Daily Archive: 07/07/2015

Jul 07 2015

FBI’s Lastest Ploy to Spy on Everyone: ISIS

Torture authorizer and current FBI director, James Comey trotted out the latest “bogeyman” to justify unlocking encryption of private digital messages: ISIS. Apparently trying to scare people with kidnappers and child abusers failed.

(In) a preview of his appearance Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey is playing the ISIS card, saying that it is becoming impossible for the FBI to stop their recruitment and planned attacks. (He uses an alternate acronym, ISIL, for the Islamic State.)

“The current ISIL threat… involves ISIL operators in Syria recruiting and tasking dozens of troubled Americans to kill people, a process that increasingly takes part through mobile messaging apps that are end-to-end encrypted, communications that may not be intercepted, despite judicial orders under the Fourth Amendment,” Comey wrote on Monday in a blog post on the pro-surveillance website Lawfare.

While providing no specific, independently confirmable examples, Comey has claimed that FBI agents are currently encountering problems because of encrypted communications as they track potential ISIS sympathizers and radicals.

Comey has long argued that sophisticated encryption technology being implemented by tech giants, including Google and Apple, will make it harder and harder for the FBI to track its targets. Encryption scrambles the contents of digital communications, making it impossible for users without the “key” to read messages in plain language.

The major problem with Comey’s argument, giving law enforcement a backdoor key to private encrypted communications, would be an open door for hackers and criminals.

On Tuesday, the group – 13 of the world’s pre-eminent cryptographers, computer scientists and security specialists – released the paper (pdf), which concludes there is no viable technical solution that would allow the American and British governments to gain “exceptional access” to encrypted communications without putting the world’s most confidential data and critical infrastructure in danger. [..]

The authors of the report said such fears did not justify putting the world’s digital communications at risk. Given the inherent vulnerabilities of the Internet, they argued, reducing encryption is not an option. Handing governments a key to encrypted communications would also require an extraordinary degree of trust. With government agency breaches now the norm – most recently at the United States Office of Personnel Management, the State Department and the White House – the security specialists said authorities cannot be trusted to keep such keys safe from hackers and criminals. They added that if the United States and Britain mandated backdoor keys to communications, it would spur China and other governments in foreign markets to do the same.

Keys Under Doormats: Mandating insecurity by requiring government access to all data and communications

Twenty years ago, law enforcement organizations lobbied to require data and communication services to engineer their products to guarantee law enforcement access to all data. After lengthy debate and vigorous predictions of enforcement channels going dark, these attempts to regulate the emerging Internet were abandoned. In the intervening years, innovation on the Internet flourished, and law enforcement agencies found new and more effective means of accessing vastly larger quantities of data. Today we are again hearing calls for regulation to mandate the provision of exceptional access mechanisms. In this report, a group of computer scientists and security experts, many of whom participated in a 1997 study of these same topics, has convened to explore the likely effects of imposing extraordinary access mandates. We have found that the damage that could be caused by law enforcement exceptional access requirements would be even greater today than it would have been 20 years ago. In the wake of the growing economic and social cost of the fundamental insecurity of today’s Internet environment, any proposals that alter the security dynamics online should be approached with caution. Exceptional access would force Internet system developers to reverse forward secrecy design practices that seek to minimize the impact on user privacy when systems are breached. The complexity of today’s Internet environment, with millions of apps and globally connected services, means that new law enforcement requirements are likely to introduce unanticipated, hard to detect security flaws. Beyond these and other technical vulnerabilities, the prospect of globally deployed exceptional access systems raises difficult problems about how such an environment would be governed and how to ensure that such systems would respect human rights and the rule of law.

This was a bad idea in 1997 and still a bad idea today.

Jul 07 2015

The Red Pill

This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

Angela Merkel has a red and a yellow button. One ends the crisis. Which does she push?

Yanis Varoufakis, The Guardian

Monday 6 July 2015 13.11 EDT

The red button

If you press it, chancellor, the euro crisis ends immediately, with a general rise in growth throughout Europe, a sudden collapse of debt for each member state to below its Maastricht limit, no pain for Greek citizens (or for the Italians, Portuguese, etc), no guarantees for the periphery’s debts (states or banks) to be provided by German and Dutch taxpayers, interest rate spreads below 3% throughout the eurozone, a diminution in the eurozone’s internal imbalances, and a wholesale rise in aggregate investment.

