Wednesday, November 30, 2005

FBI should have veto power over software

The FCC thinks that the FBI should have veto power over software that consumers have access to. In other words, if it doesn't have a back door in it to allow for wiretapping, then the FBI should be allowed to prevent it's distribution.

It's so assinine that we continue to hear such drivel in 2005. Back in 1995, such statements might be forgiven as many people didn't understand how the Internets worked and how such measures could be circumvented.

Since the FCC and the FBI are unlikely to be able to prevent the distribution of such software, how exactly do they expect to thwart it? Will they pass laws making people who use such software criminals? Will the people of this "democracy" put up with such laws?

It's funny, you'd think that they'd learn from the RIAA and MPAA. Millions of people in the US rip and share music and movie files even though they know it's illegal and that they may get hit with a lawsuit. They compare and share software to allow them to do such things. I've seen people discussing openly how to break Sony DRM movies and store them on their hard drives. Does the FBI think that it's going to be any more successful? Oh, I forgot, the FBI is part and parcel with the RIAA and MPAA in hunting down offenders. By my estimate, they might as well lock somewhere between 33% and 66% of the public up in order to make a dent in this trade. Idiots.

From the blog posting on CNET:

The Federal Communications Commission thinks you have the right to use software on your computer only if the FBI approves.

No, really. In an obscure "policy" document released around 9 p.m. ET last Friday, the FCC announced this remarkable decision.

According to the three-page document, to preserve the openness that characterizes today's Internet, "consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement." Read the last seven words again.

Here's a good one

The CIA has announced that they are going to start reading newspapers, listening to radio, and watching television as part of an Open Source Intelligence gathering service. Funny, it's the kind of thing that one might have expected that they were already doing. But what it one arm of the government is planting false stories without telling the CIA? Perhaps even they would believe the Iraq War was a good idea or that it was even going well. From the initial story:

US intelligence chief John Negroponte announced Tuesday the creation of a new CIA-managed center to exploit publicly available information for intelligence purposes.

The so-called Open Source Center will gather and analyze information from a host of sources from the Internet and commercial databases to newspapers, radio, video, maps, publications and conference reports.

And, from the second link (a lesson in democracy):
As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.

The articles, written by U.S. military "information operations" troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.

Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said. Records and interviews indicate that the U.S. has paid Iraqi newspapers to run dozens of such articles, with headlines such as "Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism," since the effort began this year.

The operation is designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military. The Pentagon has a contract with a small Washington-based firm called Lincoln Group, which helps translate and place the stories. The Lincoln Group's Iraqi staff, or its subcontractors, sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets.

The military's effort to disseminate propaganda in the Iraqi media is taking place even as U.S. officials are pledging to promote democratic principles, political transparency and freedom of speech in a country emerging from decades of dictatorship and corruption.

It comes as the State Department is training Iraqi reporters in basic journalism skills and Western media ethics, including one workshop titled "The Role of Press in a Democratic Society." Standards vary widely at Iraqi newspapers, many of which are shoestring operations.
Guess the President should order the originators of this policy a "refresher course" in the first amendment (although, they've pretty much disdained that amendment from day one) in much the same way as he ordered a refresher course in ethics after the Scooter Router Booter.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Firefox 1.5 released!

Windows, Linux, and Mac versions. For those of you who already have Firefox 1.5 RC3, there will be no update.

Dickie's Quickies

The Sony spyware controversy continues to give. Someone has found out that it installs itself anyhow even if the user declines the EULA. Note: This is not the same spyware as the rootkit, but a similar case.

Miami police plan on staging random anti-terrorist exercises, inadvertently terrorizing their own citizens, but teaching children that adults can be good citizens through constant surveillance, too (see the post below on child surveillance). From the article:

Miami police announced Monday they will stage random shows of force at hotels, banks and other public places to keep terrorists guessing and remind people to be vigilant.

Deputy Police Chief Frank Fernandez said officers might, for example, surround a bank building, check the IDs of everyone going in and out and hand out leaflets about terror threats.

Is U.S. behind death squads in Iraq?

From Newsweek: (read the whole story and be appalled)

Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras. There is no evidence, however, that Negroponte knew anything about the Salvadoran death squads or the Iran-Contra scandal at the time. The Iraq ambassador, in a phone call to NEWSWEEK on Jan. 10, said he was not involved in military strategy in Iraq. He called the insertion of his name into this report "utterly gratuitous.")

Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called "snatch" operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation. The current thinking is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in, say, Syria, activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries, officials tell NEWSWEEK.

Also being debated is which agency within the U.S. government—the Defense department or CIA—would take responsibility for such an operation. Rumsfeld’s Pentagon has aggressively sought to build up its own intelligence-gathering and clandestine capability with an operation run by Defense Undersecretary Stephen Cambone. But since the Abu Ghraib interrogations scandal, some military officials are ultra-wary of any operations that could run afoul of the ethics codified in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That, they argue, is the reason why such covert operations have always been run by the CIA and authorized by a special presidential finding. (In "covert" activity, U.S. personnel operate under cover and the U.S. government will not confirm that it instigated or ordered them into action if they are captured or killed.)

God, they are fighting amongst themselves over who gets to do the Dark Lord's evil deeds. Why isn't there public debate about such tactics? (rhetorical question).

The interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is said to be among the most forthright proponents of the Salvador option. Maj. Gen.Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani, director of Iraq’s National Intelligence Service, may have been laying the groundwork for the idea with a series of interviews during the past ten days. Shahwani told the London-based Arabic daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat that the insurgent leadership—he named three former senior figures in the Saddam regime, including Saddam Hussein’s half-brother—were essentially safe across the border in a Syrian sanctuary. "We are certain that they are in Syria and move easily between Syrian and Iraqi territories," he said, adding that efforts to extradite them "have not borne fruit so far."

Shahwani also said that the U.S. occupation has failed to crack the problem of broad support for the insurgency. The insurgents, he said, "are mostly in the Sunni areas where the population there, almost 200,000, is sympathetic to them." He said most Iraqi people do not actively support the insurgents or provide them with material or logistical help, but at the same time they won’t turn them in. One military source involved in the Pentagon debate agrees that this is the crux of the problem, and he suggests that new offensive operations are needed that would create a fear of aiding the insurgency. "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists," he said. "From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation."

Raising good citizens sheep

Get them used to surveillance at a young age. From the article:

As debate over government surveillance rages in adult society, the US Department of Justice is quietly enticing school districts to implement controversial technologies that monitor and track students. Critics fear these efforts will normalize electronic surveillance at an early age, conditioning young people to accept privacy violations while creating a market for companies that develop and sell surveillance systems.

A few of the nation’s schools are already running pilot programs to monitor students’ movements using radio frequency identification (RFID). The highly controversial programs, implemented in the name of student protection, see pupils wearing tags around their necks and submitting themselves to electronic scanning as they enter and leave school property. Now, a new federal grant could lure more districts into using these or similar technologies.

...In one of the more controversial areas of the grant solicitation, the NIJ states that "non-cooperative" identification and tracking is preferred over a "cooperative" system. A non-cooperative identification system captures and tracks personal or biometric data automatically, without a person knowing that they have been screened by a surveillance system.


While school administrators justify the use of RFID and other high-tech systems to protect children and facilities, some question whether more security in schools is even necessary.

Frank Zimring, a University of California at Berkley law professor and author of several books on youth violence, says that whether adolescents are rich or poor, school is the safest place they can be.

Indeed, crime in school has been falling since the early 1990s.

..."If you try to create too much security in a school setting, you’re going to make it a branch of the law enforcement enterprise instead of a branch of the educational enterprise," said Zimring.

...Accenture, a global consulting and technology company that specializes in RFID, was the top business services contributor during the 2004 election cycle, with its owners and employees giving approximately $778,589 to federal candidates, 69 percent of which went to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And Deloitte & Touche, a global accounting and consulting company that helps companies implement RFID technologies, gave more than $2.2 million to candidates in the 2004 cycle, 71 percent to Republicans.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Cunningham and security

By now many readers have heard how "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) has pleaded guilty to charges of tax evasion and bribery and resigned from the House of Representatives. Many of the stories note that Cunningham accepted his bribe in return for using his position on the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on defense to reward contracts to a Defense firm, MZM. However, Cunningham was also chair of the House Intel committee subcommittee on terrorism/human intelligence, counter intelligence, and analysis. How far did his bribes spread? Was this an isolated incident? What ramifications might this have for the intelligence community? Were other Representatives involved in similar schemes?

Cribbed from Laura Rozen, here's some snippets from Cunningham's biography as provided by the San Diego Union-Tribune (note the Tom Delay reference towards the end):

...Jan 17, 1991: During a news conference at Lindbergh Field, Cunningham says he had received intelligence that Iraqi-sponsored terrorists were operating in San Diego County. The incident aggravates tensions left over from his primary campaign, when he outraged local Arab-Americans with a brochure bearing the picture of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi that accused his Egyptian-born opponent of having been influenced by oil interests. ...

Oct 6, 1992: Cunningham makes the Washington Post's "Reliable Source" column by suggesting the liberal leadership of the House should be "lined up and shot.".

Oct. 9, 1992: The Los Angeles Times quotes Cunningham as urging President Bush to attack Bill Clinton's patriotism, telling him: "This is an issue that will kill Clinton when people realize what a traitor he is to this country. In some countries, if something like this came out, he would be tried as a traitor. Tokyo Rose had nothing over Clinton.".

May 11, 1995: A House debate over water pollution erupts in furor when Cunningham declares that lawmakers backing an amendment he opposed were the same people who support "homos in the military." Later, he calls Rep. Pat Schroeder, D-Colo., a "socialist.".

Nov. 17, 1995: Colleagues and Capitol police break up a scuffle that starts after Cunningham, a former Navy fighter pilot, tangles with Rep. James Moran, D-Va., who used to be an amateur boxer, during the debate on a Republican-sponsored resolution that would bar President Clinton from sending American troops to Bosnia without prior congressional approval.

Feb. 26, 1998: When acting Army Secretary Robert Walker told a House subcommittee about efforts to combat sexual harassment and discrimination in the military, Cunningham calls the efforts "B.S." and asserted that "our kids don't like. . . political correctness." He also insists that some members of Congress openly promote communism and that France has a Communist government. ...

Sept. 5, 1998: At a forum for prostate cancer sufferers, Cunningham makes a crude reference to a fellow congressman who is gay and, in a fit of temper, directs an obscene gesture toward an audience member telling him, "(expletive) you." .

Jan. 23, 2001: Cunningham is named to the House Select Committee on Intelligence for the 107th Congress.

Oct. 9, 2002: Cunningham cries on the House floor as he argues that President Bush should have authority to use military force against Iraq. ...

November 2003: Sells his Del Mar house for $1,675,000 to a company owned by Mitchell Wade of MZM Inc., a defense contractor. Purchases a home in Rancho Santa Fe for $2.55 million. ...

June 12, 2005: Copley News Service and The San Diego Union-Tribune reveal that a defense contractor with ties to Cunningham took a $700,000 loss on the purchase of the congressman's Del Mar house while the congressman, a member of the influential defense appropriations subcommittee, was supporting the contractor's efforts to get tens of millions of dollars in contracts from the Pentagon.

June 14, 2005: CNS and the Union-Tribune report that the Realtor who Cunningham said had set a fair and independent price for the November 2003 sale of his Del Mar home to a defense contractor was a longtime campaign contributor.

June 17, 2005: CNS and the Union-Tribune report Cunningham has been living aboard a 42-foot yacht along the banks of the Potomac River in a yacht, named the Duke-Stir, owned by Wade. ...

July 5, 2005: CNS and the Union-Tribune report that Cunningham made roughly a $400,000 profit by selling a boat he lived aboard from 1997 to 2002 to a businessman convicted in a bid-rigging scheme. The man said he subsequently got advice from the congressman about how to pursue a presidential pardon. ...

Aug. 5, 2005: CNS and the Union-Tribune report that Cunningham – and other prominent passengers including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay – has taken jet flights provided by Group W Transportation, owned by Poway defense contractor Brent Wilkes.

Aug. 16, 2005: Agents from the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and Department of Defense seize documents from Poway headquarters of ADCS Inc. and the home of Wilkes, the company's president. ...

RIAA targets Mashups

It was, in my estimation, only a matter of time. I think that this is an incredibly stupid move on the RIAA's part. What next? Are they going to go after DJs for live club mashups? How about DJs with mix tapes that actually promote songs? Idiots. They don't even know who their friends are anymore. And, yes, mashup mixers are their friends as they highlight more than one tune at once, promote the tunes mashed up, and don't drain a dime from the RIAA's pockets.

Here's the word from one mashup site.

Heavy snow warning for Seattle area

I'll believe it when I see it, though it is cold and windy out:



Pentagon wants expanded powers to spy on citizens

Yep, since the CIA and the FBI are having such fun spying on U.S. citizens, the Pentagon wants to gain some of the glory as well. Of course, to make it more palatable, the Pentagon suggests that all sources share information. From the story:

The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts -- including protecting military facilities from attack -- to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.

The Pentagon has pushed legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence. Backers say the measure is needed to strengthen investigations into terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.

The proposals, and other Pentagon steps aimed at improving its ability to analyze counterterrorism intelligence collected inside the United States, have drawn complaints from civil liberties advocates and a few members of Congress, who say the Defense Department's push into domestic collection is proceeding with little scrutiny by the Congress or the public.

"We are deputizing the military to spy on law-abiding Americans in America. This is a huge leap without even a [congressional] hearing," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a recent interview.

Jane Siberry breaks new ground with music store

The EFF is reporting that Siberry has opened a music store on her website that offers non-DRM'd mp3s. For payment?

And you pay whatever you like for them. Yes, you set whatever price you like. Options include:

  • free ("gift from Jane");
  • a standard price (CAN$0.99);
  • self-determined price - pay now; or
  • self-determined price - pay later (to facilitate try-before-you-buy).
When you purchase the song, moreover, you can select up to 5 people to whom you can email a link to the song.

I just saw her perform in concert here in SF, and she summed it up this way: "I want to treat people the way I'd like to be treated. I don't like being treated like a child, so I won't be doing that to other people."

For the record, Ms. Siberry is highly recommended. She's a talented Canadian artist. I've had the immense pleasure of seeing her perform live and own several of her albums.

Killing civilians in Iraq

From the Telegraph (why let Americans have all of the fun?):

A "trophy" video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

The video has sparked concern that private security companies, which are not subject to any form of regulation either in Britain or in Iraq, could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqis.

The video, which first appeared on a website that has been linked unofficially to Aegis Defence Services, contained four separate clips, in which security guards open fire with automatic rifles at civilian cars. All of the shooting incidents apparently took place on "route Irish", a road that links the airport to Baghdad.

...Capt Adnan Tawfiq of the Iraqi Interior Ministry which deals with compensation issues, has told the Sunday Telegraph that he has received numerous claims from families who allege that their relatives have been shot by private security contractors travelling in road convoys.

He said: "When the security companies kill people they just drive away and nothing is done. Sometimes we ring the companies concerned and they deny everything. The families don't get any money or compensation. I would say we have had about 50-60 incidents of this kind."

Update: Crooks and Liars has the video.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Making you safer - 1 nipple ring at a time

The TSA in Pittsburgh asked a woman to remove her body piercing jewelery before being allowed to board an airplane. 'Cause you know, if the terrorists used box cutters in the past, then just imagine the damage someone could cause with nipple studs (not to mention a Prince Albert piece).

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Boeing loses notebook PC

Not a lot of news coverage about this - maybe people are getting used to it? - but Boeing had a notebook PC stolen from an HR person. On the PC was the personal data of some 161,000 current and former Boeing employees including names, addresses, social security numbers, banks, routing numbers for the banks, and bank accounts. The saving grace is that the information was password protected (no word on what sort of encryption). Boeing is providing current employees with info on credit checks and offering to pay for credit alerts (the very least that they can do and an appropriate response, IMO). One person in the article asks the obvious question: why was this person carrying around so much data in the first place? Why wasn't the data maintained on a secure server on the network and accessed when needed?

