Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 17th, 2013

Quite an astonishing fraud case

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 December 2013 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Government, Law

A somewhat different take on Snowden, from his NSA colleagues

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NSA leadership never misses an opportunity to characterize Snowden negatively: “a 20-something h.s. dropout”, etc., which brings up the awkward point that apparently even a young h.s. dropout can rob NSA blind. Some secret agency, eh?

But Snowden’s colleagues saw him quite differently.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 December 2013 at 2:58 pm

Posted in NSA

The Great War’s Ominous Echoes

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Very interesting piece in the NY Times by Margaret MacMillan:

Earlier this year, I was on holiday in Corsica and wandered into the church of a tiny hamlet in the hills where I found a memorial to the dead from World War I. Out of a population that can have been no more than 150, eight young men, bearing among them only three last names, had died in that conflict. Such lists can be found all over Europe, in great cities and in small villages. Similar memorials are spread around the globe, for the Great War, as it was known before 1940, also drew soldiers from Asia, Africa and North America.

World War I still haunts us, partly because of the sheer scale of the carnage — 10 million combatants killed and many more wounded. Countless civilians lost their lives, too, whether through military action, starvation or disease. Whole empires were destroyed and societies brutalized.

But there’s another reason the war continues to haunt us: we still cannot agree on why it happened. Was it caused by the overweening ambitions of some of the men in power at the time? Kaiser Wilhelm II and his ministers, for example, wanted a greater Germany with a global reach, so they challenged the naval supremacy of Britain. Or does the explanation lie in competing ideologies? National rivalries? Or in the sheer and seemingly unstoppable momentum of militarism? As an arms race accelerated, generals and admirals made plans that became ever more aggressive as well as rigid. Did that make an explosion inevitable?

Or would it never have happened had a random event in an Austro-Hungarian backwater not lit the fuse? In the second year of the conflagration that engulfed most of Europe, a bitter joke made the rounds: “Have you seen today’s headline? ‘Archduke Found Alive: War a Mistake.”’ That is the most dispiriting explanation of all — that the war was simply a blunder that could have been avoided.

The search for explanations began almost as soon as the guns opened fire in the summer of 1914 and has never stopped. The approaching centenary should make us reflect anew on our vulnerability to human error, sudden catastrophes, and sheer accident. History, in the saying attributed to Mark Twain, never repeats itself but it rhymes. We have good reason to glance over our shoulders even as we look ahead. If we cannot determine how one of the most momentous conflicts in history happened, how can we hope to avoid another such catastrophe in the future?

Though the era just before World War I, with its gas lighting and its horse-drawn carriages, seems very far-off, it is similar to ours — often unsettlingly so — in many ways. Globalization — which we tend to think of as a modern phenomenon, created by the spread of international businesses and investment, the growth of the Internet, and the widespread migration of peoples — was also characteristic of that era. Even remote parts of the world were being linked by new means of transportation, from railways to steamships, and communication, including the telephone, telegraph and wireless.

The decades leading up to 1914 were, as now, a period of dramatic shifts and upheavals, which those who experienced them thought of as unprecedented in speed and scale. New fields of commerce and manufacture were opening up, such as the rapidly expanding chemical and electrical industries. Einstein was developing his general theory of relativity; radical new ideas like psychoanalysis were finding a following; and the roots of the predatory ideologies of fascism and Soviet Communism were taking hold.

Globalization can have the paradoxical effect of fostering intense localism and nativism, frightening people into taking refuge in small like-minded groups. Globalization also makes possible the widespread transmission of radical ideologies and the bringing together of fanatics who will stop at nothing in their quest for the perfect society. In the period before World War I, anarchists and revolutionary Socialists across Europe and North America read the same works and had the same aim: to overthrow the existing social order. The young Serbs who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria at Sarajevo were inspired by Nietzsche and Bakunin, just as their Russian and French counterparts were.

Terrorists from Calcutta to Buffalo imitated one another as they hurled bombs onto the floors of stock exchanges, blew up railway lines, and stabbed and shot those they saw as oppressors, whether the Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary or the president of the United States, William McKinley. Today, new technologies and social media platforms provide new rallying points for fanatics, enabling them to spread their messages to even wider audiences around the globe.

With our “war on terror,” we run the same risk of overestimating the power of a loose network of extremists, few in number. More dangerous may be our miscalculations about the significance of changes in warfare. A hundred years ago, most military planners and the civilian governments who watched from the sidelines got the nature of the coming war catastrophically wrong.

