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If Vladimir Putin rigged the US election, he must be a computer genius

Vladimir Putin accomplished feats in rigging the 2016 vote that no man – or machine – could equal

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(Truthdig) – It’s a good time for computer modelers, the kind who believe that with enough information, or “data analytics” (as they prefer), an artificial reality can be constructed to match the real thing and change people’s behavior in a predictable fashion. If this idea seems obscure, think about recent “Russia-gate” headlines announcing that Vladimir Putin targeted specific Facebook users—albeit a mere $100,000 worth—during the 2016 election with ingeniously crafted ads that affected their votes.

To get so much bang for the buck on such a minuscule budget, Putin and his team would have had to have an accurate model of the United States electorate, to know whom to target and with what message. Thus, for example, the Russian manipulators reportedly targeted dog lovers, presumably on the assumption that pooch-fanciers have an innate affinity for Donald Trump and/or dislike of Hillary Clinton.

One might think that the rather more expensive fiasco of the 2016 Clinton campaign would leave Democrats disenchanted with political models. Famously, campaign manager Robby Mook placed a near-religious faith in Ada, a computer programming language that modeled the electorate 400,000 times a day, apparently assuring the techno-crazed Mook that he knew exactly how changing events were affecting voters. Such was his belief in “analytics” that he didn’t bother to take polls in the closing weeks of the race, with fatal results.

Nevertheless, the Democratic establishment professes to believe that where Mook failed, Putin succeeded. If this were so, then Putin should set up shop as a campaign consultant in this country in time for the next election. Surely one of those Democratic hopefuls currently traversing the country raising millions would pay well for his U.S. voter model, which he must be holding as a valuable asset. As Molly Schweickert, an executive with Cambridge Analytica (“We find your voters and drive them to action”), recently told The Verge, an online tech trade publication, “What’s proprietary is the research and model” used to formulate and target such ads.

Prior to Putin’s unmasking as the master manipulator, Schweickert’s firm occupied a central place in the Clintonian pantheon of evil, after the Mercer family of eccentric billionaires (part-owners of Cambridge Analytica) bankrolled the deployment of its mysterious data skills to the alleged benefit of Donald Trump. But this picture of omniscience, which Cambridge Analytica also promotes, presents a problem.

As Marina Bart writes in Naked Capitalism: “There is evidence that [Cambridge Analytica’s] program cannot even do the simplest first step towards understanding human beings by processing their Facebook data.” Citing the old rule of “garbage in, garbage out,” she explains that Facebook itself, possessor of infinitely more data than Analytica, can’t even get its own advertising and traffic metrics right. Ada, Mook’s object of worship, was, it turns out, filled with garbage in, because accurate reports on Clinton’s dimming prospects from human observers out in the real world were not included in the mountains of inaccurate or irrelevant data fed to its churning electrons.

One fundamental issue with models is that they do not cope well with change, such as the kind that happens in an election race, or, for that matter, a war. During the Vietnam War, for example, a group of eminent physicists sold Defense Secretary Robert McNamara on the idea that an “electronic fence” consisting of thousand of sensors scattered across the Ho Chi Minh trail and relaying sounds, smells and other data denoting the passage of enemy supply columns could, when processed by the largest computer then in existence, yield an infallible model of the enemy’s whereabouts. It took the Vietnamese a week to figure out that if they introduced simple, unanticipated changes—such as hanging buckets of urine on trees far off the trail to fool the smell-sensors—the billion-dollar fence would be rendered ineffective.

The other, and perhaps more serious problem with models, is that their creators and custodians come to believe in them, sometimes to an obsessive degree. Mook’s devotion to Ada serves as an obvious case. Commenting on this phenomenon, former Pentagon analyst Chuck Spinney suggested to me that “the laborious act of devoting so much mental and emotional energy to the construction of a model tends to displace the modeler from the world being modeled—i.e., his interactions with the model (the intense desire to make it work, shaping its mathematical logic, programming, debugging, etc.) take on more importance than the matchup of the model to reality. In effect, the model becomes the ‘reality’ to the modeler’s mind and model/reality mismatches become ‘anomalies,’ which are psychologically easy to dismiss as outliers.” Spinney repeatedly encountered this “self-delusion” in the Pentagon among military officials and weapons contractors during his 30-year career.

Their belief in the delusion was, for the most part, sincere, thereby increasing the model’s psychological power.

Among the earliest computer models conceived in the Pentagon and related offices are those for blowing up the world by means of thermonuclear war. Many minds, some of them brilliant, not to mention decades of computer time, have been devoted to charting the course of nuclear conflict, complete with intricate calculations of first strikes, second strikes, limited strikes, and so forth. Yet almost all of this constitutes what Spinney’s former Pentagon colleague Pierre Sprey dubbed “data-free analysis.” There are precisely two data points for the real-world effects of nuclear weapons: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And as it so happens, they gave rather different results (the Nagasaki bomb killed far fewer people than its creators anticipated). The nuclear war models that dictate war plans (and weapons budgets) calculate target effects based on the theoretically projected explosive “yield” of various weapons, but I am reliably informed that actual bomb tests regularly produce totally unanticipated yields. Similarly, models assume a theoretical pinpoint accuracy for intercontinental ballistic missiles that has not been replicated in the limited number of actual tests of such missiles (real-world missile tests are expensive, after all, and they tend to generate unwelcome results).

