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Modi is truly to blame for India’s economic slowdown

Swati Chaturvedi in New Delhi

It is a pity that poor Arun Jaitley is being savaged by the BJP for the disastrous handling of the economy. It’s quite unfair since Jaitley ostensibly drives economic policy but key economic decisions, such as demonetisation, have been the remit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, in a well-reasoned piece in the Indian Express, has attacked Jaitley but stopped well short of naming the main culprit, Modi. Demonetisation was a body blow to the economy and a Modi-made disaster. Authoritative sources have confirmed to me that Jaitley and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Urijit Patel were told of the decision as a formality and asked to sign on the dotted line.

Why blame Jeitley
In one fell swoop, Modi destroyed both the autonomy that the RBI had zealously guarded for 70 years, and its global reputation. This came after the globally-renowned economist, Raghuram Rajan, was forced to exit as RBI govenor in the wake of daily attacks on him from BJP MP Subramanian Swamy, who even said Rajan was “not mentally fully Indian”.
Interestingly, Swamy, who has a large dedicated “Swamy Army” on Twitter, is now launching daily attacks on the hapless Jaitley’s handling of the economy. Is Jaitley, who has no base of his own after losing the Amritsar election even during the Modi wave, a soft target to ensure that the economic blowback now hurting every citizen bounces off of the teflon-coated ‘pradhan sevak’? Are Swamy and Sinha upping the ante to ensure that Modi is shielded as the growth rate collapses?
Significantly, the last time Sinha had attacked the government he had gone all out against Modi. He had said after the Bihar assembly elections result that Modi would be “consigned to dust”. The only person consigned anywhere was his son Jayant Sinha, who was forced to give up his plum assignment as junior minister of finance for a parking slot at the civil aviation ministry. This time around, the senior Sinha has been careful. He has not even mentioned Modi. Just made Jaitley the fall guy.
The constitution of the five-member Economic Advisory Council headed by Bibek Debroy is also an attempt at window dressing to create more fall guys to spread the blame for the economic mess and provide protection to Modi. If the NITI Aayog is any example, it’s just a clueless advisory body which Modi prefers to ignore. And what of the RBI’s monetary policy committee, whose remit is macroeconomic policy?  Will it be asked to go on holiday as a new set of toothless advisors take over?

Modi trusts own officials
Ideally, Jaitley, who is trying to steer the complex goods and services tax, which has added innumerable layers of procedures to the taxation process and made it more complex, virtually destroying small and medium businesses, would have preferred demonetisation to follow the implementation of the GST. However, just like in most things, he was not given a choice by Modi.
Jaitley is now carrying the can for the twin blows to the economy.
Says a senior BJP leader, “Jaitley’s only constituency is the media.  He’s called ‘bureau chief’ even within the BJP and is hated by rivals for getting them bad press. He’s the easiest target to blame. He can only hit back with media plants as he has zero base. Even Hasmukh Adhia, a Gujarat cadre IAS official and the incumbent revenue secretary, has a direct line to the PMO and barely listens to Jaitley.” A senior leader revealed that even in Jaitley’s first full budget in 2015, nearly 70% of the input came from the PMO and Modi’s trusted officials.
What is now being seen as a cruel joke – the loan waiver promised by Modi to win the Uttar Pradesh elections – was also not something that Jaitley had much to do with. It’s a different story that farmers in Uttar Pradesh facing huge agrarian distress are getting relief of Re 1, in some cases with a photograph of Modi and UP chief minister Adityanath affixed to the letter giving them this good news. It is debatable how much Modi is given to seeking and listening to advice.  In any case, he prefers inputs from trusted officials rather than members of his extremely silent and decorative cabinet. Take the case of the Mudra Bank, which both Modi and Amit Shah perceive as an electoral asset. Sources confirm that it was neither Jaitley’s idea nor is he being trusted with implementation.

