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Google and Facebook: You are Evil: An Algorithmic plan to Silence People

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Algorithmic Censorship: Google and Corporate News Giants Forge New Alliance to Defeat Independent Journalism

Elliott Gabriel – MintPress News

The “new media” monopolists of Silicon Valley and the once-dominant traditional print media have clearly agreed that the “fake news” frenzy is a convenient pretext to step up their censorship of the internet through new algorithms, allowing them to boost their profit margins and silence opposition through a new framework of “algorithmic censorship.”

“The nature of bad news is that is affects the teller.”  –William Shakespeare

23 Mar 2018 – Search engine and advertising monolith Google continued to press its offensive against alternative media this week with an announcement unveiling a new $300 million project called the Google News Initiative.

The initiative encompasses a range of new projects announced by the tech giant, which has long been accused of enjoying a monopoly position and of siphoning off digital advertising revenue from traditional news publishers.

Google sees it differently, however, and asserted in a press statement announcing the initiative that it “paid $12.6 billion to partners” while driving “10 billion clicks a month to publishers’ websites for free.” The company is now promising to continue working “with publishers to elevate accurate, quality content and stem the flow of misinformation and disinformation.”

The move will likely drive the stake further into the heart of independent media while merging Silicon Valley with mainstream publishers traded on Wall Street and aligned with the agendas of beltway politicians in Washington.

The Washington Post’s Don Graham, Billionaire Warren Buffett and Google’s Eric Schmidt chat at the annual Allen and Co.’s conference, July 7, 2005. (AP/Douglas C. Pizac)

Marginalizing Dissident Voices En Masse

According to Google:

The commitments we’re making through the Google News Initiative demonstrate that news and quality journalism is [sic] a top priority for Google. We know that success can only be achieved by working together, and we look forward to collaborating with the news industry to build a stronger future for journalism.”

Launched in a partnership with a range of traditional corporate media giants – including The Washington PostThe New York TimesFinancial Times, and U.S. newspaper giant Gannett – the project promises to combat so-called “fake news” and misinformation. Many reasonably fear, based on recent trends, that this will mean the further marginalization of non-hegemonic left-wing and conservative media — as well as a sort of “death by algorithm” for already-struggling publishers who once flourished, prior to the hysteria over alleged “Russian interference” and propaganda in the 2016 elections.

Anders Nienstaedt for MintPress News.

The initiative will include a new lab to analyze and parse out what is deemed “mis- and disinformation during elections and breaking news moments;” a fact-checking partnership with Stanford University and corporate media non-profit groups like the Local Media Associationand the Poynter Institute; and a new service meant to expedite reader subscriptions to pay-gated news websites, among other new projects.

In the past decade, companies that enjoyed a monopoly in the U.S. media market — such as Gannett, Hearst, and The Times — saw their readership base, as well as the advertising revenue on which they depend, largely evaporate in the face of the rise in online news outlets. Such new competition included state-funded broadcasters like Al-JazeeraPressTV and RT, as well as dissident voices at smaller news sites offering original journalism, like MintPress NewsTruthoutMonthly Review, the World Socialist Website, and a range of alternative and volunteer-based journalism outfits across the globe.

Last April, Google clamped down on alternative media with new structural changes to its algorithms — accompanying the change with an announcement tarring alternative media with the broad black brush of “misleading information, unexpected offensive results, hoaxes and unsupported conspiracy theories” as opposed to what it called “authoritative content.”

As a result, organic search-engine traffic to these sites uniformly plummeted to less than half of what it had previously been, devastating many publishers.

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Inc., stands in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Jan. 12, 2017.
(AP/Evan Vucci)

Staving Off Regulation

Google parent company, Alphabet Inc., has seen its stock dive this week amid a broader selloff of tech stocks resulting from the Cambridge Analytica controversy embroiling Facebook.

