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Our government in action, for good, and mostly for worse

Why Healthcare Companies Are Leaving Kansas for Missouri

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Remembering Your Infinite Course
Remembering Your Infinite Course

And speaking about why Donald Trump is the Republican Party of 2016, and how belief in Voodoo Economics is the underpinning of the GOP con, there is the real world example of Kansas. A Tea Party governor, a Tea Party legislature, and free reign to implement all those Koch and ALEC inspired schemes for going on five years now. 

Sliding north, we find ourselves in the failed state of Kansas, now in the fifth year of the Brownbackian Dark Ages, as such things are reckoned. Somehow, the fact that Kansas’ status as a supply-side lab rat has dropped the state down a political garbage chute the likes of which hasn’t been seen since they shredded the Articles of Confederation is beginning to seep under the guardhouses of the gated communities. The head of a healthcare company is fleeing to the Missouri border and he’s not shy about telling the world why. 

From Pathfinder Health Innovations CEO Jeff Blackwood

It wasn’t just that Brownback was conservative; it was that he is seen as a tool of the Koch brothers and ALEC, a conservative think tank and lobbying organization. Brownback used his influence and funding to eliminate “moderate” republicans from the Kansas legislature and install his hand-picked conservative cronies. He couldn’t do the same with the Kansas Supreme Court, which has ruled a number of the conservative legislature’s laws as unconstitutional, so Brownback’s administration decided to threaten to cut off funding to the court system and is actively pursuing legislation to impeach the Supreme Court.

Kansas has become a test center of “trickle down” economics, espoused by economist Arthur Laffer during the Reagan years. Nowhere has there been as thorough an implementation of Laffer’s policy recommendations… and nowhere has there been as dramatic a failure of government. Under Brownback’s direction, Kansas implemented an unprecedented tax cut in 2012, eliminating taxes for LLCs and professional firms (for full disclosure, PHI is a C Corporation) and making the largest cuts in the highest tax brackets. He shifted taxes to create a heavier burden on property and sales taxes, which typically represent a larger burden on lower income brackets. Brownback declared that this tax cut would be a “shot of adrenaline” for the Kansas economy, but the reality is that the tax cuts have had the opposite effect. Kansas lags neighboring states in job growth. For 11 of the last 12 months, Kansas has dramatically missed revenue targets, falling deeper in debt and facing another round of degraded bond ratings.

The worst part is that the burdens for the shortfalls rest on the shoulders of those who can least afford it – children and the developmentally disabled.

This guy says it flat out–Brownback has engineered the failure of government in Kansas to prove to himself and to the world that government inevitably fails. It’s not often that you see it made that plain, and now it’s time to point out that enough voters in Kansas showed up and re-elected this cluck in what only can be seen now as a suicide pact.

 

(click here to continue reading Why Healthcare Companies Are Leaving Kansas for Missouri.)

Discarded Cautions
Discarded Cautions

and a brief refresher of the Return of Voodoo Economics from Paul Krugman:

During his failed bid for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination George H. W. Bush famously described Ronald Reagan’s “supply side” doctrine — the claim that cutting taxes on high incomes would lead to spectacular economic growth, so that tax cuts would pay for themselves — as “voodoo economic policy.” Bush was right. Even the rapid recovery from the 1981-82 recession was driven by interest-rate cuts, not tax cuts. Still, for a time the voodoo faithful claimed vindication.

First, voodoo economics has dominated the conservative movement for so long that it has become an inward-looking cult, whose members know what they know and are impervious to contrary evidence. Fifteen years ago leading Republicans may have been aware that the Clinton boom posed a problem for their ideology. Today someone like Senator Rand Paul can say: “When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs? It was under Ronald Reagan.” Clinton who?

Second, the nature of the budget debate means that Republican leaders need to believe in the ways of magic. For years people like Mr. Ryan have posed as champions of fiscal discipline even while advocating huge tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations. They have also called for savage cuts in aid to the poor, but these have never been big enough to offset the revenue loss. So how can they make things add up?

Well, for years they have relied on magic asterisks — claims that they will make up for lost revenue by closing loopholes and slashing spending, details to follow. But this dodge has been losing effectiveness as the years go by and the specifics keep not coming.

(click here to continue reading Voodoo Economics, the Next Generation – The New York Times.)

Written by Seth Anderson

June 16th, 2016 at 12:45 pm

Net Neutrality Rules Upheld by Federal Court

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Fuck The Internet
Fuck The Internet

Huh. Well, at first blush, this seems like good news…

High-speed internet service can be defined as a utility, a federal court has ruled, a decision clearing the way for more rigorous policing of broadband providers and greater protections for web users.

The decision from a three-judge panel at the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday comes in a case about rules applying to a doctrine known as net neutrality, which prohibit broadband companies from blocking or slowing the delivery of internet content to consumers.

Those rules, created by the Federal Communications Commission in early 2015, started a huge legal battle as cable, telecom and wireless internet providers sued to overturn regulations that they said went far beyond the F.C.C.’s authority and would hurt their businesses.

The court’s decision upholds the F.C.C. on the declaration of broadband as a utility, the most significant aspect of the rules. That has broad-reaching implications for web and telecommunications companies and signals a shift in the government’s view of broadband as a service that should be equally accessible to all Americans, rather than a luxury that does not need close government supervision.

(click here to continue reading Net Neutrality Rules Upheld by Federal Court – The New York Times.)

Written by Seth Anderson

June 14th, 2016 at 9:12 am

US Spend Billions To Run Ancient Technology

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G3 case open

Modernization of technology is not always the most urgent task: sometimes the newest innovations are more trouble than they are worth. But as time passes, older technologies become harder to maintain and find parts for. I speak from experience, as my office has an older computer kept around just to run legacy software that has been defunct for about ten years. Not ideal, but I realize eventually, I won’t be able to rebuild the old computer without learning how to solder and program. 

The US government has a much greater budget than my humble office, yet doesn’t seem concerned that the nuclear arsenal is controlled by floppy-disk era computers, and even more ancient COBOL routines.

The government is squandering its technology budget maintaining museum-ready computer systems in critical areas from nuclear weapons to Social Security. They’re still using floppy disks at the Pentagon. In a report released Wednesday, nonpartisan congressional investigators found that about three-fourths of the $80 billion budget goes to keep aging technology running, and the increasing cost is shortchanging modernization.

