Article 43


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Defcon Hospital Horror Stories

By Emil Hozan
August 23, 2019

Disclaimer: don’t read this if you don’t want your sense of security involving medical information shattered. This post is based on a Skytalk presented at Def Con 27. The presenter opted to redact their name for privacy concerns. What made this talk quite startling was the fact that the presenter supports over 25 hospitals around the US and has insight of just how poor information systems security is within these hospital environments. Due to the nature of these talks, recordings are prohibited, and I didn’t want to get kicked out, so I avoided taking notes as well just in case. This semi ties into a past post I wrote pertaining to poor MEDICAL DEVICE SECURITY and another follow up post about what the INDUSTRY IS DOING about it.

That said, if you want to learn more about an insiderҒs perspective into the horror stories within the medical industry, read on.

A Barrage of Issues

Hearing all that was said was quite terrifying, from password concerns to the sheer number of internal vulnerabilities detected, I was simply astonished at the words coming from the speaker. What was more than that, however, was UPPER MANAGEMENT’S LACK OF INTEREST in corrective action. Stick with me while I go through the points discussed and what solutions were proposed but not implemented.

For starters, a huge concern was the operating systems in use within the hospitals the speaker supported. He stated that DOS was still being used and he was the only employee on his team who even knew what DOS was. Not to mention the continued use of Windows XP, NT, and 95 now if that doesn’t date a few things, I am not sure what will. These are machines handling personal health information, where critical vulnerabilities are publicized with no available patches or fixes are available for these unsupported systems. Whats even more crazy was a “new robot” that was in charge of provisioning medicine - it, too, ran on DOS!

If you’re curious of release dates, check out this Wikipedia page discussing Windows version and their release dates. On that same note, and one of the most alarming points made, was that on average, his internally ran vulnerability scans results in over 300 critical vulnerabilities! You read that right, yes this is on average.

Next off was poor password practices. From weak passwords just barely satisfying password policies, to doctors openly sharing passwords with staff members, it’s almost as if anyone could access a patients’ health information masked as a doctor. The speaker stated that it wasn’t uncommon for nurses to know the password of at least three doctors they worked with. There were network devices that didn’t even have a password! We all know what can happen with compromised passwords, or even a lack of a password - yikes!

To make matters worse, I forget the password solution used in his supported hospitals, but it was something along the lines of SSGP or similar. What I know is that it was four characters and started with SS. The point is, this speaker was part of a hacker group and this group discovered a vulnerability but opted to not disclose this vulnerability. The speakers dire warning was, all medical staff should change their passwords, immediately!” Think about that for a moment; a password solution with an undisclosed vulnerability I’ll tie these password points in later, keep reading.

Another alarming act was his attempt at personally lockpicking doors protecting secure areas. He mentioned one such incident where two or three people approached him stating, What you’re doing is pretty shady. The speaker replied, “I know, you’re right. What I am doing is shady.” He said that after three hours, no one reported him, nor did security confront him. The speaker was able to break his way into network closets, where equipment was essentially wide open and was able to set up rogue access points, as well as scan the network. Mind you he was doing this in an attempt to check what security measures were in place.

One observation the speaker made was the sheer amount of bacteria and mold growing on this network equipment. He showed pictures he took of Ethernet cables and switches caked with molasses and other icky stuff ewww.

Wow is really all I can say. That was astonishing and to be honest, it was tough to admit and see truth in his alleged statements. However, what made me believe his story more than anything was his interest in his and his father֒s medical conditions. One day he got curious due to the number of hospital visits the two make. When he started poking, he went full throttle to see just how poor security measures are.

Enough Scary Talk, Proposed Solutions

In reading the above section, you should know by now what some proposed solutions would be. Examples include not sharing your password, enabling passwords for that matter, and using currently supported operating systems, as well as ensuring physical security is a thing. If you weren’t thinking of those, now you know.

Past that, and what actually seemed to be a fair solution to avoid a lot of the above: mobile medical units.

The speaker started off by saying mammograms are mobile, and that there should be an effort in mobilizing other critical devices. Get everything mobilized and start treating patients in-house, where they’re most comfortable. That really stuck out to me. There’s always been a notion of making patients most comfortable and the truth is, often times, being at home is whats most comfortable.

I am sure there are more logistics behind that statement, which leads to a desire for expanded conversations on how to go about mobilizing medical staff. It seems semi-feasible, but I also know that there are a lot of varying illnesses and it kind of makes it seem infeasible at the same time. I’m no medical expert so I cant speak too much on this.

Tying in the Loose Ends

Above I left the password talk on a cliff hanger. Allow me to expand in this section.

The speaker stated the number of phishing attempts was simply overwhelming, and that there are many who fall prey. Two examples he gave were more recent: one being where a finance department personnel fell victim to a fraudulent invoice totaling $500,000 (that’s a lot of money), and the other was a critical ransomware attack (which started at $900,000 that the staff was able to work down to $500,000). The latter was facilitated by compromised passwords.

I’m not sure about you but I’ve received many fraudulent invoice requests of varying amounts. It’s easier for me to disregard because I know I am not in the position to handle such matters. The same cannot be said for the one who fell victim though. That said, and with such a large sum of money, employees shouldn’t blindly pay anything without checking the records. There should be a way to validate such invoices and I find it hard to believe there isn’t some sort of paper trail regarding who the hospital does business with and what’s owed to whom. If this isn’t the case, paying an excessive amount of money for an untraceable invoice is an expensive fault that needs correction.

As for the latest ransomware attack- this started Monday, August 5th, the week of Black Hat / DefCon. He got into town that night, went to sleep and was awoken early Tuesday morning with reports of a ransomware attack. Immediately he told the caller to ensure all passwords were changed and what to expect. The backups were too old tsk, tsk 0 so they were left with no choice but to negotiate and pay. The staff did this, yet they failed to change their passwords! After forking out $500k, they were hit again with the same attack Thursday of that same week because they didn’t change their passwords! Imagine that. And to make it worse, the staff agreed to change their password this time. but opted to wait until the following week to do so.

Did they? I am not sure but waiting is such a silly thing to do.

