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How the CIA made Google

Disinformation - 1 hour 44 min ago

Patrick Barry (CC BY 2.0)

Nafeez Ahmed writes at Medium:

INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a new crowd-funded investigative journalism project, breaks the exclusive story of how the United States intelligence community funded, nurtured and incubated Google as part of a drive to dominate the world through control of information. Seed-funded by the NSA and CIA, Google was merely the first among a plethora of private sector start-ups co-opted by US intelligence to retain ‘information superiority.’

The origins of this ingenious strategy trace back to a secret Pentagon-sponsored group, that for the last two decades has functioned as a bridge between the US government and elites across the business, industry, finance, corporate, and media sectors. The group has allowed some of the most powerful special interests in corporate America to systematically circumvent democratic accountability and the rule of law to influence government policies, as well as public opinion in the US and around the world. The results have been catastrophic: NSA mass surveillance, a permanent state of global war, and a new initiative to transform the US military into Skynet.

THIS IS PART ONE. READ PART TWO HERE.

This exclusive is being released for free in the public interest, and was enabled by crowdfunding. I’d like to thank my amazing community of patrons for their support, which gave me the opportunity to work on this in-depth investigation. Please support independent, investigative journalism for the global commons.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, western governments are moving fast to legitimize expanded powers of mass surveillance and controls on the internet, all in the name of fighting terrorism.

US and European politicians have called to protect NSA-style snooping, and to advance the capacity to intrude on internet privacy by outlawing encryption. One idea is to establish a telecoms partnership that would unilaterally delete content deemed to “fuel hatred and violence” in situations considered “appropriate.” Heated discussions are going on at government and parliamentary level to explore cracking down on lawyer-client confidentiality.

What any of this would have done to prevent the Charlie Hebdo attacks remains a mystery, especially given that we already know the terrorists were on the radar of French intelligence for up to a decade.

There is little new in this story. The 9/11 atrocity was the first of many terrorist attacks, each succeeded by the dramatic extension of draconian state powers at the expense of civil liberties, backed up with the projection of military force in regions identified as hotspots harbouring terrorists. Yet there is little indication that this tried and tested formula has done anything to reduce the danger. If anything, we appear to be locked into a deepening cycle of violence with no clear end in sight.

As our governments push to increase their powers, INSURGE INTELLIGENCE can now reveal the vast extent to which the US intelligence community is implicated in nurturing the web platforms we know today, for the precise purpose of utilizing the technology as a mechanism to fight global ‘information war’ — a war to legitimize the power of the few over the rest of us. The lynchpin of this story is the corporation that in many ways defines the 21st century with its unobtrusive omnipresence: Google.

Google styles itself as a friendly, funky, user-friendly tech firm that rose to prominence through a combination of skill, luck, and genuine innovation. This is true. But it is a mere fragment of the story. In reality, Google is a smokescreen behind which lurks the US military-industrial complex.

The inside story of Google’s rise, revealed here for the first time, opens a can of worms that goes far beyond Google, unexpectedly shining a light on the existence of a parasitical network driving the evolution of the US national security apparatus, and profiting obscenely from its operation.

The shadow network

For the last two decades, US foreign and intelligence strategies have resulted in a global ‘war on terror’ consisting of prolonged military invasions in the Muslim world and comprehensive surveillance of civilian populations. These strategies have been incubated, if not dictated, by a secret network inside and beyond the Pentagon.

Established under the Clinton administration, consolidated under Bush, and firmly entrenched under Obama, this bipartisan network of mostly neoconservative ideologues sealed its dominion inside the US Department of Defense (DoD) by the dawn of 2015, through the operation of an obscure corporate entity outside the Pentagon, but run by the Pentagon.

In 1999, the CIA created its own venture capital investment firm, In-Q-Tel, to fund promising start-ups that might create technologies useful for intelligence agencies. But the inspiration for In-Q-Tel came earlier, when the Pentagon set up its own private sector outfit.

Known as the ‘Highlands Forum,’ this private network has operated as a bridge between the Pentagon and powerful American elites outside the military since the mid-1990s. Despite changes in civilian administrations, the network around the Highlands Forum has become increasingly successful in dominating US defense policy.

Giant defense contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton and Science Applications International Corporation are sometimes referred to as the ‘shadow intelligence community’ due to the revolving doors between them and government, and their capacity to simultaneously influence and profit from defense policy. But while these contractors compete for power and money, they also collaborate where it counts. The Highlands Forum has for 20 years provided an off the record space for some of the most prominent members of the shadow intelligence community to convene with senior US government officials, alongside other leaders in relevant industries.

I first stumbled upon the existence of this network in November 2014, when I reported for VICE’s Motherboard that US defense secretary Chuck Hagel’s newly announced ‘Defense Innovation Initiative’ was really about building Skynet — or something like it, essentially to dominate an emerging era of automated robotic warfare.

That story was based on a little-known Pentagon-funded ‘white paper’ published two months earlier by the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington DC, a leading US military-run institution that, among other things, generates research to develop US defense policy at the highest levels. The white paper clarified the thinking behind the new initiative, and the revolutionary scientific and technological developments it hoped to capitalize on.

The Highlands Forum

The co-author of that NDU white paper is Linton Wells, a 51-year veteran US defense official who served in the Bush administration as the Pentagon’s chief information officer, overseeing the National Security Agency (NSA) and other spy agencies. He still holds active top-secret security clearances, and according to a report by Government Executive magazine in 2006 he chaired the ‘Highlands Forum’, founded by the Pentagon in 1994.

New Scientist magazine (paywall) has compared the Highlands Forum to elite meetings like “Davos, Ditchley and Aspen,” describing it as “far less well known, yet… arguably just as influential a talking shop.” Regular Forum meetings bring together “innovative people to consider interactions between policy and technology. Its biggest successes have been in the development of high-tech network-based warfare.”

Given Wells’ role in such a Forum, perhaps it was not surprising that his defense transformation white paper was able to have such a profound impact on actual Pentagon policy. But if that was the case, why had no one noticed?