GAO says its estimate of at least $80 billion spent on information technology in 2015 is probably low. Not counted were certain Pentagon systems, as well as those run by independent agencies, among them the CIA. Major systems are known as “IT investments” in government jargon.

 …

The White House has been pushing to replace workhorse systems that date back more than 50 years in some cases. But the government is expected to spend $7 billion less on modernization in 2017 than in 2010, said the Government Accountability Office.

“Clearly, there are billions wasted,” GAO information technology expert David Powner told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a hearing.

Although lawmakers of both parties say they are frustrated, it’s unclear whether Congress will act.

(click here to continue reading Report: Feds Spend Billions To Run Ancient Technology – Tech Trends on CIO Today.)

Unclear. Right, meaning, Congress has no intention of doing anything between now and election time, other than demagogue and raise money.

Computer Repair LED
Computer Repair LED

America’s nuclear arsenal depends on a surprising relic of the 1970s that few of us may recall: the humble floppy disk.

It’s hard to believe these magnetic, 8-inch data storage devices are what’s propping up the most fearsome weapons humanity has ever created. But the Department of Defense is still relying on this technology to coordinate key strategic forces such as nuclear bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to a new government report.

The floppy disks help run what’s known as the Strategic Automated Command and Control System, an important communications network that the Pentagon uses to issue launch orders to commanders and to share intelligence. And in order to use the floppy disks, the military must also maintain a collection of IBM Series/1 computers that to most people would look more at home in a museum than in a missile silo.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the military’s reliance on seemingly archaic tech: back in 2014, the U.S. Air Force showed CBS’s “60 Minutes” one of the top-secret floppy disks that helps it store and transmit sensitive information across dozens of communications sites. So to hear from the Government Accountability Office that the Pentagon has still not phased out the technology – and doesn’t plan to until the end of fiscal year 2017 – is remarkable.

(click here to continue reading The real reason America controls its nukes with ancient floppy disks – Chicago Tribune.)

Computer Consultants
Computer Consultants

For the record, here are some of the systems we are spending $80,000,000,000 a year on:

Among the vintage computing platforms highlighted in the report:

— The Defense Department’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System, which is used to send and receive emergency action messages to U.S. nuclear forces. The system is running on a 1970s IBM computing platform, and still uses 8-inch floppy disks to store data. “Replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete,” GAO said. The Pentagon told GAO it is initiating a full replacement and the floppy disks should be gone by the end of next year. The entire upgrade will take longer.

— Treasury’s individual and business master files, the authoritative data sources for taxpayer information. The systems are about 56 years old and use an outdated computer language that is difficult to write and maintain. Treasury plans to replace the systems but has no firm dates.

— Social Security systems that are used to determine eligibility and estimate benefits, about 31 years old. Some use a programming language called COBOL, dating to the late 1950s and early 1960s. “Most of the employees who developed these systems are ready to retire and the agency will lose their collective knowledge,” the report said. “Training new employees to maintain the older systems takes a lot of time.” Social Security has no plans to replace the entire system but is eliminating and upgrading older and costlier components. It is also rehiring retirees who know the technology.

— Medicare’s Appeals System, which is only 11 years old, faces challenges keeping up with a growing number of appeals, as well as questions from congressional offices following up on constituent concerns. The report says the agency has general plans to keep updating the system, depending on the availability of funds.

— The Transportation Department’s Hazardous Materials Information System, used to track incidents and keep information regulators rely on. The system is about 41 years old, and vendors no longer support some of its software, which can create security risks. The department plans to complete its modernization program in 2018.

(click here to continue reading Report: Feds Spend Billions To Run Ancient Technology – Tech Trends on CIO Today.)

Nothing important to see here, move along sheeple, there are Benghazi hearings to attend…

Written by Seth Anderson

May 31st, 2016 at 10:57 am

Posted in government

Tagged with , ,

Biometrics For Feds, Not For Thee

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Do You Recognize Me Now?
Do You Recognize Me Now?

Speaking of biometrics, and facial recognition, both key components of the REAL ID Act of 2005, Illinois doesn’t allow private businesses to do scans of your face, at least as of today.

The Biometric Information Privacy Act of Illinois is not a law many are familiar with. But if you have ever shared a photo on social media, the little-known statute turns out to be one of the nation’s toughest regulations for how companies like Facebook and Google can use facial recognition technologies to identify you online.

For now.

On Thursday, an Illinois state senator, Terry Link, introduced an amendment that would have weakened the law by exempting photo-tagging technologies that are now commonly used on social media. The proposal also had the potential to extinguish several class-action lawsuits against technology companies like Facebook by retroactively removing the right of Illinois citizens to sue companies that might have broken the law in the past.

The amendment was lobbied for by Facebook, according to a person involved in the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity. And it helps to illustrate how from drone aircraft to genetic information and statutes that govern how companies sell consumer information to data miners, tech companies are in a capital to capital fight to keep new laws from being passed or to soften those already on the books.

“The Illinois biometric privacy act is one of the best new privacy laws in the country,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “It’s bad news for consumers when Internet companies start lobbying against good privacy laws.”

(click here to continue reading Tech Companies Take Their Legislative Concerns to the States – The New York Times.)

If the federal government wants to create a database with everyone’s face, no problem. But Facebook, Google or LinkedIn? Not so fast.

For what it is worth, I’d vote that neither Facebook nor the Feds have this kind of information. 

Written by Seth Anderson

May 28th, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Business,government

Tagged with ,

Illinois Takes Step Toward Real ID Compliance

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Revolution of The Innocent
Revolution of The Innocent…

Slightly more information on how Illinois is moving along to become in compliance with the REAL ID Act of 2005, despite grumblings from civil libertarians and others wary of a national ID system.

Applicants will have their photograph taken at a local office and a digital copy will be submitted immediately to Springfield for comparison in a pool of several million digital photos, according to Jim Burns, inspector general for the secretary of state’s office.

“We have in Illinois one of the better facial recognition systems in the country,” he said.

 …

Illinois is among 27 states either not in compliance or taking steps to comply with the Real ID Act. Under this act, stricter identification is required to pass through airport security and enter federal buildings. Homeland Security earlier this year postponed the deadline for states to comply to 2018.

Homeland Security also will accept the temporary paper document in conjunction with an old driver’s license or ID card to board an aircraft until the permanent card arrives in the mail.

Congress passed the law in 2005 after a 9/11 Commission recommendation to take steps that would make it tougher to counterfeit government-issued IDs.

