The Zombie Doctrine

April 17th, 2016

Crisis after crisis is being caused by a failed ideology. But it cannot be stopped without a coherent alternative.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 16th April 2016

It’s as if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it. Neoliberalism: do you know what it is?

Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power. It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007-8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump. But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?

So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions, that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counter-productive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

We internalise and reproduce its creeds. The rich persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped to secure it. The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances.

Never mind structural unemployment: if you don’t have a job it’s because you are unenterprising. Never mind the impossible costs of housing: if your credit card is maxed out, you’re feckless and improvident. Never mind that your children no longer have a school playing field: if they get fat, it’s your fault. In a world governed by competition, those who fall behind become defined and self-defined as losers.

Among the results, as Paul Verhaeghe documents in his book What About Me? are epidemics of self-harm, eating disorders, depression, loneliness, performance anxiety and social phobia. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that Britain, in which neoliberal ideology has been most rigorously applied, is the loneliness capital of Europe. We are all neoliberals now.

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The term neoliberalism was coined at a meeting in Paris in 1938. Among the delegates were two men who came to define the ideology, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Both exiles from Austria, they saw social democracy, exemplified by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the gradual development of Britain’s welfare state, as manifestations of a collectivism that occupied the same spectrum as nazism and communism.

In The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, Hayek argued that government planning, by crushing individualism, would lead inexorably to totalitarian control. Like Mises’s book BureaucracyThe Road to Serfdom was widely read. It came to the attention of some very wealthy people, who saw in the philosophy an opportunity to free themselves from regulation and tax. When, in 1947, Hayek founded the first organisation that would spread the doctrine of neoliberalism – the Mont Pelerin Society – it was supported financially by millionaires and their foundations.

With their help, he began to create what Daniel Stedman Jones describes in Masters of the Universe as “a kind of neoliberal International”: a transatlantic network of academics, businessmen, journalists and activists. The movement’s rich backers funded a series of think tanks which would refine and promote the ideology. Among them were the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies and the Adam Smith Institute. They also financed academic positions and departments, particularly at the universities of Chicago and Virginia.

As it evolved, neoliberalism became more strident. Hayek’s view that governments should regulate competition to prevent monopolies from forming gave way, among American apostles such as Milton Friedman, to the belief that monopoly power could be seen as a reward for efficiency.

Something else happened during this transition: the movement lost its name. In 1951, Milton Friedman was happy to describe himself as a neoliberal. But soon after that, the term began to disappear. Stranger still, even as the ideology became crisper and the movement more coherent, the lost name was not replaced by any common alternative.

At first, despite its lavish funding, neoliberalism remained at the margins. The post-war consensus was almost universal: John Maynard Keynes’s economic prescriptions were widely applied, full employment and the relief of poverty were common goals in the US and much of western Europe, top rates of tax were high and governments sought social outcomes without embarassment, developing new public services and safety nets.

But in the 1970s, when Keynesian policies began to fall apart and economic crises struck on both sides of the Atlantic, neoliberal ideas began to enter the mainstream. As Milton Friedman remarked, “when the time came that you had to change … there was an alternative ready there to be picked up.” With the help of sympathetic journalists and political advisers, elements of neoliberalism, especially its prescriptions for monetary policy, were adopted by Jimmy Carter’s administration in the United States and Jim Callaghan’s government in Britain.

After Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took power, the rest of the package soon followed: massive tax cuts for the rich, the crushing of trade unions, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services. Through the IMF, the World Bank, the Maastricht treaty and the World Trade Organisation, neoliberal policies were imposed – often without democratic consent – on much of the world. Most remarkable was its adoption among parties that once belonged to the left: Labour and the Democrats, for example. As Daniel Stedman Jones notes, “it is hard to think of another utopia to have been as fully realised.”

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It may seem strange that a doctrine promising choice and freedom should have been promoted with the slogan “there is no alternative”. But, as Friedrich Hayek remarked on a visit to Pinochet’s Chile – one of the first nations in which the programme was comprehensively applied – “my personal preference leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism.” The freedom neoliberalism offers, which sounds so beguiling when expressed in general terms, turns out to mean freedom for the pike, not for the minnows.

Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments. Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty.

As Naomi Klein documents in The Shock Doctrine, neoliberal theorists advocated the use of crises to impose unpopular policies while people were distracted: for example, in the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina, which Milton Friedman described as “an opportunity to radically reform the educational system” in New Orleans.

Where neoliberal policies cannot be imposed domestically, they are imposed internationally, through trade treaties incorporating “investor-state dispute settlement”: offshore tribunals in which corporations can press for the removal of social and environmental protections. When parliaments have voted to restrict sales of cigarettes, protect water supplies from mining companies, freeze energy bills or prevent pharmaceutical firms from ripping off the state, corporations have sued, often successfully. Democracy is reduced to theatre.

Another paradox of neoliberalism is that universal competition relies upon universal quantification and comparison. The result is that workers, job-seekers and public services of every kind are subject to a pettifogging, stifling regime of assessment and monitoring, designed to identify the winners and punish the losers. The doctrine that, Ludwig von Mises proposed, would free us from the bureaucratic nightmare of central planning has instead created one.

Neoliberalism was not conceived as a self-serving racket, but it rapidly became one. Economic growth has been markedly slower in the neoliberal era (since 1980 in Britain and the US) than it was in the preceding decades; but not for the very rich. Inequality in the distribution of both income and wealth, after 60 years of decline, rose rapidly in this era, due to the smashing of trade unions, tax reductions, rising rents, privatisation and deregulation.

The privatisation or marketisation of public services – such as energy, water, trains, health, education, roads and prisons – has enabled corporations to set up tollbooths in front of essential assets and charge rent, either to citizens or to government, for their use. Rent is another term for unearned income. When you pay an inflated price for a train ticket, only part of the fare compensates the operators for the money they spend on fuel, wages, rolling stock and other outlays. The rest reflects the fact that they have you over a barrel.

Those who own and run the UK’s privatised or semi-privatised services make stupendous fortunes by investing little and charging much. In Russia and India, oligarchs acquired state assets through firesales. In Mexico, Carlos Slim was granted control of almost all landline and mobile phone services and soon became the world’s richest man.

Financialisation, as Andrew Sayer points out in Why We Can’t Afford the Rich, has had similar impacts. “Like rent,” he argues, “interest is … unearned income that accrues without any effort.” As the poor become poorer and the rich become richer, the rich acquire increasing control over another crucial asset: money. Interest payments, overwhelmingly, are a transfer of money from the poor to the rich. As property prices and the withdrawal of state funding load people with debt (think of the switch from student grants to student loans), the banks and their executives clean up.

Sayer argues that the past four decades have been characterised by a transfer of wealth not only from the poor to the rich, but within the ranks of the wealthy: from those who make their money by producing new goods or services to those who make their money by controlling existing assets and harvesting rent, interest or capital gains. Earned income has been supplanted by unearned income.

Neoliberal policies are everywhere beset by market failures. Not only are the banks too big to fail, but so are the corporations now charged with delivering public services. As Tony Judt pointed out in Ill Fares the Land, Friedrich Hayek forgot that vital national services cannot be allowed to collapse, which means that competition cannot run its course. Business takes the profits, the state keeps the risk.

