Democracy and transparency in action in the US government – sort of

“You want honest answers to what questions?”

US lawmakers are pressing the nation’s top intelligence official to estimate the number of Americans ensnared in email surveillance and other such spying on foreign targets, saying the information was needed to gauge possible reforms to the controversial programs.

Eight Democrats and six Republicans made the request to director of national intelligence James Clapper in a letter seen by Reuters on Friday, reflecting the continued bipartisan concerns over the scope of US data espionage.

“You have willingly shared information with us about the important and actionable intelligence obtained under these surveillance programs,” wrote the lawmakers, all members of the US House judiciary committee.

“Now we require your assistance in making a determination that the privacy protections in place are functioning as designed.”

They requested that Clapper provide the information about data collected under a statute, known as Section 702, by 6 May…

Intelligence officials say data about Americans are “incidentally” collected during communication with a target reasonably believed to be living overseas. Critics see it as “back-door” surveillance on Americans without a warrant…

Civil liberties groups and senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, have previously requested information on the extent of US data caught up in the foreign surveillance program.

That’s the end of the democracy and transparency part. No answer from Clapper, yet.

Here’s Obama’s answer:

The Obama administration, however, has said it cannot provide a precise answer and that any estimate would require reviewing communications in a manner that would raise privacy concerns.

Apple’s message to you and me

The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.

This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.

Smartphones, led by iPhone, have become an essential part of our lives. People use them to store an incredible amount of personal information, from our private conversations to our photos, our music, our notes, our calendars and contacts, our financial information and health data, even where we have been and where we are going.

All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.

Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us…

When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have also made Apple engineers available to advise the FBI, and we’ve offered our best ideas on a number of investigative options at their disposal…

Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession…

The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control…

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.

Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority…

Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.

Tim Cook

RTFA for a wee bit more detail. Well meaning folks who accept the FBI premise that somehow Apple already has a secret way to shutdown the “10-trial-and-wipe” feature enabled on a terrorist’s iPhone is a conclusion easy for an American to reach. A well-meaning and ignorant American. One of the best ways to design a warranty is to guarantee a product will self-destruct if tampered with. Turn it into a brick.

There is no need for a backdoor to get in and fiddle with the code. Make the attempt to do so cause an irretrievable act of destruction and you’ve fulfilled the guaranty of privacy. It was a revelation the first time I encountered that concept – over 60 years ago. I imagine it wasn’t new, then.

Equally important to my personal view is that this case is an excellent illustration of how little difference there is between the two old parties. When push comes to shove, both will come down on the side of political rule over individual liberty, personal privacy. The head of the FBI was appointed by a liberal Democrat, Barack Obama. The judge in the case, a Democrat, was appointed by a liberal Democrat, Barack Obama.

War or peace, individual liberty versus conformity defined from the top down, I have seen no reason to cast my lot with either of the two mediocrities we get to choose from to staff and guide our government. Unlike libertarians I absolutely endorse the premise of republican government – and democratic guidance by the people. That simply works better over time than the alternatives. The deliberate imposition of narrow, foot-dragging ideology by the liberal and conservative wings of class-based politicians is something I’ve had to confront since the first time I sat down at a drugstore counter with a Black friend of mine and ordered soft drinks for both of us…thereby breaking a law as “sacred” to the cops of America at the time as the crap abuse of a law from 1789 now is to the FBI and the President of the United States, Barack Obama.


Back to the Future? Not with my vote!

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 8.35.30 PM

I spend a fair piece of time criticizing President Obama for what he does – instead of doing what he could do. And, frankly, he doesn’t deserve all the credit he gets. Folks like Peter Orszag, Ian Bremmer, even Ben Bernanke and more contributed to fighting our way out of the economic struggle that left us with less than we all had – and might have had.

But, the comparison that creeps in the Republican Party make, the comparison that cretins in the Tea Party make – are not laughable, they are criminally backwards.

