Crypto phones and dubious cell phone towers

September 4th, 2014

HackedPhoneMysterious Phony Cell Towers Could Be Intercepting Your Calls

Every smart phone has a secondary OS, which can be hijacked by high-tech hackers

Like many of the ultra-secure phones that have come to market in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks, the CryptoPhone 500, which is marketed in the U.S. by ESD America and built on top of an unassuming Samsung Galaxy SIII body, features high-powered encryption. Les Goldsmith, the CEO of ESD America, says the phone also runs a customized or “hardened” version of Android that removes 468 vulnerabilities that his engineering team team found in the stock installation of the OS.

His mobile security team also found that the version of the Android OS that comes standard on the Samsung Galaxy SIII leaks data to parts unknown 80-90 times every hour.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that the phone has been hacked, Goldmsith says, but the user can’t know whether the data is beaming out from a particular app, the OS, or an illicit piece of spyware.  His clients want real security and control over their device, and have the money to pay for it.

To show what the CryptoPhone can do that less expensive competitors cannot, he points me to a map that he and his customers have created, indicating 17 different phony cell towers known as “interceptors,” detected by the CryptoPhone 500 around the United States during the month of July alone. Once the phone connects with the interceptor, a variety of “over-the-air” attacks become possible, from eavesdropping on calls and texts to pushing spyware to the device.

“Interceptor use in the U.S. is much higher than people had anticipated,” Goldsmith says.  “One of our customers took a road trip from Florida to North Carolina and he found 8 different interceptors on that trip.  We even found one at South Point Casino in Las Vegas.”

- More… :arrow:

- 16Sep14 – More on this story… :arrow:

Thoughts from friends

August 24th, 2014

- I have some excellent friends,   People whose thoughts and minds I admire for many reasons.   We do not always agree on all things but I always respect their thought processes and their integrity.

- I’ve occasionally posted things here on Samadhisoft that my friends have written to me in personal correspondence.  Today, I’m going to do so again. With a few changes to remove names and identifying E-Mail addresses, I should be able to publish their words and still leave the authors anonymous.

- To set the stage, the first E-Mail here was between myself and a friend who is from India but now lives in the U.S.  He and I are discussing the election of India’s newest Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and other various subjects.  

- Later, I forwarded my Indian friend’s  E-Mail to another astute friend of mine, an American, and I found his comments to be highly interesting and thoughtful as well.

- All of it is good food for thought and I hope you find it so as well.

- dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = =Round one  = = = = = = = = = = = =

This original thread began because I’d commented to my Indian friend on a story I’d seen in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.  It might help to read that article to place the following discussions in context.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/mar/14/new-india-gujarat-massacre

My friend’s response:

Hi Dennis,

Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat…well, he is the product of RSS, a Hindu outfit which has existed for at least 70 years. There were riots, and Muslims died. Since then  the arguments rage if he really turned a blind eye to them. A Muslim MP, Ehsan Jaffri, in whose home many Muslims felt safe, was torched alive, and there was a massacre. His widow is still fighting it out in various courts.

But you have to understand a few things also. Hindus are in majority in India, and highly divided in their votes. Muslims, a minority,  are mainly used as vote banks by various “secular” political parties.

So the politicians promote the already existing cultural differences between the two religions. It is easy to fan flames because the formation of Pakistan in 1947 was a bloody carving out of Indian flesh, and thousand s died, and books like Tamas, and A train to Pakistan and various movies have kept the flames alive, and there are people still alive who have seen the carnage. Only when they are all dead, can this holocaust be forgotten.

To woo Muslims to use as election fodder, various political parties offer them freebies which are the cause of angst among Hindus. The Muslims don’t’ help either. They can marry Hindu girls after converting them to Islam, but woe betide the house in which a Hindu boy marries a Muslim girl! They can marry four times,bringing home 4 wives, –which is the origin of Modi’s statement “we five, breeding twenty five”. Hindus can marry only once, and there is a real fear that in time, Mulsims may outnumber Hindus.

Next, they are not so educated, preferring to go to work (like China’s home factories) and they fight everything modern. For instance, Polio drops, photographing humans and contraceptives are against their religion. Because the Holy Qoran says so!!! So say the Maulvis! Of course, Muslims don’t read the book to verify the statements. And can you imagine the living standard of a little educated household, having 5-6 children, and adults?

Then, the triple Talaq. Any man can divorce his wife just by saying Talaq thrice. No maintenance, no support  of any sort. And very few of their women are literate or have any skill except the domestic ones.

All these horrify us. Look, my family rented out two rooms on the ground floor to a Muslim couple. They mentioned kids, and we thought that it would be the normal 1-2. In two rooms, one kitchen and one bathroom, the couple, their four sons, two of them with wives, with four small kids of their own, live! Can you imagine that? We tried to get rid of them, by telling them to go, and raising their rent to triple the normal…no effect. Every Sunday when they hang out their washing, it looks like the laundry of a major hospital! They have no furniture, and when I step into their rooms, frankly everything stinks.

And whenever there is an India-Pakistan match, Muslims cheer for Pakistanis! In a war, they hope Pakistan wins! Every terrorist apprehended in India, (except the group responsible for the Samjhauta Train bombing) are Muslims–fighting a Holy War against their own country.

All the other religions here Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism have originated here. Christianity and Islam have originated in the deserts of Israel and Arabia. We don’t relate to the stories–of deserts and tribes etc. But the Christians are doing good work–Mother Teresa, and many others here. Most of us have attended Christian churches and go to Christian hospitals.

The Muslims have spewed nothing but hatred. I have spent 12 years in Hyderabad, where there is a majority of Muslims, and I know what I am writing about. Many Hindu girls used to be kidnapped–and sold to Arabian Sheikhs.

A typical Hindu family consists of husband- wife, his parents, and their children–about one or two. Frankly we can’t afford more, because we have to educate the kids, build a home, look after our parents, and save for the future. We have to have furniture, all the modern gadgets, and a vibrant social life.

Well, previously, though tensions simmered, these problems were solved by walled cities within cities–the Hindu area, and the Muslim area. But since their home factories started manufacturing bombs–can you imagine, in a one and a half room apartment in Mumbai, a husband-wife, and their daughter and son put together bombs, and placed them in crowded areas in Mumbai, killing many people. The women wore the long black veil in trial court–they are too modest to show their faces, but not too modest to plant bombs!–sympathy for them has fast eroded.

We are in the majority, so we have to keep quiet–as human rights exist only for the minorities!

Now for the first time, there is a leader in India who is a Hindu, and proudly so.

Is he Hitler? Only time will tell!

But he is not corrupt personally–no personal life, no property, does not drink, smoke, is a vegetarian..and is highly popular in his home state which is the most developed one in the country–building canals across deserts, flyovers, a safe and single window clearance for investors…it is the only state where you can call up a government official over the phone and ask for information, and he will either let you know, or promise to research and call you back–and does that. ( I tried it). No corruption is tolerated in Gujarat.

And Modi is promising that for the rest of India…and even Muslims agree that development will include them.

There are other religions in India too. Parsees the fireworshippers, descendents of Zoroastrians, Jews, atheists..so silent that we don’t even realize that they are different….until they occupy the top posts…Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, many army officers, bankers the Wadia family, the Tatas….they do good, always.

The Jews are on record stating that India is the only country where they have never been persecuted. In the Mumbai blasts, a synagogue was attacked and the young Rabbi family was killed–by Muslim terrorists from Pakistan.

