Video on China’s Disturbing Surveillance State

No rational human being would ideally want to live in a society with this much mass surveillance. It presents all sorts of problems and has a major repressive effect.

Mass surveillance has never been about security too. It’s about population control. More people will realize this as time goes on.

China has been building what it calls “the world’s biggest camera surveillance network”. Across the country, 170 million CCTV cameras are already in place and an estimated 400 million new ones will be installed in the next three years.

Many of the cameras are fitted with artificial intelligence, including facial recognition technology. The BBC’s John Sudworth has been given rare access to one of the new hi-tech police control rooms.

Keylogger Discovered on Hundreds of HP Laptops

You should fix this via a patch update if you’re affected. This is sadly not the first time that HP has been discovered to have shipped their computers with significant vulnerabilities either.

Hewlett Packard has issued an emergency patch to resolve a driver-level keylogger discovered on hundreds of HP laptops.

The bug was discovered by Michael Myng, also known as “ZwClose.” The security researcher was exploring the Synaptics Touchpad SynTP.sys keyboard driver and how laptop keyboards were backlit and stumbled across code which looked suspiciously like a keylogger.

In a blog post, ZwClose said the keylogger, which saved scan codes to a WPP trace, was found in the driver.

While logging was disabled by default, given the right permissions, it could be enabled through changing registry values and so should a laptop be compromised by malware, malicious code — including Trojans — could take advantage of the keylogging system to spy on users.

Study: Huge Inequality Tied to Historical Revolution

The destabilizing force of extreme inequality will prompt a major backlash naturally enough. It would probably be better if a revolution was peaceful, but predicting the future is difficult enough, and a near future revolution may actually be violent.

There’s a common thread tying together the most disruptive revolutions of human history, and it has some scientists worried about the United States. In those revolutions, conflict largely boiled down to pervasive economic inequality. On Wednesday, a study in Nature, showing how and when those first divisions between rich and poor began, suggests not only that history has always repeated itself but also that it’s bound to do so again — and perhaps sooner than we think.

In the largest study of its kind, a team of scientists from Washington State University and 13 other institutions examined the factors leading to economic inequality throughout all of human history and noticed some worrying trends. Using a well-established score of inequality called the Gini coefficient, which gives perfect, egalitarian societies a score of 0 and high-inequality societies a 1, they showed that civilization tends to move toward inequality as some people gain the means to make others relatively poor — and employ it. Coupled with what researchers already know about inequality leading to social instability, the study does not bode well for the state of the world today.

“We could be concerned in the United States, that if Ginis get too high, we could be inviting revolution, or we could be inviting state collapse. There’s only a few things that are going to decrease our Ginis dramatically,” said Tim Kohler, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and a professor of archaeology and evolutionary anthropology in a statement.

Currently, the United States Gini score is around .81, one of the highest in the world, according to the 2016 Allianz Global Wealth Report.

[…]

Overall, they found that human societies started off fairly equal, with the hunter-gatherer societies consistently getting Gini scores around .17. The divide between rich and poor really began once humans started to domesticate plants and animals and switch to farming-based societies. Learning to till the land meant introducing the concept of land ownership, and inevitably, some people ended up as landless peasants. Furthermore, because these societies no longer lived as nomads, it became easier to accumulate wealth (like land) and pass it down from generation to generation.

[…]

Overall, the highest-ever historical Gini the researchers found was that of the ancient Old World (think Patrician Rome), which got a score of .59. While the degrees of inequality experienced by historical societies are quite high, the researchers note, they’re nowhere near as high as the Gini scores we’re seeing now.

“Even given the possibility that the Ginis constructed here may somewhat underestimate true household wealth disparities, it is safe to say that the degree of wealth inequality experienced by many households today is considerably higher than has been the norm over the last ten millennia,” the researchers write in their paper.

On Monday, a global report from Credit Suisse showed that modern humans are continuing the trends set by our predecessors: Now, the report showed, half of the world’s wealth really does belong to a super-rich one percent, and the gap is only growing. Historically, Kohler says in his statement, there’s only so much inequality a society can sustain before it reaches a tipping point. Among the many known effects of inequality on a society are social unrest, a decrease in health, increased violence, and decreased solidarity. Unfortunately, Kohler points out, humans have never been especially good at decreasing inequality peacefully — historically, the only effective methods for doing so are plague, massive warfare, or revolution.

Study Reveals the Wonderful Depth of Intelligence Crows Have for Creating Tools

Crows are surprisingly intelligent and amazing creatures.

New Caledonian crows are the only species besides humans known to manufacture hooked tools in the wild. Birds produce these remarkable tools from the side branches of certain plants, carefully ‘crafting’ a crochet-like hook that can be used for snagging insect prey.

The study, published in Current Biology today (7 December), reveals how crows manage to fashion particularly efficient tools, with well-defined ‘deep’ hooks.

The hook is widely regarded as one of humankind’s most important innovations, with skilful reshaping, a useless piece of raw material is transformed into a powerful tool. While our ancestors started making stone tools over 3 million years ago, hooks are a surprisingly recent advance — the oldest known fish hooks are just 23,000 years old.