Thanks, SmartAlix

China adopts emissions policy that won’t get through U.S. Congress

George HW Bush signing Clean Air Act legislation including cap-and-trade in 1990

Last Thursday night news broke of the impending announcement of a national cap-and-trade program for carbon in China, as part of a U.S.-China joint climate announcement. This market-based approach, pioneered in the U.S. with the sulfur dioxide trading program, has clearly come to be seen as an essential policy tool to combat climate change, increasingly embraced by countries, policymakers, and global business leaders of all political persuasions.

The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments that established the Acid Rain program to limit emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides was a milestone for market-based environmental policies. It led to the creation of the SO2 trading program, which has helped cut those emissions at a lower cost than many had envisioned at the start of the program. The experience with this program also provides critical lessons on the importance of good policy design that can help inform future policies. (For example, the need for updating emissions caps to reflect the latest science and declining technology costs.)

Since then, cap-and-trade systems have been successfully established in Europe (the EU ETS), California (via AB32), and the nine Northeast RGGI states, among other places. Many other places, including the Canadian province of British Columbia, have a carbon tax or plan to implement one…

Starting in 2013, China began to pilot carbon cap-and-trade programs at the sub-national level. The pilot programs now extend to six cities (Beijing, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Tianjin) and two provinces (Guangdong and Hubei). The experiment has had some encouraging results, and (together with lessons from the EU ETS, California, RGGI, and other carbon trading regimes) provide the real-world experience needed to design a national system to limit emissions in a cost-effective way. China’s INDC announced earlier this year signaled the country’s intention to use carbon pricing to help meet its goal of peaking CO2 emissions by 2030, if not earlier…

Last week was a momentous one for climate action, book-ended by the Pope’s address to Congress and the joint climate announcement from Presidents Obama and Xi. The economist in me cannot help but wonder: If China can do it, why not the U.S.? It’s time for a national price on carbon in the country that invented the concept.

You needn’t be a cynic to understand why the United States will not keep its fair share of the bargain struck between Presidents Obama and Xi. Congress must be part of the equation funding efforts of this size. Between Flat Earth Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, nothing will be accomplished. That’s just a realistic view of what our national-level politicians have become.

China’s pilot programs have moved forward. Just as their experiments with individual cities becoming Free Trade Zones worked out, other cities are already in line waiting not-very-patiently to acquire the benefits of progressive reforms.

While this system can sort about half the polluting problems of excess carbon, the last-mile question also needs to be answered, as well. China needs to replace coal home fires for heating and cooking with natural gas. That process began a few years ago; but, in many ways, it is more demanding because it requires upgraded infrastructure — nationwide.

Nevertheless, both are on the way. Which is about two orders of magnitude more than we can say about the dungheap of backwardness that stretches from SCOTUS to Congress.

Apple signs on to Obama’s cybersecurity framework — but…

“History has shown us that sacrificing our right to privacy can have dire consequences”

Apple is among more than a half-dozen major U.S. corporations that have agreed to integrate the White House’s Cybersecurity Framework into their operations, but the iPhone maker will not share security information with the federal government…

While the extent to which the framework will influence Apple’s security practices is unclear, it appears that the company will not take the extra step of sharing security-related data with the Department of Homeland Security’s new National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center. Such information sharing is a tentpole of Obama’s cybersecurity strategy.

While a few notable security vendors have signed up, none of Silicon Valley’s major consumer-focused companies are participating, and Apple CEO Tim Cook was the only well-known corporate executive at the summit. The Valley maintains a deep distrust for the federal government in the aftermath of the Edward Snowden spying revelations, a point which Cook drove home during his speech.

“If those of us in positions of responsibility fail to do everything in our power to protect the right of privacy, we risk something far more valuable than money,” Cook said. “We risk our way of life.”

“We must get this right,” he added. “History has shown us that sacrificing our right to privacy can have dire consequences. We still live in a world where all people are not treated equally. Too many people do not feel free to practice their religion, or express their opinion, or love who they choose.”

Personal privacy is especially important “in a world in which that information can make the difference between life and death,” Cook said.

Uncle Sugar – led by the President of these United States – is stepping up to deal with a question of security deeply rooted in the structure of the Internet. And as the Web, the Cloud, the constant value of communications and access to information becomes more a part of everyone’s life – that question of security increases as threat and value.

