In upcoming posts, we shall have things to say about informational aspects of the current world disorder. Likely the most urgent of these pertain to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Why do US leaders deem it worthwhile to undertake the nuclear gamble they are making in Ukraine?  One reason has been publicly asserted: as US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stated in April , 2022, the US is trying to weaken and destabilize Russia.[1] This goal has been more difficult to accomplish than the US projected; moreover, even partly realized, it has rendered Russia more dependent on America’s adversary, China – Russia’s largest trading partner.[2] Russia brings to its Chinese ally substantial assets: military technology; newly opened Arctic sea lanes for inter-Asian shipping; river passages from northern Russia to the Black Sea[3]; abundant endowments of oil, gas, water, and prospectively arable land; and a land corridor from the Baltic to the Pacific sporting a 2600 mile border with China itself.  In sum, it’s not clear that weakening Russia constitutes a rational objective for any but the obsessive neocons who dominate Washington’s foreign policy.  These cadres, Victoria Nuland, Antony Blinken, Jake Sullivan, and the like, are intent on completing the project of extending The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to Russia’s doorstep – a project that Paul Wolfowitz and other forbears initiated during the 1990s.

A second reason for US support for the Ukraine war has, however, gone mostly unmentioned. US policy is motivated by an overarching concern to resubordinate Europe, by “cutting Russia off totally from Germany and the EU, cementing permanent U.S. control of Western Europe.”[4] So far the US has been very effective in actualizing this objective – although it also seems likely to strengthen the far right in European politics as living standards deteriorate.[5] German reliance on Russian energy has been reduced by the destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline and related decisions by the German government, removing much of Germany’s ability to waffle on its commitment to the war[6]; and NATO is being enlarged again, to include Finland and – almost certainly – Sweden – even if Europe’s military expenditures have not yet reached the level desired by US leaders. The European Left has meanwhile been fractured, so that a coherent mass peace movement has not arisen to challenge the war.   

The Ukrainian political economy is shot through with graft and corruption. Arms shipments are not exempt from these disabling practices; nor are they necessarily providing equipment most likely to be effective in repelling the Russians.[7] Within this wider matrix, however, the Ukrainians’ fighting strength has been augmented by their reliance on US communications and information technology. 

US targeting information was used by Ukraine less than four months after the start of Russia’s invasion to sink the Russian Navy’s Black Sea missile cruiser, the Moskva.[8] Satellite imagery, NATO aircraft overflight intelligence, and intercepts of Russian military communications were by then flowing to Ukraine’s military in “real time,” according to a Ukrainian official, becoming a “key enabler of the Ukrainian campaign.”[9]

US corporate enterprise also stepped forward to assist. Elon Musk’s privately owned SpaceX satellites have provided broadband communications for a variety of purposes to Ukraine’s military.  In February 2023, SpaceX’s president announced that the company had taken unnamed measures to prevent Ukraine from using its Starlink service to operate offensive drones in the region.[10]  How reliable this announcement was, and whether it came after the fact, are not known. 

The Ukrainians’ reliance on Lockheed-Martin’s HIMARS computer-guided rocket artillery also binds them to a larger information network that is under US control.[11]

In these three instances, US organizations are undeniably parties to the Ukraine war.  Yet it seems unthinkable that the mainstream media, let alone the US Congress – which alone possesses the power to declare war under Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the US Constitution – should demand to hold a formal debate over US participation in this grave and escalating conflict.


[1] Natasha Bertrand, Kylie Atwood, Keven Liptak and Alex Marquardt, “Austin’s assertion that US wants to ‘weaken’ Russia underlines Biden strategy shift,” CNN, April 26, 2022.

[2] Perhaps this is a reason why, by early in 2023, there began to be at least some quasi-official discussion of how to limit the length of the war.  Samuel Charap, Miranda Priebe, “Avoiding a Long War: U.S. Policy and the Trajectory of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict,” RAND National Security Research Division, PE-A2510-1, 2023. 

[3] Alastair Crooke, “The Most Egregious Mistake,” Strategic Culture Foundation January 23, 2023.

[4] Diana Johnstone, “Demonstrate Together,” Consortium News, February 14, 2023.

[5] Wolfgang Streeck, “Getting Closer,” Sidecar, November 7, 2022.

[6] Alexander Zevin and Seymour Hersh, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” Sidecar, February 15, 2023 ; Seymour Hersh, “How America Took Out The Nord Stream Pipeline,” Substack, February 8, 2023.

[7] Andrew Cockburn, “More Magic Weapons for Ukraine!,” Spolis of War, January 25, 2023.

[8] Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt and Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. Intelligence Helped Ukraine Strike Russian Flagship, Officials Say,” New York Time, May 5, 2022.

[9] Shane Harris, Paul Sonne, Dan Lamothe and Michael Birnbaum, “U.S. provided intelligence that helped Ukraine sink Russian warship,” Washington Post, May 5, 2022.

[10] Joey Roulette, “SpaceX curbed Ukraine’s use of Starlink internet for drones – company president,” Reuters February 9, 2023.

