Saturday, May 26, 2018

Neoliberal Identitarianism - Race Discouse Displaces Political Economy


nonsite |  Black political debate and action through the early 1960s focused on concrete issues—employment, housing, wages, unionization, discrimination in specific venues and domains— rather than an abstract “racism.” It was only in the late 1960s and 1970s, after the legislative victories that defeated southern apartheid and restored black Americans’ full citizenship rights, that “racism” was advanced as the default explanation for inequalities that appear as racial disparities. That view emerged from Black Power politics and its commitment to a race-first communitarian ideology that posited the standpoint of an idealized “black community” as the standard for political judgment, which Bayard Rustin predicted at the time would ensue only in creation of a “new black establishment.” It was ratified as a commonsense piety of racial liberalism by the Report of the Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders—popularly known as the Kerner Commission, after its chair, Illinois Governor Otto Kerner—which asserted that “white racism” was the ultimate source of the manifold inequalities the Report catalogued as well as the pattern of civil disturbances the commission had been empaneled to investigate.

Reduction of black politics to a timeless struggle against abstractions like racism and white supremacy or for others like freedom and liberation obscures the extent to which black Americans’ political activity has evolved and been shaped within broader American political currents. That view, which oscillates between heroic and tragic, overlooks the fact that the mundane context out of which racism became a default explanation, or alternative to explanation, for inequality, was a national debate over how to guide anti-poverty policy and the struggle for fair employment practices in the early 1960s. Left-of-center public attention to poverty and persistent unemployment at the beginning of the 1960s divided into two camps. One, represented most visibly by figures like Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz, Senators Joseph Clark (D-PA) and Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN), United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther, and black labor and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, argued that both phenomena stemmed from structural inadequacies in the postwar economy, largely the consequence of technological reorganization, especially in manufacturing. From that perspective, effectively addressing those conditions would require direct and large scale federal intervention in labor markets, including substantial investment in public works employment and skills-based, targeted job-training.

The other camp saw poverty and persistent unemployment as residual problems resulting from deficiencies of values, attitudes, and human capital (a notion then only recently popularized) in individuals and groups that hindered them from participating fully in a dynamic labor market rather than from inadequacies in overall economic performance. In that view, addressing poverty and persistent unemployment did not require major intervention in labor markets. A large tax cut intended to stimulate aggregate demand would eliminate unacceptably high rates of unemployment, and anti-poverty policy would center on fixing the deficiencies within residual populations. Job training would focus on teaching “job readiness”—attitudes and values—more than specific skills. Liberals connected to the Ford Foundation and the Kennedy and Johnson administrations saw chronic poverty as bound up with inadequate senses of individual and group efficacy rather than economic performance. That interpretation supported a policy response directed to enhancing the sense of efficacy among impoverished individuals and communities, partly through mobilization for civic action. The War on Poverty’s Community Action program gave that approach a militant or populist patina through its commitment to “grassroots” mobilization of poor people on their own behalf. In addition, Community Action Agencies and Model Cities projects facilitated insurgent black and Latino political mobilization in cities around the country, which reinforced a general sense of their radicalism. At the same time, however, those programs reinforced liberals’ tendencies to separate race from class and inequality from political economy and to substitute participation or representation for redistribution.

Both camps assumed that black economic inequality stemmed significantly from current and past discrimination. A consequential difference between them, though, was that those who emphasized the need for robust employment policies contended that much black unemployment resulted from structural economic factors that were beyond the reach of anti- discrimination efforts. To that extent, improving black Americans’ circumstances would require broader social-democratic intervention in the political economy, including significantly expanded social wage policy. As Randolph observed at the 1963 March on Washington, “Yes, we want a Fair Employment Practices Act, but what good will it do if profit-geared automation destroys the jobs of millions of workers, black and white? We want integrated public schools, but that means we also want federal aid to education—all forms of education.” The other camp, in line with then Assistant Secretary of Labor Moynihan’s Negro Family jeremiad, construed black unemployment and poverty as deriving from an ambiguous confluence of current discrimination and cultural pathologies produced by historical racism. For a variety of reasons having to do with both large politics and small, the latter vision won.

Obama's Polite Gentrification Will Displace Poor Residents - Huh?


therealnews |  Years before he became president, Barack Obama got his start as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago. Now out of the White House, Obama is coming back to the south side to build his $500 million presidential center. But Obama now faces a pushback from the same community he once organized with. For months, south side residents have been holding protests. They don’t oppose the center, but they want to make sure it doesn’t cause gentrification and displacement.
SPEAKER: So we’re here to make this stand, to say that we don’t want displacement to happen in this community. We don’t want to see the jobs come from outside, be filled by people from the outside, the people living here don’t get a chance to work.
AARON MATE: South side residents have formed a coalition, calling on Obama to sign a community benefits agreement which, among other things, would help protect low income residents from eviction and higher rents. Coalition Member Paru Brown outlined their demands.
PARU BROWN: We are pushing for a city ordinance that would, one, set aside 30 percent of new and rehab housing for low-income and working families; two, freeze property taxes for longtime residents; three, require large developers like the University of Chicago to invest in new affordable housing; and four, independently monitor local hiring.
AARON MATE: But Obama and his foundation are refusing to sign a CBA. The former president recently told Chicago residents why.
BARACK OBAMA: And the danger here is that if we sign an agreement with any one organization, or two organizations, or five organizations-. I’ve lived on the south side and in Chicago long enough to know that they’re not representing everybody on the south side. So now suddenly I’ve got five other organizations to say, hey, how come, how come you signed with them? What about us? And then you got 10, oh, I just formed an organization. You know what I’m talking about. And next thing you know you’ve got 40 organizations or 50 organizations, everybody has their own organization, saying we should get, we should have say, control, decision-making over who gets the contract, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
AARON MATE: Well, Obama’s plans have now taken a big step forward. The Obama center has just won approval from two city commissions and the full City Council, moving the project to federal review. South side activists are not giving up their fight. Jawanza Malone is executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, and a member of the Obama library South Side CBA coalition. Jawanza, welcome. Talk to us first just about the struggle that you’ve been involved in for many months now, and the state of it now, and the aftermath of these city votes moving the project forward.
JAWANZA MALONE: Thanks for having me on, Aaron. For the last two and a half years, actually, the CBA coalition has been working to craft a community benefits agreement that involves not just the Obama Foundation but also the University of Chicago and the City of Chicago. In all the turmoil and excitement around President Obama himself, people forget that the University of Chicago is actually the entity that wrote the bill that was awarded to get the Presidential Center on the south side of Chicago in Jackson Park. And Mayor Rahm Emanuel had, you know, said two years ago that he was willing to move heaven and earth to make sure that it happened. And that’s what we’re, we’re seeing it happen over concerns raised with the city councilmen, over concerns raised by the community, particularly about where the money is going to come from for the infrastructure changes that the foundation has called for.
As you said in your intro, the city council and a quasi-governmental appointed body has voted to approve the plan moving forward. What we’ve been asking for is very simple. We’re asking for a legally binding agreement to ensure that residents are not, do not continue to get displaced from the area, because we’ve already seen displacement taking place. And so without a clear community benefits agreement that protects low-income and working families, who is the predominant population in that part of town, we’re going to see mass displacement of people, unfortunately.

