Friday, November 17, 2017

Hillary Clinton Rape-Enabler


theatlantic |  If the ground beneath your feet feels cold, it’s because hell froze over the other day. It happened at 8:02 p.m. on Monday, when The New York Times published an op-ed called “I Believe Juanita.”  

Written by Michelle Goldberg, it was a piece that, 20 years ago, likely would have inflamed the readership of the paper and scandalized its editors. Reviewing the credibility of Broaddrick’s claim, Goldberg wrote that “five witnesses said she confided in them about the assault right after it happened,” an important standard in reviewing the veracity of claims of past sex crimes.

But Goldberg’s was not a single snowflake of truth; rather it was part of an avalanche of honesty in the elite press, following a seemingly innocuous tweet by the MSNBC host Chris Hayes. “As gross and cynical and hypocritical as the right’s ‘what about Bill Clinton’ stuff is,” he wrote, “it’s also true that Democrats and the center left are overdue for a real reckoning with the allegations against him.”

As gross and cynical and hypocrtical as the right's "what about Bill Clinton" stuff is, it's also true that Democrats and the center left are overdue for a real reckoning with the allegations against him.

What happened next can only be compared to the moment when Glinda the Good Witch of the North came to Munchkinland and told the little people that it was finally safe. Come out, come out, wherever you are!

Senator Franken Caught Doing What Preznit Trump Was Accused of Doing


thewrap |  Donald Trump drew outrage in October 2016 for his “Access Hollywood” boast about kissing and grabbing women without their consent. Now Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden says Sen. Al Franken kissed her without consent on a 2006 USO tour — and produced a photo of him groping her while she slept.

So how did Franken respond when the video emerged of Trump talking about doing something very similar to what Franken is now accused of doing?

Cautiously.

Franken-Furter: #YouToo? Troglodytes Eating One Another Alive


weeklystandard |  Anyone who has followed the career of Al Franken should be unsurprised to learn that he was a jerk to Leeann Tweeden. Because if you go back to Live from New York, Tom Shales’ brilliant oral history of Saturday Night Live, Franken appears as a lying, drug-abusing (and distributing), jackass.
A couple choice excerpts—remember, this is an oral history, so they’re from the primary sources:
Al Franken: There was not as much cocaine as you would think on the premises. Yeah, a number of people got in trouble. But cocaine was used mainly just to stay up.
There was a very undisicplined way of writing the show, which was staying up all night on Tuesday. We didn't have the kind of hours that normal people have. And so there was a lot of waiting until Tuesday night, and then going all night, and at two or three or four in the morning, doing some coke to stay up, as opposed to doing a whole bunch, and doing nitrous oxide, and laughing at stuff.
People used to ask me about this and I'd always say, "No, there was no coke. It's impossible to do the kind of show we were doing and do drugs." And that was just a funny lie that I liked to tell. Kind of the opposite was true, unfortunately, for some people, it was impossible to do the show without the drugs.
So Franken liked to tell funny lies about not using drugs when he wasn’t writing a book castigating Republicans which was titled—this is so great—Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. 

Maybe now when he says that he “doesn’t remember” his encounter with Tweenden the way she describes it, this is a funny lie, too.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tapper Tweeden - The Franken Full Monty


Pompous Posturing Democrats Serve No One But Themselves...,


"Another example of giving the game away in few words came two nights ago when the liberal-elitist 'Inside Elections' political analyst Stuart Rothenburg spoke on the PBS NewsHour.   'The Democrats as a party'  Rothenburg told NewsHour host and Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) member Judy Woodruff,  'are divided between the Bernie Sanders wing and Hillary Clinton wing, the pragmatists and ideologues.'

For Rothenburg, the Clinton wing members are the 'pragmatists,' the realistic adults who want to 'get things done' (one of the great neoliberal president Obama’s favorite phrases and claims).  The Sanders folks are 'ideologues,' a pejorative term meaning people who are mainly about ideology and who are carried away by their own flighty and doctrinal world view. 

This was a slap (an ideological one I might add) at the more progressive and social-democratic faction of the Democratic Party – a blow masquerading as 'objective' and detached political analysis."

Paul Street, Giving the Game Away

If you watch this relatively short video much of what has been puzzling you about the failure of our political system will be made clearer.

Franklin Roosevelt could work tirelessly for the common person because he was already comfortable in his own skin with regard to his social status.  And more importantly, as a result of his long term paralysis he knew how little social status really meant.   As suffering sometimes does, it introduces compassion and empathy, even among the upper crust.