Despite being sponsored by the Pentagon, I could find no official page on the DoD website about the Forum. Active and former US military and intelligence sources had never heard of it, and neither did national security journalists. I was baffled.

Read More.

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Rapper Tiny Doo Facing Long Prison Sentence Over Lyrics

Disinformation - 3 hours 8 min ago

So now you can go to prison because of the lyrics of a song? In California, the answer may be “yes” reports CNN:

Song lyrics that glorify violence are hardly uncommon. But a prosecutor in California says one rapper’s violent lyrics go beyond creative license to conspiracy.

San Diego-based rapper Tiny Doo has already spent eight months in prison, and faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted under a little-known California statute that makes it illegal to benefit from gang activities.

The statute in question is California Penal Code 182.5. The code makes it a felony for anyone to participate in a criminal street gang, have knowledge that a street gang has engaged in criminal activity, or benefit from that activity.

It’s that last part — benefiting from criminal activity — that prosecutors are going after the rapper for.

Tiny Doo, whose real name is Brandon Duncan, faces nine counts of criminal street gang conspiracy because prosecutors allege he and 14 other alleged gang members increased their stature and respect following a rash of shootings in the city in 2013.

Prosecutors point to Tiny Doo’s album, “No Safety,” and to lyrics like “Ain’t no safety on this pistol I’m holding” as examples of a “direct correlation to what the gang has been doing.”

No one suggests the rapper ever actually pulled a trigger.

In fact, Duncan may rap about violence but he’s got no criminal record…

[continues at CNN]

The post Rapper Tiny Doo Facing Long Prison Sentence Over Lyrics appeared first on disinformation.

Banker Suicides Continue

Disinformation - 4 hours 27 min ago

ABN AMRO headquarters in Amsterdam.

Last year we ran stories about the unusually high number of suicides among bankers. The trend is continuing in 2015, reports ZeroHedge, with the death of a “cheerful” Dutch playboy financier making it four suicides at one bank alone, ABN Amro:

Following the deaths of 36 bankers last year, 2015 has got off to an inauspicious start with the reported suicide of Chris Van Eeghen – the 4th ABN Amro banker suicide in the last few years. As Quotenet reports, the death of Van Eghen  – the head of ABN’s corporate finance and capital markets -“startled” friends and colleagues as the 42-year-old “had a great reputation” at work, came from an “illustrious family,” and enjoyed national fame briefly as the boyfriend of a famous actress/model. As one colleague noted,

“he was always cheerful, good mood, and apparently he had everything your heart desired. He never sat in the pit, never was down, so I was extremely surprised. I can not understand.”

As Niburu details, friends and colleagues were startled by the news that Chris van Eeghen had committed suicide.

He worked in Amsterdam for ABN / AMRO in the position of “head of syndicate and corporate finance markets.”

Again, there is again a familiar pattern, namely that there is no indication that Van Eeghen had plans to take his life…

[continues at ZeroHedge]

The post Banker Suicides Continue appeared first on disinformation.

Tangerine Dream Founder Edgar Froese Dead at 70

Disinformation - 17 hours 40 min ago

Ralf Roletschek via Wikimedia Commons.

Daniel Kreps writes at Rolling Stone:

Edgar Froese, founding member and keyboardist of the long-running band Tangerine Dream and an electronic music pioneer, passed away after suffering a pulmonary embolism on January 20th. Froese was 70.

“This is a message to you we are very sorry for… On January 20th, Tuesday afternoon, Edgar Froese suddenly and unexpectedly passed away from the effects of a pulmonary embolism in Vienna,” the band posted on Facebook Friday afternoon. “The sadness in our hearts is immensely. Edgar once said: ‘There is no death, there is just a change of our cosmic address.’ Edgar, this is a little comfort to us.”

Formed in 1967 in West Berlin and born out of the same Krautrock scene that produced Kraftwerk, Cluster, Neu! and Can, Tangerine Dream’s 1970 debut LP Electronic Meditation, which featured fellow electronic music giant Klaus Schulz, shared many of the same musical qualities as their German peers.

However, by the early Seventies, Froese and his reformed Tangerine Dream soon journeyed toward more celestial, synthetic soundscapes as featured on albums like 1971’s Alpha Centauri and 1973’s Atem.

Continue reading.

The post Tangerine Dream Founder Edgar Froese Dead at 70 appeared first on disinformation.

Secret TPP Negotiations—And Public Protests—To Be Held in New York City

Disinformation - Sat, 01/24/2015 - 17:30

Expect vocal opponents to the New World Order to show up in New York this coming week to protest against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, warns EFF:

The next round of secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations begins this Monday, January 26, and runs through the following week at the Sheraton New York Time Square Hotel in downtown Manhattan. As with many previous TPP meetings, the public will be shut out of talks as negotiators convene behind closed doors to decide binding rules that could impact how our lawmakers set digital policy in the decades to come. Big content industry interests have been given privileged access to negotiating texts and have driven the US Trade Representative’s mandate when it comes to copyright—which is why the TPP carries extreme copyright measures that ignore users’ rights.

Protest against TPP in New Zealand. Photo: Neil Ballantyne (CC)

 

Some claim that this could be the final official round of TPP negotiations. The White House and Congressional lawmakers are now hard at work to pass a law to fast track this agreement and other secretive deals through Congress to ratification. Fast Track, also known as trade promotion authority (TPA) would transfer Congress’ power over trade policy to the President, by preventing them from debating or modifying the terms of trade deals after international negotiations are finalized. The countries negotiating TPP with the US are willing to give in and agree to bad copyright rules as long as they get the other gains they were promised—things like market access and lowered tariffs so they can sell their products to US consumers. But those other countries will not budge without a guarantee that the overwhelming public opposition to the agreement won’t prevent its adoption in the United States. Fast Track offers that guarantee; that’s one reason the White House is now desperate to pass it.

Several public interest groups are organizing a protest outside the luxury Sheraton Hotel this Monday, January 26 at noon. Many of those demonstrating will be there to oppose other provisions in the TPP, but we encourage people to be there to represent all the users around the world who will be impacted by this massive agreement’s draconian policies.