We have had no problem with anyone because: they want the same thing every same person wishes for–to live in peace, in his or her own way. India, under Hindus has never attacked any other country in the last 10,000 years of its existence.

Muslims? They call all non-believers Kafirs. Their religion ensures Jannat (Paradise) for anyone who kills Kafirs. (This is not in the Holy Qoran–I read it.) But they believe all their Maulvis tell them. Kasab, the terrorist taken alive in Mumbai blasts, thought that the dead bodies of those who were ‘martyred’ while killing Kafirs–in Jihad (Holy War)– would never rot, but keep giving off a scent like roses. Till the Judgement Day, so that Allah can recognize them and reward them with Paradise. He broke down when he was shown the decomposing bodies of his comrades

They believe that all knowledge is in the Qoran. If it is not there, it is not knowledge, but the Shaitan (Satan) at work, gulling us.

Muslims used to work in the Gulf countries, and many other nations, as blue collar workers. In my childhood in Hyderabad, the richest people were Muslims, who sent home money in dollars.

Now they are welcome –nowhere. Non-Muslims in India–the educated workers employed in various industries in the whole world, are the ones doing well now. Many countries balk in issuing visas to Muslims and Pakistanis.

When a bill was moved in the parliament to settle alimony on a divorced Muslim woman, it was opposed. Unislamic!  Such women are a burden on their families, or forced into petty crime.

France is having trouble with the veil.

All of these are shaping the psyche of the youth. Many Muslim engineers are working to destabilize India–bombs, arson, cybercrime etc. It is just as though they could have been good , but something in their chromosomes does not let them be.

Of course, not all Muslims are bad.  But since all the bad guys are Muslims, this has cast a pall over them all.

- and thus ends my Indian friend’s E-Mail.

= = = = = = = = = = = Round two = = = = = = = = = = =

- And here begin my second friend’s comments:

Dennis, thanks for this.  I found [your friend's] message interesting.  I don’t know a lot about Indian culture, but as you know I studied religion in college, and India is both crucible and carnival when it comes to religious beliefs, a birthplace and meeting place.  This has been true for millennia.

I share [your friend's] leeriness when it comes to Islam.  Oh, not those Muslims who practice a watered-down version of their religion, as many do in the West — I fear the fundamentalists.  Actually I consider fundamentalists of any religious stripe dangerous.  I have always said religion is fine — as long as it is kept in a cage with all its teeth pulled out.

To the degree that religion addresses deep existential issues — “Why are we here?” — it is not just beneficial, but inevitable.  It answers a deep-seated need in people, and a society that relentlessly suppresses religion or outlaws it (the Soviets, the Nazis) at some point goes off the rails.

Americans in the U.S. have lived in a religiously pluralistic and tolerant society for so long, they don’t always keenly appreciate the dangers here, until there is a Waco compound incident.

If people relinquish control of their lives by handing themselves over, body and soul, to a religious paradigm, then they leave themselves vulnerable to the a-rational (and therefore potentially ir-rational) components of religion.

Religion is like alcohol — a moderate amount makes life more pleasant and is even good for you; too much is a scourge.

What I believe is that a society must be guided by a strong civic spirit, that civility is crowned queen of the virtues.  Why?  Because otherwise, we’re blowing up buses.  Religious fervor is not the only fuel for such evil — the Nazis were secular and they shoveled people into ovens — but religious fundamentalists are often troublesome.  I am not thinking of the Amish and Mennonite communities, which embrace a living-apart ethos; I’m thinking of those Muslims and Christians who, on the basis of their faith, feel compelled to violently re-make the world around them.  They disrupt civil society because they consider it sinful.  They do not want people to have freedom, because that freedom can only be used to veer away from God’s will (however that is defined).

This is why I am not in favor of unbridled pluralism: not all beliefs or views should be tolerated, but rather only those that are compatible with the ongoing health and welfare of society.  Do not harbor those who would destroy you!  Why should you?  Throw ‘em out!  Anyone who advocates violence or terrorism is a terrorist, regardless of the etiology of their beliefs.

In other words, I don’t care if you consider yourself a Muslim, Christian, Militant Taoist… if you advocate violence against people, your ideology and organization must be contained and disposed of, its leaders imprisoned, monitored, exiled, in rare cases perhaps executed (a dead person has no ability to act; their volition is utterly neutralized).  This is for the good of the whole.

If I were king, religious groups would be monitored. Those leaders preaching violent fundamentalism would literally be apprehended in the dark of night, along with their spouses and children, and processed out — assets frozen, imprisoned, documented, exiled, banned from the United States.  The phones of their friends and family would be tapped and they would be monitored. Those who crossed the line would face the same fate as their leaders.  Those found with bombs or weapons would be imprisoned and perhaps executed as enemies of a free society.

If this sounds like some paranoid, McCarthy-esque totalitarianism, I can only say that I think such an extreme response is merited by religious fundamentalists.  They’re dangerous.  Not because their beliefs are odd.  Strangeness of beliefs (virgin births, golden tablets buried in the Earth, alien overlords) are the stuff of religion.  It is the posture the religion takes towards greater society that is the issue. Those who prepare to make war must be treated as traitors and enemy combatants.  Because that’s what they are…

As for [your friend's] comments… a world where radical Muslims are not welcome anywhere… where does that lead?  Either they abandon their beliefs in order to live more fulfilling lives, or they gravitate into increasingly hermetic, tightly-wound, and shrill communities, even more prone to violence.  The status quo is dangerous.  India should ban radical imams, mullahs, ulamas, and their madrassas, because they are just fuel for the fire.  You want to be a radical Muslim?  Move to Pakistan.  We don’t want you here in the world’s largest democracy; this place is for those who want to live in peace with each other.

I read a commentary a few weeks ago written by a Christian Pakistani, a medical student, who made it clear that Pakistan is an extreme and benighted society held back by its religious fundamentalism and intolerance.  So he fled to the West, and is now a med student at Columbia.  We have one more doctor, Pakistan took another step towards the 12th century. And you know what?  That’s their choice.  As long as they remember we have a nuclear knife at their throat and they better never mess with us, as long as they are afraid of us, I don’t care what they do. You don’t talk to crazy people, you contain them.

This is why borders still matter: they are more importantly boundaries of culture than boundaries of trade and resources.  And culture trumps.

- and so my second friend’s e-mail ends.

- The world is a complex place with so many points of view.   I strongly agree with the second writer; we should have no place for those who will not allow us our freedoms to live and let live and to respect each others beliefs.  I do not want to return to the past.
- dennis

U.S. censors what its military personel can read

August 22nd, 2014

- Ominous.

- I’ve thought for sometime now that the U.S. military would eventually try to block access by soldiers to social commentary and criticism so that they would remain motivated if they are asked to go out and suppress social unrest in the U.S. 

- To be fair, in this article they are suppressing a different kind of information. But the principle is the same and what we see here will be the thin edge of the wedge making its entry.

- The kind of unrest we’re talking about here is what will surface in the U.S. eventually, if the gap between the rich and poor keeps growing, if the weakening of the U.S. dollar keeps undermining the very fabric of people’s entire financial lives (even as the wealthy walk away with immense profits) and if the growing threats of climate change are not addressed and hundreds of thousands of people along the U.S. coastlines begin to find their lives, their futures and their properties vanishing beneath the rising waters.

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cyber_censorshipThe U.S. military is banning and blocking employees from visiting The Intercept in an apparent effort to censor news reports that contain leaked government secrets.

