Friday Morning Reads

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Good Morning!!

I’m quite a bit behind schedule this morning. I’m still in Indiana with my Mom, and we had to have some workmen come by this morning. I’m also trying to get organized for my drive back to Boston over the weekend, so I’m somewhat tired and stressed out.

Anyway, I’m working on a post that I will put up either later today or when I get back home. For now, here’s a TGIF link dump/open thread.

Today’s top stories

The Sony Hack is getting lots of attention.

NYT editorial, Sony and Mr. Kim’s Thugs. Here’s the gist:

Corporations, even large ones like Sony, cannot stand up to a rogue state and shadowy hacker armies all by themselves. That’s why the Obama administration needs to take a strong stand on this and future attacks. Officials said on Thursday that they were considering a “proportional response.”

Retaliation by the Obama administration over this attack would risk escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and between North Korea and Japan, where Sony’s corporate parent is based. However, there are things the United States can do. Although there are already heavy sanctions on North Korea, there may be ways to inflict more economic pain.

Washington could seek an international panel to investigate the attack and demand condemnation by the United Nations Security Council. The United States also needs to work with Japan and South Korea, two other regular targets of North Korean hacking, to improve their defenses and develop common responses like imposing sanctions.

China, North Korea’s main ally and benefactor, remains the best check on the Kim regime; experts say most North Korean hackers are based in China. But China has its own history of hacking American government and industry computers and has resisted Washington’s requests for talks on how to handle hacking attacks and their aftermath.

The international community needs to speed up work on norms on what constitutes a cyberattack and what the response should be. If China and the United States are unable to work together in this critical area, the Internet will become a free-for-all and everyone will pay the price.

The Inteview

CNN, Watch out world: North Korea deep into cyber warfare, defector says.

Jang Se-yul, who defected from North Korea seven years ago, told CNN that he thinks there are 1,800 cyberwarriors in the agency stationed around the world. But he says even the agents themselves don’t know how many others work for the secretive group, called Bureau 121, whose mission is to “conduct cyberattacks against overseas and enemy states.”

The South Korean government thinks Bureau 121 is the agency at the heart of numerous cyberattacks from North Korea against elements in foreign countries, a government official who requested to be anonymous told CNN on Thursday.

North Korea’s hacking capabilities have become a global talking point recently, after a massive hack of Sony Pictures — the studio behind “The Interview,” a comedy depicting the assassination of Pyongyang’s leader, Kim Jong Un. That was followed by warnings that the movie not be shown in theaters…

CNN, Washington outraged over Sony decision.

From Hollywood to Washington, the outrage is spreading over Sony Pictures’ decision to cancel a movie release following a cyber attack and threats from a group of North Korea-backed hackers.

Politicians urged Sony not to back down in the face of threats tied to the release of the controversial comedy “The Interview,” and then began lashing out when the studio made it clear it has no further plans to release the film, which depicts an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un….

FBI investigators tracked the hackers who broke into Sony’s servers, published private information and threatened moviegoers back to the North Korean regime, U.S. law enforcement officials told CNN on Wednesday. The North Korean regime slammed the movie this summer as “terrorism and a war action.”

And despite the hackers’ threat to attack movie theaters, the Department of Homeland Security has said “there is no credible intelligence” supporting an active plot against movie theaters.

Deadline Hollywood, Hollywood Cowardice: George Clooney Explains Why Sony Stood Alone In North Korean Cyberterror Attack.

EXCLUSIVE: As it begins to dawn on everyone in Hollywood the reality that Sony Pictures was the victim of a cyberterrorist act perpetrated by a hostile foreign nationon American soil, questions will be asked about how and why it happened, ending with Sony cancelling the theatrical release of the satirical comedy The Interviewbecause of its depiction of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. One of those issues will be this: Why didn’t anybody speak out while Sony Pictures chiefs Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton were embarrassed by emails served up by the media, bolstering the credibility of hackers for when they attached as a cover letter to Lynton’s emails a threat to blow up theaters if The Interview was released?

Read the interview with Clooney at the link.

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The Daily Beast, Paramount Bans Showing ‘Team America’.

Three movie theaters say Paramount Pictures has ordered them not to show Team America: World Police one day after Sony Pictures surrendered to cyberterrorists and pulled The Interview. The famous Alamo Drafthouse in Texas, Capitol Theater in Cleveland, and Plaza Atlanta in Atlanta said they would screen the movie instead of The Interview, but Paramount has ordered them to stop. (No reason was apparently given and Paramount hasn’t spoken.)Team America of course features Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, as a singing marionette.

Apparently, both Team America: World Police and The Interview are chock full of racist memes about Asians.

North Korea Is Not Funny. Let’s be clear: The Interview isn’t a courageous act of defiance against a dictator, by Adrien Hong at The Atlantic.

In recent months, the uproar over The Interview, a comedy about assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has triggered an escalating set of reactions: retaliatory threats from North Korean officials; a sophisticated cyberattack on Sony Pictures, reportedly orchestrated by North Korea; a pledge by the hackers to physically attack theaters showing the film; and now, on Wednesday, Sony’s decision to cancel the movie’s December 25 release altogether, as movie-theater chains began backing out of screenings. The latest development is an act of craven self-censorship and appeasement—a troubling precedent by the Free World’s leading culture-makers. But rightful calls to defend freedom of expression and go ahead with the movie are also mixing with a far more dubious strain of thinking: that the film itself is a form of defiance against a dictatorial regime. It is not.

