28 June 2017

Yeah, Throw This Guy Some Coin

Someone got sick and tired of the Indian phone banks that are making thousands of calls in an attempt to scam us, and someone calling himself "Project Mayhem" has written software to call the phone banks hundreds of times a minute to prevent them from reaching real people:
It's likely you've gotten calls from criminals who pose as IRS employees and threaten to imprison you if you don't pay them thousands of dollars. These crooks work in teams based in Indian call centers. They are scumbags of the lowest order, preying on seniors and immigrants through fear and intimidation. Here's a security developer who decided to fight back. He wrote a script that called one of these IRS scammers' phone banks 28 times a second, flooding their phone lines and making it impossible for them to ply their vile trade. It's fun to listen to the scammers curse at the programmer's recorded message. According to Twisted Sifter, he has launched something called Project Mayhem to continue his fight against these unscrupulous scammers." He is seeking Patreon donations to go after IRS scammers, tech support scammers, loan scammers, "you have won" scammers, and "family member in trouble" scammers. ………
You can donate money to this anonymous hero via Patreon.

Unfortunately, he has not released the code, though a number of sources have said that it is a rather trivial programming operation.

Personally, I'll just lobby my Congresscritter to put a penny a minute tax on all overseas calls in both directions.

For ordinary people the costs are minimal, but for the scammers, it would make their business model, such as it is, untenable.

As to those who would argue that this would cripple the technical support and customer service operations currently operated in India, I will simply quote Randall Munroe, and say:

My experience with Indian technical support and customer service has been less than salutary.

What Part of Ukrainian Nationalist Don't You Get?

The Ukrainian city of Lviv has decided to hold a festival to honor a collaborator with the Nazis who murdered Jews and Poles, primarily in Volhynia and Galicia:  (The article does not mention the massacres of Poles by Shukhevych)
The Ukrainian city of Lviv will hold a festival celebrating a Nazi collaborator on the anniversary of a major pogrom against the city’s Jews.

Shukhevychfest, an event named for Roman Shukhevych featuring music and theater shows, will be held Friday.

Eduard Dolinsky, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, in a statement called the event “disgraceful.”

On June 30, 1941, Ukrainian troops, including militiamen loyal to Shukhevych’s, began a series of pogroms against Jews, which they perpetrated under the auspices of the German army, according to Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder and other scholars. They murdered approximately 6,000 Jews in those pogroms.

The day of the festival is the 110th birthday of Shukhevych, a leader of the OUN-B nationalist group and later of the UPA insurgency militia, which collaborated with the Nazis against the Soviet Union before it turned against the Nazis.

Shukhevychfest is part of a series of gestures honoring nationalists in Ukraine following the 2014 revolution, in which nationalists played a leading role. They brought down the government of President Viktor Yanukovuch, whose critics said was a corrupt Russian stooge.

………

In a related debate, the director of Ukraine’s Institute of National Remembrance, Vladimir Vyatrovich, who recently described Shukhevych as an “eminent personality,” last month defended the displaying in public of the symbol of the Galician SS division. Responsible for countless murders of Jews, Nazi Germany’s most elite unit was comprised of Ukrainian volunteers.

Displaying Nazi symbols is illegal in Ukraine but the Galician SS division’s symbol is “in accordance with the current legislation of Ukraine,” Vyatrovich said.
I would note that I am aware of my family history, and I am aware that there is some Galitzianer* in my background, (my dad prefers a sweet gefilte fish), so I do tend to not to be dismissive of efforts Nazi apologists from that part of the world, though I am not surprised by such efforts.

Ukrainian history is rather more virulently antisemitic than corresponding Russian history.

*My Grandmother also claimed descent from the Goan of Vilna (Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman) which would make us Litvaks (Lithuanian) Nas well, so I span both major divisions of Eastern European Jews. There is also some Yekke (German/Western European) Jewish background in the family tree, so we're mutts.
Note that the division of Galitzianer, Litvak, and Yekke only vaguely correspond to the current or historical boundaries of these regions.

27 June 2017

Oh Sh%$. Someone Wants Regular US Ground Troops in Syria


The UN Ambassador making this statement allows for an accusation to be made semi-officially, but it can be disavowed later
So, now we have allegations that the Syrians are planning an imminent chemical attack from members of the Trump administration.

First, as was noted by Sy Hersh,  there probably wasn't a gas attack by the SAA (Syrian Arab Army, i.e. Assad) Khan Sheikhoun, and second, the war is going pretty well for Damascus these days, so another attack makes no sense.