According to multiple military sources, a notice has been circulated to units within the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps warning staff that they are prohibited from reading stories published by The Intercept on the grounds that they may contain classified information. The ban appears to apply to all employees—including those with top-secret security clearance—and is aimed at preventing classified information from being viewed on unclassified computer networks, even if it is freely available on the internet. Similar military-wide bans have been directed against news outlets in the past after leaks of classified information.

A directive issued to military staff at one location last week, obtained by The Intercept, threatens that any employees caught viewing classified material in the public domain will face “long term security issues.” It suggests that the call to prohibit employees from viewing the website was made by senior officials over concerns about a “potential new leaker” of secret documents.

The directive states:

We have received information from our higher headquarters regarding a potential new leaker of classified information.  Although no formal validation has occurred, we thought it prudent to warn all employees and subordinate commands.  Please do not go to any website entitled “The Intercept” for it may very well contain classified material.

As a reminder to all personnel who have ever signed a non-disclosure agreement, we have an ongoing responsibility to protect classified material in all of its various forms.  Viewing potentially classified material (even material already wrongfully released in the public domain) from unclassified equipment will cause you long term security issues.  This is considered a security violation.

A military insider subject to the ban said that several employees expressed concerns after being told by commanders that it was “illegal and a violation of national security” to read publicly available news reports on The Intercept.

“Even though I have a top secret security clearance, I am still forbidden to read anything on the website,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.  “I find this very disturbing that they are threatening us and telling us what websites and news publishers we are allowed to read or not.”

- Click the arrow for more of this story… :arrow:

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- Here’s another news article, below, that reveals that the Pentagon is preparing for mass civil insurrection in the U.S.   The combination of the information these two articles is interesting in it implications.

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Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown

Social science is being militarised to develop ‘operational tools’ to target peaceful activists and protest movements

30592minervaDOD_678x320_frontA US Department of Defense (DoD) programme is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various agencies. The multi-million dollar program is designed to develop immediate and long-term “warfighter-relevant insights” for senior officials and decision makers in “the defense policy community,” and to inform policy implemented by “combatant commands.”

Launched in 2008 – the year of the global banking crisis – the DoD ‘Minerva Research Initiative’ partners with universities “to improve DoD’s basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the US.”

Among the projects awarded for the period 2014-2017 is a Cornell University-led study managed by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research which aims to develop an empirical model “of the dynamics of social movement mobilisation and contagions.” The project will determine “the critical mass (tipping point)” of social contagians by studying their “digital traces” in the cases of “the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the 2011 Russian Duma elections, the 2012 Nigerian fuel subsidy crisis and the 2013 Gazi park protests in Turkey.”

Twitter posts and conversations will be examined “to identify individuals mobilised in a social contagion and when they become mobilised.”

Another project awarded this year to the University of Washington “seeks to uncover the conditions under which political movements aimed at large-scale political and economic change originate,” along with their “characteristics and consequences.” The project, managed by the US Army Research Office, focuses on “large-scale movements involving more than 1,000 participants in enduring activity,” and will cover 58 countries in total.

- Click the arrow for more of this story…  :arrow:

Why the Security of USB Is Fundamentally Broken

August 11th, 2014

- If you liked what I posted yesterday, you’l love today.

- dennis

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Computer users pass around USB sticks like silicon business cards. Although we know they often carry malware infections, we depend on antivirus scans and the occasional reformatting to keep our thumbdrives from becoming the carrier for the next digital epidemic. But the security problems with USB devices run deeper than you think: Their risk isn’t just in what they carry, it’s built into the core of how they work.

That’s the takeaway from findings security researchers Karsten Nohl and Jakob Lell plan to present next week, demonstrating a collection of proof-of-concept malicious software that highlights how the security of USB devices has long been fundamentally broken. The malware they created, called BadUSB, can be installed on a USB device to completely take over a PC, invisibly alter files installed from the memory stick, or even redirect the user’s internet traffic. Because BadUSB resides not in the flash memory storage of USB devices, but in the firmware that controls their basic functions, the attack code can remain hidden long after the contents of the device’s memory would appear to the average user to be deleted. And the two researchers say there’s no easy fix: The kind of compromise they’re demonstrating is nearly impossible to counter without banning the sharing of USB devices or filling your port with superglue.

“These problems can’t be patched,” says Nohl, who will join Lell in presenting the research at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas. “We’re exploiting the very way that USB is designed.”

‘IN THIS NEW WAY OF THINKING, YOU HAVE TO CONSIDER A USB INFECTED AND THROW IT AWAY AS SOON AS IT TOUCHES A NON-TRUSTED COMPUTER.’

Nohl and Lell, researchers for the security consultancy SR Labs, are hardly the first to point out that USB devices can store and spread malware. But the two hackers didn’t merely copy their own custom-coded infections into USB devices’ memory. They spent months reverse engineering the firmware that runs the basic communication functions of USB devices—the controller chips that allow the devices to communicate with a PC and let users move files on and off of them. Their central finding is that USB firmware, which exists in varying forms in all USB devices, can be reprogrammed to hide attack code. “You can give it to your IT security people, they scan it, delete some files, and give it back to you telling you it’s ‘clean,’” says Nohl. But unless the IT guy has the reverse engineering skills to find and analyze that firmware, “the cleaning process doesn’t even touch the files we’re talking about.”

The problem isn’t limited to thumb drives. All manner of USB devices from keyboards and mice to smartphones have firmware that can be reprogrammed—in addition to USB memory sticks, Nohl and Lell say they’ve also tested their attack on an Android handset plugged into a PC. And once a BadUSB-infected device is connected to a computer, Nohl and Lell describe a grab bag of evil tricks it can play. It can, for example, replace software being installed with with a corrupted or backdoored version. It can even impersonate a USB keyboard to suddenly start typing commands. “It can do whatever you can do with a keyboard, which is basically everything a computer does,” says Nohl.

The malware can silently hijack internet traffic too, changing a computer’s DNS settings to siphon traffic to any servers it pleases. Or if the code is planted on a phone or another device with an internet connection, it can act as a man-in-the-middle, secretly spying on communications as it relays them from the victim’s machine.

Most of us learned long ago not to run executable files from sketchy USB sticks. But old-fashioned USB hygiene can’t stop this newer flavor of infection: Even if users are aware of the potential for attacks, ensuring that their USB’s firmware hasn’t been tampered with is nearly impossible. The devices don’t have a restriction known as “code-signing,” a countermeasure that would make sure any new code added to the device has the unforgeable cryptographic signature of its manufacturer. There’s not even any trusted USB firmware to compare the code against.

The element of Nohl and Lell’s research that elevates it above the average theoretical threat is the notion that the infection can travel both from computer to USB and vice versa. Any time a USB stick is plugged into a computer, its firmware could be reprogrammed by malware on that PC, with no easy way for the USB device’s owner to detect it. And likewise, any USB device could silently infect a user’s computer. “It goes both ways,” Nohl says. “Nobody can trust anybody.”

- More… :arrow:

 

Leaked docs show spyware used to snoop on US computers

August 10th, 2014

- Truly, I think we have less and less of a chance to keep our computers secure and our communications private.  If we haven’t been hacked, it is only because there are so many of us and so few hackers/criminals to go around.   Or it’s because we have not sufficiently irritated someone in the officialdom enclosing us.

- Personally, I am considering setting up from scratch (wipe the disk and install a virgin copy of the operating system) one specific computer for my essential banking and financial activities.   This machine would be only used for these activities and nothing else.  I’ll keep its anti-vius and malware defenses fully updated and, when I am not using it, it will be turned off and disconnected.   And, when I do use it, I will shut off and disconnect the other systems on my LAN in case they are infected.

