Category Archives: Development

Panoptic corporate imperialism, Googled and Liked

From Dutch public television’s VPRO Backlight comes a remarkable documentary posing a fascinating question: Is the absence of digital connectivity becoming the newest luxury good, a costly product for consumption by the world’s elite?

Consider the case of Silicon Valley, where elites send their children to low-tech Montessori and Waldorf schools where they are disconnected from the web and the incessant call to the iPhone is precluded.

Consider even the case of Mark Zuckerberg, a billionaire thanks to the incessant pull of the digital that has fueled the rice of his Facebook empire.

From BBC News:

A photograph of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg shows tape has been used to cover his MacBook Pro’s webcam and mic.

Facebook has not responded to requests for comment about the picture, shared to celebrate Instagram reaching its 500 million monthly user milestone.

FBI director James Comey has previously said he also covers his laptop’s webcam to prevent hackers spying on him.

And digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said it regularly sold its webcam “stickers”.

Documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden allege US and UK spy agencies intercepted webcam images from millions of Yahoo users around the world between 2008 and 2010.

And a section of the image in question with the tape clearly visible as a square covering the round camera aperture:


And it’s not just digital cognoscenti like Zuckerberg who display obvious concerns about the intrusion of the digital into daily life.

One of those interviewed by VPRO is Birgitta Jónsdóttir [previously], the founder of Iceland’s Pirate Party, now leading in the polls, and the improbable yet distinctly possible pick as the country’s prime minister.

An early adapter, Jónsdóttir played a role in one of Wikileak’s most explosive releases, video of the American helicopter machine-gunning of two Reuters journalists in Iraq in 2010. The video, likely leaked by Chelsea Manning, embarrassed the U.S. government and made Jónsdóttir the target of efforts by U.S. intelligence agencies and federal prosecutors.

Our digital connectivity, she notes, is all about turning us into commodities by exploiting our deepest secrets and relationships as tools for our own exploitation.

And like Zuckberg, Jónsdóttir keeps her laptop lens covered. And she warns that a’ those “smart” connected devices in your home, especially those responding to voice commands, make every aspect of private lived vulnerable to incessant snooping, catching every cry of ecstasy and despair, and with no legislation anywhere restricting corporate use of your innermost desires to seduce your wealth away.

Evgeny Morozov, a scholar and prolific writer who focuses in the social and political implications of the digital world, notes that the drive for global digital connectivity is driven by a fusion of the imperial interests of American corporations and the Washington establishment, with the implicit demand that those corporations are free from legal liability for their actions.

Especially chilling is a brief excerpt from a speech in India by Mark Zuckerberg in furtherance of his ambition to unite that nation in a digital Webb entirely controlled by his company, and effort he never accomplished until popular opposition forced a pullback.

Especially fascinating is way folks of our own ancestry are adapting to the wireless world. Our last name is Pennsylvania Dutch, folks of the Amish and Mennonite persuasion. The documentary reveals that even the Old Order Amish, the folks who still live in gaslit houses and travel by horse and buggy, now have cell phones and computers [though the phones have no internet capability and online computer access is tightly restricted, and the built-to-order hardware comes with no video capability.

There’s much more. . .

From VPRO Backlight:

Offline is the new luxury [VPRO backlight]

Program notes:

To be online all the time and everywhere. It sounds great, but it has its drawbacks. As digital networks are closing in, there are fewer places to be really on your own. Being offline is becoming a luxury. Where can you be offline?

We are connected to the internet even in our bedrooms. It’s the ambition of companies like Google and Facebook to connect the entire world, so that we can be online all the time and everywhere. This month, Google will send balloons up into the skies over Sri Lanka to provide the island state with free Wi-Fi. On the ground, more and more devices communicate through the so-called Internet-of-Things. We are going to be ‘glass citizens’ in a transparent house, connected for life to a wireless intravenous drip and traced anywhere via our smartphones. What does it mean, this shift to 100 percent connectibility of the entire planet?

Building globalized dam$ to kill the Amazon

Globalization is all about control of the world’s resources into the hands of multinational corporations and their banks.

And the key to a globalized world is energy, without which the free flow of resources is impossible, absent a return to era of draft horses and sailboats.

Another key resource is water; without it agriculture is impossible. And, of course, human life itself.

With petroleum and natural gas reserves finite by nature, the world is left, ultimately, with hydroelectricity, wind power, solar, and nuclear, with the last being phased out in many countries because of its inherent and long-lived dangers.

Currently, hydroelectricity, generated almost exclusive by generators power by dam-enclosed water, constitute the world’s number two source of power behind the fossil fuel triad.

The dams providing the stored gravitational energy used to power the generators also provide a means of regulating supplies of water for agricultural and industrial uses, as well as for human consumption, making them especially valuable resources.

But by their ability to control the flow of water downstream, dams also prfoundly alter the environment, both by disrupting the natural flooding essential to soil renewal as well as by providing a source for agricultural irrigation.

