Facebook, and Cambridge Analytica

During last week, the world was supposedly ‘shocked’ by revelations that the details of Facebook users were being used by a research company, Cambridge Analytica, for sales or marketing purposes, and also to possibly influence voting patterns in the 2016 election in America. It was also ‘revealed’ that they targeted voters in the UK, during the EU referendum.

Facebook has 215 million users in the United States alone, and 35 million users in the UK by current available figures. Worldwide, users of that one social media platform are believed to be well in excess of 2.2 BILLION, with at least half that number active on a daily basis. People in most countries around the planet, people of all races and creeds, young and old. They happily share a photo of their latest meal, new sexy outfit, playing with their pets, or just plain old-fashioned keeping in touch with family and friends.

As well as that, many express their political preferences, attack people with different views and opinions, or bully vulnerable people whilst online. They tag people in photos, often without asking, and mention the people they have been socialising with, as well as family members and children. All this information is eagerly harvested by Facebook, from their headquarters. It is then sold on to advertisers, marketplace sellers, opinion poll companies, consumer research organisations, and statistical number crunching outfits like Cambridge Analytica.. Facebook is now estimated to be worth over $500 BILLION, without including the personal worth of its founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.

So, why the surprise? What is all the furore and chest-beating about? Did you really think that Facebook was just the invention of an amiable geek who wanted to allow everyone to connect with their old school-friends? Really?
Just like how Amazon only wants everyone in the world to be able to buy reasonably-priced goods, delivered to their door.
Or Google provides a totally free search engine, for the altruistic benefit of mankind.

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Salisbury: A false flag?

I have been patiently waiting for more details to emerge about the nerve agent attack in Salisbury that left two Russian nationals and an English policeman seriously ill in hospital. In a country with more CCTV surveillance than almost anywhere else on Earth, no doubt footage would emerge of suspects, and the security services would be able to name those concerned. The authorities would then tell us how the attack was engineered, and how it happened to be carried out in broad daylight, in a chain restaurant situated in the heart of a small English city.

I have seen countless news reports of specialists in protective clothing removing cars, and erecting covers around the still closed restaurant. Police tape closed off some public spaces nearby, (that tape presumably effective against unknown nerve agents) and various uniformed figures appeared on TV to issue grim statements about the despicable nature of the attack. But still no real information has been disclosed, and the great British public are none the wiser. The target has been identified as a former spy, and possible double agent for Russia. His daughter was with him at the time, and seems to have been ‘collateral damage’. So too the policeman called to investigate in the first instance. The local hospital where the victims were taken was closed for a while, but otherwise, life in Salisbury continued as normal.

There are around 50,000 people resident in that ancient city, yet only three are reported to have been affected by the release of a ‘deadly’ nerve agent. None of the staff in the restaurant were harmed, nor were any of the other customers eating in there at the time. Despite closing the hospital, sealing up the restaurant, and removing cars and ambulances, no further cases of contamination have been reported. Instead, the government and news media here have been quick to accuse the Russians of ordering and carrying out the attack, using a nerve agent that only they have access to. Our bumbling Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, went so far as to accuse Vladimir Putin directly, and compared Russia to Nazi Germany too.
So much for international diplomacy, and waiting for evidence.

Even before the international ‘experts’ arrived to test the substance, Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats, amid a torrent of accusations and unfounded charges, all based on assumption and rumour.

So what if we say it probably was Russia? The targets definitely appear to be Russians, living openly in the UK, despite their background in spying. Not many countries have access to biological warfare weapons, so Russia has to be high on the list of ‘possibles’. And Russia has been accused of colluding to influence the US Elections, supported the Assad regime in Syria, and is also reasonably friendly with Iran. It is the ‘go-to’ bad guy for almost anything that happens these days, at least since North Korea started to ‘play nice’.

But I think something is very wrong with all this.

Not far from Salisbury, just 6 kilometres in fact, is one of the largest and most sophisticated chemical and biological warfare installations in the world. Porton Down was built in 1917, and became the UK Armed Forces’ primary facility for the development of gas warfare, chemical warfare, and biological warfare too. The scientists there are world leaders in the field, and have worked alongside other countries to develop and supply all manner of toxic substances for use in modern warfare.

Coincidence?

The ‘former’ Russian spy was eating not far from this place, and presumably either lived in the area, or was visiting from somewhere else.

Coincidence?

This happened just before the recent Russian elections.

Coincidence?

Very little information has been forthcoming, and some questions will never be answered, in ‘The Interests Of National Security.’ That again.

I prefer proof to coincidences and unfounded allegations. That’s what got us into a war with Iraq, and led to wars in other countries too. Can it be possible that this whole thing was constructed to discredit Russia just before the elections, and their hosting of the Football World Cup? To add more fuel to the American allegations, and inspire the international community to put pressure on Putin?
Anything’s possible. But they should all remember one important fact.
Russia is not Iraq.

