Later On

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Archive for the ‘Law Enforcement’ Category

The New York Times Is in the Tank for Crypto

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I’ve noticed this, too. The NY Times rather too often has feet of clay — the effects of privilege and poor priorities (“access is everything” does not provide good guidance). Robert Kuttner writes in The American Prospect:

In a recent post, I noted in passing the oddly soft coverage of the collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried in The New York Times. The Times managed to compare the woes of FTX to a bank run, to blame Bankman-Fried’s competitors for undermining his credibility, and to take his professed charitable intent at face value.

Since I wrote, the Times coverage has only gotten worse.

A piece on the interconnections between Bankman-Fried’s exchange (FTX) and the investment company he controlled (Alameda) soft-pedaled the outright illegality of his making trades with customer funds. To hear the Times tell it, “Alameda’s need for funds to run its trading business was a big reason Mr. Bankman-Fried created FTX in 2019. But the way the two entities were set up meant that trouble in one unit shook up the other as crypto prices began to drop in the spring.”

But that’s not what happened. When customers demanded their money, Fried didn’t have it, because he had been using it and losing it, illegally, for his own trades.

And this: “Alameda’s methods borrowed many aspects from traditional high finance. It was a quantitative trading firm, similar to Wall Street hedge funds that use mathematical models and data to inform decisions. It used ‘leverage’—or borrowed money—to fuel its trades and make bigger returns.”

Note the alibis, and the passive voice. The subhead tells the reader “things got out of control,” as in Nixon’s infamous “mistakes were made.” The comparable Wall Street Journal piece ran rings around the Times version, explaining the interlocks and the sheer illegality.

More from Robert Kuttner

But the most appalling recent Times piece was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 November 2022 at 4:58 pm

Using guns to kill debate — and democracy

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The use of openly displayed firearms to intimidate and silence is particularly a problem in the US, which has more guns in civilian hands than it has civilians. Mike McIntire reports in the NY Times (no paywall):

Across the country, openly carrying a gun in public is no longer just an exercise in self-defense — increasingly it is a soapbox for elevating one’s voice and, just as often, quieting someone else’s.

This month, armed protesters appeared outside an elections center in Phoenix, hurling baseless accusations that the election for governor had been stolen from the Republican, Kari Lake. In October, Proud Boys with guns joined a rally in Nashville where conservative lawmakers spoke against transgender medical treatments for minors.

In June, armed demonstrations around the United States amounted to nearly one a day. A group led by a former Republican state legislator protested a gay pride event in a public park in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Men with guns interrupted a Juneteenth festival in Franklin, Tenn., handing out fliers claiming that white people were being replaced. Among the others were rallies in support of gun rights in Delaware and abortion rights in Georgia.

Whether at the local library, in a park or on Main Street, most of these incidents happen where Republicans have fought to expand the ability to bear arms in public, a movement bolstered by a recent Supreme Court ruling on the right to carry firearms outside the home. The loosening of limits has occurred as violent political rhetoric rises and the police in some places fear bloodshed among an armed populace on a hair trigger.

But the effects of more guns in public spaces have not been evenly felt. A partisan divide — with Democrats largely eschewing firearms and Republicans embracing them — has warped civic discourse. Deploying the Second Amendment in service of the First has become a way to buttress a policy argument, a sort of silent, if intimidating, bullhorn.

“It’s disappointing we’ve gotten to that state in our country,” said Kevin Thompson, executive director of the Museum of Science & History in Memphis, Tenn., where armed protesters led to the cancellation of an L.G.B.T.Q. event in September. “What I saw was a group of folks who did not want to engage in any sort of dialogue and just wanted to impose their belief.”

A New York Times analysis of more than 700 armed demonstrations found that, at about 77 percent of them, people openly carrying guns represented right-wing views, such as opposition to L.G.B.T.Q. rights and abortion access, hostility to racial justice rallies and support for former President Donald J. Trump’s lie of winning the 2020 election.

The records, from January 2020 to last week, were compiled by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a nonprofit that tracks political violence around the world. The Times also interviewed witnesses to other, smaller-scale incidents not captured by the data, including encounters with armed people at indoor public meetings.

Anti-government militias and right-wing culture warriors like the Proud Boys attended a majority of the protests, the data showed. Violence broke out at more than 100 events and often involved fisticuffs with opposing groups, including left-wing activists such as antifa.

Republican politicians are generally more tolerant of openly armed supporters than are Democrats, who are more likely to be on the opposing side of people with guns, the records suggest. In July, for example, men wearing sidearms confronted Beto O’Rourke, then the Democratic candidate for Texas governor, at a campaign stop in Whitesboro and warned that he was “not welcome in this town.”

Republican officials or candidates appeared at 32 protests where they were on the same side as those with guns.  . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2022 at 4:01 pm

In the US, violent crime is down, not up

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Check it out. (Trigger warning: Charts and graphs at link.)

Written by Leisureguy

25 November 2022 at 2:38 pm

The Judge and the Case That Came Back to Haunt Him

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Jesse Barron reports in the NY Times (no paywall):

None of Anthony Kline’s colleagues had ever seen it happen. The most senior justice on California’s First District Court of Appeal, Kline was asking to be transferred to the juvenile bench, at the advanced age of 83. Juvenile was the scrappy place you started a career, not the triumphant place you ended one. But after four decades in appeals, Kline was feeling estranged from real life. He wanted to spend a year in juvie before retiring.

The First District was in a Beaux-Arts building next to San Francisco’s City Hall, with stone archways framed by lanterns. The juvenile court occupied a rundown 1950s building on Woodside Avenue next to a gas station, high on an isolated hill. Kline’s new courtroom was on the ground floor and had wood-laminate walls, hulking silver air-conditioners and mismatched office chairs. Forty years earlier, in 1981, he spent a year presiding over this same courtroom — one of his first judicial assignments.

Before arriving back at Woodside, Kline was given a one-week training course, meant for judges who were starting in juvenile for the first time. In a way, he was. Juvie had softened in the intervening years. In the 1980s, juvenile judges tended to track minors into detention, but today, the instructor explained, juvenile judges try to divert defendants into drug treatment, mental-health counseling or family therapy. A progressive throughout his career, Kline thought the changes were an enormous improvement.

On Kline’s docket, the cases looked like the ones he confronted 40 years earlier. Foster kids accused of stealing cars. Eighth graders caught in school with knives. A 15-year-old from the Potrero Hill projects who had somehow gotten his hands on a high-capacity weapon. If Kline had been looking for real life, he found it. The downstairs courtroom of Woodside Avenue was about as far from the abstract world of the appeals court as you could get.

Five weeks into his new role, Kline learned about a case coming his way, one in which the defendant was not a minor at all. She was a 58-year-old woman. When Kline sought an explanation, he learned that California had recently passed a bill to help reduce the state’s prison population through resentencing. Now, an inmate serving an inordinately long sentence for a crime committed as a minor could return to juvenile court and have the case reconsidered, once, by a juvenile judge. The defendant coming to Kline had served 41 years for a crime she committed at 17. Her name was Jamesetta Guy.

