Later On

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

Archive for May 13th, 2014

British Spies Face Legal Action Over Secret Hacking Programs

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The trial will be interesting. Ryan Gallagher writes in The Intercept:

The United Kingdom’s top spy agency is facing legal action following revelations published by The Intercept about its involvement in top-secret efforts to hack into computers on a massive scale.

Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, has been accused of acting unlawfully by helping to develop National Security Agency surveillance systems capable of covertly breaking into potentially millions of computers and networks across the world.

In a legal complaint filed on Tuesday, the London-based civil liberties group Privacy International alleges that the hacking techniques violated European human rights law and are not subject to sufficient safeguards against abuse. The complaint cites a series of details contained in a report published by The Intercept in March, which exposed how GCHQ was closely involved in the NSA’s efforts to rapidly expand its ability to deploy so-called “implants” to infiltrate computers.

GCHQ and the NSA have developed an array of the sophisticated surveillance implants, according to documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, with each of the spy tools tailored for a different purpose. Some are used to compromise large-scale internet networks so that the spies can sweep up private data as it is passing through them. Others infect specific computers with malicious software that effectively gives the agencies total control of a target’s machine – enabling them to take covert snapshots using its webcam, record audio using its microphone, log what is being typed on the keyboard, collect data from any removable flash drive that is connected, and snoop its Web browsing history.

Privacy International argues in its 21-page legal complaint that the hacking tactics are more intrusive than more traditional eavesdropping methods, and that, if left unchecked, they could amount to “one of the most intrusive forms of surveillance any government has conducted”:

In allowing GCHQ to extract a huge amount of information (current and historical), much of which an individual may never have chosen to share with anybody, and to turn a user’s own devices against him by coopting them as instruments of video and audio surveillance, it is at least as intrusive as searching a person’s house and installing bugs so as to enable continued monitoring. In fact, it is more intrusive, because of the amount of information now generated and stored by computers and mobile devices nowadays, the speed, ease and surreptitiousness with which surveillance can be conducted, and because it allows the ongoing surveillance to continue wherever the affected person may be.

The case is the latest in a string of actions against GCHQ in the United Kingdom following the Snowden disclosures. But it is the first to focus specifically on the legality of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2014 at 4:51 pm

The shame of a nation

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What’s the point of being a wealthy nation if your citizens are suffering? Isn’t the idea of government to help those who need help? Emily Badger writes in the Washington Post:

Politics in America broadly divide the poor into two groups: those who struggle for reasons beyond their control and those who remain poor because they haven’t tried. The distinction separates the earnest from the lazy, the working class from the welfare queens, the “deserving poor” from those who’d use public assistance as an excuse to avoid getting a job.

The distinction is an old one (here’s a particularly precious, old-fashioned definition of the “deserving poor” from what sounds like Charles Dickens’ time). But exactly who we’re talking about as deserving of help in America has changed with time. And, as a result, our welfare system now no longer primarily serves the poor who are most in need of aid, research suggests. [Emphasis added. This is failure. – LG]

Robert Moffitt, an economist at Johns Hopkins University, came to this conclusion after analyzing the evolution of the U.S. welfare system over the last 40 years. Politicians are fond of saying that welfare spending in America has ballooned over this time. Researchers often counter that the government has in fact grown less generous with the poor. Moffitt finds that, in a sense, both are true: Spending on welfare programs has expanded, but increasingly, it’s not the worst-off who are on the receiving end.

This graph, from a presentation Moffitt recently gave at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, shows the aggregate growth in real dollars (adjusted for population growth) of the nine largest means-tested programs in the United States: Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (previously Aid to Families with Dependent Children), the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, subsidized housing, school lunch, the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, and Head Start: . . .

Continue reading.

And hedge-fund managers are paid billions of dollars per year and have extraordinarily low tax rates—and that’s still not enough. They must have more, and stiffing the poor can channel dollars to them. Stealing by means of high-frequency trading—“skimming”—channels more dollars their way. But their attitude toward money is like NSA’s attitude toward global communcations: they want it all. And they care not a whit for who suffers.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2014 at 4:41 pm

Marijuana Works Better Than Opiates To Control Pain: Here’s How

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Interesting article in Cannibis Now, especially for those who suffer chronic pain. Kylie Toponce writes:

One compelling argument for the legalization of medical marijuana is its ability to ameliorate intense pain. Currently available technologies have helped us gain understanding of cannabis, as well as its more-commonly-accepted opioid counterparts, and the affects they have on pain.

In 2010, as an attempt to gain insight on pain’s function in the brain, Oxford University conducted a study using fMRI machines and the standard tricks of psychology. Volunteers were monitored during zaps of pain to their feet.