If you are not in the New York area, take action now by signing this petition to Sen. Ron Wyden, calling on him to stand up for digital rights and oppose any new Fast Track bill. You can also give him your message directly by phoning his office at (202) 224-5244.

If you have already signed the petition, contact your elected representatives and let them know that you want them to oppose Fast Track for TPP and any other secret deals that put users’ rights at risk.

[republished from EFF under Creative Commons Attribution License]

The post Secret TPP Negotiations—And Public Protests—To Be Held in New York City appeared first on disinformation.

Read The Very First Comic Book: The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck

Disinformation - Sat, 01/24/2015 - 16:30

 

Via Open Culture.com

Comic books, as any enthusiast of comics books won’t hesitate to tell you, have a long and robust history, one that extends far wider and deeper than the 20th-century caped musclemen, carousing teenagers, and wisecracking animals so many associate with the medium. The scholarship on comic-book history — still a relatively young field, you understand — has more than once revised its conclusions on exactly how far back its roots go, but as of now, the earliest acknowledged comic book dates to 1837.

The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, according to thecomicbooks.com’s page on early comic-book history, “was done by Switzerland’s Rudolphe Töpffer, who has been considered in Europe (and starting to become here in America) as the creator of the picture story. He created the comic strip in 1827,” going on to create comic books “that were extremely successful and reprinted in many different languages; several of them had English versions in America in 1846. The books remained in print in America until 1877.”

You can read The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck in its totality here.

Read the rest of Open Culture’s write-up here.

The post Read The Very First Comic Book: The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck appeared first on disinformation.

An Hereditary Meritocracy

Disinformation - Sat, 01/24/2015 - 12:30

Images Money (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Via The Economist:

The children of the rich and powerful are increasingly well suited to earning wealth and power themselves. That’s a problem.

“MY BIG fear,” says Paul Ryan, an influential Republican congressman from Wisconsin, is that America is losing sight of the notion that “the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life.” “Opportunity,” according to Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, “is slipping away.” Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida, thinks that “each element” of the sequence that leads to success “is eroding in our country.” “Of course you have to work hard, of course you have to take responsibility,” says Hillary Clinton, a former first lady, senator and secretary of state, “but we are making it so difficult for people who do those things to feel that they are going to achieve the American dream.” When discussing the chances of ordinary Americans rising to the top, politicians who agree about little else sound remarkably similar.

Before the word meritocracy was coined by Michael Young, a British sociologist and institutional entrepreneur, in the 1950s there was a different name for the notion that power, success and wealth should be distributed according to talent and diligence, rather than by accident of birth: American. For sure, America has always had rich and powerful families, from the floor of the Senate to the boardrooms of the steel industry. But it has also held more fervently than any other country the belief that all comers can penetrate that elite as long as they have talent, perseverance and gumption. At times when that has not been the case Americans have responded with authentic outrage, surmising that the people at the top are, as Nick Carraway said, “a rotten crowd”, with bootlegging Gatsby better than the whole damn bunch put together.

Today’s elite is a long way from the rotten lot of West Egg. Compared to those of days past it is by and large more talented, better schooled, harder working (and more fabulously remunerated) and more diligent in its parental duties. It is not a place where one easily gets by on birth or connections alone. At the same time it is widely seen as increasingly hard to get into.

Some self-perpetuation by elites is unavoidable; the children of America’s top dogs benefit from nepotism just as those in all other societies do. But something else is now afoot. More than ever before, America’s elite is producing children who not only get ahead, but deserve to do so: they meet the standards of meritocracy better than their peers, and are thus worthy of the status they inherit.

Continue reading.

The post An Hereditary Meritocracy appeared first on disinformation.

I Am Not Corn: Guantánamo Diary Reveals 14-Year-Long Vision of Hell

Disinformation - Sat, 01/24/2015 - 10:30

Abby Zimet writes at Common Dreams:

After a seven-year legal battle and 2,500 redactions by the same government that has beat, tortured, humiliated and held him incommunicado for twice that time, this week sees the release of the first book detailing harrowing life and near-death inside Guantánamo by one of its longest-held prisoners – Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a 44-year-old electrical engineer from Mauritania who studied in Germany and Canada and briefly joined (a U.S.-supported) Al Qaeda in 1992 before beginning his “endless world tour” of American black sites and torture chambers, from Jordan to Bagram to Guantánamo, because he fit a terrorist profile (distant cousin to known bad guy, prayed at wrong place at wrong time etc) that turned out to be “smoke but no fire.”

Slahi’s extraordinary account, born from 466 pages of manuscript handwritten from his single cell at Camp Echo, begins at his family home in Noakchott, Mauritania two months after 9/11, when he is summoned to answer questions at the country’s intelligence ministry; he remembers his mother watching his disappearance, and “the taste of helplessness.” What follows is months and then years of brutal abuse: interrogation, isolation, blindfolding, shackling, sleep deprivation, freezing temperatures, sexual humiliation, death threats, a mock execution and other tortures set out in a “special plan” approved personally by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, all within an absurdist context of fantastic conjecture worthy of Kafka, Beckett, Orwell, Vonnegut and Dostoevsky, all rolled into one well-funded, quintessentially American “intricate machine for generating self-reinforcing fiction.”

Continue reading.

The post I Am Not Corn: Guantánamo Diary Reveals 14-Year-Long Vision of Hell appeared first on disinformation.

Psychopath vs. Empath: the War Between Truth and Deception

Disinformation - Sat, 01/24/2015 - 08:30

Gary ‘Z’ McGee writes at Waking Times:

“The supreme mystery of despotism, its prop and stay, is to keep men in a state of deception, and cloak the fear by which they must be held in check, so that they will fight for their servitude as if for salvation.” –Baruch Spinoza

Are you fighting for your servitude as if for your salvation? Then you have been well-deceived. You have been sheeple-compromised. Your thoughts are not your own. Your actions are not your own. You are in all ways a conditioned puppet who is under the delusion that it is free, and the psychopaths of the world are your uncompromising puppet masters. The questions you need to be asking yourself are these: “Am I willing to do what it takes to become free? Am I ready for the uncomfortableness of undeceiving myself? Would I rather be slapped by the truth or kissed with a lie? Am I willing to sacrifice my comfortable lie for the uncomfortable truth? Am I strong enough to fall from the “grace” of my delusion onto the hard and unforgiving ground of truth? And most of all: do I have the courage to disobey?”