The greater the failure, the more extreme the ideology becomes. Governments use neoliberal crises as both excuse and opportunity to cut taxes, privatise remaining public services, rip holes in the social safety net, deregulate corporations and re-regulate citizens. The self-hating state now sinks its teeth into every organ of the public sector.

Perhaps the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course of our lives through voting also contracts. Instead, neoliberal theory asserts, people can exercise choice through spending. But some have more to spend than others: in the great consumer or shareholder democracy, votes are not equally distributed. The result is a disempowerment of the poor and middle. As parties of the right and former left adopt similar neoliberal policies, disempowerment turns to disenfranchisement. Large numbers of people have been shed from politics.

Chris Hedges remarks that “fascist movements build their base not from the politically active but the politically inactive, the “losers” who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the political establishment.” When political debate no longer speaks to us, people become responsive instead to slogans, symbols and sensation. To the admirers of Donald Trump, for example, facts and arguments appear irrelevant.

Tony Judt pointed out that when the thick mesh of interactions between people and the state has been reduced to nothing but authority and obedience, the only remaining force that binds us is state power. The totalitarianism Hayek feared is more likely to emerge when governments, having lost the moral authority that arises from the delivery of public services, are reduced to “cajoling, threatening and ultimately coercing people to obey them”.

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Like communism, neoliberalism is the God that failed. But the zombie doctrine staggers on, and one of the reasons is its anonymity. Or rather, a cluster of anonymities.

The invisible doctrine of the invisible hand is promoted by invisible backers. Slowly, very slowly, we have begun to discover the names of a few of them. We find that the Institute of Economic Affairs, which has argued forcefully in the media against the further regulation of the tobacco industry, has been secretly funded by British American Tobacco since 1963. We discover that Charles and David Koch, two of the richest men in the world, founded the institute that set up the Tea Party movement. We find that Charles Koch, in establishing one of his think tanks, noted that “in order to avoid undesirable criticism, how the organization is controlled and directed should not be widely advertised.”

The words used by neoliberalism often conceal more than they elucidate. “The market” sounds like a natural system that might bear upon us equally, like gravity or atmospheric pressure. But it is fraught with power relations. What “the market wants” tends to mean what corporations and their bosses want. “Investment”, as Andrew Sayer notes, means two quite different things. One is the funding of productive and socially useful activities, the other is the purchase of existing assets to milk them for rent, interest, dividends and capital gains. Using the same word for different activities “camouflages the sources of wealth”, leading us to confuse wealth extraction with wealth creation.

A century ago, the nouveau riche were disparaged by those who had inherited their money. Entrepreneurs sought social acceptance by passing themselves off as rentiers. Today, the relationship has been reversed: the rentiers and inheritors style themselves entrepreneurs. They claim to have earned their unearned income.

These anonymities and confusions mesh with the namelessness and placelessness of modern capitalism: the franchise model which ensures that workers do not know for whom they toil; the companies registered through a network of offshore secrecy regimes so complex that even the police cannot discover the beneficial owners; the tax arrangements that bamboozle governments; the financial products no one understands.

The anonymity of neoliberalism is fiercely guarded. Those who are influenced by Hayek, Mises and Friedman tend to reject the term, maintaining – with some justice – that it is used today only pejoratively. But they offer us no substitute. Some describe themselves as classical liberals or libertarians, but these descriptions are both misleading and curiously self-effacing, as they suggest that there is nothing novel about The Road to SerfdomBureaucracy or Friedman’s classic work, Capitalism and Freedom.

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For all that, there is something admirable about the neoliberal project, at least in its early stages. It was a distinctive, innovative philosophy promoted by a coherent network of thinkers and activists with a clear plan of action. It was patient and persistent. The Road to Serfdom became the path to power.

Neoliberalism’s triumph also reflects the failure of the left. When laissez-faire economics led to catastrophe in 1929, Keynes devised a comprehensive economic theoryto replace it. When Keynesian demand management hit the buffers in the 1970s, there was “an alternative ready there to be picked up.” But when neoliberalism fell apart in 2008 there was … nothing. This is why the zombie walks. The left and centre have produced no new general framework of economic thought for 80 years.

Every invocation of Lord Keynes is an admission of failure. To propose Keynesian solutions to the crises of the 21st-century is to ignore three obvious problems. It is hard to mobilise people around old ideas; the flaws exposed in the 1970s have not gone away; and, most importantly, they have nothing to say about our gravest predicament: the environmental crisis. Keynesianism works by stimulating consumer demand to promote economic growth. Consumer demand and economic growth are the motors of environmental destruction.

What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. For Labour, the Democrats and the wider left, the central task should be to develop an economic Apollo programme, a conscious attempt to design a new system, tailored to the demands of the 21st Century.

George Monbiot’s new book, How Did We Get into This Mess?, Is published this month by Verso.

NASA claims: Dozens of advanced ancient civilizations collapsed before us

April 6th, 2016

Is it possible that just like many other advanced civilizations in the past, ours too is heading towards an impending collapse? Is the collapse of society imminent? These are some of the questions a study from NASA aims at answering. The study, partly sponsored by the Goddard Space Flight Center suggests that civilizations as we know it could come to an abrupt end in the coming decades due to a number of factors.

If we look back in history, 3000 – 5000 years, we will find a historical record that clearly shows us how advanced and complex civilizations were just as susceptible to collapse as we are today. This ongoing pattern has led researchers to question the future existence of society and civilization as we know.

If we were to look back further back in time, over 10,000 years, we would encounter evidence of advanced civilizations that possibly predate the Pre-Inca, Olmec, and Ancient Egyptian civilization, not to mention other advanced ancient civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia.

It is difficult to overlook the repeating patterns identified by scholars in most of these civilizations and the NASA funded study is clear evidence of the path ancient civilizations on EArth have taken for thousands of years. This is considered by many people as a sign that clearly states that ancient civilizations have reset a number of times.

These factors have kept on repeating themselves and have been the culprit for ancient civilizations before us.  In the report, applied mathematician Safa Motesharri and his “Human and Nature Dynamical” model claims that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.”

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

The study came to the conclusion that there are two key social features that contributed to the collapse of every single advanced civilization from the past: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”

Even though our civilizations is at a very advanced technological stage, this does not necessarily mean that we are saved from imminent chaos. In the study we find that “Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.”

One of the best examples of advanced ancient civilizations disappearing can be found in Mesoamerica.

If we take a look at the ancient Maya who were an extremely advanced ancient civilization we find that several factors played a crucial role for this once great empire to crumble eventually. While most researchers would agree that Deforestation, Famine and Drought where some of the key components in the failure of the ancient Maya, we find a similar pattern in other civilizations, not only I the Americas, but around the globe.

Motesharrei and his colleagues conclude that under conditions “closely reflecting the reality of the world today… we find that collapse is difficult to avoid.” In the first of these scenarios, civilization:

“…. appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.”