Nothing happening?

Politics tends to be quiet, at this time of year. But look between the headlines, and you may well discover that it is all still ‘happening’.

North Korea is making overtures. They say that they will negotiate the removal of their nuclear weapons, in return for talks on lessening sanctions, and a better relationship with the south. That might be a great thing to discover, if the DPRK actually had a viable nuclear weapons option, which they patently do not. Nice bluffing from Kim. Will that bluff be called?

The Brexit negotiations are apparently ‘bogged down’ over arrangements about a hard border, in Northern Ireland. That, and the argument over free trade, after we leave the EU. Anyone but the blind, and hermits, will realise that this is all just ‘Brexit stalling’, arranged by the pro-remain politicians who are laughably in charge of settling our withdrawal from the EU. Despite clarion calls to the contrary, it is looking more and more as if a ‘second referendum’ is likely, urging the British people to vote to stay in the EU, in all but name.

As the old saying goes, “Don’t piss in my face, then tell me it is raining”.

Mr Trump continues to play ‘silly buggers’, over in America. His latest wheeze is to threaten to impose trade tariffs, strangling imports of cars, steel, and other goods from countries outside the influence of the US. I don’t think he is mad, as many others assert that he is, but he is getting increasingly silly, that’s for sure.

People are still dying in Syria, every day. Assad is the leader of that country, like it or not. Most of his opponents are from fundamentalist Muslim groups, the kind of groups we are constantly fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet for some reason, in Syria, they are ‘good groups’, and Assad is the devil. Regime change is a slippery slope, as we have discovered in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries. Best avoided? Not in Syria, apparently.

So, as Mrs May hangs on for dear life to her job, Mr Trump continues to befuddle and confound, Assad seems to be winning in Syria, and Kim finally plays his ace in the DPRK; the EU try to cling on to British membership for fear of a collapse, and the Saudis remain unrestrained in their support of the terrorists, rest assured that everything is still very much ‘going on’.

Unfortunately.

Charities In Meltdown

The current Oxfam crisis comes as little surprise to me, to be honest. I gave up donating to such charities decades ago. I discovered that they were paying their executives six-figure salaries, and that much of the aid sent to desperate countries was either ending up in the hands of armed warlords, or being sold on by middlemen, described by various charities as ‘local entrepreneurs’. They tried to dress this up as ‘job creation’, but what it actually meant was more profit for a charity that had become little more than a business, its coffers swelled by huge government donations too.

Other charities will be exposed too, I have no doubt. Save The Children has already been mentioned, and many others will topple like dominoes, in the weeks to come. Sex for aid, the misuse of vehicles and funds, and the appalling spectre of children sexually abused in return for the basics in life. This with charities paying their executives well in excess of £100,000 a year, as well as supplying housing, company cars, and expense accounts to many as well. Make you feel warm inside, for doing that ‘fun run’? I doubt that.

And how about their luxury offices, in prime locations? I think it would be unlikely if even 10% of donations actually reached the underprivileged and starving they were intended for. Too much money equals big business, and we know how that ends up. Corruption, abuse, deprivation, and big rewards for those in charge. Sex, exploitation, child abuse, what a shameful catalogue of horrors. Abuse of resources and vehicles, and perhaps more tellingly, abuse of a position of trust. Not only do I feel sorry for those poverty-stricken people who deserved compassion and help, but also for the hard-working and unpaid volunteers who did it all for nothing.

And for those of you that doubted me, as long ago as the 1970s, I have four words.

I TOLD YOU SO.

The Nuclear Threat

Ever since I can remember, the world has lived in fear of one side or another using nuclear weapons. At school in the 1950s, we had air-raid drills; hiding under desks, facing away from the windows. As if that would have made any difference, if a nuclear bomb had actually struck central London, some two miles from where I was concealed under my old desk, in a school built during the Victorian era. We had seen the result of the American attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and these new bombs were many times more powerful.

At the time, there were few countries capable of using such weapons. The Soviet Union was the presumed enemy during the Cold War, and Britain had been given the means to retaliate too, by America. The French had also tested atomic bombs in the Pacific, so it was safe to assume that only four countries had these bombs in their possession. We are now in 2018, and that list of countries has not grown significantly. As well as Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel are all known to have the potential to launch nuclear weapons. And if you believe the propaganda by both sides, (I don’t) North Korea may well have a viable delivery system too.

Then there is the issue of ‘sharing’. That sounds very cosy, given what is being shared. The USA has ‘shared’ the option to launch nuclear weapons with Turkey, Belgium, Holland, Italy, and Germany. This basically consists of the USA siting weapons in those countries, then deciding whether or not to fire them. There are also countries that once had nuclear weapons, but apparently no longer have any; South Africa, Canada, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. One thing we can be sure of, there are a lot of nuclear bombs and missiles out there.

