Month: December 2013

Looks Like the New York Times Bromance with Chris Christie has Ended………

It took f%$3ing with the George Washington Bridge in a fit of pique, but the Times finally begun to see that Chris Christie is not a brave truth teller, but a bully and a thug:

In 2010, John F. McKeon, a New Jersey assemblyman, made what he thought was a mild comment on a radio program: Some of the public employees that Gov. Chris Christie was then vilifying had been some of the governor’s biggest supporters.

He was surprised to receive a handwritten note from Mr. Christie, telling him that he had heard the comments, and that he didn’t like them.

“I thought it was a joke,” Mr. McKeon recalled. “What governor would take the time to write a personal note over a relatively innocuous comment?”

But the gesture would come to seem genteel compared with the fate suffered by others in disagreements with Mr. Christie: a former governor who was stripped of police security at public events; a Rutgers professor who lost state financing for cherished programs; a state senator whose candidate for a judgeship suddenly stalled; another senator who was disinvited from an event with the governor in his own district.

In almost every case, Mr. Christie waved off any suggestion that he had meted out retribution. But to many, the incidents have left that impression, and it has been just as powerful in scaring off others who might dare to cross him.

Your honor, people who used to see your crass bullying as something noble are beginning to see it for what it really is.

You are a punk, sir, and your comeuppance will be beautiful to behold.

H/T Balloon Juice.

A Lot of People Wonder Why There Haven’t Been Any Wall Street Prosecutions, but ………

This time it’s a United States District Judge on senior status for the Southern District of New York, and Judge Jed Rakoff is asking this question in the New York Review of Books:

One possibility, already mentioned, is that no fraud was committed. This possibility should not be discounted. Every case is different, and I, for one, have no opinion about whether criminal fraud was committed in any given instance.

But the stated opinion of those government entities asked to examine the financial crisis overall is not that no fraud was committed. Quite the contrary. For example, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, in its final report, uses variants of the word “fraud” no fewer than 157 times in describing what led to the crisis, concluding that there was a “systemic breakdown,” not just in accountability, but also in ethical behavior.

As the commission found, the signs of fraud were everywhere to be seen, with the number of reports of suspected mortgage fraud rising twenty-fold between 1996 and 2005 and then doubling again in the next four years. As early as 2004, FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker was publicly warning of the “pervasive problem” of mortgage fraud, driven by the voracious demand for mortgage-backed securities. Similar warnings, many from within the financial community, were disregarded, not because they were viewed as inaccurate, but because, as one high-level banker put it, “A decision was made that ‘We’re going to have to hold our nose and start buying the stated product if we want to stay in business.’”

Without giving further examples, the point is that, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the prevailing view of many government officials (as well as others) was that the crisis was in material respects the product of intentional fraud. In a nutshell, the fraud, they argued, was a simple one. Subprime mortgages, i.e., mortgages of dubious creditworthiness, increasingly provided the chief collateral for highly leveraged securities that were marketed as AAA, i.e., securities of very low risk. How could this transformation of a sow’s ear into a silk purse be accomplished unless someone dissembled along the way?


suggest that this is not the best way to proceed. Although it is supposedly justified because it prevents future crimes, I suggest that the future deterrent value of successfully prosecuting individuals far outweighs the prophylactic benefits of imposing internal compliance measures that are often little more than window-dressing. Just going after the company is also both technically and morally suspect. It is technically suspect because, under the law, you should not indict or threaten to indict a company unless you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that some managerial agent of the company committed the alleged crime; and if you can prove that, why not indict the manager? And from a moral standpoint, punishing a company and its many innocent employees and shareholders for the crimes committed by some unprosecuted individuals seems contrary to elementary notions of moral responsibility.

Coming from a federal judge, one of the first who refused to approve the standard, “No harm, no foul,” consent decrees from the SEC and the DoJ, this is fairly shocking to hear.

Where Useless Fascists Go to Die

The Council on Foreign Relations.

Case in point racist stop and frisk former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly:

Outgoing New York City Police Department commissioner Ray Kelly will join the Council on Foreign Relations in January as a distinguished visiting fellow, the organization announced Monday.

