Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category

A comment worth reading—and thinking about

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Here’s the comment, to an earlier post (for 2014, but comment is pertinent now).

Written by LeisureGuy

17 May 2016 at 7:12 pm

An example of unsustainability: TSA and air travel

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2016 at 2:12 pm

The most intriguing spy stories from 166 internal NSA reports

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The Intercept has an intriguing report today by Micah Lee and Margot Williams:

In the early months of 2003, the National Security Agency saw demand for its services spike as a new war in Iraq, as well as ongoing and profound changes in how people used the internet, added to a torrent of new agency work related to the war on terror, according to a review of 166 articles from a restricted agency newsletter.

The Intercept today is releasing the first three months of SIDtoday, March 31 through the end of June 2003, using files provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. In addition, we are releasing any subsequent 2003 installments of SIDtoday series that began during this period. The files are available for download here.

We combed through these files with help from other writers and editors with an eye toward finding the most interesting stories, among other concerns.

SIDtoday was launched just 11 days into the U.S. invasion of Iraq by a team within the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate. SID is arguably the NSA’s most important division, responsible for spying on the agency’s targets, andSIDtoday became, as Peter Maass documents in an accompanying article, an invaluable primer on how the NSA breaks into and monitors communications systems around the world.

At the outset, SIDtoday declared that its mission was to “bring together communications from across the SIGINT Directorate in a single webpage” and that one of its key areas of focus would be providing “information on the Iraq Campaign and Campaign Against Terrorism.” And, indeed, the first issues of SIDtoday document how the agency paved the way for the Iraq War with diplomatic intelligence, supported the targeting of specific enemies in Iraq, and continued servicing existing “customers” like the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture, whose appetite for signals intelligence grew sharply after the Sept. 11 attacks.

While the agency was helping in Iraq, NSA personnel were also involved in interrogations at Guantánamo Bay, SIDtoday articles show, working alongside the military and CIA at a time when prisoners there were treated brutally.The Intercept’s Cora Currier describes the NSA’s involvement with the interrogations in a separate story, one that also documents how the agency helped with the capture and rendition to Guantánamo of a group of Algerian men in Bosnia.

Other highlights from this set of documents follow below, alongside links to the relevant originals. . .

Continue reading.

The Intercept is running several stories based on information from the Snowden archive. Take a look.

Note this important explanation. From that link:

. . .  Today, The Intercept is announcing two innovations in how we report on and publish these materials. Both measures are designed to ensure that reporting on the archive continues in as expeditious and informative a manner as possible, in accordance with the agreements we entered into with our source about how these materials would be disclosed, a framework that he, and we, have publicly described on numerous occasions.

The first measure involves the publication of large batches of documents. We are, beginning today, publishing in installments the NSA’s internalSIDtoday newsletters, which span more than a decade beginning after 9/11. We are starting with the oldest SIDtoday articles, from 2003, and working our way through the most recent in our archive, from 2012. Our first release today contains 166 documents, all from 2003, and we will periodically release batches until we have made public the entire set. The documents are available on a special section of The Intercept.

The SIDtoday documents run a wide gamut: from serious, detailed reports on top secret NSA surveillance programs to breezy, trivial meanderings of analysts’ trips and vacations, with much in between. Many are self-serving and boastful, designed to justify budgets or impress supervisors. Others contain obvious errors or mindless parroting of public source material. But some SIDtoday articles have been the basis of significant revelations from the archive.

Accompanying the release of these documents are summaries of the content of each, along with a story about NSA’s role in Guantánamo interrogations, a lengthy roundup of other intriguing information gleaned from these files, and a profile of SIDtoday. We encourage other journalists, researchers, and interested parties to comb through these documents, along with future published batches, to find additional material of interest. Others may well find stories, or clues that lead to stories, that we did not. (To contact us about such finds, see the instructions here.) A primary objective of these batch releases is to make that kind of exploration possible.

Consistent with the requirements of our agreement with our source, our editors and reporters have carefully examined each document, redacted names of low-level functionaries and other information that could impose serious harm on innocent individuals, and given the NSA an opportunity to comment on the documents to be published (the NSA’s comments resulted in no redactions other than two names of relatively low-level employees that we agreed, consistent with our long-standing policy, to redact). Further information about how we prepared the documents for publication is available in a separate article. We believe these releases will enhance public understanding of these extremely powerful and secretive surveillance agencies.

