Category: Politics

Tim Cook won’t back down — opposes terrorism, selling data, and snooping

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During an unannounced visit to Apple’s Covent Garden store

Following comments regarding Apple Watch specifications and an upcoming Apple Store revamp, Cook spoke with the Telegraph in an extensive interview covering data privacy, government snooping, terrorism and more.

The Apple chief is cognizant of the amount of customer information being “trafficked around” by corporations, governments and other organizations, saying data sharing is a practice that goes against Apple’s core philosophies. He said consumers, however, “don’t fully understand what is going on” at present, but “one day they will, and will be very offended.”

“None of us should accept that the government or a company or anybody should have access to all of our private information,” Cook said. “This is a basic human right. We all have a right to privacy. We shouldn’t give it up. We shouldn’t give in to scare-mongering or to people who fundamentally don’t understand the details…”

The publication also asked about implications of terrorism, especially government surveillance operations created with the intent of aiding law enforcement agencies. Cook took a hard-nosed stance on the topic, saying the issue is a non-starter in his book because terrorists use proprietary encryption tools not under the control of U.S. or UK governments.

“Terrorists will encrypt. They know what to do,” Cook said. “If we don’t encrypt, the people we affect [by cracking down on privacy] are the good people. They are the 99.999 percent of people who are good.” He added, “You don’t want to eliminate everyone’s privacy. If you do, you not only don’t solve the terrorist issue but you also take away something that is a human right. The consequences of doing that are very significant…”

The executive reiterated Apple’s mantra of making products, not marketing consumers as products. Every device and service that comes out of Cupertino is designed to store only a minimal amount of customer information, Cook said.

Finally, Cook talked about privacy as it applies to Apple Pay, the fledgling payments service Apple rolled out in October. Unlike other payments processors, Apple designed Apple Pay to reveal little to no information to outside parties, including itself.

“If you use your phone to buy something on Apple Pay, we don’t want to know what you bought, how much you paid for it and where you bought it. That is between you, your bank and the merchant,” Cook said. “Could we make money from knowing about this? Of course. Do you want us to do that that? No. Would it be in our value system to do that? No. We’ve designed [Apple Pay] to be private and for it to be secure.”

I love the privacy of Apple Pay. I haven’t stopped smiling since the first time a checkout clerk exclaimed…”It doesn’t even tell me your name!”

This is excerpted from a long interview in the TELEGRAPH – worth reading.

Antarctica’s retreating ice may re-shape Earth’s geopolitical boundaries


Click to enlargePeter Convey on his way to the office

From the ground in this extreme northern part of Antarctica, spectacularly white and blinding ice seems to extend forever. What can’t be seen is the battle raging thousands of feet below to re-shape Earth.

Water is eating away at the Antarctic ice, melting it where it hits the oceans. As the ice sheets slowly thaw, water pours into the sea – 130 billion tons of ice per year for the past decade, according to NASA satellite calculations. That’s the weight of more than 356,000 Empire State Buildings, enough ice melt to fill more than 1.3 million Olympic swimming pools. And the melting is accelerating.

In the worst case scenario, Antarctica’s melt could push sea levels up 10 feet (3 meters) worldwide in a century or two, recurving heavily populated coastlines…

Here on the Antarctic peninsula, where the continent is warming the fastest because the land sticks out in the warmer ocean, 49 billion tons of ice are lost each year, according to NASA. The water warms from below, causing the ice to retreat on to land, and then the warmer air takes over. Temperatures rose 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the last half century, much faster than Earth’s average, said Ricardo Jana, a glaciologist for the Chilean Antarctic Institute…

Robert Island hits all the senses: the stomach-turning smell of penguin poop; soft moss that invites the rare visitor to lie down, as if on a water bed; brown mud, akin to stepping in gooey chocolate. Patches of the moss, which alternates from fluorescent green to rust red, have grown large enough to be football fields. Though 97 percent of the Antarctic Peninsula is still covered with ice, entire valleys are now free of it, ice is thinner elsewhere and glaciers have retreated, Peter Convey of the British Antarctic Survey said…

A few years back, scientists figured Antarctica as a whole was in balance, neither gaining nor losing ice. Experts worried more about Greenland; it was easier to get to and more noticeable, but once they got a better look at the bottom of the world, the focus of their fears shifted. Now scientists in two different studies use the words “irreversible” and “unstoppable” to talk about the melting in West Antarctica. Ice is gaining in East Antarctica, where the air and water are cooler, but not nearly as much as it is melting to the west.

