Sunday, June 25, 2017

Was the CIA Correct that French Philosophy Sold Out to Capitalism?


I am above all else a student of Michel Foucault, a prominent French intellectual of the late twentieth century. Recently, a CIA Directorate of Intelligence report on French philosophy in the 1980s was de-classified:
CIA Directorate of Intelligence (1985). France: Defection of the Leftist Intellectuals Sanitized Copy Approved for Release 2011/05/13 : CIA-RDP86S00588R000300380001-5. Available https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP86S00588R000300380001-5.PDF
This report is being discussed widely across the electronic public sphere with one of the best reviews of the report here:
Gabriel Rockhill. (February 28, 2017) The CIA Reads French Theory: On the Intellectual Labor of Dismantling the Cultural Left. The Philosophical Salon (Los Angeles Review of Books), http://thephilosophicalsalon.com/the-cia-reads-french-theory-on-the-intellectual-labor-of-dismantling-the-cultural-left/
I think Rockhill’s review is particularly nuanced. He points out the critically important point that CIA believes intellectuals do have social influence and that their ideas matter, having the capacity to shape public opinion and policy. Even more to the point, Rockhill observes:
“The intelligence agency understands culture and theory to be crucial weapons in the overall arsenal it deploys to perpetuate US interests around the world.”
Rockhills explains that this belief in the power of the intellectual made the CIA very hostile to leftist academics, particularly Marxists, who promoted radical social change, while being very supportive of right-lining academics, who declared that liberalism had delivered the END OF HISTORY.

In my opinion, the CIA clearly had difficulty understanding the implications of the French philosophy of the 1980s. The CIA interpreted disillusionment with the Soviet experiment as a victory for the philosophy and policies of liberal democratic capitalism.
There is no doubt that disenchantment with a particular kind of Marxism drove new ways of thinking about power and social transformation. Soviet totalitarianism made it clear that there are no guarantees that revolution – even revolution guided by aspirational purposes – will deliver promised progress.

Michel Foucault’s work was particularly important in re-thinking power in ways that grappled with this recognition that “cutting off the King’s head” does not deliver utopia.

I always think of Foucault’s work as a blend of ideas from Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Existential Phenomenology (e.g., Jean Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, etc.).

Marxist ideas about economic exploitation inform Foucault’s theorizing. In my readings of Discipline and Punish and the History of Sexuality, Foucault provides very detailed analyses of the disciplining, for the purposes of economic exploitation, of human bodies in various settings, including prisons, schools, and factories.

Marxist political economy informs Foucault’s analyses of institutional power’s disciplining of human bodies with the intent to exploit their vitalities. This idea is illustrated in the film the Matrix has human bodies are ultimately batteries for machines:

However, Foucault goes beyond Marxist political economy in a couple of important ways. First, he incorporates and extends ideas about bureaucratization drawn, I must conclude, from Max Weber’s work and the latter J. P. Sartre (The Critique of Dialectical Reasons).

Weber and Sartre both showed how anonymized institutions rigidify and become totalitarian, as illustrated in movies such as the Brazil and the first couple of installments of The Cube. Here is an excerpt from Brazil on the recursive logic of bureacuracy:


Foucault adopts this disenchantment with modernity in his analyses of how institutions objectify and subjectify body and mind, warning us that any project- left or right – has the capacity to become totalitarian as its operations ossify and centralize. Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World echo these warnings in their divergent dystopias, as well.

Foucault’s second major contribution concerns the circulation of power and its operations on bodies through inculcated habits, such as the confessional. Foucault looks at how heterogeneous apparatuses of power – economic and cultural - operate on individual bodies, often in ways that are experienced as oppressive and/or marginalizing because of their hierarchical and normalizing tendencies.

Foucault’s work on the confessional is particularly instructive for those who are interested in studying how the fear of constant surveillance leads to self-surveillance and self-censorship:


Foucault’s third major contribution was his analysis of the social constitution of expert knowledge, protocols, and interventions – such as science and medicine- that took individual bodies and entire populations as their research targets.

Joseph Moreno’s work on secret experimentation by the state upon individuals and larger communities illustrates what I refer to as “sovereign” biopolitics, a kind of biopolitics that knowingly allows hazards to populations designated as disposable.

There are some who say that Foucault’s focus on the dispersed and yet individualized operations of power in western society constitutes a betrayal of the idea of positive social change through collective action.

I would disagree. Foucault’s analyses of power were a warning and a tool. They represent a warning that power is everywhere but also organized into apparatuses composed of ideas, protocols, and habits that have the capacity to exploit, as well as the capacity to enable.

