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The Politics Of The Green New Deal: Conclusion

Posts in this series:

The Green New Deal Challenges The Domination of Capital

Part 1 on Labor

The Politics of the Green New Deal: Part 2 on Capital

The Politics of The Green New Deal: The Opposition Of The Rich

The Green New Deal: OMG It’s Socialism!

The Politics Of The Green New Deal: We Can’t Pay For That

The Politics Of The Green New Deal: More Democracy

The Politics of the Green New Deal: The Conventional Wisdom

The premise of this series is that climate change is going to impose enormous costs on society, whether we do nothing and try to cope with the changes, or whether we try to ameliorate it. In our current version of unrestrained capitalism, those costs will be imposed on the working class*, and the capitalists will enjoy all the profits to be gained whatever we do. The Green New Deal promises to spread the costs and burdens fairly across society, meaning the capitalists will pay more and get less. This is fair, because the capitalists accumulated their wealth by underpaying the working class and by externalizing as much of their costs as possible onto the working class.

I slightly regret using the word politics in the title of this series because I’m no politician, and don’t have much to contribute beyond personal opinion and unlimited optimism about my fellow citizens; think of me as a John Dewey democrat**. (This 2011 post at FDL explains the term, and it holds up really well.) I planned to conclude by saying something like: So everyone has a good reason to support the Green New Deal, even on the off-chance that we have overestimated its effects on the planet and therefore the economy.

Sadly, in the weeks since it was first announced the Trump-led Republicans have poisoned the atmosphere with their unsurpassed and uncontroverted media. Here’s a good discussion of the attack and the results by David Roberts (@DrVox) writing at Vox. And here’s a nice piece on the Climate Change Communication website that shows changes in responses to a number of climate change questions over time and by different segments of the population.

Progressives have nothing like the right-wing media complex, and have utterly failed at reaching the broad public with their rationale for the Green New Deal and its benefits. The media is distracted by the shiny objects Trump skims over our heads daily. Liberals have dozens of critical issues that divide their attention. The Democratic Party lacks any focus at all, other than getting rid of Trump. That leaves huge numbers of people unable to formulate a coherent response to the right-wing media and its capitalist supporters. Far too many of us are unsure about the potential problem or the costs that that will come due as our climate changes.

I’ve read several analyses of the problem by people who know more about politics than I do. This is from the Roosevelt Institute. This is by Ezra Klein at Vox, responding to the Roosevelt Institute’s recommendations.
This one is by the indispensable Eric Levitz at New York Magazine; and there’s lots more on his author page. You won’t have trouble finding more.

I do have two thoughts.

1. I largely agree with this by Thomas Piketty. He writes about the disparity between the views of “voters with the lowest incomes, personal wealth or qualifications” (the “working classes” in his article) and their prosperous fellow citizens as shown in EU elections. The working classes mostly vote against the EU while the prosperous mostly vote for it.

The reason for this, according to those who are better off, is that the working classes are nationalist and xenophobic, perhaps even backwards.

But there’s a better explanation according to Piketty: the current structure of the EU unfairly favors the prosperous at the expense of the working classes, and the latter know this, resent it, and vote to change it.

In the US, many people respond to the obvious fact that their votes don’t change anything by refusing to vote at all. In the 2016 election turnout was about 58% of the voting age population. If the Democrats could get another 10% to the polls, raising turnout to 68%, they wouldn’t need swing voters and nervous Republicans, and they’d likely take the Senate and the House.

In my simple-minded approach, the failure of the Democrats is their absurd unwillingness to act like a political party. To take an obvious example, when Ed Markey and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced the Green New Deal, some Democrats immediately indicated support. But the centrists just had to weigh in, whining about how radical it is and how much trouble it would be, and it might affect my chances of reelection and we can’t afford that. They just couldn’t keep silent, or say how much they were looking forward to working with their colleagues on this critical issue.

In my simple-minded approach, the Democrats act like a real party, where all of them are on the same team, and assert that they will pass legislation that will benefit non-voters, and will protect them from the depredations of the rich and their corporations. With control of the House, they can prove they will do so by passing legislation now.

2. Movies on TV have really long commercial breaks, three or four minutes or even more. Climate activists could make mini-movies for those breaks, 3-4 minutes long, that would basically be educational, with a very light touch of activism. As I see it, the right wing relies on fear, hatred, nationalism, and other highly emotional triggers. The viewers I would try to reach aren’t hooked on those emotional charges. They either are apathetic, or are turned off by those appeals. And those emotional triggers don’t work well late at night, they interfere with sleeping.

The idea is to show the problem directly, but keep the commentary to a minimum and keep it low-key. So, we could show the heavy rain, ice and floods in Nebraska, interview people who were damaged, like maybe a shot of farmer walking through a muddy field explaining he can’t plant and the financial effect on his business. We could interview the water treatment officials in Omaha whose system was flooded and poured raw sewage into streams and rivers. The commercials would be so long that people would look up during them even while playing with their phones, and the footage would be riveting.

The talk would be short, and focused on the people damaged. There would be large easy to read captions, because I think a lot of viewers mute commercials. There would be two or three open-ended questions in caption format from time to time. Can we afford to take the risk of more climate change? What happens to the price of food if we have wide-spread flooding in the Mid-west? How can we protect ourselves from the increased number of dangerous storms? Maybe we should talk about this with our friends and neighbors. And so on. Non-threatening, easy to understand, and non-judgmental, not didactic or pedantic. A soft approach might have an impact on people’s willingness to consider decarbonization.