- I’m also considering changing all my passwords as well.

- Paranoid or playing the odds?  I think it is hard to tell but the saying ‘better safe than sorry’ does come to mind.

- And should I not worry so much and simply assume that my government will look out for me?  

- I Don’t think so.  They are too busy doing the bidding the corporate world.  And I am irrelevant to the corporate world useless they can use me  somehow to increase their profits.

- Nope, other than me, nobody else has my back on this.  And those who think it isn’t so will eventually find out the truth the hard way.

- dennis

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imagesSoftware created by the controversial UK-based Gamma Group International was used to spy on computers that appear to be located in the United States, the UK, Germany, Russia, Iran, and Bahrain, according to a leaked trove of documents analyzed by ProPublica.

It’s not clear whether the surveillance was conducted by governments or private entities. Customer e-mail addresses in the collection appeared to belong to a German surveillance company, an independent consultant in Dubai, the Bosnian and Hungarian Intelligence services, a Dutch law enforcement officer, and the Qatari government.

The leaked files—which were posted online by hackers—are the latest in a series of revelations about how state actors including repressive regimes have used Gamma’s software to spy on dissidents, journalists, and activist groups.

The documents, leaked last Saturday, could not be readily verified, but experts told ProPublica they believed them to be genuine. “I think it’s highly unlikely that it’s a fake,” said Morgan Marquis-Bore, a security researcher who while at The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto had analyzed Gamma Group’s software and who authored an article about the leak on Thursday.

The documents confirm many details that have already been reported about Gamma, such as that its tools were used to spy on Bahraini activists. Some documents in the trove contain metadata tied to e-mail addresses of several Gamma employees. Bill Marczak, another Gamma Group expert at the Citizen Lab, said that several dates in the documents correspond to publicly known events—such as the day that a particular Bahraini activist was hacked.

Gamma has not commented publicly on the authenticity of the documents. A phone number listed on a Gamma Group website was disconnected. Gamma Group did not respond to e-mail requests for comment.

The leaked files contain more than 40 gigabytes of confidential technical material, including software code, internal memos, strategy reports, and user guides on how touse Gamma Group software suite called FinFisher. FinFisher enables customers to monitor secure Web traffic, Skype calls, webcams, and personal files. It is installed as malware on targets’ computers and cell phones.

price list included in the trove lists a license of the software at almost $4 million.

The documents reveal that Gamma uses technology from a French company called Vupen Security that sells so-called computer “exploits.”

Exploits include techniques called “zero days” for “popular software like Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and many more.” Zero days are exploits that have not yet been detected by the software maker and therefore are not blocked.

Vupen has said publicly that it only sells its exploits to governments, but Gamma may have no such scruples. “Gamma is an independent company that is not bound to any country, governmental organisation, etc.,” says one file in the Gamma Group’s material. At least one Gamma customer listed in the materials is a private security company.

Vupen didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Many of Gamma’s product brochures have previously been published by the Wall Street Journal andWikileaks, but the latest trove shows how the products are getting more sophisticated.

In one document, engineers at Gamma tested a product called FinSpy, which inserts malware onto a user’s machine, and found that it could not be blocked by most antivirus software.

Documents also reveal that Gamma had been working to bypass encryption tools including a mobile phone encryption app, Silent Circle, and were able to bypass the protection given by hard-drive encryption products TrueCrypt and Microsoft’s Bitlocker.

Mike Janke, the CEO of Silent Circle, said in an e-mail that “we have serious doubts about if they were going to be successful” in circumventing the phone software and that Silent Circle is working on bulletproofing its app.

Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment.

The documents also describe a “country-wide” surveillance product called FinFly ISP which promises customers the ability to intercept Internet traffic and masquerade as ordinary websites in order to install malware on a target’s computer.

The most recent date-stamp found in the documents is August 2, coincidung with the first tweet by a parody Twitter account, @GammaGroupPR, which first announced the hack and may be run by the hacker or hackers responsible for the leak.

On Reddit, a user called PhineasFisher claimed responsibility for the leak. “Two years ago their software was found being widely used by governments in the middle east, especially Bahrain, to hack and spy on the computers and phones of journalists and dissidents,” the user wrote. The name on the @GammaGroupPR Twitter account is also “Phineas Fisher.”

GammaGroup, the surveillance company whose documents were released, is no stranger to the spotlight. The security firm F-Secure first reported the purchase of FinFisher software by the Egyptian State Security agency in 2011. In 2012, Bloomberg News and The Citizen Lab showed how the company’s malware was used to target activists in Bahrain.

In 2013, the software company Mozilla sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company after a report by The Citizen Lab showed that a spyware-infected version of the Firefox browser manufactured by Gamma was being used to spy on Malaysian activists.

- To the original:   :arrow:

 

The free market is an impossible utopia

July 24th, 2014

- This is one of the best things I’ve read in some time.  

- Will it be generally appealing?   I don’t think so.  

- Most of us just want simple understandings and good guys and bad guys.  We only need look around to see that sound bites predominate in the discussions among the average man.  

- Among these, I would include the “Free Marketeers“.   They want a world made of good guys and bad guys and a simple idealistic world in which entrepreneurs are absolutely free, where market economics solves all problems, and where all forms of government control simply withers away before the market’s profound self-balancing wisdom.

- This article says it cannot be so.

- dennis

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Article by Henry Farrell of The Washington Post about a book, The Power of Market FUNDAMENTALISM, by Fred Block and Margaret R. Somers:

Fred Block (research professor of sociology at University of California at Davis) and Margaret Somers (professor of sociology and history at the University of Michigan) have a new book, “The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique” (Harvard University Press, 2014). The book argues that the ideas of Karl Polanyi, the author of “The Great Transformation,” a classic of 20th century political economy, are crucial if you want to understand the recession and its aftermath. I asked the authors a series of questions.

HF - Your book argues for the continued relevance of Karl Polanyi’s work, especially “The Great Transformation.” What are the ideas at the core of Polanyi’s thought?

FB & MS – Polanyi’s core thesis is that there is no such thing as a free market; there never has been, nor can there ever be. Indeed he calls the very idea of an economy independent of government and political institutions a “stark utopia”—utopian because it is unrealizable, and the effort to bring it into being is doomed to fail and will inevitably produce dystopian consequences. While markets are necessary for any functioning economy, Polanyi argues that the attempt to create a market society is fundamentally threatening to human society and the common goodIn the first instance the market is simply one of many different social institutions; the second represents the effort to subject not just real commodities (computers and widgets) to market principles but virtually all of what makes social life possible, including clean air and water, education, health care, personal, legal, and social security, and the right to earn a livelihood. When these public goods and social necessities (what Polanyi calls “fictitious commodities”) are treated as if they are commodities produced for sale on the market, rather than protected rights, our social world is endangered and major crises will ensue.

Free market doctrine aims to liberate the economy from government “interference”, but Polanyi challenges the very idea that markets and governments are separate and autonomous entities. Government action is not some kind of “interference” in the autonomous sphere of economic activity; there simply is no economy without government rules and institutions. It is not just that society depends on roads, schools, a justice system, and other public goods that only government can provide. It is thatall of the key inputs into the economy—land, labor, and money—are only created and sustained through continuous government action. The employment system, the arrangements for buying and selling real estate, and the supplies of money and credit are organized and maintained through the exercise of government’s rules, regulations, and powers.

By claiming it is free-market advocates who are the true utopians, Polanyi helps explain the free market’s otherwise puzzlingly tenacious appeal: It embodies a perfectionist ideal of a world without “coercive” constraints on economic activities while it fiercely represses the fact that power and coercion are the unacknowledged features of all market participation.