I would note that the statements are assigning direct culpability to Russia and Iran should an attack occur, which implies that someone is trying to instigate an attack against one or both of them.

My guess is that someone wants to hit Iran, and is trying to get the Russians to keep their head down, though there is also the possibility that this is an attempt to deflect attention from the aforementioned Hersh story:
The United States said Tuesday that it has observed Syrian chemical warfare personnel visiting known production facilities, suggesting that President Bashar al-Assad’s government is preparing fresh strikes on the rebel-held north of the country. 

The White House warned late Monday that the Assad government would pay a “heavy price” for any such strikes, indicating publicly for the first time that it believes the Assad government is capable of launching new chemical attacks.
We really need to disentangle ourselves from the the Gulf monarchs supporting Jihadists in Syria (Saudi Arabia and Qatar largely, though they support different ones), and end the support  own state security apparatus for them as well. (There is no moderate opposition outside of the Kurds)

We are being played for suckers, and it will be American blood and treasure that will be wasted as a result.

Not Sure How to Read This

I am referring, of course to the Supreme Court's decision on the Trump Muslim/Travel Ban.

They allowed limited parts of the injunction to continue, but allowed the ban to come into effect for refugees (without family in the US) and tourists.

Since Trump's latest executive order is time limited, any final decision might largely be moot, and I am wondering if this is an exercise of judicial kick the can:
Today the Supreme Court agreed to review rulings by two lower courts blocking the implementation of President Donald Trump’s March 6 executive order, popularly known as the “travel ban.” Citing national-security concerns, the order imposed a freeze on new visas from six Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen). But the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit had put the order on hold last month, concluding that – although it did not specifically say so – the order likely violated the Constitution because the president intended to discriminate against Muslim travelers. Earlier this month, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit also blocked the order, but on a different ground: It concluded that the order exceeds the authority that Congress has given the president to regulate immigration. The court’s announcement today means that the justices will review both of those decisions. The justices also granted the Trump administration’s request to allow the ban to go into effect, at least for would-be travelers who don’t already have some connection to the United States.

The announcement came in a brief, unsigned opinion issued by the justices when they took the bench this morning to release opinions in cases argued on the merits earlier this term. The court’s opinion focused primarily on the government’s request to reinstate the ban while the cases are before the Supreme Court. Emphasizing that the purpose of temporary relief like this is “to balance the equities as the litigation moves forward,” the court made clear that it had the authority to “tailor” its ruling so that it applied to some, but not all, of those affected.

That is precisely what it did. The lower courts had considered the hardships that the ban would create for the named plaintiffs in the case: two men with family members who want to come to the United States from the affected countries; and the state of Hawaii, whose state university had admitted students from those countries. But, the court explained today, the lower courts’ orders barring enforcement of the ban “reach much further than that,” because they also apply to people living overseas “who have no connection to the United States at all.” When those people are unable to come to the United States, the court reasoned, their constitutional rights are not violated – because they have no right to come to the United States – and their exclusion from the country does not harm anyone in the United States.

The justices therefore upheld the lower courts’ orders blocking enforcement of the ban with regard to the named plaintiffs and others like them – people who “have a credible claim” of a genuine relationship with someone or an institution in the United States. When that relationship is with an individual, the court made clear, it must be a close family member. And when the relationship is with an institution, the relationship must also be a genuine one, rather than one created just to get around the travel ban.
I think that it was basically a punt, with Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch writing a concurring opinion that goes full black shirt, which should surprise no one who has followed their careers.

And for the next Trick, United Airlines Will Boil a Baby

I wish that I was joking:
While aboard a grounded flight destined for Texas, a Colorado mother said she thought her son was going to die in her arms as temperatures in the cabin spiked.

Emily France’s 4-month-old son Owen had to be hospitalized after overheating on a United flight waiting to depart Denver International Airport.

France and Owen boarded United Airlines flight 4644 around 1:20 p.m. on Thursday, expecting to take off thirty minutes later.

While sitting in her assigned seat at the rear of the plane, France said the cabin was already noticeably hot. 

After the flight was delayed due to re-fueling and a reroute caused by bad weather, France told the Post she tried to cool her son using wet wipes. Eventually flight attendants brought France and another mother ice to press against their children’s bodies.

France was allowed to exit the aircraft for approximately 20 minutes, according to the Post, but was then asked to return for takeoff. Once back on board, the plane pushed away from the gate, but with temperatures still sweltering, things continued to worsen.

