Category Archives: politics

Cyber War versus Cyber Espionage

Sy Hersh has an excellent article in The New Yorker about much-politicized notion of “cyber war.” Insightful all around, but the real crux of the story is noting a distinction between cyber war and cyber espionage:

American intelligence and security officials for the most part agree that the Chinese military, or, for that matter, an independent hacker, is theoretically capable of creating a degree of chaos inside America. But I was told by military, technical, and intelligence experts that these fears have been exaggerated, and are based on a fundamental confusion between cyber espionage and cyber war. Cyber espionage is the science of covertly capturing e-mail traffic, text messages, other electronic communications, and corporate data for the purpose of gathering national-security or commercial intelligence. Cyber war involves the penetration of foreign networks for the purpose of disrupting or dismantling those networks, and making them inoperable…Blurring the distinction between cyber war and cyber espionage has been profitable for defense contractors—and dispiriting for privacy advocates.

Cyber war, it turns out, is a ploy used to scare up the body politic, and funnel funding into lucrative defense contracts. Often, one hears of hacker attacks on things like our electrical infrastructure. But this is just not possible:

There is no national power grid in the United States. There are more than a hundred publicly and privately owned power companies that operate their own lines, with separate computer systems and separate security arrangements. The companies have formed many regional grids, which means that an electrical supplier that found itself under cyber attack would be able to avail itself of power from nearby systems. Decentralization, which alarms security experts like Clarke and many in the military, can also protect networks.

Hersh’s article is well worth reading, a straightforward and level-headed look at the threats we face, and the once that are more or less fictional.


Public Speaking

This is perhaps the greatest video I have ever seen in my entire life.

‘The Cravenness of the Legitimate Press”

If you missed Josh Marshall’s commentary on the Breitbart/Sherrod affair, well, it’s a must-read. Here, he dissects the real essence of the problem, which is, of course, our news media:

What’s most instructive about the whole episode, however, is the cravenness of the legitimate press. You’ll see no end of ‘media stories’ about the Wiegel nonsense and now even more about ‘journolist’. Politico, I think, has published half a dozen pieces on each I imagine. But I doubt you’ll see many if any of these ‘media criticism’ or ‘media stories’ about the perpetrators of the offense in this instance. All I’ve seen so far is Kurtz’s piece referenced above, which is apparently intended as a Fox-defending corrective to the almost non-existent critiques of their role in the affair.

It’s much easier to focus on Obama or Vilsack or ‘what it says about race in America’ or whatever other nonsense. Because most reporters are simply cowed by Fox and Breitbart and Beck and the rest of the organized forces of bamboozlement — too afraid, too bewildered, too hapless to apply anything remotely approaching standards in analyzing the fourth estate of which they are the nominal custodians. So what we get is this ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak not at all’ routine from reporters and journalists who should know better.

The entire post is worth reading.

Wall Street Reform

Wall Street Reform passes the Senate today, which means it’s done. It includes this carve-out:

Auto Dealer Exemption: Exempts auto dealers from oversight by the new consumer regulator.

Because an auto dealer has never ripped off anyone.


Bill of Privacy Rights

Just published by EFF, is this simple and clear “bill of rights” for social network users:

#1: The Right to Informed Decision-Making

Users should have the right to a clear user interface that allows them to make informed choices about who sees their data and how it is used.

Users should be able to see readily who is entitled to access any particular piece of information about them, including other people, government officials, websites, applications, advertisers and advertising networks and services.

Whenever possible, a social network service should give users notice when the government or a private party uses legal or administrative processes to seek information about them, so that users have a meaningful opportunity to respond.

#2: The Right to Control

Social network services must ensure that users retain control over the use and disclosure of their data. A social network service should take only a limited license to use data for the purpose for which it was originally given to the provider. When the service wants to make a secondary use of the data, it must obtain explicit opt-in permission from the user. The right to control includes users’ right to decide whether their friends may authorize the service to disclose their personal information to third-party websites and applications.

Social network services must ask their users’ permission before making any change that could share new data about users, share users’ data with new categories of people, or use that data in a new way. Changes like this should be “opt-in” by default, not “opt-out,” meaning that users’ data is not shared unless a user makes an informed decision to share it. If a social network service is adding some functionality that its users really want, then it should not have to resort to unclear or misleading interfaces to get people to use it.

#3: The Right to Leave

Users giveth, and users should have the right to taketh away.