- More… :arrow:

A private E-Mail

May 27th, 2014
- This is a private E-Mail I wrote recently which addresses ideas that I think we should all give some thought to.  It is an American-centric piece but it has implications for everyone.
- dennis
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There are things that benefit the population of the country broadly. This is, of course, the old idea about how a rising tide lifts all boats.  But there are also things that benefit a country disproportionately wherein the richest among us reap most of the benefits while the poorest reap virtually none.
Trade agreements negotiated in the past, with NAFTA being a good example, have promised at their outsets a lifting of everyone’s boats.  But in after-the-fact analyses, it’s been shown that such agreements have rarely lived up to their promises to benefit everyone.  And when there was benefit, it’s invariably been to the richest among us.

Indeed, if we look to see who the proponents of such trade agreements are, they not the average person on the street.  They are the corporate movers and shakers.  And they sell the idea to us on its supposed benefits for all of us while their actual motivations lie with those benefits that will accrue to them.

When Freddie questions my use of the word “inexplicable” as I’m discussing Obama’s apparent support for the TPPA, and when John responds to my concerns about the agreement by saying that if no other politician than Elizabeth Warren has deep concerns about it, then he’s comfortable with Obama’s handling of the issue, then I think I can intuit in both of their responses, an implicit assumption that Pres. Obama is truly a man who is doing the best he can and a man who’s working for the interests of all Americans equally.

And, in fact, I agree strongly with both of those statements.   Like Kael, I supported Obama’s candidacy in 2008 and I recall clearly having tears in my eyes when he won and feeling that some of the promise of America was still existent when such a thing could happen.

And I also get that Pres. Obama is indeed facing a hostile Congress and that he has to balance the spending of his political capital in such a way as to get as to get what he can given the situation he’s facing.

I get all of that. my friends.

But it seems weak tea to me and I’ll tell you why.
You see, my cynicism has grown since those heady election days and little of my new cynicism actually has to do with our President.
It has to do with the recognition that perhaps, while the Conservatives wanted very much to win the Presidency in 2008 to make their task easier, they didn’t consider it absolutely essential because they knew that they’d already usurped the system at deeper levels than any popularly elected President actually could interfere with.

We all know that the best interests of the American people are decisively not being served by the ongoing regulatory capture of United States legislative processes by big money.

And you will have all seen articles in the popular press in these last months stating that there is a growing perception that the United States is losing the ability to call itself a democracy because it’s legislative processes are ever more beholding to big money. These articles are saying that the country is evolving into an oligarchy or a plutocracy.   I don’t think these articles are spurious and sensationalistic.  Some of them have their roots in considered academic research.

For a country that sees itself as a beacon of personal freedom and an icon of democracy, this is deadly stuff indeed.

And it is not a new thing.
I can show you quotes from Napoleon – who was disparaging the bankers of his day:
“When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes… Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.
 
- Napoleon Bonaparte – 1815
And I can show you quotes from Theodore Roosevelt who was taking the financiers of his day to task:
 
Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.
 
- Theodore Roosevelt
and I know I don’t need to quote to you the remarks made by Pres. Eisenhower talking about the military-industrial complex in the 1950’s. 
 
The interference of big money in our political process is not a new thing.
Like all things it goes in cycles, sometimes better and sometimes worse. We are in a particularly bad period now

In our time,  corporations have become people.  The limits on corporations donating money to political campaigns has almost no limits.   And (I note with a nod to the process Freddie described to us) how laws are made now through a series of competing submissions from lobbyists on both sides of an issue to the legislative staff who then make quick judgments about which side they favor more and then move onto the next thing.

The days of our legislators carefully crafting laws designed to benefit the American people in general are gone.

The days of one-man-one-vote, in terms of influence, are gone.
The days in which popular elections actually decided the larger directions of the country also appear to me to be gone.

None of these facts can be lost on Pres. Obama.  Nor on anyone else who’s a keen observer of the American political process.

So, when I hear that President Obama is doing the best he can and that he is conserving his political capital in order to use it in the most effectively manner possible to eke out a few small victories here and there against the rising tide of corporate and big money domination, I wonder just what he’s optimizing and what it is he thinks he is conserving?

President Obama is in his second term now so he has no more election prospects ahead of him. And, if he’s conserving his political capital in order to benefit future office holders, then I have to wonder at the wisdom of that.  Because if they too conserve their political capital to benefit the office holders that come after them, and so on, then I just see a chain of delaying tactics which are certain to lose in the end.

When Freddie questioned my use of the word inexplicable”, he was asking me what do I really want to see happen?  He was asking if I have a better idea than what’s actually going on now?

Well, I do.

When playing by the rule book no longer works and you can see that the long-term trend is ever more losses, then it’s time for a new rule book.
Here are two examples of new thinking:

This is something that occurred on TV in 2011 that I thought was especially telling when I saw it. The news anchor lost his temper at the folks he was interviewing from the Democratic and Republican parties; both of whom were urging short-term solutions that were for their own party’s benefit in its battle against the other and without much if any thought to the long-term consequences to and needs of the country.

And here’s another article that appeared in the Nation magazine recently in which an activist calls for us to completely throw over the idea of “Earth Day” and get on with something more radical because, as he says, the green ethic, the working within the system, the let’s-all-recycle-together, ideology is simply not working and it’s time we recognize the deep and profound truth of this fact.  As a strategy to effect significant change to improve our ecological future, it has been a huge failure.
I resonated deeply with both of these examples.   I too am tired of strategies that doesn’t work, of analyses that should convince reasonable people that we have deep systemic problems, but which seemingly convince no one.

So what do I want?

I want the president, who’s in his second term and has little to lose, to come out and state the bald faced truth using the unmatchable bully pulpit he has access to.
I want him to do this point-blank for the future of America, for the future of the world and for the future of our children.

If he is truly for all Americans equally, and I actually believe he is, then he needs to realize that coming out and using his unparalleled access to the global media to reach people is the strongest lever he has to wake us up to the sad truth of what is happening to us.

His waffling around now preserving his political capital and eking out a few small victories here and there is a game of slow defense that is sure to only delay the ultimate outcome and leave the real issues in the shadows.   

 
His not stating the truths that are crying to be spoken boldly, the truths that deserve to be discussed over every dinner table in America, is to me a failure on his part to realize where his real leverage lies and how great the need is to break strongly with the business-as-usual way of doing things in favor of disrupting the current “let’s not talk about the real substantive issues” approach.
His trying to do things like balance off the recognition of impending long-term environmental disasters for burning more carbon against the short-term jobs that the keystone pipeline might bring to the public is, in my opinion, a failure to recognize that this is his moment to make real history.  To make history that will be remembered far into the future.
If there are still people around in the future to write the history of these times, and I think there will be, they will see us as having deluded ourselves about the problems facing us.  They will see us as having fiddled while Rome burned.
Who among us has the pulpit he has available?  Who has the credibility available and has the time he has remaining in office to speak truth to power and to call into the light all that is hidden in the shadows?
I’m speaking of the deep corruption of the legislative processes by money, the revolving door system between industry jobs and government regulators, the Teflon power of Wall Street that is, incredibly, too-big-to-fail.  The rise of corporations to citizen hood and the loosening of corporate purses to legally buy elections?

Like Roosevelt and Eisenhower before him he needs to stand up and say the truth.  Call it what it is.  And make a huge clamor about it.  Even if it brings the country into an enormous state of agitation.   