To the original article:  

 

About the Panama Papers

April 6th, 2016

In a second article I am publishing today on Samadhisoft (see: NASA Claims: Dozens of advanced ancient civilizations collapsed before us), you can find the following quote:

The study came to the conclusion that there are two key social features that contributed to the collapse of every single advanced civilization from the past: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”

After reading this quote, consider that the gathering of massive amounts of wealth by the few, as illustrated by the leaks revealed in this article, is highly indicative of the probable demise of our own civilizations as analyzed and discussed in the other article.

Can you see why people want change – profound change – now?  And why they are unwilling to endure more of the same, more of the status quo?  

dennis

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Over a year ago, an anonymous source contacted the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) and submitted encrypted internal documents from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that sells anonymous offshore companies around the world. These shell companies enable their owners to cover up their business dealings, no matter how shady.

In the months that followed, the number of documents continued to grow far beyond the original leak. Ultimately, SZ acquired about 2.6 terabytes of data, making the leak the biggest that journalists had ever worked with. The source wanted neither financial compensation nor anything else in return, apart from a few security measures.

The data provides rare insights into a world that can only exist in the shadows. It proves how a global industry led by major banks, legal firms, and asset management companies secretly manages the estates of the world’s rich and famous: from politicians, Fifa officials, fraudsters and drug smugglers, to celebrities and professional athletes.

A group effort

The Süddeutsche Zeitung decided to analyze the data in cooperation with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). ICIJ had already coordinated the research for past projects that SZ was also involved in, among them Offshore Leaks, Lux Leaks, and Swiss Leaks. Panama Papers is the biggest-ever international cooperation of its kind. In the past 12 months, around 400 journalists from more than 100 media organizations in over 80 countries have taken part in researching the documents. These have included teams from the Guardian and the BBC in England, Le Monde in France, and La Nación in Argentina. In Germany, SZ journalists have cooperated with their colleagues from two public broadcasters, NDR and WDR. Journalists from the Swiss Sonntagszeitung and the Austrian weekly Falter have also worked on the project, as have their colleagues at ORF, Austria’s national public broadcaster. The international team initially met in Washington, Munich, Lillehammer and London to map out the research approach.

Making of The data

The Panama Papers include approximately 11.5 million documents – more than the combined total of the Wikileaks Cablegate, Offshore Leaks, Lux Leaks, and Swiss Leaks. The data primarily comprises e-mails, pdf files, photo files, and excerpts of an internal Mossack Fonseca database. It covers a period spanning from the 1970s to the spring of 2016.

Moreover, the journalists crosschecked a large number of documents, including passport copies. About two years ago, a whistleblower had already sold internal Mossack Fonseca data to the German authorities, but the dataset was much older and smaller in scope: while it addressed a few hundred offshore companies, the Panama Papers provide data on some 214,000 companies. In the wake of the data purchase, last year investigators searched the homes and offices of about 100 people. The Commerzbank was also raided. As a consequence of their business dealings with Mossack Fonseca, Commerzbank, HSH Nordbank, and Hypovereinsbank agreed to pay fines of around 20 million euros, respectively. Since then, other countries have also acquired data from the initial smaller leak, among them the United States, the UK, and Iceland.

The system

The leaked data is structured as follows: Mossack Fonseca created a folder for each shell firm. Each folder contains e-mails, contracts, transcripts, and scanned documents. In some instances, there are several thousand pages of documentation. First, the data had to be systematically indexed to make searching through this sea of information possible. To this end, the Süddeutsche Zeitung used Nuix, the same program that international investigators work with. Süddeutsche Zeitung and ICIJ uploaded millions of documents onto high-performance computers. They applied optical character recognition (OCR) to transform data into machine-readable and easy to search files. The process turned images – such as scanned IDs and signed contracts – into searchable text. This was an important step: it enabled journalists to comb through as large a portion of the leak as possible using a simple search mask similar to Google.The journalists compiled lists of important politicians, international criminals, and well-known professional athletes, among others. The digital processing made it possible to then search the leak for the names on these lists. The “party donations scandal” list contained 130 names, and the UN sanctions list more than 600. In just a few minutes, the powerful search algorithm compared the lists with the 11.5 million documents.

The research

For each name found, a detailed research process was initiated that posed the following questions: what is this person’s role in the network of companies? Where does the money come from? Where is it going? Is this structure legal?Generally speaking, owning an offshore company is not illegal in itself. In fact, establishing an offshore company can be seen as a logical step for a broad range of business transactions. However, a look through the Panama Papers very quickly reveals that concealing the identities of the true company owners was the primary aim in the vast majority of cases. From the outset, the journalists had their work cut out for them. The providers of offshore companies – among them banks, lawyers, and investment advisors – often keep their clients’ names secret and use proxies. In turn, the proxies’ tracks then lead to heads of state, important officials, and millionaires. Over the course of the international project, journalists cooperated with one another to investigate thousands of leads: they examined evidence, studied contracts, and spoke with experts.

Among others, Mossack Fonsecas’ clients include criminals and members of various Mafia groups. The documents also expose bribery scandals and corrupt heads of state and government. The alleged offshore companies of twelve current and former heads of state make up one of the most spectacular parts of the leak, as do the links to other leaders, and to their families, closest advisors, and friends. The Panamanian law firm also counts almost 200 other politicians from around the globe among its clients, including a number of ministers.

The company

The company at the center of all these stories is Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian provider of offshore companies with dozens of offices all over the world. It sells its shell firms in cities such as Zurich, London, and Hong Kong – in some instances at bargain prices. Clients can buy an anonymous company for as little as USD 1,000. However, at this price it is just an empty shell. For an extra fee, Mossack Fonseca provides a sham director and, if desired, conceals the company’s true shareholder. The result is an offshore company whose true purpose and ownership structure is indecipherable from the outside. Mossack Fonseca has founded, sold, and managed thousands of companies. The documents provide a detailed view of how Mossack Fonseca routinely accepts to engage in business activities that potentially violate sanctions, in addition to aiding and abetting tax evasion and money laundering.

About Süddeutsche Zeitung

Headquartered in Munich, Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) is one of Germany’s leading newspapers. SZ has a total readership of 4.4 million for its print and online media. Its investigative journalism team counts five people, three of which are members of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The Süddeutsche Zeitunghas won a number of prestigious awards for its research work. Its team has cooperated with other media organizations on a number of projects, including Offshore Leaks, Swiss Leaks, and Lux Leaks, which ICIJ coordinated. At the beginning of 2015, an anonymous source began sending the Süddeutsche Zeitung data from Mossack Fonseca, a provider of offshore companies. This marked the beginning of the Panama Papers project.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung, in cooperation with the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists, sent Mossfon several written requests for comment. In response Mossfon sent two general statements, which can be viewed here.

To the original article:

 

Scientists Warn of Perilous Climate Shift Within Decades, Not Centuries

April 2nd, 2016

Sure, we’ve got enough time to agonize over Cruz or Trump, over Hillary or Bernie.  Plenty of time.  What’s that you say, “Nature Bats Last”?

dennis

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The nations of the world agreed years ago to try to limit global warming to a level they hoped would prove somewhat tolerable. But leading climate scientists warned on Tuesday that permitting a warming of that magnitude would actually be quite dangerous.

The likely consequences would include killer storms stronger than any in modern times, the disintegration of large parts of the polar ice sheets and a rise of the sea sufficient to begin drowning the world’s coastal cities before the end of this century, the scientists declared.