Kim Jong Il puppet from "Team America World Police."

Kim Jong Il puppet from “Team America World Police.”

In The Interview, directed by the Canadian comics Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, a celebrity journalist (James Franco) and his producer (Rogen), tired of producing meaningless content, score a major scoop: an interview with Kim Jong Un (Randall Park). The CIA learns about the trip and recruits the two to kill the leader—a task that, judging from reports and leaked footage, someone eventually succeeds in doing.

This film is not an act of courage. It is not a stand against totalitarianism, concentration camps, mass starvation, or state-sponsored terror. It is, based on what we know of the movie so far, simply a comedy, made by a group of talented actors, writers, and directors, and intended, like most comedies, to make money and earn laughs. The movie would perhaps have been better off with a fictitious dictator and regime; instead, it appears to serve up the latest in a long line of cheap and sometimes racism-tinged jokes, stretching from Team America: World Police to ongoing sketches on Saturday Night Live.

It’s a thoughtful article. I need to go back and give it a careful read.

In other news . . .

Bloomberg View, Hillary Clinton Secretly Pushed Cuba Deal for Years, by Josh Rogin.

Although President Barack Obama is taking the credit for Wednesday’s historic deal to reverse decades of U.S. policy toward Cuba, when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she was the main architect of the new policy and pushed far harder for a deal than the Obama White House.

From 2009 until her departure in early 2013, Clinton and her top aides took the lead on the sometimes public, often private interactions with the Cuban government. According to current and former White House and State Department officials and several Cuba policy experts who were involved in the discussions, Clinton was also the top advocate inside the government for ending travel and trade restrictions on Cuba and reversing 50 years of U.S. policy to isolate the Communist island nation. Repeatedly, she pressed the White House to move faster and faced opposition from cautious high-ranking White House officials.

After Obama announced the deal Wednesday, which included the release of aid contractor Alan Gross, Clinton issued a supportive statement distributed by the National Security Council press team. “As Secretary of State, I pushed for his release, stayed in touch with Alan’s wife Judy and their daughters, and called for a new direction in Cuba,” she said. “Despite good intentions, our decades-long policy of isolation has only strengthened the Castro regime’s grip on power.”

But according to the progs, Hillary is a triangulating warmonger. Hmmmmm . . .

ABC News, 5 Sweeping Changes Recommended for Secret Service After Fence Jumper Enters WH.

A bipartisan, independent panel scrutinizing the U.S. Secret Service after a man with a small knife in his pocket jumped the perimeter fence and made it deep inside the White House is recommending sweeping changes at the agency.

The Secret Service’s “paramount mission” of protecting the president and other high-ranking officials “allows no tolerance for error,” and a “single miscue, or even a split-second delay, could have disastrous consequences for the nation and the world,” warns the panel’s final report, commissioned by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson after the September breach.

Read the recommendations at the link.

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The New Yorker, The Unidentified Queen of Torture, by Jane Mayer.

The NBC News investigative reporter Matthew Cole has pieced together a remarkable story revealing that a single senior officer, who is still in a position of high authority over counterterrorism at the C.I.A.—a woman who he does not name—appears to have been a source of years’ worth of terrible judgment, with tragic consequences for the United States. Her story runs through the entire report. She dropped the ball when the C.I.A. was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; she gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; she misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the C.I.A. on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked.

Had the Senate Intelligence Committee been permitted to use pseudonyms for the central characters in its report, as all previous congressional studies of intelligence failures, including the widely heralded Church Committee report in 1975, have done, it might not have taken a painstaking, and still somewhat cryptic, investigation after the fact in order for the American public to hold this senior official accountable. Many people who have worked with her over the years expressed shock to NBC that she has been entrusted with so much power. A former intelligence officer who worked directly with her is quoted by NBC, on background, as saying that she bears so much responsibility for so many intelligence failures that “she should be put on trial and put in jail for what she has done.”

Instead, however, she has been promoted to the rank of a general in the military, most recently working as the head of the C.I.A.’s global-jihad unit. In that perch, she oversees the targeting of terror suspects around the world. (She was also, in part, the model for the lead character in “Zero Dark Thirty.”)

According to sources in the law-enforcement community who I have interviewed over the years, and who I spoke to again this week, this woman—whose name the C.I.A. has asked the news media to withhold—had supervision over an underling at the agency who failed to share with the F.B.I. the news that two of the future 9/11 hijackers had entered the United States prior to the terrorist attacks. As I recount in my book “The Dark Side,” the C.I.A. got wind that one of these Al Qaeda operatives, Khalid al-Mihdhar, had obtained a multiple-entry visa into the United States eighteen months before 9/11. The agency also learned, months before the attacks, that another Al Qaeda operative, Nawaf al-Hazmi, had flown into Los Angeles. Yet the C.I.A. appears to have done nothing. It never alerted the F.B.I., which had the principle domestic authority for protecting the U.S. from terror attacks. Its agents had, in fact, been on the trail of at least one of the hijackers previously, but had no way of knowing that he had entered the United States. Nor did the C.I.A. alert the State Department, which kept a “TIPOFF” watch list for terror suspects.

