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Nederlog

April 15, 2015
Crisis: TTP, Malicious Software, Gray Matters, Californian Drought
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "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. As Bills Advance, Will Grassroots Resistance Finally
    Overcome Fast Track Push?

2. The Government Is Planting Malicious Software On Your
     Phone So It Can Bypass Encryption

3. 
Gray Matters
4.
California’s Epic Drought: One Year of Water Left


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, April 15, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about the TTP; item 2 is about how cell phones these days do not admit any privacy anymore (but is misleading about encryption); item 3 is a not so good article about two books about the brain that allow me to say some things about psychology and anti-depressants that are far too little known; and item 4 is about an article by Ellen Brown about the enduring and enduring Californian drought.

It is a bit less than the last two days but I couldn't find much, didn't sleep much, and have today to do several things. More tomorrow.

1. As Bills Advance, Will Grassroots Resistance Finally Overcome Fast Track Push?

The first item today is an article by Lauren McCauley on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Signaling that loud grassroots resistance may be working, congressional Democrats are failing to get behind the White House's push for unilateral authority over the secretive 12-nation trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), according to news reports on Tuesday.

At issue is whether the House will approve a pending bill that would grant President Barack Obama 'Fast Track' trade promotion authority, which would allow the White House to bypass Congress and seal the deal on the controversial TPP.

According to The Hill on Tuesday, as few as 15 House Democrats appear willing to support Fast Track legislation. That number, The Hill reports, is "far fewer than the 50 Democrats Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republicans have asked the White House to deliver." And with some conservatives wary of backing the President, "it's possible a vote would fail on the floor."

I say. This is - let me think - somewhat good news. Here is a brief explanation why:

"Fast Track is, in essence, congressional pre-approval" of the TPP, notes Dave Johnson, fellow at the Campaign for America's Future. "With Fast Track Congress agrees to give up its much of constitutional duty to define negotiating objectives, carefully deliberate and debate, and fix problems that might turn up."

And critics say that such problems are many. The largest trade agreement to be negotiated by the U.S. in more than a decade, opponents charge that the pact will pave the way for greater corporate malfeasance while threatening the environment, food and health safety standards, workers rights, and access to medicine worldwide.

And there is considerably more: The TPP is a secret "trade deal"; the TPP is a very anti-democratic "trade deal" (and its laws go far beyond (de-)regulating trade: it aims at replacing the law of judges and public courts by special "courts" without appeals, that can award damages of millions or billions to governments that have laws - of any kind - that promise to possibly lower some the profit expectations of big corporations); and essentially the trick of the fast track is to have Congress approve a secret trade bill with very many anti-democratic principles and laws without its being read.

On Wednesday, AFL-CIO is kicking off a Week of Action with a rally on Capitol Hill to be followed by a national day of protest on Saturday with more than 50 events to be held across the country.

In an interview published Tuesday, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told the Guardian that Fast Track is neither transparent nor democratic. "The only reason to say we need Fast Track is if we can't pass the deal without an up-or-down vote," he said. "If they can't pass it the way other pieces of legislation get passed, it’s probably unworthy of the American people."

And as Margot E. Kaminski, Ohio State University law professor and fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, writes in a New York Time op-ed on Tuesday, one of the more troubling aspects of the trade deal is that its details are classified as national security secrets.

Note that "national security secrets" these days are abused to further very many vastly anti-democratic government plans - and what a supposed "trade deal" has to do with "national security" is a vast riddle (also because the "trade deal" is supposed to be so extremely secretive that Congressmen who are allowed to read parts of it are not even allowed making notes).

Here is the ending of the article, that is good:

The unprecedented secrecy of the Obama administration in these negotiations "does not just hide information from the public," Kaminski explains. "It creates a funnel where powerful interests congregate, absent the checks, balances and necessary hurdles of the democratic process."

As Congress considers Fast Track, Kaminski continues, lawmakers "must address the secrecy, and the views of the privileged advisers, that shaped the agreement. Otherwise, 'fast' will be little more than a euphemism for 'avoid the public, and benefit the fortunate few.'"