Kline recognized it. In 1981, during his year in juvenile court, he presided over the trial of a 15-year-old girl named Sharon Wright, who had participated in a botched robbery attempt in which a taxi driver was shot and killed. In the taxi with Wright there had been another girl: Jamesetta Guy. Kline sentenced Wright to eight years in juvenile custody, but he never learned what happened to Guy. Now he had the answer. Forty-one years. A staggering term, especially for someone convicted as a minor. Some adults with the same conviction would have paroled out 20 years ago. What led to this sentence, Kline saw, was almost everything that could go wrong for a juvenile defendant. She had no criminal history; the gun wasn’t hers; she grew up in a violently abusive home. The evidence didn’t show premeditated murder. And yet a judge in 1981 declared her “unfit” to be tried as a juvenile and tracked her into the adult system. By the time her name appeared on Kline’s calendar in 2022, Guy had been in prison as long as he had been a judge.

Guy’s ordeal seemed to confirm all of Kline’s theories about the California judicial system. His heroes were men like Brandeis and Marshall, the 20th-century liberal lions. He kept up with The New York Review of Books. A Black Lives Matter poster hung in the window of his Victorian home in Lower Pacific Heights. In 2019, Kline wrote the opinion in a First District case in which a prisoner serving life for a crime committed as a juvenile was suing the parole board for denying his release. Having failed to give “great weight” to the “diminished culpability of youth,” Kline wrote, the board had violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Kline noticed that the parole board denied Guy’s release in 2015, which gave him a grim kind of validation. And the fact that a judge had tracked her into the adult system in the first place only confirmed his nascent view that juveniles belonged in diversion whenever possible.

A few days before Guy’s new hearing, a public defender named Emily Goldman walked into Kline’s chambers to catch up. The public defender had offices in the same building as the courtrooms, so Goldman was a familiar presence. She settled into a chair in front of Kline’s desk. She said that her colleagues had been working on Guy’s case at the main office downtown. Looking through the file, they figured out the name of the judge who diverted Guy from juvenile court into the adult system. It was Kline.

He tried to make sense of this disorienting news. At the beginning of his career, he had closed the first link of the chain that ultimately sent away a 17-year-old for four decades. It cut against everything he believed in, yet he had done it. He couldn’t remember the details. The hearing would have lasted an hour, if that, on a busy morning at the very beginning of a long and rich career that came to involve hundreds and hundreds of cases, probably more than a thousand. As for the transcript, Goldman did not have it. Kline thought that maybe it was sealed because Guy was a minor. It could also have been lost. The California courts were not required to preserve the files in every run-of-the-mill case in which all appeals had been exhausted, as Guy’s had been in 1986.

At 9 a.m. on the appointed Monday, Guy walked into the downstairs courtroom and took her seat at the table. Kline ascended the steps to the bench. The last time they saw each other, in this same courtroom, she was a skinny, baby-faced teenager. He was a young judge — not a father yet, hair still black. Four decades had left their mark, adding pounds around their middles, flecking Guy’s eyebrows with gray. Kline’s blue eyes, under their bushy white eyebrows, peered down at Guy through his red-rimmed glasses.

“Do you remember me?” he said. . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 6:47 pm

Uh-oh. This looks bad: Monopolies and Cybersecurity Disasters

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Today I’m writing about an ID software management roll-up, where the private equity billionaire responsible for the worst software hack in American history is trying to get into even more sensitive territory.

One common theme of this newsletter is how a finance-first mentality creates hidden risk, particularly in areas of opacity and interconnection, like in enterprise software, the systems that manage the flow of information throughout big corporations.

The guts of corporate America runs on this stuff, large bloated software packages tied together with duct tape and run by ornery techies nagging their superiors about potential problems. Microsoft has built a somehow-unnoticed set of giant monopolies here, but there are an endless number of parasites – from software integrators to management consultants – who feed at this trough. And why shouldn’t they? Most CEOs of big companies don’t care if they spend a few more pennies per seat on some random network access security feature. They have IT departments for that, or CTOs they can ignore. And so enterprise software is often vastly overpriced and of poor quality. But it’s a rounding error on the profit-and-loss statement, it just doesn’t matter.

Only, sometimes it does.

SolarWinds is one of these innumerable enterprise software parasites, it makes a cheap and ubiquitous network management service called Orion. As the CEO put it, “We manage everyone’s network gear.” And he wasn’t, as we would find out later, joking. In late 2020, SolarWinds, and as it turns out every major corporation, was at the center of a devastating Russian hack. The victims were the most important American institutions, from the FBI to the Department of Treasury to Cisco Systems, Intel, Nvidia, California hospitals, etc. Russians got access to Microsoft’s source code and into the Federal agency overseeing America’s nuclear stockpile.

Hackers put malware into updates that SolarWinds sent to clients. Since SolarWinds was everywhere, the malware went everywhere. We hear a lot about how difficult it is to avoid cybersecurity problems, but this particular catastrophe wasn’t some unavoidable natural disaster. SolarWind’s security practices were not, shall we say, top quality. One researcher had previously alerted the company that “anyone could access SolarWinds’ update server by using the password “solarwinds123.’” It wasn’t just one instance of Spaceballs-style Dark Helmet idiocy, either. Lax security practices were common and systemic, so bad that the key advisor at the firm told them a security breach would be catastrophic, and eventually quit in frustration. For days after the firm was hacked SolarWinds continued to offer its software.

Why was SolarWinds such a poor quality software provider? The firm chose to underinvest in security, a result of a specific business model, which is designed to maximize cash flow while offloading risks, like vulnerabilities to hacking, onto others.. SolarWinds is owned by Thoma Bravo, a private equity firm which scoops up software companies in obscure areas where customers are locked in. In a puff piece in 2020, the Wall Street Journal covered the basic business model.

Thoma Bravo identifies software companies with a loyal customer base but middling profits and transforms them into moneymaking engines by retooling pricing, shutting down unprofitable business lines and adding employees in cheaper labor markets.

The firm then guides its companies to use the profits they generate to do add-on acquisitions, snapping up smaller rivals with offerings that they could spend months and millions of dollars trying to replicate.

Typically Thoma Bravo raises prices and cuts quality, but the affected constituency group – corporate IT managers – don’t have a lot of power or agency. Their superiors don’t want to think about a high-cost but low-probability event, especially if every other big institution would be hit as well. CEOs, ever since the turn to monopoly and finance in the early 1980s, have become bankers, not engineers. So the Thoma Bravo model works, because no one with power listens to the IT nerds offering sage warnings about software quality and risk.

What makes SolarWinds more than a catastrophe, and turns it into a scandal, is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 6:42 pm

DHS: The Twenty-Year Boondoggle

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I earlier blogged about the counterproductive incompetence manifested by DHS. That turns out to be the tip of the iceberg. Amanda Chicago Lewis reports in The Verge:

Just a week after 9/11, while the country was still reeling, a series of letters began arriving at news organizations and Senate offices. The envelopes were innocuous, indistinguishable from other mail, but inside was a white powder, a rare bacteria that can be fatal if inhaled — anthrax. Five people died, and 17 were sickened in one of the most deadly biological attacks in US history. Yet anthrax had the potential to inflict far more harm: if the spores had been released from a rooftop in downtown Washington, DC, it might have infected hundreds of thousands of people. One letter included the message, “DEATH TO AMERICA,” perhaps indicating more to come. But how could we plan for a silent, odorless killer?

Responding to the universe of new threats facing the country soon became an all-out scramble, consuming the public and the federal government’s attention for several years. The man that President George W. Bush chose to manage America’s preparation for a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear incident was a renowned physicist and weapons expert named Penrose “Parney” Albright.

Albright is exactly the kind of guy you’d want in charge of protecting the country from a devastating attack. Known for his candor and ingenuity, he is one of those people with a talent for both hard science and political science. He had excelled at places like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) because he knew how to bring big, complex projects across the finish line.

