The revelation of secret technology that buries spyware into computer hard drives could be a blow to espionage efforts by the U.S. National Security Agency, intelligence analysts say.
Kaspersky Lab, a Moscow-based security software manufacturer, recently reported it found computers in 30 nations infected with spying programs …
A former NSA employee told Reuters that Kaspersky’s analysis was correct and that people still in the spy agency valued these espionage programs as highly as Stuxnet.
“Is anybody safe anymore?” That was the reaction to the report by Bill Supernor, the chief technology officer for KoolSpan, a U.S. company providing secure voice and text systems for mobile phones.
KoolSpan sells more products overseas than in the U.S. “Customers already suspicious of U.S. products will now be even more concerned that firms have been compromised,” Supernor said. “If this is the U.S. doing this to our adversaries we are seriously shooting ourselves in the foot,” he said …
George Smith, a senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, said the report represented “a black eye for the U.S. government because it undermines trust on the global networks.”
“It makes it hard to argue for proper rules of conduct in cyber space because there are now no boundaries,” Smith said.
Actually, I wasn’t emphatic enough. It’s made it impossible to argue for proper rules of conduct.
Twenty years ago I wrote The Virus Creation Labs. Much of the book was about the nature and ways of the anti-virus industry.
The anti-virus researchers had a code: no virus-writers! Writing malicious code was verboten, immoral. And they were pretty loud and forthright about it.
The question is now is who’s been asked to overlook American-made malware, particularly of this nature, if they run across it? Anyone? American anti-virus and computer security firms?
It puts such US companies in a bind. Even if they haven’t cooperated, how can you be sure?
Computer security conventions are big business. Of course, the US malware industrial complex must send many of its employees to them. Incognito.
But anti-virus researchers were and probably still are pretty smart guys. And they used to be keenly interested in who the virus writers were. Certainly they know their material is read by them. And they know they’ve seen them at conventions, perhaps even been chatted up by one or two.
The next shoe to drop, then, is the identification of one or more of our American malware and virus-writers, and the place they work out of. Much like what was done to the Chinese government hacking operation in Shanghai.
It is hard to say when or if it will come. Things like reality and what constitute reasonable consequences don’t apply to national security matters in the US.
Kaspersky should keep up the good work.
More later, maybe.
Read the entire VOA News piece. There’s a quote from someone at the Heritage Foundation, to the effect that Kaspersky’s anti-virus and malware analysis is part of a campaign to “deligitimize the NSA.”
Bill Blunden points us to an interesting review of Scott Timberg’s Culture Crash at the Financial Times.
It’s behind a registration (not pay) wall so for those who don’t want to go through with that I’ll summarize a bit of it. The general theme and arguments are not unfamiliar. They also need saying more and more.
Timberg, a music journalist got what he says was his dream job when the LA Times hired him in features/arts.
Unfortunately, this was during the time of Sam Zell’s ownership.
Zell, as I’ve noted here, looted the newspaper and Tribune — the parent company, was driven into bankruptcy (since emerged). Under Zell’s direction it went through a series of crippling lay-offs.
One of my best friends, now deceased, took an early buy-out and retirement as a result of the chaos and acrimony, this despite being greatly valued by his co-workers.
Timberg lost his job in these ritualized firings. Eventually, he had to sell his home.
“Have you ever wondered how life looks at the front line of ‘disruption’ ”? asks the Financial Times reviewer in the first sentence.
It really sucks hard is the obvious answer, disruption being the buzz word describing one facet of inequality in the country where everyone is worked against everyone else while the owners of all things atomize what is paid for work (in this case, that of the creative class) in a downward spiral until there’s no making a living.
It was never easy in music, journalism or the other segments addressed in Timberg’s “creative class.” But the Internet revolution has been with us awhile now so quite a lot of observational data’s in on how liberating it’s been to compensation and creativity.
And that trend has been universally bad for the livelihoods of the majority. It has very obviously been a catastrophe for journalism.
“In 1982, Timberg says, the top 1 per cent of musicians earned 26 per cent of concert revenues. But in 2003, ‘the proportion earned by the top 1 per cent had more than doubled, to 56 per cent’.
