Cyberwar, a Revolution in Military Affairs | Blame it on the A A A Alcohol | Water Flow = Cash Flow

MARCH 27, 2019  /   SUBSCRIBE



“I am not young enough to know everything.”

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

– Oscar Wilde




Cyber-Star Wars Episode 1: The Foreign Menace: The US has vowed to take a harder line against rivals in cyberspace. That’s the pledge Army General Paul Nakasone gave when he testified before Congress in January. Nakasone heads up both the National Security Agency and the US Cyber Command, two super-secretive agencies which share the same sprawling campus in Ft. Meade, Maryland. The NSA monitors foreign communications while Cyber Command operates in the digital realm. Prior to last year, not much was heard from agency leaders, but Nakasone is going public with the message about confronting and combating rivals in cyberspace. “For the first time, we sent our cyberwarriors abroad. We sent defensive teams forward in November to three different European countries,” he told Congress.

Nakasone spoke recently at a high-tech gathering in San Francisco, offering a few select details. One cyber expert said while it was uncharacteristic for either agency to be offering a peek behind the curtain, the thinking now is that by sharing a bit more information and creating awareness, “it makes the attackers’ job harder.” Another expert said lots of countries can hack into systems, but few countries can figure out who did the hacking. The US is one of the few that can. “So finding out who hacked you…then assessing the evidence in a professional way, the attribution capabilities, these are hard to develop,” the expert said. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team was able to indict 25 Russians for election interference by name and with details only attainable by hacking their computers. Recently the NSA took another unusual step when it made one of its own software programs available to the public. The program,Ghidra, reverse-engineers malware that’s been detected in a computer system. Anyone can download it for free to analyze malware and figure out how best to combat it.




Downloaders Keepers, Hosters Weepers: The European Parliament voted Tuesday to approve a sweeping set of changes to copyright laws that could force big tech companies to be legally responsible for the content that users upload to their websites. Google News and other aggregators could be required to pay publishers for certain types of links to their articles. Services that offer users the chance to upload their own content, like YouTube and Facebook, could be liable for videos that violate copyrights. The vote drew a sharp rebuke from the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a trade group that represents tech giants including Amazon, Facebook and Google. The CCIA said rules requiring sites to pay a “snippet tax” for excerpting news stories “risks restricting freedom of information online,” while the new copyright rules increase “the incentives for platforms to over-filter and over-remove users’ uploads.” After expected approval by EU governments, the new rules would go into effect in two years. (WaPo)

No More Years! No More Years!: Algeria’s 82-year-old president Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been in ill health for years. The wheelchair-bound leader has barely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke; recently he spent two weeks in a medical facility in Switzerland. The situation’s become a constitutional crisis with tens of thousands of protesters marching daily in cities across the North African nation demanding that Bouteflika step down. On Tuesday the country’s powerful army chief, General Ahmed Gaid Salah, said in a speech on state television: “We must find a way out of this crisis immediately, within the constitutional framework.” Salah wants lawmakers to introduce a measure to declare Bouteflika unfit for office. If approved by a two-thirds parliamentary majority the president would be forced to step down. The Senate president could then assume the reins of government until national elections are held. (WaPo)

Drunk Words Are Sober Policies and Blame it on the (NR)A’s A A A Alcohol: For years Australian reporter Rodger Muller posed as a gun-rights advocate, pretending to represent a fake organization called Gun Rights Australia. During a trip to the US last September Muller introduced leaders of Queensland’s anti-immigrant One Nation party, James Ashby and Steve Dickson, to representatives from the National Rifle Association and Koch Industries. For several hours, over several scotches, Ashby and Dickson talked about how much influence money from the American gun lobby could potentially buy. Ashby said that with a $20 million donation from the NRA his right-wing party could “own” the Australian Senate and House of Representatives. What the men didn’t know was that Muller was secretly taping the conversation. The recording was released Monday in part one of a two-part documentary produced by Al Jazeera called “How to Sell a Massacre.” Government officials and lawmakers were horrified at One Nation’s attempts to “sell Australia’s gun laws to the highest bidder.” Ashby told reporters his meetings with the NRA had been about sourcing technology. He blamed a set-up by an Australian spy working for a Middle Eastern country, and alcohol. (NYT)




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Water Flow = Cash Flow: Four hours east of Los Angeles, in a drought-stricken area of a drought-afflicted state, is a small town called Blythe. Blythe is a desert, but it is adjacent to the lower Colorado river, a river that supplies water to roughly 40 million people and irrigates 4 million acres of land. Alfalfa, a very water-intensive crop, is grown in Blythe on over half of the town’s 94,000 acres. Massive industrial storehouses line the southern end of town; they’re packed with thousands upon thousands of stacks of alfalfa bales ready to be fed to dairy cows— not cows in California’s Central Valley or Montana’s rangelands, but cows in Saudi Arabia. The storehouses belong to Fondomonte Farms, a subsidiary of the Saudi Arabia-based company Almarai, one of the largest food production companies in the world.

Saudi Arabia is also mostly desert, and with alfalfa requiring so much water, the government finally outlawed growing it in 2016. So Almarai went looking to purchase land wherever it was cheap and had favorable water conditions to produce enough feed for its 93,000 cows. The company found just such a place in Blythe, and that’s how today Almarai owns 15,000 acres there, 16 percent of the entire irrigated valley. Only one problem. The Colorado River is shrinking, from growing cities’ steady demands, continuing drought, and climate change. The river is at a record low. However, whereas in other places people are charged according to how much water they use and are thus incentivized to use less, an 1800s water claim submitted to the federal government by a British gold rush-era prospector named Thomas Blythe assures that in Blythe, no matter how much he uses, a farmer gets his water for a cheap, flat rate. And always will, at least until it’s gone. (Guardian) Additional movie: A film noir movie set in California’s water wars, Chinatown trailer.

Additional quotes on water

“Nothing is more useful than water: but it will purchase scarcely anything; scarcely anything can be had in exchange for it. A diamond, on the contrary, has scarcely any use-value; but a very great quantity of other goods may frequently be had in exchange for it.” – Adam Smith, Paradox of value

“Reason is the first casualty in a drought.” – Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water (available in almost all public libraries)

More on Mueller




Dude, Where’s My Car?: The US is the world’s second-largest auto market, and in the US, sales are falling and prices are rising. That translates into lower-end buyers getting squeezed out of the new car market, according to the latest industry forecast. For the first time in six years first-quarter retail sales, excluding sales to rental car companies and other commercial businesses, are expected to fall below 3 million units. Retail sales of cars costing under $25,000 are expected to fall 12 percent in the quarter, more than two times the overall decline of 5 percent. Yet the average cost of a new vehicle will likely hit $33,319, the highest ever for the first quarter, meaning the average buyer is paying $1,000 more per purchase than in the first quarter of 2018. An automotive forecaster says the one bright spot may be this: “The Fed’s decision to hold interest rates will help stabilize the interest element of the rising cost of buying a new vehicle.” (CNBC)

Daily Pnut firmly believes that this is true: Owning a Car Will Soon Be as Quaint as Owning a Horse: The shift away from private vehicles will happen faster than we think. (NYT, $) In San Francisco one can live without a car between bicycling, public transportation, ride sharing, scooters, and Waze carpool. While this is definitely not possible in the suburbs and in rural areas this could become possible in the future with autonomous vehicles. Part of the reason personally owned vehicles will become outdated is because software and services are moving many things to a subscription based economy: Netflix (movies), Spotify (music), Amazon Prime (many products and services), and much of enterprise technology (Salesforce, Adobe, Shopify, etc…)

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