Some areas, they were told, had the potential to be unsafe. In those spots, the volunteers reported their pain levels as being higher. In reality, all of it was safe. Interestingly, in the fMRI machines, the anterior insula lit up before they were ever zapped. Thinking about, anticipating and fearing pain caused their brains to assume—caused them to feel—the physical sensation of pain.

It’s all in the way human brains are hardwired. The parts of the brain where emotions are processed (the limbic system) are directly connected to the parts where physical stimuli are detected (the somatosensory cortex).

This wiring is what gives us the definition of pain, as according to The International Association for the Study of Pain: “An unpleasant and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.” In essence, it is your brain telling you that somewhere in your body, something is wrong.

Let’s first take a look at the federally recognized, legal remedy for pain: opiates.

As it stands currently, opiates are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. This is regardless of the fact that they only have a 30-40 percent success rate for reducing pain. Moreover, 80 percent of the time, they are accompanied by horrible side effects—hormonal imbalance, constipation (often leading to fecal impaction), nausea, and intense drowsiness just to name a few. In order to combat these side effects, patients often have to “take drugs to offset the drugs.”

Although it can be argued that these side effects are relatively small, potentially just inconveniences, the number of people who die from overdoses is not. That is, 125,000 lives in the last decade. The body will build up a tolerance and require higher doses over time, resulting in addiction, illegal drug use and possibly death.

“It started with a snowboarding accident; my knee got really messed up. They had me on Morphine and OxyContin for a while, but eventually the prescriptions ran out. As soon as they stopped giving me a legitimate source, I got into the underground scene,” says Randall*. “I was pronounced legally dead once, but I still didn’t clean up. My eight-year addiction didn’t stop until it eventually landed me behind bars.”

Cases like Randall’s are not uncommon; roughly 6 percent of people who take legitimately-prescribed opiates try heroine within ten years. . .

Continue reading. See the main article for links.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2014 at 1:54 pm

Mythos, Logos, and meaning

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The Paul Rosenberg article I blogged about earlier today has some good food for thought.

I observe that as a general rule, religion looks for evidence to confirm beliefs (e.g., viewing everyday coincidences as miracles), whereas science looks for evidence to disconfirm beliefs (if none can be found, the beliefs are provisionally accepted as true—always subject to later evidence).

An extreme example happened when I worked in Cleveland in 1963-64. A quartet that sang religious songs for churches was on tour, and they missed their flight by one wrong turn: the driver said, “Do I turn left here?” and the navigator responded, “Right,” so the driver turned right. The navigator meant “correct,” and by the time they got back on track they were late enough to miss the plane, which crashed and killed all on board.

The quartet realized that God was sending them a message, that their work was important and to keep it up. They accepted as given that God would kill a couple of hundred people simply to send them a message that would fit in a 10-word telegram. Why God was unable, in His omnipotence, to send the telegram rather than kill all the passengers they did not address. Still, they saw the crash as confirming evidence that God was supportive of their work (though not to the point of sending them a check).

However, this shows a good example of mythos at work: the quartet was looking for meaning in their mistake and the subsequent accident, and they found meaning. They were not interested in logos, the source of my snarky comments above. The problem for mythos is that nature doesn’t have a lot of meaning: nature is what happens. What is the meaning of an electron? of a gravity wave? of our atmosphere? What we “understand” when we look at nature, it seems to me, is not the kind of meaning that satisfies the religious urge, but rather an grasp of causality and causal chains.

UPDATE: I don’t mean to denigrate meaning, BTW. I just don’t think we find it in nature. “Meaning” seems to me to reside in the emergent phenomenon known as human culture—and in human culture, meaning is important and influences us enough to affect our health.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2014 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Religion, Science

Should your robot car let you die to save two other people?

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It turns out that the Three Law of Robotics require some codicils and exceptions…  Erick Sofge writes in Popular Science:

It happens quickly—more quickly than you, being human, can fully process.

A front tire blows, and your autonomous SUV swerves. But rather than veering left, into the opposing lane of traffic, the robotic vehicle steers right. Brakes engage, the system tries to correct itself, but there’s too much momentum. Like a cornball stunt in a bad action movie, you are over the cliff, in free fall.

Your robot, the one you paid good money for, has chosen to kill you. Better that, its collision-response algorithms decided, than a high-speed, head-on collision with a smaller, non-robotic compact. There were two people in that car, to your one. The math couldn’t be simpler.

This, roughly speaking, is the problem presented by Patrick Lin, an associate philosophy professor and director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University. In a recent opinion piece for Wired, Lin explored one of the most disturbing questions in robot ethics: If a crash is unavoidable, should an autonomous car choose who it slams into?