While former Google and Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt once argued that “policymakers should work with the grain of the internet rather than against it [and] allow innovation to flourish,” tech platforms have faced mounting pressure from governments across the globe, which are constant threats to step in and regulate the lawlessness that once reigned across the world wide web.

Indeed, companies from the same corporate-media roster with which Google is now partnering have been leading the charge calling for regulation, arguing that the tech giant failed to protect users from alleged abuse in the form of false information spread by Russian operatives.

By last November, Schmidt was already caving in to pressure on the company resulting from the hue and cry over “Kremlin meddling” in the U.S. electoral process.

Arguing that he was opposed to censorship, the Google leader nonetheless announced that the company would begin to purposefully reduce the presence of “misinformation” sites, like Russian government-owned Sputnik and RT, on Google News by “deranking” the sites in news search results and “trying to engineer the systems” to prevent the classification of “propaganda” as legitimate news.

Facebook, which is witnessing a PR meltdown after the revelation that it allowed the data of 50 million users to be misused by right-wing political operatives, is also undertaking measures to prioritize content from mainstream outlets like The Times while using the fact-checking services of corporate nonprofits and wire agencies like Associated Press.

An Algorithmic Gag to Silence the People

As the share prices of corporate media outlets and Silicon Valley alike begin to tumble and the rise of anti-systemic social movements, anti-capitalist perspectives and opposition voices continues unabated, it’s become a matter of consensus for politicians, billionaire tech geeks and media moguls alike that the internet must be policed in a stricter manner.

The “new media” monopolists of Silicon Valley and the once-dominant traditional print media have clearly agreed that the “fake news” frenzy is a convenient pretext to step up their censorship of the internet through new algorithms, allowing them to boost their profit margins and silence opposition through a new framework of “algorithmic censorship.”

This new model overwhelmingly favors those who see information and journalism as an article of commerce alone. It poses a stark threat not only to internet users’ ability to access information, but to the ability of citizens and social movements that hope to interact with, participate in, and wield influence over the political and economic activities that determine our lives and the fate of communities across the world.

__________________________________________

Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.

Source: Mint Press news

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Energy and Transportation

New report details Big Polluters’ next Big Con

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Image: Vincent Go / Greenpeace

Amsterdam, 9 June 2021

In the midst of virtual discussions of the UN climate treaty, a new report shines a light on how polluting industries are pushing a “net zero” agenda to become  the presumed centrepiece of global climate plans and how the details in these plans (should any be included) delay action and don’t add up.

—The report is embedded at the bottom of this story.—

The report, entitled, “The Big Con: How Big Polluters are advancing a “net zero” climate agenda to delay, deceive, and deny,” comes following a year packed with record announcements of “net zero” pledges from corporations and governments, and builds on a growing body of research that calls the integrity of “net zero” as a political goal into serious question. As more and more “net zero” plans have been rolled out, the scientific, academic and activist communities have all raised grave concerns about the inability of these plans to achieve the commitments of the Paris Agreement and keep global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The report, written by Corporate Accountability, The Global Forest Coalition and Friends of the Earth International, was endorsed by over sixty environmental organisations including ActionAid International, OilWatch, Third World Network, and the Institute for Policy Studies.

“The Big Con” joins a series of recent reports in uncovering the dubious arithmetic, vague targets and often unachievable technological aspirations of these “net zero” plans, analysing plans from a number of key polluting industries including the fossil fuel and energy, aviation, technology, retail, finance, and agriculture industries. It also includes an in-depth look at some of the strategies these industries have deployed to ensure their “net zero” agenda becomes the primary dogma of the global response to the climate crisis.