“We’re in danger of handing young people a situation that’s out of their control,” said James E. Hansen, the retired NASA climate scientist who led the new research. The findings were released Tuesday morning by a European science journal, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

A draft version of the paper was released last year, and it provoked a roiling debateamong climate scientists. The main conclusions have not changed, and that debate seems likely to be replayed in the coming weeks.

The basic claim of the paper is that by burning fossil fuels at a prodigious pace and pouring heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, humanity is about to provoke an abrupt climate shift.

Specifically, the authors believe that fresh water pouring into the oceans from melting land ice will set off a feedback loop that will cause parts of the great ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica to disintegrate rapidly.

That claim has intrigued some experts who say the paper may help explain puzzling episodes in Earth’s past when geological evidence suggests the climate underwent drastic shifts. Yet many other scientists are unconvinced by some of the specific assertions the authors are making.

“Some of the claims in this paper are indeed extraordinary,” said Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University. “They conflict with the mainstream understanding of climate change to the point where the standard of proof is quite high.”

Despite any reservations they might have about the new paper, virtually all climate scientists agree with Dr. Hansen’s group that society is not moving fast enough to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, posing grave risks. An agreement reached late last year in Paris seeks to cut emissions, but it is not remotely ambitious enough to limit global warming to the degree Dr. Hansen regards as necessary.

Among Dr. Hansen’s colleagues, some of the discomfiture about the new paper stems from his dual roles as a publishing climate scientist and, in recent years, as a political activist. He has been arrested at rallies, and he has joined with a group of young people who sued the federal government over what they said was its failure to limit global warming.

Dr. Hansen argues that society is in such grave peril that he feels morally compelled to go beyond the normal role played by a scientist and to sound a clear warning.

That stance has made him a hero to college students fighting climate change, but some fellow scientists fear he has opened himself to the charge that he is skewing his scientific research for political purposes.

In 2009, nations agreed to try to limit the planetary warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the preindustrial level. The Earth has already warmed by about half that amount. The climate appears to be destabilizing, virtually all land ice on the planet has started to melt, and the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace.

The paper, written by Dr. Hansen and 18 other authors, dwells on the last time Earth warmed naturally, about 120,000 years ago, when the temperature reached a level estimated to have been only slightly higher than today. Large chunks of the polar ice disintegrated then, and scientists have established that the sea level rose 20 to 30 feet.

Climate scientists agree that humanity is about to cause an equal or greater rise in sea level, but they have tended to assume that such a large increase would take centuries, at least. The new paper argues that it could happen far more rapidly, with the worst case being several feet of sea-level rise over the next 50 years, followed by increases so precipitous that they would force humanity to beat a hasty retreat from the coasts.

“That would mean loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history,” Dr. Hansen said in a video statement that accompanied the new paper.

The paper identifies a specific mechanism that the scientists say they believe could help cause such an abrupt climate shift.

Their idea is that the initial melting of the great ice sheets will put a cap of relatively fresh water on the ocean surfaces near Antarctica and Greenland. That, they think, will slow or even shut down the system of ocean currents that redistributes heat around the planet and allows some of it to escape into space. Warmth will then accumulate in the deeper parts of the ocean, the scientists think, speeding the melting of parts of the ice sheets that sit below sea level.

In addition, a wider temperature difference between the tropics and the poles will encourage powerful storms, the researchers contend. The paper cites evidence, much of it contested, that immense storms happened during the warm period 120,000 years ago.

For instance, the paper says such storms might have thrown giant boulders onto coastal ridges in the Bahamas, though other experts think a tsunami might have been responsible.

  • To the original:  

The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism

March 28th, 2016
  • Not sure I have a lot to say about this other than it makes me feel that where it says “Futurist” on my business card is not unjustified.
  • dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

By Chris Hedges

College-educated elites, on behalf of corporations, carried out the savage neoliberal assault on the working poor. Now they are being made to pay. Their duplicity—embodied in politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—succeeded for decades. These elites, many from East Coast Ivy League schools, spoke the language of values—civility, inclusivity, a condemnation of overt racism and bigotry, a concern for the middle class—while thrusting a knife into the back of the underclass for their corporate masters. This game has ended.

There are tens of millions of Americans, especially lower-class whites, rightfully enraged at what has been done to them, their families and their communities. They have risen up to reject the neoliberal policies and political correctness imposed on them by college-educated elites from both political parties: Lower-class whites are embracing an American fascism.

These Americans want a kind of freedom—a freedom to hate. They want the freedom to use words like “nigger,” “kike,” “spic,” “chink,” “raghead” and “fag.” They want the freedom to idealize violence and the gun culture. They want the freedom to have enemies, to physically assault Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans, homosexuals and anyone who dares criticize their cryptofascism. They want the freedom to celebrate historical movements and figures that the college-educated elites condemn, including the Ku Klux Klan and the Confederacy. They want the freedom to ridicule and dismiss intellectuals, ideas, science and culture. They want the freedom to silence those who have been telling them how to behave. And they want the freedom to revel in hypermasculinity, racism, sexism and white patriarchy. These are the core sentiments of fascism. These sentiments are engendered by the collapse of the liberal state.

The Democrats are playing a very dangerous game by anointing Hillary Clinton as their presidential candidate. She epitomizes the double-dealing of the college-educated elites, those who speak the feel-your-pain language of ordinary men and women, who hold up the bible of political correctness, while selling out the poor and the working class to corporate power.

The Republicans, energized by America’s reality-star version of Il Duce, Donald Trump, have been pulling in voters, especially new voters, while the Democrats are well below the voter turnouts for 2008. In the voting Tuesday, 5.6 million votes were cast for the Democrats while 8.3 million went to the Republicans. Those numbers were virtually reversed in 2008—8.2 million for the Democrats and about 5 million for the Republicans.

Richard Rorty in his last book, “Achieving Our Country,” written in 1998, presciently saw where our postindustrial nation was headed.

Many writers on socioeconomic policy have warned that the old industrialized democracies are heading into a Weimar-like period, one in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments. Edward Luttwak, for example, has suggested that fascism may be the American future. The point of his book The Endangered American Dream is that members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. A scenario like that of Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here may then be played out. For once a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen. In 1932, most of the predictions made about what would happen if Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor were wildly overoptimistic.

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words “nigger” and “kike” will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

Fascist movements build their base not from the politically active but the politically inactive, the “losers” who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the political establishment. The sociologist Émile Durkheim warned that the disenfranchisement of a class of people from the structures of society produced a state of “anomie”—a “condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals.” Those trapped in this “anomie,” he wrote, are easy prey to propaganda and emotionally driven mass movements. Hannah Arendt, echoing Durkheim, noted that “the chief characteristic of the mass man is not brutality and backwardness, but his isolation and lack of normal social relationships.”

In fascism the politically disempowered and disengaged, ignored and reviled by the establishment, discover a voice and a sense of empowerment.