It might seem like a simple thought experiment, a twist on the classic “trolley problem,” an ethical conundrum that asks whether you’d save five people on a runaway trolley, at the price of killing one person on the tracks. But the more detailed the crash scenarios get, the harder they are to navigate. Assume that the robot has what can only be described as superhuman senses and reaction speed, thanks to its machine reflexes and suite of advanced sensors. In that moment of truth before the collision, should the vehicle target a small car, rather than a big one, to err towards protecting its master? Or should it do the reverse, aiming for the SUV, even if it means reducing the robo-car owner’s chances of survival? And what if it’s a choice between driving into a school bus, or plowing into a tree? Does the robot choose a massacre, or a betrayal?

The key factor, again, is the car’s superhuman status. “With great power comes great responsibility,” says Lin. “If these machines have greater capacity than we do, higher processor speeds, better sensors, that seems to imply a greater responsibility to make better decisions.”

Current autonomous cars, it should be said, are more student driver than Spider-Man, unable to notice a human motorist waving them through an intersection, much less churn through a complex matrix of projected impacts, death tolls, and what Lin calls “moral math” in the moments before a collision. But sensors, processors and software are the rare elements of robotics that tend to advance rapidly (while actuation and power density, for example, limp along with typical analog stubbornness). While the timeframe is unclear, autonomous cars are guaranteed to eventually do what people can’t, either as individual sensor-laden devices, or because they’re communicating with other vehicles and connected infrastructure, and anticipating events as only a hive mind can.

So if we assume that hyper-competence is the manifest destiny of machines, then we’re forced to ask a question that’s bigger than who they should crash into. If robots are going to be superhuman, isn’t it their duty to be superheroes, and use those powers to save as many humans as possible?

* * *

This second hypothetical is bloodier than the first, but less lethal. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2014 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law, Technology

Your Food Is Poisoning You

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Devon Jackson writes in Outside:

There’s a scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind where the Air Force subjects Richard Dreyfus and his fellow Third Encounterers to the media. The press conference is actually going pretty well, the media seem to be on the verge of believing these people—until one of them, a bearded old hermit type (Roberts Blossom) launches into a speech about how he once saw Bigfoot. Credibility: shot.

Such is the case, too, with people who’ve been trying to link celiac disease (and other ills) with the use of the herbicide glyphosate. Despite having long been treated like Bigfoot believers by their opponents, their research is now gaining widespread attention. More importantly, there’s a growing sense that the science has reached a tipping point: Glyphosate cannot be recognized as harmless.

“I’m always suspicious of these consensuses on [the safety of] agriculture chemicals—they almost always fall apart over time, and that may be happening with glyphosate,” says author and food activist Michael Pollan.

Introduced by Monsanto in the early 1970s under the trade name Roundup (and used primarily back then as a weed killer), glyphosate is now used throughout the world on wheat and soy crops and since 2007 it has been the most widely used herbicide in the U.S.—and the growing target of research linking it to a variety of illnesses.

“Since Monsanto first introduced Roundup into crops in 1974, there’s been a rise in autism and other diseases,” says Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-author, with Anthony Samsel, a retired environmental scientist, of the recent review claiming that Roundup leads to celiac disease . “I’m certain at this point that glyphosate is the most important factor in an alarming number of epidemic diseases.” Diseases ranging from autism, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes to pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease and—wait for it—the ongoing collapse of bee colonies.

But where then, beyond the work of Seneff and Samsel, is the proof? Well, there isn’t much hard evidence (only two long-term studies on the health effects of the chemical have been conducted). And for a complicated set of reasons. For one, historically, people who’ve challenged the biotech industry have been systematically discredited, says Pollan, “as we learned recently about Tyrone Hayes, the UC Berkeley herpetologist who ran afoul of Syngenta.” Also, there’s the just-as-hard-to-prove theory that no one wants to bite the hand that feeds them.

“Some of our scientists are the ones who are the most difficult—and the biggest impediment to better research—because they’re funding is dependent on the very same agrichemical companies like Monsanto that are producing Roundup,” says Dr. Don Huber, professor emeritus of plant pathology at Purdue University (who for years consulted with Monsanto scientists). “They’re not about to go in a different direction from the people who’ve been funding them.” . . .

Continue reading. It’s scary.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2014 at 1:10 pm

Benghazi forever!

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The GOP seems to love Benghazi as much as they hate Obamacare. And as Obamacare succeeds, the GOP has found itself in an awkward position: while their horror stories did not hold up under closer scrutiny, the success stories are solid—and some, to the GOP’s dismay—are being told by conservatives who resolutely opposed the law until it saved their lives or lives of family members.

