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Nederlog


  April
10, 2014
Crisis: Heartbleed * 2, Snowden, NSA, Tamiflu
   "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin [1]
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone.
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton
















Prev- crisis -Next
Sections
Introduction

1. Heartbleed: don't rush to update passwords, security
     experts warn

2. Does the Heartbleed Bug Mean You Should Stay Off the
     Internet?

3. 'The Snowden Saga': NSA Whistleblower Opens Up in
     Exclusive Narrative

4. German Interior Minister: NSA Spying 'Excessive' and
     'Boundless'

5. What the Tamiflu saga tells us about drug trials and big
     pharma


About ME/CFS


Introduction:

This is the Nederlog of April 10. It is another crisis issue.

There was again little to be found on the crisis: it seems many papers think there is no more crisis, mostly - it seems - because it is over for the 1%, and there also was little on the NSA and related themes.

I do have five items today, but the first two are about the Heartbleed Bug. This is not really a crisis item, but it will help to formulate one of my own opinions about the crisis.

Also, the last item is a bit doubtful as crisis item, but it does address some aspects of the crisis medicine is in, which is related to the crisis and the gates that opened that: deregulation, that gave enormous powers to the pharmacological corporations (whose managers again got very rich).

1. Heartbleed: don't rush to update passwords, security experts warn

The first article today is by Alex Hern on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:

Internet security researchers say people should not rush to change their passwords after the discovery of a widespread "catastrophic" software flaw that could expose website user details to hackers.

The flaw, dubbed "Heartbleed", could reveal anything which is currently being processed by a web server – including usernames, passwords and cryptographic keys being used inside the site. Those at risk include Deutsche Bank, Yahoo and its subsidiary sites Flickr and Tumblr, photo-sharing site Imgur, and the FBI.

About half a million sites worldwide are reckoned to be insecure. "Catastrophic is the right word," commented Bruce Schneier, an independent security expert. "On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11."

I must say that I am not much concerned, though the name and the logo drawn for it (see the above dotted link) were very well chosen to give it maximum publicity.

Also, one reason I am not much concerned is that I can program (in Basic, Pascal, Prolog, Assembler, Smalltalk and JavaScript) and that I have recently learned that a solid majority of the American people - who are all exceptional, or so many of them believe, sincerely - thinks that html is an STD. Here is the translation of the last bit, for whoever needs it: "hypertext marked language is a sexually transmitted disease".

Given that level of "expertise" about computers and computing, it is difficult not to turn cynical.

Also, Mr Schneier's reaction, who presumably can program, and who knows about Snowden's revelations and the NSA and the GCHQ's very many spying activities, sounds pretty over the top, at least to my ears.

There is rather a lot more under the last dotted link, that I will mostly skip, except for this bit:
The bug's age [it is over 2 years old - MM], and its presence in software to which anyone can submit an update, has led to speculation that it could have been inserted and then exploited by government spy agencies such as the US's National Security Agency, which is known to have programs aiming to collect user data. "My guess is accident, but I have no proof," Schneier commented.
2. Does the Heartbleed Bug Mean You Should Stay Off the Internet?

The next item is an article by Dana Liebelson on Mother Jones, on the same topic:

This starts as follows:
On Tuesday, news broke that the safeguard many websites use to protect sensitive information on the internet has had a major security flaw for about two years. These sites use a security system called OpenSSL to encrypt data like content, passwords, and Social Security numbers. But thanks to a small coding error in a popular version of OpenSSL, nicknamed "Heartbleed," hackers can potentially steal sensitive data from vulnerable websites. Richard Bejtlich, chief security strategist at FireEye, a network security company, notes that there's no evidence that malicious hackers have exploited the flaw yet.
This is considerably clearer than the foregoing Guardian article. There is a rather  a lot more, that I leave to you, except for the last bit of advice, that seems good:
Or you know, go read a book.
3. 'The Snowden Saga': NSA Whistleblower Opens Up in Exclusive Narrative

The next item is an article by Lauren McCalley on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

“There’s a limit to the amount of incivility and inequality and inhumanity that each individual can tolerate," said NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, in a yet-to-be published exclusive interview with Vanity Fair. "I crossed that line."

In what has been dubbed the first comprehensive account of the "Snowden saga," Vanity Fair on Thursday is publishing a 20,000-word narrative—the final result of three reporters dedicating months to research, travel, and interviews with scores of people connected to the story, including the whistleblower himself.

The story "is more than just a gripping and astonishing tale," writes VF editor Graydon Carter. "It is a warning shot."