I don’t doubt the President considers his proposal to be something of value. On its own. But, his continuation of the Bush/Cheney cabal, his extension of the NSA and FBI as the thought police of the world absolutely corrupts the process. It is a refutation of the standards set by our constitution as imperfect as that document may sometimes be.

So, I credit Tim Cook for not sulking in a Silicon Valley McMansion – but, showing up to address problems that need to be addressed while continuing to question the intellectual dishonesty, the hypocrisy that characterizes every aspect of our government. It doesn’t matter if it’s Congress or the White House. This nation deserves better.

Tim Cook signs onto the framework, the concept of developing cybersecurity that works for everyone. But, he will not cooperate with turning private data over to the government.

Keep on rocking in the Free World.

British spies stole emails from the NY Times, Reuters, BBC and more

The British intelligence organization GCHQ instigated a test exercise in 2008 that captured the emails of journalists and editors from Reuters, the New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC, NBC, the Washington Post and others, according to recently released files from Edward Snowden.

As a result of the test, the content of the emails was shared on the organization’s internal servers where anyone in the organization could read them. GCHQ was tapping fiber-optic cables in November of 2008 when they intercepted over 70,000 emails, including emails from the mentioned news companies, according to The Guardian.

The motive of the test is unknown, but other Snowden documents have shown the NSA and other intelligence agencies regularly target investigative journalists, often putting them on the same target lists as terrorists.

British Prime Minister David Cameron recently called for the banning of encrypted messages that can’t be intercepted by intelligence agencies.

He joins the list of corrupt American politicians in Congress and the White House who agree – no one should have the right to privacy from government snoops and spies.

Who’s missing in this picture?

Click to enlarge

Yup. Wall Street runs our government and the alphabet soup of obedience and fear – NSA, CIA, FBI – stage manage our imperial foreign policy.

That means if Homeland Insecurity deems it possible for some nutball terrorist to knock off our “fearless” leader – he stays home and watches the NFL on the telly instead of marching side-by-side with the leaders of our allies.

Obama offers plan for free community colleges

“Show us the Republican plan!”

President Obama will call on Congress to pass legislation making the first two years of community college free for students.

The federal government would cover three-quarters of the cost, with states kicking in the final 25 percent…

The program is likely to be dead on arrival in Congress, but it’s the administration’s first major college affordability proposal in some time.

As much as Republicans like Governor Susana here in New Mexico like to blather about their support for education, their concern for better education – they don’t offer a single positive and programmatic step forward. Their agitprop is meaningless when it comes to actually doing something that helps workingclass folks.

Obama is proposing two years of free community college for students who attend at least half-time and maintain a grade point average of at least 2.5. That wouldn’t cover the entire cost for most students — students who finish community college in two years are rare — but the White House estimates it would save 9 million students around $3,800 per year in tuition if every state chose to participate.

The White House said details will be in the president’s 2016 budget request but declined to offer specifics on how much the program would cost. It’s not clear how the program would work, how the grants to states would be structured, or how the federal money would interact with the Pell Grant, federal aid for low-income students that about 38 percent of all community college students receive.

Other states and cities, including Tennessee and Chicago, have proposed programs that cover any remaining tuition and fees after other grants and scholarships are applied…

Obama has praised Tennessee’s program, the Tennessee Promise, which begins with this year’s high school class and offers two years of free community college tuition. About 50,000 high school seniors completed the initial sign-up — more than three-quarters of all high school seniors in the state.

That’s one effect free college programs can have: they can make college seem possible for everybody, even students who didn’t think they could afford to go…

The total amount of student debt in the US has more than tripled in the past 10 years, from $363 billion in 2005 to more than $1.2 trillion today. It’s increasing for a few reasons: More students are going to college than they used to, a higher proportion are taking out loans, and they’re borrowing more than students did in the past…

Republicans love that part. Anything that offers profits for money-lenders is OK with conservatives.

RTFA. It wastes the required amount of space on beancounter arguments, offers up some of the pet sophistry from pretend-liberals who think such programs favor middle-class students over poor. Mail me a penny postcard when patent leather populists actually show up to work in a chile patch in Hatch, NM or sign on as a laborer building the newest Walmart for some cheap-ass contruction company.