The yellow button

If you press it, chancellor, the situation in the eurozone remains more or less as it is for a decade. The euro crisis continues to bubble along, albeit in a controlled fashion. While the probability of a break-up, which will be a calamity for Germany, remains non-trivial, the chances are that, if you push the yellow button, the eurozone will not break up (with a little help from the European Central Bank), German interest rates will remain extremely low, the euro will be nicely depressed (‘nicely’ from the perspective of German exporters), the periphery’s spreads will be sky-high (but not explosive), Italy and Spain will enter deeper into a debt-deflationary spiral that sees to a reduction of their national income by 15% over the next three years, France shall slip steadily into quasi-insolvency, GDP per capita will rise slowly in the surplus countries and fall precipitously in the periphery. As for the first “fallen” nations (Greece, Ireland and Portugal), they shall become little Latvias, or indeed Kosovos: devastated lands (after the loss of between 25% and 40% of national income, a massive exodus of their skilled labour) on which our people will holiday and buy cheap real estate. In aggregate, if you choose the yellow button, chancellor, eurozone unemployment will remain well above UK and US levels, investment will be anaemic, growth negative and poverty on the up and up.

Which button do you think, dear reader, the chancellor would want to push?

Jul 07 2015

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”.

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Yanis Varoufakis: Angela Merkel has a red and a yellow button. One ends the crisis. Which does she push?

It is quite obvious that the insolvency of Madrid and Rome had nothing to do with fiscal profligacy (recall that Spain had a lower debt than Germany in 2008 and Italy has consistently smaller budget deficits) and everything to do with the way in which the eurozone’s macroeconomy relied significantly for the demand of its net exports on the Global Minotaur. Once the latter keeled over in 2008, and Wall Street’s private cash disappeared, two effects brought Europe to its knees.

One was the sequential death-embrace of bankrupt banks and insolvent states (beginning with Greece, moving to Ireland, to Portugal and continuing until Italy and Spain were torn asunder). The other was the Minotaur’s simulacrum and its determination to hang on to its option of exiting the eurozone at will, therefore denying each and every rational plan for mending the currency union in a sustainable manner.

The telling question thus becomes: why such resistance, particularly from Germany, to every idea that would end the euro crisis? The standard answer is that Germany does not wish to pay for the debts of the periphery and will resist all federal-like moves (eg a banking or a fiscal union) until it is convinced that its partners will behave responsibly with their German-backed finances. While this captures well the mindset of many northern Europeans, it is beside the point. Consider the following mental experiment, which, I believe, helps us unveil a deeper motive.

Trevor Timm: Our media’s Isis threat hype machine: government stenography at its worst

If you turned on US cable news at any point last week, you might have thought this July 4 holiday would be our last weekend on earth – the supposed terrorist masterminds in Isis and their alleged vast sleeper cell army were going to descend upon America like the aliens in Independence Day and destroy us all.

CNN has led the pack in whipping Americans into a panic over the Isis threat, running story after story with government officials and terrorism industry money-makers hyping the threat, played against the backdrop of scary b-roll of terrorist training camps. Former CIA deputy director Mike Morell ominously told CBS last week that “I wouldn’t be surprised if we weren’t sitting here a week from today talking about an attack over the weekend in the United States.” MSNBC and Fox joined in too, using graphics and maps right out of Stephen Colbert’s satirical “Doom Bunker,” suggesting World War III was just on the verge of reaching America’s shores.

Nothing happened, of course. But it was an abject lesson in how irrational government fear-mongering still controls our public discourse, even when there wasn’t a shred of hard evidence for any sort of attack, only a feeling that one might happen.

Dean Baker: The Wall Street Sales Tax Moves Away From the Children’s Table

For decades the idea of a financial transactions tax (FTT), in effect a modest sales tax on stock, bonds, derivatives and other financial assets, has been a fringe idea pursued by a small group of progressive politicians. While the concept had drawn the interest of many of the world’s most prominent economists, including former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, and Nobel laureates Joe Stiglitz, James Tobin, and Paul Krugman, few political figures in the United States were willing to go near an FTT. That situation is changing.

