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Ritual Protest [Virginia Hotchkiss/NonSite]

March 3rd article [3000 words]:

I think there are still plenty of times when a corporate-organized/sponsored protest event is a positive thing. But helpful to know how it is done. As the brilliant line goes “the revolution will not be televised”… But at the same time, social media does have genuine power, at least as long as people can vote (or barring that… well lets not…). So in today’s world, grass roots movements can and do form, and it is a natural, if really weird, part of the ecosystem of these things that various sponsors with various agendas will seek out any moment that attracts a politically charged crowd. That this is done online is just a sign of the times – that too will be altered. If the loosening of both party orthodoxies in the 2016 US election was, in part, enabled by social media (including extensive coopting and nonsensical strategery), then look for it to only get more complicated in 2020. The remedy is to talk to real people, and not just in soundbites or tweets or any other regurgitation format. However, democracy means elections, and elections are popularity contests. So the name of the game remains PR. Interesting stuff.

World Happiness Report 2017

Take a look. For detailed policy implications, per the authors, see Chapter 5.

In a nutshell, health, social support, freedom to make life choices, (all of which, under the hood, have a material aspect). National wealth (GDP PPP per capita) is not that important to happiness. Individual/family income is (chapter 5 policy detail talks about it a lot, but it doesn’t stand out in the headline/summary). Interestingly by-country income inequality is not one of the factors they use when they break down the causes, though there is what seems to be a negative correlation between Gini and happiness index, buried in the statistical appendix. The policy implications chapter does certainly address individual income as a significant factor. It also breaks out “partnered” and factors relating to family situation as the most significant factor on an individual level, something also not mentioned in the headline, other than being folded into the broader category of social support. The significance varies by country/region too.

France Election: Macron, Mélenchon strong after debate [DW]

After a long televised debate, the first of this election, the most widely cited initial poll shows centrist liberal Macron and leftist Mélenchon making the best impression, with conservative Fillon and nationalist Le Pen immediately behind.

Macron was judged the most convincing candidate by 29 percent of viewers, according to an Elabe poll of 1,157 respondents. Leftist Jean-Luc Melechon who held his first rally in Paris at the weekend, placed second with a score of 20 percent while Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen came in one point behind at 19 percent. Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon trailed with 11 percent.

For a OpinionWay poll of of 1,037 viewers, Macron led with 24 percent followed by Fillon and Le Pen at 19 percent and Melenchon at 15 percent. Hamon was last on 10 percent.


Interestingly a strong showing by Mélenchon, who has escaped my attention previously. Running under the banner of La France Insoumise, he is an MEP, and a pretty serious leftist and a euroskeptic. He opposes not just France’s membership in the EU but also in NATO. He is a critic of neoliberalism and opposes many of the free trade agreements that are unpopular with the general public throughout the western world, opposes France’s recent labor market reforms, favors a return to 35 hour workweek and moves further along that line (yes! limit hours. it’s a simple remedy to equalize work, drive up wages, and is tried and tested – was effective in previous episodes of disruption due to progress in tech and trade).

The audience’s positive response to him is a good sign in my (very uninformed wrt/ French politics) opinion.

CA Court: State of CA cleared to label Monsanto’s Glyphosate a carcinogen

This is a story that is relevant to: (1) the need for government regulation, specifically because big business does NOT normally act in the public interest and the “market” is not a protection. (2) the scary things we can expect with Trump Administration’s  EPA (malign neglect at the very best) — the second story of collusion, below, was under Obama’s EPA, whose purpose was at least nominally encouraged. And (3) the risks in rushing genetic-engineering products to market. With direct gene-editing/writing technology now being commercialized, this debate is coming hard and fast.

1. CA Court rules against Monsanto. CA to list  glyphosate (Roundup) as carcinogen (“probable” carcinogen per WHO). For years Monsanto has publicly insisted it is completely safe, and the substance now universal in domestic agriculture.

A California judge has ruled against Monsanto Co. in its attempt to prevent the main ingredient in the company’s Roundup herbicide products from being added to a state list of cancer-causing chemicals.

Separately, Creve Coeur-based Monsanto was accused in a court filing unsealed Tuesday of ghostwriting scientific papers that led an EPA regulator to conclude glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, shouldn’t be classified as a carcinogen, Bloomberg reported.

2. Monsanto emails revealed in court show Monsanto attempted to influence EPA’s deliberations to protect its product

The Environmental Protection Agency official who was in charge of evaluating the cancer risk of Monsanto Co.’s Roundup allegedly bragged to a company executive that he deserved a medal if he could kill another agency’s investigation into the herbicide’s key chemical.

The boast was made during an April 2015 phone conversation, according to farmers and others who say they’ve been sickened by the weed killer. After leaving his job as a manager in the EPA’s pesticide division last year, Jess Rowland has become a central figure in more than 20 lawsuits in the U.S. accusing the company of failing to warn consumers and regulators of the risk that its glyphosate-based herbicide can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

3. Meanwhile, nature strikes back as well, with glyphosate resistant weeds now increasingly common, chipping away at Roundup’s commercial case as well.