“Ray Kelly spearheaded the modernization of the New York Police Department. The result is that crime is down and the NYPD’s counterterrorism capabilities are second to none,” CFR President Richard N. Haass said in a statement. “We are excited and proud to have his experience, expertise, and judgment at the Council.”

Not a surprise, from the gang that made the incomparably awful Amity Shlaes a “senior fellow in economic history”.

The Snowden Clause

Have you heard of the new clause in many overseas contracts?

It is a clause requiring that a suppliers are forbidden from storing any related data in the United States:

By now, we’ve heard from tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Cisco Systems that the National Security Agency’s spying poses a threat to their international business and, in Cisco’s case, is already hurting it. So what does that threat look like, exactly, at ground level?

Some companies are apparently so concerned about the NSA snooping on their data that they’re requiring – in writing – that their technology suppliers store their data outside the U.S.

In Canada, a pharmaceutical company and government agency have now both added language to that effect to their contracts with suppliers, as did a grocery chain in the U.K., according to J.J. Thompson, chief executive officer of Rook Consulting, an Indianapolis, Indiana-based security-consulting firm. He declined to name the companies, which are using Rook to manage the segmentation and keep the data out of the U.S.

The US is already choking off its domestic technology industry with insane draconian IP protections, and now we have this.

We are an empire which is sacrificing all on our need for hegemony.

Why Government Internet Filters are a Really Bad Idea, Part XXXIX

In the UK David Cameron’s “child protection” internet filters do more than filter porn. They also filter political and advocacy:

Through secretive negotiations with ISPs, the coalition has divided the internet into ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ categories and cut people off from huge swathes of it at the stroke of a key.

There is no porn filter, and blocking Childline [a confidential service for children and teens] is not an accident

The idea of an internet porn filter has always been a political fiction, a conveniently inaccurate sound bite used to conjure images of hardcore fisting and anal rape in the feverishly overactive imaginations of middle Britain. What activists actually called for – and ISPs were forced to provide – is an ‘objectionable content’ filter, and there is a vast, damp and aching chasm between the two.

The language of the mythical ‘porn filter’ is so insidious, so pervasive, that even those of us opposed to it have been sucked into its slippery embrace. And so even when it turns out that O2 are blocking the Childline and Refuge websites, or that BT are blocking gay and lesbian content, we tend to regard them as collateral damage – accidental victims of a well-meaning (if misguided) attempt to protect out children from the evils of cock.

But this was never the case. As Wired reported back in July, Cameron’s ambitions extended far beyond porn. Working through secretive negotiations with ISPs, the coalition has put in place a set of filters and restrictions as ambitious as anything this side of China, dividing the internet into ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ categories, and cutting people off from huge swathes of it at the stroke of a key.

“As well as pornography, users may automatically be opted in to blocks on “violent material”, “extremist related content”, “anorexia and eating disorder websites” and “suicide related websites”, “alcohol” and “smoking”. But the list doesn’t stop there. It even extends to blocking “web forums” and “esoteric material”, whatever that is. “Web blocking circumvention tools” is also included, of course.”

And the restrictions go further still. Over the weekend, people were appalled to discover that BT filters supported homophobia, with a category blocking, “sites where the main purpose is to provide information on subjects such as respect for a partner, abortion, gay and lesbian lifestyle, contraceptive, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.”


O2, the Slough-based BT spin-off, do allow people to check which websites are blocked [5], and although their filter has been around for a few years now, the results are terrifying. Their ‘parental control’ settings can be blocked from accessing Childline, Refuge, Stonewall or the Samaritans – which is even more frightening when you realise that they could just as easily be switched on by an abusive partner. The most vulnerable people in society are the most likely to be cut off from the help they need. As Adrian Short argues, some websites simply shouldn’t be blocked.

FWIW, Peter Hansteen, a self admitted tech geek checked some web sites, and found the following blocked:

This is why we really want to avoid having moralists prats filter our internet.