The idea is easily expanded to teaching about other issues, including, for example, financial problems facing the 40% of us who can’t pay an unexpected $400 bill without borrowing, or people facing medical problems without decent insurance, people forced to move to chase jobs and so on, all problems addressed by the Green New Deal.

I don’t know if this is a good idea or not, but I know we have to do something new, because whatever we think we are doing now isn’t working.
——-
* I define the terms working class and capitalists in the first post in this series.
**Also, I generally agree with the views this post attributes to Sophie de Grouchy and others.

The Politics Of The Green New Deal: More Democracy

Posts in this series.

The Green New Deal Challenges The Domination of Capital

Part 1 on Labor

The Politics of the Green New Deal: Part 2 on Capital

The Politics of The Green New Deal: The Opposition Of The Rich

The Green New Deal: OMG It’s Socialism!

The Politics Of The Green New Deal: We Can’t Pay For That

The Green New Deal restructures democracy in ways that benefit the working class at the expense of the donor class. The donor class gets its way most of the time, Here’s a recent discussion from Eric Levitz at tNew York Magazine. Levitz takes the Gilens and Page study farther, showing policies that are popular with majorities or large pluralities are not even considered by politicians. One example:

Take government drugs (…please): DFP and YouGov asked voters, “Would you support or oppose having the government produce generic versions of life-saving drugs, even if it required revoking patents held by pharmaceutical companies?”

Respondents approved of that idea by a margin of 51 to 21 percent. The proposal enjoyed the approval of a majority of Trump voters, and actually garnered more support in (stereotypically conservative) rural zip codes than in urban ones.

One of the drugs that meet this test is insulin; here’s a good description of the problem. In December 2018 Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky offered the Affordable Drug Manufacturing Act, which would put the government in the business of manufacturing generics to reduce prices. And here’s a predictable response, it’s evil socialism. Bills like this are not part of the discussion.

History tells us that capitalists will dominate the nation’s response to climate change, as they have in every economic disruption. The Green New Deal works against that outcome. Section 3 says

a Green New Deal must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses;

At present, the first three groups are rarely heard in legislative and policy circles, and civil society groups and academics are barely heard and pretty much ignored. This section alone will expand democracy. These unheard groups are nearly powerless, and other provisions of the Green New Deal are intended to strengthen these groups and increase their voice in the process of coping with efforts to salvage something from climate change. For example, Section 4.3 requires the government to

Provid[e] resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States, with a focus on frontline and vulnerable communities, so those communities may be full and equal participants in the Green New Deal mobilization;

Section 4.6 requires

ensuring the use of democratic and participatory processes that are inclusive of and led by frontline and vulnerable communities and workers to plan, implement, and administer the Green New Deal mobilization at the local level;

Labor unions have played a strong role in protecting the interests of workers. Section 4.9 calls for strengthening labor unions and making it easier for workers to organize. Section 4.11 requires that trade agreements protect the interests of workers. Section 4.10 calls for

strengthening and enforcing labor, workplace health and safety, antidiscrimination, and wage and hour standards across all employers, industries, and sectors;

There is a connection between deeper involvement in strictly political matters and stronger unions. People start by participating in political decision-making, and learn that they can have actual control over public expenditures and policies. Then they apply that to their participation in union activities, and soon learn that they can have a say in the conditions that affect them for the largest part of their working day. They can change the conditions of work including safety, their schedules, and eventually they realize they don’t have to wear diapers to deal with lack of bathroom breaks, or suffer other abusive practices. Equally important for success in fighting climate change, working people often understand their jobs better than management. They can work smarter if they have enough power to make it happen. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned practicing Bankruptcy law is that no business ever failed because of its workers.

It works the other way, too. Participation in unions leads to more involvement in politics, and a clearer understanding of the issues. Unions have played a large role in Democratic politics, but the politicians have not done anything to protect unions and their interests. Stronger unions won’t accept their disregard.

Our lives seem different under this administration. The constant ratatat of garbage news from Trump’s brain and his erratic behavior swamp our news and our entertainment. At a personal level, the nonsense has dominated every dinner party I have hosted or attended since he got elected, leaving us struggling to change the subject or plunging us into a miasma of anger and despair. It took an out-of-town guest with a background in medieval history to break that chain, and remind me that politics has infected my life and that of my friends and family. The current level of democracy leaves us impotent. We can’t stop the damage, we can’t slow it down, and we can’t fix the real problems. We are powerless.

This in turn reinforced my reasons for thinking that the Green New Deal is vitally important. If it happens we open new channels for participation in the decisions that affect our day-to-day lives. Right now, Democratic politicians and their consultants and their rich donors tell us to work on their political campaigns, but not to upset them with primaries, not to establish purity tests, and most important not to demand radical change. Change is coming, they tell us, but just a little at a time and only if the Republicans won’t shout too loud.

My very first blog post at FireDogLake raised the question: what should Obama do for us? We supported him without making specific measurable demands. That’s not what the donor class did. But the Green New Deal is a demand from below. It’s a demand not just for climate action, but aspecific kind of action. It’s a demand for full participation by all of us in the decisions that affect our lives. It’s a statement that we aren’t going to allow the rich and their supporters to make the decisions and leave us to clean up the mess and eat the losses.

The Politics Of The Green New Deal: We Can’t Pay For That

Posts in this series:

The Green New Deal Challenges The Domination of Capital

Part 1 on Labor

The Politics of the Green New Deal: Part 2 on Capital

The Politics of The Green New Deal: The Opposition Of The Rich

The Green New Deal: OMG It’s Socialism!