Some of the key findings highlighted in the report include:

The Plans:

  • By 2030, Shell alone plans to purchase more offsets to compensate for its emissions every year than were available in the entire global voluntary carbon offset market capacity in 2019.
  • United Airlines is counting on using a geoengineering technology that is not developed at any viable commercial scale to suck carbon out of the air and pump it into the ground (a process that is intended to extract even more oil in hard-to-reach places). If the same geoengineering plants were to be built to offset the world’s emissions in 2019, this would require 4 million acres of land—approximately the size of the country of Belize.
  • Walmart’s climate plan entirely neglects its value chain emissions, which account for an estimated 95 percent of the corporation’s carbon footprint.
  • Eni is planning on increasing its oil and gas production over the coming years, a feat that the corporation proposes to offset through reforestation schemes that have been described as fake forests.
  • BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, has pledged to reach “net zero” emissions in its portfolio by 2050. But despite pledging in 2020 to sell off most of its fossil fuel shares “in the near future”, it still owns US$85 billion in coal assets due to a loophole in its policy.
  • JBS’ commitment to eliminate deforestation in its supply chain by 2035 in effect means it will continue contributing to deforestation for the next 14 years (until 2035), instead of immediately ending the deforestation associated with its supply chain—arguably one of the most effective and quickest ways for JBS to decrease its emissions.

The Tactics:

  • Big Polluters, including the aviation and fossil fuel industries lobbied massively to help ensure the passage of a tax credit in the US, called 45Q, that subsidises carbon capture and storage. Those same corporations are likely to have raked in millions from the credit, despite not having the right systems in place to qualify.
  • The International Emissions Trading Association, perhaps the largest global lobbyist on market and offsets (both pillars of polluters’ “net zero” climate plans”) has leveraged its outsized presence at international climate talks to advance its agenda over others.
  • Corporations have made massive financial contributions to renowned academic institutions including the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, Princeton University, Stanford University and Imperial College London to shape and influence the type of “net zero” related research these institutions pursue.
  • In one example, Exxon Mobil retained the right to formally review research before it is completed and in some cases to plant its own staff on project development teams at Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project.

The report was released in a press briefing during the virtual discussions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). UN Secretary General and the COP presidency, who are organisers of the next milestone in the UNFCCC process COP26, have already made “net zero” a primary focus despite a number of recent controversies including the recent backlash against Mark Carney’s initiative.

Quotes from authors:

Sara Shaw, Friends of the Earth International, Climate Justice & Energy program co-coordinator:

“This report shows that ‘net zero’ plans from big polluters are nothing more than a big con. The reality is that corporations like Shell have no interest in genuinely acting to solve the climate crisis by reducing their emissions from fossil fuels. They instead plan to continue business as usual while greenwashing their image with tree planting and offsetting schemes that can never ever make up for digging up and burning fossil fuels. We must wake up fast to the fact that we are falling for a trick. Net zero risks obscuring a lack of action until it is too late.”

Rachel Rose Jackson, Director of Climate Policy and Research, Corporate Accountability:

“After The Big Con, it’s hard not to see the recent fervour over ‘net zero’ as anything but a scheme propped up by Big Polluters that’s way too little, way too late,” said Rachel Rose Jackson of Corporate Accountability, “These players stacked the deck to make sure the world would hinge its hopes on plans that are nothing more than greenwashing. If we don’t course correct now, the world will be on the fast track to climate destruction incompatible with life as we know it.”

Coraina De la Plaza, Climate Campaigner, Global Forest Coalition:

We are deeply concerned about the corporate capture of climate policies and finance, and the growing nexus between governments and corporations to promote false solutions through Net Zero and ambiguous concepts like NBS. Instead of deep emissions cuts, they continue to pursue ‘green’ neocolonial offsetting schemes to reap more profits and pollute through forest offsets, afforestation, reforestation, tree plantations, and dangerous techno-fixes. This Net Zero circus has to stop: the planet and people need real and ambitious targets and commitments, real emissions cuts, and real zero targets.”

Quotes from endorsing organisations:

Meena Raman, Third World Network:

“As big polluters hide behind false claims of supporting climate action, they are planning to do more damage by pushing carbon offset projects in developing countries, leading to more forest and land grabs. Such efforts promote climate injustice and will impact the poor communities and indigenous peoples in the Global South. This has to stop.”

