The CIA is the enemy

They’ve been working for YEARS to break into Apple’s devices, going so far as to try to infect the tool chain (i.e., the software development tools).

As Marco Arment points out:

What would you call a targeted attack on one of America’s most successful and beloved companies in history in order to break security protections, spy on millions of citizens, intercept their communications, and steal their data?

Unpatriotic? Absolutely. Terrorism? Maybe. But those don’t quite capture what this really is: war.

The United States intelligence agencies are at war against all U.S. citizens.

That’s a damn good question: Why DOES the FBI go manufacturing terror plots?

The Intercept asks a question we should ALL be asking: ?

The FBI and major media outlets yesterday trumpeted the agency’s latest counterterrorism triumph: the arrest of three Brooklyn men, ages 19 to 30, on charges of conspiring to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS. As my colleague Murtaza Hussain ably documents, “it appears that none of the three men was in any condition to travel or support the Islamic State, without help from the FBI informant.” One of the frightening terrorist villains told the FBI informant that, beyond having no money, he had encountered a significant problem in following through on the FBI’s plot: his mom had taken away his passport. Noting the bizarre and unhinged ranting of one of the suspects, Hussain noted on Twitter that this case “sounds like another victory for the FBI over the mentally ill.”

If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging

While Lenovo has made some noises about understanding what a giant shitstorm they’re in, their erstwhile partner Superfish has doubled down on the bullshit and continues to insist they did nothing wrong DESPITE universal condemnation from security experts.

I repeat: every single person involved in the decision to inject fraudulent certificates as part of their install should be blackballed from any industry that even touches computers forever.

Did you buy a Lenovo? You may be fucked.

That’s blunt, but it’s really about the size of it. Lenovo included a particularly shitty form of ad-ware called Superfish on some of their laptops that watches what you do online and serves ads targeted based on that data. The trouble with that approach — and I mean that from the perspective of the ad people, not you — is that secure browsing sessions can’t be watched, and for privacy reasons MANY sites are going to https-only. (This is a good thing, unless you’re a creepy ad person.)

Well, Superfish decided to “solve” this “problem” by fundamentally breaking certificate security. The mechanism here is fairly technical, but I break it down for you in lay terms, I think.

  • When you use a secure web site (i.e., https and not http), you’re using a technology called “SSL”.

  • SSL relies on special bits of data called “certificates”.

  • SSL certificates do two things: They encrypt your traffic between your browser and, say, Chase.com; and they verify to you that the site you think is Chase.com really is Chase.com. This second part sounds insignificant, but it’s a HUGE deal because, for technical reasons, it’s terribly feasible to masquerade as a site on the Internet. Or, potentially worse, pretend to be the real site while watching the traffic for interesting bits (e.g., credit card numbers and passwords) while still sending the traffic on to the “real” destination. This approach is called a “man-in-the-middle” attack. (More about this from Ars Technica, if you’re interested.)

  • Certificates are issued by generally-trusted security authorities, though there can be a chain of trust, from A to B to C.

What Superfish did was insert its own certificate as a trusted authority on affected laptops. This is absolutely worse than the Sony rootkit fiasco of a few years ago. It’s mind-bogglingly stupid and awful, and the situation is made worse by both Lenovo’s and Superfish’s utter refusal to recognize how badly they’ve fucked up. Lenovo’s initial response even included a line about how their analysis showed no security vulnerability, which was manifestly untrue and they knew it. It’s since been edited.

Superfish, on the other hand, still says they create no vulnerability. Honest to God, every single person involved with the decision to do this deserves to be drummed out of the software and IT industries at a bare minimum. Absolutely blackball these fuckers.

If you’ve got a Lenovo, you should absolutely remove the Superfish software AND the certificate. Just zapping the software won’t do it alone; you have to kill the cert, too.

If you do not do this and you are affected, it’s the same as not using encryption at all, so every banking session, every shopping session, and everything else you do on your computer is effectively public. I am not exaggerating.

If all this seems technical, you’re in luck: Lifehacker has an “am I infected?” test link up.

Josh Marshall Explains the House of Saud

You probably heard that Saudi Arabia’s monarch, King Abdullah, died yesterday at 90.

