Article 43

 

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Welcome

Welcome to article43.com - a memorial to the layed off workers of (PRE SBC MERGER) AT&T, and the disappearing MIDDLE CLASS citizens of America.  It is NOT endorsed or affiliated with AT&T or the CWA in any way.

This sticky post was written the day we appeared on the internet in 2004.

In addition to INFORMATION, resources and opinion for former AT&T workers DEALING WITH the EFFECTS OF LAYOFF and looking for meaningful employment, some articles here are meant to bring into awareness the LARGER PICTURE of corporate dominance of the UNITED STATES’ political and economic policies which brazenly DISREGARDS, disrespects and EXPLOITS worker, citizen and HUMAN RIGHTS under masks like FREE TRADE and the PATRIOT ACT - resulting in a return to a society of very rich and very poor dominated by a few very rich and powerful - whose voices are anything but - for the people. If left UNCHALLENGED, the self-serving interests of those in control may result in the end of DEMOCRACY, the end of the middle class, irreversible ENVIRONMENTAL damage to the planet, and widespread global poverty brought on by exploitation and supression of the voices of common people EVERYWHERE, while the United States turns into a REINCARNATION of the ROMAN EMPIRE.  Author Thom Hartmann shares some history and outlines some basic steps to return our country to “The People” in his two articles TEN STEPS TO RETURN TO DEMOCRACY and SAVING THE MIDDLE CLASS. I support CERNIG’S idea for a new POLITICAL MOVEMENT - if not a revolution to cleanse our country of the filth ruling it - as we EVOLVE into a GLOBAL community - assuming we learn the THE LESSONS OF OUR TIME and don’t DESTROY CIVILIZATION first.

Everything here can be viewed anonymously.  Inserting or commenting on articles requires a free user account (for former AT&T employees with a real, non throw-away, email address.) Requests to the new user registration page are redirected to BLOGGED DOT COM’S site because most new signups I get are from COMMENT SPAMMERS and their ilk, so if you want to contribute, contact me through email, phone, or some other way.

There’s no third-party scripts here like privacy-eroding WEB COUNTERS, hidden datamining widgets like Pay-Pal donation boxes, or AMAZON DOT COM tracking stuff.  The RSS feeds are pulled by the server, and have no relation to anything you may be doing here.  Standard Apache WEB LOGS of info like IP, and pages visited are rotated every few days, and used internally to check the web server’s performance.  Logs of suspicious activity may be shared with law enforcement, or other ISPs, to deal with troublemakers.  Nothing here is for sale, and donations are not solicited.

If you get an email that claims to be from somebody here that’s anything but a request to post your article, or report suspicious activity (like logs sent to an ISP to report an attack) - it’s SPAM. I do not, and will not - ever - join the junk mail sender community. There are no mechanisms to prevent anyone from forging anyone elses email address in a “from” or “reply-to” mail header. For those of us whose email addresses are fraudently used, the best we can do is filter out NDR REPORTS.

Per U.S.C. COPYRIGHT LAW - TITLE 17, SECTION 107, this not-for-profit site may reproduce copyrighted material not specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such articles will either have a web link to the source, home page, and/or show credit to the author.  If yours is here and you have a problem with that, send me an EMAIL, and I’ll take it off. Stuff I wrote carries a CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE permitting non-commercial sharing. In addition, this site’s owner forbids insertion and injecting data of any kind - especially advertisements - into ours by any person or entity.  Should you see a commercial ad that looks like it’s from here, please report it by sending me a tcpdump and/or screenshot in an EMAIL, then READ UP about how the PARTNERING OF INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS and companies like NEBUAD are DESTROYING INTERNET PRIVACY

Resumes of layed off AT&T workers are posted for free HERE.

Information on the Pension Class Action Lawsuit against AT&T is HERE.  More pension-related articles are HERE.

Links to some Telecom companies’ career pages are HERE.

Click HERE to learn a little about Article 43 and why I loathe the CWA.
Click HERE or HERE to learn what the CWA did when given a chance to do the right thing.
Click HERE for a glimpse of undemocratic and hypocritical CWA practices.
Click HERE for an article on Corporate Unionism.
Click HERE for an article of AFL-CIO’s undemocratic history.

If you’re looking for telco nostalgia, you won’t find it here.  Check out THE CENTRAL OFFICE, BELL SYSTEM MEMORIAL, MUSEUM OF COMMUNICATIONS, TELEPHONE TRIBUTE, and THE READING WORKS websites instead.

This site can disappear anytime if I run out of money to pay for luxuries like food, health care, or internet service.

Discernment of truth is left to the reader - whose encouraged to seek as much information as possible, from as many different sources as possible - and pass them through his/her own filters - before believing anything.

...the Devil is just one man with a plan, but evil, true evil, is a collaboration of men…
- Fox Mulder, X Files

No matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth.
- John F. Kennedy

Today my country, your country and the Earth face a corporate holocaust against human and Earthly rights. I call their efforts a holocaust because when giant corporations wield human rights backed by constitutions and the law (and therefore enforced by police, the courts, and armed forces) and sanctioned by cultural norms, the rights of people, other species and the Earth are annihilated.
- Richard L. Grossman

Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.
- Albert Einstein

He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust.
- Aquinas

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
- Bishop Desmond Tutu

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
- Martin Luther King Jr

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
- Benjamin Franklin

If we do not hang together, we will surely hang separately.
- Benjamin Franklin

We must be prepared to make heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace that we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war.
- Albert Einstein

Solidarity has always been key to political and economic advance by working families, and it is key to mastering the politics of globalization.
- Thomas Palley