How Iron Maiden Got it Right, and Metallica Got it Wrong

In the early days of P2P file sharing, it was Metallica to the first file sharing site, Napster, which was shutdown and eventually reemerged as a ……… (furiously Googling) ……… a link to Rhapsody.

Metallica earned a lot of enmity from its fans, and probably sold no more songs as a result.

Iron Maiden found a similar problem, they recently discovered a spike in file sharing in Latin America, and their response was to aggressively market there, and put on a concert tour:

Enter another U.K. company called Musicmetric, which specializes in analytics for the music industry by capturing everything from social media discussion to traffic on the BitTorrent network. It then offers this aggregated information to artists to decide how they want to react. Musicmetric noticed Iron Maiden’s placement and ran its own analytics for the band.

“Having an accurate real time snapshop of key data streams is all about helping inform people’s decision making. If you know what drives engagement you can maximize the value of your fan base. Artists could say ‘we’re getting pirated here, let’s do something about it’, or ‘we’re popular here, let’s play a show’,” said Gregory Mead, CEO and co-founder of the London-based firm.

In the case of Iron Maiden, still a top-drawing band in the U.S. and Europe after thirty years, it noted a surge in traffic in South America. Also, it saw that Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, and Chile were among the top 10 countries with the most Iron Maiden Twitter followers. There was also a huge amount of BitTorrent traffic in South America, particularly in Brazil.

Rather than send in the lawyers, Maiden sent itself in. The band has focused extensively on South American tours in recent years, one of which was filmed for the documentary “Flight 666.” After all, fans can’t download a concert or t-shirts. The result was massive sellouts. The São Paolo show alone grossed £1.58 million (US$2.58 million) alone.

New fans, new sales, a new market.

Interesting business plan, no?


V2.0 of the Engineer’s Guide to Cats

Eric Arthur Blair is Once Again Spinning in His Grave

Have you heard the latest from the Obama Administration? Susan Rice, the head of the NSC is now saying that lies of Clapper and Alexander are not lies, they “Inadvertently Made False Representations“:

STAHL: “Officials in the intelligence community have actually been untruthful both to the American public in hearings, in Congress, and to the FISA court.”

RICE: “There have been cases where they have inadvertently made false representations, and they themselves have discovered it and corrected it.”

This is what happens when the government is operated for the benefit of the state security apparatus, rather than the other way around.

It is thoroughly corrupt, and completely un-American.

Things That Make Me Agree with Rand Paul, and Make me Want to Have My Head Examined

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Federal Reserve, PBS had a debate between 2 financial historians over the benefits of the central bank, and rather surprisingly, they both agreed that the Federal Reserve now sees one of its primary roles as supporting stock market prices:

Consuelo Mack’s Wealthtrack program on PBS had invited James Grant, Editor and Founder of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, and Richard Sylla, the Henry Kaufman Professor of the History of Financial Institutions and Markets at NYU’s Stern School of Business. The opening scene for the program shows Sylla in a party hat lighting the candles on the Fed’s birthday cake while Grant snuffs them out – suggesting that Sylla would be making pro-Fed statements while Grant would take the opposing view.

What happened during the program, however, was that both men made the candid and bold accusation that the Federal Reserve, for the first time in its history, has assigned itself the job of propping up the stock market.

Grant had this to say: “New thing – it is in the business of talking up the stock market…The Fed is manipulating prices, especially on Wall Street.” To another question from Mack, Grant says: “The Fed has presided over the decay of finance.”

Professor Sylla adds more fuel to the fire, stating: “The Fed seems to have, I think almost deliberately, is trying to push the stock market up. I’ve watched this stuff for 40, 50 years now and this is the first time in my memory when it seemed to be official U.S. government policy that the stock market goes up. And the Fed likes this because it thinks that when the stock market goes up, people who own stocks feel richer, they’ll go out and spend more money, and the unemployment rate will come down.” You can watch the full program here.

Is it possible that the Federal Reserve, with its economic wizards and differential equations, doesn’t know that the more it props up the stock market and Wall Street, the more it is undermining Main Street and exacerbating wealth inequality in America?

