Monday, September 30, 2013

‛What's Next? A Coup d'État?’

The question is from Robert Reich, and he's not joking. Reich, who knows from his own childhood experience just how bullies behave, believes that the wealthy bullies of American right-wing politics — the Koch brothers through "Americans for Prosperity" (their own, of course) and others Reich lists in considerable detail — aim not merely at a takeover of the Republican Party (they've already apparently accomplished that) but "to take over America."

(If this is true, it would not be the first time a cabal of wealthy Americans was alleged to intend a coup. See the wiki on Smedley Butler and the Business Plot, about a supposed plot to depose FDR and install a fascist dictator, a tale which you may choose to believe or not. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I see considerable evidence that Butler told the truth.)

Whether or not Reich is right about the Koch brothers' intent to perpetrate a coup, and I think he probably is, he is right about one thing: if bullies are not confronted face-on, they will take over. It is time for President Obama to hold fast... to face down the would-be ruling class of America, and tell them NO, with no ambiguity, hedging, fudging or compromise. A wealth-driven revolution may have worked in the 18th century, but it would be an unacceptable disaster to those who follow the spirit of the American ideal today.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Since 2010, NSA Has Collected Social Data On US Citizens

James Risen of NYT:
WASHINGTON — Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.

The spy agency began allowing the analysis of phone call and e-mail logs in November 2010 to examine Americans’ networks of associations for foreign intelligence purposes after N.S.A. officials lifted restrictions on the practice, according to documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.

The policy shift was intended to help the agency “discover and track” connections between intelligence targets overseas and people in the United States, according to an N.S.A. memorandum from January 2011. The agency was authorized to conduct “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness” of every e-mail address, phone number or other identifier, the document said. Because of concerns about infringing on the privacy of American citizens, the computer analysis of such data had previously been permitted only for foreigners.

Oh, and let's not forget what other sources they can use:

The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners.


By now, certainly, no one in government worries about "infringing" on a nonexistent attribute like the privacy of American citizens. And besides, the relevancy to mission is abundantly clear: NSA agents now have more to gossip about with each other in the snack room and with their s.o.'s when they at long last get home in the evening after a long day of PTA (Peeping Tom activity). You do see the direct relevance to national security, don't you? you don't? Hang on a moment while every Tammy, Dick and Harriet in the NSA annotates the big database to reflect your lack of understanding...

Face it: most of this has
happened on Obama's watch

Fearlessness Is Relative

Michele Bachmann is not afraid of a government shutdown. Fancy that! I, on the other hand, am not afraid of a Michele Bachmann shutdown. C'mon, Minnesotans, get yourselves to the polls in 2014!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Is It Time To Mint The INFINITY Trillion Dollar Platinum Coin?

Josh Bivens of Economic Policy Institute discusses the possibility, which is exactly equivalent, he notes, to abolishing the debt ceiling altogether. The other thing it would abolish is the currently fashionable blackmail opportunity used by the House Teabaggers. High time, as far as I'm concerned.

Lobotomizing The American Enterprise: Slower R&D Spending

Mark Thoma of Economist's View (whom, according to Paul Krugman, we should all be reading a lot more often than I do) made me aware of something pointed out in the Atlanta Fed's macroblog:

The New Normal? Slower R&D Spending

In case you need more to worry about, try this: the pace of research and development (R&D) spending has slowed. The National Science Foundation defines R&D as “creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge” and application of this knowledge toward new applications.


R&D spending is often cited as an important source of productivity growth within a firm, especially in terms of product innovation. But R&D is also an inherently risky endeavor, since the outcome is quite uncertain. So to the extent that economic and policy uncertainty has helped make businesses more cautious in recent years, a slow pace of R&D spending is not surprising. On top of that, the federal funding of R&D activity remains under significant budget pressure. See, for example, here.

Americans are neither more nor less ingenious and inventive than citizens of most other nations not overwhelmed by civil war or abject poverty. But it is a mistake to think that we can depend on that ingenuity alone to maintain a technological lead in the world: it must be nurtured in both the educational system and the business community. This means, obviously to me but apparently not to GOP members, that education and research must be solidly backed in part by the federal government. When Americans allows a depressed economic circumstance to become "the new normal," we compromise not only our own wellbeing but that of our future generations. Education and R&D are the lifeblood of a nation that would be technologically... and hence economically... dominant. And yet most small- to medium-sized businesses, ever anxious about the bottom line in these troubled times, are under pressure to reduce expenditures in these two crucial areas.