KUT.org, Austin TX, Sexist Comment by Austin Police Officer: Isolated Incident or Part of Broader Culture?

Police Chief Art Acevedo suspended two officers in November for making jokes about rape victims. The Austin Police Association said at the time that the respective three-day and five-day suspensions were “fair and appropriate.” The incident took place after a local attorney had released a video in which the two Austin police officers are laughing and one of the officers comments: “Go ahead and call the cops. They can’t un-rape you.

Recently, offensive comments were made to KUT’s reporter Joy Diaz, while she was covering a police-related story….

Just to set the scene, this reporter was at the police union’s building waiting to interview the head of the union. That’s when veteran officer [Andrew] Pietrowski approached me and started talking about the media fall-out over the video tape of NFL running back Ray Rice punching and knocking out his then-fiancé in a hotel elevator. Rice was suspended by the NFL and was released by his team.

Pietrowski says the event was blown out of proportion by the media. That’s when he explained.

“Now, stop and think about this. I don’t care who you are. You think about the women’s movement today, [women say] ‘Oh, we want to go [into] combat,’ and then, ‘We want equal pay, and we want this.’ You want to go fight in combat and sit in a foxhole? You go right ahead, but a man can’t hit you in public here? Bulls–t! You act like a whore, you get treated like one!”

Pietrowski retired from the force after learning that KUT planned to reveal his comments on the air.

S0 . . . . what else is happening? Please post links to the stories that interested you in the comment thread, and Happy Friday!


Saturday Reads: Newtown Anniversary, Normalizing Gun Violence, and Other News

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Good Morning!!

I spent yesterday preparing for Winter Storm Electra. I stopped by the hardware store to get ice melt crystals and then headed to the grocery store to drop off a prescription and a few things I’ll need in case I can’t get my car out of the driveway for a couple of days.

I had an appointment in the afternoon, and then I made a fruitless attempt to find a parking space in the giant Whole Foods parking lot in Cambridge. Then back to my regular grocery store to pick up my prescription and a few refrigerated items. The store was even more packed this time, so I was glad I had stopped earlier. Finally, I went home, to stash my purchases and scatter ice melt on the all the icy surfaces left over from Winter Storm Dion.

So now I’m in hibernation mode until Monday. I just hope I can handle the shoveling myself. The weather folks are predicting anything from 5 to 12 inches of snow for my area. It was 11 degrees here when I woke up and its only 12 degrees right now. It’s hard to believe it can even snow when it’s so cold. But the weather people say it’s going to snow. If it starts this afternoon, I plan to shovel before it gets dark–then there won’t be so much to do tomorrow. It’s way too early for this. It won’t even be officially winter until next week. Those of you in the Midwest are probably already getting the storm–how is it going there? Is it still cold down South? We can commiserate in the comments.

Now to the news. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since Newtown, but today is the anniversary of that awful day. It still breaks my heart when I think about it. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain of the families who lost children. From CNN:

Horror struck Newtown, Connecticut, in such a disturbing way that the nation still struggles with its impact a year later.

The legacy of the second-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history is so profound that it cannot hold just one meaning. It holds several. That’s because the crime itself conveys multiple issues in its summary:

A mentally ill 20-year-old recluse obsessed with school shootings enters Sandy Hook Elementary School after the morning bell and kills six adult women, 12 girls and eight boys in 11 minutes. The children were 6 or 7 years old. The heavily armed Adam Lanza, who first killed his mother before taking her car to the school, also killed himself, in a classroom.

On the anniversary of the December 14 slaughter — under the shadow of another school shooting, this time at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado — country and community alike pause and reflect on an event known simply as “Newtown” or “Sandy Hook” and what it says about America on the matters of guns, mental health, healing, and the human spirit.

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A whole year after the slaughter of 20 first-graders and 6 adults, and our do-nothing Congress has done exactly nothing to control the purchase of weapons of war for everyday use. CBS News reports:

Not a single federal law curbing gun violence has passed in the year since a young man from Newtown, Conn. who’d long exhibited signs of mental instability got a hold of his mother’s AR-15-style Bushmaster rifle and two of her handguns and gunned down 20 first-graders and six of their educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School before taking his own life.

Capping a year that saw the most mass shootings in U.S. history, Newtown seemed to mark a turning point in national conversation about gun control. Within a month of the shooting, President Obama – promising to make the issue a hallmark of his second-term agenda – had signed several executive orders to make schools safer and gun purchases more transparent. But real reform, he said, would require bipartisan backing from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Six months after the Dec. 14, 2012 tragedy, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., insisted the push for tougher gun laws and bolstered support for mental health in America was “still on the front burner.” But foundation for that statement was flimsy.

Manchin’s own amendment to strengthen background checks for gun purchases – co-sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and seen by many in Congress to be the most realistic hope for immediate reform to gun laws – had collapsed in the Senate two months earlier. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had “hit pause” on debate over firearms altogether, pulling the legislation from the floor indefinitely.