Modi sails while economy sinks
With Jaitley’s health difficulties and the fact that he was in charge of multiple ministries including defence till recently, one wonders how much focus he can give the onerous finance ministry.
Swamy, who launches daily attacks on Jaitley via his tweets, had told me earlier in an interview that his name had been finalised to contest the New Delhi seat and he was even told about it by the then Delhi BJP chief Harsh Vardhan – only to have been struck off at Jaitley’s behest. He also holds Jaitley responsible for his lack of a cabinet berth. Last week, Swamy said in a video interview to a news website that Jaitley’s knowledge of economics can be accommodated on the back of a postage stamp. That’s the same comment P. Chidambaram had made in early 2014 about Modi’s knowledge of economics.
Is it a coincidence that when the PMO wanted Rajan out, the chosen weapon was Swamy, who is now conveniently targeting Jaitley? Even earlier, former BJP leader Arun Shourie had pulled no punches in his attack on Jaitley’s handling of the economy, although Shourie has also criticised Modi for the same reasons. Lately even S. Gurumurthy, who advises the prime minister on key economic policy, said the economy was sinking and business was unable to absorb the combined shock of demonetisation and the GST.
So as the economy sinks, Modi sails above the fray. A story in Business Standard said that “if there are any regulatory hurdles the market players concerned prefer to approach the PMO rather then knock on the doors of the finance ministry as they would have done earlier.” The story cited a figure of “20 instances in the past six months where the PMO has stepped in”.
Even as Modi projects welfare schemes in order to manage perception in a sea of terrible economic growth data, it seems that Man Friday Jaitley is the designated fall guy. Jaitley can be blamed for many things, but to hold him solely responsible for the transformation of India from the fastest growing economy in the world to just another slow-growth data point seems a little unfair.

Swati Chaturvedi is a journalist and author based in Delhi. She tweets at @bainjal. [The Wire]

Comment

Swati Chaturvedi in New Delhi

It is a pity that poor Arun Jaitley is being savaged by the BJP for the disastrous handling of the economy. It’s quite unfair since Jaitley ostensibly drives economic policy but key economic decisions, such as demonetisation, have been the remit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, in a well-reasoned piece in the Indian Express, has attacked Jaitley but stopped well short of naming the main culprit, Modi. Demonetisation was a body blow to the economy and a Modi-made disaster. Authoritative sources have confirmed to me that Jaitley and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Urijit Patel were told of the decision as a formality and asked to sign on the dotted line.

Why blame Jeitley
In one fell swoop, Modi destroyed both the autonomy that the RBI had zealously guarded for 70 years, and its global reputation. This came after the globally-renowned economist, Raghuram Rajan, was forced to exit as RBI govenor in the wake of daily attacks on him from BJP MP Subramanian Swamy, who even said Rajan was “not mentally fully Indian”.
Interestingly, Swamy, who has a large dedicated “Swamy Army” on Twitter, is now launching daily attacks on the hapless Jaitley’s handling of the economy. Is Jaitley, who has no base of his own after losing the Amritsar election even during the Modi wave, a soft target to ensure that the economic blowback now hurting every citizen bounces off of the teflon-coated ‘pradhan sevak’? Are Swamy and Sinha upping the ante to ensure that Modi is shielded as the growth rate collapses?
Significantly, the last time Sinha had attacked the government he had gone all out against Modi. He had said after the Bihar assembly elections result that Modi would be “consigned to dust”. The only person consigned anywhere was his son Jayant Sinha, who was forced to give up his plum assignment as junior minister of finance for a parking slot at the civil aviation ministry. This time around, the senior Sinha has been careful. He has not even mentioned Modi. Just made Jaitley the fall guy.
The constitution of the five-member Economic Advisory Council headed by Bibek Debroy is also an attempt at window dressing to create more fall guys to spread the blame for the economic mess and provide protection to Modi. If the NITI Aayog is any example, it’s just a clueless advisory body which Modi prefers to ignore. And what of the RBI’s monetary policy committee, whose remit is macroeconomic policy?  Will it be asked to go on holiday as a new set of toothless advisors take over?