Critics of Real ID, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have complained that it is a blatant invasion of privacy and would make people vulnerable to identity theft.

Ed Yohnka, director of communications at American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said he believes Illinois and other states have been doing a good job protecting peoples’ identities, and switching to a national identification card would do more harm than good.

“Congress ought to pull the plug on this,” he said. “It creates a national identification system that puts people at a greater risk of having their identity stolen.

“They talk about this in terms of it being for safety and security, but there is no evidence that it adds any of those things,” Yohnka said. “But what we do know is that it creates this powerful dynamic that can be used for surveillance.

“Once you have this national database, the only natural thing to do next is to take it and begin to use it to track people,” Yohnka said. “Then you are just creating a huge surveillance system, and that’s the real danger.”

Yohnka said if Real ID is developed, the government would have the potential to track what people buy and where they go.

 

(click here to continue reading Illinois Takes Step Toward Real ID Compliance.)

Even with the new procedures, IL is still only 84% in compliance, whatever that really means. And by the way, for a state already in budgetary trouble, here’s an extra expense:

The system will cost the state an additional $8.3 million in vendor and postage costs a year, said Nathan Maddox, [ Illinois Secretary of State Jesse] White’s senior legal adviser. The state plans to use a fund dedicated to driver’s license upgrades to pay for the new system.

“We have been making steady progress in implementing Real ID,” Maddox said. “We’ve met approximately 84 percent of the requirements.”

Written by Seth Anderson

May 28th, 2016 at 11:20 am

REAL ID in Illinois

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Shake It Off
Shake It Off, You Can Do Nothing…

The 42nd Ward’s weekly email notes that Illinois will soon be in compliance with the1 REAL ID Act that we’ve scoffed at a few times before…

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White announced that his office is upgrading security features to the Driver’s License/ID card design and expanding the central issuance process for driver’s licenses and ID cards to all applicants. With implementation of these changes, Illinois has moved closer to achieving full REAL ID compliance, which is a federal mandate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).   By the end of July, applicants visiting Driver Services facilities will no longer be issued a new permanent DL/ID card at the end of the application process. Instead, they will leave the facility with a temporary, secure paper driver’s license, which is valid for 45 days and will serve as their DL/ID for driving purposes and proof of identification. The temporary, secure paper driver’s license or ID card will contain a photo and the basic information that appears on the permanent driver’s license or ID card. In addition, the facility employee will return the old DL/ID card back to the applicant after punching a hole in it.

Meanwhile, the applicant’s information will be sent to a centralized, secure facility in Illinois. After fraud checks have been conducted to ensure the applicant’s identity, a higher quality, more secure DL/ID will be printed and sent via U.S. mail within 15 business days to the applicant’s address.

For purposes of air travel, DHS states that it will accept the temporary document in conjunction with the old DL/ID to board an aircraft until the permanent card arrives in the mail. Illinois joins 39 other states that have moved to centralized production of DL/ID cards.

Illinois DL/IDs will continue to be accepted as primary forms of identification to board commercial airplanes for domestic travel until January 22, 2018.

(click here to continue reading 42nd Ward Update: Respect. Honor. Remember. Chicago’s Memorial Day Parade and Wreath Laying Ceremony.)

The full press release, if you are curious (PDF file)…

The Check Is In The Mail
The Check Is In The Mail

Fine, whatever, as long as the damn thing doesn’t get lost in the maw of the unreliable Chicago mail – seriously, what percentage of these DL/ID cards will be left to burn under a dumpster?

10%?

30%?

5%?

What percent will be delivered to the wrong address? I’d estimate that our building gets several erroneously delivered pieces of mail a week. Often inconsequential direct mail, but often checks, invoices, utility bills, magazines, and so on.  Let’s hope the Chicago branch of the USPS takes special care to deliver these new driver licenses…

Footnotes:
  1. ridiculous []

Written by Seth Anderson

May 28th, 2016 at 10:27 am

Thursday Leftovers – Plate 5

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Some snacks while you wait…

Exiled and Wandering
Exiled and Wandering

Road innovation, what’s not to love?

Founded in 2008, in Chicago, IL, LANDLOCK® Natural Paving, Inc has set out to solve the world’s infrastructure needs, both in road building and dust suppression.   Our reach is global, and we’re proud to be the industry leader in our field.

Unpaved and poorly paved roads have been identified as infrastructure barriers to profitable development: by individual nations, businesses, city planners and supranational organizations (the World Bank and the United Nations) alike.

The United States alone has over 1.5 million miles of unpaved roadways, leading to transportation inefficiency, destructive airborne pollution and unsafe transportation.

Asphalt, as a primary paving solution, has increasingly proven expensive and environmentally irresponsible because of its reliance on crude oil, poor durability, need for maintenance and pollution.

To respond to this need for a reliable, cost-effective and durable paving solution, LANDLOCK® has emerged as a respected, reliable international distributor of a patented paving technology that is among the most cost-effective, durable, strong, sustainable and easy to build. Most of all, it is superior to asphalt: less expensive, more durable, easier to install and more sustainable.

Environmentally, asphalt incurs a high cost because of the toxic footprint of the fuel-inefficient trucks that must drive back and forth to the plant; and because of the petroleum in asphalt that leaches into the groundwater and, when hot, pollutes the air, proving toxic for the workers laying the asphalt. Finally, the added cost of maintenance comes into play when inevitable erosion and potholes arise with time and changing climate patterns, necessitating frequent repeats to the whole expensive process.

 

(click here to continue reading About Us | LANDLOCK® Natural Paving | The Future of Road Building is Here….)

The Waiting is The Hardest Part
The Waiting is The Hardest Part

I think we can all agree that the TSA should be abolished, sooner than later:

The TSA is hard to evaluate largely because it’s attempting to solve a non-problem. Despite some very notable cases, airplane hijackings and bombings are quite rare. There aren’t that many attempts, and there are even fewer successes. That makes it hard to judge if the TSA is working properly — if no one tries to do a liquid-based attack, then we don’t know if the 3-ounce liquid rule prevents such attacks.

So Homeland Security officials looking to evaluate the agency had a clever idea: They pretended to be terrorists, and tried to smuggle guns and bombs onto planes 70 different times. And 67 of those times, the Red Team succeeded. Their weapons and bombs were not confiscated, despite the TSA’s lengthy screening process. That’s a success rate of more than 95 percent.