What you may not have picked up is how deeply strange the Kingdom’s succession system is, Josh Marshall at TPM breaks it down for you. Abdullah took over from his half brother Fahd, who took over from his half brother Khalid, who took over from his half brother Faisal, who took over from his half brother Saud, who took over when the original King Ibn Saud died in 1953 at the age of 76. Yes, this means the Saudi king’s dad was born a decade after the American Civil War.

“Good god, how many sons did this dude have?” you may ask. I know I did. Turns out? Answer is 45 via 20+ wives, of which 36 lived to adulthood. Interestingly, only one wife (Hassa bint Ahmed Al Sudairi) mothered two kings: Khalid (b. 1913, reigned ’75 to ’82) and the new king Salman (b. 1935). She had five other sons besides, plus four daughters. The Wikipedia article is worth a click.

Salman is no spring chicken at 79. After him comes the last surviving son of Ibn Saud, Muqrin, who’s a decade younger. The apparent plan at that point — which could come sooner rather than later, as Abdullah’s 90 years is as much an outlier there as anywhere — they’ll move on to grandsons.

Say what you will about pure father-to-son succession planning, but at least the path is clear, which presumably preserves some perceived legitimacy in the ruled population. The ever-increasing tribe of Saud doesn’t enjoy that clear-cut path, and the worry is that once they’re out of sons of Saud, they — and the region — may be in for a bumpy ride. Recall it’s been Fahd and Abdullah that have kept Saudi Arabia together and pushed, however incrementally, for greater western engagement and tiny bits of progress for women. The royal family is the enemy of the rabid fundamentalist brands of Islam apparently on sale throughout the region, but they rule a population shot through with those same strains. It’s a delicate balance. The possible absence of even a flawed but legitimate monarch there is probably bad news for moderates in the region and globally, and good news for fundies.

Fifth Circuit Appears Poised To Rule In Favor Of Marriage Equality

This is pretty amazing, but there’s an absolute OH SNAP moment here that makes it even more delicious:

More than halfway through the morning’s arguments, an exasperated Justin Matheny, the assistant attorney general in Mississippi charged with defending the state’s ban, tried to change his tune during his rebuttal arguments.

When it became clear that the three-judge panel was leaning against upholding the bans, Matheny acknowledged that the “trajectory” for marriage rights for same-sex couples is “undeniable” — but added his new argument: “it’s not there yet.”

Judge Patrick Higginbotham, born in Alabama almost eight decades ago and appointed to the appeals court by President Reagan more than three decades ago, spoke up. And though the older judge was hard to hear at times, he spoke loudly and clearly when he responded to Matheny: “Those words, ‘Will Mississippi change its mind?’ have resonated in these halls before.”

Oh, wow, it just gets worse for the NYPD

Their very public tantrums are not having the desired effect. Two NYTimes editorials pull ZERO punches:

12/29/14: Police Respect Squandered in Attacks on [Mayor] de Blasio

When [de Blasio] spoke at a police graduation ceremony at Madison Square Garden on Monday, some in the crowd booed and heckled him. This followed the mass back-turning by scores of officers when the mayor spoke on Saturday at the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos; the virtual back-turning the day before by an airplane-towed banner (“Our backs have turned to you”), and the original spiteful gesture by officers on the night Mr. de Blasio visited the hospital where Officer Ramos and his partner, Wenjian Liu, lay dead.

Mr. de Blasio isn’t going to say it, but somebody has to: With these acts of passive-aggressive contempt and self-pity, many New York police officers, led by their union, are squandering the department’s credibility, defacing its reputation, shredding its hard-earned respect. They have taken the most grave and solemn of civic moments — a funeral of a fallen colleague — and hijacked it for their own petty look-at-us gesture.

and 12/30/14: When New York City Police Walk Off The Job:

Many members of the New York Police Department are furious at Mayor Bill de Blasio and, by extension, the city that elected him. They have expressed this anger with a solidarity tantrum, repeatedly turning their backs to show their collective contempt. But now they seem to have taken their bitterness to a new and dangerous level — by walking off the job.

The New York Post on Tuesday reported, and city officials confirmed, that officers are essentially abandoning enforcement of low-level offenses. According to data The Post cited for the week starting Dec. 22 — two days after two officers were shot and killed on a Brooklyn street — traffic citations had fallen by 94 percent over the same period last year, summonses for offenses like public drinking and urination were down 94 percent, parking violations were down 92 percent, and drug arrests by the Organized Crime Control Bureau were down 84 percent.

The data cover only a week, and the reasons for the plunge are not entirely clear. But it is so steep and sudden as to suggest a dangerous, deplorable escalation of the police confrontation with the de Blasio administration. Even considering the heightened tensions surrounding the officers’ deaths and pending labor negotiations — the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association has no contract, and its leader, Patrick Lynch, has been the most strident in attacking Mr. de Blasio, calling him a bloody accomplice to the officers’ murder — this action is repugnant and inexcusable. It amounts to a public act of extortion by the police.

And why are they doing this?

Let’s review the actions that Mr. de Blasio’s harshest critics say have driven the police to such extremes.

  1. He campaigned on ending the unconstitutional use of “stop-and-frisk” tactics, which victimized hundreds of thousands of innocent young black and Latino men.

  2. He called for creating an inspector general for the department and ending racial profiling.

  3. After Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, was killed by a swarm of cops on Staten Island, he convened a meeting with the police commissioner, William Bratton, and the Rev. Al Sharpton, giving Mr. Sharpton greater prominence than police defenders thought he should have had because Mr. Sharpton is a firebrand with an unsavory past.

  4. He said after the Garner killing that he had told his biracial son, Dante, to “take special care” in encounters with the police.

  5. He generally condoned the peaceful protests for police reform — while condemning those who incited or committed violence — and cited a tagline of the movement: “Black lives matter.”

The Times ends with some clear advice for Big Apple cops:

[W]hat New Yorkers expect of the Police Department is simple:

  1. Don’t violate the Constitution.

  2. Don’t kill unarmed people.

To that we can add:

  1. Do your jobs. The police are sworn public servants, and refusing to work violates their oath to serve and protect.

The most alarming part: “There is no freestanding constitutional right to be free from malicious prosecution.”

Really, Judge Miller? Christ:

TX SWAT team beats, deafens nude man in his own home, lies about arrest; judge declines to punish cops or DA.

I hope this guys sues the everliving SHIT out of the city, the department, and the DA. It’s cold comfort, since even an enormous settlement won’t affect the cops, the prosecutor, or the judge in the slightest — as all three live in a world free of accountability — but it’s all we can hope for.

Why don’t cops get indicted?

Go read this:

Grand juries were designed to be a check on prosecutors and law enforcement. Instead, they’ve become a corrupt shield to protect those with power and another sword to strike down those without. And it’s now all too obviously past time the system was overhauled to fix that.

Before Wednesday’s shameful decision by a New York grand jury to refuse to indict the police officer who choked to death an unarmed and unresisting Eric Garner, one statistic made clear just how much our justice system has failed:

If you are an ordinary citizen being investigated for a crime by an American grand jury, there is a 99.993% chance you’ll be indicted. Yet if you’re a police officer, that chance falls to effectively nil.

The short answer is because the prosecutors are in bed with, and are part of the same problem as, the cops. It’s not in their interest to prosecute police, so they don’t do it unless there’s absolutely no alternative. This has to change.

More on the subject over at The Nation, which includes this horrifying gem:

First, the big picture. Last year, the FBI tallied 461 “justifiable homicides” committed by law enforcement—justifiable because the Bureau assumes so, and the nation’s courts have not found otherwise. This is the highest number in two decades, even as the nation’s overall homicide rate continues to drop.

Oh, and then there’s this:

Are there any effective civilian oversight systems at any major police department in the US? Nobody I interviewed for this article could name one.

Dept. of Astoundingly Tone-Deaf, Petulant, Whiney Jackoffs

Yesterday, some St. Louis Rams players entered the field pre-game making the “hands-up, don’t-shoot” gesture in solidarity with the protesters.

In a shocking display of maturity and level-headedness, a St. Louis-area police organization has gone completely apoplectic over the protest, and is insisting that the players be punished.