Polite White Supremacy - Huh?



medium |  Polite White Supremacy is the notion that whites should remain the ruling class while denying that they are the ruling class, politely. Affectionately, it’s called #PWS for short. It has been referred to as the Casual American Caste System, Delicate Apartheid, Gentle Oppression, or what I like to call it after a few drinks: Chad Crow, the super chill grandson of Jim Crow.

No but seriously, Polite White Supremacy is very real. So why is it that we must specifically say ‘Polite White Supremacy’ rather than Racism? We must say Polite White Supremacy for three reasons. First, saying #PWS puts the responsibility solely on the creators of a systemic problem. Second, this phrase addresses the subtlety and casualness with which oppression is administered. Thirdly, it eradicates the all-too-common confusion between racism and prejudice. It’s important to eradicate this confusion so it can be clear that racism is tied to a power structure and access to resources.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN
RACISM AND PREJUDICE

Racism and prejudice are NOT interchangeable. Racism is the systemic oppression of one group of people who can be categorized within certain phenotypical traits over multiple generations that has been, at one point, sanctioned by a country, the majority and/or ruling class. Racism is committed only by the ruling class and agents of the ruling class because they have the power that comes with racism. Racism, in America, is absolutely the attack dog of the white ruling class. However, sometimes it’s also a slow poison in that it causes its victims to die of exhaustion or grief. Again, racism is a kind of prejudice that comes with power. Racism is the systematic and intentional oppression of group of people from the ruling class and its agents. In America, the ruling class is white people…of all classes.
America has been playing a centuries-long game of ‘stop hitting yourself’ while holding the arms of Black America.
Prejudice, though harmful, is not necessarily systemic and can be committed by anyone. It simply requires one to pre-judge. It does not require its user to have any access to the ruling class or status of whiteness. However, you have to be part of or support the ruling class to wield the power of racism. Those who are not part of the white ruling class, yet support white supremacy of any form, are called agents of white supremacy. They are not white, but benefit in some direct way from empowering and enforcing white supremacy often times on their own people. Historically black overseers and house slaves were bestowed more rights, and ultimately more power during slavery. These were employed agents of white supremacy who oppressed their fellow blacks. This employment was a status. It was a form of racist power that white slave owners gave to black overseers as a way to also instill mistrust within the black community. Prejudice alone, has no real power without the system of control and power to support it.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Why Is Pinker Anti-PC Okay - But Peterson Anti-PC Not Okay?


WaPo |  Ontario has been hit hard by the ravages of global economic policy and should be a prime location for emerging, radical action. Instead, Canada’s most populous province has produced the English-speaking world’s most controversial, right-wing surrogate dad: Jordan Peterson.

Peterson cloaks his anti-progressive opinions in folksy, common-sense advice. He is a master at inventing an enemy and offering young men a solution to various straw men. Peterson has perfectly tailored his self-help style to the individual, no doubt a holdover from his days as a clinical psychologist, which he mentions a lot when he talks.

Self-help alone isn’t dangerous, but it becomes dangerous in the way that Peterson uses it as the solution to the myriad problems that young people face. He argues that the left is dangerous and destructive because of the emphasis it places on “group identity.” In a trailer for a video called “No Safe Space,” to be released in 2018, Peterson argues that “group identity” is really what killed tens of millions of people under Stalin’s Communism and Hitler’s Nazism and then, remarkably, concludes, “and I’m concerned because the universities are so overwhelmed by this, that I can’t see how they can extract themselves from it.”

Therefore, supremacy of the individual is the only way to stop global war and mass murder.

Peterson’s message fits perfectly with the prevailing ideology that has driven public-policy debates in North America since the 1980s: People should be able to succeed on their own, without help from the state. This message intentionally erases systemic barriers that perniciously remain and instead demonizes anyone who understands that collective advancement is the key to improvement.


Deepening Contradictions: Token Pinkerite Acolyte Buoyed Up By The Alt-White


quillette |  There’s no reason to think that the definition of racism will stop expanding any time soon. And there’s no reason to think that progressives will ever stop demanding institutional reforms to fix racism—up to and including attempts to reform our subconscious minds with such things as mandatory implicit bias trainings. In a BBC feature on racism, the acclaimed poet Benjamin Zephaniah remarked, “laws can control people’s actions, but they can’t control people’s thoughts. As racism becomes more subtle, we need to keep pressuring our institutions to change.”

