Later On

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

Archive for January 15th, 2015

The NY Police vs. the Mayor

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Michael Greenberg writes in the NY Review of Books:

The killing of two New York City police officers on December 20, 2014, while they sat in their patrol car near a public housing project in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, has riven the city in a primal way that we have not seen since the Crown Heights race riots that pitted blacks against Hasidic Jews in 1991.

The murdered officers, chosen at random, were Rafael Ramos, a religiously devout Hispanic, and Wenjian Liu, the son of Chinese immigrants whose father works as a presser in a laundry sweatshop. The murderer, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, a twenty-eight-year-old black man with no known political affiliations, had shot his girlfriend in Baltimore, traveled to New York intent on killing cops, and then finished himself off with the same gun on a nearby subway platform. On the social-media site Instagram, Brinsley had made remarks about avenging the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police. These postings, along with his boast of “Watch what I’m going to do” to a stranger on the street shortly before he approached the patrol car, suggest the kind of lone-wolf grandiosity and social resentment that we have seen in any number of assassins in public schools and malls.

Almost immediately after the event, it began to seem that a third casualty might be the national protest movement focused on policing and racial injustice that had assumed, in recent weeks, the moral force of a fundamental civil rights issue, attracting widespread political and popular support.

With staggering, but predictable, alacrity, some pro-police figures put forth an argument that they believed inescapably linked the protest movements to the murders. Protesters had called for the death of cops, went the argument, and the call had been answered.* Did it also follow that racial slurs against blacks led to the killing of unarmed black men? And were the lives of cops worth more than those of Eric Garner and other men of color? This was the abyss into which a serious debate about the need to reform the country’s criminal justice system had fallen.

Rudy Giuliani pointed the finger at President Obama:

We’ve had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police…. The protests are being embraced, the protests are being encouraged…a lot of them lead to violence, all of them lead to a conclusion: the police are bad, the police are racist.

Pat Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), which represents the 23,000 New York City officers below the rank of sergeant, went after Mayor Bill de Blasio. He said: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2015 at 6:03 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

What some will remember about the US

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Amy Davidson writes in the New Yorker:

When Akhmed Abdul Qadir Hussain was eighteen (or a little younger, by some accounts), in early 2002, he was arrested by the Pakistani police, who gave him to American forces, who sent him to Guantánamo Bay. When he was about twenty-five, in 2009, the Guantánamo Review Task Force cleared him for release. It had taken seven years, but, as a Pentagon press release put it, “this man was unanimously approved for transfer by the six departments and agencies comprising the task force.” But he remained in Guantánamo for more than five additional years. Finally, on Wednesday, the Obama Administration announced that it had put Hussain on a plane to Estonia. He is not Estonian; he was born in Yemen. But now, at the age of about thirty-one, he will presumably learn at least the rudiments of the Estonian language, maybe while taking in the architecture in Talinn’s old city and on the Baltic coast. Four other Guantánamo prisoners were sent to Oman; they were also Yemeni. Each of them had been held for a dozen years or more, and each had also been cleared for release five years earlier. Neither they nor Hussain had ever been charged with anything.

Congress is informed before such releases, which might explain why, the day before the announcement, Republican Senators John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, and Lindsey Graham came out with a proposal for new Guantánamo legislation. It was not an effort to find a way to prevent teen-agers from being locked up for no good reason until they are in their thirties. Instead, it called for what would effectively be a moratorium on any transfers from Guantánamo. Under the proposal, no prisoner could be transferred to Yemen (although there are dozens of Yemenis who have been cleared for release) because Yemen, according to Ayotte, is “the Wild West.” And for the next two years, no prisoner who had received a medium-risk or high-risk designation could be released at all—never mind if nothing had ever been proved against him.

