Friday, February 27, 2015
The intrigue surrounding Ceres continues to deepen as a NASA probe gets closer to the dwarf planet.
The new photos of Ceres from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which is scheduled to arrive in orbit around Ceres on the night of March 5, reveal that a puzzling bright spot on the dwarf planet’s surface has a buddy of sorts.
“Ceres’ bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin,” Dawn principal investigator Chris Russell, of UCLA, said in a statement. “This may be pointing to a volcanolike origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations.”
Dawn took the new images on Feb. 19, when it was about 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers) from Ceres — still too far away to give scientists a good look at the peculiar spots.
“The brightest spot continues to be too small to resolve with our camera, but despite its size, it is brighter than anything else on Ceres,” Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, said in the same statement. “This is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us.”
Dawn will begin investigating the many mysteries of Ceres — the largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter — in earnest soon enough. After reaching Ceres’ orbit next week, the probe will spend about six weeks working down to its first science orbit, getting there on April 23.
As promised, President Obama is using executive actions to impose gun control on the nation, targeting the top-selling rifle in the country, the AR-15 style semi-automatic, with a ban on one of the most-used AR bullets by sportsmen and target shooters.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives this month revealed that it is proposing to put the ban on 5.56 mm ammo on a fast track, immediately driving up the price of the bullets and prompting retailers, including the huge outdoors company Cabela’s, to urge sportsmen to urge Congress to stop the president.
Wednesday night, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, stepped in with a critical letter to the bureau demanding it explain the surprise and abrupt bullet ban. The letter is shown below.
The National Rifle Association, which is working with Goodlatte to gather co-signers, told Secrets that30 House members have already co-signed the letter and Goodlatte and the NRA are hoping to get a total of 100 fast.
“The Obama administration was unable to ban America’s most popular sporting rifle through the legislative process, so now it’s trying to ban commonly owned and used ammunition through regulation,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA-ILA, the group’s policy and lobby shop. “The NRA and our tens of millions of supporters across the country will fight to stop President Obama’s latest attack on our Second Amendment freedoms.”
Yet again, the government wants to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. According to the Obama administration and the FCC, it is necessary to regulate internet service providers so that they don’t interfere with people’s access to the web. The claim immediately prompts one to ask: Who is being denied access to the web?
In the past twenty years, access to the internet has only become more widespread and service today is far faster for many people — including “ordinary” people — than it was twenty years ago, or even ten years ago. Today, broadband in Europe, where the internet is more tightly regulated, has less reach than it has in the United States.
The administration’s plan is rather innocuously called “net neutrality,” but in fact it has nothing at all to do with neutrality and is just a scheme to vastly increase the federal government’s control over the internet.
What is Net Neutrality?
We don’t know the details of the plan because the FCC refuses to let the taxpayers see the 300-page proposal before the FCC votes on it today. But, we do know a few things.
Currently, ISPs are regulated by the FCC, but as an “information service” under the less restrictive rules of so-called Title I. But now, the FCC wants to regulate ISPs as utilities under the far more restrictive Title II restrictions. For a clue as to how cutting edge this idea is, remember this switch to Title II regulation would put ISPs into the same regulatory regime as Ma Bell under the Communications Act of 1934.
So what does this mean for the FCC in practice? According to FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, “It gives the FCC the power to micromanage virtually every aspect of how the Internet works.” More specifically, Gordon Crovitz at the Wall Street Journal writes:
[With Net Netruality,] bureaucrats can review the fairness of Google’s search results, Facebook’s news feeds and news sites’ links to one another and to advertisers. BlackBerry is already lobbying the FCC to force Apple and Netflix to offer apps for BlackBerry’s unpopular phones. Bureaucrats will oversee peering, content-delivery networks and other parts of the interconnected network that enables everything from Netflix and YouTube to security drones and online surgery.
The administration insists these measures are necessary because — even though there is no evidence that this has actually happened — it is possible that at some point in the future, internet service providers could restrict some content and apps on the internet. Thus, we are told, control of content should be handed over to the federal government to ensure that internet service providers are “neutral” when it comes to deciding what is on the internet and what is not.
Can Goods Be Allocated in a “Neutral” Way?
The problem is that there is no such thing as “neutral” allocation of resources, whether done by government or the marketplace.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a contender for the 2016 GOP nomination, flexed his potential presidential campaign muscles during a trip here this weekend—showing off his pull with grassroots voters and his ability to win over donors.
After arriving late Friday night after a speech in Montgomery, Alabama—Paul was the keynote before the Alabama GOP’s annual winter dinner—Paul on Saturday morning kicked off his day by holding a roundtable discussion with local doctors about healthcare policy.
“I think it’s very helpful to have someone familiar with healthcare here both inside the beltway and outside the beltway,” Dr. W.G. Eshbaugh, a reconstructive and cosmetic plastic surgeon from the Naples area said. “He’s had a private practice and is able to articulate many of the challenges we face. It was a real pleasure to have that discussion with him.”