So as the Bush administration finalized its plans for a new Department of Homeland Security, ultimately bestowing him the title of assistant secretary for science and technology, Albright was alarmed to find that the people around him were not as prepared.

“There was almost nobody in the senior leadership at the Department of Homeland Security who really understood the details of what it took to run a cabinet agency,” he told me. When DHS officially began operations on March 1st, 2003, everything was so haphazard that one undersecretary worked out of a former cleaning closet with a shower curtain for a door. There was no human resources professional to help Albright hire people and no bank account for his budget. When he tried to type out an email, an orange bar would pop up, freezing everything for three to four minutes; DHS employees soon took to calling this the “orange screen of death.”

The dysfunction might have been funny, in a Dilbert-meets-Veep way, if the stakes weren’t so high. Albright was overseeing a project called BioWatch, a system intended to detect traces of biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. Bush described BioWatch in his 2003 State of the Union as “the nation’s first early warning network of sensors,” which would initiate processes to mobilize hospitals, alert the public, and deploy supplies from the national stockpile.

There was only one problem: BioWatch never functioned as intended. The devices were unreliable, causing numerous false positives. “It was really only capable of detecting large-scale attacks,” Albright explained, because of “how big a plume would have to be” for the sensors to pick it up. And the system was prohibitively slow: every 24 hours, someone had to retrieve a filter and then send it to a laboratory for testing, which might then take another 24 hours to discover a pathogen.

“The time required after BioWatch might pick up evidence of a toxin and the time required to get it to somebody who might be able to reach a conclusion there might be a terrorist attack — my God, by that time, a lot of people would have gotten sick or died,” former Senator Joe Lieberman told me.

Albright did his best to make it work. He ramped up  . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

. . . These days, the mess at the Department of Homeland Security is one of the only things that all of Washington can agree on. Disliked by both Democrats and Republicans, DHS has metastasized into the worst version of what we imagine when we think of bureaucracy: rigid, ineffective, wasteful, chaotic, cruel. Since its inception, DHS has been on the Government Accountability Office’s “High Risk List,” which highlights programs vulnerable to “fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.” It consistently has the lowest morale of any federal agency with more than a thousand employees, according to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

“It’s like an agency no one wanted and everyone is stuck with,” said Juliette Kayyem, assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at DHS from 2009–2010.

“Even for someone who is kind of cynical, it was shocking,” said John Roth, the DHS inspector general from 2014–2017. “You do a little scratching, and there was just rot underneath.”

We see the downstream effects of the Kafkaesque ineptitude at DHS every day, even if we don’t recognize the connection between headlines about alleged sexual abuse at migrant detention centers, billions of dollars disappearing into fraudulent disaster aid, and the erasure of text messages likely detailing an attempted coup. DHS functions as a loose confederation of subagencies, meaning that the absurdity of security procedures at airports is attributed to the Transportation Security Administration, not to DHS, and the anemic response to Hurricane Katrina was blamed on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, not its parent organization. Yet the tensions between these satellite operations and the cabinet secretary’s headquarters in Washington, DC, are crucial to understanding DHS.

“I would call it unwieldy,” said Kevin McAleenan, who served as acting secretary of homeland security in 2019 after working at the department since it was founded. McAleenan recalled moments when he saw people at headquarters “trying to direct activities they didn’t understand very well and mission sets they weren’t familiar with and legal frameworks they hadn’t studied, and I thought, ‘This isn’t going to work. We’re not going to overcome the problem of expertise or, in this case, the lack of expertise.’”

Some consider the Department of Homeland Security successful because there has not been another major terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11. And it’s true that only about a hundred people have died on US soil from Islamic terrorism in the past two decades. But domestic terrorism and mass shootings are on the rise, with Americans now justifiably afraid of malls, parades, supermarkets, churches, and elementary schools. Militias plot against democracy. A deadly virus has killed over a million Americans. Foreign governments infiltrate social media and snatch our data. Storms and wildfires grow bigger and more frequent every year. Tens of thousands of migrants linger in refugee camps at the southern border. Those that make it across face what one high-level whistleblower called “a system that involves widespread abuse of human beings.”

All of this is under the purview of DHS. . .

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2022 at 9:07 pm

Three guilty as court finds Russia-controlled group downed civilian airliner MH17 in 2014, killing 298 people

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Russia seems to really like to attack civilian targets. Anna Holligan and Kate Vandy report for BBC News:

A Dutch court has found three men guilty of murder for shooting down a passenger jet over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people.

The court found that a Russian-made missile supplied from Russia and fired by an armed group under Russian control brought down flight MH17.

The men – two Russians and one Ukrainian – were found guilty in absentia and sentenced to life in jail. A third Russian was acquitted.

The missile attack was one of the most notorious war crimes in Ukraine before allegations of atrocities there became an almost daily reality.

Many of the victims’ relatives believe if the world had reacted differently, and taken a tougher stance against Russia eight years ago, the invasion of Ukraine and the geopolitical instability that has followed could have been avoided.

The judges ruled that it was a deliberate action to bring down a plane, even though the three found guilty had intended to shoot down a military not a civilian aircraft.

  • Igor Girkin, the military leader of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, was convicted of deploying the missile and seeking Russian help
  • Sergei Dubinsky was found to have ordered and overseen the transport of the Buk missile launcher
  • Leonid Kharchenko was found to have overseen the Buk, acting on Dubinsky’s instructions.

Oleg Pulatov was the only one of the four accused to have legal representation at the trial. The judges acquitted him, although they found he knew about the missile.

On 17 July 2014, 298 people, including 80 children and 15 crew, boarded Malaysia Airlines flight 17 to Kuala Lumpur at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

The plane was cruising at 33,000 feet over Ukraine. It was the early days of Russia’s efforts to control parts of the country.

At the time this was a relatively low-level conflict zone, but f

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2022 at 11:05 am

DHS blocked vital research on domestic threats, say terrorism experts

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When the government breaks down because officials do not want to know. Hannah Allam reports in the Washington Post (no paywall):

As bloody, hate-fueled attacks rose in 2019, Homeland Security officials pledged to step up their response to domestic terrorism, funding in-depth research that would help them understand the scale of the problem.

“Accurate nationwide statistics will better position DHS to protect communities from these threats,” the department said in a strategy report.

More than two years later, that data collection has not begun, and $10 million languishes unused because of internal disputes over privacy protocols, according to researchers and an official of the Department of Homeland Security.

Academics who received DHS contracts say their projects to study violent attacks and extremist movements have been delayed, some effectively scrapped, because of an endless loop of privacy concerns that typically would not apply to work based on open-source records — unclassified materials such as news reports. In interviews, researchers described the roadblocks they have faced as “crazytown,” “mind-boggling” and “beyond logic.”

Their accounts were confirmed by a DHS official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe a sensitive internal debate. The official said around 20 research projects funded by Homeland Security faced varying degrees of delays because of rulings by the DHS’s Privacy Office that deemed them high-risk even after researchers repeatedly explained that the information they intended to use was widely available to the public. At least $2 million of funding has been returned unused; $10 million more is essentially frozen unless privacy officers approve the research.

After so many months of paralysis, the official said, DHS relations with top terrorism scholars have soured, and DHS leaders are left with a gap in data — just as national attention is again focused on political violence, which is at the root of the ongoing trials in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the recent assault of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, and far-right threats around the midterm elections.