The latest news in this area is the release of a report last week on financial transactions taxes from the Tax Policy Center (TPC), a joint project of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute. The report assessed the potential revenue and the burden by income group from a FTT. This report, while not providing an endorsement of FTT, provides further support to an FTT as a serious policy.

This is an important development because the TPC has developed a strong reputation in policy circles as a reliable source for non-partisan analysis. For this reason, a report from the TPC can be seen as comparable to a report from the Congressional Budget Office. The center exists to analyze policy, not to advocate for it.

Wendell Potter: Coming Health Insurer Mergers Will Costs Consumers — and Jobs

The number of health insurers competing for your business almost certainly will decrease in coming months as the big for-profit firms merge or acquire each other. The companies insist that the results will enable them to operate more efficiently through the elimination of redundancies. But don’t expect your premiums to go down when the dust settles. In fact, if the past is prologue, premiums will go up.

The biggest beneficiaries will be the shareholders and a handful of top executives; they’ll make tens of millions of dollars on the day the transactions become final. Among the losers–in addition to the people enrolled in the insurers’ health plans–will be many of the employees of the acquired companies, and taxpayers in the cities that come out on the short end of the stick when the combined companies decide where the corporate headquarters will be. [..]

We’ve seen this movie before, and the ending can be predicted with some certainty. In almost every case, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

David Cay Johnston: Atlantic City’s downfall provides lessons for the nation

Nearly four decades ago, herds of buses began thundering down the highway to Atlantic City, where in windowless factories built next to the sea, paper and plastic were extracted from leather wallets. [..]

Atlantic City gambled away its future by failing to develop its natural advantages, failing to think long term and failing to invest its windfall strategically. This should be a lesson for the rest of America.

Across the country, thousands of so-called economic development agencies are throwing tens of billions of dollars each year at corporations, often without evidence they created or even saved a single job.

Every taxpayer should be asking, What is the strategy? Unless taxpayers demand a disciplined and strategic vision, their results will follow the tragedy of Atlantic City. When the inevitable economic storms come, the sandy foundations of their local economies will wash away.

Paul Buchheit: Growing Evidence that Charter Schools Are Failing

In early 2015 Stanford University’s updated CREDO Report concluded that “urban charter schools in the aggregate provide significantly higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading compared to their TPS peers.”

This single claim of success has a lot of people believing that charter schools really work. But there are good reasons to be skeptical. First of all, CREDO is funded and managed by reform advocates. It’s part of the Hoover Institution, aconservative and pro-business think tank funded in part by the Walton Foundation, and in partnership with Pearson, a leading developer of standardized testing materials. CREDO director Margaret Raymond is pro-charter and a free-market advocate. [..]

The inadequacies of charter schools have been confirmed by other recent studies, one of them by CREDO itself, which found that in comparison to traditional public schools “students in Ohio charter schools perform worse in both reading and mathematics.” Another recent CREDO study of California schools reached mixed results, with charters showing higher scores in reading but lower scores in math.

Jul 07 2015

The Breakfast Club (Good Morning Blues)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

Terror bombings strike London’s transit system; Oliver North testifies at Iran-Contra hearings; Sandra Day O’Connor nominated for U.S. Supreme Court; Author Robert Heinlein and musician Ringo Starr born.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

I get by with a little help from my friends.

Ringo Starr

Jul 07 2015

On This Day In History July 7

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.

Click on images to enlarge.

July 7 is the 188th day of the year (189th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 177 days remaining until the end of the year.

The terms 7th July, July 7th, and 7/7 (pronounced “Seven-seven”) have been widely used in the Western media as a shorthand for the 7 July 2005 bombings on London’s transport system. In China, this term is used to denote the Battle of Lugou Bridge started on July 7, 1937, marking the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

On this day in 1898, U.S. President William McKinley signs the Newlands Resolution annexing Hawaii as a territory of the United States.