Out a dam in one of the world’s last great remaining rainforest and savannah landscapes, and profound environmental changes are inevitable, both in the form of destruction of the natural environment and through the displacement of indigenous peoples never before exposed to a wide range of diseases or the disruption by an utterly alien way of life.

But just such a change is coming to the Amazon, fueled by a global consortium of multinationals.

From the Guardian:

Construction of 40 major dams in the Brazilian Amazon would destroy the heart of the world’s largest rainforest, severely affect indigenous people and is not economically justifiable, says Greenpeace in a major new report.

The five large dams and 35 others planned for the Tapajós river and its tributaries south of Santarém have been promoted by the government and global engineering and energy companies as a solution to Brazil’s recession and severe electricity shortages.


Plans for the dam are currently on hold after Brazil’s environmental agency, Ibama, suspended the licensing process over concerns about its impact on the indigenous community in the region.

“The Munduruku people have been fighting for the Brazilian government to formally recognise their land for many years. Greenpeace have sent activists to the Munduruku villages to assist in physically demarcating their land and installing solar power systems, as well as campaigning internationally in support of their cause,” says the report.

“This is an important battle not just for the Munduruku people, but for everyone around the world since we are talking about one of the biggest forests that still exist on the planet,” said Juarez, the Munduruku chief of the Sawré Muybu indigenous land.

From Greenpeace, a graphic depiction of the potential beneficiaries of just one of those dams:

BLOG Dam map

More from the Greenpeace report, Damning the Amazon, The Risky Business of Hydropower in the Amazon:

Many companies from a range of different sectors are involved in the construction of hydropower dams like the SLT project: utility companies that oversee the building of the dam and then operate it and sell the electricity it generates; contractors that undertake the construction work; suppliers of materials, equipment and services; and the project’s insurers and financiers.

The annex of this report lists all the main companies involved in the Belo Monte hydropower scheme, giving an indication of how broad the scope is of those that seek to profit from such projects. Although some of the companies listed have already made it clear that they want to be part of the SLT project, it is hard to predict how many others will join. Below, we detail the members of the two consortia that have already shown an interest in bidding to construct and operate the SLT project, and highlight some of the key players involved in the other critical sectors for new hydropower schemes. Some of these companies. . .have been linked to, or investigated in the context of, major corruption scandals, including around other large hydropower projects in Brazil. Nearly all of them have environmental and human rights policies that should oblige them to steer clear of the SLT project and the rest of the Tapajós hydropower complex. Will they stand by those policies and refrain from being involved in the SLT project?

Another Brazilian coup leader in trouble

The leaders of the coup who forced the suspension of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff keep finding themselves accused of the very things they attributed to Rousseff in justifying her ouster.

Never mind that the coup plotters are privatizers eager to put the commons on the auction block on behalf of the lootocrats so favored by Washington, Wall Street, and the military.

The latest casualty, via teleSUR English:

Eduardo Cunha, a key figure in the coup plot that saw President Dilma Rousseff ousted from power, faces a likely suspension from his post over ethics violations.

The Council of Ethics of the Chamber of Deputies, which Cunha once led, voted 11 to 9 to suspend the lawmaker.

Supporters broke out in cheers and songs with lyrics about Cunha’s alleged improprieties after the vote was announced.

The issue will now be put to a vote in the lower house, where at least 257 of the 513 lawmakers must vote to suspend Cunha for him to lose his seat. Cunha can however turn to the Constitution and Justice Committee of the chamber before the vote in the plenary is held.

Canada mining companies leave Mexico parched

Extractive industries don’t extract just the resource they want to sell, they also extract a lot of other resources in order to get at the riches they covet.

And when it comes to minerals — a category that includes oil and gas — extraction requires water, and a lot of it.

On this side of the border, communities are rapidly learning that fracking is highly water intensive, extracting clean water from streams and wells to blast apart shale layers with the help of a witches brew of chemicals concealed from the public by intellectual laws.

When the water come back out of the ground, high polluted as it is, spills and other forms of contamination are inevitable.

And when it to traditional traditional mining, toxic spills are inevitable.

This year has already witnessed the major toxic contamination of the 300 miles of the Doce River in Brazil after a tailings pond breached, killing twelve and contaminating the water supplies of 200 or more communities.

Mexico has seen major spills in 2014 and 2015, and given lax regulatory control, more are certain to come.

Today’s story isn’t about a spill, though.

It’s about water, and the threat posed by government policies that put communities at risk for the sake of corporate profits.

From teleSUR English:

A Canadian mining giant sucks up more water than any other in the north-central Mexican state of Zacatecas, where mining corporations use more water than the entire local population and concerns are rising about highly unequal access to the scarce and precious resource, according to a study reported by the Mexican daily La Jornada on Tuesday.

According to the report completed by researchers from the Autonomous University of Zacatecas, the Mexican water authority, known as Conagua, has given the greenlight to national and transnational mining companies operating in Zacatecas to use over 14 million gallons (nearly 56,000 cubic meters) of water per year.