Monsanto argues that the increase in glyphosate use is good because the company’s flagship pesticide has displaced other more-toxic herbicides. But its overuse has directly fueled the escalating resistance in weeds, which has spurred many growers to once again start using the older herbicides in addition to glyphosate.

With six different species of glyphosate resistant weeds now identified in California, growers here are being urged by Monsanto to apply both glyphosate and some of the older, more-toxic herbicides at the same time.

Story via, yes, ZeroHedge. (disclaimer- has no filter, has become primarily right-wing in recent years. I hesitate to link it, but nevertheless has a useful function in the news ecosystem, and is willing to promote (b)leading-edge stories which sometimes don’t see the light of day any other way. As I think I mentioned before, right-wing conspiracy theory types (both for and against whatever issue) are the most motivated researchers of fringe news. Including, ironically, stories vital to the more serious left.)  In this case, Trump’s battle against the EPA may in a weird twist figure into the promotion of this story at ZH.

“Vault 7”, CIA hack tools [Julian Assange/WikiLeaks]

So this is actually a week old, just about. Honestly unsurprising, but still extremely significant.

Here’s the Wikileaks Julian Assange press conference, 2017.03.09  (search for that if replacement video is needed). [via Dandelion Salad]

Important bits I would like to highlight in the video:

  • Statement from Microsoft, at 0:09:30.
  • Discussion of accountability, at 0:28:40.

Other relevant issues brought up by Assange that I would like to focus on – on the balance between the CIA’s legitimate security role vs its periodic overtly criminal excesses, which come to light every 5-10 years. The balance is between the need for secrecy for the former, vs the need for public visibility to regulate and rein in the latter. Thus the unpleasant questions about trustworthiness.

Both from within the video:

  • In 2014, US senate intelligence committee censures CIA for hacking the Senate committee’s investigation of Torture, which was conducted by the CIA (among others).
  • IP address records allegedly show CIA has compromised 20,000+ machines with IP addresses within the US. These IP’s are not necessarily the “ultimate” target, they may be intermediate “victims” used as staging points to attack a target elsewhere. But in terms of jurisdiction, breaking into random computers in the US appears to be improper for the CIA.

Some tangential thoughts:

  • The technological issues in this wikileaks release show that for the CIA (and other clandestine agencies around the world), current technological capabilities, among other actions that they enable, invite agency efforts to attack/defeat any public oversight – by denying whistleblowers and investigative journalists the ability to communicate without retaliation.
  • In some ways, the carte blanche the CIA receives from the point of view of the US legal system, is actually in opposition to the goal of rule-of-law internationally.
  • That is, while the CIA’s more morally ambiguous activities are explicitly legalized within the US law due to national security, they are explicitly illegal in the jurisdictions in which they are intended to operate. Of course the reverse is true as well for any other country. This is the nature of their work and is unavoidable – But, it becomes a loophole in international norms that is abused.
  • The US has the de-facto role of world-police, and is funneling many of its world-police functions through the loophole which exempts clandestine services from national (and international) oversight, or makes such oversight invisible (and thus untrustworthy from the point of view of most of the world).
  • The US along with the other UNSC P5 face only minimal accountability in the international system, so no outside power will change this condition.
  • Exemption of world-police functions from oversight brings up the question of whether rule-of-law is a typical or atypical condition.
  • At the very least, from the point of view of fostering international norms, world-police functions should be separated from national clandestine-security functions. This should be a focal point of discussions of international norms.

Sunday reading, variety-pak

Passion for school not correlated to academic success. [Jihyun Lee / Aeon, 750 words] – Also includes interesting hypothesis about one place where trust or lack of trust for institutions can come from. (Students! This does not mean you should cultivate apathy, rather that many have succeeded in their studies, and likely went on to succeed in life, without necessarily being in love with the institutions which educated them.) I am curious about the reverse correlation — are educational institutions which enjoy a high degree of passion from their students, more likely to have students who are successful?

Reading Elisabeth Weber’s KILL BOXES [Richard Falk / blog, 3600 words] – Commentary includes a harsh underside to the history of US foreign relations, and how our society normalizes things we really shouldn’t. Heavy.

Co-opting the resistance. Lessons from the Tea party. [Thomas Frank / Guardian, 1900 words] – The resistance to Trump is better done by the D party of FDR, than the D party of Enron. [via NC]

Tech details about things that make WiFi slow [Jim Salter / Ars Technica, 3600 words] – Very technical but interesting and explains some things well. [via NC]

Why the system will still win [Perry Anderson/LMD]

UCLA history prof. Perry Anderson, writing for Le Monde Diplomatique.

Examines the relatively greater success of right’s vs left’s challenges to neo-liberalism in the EU. Concludes that maintaining the status quo is a hopelessly blocked path, therefore EU in its present state cannot stay. Difficult implications / risks here.

link (3200 words):

The EU’s dilemma between failure by neo-liberalism vs failure by nationalism is going to be an important open question going forward.