SLPA Executive Director Jeff Roorda, a controversial figure in the Ferguson drama, said “it is unthinkable that hometown athletes would so publicly perpetuate a narrative that has been disproven over-and-over again” and called on the team and league to discipline the players.

To call Roorda’s characterization misleading is to understate things by a couple orders of magnitude.

Oh, and it’s worth pointing out that this Roorda asshole is in fact a disgraced former officer, and spends his time today working against accountability measures like bodycams.

UPDATE: The NFL will be taking no action against the players. Suck it, St Louis cops!

What Civil Forfeiture Law Means

From the Economist:

WHEN the state accuses you of a crime and seizes your assets before trial, thus preventing you from hiring the counsel of your choice, what recourse do you have? That question is at the heart of Kaley v United States, a case the United States Supreme Court issued its decision on this week. The answer, worryingly, seems to be: None.

Go read the whole thing.

I’m sure the cops would also rather we not have safes. Or locks. Or rights.

Eric Holder is upset that Apple and Google have gone to encryption-by-default, and would prefer they provide law enforcement back doors that I’m SURE would NEVER be compromised. He’s even relying on the “won’t someone think of the children” line, which is more or less a tell that a cop is overreaching.

Fuck. That. If people trusted the government not to snoop inappropriately, encryption like this wouldn’t be nearly as much of a hot-button topic. It’s the Feds’ own heavy-handed, extralegal, unconscionable tactics that have led companies like Apple and Google to employ encryption that they can’t circumvent.

Reap what you sow, jackass.

What Hobby Lobby Gets Us

Ginsburg was right:

One such matter is Perez v. Paragon Contractors, a case that arose out of a Department of Labor investigation into the use of child labor by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (The F.L.D.S. church is an exiled offshoot of the Mormon Church.) In the case, Vernon Steed, a leader of the F.L.D.S. church, refused to answer questions by federal investigators, asserting that he made a religious vow not to discuss church matters. Applying Hobby Lobby, David Sam, a district-court judge in Utah, agreed with Steed, holding that his testimony would amount to a “substantial burden” on his religious beliefs—a standard used in Hobby Lobby—and excused him from testifying. The judge, also echoing Hobby Lobby, said that he needed only to determine that Steed’s views were “sincere” in order to uphold his claim. Judge Sam further noted that the government had failed to prove that demanding Steed’s testimony was not, in the words of the R.F.R.A., “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” That burden seems increasingly difficult for the government to meet.

Yeah, you read that right. A witness was excused from testifying about the possibly illegal practices of his church because it was against his religious beliefs to discuss internal church matters with outsiders.

The Roberts court has given us legally protected Omerta, without so much as pinprick or a burning saint card.

Castle Doctrine? Only for white people.

Say you’re asleep in your house. Say you’re awoken by some goon breaking into your home through a window, so you reach for your pistol to defend your home, property, and family. It is, after all, Texas; if a kid in a hoodie is threatening enough in Florida, then surely someone breaking into your house is threatening.

Gotcha! It was actually a no-knock marijuana raid (that found no drugs, and certainly found nothing to suggest the resident was a kingpin), and you just killed a cop! (A cop who has, posthumously, been awarded a Star of Texas by the governor.)

Oh, you’re also black, so it should come as no surprise that the prosecutor wants to kill you for having the unmitigated gall to defend your home against unknown intruders.

N.B. that nothing found in the raid was actionable at all. They’re trying to execute this guy for shooting at intruders. Which, of course, sounds a lot like another case I remember.

Oh, and further note that the Killeen cops were executing a no-knock, surprise warrant — basically, the most violent sort of raid — in pursuit of a drug now legal for personal use in two states. Whether or not this kind of violent, retrograde enforcement of pot prohibition is a good idea or good use of resources is left as an exercise to the reader.

Police be accountable for murdering black people? Don’t be silly.

An Ohio grand jury has refused to indict the (white) cops who gunned down an unarmed, unthreatening shopper in a Wal-Mart for committed the crime of “holding a toy gun while black.”

There is video evidence that he was doing absolutely nothing that could be construed as a threat. This was straight up murder, and it should surprise absolutely none of you that the cops will get off scott free.

Be aware of what events like this, with no actual consequences for the muderers, mean to a significant portion of the country. Recognize that displays like this and actions like this in the wake of such crimes make it very, very clear that a huge chunk of law enforcement think they’re doing absolutely nothing wrong.

This must change. The longer we allow this to go on, the more we fundamentally damage our society. Hold violent cops accountable, personally and criminally. Limit the powers of police to use force for no good reason. Create real consequences for overreach. End asset forfeiture. And stop recruiting ignorant bullies into LEOs.

Warning: The Criminal Justice System Will Eat You Alive

And they absolutely do not care if you’re guilty or not. In fact, they’ll work miracles to incarcerate you or kill you. And there will be, of course, no consequences for railroading anybody.

  • Consider the example of a man picked up for a minor drug possession charge who somehow managed to commit suicide with a gun undiscovered by two searches, and while his hands were cuffed behind is back!
  • Or about about the sad tale of Tyree Threatt, who is facing charges for a mugging committed in June 27. However, the state admits that on the day in question, he was in jail. Never mind the alibi; make bail or sit in jail some more, because the prosecutors would rather “work it out at trial.”

The real problem is that this is exactly what they SHOULD have done

The CBC is now warning Canadians that US law enforcement will pull them over and steal their cash.

They are absolutely right. Asset forfeiture is a major revenue source for LEOs nationwide, so there is little reason to expect a cop to do anything other than seize whatever they can get away with. They have the power to do so, even if no crime has been committed and no arrest made.

This is, of course, bullshit.

Dept. of Hilarious Compliance

I can’t decide which of these stories is more awesome:

  • In this one, we learn of a mysterious casino in Las Vegas only open one day every two years. Why? Because of a quirk in casino licensing law, the license is tied to a location and remains valid as long as it’s in business one day in the previous two years. The new owners of one site tore down the old building, and haven’t gotten around to building a new one, but they keep the license good by bringing in a trailer full of slots at least every two years and opening THAT as their casino.

  • This one is even funnier. In Indiana, apparently, joints that sell booze by the drink must also have food service available at all times. The linked menu for the Bank Street Brewhouse in New Albany includes such delights as canned soup and microwaved hot dogs with no condiments, both at $10.

I smell a lawsuit

The Air Force has, apparently, reinstated a regulation requiring personnel to swear an oath to God as part of re-enlistment.

Nonbeliever Air Force personnel are, needless to say, not terribly pleased by this. I’d love to know whose idea this was.

Chips in immunity?

Cops generally operate with impunity because they’re almost never indicted, and even if civil actiosn ensue they’re insulated by qualified immunity, but one court has ruled that overly aggressive and reckless tactics invalidate that protection.

Check it out:

A U.S. federal appeals court has ruled that Connecticut police cannot claim immunity to quash lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages from a botched 2008 raid by a SWAT team that severely injured a homeowner and killed his friend.

The decision by the U.S. 2nd Court of Appeals in New York clears the way for a judge to decide whether five suburban Connecticut police departments violated the constitutional rights of homeowner Ronald Terebesi by using excessive force.

On May 18, 2008, a heavily armed SWAT – or special weapons and tactics – team unit knocked down Terebesi’s door, threw stun flash grenades into his Easton home and fatally shot 33-year-old Gonzalo Guizan of Norfolk as the two men watched television.

There’s more. Click through. As I’ve said a thousand times, shit like this won’t quit happening until there’s real accountability. This is a step in the right direction.

Hearing the smackdown with your own ears is delicious. Indulge yourself.

Bigots are losing their fight against same-sex marriage in nearly every court they visit, so that part isn’t news. What’s fun is that in this case, in the 7th Circuit, the jurist is Richard Posner, a brilliant man (and Reagan appointee), and there’s audio you can listen to of him dismantling the attempts by Wisconsin and Indiana to defend their anti-SSM measures.

Enjoy.

Cops lie? UNPOSSIBLE.

Thank God for dash cams:

Two cops from Bloomfield, NJ’s police department have been indicted, and another plead guilty after a suppressed dashcam video showed them beating a man who was facing years in prison for “resisting arrest” (the DA dropped his charges right away).