Seriously. How on earth will we pay for the damage done by climate change? Water rising along the coasts and flooding huge parts of our oil and gas refining infrastructure? Resettling millions away from new floodplains in Nebraska and Florida? Food shortages? Dirty water? Hurricane and tornado damage? Storm costs already are running over $240 billion per year at least. The costs of three hurricanes and 76 wildfires last year alone ran to something like $300 billion. The National Climate Assessment identifies several areas of enormous concern: extreme heat, lost labor, infectious diseases, droughts and floods, decreased food production, and failing water and sewage systems.

We have a good current example in the recent floods in Nebraska. Flood water is running into the Missouri, where it overwhelmed the sewage treatment system in Omaha, dumping an estimated 65 million gallons of raw sewage. That fetid stream of filth is expected to continue for two to three months. Cities downstream will have to treat their water against unnamed pollutants, presumably e. coli among others.

Even without Omaha’s sewage, the floodwaters would not be safe because of human waste from septic tanks, animal waste and chemicals from farm fields, along with chemicals from urban and suburban parking lots and industrial sites, experts say.

That sewage and the related flood water is headed to the Mississippi through New Orleans. and the delta, washing out more of Louisiana on its way, and into the Gulf where the Red Tide from last year finally disappeared in February after a sixteen month bloom.

The floods are also causing serious problems for farmers. This story in the New York Times quotes farmers who are unable to get to their fields which are drowned by recent floods. The Kearney Hub of Kearney Nebraska says planting will be delayed; and adds fascinating details on how farmers should cope with wet fields. Eventually they may be driven off their farms. We can guess that capitalists will buy up the farms at foreclosure or otherwise. This will gradually concentrate food production in fewer and fewer hands, which leads to higher prices for food consumers.

But we never talk about how to pay for climate catastrophe. The financing talk is always about how to pay for efforts to cope with it. That’s apparently going to be a big part of Republican strategy, along with their other scare tactics. You have to admire the chutzpah of Republicans complaining about the cost of the Green New Deal after handing trillions in unfunded tax cuts to their donors. They are joined by plenty of moderate Democrats, and cost is one of the reasons.

It’s astonishing that no defenders of the Green New Deal ask their opponents how they plan to pay for climate disaster. Instead, they struggle to answer their detractors. Many advocates of the Green New Deal have turned to MMT because it makes it clear that we can do everything in the Green New Deal and more, subject to resource constraints such as adequate and trained labor, natural resources, technical knowledge and entrepreneurial skills. Here’s a good discussion from the excellent Stephanie Kelton.

I’ve read Randy Wray’s book, Modern Money Theory: A Primer on Macroeconomics for Sovereign Monetary Systems. I’ve also read some mainstream economics, some of which I discussed here at Emptywheel. For me, MMT is superior. Mainstream economics has a number of normative ideals at its heart, as we saw in my discussion of the theory of marginal utility of William Stanley Jevons (for example, here). As I see it, mainstream economics privileges the concerns of the individual over the well-being of the society in which the individual lives and works. On the other hand MMT gives a descriptive account of the economy, with no obvious normative implications. As Wray says in §7.10:

On one level, the MMT approach is descriptive: it explains how a sovereign currency works. When we talk about government spending by keystrokes and argue that the issuer of a sovereign currency cannot run out of them, that is descriptive. When we say that sovereign governments do not borrow their own currency, that is descriptive. Our classification of bond sales as part of monetary policy, to help the central bank hit its interest rate target, is also descriptive. And finally, when we argue that a floating exchange rate provides the most domestic policy space, that is also descriptive.

Functional finance then provides a framework for prescriptive policy.*

I don’t think mainstream economics will ever be merely descriptive in this sense. It isn’t even capable of getting rid of obviously bad ideas, like austerity or the Philips Curve, both of which are suffused with normative implications. There are still politicians who think we should have a constitutional balanced budget amendment. Stephen Moore, Trump’s nominee to the Fed, has argued for a return to the gold standard.

But you don’t have to accept MMT to see that the Green New Deal is affordable. Here’s a well-written paper by J.W. Mason of the Roosevelt Institute. I think Mason considers himself to be a heterodox economist, as opposed to a mainstream economist. He justifies financing important public projects like the Green New Deal in mainstream Keynesian terms.

In the end, someone is going to pay. We either pay to ameliorate the problem, or we pay to cope with the horrifying costs of surviving.

=====
*Quoted from this post.

Edited to correct name of Kearney, Nebraska and typos.

The Politics of The Green New Deal: The Opposition Of The Rich

Posts in this series:

The Green New Deal Challenges The Domination Of Capital

Part 1 on Labor

The Green New Deal: Part 2 On Capital

Every discussion of the Green New Deal begins with the assertion that it can’t pass. In the US this means one thing: the donor class doesn’t like it. We need to confront this fact.

If the richest people in the US strongly supported the Green New Deal, it would be on its way to passage with the support of enough Republican legislators. As evidence, let’s look at a widely read study by Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern of legislative actions and voter preferences. Here’s a short description. In this rebuttal of their critics, a group of researchers including Gilens and Page say this:

When only the affluent strongly support a proposed policy change, that policy is adopted 46 percent of the time; when only the middle-class strongly support a policy, that policy is adopted only 24 percent of the time.