Eshbaugh was a year behind Paul at Duke Medical School—where Paul studied to become an ophthalmologist. Paul and his wife Kelly then moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, where Paul practiced for more than a decade before he scored a surprising Senate primary win against the Mitch McConnell-backed Trey Grayson in 2010. As a U.S. Senator, he’s now one of the leading Republicans—along with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush—potentially vying for the GOP nomination in 2016.
Sergio Gor, Paul’s energetic communications director, explained to Breitbart News that Paul plans to highlight the fact he is a doctor on the campaign trail, and Paul has frequently held such roundtable type meetings with doctors nationwide on many occasions.
“Part of Sen. Paul’s appeal both inside of politics and outside of politics is he was a doctor and surgeon for so many years,” ...
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues—Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing. At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering.
Although Jobs cooperated with this book, he asked for no control over what was written nor even the right to read it before it was published. He put nothing off-limits. He encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly. And Jobs speaks candidly, sometimes brutally so, about the people he worked with and competed against. His friends, foes, and colleagues provide an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped his approach to business and the innovative products that resulted.
Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair. But his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple’s hardware and software tended to be, as if part of an integrated system. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values.
URN performs "The Road to St. Patrick's" at the 2015 Dragon Festival in Melbourne, Florida.
The Dutch Sim card maker at the centre of NSA-GCHQ hacking claims has said it believes that the US and UK cyberspy agencies did indeed launch attacks on its computer systems.
However, Gemalto denied that billions of mobile device encryption keys could have been stolen as a result.
The Intercept alleged last week that spies had obtained the “potential to secretly monitor” voice and data transmissions after hacking the firm.
Gemalto operates in 85 countries.
Its clients include AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint among more than 400 wireless network providers across the world.
GCHQ and the NSA have not commented directly on the allegations.
In a statement, Gemalto said it had carried out a “thorough investigation” following the claims, which were based on documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“The investigation into the intrusion methods described in the document and the sophisticated attacks that Gemalto detected in 2010 and 2011 give us reasonable grounds to believe that an operation by NSA and GCHQ probably happened,” the company said.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
With this extraordinary first volume in what promises to be an epoch-making masterpiece, Neal Stephenson hacks into the secret histories of nations and the private obsessions of men, decrypting with dazzling virtuosity the forces that shaped this century.
In 1942, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse—mathematical genius and young Captain in the U.S. Navy—is assigned to detachment 2702. It is an outfit so secret that only a handful of people know it exists, and some of those people have names like Churchill and Roosevelt. The mission of Waterhouse and Detachment 2702—commanded by Marine Raider Bobby Shaftoe-is to keep the Nazis ignorant of the fact that Allied Intelligence has cracked the enemy's fabled Enigma code. It is a game, a cryptographic chess match between Waterhouse and his German counterpart, translated into action by the gung-ho Shaftoe and his forces.
Fast-forward to the present, where Waterhouse's crypto-hacker grandson, Randy, is attempting to create a "data haven" in Southeast Asia—a place where encrypted data can be stored and exchanged free of repression and scrutiny. As governments and multinationals attack the endeavor, Randy joins forces with Shaftoe's tough-as-nails granddaughter, Amy, to secretly salvage a sunken Nazi submarine that holds the key to keeping the dream of a data haven afloat. But soon their scheme brings to light a massive conspiracy with its roots in Detachment 2702 linked to an unbreakable Nazi code called Arethusa. And it will represent the path to unimaginable riches and a future of personal and digital liberty...or to universal totalitarianism reborn.
A breathtaking tour de force, and Neal Stephenson's most accomplished and affecting work to date, Cryptonomicon is profound and prophetic, hypnotic and hyper-driven, as it leaps forward and back between World War II and the World Wide Web, hinting all the while at a dark day-after-tomorrow. It is a work of great art, thought and creative daring; the product of a truly iconoclastic imagination working with white-hot intensity.
As the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Election Commission toy with regulating aspects of the Internet, critics on those agencies are warning that speed and freedom of speech are in jeopardy.
In a joint column, Federal Communications Commission member Ajit Pai and Federal Election Commission member Lee Goodman, leveled the boom on the Obama-favored regulations, essentially charging that it will muck up the freedom the nation has come to expect from the Internet.
In one key passage of the column published in Politico, the duo wrote Monday that heavy-handed FCC regulations like those imposed in Europe will significantly slow down Internet speech.
“These Internet regulations will deter broadband deployment, depress network investment and slow broadband speeds. How do we know? Compare Europe, which has long had utility-style regulations, with the United States, which has embraced a light-touch regulatory model. Broadband speeds in the United States, both wired and wireless, are significantly faster than those in Europe. Broadband investment in the United States is several multiples that of Europe. And broadband’s reach is much wider in the United States, despite its much lower population density,” the two wrote.