The video — shot from a second police car that crossed the highway median and rammed the victim’s vehicle — shows the cops screaming “stop resisting” and “stop going for my gun” while the victim, Marcus Jeter, held his hands in the air and one cop aimed a pistol and another aimed a shotgun at him. The Bloomfield PD’s internal investigations department found no evidence of any wrongdoing by the cops.

How many times does this happen without dashcam footage? How many people are in jail because of it?

This Just In: Cops Gonna Cop

Former LA PD: “If y’all would just do what we tell you, we wouldn’t have to beat you, tase you, and shoot you! Easy!”

Obviously, this approach is rife with problems, as has been amply pointed out elsewhere, but the whole pissy little article reminds us of nothing so much as this:

That’s funny and all, but the attitude embodied by this shitstain from LA is clearly the one that governs policing at this level. They operate with impunity, secure in the knowledge that they will never be called to account for their actions. Why else would the cops in Ferguson be removing their badges and nameplates — with the tacit approval of their superiors?

What’s more dangerous: Cops or Terrorists?

For an American, the answer is simple and obvious: You are EIGHT TIMES more likely to be killed by a law enforcement officer than by a terrorist.

The stats CATO cites are from here, and are themselves issued by the National Safety Council, the National Center for Health Statistics, the Census Bureau, and mortality data from the CDC.

The point of the original post was to point out how fantastically rare acts of terror are, and to helpfully keep people from making stupid choices based on their fear of a very unlikely event.

That doesn’t take away from the stark reality, though, that Officer Friendly is, statistically speaking, much more likely to kill you than Al Qaeda.

Note that these stats are for all Americans, and do not reflect the new rules that apparently allow cops, or people who wish they were cops, to kill unarmed black men with impunity.

I’m glad we don’t live in a police state

…where heavily armed cops could barge into your home and nearly kill your child trying to serve a no-knock search warrent.

Oh. Wait.

The Swat team that burst into the Phonesavanh’s room looking for a drug dealer had deployed a tactic commonly used by the US military in warzones, and increasingly by domestic police forces across the US. They threw an explosive device called a flashbang that is designed to distract and temporarily blind suspects to allow officers to overpower and detain them. The device had landed in Bou Bou’s cot and detonated in the baby’s face.

Stop letting police get away with behaving like military units. Policing is not a war. Cops who do things like this should be vulnerable to severe civil and criminal penalties. Only then will this stop.

(This coverage is, of course, at the Guardian. That’s shameful.)

Wyoming to Science: Drop Dead

Apparently seeking to exceed my home state in sheer pigheaded ignorance, the state school board in Wyoming has rejected the Next Generation Science Standards:

The science guidelines in question are the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), adopted so far by 11 states and the District of Columbia. The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science—working with 26 state governments—developed the NGSS to update K-12 science education in schools for the first time since 1998. Essentially the NGSS provides benchmarks for what students should learn in each grade, but leaves decisions about specific textbooks and how to teach the curriculum up to individual districts, schools and educators.

In Wyoming, a committee comprised of 30 science educators spent 18 months studying and comparing the NGSS with existing guidelines in other states, and then unanimously recommended that it be adopted by the State Board of Education. However, in March, the legislature added a footnote to the state budget that prohibited any public spending to implement the NGSS—effectively killing it. Then, a month later, the State Board of Education told the committee of science educators to develop a new set of standards, which would better reflect the values and economic interests of Wyoming.

The chair of the state board opined that he doesn’t accept climate change as a fact, and frets that the standards are biased against fossil fuel development.

Unpack that for a minute: the standards suggest children lean settled science. The science shows that fossil fuels are causing no small amount of harm. They are concerned that learning this information will hurt an industry.

I mean: Damn.

Last night, Mrs Heathen and I watched the episode of Cosmos about Clair Patterson’s work exposing the dangers of lead emissions from gasoline, and how vigorously opposed he was by the oil industry at the time.

The oil goons even had a so-called expert on their payroll who insisted that the levels of lead in the environmental background at the time were completely normal. (Eventually, Patterson prevailed, and lead has been phased out — and, wouldn’t you know it, lead levels have dropped dramatically.)

You’d think they’d learn, but apparently not. You’d think we as a culture would learn, too, not to listen to people who say pollution is no big deal when they stand to make money doing so.