Paul Rosenberg has a good article in Salon in which he writes, “The five stages of Affordable Care Act grief . . . were Repeal, Replace, Defund, Benghazi, and then Acceptance.”

Here’s a graph by Jed Lewison in Daily Kos:


Rosenberg’s article is well worth reading. Later in the article he writes:

We knew it all along, really: The renewed Benghazi hysteria is all about what Republicans need, psychologically, as a group as well as individually, and no one knows that better than their perennial parental surrogate, Fox News. Their Obama hatred, which gives meaning to their lives, has to be cast into some narratively cohesive (if not coherent) form that they can collectively rally around.

It’s a commonplace truth that as soon as one form falls apart, for whatever reason, a new one must be found to take its place. ObamaScare has been the most fruitful and enduring such narrative, and now that its pragmatic viability is unexpectedly on life support, it’s no surprise to see Benghazi suddenly rocket to the top of the charts. In England of old it was said, “The king is dead! Long live the king!” In America today, the GOP — our very own Tories — have their own equivalent, when the king is not of their own party: “The bogeyman is dead! Long live the bogeyman!”

All this reminded me of Karen Armstrong’s discussion of mythos and logos in the introductory chapter of The Battle for God — two distinctly different ways of making sense of the world. “Logos,” Armstrong explained, “was the rational, pragmatic, and scientific thought that enabled men and women to function well in the world.” In contrast:

Myth was not concerned with practical matters, but with meaning. Unless we find some significance in our lives, we mortal men and women fall very easily into despair. The mythos of a society provided people with a context that made sense of their day-to-day lives; it directed their attention to the eternal and the universal. It was also rooted in what we would call the unconscious mind.

We all have need of both logos and mythos in our everyday lives. And yet, it’s obvious that liberals focus collectively and politically around logos — they don’t call it “the reality-based community” for nothing — while conservatives do the same around mythos, instead, albeit a rather paranoid version of it.

This difference helps enormously when it comes to trying to get a deeper understanding of the politics of Benghazi vs. “#Benghazi,” as Hayes savvily refers to it. In the real world, the attack on Benghazi in which four Americans were killed was a regrettable tragedy — but just one such example among all too many. Just one week after the Benghazi attacks, a Pakistani newspaper published a list of 44 attacks on U.S. embassies since 1958 (13 of them under George W. Bush), and MSNBC’s Timothy Noah topped that recently, writing:

Deadly violence against U.S. diplomats, sadly, is a frequent occurrence. The State Department counts 86 “significant attacks” against diplomatic outposts just in 2012, the year of the Benghazi attack. The death toll from these 2012 attacks was not four, but 24. And this is not a new problem. Since 1970, there have been 521 attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets, killing 500 people. The deadliest of these was not Benghazi but a truck bomb explosion in Nairobi, Kenya that killed 213 people, 12 of them Americans. Since 1977, 66 American diplomats have been killed by terrorists.

Needless to say, no other attack on U.S. diplomats has gotten anywhere near the prolonged attention focused on #Benghazi. Certainly not the 1983 Beirut Embassy bombing, in which 63 people were killed, including 17 Americans, on Ronald Reagan’s watch — not to be confused with the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, six months later, in which 241 American servicemen were killed, along with 58 French servicemen, six civilians and two suicide bombers. Ronald Reagan is a beloved, god-like figure on the right, who can Do No Wrong. Barack Obama is the exact opposite. By the dictates of mythos, investigations are arranged accordingly — the number of casualties is not even an afterthought. Facts simply do not matter in the framework of mythos and #Benghazi.

Meanwhile, in the real world, facts do matter. Facts about the attacks on Benghazi, about the context surrounding them, about how the Obama administration responded to them, even about how they talked about them. And because facts matter, it matters that the facts uncovered by past investigations have failed to validate hysterical right-wing claims. (See Media Matters on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report, and the declassified transcripts from House Armed Services Committee hearings, for example.) It matters that even Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in early April that he was satisfied with the military response to the attack:

“I think I’ve pretty well been satisfied that given where the troops were, how quickly the thing all happened and how quickly it dissipated, we probably couldn’t have done more than we did”

But in the psycho-social world of #Benghazi, facts just don’t hold much sway. Mythos, not logos, is in charge there — and a very specific kind of mythos at that. To understand why that is, I turn to the work of Yale Law School professor Dan Kahan, starting with something he wrote at the highly respected Balkanization blog in 2005, with the provocative title, “What Fearless White Men Are Afraid Of.” He began: . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more and it’s quite interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2014 at 12:54 pm

Greenwald everywhere as his book hits the shelves

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Take a look at these stories. I didn’t copy the links in the original article—go to the original for those.

Book Reveals Wider Net of U.S. Spying on Envoys, by Charlie Savage in the NY Times.  Begins:

In May 2010, when the United Nations Security Council was weighing sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, several members were undecided about how they would vote. The American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, asked the National Security Agency for help “so that she could develop a strategy,” a leaked agency document shows.

The N.S.A. swiftly went to work, developing the paperwork to obtain legal approval for spying on diplomats from four Security Council members — Bosnia, Gabon, Nigeria and Uganda — whose embassies and missions were not already under surveillance. The following month, 12 members of the 15-seat Security Council voted to approve new sanctions, with Lebanon abstaining and only Brazil and Turkey voting against.

Later that summer, Ms. Rice thanked the agency, saying its intelligence had helped her to know when diplomats from the other permanent representatives — China, England, France and Russia — “were telling the truth … revealed their real position on sanctions … gave us an upper hand in negotiations … and provided information on various countries ‘red lines.’ ”

The two documents laying out that episode, both leaked by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden, are reproduced in a new book by Glenn Greenwald, “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the N.S.A., and the U.S. Surveillance State.” The book is being published Tuesday.

Elements of the N.S.A.’s role in helping aid American diplomatic negotiations leading up to the Iran sanctions vote had been previously reported, including in an October 2013 article in the French newspaper Le Monde that focused on the agency’s spying on French diplomats.

Mr. Greenwald’s book also reproduces a document listing embassies and missions that had been penetrated by the N.S.A., including those of Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, the European Union, France, Georgia, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Venezuela and Vietnam. Aspects of that document were reported in June by The Guardian. . . .

Snowden’s Story, Behind the Scenes, a book review by Michiko Kakutani:

he title of the journalist Glenn Greenwald’s impassioned new book, “No Place to Hide,” comes from a chilling observation made in 1975 by Senator Frank Church, then chairman of a select committee on intelligence. The United States government, he said, had perfected “a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air.” That capability, he added, could at any time “be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.”

That was nearly 40 years ago, and as the documents leaked last year by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed, the N.S.A.’s ability to spy on our daily lives has grown exponentially to Orwellian proportions. The documents provided by Mr. Snowden revealed that the agency has an ability to monitor or collect information from hundreds of millions of people around the globe, that it has broken into the communications links of major data centers across the world, that it has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption that protects sensitive data on the Internet, and that, according to its own records, it has broken privacy laws or exceeded its authority thousands of times a year. The first journalist Mr. Snowden approached by email was Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for The Guardian and former constitutional lawyer who had frequently written about civil liberties, the dangers of enhanced executive power, and surveillance abuses in post-Sept. 11 America. (Mr. Greenwald has since left The Guardian to work with Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, on building a new media venture, which includes the news site The Intercept, of which Mr. Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill are founding editors.) . . .

The reviewer seems to take exception at Greenwald’s condemnation of mainstream media for failure to cover controversial issues, but she completely ignores how Bill Keller of the NY Times held back the story of George W. Bush’s completely illegal wiretaps until after Bush was elected (and reported it then only because the reporter, who had understandably left to work at another paper that would actually publish such stories, was about to break the story anyway). Another example is how the Times airbrushed out of a story about Bank of America’s illegal actions, as noted here. Greenwald may be wrong about the press’s subservience to power, but he is not far wrong.

No Place to Hide’ by Glenn Greenwald, on the NSA’s sweeping efforts to ‘Know it All’, by David Cole in the Washington Post:

At a meeting with his British counterparts in 2008, Keith Alexander, then head of the National Security Agency, reportedly asked, “Why can’t we collect all the signals, all the time?” The NSA has since sought to dismiss that remark as a quip taken out of context. In his new book, “No Place to Hide,” Glenn Greenwald, one of three recipients of the voluminous, top-secret material that NSA contractor Edward Snowden chose to leak, uses those documents to prove that this was indeed the agency’s guiding principle.

In one remarkable slide presented at a 2011 meeting of five nations’ intelligence agencies and revealed here for the first time, the NSA described its “collection posture” as “Collect it All,” “Process it All,” “Exploit it All,” “Partner it All,” “Sniff it All” and, ultimately, “Know it All.”

