August 30, 2018

Crisis: Trump & Deluge, U.S. War Crimes, Fake Videos, Russian Hacking Deception, U.S. Censors


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from August 30, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, August 30, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are mostly well worth reading:

A. Selections from August 30, 2018:
1. After Trump, the Deluge?
2. U.N. Calls U.S.-Backed Bombings of Yemen Likely War Crimes
3. How to Detect Fake Online Videos of Politicians by One Simple Tell
4. How the Department of Homeland Security Created a Deceptive Tale of
     Russia Hacking US Voter Sites

5. Matt Taibbi on Facebook and Google Playing the Censor
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. After Trump, the Deluge?

This article is by The Editorial Board of The New York Times. It starts as follows:

Once again, there was text and subtext, and as often with this president, both were disturbing.

At a private meeting on Monday, President Trump urged evangelical Christian leaders to break federal law and openly support him from the pulpit. Does it matter that he seemed to believe that he had overturned the provision of the tax code that prevents churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates? Truth, fantasy and deceit slosh together with Mr. Trump.

What mattered more was the thought that Mr. Trump planted — that a deluge of violence and anarchy would be loosed upon the world if they failed to rally the nation’s Christian soldiers to his side.

If the Democrats win the midterm elections, the president warned, “they will overturn everything that we’ve done and they’ll do it quickly and violently, and violently.”

Yes, indeed - that is what the present president of the USA said. Well... I have said many times before that Trump is insane, which is what many psychologists and psychiatrists think, and I am a psychologist and agree with them.

Here is more:

Of course, the only political leader who has been inciting and condoning violence has been Mr. Trump. At campaign rallies he fantasized about punching a foe in the face and urged his crowds to “knock the crap out of” protesters, offering to pay their legal bills if they did. Reporters at his rallies have feared for their safety as they faced the “enemy of the people” fury Mr. Trump has sought to foment among his most passionate supporters. When torch-bearing neo-Nazis marched in Virginia last year, and one even ran his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing a woman, Mr. Trump said there was “blame on both sides.”
Quite so. Here is more:

While Mr. Trump tried to terrify the ministers with the threat of “antifa” or anti-fascist activists who occasionally disrupt right-wing demonstrations, we can safely say the president’s real fear is not that tiny group of violent provocateurs, but democracy itself — the millions of Americans who have been quietly going to the polls to reject him and the candidates he supports and may continue to do so in midterm elections this fall.

“This Nov. 6 election is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion, it’s a referendum on free speech and the First Amendment,” he told the preachers.

Yes, and I agree that "the president’s real fear is not that tiny group of violent provocateurs, but democracy itself". And this is a recommended article.
2. U.N. Calls U.S.-Backed Bombings of Yemen Likely War Crimes

This article is by Jon Queally on Truthdig and originally on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Evidence presented as part of a wide-ranging investigation sponsored by the United Nations and released Tuesday shows that the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates waging a war in Yemen—armed and with backing from the United States and the United Kingdom—have likely “perpetrated, and continue to perpetrate, violations and crimes under international law.”

Conducted by the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen, a body of Yemen and regional experts created by the UN Human Rights Council, the report documents how indiscriminate bombing by the Saudi-led coalition has devastated the Yemeni population and details how civilian targets have repeatedly been struck.

“Despite the severity of the situation we continue to see a complete disregard for the people in Yemen,” said Charles Garraway, one of the authors of the report. “This conflict has reached its peak, with no apparent sight of light at the end of the tunnel.  It is indeed, a forgotten crisis.”

Yes, I agree, but I have a more comprehensive explanation: Since WW II, a very prominent strategical end of many armies, and especially the American army, has not been defeating the military troops their opponents had assembled, but to defeat the civilian population of their opponents.

And this is what is happening in the Middle East now: Civilian mass murder on a large scale.

Here is more from the article:

According to the report (pdf), which documented the situation in Yemen from when the current conflict began in March of 2015 up until June of this year:

Coalition air strikes have caused most of the documented civilian casualties. In the past three years, such air strikes have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities. The Group of Experts has investigated 13 such incidents by interviewing victims, witnesses and other credible sources; analysing satellite imagery, photographs and videos; and visiting sites in the Hudaydah, Sa’dah and Sana’a governorates.

“There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimize civilian casualties. I call on them to prioritise human dignity in this forgotten conflict,” said Kamel Jendoubi, chairperson of the group of experts.

As I suggested above, at least the ends of the armies of "the coalition" (led by the Americans) was not to minimize but to maximize the civilian victims they made on the other side. In case you doubt this: Why else would they bomb "residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities"?!