Update 8/11/07 - As we head into the next depression, fueled by selfish corporate greed, and a corrupt, SOCIOPATHIC US government, MIKE WHITNEY has a solution that makes a lot of sense to me:

The impending credit crisis cant be avoided, but it could be mitigated by taking radical steps to soften the blow. Emergency changes to the federal tax code could put more money in the hands of maxed-out consumers and keep the economy sputtering along while efforts are made to curtail the ruinous trade deficit. We should eliminate the Social Security tax for any couple making under $60, 000 per year and restore the 1953 tax-brackets for Americans highest earners so that the upper 1%-- who have benefited the most from the years of prosperity---will be required to pay 93% of all earnings above the first $1 million income. At the same time, corporate profits should be taxed at a flat 35%, while capital gains should be locked in at 35%. No loopholes. No exceptions.

Congress should initiate a program of incentives for reopening American factories and provide generous sufbsidies to rebuild US manufacturing. The emphasis should be on reestablishing a competitive market for US exports while developing the new technologies which will address the imminent problems of environmental degradation, global warming, peak oil, overpopulation, resource scarcity, disease and food production. Off-shoring of American jobs should be penalized by tariffs levied against the offending industries.

The oil and natural gas industries should be nationalized with the profits earmarked for vocational training, free college tuition, universal health care and improvements to then nations infrastructure.

Posted by Admin on 09/05/04 •

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Rigged Economy

image: dying america

The American Economy Is Rigged
And what we can do about it

By Joseph E. Stiglitz
Scientific American
November 2018 Issue

Americans are used to thinking that their nation is special. In many ways, it is: the U.S. has by far the most Nobel Prize winners, the largest defense expenditures (almost equal to the next 10 or so countries put together) and the most billionaires (twice as many as China, the closest competitor). But some examples of American Exceptionalism should not make us proud. By most accounts, the U.S. has the highest level of economic inequality among developed countries. It has the world’s greatest per capita health expenditures yet the lowest life expectancy among comparable countries. It is also one of a few developed countries jostling for the dubious distinction of having the lowest measures of equality of opportunity.

The notion of the American Dream - that, unlike old Europe, we are a land of opportunity - is part of our essence. Yet the numbers say otherwise. The life prospects of a young American DEPEND MORE on the income and education of his or her parents than in almost any other advanced country. When poor-boy-makes-good anecdotes get passed around in the media, that is precisely because such stories are so rare.

Things appear to be getting worse, partly as a result of forces, such as technology and globalization, that seem beyond our control, but most disturbingly because of those within our command. It is not the laws of nature that have led to this dire situation: it is the laws of humankind. Markets do not exist in a vacuum: they are shaped by rules and regulations, which can be designed to favor one group over another. President Donald Trump was right in saying that the system is riggedby those in the inherited plutocracy of which he himself is a member. And he is making it much, much worse.

America has long outdone others in its level of inequality, but in the past 40 years it has reached new heights. Whereas the income share of the top 0.1 percent has more than quadrupled and that of the top 1 percent has almost doubled, that of the bottom 90 percent has declined. Wages at the bottom, adjusted for inflation, are about the same as they were some 60 years ago! In fact, for those with a high school education or less, incomes have fallen over recent decades. Males have been particularly hard hit, as the U.S. has moved away from manufacturing industries into an economy based on services.

Deaths of Despair

Wealth is even less equally distributed, with just three Americans having as much as the bottom 50 percent - testimony to how much money there is at the top and how little there is at the bottom. Families in the bottom 50 percent hardly have the cash reserves to meet an emergency. Newspapers are replete with stories of those for whom the breakdown of a car or an illness starts a downward spiral from which they never recover.

In significant part because of high inequality [see “The Health-Wealth Gap,” by Robert M. Sapolsky], U.S. life expectancy, exceptionally low to begin with, is experiencing sustained declines. This in spite of the marvels of medical science, many advances of which occur right here in America and which are made readily available to the rich. Economist Ann Case and 2015 Nobel laureate in economics Angus Deaton describe one of the main causes of rising morbidity - the increase in alcoholism, drug overdoses and SUICIDES - as DEATHS OF DESPAIR by those who have GIVEN UP HOPE.

image: fading american dream

Defenders of America’s inequality have a pat explanation. They refer to the workings of a competitive market, where the laws of supply and demand determine wages, prices and even interest rates - a mechanical system, much like that describing the physical universe. Those with scarce assets or skills are amply rewarded, they argue, because of the larger contributions they make to the economy. What they get merely represents what they have contributed. Often they take out less than they contributed, so what is left over for the rest is that much more.

This fictional narrative may at one time have assuaged the guilt of those at the top and persuaded everyone else to accept this sorry state of affairs. Perhaps the DEFINING moment EXPOSING the lie was the 2008 financial crisis, when the bankers who brought the global economy to the brink of ruin with predatory lending, market manipulation and various other antisocial practices walked away with MILLIONS OF DOLLARS in BONUSES - JUST AS millions of Americans lost their HOMES and tens of millions more worldwide suffered on their account. Virtually none of these bankers were ever held to account for their misdeeds.

I became aware of the fantastical nature of this narrative as a schoolboy, when I thought of the wealth of the plantation owners, built on the backs of slaves. At the time of the Civil War, the market value of the slaves in the South was approximately half of the region’s total wealth, including the value of the land and the physical capital - the factories and equipment. The wealth of at least this part of this nation was not based on industry, innovation and commerce but rather on exploitation. Today we have replaced this open exploitation with more insidious forms, which have intensified since the Reagan-Thatcher revolution of the 1980s. This exploitation, I will argue, is largely to blame for the escalating inequality in the U.S.

