November 12, 2013

PayPal Is a Huge Weapon for the Powerful

I've written recently about what ought to be deeply disturbing aspects of Pierre Omidyar's new journalism venture: see here and here. My primary focus has been -- and remains -- on the fact that Omidyar, as the 123rd richest person on the entire planet, wields an extraordinary degree of power. He is now allied with Glenn Greenwald, who proclaims that a crucial part of his mission is "to reinvigorate journalism through 'an aggressive and adversarial position to political and corporate power,' an undertaking he will pursue through a new online publication backed with $250 million from the eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar ..."

I've pointed out that this formulation (from a NYT article I excerpted) is entirely accurate -- and it is also absolutely ludicrous. To believe that one of the leading oligarchs in the world is going to engage in a prolonged, public act of suicide by funding journalists who will call into question the basic structure of a system that permits him (and a few sanctified others) to accumulate this degree of wealth and power is to believe in the Tooth Fairy and that wishing will make it so. Individuals who devote their lives to acquiring vast wealth and power are not in the business of destroying themselves, or of aiding those whose work might challenge the foundations of their power. It may be true that we can be absolutely certain of very little in this world -- but we can be certain beyond any point of meaningful doubt that a man exercising vast power is not about to encourage journalism that takes an "adversarial position" to his power. To think otherwise is to engage in fantasy to a degree that shreds whatever slender reeds connect us to reality. To believe in the fantasy of the "good billionaire" in the required manner signifies only that one has decided to abandon facts, logic and reality altogether. (The only fantasy that approaches this in the scope of its self-delusion was the belief, shared by many in 2008, that Barack Obama was profoundly committed to "changing the very nature of politics." You would think that people would appreciate, certainly by now, how dangerous delusions of this kind can be -- and you would be grievously wrong.)

With this as general background, I find it very intriguing that other voices are challenging Greenwald and Omidyar with regard to the PayPal blockade of WikiLeaks. Tarzie has written about it here, focusing on how Greenwald is covering for Omidyar in connection with the PayPal controversy. And Alexa O'Brien writes about it here, in a post I urge you to read. The first major point O'Brien makes is this:
Omidyar has been "the director and Chairman of the Board since eBay's incorporation in May 1996." eBay owns Paypal.

The relationship between [...] eBay and PayPal is robust. PayPal is a major part of eBay's business. (See for example here and here.) I find it a bit unlikely that the Chairman of the Board of eBay would have never been involved in any discussion regarding the fiduciary health of one of its subsidiaries in relation to either the WikiLeaks blockade or the criminal indictment resulting from a high profile "cyber attack".
These observations are unquestionably critical in evaluating Omidyar's actions (and lack of action) with regard to the PayPal blockade of WikiLeaks.

But it is O'Brien's other major point that truly grabbed my attention:
The PayPal financial blockade against WikiLeaks gives any of [Omidyar's] new media ventures an [added after original publication: unfair] competitive advantage [added: in my opinion].
I think we can state this proposition without O'Brien's qualifying final remark: the PayPal blockade against WikiLeaks obviously gives Omidyar's new media venture an unfair competitive advantage. This is simply a statement of fact. And it is a particularly outrageous and sickening fact.

I also direct your attention to some of O'Brien's tweets on this subject. Here: "@ggreenwald PayPal blockade creates vicious cycle, not virtuous one for the rest of us. Result is @pierre benefits-- weakens competition." And scroll up and down from that tweet; the entire thread deserves careful reading. Take a look at this tweet, too: "@ggreenwald One could argue that you have never had more power than now to influence the PP blockade."

To my knowledge, there has yet to be a further clarification of Greenwald's or Omidyar's views with regard to the PayPal blockade and what, if anything, they are prepared to do about it. I would not suggest that you hold your breath waiting for an announcement that Omidyar has decided to open the floodgates to fund a competing organization.

Thus, we are presented with a situation where an individual and his allied companies are not only not bloody likely to foster journalism that takes an "adversarial position" with respect to his power -- but a situation where that individual and his allied companies are still actively throttling a significant competitor in the very field that Omidyar now prepares to enter.

But this is precisely how State capitalism (or corporatism) works, and how it has always worked. It's the only way State capitalism can work. This is what State capitalism is designed to do: to advance the interests of very powerful companies and/or individuals closely allied with the State, and to severely damage -- and ultimately destroy, if possible -- any and all serious competition to those same interests.

I will also add a footnote, in the nature of my own experience over the last day. Since my post yesterday, in which (among other things) I asked for donations, I've been told that at least one donor received some odd messages from PayPal while he was trying to make a donation. The purpose of those messages appeared to be to discourage him from completing his transaction. It didn't work in his case -- but I'm now wondering if anyone else also received odd or unexpected messages in the course of what should be a straightforward procedure. If you did, I would be very grateful if you'd let me know (and please provide as many details as you can).

