Category Archives: Opinion

A perfect setup for authoritarians

Social media, power, algorithms and politics combine to “gerrymander us down to the person”. Author, social scientist and university professor Zaynep Tufekci speaks with Sam Harris in the below podcast. Zaynep asserts that the tools of what she terms “asymmetric surveillance capitalism” — algorithms Google and Facebook build for targeted advertising — have been used by political power-brokers to micro-target individuals for persuasion and control. The click-bait politics of social media are “a perfect setup for authoritarians”, Zaynep states — algorithms stoke divisions and create closed systems that push viewers down a rabbit hole of extreme ideas.

Persuasion and Control

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Zeynep Tufekci about “surveillance capitalism,” the Trump campaign’s use of Facebook, AI-enabled marketing, the health of the press, Wikileaks, ransomware attacks, and other topics.

— Marcus

 

 

Reason of state

Below, reporter Bill Moyers’s critical history of the National Security State, told through the lens of the Iran Contra scandal of 1987. What has changed in 30 years under successive administrations? What might President Trump, a man for whom truth is not a huge priority, at least in his public speaking, do differently? The need for open debate and congressional approval of executive branch security action remains critical; conservatives and liberals alike support constitutionally required oversight of war powers.

— Marcus

The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis | BillMoyers.com

OLIVER NORTH: And I still, to this day, Counsel, don’t see anything wrong with taking the Ayatollah’s money and sending it to support the Nicaraguan freedom fighters. [pullquote align=”right”]”Next week, Congress will publish a report on the Iran-Contra scandal. My colleagues and I have been investigating it ourselves.

 

Temporary people

They serve native populations, once fishermen and tradespeople, as poor as their own ancestors, now made outlandishly rich by the world’s dependence on oil — a happenstance of geography. The fiction book reviewed below, Temporary People, humanizes the “neocoolies” of the present-day international order — those who do the dirty-job work for the wealthy in the Arabian Gulf.

It’s worth pointing out that these individuals are the same men and women who find service as subcontracted workers on America’s military bases throughout the region. Though the wages earned would drive a soldier to mutiny, and have been the subject of controversy, they remain, relative to home opportunities, high enough to continue to lure economic migrants from the poorest of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan.

The DoD is aware of the exploitation that can be part of employing such temporary people and has taken steps to train soldiers and contractors to report abuse.

Stories of Fragmented Lives in the Emirates

TEMPORARY PEOPLE By Deepak Unnikrishnan227 pp. Restless Books. Paper, $17.99. Deepak Unnikrishnan’s novel-in-stories narrates a series of metamorphoses. Guest workers dissolve into passports, a man begins “moonlighting as a mid-sized hotel” and a sultan harvests a fresh crop of laborers.

 

— Marcus

Keep quiet so he may live

‘Total Catastrophe of the Body’: A Russian Story

After a week in critical condition, the young Russian journalist and pro-democracy activist Vladimir Kara-Murza has been improving. He remains hospitalized in Moscow, with a diagnosis of “acute intoxication.” Kara-Murza has been a vocal proponent of individual sanctions-so while most Russians have probably never heard of him, he has made a record number of enemies among the people who run the country.

When leaders of a state — or for that matter subordinates operating without accountability within states — abuse powers to harm citizens who question policy and legitimacy, so are planted the seeds of unrest; these seeds, however long they lay dormant, grow, in time, to great stands of resistance.

“And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?”

Thomas Jefferson, Traitor to King George, President of the United States of America

— Marcus

 

United States Ship

Our new commander-in-chief had the good instincts to appoint a man to lead the Armed Forces who opposes stooping to the values of our enemies, who stood his ground against unexamined impulses and offered wise counsel when asked about torture. The new Secretary of Defense also skillfully assures America’s allies that the crew of the United States ship of state will avoid sailing her into uncharted waters at the whim of her new captain. Below, an internet link said to be former general and current Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s recommended reading list from his days in command — worth a look for those who wish to understand (and perhaps learn a thing or two from) a key leader in the new administration:

Lt. Gen. James Mattis Professional Reading (75 books)

75 books based on 15 votes: Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae by Steven Pressfield, The Rommel Papers by Erwin Rommel, One Bullet…

 

Another source is here.

Secretary Mattis writes about the value of reading here.

— Marcus

Lead by example

When America claims moral superiority over regimes that torture, murder and imprison their own, we must recognize that these claims carry with them a duty to set a higher standard for ourselves. The use of isolation and long-term sentencing in our prisons is therefore a shame we must correct, just as was the use of torture to gain intelligence information.

When we are the example for the world to follow, we embolden dissidents who fight for enlightened, humane democracy, encourage brave citizens to expose authoritarian regimes, and cast aside the sophistry of those who point to hypocrisy within our borders to excuse oppressive systems without.


(National Research Council via Washington Post)

Below, a New York Review of Books article explores the cruel and unusual effects of prison isolation. This BBC Future post also covers the subject.

America’s Invisible Inferno

Approximately 400,000 people in our prison population move in and out of solitary, and many of America’s over two million prisoners know they can be put in solitary even if they are jailed for the most minor offenses. Between 80,000 and 120,000 men and women are held in solitary confinement every day.

 

— Marcus