OK - but I have meanwhile seen that I have to subscribe to Vanity Fair in order to read it (more than the beginning), which I certainly will not do: I lack both any interest in the rest of Vanity Fair and the money to fund subscriptions.

But I can quote a few bits from Common Dreams. First, there is this:

“What we’re seeing today in America is a new political movement that crosses party lines," Snowden told the reporters, speaking of his motivations.

Perhaps. I certainly think that privacy concerns both Republicans and Democrats, and also everyone else, so in that sense Snowden is right, but I have not seen much evidence for "a new political movement", although I agree again this would be nice. (But then I am not living in the U.S., though I follow it fairly closely.)

There is also this (of which I have quoted the first two sentences in another context). Snowden says:

Look at the language officials use in sworn testimony about these records: ‘could have,’ ‘may have,’ ‘potentially.’ They’re prevaricating. Every single one of those officials knows I don’t have 1.7 million files, but what are they going to say? What senior official is going to go in front of Congress and say, ‘We have no idea what he has, because the N.S.A.’s auditing of systems holding hundreds of millions of Americans’ data is so negligent that any high-school dropout can walk out the door with it?’ 

Yes, that sounds plausible, as does his own insistence that he now has 0 files.

Finally, there is this interesting bit, also by Snowden:

The N.S.A. at this point not only knows I raised complaints, but that there is evidence that I made my concerns known to the N.S.A.’s lawyers, because I did some of it through e-mail. I directly challenge the N.S.A. to deny that I contacted N.S.A. oversight and compliance bodies directly via e-mail and that I specifically expressed concerns about their suspect interpretation of the law, and I welcome members of Congress to request a written answer to this question [from the N.S.A.].

This is interesting, because Snowden insists he has tried to raise complaints, and that the NSA also knows this.

Anyway - I will not read the Vanity Fair piece if I have to pay for it. For this I am sorry, but as I said: I just do not have the money to pay subscriptions, apart from the monthly sums I have to pay for internet.

4. German Interior Minister: NSA Spying 'Excessive' and 'Boundless' 

Next, an article by Sarah Lazare on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière slammed U.S. spying as "excessive" and "boundless" in an interview published Wednesday in German magazine Der Spiegel.

"If even two-thirds of what Edward Snowden has presented or what has been presented with his name cited as the source is true, then I would conclude that the USA is operating without any kind of boundaries," charged De Maizière.

Well, it seems clear to me that at least two thirds of what has been presented with his name cited as a source is true (for otherwise we would have heard so from the NSA or the GCHQ).

Nevertheless, De Maizière insists that

"Counterespionage work cannot be the subject of an interview."

which means that he assigns himself to a quite different level than the level he assigns to the ordinary people whose private data are being stolen, by the millions, and all without them having done anything culpable.

That is, he sounds much like his Dutch counterpart Plasterk (a professor cum politician, who specializes in revolving doors, and thus is the kind of person who lately has become common in high circles) who also verbally rejects spying on ordinary people while letting it be done by his own Dutch secret service, who seem more like the Dutch department of the NSA than like an independent institution.

So I do not expect anything from De Maizière or Plasterk, except for the kind and style of propaganda that they believe will keep their audience believing that they are doing something, while in fact they are merely riding the tide.

5. What the Tamiflu saga tells us about drug trials and big pharma  

Finally, an article by Ben Goldacre on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:
Today we found out that Tamiflu doesn't work so well after all. Roche, the drug company behind it, withheld vital information on its clinical trials for half a decade, but the Cochrane Collaboration, a global not-for-profit organisation of 14,000 academics, finally obtained all the information. Putting the evidence together, it has found that Tamiflu has little or no impact on complications of flu infection, such as pneumonia.
That is rather important, because the British and the Dutch government have spent very large amounts of money to buy Tamiflu in order to stop the Mexican flu, which now is taken far less serious - and now also is shown not to react much to doses of Tamiflu.

The Dutch government was adviced by dr. Ab Osterhaus. This is from the Wikipedia article on him:
He has been criticised for exaggerating the consequences of the 2009 flu pandemic and pushing for extensive measures, even though the Mexican flu is now treated as if it were a common flu. In September 2009, a controversy arose when it became known Osterhaus has a 9.8% share in ViroClinics B.V, a pharmaceutical company that supposedly benefits from the 34 million vaccines Health minister Ab Klink bought based on his advice as government consultant. Osterhaus maintains he did nothing against the law and that he does not personally benefit from the order.
Of course, you must trust him, not because he is known to be extremely reliable  and honest, but because he cites no evidence whatsoever.

