MAGA with Russian weapons, eh?

The Trump Make America Great Again committee, which serves as the fundraising arm of the president’s campaign, ran the offending digital ad for several days last week. It shows armed soldiers silhouetted below three fighter jets and above the words “Support our Troops”, with a link to donate to the group’s coffers.

However, according to an aeronautical engineer quoted by Politico, the planes flying overhead are Russian MiG-29s; one of the soldiers, meanwhile, carries an AK-47. The image is a stock photo taken from Shutterstock.

Thanks, Raymond Koenig

What? Did you think the nutballs working for the Fake President’s re-election were any smarter, less ignorant, than he is?

Quid Pro Quo still the core of Trump’s version of justice

A lawyer for Julian Assange has claimed in court that President Donald Trump offered to pardon Assange if the WikiLeaks founder agreed to help cover up Russia’s involvement in hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee.

Assange’s lawyers said on Wednesday that former Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher offered Assange the deal in 2017, a year after emails that damaged Hillary Clinton in the presidential race had been published. WikiLeaks posted the stolen DNC emails after they were hacked by Russian operatives…

Edward Fitzgerald, who was representing Assange in court, said he had evidence that a quid pro quo was put to Assange by Rohrabacher, who was known as Putin’s favorite congressman.

Fitzgerald said a statement produced by Assange’s personal lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, included a description of “Mr. Rohrabacher going to see Mr. Assange and saying, on instructions from the president, he was offering a pardon or some other way out, if Mr Assange… said Russia had nothing to do with the DNC leaks.”

Is there no one remaining in the GOP who still cares in the least for our Constitution, the rule of law, respect for standards constructed over decades and centuries? I’ve known a fair number of conservatives in my lifetime who I would consider to be honest men and women. They were willing to stand up for the same rights that allowed for radicals, folks like me from the Left side of the political spectrum, to fight for my beliefs. Now, the party of American conservatism throws any standards they held – onto the garbage heap of history.

Their only rationale apparently is greed.

Russian hackers are hiding in Britney Spears’s Instagram account

❝ In order to hack foreign governments, military officials, and embassies, Russian hackers are now using Britney Spears in their operations by posting cryptic comments on her Instagram photos.

Hackers at Turla, a group believed to be linked to Moscow, are using Instagram comments on Britney Spears’s photos to control their hacking operation, said researchers at Slovakian security firm ESET…

❝ The comment doesn’t make sense and doesn’t seem threatening to the untrained eye. But, according to ESET, it’s key to the hackers’ success.

❝ After compromising computers, hackers need a way to send them instructions and get data back. They often set up a command and control server to do this. Security professionals defending against cyberattacks usually try to find the central server and shut it down in hopes of crippling the entire network.

The comment on Britney Spears’s photo is a clever strategy for announcing the location of a new command and control server after the previous one gets shut down. When decoded, it’s actually the central server’s internet address

❝ So why are the Russian hackers now targeting an American pop star’s Instagram account?

The answer is simple: Web traffic from users around the world is constantly flowing through Instagram. It would be incredibly easy to hide malicious comments and links on photos posted by celebrities…

❝ The discovery raises questions about what else is hiding in the comment sections of celebrities’ social media pages and how Russian hackers are getting creative to avoid tracking.

And, of course, no country’s cyberspooks have exclusive use of creepy hacks, political or otherwise. The same stunts are liable to be foisted on popular websites by the NSA or CIA – or Trump’s favorite 400-lb teenager in his Long Island bedroom.

Amazing 121-megapixel shot of Earth – time lapse video

Need something to put things into perspective on a Monday morning? Our suggestion: The largest single-shot photo of Earth ever taken.

Eclipsing NASA’s updated “Blue Marble” shot, which is a composite of many satellite images, thesr images are single-shots taken from 22,369 miles away by Russian weather satellite Elektro-L No.1.

The colors on the 121-megapixel photo are quite different from the ones on NASA’s photos of Earth. To capture the image, the satellite combines visible and infrared wavelengths of light. Infrared light is used to see plants, which is why the parts of the Earth that would normally be green are seen as rusty brown.

Too bad NASA isn’t up for anything like this anymore.

Doomed – I say “Dooomed!” – Russian probe crashes today!