Pascoe Sabido, Researcher and Campaigner, Corporate Europe Observatory:

“Europe’s biggest fossil fuel companies are using their flimsy ‘net-zero’ plans to curry favour with our decision makers. But in exchange for their hollow commitments, Shell, BP and others have successfully lobbied for financial and regulatory support for techno-fixes like carbon capture and storage or fossil-hydrogen, which will allow them to dig up and sell yet more oil and gas. An utter climate catastrophe. Net zero is nothing more than a massive con, letting the EU and its polluting corporations to talk the talk while walking in the opposite direction.”

Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa:

“The Big Con” is not only timely, it also reinforces what we have been saying for years. The fossil fuel industry is not about to repent. Net Zero is a scam intended to keep us in a state of suspended animation while for the industry, it is business as usual.”

Lidy Nacpil, Coordinator of the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development:

“Proclamations of Net Zero targets are dangerous deceptions. Net Zero sounds ambitious and visionary but it actually allows big polluters and rich governments to continue emitting GHGs which they claim will be erased through unproven and dangerous technologies, carbon trading, and offsets that shift the burden of climate action to the Global South. Big polluters and rich governments should not only reduce emissions to Real Zero, they must pay reparations for the huge climate debt owed to the Global South.”

Trusha Reddy, Programme Head: Women Building Power for Energy & Climate Justice, WoMin African Alliance:

“Net Zero is just the latest attempt by corporates and colluding governments in the Global North to undermine real action on the climate crisis. It follows (and includes) decades of different variations of big cons from outright denial to carbon markets and a slew of other false solutions pushed out by public relations machines and strong arming of the big economies. What cannot be avoided, and is becoming a permanent reality are the cyclones, wildfires and a multitude of other climate related disasters impacting regions like Africa with the fiercest intensity. As our world gets pummelled by these forces, impacted women and others in the Global South are starting to make the connections, pierce the veil, demand climate justice, and rise up to claim real zero solutions.”

Source: Friends of the Earth International

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Arts

Chautauquas and Lyceums and TED Talks, oh my!

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Our future is in OUR Hands

We are aiming with Mobilized to create a vibrant forum for ideas.  “Big deal”, you might say, there are already places for that.

Well, you’re not wrong.  There was, in the earliest days of the web, a loose and wild forum called The Well.  The great and powerful Google had as it’s mission the goal of “bringing all the knowledge of the world to every person”… before it pivoted to a new goal of just making money off of what it knows about us.  That change was a real pity.  There have been sites such as Wiser Earth, which aimed to be a global directory of people and non-profit organizations so that collaboration could happen on a larger scale than ever before.  It lasted about two years, sadly; not long enough to create a legacy.  Huffington Post had a good run in its’ early days, sharing ideas widely and helping to boost its’ contributors in the public’s mind.

What’s important to know, is that as of this writing, there is not really a widely recognized forum online or in ‘meat-space’.  There are print publications such as YES! magazine, Tikkun, The Sun Magazine, and The Utne Reader, all of which which reach a population of hundreds thousands.  Great, but their reach could be even more broad, in my humble opinion.  Within social media sites there are plenty of good ‘groups’ but they also don’t reach enough folks outside of their own memberships.

Probably the most popular comparable live events right now are the TED talks, which do serve a valuable purpose.  Sadly, they also tend toward the ‘Gee-Whiz‘ and the ‘Shiny New Buzzword‘ in their contents.  Mobilized really wants to focus on the proven, the existing, and the hidden.  There are already, all over, groups doing wonderful work, but too many of them are laboring in obscurity.