In short, if America is to lead, education and resesarch must be underwritten in part by the only institution large enough and financially stable enough to commit the necessary funding: the federal government. We can commit those large amounts now, or we can (eventually) bequeath to our children a nation that trails the world, not just economically but in quality of life and health. Ultimately it's our choice. Think of the consequences... the long-term consequences... before you are tempted to vote for any Republican. Reflect for a moment, and realize it's not worth it.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Admit It: Obama Has Excellent Political Skills, When He's Inclined To Use Them

House GOP demands Pony
Obama and the House GOP both needed to make a point about the relative significance of things. The GOPers threatened... are still threatening, as far as I know... a government shutdown if Obama doesn't both sink his signature health care legislation and give them their entire conservative Christmas list, probably including a pony. Obama, on the other hand... well, let Daniel Strauss at TPM tell us about it:
The White House released a photo of President Barack Obama's phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Friday.


The photo follows the White House announcing that the two leaders spoke on Friday. According to the Associated Press, the phone call was the first conversation between an American president and an Iranian president in three decades.

After the phone call Obama said it he could see the United States and Iran coming to an agreement concerning Iran's nuclear program
President Obama
President Rouhani
Right. OK. Let's see. The GOPers demand a pony or they'll hold their breath 'til the government turns Blue. Meanwhile, OBAMA ESTABLISHES DIRECT LEADERSHIP TIES WITH AMERICA'S GREATEST NUCLEAR-CAPABLE ADVERSARY IN THE MIDDLE EAST FOR THE FIRST TIME IN DECADES. Hmmmm, which is more deserving of public attention? which event puts which event in perspective? Of course, the public could always find out from Fox News...

I wish I could like the man better as president, but I have to admit he can play the House GOP like a circus calliope...

AFTERTHOUGHT: Heh. It didn't dawn on me until later. It's not Obama's fault if the only tune anyone can play on the House GOP calliope is Waitin' for the Robert E. Lee...

How Would A Government Shutdown Affect You?

Of course, if you're a federal worker, you may (or may not) be furloughed, and you will be informed Friday about your status for Monday. Some essential services will be continued... national security, etc. But some of us will still feel the effect:
Not all of government would cease to operate. Services considered critical to national security, safety and health would go on as usual, such as border patrol, law enforcement and emergency and disaster assistance. Social Security and Medicare benefits would keep coming, for example, but there likely would be delays in processing new applications. [Bolds mine. - SB]
Oops... that last clause applies to me. I had just begun gathering my documents in preparation for a trip to the local SSA/Medicare office (it's near our house, and in-person often works better) when I read about this... I suppose I won't know until tomorrow afternoon, or maybe even Monday. It really gives me a sense of confidence :-( in the government programs that are supposed to provide me a livelihood and health care before too long...

(Yes, folks, I finally gave up and created a post category for "Government Shutdown"! Is that my expression of... what did Obama call it... "the oh-dash-it-all of hope"?)

How To Dance That Old NSA Sidestep

It's easy... just follow Gen. Keith Alexander:
First you walk up to the mic,
Tell the Senate— to take a hike,
Tell 'em that your name is Keith, then
LIE— through yer teeth— through yer teeth—
    through yer teeth—

. . .
(Short excerpt from "That Old NSA Sidestep Rag" ... the rest of the text is classified.)

"If I ever get Sen. Wyden by the balls..."
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The head of the National Security Agency sidestepped questions Thursday from a senator about whether the NSA has ever used Americans cellphone signals to collect information on their whereabouts that would allow tracking of the movements of individual callers.

Asked twice by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., if NSA had ever collected or made plans to collect such data, NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander answered both times by reading from a letter provided to senators who had asked the same question last summer. He also cited a classified version of the letter that was sent to senators and said, "What I don't want to do ... is put out in an unclassified forum anything that's classified."

Wyden promised to keep asking.

Is anybody else old enough to remember when the word "classified" brought to mind a section in a newspaper?