But the New Deal principles were shunned for the credentialed aspirations of those class-climbing, middle class kids who would be rich and acknowledged as members of an elite crowd with the right kinds of bona fides.   There are probably few better recent examples than the Clintons.   Their attitudes towards the average American are paternalistic at best, and highly cynical and patronizing at worst.

They attempted to disguise their credentialed, professional class preferences with 'identity politics.'   But if you look at the culmination of actual policy initiatives, versus platform platitudes, the Democrats, similarly to the GOP, serve no one but themselves.   Winning...

They rely on the 'lesser of two evils' to scrape out the occasional win, when the excesses of the other party drive people to embrace 'hope and change,' and to be largely betrayed once again.

Sheer Hypocrisy and Undemocratic Control Killed The Democratic Party...,



therealnews |  PAUL JAY: All right, let me introduce our guest, Norman Solomon. Norman is the co-founder of rootsaction.org, and he's co-author of a new report, "Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis." Thanks for joining us, Norman.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Thanks, Paul.PAUL JAY: There's kind of two arguments there. One, let's start with the first, that now's not the time to rehash all of this, that Trump represents a kind of -- they are not using this language, but I will -- a kind of neo-fascism. There's a broad front called the Resistance, and people like Hilary Rosen and others are saying that this isn't a time to, they use the word re-litigate what the DNC did or didn't do. There should just be a constructive outlook in terms of reforming the DNC. Don't rehash who did what to whom, and focus on attacking Trump. How do you respond to that?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Ideally, there's a united front against the horrific Trump presidency. There's not usefulness in getting united behind bad strategies and undemocratic internal processes of the Democratic Party. After all, "Democratic" is the first name of the party, and when we see so clearly that contempt for basic democratic principles were in play and in force inside the Democratic National Committee, then it doesn't work to just shrug and say well, that's the past so let's move on. The reality is that the same basic forces, the political corporate tendencies and power, that held the DNC last year still control it this year. So it's all well and good to say hey, just move on, but we can't move on without being real about what happened and what continues to be in play in terms of the top-down power at the DNC.

PAUL JAY: The media has on the whole been very antagonistic to Donna Brazile, at least the media I've seen, led of course by MSNBC, and I've seen CNN, especially the first few days after Brazile's book was started to be released by the Washington Post. There was one report I saw, it was a CNN journalist, who just lambasted Brazile. We couldn't find the clip, but NBC had released this agreement between the Clinton campaign and the DNC, and according to a couple of sentences in that agreement, the money that Clinton was controlling and the power she had over the DNC was all supposed to be directed towards the general election, which would have been appropriate. But NBC later actually, it got revealed, when people look at the dates, and I understand NBC even had to retract this, that the dates actually showed it was clearly about the primary, and Donna Brazile clearly makes that this control of Clinton was all about the primary. But the attack continued. Here's Robby Mook, a former campaign manager for Clinton, on CNN.

Russiagate Cognitive Dissonance: What Being Wrong Feels Like



medium  |  We know from the Snowden leaks on the NSA, the CIA files released by WikiLeaks, and the ongoing controversies regarding FBI surveillance that the US intelligence community has the most expansive, most sophisticated and most intrusive surveillance network in the history of human civilization. Following the presidential election last year, anonymous sources from within the intelligence community were hemorrhaging leaks to the press on a regular basis that were damaging to the incoming administration. If there was any evidence to be found that Donald Trump colluded with the Russian government to steal the 2016 election using hackers and propaganda, the US intelligence community would have found it and leaked it to the New York Times or the Washington Post last year.

Mueller isn’t going to find anything in 2017 that these vast, sprawling networks wouldn’t have found in 2016. He’s not going to find anything by “following the money” that couldn’t be found infinitely more efficaciously via Orwellian espionage. The factions within the intelligence community that were working to sabotage the incoming administration last year would have leaked proof of collusion if they’d had it. They did not have it then, and they do not have it now. Mueller will continue finding evidence of corruption throughout his investigation, since corruption is to DC insiders as water is to fish, but he will not find evidence of collusion to win the 2016 election that will lead to Trump’s impeachment. It will not happen.

This sits on top of all the many, many, many reasons to be extremely suspicious of the Russiagate narrative in the first place.

Humans are storytelling creatures. The most significant and most underappreciated facet of our existence is how much of our interface with the world consists not of our direct experience of it, but of our mental stories about it. Combine that fact with the century of research and development that has gone into refining propaganda tactics and the US plutocracy’s stranglehold on mainstream media, and you get a nation lost in establishment narratives. People forming their worldviews based on phantasms of the mind instead of concrete facts.