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

In addition to the troubling pattern of targeting and bombing civilian infrastructure, the report condemns the ongoing blockade by the coalition, both by sea and by air, of critical supplies into the war-torn and impoverished country:

The coalition has imposed severe naval and air restrictions in Yemen, to varying degrees, since March 2015. There are reasonable grounds to believe that these restrictions imposed by the coalition constitute a violation of the proportionality rule of international humanitarian law. Moreover, the effective closure of Sana’a airport is a violation of international humanitarian law protection for the sick and wounded. Such acts, together with the requisite intent, may amount to international crimes.

In what was clearly a reference to both the U.S. and the U.K., the report urges the international community to “refrain from providing arms that could be used in the conflict.”

As I have stated above, this - blocking the food supply of civilians - is again one of the military ends of - let's be clear and specific - "the U.S. and the U.K.". Then again, I agree with possible critics who reply that it would be quite hard for the UN to say so in an official report. And this is a strongly recommended article.

3. How to Detect Fake Online Videos of Politicians by One Simple Tell

This article is by Siwei Lyu on AlterNet and originally on The Conversation. It starts as follows:

A new form of misinformation is poised to spread through online communities as the 2018 midterm election campaigns heat up. Called “deepfakes” after the pseudonymous online account that popularized the technique – which may have chosen its name because the process uses a technical method called “deep learning” – these fake videos look very realistic.

So far, people have used deepfake videos in pornography and satire to make it appear that famous people are doing things they wouldn’t normally. But it’s almost certain deepfakes will appear during the campaign season, purporting to depict candidates saying things or going places the real candidate wouldn’t.

Let me start this review by asking: Have I ever seen a deepfake video? I think I did see some in John Oliver's - very good - "Last Week Tonight" show, but these were clearly brief bits of satire.

Also, I think I should add that if I were to see a video of some important person like Obama - there is a deepfake video with Obama linked in this article - saying things I find rather incredible, the first thing I would do is check it, i.e. find out what the rest of the press (that I more or less respect) says about it. (But then I know people are frauded in many ways, and I knew earlier about deepfake videos, though not by that name.)

Here is some more:

Because these techniques are so new, people are having trouble telling the difference between real videos and the deepfake videos. My work, with my colleague Ming-Ching Chang and our Ph.D. student Yuezun Li, has found a way to reliably tell real videos from deepfake videos. It’s not a permanent solution, because technology will improve. But it’s a start, and offers hope that computers will be able to help people tell truth from fiction.

Well... the solution of Lyu and his co-workers is to look at the rates of their blinking their eyes. In fact, I think my way - checking the evidence is real evidence - is better, but I agree I know a whole lot about politics, journalism and evidence. Then again, I also think that if you are someone who gets his news (frauded and real) mostly from Facebook and Google, you will not read this article, you will have no reasonable ways to check the evidence, and you may be tricked.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Without training images of people blinking, deepfake algorithms are less likely to create faces that blink normally. When we calculate the overall rate of blinking, and compares that with the natural range, we found that characters in deepfake videos blink a lot less frequent in comparison with real people. Our research uses machine learning to examine eye opening and closing in videos.

This gives us an inspiration to detect deepfake videos.

Well, OK. But I still think my way is better (and a lot quicker).

4. How the Department of Homeland Security Created a Deceptive Tale of
Russia Hacking US Voter Sites

This article is by Gareth Porter on Consortiumnews. It starts as follows:
The narrative of Russian intelligence attacking state and local election boards and threatening the integrity of U.S. elections has achieved near-universal acceptance by media and political elites.  And now it has been accepted by the Trump administration’s intelligence chief, Dan Coats, as well.

But the real story behind that narrative, recounted here for the first time, reveals that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created and nurtured an account that was grossly and deliberately deceptive.

DHS compiled an intelligence report suggesting hackers linked to the Russian government could have targeted voter-related websites in many states and then leaked a sensational story of Russian attacks on those sites without the qualifications that would have revealed a different story. When state election officials began asking questions, they discovered that the DHS claims were false and, in at least one case, laughable.
Yes, although I am one of those who did not and does not believe the "narrative of Russian intelligence attacking state and local election boards and threatening the integrity of U.S. elections". But I must add that the main reasons for my non-belief are that I am very well-informed about politics, am an intellectual, and do know how to program since quite a few decades. And also I read very plausible reports by real specialists (which I am not), namely the people of the VIPS, who also deny the story, and are far more credible than the DHS etc.

Here is some more:
Media stories continued to reflect the official assumption that cyber attacks on state election websites were Russian-sponsored. Stunningly, The Wall Street Journal reported in December 2016 that DHS was itself behind hacking attempts of Georgia’s election database.

The facts surrounding the two actual breaches of state websites in Illinois and Arizona, as well as the broader context of cyberattacks on state websites, didn’t support that premise at all.

In July, Illinois discovered an intrusion into its voter registration website and the theft of personal information on as many as 200,000 registered voters. (The 2018 Mueller indictments of GRU officers would unaccountably put the figure at 500,000.) Significantly, however, the hackers only had copied the information and had left it unchanged in the database.