The medium-risk designation seems to be pretty easy to get; until his case was finally reviewed, Hussain was called that, on the ground that he had spent time at a guest house associated with the Taliban, where, the government argued, he had been “trained” (in what, exactly, isn’t really clear) and had access to a gun. In a 2008 assessment, he was also labelled as “a HIGH threat from a detention perspective,” because he had been “non-compliant and hostile to the guard force.” He hadn’t actually tried to attack anyone, but he had accumulated seventy-five disciplinary infractions, including “inappropriate use of bodily fluids,” with “the most recent occurring on 6 March 2008, when he refused to return a library book.”

Reading the paperwork, such as it is, that explains Hussain’s detention, one is struck by how little anyone seems to have considered that he was a teen-ager, and perhaps a minor, when he was put in a jumpsuit in a prison camp. But he would not have been the only juvenile—or even the youngest prisoner—at Guantánamo. The United States’s blindness about child prisoners is not confined to terrorism suspects; far too many underage suspects are sentenced and incarcerated as adults. It was only last week that New York City officials decided to stop putting prisoners under the age of twenty-one in solitary confinement at Rikers Island. (See Jennifer Gonnerman’s harrowing account of a childhood lost in that jail.) But not so many end up in Estonia.

This befuddlement seems to have extended to earlier reviews of Hussain’s case. When Judge Reggie B. Walton denied Hussain’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, in 2011, he discounted Hussain’s account of what he had been doing in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in part because Hussain seemed suspiciously unrealistic about what kind of job he could get, clueless about the motives of the older men he was spending time with, aimless when it came to registering for school, and not in a hurry to go home and get married—this, again, when he was seventeen. (The blog Lawfare posted a link to the decision.) Hussain explained that . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2015 at 5:40 pm

Computers can now read human emotions, so they are evaluating ads

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Capitalism will pay money only to make money, so the advances in computers that can recognize and respond to our emotions are being funded by advertising companies. And the successes of the algorithms are significant, as in the case of the autistic boy being helped. Raffi Khatchadourian writes in the New Yorker:

Three years ago, archivists at A.T. & T. stumbled upon a rare fragment of computer history: a short film that Jim Henson produced for Ma Bell, in 1963. Henson had been hired to make the film for a conference that the company was convening to showcase its strengths in machine-to-machine communication. Told to devise a faux robot that believed it functioned better than a person, he came up with a cocky, boxy, jittery, bleeping Muppet on wheels. “This is computer H14,” it proclaims as the film begins. “Data program readout: number fourteen ninety-two per cent H2SOSO.” (Robots of that era always seemed obligated to initiate speech with senseless jargon.) “Begin subject: Man and the Machine,” it continues. “The machine possesses supreme intelligence, a faultless memory, and a beautiful soul.” A blast of exhaust from one of its ports vaporizes a passing bird. “Correction,” it says. “The machine does not have a soul. It has no bothersome emotions. While mere mortals wallow in a sea of emotionalism, the machine is busy digesting vast oceans of information in a single all-encompassing gulp.” H14 then takes such a gulp, which proves overwhelming. Ticking and whirring, it begs for a human mechanic; seconds later, it explodes.

The film, titled “Robot,” captures the aspirations that computer scientists held half a century ago (to build boxes of flawless logic), as well as the social anxieties that people felt about those aspirations (that such machines, by design or by accident, posed a threat). Henson’s film offered something else, too: a critique—echoed on television and in novels but dismissed by computer engineers—that, no matter a system’s capacity for errorless calculation, it will remain inflexible and fundamentally unintelligent until the people who design it consider emotions less bothersome. H14, like all computers in the real world, was an imbecile.

Today, machines seem to get better every day at digesting vast gulps of information—and they remain as emotionally inert as ever. But since the nineteen-nineties a small number of researchers have been working to give computers the capacity to read our feelings and react, in ways that have come to seem startlingly human. Experts on the voice have trained computers to identify deep patterns in vocal pitch, rhythm, and intensity; their software can scan a conversation between a woman and a child and determine if the woman is a mother, whether she is looking the child in the eye, whether she is angry or frustrated or joyful. Other machines can measure sentiment by assessing the arrangement of our words, or by reading our gestures. Still others can do so from facial expressions.