I’ve noticed a strange uptick in establishment loyalists speaking to me as though Trump-Russia collusion is already an established fact, and that I’m simply not well-informed. There is still the same amount of publicly available evidence for this collusion as there ever was (zero), so this tells me that the only thing which has changed is the narrative. Pundits/propagandists are increasingly speaking as though this is something that has already been established, and the people who consume that propaganda go out and circulate it as though it’s an established fact. When you’re not plugged into that echo chamber, though, it looks very weird.

This is why Russiagaters find my certainty that collusion will never be proven so intensely abrasive. Their entire worldview consists of pure narrative — literally nothing other than authoritative assertions from pundits who speak in a confident tone of voice — so when they encounter someone doing the same thing but with hard facts, it causes psychological discomfort. This discomfort is called cognitive dissonance. It’s what being wrong feels like.

 

Dollah, Dollah, Bill Y'all...,


slate |  Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton, have already gotten in hot water more than once for acting like out-of-touch snobs whose primary hobby is wasting taxpayer money on their extravagant lifestyle. (Linton went so far as to label an Instagram picture of herself deboarding a government-funded private jet with the names of the numerous luxury products she’s depicted wearing in it.) Helpfully, as you can see above, they have now provided the media with a perfect distillation of their public image for use if and when Mnuchin is axed from the administration as a PR scapegoat after the backlash against Trump’s extremely rich-person-friendly tax bill reaches a fever pitch.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Smearing Trump: A Hack of a "Scoop"


medium |  The author of the Atlantic article, Julia Ioffe, put a period rather than a comma at the end of the text about not wanting to appear pro-Trump or pro-Russia, and completely omitted WikiLeaks’ statement following the comma that it considers those allegations slanderous. This completely changes the way the interaction is perceived.

This is malpractice. Putting an ellipsis (…) and then omitting the rest of the sentence would have been sleazy and disingenuous enough, because you’re leaving out crucial information but at least communicating to the reader that there is more to the sentence you’ve left out, but replacing the comma with a period obviously communicates to the reader that there is no more to the sentence. If you exclude important information while communicating that you have not, you are blatantly lying to your readers.

There is a big difference between “because it won’t be perceived as coming from a ‘pro-Trump’ ‘pro-Russia’ source” and “because it won’t be perceived as coming from a ‘pro-Trump’ ‘pro-Russia’ source, which the Clinton campaign is constantly slandering us with.” Those are not the same sentence. At all. Different meanings, different implications. One makes WikiLeaks look like it’s trying to hide a pro-Trump, pro-Russian agenda from the public, and the other conveys the exact opposite impression as WikiLeaks actively works to obtain Donald Trump’s tax returns. This is a big deal.

And it made a difference in the way WikiLeaks was perceived, as evidenced by the things people who read the article are saying about Ioffe’s version:

CIA Blog Agrees - Something Indeed Wrong With These Interwebs..,


WaPo |  “Something is wrong on the internet,” declares an essay trending in tech circles. But the issue isn’t Russian ads or Twitter harassers. It’s children’s videos. 

The piece, by tech writer James Bridle, was published on the heels of a report from the New York Times that described disquieting problems with the popular YouTube Kids app. Parents have been handing their children an iPad to watch videos of Peppa Pig or Elsa from “Frozen,” only for the supposedly family-friendly platform to offer up some disturbing versions of the same. In clips camouflaged among more benign videos, Peppa drinks bleach instead of naming vegetables. Elsa might appear as a gore-covered zombie or even in a sexually compromising position with Spider-Man. 

The phenomenon is alarming, to say the least, and YouTube has said that it’s in the process of implementing new filtering methods. But the source of the problem will remain. In fact, it’s the site’s most important tool — and increasingly, ours. 

YouTube suggests search results and “up next” videos using proprietary algorithms: computer programs that, based on a particular set of guidelines and trained on vast sets of user data, determine what content to recommend or to hide from a particular user. They work well enough — the company claims that in the past 30 days, only 0.005 percent of YouTube Kids videos have been flagged as inappropriate. But as these latest reports show, no piece of code is perfect.

Local Grandstanding Blowhard Whoops Gums About Googol...,


WaPo  |  Missouri’s attorney general said Monday that he has launched an investigation into whether Google has mishandled private customer data and manipulated its search results to favor its own products, a further sign that Silicon Valley’s political fortunes may be on the descent.

The probe comes after European antitrust regulators levied a $2.7 billion fine against Google in June and as Washington is taking a harder look into the influence of dominant tech companies in American society.