This all leads back to user training. All personnel should be trained on how to look out for phishing emails and other unsolicited emails claiming a lack of payment. The same applies with passwords uses. Reusing passwords is a no-no and with all that was said above, multi-factor authentication would definitely be worth the cost. With these two examples, that’s a fair sum of money paid, and you’d figure that change would be expected.


I would be lying if I said I’d feel comfortable going to a doctor and feeling my personal health information is safe. Obviously when you’re in a critical condition it may not mean as much at that time, your life is on the line after all, but its still a scary thought to know the gravity of just how poor hospital security allegedly is. Further, with the HIPAA violation costs, the speaker stated that hospitals are more prone on not reporting breaches and thus not getting fined. Again, these are all allegations and all I am doing is summarizing what was reported.

Tying in the whole medical device concerns with this development, change is in order. With personal information being publicized on the dark web and accessible by other threat actors, there’s no telling what they may do with that information. There was a lot more that was said in this talk and what I wrote was merely a glimpse. Its difficult to ensure your personal information is safe when you’re not the one responsible for keeping it safe. The truth is, its the doctors’ responsibility along with the medical staff and the IT team of said hospitals.


Posted by Elvis on 08/25/19 •
Section Privacy And Rights
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Monday, August 12, 2019

Fleeing America Redux 3


image: portugal

Madonna’s Welcome, But Portugal Wants Immigrants to Lift Economy

By Joao Lima, with assistance by Henrique Almeida
July 30, 2019

It’s not just the likes of Madonna and the Aga Khan that Portugal wants to attract.

Unlike many governments in Europe, Portugal wants immigrants to shore up its economy as its population shrinks and ages. While it has drawn the rich—Madonna went house hunting in Lisbon in 2017 and the Aga Khan was granted Portuguese nationality this year—the country is making a push to lure back citizens who fled the euro-area crisis and attract immigrants who can fill crucial gaps in the labor market.

"This isn’t about just any immigration; its about drawing qualified immigrants for the needs of the Portuguese economy,” said Jorge Bravo, an economics professor at the Nova University in Lisbon. “Mostly in terms of salaries, we’re not very competitive. If there was a championship for the most sought-after countries for immigration, Portugal isn’t in the Champions League.”

As Portugal prepares for a general election in October, the lack of immigrants rather than their presence may be a campaign issue for politicians. Unlike in Italy and Hungary, where the anti-immigrant parties of Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orban are in power, and France, where Marine Le Pens party led the European Parliamentary vote in May, Portugal has no populist forces at play. In fact, some of the country’s businesses want politicians to come up with coherent plans to lure immigrants.

Help Wanted

“The tourism and hospitality industry is among those feeling the shortage most acutely. Finding adequately skilled housekeeping and kitchen staff is the most complicated,” Theotonio said. He wants the government to make labor rules more flexible to accommodate temporary and seasonal workers.

“The average education level of the Portuguese has increased a lot, so its natural that in jobs such as room service or waiters there’s a lack of workers, said Raul Martins, the chairman of the Altis hotel chain and the head of Portugal’s Hotel Association, which represents about 600 hotel companies.

Tourism represents about 14% of Portugals gross domestic product and has boosted the economy, which expanded for a fifth consecutive year in 2018. That’s helped Prime Minister Antonio Costas minority Socialist government to lower the jobless rate and manage the budget deficit. Portugal’s unemployment rate of 6.6% in May was less than half of Spain’s 13.6% and below the euro-area average of 7.5%.

Hiring Troubles

Still, Portugals debt ratio remains the third-highest in the euro area, behind Greece and Italy, and to keep the growth engine chugging along the country needs more hands.

Slower Phase

The Bank of Portugal warned in a report on June 12 that ғsome indicators suggest there are difficulties for Portuguese companies to hire workers, particularly those with higher qualification levels.

The number of immigrants in Portugal increased 14% in 2018 to 480,300, the highest since at least 1976, according to its Immigration and Borders Service. That hasnԒt been enough to offset its shrinking population, which has dropped since 2010 and reached about 10.3 million at the end of 2018. Projections show it may fall to 7.9 million in 2080.

The median age in Portugal was 45.2 years in 2018, having increased by about 4.4 years since 2008. In 2017, the country had the third-highest median age in the European Union at 44.8 years, behind Italy and Germany.
Open Arms

The country’s arms are open for the Portuguese who want to return, Jose Luis Carneiro, the secretary of state for Portuguese communities, said at a July 22 presentation of measures to get citizens to come back. The government is offering up to 6,536 euros ($7,276) to returnees.

Portugal has had some success in drawing so-called non-habitual residents. Lured by its beaches, clement weather, laid-back life and, crucially, its tax breaks, almost 30,000 people have made the country their home. A third of them earn a pension overseas.

Italian actress Monica Bellucci, French fashion designer Christian Louboutin and former Manchester United Football Club player Eric Cantona are among those whoԒve bought property or are reportedly sometime-residents in Portugal.

The government has been criticized for its tax breaks to the rich. Critics also say wealthy foreigners have boosted real estate values, pricing out locals. The regime allows expatriates to pay as little as 20% on their income tax during a decade and exempts some pensioners from taxes altogether.

Like Singapore

“Retirees locally spur some sectors linked mostly to tourism and leisure, as can be seen in the Algarve, or in the cities of Lisbon and Oporto, and in small inland areas,” said Bravo. “But it’s not the solution.”

On July 23, the government expanded the regime to add farmers and machine operators to the list of eligible professions, citing difficulties in hiring workers.

Portugal needs an “intelligent immigration” policy, like in countries such as Singapore and Canada, that isn’t just based on tax incentives, Antonio Horta-Osorio, the CEO of Lloyds Banking Group Plc and a Portuguese national, said at a conference near Lisbon on May 17.

“We have an extraordinary demographic problem compared to the rest of Europe,” he said. “Portugal should work on attracting people with the qualifications and abilities that our companies and society need,” he said.