An artist’s conception shows the breakup of the Phobos-Grunt probe in the atmosphere

Russia’s botched Mars probe mission Phobos-Grunt is fast approaching a fiery death, with just one or two days remaining before it falls from space…

“The European Space Agency’s current re-entry prediction for Phobos-Grunt … points to the early evening (Central European Time) on Sunday, Jan. 15, with an uncertainty of plus/minus five orbits,” equal to plus or minus 7.5 hours, said Heiner Klinkrad, head of the space debris office at ESA’s European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany…

A statement from Russia’s Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) also pegged Sunday as the crash day for Phobos-Grunt, but went even further. According to the statement, released in Russian, the 14-ton spacecraft filled with fuel is expected to fall on Sunday and may crash in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Chile.

Russian space officials pegged the potential crash time as occurring at about 4:51 p.m. ET Sunday, although major uncertainties still remain. There is a chance the spacecraft could fall earlier in the day, or on Monday…

As Phobos-Grunt draws closer and closer to its fiery finale, a worldwide team of skywatchers is on standby alert in the hopes of spotting the fall.

Experienced observers know that the probability of seeing any given satellite re-entry is very small, so they maintain very low expectations,” said Canada-based Ted Molczan, a leader in the citizen network of observers.

RTFA for beaucoup details.

Yes, I’m one of those people who will go outdoors and look around the expected atmosphere impact time.

Duck and Cover – Parts of Phobos-Grunt may land on you

Launch – November 9, 2011
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

A Russian spacecraft that became stranded in orbit on the way to Mars last year is expected to fall back to Earth next week.

The 13.5 tonne Phobos-Grunt has been circling Earth since November when rocket boosters failed to ignite and send the spaceship on its journey to the Martian moon of Phobos. The spacecraft suffered a computer malfunction after launch and when repeated attempts to contact the rocket failed, the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, had to abandon the mission.

Officials at Roscosmos admitted that 20 to 30 fragments of Phobos-Grunt, weighing a total of 200kg, might hit the Earth. Among the most likely parts to survive are the cone-shaped sample return capsule that is protected with a heat shield. The capsule was designed to survive a crash landing without a parachute.

Any components that are not vaporised during re-entry are likely to fall into the ocean or land in sparsely populated areas.

Which is what the PR folks for every space agency always say.

The spacecraft, the largest planetary rocket ever built by Russia, was designed to return rock samples from Phobos, the first time material would have been brought back from the moon of another planet. The rocket was to deliver a Chinese Mars orbiter and carried containers of bacteria to test their survival in space.

Space agencies tracking the rocket from radar stations around the world have stepped up their monitoring to once every day. As the spacecraft nears re-entry, officials will track its descent hour by hour to improve predictions of where any debris might land…

Tracking Phobos-Grunt will allow space agencies to work out when the rocket will begin re-entry, but does little to help predict where debris might land. The spacecraft is travelling so fast it completes an orbit of Earth every 90 minutes, so even a small uncertainty in its trajectory or how it breaks up can make a difference of hundreds of miles on the Earth’s surface.

Leave a note for your lawyer in case it gets you. At least your survivors may receive some compensation. Sometimes it ain’t fun being a beta-tester for approved technology.

NYPD rolls out biggest identity theft bust in U.S. history

Police said on Friday they eavesdropped on thieves speaking Russian, Mandarin and Arabic to make the biggest identity theft bust of its kind in U.S. history against a $13 million crime ring specializing mainly in selling Apple electronics overseas.

Authorities said “Operation Swiper” indicted 111 people from five criminal enterprises in Queens, New York, the nation’s most ethnically diverse county, where 138 languages are spoken and more than half the population is foreign born…

A two-year investigation revealed the enterprises had ties to larger syndicates in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and eastern Asia, Kelly said. The crime rings ran nationwide shopping sprees in which “crew leaders” oversaw “shoppers” and thieves conducted their business from five-star hotels, renting luxury cars and private jets…

Police said they seized $650,000 in cash, Apple computer products worth tens of thousands of dollars, $850,000 worth of computer equipment stolen from the Citigroup Building in Queens, seven handguns and a truck full of electronics, computers, designer shoes, watches and identity theft equipment…

Bosses of each crime ring received blank credit cards from suppliers in Russia, Libya, Lebanon and China.

The bosses then hired “skimmers” who posed for jobs such as waiters and retail shop workers so they could use electronic devices to steal information from customer credit cards. That information was then sent to a “manufacturer” who programed the information into the magnetic strips of blank credit cards.

The crime rings also used card printing machines to forge credit cards and state drivers licenses to match them…

Police then said “shoppers” in the crime rings would use the forged credit cards and IDs to go on weekly shopping sprees around the U.S. at retailers such as Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, Gucci and Best Buy and sell those items mostly to people overseas.

But by far, Gregory Antonsen said, thieves spent the most time buying computer products from Apple. “This is primarily an Apple case,” Antonsen said. “Apple is a big ticket item and a very easy sell.”