Much has been written about the NSA’s omnivorous appetite for personal data — much of it by Greenwald for the Guardian and other outlets. In his new book, however, he offers a revealing and disturbing overview, illustrated by dozens of reproduced secret documents, of just how far the NSA has gone to achieve Alexander’s vision of collecting and knowing it all. Relying on newly disclosed and already disclosed documents, Greenwald shows that the scope of the NSA’s surveillance not only exceeds our imagination but the agency’s capacity even to store, much less analyze, it all.

In a one-month period last year, for example, a single unit of the NSA, the Global Access Operations unit, collected data on more than 97 billion e-mails and 124 billion phone calls from around the world; more than 3 billion of those calls and e-mails were collected as they passed through the United States. As of 2012, the agency was processing more than 20 billion telecommunications per day. In a single month in 2011, the NSA collected 71 million calls and e-mails from Poland alone — not a major hub of terrorist activity, the last I checked. The NSA has admitted that “it collects far more content than is routinely useful to analysts.” These numbers call to mind Sen. Everett Dirksen’s quip about government spending: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

The NSA achieves these ends by working hand in hand with private telecommunications and Internet service providers. .. .

Some of Greenwald’s most disturbing disclosures concern not the NSA but its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). His documents reveal that the GCHQ engages in “online covert action” against loosely defined “hacktivists” designed to disrupt, degrade and discredit their online presence. Taking a page from COINTELPRO, the FBI’s 1960s campaign against U.S. radicals, the GCHQ’s tactics include luring targets to sexually compromising Web sites, posting false blogs and launching other “info ops to damage reputations.” . . .

“Collect It All”: Glenn Greenwald on NSA Bugging Tech Hardware, Economic Espionage & Spying on U.N., an interview at Democracy Now!, with video and a transcript. The blurb:

Nearly a year after he first met Edward Snowden, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald continues to unveil new secrets about the National Security Agency and the surveillance state. His new book, “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State,” is being published today. It includes dozens of previously secret NSA documents, including new details on how the NSA routinely intercepts routers, servers and other computer hardware devices being exported from the United States. According to leaked documents published in the book, the NSA then implants backdoor surveillance tools, repackages the devices with a factory seal and sends them on. This gives the NSA access to entire networks and all their users. The book includes one previously secret NSA file that shows a photo of an agent opening a box marked CISCO. Below it reads a caption: “Intercepted packages are opened carefully.” Another memo observes that some signals intelligence tradecraft is “very hands-on (literally!).”

Greenwald joins us in the studio to talk about this and other new revelations about the NSA, including its global economic espionage, spying at the United Nations, and attempting to monitor in-flight Internet users and phone calls. For his reporting on the NSA, Greenwald recently won a George Polk Award and was part of the team from The Guardian that just won the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service.

“Once people understood that this extraordinary system of suspicionless surveillance, which was truly unprecedented in scope, had been created completely in the dark, it became more than a surveillance story,” Greenwald says. “It became a story about government secrecy and accountability and the role of journalism, and certainly privacy and surveillance in the digital age.”

How the NSA tampers with US-made internet routers, by Glenn Greenwald, in an extract from his book printed in The Guardian:

For years, the US government loudly warned the world that Chinese routers and other internet devices pose a “threat” because they are built with backdoor surveillance functionality that gives the Chinese government the ability to spy on anyone using them. Yet what the NSA’s documents show is that Americans have been engaged in precisely the activity that the US accused the Chinese of doing.

No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State
by Glenn Greenwald

Tell us what you think: Star-rate and review this book

The drumbeat of American accusations against Chinese internet device manufacturers was unrelenting. In 2012, for example, a report from the House Intelligence Committee, headed by Mike Rogers, claimed that Huawei and ZTE, the top two Chinese telecommunications equipment companies, “may be violating United States laws” and have “not followed United States legal obligations or international standards of business behaviour”. The committee recommended that “the United States should view with suspicion the continued penetration of the US telecommunications market by Chinese telecommunications companies”.

The Rogers committee voiced fears that the two companies were enabling Chinese state surveillance, although it acknowledged that it had obtained no actual evidence that the firms had implanted their routers and other systems with surveillance devices. Nonetheless, it cited the failure of those companies to cooperate and urged US firms to avoid purchasing their products: “Private-sector entities in the United States are strongly encouraged to consider the long-term security risks associated with doing business with either ZTE or Huawei for equipment or services. US network providers and systems developers are strongly encouraged to seek other vendors for their projects. Based on available classified and unclassified information, Huawei and ZTE cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems.”

The constant accusations became such a burden that Ren Zhengfei, the 69-year-old founder and CEO of Huawei, announced in November 2013 that the company was abandoning the US market. As Foreign Policy reported, Zhengfei told a French newspaper: “‘If Huawei gets in the middle of US-China relations,’ and causes problems, ‘it’s not worth it’.”