One of the most basic ways that users can protect their privacy is by leaving a social network service that does not sufficiently protect it. Therefore, a user should have the right to delete data or her entire account from a social network service. And we mean really delete. It is not enough for a service to disable access to data while continuing to store or use it. It should be permanently eliminated from the service’s servers.

Furthermore, if users decide to leave a social network service, they should be able to easily, efficiently and freely take their uploaded information away from that service and move it to a different one in a usable format. This concept, known as “data portability” or “data liberation,” is fundamental to promote competition and ensure that users truly maintains control over their information, even if they sever their relationship with a particular service.


Steal This Comic


h/t to @Knownhuman

Journalism Wants To Be Free

By now, surely everyone has heard, and seen, the Iraq video from Wikileaks. Of particular interest from the NYT article on the story, is this section:

By releasing such a graphic video, which a media organization had tried in vain to get through traditional channels, WikiLeaks has inserted itself in the national discussion about the role of journalism in the digital age. Where judges and plaintiffs could once stop or delay publication with a court order, WikiLeaks exists in a digital sphere in which information becomes instantly available.

“The most significant thing about the release of the Baghdad video is that several million more people are on the same page,” with knowledge of WikiLeaks, said Lisa Lynch, an assistant professor of journalism at Concordia University in Montreal, who recently published a paper about the site. “It is amazing that outside of the conventional channels of information something like this can happen.”

A big part of the Wikileaks story is they were able to decrypt the video, apparently using some borrow time on a high-powered computer system (one would be needed to break strong encryption; obviously, it could turn out the encryption used on this video was very weak). That’s not something CNN would likely be willing to do, let alone have the resources to spend on such an effort. But it’s the perfect sort of task for a site that falls outside the field of journalism — or, perhaps more precisely, a site that is redrawing its boundaries.

The question of just “what is journalism” has dogged journalists and academics since the rise of bloggers and “citizen journalists.” Wikileaks, though, seems to be a different sort of thing. Wikileaks isn’t a bunch of intrepid bloggers running through a FOIA data dump, and it’s certainly operating outside of what we’ve come to recognize as traditional journalism. The founder of Wikileaks, in fact, compares what the site does to something more like the CIA:

“That’s arguably what spy agencies do — high-tech investigative journalism,” Julian Assange, one of the site’s founders, said in an interview on Tuesday. “It’s time that the media upgraded its capabilities along those lines.”

One byproduct of the digitization of nearly everything these days is that information wants to be free. It should not be surprising that a video such as the one from Iraq, which is digitally captured and stored, could find its way in front of our eyes, just as the photographs from Abu Ghraib made their way onto our screens.

And it should not be surprising that a site such as Wikileaks would not only find a place in this new digitally-enhanced ecosystem of journalism and politics, but even thrive.

There Is No Such Thing As An Independent

This, via Ed Kilgore, via digby, is essential when it comes to politics:

The general consensus is that of the 30% to 40% or so of Americans who call themselves independents, no more than ten percent are independent voters in any meaningful sense of the term. And “pure independents” are also less likely to vote than partisans.

This is important for a whole lot of reasons. For one thing, the idea that “independents” are a third force in politics positioned in some moderate, bipartisan space equidistant from the two parties is entirely wrong.

Who knew this? Karl Rove, for one, a factor that played heavily into the way the Bush Administration played politics :

In late 2000, even as the result of the presidential election was still being contested in court, George W. Bush’s chief pollster Matt Dowd was writing a memo for Rove that would reach a surprising conclusion. Based on a detailed examination of poll data from the previous two decades, Dowd’s memo argued that the percentage of swing voters had shrunk to a tiny fraction of the electorate. Most self-described “independent” voters “are independent in name only,” Dowd told me in an interview describing his memo. “Seventy-five percent of independents vote straight ticket” for one party or the other. Once such independents are reclassified as Democrats or Republicans, a key trend emerges: Between 1980 and 2000, the percentage of true swing voters fell from a very substantial 24 percent of the electorate to just 6 percent. In other words, the center was literally disappearing. Which meant that, instead of having every incentive to govern as “a uniter, not a divider,” Bush now had every reason to govern via polarization.

The myth of the independent voter…


Regardless of Palin’s politics, this video of her supporters in line at a book signing is an unbelievable display of ignorance.

Really quite stunning. But also proves that, for many, politics has nothing to do with rationality.

Lindsay Graham’s Handrubsave

Via TPM: