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Archive for November 6th, 2015

The ‘Dox’ of More than 2,300 Government Employees Might Be Worse Than We Thought—Much Worse

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Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reports at Motherboard:

On Thursday, the teenage hackers who broke into the CIA director’s personal AOL email account struck again, releasing a list of almost 2,400 names, emails and phone numbers that appear to belong to members of federal and local law enforcement, intelligence and even military agencies.

As it turns out, the data dump, as well as the hack that allowed them to obtain the data, might be far worse than initially thought. The list contains not only names of local police officers, but also names of FBI, Secret Service, CIA and other intelligence agents.

Some of these might even inadvertently have had their cover exposed, according to Michael Adams, an information security expert who served more than two decades in the US Special Operations Command, who reviewed the data for Motherboard.

Some police agents on the list, for example, are listed as having an FBI email address, which Adams believes could be FBI agents working at local police depts. And there are even what appear to be agents deployed abroad, such as a in the tiny Caribbean Nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis.

The list released by the hackers, according to Adams, would allow a foreign government to map out where agents work, and with whom, which makes it more serious than a random data dump. . .

Continue reading.

Snowden’s exposing of classified information was totally benign compared to this vandalism.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2015 at 5:24 pm

It seems clear, based on what we know so far, that the US committed an egregious war crime in the hospital attack

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Amy Davidson of the New Yorker lays it out:

The first part of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, to be hit when an American AC-130 fired bombs at it, just after 2 A.M. on October 3rd, appears to have been the intensive-care unit. There were eight patients there; two were children. According to witnesses interviewed by the group, known internationally as Médecins sans Frontières, for a preliminary report on the incident, some patients and medical workers in the I.C.U. were killed directly by that first strike; others burned to death in the fires that followed. As the strikes continued—hitting the operating theatres, where two patients died; the administration building; and the main wards—doctors, nurses and patients tried to help others even as they ran for shelter. The first indication that staff members, who were sleeping in an administrative building, had of the scale of the devastation was when a nurse stumbled in; he was covered in blood, “with his left arm hanging from a small piece of tissue.” Some of them set up makeshift operating tables on a desk and a kitchen counter. Others began making phone calls, desperately trying to get the attack halted.

At 2:19 A.M., an M.S.F. representative who was in Kabul called the headquarters of the Resolute Support mission to say that someone was bombing the hospital. Resolute Support is the name for the over-all NATOoperation in Afghanistan, including American troops; it is led by General John Campbell, of the United States. The Resolute Support command knew all about the hospital. Along with every other armed force in the area—including the Afghan military, international troops, and even the Taliban—it had been part of the negotiations that established the hospital’s neutral status and no-weapons policy. This is what allowed M.S.F. to run the only trauma hospital in northeast Afghanistan. Just three days before the attack, amid heavy fighting in Kunduz, M.S.F. had reiterated its exact G.P.S. coördinates to everyone involved. (Indeed, according to the M.S.F. report, on October 1st a United Nations military-civilian liaison reminded M.S.F. to stay within those coördinates.)
But even after the phone call to Resolute Support, the attack continued. Witnesses described seeing people who, as it seemed to the witnesses amid the confusion, were being shot at from the air as they ran (this is one of many points that deserve further investigation). A piece of shrapnel decapitated one hospital staff member. At 2:47—almost half an hour after the first call—the M.S.F. representative texted the Resolute Support headquarters to say that at least one person was confirmed dead and that many more were unaccounted for. Five minutes later, there was a text back: “I’m sorry to hear that, I still do not know what happened.” At 2:56, the M.S.F representative tried again, sending word that the attack had not stopped and that the group believed there were heavy casualties. At 2:59 came the reply, “I’ll do my best, praying for you all.”