The affluent are, not surprisingly, better at blocking policies they dislike than achieving policy change they desire. When a policy is strongly opposed by the affluent (less than 25 percent support) but not strongly opposed by the middle-class, that policy is adopted only 4 percent of the time. But when a policy is strongly opposed by the middle-class but not by the affluent, the policy is adopted 40 percent of the time.

Blocking the Green New Deal is obviously a priority of the capitalists in the donor class, and given their selection of old men in the Senate who won’t live to suffer the damage of climate disaster, the donor class will likely get its way in the near term.

Page and Jeffrey Winters published an article in December 2009 titled Oligarchy in the United States?. Here’s a less academic version. They think that oligarchs, meaning the very richest among capitalists, share three goals which I summarize as:

1. Protecting and preserving wealth
2. Insuring the unrestricted use of wealth
3. Acquiring more wealth.

I think most capitalists share those goals, and the richer they are, the more they agree.

In the past when confronted with economic disaster capital used its political and ideological power and of course its money to get the government to bail it out of economic difficulty, to direct the efforts of the government to deal with the problem (not necessarily solving it), and to enable capital to profit from dealing with the problem. We don’t have to look back but a decade to see this.

The Green New Deal is a direct threat to that approach. Capitalists. and their political allies are angry and outraged at the very idea that something should be done. It must be infuriating to hear politicians say that government should protect the working class and local communities from climate change and its consequences. It especially terrible because that protection will sometimes come at the expense of the three goals of the capitalists.

For example, Section 4.4 calls for increased research and development of new and renewable energy technologies and industries. Section 4.1 establishes a goal of:

providing and leveraging, in a way that ensures that the public receives appropriate ownership stakes and returns on investment, adequate capital (including through community grants, public banks, and other public financing), technical expertise, supporting policies, and other forms of assistance to communities, organizations, Federal, State, and local government agencies, and businesses working on the Green New Deal mobilization ….

In the past, the government has created valuable knowledge and technical expertise, and turned it over to the private sector to exploit at no or very little cost. Not only that, but there were no price controls to protect the consumers who are, of course, working class, not capitalists. This source of profit dries up under the Green New Deal. Capital is not permitted to impose excessive prices as it routinely has, for example in the drug business.

Section 4.5 adds this:

directing investments to spur economic development, deepen and diversify industry in local and regional economies, and build wealth and community ownership, while prioritizing high-quality job creation and economic, social, and environmental benefits in frontline and vulnerable communities that may otherwise struggle with the transition away from greenhouse gas intensive industries;

In the past, capital has invested where it chose for its own reasons. Capitalists use that power to extract tax preferences from state and local governments. Or they choose to locate in places with compliant, meaning non-union, workers, who are much easier to exploit. Section 4.5 seeks to change that. Section 4.7 calls for better jobs with higher pay. Section 4.6 insists on deep involvement of the community in planning for reaching the goals of the Green New Deal.

Taken together, these provisions should lead to a more resilient economy by spreading work and production across the nation. It’s true that the Green New Deal will reduce the freedom of capital to invest for its own benefit without regard to the costs it imposes on workers and society,and perhaps lower returns. Politically, making the economy work for everyone should be seen by the vast majority as a more important goal.

Until now, wealthier people, not all capitalists, have acted to ensure that factories, refineries, and other heavy polluters are kept in poor communities. The Green New Deal calls for moving to cleaner energy and production, and offers a path to that future. It also calls for cleaning up the mess the capitalists have imposed on society. It requires industry to go green as well, reducing pollution and damage to the people nearby. Thanks to the requirement for heavy community involvement, the balance of power related to the location of work should shift towards the working class. This, we can hope, will lead to a healthier and happier population.

It will also affect the profitability of some businesses because it forces capital to eat costs it has imposed on people and on the environment for decades. But the cost of improvements will be partly offset by government contributions of technology, financial assistance, and technical support under Section 4.1. And following Econ 101 logic, forcing capital to internalize all of its costs improves market outcomes by making the costs of production obvious.

The good things offered by the Green New Deal are not enough for the capitalists. They have always had their way, and they won’t give up without a fight. They’ve already started operating their most trusted tool: Shrieking About Socialism. I’ll look at that next.

Thursday: Move

Need something easy on the nerves today, something mellow, and yet something that won’t let a listener off too lightly. Guess for today that’s John Legend’s Tiny Desk Concert.

I promised reindeer tales today, haven’t forgotten.