It’s easy to make too much of high failure rates like that. As security expert Bruce Schneier likes to note, such screenings don’t have to be perfect; they just have to be good enough to make terrorists change their plans: “No terrorist is going to base his plot on getting a gun through airport security if there’s a decent chance of getting caught, because the consequences of getting caught are too great.”

But even Schneier says 95 percent was embarrassingly high, and probably not “good enough” for those purposes. If you’re a prospective terrorist looking at that stat, you might think smuggling a gun onto a plane is worth a shot.

Schneier isn’t a TSA defender by any means. He likes to note that there’s basically zero evidence the agency has prevented any attacks. The TSA claims it won’t provide examples of such cases due to national security, but given its history of bragging about lesser successes, that’s a little tough to believe. For instance, the agency bragged plenty about catching Kevin Brown, an Army vet who tried to check pipe bomb-making materials. Brown wasn’t going to blow up the plane — the unfinished materials were in his checked luggage — but if the TSA publicized that, why wouldn’t it publicize catching someone who was trying to blow up the plane?

(click here to continue reading The TSA is a waste of money that doesn’t save lives and might actually cost them – Vox.)

Chicago Sun-Times News Shack
Chicago Sun-Times News Shack

People like Peter Thiel would be better served if they left the United States and started their own country somewhere else, leaving the rest of us normals alone:

Peter Thiel, foremost among Silicon Valley’s loopy libertarians and the first outside investor in Facebook, has written an essay declaring that the country went to hell as soon as women won the right to vote.

Thiel is the former CEO of PayPal who now runs the $2 billion hedge fund Clarium Capital and a venture-capital firm called the Founders Fund. His best-returning investment to date, though, has been Facebook. His $500,000 investment is now worth north of $100 million even by the most conservative valuations of the social network.

On the side, though, his pet passion is libertarianism and the fantasy that everything would be better in the world if government just quit nagging everybody. But, now he’s given up hope on achieving his vision through political means because, as he writes in Cato Unbound, a website run by the Cato Institute, all those voting females have wrecked things

(click here to continue reading Facebook Backer Wishes Women Couldn’t Vote.)

I’d be very leery of doing business with Mr. Thiel, he seems like he could fly off the handle very easily, and hold a grudge about it for years. But you might never hear about it, because the media that covers Silicon Valley is more like a PR machine than journalistic:

I would like to think that I would know more about whether this sort of thing is typical of Thiel’s behavior because there would be enough evidence of it one way or the other in tech press. But I don’t think there would be. A lot of self-censoring happens in the tech industry because people fear blowback — and in a way that I haven’t experienced in finance or publishing. Entrepreneurs genuinely worry that capital markets won’t be accessible to them if they express any kind of criticism, or talk about the bad things that happen in the industry. (I am not of that opinion, obviously, but as the former CTO of a big tech co told me a couple of weeks ago with a bit of an eyeroll, “you’re not normal anyway, Spiers.”)

Another factor: I think Thiel aside, tech press is largely fawning toward successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, and mostly unintentionally. Journalists who haven’t worked in tech themselves are sometimes genuinely and sincerely enamored with the promise of what they’re looking at and are so dazzled that they fail to ask the questions they should. Some of them are lazy and it’s always easier as a journalist to write the glowing lightweight story, where no one’s going to press you to nail down the facts and you won’t get any blowback from sources or subjects. Ultimately, this has created a sense of entitlement in the industry where denizens of Silicon Valley expect the media to actively support them and any negative portrayals are met with real anger and resentment, even when they’re 100% accurate. And it’s never the media’s job to support the industry — that’s PR. It’s the media’s job to cover it, the good and the bad. But if you’re not used to being covered, and that would describe 99% of the tech industry, the scrutiny can be uncomfortable.

(click here to continue reading On Peter Thiel and Gawker : Elizabeth Spiers.)

Trump Stamp
Trump Stamp

Does Donald Trump have a long history with the mob? David Jay Johnston thinks Trump might:

6. Trump Tower is not a steel girder high rise, but 58 stories of concrete.

Why did you use concrete instead of traditional steel girders?

7. Trump Tower was built by S&A Concrete, whose owners were “Fat” Tony Salerno, head of the Genovese crime family, and Paul “Big Paul” Castellano, head of the Gambinos, another well-known crime family.

If you did not know of their ownership, what does that tell voters about your management skills?

8. You later used S&A Concrete on other Manhattan buildings bearing your name.

Why?

9. In demolishing the Bonwit Teller building to make way for Trump Tower, you had no labor troubles, even though only about 15 unionists worked at the site alongside 150 Polish men, most of whom entered the country illegally, lacked hard hats, and slept on the site.

How did you manage to avoid labor troubles, like picketing and strikes, and job safety inspections while using mostly non-union labor at a union worksite — without hard hats for the Polish workers?

10. A federal judge later found you conspired to cheat both the Polish workers, who were paid less than $5 an hour cash with no benefits, and the union health and welfare fund. You testified that you did not notice the Polish workers, whom the judge noted were easy to spot because they were the only ones on the work site without hard hats.

What should voters make of your failure or inability to notice 150 men demolishing a multi-story building without hard hats?

11. You sent your top lieutenant, lawyer Harvey I. Freeman, to negotiate with Ken Shapiro, the “investment banker” for Nicky Scarfo, the especially vicious killer who was Atlantic City’s mob boss, according to federal prosecutors and the New Jersey State Commission on Investigation.

Since you emphasize your negotiating skills, why didn’t you negotiate yourself?

12. You later paid a Scarfo associate twice the value of a lot, officials determined.

Since you boast that you always negotiate the best prices, why did you pay double the value of this real estate?

(click here to continue reading 21 Questions for Donald Trump.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 26th, 2016 at 8:11 am

The big sell: Making people care about infrastructure repair

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Waiting for a Rainy Day
Waiting for a Rainy Day

Continuing on the theme of the day, Mary Wisniewski writes:

In comic book movies, transportation infrastructure problems are easy to spot.

Bridges fall. Asphalt shatters. And unless Ironman funds the repairs out of his personal fortune, big public debt issues are ahead.

In real life, damage to roads and rails tends to be gradual, though ultimately just as ruinous to regional well-being.

With a new Illinois capital program delayed as the state goes 11 months without a budget, transit leaders have been sounding the alarm in both Washington, D.C., and Springfield about the dangers of waiting too long to invest in infrastructure. Business, labor and transit leaders will ramp up discussion nationwide Monday for the start of the thrillingly named Infrastructure Week.

It’s a tough sell — roads, buses and trains seem to work just fine until they don’t, and politicians don’t like to raise gas taxes or other user fees. Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Leanne Redden admits that funding for bridges, signals and tunnels is not a sexy topic, but it’s crucial to keep the system going the way it should.

(click here to continue reading The big sell: Making people care about infrastructure repair – Chicago Tribune.)

Nothing Can Go Wrong With the Blues
Nothing Can Go Wrong With the Blues

Infrastructure is ignored until there is a crisis, alternatively, we could invest in the country and its workers before disaster strikes. Or money gets left unspent because Governor Rauner has a different agenda…

For the Chicago Transit Authority, for example, the lack of state capital funding has meant $1 billion in federal money may get left on the table. The passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act last year made federal dollars available, but state matches are needed to access them.

“A capital program would be very helpful, or else those funds could be put at risk,” CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. said. He said the money is needed for projects like the Red and Purple Line modernization, and rail and right of way improvements to prevent slow zones.

CTA needs a total of $13 billion in capital spending over the next decade to get the system in a state of good repair, Carter said.

Metra needs $11.7 billion in capital funding over the next 10 years. Because that’s a tall order, the board has made two programs top priorities — positive train control, a federally mandated computerized system to prevent train collisions, and new or rehabbed rolling stock. That would include 367 new railcars. (The agency currently has funding for 10.)

Some of Metra’s railcars are 63 years old. “They’re eligible for Medicare in a couple of years,” joked Metra CEO Don Orseno ruefully.

Besides new cars and locomotives, Orseno said Metra needs a better maintenance schedule for its old ones. Walking around a big, barnlike rail repair facility on 49th Street last week, Orseno and Metra capital projects manager Lexie Walker showed how cars are stripped down and rebuilt — with new floors, seats, toilets, air conditioning, outlets for plugging in laptops and wheelchairs, plus new wheels and brakes.

The Poem Remained Too Short
The Poem Remained Too Short

What about roads, you ask? They are as neglected, with no positive news forthcoming:

[Illinois] cannot afford to keep up the roads it has now. One of the pressing needs for the Illinois Department of Transportation is a rebuild of the aging and congested Eisenhower Expressway, similar to the reconstruction of the Dan Ryan in 2007, said Peter Skosey, executive vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, a nonprofit focused on regional growth.

“Money for that project isn’t even on the radar,” Skosey said.

He noted that no system is going to be in perfect shape all the time — it’s like your house, you want to keep it in a state of at least 90 percent repair, with a few projects on a to-do list. But Illinois’ state of repair is currently below 80 percent and could drop below 60 percent in the next five years, Skosey said.

Skosey noted that closed roads and bridges lead to gridlock, which already costs the region $7 billion a year. On an individual level, bad roads cost the average Illinois driver $400 to $800 a year in car repairs.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 17th, 2016 at 9:10 pm

The $3,400 Infrastructure Tax You’re Paying

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North Winds They Blow
North Winds They Blow

Speaking of infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers have released their latest “Failure To Act” report, and predictably, it isn’t the lead story in corporate media’s front pages and opening moments. But it should be, because we all pay the costs affiliated with ignoring our infrastructure deficiencies…

Isiah J. Poole writes:

But something that is costing each American family on average $3,400 a year is worth at least a few minutes of discussion – especially in the context of this Trump-besotted presidential campaign.

That is the money that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) said in its latest “Failure to Act” report that each US household is losing “each year in disposable income due to infrastructure deficiencies.”

Not adequately investing in infrastructure is costing the economy more than three times more than what it would cost to bring these systems up to a state of good repair. Seen another way, each family pays a $3,400 annual tax for what federal, state and local governments don’t spend to properly maintain and expand our transportation, water and electricity networks.

Closing the investment gap between what we’re spending now on the range of infrastructure needs – from roads and bridges to airports and waterways – and what we should be spending between now and 2025 would take about $1.4 trillion, the ASCE says. The cost of not spending that money, according to the ASCE? Almost $4 trillion. With that loss comes the loss of 2.5 million jobs.

Likewise, consider the plight of people who rely on public transportation. According to the report, more than 40 percent of buses and 25 percent of rail cars are in marginal or poor condition. The average transit bus has been on the road since Bill Clinton was president. Washington’s Metro system, whose recent troubles have gotten national attention, is suffering a lot of self-inflicted wounds, but one of its problems is that it is still running cars that were on the system when it opened in 1976.

(click here to continue reading The $3,400 ‘Tax’ You’re Paying That the Media Just Ignored – BillMoyers.com.)

Talking About My Generation
Talking About My Generation.

from the ASCE report (which you can download in PDF form if you are curious or sanguine):

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) publishes The Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, which grades the current state of national infrastructure categories on a scale of A through F.

Since 1998, America’s infrastructure has earned persistent D averages, and the failure to close the investment gap with needed maintenance and improvements has continued. When the next Report Card for America’s Infrastructure is released in 2017, it will provide an updated look at the state of our infrastructure conditions, but the larger question at stake is the implication of D+ infrastructure on America’s economic future.

The Failure to Act report series answers this key question — how does the nation’s failure to act to improve the condition of U.S. infrastructure systems affect the nation’s economic performance? In 2011 and 2012, ASCE released four Failure to Act reports in a series covering 10 infrastructure sectors that are critical to the economic prosperity of the U.S.

These reports were followed by a fifth, comprehensive final report, Failure to Act: The Impact of Infrastructure Investment on America’s Economic Future, which addressed the aggregate economic impact of failing to act in more than one sector. The purpose was to provide an aggregate analysis of the economic implications for the U.S. of continuing its current investment trends in multiple infrastructure categories. Failure to Act: Closing the Infrastructure Investment Gap for America’s Economic Future is an update to the Failure to Act comprehensive report; it addresses the current infrastructure gaps between today’s needs and investment and how they will affect the future productivity of industries, national competitiveness, and future costs to households.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 17th, 2016 at 7:35 pm

Posted in government

Tagged with ,

US Should Speed Digital Infrastructure Deployment

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Borrowed Time
Borrowed Time

We talk about infrastructure a lot on this humble blog, but conceptually, the word infrastructure encompasses so much more than just sewer pipes and bridges. Updated electric grids, high speed internet access for all, and other digital infrastructures are key to a prosperous future, and our current government clings to out-dated models and resists change.