Modi trusts own officials
Ideally, Jaitley, who is trying to steer the complex goods and services tax, which has added innumerable layers of procedures to the taxation process and made it more complex, virtually destroying small and medium businesses, would have preferred demonetisation to follow the implementation of the GST. However, just like in most things, he was not given a choice by Modi.
Jaitley is now carrying the can for the twin blows to the economy.
Says a senior BJP leader, “Jaitley’s only constituency is the media.  He’s called ‘bureau chief’ even within the BJP and is hated by rivals for getting them bad press. He’s the easiest target to blame. He can only hit back with media plants as he has zero base. Even Hasmukh Adhia, a Gujarat cadre IAS official and the incumbent revenue secretary, has a direct line to the PMO and barely listens to Jaitley.” A senior leader revealed that even in Jaitley’s first full budget in 2015, nearly 70% of the input came from the PMO and Modi’s trusted officials.
What is now being seen as a cruel joke – the loan waiver promised by Modi to win the Uttar Pradesh elections – was also not something that Jaitley had much to do with. It’s a different story that farmers in Uttar Pradesh facing huge agrarian distress are getting relief of Re 1, in some cases with a photograph of Modi and UP chief minister Adityanath affixed to the letter giving them this good news. It is debatable how much Modi is given to seeking and listening to advice.  In any case, he prefers inputs from trusted officials rather than members of his extremely silent and decorative cabinet. Take the case of the Mudra Bank, which both Modi and Amit Shah perceive as an electoral asset. Sources confirm that it was neither Jaitley’s idea nor is he being trusted with implementation.

Modi sails while economy sinks
With Jaitley’s health difficulties and the fact that he was in charge of multiple ministries including defence till recently, one wonders how much focus he can give the onerous finance ministry.
Swamy, who launches daily attacks on Jaitley via his tweets, had told me earlier in an interview that his name had been finalised to contest the New Delhi seat and he was even told about it by the then Delhi BJP chief Harsh Vardhan – only to have been struck off at Jaitley’s behest. He also holds Jaitley responsible for his lack of a cabinet berth. Last week, Swamy said in a video interview to a news website that Jaitley’s knowledge of economics can be accommodated on the back of a postage stamp. That’s the same comment P. Chidambaram had made in early 2014 about Modi’s knowledge of economics.
Is it a coincidence that when the PMO wanted Rajan out, the chosen weapon was Swamy, who is now conveniently targeting Jaitley? Even earlier, former BJP leader Arun Shourie had pulled no punches in his attack on Jaitley’s handling of the economy, although Shourie has also criticised Modi for the same reasons. Lately even S. Gurumurthy, who advises the prime minister on key economic policy, said the economy was sinking and business was unable to absorb the combined shock of demonetisation and the GST.
So as the economy sinks, Modi sails above the fray. A story in Business Standard said that “if there are any regulatory hurdles the market players concerned prefer to approach the PMO rather then knock on the doors of the finance ministry as they would have done earlier.” The story cited a figure of “20 instances in the past six months where the PMO has stepped in”.
Even as Modi projects welfare schemes in order to manage perception in a sea of terrible economic growth data, it seems that Man Friday Jaitley is the designated fall guy. Jaitley can be blamed for many things, but to hold him solely responsible for the transformation of India from the fastest growing economy in the world to just another slow-growth data point seems a little unfair.

Swati Chaturvedi is a journalist and author based in Delhi. She tweets at @bainjal. [The Wire]


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Climate catastrophe started in high mountains of Asia

T.V. Padma
The Wire

Glaciers in the high mountains of Asia, including the Himalaya, are in danger of melting due to global warming. Climate scientists have already established this much. But exactly how much area of ice is likely to be lost has not yet been quantified – until now. New research estimates that 28-43% of the glacier mass will be lost by the end of the century, with conservative projections of limiting global warming to 1.5º C over pre-industrial levels.
A team of scientists from Utrecht University and a research organisation named FutureWater, both in the Netherlands, and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Nepal, have reported that a global temperature rise of 1.5º C over pre-industrial levels will lead to a warming of about 2º C in the high mountains of Asia (HMA).

HMA warming faster
Their estimates are based on detailed computer modelling, and factored in one of the four possible climate futures described by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The scenarios –
RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6 and RCP8 – are based on how much greenhouse gases are likely to be emitted in the future and how the gases move around in time. (RCP stands for representative concentration pathway.)
Their report, published in the journal Nature, says that “the 1.5° C goal is extremely ambitious and is projected by only a small number of climate models of the conservative IPCC’s RCP2.6 ensemble.”
Projections for the other three RCPs also reveal “that much of the glacier ice is likely to disappear”, with projected mass losses ranging from 42% to 69% depending on the pathway. “These projections have potentially serious consequences for regional water management and mountain communities,” the report cautions.
“Glaciers in the high mountains of Asia (HMA) make a substantial contribution to the water supply of millions of people, and they are retreating and losing mass as a result of anthropogenic climate change at similar rates to those seen elsewhere,” it adds.
The fundamental form of the problem is this: The glacierised areas of the HMA are consistently warming at much higher rates than the global average, and the difference between global and HMA temperature rises is climbing. That is, the HMA are warming faster the more the world warms.
The scientists made projections for the future using a model they calibrated for past conditions using satellite-based observations of glacier mass balance (the difference between accumulation and melting of glacier ice). Then, they validated their findings with independent datasets on glacier retreat rates and the few field observations. They also analysed uncertainty in climate models and in the model’s parameters.