It is up to us to use deploy his tool kit to study how power operates upon us as individuals and as populations so that we can make more nuanced decisions about which apparatuses we want to promote, enact or resist.

Foucault’s philosophy is more radical than the CIA can image because it deconstructs the assumptions of western liberal democratic capitalism and offers no utopian panacea.

Yet, that doesn't mean that Foucault, or those who follow his governmentality approach from more radical perspectives, believe that all apparatuses are equal. Some apparatuses are foster life better than others.

It is into this space that I inject my academic research and blog: critically interrogating the biopolitical implications of society’s apparatuses....

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Free Speech on the Way Out: Al Jazeera Targeted for Take-Down


I've been posting quite often on the erosion of free speech. As a student of liberalism, I would argue that free speech is our most important right because it enables social and individual transformation.

The Internet is one of the most amazing "public squares" that has ever existed. Free speech is abundant and chaotic on the Internet. The ossified model of centralized media dissemination and control has been disrupted by the decentralized model of the web 2.0 platform.

Of course, free speech means that sophists who care little for the pursuit of truth may have as much influence as those rhetors with unselfish motivations.

How this problem is governed tells us much about a society's underlying values.

The enlightenment model holds that individuals can be taught, through the Socratic method among other methodologies, to discern falsehoods, perhaps even discern truths. The enlightenment model governs through reason and argumentation. Although in practice we fall short of this ideal, enlightenment operates as a regulative ideal that can be upheld in law and policy.

Another approach to governance of the public square is propaganda, as most explicitly outlined by Edward Bernays and as exquisitely chronicled by Adam Curtis in his Century of the Self. I've posted quite often about the operations of propaganda.

A final approach is outright censorship through narrowing of allowable forms of communication.

I've argued in couple of blog-posts that a new regime is rising and it governs through security and represents censorship as critical for purging security risks from the public sphere.

This regime also demands that its own narratives be produced and disseminated to shape public opinion, a mandate codified legally in US H.R.5181 - Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016114th Congress (2015-2016), which simultaneously penalizes providers for “fake news” and promotes production and dissemination of government “fact-based” narratives to counter fake news that escapes the newly emerging filtering devices.

"Fake news" has been cast as a security risk and is now targeted for censorship (see my discussion here). The strategy of deployment of this new policy is the instrument of financial penalty for media platforms found responsible for failing to censor.

Up until today I wasn't sure how Fake News was actually being defined. But today I see that the definition of  fake news is decided arbitrarily by sovereign powers.

Any narrative that deviates from the sovereign's "fact-based" version is now fake news. At least, that is what it looks like based on efforts to shut down Al Jazeera in Qatar by Saudi Arabia and its allies, a move that an anonymous Trump "official" described as "potentially" having US support:

Nicolas Parasie and Summer Said (2017, June 24-25). Arab States Issue Demands to Qatar. The Wall Street Journal (print edition): A7.

Saudi Arabia and other Arab staes boycotting Qatar have issued a list of severe demands to end the worst regional diplomatic crisis in years, telling their Persian gulf neighbor to close state broadcaster Al Jazeera, curb ties with Iran and end Turkey's military presence on its soil....

...The U.S., however, would be potentially supportive of calls to shut down Al Jazeera, the official said....
Now why does Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the US, want to shut down Al Jazeera?

My guess is that Al Jazeera's unorthodox nature and strong appeal make it dangerous within the logic of the new security doctrine.

My analysis is consistent with the search results to my Google inquiry as to why Saudi Arabia hates Al Jazeera, as illustrated in the top result excerpted below:

Why Saudi Arabia Hates Al Jazeera So Much. NDTV, June 24, 2017, http://www.ndtv.com/world-news/why-saudi-arabia-hates-al-jazeera-so-much-1716358

If you want to understand why many Arab world leaders hate Al Jazeera, consider "Sharia and Life."

For years, the call-in show was one of the network's most popular, reaching tens of millions. Viewers would call in and pose their faith questions to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric and a spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. People would ask all kinds of things: Is it okay to smoke during Ramadan? Does a female Palestinian woman have to wear a hijab while carrying out a suicide bombing?

Before Al Jazeera, a show like this would have been unusual in the Arab world, where media is tightly controlled. But the Qatari-owned network has a mandate to produce ambitious journalism on a wide range of subjects (some taboo). It offers, too, a broader range of opinions than most Arab media.