I don't want to drag on Boeing too much because their response has been about as good as can be expected, short of preventing this from happening in the first place. And the event appears to have occurred off site, which begs the above questions even more. Still, having wandered around Boeing plants now for several weeks, I can honestly say that I'm not surprised by security breaches there. Now, if the information does fall into the wrong hands, wouldn't it be nice if there were some sort of civil recourse for citizens who had their data compromised?

From the story in the Seattle Times (linked above):

Highly sensitive personal data on 161,000 current and former Boeing workers are missing after the theft of a company personal computer.

The data included "names and Social Security numbers, and in some cases birth dates and banking information," according to a Boeing statement released Friday afternoon.

The news incensed workers who were notified by the company.

"It's absolutely ridiculous if that kind of information is on a personal computer," said Rob Hall, a mechanic in the Integrated Defense Systems division at Boeing Field.

The banking information included names of banks, routing numbers and account numbers for some workers who had elected to have their paychecks directly deposited into their accounts, according to Tim Neale, a Boeing spokesman.

No credit-card numbers were on the computer.

The information was password protected, Neale said. "It was locked and thus not easy to access the information."

No follow-up story has yet been published in the Seattle Times, though they did a good job reporting this story to begin with.

Not to rag too much on the Seattle Times, but they printed this story last week on the so-called bird flu pandemic possibility and once again forgot to mention that the reason that the Tamiflu the Bush administration ordered will not be ready until 2007 is because they ordered it late - behind 40 other countries, mostly European countries. That's right, the Bush administration dropped the ball on ordering and preparing it's stockpiles of the only drug thought to work against the flu strain. They had plenty of warning, too, from the UN about it. The Europeans took notice and the Bush administration did not and, apparently, neither does the news media which continues to allow the administration to guide this story without reporting the fact that they dropped the ball in the first place.

I've written to the Seattle Times about this sort of thing on this particular issue and one other (global warming). This story, like others mentioned, was not originated by the Seattle Times, but was published in their paper. It neglects to mention the previous information that was available in the Seattle Times. I chalk that up to poor editing, though they would probably defend it by A) saying their resources were stretched too thinly, B) that they are highly compartmentalized and therefore not every editor has the opportunity to familiarize themselves with every story, and C) they didn't write the news; they only print it.


My friend, Scott, posts a very well reasoned and cogent argument against lying, war, and the war crimes committed by George W. Bush and his administration. His arguments are persuasive. The only thing that I'd add to them are that I believe that the U.S. should participate in the World Court War Crimes Tribunal. The U.S. is one of the nations in the world that argues that the rule of law, not the whims of dictators and corrupt justices, should govern men. It's a good speech, if only we'd back it up with actions. If we were participating in the World Court War Crimes Tribunal, then we'd have a seat at the table when these laws are established. Any concerns that we might have regarding the laws and how they are applied could be addressed in a democratic fashion within the court. By doing so, we'd be better able to protect our citizens who no doubt one day will come in front of the court. Not being there only does greater disservice to future generations, but that is par for the course for this administration and it's Republican minions.

GM is laying off 10% of their work force (17% of their domestic work force). Now those people are going to be added to the unemployed and/or pension rolls (which GM will no doubt try to turn over to the U.S. government at some point, complaining that because the law allowed them to underfund the pensions and instead pay their executives and shareholders - you know, the people that Republicans are now so anxious to provide tax cuts for - GM can no longer afford the pensions without grave consequences for their executives and shareholders, therefore the middle class should pay for their own pensions through taxes - see the circular argument?). This sounds more like the 80s each day. The economy numbers show more people employed, but wages are stagnant (except for the upper classes) and fewer people seem to be benefiting beyond those on Wall Street. Is this really the sort of economy Americans want or would they prefer the one (now so derided by Republicans) from the 90s when more people benefited, there was less unemployment, and the deficit was shrinking rather than growing?

Speaking of the 80s, Scott mentions the Alito nomination and abortion. My early days of political cognizance did not focus a great deal on the right to privacy. During the late 70s when it came to women's rights, I was focused on the equal rights amendment. I remember my mother and I arguing over the amendment. She argued against it based on the old "do we want women going to war?" issue. She was horrified when I told her it made sense to me. If men could join the armed forces and go to war, then women should be offered the same opportunities. To this day, I still hold firm to that belief.

Some time during the 80s, however, the issue of abortion became more dominant in our discussion of women's rights. Perhaps it was the death of the ERA that spurred this development, but abortion didn't really appear on my radar screen in a big way until the 1980s. Since then it has dominated politics of both parties. A great deal of time, energy, and money has been spent on a question that, if polled, the American people largely agree upon - and have agreed upon since the 70s. Polls have consistently shown that somewhere between 67 and 73% of Americans support a right to privacy, which is to say that they support a woman's right to choose, which is to say that it's no one else's business what she decided in privacy with her doctor and, possibly, her mate.