In order to answer these questions effectively, indeed in order to come up with better questions, we must be able to transform our would-be psychopathology into a courageous in-the-now empathology.

Cancer begins with a group of cells that fail to communicate with the conscious signal of the host. These cells become competitive instead of cooperative. When competition become primary and cooperation secondary, then we know we have failed as a species. Collectively, among every human, vanity leads to segregation and competition, competition leads to fear and greed, greed leads to deceit and immorality and deceit and immorality is the breeding ground for illness waging war on each other and our earth. Every act of hatred and self-destructiveness in our world begins with self-hate and self-destructiveness. And it all begins with a breakdown in communication.

We have lost the ability to communicate with each other as natural human beings. We have lost the ability to communicate with nature in a healthy way. These unconscious acts of unlearning are systemic and passed down from unhealthy generation to unhealthy generation. It’s time to break apart the parochial chain of our outdated value system. It’s time to unfuck ourselves out of this unhealthy and unsustainable debacle. Like R.D. Laing said, “We are effectively destroying ourselves by violence masquerading as love.”

Read the rest.

The post Psychopath vs. Empath: the War Between Truth and Deception appeared first on disinformation.

Welcome to Hollyweed: Why TV Is Going to Pot

Disinformation - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 22:30

Marijuana mania is sweeping the United States, from Wall Street to Hollywood, or “Hollyweed” as the Hollywood Reporter dubs it:

The television industry is catching up with film and learning that pot sells in Hollywood. As more states join the legal marijuana movement and the drug becomes less taboo in the country, entertainment industry insiders say interest in weed-related storylines is at an all-time high.

Showtime series “Shameless,” for instance, which follows Chicago’s dysfunctional Gallagher family and stars William H. Macyand Emmy Rossum, will embark on a major weed arc later this year. The network is also responsible for the mother of all television pot tales, “Weeds,” which starred Mary-Louise Parker as soccer-mom-turned-drug-dealer. The series blazed trails (and spliffs) from 2005 to 2012 and helped put Showtime on the original-programming map.

Showtime isn’t the only pot-obsessed programmer, though; CNBC is in Season 2 of its series “Marijuana in America,” and “60 Minutes” struck ratings gold with a recent pot segment that drew in a whopping 17 million viewers.

But, do audiences have the munchies for more of the chemically enhanced TV product?

“It’s sort of like the new Gold Rush,” Chris Linn, truTV’s president and head of programming, told TheWrap. “There is great curiosity around it right now.”…

[continues at Wall Street]

The post Welcome to Hollyweed: Why TV Is Going to Pot appeared first on disinformation.

Doomsday Clock: Three Minutes to Midnight and Counting

Disinformation - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 18:30

Alan Cleaver (CC BY 2.0)

From the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

Editor’s note: Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin‘s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 17 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other domains.

From: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board

To: Leaders and citizens of the world

Re: It is only three minutes to midnight

In 2015, unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth.

In 1984, as the United States began a major defense build-up that included the pursuit of a potentially destabilizing ballistic missile defense system, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union reached an icy nadir. “Every channel of communications has been constricted or shut down; every form of contact has been attenuated or cut off. And arms control negotiations have been reduced to a species of propaganda,” the Bulletin wrote then, in explaining why the hands of the Doomsday Clock had been moved to three minutes to midnight, the closest they had been to catastrophe since the early days of above-ground hydrogen bomb testing.

Today, more than 25 years after the end of the Cold War, the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board have looked closely at the world situation and found it highly threatening to humanity—so threatening that the hands of the Doomsday Clock must once again be set at three minutes to midnight, two minutes closer to catastrophe than in 2014.

Despite some modestly positive developments in the climate change arena in the past year, reflecting continued advancement of renewable energy technologies, current efforts are entirely insufficient to prevent a catastrophic warming of Earth. Absent a dramatic course correction, the countries of the world will have emitted enough carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by the end of this century to profoundly transform Earth’s climate, harming millions upon millions of people and threatening many key ecological systems on which civilization relies.

At the same time, efforts to reduce world nuclear arsenals have stalled. The disarmament process has ground to a halt, with the United States and Russia embarking on massive programs to modernize their nuclear triads—thereby undermining existing nuclear weapons treaties—and other nuclear weapons holders joining in this expensive and extremely dangerous modernization craze.

The science is clear: Insufficient action to slash worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases can produce global climatic catastrophe. Even a so-called “limited” nuclear weapons exchange will produce massive casualties and severe effects on the global environment. We implore the political leaders of the world to take coordinated, quick action to drastically reduce global emissions of heat-trapping gases, especially carbon dioxide, and shrink nuclear weapons arsenals.

We also implore the citizens of the world to demand action from their leaders. The threat looms over all of humanity. Humanity needs to respond now, while there is still time.

A climate catastrophe looms—but is not inevitable. According to US government environmental scientists, 2014 was the hottest year in 134 years of record keeping. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2000. This pattern is deeply disconcerting.

In November 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Synthesis Report encapsulating the key findings of its just-completed multivolume assessment of climate change. The IPCC reported that global warming is unequivocal and unprecedented and already responsible for widespread damage. It warned that warming—if unchecked by urgent and concerted global efforts to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions—would reach 3 to 8 degrees Celsius (about 5.5 to 14.5 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.