Luckily, he’s right that laws can’t reach into our subconscious minds, since anti-bias trainings don’t seem to work. But Zephaniah’s remark would have sounded alien to the Civil Rights leaders of yesteryear. In the words of political scientist Adolph Reed,
Black political debate and action through the early 1960s focused on concrete issues—employment, housing, wages, unionization, discrimination in specific venues and domains—rather than an abstract “racism.” It was only in the late 1960s and 1970s, after the legislative victories that defeated southern apartheid and restored black Americans’ full citizenship rights, that “racism” was advanced as the default explanation for inequalities that appear as racial disparities.
If the early 1960s were about reaching the mountaintop, then the modern era is about running on the Treadmill. Coates’s refrain, “resistance must be its own reward,” has become the watchword of the movement.13

The War on Racism, though intended to be won by those prosecuting it, will, in practice, continue indefinitely. This is because the stated goals of progressives, however sincerely held, are so apocalyptic, so vague, and so total as to guarantee that they will never be met. One often hears calls to “end white supremacy,” for instance. But what “ending white supremacy” would look like in a country where whites are already out-earned by several dark-skinned ethnic groups (Indian-Americans top the list by a large margin) is never explained. I would not be the first to point out the parallels between progressive goals and religious eschatology. Coates, for instance, professes to be an atheist, but tweak a few details and the Rapture becomes Reparations––which he has said will lead to a “spiritual renewal” and a “revolution of the American consciousness.”14

Staying on the Racism Treadmill means denying progress and stoking ethnic tensions. It means, as Thomas Sowell once warned, moving towards a society in which “a new born baby enters the world supplied with prepackaged grievances against other babies born the same day.”[15] Worse still, it means shutting down the one conversation that stands the greatest chance of improving outcomes for blacks: the conversation about culture.

By contrast, getting off the Treadmill means recognizing that group outcomes will differ even in the absence of systemic bias; it means treating people as individuals rather than as members of a collective; it means restoring the naive conception of equal treatment over the skin-color morality of the far Left; and it means rejecting calls to burn this or that system to the ground in order to combat forms of racial oppression that grow ever more abstract by the day. At bottom, it means acknowledging the fact that racism has declined precipitously, and perhaps even being grateful that it has.

Neoliberal Elite Intellectual Darling On Political Correctness


resilience |  It’s time to reclaim the mantle of “Progress” for progressives. By falsely tethering the concept of progress to free market economics and centrist values, Steven Pinker has tried to appropriate a great idea for which he has no rightful claim.

In Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, published earlier this year, Steven Pinker argues that the human race has never had it so good as a result of values he attributes to the European Enlightenment of the 18th century. He berates those who focus on what is wrong with the world’s current condition as pessimists who only help to incite regressive reactionaries. Instead, he glorifies the dominant neoliberal, technocratic approach to solving the world’s problems as the only one that has worked in the past and will continue to lead humanity on its current triumphant path.

His book has incited strong reactions, both positive and negative. On one hand, Bill Gates has, for example, effervesced that “It’s my new favorite book of all time.” On the other hand, Pinker has been fiercely excoriated by a wide range of leading thinkers for writing a simplistic, incoherent paean to the dominant world order. John Gray, in the New Statesman, calls it “embarrassing” and “feeble”; David Bell, writing in The Nation, sees it as “a dogmatic book that offers an oversimplified, excessively optimistic vision of human history”; and George Monbiot, in The Guardian, laments the “poor scholarship” and “motivated reasoning” that “insults the Enlightenment principles he claims to defend.” (Full disclosure: Monbiot recommends my book, The Patterning Instinct, instead.)

In light of all this, you might ask, what is left to add? Having read his book carefully, I believe it’s crucially important to take Pinker to task for some dangerously erroneous arguments he makes. 

Pinker is, after all, an intellectual darling of the most powerful echelons of global society. He spoke to the world’s elite this year at the World’s Economic Forum in Davos on the perils of what he calls “political correctness,” and has been named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World Today.” Since his work offers an intellectual rationale for many in the elite to continue practices that imperil humanity, it needs to be met with a detailed and rigorous response.

Besides, I agree with much of what Pinker has to say. His book is stocked with seventy-five charts and graphs that provide incontrovertible evidence for centuries of progress on many fronts that should matter to all of us: an inexorable decline in violence of all sorts along with equally impressive increases in health, longevity, education, and human rights. It’s precisely because of the validity of much of Pinker’s narrative that the flaws in his argument are so dangerous. They’re concealed under such a smooth layer of data and eloquence that they need to be carefully unraveled. That’s why my response to Pinker is to meet him on his own turf: in each section, like him, I rest my case on hard data exemplified in a graph.

This discussion is particularly needed because progress is, in my view, one of the most important concepts of our time. I see myself, in common parlance, as a progressive. Progress is what I, and others I’m close to, care about passionately. Rather than ceding this idea to the coterie of neoliberal technocrats who constitute Pinker’s primary audience, I believe we should hold it in our steady gaze, celebrate it where it exists, understand its true causes, and most importantly, ensure that it continues in a form that future generations on this earth can enjoy. I hope this piece helps to do just that.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Bro.ConFeed Report To The Principal's Office To Discuss Patronage And The New Negroe...,


NewYorker |  Locke relished every titillating contradiction but shrank, still, from political extremes. Hoping to avoid the charge of radicalism, he changed the title of McKay’s protest poem from “White House” to “White Houses”—an act of censorship that severed the two men’s alliance. “No wonder Garvey remains strong despite his glaring defects,” the affronted poet wrote to Locke. “When the Negro intellectuals like you take such a weak line!”