Hell, I don't know if the real answer to the senators' questions is classified or not, but I do know this: if it is, it damned well shouldn't be. If you're collecting information about the location on the street of American citizens, with an eye toward determining where they go, what they do, what they buy and whom they meet, you'd damned well better obtain a warrant. Yes, I know, the Fourth Amendment is "soooo been-there, done-that" (Tom Engelhardt, about privacy), but it is still in the Bill of Rights...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dems Record GOP 'Ransom Call'

Via TPM:

NIST: Drop Use Of Our (NSA-Influenced) Encryption Standard

Jeff Larson and Justin Elliott of Pro Publica:
Following revelations about the NSA’s covert influence on computer security standards, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, announced earlier this week it is revisiting some of its encryption standards.

But in a little-noticed footnote, NIST went a step further, saying it is “strongly” recommending against even using one of the standards. The institute sets standards for everything from the time to weights to computer security that are used by the government and widely adopted by industry.

As ProPublica, the New York Times, and the Guardian reported last week, documents provided by Edward Snowden suggest that the NSA has heavily influenced the standard, which has been used around the world.

Everything you thought was secret...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

'Privacy Down The Drain'

Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch, at FDL, posting about "Privacy Down the Drain":
In the U.S. these days, privacy is so been-there-done-that. Just this week, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret outfit that hears only the government side of any argument and has generally been a rubberstamp for surveillance requests, declassified an opinion backing the full-scale collection and retention of the phone records (“metadata”) of American citizens. That staggering act was, the judge claimed, in no way in violation of the Fourth Amendment or of American privacy. ...


Engelhardt goes on to discuss the recent ACLU report by Calabrese and Harwood on the FBI, "Unleashed and Unaccountable," and how the FBI has been transformed into an internal surveillance agency gratuitously and unconstitutionally gathering formerly private information on American citizens at home.

Privacy does not entail secrecy. You have a right to privacy. "If you're not doin' anything wrong," as the nut-jobs begin, your right to privacy should be even more firmly established, but you have the right of privacy in any endeavor you undertake that is not manifestly criminal, and even then, according to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, the government must convince a court of "probable cause" to issue a warrant before it may legally breach your right to security in your "persons, houses, papers, and effects." Privacy is a right, not a privilege to be revoked whenever a government agency feels like spying on you. When a secret court issues a secret opinion infringing explicitly and significantly on that right, the substance of America has been compromised at its core.

When will we have a Congress and a president willing to stand up for this fundamental human right for Americans?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Vile, Vile, Miss 'American Bile'...

Robert Reich, in his post "American Bile," explores the raw anger, the ad hominem hostility, the obscene, profane and personally insulting language one encounters in today's American society, especially in the political context. He concludes:
I’m 67 and have lived through some angry times: Joseph R. McCarthy’s witch hunts of the 1950s, the struggle for civil rights and the Vietnam protests in the 1960s, Watergate and its aftermath in the 1970s. But I don’t recall the degree of generalized bile that seems to have gripped the nation in recent years.


... we increasingly live in hermetically sealed ideological zones that are almost immune to compromise or nuance. Internet algorithms and the proliferation of media have let us surround ourselves with opinions that confirm our biases. We’re also segregating geographically into red or blue territories: chances are that our neighbors share our views, and magnify them. So when we come across someone outside these zones, whose views have been summarily dismissed or vilified, our minds are closed.

No kidding. When someone on the radical Right makes shit up and throws it, sometimes every five minutes or so, who's going to be able to correct every instance of deliberate falsehood, let alone mitigate the effects of quickly spreading innocent misunderstandings? Lies and even nonmalicious errors simply can't be combated quickly enough. To try or not to try? That's a damned good question

Update On Inequality For All

Bill Moyers interviews director Jacob Kornbluth, Robert Reich's associate in creating the film Inequality for All. The clip is short (15 min. or so) and inspiring, mainly to learn that there are young people like Kornbluth doing work of this sort.

Obama's Response To Public Discontent With NSA Spying? Appointing A Panel Effectively Run By The DNI

I find it ever more difficult to admire what is admirable in President Obama, when he pulls stunts like this:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Stung by public unease about new details of spying by the National Security Agency, President Barack Obama selected a panel of advisers he described as independent experts to scrutinize the NSA's surveillance programs to be sure they weren't violating civil liberties and to restore Americans' trust.

But with just weeks remaining before its first deadline to report back to the White House, the review panel has effectively been operating as an arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA and all other U.S. spy efforts.

(Bolds mine. - SB)

So... how close is the connection between this "independent" panel and the DNI?