Monday, February 23, 2015
The eighth book of Jordan's bestselling The Wheel of Time saga (A Crown of Swords, etc.) opens with a renewed invasion by the Seanchans, a conquering race whose arsenal includes man-carrying flying reptiles and enslaved female magic-workers as well as powerful soldiers, many of whom have joined the Seanchans out of fear of the Dragon Reborn. The Dragon himself, Rand al'Thor, appears in only a small part of the narrative, but during that time he endures the ugly experience of seeing his magic kill his friends, heightening his fear that his destiny is to slay everyone he cares about. The first third of the book is a little slower paced than is usual for Jordan, emphasizing the growth of relationships, but the action picks up soon enough. More compact than some previous volumes in the saga, this one has the virtues readers have come to expect from the author: meticulous world-building; deft use of multiple viewpoints; highly original and intelligent systems of magic; an admirable wit; and a continuous awareness of the fate of the turnip farmer or peddler caught in the path of the heroes' armies. Unlike some authors of megasagas, Jordan chooses his words with care, creating people and events that have earned him an enormous readership. For sheer imagination and storytelling skill, if not quite for mythic resonance, The Wheel of Time now rivals Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
Cyber criminals have started targeting government enforcement of the Ransomware in an attempt to extort money.
Recently, the police department of the Midlothian Village in Illinois has paid a ransom of over $600 in Bitcoins to an unknown hacker after being hit by a popular ransomware attack.
The popular Ransomware, dubbed Cryptoware, disabled a police computer in Midlothian — located south of Chicago — by making it inaccessible through its file-encryption capabilities and forced them to pay a ransom in order to restore access to the important police records.
The Chicago Tribune reported that the department first encountered Cryptoware in January, when someone in the department opened a spear-phishing email that pointed to the malicious software.
Is an academic discussion of free speech potentially traumatic? A recent panel for Smith College alumnae aimed at “challenging the ideological echo chamber” elicited this ominous “trigger/content warning” when a transcript appeared in the campus newspaper: “Racism/racial slurs, ableist slurs, antisemitic language, anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language, anti-immigrant language, sexist/misogynistic slurs, references to race-based violence, references to antisemitic violence.”
No one on this panel, in which I participated, trafficked in slurs. So what prompted the warning?
Smith President Kathleen McCartney had joked, “We’re just wild and crazy, aren’t we?” In the transcript, “crazy” was replaced by the notation: “[ableist slur].”
One of my fellow panelists mentioned that the State Department had for a time banned the words “jihad,” “Islamist” and “caliphate” — which the transcript flagged as “anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language.”
I described the case of a Brandeis professor disciplined for saying “wetback” while explaining its use as a pejorative. The word was replaced in the transcript by “[anti-Latin@/anti-immigrant slur].” Discussing the teaching of “Huckleberry Finn,” I questioned the use of euphemisms such as “the n-word” and, in doing so, uttered that forbidden word. I described what I thought was the obvious difference between quoting a word in the context of discussing language, literature or prejudice and hurling it as an epithet.
Two of the panelists challenged me. The audience of 300 to 400 people listened to our spirited, friendly debate — and didn’t appear angry or shocked. But back on campus, I was quickly branded a racist, and I was charged in the Huffington Post with committing “an explicit act of racial violence.” McCartney subsequently apologized that “some students and faculty were hurt” and made to “feel unsafe” by my remarks.
Unsafe? These days, when students talk about threats to their safety and demand access to “safe spaces,” they’re often talking about the threat of unwelcome speech and demanding protection from the emotional disturbances sparked by unsettling ideas. It’s not just rape that some women on campus fear: It’s discussions of rape. At Brown University, a scheduled debate between two feminists about rape culture was criticized for, as the Brown Daily Herald put it, undermining “the University’s mission to create a safe and supportive environment for survivors.” In a school-wide e-mail, Brown President Christina Paxon emphasized her belief in the existence of rape culture and invited students to an alternative lecture, to be given at the same time as the debate. And the Daily Herald reported that students who feared being “attacked by the viewpoints” offered at the debate could instead “find a safe space” among “sexual assault peer educators, women peer counselors and staff” during the same time slot. Presumably they all shared the same viewpoints and could be trusted not to “attack” anyone with their ideas.
RAND PAUL: FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS BECOME ‘ENORMOUS MONSTER WITH TENTACLES INTO EVERY ASPECT OF YOUR LIFE’
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate, fired up a nearly two-thousand-strong crowd with a keynote speech to the Alabama Republican Party’s Winter Dinner on Friday night, right before the White House hopeful makes a swing through South Florida.
Paul was met with several standing ovations throughout the speech, including at the end, in an address filled with many of the major themes he’s likely to pursue assuming he makes a bid for the White House.
“I have good news and bad news: The good news is your government is open,” Paul said. “The bad news is your government is open. You remember there was this shutdown about a year ago and in Washington everyone was clamoring, everyone was worried. I went home to Kentucky and you know what they said: ‘Why in the hell did you open it back up?’”
Paul shifted into discussing how different Washington is from the rest of America.
