Daily Archive: 12/12/2013

Dec 12 2013

Playing Games

ProPublica calls it the World of Spyraft. Along with articles by the New York Times and The Guardian, they revealed that American and British spy agencies had infiltrated the fantasy world’s of Second Life and World of War Craft:

Not limiting their activities to the earthly realm, American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and scooping up data in the online games played by millions of people across the globe, according to newly disclosed classified documents.

Fearing that terrorist or criminal networks could use the games to communicate secretly, move money or plot attacks, the documents show, intelligence operatives have entered terrain populated by digital avatars that include elves, gnomes and supermodels.

The spies have created make-believe characters to snoop and to try to recruit informers, while also collecting data and contents of communications between players, according to the documents, disclosed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. Because militants often rely on features common to video games – fake identities, voice and text chats, a way to conduct financial transactions – American and British intelligence agencies worried that they might be operating there, according to the papers.

The Guardian article reports the spying also included Xbox Live with the agencies having built mass-collection capabilities. An estimated 48 million people use Xbox Live. The documents also discussed the problem of proving terrorists were even using these venues:

One problem the paper’s unnamed author and others in the agency faced in making their case – and avoiding suspicion that their goal was merely to play computer games at work without getting fired – was the difficulty of proving terrorists were even thinking about using games to communicate.

A 2007 invitation to a secret internal briefing noted “terrorists use online games – but perhaps not for their amusement. They are suspected of using them to communicate secretly and to transfer funds.” But the agencies had no evidence to support their suspicions.

The same still seemed to hold true a year later, albeit with a measure of progress: games data that had been found in connection with internet protocol addresses, email addresses and similar information linked to terrorist groups. [..]

However, that information wasn not enough to show terrorists are hiding out as pixels to discuss their next plot. Such data could merely mean someone else in an internet cafe was gaming, or a shared computer had previously been used to play games.

According to Techdirt, the program has not caught or revealed any terrorists, plots or recruitment efforts:

According to the document (from 2008), online games like World of Warcraft and Second Life are potentially “target-rich environments” in which suspected terrorists “hide in plain sight.” (And it’s not just MMOs. Xbox Live has apparently been swept up in the surveillance efforts as well.) Despite this assertion, the documents contain no evidence that any terrorists have been uncovered by agents and analysts. In fact, experts and developers of games like these have found no evidence that terrorists are using their services to communicate or recruit new members.

The lack of any information that terrorists were using the games didn’t stop the agencies from their task. In fact, the number of spooks playing games got so big “that a “deconfliction” group was needed to avoid collisions – the intelligence agencies may have inflated the threat.”

Gamers beware.

Dec 12 2013

For the rest of us.

In protest, Festivus pole put up at Fla. Capitol

By Associated Press

Wednesday, December 11, 3:33 PM

“What’s the point? There is no point. It’s ridiculous. This is the most ridiculous thing I could come up with,” said Stevens, an atheist. “This is about the separation of church and state.”

Because Florida considers the Statehouse rotunda to be a public forum, people can use the space to express themselves or protest, as long as they first apply with a state agency.

Along with the Nativity scene and six-foot Festivus pole, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has put up a banner advocating for the separation of government and religion. A Festivus pole is also on display at the Wisconsin Capitol, along with other displays.

Dec 12 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Richard (RJ) Eskow: The Budget Deal: A Dirge for the Unemployed

There will be time to review the budget deal which was just struck by congressional negotiators in more detail. To that end, the open windows on my computer show the latest labor statistics and economic trends. But the phrase that keeps coming to mind, especially when it comes to the unemployed, is more than 200 years old — 229 years, to be exact. And while its gender-specific phrasing may render it antiquated, the expression’s meaning is sadly relevant in today’s political world:

Man’s inhumanity to man.

I know, I know. That’s a pretty depressing thing to say. But let’s look at the facts: Federal workers will be expected to subsidize this deal with an increase in their out-of-pocket pension costs. There will be cuts to Medicare. Airline passengers will pay a new tax. Military retirees — military retirees — will see their benefits cut.

And the long-term unemployed, who have paid dearly for Wall Street’s excesses, will receive no extension of benefits. The sequester’s cuts were disastrous, but this deal is needlessly punitive. It’s mean-spirited toward people who are struggling through no fault of their own, people who have chosen a life of public service, and the middle class in general.

And presumably it will pass.

Robert Reich: Raw Deal

About the only good thing that can be said about the budget deal just patched together by House Republican budget chair Paul Ryan and Senate Democratic budget chair Patty Murray is that the right-wing Heritage Foundation and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity oppose it.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a good deal for the country. In fact, it’s a bad deal, for at least three reasons:

First, it fails extend unemployment benefits for 1.3 million jobless who will lose them in a few weeks. These people and their families are still caught in the worst downturn since the Great Depression. [..]