  • The DNI's office loans them office space.
  • The DNI's press office coordinates their press releases.
  • The DNI himself (James Clapper) exempted the panel from requirements of public access to panel proceedings.
  • The name of the panel is... wait for it... "Director of National Intelligence Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies."

Could a panel be more wholly owned than this one?

(H/T Bill Moyers.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Three Articles Worth Reading While I Count My Marbles

Three articles by three different authors, each article superb in its own way:
Don't forget about me; I'll be back before long...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Brief Break

Welcome to Our World!
Stella and I are both exhausted (don't ever imagine that artists or their mates lead easy lives) and about every 2 hours the skies dump barrels of water on us for about five minutes as if [insert name of favorite deity here] is pissing on Houston and both of us feel slightly ill as often happens to us when the barometer goes up and down like a wasp trapped in your window-screen (no, we don't have one of those) and kitty Esther has decided that my office chair is hers and kitty Lily has decided that one corner of the den, a different corner every day, is her new litter box and [BIG GASP] I NEED A BREAK! I'll be back to the blog in a day or two.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Stella On Display

Well, actually, Stella's artwork on display. Hers is one of the works chosen to appear in a juried exhibit called "Freeing The Word In Small Spaces," hosted by the local Women in the Visual and Literary Arts (WiVLΛ). Her work, a model of simplicity, depicts a prison cell, door open, with the words "Freedom of Speech!" escaping. The exhibit, which opens tonight, is at Houston's wonderful Museum of Printing History, at 1324 West Clay, north of West Gray and south of Allen Parkway, between Montrose and Waugh Drive. The exhibit runs through December 21. (Note: Stella's name IRL isn't Stella, but you'll recognize it easily anyway.)

Goodhair Announces New Obstruction Of Obamacare Signup

Dylan Scott of TPM, yesterday:
Joining a growing conservative movement around the country, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) made a move Tuesday that's likely to impede efforts to sign up the uninsured for health insurance under Obamacare starting next month.

Perry sent a letter to the Texas Department of Insurance outlining new rules for Obamacare's so-called navigators, organizations assigned to help people sign up for coverage, the Texas Tribune reported. Those rules include: 40 hours of mandatory security training on top of federally required training. He also wants navigators to pass a state-administered exam and be subjected to background checks.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lambasted Perry's move as a transparently political attempt to impede Obamacare's implementation...

In fact, an HHS official told TPM, part of Perry's guidance — which requires navigators to retain information about consumers who sign up for coverage — would actually violate the privacy regulations established for navigators by HHS.

"This is blatant attempt to add cumbersome requirements to the Navigator program and deter groups from working to inform Americans about their new health insurance options and help them enroll in coverage," HHS spokesman Fabian Levy said in a statement. "This is clearly an ideologically driven attempt to prevent the uninsured from gaining health coverage."

(Bolds mine. - SB)

Bad-faith actions by state-level executive branches can effectively throw a spanner in the works of a federal system like ours. It is increasingly obvious that this is the intention of the GOP in Texas and other Republican-dominated states regarding Obamacare. Who would have thought that a GOPer would operate in bad faith... [/sarcasm]

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

'Unleashed And Unaccountable: The FBI’s Unchecked Abuse of Authority' — ACLU Report On The FBI And Its Domestic Surveillance

Here is the document itself (.pdf, 69pp). Keep your antacid handy as you read.

Related doc's:

(I may add other articles here as I find them. The report and these articles should keep us occupied for a few days.)

ASIDE: Please join one or more of the major civil liberties, constitutional rights or related org's... ACLU, EFF, CCR, etc. I'm an ACLU guy out of habit, more than three decades of habit, but we need all of them, and they need our help as they are inundated with actions by a government increasingly inclined to disregard the Constitution when it finds it inconvenient to comply. Please do your part!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Obama Knew He Had A Fed Chair Nominee Around Him Summers...

Larry Summers, former Treasury secretary and Obama's presumptive favorite for the position of chair of the Federal Reserve, withdrew his name from consideration today. Summers was a highly divisive choice even among Obama's supporters; some even say Summers was the person most responsible for the international financial crisis and thus for the five years (so far) of the Great Recession and painfully slow recovery that followed it. I tend to think of Summers as a banker's banker who has done little for ordinary individuals in financial trouble and far more for banks seeking bailouts, but YMMV.

Those @#$%^ Government Bureaucrats — [/irony]

My disability parking hang-tags expired this month. (Don't ask why tags for a permanent disability ever expire; this is Texas, after all!) The Great State of Texas in its infinite wisdom requires a trip to the tax office at the county courthouse to renew the tags every four years.

