Time to let others do the talking
What's the most important thing you need to know about today?
That's what I ask myself when considering each Weekly's topics. This Weekly, I'm talked out. There's just too much... stuff.
So how about I just quote some of what other people -- smarter and more eloquent than me -- are saying about the matters that matter the most.
Democracy in America under siege
“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist....
"The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lies will now be accepted as truth… but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world… is being destroyed.”
―Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
"The Republican Party is now rationalizing and enabling Mr. Trump’s autocratic, kleptocratic, dangerous and downright embarrassing behavior in hopes of salvaging key elements of its ideological agenda: cutting taxes for the wealthy (as part of possibly the worst tax bill in American history), hobbling the regulatory regime, gutting core government functions and repealing Obamacare without any reasonable plan to replace it...
"It’s an agenda bereft of any serious efforts to remedy the problems that trouble vast segments of the American public, including the disaffected voters who flocked to Mr. Trump. The failure of Republican members of Congress to resist the anti-democratic behavior of President Trump — including holding not a single hearing on his and his team’s kleptocracy — is cringe-worthy."
―Thomas E. Mann and Robert J. Ornstein explain "How the Republicans Broke Congress" in a December 2, 2017, article on the New York Times
Malware spreads via Facebook 'political' ads
"On Facebook... hucksters can take their manipulation to the next level because the company gathers so much data about people and allows advertisers to target messages based on that data. So scammers can ensure their clickbait is seen by the people they think are most likely to fall for their outrageous headlines.
"The political scam ads identified by ProPublica had certain traits in common. At least seven were associated with a scheme that sends readers to a web page containing a snippet of malicious computer code, or malware, to lock up the user’s computer. Those included [an ad with the headline, 'New Approval Ratings For President Trump Announced And It’s Not Going The Way You Think'], as well as ones headlined 'Ivanka Trump Has Actually Responded to Her Dad’s ‘Incestuous Comments’ About Her' — which were also targeted at 'very liberal' people over 40 — and 'This Barack Obama Quote About Donald Trump Is Absolutely Terrifying,' for which we couldn’t identify the target audience."
―Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Jeff Larson, and Julia Angwin, from a December 5, 2017, article on ProPublica
The rise of Trump and the subsequent demise of reason predicted 19 years ago
"[M]embers of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.
"At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for--someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. A scenario like that of Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here may then be played out. For once a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen. In 1932, most of the predictions made about what would happen if Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor were wildly overoptimistic.
"One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words [slur for an African-American that begins with "n"] and [slur for a Jewish person that begins with "k"] will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet."
―Richard Rorty, in his "contrarian" 1998 book Achieving Our Country, as quoted on Slate via Open Culture
Know your enemy: Russia's past cyberwarfare successes are signs of things to come
"The core concept of cyberwar has to be understood as something broader than hacks or the defacement of websites. It is psychological manipulation, executed with targeted digital disinformation designed to weaken a country from within. Thus, no smoking gun will ever be found: 'The Russian theory of war allows you to defeat the enemy without ever having to touch him,' says Peter Pomerantsev, author of Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. 'Estonia [attacked via the internet in 2007] was an early experiment in that theory.'
"Since then, Russia has only developed, and codified, these strategies. The techniques pioneered in Estonia are known as the 'Gerasimov doctrine,' named after Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff of the Russian military. In 2013, Gerasimov published an article in the Russian journal Military-Industrial Courier, articulating the strategy of what is now called 'hybrid' or 'nonlinear' warfare.... New forms of antagonism, as seen in 2010’s Arab spring and the 'colour revolutions' of the early 2000s, could transform a 'perfectly thriving state, in a matter of months, and even days, into an arena of fierce armed conflict....'
"First, people’s trust in one another is broken down. Then comes fear, followed by hatred, and finally, at some point, shots are fired. The pattern was particularly striking in Crimea. People posted reports on Facebook about gross mistreatment by Ukrainians; dramatic messages circulated on Instagram about streams of refugees fleeing the country; billboards suddenly appeared in Kiev bearing pro-Russian slogans; demonstrations followed. Rising suspicion and mutual mistrust split Ukrainian society. In a matter of months, fighting broke out. Russia used the conflict as a pretext to send in 'aid convoys', presenting itself as a benevolent responder to an emergency."
―Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus, in "Fake news and botnets: How Russia weaponised the web," on the Guardian, December 2, 2017
Foreign governments investing in Silicon Valley giants want control in exchange
"I’m truly concerned about Google and Facebook and the current state of their algorithms. They keep getting more and more powerful. It’s a very difficult thing to solve because you can’t stop people from using these things. You yourself can’t stop using these things. We have reached the point where we’re okay with our privacy being violated on a daily basis for the sake of convenience. We complain about it constantly and often on these very platforms.
"Another concern is related to who’s funding these things. The Saudi government, the UAE, Qatar through their various investment arms, have huge shares in companies like Uber, Twitter, and Facebook. That’s not okay because their end goal is control and data, not wealth or the local economy which isn’t impacted by any of these tools....
"When you’re investing $3 billion in Uber, you’re going to ask for a transaction — it’s going to be mutually beneficial somehow. This is not a purely profit-oriented exchange. This is a way to buy control into the Silicon Valley and the data-driven giants that emerge from it."
―Esra’a Al Shafei, founder and director of Majal, which promotes under-represented populations on the web, via StoryEngine.io
Tech companies assist government censorship of the internet
"A decade ago, our main concern was governments implementing filtering mechanisms to censor the internet. Today that remains a problem, but more and more, Silicon Valley companies are willing to comply with takedown requests from authoritarian governments.... [In the past few months, the EFF has seen Snapchat and Medium comply with the government of Saudi Arabia, which was] unthinkable in previous years.
"Internet censorship creates inequality -- economic inequality, inequality of ideas, educational inequality, and more.... [G]overnments are working together in their bids for repression, closure of borders, the implementation of mass-surveillance, or cooperation on censorship."
―Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at Electronic Frontier Foundation, quoted by Andrada Fiscutean in a November 28, 2017, article on ZDNet
A new tool for testing your browser's privacy protection
"When you visit a website, online trackers and the site itself may be able to identify you – even if you’ve installed software to protect yourself. It’s possible to configure your browser to thwart tracking, but many people don’t know how.
"Panopticlick will analyze how well your browser and add-ons protect you against online tracking techniques. We’ll also see if your system is uniquely configured—and thus identifiable—even if you are using privacy-protective software."
―The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Panopticlick privacy-testing service for browsers