Our faces are organs of emotional communication; by some estimates, we transmit more data with our expressions than with what we say, and a few pioneers dedicated to decoding this information have made tremendous progress. Perhaps the most successful is an Egyptian scientist living near Boston, Rana el Kaliouby. Her company, Affectiva, formed in 2009, has been ranked by the business press as one of the country’s fastest-growing startups, and Kaliouby, thirty-six, has been called a “rock star.” There is good money in emotionally responsive machines, it turns out. For Kaliouby, this is no surprise: soon, she is certain, they will be ubiquitous. . .

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Soon, I imagine, we’ll see applications designed to assist police in questioning suspects, the government in detecting dissent, and so on. I can readily imagine having to face a camera and answer a few questions before being allowed to board a flight, for example.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2015 at 5:23 pm

GOP opposes high-speed Internet

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Not, I think, because they don’t like good broadband, but because (a) Obama proposed it, and (b) the GOP automatically supports the source of their campaign funds, which are big businesses (Comcast, Verizon, et al.), and big companies don’t want the expense of offering high-speed internet and they sure don’t want competition. Sam Gustin writes at Motherboard:

President Obama’s strong support for community internet networks drew sharp criticism on Wednesday from cable and telecom industry groups, as well as Republican lawmakers who called the White House’s plan to boost local internet coverage and speeds an unacceptable breach of “states’ rights.”

Almost overnight, Obama has made internet policy a major political battleground between the White House and GOP lawmakers, who are a fresh off a huge election win and spoiling for a fight over Obama’s executive actions.

Speaking in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Obama called for the Federal Communications Commission to preempt industry-backed state laws that ban or discourage local communities from building super-fast networks. Many such networks would use fiber-optic technology to deliver gigabit internet speeds that are 100 times faster than the national average, often in rural or underserved areas where industry incumbents have been slow to upgrade infrastructure.

“In too many places across America, some big companies are doing everything they can to keep out competitors,” Obama said during a speech in which he praised the local Cedar Falls municipal network. “We’ve got laws on the books that stamp out competition and make it really difficult for communities to provide their own broadband. Today, I’m saying we’re going to change that. Enough’s enough.”

Last year, a report by the Center for Public Integrity found that US cable and telecom giants have spent millions of dollars over the last decade to “lobby state legislatures, influence state elections and buy research to try to stop the spread of public internet services that often offer faster speeds at cheaper rates.”

Last November, Obama called for a strict approach to net neutrality, drawing fury from GOP lawmakers and industry lobbyists. Now, Obama wants the federal government to empower local communities to take control of their own communications futures, despite limits placed by lawmakers in 21 states around the country.

Next month, the FCC will decide whether to assist two cities—Wilson, North Carolina and Chattanooga, Tennessee —which have asked the feds to help them bypass state laws that pose barriers to super-fast community networks. Obama’s latest statement provides a powerful political boost to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who has made clear his intention to “preempt state laws that ban competition from community broadband.”

Major cable and telecom companies have opposed attempts to create community broadband networks, often claiming that such systems put private industry at a competitive disadvantage, or fail entirely, wasting public resources. And some prominent GOP lawmakers portray federal support for community networks as an unacceptable violation of “states rights” and “state sovereignty” by “big government” run amok.

“In Tennessee we have a term to describe people like President Obama—tone-deaf,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the Tennessee Republican who has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the cable and telecom industry, said in a statement Wednesday. “At a time when Americans think the biggest problem facing our nation today is big government, you would think he’d have gotten the message by now.” Blackburn added that she would work to “block any attempt by the FCC to insert themselves into our states’ sovereign economic and fiscal affairs.”

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), accused Obama of pushing a “federal takeover of state laws governing broadband and the internet.” Describing Obama’s plan to give local communities more control over the future of their communications networks, Fischer said that “Washington-centric solutions set a dangerous precedent and have real impacts on local communities and businesses.” . . .