 
Because I will tell you, my friends, that the amount of agitation he might cause now will be well worth it if it results in significant reforms.  And if he does not act or if he acts and gets no result, then any agitation generated will pale before the other destinies that await us.

To quote Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night.

We are living in a world where most of the major economic systems we have employed, are based on the need for constant growth in order to retain their health.   How mathematical does one have to be to see that this is a completely incompatible idea with the simple fact that we are living on the planet of finite size.

There’s a truth that Should be stated as baldly as possible before the global populace because we as a species need to make some choices about it or we are going to suffer terribly.

The influence of money on the American political process is completely corrosive to the ideas of one-man-one-vote, to the idea of having a truly representative Democracy, to the idea that our legislators should be chosen by the people they are to represent and not by money focused to prejudice the outcome.

That’s the truth that should be shouted from every house top.  And who better than this president in his second term with the good reputation that he has and with the finest pulpit in the world at his disposal?

What are he and those like him waiting for? Do they assume that some future president will have a better pulpit?  Now is the time if ever!

So when I see half measures, when I see waffling about the keystone pipeline, when I see mixed signals coming out about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, then yes I’m deeply concerned that even this president, whom I highly respect, hasn’t realized the position he’s in and the possibilities open to him to use his position to try to affect some real change in America and in the world.  To at least try to create a conversation around every dinner table in America about the real issues.

But, to be skeptical for a moment, I suspected decades ago, when both of the Kennedy brothers were killed, that they were killed because they were not beholding to the existing political machinery of the time.  That they were considered to be loose cannons, to be too much of a danger to the existing order to be allowed to continue.

So, perhaps people like Obama know this and they know their limits.  That they know that even though they hold the title of President of United States, they still have a very small range of motion within which they can move safely.

I’ve said this next bit before.
My prognosis for the United States, if nothing significant changes, is that it is moving either towards a revolution or towards becoming a police state.

The stories that matter are not being reported in the American media because they’re owned by large business.   If you cannot see this, it is because you don’t miss what you never had.  Make an effort to read the world’s press to see how it all looks from the outside and give up the idea that the foreign press is just distorting everything from some misguided notion of hating America

The reasons why America goes to war are always touted to be for the dignity and freedom of foreign people.  But many of us realize that the real driving force behind the reason America goes to war is the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about.

These are large and very difficult truths.

There are many large and difficult truths lying about our feet and there have been such for sometime now.

The gathering of wealth by the 1%, the lessening buying power of the average American working man since the mid-70s, the capturing of the legislative process by big money, the dumbing down of America news reporting, and a whole host of other things are plagues on the American democracy – formerly such a bright spot in a dismal world history.

Those who would keep things the way they are are doing so because of their own profit motives. They sow disinformation into the media sphere to confuse the public.   They say there is no global climate change.  There is no military industrial complex. America is the moral policeman of the world,   Carbon fuels are not a problem.  The oceans are not rising.  The trade agreements being contemplated between the U.S. and Europe and the U.S. and the Pacific nations are simply about opening free trade.  American medicine and medical care is the best in the world.  Social Democracies are economic failures.  The NSA and the CIA are simply developing their intelligence assets to protect American interests against foreign threats.  Congress is not controlled by big money.  The American justice system is equally fair to people of all levels of affluence.

When I look at blog entries on the Internet and then read all the commentary that follows the articles, I find that there’s always a firestorm between liberal and conservative ideas.  Those people, for the most part, are convinced that they are fighting over the issues that matter.  When, in fact, they are all deluded.  The real systemic ills of America are seldom articulated there.

The issues they squabble over are illusions.  Because long-ago people at a higher level who are much smarter than the average bear realized how to undercut the entire process of politics in America and they grabbed the levers and gears of what actually controls things.
<10313061_10152069949762688_1434304502425871861_n.jpg>It is in their best interest that the American public continues to believe they’re engaged in debates that have meaning.  Debates about gun-control, debates about religion, debates about patriotism, debates about everything and anything but the things that really matter. I.e., who has really got the power?

In all of this enormous mess there are very few remaining people who actually have the power to be able to speak to the American public about it through the media without being filtered.

Pres. Obama is one of the very few who might be able to do this.   So, Freddie that is what I would like to have happen.

The direction America is headed in is not going to be changed by half measures nor by the conservation of political capital. They’re only going to be changed by serious and radical actions.

After a lifetime of working to achieve his goals, Pres. Obama has finally arrived at the pinnacle of American politics system.

If anyone is to speak out, he’s the one to speak, he’s the one to tell us the truth – to show us what’s behind the curtains.  He’s the one hope we have that things are not just going to go on and on into disaster.
 
So yes, I am disappointed in President Obama.  I think he, potentially, is one of the few bright hopes we have left for real change.  But he won’t realize it by waffling his bets.  
 
It’s time, as the writer who advocated dropping Earth Day implied, to drop all pretenses of being polite and to drop staying between the lines.  We are way past the 11th hour and midnight approaches.

 

Let This Earth Day Be The Last

May 22nd, 2014

- Strong words, these.  But my own frustrations with all that is not happening run deep as well.   When you can see that the car is being driven in the wrong direction and you can see that things are going to work out badly, how long should you persist in politely asking the driver to turn?  

Until you are financially at risk?  Until your health is at risk?  Until your life and the lives of your children are at risk?

- There have to be limits.

-dennis

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“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle.” 
—Frederick Douglass, 1857

Fuck Earth Day.

No, really. Fuck Earth Day. Not the first one, forty-four years ago, the one of sepia-hued nostalgia, but everything the day has since come to be: the darkest, cruelest, most brutally self-satirizing spectacle of the year.

Fuck it. Let it end here.

End the dishonesty, the deception. Stop lying to yourselves, and to your children. Stop pretending that the crisis can be “solved,” that the planet can be “saved,” that business more-or-less as usual—what progressives and environmentalists have been doing for forty-odd years and more—is morally or intellectually tenable. Let go of the pretense that “environmentalism” as we know it—virtuous green consumerism, affluent low-carbon localism, head-in-the-sand conservationism, feel-good greenwashed capitalism—comes anywhere near the radical response our situation requires.

So, yeah, I’ve had it with Earth Day—and the culture of progressive green denial it represents.

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But why Frederick Douglass? Why bring him into this? And who am I to invoke him—a man who was born a slave and who freed himself from slavery, who knew something about struggle, whose words were among the most radical ever spoken on American soil? Who the hell am I? I’ve never suffered racial or any other kind of oppression. I’ve never had to fight for any fundamental rights. I’m not even a radical, really. (Nor am I an “environmentalist”—and never have been.) All I want is a livable world, and the possibility of social justice. So who am I to quote Frederick Douglass?

Let me tell you who I am: I’m a human being. I’m the father of two young children, a 14-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, who face a deeply uncertain future on this planet. I’m a husband, a son, a brother—and a citizen. And, yes, I’m a journalist, and I’m an activist. And like more and more of us who are fighting for climate justice, I am engaged in a struggle—a struggle—for the fate of humanity and of life on Earth. Not a polite debate around the dinner table, or in a classroom, or an editorial meeting—or an Earth Day picnic. I’m talking about a struggle. A struggle for justice on a global scale. A struggle for human dignity and human rights for my fellow human beings, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable, far and near. A struggle for my own children’s future—but not only my children, all of our children, everywhere. A life-and-death struggle for the survival of all that I love. Because that is what the climate fight and the fight for climate justice is. That’s what it is.

