Friday Reads: Potomac Fever

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Good Morning!

I continue to feel lethargic even though we’ve switched to a pattern of thunderstorms that has broken the most severe heat.   It’s August and things seems just wet,soggy, hot and tired.  That statement really includes me.   Everything seems unresolved and oppressive just like the heat.  I do have some really good news to share.  I got an email last night from a scholarly publisher in the EU–Germany actually–that wants to publish my recent research as a book.  I am seriously in a state of awe and humility.  I published my first academic book at the ripe old age of 29 but it was nothing like this work which is the basically the culmination of a lot of deep personal grok.   It is basically all the essays surrounding my dissertation.  I am in a state of OMG.  It probably won’t sell many copies, but it sure will look great on my VC, add salary potential, and up my creds.  I am registering as an author with them this morning.  Please tack my feet to the floor!

Here’s some stats on how badly the NSA has been managing the rules surrounding surveillance from WAPO. Maybe WAPO will just have to seek asylum in Russia!  (J/K)

The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.

Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by law and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.

The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In one instance, the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans. A notable example in 2008 was the interception of a “large number” of calls placed from Washington when a programming error confused U.S. area code 202 for 20, the international dialing code for Egypt, according to a “quality assurance” review that was not distributed to the NSA’s oversight staff.

In another case, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has authority over some NSA operations, did not learn about a new collection method until it had been in operation for many months. The court ruled it unconstitutional.

The Obama administration has provided almost no public information about the NSA’s compliance record. In June, after promising to explain the NSA’s record in “as transparent a way as we possibly can,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole described extensive safeguards and oversight that keep the agency in check. “Every now and then, there may be a mistake,” Cole said in congressional testimony.

There is an extensive interview with Senator Ron Wyden on the NSA at  Rolling Stone Magazine that’s worth reading.

You went from supporting the Patriot Act in 2001 to pushing relentlessly for its de-authorization. What was the tipping point?
My concerns obviously deepened when I first learned that the Patriot Act was being used to justify the bulk collection of Americans’ records, which was in late 2006 or early 2007. So Senator Russ Feingold and I dutifully set about to write classified letters to senior officials urging them to make their official interpretation of the Patriot Act public. Back then, in those early days, we were rebuffed after we made repeated requests that the intelligence community inform the public what the government had secretly decided the law actually meant. In fact, there was a secret court opinion that authorized massive dragnet domestic surveillance, and the American people, by that point, were essentially in the dark about what their government was doing with respect to interpreting an important law.

You use the term “secret law” quite frequently – what do you actually mean by that?
I use the term “secret law” to refer to the federal government’s increasing tendency to rely on secret legal analysis to justify major programs and activities, without telling the public exactly what government agencies believe the law allows them to do. This is fundamentally inconsistent with democratic principles, but it’s unfortunately become increasingly common over the past decade. And the broad interpretations of the Patriot Act and other laws that have been issued by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court are still secret, so right now the public can’t see how the Court concluded that the government’s authority to obtain records that are “relevant to an investigation” allowed the NSA to collect information on hundreds of millions of ordinary Americans. But there are an increasing number of lawmakers who are interested in pushing for more openness in this area, which is encouraging.

In a strange turn of events, WAPO has been hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army.  This is a bizarre story if ever there was one.0000-1114

So, you may have heard we’re having some problems with the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) lately. Earlier this week the Twitter account of one of our journalists was compromised as part of a larger attack aimed at social media management groupSocialFlow, and Thursday an attack on content recommendation service Outbrain caused some of our stories to redirect to the the SEA homepage.

Who is the Syrian Electronic Army?

The SEA is a group of computer hackers who support embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It initially emerged in April 2011 during the rise of anti-regime protests in Syria.

Are they supported by the Assad regime?

Probably not. While Assad has a background in computing, and once explicitly referenced his “electronic army,” the group’s formal ties to the administration are unclear. The quality of their attacks suggest that the SEA includes both professional quality hackers, who might be receiving some form of compensation, and young volunteers who believe in the regime.

Those volunteers might include Syrian diaspora; some of their hacks have usedcolloquial English and reddit memes. After Washington Post reporter Max Fisher called their jokes unfunny, one hacker associated with the group told a Vice interview “haters gonna hate.”