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Note Sen. Fischer’s totally illogical argument: giving local communities more control over the future of their communications networks is a “Washington-centrice” solution??? Well, I guess she has to say something to keep the corporate dollars flowing in.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2015 at 2:06 pm

James Fallows has more reader responses re: The US military

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Here’s the column, and here’s just one letter from it:

By Z.K. Rosson

As a 2002 West Point graduate, who spent 12 years in the Air Force flying A-10s and MQ-9s, I saw firsthand a lot of the issues you describe in your article. I think you are spot on with your assessment that the general public’s lack of desire to hold military leaders accountable has been a major factor in our 14 years of failed combat.

Your quote from William S. Lind as he condemned the “utter silence in the American officer corps” was especially powerful. I also believe Congressman Moulton was correct when he said that the military has “become populated, especially at the highest ranks, by careerists, people who have gotten where they are by checking all the boxes and not taking risks.”

I’ll give you a couple examples from my time in the service as support to the points you made in the article.

In 2009, I was deployed to Afghanistan flying the A-10. Back then, we referred to our missions as “TIC-hopping.” We would take off with our pre-planned tasking in hand, only to be immediately re-rolled to one “troops-in-contact” situation after another.

While the amount of fire fights that our ground forces were still engaging in after five years of conflict speaks volumes to our lack of progress, the amount of personal satisfaction I got from being there for them is difficult to put into words.  Many times, we didn’t even need to employ our weapons, as a simple low pass over the enemy position was often all that was needed to save the day. I would return from those missions knowing I was getting to fight and walk amongst the best fighter pilots on the planet.

Unfortunately, upon redeployment from combat, our squadron was greeted by a new commander who proceeded to tell us that none of us were going to get promoted if we didn’t get our masters degrees finished. He said we should feel proud of our contribution to the fight, but should realize that the Air Force doesn’t care about that stuff. He said we needed to get busy checking boxes, and fast, if anybody wanted to be a commander someday.

After the proudest experience of my life, I went on to lose all faith in my branch of service.

Fast forward to 2012, and the box-checking careerist mentality that I had first become aware of in 2009, had grown like cancer into an unmanageable sickness. I was now flying the MQ-9 [Reaper] (transferred from the old redheaded stepchild–the A-10–to the new one–the “drone”). I was back in Afghanistan launching MQ-9s and handing them off to crews back in the states. We ended up with more people deployed than we needed, so I was able to launch and land a few missions, then spend the remaining hours of my days flying close air support missions.

Our volunteer mission quickly became highly regarded at the lower and intermediate levels because we were able to provide highly-needed kinetic support to ground troops in southern Afghanistan, while freeing up a lot of Kandahar-based F-16s to move to higher priority areas in northern Afghanistan. Our single mission improved “CAS status” throughout all of Afghanistan.

The war-fighters all loved us, but that didn’t stop our self-serving group commander from shutting us down. On one mission, we were able to take out six insurgents planting an IED and preparing an ambush against coalition forces. We found out shorty after the strike that we had taken out the only IED-maker in that particular AO. Intel analysts assessed that it would take at least a month before insurgents would be able to go back to planting IEDs in that area, because it would take at least that long to get another skilled bomb-maker in from Pakistan.

We had effectively provided a month of “freedom-of-movement” for our ground troops in one engagement. That didn’t stop our self-serving careerist group commander from removing us from the fight, though. After he saw our engagement video he stated that he was only tracking two metrics: hours and numbers of aircraft flying “base-defense” sorties overhead Kandahar, which is the only thing he said his boss cared about. We were to stop flying CAS missions immediately and begin scanning for rockets being set-up around Kandahar. It only mattered that his metrics went up and made him look good to his boss.

I returned from that deployment more cynical than ever. It only got worse, though, as I attempted to put two of my NCOs in for quarterly awards and was told that “nobody looks at the job related bullets–you need to make sure their volunteer bullets look good to win the award.” This was in a wing that performed a 24/7/365 combat mission.

The Air Force (probably the other services as well) is completely inundated with a careerist/self-serving culture in both the officer and enlisted corps. I was once told that the key to success in the Air Force is to check all the right boxes without being the “tall blade of grass.”

Though many at the field-grade level and below will tell you this, nobody in the flag ranks will admit this because they are direct benefactors and creators of the current culture. A careerist culture is incapable of critical thought. Therefore, I believe the military services are incapable of fixing this problem on their own. It requires public involvement, debate, and ACCOUNTABILITY. American citizens cannot shirk this responsibility just because they haven’t seen combat themselves. I applaud [the Atlantic and me] for bringing this issue to the forefront. Though, I wonder if Kim Kardashian would have been a better messenger to keep this in the public sphere (but that is just the cynicism in me). [JF note: Of course!]

So I don’t run afoul of Mr. Lind, I will continue to speak out within my sphere of influence, including at my blog: This is but a small pebble against a mountain to be sure, but I will do my best to do my part.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2015 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Military

British Prime Minister Suggests Banning Some Online Messaging Apps

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More on David Cameron’s proposal from Mark Scott in the NY Times:

Popular messaging services like Snapchat and WhatsApp are in the cross hairs in Britain.

That was the message delivered on Monday by Prime Minister David Cameron, who said he would pursue banning encrypted messaging services if Britain’s intelligence services were not given access to the communications.

The statement comes as many European politicians are demanding that Internet companies like Google and Facebook provide greater information about people’s online activities after several recent terrorist threats, including the attacks in Paris.

Mr. Cameron, who has started to campaign ahead of a national election in Britain in May, said his government, if elected, would ban encrypted online communication tools that could potentially be used by terrorists if the country’s intelligence agencies were not given increased access. The reforms are part of new legislation that would force telecom operators and Internet services providers to store more data on people’s online activities, including social network messages.

“Are we going to allow a means of communications which it simply isn’t possible to read?” Mr. Cameron said at an event on Monday, in reference to services like WhatsApp, Snapchat and other encrypted online applications. “My answer to that question is: ‘No, we must not.’ ”

Mr. Cameron said his first duty was to protect the country against terrorist attacks.

“The attacks in Paris demonstrated the scale of the threat that we face and the need to have robust powers through our intelligence and security agencies in order to keep our people safe,” he added.

Any restriction on these online services, however, would not take effect until 2016, at the earliest, and it remained unclear how the British government could stop people from using these apps, which are used by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2015 at 12:32 pm

What David Cameron just proposed would endanger every Briton and destroy the IT industry

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Politicians seem particularly prone to the Dunning-Kruger effect, as David Cameron has illustrated. Cory Doctorow points out how wrong-headed Cameron’s proposal is:

David Cameron says there should be no “means of communication” which “we cannot read” — and no doubt many in his party will agree with him, politically. But if they understood the technology, they would be shocked to their boots.

What David Cameron thinks he’s saying is, “We will command all the software creators we can reach to introduce back-doors into their tools for us.” There are enormous problems with this: there’s no back door that only lets good guys go through it. If your Whatsapp or Google Hangouts has a deliberately introduced flaw in it, then foreign spies, criminals, crooked police (like those who fed sensitive information to the tabloids who were implicated in the hacking scandal — and like the high-level police who secretly worked for organised crime for years), and criminals will eventually discover this vulnerability. They — and not just the security services — will be able to use it to intercept all of our communications. That includes things like the pictures of your kids in your bath that you send to your parents to the trade secrets you send to your co-workers.

But this is just for starters. David Cameron doesn’t understand technology very well, so he doesn’t actually know what he’s asking for.

For David Cameron’s proposal to work, he will need to stop Britons from installing software that comes from software creators who are out of his jurisdiction. The very best in secure communications are already free/open source projects, maintained by thousands of independent programmers around the world. They are widely available, and thanks to things like cryptographic signing, it is possible to download these packages from any server in the world (not just big ones like Github) and verify, with a very high degree of confidence, that the software you’ve downloaded hasn’t been tampered with.

Cameron is not alone here. The regime he proposes is already in place in countries like Syria, Russia, and Iran (for the record, none of these countries have had much luck with it). There are two means by which authoritarian governments have attempted to restrict the use of secure technology: by network filtering and by technology mandates.