“His whole body flashed red and his eyes rolled back in his head and he was screaming,” France told the paper. “And then he went limp in my arms. It was the worst moment of my life.”

France told the Post that she and other passengers begged to return to the gate, but ground and air crews seemed to be debating how to best handle the situation.

“This should never have happened,” United Airlines said in a statement to NBC News. “We are profoundly sorry to our customer and her child for the experience they endured. We are actively looking into what happened to prevent this from occurring again.”
They could have let people off the plane while they were waiting.

They could have turned on the APU to supply some cooling.

If the APU was not working, they could have cooled off the plane with a start cart.

They did none of these things, because  ……… United Airlines.

"Friendly Skies," is grammatically correct irony.

Can You Tell What is Wrong With this Quote?

In St. Louis, an off duty black police officer heard a commotion, and headed to the scene to render aid.

He was promptly shot by another officer, because, of course, even an officer of the law is just a "N***** with a gun".

What stands out though is this quote:
But Rufus Tate Jr., the black officer’s attorney, took issue with that claim, saying his client complied with the other officers’ commands and was never a threat.

“In the police report, you have so far, there is no description of threat he received,” he told St. Louis Fox-affiliate KTVI. “So we have a real problem with that. But this has been a national discussion for the past two years. There is this perception that a black man is automatically feared.”

Tate said the incident was a case of “a black professional, in law enforcement, himself being shot and treated as an ordinary black guy on the street. This is a real problem.”
(emphasis mine)

This is the lawyer for the cop who got shot, and he says that the problem is not that black men are arbitrarily shot by police, but that they do it to black cops as well.

You see what is wrong here?

Live in Obedient Fear, Citizen


Don Tinfoil Hat


Lyndon Larouche abides
Charlie lost his ID card, he does not have a driver's license, so I took him to the DMV to order a replacement.

On the way in, we noticed these guys with a table with a big sign talking about an FBI conspiracy against Donald trump.

On closer inspection we noticed that their signs referenced LaRouchePAC.com, so seriously crazed conspiracy theorists.

We had about a 20 minute wait at the DMV, so he wanted to think about a potential taunt.

He was concerned that he could not come up with one quickly, because this sort of reaction is analogous to a stand-up comic dealing with a heckler, and because he does stand-up comedy now and again, this troubled him.

I reassured him that that comics frequently prepare in advance to deal with potential hecklers, so we can prepare something for the inevitable wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

As we are waiting, he floats out some ideas, and I float out some ideas, including his pointing at his hat, and saying, "Chem Trails."

Charlie wears a blind fold that he made out of duct tape as a hat. He made it for blind folded Rubik's Cube competitions, and it does evoke the whole "tinfoil hat" thing, so the juxtaposition of the hat and, "Chem Trails," is a statement that is both amusing, and unclear: It could be mockery, and it could be a statement that one is a fellow traveler conspiracy nut.

He liked that one, so that is what I was expecting when we left the DMV (He took the hat off for the ID pick, BTW).

Instead, he looked the man in the eye, and said:
Live in Obedient Fear, Citizen!
And then he turned and walked away, giggling as the guy at the table said, "What did you say?".

Of course, this phrase is VERY well known to the reader(s) of this blog.

He needs to work on his delivery, he said it too quickly, and he should have pitched the words lower, because it really works better when said in a stentorian manner, but he worked out what would be the best quick take down.

FYI, here is some stand-up from a year ago:

Once Again, the NSA Makes Us All Less Safe

A new ransomware attack similar to last month's self-replicating WCry outbreak is sweeping the world with at least 80 large companies infected, including drug maker Merck, international shipping company Maersk, law firm DLA Piper, UK advertising firm WPP, and snack food maker Mondelez International. It has attacked at least 12,000 computers, according to one security company.

PetyaWrap, as some researchers are calling the ransomware, uses a cocktail of potent techniques to break into a network and from there spread from computer to computer. Like the WCry worm that paralyzed hospitals, shipping companies, and train stations around the globe in May, Tuesday's attack made use of EternalBlue, the code name for an advanced exploit that was developed and used by, and later stolen from, the National Security Agency.

According to a blog post published by antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab, Tuesday's attack also repurposed a separate NSA exploit dubbed EternalRomance. Microsoft patched the underlying vulnerabilities for both of those exploits in March, precisely four weeks before a still-unknown group calling itself the Shadow Brokers published the advanced NSA hacking tools. The leak gave people with only moderate technical skills a powerful vehicle for delivering virtually any kind of digital warhead to systems that had yet to install the updates.