Who has this “army” been attacking?

The group targets both dissidents within Syria and “sympathizers” outside the country. But that “sympathizer” label appears to be applied to anyone who talks about the Syrian conflict in almost any context without expressly endorsing the Assad regime.

Some of the SEA’s early activity included spamming pages with pro-Assad comments, but activity later escalated to large scale Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Those attacks work by jamming Web sites with too many traffic requests and making normal visitors unable to access the page. The group has also battled onlinewith hacker collective Anonymous, who once hacked the Syrian Ministry of Defense Web site.

Alana Hinojosa writes that raising young black men and daughters of any color in the US is similar. That is because you live in perpetual fear that something bad will happen to them.  Here is her analysis.

Parents of all backgrounds have had to live with a very similar anxiety, worrying whether  their daughter(s) is walking alone at night, if a date (or a stranger) will rape her, if ruphees will be slipped in her drink at a party, if the older brother at her friend’s slumber party will sneak into bed with her at night, etc.

Since the beginning of time, parents with daughters have had to sit their girls down and teach them simple guidelines about how to avoid violence in everyday life, too.

So, really, the anxieties and responsibilities of parenting young black males and young women in the U.S. aren’t so different. In fact, I think they are remarkably similar.

Let’s take, for example, what one parent blogging on the Huffington Post called the Black Male Code – a series of guidelines that he taught his 12-year-old black son to prevent him from becoming the next Trayvon Martin.

It went like this:

Always pay close attention to your surroundings, son, especially if you are in an affluent neighborhood where black folks are few. Understand that even though you are not a criminal, some people might assume you are, especially if you are wearing certain clothes.

Never argue with police, but protect your dignity and take pride in humility. When confronted by someone with a badge or a gun, do not flee, fight, or put your hands anywhere other than up.

Please don’t assume, son, that all white people view you as a threat. America is better than that. Suspicion and bitterness can imprison you. But as a black male, you must go above and beyond to show strangers what type of person you really are.

With a very slight reworking, the code is likely something parents of daughters might use:

Always pay close attention to your surroundings, daughter, especially if you are walking at night, and especially if you are alone (but please don’t ever walk alone at night, or down alley ways). Understand that even though you are not a slut, some people might assume you are, especially if you are wearing certain clothes.

Never argue with police, but protect your dignity and take pride in humility. When confronted by someone with a gun who is demanding your purse, do not argue, just give them your purse. But don’t be afraid to use your pepper spray.washington american airlines

Wow, something to think on!!

Calling all Cops!  Calling all Cops!! There appear to be some Ex-JP Morgan Traders on the loose over the Whale debacle.

U.S. prosecutors urged former London-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) traders Javier Martin-Artajo and Julien Grout to surrender and face charges that they attempted to hide trading losses tied to the bank’s $6.2 billion loss on derivatives bets last year.

Martin-Artajo, a Spanish citizen, andGrout, a French citizen, should “do the right thing,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a press conference yesterday. Both men face as long as 20 years in prison if convicted of the most serious counts, including conspiracy and wire fraud.

While Bharara said he was “hopeful” they would return, he had arrest warrants filed under seal along with criminal complaints Aug. 9, according to court records. The warrants were to be served on the State Department, Interpol and foreign law enforcement agencies. The next day, police showed up at Grout’s London home, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Grout wasn’t there. His lawyers have said he’s inFrance.

Martin-Artajo oversaw trading strategy for the synthetic portfolio at JPMorgan’s chief investment office in London, while Grout was a trader who worked for him. They are charged with conspiring to falsify securities filings from March to May of 2012. The U.S. sought to keep the charges secret while arrests were attempted, but eventually had them unsealed yesterday.

JPMorgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon characterized the $6.2 billion loss as “the stupidest and most embarrassing situation I have ever been a part of.” First disclosed in May 2012, the bad bets led to an earnings restatement, a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing and probes by the Securities and Exchange Commission and U.K. Financial Conduct Authority.

Why can’t we hold Jamie responsible?

Anyway, that’s my contribution today.  What’s on you reading and blogging list?


Wednesday Reads: You move…you lose!

Good Morning!