The nearest county courthouse to our home is always a mob scene; I've never been there at midnight, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were lines twice around the perimeter hallway and out the door even at that hour. So it was with trepidation that I headed for the courthouse this morning.

I parked, staggered to the door (note: since I was renewing hang-tags, I couldn't hang one of them in the car, so the regular parking space I found in the jam-packed lot was not close to the building), and got in line. A state worker spotted me as I entered the line with my cane and my limp, smiled and redirected me to the one line (one of 15) reserved for disabled people. Then she sat in the chair herself, took my old hang-tags and created new ones for me... no fee, no forms (for me at least) and no fuss.

Five minutes later I was on my way, hanging onto my hang-tags, precious items that they are. Five minutes... I could recover that much time in a single instance of parking near the door of a big-box store instead of parking a block away and hobbling over that block.

Ah, those @#$%^ government workers... I hope they get a raise and a good retirement plan!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pure Speculation — Come On, Join In!

I just ran across this article on FDL:
NSA Successfully Figured Out How to Tap Into VISA’s ‘Complex Transaction Network’
By: Sunday September 15, 2013 12:12 pm

While The Guardian has published the most scoops from former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, the German newspaper, Der Spiegel, has posted its share of revelations from documents Snowden took with him from the NSA. The latest story shows the NSA managed to figure out how to infiltrate and search records of international VISA credit card customers.

This is just one of who knows how many similar incidents (hundreds? thousands?) perpetrated by the NSA. In each case, there appears to have been effectively no supervision by any of the three branches of the American government, no attempt to align the results with the official policy goals established by the three branches, no warrants authorizing the actions, no attempt even to inform relevant congressional committees (let alone the public)... in other words, in these actions, the NSA seems to have acted as a fourth, wholly independent branch of government.

What if it actually is? Is there any precedent for a government agency secretly undertaking to act, unauthorized and unsupervised, on behalf of... or in place of... the duly constituted government?

How about Hoover's FBI?

Your speculations welcome.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Amy Goodman Interviews Robert Reich About Life, The Universe And Everything His New Film

Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton and current professor at Berkeley, speaks about the new film (opens 9/27) to which he contributed much of the content, Inequality For All. Here's the interview. It's about an hour long, and if you've ever been involved in any aspect of a social and economic justice movement, that hour will pass very quickly:

When I was a young man, I thought (as doubtless you also thought, if you're bothering to read this blog) that we were going to save the world, or at least the nation, from environmental depredation and gross economic injustice. Not only has our good head start on those twin movements vanished, we... the nation and the human world... are now in the worst shape we have ever been. What went wrong, and what, if anything, can be done?

Robert Reich, in his new film INEQUALITY FOR ALL: A Passionate Argument on Behalf of the Middle Class, attempts to address those questions. If you're lucky, you live in a city in which the film is opening (Austin is one; Dallas is one... Houston is not). If not, maybe you can persuade a friend with a large living room to host a showing. I am fairly certain your time and money will be well-spent.

Interstellar Space!

Sorry I missed this on Thursday:

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft officially is the first human-made object to venture into interstellar space. The 36-year-old probe is about 12 billion miles (19 billion kilometers) from our sun.

New and unexpected data indicate Voyager 1 has been traveling for about one year through plasma, or ionized gas, present in the space between stars. Voyager is in a transitional region immediately outside the solar bubble, where some effects from our sun are still evident. A report on the analysis of this new data, an effort led by Don Gurnett and the plasma wave science team at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, is published in Thursday's edition of the journal Science.

"Now that we have new, key data, we believe this is mankind's historic leap into interstellar space," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "The Voyager team needed time to analyze those observations and make sense of them. But we can now answer the question we've all been asking -- 'Are we there yet?' Yes, we are."


I am glad to have lived to see the day (more or less; the actual point in time is a bit ambiguous). The Voyager probes aren't exactly Enterprise-class starships, and none of us will live to see those, but we take hope in the accomplishments available to us in our time...

(H/T NTodd.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pull The Other One, Mr. Clapper

Via Kevin Gosztola, DNI Director James Clapper would like us to believe the Obama administration recently voluntarily declassified secret NSA documents, documents already leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, in the interest of openness and transparency:

... These documents were properly classified, and their declassification is not done lightly.  I have determined, however, that the harm to national security in these circumstances is outweighed by the public interest.  