Did the United States military do its best? At least thirty people died in the attack: at least ten patients, thirteen staff members, and seven whose bodies were so burned or mutilated that they can’t be identified. Other people are still missing. After a few days of obfuscation and apologies, the U.S. military indicated that Afghan forces had asked for a strike on the site. (At the time, I wrote about at least five unanswered questions occasioned by the military’s statements; rather than being answered, they have become more urgent.) President Obama has apologized for the deaths and promised that the military’s own investigation will be thorough. The M.S.F. report correctly notes that it cannot know what happened in the military chain of command—what it has, it says, is “the view from the hospital”—but it is also right in saying that an independent investigation is necessary.
The calls to Resolute Support were not the only attempts to contact the military: at 2:32 A.M., the M.S.F. office in New York called a contact at the Department of Defense; at the same moment, the group’s representative in Kabul called the civilian-military liaison and, at 2:45, was told by the liaison that word had been distributed on “several channels”; at 2:50, M.S.F. reached out directly to the Afghan Interior Ministry. There were more rounds of texts and calls, between Kabul, New York, and Washington, at 3:04, 3:07, 3:09, 3:10—and then, at 3:13, a text saying that incoming had stopped.
But the telling thing about those calls is not that there was a frantic effort in a war-fogged hour to tell the military that it was making a mistake that it didn’t succeed in rectifying. Indeed, the calls make that scenario harder to accept. For one thing, they illustrate the breadth of M.S.F.’s contacts—they didn’t have to look up the numbers or figure out whom to call. The medical staff in Kunduz were not some do-gooding sojourners who had wandered into a war zone and were hit by a stray bomb; they were known, and appear to have known what they were doing. The report notes that, on the night of the attack, the hospital, in addition to having flags on its roof, was the only compound in the area that had electric power, making it particularly conspicuous and distinctive. The group had been diligent in making arrangements that allowed it to do what international law recognizes as protected work.
Medical facilities are supposed to be off-limits, even when they are treating wounded combatants on both sides of the conflict, as the M.S.F. facility was—a fact that all parties had long known. . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. Sure seems like a war crime to me. And a quite deliberate one. The feeling seems to have been, “We can do this if we want, and we can get away with it, so let’s do it.”

I think there’s a reason for how strongly the military and the Obama administration are rejecting an independent investigation. My god, an independent investigation is the last thing on earth they want. Even from the facts at hand—the facts in Amy Davidson’s piece—it’s quite clear that this was a war crime, and one for which it will be difficult to shift all the blame onto some night-shift sergeant.

But this is going to come out. Doctors Without Borders has resources, contacts, discipline—look at the timely record made during the attack: these are not inexperienced people, easily flustered. They have taken notes. And they have many international contacts and are the subject of much good will for their work.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2015 at 4:20 pm

What grotesque economic inequality is doing to the country

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I alluded to George Packer’s analysis of what’s going on in the GOP in an earlier post. Take a look at this passage from his article:

In 2012, Wehner co-authored an essay in National Affairs, titled “How to Think About Inequality.” He concludes:

The problem in America today is therefore not wealth but rather persistent poverty. And the right way to deal with income inequality is not by punishing the rich, but by doing more to help the poor become richer, chiefly by increasing their social capital. This means not simply strengthening the bonds of trust and mutual respect among citizens, but also equipping Americans—especially the poor—with the skills, values, and habits that will allow them to succeed.

In other words, the way to think about inequality is by looking down, not up. It’s not the wealth amassed at the top but, rather, the lack of “skills, values, and habits” at the bottom that accounts for the widening income gap. Oddly, Wehner’s essay barely mentions the economic struggles of the middle class. A close look at the three middle quintiles of income, where Americans with an education, a job, and a spouse can be found treading water or sinking, would have forced him to reconsider the notion that a lack of “social capital”—as opposed to just capital—explains the entire problem.

Even though the reformocons recognize the difficulties of the middle class, they prefer to focus not on income disparities but on “mobility,” which describes how individuals fare across their own life span and in comparison with past generations. Levin told me that the word “growth”—the unconvincing mantra of supply-siders—was losing its hold on conservatives. When Jeb Bush predicted that his economic policies would lead to four-per-cent economic growth, a level not seen since the late nineties, the claim was either ignored or derided. “ ‘Mobility’ is much healthier,” Levin said. “It’s the right lens to talk about the economy.”

But there’s a reason to look up as well as down the economic ladder, and it has nothing to do with envy or with punishing the rich. Economic stratification, and the rise of a super-wealthy class, threatens our democracy. Americans are growing increasingly separated from one another along lines of class, in every aspect of life: where they’re born and grow up, where they go to school, what they eat, how they travel, whom they marry, what their children do, how long they live, how they die. What kind of “national community” built on “mutual obligation” is possible when Americans have so little shared experience? The Princeton economist Alan Krueger has demonstrated that societies with higher levels of income inequality are societies with lower levels of social mobility. As America has grown less economically equal, a citizen’s ability to move upward has fallen behind that of citizens in other Western democracies. We are no longer the country where anyone can become anything.

Inequality saps the economy by draining the buying power of Americans whose incomes have stagnated, forcing them to rely on debt to fund education, housing, and health care. At the top, it creates deep pools of wealth that have nowhere productive to go, leading to asset bubbles in capital markets bearing little or no relation to the health of the over-all economy. (Critics call this the “financialization” of the economy.) These fallouts from inequality were among the causes of the Great Recession.