As Arendt noted, the fascist and communist movements in Europe in the 1930s “… recruited their members from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention. The result was that the majority of their membership consisted of people who had never before appeared on the political scene. This permitted the introduction of entirely new methods into political propaganda, and indifference to the arguments of political opponents; these movements not only placed themselves outside and against the party system as a whole, they found a membership that had never been reached, never been ‘spoiled’ by the party system. Therefore they did not need to refute opposing arguments and consistently preferred methods which ended in death rather than persuasion, which spelled terror rather than conviction. They presented disagreements as invariably originating in deep natural, social, or psychological sources beyond the control of the individual and therefore beyond the control of reason. This would have been a shortcoming only if they had sincerely entered into competition with either parties; it was not if they were sure of dealing with people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties.”

Fascism is aided and advanced by the apathy of those who are tired of being conned and lied to by a bankrupt liberal establishment, whose only reason to vote for a politician or support a political party is to elect the least worst. This, for many voters, is the best Clinton can offer.

Fascism expresses itself in familiar and comforting national and religious symbols, which is why it comes in various varieties and forms. Italian fascism, which looked back to the glory of the Roman Empire, for example, never shared the Nazis’ love of Teutonic and Nordic myths. American fascism too will reach back to traditional patriotic symbols, narratives and beliefs.

Robert Paxton wrote in “The Anatomy of Fascism”:

The language and symbols of an authentic American fascism would, of course, have little to do with the original European models. They would have to be as familiar and reassuring to loyal Americans as the language and symbols of the original fascisms were familiar and reassuring to many Italians and Germans, as [George] Orwell suggested. Hitler and Mussolini, after all, had not tried to seem exotic to their fellow citizens. No swastikas in an American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses. No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the pledge of allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.

Fascism is about an inspired and seemingly strong leader who promises moral renewal, new glory and revenge. It is about the replacement of rational debate with sensual experience. This is why the lies, half-truths and fabrications by Trump have no impact on his followers. Fascists transform politics, as philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin pointed out, into aesthetics. And the ultimate aesthetic for the fascist, Benjamin said, is war.

Paxton singles out the amorphous ideology characteristic of all fascist movements.

Fascism rested not upon the truth of its doctrine but upon the leader’s mystical union with the historic destiny of his people, a notion related to romanticist ideas of national historic flowering and of individual artistic or spiritual genius, though fascism otherwise denied romanticism’s exaltation of unfettered personal creativity. The fascist leader wanted to bring his people into a higher realm of politics that they would experience sensually: the warmth of belonging to a race now fully aware of its identity, historic destiny, and power; the excitement of participating in a wave of shared feelings, and of sacrificing one’s petty concerns for the group’s good; and the thrill of domination.

There is only one way left to blunt the yearning for fascism coalescing around Trump. It is to build, as fast as possible, movements or parties that declare war on corporate power, engage in sustained acts of civil disobedience and seek to reintegrate the disenfranchised—the “losers”—back into the economy and political life of the country. This movement will never come out of the Democratic Party. If Clinton prevails in the general election Trump may disappear, but the fascist sentiments will expand. Another Trump, perhaps more vile, will be vomited up from the bowels of the decayed political system. We are fighting for our political life. Tremendous damage has been done by corporate power and the college-educated elites to our capitalist democracy. The longer the elites, who oversaw this disemboweling of the country on behalf of corporations—who believe, as does CBS Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves, that however bad Trump would be for America he would at least be good for corporate profit—remain in charge, the worse it is going to get.

  • to the original:

Four billion people face severe water scarcity, new research finds

February 16th, 2016

Water shortages affecting two-thirds of world’s population for a month every year and the crisis is far worse than previously thought

At least two-thirds of the global population, over 4 billion people, live with severe water scarcity for at least one month every year, according to a major new analysis.

The revelation shows water shortages, one of the most dangerous challenges the world faces, is far worse previously than thought.

The new research also reveals that 500m people live in places where water consumption is double the amount replenished by rain for the entire year, leaving them extremely vulnerable as underground aquifers run down.

Many of those living with fragile water resources are in India and China, but other regions highlighted are the central and western US, Australia and even the city of London.

These water problems are set to worsen, according to the researchers, as population growth and increasing water use – particularly through eating meat – continues to rise.

In January, water crises were rated as one of three greatest risks of harm to people and economies in the next decade by the World Economic Forum, alongside climate change and mass migration. In places, such as Syria, the three risks come together: a recent study found that climate change made the severe 2007-2010 drought much more likely and the drought led to mass migration of farming families into cities.

“If you look at environmental problems, [water scarcity] is certainly the top problem,” said Prof Arjen Hoekstra, at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and who led the new research. “One place where it is very, very acute is in Yemen.”

Yemen could run out of water within a few years, but many other places are living on borrowed time as aquifers are continuously depleted, including Pakistan, Iran, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia.

Hoekstra also highlights the Murray-Darling basin in Australia and the midwest of the US. “There you have the huge Ogallala acquifer, which is being depleted.” He said even rich cities like London in the UK were living unsustainably: “You don’t have the water in the surrounding area to sustain the water flows” to London in the long term.

The new study, published in the journal Science Advances on Friday, is the first to examine global water scarcity on a monthly basis and at a resolution of 31 miles or less. It analysed data from 1996-2005 and found severe water scarcity – defined as water use being more than twice the amount being replenished – affected 4 billion people for at least one month a year.

“The results imply the global water situation is much worse than suggested by previous studies, which estimated such scarcity impacts between 1.7 billion and 3.1 billion people,” the researchers concluded. The new work also showed 1.8 billion people suffer severe water scarcity for at least half of every year.

Farming is the biggest user of water and the growing global population requires more food. Furthermore, changing diets are having a major impact, as people with rising incomes eat more meat.

“Taking a shorter shower is not the answer” to the global problem, said Hoekstra, because just 1-4% of a person’s water footprint is in the home, while 25% is via meat consumption. It takes over 15,000 litres of water to make 1kg of beef, with almost all of that used to irrigate the crops fed to the cattle.

Another unique aspect of the new research was that it included environmental water requirements, ie the water needed to ensure that life survives in the rivers and lakes. Fish can be important sources of food for people, who also use waterways for transport.

Even just one month of severe water scarcity can have a devastating impact on the health of a river, said Hoekstra: “An empty river is not a river.” Rivers that run dry before they reach the end of their course, or come close to doing so, include the Colorado river in the western US and the Yellow river in China.

David Tickner, chief freshwater adviser at WWF-UK, said: “This paper is another pointer to the urgency of this challenge. Billions of people, and many economies, are increasingly suffering because of water-related risks which could be better managed. The same risks are causing a collapse in aquatic wildlife around the globe.”

Hoekstra said caps on water use should be put in place for all river basins, companies should be transparent about how much water is needed to make their products and look to reduce it while investors should incorporate water sustainability into their decision-making.

  • To the Original:

Maybe Better If You Don’t Read This Story on Public WiFi

January 7th, 2016

– I knew things were bad – but I didn’t know they were this bad.

– Unless you want to be in complete denial about your computer security issues, you will want to read this.

– dennis

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

We took a hacker to a café and, in 20 minutes, he knew where everyone else was born, what schools they attended, and the last five things they googled.