Catastrophic changes likely
Apart from revealing that the HMA are warming faster, “we show that even if the world meets this extremely ambitious target, then 36% of the ice volume will be lost by 2100,” Walter Immerzeel, lead author and associate professor at the department of physical geography at Utrecht University, explained to The Wire.
“However, more realistic scenarios show an ice loss between 49% and 64%. Finally we show that there is great variation in the region in glacier response to climate change, which is caused by differences in glacier characteristics and projected local climate change.”
Immerzeel says that understanding how glaciers ‘evolve’ in a world warmer by 1.5º C is important – “but for the millions depending on the water from Asia’s mountains, other parts of the water cycle are also of great importance, such as changes in snowmelt and monsoon dynamics.”
He added that he and his team will next “focus on these parts of the water cycle, and in particular focus on understanding extreme events.  The recent events have shown how much damage can be caused by this and how important it is to understand the drivers of those extremes.”
Immerzeel’s team also factored in the impact of debris deposited by mountain erosion on glacier melt. The HMA have 95,537 glaciers with a total glacier area of 97,605 sq. km. Many of its parts, especially in the low-lying glacier tongues, are covered by a thick layer of debris left behind by erosion. This influences the glaciers’ climate sensitivity. A thin layer of debris accelerates melt, whereas a debris layer thicker than a few centimetres suppresses melt because it insulates the underlying ice.
“Our results show that about 11% of the glacier area in HMA is covered with debris, with the largest relative debris-cover in the Hindu Kush (19% of the regional glacier area),” the report says.

Glacial ice melting faster
The latest findings are in the same vein of previous ones by researchers from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, reported in 2014. The scientists studied the impact of future climate change on the glaciers in the Karakoram and Himalaya (KH). And they estimated the glacial mass balance: the entire KH region is losing mass, between 5.6 and 7.6 billion tonnes each year, climbing to about 33-37 giga tonnes per year by the 2080s, under a scenario of high emissions of global warming gases. However, even a low-emission scenario will not be easy to deal with: the glacial mass loss goes up to 10-14 giga tonnes each year by the 2080s.
They also found that 10% to 27% of the glaciers could face ‘eventual disappearance’ by the end of the century under RCP2.6 and RCP8.5 respectively, underscoring the threat to water resources under high-emission scenarios.
Anil Kulkarni, a distinguished visiting scientist at the Divecha Centre for Climate Change at IISc, explained that after 2014, scientists have found methods to estimate change in glacier ice-area based on glacier mass loss. “The new findings show how much area will be lost,” – and that they concur with previous reports on estimates on glacier mass balance.

Comment

T.V. Padma
The Wire

Glaciers in the high mountains of Asia, including the Himalaya, are in danger of melting due to global warming. Climate scientists have already established this much. But exactly how much area of ice is likely to be lost has not yet been quantified – until now. New research estimates that 28-43% of the glacier mass will be lost by the end of the century, with conservative projections of limiting global warming to 1.5º C over pre-industrial levels.
A team of scientists from Utrecht University and a research organisation named FutureWater, both in the Netherlands, and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Nepal, have reported that a global temperature rise of 1.5º C over pre-industrial levels will lead to a warming of about 2º C in the high mountains of Asia (HMA).