Because, I’m sorry, this is not a test. This is really happening. The Arctic and the glaciers are melting. The great forests are dying and burning. The oceans are rising and acidifying. The storms, the floods—the droughts and heat waves—are intensifying. The breadbaskets are parched and drying. And all of it faster and sooner than scientists predicted. The window in which to act is closing before our eyes.

Any discussion of the situation must begin by acknowledging the science and the sheer lateness of the hour—that the chance for any smooth, gradual transition has passed, that without radical change the kind of livable and just future we all want is simply inconceivable. The international community has, of course, committed to keeping the global temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above the preindustrial average—the level, we’re told, at which “catastrophic” warming can still be avoided (we’ve already raised it almost one degree, with still more “baked in” within coming decades). But there’s good reason to believe that a rise of two degrees will lead to catastrophic consequences. And of course, what’s “catastrophic” depends on where you live, and how poor you are, and more often than not the color of your skin. If you’re one of the billions of people who live in the poorest and most vulnerable places—from Bangladesh to Louisiana—even 1 degree can mean catastrophe.

But the world’s climate scientists and leading energy experts are telling us that unless the major economies drastically and immediately change course—leaving all but a small fraction of fossil fuel reserves in the ground over the next four decades—we are headed for a temperature rise of four or five or even six degrees C within this century. The World Bank haswarned that four degrees “must be avoided.” But we’re not avoiding it. Global emissions are still rising each year. We’re plunging headlong toward the worst-case scenarios—critical global food and water shortages, rapid sea-level rise, social upheaval—and beyond.

The question is not whether we’re going to “stop” global warming, or “solve” the climate crisis; it is whether humanity will act quickly and decisively enough now to save civilization itself—in any form worth saving. Whether any kind of stable, humane and just future—any kind of just society—is still possible.

We know that if the governments of the world actually wanted to address this situation in a serious way, they could. Indeed, a select few, such as Germany, have begun to do so. It can be done—and at relatively low cost. And yet the fossil-fuel industry, and those who do its bidding, have been engaged in a successful decades-long effort to sow confusion, doubt and opposition—and to obstruct any serious policies that might slow the warming, or their profits, and buy us time.

As I’ve said elsewhere, let’s be clear about what this means: at this late date, given what we know and have known for decades, to willfully obstruct any serious response to global warming is to knowingly allow entire countries and cultures to disappear. It is to rob the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet of their land, their homes, their livelihoods, even their lives and their children’s lives—and their children’s children’s lives. For money. For political power.

These are crimes. They are crimes against the Earth, and they are crimes against humanity.

What, are you shocked? The same industry, the same people committing these crimes—while we subsidize them for their trouble—have been getting away with murder along the fence lines and front lines for generations.

What is the proper response to this? How should I respond?

Remain calm, we’re told. No “scare tactics” or “hysterics,” please. Cooler heads will prevail. Enjoy the Earth Day festivities.

Fuck that.

The cooler heads have not prevailed. It’s been a quarter-century since the alarm was sounded. The cooler heads have failed.

You want sweet, cool-headed reason?

How about this? Masses of people—most of them young, a generation with little or nothing to lose—physically, nonviolently disrupting the fossil-fuel industry and the institutions that support it and abet it. Getting in the way of business as usual. Forcing the issue. Finally acting as though we accept what the science is telling us.

Um, isn’t that a bit extreme? you ask.

Really? You want extreme? Business as usual is extreme. Just ask a climate scientist. The building is burning. The innocents—the poor, the oppressed, the children, your own children—are inside. And the American petro state is spraying fuel, not water, on the flames. That’s more than extreme. It’s homicidal. It’s psychopathic. It’s fucking insane.

* * *

Coming to grips with the climate crisis is hard. A friend of mine says it’s like walking around with a knife in your chest. I couldn’t agree more.

So I ask again, in the face of this situation, how does one respond? Many of us, rather than retreat into various forms of denial and fatalism, have reached the conclusion that somethingmore than “environmentalism” is called for, and that a new kind of movement is the only option. That the only thing, at this late hour, offering any chance of averting an unthinkable future—and of getting through the crisis that’s already upon us—is the kind of radical social and political movement that has altered the course of history in the past. A movement far less like contemporary environmentalism and far more like the radical human rights, social justice and liberation struggles of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Does that sound hopelessly naïve to you? Trust me, I get it. I know. I know how it sounds.

And yet here I am. Because I also know that abolishing slavery sounded hopeless and naïve in 1857, when Frederick Douglass spoke of struggle.

What I’m talking about is not a fight to “solve the climate crisis.” That’s not possible anymore. But neither is it simply a fight for human survival—because there are oppressive and dystopian forms of survival, not to mention narcissistic ones, that aren’t worth fighting for.

What I’m talking about is both a fight for survival and a fight for justice—for even the possibility of justice. It’s a fight that transcends environmentalism. It requires something of us beyond the usual politics and proposals, the usual pieties. It requires the kind of commitment you find in radical movements—the kind of struggles, from abolition to women’s, labor and civil rights, that have made possible what was previously unimaginable.

Because our global crisis—not merely environmental but moral and spiritual—is fundamental: it strikes to the root of who we are. It’s a radical situation, requiring a radical response. Not merely radical in the sense of ideology, but a kind of radical necessity. It requires us to find out who we really are—and, nonviolently, in the steps of Gandhi and King and many others, to act. In some cases, to lay everything—everything—on the line.

And it requires us to be honest, with one another and with ourselves, about the situation we face. We’ll never have a movement radical enough, or humane enough, until we are.

That is, until Earth Day is buried—and a day of reckoning begins.

- To the original article:   :arrow:

America Is Declining at the Same Warp Speed That’s Minting Billionaires and Destroying the Middle Class

May 20th, 2014

Not a single U.S. city ranks among the world’s most livable cities

“The game is rigged,” writes Senator Elizabeth Warren in her new book A Fighting Chance. It’s rigged because the rich and their lobbyists have rigged the rules of the game to their favor. The rules are reflected in a tax code and bankruptcy laws that have seen the greatest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich in U.S. history.

The result?

America has the most billionaires in the world, but not a single U.S. city ranks among the world’s most livable cities. Not a single U.S. airport is among the top 100 airports in the world. Our bridges, roads and rails are falling apart, and our middle class is being gutted out thanks to three decades of stagnant wages, while the top 1 percent enjoys 95 percent of all economic gains.

A rigged tax code and a bloated military budget are starving the federal and state governments of the revenue it needs to invest in infrastructure, which means today America looks increasingly like a Third World nation, and now new data shows America’s intellectual resources are also in decline.

For the past three decades, the Republican Party has waged a dangerous assault on the very idea of public education. Tax cuts for the rich have been balanced with spending cuts to education. During the New Deal era of the 1940s to 1970s, public schools were the great leveler of America. They were our great achievement. It was universal education for all, but today it’s education for those fortunate enough to be born into wealthy families or live in wealthy school districts. The right’s strategy of defunding public education leaves parents with the option of sending their kids to a for-profit school or a theological school that teaches kids our ancestors kept dinosaurs as pets.

“What kind of future society the defectors from the public school rolls envision I cannot say. However, having spent some time in the Democratic Republic of Congo—a war-torn hellhole with one of those much coveted limited central governments, and, not coincidentally, a country in which fewer than half the school-age population goes to public school—I can say with certainty that I don’t want to live there,” writes Chuck Thompson in Better off Without Em.

Comparisons with the Democratic Republic of Congo are not that far-fetched given the results of a recent report by Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which is the first comprehensive survey of the skills adults need to work in today’s world, in literacy, numeracy and technology proficiency. The results are terrifying. According to the report, 36 million American adults have low skills.

It gets worse. In two of the three categories tested, numeracy and technological proficiency, young Americans who are on the cusp of entering the workforce—ages 16 to 24—rank dead last, and is third from the bottom in numeracy for 16- to 65-year-olds.

The United States has a wide gap between its best performers and its worst performers. And it had the widest gap in scores between people with rich, educated parents and poor, undereducated parents, which is exactly what Third World countries look like, i.e. a highly educated super class at the top and a highly undereducated underclass at the bottom, with very little in the middle.

The report shows a relationship between inequalities in skills and inequality in income. “How literacy skills are distributed across a population also has significant implications on how economic and social outcomes are distributed within the society. If large proportions of adults have low reading and numeracy skills, introducing and disseminating productivity-improving technologies and work-organization practices can be hampered; that, in turn, will stall improvements in living standards,” write the authors of the report.

- To the Original article: :arrow:

Net Neutrality may be on the ropes

May 3rd, 2014

- Big money interests don’t give up.   They see the possibility to extract more profits for themselves from a ‘controlled’ Internet and the goal of increasing profits is their one aim.  The idea that it might disadvantage the rest of us simply doesn’t come into it.

- As I have said before, these situations come about because we, humanity, have not come to a clear decision about what our civilization should be about.

- Should we choose to make it a civilization which has the optimization of the quality of life for all of us as its highest priority?

- Or will we allow it to continue, by default, to be a Darwinian stage upon which we all struggle and in which the strongest cyclically and repeatedly corner the power and wealth of the world?   And these cyclic struggles to be periodically  punctuated by wars as different dominant factions vie or by revolutions because the unreasonably repressed and disadvantaged revolt against the unfairness.

- The calls for revolution are growing even now.

- A few years ago, I read the Rifters Trilogy (SciFi) by Peter Watts.  These were Starfish (July 1999), Maelstrom (October 2001) and Behemoth: Seppuku (December 2004).  Excellent books all.

- But what stuck with me from this series was Watts’ prediction that the world’s Internet would at some point be divided up into smaller regional units as a way of dealing with the rise of viruses, malware and attempts by various factions to control the medium of discourse.  

- Interestingly, Europeans are talking about doing just that as are some other countries.  

- Within such regional Internets, each region could have the Internet it wants.  

- And between regional Internets, the interfaces would be a matter of negotiation between regions.   Today, we can see the beginnings of such separations when we observe the Great Firewall of China.

- It is sad that it will come to this but, until we decide on a world for all of us rather than a world for the strong and greedy, we will inevitably have the conflicts and power grabs that will lead us down this road.

- dennis

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Net NeutralityLast week, an obscure but potentially internet-transforming document was leaked from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. It revealed that government regulators are considering rules that would give big companies a chance to make their online services run faster than smaller ones.

The proposed rules were revealed in the New York Timesand they would overturn the principle of “network neutrality” on the internet. Put simply, network neutrality allows you to use services from rich companies like Google and small startups with equal speed through your ISP. You can read a blog hosted on somebody’s home server, and it loads just as quickly as a blog on Tumblr.

Without network neutrality, Tumblr could cut a deal with your ISP — let’s say it’s Comcast — and its blogs would load really quickly while that home server blog might take minutes to load pictures. It might not even load at all. You can see why people in the freedom-of-speech obsessed United States might not be happy with chucking network neutrality. It privileges some speech over others, based on financial resources.

At the same time, ISPs would love to end network neutrality because they want to charge more to major players like Netflix in order to support their streaming content. Now, it looks like the FCC is thinking seriously about letting ISPs have what they want.

Over at Slate, lawyer Marvin Ammori sums up:

The FCC is going to propose that cable and phone companies such as Verizon, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable are allowed to discriminate against them, giving some websites better service and others worse service. Cable and phone companies will be able to make preferred deals with the companies that can afford to pay high fees for better service. They will even be allowed to make exclusive deals, such as making MSNBC.com the only news site on Comcast in the priority tier, and relegating competitors to a slow lane. The FCC is authorizing cable and phone companies to start making different deals with thousands or millions of websites, extracting money from sites that need to load quickly and reliably. So users will notice that Netflix or Hulu works better than Amazon Prime, which buffers repeatedly and is choppy. New sites will come along and be unable to compete with established giants. If we had had such discrimination a decade ago, we would still be using MySpace, not Facebook, because Facebook would have been unable to compete.

The chairman believes he can help us in one way: He will make sure all these highly discriminatory new tolls are “commercially reasonable.” Will that matter? No. Commercially reasonable deals won’t be measured by the market. If Amazon is paying twice what eBay is paying, the FCC will only make sure each price is reasonable, not that the prices are nondiscriminatory.

He adds that this “reasonable” pricing will hardly be reasonable, unless your company is insanely rich:

So, according to the FCC, when Verizon discriminates against a startup, we shouldn’t be alarmed, because (while being discriminated against), this startup can hire a lot of expensive lawyers and expert witnesses and meet Verizon (a company worth more than $100 billion) at the FCC and litigate this issue out, with no certainty as to the rule. The startup will almost certainly lose either at the FCC or on appeal to a higher court, after bleeding money on lawyers.

Big internet service companies have been pushing the FCC to craft such regulations for years. In 2010, we wrote about a proposal from Amazon and Google, urging the FCC to adopt pay-to-play rules that would allow some companies to get their content to your eyeballs faster than smaller players. It’s no exaggeration to say that rules like this would destroy the internet as we know it.

Now it looks like the rules that Googlezon wished for are actually in process.

Writing in the New Yorker, law professor Tim Wu explains:

The new rule gives broadband providers what they’ve wanted for about a decade now: the right to speed up some traffic and degrade others. (With broadband, there is no such thing as accelerating some traffic without degrading other traffic.) We take it for granted that bloggers, start-ups, or nonprofits on an open Internet reach their audiences roughly the same way as everyone else. Now they won’t. They’ll be behind in the queue, watching as companies that can pay tolls to the cable companies speed ahead. The motivation is not complicated. The broadband carriers want to make more money for doing what they already do. Never mind that American carriers already charge some of the world’s highest prices, around sixty dollars or more per month for broadband, a service that costs less than five dollars to provide. To put it mildly, the cable and telephone companies don’t need more money.

Wu has studied corporate controls of electronic communication for most of his life, and is the author of a terrific book about telecom monopolies called The Master SwitchHe’s worked as an adviser for the FCC, and has personally talked to President Obama about the need for net neutrality. So his disappointment is palpable when he notes that the leaked rules, confirmed as real by insiders at the agency, would allow internet companies to pay ISPs payola to get their traffic privileged above others.

This is the first step toward a world where corporate monopolies on content start affecting not just what you can see and read online — but also how you gain access to it. The signal will be out there, but your ISP just won’t deliver it to you.

An internet without network neutrality will look a lot like television does now. You’ll depend entirely on your cable company to get broadcasts, and they will only deliver their handpicked channels in their cable packages. There will probably be a little room for the web equivalent of public access television, but it will be so underfunded and slow to load that almost nobody will see it.

It used to be that when a show couldn’t make it on broadcast television, we would watch it online. That’s how amazing stuff like Dr. Horrible made it into the world. But without net neutrality, we lose that option too. If a company doesn’t have the money or legal acumen to get its content included in ISP packages, you will never see its programming. You’ll never have those shows; you’ll never have those apps; and you’ll never know what you’re missing.

- To the original… :arrow: