Senate OKs Warrantless Wiretapping

The ACLU reports:

"The Senate today reauthorized the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, an unconstitutional spying bill that violates the Fourth Amendment and gives vast, unchecked surveillance authority to the government. The FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act (H.R. 5949), passed on a 73-23 vote, authorizes the National Security Agency to conduct dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international emails and phone calls."

Dianne Feinstein claims:

"This necessary legislation will continue to keep America safe by enabling our intelligence community to identify and neutralize terror networks before they harm us either at home or abroad."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation Responds:

"This vote was nothing less than abdication by Congress of its role as watchdog over Executive power, and a failure of its independent obligation to protect the Bill of Rights. The FISA Amendments Act and the ongoing warrantless spying on Americans has been, and will continue to be, a blight on our nation and our Constitution."

Oliver Stone adds:

"He [Obama] has taken all the Bush changes he basically put them into the establishment, he has codified them. That is what is sad. So we are going into the second administration that is living outside the law and does not respect the law and foundations of our system and he is a constitutional lawyer, you know."

National Security is the ultimate apology. As with torture, our leaders claim that they must undermine the Constitution because they don't have a choice... national security is at stake. -BB(2012-12-29)

U.S. Government Perception Management

According to an information warfare specialist at the National Defense University, manipulating public opinion has taken center stage as a means to gain support for U.S. policies:

"What's changing is the realization that in this so-called war on terrorism, this is not a force multiplier; this might be the thing that wins the whole thing for you... This gets to the importance of the war of ideas. There are a billion-plus Muslims that are undecided. How do we move them over to being more supportive of us? If we can do that, we can make progress and improve security."

Related: Along these lines, Yemen's government attempted to conceal U.S. Drone strikes:

"Within seconds, 11 of the passengers were dead, including a woman and her 7-year-old daughter. A 12-year-old boy also perished that day, and another man later died from his wounds. The Yemeni government initially said that those killed were al-Qaeda militants and that its Soviet-era jets had carried out the Sept. 2 attack."

Related: An article on torture propaganda.

"Even given that huge damage, arguably the more severe and longest lasting unintended consequences have been those we have inflicted upon ourselves. That we are still debating torture's virtues is itself strong evidence of the ill effect of torture on those who would wield it, in this case an entire society. There has been not just a coarsening of our ideals but a rebuke of them. In failing to assess and acknowledge the damage we've done, we have cheapened the idea of America."

Our leaders try very hard to convey the idea that the United States is spreading freedom and democracy. Yet, anyone who makes the effort to look beyond this kind of superficial rhetoric will realize that we do just the opposite by supporting brutal regimes around the world. -BB(2012-12-26)

"The United States speaks about supporting human rights and democracy, but while the Saudis send troops to aid the Khalifa government, America is sending arms. The United States is doing itself a huge disservice by displaying such an obvious double standard toward human rights violations in the Middle East. Washington condemns the violence of the Syrian government but turns a blind eye to blatant human rights abuses committed by its ally Bahrain."

The Children That The Media Ignores

George Monbiot points out the media's double standard:

"Most of the world's media, which has rightly commemorated the children of Newtown, either ignores Obama's murders or accepts the official version that all those killed are 'militants'. The children of north-west Pakistan, it seems, are not like our children. They have no names, no pictures, no memorials of candles and flowers and teddy bears. They belong to the other: to the non-human world of bugs and grass and tissue."

Juan Cole reminds us:

"Let's also Remember the 176 children Killed by US Drones."

To the executives that run the major news outlets, why is the mass murder of children outside the United States any less significant? -BB(2012-12-19)

Bankers Enable the Cartels, But Are Too Big To Jail

The New York Times reports that HSBC, after transferring mountains of cash on behalf of drug cartels, will simply be fined. State and federal authorities have basically apologized for their inability to indict the bank:

"A money-laundering indictment, or a guilty plea over such charges, would essentially be a death sentence for the bank. Such actions could cut off the bank from certain investors like pension funds and ultimately cost it its charter to operate in the United States, officials said."

Glenn Greenwald comments on how this apology fit into the larger narrative of exceptionalism:

"We are constantly told that immunizing those with the greatest power is not for their good, but for our good, for our collective good: because it's better for all of us if society is free of the disruptions that come from trying to punish the most powerful, if we're free of the deprivations that we would collectively experience if we lose their extraordinary value and contributions by prosecuting them."

You can't jail bankers because ultimately they are the law. Threaten them and you'll see who really wields power in the United States. Our representatives are just intermediaries, the political operatives of the 1%. -BB(2012-12-14)

Related: Matt Taibbi relates the sort of punishment that these bankers deserve:

"How about you dive into every bank account of every single executive involved in this mess and take every last bonus dollar they've ever earned? Then take their houses, their cars, the paintings they bought at Sotheby's auctions, the clothes in their closets, the loose change in the jars on their kitchen counters, every last freaking thing. Take it all and don't think twice. And then throw them in jail."

"Sound harsh? It does, doesn't it? The only problem is, that's exactly what the government does just about every day to ordinary people involved in ordinary drug cases."

Responding to Grover Norquist

Grover Norquist is a front man for the right wing of the Republican Party. He's succeeded in getting more than 270 members of congress to sign an agreement (the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge") whereby they promise not to support legislation that will raise taxes. Republicans who defy Norquist face primary battles against candidates supported by Norquist. When asked what he thought about the government's duty towards the elderly and the poor (e.g. medicare, social security), he responded:

"It should stop stepping on them, kicking them and making their lives more difficult."

In other words, we have no need for government, for regulation, and everything should be left to the free market and "individual initiative." This was the world envisioned by Ayn Rand when she created the philosphy of Objectivism. Relentless self-interest is virtuous; Social Darwinism reborn.

Nicholas Kristof exposes the fraud of this sort of market fundamentalism:

"Anyone who honestly believes that low taxes and unfettered free markets are always best should consider moving to Pakistan’s tribal areas. They are a triumph of limited government, negligible taxes, no 'burdensome regulation' and free markets for everything from drugs to AK-47s."

As does Noami Klein:

"Climate change is, I would argue, the greatest single free-market failure. This is what happens when you don't regulate corporations and you allow them to treat the atmosphere as an open sewer."

The standard argument, deployed by the political operatives of the 1%, against raising tax rates is that it will negate growth by discouraging investment (i.e. trickle-down economics). Warren Buffet explodes this myth:

"Between 1951 and 1954, when the capital gains rate was 25 percent and marginal rates on dividends reached 91 percent in extreme cases, I sold securities and did pretty well. In the years from 1956 to 1969, the top marginal rate fell modestly, but was still a lofty 70 percent — and the tax rate on capital gains inched up to 27.5 percent. I was managing funds for investors then. Never did anyone mention taxes as a reason to forgo an investment opportunity that I offered."

The plutocrats of today, like the British colonialists of yesterday, live in their own separate world. Why should they care about the societal fallout that their wealth extraction generates? -BB(2012-11-27)

Drone Assassinations, Signature Strikes, and Secrecy

Below are a number of telling excerpts from a New York Times article on drone strikes:

"For years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States routinely condemned targeted killings of suspected terrorists by Israel, and most countries still object to such measures."

"The word evolved to mean the 'signature' of militants in general — for instance, young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups."

"Experts say the strikes are deeply unpopular both in Pakistan and Yemen, in part because of allegations of large numbers of civilian casualties, which American officials say are exaggerated."

"Despite public remarks by Mr. Obama and his aides on the legal basis for targeted killing, the program remains officially classified."

Sarah Knuckey of New York University School of Law asks:

"What if all countries did what the U.S. is doing?"

A study performed by Stanford Law School and the NYU School of Law contends that the government's claims of surgical accuracy are nothing more than propaganda:

"While civilian casualties are rarely acknowledged by the US government, there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians."

"US drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury. Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities."

Columbia's Law School has also published reports that question the White House narrative that drone strikes are an effective tool with little downside or collateral damage.

Glenn Greenwald points out the futility of our government's basic strategy:

"To solve the problem of anti-American hatred in the region, we must do more and more of exactly that which - quite rationally - generates that hatred."

Noam Chomsky observes:

"One of the major reasons for government secrecy is to protect the government from its own population."

The United States is setting a dangerous precedent, using methods that will inevitably backfire, while stifling formal legal challenges through secrecy. - BB(2012-11-25)

Friedman Warns of Imaginary STEM Skill Shortage

Thomas Friedman, the establishment mouthpiece, is back at it, towing the corporate line with flimsy anecdotal evidence:

"We're in the midst of a perfect storm: a Great Recession that has caused a sharp increase in unemployment and a Great Inflection — a merger of the information technology revolution and globalization that is simultaneously wiping out many decent-wage, middle-skilled jobs, which were the foundation of our middle class, and replacing them with decent-wage, high-skilled jobs. Every decent-paying job today takes more skill and more education, but too many Americans aren’t ready. This problem awaits us after the 'fiscal cliff.'"

Friedman is dead wrong, there's actually a surplus of workers with STEM skills. What's happening isn't about a lack of talent, it's about Corporations making a buck:

"Simply put, a desire for cheap, skilled labor, within the business world and academia, has fueled assertions—based on flimsy and distorted evidence—that American students lack the interest and ability to pursue careers in science and engineering, and has spurred policies that have flooded the market with foreign STEM workers. This has created a grim reality for the scientific and technical labor force: glutted job markets; few career jobs; low pay, long hours, and dismal job prospects for postdoctoral researchers in university labs; near indentured servitude for holders of temporary work visas."

These CEOs aren't job creators, they're wealth extractors. -BB(2012-11-19)

USCC 2012 Annual Report Published

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission predictably concludes that (a drum roll please)... China is "the most threatening actor in cyberspace." Who would have guessed?

Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden indicates otherwise:

"There was a survey done not too many months ago. They asked the citizens of some cyber-savvy nations around the world, who do you fear most in the cyber-domain? And, quite interestingly, we were number one."

Given how much we spend on our military, roughly equal to the combined defense spending of the rest of the world, it's highly unlikely that China can hold a candle to the U.S. stockpile of offensive technology. -BB(2012-11-14)

Deconstructing The Offensive Approach

Gary McGraw does a truly impressive job of revealing the flawed reasoning behind Leon Panneta's stance on cyber-attacks. In this illuminating essay Gary explains how the best defense is NOT a good offense (though such thinking might serve to acquire large disbursements of federal funding):

"We've established that offense, even in the guise of active defense is a poor deterrent. If everyone has cyber-rocks and attribution is difficult, a cyber-troublemaker can start a real war using Gandalf's trick. What are we to turn to as a deterrent or a power differentiator?"

"The answer is clear: cyber-defense."

This is a topic that I've also spoken about. -BB(2012-11-08)

Related : Chevron, Stuxnet, & Collateral Damage

"I don't think the U.S. government even realized how far it had spread... I think the downside of what they did is going to be far worse than what they actually accomplished."

Here's a question: Is the U.S. government going to compensate organizations which were unintended victims?

A Clean Slate, Big Brother Style

The New York Times celebrates Peter Neumann's gambit to rethink the whole concept of a computer:

"Years after most of his contemporaries have retired, Dr. Neumann is still at it and has seized the opportunity to start over and redesign computers and software from a 'clean slate.'"

"He is leading a team of researchers in an effort to completely rethink how to make computers and networks secure, in a five-year project financed by the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, with Robert N. Watson, a computer security researcher at Cambridge University's Computer Laboratory."

"One design approach that Dr. Neumann's research team is pursuing is known as a tagged architecture. In effect, each piece of data in the experimental system must carry 'credentials' — an encryption code that ensures that it is one that the system trusts. If the data or program’s papers are not in order, the computer won’t process them."

Cryptome offers a couple of salient remarks:

"Peter Neumann proposes killing computers and the Internet to start over and build something far worse to meticulously track every nano-bite of digital communications with unrevocable, implanted encrypted ID in every device to authenticate ID of users."

"DARPA, who else, is funding the work to kill anonymity and privacy for, ta da, national security racketeering."

"The bountiful cyberwar mongerers are delirious with support for their job security of predicting evermore Pearl Harbors, amply protected by secrecy of 'defensive' USG cyber aggression."

Keep in mind that Neumann works for SRI, which has long-standing ties with the Department of Defense. -BB(2012-10-31)

The 1% In China and the United States

The New York Times has publised an article that describes how the relatives of China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao, have benefited financially as a result of his political influence.

"Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership, an investigation by The New York Times shows. A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister's relatives — some of whom, including his wife, have a knack for aggressive deal making — have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion."

Of course, these people don't even comes close to the Walton family. According to labor economist Sylvia Allegretto:

"the Forbes [400] list reveals that six Waltons — all children (one daughter-in-law) of Sam or James 'Bud' Walton the founders of Wal-Mart — were on the list. The combined worth of the Walton six was $69.7 billion in 2007— which equated to the total wealth of the entire bottom thirty percent!"

The Waltons, you see, don't have time to run for office. They leave the dull chore of legislation to their political operatives in Washington. In fact, the Waltons probably see lawmakers as nothing more than 'hired help'.

The Chinese government has formally censored this story. In the United States, the ruling class doesn't bother. It's far easier to distract everyone with reality T.V., sports, and the latest electronic gadgets. - BB(2012-10-27)

Blaming Inequality Entirely on Globalization and Automation

This is a favorite tactic of the establishment, because it allows our legislators to throw their arms up and claim that there's nothing they can do.

"The causes of income stagnation are varied and lack the political simplicity of calls to bring down the deficit or avert another Wall Street meltdown. They cannot be quickly remedied through legislation from Washington. The biggest causes, according to interviews with economists over the last several months, are not the issues that dominate the political debate."

"At the top of the list are the digital revolution, which has allowed machines to replace many forms of human labor, and the modern wave of globalization, which has allowed millions of low-wage workers around the world to begin competing with Americans."

Of course, it's an obvious cover story, as Paul Pierson and Jacob Hacker explain. The U.S. economy is based on ground rules that are established by lawmakers.

"When you look at other affluent democracies that have also been exposed to these same kinds of pressures, who are actually more open -- smaller economies are often more open to the global economy than the United States is -- you don't see anything like the run-up in inequality, especially this very concentrated high-end inequality, in most of these other countries that you see in the United States. Which to us, really, was a very strong clue that we need to understand why the American response to globalization, to technological change has been different than the response of most other wealthy democracies."

Legislators won't do anything, not because of economic forces beyond their control, but because they're beholden to corporate money. -BB(2012-10-26)

Striking at the Root of the Problem

High-profile commentators like Thomas Friedman purport to understand the great issues facing the United States:

"The nexus of debt, taxes and entitlements... how to generate growth and upgrade the skills of every American in an age when the merger of globalization and the information technology revolution means every good job requires more education; how to meet our energy and climate challenges; and how to create an immigration policy that will treat those who are here illegally humanely, while opening America to the world's most talented immigrants, whom we need to remain the world's most innovative economy."

Yet Friedman completely fails to acknowledge the underlying core issue that most gravely threatens society on a fundamental level: the corporate takover of our republic. Perhaps this is expected as Friedman is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a member of the establishment. As such he has to assume the system's validity a priori. The Occupy Movement doesn't suffer from this shortcoming.

"With the upcoming presidential election, we are going to be given two sides of the same corporate coin. Without question, we reject the idea that Mitt Romney, the man behind Bain Capital, can do anything other than gut what remains of the public sector, destroy what remains of our social services, and empower corporations to further take over our country."

"Barack Obama's agenda is not so different from that of Mitt Romney's. If Obama is elected we will continue to see more human rights abuses, the rolling back of our constitutional rights, and a continuation of the silent coup that corporate America is executing on what remains of our sham of a democracy."

Bill Moyers also stands in stark contrast to spokesmen like Friedman:

"We've been governed for years now by one or the other of them, see-sawing back and forth in controlling Congress and the White House, so self-absorbed and corrupted by money that neither seems willing or able to cope with reality, or even to grasp what's happening to everyday Americans. By their very nature, neither party's capable of providing the radical critique we need - a blunt, even brutal assessment of a political system so dysfunctional as to call into question the survival of democracy."

Metanoia Films does a brilliant job of explaining the two-party illusion here.

Let's face it, the 1% see us as expendable:

"Neither American political party recognizes this disconnect. Neither party can afford to recognize it, as both parties are dependent on corporate campaign financing, and offshoring boosts executive bonuses and share prices. A political party that opposes offshoring of US jobs simply does not get financed."

I've written about the corporate-party system also. -BB(2012-09-07)

Plan X and Full Spectrum Dominance

Wired reports on the Pentagon's 'Plan X':

"The Pentagon's top research arm is unveiling a new, classified cyberwarfare project. But it's not about building the next Stuxnet, Darpa swears. Instead, the just-introduced 'Plan X' is designed to make online strikes a more routine part of U.S. military operations. That will make the son of Stuxnet easier to pull off -- to, as Darpa puts it, 'dominate the cyber battlespace.'"

Our leaders go into hysterics about Russia and China, to distract us from offensive programs that are being developed by the world's leading rogue state. All to the benefit of a sprawling defense industry, which is currently outshining WallStreet as far as CEO pay is concerned:

"Chief executives of the top five U.S. military contractors were paid a total of $107 million last year, 43 percent more than the heads of the five biggest U.S. banks, who made $75 million. That's a reversal from 2007, when the defense executives received $97 million, 41 percent less than the $163 million that went to the top banking chief executives."

Recall Harold Pinter's 2005 Nobel Lecture:

"I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as 'full spectrum dominance'. That is not my term, it is theirs. 'Full spectrum dominance' means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources."

He's right. The moneyed elite are actually pretty clear about what they want. In his book Tragedy and Hope, Georgetown University professor Carroll Quigley breaks it down (see the bottom of page 277 ):

"The powers of financial capitalism had another far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole."

For specifics, research the War and Peace Studies undertaken by the Council on Foreign Relations. -BB(2012-08-22)

NSA Chief Hypes Cyber Threat

The New York Times reports on a recent event, the Aspen Security Forum, which it also happens to sponsor. The Times claims that this is the "first official acknowledgment" of how vulnerable the U.S. is:

"General Alexander said that what concerned him about the increase in foreign cyberattacks on the United States was that a growing number were aimed at 'critical infrastructure,' and that the United States remained unprepared to ward off a major attack. On a scale of 1 to 10, he said, American preparedness for a large-scale cyberattack is 'around a 3.'"

Cryptome exposes this somber warning for what it is: propaganda

"Alexander, contrary to previous DIRNSAs, is speaking quite often to gin cyber-aggression as dual-use head of NSA and Cybercom, first for defense second for offense, both now ordered to expound open cyber-threat propaganda to parallel long-standing covert information operations."

"Among a slew of commercial initiatives drumming cyber conflict, the Aspen Security Forum aims to be the premier war-bloviation platform, heavily empaneled by former USG officials now shilling for the national security industry. NY Times sponsorship is indicative of the perdurable wartime financial benefits for the media in conjunction with financial markets. Bloviation blows ill winds, the storm front gaining force during presidential campaigns."

"Cyber attacks on the US, do not forget them, they are legion, expect them, thanks to NSA/Cyber Command Anonymous operations."

These officials loudly warn about attacks on our infrastructure while they're busy sticking it to someone else under the veil of government secrecy. We've met the attackers; they're U.S. intelligence services. -BB(2012-07-27)

Threat Inflation In Action

In the aftermath of the attack in Colorado, officials may take the opportunity to focus our attention on homegrown terror threats. This would only be expected as, in their minds, terror is the greatest threat that this country faces:

"Terrorism, Clapper [Director of National Intelligence] said, is the first and foremost threat."

Is our DNI aware that terrorist attacks killed seventeen U.S. private citizens in 2011? (see page 20 of the report)

On the other hand, there are roughly 30,000 people killed in lethal traffic incidents every year.

Of course, admitting this won't help the DNI acquire additional funding or authority. -BB(2012-07-24)

The President Plugs Legislation with Worst-Case Scenarios

Barack Obama has left a missive at the corporate altar which is the Wall Street Journal:

"In a future conflict, an adversary unable to match our military supremacy on the battlefield might seek to exploit our computer vulnerabilities here at home. Taking down vital banking systems could trigger a financial crisis. The lack of clean water or functioning hospitals could spark a public health emergency. And as we've seen in past blackouts, the loss of electricity can bring businesses, cities and entire regions to a standstill."

"For the sake of our national and economic security, I urge the Senate to pass the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 and Congress to send me comprehensive legislation so I can sign it into law."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation warns that:

"Our contacts in Washington tell us it's likely that opponents will try to strip out these [privacy] protections by hyping up fears of catastrophic cyberattacks and calling for stronger national security provisions. We need to organize now to stop any Floor amendments that would undermine these major privacy wins."

Ask any seasoned Public Relations consultant. Nothing sells an agenda like a heavy dose of anxiety. Create the perception of a threat (the thesis) which leads to public outcry (the anti-thesis) and facilitates the adoption of a preconceived solution (synthesis). Hegel's dialectic lives on. -BB(2012-07-20)

HSBC, Banking Elite Have No Fear of Reprisal

First the Mortgage Crisis, then the LIBOR Scandal, and now we find that HSBC has been laundering money for Mexican drug lords and catering to the banking needs of Organized Crime groups the world over. Though Forbes is insistent that HSBC was, strictly speaking, fined for "inadequate paperwork." Ahem.

The attraction of this sort of blood money is that it represents a cheap source of what is essentially the banking industry's raw material. As Michael Ruppert explains in his book Crossing the Rubicon :

"Those who have the lowest cost of capital win. In the best-case scenario this would be capital on which you didn't have to pay any interest at all, or even raised -- somehow -- for free. Finding the cheap capital (just like the cheap oil) is the trick: knowing where the money is and how it works. But big money doesn't always broadcast its location."

I don't necessarily buy the cover story that these poor executives are simply in over their heads with regard to grasping the complex nature of their industry. I think they're well aware of the basic game plan: extract as much wealth as they can and work to prevent our mobilization against the process. HSBC will pay a fine and be on its merry way, because the elite own everyone with enough institutional authority to send them to jail. -BB(2012-07-17)

Related David Brooks defends the elite:

"I'd say today's meritocratic elites achieve and preserve their status not mainly by being corrupt but mainly by being ambitious and disciplined. They raise their kids in organized families. They spend enormous amounts of money and time on enrichment. They work much longer hours than people down the income scale, driving their kids to piano lessons and then taking part in conference calls from the waiting room."

Chris Hayes offers an astute response:

"There's a lot of hard-working, disciplined, totally corrupt folks on Wall Street, for instance, and I don't think we have to choose between the two. And, you know, I make a book-length argument to support my contention..."

Inspecting Syrian Opposition Spokesmen

The Guardian has published a report that examines the Syrian "official spokesmen" or "pro-democracy campaigners":

"A number of key figures in the Syrian opposition movement are long-term exiles who were receiving US government funding to undermine the Assad government long before the Arab spring broke out. Though it is not yet stated US government policy to oust Assad by force, these spokespeople are vocal advocates of foreign military intervention in Syria and thus natural allies of well-known US neoconservatives who supported Bush's invasion of Iraq and are now pressuring the Obama administration to intervene."

Bassma Kodmani is one of these key figures. She's the director of the Arab Reform Initiative which was founded by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), an organization that's best described by Shoup and Minter:

"[Council on Foreign Relations] goals remain, as always, to influence the government and public opinion in favor of an imperial role for the United States."

With these credentials it should come as no surprise that she's been to the Bilderberg conference twice. In other words, she's a vetted representative of establishment interests. The Guardian article remarks:

"Kodmani is not some random 'pro-democracy activist' who happens to have found herself in front of a microphone... A picture is emerging of Kodmani as a trusted lieutenant of the Anglo-American democracy-promotion industry."

The crisis in Syria has set in motion a campaign to establish a pro-US regime. That is, one that supports U.S. foreign policy goals as defined by the boardrooms in Manhattan. Noam Chomsky states that:

"The real challenge for the west relates to democracy itself. If there were to be a true democracy in Syria, the west would find this much more difficult to handle."

This definitely says something about how the average Syrian feels about the United States. -BB(2012-07-13)

Leaks, Disinformation, and Hegel's Dialectic - (2012-07-05)

In the early days of the Soviet Empire, the GPU ran a counterintelligence campaign called Operation Trust which created an anti-Bolshevik opposition group in an effort to provide the GPU with a means to undermine their enemies. As cryptome's John Young explains, this strategy is still being used:

"The enemy are those who set up and participate in false public interest initiatives to mislead the public, a very ancient practice of power groups who sponsor dissidents to serve as controlled opposition. CIA and most if not all national intelligence agencies (and their host governments) engage in this practice by supporting NGOs, individuals, churches, universities, think tanks, media outlets, including so-called alternative outlets, anti-war initiatives."

"Indeed, it is prudent to consider any long-lived group as having been either set up by authorities or co-opted once successful (usually through favorable tax treatment and funding). It is a difficult task to sort out who is complicit and who is not due to the quick adoption by covert operations of the honest groups means and methods."

Michel Chossudovsky offers a similar analysis:

"It is in the interest of the corporate elites to accept dissent and protest as a feature of the system inasmuch as they do not threaten the established social order. The purpose is not to repress dissent, but, on the contrary, to shape and mould the protest movement, to set the outer limits of dissent."

"To maintain their legitimacy, the economic elites favor limited and controlled forms of opposition, with a view to preventing the development of radical forms of protest, which might shake the very foundations and institutions of global capitalism. In other words, 'manufacturing dissent' acts as a 'safety valve,' which protects and sustains the New World Order."

In other words, high-level planners can control the outcome of a conflict by managing both sides. Manipulate the thesis and anti-thesis and you can determine the outcome of their inevitable synthesis. To put Hegel's dialectic another way: nothing beats a fixed fight. -BB(2012-07-05)

The Final Nail in the Coffin

History repeats itself in Montana. The U.S. Supreme Court, in light of the Citizens United case, has reversed an existing decision of the Montana Supreme Court that limited political spending by business interests. Larry Howell, an associate professor at the University of Montana School of Law, explains what originally led to political spending limits in Montana:

"Montana's continued fight to restrict independent corporate expenditures in campaigns for elected office is rooted in the State's history of corrupt elections during the War of the Copper Kings, which took place at the turn of the twentieth century. At the time, the State was infamous for what historian K. Ross Toole described as the 'massive corruption of the machinery of government' that resulted from the willingness of three mining barons, or 'copper kings,' to spend millions of dollars in their battle to control both Montana's vast copper deposits and its government."

Somehow the U.S. Supreme Court believes that billions of dollars of untraceable cash won't purchase influence. The very fact that a decision like this could be made, one that contradicts well-documented historical evidence, is a demonstration of just how strong the ruling class has become. Without a doubt this is power being wielded, right before our eyes. The ventriloquists of Wall Street have gained the upper hand. -BB (2012-06-25)

JPMorgan Explodes the Myth of the Free Market

For decades, ideologues like Alan Greenspan have perpetuated Ayn Rand's misconception that relentless self-interest was a good thing and that any attempt by the government to intervene was a bad idea (as Atlas might shrug and we'd all starve). After proving himself wrong, by playing a pivotal role in the dismantling of our regulatory structures, a normally unrepentant Greenspan would eventually admit that he was wrong.

Yet the cognitive illusion known as free market dogma survives in people like Jamie Dimone, who Barack Obama would have us believe is wealthy because he's 'superior' (the core tenant of Social Darwinism).

Research done by Kenichi Ueda and Beatrice Weder di Mauro of the IMF demonstrates otherwise. They're aren't wealthy because they're brilliant, the elite of the financial sector are wealthy because they've paid off our elected officials and turned them into their personal political operatives. This article at Bloomberg desbribes a result of this relationship:

"In recent decades, governments and central banks around the world have developed a consistent pattern of behavior when trouble strikes banks that are large or interconnected enough to threaten the broader economy: They step in to ensure that all the bank's creditors, not just depositors, are paid in full. Although typically necessary to prevent permanent economic damage, such bailouts encourage a reckless confidence among creditors. They assume the government will always make them whole, so they become willing to lend at lower rates, particularly to systemically important banks."

In other words, our government is providing an implicit subsidy to large financial institutions by assuming risk of failure so that they can borrow at lower rates. Such is the moral hazard of what's known in financial circles as the "Greenspan put", the belief that the Fed will bail out the industry if failure is imminent.

This reveals free market ideology for what it is: a pretext that the elite dust off when they find it expedient, like when they want to attack social spending or other measures to protect the working class. Noam Chomsky describes this hypocrisy:

"Free markets are fine for you, but not for me. That's, again, near a universal. So you -- whoever you may be -- you have to learn responsibility, and be subjected to market discipline, it's good for your character, it's tough love, and so on, and so forth. But me, I need the nanny State, to protect me from market discipline, so that I'll be able to rant and rave about the marvels of the free market, while I'm getting properly subsidized and defended by everyone else, through the nanny State. And also, this has to be risk-free. So I'm perfectly willing to make profits, but I don't want to take risks. If anything goes wrong, you bail me out."

Thomas Friedman claims that our leaders simply need to be more honest.

"You'd think one of them, just one, would seize the opportunity to enlist their people in the truth: about where they are, what they are capable of"

Of course, this would require politicians to admit that they're nothing more than intermediaries for the small group of oligarchs that controls this country. -BB(2012-06-24)

The Utility of Cyberwar Treaties

Bruce Schneier has written an essay where he espouses the use of cyber treaties:

"Banning cyberweapons entirely is a good goal, but almost certainly unachievable. More likely are treaties that stipulate a no-first-use policy, outlaw unaimed or broadly targeted weapons, and mandate weapons that self-destruct at the end of hostilities. Treaties that restrict tactics and limit stockpiles could be a next step. We could prohibit cyberattacks against civilian infrastructure; international banking, for example, could be declared off-limits."

"...The very act of negotiating limits the arms race and paves the way to peace. And even if they're breached, the world is safer because the treaties exist."

This is debatable. For example, when the United States signed the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972, the Russians interpreted this as a sign to rush forward and create new weapons. According to Kanatjan Alibekov, First Deputy Director of Biopreparat from 1988 to 1992:

"In the 70s and beginning of 80s the Soviet Union started developing new biological weapons -- Marburg infection biological weapon, Ebola infection biological weapon, Machupo infection, [or] Bolivian hemorrhagic biological weapon, and some others."

"Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980. And just immediately after, the Soviet Union government realized that nobody would have defense in the future against this agent, because it was declared [that] there was no necessity to vaccinate people any more. This weapon became one of the most important weapons, because the entire population of the Earth became absolutely vulnerable to this agent and to this weapon."

Concealing the development of malware is far easier than it is for bioweapons. How, exactly, are we to ensure that certain kinds of offensive software aren't being implemented? The very idea that we could detect and track the development of such malware is pleasant fiction.

Once more, in the aftermath of an orchestrated attack the quandry of attribution would make enforcement almost impossible. Staging an attack to frame another country is entirely feasible. Even worse, false-flag ops are well within reach of a funded private outfit. There are too many actors joining the fray, which is itself a wilderness of mirrors, for our leaders to think that they can put a lid on Pandora's Box with a treaty. I'm still not sure just how effective this approach would be. -BB(2012-06-14)

Blaming the Victim

David Brooks, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, explains why society has lost faith in its institutions:

"Vast majorities of Americans don't trust their institutions. That's not mostly because our institutions perform much worse than they did in 1925 and 1955, when they were widely trusted. It's mostly because more people are cynical and like to pretend that they are better than everything else around them. Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else."

Sorry Mr. Brooks, we don't trust these institutions because they don't deserve it. Trust is something that's earned and they've proven that they don't work on our behalf. How else would you explain the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act or the The Commodity Futures Modernization Act? How else would you explain the tidal wave of lobbying money that washes over the beltway? Or why banks that were too big to fail back then are larger than ever?

Our rising distrust isn't a product of our vanity. It results from the financial disaster of 2008 which, as Matt Taibbi puts it, "forced the monster of American oligarchy out from below the ocean surface and onto the beach, for everyone to see."

The Masters of Mankind, those "extraordinary" people celebrated by the establishment, have demonstrated a notable talent for rigging the game, wading neck deep into "shitty deals", and then getting their political operatives in DC to stick the rest of society with the losses. -BB(2012-06-12)

Crossing the Rubicon: Stunxet

Update: a more recent version of this essay has been posted at Counterpunch.

After its initial discovery in 2010, the culprit behind the Stuxnet computer worm has finally been revealed: the United States. Despite the ruckus that U.S. officials make in public about Chinese and Russian hackers, the U.S. is admittedly one of the most active players in this field. News coverage may adopt a seemingly congratulatory tone but there are reasons why this is an unsettling state of affairs.

Containment and control are not trivial issues. As the White House discovered, once you deploy offensive software there's no guarantee that it won't find its way out into the wild and infect otherwise uninvolved third parties. And what about the risk that some random Black Hat scavenges captured components for their own purposes? These concerns are exactly what discouraged the Pentagon from launching a cyber-attack against Saddam Hussein's financial system before the invasion of Iraq.

Then there's also the matter of efficacy. Was the Stuxnet attack actually as debilitating as a conventional military strike? Or have decision makers merely shown their hand and tipped off the Iranians?

One aspect of Stuxnet, which has been corroborated at length by forensic investigators, is that the worm leveraged zero-day exploits to do its job. It's generally known among Black Hats that the United States is a principal customer in the underground market for zero-day exploits. As Bruce Schneier notes, the very existence of a market like this undermines our collective security because it encourages flaws to remain secret on behalf of intelligence services who want to covertly access computers. This is security for the 1%, relative insecurity for everyone else.

Finally, Stuxnet exposes American exceptionalism. Espionage and sabotage are presented as intolerable criminal transgressions, normally causing our elected officials and military leaders to erupt in fits of righteous indignation. That is, unless the United States is doing the spying and the sabotaging (in which case we're seemingly rather proud of our status as leading rogue state). By crossing the Rubicon, our leaders have irrevocably lost the moral high ground. Not a wise decision for a country that, itself, depends heavily on the same buggy software that it regularly subverts. -BB(2012-06-06)

Related: With regard to attribution and Flame, this blogger claims to know who's responsible:

"My source also tells me that this is the first known instance in which Israeli intelligence has used malware to intrude on Israeli citizens. Within Israel and the Palestinian territories Flame is implemented by the Shin Bet. The 'beauty' of it for the secret police is that unlike 'legal' eavesdropping on phones or computers, you don't need to ask for judicial approval to infect a computer."

Conjecture? Disinformation? This would be standard tradecraft (spies love nothing more than to muddy the water). An official statement by an Isreali government spokesman denies any responsibility.

On the other side of the Atlantic, an NBC reporter has quoted an un-named U.S. official who stated that "it was U.S." Yet the New York Times article says otherwise:

"The computer code [for Flame] appears to be at least five years old, and American officials say that it was not part of Olympic Games. They have declined to say whether the United States was responsible for the Flame attack. "

Five years old? Anti-Virus researchers like Mikko Hypponen openly admit that current approaches to securing systems are lacking:

"Flame was a failure for the antivirus industry. We really should have been able to do better. But we didn't. We were out of our league, in our own game."

Drone Strikes and Counterterrorism

This morning Jake Tapper presented the following question to the Secretary of Defense:

"The Times of London reported last week that the civilian casualties in Yemen as a result of drone strikes have, quote, 'emboldened Al Qaeda.' Is there not a serious risk that this approach to counterterrorism, because of its imprecision, because of its civilian casualties, is creating more enemies than it is killing? "

Leon Panetta's response:

"First and foremost, I think this is one of the most precise weapons that we have in our arsenal. Number two, what is our responsibility here? Our responsibility is to defend and protect the United States of America."

Glenn Greenwald offers some revealing commentary:

"Note that Panetta studiously ignored, rather than addressed, the question of whether the U.S. - by continuously killing Muslim civilians and thus intensifying anti-American animus - is creating more Terrorists than it is killing and thus making the U.S. less safe. That's because there is no answer. Continuously bombing Muslim countries and killing civilians ostensibly as a means of combating anti-American Terrorism is exactly like smoking six packs of cigarettes a day to treat emphysema: one would do it only if one wanted to make the problem worse, or, at best, was recklessly indifferent to the outcome."

Note also on how Mr. Tapper didn't insist on getting a straight answer. - BB(2012-05-27)

Related: Business interests in Ohio are trying desperately to jump on the drone bandwagon.

"Ohio, in particular, has made attracting the drone industry a major component of its statewide economic strategy, hoping to encourage local economic growth and create jobs by making the state the premier location for drone testing and research in the U.S."

"In order to clear the way for increased drone testing and research in Ohio, the Dayton Development Coalition and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a major defense contractor with substantial operations in Dayton, are conducting a multi-year study led by 'senior executives of military and civilian stakeholder organizations.'"

East Meets West: Propaganda in Action

This New York Times report looks at how the 1% in China are utilizing an age-old technique to try and mobilize the populace:

"This week Mr. Yang revealed another side of his persona in a torrent of microblog messages that derided some foreigners as 'trash' and accused Western men of seducing local women in an effort to spy on China."

"Analysts suggest the rising nationalist sentiment may be related to a spate of events that have unnerved the Chinese leadership, including territorial disputes in the South China Sea, a sharply slowing domestic economy and the political turmoil prompted by the downfall of the populist up-and-comer Bo Xilai."

Misdirect people to an external enemy to distract them from a concrete internal threat. Tycoon Joe Ricketts is using the same ploy here in the United States:

"Our Republic is under assault from our government..."

Point listeners to the government, prevent them from noticing the corporate coup d'état that has taken place. The 1% owns our elected officials, our regulators, and our media. -BB(2012-05-26)

David Brooks, the Masters of Mankind, and the Big Lie

The big lie is a standard propaganda technique. It's described below in an Office of Strategic Services profile of Adolph Hitler:

"People will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it."

A couple of years back, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a piece which appears to have based its conclusions on the the big lie of high finance:

"They [populists] can't seem to grasp that a politics based on punishing the elites won't produce a better-educated work force, more investment, more innovation or any of the other things required for progress and growth."

"Hamilton championed capital markets and Lincoln championed banks, not because they loved traders and bankers. They did it because they knew a vibrant capitalist economy would maximize opportunity for poor boys like themselves. They were willing to tolerate the excesses of traders because they understood that no institution is more likely to channel opportunity to new groups and new people than vigorous financial markets."

In other words, we have to overlook their shortcomings because these men are geniuses who construct the pillars of economic growth. President Obama definitely admires certain members of the financial caste:

"JPMorgan is one of the best-managed banks there is. Jamie Dimon, the head of it, is one of the smartest bankers we got"

Such is the big lie. Matt Taibbi breaks it down:

"Goldman is not a company of geniuses, it's a company of criminals. And far from being the best fruit of a democratic, capitalistic society, it's the apotheosis of the Grifter Era, a parasitic enterprise that has attached itself to the American Government and taxpayer and shamelessly engorged itself on us all."

These bankers aren't givers, they're takers. That's their fiduciary duty: short-term profit regardless of the greater societal costs. Does Brook's op-ed sound more like an apologia for the 1%? -BB(2012-05-23)

Section 1021 of NDAA Ruled Unconstitutional - (2012-05-21)

Recently a federal judge forbid enforcement of detention-related portions of the 2012 NDAA. According to Chris Hedges:

"The government has 60 days to appeal. It can also, as Mayer and Afran have urged, accept the injunction that nullifies the law. If the government appeals, the case will go to a federal appellate court. The ruling, even if an appellate court upholds it, could be vanquished in the Supreme Court, especially given the composition of that court."

Is this really about fighting terror, or perhaps something else?

"The corporate state knows what is coming. Globalization is breaking down. Our natural resources are being depleted. Economic and political upheavals are inevitable. And our corporate rulers are preparing a world of masters and serfs, a world where repression will be our daily diet, a world of hunger and riots, a world of brutal control and a world where our spirits must be broken."

Keep in mind that in terms of sheer size, the DHS is unrivaled outside of the military. -BB(2012-05-21)

Predator's Ball

This New York Times op-ed points to research which reveals the frequency of predators in finance.

"Studies conducted by Canadian forensic psychologist Robert Hare indicate that about 1 percent of the general population can be categorized as psychopathic, but the prevalence rate in the financial services industry is 10 percent. And Christopher Bayer believes, based on his experience, that the rate is higher."

The author then goes on to describe a mindset that has become commonplace in corporate boardrooms:

"Enron, BP, Goldman, Philip Morris, G.E., Merck, etc., etc. Accounting fraud, tax evasion, toxic dumping, product safety violations, bid rigging, overbilling, perjury. The Walmart bribery scandal, the News Corp. hacking scandal -- just open up the business section on an average day. Shafting your workers, hurting your customers, destroying the land. Leaving the public to pick up the tab. These aren't anomalies; this is how the system works: you get away with what you can and try to weasel out when you get caught."

The standard counter-argument goes something like this: sure, there are a few bad apples. But, there are a lot of honest, hard-working, executives in the workplace too. Deresiewicz responds by observing that ethical behavior is purely optional. I would further add that institutional forces also drive executives to behave as if they were psychopaths.

"There are ethical corporations, yes, and ethical businesspeople, but ethics in capitalism is purely optional, purely extrinsic. To expect morality in the market is to commit a category error. Capitalist values are antithetical to Christian ones. (How the loudest Christians in our public life can also be the most bellicose proponents of an unbridled free market is a matter for their own consciences.) Capitalist values are also antithetical to democratic ones. Like Christian ethics, the principles of republican government require us to consider the interests of others. Capitalism, which entails the single-minded pursuit of profit, would have us believe that it's every man for himself."

The "job creators" claim they're merely "doing god's work." -BB (2012-05-13)

The Danger of a Bad Precedent

In this essay Glenn Greenwald explains (once again) why it's dangerous to make exceptions to the rule of law, even when it seems justifiable:

"Julius Caesar... noted that Roman law forbids the execution of Roman citizens even for heinous crimes, and that executing the conspirators would thus require the creation of a radical and dangerous precedent: dangerous because to vest the power in the State to kill its own citizens, even if justified in the specific case where it is first done, would be to vest the power generally and thus ensure its inevitable abuse."

The same dynamic is at work with the Glomar Doctrine, a policy which:

"Allows government agencies to respond to requests under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, by refusing to confirm or deny the existence of the records that have been requested."

When the Glomar Doctrine was first established, there seemed to be a legitimate reasons. But now...

"The C.I.A. has grossly abused it, in cases relating to the targeted killing program and other counterterrorism operations. It is invoking the doctrine not to protect legitimately classified information from disclosure, but to shield controversial decisions from public scrutiny and to spare officials from having to defend their policies in court."

In order to govern and make constructive decisions, citizens need access to accurate information. -BB(2012-05-08)

The Deindustrialization Of America

Author Michael Snyder laments that:

"We are witnessing the deindustrialization of America. Tens of thousands of factories have left the United States in the past decade alone. Millions upon millions of manufacturing jobs have been lost in the same time period. The United States has become a nation that consumes everything in sight and yet produces increasingly little."

If a manufacturing country like China wants to engage us in a trade war, what do you think would happen? We don't make anything... -BB (2012-05-06)

IMF Study on U.S. Economic Inequality

This IMF report describes a process of economic extraction that has been utilized over the past few decades:

"The poor and the middle class seem to have resisted the erosion of their relative income position by borrowing to maintain a higher standard of living; meanwhile, the rich accumulated more and more assets and invested in assets backed by loans to the poor and the middle class. Consumption inequality that is lower than income inequality has led to much higher wealth inequality."

In other words, profits made on behalf of stagnating wages, cutbacks, and increased efficiencies have been invested... so that they can loan it back to us and charge us interest on it.

Paul Krugman points out the ultimate culprit:

"The real structural problem is in our political system, which has been warped and paralyzed by the power of a small, wealthy minority. And the key to economic recovery lies in finding a way to get past that minority's malign influence."

Our Republic has suffered a Corporate Coup d'Etat. - BB(2012-05-04)

The Economic Game Plan of the 1%

The GOP's Paul Ryan spells it out:

"Cut income tax rates and simplify the code, privatize Medicare, shrink the food-stamp and Medicaid programs and turn almost all control over to the states, and reduce domestic federal spending to its smallest share of the economy since World War II."

This op-ed warns that:

"The slow start for the economy in 2012 - an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the first three months of the year - is evidence that the recovery is too weak to push joblessness much lower than its current 8.2 percent, and too fragile to withstand the kinds of budget cuts Congressional Republicans are proposing."