“Before Antarctica was much of a wild card,” said University of Washington ice scientist Ian Joughin. “Now I would say it’s less of a wild card and more scary than we thought before…”

“Changing the climate of the Earth or thinning glaciers is fine as long as you don’t do it too fast. And right now we are doing it as fast as we can. It’s not good,” said Eric Rignot, of NASA. “We have to stop it; or we have to slow it down as best as we can.”

I understand how short-sighted most folks are. After all, if our politicians only think ahead to the next election, if corporate CEOs only think ahead to the next quarter, if the average person thinks long-term planning means paying off your car – or maybe a home – 100 years or 1000 years is beyond comprehension. But, scientists, especially in a discipline like climatology have to think in geologic time and those wee chunks like 1000 years happen in the blink of an eye. Look over the edge of your TV set, folks. Read, search, include some real science in whatever you add to your thinking life.

Cripes, I remember the first ice geologist I met. I was only 20 and working as a tech in a non-ferrous metals research lab. And with all of his qualifications, the only job he could find here in the States was investigating stress-corrosion cracking – even though he had practically defined the discipline during the couple of years he spent in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year.

I got to spend lunchtimes with him and a few other scientists from the lab who didn’t mind including in a kid who could only afford to go to engineering night school.

He taught us all about geologic time. He tried to teach us about ice.

Musical jobs between government and corporations still the favorite dance in DC

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Pilot programs and speed-up started in 2002

In 2004, Elsa Murano stepped down from her post as chief of the US Department of Agriculture division that oversees food safety at the nation’s slaughterhouses. Two years later, she joined the board of directors of pork giant Hormel, a company that runs some of the nation’s largest slaughterhouses. Murano received $237,000 in compensation for her service on Hormel’s board in 2014 alone.

This is a classic example of the “revolving door” that separates US government regulators from the corporations they regulate. It’s hardly the most shocking thing I gleaned from the whistleblower-protection group Government Accountability Project’s recent exposé of conditions at three hog-slaughter facilities associated with Hormel. But it’s interesting to think about in light of GAP’s allegations, found in sworn affidavits filed by four USDA inspectors stationed in Hormel-owned plants. Three of the inspectors chose to remain anonymous; the fourth, Joe Ferguson, gave his name.

Their comments focus on three Hormel-associated plants, which are among just five hog facilities enrolled in a pilot inspection program run by the USDA. In the regular oversight system, USDA-employed inspectors are stationed along the kill line, charged with ensuring that conditions are as sanitary as possible and that no tainted meat ends up being packed for consumption. In the pilot program, known as HIMP (short for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points-based Inspection Models Project), company employees take over inspection duties, relegating USDA inspectors to an oversight role on the sidelines.

What’s more, the HIMP plants get to speed up the kill line—from the current rate of 1,100 hogs per hour to 1,300 hogs per hour, a jump of nearly 20 percent. The five plants rolled out the new inspection system around 2002, USDA spokesperson Aaron Lavallee said. That’s when Murano, now on the Hormel board of directors, ran the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. If the privatization-plus-speed-up formula sounds familiar, it’s because the USDA ran a similar experimental program for chicken slaughter for years. After much pushback by workplace and food safety advocates and media attention (including from me), the USDA decided not to let poultry companies speed up the kill line when it opened the new system to all chicken slaughterhouses last year…

All four affidavits offer blistering critiques of the hog version of the pilot program. Three themes run through them: 1) company inspectors are poorly trained and prepared for the task of overseeing a fast-moving kill line involving large carcasses; 2) company-employed and USDA inspectors alike face pressure from the company not to perform their jobs rigorously; and 3) lots of unappetizing stuff is getting through as the result of 1) and 2)…

…The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, of course, continues to defend the pilot program. But then there’s its cozy ties to industry—in addition to Murano’s leap to Hormel, FSIS’s then-chief of staff flew the coop to the National Turkey Federation in 2011, and another high official bolted to work for meat processor OSI Group just this month. Given the tasty meat-industry opportunities that evidently await the USDA’s food-safety administrators, I take FSIS’s defense of the HIMP program in the face of these sworn statements with about as much salt as you might find in a slice of Hormel’s signature product, Spam.

RTFA for all the unappetizing details.

Our government’s standards for bureaucrats continue as the sloppiest excuse for honesty and integrity in the Western world. The revolving door for regulatory managers is as porous as the shuttle-dance between Congress and corporate lobbying.

Yes, I’m old enough to remember when American conservatives were as diligent as American liberals at fighting for honesty in government. While I’m not always certain of the level of dedication coming from the vaguely Leftish members of the Democrat persuasion – today’s Republican conservatives have clearly established their only target in so-called government reform is to bring government to its knees. A position already well-populated by most members of Congress before their corporate masters.

Nevada Republican says cancer is a fungus – just wash it away

Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R) wants to reform the rules of end-of-life medical care so that more cancer patients can simply flush out their disease using baking soda.