In his backpack, Wouter Slotboom, 34, carries around a small black device, slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes, with an antenna on it. I meet Wouter by chance at a random cafe in the center of Amsterdam. It is a sunny day and almost all the tables are occupied. Some people talk, others are working on their laptops or playing with their smartphones.

Wouter removes his laptop from his backpack, puts the black device on the table, and hides it under a menu. A waitress passes by and we ask for two coffees and the password for the WiFi network. Meanwhile, Wouter switches on his laptop and device, launches some programs, and soon the screen starts to fill with green text lines. It gradually becomes clear that Wouter’s device is connecting to the laptops, smartphones, and tablets of cafe visitors.

On his screen, phrases like “iPhone Joris” and “Simone’s MacBook” start to appear. The device’s antenna is intercepting the signals that are being sent from the laptops, smartphones, and tablets around us.

More text starts to appear on the screen. We are able to see which WiFi networks the devices were previously connected to. Sometimes the names of the networks are composed of mostly numbers and random letters, making it hard to trace them to a definite location, but more often than not, these WiFi networks give away the place they belong to.

We learn that Joris had previously visited McDonald’s, probably spent his vacation in Spain (lots of Spanish-language network names), and had been kart-racing (he had connected to a network belonging to a well-known local kart-racing center). Martin, another café visitor, had been logged on to the network of Heathrow airport and the American airline Southwest. In Amsterdam, he’s probably staying at the White Tulip Hostel. He had also paid a visit to a coffee shop called The Bulldog.

Session 1:

Let everyone connect to our fake network

The waitress serves us our coffee and hands us the WiFi password. After Slotboom is connected, he is able to provide all the visitors with an internet connection and to redirect all internet traffic through his little device.

Most smartphones, laptops, and tablets automatically search and connect to WiFi networks. They usually prefer a network with a previously established connection. If you have ever logged on to the T-Mobile network on the train, for example, your device will search for a T-Mobile network in the area.

Slotboom’s device is capable of registering these searches and appearing as that trusted WiFi network. I suddenly see the name of my home network appear on my iPhone’s list of available networks, as well as my workplace, and a list of cafes, hotel lobbies, trains, and other public places I’ve visited. My phone automatically connects itself to one of these networks, which all belong to the black device.

Slotboom can also broadcast a fictitious network name, making users believe they are actually connecting to the network of the place they’re visiting. For example, if a place has a WiFi network consisting of random letters and numbers (Fritzbox xyz123), Slotboom is able to provide the network name (Starbucks). People, he says, are much more willing to connect to these.

We see more and more visitors log on to our fictitious network. The siren song of the little black device appears to be irresistible. Already 20 smartphones and laptops are ours. If he wanted to, Slotboom could now completely ruin the lives of the people connected: He can retrieve their passwords, steal their identity, and plunder their bank accounts. Later today, he will show me how. I have given him permission to hack me in order to demonstrate what he is capable of, though it could be done to anyone with a smartphone in search of a network, or a laptop connecting to a WiFi network.

Everything, with very few exceptions, can be cracked.

The idea that public WiFi networks are not secure is not exactly news. It is, however, news that can’t be repeated often enough. There are currently more than 1.43 billion smartphone users worldwide and more than 150 million smartphone owners in the U.S. More than 92 million American adults own a tablet and more than 155 million own a laptop. Each year the worldwide demand for more laptops and tablets increases. In 2013, an estimated 206 million tablets and 180 million laptops were sold worldwide. Probably everyone with a portable device has once been connected to a public WiFi network: while having a coffee, on the train, or at a hotel.

The good news is that some networks are better protected than others; some email and social media services use encryption methods that are more secure than their competitors. But spend a day walking in the city with Wouter Slotboom, and you’ll find that almost everything and everyone connected to a WiFi network can be hacked. A study from threat intelligence consultancy Risk Based Security estimates that more than 822 million records were exposed worldwide in 2013, including credit card numbers, birth dates, medical information, phone numbers, social security numbers, addresses, user names, emails, names, and passwords. Sixty-five percent of those records came from the U.S. According to IT security firm Kaspersky Lab, in 2013 an estimated 37.3 million users worldwide and 4.5 million Americans were the victim of phishing—or pharming—attempts, meaning payment details were stolen from hacked computers, smartphones, or website users.

Report after report shows that digital identity fraud is an increasingly common problem. Hackers and cybercriminals currently have many different tricks at their disposal. But the prevalence of open, unprotected WiFi networks does make it extremely easy for them. The Netherlands National Cyber ??Security Center, a division of the Ministry of Security and Justice, did not issue the following advice in vain: “It is not advisable to use open WiFi networks in public places. If these networks are used, work or financial related activities should better be avoided.”

Slotboom calls himself an “ethical hacker,” or one of the good guys; a technology buff who wants to reveal the potential dangers of the internet and technology. He advises individuals and companies on how to better protect themselves and their information. He does this, as he did today, usually by demonstrating how easy it is to inflict damage. Because really, it’s child’s play: The device is cheap, and the software for intercepting traffic is very easy to use and is readily available for download. “All you need is 70 Euros, an average IQ, and a little patience,” he says. I will refrain from elaborating on some of the more technical aspects, such as equipment, software, and apps needed to go about hacking people.

Session 2:

Scanning for name, passwords, and sexual orientation

Armed with Slotboom’s backpack, we move to a coffeehouse that is known for the beautiful flowers drawn in the foam of the lattes, and as a popular spot for freelancers working on laptops. This place is now packed with people concentrating on their screens.

Slotboom switches on his equipment. He takes us through the same steps, and within a couple of minutes, 20 or so devices are connected to ours. Again we see their Mac-addresses and login history, and in some cases their owners’ names. At my request, we now go a step further.

Slotboom launches another program (also readily available for download), which allows him to extract even more information from the connected smartphones and laptops. We are able to see the specifications of the mobile phone models (Samsung Galaxy S4), the language settings for the different devices, and the version of the operating system used (iOS 7.0.5). If a device has an outdated operating system, for example, there are always known “bugs,” or holes in the security system that can be easily exploited. With this kind of information, you have what you need to break into the operating system and take over the device. A sampling of the coffeehouse customers reveals that none of the connected devices have the latest version of the operating system installed. For all these legacy systems, a known bug is listed online.

We can now see some of the actual internet traffic of those around us. We see that someone with a MacBook is browsing the site Nu.nl. We can see that many devices are sending documents using WeTransfer, some are connecting to Dropbox, and some show activity on Tumblr. We see that someone has just logged on to FourSquare. The name of this person is also shown, and, after googling his name, we recognize him as the person sitting just a few feet away from us.

Information comes flooding in, even from visitors who are not actively working or surfing. Many email programs and apps constantly make contact with their servers—a necessary step for a device to retrieve new emails. For some devices and programs, we are able to see what information is being sent, and to which server.

And now it’s getting really personal. We see that one visitor has the gay dating app Grindr installed on his smartphone. We also see the name and type of the smartphone he’s using (iPhone 5s). We stop here, but it would be a breeze to find out to who the phone belongs to. We also see that someone’s phone is attempting to connect to a server in Russia, sending the password along with it, which we are able to intercept.