The great advances of Europe’s science and technology and the increasing output of its factories during its long period of peace had made going on the attack much more costly in casualties. The killing zone — the area that advancing soldiers had to cross in the face of deadly enemy fire — had expanded hugely, from 100 yards in the Napoleonic wars to over 1,000 yards by 1914. The rifles and machine guns they faced were firing faster and more accurately, and the artillery shells contained more devastating explosives. Soldiers attacking, no matter how brave, would suffer horrific losses, while defenders sat in the relative security of their trenches, behind sandbags and barbed wire.

A comparable mistake in our own time is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 December 2013 at 12:38 pm

“60 Minutes” now available to carry your program

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“60 Minutes” seems to have turned into a program for hire sort of thing. First there was the fraudulent “reporting” from Lara Logan on her complete misunderstanding of what happened—apparently a willful misunderstanding, since there were clear indications that the story was bogus.

And now the special “60 Minutes” informercial for the NSA. TechDirt has a good report under the title “CBS Airs NSA Propaganda Informercial Masquerading As ‘Hard Hitting’ 60 Minutes Journalism By Reporter With Massive Conflict Of Interest“. The TechDirt article begins:

Last night I started seeing a bunch of folks on Twitter absolutely trashing 60 Minutes. We had mentioned last week that 60 Minutes would be doing something about the NSA, including the revelation that some NSA officials favored granting Snowden asylum, and that Keith Alexander ridiculously stated that people should be held accountable for their actions — without recognizing the irony of that statement when pointed at himself. What we didn’t realize was that the episode of 60 Minutes would be a complete propaganda infomercial for the NSA. Among the many, many, many issues with the program:

  • The reporting was conducted by John Miller, a former intelligence community official (who worked for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA) in a spokesperson role and a variety of historical roles in the intelligence community. While he does “disclose” the ODNI role upfront (but not the others), he left out that he’s about to be hired in an intelligence role for the NYPD, a deal that has been described as “a 99.44 percent done deal.” Also, in the past, when he also worked for the NYPD, he had a bit of a problem with telling the truth. Miller is, clearly, an intelligence industry spokesperson at heart, pretending to be a journalist here.
  • There was not a single hard hitting question asked throughout. It was all softballs. Seriously. Many of the setup questions were the same bogus strawmen we’ve seen the NSA focus on in the past — concerning things like “is the NSA listening to everyone’s calls.” But that isn’t what people are actually concerned about. At no point did they appear to even attempt to ask followup questions when the NSA people made clearly misleading statements, such as thoseconcerning the surveillance of “US persons.”
  • Not a single critic of the NSA was shown during the entire episode. Seriously. Not a single claim by the NSA was refuted or pushed back on. At all. Basically, Miller served up softballs, the NSA hit ’em back, and the “investigative journalists” at 60 Minutes said, “Wow, isn’t that amazing!”
  • They admit that they did this piece because the NSA “invited them in.” In other words, this was purely a propaganda piece from the very outset. The most hysterical thing to watch is the “overtime” bit that they have on the website in which they explain how 60 Minutes got to do this story on the NSA, which reveals that basically the NSA asked them to do this puff piece and then controlled every second of the process. There are even a few outtakes where the NSA “handlers” cut off parts of interviews to tell people what to say.
  • Miller claims he spoke to NSA critics and asked them what they would ask, but that’s not reflected in the questioning at all. He then defends the piece saying that his goal was to let the NSA explain its side of the story, which he argues wasn’t getting enough attention. Seriously.

    Because this is really the side of the story that has been mined only in the most superficial ways. We’ve heard plenty from the critics. We’ve heard a lot from Edward Snowden. Where there’s been a distinctive shortage is, putting the NSA to the test and saying not just ‘We called for comment today’ but to get into the conversation and say that sounds a lot like spying on Americans, and then say, ‘Well, explain that.’”

    Try not to laugh at that. He even claims that he didn’t want it to be a puff piece — which is exactly what it was.

  • The one big “revelation” in the piece involves NSA people implying, but never actually saying, how they stopped some sort of plot to turn everyone’s computers into bricks by infecting the BIOS. But, as lots of people who actually understand this stuff are noting, that segment was pure gibberish:

    There are no technical details. Yes, they talk about “BIOS”, but it’s redundant, unrelated to their primary claim. Any virus/malware can destroy the BIOS, making a computer unbootable, “bricking” it. There’s no special detail here. All they are doing is repeating what Wikipedia says about BIOS, acting as techie talk layered onto the discussion to make it believable, much like how Star Trek episodes talk about warp cores and Jeffries Tubes.