Meanwhile, over half of the aquifers being exploited, or seven of the 12, already suffer a water deficit that isn’t being replenished and is affecting supply in local communities. Overall, 14 of the 34 aquifers statewide show signs of depletion and overexploitation, according to the report.

By far and away the biggest water offender in the region is the Canadian mining giant Goldcorp, through its local subsidiary Peñasquito, at a total of nearly 12 million gallons of groundwater use every year. Goldcorp has repeatedly been accused of being behind massive environmental damage and human rights abuses in the Americas, while Canadian mining corporations in general have a notorious record in Latin America and Africa

Brazil’s meltdown continues: Rousseff foes fret

The U.S. doesn’t like foreign governments with regimes that resist the global drive towards the destruction of the commons.

Under the Washington consensus inaugurated by Ronald Reagan and enshrined by Bill Clinton, nothing must belong to the nation and everything must be parceled out to the corporation and the bank.

Shrouded under the banner of human rights, the reality is that the agenda favors only the corporate person, which the flesh-and-blood reality is rendered as hapless prey, a corporeal conduit through which wealth is funneled to those at the very top.

But in Brazil, the agenda is hitting a bit of a rough spot, and the bloodless coup against the government of President Dilma Rousseff is hitting a bit of a rough patch.

We begin with the latest from Agence France-Presse:

Brazil’s political crisis heated up Tuesday, as authorities reportedly sought the arrests of senior figures behind the push to impeach suspended president Dilma Rousseff, accusing them of obstructing a corruption probe.

If reports in the main Brazilian newspapers are confirmed, new doubts would be cast over the impeachment of Rousseff, pushing Latin America’s biggest economy into ever greater uncertainty with less than two months to go before Rio de Janeiro hosts the Summer Olympics.

Globo newspaper reported that Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot asked the Supreme Court to authorize the arrests of Senate President Renan Calheiros, former Brazilian president Jose Sarney, Senator Romero Juca and powerful lawmaker Eduardo Cunha — all from the ruling PMDB party of interim president Michel Temer.

The four are accused of participating in a huge embezzlement and bribery network centered around the state oil company Petrobras.

More from the New York Times:

Ever since legislators suspended her, the interim government led by Michel Temer, the vice president who took over the nation last month after breaking with Ms. Rousseff, has suffered a series of embarrassing blunders.

First, one of Mr. Temer’s top allies stepped down as planning minister after a secret recording emerged late last month. On it, an aide laid out how their party — the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or P.M.D.B. — had pursued Ms. Rousseff’s ouster in order to thwart the investigation into the colossal graft scheme surrounding Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras.

Then, the new transparency minister — essentially Mr. Temer’s anticorruption czar — resigned after another recording seemed to show that he had also tried to stymie the Petrobras inquiry.

On Monday, Brazilian news organizations reported that the country’s chief prosecutor was seeking to arrest several leading figures in Mr. Temer’s party — including the head of the Senate, a former president and the former speaker of the lower house — after recordings suggested that they had sought to interfere with the Petrobras investigation.

And Temer, the interim president, has run into another roadblock.

From teleSUR English:

Brazil’s interim president Michel Temer has been deemed ineligible to run for political office for 8 years, The Intercept reported Friday.

A regional election court in São Paulo issued a formal decree on Thursday after finding him guilty of spending his own funds on his campaign in excess of what the law allows. As a result of what the court termed his “dirty record” in elections, according to The Intercept, Temer is unable to be elected to the office he seized with the help of the Brazilian Senate.

While this isn’t the most serious offense from the interim government, given how many in Temer’s cabinet and Temer himself are mired in allegations of corruption, it is indicative of the fact that those who led the drive to impeach Brazil’s elected president, Dilma Rousseff — ostensibly over corruption — are themselves implicated in numerous ongoing corruption investigations.

In just a few weeks since taking over, already two of Temer’s ministers in his all-white-male cabinet were forced to resign after it was discovered they had been plotting to obstruct the Car Wash investigation, a scandal involving the state oil company, Petrobras. So far a third of Temer’s cabinet has been implicated in that investigation.

Map of the day: Global rates of malnutrition

The Hunger Map from the Irish NGO consortium


Map of the day: The trans-Atlantic slave trade

From Voyages, the Emory University database on that most execrable of human activities:

Captive Africans followed many routes from their homelands to other parts of the world. The map shows the trans-Atlantic movement of these captives in comparative perspective for the centuries since 1500 only. Estimates of the ocean-borne trade are more robust than are those for the trans-Saharan, Red Sea and Persian Gulf routes, but it is thought that for the period from the end of the Roman Empire to 1900 about the same number of captives crossed the Atlantic as left Africa by all other routes combined.

Captive Africans followed many routes from their homelands to other parts of the world. The map shows the trans-Atlantic movement of these captives in comparative per- spective for the centuries since 1500 only. Estimates of the ocean-borne trade are more robust than are those for the trans-Saharan, Red Sea and Persian Gulf routes, but it is thought that for the period from the end of the Roman Empire to 1900 about the same number of captives crossed the Atlantic as left Africa by all other routes combined.