The emotions surrounding Newtown, it seemed, were no longer driving the conversation about gun control.

Is anyone really surprised that something a huge majority of Americans support cannot get through Congress? Of course not. We can’t even get them to stop hurting the economy with their obsessive and idiotic push for unnecessary austerity. We should turn every one of them out of office–Democrats and Republicans and start from scratch.

And is anyone shocked that there was another school shooting the day before this horrible anniversary? Why should we be? Our so-called leaders don’t seem to care how many children die so they can keep getting donations from the NRA. A couple of stories on the shooting in Colorado.

matisselike portraits by kids

Denver Post as of last night: Shooting at Arapahoe High School, 1 girl in critical condition, gunman dead.

A student carried a shotgun into Arapahoe High School, asked where to find a specific teacher and then opened fire on Friday, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said. He shot a fellow student in the head before apparently killing himself.

A 15-year-old girl was reported in critical condition after undergoing surgery. Two other students were treated and released from a hospital for non-gunshot injuries.

The gunman, identified as 18-year-old Karl Pierson, was found dead inside a classroom from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, Robinson said. Authorities believe he acted alone.

Robinson said authorities are investigating reports that Pierson may have been motivated by revenge against the teacher following a disagreement….Fellow classmates described the gunman as a bright student and a gifted debater whose family attended Bible study meetings.

A little more from USA Today:

The shootings — on the eve of the anniversary of the Newtown school massacre, in which 20 students and six staffers were murdered — sent scores of terrified students and staffers at Centennial’s Arapahoe High School scurrying at about 12:30 p.m. Police and other first responders quickly mobilized to surround the 2,220-student school.

A 15-year-old girl suffered a gunshot wound and was reported in critical condition at a Littleton hospital Friday evening.One other student suffered minor gunshot-related injuries and was released from the hospital hours later, authorities said. Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said Friday night that another girl taken to a hospital was covered in blood from the other student, but wasn’t injured….

The gunman also brought two Molotov cocktails inside the school and exploded one, KUSA-TV reported. The other was found and removed by the bomb squad.

The incident unfolded when the armed student entered the west side of the school from a student parking lot. He told other students he was interested in confronting a specific teacher. “Word got around immediately,” Robinson said.

The teacher, informed of the situation, fled the building unharmed, said Robinson, who noted that the teacher’s decision to flee helped limit the potential carnage.

Our children are dying violently in this country, in places in which they should be safe–their schools and their homes. Why aren’t we doing anything to protect them? At an age when they should be concentrating on learning, developing social skills, and just having fun, our children are threatened by gun violence on a daily basis. What kind of nation allows this kind of slaughter to continue in the name of “second amendment rights” and greed? A few more links from around the ‘net:

Reuters: Obama marks Newtown school shooting anniversary with call for gun control

Star-Tribune Nation: In Newtown, a year of wrenching reminders

Mother Jones: Portraits of the Hundreds of Children Killed by Guns Since Newtown

Matthew Lysiak at The Guardian: We can no longer allow sick individuals like Adam Lanza to go on untreated

New York Daily News: Another year of the gun 

Gawker: What Kind of Monster Wants to Shoot Up His School? (highly recommended)

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In other news, 

Here’s a surprising story from Jonthan Turley’s blog: Federal Court Strikes Down Criminalization of Polygamy In Utah

It is with a great pleasure this evening to announce that decision of United States District Court judge Clarke Waddoups striking down key portions of the Utah polygamy law as unconstitutional. The Brown family and counsel have spent years in both the criminal phase of this case and then our challenge to the law itself in federal court. Despite the public statements of professors and experts that we could not prevail in this case, the court has shown that it is the rule of law that governs in this country. As I have previously written, plural families present the same privacy and due process concerns faced by gay and lesbian community over criminalization. With this decision, families like the Browns can now be both plural and legal in the state of Utah.  The Court struck down the provision as violating both the free exercise clause of the first amendment as well as the due process clause.   The court specifically struck down language criminalizing cohabitation — the provision that is used to prosecute polygamists.  The opinion is over 90 pages and constitutes a major constitutional ruling in protection of individual rights.

I just don’t know what to say about this, because I associate polygamy with the abuse of women and children. Am I a bigot? A couple more links:

Salt Lake Tribune: Federal judge declares Utah polygamy law unconstitutional

The Telegraph: ‘Sister Wives’ reality star wins legal fight against Utah anti-polygamy law

I haven’t been following the Robert Levinson story, but I will be from now on. Levinson has been missing in Iran for 7 years and has just been outed as a CIA operative. Links:

NYT: A Disappearing Spy, and a Scandal at the C.I.A.

ABC News: Family of Robert Levinson, American Held In Iran, Says He Was Spying for the CIA

The Register-Guard: White House declines to discuss missing American Robert Levinson’s CIA ties

Gawker: ABC, NYT Repeatedly Lied About CIA Operative Robert Levinson

Liberty Voice: Robert Levinson: Used by CIA, Forgotten by USA, Burned by Media, Left in Iran

WaPo: Sen. Bill Nelson: I told AP not to run Robert Levinson story

Those are my offerings today. What stories are you following? Let us know in the comment thread, and have a great weekend!


Friday Reads

tumblr_m606wf7J3K1rrnekqo1_1280 Good Morning!

I think most of us that have lived awhile can attest to the fall in lifestyle and standards of living in the country.  I think it’s been rather obvious that it’s much more difficult to “get ahead” more than at any other time in recent U.S. history.  I ran across some interesting articles that sort’ve validated my gut feeling so I thought I’d share them with you.  I hope you don’t find them too depressing.  The first one indicates that the longevity of U.S. women just isn’t what it used to be. Why are U.S. women dying younger than their mothers?

Whether you think the Affordable Care Act is the right solution or a dangerous step toward tyranny, it’s hard to dispute that the U.S. health-care system is broken. More than 48 million people lack health insurance, and despite having the world’s highest levels of health-care spending per capita, the U.S. has some of the worst health outcomes among developed nations, lagging behind in key metrics like life expectancy, premature death rates, and death by treatable diseases, according to a July study in theJournal of the American Medicine Association.

For some Americans, the reality is far worse than the national statistics suggest. In particular, growing health disadvantages have disproportionately impacted women over the past three decades, especially those without a high-school diploma or who live in the South or West. In March, a study published by the University of Wisconsin researchers David Kindig and Erika Cheng found that in nearly half of U.S. counties, female mortality rates actually increased between 1992 and 2006, compared to just 3 percent of counties that saw male mortality increase over the same period.

“I was shocked, actually,” Kindig said. “So we went back and did the numbers again, and it came back the same. It’s overwhelming.”

Kindig’s findings were echoed in a July report from University of Washington researcher Chris Murray, which found that inequality in women’s health outcomes steadily increased between 1985 and 2010, with female life expectancy stagnating or declining in 45 percent of U.S. counties. Taken together, the two studies underscore a disturbing trend: While advancements in medicine and technology have prolonged U.S. life expectancy and decreased premature deaths overall, women in parts of the country have been left behind, and in some cases, they are dying younger than they were a generation before. The worst part is no one knows why.

I’ve always thought that the American Lifestyle that you find touted on TV and at most restaurants and stores is really at odds with living well.   Here’s an interesting vandongenkees-lucieandherpartner-inkblueskylist of items that also reminds me why I always wanted to just stay in Europe whenever I visited there. Are Europeans better at just living life?  Here’s one of the statistics that makes me realize how overworked the U.S. worker is and why we all just sort’ve wear out at some point in time.

Europeans:

The top seven nations in the world, in terms of time off? All European. Austrians get 35 (35!) paid days off per year. Nobody criticizes them for being lazy.

Americans:

Meanwhile, the U.S. is the sole developed nation that requires no paid vacation time or holidays by law.

There’s a lot of fun comparisons there including cars, cheese, and sports.  The link is good for a few smiles.

So, I lot of people subscribe to the idea of peak oil.  I’ve always thought I’d really rather go solar or some alternative for energy in the future since fossil fuels have such incredible problems.  I’m not all that concerned about an oil shortage, but a cocoa bean shortage?  That’s a completely different matter!!!

The world will officially run out on October 2, 2020.

Industry experts met in London last week to discuss the impending meltdown.

Confectionery giants revealed there are just not enough cocoa plantations across the globe to feed the demand.

They warned we would need the ­equivalent of another planet Earth to fill the gap needed to keep the chocolate ­industry going.

Prices are set to soar over the next few years as chocolate becomes harder to get hold of.

As a result many big-name ­companies are ­expected to fill bars that are smaller in size with more nuts and fruit because they are cheaper to produce.

Chocolate taster and expert Angus Kennedy said: “There will be a chocolate shortage and there isn’t a solution to the problem. Seven years is what we think we have left.

“Experts have worked out we need 2.3 globes to accommodate man’s needs for chocolate in terms of forestry and space.

“We need another Earth basically if we carry on at this rate. We are ­destroying the whole thing.

“The problem we’ve got is that much of the space that was used for cocoa ­plantations is no longer there.

“The Chinese love their cars and they have found that rubber makes more money than cocoa and at a much quicker pace.

“Cocoa farms are being chopped down and turned into rubber ­plantations because they get a ­better yield.

“If you plant a cocoa plant you get cocoa beans in four years, which means the farmers are ­waiting four years for a profit so ­obviously they think ‘What is the point?’”

Manufacturers from all over the world including Iran, Belgium, Lebanon, Germany and Switzerland met at the British Library last week for the annual Chocolate Industry Network Conference where they heard the worrying news.

3307_o_matisse_musiqueAt all curious about real US CIA agents in clandestine service?  Try reading this article at Newsweek.

After a stint in the Marines, Archibald began his CIA career as a weapons man in the agency’s special activities division – the “knuckle-draggers,” as they’re known around headquarters – during the Bosnian civil war. From there, he made it into the agency’s elite spy corps, rising to the rank equivalent of general in Pakistan.