“Similarly, in 1986, 29 artists produced 31 top hits. But in a period of almost five years to September 2012, ‘there were only 66 number-one songs, and nearly half of them were turned out by just six artists — Katy Perry, Rihanna, Flo Rida, Black Eyed Peas, Adele and Lady Gaga’.”
It’s not all tech driven. Some of it the result of general trends in the economy of the US for the last four decades reaching full bloom. Or rancidity, depending on where you’ve stood with regards to it.
The Financial Times grants Culture Crash a very good review. It makes me curious about the book. (And if Scott Timberg sees this, through Google, I’d welcome a review copy. Heck, presumably he’s still in southern California.)
Edward Ericson Jr’s. TEDx talk on the sharing economy. Or as he points out, the bringing of the black market economies of failed and near-failed states to the US, except with the added convenience of a smartphone app.
He puts it wryly, but every effectively, dubbing it the model of the social network in Laos, or anyplace else people are in the street giving small amounts of cash money to anyone who can give them a ride in their overburdened mini-bus.
The Silicon Valley geniuses, he says, have no use for a social contract.
Everyone will be forced to take a bunch of jobs, none of which, separately or in the aggregate, earn any kind of living.
As the country descends into the maelstrom of all-against-all, the wealthy and their very close servants, those who haven’t yet been deemed an extra expense that could be better atomized through crowd-sourcing, get cheap cab rides, delivery of groceries, and their business meetings transcribed at a few pennies to a quarter an hour.
A number of Republican-led states are considering tax changes that in many cases would have the effect of cutting taxes on the rich and raising them on the poor.
Conservatives are known for hating taxes but particularly hate income taxes, which they say have a greater dampening effect on growth. Of the 10 or so Republican governors who have proposed tax increases, nearly all have called for increases in consumption taxes, which hit the poor and middle class harder than the rich …
At the same time, some of those governors — most notably Mr. LePage, Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina and John R. Kasich of Ohio — have proposed significant cuts to their state income tax. They say that tax policies that encourage business growth provide more jobs and economic benefits for everyone.
If you look for an overarching theme for overall conservative policy these past four decades, it definitely isn’t liberty — by and large the GOP has been enthusiastic about expanding the security and surveillance state. Nor is it in a consistent fashion smaller government, unless you define military and homeland security as not government. Instead, it has been about making the tax-and-transfer system harsher on the poor and easier on the rich. In short, class warfare.
Thanks to Pine View Farm, I am informed of the burning spirit of patriotism in Conoy Township, about twenty minutes from where I spent three years of postdoc research, deep in the heart of Pennsyltucky.
They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. That’s a Washburn A-20v BBR, for black-black-red, ca. 1984-85. I have one, made at the Matsumoko company in Japan (since out of business) for Washburn USA (which isn’t).
The shape and color scheme enjoyed a very brief moment in the sun, one coinciding with Quiet Riot’s Metal Health LP, the first heavy metal record to hit number one in the US charts in 1983, going on to sell 6 million copies.
Although I wasn’t much of a fan, Metal Health was a catchy record. Guitarist Carlos Cavazo and bassist Rudy Sarzo played Washburn A-20s, featured in videos on MTV and guitar magazine advertising.
That’s not why I bought mine. I’d wanted a Gibson Explorer but couldn’t afford it. And I’d played one of the BBRs at a Washburn stand at a guitar show. So I had one special ordered and still have it.
I play it regularly now. It’s a shape and color that went horribly out of style. And it fits me, also horribly out of style at almost 59, perfectly.
Even Carlos Cavazo won’t play his Washburn A-20s in public anymore. He joined Ratt and switched to Gibsons. His friends, he said, talked him out of playing those old things. It’s not hard to guess why.
Still, it sounds and plays great, a poor man’s Gibson with a great jet-black hard finish.
It has “Power Sustain” pick-ups, say the old brochures!
And that’s my intro to today’s post on the American guitar business. In the mid-Eighties, electric guitars were still solidly of the middle class business. Leo Fender made it that way.
It doesn’t take a lot of brains to figure out what happened.
The recession, the evisceration of buying power, and the great thinning of the middle class made the guitar-making industry polar.
One end is cheap guitars made in China or similar Asian labor markets. And the other end is expensive custom-shop artisan instruments for classic rock musicians who can still get paid, but mostly for the upper class and very top people who want them as nice things to have. Investments that impress stupid people.