Those issues are likely to come up this week as Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas makes public appearances to address the government’s response to violent extremism, a national security priority for the Biden administration. In June 2021, the need for more research was spelled out in the country’s first national strategy for countering domestic terrorism, which noted that understanding the threat “requires facilitating a systematic provision of information and data.”

So far, that information-gathering work has not been carried out.

“Right now, if the secretary of Homeland Security turns to us and says, ‘Last year, how many serious attacks based on ideology or grievance happened?’ we can’t answer those fundamental questions,” the DHS official said. “We don’t know.”

Homeland Security declined to address specific examples of delayed contracts or to explain the privacy concerns. In a statement, a DHS spokesperson said that addressing domestic violent extremism is a top priority and cited interagency intelligence-sharing, prevention-focused grant programs, and a dedicated domestic terrorism branch within the Intelligence and Analysis office.

“DHS engages in a community-based approach to prevent terrorism and targeted violence, and does so in ways that protect privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties, and that adhere to all applicable laws,” the statement said.

Within DHS, the official speaking anonymously said, one view is that privacy officers are trying to shield Mayorkas from potentially controversial research at a time when federal agencies are criticized by both major political parties for their response to political violence. Republicans in Congress have portrayed the effort to investigate domestic terrorism as a thought-police exercise that infringes on First Amendment rights. Some Democrats, too, have expressed wariness of federal overreach, citing the civil liberties violations of the war-on-terror years.

DHS is already under scrutiny because of the rollback of plans to fight disinformation and for reports that authorities sought dossiers on protesters in Portland, Ore. — indications of how easily counterterrorism work can be politicized.

The academic researchers on contract with DHS said they . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

There’s much more, but I should append a frustration warning.

Update: See also this article on the ongoing failure that DHS represents.

Written by Leisureguy

16 November 2022 at 8:51 pm

The complexity of J. Edgar Hoover

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People are more complicated than we want them to be,  particularly when we are feeling judgmental. Kai Bird has a fascinating review (no paywall) of a new biography of J. Edgar Hoover in the Washington Post, which begins:

On Oct. 7, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson’s longtime aide Walter Jenkins walked into the YMCA near the White House after a party at the Newsweek magazine office and had sex in the bathroom with a homeless Army veteran. The vice squad arrested Jenkins, booked him and released him. A week later, the story made headlines on the eve of the presidential election that pitted Johnson against Republican Barry Goldwater. By then, a near-suicidal Jenkins had checked into George Washington University Hospital and the Republicans were “punching hard,” writes Beverly Gage in “G-Man,” her masterful account of the life and controversial career of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. The Goldwater campaign demanded to know if Jenkins’s conduct had compromised national security. Forced to act, Johnson ordered Hoover, his old friend and onetime neighbor, to investigate the scandal. Hoover was annoyed. This was politics, and for decades he had tried to insulate the FBI from partisan politics. But he did what he was told to do by his president.

It turned out that Jenkins, the father of six children, had been arrested in the same bathroom five years earlier. Johnson was astonished that Jenkins could have hidden his proclivities. Hoover was not. He thought such temptations were commonplace. Four days into the investigation he told Johnson that Jenkins had been under enormous stress and required medical attention. The FBI chief had already sent a bouquet of flowers to Jenkins’s hospital room. Attached was a sympathy card wishing him a speedy recovery. “With less than two weeks to go before the election,” Gage writes, “Hoover issued a report absolving Jenkins of any national security violations,” and on Election Day, Johnson rolled to victory in one of the nation’s biggest presidential landslides.

In Gage’s biography, Hoover emerges as a strangely tortured man who wielded power within the Justice Department for an astonishing 48 years. His response to Jenkins revealed a softer side and, Gage explains, raised an “innuendo that Hoover might have more in common with Jenkins than he wished to acknowledge.” In a memo, Hoover wrote that he liked Jenkins and felt sorry for him. “It is a pitiful case,” he observed, “and I think it is time for people to follow the admonition of the Bible about persons throwing the first stone and that none are without sin.”

Hoover’s story illustrates the unique power of biography to enter the life of another human being. The genre can provoke a rare response: It can persuade one to change one’s mind. This magical leap can happen when a good biographer is able to seduce the reader into understanding another soul. “G-Man” is Gage’s first biography, and she turns out to be a marvelous biographer.

After reading Gage, I have changed my mind about Hoover. He is not the caricature villain I thought I knew when I came of age in the turbulent 1960s. Hoover was a man of profound contradictions. While he had enough empathy to send flowers to Jenkins, he also orchestrated . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2022 at 5:59 pm

Why Didn’t the Government Stop the Crypto Scam?

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Matt Stoller explains (no paywall):

“I’m sorry. That’s the biggest thing. I fucked up, and should have done better.” – crypto Ponzi schemer Sam Bankman-Fried, 2022

“Recklessness and deceit do not automatically excuse themselves by notice of repentance.” – Louis Brandeis, 1936

Just before he became President, and as the world slid into the worst part of the Great Depression, New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave a speech attacking Herbert Hoover for failing to tame the Wall Street traders who had fostered the crisis through corrupt and fraudulent activities. “The public has burned its fingers in the flame of wild speculation and has learned to fear the fire,” he said. “While it still fears the fire is the time for us to act.”

One of Roosevelt’s first acts was to regulate stock trading through the Securities Act, which forced public companies to disclose relevant material information to investors, and thus prevent the market manipulation so common on Wall Street. These disclosures are now what investors rely on today when analyzing stocks. Originally the Securities Act was enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. And New Dealers hated the FTC, as it was slothful and corrupt, having been run by monopoly-friendly cronies for a decade. But it was all that existed.

By 1935, the New Dealers had set up a new agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and cleaned out the FTC. Yet there was still immense concern that Roosevelt had not been able to tame Wall Street. The Supreme Court didn’t really ratify the SEC as a constitutional body until 1938, and nearly struck it down in 1935 when a conservative Supreme Court made it harder for the SEC to investigate cases.

It took a few years, but New Dealers finally implemented a workable set of securities rules, with the courts agreeing on basic definitions of what was a security. By the 1950s, SEC investigators could raise an eyebrow and change market behavior, and the amount of cheating in finance had dropped dramatically.

Institutional change, in other words, takes time.

It’s a lesson to remember as we watch the crypto space melt down, with ex-billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried – who was one of the single largest political donors in 2022 – turning out to be nothing more than a standard Ponzi schemer. I summarized the scam he was running a few days ago.

Over the last forty eight hours, SBF’s $15 billion net worth evaporated in a fraud-induced bank run common to the crypto space. SBF’s situation is a lot like that of Enron. One of his companies, FTX, claimed to have substantial assets valued at billions, but it didn’t disclose that the market price of those assets – called FTT tokens – was set by trading back and forth to another one of his company’s, Alameda Research. All the value was based on sham prices in sham transactions. When a rival decided to engineer a bank run on FTX, his network of firms simply didn’t have enough cash to honor the withdrawal requests. Bloomberg has written SBF lost 94% of his net worth yesterday, and he’s now under Federal investigation.

It’s not like perfidy in crypto was some hidden secret. At the top of the market, back in December 2021, I wrote a piece very explicitly saying that crypto was a set of Ponzi schemes. It went viral, and I got a huge amount of hate mail from crypto types. (SBF actually reached out to meet with me in between his lobbying meetings, but I decided out of either laziness or integrity that I didn’t feel like taking a short cab ride to Capitol Hill to do so. Instead I invited him to my office, and so we never connected.) I’m not some sort of genius, I just hate group-think around obvious fraud. I mean, in April, SBF literally said on Bloomberg’s Odd Lots that much of what he was doing was facilitating Ponzi schemes. But it didn’t seem to matter, because back then he seemed to have a lot of money.