Inequality is also warping America’s political system. Greatly concentrated wealth leads to outsized political power in the hands of the few—even in a democracy with free and fair elections—which pushes government to create rules that favor the rich. It’s no accident that we’re in the era of Citizens United. Such rulings give ordinary Americans the strong suspicion that the game is rigged. Democratic institutions no longer feel legitimate when they continue to produce blatantly unfair outcomes; it’s one of those insights that only an élite could miss. And it’s backed up by evidence as well as by common sense. Last year, two political scientists found that, in recent times, policy ideas have rarely been adopted by the U.S. government unless they’re favored by corporations and the wealthy—even when those ideas are supported by most Americans. The persistence of the highly unpopular carried-interest loophole for hedge-fund managers is simply the most unseemly example.

The reformocons like to quote Lincoln, but not this memorable sentence: “Republicans are for both the man and the dollar, but in case of conflict the man before the dollar.”

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2015 at 1:45 pm

TPP means that corporations can escape regulation

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David Dayen reports in The Intercept some very bad news indeed:

Banks and other financial institutions would be able to use provisions in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership to block new regulations that cut into their profits, according to the text of the trade pact released this week.

In what may be the biggest gift to banks in a deal full of giveaways to Hollywood, the drug industry and technology firms, financial institutions would be able to appeal any national rules they didn’t like to independent, international tribunals staffed by friendly corporate lawyers.

That could nullify a proposal by Hillary Clinton to impose a “risk fee” on financial firms — or the Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders plan to reinstate the firewall between investment and commercial banks.

Financial firms could demand compensation for these measures that would make them too expensive to manage.

The TPP, a 12-nation pact with countries in Asia and the Americas that requires congressional approval, includes an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system. This allows foreign companies operating in TPP member countries to enforce the agreement without using that country’s court system. Instead, corporations can sue for monetary damages in independent tribunals before corporate lawyers who can rotate between advocating for investors and judging the cases themselves.

The lawyers have an inherent incentive to encourage more challenges with favorable rulings, so they can be paid to arbitrate them. Labor unions who allege violations of the trade deal cannot use ISDS directly; only international investors, i.e. large corporations, can.

Hundreds of past trade deals have included ISDS, usually as a special insurance policy for countries operating in emerging markets. But language in the TPP could be directed to target American financial laws and regulations.

In prior deals, financial services providers were limited to making ISDS challenges based on discrimination – where foreign companies were subject to more stringent rules than their domestic counterparts – or an illegal “taking” of their investments. These types of challenges have been largely unsuccessful in ISDS tribunals.

But now, for the first time, financial institutions could make an ISDS claim based on not receiving a “minimum standard of treatment.” This is the most flexible type of claims. “Over time, tribunals have interpreted this to mean that the company gets compensation if the change in policy disappoints their expectations of future profits,” said Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

Article 11.2 of the agreement confirms that financial services providers are covered under the minimum standard of treatment obligation. This means that almost any change in financial regulations affecting future profits could be challenged in an extra-judicial tribunal, even if they equally applied to foreign and domestic firms and even if they were enacted in response to a crisis.

The change to ISDS had been rumored in recent weeks but has now been confirmed by the language in the agreement. . .

Continue reading.

Obama backs this agreement. I imagine Hillary Clinton, who is notoriously friendly to Wall Street and big business in general, will also back it. The corporate takeover of our government is well advanced.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2015 at 1:31 pm

It looks increasingly as though the US attack on the Doctors Without Borders hospital was deliberate

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Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:

Shortly after the news broke of the U.S. attack on a Doctors without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, there was abundant evidence suggesting (not proving, but suggesting) that the attack was no accident:

(1) MSF repeatedly told the U.S. military about the precise coordinates of its hospital, which had been operating for years;

(2) the Pentagon’s story about what happened kept changing, radically, literally on a daily basis;

(3) the exact same MSF hospital had been invaded by Afghan security forces three months earlier, demonstrating hostility toward the facility;

(4) the attack lasted more than 30 minutes and involved multiple AC-130 gunship flyovers, even as MSF officials frantically pleaded with the U.S. military to stop; and, most compellingly of all,

(5) Afghan officials from the start said explicitly that the hospital was a valid and intended target due to the presence of Taliban fighters as patients.

Since then, the evidence that the attack was intentional has only grown. Two weeks ago, AP reported that “the Army Green Berets who requested the Oct. 3 airstrike on the Doctors without Borders trauma center in Afghanistan were aware it was a functioning hospital but believed it was under Taliban control.” Last night, NBC News cited a new MSF report with this headline: “U.S. Plane Shot Victims Fleeing Doctors Without Borders Hospital: Charity.” As the New York Times put it yesterday, the “hospital was among the most brightly lit buildings in Kunduz on the night a circling American gunship destroyed it” and “spread across the hospital roof was a large white and red flag reading ‘Médecins Sans Frontières.’” For reasons that are increasingly understandable, the Obama administration is still adamantly refusing MSF’s demand for an independent investigation into what happened and why.