Noam Chomsky further explains that:

"The reason is that state governments are much more under the control of private business than the federal government is. The federal government's big enough so that, you know, it can somehow stand up against private power to some extent. State governments, it's hopeless. I mean, even middle-sized businesses can play one state against another."

For good measure, Paul Krugman choke slams Mitt Romney:

"Not long ago, conservatives gushed over Ireland's economic policies, especially its low corporate tax rate; the Heritage Foundation used to give it higher marks for 'economic freedom' than any other Western nation. When things went bad, Ireland once again received lavish praise, this time for its harsh spending cuts, which were supposed to inspire confidence and lead to quick recovery. And now, as I said, almost a third of Ireland's young can't find jobs."

At least the Democrats try to assume a low profile when they cater to the 1%. -BB(2012-04-30)

No Moral High Ground Here

As usual, the universal apology ("national security") is brought out by decision makers to explain away torture.

"But we did the right thing for the right reason. And the right reason was to protect the homeland and to protect American lives. So yes, I had no qualms."

Another approach is to re-direct our attention to an equally disturbing practice:

"We don't capture anybody any more, Lesley. You know their default option of this Administration has been to kill all prisoners. Take no prisoners."

Nevertheless, even the Inspector General of the CIA conlcuded that there's no solid proof that torture works (see page 89):

"There is limited data on which to assess their [Enhanced Interrogation Techniques] individual effectiveness."

Senator John McCain agrees that not only is torture ineffective, but it also robs us of any sort of moral authority. -BB (2012-04-30)

They Get Bailed Out, We Get Sold Out

With homage to Chomsky, Rob Urie takes this meme and applies it to our military campaigns in the Middle East:

"The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are wars over resources, primarily oil. In the minds of war architects they may serve a broader geopolitical purpose, but that purpose is at its core economic --maintaining a ready supply of oil for multinational oil companies. The wars were estimated some years ago to cost several trillion dollars. This amount is to be borne by taxpayers, not to mention the human toll in lives and lost possibilities. Another way to phrase this is: 'oil companies and military contractors got bailed out, we got sold out.'"

With regard to implementing this purpose, the tip of the spear is well-protected by state sanctioned secrecy:

"The rest of the world has had few illusions about where American wealth comes from. The CIA has long functioned as an oil mafia undermining democratically elected and democratically functioning governments to control oil for private interests. The American military has been a tool of private American interests for most of its existence. And these government agencies are economies unto themselves receiving 'black' budgets over which there is little oversight or accountability."

Witness the efficacy of corporate extraction and exploitation. -BB (2012-04-29)

Heywood, Hakluyt, and Shell Oil

According to the New York Times Neil Heywood, the British businessman who was allegedly murdered in China, had ties to Hakluyt & Company, a private-sector spook outfit established by former MI6 officers.

"The private intelligence firm Hakluyt, founded by former officials with MI6, the British secret intelligence service, said Mr. Heywood had occasionally worked as one of its associates, helping prepare due-diligence reports on Chinese companies for investors. That association, even if it had ended months before his death, inspired speculation that he was a spy, although an official with the Foreign Office in London effectively denied that."

There are mixed stories about Heywood's final hours. The Wall Street Journal has him acting like a hunted animal. On the other hand, The Telegraph characterized him as being happy.

There are whispers that Hakluyt is still on Shell Oil's payroll. This isn't necessarily suprising, as Shell has made use of Hakluyt's clandestine services before. Shell Oil has done business in Chongqing, the city where it is believed that Mr. Heywood was murdered. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Shell "signed the first production-sharing contract to explore, develop and produce shale gas in China." This deal was signed with China National Petroleum Corporation, which has ties to several people involved in this scandal. -BB (2012-04-28)

More Cyber Worst-Case Scenarios

Yesterday in a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management (OMI), Cyber- Hype got some air time:

"The US government, critical infrastructures, American business institutions and our personal data are being compromised by nation states and hacker groups. The intent is to conduct cyber warfare, possibly paralyzing our infrastructure, stealing our intellectual property, conducting espionage, and gaining access to our credit card, bank account and social security numbers."

It's no surprise that the legislator who made these statements, Michael McCaul (R-TX), has received campaign money from the likes of Raytheon, Boeing, VeriSign, and Lockheed Martin.

In accordance with Ferguson's Investment Theory of Politics, McCaul is merely catering to the wants and needs of his constituents (e.g. defense contractors).

Forget Cyberwar. Let's focus on serious threats, like greedy bankers. -BB (2012-04-25)

Who's Afraid of the SEC?

According to 60 Minutes, Lehman execs have relative immunity from SEC prosecution:

"There is one plausible explanation why the SEC hasn't gone after top Lehman executives. As it turns out, some of Lehman's most egregious accounting shenanigans took place right under the noses of government regulators."

It probably didn't help that the regulators in the SEC were outgunned with respect to grasping the rocket-science internals of derivatives.

"They may not have had the expertise necessary to understand the material they were receiving. They were getting the material. Whether they understood it is another question."

All of this complexity is a shroud that bankers hide behind. Once more, because officials in DC see these execs as being privy to the inner workings of certain opaque financial products, Washington brings the execs back to clean up the mess that they created. Sensible minds would have reinstated the Glass-Steagall Act. No such luck. -BB (2012-04-23)

Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty Speak

These world-class economists, who documented the growth of economic inequality in the United States, broach the subject of taxation:

"Their proposed corrective remains far outside the bounds of polite political conversation: much, much higher top marginal tax rates on the rich, up to 50 percent, or 70 percent or even 90 percent, from the current top rate of 35 percent."

"Mr. Piketty and Mr. Saez argue that history is on their side: Many countries have higher tax rates -- and the United States has had higher tax rates -- without stifling growth or encouraging the concentration of income in the hands of the very rich."

The Heritage Foundation and its ilk would warn that this would deter investment and hurt the economy. Warren Buffet easily dispels this myth:

"I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone - not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 - shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off."

Related: According to a report from Mother Jones :

"Between 2008 and 2011, 26 major American corporations paid no net federal income taxes despite bringing in billions in profits."

Related: The 2 America's: Big vs. Small Business.

"When big corporations use offshore tax havens, small businesses pay the price -- literally. If they were to cover the cost of corporate abuse of tax havens in 2011, the average U.S. small business would pay $2,116."

Related: It Pays to Lobby.

"280 profitable Fortune 500 companies collectively received $223 billion in tax breaks between 2008 and 2010 while contributing $216 million to Congressional candidates over the last four election cycles."

Thanks to front men like Grover Norquist, the gridlock we see in Congress is not an accident. -BB (2012-04-17)

'Information Sharing' is a Euphemism

The San Jose Mercury News has published a report on the emerging concept of public-private partnerships to fight cybercrime.

"On Monday, in a sign these concerns are shared at the highest levels of the Obama administration, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will make a personal pitch for help to tech companies in San Jose. And Congress is mulling several bills to encourage government and business to share intelligence about the computerized threats."

"Also sounding alarms is Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, which guards military networks. At an October conference he appealed for the private and public sectors to work together because 'this is something that we cannot do by ourselves.'"

Related: The EFF states that:

"The bill expressly authorizes monitoring of our private communications, and is written so broadly that it allows companies to hand over large swaths of personal information to the government with no judicial oversight--effectively creating a 'cybersecurity' loophole in all existing privacy laws."

Take action: here. -BB (2012-04-15)

China's 1% Duke It Out in Public

This L.A. Times article exposes a rift in the upper echelons of China's ruling class. The implications are disturbing.