How Archibald got his new job remains a mystery to everyone Newsweektalked to. One source thought he’d caught the eye of David Petraeus, whose brief tenure as CIA chief was short-circuited in 2012 by an extramarital affair. Other agency veterans think current CIA director John Brennan liked the former Marine’s non-confrontational style. Bonus points: There was not a whiff of scandal in his background, unlike that of the acting chief, who was closely identified with harsh interrogations and passed over in favor of Archibald. She stayed on as his deputy.

One agency veteran has a more nuanced take on the appointment: “Brennan is his own clandestine ops chief.” Another added, “[Brennan] doesn’t like anyone to argue with him much.”

But there are plenty of things to argue over, insiders say, starting with the layers upon layers of assistants to deputy assistants that clog the agency’s chains of command. Many agency old-timers are also dismayed that the CIA’s core mission of spying on major adversaries seems to have been eclipsed by constant commando raids and drone strikes against terrorist targets. All that, they contend, diverts the agency’s finite resources, time and attention from finding out what’s really going on inside Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, China’s weapons labs or Iran’s nuclear program.

What does Frank Archibald think? Sorry. We can’t ask him.

Today is payday for hundreds of thousands of federal workers.  What will they get?

The paycheck federal workers have been dreading hit bank accounts across the region Friday, representing salaries cut in half for most idled employees. The next payday will be all zeros, and with furloughs dragging on, civil servants are settling into a financial crouch, slashing expenses, canceling vacations, tapping retirement savings and taking second jobs.

“We have no income coming into the house right now, but the bills haven’t stopped,” said John Ferris of Falls Church. He is in a two-furlough marriage; both he and his wife, Lena, are locked out of jobs at the Environmental Protection Agency. With both of their paychecks dwindling, the family of six has put a scalpel to the household budget.

They’ve cut out restaurants and expensive groceries. Gone are the motel stays at their kids travel softball tournaments; instead, they drive all night. But the most painful cut has been a furlough of their own, laying off their autistic son’s longtime reading specialist.

“He’s been with our family for years, and I love him to death, but I thought, ‘Wow, how am I going to pay him if we don’t have paychecks coming,’ ” Lena Ferris said. She worries that one of the shutdown’s lasting aftershocks could be her son’s having to adjust to a new tutor. “He needs money, too,” she said of the tutor. “I’m worried he’s going to start working for another family.”

Federal workers say they were hugely relieved by last week’s House vote toguarantee the missed pay after the furlough’s over. But that hasn’t eased their anxiety over the bills stacking up in the meantime. Some parents are stretching to pay for day care they don’t need just so they don’t lose their slots while waiting to go back to work. All around the region, the furloughed are looking for money to satisfy their creditors or begging fauvism3them for more time to pay their bills.

“A lot of our members have been asking to skip a payment,” said Pamela Hout, chief executive of the Census Federal  a Credit Union. Her staff has been working a few hours a week at the nearly deserted Census Bureau headquarters in Prince George’s County to meet the demand. “We’ve been accommodating them; all they have to do is show us their [furlough] letter.”

I need to add one more thing before I sign off this morning.  This is the month that we need to renew our domain and our ability to customize things here.  The bill is about $100  per year so just a bit of a donation to the blog would be much appreciated.  The specialized font comes due in about a month after that so any thing above that will be held until that comes due!!!  Thanks so much!!!

So, that’s my little bit of this and that on a Friday.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: Rainbows, Wildfires, Gangsters, Spies, and Superheroes

Double rainbow over Boston, evening of June 12, 2013

Double rainbow over Boston, evening of June 12, 2013

Good Morning!!

Isn’t that a gorgeous photo? There was a double rainbow over Boston last night, and quite a few people took photos and videos of it. Here’s another shot of it over the harbor and seaport.

Double rainbow harbor

You can see more views of it here.

Some people said the rainbow must be a positive sign for the Boston Bruins, who are in the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks. It didn’t work out that way though. The Blackhawks ended up winning game one, after what seemed like an endless triple-overtime hockey game.

In other local news, yesterday was the first day of the trial of 83-year-old Irish gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. Opening statements were apparently riveting. It’s a shame the federal courts won’t allow TV cameras, because this trial is going to be an incredible show. Yesterday both sides gave their opening statements. From The Washington Post:

BOSTON — The trial of James “Whitey” Bulger, the Irish mob boss who allegedly helped scratch out 19 lives and ran this city’s underworld aided by corrupt FBI agents, got underway Wednesday morning almost 20 years after he fled the city on the eve of his indictment.

Now 83 and with just a bit of white hair left, Bulger wore a long-sleeve green shirt and jeans and listened without displaying any reaction as prosecutors laid out their 32 charges against him in a packed South Boston federal courtroom near the gangster’s old hangouts.

“It’s a case about organized crime, public corruption and all types of illegal activities,” federal prosecutor Brian Kelly said during opening statements. “He was no ordinary leader. He did the dirty work himself. He was a hands-on killer.”

Kelly told the story of one of Bulger’s alleged murder victims, Arthur “Bucky” Barrett, who prayed for his life before he was led to a cellar stairwell. “Barrett’s going downstairs to lie down for a while,” Bulger told an accomplice. Barrett walked down the stairs, and Bulger shot him the back, Kelly said.