“When I was first elected, I proposed that we cut $500 billion in spending, and everybody in Washington said ‘Oh my goodness, this guy is crazy—he wants to really cut spending, he wants to really balance the budget,’” Paul said. “I got home back in Kentucky, and you know what they said? They said that’s a good start. They said now what are you going to do about the $18 trillion in debt? They’re not even concerned just with the deficit. In the real world, the people want us to balance the budget every year and actually do something about the $18 trillion debt.”
Paul noted the difference in culture is largely due to the liberal media on Capitol Hill and throughout D.C.
“The thing is is that the media, the liberal media, the people who call us flyover country America, know nothing about us,” Paul said. “They don’t represent us. They don’t have our values. And the thing is is that somehow Washington gets distracted into thinking this is what America is really about. Raise your hand if you’ve spent more than you bring in chronically for the last 10, 20 or 30 years.”
No hands went up in the entire audience.
“Nobody does that,” Paul said. “Everyone balances their family budget. They think we’re extremists. Somebody said ‘oh this is extreme.’ And I said, ‘to balance the budget, to only spend what comes in, is extreme?’”
With Fallen Founder , Nancy Isenberg plumbs rare and obscure sources to shed new light on everyone's favorite founding villain. The Aaron Burr whom we meet through Isenberg's eye-opening biography is a feminist, an Enlightenment figure on par with Jefferson, a patriot, and most importantly, a man with powerful enemies in an age of vitriolic political fighting. Revealing the gritty reality of eighteenth-century America, Fallen Founder is the authoritative restoration of a figure who ran afoul of history and a much-needed antidote to the hagiography of the revolutionary era.
Friday, February 20, 2015
URN performs When The Rain Has Fallen at Dragon Festival 2015.
Unexpectedly high call center costs for Colorado’s health exchange are pushing the state’s Obamacare portal way over budget. “Complex sign-up problems” have led the exchange’s administrators to require an additional $3 million to cover the costs, according to Health News Colorado. Board members instead looked ready to approve a $2 million expansion, but only with the proviso that service improve dramatically this year.
Call center costs were originally budgeted at $13.7 million, HCN reports. Additional emergency funding bumped that figure up to $14.9 million.
Our civilization runs on software. Yet the art of creating it continues to be a dark mystery, even to the experts. To find out why it’s so hard to bend computers to our will, Scott Rosenberg spent three years following a team of maverick software developers—led by Lotus 1-2-3 creator Mitch Kapor—designing a novel personal information manager meant to challenge market leader Microsoft Outlook. Their story takes us through a maze of abrupt dead ends and exhilarating breakthroughs as they wrestle not only with the abstraction of code, but with the unpredictability of human behavior— especially their own.
Thursday, February 19, 2015
It’s been known for a while that the NSA will intercept and bug equipment to spy on its soon-to-be owners, but the intellgency agency’s techniques are apparently more clever than first thought. Security researchers at Kaspersky Lab have discovered apparently state-created spyware buried in the firmware of hard drives from big names like Seagate, Toshiba and Western Digital. When present, the code lets snoops collect data and map networks that would otherwise be inaccessible — all they need to retrieve info is for an unwitting user to insert infected storage (such as a CD or USB drive) into an internet-connected PC. The malware also isn’t sitting in regular storage, so you can’t easily get rid of it or even detect it.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is putting his weight behind controversial spying programs at the National Security Agency, setting up a battle within the Republican Party ahead of the 2016 presidential race.
In a major foreign policy address at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on Wednesday, the likely presidential candidate praised the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone data, which critics call a massive invasion of privacy.
“This is a hugely important program to use these technologies to keep us safe,” Bush said.
“For the life of me, I don’t understand [how] the debate has gotten off-track,” he added, while maintaining that program rules “do protect our civil liberties.”
The defense of the program puts Bush at odds with the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
In Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson took science fiction to dazzling new levels. Now, in The Diamond Age, he delivers another stunning tale. Set in twenty-first century Shanghai, it is the story of what happens when a state-of-the-art interactive device falls in the hands of a street urchin named Nell. Her life—and the entire future of humanity—is about to be decoded and reprogrammed…
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Amateur astronomers have spotted huge cloudlike plumes erupting from Mars – a phenomenon that scientists are at a loss to explain.
The bright flares, which have now died away, towered higher than anything else observed in the Martian atmosphere. Their tops reached some 150 miles in altitude, more than twice as high as the highest Martian clouds, and they sprawled across 300 to 600 miles, researchers report in this week’s Nature, a science journal.
The researchers initially were skeptical, but “we came to the conclusion that what we were seeing is actually real,” says study co-author Antonio García Muñoz, a planetary scientist at the European Space Agency. The plumes are “exceptional. … It’s difficult to come to terms with this.”
This scientific brainteaser first came to light in early 2012, when amateur astronomer Wayne Jaeschke was poring over footage of Mars he had captured at his private observatory. He came across a puzzling image showing the Red Planet with a blob billowing off the planet’s rounded edge.
One hundred people are still in the running to become humanity’s first Mars explorers.
The Netherlands-based nonprofit Mars One, which aims to land four pioneers on the Red Planet in 2025 as the vanguard of a permanent colony, has whittled its pool of astronaut candidates down to 100, organization representatives announced Monday (Feb. 16).
More than 202,000 people applied to become Red Planet explorers after Mars One opened the selection process in April 2013. The latest cut came after Mars One medical director Norbert Kraft interviewed the 660 candidates who had survived several previous rounds of culling.
“The large cut in candidates is an important step towards finding out who has the right stuff to go to Mars,” Mars One co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp said in a statement. “These aspiring Martians provide the world with a glimpse into who the modern day explorers will be.”
The remaining pool consists of 50 men and 50 women who range in age from 19 to 60, Mars One representatives said. Thirty-nine come from the Americas (including 33 from the United States), 31 from Europe, 16 from Asia, seven from Africa and seven from Australia.
The remaining candidates will next participate in group challenges, to demonstrate their ability and willingness to deal with the rigors of Mars life. After another round of cuts, the finalists will be divided into four-person teams, which will train in a simulated Red Planet outpost.
Eventually, Mars One intends to select 24 astronauts (six four-person teams), who will become full-time employees of the organization and prepare for the Mars colonization mission.
Book seven of The Wheel of Time
In this volume, Elayne, Aviendha, and Mat come ever closer to the bowl ter'angreal that may reverse the world's endless heat wave and restore natural weather. Egwene begins to gather all manner of women who can channel--Sea Folk, Windfinders, Wise Ones, and some surprising others. And above all, Rand faces the dread Forsaken Sammael, in the shadows of Shadar Logoth, where the blood-hungry mist, Mashadar, waits for prey.
Monday, February 16, 2015
Remember that e-mail you got from your significant other six months ago — the one you read, replied to, and deleted? Probably not, but if it’s still stored on a server somewhere, as it may well be, Uncle Sam thinks it’s fair game for his agents’ prying eyes — and they don’t even need to get a warrant to sneak a peek.
Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986, electronic communications left on remote servers — “in the cloud,” in today’s parlance — for more than 180 days are considered abandoned and therefore not protected by the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that government agents obtain a warrant before searching and seizing them. This might not have been so unreasonable in the era of eight-bit computers and 300-baud modems, when the cost of online time and remote e-mail storage was so high that most messages were downloaded to users’ computers for reading and storage. (The government must still get a warrant to search locally stored messages.)
Today, however, the law simply doesn’t make sense. Few people download e-mails or other electronic communications, such as text messages or private social-media posts, on a regular basis. Most are stored in the cloud for retrieval whenever, wherever, and by whatever means (desktop or laptop PC, smartphone, tablet, etc.) the parties to the communication desire. It is therefore quite unreasonable to assume that cloud messages over 180 days old have been abandoned and thus can be searched by the government on a whim.
The topic of WMD in Iraq has been a hot potato for more than two decades, ever since the end of the first Gulf War and the procession of 17 UN Security Council resolutions demanding that Saddam Hussein verifiably destroy them. Hussein ignored those demands and committed numerous violations of the 1991 cease-fire agreement that suspended the war. In 2003, the US went back to war in part over the issue of WMD, deposing Hussein but coming up empty on the accusations of chemical and biological weapons, which prompted the “Bush lied” arguments that have echoed ever since. Occasionally, caches of chemical weapons have been found in Iraq, reviving the debate, but they have been weapons that had already been declared and transferred to UN control before the 2003 invasion.
If the WMD existed in Iraq, what happened to it? Many suspected that it got transferred to Syria prior to the 2003 invasion, but the New York Times reports today that the CIA actually did find at least some of the suspected and undeclared caches of chemical weapons — and destroyed them:
The Central Intelligence Agency, working with American troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups, according to current and former American officials.
The extraordinary arms purchase plan, known as Operation Avarice, began in 2005 and continued into 2006, and the American military deemed it a nonproliferation success. It led to the United States’ acquiring and destroying at least 400 Borak rockets, one of the internationally condemned chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein’s Baathist government manufactured in the 1980s but that were not accounted for by United Nations inspections mandated after the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
It’s possible to assume that the concept of “information advantage” arose as soon as civilizations broke beyond tribal stage. We can observe groups spying on each other in all parts of recorded history, and even though the winners write the (surviving) history books, we can see that those who knew more were also the ones who came out on top.
There are many reasons for this. One is the straightforward concept of military intel: if you’re at war with somebody and know about their weaknesses, you can exploit them and get the upper hand. Most of the net generation are perfectly familiar with the concept of the Fog of War, and the value of sending scout drones early in a StarCraft game.
But it’s more subtle than that. If you establish yourself as knowing more than others, for whatever reason, other people will start asking you for information. Information – perceived truth – will flow from you to others. This is one of the most powerful positions somebody can be in; it establishes the power of narrative, and it lets a group essentially dictate truth, enlighten people, or poison the news-well according to what fits their interest on any particular day, as long as they are perceived to still hold the information advantage.
It’s easy to observe that governments have had this role. “Our satellite imagery shows X, Y, and Z on the ground in Farawaystan.” You can’t really dispute it, you have to take that government at their word, simply because you don’t have any expensive satellite network of your own. It’s quite outside of your budget range. Or rather, you had to take them at their word: you don’t anymore. All of a sudden, you have distant acquaintances on the ground in Farawaystan who are confirming or disproving the statement, and usually doing so within minutes.
It’s not hard to see what a power shift this creates – how the many are taking the power away from the few. It used to take an enormous nation-state-level machine to provide information detail at the satellite-level degree; today, better information can be obtained by the informal network that is the internet.
A magisterial history inspired by Winston Churchill's famous opus, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 is an engrossing account of the twentieth century, with a unique perspective on our turbulent times. In 1900, where Churchill ended the fourth volume of his History of the English-Speaking Peoples, the United States had not yet emerged onto the world scene as a great power. Yet the coming century was to belong to the English-speaking peoples, who successively and successfully fought the Kaiser's Germany, Axis aggression and Soviet Communism, and who are now struggling against Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. Andrew Roberts's History proves especially invaluable as the United States today looks to other parts of the English-speaking world as its best, closest and most dependable allies.
Friday, February 13, 2015
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Last October, after The New York Times started asking questions about the Internal Revenue Service’s practice of taking legally earned money from innocent people based on allegations that they tried to evade bank reporting requirements, the IRS said it “will no longer pursue the seizure and forfeiture of funds associated solely with ‘legal source’ structuring cases unless there are exceptional circumstances.” A case highlighted by ABC News, involving money snatched from an Iowa widow, suggests how big that “exceptional circumstances” loophole might be.
In 2011 an IRS agent named Jeff McGuire paid a visit to Ronald Malone, an Iowa publishing executive who at the time was dying from cancer. McGuire told Malone that bank deposits he had made looked fishy: They totaled $35,000, but each was less than $10,000, the threshold for transactions that banks must report to the Treasury Department. Deliberate evasion of that requirement is a federal crime, even when the money comes from legitimate sources, as Malone’s did. McGuire explained that to Malone, who signed a form acknowledging the explanation. The IRS did not seize the money, and no charges were filed.
After Malone died, his widow, Janet, deposited another $19,000 of his savings in amounts below $10,000. This time the IRS seized the money and referred the case to the Justice Department for prosecution. The agency’s attitude: We warned you once.
The story was told in the 1800s of a man in Illinois whose house burned down. All his neighbors said they were sorry for the man’s loss. One neighbor, however, took out a five-dollar gold piece and said, “I feel sorry for this man to the amount of five dollars. How much do you feel sorry for him?”
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) understands the principle taught in this story.
At a press conference on Wednesday held in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, Paul announced that he was returning $600,000 to the U.S. Treasury. Paul saved this much money by “frugally operating his Senate office in the past year,” the Louisville Courier-Journal reports.
Sen. Rand Paul isn’t happy that the Federal Reserve is mobilizing against his legislation that would subject the central bank’s monetary policy decisions to an audit.
“It is alarming that the Federal Reserve, which was granted Monopoly money-making power, is now specifically trying to stop my legislation,” the Kentucky Republican wrote in a column published by the conservative publication Breitbart Tuesday.
“The Fed, with unlimited ability to print money, now prints that money to lobby against congressional oversight,” Paul added. “It is a disgrace and every citizen in the land should rise up and say: We the people are in charge and we demand an audit!”
A number of Federal Reserve officials have cautioned against Congress legislating a new monetary policy audit, as Paul has promoted his legislation. His bill, the Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2015, has 30 Senate co-sponsors, and Paul has pressed the case for it in Iowa as well as through social media.
In The Eye of God, a Sigma Force novel, New York Times bestselling author James Rollins delivers an apocalyptic vision of a future predicted by the distant past.
In the wilds of Mongolia, a research satellite has crashed, triggering an explosive search for its valuable cargo: a code-black physics project connected to the study of dark energy—and a shocking image of the eastern seaboard of the United States in utter ruin.
At the Vatican, a package arrives containing two strange artifacts: a skull scrawled with ancient Aramaic and a tome bound in human skin. DNA evidence reveals that both came from the same body: the long dead Mongol king Genghis Khan.
Commander Gray Pierce and Sigma Force set out to discover a truth tied to the fall of the Roman Empire, to a mystery going back to the birth of Christianity, and to a weapon hidden for centuries that holds the fate of humanity.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
The era of open innovation can be dated to 1971, when teenager Steve Jobs and his engineer friend Steve Wozniak became “phone phreaks.” They sold kits to create routing tones spoofing government-regulated phones into making free long-distance calls. Evading the absurdly high prices that federal regulators set for AT&T calls felt like civil disobedience. The same spirit of disruptive innovation led them to found Apple.