Besides use of EternalRomance, Tuesday's attack showed several other impressive improvements over WCry. One, according to Kaspersky, was the use of the Mimikatz hacking tool to extract passwords from other computers on a network. With those network credentials in hand, infected computers would then use PSExec, a legitimate Windows component known as the Windows Management Instrumentation, and possibly other command-line utilities to infect other machines, even when they weren't vulnerable to the EternalBlue and EternalRomance exploits. For added effectiveness, at least some of the attacks also exploited the update mechanism of a third-party Ukrainian software product called MeDoc, Kaspersky Lab said. A researcher who posts under the handle MalwareTech, speculated here that MeDoc was itself compromised by malware that took control of the mechanism that sends updates to end users.
The fact that the NSA does not do a good job on cybersecurity should surprise no one.  Their job is not to keep our computers safe, but to break into as many systems as it can and hoover up data.


The ACLU has accurately described the problem:
Last month, a massive ransomware attack hit computers around the globe, and the government is partly to blame.

The malicious software, known as “WannaCry,” encrypted files on users’ machines, effectively locking them out of their information, and demanded a payment to unlock them. This attack spread rapidly through a vulnerability in a widely deployed component of Microsoft's Windows operating system, and placed hospitals, local governments, banks, small businesses, and more in harm's way.

This happened in no small part because of U.S. government decisions that prioritized offensive capabilities — the ability to execute cyberattacks for intelligence purposes — over the security of the world’s computer systems. The decision to make offensive capabilities the priority is a mistake. And at a minimum, this decision is one that should be reached openly and democratically. A bill has been proposed to try to improve oversight on these offensive capabilities, but oversight alone may not address the risks and perverse incentives created by the way they work. It’s worth unpacking the details of how these dangerous weapons come to be.

………

When researchers discover a previously unknown bug in a piece of software (often called a “zero day”), they have several options:
  1. They can report the problem to the supplier of the software (Microsoft, in this case).
  2. They can write a simple program to demonstrate the bug (a “proof of concept”) to try to get the software supplier to take the bug report seriously.
  3. If the flawed program is free or open source software, they can develop a fix for the problem and supply it alongside the bug report.
  4. They can announce the problem publicly to bring attention to it, with the goal of increasing pressure to get a fix deployed (or getting people to stop using the vulnerable software at all).
  5. They can try to sell exclusive access to information about the vulnerability on the global market, where governments and other organizations buy this information for offensive use.
  6. They can write a program to aggressively take advantage of the bug (an “exploit”) in the hopes of using it later to attack an adversary who is still using the vulnerable code.
Note that these last two actions (selling information or building exploits) are at odds with the first four. If the flaw gets fixed, exploits aren't as useful and knowledge about the vulnerability isn't as valuable.

………

The NSA knew about a disastrous flaw in widely used piece of software – as well as code to exploit it — for over five years without trying to get it fixed. In the meantime, others may have discovered the same vulnerability and built their own exploits.
The people handling our offensive cyber capabilities cannot be trusted to protect us, because it is not their jobs.

Their job is to hack into other people's systems, and any consequences are seen as irrelevant.

It's blind men and an elephant, and it's the rest of us who suffer as a result.

26 June 2017

More Tech Bros

In light of allegations of sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances, Binary Capital co-founder and managing partner Justin Caldbeck is taking an indefinite leave of absence, he said in a statement provided to TechCrunch.

In his apology statement, Caldbeck did not outright admit nor deny the allegations of the female founders who came forward. Instead, he directed his apology “first to those women who I’ve made feel uncomfortable in any way, at any time – but also to the greater tech ecosystem, a community that I have utterly failed.”

As Leslie Miley noted on Twitter, the way Caldbeck kicked off his apology letter with words are how hard the last 24 hours have been on him. That’s because women in tech and in the workplace at larger have been dealing with this type of nonsense since forever.
I don't mean to minimize the sexual harassment, but I think that this is symptomatic of a more general culture of impunity, and I think that if a prosecutor with a background in white collar crime went to town with some forensic accountants, no small number of these "masters of the universe" would find themselves in jail.

There's Stupid, and There's Psychopathic, and Then There Is the House of Saud


The House of Saud, the Gift that Keeps Giving
I am referring to, of course, the latest kerfuffle between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Saudi Arabia, with the rest of the its toady petty monarchs around the Persian Gulf, have recalled diplomats, expelled Qatari citizens, and blockaded the land border to Qatar:
For years, the tiny, energy-rich country of Qatar has carved out a niche in the Arab world by trying to be everything to everyone. It housed an American military base and flooded the region’s airwaves with its influential media, all while keeping close ties to Iran and a wide selection of Islamist movements.