I see sh%$ like this, and I start to agree with Rand (and Ron) Paul about the need to reign in the Fed.

The show goes further, and talks about how the rather customary expense ratio of 2% on a 401(K) means that Wall Street ends up with ⅔ of your money.

It’s why we need to cut back on Wall Street.  It’s like f%$3ing Kudzu.

Don’t Let the Door Hit Your Ass on the Way Out

An Ultra-Orthodox Knesset member is saying that Heridim will leave Israel if they become subject to universal conscription:

Haredi Member of Knesset Rabbi Yisrael Eichler was interviewed on Army Radio about the situation with the looming draft of haredim and the haredi community leadership’s decision to fight that draft with all its might and the government’s decision to force haredi schools to teach some secular core subjects, Yeshiva World reported.

Eichler – who is known for making outlandish statements that slander and smear political and religious opponents – told listeners that if need be, haredim will leave Israel en masse to avoid being drafted.

“The haredi community feels choked by the situation, to the point many are contemplating forfeiting their Israeli citizenship. If you want to rule over us then do so – but regarding education and culture, we must maintain our autonomy, as it has been for the last 3,000 years,” Eichler reportedly said.

(Emphasis miine)

First is the obvious question: Who will take them.

After all, many of them have been doing little but living off the dole while “studying” Jewish religious law.

They have no useful skills that any other country would desire.

Even if they can find a country to take them in, they have been living a lifestyle largely funded by the government subsidies paid them, and working for a living at a real job full time is a lot tougher than they think.

Of course, I’m not sure that they have much to worry about in the near term, because Netanyahu’s Likud is completely dependent on the Heredi parties, they have once again put off subjecting Yeshiva students to mandatory military service.

In Judaism, at least, if one is to assume a role of a religious scholar, one is more obligated to full one’s basic duties as a citizen, not less obligated.

They should not be allowed to shirk military service.

Farewell Mikhail………

Kalashnikov, father of the AK-47 assault rifle is dead at 94.

He was a giant in light weapons design, not quite at the level of John Browning or but certainly at the level of Eugene Stoner.

He did not produce the first mass produced assault rifle, that was the German StG-44, but he created a truly inexpensive (Once they got the stamped spot welded sheet metal receiver perfected with the AKM) weapon with reliability and simplicity that are still the standard. (Not so much on accuracy).

It fit the doctrine of the Soviet military, as well as the numerous irregular “liberation” movements throughout the world, and something in the neighborhood of 100 million have been produced to date.

Much of this production was because licenses to manufacture were freely and fully available to any government that indicates some sort of favor toward “international socialism”.

In a very real way, this was an open source licensing model applied to steel, wood, and lead.

As such, it is doubtlessly responsible for more deaths than any other military firearm in history.

Because, It’s Always a Good Time to Lampoon Tom Friedman

First, we have the always amusing Charlie Pierce:

Back a few years, David Halberstam was supposed to speak at my son’s graduation from Brandeis, but Halberstam died a car wreck shortly before the ceremony so, scrambling, Brandeis went to the alumni bullpen and called in…Tom Friedman. This was the worst strategic move since Darrell Johnson brought in Burton for Willoughby in Game 7 of the 1975 Series. I don’t remember what Friedman said, but it was pretty damned banal. I have considered asking for all four years tuition back ever since.

While Pierce is good, Billmon wins the Internet today:

Friedman: “Reinventing the consignment shop on the web will save the U.S. economy. Also, PR pitches work with me.”
— billmon (@billmon1) December 22, 2013

One of these days, I hope to be able to write well enough to lampoon Tom Friedman on my own ……… Then again, if I were to lambaste what he writes, I would actually have to READ what he writes.

Maybe  I’m lucky just to quote people trashing him.

One of the Best Articles on Security Theater I’ve Seen this Far

Read this essay from a former head of security at Ben Gurion airport:

For a bunch of people in snappy uniforms patting down crotches, the TSA is remarkably unpopular. Nobody likes going through security at the airport, but you probably figured most of it had a point. All those hours spent in line with other shoeless travelers are a necessary precursor to safe flying. It’s annoying, but at least it wards off terrorism.

That’s all bullsh%$. The TSA couldn’t protect you from a 6-year-old with a water balloon. What are my qualifications for saying that? My name is Rafi Sela, and I was the head of security for the world’s safest airport. Here’s what your country does wrong.

He is clear, and concisely explains the systemic problems present in the agency.

This is the money quote:

Of course, after a little while it came out that these scanners were useless. I could strap a bomb capable of taking down a 747 to my body and walk right through a body scanner. Nobody would catch me. I’d rather not explain exactly how, but this German man was able to sneak a fake bomb through the same scanners without being caught. And he did it in Germany, a country where “airport security officer” isn’t a synonym for “failed Walmart cashier.”

His basic thesis is that the organization is fatally flawed because it is designed to regulate itself.

This Week’s Spylapalooza

It’s been a busy week for developments in spying by the US state security apparatus.

First, we have the report from the President’s hand picked panel, “Liberty and Security in a Changing World.” (PDF)

From people who know the issues, the reviews have been this weak tea.

The EFF’s conclusion was that, “The reportleft open the door for future mass surveillance and failed to address the constitutionality of the NSA’s mass spying, recently questioned by the D.C. federal court and raised by EFF in its multiple lawsuits.”

Marcy Wheeler, who is has perhaps the most knowledgeable on these sorts of issues, observes that the panel refused to address whether the NSA spying program was illegal.  There is simply nothing in the report about this.

When she looks what is in the report, she sees signs that the NSA is probably functioning as a domestic security agency:

Which is why I’m curious what’s behind the following language, offered in support of the recommendation to clearly designate NSA as a foreign intelligence organization and presented with two other things we know NSA does.

It should not be a domestic security service, a military command, or an information assurance organization.

[…] Like other agencies, there are situations in which NSA does and should provide support to the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and other law enforcement entities. But it should not assume the lead for programs that are primarily domestic in nature.

That seems to suggest that, in addition to supporting DHS, DOJ, and other law enforcement entities (cough, DEA, as well as probably Secret Service in its cyber-role), NSA takes the lead on certain issues that are primarily domestic.I do hope we’ll learn what this refers to. Because if NSA is operating domestically (maybe to police IP?), it will be scandalous news.

Pro Publica notes that one of the more direct recommendations of the panel is that the NSA needs to stop undermining publicly available encryption algorithms:

The National Security Agency should not undermine encryption standards that are designed to protect the privacy of communications, the panel of experts appointed by President Obama to review NSA surveillance recommended in a report released today.

The recommendation, among the strongest of the many suggested changes laid out by the panel, comes several months after ProPublica, the Guardian, and the New York Times reported that the NSA has successfully worked to undercut encryption. The story was based on a set of documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Outside of the intelligence review board, we have learned that the NSA paid RSA Security LLC to incorporate insecure encryption in its products:

As a key part of a campaign to embed encryption software that it could crack into widely used computer products, the U.S. National Security Agency arranged a secret $10 million contract with RSA, one of the most influential firms in the computer security industry, Reuters has learned.

Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show that the NSA created and promulgated a flawed formula for generating random numbers to create a “back door” in encryption products, the New York Times reported in September. Reuters later reported that RSA became the most important distributor of that formula by rolling it into a software tool called Bsafe that is used to enhance security in personal computers and many other products.

Undisclosed until now was that RSA received $10 million in a deal that set the NSA formula as the preferred, or default, method for number generation in the BSafe software, according to two sources familiar with the contract. Although that sum might seem paltry, it represented more than a third of the revenue that the relevant division at RSA had taken in during the entire previous year, securities filings show.

In total, this explains the flight from services like Google to non-US algernatives.

In a perfect world,  all of this might lead the White House, and the intelligence agencies to back off regarding their expansion of power, but you would be wrong.

They are at this time attempting to quash a court ruling on the constitutionality ofits domestic spying program by invoking the state-secrets privilege.

And for your amusement, we have Mark Fiore’s comments on the difference between the data collection by the government and commercial interest.