The second reason this deal is bad is it contributes to the nation’s savage inequality. The deal doesn’t close a single tax loophole for wealthy, and it doesn’t restore food stamps to the poor. [..]

Third, the deal makes no fiscal sense. It’s topsy-turvy: The deal contains no short-term stimulus, and does nothing about the long-term deficit. [..]

On hearing of the deal yesterday, President Obama said, “that’s the way the American people expect Washington to work.” Sadly, he was not being ironic.

Chris Arnade: Pope Francis is a whistleblower for the poor. Thank you Time for recognising it

Snowden showed us the educated and wealthy aren’t entirely free. Francis reminds us the poor aren’t even given a chance

Edward Snowden was not chosen as Time magazine’s Person of the Year, and for this many in the media are outraged.

Instead Time chose Pope Francis, a man who in the last year has been transforming the Catholic church by focusing on the searing inequalities brought about by poverty. In one of his many poignant quotes recently, he asks:

   How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?

Time magazine got it right. Maybe it really was the better business decision, a way to sell more magazines. If so, that says a lot. Pope Francis has made stories of injustice profitable.

That alone should make him the person of the year.

Dean Baker: Let’s Get This Straight: AIG Execs Got Bailout Bonuses, but Pensioners Get Cuts

No one has accused city workers in Chicago or Detroit of bringing down the economy, but they could face pension cuts

As we passed the fifth anniversary of the peak of the financial crisis this fall, the giant insurance company AIG was prominently featured in the retrospectives. AIG had issued hundreds of billions of dollars of credit default swaps (CDS) on subprime mortgage backed securities. When these mortgage-backed securities failed en masse, AIG didn’t have the money to back them up. [..]

Chicago has been in the news recently because its mayor, Rahm Emanuel, seems intent on cutting the pensions that its current and retired employees have earned. Emanuel insists that the city can’t afford these pensions and therefore workers and retirees will simply have to accept reduced benefits. [..]

There is one final noteworthy connection between AIG and the Chicago pension situation. Chicago’s Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, was President Obama’s chief of staff at the time that no one could figure out how to avoid paying the AIG bonuses. Apparently Emanuel has learned more about voiding contractual obligations now that it is ordinary workers at other end of the commitment.

Charles M. Blow: The Appalling Stance of Rand Paul

I don’t put much past politicians. I stay prepared for the worst. But occasionally someone says something so insensitive that it catches me flat-footed.

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, said Sunday on Fox News: “I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers.”

This statement strikes at the heart – were a heart to exist – of the divide between conservatives and liberals about whether the social safety net provides temporary help for those who hit hard times or functions as a kind of glue to keep them stuck there.

Jim Hightower: Geithner’s Magical Trip Through the Revolving Door

Timmy Geithner has landed.

The Secretary of the Treasury in President Obama’s first term resigned early this year, and we lost track of him for months. But in November, Geithner reappeared, having spun himself through Washington’s revolving door – whoosh, whoosh, whoosh – and flung himself all the way up to Wall Street, landing softly in the cushy quarters of Warburg Pincus, one of America’s top 10 private-equity empires. Yes, the guy who was responsible for rescuing and regulating Wall Street’s too-big-to-fail, multibillion-dollar, financial casinos is now president of one. [..]

Whether spinning from the inside out, or from the outside in, Geithner is proof the Washington-Wall Street revolving door serves bankers, not the public interests. We need to weld that door shut.

Dec 12 2013

On This Day In History December 12

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

December 12 is the 346th day of the year (347th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 19 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1787, Pennsylvania becomes the second state to ratify the Constitution, by a vote of 46 to 23. Pennsylvania was the first large state to ratify, as well as the first state to endure a serious Anti-Federalist challenge to ratification.

Pennsylvania drafted the most radical of the state constitutions during the War for Independence. By excluding Quakers and all other pacifists unwilling to take oaths of allegiance to the Revolutionary cause, a fervently anti-British and anti-Indian Scots-Irish faction had seized power for the first time in the remarkably diverse state. Only when pacifists were again able to exercise the franchise in peacetime was it conceivable that the more conservative U.S. Constitution might pass in Pennsylvania. Large states had the most to lose by joining a strengthened union. James Wilson’s genius in describing the nature of layered sovereignty in a federal republic, using the solar system as an analogy, was invaluable in convincing Pennsylvanians to ratify. Anti-Federalists found themselves in the hypocritical position of criticizing the federal Constitution for failing to codify the freedom of religious practice they had actively denied their fellow citizens during the War for Independence.