And there’s little in the middle.
The stagnant economy isn’t the only reason guitars have had a hard time. Classic rock is music for an older generation. Like polka was for me in southeastern PA when I was in school.
It’s not entirely dead, of course. Taylor Swift, the biggest seller in pop rock, is firmly from classic rock roots. All her sidemen play vintage model guitars, the best. But young people, as they should, have different choices. They don’t need electric guitars in any big way.
And the industry bet wrong on that.
Before the collapse, the idea, and it was a clear one if you shopped at Guitar Center or BestBuy or Target, was that electric guitars could be put in every household, like microwave ovens. And so the production of 70 percent of all electric guitars was moved to China, the instruments made cheaply, and sold in cardboard boxes as start-up kits.
And then the bottom fell out of the economy and ruined it. Even $120 guitars-made-in-China weren’t quite cheap enough a lot of the time.
Plus a lot of young people would have rather spent up for a more universal symbol of cool, an iPod or iPhone.
However, you can’t have a guitar business like you did in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties. Guitars are not thrown away. They don’t end up in landfills. You can find them everywhere in pawn shops and used sales. And the very wealthy, who buy the American-made custom shop hot rods? There just aren’t enough of them.
They lack the numbers and the same prole desires of the old middle class.
I see this on-line everyday. Facebook shoves posts from guitar publications and companies into my feed and they’re all about only two things.
First, pictures of expensive hot rod guitars, most of which the middle class, or even people who work in music stores, can’t really afford anymore. And the guitar accessory business, which exploded.
The accessory business, which means guitar effects and foot pedals, can just barely keep prices down on American-made stuff because there’s not much to it in the way of materials.
Fuzz-tones, of which there are at least eighty different brands/makes now, are priced only slightly higher than a rock bottom guitar made in China or Indonesia. And at that price point, a lot of poverty-stricken musicians, which is to say quite a few of them, can still afford the stuff.
And so the American makers of guitar pedals have gone through a boom. Culturally and socially they resemble the demographic of Silicon Valley programmer/brogrammer. Only not paid nearly as well.
They’re all tinkerers. With analog electronics rather than code. They play guitar, naturally, and they’re all white guys who pretty much look and sound the same.
It’s a busy industry that’s forced adaptations on the old industry. Big manufacturers, who have been around for decades, have seen the offerings and co-opted, leased or bought out some of the best of the little guys. Or the luckiest. It’s often hard to tell which.
Dunlop, for example, makes about a score of guitar fuzz/distortion effects under three different sub-company names, MXR, Way Huge and its own. They all feature some overlap, many in details that are of little or no distinction to the millions of people who still listen to classic rock recordings.
But it’s a fit for the hollowed out economy. Small stuff, made-in-America, that young men can still afford to buy a bit of. Gadgets easy to market and advertise, not requiring a lot of development time or much of an investment as the designs have already been made over and over and over again. And lots of choices, like hot sauces or ketchups and mustards at slightly snob up-market grocery stores.
This has established glut as what looks like a permanent feature of the market. There are more things to buy, and more coming all the time, than there is demand.
But despite the inexorably shrinking market for this, YouTube bristles with unpaid advertising for the new state-of-the-art electric guitar and accessory market.
New local bands nationwide can record and make as many videos of their music as they want, never make any headway, never get any numbers without a couple lucky breaks.
But un-boxing and demonstration videos of new fuzz-tones and guitar overdrives often guarantees some kind of audience.
Since American guitar manufacturers moved their production to China they surely cannot be surprised at some of the more interesting ramifications.
The ads were eventually taken down but the business became more vigorous. And why would it not?
Why pay for an expensive American-made Gibson guitar when you can’t afford it? But you can have a nice-looking forgery for hundreds of dollars, with a little luck when it comes to shipping.
There are many people who think this way. Can you blame them? They know that if they try to hock a forgery it will be discovered. They know that in many areas in won’t be up to the standard imposed at the Gibson factory.
But the Chinese are always getting better at the job and, in terms of for personal pleasure and looks, often the difference in quality matters less and less every day.
Two years ago Fender Musical Instruments tried to go public.
