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Archive for January 4th, 2017

Timeline of Trump’s statements on the Russian hacking issue

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From Andy Greenberg’s article in Wired:

. . . June 15, 2016: A day after the Washington Post breaks the news that the Democratic National Committee has been hacked, allegedly by Russian spies, Trump’s team issues a statement: “We believe it was the DNC that did the ‘hacking’ as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader.” On the same day, a hacker calling himself Guccifer 2.0 says he’s given the hacked emails to WikiLeaks, and also publishes them himself, complete with telltale Russian-language formatting errors.

July 27, 2016: In a news conference, Trump addresses the Russian hacking scandal: “They hacked—they probably have her 33,000 emails. I hope they do,” he says. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

September 26, 2016: In the first presidential debate: “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. [Clinton’s] saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t—maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?” Weeks earlier, according to NBC News, both Trump and Clinton had been given classified briefings by intelligence agencies that included “extensive” information about the hacking incidents, which implicated Russia.

October 10, 2016: Days after the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence release a unanimous assessment that the hacking incidents were authorized by “Russia’s senior-most officials,” Trump questions in the second presidential debate whether any hacking occurred at all. “I notice, any time anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians,” he says. “Well, [Clinton] doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.”

October 20, 2016: In the third presidential debate:

Trump: [Clinton] has no idea whether it is Russia, China or anybody else.
Clinton: I am not quoting myself.
Trump: You have no idea.
Clinton: I am quoting seventeen, seventeen [US intelligence agencies.] Do you doubt…
Trump: Our country has no idea.

December 7, 2016: In an interview with Time Magazine after his election, Trump reiterates, “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”

December 9, 2016: The Washington Post reports that the CIA believes the Russian government hacked the DNC with the explicit intention of helping Trump win the election. Trump’s transition team responds in a short statement: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” Trump has at this point taken multiple presidential briefings from the intelligence agencies.

December 11, 2016: Trump tells Fox News: “Nobody really knows, and hacking is very interesting. Once they hack, if you don’t catch them in the act you’re not going to catch them.” Breach remediation firm Crowdstrike points out that it did in fact catch the hackers “in the act,” monitoring their activities inside the DNC network for weeks. A few days later, an FBI official tells the Associated Press the bureau now backs the CIA’s assessment that Russia hacked the DNC to help elect Trump.

December 29, 2016: Obama imposes new sanctions on Russia and ejects 35 Russian diplomats from the US. Trump writes in a statement that “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”

December 31, 2016: Trump again doubts the intelligence agencies in a news conference in Florida: “I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.” He says he’ll reveal something about the hacking incidents on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week.

January 3, 2016: Trump tweets that his intelligence briefing on the Russian hacking evidence has been postponed.

NBC News reports the briefing had always been scheduled for Friday.

January 4, 2016: Trump tweets:

The statement conflates the hack of Clinton staffer John Podesta with the hack of the DNC. The DNC hack was believed to have used more sophisticated malware rather than the phishing attack that stole Podesta’s email password. Trump adds that the DNC should have had “hacking defense” like the Republican National Committee, ignoring a report from the New York Times that the Republican National Committee was also breached by hackers.

Trump could still follow through on his vow to reveal more new information about the last year’s political hacking today. The American spy agencies that have been briefing him for months will no doubt be interested to hear what clues they missed—and so, perhaps, will Vladimir Putin.

The introduction to the time line is quite good and worth reading. Among other things, he points out something missing from this timeline: Trump’s call for a full investigation and a public release of as much of the findings as is consistent with national security.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2017 at 3:34 pm

One of the several ways Obama will not be missed because he didn’t show up: When Obama wouldn’t fight for science

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

In September, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a scathing report on the use of forensic analysis and expertise in the criminal-justice system. The report, “Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods,” looked at pattern matching forensic disciplines such as bite mark matching, shoe print matching, blood spatter analysis, fingerprint matching and hair fiber analysis. It also looked at DNA testing when investigators find biological material from multiple sources, a scenario that can bring human subjectivity into the testing. With the exception of single-source DNA testing, the report found serious deficiencies in all areas of forensics it studied.