And such a blurred line. In a gesture of editorial agnosticism, Locke brought voices to “The New Negro” that challenged his own. Among the more scholarly contributions to the anthology was “Capital of the Black Middle Class,” an ambivalent study of Durham, North Carolina, by E. Franklin Frazier, a young social scientist. More than thirty years later, Frazier savaged the pretensions and the perfidies of Negro professionals in his study “The Black Bourgeoisie.” A work of Marxist sociology and scalding polemic, it took a gratuitous swipe at the New Negro: the black upper class, Frazier said, had “either ignored the Negro Renaissance or, when they exhibited any interest in it, they revealed their ambivalence towards the Negro masses.” Aesthetics had been reduced to an ornament for a feckless élite.

The years after “The New Negro” were marked by an agitated perplexity. Locke yearned for something solid: a home for black art, somewhere to nourish, protect, refine, and control it. He’d been formed and polished by élite institutions, and he longed to see them multiply. But the Great Depression shattered his efforts to extend the New Negro project, pressing him further into the byzantine patronage system of Charlotte Mason, an older white widow gripped by an eccentric fascination with “primitive peoples.” Salvation obsessed her. She believed that black culture could rescue American society by replenishing the spiritual values that had been evaporated by modernity, but that pumped, still, through the Negro’s unspoiled heart.

Mason was rich, and Locke had sought her backing for a proposed Harlem Museum of African Art. Although the project failed (as did his plans for a Harlem Community Arts Center), Mason remained a meddling, confused presence in his life until her death, in 1946. During their association, he passed through a gantlet of prickling degradations. Her vision of Negro culture obviously didn’t align with his; she demanded to be called Godmother; and she was prone to angry suspicion, demanding a fastidious accounting of how her funds were spent. But those funds were indispensable, finally, to the work of Hughes and, especially, Hurston. Locke, as the erstwhile “mid-wife” of black modernism, was dispatched to handle the writers—much to their dismay. He welcomed the authority, swelling into a supercilious manager (and, to Hughes, a bullying admirer) who handed down edicts from Godmother while enforcing a few of his own.

Differentiating Right and Left Populisms


nakedcapitalism |  According to David Harvey, neoliberal globalization is comprised of four processes: accumulation by dispossession; de-regulation; privatization; and an upward re-distribution of wealth. Taken together they have increased both economic insecurity and cultural anxiety via three features in particular: the creation of surplus peoples, rising global inequality, and threats to identity.

The anxiety wrought by neoliberal globalization has created a rich and fertile ground for populist politics of both right and left. Neither Norris and Inglehart nor Laclau adequately account for such insecurity in their theorization of populism. As we have seen, populism can be understood as a mobilizing discourse that conceives of political subjectivity as comprised of “the people.” Yet this figure of “the people,” as Agamben has indicatedin What is a people? (2000) is deeply ambivalent insofar as it can be understood both in terms of the  body politic as a whole (as in the US Constitution’s “We the People”), or in terms of what Ranciere calls the “part that has no part,” or the dispossessed and the displaced; as in “The people united shall never be defeated,” or in the Black Panthers’ famous slogan: “All Power to the People.”

In this dichotomy, the figure of “the people” can be understood in terms of its differential deployments by right and left, which themselves must be understood in terms of the respective enemies through which “the people” is constructed. And this is the decisive dimension of populism.
Right populism conflates “the people” with an embattled nation confronting its external enemies: Islamic terrorism, refugees, the European Commission, the International Jewish conspiracy, and so on. The left, in marked contrast, defines “the people” in relation to the social structures and institutions – for example, state and capital – that thwart its aspirations for self-determination; a construction which does not necessarily, however, preclude hospitality towards the Other.

In other words, right-wing or authoritarian populism defines the enemy in personalized terms, whereas, while this is not always true, left-wing populism tends to define the enemy in terms of bearers of socio-economic structures and rarely as particular groups. The right, in a tradition stemming back to Hobbes, takes insecurity and anxiety as the necessary, unavoidable, and indeed perhaps even favourable product of capitalist social relations. It transforms such insecurity and anxiety into the fear of the stranger and an argument for a punitive state. In contrast, the left seeks to provide an account of the sources of such insecurity in the processes that have led to the dismantling of the welfare state, and corresponding phenomena such as “zero-hours” contracts, the casualization of labour, and generalized precarity. It then proposes transformative and egalitarian solutions to these problems. Of course, left populism can also turn authoritarian – largely though not exclusively due to the interference and threatened military intervention of the global hegemon and its allies – with an increasing vilification of the opposition, as we saw in Venezuela and Ecuador with Rafael Correa.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Trump Smacking Amazon While Afrikan Liberation Peddling "Neurospeculative AfroFeminist" Cloth


thenextweb |  The Guardian reports Berlin-bound artist and independent researcher Adam Harvey is developing a new technology which aims to overwhelm and confuse computer vision systems by feeding them false information.

The Hyperface Project, as Harvey calls it, revolves around printing deceitful patterns onto attire and textiles with the purpose of rendering your face illegible to surveillance systems.

The method essentially dodges facial recognition by presenting computer vision devices with an overload of patterns closely resembling facial features like eyes and mouths.

As Harvey explains, the Hyperface technology ultimately prevents computers from scanning your face by inundating “an algorithm with what it wants, oversaturating an area with faces to divert the gaze of the computer vision algorithm.”

The patterns, which Harvey developed in collaboration with interaction studio Hyphen-Labs, can then be worn to shield off the areas facial recognition systems seek to interpret.