Today, a lot of people are mad at SBF for stealing. But one of the more bizarre aspects of the crypto meltdown is the  . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2022 at 9:11 pm

The Crypto Ponzi Scheme Avenger

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A while back it came to me that cryptocurrencies are the techno-nerd version of beanie babies. And, like beanie babies, wild speculation and mass hysteria resulted in a run-up in prices, the (inevitably) followed by a crash. After the crash, the beanie-baby collectors had a better outcome: they at least had the stuffed animals. Crypto players have little but memories.

David Segal in the NY Times has a good profile (no paywall) of a man who has long sounded the alarm on the crypto scam. Segal writes:

Last year, Danny de Hek was a social media guru badly in need of a social media guru. A buoyant New Zealander with geeky glasses, he dispensed advice about how to vastly expand your online audience, to a group of just 350 subscribers.

He earned a living by drop shipping electronics as he searched for ways to make serious money. Then, in February, the husband of a friend sent the 52-year-old Mr. de Hek an email crowing about a company that somehow guaranteed outsize and clockwork returns. Investors in what was then known as HyperFund — it has since been rebranded twice — could triple their money in 600 days.

“It’s the best passive income retirement plan I have ever seen,” the acquaintance wrote. Get in now then sit back and watch the cash roll in.

The message changed Mr. de Hek’s life, though not in the way his friend might have hoped. After a few days of looking into HyperFund, Mr. de Hek concluded it was a scam, one that he estimates has attracted at least $1 billion by recruiting thousands of participants, some of whom put up as little as $300 or as much as $50,000 or more.

By March, he had crafted a new online identity: crypto Ponzi scheme buster. Mr. de Hek has since denounced HyperFund in more than 130 videos posted to YouTube, some of them nearly two hours long, lecturing viewers in a style that toggles between goofball and scold.

“When I looked into HyperFund, to me it just seemed black and white,” Mr. de Hek said during one of several interviews from his home in Christchurch. “Then I thought, I need to warn people about this.”

Mr. de Hek is one of the few voices flagging crypto-based Ponzi schemes, which U.S. investigators say are a severely underpublicized scourge. The past week has shown just how volatile the market is: One of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world, FTX, collapsed and the industry, is in meltdown.‌

Amid that kind of uncertainty, many investors have decided that if their tokens won’t recover from the steep drop in value that began last November, why not take a flier on a company that sounds crypto-adjacent?

“People are desperate, and out of desperation they’re giving it a go,” Mr. de Hek said. “It’s depressing because this is often a last-ditch effort.”

A Ponzi scheme, for those in need of a refresher, is an age-old fraud in which inflows of new money pay off earlier investors. Using cryptocurrencies does little more than lend the whole plate-spinning contraption a patina of the cutting edge — Hey, it’s on the blockchain — and makes it harder to pin down who is in charge. But the story ends the same way: champagne for those at the top, tears for everyone else.

U.S. investigators have busted a handful of crypto Ponzis over the years. Among them is OneCoin, which was based in Bulgaria and which prosecutors allege brought in roughly $4 billion from investors around the world. The charismatic co-founder of that fraud, Ruja Ignatova, disappeared after the fund closed in 2017 and is the subject of an 11-part BBC podcast, “The Missing Cryptoqueen.”

“We’ve worked multiple cases that involve more than $1 billion, and those are only the ones we hear about,” said Jarod Koopman, the acting executive director of the Cyber and Forensic Services section of the Internal Revenue Service, which spearheads crypto-Ponzi investigations, in a phone interview. “These are traditional Ponzi schemes that have been adapted to the digital landscape, recruiting investors through social media to make them look great. And they’re completely bogus.”

Mr. Koopman would not comment on cases other than those that are already public, and he declined to discuss HyperFund. The company has attracted the attention of regulators in Britain, where . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2022 at 1:02 pm

Twitter in a tailspin

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Interesting article by Mike Masnick in TechDirt:

Yesterday I tweeted out a question about whether or not there was anyone left at Twitter who remembered that the company was under a pretty strict FTC consent decree: . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

So, here’s the thing. While Elon may think he’s not afraid of the FTC, he should be. The FTC is not the SEC and the FTC does not fuck around. Violating the FTC can lead to criminal penalties. I mean, it was just a month ago that Uber’s former Chief Security Officer was convicted on federal charges for obstruction against the FTC.

And you wonder why Twitter’s Chief Security Officer resigned?

The Verge article also notes the following:

Musk’s new legal department is now asking engineers to “self-certify” compliance with FTC rules and other privacy laws, according to the lawyer’s note and another employee familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity to speak without the company’s permission.

Anyone working in Twitter needs to know that “self-certifying” something that violates the FTC’s consent decree may be tied to a prison sentence and huge fines. This is not how any of this should be working.

Stanford’s Riana Pfefferkorn (who used to be outside counsel for Twitter) has a great Twitter thread explaining the many ways in which this is fucked up. That thread notes that… today Twitter violated the FTC’s consent decree as it was required to file a notice with the FTC about Elon’s takeover and how it relates to the compliance with the consent decrees.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2022 at 1:52 pm

The Most Lawless County in Texas

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Kathy Wise reports an amazing story in D Magazine:

Suzanne Wooten had 10 minutes to decide her own fate. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2011, and the jury just wanted to go home. Wooten did, too. The 43-year-old Collin County District Court judge was used to observing the courtroom from the opposite vantage point. Now, she was seated at the defense table, dressed not in a robe but in a conservative pantsuit, her blond hair pulled back in a basic bun. She was facing not only the loss of her career but also the loss of her family. Charged with nine felony counts that included bribery, conspiracy to engage in organized criminal activity, and money laundering, Wooten could be sentenced to anything from five years to life in prison.

The whole trial had felt like a terrible farce. She had been accused of taking bribes from a couple, whom she swore she had never personally met, to fund campaign expenses, which she had checks to show she had paid for, in return for favorable decisions in a custody dispute, which she had recused herself from and never heard. But that didn’t stop the lead prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Harry White, from projecting on screen a photo of Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in The Godfather and saying, “Not all mob bosses look like that.”

Her lawyers reassured her there was no rational basis for a conviction. If there was, every judge in the state of Texas could be indicted as well. But during the trial, when the jury stopped making eye contact with her, Wooten knew she was in trouble.

Her lowest point came the night before the verdict. She was soaking in her bathtub, trying to figure out what to tell her kids, aged 15, 9, and 7, if the worst happened. Should she say she was sick and had to go away to the hospital? They weren’t stupid. For a moment, she thought maybe it would be better for them if she were dead.

But, as the pragmatic daughter of a career Air Force officer puts it, “I am really not a kill yourself kind of gal.” So she started looking for ways to make something out of the situation. “Well, crap—Shawshank Redemption,” Wooten thought. “I can help people write appeal bonds. I can help people with their divorces.” That flicker of a plan was enough to get her out of the tub.

It was still a gut punch, though, when she saw the verdict form. Wooten is farsighted, and she was familiar with the form from her time on the bench, so it was easy for her to decipher the jury’s findings as the judge silently flipped through the pages: guilty, guilty, guilty.