I mention my own situation primarily to underscore how completely powerless most of us are when we deal with a behemoth like PayPal. If PayPal should decide to cut me off entirely at some point, there's not a damned thing I can do about it. If WikiLeaks can't stop PayPal from cutting off a major financial lifeline -- and it can't -- what the hell chance do I have? I also mention this PayPal business concerning me because, although I'll leave the PayPal donation button up for the moment, I strongly encourage people to make donations by mail from now on. And I could seriously use some mail donations in the coming weeks. If you'd like to have my address, please write me: arthur4801 at yahoo dot com . I also fervently hope that the day soon arrives when I'm able to ditch PayPal completely.

So what are the lessons? Most of them should be self-evident from the above discussion. I will set one lesson off by itself, and state it very simply: Unless you are an oligarch yourself -- or unless you are content to be kept by one -- oligarchs are not your friends.

I find it considerably more than slightly distressing that this appears to be news to many people, even those on the left side of the political spectrum. I guess we're all the spawn of Obama (or any Democrat or progressive of your choice) and Romney (or any Republican or conservative of your choice) now. I knew there was a reason I've always been vehemently in favor of easily obtained and widely practiced means of birth control.

November 11, 2013

Small Notes on the Vast Unpleasantness

Christ, another Veterans Day. I've said what I have to say on the subject: On Veterans Day: Fuck that Shit. I just looked it over and see nothing that requires alteration. I could probably add more four-letter words; the subject, and the related common cultural attitudes, certainly deserve them. You might also want to read this post, especially for its discussion of Pat Barker's exceptionally fine World War I novel, The Ghost Road.

With regard to horrors of a far less significant kind (although they nonetheless loom quite large in my small, battered corner of the world): I'm afraid the small financial cushion that generous readers enabled me to enjoy for a short while is now seriously depleted. I would be most grateful for any donation you might be able to make. That is particularly true since Cyrano, my beloved companion who turned 15 last August, needs to take a trip to the vet. (He insists he doesn't, but he does.) He seems basically okay, but he's old now, and he should be carefully examined. At the moment, I simply can't afford it, which makes me a rather horrible and irresponsible human being.

PayPal is still okay to use, although I will continue to withdraw funds as quickly as I can (and usually almost immediately after they appear there). The tax crap goes on, and the ultimate outcome remains some distance away and uncertain in its outline. If you prefer to mail a donation to me, that is fine too, of course. (If you would like my address, please write me at: arthur4801 at yahoo dot com .)

I'm working on several new essays at the moment and hope to publish at least one of them within the next several days. Many thanks for your consideration, as always. Cyrano and Sasha say thanks, as well. (Actually, they're both snoozing after the great exertions of eating breakfast. They half-opened their eyes and nodded very slightly, as if to say, "Yeah, thanks, whatever." But in person, they're wonderfully affectionate. They took turns curled up in my arms last night, as they do most nights.)

November 02, 2013

Attention Must Be Paid: Loving Petey

On its long, torturous path out of the fetid swamps of ignorance and despair, humanity has been granted but a few shining moments of profound transformation. Some will claim the discovery of the wheel, or of fire, or of the printing press to belong in the sacred pantheon devoted to the contemplation of those rare, tragically brief occasions when humanity could raise its stuporous stare from the gutter to bask in the distant glory of star fire, to wipe the sweat from its tormented brow, and to say, "Yeah, this is some fine shit."

In our time, we have been blessed to witness another such moment. We do not refer to the development of the internet or, somewhat earlier, the discovery of nuclear power. Humanity has always displayed a lamentable enthusiasm for incessant burbling and babbling, and we do not see that pixels on screens are markedly superior to scrawlings on cave walls. "Ooohhh, mastodon!" "Ooohhh, Kardashian!" You feel me, man? And we have always had a love affair with death. The apex of human achievement, at least in the view of humanity itself, will apparently arrive when we finally eradicate ourselves entirely from the universe. We are inclined to think humanity has gotten that one right.

But no, we think another discovery is far more significant. After interminable dreary centuries of feigned concern with the weak, the suffering, the oppressed, the halt, the lame, the sick -- Jesus H. the Fuck Christ, but you have been a tedious collection of gloomy Gertrudes -- humanity has finally realized that all those miserable nitwits have it coming. If your life is pain and deprivation from sunup to sundown, that's because you are one lazy SOB. You deserve to suffer! Opportunity lies all around you. Get up off your fat, boil-ridden ass and make your own chance for success! The world is your oyster. Eat it! Eat the shell too!