MIT |  Sue Ding interviewed the creators of NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism, an ambitious and richly imagined project at this year’s Sundance New Frontier.  Artists Carmen Aguilar y Wedge, Ashley Baccus Clark, Nitzan Bartov, and Ece Tankal are part of of Hyphen-Labs, a global team of women of color who are doing pioneering work at the intersection of art, technology, and science. Together they draw on a formidable range of expertise, including engineering, molecular biology, game design, and architecture.

NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism consists of three components. The first is an installation that transports visitors to a futuristic and stylish beauty salon. Speculative products designed for women of color are displayed around the space. They include sunscreen for dark skin, a scarf whose pattern overwhelms facial recognition software, earrings that can record video and audio in hostile situations, and a reflective visor that lets wearers see out while hiding their faces.

The second part of the project is a VR experience that takes place at a “neurocosmetology lab” in the future. Participants see themselves in the mirror as a young black girl, as the lab owner explains that they are about to receive Octavia Electrodes—cutting edge technology involving both hair extensions and brain-stimulating electrical currents. In the VR narrative, the electrodes then prompt a hallucination that carries viewers through a psychedelic Afrofuturist space landscape.

The final component of the project is Hyphen-Labs’ ongoing research about how VR can affect viewers, potentially reducing bias and fear by immersing participants in positive, engaging portrayals of black women. The team would eventually like to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology to study how  participants respond to the experience.


Afrikan Liberation Movement - Amazon Giving RealTime Facial Rekognition To Law Enforcement


WaPo |  Amazon has been essentially giving away facial recognition tools to law enforcement agencies in Oregon and Orlando, according to documents obtained by American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, paving the way for a rollout of technology that is causing concern among civil rights groups.

Amazon is providing the technology, known as Rekognition, as well as consulting services, according to the documents, which the ACLU obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

A coalition of civil rights groups, in a letter released Tuesday, called on Amazon to stop selling the program to law enforcement because it could lead to the expansion of surveillance of vulnerable communities.

“We demand that Amazon stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country,” the groups wrote in the letter.
Amazon spokeswoman Nina Lindsey did not directly address the concerns of civil rights groups. “Amazon requires that customers comply with the law and be responsible when they use AWS services,” she said, referring to Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud software division that houses the facial recognition program. “When we find that AWS services are being abused by a customer, we suspend that customer’s right to use our services.”

She said that the technology has many useful purposes, including finding abducted people.  Amusement parks have used it to locate lost children. During the royal wedding this past weekend, clients used Rekognition to identify wedding attendees, she said. (Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.)

The details about Amazon’s program illustrate the proliferation of cutting-edge technologies deep into American society — often without public vetting or debate. Axon, the maker of Taser electroshock weapons and the wearable body cameras for police, has voiced interest in pursuing face recognition for its body-worn cameras, prompting a similar backlash from civil rights groups.  Hundreds of Google employees protested last month to demand that the company stop providing artificial intelligence to the Pentagon to help analyze drone footage.

Urban Reconnaissance Through Supervised Autonomy (URSA)


DARPA |  DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office is hosting a Proposers Day to provide information to potential applicants on the structure and objectives of the new Urban Reconnaissance through Supervised Autonomy (URSA) program. URSA aims to develop technology to enable autonomous systems operated and supervised by U.S. ground forces to detect hostile forces and establish positive identification of combatants before U.S. troops encounter them. The URSA program seeks to overcome the inherent complexity of the urban environment by combining new knowledge about human behaviors, autonomy algorithms, integrated sensors, multiple sensor modalities, and measurable human responses to discriminate the subtle differences between hostile individuals and noncombatants. Additional details are available at https://www.fbo.gov/spg/ODA/DARPA/CMO/DARPA-SN-18-48/listing.html

To register, visit https://www.client-meeting.net/Proposers-Day-May-2018. Registration closes at 4:00 PM ET on April 25, 2018.

Please address administrative questions to DARPA-SN-18-48@darpa.mil, and refer to the URSA Proposers Day (DARPA-SN-18-48) in all correspondence. 

DARPA hosts Proposers Days to provide potential performers with information on whether and how they might respond to the Government’s research and development solicitations and to increase efficiency in proposal preparation and evaluation. Therefore, the URSA Proposers Day is open only to registered potential applicants, and not to the media or general public.

Full URSA program details will be made available in a forthcoming Broad Agency Announcement posted to the Federal Business Opportunities website. 



The Destructive Dynamics of the Small Minority


NYTimes  |  Most Americans assume that democracy and free markets go hand in hand, naturally working together to generate prosperity and freedom. For the United States, this has largely been true. But by their very nature, markets and democracy coexist in deep tension.

Capitalism creates a small number of very wealthy people, while democracy potentially empowers a poor majority resentful of that wealth. In the wrong conditions, that tension can set in motion intensely destructive politics. All over the world, one circumstance in particular has invariably had this effect: the presence of a market-dominant minority a minority group, perceived by the rest of the population as outsiders, who control vastly disproportionate amounts of a nation’s wealth.

Such minorities are common in the developing world. They can be ethnic groups, like the tiny Chinese minority in Indonesia, which controls roughly 70 percent of the nation’s private economy even though it is between 2 percent and 4 percent of the population. Or they can be distinct in other ways, culturally or religiously, like the Sunni minority in Iraq that controlled the country’s vast oil wealth under Saddam Hussein.

Introducing free-market democracy in these circumstances can be a recipe for disaster. Resentful majorities who see themselves as a country’s rightful owners demand to have “their” country back. Ethnonationalism rears its head. Democracy becomes not a vehicle for e pluribus unum but a zero-sum tribalist contest. This dynamic was also at play in the former Yugoslavia, in Zimbabwe, in Venezuela and in virtually every country where there has been a market-dominant minority.

For most of our history, it seemed as though we were relatively immune to dynamics like these. Part of the reason is we never had a market-dominant minority. On the contrary, for 200 years, America was economically, politically and culturally dominated by a white majority — a politically stable, if often invidious, state of affairs.