After the New Deal of the 1930s, American inequality went into decline. By the 1950s inequality had receded to such an extent that another Nobel laureate in economics, Simon Kuznets, formulated what came to be called Kuznets’s law. In the early stages of development, as some parts of a country seize new opportunities, inequalities grow, he postulated; in the later stages, they shrink. The theory long fit the databut then, around the early 1980s, the trend abruptly reversed.

Explaining Inequality

Economists have put forward a range of explanations for why inequality has in fact been increasing in many developed countries. Some argue that advances in technology have spurred the demand for skilled labor relative to unskilled labor, thereby depressing the wages of the latter. Yet that alone cannot explain why even skilled labor has done so poorly over the past two decades, why average wages have done so badly and why matters are so much worse in the U.S. than in other developed nations. Changes in technology are global and should affect all advanced economies in the same way. Other economists blame globalization itself, which has weakened the power of workers. Firms can and do move abroad unless demands for higher wages are curtailed. But again, globalization has been integral to all advanced economies. Why is its impact so much worse in the U.S.?

The shift from a manufacturing to a service-based economy is partly to blame. At its extreme - a firm of one person - the service economy is a winner-takes-all system. A movie star makes millions, for example, whereas most actors make a pittance. Overall, wages are likely to be far more widely dispersed in a service economy than in one based on manufacturing, so the transition contributes to greater inequality. This fact does not explain, however, why the average wage has not improved for decades. Moreover, the shift to the service sector is happening in most other advanced countries: Why are matters so much worse in the U.S.?

Again, because services are often provided locally, firms have more market power: the ability to raise prices above what would prevail in a competitive market. A small town in rural America may have only one authorized Toyota repair shop, which virtually every Toyota owner is forced to patronize. The providers of these local services can raise prices over costs, increasing their profits and the share of income going to owners and managers. This, too, increases inequality. But again, why is U.S. inequality practically unique?

In his celebrated 2013 treatise Capital in the Twenty-First Century, French economist Thomas Piketty shifts the gaze to capitalists. He suggests that the few who own much of a country’s capital save so much that, given the stable and high return to capital (relative to the growth rate of the economy), their share of the national income has been increasing. His theory has, however, been questioned on many grounds. For instance, the savings rate of even the rich in the U.S. is so low, compared with the rich in other countries, that the increase in inequality should be lower here, not greater.

An alternative theory is far more consonant with the facts. Since the mid-1970s the rules of the economic game have been rewritten, both globally and nationally, in ways that advantage the rich and disadvantage the rest. And they have been rewritten further in this perverse direction in the U.S. than in other developed countries - even though the rules in the U.S. were already less favorable to workers. From this perspective, increasing inequality is a matter of choice: a consequence of our policies, laws and regulations.

In the U.S., the market power of large corporations, which was greater than in most other advanced countries to begin with, has increased even more than elsewhere. On the other hand, the market power of workers, which started out less than in most other advanced countries, has fallen further than elsewhere. This is not only because of the shift to a service-sector economy - it is because of the rigged rules of the game, rules set in a political system that is itself rigged through gerrymandering, voter suppression and the influence of money. A vicious spiral has formed: economic inequality translates into political inequality, which leads to rules that favor the wealthy, which in turn reinforces economic inequality.

Feedback Loop

Political scientists have documented the ways in which money influences politics in certain political systems, converting higher economic inequality into greater political inequality. Political inequality, in its turn, gives rise to more economic inequality as the rich use their political power to shape the rules of the game in ways that favor themחfor instance, by softening antitrust laws and weakening unions. Using mathematical models, economists such as myself have shown that this two-way feedback loop between money and regulations leads to at least two stable points. If an economy starts out with lower inequality, the political system generates rules that sustain it, leading to one equilibrium situation. The American system is the other equilibriumand will continue to be unless there is a democratic political awakening.

An account of how the rules have been shaped must begin with antitrust laws, first enacted 128 years ago in the U.S. to prevent the agglomeration of market power. Their enforcement has weakened - at a time when, if anything, the laws themselves should have been strengthened. Technological changes have concentrated market power in the hands of a few global players, in part because of so-called network effects: you are far more likely to join a particular social network or use a certain word processor if everyone you know is already using it. Once established, a firm such as Facebook or Microsoft is hard to dislodge. Moreover, fixed costs, such as that of developing a piece of software, have increased as compared with marginal costs - that of duplicating the software. A new entrant has to bear all these fixed costs up front, and if it does enter, the rich incumbent can respond by lowering prices drastically. The cost of making an additional e-book or photo-editing program is essentially zero.

In short, entry is hard and risky, which gives established firms with deep war chests enormous power to crush competitors and ultimately raise prices. Making matters worse, U.S. firms have been innovative not only in the products they make but in thinking of ways to extend and amplify their market power. The European Commission has imposed fines of billions of dollars on Microsoft and Google and ordered them to stop their anticompetitive practices (such as Google privileging its own comparison shopping service). In the U.S., we have done too little to control concentrations of market power, so it is not a surprise that it has increased in many sectors.

global inequality trends

Rigged rules also explain why the impact of globalization may have been worse in the U.S. A concerted attack on unions has almost halved the fraction of unionized workers in the nation, to about 11 percent. (In Scandinavia, it is roughly 70 percent.) Weaker unions provide workers less protection against the efforts of firms to drive down wages or worsen working conditions. Moreover, U.S. investment treaties such as the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement - treaties that were sold as a way of preventing foreign countries from discriminating against American firms - also protect investors against a tightening of environmental and health regulations abroad. For instance, they enable corporations to sue nations in private international arbitration panels for passing laws that protect citizens and the environment but threaten the multinational company’s bottom line. Firms like these provisions, which enhance the credibility of a company’s threat to move abroad if workers do not temper their demands. In short, these investment agreements weaken U.S. workers’ bargaining power even further.