Attorney General Josh Hawley said that the investigation will focus on three issues: the scope of Google's data collection, whether it has abused its market position as a dominant search engine and whether the company used its competitors content as its own in search results. The state has issued Google a subpoena seeking information about its business practices.

Hawley, who recently announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, said that the investigation was prompted in part by the fine levied against Google by European officials for favoring its own search results, as well as concerns that Google was engaging in similar behavior in the United States. Hawley said that a preliminary  investigation suggests that Google may not be accurately disclosing how much data it collects about customers and that people don't have a meaningful choice to opt out of Google's data collection.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

CIA False-Flagging and Impersonating Kaspersky

wikileaks |  Hive solves a critical problem for the malware operators at the CIA. Even the most sophisticated malware implant on a target computer is useless if there is no way for it to communicate with its operators in a secure manner that does not draw attention. Using Hive even if an implant is discovered on a target computer, attributing it to the CIA is difficult by just looking at the communication of the malware with other servers on the internet. Hive provides a covert communications platform for a whole range of CIA malware to send exfiltrated information to CIA servers and to receive new instructions from operators at the CIA.
Hive can serve multiple operations using multiple implants on target computers. Each operation anonymously registers at least one cover domain (e.g. "perfectly-boring-looking-domain.com") for its own use. The server running the domain website is rented from commercial hosting providers as a VPS (virtual private server) and its software is customized according to CIA specifications. These servers are the public-facing side of the CIA back-end infrastructure and act as a relay for HTTP(S) traffic over a VPN connection to a "hidden" CIA server called 'Blot'.
The cover domain delivers 'innocent' content if somebody browses it by chance. A visitor will not suspect that it is anything else but a normal website. The only peculiarity is not visible to non-technical users - a HTTPS server option that is not widely used: Optional Client Authentication. But Hive uses the uncommon Optional Client Authentication so that the user browsing the website is not required to authenticate - it is optional. But implants talking to Hive do authenticate themselves and can therefore be detected by the Blot server. Traffic from implants is sent to an implant operator management gateway called Honeycomb(see graphic above) while all other traffic go to a cover server that delivers the insuspicious content for all other users.
Digital certificates for the authentication of implants are generated by the CIA impersonating existing entities. The three examples included in the source code build a fake certificate for the anti-virus company Kaspersky Laboratory, Moscow pretending to be signed by Thawte Premium Server CA, Cape Town. In this way, if the target organization looks at the network traffic coming out of its network, it is likely to misattribute the CIA exfiltration of data to uninvolved entities whose identities have been impersonated.
The documentation for Hive is available from the WikiLeaks Vault7 series.

Unintended Consequences of #MeToo Viral Weaponization


medium  |  Human civilization is made of rape. For millennia, all over the world, women have been commodified and kept as property for the purpose of receiving male reproductive fluids and raising their progeny, regardless of our will. During this time we were kept at home while men invented religion, money, economics, war, government, hierarchy, class, culture, rules, laws and traditions, including the laws of the marital bed. Civilization has been arranged so that each man receives a woman to own, with whom he may have sex whenever he wishes, between building, fighting, destroying and conquering in accordance with the will of whatever ruler happened to be running the show at the time.



This is only just now beginning to change. A woman’s will for her own sexuality is only just now becoming culturally relevant, a blink of an eye from a historical perspective.

Spousal rape was not considered a crime in all 50 states until 1993, and there are still seven states where there is a marital exception to certain sex crimes. The full anatomy of the clitoris wasn’t recognized by western science until 1998. The G-spot was given its name in the 1980s after a male gynecologist, Ernst Gräfenberg, who spent time in the 1940s studying the stimulation of the urethra. Birth control pills kill sexual desire. A third of women reported pain in their last sexual experience. There is a little-known, virtually unresearched and untreatable condition called vulvodynia that causes such intense nerve pain that some women consider suicide, and it is more common than breast cancer.

Just sit with that. A third of women reported pain in their last sexual experience. They didn’t just not enjoy it, they gritted their teeth through it. Why? Because for a myriad of reasons, we don’t feel like we have a choice. That’s rape culture.

Given that interest in a woman’s will for her own sexuality is just barely beginning to enter social consciousness on a large scale, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it is only just now in 2017 that sharing our experiences with rape culture is beginning to go mainstream.

Rape dynamics are woven into the fabric of society far more pervasively than anyone realizes, and by pulling this thread, the whole mad tapestry will necessarily unravel. This can only be a good thing.