"Last month, Bo [Xilai] lost his job, fired over what was described in a Communist Party statement released through state media this week as 'serious discipline problems.' The statement also said Gu [Bo's wife] and a family aide were under arrest as suspects in the November death of Neil Heywood, a 41-year-old British businessman and a longtime family friend."

It would appear that, similar to the basic dynamic in the United States, rule of law breaks down as one ascends the power structure. Recall the case of Viktor Bout. Are Chinese officials only willing to enforce the law now that Bo has outlived his usefulness? Would this murder have been investigated as rigorously if Bo had chosen not to rock the boat? All animals are equal, only some are more equal than others. Especially in China - BB(2012-04-11)

Related: this New York Times article observes that:

"In the view of some analysts and party insiders, that same scandal has raised the notion of high-level misconduct among China's elite to a level that some say could have far-reaching and unpleasant implications for stability. It could cast a long shadow over one of the party's linchpins: the notion that a handful of all-powerful officials and retired elders are better qualified to pick their successors than are ordinary citizens."

Colleges Run Screaming From Metrics

This article reveals how Universities have become concerned that people may begin to evaluate the quality of their programs. Educators contend that:

"I'm not sure any standardized test can effectively measure what students gain in problem-solving, or the ability to work collaboratively"

Of course, there's no reason to shell out $80,000 to learn how to problem solve or work collaboratively. The best way to acquire these tools is through direct experience in the field, not in a classroom. Organic chemistry and quantum mechanics, now that's a different story...

"In 2008, the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, a group of some of the nation's most prestigious colleges and universities --including all of the Ivy League-- issued a lengthy manifesto saying that what its students learn becomes evident over decades and warning against a 'focus on what is easily measured.'"

Would you join a weight loss program that didn't believe in scales? The people who ran such a business could shower customers with a litany of alleged benefits without having to demonstrate any sort of concrete results. The ivy league institutions, in particular, face the unpleasant prospect of people realizing that the diplomas that they sell are merely pricey ornaments made of paper. -BB (2012-04-08)

Final Words of Dimitris Christoulas

"The Tsolakoglou government has annihilated all traces for my survival, which was based on a very dignified pension that I alone paid for 35 years with no help from the state. And since my advanced age does not allow me a way of dynamically reacting (although if a fellow Greek were to grab a Kalashnikov, I would be right behind him), I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life, so I don't find myself fishing through garbage cans for my sustenance. I believe that young people with no future, will one day take up arms and hang the traitors of this country at Syntagma square, just like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945."

Think Tank Beats War Drums

The New York Times has covered a monograph released by the Brookings Institute:

"At a seminar last week at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where Brookings finances a study center, Mr. Lieberthal said there was an increasing belief on both sides that the two countries would be 'antagonistic in 15 years.' That would mean major military expenditures by both countries to deter each other, and pushing other countries to take sides."

The tone of this content is very telling. In the late 1970s, a decorated CIA officer named John Stockwell went public. In his book, The Praetorian Guard, he stated that:

"Enemies are necessary for the wheels of the U.S. military machine to turn."

The Times article above also makes reference to cyber operations originating (e.g. IP address) from within China.

"American law enforcement officials see an alarming increase in Chinese counterespionage and cyberattacks against the United States that they have concluded are directed by the Chinese authorities to gather information of national interest."

Some concrete proof might be nice, the kind that stands up in a court of law.

Richard Clarke, in a separate Times op-ed, believes that traffic inspection is the way out:

"The Department of Homeland Security could inspect what enters and exits the United States in cyberspace. Customs already looks online for child pornography crossing our virtual borders. And under the Intelligence Act, the president could issue a finding that would authorize agencies to scan Internet traffic outside the United States and seize sensitive files stolen from within our borders."

Yet, it's dangerous to institute the tools of a Police State and simply assume that they'll never be abused. Classified Executive Orders seem to be in fashion at the moment... -BB(2012-04-03)

Flawed Cyber Legislation and Security for The 1%

The EFF discusses Senator Joseph Lieberman's Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S. 2105) and McCain's SECURE IT Act (S. 2151):

"As written, these bills could provide immunity to ISPs and other private and government actors for all of the egregious behavior outlined above involving the monitoring, blocking, and modification of data packets."

This post also highlights an aspect of cybersecurity that's traditionally ignored by lawmakers:

"The intelligence community within the government benefits from keeping attacks secret so that they can be deployed against our enemies, and very likely stockpiles zero-day exploits for this offensive purpose. There is then pressure to selectively harden sensitive targets while keeping the attack secret from everyone else and leaving popular software vulnerable. This is 'security for the 1%,' and it makes the rest of us less safe. "

Elected officials want to avoid laws that might offend their investors (software vendors) in the private sector. -BB(2012-03-25)

Update (2012-04-02): An article at Forbes reports that iOS exploits garner the highest payday.

Emmanuel Saez: Income Gap Is Getting Worse

Professor Saez has updated his paper "Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States" to include data up to the end of 2010. His conclusions are not encouraging.

"In 2010, average real income per family grew by 2.3% (Table 1) but the gains were very uneven. Top 1% incomes grew by 11.6% while bottom 99% incomes grew only by 0.2%. Hence, the top 1% captured 93% of the income gains in the first year of recovery."

The political operatives of the 1% think this is a good thing:

"There is income inequality in America. There always has been and hopefully, and I do say that, there always will be."

Perhaps these apologists should visit the Third World to see exactly where we're headed. The kind of inequality we're witnessing is a threat to our republic -BB(2012-03-14)

What Scientist Shortage?

Beryl Benderly exposes the myth of the skill shortage:

"For years that the US produces ample numbers of excellent science students. In fact, according to the National Science Board's authoritative publication Science and Engineering Indicators 2008, the country turns out three times as many STEM degrees as the economy can absorb into jobs related to their majors."

The reports which claim that we don't have enough grads in the hard sciences are driven by greedy corporate interests that want access to cheap labor. I applaud the Columbia Journalism Review for honestly covering this topic. -BB (2012-03-02)

Related: don't let the recent unemploymet figures fool you. As Dave Lindorff remarks:

"The US economy is in the same swamp that it has been in for the past four years, and the American people are still being screwed by a system that is all about shifting wealth from the bottom and the middle up the top 1%."

WikiLeaks Releases Global Intelligence Files

"Today, Monday 27 February, WikiLeaks began publishing The Global Intelligence Files -- more than five million emails from the Texas-headquartered 'global intelligence' company Stratfor. The emails date from between July 2004 and late December 2011. They reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal's Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defense Intelligence Agency. The emails show Stratfor's web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods."

This demonstrates that nation states don't have a monopoly on intelligence collection and analysis. - BB(2012-02-27)

The 1% Paints Anonymous as Existential Threat

They're back at it again, the Cult of Cyberwar has revealed a new marketing twist on their standard doomsday message: switching from China to Anonymous. George Smith breaks it down:

"One of the central features of cyberwar/cyberattack scaremongering is argument from authority. Us officials have abused it for personal and political agendas for well over a decade. In the process, they've destroyed any legitimacy, relying totally on fantastic and apocalyptic claims, never backing anything up other than with assertion one had better listen up because very important people are all repeating the same claims. Noam Chomsky called it manufacturing consent. Now it's gulling the rubes for personal gain."

Related: The Atlantic questions:

"Ask yourself if Anonymous should be deemed a terrorist group. Who has Anonymous hurt? What kinds of laws have they broken? Are they pursuing weapons? Do they sell drugs? Do they have guns? What credible evidence do we have that they are trying to hurt regular citizens? If not, what is gained by lumping them in along with real and persistent threats to Americans?"

For all to see... this is the rain dance of the 1% - BB(2012-02-23)