And so we have finally arrived at the moment of True Enlightenment. We have grasped the truth to which we have blinded ourselves for so long:
The rich are much, much better than everyone else.
Feel this truth as it suffuses your being, miraculously soothing and untangling all the kinks and spasms in the gray splattery mess that is your brain. Have you ever looked at a brain, felt one with your stubby fingers? Ick. You don't need it. Your brain is worthless. Now, the brains of the rich -- there's something special. To get all that stuff -- to get all the stuff made possible by dirty, pathetic little slugs like you -- to leave the slugs just enough so they can survive, to provide the rich with still more stuff -- and to convince the slugs that the rich are doing them a favor because the rich haven't killed them yet ... that is great shit.

You couldn't manage that. Nope, you couldn't. Slugdom suits you just fine. But at least the slugs understand now that their only hope for salvation is to recognize the indisputable superiority of the rich. The slugs should model themselves on the rich (to the extent a slug can, which isn't much), and make the rich their guides in every aspect of life. Place The Catechism of the Rich on your nightstand, carry another copy with you during your daily drudgery, study it all the time. The rich are your only hope! And the richer they are, the better. There is a direct correlation between how rich someone is and his worth. The richer someone is, the more superior he is. We grasp this now. Hallelujah!

We should remember how recently we were suffocatingly bound in the ropes of our ignorance, how it was only yesterday (to speak in broad cultural terms, which is admittedly next to impossible for slugs to pull off) that we despised the rich, that we thought the rich were exploiting the rest of us, that the rich were the enemy of much of humanity. As if! Maybe you remember a guy named Arthur Miller, and his play Death of a Salesman. Lots of people thought: "Great writer, and great play! A vindication of the worth of every human being, even the unsung, even the apparent failures, and a trenchant condemnation of the cruelties of American capitalism."

And maybe you recall at least part of this famous speech:
I don't say he's a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.
Now we read something like that, and we think: What a load of horseshit. Salesman premiered in 1949. 1949. People were stupid then. They didn't understand where genuine greatness will be found, or which people truly deserve our admiration and devoted concern. They paid attention not just to the wrong people, but to pathetic, miserable, insignificant little fucks. Lemme ask you this: did a pathetic, miserable, insignificant little fuck ever give anyone a job? Do rotten little fucks make your life better? Do they make totally keen movies, or make you wanna buy the 27th version of an iPhone (which selects all your meals based on the dietary choices provided by rich people, and then eats them itself!)?

Pathetic little fucks don't do any of that stuff. Thank God we know better now. And we understand that we shouldn't do anything unless rich people say it's okay. We shouldn't take a job, we shouldn't watch a movie or read a book, we shouldn't travel anywhere, we shouldn't eat a snack or drink something unless rich people give us permission. And rich people will make things available to us that they think it's okay for us to have. There's a lot of stuff they won't let us have, but they're right to do that. We can't be trusted with most stuff. We're pathetic little fucks. We're lucky to still be alive! Bow down in gratitude to the nearest rich person you can find.

And we understand there's a lot of information we shouldn't have. Should miserable little slugfucks know everything? Of course not. Rich people will tell us what we can know. So I am thrilled that everyone, including liberals and leftists, have fallen like totally in love with Pierre Omidyar. "Oh My God, a multibillionaire wants to spend money to tell us what we can know! He is so fabulous!"

Oh, you don't think The Great Transformation has actually changed people's thinking that much. Fat lot you know. Read this sentence from the New York Times just two days ago:
[Greenwald] is on a double mission: to push back in the name of freedom against the post-9/11 “surveillance state” with its dragnet data trawling, and to reinvigorate journalism through “an aggressive and adversarial position to political and corporate power,” an undertaking he will pursue through a new online publication backed with $250 million from the eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar ...
Isn't that incredibly cute? I think it's adorable. Corporate power will make possible journalism that will take an "adversarial position" -- to corporate power. Corporate power will tell us all when and how we can talk back to it. Corporate power will decide just how "aggressive and adversarial" journalism can be.

And everyone thinks this is great! Who the hell am I to disagree? No one, that's who. So I think it's great, too! The rich know best. That's why they're rich. And Omidyar -- or Petey, as I like to call him, and I'm sure he'd love that, since he wants to be best pals with all of us -- has lots of ideas about how to improve our lives. He really likes doing that kind of thing, cuz he thinks we're all "inherently capable and basically good." Well, he's really, really rich, so he can think whatever the fuck he wants.

Forget all that crap about the weak and the sick and the oppressed. That is totally last century, dude. Now attention is paid in only one direction: toward the rich and the powerful, and the richer and more powerful, the better. Multibillionaires are the new gods. They will lead us to the promised land.

Throw me a crumb, Petey! Oh, you did. I'm weeping with joy. What a fantastic guy. I love you, Petey! Love love love rich rich rich money money money power power power RICH RICHER RICHEST!!!!!

Brave new world. Fuck, yeah!