In short, the models are worthless, and no one really has the faintest idea of what would happen in a nuclear war, a point those whipping up New Cold War hysteria with Russia-gate might bear in mind. Hopefully, Vladimir Putin—if he’s not too busy manipulating the New Jersey governor’s race or negotiating terms to handle Biden 2020—understands that, too.

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Kiev ‘Patriarch’ prepares to seize Moscow properties in Ukraine

Although Constantinople besought the Kiev church to stop property seizures, they were ignored and used, or perhaps, complicit.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The attack on the Eastern Orthodox Church, brought about by the US State Department and its proxies in Constantinople and Ukraine, is continuing. On October 20, 2018, the illegitimate “Kyiv (Kiev) Patriarchate”, led by Filaret Denisenko who is calling himself “Patriarch Filaret”, had a synodal meeting in which it changed the commemoration title of the leader of the church to include the Kyiv Caves and Pochaev Lavras.

This is a problem because Metropolitan Onuphry of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which is canonically accepted and acts as a very autonomous church under the Moscow Patriarchate has these places under his pastoral care.

This move takes place only one week after Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople unilaterally (and illegally) lifted the excommunications, depositions (removal from priestly ranks as punishment) and anathemas against Filaret and Makary that were imposed on them by the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate.

These two censures are very serious matters in the Orthodox Church. Excommunication means that the person or church so considered cannot receive Holy Communion or any of the other Mysteries (called Sacraments in the West) in a neighboring local Orthodox Church. Anathema is even more serious, for this happens when a cleric disregards his excommunication and deposition (removal from the priesthood), and acts as a priest or a bishop anyway.

Filaret Denisenko received all these censures in 1992, and Patriarch Bartholomew accepted this decision at the time, as stated in a letter he sent to Moscow shortly after the censures. However, three years later, Patriarch Bartholomew received a group of Ukrainian autocephalist bishops called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, who had been in communion with Filaret’s group. While this move may have been motivated by the factor of Bartholomew’s almost total isolation within Istanbul, Turkey, it is nonetheless non-canonical.

This year’s moves have far exceeded previous ones, though, and now the possibility for a real clash that could cost lives is raised. With Filaret’s “church” – really an agglomeration of Ukrainian ultranationalists and Neo-Nazis in the mix, plus millions of no doubt innocent Ukrainian faithful who are deluded about the problems of their church, challenging an existing arrangement regarding Ukraine and Russia’s two most holy sites, the results are not likely to be good at all.

Here is the report about today’s developments, reprinted in part from OrthoChristian.com:

Meeting today in Kiev, the Synod of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” (KP) has officially changed the title of its primate, “Patriarch” Philaret, to include the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras under his jurisdiction.

The primate’s new official title, as given on the site of the KP, is “His Holiness and Beatitude (name), Archbishop and Metropolitan of Kiev—Mother of the cities of Rus’, and Galicia, Patriarch of All Rus’-Ukraine, Svyaschenno-Archimandrite of the Holy Dormition Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras.”

…Thus, the KP Synod is declaring that “Patriarch” Philaret has jurisdiction over the Kiev Caves and Pochaev Lavras, although they are canonically under the omophorion of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, the primate of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Philaret and his followers and nationalistic radicals have continually proclaimed that they will take the Lavras for themselves.

This claim to the ancient and venerable monasteries comes after the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate announced that it had removed the anathema placed upon Philaret by the Russian Orthodox Church and had restored him to his hierarchical office. Philaret was a metropolitan of the canonical Church, becoming patriarch in his schismatic organization.

Representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have clarified that they consider Philaret to be the “former Metropolitan of Kiev,” but he and his organization continue to consider him an active patriarch, with jurisdiction in Ukraine.

Constantinople’s statement also appealed to all in Ukraine to “avoid appropriation of churches, monasteries, and other properties,” which the Synod of the KP ignored in today’s decision.

The KP primate’s abbreviated title will be, “His Holiness (name), Patriarch of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine,” and the acceptable form for relations with other Local Churches is “His Beatitude Archbishop (name), Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus’-Ukraine.”

The Russian Orthodox Church broke eucharistic communion and all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over this matter earlier this week. Of the fourteen local Orthodox Churches recognized the world over, twelve have expressed the viewpoint that Constantinople’s move was in violation of the canons of the Holy Orthodox Church. Only one local Church supported Constantinople wholeheartedly, and all jurisdictions except Constantinople have appealed for an interOrthodox Synod to address and solve the Ukrainian matter in a legitimate manner.

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