So, why do we continue to argue the issue? Oh, sure, it's easy to point to the right wing extremists who over the years have bombed clinics, places death threats on doctors, created havoc outside of clinics, and so on. It's also easy to blame the political allies of these extremists. Let there be no confusion of my position: these people are a threat to the civil rights of women. However, let's be clear: if the Democrats didn't gain something from this relationship, then it would have been resolved long ago. From abortion the Democratic party also gains a rallying point, a funding point, and necessary drama to keep their moribund party active. They benefit from moderate Republicans having lost control of their party to the extremists due to their own lack of diligence (fueled by a thirst for power over ethics). I put to you, dear reader, that if the Democratic party really wanted to have done so, they could have settled this issue long ago by proposing an amendment to a right to privacy. The Democratic party didn't do so because it would have eliminated a hot button issue that raises funds, rallies troops, and distinguishes itself from the Republican Party. In other words, neither party is truly interested in seeing this issue go away.

What other issue can you think of where the American public is in 70% agreement? How much of a slam dunk would this have been or could be? Why not end the debate so we can move forward with more constructive discussions such as the economy, health care, national security?

Ooops, I shouldn't have mentioned that last one. You see, an amendment to the Constitution regarding privacy might have very real impact on national security. In the 80s or 90s such an amendment would have passed without much thought to national security, but in the new millennium, national security would be used as a tactic of Republicans to defeat the amendment. Indeed, it is exactly the Republican and Democratic party's convergence of using the state apparatus (F.B.I., C.I.A., Fatherland Security) to violate it's citizen's rights that is the reason such an amendment is needed now more than ever.

The so-called Patriot Act was passed overwhelmingly by Democrats and Republicans just 4 years ago. At the time opponents were assured that abuses would not be committed. Checks and balances were in place to prevent such abuses, we were told. Old tales from the Johnson/Nixon era of law enforcement investigations of innocent citizens - investigations that were similar to the way the KGB filed reports on it's citizens - would never be repeated, according to supporters of the Patriot Act. And, yet, it is becoming clearer that such reassurances were not true.

The so-called Patriot Act has emboldened law enforcement agencies to invade the privacy of citizens in exactly the ways we were told it would not. The desire to prevent terrorism has driven some officers to violate the privacy of citizens of this country (who are their employers, in fact). Cases are mounting and they are not terribly limited. Because the so-called Patriot Act provides a great deal of privacy to government agencies, ordinary citizens do not often hear about the abuses. Yet some diligent organizations are fighting in courts to expose those abuses and some information is leaking out.

Would passage of a privacy amendment prevent law enforcement from preventing a terrorist attack? I'd argue not likely. In over 200 years, this country has experienced only 1 major terrorist attack from a foreign source. Most of the terrorist attacks in this country have been caused by it's own citizens. Indeed, as reports in the media have shown, if the FBI had listened to it's own field agents, the 9-11 attacks might never have happened and that was before any of the provisions of the Patriot Act were in place. If portions of the Patriot Act have prevented terrorist attacks since then, I'd expect the administration to be touting their successes. Instead, I read of cases like the one in Detroit where we find out that the administration, according to the courts, had wrongfully prosecuted a group of people. Or the case in Portland where one citizen was wrongfully accused of participating in the terrorist bombings in Spain. Or the case in Tacoma where a military chaplain was accused of terrorism while attending prisoners in Guantanamo.

Sure, supporters of the act will tout other cases, but can they prove that it was the Patriot Act specifically that was the make or break of those cases? Not likely because they cannot tell us how it was used. Government has more privacy rights than the citizens that provide it legitimacy.

A privacy amendment to the Constitution, therefore, would assist in preventing unnecessary government intrusions. It would provide yet another check and balance against those who would abuse law enforcement privileges to inflict state terror on it's citizens (and I'm not just referring to the national government here as studies have shown an increasing desire of local prosecutors to apply portions of the so-called Patriot Act to crimes in their jurisdiction - crimes not originally intended to be covered by the Act - where are the great defenders of "original intent" when these issues arise?). It would also end the abortion debate (at least, legally and politically) thereby freeing up gridlock and talking points for both political parties. Such an amendment would also have implications regarding sodomy laws throughout the country, ending yet another stagnating, bickering point for the political parties. It would most likely have effects in other areas of law enforcement such as illegal searches of cars/homes/boats without due cause (a favorite trick used in the so-called drug war). Plus, a properly written privacy amendment would cover the personal information of people when dealing on the Internet, with financial institutions, and other agencies that might use that information (as it stands today, such information can be gathered with or without the knowledge of the individuals involved).

The time has come for such an amendment to the Constitution. But do not expect political parties to deliver this. They would rather have easy fund raising issues. Political parties would rather have stagnation over abortion rather than discourse and creative solutions on issues such as health care, retirement, housing, economics, and/or the poor. Rather, a privacy amendment needs to first be a grass roots effort. It needs to well up in such numbers that it forces politicians to take notice and embrace it. No politician will embrace it on it's own as it is the type of thing politicians fear.

Alito and his scourge often argue that Roe v. Wade was wrongfully decided. The argument goes that there is no constitutional right to privacy (which would negate the Griswold decision as well which provided a right to privacy for couples seeking to purchase contraception, but they don't like to bring that up because to do so would expose their anti-sexuality agenda) and therefore the Roe decision was an issue of judicial activism enshrining in the Constitution something that it does not explicitly endorse. I'd wager that most Americans, however, endorse that concept. We need a privacy amendment to end this discussion and make the nominations such as Alito about larger issues such as state rights, federalism, and corporate rights versus citizen's rights. Alito is a pro-corporate rights, pro-federal government rights over citizen's rights justice nomination. To whittle the discussion down to a tired abortion debate - one that most people think should be settled - does a disservice to everyone.