Posted by Elvis on 08/12/19 •
Section Dying America
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Team Players

image: union workers

Great Teams Don’t Need Star Players

August 11, 2019

It’s tempting to believe that the very best team efforts come from recruiting the very best talent. But RESEARCH from Carnegie Mellon’s Anita Williams Woolley suggests otherwise. Having talented people on your team helps, but Woolley found that group members SOCIAL SENSITIVITY - the ability to identify and respond to social cues is much more important. What else helps? Groups that encourage equal participation, rather than deferring to one or two dominant players. And one recipe for team failure? Encouraging members to compete with each other.



Why do teams of talented individuals so often underperform? The emerging science of “collective intelligence” may have the answers.

This is an edited extract from The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes.

Iceland should never have made it to the Euro 2016 men’s football tournament. Four years previously, they were ranked 131st in the world. Yet they knocked out the Netherlands in the qualifiers, and then as the smallest nation ever to reach the championships, drew with Portugal and Hungary, and then took down Austria. But their biggest scalp was England, a team packed with star names. So how did they do it - and what lessons can be learned from their unexpected success?

Many organisations employ highly intelligent, qualifed people in the assumption that they will automatically combine their collective brainpower to produce magical results. Yet such groups often fail to cash in on their talents, with poor creativity, lost efficiency and sometimes overly risky decision making. And exactly the same dynamics that brought Iceland their victory, and England their defeat, can help us to understand why.

Lets first consider some more general intuitions about group thinking.

One popular idea has been the “wisdom of the crowd” the idea that many brains, working together, can correct for each others errors in judgements; we make each other better.

Some good evidence of this view comes from an analysis of scientists’ journal articles, which nds that collaborative efforts are far more likely to be cited and applied than papers with just one author. Contrary to the notion of a lone genius, conversations and the exchange of ideas bring out the best in the team members; their combined brainpower allows them to see connections that had been invisible previously.

Yet there are also plenty of notorious examples where team thinking fails, sometimes at great cost. Opposing voices point to the phenomenon of “groupthink” - first described in detail by the Yale University psychologist Irving Janis. Inspired by the Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961, he explored the reasons why the Kennedy administration decided to invade Cuba. He concluded that Kennedy[s advisors had been too eager to reach a consensus decision and too anxious about questioning each other’s judgements. Instead, they reinforced their existing biases.

Sceptics of collective reasoning may also point to the many times that groups simply fail to agree on any decision at all, reaching an impasse, or they may overly complicate a problem by incorporating all the points of view. This impasse is really the opposite of the more single-minded groupthink, but it can nonetheless be very damaging for a teams productivity. You want to avoid “design by committee.”

Testing group intelligence

The latest research helps us to reconcile all these views, offering some clever new tools to determine whether or not a group of talented people can tap into their combined ability.

Anita Williams Woolley has been at the forefront of these new findings, with the invention of a “collective intelligence” test that promises to revolutionise our understanding of group dynamics.

Designing the test was a Herculean task. One of the biggest challenges was designing a test that captured the full range of thinking that a group has to engage with: brainstorming, for instance, involves a kind of divergent thinking that is very different from the more restrained, critical thinking you may need to come to a decision.

Her team eventually settled on a five-hour battery of tasks that together tested four different kinds of thinking: generating new ideas; choosing a solution based on sound judgement; negotiating to reach compromise; and finally, general ability at task execution (such as coordinating movements and activities).

Unlike an individual intelligence test, many of the tasks were practical in nature. In a test of negotiation skills, for instance, the groups had to imagine that they were housemates sharing a car on a trip into town, each with a list of groceries - and they had to plan their trip to get the best bargains with the least driving time. In a test of moral reasoning, meanwhile, the subjects played the role of a jury, describing how they would judge a basketball player who had bribed his instructor.

And to test their overall execution, the team members were each sat in front of a separate computer and asked to enter words into a shared online document a deceptively simple challenge that tested how well they could coordinate their activities. The participants were also asked to perform some verbal or abstract reasoning tasks that might be included in a traditional IQ test - but they answered as a group, rather than individually.

The first exciting finding was that each teams score on one of the constituent tasks correlated with its score on the other tasks. In other words, there appeared to be an underlying factor (rather like the underlying brainpower that is meant to be redirected in our general intelligence) that meant that some teams consistently performed better than others.

Crucially, a group’s success appeared to only modestly reflect the members average IQ. Nor could it be strongly linked to the highest IQ within the group. The teams weren’t simply relying on the smartest member to do all the thinking.

Since they published that first paper in Science in 2010, Woolleys team has veriified their test in many different contexts, showing that it can predict the success of many real-world projects. They studied students completing a two-month group project in a university management course, for instance. Sure enough, the collective intelligence score predicted the team’s performance on various assignments. Intriguingly, teams with a higher collective intelligence kept on building on their advantage during this project: not only were they better initially; they also improved the most over the eight weeks.

Woolley has also applied her test in the army, in a bank, in teams of computer programmers, and at a large financial services company, which ironically had one of the lowest collective intelligence scores she had ever come across. Disappointingly, she wasnt asked back; a symptom, perhaps, of their poor groupthink.

Behaviours that help

The test is much more than a diagnostic tool, however. It has also allowed Woolley to investigate the underlying reasons why some teams have higher or lower collective intelligence - and the ways those dynamics might be improved.

One of the most consistent predictors is the team members social sensitivity. To measure this quality, Woolley used a classic measure of emotional perception, in which participants are given photos of an actor’s eyes and asked to determine what emotion that person is supposed to be feeling, with the participants average score strongly predicting how well they would perform on the group tasks.

Woolley has also probed the specific interactions that can elevate or destroy a team’s thinking. Companies may value someone who is willing to take charge when a group lacks a hierarchy, for instance - the kind of person who may think of themselves as a natural leader. Yet when Woolley’s team measured how often each member spoke, they found that the better groups tend to allow each member to participate equally; the worst groups, in contrast, tended to be dominated by just one or two people.

The most destructive dynamic, Woolley has found, is when team members start competing against each other. This was the problem with the financial services company and their broader corporate culture. Each year, the company would only promote a fixed number of individuals based on their performance reviews - meaning that each employee would feel threatened by the others, and group work suffered as a result.