HMA warming faster
Their estimates are based on detailed computer modelling, and factored in one of the four possible climate futures described by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The scenarios –
RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6 and RCP8 – are based on how much greenhouse gases are likely to be emitted in the future and how the gases move around in time. (RCP stands for representative concentration pathway.)
Their report, published in the journal Nature, says that “the 1.5° C goal is extremely ambitious and is projected by only a small number of climate models of the conservative IPCC’s RCP2.6 ensemble.”
Projections for the other three RCPs also reveal “that much of the glacier ice is likely to disappear”, with projected mass losses ranging from 42% to 69% depending on the pathway. “These projections have potentially serious consequences for regional water management and mountain communities,” the report cautions.
“Glaciers in the high mountains of Asia (HMA) make a substantial contribution to the water supply of millions of people, and they are retreating and losing mass as a result of anthropogenic climate change at similar rates to those seen elsewhere,” it adds.
The fundamental form of the problem is this: The glacierised areas of the HMA are consistently warming at much higher rates than the global average, and the difference between global and HMA temperature rises is climbing. That is, the HMA are warming faster the more the world warms.
The scientists made projections for the future using a model they calibrated for past conditions using satellite-based observations of glacier mass balance (the difference between accumulation and melting of glacier ice). Then, they validated their findings with independent datasets on glacier retreat rates and the few field observations. They also analysed uncertainty in climate models and in the model’s parameters.

Catastrophic changes likely
Apart from revealing that the HMA are warming faster, “we show that even if the world meets this extremely ambitious target, then 36% of the ice volume will be lost by 2100,” Walter Immerzeel, lead author and associate professor at the department of physical geography at Utrecht University, explained to The Wire.
“However, more realistic scenarios show an ice loss between 49% and 64%. Finally we show that there is great variation in the region in glacier response to climate change, which is caused by differences in glacier characteristics and projected local climate change.”
Immerzeel says that understanding how glaciers ‘evolve’ in a world warmer by 1.5º C is important – “but for the millions depending on the water from Asia’s mountains, other parts of the water cycle are also of great importance, such as changes in snowmelt and monsoon dynamics.”
He added that he and his team will next “focus on these parts of the water cycle, and in particular focus on understanding extreme events.  The recent events have shown how much damage can be caused by this and how important it is to understand the drivers of those extremes.”
Immerzeel’s team also factored in the impact of debris deposited by mountain erosion on glacier melt. The HMA have 95,537 glaciers with a total glacier area of 97,605 sq. km. Many of its parts, especially in the low-lying glacier tongues, are covered by a thick layer of debris left behind by erosion. This influences the glaciers’ climate sensitivity. A thin layer of debris accelerates melt, whereas a debris layer thicker than a few centimetres suppresses melt because it insulates the underlying ice.
“Our results show that about 11% of the glacier area in HMA is covered with debris, with the largest relative debris-cover in the Hindu Kush (19% of the regional glacier area),” the report says.

Glacial ice melting faster
The latest findings are in the same vein of previous ones by researchers from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, reported in 2014. The scientists studied the impact of future climate change on the glaciers in the Karakoram and Himalaya (KH). And they estimated the glacial mass balance: the entire KH region is losing mass, between 5.6 and 7.6 billion tonnes each year, climbing to about 33-37 giga tonnes per year by the 2080s, under a scenario of high emissions of global warming gases. However, even a low-emission scenario will not be easy to deal with: the glacial mass loss goes up to 10-14 giga tonnes each year by the 2080s.
They also found that 10% to 27% of the glaciers could face ‘eventual disappearance’ by the end of the century under RCP2.6 and RCP8.5 respectively, underscoring the threat to water resources under high-emission scenarios.
Anil Kulkarni, a distinguished visiting scientist at the Divecha Centre for Climate Change at IISc, explained that after 2014, scientists have found methods to estimate change in glacier ice-area based on glacier mass loss. “The new findings show how much area will be lost,” – and that they concur with previous reports on estimates on glacier mass balance.


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World War Three is being waged in cyberspace

Dr. Mike Sosteric

My introduction to advanced communication technology (i.e. the Internet and World Wide Web) came in 1999.
Having grown up in the two-channel universe of the 1960s and ‘70s, I was agog at the power it represented. The technology was nascent at that time — not many web pages yet existed — but I could still see the potential for good. Here was a technology that I felt could really save the world.
I am not ashamed to say that when I first saw the Web, I was filled with schoolboy naivete. I wanted to help, so I did. I created the first electronic sociology journal, did a few more things after that, and with a massive anticipatory grin, watched and waited for utopia.