Liberated Finance

Many other changes to our norms, laws, rules and regulations have contributed to inequality. Weak corporate governance laws have allowed chief executives in the U.S. to compensate themselves 361 times more than the average worker, far more than in other developed countries. Financial liberalizationחthe stripping away of regulations designed to prevent the financial sector from imposing harms, such as the 2008 economic crisis, on the rest of societyhas enabled the finance industry to grow in size and profitability and has increased its opportunities to exploit everyone else. Banks routinely indulge in practices that are legal but should not be, such as imposing usurious interest rates on borrowers or exorbitant fees on merchants for credit and debit cards and creating securities that are designed to fail. They also frequently do things that are illegal, including market manipulation and insider trading. In all of this, the financial sector has moved money away from ordinary Americans to rich bankers and the banks’ shareholders. This redistribution of wealth is an important contributor to American inequality.

Other means of so-called rent extraction - the withdrawal of income from the national pie that is incommensurate with societal contribution abound. For example, a legal provision enacted in 2003 prohibited the government from negotiating drug prices for Medicare - a gift of some $50 billion a year or more to the pharmaceutical industry. Special favors, such as extractive industries’ obtaining public resources such as oil at below fair-market value or banks’ getting funds from the Federal Reserve at near-zero interest rates (which they relend at high interest rates), also amount to rent extraction. Further exacerbating inequality is favorable tax treatment for the rich. In the U.S., those at the top pay a smaller fraction of their income in taxes than those who are much poorer - a form of largesse that the Trump administration has just worsened with the 2017 tax bill.

Some economists have argued that we can lessen inequality only by giving up on growth and efficiency. But recent research, such as work done by Jonathan Ostry and others at the International Monetary Fund, suggests that economies with greater equality perform better, with higher growth, better average standards of living and greater stability. Inequality in the extremes observed in the U.S. and in the manner generated there actually damages the economy. The exploitation of market power and the variety of other distortions I have described, for instance, makes markets less efficient, leading to underproduction of valuable goods such as basic research and overproduction of others, such as exploitative financial products.

image: global inequlaity 2018

Moreover, because the rich typically spend a smaller fraction of their income on consumption than the poor, total or “aggregate demand” in countries with higher inequality is weaker. Societies could make up for this gap by increasing government spending = on infrastructure, education and health, for instance, all of which are investments necessary for long-term growth. But the politics of unequal societies typically puts the burden on monetary policy: interest rates are lowered to stimulate spending. Artificially low interest rates, especially if coupled with inadequate financial market regulation, often give rise to bubbles, which is what happened with the 2008 housing crisis.

It is no surprise that, on average, people living in unequal societies have less equality of opportunity: those at the bottom never get the education that would enable them to live up to their potential. This fact, in turn, exacerbates inequality while wasting the country’s most valuable resource: Americans themselves.

Restoring Justice

Morale is lower in unequal societies, especially when inequality is seen as unjust, and the feeling of being used or cheated leads to lower productivity. When those who run gambling casinos or bankers suffering from moral turpitude make a zillion times more than the scientists and inventors who brought us lasers, transistors and an understanding of DNA, it is clear that something is wrong. Then again, the children of the rich come to think of themselves as a class apart, entitled to their good fortune, and accordingly more likely to break the rules necessary for making society function. All of this contributes to a breakdown of trust, with its attendant impact on social cohesion and economic performance.

There is no magic bullet to remedy a problem as deep-rooted as America’s inequality. Its origins are largely political, so it is hard to imagine meaningful change without a concerted effort to take money out of politics - through, for instance, campaign finance reform. Blocking the revolving doors by which regulators and other government officials come from and return to the same industries they regulate and work with is also essential.

image: widening wage gap

Beyond that, we need more progressive taxation and high-quality federally funded public education, including affordable access to universities for all, no ruinous loans required. We need modern competition laws to deal with the problems posed by 21st-century market power and stronger enforcement of the laws we do have. We need labor laws that protect workers and their rights to unionize. We need corporate governance laws that curb exorbitant salaries bestowed on chief executives, and we need stronger financial regulations that will prevent banks from engaging in the exploitative practices that have become their hallmark. We need better enforcement of antidiscrimination laws: it is unconscionable that women and minorities get paid a mere fraction of what their white male counterparts receive. We also need more sensible inheritance laws that will reduce the intergenerational transmission of advantage and disadvantage.

The basic perquisites of a middle-class life, including a secure old age, are no longer attainable for most Americans. We need to guarantee access to health care. We need to strengthen and reform retirement programs, which have put an increasing burden of risk management on workers (who are expected to manage their portfolios to guard simultaneously against the risks of inflation and market collapse) and opened them up to exploitation by our financial sector (which sells them products designed to maximize bank fees rather than retirement security). Our mortgage system was our Achilles’ heel, and we have not really fixed it. With such a large fraction of Americans living in cities, we have to have urban housing policies that ensure affordable housing for all.

It is a long agenda - but a doable one. When skeptics say it is nice but not affordable, I reply: We cannot afford to not do these things. We are already paying a high price for inequality, but it is just a down payment on what we will have to pay if we do not do something - and quickly. It is not just our economy that is at stake; we are risking our democracy.