Our species is at a crossroads. It’s become self-evident that we’re about to either collectively experience some kind of enormous transformation, or go the way of the dinosaur. Parallel to our unprecedented ability to network and share information and ideas with our fellow humans all around the globe is a death march toward either ecosystemic disaster or nuclear holocaust which so far shows no signs of slowing down, and one of these two factors will necessarily win out at some point in the near future. Thus far our attempts to shift trajectories have failed spectacularly. If something is going to save us, it’s going to come from way out of left field.

Women everywhere feel the significance of the #MeToo phenomenon. A lot of us are scared to say anything about it for fear of hurting the feelings of the men we love, fear of retribution, and fear of being eaten alive by the intimidating, debate-culture defenders of patriarchy, but there’s a widespread sense that this thing is much bigger than it seems. Some leaders of conventional feminist thought have been speculating about some kind of progressive political upheaval, but in my opinion this is infinitely more revolutionary than that. We are about to experience a plunge into completely unknown and uncharted territory.


Is Something Wrong With These Interwebs?


medium  |  Here are a few things which are disturbing me:

The first is the level of horror and violence on display. Some of the times it’s troll-y gross-out stuff; most of the time it seems deeper, and more unconscious than that. The internet has a way of amplifying and enabling many of our latent desires; in fact, it’s what it seems to do best. I spend a lot of time arguing for this tendency, with regards to human sexual freedom, individual identity, and other issues. Here, and overwhelmingly it sometimes feels, that tendency is itself a violent and destructive one.

The second is the levels of exploitation, not of children because they are children but of children because they are powerless. Automated reward systems like YouTube algorithms necessitate exploitation in the same way that capitalism necessitates exploitation, and if you’re someone who bristles at the second half of that equation then maybe this should be what convinces you of its truth. 

Exploitation is encoded into the systems we are building, making it harder to see, harder to think and explain, harder to counter and defend against. Not in a future of AI overlords and robots in the factories, but right here, now, on your screen, in your living room and in your pocket.

Many of these latest examples confound any attempt to argue that nobody is actually watching these videos, that these are all bots. There are humans in the loop here, even if only on the production side, and I’m pretty worried about them too.

I’ve written enough, too much, but I feel like I actually need to justify all this raving about violence and abuse and automated systems with an example that sums it up. Maybe after everything I’ve said you won’t think it’s so bad. I don’t know what to think any more.

This video, BURIED ALIVE Outdoor Playground Finger Family Song Nursery Rhymes Animation Education Learning Video, contains all of the elements we’ve covered above, and takes them to another level. Familiar characters, nursery tropes, keyword salad, full automation, violence, and the very stuff of kids’ worst dreams. And of course there are vast, vast numbers of these videos. Channel after channel after channel of similar content, churned out at the rate of hundreds of new videos every week. Industrialised nightmare production.

For the final time: There is more violent and more sexual content like this available. I’m not going to link to it. I don’t believe in traumatising other people, but it’s necessary to keep stressing it, and not dismiss the psychological effect on children of things which aren’t overtly disturbing to adults, just incredibly dark and weird.

A friend who works in digital video described to me what it would take to make something like this: a small studio of people (half a dozen, maybe more) making high volumes of low quality content to reap ad revenue by tripping certain requirements of the system (length in particular seems to be a factor). According to my friend, online kids’ content is one of the few alternative ways of making money from 3D animation because the aesthetic standards are lower and independent production can profit through scale. It uses existing and easily available content (such as character models and motion-capture libraries) and it can be repeated and revised endlessly and mostly meaninglessly because the algorithms don’t discriminate — and neither do the kids.

These videos, wherever they are made, however they come to be made, and whatever their conscious intention (i.e. to accumulate ad revenue) are feeding upon a system which was consciously intended to show videos to children for profit. The unconsciously-generated, emergent outcomes of that are all over the place.

To expose children to this content is abuse. We’re not talking about the debatable but undoubtedly real effects of film or videogame violence on teenagers, or the effects of pornography or extreme images on young minds, which were alluded to in my opening description of my own teenage internet use. Those are important debates, but they’re not what is being discussed here. What we’re talking about is very young children, effectively from birth, being deliberately targeted with content which will traumatise and disturb them, via networks which are extremely vulnerable to exactly this form of abuse. It’s not about trolls, but about a kind of violence inherent in the combination of digital systems and capitalist incentives. It’s down to that level of the metal.  Fist tap Dale.