[11] Christopher Caldwell, “Russia and Ukraine Have Incentives to Negotiate.  The U.S. Has Other Plans,” New York Times, February 7, 2023; HIMARS: Protecting our soldiers with combat proven reliability, Lockheed Martin.

IO has been on a long hiatus, but we’re coming back this year. The world is in dire circumstances, facing poverty, war, diseases, and climate catastrophes. However, critical political economic analyses on global information and communications that affect those issues are difficult to find in corporate media. By renewing IO, we hope to draw attention to the underlying structural forces that shape the information and communication systems as well as local and international struggles to transform the world so that vital information systems and resources are redesigned and reallocated for social needs. Please look out for new posts from IO. 

As a kick-off, we want to announce Dan Schiller’s newly released book, Crossed Wires, published by Oxford University Press. It’s a timely book to help us to understand how, for what purpose, by whom, and under what conditions US telecommunications networks were built and rebuilt over the decades. And here is a short description of the book: 

Telecommunications networks are vast, intricate, hugely costly systems for exchanging messages and information-within cities and across continents. From the Post Office and the telegraph to today’s internet, these networks have sown domestic division while also acting as sources of international power.

In Crossed Wires, Dan Schiller, who has conducted archival research on US telecommunications for more than forty years, recovers the extraordinary social history of the major network systems of the United States. Drawing on arrays of archival documents and secondary sources, Schiller reveals that this history has been shaped by sharp social and political conflict and is embedded in the larger history of an expansionary US capitalism. Schiller argues that networks have enabled US imperialism through a a recurrent “American system” of cross-border communications. Three other key findings wind through the book. First, business users of networks–more than carriers, and certainly more than residential users–have repeatedly determined how telecommunications systems have developed. Second, despite their current importance for virtually every sphere of social life, networks have been consecrated above all to aiding the circulation of commodities. Finally, although the preferences of executives and officials have broadly determined outcomes, these elites have repeatedly had to contend against the ideas and organizations of workers, social movement activists, and other reformers.

This authoritative and comprehensive revisionist history of US telecommunications argues that not technology but a dominative–and contested–political economy drove the evolution of this critical industry.

Dan Schiller, Crossed Wires: The Conflicted History of US Telecommunications, From The Post Office To The Internet (Oxford University Press, 2023)

This report was co-authored with Professor Toby Miller earlier this year in collaboration with the East London-based arts organisation SPACE. This research project looked at the convergence between artist communities and tech sectors and the un/intended impacts on artists and local communities under the promotion of ‘creative’ industries in the region where we live and work: Silicon Roundabout/Shoreditch and Here East in East London.

“…UK’s Technology City is a place where policy makers seek to coalesce the arts and technology sectors under one umbrella and translate human creativity into economic value. It elucidates the inherent contradiction between the politics of creativity subscribed to by urban policy makers and the technology sector, as opposed to artistic freedom. The creativity pursued by many artists frequently exercises and strives for an artistic autonomy that transcends market interests; however, the politics of ‘creativity’ in the Technology City further absorbs art into market relations. Aesthetic expression must justify itself in terms of productivity and economic outcomes. Depoliticizing ‘creativity’ masks the inherent incompatibility of absorbing artistic expression into market relations, justifying urban dispossession…”

group sex

 
Full report is available Here.
 

North Korea has been much in the news lately, but, for an object-lesson in how to combat news management by the state, we may look south of the 38th parallel. For, during recent months, the legacy of authoritarian rule in the Republic of Korea (ROK) has once again exploded into public view – not as an ancient memory, but as a continuing abuse of democratic freedoms.  Media workers’ response to the South Korean state’s controls over free expression merit our attention.

Thirty years ago, a nation-wide democracy movement led by intellectuals, students, workers, farmers and various other groups drew a global spotlight on the Republic of Korea.[1] It led, in 1987, to the toppling of the country’s long-standing military dictatorship. This regime change opened up additional opportunities for Koreans to pursue the process of political democratization. These, however, did not succeed. While there were continued efforts to reduce economic disparity, curtail corporate power and improve social welfare, successive liberal governments weren’t able to deliver the political and economic reforms that they had promised. Instead, South Korea subordinated itself to a market-driven neoliberal system.[2] Regaining power, conservative administrations, first under Lee Myung-Bak and then Park Geun-hye – whose father, General Park Jung-Hee, had imposed a military regime on the country until his assassination in 1979 – have again undermined Korea’s democratic path.

The seesaw has now thankfully swung the other way. One year ago, millions of Koreans filled the streets for a period of six months: students, women’s groups, labor- and farmers unions, and the general public. The trigger was a corruption scandal that the president proved unable to contain. But the underlying factors included widespread anger about increasing economic inequality, rising youth unemployment, contingent labor[3] and the deteriorating conditions faced by public sector workers. This “candlelight movement” ultimately succeeded in bringing down President Park Geun-Hye in December, 2016. In the wake of historically massive protests, Park was impeached for her corruption and abuses of power.[4] A new president, Moon Jae-in of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, took office in 2017.

But the movement, the latest incarnation of South Korea’s decades-long struggle for a democracy that would include media reform as well as government- and corporate accountability and workers’ rights,[5] is still far from finished.

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