Since Woolley published those first results, her research has garnered particular interest for its insights into sexism in the workplace. The irritating habits of some men to mansplain, interrupt and appropriate women’s ideas has been noted by many commentators in recent years. By shutting down a conversation and preventing women from sharing their knowledge, those are exactly the kinds of behaviours that sabotage group performance.

Sure enough, Woolley has shown that at least in her experiments in the USA - teams with a greater proportion of women have a higher collective intelligence, and that this can be linked to their higher, overall, social sensitivity, compared to groups consisting of a larger proportion of men.

Does self-worth sabotage?

Woolleys work provides good evidence that individual talent may matter far less than the overall group dynamics within a team. To fully understand Iceland’s success and England’s defeat, we also need to explore how an individuals perceptions of their own talent can influence those group dynamics and the overall collective intelligence.

Various studies have found that inflated beliefs of your own competence and power can impair your abilities to cooperate within a team. And this means that groups of high-flying individuals often fail to make good and creative decisions, despite their individual experience and talent.

An analysis of Dutch telecommunications and financial institutions, for instance, examined behaviour in teams across the companies’ hierarchies, finding that the higher up the company you go, the greater the level of conflict reported by the employees.

Crucially, this seemed to depend on the members own understanding of their positions in the pecking order. If the team as a whole agreed on their relative positions, they were more productive, since they avoided constant jockeying for authority. The worst groups were composed of high-status individuals who didn’t know their rank in the pecking order.

The most striking example of these powerplays - and the clearest evidence that too much talent can be counter-productive - comes from a study of star equity analysts in Wall Street banks. Each year, Institutional Investor ranks the top analysts in each sector, offering them a kind of rock-star status among their colleagues.

These people often flock together at the same prestigious firms, but that doesn’t always bring the rewards the company might have hoped.

A study of five years’ data found that teams with more star players do indeed perform better, but only up to a certain point, after which the benefits of additional star talent tailed often. And with more than around 45% of the department fillled with Institutional Investors picks, the departments appeared to become less effective.

We see exactly the same dynamics in many sports. The social psychologist Adam Galinsky, for instance, has examined the performance of football (soccer) teams in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. To determine the countryҒs top talentґ, they calculated how many of its squad were currently on the payroll of one of the top 30 highest-earning clubs. They then compared this value to the countrys ranking in the qualifying rounds.

In line with the study of the Wall Street analysts, Galinsky’s team found a curvilinear relationship; a team benefitted from having a few stars, but the balance seemed to tip at about 60%.

If we look back at Icelands unexpected victory against England, it’s clear that the quality of the individual players was undoubtedly better than it ever had been. But although many worked for international football clubs, just one of them at the time (Sigursson) had a contract in one of the top-30 clubs. England, in contrast, had pulled 21 of its 23 players from these super-rich teams, far above the optimum threshold.

Humble leaders

All this research provides a couple of tips that could be applied to any team to improve performance. The first is in hiring: look for people with that social sensitivity rather than simply employing the person with the best individual performance. For the group as a whole, it may turn out to be far more valuable particularly if you already have lots of high-flying members.

The second is to ensure that the leader displays the kinds of behaviours they expect within the team. Various studies have found that traits like humility can be contagious. If the leader is willing to listen to others more constructively, rather than dominating the conversation, and admit his or her mistakes, the team as a whole can begin to nurture those dynamics that increase the overall collective intelligence.

After Iceland’s unexpected success at the Euro 2016 tournament, many commentators highlighted the down-to-earth attitude of Heimir Hallgrmsson, one of the teams two coaches, who still worked part time as a dentist. He was apparently devoted to listening and understanding others풒 points of view, and he tried to cultivate that attitude in all of his players.

Team-building is a must for a country like ours; “we can only beat the big teams by working as one,” he told the sports channel ESPN. If you look at our team, we have guys like Sigurisson at Swansea [Football Club], who is probably our highest-profile player, but hes the hardest worker on the pitch. If that guy works the hardest, who in the team can be lazy?

David Robson is a senior journalist at BBC Future. This article is an extract from his recent book The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes.



Reading the Mind in the Eyes or Reading between the Lines?
Theory of Mind Predicts Collective Intelligence Equally Well Online and Face-To-Face

By David Engel, Anita Williams Woolley. Lisa X. Jing, Christopher F. Chabris, Thomas W. Malone
Published: December 16, 2014
Plos One


Recent research with face-to-face groups found that a measure of general group effectiveness (called collective intelligence) predicted a groups performance on a wide range of different tasks. The same research also found that collective intelligence was correlated with the individual group members ability to reason about the mental states of others (an ability called Theory of Mind or ToM). Since ToM was measured in this work by a test that requires participants to read the mental states of others from looking at their eyes (the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test), it is uncertain whether the same results would emerge in online groups where these visual cues are not available. Here we find that: (1) a collective intelligence factor characterizes group performance approximately as well for online groups as for face-to-face groups; and (2) surprisingly, the ToM measure is equally predictive of collective intelligence in both face-to-face and online groups, even though the online groups communicate only via text and never see each other at all. This provides strong evidence that ToM abilities are just as important to group performance in online environments with limited nonverbal cues as they are face-to-face. It also suggests that the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test measures a deeper, domain-independent aspect of social reasoning, not merely the ability to recognize facial expressions of mental states.


Posted by Elvis on 08/12/19 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America • Section Workplace
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Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Line Between Love and Narcissism

image: unpefect

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
- Galatians 5:19-21

Disconnected from our human and spiritual roots, we flail around in a world that is oblivious to the suffering of others. Lacking a gentle mindfulness toward our own feelings and vulnerability, we quickly LOOK AWAY from who are suffering or the environmental havoc were creating.
- Spiritual starving.

There’s a lot of “take responsibility” platitudes in the personal development space, and they are largely nonsense. People tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand.
- Everything doesn’t happen for a reason.

“If you are wise,” she said, “You’re not only regulating your emotional state, you’re also attending to another person’s emotional state.” She added: “You’re not focusing so much on what you need and deserve, but on what you can contribute.”
- The science of older and wiser.

Why I’ve Come to Think the Notion of “Self-Love” is a Myth

By Umair Hague
August 9,2019

The other day, Tig Notaro said something on Twitter that struck a chord with me to the effect of:

Isn’t it funny how the people who should hate themselves the most don’t, and the ones that shouldn’t do?

It’s funny. Because it seems to be true. There’s a stranger truth, though, of human nature. We lionize self-love these days. And yet it always seems that were falling short of it. It seems like an impossible struggle, in fact. You want me to love… this person - whose flaws and failings I know only too well? And yet there’s an intimate link there, too, to the rage consuming this age, that’s boiling over into extremism (I’ll come to that, first a little psychology.)

Here’s a secret. One that especially us Americans aren’t familiar with, haven’t quite understood. And it goes a very long way to the heart of our failings as a society (and as a world, too.) It goes like this.

Everyone hates themselves. Yes, really. Everyone hates themselves (and the Trumps of the universe hate themselves most of all, which is why they’re always trying to prove how “great” they are.)

And not in a superficial way. I hate myself because I’m not pretty enough, rich enough, thin enough, ripped enough, popular enough, famous enough. Nor in a social way: I hate myself because they have more than me, I hate myself because I’m not part of the right tribe, the in-group, the elite (lets band together, incels, and go kill us some women.) Not in that thin, surface way at all.

Everyone hates themselves in the deepest way of all. In an existential way. Inescapably. Deep, deep down. What do we hate ourselves for? Just for existing. For being. In our predicament. For being mortal. For being alone. For being finite. For being limited to the prison of our individuality. For being helpless and powerless to change any of it one bit. We hate ourselves existentially, and it cuts at the deepest part of us. We hate ourselves - and it takes courage and more than a little self-reflection to see it just for the condition of being alive, for its irresolvable uncertainty, its unknowability, its impossible beauty. But who wouldn’t? To exist is a terrible, unbearable burden. Nobody knows why, how, when, where we go, where we came from, what happens to us, what were made of, what the point of us is. We flicker out after barely having taken a breath. The only alternative to the burden of living all that is death. Dilemma. JUST EXISTING IS MORE TERRIFYING THAN ANY HELL ever invented.

Now. Really think about that for a second. Think about all of us, carrying all that self-hate around, every day - and all of us trying our best to deny it, ignore it, bury it, because its the deepest pain that we have. The primal wound in us. All of us. All that hurt, all that aching, pulsing around the globe, every second of every day. Each one of us has that primal wound, burning. But how many of us admit it?

What do we do with it? Well, mostly we try to run away from it - by focusing on the superficial forms of self-hate, because we imagine they’re things we can fix. I can get thinner. I can get richer. I can get more popular. But I can’t get any more life, any more power over death, any more time, any less finite, any less helpless. No matter how hard I try or what I do.

Yet think about futile and useless it is to try and address the superficial forms of self-hate without dealing with, as we say these days, the deep one. You can pile up money and fame and likes and be the prettiest most ripped one of all. What happens? Does it do anything at all to ease the hurt right down in the soul? Not a bit. If you doubt that, take a look at how many happy Instagrammers or YouTubers or even Hollywood stars or bankers there are.

As a culture, we tell ourselves three key myths of self-love, which are also therefore myths of self-hate. The first is that we can outrun our self-hate in a competitive way by outdoing the next person. That one weגre proven false. The second one is that we can force self-love on ourselves, by repeating mantras, by BEING POSITIVE, and so forth. And the third is that self-love is some kind of great and shining prize, without which happiness isnt really possible. What about those two?

If positivity could make people love themselves, then American should be the happiest people in human history. But they’re not. THEY’RE PRETTY MISERABLE, in fact. Depression and loneliness are endemic. Suicide is skyrocketing. A nation of self-lovers? Not quite. Americans have set themselves an impossible bar: perfect lives, which have to be loved - or else life is barely worth living at all. Neither one of those things is true.

We forget how deep self-hate, of the existential kind, really cuts through us. How can I love this thing - this being that will die, never knowing why it lived? How can I love this being - this one that is exiled to be alone, no matter how close another ever gets, even if we spend a lifetime in each others arms? How can I love this one - the being who is finite and fragile, and helpless to change that finitude and fragility in any real way at all? Who could love a thing like that?

It’s NO SURPRISE that as a culture, we try to run away from this PREDICAMENT. As Sartre said, “it feels sickening.” As Camus said, “it’s absurd and horrific.” As Kierkegaard said, “it’s terrifying.” To be this thing, this being, that needs to be loved, held, seen - and yet knows its own fragility and mortality and smallness all too well. We run away from it with RELIGION, with ESCAPISM, with CONSUMERISM, with CRUELTY, with VIOLENCE, with war, with greed, with HATE. We run away from it all the way down into the abyss.

Now we come to a great paradox of the human condition. You and I have this burning need to BE HELD, to be seen, to be known. And yet we hate ourselves for the knowledge of who we truly are. Do you see the irony? Its a terrible plight. It’s tragedy within tragedy. First, the tragedy of mortality and finitude and then the double tragedy of hating one’s self for it. How do we resolve this tragedy? Can we? Are we just empty, meaningless things? Or does the paradox itself hold the keys to a higher meaning, a greater purpose, something that finally matters? It does of course it does.

In that paradox lie the beginnings of all that is true and noble in us. Empathy, courage, wisdom, defiance, grace. The power to love is born right there. I can say: “I know myself as a thing who hates itself for its finitude, its fragility, its powerlessness. But you are just that thing, too. Ah I see you in me. I can’t love myself for being this thing. But you are not me. Perhaps I can love you. Here take my hand. Let us wander this desert together.” Our wounds in that way are our guides.

Do you see what I mean? Let me put it a little more succinctly. Its in the recognition of self-hate as an inescapable and universal condition of being human that love is born. I empathize with you. I hold you. I see you. I know you. As someone who is always, deep down, aching and hurting just like me. Always. Forever. Until the last breath. Are you not worth loving? I can’t love myself. I know myself too well. I will always hate myself, a little but I can love you.

We need ONE ANOTHER to be CAPABLE OF LOVE. If you are not there, who will empathize with me? I I am not there, who will see you, hold you, know you? Doesn’t it seem obvious when I put it that way? How could such a thing as self-love ever really have been?