Fiore, who is also CEO of a healthcare company, told listeners to her weekly radio show on Saturday, that she will soon introduce a “terminally ill bill,” to allow more non-FDA-approved treatments for those diagnosed as having terminal illnesses.

As first reported by Jon Ralston, Fiore told listeners: “If you have cancer, which I believe is a fungus, and we can put a pic line into your body and we’re flushing, let’s say, salt water, sodium cardonate [sic], through that line, and flushing out the fungus…These are some procedures that are not FDA-approved in America that are very inexpensive, cost-effective.”

The American Cancer Society warns that while cancer patients whose immune systems are weakened by high doses of chemotherapy can sometimes contract fungal infections, “there is no evidence that antifungal treatment causes the patients’ tumors to shrink.” Cancer Research UK dismisses the claim that sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) can cure cancer as a debunked “persistent cancer myth.”

Although Fiore’s views on cancer are particularly fringe, the bill she is backing is gaining traction in a number of states. At least five states have now passed similar legislation that allows patients to use drugs not cleared by the FDA, dubbed so-called “right to try” bills.

What passes for American conservatism, nowadays, seems more and more to be populated by lemmings who never studied any science in their whole lives. That is in addition to those who fear science, hate science, dare not study science because they might be struck by lightning from an angry old white guy on a cloud.

Leading state legislatures to pass legislation not only foolish and stupid; but, dangerous to human life is becoming an Republican specialty.

Geeks + Democrats = Net Neutrality


Yes – there’s still the risk of Big Money court battles ahead

Senior Republicans have conceded…that the grueling fight with President Obama over the regulation of Internet service appears over, with the president and an army of Internet activists victorious.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected on Thursday to approve regulating Internet service like a public utility, prohibiting companies from paying for faster lanes on the Internet. While the two Democratic commissioners are negotiating over technical details, they are widely expected to side with the Democratic chairman, Tom Wheeler, against the two Republican commissioners.

And Republicans on Capitol Hill, who once criticized the plan as “Obamacare for the Internet,” now say they are unlikely to pass a legislative response that would undo perhaps the biggest policy shift since the Internet became a reality…

The new F.C.C. rules are still likely to be tied up in a protracted court fight with the cable companies and Internet service providers that oppose it, and they could be overturned in the future by a Republican-leaning commission. But for now, Congress’s hands appear to be tied.

The F.C.C. plan would let the agency regulate Internet access as if it is a public good. It would follow the concept known as net neutrality or an open Internet, banning so-called paid prioritization — or fast lanes — for willing Internet content providers.

In addition, it would ban the intentional slowing of the Internet for companies that refuse to pay broadband providers. The plan would also give the F.C.C. the power to step in if unforeseen impediments are thrown up by the handful of giant companies that run many of the country’s broadband and wireless networks…

“We’ve been outspent, outlobbied. We were going up against the second-biggest corporate lobby in D.C., and it looks like we’ve won,” said Dave Steer, director of advocacy for the Mozilla Foundation, the nonprofit technology foundation that runs Firefox, a popular Web browser, referring to the cable companies. “A year ago today, we did not think we would be in this spot.”

The net neutrality movement pitted new media against old and may well have revolutionized notions of corporate social responsibility and activism. Top-down decisions by executives investing in or divesting themselves of resources, paying lobbyists and buying advertisements were upended by the mobilization of Internet customers and users.

Our beneficent Telecom rulers and their Republican flunkies will not stop pimping their case, of course. The lies they constructed as part of their agitprop during the campaign to influence the FCC will become a plank in the Republican campaign for the White House in 2016.

Should they win full control of the United States government – those of us who stay behind in the GOUSA to fight a rear-guard action against the building of a Brave New World of Corporatism [Mussolini felt that sounds better than fascism] will no doubt be relegated by law to dial-up, standard def and B&W TV. And flip phones.

American government’s answer to privacy concerns — Trust us!


Women sense my power and they seek the life essence…But, I do deny them my essence, Mandrake.

The National Security Agency director, Mike Rogers…sought to calm a chorus of doubts about the government’s plans to maintain built-in access to data held by US technology companies, saying such “backdoors” would not be harmful to privacy, would not fatally compromise encryption and would not ruin international markets for US technology products.