Project leader Professor Christian Rutz, from the School of Biology, has conducted field research on New Caledonian crows for over a decade. His team recently noticed that crows’ hooked tools vary considerably in size and shape. While some tools only exhibit a small extension at the tip, others have immaculate hooks.

Professor Rutz explains: “We suspected that tools with pronounced hooks are more efficient, and were able to confirm this in controlled experiments with wild-caught crows. The deeper the hook, the faster birds winkled bait from holes in wooden logs.”

This finding raised the intriguing question of what it takes to make such well-formed hooks. The researchers started planning their study by imagining how humans would approach a comparable task. “When a craftsperson carves a tool from a piece of wood, two things ensure a quality product: good raw materials and skill,” Professor Rutz said.

Crow-displacement

A Secret Kept for Decades: Daniel Ellsberg and Nuclear Weapons

It turns out that Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg has more secrets to reveal from his days as a high ranking U.S. government official. This time the secrets aren’t about the Vietnam War — they’re about nuclear weapons, the threats that represent the very real possibility of massive human annihilation.

“Keeping secrets was my career,” Daniel Ellsberg says. “I didn’t lose the aptitude for that when I put out the Pentagon Papers.” This might come as a shock, considering that the former Defense Department analyst is best known for leaking classified information nearly half a century ago, thus bringing about a landmark legal precedent in favor of press freedom and, indirectly, hastening the end of both the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration. But for many years, even as Ellsberg beat prosecution, became a peace activist, and wrote an autobiography titled Secrets, he still had something remarkable left to disclose.

It turns out that Ellsberg also took many thousands of pages of documents pertaining to another subject: nuclear war. Ellsberg, a prominent thinker in the field of decision theory, had worked on the military’s “mutual assured destruction” strategy during the Cold War. Once a believer in deterrence, he now says he was a collaborator in an “insane plan” for “retaliatory genocide.” He wanted to tell the world decades ago; with nuclear threat looming again, he’s put the whole story into a new book, The Doomsday Machine.

[…]

Ellsberg believed that his bureaucratic opponents — mainly the military brass — were not thinking through the consequences of nuclear war. Then, in 1961, he was allowed to see a piece of information previously unknown even to Kennedy, the death count the military projected for theoretical strikes: some 600 million, not including any Americans killed in counterattacks. (That was still an underestimate.) Ellsberg writes of being gripped with a feeling of revulsion, realizing that the document “depicted evil beyond any human project ever.” The planners weren’t heedless — they intended to inflict maximal civilian casualties. “The shock was to realize that the Joint Chiefs knew,” Ellsberg tells me. “I was working for people who were crazier than I had thought. I had thought that they had inadvertently constructed a doomsday machine, without knowing it.”

The better Ellsberg came to understand the workings of the nuclear command-and-control system, the more danger he felt. He writes that the idea that authority to launch a nuclear war rested solely with the president was a myth, and that the nuclear “football” carried by a military attaché to the president is just “theater.” Working for the Defense Department, Ellsberg traveled throughout Asia, where he discovered there were many plausible scenarios in which officers might feel authorized to launch a nuclear attack in the absence of presidential orders. Safeguards were easy to circumvent. (For decades, purportedly, the eight-digit code to launch a Minuteman missile was set at 00000000.) Visiting an air base on Okinawa, Ellsberg touched a hydrogen bomb, and noted the “bodylike warmth” of a device capable of killing millions.

“It did give me a feeling — an eerie, an uncanny feeling, a feeling of dread to some extent,” Ellsberg says. “But not the feeling that this should not exist.” That came later.

[…]

One of the documents in his safe, as the FBI surely knew, was a classified nuclear study commissioned by Kissinger. “It’s the same old Dr. Strangelove stuff: 90 million dead, 120 million dead,” Ellsberg says. “But I was going to put that out, of course.” Ellsberg stashed that memo, along with all the other nuclear materials, in a box and gave the lot to his brother, Harry, who later wrapped them in plastic and buried them in the compost pile behind his home in Hastings-on-Hudson. Harry, who is now dead, told his brother that the FBI came poking around the compost pile. But he had already moved the box to another hiding spot, beneath a big iron stove in the garbage dump in Tarrytown.

Ellsberg intended to arrange for the nuclear papers to be leaked after his trial in Los Angeles, where he was sure he would be convicted. But then he was vindicated through a chain of events he calls a “miracle.” The Watergate investigation revealed the activities of Nixon’s plumbers, including the burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. The case against him was dismissed. Afterward, though, Harry gave him some bad news: A tropical storm had flooded the dump in 1971. The nuclear papers were lost.

“It was unbearable to me,” Ellsberg says. It is afternoon, and the softening light is filtering through redwoods out his office window. “That was a shadow over the next 40 years, thinking I fucked up, you know?” I ask whether it was possible that Harry, out of fear for himself or his brother, might have actually destroyed the documents. “No,” Ellsberg replies, firmly. “It was very clear that he was anguished by it. Later in his life, before he died, he said that had been something agonizing at him for all this time.”