Monday, November 13, 2017

None of These WEAPONS Products Is What It Appears To Be...,


nakedcapitalism  |  As the Philadelphia meetup, I got to chat at some length with a reader who had a considerable high end IT background, including at some cutting-edge firms, and now has a job in the Beltway where he hangs out with military-surveillance types. He gave me some distressing information on the state of snooping technology, and as we’ll get to shortly, is particularly alarmed about the new “home assistants” like Amazon Echo and Google Home. 

He pointed out that surveillance technology is more advanced than most people realize, and that lots of money and “talent” continues to be thrown at it. For instance, some spooky technologies are already decades old. Forgive me if this is old hat to readers:
Edward Snowden has disabled the GPS, camera, and microphone on his cell phone to reduce his exposure. As most readers probably know, both the microphone and the camera can be turned on even when the phone has been turned off. He uses headphones to make calls. This makes the recent phone design trend away from headphone jacks look particularly nefarious.
“Laser microphones” can capture conversations by shining a laser on a window pane and interpreting the vibrations. However, this isn’t really a cause for worry since there are easier ways to spy on meetings.
With a voice recording (think a hostage tape), analysts can determine the room size, number of people in the room, and even make a stab at the size and placement of objects, particularly if they get more than one recording from the same site.
But what really got this reader worked up was Amazon’s Echo, the device that allows users to give voice instructions to a device that will tell your TV to stream video or audio. order from Amazon or other participating vendors, provide answers to simple search queries, like “Tell me the weather,” perform simple calculations, and allow you to order around smart devices in your home that are on the networks. like tell your coffee maker to make some coffee. He said, “I’d never take one of them out of the box.”

He was at a party recently with about 15-20 people when the host decided to show off her Echo. She called across the room, “Alexa, tell me the capital of Wisconsin,” and Alexa dutifully responded.
Based on his knowledge of other technologies, here is what he argues was happening:
The Echo was able to pick a voice out of a crowd engaged in conversation. That means it is capable of singling out individual voice. That means it has been identifying individual voices, tagging the as “Unidentified voice 1″, Unidentified voice 2” and so on. It has already associated the voices of its owners, and if they have set up profiles for other family members, for them as well, so it knows who goes with those voices.
Those voices may be unidentified now, but as more and more voice data is being collected or provided voluntarily, people will be able to be connected to their voice. And more and more recording is being done in public places.
So now think of that party I was at. At some time in the not too distant future, analysts will be able to make queries like, “Tell me who was within 15 feet of Person X at least eight times in the last six months.” That will produce a reliable list of their family, friends, lovers, and other close associates.
CNET claims that Amazon uploads and retains voice data from the Echo only when it has been activated by calling to it and stops recording when the request ends. But given the Snowden revelations that every camera and microphone in computers and mobile devices can be and are used as viewing and listening devices even when the owner thinks they are off, I would not be so trusting. Even if Amazon isn’t listening and recording at other times, the NSA probably can. CNET adds:
Amazon Echo is always listening. From the moment you wake up Echo to the end of your command, your voice is recorded and transcribed. And then it’s stored on Amazon’s servers….
It’s unclear how long the data is stored, but we do know that it is not anonymized. And, for now, there’s no way to prevent recordings from being saved.
Reread the first paragraph. The Echo has to be listening at all times in order to respond to the “Alexa” command. So the only question is whether Amazon or some friendly member of the surveillance state is recording then too. 

This scenario ties into a recent development I find alarming: banks and other retail financial firms relentlessly offering to let you use your voice as your identifier if you wind up calling them. Every time I have called, I have to waste time rejecting their efforts to route me into that system. I’ve told the customer reps I never want that done but there is no way to override that even when I call in from a phone number they recognize as belonging to a customer.

Article About the Deep State - Pretending to Be About Riyaud...,


Independent |  The problem in resource-rich states is that corruption is not marginal to political power, but central to acquiring it and keeping it. Corruption at the top is a form of patronage manipulated by those in charge, to create and reward a network of self-interested loyalists. It is the ruling family and its friends and allies who cherrypick what is profitable: this is as true of Saudi Arabia as it was true of Libya under Gaddafi, Iraq under Saddam Hussein and his successors, or Iraqi Kurdistan that was supposedly different from the rest of the country.

Corruption is a nebulous concept when it comes to states with arbitrary rulers, who can decide – unrestrained by law or democratic process – what is legal and what is illegal. What typifies the politics of oil states is that everybody is trying to plug into the oil revenues in order to get their share of the cake.

This is true at the top, but the same is the case of the rest of the population, or at least a large and favoured section of it. The Iraqi government pays $4bn a month to about seven million state employees and pensioners. These may or may not do productive work, but it would be politically risky to fire them because they are the base support of the regime in power.

Anti-corruption drives don’t work, because if they are at all serious, they soon begin to cut into the very roots of political power by touching the “untouchables”. At this point principled anti-corruption campaigners will find themselves in serious trouble and may have to flee the country, while the less-principled ones will become a feared weapon to be used against anybody whom the government wants to target.

A further consequence of the traditional anti-corruption drive is that it can paralyse government activities in general. This is because all officials, corrupt and incorrupt alike, know that they are vulnerable to investigation. “The safest course for them is to take no decision and sign no document which might be used or misused against them,” a frustrated American businessman told me in Baghdad some years ago. He added that it was only those so politically powerful that they did not have to fear legal sanctions who would take decisions – and such people were often the most corrupt of all.   

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Saudi Arabia's Pivot to China


peakprosperity  |  Given its situation, is it really any surprise that King Salman and his son have decided to pivot to China?  In need of a new partner that would align better with their current and future interests, China is the obvious first choice.

So in March 2017, only a very short while after Obama's failed visit, a large and well-prepared KSA entourage accompanied King Salman to Beijing and inked tens of billions in new business deals:
China, Saudi Arabia eye $65 billion in deals as king visits
Mar 16, 2017
BEIJING (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s King Salman oversaw the signing of deals worth as much as $65 billion on the first day of a visit to Beijing on Thursday, as the world’s largest oil exporter looks to cement ties with the world’s second-largest economy.
The deals included a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between giant state oil firm Saudi Aramco and China North Industries Group Corp (Norinco), to look into building refining and chemical plants in China.
Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) and Sinopec, which already jointly run a chemical complex in Tinajin, also agreed to develop petrochemical projects in both China and Saudi Arabia.
Salman told Xi he hoped China could play an even greater role in Middle East affairs, the ministry added.
Deputy Chinese Foreign Minister Zhang Ming said the memorandums of understanding and letters of intent were potentially worth about $65 billion, involving everything from energy to space.
(Source)
This was a very big deal in terms of Middle East geopolitics.  It shook up many decades of established power, resulting in a shift away from dependence on America. 

The Saudis arrived in China with such a huge crowd in tow that a reported 150 cooks had been brought along to just to feed everyone in the Saudi visitation party.   

The resulting deals struck involved everything from energy to infrastructure to information technology to space.  And this was just on the first visit.  Quite often a brand new trade delegation event involves posturing and bluffing and feeling each other out; not deals being struck.   So it’s clear that before the visit, well before, lots and lots of deals were being negotiated and terms agreed to so that the thick MOU files were ready to sign during the actual visit.

The scope and size of these business deals are eye catching, but the real clincher is King Salman's public statement expressing hope China will play "an even greater role in Middle East affairs."

That, right there, is the sound of the geopolitical axis-tilting. That public statement tells us everything we need to know about the sort of change the Salman dynasty intends to pursue. 

So it should have surprised no one to hear that, in August this year, another $70 billion of new deals were announced between China and KSA. The fanfare extolled that Saudi-Sino relations had entered a new era, with “the agreements covering investment, trade, energy, postal service, communications, and media.”

This is a very rapid pace for such large deals.  If KSA and China were dating, they’d be talking about moving in together already. They're clearly at the selecting furniture and carpet samples stage.
As for the US? It seems KSA isn't even returning its calls or texts at this point.

China's Impending Oil Peak


medium |  A new scientific study led by the China University of Petroleum in Beijing, funded by the Chinese government, concludes that China is about to experience a peak in its total oil production as early as next year.

Without finding an alternative source of “new abundant energy resources”, the study warns, the 2018 peak in China’s combined conventional and unconventional oil will undermine continuing economic growth and “challenge the sustainable development of Chinese society.”

This also has major implications for the prospect of a 2018 oil squeeze — as China scales its domestic oil peak, rising demand will impact world oil markets in a way most forecasters aren’t anticipating, contributing to a potential supply squeeze. That could happen in 2018 proper, or in the early years that follow.

There are various scenarios that follow from here — China could: shift to reducing its massive demand for energy, a tall order in itself given population growth projections and rising consumption; accelerate a renewable energy transition; or militarise the South China Sea for more deepwater oil and gas.

Right now, China appears to be incoherently pursuing all three strategies, with varying rates of success. But one thing is clear — China’s decisions on how it addresses its coming post-peak future will impact regional and global political and energy security for the foreseeable future.

Fossil fuelled-growth

The study was published on 19 September by Springer’s peer-reviewed Petroleum Science journal, which is supported by China’s three major oil corporations, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), China Petroleum Corporation (Sinopec), and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).

Since 1978, China has experienced an average annual economic growth rate of 9.8%, and is now the world’s second largest economy after the United States.

The new study points out, however, that this economic growth has been enabled by “high energy consumption.”

In the same period of meteoric economic growth, China’s total energy consumption has grown on average by 5.8% annually, mostly from fossil fuels. In 2014, oil, gas and coal accounted for fully 90% of China’s total energy consumption, with the remainder supplied from renewable energy sources.

After 2018, however, China’s oil production is predicted to begin declining, and the widening supply-demand gap could endanger both China’s energy security and continued economic growth.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Main Saudi Problem? Too Effing Many Arabians!!!


Bostonglobe |  In a recent Pew study, 72 percent of Americans report feeling either worried or very worried about “a future where robots and computers can do many human jobs.” Seventy-six percent believe that economic inequality will grow worse in such a future. 

As president of an institute with “technology” in its name and national service in its mission, I take these concerns seriously. Every past technology wave ultimately produced more jobs than it destroyed and delivered important gains, from higher living standards and life expectancy to productivity and economic growth. Yet many fear that this time the change may be so fast and so vast, and its impact so uneven and disruptive, that it may threaten not only individual livelihoods, but the stability of society itself. 

Fortunately, this outcome is not inevitable — and the future is in our hands. Indeed, deliberate, coordinated action is what smoothed such transitions in the past. If we want the advance of technology to benefit everyone, however, we need to take action right away: We must proactively and thoughtfully reinvent the future of work.

Simply understanding the problem is a challenge; interestingly, experts still disagree on exactly which groups and regions are losing jobs primarily to automation, how quickly such impact will spread, and what interventions can help. To build sound, long-term policy on something this important, we cannot rely on anecdotes. Government, foundation, and corporate leaders need to invest in better data now.  


Is MBS Tryna Drain the Broke Bush-Bandar-CIA Swamp?


theautomaticearth |  Trying to figure out what on earth is happening in the Middle East appears to have gotten a lot harder. Perhaps (because) it’s become more dangerous too. There are so many players, and connections between players, involved now that even making one of those schematic representations would never get it right. Too many unknown unknowns.

A short and incomplete list of the actors: Sunni, Shiite, Saudi Arabia, US, Russia, Turkey, ISIS, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Kurds, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Hamas, Qatar, Israel, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Houthis, perhaps even Chechnya, Afghanistan, Pakistan. I know I know, add your favorites. So what have we got, or what do we know we’ve got? We seem to have the US lining up with Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia against Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah. Broadly. But that’s just a -pun intended- crude start.

Putin has been getting closer to the Saudis because of the OPEC production cuts, trying to jack up the price of oil. Which ironically has now been achieved on the heels of the arrests of 11 princes and scores of other wealthy and powerful in the kingdom. But Putin also recently signed a $30 billion oil -infrastructure- deal with Iran. And he’s been cuddling up to Israel as well.

In fact, Putin may well be the most powerful force in the Middle East today. Well played?! He prevented the demise of Assad in Syria, which however you look at it at least saved the country from becoming another Iraq and Libya style failed state. If there’s one thing you can say about the Middle East/North Africa it’s that the US succeeded in creating chaos there to such an extent that it has zero control left over any of it. Well played?!

One thing seems obvious: the House of Saud needs money. The cash flowing out to the princes is simply not available anymore. The oil price is a major factor in that. Miraculously, the weekend crackdown on dozens of princes et al, managed to do what all the OPEC meetings could not for the price of oil: push it up. But the shrinkage of foreign reserves shows a long term problem, not some momentary blip

Another sign that money has become a real problem in Riyadh is the ever-postponed IPO of Saudi Aramco, the flagship oil company supposedly worth $2 trillion. Trump this week called on the Saudi’s to list it in New York, but despite the upsurge in oil prices you still have to wonder which part of that $2 trillion is real, and which is just fantasy.  

But yeah, I know, there’s a million different stocks you can ask the same question about. Then again, seeing the wealth of some of the kingdom’s richest parties confiscated overnight can’t be a buy buy buy signal, can it? Looks like the IPO delay tells us something. 
And then you have the 15,000 princes and princesses who all live off of the Kingdom’s supposed riches (‘only 2,000’ profit directly). All of them live in -relative- wealth. Some more than others, but there’s no hunger in the royal family. Thing is, overall population growth outdoes even that in the royal family. Which means, since the country produces nothing except for oil, that there are 1000s upon 1000s of young people with nothing to do but spend money that’s no longer there. Cue mayhem.