On Monday, five countries in the region announced that they were forcing Qatar to choose: Its powerful neighbor Saudi Arabia, Egypt and at least three other Arab nations severed all ties with the country, escalating their accusations that the Qatari monarchy supported Sunni Islamist terrorism and Iranian designs on the region.

Those Arab nations not only abruptly suspended diplomatic relations, as they have in the past, but also surprised many by cutting off land, air and sea travel to and from Qatar. All but Egypt, which has 250,000 people working there, ordered their citizens to leave Qatar.

The move created an immediate crisis for Qatar, whose only land border is with Saudi Arabia and which imports about 40 percent of its food from the Saudis. Residents said that people were stocking up on food and cash. And Qatari diplomats and citizens were scrambling to meet a 48-hour deadline to leave some Persian Gulf countries where they had been posted.
Qatar, which in the context of the Gulf monarchies I would describe as the best of a bad lot, has been ruffling feathers in the reason for a while.

It has been generally supportive of the Islamic Brotherhood and its related groups (most notably Hamas), and it has relatively friendly relations with Iran, but the thing that really upsets other regional governments, particularly the House of Saud, is that it operates the Al Jazeera which actually provides relatively impartial news coverage of the region (except, of course, in Qatar, funny how that works).

Further complicating the matter is the fact that Doha has been cultivating a relationship with Turkey, and will be allowing Ankara to construct a military base on the peninsula, which would put a Turkish military presence in the area for the first time since the fall of the Ottoman empire.

This, along with a mammoth air base operated by the US in Qatar means that their military influence is far greater than their (90% expat) population and the size of their military would imply.

In any case, a list of demands was presented to Qatar by Saudi Arabia and the other gulf states:
  • Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard from Qatar and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with U.S. and international sanctions will be permitted.
  • Sever all ties to “terrorist organizations,” specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State group, al-Qaida, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
  • Shut down Al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
  • Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
  • Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence currently in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside of Qatar.
  • Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organizations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the United States and other countries.
  • Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.
  • End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.
  • Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.
  • Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.
  • Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.
  • Agree to all the demands within 10 days of it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid. The document doesn’t specify what the countries will do if Qatar refuses to comply.
  • Consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.
It's a laundry list of demands, and I think that some of them were inserted do provide some obfuscation or wiggle room.

I've highlighted the items that I think are the the real causus belli, which reduces to Iran, Turkey, and a (relatively) free press being what really upsets Riyadh.

One theory about these demands is that they are not a serious set of demands, but rather they have been issued with the goal of justifying a Saudi invasion.  (Think about the Austrian demands to Serbia that precipitated World War I.)

In any case, the immediate response by Qatar has been to reach out to Turkey and Iran for needed supplies, which also is very clearly a f%$# you to the other members of the GCC:
Qatar is in talks with Iran and Turkey to secure food and water supplies amid concerns of possible shortages two days after its biggest suppliers, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, cut trade and diplomatic ties with the import-dependent country.

"We are in talks with Turkey and Iran and other countries," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, adding that the supplies would be brought in through Qatar Airways cargo flights.
So right now, it looks like Qatar is turning into yet another clusterf%$#, much like its aimless intervention in Yemen.

To quote Dean Vernon Wormer, "Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

Linkage


I cam across an interesting video talking about the political context of the John Carpenter movie They Live. The movie's message is even more apropos today:


We Sleep: On the Enduring Propheticism of John Carpenter's THEY LIVE from Daniel Clarkson Fisher on Vimeo.

25 June 2017

Seymour Hersh Has Another Blockbuster

Publishing in Die Welt, Hersh reveals that the US intelligence services were categorically contradicting the story of a Syrian gas attack Khan Sheikhoun which led to a US cruise missile attack on the Shayrat Air Base:
On April 6, United States President Donald Trump authorized an early morning Tomahawk missile strike on Shayrat Air Base in central Syria in retaliation for what he said was a deadly nerve agent attack carried out by the Syrian government two days earlier in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. Trump issued the order despite having been warned by the U.S. intelligence community that it had found no evidence that the Syrians had used a chemical weapon.

The available intelligence made clear that the Syrians had targeted a jihadist meeting site on April 4 using a Russian-supplied guided bomb equipped with conventional explosives. Details of the attack, including information on its so-called high-value targets, had been provided by the Russians days in advance to American and allied military officials in Doha, whose mission is to coordinate all U.S., allied, Syrian and Russian Air Force operations in the region.