When the judge read the verdict out loud, Wooten’s husband collapsed and had to be carried out of the courtroom. In a daze, she followed her lawyers, Peter Schulte and Toby Shook, to the attorney-client conference room for a 10-minute break before sentencing. The only saving grace was that the jury had spared her a first-degree felony conviction, so now the worst-case scenario was 20 years. As they headed out of the courtroom, Schulte, a young, tough-talking former cop with a buzz cut, angrily told White, “This is not over. We’re going to appeal this until the end of time.”

During the break, White approached Shook and offered 10 years’ probation if Wooten would waive her right to appeal. He would later testify that he offered the plea because his sole goal was to get Wooten off the bench and keep her from running again. Even if she were sentenced to prison time, White wasn’t sure how long she could stay on the bench during the course of an appeal.

“I’m in this blur,” Wooten says. “But what got me to my decision was one of my dear friends who was there. She said, ‘Do you want to be right or do you want to be free?’ ” Wooten knew that if she were sentenced to more than 10 years, she would not be entitled to an appeal bond; she would go straight to prison without seeing her kids.

She took the deal.

On that November day in 2011, nobody could have foreseen that Wooten, whose hands were effectively tied behind her back without the ability to appeal, would emerge a decade later, Houdini-​like, with a complete exoneration and a $600,000 settlement against Collin County. . .

Continue reading.

One word: Texas.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2022 at 11:25 am

The Pelosis and a Haunted America

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Maureen Dowd has a good column in the NY Times (no paywall):

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. I loved putting up twinkling bats and watching midnight monster-chiller-horror movies.

Not this year.

The world is too scary. Politics is too creepy. Horror is too real.

When I was a child, on Oct. 31, my older brother would put on a vinyl LP of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” that he had carefully cleaned. The eerie music was used by Walt Disney in the segment of his animated masterpiece “Fantasia” about the surreal celebration of evil during the night of the witches’ Sabbath.

Chernabog, the lord of evil and death, wrapped in a dark cape, stands atop a jagged peak, summoning ghosts, witches and vampires to swirl out of the mountain and pay homage. I was so relieved when, at dawn, church bells rang and drove them off.

But now the bad spirits are lurking all around us. They will not be driven off.

America seems haunted by random violence and casual cruelty every day. In New York, subway riders getting pushed onto the tracks and innocent bystanders being shot. Officials across the country facing kidnapping plots, armed visits to their homes, assaults and death threats. No place seems safe, from parks to schools to the supposedly impregnable, guarded Capitol and homes of the wealthy and well known.

In some states, women — and girls — seeking abortions are treated as criminals. In Uvalde, Texas, terrified children frantically calling the police are slaughtered by a teenage psychopath with an AR-15-style rifle as 376 police officers lingered in and around the elementary school waiting for … what?

On Friday, The New York Post broke the news that someone I know, the former Obama official and former New York City Transit president Sarah Feinberg, was sucker-punched in the face in Chelsea by someone walking by in the bike lane.

Now comes news of a maniac breaking into a house in the middle of the night, bludgeoning an 82-year-old man in the head with a hammer while demanding to know where his famous wife was. Perfect Halloween movie fare. Except it actually happened.

One of the most macabre stories to come out of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and democracy, ginned up by Donald Trump, was when the mob roamed the halls, pounding the speaker’s door with bloodcurdling taunts of “Where’s Nancy?”

Speaker Pelosi was not there, thank God. She was huddling with other top officials in a secure bunker, placing call after call for help that was slow to arrive.

Luckily, she was safe, in D.C. with her security detail, when a man broke into her Pacific Heights home in San Francisco early Friday morning. He smashed the patio glass door and attacked her husband, who struggled with the attacker for control of a hammer. In a tingly echo of Jan. 6, the man shouted at Paul Pelosi, “Where is Nancy? Where is Nancy?” When police arrived, the man said he was “waiting for Nancy.”

Mr. Pelosi, . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2022 at 6:40 pm

College in prison is leading professors to rethink how they teach

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Mneesha Gellman, Associate Professor of Political Science at Emerson College, writes in The Conversation:

When it comes to education in prison, policy and research often focus on how it benefits society or improves the life circumstances of those who are serving time.

But as I point out in my new edited volume, “Education Behind the Wall: Why and How We Teach College in Prison,” education in prison is doing more than changing the lives of those who have been locked up as punishment for crimes – it is also changing the lives of those doing the teaching.

As director of a college program in prisons and as a researcher and professor who teaches in both colleges and prisons, I know that the experience of teaching in a correctional facility makes educators question and reexamine much of what we do.

My book collects experiences of college professors who teach in prison. A common thread is that we all went into education behind the wall thinking about ourselves to some extent as experts but have since critically reflected on what we know through interactions with incarcerated students and the institutions that hold them.

Rewriting the book

One semester in 2020, I volunteered to tutor for a class on something that occurs frequently behind prison walls: conflict and negotiation. The class featured two books that are considered essential to the field. The first is “Interpersonal Conflict,” a 2014 text that invites readers to reflect on how conflict has played out in their personal lives. The second is “Getting to Yes,” a 2011 text described by its publisher as a “universally applicable method for negotiating personal and professional disputes without getting angry – or getting taken.”

“You know, I know these are very important books and all, but this isn’t really what would work in here,” one incarcerated student said after a few class meetings, gesturing to the prison walls. “Here, you can’t talk openly about your feelings like the authors want us to, and the rules of relating to people are different.”

I responded that his observation was astute, and that knowing both sets of rules – and how to switch between them – could be profoundly useful. For example, I theorized, I imagine he behaves differently during yard time than on a phone call with a family member on the outside. If the textbooks about conflict on the outside didn’t adequately address how to handle conflict in prison, I suggested he write an equivalent book for conflict negotiation in prison.

“Maybe I should,” he chuckled, and looked around to his classmates. “Maybe we should.”

The experience showed me how even though there are textbooks that are considered “universal,” that universality may not always extend itself to correctional institutions.

A new understanding of status

As a full professor and chair of the sociology department at Clark University, a small, private university in Worcester, Massachusetts, Shelly Tenenbaum is used to being accorded a certain degree of respect for her professional accomplishments and credentials. But none of those things mattered once she passed through the gates of medium-security prisons for men located in Massachusetts.

“Status that I might have as a scholar, full professor, department chair … is rendered invisible as we enter prison,” Tenenbaum writes. When passing through security, “I have been abruptly instructed to obey commands and my questions are ignored.”

Encounters with correctional officers are frequently unnerving for educators, particularly at the entrance gates.

“I find myself in the position of needing to second-guess what I may (or may not) have done wrong and defer to people who are considerably younger than I am,” Tenenbaum continues. “There were times that I followed rules only to be scolded when the rules appeared to be differently interpreted from one day to the next. To be in the subordinate role of a power dynamic is a humbling experience. … It takes having expectations defied to realize that they even existed.”

Whether the rules are about clothing faculty members are allowed to wear or the number of pieces of paper we can carry in, the decisions are frequently about power. In her chapter, Tenenbaum writes that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 October 2022 at 1:30 pm

Why is it so hard to believe that the Iranian populace is strongly secular?