The Doomsday Machine represents Ellsberg’s attempt to reconstruct, via his memories and now-declassified documents, the knowledge that was washed away. The book examines many close brushes with nuclear war. He says that at least twice during the Cold War — once aboard a Soviet submarine during the Cuban Missile Crisis, once inside an air defense bunker outside Moscow in 1983 — a single individual came close to triggering a nuclear war because of a false alarm. “There is a chance that somebody will be a circuit breaker,” Ellsberg says. “What I conclude is that we’re lucky, very lucky.”

Daniel Ellsberg also did an interview with Democracy Now… It really is a relevant issue to cover with nuclear catastrophe being totally possible. The Doomsday Clock is almost ominously standing at 2.5 minutes to midnight, which is the closest its been to midnight since thermonuclear weapons were detonated in 1953. Some respected analysts have even said that the risk of nuclear war today is higher than it was during the Cold War.

 

Air Pollution Exposure to Adults Over 60 is Found to Cancel Health Benefits of Exercise for Them

Reason #5533 for the world to use energy sources other than fossil fuels.

Exposure to air pollution on city streets is enough to counter the beneficial health effects of exercise in older adults, according to new research.

The findings, published in The Lancet, show that short term exposure to air pollution in built up areas like London’s busy Oxford Street can prevent the positive effects on the heart and lungs that can be gained from walking.

According to the research, led by Imperial College London and Duke University, the findings add to the growing body of evidence showing the negative impacts of urban air pollution on cardiovascular and respiratory health. The authors say the effects could potentially apply to other age groups as well and highlight the need for stricter air quality limits and greater access to green spaces.

Previous research has found that diesel exhaust fumes, particularly fine particulate matter air pollution, has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death, and can cause a worsening of diseases of the airways, such as asthma.

The latest study, funded by the British Heart Foundation, is the first to show the negative effects on healthy people, people with a chronic lung condition linked with smoking called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and those with coronary heart disease — which affects the supply of blood to the heart.

“These findings are important as for many people, such as the elderly or those with chronic disease, very often the only exercise they can do is to walk,” said senior author Fan Chung, Professor of Respiratory Medicine and Head of Experimental Studies Medicine at National Heart & Lung Institute at Imperial College London. “Our research suggests that we might advise older adults to walk in green spaces, away from built-up areas and pollution from traffic,” he added.

Republican Congress Seeking to Deregulate Wall Street and Thus Cause Another Economic Downturn

Deregulating (and misregulating) Wall Street has been done before with disastrous consequences. The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 for example was a significant factor in causing the global economic collapse of 2008. Looking back further in the 20th century, it was the Republican party that controlled Congress and the White House in the 1920s before the Great Depression. That should cause people to be aware of what might happen soon.

WITH THE GOP’S tax plan moving ahead and the Obamacare fight in the rearview mirror, Republicans in Congress are setting their sights next on deregulating Wall Street.

But unlike the previous battles, they can count on Democratic help in this fight.

They will also face an invigorated populist wing of the party. During the debate over whether to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Elizabeth Warren, not yet a senator, famously said at a crucial momentthat her first choice was a strong agency, and her second was “no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor.”

[…]

In all, the bill removes enhanced supervision from 25 banks that control $3.5 trillion in assets and received $48 billion in taxpayer bailouts, according to an analysis from Public Citizen.

S.2155 also changes stress tests — which check if banks can manage hazardous scenarios — for all banks, making them “periodic” (which could mean whatever regulators want it to mean, staffers say) instead of annual. So JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America, along with literally every big bank in the country, recipients of hundreds of billions of dollars in bailouts, get assistance in this “small bank” relief bill. The stress test itself would change — at the discretion of President Donald Trump’s deregulatory army — for large regional firms.

Next, the bill rolls back protections on the mortgage market, by tweaking “safe harbor” and “qualified mortgage” provisions in ways that would allow small lenders to sell high-cost, adjustable-rate mortgages and avoid accountability in court for wrongful foreclosures. Just because a no-documentation or interest-only mortgage comes from a community bank doesn’t make it a safe financial product.

The bill also eliminates the need for appraisals in certain rural areas, creating incentives to cheat homebuyers; exempts sellers of manufactured homes like trailers from mortgage rules, which benefits the dominant player in that space, Warren Buffett’s conglomerateBerkshire Hathaway; and restricts data collection about mortgage lending that could help regulators spot the next crisis.

Finally, there’s no “consumer protection” worthy of the name in the bill. The tentpole consumer piece is a watered-down version of a recent billfrom Warren that would offer consumers stung by data breaches at credit reporting agencies like Equifax one free credit freeze and unfreeze every year. Warren’s bill would have made all credit freezes free. Even Equifax eventually offered a lifetime credit freeze, more than the authors of S.2155. And the measure preempts states from giving more generous terms to its citizens.