These qualities have made it the most popular network in the Middle East. It's also attracted a lot of enemies. Rulers in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt resent the station's broad reach and its willingness to rile up opposition. They don't like its Islamist bent, and they're angry that their populations are exposed to reporting critical of their regimes (and supportive of the Qatari agenda).
I am heartened to see that not all of the mainstream media is remaining silent about this attack against journalistic free expression:
New York Times slams 'misguided attack on Al Jazeera'. June 21, 2017, Al Jazeera, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/06/nyt-saudi-arabia-led-misguided-attack-al-jazeera-170621193513866.html

New York Times condemns Saudi-led bloc's move to 'eliminate a voice that could lead citizens to question their rulers'.
Unfortunately I don't have the link to the NYT editorial, although you can read more about the political context of this assault against Qatar here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/23/world/middleeast/qatar-saudi-arabia-al-jazeera.html?_r=0

The growing tendency toward sovereign censorship of information signifies the ossification of the enlightenment dream and with that goes any hope for a vibrant democracy.




Friday, June 23, 2017

Victory for US Veterans Exposed to Fukushima Fallout


The victory is that they can take their lawsuit forward, not that they won it:
Former Senator John Edwards Representing Thousands of United States Veterans Injured in Nuclear Disaster. Business Wire. (June 22, 2017). Available, http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170622006227/en/Senator-John-Edwards-Representing-Thousands-United-States

Ninth Circuit Rules Sailors Will Get Their Day in U.S. Court

RALEIGH, N.C.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Today, the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the U.S. sailors who were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation assisting in humanitarian relief efforts to Japan following an earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Based on the ruling, the sailors are able to continue their suit against Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) allowing the sailors to pursue their case in the District Court in San Diego. It is possible that the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima plant affected up to 75,000 U.S. citizens, even after TEPCO deemed the conditions safe.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

South Korea Wisely Steers Clear of Nuclear While the US Subsizes Massive Nuclear Cost-Overruns


South Korea's new President, Moon Jae-in, said he would permanently end operations at the Kori-1 reactor (that went online in 1978) as a first step toward a "nuclear-free state" ("Seoul Powers Down Nuclear-Plant Sector" WSJ 6/20/2017, A9).

This important news was buried on page 9 in a very short article in the WSJ. I didn't even see mention of the story in the New York Times and Washington Post, although a quick search reveals more coverage:
Jane Chung and Richard Pullin (2017, June 19). South Korea's President Moon says plans to exit nuclear power. Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-nuclear-president-idUSKBN19A04Q?il=0

"We will end the nuclear-oriented power generation plan and pave the way for a nuclear-free era," Moon said at an event marking the closure of the Kori No.1 nuclear reactor in Busan, some 300 kms (186 miles) southeast of Seoul.

"We will withdraw existing plans to build new nuclear power plants and not extend the lifespan of nuclear power plants."
This is excellent news and I'm sorry to see that it was buried in some of the nation's newspapers of record. A quick read of Wikipedia's article on concentrated media ownership will no doubt illuminate why https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentration_of_media_ownership

Meanwhile, the US House and Trump Administration are trying to save nuclear power in the US (Hat-tip Mar for link):
Tom DiChristopher (June 19, 2017). Nuclear power on the 'front burner,' says Energy Secretary Rick Perry. CNBC http://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/19/nuclear-energy-is-on-the-front-burner-says-sec-rick-perry.html

Nuclear power as "a very important part" of the White House's energy strategy, Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Monday.
Perry is apparently endorsing the fantasy of efficient modular reactors, despite their many hazards and expensive supply chain and waste management issues.


DC is also promoting costly nuclear boondoggles in South Carolina and Georgia:
Kristi E. Swartz. (2017, May 4). Southern turns to D.C. for help to finish reactors. Energy Wire, https://www.eenews.net/energywire/2017/05/04/stories/1060054028

Southern Co. is working with the Trump administration and Congress to ensure a path forward for the U.S. nuclear reactors being built in Georgia and South Carolina, saying their future is a matter of national security.
These reactors being built in Georgia and South Carolina have been afflicted by SIGNIFICANT cost-overruns, delays, and now by Westinghouse's bankruptcy:
AP (March 29 2017). Westinghouse Troubles Loom Over SC, Georgia Nuke Projects https://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2017-03-29/westinghouse-troubles-loom-over-sc-georgia-nuke-projects
In South Carolina, Westinghouse is a partner with state-owned utility Santee Cooper and publicly-traded SCANA Corp. (ticker: SCG) on the construction of two reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station near Jenkinsville. SCANA said in September that the cost of building the reactors had increased nearly $3 billion from the original $11 billion estimate in 2009. The first reactor was supposed to open in 2017, but has been delayed at least two years....

...the Plant Vogtle project in eastern Georgia was more than three years behind schedule and more than $3 billion over its original budget as of the end of 2016. Oglethorpe Power, one of the partners in the project, said in a regulatory filing this week that "the revised in-service dates of December 2019 and September 2020" for the two reactors it's building "do not appear to be achievable."