Update: Bruce Schneier has a good column today on security, the Patriot Act, and the importance of transparency. Choice quote:

These differences illustrate four principles that should guide our use of personal information by the police. The first is oversight: In order to obtain personal information, the police should be required to show probable cause, and convince a judge to issue a warrant for the specific information needed. Second, minimization: The police should only get the specific information they need, and not any more. Nor should they be allowed to collect large blocks of information in order to go on "fishing expeditions," looking for suspicious behavior. The third is transparency: The public should know, if not immediately then eventually, what information the police are getting and how it is being used. And fourth, destruction. Any data the police obtains should be destroyed immediately after its court-authorized purpose is achieved. The police should not be able to hold on to it, just in case it might become useful at some future date.

This isn't about our ability to combat terrorism; it's about police power. Traditional law already gives police enormous power to peer into the personal lives of people, to use new crime-fighting technologies, and to correlate that information. But unfettered police power quickly resembles a police state, and checks on that power make us all safer.

As more of our lives become digital, we leave an ever-widening audit trail in our wake. This information has enormous social value -- not just for national security and law enforcement, but for purposes as mundane as using cell-phone data to track road congestion, and as important as using medical data to track the spread of diseases. Our challenge is to make this information available when and where it needs to be, but also to protect the principles of privacy and liberty our country is built on.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Weekly World News does Bush

This is just too funny:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush is so worried that many of his top aides
and associates in Congress will be imprisoned for assorted wrong-doing that he’s
busily converting the West Wing of the White House into an “Arrest Wing” — a row
of prison cells from which these aides can keep working if they’re ever

Recently, House Majority Leader Tom Delay was indicted for money laundering
and conspiracy. Karl Rove may be indicted for his role in leaking the name of a
CIA operative. Speaker of the House Bill Frist is also under investigation as
are several other advisors to Bush.

“Bush can’t function without these people,” a top White House aide told
Weekly World News under condition that we not tell Karl Rove. “This way, even if
they’re in prison, Bush will be able to pick their brains.”

In fact, the White House is even attempting to put a positive spin on it.

“If all these folks go to jail, this administration will be even more
productive since they won’t have anything else to do but work,” said another
source close to Bush, frequent Weekly World News source ‘CR.’

American Edit

American Edit is a mashup album featuring Green Day's "American Idiot" material. Like most such projects, it's a mixed bag.

Sony suits begin to fly

Two lawsuits were filed against Sony today for the rootkit debacle: the EFF filed a class action suit while the Texas Attorney General is suing on behalf of his citizens. Word has it that Sony is catching a LOT of heat from artists on it's label as well.
From uComics.

Foxtrot on Sony Rootkit

The newspaper comic, Foxtrot, takes a stab at the Sony rootkit debacle. Too funny.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Georgia voter ID

Georgia is trying to require citizens to pay for an ID in order to have the right to vote. This recalls the heyday of the racist south when poll taxes were the norm in order to prevent poor blacks from voting (other methods of "persuasion" were used to prevent more affluent blacks from voting). Of course, the legislators in Georgia who support this effort say that they are just trying to decrease voter fraud. Now comes this report with the choice quote from the sponsor of the Georgia legislation:

According to the memo, Burmeister told the Justice Department that she was "aware of vote-buying in certain precincts" and detailed one episode in which she said former Augusta Mayor Ed McIntyre offered to put her name on a card and then round up black voters and "pay them to vote for the candidates on the card in exchange for $2,000." McIntyre, who died last year, was convicted in 1984 in connection with extortion.

The memo, leaked to The Washington Post, went on to state: "Rep. Burmeister said that if there are fewer black voters because of this bill, it will only be because there is less opportunity for fraud. She said that when black voters in her black precincts are not paid to vote, they do not go to the polls."

Friday Random Twenty

Direct from iTunes:

1) Juxtaposeur - JuxtaPoeCreature
2) Doppleganger - Dark Side of the Gooom
3) Denise Levertov - Woman Alone/Homage to Pavese
4) The Durutti Column - Madeleine
5) Paul Weller - The Pebble and The Boy
6) Lou Reed - Guilty (song)
7) The National - Mr. November
8) Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz, Michal Miskiewicz - Hyperballad
9) Martha and the Muffins - In Between Sleep and Reason
10) Les Baxter - Amazon Falls
11) Nina Simone - Cherish
12) Tuxedomoon - Cagli-Five-O (live)
13) Stan Ridgway - Heat Takes A Walk
14) Kate Bush - Prologue
15) Champion Jack Dupree - She Makes Good Jelly
16) Paul Weller - Bring Back The Funk (pts 1 & 2)
17) Cabaret Voltaire - I Want You
18) Nitin Sawhney - Journey
19) Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - Better Dead Than Lead
20) Badi Assad - Valse D'amelie

Bonus: Suzie Seacell - My and My Vibrator

More random Friday mess

Vonn Cummings Sumner

Amanda Vissell.