Session 3:

Obtaining information on occupation, hobbies, and relational problems

Many apps, programs, websites, and types of software make use of encryption technologies. These are there to ensure that the information sent and received from a device is not accessible to unauthorized eyes. But once the user is connected to Slotboom’s WiFi network, these security measures can be circumvented relatively easily, with the help of decryption software.

To our shared surprise, we see an app sending personal information to a company that sells online advertising. Among other things, we see the location data, technical information of the phone, and information of the WiFi network. We can also see the name (first and last) of a woman using the social bookmarking website Delicious. Delicious allows users to share websites—bookmarks—they are interested in. In principle, the pages that users of Delicious share are available publicly, yet we can’t help feeling like voyeurs when we realize just how much we are able to learn about this woman on the basis of this information.

First we google her name, which immediately allows us to determine what she looks like and where in the coffeehouse she is sitting. We learn that she was born in a different European country and only recently moved to the Netherlands. Through Delicious we discover that she’s been visiting the website of a Dutch language course and she has bookmarked a website with information on the Dutch integration course.

In less than 20 minutes, here’s what we’ve learned about the woman sitting 10 feet from us: where she was born, where she studied, that she has an interest in yoga, that she’s bookmarked an online offer for a anti-snore mantras, recently visited Thailand and Laos, and shows a remarkable interest in sites that offer tips on how to save a relationship.

Slotboom shows me some more hacker tricks. Using an app on his phone, he is able to change specific words on any website. For example, whenever the word “Opstelten” (the name of a Dutch politician) is mentioned, people see the word “Dutroux” (the name of a convicted serial killer) rendered on the page instead. We tested it and it works. We try another trick: Anyone loading a website that includes pictures gets to see a picture selected by Slotboom. This all sounds funny if you’re looking for some mischief, but it also makes it possible to load images of child pornography on someone’s smartphone, the possession of which is a criminal offense.

Password intercepted

We visit yet another cafe. My last request to Slotboom is to show me what he would do if he wanted to really harm me. He asks me to go to Live.com (the Microsoft email site) and enter a random username and password. A few seconds later, the information I just typed appears on his screen. “Now I have the login details of your email account,” Slotboom says. “The first thing I would do is change the password of your account and indicate to other services you use that I have forgotten my password. Most people use the same email account for all services. And those new passwords will then be sent to your mailbox, which means I will have them at my disposal as well.” We do the same for Facebook: Slotboom is able to intercept the login name and password I entered with relative ease.

Another trick that Slotboom uses is to divert my internet traffic. For example, whenever I try to access the webpage of my bank, he has instructed his program to re-direct me to a page he owns: a cloned site that appears to be identical to the trusted site, but is in fact completely controlled by Slotboom. Hackers call this DNS spoofing. The information I entered on the site is stored on the server owned by Slotboom. Within 20 minutes he’s obtained the login details, including passwords for my Live.com, SNS Bank, Facebook, and DigiD accounts.

I will never again be connecting to an insecure public WiFi network without taking security measures.

– Follow this link to the original of this story…

…from a letter to a friend….

December 25th, 2015
You have new angles I’ve never suspected.  A Marshal McLuhan fan, I’m thinking.
And I get what you are saying.  Everything is modified by media.
But it reminds me of the description of the classic discussion between a new meditator and a meditation teacher.
The teacher explains to the highly incredulous newbie that all those voices in his head – all that ego chatter, no matter how real it seems and no matter how omnipresent it is – it is not who they are.
He says that who you really are is the silence that sits quietly behind the ego’s chatter – and that this is true no matter whether you believe it or not.
“How can one know this is true?”, the student asks?
The teacher says “Simple logic. The chatter is like the contents of a bowl and the silence is the bowl.   You can take the ego’s chatter out and still have the bowl’s silence.  But you cannot remove the bowl and still have the ego’s chatter.  Hence we know which one is more fundamental.”
The media is like this.  It is omnipresent, it taints everything and everything is modified and shaped by it.  But, in the end, it is nothing without us.  Without us, it cannot exist though we can exist without it.
So, I acknowledge the media’s power but I can’t go so far as you and believe that nothing is happening but the media and its effects.
Under the firestorm of information echoing and feeding back on itself is the physical world, are the lives being lived and lost, is every child learning to walk and every human learning to love.
They say that the first thing a surgeon reaches for when they confronting a problem is a scalpel, or a carpenter a hammer.
Perhaps, after so many years in the media and so many years drinking its particular kool-aid, you have lost the sense that it is, in the end, a powerful overlay and a echo machine of a high order – but it is not the substrate.
One of the reasons I read so many things, as I’m sure you do, is because multiple cross correlations can tend to null out local effects.  It has been hard to get a ‘handle’ on ISIS.  Cultural echoes, media echoes, vested interest echoes, nationalistic echoes and more are all jamming the river of information with crap and bias.
But, unless I’m to believe that the media is the ground or substrate of the world, I have to believe that under its storm of echoes, there lies a deeper reality that, while perhaps difficult to see clearly, is there none the less.
I know you are an idealist and a realist and that it is a hard thing to be both.  And I know that people, myself very much included, can get burnt out by the world’s insanities and just go stale towards it all.  I hear some of that in your words, my friend.
In all of the insanity of this world, there still is a higher road.  And, in an amusing way, it is not through it but rather around it.
When Buddha said that when we wish reality to be different than it is, we only manufacturers unhappiness for ourselves, he was sharing a great truth.  There are a lot of truths like that lying about.  With them, one can embark on transcending rather than coping or conquering or even understanding the world.
Someone once said, “Be in the world but not of the world”.  Or, more graphically, as Ali said, “Float like a butterfly and string like a bee.”
All your criticisms have a very large grain of truth in them which you’ve won through hard experience and, undoubtedly, the loss of some skin.  But there’s more.
I spend a lot of time looking at this world square on trying to see its realities behinds its illusions.  But I remain joyful in spite of all that because I think there’s more.
And, if like an Existentialist or a Stoic, you look at it square and accept that there is one hell of a lot that cannot be changed, there still is all the rest to play in.  And one of the best areas to play in is your own mind and perceptions.  They are malleable, they are shapable and they are yours to own.  Intentional, incremental self transcendence is quite simply capable of being yours.
That was recorded lecture #43 from Dennis’ “Ministry to Burnt Out News Folk”.  Stay tuned next week when we offer a shampoo that will, with just one application, make you literally 20 years younger and twice as smart.
Until then, hang onto your willy and never give up,
Dennis