I’m not sure where my brother got that phrase, “you move…you lose” but he always says this when someone gets up and he gets their seat…or if one of the kids doesn’t grab their plate of cake and ice cream quick enough…he will snatch it and say the same thing. Well, I guess now California’s Governor Brown can say it to Florida’s Rick “Voldemort” Scott. Rejected rail funding becomes California’s gain, yup…Florida’s residents have lost big time.

High-speed rail funding rejected by Florida Gov. Rick Scott officially became California’s gain Tuesday as the Department of Transportation granted nearly $1 billion to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

In February, Scott rejected about $2.4 billion from DOT for a $2.6 billion high-speed train line from Tampa to Orlando, declaring in April that the money should go back to taxpayers or be used for deficit reduction.

So instead of creating jobs for his state, Scott just kicked his constituents in the ass and poked his fingers into the eyes of Floridian workers who need jobs.

 It’s not the first time California has profited from a Republican governor’s decisions to reject rail funding. After Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich tossed back a combined $1.2 billion in 2010, more than $610 million of that money was redirected to California’s high-speed rail.

The total federal commitment to California’s high-speed rail projects is now about $3.9 billion, $3.5 billion of which is specifically for an initial 130-mile segment in the sparsely populated Central Valley. Combined with about $2.6 billion in state funds, CHSRA says it has enough money to design and complete the Central Valley portion, which is projected to create about 100,000 jobs over five years on the way to producing a rail system that can achieve 220 mph train speeds.

Well, at least the funds aren’t disappearing into thin air… like those non-Koch investment accounts at MF Global.

Speaking of Koch…and their 1% brethren, Grover Norquist hails victory after supercommittee deal fails. Take a look at this interview Norquist gave the Guardian while he was on the road to Florida for Thanksgiving.

The lobbyist, who runs Americans for Tax Reform, has a tight hold on the Republican party, having secured written pledges from almost all its members of Congress that they will not vote for a single tax rise. Any Republican who fails to sign that pledge faces a tough primary challenge. Any Republican contemplating supporting even a minimal increase will be reminded of that written promise.

All six Republicans on the supercommittee were signatories.

It was the tax issue that broke the supercommittee. The Democrats insisted on increases: the Republicans refused. It was the tax issue that led one of the Democrats, John Kerry, the 2004 presidential candidate, to describe Norquist as the 13th member of the committee.

Norquist, who boasts of having ensured that Republicans have not voted for tax increases for at least the last two decades, recalled running into Kerry in the Senate, and the Democrat asked him to chat about a possible deal. “Kerry spoke about tax rises and I thought ‘Good luck with that. It is not happening.’”

How can someone have so much control over elected officials?

Back to the Guardian article, Norquist then takes the conversation to a flashback, where Grover is a kid, and gets the brilliant idea for his diabolical plan to destroy any American who is not filthy rich.

Norquist, aged 55, has been in politics since childhood. Both his parents were Republicans but more moderate than their son. At an age when other children were still watching cartoons, he said he bought the entire works of Hoover from the local library. He took the train from his home in Weston, Massachusetts, to Boston to work in the Nixon campaign office in 1968.

Returning from school one day, he had the idea that has dominated the Republican party for nearly 30 years, the single most important dividing line between Democrats and Republicans. “The thought I had when I was 12 was that the Republicans should brand themselves as the party that would not raise taxes.”

Can you see Lil’ Norquist plotting his ambush…I imagine him as a young Mr. Burns rubbing his hands together and saying… “I’ll be the most powerful political puppet master that ever lived. Splendid.”

The article ends with an acknowledgement that of all the GOP candidates, only Huntsman has not signed Grover’s Pledge.

All the Republican presidential candidates have signed it, with the exception of former diplomat Jon Huntsman, an outsider who has never managed to get above single digits in polling. Norquist blames his poor showing on failing to sign the pledge, describing it as a strategic mistake to show a willingness to compromise on tax. Other Republicans seeking office show little inclination to make the same mistake of crossing Norquist.

Sickening isn’t it?

Well, let’s move on to some encouraging news, this executive decision out of Oregon about Capital Punishment: Oregon Executions to Be Blocked by Gov. Kitzhaber – NYTimes.com

Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon on Tuesday said he would halt the execution of a death row inmate scheduled for next month and that he would allow no more executions in the state during his time in office.