As more of our citizens come to understand why the fruits of economic progress have been so unequally shared, there is a real danger that they will become open to a demagogue blaming the country’s problems on others and making false promises of rectifying “a rigged system.” We are already experiencing a foretaste of what might happen. It could get much worse.

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Posted by Elvis on 10/18/18 •
Section Dying America
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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Clouded Cloud

image: amazon honor system

AmazonAtlas

Wikileaks
October 11, 2018

Today, WikiLeaks publishes a “Highly Confidential” internal documentfrom the cloud computing provider Amazon. The documentfrom late 2015 lists the addresses and some operational details of over one hundred data centers spread across fifteen cities in nine countries. To accompany this document, WikiLeaks also created a map showing where Amazons data centers are LOCATED.

Amazon, which is the largest cloud provider, is notoriously secretive about the precise locations of its data centers. While a few are publicly tied to Amazon, this is the exception rather than the norm. More often, Amazon operates out of data centers owned by other companies with little indication that Amazon itself is based there too or runs its own data centers under less-identifiable subsidiaries such as VaData, Inc. In some cases, Amazon uses pseudonyms to obscure its presence. For example, at its IAD77 data center, the documentstates that Amazon is known as “Vandala Industries” on badges and all correspondence with building manager

Amazon is the leading cloud provider for the United States intelligence community. In 2013, Amazon entered into a $600 million contract with the CIA to build a cloud for use by intelligence agencies working with information classified as Top Secret. Then, in 2017, Amazon announced the AWS Secret Region, which allows storage of data classified up to the Secret level by a broader range of agencies and companies. Amazon also operates a special GovCloud region for US Government agencies hosting unclassified information.

Currently, Amazon is one of the leading contenders for an up to $10 billion contract to build a private cloud for the Department of Defense. Amazon is one of the only companies with the certifications required to host classified data in the cloud. The Defense Department is looking for a single provider and other companies, including Oracle and IBM, have complained that the requirements unfairly favor Amazon. Bids on this contract are due tomorrow.

While one of the benefits of the cloud is the potential to increase reliability through geographic distribution of computing resources, cloud infrastructure is remarkably centralised in terms of legal control. Just a few companies and their subsidiaries run the majority of cloud computing infrastructure around the world. Of these, Amazon is the largest by far, with recent market research showing that Amazon accounts for 34% of the cloud infrastructure services market.

Until now, this cloud infrastructure controlled by Amazon was largely hidden, with only the general geographic regions of the data centers publicised. While Amazons cloud is comprised of physical locations, indications of the existence of these places are primarily buried in government records or made visible only when cloud infrastructure fails due to natural disasters or other problems in the physical world.

In the process of dispelling the mystery around the locations of Amazon’s data centers, WikiLeaks also turned this documentinto a puzzle game, the Quest of Random Clues. The goal of this game was to encourage people to research these data centers in a fun and intriguing way, while highlighting related issues such as contracts with the intelligence community, Amazons complex corporate structures, and the physicality of the cloud.

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Posted by Elvis on 10/17/18 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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Monday, October 15, 2018

Democracy Hollowed Out Part 35 - Censorship

An internal company BRIEFING produced by Google and leaked exclusively to Breitbart News argues that due to a variety of factors, including the election of President Trump, the “American tradition: of free speech on the internet is no longer viable.

Despite leaked video footage showing top executives declaring their intention to ensure that the rise of Trump and the populist movement is just a :blip” in history, Google has repeatedly denied that the political bias of its employees filter into its products.

But the 85-page briefing, titled THE GOOD CENSOR admits that Google and other tech platforms now control the majority of “online conversations” and have undertaken a shift towards “censorship” in response to unwelcome political events around the world.

Examples cited in the documentinclude the 2016 election and the rise of Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) in Germany.

Responding to the leak, an official Google source said the documentshould be considered internal research, and not an official company position.

The briefing labels the ideal of unfettered free speech on the internet a “utopian narrative” that has been “undermined” by recent global events as well as “bad behavior” on the part of users. It can be read in full below.

It acknowledges that major tech platforms, including Google, Facebook and Twitter initially promised free speech to consumers. This free speech ideal was instilled in the DNA of the Silicon Valley startups that now control the majority of our online conversations,Ӕ says the document.

image: social media censorship

The briefing argues that Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are caught between two incompatible positions, the unmediated “marketplace of ideas” vs. “well-ordered spaces for safety and civility.”

image: social media censorship2

The first approach is described as a product of the “American tradition” which prioritizes free speech for democracy, not “civility.” The second is described as a product of the “European tradition,” which favors “dignity over liberty and civility over freedom.” The briefing claims that all tech platforms are now moving toward the European tradition.

The briefing associates Googles new role as the guarantor of “civility” with the categories of “editor” and “publisher.” This is significant, given that Google, YouTube, and other tech giants publicly claim they are not publishers but rather neutral platforms ԗ a categorization that grants them special legal immunities under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Elsewhere in the document, Google admits that Section 230 was designed to ensure they can remain neutral platforms for free expression.

Trump, Conspiracy Theorist

One of the reasons Google identifies for allegedly widespread public disillusionment with internet free speech is that it breeds “conspiracy theories.” The example Google uses? A 2016 tweet from then-candidate Donald Trump, alleging that Google search suppressed negative results about Hillary Clinton.

image: social media censorship3

t the time, Google said that it suppressed negative autocomplete suggestions about everybody, not just Clinton. But it was comparatively easy to find such autocomplete results when searching for Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. Independent research from psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein also shows that Google search results (if not autocomplete results) did indeed favor Clinton in 2016.