The PCAST report was damning, but if you’ve been following these issues with any regularity, it wasn’t at all surprising. That was in September. It’s now January. And not only has the Obama administration done nothing about the report, the Justice Department has publicly denounced it. That report, along with others and an administration that seemed unusually equipped to take it seriously, presented a small window in which to reform a system. That window is about slam shut. And we’re about to be governed by a new administration that seems likely to board it up, wallpaper it and overlay it with brick. This wasn’t just a missed opportunity; it was a catastrophe. And it’s difficult to overstate the consequences.

Nearly all the fields PCAST studied were in the field of pattern matching, in which an analyst looks at evidence from the crime scene and either draws conclusions about how the crime occurred or attempts to “match” that evidence to a suspect or suspects. The problem is that all of these fields are inherently subjective. They rely not on scientific analysis or mathematical computations but on the judgment of the analysts. This is why while you’ll frequently see two bite mark analysts or blood spatter analysts give mutually exclusive testimony in a case, you’ll rarely if ever see it among two DNA scientists (at least when the tested DNA came from a single source).

Inevitably, then, the amount of weight a jury typically gives to evidence from these fields of forensics depends far more on the persuasiveness of the expert witnesses than on the evidence itself. In fact, there’s a strong bias in favor of testimony that’s less scientific. In recent years, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike have called attention to the “CSI Effect,” the way the popular TV franchise has conditioned jurors to look for forensic evidence that’s definitive and foolproof. Most forensic evidence isn’t completely clear cut. It’s merely suggestive. So a forensic analyst who gives testimony properly grounded in science will be careful not to speak in absolutes, will use cautious and careful language — and will be far less successful at persuading juries. The analysts who gleefully gallop past scientific boundaries in a rush to implicate suspects are far more successful in the courtroom. Because prosecutors and defense attorneys want to win cases, many will opt for the analysts who give them the best chance to do so. The quacks rise to the top.

There are other problems, too. With the exception of DNA testing and to some extent forensic pathology, most forensics fields were invented and developed by people with backgrounds in law enforcement, not in science. This is why crime labs, which claim to be scientific in nature and method, typically fall under the auspices of state police agencies, offices of the attorney general, departments of public safety and other law-enforcement-oriented bureaucracies. So not only has forensics grown less scientific over time, it was never grounded in science to begin with. DNA was discovered by scientists. Consequently, we know the frequency with which certain DNA markers appear across the human population. This is why a DNA analyst can give precise calculations of the odds of the suspect being the person whose DNA was left at the crime scene or in the rape victim. (Again, provided we’re talking about cases in which there was only one source for the DNA.) Put a different way, DNA analysts can provide an error rate — a calculation of the chances that the match is mistaken. (It’s usually an extremely low number.)

Pattern matching analysts can’t do that. When analysts look at the characteristics of hair fibers to distinguish one from another, we don’t know the rate at which those characteristics are distributed across the population. The same goes for distinguishing the features analysts look for in bite marks. It’s even true of fingerprints.

With many pattern-matching fields, the material in or on which the data is recorded presents an added problem. Even if we could somehow prove that everyone’s bite is unique, there’s no scientific evidence to support the notion that human skin is capable of recording those unique features in a usable way. (The existing research strongly suggests the opposite.) There are just too many variables. The victim may have been pulling away as the bite was inflicted. The wound could have been corrupted by heat, cold, insects or any number of other things. People heal differently, and the elasticity, sponginess and toughness of skin varies from person to person, and even on different parts of the same person. There’s the angle at which the biter struck, whether the biter drug his teeth or bit straight down, and so on. The same goes with tire or shoe marks in dirt or mud, blood spatter patterns and so on. There are too many variables that could affect how these patterns are recorded and preserved.

Nevertheless, these fields have been used over and over in court. Because these disciplines were developed outside the field of science, and because science and law tend to mix like oil and water, it has taken a while for scientists to catch up, and to test the claims of forensic analysts. It was really DNA testing that began to expose the flaws in forensic analysis, as testing began to overturn convictions that forensic expert witnesses had testified were rock-solid.