All of this led MSF’s general director, Christopher Stokes, to say this at a news conference yesterday in Kabul: “A mistake is quite hard to understand and believe at this stage.”

As my colleague Murtaza Hussain reported yesterday, Stokes added: “From what we are seeing now, this action is illegal in the laws of war.”

This was not the first time top officials from the universally respected MSF have said this. Three weeks ago, Stokes said in an interview with AP that “the extensive, quite precise destruction of this hospital … doesn’t indicate a mistake. The hospital was repeatedly hit.” He added that “all indications point to a grave breach of international humanitarian law, and therefore a war crime.” That’s “all indications” point to a “war crime.”

The point here isn’t that it’s been definitively proven that the U.S. attack was deliberate. What exactly happened here and why won’t be known, as MSF itself has said, until there is a full-scale, truly independent investigation — precisely what the U.S. government is steadfastly blocking. But MSF’s Stokes is absolutely correct to say that all of the evidence that is known means that “mistake” is “quite hard to believe at this stage” as an explanation and that the compilation of all known evidence “points to … a war crime.”

Nonetheless, many U.S. journalists immediately, repeatedly and authoritatively declared this to have been an “accident” or a “mistake” despite not having the slightest idea whether that was true, and worse, in the face of substantial evidence that it was false.

What possible motivation would the U.S. government have for submitting to an independent investigation when — as usual — it has an army of super-patriotic, uber-nationalistic journalists eager to act as its lawyers and insist, despite the evidence, that Americans could not possibly be guilty of anything other than a terrible “mistake”? Indeed, the overriding sentiment among many U.S. journalists is that their country and government are so inherently Good that they could not possibly do anything so bad on purpose. Any bad acts are mindlessly presumed to be terrible, uintended mistakes tragically made by Good, Well-Intentioned People (Americans). Other Bad Countries do bad things on purpose. But Americans are good and do not.

They cling to this self-flattering belief so vehemently that they not only refused to entertain the possibility that the U.S. government might have done something bad on purpose, but they scornfully mock anyone who questions the official claim of “mistake.” When you’re lucky enough as a government and military to have hordes of journalists so subservient and nationalistic that they do and say this — to exonerate you fully — before knowing any facts, why would you ever feel the need to submit to someone else’s investigation? . . .

Continue reading. There are updates at the link.

The US military apparently feels at this point that it can do whatever it wants with no accountability.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2015 at 10:00 am

Great shave to end the week: R&B Commemorative brush and the Gillette NEW

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SOTD 6 Nov 2015

An extremely good shave today. The R&B Commemorative brush from ShoeboxShaveshop.com is a wonderful boar brush, with an incredibly soft knot. It does, however, seem to require a bit more loading that some of my other boar brushes—perhaps 10 seconds longer (i.e., twice the time). But once it’s fully loaded, it’s a terrific brush.

The soap is Meißner Tremonia’s Lavender de Lux, and it has the strength of fragrance that Meißner Tremonia seems to favor, and a very nice fragrance it is, too.

The razor is the head of a short-toothed Gillette NEW on a UFO handle, and it did a wonderful job: three easy passes to a trouble-free BBS result.

A good splash of Lavanda, and the day is launched.

Sharpologist has a very interesting detailed review of a new single-edge razor, the OneBlade. The OneBlade is well-named: the razor can use only one make and model of blade, one made by Feather, so there’s not a range of blades, a drawback in the event that Feather discontinues that blade or blade quality drops: in effect, OneBlade has put all their blade eggs in one basket.

I also find that with single-edge razors I have to rinse the razor twice as often as I do with DE razors (no surprise). But clearly the razor has its virtues and attractions (though the $300 price, coupled with the requirement for special blades, is an effective bar to my entry), and the article is worth reading.

I wrote in the current edition Guide a suggestion that razor makers design a razor that functions as an acoustic amplifier so that the cutting sound becomes more audible. The OneBlade seems to have done that in a clever way. From Bob’s comment:

I was very aware of (and pleased with) the OneBlade’s very loud feedback. I suspect that it’s due to the handle being a flat piece of steel rather than a solid steel rod.

I hadn’t considered that the amplifier could be the handle rather than the head. I overlooked the sound conductivity of the metal of the razor.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2015 at 9:00 am

Posted in Shaving

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