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If Iranians can provide anonymous responses, they turn out to be overwhelmingly secular in their outlook. Dina Nayeri explains in New York magazines “Intelligencer” section (no paywall):

Growing up in my household, secular was a slur, the thing you became if you lost your faith, or if you were selfish. I come from a family of religious individuals. Not a religious family, but a family that happens to include many faithful people, Muslim and Christian. In Iran, where my mother was a Christian convert, and later in the American South, I grew up with faith all around me. In my native home in Isfahan, I wore a hijab and went with my mother to a secret underground church. As refugees in Dubai and Italy, we sang hymns with other asylum seekers on somebody’s untuned guitar. As an adolescent in Oklahoma, I wore a “True love waits” ring and a “WWJD” bracelet because that was the fashion among the devout teenagers with whom I ate lunch. Did I believe then? Probably not. I did what I was told. And I didn’t want to eat lunch alone.

Still, every few months when I was a girl, I’d find myself sitting around a tea tray or a dinner table with travelers from home, tired second cousins or uncles or acquaintances from Tehran or Isfahan. Inevitably, they would shake their heads and say, “Iranians back home aren’t that religious, you know.” At first, I didn’t believe them. And anyway, I thought, they’re just talking about Tehrani academics. I was an analytical kid, and even then I had some idea of biases in observed data. Besides, my extended family is Muslim on both sides, some devout, some secular; the adults often debated issues of faith. If Iranians weren’t religious, I thought, with my teenage understanding, why would they have a religious government, and why would we have had to flee our home and break up our family because of our apostasy?

Those events are decades old now. Postrevolutionary Iran and I are both in our 40s, and we’ve both grown and changed. This will be as difficult for Americans to believe about Iran as it has been for my mother to believe about me, but we’re both astonishingly secular now.

Iranians are always joking about the dusty, unopened Quran everyone keeps on their coffee table to wave around in case the morality police stop by. In academic discourse and mountainside conversations and dentist’s-office chats and afternoon gossip, they have been whispering and debating and shouting to one another about secularism and faith for a while now. Among exiled academics in Europe and the U.S., the debate about the Iranian population’s underlying beliefs is nearly as heated. The possibility of western intervention makes the topic fraught for those outside Iran — after all, we’re not the ones who will suffer the consequences of food shortages, crackdowns, or war. As progressives, we want to respect people’s right to self-determination, we want to fight economic colonialism, and we don’t want to harm people with sanctions. It’s easier to believe that a country like Iran has decided to be Muslim, that everyone is happy with that. But is Iran really a country of devout people, or have many, until now, just kept their nonbelief to themselves in order to be safe?

It’s absurd to deny that Iranians are rejecting their government. On September 16, 2022, a 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Zhina Amini died in police custody. The women and men of Iran spilled into the streets, coming together in a feminist uprising the likes of which Iran has never seen. It is a thrilling moment to watch for a person who spent three formative years forced under hijab. I remember the scratch of the maghnaeh against my neck, the slap of the ruler against my palm when my hijab slipped off, the chador-clad teachers watching us from every corner of the blacktop, the Ayatollah mural looming over our heads as we played jump rope and hopscotch. I can still feel the pimply rash above my forehead from sweating under the taut fabric. And I’ve watched my mother be berated by moral police for letting her hijab slip one inch past her hairline.

But I refuse to misinterpret the moment. Iranian women aren’t looking for hijab reform or concessions on gender laws. They’re leading a revolution. The people of Iran don’t want to live under Sharia or any religious law.

It would be easy to think, watching so many brave Gen-Z and millennial women take to the streets, or looking online at the fiery doctors, lawyers, rappers, and students, that Iran suffers from a generational divide rather than a shift in national thinking. But talking to older people back home, I hear regret from those who marched in the Iranian revolution in 1978. “What did we do to our children?” one asks. I remind him that they didn’t want the Islamic Republic; that was an outcome they couldn’t predict. My father sends me voice memos from Iran. He peeks through his office window at the women in the streets and calls them brave. “We gave them so little,” he says. Then he repeats the advice he has offered me for decades: “Always trust science, Dina joon. Science and poetry. Superstition ruins lives.”

There’s a fascinating anthropological case study called “The Deep Believer,” by Reinhold Loeffler, who followed a highly religious Shi‘a villager, Husseinkhan Sayadi, in western Iran for decades until the villager’s death in 2008 at 82 years old. The two men became friends. In the report, Loeffler cites his friend’s loss of faith over many years: “Who knows anything about the working of God? … Paradise? That also has been made up for the deception of people. Yes, once I had a very strong belief in those things, and if Khomeini had not come, I would still today have this belief. But now I have seen examples of their doing. The prayers the mullahs are saying benefit no one.”

But case studies and anecdotes aren’t enough. How do you measure overall religiousness in a place like Iran?

Years ago in Amsterdam, I met an academic, Pooyan Tamimi Arab (a distant relation), and his wife, Sara Emami, a visual artist. We talked about philosophy and Iranian history, about Arendt and Spinoza and the role of the state. In 2009, we went to demonstrations in Amsterdam in support of the Green Movement. When I moved away, we lost touch except when our work overlapped. Then I heard about a project he had taken on: Tamimi Arab had joined Utrecht University as an assistant professor of religious studies and was helping a Tilburg Law School colleague, political scientist Ammar Maleki (a major political commentator in Iran), to measure religiousness in the Iranian public. Tamimi Arab too had wondered what the Iranian people really wanted. All official data showed a highly religious country, but every day he saw memes on Iranian social-media channels, hopeless people describing their country as a mullahcracy.

In 2019, the two scholars created an organization called . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

21 October 2022 at 5:12 pm

Some progress in government programs

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $1.3 billion program to give debt relief to struggling farmers with qualifying USDA farm loans. Already, more than 13,000 farm borrowers have received about $800 million in assistance with the goal of creating long-term stability to keep them in the profession while also transforming USDA loan servicing. The program, which has access to $3.1 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act, will ultimately help about 36,000 borrowers. The average amount of relief for direct loan borrowers was $52,000, while for those with guaranteed loans the average was about $172,000.

“Through no fault of their own, our nation’s farmers and ranchers have faced incredibly tough circumstances over the last few years,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “The funding included in today’s announcement helps keep our farmers farming and provides a fresh start for producers in challenging positions.”

Republicans who have complained about debt relief for college loan borrowers did not respond to questions from David Pitt of the Associated Press about whether they support help for farm loan borrowers.

The Department of Justice announced today that the Antitrust Division is enforcing our antitrust laws, and that seven directors of corporate boards recently resigned when the DOJ expressed concern that they were violating the prohibition on directors and officers serving simultaneously on the boards of competitors. Congress outlawed this practice under Section 8 of the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter explained, because it “further concentrates power and creates the opportunity to exchange competitively sensitive information and facilitate coordination—all to the detriment of the economy and the American public.”

“Companies, officers, and board members should expect that enforcement of Section 8 will continue to be a priority for the Antitrust Division,” the DOJ said in a statement, and it urged anyone with information about other interlocking directorates “or any other potential violations of the antitrust laws” to contact the DOJ.

Help for farmers and enforcement of antitrust legislation—including permitting those in danger of running afoul of the law to resign before launching legal action—feels much like the reforms of the Progressive Era, when leaders like Theodore Roosevelt tried to claw back a government that worked for industrialists.

That use of the government to restore a level playing field stands in contrast to the news coming from the Republicans. Big news came today from U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter for the Central District of California, who has been overseeing the fight between Trump lawyer John Eastman and the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Eastman was the author of the memo outlining a plan for stealing the 2020 election. The January 6th committee subpoenaed Eastman’s emails, but Eastman tried to shield a number of them, arguing that they fell under attorney-client privilege.