Antonsen added forged credit cards were easy for criminals to make here because U.S. credit cards are less sophisticated than those in Europe, where fraud of this magnitude would have been much more difficult…

The indicted individuals are charged with crimes ranging from identity theft and forging credit cards to robbery. Police said 86 of the 111 people indicted for the crimes are currently in police custody and the remaining 25 were being sought.

It starts with the simplest thing in the world. Always read the details of your credit card statement. Doesn’t matter if it belongs to the company you work for or if it’s your own. You’re the best person to catch the skimmer.

Cripes, the first time I caught someone doing it was in the late 1970’s at my [then] favorite Indian/Muslim restaurant in NYC. I saw dinner at the restaurant come through twice in a month – weeks apart – but, I’d only been there for a long weekend at a trade show. The style of theft ain’t any different – just the tech that makes it easier.

An illegal marriage in Israel – between a Jewish man and woman

The wedding of Inna Zyskind and Pavel Kogan last week was one of the happiest days of their lives.

Friends and family watched as they exchanged vows and rings under a canopy in their quirky designer outfits. Then more than 1,000 guests attended an open-air festival in Tel Aviv, with street performers and musicians, partying long into the night.

The couple’s only regret is that their marriage is not legally recognised in Israel. In fact, it was organised by activist groups as part of a colourful protest against religious restrictions on who can marry.

Inna, who was born in Russia, was able to move here and become an Israeli citizen under the state’s law of return for Jews. But she is not recognised as truly Jewish by Israel’s orthodox rabbinical establishment. And in Israel, only religious marriages, not civil ones, are allowed…

This was our demonstration,” says Pavel. “We’re secular people. We want to break the religious monopoly over this part of our life in Israel. We should be allowed a civil wedding…”

RTFA for detail, anecdotes, none of which should come as a surprise. Celebrating love and marriage, trying to live a civilized life in the 21st Century – in a nation that tries to cram people’s lives into tiny ideological boxes leftover from the Talmud – can be an exercise in futility.

To be expected in any land legally ruled by a culture which rejects history, science, secular knowledge.

Russians arrest man eating human liver with potatoes

Spring onions can provide a piquant addition

Russian police say they have detained a man who was caught eating an acquaintance’s liver.

Police tracked down the suspect after a trail of severed body parts including limbs and a head were found across Moscow.

“When the police came to arrest the suspect, he was eating a human liver with potatoes,” a police spokeswoman for the Moscow’s western district said by telephone.

The rest of the human liver was found in a refrigerator in the suspect’s flat. The police spokeswoman said the cause of the acquaintance’s death was not clear.

What’s obvious is that the suspect knows nothing about proper pairing of ingredients in a meal. He was lacking onions.

Russia joins the United States in Afghan drug raids

Russian counternarcotics agents took part in an operation to eradicate several drug laboratories in Afghanistan this week, joining Afghan and American antidrug forces in what officials here said Friday marked an advance in relations between Moscow and Washington.

The operation, in which four opium refining laboratories and over 2,000 pounds of high-quality heroin were destroyed, was the first to include Russian agents. It also indicated a tentative willingness among Russian officials to become more deeply involved in Afghanistan two decades after American-backed Afghan fighters defeated the Soviet military there.

“This is a major success for cooperative actions,” Viktor P. Ivanov, Russia’s top drug enforcement official, told journalists in Moscow. “This shows that there are real actions being taken amid the reset in relations between Russia and the United States.”

Although Russia has a large stake in the outcome of the war in Afghanistan, the country has not participated in the NATO-led military coalition there and has seemed ambivalent about the American effort in its backyard…

At the same time, Russia has strong interests in a stable and cooperative Afghanistan. A Taliban resurgence and the return of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan could bolster Islamic extremism in Central Asia and southern Russia, where the authorities continue to battle a potent Islamic insurgency in Chechnya and the surrounding region.

The issue of Afghan heroin, which is derived from opium, is particularly vexing. Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of heroin, much of which seeps into neighboring Central Asian countries and then into Russia, where it finds a ready market of over a million users.

Almost 90 percent of Russia’s heroin comes from Afghanistan, according to government statistics. Injected drugs kill thousands annually and are the main driver of Russia’s H.I.V. epidemic, which is growing faster than almost anywhere else in the world.

A positive start to an alliance that frankly I found nonplussing when first noted. Russians haven’t much of a record of accomplishments in Afghanistan. Though, coming into action as a response to their out-of-control problem with heroin certainly makes sense.

At least, within the sort of 19th/20th Century standards they share evenly with the United States.