...Meanwhile, Toshiba reiterated its view that at the root of the problem was the acquisition of U.S. nuclear construction company CB&I Stone and Webster. It declined comment on possible future partners in the rehabilitation of Westinghouse.

SCANA and Santee Cooper are now scrambling to make sure they get an extension in more than $2 billion in federal tax credits to help pay for these already blighted projects:

Fretwell, Sammy (2017). Could losing tax break sink SCE&G’s nuclear project? The State, http://www.thestate.com/news/local/article151956352.html

Whether SCANA and Santee Cooper complete two nuclear reactors may depend on whether a deadline is extended for the companies to gain more than $2 billion in federal tax credits that would help pay for the financially troubled project.

But an effort to extend the deadline has stalled, and it’s questionable whether Congress will take action before the companies make a final decision on the project’s future.

Without the tax credit, it would be more difficult to finance the project that already is in trouble because its chief contractor, Westinghouse, is in bankruptcy, utility officials acknowledge.

Santee Cooper and SCE&G, a subsidiary of SCANA, have until June 26 to complete an assessment on whether the nuclear expansion work is worth continuing.

The project’s future is important to SCE&G customers because they already have paid at least $1.4 billion for the reactors’ construction. If the project is not finished, SCE&G is not required to return the money. About 18 percent of a customer’s current bill goes toward the plant’s construction.
 South Korea appears far more wise when it comes to steering energy policy.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How "Brand Safety" and National Security are Driving Internet Surveillance and Censorship


Last week I posted a blog article titled, Censorship as Security http://majiasblog.blogspot.com/2017/06/censorship-as-security-facebook-boosts.html

That post looks at how censorship is being practiced in the name of security, primarily through its automation by social media platforms such as Facebook.

Today the Wall Street Journal had an article addressing large corporations’ pull-back from advertising on Youtube and Google because of their concern about “brand safety"
Lara O'Reilly & Jack Nicas (June 21, 2017). YouTube ad mess divides brands. The Wall Street Journal, B1, B2, 
The problem of brand safety stems from social media’s unwitting combination of controversial video content with name brand advertising.

The Guardian has a story addressing advertisers’ concerns about YouTube & Google that discloses “inconsistencies” in how Google monitors content, reflecting the politics of what counts as controversial:
Olivia Solon (march 21, 2017) 'I can’t trust YouTube any more': creators speak out in Google advertising row. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/21/youtube-google-advertising-policies-controversial-content

Google’s decision-making process over which YouTube videos are deemed “advertiser friendly” faces scrutiny from both brands and creators, highlighting once again the challenge of large-scale moderation.

The company last week pledged to change its advertising policies after several big brands pulled their budgets from YouTube following an investigation that revealed their ads were shown alongside extremist content, such as videos promoting terrorism or antisemitism.
 
… Google currently uses a mixture of automated screening and human moderation to police its video sharing platform and to ensure that ads are only placed against appropriate content. Videos considered “not advertiser-friendly” include those that are sexually suggestive, violent, contain foul language, promote drug use or deal with controversial topics such as war, political conflict and natural disasters.
So, Google, Youtube, and other social media platforms are trying to figure out how to develop protocols to avoid matching "controversial" content with their advertisers’ persuasive messaging.

Advertisers are demanding greater control over how these platforms match ad with content and are pressing for independent monitoring.

One can certainly understand these concerns but what alarms me are the likely consequences of the new “command and control” Internet regime.


Internet Command and Control

1. The new command and control Internet regime is first and foremost monetized.

For example, the Internet is being fully monetized with the end of net neutrality, which is being pursued by Trump and the telecommunication industry, as explained here:
Sergey Denisenko Feb 20, 2017 The implications of the end of net neutrality https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/20/the-implications-of-the-end-of-net-neutrality/
2.  Secondarily, web content will be censored before it is actually posted, sanitizing it from images or words that are designated as troubling, as illustrated by Facebook’s efforts in this regard:
Sam Schechner. (2017, June 15). Facebook Boosts AI to Block Terrorist Propaganda. The Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-boosts-a-i-to-block-terrorist-propaganda-1497546000
New software is tasked with identifying videos, photos, language and users that need to be removed, at times without human moderators.
3.  Third, search results will be filtered using criteria that separate out information coded as “true” from information coded as “fake” as Google and other engines incorporate criteria such as “truthiness” (see article).