David Cameron has already shown that he believes he can order the nation’s ISPs to block access to certain websites (again, for the record, this hasn’t worked very well). The next step is to order Chinese-style filtering using deep packet inspection, to try and distinguish traffic and block forbidden programs. This is a formidable technical challenge. Intrinsic to core Internet protocols like IPv4/6, TCP and UDP is the potential to “tunnel” one protocol inside another. This makes the project of figuring out whether a given packet is on the white-list or the black-list transcendentally hard, especially if you want to minimise the number of “good” sessions you accidentally blackhole.

More ambitious is a mandate over which code operating systems in the UK are allowed to execute. This is very hard indeed. We do have, in Apple’s Ios platform and various games consoles, a regime where a single company uses countermeasures to ensure that only software it has blessed can run on the devices it sells to us. These companies could, indeed, be compelled (by an act of Parliament) to block secure software. Even there, you’d have to contend with the fact that other EU states and countries like the USA are unlikely to follow suit, and that means that anyone who bought her Iphone in Paris or New York could come to the UK with all their secure software intact and send messages “we cannot read.”

But there is the problem of more open platforms, like GNU/Linux variants, BSD and other unixes, Mac OS X, and all the non-mobile versions of Windows. All of these operating systems are already designed to allow users to execute any code they want to run. The commercial operators — Apple and Microsoft — might conceivably be compelled by Parliament to change their operating systems to block secure software in the future, but that doesn’t do anything to stop people from using all the PCs now in existence to run code that the PM wants to ban.

More difficult is the world of free/open operating systems like GNU/Linux and BSD. These operating systems are the gold standard for servers, and widely used on desktop computers (especially by the engineers and administrators who run the nation’s IT). There is no legal or technical mechanism by which code that is designed to be modified by its users can co-exist with a rule that says that code must treat its users as adversaries and seek to prevent them from running prohibited code.

This, then, is what David Cameron is proposing:

* All Britons’ communications must be easy for criminals, voyeurs and foreign spies to intercept

* Any firms within reach of the UK government must be banned from producing secure software

* All major code repositories, such as Github and Sourceforge, must be blocked

* Search engines must not answer queries about web-pages that carry secure software

* Virtually all academic security work in the UK must cease — security research must only take place in proprietary research environments where there is no onus to publish one’s findings, such as industry R&D and the security services

* All packets in and out of the country, and within the country, must be subject to Chinese-style deep-packet inspection and any packets that appear to originate from secure software must be dropped

* Existing walled gardens (like Ios and games consoles) must be ordered to ban their users from installing secure software

* Anyone visiting the country from abroad must have their smartphones held at the border until they leave

* Proprietary operating system vendors (Microsoft and Apple) must be ordered to redesign their operating systems as walled gardens that only allow users to run software from an app store, which will not sell or give secure software to Britons

* Free/open source operating systems — that power the energy, banking, ecommerce, and infrastructure sectors — must be banned outright

David Cameron will say . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2015 at 12:30 pm

The 21 Laws States Use to Crush Broadband Competition

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Businesses talk a lot about the advantages of the free market and competition, but in fact businesses hate competition and will do everything in their power to avoid having to compete, including pushing through protective legislation. Jason Koebler writes for Motherboard:

This week, President Obama ​said that he would direct the Federal Communications Commission to help cities that want to build their own broadband networks navigate or completely ignore state laws in 21 states that make it difficult or, in some cases, illegal to create networks or sell internet service to their citizens.

Well, he said 19, but ​there are 21 with restrictions. It’s an important move, if not a shift in policy. Last year, the ​FCC said that it would help cities navigate the process of pre-empting (essentially ignoring) state laws, and two cities—Wilson, North Carolina and Chattanooga, Tennessee—have already filed official petitions, which are still pending. But the president actually going on the record certainly doesn’t hurt, and Obama says that he’s actually starting a new initiative to create further projects, which is welcome news: Municipally owned networks have proven to be popular, extremely fast, and quite cheap.