The Boston Globe reports that the U.S. has killed 13 journalists since invading Iraq and currently has 5 held in secret detention. Choice line:

A military investigation said the soldier who shot him acted reasonably, noting that the soldier saw a man with ''dark skin and dark hair" and mistook his camera for a grenade launcher.
A Virginia Church, unhappy with state initiatives to ban gay marriages, decides to stop performing marriages altogether. Choice quote:

We're in the Jesus business, not the marriage business.
Totally not safe for work: Several galleries of Femdom art in which men have their heads stuck up the cracks of big bottomed girls.

More tame, but still perhaps not work safe: Galleries of Belly Dancers and Harem Girls.

Ananova reports on an Indian television station that broadcast a Russian porn film instead of the news by mistake.

Years ago I mentioned to friends that I was going to raise a fortune by my invention of "breast muffs". They'd be soft and warm and would also prevent the pointing nipples effect (copyrighted - new band name). It was a joke, of course, but since then I've seen several entries into that category on the internet. Now comes a heated bra from Japan that looks like a friend of Bjork designed it. Try hiding that under your blouse!

Also NSFW: Novelty aprons...perfect for Thanksgiving! WWII airplane nosecone art (retro cool). While we're in the era, how 'bout some 1940s Pinup Covers. Japanese porn dolls that are dispensed in bubble gum dispensers.

Friday Art blogging

Jenny Hart

Michael Slack

Stephane Tartelin

Ossi Pirkonen

Jeff Neumann

Sam Weber

Sony Rootkit Roundup

This story has really taken off, as it should have. If you haven't heard by now, Sony installed a rootkit onto PCs without user's knowledge in order to track the use of the music files from said discs on user's PCs. The kit phoned home periodically, also without user's knowledge. The kit also hid itself from the users by disguising itself as a Windows software. The kit damages Windows OS. The kit leaves a backdoor that can and has been exploited by hackers. Sony, at first, denied the problem, then offered a patch that revealed the kit, then offered another removal patch that damaged Windows further, and now has recalled all of the CDs. Microsoft will issue a removal software later this month.

Mark Russinovich was the first person to publicly report on the problem. His blog details (and I mean technically details) the discovery and removal problems.

Security Focus has done a good job reporting on this. They have a 2 part article describing root kits. Part 1 and Part 2. Sony faces legal issues over this ploy.

Boing Boing pointed out Sony's "non-apology" over the rootkit. They're second roundup of articles here.

Here's a list of all of the titles Sony released with this rootkit. Collect all 52 invaders before they're exterminated!

Bruce Schneier wrote an article for Wired News about the topic in which he points out the real danger exposed by this episode is that the public is spending millions of dollars per year on security software to prevent exactly this type of thing and yet Norton, McAfee, et al missed it. Or did they miss it? Did they just ignore it because it came from a friendly corporate entity? If not, then why did they react so slowly? Whole thing here.

Update: This just in, according to ZDNet, Sony will replace the rootkit infected CDs with new copies plus MP3s. At least, I hope they mean new CDs plus mp3s because as much as people claim otherwise, MP3s do not sound as good as CDs.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Firefox 1.5 Release candidate 3 out now

Here it is. Confusingly, I just got an update notice and restarted Firefox. However, in the about page there is no mention of "release candidate". Instead it just says Firefox 1.5. Try using your check updates tool under the help menu. It's pretty slick now.

Serbs line up for testicle shocks

According to Ananova, men are lining up in order to temporarily make themselves infertile.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Eating cake

Eating cake
Originally uploaded by oomingmak.
Mike and Heather had us over for Rowan's first birthday party. The occassion was bittersweet. We loved the party and Rowan got some pretty cool things. However, it was also a time for saying goodbye to that family as they are moving to the Bay area for Heather's new job. I'm saddened to see them leaving Seattle, yet happy for the family as they seek new adventures.

See the entire photo collection, taken by Leslie, here.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Friday Random Ten plus ten

Since I missed last week's random ten, here's an expanded edition from my iTunes player, which wasn't doing as good a job as my dbPowerAmp player earlier in the week.

1) Roger and the Gypsies - Pass the Hatchet
2) Gil Scott-Heron - Black History/The World
3) Queen - You and I
4) Holly Figueroa - Perfect (Live in Chicago)
5) Marvin Holmes - Find Yourself, Pt. 1
6) Cabaret Voltaire - Big Funk
7) Esquivel - Blue Danube
8) Prozac For Lovers - Love Will Tear Us Apart
9) Systemwide - Osmani Stepper
10) The Cowboy Church Sunday School - Those Bad Bad Kids
11) Holly Palmer - Down So Low
12) Anthony J Gnazzo - Hisnis and Hernia
13) Jill Sobule - Angel/Asshole
14) General Elektriks - Tu M'Intrigues
15) The Style Council - Promised Land
16) Goldfrapp - Ooh La La
17) Mohammed Wardi - Al Nas Al Giyafa
18) Madelyn James - Long Time Blues
19) Culture - Garvey
20) Chinga Chavin - Talkin Matamoros First Piece of Ass Blues

Dickie's Quickies

Ten thousand people show up in South America to protest George W. Bush. My guess, and this is simply a guess, is that his approval ratings sink at home is topped in South America.

Bound to hurt his ratings at home, immigrants brought in to help rebuild the Gulf Coast are being mistreated. Some aren't being paid. Some are housed in deplorable conditions, made to work 75 hours per week, and some are caught and rounded up by INS agents. Well, it would hurt his ratings at home if the mainstream media would report on this bullshit.

