[FoRK] old favorites
Gregory Alan Bolcer
greg at bolcer.org
Thu Dec 15 13:28:50 PST 2016
and a little bit of history repeating.
News we aren’t supposed to know
notacrookI’m writing this post on Wednesday evening here in California.
Normally I wouldn’t point that out but in this case I want to put a kind
of timestamp on my writing because at this moment we’re at the end of
the second day of a concerted attack by the UAE Electronic Army on
various DNS providers in North America. If you follow this stuff and
bother to check, say, Google News right now for “UAE Electronic Army,”
your search will probably generate some Facebook entries but no news at
all because — two days into it — this attack has gone unnoticed by the
world at large. My last column was about fake news. This one is about
real news you never hear about.
We have a great example of such news this week in the Yahoo one billion
account hack. Sure, it’s all over the web but it happened in 2013. Are
we really supposed to believe that one billion user records were stolen
from Yahoo and it took three years for somebody to notice??? The story
is that law enforcement officials came across the stolen data, or some
of it, and took it to Yahoo for verification. Maybe, but having written
these stories for 30 years I think it is much more likely that somebody
already knew about the breach and simply chose not to say when it
happened. This is not to say that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer knew or didn’t
know about the breach, just that shit happens and often isn’t reported
if jobs are perceived as being on the line.
It’s very likely that word of this breach or another has floated around
Yahoo for years. But since nothing bad seemed to be happening as a
result, well the people who knew may have decided just to forget about
it. We’ll never know.
So there’s knowledge and then there is knowledge and in this era where
plausible deniability seems to be so important, which type of knowledge
you have can make a difference. Some types of knowledge, apparently, are
too volatile to even be remembered. There are some things we just
choose to ignore… unless, like Yahoo, we can’t.
I’ve come across this phenomenon before, right in these pages. Two very
specific examples come to mind. First is a column about energy policy I
wrote in October, 2010. Here’s the money graf, a quote from one of my
best friends in the world:
“During the summer of 1973 I worked on a tow boat on the Mississippi
River. Every 10 to 14 days, we’d load our barges on the Gulf Coast and
deliver petroleum products to some place in the Midwest. That was the
summer of the big gasoline shortages. As we would travel up and down the
Mississippi, we’d pass an Exxon tow. It would have eight barges (a
double unit) fully loaded, or about 10 million gallons of gasoline. The
tow wouldn’t be moving, it would be tied up in a quiet spot on the
river. Each trip we find more tows tied up. Shell, Texaco, Exxon, Amoco
were all doing it. One day they announced in the news how much gasoline
would be used in the USA in a single day. I made some quick calculations
and realized we had passed a month’s supply on our last trip.”
I went on to explain. “In 1973 U. S. oil prices, thanks to price fixing
by the Texas Railroad Commission, were already the highest in the world
at $5.50 per barrel for West Texas Intermediate — the global standard.
World oil prices were around $2 per barrel and going down. Until the
OPEC embargo, that is, when, with the assistance of the big oil
companies as described above, an oil crisis was created from nothing.
World prices went from $2 to a peak of $43, sending every drilling rig
in the world back to work and over time doubling U. S. oil production to
almost 11 million barrels per day until demand crashed and the price of
oil dropped back to a low of $8. That was still higher than $5.50, but
recovery to an inflation-adjusted version of that peak $43 price took
another 25 years.”
Where was this news in 1973? Didn’t the local sheriff notice all those
barges tied-up? Didn’t the local newspaper editor? Didn’t the TV news
copter pilot in St. Louis or New Orleans? Why didn’t anyone put this
together? Those of us who remember 1973 knew how panicked we were as a
nation listening to Richard Nixon — Richard Nixon (that should have been
a clue) — tell us through our TV sets to turn down our thermostats and
drive at 55. Didn’t Nixon know the truth?
To heck with 1973, why wasn’t this news picked-up in 2010 right from
this page? That column was read by more than 300,000 people including
most of the top news organizations in America. Why wasn’t it picked-up
by one of them?
If this seems to you like old news and not worth rehashing, please note
that Rex Tillerson, our next Secretary of State, spent his entire 40+
year career working for Exxon, starting in the mid-70s. Did he know
about the manufactured energy crisis? Was he told about it over beers
after work on some Friday night in Oklahoma? Did he understand that his
company helped engineer a geopolitical crisis that helped create the
mess that is today Middle East politics? How will those events and the
attitude of his lifetime employer inform his performance as Secretary of
The other example that comes to mind was from one of my old PBS columns
back in 2004 titled Fred Nold’s Legacy. That column and 650 more were
recently taken-down by pbs.org and I am trying to acquire them for my
archive here. Until I am successful in that you can find a copy at
archive.org. That column explained how the Reagan Administration created
policies in the Department of Justice that made inevitable our current
U.S. prison crisis and its economic repercussions for African-American
and latino communities. Worse still, the Department of Justice was told
this would happen and chose to ignore advice it had, itself, commissioned.
That story is completely true and I have told it to anyone who will
listen (including both the New York Times and Washington Post) for the
last 20 years to no effect at all.
Some news is just too uncomfortable I guess.
So what news is there right now that people know and aren’t saying?
Maybe I’ll get a little jump on this year’s predictions.
For those of us who are Americans there’s a shit storm coming and it has
everything to do with President-elect Donald Trump. Forget the parts we
can see, let’s try to anticipate the parts we can’t yet see. The players
here are Republicans, Democrats, Russians, hackers, and of course Donald
Nobody so far claims to have hacked the Trump Organization, itself. The
Russians probably did it at the same time they were hacking the GOP and
the DNC. After all, they hacked John Podesta’s Gmail account, why not
But he doesn’t use a computer.
Yeah, right. But somebody sends email for him.
Supremely confident, Donald Trump may think he can’t be hacked. He’d be
While I mention Russian hackers here, that’s not really what I find
interesting. What I find interesting are hackers who are not state
sponsored. What if Trump was hacked by, say, Anonymous? If it didn’t
happen before the election I’ll guarantee you it has happened since, if
only out of spite. What would they find? Trump is completely clean? If
they did find something, why haven’t we heard about it?
Hackers aren’t the only group that might be willing to drop some dirt on
our President-elect. What about the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies Trump
has so far done little but insult? What about rogue employees at the
IRS? Again, what would they find and why haven’t we heard about it?
I’m guessing January 21st will be a big news day.
greg at bolcer.org, http://bolcer.org, c: +1.714.928.5476
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