After reviewing the emails, Carter ruled some of them must be made public because of the “crime-fraud exception,” meaning that they are not privileged because they appear to reveal a crime. Four documents show how the Trump team’s primary goal in filing lawsuits was not to obtain relief, but rather “to delay or otherwise disrupt the January 6 vote.” Those documents, then, further the crime of obstruction.

Crucially, one of the documents concerns . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2022 at 12:21 pm

How Ticketmaster Destroyed Live Music

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Clinton and Obama gave away the store to monopolies, and we are suffering the consequences of their lack of action. Biden seems so far much more aggressive, but there is much ground that must be regained — and of course, Republicans will defend monopolies strongly and attempt to block and undercut effective government action against monopolies. Thus neither the George W. Bush administration nor the Trump administration took any action against monopolies

The Computer Scientist Who’s Boosting Privacy on the Internet

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Steve Nadis interviews Harry Halpin for Quanta:

Harry Halpin works on internet privacy for many reasons, but perhaps the most pressing stems from an incident that occurred over a decade ago. Halpin, who was pursuing a doctorate in computer science at the University of Edinburgh at the time, was also a climate activist. In December 2009, while in Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, he was arrested by law enforcement authorities and, he says, beaten severely. It turned out the British police had been monitoring his protest activities, and they told their Danish counterparts that Halpin was one of the ringleaders they should apprehend. (He says his actions were always peaceful.) Privacy and secrecy have been on his mind ever since.

After earning his doctorate, Halpin spent nearly a decade in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There, he worked for Tim Berners-Lee, widely heralded as the inventor of the World Wide Web. As useful as the web has been, Halpin is quick to point out its shortcomings.

“The web was not built with security and privacy in mind, although people subsequently tried to address those concerns as sort of an afterthought,” Halpin said. He has done his best to fix these issues, working to introduce layers of protection where none existed before. For example, in his job for the World Wide Web Consortium, Halpin helped create uniform cryptography standards, making sure these standards were incorporated into every web browser in a form that web developers could readily use.

But Halpin soon recognized that simply stopping leaks of information at the highest level of the internet — the level of browsers, apps and other advanced functionality — was not enough. He also wanted to protect the lower, foundational level: the network through which the information is transmitted. In 2018, he started Nym Technologies to take on this problem. The idea was to create a new kind of “overlay network” that would make use of the existing internet but alter crucial components — by rerouting traffic, among other means — to make some of the communications truly anonymous.

Halpin spoke with Quanta from Nym’s headquarters in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. In several conversations over Zoom, he discussed being under surveillance, how to create a more private network, and the value of privacy itself. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What first drew you to computers?

My father was a salesman for Sun Microsystems, so I was around computers as a kid. But I started to rely on them as a middle school student in the early ’90s, just after my family moved from Charleston, South Carolina, to a more remote, wooded area in North Carolina. I kept in touch with my friends over the early internet and also got involved in multiplayer games. Then I took courses in programming in 1998 as a freshman at the University of North Carolina and worked as a systems administrator in the computer science department. I stopped playing online games altogether once I started attending protests and discovered that the real world was even more interesting.

It wasn’t until several years later — after entering graduate school in Edinburgh in 2002 and studying artificial intelligence — that I became aware of the possibilities of surveillance. I was struck by the fact that very little data had to be leaked before machine learning tools could infer large amounts of information about you, although I didn’t begin research in this area until later. And by then, things were starting to get personal.

By that you mean becoming the target of a concerted surveillance program? How did that come about?

In the fall of 2007, I was introduced to Mark Kennedy, who became active in the environmental groups I was involved with. My goal was to draw attention to climate issues, which I still regard as an existential threat. In 2010, the year I got my Ph.D., I discovered that Kennedy was an undercover agent working for the British police. What’s more, he seemed determined to destroy my life. I was constantly followed and interrogated every time I crossed a border. Kennedy was in touch with the FBI, and the FBI told MIT not to hire me, but fortunately that advice was ignored. I started working for the World Wide Web Consortium in January 2011, and by then it was abundantly clear that web security and privacy could stand some improvement.

Kennedy, incidentally, was soon discredited. A New York Times article in 2013 called his actions an “embarrassment to Scotland Yard.” That was also the year of the Snowden revelations, which showed that the [National Security Agency] was eavesdropping on a sizable proportion of telephone and internet communications. That reinforced the notion that internet privacy was not just my personal problem — it was everyone’s problem.

How can privacy on the internet be enhanced? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2022 at 3:14 pm

The depth of the damage and corruption due to Donald Trump and his enablers is coming to light

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Heather Cox Richardson provides a brief summary of what is emerging from the various investigations into what the Trump administration did:

Today the Biden administration opened the website to apply for relief from student debt, a policy that is expected to benefit 43 million Americans directly and others tangentially as debt relief frees up family resources. The administration also announced that the Food and Drug Administration’s final rule concerning Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy went into effect today, making hearing aids available over the counter and thereby lowering costs for the devices by as much as $3,000 a pair.

The administration has also recently achieved a historic diplomatic victory by brokering an agreement between Israel and Lebanon, two countries that have been formally at war since 1948, to establish a maritime boundary.

But all that news got drowned out by the continuing drama coming from the Republican Party. As Republican political strategist Sarah Longwell wrote in The Bulwark today, the Republican Party is facing an “extinction event,” having been taken over by former president Trump to become the right-wing MAGA Party. As Longwell wrote, “In the Republican party as it is currently constituted, political power emanates completely and totally from Donald Trump.”

Longwell explains that Republicans have been stuck in a “Triangle of Doom,” in which Republican base voters want their media to confirm their biases. Fringe media outlets confirming those biases gain traction. In order to reach voters, Republican politicians have to go on those fringe outlets, and that, in turn, normalizes fringe media. Over time, this triangle radicalized the party until 70% of Republicans now believe the lie that Democratic president Joe Biden didn’t win the 2020 election.

“Say goodnight,” she writes. “The party’s over.” All but the MAGA Republicans have left. “The Good Republicans are gone,” Longwell writes. “Probably for good.”

Today, Fox Nation began a mock trial of Hunter Biden, with reality TV personality Judge Joe Brown saying that “something’s way wrong here, way wrong,” and suggesting that the legal investigations into Trump and the lack of them into the Bidens give the appearance that Trump and Biden “don’t live in the same country.”

Hunter Biden is not in the government, of course, and is not under indictment; Trump and the Trump Organization are embroiled in a number of lawsuits that suggest the former president and his associates saw government service not as a way to improve American lives but as a way to make money. Ginning up a show trial for Hunter Biden seems an attempt to rile up the base and undercut the many legal issues in the news concerning the former president. But such a show trial is also a fundamental rejection of the rule of law, suggesting that the law is simply a political tool to use against enemies rather than a body of laws before which we are all treated equally.

There is a reason Trump supporters are trying to undermine the rule of law. In New York, Trump’s wealthy friend and financial backer Thomas Barrack is on trial for selling his access to Trump to the leaders of the United Arab Emirates in exchange for investment money. The U.S. government says that Barrack fed confidential information to UAE leaders while permitting them to shape Trump’s speeches and policies. In the first three years of Trump’s term, Saudi Arabia and the UAE invested about $1.5 billion in Barrack’s real estate company.

In Northern Virginia the trial of Igor Danchenko for making false statements to the FBI, led by John Durham and other holdovers from the Trump Justice Department, suggests the Trump administration played fast and loose with national security in an attempt to undermine the Russia investigation. Witnesses in the trial have testified that  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2022 at 3:58 am

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