This may seem like a modest rise in the average global temperature. After all, people at a given location often experience much greater temperature swings in the course of a single day. But that is a local variation, not a change in the average temperature of the surface of the entire planet. A similarly “modest” global average warming of 3 to 8 degrees Celsius brought Earth out of the frigid depths of the last ice age, utterly transforming the surface of the planet and in the process making it hospitable to the development of human civilization. To risk a further warming of this same magnitude is to risk the possibility of an equally profound transformation of Earth’s surface—only this time the planet’s hospitality to humanity can by no means be taken for granted.

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke passionately of the threat at the recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations in Lima, Peru. After reciting the year’s litany of weather-related disasters—record-breaking droughts, floods, and storms, mere portents of what can yet be expected—Kerry lamented that the world is “on a course leading to tragedy.”

It is no comfort that Kerry was merely echoing warnings from the 1992 Earth Summit. In the more than two decades since then, human society has shown alarmingly little commitment to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. While efforts to transition to low-emission sources of energy have yielded some encouraging results, the net effect has been far too small, when compared with the scientific requirements for addressing the climate challenge. Emissions rose much more quickly in the 2000-2010 period than in any of the preceding decades, while investments have poured into fossil fuel infrastructure at a rate ofmore than $1 trillion per year, complemented by additional hundreds of billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies.

Expectations for earnest action from our leaders have fallen so far that some observers are relieved to see even nominal attention paid to climate change. A recent joint announcement on climate goals between the United States and China is a case in point. Under the agreement, the United States would cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2025; this proposal was lauded as a “historic step” and a “game changer.” Few observers pointed out that the United States was actually back-tracking on a target presented by President Obama five years ago in Copenhagen, when he offered a 30 percent cut by 2025. And the Chinese side of the agreement was remarkable for its vagueness, offering to “peak” its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, without saying what that peak would be.

The IPCC has made clear that a climate catastrophe is not inevitable. The world has technological and policy options available at entirely acceptable costs. Time is short, but it has not yet run out. Our leaders and our institutions of global cooperation and governance can yet rise to the challenge. But rise they must, and quickly.

As Secretary Kerry said in Lima, “whether we’re able to promptly and effectively address climate change is as big a test of global leadership, of the international order—such as we call it—it’s the biggest test of that that you’ll find.”

It’s a test that world leaders must face head on, immediately.

Nuclear modernization programs threaten to create a new arms race. Although the United States and Russia have reduced their arsenal sizes from Cold War heights, the pace of reduction has slowed dramatically in recent years. According to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, “in terms of warhead numbers, the Obama administration so far has cut the least warheads from the stockpile” of any post-Cold War administration.

Meanwhile, as they slow the pace of disarmament, the nuclear weapon states have given other strong indications that they are committed to retaining nuclear weapons for the indefinite future. The most worrying evidence of this commitment: huge and expensive programs of nuclear arsenal modernization that all nuclear weapon states are pursuing. These massive modernization efforts undermine the nuclear weapons states’ promise to disarm, a central tenet of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and they therefore also threaten the global nonproliferation regime.

Despite a policy of reducing reliance on nuclear weapons, the United States is engaged in a massive overhaul of its nuclear weapons systems and infrastructure. While the Bulletin supports efforts to keep existing weapons safe and secure, “modernizing” American nuclear weapons systems would fundamentally alter each leg of the US nuclear weapons triad at astronomical cost: some $355 billion over the next decade and $1 trillion or more over 30 years. Russia is also upgrading its triad, and recent Russian statements on nuclear weapons have emphasized the importance of nuclear missions, rather than de-emphasizing them. This is especially true for non-strategic nuclear weapons, which are currently not limited by any arms control agreements.

Other nuclear weapon states are also engaged in extremely costly nuclear modernization programs. The United Kingdom has decided to continue supporting its Trident nuclear missile submarine, and France is building its own next-generation delivery vehicle, an air-to-ground, nuclear-tipped missile. China is developing a new class of ballistic missile submarine with a new ballistic missile.

Meanwhile, countries outside of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are also modernizing their nuclear arsenals. India plans to expand its nuclear submarine fleet, with the first submarine undergoing sea trials and the second one in the early stages of construction. It also tested what has been described as a nuclear-capable cruise missile. For its part, Pakistan appears to have commenced operations at its third plutonium production reactor. Perhaps more dangerously, it has developed a new, short-range, nuclear-capable missile called NASR, which has destabilized the already perilous nuclear situation in South Asia. Israel is also reportedly modernizing some of its undeclared nuclear forces, and North Korea continues its nuclear program without any of the restraints previously applied under the NPT.

As the world’s nuclear nations engage in sweeping nuclear weapons modernization efforts, the gears in the machinery of nuclear disarmament seem to be grinding to a slow halt.

Continue reading.

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Pesticides just got a whole lot smaller. Is that a good thing?

Disinformation - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 17:30

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Liz Core writes at Grist:

Nanoparticles are basically the X-Men of the molecular world, in that they are unpredictable, elusive, and come in a dizzying array of forms.

So it should come as no surprise that scientists are now researching a new type of nanotechnology that could revolutionize modern farming: nanopesticides. (Cue: Ooo, ahh) Recentstudies have suggested that the nano-scale pesticide droplets could offer a range of benefits including raising crop durability and persistence, while decreasing the amount of pesticide needed to cover the same amount of ground. But they’re also looking at the hefty potential for trouble: No one knows if the nanopesticide particles will seep into water systems, and, if they do, if they will harm non-pests like bees, fish, and even humans.

As we’ve written before, nanotechnology involves engineering particles that are tinier than the tiniest tiny. (More technically, we’re talking anything measured in billionths of a meter.) Scientists find this useful, since most substances behave much differently at that scale. Already, nanotechnology has changed the medical world, with nanoparticles used to purify water, protect against UV rays, and detect contamination.

The same could be true in farming. By shrinking the size of pesticide droplets down to nano-scale, scientists could help decrease overall pesticide use in U.S. agriculture. Which is a big thing — although we’ve come down a bit from the pesticide heyday of the 1980s, we still poured out 516 million pounds of pesticides in 2008 alone. Yipes.

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A Circus of the Senses: Are we all born with Synaesthesia?