But while American companies were being warned away from supposedly untrustworthy Chinese routers, foreign organisations would have been well advised to beware of American-made ones. A June 2010 report from the head of the NSA’s Access and Target Development department is shockingly explicit. The NSA routinely receives – or intercepts – routers, servers and other computer network devices being exported from the US before they are delivered to the international customers.

The agency then implants backdoor surveillance tools, repackages the devices with a factory seal and sends them on. . .

From Martin Luther King to Anonymous, the state targets dissenters not just “bad guys”, by Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian. This is also an extract from the book:

A prime justification for surveillance – that it’s for the benefit of the population – relies on projecting a view of the world that divides citizens into categories of good people and bad people. In that view, the authorities use their surveillance powers only against bad people, those who are “doing something wrong”, and only they have anything to fear from the invasion of their privacy. This is an old tactic. In a 1969 Time magazine article about Americans’ growing concerns over the US government’s surveillance powers, Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, assured readers that “any citizen of the United States who is not involved in some illegal activity has nothing to fear whatsoever”.

The point was made again by a White House spokesman, responding to the 2005 controversy over Bush’s illegal eavesdropping programme: “This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people.” And when Barack Obama appeared on The Tonight Show in August 2013 and was asked by Jay Leno about NSA revelations, he said: “We don’t have a domestic spying programme. What we do have is some mechanisms that can track a phone number or an email address that is connected to a terrorist attack.”

For many, the argument works. The perception that invasive surveillance is confined only to a marginalised and deserving group of those “doing wrong” – the bad people – ensures that the majority acquiesces to the abuse of power or even cheers it on. But that view radically misunderstands what goals drive all institutions of authority. “Doing something wrong” in the eyes of such institutions encompasses far more than illegal acts, violent behaviour and terrorist plots. It typically extends to meaningful dissent and any genuine challenge. It is the nature of authority to equate dissent with wrongdoing, or at least with a threat.

The record is suffused with examples of groups and individuals being placed under government surveillance by virtue of their dissenting views and activism – Martin Luther King, the civil rights movement, anti-war activists, environmentalists. In the eyes of the government and J Edgar Hoover’s FBI, they were all “doing something wrong”: political activity that threatened the prevailing order.

The FBI’s domestic counterintelligence programme, Cointelpro, was first exposed by a group of anti-war activists who had become convinced that the anti-war movement had been infiltrated, placed under surveillance and targeted with all sorts of dirty tricks. Lacking documentary evidence to prove it and unsuccessful in convincing journalists to write about their suspicions, they broke into an FBI branch office in Pennsylvania in 1971 and carted off thousands of documents. . .

Glenn Greenwald, How I Met Edward Snowden. This is another extract from Greenwald’s book, posted at This extract seems to be chapter 1 of the book.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2014 at 12:32 pm

The High Frequency Trading Lawsuit That Has Wall Street Running Scared

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Pam Martens has an interesting article in Wall Street on Parade:

ariety reports that Sony Pictures is close to snagging the movie rights to the new book by Michael Lewis, “Flash Boys,” which builds the case that high frequency trading firms and Wall Street mega banks are conspiring with U.S. stock exchanges to rig the market against the average investor and the pension funds holding their meager retirement benefits.

If Sony is smart, it will delay release of the film until it can replicate some real-life courtroom drama from the epic battle that is likely to ensue from a class-action lawsuit in the matter that was filed last month on April 18 in Federal Court in the Southern District of New York.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit has elicited snickers from the moneyed crowd on Wall Street. It was filed on behalf of the city of Providence, Rhode Island, an area founded in 1636 that became one of the original thirteen colonies, and is not typically known for hobnobbing with the hedge funds of Greenwich, Connecticut or the Wall Street suspender crowd in New York.

A more careful look at the lawsuit, however, is sending shivers across Wall Street. The law firm that made the filing is Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP – a firm staffed with former prosecutors from the U.S. Justice Department and a legal powerhouse whose bread and butter is securities fraud.

Robbins Geller played a pivotal role in the securities class action against Enron, securing a $7.3 billion recovery; $5.7 billion in the Visa/MasterCard antitrust class action; $2.46 billlion in a Household International class action judgment; $925 million in the UnitedHealth Group stock option backdating case; and $657 million in a securities action involving WorldCom – to name just a few.

The firm’s biggest threat to Wall Street is that it actually knows how to define securities fraud to a court, what to ask for in discovery, and it prepares its cases on the basis that they may go to trial – producing deep archives of smoking gun documents.

The complaint by Robbins Geller in the current high frequency matter names every major stock exchange in the U.S. (including the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq, Bats, Direct Edge, etc.) as well as major Wall Street firms (Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Bank of America, etc.) along with high frequency trading firms and hedge funds. The lawsuit actually references page numbers in the Michael Lewis book, “Flash Boys.” One section reads: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2014 at 11:18 am

Posted in Business, Law

Religion and science are like fishing and chess: They have nothing to do with each other

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Some creationists are very upset with Neil deGrasse Tyson because he mentioned that Faraday was a devout Christian who worked as a scientist without involving his religious beliefs: he did believe that nature’s laws come from God, but in his work as a scientist, he simply tried to find the laws. God was not in the picture. Alternet has a brief post on the controversy.

I wonder whether you can determine the religion of a chess player simply by looking at the records of his or her games. That is, is chess played differently by (say) Christians, atheists, Buddhists, and Muslims? I don’t think so. A chess player follows the rules of chess, seeking to be creative within the rules. The result is the game. It’s not that a chess player must leave his or her religion out of the game; rather, the game itself is played without reference to religion.

Science, it seems to me, is much the same: it has rules of play—the scientific method—and is based on evidence and data that are the same regardless of the religion of the observer. Hypotheses are tested by evidence from nature, and that is done without reference to the religion of the scientist doing the investigation.

In science as in chess, the religion of the participant is irrelevant to the rules of the game and to how it is played.

This should not be a difficult idea: religion is irrelevant in many areas of knowledge. Cooking, gardening, fishing, construction, physics, and so on each uses methods and processes that are independent of religion beliefs of the practitioner: eggs don’t cook differently for Christians and atheists.

The notion that religion has a role in every field of endeavor makes no more sense than that chess has a role in every field of endeavor.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2014 at 10:36 am

Posted in Religion, Science

Extremely smooth and nice shave with $35 razor

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SOTD 13 May 2013


I find that the Apollo razor shown feels and shaves above its price class. The solid stainless handle gives it a nice heft, and the head is well designed based on how nicely it shaves.

But first, the prep. I’ve been making lather for a few days with the Semogue Owners Club boar brush shown, and it’s coming along. However, by the third pass today the lathercidal properties of new boar bristles had quite killed the lather. At one time I would have condemned the brush, but I now realize that this is simply what non-broken-in boar brushes do. The breaking in is not simply about the tips splitting; you also have to use the brush enough to remove whatever kills the lather. Another week or two and this will be fine.

I will note that this Semogue knot is much better behaved than others I’ve had—a couple of Semogue 2000s were so badly splayed I simply could not use them. I didn’t want to pass along a bad brush, so they went into the dustbin. I have higher hopes for this one.

OTOH, when the lather was gone by the third pass, I loaded up the Omega R&B brush and it was remarkably better feeling on the face.

General note: when you advised to “soak” your boar brush before use, that does not mean to immerse the brush in water. It means to hold the knot under the hot-water tap and wet it well, squeezing it a couple of times as you do, and then let it stand on its base, dripping wet, while you shower. At the end of the shower, the brush is soaked and ready for use. I advise against immersing the brush, particularly brushes like this one, with wooden handles.

As noted, the Apollo razor is excellent and I got a mostly BBS shave. A good splash of Rose Thayers and I’m ready for the day. I rather liked the Rose Thayers. I need to use it more often.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2014 at 10:23 am

Posted in Shaving

Broadband industry poor at lying

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The broadband industry is not very good at lying, since they provide the actual data that proves their statements are false.

Matthew Yglesias points out in Vox:

The broadband industry, like other industries I am familiar with, does not like the idea of government regulations that would make it less profitable. In search of a more persuasive argument than that, Tom Downey, a lobbyist for the National Cable Telecommunications Association, is circulating a letter to members of Congress arguing that “in the years that broadband service has been subjected to relatively little regulation, investment and deployment have flourished and broadband competition has increased, all to the benefit of consumers and the American economy.”

So is broadband investment flourishing? Not according to the NCTA’s own data which shows investment booming in the years before the Great Recession and declining more recently:


Of course, since NCTA wants to argue the reverse the actual graphic they have on their website looks quite a bit different from this.

Specifically, here’s how they would like you to see broadband investment:


The key trick here is that they looked at cumulative gross investment so that literally any possible state of the world will show an upward slope. Even if all the broadband industry did was repair lines that were downed in storms, cumulative investment would go up over time. But they threw in a bonus trick of using four-year periods (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008) and then switching to a five-year period for the last one. . .

Continue reading.

Lying is a sign that the truth works against you.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2014 at 7:52 am

Posted in Business

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