From Anthrax to Zombies

  • First outbreak in 75 years forces evacuation of reindeer herders (The Siberian Times) — The last outbreak in the Siberian tundra was in 1941; news of this outbreak broke across mainstream media this past week, with some outlets referring to it as a “zombie” infection since it came back from dormancy, likely rising from a long-dead human or animal corpse.
  • Infected reindeer corpses to be collected and destroyed (The Barent Observer) — A lot of odd details about anthrax and its history pop up as the outbreak evolves. Like the mortality rate for skin anthrax (24%) and the alleged leak of anthrax from a Soviet bio-warfare lab in 1979. Reindeer deaths were blamed initially on unusually warm weather (~30C); the same unusually warm weather may have encouraged the release of long-dormant anthrax from the tundra.
  • Siberian outbreak may have started five weeks earlier (The Siberian Times) — Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance senior official is angry about the slow response to the first diagnosis; the affected region does not have strong veterinary service, and it took a herder four days’ walk across the tundra to inform authorities about an infection due to a lack of communications technology. The situation must be serious as the Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova has now been vaccinated against anthrax. Reports as of yesterday indicate 90 people have been hospitalized, 23 of which have been diagnosed with anthrax, and one child died. The form most appear infected with is intestinal; its mortality rate is a little over 50%. Infection is blamed on anthrax-contaminated meat; shipment of meat from the area is now banned. Russian bio-warfare troops have established a clean camp for the evacuated herder families until the reindeer corpses have been disposed of and inoculations distributed across the area’s population.
  • Important: keep in mind this Siberian outbreak may be unusual for its location, but not across the globe. In the last quarter there have been small anthrax outbreaks in Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Bangladesh, and Bulgaria. Just search under Google News for “anthrax” stories over the last year.
  • Coincidentally, anthrax drug maker filed and received FDA’s ‘orphan status’ (GlobeNewsWire) — There have been so few orders for anthrax prophylaxis vaccine BioThrax that specialty biopharmaceutical company Emergent BioSolutions requested ‘orphan status’ from the FDA, granted to special therapies for rare conditions affecting less than 200,000 persons in the U.S. The status was awarded mid-June.
  • Investor sues anthrax drug maker for misleading expectations (Washington Business Journal) — Suit filed against the company and executives claims Emergent BioSolutions mislead investors into thinking the company would sell as many doses of BioThrax to the U.S. government during the next five years as the preceding five years. On the face of it, investor appears to expect Emergent BioSolutions to predict both actual vaccine demand in advance along with government funding (hello, GOP-led Congress?) and other new competitors in the same marketspace. Seems a bit much to me, like the investor feels entitled to profits without risk. Maybe they’ll get lucky and climate change will increase likelihood of anthrax infections — cha-ching.
  • Another coincidence: Last Friday marked 8 years since anthrax researcher Bruce Ivin’s death (Tulsa World) — And this coming Saturday marks six years since the FBI released its report on the anthrax attacks it blamed on Ivins.

Cybernia

  • Facebook let police shut down feed from negotiations resulting in another civilian-death-by-cop (The Mary Sue) –Yeah, we wouldn’t want to let the public see the police use deadly force against an African American mother and her five-year-old child instead of talking and waiting them out of the situation as they do so many white men in armed confrontations. And now police blame Instagram for her death. Since when does using Instagram come with an automatic death warrant?
  • Can GPS location signals be spoofed? Yep. (IEEE) — It’s possible the U.S. Navy patrol boats caught in Iran’s waters may have relied on spoofed GPS; we don’t know yet as the “misnavigating” incident is still under investigation. This article does a nice job explaining GPS spoofing, but it leaves us with a mystery. GPS signals are generated in civilian and military formats, the first is unencrypted and the second encrypted. If the “misnavigated” patrol boats captured by Iran in January were sent spoofed GPS location data, does this mean U.S. military encryption was broken? The piece also ask about reliability of GPS given spoofing when it comes to self-driving, self-navigating cars. Oh hell no.
  • Security firm F-Secure releases paper on trojan targeting entities involved in South China Sea dispute (F-Secure) — The Remote Access Trojan (RAT) has been called NanHaiShu, which means South China Sea Rat. The RAT, containing a VBA macro that executes an embedded JScript file, was spread via email messages using industry-specific terms. The targets were deliberately selected for spearfishing as the senders knew the users did not lock down Microsoft Office’s default security setting to prevent macro execution. The malware had been in the wild for about two years, but its activity synced with events related to the South China Sea dispute.

Tomorrow’s Friday, which means jazz. Guess I’d better start poking around in my files for something good. Catch you later!

Tuesday Morning: Garbage in, Garbage out [UPDATE]

Why’d I pick this music video, besides the fact I like the tune? Oh, no reason at all other than it’s trash day again.

Speaking of trash…

Facebook furor just frothy foam?
I didn’t add yesterday’s Gizmodo piece on Facebook’s news curation yesterday or the earlier May 3 piece because I thought the work was sketchy. Why?

  • The entire curation system appears to be contractors — Where is a Facebook employee in this process?

    “…News curators aren’t Facebook employees—they’re contractors. One former team member said they received benefits including limited medical insurance, paid time off after 6 months and transit reimbursement, but were otherwise excluded from the culture and perks of working at Facebook. […] When the curators, hired by companies like BCForward and Pro Unlimited (which are then subcontracted through Accenture to provide workers for Facebook), arrive at work each day, they read through a list of trending topics ranked by Facebook’s algorithm from most popular (or most engaged) to least. The curators then determine the news story the terms are related to.

    The news curation team writes headlines for each of the topics, along with a three-sentence summary of the news story it’s pegged to, and choose an image or Facebook video to attach to the topic. The news curator also chooses the “most substantive post” to summarize the topic, usually from a news website. […] News curators also have the power to “deactivate” (or blacklist) a trending topic—a power that those we spoke to exercised on a daily basis. …” (emphasis mine)

    I see a Facebook-generated algorithm, but no direct employees in the process — only curator-contractors.

  • Sources may have a beef with Facebook — This doesn’t sound like a happy work environment, does it?

    “…Over time, the work became increasingly demanding, and Facebook’s trending news team started to look more and more like the worst stereotypes of a digital media content farm.

    […]

    Burnout was rampant. ‘Most of the original team isn’t there anymore,’ said another former news curator. ‘It was a stop-gap for them. Most of the people were straight out of [journalism school]. At least one of them was fired. Most of them quit or were hired by other news outlets.’ …” (emphasis mine)

    It’s not as if unhappy contractors won’t have newsworthy tips, but what about unhappy Facebook employees? Where are they in either of Gizmodo’s pieces?