The aim of the PCAST report, as well as the 2009 National Academy of Sciences report and the National Institute of Standards and Technology working groups,was to bring science to forensics — or rather to see if there’s any science behind the claims of forensic analysts. The 19 PCAST members are all scientists. While some legal experts did provide some guidance, the evaluation itself was done by some of the most eminent scientists in the country. These weren’t defense attorneys or social justice activists.

What PCAST, NIST and the NAS have found, overwhelmingly, is that all pattern matching fields of forensics lack any scientific support for their basic assumptions. The Obama administration seemed to understand these problems like no administration to date. Obama himself along with former attorney general Eric Holder have openly acknowledged that the criminal-justice system is flawed and in need of reform. In July 2015, Jo Handelsman, the assistant director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, called for the eradication of bite mark evidence in court. It’s the Obama administration that oversaw the creation of the NIST working groups to study the validity and reliability of various forensic disciplines. And it was obviously Obama’s own PCAST that produced the paper last year in the first place. The White House even put out a news release touting the report.

And yet when the PCAST study came out, Attorney General Loretta Lynch immediately dismissed it, stating that while “we appreciate their contribution to the field of scientific inquiry, the department will not be adopting the recommendations related to the admissibility of forensic science evidence.” Lynch joined the National District Attorneys Association and various police organizations in casting the study as no big deal.

There are a number of reasons why it is in fact a big deal. First there’s the FBI, which Lynch oversees. Obviously, if the FBI crime lab isn’t going to make changes in the face of these reports, that’s going to affect the quality of the forensic evidence used in federal criminal cases. But the FBI crime lab also does forensics work for local police and prosecutors across the country, so those cases will also be affected. FBI crime lab analysts train state and local analysts, so the bad methods are passed on. The FBI crime lab is also generally seen as the preeminent crime lab in the country, so other crime labs emulate it. If the FBI isn’t going to change in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, why should anyone else?

Then there’s the matter of the FBI’s own record. . .

Continue reading.

Loretta Lynch is, unfortunately, clearly incompetent in her job. Meeting privately with Bill Clinton when there is a case pending against his wife? That seems to show very poor judgment, but it is possible that the cause was incompetence: she didn’t know how to prevent the meeting.

And her decision her is obviously extremely poor judgment, but it may be facilitated by a more general incompetence.

She is unsuited for the post she holds, though that of course is true of others.

Do read the rest of the article. There’s a lot more and it is quite serious: in cases still to be heard, the failings of current forensics “science” will send innocent men and women to prison for years if not decades, just as it has in the past. That Loretta Lynch could summarily dismiss this shows either incompetence or incredible mean-spiritedness and even bad intentions (deliberately avoiding a recommended action in the knowledge that the decision will result in the suffering of innocents).

This is very difficult for me to understand. And so I see I also cannot understand how Democrats think.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2017 at 3:20 pm

Republicans’ Obamacare repeal plan will add $9 trillion to national debt, but that may not bother them

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It is difficult for me to understand the thought processes (if any) of the GOP, but one thing is clear: the GOP is willing to spend handsomely in order to avoid helping the poor and improving the general welfare. We say that in the way many Red states refused to expand Medicaid, even though that refusal cost them money. Not helping the poor was worth it, apparently.

And now the GOP, which has claimed to hate any increase in the national debt, and ready to pile on the debt if it will put a stop to helping the poor get healthcare insurance.

I think you can see why I find that hard to understand. Normally, being able to do something worthwhile and at the same time saving trillions of daollars? That would be what one calls a “no-brainer.” My conclusion: the GOP has, in effect, less than no brain: a negative amount of brains.

Matthew Rozsa writes in Salon:

If Republicans use budget reconciliation to fast-track their repeal of the Affordable Care Act (colloquially known as Obamacare), they will have to accept a $9 trillion increase in the national deficit by 2026. By then, the national debt would reach $29 trillion.

Kansas Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican with libertarian leanings, has already vowed to oppose the reconciliation plan on the grounds that the budget resolution will add so much to the deficit.