But what the heck are these laws he’s talking about? And how did they come into play in the first place? The specifics in each state are hard to dig up, but, in many cases, the laws were lobbied for by cable companies (called “incumbents” in broadband circles) to kill local competition.

“The general rhetoric behind these laws, from the incumbents, ​is that cities are too incompetent to run their own networks, so it’s a risk to taxpayers,” Craig Settles, a broadband consultant who works with cities to create municipal networks told me. “But then, the other side of it is that cities are so competent that they represent unfair competition.”

No one, from what I can tell, has ever actually taken a close look at what the laws in each state says—even if a state does have a law restricting municipally owned broadband, often it’s not an outright ban. So, last week, Settles published an analysis of every single law on the book. And there’s a lot of them.

The report is a “30,000-foot-view of what in some states are very complicated sets of legal issues” which is intended to give readers a general overview of what cities are dealing with.

There are three different “categories” of state law banning municipal broadband. There are “If-Then” laws, which have some requirements for municipal networks such as a voter referendum or a requirement to give telecom companies the option to build the network themselves, rather than restrictions (some are easier to meet than others). Then there are “Minefield” laws, which are written confusingly so as to ​invite lawsuits from incumbent ISPs, financial burden on a city starting a network, or other various restrictions. Finally, you’ve got the outright bans. Some of these are simple, others are worded in a way that make it seem like it’d be possible to jump through the hoops necessary to start a network, but in practice, it’s essentially impossible.

“I look at all of these laws as ​subverting the democratic process. In all cases, they’re nullifying or subverting the ability for local communities to make their own decisions,” Settles said. “It’s also a bastardization of the free market process that incumbents say the laws are in defense of. In reality, if 10,000 people in a community decide their services are crap, then they can decide, as a market, to take their money and find or create another provider.”

“I wrote this study to break down these laws for communities, because, in some cases, they can actually be worked with,” he added. “In many cases, it’s more of a psychological barrier than anything.”

So, without further ado, here are the laws, which may soon be history. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2015 at 12:21 pm

The Complexity of Deadly Force

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An excellent column by Charles Blow. And read also the comments. Those selected by the NY Times editors are thoughtful and worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2015 at 11:39 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

CIA panel exonerates CIA

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You probably saw in the news yesterday that the CIA had exonerated the CIA, another example of why self-policing and internal investigations so seldom work. In The Intercept Dan Froomkin has a good column on the weakness of the process:

The outrageous whitewash issued yesterday by the CIA panel John Brennan hand-picked to lead the investigation into his agency’s spying on Senate staffers is being taken seriously by the elite Washington media, which is solemnly reporting that officials have been “cleared” of any “wrongdoing“.

But what the report really does is provide yet more evidence of Brennan’s extraordinary impunity.

The panel concluded that CIA officials acted reasonably by scouring Senate computer drives in early 2014 when faced with a “potential security breach”. (That “breach” had allowed Senate staffers investigating CIA torture to access, more than three years earlier, a handful of documents Brennan didn’t want them to see.)

But the CIA yesterday also released a redacted version of the full report of an earlier investigation by the CIA’s somewhat more independent inspector general’s office. And between the two reports, it is now more clear than ever that Brennan was the prime mover behind a hugely inappropriate assault on the constitutional separation of powers, and continues to get away with it.

Most notably, the official who ran the CIA facility where the Senate staffers had been allowed to set up shop wrote in a memo to the inspector general that Brennan, after speaking with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough about the errant documents, called him and “emphasized that I was to use whatever means necessary to answer the question of how the documents arrived on the SSCI side of the system.”

SSCI – pronounced “sissy”— is how the CIA refers to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. And “whatever means necessary” quickly turned into a foray into the Senate’s private workspace.

And it was Brennan who made the paramount error in judgement here, when he decided that finding out how a series of embarrassing, revelatory CIA documents found their way into the hands of congressional overseers – really not such a bad thing – was somehow more of a threat to national security than respecting the independence of a separate branch of government, recognizing whose job it is to provide oversight over who, or honoring the spirit of an agreement between the agency and the Senate.