It does dot most i’s, cross the t’s. The article is clear about Republican lies. You might be able to find one or two conservative politicians in the GOUSA who actually deliver on promises to aid education for workingclass kids. That’s like the proverbial stopped clock that has the time right for 2 seconds a day.

Republicans walked away from any progressive agenda a couple of days past the end of the Civil War..

Brutal torture by CIA as stupid as ever

Another almost-invisible supporter of human rights in the CIA

The CIA’s post-9/11 embrace of torture was brutal and ineffective – and the agency repeatedly lied about its usefulness, a milestone report by the Senate intelligence committee…concludes.

After examining 20 case studies, the report found that torture “regularly resulted in fabricated information,” said committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, in a statement summarizing the findings. She called the torture program “a stain on our values and on our history”…

The torture that the CIA carried out was even more extreme than what it portrayed to congressional overseers and the George W Bush administration, the committee found. It went beyond techniques already made public through a decade of leaks and lawsuits…

Contractor psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen played a critical role in establishing the torture program in 2002. A company they formed to contract their services to the CIA was worth more than $180m, and by the time of the contract’s 2009 cancellation, they had received $81m in payouts.

So much for “do no harm!”

The committee’s findings, which the CIA largely rejects, are the result of a four-year, $40m investigation that plunged relations between the spy agency and the Senate committee charged with overseeing it to a historic low.

The investigation that led to the report, and the question of how much of the document would be released and when, has pitted chairwoman Feinstein and her committee allies against the CIA and its White House backers. For 10 months, with the blessing of President Barack Obama, the agency has fought to conceal vast amounts of the report from the public, with an entreaty to Feinstein from secretary of state John Kerry occurring as recently as Friday.

CIA director John Brennan, an Obama confidante, conceded in a Tuesday statement that the program “had shortcomings and that the agency made mistakes” owing from what he described as unpreparedness for a massive interrogation and detentions program…

Obama banned CIA torture upon taking office, but the continuing lack of legal consequences for agency torturers has led human rights campaigners to view the Senate report as their last hope for official recognition and accountability for torture.

Though the committee released hundreds of pages of declassified excerpts from the report on Tuesday, the majority of the 6,000-plus page classified version remains secret, disappointing human rights groups that have long pushed for broader transparency…

Republican members of the intelligence committee questioned the report in their own 100-page document. They wrote blah, blah, blah and blah.

Read the whole report summary over here.

James Clapper, director of (sic) national intelligence, is leading the ranks of apologists with what is becoming the party line of liberals who are patting themselves on the back because the report finally came out. “Only the heroic United States with our great history, blah, blah, blah, would do this, blah, blah, blah.”

It took over a decade of effort by hundreds of individuals dedicated to preserving our Constitution and what few standards remain in American politics to force our government to come out with this report. Our politicians spend more time hiding the corruption of standards of decency than, say, any criminal prosecutor in St, Louis county or New York City.

Trying to elicit praise for admitting we broke everything from international treaties to our own federal laws by torturing detainees is something thugs like Dick Cheney may demand from his creepy followers. Criminal practices are not praiseworthy even when finally admitting you committed the crimes.

Oliver Stone film about Edward Snowden vs NSA starts production January

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt will play Edward Snowden in a movie directed by Oliver Stone about the former National Security Agency contractor who blew the whistle on the US government’s mass surveillance programs, the film’s backers said on Monday.

Stone, who won best director Oscars for Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, has written the screenplay based on two books – The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena.

The still untitled film goes into production in Munich in January, said independent studio Open Road Films and production and financing company Endgame Entertainment.

Producer Moritz Borman said in a statement that he and Stone chose Open Road and Endgame because “this film needs an independent in the true sense, where political pressures will not come into play…”

Snowden leaked tens of thousands of classified intelligence documents to the media in 2013 and sparked a firestorm over the NSA’s gathering of data from the Internet activities and phones of millions of ordinary Americans and dozens of world leaders.

He is wanted by the United States on charges including theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and wilful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person…and believing in the US Constitution.

Thanks, Mike