Google’s manipulation
Unfortunately, utopia didn’t emerge. In fact, my naive grin soon melted away.
The melting began when I learned that researchers at Cornell University, working without ethical oversight and possibly in collusion with the U.S. Department of Defense, were learning how to use Facebook, a technology we keep by our beds, to manipulate mass emotion.
The grin melted even further when I saw fellow scientists had learned to use search engines to manipulate political preference.
The grin turned to an outright frown when I read in that same study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a multidisciplinary scientific journal, that moderate Republicans, moderate libertarians, male Republicans and the “deplorable” poor — President Donald Trump’s base — were the most susceptible to manipulation.
I became a little worried when the scholars who wrote the study suggested that Google, by manipulating its algorithms, might already have decided a foreign election, in India in 2014, in favour of a right-wing candidate.
Then there was the historic 2016 election of Trump. That’s when my smile turned to a grimace. During that election campaign, Trump called out to Russia to hack the election, which they did. Spewing hundreds of thousands of dollars of fake ads into Facebook, Twitter and probably Google, they attacked America full-on. They didn’t do it with bullets and bombs; they did it with bits and with bytes, and with the help of American CEOs and American technology.
It was certainly an attack, and there were definitely explosions, but they were in cyberspace. Desensitized by Hollywood violence, we are not paying attention to the attack on our minds.
You can argue about whether the Russian attacks were effective, or puzzle if Trump and his family are traitors, but the fact remains — we are under attack, and if something isn’t done, it’s going to get worse.

Annual hacking event
You don’t have to be a prophet to see what’s coming. The battle plan is in plain sight. In the midst of Cyber Security Awareness Month, it’s time to open our eyes.
Consider the Russian company Positive Technologies. This firm holds an annual event known as PHDays, or “Positive Hack” days. At this event, which started back in 2011, the world’s best and brightest hackers get together to train.
It doesn’t sound too threatening until you learn about “The Standoff.” The Standoff is a military hacking competition with a blatant military goal: Take out a city’s telecom, heat, power, oil, and rail infrastructures. The city’s citizens are even offered up as a resource for the hackers. They are easy to exploit, says the rule book. They use “smart gadgets every day.” “They are vulnerable to social engineering.” They are “prepared to share [their] secrets.”
Sitting back in my chair with a thump, I see it clearly.
There’s a global war going on, and a global arms race to go with it.  The arms race is not a race for physical weapons, it is a race to develop cyber-weapons of psychological, emotional, financial and infrastructure attack. By now, the arms race is so far advanced that it makes the leaflet campaigns of the Second World War and the U.S.  government’s Operation Cornflake look like toddler’s play.
ISIS and the far-right are using Twitter and other online networks to radicalize our youth, bringing the war to our streets. Russian cyber-marines engage in massive cyber-attacks, going so far as to target our voting machines.
Just recently, the sensitive financial data of almost half the U.S.  population was stolen by state-sponsored professionals. There is even, as is becoming increasingly clear as the Mueller investigation into Trump’s Russia connections unfolds, a “highly coordinated disinformation campaign” — a propaganda campaign, aimed at destabilizing American Society.

Wake up & realize we’re at war
If the horrific recent gun violence in Las Vagas, exploding racial tensions and political polarization of Western democracies are any indication, destabilization is proceeding apace.
So what do we make of this?
No. 1: Realize that global war has been declared. It’s a little hard to pin down who fired the first shot right now, but the aggressors are active and engaged.
No. 2: Understand we are all under attack, even Republicans, perhaps especially Republicans, and the poor. There may be short-term financial gain for those who benefit from the destabilization, but only a fool would think the enemy is our best friend.
Finally, if you are a private citizen, you need to start taking the cyber threat seriously. Combatants are trained to see you as easy-to-manipulate resources. You are being viciously manipulated through social media.
Your financial data is stolen and could easily be used against you.  Cyber-marines are training to take out the life-giving infrastructure of your cities. Are government and corporate leaders blithely unaware, or engaged in traitorous collusion? Only time will tell.
Until then, wake up, gather your loved ones, lock down your social media, and batten the hatches — the war for your mind has begun.

The writer is an Associate Professor, Sociology, Athabasca University [The Conversation]

Comment

Dr. Mike Sosteric

My introduction to advanced communication technology (i.e. the Internet and World Wide Web) came in 1999.
Having grown up in the two-channel universe of the 1960s and ‘70s, I was agog at the power it represented. The technology was nascent at that time — not many web pages yet existed — but I could still see the potential for good. Here was a technology that I felt could really save the world.
I am not ashamed to say that when I first saw the Web, I was filled with schoolboy naivete. I wanted to help, so I did. I created the first electronic sociology journal, did a few more things after that, and with a massive anticipatory grin, watched and waited for utopia.