Some American military and intelligence officials were especially distressed by the president's determination to ignore the evidence. "None of this makes any sense," one officer told colleagues upon learning of the decision to bomb. "We KNOW that there was no chemical attack ... the Russians are furious. Claiming we have the real intel and know the truth ... I guess it didn't matter whether we elected Clinton or Trump."
The implication of the last statement, of course, is that the notoriously bellicose Hillary Clinton would seize any pretext for a strike against Syria and the Russians.
To the dismay of many senior members of his national security team, Trump could not be swayed over the next 48 hours of intense briefings and decision-making. In a series of interviews, I learned of the total disconnect between the president and many of his military advisers and intelligence officials, as well as officers on the ground in the region who had an entirely different understanding of the nature of Syria’s attack on Khan Sheikhoun. I was provided with evidence of that disconnect, in the form of transcripts of real-time communications, immediately following the Syrian attack on April 4. In an important pre-strike process known as deconfliction, U.S. and Russian officers routinely supply one another with advance details of planned flight paths and target coordinates, to ensure that there is no risk of collision or accidental encounter (the Russians speak on behalf of the Syrian military). This information is supplied daily to the American AWACS surveillance planes that monitor the flights once airborne. Deconfliction’s success and importance can be measured by the fact that there has yet to be one collision, or even a near miss, among the high-powered supersonic American, Allied, Russian and Syrian fighter bombers.

………

"The rebels control the population by controlling the distribution of goods that people need to live – food, water, cooking oil, propane gas, fertilizers for growing their crops, and insecticides to protect the crops," a senior adviser to the American intelligence community, who has served in senior positions in the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency, told me. The basement was used as storage for rockets, weapons and ammunition, as well as products that could be distributed for free to the community, among them medicines and chlorine-based decontaminants for cleansing the bodies of the dead before burial. The meeting place – a regional headquarters – was on the floor above. “It was an established meeting place,” the senior adviser said. “A long-time facility that would have had security, weapons, communications, files and a map center.” The Russians were intent on confirming their intelligence and deployed a drone for days above the site to monitor communications and develop what is known in the intelligence community as a POL – a pattern of life. The goal was to take note of those going in and out of the building, and to track weapons being moved back and forth, including rockets and ammunition.

………

The Execute Order governing U.S. military operations in theater, which was issued by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provide instructions that demarcate the relationship between the American and Russian forces operating in Syria. “It’s like an ops order – ‘Here’s what you are authorized to do,’” the adviser said. “We do not share operational control with the Russians. We don’t do combined operations with them, or activities directly in support of one of their operations. But coordination is permitted. We keep each other apprised of what’s happening and within this package is the mutual exchange of intelligence. If we get a hot tip that could help the Russians do their mission, that’s coordination; and the Russians do the same for us. When we get a hot tip about a command and control facility,” the adviser added, referring to the target in Khan Sheikhoun, “we do what we can to help them act on it." “This was not a chemical weapons strike,” the adviser said. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, everyone involved in transferring, loading and arming the weapon – you’ve got to make it appear like a regular 500-pound conventional bomb – would be wearing Hazmat protective clothing in case of a leak. There would be very little chance of survival without such gear. Military grade sarin includes additives designed to increase toxicity and lethality. Every batch that comes out is maximized for death. That is why it is made. It is odorless and invisible and death can come within a minute. No cloud. Why produce a weapon that people can run away from?”

………

“It was a totally Trump show from beginning to end,” the senior adviser said. “A few of the president’s senior national security advisers viewed the mission as a minimized bad presidential decision, and one that they had an obligation to carry out. But I don’t think our national security people are going to allow themselves to be hustled into a bad decision again. If Trump had gone for option three, [a massive air strike] there might have been some immediate resignations.”
Nothing about the official White House account makes sense in the initial reports:
  • Assad had no reason to use chemical weapons, he was winning decisively at the time.
  • There were no reports of any sort of special handling of the munitions by the crews.
  • The films on the net show actions by the first responders which would have had them contaminated, and effected, as well.
  • The reports of a strong smell indicate that the toxin was not military grade Sarin.
And now we know that this strike had been communicated with US forces days in advance as part of the US-Russia deconfliction protocol, and that the professional staff in the US state security apparatus did not believe that there had actually been a chemical weapons attack.

And Today in Charter Schools………

We have a multi-state charter school chain facing allegations of systematic corruption.

This is not a surprise.  Charter schools as currently structured are a uniquely criminogenic enterprise.