By using published figures, there are 14,900 nuclear missiles and bombs stored around the world. That’s more than enough to wipe out the human race, many times over. Probably enough to not only eradicate all life on Earth, but also to destroy the very fabric of the planet. When we read about the nuclear threat, it is generally in terms of a supposedly limited conflict. The US has hinted that it will use them against the DPRK, should their leader fire rockets at US bases, South Korea, or Japan. But the DPRK has a border with China, so involving the Chinese could not be avoided. India and Pakistan square up against each other all the time, and have been in conflict since 1947. But both sides know that using nuclear weapons would also be self-destructive, so have never launched any. For Israel to use them against their near-neighbours would also result in disaster for their own country, so they are almost certainly not going to launch any.

For almost sixty years, I have lived in the shadow of this Nuclear Threat. The Cold War, The Cuban Missile Crisis, and many other supposed ‘near misses’ over the decades. I have finally decided that nobody will use them. It doesn’t make economic sense, and money rules the world. I stopped living in fear of the Nuclear Threat, and concluded that it is just that. A threat.

Gender inequality in the workplace

There was a recent law passed here in Britain. It compels companies with more than 250 staff to divulge whether or not they pay people different rates of pay for the same or similar jobs, based on gender. Watching news reports today, I was interested to hear that some companies have started to comply with this law, rather than face prosecution for non-disclosure. Even to a cynical person like me, those results are shocking. Many well-known companies are apparently happy to report that they pay female employees up to 15% less than men on average, for doing the same or similar job, often working side by side.

Over 500 companies have so far declared their results. Large employers including Easyjet, Ladbrokes, Virgin, Rolls Royce, Premier Foods, the BBC, and the Co-Op Bank report quite staggering pay differentials. Up to 50% less in Easyjet, 30% less in the Co-Op Bank, and 11% less at the BBC. So far, only two employers, The British Museum, and the UK Armed Forces, have stated a zero difference in pay based on gender.

These companies need to check the calendar. It is 2018, not 1918. It is over 90 years since women properly got the vote in this country. Almost 50 years since the founding of the Women’s Liberation Movement here, and 39 years since we first had a female Prime Minister. This archaic and unacceptable practice of paying female employees a lesser salary has to stop. And not only should the government be compelling companies to publish these statistics, they should be forcing them to eliminate this pay difference, making it illegal not to do so.

We currently have our second female Prime Minister. Does she get paid less than her male predecessor? Of course not. Do our law-makers in parliament receive less pay if they are women? They do not. But these same women in power, alongside their male colleagues on the same salaries, are happy to make the companies publish these figures, without appearing to be prepared to do anything about the results.

New Year, new politics

This is usually a quiet time on the world political scene. The lull between Christmas and New Year also seems to operate in international affairs. But look closely, and there is a lot going on.

Street protests and rioting in Iran. Not something we have seen much of since the days of the Ayatollahs, but strangely coincidental to recent murmurings regarding North Korea, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. One minute the US is condemning Iran for aiding North Korea, and the anti-Saudi forces in Yemen, the next they have a ‘popular uprising’ on the streets. Come on, pull the other one. Rarely have I seen such a blatantly obvious CIA/Mossad inspired operation. If they can’t get them by going through the front door, they go round the back. Treating Iran as if it is some kind of hopeless principality in the middle of nowhere is sure to backfire on those involved. That country has a population of more than 80 million, and a well-equipped military too. And it is 640,000 square miles in size, so not Grenada.

North Korea is having talks with the South Korean government for the first time in a long while. Mr Trump has claimed the credit for this happening. That’s worth a belly laugh. Anyone with the tiniest understanding of those countries will be aware that each side views the other as neighbours and relatives, and not as enemies. They have always wanted to talk, but outside pressures have constantly interfered.

If you believe the news, Europe is all about the Brexit issue, and the UK leaving. But behind the headlines, parts of Europe are very worried about elections of anti-EU politicians in their countries. The Czech Republic has elections this year, and in Italy, some right-wing parties are forecast to do very well too. The Hungarian leader, Viktor Orban, is set to gain a second term in 2018, and that country also has its share of far-right, anti EU politicians. Even in peaceful Sweden, the right-wing Sweden Democrats look set to increase their influence in the coming year.The Polish government has been defying EU laws, and will no doubt continue to clash with them throughout 2018. The real truth is that the EU is on the verge of collapse, at least in its current form, as the stranglehold of France and Germany is resisted by more and more of the member nations. They have a lot more than Brexit to worry about, that’s for sure.

And let’s not forget Russia. Most of it may not be in Europe, but its influence is widespread, and Vladimir Putin looks like he will get another overwhelming majority in the elections this March.

So when the news reports ‘not much happening’, you can be sure that there is.