This is also from the Wikipedia article on him:
Osterhaus has been criticised for what has been described as a 'fear campaign', calling for far-reaching measures to combat the Mexican flu. Physician and microbiologist Miquel Ekkelenkamp called Osterhaus a 'scaremonger' in an opinion piece in nrc.next and said: "'Expert' Osterhaus should be banned indefinitely from television. Everything he claimed turned out to be untrue: we're not all going to die like we did in 1918, not everyone needs a vaccination, we are not going to give Tamiflu to everyone and the virus has not mutated into something much more dangerous."
And at this point it also becomes clear that Osterhaus did not even know the evidence for Tamiflu, for that was kept mostly secret.

This is explained by Goldacre:
That is a scandal because the UK government spent £0.5bn stockpiling this drug in the hope that it would help prevent serious side-effects from flu infection. But the bigger scandal is that Roche broke no law by withholding vital information on how well its drug works. In fact, the methods and results of clinical trials on the drugs we use today are still routinely and legally being withheld from doctors, researchers and patients. It is simple bad luck for Roche that Tamiflu became, arbitrarily, the poster child for the missing-data story.
Something siimilar happened in Holland - but it is only now that it is known that the results of clinical trials, not only on Tamiflu, but mostly on anything medical that gets tested, are "routinely and legally being withheld" from precisely those who would very much benefit from knowing these results.

Here is Goldacre again, reporting on the first stage of a five year long battle:
Roche said it would hand over some information, but the Cochrane reviewers would need to sign a confidentiality agreement. This was tricky: Cochrane reviews are built around showing their working, but Roche's proposed contract would require them to keep the information behind their reasoning secret from readers. More than this, the contract said they were not allowed to discuss the terms of their secrecy agreement, or publicly acknowledge that it even existed. Roche was demanding a secret contract, with secret terms, requiring secrecy about the methods and results of trials, in a discussion about the safety and efficacy of a drug that has been taken by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and on which governments had spent billions. Roche's demand, worryingly, is not unusual.
Note first that "not unusual" = "usual".

Next, this is what has led me to mostly give up not only on psychiatry (which is not even a real science, and indeed not at all) but also on medicine (which used to be a real science, when the results of tests were published, instead of being kept secret, also by agreements one also has to keep secret, as if Roche were the NSA).

There is a great lot more, which I leave to you. Here is my reason to give up on medicine as a real science - by which I do not mean I do not trust my GP anymore, but by which I mean that I think I know that her evidence for the kind of medicines she prescribes is very often in fact produced by what is fairly described as the propaganda/public relations departments of the pharmaceutical corporations, which keep most of the data, secretively, to themselves - which means for me that they are no longer doing any science, except salesmanship.

Here is Goldacre again:
This is a pivotal moment in the history of medicine. Trials transparency is finally on the agenda, and this may be our only opportunity to fix it in a decade. We cannot make informed decisions about which treatment is best while information about clinical trials is routinely and legally withheld from doctors, researchers, and patients. Anyone who stands in the way of transparency is exposing patients to avoidable harm. We need regulators, legislators, and professional bodies to demand full transparency. We need clear audit on what information is missing, and who is withholding it.
My own problem is that I do not trust Goldacre either:

He is described as "a doctor" by The Guardian, but in fact he is a psychiatrist (meaning for me: not a real scientist, and not at all), who is very narrowly associated with professor sir Simon Wessely, whom I do not trust at all, since he bears a major part of the responsibility that the disease I have is hardly properly researched since he started writing about it in 1988. (And that not because of Wessely's medical brightness, but because his story works out to be a lot cheaper for English and other governments: it is much cheaper to call people mad - sorry: Somatic Symptom Disorder victims - and not help nor research them, than to admit they have an unknown invalidating disease, which indeed are supposed to be all known by psychiatrists: you are not ill, if your illness is presently unknown: you are
mad - sorry: a Somatic Symptom Disorder victim.)

Anyway - these may be matters that are valid for me, but that need not concern most of my readers, and Goldacre does appear to be here on the good side.
---------------------------------
Note
[1] Here it is necessary to insist, with Aristotle, that the governors do not rule, or at least, should not rule: The laws rule, and the government, if good, is part of its executive power. Here I quote Aristotle from my More on stupidity, the rule of law, and Glenn Greenwald:
It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.
(And I note the whole file I quote from is quite pertinent.) 

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

2. Malcolm Hooper THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT:  
PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS?
3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
9.
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)



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