But today, something has changed. Race has split America’s poor, and class has split America’s white majority. The former has been true for a while; the latter is a more recent development, at least in the intense form it has now reached. As a result, we may be seeing the emergence of America’s own version of a market-dominant minority: the much-discussed group often referred to as the coastal elites — misleadingly, because its members are neither all coastal nor all elite, at least in the sense of being wealthy.

But with some important caveats, coastal elites do bear a resemblance to the market-dominant minorities of the developing world. Wealth in the United States is extraordinarily concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of people, many of whom live on the West or East Coast. Although America’s coastal elites are not an ethnic or religious minority, they are culturally distinct, often sharing similar cosmopolitan values, and they are extremely insular, interacting and intermarrying primarily among themselves.
They dominate key sectors of the economy, including Wall Street, the media, Hollywood and Silicon Valley. And because coastal elites are viewed by many in the heartland as “minority-loving” and pro-immigrant, they are seen as unconcerned with “real” Americans — indeed as threatening their way of life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Divisive Politics – What Does Neuroscience Tell Us?


weforum | Neuroscience has offered some evidence-based claims that can be uncomfortable because they challenge our notions of morality or debunk the myth about our ‘rational’ brain.

Critically, neuroscience has enlightened us about the physicality of human emotions. Fear, an emotion we have inherited from our ancestors, is not an abstract or intangible sense of imminent danger: it is expressed in neurochemical terms in our amygdala, the almond-shaped structure on the medial temporal lobe, anterior to the hippocampus. The amygdala has been demonstrated to be critical in the acquisition, storage and expression of conditioned fear responses. Certain regions in the amygdala undergo plasticity – changes in response to emotional stimuli – triggering other reactions, including endocrine responses.

Similarly, the way our brains produce moral reasoning and then translate it in the social context can now be studied to some extent in neuroscientific terms. For instance, the role of serotonin in prosocial behaviour and moral judgment is now well documented, with a demonstrably strong correlation between levels of serotonin in the brain and moral social behaviour.

Neuroscientists have also looked at how political ideologies are represented in the brain; preliminary research indicates that an increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex can be correlated with inclinations towards liberalism, while increased gray matter volume in the amygdala (which is part of the limbic system and thus concerned with emotions) appears to be associated with conservative values. These early findings, of course, are not meant to be reductionist, deterministic, or politically pigeonhole one group or the other, nor are they fixed. Rather, they can help explain the deep and persistent divide that we see in party politics across the world. It would very valuable to look into whether these preliminary findings pre-date political affiliation or occur as a result of repeated exposure to politically-inspired partisan and emotional debates.

More recently, policy analysis has turned to neuroscience too. For example, in the US 2016 election cycle, some have correlated the appeal of some candidates to the so-called hardwiring in our brains, and to our primordial needs of group belonging, while others have explored the insights from neuroscience on the role of emotions in decision-making. Similarly, the attitudes surrounding “Brexit” have also been analysed with references from neuroscience.

Divisive politics – what does neuroscience tell us?

The short answer is: some useful new insights. To be sure, some findings in neuroscience might be crude at this stage as the discipline and its tools are evolving. The human brain – despite tremendous scientific advances – remains to a large extent unknown. We do have, however, some preliminary findings to draw on. Divisive politics have taken centre stage and neuroscience may be able shed some light on how this is expressed in our brains.

“Us” vs. “them”, cultivating fear and hatred towards out-groups that are deemed different (ethnically, ideologically, religiously, etc.), and vicious and virulent attacks against them, are all part of an unsettling picture of growing ethnic and racial hostility. Philosopher Martin Buber identified two opposed ways of being in relation to others: I-It and I-thou. I-It means perceiving others as objects, whereas I-thou refers to empathic perceptions of others as subjects. Cognitive neuroscientists have studied this distinction with brain imaging techniques and the findings – unsurprisingly – tell us a lot about our increasingly polarised world today and the ways our brains process the distinction between us and “others”.


How Tribalism Overrules Reason


bigthink |  We identify ourselves as members of all sorts of tribes; our families, political parties, race, gender, social organizations. We even identify tribally just based on where we live. Go Celtics, go Red Sox, go U.S. Olympic team! One study asked people whether, if they had a fatal disease, would they prefer a life-saving diagnosis from a computer that was 1,000 miles away, or the exact same diagnosis from a computer in their town, and a large majority preferred the same information if the source…a machine…was local.

     Tribalism is pervasive, and it controls a lot of our behavior, readily overriding reason. Think of the inhuman things we do in the name of tribal unity. Wars are essentially, and often quite specifically, tribalism. Genocides are tribalism - wipe out the other group to keep our group safe – taken to madness. Racism that lets us feel that our tribe is better than theirs, parents who end contact with their own children when they dare marry someone of a different faith or color, denial of evolution or climate change or other basic scientific truths when they challenge tribal beliefs. What stunning evidence of the power of tribalism! (By the way, it wasn’t just geocentrist Catholics in the 16 adn 1700s who denied  evidence that the earth travels around the sun. Some Christian biblical literalists still do. So do a handful of ultra orthodox Jews and Muslims.)

     Yet another example is the polarized way we argue about so many issues, and the incredible irony that as we make these arguments we claim to be intelligent (smart, therefore right) yet we ignorantly close our minds to views that conflict with ours. Dan Kahan, principal researcher into the phenomenon of Cultural Cognition, has found that our views are powerfully shaped so they agree with beliefs of the groups with which we most strongly identify. His research, along with the work of others, has also found that the more challenged our views are, the more we defend them…the more dogmatic and closed-minded we become...an intellectual form of ‘circle-the-wagons, we’re under attack’ tribal unity. Talk about tribalism overruling reason.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Amazon Washington Post Deserves A Foot In Its Corporate Ass...,


NYTimes |  The heartening truth is that until now, the United States has, by and large, done a good job of insulating the economy from political interference. Should that insulation wear down, though, we will find ourselves in a troubling world. That’s why President Trump’s campaign against Amazon is worthy of continuing scrutiny.