Initially, it seemed a natural, even proper, thing. The company of Leo Fender, although he’s long dead, is the tap root of the tree of American electric guitar. It’s a big part of the history of pop rock all around the world.
“Jeffrey Bronchick, the chief investment officer at investment advisory firm Cove Street Capital, says the stock was overvalued,” read a story from Fortune.
“It is a much more difficult business than what it was being sold as,” says Bronchick (who also plays guitar, on a Fender),” told the magazine. “It was highly levered, there was a big question mark on growth and it was priced too high …”
For the New York Times, there was the same financial adviser, telling the newspaper he had four Fender guitars, but: “What possible niche is left unexploited by Fender?”
Fender’s margins were under pressure, said the newspaper. “Many of the guitars that are selling these days are cheap ones made in places like China — ones that cost a small fraction of, say, a $1,599 Fender Artist Eric Clapton Strat …”
And “Poof!” went the i.p.o.
Done in by the merciless judgments of those in the financial industry who make nothing but who buy tricked-out American custom-shop goods as investments and baubles. They weren’t believers in the company’s future. What they believed was how nice it is to show off a couple expensively furnished Eric Clapton Stratocasters to wealthy acquaintances at dinner parties, acquisition of luxury goods as a means of keeping score.
Today Fender is owner by a private equity firm. It’s interim CEO is known for being an executive at Under Armour and J. Crew, the latter an upscale women’s wear company.
In 2011, the Fender Museum closed due to lack of interest. A week or so ago there was a garage sale for what was left of its memorabilia.
And in a not very surprising development, Fender announced it would be selling direct from its website, royally pissing off its 70-year old network of bricks-and-mortar guitar store dealers.
Why not? Perhaps it would increase the profit margin, if only by increments. And to the new generation who use smartphone apps of convenience, shopping in a physical store lacks the zing of custom-picking the colors and hardware of a Stratocaster on-line.
Picking up a guitar in a store is old and fuddy-duddy, obsolete. You have to drive to it. You might have to plug it into an amp to see how it sounds and plays. With new computerized machinery to set-up a guitar before it leaves the factory and the service of UPS or FedEx, things are generally OK when they arrive at your doorstep.
And there is the upside: Direct sales taps Fender directly into the mania of unboxing video.
Playing the guitar is entirely secondary to the loving way in which the cardboard shipping box is displayed. Then the slow prying open and gentle removal of packing materials, all captured with full HD digital camera work.
Finally, the climax: The camera shows the un-boxer panning over and turning the as yet untarnished instrument itself. Exquisite!
Perhaps a second video can be made in which the unboxer briefly plays the instrument.
But, really, this is relatively unimportant in the grand scheme because there are always new instruments and accessories to be unboxed. It is the movie-like documentation of the acquisition that is the be all and the end all.
Many, many people fully understand the sharing economy is a racket, one in which tech industry start-ups depend upon the desperation of labor in an economy that’s stagnant.
Searching for any income, even miniscule amounts of compensation, millions take whatever can be had in service piece work jobs administered by owners who operate networks that makes work-for-hire available through apps.
Everyone is a free-lancer, all are pitted against all.
Critical thinkers now have plenty of examples of how the new shyster-ism works.
And you can see it in weekly stories on the sharing economy.
Most recently, very well summed up by a newspaper journalist giving a talk at a TEDx conference in Baltimore, an irony very rich indeed, the TED brand known primarily for its tech industry cheer-leading sessions called “talks.”
“The sharing economy is ‘predicated on the idea that there’s always going to be a huge pool of people who are willing to work desperate hours for no pay and no benefits,’ ” Baltimore City Paper journalist Edward Ericson told a crowd at TedxBaltimore 2015, here.
Businesses of the sharing economy, notably Uber and Lyft, “have ‘nothing to do’ with making a living.”
Here is the future: nobody gets any job security. Nobody gets a fair wage while they have a job. Nobody gets a retirement fund or even any guarantee they’ll be able to eat tomorrow. And almost everyone is doing everything they can just to get by—and paying some substantial portion of their earnings to a pimp or “platform” which controls the business they are in …
[Thirty years ago] I did not yet understand then that those having or wanting just a job—just a job with decent pay—would be disparaged as “takers.”