Iranian hackers infiltrated U.S. power grid, dam computers, reports say

December 24th, 2015
  • This is a scary article.  And reading it, you might be forgiven if you think this is something new and that our government’s security folks will be all over soon to quash it.
  • But,in fact, it is not new.  Not hardly.  The United State’s power structures have been under attack by foreign hackers and very likely compromised for sometime now.
  • Compromised how?  And how badly, you say?
  • Well, first they are compromised primarily because the Internet and the power grid networks involved are just simply too much and too complicated. The number of people who really understand technical stuff at this level are few. And the need to have our power infrastructure all up and running all the time is intense. We have thousands of facilities, thousands of people working in the industry and God only knows how many software vendors have written packages to help make it all run and sold the packages to the industry. Just think of how little you, your friends and your neighbors (and virtually all the people you know) really know about computers and networks and you’ll begin to see how few are protecting so many from so much.
  • And how badly are we compromised?
  • Well, you’ll have to read the article to get some idea of how badly we’re compromised – but know this:  this is not new.  Here’s a link to an article I posted back in April of 2009 – on this same subject.  You might read it first and then read the new article and see if you think ‘the government’s security folks will be all over [this situation] soon to quash it’.
  • Here’s a few quotes from the new article to get your juices flowing:
  •  
    • “The hackers have gained access to an aging, outdated power system. Many of the substations and equipment that move power across the U.S. are decrepit and were never built with network security in mind; hooking the plants up to the Internet over the last decade has given hackers new backdoors in.”
    • “Last year, Homeland Security released several maps that showed a virtual hit list of critical infrastructure, including two substations in the San Francisco Bay area, water and gas pipelines and a refinery. And according to a previously reported study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a coordinated attack on just nine critical power stations could cause a coast-to-coast blackout that could last months, far longer than the one that plunged the Northeast into darkness in 2003.”
  • dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Iranian hackers breached the control system of a dam near New York City in 2013, and are also implicated in some of a dozen attacks that have infiltrated the U.S. power grid system in the last decade, say two separate reports.

The reports by the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press both raise concerns about the security of the country’s aging infrastructure.

Two people familiar with the dam breach told the Wall Street Journal it occurred at the Bowman Avenue Dam in Rye, New York. The small structure about 20 miles from New York City is used for flood control.

The hackers gained access to the dam through a cellular modem, the Journal said, citing an unclassified Department of Homeland Security summary of the incident that did not specify the type of infrastructure.

The breach came as hackers linked to the Iranian government were attacking U.S. bank websites after American spies damaged an Iranian nuclear facility with the Stuxnet computer worm.

Homeland Security spokesman S.Y. Lee would not confirm the breach to Reuters. He said the department’s 24-hour cybersecurity information-sharing hub and an emergency response team coordinate responses to threats to and vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure.

Meanwhile, about a dozen times in the last decade, sophisticated foreign hackers have gained enough remote access to control the operations networks that keep the lights on, according to top experts who spoke only on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter, the Associated Press found.

Security researcher Brian Wallace was on the trail of hackers who had snatched a California university’s housing files when he stumbled into one example: Cyberattackers had opened a pathway into the networks running the United States power grid.

Digital clues pointed to Iranian hackers. And Wallace found that they had already taken passwords, as well as engineering drawings of dozens of power plants, at least one with the title “Mission Critical.”

The drawings were so detailed that experts say skilled attackers could have used them, along with other tools and malicious code, to knock out electricity flowing to millions of homes.

The attack targeted Calpine Corp., a power producer with 82 plants operating in 18 states and Canada — it has one plant in Courtright, Ont. The hacking software appeared to originate in Iran, but the hacking group included members in the Netherlands, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Wallace was astonished. But this breach, The Associated Press has found, was not unique.

Capability to strike at will

These intrusions have not caused the kind of cascading blackouts that are feared by the intelligence community. But so many attackers have stowed away in the systems that run the U.S. electric grid that experts say they likely have the capability to strike at will.

The hackers have gained access to an aging, outdated power system. Many of the substations and equipment that move power across the U.S. are decrepit and were never built with network security in mind; hooking the plants up to the Internet over the last decade has given hackers new backdoors in.

Distant wind farms, home solar panels, smart meters and other networked devices must be remotely monitored and controlled, which opens up the broader system to fresh points of attack. Hundreds of contractors sell software and equipment to energy companies, and attackers have successfully used those outside companies as a way to get inside networks tied to the grid.

None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use

December 19th, 2015
  • With truths like this laying about on the ground around us, is it any wonder some of us get discouraged about our prospects.
  • dennis

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The notion of “externalities” has become familiar in environmental circles. It refers to costs imposed by businesses that are not paid for by those businesses. For instance, industrial processes can put pollutants in the air that increase public health costs, but the public, not the polluting businesses, picks up the tab. In this way, businesses privatize profits and publicize costs.

While the notion is incredibly useful, especially in folding ecological concerns into economics, I’ve always had my reservations about it. Environmentalists these days love speaking in the language of economics — it makes them sound Serious — but I worry that wrapping this notion in a bloodless technical term tends to have a narcotizing effect. It brings to mind incrementalism: boost a few taxes here, tighten a regulation there, and the industrial juggernaut can keep right on chugging. However, if we take the idea seriously, not just as an accounting phenomenon but as a deep description of current human practices, its implications are positively revolutionary.

To see what I mean, check out a recent report [PDF] done by environmental consultancy Trucost on behalf of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program sponsored by United Nations Environmental Program. TEEB asked Trucost to tally up the total “unpriced natural capital” consumed by the world’s top industrial sectors. (“Natural capital” refers to ecological materials and services like, say, clean water or a stable atmosphere; “unpriced” means that businesses don’t pay to consume them.)

It’s a huge task; obviously, doing it required a specific methodology that built in a series of assumptions. (Plenty of details in the report.) But it serves as an important signpost pointing the way to the truth about externalities.

Here’s how those costs break down:

The majority of unpriced natural capital costs are from greenhouse gas emissions (38%), followed by water use (25%), land use (24%), air pollution (7%), land and water pollution (5%), and waste (1%).

So how much is that costing us? Trucost’s headline results are fairly stunning.

First, the total unpriced natural capital consumed by the more than 1,000 “global primary production and primary processing region-sectors” amounts to $7.3 trillion a year — 13 percent of 2009 global GDP.

(A “region-sector” is a particular industry in a particular region — say, wheat farming in East Asia.)

Second, surprising no one, coal is the enemy of the human race. Trucost compiled rankings, both of the top environmental impacts and of the top industrial culprits.

Here are the top five biggest environmental impacts and the region-sectors responsible for them:

UNEP: top five environmental impacts
Click to embiggen.
UNEP

The biggest single environmental cost? Greenhouse gases from coal burning in China. The fifth biggest? Greenhouse gases from coal burning in North America. (This also shows what an unholy nightmare deforestation in South America is.)

Now, here are the top five industrial sectors ranked by total ecological damages imposed:

 

UNEP: top five industrial sectors by impact
Click to embiggen.
UNEP

It’s coal again! This time North American coal is up at number three.

Trucost’s third big finding is the coup de grace. Of the top 20 region-sectors ranked by environmental impacts, none would be profitable if environmental costs were fully integrated. Ponder that for a moment: None of the world’s top industrial sectors would be profitable if they were paying their full freight. Zero.

That amounts to an global industrial system built on sleight of hand. As Paul Hawken likes to put it, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP.

This gets back to what I was saying at the top. The notion of “externalities” is so technical, such an economist’s term. Got a few unfortunate side effects, so just move some numbers from Column A to Column B, right?

But the UNEP report makes clear that what’s going on today is more than a few accounting oversights here and there. The distance between today’s industrial systems and truly sustainable industrial systems — systems that do not spend down stored natural capital but instead integrate into current energy and material flows — is not one of degree, but one of kind. What’s needed is not just better accounting but a new global industrial system, a new way of providing for human wellbeing, and fast. That means a revolution.

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