Release of these documents reflects the Executive Branch’s continued commitment to making information about this intelligence collection program publicly available when appropriate and consistent with the national security of the United States.  Some information has been redacted...

[Bolds in quotation by Gosztola.]

Right. Pull the other one, Mr. Director.

AFTERTHOUGHT: as is so often the case, the ACLU had a hand in this release. Again from Gosztola's article:
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also apparently played a role in getting the documents released. They were provided with fourteen documents they had asked for in their FOIA lawsuit seeking details on the “government’s use and interpretation of the Patriot Act’s Section 215.”

Alex Abdo, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, reacted, “These documents show that the NSA repeatedly violated court-imposed limits on its surveillance powers, and they confirm that the agency simply cannot be trusted with such sweeping authority

He added, “The abuses revealed in these documents are alarming but also predictable. These violations are the inevitable result of allowing the NSA to assemble a vast database of sensitive information about every American. The documents provide further evidence that secret and one-sided judicial review is not an adequate check on the NSA’s surveillance practices. The so-called ‘compliance incidents’ are troubling, but this is a program that should never have been authorized to begin with. The NSA should end the bulk collection of information about Americans.” ...
The ACLU is suing for still more... be sure to read the rest at FDL.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Schneier Scores Six In A Row

Not counting his routine functional posts and his fascination with squid, Bruce Schneier has put up at least six posts in a row that are well worth reading. Listing them blog-fashion (newest first), they are
Clearly, this is Schneier's time to shine. Most of us are not qualified to judge him as a cryptanalyst, but I may judge him as a writer, and as a writer he is superb. These posts are both long and full of concentrated information... a rare combination, I think you'll agree. If the whole NSA scandal means anything to you, please read Schneier's blog, and keep reading it. You won't be disappointed... squid notwithstanding.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

An American Cryptographer's Worst Nightmare? How About... The NSA Deliberately Weakening Cryptographic Standards?

(This is only a parody of the NSA logo.)
This article on Johns Hopkins cryptographer Matthew Green's blog Cryptographic Engineering contains enough to make you lie awake nights. Or not, if you're a sound sleeper. The crux: While most businesses and all nations today assume that it's good — for business and for national security and for international relations — if everyone has readily available secure encryption for documents and similarly secure networks for the transmission of securely encrypted documents, the New York Times published on Thursday an article forcing everyone to consider seriously the apparent likelihood that the NSA has been waging a war against encryption, including "working with industry to weaken encryption standards, making design changes to cryptographic software, and pushing international encryption standards it knows it can break."

I am no expert. Certainly I am not qualified to comment on the technological underpinnings at risk here, and I'm not going to try to speculate on the consequences to business and diplomacy; there are plenty of qualified people engaging in just such speculation. In my case, encrypted documents have impacted me about as minimally as possible: though all my clients used what was available to them, no one spent much time thinking about it.

Now we learn that one of the ultimate US government security agencies has been secretly undermining the entire structure on which secure storage and transmission of documents is based. How does that make us all feel?

Welcome to 1984... thirty years late.

Here is Mr. Green's summary of the NSA's activity:
If you haven't read the NYT or Guardian stories, you probably should. The TL;DR is that the NSA has been doing some very bad things. At a combined cost of $250 million per year, they include:
  1. Tampering with national standards (NIST is specifically mentioned) to promote weak, or otherwise vulnerable cryptography.
  2. Influencing standards committees to weaken protocols.
  3. Working with hardware and software vendors to weaken encryption and random number generators.
  4. Attacking the encryption used by 'the next generation of 4G phones'.
  5. Obtaining cleartext access to 'a major internet peer-to-peer voice and text communications system' (Skype?)
  6. Identifying and cracking vulnerable keys.
  7. Establishing a Human Intelligence division to infiltrate the global telecommunications industry.
  8. And worst of all (to me): somehow decrypting SSL connections.
All of these programs go by different code names, but the NSA's decryption program goes by the name 'Bullrun' so that's what I'll use here.
Your government and your tax dollars at work. Have a nice day!

(H/T TarheelDem on FDL.)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Bruce Schneier's Guide To Secure Communications Despite NSA Surveillance

Schneier has been reading hundreds of NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden and now has some things to say about how to keep your internet communications secure. A word to the wise...