I did not realize that, in 30 years, skilled people would be working basically for free just on the off chance they’d strike it rich in Silicon Valley.
And that, within my lifetime, those who did win that lottery would do so mainly by “innovating” a way to make all their staffers work for no pay at all …
This is the logical culmination of a process that began 30 years ago, when corporations began turning over full-time jobs to temporary workers, independent contractors, freelancers and consultants.
It was a way to shift risks and uncertainties onto the workers — work that might entail more hours than planned for, or was more stressful than expected.
And a way to circumvent labor laws that set minimal standards for wages, hours and working conditions. And that enabled employees to join together to bargain for better pay and benefits.
The new on-demand work shifts risks entirely onto workers, and eliminates minimal standards completely.
At Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, people “work for pennies,” he adds.
It’s actually worse than that. Robert Reich hasn’t spent enough time getting the ice cold shower on Mechanical Turk “jobs.”
There are people who work for jobs that pay zero, as I’ve chronicled in the Mechanical Turk files, because Amazon’s rating system whacks workers when “employers” choose not to pay, even one cent, because work is deemed inadequate or they can just get away with not paying.
And that once a worker’s rating drops below almost perfection because of it they are disqualified from taking many of even the most parsimonious offerings.
That, in turn, set up a market for jobs that pay zero pennies as people try to work their qualification rating back up by working for nothing.
The growth of the sharing economy is not one of great technology-enabled opportunity, Reich writes. “It only shows how bad a deal most working people have otherwise been getting.”
Which brings us to inclusive capitalism, a cloud of foul air described as new economic perfume, emanating from the camp of Hillary Clinton and her coterie of millionaire groupie economic advisers.
Reich was Secretary of Labor during the last Clinton administration. And I say last because it appears Hillary Clinton has already been proclaimed leader for the single reason that she has more money and oligarch stature than Croesus, her potential opponents being nothing more than uniformly loathsome human beings.
Clinton as President is a prospect that could destroy much of the weak enthusiasm for voting left in this country. Or at least create a great wish for a national barbiturates and alcohol citizen’s ration.
In a review for Inequality for All, I wrote Reich turned glum by the end of the movie, admitting he couldn’t get much done during the Clinton administration when all the factors he identified as causes for the worsening gap between the rich and everyone else began to accelerate.
The Clinton administration, Reich said, had a slogan: “Putting People First.” But that’s all it was and they paid him no mind. Eventually he went away.
So Hillary Clinton’s inclusive capitalism is likely the same meaningless eyewash. Worse, maybe, because it doesn’t even have the word “people” in it.
As a phrase it’s enough to make the eyes glaze over and head droop. Nobody wants to be in an inclusive capitalism. They just want to make a better living.
In its development as a branding buzz term, inclusive capitalism is as shitty as sharing economy.
With advice from more than 200 policy experts, Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to answer what has emerged as a central question of her early presidential campaign strategy: how to address the anger about income inequality without overly vilifying the wealthy [who are her major benefactors] …
Behind many of these proposals is a philosophy, endorsed by Mrs. Clinton’s closest economic advisers and often referred to as inclusive capitalism, that contends that a majority of Americans do not want to punish the rich; they just want to feel that they, too, have a chance to succeed. It also calls for corporations to put less emphasis on short-term profits that increase shareholder value and to invest more in employees, the environment and communities.
Details remain vague.
Inclusive capitalism — something very wealthy people interested in maintaining the status quo will say to gull the stupid and/or get others to leave the subject alone.
The concept of inclusive capitalism has expanded over the past 13 years to apply to those at the bottom and middle of the ladder in developed nations, including the United States. The fundamental “inclusive capitalism” argument is that business enterprises lose profit-making opportunities when consumers have little money to spend. Inadequate purchasing power among the many threatens corporations and poses a direct danger to the top 1 percent, and, indeed, to capitalism itself …
The Summers-Balls report – “The Report of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity” – is the most comprehensive summary. This report, which uses the phrase “inclusive capitalism” more than a dozen times, was published by the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank founded by John Podesta – Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff who in February will join Hillary Clinton’s exploratory presidential campaign.
And in those thirteen years, great things happened.
Technically, you could call the sharing economy inclusive capitalism. Everyone is included if they wish to be.