“It never gets to balance. Not in 10 years, not in 100 years, not in 1,000,” Paul told Bloomberg on Tuesday. “Every Republican that was here voted for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that said it should balance in five years, but yet they are putting together a budget that never balances.”

Paul also pointed out that, before Vice President-elect Mike Pence is sworn in and can cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate, a single other Republican voting against the budget resolution would stymie the Republican plan. Reconciliation is a budgetary procedure that, because it cannot be filibustered, could allow the Republicans to repeal a great deal of the Affordable Care Act before Trump is even sworn in on Jan. 20. That said, the process is very complex — a budget resolution must be passed with instructions to committees from both chambers, each chamber must draft its own reconciliation package, both packages are combined into a single bill, and then that bill must pass both chambers. If there are any differences between the bill produced by either chamber, nothing can be passed until they’re resolved. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2017 at 3:06 pm

Coming soon to the US? Rodrigo Duterte’s Army of Online Trolls.

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Sean Williams reports in The New Republic:

Since Rodrigo Duterte was elected president of the Philippines last June, he has waged a brutal crackdown on drug dealers and addicts. Nearly 4,000 people have been killed by government forces, and Duterte has invoked the Holocaust to describe the scope of his ambition. “Hitler massacred three million Jews,” he declared in September. “Now there is three million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

Duterte’s authoritarian rhetoric has elicited sharp condemnations from human rights advocates and foreign leaders. But there’s another front in his war on drugs that has escaped international attention. Last fall, as I reported on the violence in the Philippines, I picked up an ardent critic on social media. Her name was Madelyn, and she was young and attractive, with long hair and deep, brown eyes. When I posted about Duterte’s war on drugs, Madelyn responded with derision. “Maybe u are anti-Duterte TROLL,” she tweeted. “A foreigner who knows NOTHING bout my country.” She seemed to devote her waking hours to spreading her love of Duterte and assailing anyone who questioned him, posting dozens of times a day. “My President and I am proud of him,” one tweet read. “Get lost critics!”

Madelyn, it appears, is part of a vast and effective “keyboard army” that Duterte and his backers have mobilized to silence dissenters and create the illusion that he enjoys widespread public support. Each day, hundreds of thousands of supporters—both paid and unpaid—take to social media to proselytize Duterte’s deadly gospel. They rotate through topics like corruption, drug abuse, and U.S. interference, and post links to hastily cobbled-together, hyper-partisan web sites at all hours of the day and night. Though social media is designed to make each user appear to be a unique individual whose views are her own, Madelyn and her cohort stick exclusively to the Duterte talking points, without any of the cat GIFs, funny asides, jokes with friends, or other elements that populate most people’s feeds.

When Facebook and Twitter were founded a decade ago, they heralded a new era in which the voices of ordinary citizens could be heard alongside—or even above—those of establishment insiders. From the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter and recent demonstrations against Vladimir Putin, activists have used social media to attract followers and broadcast their messages free from official oversight. But increasingly, authoritarian regimes like Duterte’s are deploying social media to disseminate official propaganda, crack down on dissent, and maintain their grip on power. What began as a tool of freedom and democracy is being turned into a weapon of repression.

“For authoritarian states, social media censorship will increasingly be seen as an essential aspect of the security apparatus,” says Eric Jensen, a sociologist at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, who specializes in online public engagement. “There has been a pattern of civil society embracing opportunities for more open communication, such as social media—followed inexorably by a gradual colonization of those communication channels by corporations and government.”

Duterte’s social media campaign began while he was the mayor of Davao, where he allegedly ran death squads to curb rampant drug dealing and other street crime. In November 2015, when he decided to run for president, he enlisted a marketing consultant named Nic Gabunada to assemble a social media army with a budget of just over $200,000. Gabunada used the money to pay hundreds of prominent online voices to flood social media with pro-Duterte comments, popularize hashtags, and attack critics. Despite being vastly outspent by his rivals, Duterte swept to power with almost 40 percent of the vote. After the upset victory, the new president’s spokesman issued a warm thanks to Duterte’s 14 million social media “volunteers.”