I wonder how reports of some in the Bush administration, including new Cheney chief of staff (Scooters replacement), David Addington, support torture of our enemies and alleged enemies? Of course, we may never know since many are housed in secret prisons.

Have you heard about the Sony rootkit scandle making the rounds? Sony, the record label, apparently installed a rootkit as part of their Digital Rights Management program without telling users in the EULA. A rootkit is a set of tools used to by hackers to gain access to computers. According to Wikipedia:

These tools are intended to conceal running processes and files or system data, which helps an intruder maintain access to a system for malicious purposes.
The legality of Sony's program is still being debated. However, if they left large numbers of users open to exploitation through a back door of some sort and didn't notify the users, then some sort of class action suit seems likely. In any case, if you want to read up on the original report along with all of the technical details, then look at Mark Russinovich's report here. I read Mark's blog regularly - he posts rarely - and it's generally worth it for the geeks.

In entertainment: check out this classic gallery of strippers in the UK.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Alito, Bush, Rumsfeld, and Reid

The Bush administration attempted to change the topic this week. They wanted to move away from the damning indictment of Libby and present a more positive image of a government moving forward with it's "mandate". Last week was horrible for the Bushies. Not only did they have to contend with the Libby story, but they also had the whithering Harriet Miers debacle to deal with. Now, Roxie thinks that the Miers nomination was a set up in the first place. Her view is that Miers was a bait and switch nomination that was never meant to succeed. Instead, Miers was the sacrificial lamb - a role that the fundamentalist would surely covet for the most brilliant man she ever met - that would be followed by a more Roberts-like nominee in order to really rally the troops and fend off a Democratic attack. It's an interesting argument and looking at the evidence thus far, it's a compelling one - almost.

The thing that has struck in my craw about Miers is that Harry Reid recommended her. I think Reid set Bush up. He knew the nomination wouldn't fly with the right and Bush fell for it because he likes to set up people he trusts - which are not necessarily the most qualified people for the job. By suggesting Miers, Reid was able to sit back and let the Democrats look moderate while the right wing was foaming at the mouth. It divided the opposition and made the Democratic Senators look downright moderate, which they are anyhow.

So Bush delivers a rallying nomination for both Democrats and Republicans. However while those sides will argue about Alito's rulings on mostly social issues, what most people will miss is that like Harriet Miers, Roberts, and Stephen Breyer, Alito is a corporate shill. Like most Republicans, he believes in a hand's off approach to corporate freedoms. Like most Republicans, he's a statist in that he wants less control in the federal government's powers, but has no problem with giving great powers to state and local governments. He also is not at all friendly to individual rights, also a Republican trait. I suggest that people look into his business rulings VERY closely. You won't find many differences between his rulings, Miers' work, Roberts or Breyer's rulings when it comes to corporate domination.

Actually, from the standpoint of abortion and a load of other privacy rights issues, Alito could be helpful in that he might ignite the silent majority into supporting and passing state laws and amendments that would enshrine those rights. To do so would be to take the issues away from the courts and make them nearly permanent. It would also give the Republicans, and to a lesser extent the Democrats as well, a series of talking points that could no longer use to rally their most radical elements. In other words, passing such laws and amendments, especially if we got a federal constitutional amendment, would bury the issues and move us forward as a society freeing us up to deal with, frankly, much tougher issues that really do divide our society such as poverty, trade policy, and health care.

In another attempt to change the subject and appear effective, the Bush administration held a press conference today on the potential avian flu epidemic. As I've noted before, the Bush administration is lagging way behind other countries in preparing for any potential problems. Forty other countries, for instance, have placed orders for Tamiflu - the only medication that might be able to treat any outbreak - already. Realizing that we were that far down the list and that this was a potential disaster, the Bush administration as well as members of Congress pressed companies to increase production of the drug and even passed tax incentives to build more factories. Note during this paragraph the word "potential". An outbreak of this flu may never happen and much of this money may be badly wasted. Still, I've advocated a position critical of the Bush administration's late response because we should be prepared just in case. For our country, with it's vast resources, not to be prepared would be appalling. However, Bush's speech today, announcing his package of plans (some of which were already dealt with by the Senate), he used the language of fear much in the same way he does with terrorists alerts. He's attempting to scare people for support rather than comfort them and I wonder how long he thinks this tactic will work before fatigue sets in?

Someone who's gaining great comfort from this scare is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He was Chairman of the Board of the company that holds the rights to Tamiflu. He still holds millions of dollars in stock in the company and has recused himself of any decisions in combatting a potential epidemic. Nice. Rummy profits from a "potential pandemic" while Cheney profits from a war that was not necessary.

Not to be outdone by the Bush administration, Senator Harry Reid pulled his second shrewd political maneuver in a month by calling the Senate into a closed session. He completely caught the Republican leadership off guard with this tactic. By doing so, Reid some very valid points about the constitutional role of Congress to act as a check and balance to the executive branch by using investigative techniques towards oversight. In specific, Reid referred to the Libby indictment in the Plame leak case. Republicans have abdicated their role in investigating this issue. By doing so, they've handed Reid a big issue that he can use to hammer on them with for through the next election cycle. It also gave Reid a method to bring the media attention back to discussing the Libby case thereby circumventing the Bush efforts to change the topic from their corruption problems. I suspect that was Reid's intention all along.

Oh, and before you cry foul about using the closed session as a political stunt, check how many times the Senate had closed sessions while investigating Clinton's impeachment. (hint, more than 8 times)