Twice in the document, Google juxtaposes a factoid about “Russian interference” in American elections with pictures of Donald Trump. At one point, the documentadmits that tech platforms are changing their policies to pre-empt congressional action on foreign interference.

The documentdid not address the fact that, according to leading psychologists, the impact of “foreign bots” and propaganda on social media has a negligible impact on voters.

From Suggestions to Company Policy

It is unclear for whom the Good CensorӔ was intended. What is clear, however, is that Google spent (or paid someone to spend) significant time and effort to produce it.

image: social media censorship4

According to the briefing itself, it was the product of an extensive process involving several layers of research,Ӕ including expert interviews with MIT Tech Review editor-in-chief Jason Pontin, Atlantic staff writer Franklin Foer, and academic Kalev Leetaru. 35 cultural observers and 7 cultural leaders from seven countries on five continents were also consulted to produce it.

What is also clear is that many of the briefings recommendations are now reflected in the policy of Google and its sibling companies.

For example, the briefing argues that tech companies will have to censor their platforms if they want to ғexpand globally. Google is now constructing a censored search engine to gain access to the Chinese market.

The documentalso bemoans that the internet allows ԓhave a go commenters (in other words, ordinary people) to compete on a level playing field with ԓauthoritative sources like the New York Times. Google-owned YouTube now promotes so-called ԓauthoritative sources in its algorithm. The company did not specifically name which sources it would promote.

Key points in the briefing can be found at the following page numbers:

P2 Ԗ The briefing states that users are asking if the openness of the internet should be celebrated after allӔ and that free speech has become a social, economic, and political weapon.Ӕ
P11 The briefing identifies Breitbart News as the media publication most interested in the topic of free speech.
P12 ֖ The briefing says the early free-speech ideals of the internet were utopian.Ӕ
P14 The briefing admits that Google, along with Twitter and Facebook, now ֓control the majority of online conversations.
P15 Ԗ Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is linked to Googles position as a platform for free expression. Elsewhere in the document(p68), Google and other platformsҒ move towards moderation and censorship is associated with the role of publisherӔ which would not be subject to Section 230֒s legal protections.
PP19-21 The briefing identifies several factors that allegedly eroded faith in free speech. The election of Donald Trump and alleged Russian involvement is identified as one such factor. The rise of the populist Alternative fur Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) party in Germany ֖ which the briefing falsely smears as alt-rightӔ is another.
PP26-34 ֖ The briefing explains how users behaving badlyӔ undermines free speech on the internet and allows crummy politicians to expand their influence.Ӕ The briefing bemoans that racists, misogynists, and oppressorsӔ are allowed a voice alongside revolutionaries, whistleblowers, and campaigners.Ӕ It warns that users are keener to transgress moral normsӔ behind the protection of anonymity.
P37 The briefing acknowledges that China ֖ for which Google has developed a censored search engine has the worst track record on internet freedom.
P45 ֖ After warning about the rise of online hate speech, the briefing approvingly cites Sarah Jeong, infamous for her hate speech against white males (Google is currently facing a lawsuit alleging it discriminates against white males, among other categories).
P45 The briefing bemoans the fact that the internet has until recently been a level playing field, warning that ֓rational debate is damaged when authoritative voices and have a goђ commentators receive equal weighting.
P49 Ԗ The documentaccuses President Trump of spreading the conspiracy theoryӔ that Google autocomplete suggestions unfairly favored Hillary Clinton in 2016. (Trumps suspicions were actually correct Җ independent research has shown that Google did favor Clinton in 2016).
P53 Free speech platform Gab is identified as a major destination for users who are dissatisfied with censorship on other platforms.
P54 ֖ After warning about harassmentӔ earlier in the document, the briefing approvingly describes a 27,000-strong left-wing social media campaign as a digital flash mobӔ engaged in friendly counter-commenting.Ӕ
P57 - The documentjuxtaposes a factoid about Russian election interference with a picture of Donald Trump.
P63 - The briefing admits that when Google, GoDaddy and CloudFlare simultaneously withdrew service from website The Daily Stormer, they were effectively booting it off the internet, a point also made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the FCC in their subsequent warnings about online censorship.
P66-68 = The briefing argues that Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are caught between two incompatible positions, the “unmediated marketplace” of ideas vs. “well-ordered” spaces for safety and civility. The first is described as a product of the ԓAmerican tradition which ԓprioritizes free speech for democracy, not civility. The second is described as a product of the “European tradition,” which ԓfavors dignity over liberty and civility over freedom. The briefing claims that all tech platforms are now moving toward the European tradition.
P70 - The briefing sums up the reasons for big techs ғshift towards censorship, including the need to respond to regulatory demands and ԓexpand globally, to ԓmonetize content through its organization, and to “protect advertisers from controversial content, [and] increase revenues.”
P74-76 - The briefing warns that concerns about censorship from major tech platforms have spread beyond the right-wing media into the mainstream.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 10/15/18 •
Section Dying America
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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Religious Diversions Part 13 - Psychology of Religion

image we invented Jesus

Religion has been the longest running form of MIND CONTROL on the planet and has served to not only keep us separated, but to depopulate the world through numerous wars, Inquisitions and Crusades in the name of God.
- How to Deprogram Yourself