The other innovation is our ability to invite outside journalists, including from foreign media outlets, to work with us to explore the full Snowden archive. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2016 at 11:28 am

Don’t Blame the Video: The problem of Jim Comey, FBI Director

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An editorial in today’s NY Times:

Videos of police officers battering or even killing unarmed black civilians have given the wider society a view of the world in which African-Americans have lived for a long time. President Obama has referred to this history on several occasions, noting that video from cellphones and body cameras have shown the country that black Americans were not imagining the problem of police brutality or “making this up.”

But the link between these videos and the racial history of United States seems to have eluded James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who appears to be fixated on the discredited idea that videos represent a problem in themselves — and that the police are less willing to do their jobs because of them.

Mr. Comey came under intense criticism when he raised this idea in a speech last fall. He repeated the idea at a news briefing in Washington last week, when he said that speaking to police officials around the country had led him to believe that a “viral video effect” had made officers wary of confronting suspects and “could well be at the heart” of an increase in crime in some places.

Law enforcement organizations are outraged. The National Fraternal Order of Police accused Mr. Comey of saying the police officers were afraid of doing their jobs. Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, a group of more than 165 police chiefs and prosecutors, denounced the “viral video” comment as “unfounded, and frankly, damaging to the efforts of law enforcement.”

Intentionally or not, Mr. Comey’s remark fed into the false notion that the country is entering a crime wave that is some how related to the public backlash against police brutality. That idea was debunked last month in a study by the Brennan Center for Justice of 2015 crime data from the 30 largest cities. The study found that crime had remained the same as in 2014 and that two-thirds of the cities had actually had drops in crime. Just three cities — Baltimore, Chicago and Washington, all troubled by high poverty rates — accounted for more than half the national increase in murders from 2014 to 2015. . .

Continue reading.

Jim Comey does not understand the most elementary aspects of cryptography, he doesn’t grasp that documenting police violence is not a problem, and in short does not seem qualified for his job.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2016 at 8:17 am

The Politics of Bathrooms

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Joshua Rothman has a very interesting interview of Sheila Kavanagh in the New Yorker:

On Monday, Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney General, and Pat McCrory, the governor of North Carolina, announced that they would be suing each another over the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, a new law requiring that North Carolinians use only the public bathrooms that correspond to the “biological sex” listed on their birth certificates. In Texas, a parallel conflict began brewing between the retailer Target, which has announced an open-bathroom policy for transgender employees, and the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton. (Paxton has demanded, in a letter to Target’s C.E.O., that the company provide the full text of its “safety policies regarding the protection of women and children from those who would use the cover of Target’s restroom policy for nefarious purposes.”) And inn Chicago, a legal battle is being waged over which high-school locker room a transgender student ought to use. Yesterday, the Obama Administration issued a directive telling all public schools to allow students to use bathrooms or locker rooms matching their gender identities. Across the country, in other words, controversy is following transgender people who step into sex-segregated spaces.

This is familiar territory for Sheila Cavanagh, a professor of gender-and-sexuality studies at York University, in Toronto. Almost ten years ago, Cavanagh was teaching a graduate seminar on gender and sexuality. She’d assigned Freud’s “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality,” but her students kept talking about bathrooms. “I thought they were so off-topic,” Cavanagh recalls. “Then I thought, Maybe I’m the one who’s off-topic.” Cavanagh began to think about the many stories she’d heard from queer and transgender friends about being harassed for going to the “wrong” bathroom; in 2010, she published a book based on interviews with one hundred L.B.T.Q.I. bathroom-goers, called “Queering Bathrooms: Gender, Sexuality, and the Hygienic Imagination.” I spoke to Cavanagh by phone earlier this week, hoping that she could explain why and how bathrooms have become a civil-rights flash point.

All of a sudden, non-trans people are talking about transgender people using gendered bathrooms. But I assume that transgender people have been talking about this for a long time.

Right—it’s an old issue. People who are transgender or gender-variant, or who are perceived to be gender non-conforming, have always had difficulties in gendered bathrooms. And, if you think historically, you realize that we’ve always used bathrooms to segregate people. Up until the sixties, you had racially segregated bathrooms in the United States. We’ve only recently begun to build accessible bathrooms designed for people with mobility issues. So we’ve always used bathrooms to enforce social boundaries.