The U.S. needs to embed digital technologies into existing infrastructure to take advantage of new economic opportunities, a tech industry think tank said Monday, but outdated regulations, security concerns, a lack of public funding and a small pool of tech-savvy workers may hinder progress.

More digital infrastructure, including “hybridized” infrastructure that involves some mix of physical and digital features, can ultimately cut costs, create jobs and improve overall quality of life, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation said in a recent report. Smart water meters, for example, could be used to measure consumption and quality while using real-time data processing to help utilities detect leaks before they happen.

New technologies can also be applied to roads, planes, trains and other systems used to transport goods, people and information. Digital roadway infrastructure, including electronic toll collection and smart traffic lights, could help reduce congestion and fuel consumption and increase travel speeds, boosting overall productivity. It could also enable vehicle-to-infrastructure communications as driverless cars and other autonomous vehicles hit the road.

The foundation made a number of recommendations for policymakers, including:

  • Policymakers should create ‘digital-friendly’ regulations. Current policies are often characterized by overlapping mandates and conflicting goals, ITIF said. And while deployment of some smart meters has increased, governments haven’t yet approved them to use dynamic pricing or other features. “There is a need to modernize existing regulations to reflect significant changes in technology advances and leading industry practices.”
  • Each state and federal agency that influences infrastructure should create a strategy for speeding the transition to digital infrastructures.
  • Increase funding. ITIF suggests Congress enact a “Cement & Chips” funding approach that directs no less than 5% – or about $2.5 billion — of the Highway Trust Fund allocated to states to be devoted to digital infrastructure projects. National governments also need to “take a proactive role in creating national data and software systems that can easily be used across the nation,” the report said.
  • Privacy and security concerns shouldn’t slow deployments. “Rather government should work with the private sector to ensure that public policies support privacy and security in ways that enable innovation” and create value for society.

(click here to continue reading US Should Speed Digital Infrastructure Deployment, Think Tank Says – CIO Journal. – WSJ.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 17th, 2016 at 11:33 am

Posted in government

Tagged with ,

In Novel Tactic on Climate Change, Citizens Sue Their Governments

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Is this weird or what?

No One Knows What We Are Thinking Unless We Tell
No One Knows What We Are Thinking Unless We Tell

The governments of the world are dragging their feet, so good for these citizen activists. 

Global warming is already disrupting the planet’s weather. Now it is having an impact on the courts, as well, as adults and children around the world try to enlist the judiciary in their efforts to blunt climate change.

In the United States, an environmental law nonprofit is suing the federal government on behalf of 21 young plaintiffs. Individuals in Pakistan and New Zealand have sued to force their governments to take stronger action to fight climate change. A farmer in Peru has sued a giant German energy utility over its part in causing global warming.

And while the arguments can be unconventional and surprising, some of the suits are making progress.

Last month, a federal magistrate judge in Oregon startled many legal experts by allowing the lawsuit filed on behalf of 21 teenagers and children to go forward, despite motions from the Obama administration and fossil fuel companies to dismiss it; the suit would force the government to take more aggressive action against climate change. The ruling by the magistrate judge, Thomas M. Coffin, now goes to Federal District Court to be accepted or rejected.

(click here to continue reading In Novel Tactic on Climate Change, Citizens Sue Their Governments – The New York Times.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 11th, 2016 at 8:42 am

How Vermont Got Big Food Companies To Label GMOs

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Non GMO Project
Non GMO Project

If you hadn’t heard, Vermont recently passed a GMO labeling law, and Congress, since it is so dysfunctional, could not muster a response. Thus Vermont’s law will become the de facto law of the nation, at least for a while…

You’ll soon know whether many of the packaged foods you buy contain ingredients derived from genetically modified plants, such as soybeans and corn.

Over the past week or so, big companies including General Mills, Mars and Kellogg have announced plans to label such products – even though they still don’t think it’s a good idea.

The reason, in a word, is Vermont. The tiny state has boxed big food companies into a corner. Two years ago, the state passed legislation requiring mandatory labeling.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association has fought back against the law, both in court and in Congress, but so far it’s been unsuccessful.

Last week, as we reported, Congress failed to pass an industry-supported measure that would have created a voluntary national standard for labeling — and also would have preempted Vermont’s law. Which means for now, food industry giants still face a July 1 deadline to comply with the state’s labeling mandate.

And since food companies can’t create different packaging just for Vermont, it appears that the tiniest of states has created a labeling standard that will go into effect nationwide.

This statement, from General Mills’ Jeff Harmening, sums it up:

“Vermont state law requires us to start labeling certain grocery store food packages that contain GMO ingredients or face significant fines,” Harmening wrote on the General Mills blogs.

“We can’t label our products for only one state without significantly driving up costs for our consumers and we simply will not do that,” explains Harmening.

So, as a result: “Consumers all over the U.S. will soon begin seeing words legislated by the state of Vermont on the labels of many of their favorite General Mills products,” he concludes.

Chocolate giant Mars struck a similar tone in its announcement: “To comply with [the Vermont] law, Mars is introducing clear, on-pack labeling on our products that contain GM ingredients nationwide,” the company statement says.

(click here to continue reading How Little Vermont Got Big Food Companies To Label GMOs : The Salt : NPR.)

All Your Bonnie Plants Come from Non-GMO Seeds, and All Your Base are Belong to Us
All Your Bonnie Plants Come from Non-GMO Seeds, and All Your Base are Belong to Us

For the record, I’m ok with the Vermont labeling law. I don’t know if genetically modified food is good or bad, but truthfully, nobody really does. The American government’s regulatory agencies are permanently tilted towards the interests of corporations, always, and nearly without exception; the FDA cannot be trusted to protect the health of consumers. Do we really know if gene splicing pesticide resistance into apples or wheat is going to alter our bodies? The corporations pinky-swear GMOs won’t have long-term effects on cancer rates and other health-related concerns, and maybe they are right.

But maybe they are not.

Last spring, the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization declared glyphosate, the most commonly used herbicide on GMO crops, to be a probable carcinogen. And just last month, the FDA announced it would begin testing food products sold in the U.S. for glyphosate residue.

State legislators across the nation introduced 101 bills last year pertaining to GMOs. Of the 15 that passed, four had to do with labeling, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A bill introduced by Illinois state Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, requiring disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients stalled in committee.

More than 90 percent of corn and soybeans grown in Illinois is genetically modified, said Adam Nielsen, director of national legislation for the Illinois Farm Bureau.

