Tuesday, July 16, 2013

You Say You Want A Revolution, Well, You know..........

The Five Stages of Collapse by Dmitry Orlov:
An excerpt from Chapter 3 on Political Collapse

Suppose you wanted to achieve some significant political effect: say prevent or stop and unjust war. You could organize demonstrations, with hundreds of thousands of people marching in the streets, shouting slogans and waving anti-war banners. You could write angry editorials in newspapers and on blogs denouncing the falseness of the casus beli. You could write and phone and email your elected representatives, asking them to put a stop to it, and the would respond that they will of course try, and by the way could you please make a campaign contribution? You could also seethe and steam and lose sleep and appetite over the disgusting thing your country is about to do or is already doing. Would that stop the war? Alas, no. How many people protested the war in Iraq? And what did that achieve? Precisely nothing.

You see, the slogan "speak truth to power" has certain limitations. The trouble with it is that it ignores the fact that power will not listen and the fact the the people already know the truth and even make jokes about it. Those in power may appear to be persuaded or dissuaded but only if it is to their advantage to do so. They will also sometimes choose to co-opt, and then quietly subvert, popular movements, in order to legitimize themselves in the eyes of those who would otherwise oppose them. But, in general, they cannot be shifted from pursuing a course they see as advantageous by mere rhetoric from those outside their ranks. Some weaker regimes may be sensitive to embarrassment provided the criticisms are voiced by high-profile individuals in internationally recognized positions of authority, but these same criticisms backfire when aimed at the stronger regimes, because they make those who voice them appear ridiculous, engaged in something futile. 

In confronting the powerful, the need for secrecy is strengthened by the fact that, unlike chess, which is an overt game, the game of shifting those in power from their positions is best played covertly; it is advantageous to make game-changing events appear as accidents or coincidences, spontaneous rather than organized, and difficult to pin on anyone. Since a scapegoat is always found anyway, it is also advantageous if there isn't any identifiable organization with which it can be associated. Where an organization is required, it is best if it is transitory, fluid and anarchic in nature, and appears to be ineffectually engaged in some trivial, innocuous pursuit. In CIA parlance, it should at all times maintain plausible deniability.

Such a strategy just might be conceivable, provided the whole thing stays off the Internet. In previous, less networked eras, the work of the secret police was challenging and labor-intensive, but the Internet has changed all that. Anything you say on the Internet, whether in a private email, an unpublished document or posted to a blog, can now be used against you, or anyone else.

Compare that to the situation in the US today, where CIA/FBI/NSA/Homeland Security is quite far along in forming one giant security apparatus that dwarfs the quaint old KGB in both intrusiveness and scope, though probably not in effectiveness, even though modern technology makes their job trivial to the point where much of it can be automated. There used to be privacy protections written in to US law, but they are in the process of disappearing as a result of new legislation. But whether or not a sweeping abolition of privacy rights make it into law, your online privacy is already gone. Since the government can detain you indefinitely without ever charging, trying or sentencing you, and has full access to your digital data, legal niceties make little difference. Nor does it matter any longer whether or not your are a US citizen: the firewall between CIA (which was supposed to only spy on foreigners) and FBI disappeared after 9/11, and although this practice violates several acts of Congress, you would be foolish to wait for anyone to do anything about it.

People now tend to communicate via cell phone voice calls, text messages, emails, posts to Facebook and tweets, all of which are digital data and all of which are saved. Relationships between people can be determined by looking at their Facebook profile, their email contacts and their cell phone contacts. If your phone is GPS-enabled, your position can be tracked fairly accurately and tracked once your phone connects to a few different cell towers. All of this information can be continually monitored and analyzed without human intervention, raising red flags whenever some ominous pattern begins to emerge We are not quite there yet, but at some point somebody might accidentally get blasted to bits by a drone strike while texting when a wrong T9 predictive text autocompletion triggers a particularly deadly keyword match.
Thanks to vastly increased computational power, the emphasis is now shifting from enforcing the law by identifying transgressions to flagging as aberrant any sort of behavior that the system does not quite understand. That is, it is not looking for violations of specific laws, but for unusual patterns. One such pattern might be an attempt by you and others to go electronically dark for a time. Suppose you are walking to a park, and before getting there, you switch off your cell phone. And suppose several other people walk to that same park at the same time, an also switch off their cell phones before getting there. And suppose none of you called or texted each other beforehand. Well, that's an obvious red flag for conspiracy! Video from surveillance cameras installed in that park will be downloaded, fed through facial recognition software, and all the faces matched up with the cell phones that were switched off. Now you are all connected and flagged as attempting to evade surveillance. If this aberrant behavior is observed during some future time of national emergency (as opposed to the usual permanent "War on Terror"), drone aircraft might be dispatched to take you out. All of this might happen without any human intervention, under the control of a fully automated security threat neutralization system. It's a Catch 22: stay off the Internet and you are sure to be too socially isolated to organize anything; gent on the Internet and you are immediately exposed: do a little of each, and you suddenly start looking very suspicious and invite additional scrutiny. 

If you are a little bit savvier, you might be able to come up with ways to use the Internet anonymously. You buy a laptop with cash and don't register it, so that the MAC address can't be traced to you. You use Internet cafes that have open Internet access or private open WiFi connection from somewhere. You connect to web sites outside of the US jurisdiction via SSL (HTTPS protocol) or use encrypted services such as Skype. You further attempt to anonymize your access using TOR. You think you are safe. But wait! Are you running a commercial operating system, like Windows or Mac OS X? If so, it has a back door, added by the manufacturer base on a secret request from the US government. The back door allows someone (not necessarily the government, but anybody who knows about it) to install a keystroke logger that captures all your keystrokes and periodically uploads them to some server for analysis. Now a third party knows all of your communications and username / password combinations.