Yes indeed - and please note that Barack Obama is very much for both the TPP and its secrecy and also for its being fast tracked through Congress. He really is not a democrat (with a small "d").

2. The Government Is Planting Malicious Software On Your Phone So It Can Bypass Encryption

The next item is an article by Washington's Blog on his blog:

This starts as follows (bolding and colors as in the original):

Spy Agencies Are Intentionally Destroying Digital Security

Top computer and internet experts say that NSA spying breaks the functionality of our computers and of the Internet. It reduces functionality and reduces security by – for example – creating backdoors that malicious hackers can get through.

Remember, American and British spy agencies have intentionally   weakened security for many decades. And it’s getting worse and worse. For example, they plan to use automated programs to infect millions of computers.

Here is how they do it, at least according to McAfee, who was one of the first or the first to design commercial anti-virus software (and again bolding and colors as in the original):

“Encryption Doesn’t Matter In a World Where Anyone Can Plant Software On Your Phone and See What You’re Seeing”

John McAfee invented commercial antivirus software. He may be a controversial and eccentric figure … but the man knows his technology.

Earlier this month, McAfee told security expert Paul Asadoorian that encryption is dead.  Specifically, he said:

  • Every city in the country has 1 to 3 Stingray spy devices … Bigger cities like New York probably have 200 or 300
  • When you buy a Stingray, Harris Corporation makes you sign a contract keeping your Stingray secret (background here and here)
  • Stingray pushes automatic “updates” – really malicious software – onto your phone as soon as you come into range
  • The software – written by the largest software company in the world – allows people to turn on your phone, microphone and camera, and read everything you do and see everything on your screen
  • Encryption doesn’t matter in a world where anyone can plant software on your phone and see what you’re seeing.  Protecting transmission of information from one device to the other doesn’t matter anymore … they can see what you see on your device
  • There are many intrusions other than Stingray.   For example, everyone has a mobile phone or mobile device which has at least 10 apps which have permission to access camera and microphone
  • Bank of America’s online banking app requires you to accept microphones and cameras. McAfee called Bank of America and asked why they require microphones and cameras. They replied that – if you emptied all of the money in your account and said “it wasn’t me”, they could check, and then say:

Well, it certainly looks like you. And it certainly sounds like you.

  • In order to do that, B of A’s app keeps your microphone and camera on for a half hour after you’ve finished your banking

  • In addition, people can call you – and have you call them back – and plant software on your phone when you call them back
I say. First a disclosure: I have no cell phone, never had one and will never have one (so far as I can see). My reasons are varied, but have mostly to do with the facts that I am ill, poor and usually at home; that I dislike phones anyway (and like privacy); and also that I never trusted cell phones (and I have a personal computer since 1987).

Next a disagreement: I do not think encryption is dead, and most or all of the above argument applies only to the Stingray phone tracker (<- Wikipedia), but this is indeed extremely intrusive, as also explained on Wikipedia.

But otherwise I mostly agree: it seems as if cell phones must be assumed to admit no privacy of any kind anymore.

3. Gray Matters 

The next item is an article by Temma Ehrenfeld on The Weekly Standard:
This starts as follows (and is here mostly because I am a psychologist who does not think psychology is a real science, that is, apart from some physiology, statistics and methodology, and what can be found in James 19th Century (!) "The Principles of Psychology" (<- link to the whole text)):
Our fascination with the brain seems to come from a longing to make psychology more like a hard science and hence, we assume, more useful. Physics gave us electricity, skyscrapers, and the Internet. Chemistry gave us medicine and more fresh food. Psychology is still taking baby steps, designing empirical tests of unsurprising observations.
Or else it is making surprising observations - that often are false, nearly always are misleading, and may be fraudulent in the best Diederik Stapel tradition, to be sure.

There is this on anti-depressants:

Antidepressants are the most consumed medication in the United States, yet the idea behind them—that mood disorders are caused by lack of serotonin or some other chemical imbalance—is unproven, Jarrett and many others say. 