Disinformation - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 16:30

Derek Lee (CC BY 2.0)

Shruti Ravindran writes at Aeon:

Vladimir Nabokov once called his famed fictional creation Lolita ‘a little ghost in natural colours’. The natural colours he used to paint his ‘little ghost’ were especially vivid in part because of a neurological quirk that generated internal flashes of colour whenever letters of the alphabet appeared within his mind. In his memoir Speak Memory (1951), he described a few of them:b has the tone called burnt sienna by painters, m is a fold of pink flannel, and today I have at last perfectly matched v with “Rose Quartz” in Maerz and Paul’s Dictionary of Color’. The condition he had was synaesthesia, a neurological oddity that mixes up the senses, making those who possess it see as well as hear music, or taste the shapes they set their eyes upon.

Synaesthetes such as Nabokov see letters and numbers wreathed in fixed, seemingly idiosyncratic colours. Grapheme-colour synaesthesia, the term for this variety, is the most common sub-type of synaesthesia, occurring among four people in 100. It’s also the most widely studied. Other common varieties are chromaesthesia, in which tones or notes set off flashes of colour and a symphonic wall of sound can summon a three-dimensional landscape, and spatial-sequence synaesthesia, in which seconds, weekdays, months or years encircle those who experience it, like planetary rings. Some have lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, which lends every word or name a strong, specific taste, making some delicious, and others too bitter to utter. Still other synaesthetes report ordinal-linguistic personification, in which they ascribe distinct genders, colours or personality types to letters and numbers: ‘4’ might be an ill-tempered, ungenerous man, constantly heckling his wife, while ‘6’ turns out to be a dignified, genteel woman with exquisite manners.

Nothing could be more intensely subjective or taken-for-granted than the ineffable way that each of us perceives the world. This is why many synaesthetes go through a lifetime without realising that their everyday sense experience is exceptional or strange. Those who do, report a moment of startled self-awareness when friends respond with an uncomprehending: ‘What do you mean, my name tastes of split-pea soup?’ Such eureka moments have grown increasingly common since the 1980s, when cognitive tests were first developed to judge the authenticity of the reports through to the mid-1990s, when brain scans and brain-wave measurements began tracking the physiology of synaesthesia’s various forms. Writing in The Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia in 2013, Richard Cytowic, a neurologist and synaesthesia researcher at George Washington University, describes the ‘astonishment and enthusiasm’ reported by synaesthetes after tests validated that they weren’t ‘making it all up’.

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Animals Just Want To Get High

Disinformation - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 15:30

Yellow mongoose by Julielangford (CC)

In an excerpt from his new book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs at BoingBoing, Johan Hari explains why animals eat psychoactive plants (hint: to get high):

The United Nations says the drug war’s rationale is to build “a drug-free world — we can do it!” U.S. government officials agree, stressing that “there is no such thing as recreational drug use.” So this isn’t a war to stop addiction, like that in my family, or teenage drug use. It is a war to stop drug use among all humans, everywhere. All these prohibited chemicals need to be rounded up and removed from the earth. That is what we are fighting for.

I began to see this goal differently after I learned the story of the drunk elephants, the stoned water buffalo, and the grieving mongoose. They were all taught to me by a remarkable scientist in Los Angeles named Professor Ronald K. Siegel.

***
The tropical storm in Hawaii had reduced the mongoose’s home to a mess of mud, and lying there, amid the dirt and the water, was the mongoose’s mate — dead. Professor Siegel, a silver-haired official adviser to two U.S. presidents and to the World Health Organization, was watching this scene. The mongoose found the corpse, and it made a decision: it wanted to get out of its mind.

Two months before, the professor had planted a powerful hallucinogen called silver morning glory in the pen. The mongooses had all tried it, but they didn’t seem to like it: they stumbled around disoriented for a few hours and had stayed away from it ever since. But not now. Stricken with grief, the mongoose began to chew. Before long, it had tuned in and dropped out.

It turns out this wasn’t a freak occurrence in the animal kingdom. It is routine. As a young scientific researcher, Siegel had been confidently toldby his supervisor that humans were the only species that seek out drugs to use for their own pleasure. But Siegel had seen cats lunging at catnip — which, he knew, contains chemicals that mimic the pheromones in a male tomcat’s pee —so, he wondered, could his supervisor really be right? Given the number of species in the world, aren’t there others who want to get high, or stoned, or drunk?…

[continues at at BoingBoing]

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The Davos oligarchs are right to fear the world they’ve made

Disinformation - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 14:30

Seumas Milne writes at The Guardian:

The billionaires and corporate oligarchs meeting in Davos this week are getting worried about inequality. It might be hard to stomach that the overlords of a system that has delivered the widest global economic gulf in human history should be handwringing about the consequences of their own actions.

But even the architects of the crisis-ridden international economic order are starting to see the dangers. It’s not just the maverick hedge-funder George Soros, who likes to describe himself as a class traitor. Paul Polman, Unilever chief executive, frets about the “capitalist threat to capitalism”. Christine Lagarde, the IMF managing director, fears capitalism might indeed carry Marx’s “seeds of its own destruction” and warns that something needs to be done.

The scale of the crisis has been laid out for them by the charity Oxfam. Just 80 individuals now have the same net wealth as 3.5 billion people – half the entire global population. Last year, the best-off 1% owned 48% of the world’s wealth, up from 44% five years ago. On current trends, the richest 1% will have pocketed more than the other 99% put together next year. The 0.1% have been doing even better, quadrupling their share of US income since the 1980s.

This is a wealth grab on a grotesque scale. For 30 years, under the rule of what Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, calls “market fundamentalism”, inequality in income and wealth has ballooned, both between and within the large majority of countries. In Africa, the absolute number living on less than $2 a day has doubled since 1981 as the rollcall of billionaires has swelled.

In most of the world, labour’s share of national income has fallen continuously and wages have stagnated under this regime of privatisation, deregulation and low taxes on the rich. At the same time finance has sucked wealth from the public realm into the hands of a small minority, even as it has laid waste the rest of the economy. Now the evidence has piled up that not only is such appropriation of wealth a moral and social outrage, but it is fuelling social and climate conflict, wars, mass migration and political corruption, stunting health and life chances, increasing poverty, and widening gender and ethnic divides.