Bulger’s rise as the city’s brutal organized crime leader was aided and abetted by corrupt FBI agents, who brushed off Bulger’s racketeering and violence in exchange for his help as an informant to bring down the local mafia, according to a lengthy ruling by a federal judge and other investigations.

On the defense side, (Hartford Courant)

Bulger lawyer Jay Carney made it clear in his remarks to the jury that much of the crime boss’s defense will be spent trying to discredit the government’s three chief witnesses. They are close former Bulger associates who agreed to turn on him for leniency or other considerations.

Carney argued to the jury that the three — John Martorano, Stephen Flemmi and Kevin Weeks — will say whatever they think the government wants in order to protect their cooperation agreements. Among other things, he said, they are accusing Bulger of their crimes.

Martorano was sentenced to 14 years in prison for 20 murders. Weeks, once a Bulger protégé, got a shorter sentence for less serious offenses. Flemmi, Bulger’s long-time partner, got a life sentence, but was not exposed to possible death sentences for crimes in Florida and Oklahoma related to the gang’s attempt to takeover World Jai Alai, once one of the country’s largest pari-mutuel businesses.

Carney compared the federal prosecutors to chefs and the three witnesses to elaborately prepared meals.

‘What [we] are going to try to do is show you what happens in the prosecutors’ kitchen before the witness comes out,” Carney said.

I guess I’ve bored you with enough Boston news for today. Let’s see what’s happening in the rest of the world. Read the rest of this entry »


Breaking . . . Edward Snowden Tells South China Morning Post US Hacks Into Hong Kong, China Computers

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

I’m no expert on the laws about revealing classified information to foreign governments, but this doesn’t sound very smart to me. Edward Snowden, who has leaked information about methods the NSA uses to collect data on Americans has now showed documents to the South China Morning Post to prove that the U.S. has been hacking into computers in Hong Kong and China since at least 2009.

In a frank hour-long interview, the 29-year-old, who US authorities have confirmed is now the subject of a criminal case, said he was neither a hero nor a traitor and that:

US National Security Agency’s controversial Prism programme extends to people and institutions in Hong Kong and mainland China;
The US is exerting “bullying’’ diplomatic pressure on Hong Kong to extradite him;
Hong Kong’s rule of law will protect him from the US;
He is in constant fear for his own safety and that of his family.

Snowden told the interviewer that none of the documents related to Chinese “military systems.”

One of the targets in the SAR, according to Snowden, was Chinese University and public officials, businesses and students in the city. The documents also point to hacking activity by the NSA against mainland targets.

Snowden believed there had been more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally, with hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and on the mainland.

“We hack network backbones – like huge internet routers, basically – that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,” he said….

Snowden said he was releasing the information to demonstrate “the hypocrisy of the US government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries”.

“Not only does it do so, but it is so afraid of this being known that it is willing to use any means, such as diplomatic intimidation, to prevent this information from becoming public.”

What the hell? This guy is really starting to sound like a loose cannon. I’ll update with more info in the comment thread as I get it.


Glenn Greenwald’s NSA Source, Edward Snowden, Outs Himself

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

Another “bombshell” from Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian: the NSA whistleblower reveals his name, his reasons for copying classified material, and his plans for the future.

He has had “a very comfortable life” that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”

Three weeks ago, Snowden made final preparations that resulted in last week’s series of blockbuster news stories. At the NSA office in Hawaii where he was working, he copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose.

He then advised his NSA supervisor [He is currently employed at Booz Allen Hamilton] that he needed to be away from work for “a couple of weeks” in order to receive treatment for epilepsy, a condition he learned he suffers from after a series of seizures last year.

As he packed his bags, he told his girlfriend that he had to be away for a few weeks, though he said he was vague about the reason. “That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world.”

On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.

Snowden apparently decided to leave his life behind and begin a new one. He told the Guardian “I do not expect to see home again.” And if that isn’t dramatic enough, he has barely left his hotel room since arriving in Hong Kong because

He is deeply worried about being spied on. He lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping. He puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them.

OK, I’m in no position to evaluate the truth value of all this. It does sound a little paranoid, but look what has happened to Bradley Manning. Certainly the Feds will go after Snowden, whether his revelations are truly damaging to U.S. national security or not and despite the fact that other journalists than Greenwald are now pooh-poohing the revelations.

So who is Snowden? He has an unusual biography for someone in his position. He grew up in North Carolina. He was not a very good student and never graduated from high school, although he took computing courses at a community college. He went into an army special forces training program, hoping to go to Iraq, but he was badly injured and had to be discharged.

After that he worked at the NSA as a security guard, then somehow because of his apparent genius for computers he stepped up the CIA where he worked on IT network security. He eventually worked in Switzerland under diplomatic cover. He gradually became disillusioned and left the CIA to work for private contractors.

He thinks the

value of the internet, along with basic privacy, is being rapidly destroyed by ubiquitous surveillance. “I don’t see myself as a hero,” he said, “because what I’m doing is self-interested: I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”

Once he reached the conclusion that the NSA’s surveillance net would soon be irrevocable, he said it was just a matter of time before he chose to act. “What they’re doing” poses “an existential threat to democracy”, he said.

You can read the rest at the Guardian.