How does not having access to a bathroom—or not feeling welcome in the bathroom you want to use—affect a person’s life?

If you can’t use the bathroom, it’s harder to go to school, to go to work, to buy groceries, to do things that many of us who are cisgender take for granted. It’s a real issue. I have discovered that a lot of people who are transgender don’t drink enough water over the course of the day. Because of the obstacles they face, they’ll go to great lengths to avoid using public bathrooms.

Many of those who want to regulate bathroom access for transgender people cite safety concerns. They say that bathrooms are places where people are vulnerable—especially children.

In my research, I haven’t uncovered a single example of a trans person physically or sexually assaulting or harassing anyone in a bathroom. I have, however, uncovered many examples of cisgender people, both male and female, harassing or assaulting those who are transgender. A lot of the trans people I interviewed told me that, when they used the women’s bathroom, it wouldn’t be uncommon for non-trans women to yell at them or hit them with their purses. What gets socially coded as fear is often just masked transphobia—people know that it’s less acceptable to be transphobic than it is to say, “I worry about the safety of my daughter.”

Opponents of transgender access often claim that they’re worried about people who pretend to be transgender. For example, Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, has written about “those who would use the cover of Target’s restroom policy for nefarious purposes.” They seem to be imagining a Peeping Tom scenario, in which the perpetrator is a cisgender man who, when confronted, claims to be transgender.

I think that’s a far-fetched fear not based on actual evidence. I haven’t encountered any examples in my research of a sexual predator dressing as a woman, or in feminine clothing, to prey upon a non-trans woman in a restroom or a gymnasium. Most feminist studies on violence against women have shown that the safest spaces are actually gender-inclusive spaces that are open-concept and well-lit, with more than one door so that people can enter and exit in at least two ways.

What is it about the bathroom? Why is it here—as opposed to, say, on a sports field—that controversy erupts?
Recently, I read a fascinating article by an American historian who did research on what happened in the early twentieth century when doctors discovered that there were high rates of gonorrhea among young girls. The obvious cause of gonorrhea was childhood sexual abuse and incest. But, for a long time, doctors were too afraid to accuse white, middle-class fathers of acting “inappropriately” toward their daughters. Instead, they said that many of these cases of gonorrhea must be the result of these girls using public toilets. So it often seems as though the bathroom holds our anxieties and contains the taboos we can’t acknowledge in other public spaces. Bathrooms are also one of the last officially gender-segregated spaces in Canada and the United States—and, because of that, they give those of us who are cisgender an opportunity to question and interrogate the gender identities of others in a way that’s more difficult to do in gender-inclusive spaces. In other words, the gender signs on the doors give people license to police the gender identities of others in ways that are overtly transphobic.
Many people who want to restrict bathroom access seem to feel that the very concept of gender is, in itself, under assault—that we are heading for a post-gender or genderless world. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2016 at 9:01 pm

America Doesn’t Deserve Hyperloops Until it Fixes Public Transit

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Jason Koebler reports for Motherboard:

Brogan BamBrogan stood on a swanky Las Vegas stage this week in front of a room full of people who had just given his hyperloop company $80 million and proclaimed he’d like to make the futuristic tube-based transportation system “as rad as possible.”

“Why can’t we change transportation? I think we can—it’s the 21st century, yo,” the mustachioed cofounder of Hyperloop One said.

In the 21st century, anything is possible with a bit of engineering know-how, a disruptive attitude, and a willingness to sell a utopian version of the future. Except, apparently, fixing the transit we already have. For at the same time, in our nation’s capital, one of the most important public transportation projects this country has ever built was on fire.

The same day BamBrogan announced the first ever hyperloop propulsion test—an early but important step toward eventually shooting people 700 mph through partial vacuum tubes—the federal government was threatening to shut down the Washington DC Metro because its tracks keep bursting into flames.

All around the country, actual infrastructure that we’ve already built is becoming unusable, and no one is willing to pay to fix the problems. In DC, that could mean long shutdowns for a subway system that shuttles roughly 712,000 people to and from work every single day. Meanwhile, governments are increasingly growing enthralled with the prospect of using public money to build shiny, futuristic hyperloops. But if public transit becomes unusable, people aren’t going to take an ecofriendly hyperloop to work—they’ll be forced to return to driving.