Google’s first effort to evaluate truthfulness of sites was PageRank, according to this interesting article in CNN
Ivana Kottasova (2015, March 4). The truth, according to Google. CNN Money http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/04/news/google-truth-ranking/index.html

The company is figuring out how to rank websites by the veracity of their content. The more truthful the page, the higher up it would appear in search results.

Google (GOOG) currently sorts search results based on criteria such as the number of links pointing at the website, the amount of time users spend on it, as well as the prominence of its social media profile.

The algorithm, named PageRank after Google co-founder Larry Page, is supposed to rank websites based on their reputation.
The problem with this strategy is that it measured popularity over quality. So, Google developed a new algorithm, whose current status is not entirely clear, as described further down in the same article:
To fix the problem, Google has come up with a new truth-seeking algorithm, describing it in a research paper first reported by New Scientist. So how would it work? The new algorithm draws on Google's "Knowledge Vault" -- a collection of 2.8 billion facts extracted from the Internet.  By checking pages against that database, and cross-referencing related facts, the research team believes the algorithm could assign each page a truth score. Pages with a high proportion of false claims would be bumped down in the search results. (here)
You can read more about Google’s Knowledge Vault here: https://research.google.com/pubs/pub45634.html

4. Finally, Google and other search engines may have little choice concerning development and deployment of more automated censorship in posted content and search results.

US H.R.5181 - Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016114th Congress (2015-2016), simultaneously penalizes providers for “fake news” and promotes production and dissemination of government “fact-based” narratives to counter fake news that escapes the newly emerging filtering devices.

The lack aims to "develop a comprehensive strategy to counter foreign disinformation and propaganda and assert leadership in developing a fact-based strategic narrative" AND promoting a free press in countries vulnerable to foreign disinformation, as illustrated in this excerpt from the bill:
(4) the challenge of countering disinformation extends beyond effective strategic communications and public diplomacy, requiring a whole-of-government approach leveraging all elements of national power;

(5) the United States Government should develop a comprehensive strategy to counter foreign disinformation and propaganda and assert leadership in developing a fact-based strategic narrative; and

(6) an important element of this strategy should be to protect and promote a free, healthy, and independent press in countries vulnerable to foreign disinformation.
https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/5181/text
I very much worry that this injunction to code true/false and censor information delegated to the latter category will quickly end diversity of expression, especially around "controversial" topics such as war, disaster, and conflict.




Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Plutonium in Workers' Urine


The Asahi Shimbun is reporting that, contrary to the reassurances made a few days ago by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (see here), workers at JAEA's Oarai Research and Development Center, WERE internally contaminated by Plutonium:
Plutonium found in urine of 5 workers in Ibaraki accident. THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, June 20, 2017 http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201706200039.html

Minute amounts of plutonium have been detected in the urine samples of all five workers who were accidentally exposed to radioactive plutonium at Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA)'s Oarai Research and Development Center in Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture, on June 6.... While maintaining the level of exposure the five workers experienced “would not have immediate effect on their health for a few months,” Akashi said their internal exposure levels are “relatively high for cases occurring in Japan as far as I know.”... 
...In urine testing, NIRS said it can detect smaller amounts of plutonium as the measurement time is much longer, while the smallest radiation doses the dosimeter for lungs can detect is between 5,000 and 10,000 bequerels.
I shouldn't be too critical of these oscillating reports given the US won't even admit when its workers are contaminated with Plutonium, as the recent tunnel collapse at Hanford reminds us:
Tia Ghose. May 10, 2017. Hanford Disaster: What Happens to Someone Who's Exposed to Plutonium? Live Science, https://www.livescience.com/59042-how-does-plutonium-damage-the-body.html

Workers at a nuclear-waste site in Washington state were recently told to hunker down in place after a tunnel in the nuclear finishing plant collapsed, news sources reported yesterday (May 9)...

The tunnel was part of the plutonium and uranium extraction facility (PUREX) said to be holding a lot of radioactive waste, including railway cars used to carry spent nuclear fuel rods, news agency AFP reported. At least some of the radioactive waste at the Hanford facility contains radioactive plutonium and uranium, according to the DOE, although at least some of it is also radioactive "sludge" composed of a mixture of radioactive substances. Right now, authorities have not revealed whether radioactive substances have been released or whether people have been exposed any of these contaminants

Governments don't want to talk too much to the public about plutonium. Every dimension of knowledge about this element seems to be weaponized. Despite the desire for secrecy, plutonium always seems to be out of bounds, contaminating some people or environment, or perhaps all people, especially men's testes (see here).

Plutonium's astonishing level of chemical toxicity and atomic instability are fetishized by the atomic priesthood, but the priesthood cannot control their Frankensteinan creation, as these stories and ongoing atmospheric emissions at Fukushima Daiichi demonstrate: