Archive for the ‘Social Breakdown’ Category

NASA claims: Dozens of advanced ancient civilizations collapsed before us

Wednesday, 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

Wednesday, 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:

 

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

Monday, 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

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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:

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

Thursday, 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:
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    • “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

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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.

Small town mayor relinquishes electronics and passwords to agents at SFO

Monday, October 5th, 2015
  • An interesting story. Prescient of our future?  
  • Just last month, I read in an American publication about a news conference held by the senior leaders of the NSA, the CIA, the FBI and several other security-related agencies.  The reason they held the conference was to say to the press and the American public that this ‘tension’ between them and the public needs to be toned down.  That they are only trying to protect our security interests and that they need to be free to get on with it.
  • Interesting that they failed to note that a lot of this started when Edward Snowdon pulled the covers back from their secret programs and the public found much of what was revealed deeply unpalatable.  No comment on that and little has been done about it save for imposing a few small limitations here and there.
  • But, if those limitations are reimplemented, we’ll never know about it because it will all be done behind those same secret curtains again (and for our own good, I’m sure).
  • So, here they are in this story forcing their way into a private citizen’s private affairs/data with no warrant, no probable cause and no comment when asked about it by the press.  Basically, “Nothing to see here.  Just move along now, move along.”
  • Is this how they are going to win the public’s trust again?
  • And, isn’t the deepest irony here that if the fellow searched had wanted to hide something, he simply could have dropped an encrypted copy of it onto any of a hundred places out in the Internet cloud and erased it from his phone before entering the country.  Once home, he grabs it again from the web, decrypts it and he’s done.
  • The only criminals and terrorists the Feds are going to capture these Bully-Boy methods are the dumbest of the dumb.  
  • So what is the point then?  Simple harassment of the public? A flexing of their muscles so we can all see how very powerful they really are?  Or just a profound example of bureaucratic ineptitude wherein the left hand has no idea what the right hand’s doing?
  • dennis

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As feds battle over privacy, mayor compares the situation to North Korea.

Stockton, California Mayor Anthony R. Silva attended a recent mayor’s conference in China, but his return trip took a bit longer than usual. At the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) this week, agents with the Department of Homeland Security detained Silva and confiscated his personal cell phone among other electronics. According to comments from the mayor, that may not even be the most alarming part.

“Unfortunately, they were not willing or able to produce a search warrant or any court documents suggesting they had a legal right to take my property,” Silva told SFGate. “In addition, they were persistent about requiring my passwords for all devices.”

The mayor’s attorney, Mark Reichel, told SFGate that Silva was not allowed to leave the airport without forfeiting his passwords. Reichel was not present for Silva’s interaction with the DHS agents, either. The mayor was told he had “no right for a lawyer to be present” and that being a US citizen did not “entitle me to rights that I probably thought,” according to the paper.

As of Friday, Silva had not yet received his property from the SFO detention. SFGate reports Reichel contacted the US Attorney’s Office in Sacramento, but they would not comment on whether they still had the mayor’s possessions. The paper also reached out to a spokesperson at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but that office also refused comment. (Ars has reached out to the mayor’s office for any new information, and we’ll update this story accordingly if we hear back.)

Authorities demanding access to password-protected devices has become a hot-button issue across the country, highlighted in particular by the federal government’s ongoing battle with Silicon Valley over the lack of crypto backdoors in modern smartphones. At the end of last month, one US District Judge in Pennsylvania ruled that forcing suspects to surrender their passwords was unconstitutional on Fifth Amendment grounds.

Evidently, Silva was well aware of the situation and only had his concerns heightened by first-hand experience. Talking to SFGate, he briefly compared the government battle on privacy to notorious dictatorships worldwide.

“I think the American people should be extremely concerned about their personal rights and privacy,” Silva told the paper. “As I was being searched at the airport, there was a Latino couple to my left, and an Asian couple to my right also being aggressively searched. I briefly had to remind myself that this was not North Korea or Nazi Germany. This is the land of the Free.”

  • To the original in Ars Technica:  

Why are houses so expensive? (UK article)

Friday, September 18th, 2015
  • As time passes, my ideas about what and where our problems are shifting too.  
  • Currently, I’m focused on the idea that our representative democracies, which are primarily a balancing of self interests; one against each other, are, by their very nature, incapable of dealing with problems affecting our ‘commons’.
  • The housing cost problems described in this Guardian article make this point particularly well.  
  • It is in the majority’s common interests that most of us should be able to find and afford reasonably priced housing.  But a minority of us, well positioned to take advantage of the situation, have elevated their minority self interests over the majority and, in their greed, they are making a bad situation worse.
  • This has happened because ‘we’ the people have never decided to implement governments which look out for our common interests as their top priority.  
  • And you can be sure that those who are looking after their self interests and wealth are never going to support this.  They will, in fact, actively suppress the idea.
  • dennis

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There’s a sizeable chance that many people born before me in the late 1980s – and far more who were born after me – will never own their home in the UK. The goal for most people is now to get on “the housing ladder”: buy a small house or flat, and gradually move to a nicer area and bigger home as your profits increase. This wasn’t always the case. Back in the early 1980s, around half the population of the country owned their own home, and half rented – 30% in social housing, from their local council, and 20% from private landlords.

Margaret Thatcher’s introduction of right to buy meant that those who bought their council home saw the value of their subsidised purchase rise rapidly, meaning housing was seen less as a permanent home, more as an investment. At the same time, councils stopped building homes partly due to economic constraints, and partly due to the ideological shift away from renting and towards home ownership.

But now we’re in a crisis. Homes cost an awful lot in many places in the UK, and wages haven’t kept pace with inflation, or risen as much as house prices, post-recession. The young, in particular, find their earning potential and borrowing allowances have been harder hit than most. Meanwhile, the vast majority of new private-sector jobs are in the capital, where house prices are exorbitant.

The average house price for the UK was £282,000 in July according to the Office for National Statistics, which, if you live in London, sounds like nothing – the average house price there nudged £525,000 this month. But the average UK earner, who takes home £24,648 gross, including bonuses, can only afford a house worth around £110,000, if you imagine them taking out a mortgage worth 4.5 times their salary. To find a job paying that much and a house that costs that little isn’t easy – saving for a deposit while paying market rents is even harder.

Part of the problem is scarcity. Britain simply isn’t building enough housing to meet the demand for homes. Part of that is due to a brick shortage that began before the recession, and a skills shortage: British workers predominantly don’t want to be builders, and the rhetoric against hiring in skilled workers from the EU and beyond also stymies attempts to build more.

But many people profit from rising house prices: landbanking is a huge problemthat exacerbates the housing crisis. In areas where homes are needed, it works in private companies’ interests to sit on land that could be developed, inflating its prices, and in turn inflating house prices.

Where housing expansion has happened is in private renting, the sector least likely to increase the home ownership rate in Britain. If you ask most people what is the biggest barrier to raising the capital necessary for a deposit, most will say that it’s high rents. It’s in landlords’ interests to keep people renting, rather than buying. An interest-only mortgage lets you cream off a considerable profit while buying more properties.

And once profits rise in houses, and people see property not as a home but as an investment opportunity, outside investors pour in. Concerns have been raised at the proportion of new-build properties in London being bought and treated as asset lockers in the capital – left empty, while appreciating in value at very little risk for the predominantly foreign buyers. Meanwhile, families flounder on the housing waiting lists, or are forced out to far-flung towns, away from their children’s schools or support networks.

Houses aren’t expensive simply because of supply and demand. As long as houses are expensive, people will work to keep them expensive – buy-to-let landlords with far more capital can buy up houses and rent them out at high costs, wealthy British and foreign investors can buy up land and new-build luxury property knowing that the likelihood of profit is a far better bet than with any other investment. Keeping families and individuals locked out of home ownership for a lifetime works as a financial racket, which is precisely what we’re dealing with.

There’s also the massive regional disparity – growing up, I remember working out exactly how much I’d need to earn to afford a mortgage on my own home. It seemed achievable, because I foolishly hadn’t assumed a global recession would cause stagnant wages while house prices continued rising unhindered. And to get a mortgage on a property where I grew up in Newport, at an average of £115,828I’d need to earn around £29,000 per year. I’ll admit to earning far more. But to buy the average home where I currently live near Clapham, I’d need to earn £182,809. I earn far less. Why do I stay, rather than returning home and snapping up a four-bed house? The same reason anyone does – friends, work opportunities, and an emotional investment in the local surroundings.

But across England and Wales, the average home costs 8.8 times the average salary. In Westminster, it’s 24 times the local salary, compared to 12 times a decade earlier. Everywhere in England and Wales, the house price/local salary ratio has risen since 2002. Part of the reason so many people want to buy is because renting conditions can be so poor, while rent is so high. Those hoarding properties can hike up house prices as people become increasingly desperate to get on “the ladder”.

Scarcity causes a number of responses: firstly panic – watch any queue outside a house in Walthamstow, or try to rent a room in London or Oxford, and realise how many people are scrabbling for any opportunity to solve their personal housing crisis. But it also encourages hoarding: the financially solvent notice an asset’s sharp increase in value and hoard that asset, inflating the price and their profits at the same time. One in five homes in the UK is now owned by a private landlord, yet landlords only account for 2% cent of the adult population.

But crises reach a head: at the moment, house prices are so expensive, many people will be unable to afford to buy at all, which impacts on birth rates, encourages people to move abroad, and affects the economy, both because people are spending more on rent and less on goods that boost the economy, and because housing is a precarious market to rely on to prop up GDP. It’s because the market has been allowed to grow unchecked, and landlords and investors allowed to distort and inflate the market, that houses are expensive. But to bring prices down, some homeowners have to lose out and end up in negative equity. It depends on who politicians value most – homeowners, or Generation Rent. Or, we can all sit tight and wait for the bubble to burst.

  • To the original in the Guardian:  

 

Climate change threat must be taken as seriously as nuclear war – UK minister

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

In foreword to Foreign Office report, Baroness Joyce Anelay highlights holistic risks of global warming, including food security, terrorism and lethal heat levels

The threat of climate change needs to be assessed in the same comprehensive way as nuclear weapons proliferation, according to a UK foreign minister.

Baroness Joyce Anelay, minister of state at the Commonwealth and Foreign Office, said the indirect impacts of global warming, such as deteriorating international security, could be far greater than the direct effects, such as flooding. She issued the warning in a foreword to a new report on the risks of climate change led by the UK’s climate change envoy, Prof Sir David King.

The report, commissioned by the Foreign Office, and written by experts from the UK, US, China and India, is stark in its assessment of the wide-ranging dangers posed by unchecked global warming, including:

  • very large risks to global food security, including a tripling of food prices
  • unprecedented migration overwhelming international assistance
  • increased risk of terrorism as states fail
  • lethal heat even for people resting in shade

The world’s nations are preparing for a crunch UN summit in Paris in December, at which they must agree a deal to combat climate change.

Monday’s report states that existing plans to curb carbon emissions would heighten the chances of the climate passing tipping points “beyond which the inconvenient may become intolerable”. In 2004, King, then the government’s chief scientific adviser, warned that climate change is a more serious threat to the world than terrorism.

“Assessing the risk around [nuclear weapon proliferation] depends on understanding inter-dependent elements, including: what the science tells us is possible; what our political analysis tells us a country may intend; and what the systemic factors are, such as regional power dynamics,” said Anelay. “The risk of climate change demands a similarly holistic assessment.”

The report sets out the direct risks of climate change. “Humans have limited tolerance for heat stress,” it states. “In the current climate, safe climatic conditions for work are already exceeded frequently for short periods in hot countries, and heatwaves already cause fatalities. In future, climatic conditions could exceed potentially lethal limits of heat stress even for individuals resting in the shade.”

It notes that “the number of people exposed to extreme water shortage is projected to double, globally, by mid century due to population growth alone. Climate change could increase the risk in some regions.”

In the worst case, what is today a once-in-30-year flood could happen every three years in the highly populated river basins of the Yellow, Ganges and Indus rivers, the report said. Without dramatic cuts to carbon emissions, extreme drought affecting farmland could double around the world, with impacts in southern Africa, the US and south Asia.

Areas affected by the knock-on or systemic risks of global warming include global security with extreme droughts and competition for farmland causing conflicts. “Migration from some regions may become more a necessity than a choice, and could take place on a historically unprecedented scale,” the report says. “It seems likely that the capacity of the international community for humanitarian assistance would be overwhelmed.”

“The risks of state failure could rise significantly, affecting many countries simultaneously, and even threatening those that are currently considered developed and stable,” says the report. “The expansion of ungoverned territories would in turn increase the risks of terrorism.”

The report also assesses the systemic risk to global food supply, saying that rising extreme weather events could mean shocks to global food prices previously expected once a century could come every 30 years. “A plausible worst-case scenario could produce unprecedented price spikes on the global market, with a trebling of the prices of the worst-affected grains,” the report concludes.

The greatest risks are tipping points, the report finds, where the climate shifts rapidly into a new, dangerous phase state. But the report also states that political leadership, technology and investment patterns can also change abruptly too.

The report concludes: “The risks of climate change may be greater than is commonly realised, but so is our capacity to confront them. An honest assessment of risk is no reason for fatalism.”

– to the original article:

 

Questions about ISIS

Friday, May 8th, 2015
Sun in Montreal
 
Its a beautiful Spring day here in Montreal, Canada, where I am now.  My partner, Colette, and I just spent an hour eating our sandwiches, sitting in the sun beside a huge square near the center of the city and watching the thousands of people nearby.  People were walking, talking, sitting and eating their lunches, sharing petitions to be signed, visiting, taking in the sun, clowning around, flirting and all of the many things free people do to enjoy such a gorgeous day.
 
In the past few years, Colette and I have spent extended time in several of our advanced democracies. I’m thinking here of New Zealand, France, Australia, The United States and now Canada.
 
Everywhere we’ve gone, I’ve seen people enjoying their rights and their freedoms.  In truth, most of us unconsciously assume the presence of our rights and freedoms; much as the birds assume the air and the fish assume the water.

 
It is so easy for us to forget that it was a long and hard struggle to bring our societies to where they are now.  These rights and freedoms have been with us for so long now that it is easy to forget the desperate places from where we began.
 
In the advanced democracies, that we now live in, we can freely practice our religions. We have certain inalienable human rights. Our women have the same rights as our men. The Rule of Law is firmly established and protects us from the arbitrary taking of our lives, our freedoms, and our goods  by those who think they can simply take what they want from us because they have more brains, money, weapons or power than we do.  We have democratic elections so we can freely choose who will perform the public service functions of our governments. We can go to a government office and get a license for driving, hunting or fishing without having to pay a bribe. We know that if we’re arrested and accused of committing a crime, that we have a right to a trial before a jury of our peers. 
 
You and I could both go on adding to this list.  We have so many fundamental freedoms and rights that we take for granted that it’s hard to even remember what they all are now.
 
But keen students of history and eclectic readers know that it wasn’t always this way. And intrepid world travelers know from direct experience that it is not this way in much of the world around us.
 
A Dark Cloud Rising
 
There is a dark cloud rising in the world.  And I find it is hard to say just why it is arising.  
 
Oh, there’s no shortage of theories and ideas around; including my own.  But they are all just like leaves whirling in a summer zephyr.
 
Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.  I still remember getting up to find the story on my TV screen one morning.  Little did I know all that would follow from that one morning’s news.
 
But somehow, now, 25 years on, the middle-east has become a maelstrom.  
 
I read the news from Iraq, from Afghanistan and from Yemen and I have no idea anymore who the main players are.  Or even if the players I am reading about are good guys or bad guys.  
 
The Shia, the Sunnis, Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, the Houtis, ISIS, the Syrian Rebels, and on and on.  Refugees are everywhere and they are risking their lives by the tens of thousands in leaky boats and desperate treks to get into Europe where they believe stability exists.  Or perhaps they are striving just to get away from where ever the terror is reigning the hardest behind them.
 
I watch BBC America most nights here in Montreal and often they will have important talking-heads who are former ambassadors or generals coming on to discuss the Middle-East.  I listen but I don’t hear clarity coming from what they have to say.  It all puts me in mind of the three blind men and the elephant parable elevated to the glitter of world news.
 
But, amid all of this, there is a particularly dark cloud to be seen in the midst of all the chaos and confusion and its name is ISIS.  
 
And ISIS puzzles me deeply.  How have they become so powerful so quickly in a world in which the flow of money is so highly regulated and where there are already so many people and weapons staked out on highly contested ground?  
 
Where does ISIS get its money, who is selling them their arms and who is secretly supporting them with both?
 
Everyone publicly disavows them, including the vast majority of moderate Muslims across the world.  And yet their political power, their wealth, their Internet presence, their numbers and their military power continue to grow.  How can this be so?
 
As I said, there are a lot of theories.  
 
One thing I’ve noticed is that in this latest upsurge in Middle-Eastern violence, the U.S. has remaining largely absent.  The U.S. went in after Saddam invaded Kuwait, and then it went in later to oust him, and then it went in after 9/11 to sort out Afghanistan.  
 
And each ‘going in’ was accompanied by great publicly expressed hopes that we’d ‘sort the mess out’ and spread American ideals like democracy, freedom and education far and wide.  And each time that was not the result obtained.  
 
Many American lives were lost, many more of our young lives were blighted by wounding, permanent crippling, and by mental damage from what they’d seen, done and experienced.  Billions of dollars of U.S. tax payer money was blown and the only obvious beneficiaries from these interventions were those U.S. industries that benefit from war.
 
In each case, what the U.S. left behind from their interventions was a bigger mess than when they arrived.  
 
In my mind, the only possible exception to this was when the U.S. ejected Saddam from Kuwait in 1991 and drove him back home with his tail behind his legs and left him there to lick his wounds.
 
So, maybe why we don’t see much U.S. presence in the current middle-eastern mess is because America’s lost heart with the idea that America can ‘sort things out’ with American boots-on-the-ground and American money because most times, it just hasn’t turned out well.  
 
Or, more cynically, maybe the American war industries just don’t see the opportunities for vast profits that they saw before.
 
Regardless of all that blather and the current confusion about what all is going on in the Middle-East, the simple and stark fact is that ISIS is there and they are rising and they are a dark cloud indeed.
 
Sunlight and shadows
 
I began this with a description of an idyllic afternoon in a square in Montreal and I was reflecting on all the hard-won freedoms and rights we enjoy in the advanced democracies.   And, so musing, I commented that after folks have had those rights and freedoms for a long time, it is easy to forget how precious they are and how hard the struggle was to secure them.
 
ISIS is forcing people to convert to their brand of fundamentalist Islam or to face death or slavery.
 
ISIS executes the opposition soldiers they capture in public and horrific manners to instill fear and submission into all that have not yet encountered them.
 
ISIS forces the women they capture to ‘marry’ their soldiers as sexual slaves.
 
ISIS has no tolerance for those who believe differently than they believe. 
 
ISIS takes over areas and imposes a new strict Muslim fundamentalist lifestyle on all whom they conquer.  Even when those whom they conquer are Muslims like themselves, they impose their will without exception.  They rule on how things should be done under penalty of death.  Girls shall not go to school and men shall not shave their beards and so on and so on.
 
I’ve read two chilling accounts of ISIS recently and I’d like to give you the links to these stories here.  I suggest that if you find what I am writing here of interest, that you go sideways for a few minutes and read these two articles.  They are chilling.
 
Article 1: http://tinyurl.com/o3tn7p7  “What ISIS Really Wants” from the Atlantic Magazine.
 
Article 2: http://tinyurl.com/mnajk2e “Searching for mercy in ISIS territory” from CBC Radio
 
Some tough questions you won’t find asked in the press
 
How, in an age wherein virtually everything we do on-line is analyzed under a microscope by governments, internet companies and those who want to sell us things … how can ISIS have such a huge presence on the Internet spewing hate and enticing new recruits and no one seems to be able to do anything about it?  If all these wanna-be jehadi kids are capable of find ISIS’s on-line propaganda, how can the western security services not find it?  And which Internet Service providers in which countries are putting up the web pages?
 
How, in an age when countries are swapping vast amounts of banking and tax information in an effort to clamp down on tax evasion, an age when every bank is mandated to “Know your customer”, how can ISIS own, move and spend millions of dollars on weapons and Internet propaganda?  These folks don’t even have a country!
 
How, in an age when oil supplies and prices are tracked with global precision, can ISIS profitably sell huge amounts of oil from the territories they take over?  Who is buying millions and millions of dollars of this oil and how can the international community not know that it is going on?
 
They have money, they have Internet presence and they are selling oil hand over fist … and it all seems to be a mystery to our governments how they can do such things?
 
And all this in a time when France has just passed new draconian security laws (http://tinyurl.com/mjatkbv) and Canada is about to vote on its new security law, C-51 (http://tinyurl.com/obf9svo).   And when the U.S.’s NSA has got their nose so deep in my underwear drawer that I’m sure they know all the brand names in there.  
 
How is ISIS even able to walk down the global street without getting mugged from six directions by our security services?
 
Where to from here, Dorothy?
 
Generally, I’m considered to be a liberal.  Cut me and you’ll find a tree hugger inside.  But I’m not cut from only one cloth.  
 
For instance, I believe in Capital Punishment.  Show me an incorrigible criminal who shows no signs of ever changing and who has blown several chances already and I’m quite willing to ‘off’ that person so the rest of us can get on with the business of making this a better world.
 
Perhaps, when you reflect on the hard-won freedoms we all enjoy, you may see why I am so deeply opposed to, and intolerant of, ISIS and Muslim Fundamentalism – or any fundamentalism, for that matter, that would impose its view of the world on me by force or stealth.  
 
These people want to throw away the hard-won advances it has taken us literally centuries to put into place like women’s rights, the rule of law and freedom from religious oppression.  
 
They want to take us back to Mohammed’s day in the 6th century.  
 
And I am bitterly opposed to this.  No one who has understood how long a road it has been to move from warlords to democracies, from woman as chattels to women as equals, and from power and corruption to the Rule of Law would ever want to go back.  
 
I am not afraid to tell you, my friends, that I would see the earth under their feet melted into nuclear glass before I would personally let them have a ghost of a chance at succeeding.
 
This world of our is, in fact, a damn mess; regardless of how nice it might be out in the sunlight in a square in Montreal on any given day.  We have got a ton of problems and a huge need to get them sorted out.  
 
But what we don’t need is a bunch of fanatics full of fundamentalist religious fervor who want to take us to the 6th century as a way to solve the world’s problems.
 
But back to the tough questions
 
I asked some questions earlier that I’ve wondered about a lot.  Questions that I have not seen in the press – and yet they are questions that demand answers.   
 
Here are some more.
 
Remember when U.S. forces simply blasted most of Saddam’s army to rubble in a matter of days once the U.S. decided to eject him and his Republican Guard from Kuwait in 1991?  I remember seeing videos of literally miles and miles of burned and destroyed military assets along the roads leading from Kuwait to Iraq.  He was barely left with two sticks to rub together.
 
Contrast this with the fact that more recently we hear that in Iraq ISIS’s forces are ‘threatening’ some town or other in Iraq.  They are coming towards the town and they are gathering outside the town and it is going to be a desperate battle; in spite of U.S. air strikes, we’re told.  What’s wrong with this picture?  ISIS must look like fleas on a linen napkin sitting out there in the desert ‘gathering’.  
 
But no, no one can do anything and after a short while, they take the town.  The U.S. made good efforts with its airstrikes – but what could be done?
 
Even more recently, we hear that the Iraqi’s have finally gotten their sh*t together and were going to eject ISIS from the Iraqi town of Tikrit.   There’s massive buildup of Iraqi forces on one side of Tikrit and then the Iraqi’s attack.  
 
What does ISIS do?  They fight a bit and then pull out of town on the other side and vanish to fight another day.  
 
Oh, nascent military strategists, what’s wrong with this picture?  Could someone not have been bright enough to have thought to have bottled them up from all sides – and ended their fighting days altogether?
 
A lot of this type of lame ‘news’ makes me really suspicious.
 
Here’s one that goes way back:  Remember a long time ago, in 2001, when U.S. forces had gone into Afghanistan and were closing in on Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora Caves of the White Mountains of Eastern Afghanistan?  Reports at the time said they had him ‘Bottled up’ with no escape.  Later, it was revealed that he had escaped into the tribal zones of western Pakistan.
 
How had this happened to the best and brightest of our military?   
 
Well, it came out later that the U.S. forces had let some of the local Afgani forces, who were fighting as allies of the U.S. military, into the plan.
 
Amazing!  Just damned amazing!   Think of all the fighting and dying that followed his escape – and we’d actually had him.
 
If the U.S. military had anyone on staff who understood Afghani culture, they would have known that tribal loyalties in Afghanistan cut far, far deeper than any loyalty that might be engendered by giving someone a rifle, a uniform and some pay for a few days.  
 
So, the locals who learned of the plan, communicated it to bin Laden’s folks and there you go … he was gone after all that cost, blood and effort to capture him.  And a lot of bad stuff followed on from that oversight.
 
So, where am I leading with all this cynicism?
 
Well, this is my suspicion, nasty as it may sound:
 
I think the folks in the U.S. who make such massive profits from war don’t mind if things run on for a bit.  After all, the money is made from conducting a war, not from ending it.
 
I think the folks in the U.S. who make such massive profits from war have been stung though in recent years by criticisms over how much they’ve spent and how little it has accomplished in the Middle-East.  
 
Every adventure they’ve lead into the Middle-East has left the area in even more turmoil.  And people are getting tired of it.  
 