That was a crucial clue to the motive behind the hack. DHS Assistant Secretary for Cyber Security and Communications Andy Ozment told a Congressional committee in late September 2016 that the fact hackers hadn’t tampered with the voter data indicated that the aim of the theft was not to influence the electoral process. Instead, it was “possibly for the purpose of selling personal information.”
Yes indeed - and it is a fact that there are very many hackers around (with 4 billion computer users) and that most are not Russians. And most hackers, though not all, are out for personal
information they can sell.

Here is the last bit that I'll quote from this article:
For a year, DHS did not inform the 21 states on its list that their election boards or other election-related sites had been attacked in a presumed Russian-sponsored operation. The excuse DHS officials cited was that it could not reveal such sensitive intelligence to state officials without security clearances. But the reluctance to reveal the details about each case was certainly related to the reasonable expectation that states would publicly challenge their claims, creating a potential serious embarrassment. 

On Sept. 22, 2017, DHS notified 21 states about the cyber incidents that had been included in the October 2016 report. The public announcement of the notifications said DHS had notified each chief election officer of “any potential targeting we were aware of in their state leading up to the 2016 election.” The phrase “potential targeting” again telegraphed the broad and vague criterion DHS had adopted, but it was ignored in media stories.
Yes indeed: "potential targeting" by anyone is very far from a firm claim that the Russians hacked election boards to alter the outcomes of the election. This is a recommended article, in which there also is a lot more.

5. Matt Taibbi on Facebook and Google Playing the Censor

This article is by Marc Steiner on Naked Capitalism and originally on The Real News Network. This is from near its beginning:
MARC STEINER: (...) The platforms like Google and Facebook are where many of us increasingly get all of our information. We talk to our friends and family. We use it as a public space. But they and all the digital media that we use don’t belong to us. They’re private entities that are now making a regular habit of banning images and words for a variety of both nebulous and extremely dangerous reasons, or potentially dangerous reasons. Facebook and others are also teaming up with some pretty shady characters and businesses as they develop a new model of censorship. That should give us all pause.
Yes indeed. I add that I don't use Facebook and Google at all (nor Microsoft nor Apple), but I belong to 1% or 2% of computer users at most (for I use Linux as operating system).

Here is Matt Taibbi:

MATT TAIBBI: It’s really, it’s kind of an amazing moment in the history of media in this country, and it seems to have kind of slipped past the attention of elected officials and the media. We’ve never really had an aggressive media regulator in the United States. Of course we’ve had the FCC, but they’ve never really been intrusive to an enormous degree. Certainly not on the level of political content.

And what we have here is a sort of two-stage story. The first stage of the story happened over the course of the past few decades, when Google and Facebook essentially became a duopoly in terms of media distribution in this country. They control somewhere between 70 and 75 percent of the media distribution. That means most people get their news from one of those two sources. So if you control Google and Facebook, and they’re allowed to decide who gets in the feed and who gets deemphasized, then you can really control the media. And so the idea that they’re working with governmental bodies to push some content down and push others up is unbelievable. It’s a situation that we’ve never had a parallel to in this country before.

But in fact Google and Facebook are "working with governmental bodies" and indeed they do "push some content down and push others up". And that is censorship.

Here is more:

MATT TAIBBI:  And you know, we saw the beginnings of what could be a problem a couple of years ago when they deleted the iconic image of the napalm girl in Vietnam. And now we’re seeing wholesale deletions of political accounts in countries all over the world. You know, 10,000 accounts got wiped out ahead of Mexican elections on July 1. We have hundreds of accounts in Brazil wiped out. And we don’t know exactly what criteria they’re using to delete some of these accounts, and I think that’s the problem, is that it’s not transparent. So yeah, we’ve never had a media regulator, and that’s one problem. But we’ve also always had transparency in the courts when we punish people for that speech. We don’t have that either, now.

Precisely. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

MATT TAIBBI: Well, look, if the United States government had an open contract with Facebook, then it would be a clear First Amendment violation. So it can’t be done in that way. The way it’s done now, if you have a private organization- and the Atlantic Council still is that, technically- working with that other private organization, which Facebook is, which Google is, which Twitter is, then there’s no First Amendment issue. Technically, at least not yet, because the First Amendment only speaks to the government suppressing or regulating speech. If it’s done on private property they can get around that entire issue. And that’s my concern with this, is that this is really an end run around the First Amendment. You take a bunch of quasi-governmental ideas and you have them work with these duopolistic corporations, and you’re essentially controlling the flow of information.

That is: The U.S. government explicitly censors what people on Facebook and Google get to see by working with a private organization that works with Google, Facebook and Twitter to censor what people using these private organizations' products, and escapes having to go to court only because the First Amendment "only speaks to the government suppressing or regulating speech".

And I think Matt Taibbi is entirely correct, and this is a strongly recommended article.

[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).

       home - index - summaries - mail