  • Details in the reporting reveal bias in the complainant(s) — So far I see one reference to a conservative curator, not multiple conservative curators.

    “Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential “trending” news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project.

    […]

    Other former curators interviewed by Gizmodo denied consciously suppressing conservative news, and we were unable to determine if left-wing news topics or sources were similarly suppressed. The conservative curator described the omissions as a function of his colleagues’ judgements; there is no evidence that Facebook management mandated or was even aware of any political bias at work. …”

    Note the use of “a” in front of “former journalist” and “the” in front of “conservative curator.” (Note also Gizmodo apparently needs a spell check app.)

  • No named sources confirming the validity of the complaints or other facts in Gizmodo’s reporting — Again, where are Facebook employees? What about feedback from any of the companies supplying contractors; did they not hear complaints from contractors they placed? There aren’t any apparent attempts to contact them to find out, let alone anonymous confirmation from these contract companies. There are updates to the piece yesterday afternoon and this morning, including feedback from Vice President of Search at Facebook, Tom Stocky, which had been posted at Facebook. Something about the lack of direct or detailed feedback to Gizmodo seems off.
  • Though named in the first of two articles, Facebook’s managing editor Benjamin Wagner does not appear to have been asked for comment. The May 3 piece quotes an unnamed Facebook spokesperson:

    When asked about the trending news team and its future, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We don’t comment on rumor or speculation. As with all contractors, the trending review team contractors are fairly compensated and receive appropriate benefits.”

I’m disappointed that other news outlets picked up Gizmodo’s work without doing much analysis or followup. Reuters, for example, even parrots the same phrasing Gizmodo used, referring to the news curators as “Facebook workers” and not contract employees or contractors. Because of this ridiculous unquestioning regurgitation by outlets generally better than this, I felt compelled to write about my concerns.

And then there’s Gizmodo itself, which made a point of tweeting its report was trending on Facebook. Does Gizmodo have a beef with Facebook, too? Has it been curated out of Facebook’s news feed? Are these two pieces really about Facebook’s laundering of Gizmodo?

I don’t know; I can’t tell you because I don’t use Facebook. Not going to start now because of Gizmodo’s sketchy reporting on Facebook, of all things.

Miscellany
Just some odd bits read because today is as themeless as yesterday — lots of garbage out there.

Skepticism: I haz it
As I read coverage about news reporting and social media leading up to the general election, I also keep in the back of my mind this Bloomberg report, How to Hack an Election:

As for Sepúlveda, his insight was to understand that voters trusted what they thought were spontaneous expressions of real people on social media more than they did experts on television and in newspapers. […] On the question of whether the U.S. presidential campaign is being tampered with, he is unequivocal. “I’m 100 percent sure it is,” he says.

Be more skeptical. See you tomorrow morning!

UPDATE — 1:30 P.M. EDT —

@CNBCnow
JUST IN: Senate Commerce Commtitte chair sends letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg seeking answers on alleged manipulation of trending news

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME WITH THIS? THE SENATE GOING TO WASTE TAX DOLLARS ON THIS WHEN EVERY. SINGLE. NEWS. OUTLET. USES EDITORIAL JUDGMENT TO DECIDE WHAT TO COVER AS NEWS?

Cripes, Gizmodo’s poorly sourced hit piece says,

“…In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. …”

Yet the Senate is going to pursue this bullshit story after Gizmodo relied on ONE conservative curator-contractor — and their story actually says an algorithm is used?

Jeebus. Yet the Senate will ignore Sheldon Adelson’s acquisition of the biggest newspaper in Las Vegas in a possible attempt to denigrate local judges?

I can’t with this.

UPDATE — 3:35 P.M. EDT —
The Guardian reports the senator wasting our tax dollars questioning a First Amendment exercise by Facebook is John Thune. Hey! Guess who’s running for re-election as South Dakota’s senior senator? Why it’s John Thune! Nothing like using your political office as a free press-generating tool to augment your campaign. I hope Facebook’s algorithm suppresses this manufactured non-news crap.

Wednesday Morning: Lüg mich an, Lügner

I admit freely my facility with the German language is poor. I hope this post’s headline reads, “Lie to me, Liar.” Which is about as close as I could get to “Lying Liars” because I can’t conjugate the verb ‘to lie.’

~shrug~

It’s not like anybody’s paying me for this, unlike the lying liars at Volkswagen who’ve been paid to deceive the public for a decade. This video presentation featuring Daniel Lange and Felix Domke — a security consultant and an IT consultant, respectively, who reverse engineered VW’s emissions control cheat — is a bit long, but it’s chock full of unpleasant truths revealing the motivations behind VW’s Dieselgate deceptions. The video underpins the cheat outlined in a 2006 VW presentation explaining how to defeat emissions tests.

The one problem I have with this video is the assumption that the fix on each of the affected vehicles will be $600. Nope. That figure is based on how much has been set aside for the entire Dieselgate fix, NOT the actual cost to repair the vehicles.

Because if VW really fixed the vehicles to match the claims they made when they marketed and sold these “clean diesel” passenger cars, it’d cost even more per vehicle. I suspect one of the motivations behind inadequate reserves for a true repair is a reluctance to disclose to competitors how much emissions standards-meeting “clean diesel” really costs.

And of course, avoiding more stringent calculations also prevents an even bigger hit to the company’s stock price, which might affect the pockets of some board members and executives rather disproportionately to the rest of the stock market.

Just how closely that figure per car hews to the agreement with the court this past week will be worth noting, since the video was published in December last year.