The whitewash was very much by design. Brennan stocked the panel with three CIA staffers and two of the most easily manipulated, consummate Washington insiders you could possibly imagine: former senator Evan Bayh, whose reputation as an unprincipled opportunist is legend; and Bob Bauer, whose lifelong mission has been to raise money for Democrats, not take stands. Then, with in-your-face chutzpah, Brennan called it an “accountability board”.

Far from “clearing” anyone of anything, the panel’s report is just the latest element in a long string of cover-ups and deceptions orchestrated by Brennan.

At issue, of course, is . . .

Continue reading. The core issue (later in the column):

And behind it all, of course, lies the horrible truth neither Brennan nor the CIA want to admit: That they tortured detainees, many of them innocent, and lied to make people think it was worth it.

Note the URL.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2015 at 11:19 am

Were Guantanamo Murders Covered Up As Suicides?

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From Informed Comment:

VICE News | —

“According to the US government, three detainees — all imprisoned as part of the global war on terror — hung themselves in their cells that night. But Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman, who was on guard that night at Camp Delta, came to believe something very different: that the three men were murdered in a secret CIA black site at Guantanamo.

After leaving the Army, Hickman spent years looking into the deaths. His investigation has led him to write a new book, Murder at Camp Delta.

Hickman sat down for the first time on camera with VICE News to tell the story of his investigation and what he learned about what happened that night in 2006.”

Also, Democracy Now! has a video interview (with transcript) of Hickman. Their blurb:

In a month marking its 13th anniversary, we look at one of the great mysteries of the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay: what happened the night of June 9, 2006, when three prisoners died. The Pentagon said the three — Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, Salah Ahmed al-Salami and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi — all committed suicide. But were they actually actually tortured to death at a secretCIA black site at the base? In a broadcast exclusive, we are joined by Joseph Hickman, a Guantánamo staff sergeant and author of the new book, “Murder at Camp Delta: A Staff Sergeant’s Pursuit of the Truth About Guantánamo Bay.” We are also joined by professor Mark Denbeaux, director of Seton Hall University School of Law’s Center for Policy and Research, which has just published the new report, “Guantánamo: America’s Battle Lab.”

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2015 at 10:58 am

Dinner last night, tasty and easy: Picadillo

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Here’s the recipe. Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium-size yellow onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2 ounces dried chorizo, diced [I suggest using 4-6 oz – LG]
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 ½ pounds ground beef
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, chopped, or one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and crushed
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  • 2/3 cup pitted stuffed olives.

One thing he omits to mention: cut the olives in half. I skipped the bay leaves because I can never taste what they add.

EDIT: Hah! I just realized why I had to cut the olives in half: I used enormous stuffed olives intended for Martinis. I should have used the very small stuffed olives known as “salad olives.” Then no cutting required. Use olives like the one on the right, not like the one on the left.

Dos Olivos

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2015 at 9:30 am

Posted in Food, Recipes

Terrific shave, more brush comparisons

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A very nice shave today, and I decided to use the Simpson Chubby 1 Best. Interestingly, it did not feel so small as the Brushguy brush, and I think it’s because the knot is relatively large compared to the handle of the Chubby and relatively small ompared to the handle of the Brushguy brush: its perceived small size on the Brushguy handle is a tactile illusion.

A very fine lather easily made from Strop Shoppe’s Black Tie tallow soap, and then three passes with the Apollo Mikron holding a SuperMax Platinum blade. Total smoothness resulted, to which I applied a good splash of D.R. Harris Pink Aftershave.

The Simpson Duke 3 Best also has a relatively short-lofted knot:

Los Tres Amigos

I tried to line up the bases of the knots, but the Chubby is a little low. I may try again at some point, but you can readily see that these knots are pretty much the same size, with the same loft. The Duke 3 Best is a very nice brush—I will use that one tomorrow, I think.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2015 at 9:10 am

Posted in Shaving

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