The GMO crop movement took off in 1996, when Monsanto Co. introduced Roundup Ready soybean seeds, genetically modified to resist Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide. Similarly marketed cotton, canola, corn and sugar beet seeds soon followed.

For farmers, glyphosate represented a safer, cheaper, more effective way of controlling weeds, thwarting pests and growing crops, Moose said. It’s since become the standard in large-scale agriculture.

The general public and the scientific community don’t tend to agree when it comes to GMO safety, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey conducted before the World Health Organization finding. Most consumers surveyed, 57 percent, said they considered GMOs to be generally unsafe to eat, whereas 88 percent of scientists surveyed, all of them connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said GMOs were generally safe.

Genetically modified crops don’t present a health risk, but the herbicides used on them are “a big problem,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, dean for global health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and an expert on environmental health concerns and children.

As GMO crops have become more common over the years, weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, which has led to heavier use of the herbicide, he said.

Landrigan is among scientists and health experts calling on the EPA to “urgently review the safety risk of glyphosate” and says it’s time for GMO labeling. “Not because I think genetic rearrangement is bad, but because I think consumers have a right to know what they’re eating,” he said.

(click here to continue reading GMO labeling debate puts food industry on defensive – Chicago Tribune.)

The agribusinesses are not being banned from using GMO products, only being required to be transparent if they are. Does this mean General Mills has to change their packaging? Yep. So what? They can’t be complaining about the extra ink required, only that they are being forced to alter their packaging by dictate of the people. Boo hoo. Packaging changes all the time anyway, I don’t see the harm in adding a few words to a package.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 27th, 2016 at 8:29 am

Apple GovtOS and the FBI continued

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Apple CEO Tim Cook has spent a lot of effort keeping this case in the public, even giving an interview with Time Magazine’s Lev Grossman, which includes statements like:

Apple Coffee Thermos

Inside Apple this idea is nicknamed, not affectionately, GovtOS. “We had long discussions about that internally, when they asked us,” Cook says. “Lots of people were involved. It wasn’t just me sitting in a room somewhere deciding that way, it was a labored decision. We thought about all the things you would think we would think about.” The decision, when it came, was no.

Cook actually thought that might be the end of it. It wasn’t: on Feb. 16 the FBI both escalated and went public, obtaining a court order from a federal judge that required Apple to create GovtOS under something called the All Writs Act. Cook took deep, Alabaman umbrage at the manner in which he learned about the court order, which was in the press: “If I’m working with you for several months on things, if I have a relationship with you, and I decide one day I’m going to sue you, I’m a country boy at the end of the day: I’m going to pick up the phone and tell you I’m going to sue you.”

It also wasn’t lost on Cook that the FBI chose not to file the order under seal: if Apple wasn’t going to help with a case of domestic terrorism, the FBI wanted Apple to do it under the full glare of public opinion.

The spectacle of Apple, the most admired company in the world, refusing to aid the FBI in a domestic-terrorism investigation has inflamed public passions in a way that, it’s safe to say, nothing involving encryption algorithms and the All Writs Act ever has before. Donald Trump asked, “Who do they think they are?” and called for a boycott of Apple. A Florida sheriff said he would “lock the rascal up,” the rascal meaning Cook. Even President Obama, whose relations with the technorati of Silicon Valley have historically been warm, spoke out about the issue at South by Southwest: “It’s fetishizing our phones above every other value. And that can’t be the right answer.”

As against that, Apple has been smothered in amicus briefs from technology firms supporting its position, including AT&T, Airbnb, eBay, Kickstarter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Square, Twitter, Cisco, Snapchat, WhatsApp and every one of its biggest, bitterest rivals: Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, spoke out in Apple’s defense. So did retired general Michael Hayden, former head of both the NSA and the CIA. The notoriously hawkish Senator Lindsey Graham, who started out lambasting Apple, switched sides after a briefing on the matter. Steve Dowling, Apple’s vice president of communications, showed me a check for $100 that somebody sent to support the world’s most valuable technology company in its legal fight. (Apple didn’t cash it.)

(click here to continue reading Inside Apple CEO Tim Cook’s Fight With the FBI | TIME.)

The case seems weak, for a number of reasons (encryption is not bound by political boundaries; Apple shouldn’t be compelled to work for the government especially when they have done nothing wrong; the laws referred to as CALEA would seem to forbid the FBI’s approach; we don’t live in a police state; and so on), but you can’t assume that the judge in the case can be swayed by logic. I’d rather Tim Cook and Apple engineers were spending time improving iTunes, and fixing bugs in Mac OS X El Capitan instead of fighting government overreach, but you can’t control the universe, only react to its whims.

Only the Thought is Dark
Only the Thought is Dark

I want to note another point, as discussed extensively by Jonathan Zdziarski: the idea of a warrant-proof zone. Doctor-patient privilege, diplomatic pouches, married couples, journalistic sources, these and other areas are also “dark” in the FBI parlance. Even in court, even in cases that inflame the public’s interest, even then, a lawyer cannot be compelled to reveal what their client told them. 

There are other examples that could be mentioned, but the point is that our country recognizes many laws and international treaties that support the concept of warrant proof as a valid concept. It is not only well within Apple’s rights to produce a product that happens to be warrant-proof, but it’s actually Apple’s responsibility to create a product that’s capable of enforcing the highest level of security permitted by our country’s laws… not the lowest. Apple is well within not only their rights, but in practices that support and place appropriate locks consistent with the levels of privacy our country recognizes. These products protect everyone – diplomats, doctors, journalists, as well as all of us. Of course they should be this secure. If our own country recognizes warrant proof as a thing, of course our technology should too.

We, as everyday Americans, should also encourage the idea of warrant proof places. The DOJ believes, quite erroneously, that the Fourth Amendment gives them the right to any evidence or information they desire with a warrant. The Bill of Rights did not grant rights to the government; it protected the rights of Americans from the overreach that was expected to come from government. Our most intimate thoughts, our private conversations, our ideas, our -intent- are all things our phone tracks. These are concepts that must remain private (if we choose to protect them) for any functioning free society. In today’s technological landscape, we are no longer giving up just our current or future activity under warrant, but for the first time in history, making potentially years of our life retroactively searchable by law enforcement. Things are recorded in ways today that no one would have imagined, even when CALEA was passed. The capability that DOJ is asserting is that our very lives and identities – going back across years – are subject to search. The Constitution never permitted this.