Moreover, the president’s motivation for focusing on Amazon is open to question. One plausible hypothesis is that Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder, owns The Washington Post, which has unflinchingly reported on the Trump presidency.

It is noteworthy that the president often refers to The Washington Post as The “Amazon Washington Post.”

Any possible interference with freedom of the press endangers the economy — and much more. An efficient economy — and a democracy — requires uniform application of the law.
We live in partisan times. But we all can root for the rule of law. It’s not a particularly exciting cause, but it is in dire need of supporters.

CNN |  The Council voted 8-to-1 to pass a compromise tax that will charge businesses $275 per-employee per year, instead of the $540 per employee figure initially proposed. The city expects the tax to raise roughly $47 million per year. 

• The City of Seattle lost: It failed to articulate a a well-thought out strategy for dealing with homelessness; passed a watered-down bill that alienated the business community; and only won half as much revenue as it said it needed. 

• Amazon and big business lost: Amazon fought the Council with threats and criticism rather than seizing the opportunity to take the lead on an issue that it has demonstrated a commitment to elsewhere. 

• The homeless lost: The nearly 12,000 homeless people living in King County are worse off because Seattle and Amazon got in a pissing match. 

What went wrong: This could have been avoided, our sources say: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan could have brought the City Council together with Amazon, Starbucks and other businesses to hash out a plan that made sense for both sides. Seattle and Amazon could have then trumpeted their success as a model for how liberal cities and tech companies plan to deal with the homeless epidemic they've helped to create. 

American Democracy A Farce - America Governed By Capital


strategic-culture |  So: America is a dictatorship by the billionaires. And this means that it operates by fooling the public. France is similar, though it achieves this via a different way. And, in both countries, deceit is essential, in order to achieve its dictatorship. Fooling the public is now what it’s all about, in either case. Democracy can never be won by fooling the public; because fooling the public means removing the public’s ability to control the government. So, calling such a nation a ‘democracy’, is, itself, deceiving the public — it’s part of the dictatorship, or else support of the dictatorship.

In former times, this system was rationalized as ‘the divine right of kings’. Now it’s rationalized as ‘the divine right of capital’. But it’s also become covered-over by yet another lie: ‘democracy’. This is a ‘democratic’ aristocracy; it is an ‘equal opportunity’ aristocracy. In it, each citizen has ‘equal rights’ as every other citizen, no matter how wealthy. It’s just a castle of lies. And its doors are actually open only to the few richest-and-well-connected.

Here, a former CIA official tries to describe how the American dictatorship works — the enforcement-part of the system, and he does (even if only by implication) also touch upon the financial sources of it. Starting at 1:07:35 in that video, he discusses his personal case: why he could no longer tolerate working for the CIA. But his description of how he, as an Agency official, saw the system to function, starts at 3:45 in the video. Key passages start at 12:45, and at 20:15. Maybe any American who would email this article to friends who don’t understand how the system functions, will come under increased US surveillance, but that CIA official’s career and family were destroyed by what the system did to him, which was lots worse than just surveillance. Remarkably, he nonetheless had the courage to persist (and thus did that video). However, when one sees how politically partisan (and so obtuse) the viewer-comments to that video are, one might be even more depressed than by the account this former CIA official presents. But, even if the situation is hopeless, everyone should at least have the opportunity to understand it. Because, if the aristocracy are the only people who understand it, there can’t be any hope for democracy, at all.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Yanis Varoufakis Takedown Of Corporatist Facism Derails Amy Goodman's Propaganda


democracynow |  Look, Amy, in slaves-owning societies or in the Middle Ages, we had production. People worked, toiled the land. Then we had distribution. The lord would send his henchmen in, his sheriff, to take his cut. So you had distribution—production, distribution. The lord’s cut would then be sold in markets. He would get money out of it, and then you would have finance. So we had production, distribution, finance.

With capitalism, we had the reversal of that. First you’d get the debt, to set up the—you know, to employ people. So you have finance, then distribution, and the last thing that happens is production. So, debt is central to capitalism. Now, that means one thing: The banker, the financier, has an exorbitant privilege. He’s like the sorcerer who has the capacity to push his hand through the time line, snatch value from the future, that has not been produced yet, and bring it in to the present to help orchestrate the production that will create the value that will be repaid in the future. But, effectively, you’re creating a class of people, the financiers, who then have complete control over society. And they can keep doing this a lot more, until the present can no longer repay the future, and there is a huge crash. And then what happens? Because they have this privileged position, they can make you and me, President Obama, whoever, Larry Summers, bail them out. So, they win if their bets succeed, and they win if their bets lose. What kind of political economy is this, when you have one class of people who win, whatever they do, and everybody else loses, whatever they do?

AMY GOODMAN: Is this what you refer to the black magic of banking?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: That’s exactly right.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what’s the cure for this?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, the cure of this is, effectively, to do that which FDR did in the 1930s.
AMY GOODMAN: President Roosevelt.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: President Roosevelt—to put the financial genie back in the bottle. Make banking boring again. Put huge constraints upon them. Nationalize the banks and turn them into institutions for public purpose. And if even—you don’t necessarily need to nationalize, as long as you really keep them under strict control. Remember Bretton Woods, which designed the golden era of capitalism. Bretton Woods was a conference in 1944, and there 120 different countries agreed on the system which saw, in the 1950s and 1960s, the longest period of steady growth, with shrinking inequality and low unemployment and low inflation. FDR had one condition slapped onto membership of that Bretton Woods Conference. Do you know what it was? No banker was allowed in the Washington—the Mount Washington Hotel. So you had a monetary and financial system that was designed in the absence of bankers. That’s what we should do again.