Suppose you know about back doors in commercial operating systems, and so you compile your own OS (some flavor of Linux or BSD Unix) from source code. You run it in ultra-secure mode, and nervously monitor all incoming and outgoing network connection for anything that shouldn't be there. You encrypt your hard drive. You do not store any contact information, passwords or, for that matter, anything else on your laptop. You run the browser in "private" mode so that it doesn't maintain a browsing history. You look quite fetching in your tin foil hat. Your are not just a member of Anonymous, you are Anonymous! But do you realize how suspicious that makes you look? The haggard look from having to memorize all those URLs and passwords, the darting eye movements....Somebody is going to haul you in for questioning just for the hell of it. At that point, you represent a challenge to the surveillance team: a hard target, somebody they can use to hone their skills. This is not a good position to be in.
But even if you could remain anonymous, are you still rebellious enough to challenge the status quo through risky but effective covert action? My guess is that you are by now quite docile, thanks, again, to the Internet. You don't want to do anything that might jeopardize your access to it. You have your favorite music and books in the cloud, your online games, your Facebook friends, and you can't imagine life without them.....
Does the idea of achieving some significant political effect still seem interesting? What if I told you that you could achieve the same effect with just a bit of patience, sitting Buddha-like with your arms folded, a beatific smile on your face? The idea is not too far-fetched. You see, the Internet is a very resilient system, designed to let packets flow around any obstruction. It is, to some extent, self-regulating and self-healing. But it depends on another system, which is not resilient at all: the electric grid. In the US, the grid is a creaking, aging system that now exhibits an exponentially increasing rate of failure. It is susceptible to the phenomenon of cascaded failure, where small faults are magnified throughout the system. Since the money needed to upgrade the system no longer exists, blackouts will continue to proliferate. As the grid goes down, Internet access will be lost. Cell phone access is more likely to remain, but without the grid most people will lose the ability to recharge their mobile devices. Information technology may look shiny and new, but the fact remains that the Internet is around 40% coal-fired and 20% nuclear-powered.
As the electric grid goes down, there will be a great deal of economic disruption. But in terms of the surveillance system, two effects are virtually guaranteed. First people will once again become very expensive to track and monitor, as in the olden days of the KGB. Second, people will cease to be docile. What keeps people docile is access to the magic shiny world of television and the Internet. Their own lives might be dull, grey, hopeless and filled with drudgery, but as long as they can be periodically catch a glimpse of heaven inhabited by smooth-skinned celebrities with toned muscles sporting the latest fashions, listen to their favorite noise, watch a football game and distract themselves with video games, blogs or cute animals on Reddit's / r / aww, they can at least dream. Once they wake up from that dream they will look around, then look around some more, and then they will become seriously angry. This is why the many countries and regions that at one time or another ran short of energy, be it former Soviet Georgia or Bulgaria or the Russian far east, always tried to provide at least a few hours of electricity every day, usually in the evenings during "prime time", so that the populace could get its daily dose of fiction, because this was cheaper than containing a seriously angry populace by imposing curfews and maintaining around-the-clock military patrols and checkpoints.

And so, if you want to achieve a serious political effect, my suggestion is that you sit back Buddha-like, fold your arms, and do some deep breathing exercises. Then you should work on developing some interpersonal skills that don;t need to be mediated by electronics. Chances are, you will get plenty of opportunities to practice them when the time comes, giving seriously angry people something useful to do. By then nobody will be keeping tabs on you, because those doing the watching will have grown tired of looking at their persistently blank monitor screens and gone home. They they too will become seriously angry - but not at you.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Why Winona LaDuke is fighting for food sovereignty


Winona LaDuke wears a lot of hats. The 53-year-old member of the Mississippi Band of Anishinaabe in Minnesota is an activist, a mother and an occasional political candidate. (You may recognize her as Ralph Nader's vice presidential candidate on the Green Party ticket in 1996 and 2000.) The author of six books, she is also the executive director of two nonprofits: Honor the Earth, which supports indigenous environmental justice, and theWhite Earth Land Recovery Project, which aims to recover the land and the culture of the Anishinabe people at the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.
Justice, land, culture — all concepts that have a connection with food, which makes sense. A focal point of LaDuke's recent efforts is food sovereignty, or as she put it in a recent essay, "the ability to feed your people." She says colonialism has robbed native communities like hers of much of their historic foods, not to mention their culture and autonomy. "As Shawnee scholar Steven Newcomb once pointed out to me, the word colonialism has at its root the same word as ' colon.' In other words, it means to digest — colonialism is the digestion of one people by another — in military, social, political, economic and food system terms."
A recent study at the White Earth reservation revealed the depth of the problem. The community spends about $8 million a year on food, but $7 million of that is spent off the reservation. What little is still spent on the reservation is for foods with little nutritional value. "The money we spent on-reservation was largely sucked up by convenience stories, where we purchased really cool stuff like pop, chips, pizzas to heat up, and baked goods," she wrote. Not only does this create a drain on the community's economy, it also reduces its ability to be self-reliant and creates soaring rates of diabetes, which plagues the reservation's residents.
To reverse the trends, LaDuke advocates restoring systems that have long been considered sacred. "Food for us comes from our relatives, whether they have wings or fins or roots," said the Harvard graduate at a recent TEDx Twin Cities talk. "That is how we consider food. Food has a culture. It has a history. It has a story. It has relationships."