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“Mobilize” Q&A Video + Free Screenings in VA and VT

Disinformation - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 14:00

Disinformation’s Mobilize will be screening for free in Arlington, Virginia and Norwich, Vermont on January 30th. Special thanks to all of the non-profit sponsors who put together these events. More details and information about screenings can be found on the official Mobilize website.

Back in December, the San Francisco Public Library hosted a free screening of Mobilize. Above is a video of the Q&A with the filmmakers including: director Kevin Kunze, CABTA’s Ellie Marks, UC Berkeley’s Joel Moskowitz, and EHT’s Lloyd Morgan.

If you can’t make it to the Vermont or Virginia screenings, Mobilize is available as a download, stream (below video), or as a DVD. Visit the product page for more information.

Mobilize from TDC Entertainment on Vimeo.

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‘Brain Drinks’ Might Make You Less Smart

Disinformation - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 13:30

Cognitive neuroscientist Christian Jarrett debunks the ambitious claims of Neuro “brain drinks” at Wired:

Like pretty much everyone else, drink companies are jumping on the neuroscience bandwagon. These widely available “brain branded” beverages make promises that should raise any skeptic’s eyebrows. Today I want to focus on NeuroSonic, which its manufacturers claim is carefully designed to “deliver sustained focus and revitalized energy”.

The curvy, colorful bottle depicts a human head with a sciencey waveform running through it, the strapline “mental performance in every bottle”, and on the back, the promise that you will “stay energized, focused, alert … with modern science’s greatest blend of natural mental performance enhancers. Get smart, DRINK NEURO.”

Founded by Bosnian émigré Sanela Diana Jenkins, NeuroSonic is just one of a portfolio of brain drinks offered by her company Neuro, with others promising to boost sleep, relaxation and other states of mind.

NeuroSonic’s “proprietary blend” includes caffeine and l-theanine (an amino acid found in green tea). The good news, for NeuroSonic drinkers at least, is that several studies suggest that a combination of caffeine and l-theanine can have beneficial mental effects, such as improving the ability to switch between tasks, speeding up anticipatory shifts of attention, and increasing feelings of alertness.

However, these studies are of variable quality (for example, not all of them feature a placebo control condition), and perhaps most importantly, they don’t tell us about the effects of NeuroSonic’s specific mix and quantities of ingredients…

[continues at Wired]

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Argentina’s Nisman Scandal and the Dark Side of Progress

Disinformation - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 12:30

presidencia.gov.ar (CC BY 2.0)

Politics in Latin America is always a messy affair. And in the latest scandal to rock the region, the mess in question was a pool of blood left by Alberto Nisman, an Argentinian federal prosecutor found dead last Sunday in his Buenos Aires apartment. The day after his death, Nisman was scheduled to present key evidence in a case against the government of Argentina, led by president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

This was certainly a big deal within the country. Piggybacking off the protest slogan coined for the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, protestors immediately took to the streets with “Yo soy Nisman” signs (which translates to “I am Nisman” – something tells me every high profile killing this year will now result in “I am [victim]” sloganeering). But though this story may seem easy to write off for audiences in the US and Europe as more needless violence by those backward folks in the “global south”, it really is a cautionary tale for any government who takes progressive ideas seriously – proof that sometimes, progress comes with a high price tag.

As with pretty much all of Argentinian politics, there are a lot of twists and turns to this story. But the specifics of the killing are pretty accurately summed up by the New York Times’s coverage:

From the moment 10 years ago when he was assigned to investigate the 1994 suicide bombing of a Jewish center here that left 85 people dead, Mr. Nisman, an even-keeled lawyer, became entangled in a labyrinthine plot that he traced to Iran and its militant Lebanese ally, Hezbollah.

But it was only in the past week that Mr. Nisman, 51, leveled explosive accusations that top Argentine officials, including President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, had conspired with Iran to cover up responsibility for the bombing as part of a deal that would supply Iranian oil to Argentina. Now, the mystery has deepened with the discovery of Mr. Nisman’s body on Sunday — the day before he was to testify before lawmakers about those accusations.

The timing of his death, and the outrage and skepticism it provoked in Argentina and elsewhere, raised a torrent of new questions about an unresolved case that many here call a national disgrace…

Officials in Mrs. Kirchner’s government were quick to assert that Mr. Nisman appeared to have killed himself. The security minister, Sergio Berni, said evidence at the scene, including a .22-caliber pistol and spent cartridge found near Mr. Nisman’s body, indicated suicide. Autopsy results announced later said he had died of a bullet wound to the head.

The bullet was almost definitely fired from the Bersa pistol that lay next to his body, according to an unidentified police official quoted by Télam, the state news agency. The government’s national firearms registry also said that Mr. Nisman had two guns registered in his name. It was unclear whether the Bersa was one of them.

Another line of investigation, Télam reported, was that the gun used may have been lent by a friend to Mr. Nisman.

This coverage would appear accurate on a purely factual level. But without the context of the country’s history and a working knowledge the funhouse mirror logic of Argentinian politics, none of this really means anything.

Recapping 70 years of a country’s history in the span of an article is difficult, but necessary, so I’ll give it my best shot. As with pretty much anything in Argentina, this is a story that begins with Perón, who held sway in the country from the mid 40s up to his death in 1974 – and to a certain extent, even today. Perón essentially established a political climate that was a dizzying combination of fierce left-wing economics combined with more right-leaning militarism and nationalism.

The paradigm shift away from this modus operandi came in 1976, when the military dictatorship seized power and, in addition to massacring thousands of political dissidents, jerked the country’s economics toward the far right. Though democracy returned in 1983, the country’s economy followed this neoliberal tack until (surprise!) it blew up in everyone’s faces in the 2001 crash. This paved the way for the governments of Néstor Kirchner, who took over in 2003 after no less than five presidents tried to continue the status quo in the wake of the crash, and later for his wife and the current president, Cristina Kirchner.