I really don’t know what to think at this point. I’m not sure if we have learned anything new beyond what we have known throughout the Bush and Obama administrations–that we are being spied upon constantly, but government and corporations. I hate it, and I hope these revelations–whether they are new or not–may lead to change.

I’m going to add a few more links to add to the discussion.

Reuters: Senator seeks review of Patriot Act amid surveillance report

Bob Cesca: NSA Bombshell Story Falling Apart Under Scrutiny; Key Facts Turning Out to Be Inaccurate

ZDNet: The real story in the NSA scandal is the collapse of journalism

Rayne at Emptywheel: Truck-sized Holes: Journalists Challenged by Technology Blindness

Reuters: Government likely to open criminal probe into NSA leaks: officials

Tim Shorrock: Who’s helping the NSA? A Look at Palantir

What are you hearing and reading? What do you think?


Tuesday Reads: U.S.-Russia Cloak and Dagger Intrigue

Ernest Hemingway reading The New York Times (naked)

Ernest Hemingway reading The New York Times (naked)

Good Morning!!

Ever since the bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 15, there has been plenty of intrigue going on between the U.S. and Russia.

There have been reports that Russia “withheld intel on” Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers, who spent about 7 months in Russia (Dagestan mostly) in 2012.

While he was in Dagestan, Tsarnaev was squired around by a relative who is “a prominent Islamist” and most likely introduced Tsarnaev to two men who were fighting with the Chechen rebels. Soon after these meetings, these men were killed by the Russians.

Tsarnaev had expressed interest in joining the fight for Chechen independence, but left Dagestan soon after his two friends were killed. He hurriedly traveled to Moscow and then flew back to JFK in NY without anyone in Russian intelligence noticing supposedly. No one can explain how Tsarnaev was able to board a plane for Russia at JFK Airport when he was on two U.S. terror lists or how he was able to fly out of Moscow when he was supposedly being closely watched by Russian intelligence during his stay there.

There have also been numerous reports of CIA connections to the Tsarnaev brothers. In addition, a professor at U. Mass Dartmouth (Brian Glynn Williams, a Chechnya expert) who has worked with the CIA [NOTE: This link to post by Mark Ames at nsfwcorp will be available for 23 hrs], served as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s mentor for a project on Chechen ethnic identity that the younger Tsarnaev brother did as a student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. Dzhokhar later attended U. Mass Dartmouth, although Williams says he never had any direct contact with the future accused bomber (they interacted by e-mail).

The Latest U.S.-Russia Dustup

This morning news is breaking that an American diplomat has been detained in Russia by the FSB for allegedly trying to “recruit a Russian agent” for the CIA.

Fogel

Russia’s security services claimed Tuesday to have arrested a CIA agent posing as an employee of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for allegedly trying to recruit a Russian secret service agent to work for the U.S.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) announced that it had detained a man identified as Ryan Christopher Fogle on the evening of May 13 or early the next morning for attempting to recruit a Russian agent….

Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted a statement from the FSB as saying Fogle was arrested while trying to recruit a member of the Russian security services, and he had on his person, “special technical devices, written instructions for the Russian citizen being recruited, a large sum of cash and means of changing his appearance.”

After being arrested and processed by Russian security services, the man was handed back to the U.S. diplomatic mission in Moscow.

The FSB said Fogle had been masquerading as a career diplomat at the Political Section of the U.S. Embassy, but that he was a CIA employee. A photo provided by the FSB and published across Russian media allegedly showed his Russian-issued diplomatic identification card.

And get this: Fogle was wearing a long blonde wig when he was arrested! And he had other disguises for his potential regruit.  From the NYT:

Photographs that appeared on Russian news sites on Tuesday afternoon showed a man in a blue checked shirt and baseball cap being pinned to the ground, evidently by a Russian officer. Further images showed a number of items evidently confiscated from him: a brown and blond wig, three pairs of glasses, several stacks of 500-Euro notes, and an embassy card identifying him as Ryan C. Fogle.

Mr. Fogel was brought to F.S.B. headquarters and then delivered to officials at the American embassy, the statement said. The F.S.B. went on to say its counterintelligence service has documented a series of recent attempts by the United States to recruit officers from Russian law enforcement and “special departments.”

According to the Times article, “Russia’s foreign ministry has summoned United States Ambassador Michael A. McFaul to appear on Wednesday to respond to the allegation” that Fogel was “carrying written instructions for a Russian recruit.” From Twitter, I learned that Fogel has a condo in McLean, Va.

Russia Today has lots of photos, including a photograph of an instruction sheet offering money and explaining how to set up a gmail account (WTF?!) to be used to contact U.S. intelligence. Apparently Fogel had “a large sum of cash” (in Euros?!) with him to hand over to the new recruit. Is this really how the CIA operates? It seems so half-assed.

CIA spy

Connections to the Tsarnaev Investigation?

Whether any of this will connect back to the Tsarnaev saga, I have no way of knowing; but I can’t help but suspect it will. There has simply been too much recent activity between the U.S. and Russia being reported lately for this to be completely unrelated to the Boston bombing investigation. Time will tell.

I think that’s about all the weird news I can handle for right now. I’ll leave it to you to post your own links–on any topic–in the comment thread.

Have a great day!!