Last week Washington abandoned open innovation when the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission yielded to President Obama ’s demands and moved to regulate the freewheeling Internet under the same laws that applied to the Ma Bell monopoly. Unless these reactionary regulations are stopped, they spell the end of the permissionless innovation that built today’s Internet.
Until now, anyone could launch new websites, apps and mobile devices without having to lobby a regulator for permission. That was thanks to a Clinton-era bipartisan consensus that the Internet shouldn’t be treated as a public utility. Congress and the White House under both parties kept the FCC from applying the hoary regulations that micromanaged the phone system, which would have frozen innovation online.
Last week’s announcement from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler rejects 20 years of open innovation by submitting the Internet to Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Once Mr. Wheeler and the commission’s Democratic majority vote this month to apply Title II, the regulations will give them staggering control. Any Internet “charges” and “practices” that the bureaucrats find “unjust or unreasonable is declared to be unlawful.”
The growth of the U.S. marijuana industry has devastated drug cartels in Mexico, evidenced by fewer seizures of cannabis at the border and, according to Mexican security forces, a drop in total homicides and domestic marijuana production rates.
Mexican drug cartels are finding it difficult to compete in the cannabis market not only in terms of price, but also quality, given that the U.S. industry is starting to label products according to THC content, CNBC reports. According to The ArcView Group, a cannabis research firm, the marijuana industry in the U.S. grew 74 percent in just one year, up from $1.5 billion in 2013 to $2.7 billion in 2014.
Marijuana from Mexico, on the other hand, is often mass-produced in less than ideal conditions, with no guarantee as to the safety of the product.
Advocates who initially pushed for legalization in Washington and Colorado have argued strenuously in the past that increased access to marijuana in the U.S. would mean a decline in drug-related violence and revenue for the cartels in Mexico.
Homicides in Mexico have dropped from 22,852 in 2011 to 15,649 as of 2014, which tracks relatively closely with the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, although the link between the two events is not conclusive.
Last year, agents from the U.S. Border Patrol seized just 1.9 million pounds of marijuana. While that may seem like a large amount, it actually constitutes a 24 percent reduction from the 2.5 million pounds seized in 2011. On the domestic side, Mexican authorities in 2013 seized just 1,070 tons, which marks the lowest amount since 2000.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
As millions of Americans fret over the potential identity theft from the data breach at health insurer Anthem, it reminds them of how many times they’ve gone through this mess. Retailers Target, Neiman Marcus, and Home Depot as well as credit card processor Global Payments Inc., and major banks like JPMorgan Chase and Citibank have all experienced data breaches with their customer’s financial and personal data all being put at risk and on sale on the black market. But there’s one BIG data-center under attack that the mainstream media is trying not to talk about.
In Bluffdale, Utah the NSA has built a $2 billion data-center to house the results of both their approved and clandestine spying programs. The center has been plagued with challenges, including fiery explosions destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. For all their ability to obtain intelligence, it seems they have a little more difficulty in obtaining someone smart enough to do the math on how much electricity is required to keep all their servers running and cool at the same time.
Now, Utah Public Safety Commissioner Keith Squires is attributing the 10,000 fold increase in cyber-attacks in the state on the NSA facility. The Utah Department of Technology Services has already experienced a data breach, with thousands of clients’ Social Security numbers and personal data compromised. Medical records have been compromised at the Utah Department of Health, with 280,000 Social Security numbers stolen and less sensitive information of as many as 500,000 others being taken as well.
A woman attempted to rob a bar in La Crosse, Wisconsin, but was thwarted by a customer with a taser. The police are making sure justice is served and have arrested the woman.
They arrested the man with the taser, too. That’s because it’s against the law in Wisconsin to carry a taser without a permit.
The incident took place in the early morning hours at King’s Korner bar. A former employee pointed a gun at the bartender and demanded the money in the cash register. But customer Jeff Steele brandished his taser at the burglar, and she ran off. She was apprehended shortly thereafter.
Steele didn’t actually use the taser, according to the batender. Still, he will face a felony weapons charge, according to WKBT:
Monday, February 9, 2015
The complex story of a notorious law-suit in which love and inheritance are set against the classic urban background of 19th-century London, where fog on the river, seeping into the very bones of the characters, symbolizes the corruption of the legal system and the society which supports it.
“Jarndyce and Jarndyce” is an infamous lawsuit that has been in process for generations. Nobody can remember exactly how the case started but many different individuals have found their fortunes caught up in it. Esther Summerson watches as her friends and neighbours are consumed by their hopes and disappointments with the proceedings. But while the intricate puzzles of the lawsuit are being debated by lawyers, other more dramatic mysteries are unfolding that involve heartbreak, lost children, blackmail and murder.
The fog and cold that permeate Bleak House mirror a Victorian England mired in spiritual insolvency. Dickens brought all his passion, brilliance, and narrative verve to this huge novel of lives entangled in a multi-generational lawsuit—and through it, he achieved, at age 41, a stature almost Shakespearean.
