obama is asking the government’s experts to tell him where to apply his vast political power to remedy the oil spill crisis. Somehow, this diligent quest for actionable information has missed the critical issue of estimating the oil flow. According to the front page of today’s New York Times, the government’s flow estimating team has been denied data and technical assistance from BP. Perhaps our cursing, glowering, and ass-kicking President could halt his theatrics long enough to command BP to produce the requested data and measurement facilities.
But why turn to reason when the mob demands emotion? Obama’s handlers believe that even the complete destruction of the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem can be managed, politically, as long as our brilliant and talented President can deliver a proper display of emotion.
Apr 08 2010
The cult of Obama has reached a new plateau of surreal achievement in accepting the practice of summary execution of US citizens by presidential decree. This is somebody’s idea of showing that Obama is “tough.” We should be grateful that the collective wisdom on the political display of toughness does not extend to showing the drawing and quartering of captured “terrorists” on cable television, but there are still a few more years left in Obama’s term of office, so we can’t rule anything out.
How did it come to this? How did the most highly educated and affluent society in the world accept the practice of killing of its citizens by Presidential decree? The answer is broadcast video propaganda. I believe that television is the most highly perfected mechanism for the propagation of hysterical fear that has ever been invented. The evil linkage between television propaganda and American electoral politics has created a toxic witches brew that is dissolving our democracy. Americans have been conditioned to be so deeply afraid of “threats” that they are willing to grant unlimited power to a government that will keep them “safe.”
This is why we now have a Murderer in Chief in the White House.