Ive come to think that “self-love” is a myth. Perhaps the logic above shows you why. I can’t love myself because Im the subject of my own finitude, fragility, helplessness, no matter what I do. But you are not. I can love you.

I think it takes people, really seeing each other, to teach one another what love is. One can’t love ones self in a vacuum any more than an atom in a vacuum can catch fire. Perhaps that’s why Americans chase this glittering prize called self-love but forever fail to find it. Itגs an illusion to begin with. If the idea that loving yourself makes you love others were trueӔ, after all, wouldnt America be a functioning society? ItҒs full of little narcissists, of egoists but that is all. And that, I think, is where the modern obsession with דself-love leads. America is what happens when the wound is not the guide.

If there is no one else there, just a vacuum - then our well of self-hate will soon take over. And that, it seems to me, is what happened to America. Americans are, as the saying goes, “lonely together.” Trapped in little isolated bubbles of lonelinss - desperately seeking self-love -being positive - reciting mantras - chasing a thing which doesn’t really exist - and so as a society, America goes nowhere, except down and down, because nobody is doing the emotional work of really seeing, holding, or knowing anyone else. Self-hatred comes to rule. Hence, Americans are renowned for their cruelty, their lack of empathy, their hate, their greed and violence. The yellow brick road of self-love ends in the sandcastles of narcissism.

Now. If there’s no such thing as “self-love,” then what is there? There’s something much more like peace. Like knowing. Like a gentle consolation. Like a last stand. Like an embrace of acceptance. This is me. In my finitude. In my helplessness. In all my fragility. I am standing inside my mortality. I am reaching upwards to the sky, anyways. I am this thing, made of, as Kierkegaard said, fear and trembling. Let me admit it. Let me be just that thing. Instead of pretending to be something else. Isnt that living a lie? As difficult and painful as it is - let me be just that thing. Without pretense. Authentically. Let the wound in me be my guide.

Do you see the difference? What I’m describing is an ambivalent thing. It isn’t a kind of passionate, egotistical, narcissistic infatuation “look how awesome I am!! It’s a conflicted thing, a position that’s bent-over, the crook of a gnarled tree, the bend of a river. I don’t know if I can love myself. I know myself too well for that. I know that Im alone, I’m helpless, I’m ignorant, I’m mortal things I donגt want to be, cant bear. I can, perhaps, know that. Admit it. Accept it. With a kind of defiance.

I can rebel, as Camus said - but only if I have the courage to know who and what I really am. I can never love that thing, that bent, broken, helpless one I call myself. But perhaps I dont have to hate it, either. It is just who it is. Who it was born being. Who it is condemned, as Sartre said, to be. Perhaps I can offer it as it is to someone just like it.

All that I can do in this life is to reach out my hand. And walk beside you. I can love you, perhaps, for your fragility, for your finitude, for your littleness - but never myself, because I am me, the subject of all my own finitude, and you are not. The same is true for you. In that way, love is born. The wound is your guide.

But that also means that we have a choice in this life. Either we love ourselves which is to say glorify, aggrandize, and reward them, none of which are really love, but all numbing escapes from the central existential challenge of self-hate. Or we love. We just love. The river, the mountain, the tree. The soil that becomes the forest. The word, the letter, the song. And if weגre lucky, that way, perhaps we find someone we see the whole universe in.

I think that America chose the illusion called “self-love.” But the more that I reflect on it, the more I conclude: there’s no such thing. There’s an ambivalent, conflicted, difficult peace. With the position of finitude and fragility that makes us us. But we can’t love ourselves for being these things - the MOST WE CAN DO is not hate ourselves for being who and what we are. And yet those are precisely what make love - which is always the discovery of meaning beyond the finite, helpless, limited self - possible.


Posted by Elvis on 08/10/19 •
Section Spiritual Diversions • Section Personal
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Wednesday, August 07, 2019

The Big Crash

image: dying america

It’s Not Just You. We’re Living Through The Worst Breakdown Since the 1930s
(and Our Systems and Institutions Need Radical Reinvention.)

By Umair Haque
July 29,2019

If you’re alarmed by the way things are going in the world - you should be. It feels to me as if were living through a Big Crash. What I mean by that is that the world’s great systems are broken. They cant be mended. They need to be reimagined and redesigned and reinvented. But so far - there seems to be as little will to do that as there as in insight into it.

Hence, an age of paralysis, despair, trauma, and backlash. Your anxiety is very real, it means something your gut is telling you all the above, just like mine is.

The fundamental system that’s broken is the GLOBAL ECONOMY. That’s not a surprise - America designed and invented it, and the global economy has come to reflect Americas bizarre and grotesque economic outcomes. America is now a country of a tiny number of ultra rich, who effectively own everything, and one of something very much like neo SERFS - the average American will die in debt, which means he’ll never (in net terms) own, earn, or save anything. Anything.

That shattering inequality has gone global, as a natural consequence of the global economy America built. It fought war after war and destabilized nation after nation to put together a capitalist world or at least as capitalist a world as was possible. “Free trade” deals (freedom for corporations), floating currencies, speculation, privatization, stock markets, and so forth. The consequence is that inequality is skyrocketing across the globe. But that’s an anodyne phrase. We don’t often stop to think about what it means.

What it means in hard terms is that the middle class is imploding in society after society. Even the vaunted Canadian and European middle classes, better protected by generous social contracts, are beginning to decline. The working class is fast becoming something like a caste of digital serfs, roaming from on DEMAND GIG to on demand gig, scavenging the landfill of prosperity for today’s ride, task, job, detritus.

Money is hoarded at the top. So much of it that the ultra rich, banks, and corporations literally don’t know what to do with it. All the yachts and designers wardrobes have been bought.

So they shovel it offshore, into hidden accounts, where their loot is stashed away for a rainy day. Keynes would have called all these “imbalances” in his day, they emerged between countries. In our day, they have re-emerged between classes, across countries. Because money is hoarded at the top, it doesn’t flow through the rest of the economy - and the result is stagnation for everyone else. Life becomes a bitter struggle, as your bills perpetually rise but your income doesnŗt. (Hence, incomes are flat in every rich country a fact that predicts more, not less, extremism.)

In technical terms, we might say something like - capitalism is causing a collapse of the social structure (by creating a lack of demand.) In plain English, that means that the structure of a “healthy society” a small number of rich (not extremely rich), a large, stable middle, and a small, shrinking, number of poor - all that is imploding. Instead of creating a healthy, stable, enduring middle class, optimistic about its future, securely anchored in place, instead of creating a small, ever shrinking number of poorׅthe class that global capitalism really created was a global ultra-rich (and vast armies of the precarious, broke, and powerless to serve them.)

So now society is beginning to revert to SOMETHING MUCH MORE LIKE a premodern structure a tiny number of people so wealthy they are in a different caste, and a very large number of people who serve them. Think of the days of aristocracy - the aristocrats owned more or less everything under the sun huge chunks of cities like London and Paris, huge swathes of land in the countryside, palaces that made today’s mansions - look like shanties. They gave themselves grand titles and wore ornate uniforms and created strange myths that they had noble blood to trick everyone else into believing all that was just and fair. Hence, that system prevailed for centuries.

Think of the difference between a gentle bell curve, and a pair of pincers. A neofeudal caste society what that capitalism - unable to sustain itself built, in country after country, not the kind of broad, stable social structure of shared prosperity that so much depends on. Like what? Like democracy, trust, meaning, and happiness.

As a result of the global economy failing, polities are, too. What happens when there is such tremendous inequality? The first thing that happens is that the rich who have become ultra rich try to purchase polities wholesale to defend their gains. That’s what happened in America. The ultra rich funded extremist movement after movement, to (literally) eviscerate the government, which was the only force in society that could check and restrain predatory capitalism. They succeeded. Corruption follows inequality as naturally as the moon orbits the earth.

But thats not the only way in which a broken global economy is producing a failed politics. What happens when middle classes collapse? Nationalism, authoritarianism, and fascism, all do. When people begin to live at the edge, when they are constantly teething on the razorҒs edge of mere subsistence, they become easy meat for demagogues, who blame an economys problems on anyone even more powerless still. Immigrants, refugees, gays, women Ғ anyone who is outside the in-group, the dominant tribe.

All thats a solution to the problem of stagnation. The pie is shrinking. How are we to have more ג just like we were promised? We will take some from them. Those dirty, filthy subhumans. They are the reason we are poor. If we can just cleanse ourselves of them and take all they have, too ח we will be Great Again.

It’s the story of Weimar Germany imploding into Nazi Germany. And today, it’s scarily beginning to play out across the globe. There’s America, run by literal white supremacists. There’s China, imprisoning a million people. There’s India, where an aggressive nationalism rules. Even in gentle Canada, extremists have carried whole provinces.

But none of this is a coincidence. ItҒs a consequence of middle classes who are either imploding, like in America, or who are struggling, like in India, China, and Canada. Those economies might be growingғ, its true Ԓ but they are not for anyone who isnt ultra rich at this point. Even in places like India and China, the cost of living is far outpacing gains in average income. The result is stagnation for everyone below the 90% threshold. And when economies stagnate, social structures collapse ג and the rise of extremism is as predictable as the sun coming up tomorrow. (Hence, even in places like India and China, which American economists point to as great successes, intolerance and hate and hardcore authoritarianism are beginning to rule.)

The three great problems of this century inequality, stagnation, and social collapse - are all linked in this way. The linchpin holding them all together is capitalism. The fourth and fifth great problems of this century climate change and mass extinction ח are forms of inequality and social collapse, too we still just donחt see trees and rivers and bees as members of our society, just as objects, so we dont make that mental link yet. But one day we will: we’ll say that just as capitalism ate through the middle class, it ate through the forests and oceans, too.

When we writethe history of this troubled century or at least a troubled beginning to it җ the verdict will be both clear and unanimous. Capitalism failed and failed catastrophically ח as a global economic system.

It wasnt able to produce equitable outcomes for even the countries which it “lifted up” (they did the lifting, my friends.) It wasn’t able to produce the health social structures vital for the functioning of a democracy a stable middle class, a small, shrinking number of poor - but precisely the opposite: the rich became ultra rich, the middle imploded, and the poor grew, as a new neofeudal caste society of haves and have-nots emerged. And it let democracy be bought lock, stock, and barrel by those new ultra rich, who soon enough cleverly used the institutions of democracy to destroy itself, as in Brexit or Trumpism, so they could defend their gains. As if all that werent enough to deal with, capitalism ate through the planet, too. It left the environment devastated. The climate began to change, as the planet warmed rapidly. Life as we know it began to die off. Later, weגll describe these as forms of stagnation and inequality, too for the natural world, for other beings, for all the things that we depend on.

The country that built the global economy җ its destiny shows us the fate of the rest of the world, too. No matter how rich or powerful a nation gets, if its run the way America is, the result isnt a healthy society ג its a caste society of the broke, powerless, and impoverished serving the ultra rich. And more and more nations are following precisely that path, falling like dominoes.

America was to be the bellwether for the global economy it had built. That was only natural - it was the model it wanted the world to follow. But its collapse was a microcosm of all the implosions the world was going through, too. American cities didn’t have clean water. They didn’t have decent food. It’s people lived and died in poverty - no matter how hard they worked, or how much they tried to save and invest. Its super rich decimated its polity. And in the end, the people - enough of them - turned to extremists to protect them. At this point, they were like little children - literally. They had been traumatized into infantile regression. Their adult minds weren’t working anymore. Who could blame them? Living on the edge of life and death everyday has that effect. Trauma shuts down the adult mind. And so Americans sought safety in the strong, comforting arms of extremists</aB - who told them to build concentration camps and walls and Gestapos.

American collapse teaches us the future that awaits the world at the end of the Big Crash. If we don’t reimagine and reinvent our broken system now - beginning this minute - more and more countries will end up going that route, no matter how rich or successful or powerful they ever become. If a <b>country of broke, impoverished, traumatized people, kids getting shot at school, unable to ever save a penny, whose adult minds don’t work anymore, fleeing to Trump dynasties, snarling at little immigrant babies, happily building cages to torture them in - if all that sounds like good news to you, then think again, my friend.