Friday, February 6, 2015
Earlier today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed reclassifying broadband Internet service from a Title I “information service” to a Title II “telecommunications service”—essentially declaring that the FCC plans to regulate the Internet as a public utility.
It has been clear for at least a month that Wheeler planned to take some version of this approach. At a tech conference in early January, Wheeler, who had long resisted reclassification, said he had an “aha moment” when he looked at the regulatory treatment of wireless phone networks. Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, wireless companies were officially regulated under Title II, but were not subject from some of its requirements, like rate regulation. “Under that for the last 20 years, the wireless industry has been monumentally successful,” Wheeler said.
In an op-ed for Wired today announcing the Title II proposal, he reiterated the argument, saying that “over the last 21 years, the wireless industry has invested almost $300 billion under similar rules, proving that modernized Title II regulation can encourage investment and competition.”
The problem with that bit of reasoning, as Jon Healey of the Los Angeles Times pointed out at the time, was that in 2007, wireless data networks—which account for a significant portion of wireless industry investment and innovation—were exempted from Title II.
Wheeler is now pointing specifically to the voice component of the wireless industry as an example of a success. This seems at least a little odd: It’s hard to imagine most people pointing to the voice component of the mobile industry as being particularly innovative or interesting over the last several years. In recent years, the mobile industry has seen voice use flatline and mobile data surge. That’s not likely to reverse; data usage is growing not only because of new connections, but because each connection is using more data. So if anything, the voice component of wireless is on track to become far less relevant.
Retired pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, a possible Republican presidential candidate, is weighing in on the contentious issue of mandatory vaccinations – asserting people shouldn’t be allowed to refuse shots on religious or philosophical grounds.
“Although I strongly believe in individual rights and the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit, I also recognize that public health and public safety are extremely important in our society, Carson said in a statement released to The Hill and BuzzFeed News.
“Certain communicable diseases have been largely eradicated by immunization policies in this country and we should not allow those diseases to return by foregoing safe immunization programs, for philosophical, religious, or other reasons when we have the means to eradicate them.”
Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and tangled in an elemental struggle between good and evil remains as riveting and eerily plausible as when it was first published.
A patient escapes from a biological testing facility, unknowingly carrying a deadly weapon: a mutated strain of super-flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the world’s population within a few weeks. Those who remain are scared, bewildered, and in need of a leader. Two emerge—Mother Abagail, the benevolent 108-year-old woman who urges them to build a peaceful community in Boulder, Colorado; and Randall Flagg, the nefarious “Dark Man,” who delights in chaos and violence. As the dark man and the peaceful woman gather power, the survivors will have to choose between them—and ultimately decide the fate of all humanity.
Thursday, February 5, 2015
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
During her confirmation hearings last week, Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s choice to succeed Eric Holder as attorney general, called civil forfeiture, a form of legalized theft in which the government takes people’s property without accusing them of a crime, “a wonderful tool.” Lynch, currently the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, suggested that innocent owners need not worry about getting hammered by this tool, because forfeiture “is done pursuant to supervision by a court,” and “the protections are there.”
In light of a forfeiture case that Lynch’s office had abruptly dropped the previous week, her assurances rang hollow. The case, involving $447,000 that the government stole from a Long Island business and sat on for nearly three years, illustrates the injustice inflicted by seizures in which a “crime” that harms no one becomes an excuse for bank heists that enrich the agencies perpetrating them.
Since 1970 the humorously named Bank Secrecy Act has required financial institutions to report deposits of $10,000 or more to the Treasury Department, because such large sums of cash are obviously suspicious. You know what else is suspicious? Deposits of less than $10,000, because they suggest an attempt to evade the government’s reporting requirement, which has been a federal crime, known as “structuring,” since 1986.
In 2012 a Nassau County, New York, detective decided the banking records of Bi-County Distributors, a family-owned business that sells cigarettes and candy to convenience stores, were “consistent with structuring.” That judgment was enough to trigger an IRS seizure of all the money in the account, which caused an immediate financial crisis for Bi-County’s owners, brothers Jeffrey, Richard, and Mitch Hirsch.
For the next 32 months, the Hirsches struggled to keep their business afloat, relying on credit extended by longtime vendors. In all that time, the brothers never got a hearing before a judge. Instead they received a series of offers from Lynch’s office, which refused to give the money back but said the Hirsches could have part of it if they surrendered the rest.
While the armies of Rand al'Thor, a farm boy cast by destiny into the world-changing role of the Dragon Reborn, continue their progress toward the Last Battle against the forces of the Dark One, other powers seek to exert control over the reluctant hero. Panoramic in concept, yet always focusing on the individuals whose actions make up the unfolding drama, the complex interweaving of plots and counterplots continues to gain momentum. Jordan's talent for sustaining the difficult combination of suspense and resolution, so necessary in a multivolume series such as this one ... is nothing short of remarkable.