To outside observers reading about the Nisman killing, the tone-deaf reaction of the Kirchner government (recalling Shakespeare’s quote about “protesting too much”) would seem to paint it as a thuggish, mafia-boss style operation – in which a noble truth-seeking prosecutor falls victim to a government that issues hits on its political opponents with the cold calculation of Michael Corleone. And at this point, even though the government has released Nisman’s evidence in an effort to show it has nothing to hide, it seems that impression has become shockingly accurate. But there are shades of gray to the story, which are entirely stripped away for readers who look at a brief New York Times article and nothing more.

First, we have to take a long hard look at Kirchner’s legacy. Aside from this nasty affair, there are plenty of downsides to her leadership. She’s accused of funneling money to her big business supporters, including construction magnate Lázaro Báez and Cristóbal Lopez. Her government has also let inflation spiral out of control, undergoing a painful devaluation early last year. Though, thankfully, the government has been able to keep it under control in the previous months – relatively speaking.

But in other areas, she can rightly lay claim to the progressive moniker she has anointed herself with. The middle class really has expanded under her watch (this is according to none other than the World Bank, an organization notoriously hostile to Latin America), thanks to her subsidy to poor families known as the “universal child allowance” that grants them money on the condition that their children receive an education, as well as other programs. She has also championed gay rights, as well as taking the politically risky step of going after the former dictators for crimes against humanity.

And though the Times article puts out a lot of quotes from high level opposition politicians, those quotes need to be given a heavy dose of context to really be meaningful too. From the article:

“Everything is far more sordid than it appears,’ said Elisa Carrió, an outspoken congresswoman. ‘They killed him [Nisman] or they induced his death.”

On Twitter, Rabbi Sergio Bergman, a congressman, called Mr. Nisman “victim 86 of the AMIA attack,” using the Argentine acronym for the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association, the destroyed Jewish community center…

Pointing to delays that have long shrouded the investigation, and to the endemic pressuring of judges and prosecutors here, the political opposition demanded a transparent and speedy inquiry into his death.

“We’re used to things in Argentina remaining in the dark,” said Gabriela Michetti, an opposition politician.

Tragically, this may be true. But the article fails to mention that these three people may have more to gain from spreading the idea that “things in Argentina remain in the dark” than almost any other politician in the country. Eliza “Lilita” Carrió is known for her center-right political outlook, her temper (after receiving a biting insult during a televised debate last year, she stormed out and later justified her tantrum saying she was just leaving to eat a pizza), and repeated rumors that she will form an alliance with Mauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires and the leading figure of right-wing politics in Argentina. Bergman and Michetti are prominent members of Macri’s PRO party.

Macri seems intent on slowly but surely bending Argentina’s politics back toward the right, and the idea that “Argentina remains in the dark” is the crux of his rhetorical strategy to do so. As he and his ideological cohorts would have the general public in Argentina believe, the efforts to improve life for the country’s underprivileged over the past decade have been an utter failure. They have “left the country in the dark.” And the only way to step into the light, as it were, would be to tack toward the bootstrap ideology that pervades right-wing thinking in places like the US: if someone is poor, it’s because that person is lazy, and no effort should be made to address poverty as a structural issue.

Though these politicians express outrage, somewhere inside they must be overjoyed. This may be just the push they need to swing Argentina back to the right, not with coups and violence that will eventually be used against them, but by tying progressive ideas to the deplorable but ideologically unrelated misdeeds of their practitioners. 2015 is an election year in Argentina, and this may be the event that clinches the presidency for Macri.

None of this is to diminish the role of the Kirchner government in this affair. If we are to assume that the government has no qualms about ordering a strategic hit on its enemies – which, let’s face it, is a pretty safe assumption – it should be noted that it’s a bit odd that they would do it for this particular legal case. There were other high profile cases where doing so would have been even more effective (such as their antitrust lawsuit against Argentina’s media titan Clarín or the infamous “vulture fund” case against them by high profile Wall Street financiers). Nonetheless, even though the killing may not be decisively laid at the government’s feet, the whole situation seems too suspicious, and their dismissals by the government too reflexive, for their position to be credible. And killing political opponents, especially by a government that claims to be for human rights, casts serious doubts on that government’s legitimacy.

But, as I said earlier, this is an issue that goes beyond Argentina, and strikes at a dilemma faced by any progressive government in any country, rich or poor: is the killing (or “suicide”, if you prefer) of Nisman, or other such atrocities, the price that must be paid for progress?

This is an issue that anyone hoping for an institutional solution to entrenched poverty has to take very seriously. The disadvantaged populations of countries around the world will never have any hope for a better life without widespread, concerted efforts by governments. But all governments, left or right, zealously hoard their power, and are all too willing to use it against their critics. The results are messy. Just look what happened to Nisman.

It’s an issue that may be the Achilles heel of the left, a political ideology intent on a robust, centralized effort to ensure the greater good, whose robustness and centralization ultimately nullifies any good it might create when taken to extreme levels. And to the right, this is a godsend. Around the world, right-leaning politicians have become all too adept at framing the inherent lust for power present in all politicians as a smear specifically against progressivism.

What can be done? Neither the iron-fisted governance style of the Kirchner government, nor the free-marketeering of figures like Macri is the answer. The only hope is for average citizens to become more active in government, while not falling prey to figurehead politics and knee-jerk support or opposition of issues out of personal loyalty to certain candidates.

And this applies everywhere. Last Tuesday, two days after the Nisman scandal but on a different continent, President Obama said in his State of the Union address that “middle class economics works.” He’s right, of course (though in practice it’s not so clear how dedicated Obama is to this goal). But middle class economics has its ugly side, on display all too prominently in the Nisman shooting. And it’s going to take a lot of public vigilance to make sure that the governments of the world serve the needs of their people without becoming a menace to anyone who questions them.

Drew Reed writes about cities, Latin American issues, politics, and other fun stuff (in that order). Follow him on Twitter: @the_drewreed

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