These are the days of the Big Crash. We had better get serious, fast, about building a better future. Because what will happens to us if we don’t crystal clear, and it’s called America.



New Tariffs, Stocks Plunge, Manufacturing Falls Again And More Layoffs But Everything Is ֓Fine?

By Michael Snyder
The Economic Collapse
August 1, 2019

Things are starting to go downhill rather quickly now.  A day after the Federal Reserve cut interest rates for the first time in more than a decade, we received a whole bunch more bad economic news.  Most Americans donԒt realize it yet, but our economy is in serious trouble.  We havent seen anything like this since the last recession, but most people seem to think that since stock prices are still very high that everything must be fine.  No, everything is definitely not ғfine, and as I noted yesterday, a lot of prominent names are loudly sounding the alarm.  Many analysts are expecting things to really start breaking loose as we get deeper into the second half of this year, and what we witnessed on Thursday certainly didnԒt make the outlook any brighter.

President Trump completely shocked Wall Street when he announced that yet another round of tariffs will be imposed upon Chinese goods.  According to CNBC, these new tariffs will go into effect on September 1st.

Trump said in a series of tweets the tariff will be imposed on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods. The levy will take effect Sept. 1.

He said later in the day those levies could go up to 25%. Trumps comments came after a U.S. delegation met with Chinese trade officials earlier this week. Those were the first in-person trade talks between China and the U.S. since both countries reached a truce on the situation.

This is essentially the equivalent of a ғgut punch, and it definitely takes our trade war with China to an entirely new level.

And Trump told the press that the tariffs will remain in place until the U.S. and China agree to a deal.  THE FOLLOWING comes from Fox Business:

President Trump said on Thursday the U.S. will continue to tax China until the worlds two largest economies reach a trade agreement .

ғWhen my people came home they said we were talking. We have another meeting in September. Until such time as there is a deal we will be taxing them, he said from the White HouseԒs south lawn.

But as I have repeatedly explained to my readers, there isnt going to be an agreement any time soon.  In fact, it is extremely doubtful that we will see one before the 2020 presidential election.  Trump is not going to back down from his core demands, the Chinese will never accept them, and China would much prefer to negotiate with whoever follows Trump in the Oval Office.

So these tariffs are here to stay, China will inevitably retaliate once again, and global economic activity will suffer.

But Trump doesn’t seem alarmed.  On Thursday, he also told reporters that if China doesnt want to trade with the United States anymore ”THAT WOULD BE FINE WITH ME”

For many years China has been taking money out by the hundreds billions of dollars a year. We have rebuilt China so now it is time that we changed things around. If they didn’t want to trade with us anymore that would be fine with me. It would save us a lot of money, Trump told reporters Thursday.

Those are very strong words, and Trump actually has a point.

In the short-term, decoupling from the Chinese economy is going to be extremely painful for us.  But THE TRUTH IS that we should have never integrated our economy so deeply with Chinas economy in the first place.  The Chinese government is one of the most tyrannical regimes on the entire planet, and they have no respect for basic human rights.  Trade agreements that were extremely unfavorable for the United States allowed China to become exceedingly wealthy at our expense, and the Chinese would like to continue taking advantage of us indefinitely if they could.

So something definitely needed to be done about China, but it is going to be a really, really painful period of adjustment for the U.S. economy.

After Wall Street learned of the new tariffs on Thursday, stock prices immediately BEGAN TO PLUMMET҅

When President Donald Trump announced a new round of tariffs on Chinese imports on Thursday, the Dow was up 311 points. Then it was down nearly 300 points.

That was the biggest swing since early January.

And it certainly would not be a surprise if stock prices continued to go down.  As I noted the other day, the stock market is more primed for a crash than it has ever been before.

At this point, stock prices are completely and totally disconnected from economic reality.  As stocks hit record high after record high in July, bad economic news just kept pouring in.

Of course August certainly just started off with a bang.  On Thursday, we learned that a key measure of U.S. manufacturing activity has fallen to the LOWEST LEVEL SINCE SEPTEMBER 2009

The IHS Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index fell to 50.4 in July, down from 50.6 in June, driven by a weaker demand. The firm also noted managers signaled slower hiring.

In addition, Lowe’s just announced that they will be LAYING OFF THOUSANDS OF WORKERS ...

Lowe’s is laying off thousands of workers.

Layoffs will include assemblers, who put together items like grills and patio furniture. The company will also cut maintenance and facility-service jobs, such as janitors. The company said it is outsourcing those positions to third-party companies.

Lowes (LOW) declined to say exactly how many workers will be laid off. It said that workers whose jobs are being eliminated will be given transition pay and have the opportunity to apply for open roles at Lowe’s. The Wall Street Journal first reported Lowes plan.

This is the continuation of a trend that I have been tracking for months.  Big companies have been laying off workers at a level that WE HAVEN’T SEEN SINCE THE LAST RECESSION, and many believe that what we have witnessed so far is just the beginning.

Also, the trucking apocalypseӔ just continues to accelerate.  The following comes from FROM ZERO HEDGE ...

Yet another trucking company has fallen victim to the recession in freight this year, according to FreightWaves. Terrill Transportation of Livermore, California shut its doors unexpectedly on July 30. The company had been in business 25 years.

Customer Manny Bhandal, president of Bhandal Bros. Inc., said that three of his trucks arrived at Terrill on July 30 to drop off a shipment and were turned away. Kevin Terrill, president of Terrill Transportation, did not respond to FREIGHT WAVES.

If the U.S. economy really was in fineӔ shape, trucking company after trucking company would not be shutting their doors.

Sadly, instead of heeding the warning signs and using this time to get prepared for rough times ahead, most Americans are choosing to use this time to party.

And there is certainly not anything wrong with enjoying life, but we have gotten to the point where it is crystal clear that a new crisis is upon us, and most Americans are completely and utterly unprepared for what is about to happen.

I will continue to track these developments as they unfold.  We are truly in unprecedented territory, and I have a feeling that the second half of 2019 is going to be far more interesting than the first half was.


Posted by Elvis on 08/07/19 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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