But now for the much bigger, even more inconvenient Lügner Lügen: This entire scandal exposes the fraud that is the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Paris agreement.

We know a small nonprofit funded research by a tiny group of academics exposing VW’s emissions controls defeat. We know this set off a cascade of similar analysis, exposing even more cheating by more automobile manufacturers.

But why are we only now finding out from nonprofits and academics about this fraud? Didn’t our elected representatives create laws and the means for monitoring compliance as well as enforcement? Why aren’t governments in the U.S. and the EU catching these frauds within a year of their being foisted on the public?

These questions directly impact the Paris agreement. We’re not starting where emissions standards have been set and where the public believes conditions to be, but at real emissions levels. In other words, we are digging out of  a massive pollution hole.

Our elected officials across the world will avoid funding the dig-out; they’ll continue another layer of lies to prevent removal from office. And we can reasonably expect from them only what they’ve done so far, which Dieselgate has proven to be little.

For that matter, Flint’s water crisis has much in common with Dieselgate, relying on academic research and nonprofit entities to reveal mortal threats to the community. Flint’s crisis showed us government at all levels can be even worse at writing laws, monitoring compliance, and subsequent enforcement.

If the public cannot expect government to do the job it believes it elected them to do over the last several decades, how ever can they expect their government to enact the terms of the Paris agreement? How can we expect third world countries to reduce carbon emissions to save the world from the devastation of climate change while we and our governments continue to ignore corporations’ ongoing deceptions?

No roundup today, gang. I strongly recommend watching the video above. Thanks to BoingBoing for linking to it.

Thursday Morning: It’s Still Morning Somewhere

Fried. I am totally brain-fried after spending the night reading about flavivirus, rubivirus, arbovirus. So a morning post was not in the cards right away today in my time zone.

Things are fried elsewhere, too, as you can see from the global map above. These locations are suffering from drought:

Colombia – Drought has affected hydroelectric generation.

India – south – Heatwave coupled with drought cost lives

Malawi – Food crisis declared as crop yields fall off due to drought

Mongolia – Severe winter sandwiched between droughts devastates livestock

Morocco – Wheat crop output fell by 50% due to drought

Mozambique — Floods in the north and drought in the south damaged crops; a “red alert” now issued over food security.

Oceana (S Australia/Papua New Guinea) – Human trafficking reported, with girls sold in exchange for rice in Papua New Guinea due to drought-caused crop failures.

Venezuela – Country experiencing electricity shortages due to drought

Vietnam – Livestock are dying due to drought

Zimbabwe – Country is participating in a co-operative food aid program due to severe drought.

This is only a partial list of drought-affected countries; Mideast and Mediterranean countries, Thailand, more of the African continent, and the southwest U.S. also suffer from drought.

Some drought is due to cyclical trends like the current El Nino event, but much of the drought is deeper than the average cycle, and some of it is simply climate change. Many places are already facing agricultural crises, and others have been facing them for years now.

While the map above doesn’t reflect it, forecasts predict dryer-than-average conditions across the crop-growing region of the middle U.S. as well as a return to dryer conditions in California.

We are overdue for discussions about global food security as climate change worsens. We can start now.

Back to regular morning roundup programming tomorrow — see you then!

Wednesday Morning: A Whiter Shade

She said, ‘There is no reason
and the truth is plain to see.’
But I wandered through my playing cards
and would not let her be

— excerpt, Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum
cover here by Annie Lennox

I’ve been on an Annie Lennox jag, sorry. I’m indulging myself here at the intersection of a favorite song which fit today’s theme and a favorite performer. Some of you will take me to task for not using the original version by Procol Harum, or another cover like Eric Clapton’s. Knock yourselves out; it’s Lennox for me.

Speaking of a whiter shade and truth…

FBI used a ‘gray hat’ to crack the San Bernardino shooter’s phone
Last evening after regular business hours WaPo published a story which made damned sure we knew:

1) The FBI waded into a fuzzy zone to hack the phone — oh, not hiring a ‘black hat’, mind you, but a whiter-shade ‘gray hat’ hacker;
2) Cellebrite wasn’t that ‘gray hat’;
3) The third-party resource was referred to as ‘professional hackers’ or ‘researchers who sell flaws’;
4) FBI paid a ‘one-time fee’ for this hack — which sounds like, “Honest, we only did it once! How could we be pregnant?!
5) A ‘previously unknown software flaw’ was employed after the third-party pointed to it.

This reporting only generated more questions:

• Why the careful wording, ‘previously unknown software flaw’ as opposed to zero-day vulnerability, which has become a term of art?
• How was the determination made that the party was not black or white but gray, and not just a ‘professional hacker who sold knowledges about a flaw they used’? Or was the explanation provided just stenography?
• However did Cellebrite end up named in the media anyhow if they weren’t the source of the resolution?
• What assurances were received in addition to the assist for that ‘one-time fee’?
• Why weren’t known security experts consulted?
• Why did the FBI say it had exhausted all resources to crack the San Bernardino shooter’s phone?
• Why did FBI director Jim Comey say “we just haven’t decided yet” to tell Apple about this unlocking method at all if ‘persons familiar with the matter’ were going to blab to WaPo about their sketchy not-black-or-white-hat approach instead?

That’s just for starters. Marcy’s gone over this latest story, too, be sure to read.

Volkswagen execs get a haircut
Panic among employees and state of Lower Saxony over VW’s losses and anticipated payouts as a result of Dieselgate impelled executives to share the pain and cut their bonuses. Germany’s Lower Saxony is the largest state/municipal shareholder in VW, but it’s doubly exposed to VW financial risks as nearly one in ten Germans are employed in the automotive industry, and VW is the largest single German automotive company. The cuts to bonuses will be retroactive, affecting payouts based on last year’s business performance.

Fuzzy dust bunnies

  • Verizon workers on strike (Boston Globe) — Until minimum wage is raised across the country and offshoring jobs stops, we’ll probably see more labor actions like this. Should be a warning to corporations with quarter-after-quarter profits and offshore tax shelters to watch themselves — they can afford to pay their workers.
  • Facebook deploys bots across its services (Computerworld) — But, but AI is years away, said Microsoft research…meanwhile, you just know Amazon’s Alexa is already looking to hookup with Facebook’s chatbot.
  • Google’s charitable arm ponied up $20M cash for disabled users’ technology improvements (Google.org) — IMO, this was a great move for an underserved population.
  • Judge’s rejects Obama administration blow-off of apex predator wolverines (HGN) — Wolverines, a necessary part of health northern and mountain ecosystems, need cold weather to survive. Montana’s U.S. District Court ruled the administration had not done enough to protect biodiversity including the wolverine. Crazy part of this entire situation is that the feds don’t believe the wolverine warrants Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection and that they can’t tell what effects climate change has on this species, but the species is seen rarely to know. Hello? A rarely-seen species means the numbers are so low they are at risk of extinction — isn’t that what the ESA is supposed to define and prevent?

UPDATE — 12:10 PM EDT —
From @cintagliata via Twitter:

Back in 1971, researchers observed Zika virus replicating in neurons and glia. (in mice) http://bit.ly/1XvsD4d

I’m done with the pesticides-as-causal theory. It may be a secondary exacerbating factor, but not likely primary. In short, we’ve had information about Zika’s destructive effects on the brain and nervous system for 45 years. It’s past time for adequate funding to address prevention, treatments, control of its spread.

It’s all down the hump from here, kids. See you tomorrow morning!

Thursday Morning: Eye in the Sky

I am the eye in the sky
Looking at you
I can read your mind
I am the maker of rules
Dealing with fools
I can cheat you blind

— excerpt, Eye in the Sky by Alan Parsons Project

It’s not like I wanted to haul out all my high school and college music, but they sure seem to work well this week.

Speaking of the eye in the sky…

FBI and DHS circle overhead a LOT
Buzzfeed published its findings after looking into FBI and DHS surveillance flight records, finding a lot of planes circling over mosques. The results also looked at flights immediately after the San Bernardino shooting. You know what would be interesting? Comparing that information against the handling timeline for the Apple iPhone issued to Syed Farouk by his employer.

U.S. dealerships sue Volkswagen – but expand on Dieselgate
Not only are three family-owned dealerships suing VW for its fraudulent use of an emissions control defeat system in their diesel passenger vehicles — they are suing because of VW’s financing practices, which steered money away from dealership’s preferred financing while leaving the dealerships stuck with rapidly depreciated business value. The potential losses to VW just swelled by another magnitude.

Iceland’s new PM expects elections this fall
Rather than dissolving the government, the former Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson’s coalition partners negotiated the appointment of Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson as his replacement after Gunnlaugsson’s Panama Papers-driven resignation. Johannsson said the coalition expects elections this autumn while continuing to focus on working on stability. That’s a nice way of saying the Progressive Party and the Independence Party are stalling for time to avoid a likely rout if elections were held today. Polling indicates the Pirate Party would stomp the other three major parties if a vote was held now.

MP and Official spokesperson of the Pirate Party Birgitta Jónsdóttir was interviewed by Democracy Now! about Iceland’s current political climate. Jonsdottir, a possible contender for PM, explained her country’s reaction to the Panama Papers’ revelations:

…What is in particular disturbing about the prime minister’s conduct in this matter is that the day before new laws took effect in Iceland about how you declare and how tax havens are dealt with, because Iceland is a part of a sort of a campaign, international campaign, to stop tax havens being a part of a solution on how to get away from participating in paying tax in your own country. He signed—his sold his wife his share for one dollar the day before the laws took effect. And that, in itself, seems highly dubious. And then, he has actually been using his wife as a shield and saying that people that are criticizing him are attacking his wife. I actually think that this guy is in some sort of meltdown, because his behavior in the last few days has been so outrageous that it seems like we are stuck in a satire by Dario Fo, you know, in a complete theater of the absurd. And I’m just so deeply humiliated on behalf of my nation that this is what the outside world is looking at. …

The feeling of betrayal is palpable. It’s a good read, do check it out in its entirety.

Odd lots

  • Massive breach exposes 55 million Philippine voters’ identities (The Register) — That’s Philippines’ Commission on Elections (COMELEC) *entire* database, which COMELEC claims doesn’t contain anything sensitive. Except for stuff like fingerprints and passport numbers. Oh, and all the information for half the entire country’s population.
  • China’s ‘Great Firewall’ architect reduced to using VPN during a speech (Shanghaist) — Oops.
  • Adobe patching a Flash zero-day (Naked Security) — Again. I know, I know, when will Flash die?
  • Climate change could lengthen Europe’s dengue fever season (Science Daily) — Longer, warmer summers will extend the season for Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquito populations, the disease’s key infection vectors. Hey, you know what else might show up for longer periods of time, too? Zika, since it’s carried by Aedes aegypti.

Wow. It’s coffee break time already? Have at it. Catch you tomorrow morning!