Google’s manipulation
Unfortunately, utopia didn’t emerge. In fact, my naive grin soon melted away.
The melting began when I learned that researchers at Cornell University, working without ethical oversight and possibly in collusion with the U.S. Department of Defense, were learning how to use Facebook, a technology we keep by our beds, to manipulate mass emotion.
The grin melted even further when I saw fellow scientists had learned to use search engines to manipulate political preference.
The grin turned to an outright frown when I read in that same study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a multidisciplinary scientific journal, that moderate Republicans, moderate libertarians, male Republicans and the “deplorable” poor — President Donald Trump’s base — were the most susceptible to manipulation.
I became a little worried when the scholars who wrote the study suggested that Google, by manipulating its algorithms, might already have decided a foreign election, in India in 2014, in favour of a right-wing candidate.
Then there was the historic 2016 election of Trump. That’s when my smile turned to a grimace. During that election campaign, Trump called out to Russia to hack the election, which they did. Spewing hundreds of thousands of dollars of fake ads into Facebook, Twitter and probably Google, they attacked America full-on. They didn’t do it with bullets and bombs; they did it with bits and with bytes, and with the help of American CEOs and American technology.
It was certainly an attack, and there were definitely explosions, but they were in cyberspace. Desensitized by Hollywood violence, we are not paying attention to the attack on our minds.
You can argue about whether the Russian attacks were effective, or puzzle if Trump and his family are traitors, but the fact remains — we are under attack, and if something isn’t done, it’s going to get worse.

Annual hacking event
You don’t have to be a prophet to see what’s coming. The battle plan is in plain sight. In the midst of Cyber Security Awareness Month, it’s time to open our eyes.
Consider the Russian company Positive Technologies. This firm holds an annual event known as PHDays, or “Positive Hack” days. At this event, which started back in 2011, the world’s best and brightest hackers get together to train.
It doesn’t sound too threatening until you learn about “The Standoff.” The Standoff is a military hacking competition with a blatant military goal: Take out a city’s telecom, heat, power, oil, and rail infrastructures. The city’s citizens are even offered up as a resource for the hackers. They are easy to exploit, says the rule book. They use “smart gadgets every day.” “They are vulnerable to social engineering.” They are “prepared to share [their] secrets.”
Sitting back in my chair with a thump, I see it clearly.
There’s a global war going on, and a global arms race to go with it.  The arms race is not a race for physical weapons, it is a race to develop cyber-weapons of psychological, emotional, financial and infrastructure attack. By now, the arms race is so far advanced that it makes the leaflet campaigns of the Second World War and the U.S.  government’s Operation Cornflake look like toddler’s play.
ISIS and the far-right are using Twitter and other online networks to radicalize our youth, bringing the war to our streets. Russian cyber-marines engage in massive cyber-attacks, going so far as to target our voting machines.
Just recently, the sensitive financial data of almost half the U.S.  population was stolen by state-sponsored professionals. There is even, as is becoming increasingly clear as the Mueller investigation into Trump’s Russia connections unfolds, a “highly coordinated disinformation campaign” — a propaganda campaign, aimed at destabilizing American Society.

Wake up & realize we’re at war
If the horrific recent gun violence in Las Vagas, exploding racial tensions and political polarization of Western democracies are any indication, destabilization is proceeding apace.
So what do we make of this?
No. 1: Realize that global war has been declared. It’s a little hard to pin down who fired the first shot right now, but the aggressors are active and engaged.
No. 2: Understand we are all under attack, even Republicans, perhaps especially Republicans, and the poor. There may be short-term financial gain for those who benefit from the destabilization, but only a fool would think the enemy is our best friend.
Finally, if you are a private citizen, you need to start taking the cyber threat seriously. Combatants are trained to see you as easy-to-manipulate resources. You are being viciously manipulated through social media.
Your financial data is stolen and could easily be used against you.  Cyber-marines are training to take out the life-giving infrastructure of your cities. Are government and corporate leaders blithely unaware, or engaged in traitorous collusion? Only time will tell.
Until then, wake up, gather your loved ones, lock down your social media, and batten the hatches — the war for your mind has begun.

The writer is an Associate Professor, Sociology, Athabasca University [The Conversation]


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