“It is time for Oregon to consider a different approach,” Gov. Kitzhaber, a Democrat elected last fall, said in remarks delivered in Salem on Tuesday afternoon. “I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions while I am governor.”

Kitzhaber, who has served two previous terms as Governor, talked about the execution orders he signed when he was Governor:

“They were the most agonizing and difficult decisions I have made as governor and I have revisited and questioned them over and over again during the past 14 years,” Gov. Kitzhaber said. “I do not believe that those executions made us safer; and certainly they did not make us nobler as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong.”

He did not commute the sentences of the inmates on death row, so they are just getting a bit of a reprieve, until the next Governor takes office and starts the execution clock running again.

There is another Oregon politician in the news today, Boston Boomer sent me this link last night: Senator plans first ever Internet-fueled filibuster | The Raw Story

In the coming weeks, a new and unprecedented thing just might happen in the U.S. Senate: the Internet will filibuster a bill.

Specifically, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) will filibuster a bill — the Protect IP Act, which aims to fundamentally change the structure of the Internet — with a little help from his friends and admirers online.

In a website launched this week by the left-leaning political action committee Demand Progress, Wyden promises that if the Protect IP Act comes up for a vote in the Senate, he will stage an old-school standing filibuster and speak for as long as his lungs have wind.

You may find his plan interesting…

To bolster his speech, Wyden plans to read off the names of people who stand united with him against proposed rules that would fundamentally change the structure of the Internet.

So far, over 60,000 petition signatures have been collected, his staff said, and that number is growing quickly.

He is planning to do a standing filibuster, they do not have the votes to sustain it, so they are hoping to slow down the process, and make members of Congress think about the consequences of their actions. Any names that are not read will be added later to the congressional record.

The Protect IP Act is heavily sponsored by the entertainment industry and the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbying group, which sees it as a means to prevent online piracy, which they claim costs jobs.

But its detractors, companies like Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Aol, see the bill a little differently. While Protect IP — and its House version, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) — would make it easier for U.S. authorities to crack down on websites accused of pirating movies, television shows and music, it would also allow the government and copyright owners to disable credit card processing for sites they claim are engaging or enabling copyright infringement, all without a court hearing.

The legislation is so broad it could be used to target online anonymity tools used by human rights activists, according to technology advocacy group The Electronic Frontier Foundation. The software Tor, for instance, which has been used to protect activists in Tunisia and Egypt, could be targeted because it can be used to hide one’s IP address when illegally downloading copyrighted content.

But wait…there is more…

Corporations could also use SOPA claims to force companies to stop processing donations to whistleblower sites like WikiLeaks that post documents protected by copyright or containing trade secrets. The bill would additionally require Internet service providers to “take technically feasible and reasonable measures” to block “rogue” sites from their customers, essentially creating a massive Internet blacklist.

So give that website a look-see: Stop Censorship — Take Action Before Senate Vote | Demand Progress

One last link for you today. I was thinking about the intricate artistic beauty of Japan’s Kimono the other day. I remember there was an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that had many vintage Kimono on display. So when I saw this link in my Reader last night, I had to include it in today’s post.  Kimono culture – a dying art?

Beautifully patterned kimonos may be enduring cultural symbols of Japan, but the industry that produces the garments is in steep decline – and it is feared that soon there could be no craftsmen left with the skills to make them.

In “Mastering the Art of the Kimono” – for BBC Radio 4 – the BBC’s Japan correspondent Roland Buerk investigates the crisis facing the industry, and meets some of the people who make, sell and wear the colourful gowns.

There is a slideshow video preview at the link… the last few images are amazing.  If you want to see some of the various techniques used in Kimono Design, take a look here: Japanese Kimono Design Techniques. Kimonos with Painted, Embroidered, Kasuri, Shibori, and Gold Foil Designs

This site by Marla Mallett has pages and pages of information on textiles, and lots of images to look through.  If you have some time check it out!

Well, that is it for me, I’ll see you all later today for the Evening News Reads, I’ve been looking forward to getting back to my regular blogging schedule. So what are you reading and blogging about today?