    Stripped of techie talk, this passage simply says “The NSA foiled a major plot, trust us.” But of course, there is no reason we should trust them. It’s like how the number of terrorist plots foiled by telephone eavesdropping started at 50 then was reduced to 12 then to 2 and then to 0, as the NSA was forced to justify their claims under oath instead of in front of news cameras. The NSA has proven itself an unreliable source for such information — we can only trust them if they come out with more details — under oath.

    Moreover, they don’t even say what they imply. It’s all weasel-words. Nowhere in the above passage does a person from the NSA say “we foiled a major cyber terror plot”. Instead, it’s something you piece together by the name “BIOS plot”, cataclysmic attacks on our economy (from the previous segment), and phrases like “would it have worked”.

  • Part of the piece, bizarrely, focused on . . .

Continue reading.

Too bad about “60 Minutes.” Probably they should retire the program at this point. It has been hopelessly compromised: who will trust their reporting now?

UPDATE: Here’s a series of tweets about the program.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 December 2013 at 12:27 pm

Conservatives Have No Idea What To Do About Recessions

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The title makes a good point, as Josh Barro points out in Business Insider:

For the last five years, liberals have promoted three main economic policies to shorten or ameliorate the Great Recession and speed the recovery from it.

  • Deficit-financed spending to compensate for demand gaps in the private sector.
  • Easy monetary policy to raise inflation and support demand.
  • Mortgage modifications to reduce foreclosures and support consumption.

Most conservatives hate this agenda. As Mike Konczal notes, they bizarrely portray these policies as “corporatist” efforts to enrich the rich. But what’s really weird is conservatives have no alternative to this agenda they loathe.

To be clear, conservatives absolutely do have an economic policy agenda. They favor lower taxes, less regulation, government spending cuts, more domestic energy production, school choice, free trade, and low inflation. They often cite these policies as ones that might alleviate recession and speed recovery. They favor these policies now, they favored them in 2008, and they favored them in 2004.

That is, conservatives favor the same set of economic policies when the economy is weak and when it is strong; when unemployment is high and when it is low; when few homeowners are facing foreclosure and when many are. The implication is that conservatives believe there is nothing in particular the government should do about economic cycles. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 December 2013 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Business, GOP

Finally NSA can no longer avoid its day in court

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The Department of Justice and the NSA have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the Federal torture/surveillance/drone apparatus from having to face a court challenge. The most obvious reason for the desperate efforts to avoid defending their practices in court is that they figure that they’ll most likely lose, because they know what they’re doing is illegal. We finally do get a court case, and guess what: what the NSA is doing is illegal.

There are many reports and summaries of this decision. Juan Cole has a good one.

UPDATE: This New Yorker note on the decision, by Amy Davidson, is also worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 December 2013 at 12:11 pm

Interesting: White people find it difficult to get arrested

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In the Atlantic Bobby Constantino, a former prosecutor, has a piece called “I Got Myself Arrested So I Could Look Inside the Justice System.” It begins:

Ten years ago, when I started my career as an assistant district attorney in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, I viewed the American criminal justice system as a vital institution that protected society from dangerous people. I once prosecuted a man for brutally attacking his wife with a flashlight, and another for sexually assaulting a waitress at a nightclub. I believed in the system for good reason.

But in between the important cases, I found myself spending most of my time prosecuting people of color for things we white kids did with impunity growing up in the suburbs. As our office handed down arrest records and probation terms for riding dirt bikes in the street, cutting through a neighbor’s yard, hosting loud parties, fighting, or smoking weed – shenanigans that had rarely earned my own classmates anything more than raised eyebrows and scoldings – I often wondered if there was a side of the justice system that we never saw in the suburbs. Last year, I got myself arrested in New York City and found out.

On April 29, 2012, I put on a suit and tie and took the No. 3 subway line to the Junius Avenue stop in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville. At the time, the blocks around this stop were a well-known battleground in the stop-and-frisk wars: Police had stopped 14,000 residents 52,000 times in four years. I figured this frequency would increase my chances of getting to see the system in action, but I faced a significant hurdle: Though I’ve spent years living and working in neighborhoods like Brownsville, as a white professional, the police have never eyed me suspiciously or stopped me for routine questioning. I would have to do something creative to get their attention.

As I walked around that day, I held a chipboard graffiti stencil the size of a piece of poster board and two cans of spray paint. Simply carrying those items qualified as a class B misdemeanor pursuant to New York Penal Law 145.65. If police officers were doing their jobs, they would have no choice but to stop and question me. . .

Continue reading. “Equal justice for all” is an aspiration we seem to have abandoned.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 December 2013 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Government, Law

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