So, how do we do that?  Well to begin with, we’re not trying to be a technology startup.  There is no secret sauce, no fancy algorithm at work here.  Almost all the underlying code behind Mobilized is made with off-the-shelf parts, such as WordPress.  There is zero reason to re-invent the wheel, and frankly the notion that one must do so has tripped up several earlier attempts at building a successful progressive community.  We take the approach of using the tools at hand to build our house.

Secondly, we are going into the future with an eye firmly on the past.  And that leads us to the point of this essay, a look at how America became America.  We can take many lessons from the past.  One of our best ideas as a nation was the Chautauqua movement.   It had it’s heyday from the 1870’s right up until the beginning of World War II.  In part, it helped spawn a Lyceum movement, the Vaudeville traditions in the theater world; and had an effect on the earliest days of the motion-picture industry.  Here’s why it was so popular: the average person, anywhere in the land, could go to a Chautauqua when it came to their town, and engage in spirited discussion with the brightest minds of the day.  It was direct, person-to-person, and offered a mix of local and national ideas and people; presented on a rotating basis.  So ideas could be hashed out and spread rapidly.  And they did.  In no small part due to these two movements, the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age were defeated.  The Great Depression was tackled too, and along the way no less than Susan B. Anthony, Teddy Roosevelt and Mark Twain became huge fans.  No part of society could, or wanted to, ignore the notion that average people could teach other average people.

Mobilized aims to help bring that back into common understanding.  In the present era, there may well be a place for tents and lecturers setting up in farmer’s fields.  There certainly is a crying need for an educational platform that is accessible to the masses.  And now, there exist enough robust tools for us to re-create the ethos of a Chautauqua on the internet.

We, the people, when it really mattered and the stakes were high, collectively taught ourselves how to better ourselves.  Now, in every corner of the world, the stakes are once again pretty high.  It is time for a new Chautauqua movement, and this one will be truly global.  So step right up, come on inside our virtual tent.  Welcome to the show.

 

 

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Economics

How the World Bank helped re-establish colonial plantations

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How the World Bank helped re-establish colonial plantations

In October 2020, a group of 79 Kenyans filed a lawsuit in a UK court against one of the world’s largest plantation companies, Camelia Plc. They say the company is responsible for the killings, rapes and other abuses that its security guards have carried out against local villagers at its 20,000 hectare plantation, which produces avocados for European supermarkets.

Such abuses are unfortunately all too routine on Africa’s industrial plantations. It has been this way since Europeans introduced monoculture plantations to Africa in the early 20th century, using forced labour and violence to steal people’s lands. Camelia’s plantations share this legacy, and the abuses suffered by the Kenyan villagers today are not so different from those suffered by the generations before them.

Abuses and injustices are fundamental to the plantation model. The question that should be asked is why any of these colonial plantations still exist in Africa today. Why haven’t Africa’s post-colonial governments dismantled this model of exploitation and extraction, returned the lands to their people and emboldened a resurgence of Africa’s diverse, local food and farming systems?

One important piece of this puzzle can be found in the archives of the World Bank.

Last year, an alliance of African organizations, together with GRAIN and the World Rainforest Movement (WRM), produced a database on industrial oil palm plantations in Africa. Through this research, we found that many of the oil palm and rubber plantations currently operating in West and Central Africa were initiated or restored through coordinated World Bank projects in the 1970s and 1980s. The ostensible goal of these projects was to develop state-owned plantations that could drive “national development”. The World Bank not only provided participating governments with large loans, but it also supplied the consultants who crafted the plantation projects and oversaw their management.

In case after case that we looked at, the consultants hired by the World Bank for these projects were from a company called SOCFINCO, a subsidiary of the Luxembourg holding company Société Financière des Caoutchoucs (SOCFIN). SOCFIN was a leading plantation company during the colonial period, with operations stretching from the Congo to Southeast Asia. When the colonial powers were sent packing in the 1960s, SOCFIN lost several of its plantations, and it was then that it set up its consultancy branch, SOCFINCO.

According to documents in the World Bank’s archives, SOCFINCO was hired by the Bank to oversee the development and implementation of oil palm and rubber plantation projects in several African countries, including Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinée, Nigeria, and São Tomé and Príncipe. SOCFINCO oversaw the development of blueprints for national oil palm and rubber plantation programs, and helped identify lands to be converted to industrial plantations.  It was also paid to manage the plantations and, in some cases, to organize sales of rubber and palm oil by the state plantation companies established through the program.

SOCFIN received lucrative management fees through these projects, but, more importantly, they positioned the company to take control of the trade in agri-commodity exports from Africa – and eventually to even take over the plantations. It was a huge coup for SOCFIN. As the World Bank projects were operated through parastatal companies (companies owned or controlled wholly or partly by the government), local communities could be dispossessed from their lands for plantations under the justification of “national development” – something that would be much more difficult for a foreign company like SOCFIN to do. Indeed, a condition for World Bank loans was that the governments secure lands for the projects, a step made easier by the fact that most of the projects were being implemented by military regimes.

The World Bank projects also allowed SOCFIN to avoid the costs of building the plantations and their associated facilities. Under the projects, the African governments paid the bill via loans from the World Bank and other development banks.

It was not long before the parastatal companies set up by the World Bank were mired in debt. Of course, the Bank blamed the governments for mismanagement and called for the privatisation of the plantations as a solution – even if those plantations were already being run by the high-priced managers of SOCFINCO and other foreign consultants.

In the privatization process that then followed, SOCFIN and SIAT, a Belgian company founded by a SOCFINCO consultant, took over many of the prized plantations. Today, these two companies control a quarter of all the large oil palm plantations in Africa and are significant players in the rubber sector.

Nigeria is a good example of how this scheme worked. Between 1974 and the end of the 1980s, SOCFINCO crafted master plans for at least seven World Bank-backed oil palm projects in five different Nigerian states. Each project involved the creation of a parastatal company that would both take over the state’s existing plantations and develop new plantations and palm oil mills as well as large-scale outgrower schemes. Overseeing all of SOCFINCO’s work in Nigeria was Pierre Vandebeeck, who would later found the company SIAT.

All of the World Bank projects in Nigeria generated enduring land conflicts with local communities, such as with the Oghareki community in Delta State or the villagers of Egbeda in Rivers State. After dispossessing numerous communities from their lands and incurring huge losses for the Nigerian government, the parastatal companies were then privatised, with the more valuable of the plantation assets eventually ending up in the hands of SOCFIN or Vandebeeck’s company SIAT.

SIAT took over the plantations in Bendel state through a subsidiary and then, in 2011, it acquired the Rivers State palm oil company, Risonpalm, through its company SIAT Nigeria Limited. Vandebeek was SOCFINCO’s plantation manager for Risonpalm under the World Bank between 1978-1983.

SOCFIN, for its part, took over the oil palm plantations in the Okomu area that were also developed under a World Bank project. It was SOCFINCO that first identified this area for plantation development as part of the study it was hired to undertake in 1974. The Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc. (OOPC) was subsequently established as a parastatal company in 1976, and 15,580 hectares of land within the Okomu Forest Reserve of Edo State was “de-reserved” and taken from the local communities to make way for oil palm plantations. The company hired SOCFINCO as the managing agent to oversee its activities from 1976-1990. Reports vary, but at some point between 1986 and 1990, OOPC was then divested to SOCFIN’s subsidiary Indufina Luxembourg.

This sordid history explains why so many of subsidiaries of SOCFIN and SIAT in Africa still carry national sounding names, like SOCAPALM in Cameroon or the Ghana Oil Palm Development Company. It also explains why these companies are so well designed to extract profits into the hands of their owners, and the crucial role of the World Bank for facilitating this corporate profit-seeking process in the name of “national development”.

 

Courtesy of Local Futures, This post is adapted from a GRAIN blog

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