God is understood to be responsive, loving and present - even when things are tough, miserable and unfair. The theology is not about explanation, but about relationship. That is what makes churches like these work for those who come to them. People stay with this God not because the theology makes sense, but because the practice delivers emotionally. When you feel lousy, reaching out to this God helps you to feel better. Under these conditions, it is often when prayer requests fail that prayer practice becomes most satisfying.
- Prayer Failure

[W]hat modern priests and pastors do all the time. They tell you to “just have faith,” to “trust in faith,” and even to “work on your faith.” Does this differ significantly from telling one to JUST STAY STUPID?
- Religious Diversions - Part 9

“Expose every belief to the light of reason, discourse, facts, scientific observations; question everything, be sceptical because this is the only chance at life you will ever get.”
- James Randi

Religion is about emotion regulation, and its very good at it

By Stephen T Asma
Aeon
October 9, 2018

Religion does not help us to explain nature. It did what it could in pre-scientific times, but that job was properly unseated by science. Most religious laypeople and even clergy agree: Pope John Paul II declared in 1996 that evolution is a fact and Catholics should get over it. No doubt some extreme anti-scientific thinking lives on in such places as Ken Hams Creation Museum in Kentucky, but it has become a fringe position. Most mainstream religious people accept a version of Galileo’s division of labour: The intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes.

Maybe, then, the heart of religion is not its ability to explain nature, but its moral power? Sigmund Freud, who referred to himself as a godless Jew, saw religion as delusional, but helpfully so. He argued that we humans are naturally awful creatures - aggressive, narcissistic wolves. Left to our own devices, we would rape, pillage and burn our way through life. Thankfully, we have the civilising influence of religion to steer us toward charity, compassion and cooperation by a system of carrots and sticks, otherwise known as heaven and hell.

The French sociologist Emile Durkheim, on the other hand, argued in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912) that the heart of religion was not its belief system or even its moral code, but its ability to generate COLLECTIVE EFFERVESCENSE: intense, shared experiences that unify individuals into cooperative social groups. Religion, Durkheim argued, is a kind of social glue, a view confirmed by recent interdisciplinary RESEARCH.

While Freud and Durkheim were right about the important functions of religion, its true value lies in its therapeutic power, particularly its power to manage our emotions. How we feel is as important to our survival as how we think. Our species comes equipped with adaptive emotions, such as fear, rage, lust and so on: religion was (and is) the cultural system that dials these feelings and behaviours up or down. We see this clearly if we look at mainstream religion, rather than the deleterious forms of extremism. Mainstream religion reduces ANXIETY, stress and depression. It provides existential MEANING and hope. It focuses aggression and fear against enemies. It domesticates lust, and it strengthens filial connections. Through story, it trains feelings of empathy and compassion for others. And it provides consolation for suffering.

Emotional therapy is the animating heart of religion. Social bonding happens not only when we agree to worship the same totems, but when we feel affection for each other. An affective community of mutual care emerges when groups share rituals, liturgy, song, dance, eating, grieving, comforting, tales of saints and heroes, hardships such as fasting and sacrifice. Theological beliefs are bloodless abstractions by comparison.

Emotional management is important because life is hard.The Buddha said: “All life is suffering” and most of us past a certain age can only agree. Religion evolved to handle what I call the “vulnerability problem.” When were sick, we go to the doctor, not the priest. But when our child dies, or we lose our home in a fire, or we’re diagnosed with Stage-4 cancer, then religion is helpful because it provides some relief and some strength. It also gives us something to do, when there’s nothing we can do.

Consider how religion helps people after a death. Social mammals who have suffered separation distress are restored to health by touch, collective meals and grooming. Human grieving customs involve these same soothing prosocial mechanisms. We comfort-touch and embrace a person who has lost a loved one. Our bodies give ancient comfort directly to the grieving body. We provide the bereaved with food and drink, and we break bread with them (think of the Jewish tradition of shiva, or the visitation tradition of wakes in many cultures). We share stories about the loved one, and help the bereaved reframe their pain in larger optimistic narratives. Even music, in the form of consoling melodies and collective singing, helps to express shared sorrow and also transforms it from an unbearable and lonely experience to a bearable communal one. Social involvement from the community after a death CAN ACTas an antidepressant, boosting adaptive emotional changes in the bereaved.

Religion also helps to manage sorrow with something I’ll call “existential shaping” or more precisely “existential debt.” It is common for Westerners to think of themselves as individuals first and as members of a community second, but our ideology of the lone protagonist fulfilling an individual destiny is more fiction than fact. Losing someone reminds us of our dependence on others and our deep vulnerability, and at such moments religion turns us toward the web of relations rather than away from it. Long after your parents have died, for example, religion helps you memorialise them and acknowledge your existential debt to them. Formalising the memory of the dead person, through funerary rites, or tomb-sweeping (Qingming) festivals in Asia, or the Day of the Dead in Mexico, or annual honorary masses in Catholicism, is important because it keeps reminding us, even through the sorrow, of the meaningful influence of these deceased loved ones. This is not a self-deception about the unreality of death, but an artful way of learning to live with it. The grief becomes transformed in the sincere acknowledgment of the value of the loved one, and religious rituals help people to set aside time and mental space for that acknowledgment.

An emotion such as grief has many ingredients. The physiological arousal of grief is accompanied by cognitive evaluations: “I will never see my friend again”; :I could have done something to prevent this”; She was the love of my life”; and so on. Religions try to give the bereaved an alternative appraisal that reframes their tragedy as something more than just misery. Emotional appraisals are proactive, ACCODING to the psychologists Phoebe Ellsworth at the University of Michigan and Klaus Scherer at the University of Geneva, going beyond the immediate disaster to envision the possible solutions or responses. This is called “secondary appraisal.” After the primary appraisal (This is very sad), the secondary appraisal assesses our ability to deal with the situation: “This is too much for me” or, positively: “I will survive this.” Part of our ability to cope with suffering is our sense of power or agency: more power generally means better coping ability. If I acknowledge my own limitations when faced with unavoidable loss, but I feel that a powerful ally, God, is part of my agency or power, then I can be more resilient.