AMY GOODMAN: What is apolitical money?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: In this country, you have a lot of people, good people, who are fed up with politicians, who are fed up with the Fed, and who believe that—they believe in true money, in honest money, that money should be somehow independent of the political process. Remember the gold standard? They still hanker after the gold standard. They would like the quantity of dollars printed to be linked to the quantity of gold that the Fed owns, so that there would be no political influence of the quantity of money, because they fear that—they fear the government will print too much money, and there will be inflation, and the value of money will be effectively eaten away—the gold bugs, as you call them in this country. Bitcoin—Bitcoin is a digital form of the gold standard. And so, the backlash against political control—
AMY GOODMAN: The Bitcoin folks are moving into Puerto Rico right now, has been devastated by Maria.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Of course it’s been devastated. But the solution is not Bitcoin.
AMY GOODMAN: But they’re moving in fast.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Yes, but it’s—you know, it’s just a bubble. It will burst. And the reason is, however much we loathe the political process because it is controlled by oligarchs and by the same old financiers who are behind the politicians who are bailing them out whenever the finance is needed—however much we dislike that, there is no alternative to political money. Why? Because the quantity of money must be in sync with the quantity of output of goods and services. If those two go out of sync, you have deflationary bouts. You have to—that will lead to depression. So, to put it very bluntly and simply, the quantity of money must be decided democratically. At the moment, it’s not being decided democratically. It’s decided politically, but oligarchically. The solution is not to take it and tie it to some algorithm.
AMY GOODMAN: In the United States, you—in the United States, you only refer to oligarchy when you’re talking about Russia, the oligarchs. But billionaire businessmen in the United States, you do not refer to as oligarchs.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: But the United States of America is the prime oligarchy. The difference between the United States of America and Russia is that the United States is a more successful oligarchy. But it is an oligarchy nevertheless.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, think of 2008. President Obama is sworn in on a wave of expectation by the victims of the financiers. And what does he do? First thing he does is he appoints Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, the very same people who had actually unshackled the financiers in the late 1990s, allowing them to do everything that brought so much discontent to the very same people who then entrusted President Obama. President Obama, very soon after that, lost his credibility with those people, and the result is Donald Trump. That’s an oligarchy.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, why is Donald Trump so fiercely opposed to President Obama—is it just racial?—given that he laid the groundwork for the oligarchs, for people like Donald Trump, if, in fact, he does have money?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, the ruling class has a fantastic capacity, like the working class, to be divided. Donald Trump was never in the pocket of Wall Street. He used Wall Street. He used Deutsche Bank. He used all the people he dislikes, in order to keep, effectively, bankrupting his companies and profiting from it. So he’s really very good at that. But he was never very successful as a businessman, certainly not as successful as Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan. And he was always on the margins of the capitalist order of things in the United States. He understood that in order for him to gain more power, more—both discursively and politically and economically, he had to ride the wave of discontent against Obama. And he did this magnificently. And the Democrats let him. The Democrats brought their own distress and failure upon themselves.
AMY GOODMAN: So I want to talk about the rise of the right, but go back to World War II—actually, between World War I and World War II in Germany. How do you see the growth of the support for Hitler and how he took power in Germany, going back to World War I and the devastation of Germany?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: The combination—the combination of a humiliated populace. The humiliation is very important, Amy. When you humiliate a whole people in the middle of a great depression, great economic crisis, you have a political crisis. So the political center implodes, which is what happened with the Weimar Republic, and then all sorts of political monsters ride up—rise up from that. We saw this in the 1920s, the 1930s, in the midwar period in Germany. But we saw it in—we see it in Greece today, after—do you know we have a Nazi party in Greek Parliament—in the country that, along with Yugoslavia, fought tooth and nail against Nazism in the 1940s. We had a magnificent resistance movement against Nazism. In that country now, the third-largest party is a—not a neo-Nazi party, fully old-fashioned Nazi party.
AMY GOODMAN: And this came into the Parliament when?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: They came into Parliament in 2012, at the time of a humiliated public in the clasp of a great depression, just like in Germany in the 1930s.
But allow me to make a point, because there is a great misunderstanding about Germany of the midwar period. Usually people say, “Oh, it was hyperinflation. It was the fact that prices were rising exponentially that brought Hitler to power.” Not true. It is true that hyperinflation depleted the middle class, effectively destroyed the middle class’s savings and shook the system and made the Weimar Republic extremely fragile and ready for the taking. But if you look at the electoral performance of the Nazi Party in Germany, there is a direct correlation, not with inflation, but with deflation. You had Chancellor Brüning, who in 1930 decided to slam the brakes on the economy and to use large doses of austerity in order to make inflation go away—a bit like Paul Volcker when he pushed interest rates up in the early '80s, remember, to 20-something percent—and a lot more fiscal austerity, not just monetary austerity. It was at that point when prices started falling in Germany. Prices started falling, and unemployment ballooned. And that is when you have a major jump in the support for Nazis. Deflation breeds fascism. And that is something that we've got to remember. And I’m making this point because, unfortunately, the European Union’s economic policies today are producing deflationary forces that are being exported to the United States and to China. And that does not augur well for progressive international politics.
AMY GOODMAN: So talk now about the far right in Europe and also in the United States. But in Europe, you’re talking about Poland, you’re talking about Hungary. You’ve got Golden Dawn, not to mention the Nazi party, in Greece.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Oh, that’s the Golden—the Golden Dawn is a Nazi party. That’s the Nazi party I was referring to.