Truth be told, the 18% management fee referenced in the article is rather larcenous in and of itself, since most of the managing is done by the staff on each campus.

If anyone believes that allowing charter schools to "unleash the market" will produce better results for less, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you:

The founder of an Akron-area charter school company is accused of using thousands of dollars parents paid for student lunches and uniforms and millions more from Ohio and Florida taxpayers to fund home mortgages, plastic surgery, extensive world travel, credit card debt and more.

Criminal charges filed last week in Florida against Marcus May also allege he improperly used private and public funds earmarked for students’ education to expand his charter school empire in Columbus, Akron, Cleveland and Dayton.

Florida State Attorney William “Bill” Eddins brought the charges of racketeering and organized fraud against May, the founder of Newpoint Education Partners and Cambridge Education, a Fairlawn company that manages about 20 charter schools in Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Akron, Youngstown, Canton and Cleveland.

In a prepared statement provided to the Beacon Journal on Friday, Cambridge Executive Director John Stack said: “My co-owners and I asked for and today accepted Mr. May’s resignation as managing member of Cambridge. We are now in discussions to remove him completely from ownership in the company because we feel it’s in the best interest of our schools.

“Despite this distraction, my colleagues at Cambridge and I will continue to focus on our core mission and the students we serve as we have always done.”

Cincinnati businessman Steven Kunkemoeller also was charged in the First Judiciary Circuit, a regional court in Florida. Kunkemoeller is a longtime business partner of May, according to a Beacon Journal/Ohio.com report from December and a multi-state investigation that included help from the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office.

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The Florida prosecutor alleges that the men fabricated invoices, embellished enrollment, misappropriated public funds and created an elaborate network of limited liability companies in order to bilk the federal and state governments, as well as parents and students.

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School and business records obtained by the Beacon Journal and detailed by a forensic accountant working on the case show that May and Kunkemoeller marked up the price of services and supplies provided to the charter schools they managed in Ohio and Florida, sometimes more than doubling the cost of school uniforms, desks, computers, chairs and website design.

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Between 2010 and 2015, $350,000 was collected from students and parents for uniforms, and another $11,000 for school lunches, the Florida investigation found. Beyond Newpoint’s 18 percent management fee, millions more have been collected from inflated or allegedly fictitious invoices, according to court filings.

I am So Not Sorry About this Computer Hack………

It turns out that thousands of speed camera reports have been invalidated because a technician was updating machines with a tainted memory stick:
A contractor in the Australian State of Victoria has managed to infect an unknown number of speed cameras with a virus, over sneakernet.

Details aren't so much sketchy as they are confused: the virus has been identified as WannaCrypt, but the government's been told it infected both Linux and Windows-based cameras; there was no ransom demand; the main symptom was repeated camera reboots, and; contractors apparently hoped to keep things quiet by patching cameras without telling anyone.

The lid came off on Friday, and Victoria Police decided to cancel 590 fines issued by 55 cameras infected by a contractor visiting the cameras to perform software upgrades with a USB drive that also carried something nasty.

The number of known infections rose to 97 out of the state's total of 280 speed cameras, after one of the state's speed camera contractors, Redflex, told the Department of Justice it had identified and patched a further 42 infections earlier in June.

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In excess of 7,500 fines issued between June 6 and June 22 are to be “quarantined” during the investigation, but may be reissued once the investigation is completed.
I want to state that I have no direct knowledge of any hacking operations, but if, for example, the good folks at 4Chan decided to hack speed cams and red light cams, I would donate to a GoFundMe of their legal defense.

In the United States, at least, these programs are more about revenue generation and getting money to private contractors who operate the systems.

Least Surprising News of the Day

An intelligence evaluation of the Manning leaks has been leaked, and no real harm was caused:
In the seven years since WikiLeaks published the largest leak of classified documents in history, the federal government has said they caused enormous damage to national security.

But a secret, 107-page report, prepared by a Department of Defense task force and newly obtained by BuzzFeed News, tells a starkly different story: It says the disclosures were largely insignificant and did not cause any real harm to US interests.

Regarding the hundreds of thousands of Iraq-related military documents and State Department cables provided by the Army private Chelsea Manning, the report assessed “with high confidence that disclosure of the Iraq data set will have no direct personal impact on current and former U.S. leadership in Iraq.”
So, we're talking about embarrassment, and little else.

Our culture of over-classification leads to poor decisions and generally stupid sh%$.