In 1898 President of the United States William McKinley signed the treaty of annexation for Hawaii, but it failed in the senate after the 38,000 signatures of the Ku’e Petitions were submitted. After the failure Hawaii was annexed by means of joint resolution called the Newlands Resolution.

The Territory of Hawaii, or Hawaii Territory, was a United States organized incorporated territory that existed from July 7, 1898, until August 21, 1959, when its territory, with the exception of Johnston Atoll, was admitted to the Union as the fiftieth U.S. state, the State of Hawaii.

The U.S. Congress passed the Newlands Resolution which annexed the former Kingdom of Hawaii and later Republic of Hawaii to the United States. Hawaii’s territorial history includes a period from 1941 to 1944 – during World War II – when the islands were placed under martial law. Civilian government was dissolved and a military governor was appointed.

Newlands Resolution of 1898

On 7 July 1898, McKinley signed the Newlands Resolution (named after Congressman Francis Newlands) which officially annexed Hawaii to the United States. A formal ceremony was held on the steps of ‘Iolani Palace where the Hawaiian flag was lowered and the American flag raised. Dole was appointed Hawaii’s first territorial governor.

The Newlands Resolution said, “Whereas, the Government of the Republic of Hawaii having, in due form, signified its consent, in the manner provided by its constitution, to cede absolutely and without reserve to the United States of America, all rights of sovereignty of whatsoever kind in and over the Hawaiian Islands and their dependencies, and also to cede and transfer to the United States, the absolute fee and ownership of all public, Government, or Crown lands, public buildings or edifices, ports, harbors, military equipment, and all other public property of every kind and description belonging to the Government of the Hawaiian Islands, together with every right and appurtenance thereunto appertaining: Therefore, Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That said cession is accepted, ratified, and confirmed, and that the said Hawaiian Islands and their dependencies be, and they are hereby, annexed as a part of the territory of the United States and are subject to the sovereign dominion thereof, and that all and singular the property and rights hereinbefore mentioned are vested in the United States of America.”

The Newlands Resolution established a five-member commission to study which laws were needed in Hawaii. The commission included: Territorial Governor Sanford B. Dole (R-Hawaii Territory), Senators Shelby M. Cullom (R-IL) and John T. Morgan (D-AL), Representative Robert R. Hitt (R-IL) and former Hawaii Chief Justice and later Territorial Governor Walter F. Frear (R-Hawaii Territory). The commission’s final report was submitted to Congress for a debate which lasted over a year. Congress raised objections that establishing an elected territorial government in Hawaii would lead to the admission of a state with a non-white majority.

Jul 07 2015

I Am No Man

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Jul 07 2015

The Crisis of Neoliberalism

Yup, populism is extreme.

Now Europe Must Decide Whether to Make an Example of Greece

by Neil Irwin, The New York Times

JULY 5, 2015

The fact is that the time for those debates is over for now; we’re in a realm of power politics, not substantive economic policy debates.

The choice for leaders of Germany, France and the rest of Europe will look something like this:

If they tolerate the Greek government’s demands, they will be setting a bad example for every other country that might wish to challenge the strictures of the European Union, telling voters in Portugal and Spain and Italy that if they make enough fuss, and elect extremist parties, they too will get a much sweeter deal. It would send the signal that a country can borrow all it likes, walk away from those debts and make the rest of Europe pay the bill, as long as it is intransigent enough.

If they refuse the Greek government’s demands and cut off funds, the Greek banking system will collapse and the country will no longer be part of the eurozone, sending a signal that the European Union is deeply fragile. Greece would sidle closer to a hostile Russia. A modern European democracy – indeed, the original democracy – could well collapse into something chaotic and unstable. Oh, and all this may end up costing the rest of Europe more money than even the most generous of bailouts, as Greece would default on its obligations outright rather than merely restructure them.

Essentially, European leaders must decide if their frustration with Greece and fear of a bad precedent are strong enough that they are willing to take a giant step in the other direction, by withholding further euros from Greece.

Sunday, Greek voters faced their crucial moment of decision, and they were clear: They are willing to risk the euro to avoid more austerity. Now it is Ms. Merkel and the other leaders of Europe who face a ticking clock and a decision that will ripple through history.

They are worried by democracy.

Good.