The Philippines seem tailor-made for this kind of propaganda machine. The median age in the country is only 23 years old, and almost half of its 103 million citizens are active social media users. Access to Facebook is provided free with all smartphones, but Filipinos incur data charges when visiting other web sites, including those of newspapers. As a result, millions of citizens rely on social media for virtually all of their news and information, consuming a daily diet of partisan opinion that masquerades as fact.

Duterte has taken advantage of this media landscape. Online trolls can earn up to $2,000 a month creating fake accounts on social media, and then using those “bots” to flood the digital airwaves with pro-Duterte propaganda. According to Affinio, a social media analytics firm, a staggering 20 percent of all Twitter accounts that mention Duterte are actually bots. Thanks in part to this constant thrum of pro-Duterte messaging, the president has . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2017 at 1:29 pm

Trump, like Obama, selects a fox to guard the chickens: Trump Nominates Wall Street Lawyer to Head S.E.C.

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Obama picked Mary Jo White, a Wall Street lawyer who did what she could to protect Wall Street while she was at SEC. Trump picks another Wall Street lawyer. Wall Street has effectively taken over the US government. Leslie Picker reports in the NY Times:

President-elect Donald J. Trump said on Wednesday that he planned to nominate Jay Clayton, a partner with the prominent New York law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, the latest appointment with strong ties to Wall Street.

If confirmed, Mr. Clayton will be responsible for “encouraging investment in American companies” and “providing strong oversight of Wall Street and related industries,” according to a statement by Mr. Trump’s communications office on Wednesday morning.

“We will carefully monitor our financial sector, as we set policy that encourages American companies to do what they do best: create jobs,” Mr. Clayton said in the statement.

The role of the federal agency is to protect investors and enable companies to raise capital through the public markets in a way that fosters economic growth.

An adviser to Goldman Sachs, Mr. Clayton would join several Wall Street alumni in serving in Mr. Trump’s administration. Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs trader who runs his own hedge fund and invested in Hollywood movies before leading fund-raising for Mr. Trump during the election, has been nominated to be Treasury secretary. Wilbur Ross, the billionaire investor, has been picked as the next commerce secretary, while Gary D. Cohn, who was No. 2 at Goldman Sachs, will be Mr. Trump’s economic top policy adviser.

Mr. Clayton, an adviser to corporations on large acquisitions, initial public offerings and regulatory matters, has been a presence among some of the largest deals over the last decade. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2017 at 10:50 am

Republicans Are Afraid to Let Americans See Their Health Care Plan Because Their Plan Is Terrible

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Kevin Drum lays out the way the GOP has boxed itself in. Whatever plan they’ve developed over the past six years must be kept secret from the public because the plan is awful. The GOP wants to repeal Obamacare today and then, a few years down the pike, present their plan when the choice is forced.

It took Democrats about 14 months to develop their plan. The GOP has had years to develop what they say is a better plan. Let’s see it.

Drum’s post is worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2017 at 9:49 am

Kids Are Killing a Lot Fewer Cops These Days

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At Mothe Jones Kevin Drum notes the sharp decline in police killings by young people:

Let’s end the day with some good news. As you all know, violent crime began falling after leaded gasoline began its phaseout in the mid-70s. And because lead affects the brain development of infants and toddlers, the fall in crime began with the youngest kids. In the mid-80s, only young children were showing signs of reduced violence. By the mid-90s, everyone under 20 started to show effects. By the mid-aughts everyone under 30 was starting to get less violent.

In other words, the first cohort to benefit from reduced lead was juveniles. Kids born in the late-70s showed only small improvements because lead had been only slightly reduced during their childhood. Kids born in the late-80s showed more improvement because ambient lead had decreased quite a bit during their childhood. Kids born in the late-90s showed yet more improvement, etc.

Rick Nevin has sent me a new chart that shows this vividly:


In the early 90s, young people between the age of 18-24 killed an average of 33 police officers per year. By 2015 that was down to 4. For juveniles under the age of 18, the number was zero. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2017 at 8:40 am

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