The bottom line is this: Our country actually recognizes warrant proof data, and Apple has every right and ethical obligation to recognize it in the design of their products. As Americans, we should be demanding our thoughts, conversations, and identities be protected with the highest level of security. This isn’t just about credit cards.

(click here to continue reading Apple Should Own The Term “Warrant Proof” | Zdziarski’s Blog of Things.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 18th, 2016 at 8:54 am

Encryption as a Ribbon Around An Apple iPhone

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Fonzo Killin Hipsters

By the way, I forgot to link to another good post by digital forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski, explaining what the FBI is actually pressuring Apple to provide:

With most non-technical people struggling to make sense of the battle between FBI and Apple, Bill Gates introduced an excellent analogy to explain cryptography to the average non-geek. Gates used the analogy of encryption as a “ribbon around a hard drive”. Good encryption is more like a chastity belt, but since Farook decided to use a weak passcode, I think it’s fair here to call it a ribbon. In any case, lets go with Gates’ ribbon analogy.

Instead of cutting the ribbon, which would be a much simpler task, FBI is ordering Apple to invent a ribbon cutter – a forensic tool capable of cutting the ribbon for FBI, and is promising to use it on just this one phone. In reality, there’s already a line beginning to form behind Comey should he get his way. NY DA Cy Vance has stated that NYC has 175 iPhones waiting to be unlocked (which translates to roughly 1/10th of 1% of all crime in NYC for an entire year). Documents have also shown DOJ has over a dozen more such requests pending. If FBI’s promise of “just this one phone” were authentic, there would be no need to order Apple to make this ribbon cutter; they’d simply tell them to cut the ribbon.

Why has the government waited this long to order such a thing? Because in spite of all of iOS 8’s security, the Chinese invented a ribbon cutter for it called the IP BOX. IP BOX was capable of brute forcing any numeric passcode in iOS 8, and even though it was junky, Chinese-made hardware with zero forensic credibility (and actually called home to servers in China), our government used it widely to break into iOS devices without Apple’s help. The government has really gone dumpster diving for forensic solutions for iOS. This ribbon cutter was used by both law enforcement and anyone with $200 to break into iOS devices, and is a great example of how such a ribbon cutter is often abused for crime.

So here’s the real question: Why is FBI asking for the invention of a ribbon cutter instead of just asking Apple to cut the ribbon? Well the answer to that comes back to precedent. If FBI can order the existence of this ribbon cutter, Cy Vance’s 175 phones will be much easier to push through the courts without the same level of scrutiny as a terrorism case. If FBI were simply asking for Apple to cut the ribbon, all future AWA orders would have to go through the same legal scrutiny in the courts for justification. Getting the ribbon cutter invented for a terrorism case opens the door for such a tool to then be justified by the DA for weaker cases – such as narcotics, computer crimes, or even simply investigations where the government can’t even prove to the courts that a crime was ever committed. Once it’s a tool, just like a Stingray box or a breathalyzer, the court’s leniency in permitting its use increases dramatically.

(click here to continue reading On Ribbons and Ribbon Cutters | Zdziarski’s Blog of Things.)

Now if I could only mandate that all politicians were required to understand the concepts before opening their speaking holes. I know, I know, zero chance…

https://i1.wp.com/farm2.staticflickr.com/1503/24422344743_076085f59b_z.jpg?resize=640%2C640&ssl=1
Additionally, there is this angle:

Also consider that the courts aren’t about to force Apple to hack into their own customer products. In fact, the customer purchased these products trusting that the manufacturer wouldn’t – even couldn’t – intentionally compromise them; ever since iOS 8, Apple has marketed these devices as so secure that Apple themselves cannot hack them. For Apple to be forced to backdoor their own devices would invite countless lawsuits from their own customers, betray consumer trust, and likely cost Apple millions, if not billions, in sales depending on how big of a PR nightmare it created. The courts, however, appear to be OK with forcing Apple to write what is being portrayed by the FBI as an innocent, fluffy tool for just this one device.

(click here to continue reading On Ribbons and Ribbon Cutters | Zdziarski’s Blog of Things.)

Written by Seth Anderson

February 27th, 2016 at 1:27 pm

Posted in Apple,crime,government

Tagged with ,

The Dangerous All Writs Act Precedent in the Apple Encryption Case

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Don’t be a Production Slacker
Don’t be a Production Slacker

One more angle on the FBI vs. Apple case, as discussed by Amy Davidson of The New Yorker:

Tim Cook, the C.E.O. of Apple, which has been ordered to help the F.B.I. get into the cell phone of the San Bernardino shooters, wrote in an angry open letter this week that “the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create.” The second part of that formulation has rightly received a great deal of attention: Should a back door be built into devices that are used for encrypted communications? Would that keep us safe from terrorists, or merely make everyone more vulnerable to hackers, as well as to mass government surveillance? But the first part is also potentially insidious, for reasons that go well beyond privacy rights.

The simple but strange question here is exactly the one that Cook formulates. What happens when the government goes to court to demand that you give it something that you do not have? No one has it, in fact, because it doesn’t exist. What if the government then proceeds to order you to construct, design, invent, or somehow conjure up the thing it wants? Must you?

(click here to continue reading The Dangerous All Writs Act Precedent in the Apple Encryption Case – The New Yorker.)

I’d already asked and answered myself about the second part of the question – I’m strongly against the so-called back door being built into all devices – so for me, the first part of the question was by far the most interesting. The government can really force a company to create something just for the government’s purposes? How long can the task take before you are free? Years? Decades? What happened to Capitalism? Talk about feeling entitled, or as Ms. Davidson puts it:

And so Judge Sheri Pym, a California district-court magistrate, has ordered Apple to come up with a new software bundle that can be loaded onto the phone and, in effect, take over the operating system and tell it to let the F.B.I. in. (Apple will have a chance to object to the order in court.) As an added point of convenience, this bundle is also supposed to let the agents enter passcodes electronically, rather than tapping them in, which is one of the many points on which the government seems to have moved from asking for compliance with a subpoena to demanding full-scale customer service. 

I don’t understand why this isn’t more troubling to people, especially to libertarian-leaning Republicans. The US government is asserting that if they ask, a company has to drop everything else and get working for the government or else you’ll be sent to the proverbial salt mines in Siberia. Why? Why? How dare you ask! Because War On Terra, that’s why!  No wonder this is “what some law-enforcement officials privately describe as a nearly perfect test case.” 

Written by Seth Anderson

February 19th, 2016 at 9:36 pm