Do We Have A 'Coalition Of The Willing' On Syria? Umm... No

Juan Cole explains the reaction Obama received from the rest of the G20 nations that met Thursday in St. Petersburg, Russia. Of the world's largest 20 nations ranked by economy, only the US and France favored military action against Syria. The big surprise, in Cole's opinion?
But the big surprise was that the European Union came out with position closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin than to Obama.
You think maybe the Europeans would like Obama to rethink the matter?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Politically Savvy Email Software

I often click through to these petitions or automated emails to my US Senators, Cornyn and Cruz. Once in a rare while I receive an email reply. This afternoon, I received a reply from Sen. Cruz... 

Mozilla Thunderbird marked his reply... SPAM.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

RAND Study: Destroying Syria's Chemical Weapons Would Require Ground Troops

TPM's Sahil Kapur:
The United States would be embarking on a dangerous fool’s errand if it attempts to wipe out Syria’s chemical weapon capability, according to a new peer-reviewed study by the RAND Corporation, a respected global policy think tank.

But the study, which provided an operational overview of the situation on the ground, also concluded that U.S. air strikes have the potential to reduce the regime’s ability and its incentive to deploy such weapons in the future.

“In spite of often casual rhetoric about ‘taking out’ Syria’s chemical weapon capability, the practical options for doing so have serious limitations, and attempting it could actually make things worse,” write authors Karl P. Mueller, Jeffrey Martini, and Thomas Hamilton.


The study warns of “substantial” collateral damage if the U.S. attempts to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, arguing that locating and striking the relevant facilities would require “very precise and detailed intelligence.” It concludes that the prospects for scrapping Syria’s chemical weapons via air strikes alone “do not appear promising” and “would require ground forces” in order to have a realistic chance at success.

"When will they ever learn? When will they e...ver learn?" Learn what? That "limited interventions" almost never are? That US actions in one theater affect actions of other countries and organizations around the world?

The best course for President Obama is to ignore Sen. Get‑Off‑My‑Lawn and Sen. Graham‑Cracker and not enter another futile war. Maybe he thinks to distract people from their troubles at home, but with one in three working-age Americans out of work, doesn't he have better things to spend resources on than yet another Vietnam War? "How many times..." must we do this?

For the millions... yes, millions... of Americans who haven't a clue where Syria is, here's a clue:

Will that picture become as familiar as the map of Vietnam, or of Iraq? When the "accomplishments" of an assault on Syria are totaled up a year... five years... 20 years from now when we get our troops out of there, how many American troops will have died? how many Syrians, military and civilian? How many other international relations will the US have weakened or utterly wrecked?

This is a really, really bad idea. For Obama, it is a ploy to cover a domestic failure that is admittedly not primarily of his making, but it is still a truly terrible idea.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Spiegel: NSA Hacked Al Jazeera For Sources

How rare... the NSA spying on someone other than Americans at home! Still, via DSWright at FDL, we find that Spiegel Online International discovered among documents released by Edward Snowden a March 23, 2006 document showing that "the NSA's Network Analysis Center managed to access and read communication by "interesting targets" that was specially protected by [Al Jazeera]."

One could argue endlessly over whether this was legitimately the NSA's job. One could so argue because nobody outside the NSA and probably a few members of Congress and the president is permitted to know what is legitimately the NSA's job. This was not so much a problem until the entire federal government became a patchwork of three-letter agencies whose internal workings were, as far as the public is concerned, completely secret. Then it became a real problem: when those three-letter agencies govern the US to a point where it doesn't really matter who the American public elects to Congress or to the White House, our government is effectively totalitarian, no matter what noises are made about "freedom 'n' democracy." Have a nice day!

Joe Richard The Plumber

Based on this morning's experience, I'd hire... or vote for... Richard any day over Boastful Joe.

Richard, a very young man, hired by my landlord because his old plumber died, did efficient and excellent work replacing two faucets and a tub plug, was courteous... and to Stella's delight, he cleaned up his workspace.

He's definitely a "keeper" in my opinion. So are the faucets!

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Obama Administration's Labor Day Message

Here it is...
Oh, wait, here's their Labor Day message:
SYRIA syria sYrIA SYRia Syria ...
Thanks to Flood the Zone, Inc., we can now rest assured that the evildoers in Syria will be bravely confronted.*

* and the workers of America will continue to be bravely ignored. Priorities, you know!

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