The world is in worse and worse shape, the U.S. debt is climbing like crazy, the U.S. economy is struggling and we’ve poured billions of dollars into all of this – with very little to show for it.
 
I think the war industry folks have decided to hang back for awhile.   They have no doubt that they can crush ISIS when they need to – but they are in no hurry to proceed.
 
Let the killing and the atrocities continue.  Let the American people get really clear on just how bad ISIS really is.  
 
Let the perception grow that ISIS might get loose and begin attacking people anywhere out in the world.  Wait for the public to rethink its reservations about interventions in the Middle-East and then, when they are squeaking and scared, roll out the forces of truth, goodness and light and obliterate the bad guys.  
 
And, with such a build up and delay, the profits will be even better.

Hacking BIOS Chips isn’t just the NSA’s domain anymore

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

– I’m coming to believe that the only secrets left are the things in your head that you’ve never told another soul.  And I’m increasingly fearful that those who want to dominate our societies in the name of ‘security’ are developing the tools to disarm any who might try to organize against them.

– In the coming years, when the various dominator powers war against each other for global domination, those of us who understand little of these cyber wars will be like rats beneath the wheels of the passing chariots.

– As I see it, the only saving grace is that the type of intelligence it takes to participate in these wars is in no way exclusive to those with the urge to dominate.  But the Dominators do have the enviable advantage of money and organizational power.

– And note well, my friends, that nothing I’ve just said acknowledges in any way the other preeminent fact of our times – that our presence within, expansion into and carelessness with the natural environment around us is virtually certain to bring it down around our ears, unless we change our ways.

– Those going forward from here will increasingly live in ‘interesting times’.  We are truly at a pivot-point in human history and most of us are deeply asleep with regard to how fragile the world around us is becoming.

– dennis

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

THE ABILITY TO hack the BIOS chip at the heart of every computer is no longer reserved for the NSA and other three-letter agencies.  Millions of machines contain basic BIOS vulnerabilities that let anyone with moderately sophisticated hacking skills compromise and control a system surreptitiously, according to two researchers.

The revelation comes two years after a catalogue of NSA spy tools leaked to journalists in Germany surprised everyone with its talk about the NSA’s efforts to infect BIOS firmware with malicious implants.

The BIOS boots a computer and helps load the operating system. By infecting this core software, which operates below antivirus and other security products and therefore is not usually scanned by them, spies can plant malware that remains live and undetected even if the computer’s operating system were wiped and re-installed.

BIOS-hacking until now has been largely the domain of advanced hackers like those of the NSA. But researchers Xeno Kovah and Corey Kallenberg presented a proof-of-concept attack today at the CanSecWest conference in Vancouver, showing how they could remotely infect the BIOS of multiple systems using a host of new vulnerabilities that took them just hours to uncover. They also found a way to gain high-level system privileges for their BIOS malware to undermine the security of specialized operating systems like Tails—used by journalists and activists for stealth communications and handling sensitive data.

Although most BIOS have protections to prevent unauthorized modifications, the researchers were able to bypass these to reflash the BIOS and implant their malicious code.

Kovah and Kallenberg recently left MITRE, a government contractor that conducts research for the Defense Department and other federal agencies, to launch LegbaCore, a firmware security consultancy. They note that the recent discovery of a firmware-hacking tool by Kaspersky Lab researchers makes it clear that firmware hacking like their BIOS demo is something the security community should be focusing on.

Because many BIOS share some of the same code, they were able to uncover vulnerabilities in 80 percent of the PCs they examined, including ones from Dell, Lenovo and HP. The vulnerabilities, which they’re calling incursion vulnerabilities, were so easy to find that they wrote a script to automate the process and eventually stopped counting the vulns it uncovered because there were too many.

“There’s one type of vulnerability, which there’s literally dozens of instances of it in every given BIOS,” says Kovah. They disclosed the vulnerabilities to the vendors and patches are in the works but have not yet been released. Kovah says, however, that even when vendors have produced BIOS patches in the past, few people have applied them.

“Because people haven’t been patching their BIOSes, all of the vulnerabilities that have been disclosed over the last couple of years are all open and available to an attacker,” he notes. “We spent the last couple of years at MITRE running around to companies trying to get them to do patches. They think BIOS is out of sight out of mind [because] they don’t hear a lot about it being attacked in the wild.”

An attacker could compromise the BIOS in two ways—through remote exploitation by delivering the attack code via a phishing email or some other method, or through physical interdiction of a system. In that case, the researchers found that if they had physical access to a system they could infect the BIOS on some machines in just two minutes. This highlights just how quickly and easy it would be, for example, for a government agent or law enforcement officer with a moment’s access to a system to compromise it.

Their malware, dubbed LightEater, uses the incursion vulnerabilities to break into and hijack the system management mode to gain escalated privileges on the system. System management mode, or SMM, is an operations mode in Intel processors that firmware uses to do certain functions with high-level system privileges that exceed even administrative and root-level privileges, Kovah notes. Using this mode, they can rewrite the contents of the BIOS chip to install an implant that gives them a persistent and stealth foothold. From there, they can install root kits and steal passwords and other data from the system.

But more significantly, SMM gives their malware the ability to read all data and code that appears in a machine’s memory. This would allow their malware, Kovah points out, to subvert any computer using the Tails operating system—the security and privacy-oriented operating system Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald used to handle NSA documents Snowden leaked. By reading data in memory, they could steal the encryption key of a Tails user to unlock encrypted data or swipe files and other content as it appears in memory. Tails is meant to be run from a secure USB flash drive or other removable media—so that conceivably it won’t be affected by viruses or other malware that may have infected the computer. It operates in the computer’s memory and once the operating system is shut down, Tails scrubs the RAM to erase any traces of its activity. But because the LightEater malware uses the system management mode to read the contents of memory, it can grab the data while in memory before it gets scrubbed and store it in a safe place from which it can later be exfiltrated. And it can do this while all the while remaining stealth.

“Our SMM attacker lives in a place nobody checks today to see if there’s an attacker,” Kovah says. “System management mode can read everyone’s RAM, but nobody can read System Management Mode’s RAM.”

Such an attack shows, he says, that the operating system Snowden chose to protect himself can’t actually protect him from the NSA or anyone else who can design an attack like LightEater.

– To the original article:  

– research thanks to: K. M.

 

 

What ISIS Really Wants

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

– I just read this long piece in the Atlantic Magazine and it is the clearest (and the most frightening) thing I’ve read on ISIS, who they are, why they are and what they want.

– It is a long but, I think, essential read to understand what ISIS is about.

– dennis

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The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.

What is the Islamic State

Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.

The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.

Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.

We have misunderstood the nature of the Islamic State in at least two ways. First, we tend to see jihadism as monolithic, and to apply the logic of al?Qaeda to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it. The Islamic State supporters I spoke with still refer to Osama bin Laden as “Sheikh Osama,” a title of honor. But jihadism has evolved since al-Qaeda’s heyday, from about 1998 to 2003, and many jihadists disdain the group’s priorities and current leadership.

Bin Laden viewed his terrorism as a prologue to a caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells. The Islamic State, by contrast, requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it. (Its bureaucracy is divided into civil and military arms, and its territory into provinces.)

We are misled in a second way, by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature. Peter Bergen, who produced the first interview with bin Laden in 1997, titled his first book Holy War, Inc. in part to acknowledge bin Laden as a creature of the modern secular world. Bin Laden corporatized terror and franchised it out. He requested specific political concessions, such as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia. His foot soldiers navigated the modern world confidently. On Mohammad Atta’s last full day of life, he shopped at Walmart and ate dinner at Pizza Hut.

There is a temptation to rehearse this observation—that jihadists are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise—and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.

The most-articulate spokesmen for that position are the Islamic State’s officials and supporters themselves. They refer derisively to “moderns.” In conversation, they insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam.

To take one example: In September, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s chief spokesman, called on Muslims in Western countries such as France and Canada to find an infidel and “smash his head with a rock,” poison him, run him over with a car, or “destroy his crops.” To Western ears, the biblical-sounding punishments—the stoning and crop destruction—juxtaposed strangely with his more modern-sounding call to vehicular homicide. (As if to show that he could terrorize by imagery alone, Adnani also referred to Secretary of State John Kerry as an “uncircumcised geezer.”)

But Adnani was not merely talking trash. His speech was laced with theological and legal discussion, and his exhortation to attack crops directly echoed orders from Muhammad to leave well water and crops alone—unless the armies of Islam were in a defensive position, in which case Muslims in the lands of kuffar, or infidels, should be unmerciful, and poison away.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

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