In truth no one knows what the “correct” levels for different neurotransmitters should be. .  .  . [V]arious studies have struggled to show consistently that serotonin function is lower in people who are depressed or anxious—this includes postmortem tests and measures of chemical levels in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients and healthy people. .  .  . [A]rtificially reducing people’s levels of serotonin doesn’t have a reliably depressing effect.

One drug that reduces serotonin—a “selective serotonin reuptake enhancer” (Prozac and other SSRIs are reuptake inhibitors)—is an effective antidepressant. Except for the most seriously depressed people, the SSRIs mostly seem to work because of the placebo effect. When I present this argument to my medicated friends, they say, “I’m fine with my placebo effect,” and I’m sympathetic. Advocates for the mentally ill believe that biological explanations make illness more acceptable. But as Jarrett points out, that may be another myth. A growing body of evidence suggests that biological explanations are stigmatizing, possibly because people tend to see such problems as less treatable.
Yes, indeed: Tens of millions are taking anti-depressants (usually in some of the very expensive latest patented forms) each day in the U.S. but no one knows why they work, or indeed whether they work, apart from what may be explained by the placebo effect. [1]

Then again it is not just that what seems "to work" is mostly a placebo effect (that is well documented) and could as well be obtained by a completely innocuous pill:
Serotonin reuptake inhibitors also partially deaden emotions, and seem to be a main cause that turn some who take these "medicines" into extremely violent killers. (See:
Gwen Olsen - the site of a former psychiatric nurse, with many good videos.)

Also, "[a]
dvocates for the mentally ill" do not merely believe "biological explanations make illness more acceptable" or are "stigmatizing": They often argue - correctly in my opinion, though I may not agree with their particular arguments - that biological explanations are false, misleading or partial.

Anyway - this is not a very good article, but it did allow me to make several points that are not as well-known as they deserve to be.

4. California’s Epic Drought: One Year of Water Left

The next item is an article by Ellen Brown, which is here because I like Ellen Brown:
This starts as follows:

Wars over California’s limited water supply have been going on for at least a century. Water wars have been the subject of some vintage movies, including the 1958 hit The Big Country starring Gregory Peck, Clint Eastwood’s 1985 Pale Rider, 1995’s Waterworld with Kevin Costner, and the 2005 film Batman Begins. Most acclaimed was the 1975 Academy Award winner Chinatown with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, involving a plot between a corrupt Los Angeles politician and land speculators to fabricate the 1937 drought in order to force farmers to sell their land at low prices. The plot was rooted in historical fact, reflecting battles between Owens Valley farmers and Los Angeles urbanites over water rights.

Today the water wars continue, on a larger scale with new players. It’s no longer just the farmers against the ranchers or the urbanites. It’s the people against the new “water barons” – Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Monsanto, the Bush family, and their ilk – who are buying up water all over the world at an unprecedented pace.

This is a good article. Here is a sketch of the problems Californa faces:

Jay Famiglietti, a scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, California, wrote in the Los Angeles Times on March 12th:

Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.

Maps indicate that the areas of California hardest hit by the mega-drought are those that grow a large percentage of America’s food. California supplies 50% of the nation’s food and more organic food than any other state. Western Growers estimates that last year 500,000 acres of farmland were left unplanted, an amount that could increase by 40% this year. The trade group pegs farm job losses at 17,000 last year and more in 2015

There is a lot more under the last dotted link, and the article ends as follows:

And so the saga of the water wars continues. The World Bank recently adopted a policy of water privatization and full-cost water pricing. One of its former directors, Ismail Serageldin, stated, “The wars of the 21st century will be fought over water.”

In the movie Chinatown, the corrupt oligarchs won. The message seemed to be that right is no match against might. But armed with that powerful 21st century tool the Internet, which can generate mass awareness and coordinated action, right may yet prevail.

I am less optimistic. Then again, this also may trigger great social unrest, and then who knows what may happen.
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Notes

[1] I am a psychologist with one of the best degrees ever afforded. This doesn't mean I am right, but it does mean I know a lot about psychology. In case you want a reasoned exposition why
psychology is - as yet - not much of a real science, try Paul Lutus:
"Is Psychology a Science?"

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