Because religious actions are often accompanied by magical thinking or supernatural beliefs, Christopher Hitchens argued in God Is not Great (2007) that religion is “false consolation.” Many critics of religion echo his condemnation. But there is no such thing as false consolation. Hitchens and fellow critics are making a category mistake, like saying: “The colour green is sleepy.” Consolation or comfort is a feeling, and it can be weak or strong, but it can’t be false or true. You can be false in your judgment of why youre feeling better, but feeling better is neither true nor false. True and false applies only if we’re evaluating whether our propositions correspond with reality. And no doubt many factual claims of religion are false in that way - the world was not created in six days.

Religion is real consolation in the same way that music is real consolation. No one thinks that the pleasure of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute is “false pleasure” because singing flutes don’t really exist. It doesn’t need to correspond to reality. Its true that some religious devotees, unlike music devotees, pin their consolation to additional metaphysical claims, but why should we trust them to know how religion works? Such believers do not recognise that their unthinking religious rituals and social activities are the true sources of their therapeutic healing. Meanwhile, Hitchens and other critics confuse the factual disappointments of religion with the value of religion generally, and thereby miss the heart of it.

Why We Need Religion: An Agnostic Celebration of Spiritual Emotions by Stephen Asma, 2018 is published by Oxford University Press.

SOURCE

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image: Ashtar

It performed great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of everyone.
- Revelations 13:13

Alien Confession Found: We Invented Jesus Christ

Alienviews
September 28, 2018

American Biblical scholar Joseph Atwill will be appearing before the British public for the first time in London on the 19th of October to present a controversial new discovery:

Ancient confessions recently uncovered now prove, according to Atwill, that the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats and that they fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ.

His presentation will be part of a one-day symposium entitled ”COVERT MESSIAH” at Conway Hall in Holborn.

Although to many scholars his theory seems outlandish, and is sure to upset some believers, Atwill regards his evidence as conclusive and is confident its acceptance is only a matter of time.

“I present my work with some ambivalence, as I do not want to directly cause Christians any harm,” he acknowledges, but this is important for our culture.

“Alertcitizens need to know the truth about our past so we can understand how and why governments create false histories and false gods. They often do it to obtain a social order that is against the best interests of the common people.”

Atwill asserts that Christianity did not really begin as a religion, but a sophisticated government project, a kind of propaganda exercise used to pacify the subjects of the Roman Empire.

“Jewish sects in Palestine at the time, who were waiting for a prophesied warrior Messiah, were a constant source of violent insurrection during the first century,” he explains.

When the Romans had exhausted conventional means of quashing rebellion, they switched to psychological warfare. They surmised that the way to stop the spread of zealous Jewish missionary activity was to create a competing belief system.

That’s when the “peaceful” Messiah story was invented. Instead of inspiring warfare, this Messiah urged turn-the-other-cheek pacifism and encouraged Jews to give onto Caesar and pay their taxes to Rome.

Was Jesus based on a real person from history?

“The short answer is no,” Atwill insists, “in fact he may be the only fictional character in literature whose entire life story can be traced to other sources. Once those sources are all laid bare, there’s simply nothing left.”

Atwill’s most intriguing discovery came to him while he was studying WWars of the Jews” by Josephus [the only surviving first-person historical account of first-century Judea] alongside the New Testament.

“I started to notice a sequence of parallels between the two texts,” he recounts.

“Although its been recognized by Christian scholars for centuries that the prophesies of Jesus appear to be fulfilled by what Josephus wrote about in the First Jewish-Roman war, I was seeing dozens more.”

What seems to have eluded many scholars is that the sequence of events and locations of Jesus ministry are more or less the same as the sequence of events and locations of the military campaign of [Emperor] Titus Flavius as described by Josephus.

This is clear evidence of a deliberately constructed pattern. The biography of Jesus is actually constructed, tip to stern, on prior stories, but especially on the biography of a Roman Caesar.

How could this go unnoticed in the most scrutinized books of all time?

Many of the parallels are conceptual or poetic, so they aren’t all immediately obvious.

After all, the authors did not want the average believer to see what they were doing, but they did want the alertreader to see it. An educated Roman in the ruling class would probably have recognized the literary game being played.

Atwill maintains he can demonstrate that, “the Roman Caesars left us a kind of puzzle literature that was meant to be solved by future generations, and the solution to that puzzle is We invented Jesus Christ, and we’re proud of it.”

Is this the beginning of the end of Christianity?

“Probably not,” grants Atwill, but what my work has done is give permission to many of those ready to leave the religion to make a clean break. We’ve got the evidence now to show exactly where the story of Jesus came from.

Although Christianity can be a comfort to some, it can also be very damaging and repressive, an insidious form of mind control that has led to blind acceptance of serfdom, poverty, and war throughout history.

To this day, especially in the United States, it is used to create support for war in the Middle East.

Atwill encourages skeptics to challenge him at Conway Hall, where after the presentations there is likely to be a lively Q&A session.

Joining Mr. Atwill will be fellow scholar Kenneth Humphreys, author of the book “Jesus Never Existed.”

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 10/10/18 •
Section Spiritual Diversions
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