I'd really like to see the Swedish concept of Offentlighetsprincipen (openness) written into our constitution:
In the 18th century, after over 40 years of mixed experiences with parliamentarism, public access to public documents was one of the main issues with the Freedom of the Press Act of 1766. Although the novelty was put out of order 1772–1809, it has since remained central in the Swedish mindset, seen as a forceful means against corruption and government agencies' unequal treatment of the citizens, increasing the perceived legitimacy of (local and central) government and politicians. The Principle of Public Access (Swedish: Offentlighetsprincipen), as the collection of rules are commonly referred to, provides that all information and documents created or received by a "public authority" (local or central government, and all publicly operated establishments) must be available to all members of the public. It also states that all public authorities must provide information promptly (skyndsamt) upon request. 
Secrecy makes the holders of secret information feel unjustifiably exceptional, which builds arrogance, which in turn leads to stupidity and insane plans, which in turn leads to disaster.

It's a Greek tragedy writ unbelievably small.

Tweet of the Day

H/t naked capitalism

More IP Shenanigans

The Department of Defense is planning to grant the pharma giant Sanofi an exclusive license to manufacture and market a vaccine for the Zika virus that the US Army has developed:
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It concerns something really exciting and important: a vaccine that shows great promise against the devastating Zika virus, which can cause microcephaly, blindness, deafness, and calcification of the brain in children whose mothers were infected during their pregnancy. If effective, such a vaccine could be a tremendous boon not just for developing countries, but for Western ones too, since the Zika virus has already begun to spread in the US, and Europe. The vaccine was developed at the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research, and the Department of the Army funded its development. Great news, you might think: the US public paid for it, so it's only right that it should have low-cost access to it. Moreover, as an act of compassion -- and to burnish its international image -- the US could allow other countries to produce it cheaply too. But an article in The Nation reports that the US Army has other ideas:

the Army is planning to grant exclusive rights to this potentially groundbreaking medicine -- along with as much as $173 million in funding from the Department of Health and Human Services -- to the French pharmaceutical corporation Sanofi Pasteur. Sanofi manufactures a number of vaccines, but it's also faced repeated allegations of overcharges and fraud. Should the vaccine prove effective, Sanofi would be free to charge whatever it wants for it in the United States. Ultimately, the vaccine could end up being unaffordable for those most vulnerable to Zika, and for cash-strapped states.
The Knowledge Ecology Institute (KEI), led by Jamie Love, made a reasonable suggestion to ensure that those most at need would have access to the drug at a reasonable price. KEI asked that, if Sanofi does get an exclusive deal, it should be obliged to make the vaccine available at an affordable price. The Army said it lacked the ability to enforce price controls, but it would ask those nice people at Sanofi to commit to affordable pricing on a voluntary basis. According to The Nation, those nice people at Sanofi refused. Speaking of nice people at Sanofi, the article notes the following:
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When there is an entire Web page dedicated to listing Sanofi's problems going back to 2009, you really have to wonder why the US Army is so keen to give the company a monopoly on this promising new treatment. The usual argument for the sky-high prices of drugs is that firms must be rewarded for taking on the financial risk of drug development, otherwise they won't proceed, and the world would be the poorer. Except, of course, in this case that risk was entirely borne by the US public, which paid for the early stage development of the vaccine with their taxes. So Sanofi risked nothing, but now looks likely to reap the benefits by being allowed to price the vaccine out of the reach of the people who most need it. You might think there ought to be a law against this kind of behavior. It turns out that there is:

KEI's Jamie Love pointed out that under the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, it is already illegal to grant exclusive rights to a federally owned invention unless the license holder agrees to make it available at reasonable pricing. But that provision has rarely, if ever, been enforced.
Now would be a really great time to start enforcing that law.
Indeed.

I'm inclined to believe that Bayh Dole is a bad law, and it has been made far worse through the rather lackadaisical attitude toward applying any sort of public benefit to technologies that were developed at public expense.

It would be nice if  the law's march in rights, which allow for compulsory licensing, had been applied even once.

Trump is a Real Friend of the Jews

Trumps State Department is shutting down its anti-Semitism monitoring office:
The U.S. State Department’s office to monitor and combat anti-Semitism will be unstaffed as of July 1.

A source familiar with the office’s workings told JTA that its remaining two staffers, each working half-time or less, would be reassigned as of that date.

The Trump administration, which has yet to name an envoy to head the office, would not comment on the staffing change. At full staffing, the office employs a full-time envoy and the equivalent of three full-time staffers.
So not a surprise.

Trump is dancing with what brung him.