A stirring through the hall, a focusing of gazes — Carney has the attention of the chief executives, bankers and investors gathered here for a conference on “Inclusive Capitalism.” His bluntness reflects the fact that, six years after the crisis, the core problem has not gone away: The deep unease and anger in developed countries about the ways globalization and technology magnify returns for the super-rich, operating in a world of low taxation and lax regulation where short-term gain becomes a guiding principle, even as societies become more unequal, offering diminished opportunities to the young, less community and a growing sense of unfairness …
In other words, human beings matter. An age that has seen emergence from poverty on a massive scale in the developing world has been accompanied by the spread of a new poverty (of life and of expectations) in much of the developed world. Global convergence has occurred alongside internal divergence. Interdependence is a reality, but the way it works is skewed. [Keynote speaker Bill Clinton] noted that ants, bees, termites and humans have all survived through an unusual shared characteristic: They are cooperative forms of life. But it is precisely the loss at all levels of community, of social capital, that most threatens the world’s stability and future prosperity.
There is a kind of poetry to it. Global convergence has occurred alongside internal divergence. Ants, bees, termites and humans. Either like something from Being There or a child’s fortune-telling toy.
Being one of this country’s national security professionals isn’t much of an accomplishment. It means you exist as a convenience to any of the vast machines — the intelligence community, the arms manufacturers, the Pentagon. Your only purpose is to serve in the furtherance of them.
And it doesn’t matter how disastrous the outcome. It’s obvious being wrong or failure are words which no longer hold any meaning.
Here’s Kenneth M. Pollack in the New York Times this week:
The good news right now is largely on the military front. Iraqi, Kurdish and American forces appear to be turning the tide against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
American air operations have inflicted heavy losses on the group — killing its fighters, destroying its equipment, disrupting its command and impeding its movements …
American military officials in Iraq tell me they are confident that a smaller, revamped Iraqi Army will be ready to begin big operations to retake Iraq from the Islamic State in the next four to eight months. Kurdish and Iraqi forces have largely secured Baghdad and its environs, made gains in the cities of Baiji and Samarra, cut off the road by which the Islamic State was supporting its garrison in Mosul from its base in Syria, and are encroaching on Mosul itself. In six to 18 months, the Islamic State may be driven out of Iraq altogether.
Sound familiar? It should. Six to eighteen months equals one to three “Friedman units.”
“Kenneth M. Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is the author, most recently, of ‘Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy,’ ” reads the Times’ description of the column’s author.
Publishers have done very well by Kenneth M. Pollack of Brookings. Even though he’s been one of the most spectacularly wrong “experts” on the necessity of war with Iraq and on everything else, he suits the needs of the American war machine so nicely, whatever he writes tends to get a lot of publicity.
And it has never mattered that it has little relationship with reality.
Its existence, and continuing books, are also an indicator that the Brookings Institution, once alleged to be a think tank of some repute, is nothing more than a retirement home for circus clowns who, on occasion, are dragged out to be of use to the country’s war-making apparatus.
Pollack comes off much as he did in his original book: curious and questioning. He worries openly about what he got wrong and what he could have done better.
And here’s my take, one that noted The Threatening Storm was then worth a penny a copy on Amazon. Which seemed and seems high.
I said Ken Pollack is a symbol for our time. I wasn’t fulsome enough. He’s a terrific symbol, the best money can buy.
If you ever read The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam’s famous chronicle of the Vietnam War and the Johnson administration, toward the end he frequently writes about the superciliousness and mocking laughter that came out of the press corps when faced with prognostications and estimates on the enemy and how the war would turn the corner in another few months, or a year, or something.
Pollack writes of the “revamped Iraqi army.” It reads just like numerous claims about the ARVN in the mid-Sixties.
Without a spectacular bombing campaign against the usual enemy with no anti-air capability, it would be just as good.
There are big differences between now and then. Vietnam effectively destroyed the Johnson administration. The Democratic Party was taken down by collateral damage.
In the intervening period the US military learned that to conduct “partial war” at any time, it had to remove itself from oversight and make the number of people who would actually wage war only a fraction of the populace.
It was successful in this. It can wage measures of partial war anywhere it wants around the globe with little or no risk of domestic unrest.