Rogers mounted an elaborate defense of Barack Obama’s evolving cybersecurity strategy in an appearance before an audience of cryptographers, tech company security officers and national security reporters at the New America Foundation in Washington…

For most of the appearance, however, Rogers was on the defensive, at pains to explain how legal or technological protections could be put in place to ensure that government access to the data of US technology companies would not result in abuse by intelligence agencies. The White House is trying to broker a deal with companies such as Apple, Yahoo and Google, to ensure holes in encryption for the government to access mobile data, cloud computing and other data…

Rogers admitted that concerns about US government infiltration of US companies’ data represented a business risk for US companies, but he suggested that the greater threat was from cyber-attacks…

US technology companies have bridled at government pressure to introduce weaknesses in encryption systems in order to ensure government access to data streams, and technical experts have warned that there is no way to create a “backdoor” in an encryption system without summarily compromising it. An appearance by Obama at a cybersecurity conference at Stanford University last week to tout cooperation between the government and US tech companies was upstaged by an impassioned speech by Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, who warned of the “dire consequences” of sacrificing the right to online privacy…

“‘Backdoor’ is not the context I would use, because when I hear the phrase ‘backdoor’ I think: ‘Well this is kind of shady, why wouldn’t you want to go in the front door, be very public?’” Rogers said. “We can create a legal framework for how we do this.”

“Legal framework”, eh? Let me remind folks the first mass bombing of civilians had a “legal framework”. Hitler’s Condor Legion was invited into Spain by the fascist dictator, Franco. All perfectly legal. They bombed civilians in Madrid, Guernica, across Republican Spain.

Not that the United States would ever “legally” bomb civilians. Oh.

Texas county refuses to take on border checkpoint drug cases from the Feds

sierra blanca exit

Sierra Blanca county in Texas with two U.S. Border Patrol highway checkpoints is refusing to prosecute drug cases previously sent to it from those checkpoints.

The county—and all four states bordering Mexico—wants funding from Washington, D.C. to handle cases that federal prosecutors decide to send to state courts…

A program that reimbursed California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas for prosecuting federally initiated cases hasn’t been funded since 2013…

You might ask those folks in Congress – the ones who whine the loudest about border security – why they cut back on funding for law enforcement along the border with Mexico.

The straw that broke the camel’s back here was the end of a Drug Enforcement Administration grant in late 2014. The grant helped the county after the Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative ended.

County Judge Mike Doyal is Hudspeth County’s chief elected official. He said his county lost more money than it earned by accepting federally initiated drug cases.

“And they [the DEA] said, ‘We’re not renewing the grant.’ And we said, ‘We’re not taking any of the cases,’” said County Judge Mike Doyal, the chief elected official in Hudspeth County.

And so the county isn’t accepting any federal narcotics cases

There are no current plans in Congress to bolster funding for border states prosecuting federally initiated cases.

The term “Congressional cheapskates” comes to mind. Along with Tea Party “idjits”.

All the fear-mongering in the world ain’t about to get drug traffickers put into the slammer on good looks alone. Someone has to cover the paychecks for law enforcement and counties like Sierra Blanca can’t afford it.

Used to be a regular stop for me when I was on the road from El Paso to visit clients in the Permian Basin. Mostly played-out mines leftover from the last time they had a local economy. Though there still is a working talc mine part way between El Paso and the Sierra Blanca exit off I-10. Think about it next time you powder a baby’s butt.

Pot/DC: Conservatives hate democracy like they hate change – UPDATED

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Marijuana advocates’ hopes that the U.S. capital would easily follow in the footsteps of Denver or Seattle in clearing the way for lawful pot use are set to go up in smoke this week.

Voters in the District of Columbia last year passed a measure clearing the way for pot possession, but members of Congress have used their power over the city to prevent local officials from coming up with any plan to let the drug be sold legally for recreational purposes.

With the congressional review period for the new measure set to expire on Wednesday, District of Columbia pot users will be left in a murkier position than those in Colorado and Washington state, which fully legalized marijuana last year…

The uncertainty stems from Initiative 71, a referendum approved by 65 percent of District voters in November. A key argument by supporters was that marijuana laws unfairly victimized black people in Washington, who represent about half the city’s population…

Initiative 71 ran into opposition in Congress, which has oversight over the heavily Democratic District of Columbia. Republicans inserted a provision in a spending bill in December that barred the District from using any funds to legalize pot.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has vowed to block legalization

OK, maybe Congressional Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats, don’t hate change, progress, democracy, Black folks and women as much as the bigots in the Tea Party caucus. The end result is the same when questions come down to civil rights, to an individual’s right to make a choice from a range of options outside the 19th Century.

Want to decide if you will have an abortion, use birth control, get married to someone unapproved, smoke a little weed instead of chugging a 12-pack of lite beer, spend your vacation in Cuba? Not if the clown show masquerading as conservatism gets its fear-ridden way. Nothing new about cowardice and ignorance pretending to have an ideology. It still stinks on ice when ordinary citizens have no alternative except to go even further backwards.

UPDATE: Made it past Congressional curmudgeons!