DC’s Metro and WMATA, the local agency that runs it, have suffered from a series of minor and major disasters that have grown so increasingly interesting and absurd that you’d laugh at them if the state of the system weren’t so damn depressing and dangerous.

Since it was launched less than a year ago, the automated Twitter account “Is Metro on Fire?” has had to report that the answer was indeed “yes” on more than 100 occasions. On a regular ol’ Wednesday in March, the entire system shut down during a weekday for the first time in its history, causing mass panic and confusion in DC. Last week, new Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld announced a shocking series of station shutdowns and repair “surges” that are needed merely to bring the system’s reliability up to something resembling adequate. Last year, a woman died and injured 80 others after a Metro car filled with smoke. In 2009, two trains collided, killing nine people. . .

Continue reading.

Somehow I don’t think a nation is truly great if its infrastructure is crumbling away, no matter how many billionaires have been created.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 May 2016 at 4:26 pm

Social Media Fame Shields Dissidents, Until It Doesn’t

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The US government supports—with influence, money, armaments, and training—some thoroughly bad governments, and yet the US is surprised by how intensely some people dislike the US. For example, the US has not only launched drone attacks with missiles in Yemeni, the US has given arms and financial support to Saudi Arabia, which is vigorously bombing civilians there. And of course the US heavily supports the apartheid government of Israel and the major devastation that Israel wreaks on Gaza.

Robert Mackey has an interesting report in The Intercept about another US ally, beloved and supported by our government:

The first time I spoke with Zainab al-Khawaja, in a Skype video conversation in late 2011, the Bahraini dissident explained to me that the popularity of her @angryarabiya Twitter feed — which she used to chart the violent suppression of Bahrain’s Arab Spring uprising that year — seemed to have given her a measure of protection from the authorities.

I asked why she had not been immediately arrested at a protest the week before, when she stood defiantly in front of the riot police firing tear gas at other pro-democracy protesters — an image of defiance that went viral and embarrassed the Persian Gulf monarchy, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Khawaja replied that she had overheard officers being instructed not to detain or beat her. “One officer kept telling the police, ‘Not this one,’” she recalled.

Khawaja was detained and briefly interrogated by a female police officer later that day, before being released. “I think the reason is that I am active, I am known, in the country and internationally, not to a big extent, but I have a big following on Twitter.”

“I wish that every Bahraini was protected the way I am,” she added. “Just because I’ve been speaking out on Twitter and other places doesn’t have more rights.”

Two weeks later, whatever protection Khawaja’s social-media fame might have earned her seemed to evaporate, as she was dragged away and punched on camera by police officers breaking up a small sit-in at a traffic circle outside a mall in the the capital, Manama. The incident was captured in a video clip viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube, and witnessed by reporters from the New York Times. For good measure, the police also beat the activist who recorded the incident on video, and fired tear gas at witnesses in a coffee shop across the street who were not involved in the protest.

Since then, Khawaja — the daughter of the jailed founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja — has been in and out of prison. Her crimes, defined as such by Bahrain’s ruling family, include expressing her opinion about their crackdown on dissent by ripping up a photograph of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa — an act she repeated in court while on trial for doing so at a protest.

After an appeals court confirmed that conviction last October, and sentenced her to a year in jail for insulting the king, she was imprisoned in March and chose to bring her infant son with her.

The dissident’s sister, Maryam, a human rights activist who also uses Twitter to call for democracy and free speech in Bahrain, told my colleague Murtaza Hussain in March that it would take something more than a social media outcry, namely pressure from the U.S., to get her sister released.

It is true, however, that there is something of a feedback loop between social networks and the traditional media when it comes to which cases of injustice U.S. officials get asked about most frequently during briefings or visits to allies like Bahrain.

So on April 7, when Secretary of State John Kerry appeared in Bahrain next to Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, a member of the royal family who serves as the monarchy’s foreign minister, and made a tepid reference the importance of human rights, David Sanger of the New York Times asked about Khawaja. . .

Continue reading.

The US support and even friendship for despots, which includes not only providing them money and armaments but also training them in how to torture their citizens, falls short, IMO, of the ideals on which this country was founded.

Do read the rest of the story. It’s a lot more, and it provides some reasons other than our freedoms for terrorists to dislike us.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 May 2016 at 4:22 pm


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